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Julius Chambers died on Friday night in North Carolina.  Chambers was a civil rights attorney and leader who dedicated his life to fighting for equal rights and justice in the south, and all over America.  He started his own law firm - the first to be 'integrated' in North Carolina - after graduating first in his class from law school.  He later went on to become Director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, a position previously held by Thurgood Marshall before he moved on to the Supreme Court. Chambers was 76.

I had the honor of taking a civil rights litigation seminar Chambers taught in the evening at my law school.  He would take the train from NYC to Philly to teach the class after putting in a full day at the office.  He was often tired by the time he got there -  he even fell asleep and missed his stop once.  But it was important to him to share what he had learned in the many battles he had fought during his long ceer, and to teach us students what it took to win, and why the fight was so important, especially when it seems like you are losing and victory is impossible.  Chambers never gave up. Ever.

He was a quiet man, unassuming and gentle.  He rarely raised his voice.  And he held animosity toward no one.  Yet his car had been firebombed, his house had been firebombed, and his law office had been burned to the ground.  He took eight cases to the Supreme court and won every one of them, including cases after Brown v. Bd. of Edu. further desegregating pubic schools and public school sports.  Did I mention that he never gave up?    

Chambers was dedicated not just to achieving equality, he was a fierce defender of everyone's civil rights, even those who would have hated him:
Once Chambers sent Watt to Lumberton in Robeson County to defend protestors charged with resisting arrest and assaulting an officer.

“I get down there,” Watt said, “and I find that these are Native Americans who’d been carrying tomahawks and demonstrating because they didn’t want to go to school with black kids.”

Back in Charlotte, a confused Watt asked Chambers: “Why in the world did you send me to Lumberton to defend people who were against going to school with black kids?”

“Julius never looked up,” Watt recalled. He said, ‘Don’t you believe in the First Amendment? Don’t you believe in free speech?’ ”

Please take a moment to read his full obituary at the link below, to note his passing, and to honor a life dedicated to the cause of freedom, justice and equality.  You will be glad you did. And remember the lesson that has stayed with me since I sat in his classroom over twenty years ago:  Never give up the fight. Especially when it seems you/we are losing.  Each generation has to fight the battle anew, and, Chambers believed, each individual has a civic duty to carry that battle forward.


How do I know that President Obama (D) is soon going to attempt to force cuts to social security and/or medicare?  He has told us so, albeit in oblique ways. During his State of the Union Speech, for example, after he made his splashy pitch to raise taxes on millionaires, the President said this:

The American people know what the right choice is.  So do I.  As I told the Speaker this summer, I’m prepared to make more reforms that rein in the long-term costs of Medicare and Medicaid, and strengthen Social Security, so long as those programs remain a guarantee of security for seniors.

But in return, we need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes.  (Applause.)

What did the President tell the Speaker over the summer?  Sam Stein has the answer:

According to five separate sources with knowledge of negotiations -- including both Republicans and Democrats -- the president offered an increase in the eligibility age for Medicare, from 65 to 67, in exchange for Republican movement on increasing tax revenues.

The proposal, as discussed, would not go into effect immediately, but rather would be implemented down the road (likely in 2013). The age at which people would be eligible for Medicare benefits would be raised incrementally, not in one fell swoop.

The president also put stealth cuts to social security benefits on the table, as TPM reported last July:.  

in recent weeks, congressional aides, strategists, and advocates have been floating, or warning of, a stealth change to the Social Security benefit structure that has quietly been placed on the negotiating table.

The proposal wouldn’t just impact Social Security benefits. It would also shave off yearly increases in federal pension payouts, and result in somewhat higher tax revenues. But the ratio would be skewed toward benefit cuts by a factor of about 2-to-1 and would represent a financial hit to even the poorest retirees unless they were exempted.

The idea is to change the way Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) are calculated across the federal government.

The White House later distanced the President from the issue of social security cuts at about the time Occupy Wall Street demonstraters hit the streets:

In his discussions with House Speaker John Boehner this past summer about raising the debt ceiling, one of the possibilities the president discussed was changing the formula by which Social Security payments are increased for inflation. Using what's called the Chained Consumer Price Index rather than the standard CPI would result in slightly lower increases for inflation because the Chained CPI assumes that if prices rise, consumers will buy cheaper products.

That the president even entertained the idea changes to Social Security upset many Democrats. Now the Social Security program has become an issue in the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination - and the White House appears to want to avoid getting into the argument

It is unclear whether the President took social security cuts off the table, or whether they will be back on the table in the coming budget negotiations.  It seems clear, however, that the President favors cutting social security, or he oddly favors appointing people who favor cutting social security to positions where they can provide the cover needed  for the President to make the cuts.  Alan Simpson was not the only one on the Cat Food Commission who favored cutting taxes for wealthy corporations and cutting social security for everyone else.  Erskine Bowles was also strongly in favor of that approach.

((youtube d_9r1C5-VyA))

[Businessweek, quoting the Cato Institute director of financial regulation, reports that Erskine Bowles may be one of the President's choices to replace Timothy Geitner when he steps down after the election, should Mr. Obama win re-election.

The other name mentioned was Senator Ben Nelson.  Here's how the New York Times describes Nelson:

One of the most conservative members of the Democratic caucus, he repeatedly broke with his party on important votes, supporting the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, for instance. He became the focus of anger from the party’s liberal wing during the debate over the health care bill, which he held up repeatedly while demanding that it be rewritten in ways seen as favorable to the insurance industry, in which he formerly worked. ]

What else is clear is that the effort to force the cuts through, whether it's just Medicare or both Medicare and Social Security, is about to begin.

President Barack Obama will reprise previously rejected deficit-reduction plans and tax increases on the wealthy while proposing new incentives for companies to return jobs to the U.S., as part of his fiscal 2013 budget, administration officials said.

The election-year spending plan, due to be presented to Congress Feb. 6, is intended to demonstrate the administration’s intent to chip away at the nation’s long-term deficits.


The previous plan called for $1.5 trillion in tax increases over the next decade, including the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts for families earning $250,000 or more a year. It also would make changes in mandatory spending programs, cutting Medicare and Medicaid and farm subsidies, selling government assets and reducing federal worker benefits.

The CBO is ready with the numbers congress will need, having released them last week.

According to a CBO report released Tuesday, gradually raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 would save the federal government about $148 billion over 10 years.

See, e.g.,

So what do we do?

If President Obama ends up proposing the cuts, as all indicators seem to suggest he will, I think there is only one answer.  We have to tell the President in as many ways as we can, and as loudly as we can, that they are unacceptable.  

If we can protect the internet, we can defend perhaps the greatest achievement and legacy of the Democratic Party, and the core mission of the Democratic Party.  These cuts are not only unnecessary, they hurt people, and end up costing more. Raising the age of Medicare eligibility not much more than a gimmick, and a cruel one at that.

Why?  Because the so-called "savings" from raising the Medicare eligibility age are in fact non-existent.  As another Diarist has pointed out, the move will actually increase and nearly double the cost of providing health care for the affected population, shifting much of the increased costs onto seniors themselves (many of whom will be priced out of coverage until their delayed medicare kicks in), and onto their employers, for those lucky enough to still have a job providing health care at age 65.

 The CBO report demonstrated that raising the eligibility age by two years

would increase costs to seniors, and some seniors would become uninsured or would pay higher prices for private insurance.

CBO assumed that Obama's healthcare law would remain in place if the Medicare age is raised, meaning seniors would be able to buy private coverage through the new insurance exchanges. Without the healthcare law, "many more people" would end up uninsured if the eligibility age is raised, CBO said

The cuts are also unnecessary.  President Obama will tell us, oh-so-sincerely, that this is the only responsible thing to do.  Hogwash!  This is the cruelest way to balance a budget, directly on the backs of those too old to work.  There are plenty of other credible options, like a tax on hedge fund managers, or on super-computer trades, or cuts to the still hugely bloated military budget.

The President will present the cuts as a grand compromise.  That's hogwash, too.  How is it a compromise to propose that in exchange for asking gazillionaires to pay what the rest of us have been paying in taxes all along, seniors, the vast majority of whom did not enjoy the lower taxes of the wealthy, are nonetheless still expected to take a big hit, and make a big sacrifice, right when they are most vulnerable and least able to afford it.  

That isn't a compromise, that's a sell-out, and if President Obama tries to force it on us, we can't allow it to stand.  

Update:  In answer to the suggestions in the comments that all of this is  hypothetical, please note that it is well documented and established that President Obama has already proposed the cuts mentioned in the diary.  

The issue is, will the President re-introduce them, and what should democrats do if he does.  It certainly appears that he will, perhaps next week.  No one has signaled that the cuts are off the table.  On the contrary, the White House is telling "the left" to brace themselves for a budget they are sure to hate:

Obama warns left: You won't like budget
 By Alexander Bolton  -  01/17/12 05:30 AM ET

Top White House officials are warning liberal and labor leaders to brace themselves for President Obama’s budget proposal.


Senior administration officials fear a backlash from the left and are trying to prepare their allies to expect a disappointing budget, sources say.

Given these signals from the White House, the President's past proposals and the impending budget release, it is not irresponsible to speculate about what cuts might be in the budget, and what an appropriate response might be.
Edited for clarity and to correct erroneous assumption re Geitner's possible replacement.


Will you strongly and actively oppose President Obama if he attempts to cut medicare and/or social security?

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| 144 votes | Vote | Results

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