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How The Rich Created The Social Security “Crisis”

Now and then, George W. Bush told the unvarnished truth—most often in jest. Consider the GOP presidential nominee’s Oct. 20, 2000, speech at a high-society $800-a-plate fundraiser at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria. Resplendent in a black tailcoat, waistcoat and white bow tie, Bush greeted the swells with evident satisfaction.

“This is an impressive crowd,” he said. “The haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elites; I call you my base.”

Any questions?

Eight months later, President Bush delivered sweeping tax cuts to that patrician base. Given current hysteria over what a recent Washington Post article called “the runaway national debt,” it requires an act of historical memory to recall that the Bush administration rationalized reducing taxes on inherited wealth because paying down the debt too soon might roil financial markets.

Eleven years later, the Post warns in a ballyhooed article, reading like something out of Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22,” that Social Security—the 75-year-old bedrock of millions of Americans’ retirement hopes—has “passed a treacherous milestone,” gone “cash negative,” and “is sucking money out of the Treasury.”

Anybody who discerns a relationship between these events, that is, between a decade of keeping the “have-mores’” yachts and Lear jets running smoothly and a manufactured crisis supposedly threatening grandma’s monthly Social Security check must be some kind of radical leftist.

That, or somebody skeptical of the decades-long propaganda war against America’s most efficient, successful and popular social insurance program. It’s an effort that’s falsely persuaded millions of younger Americans that Social Security is in its last days and made crying wolf a test of “seriousness” among Beltway courtier-pundits like the Post’s Lori Montgomery, who concocted an imaginary front page emergency out of a relatively meaningless actuarial event.

All in service, alas, of a single unstated premise: The “have-mores” have made off with grandma’s money fair and square. They have no intention of paying it back. That’s the only possible interpretation of the Post’s admonition that “the $2.6 trillion Social Security trust fund will provide little relief. The government has borrowed every cent and now must raise taxes, cut spending or borrow more heavily from outside investors to keep benefit checks flowing.”

Little relief? In fact, the law’s working precisely as intended. After 28 years of generating huge payroll tax surpluses to cover the baby boomers’ retirement benefits, the system must now begin to draw upon those funds to help pay current benefits—the vast majority still covered by current payroll tax receipts.

“Rather than posing any sort of crisis,” explains Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “this is exactly what had been planned when Congress last made major changes to the program in 1983 based on the recommendations of the Greenspan commission.”

Again, this is the beneficiaries’ money, invested by the Social Security trustees in U.S. Treasury bonds drawn upon “the full faith and credit of the United States.” Far from being “meaningless IOUs” as right-wing cant has it, they represent the same legally binding promise between the U.S. government and its people that it makes with Wall Street banks and the Chinese government, which also hold Treasury Bonds.

A promise not very different, the Daily Howler’s Bob Somerby points out, from the one implicit in your bank statement or 401K (if you’re lucky enough to have one). Did you think the money was buried in earthen jars filled with gold bullion and precious stones?

Raise taxes, cut spending or borrow? What other options does the U.S. government, or any government, have?

On his New York Times blog, Paul Krugman dissects the Catch-22 logic behind the Post’s bogus crisis. You can’t simultaneously argue “that the trust fund is meaningless, because SS is just part of the budget, then claim that some crisis arises when receipts fall short of payments, because SS is a standalone program.” For practical purposes, it’s got to be one or the other.

So is Social Security a “Ponzi scheme”? No, it’s group insurance, not an investment. You die young, somebody else benefits. Its finances have been open public record since 1936. Do fewer workers support each beneficiary? Sure, but who cares? It’s denominated in dollars, not a head count. The boomers were nearing 40 when the Reagan administration fixed the actuarial tables. No surprises there.

Are longer life expectancies screwing up the numbers? Not really. Most of the rise is explained by lower infant and child mortality, not by old-timers overstaying their welcome. Kevin Drum points out that gradually raising the payroll tax 1 percent and doubling the earnings cap over 20 years would make Social Security solvent forever.

But that’s not good enough for the more hidebound members of the $800-a-plate set. See, over 75 years Social Security has provided a measure of dignity, security and freedom to working Americans that just annoys the hell out of their betters.

By: Gene Lyons, Salon, November 2, 2011

November 3, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Conservatives, GOP, Middle Class | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who’s Paying For The GOP’s Plan To Hijack The 2012 Election?

Over the past six months, someone—or a group of someones—has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund an effort to change the rules of the 2012 presidential election to make it very difficult for President Barack Obama to win reelection. But the shadowy lobbying group mounting this campaign hasn’t disclosed its donors—and under current law, it doesn’t have to.

In two states, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, GOP legislators have introduced bills that would change how electoral votes—a candidate needs 270 of the 538 to win the presidency—are awarded in a presidential election. Under the current system, the winner of the statewide popular vote receives all of the electoral votes from that state.

If the Republican plan becomes law in either Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, those states would change how electoral votes are awarded. The new plan would allot electoral votes on the basis of vote totals within congressional districts. If a candidate wins a congressional district, he or she would receive one electoral college vote. Whoever does best in the statewide race would receive two electoral votes.

Because Republicans will draw the boundaries of the congressional districts in both states, the new rules would mean that Obama could win the states but still receive fewer electoral votes than his Republican opponent. Should a Republican split the states’ electoral votes with Obama (even if Obama draws more votes), that could provide the GOPer with the margin of victory in a close race. (Under the US Constitution, it is up to the states to allot electoral votes as they see fit.)

In Pennsylvania, a secretive nonprofit group called All Votes Matter has been pushing the electoral vote scheme since May. All Votes Matter has close ties to the Pennsylvania GOP—it hired a number of former top state Senate staffers-turned-lobbyists. “It was pretty much the Senate GOP All Star Lobbying Team and [former state House Democratic Counsel Bill] Sloane,” Peter DeCoursey, the bureau chief for Capitolwire, a newswire that’s read religiously by Harrisburg insiders, explained in September.

Between April and June, the group spent $77,700 to lobby state officials to support legislation to implement this scheme. By early September, GOP Gov. Tom Corbett and the state House and Senate leaders, Mike Turzai and Dominic Pileggi, both Republicans, had all expressed their support for the idea. It was “the best $77,700 anyone ever spent on potential legislation,” DeCoursey wrote. “The entire state governing wing [was] for a bill that [hadn’t] been introduced yet.”

A week later, though, the landscape had changed significantly. Mother Jones and other national media outlets drew widespread attention to the story, and the state GOP chairman and the vast majority of its congressional delegation came out against the plan.

All Votes Matter wasn’t fazed. It kept lobbying. Charles Gerow, a spokesman for All Votes Matter, told DeCoursey that the group had raised $300,000—and already spent $180,000. But Gerow wouldn’t tell reporters where the money was coming from, saying only that “civic-minded citizens” had provided the dough. This week, the group filed new lobbying disclosure forms revealing that it spent $186,882 on lobbying between July and September.

All Votes Matter doesn’t disclose its donors “as a matter of policy, per the request of many of them,” Gerow told Mother Jones. “It’s their legal right not to have it disclosed, and they don’t want it disclosed so they’re not subject to media calls and other potential harassment,” he added. All Votes Matter has “fully and completely complied with the law and will continue to do so,” Gerow said, and “if those who don’t agree with the law want to change it, it certainly is their right to do that.”

There’s no law that says All Votes Matter has to disclose where its money comes from. But opponents of the electoral college changes are outraged that voters are being kept in the dark about who’s behind such a potentially consequential reform. “This is an effort to fundamentally change the way Pennsylvania conducts its presidential elections, in my view to rig the election,” says Democratic state Sen. Daylin Leach. “They raised an awful lot of money very quickly—$300,000 in just a few days. We’re all curious where that level of funding comes from.”

Carolyn Fiddler, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which assists Democrats in state-level races around the country, says: “Given the potential impact of this measure this group is lobbying for, not just for Pennsylvanians but for presidential politics and Americans in general, the public has a right to know who’s behind it.”

Transparency advocates say it’s not enough to just know who is doing the lobbying—voters should also know who is paying the bills. “The old adage is that actions speak louder than words, and deeper pockets allow for more action,” says Michael Beckel, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics. “Without disclosure, the public is unable to fully hold accountable the companies and organizations that have hired these lobbyists in the first place.”

In Wisconsin, it’s even less clear who’s behind the electoral college shenanigans. The Wisconsin Democratic party has alleged that the bill there, sponsored by GOP state Rep. Dan LeMahieu, was written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, among others. But so far, the Dems haven’t been able to produce any evidence to back up their charge, and emails from LeMahieu’s office Mother Jones obtained via an open records request showed no evidence of any outside involvement in the drafting of the law.

Democratic state legislators are worried that the Pennsylvania and Wisconsin bills are part of a broader effort. If GOP legislatures in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and other states where Democrats typically win presidential elections pass the electoral college changes All Votes Matter is proposing, it would mean “the end of competitive presidential elections and certainly people’s confidence that the process is fair,” Leach maintains. “To think that some secret group somewhere is rubbing their hands together and putting millions of dollars into this effort—and we can’t even know who they are—I think that’s obscene.”

By: Nick Baumann, Mother Jones, November 2, 2011

November 3, 2011 Posted by | GOP, Voters | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

An Open Letter To Sen Ben Nelson: Please Don’t Seek Re-election!

According to the Lincoln Journal Star, Senator Ben Nelson has not yet decided whether or not to run for reelection. Consider this my open letter to the distinguished Democrat from Nebraska: Please, please, I beg you, Senator Ben Nelson, do not run for reelection.

“I’ll sit down with my family to discuss the future,” Nelson said Tuesday during a telephone interview. “They are my sounding board. I value what they say.”

Nelson said he will weigh his family’s views along with a personal judgment on “whether I believe I have a role to play in dealing with a very divided Congress in a very divided country, whether I could be constructive in finding some solutions, whether I am convinced I can be a positive force for the following six years.”

Senator Nelson, you have never been a “positive force” during your time in office thus far, and it seems unlikely that you will become one at any point in the next six years.

Please, retire quietly, or even with an alternately self-righteous and self-pitying editorial about the death of “bipartisanship” and “civility” and”Senate decorum.” Promise to devote yourself to good deeds outside of office and then get rich lobbying for the corporate interests that currently sponsor you, I don’t care. Just get out of office, because you’ are horrible. You’re a miserable excuse for a senator. You have made millions of people’s lives worse in real and tangible ways, and you will continue to do so as long as you remain in the United States Senate.

You opposed capping ATM fees because you are so old and rich and stupid that you have never used an ATM. “I know about the holograms,” you said in your defense, because you’re a useless fool.

You joined the cadre of “centrist” Democrats who attempted to sabotage every major legislative priority of the Democratic Congressional majority, and you went back and forth on the public option before definitively coming out against it and the hugely popular “Medicare buy-in” compromise. Then you won a sweetheart Medicaid funding deal solely for Nebraska that almost killed the entire healthcare reform bill and led to everyone in the country calling you venal and corrupt.

And you opposed a measure to stop federally subsidizing usurious private student loan providers — calling a money-saving anti-corporate welfare proposal “a government takeover of student lending” — because you think representing the interests of usurious lending institutions that donate millions to your campaigns is actually an example “being constructive” and “finding solutions.”

You supported the Stupak Amendment, voted for the anti-gay marriage amendment, and supported the Iraq war. You supported both horrible, wasteful Bush tax cuts.

You have no major legislative accomplishments, either. Not one! I can’t name a single important bill you ever sponsored or co-sponsored and I suspect most other longtime Senate observers could, either. You are a failure as a Senator with no legacy to speak of beyond trolling your own party, repeatedly.

Consider this an official endorsement of your retirement from politics. Please go crawl into a hole.

Yours,
Alex

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, November 2, 2011

November 3, 2011 Posted by | Elections, Lobbyists | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wisconsin GOP Stumbles In Effort To Rig Recalls

Republican efforts to inoculate themselves against recall hit a snag Monday when a moderate Republican announced his opposition to a plan that would permit recalls to happen in newly-drawn partisan districts.

Senator Mary Lazich introduced two bills on Friday that opponents say will rig recall elections in favor of Republicans. Democrats plan to start collecting signatures on November 15 to recall Governor Scott Walker, as well as state Senators who voted in favor of collective bargaining limits. Lazich’s bills are the latest in a series of moves by Wisconsin Republicans to change the recall election rules in their favor.

Redistricting and Recalls

One of the Lazich bills would have required that recalls be conducted in the new legislative boundaries re-drawn in this year’s partisan redistricting process. The law enacting the redistricting map says the new boundaries are not to take effect until November 2012, and the state elections board had determined the recall elections would take place in the old districts.

Lazich’s bill would overturn the election board’s determination and make the new maps effective next week, making a recall more difficult by putting GOP Senators in the much safer districts they created for themselves earlier this year. It would also put the maps into effect before two legal challenges to the new boundaries were resolved.

According to Jay Heck of Common Cause Wisconsin, holding recall elections along the new boundaries would be “terribly confusing,” with “voters unsure about whether they are eligible to vote in their district, which could deter voters from turning out.”

It also would have put some voters into the position of recalling a Senator they never elected in the first place, and preventing other voters from recalling the Senator that they put in office.

“I’m not going to vote for [Lazich’s bill] because the people who sent me to Madison are the ones who should decide whether I ought to be recalled or not,” said Senator Dale Schultz (R-Richmond Center). “I’m not interested in further adding confusion by changing the rules.”

With Republicans holding only a one-vote Senate majority, Schultz’ vote against Lazich’s bill means that it will not pass (assuming all Democrats oppose it). Senate Republicans held a 19-14 majority until recall elections this summer removed two Republicans from office, narrowing the GOP majority to 17-16. In March, Schultz voted against Governor Walker’s controversial Act 10 limiting collective bargaining rights, but under the Senate makeup at the time, his opposition was not enough to keep the bill from becoming law.

For some, the fact that extreme Republican bills can no longer be steamrolled through the legislature is proof that last summer’s recall elections were effective.

Notary Requirement for Recall Petitions

Another Lazich proposal introduced Friday and originally scheduled for a vote Tuesday (but delayed until Wednesday) would add an additional layer of process by requiring that each page of recall petitions be notarized. Organizers need over 540,000 signatures to recall Walker, and with up to ten signatures per page, more than 54,000 pages will need notarization. Lazich said the bill would bring “a little more accountability” for recall signature gatherers, but Common Cause’s Heck says the bill “assumes Wisconsin citizens are dishonest” and is intended “to result in fewer recall signatures.”

Scot Ross of the liberal One Wisconsin Now says of the last-minute bill that “if Mary Lazich thought recall signature notarization was such an issue, she had the last 20 years of her undistinguished career as a state legislator to do something about it,” pointing out that Lazich did not introduce bills to change recall election rules when Republicans threatened to recall former Democratic Governor Jim Doyle or Democratic U.S. Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold.

Additionally, the notary bill may be unconstitutional. Article XIII, Section 12 of the Wisconsin Constitution deals with recalls, and sub-section (7) states:

Laws may be enacted to facilitate its operation but no law shall be enacted to hamper, restrict or impair the right of recall.

Other Recall Rigging

These bills are part of a larger GOP effort to control the way elections and recalls are conducted.

Lazich, a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), also introduced the ALEC-inspired voter ID legislation that will make it significantly more difficult for students, people of color, and the elderly to vote in Wisconsin.

In late September, Republican lawmakers announced they would give Governor Walker authority to reverse two elections policies developed by the non-partisan Government Accountability Board.

One policy would have allowed voters to access a form online, print their recall petition, sign it, then send it to the group coordinating recalls. It would have made it easier for those collecting recall petitions because the groups would not have to gather the signatures face-to-face and door-to-door.

The other would have permitted universities to put stickers on student ID cards that could then be used for voting. Wisconsin’s new voter ID law permits the use of student IDs for voting, but only if the ID includes certain information not currently on any of the student IDs issued in the state. The sticker would have allowed student IDs to meet the necessary criteria, and made it easier for students to participate in recall votes.

The Republican-led Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, led by ALEC member Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) and Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon), told the Board these matters should not have been adopted as “policies,” but instead as administrative rules, which require the approval of Governor Walker. Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) told Republicans that, by giving Walker veto power over the rules that govern his recall, “you have given the governor control of the chicken coop.”

The elections board backed down in response to pressure from Republicans, leading to accusations the non-partisan board had become politicized.

Even without these efforts, Governor Walker and state Republicans already have an advantage in the recall elections. A loophole in campaign law allows for unlimited funding and spending during the recall signature-gathering period. These additional efforts by the GOP to change election rules in their favor suggest that Walker and his party are taking the recall threat seriously.

By: Brendan Fischer, Center For Media and Democracy, November 2, 2011

November 3, 2011 Posted by | Collective Bargaining | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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