*This post will remain at the top of the page for the rest of the day. Please scroll down for newer material. Holiday Fundraiser Greatest Hits: Product Liability
Today there's a lot of chatter about how the Republicans game the system by spending us into oblivion and then expecting the Democrats to clean up the mess. Krugman writes:
T]he whole deficit panic is fundamentally misplaced. And it’s especially galling if you look at what many of the same people now opining about the evils of deficits said back when we had a surplus. Remember, George W. Bush campaigned on the basis that the surplus of the late Clinton years meant that we needed to cut taxes — and Alan Greenspan provided crucial support, telling Congress that the biggest danger we faced was that we might pay off our debt too fast. Now Greenspan is helping groups like Fix the Debt.
And as Duncan Black points out, the Bush experience tells us something important about fiscal policy: namely, that when Democrats get obsessed with deficit reduction, all they do is provide a pot of money that Republicans will squander on more tax breaks for the wealthy as soon as they get a chance. Suppose Romney had won; do you have even a bit of doubt that all the supposed deficit hawks of the GOP would suddenly have discovered that unfunded tax cuts and military spending are perfectly fine?
The point is that the whole focus of budget discussion is based on a combination of bad economics and bad (and fundamentally dishonest) politics. We’re looking not so much at a Grand Bargain as at a Great Scam.
A Grand Scam it is. And it's been obvious for quite some time. Let's take a little trip down memory lane to eight and a half years ago, shall we?
You have to be either a fool or a patriot to feel the duty to govern after a Republican has been in power. They come in to office, reward themselves and their rich friends, totally screw up the country and then leave the mess for the Democrats to clean up. Then they use their time out of office assassinating the characters of the Democrats for fun and profit preparing the way for them to get back into office and screw it all up again. These people are not interested in governing in a democratic system, which takes negotiation, compromise and patience. They are about power which requires far less complexity.
This merry-go-round reflects an aspect of the American character that works to its own disadvantage in more ways than one. We have no sense of the past except that which has been created by mythmakers and screenwriters. We simply do not remember what really happened even a few short years ago. Unlike the Europeans and the Chinese, for instance, who behave as if slights from the 14th century happened five minutes ago, we are oblivious to even our recent political past.
Think about this. The American people decisively repudiated George Bush Sr in 1992. He got only 37% of the vote. Seven years later the Republican party was actively courting his namesake for president without any sense whatsoever that his association with a man widely regarded as a failure just a few short years before could be a problem. It was actually seen as a strength. The marketing mavens of the GOP understood very well that the brand name was all that mattered. The product failure of a few short years before had long been forgotten.
I suppose that this would be expected in a country that prides itself on offering people the chance to reinvent themselves, but I think it might just be helpful to re-frame this as a matter of corporate liability. The GOP gets away with murder over and over again, leaving chaos in its wake and forcing the taxpayers to clean up mess after toxic mess --- savings and loan bailouts, record deficits, crumbling infrastructure, foreign wars and international threats. Their product is defective.
This is why it's been so frustrating to see the Democrats and the Villagers so slow to wake up what was going on. (Even today, I don't think they really grasp it.)This is not new and it's not some odd pathology born of Tea Party madness. It's a strategy which has been in play for a good long while. And the opposition is either dumb or complicit at this point if they haven't caught on. In fact, if the Democrats end up cutting social security and other vital safety net programs in this round of the ongoing scam, they will have become the biggest dupes in political history. It's going to be hard to feel sorry for them when the Republicans use it to run against them. It's not as if they couldn't have seen it coming.
"Republican senators, leaving a Monday afternoon caucus meeting, told reporters that fiscal cliff negotiators have agreed to delay the $1.2 trillion in sequestration related cuts for two months. A Democratic source confirmed that timeframe. That puts the deadline roughly at the same time as the debt ceiling will have to be raised. This presents a natural invitation for lawmakers to exchange the lifting of the debt ceiling in exchange for spending cuts, which is bad news for an administration that has pledged not to negotiate at all over the debt ceiling. On the flip side, however, Republicans find the sequestration cuts far more onerous than Democrats (half come from defense funds). So the de facto outcome still does favor the president if, indeed, those cuts must be part of a debt ceiling deal.
It sounds like a trainwreck to me, taking the el foldo on the debt ceiling and compounding it with the threat of sequestration, but as I've said over and over again, every day that they don't cut vital programs is a good day. But oy --- that sounds like a recipe for austerity plus if I ever saw one. And considering that the President hasn't exactly been a stalwart defender of our safety net in these negotiations, I will take a deep breath and then start thinking about how to organize to ensure they don't get dealt away in "stage II" of a Grand Bargain deal.
With a small-bore deal from the Senate on the table, all eyes are on John Boehner as to whether he will bring it to the floor. Whether or not it's actually a good deal for Republicans, it's almost certain that the same House Republicans who rejected Boehner's extremist Plan B as somehow too liberal won't see a deal that extends unemployment benefits while raising taxes over $450,000 as anything more than Communism.
In the meantime, all the ballyhooed talk of the markets tanking if no deal is reached on the cliff seems to be overwrought: the Dow finished up 166 points today.
I'm still of the opinion that going over the cliff is better than the Senate's deal. When taxes go up on all Americans, it's important that the President and every Democratic politician make it clear that Republicans are to blame for it for insisting on keeping tax breaks on every dollar above $250,000. Let the newspapers write about it every single day until November 2014 if necessary. As much as it's important that tax rates not go up on the middle class, it's also probably not the end of the world for that to happen (it would reduce the deficit, after all, like conservatives supposedly want.)
If this deal does go through, it's probably something that progressives can live with, but everything will depend on what happens when Republicans inevitably take the debt ceiling hostage. The President has declared that he won't allow the debt ceiling to be taken hostage, but there already appears to be some retreat from that position, while the only ways to avoid that scenario would be to mint a trillion-dollar coin or invoke the 14th Amendment. While I would personally like to see the 14th Amendment used I don't expect the President to do either one, which makes his pronouncements about not negotiating over the cliff pointless. He'll be forced to.
In the end, what happened is that Republicans took last year's debt ceiling hostage, forcing a pointless game of brinksmanship now in which they have taken stupid spending cuts and middle-class tax cuts hostage. Even though Democrats hold the stronger negotiating position, it seems Republicans are going to force Democrats to a draw at best now, in the hopes of taking the same debt ceiling hostage again this year in order to get what they really want.
It's been a rather bizarre decade for what Republicans call the "death tax," but what should more properly be called the inheritance tax. Back when George W. Bush came into office, he slashed the estate tax, and gradually phased it out until 2010, when there was no estate tax. Since then, Congress has set it at a 35 percent rate, with a $5 million exemption, indexed to inflation -- but that's set to expire, along with everything else, in the new year, and revert back to its Clinton-era levels.
Those Clinton-era levels of a 55 percent rate and a $1 million exemption are much, much higher than what's being talked about as part of a fiscal cliff deal. According to Sam Stein and Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post, the latest proposal that really, really might turn into an actual deal would set the estate tax at a 40 percent rate, with a $5 million exemption, indexed to inflation. In other words, the first $5 million of any estate would not be taxed, but the rest would be at a 40 percent rate, with that $5 million exemption growing each year with inflation. And remember, these are exemption levels for singles; the exemption level for surviving spouses is double this.
It's a tax change that doesn't affect many households, but it does affect the budget in a big way...
Remember, the CBO figures switching to chained CPI would reduce deficits by about $200 billion over a decade, with a little less than half coming from tax increases and the rest from Social Security and other benefit cuts. In other words, a lower estate tax costs us almost twice as much as chained CPI would save.
The good news is that the Chained-CPI didn't happen (in this round.) The bad news is that it's also possible the estate tax will not go up either, which is just criminal. But the idea that they even floated this social security cut while negotiating away this estate tax is just unbelievable.
Meanwhile, Politico is selling this proposed deal as a big defeat for the Republicans. Seriously.
Americans are all but certain to face a broad hike in taxes on Tuesday for the first time in at least two decades, ending a prolonged period of declining taxation that has become a defining characteristic of the American economy.
Regardless of whether President Obama and Congress reach an agreement to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” many Americans will see a higher tax bill because of the expiration of the payroll tax cut, which was enacted in 2011 as a temporary measure to boost economic growth. The tax holiday was preceded by a similar temporary cut in 2009 and 2010.
Lawmakers on Monday morning were locked in negotiations trying to close a deal that would, in part, prevent a separate tax — the income tax — from rising for all but the wealthiest taxpayers.
Unlike income taxes, which rise along with a worker’s income, the payroll tax is a fixed percentage of an employee’s salary. Allowing the tax cut to expire will increase taxes on salaries by 2 percent for every American worker. Up to $110,100 a year in salary is subject to the tax...
This jump in payroll taxes, combined with other tax increases affecting the very wealthy likely to take effect in the new year, would make for the largest increase in taxes in about half a century.
Virtually everyone also believes that this payroll tax hike is likely to be the biggest drag on the economy in 2013. One reason why I think going over the cliff is a better strategy is that they would immediately pass tax cuts for the middle class and it might just be possible to add on an equivalent amount to the payroll tax cut and make it even steven. This would avoid a tax increase on the middle class entirely while going back to better funding of Social Security. I haven't heard anyone talking about it, but it seems to me that someone should be thinking about the effect of this payroll tax hike, both politically and economically. Austerity is austerity. And workers are going to notice it and they are going to complain.
I don't know who they'll blame, but I would think it's probably going to be the Party that's made a fetish out of raising taxes over the last year. (I wouldn't count on them understanding that the taxes the Democrats have been demanding be raised were different taxes than these.) In any case, I'm one hundred percent sure the Republicans will run on the fact that the Democratic president passed the biggest tax increase in half a century and that every worker got hit by it. And it will be true.
Fiscal cliff notes 12/31: hovering on the edge of a mini-deal
The latest trial balloon looks like this:
An emerging tentative agreement would extend current tax rates for households making $450,000 or less; extend the estate tax at its current level of 35 percent for estates larger than $5 million; and prevent the Alternative Minimum Tax from hammering millions of middle-class workers, sources said.
The deal would also extend unemployment benefits set to expire Tuesday and avert a steep cut to Medicare payments for doctors.
If this is true, all I can say is that it could be a worse. As one who doesn't think the deficit is something we should care too much about at the moment, I can't say that I'm sorry to see such a "small" deal. On the other hand, as one who cares a great deal about income inequality, I'm very sorry to see the Democrats give up their best chance to raise taxes on the affluent. It was never worth it to exchange those (inevitably temporary) tax increases for cuts to vital programs for average people --- kind of defeats the purpose --- but going over the cliff would have solved that problem.
Not only did President Obama win reelection on a message of higher taxes for the wealthiest Americans, but the actual mechanism of the fiscal cliff— automatic tax increases on all Americans, beginning Jan. 1 — gave Obama space to drive a hard bargain. And indeed, his initial offer on the fiscal cliff was promising: $1.6 trillion in new revenue, unemployment insurance, billions in new stimulus, a permanent fix for the debt ceiling, and several hundred billion in undefined spending cuts.
Of course, Republicans rejected this offer. And given their power in the House of Representatives, Obama had no choice but to make some concessions. But in his apparent zeal for a “grand bargain,” he went further, lowering his ask for revenue and floating cuts to Social Security in the form of “chained consumer price index,” a different way to measure inflation and calculate benefits. Republicans rejected this as well, and talks between Obama and Boehner fell apart.
The current Democratic offer is even further from ideal than the one presented by President Obama, and it represents a huge erosion of leverage. Republicans are now the ones in control, and as Jonathan Chait notes, it has everything to do with the president’s willingness to cave on taxes and his genuine desire to avoid the fiscal cliff.
I believe they are afraid of the cliff, for reasons that are obscure. Perhaps they should stop watching cable news for a while. But at bottom I think it's the Grand Bargain that drives them, otherwise they wouldn't have floated the Medicare eligibility age and the Chained-CPI. Unfortunately, I'm guessing that the combination of lower deficit reduction from the tax hikes and the looming debt ceiling fight will give them another bite at that apple. The Grand Bargain lives.
But it also gives progressives some time to organize against the next call for "shared sacrifice." Every day that we avoid austerity is a day that the economy may improve and the long term deficit assumptions will change for the better. Fight one battle at a time.
This one seems to have come to a draw, in my view, when it could have been a win. But according to Ezra Klein, the GOP sees it as a huge win for them, and you can see why:
Obama is already negotiating over the debt ceiling, [the Republicans] point out. He began the fiscal cliff negotiations by saying he wanted a permanent solution to the debt ceiling. Then it was a two-year increase in the debt limit. Now he’s going to sign off on a mini-deal that doesn’t increase the debt ceiling at all. Does that really sound like someone who’s going to hold firm when faced with global economic chaos? The White House always talks tough at the beginning of negotiations and then always folds at the end. Republicans are confident that the debt ceiling will be no different.
All this raises the tantalizing prospect for Republicans that they could end these negotiations having given up less tax revenue than they ever thought possible — less tax revenue than Boehner offered Obama, even — but still getting their entitlement cuts. Oh, and because there was never a big deal, they won’t have to agree to much stimulus, either. All in all, a pretty big win, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the White House’s baffling inability to stick to a negotiating position.
Apparently the White House is telling Klein that they fully intend to hang tough on the debt ceiling, you betcha. No way, no how are they going to negotiate. I might find that believable if the President wasn't obviously still chasing his white whale of a Grand Bargain (which he reiterated just yesterday on Meet the Press with his statement that cuts to programs that are "really important to seniors, student and so forth have to be part of the mix.") It has been obvious that the president seeks to cut the so-called entitlements since he first talked about it in 2009, saying that "everyone's got to have skin in the game." That's the danger we've faced from the beginning. And it's only because the Republicans don't want their fingerprints on it and the Democrats risk being mau-maued out of office by those same hypocritical Republicans that it's so difficult for him to get it done.
If this deal happens (no guarantee) then there will at least be some time to organize once more against these unnecessary spending cuts to vital programs. That's about the best I can say for it.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the fiscal cliff "negotiations" is that there is essentially no downside for Congressional Republicans in holding the country and its economy hostage. Democrats are less than two months removed from having resoundingly won the Presidency, gained seats in the Senate, and earned over a million more votes for House candidates than did Republicans. Due to gerrymandering, however, the Republicans still have a narrow majority in the House. Due to the Senate's ungovernable filibuster rules, Republicans can also control the balance of legislation in the Upper Chamber as well.
It's true that Republicans have been taking a beating in the polling on the fiscal cliff negotiations. That's not surprising, since Republicans want very unpopular things. Further cuts to earned benefit programs and lower taxes on the rich were resoundingly rejected by voters in November, and they continue to poll poorly. In theory, fear of voter backlash should cause Republicans to think twice about holding the line on these policies. But voters already rejected Republicans by wide margins this year and it did little to weaken their negotiating position.
There is little problem for Republicans, then, in attempting to get their way through holding the economy hostage despite the clear will of the American people. The biggest danger to most individual Republicans remains a primary challenge from someone even farther to the right. The vast majority of them are so protected by gerrymandering as to face little to no danger from a Democratic challenger in the near future.
Also, since the conservative agenda depends on the notion that government itself is a failure and doesn't work, there's no issue for them in making that supposed incompetence a reality. Since the President and his party end up being blamed by voters when economic conditions are poor, scuttling the economy in the wake the President's re-election is actually a smart political move for them.
It's up to Democrats to show that government can be a force for good and to protect the economy, which means that only Democrats have the incentive to reach a deal to avert crises like the "fiscal cliff" or the debt ceiling. Republicans have no such incentive.
But there is yet another twisted irony here. Since conservatives both lack incentive to make a deal work and want deeply unpopular policies, it makes perfect sense for them to withhold any cooperation on a deal that makes sense and the American people actually want, opting instead to force most Democrats to vote for an amalgam of terrible policies while they themselves remain mostly intransigent. And why not? Since seniors tend to like their earned benefits but support Republicans because of fear that tax revenues are being spent on the "wrong" people, why not force Democrats to cut those benefits while raising taxes to avert a fiscal crisis? There's no significant backlash Republicans can expect from voting no.
From the conservative calculus, there's no reason to stop the taking of economic hostages and no reason not to push the damage of horrible votes to avert crises back onto Democrats.
So what should Democrats do? The same thing governments do when confronted by more pedestrian hostage takers: refuse to negotiate. Insist on the correct and popular policies, and if Republicans refuse to abide by them, then allow the chips to fall where they will on various fiscal crises.
There should be, then, no deal on the fiscal cliff today. Democrats should make it clear who was responsible for the failure to come to a deal and why, allow the tax increases and cuts to take place, and then do little over the next two years but force Republicans to vote against simple and popular policies like middle-class tax cuts, repeal of the most onerous sequestration cuts, immigration reform and the entire rest of the broadly popular Democratic agenda all the way until November 2014.
It may or may not be that voters will punish Republicans appropriately at that time. But at the very least Democrats will avoid the indignity of being manipulated by hostage takers into voting against the American people just to reach a terrible deal.
Nearly all of Fox News' evening news shows ridiculed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for having to postpone her testimony on the Benghazi attack because of a concussion she suffered after fainting due to dehydration. Their mockery was an attempt to downplay the concussion and suggest Clinton was faking injury to avoid giving testimony, a notion the State Department has called "wild speculation based on no information."
The Washington Post reported on December 15 that Clinton sustained a concussion after she fainted due to dehydration while at home a week prior. After the incident, the State Department explained that Clinton would have to postpone her testimony about the attack on Benghazi due to the concussion.
Following the State Department's announcement, Fox News contributor John Bolton, appearing on On The Record, suggested Clinton was faking "diplomatic illness" to avoid testifying about Benghazi. The State Department's Victoria Nuland lashed out at Bolton for his remarks, labeling them "wild speculation based on no information."
Now Fox News' evening shows have decided to join Bolton in accusing Clinton of faking her condition and make it seem she is trying to avoid giving her testimony. Co-host of Fox News' The Five, Kimberly Guilfoyle, accused Clinton of running "a duck and cover" after suffering the concussion. Co-host Greg Gutfeld went on to ask, "How can she get a concussion when she has been ducking everything [related to Benghazi]?"
The lowest of the low. And their many minions are still saying she's faking it. If she were to die(God forbid) I have no doubt they'd say she did it to avoid testifying about their absurd Benghazi pseudo-scandal.
One of the fallacies I think that has been promoted is this notion that deficit reduction is only a matter of cutting programs that are really important to seniors, students and so forth.
That has to be part of the mix, but what I ran on and what the American people elected me to do was to put forward a balanced approach.
I don't recall him saying explicitly that we need to cut programs that are "really important to seniors and students and so forth," but it certainly was implied, so that's more or less true. And yes, it's also true that Mitt Romney was promising even worse. But let's be clear about what he's really saying and has been saying all along:
We need to cut programs that are "really important to seniors, student and so forth," but we also need to get some chump change from millionaires who won't even miss the money.
Today’s Republican Party thinks the key problem America faces is out-of-control entitlement spending. But cutting entitlement spending is unpopular and the GOP’s coalition relies heavily on seniors. And so they don’t want to propose entitlement cuts. If possible, they’d even like to attack President Obama for proposing entitlement cuts. But they also want to see entitlements cut and will refuse to solve the fiscal cliff or raise the debt ceiling unless there are entitlement cuts.
You can see why these negotiations aren’t going well.
I have a sneaking suspicion that they'd be quite happy to see the Democrats make these cuts for them. That's the very definition of win/win --- and a very good reason for the Democrats to just say no, regardless of what the president calls "balanced." He doesn't have to run again.
In a tremendous irony, Republican requests for lower tax rates, a high estate tax threshold, and a permanent AMT fix — combined with Democratic requests to delay the sequester, include a “doc fix” for Medicare physicians, and extend emergency unemployment benefits — have left the parties negotiating toward a plan that would result in no net deficit reduction over 10 years, according to Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin.
But by retracting the Social Security ask, Republicans bought themselves a few more hours to cut a deal.
“I was really gratified to hear the Republicans have taken their demand for Social Security benefit cuts off the table,” Reid said. “The truth is they should never have been on the table to begin with.”
Well, he's right about that but the president didn't exactly reject the concept in his interview on Meet The Press this morning. But considering the fact that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the deficit they are all so worked up about it's awfully nice to see it moved off the agenda (for now.)
Whatever. The deficit is the least of our problems. I'm sure the Dems would like to avoid another debt ceiling debacle and maybe the Republicans are losing their taste for battle and won't do it. But at this point, I'm applying the Hippocratic oath to these hypocrites: first, do no harm. The deal described above fits that bill about as close as one can in this environment. Let's get 'er done.
Fiscal cliff notes: The Villagers are stimulated by the prospect of human sacrifice by digby
The [current CPI] fails to account for what economists call upper-level substitution bias, and what my mother would call plain common sense: If the price rises for a certain commodity in the basket of goods used to measure inflation, consumers will choose a cheaper alternative. In my house, when the price of beef soars, we substitute chicken --- Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus
Yes, I'm quite sure the price of beef is always a huge concern for an elite columnist at one of the world's most influential newspapers. In that column, the allegedly liberal Ruth Marcus went on to heartily endorse the change, saying that the White House had assured her that the most elderly poor will be taken care of so it's all good. And then I'm sure she rushed into the kitchen to figure out how to stretch her meager weekly ground beef allotment for another few days. Oatmeal added to the meatloaf can be quite nourishing, don't you know?
As I write this we're hearing a bunch of heated chatter that Mitch McConnell is "insisting" on the Chained-CPI and he refuses to give up the debt ceiling fight. And there's just as much pushback coming from Republicans like McCain, Graham and Rubio saying that the Chained-CPI is off the table. So what gives?
If I had to guess, and it's purely a guess, I'd say that the Democrats were trying to position themselves as being "forced" to cut Social Security by the Republicans in order to get the debt ceiling off the table. (How long it stays off the table is probably the greatest bone of contention --- Boehner offered a year already, so it will probably have to be at least that.) The Republicans don't seem to want to take responsibility for cutting of SS for their only growing demographic, which is good news for all of us who will be dependent on Social Security in our old age. Every day they don't agree to a cut is a good day for us. Unfortunately, the president and the congressional leadership already showed their hand on this so it's not going away.
If they do come to an agreement that includes the Chained-CPI it will not only be a terrible, terrible thing to do on the merits, as I wrote earlier it is going to be laid at the feet of a Democratic president (which will undoubtedly be known among the apologists and the establishment as his "Nixon goes to China" triumph) and his party will pay the price. Any Democrat who foolishly votes for it will be pounded by both the left and the right in the coming elections and it's likely to kick a fair number of them out of office in 2014. Why they would fall on their swords and cut Social Security benefits to close a deficit in which Social Security is not a factor is almost beyond belief. So much so, that I'm still hopeful that the talks will fall apart or the Tea Party will save them from themselves --- or the congressional Dems just say no and let the chips fall where they may. I don't think McConnell and Boehner can get a majority to raise any taxes so it might fall apart of its own accord.
“Chaining” the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a benefit cut disguised as a technical fix. And if budget constraints require cuts in Social Security benefits, those cuts should be targeted at the most affluent recipients—as chaining does not.
Here’s how the CPI is calculated today. Every month the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) phones all sorts of businesses all over the country to collect prices on roughly 80,000 items divided into about 200 categories. The categories are “weighted” in accordance with nationwide consumer surveys that the BLS conducts every two years; the weighting yields a “market basket,” i.e., a set of goods that’s reasonably representative of American consumption patterns. The BLS massages its monthly information into (among other measurements) the Consumer Price Index For Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). The CPI-W covers 32 percent of all Americans, and it's used to calculate Social Security benefit increases. There are other CPIs too, but henceforth when I refer to the “CPI” I’ll mean the CPI-W.
One longstanding criticism of the CPI is that it doesn’t take into account, on a month-to-month basis, consumer substitutions made in response to price increases. Maybe cheddar cheese is getting so pricey that I’ll switch to American cheese. Or maybe beef is getting so pricey that I’ll switch to chicken. If such substitutions become permanent, of course, that will show up in the next biennial consumer survey. But until that next survey, the CPI will be artificially inflated because it will assume I’m buying cheddar when I’m really buying American, or it will assume I’m buying beef when I’m really buying chicken. Subsequent inflation adjustments will compound the error and inflate benefits even more.
(An obvious objection to this entire mode of thinking is that it doesn’t consider that substitutions might constitute a serious decline in the standard of living. What if I can no longer afford to feed my children beef and I have to feed them dog food instead? From an economist's point of view, I have merely altered my consumption habit.)
Another difficulty with chaining the CPI is that it would have to be accompanied by a benefit increase for the oldest Social Security recipients, because over the long term chaining benefits would dramatically lower benefits relative to what very old beneficiaries receive today, and at a stage of life when one is likeliest to be poor and unable to contemplate working. That might prove a hard sell to the GOP rank and file as well.
But let’s say we manage to chain both Social Security benefits and tax brackets. And let’s assume the necessary bump for the oldest Social Security beneficiaries is agreed to. Would chaining really bring Social Security benefit increases in line with spending patterns? Actually, no. Not for senior citizens, anyway.
For the elderly, spending patterns are unique in one very significant respect: Old people spend a lot more on health care. Yes, they have Medicare. But they also have a lot more trips to the doctor. As a result, the older-65 set spend a much larger portion of their incomes on health-related expenses than the rest of the population. And health inflation, you may have heard, is increasing quite a bit faster than inflation for other goods.
The BLS is aware of that, and has crafted a special CPI just for old people. And guess what? The so-called CPI-E is not only rising faster than the chained CPI; it’s also rising faster than the CPI-W that’s used to calculate benefit increases today. Soif a “technical” correction were all that was called for in calculating Social Security, that correction would have to increase benefits, not reduce them. The CPI-E is, at this stage, a bit rough (the “E” stands for “experimental,” not “elderly”). But as Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (who differs with Greenstein on this issue) points out, “the BLS could whip it into shape if Congress would provide the resources.” But why would Congress want to? It wants to cut Social Security spending, not increase it.
Regardless of whether or not we go over the cliff or they make a deal, I'm sickened by what I'm hearing on television today. Like this:
GREGORY: If this fight comes back-- and I want to ask you specifically about entitlements: Medicare and Social Security.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.
GREGORY: Are you prepared in the first year of your second term to significantly reform those two programs? To go beyond the cuts you’ve suggested to benefits in Medicare, which your own debt commission suggested you’d have to do if you were really going to shore up Medicare at least. Are you prepared to do that in your first year of the second term?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: What I've said is I am prepared to do everything I can to make sure that Medicare and Social Security are there, not just for this generation but for future generations.
GREGORY: You've got to talk tough to seniors don't you about this? And say, something’s got to give?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: ...but I already have, David, as you know, one of the proposals we made was something called Chain CPI, which sounds real technical but basically makes an adjustment in terms of how inflation is calculated on Social Security. Highly unpopular among Democrats. Not something supported by AARP. But in pursuit of strengthening Social Security for the long-term I'm willing to make those decisions. What I'm not willing to do is to have the entire burden of deficit reduction rest on the shoulders of seniors, making students pay higher student loan rates, ruining our capacity to invest in things like basic research that help our economy grow. Those are the things that I'm not willing to do. And so...
I think the president is forgetting that it's not "unpopular" and it isn't him who's making the sacrifice or being "brave" by forcing these hideous cuts for no good reason. It's millions of old people who will be forced into greater poverty and insecurity because of what he's doing in service of a trumped up crisis of his own making who are being asked to make the sacrifice for no good reason. I'm sure ex-President and Mrs Obama will not be the ones substituting cat food for tuna.
The Villagers are even worse. They are nearly drooling at the possibility that the elderly could be forced to "sacrifice" for the greater good. If it happens, they will all sigh deeply and declare that it "hurts" Real Americans like themselves to make these sacrifices but they're willing to do it for the greater good. Then they'll all get in their network supplied town cars and go to their expensive dinners and raise a glass of expensive champagne to celebrate the fact that our government is working exactly as it should.
Adopting it is just another way to cut Social Security benefits. So it's only a good idea if cutting Social Security benefits is a good idea.
Now, you could argue that Social Security benefits have been too generous all along, which is why growing them more slowly is a good idea. Or you could argue that the long-term fiscal gap requires cuts in many worthwhile programs, and Social Security is one of the best options.
As it happens, I don't think either of those claims is true. I think Social Security is one of the best values among federal programs and that the U.S. faces a retirement-savings crisis that will be exacerbated if we cut old-age benefits. I think we should cut elsewhere.
You might disagree. But that's the debate we need to have. The claim that adopting chained CPI is a technical improvement that "everyone" should get behind is incorrect.
So why is the president doing this? He's certainly not a dumb man who can't understand what he's doing. The only explanation is that he believes Social Security benefits should be cut, but knows that it's politically difficult to do so he's hiding behind this "technical improvement." Honestly, there aren't any other believable explanations. Social Security never had to be part of this deficit conversation because it doesn't contribute to the deficit. It is, however, part of the Grandiose "Bargain" he's been pushing since before he was inaugurated the first time in which he seeks to be the Democratic president who bridges all the partisan divides and takes all these difficult problems "off the table" for all time so we can finally "do big things." The Republicans have never signed on to that vision and more and more, I'm wondering if they aren't saving the Democrats from themselves.
Senate Republicans realized in a caucus meeting Sunday afternoon that the idea was a loser for now, even if they might return to it in reaching a larger deal later on.
"CPI has to be off the table because it's not a winning argument to say benefits for seniors versus tax breaks for rich people," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). "We need to take CPI off the table -- that's not part of the negotiations -- because we can't win an argument that has Social Security for seniors versus taxes for the rich.”
"There's a realization that in spite of the president's apparent endorsement of a chained CPI that that proposal deserves more study," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). "My guess, based on what Democrats are saying is that that reform would not happen during this stage of the negotiations."
A Democratic aide, informed of the reversal from a proposal that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had offered late Saturday -- which included the Social Security cut -- took it as a hopeful sign.
I don't know what happened there and I don't care as long as it's out of the deal. For now. You know it's going tor ear it's ugly head again. Lindsay graham was out there talking about how we need to raise the Medicare age and cut Social security and otherwise "reform entitlements." As part of the debt ceiling.
Soooo. If this is off the table for now, I hope the President can call their bluff on the debt ceiling and wrap this baby up. Even if he doesn't we live to fight another day.
Now that it's been revealed that the FBI was spying on Occupy Wall Street all over the country, worried about it's "revolutionary" agenda, one can only wonder if they will be looking into this:
Not that I think Drudge or anyone else should be looked into by federal authorities on the basis of such vague language either, mind you. But it's curious that they see a bunch of drum circling peaceniks as a major threat to democracy but by people who go to political gatherings packing heat or carrying signs that say "we came unarmed ... this time" are good old fashioned Americans exercising their right to free speech.
The Washington Post has a good bit of journalism on family members of congressmembers getting hired as lobbyists, with all the problems that one might expect from such incestuous relationships:
The Post analysis shows that the interests of lawmakers and their relatives have overlapped to varying degrees on bills before Congress. In the past six years, for example, 36 congressional relatives — including spouses, children, siblings, parents and in-laws — have been paid to influence 250 bills passing through their family members’ congressional committees or sponsored by the members.
All of this is legal under the rules Congress has written for itself.
That lawmakers have relatives working as lobbyists has been widely reported over the years. Lawmakers have consistently said their relatives don’t lobby them directly. The 2007 overhaul prohibited spouses from direct lobbying but gave other relatives more leeway.
For the first time since the changes, however, The Post examination reveals the extent to which relatives are still paid to work on issues before their family members.
“It’s a technique of throwing money at the feet of the congressman who can influence my business,” said Craig Holman, a campaign finance and government ethics lobbyist for Public Citizen.
The family ties are another example of the intersection of lawmakers’ public and private interests, which The Post has been documenting in a year-long series. Earlier articles revealed lawmakers who secured earmarks for projects near properties they own, traded in stocks of companies lobbying on bills before them and pushed legislation affecting industries in which they had financial interests.
Historians are going to look back in awe at this New Gilded Age of ours in which an utterly broken government functioned solely on behalf of the wealthy when it functioned at all, with open graft and corruption everywhere in spite of unprecedented access to citizen mobilization and information.
*This post will be at the top of the page for the rest of the day. Please scroll down for newer material. Holiday Fundraiser Greatest Hits: Hey Joey, Do You Like Movies About Gladiators?
Once again, thanks for your support during this holiday fundraiser. I know that money remains tight for many of you and that you already dug deep in the last election to help us elect some Real Progressives to the congress, and I'm very grateful.
In the course of the last 10 years I've had some good fun at the right wing's expense. Because they've earned it. The term "keyboard commandoes" came from Tbogg, I believe, although it could have been The Poorman (sadly missed.) These were the bloodthirsty war bloggers, furiously pounding their ... keys for war. We all spent a good part of our time in the early days just watching their antics.
But I honestly can't recall ever enjoying anything so much as the spectacle of the wingnut bloggers going completely goo-goo over the film 300.
I've been following this story about "300" in the entertainment press with some interest. It has to be the most breathless, overwrought wingnut attempt to find relevance in popular culture yet. Here'sNewsweek:
...the cultural significance and popular appeal of "300" reach beyond the thrill of watching pixilated decapitations. The Persians in "300" are the forces of evil: dark-skinned, depraved and determined to terrorize the West. The noble, light-skinned Spartans possess a fierce love of liberty, not to mention fierce six-pack abs. "Freedom is not free," says the wife of Spartan King Leonidas. The movie was adapted from a graphic novel by Frank Miller ("Sin City"). Miller's post-9/11 conservatism (he is reportedly working on a new graphic novel pitting Batman against Al Qaeda, titled "Holy Terror, Batman!") suffuses his comic-book fantasies. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that "300" resonates for some real warriors. At a theater near Camp Pendleton outside San Diego, cheers erupted at a showing of "300," the Los Angeles Times reported. The Marines ("The Few, the Proud") identify with the outnumbered Spartans.
Ok. So the few the proud at Camp Pendleton see themselves in the role of Spartans. Most of them do have fierce six-pack abs, if not necessarily light skin, and it's common for soldiers to enjoy battle rituals. I'm not surprised by this.
But this is ridiculous:
The analogy between the war on terror and the death struggle of ancient Greece with Persia has not been lost on some high administration officials either, especially Vice President Dick Cheney. (A White House spokesman declined to comment about the film.) In the months after 9/11, a classics scholar named Victor Davis Hanson wrote a series of powerful pieces for the National Review Online, later collected and published as a book, "An Autumn of War." Moved by Hanson's evocative essays, Cheney invited Hanson to dine with him and talk about the wars the Greeks waged against the Asian hordes, in defense of justice and reason, two and a half millennia ago.
But, as pathetic as Cheney's Walter Mitty delusions are, nothing comes close to the wingnut bloggers:
The movie is a cartoon, based very loosely on historical fact. The Persians are depicted as either effeminate or vicious abusers of women, while the Greeks are manly men. The bad guys in "300" also include corrupt Spartan politicians who refuse to send more troops to the battle. Some right-wing bloggers have likened them to liberal Democrats voting against the surge in Iraq.
The mind set reflected in the reviews of "300" suggest that the reviewers, with their apparent discomfort with the open expression of defiant aggression expressed in the movie, are too sophisticated to partake, even vicariously, in the Spartan heroics. It is unclear whether the pacifist left would ever fight, even to save themselves, let alone to save the civilization that they cannot imagine is under siege. If the sophisticates of Athens had refused to pick up the sword, they would have been dead or enslaved. Our modern day sophisticated Athenians of the MSM who refuse to wield their weapons, their pens and computers, in the service of Western Civilization, have already shown their willingness to live as slaves. After all, what did the Danish cartoon saga tell us except that the members of the elites in Academia, Hollywood, and the MSM are willing to offer up their free speech rights in obeisance to the barbarians at the gates.
"300" resonates because Americans have not yet shown themselves so willing to live as slaves as their "betters" in the effete elites.
Who hasn't wondered why the "modern day Athenians of the MSM refuse to wield their weapons, their pens and computers, in the service of western Civilization?" Thank God Americans such as this fine blogger are wielding their mighty weapons in public for all the world to see, eh? It's made all the difference.
I just saw "300". It is probably the most important movie made since 9-11...The propaganda, it is oh-so-beautiful. It rivals anything put out by Republic Pictures or Warner Brother's animation during WWII. Heroic Americans fight the Hunnish/Asiatic hordes (many seem to forget that it wasn't until after WWII that our movies redeemed the "Germans" by separating them from the "Nazis"---part of the Cold War propaganda effort).
In fact, I'll go out on a limb and compare this to Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible, Part I--that classic piece of Soviet propaganda which artfully legitimized the Stalinistic purges as an effort to consolidate state power in the face of a foreign menace (Ivan as Stalin, the boyars as anti-revolutionary forces, and the Turks as the Germans). And who would argue that Eisenstein's masterpiece wasn't needed to help the war effort? Or Bugs Bunny? Or John Wayne?
No, "300" brings us back to the good-old days of propaganda. When propaganda was produced in support of our country. When propaganda was produced to remind us that we are the good guys and that our ideals are better than the ideals of our enemies.
Go see "300". If you don't like it you probably hate America. That, or you're gay.
Right. Nobody who likes 300 could ever be gay.
It should be said that some rightwing bloggers were not as taken with the film. But their commenters showed them that they were missing the point:
No one ever said that reinstalling the American man’s long-lost testicles was going to be a painless process, but it’s worth it. Best of all it reminds us that we once made of far sterner stuff than we are now and we need to get it back. I’m hoping there are a hundred more movies like "300" over the next couple of years. We need them.
dostrick on March 16, 2007 at 12:51 PM
Haven’t seen it yet (getting my infusion of cinematic testosterone tomorrow), but I’m definitely pumped up and ready for it. I can let the fact that it’s not historically accurate by any means slide since the movie makes no pretenses to the contrary. It pisses off all the right people (liberals, the tyrants in Iran, etc.) while espousing themes such as that there are some things worth fighting for.
‘Bout damn time. I’ll take this over former tough-guy Clint Eastwood’s Iwo Jima wimpfests any day.
thirteen28 on March 16, 2007 at 1:03 PM
“It’s a manly film, full of heroic poses and speeches…”
Which is why some liberal reviewers hated it, of course. After all, liberalism’s fundamental premise is the sissified surrender of the West, while presided over by girlymen.
So there you have it.
The funny thing is that I've long joked that "America isn't Sparta -- America is a bunch of fat, spoiled mall shoppers" which is true. If you want to be a mighty warrior nation, everybody has to move their fat asses off the couch and become --- you know --- warriors. "Wielding" a keyboard and using words like "girly-men" and Islamofascism" doesn't count.
The agoge was a rigorous education and training regime undergone by all Spartan citizens (with the exception of future kings.) It involved separation from the family, cultivation of loyalty to one's group, loving mentorship, military training, hunting, dance and social preparation.
The term agoge literally translates as 'raising'. Supposedly introduced by the semi-mythical Spartan law-giver Lycurgus but thought to have had its beginnings between the seventh and the sixth centuries BC, it trained boys from the age of seven to eighteen.
The aim of the system was to produce the physically and morally steeled males to serve in the Spartan army, men who would be the "walls of Sparta," the only city with no defensive walls – they had been taken down at the order of Lycurgus. Discipline was strict and the boys were encouraged to fight amongst themselves in order to determine who was the strongest in the group...
Boys were sent from the family home and from then on lived in groups (agelae, herds) under an older boy leader. They were encouraged to give their loyalty to their communal mess hall rather than their families, even when married they would not eat an evening meal with their wives until at least 25. The boys however were not well fed and it was expected that they would steal their food. If caught stealing however, they would be severely punished (not for stealing, but instead for getting caught). All Spartan males with the exception of the eldest son of each of the Spartan royal households (Agiad and Eurypontid) were required to go through this process (they were permitted not to attend as it was believed they were part god).
Americans wouldn't last a day in such a regime, and frankly, good for us. There have been others who tried to emulate it and it didn't work out so well.
These macho keyboarders are just big babies like their hero Dick Cheney, getting all hot and bothered at the sight of all those rock-hard abs and all that death. If they want a piece of it, there are military recruiters everywhere who would be more than willing to sign them up and send them to the marine version of agoge. It's called boot camp. Once they get through that and do some time in an actual war zone then maybe they can cheer wildly at "gladiator" movies and talk about manly-men without sounding like a bunch of fools.
Or if they have "better things to do" maybe they could just be all they can be. The Spartans would have been pleased.
With hindsight being 20/20 (as my gaffer used to say) it seems that Peter Jackson has been running the chalk backwards. The Hobbit or There and Back Again (published in 1937), J.R.R. Tolkien’s first foray into his wondrously immersive world of “Middle Earth”, is a straightforward fantasy-adventure novel. At 300 or so pages, it’s just right for a stand-alone film adaptation. Adapting Tolkien’s subsequent The Lord of the Rings trilogy for the screen, on the other hand, is a more challenging undertaking. The three volume tome is not only a darker, more intricate affair, full of vividly imagined scenarios and rich characterizations, but rife with meticulously annotated genealogies and scholarly referenced “histories”. Hence, it is a logical candidate for a 3-film adaptation. As anyone not living in a cave with Gollum over the past decade knows, Jackson went for the (massively successful) trilogy first, starting with The Fellowship of the Ringin 2001. Now if Jackson wastruly going sequentially, he should have begun with The Hobbit. Given the moviemaking technology available when principal filming on LOTR began (1999), he could have produced a perfectly serviceable, stand-alone 3-hour film (*sigh*).
I suppose this is my long-winded way of addressing Jackson’s controversial (well, amongst the geeks who care about this sort of thing) creative choice to s-t-r-e-t-c-h his film adaptation of The Hobbit into three films, to be released over just as many years. I imagine that cynics will be quick to point out the obvious financial benefits Jackson stands to reap by milking the franchise, but considering LOTR’s combined earnings to date of nearly 3 billion dollars…I don’t think he’s necessarily doing it “for the money”. No, I have a different theory, which gets back to my original point about movie making technology. I’m no psychologist, but I believe that Mr. Jackson is suffering from GLTS (George Lucas Tweaking Syndrome). I think he’s looking at the exponential leaps and bounds in motion-capture, CGI and 3-D technology that have occurred since he wrapped the trilogy, and he’s thinking to himself, “Damn, I could have used those latest bells and whistles on LOTR…well, I can’t go back in time, but I’ll still show James Cameron and the rest of them a frickin’ hi-res, 3-D trilogy full of orcses and hobbitses, my prreciouss!”
Lest you begin to wonder if I’ve decided to turn my review of The Hobbit: AnUnexpected Journey into a three-part post, spread out over just as many Saturday nights, this seems just as good a time as any to actually begin the review (for those of you patient souls who haven’t clicked out of this 500 word-and-counting snore fest yet). You see, in a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit…OK you already know that part. So, you remember old Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) from the LOTR films, right? While he does have a cameo in Jackson’s new film, this story centers on the young Bilbo (Martin Freeman), and his first major “adventure” beyond the boundaries of his beloved Shire. Just as awaits his nephew Frodo several decades in the future, the agoraphobic Bilbo is ripped from his comfort zone by one Gandalf the Wizard (a returning Ian McKellen, not looking a day over 637). Soon after a cryptic “heads up” from Gandalf referencing a few of the wizard’s out-of-town pals who might drop by the crib for a visit, Bilbo finds no less than 13 ravenous dwarves descending on his formidably-stocked pantry like locusts. And no sooner can you say “we’re off on a quest”, Bilbo has been sweet-talked into signing on as a “burglar” to help alpha dwarf Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his dirty dozen reclaim the house of his faddah from the evil dragon squatter, Smaug.
While the director and his co-writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro have been careful to preserve most of the characters and creatures featured in Tolkien’s original story (including orcs, wargs, trolls and a goblin king who looks like Jabba the Hut’s first cousin with a tremendous goiter issue) they’ve also tossed a few new ones into the mix (how else are they going to embroider what I assume is destined to become the #1 9-hour bong, pizza and Blu-ray marathon of choice in 2015?). I’m not sure yet how I feel about the Pale Orc, a heavy who seems destined to play the One Armed Man to Bilbo’s Dr. Richard Kimbel, glomming on to him and his dwarf buds like a bad suit all the way to the goddam Lonely Mountain (admittedly it’s been quite a while since I read the book, but I’m fairly sure he’s new). At any rate, until such time as someone heroically cleaves him in twain in a sequel, I guess I’ll live with it. The real scene stealer in this outing is Andy Serkis, returning as the younger version of the creature Gollum, who has his fateful first encounter with one of those “filthy Bagginses”.
There have been grumblings in some corners about the film being a little “cutesy” compared to its predecessors; aside from a goofily choreographed housecleaning scene where I half-expected the merry dwarves to break into a rendition of “Whistle While You Work” I didn’t see it. What I did see was a story with a surprising amount of heart, especially when one considers how easily the undeniably dazzling technical wizardry involved in bringing Tolkien’s universe to life could overshadow the flesh and bone performances. That being said, there are some real knockout set pieces, especially if you opt for seeing the film in the high-res 3-D presentation. The best eye-candy sequence involves Rivendell, which here looks like the kind of place I could really settle down with Cate Blanchett and raise a couple of half-elven kids (I can always dream, can’t I?).
So basicallyDick Armey blackmailed Freedomworks' sugar daddy and is now admitting to being a whore. Well, why not? It's not as if the man's ever been an upstanding citizen.
My favorite clip of Dick remains:
Aside from the sexist creep's snide, anachronistic behavior toward Joan Walsh, if you watched that clip you saw Limbaugh's early complaints about being asked to "hope" the president will succeed. Oldies like me will recall that Dick Armey was the guy who said this earliy in Clinton's term:
In 1994, he told [the Democrats] "your president is just not that important for us."
Hardcore Republicans never acknowledge a Democratic president. In fact, they start with the proposition that they cannot possibly be legitimate because they are Democrats and go from there. The Obama administration should not have been surprised by this.
Armey was one of the modern conservative movement's shock troops and rose in the leadership along with Gingrich. He was a tea partier before tea partiers were cool.
The funny thing is that Armey was the right wing's favorite "economist" in the congress for many years but apparently didn't figure out how to properly milk the spoils system he helped build. So now, at the age of 72, he has resorted to blackmailing his wingnut welfare benefactor. What a perfect ending to a thoroughly ignominious career.