September 27, 2010

The GOP’s Worthless “Pledge” to America

Ever since the media descended on that little hardware store that shall now live in infamy to listen to some of the Teapublican Party’s most worthless representatives unveil their so-called “pledge” to America, I’ve been itching to take it apart piece by piece. Thankfully, a number of other great writers have done so for me, and called out the pledge for what it is – at best a shell of empty promises the Republicans simply can’t keep, and at worst a malicious plan to cripple the American middle class, shovel tons of money into the hands of the Republicans’ best friends, and pull money back from the areas that the American government should be investing in most heavily right now, like education and job training.

But the Republicans, as always, see things differently – mostly through a lens of “I’ve got mine, you can go to hell,” which results in a legislative agenda that does nothing in the good times and actually reverses public progress and common good in the worst times; and that’s exactly what they plan to do.

Over at The Washington Monthly (and reposted at AlterNet) was a fantastic piece calling the pledge out as the sham that it was – snake-oil designed to make Tea Partiers and people who are disenchanted with the fact that this hole the Bush Administration and the Republicans in Congress during the Clinton Administration dug is deeper than they have patience for turn out to the polls:

Looking at the bigger picture, it’s tempting to think House Republicans deserve at least some credit for making the effort. After all, the GOP hasn’t even tried to craft a policy agenda in many years. The point of the “Pledge,” presumably, is to help demonstrate that congressional Republicans aren’t just the “party of no”; this is a new GOP prepared to reclaim the mantle of “party of ideas.”

But that’s precisely why the endeavor is such an embarrassing failure. The document combines old ideas, bad ideas, contradictory ideas, and discredited ideas. The Republican Party that lost control of Congress four years ago has had an abundance of time to craft a policy vision that offered credible, serious solutions. Instead, we’re confronted with a document that can best be described as tired nonsense.

That sounds about right, but there’s definitely more:

Ezra Klein’s take was entirely in line with my own.

[Y]ou’re left with a set of hard promises that will increase the deficit by trillions of dollars, take health-care insurance away from tens of millions of people, create a level of policy uncertainty businesses have never previously known, and suck demand out of an economy that’s already got too little of it.

You’re also left with a difficult question: What, exactly, does the Republican Party believe? The document speaks constantly and eloquently of the dangers of debt — but offers a raft of proposals that would sharply increase it. It says, in one paragraph, that the Republican Party will commit itself to “greater liberty” and then, in the next, that it will protect “traditional marriage.” It says that “small business must have certainty that the rules won’t change every few months” and then promises to change all the rules that the Obama administration has passed in recent months. It is a document with a clear theory of what has gone wrong — debt, policy uncertainty, and too much government — and a solid promise to make most of it worse.

If Republicans set out to prove that they’re wholly unprepared and incapable of governing effectively, they’ve succeeded beautifully. That may have been obvious when there was an actual GOP majority and they failed on a spectacular, generational scale, but any hopes that the party has since learned valuable lessons quickly fade with the release of the “Pledge to America.”

Indeed, the moral of the story this morning is very likely the fact that Republicans probably shouldn’t even try. Last year, the House GOP released an alternative budget, which was so tragically pathetic, it neglected to include any numbers. Several months later, the House GOP released an alternative health care reform plan, which made no effort to actually improve a dysfunctional system.

In fact, the Republicans’ “pledge” would rob the coffers of K-12 education by millions upon millions of dollars thanks to drastic cuts in public education, but it wouldn’t strike a dime from tax breaks for the wealthy, the Defense Department’s budget, or their own salaries. How’s that for fiscal responsibility?

[ GOP’s New ‘Pledge to America’: A Pathetic, Destructive Sham ]
Source: The Washington Monthly (courtesy of AlterNet)

But the beat goes on: over at the Campaign for America’s Future, RJ Eskow calls out the “pledge” for pretending it’s fiscally sound and that it’s aiming at bloated government spending when it’s really a ruse for deep cuts to public programs that are unpopular with Republicans and their Tea Party ilk: programs like health care, education, and social services. He writes:

Once you strip away the rhetoric, the answer is simple: Off the top, their plan is a trillion-dollar giveaway to the rich – at everybody else’s expense. Their “pledge” would slash needed spending, kill jobs and end any hope of growing the economy. It declares open season on the public’s health and safety with a deregulation agenda that would unleash BP, Goldman Sachs, and every other corporation whose risky behavior endangers us. It would lead to even more financial crashes and environmental disasters. Firefighters, cops,and teachers would be laid off in droves. The deficit would soar. We’d face a permanently stagnating economy. The middle class would wither away.

That’s the future they’re offering. It’s Bush on steroids, fattened up and ready to feast on … you. If you like today’s economy, you’ll love the one these guys are cooking up.

If this document wasn’t written by lobbyists then it was certainly submitted for their review and approval. And there’s a lot for them to love.

He doesn’t waste time diving right into some of the same laughable notions that came up in the Washington Monthly piece – things so laughable that they couldn’t possibly ever become public policy in America unless the American people like shooting themselves in the foot (although the rise of the Tea Party and the “ignorance is bliss” political movement gives me pause to wonder if they’re not the case):

Where would they cut, exactly? They don’t say. David Frum, a former speechwriter for George Bush, explains why: “Here is the GOP cruising to a handsome election victory. Did you seriously imagine that they would jeopardize the prospect of victory and chairmanships by issuing big, bold promises to do deadly unpopular things?”

Deadly unpopular things. At least Frum is honest enough to say out loud what other Republicans won’t: They’re going to subsidize their tax breaks for the wealthy by doing things the American people will hate. They won’t just cut the everyday functions of government that make our lives better. Returning government spending to “pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels” also means ending the repair work that’s currently being done to fix what their policies have broken. That includes getting people back to work, providing loans for small businesses, and cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico.

But even though they slither past the specifics, the GOP leaders left some broad hints about their defunding priorities. In a graph that lists government spending, for example, the categories aren’t listed by size, or alphabetically. The ones at the top are the targets, and which figure prominently? The Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Education, Justice … you see where this is going, don’t you? (Yes, the Justice Department’s on the list. Law enforcement isn’t always a convenient thing in their America.)

Their list of 2,050 different assistance programs singles out Federal funding to the states—states that are in desperate need of federal support to keep people working in the fiscal aftermath of GOP policies. They need Federal aid to avoid the kind of cuts they’ll be forced to make otherwise: laying off cops and teachers, slashing Medicaid, letting roads crumble, and shutting down emergency services, just to name a few.

Why not rename this pledge the “fire a cop, buy a banker his own private island plan”?

The Pledge also promises to give “small businesses” a tax deduction equal to “20 percent of their business income” – but, as Rachel Maddow and others have observed, their definition of “small business” includes giant corporations like Bechtel and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. That would mean another multibillion-dollar tax break for the wealthiest among us.

This “deficit-conscious” plan wants to expand the “military/industrial welfare state,” too. “We are a nation at war,” it says, calling to “fully fund” a missile defense system that’s already plagued with persistent test failures, laden with cost overruns, and which most experts don’t think is needed or can ever wok. What it can do, however, is transfer a lot of middle-class income to Boeing and Northrop Grumman. We’ve already spent more than $60 billion on the “Star Wars” missile program in the last eight years, in fact. Why, that’s nearly as much as the GOP intends to give to the top 25 billion-dollar-a-year hedge fund managers!

They dress their plan up with the usual mumbo-jumbo about government spending that’s “crowding out the private economy.” That may sound good, Tea Partiers, but think about: How does it do that, exactly? Every government employee buys things from private companies—from supermarkets, pharmacies, auto dealers, and yes, hardware stores. Makes no sense when you think about it.

And while their rhetoric’s pretty polished, they tried a little too hard to channel the Founding Fathers with lines like this one: “Whenever the agenda of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to institute a new governing agenda and set a different course.” (Note for whichever lobbyist wrote that: “Agenda” is a business word, not an inspirational one. It doesn’t fit. It’s like writing “When in the course of human events we are called upon to write a Mission Statement …”)

Here’s the bottom line: They’ll raid your money to make their rich patrons even richer. The middle class will continue to wither away, and those manage to hold on will be worse off than ever. More and more people will slip into permanent unemployment, poverty, and penurious old age. More roads will crumble. More aging pipelines will explode in towns like San Bruno, Calif. This “pledge” is the oldest kind of promise in the world: the promise than con men make to their victims.

Remember, the Republicans made a lot of promises the last time they took control of the Congress. They promised to create more jobs, and their policies led to record unemployment. They promised to limit their own terms, then settled in for a long comfy stay in Washington. They promised that businesses would regulate themselves, and both the Gulf Coast and the Main Street economy were ruined.

Seriously people, remember this when you head to the polls. There may be no way to heal this wound in time for the elections, but there’s definitely time to stop the bleeding so we can continue the work of repairing the damage that these same people – and then the people who inspired the worst of them that are rising to influence – have caused and are eagerly planning to cause.

[ GOP’s “Pledge” To Rob The Middle Class: No Jobs, No Health Care, No Security ]
Source: The Campaign for America’s Future

September 20, 2010

The Obama Achievements Center

I know I ranted about this at length in my post, That “Change” is Working Out Great for Me, Thanks for Asking! but I wanted to drive it home a little more because memories fade so quickly and people forget exactly how far America has come in the few short months since Obama took office, and how quickly this American ship has managed to right itself and set a course for prosperity. Are we there yet? No. Is Obama perfect? Not at all – but has he accomplished a lot? Is he trying? Is he a hell of a lot better than who we had before – both in the White House and his cronies in Congress? Absolutely on all counts.

That’s why I’m really thrilled to point out the existence of the Obama Achievements Center, a great resource for people who want quick ammo to rebut the claims of history-rewriting conservatives who think that Obama hasn’t done anything, or at least hasn’t done anything good, and are basking in this kind of false reality where America has become a worse place since he took office. Quite the contrary, to fact. Here’s what the site’s builders have to say:

This site is the preview version of our new Obama Achievements Center. It’s a work in progress and a labor of love — for our country.
We’re building a crowd-sourced compilation of the achievements of the Obama administration, with documentation for each achievement linked to it. It
In today’s frenzied media zones, far too much time has been spent putting the spotlight on complaints while significant achievements are either ignored, not reported, or minimized.

The Achievements

Determined to change the media narrative to finally include the good works of this administration, a group of Twitter users got together under Shoq’s leadership and compiled a list of the achievements and promises of the Obama administration, with documented links to every item. It will be updated on an ongoing basis, as this President accumulates more successes and lasting reforms.
Defining what an achievement is in any administration, is itself an interesting issue. We decided that we would define it broadly to include executive orders,important legislation, and significant initiatives or outcomes of any kind, both foreign and domestic. We worked hard to screen out minor or subjective items whenever we had agreement on them. As anyone can see from this very impressive list, they weren’t needed.

Isn’t it beautiful? This is worth a bookmark, people, and includes everything I mentioned in my last post and then some. Best of all, it’s organized by topic and category, so if you have a favorite cause of topic, you can zoom right to it.

[ The Obama Achievements Center ]

300 Economists Warn That Deficit Hysteria Is a Big Con

If the only folks you listened to these days were the Republicans, you’d think that the national debt and deficit were huge and uncontrollable and were going to the the cause of the imminent collapse of our society. You wouldn’t hear that most economists believe that central spending is the best way to avoid and stimulate an economy back to a growth mode, and that by strategically spending money on projects that can help businesses grow and people get back to work, a federal government can go a long way toward building a fiscal bridge between economic hardship and recovery, without the economic hardship being nearly as deep or dangerous as initially feared.

Then again, who’s only listening to Republicans?

Frankly, the only folks who honestly are worried about short term implications of current government spending are the people who are scrabbling to get themselves elected this season; aka the Tea Party and their commissioned thugs. As if I haven’t said it before, the Tea Party is what you get when you bundle up every idiot in America who knows nothing of civics and government but somehow steadfastly believes that everyone in Washington is evil and should be deported – to be replaced by some amorphous body that’s “more like them.”

Congratulations – here you go: if you really want to, you can replace qualified, knowledgable politicians on either side of the aisle with people like the Tea Partiers who are so lacking in basic knowledge that they’d be more than happy to impress their beliefs on the American people without so much as opening a book or reading the Constitution they so staunchly defend.

I digress though – everyone agrees that long term deficit spending is unsustainable and something should be done about it – when the country’s economy is strong enough to hit the treadmill and shed some weight, but right now? Not so much – and a panel of over 300 economists agrees and wants to warn Washington that spending too much time worrying about the deficit now instead of worrying about growth is a bad idea:

On Thursday, 300 economists and analysts issued a statement warning that the “deficit hawks” who appear to be gaining the upper hand in our economic debates are threatening to turn an already deeply painful recession into a full-blown depression.

In a conference call with reporters organized by the Campaign for America’s Future, the experts warned that the American economy now stands at a crucial juncture. They acknowledged that public debt is mounting, and presented a choice of two different paths to right the ship: imposing fiscal “austerity” today, in the midst of the most serious downturn since the Great Depression, or investing in the American economy — with public spending over the short term — in order to grow our way out of the red ink.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said that the economists’ statement “is both a warning about the danger of deflation and continued stagnation, and it’s also a plan for growth — the right way to approach and address long-term deficits.” Reich warned that if the policies being pursued by Washington’s deficit hawks continue, we risk not only a “double-dip” recession, but possibly a “lost decade, similar to that experienced by Japan during the 1990s.

The wonks advocate increased aid to cash-strapped states and municipalities, direct support for public service jobs and comprehensive investments in America’s aging infrastructure.

“This is about a high road to recovery versus a low road to fiscal balance,” said Robert Kuttner, a senior fellow with Demos. “All of us want reduced deficits at some point. The question is: what is the proper sequencing, and what is the proper analysis of cause and effect?” Kuttner said the economists’ view was “simple.” “You get the recovery first, and that requires increased public investment, and then the road to fiscal balance is much less arduous because people are working, businesses are investing and tax revenues go up because you’re in recovery.”

Absolutely correct. President Obama is doing the right thing, too – he’s making sure to spend some money on public infrastructure projects like roads and bridges and telecommunications infrastructure that will put people back to work and leave tangible results behind that will serve to improve our communities. I’m also a fan of more direct aid to states, and boosts for public sector jobs to encourage people to come to work for the communities they live in – it’s not just the private sector that has to start hiring; the history and spectre of deregulation and the Reagan-era belief that there’s nothing government can do that private industry couldn’t do better needs to be nailed into its coffin and shoved into the ground.

This is especially poignant considering the fact that the private sector isn’t hiring, and I blame them to some extent for that – they should be, but they’re not, primarily because they’ve realized through the economic downturn that they can survive with fewer people and by paying them less – there’s no reason to believe that they’ll change their minds and start hiring again for the good of the economy and the good of the American people, when their balance sheets are shining after they’ve been standing on our backs for so long.

Now if only people would remember all of this when they head to the polls, they’d be crying for more government spending.

[ 300 Economists Warn That Deficit Hysteria Is a Big Con ]
Source: AlterNet

August 16, 2010

How Letting the Bush Tax Cuts Expire Could End the Economic Crisis

Some economists have the right idea about the Bush-era tax cuts. You know, like I said in my last piece, That “Change” is Working Out Great for Me, Thanks for Asking!: the ones that did nothing to stimulate the economy or create new jobs?

The money that will come in to government coffers when you force those people to be accountable who were supposed to stimulate the economy, invest in new businesses, and hire people with all of the money they didn’t have to pay the government in taxes but simply didn’t will actually go to balance the federal budget and books that the conservative right has been whining about so much.

And that’s the clincher, and that’s why the Tea Party thug gallery simply has no idea what they’re on about – they complain that the government needs to find ways to pay for things, and they they can’t spend like this with no money coming in…but as soon as there’s a way to hold government accountable for the money that it’s not bringing home and ending a program of tax cuts that never yielded the benefits they were supposed to, they start screaming and crying. It seems the conservative right and the Tea Party thugs are only interested in balancing the budget and bringing in more money to government coffers if that really means the money will wind up in their pockets and if they’re able to cut the throats of the neediest Americans in the process.

Here’s the scoop, thanks to Anthony DiMaggio at TruthOut:

Allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire will remove a massive boon for America’s rich, which benefitted the most from Republican policies over the last decade. Reinstatement of the Estate Tax, the Alternative Minimum Tax and the return of pre-Bush income tax levels for the richest Americans (among other tax changes) will result in an increase of more than $217 billion in tax revenues for 2010 and 2011. The expirations will then contribute another $1.25 trillion from 2012 through 2015, and an additional $2.2 trillion from 2016 to 2020.(13) The Center for Economic and Policy Research projects that it could take a decade for the US to return to pre-2008 unemployment levels.(14) The unemployment problem, however, could be greatly reduced if even a portion of the more than $3.6 trillion in public revenues that would be restored within this same period were used to bolster private economic development and preserve state public sector jobs.

The 2009 economic stimulus was credited with preventing the recession from growing worse. Recent data suggests that national unemployment would have reached 16 percent without it.(15) The effects of the stimulus were blunted, however, due to the relatively small amount allocated in 2009 – totaling $787 billion – in addition to the refusal of states to raise taxes to make up for declining tax revenues.(16) Total state budget gaps for the fiscal year are projected for 2011 at $84 billion.(17) This means that, if the Bush tax cuts were allowed to expire, the revenues gained from them (from 2010 and 2011) are far more than enough to fill all currently existing state budget deficits for the next ten years (assuming the deficits remained at current levels, which they most likely would not once a full recovery took place), while still leaving an additional $2.76 trillion dollars left over to promote further economic recovery.

Business apologists will no doubt complain that the restoration of pre-Bush tax levels will stifle business initiative, investment in the economy and future growth. They argue that only by pushing tax cuts for business and the rich can economic recovery occur. These claims are difficult to take seriously considering that American corporations have returned to pre-2008 profit levels, while systematically refusing to invest in the economic growth needed to decrease unemployment from near historic highs. The top banks in the country were rescued under the TARP taxpayer funds under the assumption that they would begin to loan money to jump start the economy. They refused, preferring to take the money to pay CEO bonuses and buy up their competitors. The Bush tax cuts were intentionally frontloaded with benefits for the masses of Americans, with the vast majority of cuts for the wealthy (which constituted the bulk of the tax cuts under Bush) appeared only in the later years of the tax cut timeline laid out in 2001.(18) The Bush tax cuts, like the TARP funds, have not been used in the last few years to help bring about an economic recovery. These cuts are set to expire this year and renewing them will likely do little to nothing to promote recovery if they have had no effect up until this point.

Bingo. If the Bush-era tax cuts haven’t done anything up to this point – and even unlike President Obama’s stimulus, which while controversial there’s at least evidence that it made an impact and kept the situation from getting as bad as it could have – there’s no reason to believe that the Bush tax cuts will do anything favorable for the economy now….aside from what would happen if you let them whither and die, like they should have in the first place.

Who knows – maybe the whole mess wouldn’t have been so difficult to deal with if the vastly Republican Congress at the time never passed the tax cuts in the first place.

[ The Coming Tax War: How Letting the Bush Tax Cuts Expire Could End the Economic Crisis ]
Source: TruthOut

August 9, 2010

That “Change” is Working Out Great for Me, Thanks for Asking!

I’ve never been a fan of bumper sticker politics: I find it overall relatively crude and demeaning not only to everyone involved (both the person idiotic enough to put something like “Miss Him Yet?” on their car and the person who has to see it while they’re headed to work or home from it) but there’s been one little trend of short-memory and revisionist history among conservatives and Republicans that I feel compelled to note.

Admittedly, the Right’s attention span has always been short, and their capacity to revise history to make themselves look glowing (see Ronald Reagan) has always been remarkable, but President Obama has been in office for 18 months and not only are conservatives trying to pretend that he’s not still busy cleaning up the messes of the past 8 years (“hurr when will you stop blaming the last guy for what’s happening now, hrurr”) but also conveniently shaping today’s issues in short-term language (instead of properly pointing at the near 30-year history of American conservatism as responsible for the deregulation of our financial industries, energy industries, and transportation industries to the point where they’re only accountable to their shareholders and the desires of their executives to line their pockets – at the expense of the American people.)

Bumper stickers like “How’s that change working out for you” and “Miss him yet?” have been appearing on the cars of the angry, who want you and I to believe that the world may as well have ended 18 months ago and now we’re all picking through the smoldering ashes of our civilization. To those questions, I have two very simple answers:

* That change is working out great for me, thanks for asking!
* No, I don’t miss him at all – in fact, I’m happily on my way to forgetting he ever existed.

Starting at the very bottom, I’m particularly glad that I have a President who, while he isn’t perfect, is leaps and bounds more perfect than the last guy, and a President who I don’t have to worry will lock me up and waterboard me if I disagree with him and don’t march in lock step behind. Now I have a President who, as a matter of policy, doesn’t strip American citizens of their rights and due process just so they can be thrown in a dark cell until the powers that be can think of what do to with them. Again – our current Administration isn’t perfect on this point, but at least they’re willing to listen to suggestions and open to changing course – the last Administration would have simply called you “un-American,” “un-patriotic,” and thrown you in a cell just for speaking your mind.

The last Administration listened in on the phone calls of American citizens without a warrant, and the last Administration locked up American citizens for no reason. The last Administration was responsible for the Patriot Act, which while it hasn’t been repealed, has been used with significantly more caution and judgment than it had been in the past. The last Administration was obsessed with the State Secrets Act and shutting down human rights lawsuits just by invoking it.

So no, I don’t “miss him yet” at all, and that “change” has been a huge breath of fresh air.

Let’s move on to some more tangible examples though:

Would Mad King George have appointed two women to the Supreme Court? Likely not.

Would McCain have signed the Lucy Ledbetter Act, mandating equal pay for equal work? Never.

Would Bush Jr. have committed to drawing down troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, even if those plans are slow to take shape? Never – they would have said even talking about leaving would have emboldened our “enemy.”

Would the Little Bush or McCain ever strive to provide health insurance to millions of uninsured Americans, pass a Patient’s Bill of Rights, put Medicare on sound financial footing, and cut near a trillion dollars from the budget defecit over the next 10 years by reforming the way Americans get and spend on health care? It would have been a laughable proposition.

Would McCain or Palin have signed an executive order mandating that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” be repealed? Wouldn’t have even crossed their minds.

Would Bush Jr. ever thought to close Guantanamo, much less actually try? Never.

Would a Republican president ever have sought to re-vitalize the Civil Rights wing of the Department of Justice, ousting political appointments that sought only to minimize the amount of work the agency did by throwing out legitimate cases and complaints and marginalizing career lawyers who have fought for equal rights their entire lives? Nope.

Would McCain or Palin have fought to restore science and scientific analysis to its rightful place in American discourse, especially on such important topics as climate change, space science, and medicine? Never.

Would McCain or Bush Jr. be on nearly as solid terms with our allies as Obama is, and managed to completely turn around our antagonistic relationship with Russia the way he has? Never – we would have seen more bluster and saber rattling, and likely be in the middle of another war with another faceless enemy designed to make us afraid by now had we voted differently.

Would McCain ever have gleefully signed ethics reform into law that would ensure there were strong rules to make sure the the field day that Republicans had during their majority time in office prior to 2008 (remember the cascade of ethics and sex scandals coming out of Congress back then? Oh how soon the right wing forgets…) never happen again? Not a chance.

Would Bush Jr. ever have given woefully needed money to the American auto industry – even if it was unpopular – and then been able to stand behind them as, as happened last week, they all post revenue gains and profits as opposed to the record losses and debts they had over a year ago?

The economic downturn was in full swing when President Obama was elected, as were both wars and all of their issues – so blaming President Obama is only ad accurate as you can blame someone for not cleaning up someone else’s mess fast enough. Someone recently pointed to a story about the vast majority (something like 96%) of money slated for reconstruction in Iraq being unaccounted for, and snarkily commented about whether or not this was something that people would just blame President Bush for – to which I responded that yes, it is – it’s only the right that seeks to unload accountability for their own actions and leadership decisions onto the people that follow them. President Obama has accountability to cleaning up that mess, but he has no accountability for having made the mess in the first place.

To that end though, would Bush Jr. or McCain ever have pushed through legislation designed to stimulate the economy, fund thousands of new infrastructure projects, put hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work, and, with time, eventually turn the job decline into a slow but steady job incline? Not at all – there would have been some tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans (like the Bush tax cuts being debated now in Congress – you remember, the ones that did nothing to stimulate the economy or create new jobs?) and the Republicans would have resorted to their old stand-by, that people who are unemployed somehow “want to be jobless” or “deserve it.”

Would Bush ever have had the gravitas or political will to push through a massive financial system reform bill into law that not only forces more accountability in the financial sector but also establishes a new government agency that the public can turn to for their own protection against those massive Wall Street entities? Never. Would McCain? Hardly – he may have handed over some more money to them, but never have fought on our behalf.

So when you ask me if that “change” is working out for me, I’m more than happy to say yes.

When you ask me if I “miss him yet,” I can answer with a smile and say “miss who?”

Because overall, there’s plenty of work left to be done, and we’re not out of the woods, and everything isn’t perfect, but I’m more hopeful now than I ever have been, and I’m confident that America is moving in the right direction under a leader who at least considers the best interests of the people and the nation over their own personal whim or delusional personal “calling.”

Yup, that change is working out for me just fine, thanks. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

August 3, 2010

Top 5 Social Security Myths

This delicious list came from the fine folks at MoveOn.org, who generally do a great job at getting the truth out to people who desperately need it, and wind up being a massive political force that actually has some serious accomplishments under their belt.

Myth #1: Social Security is going broke.

Reality: There is no Social Security crisis. By 2023, Social Security will have a $4.6 trillion surplus (yes, trillion with a ‘T’). It can pay out all scheduled benefits for the next quarter-century with no changes whatsoever.1 After 2037, it’ll still be able to pay out 75% of scheduled benefits—and again, that’s without any changes. The program started preparing for the Baby Boomers’ retirement decades ago.2 Anyone who insists Social Security is broke probably wants to break it themselves.

Myth #2: We have to raise the retirement age because people are living longer.

Reality: This is a red-herring to trick you into agreeing to benefit cuts. Retirees are living about the same amount of time as they were in the 1930s. The reason average life expectancy is higher is mostly because many fewer people die as children than they did 70 years ago.3 What’s more, what gains there have been are distributed very unevenly—since 1972, life expectancy increased by 6.5 years for workers in the top half of the income brackets, but by less than 2 years for those in the bottom half.4 But those intent on cutting Social Security love this argument because raising the retirement age is the same as an across-the-board benefit cut.

Myth #3: Benefit cuts are the only way to fix Social Security.

Reality: Social Security doesn’t need to be fixed. But if we want to strengthen it, here’s a better way: Make the rich pay their fair share. If the very rich paid taxes on all of their income, Social Security would be sustainable for decades to come.5 Right now, high earners only pay Social Security taxes on the first $106,000 of their income.6 But conservatives insist benefit cuts are the only way because they want to protect the super-rich from paying their fair share.

Myth #4: The Social Security Trust Fund has been raided and is full of IOUs

Reality: Not even close to true. The Social Security Trust Fund isn’t full of IOUs, it’s full of U.S. Treasury Bonds. And those bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States.7 The reason Social Security holds only treasury bonds is the same reason many Americans do: The federal government has never missed a single interest payment on its debts. President Bush wanted to put Social Security funds in the stock market—which would have been disastrous—but luckily, he failed. So the trillions of dollars in the Social Security Trust Fund, which are separate from the regular budget, are as safe as can be.

Myth #5: Social Security adds to the deficit

Reality: It’s not just wrong—it’s impossible! By law, Social Security’s funds are separate from the budget, and it must pay its own way. That means that Social Security can’t add one penny to the deficit.8

You can read the full list, complete with citations and facts that back up these statements, at the link below:

[ Top 5 Social Security Myths ]
Source: MoveOn.org

Four Deformations of the Apocalypse

Perhaps one of the best things I’ve seen come through my inbox these past several days is an op-ed in the New York Times by a former financial official in the Reagan Treasury Department where he all but comes clean about the ridiculous damage that the Republican party has done to the US Economy, and how the blame – as it should be – is laid squarely at the feet of the Bush Administration and their fiscal policies of unregulated, laissez-faire business practices.

Instead of regulating the industries that are falling apart around us today by leaking oil into our waterways or foreclosing on our homes, the Bush Administration claimed that the best way to keep the economy going was to let the party keep rolling, no matter what the damage in the long run – and we’re seeing that damage now (and may not see the end of it for generations.)

And yet, Republicans in Congress want to continue the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy – you remember the ones, the ones that were supposed to stimulate so much job growth and investment in small businesses but did neither of those things (but did wind up as a massive payout to the wealthiest few percent of the American populace?) Of course you do, as does David Stockman:

IF there were such a thing as Chapter 11 for politicians, the Republican push to extend the unaffordable Bush tax cuts would amount to a bankruptcy filing. The nation’s public debt — if honestly reckoned to include municipal bonds and the $7 trillion of new deficits baked into the cake through 2015 — will soon reach $18 trillion. That’s a Greece-scale 120 percent of gross domestic product, and fairly screams out for austerity and sacrifice. It is therefore unseemly for the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, to insist that the nation’s wealthiest taxpayers be spared even a three-percentage-point rate increase.

More fundamentally, Mr. McConnell’s stand puts the lie to the Republican pretense that its new monetarist and supply-side doctrines are rooted in its traditional financial philosophy. Republicans used to believe that prosperity depended upon the regular balancing of accounts — in government, in international trade, on the ledgers of central banks and in the financial affairs of private households and businesses, too. But the new catechism, as practiced by Republican policymakers for decades now, has amounted to little more than money printing and deficit finance — vulgar Keynesianism robed in the ideological vestments of the prosperous classes.

This approach has not simply made a mockery of traditional party ideals. It has also led to the serial financial bubbles and Wall Street depredations that have crippled our economy.

Stockman then goes on to explain the four significant ways that these policies have caused serious harm to the US economy, and what their true impact may be. He even twists the screws a bit on the topic of our out-of-control military spending, which seems to be skyrocketing regardless of the party you support (although Democrats have lately expressed interest in bringing in the military budget and Defense Secretary Gates asked his generals to find areas where they could trim the fat.)

The entire piece is worth a read, especially if you find you have a short memory for fiscal policy, or if you know a right-winger who thinks the economy only tanked when President Obama took office and seek to blame him. There’s plenty of blame to go around – the real problem is that the political right doesn’t have the will to actually fix the problem.

[ Four Deformations of the Apocalypse ]
Source: The New York Times

July 19, 2010

Keep in Mind, Republicans Fare Worse Than Obama in Discouraging New Poll

For as much as the media is trumpeting up the standard talking points for a mid-term election; that the party in power generally takes losses and that the party in power is generally the one doing poorly in the polls (both of which are indisputably true) it’s also worth pointing out that even though the Tea Partiers and Republicans are frothing at the mouths about repealing everything the government has done for the American people these past two years, they’re not exactly winning any popularity contests themselves:

There were a couple of trends that jumped out at me, though, beyond the obvious numbers. The first is that the public, while discouraged and pessimistic about the status quo, still doesn’t much care for Republicans.

Respondents were asked, for example, how much confidence they have in various leaders to “make the right decisions for the country’s future.” For Obama, the number is 43%. For congressional Democrats, it’s 32%. Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, is a distant third at 26%. Indeed, while support for Obama’s handling on the economy has fallen quite a bit, the poll asked which political party voters “trust to do a better job handling the economy.” Democrats still lead Republicans by eight points.

Dems aren’t faring well in this political landscape, but it’s not because voters are moving in large numbers to the GOP.

Now that’s a level of analysis you probably won’t find in many media outlets – they’ll stick to the top-level talking points, which are all worth discussing, but they’ll completely avoid digging into the details – it’s not that the voting public prefers Republicans or Tea Partiers, it’s that they’re just unhappy with the pace of the economic recovery and the political process entirely, so much so they’re disenchanted with everyone, not just Democrats in Congress or with President Obama.

This is where campaigning really needs to play a role, and incumbent Democrats and the President need to get out in front of this disillusionment and show the country what they’ve done for them, the good it’s doing, and the fact that voting for Republicans and Tea Partiers will not only take the country back in the wrong direction but will likely have abyssal results for the American people – since neither of those two groups care about the average American nearly as much as they both claim to.

One more tidbit that has to do very much with my last piece on the matter:

There was also this:

“Because of the economic downturn, Congress has extended the period in which people can receive unemployment benefits, and is considering doing so again. Supporters say this will help those who can’t find work. Opponents say this adds too much to the federal budget deficit. Do you think Congress should or should not approve another extension of unemployment benefits?”

It wasn’t even close — 62% want to extend unemployment benefits, 36% are more concerned with the deficit. For those who blocked the Senate from voting on this — three times in three weeks — the argument was that Americans, overcome with deficit-reduction mania, want Congress to stop spending. The evidence to the contrary is pretty clear.

Democrats everywhere – the American people just handed you an ace in the hole. Play it.

[ Keep in Mind, Republicans Fare Worse Than Obama in Discouraging New Poll ]
Source: Washington Monthly

July 12, 2010

Republicans Just Screwed Over Millions of Jobless Americans — Why Aren’t They Universally Despised?

This amazing piece from my good friends at AlterNet echoes a problem that’s running long and deep in the American body politic in recent weeks. In a heartbreaking move, the GOP blocked efforts by Congressional Democrats to extend jobless benefits to unemployed and struggling Americans in the Senate, whining that because the measure isn’t paid for by cuts somewhere else or new revenue that they simply can’t stand by and watch the national debt increase because of this.

Now while normally I applaud that kind of fiscal prudence, I, like most Americans, have my priorities in order, and those priorities involve not punishing main street while rewarding the right side of the aisle in the Senate. Republicans think that this is a good move for them, and shows that they’re standing up against reckless spending in Congress, and the media has been reporting it as something like that – giving Republicans some leeway because they’re trying to avoid a bloating federal deficit, but the media is summarily (as are the Republicans) ignoring the fact that the money for the unemployment extension would increase the federal deficit by something like less than one percent.

That’s right – so what this boils down to is that the Republican party doesn’t think that a lifeline to the millions of unemployed Americans is worth that less the one percent of the federal debt. They don’t think your mortgage payments are worth it, they don’t think your groceries or your rent are worth it, they don’t think your childrens’ tuition is worth it, and they don’t think your car payments or medical bills are worth it. They don’t think we’re worth it – and that’s what we need to remember when we head to the polls in November. Not the Tea Party pomp and fluff, the fact that when push came to shove and America looked to Congress to make sure our priorities were in order: people before wars, people before wall street, people before corporate tax breaks, the Republicans stood in the way and just decided that not only were the American people not that important, they simply weren’t worth it.

So over at Alternet, there’s an excellent dissertation of why the GOP isn’t universally despised for its effort, and part of it has to do with the media and part of it has to do with the semi-noble desire to keep the federal debt down (although if there’s anything you would want our government to spend money on, it’s the well being of the American people) but that’s worth a read as well. In the interim though, remember that these are the priorities for the Republicans and the Tea Party fanatics, and the well being of the American people, the well being of you and I, simply aren’t on that priority list.

[ Republicans Just Screwed Over Millions of Jobless Americans — Why Aren’t They Universally Despised? ]
Source: AlterNet

June 28, 2010

Obama Making BP Pay Is Good Government, and That’s Why Republicans Are Freaking Out

I really couldn’t agree more with this post. I actually heard someone on the radio expecting sympathy from a Republican candidate for office, claiming that somehow the oil spill in the gulf is the fault of the EPA and President Obama – clearly a Tea Partier with more opinions than facts – who got shut down by their so-called friend.

Even Republicans who aren’t necessarily on the far right will tell you that making BP pay for the spill in the gulf is exactly what America should be doing – because the alternative, making the taxpayer pay for the damage, is unacceptable on any front. However, even with Republicans like Joe Barton groveling to BP and unintentionally exposing the Republican pro-business and anti-American platform, none of them want to be on the record stating that they’d rather oil spill into the gulf for decades, putting Americans out of work, food supplies and health at risk, and let the oil industry off with a slap on the wrist and force the American taxpayer to foot the bill (or more likely just go into debt via deficit spending.)

What President Obama is doing here – by forcing BP to get in there and clean up their own mess, even if it’s messy and takes a long time and costs BP a lot of money – is the right thing to do. We can debate whether everyone jumped on the problem fast enough (and I think that’s a good debate to have, not necessarily in a finger-pointing way, but definitely in a “do we really want this risk in our energy profile, what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again” kind of way) till we’re blue in the face, but it doesn’t stop the oil from gushing and it won’t pay back the people whose lives and livelihoods have been lost because of the spill.

And the fact that President Obama is doing what’s right for the situation is what terrifies Republicans so much – he’s managing this crisis the best way any American President possibly could – and while that doesn’t mean that he or anyone else can just slip underwater and plug up the leak, he is taking BP to task for their mistakes, dedicating resources to the cleanup effort (no matter how much Bobby Jindall whines) and he’s riding BP every day until they get this taken care of and start paying claims to the people who need the money.

Last week, the nation witnessed an act of good governance when the Obama administration put the full-court press on oil giant BP to set aside $20 billion in assets to compensate the thousands of Americans whose livelihoods — and in some cases, lives — are being devastated by the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. It was an example of exactly what government is supposed to do; whatever it can, within the limits of the law, to protect its citizens’ interests.

Team Obama was shrewd to get a fund set up now, with the nation’s outrage focused on the calamity, rather than allow the company’s army of lawyers to drag a settlement through the courts for years. The agreement, entered into voluntarily by BP, ensures that the firm can’t escape legal judgments by paying out all of its current profits as shareholder dividends and then claiming insolvency.

The fund is about the equivalent of a year of BP’s profits — the Associated Press called the sum “a drop in a very large bucket” for the company, and reported that BP could raise the cash “without batting an eye.” It will be administered by an independent third party — the same administrator who handled billions of dollars worth of claims stemming from the attacks of 9/11. And President Obama secured it using little more than his bully pulpit and the pressure it allowed him to put on BP execs.

But here’s the clincher that I think is an essential piece:

The fact that applying pressure to a corporation whose risky cost-cutting resulted in what may prove to be the worst man-made disaster in history is seen as an act of government overreach says a lot about how deep down the rabbit hole of corporate propaganda we’ve gone since the Reagan/Thatcher “revolution.” Whereas at one time analysts warned of governments nationalizing firms or distorting the market with rigid price controls, we’ve now come to a point where a strongly worded letter or a few harsh words are enough to elicit mainstream hand-wringing on behalf of delicate multinational corporations like BP.

Exactly. Joshua Holland takes more than just the Republicans to task over this, he also rides the media that’s in their pockets for coming to the defense of the company and opposing any strong language or talk by the Obama Administration. While it’s likely that those elements of the media are simply in the pockets of the oil industry, it’s also likely that their fear that the President is doing the right thing and looking good in the process that makes them whine so much.

Frankly, if any President had done anything differently, there would be the same questions about the beginning, but if President Obama had laid off of BP and allowed them to voluntarily pay claims that they felt were appropriate (like the insurance industry post-Katrina; thanks to George W. Bush) there would be outcry about the people of the Gulf region being not just out of work but with no way to recover their lost income and livelihoods, which would quickly dovetail into the Republican’s head-in-the-sand complaints about job growth (as in, they admit it’s a problem, but have no ideas to do anything about it and nothing to say aside from “The President should do more about jobs.”)

Holland then goes into why putting the squeeze on BP was the right thing to do, especially by looking back at the way Exxon managed to slither its way out of paying the appropriate damages for the spill they caused with the Exxon Valdez. It’s a good historical story for an America with very short memories. He concludes:

As it stands, getting BP to set aside a year’s profits to pay for some of the damage the firm has done in the Gulf of Mexico, using nothing more expansive than the power of persuasion, is simply good governance in action. People died, many others’ livelihoods have been ruined, and a foreign corporation that has no legal obligation to pay more than $75 million in damages will do so nonetheless.

Only someone deeply steeped in an almost religious reverence for some mythically pure “free market” could see it any other way.

[ Obama Making BP Pay Is Good Government, and That’s Why Republicans and The Corporate Media Are Freaking Out ]
Source: AlterNet