Monday Reads

bohemiaGood Morning!

Last week, I wrote about the debacle behind the study that was used to promote fiscal austerity in a time when just the opposite policy is prescribed by economic theory.  One of the big questions I had was if the results of study’s hypothesis was now insignificant–which in scientific method  means the conclusions were not proven–would we see a stop to these crazy austerity policy pushers. We’ve learned the answer is no.  Dumber and Dumber–heads of the so-called cat food commission–who couldn’t lead their committee to a written conclusion are on the road touting their call to deficit hysteria based on the always controversial and now highly flawed study.

On April 19, just after I had written about how the key academic research used to bolster austerity policies was exposed by a 28-year-old grad student at U Mass-Amherst, I got a surprise in my email inbox: Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson giddily announced their new deficit-reduction plan, which includes, among other things, a recommendation to increase the eligibility age for Medicare. Their plan would reduce debt as a share of GDP below 70 percent by 2023, and as the Washington Post reports, “seeks far less in new taxes than the original, and it seeks far more in savings from federal health programs for the elderly.”

What’s incredible is that over the last week, the study by Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff that famously warned of the dangers of government debt has been proven to be riddled with errors and questionable methodology. To recap: R&R’s paper purported to show that countries with public debt in excess of 90 percent of gross domestic product suffered negative economic growth. Austerity hawks everywhere used it to justify cuts that have cost people jobs and vital services. The original spreadsheet used by R&R was obtained by a U Mass grad student, who found that in addition to the mistakes already noted by several economists, there was a coding error in their Excel spreadsheet that significantly changed the results of their study.

As New York magazine’s Jon Chait has pointed out, that same discredited research has been used by Bowles and Simpson to formulate their deficit-reducing austerity plans.

You simply cannot get these tools of the plutocracy to come clean.  They’re going to go down with the stupidity and are trying to bring the rest of the country with them.

I promised myself to make sure we pointed to injustice and suffering around the world as well as our own home towns.  Today I want to provide information about Myanmar–a country I’ve spent time studying and a country trying to change–with a history of brutal ethnic cleansing of its Muslim minority population.

Ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity have been committed against Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya people, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York-based nongovernmental organisation.

According to the report released on Monday, entitled All You Can Do is Pray, more than 125,000 ethnic Rohingya have been forcibly displaced since two waves of violence in May and October 2012.

Satellite images show almost 5,000 structures on land mostly owned by Muslim Rohingya have been destroyed, says the report.

The October attacks, the report states, were coordinated by Myanmar government officials, an ethnic Rakhine nationalist party and Buddhist monks. The deadliest attack took place on October 23, in which witnesses say at least 70 Rohingya – including 28 children – were massacred in Mrauk-U township.

The UN has described the Rohingya as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

Most Rohingya who live in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state are denied citizenship by the Myanmar government, which claims they are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and often refers to them as “Bengali”.

The Myanmar government has done nothing to prevent the violence, alleges the report, and at times government forces have joined in the attacks on the Rohingya.

“The Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement,” Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said.

“The government needs to put an immediate stop to the abuses and hold the perpetrators accountable or it will be responsible for further violence against ethnic and religious minorities in the country.”

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I am so ashamed to read that Buddhist monks may have been participants. They have been targets themselves and this behavior violates the most important teaching of the Buddha which is the vow of non harming. No real Buddhist would participate in such horrors.

I also wanted to mention the return of CISPA and its impact on internet users in this country.  This was slipped back into Congress while we were all watching Boston.

Described as “misguided” and “fatally flawed” by the two largest US privacy groups, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) threatens the online privacy of ordinary US residents more so than any other Bill since Congress amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 2008.

Its sole purpose is to allow private sector firms to search personal and sensitive user data of ordinary US residents to identify this so-called “threat information”, and to then share that information with each other and the US government — without the need for a warrant.

By citing “cybersecurity”, it allows private firms to hand over private user data while circumventing existing privacy laws, such as the Wiretap Act and the Stored Communications Act. This means that CISPA can permit private firms to share your data, such as emails, text messages, and cloud-stored documents and files, with the US government.

It also gives these firms legal protection to hand over such data. There is no judicial oversight.

To make matters worse, because there is little transparency and individual accountability, those who have had their data handed to the US government may not even know about it or be given a chance to challenge it.

Norway’s ruling party is pushing for drilling around environmentally sensitive areas in the Arctic Circle.  Could this impact a return to attempts to drill the area by US Oil companies?  I hope this doesn’t lead to a race to destroy ANWR

Norway took a major step towards opening up an environmentally sensitive Arctic area to oil and gas exploration when the ruling Labour Party gave the go-ahead on Sunday for an impact study.

Exploration in the waters around the Lofoten islands just above the Arctic circle is becoming one of the most contentious issues for parliamentary elections in September.

The picturesque area had been off limits because it is home to the world’s richest cod stocks, with environmental groups and the tourism industry opposed to any development.

The Labour party voted for the study, a precursor to any exploration, but also said it would take another vote in 2015, before actual drilling could begin.

Oil is the Norwegian economy’s lifeblood – the nation is the world’s seventh-biggest oil exporter and western Europe’s biggest gas supplier.

Its sprawling offshore energy sector continuously needs new areas to explore to halt the decline in production and energy firms have argued that they should be allowed to investigate the Lofoten islands.

Norway’s oil production will fall to a 25-year low this year as North Sea fields mature. Even a series of recent big finds, like the giant Johan Sverdrup field, which could hold over 3 billion barrels of oil, will only arrest the decline.

Waters off Lofoten are estimated to hold 8 percent of Norway’s undiscovered oil and gas resources with seismic tests identifying 50 prospects that could hold recoverable reserves or around 1.27 billion barrels of oil equivalent, the petroleum directorate said earlier.

With Labour’s support, Norway’s top three parties now favor exploration in the area, raising the chance that the next government would begin the process.

15-japan-mag024So, here’s what Boston’s “union thugs” will be doing this morning: Boston Teamsters vs. Westboro Baptist Church: Teamsters to form a human shield at Bombing victim’s funeral,  Look out BB and our Boston friends!  These Westboro folks have come to disrupt funerals there.  Down here, our Bikers block them.

Teamsters from Local 25 in Boston will protect the family of bombing victim Krystle Campbell during her funeral tomorrow morning. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church are expected to protest.

The Associated Press reports,

Family and friends are saying final good-byes to Krystle Campbell, one of the three people who lost their lives in the bombing at the Boston Marathon finish line.

A wake for Campbell is being held Sunday at a funeral home in Medford, where the 29-year-old restaurant manager was raised and graduated from high school in 2001. A private funeral is scheduled for Monday at St. Joseph Church.Local 25 was contacted by some concerned citizens of Medford asking for help to keep members of the Westboro Baptist Church from protesting the funeral of Krystle Campbell, scheduled for tomorrow morning at 10 AM in Medford.

Local 25 President Sean O’Brien asked all off-duty Teamsters to participate:

Teamsters Local 25 will be out in full force tomorrow morning at St. Joseph’s Church in Medford to form a human shield and block the Westboro Baptist Church from protesting the funeral of Krystle Campbell. The Campbell family and friends have already endured immeasurable amounts of heartache and tragedy this week, and deserve a peaceful funeral with time to grieve privately.

Westboro Baptist Church should understand that we will go to great lengths to make sure they don’t protest any funerals of the victims of the past week’s tragedies, and that those we lost receive a proper burial.

Teamsters Local 25 represents 11,000 hardworking men and women from the Boston area.

There are three dead from the bombing.  Westboro is also connected to a law firm that makes money from the antics of these folks.  They usually claim their first amendment rights were violated and then collect government money defending their case.

And just because I’ve quit watching CNN around a year ago after watching the station for years, I thought I’d end with this: “Last Week, CNN Itself Became the Poop Cruise”. Frankly, I’ve thought they were full of it and lacking substance for some time.

As reactions to the media’s handling (or rather, mishandling) of breaking news during a busy week continue to flow in, perhaps none is more condemning than David Carr’s latest column in The New York Times. The media critic came down hard on correspondent John King, newly appointed chief Jeff Zucker and the rest of the CNN news team that famously fumbled during the aftermath of the Boston bombing and hunt for the suspects. Most notably, the network erroneously reported the arrest of a suspect on Wednesday, when everybody now knows that a suspect wasn’t arrested until Friday when police found Dzokhar Tsarnaev hiding in the back of a boat.

Carr has an analogy for that. In discussing the mistake, one that more than one person described as “devastating,” Carr reminded us of the most recent moment that CNN’s stolen the limelight — perhaps not in a good way:

It was not the worst mistake of the week — The New York Post all but fingered two innocent men in a front-page picture — but it was a signature error for a live news channel. … Until now, the defining story in the Zucker era had been a doomed cruise ship that lost power and was towed to port, where its beleaguered passengers dispersed. This week, CNN seemed a lot like that ship.

Zing. Inevitably, Carr’s piece comes off almost as apologetic. In his parting words, the veteran journalist points out how even the president “wants CNN to be good.” So when it’s bad, it’s hard to watch.

I’m just praying for a better week and that we can get some attention on the small town of West Texas that really needs our help.

What’s you your reading and blogging list today?


Gearing up for the Fight

I don’t think there’s a person in the country that doesn’t know that many folks are gearing up to remove our earned benefits.  We should gear up to fight them.

I think we need to adopt “earned benefits” as description for Social Security and Medicare.  For some reason, entitlements has become one of those words that’s been co-opted to mean hand-outs instead of the true meaning which is that we are entitled to these benefits because we paid for them all of our working days. Yesterday, Bernie Sanders gave a speech that made it clear what our priorities should be when it comes to any bargain to decrease our debt and deficit.

Sanders said:

Deficit reduction is a serious issue, but it must be done in a way that is fair. We must not balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children or the poor.

We need to make it clear to people that Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit.   Social Security is not going bankrupt either.

Right now, Social Security does face a long-term funding gap, mostly due to the happy fact that we will be living longer, healthier lives in the future. The gap is quite small, does not appear for 36 years, and if the economy does even a little bit better than expected, will not appear at all. But it may appear. If so, we will have to tweak the system a bit, just as we have in the past. We could take longer life expectancies into account by raising the retirement age. Or, we could levy Social Security taxes on a person’s entire salary, not just the first $84,900 as we do currently. Or, as a last resort, we could very slightly raise Social Security taxes, by a percentage point or so. In any case, these fixes impose a much smaller cost on the typical American worker than exploding health care costs or the continued stagnation of wages — two real, and most importantly, current problems that ought to loom much larger on our national radar screen.

I think the Paul Krugman column today made clear that a lot of myths and memes that we’ll hear in the next few months about our fiscal problems are just myths and memes.  Krugman argues against raising age eligibility for either Medicare or Social Security.  The people that need the benefits the most and the retirement age have likely done very physical work.

And right now the most dangerous zombie is probably the claim that rising life expectancy justifies a rise in both the Social Security retirement age and the age of eligibility for Medicare. Even some Democrats — including, according to reports, the president — have seemed susceptible to this argument. But it’s a cruel, foolish idea — cruel in the case of Social Security, foolish in the case of Medicare — and we shouldn’t let it eat our brains.

First of all, you need to understand that while life expectancy at birth has gone up a lot, that’s not relevant to this issue; what matters is life expectancy for those at or near retirement age. When, to take one example, Alan Simpson — the co-chairman of President Obama’s deficit commission — declared that Social Security was “never intended as a retirement program” because life expectancy when it was founded was only 63, he was displaying his ignorance. Even in 1940, Americans who made it to age 65 generally had many years left.

Now, life expectancy at age 65 has risen, too. But the rise has been very uneven since the 1970s, with only the relatively affluent and well-educated seeing large gains. Bear in mind, too, that the full retirement age has already gone up to 66 and is scheduled to rise to 67 under current law.

This means that any further rise in the retirement age would be a harsh blow to Americans in the bottom half of the income distribution, who aren’t living much longer, and who, in many cases, have jobs requiring physical effort that’s difficult even for healthy seniors. And these are precisely the people who depend most on Social Security.

So any rise in the Social Security retirement age would, as I said, be cruel, hurting the most vulnerable Americans. And this cruelty would be gratuitous: While the United States does have a long-run budget problem, Social Security is not a major factor in that problem.

Medicare, on the other hand, is a big budget problem. But raising the eligibility age, which means forcing seniors to seek private insurance, is no way to deal with that problem.

It’s true that thanks to Obamacare, seniors should actually be able to get insurance even without Medicare. (Although, what happens if a number of states block the expansion of Medicaid that’s a crucial piece of the program?) But let’s be clear: Government insurance via Medicare is better and more cost-effective than private insurance.

There are many more things that need to be done to ensure our fiscal health.  Messing with Social Security is not one of them.  Medicare has issues but most of them could be dealt with by simply allowing the plan to bargain for drug prices.  The Bush deal with big Pharma while providing the part B benefits is the major source of Medicare problems.  Our federal deficit is primarily the result of our two decade long wars, reckless tax cuts, subsidies to folks that don’t need them, and reduced tax receipts/increased expenditures from our deep recession.

Here’s an example of something that could help with the long term health of social security.  Lift the cap.  At the very least, the cap should be subjected to an increase that’s adjusted for inflation just like the benefits.

Social Security is not in danger of becoming insolvent any time soon. According to the program’s actuaries, without any changes, Social Security will be able to pay out full benefits until 2033. And there’s reason to doubt that problems will arise even 21 years from now. As Jared Bernstein noted when the latest projections came out, the expected date when the Social Security trust fund will be exhausted has varied wildly over the past few decades.

Yet despite its medium-run sustainability, many deficit reduction plans target the program for cuts. For example, Bowles-Simpson introduces means-testing and raises payroll taxes for high earners, but also cuts benefits across the board by adopting a less generous inflation measure, known as “chained CPI,” and raises both the minimum age where retirees can claim benefits and the age when they can claim full benefits.

As Nobel laureate Peter Diamond has explained, the latter change is hugely regressive, primarily targeting poor workers in physically demanding occupations. Domenici-Rivlin includes the inflation measure cut, means-testing and payroll tax increase, but leaves out the regressive retirement age increase.

But if one wants to make the program solvent indefinitely without endangering vulnerable seniors, there are options. A new bill from Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act, provides one method.

The Begich bill would lift the current payroll tax cap, which exempts wages in excess of a certain amount ($110,100 this year) from the tax. In turn, it would give high earners, who would pay more, additional benefits upon retirement, just as benefits increase as wages do for workers below the cap.

According to the Congressional Research Service, a change like that would almost entirely wipe out the program’s long-run actuarial imbalance. Specifically, it would eliminate 95 percent of the shortfall, meaning that a mild increase in the payroll tax rate from 12.4 percent to 12.5 percent would be enough to cover the tiny remaining gap. And without any changes at all, the program would be able to pay out full benefits until after 2085. Indeed, the exhaustion date for the trust fund following such a change is so far in the future that CRS didn’t even calculate it.

I’ve always thought that letting folks pay for the privilege of opting into Medicare sooner would help with the Medicare plan. Also, separating the survivor benefits and disabled benefits and charging separately for this coverage would also help secure social security as it was intended to be.   Anyway, there are many things to do without hacking away at all the benefits that people have paid for a program that shouldn’t be changed due to myths and memes.  Plus, there’s the entire republican agenda of transferring every program–no matter how cost ineffective–to their cronies in the name of their all might gawd Privatization.

We should probably gear up for a fight.  It may be necessary to ensure that our Congress critterz understand the importance of these social contracts and  that they realize these are earned benefits and not just hand-outs.


Super Cat Food Commission may have reached a Deal

There are nine days left until November 23rd and automatic spending cuts that are supposed to punish deadlock.  Our economy is weak.  Exactly how much recessionary pressure will the austerity pogrom inflict on the country?  Exactly how much will the unemployment rate go up and the economic growth go down when we do the exact opposite thing that all accepted and proven economic theory would have us do?  Well, there’s hints at a deal.  Get ready for a double dipper!

The panel needs seven votes on a deal to force at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years. Sen. Pat Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania last week broke with his party’s anti-tax pledge to propose some $300 billion in new tax revenues. Democrats are said to be on the verge of a counterproposal, as early as today, to include new cuts in entitlement spending likely to offend their party’s base.

Tax increases and entitlement spending cuts = decreases in aggregate demand = decreases in prices and wages and decrease in economic growth/GDP/Income = more unemployment.  Exactly who are they pleasing with this policy? Themselves?  Their Wall Street Overlords?  The Grinch?

There’s a lot of ignorance built in to this group.

Based on what we do know, however, both sides are playing big time budget baseline games. When they talk taxes, Republicans start by assuming the 2001/2003/2010 tax cuts will all be extended indefinitely. From there, they talk about cutting rates across the board and reducing tax preferences (perhaps with some cap on these breaks). All of this, it is reported, would boost revenue by a few hundred billion dollars over 10 years.

Sounds promising. But by starting by extending the Bush era tax cuts, the Rs would reduce revenues by $4 trillion compared to what would happen if Congress simply lets them expire as scheduled a year from now. So, Republicans would add $4 trillion to the deficit before cutting a paltry $200-$300 billion. In anyplace but Washington this would add up to another $3.7 or $3.8 trillion in red ink. Here, it counts as deficit reduction. Worse, even those dollars appear to result from presumed economic growth rather than policy changes. The wonders of dynamic scoring!

Democrats are playing their own games. While Politico reports this morning that they are proposing $400 billion in Medicare and Medicaid cuts (most of which would come out of the hides of doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, and other providers), the Dems also start by assuming a fix to the ongoing battle over Medicare reimbursements to physicians.  Straightening out this mess could cost as much as $300 billion over the next 10 years. The Ds do say they’d pay for the fix—but with money from the drawdown of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. This money is fiscal pixie dust, since the troops are already coming home and those funds were never going to be spent.

If the built-in assumption is indefinite extension of those reckless Bush tax cuts, we might as write the nation off as a banana republic right now. This is especially true when you consider what will be downsized in response to rewarding the rich for moving jobs overseas, gambling in the Wall Street Casino, and not expanding business here because the economic outlook will continue to be glum.  There are a few hints on what has to go in order to extend these indefensible tax cuts. What will the Dems trade in order to get some tax revenues placed on the table?

Democrats aren’t offering to simply take the GOP at their word. Their plan is to make any cuts to programs like Medicare and Social Security part of a trigger that would only be pulled if and when Congress passes hundreds of billions of dollars in new revenue.

Multiple Democratic aides confirm their strategy hasn’t changed: Dems will only support this sort of two-step tax reform process if there are serious revenue guarantees and the deal includes a trigger to make sure the revenue materializes.

If that sounds a little Rube Goldbergish to you, it is. But both parties have basically agreed that the Super Committee wouldn’t have enough time between its launch and its deadline to write a full overhaul of the tax code. So Dems are privately insisting that any future promised revenue come with more than a promise. If the GOP can’t deliver the votes for it, then the safety net cuts they want disappear. That’s not to predict that they’ll stick with this demand until the bitter end — for liberal groups, vigilance is key.

Ever heard of out of sight, out of mind?  If the Repubs delay the tax details and the Dems still try to eek something out, how will this work?  Follow that link to a bunch of other links with this short intro.

As the panel’s Nov. 23 deadline approaches and doubts about its ability for success persist, a new approach is emerging in which the panel may opt to postpone politically difficult decisions by deciding the amount of new revenue their deficit-reduction plan would require, but leaving specifics to Congress’ tax-writing committees to fill in next year.

So is this a deal or a punt?

It seems that K Street isn’t giving up on keeping all the lights lit on the tree for their special interests.  This doesn’t bode well.  The meat may get thrown out while the fat and grizzle are still on the plate.

And 125 companies and groups made another pitch to the super committee on the importance of setting aside additional unlicensed spectrum for new technologies like ultra-fast Wi-Fi.

Google, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and others said they worry that if the panel gives the Federal Communications Commission authority to conduct incentive auctions, that the FCC’s move last year to open up the spaces between television channels for unlicensed use could be derailed.

“We urge Congress to give the FCC the flexibility to preserve TV band spectrum for unlicensed super Wi-Fi devices and deliver innovation to American consumers and economic growth to our nation,” they wrote in the letter to the co-chairs of the super committee, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Yup.  That’s so much more important than feeding hungry children, creating jobs, and fulfilling our obligations to seniors.  It seems that most people will have to search out the bags of dry food while a whole lot of businesses that don’t seem to be able to function without subsidies will still be dining on fancy feast.


The Great Obama Mystery

As Dakinikat has explained again and again and again and again, the problem our economy faces is that millions of Americans don’t have any money to spend because they don’t have jobs. Our economy runs on consumer spending. When people don’t have jobs, they don’t have money to spend on consumer items. That hurts our economy. It’s pretty simple, really.

But President Obama doesn’t understand simple basic economics. He’s already decided that high levels of unemployment are “structural.” He thinks our problem is that the government is spending too much money. Yesterday Obama gave another big ol’ nothingburger of a speech on how he’s giving away the store to negotiating with the Republicans in Congress.

Now, I’ve heard reports that there may be some in Congress who want to do just enough to make sure that America avoids defaulting on our debt in the short term, but then wants to kick the can down the road when it comes to solving the larger problem of our deficit. I don’t share that view. I don’t think the American people sent us here to avoid tough problems. That’s, in fact, what drives them nuts about Washington, when both parties simply take the path of least resistance. And I don’t want to do that here.

No, Mr. President, what is driving Americans “nuts” about Washington is that you and your Republican pals seem to be determined to crash the economy. Another thing that drives American’s “nuts” is that you haven’t lifted a finger to do anything about jobs since you took office. All you’ve done is take care of your superrich pals so they’ll donate to your next campaign.

I’ll bet you don’t even know that the latest PPP Poll shows that most Americans want to raise taxes on higher income people.

Poll data by the Democratic-aligned Public Policy Polling released Wednesday said voters in Ohio, Missouri, Montana and Minnesota back hiking taxes on the wealthy — even for people with incomes as low as $150,000.

The respondents were asked: “In order to reduce the national debt, would you support or oppose raising taxes on those with incomes over $1,000,000 a year?”

Nearly 80 percent of voters in the four states backed the idea.

And, BTW, Senator Reid, I’m pretty sure these voters want real tax increases, not phoney “sense of the Senate” resolutions. Back to Obama’s mealy-mouthed speech:

I believe that right now we’ve got a unique opportunity to do something big — to tackle our deficit in a way that forces our government to live within its means, that puts our economy on a stronger footing for the future, and still allows us to invest in that future.

Most of us already agree that to truly solve our deficit problem, we need to find trillions in savings over the next decade, and significantly more in the decades that follow. That’s what the bipartisan fiscal commission said, that’s the amount that I put forward in the framework I announced a few months ago, and that’s around the same amount that Republicans have put forward in their own plans. And that’s the kind of substantial progress that we should be aiming for here.

And on and on, bla bla bla…

I don’t know who you mean by “most of us” Mr. O, but I’m pretty sure most of us citizens don’t support the findings of your right wing cat food commission bipartisan fiscal commission.

President Obama just doesn’t get it. He might be able to learn a little bit about economics if he would just hire a few actual economists to advise him. But the big O thinks he already learned all he needs to know by listening to Ronald Reagan back in the ’80s. All of his economics advisers have left the sinking ship resigned, because Mr. O thought he knew better than they did. Remember this quote?

In his biography of Obama, “The Bridge,” David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, quotes White House senior adviser and longtime Obama friend Valerie Jarrett: “I think Barack knew that he had God-given talents that were extraordinary. He knows exactly how smart he is. … He knows how perceptive he is. He knows what a good reader of people he is. And he knows that he has the ability — the extraordinary, uncanny ability — to take a thousand different perspectives, digest them and make sense out of them, and I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually. … So what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit but somebody with such extraordinary talents that had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy. … He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do.”

You need to snap out of it, Mr. President; because our country is in big big trouble right now, and you’re really not as smart as you think you are.

Paul Krugman is an actual economist, and his hair is on fire. He can’t figure out what the President has against Keynesian economics.

I’m not alone in marveling at the extent to which Obama has thrown his rhetorical weight behind anti-Keynesian economics; Ryan Avent is equally amazed, as are many others. And now he’s endorsing the structural unemployment story too.

To those defending Obama on the grounds that he’s saying what he has to politically, I have two answers. First, words matter — as people who rallied around Obama in the first place because of his eloquence should know. Yes, he has to make compromises on policy grounds — but that doesn’t mean he has to adopt the right’s rhetoric and arguments. The effect of his intellectual capitulation is that we now have only one side in the national argument.

Second, since Obama keeps talking nonsense about economics, at what point do we stop giving him credit for actually knowing better? Maybe at some point we have to accept that he believes what he’s saying.

Why is Obama doing this, Krugman wants to know. It can’t be because he’s just stupid, can it? (That’s me, not Krugman)

Anyway, now Obama is handling the decisions about the economy all by himself. He’s even decided to “take the lead” in the budget talks with the Republicans–probably because he didn’t think VP Biden was caving quickly enough to Republican demands. Today,
CBS News reported that Obama wants to give the Republicans twice as much as they were originally asking for.

Two Democratic officials familiar with the negotiations over a deal to raise the debt limit said Wednesday that President Obama wants the final deal to be bigger than the $2 trillion deal that has been the focus of negotiations so far.

In fact, they said, Mr. Obama wants the deal to save the government as close to $4 trillion as possible.

Mr. Obama said Tuesday that lawmakers have “a unique opportunity to do something big,” and a deal to save the federal government $4 trillion would certainly qualify. The officials said the president believes “these moments come around at most once a decade” and that “you can’t run away from an opportunity like this.”

According to the officials, Mr. Obama believes that a larger deal would actually be easier to get through Congress. His thinking, they indicated, is this: Any major deal, whether it’s for $2 trillion in cuts or $4 trillion in cuts, will cause significant pain for both parties. But a larger deal allows backers to argue that despite their misgivings, they’ve taken a major step toward dealing with the deficit and debt problem.

Doesn’t Obama understand that cutting that much government spending is going to create even more unemployment? Is this man insane? No, he’s just a right wing Republican. Actually, maybe that does mean he’s insane.


Who Will Fight for Us?

The Deciders

We had a few days of excitement, and for some of us rising hopes that the Democrats–at least in the House–might actually fight back against the Obama-McConnell more money for the rich plan. This morning as I look around the web, I see that the corporate media is assuming that there will be no fight–that this outrageous “compromise” between President Obama and the Republicans is actually a good thing for Democrats.

At the WaPo, the message is the same as at the NYT–the deal is a fait accompli and House Dems aren’t going to put up a fight. In fact, it appears that the tax cut extension for the rich is no longer an issue at all. The only sticking point for House Dems is the estate tax rate.

For Democrats in both chambers, the most onerous provision in the package would exempt estates valued at up to $10 million from a newly imposed estate tax. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has called the measure a giveaway to the wealthy and “a bridge too far,” given that Obama has abandoned his campaign pledge to allow the Bush tax breaks for wealthy households to expire.

“Most of us agree with almost all of what the president negotiated,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told “Fox News Sunday.” “There is one thing that just was the choking point, and that deals with the estate-tax break.”

But, he continued, “I am confident that when we get to January, there will be no tax increases on middle-income Americans. We’re not going to hold this thing up at the end of the day, but we do think that simple question should be put to the test.”

USA Today reports–perhaps sarcastically–that Obama will fight for us next year.

“I will be happy to see the Republicans test whether or not I’m itching for a fight on a whole range of issues,” Obama said last week. “I suspect they will find I am. And I think the American people will be on my side on a whole bunch of these fights.”

[….]

One of those fights will be over the very thing that some Democrats are angry about: The two-year extension of George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the nation’s wealthiest Americans.

“When they expire in two years, I will fight to end them,” Obama said. “Just as I suspect the Republican Party may fight to end the middle-class tax cuts that I’ve championed and that they’ve opposed.”

[….]

…Obama has said that without a deal the Bush tax cuts would expire and everyone would see their taxes rise, and “I want to make sure that the American people aren’t hurt because we’re having a political fight.”

That presumably comes next year.

“I’m looking forward to seeing them on the field of competition over the next two years,” Obama said.

But why should be believe the liar-in-chief? I don’t think even USA Today believes him.

The Hill reports that Steny Hoyer has other plans for next year. He hopes to work on deficit reduction, with the recommendations of Obama’s Catfood Commission “at the center of our national conversation.”

Hoyer said he was “heartened that the president’s bipartisan fiscal commission put forward a provocative, challenging plan on debt — a plan that needs to be at the center of our national conversation.”

He said the plan should be looked at, along with those by the Bipartisan Policy Center, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and the Center for American Progress.

As he has in the past, Hoyer stressed the need for entitlement reform, including reform of Social Security possibly by raising the retirement age and raising the cap on income taxes to pay for Social Security.

That sounds really ominous to me.

Now let’s look at some of the few naysayers who still think the President’s plan is wrongheaded.

Paul Krugman is still unhappy with the plan but he’s resigned to its passage by Congress.

The deal will, without question, give the economy a short-term boost. The prevailing view, as far as I can tell — and that includes within the Obama administration — is that this short-term boost is all we need. The deal, we’re told, will jump-start the economy; it will give a fragile recovery time to strengthen.

I say, block those metaphors. America’s economy isn’t a stalled car, nor is it an invalid who will soon return to health if he gets a bit more rest. Our problems are longer-term than either metaphor implies.

And bad metaphors make for bad policy. The idea that the economic engine is going to catch or the patient rise from his sickbed any day now encourages policy makers to settle for sloppy, short-term measures when the economy really needs well-designed, sustained support.

If you believe Krugman, we are headed for long-term economic turmoil with almost no efforts by the government to help people in need or to create jobs.

What the government should be doing in this situation is spending more while the private sector is spending less, supporting employment while those debts are paid down. And this government spending needs to be sustained: we’re not talking about a brief burst of aid; we’re talking about spending that lasts long enough for households to get their debts back under control. The original Obama stimulus wasn’t just too small; it was also much too short-lived, with much of the positive effect already gone.

Elizabeth Warren says we are still in a serious economic crisis. She can’t understand how anyone can believe the economy is recovering when so many American families are still in dire distress.

Wall Street banks reaping profits and paying bonuses while the rest of the country struggles shows “we still have a problem” with economic disparity, said Elizabeth Warren, the Obama administration adviser responsible for setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“This just staggers me; I mean, I just don’t have words to describe what this means,” she said in an interview for Bloomberg Television’s “Conversations With Judy Woodruff” that will be broadcast this weekend. “For me, what an economic recovery is about is about what happens to American families. It’s what happens in the real economy. It’s whether or not families are building up wealth in their homes or whether or not their homes are dragging them over an economic cliff.”

“It isn’t meaningful to talk about profits and a growing economy until American families are stabilized,” she said.

Former Reagan budget director David Stockman says unemployment is far worse than anyone is admitting.

At the rate the US economy is recovering, it will take 28 years to get back to where we were in December 2007 if something doesn’t change, David Stockman, former federal budget director under President Reagan, told CNBC Friday.

“When we look below the surface and the job outlook and the trend that we’ve been in, it’s a lot worse then people think,” Stockman said.

“The jobs that they count every month and people get excited about are really part-time jobs,” he said.

Now that we are in the “new normal,” it’s important to rebucket the data the Labor Department releases on the big picture of the 130 million jobs in the economy, Stockman said.

Take the middle class, Stockman said, which is at the heart of the economy—about 54 million jobs. This is everything you can think of in terms of bread-winner jobs. The annual median wage is $50,000.

“If we are going to have recovery, it has to happen here,” he said, adding, “we lost 7 million jobs in two-year downturn in the ‘Great Recession.”

Even a former supply-side guy like Stockman thinks the key to getting out of this depression (which is what it is) is getting back middle class jobs.

I’m not an economist, so I can’t discuss all this knowledgeably like Dakinikat can. But even I can see that this country is in deep deep trouble. Again, I have to ask: Who will fight for us? And when? What can we do to fight for ourselves?

Dkat here with an update from C-SPAN.

The Senate convenes today where they plan to resume consideration of The Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 2010 (H.R. 4853). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has scheduled a procedural vote for 3pm today to move forward on the measure, which includes an extension of unemployment benefits for the next 13 months in exchange for allowing tax cuts for all income levels to continue for another two years.

This vote is scheduled to be broadcast on C-SPAN 2.

UPDATE: Senate in session and voting right now. (Voting to move vote forward 2:00 cst)

UPDATE:  The cloture vote passed today. Some time tomorrow or Wednesday, the bill will come up for an up or down vote.  There were 15 votes against Cloture.

President Obama praised the Senate today for taking the important first step toward passing the controversial tax plan he hashed out with Republicans, a compromise bill which has angered many lawmakers inside his own party.

The bill still faces a tough fight in the House and the president “urged the House of Representatives to act quickly to similarly pass the bill.”

“I’m pleased to announce at this hour the U.S. Senate is moving forward on a package of tax cuts that has strong bipartisan support,” he said.

He said the bill “will grow the economy” and “grow jobs.”

The deal passed a procedural vote in the Senate this afternoon, and will come to a final vote later in the week — perhaps as early as Tuesday — before it is taken up by the House.

In a procedural vote, 83 senators voted in support of the legislation, which extends Bush-era tax cuts into the new year. Sixty votes were needed.

There were 15 votes against the bill.


This is a Democratic Adviser?

I have to admit to being with Digby on this one.   It’s getting more obvious to me that this Democratic Administration is going after our Social Security benefits with gusto.  You may recall that Peter Orzag was the Obama Budget Director and is now one of the major economic advisers to the President.  This contribution to the NYT is not the first flare to be fired, but it is a distinctly blinding one.

So, first Orzag admits that Social Security is not a federal deficit problem. You would think he’d end with that.  Social Security is an off budget program and it’s self funding and managing.  That’s the deal.  People pay for the benefits and they expect them.  It’s a third rail of politics and you’d think after Dubya’s adventures into handing the trust fund to Wall Street that would be all she wrote.  But, it’s not.  (Emphasis is mine on this.)

So it would be desirable to put the system on sounder financial footing. And that is precisely what the co-chairmen of President Obama’s bipartisan commission on reducing the national debt have bravely proposed to do. It’s too bad their proposal has been greeted with so much criticism, especially from progressives — who really should look at it as an opportunity to fix Social Security without privatizing it. Although the plan leans too much on future benefit reductions and not enough on revenue increases, it still offers a good starting point for reform.

The main flaw in the proposed Social Security plan is that it relies too little on revenue increases and too much on future benefit reductions. A reasonable objective would be a 50-50 balance between changes in benefits and changes in revenues. But the way to bring reform into better proportion is to adjust the components of this proposal, not to fundamentally remodel it.

Alrighty, so let’s first IGNORE the fact that the cat food commission had no real business sticking its nose into Social Security because it’s charter said it was to go after the Federal Deficit.  And, as Orzag has stated, Social Security is NO contributor to that deficit.

So, here’s where I agree with Digby.

I can hardly believe anyone of his stature could argue this nonsense. Orszag agrees that SS does not contribute to the long term deficit and yet is trying to convince us that that the Deficit Commission draft just put it on the table anyway, apparently out of a surfeit of progressive idealism. Huh? Moreover, he also thinks it makes sense to jump right on the third rail in American politics because it would be desirable” to do something about a potential future problem — when we are in the middle of an epic economic shitstorm with stubborn 10% unemployment and a banking and housing crisis that shows no sign of abating.

Is he ignorant of the fact that most people in this country are convinced — mainly because they’re being told it every single day by every politician, talking head and gasbag — that “entitlements” are destroying the economy and the future of the United States? The idea that social security cuts could buy the administration a chance for more stimulus is delusional.

Yup, delusional. And get this closer …

The White House has been handed a highly progressive reform plan for Social Security that could attract Republican support as well.

If this is progressive, I want to be known as something completely different.

This just seems to be the start of the swansong for the program.  BostonBoomer sent me this call for liberals to get on board with similar clarion calls today. It’s from USN and John Farrell.

Okay, my liberal friends. On Friday I explained why the proposals of the Simpson-Bowles commission should be welcomed, and put on the bargaining table by conservatives. Today I will argue, despite what Paul Krugman says, that there’s good stuff for liberals too.

Remember, first and foremost, that this is a starting point. You don’t have to buy into everything to keep the conversation going. And beware misinformation.

You know, this all seems to assume that we don’t have Democratic pols that make Faustian bargains with themselves before they even start dealing with the Republicans.  I have to admit that I’m with Krugman on this one too.

Right at the beginning of his administration, what Mr. Obama needed to do, above all, was fight for an economic plan commensurate with the scale of the crisis. Instead, he negotiated with himself before he ever got around to negotiating with Congress, proposing a plan that was clearly, grossly inadequate — then allowed that plan to be scaled back even further without protest. And the failure to act forcefully on the economy, more than anything else, accounts for the midterm “shellacking.”

You expect any one to fight for what’s right in Social Security given recent history like Krugman identifies?  I don’t. No hope or expectation of it at all.  After all, a major Presidential Advisor just call Allan Simpson brave instead of being labeled the crazy old coot he is.


Survival of the Richest

In the natural world, the weakest generally don’t survive unless they are part of a highly evolved species.  The lessons of basic evolution are fairly simple, you either develop something that gives you a competitive advantage over those who wish to make a meal of you, or you and your offspring have a very brief and brutal existence.

Humankind evolved into something beyond a herd animal by developing tools and social contracts. Through trade, language, and invention, our evolutionary history has shown that competitive advantage does not have to involve size, brute force, speed, or trickery like camouflage.   Dogs evolved into a smart and numerous population by being genetically flexible.  Indeed, the more advanced beings tend towards flexibility and social interaction.  Nurturing, passing on survival skills, specializing, and adapting are all important survival skills for more highly evolved beings.  Many natural scientists now study the importance of how these species treat their youngest and the oldest, since the young are portents of the future and the elderly are the libraries of past knowledge and skills. Specialization allows creatures other than those with superior brute force to be contributors.  We wouldn’t have The David or knowledge of Gravitational Singularity if we evolved on pure brute force.  Evolutionary Biology learns a lot about a species by the way it treats its weakest, its young, and its elderly.

What amazes me most about the Cat Food Commission report is that it is so Republican that you wonder if anyone Democratic had anything to do with its inception or results. But of course, it was chartered by a Democratic President and co-chaired by a Democratic man.  For a group of Darwin denying theists,  Republicans believe and adhere to survival of the fittest in the most strict terms and this report wreaks of that view.  The winners of the moment get all the spoils, even if this is a short-sighted and factually-challenged view of reality.  Their ‘masters of the universe’ comic book world is everything that nature does not reward in the extreme long run.  It is inflexible and relies on brute force.  Their reality gives a species a very short and brutal life in the scheme of things and assigns the animal the limited roles of predator and prey. To the Cat Food Commission, the  majority of us are mere prey.

The draft from that dreadful commission came out yesterday and you can read the entire thing here at the NYT.  We knew from the moment the Simpson theatrics began that nothing good was going to come out of this effort.  Simpson put Social Security on the agenda immediately which was completely outside a deficit commission’s sphere.  President Obama did nothing to reel them back.  Simpson only got more theatrical and ill-mannered.  The commission itself could only get worse.

The draft–which is all they can achieve at the moment–suggests upending the social and political contracts made between the US government and the people in ways that I would never have thought possible.  It’s as if every third rail of politics is put to a match.  It was announced as a draft with these big bold red letters that say Do Not Cite as if there’s any hope left that we’ll join the rest of the developed and industrialized nations in realizing that we can choose our priorities differently.  It is an announcement to the rest of the world that we, the American Empire, choose to be so exceptional that we’ll do so to our extinction.  The rest of you just go ahead and cooperate and share, while we ensure the survival of the few over the existence of the many.   No one makes Spock’s choice.  We all go down with the ship and  an Ayn Rand third finger salute.

I read this draft and realize how co-opted we are by conservative ideology just as we are co-opted by religion over reason.  This is a nation that would rather believe than realize. The thing reads like a Republican manifesto.  It contains spending cuts in nearly everything imaginable while still making that fairy tale suggestion that if we overhaul the tax system and lower marginal tax cuts, the wealth will just trickle on down.

One of the major suggestions is to revisit the huge tax break given to mortgage holders on their first and second homes.   While it is worthwhile to review the usefulness of this deduction as blank check, the commission questions its entire existence.  I’ve always wondered what the deal is with giving tax breaks for a second home or a boat.  I’ve also wondered why we should give a huge tax break to people living in McMansions.  However, for ordinary people, this deduction leads to wealth building and security.  Perhaps rather than tearing down the entire thing, they should’ve given some consideration to making it something akin to local homestead exemptions?  But, this would be too compassionate and probably too collectivist for our masters of the universe.  Why can’t they just allow destructibility up to say, the average national price of a home? No, no, because their views of the world say that only corporations get get deductions.  People have to make do with making do. Masters of the Universe don’t have to compete because they are special.  Special treatment for them is something other than a handout or a hand up.

It seems like the commission set out to make radical suggestions.  Maybe it’s to make some of the worst portions of it more palatable if they can’t get the entire thing pushed on to some willing Congressional sponsors?   Part of the problem we have now in our struggling economy is those balanced budget amendments passed by states allowing them to spend crazily when tax revenues are coming in–when government spending should be restrained–while telling states to adopt austere budgets when their economies need a government spending boost.  What’s with these inflexible spending quotas rather than adopting rules that reflect the state of the economy?

You can see some of this worst of this obsession with strict guidelines by reading some analysis by Ezra Klein at WAPO.  I can’t imagine how they’re going to deal with caps like this if we do have a serious national threat like an invading army at our borders. Right now, we’re spending way too much money drone bombing Bedouins in caves. Talk about your spending priorities.

The co-chairs freeze 2012’s discretionary spending at 2010’s levels — and then start cutting it back further. By 2015, they project discretionary spending will be more than $200 billion less than the president’s budget currently envisions. They raise taxes, but rather unexpectedly, cap the revenues the tax system can generate at 21 percent of GDP. They also offer a number of options for tax reform, including one that eliminates all tax expenditures (including the mortgage-interest deduction, the exclusion for employer-based health care, and more) and brings the top rate down to 26 percent. Social Security comes in for both benefit cuts and tax increases — though there are substantially more of the former than the latter. There are a number of Medicare reforms. The co-chairs project that the deficit will fall to 1.6 percent of GDP by 2020 if the recommendations are implemented. The vast majority of those savings come from cuts in spending. Tax increases are a relatively minor contributor.

The commission definitely overstepped its charter in many ways.  The biggest overstep was to make suggestions on Social Security, which technically isn’t part of the general budget and is funded and governed off-budget and supposedly away from political hacks.  The recommendations for Social Security are shocking.  Again, I have to say that Social Security is not an entitlement.  It is a benefit program that we pay for through working.  To see it perpetually treated as some kind of social welfare scheme appalls me.

Here are a few blurbs from Fox News on the proposals dealing with Social Security.  They seem most interested in it because they support tearing the program to shreds.  It’s demise has been the holy grail of the right wing of Republican Party since its inception during the New Deal.  For some reason, you can buy old age benefits from a insurance brokering shitmonger and it’s just all in a day’s work.  If you let the government offer a lower cost alternative,  it’s communism in our midst.

The co-chairmen of the panel appointed by President Obama to cut the U.S. deficit recommend raising the retirement age to 68. It is currently 67 years for retirees to receive full benefits. The panel leaders also propose reducing the annual cost-of-living increases in Social Security.

The increase to age 68 would be implemented by 2050 and then would increase again to 69 by 2075. A “hardship exception” would be provided for certain occupations where older retirement would be unrealistic.

This “hardship exception” is a divide and conquer strategy if I’ve ever seen one.  It pits those of us that rely on social security for retirement against each other.  I see nothing but a series of political fights erupting over this if any one dares bring it to the legislative floor.  It is telling the dogs to fight for the scraps on the floor rather than going for the banquet on their master’s table.

There are a few other things in that are within the scope of the commission’s charter.  Some of them seem tucked in there as an after thought rather than central to a serious discussion on what should be funded and what should be defunded.

According to a source who spoke to Fox News, the 18-member panel led by former Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan Simpson and former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, also may propose reducing the base rate on corporate taxes, phasing in spending cuts over time, reducing foreign aid by $4.6 billion, freezing federal salaries for three years and banning congressional earmarks. It is unclear how the commissioners would define a congressional earmark.

The proposal would also set a tough target for curbing the growth of Medicare. And it recommends looking at eliminating popular tax breaks, such as mortgage interest deduction. The plan also calls for cuts in farm subsidies and the Pentagon’s budget.

Let me just say this, foreign aid is less than 1 percent of our total budget outlay. It’s a pittance.  These kinds of things can only be seen in conservative dog whistle terms.  It makes me wonder exactly how far these folks are asking congress to go to appease Republicans because this can only be described as a plan tailor made for Republican talking points.

Again, I worry that something wasn’t done to narrow the scope of this motley crew way before this report came due.  It says something about the man in charge.  I’ll leave it to you to decide exactly what because my plan at this moment is to go further into the details and ferret out what remains of our country’s future.

And, just where are the Democratic politicians?  If you want some suggestions on this, just go read Black Agenda Report. Editor Bruce Dixon has his own theory.

The masters of corporate media proclaim that their raid on social security, is a done deal. “Entitlements,” their code word for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, will be cut in the lame duck session of Congress, with Democratic president Barack Obama taking the lead. Though the outlines of this raid have been clear for months, what passes for black America’s political leadership class have been silent. As far as we know, they have not been ordered to shut up. They have silenced themselves, in abject deference to the corporate black Democrat in the White House.

It took a Republican Richard Nixon to open relations with China in the seventies. It took Democrat Bill Clinton to impose draconian cuts in welfare and end college courses for prisoners in the nineties. And today, only a black Democratic president can sufficiently disarm Democrats, only a black Democrat can demobilize the black polity completely enough for the raid on “entitlements” to be successful.