Between the Red Sox being in the World Series and having to have a root canal on Saturday, I’ve been a little bit disconnected from politics. The Sox won again last night in St. Louis, and they’ll be coming back home to Fenway Park leading the series 3 games to 2; so they could end it tomorrow night. If this post is a little late, my aching jaw and baseball are the reasons why.
We’ve been talking a lot about libertarians lately, because so-called progressives have been aligning with those Ayn Rand fans since libertarian Edward Snowden began leaking top secret documents about the NSA and libertarian Glenn Greenwald began lecturing the world about what a great hero Snowden is for defecting to Russia and revealing the most secret counterintelligence methods of the U.S. and U.K.
The latest shameful episode was Saturday’s “Stop Watching Us” rally in Washington, at which supposedly “progressive” groups joined with anti-woman right-wingers like Justin Amash and neo-confederates like Ron and Rand Paul to protest the NSA doing its job of collecting foreign intelligence.
Before the rally took place, Tom Watson wrote a heartfelt column warning “progressives” that libertarians don’t make good bedfellows. Watson wrote that while he dislikes mass surveillance,
I cannot support this coalition or the rally. It is fatally compromised by the prominent leadership and participation of the Libertarian Party and other libertarian student groups; their hardcore ideology stands in direct opposition to almost everything I believe in as a social democrat.
The Libertarian Party itself — inaccurately described by Stop Watching Us as a “public advocacy organization” — is a right-wing political party that opposes all gun control lawsand public healthcare, supported the government shutdown, dismisses public education,opposes organized labor, favors the end of Social Security as we know it, and argues in its formal political manifesto that “we should eliminate the entire social welfare system” while supporting “unrestricted competition among banks and depository institutions of all types.”
Yet my progressive friends would take the stage with the representatives of this political movement? Why? The loss is much greater than the gain. Organizers trade their own good names and reputations to stand alongside — and convey legitimacy to — a party that opposes communitarian participation in liberal society, and rejects the very role of government itself. And their own argument for privacy is weakened by the pollution of an ideology that uses its few positive civil liberties positions as a predator uses candy with a child.
This is an abandonment of core principles, in my view, out of anger over Edward Snowden’s still-recent revelations about the National Security Agency and its spying activity, particularly domestic access to telephone and online networks and metadata. It represents trading long-held beliefs in social and economic justice for a current hot-button issue that — while clearly of concern to all Americans — doesn’t come close to trumping a host of other issues areas that require “the long game” of electoral politics and organizing. Going “all in” with the libertarian purists is a fatal and unnecessary compromise; reform is clearly needed, but the presence of anti-government laissez-faire wingers at the beating heart of the privacy movement will surely sour the very political actors that movement desperately needs to make actual — and not symbolic, link bait — progress in its fight.
But it was to no avail. Watson was attacked for his argument that the anti-surveillance fever is distracting from other important issues. People like Greenwald and Snowden couldn’t possibly care less about alleviating poverty, protecting women’s rights or the right to vote. They’d have no problem with Social Security and Medicare being eliminated, and as for voting, they’re anti-government anyway. Glenn Greenwald–whom some uninformed people believe is a “progressive,” saves his worst attacks for Democrats and in the past has supported Ron Paul and Gary Johnson for president. To Greenwald, sacrificing the entire legacy of FDR and the civil rights and women’s movements is no big deal. Here’s how he characterized the values of liberals who reject Ron Paul in 2011:
Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with racist views in a newsletter, and a more progressive Supreme Court.
Of course, Greenwald is admitting that he’d sacrifice the social safety net and the rights of millions of Americans in a hopeless effort to defeat the military-industrial complex and its technologies. If you can stand to read the whole piece, you’ll also learn that Greenwald thinks Matt Stoller is a “brilliant” writer. Greenwald is a libertarian purist, with no understanding of how politics actually works. This is the pied piper that many “progressives” are following these days.
I guess I’m getting a little carried away here, so I’ll stop ranting and offer some pertinent links.
Just in time for Halloween, Obama’s nightmare “Grand Bargain” once again rears its ugly head. Yesterday morning Bloomberg’s Joshua Green followed a hunch and attended a briefing by the President’s top economic adviser (who is not an economist). According to Green, Sperling told Democrats “they’ll have to swallow entitlement cuts.”
In his usual elliptical and prolix way, Sperling seemed to be laying out the contours of a bargain with Republicans that’s quite a bit different that what most Democrats seem prepared to accept. What stood out to me was how he kept winding back around to the importance of entitlement cuts as part of a deal, as if he were laying the groundwork to blunt liberal anger. Right now, the official Democratic position is that they’ll accept entitlement cuts only in exchange for new revenue—something most Republicans reject. If Sperling mentioned revenue at all, I missed it.
But he dwelt at length—and with some passion—on the need for more stimulus, though he avoided using that dreaded word. He seemed to hint at a budget deal that would trade near-term “investment” (the preferred euphemism for “stimulus’) for long-term entitlement reform. That would be an important shift and one that would certainly upset many Democrats.
Here’s some of what Sperling had to say. He led off with the importance of entitlement cuts. (All emphasis is mine):
“Sometimes here [in Washington] we start to think that the end goal of our public policy is to hit a particular budget or spending or revenue metric—as if those are the goals in and of itself. But it’s important to remember that each of these metrics … are means to larger goals. … Right now, I think there is among a lot of people a consensus as to what the ingredients of a pro-growth fiscal policy are. It would be a fiscal policy that—yes—did give more confidence in the long run that we have a path on entitlement spending and revenues that gives confidence in our long-term fiscal position and that we’re not pushing off unbearable burdens to the next generation. That is very important.”
After Green’s article was posted, White House spokesperson Amy Brundage tried to minimize the talk of cuts in the safety net in the following e-mail:
“Gene was reiterating what our position has been all along: that any big budget deal is going to have to include significant revenues if Republicans insist on entitlement reforms. And any budget deal needs to have first and foremost the goal of creating good jobs for middle class families and growing the economy—that’s our north star in any budget deal, big or small.”
Uh huh. They know Americans are paying attention to the constant threat of cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. We need to stay vigilant and keep pushing back hard.
At Daily Kos, Joan McCarter responded: No, White House advisor Gene Sperling, entitlement cuts are not necessary.
You know what would be a really, really crappy idea? Making cuts to programs that are keeping millions from poverty in order to make a bad economy marginally better. But that’s what President Obama’s top economic advisor—Gene Sperling, director of the White House’s National Economic Council—is telling Democrats they’ll have to swallow….
Yeah, that would upset many Democrats. It would upset a helluva lot of voters, too. Millions and millions of them who have every reason right now to vote against Republicans. It would probably also not go over too well with the next generation who’s going to be far less impacted by the national debt than by having no hope of a secure retirement because a handful of austerity fetishists sold them up the river when they were young.
Sperling is saying that this will have to be done because “we still need to give this recovery more momentum.” Because of course the answer to the recovery is sacrificing some old people. By all means, get their skin in the game. They maybe have an inch or two of skin to spare.
Sign the petition from Senator Bernie Sanders, Daily Kos and an enormous coalition of progressives demanding that Congress and the President oppose any grand bargain which cuts Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.
Here’s an article at The Atlantic that Obama and Sperling should read: Raising the Medicare Age: A Popular Idea With Shockingly Few Benefits
Increasing the Medicare age would barely save the government any money, while increasing healthcare spending overall by keeping seniors in less-efficient private insurance (if they even have it). Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, the policy is fine.
It may seem obvious that raising the Medicare age should save money. After all, the projected rise of the long-term debt is mostly about the projected rise of federal health-care spending. If we raise the Medicare age, Washington can wait longer to pay for seniors’ health care, which means they’ll pay less, overall.
Any time there’s any chance for any kind of budget bargain, “grand” or otherwise, the discussion inside the Beltway inevitably turns to hiking the Medicare age. (Call it Peterson’s Law: As a fiscal debate grows longer, the probability of a CEO proposing a higher Social Security and Medicare age approaches one). Right on cue, this got trial-ballooned during the debt ceiling talks in 2011, and then again during the fiscal cliff talks in 2012. Professional deficit hawks think of raising the Medicare age as a sign of seriousness. It’s not so much about the money it saves as the message it supposedly sends markets: that the debt will be fixed.
Except it’s all a pack of lies. Read all about it at the link.
It’s been a year since Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast and caused so much havoc that it was “the second-costliest hurricane in United States history.” In July 2013, it came out that four charities had been holding back millions in donations that were collected specifically for Sandy relief. Now NY is forcing them to cough up some of the money. From the NY Daily News:
Four charities that had been under fire for sitting on millions of dollars of Hurricane Sandy relief funds have agreed to pony up $10 million to aid victims of the storm.
The charities — including the American Red Cross and a fund created by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees — reached an agreement with state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The deal came after revelations in July that 40% of the $575 million in Sandy aid collected by 90 charities had been disbursed within six months of the storm.
“We have been dogged about making sure that when they raise money and tell the world they are going to spend it on Sandy recovery, they in fact spend it on Sandy recovery,” Schneiderman said during an appearance Thursday in hard-hit Long Beach, L.I.
Brees’ charity had seriously dropped the ball, having received a single $300,000 donation but only allocating $75,000 of it, officials said.
Under the agreement with Schneiderman, the Brees Dream Foundation agreed to disperse the remaining $225,000 by October 2014, the second anniversary of the storm.
In less serious news–it IS Saturday after all, Gawker has learned that Fox News’ Shepard Smith began carrying on an office romance with a young producer at Fox, Giovanni “Gio” Graziano. Apparently, the two have been seen together all over Manhattan.
Gawker has learned that Smith is dating a 26-year-old Penn State grad and Fox Business producer named Giovanni “Gio” Graziano. According to multiple sources with knowledge of their relationship, the couple met sometime after Graziano started working at Fox Report in October 2011 as a production assistant. He’s the man with whom Smith frequents Bathtub Gin.
“Yes, that’s Shepard’s boyfriend,” Katya Minskova, the Bathtub Gin waitress Smith berated in March, confirmed to Gawker when shown a photo of Graziano. Another source who had seen them together at the Chelsea speakeasy confirmed Graziano’s identity as well. Both sources say they saw Graziano and Smith together at the bar on multiple occasions, and that they appeared to be romantically involved.
While Smith and Graziano’s boss Roger Ailes, a notorious homophobe, was apparently kept in the dark about the relationship—“higher ups had no idea,” a source close to Graziano said—the pair doesn’t appear to have gone to great lengths to keep the workplace romance from their co-workers.
Shep Smith arranged for Graziano to be transferred to Fox Business a year ago, so the two wouldn’t be directly working together. Now it’s not clear if Graziano is even working at Fox anymore.
Graziano’s current status at Fox is unclear. His LinkedIn profile indicates that he is currently employed at Fox Business (after three years as a production assistant at Fox News, including one year at Smith’s show). But the source close to Graziano claimed that he abruptly left Fox in mid-July. Graziano “dropped off the planet, cut off all his friends, to be with Shep,” the source said. “His former work friends are clueless about his current whereabouts.”
Very interesting . . .
I noticed this story at The Atlantic a few days ago, and saved it for today. Go to the link to check out this GIF of most popular baby girl names from 1960 to the present, based on data compiled by the Social Security Administration. Rebecca Rosen writes:
My friend Judy used to always say that whenever she met another Judy, she knew exactly how old that Judy was—to the day.
Now that level of precision might be a bit of a stretch, but, as the above map wonderfully shows, there’s good reason for that line of thinking. The most popular baby girl names in the United States are flashes in the pan—each one appearing on the map briefly, before being swept out by an up-and-comer.
The map was built in Adobe Illustrator by Deadspin‘s Reuben Fischer-Baum using data from the Social Security Administration. “Color palette,” Fischer-Baum wrote to me over email, “has to be credited to Stephen Few, from his excellent data viz book Show Me The Numbers.” Earlier drafts gave each name a unique color, he says, but in the end “it was a lot cleaner and more interesting to limit the palette to just the most popular name for any given year, and put the rest in grayscale so you could see how the different ‘eras’ of top names progressed.”
Over at Jezebel, Fischer-Baum describes the picture that emerges:
Baby naming generally follows a consistent cycle: A name springs up in some region of the U.S.—”Ashley” in the South, “Emily” in the Northeast—sweeps over the country, and falls out of favor nearly as quickly. The big exception to these baby booms and busts is “Jennifer”, which absolutely dominates America for a decade-and-a-half. If you’re named Jennifer and you were born between 1970 and 1984, don’t worry! I’m sure you have a totally cool, unique middle name.
Finally, here’s a really scary story for you from Talk to Action: A Majority of Americans 18-29 Years Old Now Believe in Demon Possession, Shows Survey.
Are Americans becoming less religious? While church affiliation is probably declining, don’t expect the atheist revolution anytime soon:
Over one half (63 percent, to be exact) of young Americans 18-29 years old now believe in the notion that invisible, non-corporeal entities called “demons” can take partial or total control of human beings, revealed an October 2012Public Policy Polling survey that also showed this belief isn’t declining among the American population generally; it’s growing.
Please read the whole creepy article at the link. It will scare you silly!
Those are my recommended reads for today. Please let us know what stories you’re following today by posting the links in the comment thread.
The President released his budget today, and it includes the promised benefit cuts to Social Security that the White House has tried to conceal by claiming it wants to institute a supposedly “more accurate” measure of cost-of-living, the Chained CPI. Of course at this point, anyone who is paying attention knows that the change will result in the average senior getting $1,000 less per year after 20 years. It’s a benefit cut pure and simple.
What many people don’t know yet is that switching Chained CPI will result in a significant tax increase for working poor and middle-class Americans.
Here’s your soundtrack for this post. Perhaps the great Aretha Franklin can make Obama’s budget slightly less nauseating. I’m also going to try to ease the pain with cartoons and visual aids.
Luckily, Grover Norquist and the folks at Americans for Tax Reform know darn well that Chained CPI amounts to a tax increase for people on the lower end of the income scale. This is right from their website.
The proposal in question is known as “Chained CPI.” The term is a Beltway euphemism for measuring inflation at a different, slower pace. Many tax and budget items are indexed to inflation, so slowing inflation’s measured rate of growth has both spending cut and tax increase implications.
On the tax side, all income tax brackets are subject to inflation. Slowing down the inflation rate slows down the annual rate of growth in all income tax brackets.
This means the Obama budget contains a tax increase on 100 percent of middle class taxpayers—anyone who pays the federal income tax.
Many other tax provisions—the standard deduction, the personal exemption, PEP and Pease, IRA and 401(k) contribution limits, and many others—are also tied to how CPI is measured.
Chained CPI as a stand-alone measure (that is, not paired with tax relief of equal or greater size) is a tax increase and a Taxpayer Protection Pledge violation. Various reports peg the tax increase amount as exceeding $100 billion over the next decade.
Ted Rall explains Chained CPI:
Dylan Matthews broke it all down (with charts) in a December 2012 post. Here’s the gist:
The group getting the biggest tax hike is families making between $30,000 and $40,000 a year. Their increase is almost six times that faced by millionaires. That’s because millionaires are already in the top bracket, so they’re not being pushed into higher marginal rates because of changing bracket thresholds. While a different inflation measure might mean that the cutoff between the 15 percent and 25 percent goes from $35,000 to $30,000, the threshold for the top 35 percent bracket is already low enough that all millionaires are paying it. Some of their income is taxed at higher rates because of lower thresholds down the line, but as a percentage of income that doesn’t amount to a whole lot.
All told, chained CPI raises average taxes by about 0.19 percent of income. So, taken all together, it’s basically a big (5 percent over 12 years; more, if you take a longer view) across-the-board cut in Social Security benefits paired with a 0.19 percent income surtax. You don’t hear a lot of politicians calling for the drastic slashing of Social Security benefits and an across-the-board tax increase that disproportionately hits low earners. But that’s what they’re sneakily doing when they talk about chained CPI.
That’s why watchdog groups like the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities argue that the only fair way to do chained CPI would be to pair it with an increase in Social Security benefits, and to exempt Supplemental Security Income, which provides support for impoverished elderly, disabled and blind people. Otherwise, it’s just a typical “raise taxes, cut benefits” plan, and an arguably regressive one at that.
So basically if you work for a living or depend on Social Security, you’re getting screwed coming and going.
Here’s another cartoonist’s evaluation of the situation:
Chained CPI will disproportionately affects women, according to the AARP (3/6/2013).
The Social Security benefit cut known as Chained CPI remains a piece of the deficit puzzle for reasons that baffle conservatives, veterans, progressives, and almost everyone in between. The $85 billion in sequester cuts for 2013 have begun and many in Washington have still said they’re willing to cut the modest Social Security benefits we’ve earned by $127 billion over 10 years, even though Social Security by law remains separate from the budget and its deficit. Let’s give every woman and anyone who has or has ever had a mother, sister, daughter, grandmother, aunt or girlfriend a reason to despise this wretched proposal.
This week AARP began running ads about the impact of what the Chained CPI Social Security benefit cuts would mean to women. Below is a copy of one of those ads.
Here’s what Terri O’Neill, president of NOW had to say about women and Chained CPI.
I’m sure you recall that our previous Republican President (let’s face it, Obama is a Democrat in name only) began his second term with the ambitious goal of privatizing Social Security. It didn’t end well for him. Here’s a cartoon from back then:
And another one:
That’s the kind of reaction politicians tend to get when they attack the most successful and powerful government program in history. That’s why it’s called “the third rail.” Remember in when Texas Gov. Rick Perry attacked Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme?” Look what happened to him?
Obama is already beginning to learn why politicians who step on the “third rail” end up regretting it. He’s out there on a limb all by himself. Democrats hate his budget and so do Republicans, because the vast majority of Americans like Social Security and if it’s threatened they tend to get mad–especially seniors.
Yesterday, Digby recalled what can happen “When seniors get angry …” She referred to an incident in 1989 which Democrat Dan Rostenkowski–the powerful Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee–was chased down the street by enraged seniors.
Andrea Stone told the tale at AOL News in August 2010 after the Illinois Congressman’s death: Rosty’s ‘Catastrophic’ Moment Over Health Care Was a First.
The Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act, first unveiled by President Ronald Reagan, became law in July 1989. The measure provided seniors on Medicare with protection against catastrophic medical expenses and coverage of prescription drug costs. The benefits were to be paid for exclusively by the elderly receiving them, with high-income seniors paying an extra premium surtax.
Soon after Congress passed the law on an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, Rosty returned to his district. It was there, after a fairly civil meeting with seniors resentful over having to pay higher taxes for coverage they either already had from a former employer or didn’t want, that he was accosted by an angry mob of Social Security recipients.
As the Chicago Tribune reported the next day, Aug. 19, 1989:
Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, one of the most powerful politicians in the United States, was booed and chased down a Chicago street Thursday morning by a group of senior citizens after he refused to talk with them about federal health insurance. Shouting “coward,” “recall” and “impeach,” about 50 people followed the chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee up Milwaukee Avenue after he left a meeting in the auditorium of the Copernicus Center, 3106 N. Milwaukee Ave., in the heart of his 8th Congressional District on the city’s Northwest Side.
Eventually, the 6-foot-4-inch Rostenkowski cut through a gas station, broke into a sprint and escaped into his car, which minutes earlier had one of the elderly protesters, Leona Kozien, draped over the hood. Kozien, one of more than 100 senior citizens who attended the gathering, said she had hoped to talk to Rostenkowski, her congressman, at the meeting.
But Rostenkowski clearly did not want to talk with her, or any of the others who had come to tell their complaints about the high cost of federal catastrophic health insurance. “These people don’t understand what the government is trying to do for them,” the 61-year-old congressman complained as he tried to outpace his pursuers.
“This was a setup,” said Jaffe, who can be seen in the video ducking into the backseat of the car. “They were standing with made-for-television signs about how he had sold them out.”
As the Tribune reported, “Kozien was soon on the hood, determinedly holding her sign only inches from the windshield. Except for the glass, she was virtually face-to-face with her congressman. ‘I was a little nervous,’ Kozien said later. ‘But I could see through the car window that he looked more afraid than I was.’”
And there is even video of the incident:
Obama is all alone out there on his limb. The only people who have his back are his apparently not-to-bright advisers. Does he really want to be remembered as the first Democratic President to tamper with Social Security? And BTW, his budget also cuts Medicare significantly. Is this really what he wants as his “legacy?” Is it really good enough to gain the applause of Wall Street and the “Very Serious People” in Washington, DC today but go down in history as a worse president than Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and George W. Bush? We shall see.
House Speaker John Boehner immediately dismissed President Barack Obama’s package of significant new entitlement cuts tied to new tax revenues, calling them “no way to lead and move the country forward.”
The White House had portrayed the proposal, part of the budget it will release next week, as a compromise with Congressional Republicans that could have put them on track for another run at a grand bargain.
But Boehner said he will not consider new revenues as part of the deal, arguing that “modest” entitlement savings should not “be held hostage for more tax hikes.”
Politico notes that Obama has now opened himself up to attacks from both the left (such as it is) and the right. Right wing nuts hate the increased taxes on “tax-preferred retirement accounts for millionaires and billionaires”
Already, Obama’s budget proposal goes farther than many in his own party and base said they would bear by including “chained CPI,” the adjustment that would over time reduce cost-of-living increases to Social Security and other federal benefit programs — effectively, a cut to Social Security benefits by tying them to inflation….
And Obama is already facing a backlash from liberal Democrats as he has floated the chained CPI idea. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said Friday that any Social Security cuts are a no-go for him.
“While there are large portions of the president’s budget that I strongly support, I remain firmly opposed to the chained CPI,” Harkin said. “This policy is an unnecessary attack on Social Security, a program that by law is unable to add to the deficit.”
As I’ve repeatedly said, our only defense against Obama’s obsession with cutting social programs is the stupidity of the House Republicans.
Obama Suggests He’ll Include Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid Cuts in 2014 Budget Due in AprilPosted: March 29, 2013 | |
The White House is strongly considering including limits on entitlement benefits in its fiscal 2014 budget—a proposal it first offered Republicans in December. The move would be aimed in part at keeping alive bipartisan talks on a major budget deal.
Such a proposal could include steps that make many Democrats queasy, such as reductions in future Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security payments, but also items resisted by Republicans, such as higher taxes through limits on tax breaks, people close to the White House said.
These measures would come as President Barack Obama continues his courtship of the Senate GOP in an effort to thaw tax-and-spending talks. The White House’s delayed annual budget is scheduled to be released April 10, the same day Mr. Obama plans to dine with a group of Senate Republicans to discuss the budget and other issues….
People close to the White House believe a proposal to slow the growth rate of such benefits would use a variant of the Consumer Price Index to measure inflation. The new inflation indicator would cut overall spending by $130 billion, according to White House projections, and raise $100 billion in tax revenue by slowing the growth of tax brackets. The White House earlier called for an additional $800 billion or so in cuts on top of those resulting from the inflation adjustments.
“We and all of the groups engaged on this are starting to feel it may well be in the budget,” said Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president at AARP, an advocacy group for seniors that opposes such changes.
According to the WSJ article, the White House would “insist” that if cuts to safety net programs are included, the entire budget package would have to get an up or down vote. I’m not sure how they would enforce that.
From Susie’s post at Crooks and Liars:
Get your dialing fingers ready. There’s a reason they let this story out on Good Friday, they’re counting on you not noticing or being too busy to do anything about it. The White House switchboard is 202-456-1414, the comments line is 202-456-1111 (be prepared to hold) or you can email here.