Friday, November 30, 2012

Raiding Medicare/Social Security:  Callous Disregard for Suffering Inflicted - "Like Bob Dole, But" Witless? What Shared Sacrifice Means For You Versus The Big Boys

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As if we're so thick that this needs to be hammered home any further (or more unsubtly).

But they are depending on that thickness, aren't they?

What the CEOs Lobbying on the Fiscal Cliff Really Want

George Zornick on November 28, 2012

(CEOs from several big corporations (including Erskine Bowles on the left) meet with House Republican leaders on November 28, 2012, in Washington. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Majority Whip.)

A merry band of corporate executives is zig-zagging Washington today, meeting with almost every principal player in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. The CEOs are meeting with administration officials at the White House, with House Speaker John Boehner, and with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

According to most press accounts, these business titans are “pressing for a solution to the so-called fiscal cliff” (Bloomberg), while “touting the virtue of bipartisanship and shared sacrifice” (The Washington Post).

But what’s important to understand—what every press account of these meetings should note—is that they’re not, in practice, proposing any sacrifice from their companies in particular nor their industries in general.

Key planks of their proposals, explicitly articulated by the Fix the Debt campaign and other industry coalitions pushing for a deal, include a lower corporate tax rate—even though many of these companies pay little or no corporate taxes as it is.

Then there’s a territorial tax system, which would allow corporations that have profits parked overseas to bring them back home without paying any taxes. (Right now, they’d be obligated to pay the normal 35 percent corporate tax on those profits if they were repatriated). Some, but not all, of the CEOs also want the Bush tax rates extended for all earners.

That’s not exactly “shared sacrifice.”

A report from the Institute for Policy Studies notes that the 63 CEOs behind “Fix the Debt” would reap $134 billion in tax windfalls for their companies just from a territorial tax system alone.

That naturally would increase, not decrease, the deficit, so somebody’s got to pay—hence the Very Serious pleas to “reform” Medicare and Social Security.

“These CEOs paint a stark picture of hypocrisy,” said Scott Klinger, co-author of that IPS report, in a statement. “They’re simply taking advantage of the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ to push the same old agenda of more corporate tax breaks while shifting costs onto the poor and elderly.”

To put a finer point on it, here is what the nine CEOs tooling around Washington today stand to gain in the fiscal cliff negotiations—how much their company would gain from a territorial tax system, and how much the individual CEO would gain if the Bush rates on top earners are extended.

The figures on taxable CEO compensation and unrepatriated offshore earnings are from that excellent IPS report, unless the company was not included. (It detailed only members of “Fix the Debt.”) In that case, I consulted the company’s SEC filings, and linked to it. The effective tax rate figures are either from this Citizens for Tax Justice
report, or if it wasn’t included, from other sources which are also linked.

Ken Frazier, CEO, Merck & Co.
Merck’s unrepatriated offshore earnings: $44.3 billion
Estimate windfall from territorial tax system: $15.5 billion
Merck’s effective corporate tax rate from 2008-2010 (standard is 35 percent): 11.5 percent
Frazier’s 2011 taxable compensation: $5.4 million
Frazier’s yearly savings if top Bush rates are extended: $237,352

Muhtar Kent, CEO, Coca-Cola
Coca-Cola’s unrepatriated offshore earnings: $23.5 billion
Estimate windfall from territorial tax system: $8.2 billion
Coca-Cola’s effective corporate tax rate from 2008-2010 (standard is 35 percent): 14.1 percent

Douglas Oberhelman, CEO, Caterpillar Inc.
Caterpillar’s unrepatriated offshore earnings: $13 billion
Estimate windfall from territorial tax system: $4.55 billion
Caterpillar’s 2011 effective corporate tax rate (standard is 35 percent): 25.6 percent
Oberhelman’s 2011 taxable compensation: $10.2 million
Oberhelman’s yearly savings if top Bush rates are extended: $459.851

Marissa Mayer, CEO, Yahoo! Inc.
Yahoo’s unrepatriated offshore earnings: $3.2 billion
Estimate windfall from territorial tax system: $1.12 billion
Yahoo’s three-year effective corporate tax rate from 2008-2010 (standard is 35 percent): 8.7 percent

Thomas Wilson, CEO, Allstate
Allstate’s unrepatriated offshore earnings: $0
Estimate windfall from territorial tax system: $0
Allstate’s 2011 effective corporate tax rate (standard is 35 percent): 17.9 percent
Wilson’s 2011 taxable compensation: $4.1 million
Wilson’s yearly savings if top Bush rates are extended: $175,793

Lloyd Blankfein, CEO, Goldman Sachs
Goldman Sachs’ unrepatriated offshore earnings: $20.6 billion
Estimate windfall from territorial tax system: $3.3 billion
Goldman Sachs’ effective corporate tax rate 2008-2010 (standard is 35 percent) 20.8 percent
Blankfein’s 2011 taxable compensation: $15.6 million
Blankfein’s yearly savings if top Bush rates are extended: $706,104

David Cote, CEO, Honeywell International
Honeywell’s unrepatriated offshore earnings: $8.1 billion
Estimate windfall from territorial tax system: $2.8 billion
Honeywell’s effective corporate tax rate 2008-2010 (standard is 35 percent) -0.7 percent
Cote’s 2011 taxable compensation: $55.2 million
Cote’s yearly savings if top Bush rates are extended: $2.5 million

Mark Bertolini, CEO, Aetna
Aetna’s unrepatriated offshore earnings: $0
Estimate windfall from territorial tax system: $0
Aetna’s effective corporate tax rate 2008-2010 (standard is 35 percent) 28.8 percent
Bertolini’s 2011 taxable compensation: $9.5 million
Cote’s yearly savings if top Bush rates are extended: $423,208

Frank Blake, CEO, Home Depot
Home Depot’s unrepatriated offshore earnings: $2.4 billion
Estimate windfall from territorial tax system: $8.4 million
Home Depot’s effective corporate tax rate 2008-2010 (standard is 35 percent) 35.6

Notably, none of the corporations represented in Washington today except Home Depot actually paid anything close to the corporate tax rate of 35 percent. Most would benefit handsomely from a territorial tax system, though not all—the interests of these companies don’t always align perfectly. Some, like Honeywell and Yahoo!, wouldn’t gain anything from reductions to Medicare and Social Security—the demands from those CEOs to cut spending on those programs is perhaps nothing more than a cover for their windfalls elsewhere. Others, like Goldman Sachs and Aetna, surely would benefit from a reduction in these programs.

What’s clear, though, is that the sacrifice preached by these CEOs is most certainly one-sided.

CEOs aren’t the only ones with a lot to gain from these negotiations. Lee Fang reports that a congressman heavily involved with the “fiscal cliff” talks has already been hired as a lobbyist.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Remember how the Bowles-Simpson (or was it Simpson-Bowles) Plan was deep-sixed by everyone who had a solid look at it (including all the Rethugs who were actually embarrassed by the brazenness of its callous disregard for the poor and helpless)? I remember actual retching occurring outside of the millionaires' cheering section.

Well, like every program that benefits that tiny .0001% the most, it's being remarketed as your patriotic duty today, and you better vote for it or the republic will not stand!

Or something.

One of my favorite writer/reporters has the filthy low-down from these spats-laden fun boys.

And now, America's fun couple is out there pitching their non-existent "plan" personally. The unfortunate opening lines here are a reason to drive nails through your head.
Theirs is an improbable buddy act that is making for unlikely entertainment from campuses to corporations on a most serious subject: the federal debt. The proof of their appeal: some business groups pay them $40,000 each per appearance.

Really. To discuss budgets and baselines. Ladies and gentlemen, coming soon to your city or town (if they have not been there already, and maybe even if they have) are the latest odd couple of politics: the 67-year-old Democratic straight man, Erskine B. Bowles of Charlotte, N.C., and his corny 81-year-old, 6-foot-7 Republican sidekick, Alan K. Simpson of Cody, Wyo.
Only in the funhouse mirror that is the Beltway media are these two guys an "improbable buddy act." Only in that same mirror are they an "odd couple." (And the fact that "business groups" pay them 40-grand a pop proves nothing except the fact the two of them shouldn't be trusted as far as you can throw Lloyd Blankfein's desk.) Both of them are tools of the financial power that has come to be the ruination of the nation's economy and is more than halfway toward ruining the nation's democracy as well.

For example, the nation's tattered social safety net is in as much danger from the two of them as it is from the outright zombie-eyed granny-starver, Paul Ryan, who personally walked away from the Simpson-Bowles "plan" because not enough grannies were being starved.

Bowles just wants to hand the entire social insurance system over to his financial masters. (He's one of the masterminds behind the Fix The Debt scam by which we are supposed to believe that a passel of avaricious CEOs have the country's best interests at heart.)

The financial elites, for whom Erskine Bowles would run the Iditarod if you put him in harness, loved it, which should have been a warning to everyone. Simpson hates the people who depend on the programs.
But one of them is a lot taller than the other one so — bipartisanship! The plan lives!
While the support was greater than expected, it was short of the 14 votes needed to force immediate action in Congress. The executive director, Bruce Reed, now chief of staff to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., urged the chairmen to soldier on.

"Together we decided, Let's don't let this thing die," Mr. Bowles said. "Bruce convinced Al and me that the plan we put together could be the gold standard." They quickly raised money, including from Peter G. Peterson, the billionaire financier of antideficit efforts, to keep a small staff.

They began working with the bipartisan "Gang of Six" senators (now eight) to write the report into legislation - "the Cialis project," Mr. Bowles privately joked, borrowing from the advertising slogan for an erectile dysfunction drug, "When the moment is right, will you be ready?"
Well, since the whole enterprise is dedicated to old guys out to screw people, the name is apt, if nothing else. 
It is everything that has been wrong with this enterprise from the start. It is an exercise in Beltway wankery that hasn't even bothered to pause to estimate the human cost of the deal it is seeking to foist on the American people. (And of which Alan Simpson is indecently contemptuous.)

It traffics in the spurious notion that any deal with which ""both sides" are angry must be the right deal. (Can we please have an honest assessment of credibility here? If billionaires are angry because they might have to chip in some boutonniere money on April 15, and a middle-class family is angry because their 82-year old grandmother with Alzheimer's is lying in her own filth in a substandard nursing home because of Medicare "reforms," are we honestly saying that the anger of both sides is equally justified? Has anyone even asked that question?)  
It is the product of a heedless national elite so insulated from the consequences of its actions, and so coddled by a feckless national political media, that its actions are seen to have no consequences that matter once you cross the Potomac. 
(I'd have felt better about the whole deal if there were one nurse, one urban health-director, one social-worker on the entire commission.) The primary constituencies upon whom this "plan" will fall hardest were not even represented in its development, and they do not seem to factor in at all in the effort to implement it.

The whole debate is taking place in a bell jar of unreality. Only there could Simpson and Bowles be seen as honest brokers, and only there could their "plan" be seen as anything except a new front in the steady looting of the national wealth, a "compromise" between lions and sheep.

And Alan Simpson is not funny. Never has been.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Social Security Lies/Blankfein Madness! (Judge Orders Tobacco Companies to Admit Deception)

I think it's just polite that our mainstream media (MSM) heroes interview m/billionaire bankers in order to arrive at  how much the lower classes need to sacrifice for the upper-classes'  lifestyles not to have to ever change.

BLANKFEIN: But in general, entitlements have to be slowed down and contained.
PELLEY: Because we can't afford them going forward?
BLANKFEIN: Because we can't afford them.

It's hard to figure out how we could afford to take care of our old people in 1937 and 1965, when our country was one–quarter or one–half as wealthy as it is today, but can't afford to do so today. Unless it has something to do with the fact that in 1937 and 1965 – people like Lloyd Blankfein didn't make $16 million a year.

Or paid very little to the government in Federal taxes. In 1965, the top Federal tax rate was 70%. Under Eisenhower in the 50's when the middle class was being strengthened by tax policy, it was 90%.

You Think You're Getting Social Security But You're Not, Says Multimillionaire Banker

26 November 2012

Jim Naureckas, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

What should the U.S. do about the so-called "fiscal cliff"? Who better to ask than Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, "one of the world's most influential bankers"?

That's what CBS Evening News must have been thinking, anyway, when they did a segment last night (11/19/12) all about Blankfein's opinions. CBS's Scott Pelley began: "When we asked Blankfein how to reduce the federal budget deficit, he went straight for the subject that politicians don't want to talk about."

BLANKFEIN: You're going to have to undoubtedly do something to lower people's expectations. The entitlements, and what people think that they're going to get, because it's not going to – they're not going to get it.
PELLEY: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid?
BLANKFEIN: Some things.
It's maddening, isn't it, when someone who obviously knows exactly what needs to be done insists on being so coy about it? Luckily, Blankfein did offer some specifics on one of those things that we think we're going to get, and aren't:

And you can go back and you can look at the history of these things, and Social Security wasn't devised to be a system that supported you for a 30-year retirement after a 25-year career. So there will be certain things that the retirement age has to be changed, maybe some of the benefits have to be affected, maybe some of the inflation adjustments have to be revised.
Huh. So Blankfein – who was paid $16 million last year, and owns $210 million worth of his company's stock – thinks that people can retire on Social Security after working for 25 years?

As Gene Lyons pointed out, that would mean that people are getting their first paychecks when they're 42–or, assuming they're willing to take the severe benefit cuts that come with early retirement, at 37. Or possibly he mistakenly believes Social Security allows you to retire at 41.

He also thinks people typically live to be 92 or 97, depending. In real life, of course, most people start working as early as 16, so they reach retirement age after 51 years of labor, when they have a life expectancy of 17 years – or 14 years if they're an African-American man.

On the basis of this peculiar understanding of U.S. society – which, strangely, doesn't seem to trouble Pelley at all – Blankfein has some news for us:
BLANKFEIN: But in general, entitlements have to be slowed down and contained.
PELLEY: Because we can't afford them going forward?
BLANKFEIN: Because we can't afford them.
You often hear this "we can't afford them" line, sometimes from people who aren't multimillionaires. For the record, in 1937, when the Social Security Act was passed, the per capita GDP of the U.S. was than $7,971. In 1965, when Medicare was created, it was $18,575. Today it's $42,671. (All figures in 2005 dollars.)

It's hard to figure out how we could afford to take care of our old people in 1937 and 1965, when our country was one–quarter or one–half as wealthy as it is today, but can't afford to do so today. Unless it has something to do with the fact that in 1937 and 1965–people like Lloyd Blankfein didn't make $16 million a year.

And, yes, it's too late for my Father and uncles, who would never have smoked if the truth had been known about those "cooling" cigarettes, but it's never too late to tell the truth about these well-paid liars for evil deeds.

Judge Orders Tobacco Companies to Admit Deception

David Ingram, Reuters

28 November 12

ajor tobacco companies that spent decades denying they lied to the U.S. public about the dangers of cigarettes must spend their own money on a public advertising campaign saying they did lie, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.

The ruling sets out what might be the harshest sanction to come out of a historic case that the Justice Department brought in 1999 accusing the tobacco companies of racketeering.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler wrote that the new advertising campaign would be an appropriate counterweight to the companies' "past deception" dating to at least 1964.
The advertisements are to be published in various media for as long as two years.
Details of the campaign - like how much it will cost and which media will be involved - are still to be determined and could lead to another prolonged fight.
Kessler's ruling on Tuesday, which the companies could try to appeal, aims to finalize the wording of five different statements the companies will be required to use.
One of them begins: "A federal court has ruled that the defendant tobacco companies deliberately deceived the American public by falsely selling and advertising low tar and light cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes."
Another statement includes the wording: "Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans. Every day."
The wording was applauded by health advocates who have waited years for tangible results from the case.
"Requiring the tobacco companies to finally tell the truth is a small price to pay for the devastating consequences of their wrongdoing,"  said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an anti-tobacco group in Washington.
"These statements do exactly what they should do. They're clear, to the point, easy to understand, no legalese, no scientific jargon, just the facts," said Ellen Vargyas, general counsel for the American Legacy Foundation, which is known for its "Truth" advertising campaign that began in 2000 and was credited with curbing smoking by the young.
The largest cigarette companies in the United States spent $8.05 billion in 2010 to advertise and promote their products, down from $12.5 billion in 2006, according to a report issued in September by the Federal Trade Commission.
The major tobacco companies, which fought having to use words like "deceived" in the statements, citing concern for their rights of free speech, had a muted response.
"We are reviewing the judge's ruling and considering next steps," said Bryan Hatchell, a spokesman for Reynolds American Inc.
Philip Morris USA, a unit of Altria Group Inc, is studying the decision, a spokesman said.
A spokesman for a third major defendant, Lorillard Inc, had no immediate comment.
The Justice Department, which urged the strong language, was pleased with the ruling, a spokesman said.
Kessler's ruling considered whether the advertising campaign - known as "corrective statements" - would violate the companies' rights, given that the companies never agreed with her 2006 decision that they violated racketeering law.
But she concluded the statements were allowed because the final wording is "purely factual" and not controversial.
She likened the advertising campaign to other statements that U.S. officials have forced wayward companies to make.
The Federal Trade Commission, she wrote, once ordered a seller of supposed "cancer remedies" to send a letter on its own letterhead to customers telling them the commission had found its advertising to be deceptive.
"The government regularly requires wrongdoers to make similar disclosures in a number of different contexts," Kessler wrote.
Early in the long-running case, the Justice Department hoped to extract $280 billion from the companies to pay for a smoking cessation program and other remedies.
It later dropped the demand to $14 billion, and then Kessler ruled she could not force them to pay for such a program at all.
When Kessler first ordered the advertising campaign in 2006 - setting off six years of debate on the wording - the statements were to run on major television networks, on cigarette packaging, as full-page newspaper ads and on corporate websites.
The idea was to "structure a remedy which uses the same vehicles which defendants have themselves historically used to promulgate false smoking and health messages," she wrote then.
But in the years since, "the types of media in which defendants convey commercial messages of this nature have changed dramatically," Kessler wrote on Tuesday.
Perhaps, she added, the ads should also be in the online versions of newspapers.
Analysts who follow tobacco companies declined to comment on Tuesday's ruling, saying it would be hard to estimate the impact of the court-ordered advertising campaign until all of the details are known.
Vargyas, of American Legacy, is expecting a drawn-out fight.
"The tobacco companies will appeal absolutely everything," she said.
The case is USA v. Philip Morris USA, et al, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 99-cv-02496.
Separately, tobacco companies are battling in court with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over the warning labels on tobacco products. The FDA has proposed new graphic warning labels - one of which includes a photo of a man with a hole in his throat - that companies consider a free speech violation.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Much More Than A Broad Sex Scandal (Rethugs Think They've Solved the Latino (Minorities) Problem With Another Pretty But Darker Tanned Bush Boy)

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Martha Mitchell’s blunt revelation and the way it got ignored comes to mind as we await the follow-up to Paula Broadwell’s assertion that two prisoners were being held at the CIA “annex” near the consulate in Benghazi at the time of the assault that left Ambassador Christopher Stephens and three other Americans dead.

And Watergate was a third-rate break-in about nothing, right?

Our newest obfuscator can now be referred to as "Shame" of The Times?

November 27, 2012

Paula Broadwell, Whistleblower

Q: What name did Monica Lewinsky call Maureen Dowd? Answer below.

In Men in Black Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith make use of a device that erases memory as they save the USA and the whole collateral world. In real life the memory-erasing function is performed by the corporate media and the incessantly twittering culture. “The United States of Amnesia” is what Gore Vidal called us.

Who recalls that Martha Mitchell, the wife of Attorney General John Mitchell, broke the news of Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate break-in when she told a sympathetic female reporter that her husband should not take the rap for The White House? John Mitchell, loyal to Nixon, called his wife a drunken loud-mouthed dame and had her hauled off to a locked facility. Months later Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein reported that Nixon knew about the break-in in advance, and to this day they’re credited with breaking the story.

Martha Mitchell’s blunt revelation and the way it got ignored comes to mind as we await the follow-up to Paula Broadwell’s assertion that two prisoners were being held at the CIA “annex” near the consulate in Benghazi at the time of the assault that left Ambassador Christopher Stephens and three other Americans dead.

Broadwell was speaking on October 26 at the University of Denver alumni symposium, promoting All In, her biography of Gen. David Petraeus. Proceeds were going to a program that helps wounded veterans hone their physical fitness. In addition to almost 7,000 deaths, some 45,000 Americans have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan —”amputees, multiple amputees,” Broadwell reminded the Denver alums— and 450,000 troopers have returned with post-traumatic stress, brain damage, and other disorders not readily apparent.

Broadwell went to college at West Point, then did a tour of active duty that included two years in Denver where she worked with an FBI task force countering “terrorism.” In 2004 she got a master’s degree in international relations at the university. She said it “changed the course of my career, much of which has yet to be written.” She had no idea that the next chapter would make the front page of the Enquirer.

Broadwell was frank about her striving. Her goal, she said, was to be the U.S. national security advisor. She had talked at length that morning to the provost, she confided, because Condoleeza Rice had once been a university provost and she, Paula, thought it might be an appropriate step on her own march to power.

In All In, Broadwell reports that when Petraeus was informed by Secretary of Defense Gates that the president would not name him chairman of the joint chiefs of staff (supposedly fearing that the principled and revered general might resist orders), Petraeus suggested that he be named CIA director instead, and Obama granted his wish. Gates reassured Petraeus that he had done as great job in Afghanistan as he had in Iraq. Broadwell, of course, agreed. “We saw a lot of metrics showing that the situation in Afghanistan was improving,” she said in Denver. But things had since “gone south,” she acknowledged.

Broadwell’s bombshell came in response to a question from the audience concerning Benghazi: “I don’t know if a lot you have heard this, but The CIA annex had actually taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner and they think that the attack on the consulate was an effort to get those prisoners back. That’s still being vetted.”

The startling comment was not ignored by Jennifer Griffin of Fox News, who has provided by far the most informative coverage of the Benghazi nightmare. In a piece on the Fox website Nov. 12 Griffin and Adam Housley reported:

”Biographer Paula Broadwell could be facing questions about whether she revealed classified information about the Libya attack that she was privy to due to her relationship with then-CIA Director David Petraeus… 
A well-placed Washington source confirms to Fox News that there were Libyan militiamen being held at the CIA annex in Benghazi and that their presence was being looked at as a possible motive for the staged attack on the consulate and annex that night.
According to multiple intelligence sources who have served in Benghazi, there were more than just Libyan militia members who were held and interrogated by CIA contractors at the CIA annex in the days prior to the attack. Other prisoners from additional countries in Africa and the Middle East were brought to this location.

The Libya annex was the largest CIA station in North Africa, and two weeks prior to the attack, the CIA was preparing to shut it down. Most prisoners, according to British and American intelligence sources, had been moved two weeks earlier.

The CIA, though, categorically denied these allegations, saying: ‘The CIA has not had detention authority since January 2009, when Executive Order 13491 was issued. Any suggestion that the agency is still in the detention business is uninformed and baseless.’
One of Alexander Cockburn’s sharpest observations about American culture is that a story doesn’t achieve “critical mass” until the New York Times plays it up big. And if that doesn’t happen, if the story only gets reported on cable TV, the Anderson Valley Advertiser, and a few websites where the powerless communicate to the alone, the story has no impact. Trivial stories keep breaking like waves every minute —the latest search for the missing girl, the lines for the new Apple product… It’s not that important stories don’t ever get reported, it’s that they get ignored. And then forgotten.

Thanks to Fox News we know that the “annex” near the consulate in Benghazi was actually the largest CIA station in North Africa (you’d think the largest would be in Egypt) and that the CIA was hurriedly relocating prisoners prior to the attack on September 11. Many of the Libyan rebels whom the U.S. government had aided against Qaddafi (at the urging of Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power, among others) turned out to hate “us.”

Given that the CIA was holding prisoners in Benghazi, the goal of the Sept. 11 action at the consulate may have been an effort to free them, or payback for their detention. And everybody involved in that detention, including CIA Director David Petraeus, was committing a crime.

Unfortunately for Jennifer Griffin of Fox News, the rightwing politicians who are looking for ammunition against Obama can’t make use of her Benghazi reporting because it exposes their 4-star hero (who never saw combat or commanded a division) as a perjurer, and the CIA as a rogue agency. After initial calls for an investigation - even a special commission, a la Watergate - they realize they mustn’t “go there.” By way of consolation, we are awarding Griffin the first-ever Helen Thomas Prize for taking seriously the comments of a loudmouthed dame.

Allred is All Right

Scott Shane, who has been covering (up) the situation in Benghazi for the New York Times, ignored Paula Broadwell’s reference to prisoners at the CIA station. On Nov. 20 he wrote a long piece of mockery: “The sex-and-e-mail affair that forced out the CIA director and embroiled the top American commander in Afghanistan has now ripened to the image management stage…”

As you know if you’ve been following the fall of Gen. Petraeus, Broadwell set a scandal in motion by anonymously sending threatening emails to a woman in Tampa, Florida, named Jill Kelley. She accused Kelley of having played footsie under the table with Petraeus at a dinner party. Kelley asked an acquaintance in the FBI to find out who was threatening her, and he discovered that Kelley herself had been exchanging voluminous emails with Gen. John R. Allen, the NATO commander in Afghanistan. Among the favors Kelley had asked and gotten from Allen and Petraeus were letters in support of her twin sister, Natalie Khawam, who had lost a bitter child-custody fight.

Shane of the Times wrote: “Even a peripheral character has retained a spokeswoman. Natalie Khawam — Ms. Kelley’s twin sister, whose main connection to the scandal is the reference letter Mr. Petraeus wrote for her in a messy child custody case — hired the celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred. Ms. Allred held a news conference at Washington’s Ritz-Carlton on Tuesday to ‘correct misconceptions’ about her client…

“About Ms. Kelley and the F.B.I. investigation she set off, neither she nor Ms. Khawam could offer any comment, said Ms. Allred, last seen representing one of the women who accused Herman Cain, the Republican presidential candidate, of sexual harassment.”

The disrespect for Allred in the “news” section of the Times was annoying but not surprising —she’s a lighting rod for woman haters everywhere. When I got to the op-ed page I was glad to see that Maureen Dowd had written on the same subject, and expected a different slant. But Dowd, too, was making what Cockburn used to call “rich sport” of Allred:

“The tears and lip gloss started flowing Tuesday at a news conference featuring a distraught twin, a befuddled press corps and Gloria Allred, the feminist avenger last seen tormenting Herman Cain over sexual harassment charges.

The news conference with Allred and her latest curvy client, Natalie Khawam, Jill Kelley’s identical saturnine twin, was so weird… The two women called a press conference to not comment on the scandal that is the only reason anyone turned up at the press conference.

Natalie had a cameo role, voguing with the generals and their wives and persuading “King David” Petraeus and Allen, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, to write letters in a bruising custody case as she fought her ex-husband —a honcho in the Iraq occupation— over their baby son.

Reporters, trying to fathom why they were there, asked Khawam and Allred a plethora of questions. But it seems that Natalie, who gingerly entered arm-in-arm with Gloria, just wanted everyone to know that she has filed an appeal to try to reverse a decision giving sole custody to her ex, after a D.C. judge deemed that Natalie had lodged “sensational accusations” against her former husband and was “a psychologically unstable person.”
The judge’s derogatory comments about Khawam had been widely reported in the media. There’s nothing “so weird” about hiring the best lawyer you can afford to restore your reputation and try to get more access to your kid.

Like Scott Shane, Do(w)d characterizes Allred’s representation of a woman filing sexual harassment charges as “tormenting” Herman Cain (who tormented us all for months as the leading Republican candidate for president). An editor should have told her to use quotation marks or come up with another word for what Allred was doing to Herman Cain. Maybe “suing.”

Dowd calling Gloria Allred “feminist avenger” is like Shane defining the fall of Petraeus as “a sex-and-email affair.”

It’s so incomplete as to be misleading. Allred has spent more than 40 years fighting for employee rights, civil rights, and civil liberties. Even as Paula Broadwell’s revelation about the CIA is being ignored, Allred’s history-making role in the 2010 election is being actively erased from memory.

As of September 2010, an eBay billionaire named Meg Whitman was well on her way to becoming the governor of California. Her fellow Republican, Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley was poised to become attorney general. Whitman was strongly anti-union, Cooley wanted to outlaw medical marijuana dispensaries. They were both ahead in the polls, Whitman very comfortably so, and would be in power today had not Gloria Allred called a press conference to introduce Nicky Diaz Santillan, an undocumented immigrant who had been employed by the Whitmans as a housekeeper and nanny from 2000 through 2009. Meg Whitman had fired her at the outset of her campaign, telling Diaz, “You don’t know me and I don’t know you.”

After Diaz told her tale, Whitman claimed that she hadn’t known about her immigration status. But Allred produced letters from the Social Security Administration notifying the Whitmans that Diaz’s supposed social security number belonged to someone else. Whitman then said the letters from the government had never been received. But Allred had a copy of one on which Whitman’s husband had written a comment. Thus she exposed not just Whitman’s personal disloyalty, miserliness, and cruelty, but her executive stupidity. Instead of telling Diaz to get lost, Whitman could have hired a good immigration lawyer to straighten out her status, and she could have given her ample severance pay to make ends meet until she could find another employer. But no…

Thanks to Gloria Allred, Meg Whitman’s lead in the polls dissolved and California wound up with Jerry Brown — no friend of the working class, but not a Whitman-type ogre. And not a moron, either. After blowing $144 million of her own money on her run for governor, Whitman became the CEO Hewlett-Packard, which is currently in the news for spending $11 billion on a British software company that isn’t worth 11 cents. Brown’s margin of victory was sufficient to carry the #2 Democrat on the ticket, Kamala Harris, to a very narrow win over Cooley, and we now have a smart, decent attorney general in Sacramento who is not encouraging or helping the four U.S. attorneys to close down marijuana dispensaries. Thanks entirely to Nicky Diaz and her lawyer, Gloria Allred.

Fred Gardner edits O’Shaughnessy’s, the journal of cannabis in clinical practice. He can be reached at

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

I said as much when I heard that this genetically-enabled scion had filed in Dallas the day after the presidential election. Never cease to remember Karl Rove's contributions to our country.

Sorry to be running this so late, but my internet connection is practically nonexistent now.

Sorry, Republicans, a Latino George Bush Won’t Cut It

If the GOP liberalized a generation of voters, not even another Bush might be able to save them

Former President George W. Bush, left, talks with his nephew George Pierce Bush during the Bush Center Warrior Open in Irving, Texas, Sept. 24, 2012. (Credit: AP/Lm Otero)

George P. Bush — the handsome one with the Mexican immigrant mother — is going to run for something in Texas, the official “second home” of the Bush family. He filed papers to run for office last Thursday, though he did not say which office. The New York Times thinks state land commissioner or attorney general, either of which could be a stepping stone to the governor’s mansion. Fox News Latino is straight trolling with its headline, “George P. Bush Begins Road to the White House.

This was long in the cards. Bush went to Yale and did his requisite military service; while he curiously didn’t join the forces until he was already 30, Bush did actually serve for a while overseas, putting him in the top tier of Bushes. He married young and has worked in mostly respectable fields. He is largely “outside” the public eye but involved in Texas Republican politics. Mark McKinnon jokingly refers to George P. Bush as “47,” as in the 47th president. (After Bush, Obama, Jeb Bush, and Chelsea Clinton. Then after George P. Bush is Malia.)

The hope, and it’s a semi-credible one, is that politicians like Bush — moderate by modern standards, and Latino — will help the Republican Party expand its current, shrinking coalition beyond … older white men. It was long thought, by people like Karl Rove, that Hispanics would naturally fit right into the GOP coalition, in part because by and large they’re religious and “socially conservative.” Of course, another American minority that’s by and large religious and socially conservative is African-Americans, who have no interest in the Republican Party. That’s what happens when you make your party synonymous with xenophobic white populism. (Plus, Republicans tend to forget that many people in these groups attend religious institutions that are more likely to emphasize social justice than white evangelical churches, which have for the most part adapted their theology to fit into far-right Republican economic orthodoxy.)

The Republican nominating process will remain unkind to moderates, especially moderates on immigration policy, for years to come, but Bush has one advantage over his would-be “moderate” rivals for a hypothetical future nomination: He is a Bush. In a few years a Bush might be in the same position as Richard Nixon in 1968, when he was the one man who could unite the then-warring liberal/Rockefeller and conservative/Goldwater wings of his party.

There was honestly never much of a reason to expect that Hispanic American voters — a diffuse group of lots of very different types of voters — would end up voting as a bloc. But then the Republican Party started encouraging and explicitly campaigning on nativism and ferocious white racial resentments, instead of merely profiting from them. In doing so, Republicans might have served to make the non-white portion of the country liberal for a generation at least, which would be a major problem. Many Latino voters who’ve now voted for Democrats multiple times since the end of the Bush era may just consider themselves Democrats. In that case, neither tokenism nor moderating on one issue will be enough to shake many Latino voters loose from the Obama coalition. When you identify with a party, you tend to bring yourself into agreement with most of its positions, which is why people who vote primarily according to their belief that abortion should be illegal also more often than not support supply-side economics.

If that’s the case, if the Tea Party and Sheriff Joe have Liberalized a generation of Latino voters, the Republican Party’s demographics problem will not be fixed simply by embracing individuals like Marco Rubio, who share the same batshit beliefs as the party. (Nominating a white guy did not win the former Confederacy for Democrats in 2004.) But it also might not help that much to nominate a guy like George P. Bush, who merely subscribes to most of the beliefs of modern conservatism. It could take years, and a series of Democratic missteps, to erase the damage done in the last few elections.

Another factor that might be a problem for George P. Bush is that hopefully Americans will never again elect a Bush, but I don’t know that I’d put money on it. One of Obama’s greatest accomplishments was breaking the “Bush, Clinton, Bush,” cycle of presidents before another Clinton got in, but he may have only delayed the inevitable. Eventually Bush’s future son George Walker Pierce Lauren Nugent Bush will also run for president to avenge whatever disasters await his father in office. (War with Mars.)

In the meantime, let us never forget Pierce Bush, the Greatest Bush of All.

Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Happy Birthday!

Posted 11/23/12 but not published due to lack of internet access.

Happy Birthday to me.

Against all f*cking odds.

I made it!

Thanks to all my friends and supporters.


- S

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Truth About Social Security Lies (Lie Lie Lie (Liars Lying For Big Payoff))

(Please consider making a contribution to Welcome to Pottersville2 or sending a link to your friends if you think the subjects discussed here are worth publicizing. Thank you for your support. I really appreciate it. Any contribution will make a huge difference in this blog's ability to survive.)

You might think that my talking about this group of facile liars would have been somewhat effective . . . but nooooooo.

They'll never quit.

Until you call them on it in every public gathering place.

Tuesday, Nov 20, 2012 01:49 PM EST

GOP’s Big Social Security Lie

Right-wing sharks are using America's increased life expectancy as an excuse to gut one of its best-loved programs

AlterNet Trying to convince the public to cut America’s best-loved and most successful program requires a lot of creativity and persistence. Social Security is fiscally fit, prudently managed and does not add to the deficit because by law it must be completely detached from the federal operating budget. Obviously, it is needed more than ever in a time of increasing job insecurity and disappearing pensions. It helps our economy thrive and boosts the productivity of working Americans. And yet the sharks are in a frenzy to shred it in the upcoming “fiscal cliff” discussions.

The most popular red herring Social Security hustlers have unleashed into the waters of public discourse has grown into such a massive whale of a lie that liberals frequently subscribe to it. The idea goes like this: We need to somehow “fix” Social Security because people are living longer – “fix” in this context being code for “cut.” Two groups stand to benefit in the short-term from such a scheme: the greedy rich, who do not want to pay their share in taxes, and financiers, who want to move towards privatizing retirement accounts so they can collect fees. As for the masses of hard-working people who have rightfully earned their retirement, the only “fix” is the fix they will be in if already modest benefits are further reduced.

Here are five clear reasons why the life expectancy argument is nonsensical, counterproductive and based on a pack of lies.

1. Social Security’s original designers considered rising life expectancy.

On our red-herring tour, let’s start with the oft-repeated claim that the original designers of the program did not consider rising life expectancy in their calculations. Fortunately, public records pertaining to the lengthy and detailed discussions of the Roosevelt administration’s Committee on Economic Security (CES), tasked with constructing proposals for Social Security, are available for anyone to see. It is absolutely clear from the record that the designers knew that the number of people over the age of 65 was going to increase and that people were going to live longer.

There were differences – as there are now – on exactly how to project this demographic shift, but the idea that a growing rate of older folks taking payouts was bound to happen was a topic of intense scrutiny. Consider the Old Age Security Staff Report, dated January 1935:

“At the time of the last Census (1930) there were six and a half million people 65 years of age and over in the United States. They constituted 5.4% of the population. As a result of a declining birth rate in this country, which manifested itself about 1820 and persisted from that time, the ratio of aged persons has shown a continuous growth from the date. The increase was very slow for 40 years, more rapid from 1860 on, and noticeably accelerated between 1920 and 1930. The latter was due to a rather sharp decline in birth rate which set in about 1920. This decline is expected to persist, moreover, and will of course produce a correspondingly sharp increase in the ratio of the aged to the population as a whole. The recent improvement in mortality rate makes its contribution to this situation.”
That’s right: Not only did the designers know full well that a larger population of older folks was coming, they actually made projections based on that assumption well into the future. They even produced a handy table which projects that increase all the way up to 1980, anticipating a 140 percent increase in the 60 years following 1920.

2. Life expectancy gains since 1935 have been modest.

Another popular argument for cutting Social Security by raising the retirement age assumes a vast difference in human longevity between 1935 and today. You’ll hear this group of hustlers claiming that life expectancy for Americans was less than 62 years in 1935, and now it’s more than 77 years, so the program must be inadequate. Alan Simpson of the infamous Simpson-Bowles Commission, who ought to know better since he has been weighing in on Social Security policy, is a fan of this line of argument. Clearly, Simpson has not bothered to read the actual public record on Social Security, or he is knowingly lying.

Here’s the truth of the matter: The early figure was based on life expectancy at birth. That is a vastly different matter from projecting how long people will live after they reach the age of 65 and start collecting benefits. In the 1930s, there was much higher infant mortality, and children died much more frequently from diseases that are now preventable through immunization. Because our parents’ and grandparents’ generations had a high rate of early death, the life expectancy at birth in 1930 was indeed less than 62 years. But here’s the catch: Social Security is funded by the workers who collect the benefits, along with their employers. Obviously, if you die as a child, you are not going to collect benefits. So the significant measure is not how long you’re going to live after you are born, but rather how long you’re going to live once you hit 65.

In reality, the average life expectancy once a person has reached the age 65 has increased only a modest five years on average since 1940.

So let’s be clear. Workers who reach the age of 65 today are only living five years longer than their parents. The designers of the program were fully aware of this possibility when they calculated the retirement age and they constructed the program accordingly.

3. The Greenspan Commission already raised the retirement age two years.

Back in 1983, just as Reagan was ushering in the destructive era of supply-side economics, the Social Security hustlers conspired to raise a great hue and cry about the program, which led to the creation of the Greenspan Commission. The Commission looked at the future increase in retired Baby Boomers and also considered increases in overall life expectancy. The result? People like me who were born after 1960 will have to wait until they’re 67 to collect full benefits. If you’re younger than 52, two years of your retirement were taken away in the name of “permanently fixing Social Security.” For those a bit older you’ve had one year shaved off.

The Greenspan Commission demanded raising the payroll tax, cutting benefits and gradually raising the retirement age on future retirees. After these changes were enacted, Social Security accumulated enormous surpluses in its trust funds. As economist Robert Reich has explained, until 2012, Social Security took in more payroll taxes than it paid out in benefits and lent the surpluses to the rest of the government. The only reason the program took in less than it paid out in 2010 was due to the Wall Street-driven financial crash. But guess what? Social Security is so well-designed that the interest paid on government bonds more than made up for that difference.

1983 is a long time ago, and because the full increase in retirement age has not yet affected retirees (that experiment is waiting for those under 52) it’s easy for the Social Security hustlers to pretend that it never happened. But it did, and we do not yet know the social impacts of that decision. Since the people who had their Social Security cut are likely to suffer from increased job insecurity and a lack of traditional pensions, we may expect that the impact will not be pleasant for future retirees, excluding the very wealthy.

The Social Security hustlers have already gambled with our future, and now, using the excuse of the recession, they have committed themselves to doing it again.

4. Longevity gains have gone mostly to high earners.

Exhaustive research has clearly demonstrated that income inequality leads to poorer health among people who are not well-off, and that gains in life expectancy have primarily gone to high income workers. A report in the New York Times, “Gap in Life Expectancy Widens for the Nation” explains that while longevity for the whole country has gone up, affluent people have gained more, and this has cause a widening gap in life span:

…Gopal K. Singh, a demographer at the Department of Health and Human Services, said “the growing inequalities in life expectancy” mirrored trends in infant mortality and in death from heart disease and certain cancers…. 
Dr. Singh said last week that federal officials had found “widening socioeconomic inequalities in life expectancy” at birth and at every age level.
In the same NYT report, Nancy Krieger, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, rejects the idea that such a gap is somehow inevitable as better and more expensive medical treatment becomes available:

“The recent trend of growing disparities in health status is not inevitable,” she said. “From 1966 to 1980, socioeconomic disparities declined in tandem with a decline in mortality rates.”

The creation of Medicaid and Medicare, community health centers, the “war on poverty” and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 all probably contributed to the earlier narrowing of health disparities, Professor Krieger said.
Income inequality is notably awful in the US, and according to the centrist Brookings Institute, our life expectancy is predictably lower than that of other industrialized countries. Our ranking among the 34 countries in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development is a shameful 27. Of the 21 large OECD countries with the highest incomes, America finishes “dead last.”

Life expectancy among the less educated and those with lower incomes has actually dropped. New research shows that between 1990 and 2008, white women lacking a high school diploma lost a shocking five years of life, while their male peers lost three years.

Under these circumstances, it’s clear that raising the retirement age is a direct assault on those at the lower rungs of the economic ladder, women in particular, and that it would only serve to increase income inequality even further and diminish the chances of long life among anyone but the rich.

5. Life expectancy rises are likely to slow in the future.

The Social Security hustlers like to make wild predictions that life expectancy will grow in the future at a rapid rate and that our children and grandchildren will be living up to 10 years longer than we do. As we’ve seen, when you’re talking about life expectancy after age 65, gains since Social Security was originally designed are only five years—and those gains are largely among the well-off.

The truth is that there’s not much reason to think that giant increases in life expectancy are going to happen for the vast majority of people – even the more affluent.

A report in the Washington Post shows that contrary to popular belief, we’ve actually seen average life expectancy among all Americans take a small dip in recent years:

Those born in 2008 can only expect to live to be 77.8 years old, down from 77.9 years for those born in 2007, according to anannual preliminary analysis of data conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics.
Yes, there have been steady increases since 1975, but it’s also true that there were drops between 1992 and 1993 (75.8 to 75.5) and between 2004 and 2005 (77.5 to 77.4). Federal budget projections assume Baby Boomers will live much longer than their parents, thanks to new drugs, improved medical care and so on. But not so fast. Factors including obesity, cancer, increased cardiovascular problems, and even higher rates of suicide, could slow or actually reverse the longevity trend.

Justin Denny of Rice University warns that it would be a mistake to base projections in longevity gains of the current century based on the last one. Unfortunately, that’s just what the trustees who estimate the future solvency of the U.S. Social Security retirement program have been doing.

In conclusion: cutting Social Security by raising the retirement age is nothing but a trick meant to fool us into thinking that there’s something wrong with a program that keeps millions of American retirees out of poverty. To even consider such a scheme in a time of widespread suffering is one of the most shameful outcomes of the Great Recession. Social Security is efficient, well-managed, and is not undergoing any crisis.

You will be hearing lots of convincing-sounding rhetoric on this topic in upcoming weeks –often from Democrats – including the notion that we should be means-testing Social Security for longevity among high-income earners. That plan plays into the mythology that the program is somehow broken and needs to be “fixed.” It also plays into the game of fiscal conservatives who know full well that means testing will diminish support, which is why they have been ardently pushing it for 50 years.

It’s yet another red herring. Social Security is not contributing to the deficit, and if — and that’s a big if — a tweak is needed down the road, we can easily accomplish that by raising the cap on payroll taxes, which stands just above $100K. In reality, there is absolutely no sound justification for doing anything now. The bottom line is that raising the retirement age and making changes based on longevity does not pass the test of morality, logic, or sound economics.

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet contributing editor. She is co-founder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of "Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture." Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Blue Dogs Now New Dems? (Back to PARTY Time!), How Fake Fiscal Cliff Arose, and GOP Refuses To Take Off Blinders

(Please consider making a contribution to Welcome to Pottersville2 or sending a link to your friends if you think the subjects discussed here are worth publicizing. Thank you for your support. I really appreciate it. Any contribution will make a huge difference in this blog's ability to survive.)

If members of Congress (ex-Blue Dogs/New Dems and all Repubs) can depend on the bad memories of most Americans, then they will be able to sell balancing the tax-cuts-for-the-rich/multi-wars business-terrifying budget deficit on the backs of the lower classes.

And it's the "both sides do the same thing" argument all over again.

Yay them!

See how non-stop media repetition wins every time? (Thank you, Mr. Goebbels!)

And party time starts anew for the wealthy owners.

The Blue Dogs Are A Spent Force ... Until You See How They've Ditched The White Sheets And Hoods And Morphed Into The New Dems

Kind & Crowley - the bad news bears, if you're a working American
One of the reasons why is was so important that Nancy Pelosi decided to stay on as House Minority Leader was because what is building up behind her to take over the House Democratic Caucus. The threat of the Blue Dogs is dead - at least for now - but the Blue Dogs have morphed into the New Dems, a corporately-financed coalition of Big Business shills within the Democratic Party. Although almost all the detritus left over from the Blue Dogs has joined the New Dems, the New Dems aren't "as bad" as the Blue Dogs were. Well ... they're not as bad on social issues - Blue Dogs being generally homophobic, anti-Choice, anti-immigrant, etc. - but they are every bit as bad on economic and fiscal issues. These are the Democrats who want to make a deal with the GOP to allow a failed European Austerity Agenda take hold in America. Basically, they seek to balance the budget on the backs of working families.
"Former" New Dems Steve Israel (who is also a "former" Blue Dog) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz are pushing caucus members to elect New Dem chairman Joe Crowley, the most corrupt Democrat in Congress, to the position of House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman over iconic progressive Barbara Lee. They are pushing the meme that the New Dems are the rising force inside the Party. In fact, they're doing more than pushing the meme. During the 2012 cycle, Israel, as Chairman, used the DCCC to recruit and support New Dems (and Blue Dogs - all of whom but Pete Gallego - failed dismally) and undermined progressives. There are 49 Democratic freshmen entering Congress in January. The DCCC actively backed (spent money on electing) 5 progressives who won - Lois Frankel (FL), Raul Ruiz (CA), Annie Kuster (NH), Carol Shea-Porter (NH) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) - and double the number of New Dems who won - Ami Bera (CA), Scott Peters (CA), Suzan DelBene (WA), Elizabeth Esty (CT), Bill Foster (IL), Joe Garcia (FL), Patrick Murphy (FL), Dan Maffei (NY), Sean Patrick Maloney (NY), and Brad Schneider (IL). Israel also wasted millions and millions of dollars trying to elect other New Dems and Blue Dogs who ultimately lost, while ignoring - and ever undercutting - progressives all across the country who ran.

Friday, The Hill reported that the conservative, corporate-oriented New Dems are planning "to fill the power vacuum created by the recent and rapid decline of the Blue Dog Coalition," without even mentioning that half the Blue Dogs who managed to survive are new Dems.

The group - whose members advocate a free-trade, business-friendly agenda that sometimes bucks the party - is hoping to emerge as a powerbroker in the 113th Congress.

Although the 15-year-old group of centrists has been frequently overshadowed by the conservative-leaning Blue Dogs and the liberals of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, New Democrats say their growing membership - combined with the looming debates over economic issues they see as their bread and butter - will give them greater sway in the fights that will almost certainly define the coming months on Capitol Hill.

"We've got a group of members that is well-represented from throughout the country who are willing to roll up our sleeves and work with anyone to try to find some common-sense and balanced and fair solutions to the fiscal hole that we're in right now," Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), the newly-elected chairman of the coalition, said Thursday. "We hope in the days to come to play that constructive role."

Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), a vice-chairwoman of the coalition, echoed that message this week, casting the New Democrats as an above-the-fray group that will ignore partisan politics in the name of getting things done.

...Working in their favor, the group has picked up more than a dozen new members since the Nov. 6 elections - a combination of newly elected-Democrats and incumbents who have joined this month - growing their ranks to at least 52 next year. (A few House races are still too close to call). Meanwhile, the Blue Dog Democrats - who boasted a membership of 54 in the 111th Congress - will see that number shrink to 14 in the 113th.

The New Democrats see new leverage in those shifting dynamics, and they're hoping to exert it in the upcoming budget battles.

"We must address our nation's debt and tackle long-term deficit reduction to put our nation on a path towards strengthened and sustainable growth," the group wrote Thursday to President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "Our group will work with you to secure agreement on a plan of significance."

Members of the group say they can transcend the partisanship they blame for the political stalemate that defined the last two years on Capitol Hill.

"Boehner's got to deal with the Republicans, the president's got to deal with the Democrats," Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.). "The reality is there're groups within those [parties] that make it far more difficult, beyond their numbers, to reach a deal."

Still, New Democrats have struggled in efforts to sway the major policy debates of recent years. And with the Democrats still in the House minority, there's more pressure on all party members to rally behind their leadership - led by the liberal Pelosi - in opposition to the conservative Republicans under Boehner.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (Va.), another vice chairman of the New Democrats, acknowledged Friday that the coalition has been less influential than it's hoped in the past. But the high-stakes negotiations on the "fiscal cliff" and a deficit-reduction package, he was quick to add, provide the group with the "legislative opportunity" to be "serious players" in those coming fights.

"We're going to assert our values, our views, our take on something even if that might mean that it's somewhat at variance with, say, prevailing wisdom in our Caucus … or the White House," he said. "We can provide some political space for broadening our debate on economic issues in our Caucus."

Connolly was quick to point out that New Democrats are already pushing back against Pelosi's early and blanket opposition to entitlement benefit cuts as part of the budget negotiations. (The group says all options should be on the table in this early stage of the talks). He also claimed the group was influential in providing guidance to other Democrats surrounding Friday's passage of legislation expanding trade with Russia - a proposal the group supported.

"Fair enough that you're skeptical - I've heard it before," Connolly said of the group's influence. "But I think you're already seeing signs of a more assertive role."
And one of the first things the New Dems are attempting is to destroy Barbara Lee's candidacy in favor of Crowley. The vote is on Nov. 29. The other thing The Hill article managed to forget is a list of the Democrats who are in the New Dems:

Terri Sewell (AL)
Ron Barber (AZ)
Karen Bass (CA)
Lois Capps (CA)
Adam Schiff (Blue Dog-CA)
Loretta Sanchez (Blue Dog-CA)
Susan Davis (CA)
Jared Polis (CO)
Ed Perlmutter (CO)
Joe Courtney (CT)
Jim Himes (CT)
John Carney (DE)
John Barrow (Blue Dog-GA)
David Scott (Blue Dog-GA)
Colleen Hanabusa (HI)
Mike Quigley (IL)
Andre Carson (IN)
Cedric Richmind (LA)
Gary Peters (MI)
Rush Holt (NJ)
Carolyn McCarthy (NY)
Joe Crowley (NY)
Eliot Engel (NY)
Bill Owens (NY)
Brian Higgins (NY)
Mike McIntyre (Blue Dog-NC)
Kurt Schrader (Blue Dog-OR)
Allyson Schwartz (PA)
Jim Cooper (Blue Dog-TN)
Jim Moran (VA)
Gerry Connolly (VA)
Rick Larsen (WA)
Adam Smith (WA)
Ron Kind (WI)

And the newly-elected members:

Ami Bera (CA)
Scott Peters (CA)
Joaquin Castro (TX)
Suzan DelBene (WA)
John Delaney (MD)
Elizabeth Esty (CT)
Bill Foster (IL)
Joe Garcia (FL)
Patrick Murphy (FL), actually a Republican masquerading as a conservative Democrat
Denny Heck (WA)
Derek Kilmer (WA)
Dan Maffei (NY)
Sean Patrick Maloney (NY)
Brad Schneider (IL)
Juan Vargas (CA)

And how about a few more words on the fraudulent fiscal cliff (actually the upcoming austerity-for-the-poor fiscal cliff)?

From our friends at The Angry Bear

The GOP's Extortion Demands: Cut Social Security Or We'll Shoot The Country In The Foot

The GOP created the fiscal cliff beginning with the "temporary" tax cuts passed in 2001, 2003 and 2004 under the Bush administration, all as purportedly temporary provisions with sunset dates. They hoped that the passage of the tax cuts would, as generally happens when people have more of something they like, lead people to demand making all of the cuts permanent. The result would be a huge tax decrease for the wealthiest taxpayers, and a rather insignificant tax decrease for most Americans.

In many ways, their strategy worked. Most Americans forget that they didn't think they really had to have a cut in income taxes back in 2001, and they don't want to pay more taxes than they are paying now, even a little bit more. And the Great Recession means that for many Americans who are suffering deep financial injury still because of the housing and jobs crisis, every tax dollar saved is a step back to normalcy.

But the tax cuts pushed by the GOP joined together with the tremendous costs of the preemptive wars pushed by the GOP to create a veritable snowballing deficit.

Under Bush, we went from surplus in year one, to huge deficits the rest of the time (with much of the impact of the deficit hidden by the purportedly temporary nature of the provisions and the annual passage of an AMT patch that didn't have to be included in the calculation of the deficit until the particular patch was passed). Those two huge drivers of the deficit were treated by the GOP at the time as inconsequential, as GOP stars claimed that "deficits don't matter." See Dick Cheney to Congressional Republicans: don't stop spending, The Oregonian (July 18, 2012) (noting Cheney's current advice to keep spending on the military and retelling the story of Cheney's telling then Treasury secretary O'Neill that "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter").

Part of the right's goal, of course, was to use the increases in deficits that their tax cuts caused as a rationale for "starving the beast"--forcing the Democrats to accept cuts (they of course called them "reforms") to the parts of governnment that the right doesn't like. That meant reduction to the benefits from, and privatization of, Social Security and Medicare and reduction of government employee pensions and maybe, in a far right dream world, the elimination of any federal role in basic research funding, disaster emergency responses, and education. Meanwhile, the right would continue to push for increased spending on the parts of government it likes (military spending, for example--see Cheney's July 2012 admonition to the GOP to keep spending on the military, above) and continued favorable tax subsidies for the wealthy and big corporations (carried interest, domestic manufacturing deduction, etc.) even if that continued to add to the deficit and the debt.

The GOP's tune changed when the flagrant underregulation of the financialized economy (deregulation, of course, having been begun with Reagan and continued for decades now) resulted in the financial crisis that became the Great Recession and then a Democrat was elected president. GOP lawmakers suddenly thought deficits were bad (when they were created by Democratic presidents to respond to crisis). And debt--which had been spiralling upwards under the Bush regime with increases in debt ceiling hardly noticed--suddenly was a monster that must be contained. And all of this could be used by those on the radicalized right every time the debt ceiling had to be increased to extort from those not on the right the right's desired changes in social justice programs.

In other words, the radicalized GOP set the conditions in motion that allowed them to hold us hostage now, through their control of the House of Representatives, in an extortion campaign. In that campaign, they demand that they get the changes to Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid that they want (the so-called "reforms" to so-called "entitlement" programs that amount to the beginning of the unraveling of the New Deal that the right so detests) in exchange for their going along with increases to the debt ceiling that are necessary because of the irresponsible tax and spending policies that they pursued while in office or the measures that were necessary to shore up the financial system when it threatened collapse due to the deregulatory push that has gone on for forty years funded by and supported by the right (and some Dems in the middle as well).

So guess what. We shouldn't be surprised at all to hear today that U.S. House Speaker John Boehner says the GOP rightwingers will maybe agree to some "revenue" increases so long as they get their extortion payments--concessions from liberals that will ultimately lead to the reduction and/or privatization of Social Security and Medicare and other government programs. And of course this is double-speak anyway, since Boehner and his compatriots on the GOP right still ascribe to the frequently disproven market fundamentalism that believes that deregulation and "simplification" (meaning tax cuts) leads to economic growth that automatically results in revenue increases even without tax changes intended to raise more tax monies.

As Tiron and Rubin note in the Bloomberg piece reporting on Boehner's statements, his speech "sounded conciliatory and didn't alter the Republican position on tax policy" but "marked the start of political positioning and negotiations over what to do about the so-called fiscal cliff of $607 billion in combined tax increases and spending cuts." He isn't agreeing to tax increases: he just wants to be able to use the kind of manipulative tweaking of the data to get the desired result called "dynamic scoring" that the GOP right has been pushing for decades as a way to "prove" that their deficit-creating tax cuts really aren't costing anything! See Roxana Tiron and Richard Rubin, Boehner Would Accept New Revenue under 'Right Conditions', (Nov. 7, 2012)

Boehner called for concessions, stating "The president must be willing to reduce spending and shore up entitlement programs that are the primary drivers of our debt." Id.

Harry Reid (Senate majority leader) said "We're happy to deal with entitlements, but we're not messing with Social Security." It's hard to know for sure what that means--maybe they are willing to reduce Medicaid and Medicare benefits? Too bad he didn't say that we need to expand Obamacare to make it Medicare for all, so that we can get control of health care costs while providing much needed support particularly to the elderly at the end of life. But at least he did say something that should translate to "we are not going to change Social Security."

So the game is on. The GOP intends to continue pushing its same old medicine of tax cuts for the rich and entitlement cuts for the rest of us. I hope the Democrats have gained a little bit of backbone from the election so that they will push for wiser spending on public infrastructure and wiser tax policies in areas from estate and capital gains taxes to corporate subsidies.

Sore-Losing Doesn't Bode Well for Well-Considered Policy Choices on Taxes...

Romney and Ryan have apparently joined the GOP sore-losers ranks most ably demonstrated by John McCain's bitter post-presidential candidate spin. Romney betrayed the GOP's disregard for ordinary Americans in a post-election talk with some of his major donors.

Like his "47% comment" in which he disparaged those who don't have to pay income tax (but generally pay payroll and other taxes) by asserting that they aren't personally responsible and enjoying being dependents, Romney's comment about the reasons he lost essentially blames the voters for taking bribes from the sitting president. He suggested that Obama appealed to specific interest groups "the African American community, the Hispanic community and young people" with generous "gifts" like health-care reform, amnesty for children of illegal immigrants. See Maeve Reston, Romney attributes loss to 'gifts' Obama gave minorities, (Nov. 15, 2012).

Young voters, Romney said, were motivated by the administration's plan for partial forgiveness of college loan interest, the extension of health coverage for students up to age 26 on their parents' insurance plans and free contraception coverage under Obama's healthcare plan, which he credited with ushering greater numbers of college-age women into Obama's coalition.

The extended insurance coverage, in particular, was "a big gift to young people," he said, noting that they turned out as a "larger share in this election even than in 2008." Id.
Similar language was used to describe the reasons African Americans and Latinos voted in large numbers for Obama.

Such willingness to attribute defeat to political bribery goes a long way in demonstrating how out of touch the GOP is with what government should be doing. There is some obligation for politicians to serve the people -thinking in the long term and not just for the short term, but considering what kinds of programs merit consideration because of the good they do for individuals and in turn for society. Romney's deafness to this issue -and his view that taking care of the wealthy few is the only goal of tax policy (and probably spending policy as well) -justly helped in his defeat. It is terribly important that federal officials recognize the staggering inequality now existing and growing in this country and its impact on all of our lives and the sustainability of the economy as well as the future of our democratic institutions. Romney didn't get it. Obama got it imperfectly. Given a choice, a majority recognized the difference.

It is now time for the GOP to take off its blinders and get a better sense of how their economic policies and in particular their tax policies have been harmful to ordinary Americans and hence to the economy.