Monday, February 28, 2011

The Usual, Even On MSNBC


It's a fair amount of dialogue to go through, but Chris Matthews' discussion on Monday's Hardball (transcript here) with former U.S. Representative Susan Molinari (R-NY) and Politico's Jeanne Cummings has just about everything that's wrong with the media's treatment of entitlements. Matthews leads off:

While it appears there may be a deal coming to keep the United States government funded for another two weeks and open for business, avoiding a shutdown, the question remains whether Congress or the president will do something to curb the big, growing cost of programs like Social Security and Medicare. Or is it all talk and no action, for the obvious reason?

Susan Molinari is a former New York congresswoman. And Jeanne Cummings is assistant manager editor at Politico.

Jeanne, just in strict analytical terms, watching these folks, I wonder if anybody who wants to get elected again in Congress is willing to put their hand up and say: "I want to cut the benefits going to people on Social Security. I want to cut the health benefits. You`re not going to get dialysis for more than three months, X-many months. You`re not going to get the artificial limb reworked after seven years. You`re not going to get the following"?

When it comes to the realities of cutting these programs, will any politician actually do it?

JEANNE CUMMINGS, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, POLITICO.COM: I don`t think we`re going to see that any time soon, and without a great deal of change here in Washington, Chris, for the reasons that you make clear.

It`s politically very, very difficult. You have down in Florida Representative Adam (sic) West, who has actually talked -- he`s a Republican, a freshman -- and he`s talked more than many of them about some of the changes that would have to come to those programs.

And the Democrats are immediately targeting him. And that -- those are the very issues they`re using against him.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CUMMINGS: So, it`s going to take a sea change.

MATTHEWS: All you have to do -- Paula Hawkins, remember -- I`m sorry.

But, remember, Paula Hawkins was a senator from down there, never did anything wrong, except she did what they told her to do. She voted to -- she came out in public support of cutting for the COLAs for Social Security. Got blown away. Jeremiah Denton.

I think it`s the only issue, Susan -- you were in the House -- that you can be beaten for, just one vote. Vote to cut Social Security, vote to cut Medicare benefits to people, what happens to you?

SUSAN MOLINARI (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: Well, except nobody`s talking about cutting benefits of the recipients right now. What they`re talking about is changing programs in the future. And I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But, in the end, doesn`t that do the same thing?

MOLINARI: I think the Republicans are going to take that chance.

Look, John Boehner has just said it. The speaker went out there and said it. Eric Cantor has said it. Paul Ryan has said, when he unveils his budget in a few weeks, there`s going to be entitlement change. Governor Christie has stood up and has staked his claim. Mitch Daniels has.

I mean, you`re starting to see -- and, look, it`s a different...

MATTHEWS: It`s easy for Christie. He`s not doing this. He`s telling them to do it.

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI: It`s a different world now, though.

MATTHEWS: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI: This is a different world.

MATTHEWS: OK, Susan Molinari, I respect your judgment. Here`s the latest "USA Today" poll, Gallup poll -- 61 percent of Americans oppose cutting Medicare spends -- 64 percent oppose cutting Social Security spending. These are two-thirds votes.

MOLINARI: I think the American people told the Republicans when they elected in the majority that they wanted this deficit to come under control and that they wanted a little sanity and some validity.

MATTHEWS: I agree with all that.

MOLINARI: We`re starting to see this with the C.R. We`re starting to see this with what the new Republican budget is going to do. I think you`re going to be surprised by the leadership that the Republican Party is going to show.

And I think the American people are going to present them with reelection at the polls for showing that kind of leadership. I think what the last election about -- was leadership.

MATTHEWS: Every time, Susan -- or, Jeanne, every time we poll people -- and I did this back in, I think, 1971, working for a senator from Utah.

You poll people and you ask them what they would like to see government cut, they say foreign aid and general government expenses. They want to see more money on education. They don`t want any cuts in Social Security or anything like it.

If you ask them, do they want to see government waste cut, they don`t want real cuts. For example, I was just out doing something for Alzheimer`s this past week out in Las Vegas, trying to raise awareness for the big group out there that is working on research. Imagine telling people who have an Alzheimer`s victim in their house and they`re a caregiver -- oh by the way, we`re cutting spending on research that you`re going to face another 20 or 30 years of Alzheimer`s hell in this country because we can`t solve the problem. Do people really want those kinds of cuts?

CUMMINGS: Well, I think in addition to those challenges that you`ve just outlined, there is an additional one for this Congress and the White House if they really want to do anything. And that is that there is a sizable majority in the 60 percents in a recent poll by Kaiser who thinks you can fix Medicare and Social Security by just cutting the other parts of the budget. So, the public, while they may be coming around, they aren`t ready for this debate yet. There`s a lot of education that would have to take place before Washington could move in a serious and fundamental way.

What struck me with the deficit commission in December was they made recommendations that would change Social Security, for instance.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CUMMINGS: These -- the effect of -- the effect of those changes wouldn`t take place, wouldn`t affect anybody until 2050, OK? That`s a long time from now.

MATTHEWS: I know.

CUMMINGS: And, yet, they were criticized roundly on both sides of the aisle. And nobody`s been willing to touch that one. So, until they deal, they bring the public with them, I think this will remain, they`ve got to educate the public. But until they do that, I think it`s going to be a very tough issue.

MATTHEWS: So, you`re 26 years old and this will affect you. I`m going the math. It`s 39 years from now.

MOLINARI: Twenty-six-year-olds, 52-year-olds don`t rely on Social Security for our benefits. I mean, we`ve all grown up with the reality we don`t think it`s going to be there for them. That is why I think -- you know, look, the line is being drawn. The abdication of leadership by President Obama in following in anything that his deficit commission --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Who on the other side is doing it?

MOLINARI: Three week, Paul Ryan, and you just heard John Boehner say they`re going to make some changes in terms of entitlement reforms. When they come forth with their budget when they`re done cleaning --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Do you think that`s a smart move on their part?

MOLINARI: I think it is a smart move for this country. And I think the voters understand it now. I think it is a different time than when Paula Hawkins and others --

MATTHEWS: Jeanne, do you think the Republicans are going to be the first ones to move on this? Not the Democrats?

CUMMINGS: I will be -- I think they are going to do something. They are promised to do it and there will be something in their budget. Whether that is a serious proposal or not, I`m skeptical of. Only because we`ve been in this town for a long time and there are a lot of proposals that are supposedly serious proposals but they really aren`t.

So, we`ll see if they will be first out and it will be a serious proposal.

MATTHEWS: I will be very impressed -- negatively or positively, I`ll be impressed if your party, the Republican Party, actually says, raise the retirement age, reduce the benefit levels, something that a person can see when they watch a program like this and read the paper, they can get it. They are cutting the benefits.

MOLINARI: This is the party that`s at least proposed the spending cuts for C.R. that the Democrat Party was suppose to pass last year and moving toward September. So, let`s give them credit for what they`ve done so far.

MATTHEWS: You`ve just done that. That`s sufficient.

Anyway, thank you, Susan Molinari. It`s great to have you on because you are a good partisan. But I`m waiting for the Republicans or anybody -- because I watched this under Reagan. And he was as popular as you could get in this country, and he got burnt on this thing

While it appears there may be a deal coming to keep the United States government funded for another two weeks and open for business, avoiding a shutdown, the question remains whether Congress or the president will do something to curb the big, growing cost of programs like Social Security and Medicare. Or is it all talk and no action, for the obvious reason?

Susan Molinari is a former New York congresswoman. And Jeanne Cummings is assistant manager editor at Politico.

Jeanne, just in strict analytical terms, watching these folks, I wonder if anybody who wants to get elected again in Congress is willing to put their hand up and say: "I want to cut the benefits going to people on Social Security. I want to cut the health benefits. You`re not going to get dialysis for more than three months, X-many months. You`re not going to get the artificial limb reworked after seven years. You`re not going to get the following"?

When it comes to the realities of cutting these programs, will any politician actually do it?

JEANNE CUMMINGS, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, POLITICO.COM: I don`t think we`re going to see that any time soon, and without a great deal of change here in Washington, Chris, for the reasons that you make clear.

It`s politically very, very difficult. You have down in Florida Representative Adam (sic) West, who has actually talked -- he`s a Republican, a freshman -- and he`s talked more than many of them about some of the changes that would have to come to those programs.

And the Democrats are immediately targeting him. And that -- those are the very issues they`re using against him.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CUMMINGS: So, it`s going to take a sea change.

MATTHEWS: All you have to do -- Paula Hawkins, remember -- I`m sorry.

But, remember, Paula Hawkins was a senator from down there, never did anything wrong, except she did what they told her to do. She voted to -- she came out in public support of cutting for the COLAs for Social Security. Got blown away. Jeremiah Denton.

I think it`s the only issue, Susan -- you were in the House -- that you can be beaten for, just one vote. Vote to cut Social Security, vote to cut Medicare benefits to people, what happens to you?

SUSAN MOLINARI (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: Well, except nobody`s talking about cutting benefits of the recipients right now. What they`re talking about is changing programs in the future. And I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But, in the end, doesn`t that do the same thing?

MOLINARI: I think the Republicans are going to take that chance.

Look, John Boehner has just said it. The speaker went out there and said it. Eric Cantor has said it. Paul Ryan has said, when he unveils his budget in a few weeks, there`s going to be entitlement change. Governor Christie has stood up and has staked his claim. Mitch Daniels has.

I mean, you`re starting to see -- and, look, it`s a different...

MATTHEWS: It`s easy for Christie. He`s not doing this. He`s telling them to do it.

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI: It`s a different world now, though.

MATTHEWS: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI: This is a different world.

MATTHEWS: OK, Susan Molinari, I respect your judgment. Here`s the latest "USA Today" poll, Gallup poll -- 61 percent of Americans oppose cutting Medicare spends -- 64 percent oppose cutting Social Security spending. These are two-thirds votes.

MOLINARI: I think the American people told the Republicans when they elected in the majority that they wanted this deficit to come under control and that they wanted a little sanity and some validity.

MATTHEWS: I agree with all that.

MOLINARI: We`re starting to see this with the C.R. We`re starting to see this with what the new Republican budget is going to do. I think you`re going to be surprised by the leadership that the Republican Party is going to show.

And I think the American people are going to present them with reelection at the polls for showing that kind of leadership. I think what the last election about -- was leadership.

MATTHEWS: Every time, Susan -- or, Jeanne, every time we poll people -- and I did this back in, I think, 1971, working for a senator from Utah.

You poll people and you ask them what they would like to see government cut, they say foreign aid and general government expenses. They want to see more money on education. They don`t want any cuts in Social Security or anything like it.

If you ask them, do they want to see government waste cut, they don`t want real cuts. For example, I was just out doing something for Alzheimer`s this past week out in Las Vegas, trying to raise awareness for the big group out there that is working on research. Imagine telling people who have an Alzheimer`s victim in their house and they`re a caregiver -- oh by the way, we`re cutting spending on research that you`re going to face another 20 or 30 years of Alzheimer`s hell in this country because we can`t solve the problem. Do people really want those kinds of cuts?

CUMMINGS: Well, I think in addition to those challenges that you`ve just outlined, there is an additional one for this Congress and the White House if they really want to do anything. And that is that there is a sizable majority in the 60 percents in a recent poll by Kaiser who thinks you can fix Medicare and Social Security by just cutting the other parts of the budget. So, the public, while they may be coming around, they aren`t ready for this debate yet. There`s a lot of education that would have to take place before Washington could move in a serious and fundamental way.

What struck me with the deficit commission in December was they made recommendations that would change Social Security, for instance.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CUMMINGS: These -- the effect of -- the effect of those changes wouldn`t take place, wouldn`t affect anybody until 2050, OK? That`s a long time from now.

MATTHEWS: I know.

CUMMINGS: And, yet, they were criticized roundly on both sides of the aisle. And nobody`s been willing to touch that one. So, until they deal, they bring the public with them, I think this will remain, they`ve got to educate the public. But until they do that, I think it`s going to be a very tough issue.

MATTHEWS: So, you`re 26 years old and this will affect you. I`m going the math. It`s 39 years from now.

MOLINARI: Twenty-six-year-olds, 52-year-olds don`t rely on Social Security for our benefits. I mean, we`ve all grown up with the reality we don`t think it`s going to be there for them. That is why I think -- you know, look, the line is being drawn. The abdication of leadership by President Obama in following in anything that his deficit commission --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Who on the other side is doing it?

MOLINARI: Three week, Paul Ryan, and you just heard John Boehner say they`re going to make some changes in terms of entitlement reforms. When they come forth with their budget when they`re done cleaning --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Do you think that`s a smart move on their part?

MOLINARI: I think it is a smart move for this country. And I think the voters understand it now. I think it is a different time than when Paula Hawkins and others --

MATTHEWS: Jeanne, do you think the Republicans are going to be the first ones to move on this? Not the Democrats?

CUMMINGS: I will be -- I think they are going to do something. They are promised to do it and there will be something in their budget. Whether that is a serious proposal or not, I`m skeptical of. Only because we`ve been in this town for a long time and there are a lot of proposals that are supposedly serious proposals but they really aren`t.

So, we`ll see if they will be first out and it will be a serious proposal.

MATTHEWS: I will be very impressed -- negatively or positively, I`ll be impressed if your party, the Republican Party, actually says, raise the retirement age, reduce the benefit levels, something that a person can see when they watch a program like this and read the paper, they can get it. They are cutting the benefits.

MOLINARI: This is the party that`s at least proposed the spending cuts for C.R. that the Democrat Party was suppose to pass last year and moving toward September. So, let`s give them credit for what they`ve done so far.

MATTHEWS: You`ve just done that. That`s sufficient.


Molinari claims "I think the American people told the Republicans when they elected in the majority that they wanted this deficit to come under control." In these days of Speaker, John "so be it" Boehner, it must be difficult for Matthews to remember that the GOP campaigned as much on unemployment as on the deficit. And after Molinari added that the American people voted for the GOP because "they wanted a little sanity and some validity," Chris Matthews (on your "liberal" cable channel) responded "I agree with all that." "That" would have included Molinari conflating Social Security with the deficit, two completely unrelated topics. Even if Matthews is confused, it's incomprehensible that a former congresswoman would be.

But Molinari wasn't done. She went on to claim "Twenty-six-year-olds, 52-year-olds don`t rely on Social Security for our benefits. I mean, we`ve all grown up with the reality we don`t think it`s going to be there for them." That led Digby to blog "What do you mean "we", rich woman?"

Actually, Social Security won't be there only if disinformation specialists like Molinari have their way. If, as Ezra Klein in August demonstrated with the chart (from Center for Budget and Policy Priorities) below, if the tax rate for incomes above $250,000/$200,000 (family, individual) had been extended and the money applied to the Social Security, there would have been no shortfall for the next 75 years.





But if Molinari was partisan (understandable and legitimate) and thoroughly dishonest (expected and illegitimate), Jeanne Cummings betrayed an elitism characteristic of the Third Estate on this issue. Only the wise people, the "serious" people understand. She explains "So, the public, while they may be coming around, they aren`t ready for this debate yet. There`s a lot of education that would have to take place before Washington could move in a serious and fundamental way." A moment later, determined to make sure the audience understood that she isn't part of the rabble, Cummings added "And nobody`s been willing to touch that one. So, until they deal, they bring the public with them, I think this will remain, they`ve got to educate the public. But until they do that, I think it`s going to be a very tough issue."

Matthews, far less smug than his guests, at least acknowledged that the public likes Social Security and stated that he'd be "very impressed, negatively or positively," if the Republicans "raise the retirement age, reduce the benefit levels."

But of course they won't admit they are reducing benefits, for the same reason Molinari recognized "nobody`s talking about cutting benefits of the recipients right now" and young adults have, she exulted, "grown up with the reality" that "we don't think it's going to be there." The aggressive disinformation campaign won't work with anyone currently at, or near, the eligibility age. For all others, it will come packaged as "reform." And all through the mainstream media, it will be applauded.



Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mea Culpa, Sort Of


On February 18, I approvingly quoted an editorial in a Madison, Wisconsin publication in which it was maintained

To the extent that there is an imbalance -- Walker claims there is a $137 million deficit -- it is not because of a drop in revenues or increases in the cost of state employee contracts, benefits or pensions. It is because Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending for special-interest groups in January. If the Legislature were simply to rescind Walker’s new spending schemes -- or delay their implementation until they are offset by fresh revenues -- the “crisis” would not exist.

This charge, made most visibly by Rachel Maddow, appears largely to have been debunked, in part by Politifact. Besides Maddow, Madison's Cap Times, and Ed Schultz, a few others made the same claim. Most important among them was The Washington Post's generally reliable ("generally" reliable- is that an oxymoron?) Ezra Klein, who in an update explained

I've been persuaded that the surplus-to-deficit picture is more complicated that I initially understood. The budget report is working with two time periods simultaneously: 2010-2011, and then 2011-13. The $130 million deficit now projected for 2011 isn't the fault of the tax breaks passed during Walker's special session, though his special session created about $120 million in deficit spending between 2011 and 2013 -- and perhaps more than that, if his policies are extended. That is to say, the deficit spending he created in his special session is about equal to the deficit Wisconsin faces this year, but it's not technically correct to say that Walker created 2011's deficit. Rather, he added $120 million to the 2011-2013 deficits, and perhaps more in the years after that.

It had proven especially tempting to blame the $137 million deficit for the upcoming fiscal year new spending which, at $140 million, was nearly identical. This was especially so because, as the editorial quoted above indicated, it was comprised of $25 million "for an economic development fund for job creation that still has $73 million due to a lack of job creation;" $48 million for private health savings accounts, which benefit the wealthy and insurance companies; and $67 million for a "tax shift plan" which will aid businesses. Nonetheless, the tax breaks will add to the deficit for the following two fiscal years, not the upcoming one, and therefore are not responsible for the budget deficit immediately facing the State of Wisconsin.

This is, however, not to suggest that the argument of such persons as Maddow, Schultz, and myself that the crisis created by Wisconsin governor Walker primarily is prompted by a budget crisis is inaccurate. It is not. One provision of the "budget repair bill," restructuring the state's debt, reportedly would bring in $260 million, which would obliterate the budget gap. Moreover, Scott Walker compiled a record of anti-union animus as Milwaukee County Executive. According to the AFL-CIO

•In October 2010, the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) found that Milwaukee County, under then-County Executive Walker, failed to bargain in good faith with AFSCME District Council 48. Walker’s own bargaining team reached a tentative agreement with county workers in late 2009, but within days he announced a budget that ignored the agreement and assumed major concessions that had not been negotiated. At that point, he threatened major layoffs unless unions accepted the un-negotiated concessions. Walker’s team had not discussed the budget’s impact with the union.

•Walker’s unilateral decision to replace Milwaukee County Courthouse security staff with private contractors also was overruled by a WERC arbitrator on Jan. 10. The arbitrator ordered the county to reinstate county security staff with back pay, a decision that could cost the county $430,000.

•In December 2010, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld an arbitrator’s decision that Walker overstepped his powers by trying to impose a 35-hour workweek on Milwaukee County workers. Walker cited a budget crisis as the need for chopping five hours off the workweek without talking to the union. The arbitrator and court did not agree.

•In 2006, the union sought and won a temporary restraining order to stop layoffs threatened by Walker in an attempt to force concessions.

In the current standoff, the unions have accepted the concessions the Governor's budget repair bill (details here) includes. He has, however, rejected the offer, instead demanding that labor also acquiesce to severe restrictions on its ability to bargain collectively, as well as limitations on collection of union dues. Both sides recognize that such provisions probably would result in the end of unions for public employees (except for police and fire, state police troopers and inspectors) in the State of Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, Walker maintains that states such as his have a long-term, as wellas an immediate, budgetary problem. Wednesday, he complained (transcript here) to GOP TV's Greta van Susteren

The reason we face a $3.6 billion budget deficit is because previous governors, previous legislatures, have used short-term fixes, one-time fixes to push us to the problem we have today. For me, we've got to make a commitment to the future and ensure that my kids and kids all across the state aren't saddled with this burden for years down the road. The only way to do it is in what we're proposing in this "budget repair" bill.

This was a day after the Governor signed a bill which would require a two-thirds vote- a "supermajority" before taxes are raised (unless approved by referendum). The measure, which would affect income, sales, and franchise taxes, was, you might recall, enacted in the midst of a budget crisis which, Walker would have us believe, is of an enduring nature. Short of funds? The state GOP's answer to a crisis in which revenues are insufficient is to restrict the ability of state officials serving in the future to raise those revenues. Presumably, any tax hikes would be unnecessary once the unions are dissolved and government employees work for little more than minimum wage.

Rachel Maddow and the others, who got the details of the current budget wrong, at least understood that Governor Walker is motivated far less by rising costs than by power and politics. As Mother Jones' Andy Kroll explains, the second largest donor, at $43,000, to Scott Walker's political campaign was the (Charles and David) Koch Industries PAC, immersed in funding pro-corporate causes. That was in addition to the $1 million it gave to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn spent $65,000 on independent expenditures to support Walker and $3.4 million on TV ads and mailers attacking his Democratic opponent. No wonder the Governor would take a phone call from someone he assumed, without confirmation, was David Koch. Wouldn't you have?



Saturday, February 26, 2011

Deceiving Readers and Listeners


We now know why Rush Limbaugh is a radio broadcaster rather than a print journalist. Most people listening to their radio do so while engaged in another activity and don't have the opportunity to analyze critically what is said. So in an impressive sleight of hand, Limbaugh yesterday stated

From the Cybercast News Service: "The jobs created and saved by the economic stimulus law that President Barack Obama signed on Feb. 17, 2009 cost at a minimum an average of $228,055 each, according to data released yesterday by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). In a report released Wednesday -- 'Estimated Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on Employment and Economic Output from October Through December 2010' --" that's the title of this thing, "--the CBO said it now estimates the stimulus law cost a total of $821 billion, up from CBO’s original estimate that the stimulus would cost $787 billion. In the same report, the CBO estimated that in the fourth quarter of 2010 there were somewhere between 1.3 million and 3.5 million people who were then employed who would not have been had the stimulus not been enacted."

But regardless, $228,055 for every job created or saved. But big whoop.

Rush quoted accurately from the CNS article entitled "CBO: Jobs Created and Saved By Stimulus Cost At Minimum An Average of $228,055 Each." Notice, however, that writer Matt Cover uses a figure of $821 billion, the estimated total cost of the stimulus act- and reports 1.3 million to 3.5 million people employed in the fourth quarter of 2010. The figure for jobs created? One 3-month period. The figure for the cost of the program? The cost of the entire program.

Comparing apples and oranges? No, more like comparing apples and broccoli. The CBO, as the report (here, in PDF) indicates, does in fact "that the total impact over the 2009–2019 period will amount to $821 billion." It estimated that "close to half of that impact occurred in fiscal year 2010."

So let's figure that $410 billion was spent in fiscal year 2010, which would be 10/1/09-9/30/10. CBO estimated "about 70 percent of ARRA’s budgetary impact was realized by the close of that fiscal year." That would leave approximately $246,300,000,000 left to be spent beyond September 30, 2010. If, miraculously, all of that were spent in the fourth quarter of calendar year 2010 and had in fact created and/or saved only 1.3 million jobs (the very bottom of the range), that would be $189,462 per job. Far less than $228,055, but still a lot. Go to the upper end- 3.5 million- of jobs created, it would come out to $70,371. A lot less.

But that presupposes that all of the stimulus money now has been paid out, which it has not been. Further, while the CBO estimated the increase in the number of people employed in the period studied to have been 1.3 million to 3.5 million, it found the ARRA in the same period

increased the number of full-time-equivalent jobs by 1.8 million to 5.0 million compared with what would have occurred otherwise, as shown in Table 1.
(Increases in FTE jobs include shifts from part-time to full-time work or overtime and are thus generally larger than increases in the number of employed workers).


The ARRA has much more efficiently created/saved jobs than conceded by CNS, aside from the impact on the economy when those workers spent their earnings on various goods and services. But it's not surprising that this crowd would attempt to deceive its readers while it betrays ignorance of basic economics. CNS was once named the "Conservative News Service"( which, given the Republican slant of the mainstream media, is almost redundant). It is a division of the right-wing Media Research Center (L. Brent Bozell's outfit), which believes it must present an alternative to the liberal bias it perceives in the media.

It's very likely that Rush Limbaugh knows of this organization but chose not to inform his audience of its inevitable slant. For that matter, Limbaugh, who brags that he is not a college graduate and appears to have less knowledge of economics than other high school graduates, would not have supported the stimulus program if it created or saved jobs at the rate of one per $100 spent. Nor does he appear to understand the stimulative effect of public sector spending when neither the private, nor the consumer, sector is spending during a recession.

But he owes his listeners a lot more. As the Daily Howler's Bob Somerby (criticing Rush over Social Security and quoting a writer about Glenn Beck) argues,

Limbaugh isn’t a politician—he’s a very important national broadcaster with an extremely large audience. On a daily basis, he deceives millions of voters in just the way he did here. Why do people continue to trust him, in the way described by conservative writer Conor Friedersdorf a few weeks ago? In part, to borrow Friedersdorf’s language, because “they don't realize that [the nation’s radio stations] puts this man on the air fully understanding that large parts of his program are uninformed nonsense mixed with brazen bullshit” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/9/11).





Friday, February 25, 2011

So Little Asked Of Those Who Have Received So Much


It's critical to the conservative myth to blame government and consumers and hold financial institutions blameless, always. And Rush Limbaugh does it more entertainingly and consistently than almost anyone, claiming Thursday

The Wall Street Journal has a story running today, the headline: "US Pushes Mortgage Deal." Now, if you've been paying attention and you hear that headline, you say, "Uh, what mortgage deal? How many have we had?" "The Obama administration is trying to push through a settlement over mortgage-servicing breakdowns that could force America's largest banks to pay for reductions in loan principal worth billions of dollars." So this is mortgage forgiveness. This is the regime's way of dealing with the foreclosure problem. Punish banks for making loans by making them eat not just the interest but a good deal of the principle of some of these underwater mortgages. So once again you have the regime tearing up and making it impossible for a segment of the economy to do business. Punish the banks for making the loans in the first place and then eat the loan, not just the interest but a good deal of the principal of some of these underwater mortgages.

The charge that Obama wants to "Punish banks for making loans by making them eat not just the interest but a good deal of the principle of some of these underwater mortgages" is extraordinary not only in light of the track record of these behemoths the last several years, but also considering the proposal. Reuters reports

The proposed reforms will likely help the bank industry, especially larger firms, by allowing them to raise the prices that they charge consumers for mortgages, analyst Paul Miller of FBR Capital Markets said.

Before the collapse of the banking industry, when Wall Street was handing out NINJA loans to anyone with a pulse, subprime loans went from 8.6 percent of all mortgages to 20.1 percent. Meanwhile, Nomi Prins explains in "It Takes A Pillage,"

Consumer protections were simultaneously chucked. On April 20, 2005, President George W. Bush signed the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse and Consumer Protection Act, sponsored by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), which worsened the quietly growing housing crisis for consumers. Borrowers facing bankruptcy could no longer negotiate down the principal of their mortgages with their creditors if the market declined, meaning that they had no way to avoid foreclosure, even if they wanted to.

Prins found that when the economy began to tank, credit became tight and by the summer of 2008, American banks kept $44 billion in reserves with the Fed, which increased to $821 billion by the end of 2008, and slightly below $1 trillion by May 2009. Those banks were being "punished" by accepting perhaps as much as $2.875 trillion from the American taxpayer. Little credit was available, though, as the banks were increasingly reluctant to make loans to would-be home buyers or business owners.

This reluctance comes amidst enormous profits at the major financial institutions which have made fewer efforts at reform of their compensation formula than have most European nations. Bank of America, through reporting in January $3 billion in settlement with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, claimed losses of $2.2 billion in 2011. However, its CEO described 2011 as "a necessary repair and rebuilding year." Profits reported for 2011 were $10.6 billion for Citigroup, $12.4 billion for Wells Fargo, $17.4 billion for JP Morgan Chase, and $2.39 billion for Goldman Sachs. And although figures are hard to come by, we do know that while Bank of America Chief Executive Officer will receive a base salary of only (only!) $250,000, the comparable figures for CEO Vikram Pankdit of Citigroup is $1.75 million and CEO Lloyd Blankfein of Godman Sachs, $2million.

This comes on top of the hefty bonuses they're used to. And now, as these institutions are being asked to help the American public, which saved them from destruction only a few years ago, the leader of the GOP takes yet another opportunity to vilify the American consumer and fetishize Wall Street.



Thursday, February 24, 2011

J. O'Connor and HFU: Perfect Together


Not to make light of a serious incident (the university already has done that), but the best part was the coach's defense.

The head coach of the men's basketball team of Holy Family University in Philadelphia conducted an early-morning rebounding drill Tuesday, January 25. three days after a 15-point loss to Concordia College. Notwithstanding an apparently damning video, Coach John O'Connor explained away his behavior in an interview with Philadelphia Inquirer staff:

"But what happened was him and another player had been competing for three or four balls. As I threw one more up, they went for it and the ball was knocked outside the circle. What I like them to do is just leave the ball alone. But Matt had gone to get the basketball. I went to get the basketball, and then I went to grab the ball out of his hand, and I unintentionally made contact with him."

The coach then, according to the video, kicked at the prone player and yelled.

"You're trying to continue the drill, and you're trying to get things to move as rapid as possible," he said. "So all I'm doing is I give him a nudge with my foot just to get him to continue, to get up so we can continue the drill."

Seconds later, the sophomore forward, his lip bloodied, arose. As Kravchuk moved away, O'Connor's yelling persisted. The player continued to talk to an assistant, presumably to discuss the incident and let him know he had injured a wrist trying to break his fall. At that point, O'Connor dismissed him from practice.

"As he gets up, I'm just continuing the drill," he said. "It's nothing between me and Matt. But I hear him and one of my assistants continuing to talk behind me. So I kind of turn around and basically say, 'What's going on?' And he says, 'I've got a bloody nose.' And I was kind of like, 'Good, that's what the drill is all about. That's the drill.' And then I just turn and continue the drill again. And then I hear Matt still talking back there, and just to defuse everything, I throw him out of the gym."

Later that day, O'Connor brought Kravchuk into the coach's office- his turf- and said he was sorry, as he explained to the other players afterward. But Kravchuk explained today on ABC's Good Morning America that he

e-mailed a note about the incident to Holy Family University's athletic director and later met with her and was assured some action would be taken. That's why he continued going to practice, Kravchuk said. When the athletic director wouldn't tell Kravchuk or his family what was done, he said he decided to pursue the matter.

The family's attorney told the Inquirer that his client contacted the district attorney's office in Philadelphia (which has not decided whether to file charges) only after Kravchuk's parents met with the university's vice president and president and received an inadequate response.

Following the altercation, O'Connor coached the team for five more games. Five more games, When the incident became public with the report (video, below) from the local Fox affilate on February 19, the University swung into action, boldly suspending- not discharging- an employee who evidently had committed an assault on the job, in the workplace. (Try assaulting a fellow employee or a client in your workplace; no, don't.)

When the coach and the player (both with counsel) squared off on Good Morning America, George Stephanopoulos couldn't resist the temptation for the "feelings" moment morning television is so good at. Prompting O'Connor to address Kravchuck, the coach said

Matt, this was an accident. I was just trying to make us a better team that's more competitive and in doing so an accident happened. It was unintentional by me, and I'm really sorry that it happened. If I could take it back I certainly would. But, again, it was an accident and I'm really sorry that it happened.

If nothing else, this carried the advantage of being consistent with comments he made to the Inquirer. "I would never hurt one of my players," contended the guy who also maintained

As he gets up, I'm just continuing the drill," he said. "It's nothing between me and Matt. But I hear him and one of my assistants continuing to talk behind me. So I kind of turn around and basically say, 'What's going on?' And he says, 'I've got a bloody nose.' And I was kind of like, 'Good, that's what the drill is all about. That's the drill.' And then I just turn and continue the drill again. And then I hear Matt still talking back there, and just to defuse everything, I throw him out of the gym."

It's heartening to hear O'Connor say that he wouldn't ever "hurt one of my players" after being pleased one suffered a bloody nose: "Good, that's what the drill is all about." And he was so sorry that he continued the drill while tossing out of the gym the player whom he appears to have assaulted.

The final verdict isn't in on Holy Family University. And give Mr. O'Connor due process, which he deserves and which, if a union member (Governor Walker take note) he will get. But he reportedly, while on the university's dime and at the workplace, committed unprovoked violence against an individual. The university tried to ignore the incident and the alleged perpetrator now says that he made a "mistake," probably because he could lose his job over it. But shoving the player- followed by a kick and a macho-infused ejection from the court- was "accidental."

The Holy Family University basketball team is now 6-20 (6-19 with O'Connor). Perhaps John O'Connor and the complacent institution which employs him deserve each other.






Update: 2:00 pm., 2/24/11: A local radio station reports that a spokesman for Holy Family University has stated that Coach O'Connor will not face disciplinary charges.

Stay classy, Holy Family.

Update II, 5:49 p.m. I was mistaken. Apparently, District Attorney Seth Williams of Philadelphia has announced that his office will be taking no action. Mr. O'Connor remains suspended (the duration has not been revealed) by the University. Still a chance for Holy Family to become classy.




Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Class Warfare, State By State


We are beginning to see the outlines of GOP strategy.

Thus far, it is evident only in Wisconsin and New Jersey, the leaders of the War Against The Middle Class. But the conflict between workers and The State in Ohio, Indiana, and other states led by Repub governors has only begun.

And so it was that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker would tell Chris Wallace on GOP News Sunday (transcript here)

But most importantly, there are 5.5 million people in the state, taxpayers who, by and large, are sacrificing in their own jobs in the private sector paying much more than the 5.8 percent for pension and 12.6 percent for health care I'm asking for -- in fact, in many cases, two or three times that amount. They make tough sacrifices to balance the budgets in their communities and their homes and their businesses. I think it is realistic that we make sure that as loud as the voices are in the capital, we don't let them overpower the voices of the taxpayers I was elected to represent and elected to get the job done, which is balancing this budget.

For Walker, it's taxpayers vs. the workers, though if those workers themselves aren't taxpayers, they must be getting paid even less than Walker would want them to be. (Not really, the floor is the limit on this one.) It's people who work for a living and pay taxes vs. people who work for a living and pay taxes. For Chris Christie- who cut taxes for the wealthy last year to deal with a budget shortfall- it's much the same, though with a twist. He briefly addressed the leaders of the Democratic-controlled state legislature in the annual budget message of the New Jersey governor:

I am asking you both, and the members of this legislature, to make good on the promise to pass comprehensive pension and benefit reform on Senator Sweeney's timetable, by the middle of March.

And as I am asking the Democratic Leadership to make good on their promise, I am offering a powerful incentive to sweeten the pot. If you pass real reform, along Senator Sweeney’s timetable, I will make a $500 million payment to the pension fund immediately, not wait until sometime in Fiscal Year 2012, which is all that the law we passed last year requires. This would be the first payment made since fiscal year 2009, by anyone, Democrat or Republican. Let’s not wait – real reform on Senator Sweeney’s timetable – real money into the pension fund immediately.

Next, enacting reform of our public employee health insurance program now will enable us to take another vital step — providing critical property tax relief to those who need it most: hard working, middle-class New Jerseyans and seniors.

I am proposing today to double the property tax rebate for middle class families and our seniors, to ease the transition to the 2% property tax cap we are faithfully implementing this year.

Under my plan, in FY 2012 senior and disabled homeowners with incomes up to $150,000 would receive double the benefits they will receive in the current fiscal year — which, by the way, they are receiving directly as a credit on their property tax bill.

Non-senior homeowners with incomes up to $75,000 will also see their property tax relief double over what they will receive this fiscal year....

But let me be clear: the chance for middle class taxpayers and seniors to receive double the property tax relief without raising taxes on anyone else is solely up to you, the Legislature. The ability to provide doubled property tax rebates involves a tradeoff and requires real reform to pay for it.

Elderly people (and disabled people) will get property tax relief if only government workers are sacrificed. If not, presumably, the governor's opponents will be accused of pulling the plug on grandma. Old people vs. workers- in most cases, the middle class vs. the middle class.

The classic term is "class warfare," not "inter-class warfare." It is not restricted to the conservative attack on the middle class on behalf of the wealthy, but extends to the fervent effort to pit middle class against middle class. Walker in Wisconsin, Christie in New Jersey, Kasich in Ohio are trying to destroy the union movement and if they can undermine the middle class at the same time, all the better.




Tuesday, February 22, 2011

More Than Abortion


What happens to the bargaining rights of workers in Wisconsin over the next few weeks will go far toward determining what happens to the labor movement, therefore the middle class, in the United States over many years, perhaps decades.

What is transpiring in the United States Congress pertaining to reproductive rights will not have the same implications for the rights of women in the U.S.A. Still, if the framework for determining the future of the middle class were not being laid in the midwest, far more attention would be focused on this crucial battle being played out in Congress. The Hill summarizes

Reps. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) introduced a bill that would bar the healthcare reform law from funding abortions and expand “conscience protections” to healthcare workers and entities that object to abortion care on religious or moral grounds. Another bill from Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) would set wider abortion restrictions, including a ban on tax breaks for private health plans that cover abortion.

The bill sponsored by Representative Smith, euphemistically labeled the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" (there currently is no taxpayer funding for abortion), originally contained the noxious provision redefining rape. That proved to be not only unpopular, but also opened the proposal to far more scrutiny by the national media. And even Republican voters tend to recoil at the idea of taking sexual assault lightly. Nonetheless, the bill would codify the Hyde Amendment, rendering unnecessary annual congressional action to deny Medicare and Medicaid funding for abortions, as well as federal funding for members of the military and veterans. (When fanaticism strikes, our troops, otherwise beloved, are not spared.). It also would extend the reach of Hyde because, as explained by David Waldman blogging on Daily Kos,

under their definition of "taxpayer funding for abortion" all tax deductions, credits or other benefits for the cost of health insurance, when that insurance includes under its plan coverage for abortion.

So if a company provides health care benefits for its employees, and the plan they pay for includes coverage for abortion, the company becomes ineligible for the normal federal tax deductions and credits that are the usual reward for providing benefits. That's a gigantic tax increase. If you pay for your own coverage directly, no deductions, credits, etc. for you, either, if the plan you select offers abortion coverage. Whether you or someone on your plan ever gets one or not. All deductions associated with your health care costs are disallowed.

That, apparently, will impact approximately 87 percent of private insurance plans on the market today.

Evan McMorris-Santoro explains arguably the most radical provision of the Pitts-Lipinski attack on reproductive freedom:

A bit of backstory: currently, all hospitals in America that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding are bound by a 1986 law known as EMTALA to provide emergency care to all comers, regardless of their ability to pay or other factors. Hospitals do not have to provide free care to everyone that arrives at their doorstep under EMTALA -- but they do have to stabilize them and provide them with emergency care without factoring in their ability to pay for it or not. If a hospital can't provide the care a patient needs, it is required to transfer that patient to a hospital that can, and the receiving hospital is required to accept that patient.

In the case of an anti-abortion hospital with a patient requiring an emergency abortion, ETMALA would require that hospital to perform it or transfer the patient to someone who can. (The nature of how that procedure works exactly is up in the air, with the ACLU calling on the federal government to state clearly that unwillingness to perform an abortion doesn't qualify as inability under EMTALA. That argument is ongoing, and the government has yet to weigh in.)

Pitts' new bill would free hospitals from any abortion requirement under EMTALA, meaning that medical providers who aren't willing to terminate pregnancies wouldn't have to -- nor would they have to facilitate a transfer.

This Crooks and Liars blogger believes defunding has become the tactic of choice of anti-abortion rights legislators in their goal of a de facto reversal of Roe v. Wade. (Such activists have long understood that the American people support that court decision, and a frontal attack would be self-defeating.) Thus, another initiative challenging a woman's reproductive rights, and the eloquent rebuke (video immediately below) of Representative Smith by Democrat Jackie Speier of California (standing in front of pro-choice New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone):






The Smith-Speier disagreement came in response to Continuing Resolution H.R. 1, which would extend funding for federal agencies from March 4 through September 30, necessitated by congressional failure to pass a budget last year. H.R. 1 denies federal funds to any reproductive health organization or facility that provides abortion; its Pence (R-Ind) Amendment specifically denies any money to Planned Parenthood. The organization notes "In fiscal year 2010, Congress appropriated approximately $317 million for family planning activities supported under Title X, 90 percent of which was used for clinical family planning services, according to the OPA (Office of Population Affairs of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)."

According to a Planned Parenthood report described by Media Matters, in 2008-2009 the doctors and nurses of the organization and its affiliates provided contraceptives to 36%, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections to 31 percent, cancer screening and prevention to 17 percent, and abortion services to three percent, of its clients. Revenue from abortion services was less than 15% of Planned Parenthood's total revenue during that period while, pursuant to federal regulations, no federal funds were used for abortion. None.

Chris Smith, at least, has a long and manic opposition to abortion, which has been an obsession with him. And no doubt many of the U.S. Representatives lined up in opposition to women's health are committed and well-meaning opponents of abortion rights. But the effort to curtail reproductive rights and to destroy an organization dedicated primarily to the health of women suggests that the interests of the "pro-life" legislators go far beyond reduction of abortion. Perhaps the overheated assault is motivated in part by something so obvious it has escaped attention. Planned Parenthood- planned parenthood- is a concept itself offensive to much of this crowd.





Monday, February 21, 2011

Scheming Among "Moderates"


Recognizing that the tea parties have dominated, even controlled, the nation's political debates, E.J. Dionne notes

More striking is the Tea Party's influence on Washington's political elite, which looks down at the more extreme men and women of the right when they appear on Fox News but ends up carrying their water.

One such individual "carrying their water" is Washington Post reporter Lori Montgomery, to whose "news" article Dionne links. Describing the activites of three Democratic, and three Republican Senators known as the "Gang of Six," Montgomery writes that they have

been working to build support among moderates for a bold plan to control the national debt.

The group hopes to advance the commission's recommendations, which would reduce deficits by $4 trillion over the next decade. Doing so would require lawmakers to embrace some politically perilous policies, however, including raising the retirement age to 69, charging wealthy seniors more for Medicare and ending some cherished but expensive tax breaks.

Taking the commission's report as its template, the group is drafting legislation that would direct congressional committees to find a way to put it into effect. On taxes, for example, the legislation would have tax-writing panels in the House and Senate develop a tax overhaul that would raise hundreds of billions of dollars in additional revenue and lower the top tax rate, which stands at 35 percent.

The framework of this "bold" plan, according to Montgomery, includes a change to the retirement age for Social Security, means-testing Medicare, ending some tax breaks, and lowering the top income tax rate.

Increasing the retirement age to 69 is less bold than hostile to the interests of citizens who are elderly or, rather, will be, elderly. Prior to the advent of Social Security, the largest concentration of poverty in this country was composed of the elderly. But in a study for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Gary V. Englehardt and John Gruber

estimate that a $1,000 increase in Social Security benefits is associated with a 2 to 3 percentage point reduction in poverty rates for elderly households (graphic depiction, below; click to enlarge). They also find no statistically significant effect of benefits on income inequality, suggesting that higher-income and lower-income elderly benefit similarly from increases in Social Security.

Applying this estimate to the change in Social Security benefits between 1967 and 2000 suggests that the increase in benefits can explain all of the 17 percentage point decline in poverty that occurred during this period. The authors also find that higher benefits lead some elderly to live independently rather than with family members, and conclude that the effect of Social Security on poverty would have been even more dramatic in the absence of these changes in living arrangements.




The anticipated rise in longevity was built into the Social Security fix enacted during the mid '80s. Most of the rise, however, has been due to a decline in the infant mortality rate, rather than in the extension of life in the aged. And what of the latter has occurred has taken place primarily among the affluent, rather than in the working poor, working class, and others who most rely on Social Security to stay afloat- or out of poverty.

That would suggest that means-testing for Medicare would not be a tragedy. It would, however, lead to a decline in support for the program, as it devolved into a program identified as welfare. Not very popular among the American people, that welfare thing. There is a way of addressing rising Medicare costs- lowering the cost of health care. I'm sure the Republicans have an idea.

Lowering the top tax rate from 35%, cutting income taxes for the wealthy, who contribute significantly to political campaigns, is another one of those "bold" ideas. It's not enough that the top rate was supposed to rise to 38.60% in 2011; President Obama and congressional Republicans (and a few Democrats) were more intent on jacking up the deficit some $900 billion. Now, a group wants to lower to 29% the rate on the biggest incomes, lower than we've seen since the period of 1925-1931, when it was either 25% or 24%. In most of the 1990s it was 39.60% (chart of fluctuation of the top rate over time, from The Urban Institute, below; click to enlarge). Why, the Gang must be asking itself, would we want to return the economy back to the 1990s when we can return to the 1930s?






Ever mindful of giving lip service to the deficit, however, the Gang of Six is interested in eliminating tax loopholes, such as the deduction for home mortgage interest and the tax-free treatment of employer-paid health care. The proposal would replace revenue from the wealthy with revenue from the middle class, beyond that which was accomplished by the Grand Tax Deal of 2010-2011 (chart, from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, below).





The center of political discourse has shifted drastically rightward, as Dionne recognizes, though I would mark the beginning of the shift as January 20, 2011. Indicative of the lurch is that consideration of these changes, which did not occur, and could not have occurred, during the ultra-conservative administration of George W. Bush, is taking place during a Democratic administration. It is a conservative Republican agenda- and a reporter for one of the two greatest newspapers in the nation calls it "bold" and implies it may appeal to "moderates."

Whether the conservative turn in the nation's dialogue and politics has been encouraged by the White House, eager to appear reasonable by comparison, is a more complicated issue; but it is striking that one of the Gang of Six is Barack Obama's puppy, Richard Durbin. Of more immediate concern, though, is the emphasis the White House has placed on opposing making the 35% rate (lower than what it was supposed to have become) permanent. Is the cut being considered by this group what President Obama had in mind?




Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Gun Violence Speech, Missing In Action


Decent folks must be allowed to sleep easy o'nights, mustn't they? Really it would be shockingly bad taste to linger on such details, that's common knowledge. But personally I've never been able to sleep well since then.

-Albert Camus, "The Plague," 1947

It was January 12, 2011, four days after six individuals were killed and 19 injured in just one murderous incident in Tucson, Arizona. People across the nation were shocked, saddened, and even in some cases, angry. A reflective and characteristically eloquent Barack Obama would travel to Tucson four days later and calm the collective nerves of the nation, drawing a parallel between the atrocity and the death of your 90-year old grandmother from natural causes:

As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let's use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together. (Applause.)

After all, that's what most of us do when we lose somebody in our family -- especially if the loss is unexpected. We're shaken out of our routines. We're forced to look inward. We reflect on the past: Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder. Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices that they made for us? Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in a while but every single day?


A couple of weeks later, MSNBC's Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, and Lawrence O'Donnell were previewing the upcoming State of the Union message (transcript, here) when the latter two expressed hope that the President later that evening would address the carnage in the U.S.A. Perhaps not "carnage," but a firearms death rate more than twice as great as that of any other nation.

Matthews informed his colleagues that the President would not be addressing gun rights or gun control that evening but assured them that he would do so in a later statement or speech which would address the issue separately (video, from Mediaite, here). Matthews did not reveal his source, though later it was learned that he had joined Wolf Blitzer, Diane Sawyer, Brian Williams, and George Stephanopoulos at lunch earlier that day.

Unsurprisingly, Maddow, Schultz, and O'Donnell were unable to comment, other than O'Donnell asking Matthews for clarification.

Three-and-a-half weeks later, O'Donnell was still angry at the lack of federal response and, evidently, had not been able to sleep well since Jared Loughner's rampage. In the "rewrite" segment of his program on February 9, the MSNBC host reminded us (video, from Crooks and Liars, below)

You just heard the NRA’s lie, now some facts. A Justice Department study on the federal assault weapons ban, which was law for 10 years found “Gun murders declined 10.3 percent in states without preexisting assault weapons bans.” 10.3 percent. Another study by the Justice Department in 2004 concluded “If the ban is lifted, gun and magazine manufacturers may reintroduce assault weapons models and large capacity magazines, perhaps in substantial numbers.”

And that is exactly what the merchants of death did; reintroduced assault weapons and the high capacity magazines that allowed Jared Loughner to take 31 shots, 31, before he had to stop and reload.


It has now been over six years since Congress allowed the assault weapons ban to expire, enabling a murderous individual to load his Glock 19 with 31 rounds of ammunition and start unloading them on other human beings. It has been over six weeks since President Obama, fond of "big things," responded by calling on Americans- most who have never ever been in Arizona- to consider whether "we've shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives (and) , whether our priorities are in order."

It has been nearly four weeks since the President ignored gun violence in his speech to the nation while he sent Chris Matthews out to the latter's liberal television viewers to assure them not to worry.

Once the nation's attention is fully turned not only from the violence in Tucson but also from Representative Giffords' recovery, once support for meaningful, responsible, even limited, gun control has ebbed, the President may speak. Once decent folks are able to sleep easily at night and the issue has lost any salience, then, perhaps, the President will come out and boldly proclaim his abhorrence of gun violence. In the meantime, the question begs to be asked: where is that speech, Mr. President?








Friday, February 18, 2011

Change, Not Always For The Good


Citing the need for "a spirit of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans," President Obama on February 15 stated he and GOP leaders are "going to be in discussions over the next several months” over debt reduction. The New York Times reports a group of Senators holding talks to write debt-reduction legislation prompted by a recommendation of a majority of the members of the commission created by President Obama.

Fortunately, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform failed to come together on a set of proposals to which 14 of the 18 members would agree, the threshold established by the President when he announced formation of the group. Consequently, there was insufficient support to trigger automatic consideration by Congress of any scheme adopted by the commission.

Still, one of the six Senators collaborating on reducing the budget debt includes the Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, which suggests both that the President will be kept apprised of the deliberations and that he has given the effort his support, qualified or otherwise. Given that both the party in charge of the House of Representatives and the President appear intent on undermining- uh, er, reforming- Social Security, it is useful to recall that the program has not contributed to the debt, is on sound financial footing, and is popular with the American people, notwithstanding the scare tactics of its opponents.

Current recipients and those close to the eligibility age will be unaffected by any destructive scheme adopted. But there is no reason to sacrifice a program which works in order to apply a quick fix to the growing deficit in the general budget. Opponents eye the Social Security trust fund because that's where the money is, which is one of the best arguments for leaving it alone.

* With its dedicated source of funding, Social security does not add to the deficit but actually reduces it in most years. It loans surpluses to the general budget, though uncharacteristically last year it paid out more in benefits than it took in payroll taxes.

* Social Security is fully solvent for the next 26 years. Annual Social Security revenues and interest on trust fund assets, combined, are projected to be sufficient to pay full benefits until approximately 2037. With assets exhausted, 78% of benefits then would be paid, and 78% in 2084.

*Critics enjoy denigrating its Treasury bonds as "i.o.u.'s "but, Dean Baker points out (as quoted by Media Matters),

markets view it as almost inconceivable that the government will not honor its bonds, which is why the interest rate on long-term bonds is near its lowest level in the last 60 years....

That accumulating interest and the securities themselves make up the Social Security trust fund. If the trust fund's Treasury securities are worthless, someone better tell investors throughout the world, who currently hold $4.3 trillion in Treasury debt that carries the exact same government obligation to pay as the trust fund securities.


* The aging of the American population, which critics simplify as Americans living longer, does not endanger the program. When the (Federal Reserve Chairman Alan) Greenspan commission in 1983 proposed a fix which was adopted by Congress, it did so in light of what it predicted, accurately, as the increased longevity of the population. Moreover, as Robert Reich notes, "it had a pretty good idea of how fast the US economy would grow. While it underestimated how many immigrants would be coming into the United States, that’s no problem. To the contrary, most new immigrants are young and their payroll-tax contributions will far exceed what they draw from Social Security for decades."

* Any gap between what Social Security takes in and what it needs to pay out is easily fixed. The ceiling on Social Security contributions (now $106,800, as adjusted annually for inflation) was set so payroll tax would be applied to 90% of all wages, a figure which was accounted for in the plan adopted by the commission. However, in a trend begun shortly before Ronald Reagan took office, an ever-larger share of the national income has gone to the wealthy; hence, a greater percentage of wages- now 16%, rather than 10%- is not eligible for the payroll tax. With the richest 1% of Americans taking in 11.6% of total income in 1983 and 20-21% now, the cap would have to rise to $180,000 for 90% of all wages to be subject to the Social Security payroll tax. That, in turn, would allow all benefits, not merely the 78% currently projected, to be paid for decades beyond 2037.

It is expected that the President will propose, or suggest, or infer support for, some combination of a payroll tax increase (probably a rise in the rate so that 90% of wages are eligible) and benefit cuts, th elatter phrased in a euphemistic manner. The modern-day Repub Party, which would be unrecognizable by Dwight Eisenhower and possibly Ronald Reagan, opposes all tax increases or anything it possibly can categorize as a tax increase. The mainstream media will call on Democrats to compromise as the President yearns to be understood as a bipartisan peace-maker.

This may not end well.



Money Not An Issue


Between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m. Eastern time, 5:00-5:30 p.m. Central time, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker gave a televised answer to the public sector worker and unions protesting his union-busting scheme: no deal.

The Governor thereby reiterated his earlier response to the head of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, who suggested that his members would concede to the Governor on benefits in return for maintaining collective bargaining rights. The Governor had responded "doesn't work.... like very other state, or nearly every other state across the country, our budget is going to have cuts in aids to local governments."

Curious- no, disingenuous- for the Governor to continue to claim budgetary constraints as his motive. Rush Limbaugh, the head of Walker's national party, is leading the disinformation campaign, today exclaiming "There is no choice! They will have to lose. We do not have the money! They are $3.6 billion in debt in Wisconsin." For good measure, Limbaugh would infer that those middle class workers in Wisconsin are unpatriotic: "We are either on the side of the Wisconsin protesters or we are on the side of our country, which can only have economic future if we make these cuts."

We didn't need to hear the Governor reject from a union concessions which would go far in easing the budget deficit to know that the claim of Walker, Limbaugh, and the GOP legislators is a sideshow.

A rough equivalent to the General Accounting Office, Wisconsin's Legislative Fiscal Bureau, analyzed (report here) the state's estimated $121.4 million deficit. Talking Points Memo summarized the Bureau's finding that $140 million can be attributed to the following initiatives of the Governor:

•$25 million for an economic development fund for job creation, which still holds $73 million because of anemic job growth.

•$48 million for private health savings accounts -- a perennial Republican favorite.

•$67 million for a tax incentive plan that benefits employers, but at levels too low to spur hiring


Governor Walker set out to create the deficit, proposing two programs and a tax cut which cost the state $140 billion- a state now claimed to be $137 million in the hole. And once these were enacted, he cried: we've got a deficit! it's all the government workers' fault! A deficit he created is now being used as an excuse to slash and burn state workers. As an editorial in Madison's Cap Times explained,

To the extent that there is an imbalance -- Walker claims there is a $137 million deficit -- it is not because of a drop in revenues or increases in the cost of state employee contracts, benefits or pensions. It is because Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending for special-interest groups in January. If the Legislature were simply to rescind Walker’s new spending schemes -- or delay their implementation until they are offset by fresh revenues -- the “crisis” would not exist.

This crisis has nothing to do with the budget or with money. It is about breaking the public employee unions in Wisconsin. Digby recognizes the stakes, writing

This uprising couldn't have happened in a more important place or illustrate the threat of corporate dominance in our culture and economy any better. It's a full-blown war on workers, and not just union workers. After all, if union wages and benefits are stripped, all wages and benefits will go down. That's the point.

Today, it's union employees in Wisconsin. But if this attack on the middle class succeeds, it will spread to Ohio and elsewhere- and eventually, not only to public employees or union workers but throughout the American workforce.



Class Warfare, Now In Wisconsin


Maybe Rush Limbaugh is right.

Obviously, he is wrong about virtually everything he says about the dispute between public employees and Republican Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin. But there may be more than a little truth in Limbaugh's contention

And, by the way, cops and firefighters unions are excluded from Walker's plan because he knows if they'd been included nobody would care about the teachers. If he would have included firefighters and cops, then everybody would say, "Oh no! You don't want to take cops out! No, that'll make us unsafe and fires are gonna burn down our houses....

MSNBC"'s Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz contend otherwise and, as the Associated Press reports

Walker has introduced a bill that would strip public employees across the board - from teachers to snowplow drivers - of their right to collectively bargain for sick leave, vacation, even the hours they work. But absolutely nothing would change for local police, fire departments and the State Patrol.

The bill smacks of political favoritism for public safety unions that supported Walker’s election bid last year and sets up new haves and have-nots in Wisconsin government, said Paul Secunda, a Marquette University professor who specializes in labor law.

"That’s called ’thank you, I got your back,’" Secunda said. "There’s no surprise there. This is the worst type of favoritism there could be."

But the AP reporter, Todd Richmond, notes also the perspective of a Marquette University professor specializing in labor law:

Walker said the state has always treated local police and firefighters differently than other public workers. He did not elaborate at his news conference, but his spokesman later pointed to sections of state law that lay out separate benefits for workers in protective occupations, including an earlier retirement age.

The exemption could create jealousy among government workers upset they must suffer while police, firefighters and state troopers go on as if nothing has changed, Marquette’s Secunda said. That might be what Walker wants, he said; private sector managers have traditionally tried to weaken unions’ clout by dividing workers into camps.

"You give a special privilege to some unions and don’t give it to others, it puts the privileged unions in a tough place," Secunda said.

Although there has been some public support from police and firefighters unions, Limbaugh himself inadvertently gave credence to Secunda's theory when the talk show host, as he so frequently does, employed class warfare:

This is what's happening: Average, ordinary Americans who are paying the salaries and the health benefits and the pensions are losing their jobs and losing their homes. There isn't any money anymore! So these public sector unions, monopolies, are organizing and protesting against the taxpayers -- and what happens....

Now, let me ask you, those of you who are not members of a union. Are you allowed to negotiate the length of your shift? Are you allowed to negotiate when you start and when you finish each day? Are you allowed to negotiate your vacation schedule and time and length? Are you allowed to negotiate your sick days? Are you allowed to participate in whatever the disciplinary process at your company is? No. You go to work someplace, at the ABC Widget Company, and they tell you, "Okay, here's when you're gonna work. This is what the vacation schedule is, how many weeks you get based on service. Here's how many sick days you get, and the discipline process (if we have one), this is what that is."


It may be taxpayers vs. public employees, middle class against middle class, but it is still class warfare. Public employees, Rush states, have a say in their vacation days and sick days and have protection against arbitrary disciplinary measures. But instead of suggesting that perhaps some of these rights should exist for his listeners, he wants them to resent what others have. Provoke bitterness and envy, and perhaps other middle class workers won't notice what they don't have.

It's a tried-and-true tactic among Republicans. And when eventually the attack on public employees in Wisconsin is resolved, there will be some other issue in which it is invoked, and another opportunity for Democrats to avoid calling out conservatives for setting American against American.




Outplayed

That warm, fuzzy feeling has taken over the government of Atlanta, Georgia. The leftist Rewire.News reports After a years-l...