Friday, December 31, 2010

The Lesson of 2010

For the past two weeks I've been struggling with what to write in my last post for 2010.   After all, everyone was writing some type of year-in-review post so, if I was going to add my two cents to the blogosphere, I really didn't want it to be just one more rehash of the year in politics. Nor did I want to write just another tome about the ups and downs of care-giving.  I waited and while I was waiting for inspiration, my social media friends were all but writing this post for me.  So here I am in the last few hours of the last day of 2010, writing a blog post about what I will take away from ( or would rather forget about ) the year 2010.

If there is on lesson that I learned in 2010, it is that the chief reason that we, as a society, remain so divided is because we simply love to argue.  More often than not, we would rather spend days and weeks arguing with and belittling those with opposing views, rather than making the effort to listen to and try to understand opinions that don't concur with our own.   Sadly, there are even some who when they can't find an enemy to argue with, pick arguments with their "friends".

Think I'm wrong?

For instance, I recently posted a link on my Facebook wall to a petition that asks the European Commission to stop the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD), Directive 2004/24/EC, which is set to remove access to the vast majority of herbal medicinal products beginning 30 April 2011.   Most people who really know me know that I am a true believer in alternative medicine. They also know that I am not opposed to traditional medicine but I believe in a more holistic approach to good health and healing.

So what happens?  A person whom I truly respect and whom I know shares a very different view on the subject of alternative medicine posts the comment, "Not feeling that petition, I'm afraid."  Ok, I respect this person's opinion and I would have never sent them this link directly because I know that this would not interest them.   So, I ask myself,  if this person knows that I strongly support this issue and they don't, why did they feel the need to leave a comment?   They could have just glanced at the post, found it to be of no interest, and then moved on.  After all, a Facebook wall isn't really a place for a serious exchange of information and in depth discussion.   Of course, I could have read their comment and just moved on too.  But sadly,  I wrote a snarky reply.   Now the "friend" has written that they think that I must think very little of them.   All part of the lesson of 2010.

So you say, "that's just one incident and doesn't prove that we are a society that loves to argue".

OK, before you dismiss my theory and start writing your comment to convince me that I am totally off base, let me offer as evidence two stories, straight from recent headlines, that have more than proven my point.

Feminists Against Julian Assange v. Feminist Supporters of Julian Assange


Animals Lovers who Hate Michael Vick v. Animal Lovers who believe that humans deserve a second chance.    ( Ok, I was a little biased in the way that I worded that one. )

I promise that I won't bore you to tears exploring the merits of the various positions on either case because, if you're like most people, your mind is already made up and you don't care what the other side thinks because, "THEY ARE WRONG".  Right?   Besides,  if you frequent social media sites you've seen these issues debated in ultimate fighting style matches of 140 characters or less.  However, if you are following these debates closely, you have to admit that people are talking "at" each other rather than listening to each other.

Not long ago, I shared my thoughts on the DemocracyNow broadcast of the debate between feminists Jaclyn Friedman and Naomi Wolf over the sex crimes allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Naomi Wolf's Facebook page.  Later that day,  I received several messages from Facebook friends letting me that they did not share my "misguided" opinion.    After receiving one of many links that day, I responded to one friend as follows:

    "I appreciate your points. However, I've also read the actual police reports as they were documented by the    And while I would concur that Julian Assange may have acted inappropriately, I believe that the media's repetitive use of the word 'rape' is pure sensationalism."

In reply my friend wrote:

    "So 'the no means no' thing we grew up with only applies if she says 'no' before hand? or does it only apply to men with whom aren't progressive heroes? I read the charges as well. And the legal definition of rape -- this from the woman who said she told him no after the condom broke -- is that it is not consensual if she says no and you continue. I have not watched CNN in weeks and try not to watch Fox News, so the only televised reports I've seen have been msnbc and they have nothing but try to provide cover for him."

Yes, in 2010,  I learned that sometimes you just have to end a discussion before it turns into an argument.  I did, of course, reply to that comment but I promise you that I was polite.

On the topic of Michael Vick .. well let's just say that I often found myself of the opposite side of that debate too.

When the full story of Michael Vick's involvement in dog fighting first broke,  I drew fire from some of my friends for my statement that he deserved jail time and to be banned from professional football.   Later, I drew fire when I wrote a post on my view that parties were using the Michael Vick story to manipulate the animal rights movement.  Subsequent to that, when Michael Vick was released from prison and signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, I took heat for saying that he had served his time in prison and deserved a chance to redeem himself.  So, now I'm sure that you can imagine that my view that if Michael Vick is sincere about ever owning another dog, he should be allowed to begin ( under close supervision) with rehabilitating formerly abused dogs, has thoroughly pissed offed several of my fellow animal lovers.

Let's face it friends, our true national past time is argument and the blogosphere is thriving because of it.  And second to arguing is pointing out each other's faults.  After all, why would people spend their day reading The Huffington Post or watching FoxNews when they absolutely hate them.  I know one person who expresses such a passionate dislike for Arianna Huffington that I wonder exactly what Ms. Huffington did to her. It had to be something personal.

Yes, I've learned this lesson well. 

Fortunately, I learned another lesson a long, long time ago.  The many wonderful people that I've know throughout my life have taught me that we all have more things in common than we have differences.  Basically, we all want the same things for ourselves and our families.  We each just approach life from our personal worldview. So when I am tempted to be too snarky and dogmatic,  I am reminded by the voices from my past, to bite my tongue, listen and try to understand where the other person is coming from.  Honestly, I don't always do this well.  But I do try and will keep trying to do better.

Someone has to keep fighting the spirit of Leland Gaunt :-)

So that's it.  My last post for 2010.   A promise to keep sharing my opinions, listening to your comments and try to understand.  I also have no doubt that I'll probably be on the opposite side of the argument more than a few times next year too. 

I wish you all the very best in the year ahead and thank you for your support.  

I leave you with these thoughts.

" This is the moment of the year when we inhabit inwardly both sunset and sunrise. God created them both, but we ourselves decide how to paint them. Next year will bring whatever next year brings, but what we bring TO it will make all the difference. And the greatest thing we can bring to it is our love. " ---  Marianne Williamson

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Not All Rape Victims Are Created Equal

... at least not in the eyes of the media it would appear.

Have you ever heard the name LaVena Johnson?

On July 19, 2005, Army Private First Class LaVena Johnson was found dead in Balad, Iraq. It has been reported that when her body was discovered in a tent belonging to a private military contractor her remains displayed a black eye, broken nose, burned hands, loose teeth, acid burns on her genitals and a bullet hole in the head. The military ruled her death as a suicide.

If you watch DemocracyNow, read AlterNet or are a regular reader of this blog you know Pfc Johnson's story.  However, my guess is that if your sole sources for news are corporately owned broadcast networks you may have never heard of Pfc Johnson. 

On the other hand, if you live anywhere in Europe, the US or Australia,  by now you have undoubtedly  heard more than you ever wanted to know about the sexual exploits of Julian Assange and the charges being brought against him in Sweden.  Sadly, thanks to the over zealous, you may also know the names of the two women who have filed the complaints against Mr. Assange.  In fact, over the past few weeks, you may have hardly been able to turn on a news broadcast, corporately of independently sponsored,  without hearing about "the rape charges" against Wikleaks founder, Julian Assange.   And to add to the controversy there now seems to be a rift between the defenders of Julian Assange and members of the feminist community who want him drawn and quartered, now. 

Of course, I have my opinions on the subject.  But I've watched these stories play out over the years and learned two things:  most people have already made up their minds; and, for them, evidence be damned.    So, I will handle the Julian Assange sex scandal in the same manner that I did the stories of  Mike Tyson, Michael Jackson, Eddie Long and other sensational cases.  I wait for the courts to hear the evidence, weigh the merits of the case and render their verdict.  And, I will do my best to keep my humble opinion to myself, for now

However, what I will comment on now is the general handling of  stories involving sexual crimes by the media.. 

Would the US media have given so much airtime to an alleged sexual assault case in Sweden if the accused wasn't the founder of Wikileaks?  My guess is, no.  I suspect that the US media and much of the world would have all but ignored this case or treated it as filler on a slow news day.   In fact, I'll go one step further and say that if this story had broken before Wikileaks had ever released the Iraq documents. the media response to the sex crime allegations would have been minimal. 

The constant focus on the sexual aspects of the Julian Assange / Wiklieaks story is pure sensationalism.  And when you contrast the airtime given to the charges against Assange with the airtime, or lack thereof, given to the brutal rapes of women in the Congo. the so called "corrective rapes" in South Africa and the sexual abuses suffered by women and men in the US military,  you are left with the impression that in today's society, not all rape victims are created equal.

Ironically, just yesterday in his article, "Rape Rampant in the US Military".  Dahr Jamail reported the following:

"Military sexual trauma (MST) survivor Susan Avila-Smith is director of the veteran's advocacy group Women Organizing Women. She has been serving female and scores of male clients in various stages of recovery from MST for 15 years and knows of its devastating effects up close.

"People cannot conceive how badly wounded these people are," she told Al Jazeera, "Of the 3,000 I've worked with, only one is employed. Combat trauma is bad enough, but with MST it's not the enemy, it's our guys who are doing it. You're fighting your friends, your peers, people you've been told have your back. That betrayal, then the betrayal from the command is, they say, worse than the sexual assault itself."

On December 13, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups filed a federal lawsuit seeking Pentagon records in order to get the real facts about the incidence of sexual assault in the ranks.

The Pentagon has consistently refused to release records that fully document the problem and how it is handled. Sexual assaults on women in the US military have claimed some degree of visibility, but about male victims there is absolute silence.

Pack Parachute, a non-profit in Seattle, assists veterans who are sexual assault survivors. Its founder Kira Mountjoy-Pepka, was raped as a cadet at the Air Force Academy. In July 2003 she was member of a team of female cadets handpicked by Donald Rumsfeld, at the time the secretary of defense, to tell their stories of having been sexually assaulted. The ensuing media coverage and a Pentagon investigation forced the academy to make the aforementioned major policy changes"

Just imagine what would happen if the media focused as much attention on these victims as they have on the Julian Assange case.   


Related Posts:

as well as 

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Bipartisan Art of Procrastinating And Rushing?

Rushing -

America was rushed to war in Iraq because "Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to our national security. They said he had weapons of mass destruction. To date, WMDs have not been found.  US troops are still in Iraq.  Anyone who didn't support this rush to war was "unpatriotic."

Procrastinating -

Scientists predicted ten years before Hurricane Katrina that the erosion of the Louisiana wetlands could result in catastrophic consequences for New Orleans in the event of a category 3, or higher hurricane.  Yet nothing was done to improve the city's infrastructure.  Katrina came, the 9th ward flooded,  the Civic Center became hell on earth and people waited for days for help because no one had a plan.  Kanye West hurt the President's feeling when he said, "Bush hates Black people."  The White House and Congress rushed to put together an aid package for hurricane victims.  Months later Republicans were filibustering on the House floor about the mismanagement of those funds.  The former President still hasn't gotten over Mr. West's comment.

Rushing ---

In spite of years of advance warnings from numerous economists, former President Bush's parting gift to the American people was an 11th hour vote on a bank bailout.  We were told that if we didn't rush to bail out the banks: credit would dry up; companies wouldn't be able to make payroll; ATM machines might be empty; and, life as we know it would end.  The banks were bailed out but: they still refused to extend credit; companies downsized; unemployment went up; and the TARP oversight panel had a problem figuring out where the money was spent. 

And now once again,

Procrastinating and Rushing 

The Bush era tax cuts were set to expire at the end of this year.  Both Republicans and Democrats have known this for ten years.   So no surprises here.  Yet, the American people are now being told that if Congress doesn't rush to pass a bill that will include extending the Bush tax cuts for the top 2% and will add an additional $900 billion to the national debt (short-term they say) that poor and working class people, who have been hit the hardest by the recession, will needlessly suffer when their taxes are increased in January.  Anyone that has a problem with this must be racist, jealous of the rich or a sanctimonious liberal that can't relate to the sufferings of working class people in the rust belt.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How Dare Progressives Have the Audacity to Hope For Something More

If you follow US politics, you know that this past Saturday, the House of Representatives failed to pass two measures that would extend the Bush era tax-cuts for the middle class.  One bill would have extended the cuts for persons making under $250,000 per year the other for those making less than $1 million per year.  Both bills failed primarily because House Republicans refused to concede tax breaks for the extremely wealthy. 

So now it's the 11th hour.  The Bush era tax cuts are scheduled to expire on December 31st, and the tax rate for the lowest income Americans will increase by 50 percent if nothing is done.  In addition, the Republicans are refusing to pass an extension to unemployment benefits ( in a time of 9.8% unemployment) unless the Democrats make cuts to other programs in order to fund the extension. (or so the Republicans say)   Republicans and their kissing cousins, the Tea Partiers have drawn their line in the sand and are standing on the principle of "fiscal responsibility". Meanwhile the Democrats are trying to make the argument for human compassion and decency. The Democrats seemed to be winning the argument in the eyes of the American public. A recent gallup poll indicated that 44% of Americans believe that the Bush tax cuts should be extended but with new limits for the wealthy while 13% believe that the tax cuts should be allowed to expire for everyone.  And, after all, this is the season of peace on earth, goodwill toward men.

So what happened yesterday? President Barack Obama held a press conference to announce that he had worked out a deal with GOP leaders to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich, including Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Angelo Mozillo in order to protect the middle class tax cut and secure an extension of unemployment benefits.   You've also probably heard that the President had more than a few sharp words for the GOP, (for holding the American working class hostage), as well as, for the "sanctimonious" liberal Democrats for daring to hope that he would stand up to the congressional terrorists. 

This is how Washington Post analyst Ezra Klein summed up the proposed agreement in his article, "How the White House cut its deal and lost its base":
"To put this in perspective, consider that last week, all Washington could talk about was the potential for a deal on deficit reduction. This week, it actually got a big deficit deal -- but it was a deficit-expansion deal. In the world that politicians claim they live in -- where the deficit is the overriding issue -- the deal couldn't have worked. But we don't live in that world. In this world, tax cuts, not deficits, are the Republicans' central concern, and stimulus, not deficits, obsesses the Democrats.

Which brings us to the liberals. My conversations with various progressives over the past 24 hours have convinced me that the problem is less the specifics of the deal -- though liberals legitimately dislike the tax cuts for the rich, and rightly point out that Obama swore to let them expire -- than the way in which it was reached. Put simply, Obama and the Democrats didn't fight for them. There were no veto threats or serious effort to take the case to the public.

Instead, the White House disappeared into a closed room with the Republicans and cut a deal that they'd made no effort to sell to progressives. When the deal was cut, the president took an oblique shot at their preferences, saying "the American people didn’t send us here to wage symbolic battles or win symbolic victories." And this came a mere week or two after the White House announced a federal pay freeze. The pattern, for progressives, seems clear: The White House uses them during elections, but doesn't listen to, or consult them, while governing. In fact, it insults them, and then tells them to quiet down, they got the best bargain possible, even if it wasn't the one they'd asked for, or been promised."

 In one press conference the theme of the Obama presidency transitioned from "Yes We Can" and "Change You Can Believe In" to "No You Can't" and "It's What You Have to Do to Get Things Done When You're Backed into a Corner."

So why did the White House let itself be backed into a corner.  They certainly can't say that no one saw this 11th hour crisis coming.  Sound familiar?

As Joanne Bamberger, known to her fans as PunditMom, commented on Facebook, "The Bush tax cuts were strategically set to expire now -- in a year GOP assumed would see a Dem in the White House and hurt him/her. Now, Obama has agreed to extension for two years, and discussion about what to do about them next time will come during his re-election bid. Dems -- you should be smarter."

Maybe We should have been smarter than to expect anything different.   Now, because no one on the White House staff anticipated that the party who vowed to fight the President at every turn would back him into a corner over their holy grail, tax cuts, the members of the Presidents own party who were begging him to take a stand on principle, get lectured like ungrateful children who fail to show due appreciation for all that their parent has done on their behalf.    

Dear Mr. President, we do appreciate all that you have done but was it so wrong for Democrats to have the audacity to hope that someone would stand up to the banks, the insurance companies,  the unscrupulous mortgage lenders and a GOP who has made it clear that they care for none but the rich.   Maybe it was.  Maybe we were all foolish to think that politics in Washington could ever change.

In the following video clips Rachel Maddow analyzes the President's press conference.  The only thing that Democrats can hope now is that the Obama campaign will come up with a new slogan by 2012

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Progressive Argument: one cartoon that says it all

In one image political cartoonist, Steve Greenberg captures the heart of the progressive argument.

cartoon courtesy of

It's time to reframe the conversation 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Social Security, Dead Peasants and Debating the Budget in the Age of Plutonomy – Part 2

But, the flimflam gang returned with a vengeance in our time — the monied interests and political mercenaries who connived to bring on a calamity that lost eleven million Americans their jobs, robbed people of their homes and pensions, and brought the world's economy crashing down. 

But once again, people are organizing and fighting back; as they did in that early Populist Moment that took on the monopolies and financial trusts. The stirrings of a popular insurgency could be seen late this week as thousands marched on Wall Street. These people are angry at the banks that have cost them so dearly and they want reforms to prevent similar disasters in the future. They want to break up the Wall Street oligarchy and require the banks to use their capital to build and revitalize and innovate, to create jobs and security.”
---- Bill Moyers, Bill Moyers Journal , April 2010

Enter …   The Tea Party Movement

Ah, the Tea Party, the populist movement of our era.   A movement with no clear leader but generally associated with political figures like Michelle Bachmann, Rand Paul and off course, Sarah Palin, who wants us all to return to those by-gone days of yesteryear when it was “morning again in America”.

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and recall another time when a politician ushered in a new . . 
a clip from the film, “Capitalism: A Love Story” 
by Michael Moore

It seems that while it was morning for some, the sun was setting for others which takes us back to the subject Social Security reform.

Without a doubt, the US economy is in a mess and the budget deficit needs to be address asap.  In fact, it should have been address when former President Jimmy Carter warned us, but hindsight is 20/20.   However, I ask again, “when the topic of trimming the federal budget is under discussion, why is a self funding program the first budget item offered up?”   

The Social System make need a tweak here and there but it’s not broken, so why the big rush to fix it?   But don’t take my word that it’s not broken, here are the words of  New York Times Columnist and recipient of a Nobel Prize for Economics,  Paul Krugman:

“Social Security is a government program supported by a dedicated tax, like highway maintenance. Now you can say that assigning a particular tax to a particular program is merely a fiction, but in fact such assignments have both legal and political force. If Ronald Reagan had said, back in the 1980s, “Let’s increase a regressive tax that falls mainly on the working class, while cutting taxes that fall mainly on much richer people,” he would have faced a political firestorm. But because the increase in the regressive payroll tax was recommended by the Greenspan Commission to support Social Security, it was politically in a different box – you might even call it a lockbox – from Reagan’s tax cuts.

The purpose of that tax increase was to maintain the dedicated tax system into the future, by having Social Security’s assigned tax take in more money than the system paid out while the baby boomers were still working, then use the trust fund built up by those surpluses to pay future bills. Viewed in its own terms, that strategy was highly successful.

The date at which the trust fund will run out, according to Social Security Administration projections, has receded steadily into the future: 10 years ago it was 2029, now it’s 2042. As Kevin Drum, Brad DeLong, and others have pointed out, the SSA estimates are very conservative, and quite moderate projections of economic growth push the exhaustion date into the indefinite future.

But the privatizers won’t take yes for an answer when it comes to the sustainability of Social Security. Their answer to the pretty good numbers is to say that the trust fund is meaningless, because it’s invested in U.S. government bonds. They aren’t really saying that government bonds are worthless; their point is that the whole notion of a separate budget for Social Security is a fiction. And if that’s true, the idea that one part of the government can have a positive trust fund while the government as a whole is in debt does become strange.

But there are two problems with their position.

The lesser problem is that if you say that there is no link between the payroll tax and future Social Security benefits – which is what denying the reality of the trust fund amounts to – then Greenspan and company pulled a fast one back in the 1980s: they sold a regressive tax switch, raising taxes on workers while cutting them on the wealthy, on false pretenses. More broadly, we’re breaking a major promise if we now, after 20 years of high payroll taxes to pay for Social Security’s future, declare that it was all a little joke on the public.
But those who insist that we face a Social Security crisis want to have it both ways. Having invoked the concept of a unified budget to reject the existence of a trust fund, they refuse to accept the implications of that unified budget going forward. Instead, having changed the rules to make the trust fund meaningless, they want to change the rules back around 15 years from now: today, when the payroll tax takes in more revenue than SS benefits, they say that’s meaningless, but when – in 2018 or later – benefits start to exceed the payroll tax, why, that’s a crisis. Huh?

I don’t know why this contradiction is so hard to understand, except to echo Upton Sinclair: it’s hard to get a man to understand something when his salary (or, in the current situation, his membership in the political club) depends on his not understanding it.”

And that’s the rub isn’t it.  To paraphrase, it’s hard to get a politician to understand something when his re-election,(or, in the current situation, his party affiliation), depends on his not understanding it.    Said another way,  it’s almost impossible to find politicians who will consistently represent the interests of working Americans when it may cost them campaign financing to do so …

or when there are those behind the scenes pulling their strings.

Of course, there are only a pile of IOU's in the virtual safety deposit box that was supposed to be holding the social security trust.   And the only way to repay the trust would be to not only end the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy but possible increase the tax rate of the upper one percent.  God forbid.

To be continued……

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Social Security, Dead Peasants and Debating the Budget in the Age of Plutonomy – Part 1

“Once upon a time, a whole lot of just plain Americans woke up to realize the economic system was working against them. They had believed in it; they worked hard to make it work for them. They knew its shortcomings but saw in it the way to a decent return for their labor and a better future for their families. Then, one day, calamity struck: The system turned on them. And they discovered that they had been betrayed, bamboozled, by the people at the top. But they didn't hang their heads and turn tail, like a dog whipped by its master. They organized and fought back — millions of them in a grass roots movement for democracy. What they did became known as the Populist Moment, an extraordinary time in our country's history. But, the flimflam gang returned with a vengeance in our time — the monied interests and political mercenaries who connived to bring on a calamity that lost eleven million Americans their jobs, robbed people of their homes and pensions, and brought the world's economy crashing down.”
-- Bill Moyers, Bill Moyers Journal, April 30, 2010


The Republicans have regained control of the Congress.

The main stream media is preaching that the midterm elections were a rejection of the Democrats' “liberal agenda” and a mandate for a return to conservatism.

The Tea Party has announced that they are here and ready to take over ( even if they have to exercise their “second amendment” rights)

Sarah Palin has proclaimed a “new morning in America.”

Liberal Democrats are being blamed for all of the above (even though the Blue Dogs fared much worse on election day than their progressives counterparts)

While The blogosphere is being blamed for everything else; from being overly critical of the White House; to spreading misinformation; and even hoarding the world’s supply of popcorn.

It’s also now obvious to almost everyone that the “monied interests and political mercenaries” are running the show.  Equally obvious is the fact that health care reform, government regulation ( banking industry, EPA), Social Security and Medicare are at the very top of their hit lists.

And, if it’s not true that the plutocrats are calling the shots, it certainly appears that way.

Washington Post Staff Writer Dan Eggen reported on the influence of “outside entities” on the budget process this past Wednesday.  He wrote:

    “The leaders of President Obama's deficit commission sparked criticism from both sides of the political aisle Wednesday for proposing broad cuts to federal programs. But the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform has also come under attack for its unusual approach to staffing: Many of its employees aren't employed by the panel at all.  Instead, about one in four commission staffers is paid by outside entities, many of which have strong ideological points of view about how to tackle the deficit.
For example, the salaries of two senior staffers, Marc Goldwein and Ed Lorenzen, are paid by private groups that have previously advocated cuts to entitlement programs. Lorenzen is paid by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, while Goldwein is paid by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which is also partly funded by the Peterson group. 
The outsourcing has come under sharp criticism from seniors' organizations and liberal activists, who say the strategy is part of a broader conservative bias favoring painful entitlement cuts over other solutions. The fears of some liberal groups appeared to come true on Wednesday, when the commission's two leaders recommended significant reductions for Social Security and other social-welfare programs. Bruce Reed, the panel's executive director, defended the staffing arrangement as fiscally responsible and said the staff includes a broad range of views. Other staffers paid by outside entities include an analyst from the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute and a Clinton administration official who now teaches at Johns Hopkins University, he said. "We've got wonks from across the spectrum who have been working on this issue for years," Reed said. "Every possible voice from left, right or center has a voice on the commission." But Barbara B. Kennelly, a former Democratic House member from Connecticut who heads the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, said the commission's staffing structure is "unprecedented" and casts further doubt on its fairness. "Taxpayers fund the commission and they should work independently of Washington lobbyists and power brokers," Kennelly said. "This is the type of shenanigans that average Americans are so upset about right now - that money talks and everyone else is left out”

If you ask the average American citizen, “who in Washington do you trust to reform Social Security?”,  you would probably receive the answer, “no one.”   And they would have more than a few reasons for feeling that way.   It is very hard for most Americans, myself included,  to understand  why an “entitlement program”  which is  funded by a clearly designated tax  (FICA) is always one of the first programs that gets offered up on the political sacrificial alter when the discussion involves federal budget cuts.

Don’t get me wrong, the budget deficit must be addressed and Social Security can not be treated as a sacred cow.  The current US federal budget is unsustainable.   However,  the American public deserves an honest deficit reduction debate that does not treat them like children that need to be shielded from the ugly truth or play on their fears of ending life old and destitute.  The American public also needs to feel our tax dollars have purchased a seat at the table, that someone is representing our interests in the great budget debate,

As Alexander Bolton reported in his article “Social Security reforms could be bombshell for House GOP”

“Republicans who took over the House on pledges to reduce federal spending and get the nation’s budget in order are running into the third rail of U.S. politics.

A draft proposal from the co-chairman of President Obama’s fiscal commission this week put Social Security on the front burner, leading some Democrats to draw a line in the sand. The proposal would raise the retirement age, slightly reduce benefits and raise the cap on income subject to payroll taxes.

While the proposal was drawn up to keep Social Security solvent and not to deal specifically with reducing the nation’s record deficit, Democratic strategists say it will be difficult for Republicans to duck an issue that has caused them political pain in the past.

“It does put them in a tough position,” Mike Lux, a strategist who works with liberal advocacy groups, said of the GOP. “These kinds of proposals, raising the retirement age and cutting benefits, are overwhelmingly unpopular with the American people."

Soon-to-be-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is on record supporting similar changes to Social Security, as is Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), the incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee and rising intellectual star of the House Republican Conference.”

Yes, Social Security and Medicare are the infamous “third rail of U.S. politics” and any discussion of reforming these two programs has been known to be hazardous to political health.  Why?  Because both Republicans and Democrats have a lot of explaining to do to the American people, especially to the baby-boomers who believe that they have paid into the Social Security Trust Fund all of their working lives.

In a post for, “The Truth About the Trust Fund “  Kevin Drum wrote:

“Back in 1983, we made a deal. The deal was this: for 30 years poor people would overpay their taxes, building up the trust fund and helping lower the taxes of the rich. For the next 30 years, rich people would overpay their taxes, drawing down the trust fund and helping lower the taxes of the poor.  Well, the first 30 years are about up. And now the rich are complaining about the deal that Alan Greenspan cut back in 1983.

As it happens, I agree that it was a bad deal. If it were up to me, I'd fund Social Security out of current taxes and leave it at that. But it doesn't matter. Once the deal is made, you can't stop halfway through and toss it out. The rich got their subsidy for 30 years, and soon it's going to be time to raise their taxes and use it to subsidize the poor. Any other option would be an unconscionable fraud”
And a columnist Jay Bookman points out, it is very important to remember 1983.  Bookman writes:

"Note the year 1983. That year, a commission appointed by President Ronald Reagan recommended significant increases in Social Security payroll taxes in order to make the program actuarially sound. The idea, embraced by Congress, was that the additional revenue would be used to build a surplus in the Social Security Trust Fund so that when the Baby Boom generation began to reach retirement age, the money would be there.

Today, that surplus would amount to $2.5 trillion. But notice that word “would.” For more than 25 years, while working people were told that they were paying extra taxes to ensure their retirement security, that surplus tax revenue was actually being siphoned off to run general government operations. In effect, higher Social Security taxes were being used to offset revenue that had been lost to the government when Reagan cut income and corporate taxes, disguising the true fiscal impact of those cuts.

Today, technically, a surplus of $2.5 trillion now sits in the trust fund, ready to be used for Social Security. In reality, the trust fund contains government IOUs that taxpayers today and tomorrow will have to redeem, probably through payeing higher taxes. So here’s the question now before the body politic:

Will taxpayers — and politicians — honor the $2.5 trillion debt that is owed to Social Security and those who paid into it? Or, will they breach that trust by claiming that the debt is too big to be repaid in its entirety, and that benefit cuts will be required?"

 Americans want to know:

Is there a Social Security Trust Fund or not?  And if there is, where did the money go?

The following is a video clip of Congressman Dennis Kucinich discussing the Deficit Committee's  proposed changes to the social security program with Ed Schultz during a recent appearance on The Ed Show.

Well I think that this is as good a place as any to conclude part one of this series.   While this is not intended to be a scholarly tome, in light of the recent proliferation in blogosphere bashing, I must beg your indulgence as I end with brief glossary of a few of the terms that were referenced in this post.  

Talk to you soon

Glossary (not ordered alphabetically)

Social Security:   In the United States,  this term generally refers to the Social Security Act (1935) and its amendments which encompass several social welfare and social insurance programs. The larger and better known programs are:

    * Federal Old-Age (Retirement), Survivors, and Disability Insurance
    * Unemployment benefits
    * Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
    * Health Insurance for Aged and Disabled (Medicare)
    * Grants to States for Medical Assistance Programs (Medicaid)
    * State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)
    * Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

FICA :  Under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act 12.4% of earned income up to an annual limit must be paid into Social Security, and an additional 2.9% must be paid into Medicare. That limit is $106,800 for 2010.

There are no earned income limits on Medicare taxes -- so even if your salary is well above the cap for Social Security tax, you will still owe Medicare tax on your total earned income.
If you're a wage or salaried employee, you pay only half the FICA bill (6.2% for Social Security plus 1.45% for Medicare), and the tax is automatically withheld. Your employer contributes the other half.

For most people that means 7.65% of their paycheck is withheld and their company pays another 7.65% on their behalf.

If you're self-employed, however, you're expected to cough up both the employee and the employer share of FICA. You are, however, permitted to deduct half of this self-employment tax as a business expense.  (And), if you're self-employed, anticipate having a lot of investment income, are selling property in a given tax year, or don't have enough taxes withheld from your paycheck to cover an influx of non-wage related income (e.g., alimony or rental income), there's a good chance you will need to pay estimated taxes.

The Budget Debate:    how to reduce the US National Debt which is  currently 13.7 trillion dollars

Dead Peasants:  a term used when referring to life insurance policies that companies take out on their employees in which the company ( not a family member ) is the beneficiary

How did it get the name “Dead Peasant” insurance?

Winn Dixie Stores bought life insurance policies on approximately 36,000 of its employees, without their knowledge or consent, and named itself as the policies’ beneficiary. The insurance brokerage firm that placed the policies prepared two memos describing the deceased employees as “Dead Peasants.” These memos were part of the court’s record in a lawsuit in which the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that Winn-Dixie’s policies were a sham transaction for federal income tax purposes.

Plutonomy :   The following definition is courtesy of the Wall Street Journal’s, “Wealth Report”.
“Ajay Kapur, global strategist at Citigroup, and his research team came up with the term “Plutonomy” in 2005 to describe a country that is defined by massive income and wealth inequality. According to their definition, the U.S. is a Plutonomy, along with the U.K., Canada and Australia.
In a series of research notes over the past year, Kapur and his team explained that Plutonomies have three basic characteristics.

1. They are all created by “disruptive technology-driven productivity gains, creative financial innovation, capitalist friendly cooperative governments, immigrants…the rule of law and patenting inventions. Often these wealth waves involve great complexity exploited best by the rich and educated of the time.”

2. There is no “average” consumer in Plutonomies. There is only the rich “and everyone else.” The rich account for a disproportionate chunk of the economy, while the non-rich account for “surprisingly small bites of the national pie.” Kapur estimates that in 2005, the richest 20% may have been responsible for 60% of total spending.

3. Plutonomies are likely to grow in the future, fed by capitalist-friendly governments, more technology-driven productivity and globalization.”


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunday Funnies: America's Team and America's Politics

Cowboys Stadium photo courtesy of Wikipedia
My friend Bob knows that for most of my adult life (pre Barry Switzer)  I was a devoted Dallas Cowboys fan.  So when the opportunity presents,  he simply cannot resist sharing the most recent jokes about "America's Team."   Friday he sent me these gems. 

The Texas State Police are cracking down on speeders heading into Dallas.  For the first offense, they give you 2 Dallas Cowboy tickets. If you get stopped a second time, they make you use them.

Q. What do you call 47 millionaires around a TV watching the Super Bowl?
A. The Dallas Cowboys

Q. What do the Dallas Cowboys and Billy Graham have in common?
A. They both can make 70,000 people stand up and yell "Jesus Christ!"

Q. How do you keep a Dallas Cowboy out of your yard?
A. Put up a goal post.

Q. What do you call a Dallas Cowboy with a Super Bowl Ring?
A. Old.

Q. What's the difference between the Dallas Cowboys and a dollar bill?
A. You can still get four quarters out of a dollar bill.

Q. How many Dallas Cowboys does it take to win a Super Bowl?
A. Nobody remembers.

Q. What do the Cowboys and possums have in common?
A. Both play dead at home and get killed on the road!

Don't blame me I didn't write these.

And now for a little political humor

Cashocracy by Mark Fiore

The moral of these two stories is:  Money can buy elections but it still can't buy a Super Bowl.  


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Would A Man Tell Another Man to "Calm Down" During An Interview?

Maybe, but I doubt that it would happen quite like this.

The following is a brief clip of MSNBC's afternoon news anchor, Tamron Hall interviewing Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele

Yes, Ms. Hall made the tragic mistake about which every woman in business and politics has been warned. She showed a little too emotion. And as a result, as Tamron stated at the end of interview, she was told to "calm down like she was a five year old". But come on,
Can you imagine Michael Steele telling Ms. Hall's colleague, Ed Schultz, not one to hold back his emotions, to "calm down"? Or, imagine Eric Cantor making the same patronizing hand gestures to Lawrence O'Donnell when he was being pressed for an answer to the same question, the night before?

John Boehner can cry after a big election win and it's interpreted as an honest display of emotion. Hillary Clinton chokes back tears during the heat of a tough fought political campaign and some interpreted her honest display of emotion as an attempt to manipulate the voters. It's a ridiculous double standard.
However, when women show "too much emotion" or argue a point too passionately it is,more often than not, misunderstood..

Of course Micheal Steele is probably taking lessons on how to handle questions from strong women in media from Dick Armey. Remember when Mr. Armey said to Salon's Joan Walsh, "I am so damn glad that you could never be my wife, 'cause I surely wouldn't have to listen to that prattle from you every day"? Are you kidding?

Maybe the mama grizzlies will give their conservative colleagues a few lessons on how to have a civil, adult, political debate with strong intelligent women without resorting to patronizing, demeaning ......

Oh, who I am kidding?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What If? -- Recap of Election Night 2010

It's official. Election Day 2010 is almost over.

The Democrats have retained control of the Senate. The Republicans have regained control of the Congress. The Tea Party made a statement in Kentucky and Florida but their candidates went way too far with their hateful, and often bizarre, rhetoric in Nevada, West Virginia and Delaware. And, in spite of two years of remarkable legislative accomplishments, the Democrats took a beating and so did some of their friends.

Tea Party Candidate, Rand Paul is going to Washington. Floridians turned their back on a really good governor in Charlie Crist. At the time that this is being written, it looks like a write-in candidate is going to win the Senate race in Alaska. And, one of the most honorable men in politics, Senator Russ Feingold went down in defeat (a heartbreaking loss for Wisconsin, Progressives and the hope of real campaign finance reform),

On the other hand, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled out a hard fought win. Jerry Brown is back at the helm of California.
African Americans. Latinos and young people proved that they DO VOTE. And, mercifully we've all been spared Sarah Palin protege, Christine O'Donnell and years of jokes about witches.

The best tweet of the day was Roseanne Cash's comment about John Boehner's use of her father's memory. The strangest moment on television was Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC trying to get an answer to a simple question from Rep. Eric Cantor. The "liberal left" was blamed for Blanche Lincoln's loss in Arkansas. And no modern era election night would be complete if someone didn't complain about the media projecting a race winner too soon.

When it's all said and done, this has been the most expensive non-presidential election year campaign season in history.
The political pundits and campaign managers will be analyzing election results until they're blue in the face. So rather than repeat what you've heard all evening, I'll leave you with this post election reflection.

This election has been all about the economy but
What If?

What if the Obama administration had realized from the beginning that the kids across the aisle just don't play nice?

What if, in 2009, the newly inaugurated Obama administration had responded to calls from the Democratic base ( aka the professional left ) to investigate the misdeeds of the Bush/Cheney administration?

What if for the past two years the American people had been reminded that the Bush administration inherited a budget surplus from the Clinton years which they, in turn, squandered, leaving the largest budget deficit in history?

What if for the past two years the national political dialogue had included a real discussion of the cost of the Iraq war (which was entered into under false pretenses) and how those costs contributed to the national debt?

And what if the American people had been reminded day after day that the corporate friends of Bush/Cheney (Haliburton, Blackwater, KBR, et. al) made billions from the government contracts secured during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?

What if the Democrats had reminded the American people that the bank bailout was a parting gift from the Bush administration?

And what if the Democrats had reminded the American people day after day after day that the deregulation policies of the Bush era lead to the housing crisis and the great exodus of US jobs to foreign shores?

What If?

What if the Obama administration and the 111th Congress had realized early in the game that when you have an opponent on the ropes, you keep him there.

Oh well, hindsight is 20/20 and none of us will ever know.

Today's reality is that the Democrats have two years of landmark policy accomplishments to their credit but weren't able to convince much of the American public to stay the course.

Yet, what if, it's true that "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger". As Senator Barbara Boxer told her supporters after winning her bid for re-election, her opponents threw everything at her but the kitchen sink, with money from known and unknown sources. Yet she overcame it all.

So what if, in some strange way, this all works to the Democrats' advantage. After all, now the Republican controlled 112th Congress will have to "man-up" and put up or shut up.
And best of all, the Republicans won't have Nancy Pelosi to demonize in 2012.

What if, having to survive near death political death during campaign 2010, it just what the Democrats' needed to re-energize the base?

What if?

Good night.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Election Season Leads to Short Term Memory Loss

Bush, Hastert, Frist, DeLay,

Do these names sound familiar? They should. These are the last names of four of the most powerful political leaders in US government during the last decade. Yet, during this campaign season when discussions arise on the subjects of the national debt, the unemployment rate, the crisis in education, health care or the general state of politics in America, their names and their tenure are mysteriously forgotten. In fact, if you listen to some people tell it, all of the problems in this nation began in January of 2009.

Now I can understand that not every candidate can remember all of the amendments to the US Constitution. After all, most of the amendments were written a very long time ago. But you would lthink that candidates would possess a recall of the last ten years. So hopefully I can jog a few memories by asking that you keep the following names, titles and dates in mind. The reason will soon become very clear.
  • George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States, (January 2001 to January 2009).
  • John Dennis "Denny" Hastert , Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from 1987 to 2007 and served as Speaker of the House from 1999 to 2007.
  • Dr. William Harrison "Bill" Frist, Sr., served two terms as a Republican United States Senator representing Tennessee and later served as the Republican Majority Leader from 2003 until his retirement in 2007
  • Thomas Dale "Tom" DeLay, former member of the U.S. House of Representatives who represented Texas's 22nd congressional district from 1984 until 2006. He was Republican Party (GOP) House Majority Leader from 2003–2005, when his legal problems forced him to step down.

As you can see the dates are not so very long ago. Now we are in the heart of midterm election season 2010.

In his Oct. 21st column,
A National Election, Like It or Not, E.J. Dionne suggests that Democrats running for election need the "firewall of a simple, coherent national argument" in order combat the relentless talking points of their GOP and Tea Party opponents. He begins his column by writing:
"Kevin DeWine, the affable chairman of the Republican Party in Ohio, has a transparent board behind his desk at state headquarters where he scribbles reminders to himself. A permanent fixture is this list of words: “Spending, taxes, jobs, economy, deficit, debt.”

DeWine says he keeps the issues inventory as a reminder to all of his party’s candidates. “If they are not talking about these things,” he says, “they are off-message.”

And his candidates seem to listen. Republican Steve Stivers is in a rematch with Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, one of those endangered-but-still-gutsy Democrats who won’t back down from her support for the new health care law, financial reform or the stimulus. Among the first words out of Stivers’ mouth when I chatted with him over the phone were “the debt and jobs,” followed quickly by “unemployment” and “big spending.”

Thus the key question as the 2010 campaign enters its final days: Is there anything Democrats can do to shake the GOP off its relentlessly effective focus on a handful of themes? These seem to resonate with voters without actually solving any problems. So far, the Republicans have not even been forced to explain how their promises add up.

Between now and Nov. 2, will they get away with offering tax cuts and a reduction in the deficit without specifying what spending they would eliminate or trim?

In the meantime, Democrats have left loyalists such as Kilroy (Mary Jo Kilroy D-OH), who deserve better, without the support of a driving national message. There is no Democratic counterpart to Kevin DeWine’s handy list."

In response to Mr. Dionne's question, there is nothing that the Democrats can or should do to shake the GOP's focus off their themes. Quite the opposite. Democrats should drive those themes home by adding a good dose of reality. The Democrats' simple, coherent, national argument should be that it takes a while to clean up a mess that was a long time in the creation.

In fact, every Democrat should have the following scribbled on the white boards in their offices:

"Bush + Hastert + Frist + DeLay = spending, tax cuts for the wealthy, outsourced jobs, a failing economy, increased deficit, deregulation which lead to the subprime housing crisis, and debt, debt and more debt."

Here are the facts reported by the Economic Policy Institute in January 2005:

"A number of observers seem to suggest that the economy is doing very well and that people mistakenly believe that the economy is on the wrong track. The facts are that trends in almost every indicator of the aggregate 'macro' economy—GDP growth, investment, payroll employment, personal income—have been inferior in this business cycle and recovery when measured against earlier comparable periods (see The boom that wasn't).

Moreover, the wages of workers (inflation-adjusted) fell in 2005 from 2004 levels and have been falling for several years (see Economy up, wages down). For instance, the wage (inflation-adjusted) of the median worker fell 1.3% in 2005. Given declining wages it is not surprising that the typical (median) household income fell for five years in a row through 2004 (2005 income data are not yet available), poverty has risen, and families have gone deeper into debt. Furthermore, health care costs are taking a bigger bite out of family incomes (see What's wrong with the economy?). The bottom line is that people do not feel good about trends in the economy because the things that matter most to them—wages, jobs, family income—have not been making them better off.

The administration claims that its tax cuts have led to jobs and growth.

Yet, as we have shown, GDP, investment and other trends do not support this claim. A simpler way of showing the failure of the tax cuts to deliver jobs is to note that private sector jobs, excluding those generated by military or other government spending, have not increased since early 2001 (see Sluggish private job growth indicates failure of tax cuts). If private sector jobs have not been created in significant numbers, how can one say that the tax cuts have worked?

There has also been some bragging about recent job creation and the current 'low' unemployment rate. However, (see Why people are so dissatisfied with today's economy), unemployment remains higher than the 4.0% in 2000 and today's unemployment is artificially low because of a major withdrawal from the labor force. Job creation in this recovery lags behind every other recovery, and the only wage growth in this decade was based on the momentum from the 1990s recovery. That wage growth petered out as the recession took hold and hasn't resumed more than four years into the recovery.

Last, the administration claims that poor wage growth is the result of higher health care costs squeezing wages. Actually, what has squeezed wages is the huge boost in profits in recent years. Rising health care costs cannot explain any of the following: the falling real wages of low-wage workers (1.9% down in 2005) who generally do not have employer-provided health insurance (47% of the entire workforce does not); the lower compensation growth (wages and health and other benefits) in 2005 than in 2004; or the slowdown in wage growth in 2005 even though health costs also rose more slowly relative to earlier years (see The wage squeeze and higher health care costs).

These are the facts. Yet recent GOP and Tea Party campaign ads would have you believe that the world was simply rosey until the Democrats took over.

Joe Sestak, Democratic Candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania is running a campaign ad which sums things up
perfectly. Democrats were left with a mess to clean up.

Of course, the Democrats are not totally without blame for their role in creating today's economic landscape. And Tea Party candidates can argue that they are Washington outsiders and not responsible for the mess. But here is the fundamental difference this campaign season.
  • There is a set of candidates who refuse to accept any responsibility for creating problems and offer no real solutions for fixing them
  • There is another set of candidates who are willing to accept responsibility for past mistakes and/or offer real and measurable solutions.
This is not a time for the electorate to suffer from short term memory loss.

Ask yourself, "If six years of Bush, Hastert, Frist, & Delay lead to so many of our current economic woes, where will we all be after years O'Donnell, Angle, Paul & Bachmann.