Thursday Reads: Villager Gossip, A Priceless Art Discovery, The Troubled NFL, And The Psychopathic One Percent

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Good Morning!!

All the villagers are talking about the gossipy new book about the 2012 presidential campaign by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, Double Down. I can’t bring myself to read it, but Pat J. said she is reading it, so maybe she can give us more detail on the story of Romney adviser Stuart Stevens vomiting backstage after Clint Eastwood’s embarrassing performance at the Republican National Convention.

Lawrence O’Donnell had Heilemann on his MSNBC show last night. O’Donnell “loved” book and was especially joyful about the anecdote about Stevens. I have to admit, it’s pretty funny. The Washington Post has a lengthy review of the book with some more interesting bits.

On Chris Christie:

According to the authors, Romney and his team were shaken by what they discovered about Christie during “Project Goldfish,” as the hush-hush veep search process was known. His “disturbing” research file is littered with “garish controversies,” the authors write: a Justice Department investigation into his free-spending ways as U.S. attorney, his habit of steering government contracts to friends and political allies, a defamation lawsuit that emerged during a 1994 run for local office, a politically problematic lobbying career that included work on behalf of a financial firm that employed Bernie Madoff. And that’s not to mention the Romney team’s anxiety about the governor’s girth.

For Christie, who is coasting to reelection on Tuesday and already laying behind-the-scenes groundwork for a 2016 presidential bid, the book’s revelations are a Drudge-ready public relations nightmare that will send his advisers scrambling to explain awkward aspects of his record and his personal life just as he is stepping onto the national stage.

Mitt Romney is apparently obsessed with fat people, and even criticized men on his staff if they went out with women that Romney deemed to be too “fat.” You can just imagine what he thought of Chris Christie. From an earlier WaPo article:

Romney initially crossed Christie off his short list. The governor’s vetting file was incomplete, and Romney had been bothered by Christie’s propensity to show up late at campaign events and by his lack of physical fitness, the book says.

“Romney marveled at Christie’s girth, his difficulties in making his way down the narrow aisle of the campaign bus,” the authors write. “Watching a video of Christie without his suit jacket on, Romney cackled to his aides, ‘Guys! Look at that!’”

It brings back memories of the tales about Romney bullying classmates in high school. What a horrible man he is! There’s much more gossip in the Post review if you’re interested.

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Corporate media and talking heads have been busy trying to interpret Tuesday’s election results as helpful for Republicans.  Supposedly the only reason Terry McAuliffe beat Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia and Chris Christie is now on the fast track to the White House–sorry Hillary.

Ed Kilgore at Political Animal: Tell Me Again Who Won in Virginia?

Before we get into any more election analysis, I have to make a preliminary objection to what we are hearing this morning about the Virginia governor’s race. Yes, we all play the expectations game, and Terry McAuliffe only won by two-and-a-half percent, which is less than most of the late polls anticipated. But to read this morning’s spin, you’d think he (and the Democratic Party) actually lost. The results are being widely read exactly as Ken Cuccinelli wanted them to be read: a negative “referendum on Obamacare.” Politico’s James Hohmann, in a piece entitled “Why Terry McAuliffe barely won,” draws bright red arrows pointing to an exit poll showing that 53% of voters said they opposed Obamacare. That’s entirely in line with about three years of polling about the Affordable Care Act, and doesn’t indicate any last minute “surge” against the law.

Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast: The Wrong Election Takeaways From Christie’s Win, Virginia, and More:

The conventional wisdom on New Jersey: Huge Chris Christie win sets him up to steamroll his way to the Republican nomination in 2016, proving that a more mainstream conservative can win in a blue state. The conventional wisdom on Virginia: Ken Cuccinelli’s stinging loss in a purple state in an off-off-year election against Terry McAuliffe, a flawed Democratic candidate, shows not only that he was too extreme but also that Virginia is inching its way into the Democratic column. As the Times put it in its headline, “McAuliffe Win Points to Virginia Changes.”

Well, God invented conventional wisdom so people like me could beat it down. In New Jersey, Christie doesn’t emerge from his victory nearly as strong as he appears to. And the Virginia outcome isn’t really very strong for Democrats, especially down the ballot. No, I’m not buying into the right-wing spin that Cuccinelli’s narrow margin of defeat really represents some kind of loss for Obamacare. It does not.

Read the rest at the link.

Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast: Chris Christie Is No George W. Bush, and 2016 Is Definitely Not 2000:

In the wake of Chris Christie’s reelection romp on Tuesday, the press is filled withcomparisons between the New Jersey governor and a pre-presidency George W. Bush. They’re both Republican governors who appear moderate and bipartisan compared to their party’s zealots in Washington. They’re both beloved by big donors. Each has made inroads among the Democratic-leaning constituencies with whom Republicans must do better. But there’s a problem with the analogy. It’s unlikely Christie can “win” the presidency by running as a second Bush, in part [because] America still remembers the first one.

Lots more at the link.

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In other news…

Did you hear about the priceless art works stolen by the Nazis that were found in a dirty, run-down apartment in Munich, Germany? From NPR:

The revelation Monday that more than 1,000 paintings and prints seized by the Nazis during World War II were found in a Munich apartment has set off excitement in the art world and spurred anger among Jewish groups that German officials didn’t publicize the discovery when it was first made.

With a potential value of $1.35 billion, the trove of art contains previously unknown works by Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall; other artists represented include Pablo Picasso, Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

The stash of art was reported by Germany’s Focus magazine Monday, under the headline “The Nazi Treasure” (Der Nazi-Schatz). Tax officials discovered the cache when they visited the cluttered Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, a descendant of a man who was an official in wartime Germany.

Of nearly 1,400 oil paintings, prints and other works, 1,285 had been stacked in a drawer, unframed. They include work by German expressionists such as Franz Marc and Max Beckmann, in addition to a previously unknown self-portrait by Otto Dix. The trove also includes Albrecht Dürer and Canaletto, who worked in earlier centuries — a detail that could make the collection’s origins even more difficult to explain.

The paintings were found in 2011, but the stunning and unprecedented discovery was just announced this week. A couple more links:

Max Fisher at WaPo: Why Nazi-seized art is only now resurfacing – and how it will change the art world.

Bloomberg: Nazi Art Trove Surprises Family Searching for 70 Years.

This will be a story to watch for anyone who is interested in fine art. We still don’t know for sure which paintings were found.

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The NFL is back in the news, and, again, it’s not in a good way. It’s a story of racially charged bullying and hazing at the Miami Dolphins. Reportedly, a veteran player, Richie Incognito was told by someone at the team to “toughen up” rookie Jonathan Martin. Even the GM may have been involved. Incognito, who is white, chose to do so by leaving messages containing racial slurs on Martin’s voicemail. Martin, who is African American, ended up in the hospital for emotional distress and eventually left the team. If you can believe it, other Dolphins players and veterans of the team are supporting Incognito.

Here are a couple of interesting reactions to the story.

Valerie Strauss at the WaPo: If a 6’5, 312-pound Miami Dolphin can be bullied…

Jonathan Martin, the  6-foot-5-inch, 312-pound Miami Dolphin offensive lineman who left the NFL team because he was being bullied by at least one other player, has done a  favor for school kids everywhere.

How can such a big guy get bullied? Because bullying behavior isn’t about physical intimidation. It’s about mind control and creating fear — and no one, not even very large professional athletes — are immune. That’s a useful message for kids and adults working to create safe climates at their schools.

So is the way Martin ultimately handled his problem. After many months of being a victim, he got up, walked away and later accused the Dolphins of creating and allowing an unsafe work environment. He is forcing the powers that be to take a look at the problem. As my Post colleague Sally Jenkins wrote in this column:

Turns out the real tough guy is Martin, whose decision to rebel against a vicious culture in the Dolphins’ locker room has triggered a league-level investigation of [suspended Dolphin Richie] Incognito, and, if reports are true, needs to extend to other veteran players and management as well.

In schools, the programs that work best in combating bullying are those that teach kids that they can’t stand by and watch bullies go after other students. Bystanders have to get help — and everybody in the school, adults included — have to be on the same page. That didn’t happen in Miami.

Veteran WaPo sportswriter Tom Boswell: Richie Incognito bullying allegations are the latest in long list of NFL problems.

Where are we? Where is pro football? The NFL doesn’t have a PR problem. It has a reality problem. And it may be a grave one. Every month — and it seems every few days — the NFL is inundated by new, barely suspected revelations. What has the NFL become? Or is this what it has been for some time? Is the truth coming out of the shadows?

The list is stunning. Its cumulative effect, not any one particular item, is the true confidence-shaking shock.

The NFL is now the league of murder charges against Aaron Hernandez — gang execution style. The NFL is the league of murder, then suicide, with Jovan Belcher killing his girlfriend and then shooting himself in the head in a parking lot by his stadium as his coach and general manager watched….

The NFL is the league where future Hall of Famer Junior Seau, barely retired, shot himself in the heart so his brain could be studied by science to help prove that chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a core part of football, with risk of brain damage down to the smallest kids who play it….

The NFL is the league of thug bullies such as suspended Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito, who allegedly extorted money, texted racist insults and made death threats to a younger teammate. It’s the league of $15,000 stripper parties in Las Vegas, paid for by intimidated, hazed rookies who don’t make the trip but pay the check even if it busts them.

The article is well worth a read even if you don’t follow sports.

We’ve been talking a lot lately about the studies that show that rich people are more narcissistic, less empathetic, more likely to be dishonest, rude, and thoughtless than other people. Here a long read at Alternet about the top 1% as functioning psychopaths: Inside the Psyche of the 1% — Many Actually Believe Their Ideology of Greed Makes for a Better World.

Do the rich and super-rich tend to be psychopaths, devoid of guilt or shame? Are the 1% lacking in compassion? Does their endless accumulation of possessions actually bring them little to no happiness? To each of these, the answer is “yes”—but a very qualified “yes” with lots of subtleties. Even more important is what these issues suggest for building a society which does not ravage the last remnants of wilderness and rush headlong into a climate change tipping point.

Check out the article to get all the details.

Those are my offerings for today; now what are you reading and blogging about? Please share your links in the comment thread.


Delusional Paul Ryan Bases New Budget on Repealing Obamacare

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Oh man, this is too much!

Paul Ryan appeared on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace today and admitted to that the new “Ryan Plan” budget is based on the assumption that the Affordable Care Act will be repealed along with the planned Medicaid expansion.

Here’s the transcript of the interview.

Ryan explains that he plans to turn Medicare into a voucher program and Medicaid, food stamps, and “49 different job training programs spread across nine different government agencies” into block grants and let the states decide what to do with the money. Wallace had some questions.

Let me ask you about a couple of the specific cuts that you made last year, and tell me if they’re not in the new budget — I assume that they are. You cut Medicaid by $770 billion, over the next 10 years. You cut $134 billion from food stamps. You cut $166 billion from education, training and social services.

….

WALLACE: Can you honestly say by turning Medicaid into a block grant and giving it to the states that you can cut $770 billion –

RYAN: Yes.

WALLACE: — out of that program, over the next 10 years, and that’s going to have no impact on legitimate recipients?

RYAN: These are increases that have not come yet. So, by repealing Obamacare, and the Medicaid expansions which haven’t occurred yet, we are basically preventing an explosion of a program that is already failing.

So, we’re saying don’t grow this program through Obamacare because it doesn’t work. Prevent that growth from going because it’s not going to work, it’s going to hurt people who are trying to help, it’s going to hurt hospitals and states and, give the states the tools that they are asking for.

I’m kind of surprised Wallace didn’t do a Ricky Ricardo-type double take after that.

WALLACE: I’m going to pick up on this because I must say I didn’t understand it. Are you saying that as part of your budget, you would repeal, you assume the repeal of Obamacare?

RYAN: Yes.

WALLACE: Well, that’s not going to happen.

RYAN: Well, we believe it should. That’s the point. That’s what’s — but this is what budgeting is all about, Chris. It’s about making tough choices to fix our country’s problems.

And here’s the really crazy part. Wallace points out that, you know, Obama won the election and Medicare was a huge issue during the campaign and the voters rejected the Romney/Ryan plan.

Ryan doesn’t buy it:

I would argue against your premise that we lost this issue in the campaign. We won the senior vote. I did dozens of Medicare town hall meetings in states like Florida, explaining how these are the best reforms to save the shrinking Medicare program and we are confidently this is the way to go. It has bipartisan support. It’s an idea that came from Democrats in the first place.

Wha– ?! Has this guy gone around the bend or what? Haven’t the House Republicans already tried to repeal Obamacare more than 30 times?

Here’s the video from Think Progress:

 

This is a completely wacko, insane, what-is-he-smoking open thread!


It’s Finally Happened: Obama Has Driven the Pundits Insane!

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Sure, these two guys were a little nutty to begin with, but now they’ve gone around the bend.

First up: Have you seen the latest drivel from Robert J. Samuelson? Seriously, even the Washington Post should be ashamed to publish this guy. Get this — Samuelson says that sequestration is John F. Kennedy’s fault!

How so?

Fifty years ago, President Kennedy made a decision that, with hindsight, ranks as the biggest mistake of domestic policy since World War II. In many ways, it led directly to today’s “sequester” debacle.

Good Grief! What’s he talking about? The Bay of Pigs? The Cuban missile crisis?

No silly, President Kennedy decided to stimulate the economy.

In early 1963, he proposed a $13.6 billion tax cut (today: about $320 billion) even though the economy was not in recession and the tax cut would enlarge the budget deficit. Kennedy adopted the theory that government could, by manipulating its budgets, increase economic growth, reach “full employment” (then a 4 percent unemployment rate) and reduce — or eliminate — recessions.

It was a disaster.

High inflation was the first shock. An initial boom (by 1969, unemployment was 3.5 percent) spawned a wage-price spiral. With government seeming to guarantee 4 percent unemployment, workers and businesses had little reason to restrain wages and prices. In 1960, inflation was 1 percent; by 1980, it was 13 percent. The economy became less stable. From 1969 to 1982, there were four recessions, as the Federal Reserve alternated between trying to push unemployment down and prevent inflation from going up. Only in the early 1980s did the Fed, under Paul Volcker and with Ronald Reagan’s support, crush inflationary psychology.

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A disaster? Really? I was a kid in the 1960s. The economy was great in those days–until 1973, those were the best economic times I’ve experienced in my lifetime. Unemployment was low, wages were good, people like my parents were movin’ on up to the middle class. But don’t take it from me–let’s see what an actual economist has to say about this. Here’s Dean Baker at the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR):

Samuelson’s economic history is even more striking than the linking of Kennedy to the sequester. He notes the fiscal stimulus that was sparked by the Kennedy tax cuts (and the Vietnam War and Johnson’s Great Society programs) and the boom that resulted, and tells us that “it was a disaster.”

….

Before looking at Samuelson’s horror story here, it is worth noting what happened in the boom, which can be treated as going through 1973, in spite of the recession in 1969. Growth over the 10 years from 1963 to 1973 averaged 4.4 percent, by far the most rapid stretch in the post-World War II era.

The unemployment rate hovered near 4.0 percent for most of this period, as Samuelson complains. This led to large gains in real wages and sharp declines in poverty. The overall poverty rate fell from 19.5 percent in 1963 percent to 11.1 percent in 1973, an all-time low. For African Americans the poverty rate fell from 55.1 percent in 1959 (annual data is not available) to 31.4 percent in 1973. I suspect most folks wouldn’t mind a few more disasters like this one.

As far as the recession story, Samuelson might have told readers that we had the same number of recessions in the 13 years following 1969 as we did in the 12 years preceding 1961. I suppose those recessions were also due to the Kennedy tax cut.

There’s lots more at both links. But you have to read Samuelson’s column to believe it. He goes on to claim that because of JFK’s tax cut, we developed “the loss of budgetary discipline,” and we’re still suffering from that 50 years later. So how does he rationalize the deficit spending under Reagan and W. Bush? He doesn’t.

And over at The New York Times, Iraq War propagandist Bill Keller disagrees with Samuelson: he thinks sequestration is “Obama’s Fault.” And of course he’s still droning on about “entitlements.” Keller admits that both parties agreed on the sequestration cuts, but it’s still really Obama’s fault because he hasn’t completely destroyed the safety net yet. And here’s the best part: Obama refuses to enact Simpson Bowles.

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In December 2010 the commission, led by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, delivered its list of spending cuts and revenue increases, plus the entitlement reforms necessary to fortify Medicare and Social Security for the surge of baby-boom retirees.

The Simpson-Bowles agenda was imperfect, and had plenty to offend ideologues of the left and right, which meant that it was the very manifestation of what Obama likes to call “a balanced approach.”

Ummm…no, Bill, the Commission never issued a report. They couldn’t agree on a unified agenda, so Simpson and Bowles wrote up their own report which was never approved by the commission members.

Now here’s where Keller really goes off the rails:

If Obama had campaigned on some version of Simpson-Bowles rather than on poll-tested tax hikes alone, he could now claim a mandate from voters to do something big and bold. Most important, he would have some leverage with members of his own base who don’t want to touch Medicare even to save it. This was missed opportunity No. 1.

That’s really funny. If Obama had campaigned on Simpson-Bowles, Mitt Romney would be president now. Because if you campaign on really really unpopular issues, people have a tendency to like, not vote for you.

There’s much more at the link, but you get the idea.


Gene Sperling: “A mix of entitlements and revenues was part of the DNA” of the Sequester “from the start.”

Gene Sperling and Barack Obama

Gene Sperling and Barack Obama

I want to call attention to some rather startling statements in Gene Sperling’s e-mail to Bob Woodward, which I posted earlier. Please note the highlighted sections.

From Gene Sperling to Bob Woodward on Feb. 22, 2013

Bob:

I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. My bad. I do understand your problems with a couple of our statements in the fall — but feel on the other hand that you focus on a few specific trees that gives a very wrong perception of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here.

But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying that Potus asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim. The idea that the sequester was to force both sides to go back to try at a big or grand barain with a mix of entitlements and revenues (even if there were serious disagreements on composition) was part of the DNA of the thing from the start. It was an accepted part of the understanding — from the start. Really. It was assumed by the Rs on the Supercommittee that came right after: it was assumed in the November-December 2012 negotiations. There may have been big disagreements over rates and ratios — but that it was supposed to be replaced by entitlements and revenues of some form is not controversial. (Indeed, the discretionary savings amount from the Boehner-Obama negotiations were locked in in BCA: the sequester was just designed to force all back to table on entitlements and revenues.)

I agree there are more than one side to our first disagreement, but again think this latter issue is diffferent. Not out to argue and argue on this latter point. Just my sincere advice. Your call obviously.

My apologies again for raising my voice on the call with you. Feel bad about that and truly apologize.

Gene

Really? Does anyone recall President Obama saying that at the time the sequester was proposed and voted on in 2011? Did President Obama discuss these plans for entitlement cuts during his campaign for re-election? I’ve always suspected he did plan cuts in Social Security, Medicare, but when did he publicly state this? I’ve done a somewhat cursory search, but I can’t find anything.

There is no mention of these agreed-upon cuts in the Wikipedia entry on the Budget Control Act of 2011. There no mention of “entitlement” cuts in this extensive article at The Bipartisan Policy Center. This analysis (pdf) notes that the Supercommittee was authorized to cut Social Security:

The “Super Committee” deficit reduction plan: BCA also creates a new, special joint committee of Congress charged with finding at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction to avoid any potential sequestration. This “Super Committee” can cut spending (including Social Security and Medicare), raise revenue, or propose a combination of both. If the committee cannot agree on a plan, or Congress fails to approve it, automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion will be triggered through sequestration. To assist the Super Committee with its task, Congress also provided for an accelerated review of the Super Committee recommendations, provided that the Super Committee followed specific timelines, as outlined in the text.

But I think it was generally assumed that the Super Committee would not be able to agree on anything, and if they did that the Senate at least would not vote for Social Security cuts.

So now the truth has come out. Certainly no one from the White House has come rushing out to deny that cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are what is supposed to balance any new revenue. A few other bloggers have written about this.

Digby is always alert for any mentions of Obama’s seeming obsession with cutting Social Security, and she didn’t miss this one.

I don’t know that anyone’s ever admitted that in public before or that the president was completely, shall we say, honest when he ran for his second term about that specific definition of “a balanced approach”. I haven’t heard anyone say publicly that the sequester “deal” as far as the White House was concerned was to cut “entitlements” in exchange for new revenues. I wonder how many members of congress were aware of this “deal” when they voted for the sequester? The public certainly wasn’t.

I wish I could understand why it is so important to Barack Obama to cut these vital programs before he leaves office. It seems to be his obsession. But there you have it. It’s not just in the DNA of the sequester, it seems to be in the DNA of this White House.

In this sense, it seems that Sperling and Woodward–and by extension Obama–do “see eye to eye.”

At FDL, John Walker gets right to the point in his headline: Sperling: Obama Wanted Sequester to Force Democrats to Accept Entitlement Cuts.

The way Obama has handled basically every manufactured crisis from the debt ceiling, to the Bush tax cuts expiration, to the sequester has been about trying to force both Democrats and Republicans to embrace his version of a “grand bargain.” While it is clear this has been the driving force behind Obama’s decisions, if you pay close attention to his actions is is rare than an administration official will directly admit this. This is actually what I think it most interesting about the recently leaked email exchange between Bob Woodward and Gene Sperling up on Politico…..

Obama wants to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits. Obama also wants to raise taxes, but he only wants to do these unpopular things if he can get bipartisan cover to destroy basic democratic accountability. If everyone is to blame than no one is to blame.

What has sometimes been viewed as incompetence on the part of Obama during negotiations is actually Obama trying to weaken Democrats’ hand to “force” them to accept entitlement cuts while being able to blame it on the mean Republicans.

That is why even now Obama isn’t calling for the sequester to be simply repealed or delayed. Obama still wants to use this manufactured crisis to force congressional Democrats to betray their base by adopting Social Security cuts and get Republicans to accept revenue increases.

Finally, thanks to JJ for sending me the link to this piece by Robert Kuttner at The American Prospect: Dear White House, You’ll Regret This.

[Gene Sperling’s] e-mail is pure confirmation that Obama’s position, dating back to at least 2011, has been to try to trade cuts in Social Security and Medicare for new revenues. It confirms that Sperling and his boss have been channeling the likes of Robert Rubin, Pete Peterson, the corporate-sponsored Fix the Debt campaign, et al., who have been promoting exactly this grand bargain. Sperling confirms that the sequester was designed to force exactly such a dismal deal.

But even worse, writes Kuttner, is what the e-mail demonstrations about Sperling’s–and Obama’s–pathetic negotiating skills.

The Woodward-Sperling exchange is far more interesting for what it reveals about Sperling/Obama’s propensity for giving ground on core issues and getting almost nothing in return. I supposed we should be grateful that Sperling is only wrecking the economy, the Democrats, Social Security, and Medicare—and not negotiating nukes with the Ayatollah.

I’ve said ever since I read The Audacity of Hope back in 2007 that Obama wanted to cut Social Security. Actually, he made it clear in the book that he wanted to privatize it, but he must have realized that wasn’t going to happen. It’s time for those of us who care about these issues to start screaming bloody murder again. We need to get on this ASAP. So tell your friends and call your Congress critters.

The floor is open for discussion.


Maybe the deal isn’t as bad as I thought.

Chess Master or Pawn?

Chess Master or Pawn?

So I went and watched a silly movie (and thoroughly enjoyed it). I calmed down and decided to get back online for a bit. I read some reactions to the fiscal cliff deal from a different perspective, and now I think maybe I was wrong. Sure it’s a lousy deal, but it’s not over yet and at Obama did manage to preserve the social safety net programs, extend unemployment benefits, hold onto the earned income tax credit and child credits, and got some minimal revenue increases.

Look, I’m poor, but I’m not on unemployment. I was willing to go “off the cliff” in order to force the Republicans’ hand. But there are millions of poor and working class people out there would would really suffer if they lose their unemployment and those tax givebacks. Now those have been extended for a year at least. Yes, there will be another fight in two months, but there was going to be a battle royal in two months anyway. Now they will kill two birds with one stone–the debt limit and the sequester will be wrapped up in one fight.

Have I drunk the Koolaid? No, but I admit I really do want to hang onto some hope for the future. So beat me up in the comments all you want. I’m going to hold off judging this deal for two more months. Then if Obama completely sells out the poor and elderly, I’ll admit I made a big mistake. But for now, I’m willing to give Obama a chance.

My changed perspective came from reading a couple of diaries at DailyKos (so shoot me!) and then rereading pieces by Paul Krugman and Noam Scheiber. First up, a Kos diary by ban nock: “Obama’s Deal From a poor Person’s Perspective.”

As usual Obama looked out for us fairly well. All you folks in the financial industry who are weeping and wailing can just pound sand, cash in some stock options, sell your Lincoln, cry me a river.

The biggest thing is earned income tax credit and medicaid, neither of which were touched. Looks like we lost 2% on Social Security contributions but that is more than made up by the earned income credit (EIC)

I should do more to define poor. By poor I mean lower than median income down to, well, to really really poor. Median is around 40K.

The earned income credit is the thing that pulls the greatest number of people out of poverty in the USA. It’s an alternative to raising minimum wages.

You take your adjusted gross income and if you’re a family with a coupla kids making between $13K and $22K Uncle Sam is going to either reduce your taxes by around $5K or reduce them as much as possible and send you a fat check for the remainder. How cool is that? Chart to figure what you get here. http://www.irs.gov/… What is Adjusted Gross Income? That’s how much money you make, but it could come down for things like IRA contributions.

And then, as ban nock points out, there’s unemployment, which is the only thing between millions of Americans and abject poverty.

Now when I first read ban nock’s diary, I was somewhat skeptical. My point of view was that Obama is just warming up for the big kill, “entitlement reform.” But wait a minute. The Republicans were screaming for that in 2011 and again in this last fight. But they didn’t get it. In fact Harry Reid even took the Chained CPI off the table and Obama and Biden didn’t put it back on.

Then I moved on to this diary by Alexander Dukes AKA “Game Guru”: “Umm… We’re playing chess, not checkers. And we’re winning.” You really need to read the whole thing, but the gist is that Obama has been dealing with people who are utterly intractable–they’re actually buttfuck crazy!–so what Obama has done is to keep kicking the can down the road while each time getting something for nothing and at the same time preserving the social programs most needed by the poor and unemployed. Here’s an

First off, lets establish that we’re playing chess, not checkers. Our objective is not to win more battles than the Republicans, its to win the war. In this case its a war against the Republican objective to effectively dismantle Medicare, Social Security, Obamacare, the EPA and every other part of the government that doesn’t leave the people to the whims of the 1 percent. This is chess, so we can afford to lose a few pieces so that we draw our opponent in for the final blow. With every turn we attempt to move toward our ultimate goal, even if that means we take some blows along the way. Chess is a thinking man’s game, it takes a long time to play. Similarly, in these budget fights, Obama’s thinking about the long haul.

Lets examine the President’s strategy: In the first budget fight, Republicans wanted to extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone. The Democrats wanted to extend unemployment benefits and renew the START treaty. There was a great deal of debate… and something happened. What did we end up with? We got START, the unemployment extension, and what else…. what else… oh yeah, DADT was repealed! All for maintaining the tax status quo at the time. Essentially, we offered nothing, and the Republicans got nothing.

Okay, so we gave up the hope for more revenue from taxing the rich, but as Republicans keep pointing out, that new revenue won’t even keep the government going for very long. It’s mostly a symbolic effort to restore some fairness to the tax system.

After that was the debt ceiling fight. Well, Obama almost got to a deal back in 2011, but to no avail. So to raise the debt ceiling congress created the sequester. Nothing for nothing there. Not a bad or good deal, because there wasn’t really a deal at all. But in the sense that there was a deal, both sides agreed to a lame duck rematch, betting that their side would win the election and have the leverage in the sequester fight. Obama won the election, so he had the leverage.

Again, Republicans basically got nothing–just a fake deadline that everyone knew all along was just kicking the can down the road.

Lets discuss what happened (and is still happening) today. Yesterday, Mitch McConnell and Obama reached a deal that did 3 main things: It ends the Bush tax cuts for those making over $400K, it raised the estate tax for those with estates greater than 5 million, and extends unemployment benefits for another year. For this, the Republicans gained… nothing.

That’s right, nothing. Yes, the sequester is extended for only 60 days, but that bumps right up against the debt ceiling… something the Republicans were going to fight over anyway. The media common wisdom is that the Republicans gained “leverage” in this deal. How so? Obama just combined two potential clusterf*cks into one! He gained a years worth of unemployment benefits, tax hikes on the 1%, and an estate tax hike; all for making his job easier in the long term.

Next time Obama may have to cave on the Chained CPI, which would be horrible, but better than privatization of Social Security. But maybe he won’t have to give that up, who knows? All we know for now is that Social Security hasn’t been changed yet.

Obama wanted the debt limited to be raised with the elimination of the sequester. This is essentially raising the limit along with eliminating the sequester, only now he’s getting more of what he wants when the debate starts because he’s already got the tax hikes and the unemployment extension!

Not only that, but now he has two major speeches between now and then to set the debate squarely in his favor.

It makes sense to me. Frankly, I buy it for now. And you know why I’m willing to string Obama along for another two months? Because of what happened in his second debate with Mitt Romney:

Please proceed, Governor.

Please proceed, Speaker.

Maybe I’m nuts, but maybe I’m not. I’m going to wait two months and find out. Now let’s look at what Krugman had to say about the upside of the deal:

To make sense of what just happened, we need to ask what is really at stake, and how much difference the budget deal makes in the larger picture.

So, what are the two sides really fighting about? Surely the answer is, the future of the welfare state. Progressives want to maintain the achievements of the New Deal and the Great Society, and also implement and improve Obamacare so that we become a normal advanced country that guarantees essential health care to all its citizens. The right wants to roll the clock back to 1930, if not to the 19th century.

There are two ways progressives can lose this fight. One is direct defeat on the question of social insurance, with Congress actually voting to privatize and eventually phase out key programs — or with Democratic politicians themselves giving away their political birthright in the name of a mess of pottage Grand Bargain. The other is for conservatives to successfully starve the beast — to drive revenue so low through tax cuts that the social insurance programs can’t be sustained.

The good news for progressives is that danger #1 has been averted, at least so far — and not without a lot of anxiety first.

Romney lost, so nothing like the Ryan plan is on the table until President Santorum takes office, or something. Meanwhile, in 2011 Obama was willing to raise the Medicare age, in 2012 to cut Social Security benefits; but luckily the extremists of the right scuttled both deals. There are no cuts in benefits in this deal.

And Scheiber’s take on the upside:

I think a reasonable person can defend the bill on its own terms. The fact is that nudging up the tax threshold to $450,000 only sacrifices $100-200 billion in revenue over the next decade (against the $700-800 billion the administration would have secured with its original threshold), while allowing unemployment benefits to lapse would cause real pain to both the 2 million people directly affected and, indirectly, to the economy. Yes, Obama could have gotten the latter without giving up the former had he just waited another few days—at which point what the GOP considers a tax increase suddenly becomes a tax cut. But these things are always easier to pull the trigger on when you, er, don’t actually have to pull the trigger. I can’t begrudge Obama his wanting to avoid some downside risk for only a marginally better deal.

In other words, we are dealing with insane people–the Republicans in the House and Senate–and so far we haven’t given away the real farm, the social safety net. Unfortunately we don’t have enough revenue for a real stimulus either, but we go back to the table in two months and the Republicans are scoring that as a win for them.

But what if it’s not? What if dealing both issues at once–the debt ceiling and the sequester–and sooner, is an advantage for Democrats and the White House? We can’t know for sure until the next fight.  But Obama did get a year of unemployment, those tax givebacks, and some symbolic concessions from the super-rich.  And he does have the State of the Union and Inauguration speeches to call out the Republicans and make his case.

So that’s why I’m going to give this deal a chance for now. It’s not a great deal, but the important stuff has been protected for the time being. Now go ahead and hammer me in the comments, I don’t mind.


Thursday Reads: Fiscal Cliff Crashes into Debt Ceiling, Villagers Blame Old People….And Other News

cat.rain

Good Morning!!

The storm has moved into New England, but it’s mostly rain up here–very hard, windy, noisy rain. I’m very grateful it isn’t snow, but I feel for all the people down south of me who are getting hit harder. Take care, everyone!!

Yesterday Tim Geithner announced that the U.S. will hit the debt ceiling on December 31. He sent a letter (pdf) (also posted on the Treasury Department website)to Harry Reid with cc’s to other Congresscritters informing them that the Treasury can fiddle around and keep things going for at the most two months before the U.S. defaults on its debts for the first time in history.

Meanwhile, no negotiations on the “fiscal cliff” took place yesterday. John Boehner appears to have abdicated all responsibility and has announced that it’s up the the Senate to act; but Senators are in no hurry to rush back to Washington DC and clean up the House Republicans’ mess.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday urged the Senate to pass its version of legislation to avert the “fiscal cliff,” in a sign that congressional efforts to avoid a budget crisis are coming back to life days ahead of the year-end deadline.

In a statement issued by Boehner and his top lieutenants, the Republican leadership team said “the Senate must act first” to revive efforts to avert the $600 billion in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts due to be triggered on Jan. 1.

They promised that the House would weigh whatever legislation the Senate produced.

What are we paying these incompetent idiots for anyway? But of course no one is talking about cutting Congresspeople’s salaries–the pressure is all on Social Security recipients. Yesterday, Ruth Markus wrote a column in support of cutting benefits because seniors and disabled people (including disabled veterans) are getting too much money (the average SS check is $1,200 per month). She thinks everyone should gratefully embrace the Chained CPI.

Here’s how the CPI works. When taxes are being calculated, brackets, standard deductions, personal exemptions and the like are ratcheted up with inflation, protecting taxpayers from being forced to pay higher taxes for what is essentially the same amount of income they had previously.

Benefits — everything from Social Security to veterans’ benefits to federal pensions — are similarly adjusted upward to protect beneficiaries’ buying power from being relentlessly eroded.

Such indexing makes eminent sense. The difficulty — and the money-saving opportunity — arises because, in the view of most economists, the current method of calculating changes in the CPI overstates the inflation rate.

It fails to account for what economists call upper-level substitution bias, and what my mother would call plain common sense: If the price rises for a certain commodity in the basket of goods used to measure inflation, consumers will choose a cheaper alternative. In my house, when the price of beef soars, we substitute chicken.

The CPI doesn’t and, as a result, taxpayers are undercharged and beneficiaries are overpaid — a lot. The overestimate is small — less than 0.3 percentage points annually but, much like compound interest, it adds up over time.

What Marcus doesn’t seem to understand is that when your income is that low, beef and chicken are are both too expensive and you substitute peanut butter and dried beans. Except that peanut butter prices have skyrocketed–what’s the next step down, cat food?

Two economists responded to Markus. Dean Baker at the CEPR: Ruth Marcus Is Outraged by Overly Generous Social Security Checks.

Well, who can blame her? After all, we have tens of millions of seniors living high on Social Security checks averaging a bit over $1,200 a month at a time when folks like the CEOs in the Campaign to Fix the Debt are supposed to subsist on paychecks that typically come to $10 million to $20 million a year.

Anyhow, her main trick for cutting benefits is to adopt the chained consumer price index as the basis for the annual cost of living adjustment. This would have the effect of reducing benefits by 0.3 percentage points for each year of retirement. This means a beneficiary would see a 3 percent cut in benefits after 10 years, a 6 percent cut after 20 years and a 9 percent cut after 30 years. This is real money. Since Social Security is more than half the income for almost 70 percent of retirees and more than 90 percent of the income for 40 percent of retirees, the hit to the affected population would be considerably larger than the hit to the top 2 percent from ending the Bush era tax cuts.

But Marcus insists this cut must be done first and foremost in the name of accuracy, since the chained CPI is supposed to provide a better measure of the cost of living. She notes but quickly dismisses the evidence from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) consumer price index for the elderly (CPI-E), which shows that the rate of inflation seen by the elderly is somewhat higher than the overall rate of inflation.

Read Baker’s upteenth explanation of why the Chained CPI doesn’t accurately reflect spending for seniors at the link. He argues for continuing development of a CPI that takes into account that seniors spend greater proportions of their income on health care and basic necessities that can’t necessarily be replaced with cheaper substitutes.

Next, Jared Bernstein says he’s “convinced the Chained CPI is coming” and it is a benefit cut. He agrees with Baker that an elderly CPI would be a good thing, but says that Markus’ argument we should cut benefits now and deal with the injustices later makes no sense.

…as Dean notes, it would make a lot of sense to invest in a chained-weighted CPI that accounts for the notably different buying patterns of the elderly. Ruth Marcus critiques this point today but for reasons that don’t make sense to me. For example, she criticizes an elderly price index that would more heavily weight health care spending because “the burden of higher health costs falls unevenly among the elderly. Average costs are skewed upward by a minority who face very high out-of-pocket expenses…”

But a) all the commonly used price indexes use average costs and are thus “skewed” up and down when the underlying distribution is uneven, and b) there’s little question that the ‘old’ elderly—the ones most hurt by the switch to the chain-weighted measure—face high out-of-pocket medical costs.

Marcus goes on to endorse, as do we at CBPP, [immediately switching to the Chained CPI but protecting “vulnerable people from the impact”] and this is clearly the administration’s view as well—in fact, they’ve built in offsetting benefits to the poor, old elderly into their plan. That’s very important and salutary and one reason why I nervously support the switch.

But I’m more concerned than Ruth appears to be with the possibility that the current politics get us the chained CPI without the necessary protections.

It certainly looks like President Obama will go down in history as the Democrat who cut the New Deal off at the knees unless he suddenly realizes his legacy matters to him. Remember way back when Social Security was “off the table” because it doesn’t contribute to the deficit? Oh wait–that was only two weeks ago.

Read the rest of this entry »


Someone Needs to Remind President Obama Who Won the Election

Barack Obama's inner child?

Barack Obama’s inner child?

In November, President Obama won reelection cleanly and decisively–it was a landslide. Immediately after his victory, Obama appeared determined to stand up to Republican intransigence in the battle over the “fiscal cliff” and the debt ceiling. He “assured a gathering of progressive and labor leaders…”

“I am not going to budge,” he told the group, according to an attendee who relayed material from the meeting on condition of anonymity. “I said in 2010 that I’m going to do this once, and I meant it.”

….two other sources who attended the meeting confirmed the quote. The administration seems to have staked out a firmer position than during the first stand-off over the Bush-era tax cuts, in November and December of 2010, leaving the impression that it won’t sign off on a compromise that doesn’t increase the tax burden on the wealthy as a means of paying down the deficit….

Top Democrats in the Senate have said they would be comfortable letting all the tax rates expire — as they are scheduled to do — at the end of the year, after which they will put together a tax cut bill that would re-establish the Bush-era rates for incomes below $250,000.

As the talks began, the White House emphatically stated that Social Security was not part of the deficit and that cuts in this important program were off the table. But just a few weeks later, the odious New York Post is laughing at Obama for “caving” on Social Security. Why should Boehner negotiate in earnest when he knows his opponent–one of the most powerful men in the world–will eventually give in because of some perverse need to demonstrate “bipartisanship?”

A short time ago Obama gave a press conference in which he admitted,

“I have gone at least half way” to meet Republican concerns, Obama told reporters at the White House after he announced the formation of a special panel to recommend steps to prevent gun violence. “The fact that they haven’t taken it yet is puzzling.”

Obama’s offer includes raising tax rates on income above $400,000; increasing rates on capital gains and dividends to 20% from 15% for incomes above $250,000; and billions of dollars in cuts to health care and other programs.

While Obama has backed off on earlier proposals — including a $250,000 threshold for higher income taxes — Republicans continue to say that the president’s fiscal-cliff plan is flawed.

“It is not ‘puzzling’ to reject an agreement that…fails to remotely meet the test of balance [the president] himself has promised,” said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, in a post on Twitter.

He’s sounding whiny again. Why is he so surprised? He’s like Charlie Brown with the football. Obama never seems to finally learn that if he stands strong against Boehner, he not only will defeat the Republicans but also he’ll earn the respect and support of the American people.

Markos has an interesting post at Dailykos that demonstrates this: It wasn’t Obama’s negotiating style that won him reelection. It almost cost him. Markos demonstrates with a chart and timeline that Obama’s approval rating rose and fell dramatically during his negotiations with Boehner over the debt ceiling last year.

President Barack Obama entered the debt ceiling negotiations with a net-negative approval rating. As House Speaker John Boehner became more belligerent and confrontational, Obama soared. The people were firmly behind him! But then he began offering concession after concession, hoping to seem “reasonable” and look like the “adult in the room,” and his numbers simply tanked. That’s a mathematical fact, not opinion.

He didn’t return to net-positive approvals until the Democratic convention this September. People didn’t reward Obama’s conciliatory approach to the negotiations. Rather, they saw it (rightly) as weakness, and reacted accordingly. No one likes a weak president.

Then Markos uses the 2012 exit polls to show that Obama was reelected despite his “leadership style,” because people sensed that the President really cared about their problems.

For those who based their choice on leadership, Obama got killed 61-38. And the president lost the “vision” and “values” questions handily as well. So how did he win? He cleaned up 81-18 with people who voted on which candidate cared about them the most. In other words, voters thought Mitt Romney was an aloof dick and trusted Obama most to look out for them. So maybe he should validate that trust.

Obama isn’t doing himself any favors by drawing lines in the sand and then inevitably capitulating.

Republicans have learned that there isn’t a negotiating stance that Obama won’t compromise. That doesn’t lend itself to smart negotiations. Rather, it creates unbalanced ones, as Republicans simply wait for Obama to cave on his demands. They’ve learned that for Obama, making a deal is more important than what’s in the deal.

Obama with dad

Why does Obama repeatedly do this? I can’t possibly know for sure, but I think he has inner child issues. We all have times when we regress back to a time in childhood when we were weak and had few options. It’s important to learn how to deal with that when it happens.

Obama needs to learn to remind himself that he’s no longer a small child abandoned first by his father and then by his mother–sent away to be raised by his grandparents. That must have been very difficult for him, but he’s not that sad, lonely little boy anymore. He’s the President of the United States, and those of us who voted for him need him to act like it.

Cutting Social Security and backing off the $250,000 income level for those who must pay more taxes is unacceptable. Not only will caving on these issues hurt seniors, disabled people, and force middle class and working class Americans to pay more than their share, but also giving in to Boehner’s demands will hurt Obama’s legacy and the Democratic Party as a whole. As David Johnson of The Campaign for America’s Future points out, “Social Security is Still the Third Rail,” and cutting it would be “political suicide.”

We JUST had an election where the public (not to mention Every. Single. Poll.) overwhelmingly said no cuts to Social Security or Medicare, and raise taxes on income over $250K. That ought to mean something. But the “word” out of DC is that a deal is underway that cuts the Social Security COLA and increases the income level subject to a higher tax from $250K to $400K.

Senators and Representatives who are thinking of touching the “third rail:” How many constituents are calling your office today to say, “Yes, I want you to cut the Social Security COLA”?
Cutting Social Security makes no sense, and is bad politics because it hurts people. Old people depend on this meager benefit and by law Social Security can not contribute to deficits. But never mind the numbers, look at the social and political effects of a deal that cuts the Social Security cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) immediately after the public voted not to do this.

The social effect: Does our society care about people, or just about money? Cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security hurt PEOPLE. Raising tax rates on the wealthy is just money. What does it tell the public about our society if their government cuts Social Security benefits immediately after we have an election in which the public overwhelmingly votes against cuts in Social Security or Medicare, and to increase taxes on $250K and up? This reported deal raises that $250K to $400K, reduces military cuts, and ignores that the same amount of money could be raised in ways that actually help the country and economy, like a Financial Transaction Tax.

The AARP has come out strongly against applying the chained CPI to Social Security.

“Adopting the chained consumer price index for Social Security benefits will take $112 billion out of the pockets of current Social Security beneficiaries in the next 10 years alone, and is neither fair nor warranted.

“Social Security is currently the principal source of income for nearly two-thirds of older American households, and roughly one third of those households depend on Social Security for nearly all of their income. Half of those 65 and older have annual incomes below $18,500. Every dollar of the average Social Security retirement benefit of about $14,800 is absolutely critical to the typical beneficiary.

“The Chained CPI is a stealth benefit reduction that will compound over time and cut thousands of dollars in retirement income for current beneficiaries. A typical 80-year-old woman will lose the equivalent of 3 months worth of food annually. The greatest impact of Chained CPI would fall on the oldest, eventually resulting in a cut of one full month’s benefit annually. This dramatic benefit cut would push thousands more into poverty and result in increased economic hardship for those trying desperately to keep up with rising prices.”

Labor unions are also warning Obama to “Back off Social Security.”

The AFL-CIO is pushing President Obama to back off from Social Security benefit cuts in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations.

The nation’s largest labor federation sent an email Tuesday to activists asking them to email the White House and lawmakers and oppose the changes to Social Security that the president has offered to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in deficit-reduction package.

“Boehner has been talking to President Obama about cutting Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLAs), which are especially important to keep inflation from eating away the benefits that seniors and people with disabilities depend on,” said the email, signed by Damon Silvers, the AFL-CIO’s director of policy.

“Email President Obama, your member of the House of Representatives and your senators to demand they reject House Speaker Boehner’s proposal to extend tax cuts for the rich and that they oppose COLA cuts and any other cuts to Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare benefits, regardless of who proposes them.”

These are the people who worked in the trenches to get out the vote and get Obama reelected despite the weak economy and high unemployment. But Obama the people-pleaser only seems to care about what the Republicans think of him. He probably knows intellectually that he’ll never get them to like him, but he just can’t help it. It’s as if Boehner somehow represents Barack Obama, Sr., the man who abandoned a little boy decades ago.

Obama needs to listen to the people who got him where he is and stop worrying about pleasing the people who hate him. He needs to listen to the AARP, Labor, and other progressive groups. It’s not too late to withdraw his latest offer–after all, Boehner has already rejected it and moved on to “Plan B.”

Take Social Security off the table, Mr. President.  Go back to your original stand on taxing incomes over $250,000. Your place in history and the well being of the American people depend on it.