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Just Say No

12:25 pm in War by dakine01

I have been struggling these last few days and weeks to come up with something to say about the possible US engagement/bombing of Syria. Usually when I write a blog post, it comes together quickly and the words just flow but this is different. Part of it is knowing that some people I respect seem to think bombing Syria is a good idea for some reason. Another part is a lot of people I do not respect are now sounding like the dirtiest of ef’fin’ anti-war hippies that ever came down the protest road.

A 500lb bomb ready to drop...

A 500lb bomb ready to drop…

I am a veteran even though I am and have been staunchly anti-war since my college days in the early ’70s. There is a small amount of irony in this as I attended a military high school in the late ’60s and at one point thought I wanted to be a career infantry officer. My draft lottery number was six and if I had not had an ROTC deferment, I would have been in the US Army during Vietnam. As it was, I avoided Vietnam but wound up enlisting in the Air Force and serving from 10 December 1976 to 9 September 1982.

We have the most technologically powerful military in the world. I almost said “the most powerful” military in general but a lot of the military has been broken through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet we have people in Washington today calling for the US to intervene militarily in Syria in a civil war.

The DeeCee “conventional wisdom” seems to be that the Syrian government gassed their own people so we have to bomb them. Yet, there are credible allegations that any gassing may have been done accidentally by the rebels using chemicals provided by the Saudis and mishandled by the rebels. Secretary of State John Kerry says there is evidence to support attacking the Syrian government but that it is secret. I would like to believe him, I really would. But the US government, headed by presidents from both major political parties has long forfeited its right to be believed and trusted. There has been way too much adventurism based on incomplete or cherry-picked evidence for the US Executive or Legislative branches to be trusted.

This lack of trust in the government goes much further back than just the ten years ago run up to invading Iraq based on lies and half truths. It goes back beyond the Gulf of Tonkin “incident.” It goes back beyond the recent admission by the CIA that they helped over throw an elected Iranian government in 1952, installing the Shah; eventually leading to his overthrow, the attack on the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the stand-off between the US and Iran that exists today. I am not a tin-foil wearing conspiracy theorist but these items I have mentioned are not conspiracies, they are facts, albeit often not admitted for decades.

I don’t know for sure which side is which in Syria. I have a strong sense of “a plague on all of your houses” may be the best response. I keep hearing that we will only support the “moderate” rebels, as if there can ever be such a beast. The saber-rattlers in Washington seem to think we need to drop bombs, even if some of them admit that it won’t do much good and won’t end well.

I seem to recollect learning in school that if you were a larger person, more powerful, you had an obligation to walk away when provoked. The theory being that because of the power, the individual had a responsibility to do all in their power to avoid conflict, not seek it out. It was only the bullies who sought out and provoked conflict. Nowadays, it seems the prevailing thoughts are that we must bomb other countries to “save face.” I seem to recall another set of lessons from my school days where the idea of having to “save face” confused many of us as it seemed to lead to such awful outcomes such as many of the wars we studied.

I would like to close with a question that has been floating in my mind these last few days. Do the dead really care how they were killed, by chemical weapons or by bombs? Or do they just recognize that either way, they are dead? It is too bad we can’t ask them, isn’t it?

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy by Richard Taylor
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The Concern Trolls Very Serious People Are Out

11:38 am in Government, Politics, Social Security by dakine01

Damn but just when I reach a point where I think things can’t get any stoopider inside the Beltway, we have a week like this one with the release of President Obama’s “budget” and once again the reality of stoopid is even worse than imagined.

Word leaked last Friday (April 5) that Chained CPI was going to be part of President Obama’s budget, prompting me to point out a simple truth, “A Bad Idea Is a Bad Idea, No Matter Who Proposes It.” Of course, starting Monday, all the usual suspects and even a few somewhat surprising suspects started pushing the idea as a wonderful thing, maybe even as good as sliced bread.

The first cheers I saw, came from the Wall Street Journal. It is difficult to detail all the errors in this piece but it starts with the idea that Social Security has any bearing on the Budget in the first place the goes on to “explain” why Chained CPI is just such a good idea:

The chain-weighted CPI registers slower inflation than the usual CPI because it allows for the substitution effect of price changes. When the cost of one item rises, consumers switch to a similar product that has not risen in price (or not increased as much). The substitution can occur intra-item (whole wheat bread instead of white bread) and inter-item (beer versus wine). The chained CPI takes the shifts into its calculation; the traditional CPI does not.

Of course, these types of discussions never point out how the folks who are already “substituting” are supposed to pay for price increases, just as it fails to recognize the basic facts of Social Security, including the fact that the average monthly benefit is $1,264 per month, which is barely more than a minimum wage job pays and we all know how richly you can live on minimum wage. (Yes, that’s snark.)

Scrap the Cap on Social Security

Scrap the Cap on Social Security

The Washington Post also is on the bandwagon and loving them some Chained CPI, once again pretending that Social Security is a part of the overall Federal Budget:

Most important, the president committed himself in writing to more than $100 billion in Social Security spending restraint over the next decade, along with $400 billion in health program reductions.

Ruth Marcus yesterday earned her WaPo0 money by being oh so very concerned with how the Republicans react to the President:

The conundrum of President Obama’s budget is that he has produced a “come let us reason together” proposal aimed at a Republican Party that has demonstrated no interest in being reasonable.

On Tuesday, Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities wrote a blog post comparing Paul Ryan’s “budget” with the President’s by stating that if Ryan’s budget is (self-described) as visionary, then the president’s is “strategic.” Bernstein quotes his colleague, Robert Greenstein (President of CBPP) who produced a statement in favor of President Obama’s budget, and specifically, in favor of Chained CPI.

I can’t begin to detail all the errors in Greenstein’s statement but will try to address the most egregious ones. First off:

As it stands, the package makes tough policy choices while largely adhering to the principle, as enunciated by the Bowles-Simpson commission, that deficit reduction should not increase poverty or inequality. Nevertheless, the budget’s substantial spending cuts, both in entitlements and discretionary programs, would have real-world consequences for millions of individuals and families.

While there was a Bowles-Simpson commission, there was nothing “enunciated” by the commission as there was no report since the recommendations could not achieve the necessary vote count to be accepted as official. And once again, we have someone who should know better (and most likely does) trying to conflate Social Security as part of the overall Federal Budget.

Then there’s:

Experts widely regard the chained CPI as a more accurate measure of inflation for the population as a whole. It may well be, however, less accurate for elderly individuals and many low-income people and, thus, understate the inflation that they face.

What experts are saying this? The best I have found is that the NY Times had an article claiming this that they would later correct as Dean Baker points out here.

Reuters presents it as The Grand Bargain while the Christian Science Monitor presents it as a great idea because liberals are angry so that must mean it is bi-partisany or something.

Tiger Beat On the Potomac (h/t Mr Pierce) of all people, actually gets to the nut in their lede:

President Barack Obama says he’ll protect the most vulnerable seniors from his “chained CPI” proposal – but he’s not going to protect everyone. Not even all seniors.

The White House, fighting back against liberal critics who say he’s giving away too much, released details Wednesday of the protections Obama would include to make sure older seniors and low-income people don’t get hurt by lower benefits.

There it is. As I said the other day and will say many more times I’m sure, IF YOU HAVE TO MAKE SPECIAL PROVISIONS TO ASSURE PEOPLE ARE NOT HURT, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.

Such a simple damn concept. But of course, with all the people doing the cheerleading, none of them are people who actually have to live on Social Security so for them, it is only an intellectual exercise, not reality.

And because I can:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy by Richard Taylor
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Today’s Anti-Social Security Propaganda

8:40 am in Economy, Government, Jobs, Media, Politics, Social Security, Unemployment by dakine01

FDR Quote on Social Security

FDR Quote on Social Security

Well, it looks like there is a new push on in the long term destruction of Social Security today. Now, I usually write about the plight of the long term unemployed and underemployed but I am getting close to Social Security eligibility so decided I would discuss the anti Social Security effort today.

I’ll start with Fact Free Fred Hiatt’s Concern Troll op-ed in today’s (Monday, January 28) Washington Post. It seems Mr Hiatt wants to offer his advice to President Obama on “entitlement reform” using the guise of how Democrats and Republicans view the past four years:

To achieve a fiscal compromise, Obama agreed in 2011 negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner to changes in Social Security that would be anathema to liberals, but Boehner walked away from the talks.
…snip…

Both histories are factually correct. That coherent accounts can be written either way ought to suggest to partisans that neither version is quite the slam-dunk they imagine.

At a minimum, it ought to propel the White House to continue acting in the national interest, whichever party that seems to serve. And for a long time, Obama has said the national interest requires both revenue increases and reform of entitlement programs.

Once again, Mr Hiatt and the Post are pushing the myth that Social Security is a part of the overall Federal Budget and needs to be “controlled” to “fix the deficit” when in fact, Social Security loans to the Genera Fund have been propping up the Federal Budget for decades, allowing for the tax cuts over the years.

While I expect this type of nonsense from the Washington Post, today’s Tampa Bay Times had a decidedly misleading headline (“US spends far more on seniors than on kids.”) How is it misleading?

In 2008, all government (local state, and federal) spent $26,255 on average for each person 65 or older, most of which is Social Security and Medicare.

The blurb on children spending:

Conversely, the federal government spends relatively little on children and Medicaid is the largest single item. State and local governments spend much more on children because they pay for schools. But overall, governments spend far more than double on seniors than they do on children 18 and younger.

Finally, at the very bottom of this post, the Times offers a couple of caveats to offset the misleading nature of their headline and opening:

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No Mr. President, We Need Jobs This Labor Day

10:34 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

So the President gave his Labor Day speech and he gave some ideas for what he thinks people need (or want to hear).

I want to highlight a couple of pieces of this "talk." President Obama goes down the standard list of administration "accomplishments" (though many of those "accomplishments" are subject to debate as to how truly effective they are in helping those in need today). But the following just struck me as wrong on a lot of levels.

That’s why we’re making it easier for workers to save for retirement, with new ways of saving their tax refunds and a simpler system for enrolling in retirement plans like 401(k)s. And we’re going to keep up the fight to protect Social Security for generations to come.

[rant]

Mr. President, I am 58 years old. I have been un- or under-employed for six years now. I do not need a "simpler system for enrolling in retirement plans like 401(k)s" nor do I need a "new way of saving my tax refund."

I NEED A FUCKING JOB THAT ALLOWS ME TO PAY MY BILLS.

I NEED A FUCKING JOB THAT WILL CARRY ME UNTIL I AM ELIGIBLE FOR SOCIAL SECURITY.

AND I NEED TO KNOW THAT SOCIAL SECURITY WILL BE AVAILABLE TO ME, MY SIBLINGS AND COUSINS AND FAMILY OF ALL AGES.

Right now, your Catfood Commission is looking for ways to cut Social Security, not "protect" it. And yes, raising the retirement age is a cut no matter how many ways you may attempt to spin it otherwise.

I’ve had to spend what retirement savings I had in 401(k)s these last few years in order to survive. What I need now is a job and I’ll take care of whatever savings I can from that going forward. But thanks to your bankster friends and catfood commissioners, all I get is words and platitudes, not actions.

So, Mr President, on this Labor Day Weekend of 2010, I hear your words but I’ve seen you parse your words before. At this time, your words do not match your deeds.

I can take care of the savings part on my own as long as you and the banksters don’t blow the economy up again.

But I do need the decent paying job to do this on my own and so far your words are doing nothing for that need for me and millions of other Americans who are un or underemployed today.

Address the issues at hand Mr President, not the issues you wish were at hand.

[/rant]

Cluelessness or Cognitive Dissonance?

10:37 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

My apologies for not writing any posts for a while but I do get tired of having to repeat myself so frequently.

Once again we see the cluelessness of the financial reporters in a couple of articles from the past few days. First up was an AP story (via MSNBC) which reported on an analysis from Fidelity Investments on people raiding their 401Ks due to "hardships." This came on top of the Weekly New Unemployment claims report showing (Reuters via CNBC):

New U.S. claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly climbed to a nine-month high last week, yet another setback to the frail economic recovery.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 500,000 in the week ended August 14, the highest since mid-November, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast claims slipping to 476,000 from the previously reported 484,000 the prior week, which was revised up to 488,000 in Thursday’s report.

But today’s (Sunday, August 22) NY Times really steps in it.

Renewed economic uncertainty is testing Americans’ generation-long love affair with the stock market.

Investors withdrew a staggering $33.12 billion from domestic stock market mutual funds in the first seven months of this year, according to the Investment Company Institute, the mutual fund industry trade group. Now many are choosing investments they deem safer, like bonds.

If that pace continues, more money will be pulled out of these mutual funds in 2010 than in any year since the 1980s, with the exception of 2008, when the global financial crisis peaked.

Small investors are “losing their appetite for risk,” a Credit Suisse analyst, Doug Cliggott, said in a report to investors on Friday.

Now, there is obviously some validity to this but buried three quarters of the way down in the article is a far more likely reason:

And the flight from stocks may also be driven by households that are no longer able to tap into home equity for cash and may simply need the money to pay for ordinary expenses.

Five hundred thousand new jobless claims the past week. The rolling four week average at 482.5K (highest since December ’09). Unemployment hovering between 9.5 and 10%. Underemployment added in basically doubling that.

I’m one of the lucky ones as I’ve mentioned before. I cashed out my 401K/SEP-IRA and such in order to survive a few years ago. Even with paying the early cash out penalties, I still got to spend more of it on myself than those folks who watched theirs swirl down the drain as the market crashed in 2008.

So as we watch the politicians come scrounging for votes this November, here’s a few things to think about.

1) President Obama’s "Deficit Commission" is looking at things such as raising the retirement age and use "Social Security’s in crisis" as a theme to avoid paying back Special US Treasury Bonds.

2) People like Mitch McConnell like to go on shows like Meet the Press and talk about how Social Security is in crisis even though those Special Treasury bonds are "pieces of paper sitting in a filing cabinet somewhere."

3) Raising the retirement age keeps older people (those still fortunate to be employed that is) in the work force longer

4) Keeping older people in the work force longer keeps younger people from getting the entry jobs in the work force.

The economic world in the United States and worldwide is not a vacuum. All the pieces of it intersect and interact. At some point the so-called political, business, and TradMed elites are going to have to admit to themselves that the world is not as they envisage it. People all over the country are scared and angry. They see bleak futures for themselves and their children and grandchildren. Empty platitudes and simplistic slogans are not going to mollify people any longer. We see it in the demonizing of the "others," be they brown people, gays, or whatever the minority group du jour.

And because I can:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy

Jobs and the Cat Food Commission

7:28 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

Have I mentioned recently that I NEED a FREAKIN’ JOB?

Well, I do. As do many millions more of my fellow citizens. I’m feeling a bit too lazy to go get the official figures but just last week, the official Unemployment rate was 9.9% (roughly 15 million). Add in another few million for the Underemployed and a few million more to cover the folks who have given up, "self-employed," and the other groups not counted and the figure is probably doubled or more.

So what do we get? Scaling back of the so-called Jobs Bill to appease the Deficit hawks.

Under fire from rank-and-file Democrats worried about the soaring national debt, congressional leaders reached a tentative agreement Wednesday to scale back a package that would have devoted nearly $200 billion to jobless benefits and other economic provisions while postponing a scheduled pay cut for doctors who see Medicare patients.

Nothing about scaling back on fighting two wars of choice. Nothing about raising taxes on Hedge Fund managers who pocket Billions and pay taxes at the Capital Gains rate. (Parenthetically, why is "unearned income" felt to be so much more valuable than "earned income" that it is taxed at less than half the rate of earned income? Doesn’t that fly directly against the traditional Horatio Alger effect that hard work is one of the primary positive attributes in the US and should be rewarded?)

David Dayen yesterday picks up on Harold Meyerson’s column from yesterday morning:

Of all the gaps between elite and mass opinion in America today, perhaps the greatest is this: The elites don’t really believe we’re still in recession. Or maybe, they just don’t care.

My bold. For years, I’ve described myself as a "cynically pessimistic optimist" because I want to believe that those we elect actually do have the best interests of all in mind. Now, I’m just becoming a cynical pessimist. (Yes, I’m one of those who bought into the myths as a child and losing those beliefs is difficult.)

The original stimulus package was used to save a lot of teaching jobs. The White House reported the figure of 650K jobs saved (not all of these being teaching jobs). But now we’re back to needing to pass another emergency bill to save 100K teaching jobs. Again. And this will be an on-going need since most states are still struggling to balance their budgets so we will be back here again next year.

So what does all this have to do with the President’s "Deficit Control Commission" (aka the Cat Food Commission)?

Glad you asked.

We are in the worst economic times since the Great Depression of the 1930s; a time when getting people back to work at meaningful jobs with living wages should be the highest priority of everyone in office right now. It seems to me, that one real good way to increase federal revenues is to get more people working, paying both federal, state taxes and FICA. Unfortunatley, it appears that it is mainly the Unions such as AFSCME and AFL-CIO that recognize this. Gerald McEntee, the President of AFSCME says it best:

“Right now, jobs matter more than deficits,” Mr. McEntee said at a news conference at the Capitol. “And even if the deficit is your top concern, imagine what will happen to it if hundreds of thousands more Americans lose their jobs.”

President Obama set the charter of the Deficit Commission that "everything has to be on the table." Including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and even the just passed subsidies for health care.

Just as the Clinton Administration provided cover to the Republicans in destroying the welfare safety net, so will the Obama Administration provide cover for the destruction of Social Security. Isn’t it a good thing that billionaire hedge fund operators are so concerned with Social Security that the only way they can see to save it is to destroy it? (/snark)

And because I can:

Cross Posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy

I Can’t Whine…

11:59 am in Financial Crisis, Government, Media by dakine01

Well, I CAN whine but it doesn’t do any good. The reality is, no matter how bad off things are for me right now (and I assure you they are bad) I know that there are many many folks in worse position than I.

A scary thought, that.

I have no job and few prospects. I’ve been looking for more than six years now. For most hiring managers, it doesn’t matter that I might well have the exact skills they are looking for; the fact of my being out of work for so long makes me damaged goods by definition. Throw in the admitted holes in my skill set and my age and things look bleak.

But even when I see things at the worst, I still know that there are many many many others in far worse shape. Single parents with children losing their homes. Folks with life threatening medical conditions and no insurance or way to pay for the treatment.

I do have friends and family that will help me keep a roof over my head. My feline companion is pretty good about sleeping on my lap and allowing me to dissipate stress with the head and belly rubs. My health is generally OK (though I could use some dental work and probably need a new prescription for my glasses).

The official unemployment rate is 9.9%. The low end calculations of the Un/Under-employment rate is over 17%. I spend a lot of time at Firedoglake and there are many other folks in similar or worse situations. It does make it tough to whine about a situation when there are so many others in the same boat or worse.

So what do we see? We see "news" articles like the one yesterday from the NY Times telling us that we’re all long term unemployed because we just don’t have the technological skills needed and all of our jobs are gone because technology has overtaken things. Just a little glossing over of things such as the outsourcing of IT jobs to India or China.

Yesterday, President Obama was met in Buffalo by the sight of a billboard

I need a freakin job.

Also yesterday was this article from MSNBC on how job creation does not seem to be that high of a priority with folks in Washington.

President Obama’s visit to a Buffalo factory this week, one of his occasional high-visibility dips into the jobs issue, is striking because jobs are so seldom front and center in the national discussion these days. The word "jobs" hasn’t appeared in the title of a weekly presidential address since last Dec. 5. Out of a dozen new laws in "featured legislation" on the White House homepage, there’s only one jobs bill (two if you count a "Cash for Clunkers" extension from last August).

Millions of people are unemployed. The long term unemployment rate (those out more than six months) is nearly 46% of the total unemployment figures. Millions more people are underemployed (part time or at jobs paying far less than the previous positions.) The news reports are telling us that these are the worst employment conditions in six decades which puts us back just after WWII.

We have skills. We want to work. We’re not looking for a free ride. We don’t want to burden our families and friends with our problems. We just want to earn a living. US citizens wanting the help of the US government.

So what do we get? British Petroleum, TransOcean, and Halliburton despoiling the Gulf of Mexico. Congressional "Immigration Reform" bills that will increase the number of "H1B" visas, even when there are IT folks in the US looking for work. Punitive immigration bills from the states that don’t punish the employers.

I do not like whining but some folks need to understand the reality of the millions of us out here looking for employment. As I said way back when in this diary from The Seminal, I Am Unemployed but Not a Statistic, I, like all my fellow un and underemployed folks, am a human being. We recognize our value to the country, even when the Masters of the Universe on Wall Street think it is not a good thing for us to have jobs.

We’re waiting Mr. President. We’re waiting patiently but even the most patient of us get tired of promises that do nothing for the millions who need the help.

Cross Posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy…