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Misdirection: Rampell Views Entitlements Through the Generational War Lens

9:28 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Some of the favored children of the economic elite who have a public presence, work hard in their writing and speaking to divert attention from inequality and oligarchy issues by raising the issue of competition between seniors and millennials for “scarce” Federal funds. That’s understandable. If millennials develop full consciousness of who, exactly, has been flushing their prospects for a decent life down the toilet, their anger and activism might bring down the system of wealth and economic and social privilege that benefits both their families and the favored themselves in the new America of oligarchy and plutocracy.

Here and here, I evaluated Abby Huntsman’s arguments for entitlement “reform,” and, of course, Pete Peterson’s son, Michael fights a continuing generational war against seniors in pushing the austerian line of the Peterson Foundation. Now comes Catherine Rampell, who, in a recent column, sets forth the position that seniors haven’t paid for their Social Security and Medicare because they “generally receive” more in benefits out of these programs than they pay into them. I’ll reply to all of the main points in Rampell’s argument, by quoting liberally and then replying to the points she makes in each quote. She says:
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Is the MSM Blackout on Inequality, Plutocracy, and Oligarchy Ending?

11:29 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

The first occurrence of this I’m aware of was Chuck Todd, reacting on his Daily Rundown show to the spectacle of Republican candidates traveling to Vegas to seek funding from Sheldon Adelson and his well-heeled friends..

All of a sudden MSNBC cable commentators are talking about plutocracy and oligarchy. Surprisingly, the first occurrence of this I’m aware of was Chuck Todd, reacting on his Daily Rundown show to the spectacle of Republican candidates traveling to Vegas to seek funding from Sheldon Adelson and his group of hugely wealthy Jewish Republican donors. Todd began to explore the implications of that event. He seemed exercised, and more than the slightest bit upset, about its meaning for Democracy and used the words plutocracy and oligarchy. Andrea Mitchell also discussed it later and she, too, registered apparent dismay, while using the “p” and “o” words.

Chris Hayes has been on leave during this period, so we haven’t heard from him about this. But Chris Matthews, the “oh so very slightly left-of-center insider” has been making very unfriendly noises about Adelson, the Kochs, and the Supremes, culminating today (April 3rd) with nasty references to plutocrats, oligarchs, and candidates, kissing oligarchs somewhere or other, on both his program and Al Sharpton’s.

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The Village Still Ignores the Most Important Point

8:48 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

In recent posts I reviewed two commentaries by Abby Huntsman on Social Security and other entitlements, also noting points made in other critiques of her narratives. Abby’s commentaries are here, and here, and my critiques are here and here. The most important point I emphasized in my two rebuttals is that there are no fiscal solvency or sustainability issues related to Social Security, or other parts of the safety net, but that the issues involve only the willingness of Congress to appropriate entitlement spending, and either the removal of current constraints on Treasury to spend appropriations such as the debt limit, or the willingness of the Executive Branch to use its current legislative authority either to a) generate sufficient seigniorage from platinum coins to spend such appropriations; or b) use a type of debt instrument, such as consols, which aren’t counted toward the debt limit.

The day before I posted my second reply to Abby Huntsman, Richard J. Eskow and WeActRadio posted this video clip from Eskow’s radio broadcast. In his critique, Richard shows that Abby Huntsman’s treatment of Social Security and entitlements is full of misleading information and hews closely to the narrative offered by Alan Simpson, Pete Peterson, and organizations supported by Peterson funding, and he calls for the MSNBC producers of “The Cycle” to issue statements correcting the facts, and to give Abby’s co-hosts on The Cycle a chance to reply to her about social security. Read the rest of this entry →

When You Really Look, Financial Quicksand Turns Into Oligarchical BS

9:09 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Why do you say that the Government will have a solvency problem?

Abby Huntsman’s first rant about entitlements soliciting generational warfare got a lot of pushback from defenders. I reviewed the main points made in defense of entitlements, and then added “the most important point of all” as well. Abby made a second try, however, this time singling out Michael Hiltzik’s reply to her to respond to and adding a few more points, while withdrawing a bit from her claim that life expectancy has changed very much for seniors since the New Deal period. Hiltzik took issue with that one too. Let’s review Huntsman’s reply to Hiltzik by analyzing the MSNBC transcript of her second rant against entitlements.

Abby Huntsman:

. . . the need for entitlement reform. there was a firestorm of reaction. an article in the ” l.a. times” went as far as to say i want to lead my generation into poverty. come on, man. this isn’t about me. it’s about the major problem.

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Envy or Honest Outrage?

10:01 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

(Updated)

Catherine Rampell offered a theory the other day, in a piece entitled: “Income inequality isn’t about the rich — it’s about the rest of us.” She says:

People don’t hate you because you’re beautiful. People hate you because they are getting uglier. . . .

Income Inequality
And then later, she says:

Yes, anti-inequality rhetoric has grown in recent years. But it’s not the growing wealth of the wealthy that Americans are angry about, at least not in isolation. It’s the growing wealth of the wealthy set against the stagnation or deterioration of living standards for everyone else. Polls show that Americans pretty much always want income to be distributed more equitably than it currently is, but they’re more willing to tolerate inequality if they are still plugging ahead. That is, they care less about Lloyd Blankfein’s gigantic bonus if they got even a tiny raise this year.

She proceeds to review polling data to show that this is so, and then advises the 0.1% that if they want to be left alone then “they should probably support policies that “promote the upward mobility of other Americans. . . “ such as Pell Grants, higher minimum wages, and early childhood education.

That’s not bad advice, of course, but I wonder what people will think of the 0.1 % when they understand more fully that their efforts to get ahead aren’t independent of the 0.1%’s efforts over the years to manipulate both the poitical and economic systems. And that further, the primary cause of the failure of poor people and the middle class to gain ground over the past 40 years is due to the deliberate efforts of the wealthy to structure both economics and politics in such a way that both nominal and real wealth would flow increasingly from the bottom to the top.

I suspect that the more people come to understand the increasing rigging of the game over a long period of time, the more likely it is that they will be bothered by increasing inequality all of the time, even when they themselves are living through a good year or two when they are making marginal gains. It is also more likely, that when they come to that understanding, the pitchforks and guillotines will come out, because people will blame the rich for the extremes of inequality and will replace any sense of fleeting envy they may have with a continuing sense of honest outrage at the Koch brothers, the Petersons, the Walmart family, and their compatriots, who have created the conditions that have made them periodically unemployed, ill-educated, financially insecure, subject to difficulties in getting medical care without going bankrupt, in staying in their homes, and to lack of opportunities and declining hopes for the future.

In short, I’m saying that:

People don’t hate you because you’re beautiful. People hate you because you are making yourself more beautiful AND are making them uglier.

So, even though the rich are periodically unpopular when the economy falls into bad times, it is nothing compared to what people are likely to direct at them, when they understand who is to blame for the plight of most of the population. That’s when the proverbial s__t will hit the fan.

My advice to the oligarchs is this. You aren’t involved in a low risk, predictable game, here. You’ve ruined people’s lives through your actions for many years now. Once the conditions for them are present, which will happen when people see your role in their plight clearly, mass movements can emerge at any time, and they can easily get out of control, as many seemingly unassailable oligarchs have found out in the past.

The wise thing to do is to give way to the inevitable thrust toward greater economic, social, and political democracy. Play the handmaiden to that transition, because then you may be able to keep most of your ill-gotten gains and have a place of honor besides.

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

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The Most Important Point of All Was Ignored

8:43 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

On Abby Hunstman’s right wing Petersonian “Fix the Debt” rant

MSNBC’s right wing representative on The Cycle, Abby Huntsman, got a lot of pushback from Social Security defenders after her rant last week. They made points similar to the following in countering Huntsman:

– SS is not bankrupt now, it has $2.6 Trillion in Treasury IOUs in the SS “trust fund” accumulated because Treasury has used FICA collections to “pay for” other Federal spending since 1983, when the Government began to collect more from workers and employers than was paid out to beneficiaries. The accumulated IOUs, projected interest on them, and future FICA collections are projected as being enough to “cover” 100% of SS benefits until 2033, and then 75% of benefits thereafter. 100% of benefits could be “covered” from 2033 on, if the payroll tax cap on Social Security were to be removed.

– Huntsman’s claim that seniors have longer life expectancies than when SS first was enacted is greatly exaggerated, because life expectancies at birth have improved due to improvements in infant mortality rates. But they haven’t improved nearly as much at age 65 and older, and apart from that, the improvement that exists after age 65 is reached is primarily concentrated among certain social groups, and that the poorest and most needy groups in our population, who need SS the most, have either seen little improvement in life expectancy, or even a decline in life expectancy in recent years.

– Savings of seniors now average very little more than is needed for them to cover Medical expenses due to aging and there is precious little left over for living expenses beyond what SS spending will cover.

– Huntsman is conflating the SS “Trust Fund” running out of money in 2033, with SS running out of money. The first is happening as it was always planned to happen when the Reagan Administration and Congress agreed to raise FICA payments to almost double the amount previously paid, for the boomer generation to cover its retirement benefits; but the second depends on what Congress will do in the future to close the gap between current projected FICA revenues and projected benefits.

These two are different because the Government can do various things to close that gap. Huntsman mentions only cutting benefits or moving the SS retirement age to either 70 or even 75, so that enough will be left in the fund to close the revenue/benefits gap. But there are other ways of doing this easily; most notably removing the payroll tax cap so that the well-off, or those who are prospering, will pay the same share of their income into Social Security as most of the rest of us, and/or there can also be gradual small increases in the employee and employer contributions that will close the projected gaps indefinitely.Other points of less importance, and moral arguments, which from my point of view are among the most important, about the right to a decent secure retirement for the elderly are made, as well.

But, there is one point, the most important one of all, which is not made in all these “progressive” push back arguments against Abby Hunstman’s right wing Petersonian “Fix the Debt” rant. That is the point that there is no entitlement crisis and no emergency, and neither an increase in payroll taxes, nor robbing from “future generations” is necessary to close the projected gap after 2033 because Congress can pass legislation providing for annual automatic funding of expected costs for all SS and Medicare trust funds.

That’s done now for Supplementary Medical Insurance (Medicare Part B), and Prescription Drug Benefits (Medicare Part D), and the same practice using similar legislative language can be extended to the SS Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and Disability Insurance (DI) trust funds. End of story. Once that is done, no gaps between SS revenue and benefits can be projected by institutions, such as CBO, under current law.

You may doubt this solution by pointing out that legislation like this just pushes off Huntsman’s Social Security solvency problem to the Treasury at large, rather than its being SS’s problem, but it doesn’t solve the real insolvency problem. Only it does, because the Government as a whole has no fiscal solvency problem, since it can always use its authority to create the reserves in the Treasury spending accounts to pay all its bills including all those exceeding its revenues.

The customary way of creating such reserves is to sell Treasury debt instruments, destroying reserves in the private sector, and getting the Fed to place an equal amount of reserves in its accounts. But, there is another way it can be done under current law, and still other ways open to Congress, if they want to pay all the SS benefits they would have guaranteed by the proposed change in the law that would solve this faux problem.

The way any gap appropriated by Congress can be closed under current law, is to use Platinum Coin Seigniorage (PCS) to do it. As many of my readers know, I’ve explained how this would work in my e-book. But, the basic idea is that coin seigniorage can be used by the Treasury to require the Fed to use its reserve creation authority to place reserves in Treasury accounts, without Treasury engaging in any additional taxing or borrowing.

So, this capability coupled with Congress providing for annual automatic funding would end the Huntsman, Peterson, Bowles, Simpson, Ryan, and Obama revenue gap problems with Social Security and all other entitlements, for that matter, without these poor folks having to worry about taxing the rich, like them. And, if Congress doesn’t like that alternative way of placing reserves in Treasury’s accounts so it can spend Congressional appropriations, then it can always just go ahead and place the Fed within the Treasury Department, giving the Secretary the direct authority to order the Fed to fill its accounts with enough reserves to cover any revenue shortfalls, without either raising taxes or issuing more debt instruments.

So, these are the easy ways to end the faux crisis which won’t befall us anyway until 2033. Why won’t the “progressives” pushing back against Abby Huntsman mention solutions like these? Why do they, instead, always propose solutions that will raise taxes on the wealthy? Are they afraid to let the people know that the Government isn’t like a household and doesn’t have the same financial problems they have, just written large? Are they so insistent on solutions that will tax higher income and wealthy people, because they must kill the two birds of full employment and greater equality through taxing with a single stone?

Moving toward greater economic equality is a focus we ought to prioritize very highly, but getting that done is a separate issue from defeating deficit terrorism by taking the deficit reduction and faux entitlement crises off the table so full resources can be devoted to strengthening the safety net and legislating programs essential for getting millions of Americans on their feet again and contemplating the future with hope. That, in itself, will lessen inequality.

And after that is done, we can then turn our attention to programs primarily focused on creating greater economic equality. But until it is done, let us focus on stopping the bleeding of working and middle class Americans and restoring them to the economic health and sense of economic opportunity, that we’ve always thought was so important to American life.

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

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An Open Letter to Don Beyer, VA – 8th Candidate for Congress

8:08 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

(Author’s note: My apologies: this one’s about 6 times longer than the ideal 1000 word post. I just didn’t feel right about breaking it up into parts, however, because that lose the continuity. So, please bear with it. I think a lot of candiates for Congress need to get these questions from angry constituents.)

My Congressman, Jim Moran, is retiring this year and his seat is up for grabs in the VA – 8th Congressional District. This is a solidly blue district made even more solid by the Republican gerrymander following their win in the disastrous elections (for poor people, for women, for the middle class, and for minorities) of 2010 in Virginia. So, the question is, which of the eleven candidates who are running in the primary will win it, and become the heavy favorite to win the Congressional election in November.

The heavy primary favorite is Don Beyer, a noted auto dealer in Northern Virginia, who has served as Lieutenant Governor twice, and also as Ambassador to Switzerland. My impression of Ambassador Beyer has been favorable. I have a friend who bought cars from him over many years and who had his Volvos serviced at his dealership all the while, and he had nothing but good things to say about the integrity of the service he received.

That said, however, and personal characteristics aside, I’d like Beyer to clarify his positions on the issues. So, I’m addressing this open letter to him. Read the rest of this entry →

Still Not Over: CPC Update

8:11 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) recently issued its “Better Off Budget” document as an alternative to the White House/OMB document, and the coming House budget document, a Republican/conservative alternative. The “Better Off Budget” has received enthusiastic evaluations from writers affiliated with the DC progressive community. Richard Eskow’s recent treatment is typical and provides other reviews that are laudatory. These “progressives” clearly see the CPC budget as anything but an austerity budget. But is it, or is it not? Read the rest of this entry →

Executive Orders: A Fair Ranking of Presidents from Least Active to Most Active

8:26 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Lately, Republicans have been riding the hobby horse of charging the President with being a dictator. Well clearly he is not that, or he would have had them imprisoned, or worse, a long time ago. On the other hand, the President’s hands are far from clean when it comes to activities like illegal surveillance of Americans, drone strikes without due process, collusion of the Government with local authorities to repress Occupy exercising its rights of free speech and assembly, and failure to enforce the law with reference to torture of prisoners, and control frauds in the FIRE sector. Have I covered everything, or did I forget something?

Regardless, everything I’ve covered are anti-democracy activities that Republicans, apparently, have no problem with. On the other hand they’re mightily concerned about the what they think is the President’s “extremism” in increasingly relying on Executive Orders to get some of his objectives accomplished. Their faux outrage over this, centers around the claim that the President has issued an unusual amount of Executive Orders during his time in the Presidency.

This claim has been addressed by John Conyers and his staff using data made available by The American Presidency Project. Conyers’s graphic is slick and shows the President as issuing the second least number of Executive Orders out of the last 11 Presidents beginning with President Eisenhower. That rank of number 2 out of 11 certainly gives the lie to the Republican claim that the President relies on Executive Orders more frequently than most or all of his predecessors. But it still fails to provide a true historical perspective on where he fits among most presidents on relative activism as measured by the Executive Order indicator, and in particular fails to illustrate how relatively few Executive Orders have been issued by this president compared to others since the beginning of what might be called the modern period of the activist presidency.

In order to provide a better picture of that comparison, I went back to the American Presidency Project data and looked at the 23 presidents beginning with Chester A. Arthur and ending with Barack H. Obama. Here’s the Table I compiled to provide that more complete picture.

Ranking of 23 Presidents on Mean Number of Executive Orders Per Year Issued by Each of Them Since Chester A. Arthur

Ranking of Presidents on Mean Number of Executive Orders Per year

President Obama is ranked number 3 out of 23 on least number of Executive Orders issued per year in the Table. Only Chester A. Arthur and Grover Cleveland are ahead of him on least amount of Executive Order activity, and not by much either. Arthur issued 27.4 EOs per year and Cleveland, 31.6, to Obama’s 32.3.

To see just how low that figure is in context, number 23 on that list is Franklin Delano Roosevelt at 291.1 EOs per year. Nor is FDR that much of an out an outlier. For example, Herbert Hoover ranks number 22 with 242 per year, and other low ranking Presidents over 200 per year include Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, and Calvin Coolidge, of whom upon hearing that Coolidge died, the famous columnist and wit of the time Dorothy Parker remarked: “How can they tell?”

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An Even Better Way to Get Money Out of Politics

1:13 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

We can get out from under Citizens United and corporate control of our elections.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted on a simple solution to the problem of getting money out of politics. I said then:

If the election you’re voting in is virtually a two candidate contest, then vote for the candidate, who, in combination with her/his supporters spends the least amount of money. In a virtual multi-candidate contest, do the same thing.
That’s the proposal, in its simplest form. Its objective is to reverse the current race to the bottom in buying elections by ensuring that there would be a powerful incentive to start a race to the top to raise and spend as little money as possible in campaigns. That incentive is that if you spend too much you lose, pure and simple.
The other rationale for the rule is that the person who raises and spends the least amount of money for a campaign, will generally be the person who is “less bought” by wealthy people, financial interests, and large corporations. Eventually, if the rule took hold it would no longer be said of the Congress that “the banks own the place.”

I cross-post at a number of sites, and at Daily Kos I received a comment from “Musial,” which being of a certain age, engaged me immediately. The comment advised me to read the “money outta politics” solution, which “Musial” felt was superior to my own. It says:

Citizens commit to one-issue voting: the MOP bill. If a candidate pledges, in writing, to vote for MOP, a voter will deliberately put aside all the other political, economic, and social issues for that one election. No matter where the candidate stands on ANY other issue, if he/she supports MOP, you vote for; if not, against. Incumbents who refuse to endorse the MOP legislation are turned out of office. This can be tough for many people. An incumbent may be good on many issues. An opposing candidate may stand for things you despise. But if that candidate is the only one who pledges to support MOP, or the incumbent will not, he/she will get your vote.

Why? Because until we get money out of politics, ALL other issues will continue to be corrupted by big money campaign contributions.

I think this is good, but it doesn’t prevent people who get big money from the Kochs or other sources supported by other billionaires and big corporations from saying that they support the “money outta politics” solution and then reneging when they’re elected. The probability of candidates doing that increases to the degree they are funded by big money contributors, because many of the newly elected that if they have both the advantages of big money in future elections, then they will win. So, I propose adding my simple solution to the effects of big money to this one and voting for the candidate with the least money who pledges to enact the “money outta politics” solution.

The money outta politics solution, apart from the idea of using petitions and single issue voting, proposes legislation whose core is for Congress to use its Constitutional authority to strip jurisdiction for certain legal challenges from the US Supreme Court. In addition, the proposed legislation called “The Doris “Granny D” Haddock Act,” also contains many other provisions controlling the role of money in politics, and making elections more fair, along with a retroactive application section that repeals Supreme Court decisions in Buckley v. Valeo, 424, US. 1 (1976), and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 50 (January 21, 2010), as well as others.

That provision would restore all laws invalidated by these decisions, except ones in conflict with other provisions of the proposed legislation. I’ll leave it to my readers to follow the link I’ve provided and read the full legislative proposal. But let me emphasize strongly that I think it is the best proposal for getting money out I’ve seen, and a lot more feasible than the constitutional amendment proposals circulating right now, because they require so many hurdles to clear, so much time to get done, and will use language both easy to loophole and subject to Supreme Court misinterpretation. This combined solution, in contrast, requires only a Congress committed to legislate it by simple majority and that, in turn, only requires applying the two simple rules stated initially.

In short, we can get out from under Citizens United and corporate control of our elections. We just have to win one time and change the landscape, by constraining this runaway anti-democratic Supreme Court. We can do that, and save our democracy can’t we?

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

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