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“Greed Is Always In Fashion On Wall Street”: Republicans Or Social Security? On 80th Anniversary, Still An Easy Choice

Ten years ago, as Americans celebrated the 70th anniversary of Social Security, the presidency of George W. Bush was already disintegrating over his attempt to ruin that amazingly successful program. The people’s rejection of the Bush proposal to privatize the system was so powerful that Republicans in Congress scurried away – and his political reputation never recovered.

Since then, the United States has endured a market crash and a crushing recession that proved how much this country needs its premier social insurance plan. Those events demonstrated that ceding control of Social Security and its revenues to Wall Street, in accordance with the Bush scheme, would have been a national disaster. And yet the Republican candidates for president seem utterly unable to learn that simple economic lesson.

To paraphrase the old French adage, the more things change, the more conservatism remains the same. On this 80th birthday of Social Security, the increasingly right-wing Republicans continue to blather the same old nostrums, as if they missed everything that has happened since 2005 – and as if they still want revenge against Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the humiliations he inflicted on their ideological ancestors.

Since August 14, 1935, Republicans and their financial backers have sought to undo the progress that Social Security represents for workers, the elderly, the disabled, and their families. Today’s Republican presidential wannabes all claim to be offering something new, but whenever they talk about Social Security, they sound as if they’re stuck in 2005 – or 1935.

From Rand Paul to John Kasich, from Marco Rubio to Rick Perry, from Lindsey Graham to Ted Cruz, from Bobby Jindal to Jeb Bush and George Pataki, they all agree that Social Security should be privatized. And with the possible exception of Mike Huckabee, all agree on undermining the only program that keeps millions of older Americans from ending their lives in poverty rather than dignity. Chris Christie, robber of public employee pensions, would swiftly raise the retirement age to 69, threatening grave hardship for blue-collar, lower-income Americans. Carly Fiorina would inflict similar suffering on workers who weren’t fortunate enough to snag an undeserved $40 million “golden parachute,” like she did.

Behind Republican warnings about the solvency of Social Security – and their enduring desire to privatize – are major financial interests that would like to seize the system’s revenue streams for their own profit.

Greed is always in fashion on Wall Street. But working Americans see no reason to hand Social Security over to the banks, when its administrative costs amount to well under 1 percent of its revenues. They know that the financial geniuses who almost sank the world economy eight years ago would charge far more than 1 percent, while imposing enormous risks on everyone but themselves.

So thanks, but — most emphatically — no thanks. As we mark this anniversary, most surveys show negligible support for privatizing Social Security or reducing its benefits; indeed, there is growing public support for proposals to expand and improve the system.

Yet polls also show many young Americans worrying that the system may not be sufficiently robust to pay full benefits by the time they reach retirement age. The latest report of the Social Security trustees, issued last month, suggested that the system’s trust fund could be exhausted by 2034.

Even then, the system’s revenues are projected to pay at least 75 percent of the benefits owed. But that wouldn’t be good enough when benefits are already too low – and there are several simple ways to fix Social Security’s finances so that nobody need worry. Long before the trust fund runs out of money, Congress can follow the example Ronald Reagan set in 1983 by raising the payroll tax rate — or mandate more progressive policy changes, such as lifting the cap on earnings subject to the tax, and broadening the tax base.

Declaring the nation’s “ironclad commitment” to Social Security, Reagan – who had once opposed the system as a symptom of creeping socialism – also expanded its base by bringing government employees into the system. Comprehensive immigration reform, which the Republicans oppose in nativist lockstep, would also create a stronger future foundation for all retirees and disabled workers.

So whenever these would-be presidents start barking about the need to pare, prune, or privatize this country’s most effective government program, remember this: Saving Social Security for future generations — even with higher payroll taxes — is far more popular than any of them ever will be.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Featured Post, Editor’s Blog, August 14, 2015

August 15, 2015 Posted by | Republicans, Seniors, Social Security | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The GOP’s Libertarian Time Bomb”: Why ‘Going Rand’ Would Be An Electoral Disaster

The time has come again for a perennial theme in politics: the idea that Republicans should “go libertarian.” The questionable premise, forwarded most recently by Robert Draper and Emily Ekins, is that the Republican Party could sweep up millennials, who are “socially liberal” and “economically conservative,” by adopting a more libertarian message. The ascent of popular startups like Uber and Airbnb — which have about them a decidedly libertarian flavor — has only strengthened this supposedly conventional wisdom.

Here’s the thing, though. The data show that this is an unlikely possibility, but more problematically, doing so would actually decimate the Republican base. The truth is, libertarianism is antithetical to conservatism.

The Republican base, broadly speaking, is made up of five often-overlapping coalitions: business conservatives who seek low taxes and low regulation; foreign policy hawks who seek a strong defense budget; social conservatives who fear moral anarchy; racists and nativists worried about immigration and affirmative action; and elderly retirees who rely on Social Security and Medicare. This coalition is already difficult enough to maintain, but in the future it will become more difficult.

And a “libertarian” message would only further erode the base.

Business conservatives seem like they would be the most open to a libertarian message. After all, lower taxes and less regulation are amenable to both groups. But Republicans are already very pro-business and anti-regulation; to go further in order to pull in a few more libertarians would entail (1) decreased fiscal or monetary intervention, or (2) the elimination of corporate subsidies. Both of these moves would alienate business conservatives, who, after all, rely significantly on government support (to the tune of $92 billion in 2006) and accept the need for countercyclical spending policies. Libertarians might struggle to support Republicans doling out farm subsidies year after year, subsidizing exports and bailing out big businesses and banks, but business conservatives demand it.

Foreign policy hawks would also find many of the core tenets of libertarianism — skepticism of foreign interventionism, opposition to the NSA and a healthy loathing of the military-industrial complex — to be problematic. Republicans could try to peel off support among libertarians by opposing torture, closing Guantanamo and investigating the NSA, but it’s tough to believe that the party of Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld would be able to garner much trust. The swift turn of Rand Paul from libertarian anti-interventionist to foreign policy hawk attests to the difficulty in going this route.

Social conservatives would likely be the most difficult challenge to libertarians. Libertarians tend to support individual  liberty:the right to gamble, drink, smoke, watch pornography, take one’s own life, participate in any form of sexual activity and use drugs. Needless to say, these views would be incredibly problematic for the moral majority coalition, which still forms an incredibly important part of the Republican base. It was Hayek who wrote in “Why I’m Not A Conservative”: “The conservative does not object to coercion or arbitrary power so long as it is used for what he regards as the right purposes… like the socialist he regards himself as entitled to force the values he holds onto other people.”

While it’s often considered impolite to note in public, a rather significant base of Republican power is still nativism. Witness the hysterical response to Central American refugees, the baseless claims against Obama’s citizenship, and the opposition to any immigration reform that doesn’t include a moat full of crocodiles across the border. But most libertarians are strongly supportive of open borders. Libertarian economist Bryan Caplan calls it, “The Efficient, Egalitarian, Libertarian, Utilitarian Way to Double World GDP.” In a world when even the “reasonable” Republicans are still spouting xenophobic drivel, witness Ross Douthat’s column worrying that “the bills under discussion almost always offer some form of legal status before enforcement takes effect, which promises a replay of the Reagan-era amnesty’s failure to ever deliver the limits on future immigration that it promised.”

Finally, there are the elderly retirees, whose support Republicans maintain by making sure that any spending cuts fall on the backs of the poor – not the old. One wonders how they would receive the Cato Institute plan to turn Social Security into private savings accounts subject to market forces. Many would balk if a politician called Social Security “federally mandated generational theft,” but this is how Nick Gillespie regards it. Social Security and Medicare are sacrosanct and any attempt to reform them is likely a “third rail” that would lead to electoral death for the politician that tried.

The problem with libertarianism is mainly that few people agree with its ideological assumptions — but will often come to the same political answer. But this means that most people will be “libertarian” on some issues, rather than use a libertarian mode of thinking to get there. So people may be programmatically libertarian, but ideologically disagree with fundamental assumptions. As political scientist Seth Masket writes, “Basically everyone agrees with libertarians on something, but they tend to get freaked out just as quickly by the ideology’s other stances.”

These contradictions are obvious, and Draper’s widely discussed piece touches on some of them. For instance, there is Mollie Hemingway, who claims to be a libertarian, but is anti-choice and rejects gay marriage. She argued that although “‘people should be free to organize their own lifestyle,’ the state had a unique interest in protecting heterosexual marriage, because it was ‘the relationship that’s ordered to producing children.’” She might want to turn to Ayn Rand, who argued that, “but it is improper for the law to interfere with a relationship between consenting adults” and noted that “abortion is a moral right — which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?”

Or what of Murray Rothbard’s claim that “the parent should not have a legal obligation to feed, clothe, or educate his children, since such obligations would entail positive acts coerced upon the parent and depriving the parent of his rights. The parent therefore may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die.” Hemingway is a programmatic libertarian — she likes some proposals, but rejects the radical individualism libertarianism truly entails.

And those are on the issues where Republicans are supposed to agree with Libertarians. Nick Gillespie touches on the minor contradictions in an interview for Draper’s piece:

Republicans always saw libertarians as nice to have around in case they wanted to score some weed, and we always knew where there was a party. And for a while it made sense to bunk up with them. But after a while, it would be like, ‘So if we agree on limited government, how about opening the borders?’ No, that’s crazy. ‘How about legalizing drugs? How about giving gays equal rights?’ No, come on, be serious. And so I thought, There’s nothing in this for me.

He leaves some equally problematic things out: legalized prostitution, restrained foreign policy, massive defense cuts, abolishing social security and Austrian economics. None of these will curry favor with the Republican establishment. The question is not whether there are a large number of Americans who would be excited by libertarianism; the question is whether the Republicans could maintain their current coalition and also court these voters — this seems unlikely.

Then there’s the fact that Rand Paul, once an ardent libertarian, has had to step back on numerous positions. There’s the fact that Gary Johnson alienated the base and Ron Paul looked loony in 2012, opposing the Iraq War, calling for an end to the federal reserve and arguing that the government should legalize all drugs. Ronald Reagan, who successfully used libertarian rhetoric (see: A Time for Choosing) eschewed it when governing. The Republican Party has long used libertarian rhetoric while pursuing statist policies. The Mercatus Center, a libertarian think tank, ranks the 50 states based on “freedom,” but weights “tax burden” as 28.6% of the metric and “freedom from tort abuse” as 11.5%, while “civil liberties” only account for 0.6% of a state’s score and “education policy” 1.9%. In Mercatus-land, alcohol, gun and cigarette freedom rank above marriage freedom, and abortion goes unmentioned. A libertarian turn for conservatives would be nice — libertarians actually hold the free market views conservatives claim and actually accept the importance of reason and individual liberty. But this is the reason it will never happen: True libertarianism would decimate the Republican base, so instead a half-hearted libertarianism prevails — stripped of policies, it subsists on empty rhetoric. But then again, the last few Republican rebranding efforts have been empty rhetoric, and so will this one.

 

By: Sean McElwee, Salon, August 23, 2014

August 25, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Libertarians, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Eyes Wide Shut”: GOP Representatives Now Realize Effects Of The Sequester They Voted For

Representative Renee Ellmers (R-NC) introduced a bill on Tuesday that returns sequester-cut funding to physicians to provide chemotherapy drugs to patients. The Cancer Patient Protection Act of 2013, H.R. 1416, restores sequester cuts made to Medicare Part B in order to provide cancer treatment and reimburse physicians for the costs of cuts already made.

Ellmers, who voted in favor of the Budget Control Act of 2011, called these cuts to cancer treatment “unintended consequences.” However, the cutback in funding wasn’t accidental, as Ellmers suggests—the Budget Control Act explicitly orders a sweeping two-percent cut to Medicare.

Despite her efforts to reverse its inevitable effects, Ellmers still defends the sequester. “I do believe it will start a very important process that will help our economy to start to grow,” she said. “The debt that we have at the federal level is our biggest threat for our country.”

Representative Blake Farenthold (R-TX) joins Rep. Ellmers in opposing elements of sequestration despite having voted for it. Farenthold, among others, was disturbed to hear of the closing of 149 air traffic control towers—especially those in Texas. The congressman sent a letter to FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Huerta, stating, “I am deeply troubled for your public statements and proposed actions regarding the effect of the sequester on smaller, local airports. These airports have long played a vital role in economies across the country.”

Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) was among the 269 representatives who voted in favor of the Budget Control Act, yet he too did not hesitate to criticize its effects. In Frelinghuysen’s district, children in Washington Township may be unable to enroll in Head Start programs due to lack of funding. Frelinghuysen said, “I view potential budget cuts to such an important program as another reason why sequestration is a bad idea.”

To date, sequestration has had significant effects on many Americans, and is expected to cause upward of $85 billion in cuts to communities across the country. The elderly have lost vital programs like Meals on Wheels; veterans may face difficulty accessing mental health, substance abuse, and job counseling services; and funding can be cut for medical research of illnesses like Alzheimer’s Disease.

The effects of sequestration are tangible; millions across the country have faced cuts across a range of industries. Rather than criticizing the effects of the sequester and introducing legislation to obtain certain exemptions from these imminent cuts, perhaps members of Congress like Ellmers, Farenthold and Frelinghuysen should have weighed the consequences before even voting for the measure.

 

By: Allison Brito, The National Memo, April 11, 2013

April 13, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Sequester | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Elderly And The Infirm”: Scott Walker’s Latest Victims Are The Most Vulnerable

When Governor Scott Walker faces Wisconsin voters in 2014, he’ll be running on a record of confronting public worker unions, turning down Medicaid expansion that would have covered 181,000 Wisconsinites and creating far fewer than the 250,000 new jobs he promised.

And if that isn’t enough, he can run on the Wisconsin Omnibus Tort Reform Act of 2011.

One of the first bills Walker signed into law, these reforms were taken almost entirely from the Koch-funded legislative warehouse of the Billionaire Rights Movement, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The legislation prevents state health investigation records from being admitted as evidence in any civil or criminal cases against long-term care providers, including nursing homes and hospices.

Sarah Karon of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism looked into the impact of the reform and found that the families of patients who often cannot testify on their own behalf are powerless to redress abuse and neglect.

In one case, Joshua Wahl — a paraplegic patient with spina bifida and brain damage — had a bedsore left to fester for months before he was finally hospitalized, according to a state investigator.

“It scares me for those who put their trust in a facility,” said Karen Nichols-Palmerton, Wahl’s mother. “It scares me to think of things that could be brushed aside. I don’t rest so easy anymore.”

Nichols-Palmerton is suing the facility, but the investigator’s report will not be heard in court, thanks to the Wisconsin Omnibus Tort Reform Act of 2011.

Why did Walker and Wisconsin’s Republicans decide records documenting such abuse shouldn’t be admissible in court?

It isn’t good for business.

“Each of these (proposals) is aimed at one thing — jobs,” said Brian Hagedorn, Walker’s chief legal counsel, during a hearing for the bill. “These changes send a symbolic and substantive message that Wisconsin is open for business.”

State investigators’ reports are published online. But a Department of Justice spokeswoman told Karon that the law makes it difficult to prosecute abuse and neglect cases at early stages, when severe injuries or death can be prevented.

Nursing homes that accept Medicaid or Medicare must be investigated every 15 months. Non-federally certified facilities are investigated by the states every two years. Wisconsin has cut its staff of nursing home surveyors by more than 30 percent, even as complaints about such facilities have risen by more than 100 percent since the year 2000.

Walker’s record of opening Wisconsin “for business” and turning away from its grand tradition of progressivism hasn’t had such a great effect on job creation. And the cost, especially for those forced to rely on long-term care, is falling squarely on the most vulnerable.

 

By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, February 22, 2013

February 25, 2013 Posted by | Scott Walker | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Dual Eligible’s”: Cut Medicaid And You Cut Health Care For The Elderly And Disabled

Gov. Romney and Rep. Ryan have been adamant that their Medicare proposals won’t affect people over 55. That may be true. But their Medicaid proposals sure will. A lot of health care for the elderly comes from Medicaid. We call those people “dual-eligibles”, because they qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid. Some dual-eligible are younger disabled people, but about two-thirds are 65 or older. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports:

Dual eligibles as a share of total Medicaid enrollees ranged from a low of 10 percent in Arizona and Utah to a high of 26 percent in Maine, due to demographic differences and policy preferences across the states. Similarly, spending on dual eligibles as a percentage of total Medicaid spending ranged from a low of 18 percent in Arizona to a high of 59 percent in North Dakota.

Lots of Medicaid money goes to the elderly. Cut Medicaid, and you likely cut some of that. Here’s more:

One quarter (25%) of Medicaid spending for dual eligibles went toward Medicare premiums and cost-sharing for Medicare services in 2008. Five percent of spending for duals was for acute care services not covered by Medicare (e.g., dental, vision, and hearing services). Another 1 percent of Medicaid dual eligible spending was for prescription drugs, a percentage that has fallen significantly since coverage for nearly all prescribed drugs for duals was shifted from Medicaid to Medicare Part D in 2006. The remaining 69% of Medicaid spending was for long-term care services, which are generally not covered by Medicare or private insurance.

That Medicaid money is going to Medicare premiums! It’s also going to actual care. Cut Medicaid, and you likely cut some of that.

It’s about time someone pointed that out. The health care proposals of Gov. Romney and Rep. Ryan will absolutely impact some elderly people way earlier than a decade. Unless they’ve changed their minds again.

By: Aaron Carroll, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 7, 2012

September 10, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Health Care | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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