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“The Entitlement Of The Very Rich”: Gutting Social Security And Medicare Far More Unthinkable Than Not Reauthorizing Ex-Im Bank

The very rich don’t think very highly of the rest of us. This fact is driven home to us through fluke events, like the taping of Mitt Romney’s famous 47 percent comment, in which he trashed the people who rely on Social Security, Medicare, and other forms of government benefits.

Last week we got another opportunity to see the thinking of the very rich when Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, complained at a summit with African heads of state and business leaders that there is even an argument over the reauthorization of Export-Import Bank. According to the Washington Post, Immelt said in reference to the Ex-Im Bank reauthorization, “the fact that we have to sit here and argue for it I think is just wrong.”

To get some orientation, the Ex-IM Bank makes around $35 billion a year in loans or loan guarantees each year. The overwhelming majority of these loans go to huge multi-nationals like Boeing or Mr. Immelt’s company, General Electric. The loans and guarantees are a subsidy that facilitates exports by allowing these companies and/or their customers to borrow at below market interest rates.

As a practical matter, whether the bank is reauthorized or not will have no noticeable impact on the economy. If the government took away the subsidy on this $35 billion in exports, it would probably lead to a decline of between 10 and 30 percent in these exports ($3.5 billion to $10.5 billion), while costing Boeing, GE, and the rest some of their profit margin on the portion they continued to export.

The loss of exports would be in the range of 0.2 percent to 0.5 percent of total exports or 0.02 percent to 0.06 percent of GDP. (This assumes that none of the exports include imported parts, which is obviously not the case.) In short the impact on the economy of ending the subsidies from the Ex-Im Bank would be almost invisible.

If the folks pushing for the Ex-Im Bank reauthorization were really concerned about jobs created through trade, we could generate far more jobs with even a modest decline (e.g. 1 percent) of the dollar against other currencies. This would make our exports cheaper to people in other countries and would reduce the price of domestically produced goods relative to imports, thereby leading consumers to purchase more U.S. made goods.

While ending the Ex-Im Bank would have little impact on trade and jobs it would be a big deal to Mr. Immelt’s company and presumably to Mr. Immelt’s compensation. Therefore it is not surprising that he might find it “just wrong” that we should even have to argue about it.

For some additional context, it is worth noting that Mr. Immelt is one of the members of the Peter Peterson initiated group, Fix the Debt. In that capacity he has gone around the country arguing for the need to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits. So we have someone who makes $25 million a year, at least in part from taxpayer handouts, who runs around the country complaining about retired workers getting $1,300 a month from Social Security, whining because he has to argue to continue the handouts he receives.

It would be nice if Immelt were just another crazed one percenter who had no credibility outside of his country club, however this is not the case. It was not an accident that Mr. Immelt was at this summit. He is a highly respected business leader and apparently is close enough to president Obama to have been made head of his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

The reality is that the Immelts of the world are able to put muscle behind their sense of entitlement because politicians need their campaign contributions to be credible candidates. For this reason, they are almost certain to secure the reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank, which has the support of most of the leadership of both parties.

The rest of us just have our votes. But if the public has a clear understanding of the agenda of the Immelts of the world, and their political allies, it will be better positioned to protect the entitlements that workers depend on and have paid for. Gutting Social Security and Medicare should be far more unthinkable than not reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank.

 

By: Dean Baker, Co-Director, CEPR; The Hufington Posst Blog, August 12, 2014

 

 

 

August 17, 2014 Posted by | Medicare, Social Security | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fear Factor”: Iowa Summit Serves Reminder Of Why Religion, Politics Don’t Mix

Of everything coming out of this year’s Iowa Family Leadership Summit, the fear factor is what stayed with me.

It was a constant, discomfiting undercurrent, like a loose nail poking up in your shoe. It was organization President Bob Vander Plaats declaring this a time of “spiritual warfare,” and speaker Joel Rosenberg announcing America is “on the road to collapse” and “implosion,” and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, warning grimly, “We are living in some very dangerous times.”

The third year of the event sponsored by the self-described Christ-centered organization that seeks to influence policy and elections, brought big name politicians Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz and Rick Perry to Ames, Iowa, this past weekend. They were there to rally the Republican base in the lead-off caucus state. But the upbeat, love-God-and-country tone of previous events appeared at times to have been replaced by a somber, calamitous note of foreboding. Even Satan got a few mentions.

Projected onto a giant screen to punctuate Vander Plaats’ remarks was a video filled with haunting images of Osama bin Laden, Adam Lanza and the Boston marathon bombings. It depicted a rising national debt, marijuana, Boys Scouts, gay rainbow flag and a woman holding up a “Keep abortion legal” sign. It ended with someone yelling, “God is dead. Hail Satan!”

Sponsors and speakers still exalted matrimony and procreation in heterosexual relationships, called for putting God back in the classroom and government, and called abortion murder. But this year’s message was: The nation is in moral decline. Ignore it at your own peril. That was even carried into foreign policy.

Rosenberg, an evangelical Christian born to a Jewish father, said the United States must not support a two-state solution in Israel because a sovereign Palestinian state “defies the biblical mandate.” Interesting that a Christian American would presume to tell Palestinian Muslims they don’t deserve a homeland because of what the Bible says. This follows an evangelical belief that Jews from around the world will gather in Israel, where the second coming of Christ will occur, and — though Rosenberg didn’t spell this out — be converted to Christianity.

“God loves you but if we don’t receive Christ, there are consequences,” Rosenberg warned.

Is fear a new strategy for the Family Leader and its affiliated Family Research Council and Focus on the Family? Is it a response to flagging interest and political losses? Organizers said there were 1,200 attendees, and that there has been steady growth in three years. But many seats were empty. Is it a concession they’re losing the battle over abortion and gay rights? Abortion has not been completely outlawed, even under a conservative U.S. Supreme Court majority. Having succeeded in getting three justices of the Iowa Supreme Court voted out over same-sex marriage, a few years ago, the Family Leader failed in its more recent campaign against a fourth. Same-sex couples are celebrating wedding anniversaries with children and grandchildren, and the planet has survived.

What the planet might not ultimately survive — global warming — wasn’t on the agenda. In fact, if this were a true gathering of faith leaders, one might have expected some commitment to keeping the environment healthy, some compassion for the poor and immigrants. There were calls for abolishing the entire tax system that sustains the poor in times of need. There were calls for boosting border patrols to turn back young asylum seekers before their cases are heard. Iowa’s governor, Terry Branstad, boasted of having cut 1,400 state employees and cut property taxes, which fund education, more than ever in Iowa history.

But if it were a political forum to vet candidates, a Jewish, Muslim, agnostic or atheist one would have had no place there. In one video, Billy Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, said, “The only place you get right with God is at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ.”

Outside in the parking lot, some protestors from Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers, which describes itself as a social and educational organization, objected. “The summit is attempting to define legislation through Christian dogma,” said protestor Jason Benell. “They want to blur the line between church and state. That’s not what Iowans want.”

He also objected to the idea that faith was necessary to have a good family. His group sees a ramping up of religious rhetoric in response to the Family Leader’s “fear of losing its base.”

Everyone will, of course, vote according to their own priorities. But America is not a theocracy, so it’s alarming to see politicians, by attending and playing to the sponsors, play into the notion that worshiping Jesus should be a prerequisite for federal or state office. America also cannot base its Mideast policy on some biblical interpretation about Israel. Whatever our religious affiliation or lack of it, I’d guess most voters have better explanations for Sept. 11 or the Sandy Hook shootings than God’s revenge – and would like to practical, reason-based solutions from those seeking office.

 

By: Rekha Basu, Columnist, The Des Moines Register; The National Memo, August 14, 2014

 

 

August 17, 2014 Posted by | Politics, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A New Test For Conservatives On Ferguson”: We All Should Care About The Pathologies That Affect Policing In America

Just when we thought the news out of Ferguson, MO was getting more hopeful, the Ferguson PD, apparently trying to confirm their reputation as America’s worst police department, has now endeavored to make this situation even more rancid than it already was. As expected, they finally released the name of the officer who killed Michael Brown on Saturday. They did not, however, release any information on the shooting. No description of the officer’s story, no synopsis of accounts of the multiple witnesses, nothing about the shooting at all.

But there was something else they released: a report on a robbery that occurred at a convenience store some time before. They now claim that Michael Brown was a suspect in that robbery. That they are saying this for the first time is more than a little strange. But it threatens to pull this case back into a familiar pattern, just when it looked like liberals and conservatives could agree on some things.

If you watched the news last night, you would have seen something incredibly heartening in Ferguson. After nights of tear gas and rubber bullets, law enforcement officers stood amid protesters, talking to them, listening to them, even hugging them. There was no violence. And it happened because the Missouri governor told the inept Ferguson police to stand the hell down, and brought in the state highway patrol to bring a little sense to the situation.

Meanwhile, there were signs that a cross-ideological effort to address some of the problems the case highlighted might be a real possibility. Even some conservatives were talking not just about the militarization of law enforcement, but also about the unequal treatment of black people by the police. Rand Paul wrote an op-ed about it. Conservative pundit Erick Erickson, not ordinarily anybody’s idea of a conciliator, wrote a piece essentially pleading with his white audience to care about this (“just because Michael Brown may not look like you should not immediately serve as an excuse to ignore the issues involved”).

That isn’t to say that some conservatives out there weren’t taking a different tack. Fox News’ coverage offered clips of looting on the first night after the shooting running on an endless loop, along with plenty of talk about “riots” and “violent protesters.” However, there was a division among conservatives, with more than a few rejecting the storyline of violent, threatening black people out of control.

But today, after the geniuses at the Ferguson PD put out their new information, plenty of conservatives on Twitter are saying, essentially, “See? Michael Brown was no innocent kid!” (If you want to read some, Jamelle Bouie has been retweeting them.) The same message is no doubt going to show up on talk radio this afternoon. The implication is clear: he had it coming.

We don’t yet know whether the person who took the cigars from that convenience store was Michael Brown. The police officer didn’t know either — if indeed the reason he confronted Brown was because Brown matched a description he had been given of the suspect. But the point is, that’s utterly irrelevant. Being suspected of shoplifting isn’t grounds for a roadside execution.

We have to give credit to the conservatives who were able to step out of the usual divide we so often see in cases like this one, and say clearly that we all should care about the pathologies that affect policing in America. Now that some of their brethren are going to be trying to convince the country that Michael Brown was a thug who got what he deserved, they’ll face a test. Can they stand up for the principles they’ve already articulated, even as the debate gets uglier? Let’s hope so.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, August 15, 2014

August 17, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Ferguson Missouri | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Memo To Chuck Todd”: Your Job Is The Thing You Think Isn’t Your Job

With the word that NBC correspondent Chuck Todd will replace David Gregory as the host of the withered carcass that is Meet the Press, the chattering classes left and right are offering their advice on reanimating the corpse of the once-proud Sunday talk show. Ultimately, though, there is only piece of guidance for the Beltway’s new goateed gatekeeper. Simply seek the truth. Unfortunately, that is precisely the task Chuck Todd has argued is not part of his job description as a journalist.

Todd’s acknowledgement that the media’s role is to merely amplify the sound bites of political partisans came during a discussion of the Affordable Care Act last September. Almost four years after Politifact named “death panels” its 2009 Lie of the Year and three years since “government takeover of health care” won its 2010 crown, the future Meet the Press talking point purveyor explained to viewers that unearthing and communicating objective truth is not the media’s job. When Ed Rendell lamented that Americans were misinformed about Obamacare, Todd protested:

“But more importantly, it’s stuff that Republicans successfully messaged against it and they wouldn’t have heard…they don’t repeat other stuff because they haven’t even heard the Democratic message. What I always love is people say ‘it’s your fault in the media.’ No, it’s the President of the United States’ fault for not selling it.”

That same day, Todd took to Twitter to repeat his point:

Somebody decided to troll w/mislding headline: point I actually made was folks shouldn’t expect media to do job WH has FAILED to do re: ACA

But after eight hours of absorbing a pounding online, he returned to Twitter to clarify his clarification:

I was NOT saying it isn’t job of journos to call out lies, I said it was not job of media to sell WH’s health care message, it is WH’s job

Despite that embarrassing episode, Chuck Todd hasn’t always represented a net subtraction from the sum of human knowledge. He has, in fact, committed acts of journalism. As the GOP’s “Defund Obamacare” campaign ramped up over the summer of 2013, Todd used his NBC “First Read” column to actively illuminate rather than passively mislead. As he put it on July 9:

Here’s a thought exercise on this summer morning: Imagine that after the controversial Medicare prescription-drug legislation was passed into law in 2003, Democrats did everything they could to thwart one of George W. Bush’s top domestic achievements. They launched Senate filibusters to block essential HHS appointees from administering the law; they warned the sports and entertainment industries from participating in any public service announcements to help seniors understand how the law works; and, after taking control of the House of Representatives in 2007, they used the power of the purse to prohibit any more federal funds from being used to implement the law. As it turns out, none of that happened.

That’s exactly right. Despite their opposition to the Part D legislation, Democrats didn’t just refuse to obstruct Bush’s wildly unpopular and completely unfunded $400 billion windfall for insurers and pharmaceutical firms. In Washington and in the states, Democrats helped ensure the successful implementation of a Republican program whose 2006 launch even John Boehner acknowledged was “horrendous.”

Todd was right to highlight the polar opposite partisan responses to President Bush’s Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 and President Obama’s Affordable Care Act of 2010 to provide Americans with context for the unprecedented Republican obstruction of Obamacare. The truth, it turns out, will set you free.

And seeking the truth– not fluffing John McCain’s pillow–is exactly what “junkie” Chuck Todd the “virtual vacuum sweeper when it comes to political facts, figures and analysis” should do every Sunday morning.

 

By: Jon Perr, Crooks and Liars, August 16, 2014

August 17, 2014 Posted by | Chuck Todd, Media, Meet The Press | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Down Goes Perry!”: The GOP’s “Deep Bench” Just Completely Fell Apart

There was a time, long ago, when the Beltway media had a comforting narrative for Republicans, as they faced the loss of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in 2012. And it was: Unlike the Democrats, who were relying on flawed hero Hillary Clinton, the GOP had a “deep bench” of candidates for 2016, one that was especially thick with pragmatic governors.

But that bench has been splintering for a while, and now it’s a small pile of wood shavings that might be used as tinder for a fire that could ignite in 2020 or later – or not. Actually, it’s probably not even that useful.

We’ve seen New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at least partly sidelined by his various scandals. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker seems to have survived two damaging John Doe investigations, only to wind up tied with political newcomer Mary Burke in his November re-election race. Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell – oh, never mind, everyone crossed him off that list at least a year ago.

Now, shockingly, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been indicted for his role in a state scandal, on Friday night. The charges center on Perry’s decision to veto funding for the office of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, charged with investigating public corruption – her office’s work indicted former Texas congressman Tom DeLay in 2005 – after she was arrested for drunk driving.

Back when Perry vetoed the funding, Lehmberg was investigating the state’s Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, after multiple allegations of corruption under Perry, including the indictment of one official for mishandling a multimillion-dollar grant.

“The governor has a legitimate statutory role in the legislative process,” Texans for Public Justice director Craig McDonald, who originally filed the complaint, told the New York Times. “In the case of the Travis County district attorney, the governor had no authority over the district attorney’s job — a district attorney who was elected by Travis County voters and serves exclusively at their will.”

Talking to MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki, longtime Texas journalist Jim Moore said it looked like “Perry is trying to circumvent being investigated by anyone.” He noted that Lehmberg served 45 days in jail for her drunk driving conviction, even though there is “a long record in this state of forgiving people and electing them to office” after such crimes. That might sound like a lame liberal excuse, but Moore didn’t even  mention the most famous Texas DWI arrest, that of future governor and president George W. Bush.

Indicted by a county grand jury, it’s still possible Perry will beat the charges. It’s also worth noting that Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo faces investigation for comparable allegations of interfering with an agency charged with investigating political wrongdoing by allies. If Clinton wasn’t in the 2016 wings, Cuomo’s troubles would be bigger national news. Now that Perry’s been making aggressive moves right, making it pretty obvious he wants to run in 2016, this is generating big headlines even on a big-news weekend.

Imagine being a billionaire Republican donor: What would you do, surveying the GOP field, if you wanted to avoid the extremism of Sen. Ted Cruz and the eccentric, occasionally libertarian stylings of Sen. Rand Paul, two relative electoral neophytes. You’d likely be crossing Rick Perry off your list tonight, even if you sympathize with his political troubles. “Indicted, but not convicted” isn’t the best slogan for a presidential candidate. There are better slogans for Republicans; Dave Weigel jokingly suggests “Romney 2016: Still not indicted.” I’m not sure that’s the winner, either, but Romney is more likely to be nominated than Rick Perry right now.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, August 16, 2014

August 17, 2014 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Rick Perry | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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