"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“The Latest Hostage”: Fact-Checking Republicans On Social Security Disability

We’re going to be hearing a lot about the Social Security Disability program over the next few months. That’s because it is the latest “hostage” the Republicans have decided to use as leverage to get President Obama and Democrats to give them what they want. You can read more about all that here, but it comes down to this:

The largely overlooked change puts a new restriction on the routine transfer of tax revenues between the traditional Social Security retirement trust fund and the Social Security disability program. The transfers, known as reallocation, had historically been routine…

The House GOP’s rule change would still allow for a reallocation from the retirement fund to shore up the disability fund — but only if an accompanying proposal “improves the overall financial health of the combined Social Security Trust Funds,” per the rule…While that language is vague, experts say it would likely mean any reallocation would have to be balanced by new revenues or benefit cuts.

As you can see, its simply the GOP’s latest version of, “give us what we want, or else…”

In order to prime the pump, Republicans are already attempting to take on the “slackers” who rely on the disability program. Exhibit A: Sen. Rand Paul.

The first thing I’d like to point out is that – from these remarks – it appears as though Sen. Paul assumes that only those disabilities that are visible physically are real disabilities. We all know that is not true.

But PolitiFact did a thorough job of fact-checking Sen. Paul’s statements. And in so doing, provided us with a lot of information that is going to come in very handy as this whole hostage situation unfolds. On the overall accusations of wide-spread fraud, waste and abuse, here are the facts:

After an audit of disability insurance in 2013, the Government Accountability Office estimated that in fiscal year 2011, the Social Security Administration made $1.29 billion in potential cash benefit overpayments to about 36,000 individuals who were working and making more than $1,100 a month (the limit to receive disability benefits).

The 36,000 people receiving improper payments, while a lot on paper, represent about 0.4 percent of all beneficiaries, the report said.

There are other ways Social Security gives out benefits to those not deserving, but paying people already working is about 72 percent of the problem, according to the Social Security Administration. Factoring that in, the GAO estimates overpayments equaled $1.62 billion, or 1.27 percent of all disability benefits, in 2011. It’s a lot of money, but the disability program is a $128 billion program.

Got that? The level of fraud we’re talking about is 1.27% of benefits paid. As a friend of mine would say, “Now run and tell that!”


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 17, 2015

January 19, 2015 Posted by | Republicans, Social Security, Social Security Disability Fund | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“John Lewis Tells His Truth About Selma”: Reflections Of A Legacy Of Resistance That Led Many To Struggle And Die For Justice

The role of art in our society is not to reenact history but to offer an interpretation of human experience as seen through the eyes of the artist. The philosopher Aristotle says it best: “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance.”

The movie “Selma” is a work of art. It conveys the inner significance of the ongoing struggle for human dignity in America, a cornerstone of our identity as a nation. It breaks through our too-often bored and uninformed perception of our history, and it confronts us with the real human drama our nation struggled to face 50 years ago.

And “Selma” does more than bring history to life, it enlightens our understanding of our lives today. It proves the efficacy of nonviolent action and civic engagement, especially when government seems unresponsive. With poignant grace, it demonstrates that Occupy, inconvenient protests and die-ins that disturb our daily routine reflect a legacy of resistance that led many to struggle and die for justice, not centuries ago, but in our lifetimes. It reminds us that the day could be approaching when that price will be required again.

But now this movie is being weighed down with a responsibility it cannot possibly bear. It’s portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s role in the Selma marches has been called into question. And yet one two-hour movie cannot tell all the stories encompassed in three years of history — the true scope of the Selma campaign. It does not portray every element of my story, Bloody Sunday, or even the life of Martin Luther King Jr. We do not demand completeness of other historical dramas, so why is it required of this film?

“Lincoln,” for example, was a masterpiece, a fine representation of what it takes to pass a bill. It did not, however, even mention Frederick Douglass or the central role of the abolitionists, who were all pivotal to the passage of the 13th Amendment. For some historians that may be a glaring error, but we accept these omissions as a matter of perspective and the historical editing needed to tell a coherent story. “Selma” must be afforded the same artistic license.

Were any of the Selma marches the brainchild of President Johnson? Absolutely not. If a man is chained to a chair, does anyone need to tell him he should struggle to be free? The truth is the marches occurred mainly due to the extraordinary vision of the ordinary people of Selma, who were determined to win the right to vote, and it is their will that made a way.

As for Johnson’s taped phone conversation about Selma with King, the president knew he was recording himself, so maybe he was tempted to verbally stack the deck about his role in Selma in his favor. The facts, however, do not bear out the assertion that Selma was his idea. I know. I was there. Don’t get me wrong, in my view, Johnson is one of this country’s great presidents, but he did not direct the civil rights movement.

This film is a spark that has ignited interest in an era we must not forget if we are to move forward as a nation. It is already serving as a bridge to a long-overdue conversation on race, inequality and injustice in this country today. It may well become a touchstone, a turning point for another generation of activists who will undertake the next evolutionary push for justice in America.

It would be a tragic error if Hollywood muted its praise for a film because it is too much a story and not enough an academic exercise.

Whenever I have a tough vote in Congress, I ask myself what would leaders of courage do? What would King and Robert Kennedy do? What is the right thing to do? What is the fair and honest thing to do?

The people have already spoken. They are marching to the theaters, arrested by the drama of this film, moved by ideas too long left to languish, driven to their feet and erupting in enthusiastic applause.


By: Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), one of the leaders of two of the Selma marches, is portrayed in “Selma.” He has been a member of Congress since 1987; Op-Ed Opinion, The Los Angeles Times, january 16, 2015

January 19, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr, Selma | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What Joni Ernst Tells Us About GOP Politics”: The ‘Perfect Choice’ To Serve As The Voice Of The 2015 GOP

Delivering an official response to a president’s State of the Union address is a difficult, thankless task, which often doesn’t go especially well (see Jindal, Bobby and Rubio, Marco). A president generally enjoys an august platform, interrupted repeatedly with standing ovations, while the response usually features a politician standing alone, struggling to read from a teleprompter while speaking to a lone camera.

With all of this in mind, Republicans have made their choice in advance of President Obama’s speech next week.

Newly elected Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst will deliver the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, Republicans announced Thursday. […]

Ernst, who beat Democrat Bruce Braley decisively in November, told reporters she is “humbled and honored” to have the opportunity to deliver the address. The announcement was made at a Republican legislative retreat in Hersey, Pennsylvania.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the right-wing Iowan, just one week into her congressional career, the “perfect choice.”

And at a certain level, it’s easy to understand why. Ernst is a telegenic speaker who just won a competitive U.S. Senate race in an important battleground state. Given that congressional Republican leaders are dominated by white men, it stands to reason that the party would prioritize diversity for this national address.

But if Joni Ernst is now the “perfect choice” to speak on behalf of the Republican Party in 2015, it’s worth appreciating just what this choice tells us about the state of GOP politics.

For those who’ve forgotten, or perhaps didn’t follow Iowa’s U.S. Senate race closely, Ernst was arguably the most extremist candidate to seek statewide office in 2014. As readers may recall, Ernst endorsed banning abortions and many forms of birth control; nullifying federal laws she doesn’t like, privatizing Social Security; and impeaching President Obama. She argued that Saddam Hussein really did have weapons of mass destruction and people on Medicaid “have no personal responsibility for their health.” She dismissed the very existence of a federal minimum wage as “ridiculous” and credited the Koch brothers for the strength of her candidacy. She endorsed enough conspiracy theories to qualify her as the head of a Glenn Beck fan club.

At one point, Ernst expressed support for arresting federal officials who try to implement federal laws the far-right doesn’t like, and later, she added that she likes to carry a loaded firearm with her everywhere, in case she needs to defend herself – “whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.” [Update: A reader also reminds me of the time Ernst referred to the president as a “dictator,” as well as her outrageous rhetoric during the Ebola scare.]

The moment she was elected, Ernst instantly became one of the most radical U.S. senators, not just of this current Congress, but in recent American history.

As the 2014 campaign wound down, and revelations about the Republican’s bizarre nuttiness grew more serious, Ernst decided to stop talking to mainstream news organizations in Iowa altogether. She won soon after by nearly nine points, despite her extremism and despite her confusion about the basics of current events and public policy.

Ernst is the “perfect choice” to speak for Republicans? Really? Why would GOP leaders consider that a development to be proud of?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 15, 2015

January 19, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Joni Ernst, State of the Union | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Let’s Go Inside His Head”: The True Confessions Of Mitt Romney

Say you’re Mitt Romney, and you still can’t believe you lost the 2012 election. You’ve been aiming barbs at President Obama and sending heartwarming Christmas cards featuring your large family. In 2014, you star in a flattering documentary and post charming photos of your hike through the Mountain West with five of your 22 grandchildren. When asked whether you will make a third try for the White House, you and your wife say absolutely not, many times in many ways.

And then suddenly you’re giving off definitive “let’s do this thing” vibes: telling donors you will almost certainly run, calling former allies and aides, adding yourself to the program at the Republican National Committee meeting in San Diego and inviting conservative radio host Laura Ingraham to an “off the record” lunch at a ski resort in Utah, after which she tells The Washington Post you were “fully engaged and up to speed,” and seemed no longer content to be “just a passive player in American politics.”

So what catapulted you off the sidelines? Jeb Bush’s forceful entry into the emerging field was the spark. But you’ve been reconsidering for a while, looking at the other establishment favorites and wondering why the heck not. It’s not like you’re too old. The baby boom generation is still clogging up the runway. At 67, you’re about the same age as Hillary Clinton and not all that much older than Jeb, who will be 62 next month. As for old news, you’re practically a fresh face compared with Clinton, who has been in the news nonstop for more than two decades. And seriously, how damaging is a third grab for the ring when your competition is the third guy in his family to run?

What else is Romney thinking? Let’s go inside his head.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s tendency to erupt at people was fun for a while and raised lots of money, he muses. But I can raise money, too. And while I’m kind of awkward sometimes, I’m pretty sure voters won’t want a president who gets into public screaming matches. Not that I hold a grudge against Christie, even though his 2012 convention keynote was much more about him than me. But what makes him think people are going to disregard eight downgrades in his state’s credit rating, a poor job-creation performance or investigations into Bridgegate, the five-day traffic nightmare that punished a Democratic mayor? I certainly won’t.

It’s impressive, yes, that Gov. Scott Walker took on unions and has won three Wisconsin elections in six years. But would voters really pick this untested young candidate over the man who saved the 2002 Olympics and countless floundering businesses? (That would be me). And does Walker have the presence and skills to dominate a national race? I’ve already proven I can crush a sitting president in a debate.

And don’t get me started on Jeb and his family: his father’s reversal on his no-new-taxes pledge; his brother’s wars, deficits and intrusive federal education law; and his own support for comprehensive immigration reforms and Common Core education standards. All I did was sign “Romneycare” when I was governor of Massachusetts. I’ve already denied that it was the model for Obamacare. I’ve already said no other state should be required to do what I did. I’ve already said the federal law should be repealed. Problem solved.

I want to pause here to thank my good friend, the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, for his advice on how to deal with that time I dismissed 47 percent of the country as moochers who are dependent on government, believe they are victims, and will never take responsibility for their lives. Hewitt is right, everyone makes mistakes. Look at Hillary’s “we were broke when we left the White House” gaffe; Rick Perry’s “oops” moment when he forgot the third federal agency he wanted to eliminate; and Jeb’s description of illegal immigration as an “act of love” by people trying to give their families better lives. I never pretend to be poor, and I don’t start lists I can’t finish. Maybe I went a bit too far with the “self-deportation” business on immigration. You won’t hear me use that phrase again.

Above all, I won’t forget that a lot of those 47-percenters are veterans, seniors, low-income workers, the disabled and people searching desperately for jobs. And I won’t forget that a lot of them vote Republican — even for me! I won the seniors and the veterans, and I nearly won the union vote. I’m not only going to remember these folks, I’m going to focus my next campaign on opportunity and upward mobility. Wait, what do you mean, Jeb already named his political action committee Right to Rise, and stole the phrase — with permission — from my own 2012 running mate?

Back to the drawing board for the third round. I know the right message is out there somewhere.


By: Jill Lawrence, Creative Writers Syndicate; The National Memo, January 15, 2015

January 19, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Mitt Romney | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Biggest, Most Important 2016 Debate”: Writing The Obituary Of Supply-Side Economics

It’s now shaping up that wages and the condition of the middle class are going to be the dominant issues as we enter this first phase of the 2016 slog. Don’t take it from me, or even from Elizabeth Warren. Speaker John Boehner said as much (well, almost) on the day he opened the new session of Congress.

This is a very big deal, and it’s about more than our usual, tug-of-war politics. Boehner’s mention of wage stagnation was clearly opportunistic, because it’s a current problem that can be hung around the President’s neck. But middle-class wage stagnation is much more than an Obama problem. It’s our main economic reality for 30-plus years now.

The first chart in this article tells the basic story. Since 1979, American workers’ productivity has increased by 80 percent. The income of the top 1 percent has increased 240 percent. And the average American wage, adjusted for inflation, has gone up just a few percentage points, maybe 8 percent. It wasn’t always this way, and it isn’t nearly this bad in other advanced countries. The median wage in the United States today is around $50,000. If wages had kept pace with productivity gains, the median wage would be more than $90,000.

But look: It’s highly serendipitous that the wage problem is something the Republicans can use against Obama (at least for now). That means they’ll talk about it. What they’ll come up with in terms of solutions beyond tax cuts and deregulation is another matter, but the mere fact that they’ll talk about it means that both parties will be talking about it, and when both parties are talking about an issue, that issue tends to rise to the top of the charts.

On paper at least, this is great for Democrats, because wage stagnation is basically a Democratic issue, one that most voters would probably trust the Democrats to do a better job on than Republicans. Although of course, if it comes to be October 2016 and wages are still as flat as they’ve been since the crash, that could be a problem for the Democrats. So what they need to do is frame wages not as a post-crash, Obama-era problem, but instead to make sure Americans know that this is a deep historical problem, and that the moment to address it is right now.

To that end, you should know that this past week was a really good one for progressive economics in Washington (and none of it had anything to do with Warren!). Two major proposals were floated to address these problems. They’re real and meaty. And if events go in the direction I hope they do, their release in mid-January 2015 will be remembered as the moment when the debate turned.

First, on Monday, Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland put out a report by the Democratic staff of the House Budget Committee called “An Action Plan to Grow the Paychecks of All, Not Just the Wealthy Few.” All right, a bit cumbersome as a title. But give it credit anyway for getting to the point.

“I sat down with our team many months ago,” Van Hollen told me Thursday, “and we began to really tackle what would need to be done to deal with wage stagnation.” The plan is built around nine ideas. The one that’s gotten the most attention because of the obvious “class warfare” angle is the so-called Wall Street tax, a fee of .1 percent on financial market transactions.

But there are much more interesting ideas in the paper. The most notable may be a limit on the amount of deductions corporations can take for executive pay if those executives are keeping wages stagnant or laying off workers. “From 2007 to 2010,” Van Hollen says, “corporations took $66 billion in deductions on executive pay. That’s a huge amount of money. We say here that if you want to take a tax deduction, you’d better be giving your employees a raise.”

Van Hollen unveiled his proposals at the Center for American Progress on Monday. Then, two days later, CAP president Neera Tanden led a press conference unveiling a major new report on inclusive prosperity, under a panel co-chaired by Larry Summers and Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor of the exchequer for the British Labour Party. The CAP plan, which Tanden stressed is international in the scopes of its analyses and proposed fixes (hence Balls’s inclusion), is aimed at the same basic problem Van Hollen is shooting at—the need to raise the incomes of the middle class.

Summers, speaking at the press conference, emphasized an issue he’s been talking up for a long time, a “very substantial” increase in infrastructure investment. “When we can borrow at 1.8 percent in our own currency, and when construction unemployment approaches double digits,” as it is now, Summers said, “that’s the moment when Kennedy Airport should be fixed.”

No one is under the illusion that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are going to rush out and pass these measures. That isn’t the point. The point is to influence the direction of the debate, especially the presidential campaign debate. And that, of course, raises the question of the extent to which a certain former senator and secretary of state will embrace these ideas. Tanden was a longtime Hillary Clinton staffer. The imprimatur of Summers on these progressive ideas should raise Clinton’s comfort level with them. If Clinton runs on half of these ideas, and she’s signaling that she might, she’ll be a more progressive candidate than she was in 2008.

It’s hard to believe that we’ve lived with this kind of wage picture, this kind of raging unfairness, for nearly 40 years. Of course, part of the reason that we have lived with it for 40 years is that the Democratic Party wasn’t always much good at articulating a theory of economic growth that could counter the Republicans’ trickle-down argument. They’re finally finding their voice on this. And so, the real importance of the next election is not the Supreme Court, not climate change, not foreign policy, crucial as all those things are. It’s that it could write the obituary of supply-side economics.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 17, 2015


January 19, 2015 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Wages, Workers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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