Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, June 7, 2013 5:01 am

Matt Yglesias gets shrill. And real.

We’ve heard a lot of bullshit these past several years about Social Security, so as an antitoxin, here’s Matt Yglesias:

The Powers That Be hate Social Security and always will because it’s a program whose entire purpose is to pay people money not to work. That’s not a perverse consequence of Social Security. It’s not a contentious partisan claim about Social Security. It’s not a dubious interpretation of what Social Security is all about. That’s the point. It’s to give people money so they can retire with dignity. “Retire” being a fancy word for “not working.” You’re never ever going to persuade business leaders to stop agitating for cuts in a program that has this feature. Business leaders want people to work! At a minimum, if people are hoping to not work, business leaders are going to want people to save (i.e., loan funds to business leaders) in order to achieve that purpose. Taxing people who are working in order to pay money so that people can enjoy retired life in peace is the antithesis of everything business elites want out of public policy.

And guess what we haven’t done during this era of changing projections? We haven’t cut Social Security benefits. We haven’t raised the age at which people become eligible for Medicare. We’ve done things to reduce budget deficits, in other words, but we haven’t really acted to make it tougher for people to retire. But people don’t like to say they want to make it hard for people to retire so instead they talk about “the deficit,” and they’re not going to stop.

The Powers that Be have had their way for way too long. I think it’s time that the rest of America slapped them and told them to shut their whore mouths.

 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 7:54 pm

I’ve looked at clods from both sides, now …

Pretty much every single professional journalist in Washington, and a lot of regular Americans, think there are virtues to be had in balance, moderation and centrism. Perhaps as an extension of that belief — for it certainly is not on the basis of even moderately complicated economics, or, for that matter, mathematics — they believe that both the rich and the poor must give something up to address the nation’s budget issues.

(I refuse to call them budget problems, let alone crises; they are issues in the way that we say that sociopaths have issues in that they are the perfectly predictable, and pretty well predicted, results of predictably sociopathic decisions made by known sociopaths.)

So a lot of people who either ought to know better, or who do know better but stand to profit from pretending otherwise, are out there arguing that we need to screw the rich a tiny bit and the middle class and poor a lot to “fix” the deficit (which is fixing itself pretty nicely at the moment, plunging dramatically as a percentage of GDP, but never mind that) and that if both sides are angry, as they are about the nonexistent Simpson-Bowles “report,”  then we must be doing the right thing. The problem, of course, is that not all anger is justified, valid, moral or even sane, as Charlie Pierce reminds us:

Can we please have an honest assessment of credibility here? If billionaires are angry because they might have to chip in some boutonniere money on April 15, and a middle-class family is angry because their 82-year old grandmother with Alzheimer’s is lying in her own filth in a substandard nursing home because of Medicare “reforms,” are we honestly saying that the anger of both sides is equally justified? Has anyone even asked that question?

To the best of my knowledge, no one in the DC media has asked this question, and my friend Doug Clark at the N&R, who’s usually much more sensible, doesn’t seem to be concerned with it, and, hey, I’ve got a blog, so I thought I’d raise it here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 8:01 pm

Memo to Simpson-Bowles fanboys/-girls, the New America Foundation, Paul Ryan groupies and everybody else who thinks the deficit is our biggest current problem:

You cannot slash taxes AND slash spending AND still reduce the deficit. It’s mathematically impossible. You can no more reduce the deficit this way than you can walk to the moon or skin-dive the Marianas Trench.

And if you try it, we’ll be in another recession in a heartbeat. Hell, with three straight months of falling consumer spending, we might be heading into another one even if you don’t.

This really is the era of lowered expectations. I used to pray for deliverance from extremist ideologues. Now I just pray for deliverance from people who can’t count.

Monday, May 10, 2010 11:10 pm

Rumors, like mushrooms, grow where there’s no light and lots of manure

In the absence of any of the promised transparency for the Simpson-Bowles commission looking at entitlement reform (read: screwing even more wealth out of what’s left of the middle class and working class under the guise of ensuring the long-term survival of Social Security, which actually is in relatively decent shape, and Medicare, which, whoa), we are left only with quasi-informed speculation as to the motivations and likely behavior of the commission based on the records and affiliations of its members, which Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake has helpfully compiled.

And what do we learn from this compilation? Short version: We are so screwed, and by “we,” I mean anyone making less than about $5 million a year.

There has been much talk over the decades about “making tough choices” with respect to entitlements. Now, from where I sit, a “tough choice” is a choice that discomfits people with real power, like, say, a substantially higher marginal income tax rate or, God forbid, a quasi-confiscatory wealth tax to try to claw back some of what has been stolen from us over the past few decades. But, trust me, with this crowd the only tough choice to be made is whether to yell “Tough t—y!” or “Tough s—!” at us proles.

Read ‘em and weep:

Member Open to cutting benefits? Expressed support for privatization? Conflicts of Interest
Erskine Bowles, Chair YES - Bowles is on the record that the commission will “mess with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, because if you take those off the table, you can’t get there. YES - Negotiated deal with Newt Gingrich to raise Social Security retirement age & some privatization under Clinton; deal was stopped by Lewinski scandal. Sits on the board of Morgan Stanley. Wife Candice is on the board of JP Morgan Chase. Finance, insurance & real estate sector donated over $3 million to his unsuccessful 2004 Senate bid.
Alan Simpson, R-WY-ret, Co-Chair YES - When asked about cuts he would recommend to the President and Congress on CNBC, Simpson said “We are going to stick to the big three,” meaning Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. YES - “[A]s recently as 2005, Simpson…supported attempts by President George Bush to privatize Social Security by turning part of the pension and insurance program into millions of individual investment accounts, which by now would have lost 20 percent of their value.” (2/27/2010) Simpson and Peterson were appointed to Bill Clinton’s Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement Reform in 1994. Both voted to recommend partial privatization of Medicare, and raising Social Security age of eligibility to 70, Simpson awarded “Economic Patriot” award by Peterson’s Concord Coalition in 1996.
Ann Fudge Unknown Unknown Board member on the Council of Foreign Relations, where Peterson is Chairman Emeritus and Robert Rubin is Director/Co-Chair, fundraiser for Obama campaign, Novartis Board of Directors
Alice Rivlin YES - Co-author with OMB director Peter Orszag of a Brookings report titled “Restoring Fiscal Sanity” advocating $47 billion in entitlement cuts, including an “increase in the retirement age under Social Security” and “more accurate inflation adjustments to Social Security benefits.” Unknown Board member with Pete Peterson on Committee for a Responsible Budget, Former board member with Peterson of Public Agenda (Peterson gave them $500,000 in 2009), Advisory Council member of Robert Rubin’s Hamilton Project, Senior Fellow at the Economic Studies Program at the Brookings Institute (position funded by Peterson Foundation/Concord Coalition donations).
John Spratt (D-SC) Yes - “House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt of South Carolina and his counterpart in the Senate, Kent Conrad of North Dakota….are promoting a “grand bargain” in which a bipartisan commission enacts spending caps on social insurance as the offset for current deficits.” (2/23/2009) Yes - “Spratt favors supplementing Social Security with a private savings plan that would either be mandatory “or else so attractive that everyone would sign up for it.” He also advocates investing about 20 percent of the Social Security trust fund in the stock market.” (4/7/1998, per Lexis)
Andy Stern Unknown – Previously opposed to cuts, but said recently that entitlement programs “need to be re-examined”. Expressed support for of “the possibility of add-on universal private accounts.”
Dick Durbin (D-IL) YES - Durbin admonished “bleeding heart liberals” to be open to program reductions to restore fiscal balance. Unknown
David M Cote Likely – Cote is a Republilcan. Unknown CEO of defense contractor Honeywell. The defense industry has consolidated itself into a few big players, and they see their financial futures in competition with social safety net programs for government dollars. They won big when 9/11 blew the lock off the Social Security “lockbox.”
Paul Ryan (R-WI) YES - Ryan’s recently released budget plan calls for “enormous tax cuts for the affluent and “very large benefit cuts… in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.” YES -Ryan proposes to give people under age 55 the choice of opting out of Social Security into privatized personal accounts. Ranking minority member on House budget committee.
Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) YES – On Hardball, “Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) argued that to balance the budget Congress needed to consider reducing Social Security spending for yet-to-be-retired beneficiaries.” (2/2/10) Yes - In a 2005 Congressional hearing, said that “the trust fund has already been raided 59 different times,” but that “with the exception of the great depression there has never been a four year consecutive period where the stock market has declined.” If allowing people to invest in half their Social Security in a personal account will “give them greater retirement security,” he said, “why wouldn’t we choose that plan?” Second ranking minority member on House budget comittee
Dave Camp (R-MI) Likely – Says he doesn’t want to cut current retirees’ monthly checks, but Diamond-Orszag plan being pushed by the Obama administration cuts benefits for future retirees who are now under 55. Yes - “He was a strong supporter of Bush’s proposal to create private investment accounts within Social Security, despite the backlash the plan encountered,” per CQ Healthbeat, 2/2/09 (Nexix). Also a signatory to Republican Main Street Partnership 98-RMSP3. Ranking minority member, Ways & Means Committee
Xavier Becerra (D-CA) No No
Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) No No
Judd Gregg (R-NH) Yes - Gregg’s plan “would reduce the traditional guaranteedretirement benefits for today’s workers.

” (USA Today, 7/27/98, Nexis)

Yes - Gregg’s solution to “Social Security’s fiscal problems” included “large-scale privatization” and raising the eligibility age to 70 by the year 2029. Ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee
Tom Coburn (R-OK) Yes -“There are only three things you can do with Social Security,” Coburn said. “You can raise taxes on Social Security, you can allow option-out into private accounts or you can delay retirement age…I’m not for raising taxes on Social Security when you fix it other ways.” (4/25/10) Yes - “Coburn called for creation of private accounts that would keep Congress from spending the money.” (Oklahoman, 11/26/04, Nexis)
Mike Crapo (R-ID) Likely – Co-sponsor of the DeMint-Crapo Amendment, which would have “made no changes to the benefits of those Americans born before January 1, 1950.” Like Dave Camp, implied benefit cuts to those born afterwards. Yes -DeMint-Crapo Amendment would have “provided a voluntary option for younger Americans to obtain legally binding ownership of a portion of their [Social Security[ benefits…I believe that individuals have the right to make decisions about their own money.”
Max Baucus (D-MT) Likely – Baucus said he was open to discussion if Bush would take privatization off the table Unknown Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, tapped by Reid to lead the battle against President Bush’s privatization of Social Security. But according to Yglesias, “the Democrats’ only real victory of the last five years–stuffing the administration on Social Security–came after Harry Reid explicitly ordered Baucus not to negotiate with the White House.”
Kent Conrad (D-ND) Yes - “House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt of South Carolina and his counterpart in the Senate, Kent Conrad of North Dakota….are promoting a “grand bargain” in which a bipartisan commission enacts spending caps on social insurance as the offset for current deficits.” (2/23/2009) Yes – “I think there is a kernel of a good idea with individual accounts because we do need to find a way to get a higher rate of return on funds invested in Social Security. But I cannot support a plan that is financed by massive new debt.…This administration is not collecting the taxes that are due now. Hundreds of billions of dollars a year that are owed that are not being paid. We should do that. That would give us a new revenue stream that could be applied to individual accounts and the other parts of the budget deficits that are hurting the country.” (This Week, February 13, 2005, Nexis) Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

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Saturday, May 8, 2010 8:43 pm

Good luck with that

Defense Secretary Robert Gates takes on the military*:

Before making claims of requirements not being met or alleged “gaps” – in ships, tactical fighters, personnel, or anything else – we need to evaluate the criteria upon which requirements are based and the wider real world context. For example, should we really be up in arms over a temporary projected shortfall of about 100 Navy and Marine strike fighters relative to the number of carrier wings, when America’s military possesses more than 3,200 tactical combat aircraft of all kinds? Does the number of warships we have and are building really put America at risk when the U.S. battle fleet is larger than the next 13 navies combined, 11 of which belong to allies and partners? Is it a dire threat that by 2020 the United States will have only 20 times more advanced stealth fighters than China?

These are the kinds of questions Eisenhower asked as commander-in-chief. They are the kinds of questions I believe he would ask today. And they are the kinds of question that we must all – civilian, military, in government and out – be willing to ask and answer in order to have a balanced military portfolio geared to real world requirements and a defense budget that is fiscally and politically sustainable over time.

*And by the military, he, and I, mean Congress.

These are, indeed, the kinds of questions Eisenhower asked as commander-in-chief. These are NOT the kinds of questions that are being asked as the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission begins its discussions, it is reasonable to assume, although it is hard to know for sure because all the promised openness is going on behind closed doors.

Deficit reduction: one more scam.

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 12:06 am
Tags: , , ,

I could walk you logically through all the facts that explain why the Pete Peterson-backed Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission is a bad idea likely to produce way more screwing of ordinary workers than it is to truly solve our long-term entitlement problems on fair and equitable terms.

But that would take years and cost hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of innocent lives.

So I could just point out instead that Pete Peterson stands to make a boatload of money directly off the likeliest outcomes from that commission.

Whichever. Really; I’m easy.

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