Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday Mashup (11/29/10)

  • Yep, I always just assumed that departing Dem U.S. House Rep David Obey was a guy who had his priorities in order, and this proves it as far as I’m concerned.

    Seriously, we’re losing a ton of really solid Democrats from this Congress (once more, our everlasting thanks go out to the High Court of Hangin’ Judge JR for the horrible Citizens United atrocity of a ruling that had a lot to do with this, as well as those “moderate” Dems and independent voters), and Obey is definitely one of them.

    And the impact won’t be truly felt until the sheer partisanship, ineptitude and favoritism of the 112th Congress is on display for all to see, a bunch we will be saddled with for a minimum of two years.

  • Next, I give you an interview that appeared in yesterday’s New York Times magazine with hedge fund manager Pete Peterson, who has been “fixated” on the federal deficit for years, as Deborah Solomon of the Times tells us, with an emphasis on Social Security…

    Q: The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, whose report is due out Dec. 1, has been nicknamed the Cat Food Commission, because many of us are worried about cutbacks to Social Security that would have older people eating cat food to survive.

    A: That’s absurd.
    Actually, it isn’t (as if Peterson would know anyway). What is, though, is Peterson’s claim (noted here) that there is no Social Security trust fund, when in fact it exists and, as of 2007, held more than $2 trillion in government bonds.

    As the truthout article by Dean Baker also tells us…

    Fifteen years ago, Peter Peterson used some of the immense wealth he had accumulated as an investment banker to create and bankroll the Concord Coalition. The Concord Coalition was designed as a bipartisan organization promoting fiscal responsibility, with its primary targets being Social Security and Medicare. Peterson and his crew put out screeds, with titles like "Grey Dawn," that attacked these programs and warned that the growing wave of elderly would bankrupt the country.

    Like most of the granny bashers, Peterson routinely played fast and loose with the facts. For example, while warning about the poverty facing future generations, he suggested cutting the annual Social Security cost of living adjustment because the official consumer price index (CPI), to which retirees benefits are indexed, overstates the true rate of inflation. However, if the CPI really overstates inflation, then incomes are rising much more rapidly than the official data show; and future generations will be far richer than we could possibly imagine. (If income rises by 4 percent and the inflation rate is 3 percent, then real income has risen by 1 percent. But if our measure of inflation is wrong, and the rate of inflation is just 2 percent, then real income has risen by 2 percent.)

    Peterson also did his best to conceal the real source of projected budget problems: a broken US health care system. As Peter Orszag, the director of the Congressional Budget Office, has repeatedly noted, the projections for exploding deficits are driven by projections for exploding costs for government health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid. The costs of these programs are in turn driven by rising private sector costs.

    If we fix our health care system and get costs under control, then the growing population of elderly will pose no greater burden in the future than in the past. (We have always had an aging population. We live longer than our parents' generation and our children's generation will live longer than our generation.) If we don't fix our health care system then it will inflict enormous damage on the economy, even if we eliminate Medicare, Medicaid, and other public health care programs altogether.

    But Peterson's priority is not fixing health care, it is cutting Social Security and Medicare; and he is not a man to let facts or logic get in his way. He used his wealth to buy a substantial audience for his books and his views, most often in forums where they could not be challenged by real experts.
    What’s more, the blogger dday of firedoglake tells us here that one in four of the staffers of the bogus Erskine Bowles/Alan Simpson debt commission have contacts “from groups that are ideologically committed to destroying the social safety net in America,” Social Security and Medicare in particular.

    And as dday also tells us, presidential staffers had to go get the commission report from the Internet before the official release, while it was prematurely leaked to Peterson’s own advocacy groups in advance (kind of tells you what Peterson thinks of the White House even though it granted his cause such prominence).

    In addition, Daily Kos diarist Willa Rogers tells us here, the following alternatives apparently weren’t even considered…

    What about opening up Medicare to younger, healthier populations? Or using the VA formulary to control Part D costs for prescription drugs?
    And I thought the following response from the AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka was dead-on…

    The chairmen of the Deficit Commission just told working Americans to ‘Drop Dead.’ Especially in these tough economic times, it is unconscionable to be proposing cuts to the critical economic lifelines for working people, Social Security and Medicare.

    Some people are saying this is plan is just a “starting point.” Let me be clear, it is not.

    This deficit talk reeks of rank hypocrisy: The very people who want to slash Social Security and Medicare spent this week clamoring for more unpaid Bush tax cuts for millionaires.

    What we need to be focusing on now is the jobs deficit. Working families already paid for Wall Street’s party that tanked our economy. If we actually want to address our economic problems, we need to end tax breaks that send American jobs overseas and invest in creating jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and green technologies.
    Also, as far as Peterson’s dismissive reaction to the term “catfood commission” is concerned (a term coined first apparently by either Digby or Jane Hamsher), what follows goes a long way to explaining why it is apropos; as Dem U.S. House Rep (and commission member) Jan Schakowsky notes here “the commission has been resistant to producing distributional analyses of the various proposals. If they did, she says, ‘we would know who benefits and who pays’.”

    Silly Jan – as far as Bowles/Simpson/Peterson are concerned, suffering is for the little people (and once again, let me join the call for a “jobs” commission now that the Bowles/Simpson cat is out of the proverbial bag, with an employment “roundtable” representing something that could actually be constructive…it would be nice to hear our “hopey, changey” chief executive come out for that, now wouldn’t it?).

  • Continuing, against my better judgment, I’m actually going to comment on something by Charles Krauthammer, which is more nonsense in response to the START treaty currently awaiting Senate ratification (here, and if Jon “Earmark King” Kyl has his way, that is something we will never see – maybe I should let Krauthammer be, but he’s read by so many damn people who actually think he isn’t an utter partisan)…

    The problem is never the weapon; it is the nature of the regime controlling the weapon. That's why no one stays up nights worrying about British nukes, while everyone worries about Iranian nukes.

    In Soviet days, arms control at least could be justified as giving us something to talk about when there was nothing else to talk about, symbolically relieving tensions between mortal enemies. It could be argued that it at least had a soporific and therapeutic effect in the age of "the balance of terror."

    But in post-Soviet days? The Russians are no longer an existential threat. A nuclear exchange between Washington and Moscow is inconceivable. What difference does it make how many nukes Russia builds? If they want to spend themselves into penury creating a bloated nuclear arsenal, be our guest.
    Actually, I think we are on our way to “penury” with our “bloated nuclear arsenal” also.

    I will give Krauthammer credit for consistency in his argument, but that’s all. As noted here, he said similar moves to control Russian nukes by The Sainted Ronnie R were “ignorant and pathetic,” even though, as noted here…

    (START, renamed START I) barred its signatories from deploying more than 6,000 nuclear warheads atop a total of 1,600 ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and bombers. START negotiated the largest and most complex arms control treaty in history, and its final implementation in late 2001 resulted in the removal of about 80 percent of all strategic nuclear weapons then in existence.
    And as the New York Times pointed out here…

    Republican senators who are now resisting ratifying the New Start arms treaty should certainly have been paying more attention to the Lisbon meeting (in which NATO leaders agreed to jointly develop a shield intended to intercept short- and medium-range missiles). They have been so busy claiming, inaccurately, that the treaty would constrain future missile defense systems that they apparently failed to notice real progress toward the only effective system that current technology permits.

    Unlike the troubled missile defense program here, the European shield can be built at a modest cost with already-tested systems. Claims that President Obama is shortchanging America’s nuclear arsenal are also off-base. The administration backs spending more than $85 billion on maintaining and modernizing nuclear weapons over the next decade, far more than we think is needed.
    Ratifying START would send a signal to the world that we’re prepared to act like adults on this issue in the face of a common enemy, which would be Iran (something that apparently is more on the minds of world leaders based on the leaked Wikileaks cables than we were led to believe). But then again, cooperation on this would remove the spotlight from Kyl and focus it back where it belongs, and that would be on a strategy of deterrence and a common-sense reduction of WMD possessed by the two biggest nuclear proliferators on the planet.

    And given Kyl’s antics, can someone explain to me why the Repugs are supposed to be the “daddy party” again?

  • Finally, David Carr of the New York Times doesn’t think the recent controversy over the TSA “pat downs” is a big deal (here – three guesses who he blames for causing the furor)…

    If a squadron of mad scientists surrounded by supercomputers gathered in a laboratory to try to conjure a single news topic that would blow up large, they could not touch the T.S.A. pat-down story.

    It began with a Drudge Report link to a video on Nov. 13 of an intrusive pat-down, and then leapt to social media and the rest of the Web. Twitter lighted up, flashing 4,000 posts an hour with cheeky hash tags, and in just the first two days of last week, there were 60 million Google queries for information on the change in the Transportation Security Administration protocol, according to Trendrr, a social media measurement company.

    Cue the media mushroom cloud: by Tuesday, there were print reports about the new scanning technology, heavy-breathing blog posts about the government using the technology to alter or gather DNA (yow), and every cable channel featured wall-to-wall speculation about what would happen when people got to the airport on Wednesday and how many would be carrying lanterns and pitchforks.

    “This story tapped right into the central nervous system of the collective consciousness,” said Mark Ghuneim, chief executive of Trendrr. “It was huge.”

    But then, in the real world, nothing happened.

    The pat-down story was the equivalent of vaporware — it seemed as if something huge was about to happen, but it turned out that it was a story about a story, the noisy, fervent sound of a news system feeding on itself.
    It’s almost comical to point out that Carr apparently doesn’t even read his own newspaper; as Times writer Ariel Kaminer told us on Saturday (here)…

    Last Monday at Kennedy International Airport, as I went — ticket in hand — to experience it for myself, a uniformed officer informed me that she would be patting me down from head to toe, using a new enhanced technique. On “sensitive areas” — the breasts, buttocks and groin — she would use the back of her hand.

    Did I have any metal objects in my pockets? No. Would I prefer a private screening area? No.

    Then the officer’s hands did as she warned me they would. They poked around the back of my collar, they extended along my shoulders, they ran up and down my arms, they smoothed down my back, they slid inside the back waistband of my pants and they glided down my butt. The officer bent down and I felt her hands skate up the back of my left thigh — all the way up — and then do the same on my right. Then she rose, came around in front of me, and began again.

    As she acquainted herself with the precise topography of my bra, it seemed a fitting moment to get to know each other a bit. “I bet people are freaking out about this,” I said.

    It wasn’t much of a bet. Those freakouts — by passengers who were subjected to the new screening techniques, by passengers who have never been and want to keep it that way, by elected officials — had already gone viral. A “National Opt-Out Day” had already been scheduled for the day before Thanksgiving to protest the full-body scanners. Still, opting out of them may shield you from prying electronic eyes, but it just lands you where I was, right in the palm of the security agency’s roving hands.

    So, were people freaking out? My screener flashed me a “you don’t know the half of it” look. Then she worked her way over my belly and inside the waistband of my jeans. (A note to airline travelers: You might want to rethink those fashionably low-waist pants. I wished I had.) Then it was up and down my thighs again, and over a “sensitive area” indeed.
    Geez, it sound like the least the screener could have done was to offer her a cigarette afterwards.

    There aren’t too many issues where people who are miles apart ideologically can agree, but this appears to be one (here). And Isaac Yeffett, former Security Director for Israel's El Al Airlines, basically said here on “Countdown” that such measures are a waste of time, as opposed to a simpler interview technique (and I would say that the Israelis have a good track record on this stuff).

    As for me, the next time I have to travel domestically, I’ll stick with Amtrak.
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