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Restore One Dollar In Meals-On-Wheels Funding and Save Fifty Dollars in Medical Costs.

By: TomThumb Wednesday June 19, 2013 8:38 pm

Today’s hearing on “Reducing Senior Poverty & Hunger: The Role of the Older Americans Act,” was brief but to the point: Restore the Sequester Cuts to the programs which serve the older Americans and add 12% to the funding for Meals on Wheels.

4 million Seniors live on less that 11,000 dollars a year. Vulnerable seniors have been successfully served by the Older Americans Act, which was created during the Johnson administration.  This year, meals programs have been cut by 51 million dollars through September, 2013.  In addition to giving nutrition, these programs provide social contact through meal delivery and through socialization. The experts report that when Seniors become malnourished their medical costs increase and they end up in the hospital. The point of the hearing was to describe the rationale for supporting the reauthorization of the Act.

You can watch the experts testify here at this LINK.

Testifying were:

  • Nancy J. Altman , Co-Director of Social Security Works and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Pension Rights Center, Washington, D.C.
  • Ellie Hollander , President and Chief Executive Officer of the Meals On Wheels Association of America, Alexandria, VA
  • Howard Bedlin , Vice President, Public Policy and Advocacy at the National Council on Aging, Washington, D.C.
  • Paul Downey President & Chief Executive Officer of Senior Community Centers, and President of the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs, San Diego, CA

Senator Sanders of Vermont introduced the experts and moderated the session.

Ellie Hollander, the primary witness for Meals-On-Wheels,  gave examples of the personal impact of the program and described the negative impact of cuts. By funding the program without keeping it current with inflation, and by cutting the funding due to Sequestration, funding has fallen by 18% since 1992. Even a fully-funded program would not meet the demand of seniors in need.

Nancy J. Altman, of Social Security Works,  described the context of poverty in which these programs work their magic. The majority of seniors are vulnerable and not well-off. One out of two Americans, 65 or older, are already unable to meet needs for basics or are one crisis away from poverty. Over 40% of seniors over 65 reported difficulties with one activity required for independent living. Altman recommended that the Older Americans Act be reauthorized.

Senator Warren testified that for every one dollar cut from meals programs, government will pay 50 dollars for medical care due to illness, falls, broken bones.

Howard Bedlin described other programs within the Older Americans Act which help seniors. There are important service programs incorporated in this Act.

Paul Downey testified about the OAA reauthorization and its impact on meals for seniors. Most of the seniors served in his area live at or below the poverty level. They are on “the cusp of homelessness”. The cuts are taking meals away from those who need them.

If you are 75 years old and have several impediments to managing activities of daily living, these programs are literally life-lines. These programs are crucial to maintaining personal independence and allow seniors to stay out of nursing homes when they would rather live in their own homes. These programs are effective and essential to feeding our hungry American seniors.

To get the whole story  I recommend that you watch the video of the meeting at the link.


Censoring Collateral Murder Will Not Stop the Truth

By: TomThumb Thursday May 30, 2013 10:14 am

Yesterday, in an interview with Democracy Now, Julian Assange described how the Collateral Murder video had been redacted from his presentation at Oxford-Union. From the transcript:

JULIAN ASSANGE: Right now I am inside the embassy, as I have been for 11 months. Before that, I was under house arrest for approximately 590 days, and before that, I was in solitary confinement for 10 days. The image that you see behind you is a frame from “Collateral Murder,” a famous release by WikiLeaks, which displays the murder of two Reuters staff and a number of others in Baghdad in 2007, which was then subsequently covered up by the U.S. military. Bradley Manning has been charged with supplying that video to us and has himself said that he did so. You will see a cannon shell through the front of the van and some dead bodies lying around. One of them is Namir Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh, the two Reuters staff. This video we had as a background frame for a talk that I did at Oxford, similar to the way I’m conducting this one now, beaming into the Oxford Union. And the Oxford Union redacted the whole background by hand. Even the little monitors that were in the audience, that the audience could see, footage of those monitors they redacted by hand and put that out on the Internet. You can google for “Assange censored Oxford.” So, partly to pay tribute to the people who died in this incident, but also to Bradley Manning, and to take a stand against the censorship of Oxford, we have presented this background. (My bold.)

Clearly the content of the Collateral Murder video is so important that it must be hidden in order to keep the focus on personalities instead of on the revelations of war crimes. TomThumb will transcribe 4 paintings to recapitulate major points about the violations of Humanitarian Law in the video here:

On April 6th 2010 Wikileaks published a video of a massacre of civilians which occurred in New Baghdad, Iraq,  on July 12th, 2007. Two Reuters photographers were killed and the incident was investigated at the request of Reuters and the military dismissed any irregularities, declaring the killing to have been lawful.

As a painter of images of war, four screenshots stood out for me. The first two involve the civilians walking along innocuously unsuspecting while they are seen in the crosshairs of the helicopter gunner video. Contrary to the Army report, these civilians were not shooting at anyone and they were aware of the helicopter’s presence. The dialogue of the pilots is revealing: they suspected these men of being enemies because they were military aged males.


In the second screenshot, the civilians are simply gunned down in a haze of dust and  30MM helicopter bullets. There was so much violence that even the gunner’s video could not display the true violence of their murders:


The numbers on the screen, the white crosshairs and the telemetry box at the bottom of each frame are depersonalizing. The pilots’ comments are sadistically charged as if the human beings they had just killed were beneath contempt. As a Vietnam era person, I can recall how civilians were mowwed down by helicopters in free fire zone mentality to increase ‘daily body counts’ of supposed enemies. But mostly, as I painted I thought how the American empire is the most bloodthirsty enterprise on the planet and how violence is as American as ‘Apple Pie”.

A black van stops and a Good Samaritan gets out to help a wounded man: The Apache helicopter asks for permission to shoot the van saying that they have come to retrieve the wounded and weapons. “Come on!  Let us shoot!” whines the gunner.


 There are two children in the van who are wounded when the soldiers shoot everyone down from the helicopter. International Humanitarian Law states that when an enemy is incapacitated, soldiers are not allowed to kill them and are not allowed to kill Good Samaritans who come to assist the wounded.


…The world does not stop turning because of Americans’ willful ignorance about the wars.  The world does not look away from the murderous violence America inflicts upon weaker countries it attacks. These murders of innocents all ‘count’ and they ‘add up’ and they are permanent holds and liens against any American claims to moral adequacy.

In terms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention rulings, there were at least three violations of law in this incident. It is the opinion of Marjorie Cohn, an expert on International Law, that the attack on civilians was the first violation of International law. The second was to kill the wounded and the Good Samaritan, and the  third was the desecration of a dead body by running over it with a tank. For more specific information regarding Cohn’s legal opinion, please read her work here:

This work was originally posted in its complete form as “The Collateral Murder video (from Wikileaks) and free-fire zones


Senator Sanders Demands That The Rich Pay Their Fair Share Of Social Security.

By: TomThumb Thursday May 9, 2013 8:10 am

I. Sanders Says Tax The Rich At Yesterday’s Social Security Summit.

The Social Security fight has taken a new turn. Senator Sanders is demanding that the rich and corporations pay their fair share in taxes, both to close the small gap for Social Security and to address the government’s need for revenue. Yesterday, at the Social Security Summit in Washington, D.C., Senator Sanders led the coalition opposed to the chained cpi and other safety net cuts, and demanded that politicians oppose President Obama’s budget cuts to Social Security. His summit statement pdf is here.

In what appeared to be a Scrap The Cap push forward, Sanders did not mention starting the FICA cap scrap at 250K of income, but instead appeared to be calling for the FICA cap to be done away with altogether. This is a smack down for Obama who promised no tax increases for the middle class and a reversal of Sanders earlier support for a FICA cap change which only kicked in above 250K in wages.

The new turn appears to be the call for the rich and for corporations to pay their fair share of FICA and of income taxes. At this point, FICA taxes are not collected (capped) when a person’s income exceeds 113K. Scrapping the Cap would solve Social Security’s funding problems forever. 

II. Fix The Debt blames Old People Again. This time it is for High Youth Unemployment.

Fix The Debt, an organization devoted to tax cuts for corporations and to cuts to social program spending, released a call yesterday for cuts to social spending and blamed government spending for the high unemployment among young people. This was just a new twist to pour gasoline on the fire of generational tensions between young and old.

If Fix The Debt, who are rich as Midas, were serious about helping unemployed youth, they would call for a Universal Jobs Program, created by government and purposed to do all of the jobs we ask government to do. The Works Progress Administration created millions of jobs under President Roosevelt’s direction during the Great Depression. We could do this again. But Fix The Debt would rather screw the youth than employ them.

III. The Cutters Hate Young People As Much As They Hate Old People.

If Fix The Debt, Bowles-Simpson, Peter Peterson have their way, young people stand to lose Social Security benefits under the current proposals to raise the retirement age, to reduce benefits through indexing, and through the cpi. The CBPP chart below shows how little youth would receive when they retire at 2050:

Snapshot 2012-10-22 10-12-17

There’s No Bump Up From The Chained CPI If You Are Already Dead

By: TomThumb Wednesday April 24, 2013 8:29 am

In my last post about the chained CPI an expert described how 9.4 million retired low-income workers will not be protected from the corrosive slow-motion cuts of the chained CPI. Half of those affected retired workers will receive a Social Security benefit of less than 1275.03 per month. (The chained cpi will not affect low income retirees on SSI, who will not be tapped twice for being old and poor.) But 9.4 million low-income retirees will get zapped by the chained cpi. And so will those who are ‘unprotected.’

 I. There’s no bump-up payment for you if you are dead

The Obama surrogates’ answer is somewhere between,  the ‘cuts are not so bad,’  to ‘look we protect everyone with a birthday bump at 76′.  The Bump does not protect the 28% of retired workers* whose benefits are cut through the chained cpi and who do not live long enough to collect a small, insignificant Bump payment at age 76.  Even those who survive beyond age 76 will not regain what they have lost through the cumulative effects of the chained cpi. Low income people don’t live as long as their affluent peers. A person cannot enjoy a Bump Up payment at age 76, if they do not live long enough to cash the check. Thanks to Dean Baker for this catch. Here is a part of his statement on this,

“Just to drive home this point, I checked our friendly mortality tables this morning []

and found that we can expect more than 28 percent of the people who hit age 62 to be dead before they reach age 76, the first year

when the bump up can alleviate any of the cuts. The percentage of people who are dead before 76 will be higher for men than

women and much higher for poor people and especially African Americans. For these people the bump up does them no good whatsoever.”

In total, the average retired worker will lose 2% of their income due to the Social Security cuts. Compare that to the fraction of a per cent in income which the top earners will have to pay in taxes due to the fiscal cliff changes in revenue for those earning of 500,000 dollars a year.

The more this continues to percolate, the more I am convinced that the chained cpi is just another stealthy tax for being old and poor. The elites are harvesting our Social Security fund to use our money for their own greedy purposes. If it was not a cut they would not be talking about having to “protect the vulnerable” to sell it to the politicians. No matter how many experts like Orszag and Sperling they throw at it, the chained cpi still stinks. No matter how much the deficit drama queens like Bowles and Simpson wail about the debt, the public knows that Social Security does not contribute to the Federal deficit. This is theft of earnings and earned benefits, pure and simple.

*citing Dean Baker’s description of life expectancy figures.

II. My bias is that I am fighting for all who would be hurt

The situation is one where those who are going to receive almost nothing in benefits (200-300 dollars a month) and those who are going to get almost something in benefits (1000 to 1200 a month) are going to be hurt by these cuts.  Our low-income earners, shorter-lived minorites, women, the disadvantaged, the long-term older-unemployed and our unlucky ones. However, the truth is that every group will have its ox gored by the chained cpi. Why? First, it is a cut. Second, it opens the door to more cuts, to means testing healthcare and to other devious cuts to the social insurance programs. No one escapes unharmed. The CBPP chart below shows three benefit types (low,average, & high wage earners): note that all of the lines point downward until age 76. The chart only accounts for one year’s worth of benefits.

(Note how using the measure of only one year’s benefits makes the amount cut appear less significant.) To figure out the loss in benefits over the cost of a long retirement, I refer you to the Director of Social Security Works and his estimate. About 15K due to the chained cpi.


Protecting The Vulnerable From the Chained CPI.

By: TomThumb Friday April 19, 2013 11:49 am

I. 9.4 million low-income Social Security recipients will not be protected from the chained cpi.

There is probably a special level in Hell for Liberal Enablers who offer false reassurance that ‘vulnerable groups’ will be protected from the benefit-eroding consequences of the chained cpi. The idea that the most vulnerable elderly, the disabled and Vets must receive shielding and protection from the cutting effects of the chained cpi, proves that it is destructive and not a ‘mere technical adjustment’.

9.4 million low-income Social Security recipients won’t be protected from the chained cpi and will continue to live on reduced benefits, below or near the Federal poverty line.  They did not qualify to be called a ‘vulnerable group’. Here’s Nancy Altman’s testimony from April 18th on this issue:

“In addition, the benefit cut in the form of the chained CPI creates a substantial burden on the poorest in

society. For that reason, the Administration budget proposes to exempt means-tested programs from the

switch to the chained CPI, but this still leaves many poor and near poor unprotected. The Supplemental

Security Income program (“SSI”) is a program for the aged, blind, and disabled who have extremely

limited income and assets. If an individual receives Social Security, because he or she worked a

sufficient number of quarters to qualify, the SSI benefit is reduced dollar for dollar after disregarding the

first $20. There are 2.8 million people who receive income from both Social Security and SSI – the socalled

dual eligibles – so part of their income will still be subject to the benefit cut. Moreover, because

the SSI income and asset limits are so meager, there are 9.4 million poor or near poor who receive only

Social Security, and so would be subject to the cut imposed by the chained CPI.4″—N. Altman, Co-Director of Social Security Works.

I wrote to the actuaries at Social Security and asked what the median benefit is for retired workers. The median is the halfway point under which 50% of all retired workers’ benefits lie. Above the median is where the other 50% of the beneficiaries lie and receive higher benefits.

Snapshot Soc Sec stats

They kindly wrote back and sent me a chart. The median monthly benefit is $1275.03.   The average benefit is 1265.00 per month, meaning an average yearly benefit of around 15,180. That is not a lot of money to live on, especially if your benefit was one of the low monthly benefit amounts.

I asked how the income groups clump together among Social Security beneficiaries and if there is a scatter graph of all beneficiaries. What I found was a breakdown of beneficiaries by benefit amounts. This chart is for December, 2012.  I cannot reproduce the graph here, but I can pull out some generalities for all ages and retired workers of both sexes:

Retired workers receiving 100-199 per month numbered, 39,889. 200-299 a month, 317,943,; 300-399 a month, 640,520; 400-499 a month, 712,898; 500-599 a month, 1,208,363; 600-699 a month, 1,919,175; 700-799 a month, 2,389,353; 800-899 a month, 2,439,243; 900-999 a month, 2,240,767; 1000-1099 a month, 2,191,373; 1100-1199 a month, 2,287,391; and finally reaching the median benefit zone, 1200-1299 a month, 2,419,385………

Low income retirees get hammered.

Let’s pretend that nine million of those below the median are exempted by virtue of being in a protected group a la Sperling-Obama. That leaves around nine million unprotected and living between almost nothing at 100 to 199 per month and almost something at 1200 to 1299 per month.

The problem I see is that many people who are receiving benefits below the median are vulnerable to impoverishment through the chained cpi since their benefit level is very low to begin with.

Women receive significantly lower benefit amounts.

Another area of concern is the difference between the sexes on two different charts. The largest number of female beneficiaries (you can see this by looking at the millions category) starts in the lower benefits ranges, when compared to the men’s chart. Men’s number jump to millions of beneficiaries in the monthly benefit of 1200-1299. Women’s numbers jump to the millions in the 600-699 monthly benefit. Imagine getting cut by the chained cpi when your benefit started at 600-699 d0llars a month. Slave wages. Slave benefits. The AARP has a nice post about the detrimental impact of the chained cpi on women.

The chart reflects economic classes in our society.

The income/benefits of the lower-middle and middle class clump together at between 500-2100 a month, above a low-benefit  group of lower beneficiaries. Fewer people receive the top benefit amounts as they taper from 2100 to 2900 or more. A good scatter graph would illustrate the clumping of different groups within the larger group of  36.7 million retired worker beneficiaries.

II.  The Social Security portion of Retirement incomes is Crucial To The Three Lowest  Income Quintiles.

In a related article about the importance of Social Security in the New York Times, I found a National Academy of Social Insurance chart of Retirement Incomes  by Income Quintiles: (The related article is titled: Budget Negotiating Chip Has Big Downside For Old and Poor.)

Nasi chart-SS% of each income quintile

Updated: The three lowest quintiles demonstrate the large portion of personal income represented by retirement income from Social Security benefits. Any cuts to benefits appear to harm these first three groups more than the top two income quintiles. The chart includes people who are still working (see the grey area for Earnings) and does not describe how many individuals are in each quintile. An expert has written that if earnings are omitted, dependence upon Social Security is high even amongst high income quintiles. Thank you for that correction. Again, a scatter graph of benefit amounts is needed to answer the question of where the beneficiaries are clumped together.

Please note the slideshow of data by techgeek15 linked in his/her comment. The difference between male and female benefits’ patterns is stunning.



Pitting the Old Against the Young: A “Class War” Act

By: TomThumb Thursday April 18, 2013 8:02 am

Pitting The Old Against The Young

Recent efforts by “class war” opinion-shapers Brownstein and Ezra Klein, to pit the generations against each other,— give the impression that the elderly are the beneficiary of Federal governmental largesse to the detriment of children. Further study shows that local governments and State governments provide nine times more benefits for children than to the ‘olds’.  So claims of unequal treatment are pointless.

The ‘tell’ are relatively equal levels of poverty for old and young

Data from the OECD show that poverty is on the rise in 17 of 24 OECD rich countries, and an EPI chart from 2007 shows that both children and the elderly have experienced mutually unacceptable high levels of poverty,…… right here in the heart of financial excess and empire, right here in the good old U.S. of A..

Snapshot Old &Young U.S. Poverty

From a 2011 OECD study , we see that the elderly continue to have unacceptably high levels of poverty (22%).

Snapshot- 65 living in Poverty

Figure 1.1 in the new UNICEF report shows a stunning 22% of children below age 17 living in poverty in the United States. (Below.)

Relative Poverty, Children & Nations

Both age groups demonstrate unacceptably high levels of poverty. The United States has a very high GDP compared to other OECD countries. The contrast between the existence of high levels of poverty and a very high GDP indicates a very high level of income inequality. Yet the opinion shapers have wasted our time bickering over which generation is getting ‘more’ from government.

Don’t Let The Rich People Get Off The Hook

Dean Baker likes to frame this problem as the difference between what we spend on ourselves and what we give to the RICH.

Not convinced yet? Travel over to youtube and watch this video on Wealth Inequality!

A Pop-Up, Class War, Attack-Doll.

By: TomThumb Friday April 12, 2013 9:17 am

This fellow shows up for class war in his “all deficit reduction, all of the time” mode in the New York Times Op-Eds. I already wrote about his exaggeration of the current costs of Medicare and Social Security. And, about his minimization of the negative impact of the chained cpi, which I view as a tax just for being old and poor.

Today he’s holding his small plastic class war protest sign again: The ‘we cannot afford Social Security and Medicare’, and its all so ‘unsustainable’. He fails to mention that his gang pays taxes so low that America is ranked below Greece in terms of low income taxes. (24% to Greece’s 30% income taxes paid).

When he pops-up is important too. He’s there to cheer-on the President to make deeper cuts, just after the 2014 budget is presented. He’s just-in-time to suck all of the oxygen out of the media so that they cannot represent the fair budget of the CPC; (the CPC budget is the one that actually taxes capital gains like regular income.)

Where he pops-up is important. A media which pledges allegiance to the agenda of the wealthy and of the powerful. The Wall Street clown car media with its passenger side door for MBAs,lawyers and accountants, and its Drivers’ side door for CEOs.

Who he works for is important: Finance. Wall Street. The 1%. The top 20% who own 80% of America. This Wealth Inequality youtube shows how little the bottom 80% owns. The folks who depend upon Medicare and Social Security the most, the bottom 40%, own almost nothing.

What he does deserves special scrutiny: It’s called a Class war. Class War is where their gang, the haves,  take things that don’t belong to them, from people who have almost nothing but Medicare and Social Security left,  for their gang* to steal.

*hired thugs, corrupt politicians……

The Circle of The Vulnerable Is Wider Than They Think

By: TomThumb Thursday April 11, 2013 9:23 am

This is a reapplication of an earlier piece. You can skip to the Update:The Poor Would Be Forgotten, below if you wish.

We are all inside that circle. If they had thought through the implications of what they planned to do with the Chained-CPI-Social Security cuts and cuts to medical care, they would have realized that everyone is affected in the end. In the final analysis we are all connected (from StrengthenSocialSecurity):

 ”Some policymakers are considering accepting a grand bargain that includes the chained CPI for Social Security. This is no minor technical change – it is a benefit cut that compounds to become very large over time. The chained CPI would cut the annual benefit of the average earner (someone making $43,518) by $658 at age 75, $1,147 at age 85, and $1,622 at age 95.1 The cumulative cut for that individual would be $4,631 – more than three months of benefits – by age 75; $13,910 – nearly a year of benefits – by age 85; and $28,004 – more than a year and a half of benefits – by age 95.2 “

Policymakers (Gene Sperling) promise to exclude “vulnerable groups”. Three groups are most vulnerable: Veterans. The Poor. The Eldest Elderly. In 2011, Social Security paid almost half of its benefits to these groups.

 $58.3 billion to people who are poor or near-poor (excluding those aged 85 and older);15

 $131 billion to those who are aged 85 or above (including veterans);16 and

 $176.4 billion to veterans and their families17 (net of the above two groups).18

This means that if a chained CPI is put into place which leaves out those groups, it can only affect a 50% smaller group. What is the point of making these cuts?

There are two other groups identified in the piece which have not been identified as vulnerable but which are vulnerable. The disabled and those over 55.  Include those two groups and you have completely removed the purpose of making cuts through a chained CPI. There’s no one left. You can read the fact sheet HERE.

UPDATE: The Poor Would Be Forgotten

Now that the President has submitted the 2014 budget the details of the proposed chained cpi (Obama version) are taking shape. People who become 76 will receive a bump payment to compensate for the lost income due to the cuts in benefits which result from long-term exposure to a reduced COLA via the chained cpi. The disabled would be protected. Vets means-tested pensions would be protected too. The poor would be forgotten.

Since so few people are protected from the new chained cpi we can start to see how regressive this policy is. There are many people who do not receive SSI who are dependent upon Social Security and who are poor or near poor, who will be affected.

Minorities and women, who are underpaid as workers, and receive lower benefits will be punished under this scheme. Persons of color whose life expectancies are shorter than their white, affluent peers will take the losses on behalf of this policy. Women in particular will be harmed because they live longer on fewer benefits.

A Tax Just For Being Poor

There are no protections for the poor or near poor here. This policy amplifies income inequality at the end of life. Just because every writer cites the median Social Security income as something just above the poverty line, does not prevent a rational person from knowing that 50%, or those below that line,  are living in poverty or damn close by. Who gets hurt?

Those caregivers in our society, who have volunteered to care for children and aging parents and who have fewer years of earnings are poorly compensated by Social Security and Spousal benefits.  Minorities who earned less and receive less Social Security and live fewer years get no mercy under the new chained cpi. Those low-income earners whose final Social Security benefits don’t add up to much and who have few savings are not protected.

Where’s the forward thinking? What consequences will there be? Is there no one who can ask,  ”How will the chained cpi negatively impact society’s most vulnerable citizens?”, and,  ”At a time when rich Americans pay so few taxes, why won’t those receiving Social Security perceive this as a ‘broken promise’ and as a further tax on their meagre incomes?” A tax just for being poor. In the words of Dean Baker, “In this context, it is unfortunate that President Obama has proposed a budget that has substantial cuts to Social Security. The vast majority of seniors are already struggling. The proposed cuts would be a reduction in their income of more than 2 percent. By contrast, his tax increase last fall cut the after-tax income of the typical wealthy household by less than 0.6 percent.”

Chart of the impact of Obama's cuts on incomeWhat’s the point?

Is this policy meant to save money? Social Security does not even contribute to the deficit.  Is this policy meant to strengthen Social Security? If so, why not scrap the cap on FICA and make the Social Security program whole by insisting that affluent workers pay FICA on their income greater than the cap at 113K?

What’s the point?

Or, is this policy in place just to please President Obama’s fiscal friends, Mr. Orszag, Mr. Peterson (Mr.FixTheDebt), Ms. Rivlin, and all of their sock-puppet think tanks like CRFB and their phoney-baloney commissions, like Simpson-Bowles?