I made a little cartoon to celebrate the New Digital Holiday Spirit. In it, Santa's Chief Helper for Intelligence explains to Rudolf why Christmas and civil liberties just don't mix.
The co-chairs of the Presidential Deficit Commission released the final draft of their report today, and it's now scheduled for a Friday vote by members of the Commission. We're being told that it's a fairer and more reasonable document than its predecessor. It's nothing of the kind.
In many ways this document is worse than the draft that preceded it, and those much-lauded "compromises" evaporate in the cold light of reality. This new draft is lipstick on a piggy-bank robber, a package of cosmetic changes meant to disguise its true purpose: To raid the future financial security of most Americans in order to benefit a few.
This proposal would still cripple government's vital role in society by imposing arbitrary limits on spending. It would still place great financial burdens on lower- and middle-class Americans while easing those of the wealthy. All in all, it's the most profoundly right-wing policy prescription the nation has seen in decades. Democrats who lack the political courage to oppose it will be remembered for it for a long time to come.
There's a great deal of alarmist talk these days about the fact that Social Security won't be adding to its surplus this year. Instead it will call in some interest payments (and possibly other monies, too) on the money Uncle Sam borrowed from its fund. (When a rich person retires on interest income they're called "lucky" or "successful." When the rest of us do - however indirectly and slightly - it's called a "crisis.")
Those who claim to be so gravely concerned about the financial stability of Social Security should consider this: If our government had put ten million unemployed Americans back to work, Social Security would have added to its surplus this year.
Conservative economics has often felt like religious dogma, with its elevation of "a rising tide lifts all boats" to unintended extremes and its unfounded belief that lower tax rates create higher government revenue. But, at least as far as that second article of faith is concerned, Conservanomics is becoming a church without bishops. Leading conservative economists are abandoning the idea that lower rates create more revenue. Without its elders the "less brings more" tax school is becoming a decidedly fringe movement, the fiscal equivalent of a flying saucer cult.
Want to guess who rushed to fill the void left by economic conservatives like Alan Greenspan and David Stockman? Whoever said "Sarah Palin" wins.
Don't Fear the Boomers. Despite the scaremongers' attempts to incite generational war, people born between 1946 and 1964 are not going to destroy Social Security. The Baby Boom cohort isn't going to be a crippling financial burden for Generation X, Generation Y, Generation XYY, or any other generation. It may be true that their descendants will be forced to listen to their greatest hits until the sun goes supernova (more cowbell!), but economically there's nothing to worry about.
Since I'm one of the dreaded boomers myself I guess I can't be considered objective, so don't take my word for it. Ask an actuary.
A broad coalition of groups has been formed to defend Social Security, and the videos announcing it are all worth watching. Of all the ideas proposed, my personal favorite comes from AFSCME President Gerald W. McEntee: A new reality show starring the people who want to cut Social Security. He suggests having John Boehner, billionaire benefit-cut advocate Peter G. Peterson, and Deficit Commission chairs Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles live for a year on the average Social Security benefit of $14,000.
Great idea, Mr. McEntee! Let's run with it a little, shall we?
There's a battle going on between those who are defending Social Security - that is to say, the "good guys" - and those like economist Alice Rivlin and Wall Street banker/giveaway king Neel Kashkari, who would cut it. The attackers pretend to see nuances that don't exist, slanting their arguments to make benefits reductions seem inevitable and even humane. True to form, Rivlin frightens Americans with the idea that we need to "save" Social Security, then proposes to "reassure" them ... by cutting it.
Fortunately the defenders are getting reinforcements. A new coalition of organizations is uniting under the "Strengthen Social Security" banner, including major unions like the AFL-CIO, SEIU, and AFSCME, the National Organization of Women, MoveOn, and the National Education Association, as well as 60-plus other organizations representing over 30 million Americans. (Note: I am associated with that coalition through my affiliation with the Campaign for America's Future.)
This week's big story is that a faker scammed the media, trashing an innocent USDA employee's career in order to push a false right-wing narrative. But another scam's underway too, and it's targeting Social Security and other entitlement programs. As Republicans (and at least one Democrat) pushed budget-busting tax cuts, the "bipartisan" leaders of the Deficit Commission showed their true colors as extremists who peddle panic and hold "hearings" despite having their minds already made up. One of them said that the Federal debt is a "cancer," adding that you "can't tax your way out of it" - and that was the Democrat! Meanwhile the Republican complained that November's elections will be "disruptive," creating "wreckage" that will interfere with their plans.
When you think about it, Shirley Sherrod and the the Social Security system have a lot more in common than their initials.
A disturbing pattern seems to be forming in Washington: Evidence of financial wrongdoing leads to settlements with large banking institutions, but with no apparent move to indict the individuals responsible. AIG agreed to the largest settlements in history, yet despite seemingly compelling evidence the Justice Department decided not to prosecute anyone. Now Goldman Sachs has agreed to a settlement that amounts to little more than chump change compared to the bonuses it paid last year. People should be asking: Where are the indictments?
The SEC appeared to engaged in a little Wall Street-style overselling last week when its Director of Enforcement said that "half a billion dollars ($500 million) is the largest penalty ever assessed against a financial services firm in the history of the SEC." Actually, AIG paid the SEC considerably more - $800 billion - as part of a $1.6 billion total settlement. AIG also settled a class action suit in the State of Ohio last week for $725 million. Yet, despite what appears to be smoking-gun-like evidence, the Justice Department quietly let it be known there would be no indictments in that case.
Peace activists and progressives are the only people that I've heard connect war spending in Afghanistan and Pakistan with our financial security at home - until now, that is. Yesterday House Minority Leader John Boehner made the connection explicit, telling reporters and editors for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that we need to cut Social Security benefits to pay for the AfPak military effort. Is he really a left-wing plant with a secret strategy?
A video of retired Sen. Alan Simpson's foulmouthed rant toward activist Alex Lawson is making the Internet rounds, as well it should: The sheer audacity and rudeness of the guy makes this clip "must-see TV." It's a political bloopers reel (it can be seen at the bottom of this post).
But, while Simpson's outrageousness makes the video entertaining, here's what make it important: Alan Simpson is one of two chairs of a bipartisan commission created by President Obama to study the Federal deficit. His comments reveal a number of very important things about his biases, his tendency to distort and mislead, and his ideological extremism. These traits are likely to taint the Commission's work - work which has great implications for the future.
Feel free to read Dana Milbank if that sort of thing appeals to you, but don't imagine for a minute that you're learning anything. That would be like studying the French Revolution by reading Marie Antoinette's cake recipes. The Milbank school of journalism - which at this point is American journalism -doesn't just fail to inform. Somehow it's able to subtract from a reader's overall body of information, as if by magic, leaving her or him even less informed than they were before.
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