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.