Social Security

The Most Reasonable Man in Washington

by: Mike Lux

Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 15:30

Barack Obama's 2011 State of the Union Address was a solid, steady performance. He clearly values this brand for himself as the Most Reasonable Man in Washington - a balanced, centrist leader who takes ideas from every side and will work with anyone. It's an image that clearly has some advantages for him; the early reports I've seen from overnight polling and post-SOTU dial tests are very positive. On a short-term basis, the speech is a solid plus for the President. There also was a lot I liked about the speech from the perspective of someone focused on the long-term health of the progressive cause. But there are some big worries I have over the longer term, both for the President and the country.

Here are the things I liked best about the speech:

  1. The President's full-throated, completely unapologetic defense of the health care bill was great to see. His focus on being willing to look at improvements - but not back down one iota on the things in the bill that will help people - was pitch perfect, far better than most of the pretty lame messaging on the bill over the last year.
  2. Even knowing he wouldn't be embracing benefit cuts in the speech, I was still nervous about what he would say about Social Security, fearing that a vague line about being happy to work with Republicans to "fix" or "strengthen" Social Security over the long term would leave the door wide open for a deal later on benefit cuts. But his actual line about strengthening Social Security for future generations "without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans' guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market" was pretty darn definitive. I would have loved for him to go one step further and threaten a veto if Republicans passed such a bill, but this is a good start.
  3. I love the idea of paying for investments in research and the jobs of the future by eliminating subsidies to oil companies. And the framing of it was just right: since oil companies are "doing just fine on their own... so instead of subsidizing yesterday's energy, let's invest in tomorrow's." That is entrepreneurial populism at its best.
  4. The celebration of the Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal and the call for the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform were great moments in the speech.
  5. I know this isn't a stereotypically progressive position, but I am a big fan of the President's push to reorganize government agencies. I felt the same way about the Clinton/Gore Reinventing Government push in the '90s. I have always believed that as defenders of the role of government, it is up to progressives when they are running the government to make sure it operates efficiently and effectively, and that it serves the American people with a minimum of hassle and confusion and a maximum of genuinely useful service. Every time some small business person has to deal with excessive paperwork, and every time a consumer looking for help or information from a government agency runs into a wall of confusing bureaucracy, it lessens support for government - and that is a bad thing.
  6. As I wrote after the President's Tucson speech, I very much appreciate his embrace of the metaphor of America as a family. I think it is a metaphor with deep roots in American progressivism, from Tom Paine to Martin Luther King, Jr: that sense that we are all bound together, that we share a common fate and sink or swim together, that we should look out for each other and help each other in times of trouble. That is a profoundly progressive idea, and I hope the President at some point makes a point of expanding on the idea and talking about it more.
  7. While it was nuanced, and balanced by very centrist, pro-free enterprise kinds of language, I also very much appreciated Obama's defense throughout the speech of a strong role for government. His historical explanation of how government has helped innovation and long-term economic growth, his clear embrace of the critical importance of some government regulation, and his strong defense of Social Security were all moments in the speech that gave Americans a clear argument as to why government is not the problem, but part of the solution to our long-term national health and prosperity.

So there was a lot to appreciate about the speech. Certainly there also were some anti-progressive, irritating moments, too: screwing consumers on medical malpractice, screwing government workers with a wage freeze, screwing us all with the five-year freeze on domestic discretionary spending (which is actually at least a 7 percent cut if you factor inflation in). But more broadly, the speech leaves me concerned for Obama's - and the Democratic party's - political health over the next two years in a couple of different ways.

The first relates to Obama's description of, and attitude about, the economy. My fear is that the President and his economic team have convinced themselves that the economy is all coming up roses. I am not so sanguine, and I don't think the American middle class generally is either. The fact that corporate profits, the stock market, and our GDP are all going up has the President in a happy mood, because he believes it when folks like Geithner and Summers assure him that, as the White House team has been saying for the past two years, "jobs are a lagging indicator."

Look, I fully understand why the White House wants to trumpet any scrap of good news they can find about the economy. They have an urgent political need to try and convince people their economic plan is working. And if the economic team is right, and all these corporate profits and higher stock prices start to trickle down, and lots of new workers finally start to get hired, middle-class voters will be a lot happier with the President by the time November 2012 rolls around. My fear is that the damage to the economic fundamentals has been far more severe than the conventional wisdom macroeconomists at the White House realize, and that unemployment problems won't be going away very fast at all. My fear over the long term is that people are going to remember Obama bragging about increased corporate profits and stock prices even as they see unemployment stay high, wages still not rising, and housing prices continuing to be in the toilet - the same way voters in 2010 remembered his claim that bailing out bankers would lead to new investment and new jobs. That is a nightmare scenario for a President that the middle class still isn't sure is on their side.

Which brings me to my second worry: All this talk about American competitiveness in general is all well and good, but if middle-class folks don't feel the benefits of it any time soon, Obama has a big problem on his hands. There was a lot of talk in that speech about America doing better, America being more innovative and competitive, American business doing well. But it wasn't often in that speech that you got the sense that the President cared about the fate of the typical American working family; the family which might have a member unemployed or in a bad part-time job, the family worried about the fact that their mortgage is underwater because of home prices collapsing, the family whose income hasn't increased much in years as their gas, utilities, groceries, health care, and kids' tuition have all skyrocketed. If Obama has those folks at the front of his mind every day - if Obama is fighting his heart out for them every single day - you wouldn't have known it from his speech. And when people are going to vote, especially in economically stressful times, one of the main things on their mind is always: Which of these candidates is more on my side? Who understands my life and my concerns more? When push comes to shove, who will fight for me and my family more?

Especially if I am at least partly right about my first worry, and those middle-class swing voters are still under a ton of economic stress in November of next year, the who-is-on-their-side issue will weigh heavier than ever. I know such things are a little out of fashion to talk about right now, with corporate CEOs and Washington centrists being the President's main advisers. But unless the economy comes roaring back - and by that I mean jobs, not just corporate profits and stock prices - this question of who the President really cares about is going to weigh very heavily in the next election.

It was a pretty good speech overall, but it left some big questions hanging. If the jobs picture starts to really pick up, and the Republicans are too obvious about how much they are in bed with corporate lobbyists, this speech will set the stage for the upcoming election cycle very well. If not, the President may have set himself up for a tough road ahead.

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On Done Deals, Or, Sometimes Losing Is How You Win

by: fake consultant

Wed Jan 26, 2011 at 05:28

We have been talking a lot about Social Security these past few weeks, even to the point where I've missed out on talking about things that I also wanted to bring to the table, particularly the effort to reform Senate rules.

We'll make up for that today with a conversation that bears upon both of those issues, and a lot of others besides, by getting back to one of the fundamentals in a very real way...and today's fundamental involves the question of whether it's a good idea to keep pushing for what you want, even if it seems pointless at the time.

To put it another way: when it comes to this Administration and this Congress and trying to influence policy...if Elvis has already left the building, what's the point?

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Weekly Audit: Wall Street Destroyed $8 for Every $1 Earned

by: The Media Consortium

Tue Jan 25, 2011 at 11:29

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Tonight, President Barack Obama will deliver his State of the Union address. A major theme of the speech will be jobs and the economy. Let's hope the president spares a few minutes for Wall Street reforms that might prevent a repeat of the economic collapse that we're slowly starting to recover from.

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The Middle Class and the Political Center

by: Mike Lux

Tue Jan 25, 2011 at 09:00

In the State of the Union address tonight, Barack Obama can set the stage for a political comeback from 2010's "shellacking" that would, in fact, be even stronger than Bill Clinton's storied comeback in 1996 -- because Obama has a chance to sweep a Democratic House back into office with him if he does the right things politically and policywise. However, he has to resist the siren call of a D.C. political and media establishment, with their deeply flawed version of what "centrism" is, and instead focus on the real center of American politics: the hard pressed middle class. He has to focus like a laser beam on the policies that help the middle class by creating new jobs, rebuilding the American manufacturing base, helping small business to grow, and preserving the parts of government that directly help the folks in that middle class: Social Security, Medicare, education and student loans, and rebuilding our roads and bridges.

It is certainly unsurprising after all my years in politics -- in fact, it is the most predictable thing in the world -- to see the D.C. version of centrists argue in favor of things that would damage, and politically anger, the middle class. Nevertheless, it has been disturbing to see what groups like Third Way are calling for in their recent policy memoranda: cuts in Social Security and handing legal bailouts to the big banks so that it will be easier for them to foreclose on homeowners. Other D.C. establishment centrists like Alice Rivlin of the Brookings Institution are calling for Democrats to willingly accept big cuts and/or a private voucher program for Medicare. D.C. establishment folks think Democrats shouldn't press so hard to safeguard consumers from the banking industry.

Here's the thing that is stunningly obvious from all the available polling data, though: voters, most especially swing voters, hate the idea of policies that do even more damage to their already shaky economic standing. As pollster Guy Molyneux from Hart Research Associates so eloquently put it recently: "When it comes to Social Security, opinion elites are from Mars, voters are from Venus." In fact, pollsters like Molyneux, Stan Greenberg, and Celinda Lake argue that Obama's willingness to put Social Security cuts "on the table" has done as much to damage to him as any other issue. Thank goodness he has decided not to endorse cutting Social Security or raising the retirement age in the SOTU. Hopefully this will help him stop the bleeding with seniors and other Americans violently opposed to Social Security cuts (which is most of the population).

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House progressives to Obama: "Hands off Social Security"

by: Paul Rosenberg

Fri Jan 21, 2011 at 18:00

Obama doesn't seem very big on listening lately, but that's not stopping House progressives from speaking up anyway.  Good for them, because if Obama comes out for cutting Social Security in his State of the Union, it may well turn out to be the biggest blow the Democratic Party brand has ever taken for doing something wrong.  (They lost a lot by standing against segregation, but that was the right thing to do.)

Historically, one can point to the sweeping loss of power in the 1994 mid-terms--due in large part to abandoning some campaign promises, but passing NAFTA without promised strong protections for labor & the environment. It took 12 long years after that for Dems to win back the House, another 2 to gain the presidency and look about as strong as they did in the 1992 election.  The mid-terms undid most of that hard-won progress in a single swoop--particularly in the state legislatures.  

But abandoning Social Security as a Democratic signature would put every Democratic candidate in the country at a needless disadvantage, and make the collective effort to rebuild and come back even harder to envision, much less fight for.

From TPM:

Dems Press Obama: Hands Off Social Security!
Brian Beutler | January 21, 2011, 2:40PM

Ahead of the State of the Union address, House progressives want a word with President Obama about Social Security.

In a letter delivered Friday to request a meeting with President Obama, 33 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus seek assurances that he will not work with Republicans to cut or privatize Social Security.

"[T]here is no Social Security crisis," the members write.

"We believe that cutting Social Security benefits, beyond the already scheduled increase in the retirement age from 65 to 67, will create even greater hardship for our most vulnerable citizens.... We urge you to send a clear message in your State of [the] Union Address: Hands off Social Security!"

The letter comes amid reports that, in his address, President Obama will embrace bipartisan calls for changes to Social Security that would likely include benefit cuts.

Letter here.

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Will Obama stab the Democratic Party in the back at the State of the Union?

by: Paul Rosenberg

Wed Jan 19, 2011 at 15:00

Barack Obama got to become president in part because he clearly defended core traditional Democratic values--including a strong defense of Social Security:

But there's deep concern that he may abandon that support in his State of the Union, despite the fact that it would be an unmitigated disaster for him to do so.  After all, such an abandonment would be perfectly in line with his new-found enthusiasm for slashing regulations.  But a new A Democracy Corps/Campaign for America's Future poll clearly shows what an unpopular move this would be,focusing on the two most likely forms of "compromise" that Obama is likely to consider:

Richard (RJ) Eskow has a very clear read on this at Huffington Post:

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On Contradiction, Or, Will Obama Lose An Argument With Himself?

by: fake consultant

Sun Jan 16, 2011 at 17:20

(A preview of coming attractions.  Quite a bit more about Social Security to come between now & the State of the Union - promoted by Paul Rosenberg)

There have been many unlikely things that have happened this past month or so: some of them appearing as legislation, some of them appearing in the form of Republicans who set new records for running away from the words they used to get elected-and some of them appearing in the markets, where, believe it or not, many Europeans finds themselves wishing for our economic situation right about now.

There are even improbable sports stories: our frequently hapless Seattle Seahawks, the only team to ever make the NFL Playoffs with a losing record, are today preparing to knock the Chicago Bears out of their bid to play in the Super Bowl, having crushed the defending holders of the Lombardi Trophy just last week before the 12th Man in Seattle.

But as improbable as all that is, the one thing I never thought I would see is Barack Obama getting into a political argument with himself over Social Security-and then losing the argument.

Even more improbably, it looks like there's just about a week left for him to come to a decision...and it looks like you're going to have to help him make up his mind.

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On Shame As A Tactic, Or, Betsie Gallardo: She Won...And So Can You!

by: fake consultant

Thu Jan 06, 2011 at 13:41

We have been following the story of Betsie Gallardo lately, she being the woman that, due to a medical decision, was being starved to death in a Florida prison.

She has inoperable cancer, her death is imminent, and her mother was working hard to make it possible for Betsie to die at home with some dignity.

As we reported just a couple days ago, half the battle was already won, as the Florida Department of Corrections had agreed to place her in a hospital so that she could again go back on nutritional support.

On January 5th, the Florida Parole Commission voted to allow her to end her life at home-and that means you spoke out, made a difference, and achieved a complete victory for the effort.

But even as we celebrate that victory, I think we should take a moment to realize that there is a bigger lesson here: the lesson that the fights over "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT), benefits for 9/11 first responders (the Zadroga Bill), and Betsie Gallardo's imminent release are all actually pointing us to a political strategy that works, over and over, if we are willing to understand the wisdom that's been laid before us.

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The Tea Party Agenda: Is It Already Slip Sliding Away ?

by: Steven J. Gulitti

Wed Jan 05, 2011 at 23:32

As the 112th Congress gets down to business, a major element of the Tea Party agenda, deficit reduction, seems to have already been reduced in scope, now seemingly becoming the object of negotiation and political theater. Having reached the halls of Congress it's a bit ironic to see such a major plank of the Tea Party platform slipping away so soon. It reminds one of that old Paul Simon refrain: "Slip sliding away, slip sliding away. You know the nearer your destination, the more your slip sliding away." According to Jackie Calmes of the New York Times: "Many people knowledgeable about the federal budget said House Republicans could not keep their campaign promise to cut $100 billion from domestic spending in a single year. Now it appears that Republicans agree." This new found reluctance to enact budget cuts is a function of several factors. First, the federal fiscal year is already one third over so the amount of time left to affect meaningful cuts is greatly reduced. Second, lacking control of the Senate effectively stymies any attempt at drastic budget reductions over the next two years. Moreover, there is a reluctance on the part of Senators on both sides of the aisle to enact deep budget cuts during a time of severe recession as such measures may derail the weak but building recovery. Again to Calmes: "a House vote would put potentially vulnerable Republican lawmakers on record supporting deep reductions of up to 30 percent in education, research, law enforcement, transportation and more." This degree of debt reduction would take millions of dollars out of the economy in the short run in spite of the longer term concerns about debt levels. While we can't ignore the deficit problem indefinitely, any attempt to reduce the simulative effects of government spending in a weak economy may be just to risky for those currently occupying the halls of power. Thus the new line coming out of Republican leaders on Capitol Hill is that the $100 Billion number was a hypothetical figure to begin with. So much for a radical new day in Washington.

Then there is the fact that many of the proposals favored by the Republicans may do little if anything to rectify the budget deficit issue. According to Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo: "Republicans' deficit reduction platform, which may have helped catapult them into the majority, is about to run headlong into a hard reality: Many of their key policy goals will increase the deficit dramatically. To get around this fact, they've included measures in their new rules package to exempt some of their biggest legislative priorities from deficit consideration. Among the exceptions, which the House is likely to consider in the 112th Congress, are the health care repeal bill, the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, an AMT patch, extending the estate tax, and more.... The health care law, according to the Congressional Budget Office, will reduce the deficit by $143 billion through the end of the decade, and more so in the decade after that. Thus, repealing the law will blow a similarly sized hole in the deficit." Likewise a recent editorial appearing in the Washington Post comes to a similar conclusion. Quoting from "New pay-go rules reveal GOP's misplaced priorities"; "ARE HOUSE Republicans serious about dealing with the deficit? You could listen to their rhetoric - or you could read the rules they are poised to adopt at the start of the new Congress. The former promises a new fiscal sobriety. The latter suggests that the new GOP majority is determined to continue the spree of unaffordable tax-cutting. The ominous signs come in the wording of the new majority's version of its pay-as-you-go rules, which normally require that new programs or tax initiatives be covered with cuts to other programs or new revenue. In the GOP concept, pay-as-you-go applies only to spending programs. When it comes to tax cuts, it's all go, no pay. Taxes can be cut, and the national debt increased, without any offsetting savings." Now granted it was not the newly elected Tea Party backed lawmakers who engineered this shift in strategy, it's their new found partners within the Republican establishment. Thus it would appear that we are on the verge of a three way fight in the halls on Capitol Hill between the Democrats and the G.O.P., and between the G.O.P. and the Tea Party. That begs the question, what does this mean for the future of the Tea Party agenda and the movement's ability to produce the single most important product a party creates, policy.

As the first day of the 112th Congress came to a close, two veteran political observers in Washington, both appearing on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, took stock of the new Congress, its Tea Party contingent and what could be expected going forward. Norm Orenstien of the conservative American Enterprise Institute said that the Republican Party had the "freedom" to pass whatever they wanted to in the House so as to attempt to undo the legislative achievements of the past two years. However, they also know that anything too radically to the right won't survive the Senate or the President's veto pen. That said, all that the newly radicalized lawmakers could accomplish was to "bollix up the health care debate and the legislative process", to paraphrase Orenstien. Presidential historian, Michael Beschloss, cautioned that it was unwise to read too much into the stunning Republican victory of 2010. Beschloss pointed out that while the Tea Party crowd ran for office on a radically rightwing agenda, the historical record shows that undoing the type of legislation just enacted doesn't happen too often. Pointing to the G.O.P.'s similar victory in 1952, Beschloss said that while this victory was freighted with ideas such as dismantling Social Security and rolling back the Soviet Union militarily in Eastern Europe, none of that ever came to pass. In fact the Democrats regained Capitol Hill and basically held onto it until the election of 1994. Likewise Kimberley Strassel of the Wall Street Journal in her "after action report" on the 2010 election pointed to the fact that last November's results don't politically guarantee anything: "History doesn't inspire optimism. Over the past 100 years, every time a president two years into his first term lost Congress, he went on to re-election: Truman in '48, Eisenhower in '56, Clinton in '96. Newt Gingrich even wrote a book, "Lessons Learned the Hard Way," about the GOP mistakes in the wake of 1994. It boiled down to Republicans over-promising and under-delivering-becoming the foil off of which President Clinton was able to skillfully pivot away from his own liabilities." Thus we are about to witness some of the most interesting politics, political theater and political oratory to come onto the American scene since the end of the Second World War. At the very least is should be interesting as well as colorful.

Steven J. Gulitti


Republicans Lower Goal for Cuts to Budget; ... 1&emc=eta1

GOP Exempts Deficit Busting Policies From New Budget Rules;
http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo... ... -rules.php

New pay-go rules reveal GOP's misplaced priorities; ... s_opinions

House GOP Backtracking on Promised 'Reforms' Before They Even Get Started; ... 04227.html

The GOP's 2012 Game Plan; ... 93940.html

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Poll Shows American's Deficit-Cutting Priorities Direct OPPOSITE of Political Elites

by: Paul Rosenberg

Tue Jan 04, 2011 at 12:00

In Quick Hits, The Big Hurt calls attention to a question in a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll.

First, from CBS comes a graph of the topline results:

Then, from comes the breakdown by income:

To balance the federal budget, which of the

following would be the first step you would take?

			TOTAL 	<$50K*	$50K-$100K >$100K
Increase taxes on
the wealthy 		61% 	67% 	58% 	46%
Cut defense spending 	20 	20 	22 	20
Cut Medicare 		 4	 2	 5	10
Cut Social Security 	 3	 1	 5	 6

* Mislabeled >50K in the original.

The results are hardly surprising, as polls have gotten similar results in the past.  Indeed, the General Social Survey has long showed that very few people want to cut Medicare or Social Security, while a great number want to increase spending--but this is not the case for military spending.  Even after 9/11, most people remained more supportive of Medicare and Social Security spending than they were of military spending.  (See tables & charts & brief discussion on the flip.)

But look a little more closely at the internals. Overall, cutting military spending is five times more popular than cutting Medicare.  Among those making less than 50K, it's ten times more popular.  But among those making over 100K, it's only twice as popular.  Once you get into the stratospheric income levels of K-Street lobbyists and others in the influence biz, it's a good bet that the difference vanishes entirely--and that's even before anyone gets paid to advocate for anything.

Some have suggested that Medicare should be means-tested in order to save money.  But these polls show that there's already a sharp income-based difference in levels of support as things stand today.  Add in means-testing, so that those making over 100K get nothing out of Medicare themselves--or even just substantially less--and the levels of support would certainly erode even further, thus making it even easier for Congress to act against the wishes of the broad majority of the American people.

On the flip:  A set of tables & charts, showing just how upside-down the Versailles consensus is from what the American people want.

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Obama sleepwalking us into Glenn Beck's dream--not Martin Luther King's

by: Paul Rosenberg

Thu Dec 30, 2010 at 11:00

When Barack Obama ran as a transformational candidate in 2008, few imagined that the transformation he was offering would be to that of a return to 19th Century America, characterized by extremes of wealth and poverty, with locally-funded poorhouses in place of federal programs like Social Security, unemployment insurance, food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP.  Even now, after two years of disappointment, to say the least, it's hard to imagine that's the sort of transformation Obama means to bring.  But if you look past the rhetoric to the actions, perhaps that backwards transformation is not really so far-fetched.

In a stunning piece of long-form journalism, "The Poorhouse: Aunt Winnie, Glenn Beck, And The Politics Of The New Deal", Arthur Delaney and Ryan Grim of Huffington Post devote most of their attention to vividly describing the world of the poor in 19th Century America, generations before the New Deal brought America into the modern era.  Poorhouses were places of extreme social control. In most states, families were not allowed there. Children of adults sent there were sent to orphanages or foster homes--or, if they were old enough, perhaps apprenticeships. They were dead-end institutions for people not regarded as capable or worthy of personal autonomy--second-class citizens viewed in the same demeaning light as slaves had been.  It is little wonder, then, that most people, even on the edge of starvation, were reluctant to enter them, as demonstrated by the example that begins "The Poorhouse":

An employee of Associated Charities, a private organization dedicated to alleviating poverty in the District of Columbia, met an old black woman carrying a basket of cinders near the dump in Southeast D.C. on a bitterly cold day in December 1896.

The woman "could not give street and number, but could 'fotch' the agent to her place," according to a case study labeled "Aunt Winnie" in one of the organization's annual reports from near the turn of the century. "Old age, with a heavy load on top and a strong wind blowing, made the walk a trying one. At last the 8x10 cabin was reached. In it was a stove in many pieces held together with wire, a bedstead with rags for mattress and rags for covering. From the leaky roof the floor was wet through and through."

Aunt Winnie, the report said, had no income save the 50 cents she made every two weeks for taking in wash. In summertime she raised herbs and greens, but in winter she "suffered for food and fuel." Her children had all been sold away to slavery, and a nearby niece was too poor to offer any support. Her neighbors helped, providing money for the stove and cot, and a "colored friendly visitor was found to carry broth and other comforts to her." The neighborly charity wasn't enough to persuade the agent, who was essentially a private sector version of a social worker, that the old woman should be on her own.

"In the fall of '98 agent asked her to go into the almshouse, but she would not consent. During the storm in February '99, she was kept from perishing with a great effort. Every visit, and they were many, had to be made through snow up to the waist. It was during these visits that the promise was made that before another winter she would take refuge in an almshouse."

When the weather warmed, Aunt Winnie backed off her promise to go to the almshouse. The social worker started to play hardball.

Quotation continued on the flip...

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Obama to pre-emptively gut Social Security? Could return the Democratic Party to 1894

by: Paul Rosenberg

Mon Dec 20, 2010 at 10:30

So warns Robert Kuttner:

Obama to blink first on Social Security

The tax deal negotiated by President Barack Obama and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is just the first part of a multistage drama that is likely to further divide and weaken Democrats.

The second part, now being teed up by the White House and key Senate Democrats, is a scheme for the president to embrace much of the Bowles-Simpson plan - including cuts in Social Security. This is to be unveiled, according to well-placed sources, in the president's State of the Union address.

The idea is to pre-empt an even more draconian set of budget cuts likely to be proposed by the incoming House Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), as a condition of extending the debt ceiling. This is expected to hit in April.

White House strategists believe this can also give Obama "credit" for getting serious about deficit reduction - now more urgent with the nearly $900 billion increase in the deficit via the tax cut deal.

How to put this politely? For a Democratic president, this approach is bad economics and worse politics.

For starters, cutting Social Security as part of a deficit reduction deal is needless - since Social Security is in surplus for the next 27 years. The move also gives away the single most potent distinction between Democrats and Republicans - Democrats defend your Social Security, and Republicans keep trying to undermine it.

If you think the Democratic base feels betrayed by Obama's tax-cut deal, just imagine the mayhem when Obama proposes to cut the Democrats' signature program.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) compared Obama's tax deal to punting on first down. A pre-emptive cut in Social Security is forfeiting the game before kickoff.

Not the game, but the season. No, make that every season in perpetuity. If the Democrats do this, there is literally nothing they stand for, except not standing for anything.

"Look!  I'll shoot my foot off and then that bear trap will be useless!" doesn't even begin to capture the folly of this.

There has not been a Democratic President this co-operative with the demands of capital--and heedless of the common people--since Grover Cleveland, a president who was also utterly clueless in the midst of a terrible economic downturn (they called them "panics" back then).  It took 40 years of struggle for the Democratic Party to move from Grover Cleveland to FDR, whose legacy Obama has consistently misrepresented.  Now, in the twinkling of an eye, Obama promises to turn us back again, back to a time that Americans almost without exception have no political memory or even imagination of.

When Cleveland won in 1892--for the second time, after losing his re-election bid in 1888--the Democrats in the House lost 20 seats, while the GOP picked up 38 (a statistical mess, third parties gained 7 seats and the size of the House expanded), but still held a comfortable majority, 218-124.  But then came the Panic of 1893, and Ceveland's profound incompetence and ideological cluelessness let lose the flood: Democrats lost 125 seats in 1894, while Republicans picked up 130--more than doubling the number of seats they held, while Democrats lost more than half--down to a mere 93 seats.  These two elections were so devastating to the Democratic Party that the Republicans actually lost a very substantial 48 seats in 1896 at the same time that McKinnley was winning the Presidency in what's none-the-less widely regarded as one of the definitive realigning elections of American history. (The Democrats only picked up 31, though, as the Populists picked up 13 seats for a total of 22).

This is the far-distant historical world that Obama actions threaten to return us to, a world in which the Democratic Party of the past 78 years was not even imaginable, and would not come to exist for another two generations.  No political figure in American history has wrought as much political mayhem as Obama now stands ready to do.  He is finally ready to be every bit as destructive, every bit the secret turncoat that the Tea Partiers always imagined him to be.  Only, of course, in exactly the opposite way that they supposed.

Farther down, Kuttner concludes his piece:

Destroying government's capacity for social investment seems now only a tertiary concern for the White House - though a prime Republican goal. In this weird inversion, being willing to sacrifice the Democrats' best-loved programs is taken as a sign of Democratic resolve.

Obama is finally getting the bipartisanship he craved - but entirely on Republican terms.

Republicans win three ways. They have a Democratic president doing their work for them, destroying the Democratic capacity to use affirmative government to address dire national problems and annihilating his own party.

And all this before they even take over the House.

If only Eisenhower were still alive to run against Obama in the 2012 primaries.  He saved the Republican Party in 1952.  He could do the same for the Democrats 60 years later.

Discuss :: (34 Comments)

Obama's mythical great Social Security compromise, by the numbers (Medicare, too!)

by: Paul Rosenberg

Thu Dec 09, 2010 at 19:30

Obama babbled, Reagan-like at his Dec. 6 press conferece:

Most Americans, they're just trying to figure out how to go about their lives and how can we make sure that our elected officials are looking out for us. And that means because it's a big, diverse country and people have a lot of complicated positions, it means that in order to get stuff done, we're going to compromise. This is why FDR, when he started Social Security, it only affected widows and orphans. You did not qualify. And yet now it is something that really helps a lot of people. When Medicare was started, it was a small program. It grew.

Under the criteria that you just set out, each of those were betrayals of some abstract ideal.

Fact: (Dan Froomkin):

The Social Security Act, as first signed into law by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1935, paid retirement benefits to the primary worker -- and not to their widows and orphans.

1935 SS Act Old Age Provisions here.

1935 SS Act Death Benefits here.

"History (Social Security Numbers / Social Security Number Chronology):"

1936-1937 | Approximately 30 million applications for SSNs were processed between November 1936 and June 30, 1937.

Geez!  Obama sounds just like Hannity or Beck!  And what about the notion that this was some sort of hard-fought compromise?  Well, of course blacks were almost entirely excluded, due to how racist the country was.  But within those restrictions, the Democrats had a landslide majority, and even the small slice of Republicans in Congress didn't put up much of a fight. From Social Security Online (History):

And the legislative backstory is similarly placid:

There's More... :: (22 Comments, 506 words in story)

Let Them Expire: Return to Bill Clinton's Tax Rates

by: debcoop

Wed Dec 08, 2010 at 15:00

When George Bush passed his tax cuts in 2001 with the assistance of 12 Democrats, conservatives and even "liberal" one like Dianne Feinstein, I tore the roll call vote out  of the NY Times.  And I kept that yellowing and drying piece of paper on my bulletin board until it crumbled into dust.  I wish that was a metaphor for what would happen to the tax cuts themselves.  

These tax cuts were a seminal triumph of Republican ideology. False ideology that tax cuts drive decent, just economic growth. But the real ideological compulsion was that if you starve the government of revenue that social programs, which the right has long hated and spent millions of dollars and volumes of lying words demonizing, will have to be dismembered in some . reactionary, cannibalistic orgy.

For the sake of the country I have fel for the last decade that January 1, 2011 couldn't happen soon enough.

LET THEM EXPIRE.  And while that is the best negotiating strategy to ensure that middle class tax cuts only pass, one has to really mean it to have it work.

But I write this not as a negotiating strategy. I advocate this for  economic and political reasons. I think going back to 1993 rates is the right thing to do.

The best outcome for the long term economic health of the country is to LET THEM EXPIRE.  The best outcome for the Democratic party would be to  to return to Bill Clinton's tax rates.  Bill Clinton's  Deficit Reduction Act of 1993, which  was an essential component of that rejoinder " What part of peace and prosperity didn't you like?    

The 1993 bill raised the Reagan/Bush tax rates to a level that could sustain a decent level of services and functions that a government must finance. Between those rates and his administration's  investment and strategies to fuel economic growth, not only did Bill Clinton get rid of the Reagan Bush deficits, that Democratic president bequeathed to his Republican successor a SURPLUS. There was no need to turn to counterproductive and even destructive austerity proposals aimed almost soley at the middle class; proposals which actually will actually retard growth.

Letting them expire would reveal the Commission's  real, ghoulish purpose...which is to use the deficit as a a Trojan Horse.  Their real purpose is storming, looting and raping Troy aka the American economic system.   The real purpose is to  eviscerate and destroy the entire Democratic party's  social entitlement edifice of of the 20th century.  That prospect makes them as gleeful as Scrooge over his gold coins.  

There's More... :: (10 Comments, 401 words in story)

Weekly Audit: Tax Cuts for the Rich Extended

by: The Media Consortium

Tue Dec 07, 2010 at 13:12

Weekly Audit: Tax Cuts for the Rich Extended

By Lindsay Beyerstein,  Media Consortium Blogger

Congressional Republicans and the White House  struck an agreement in principle on Monday night to extend all the Bush tax cuts for 2 more years in exchange for extending unemployment benefits. The GOP agreed to the so-called "Lincoln-Kyl compromise" a partial 2-year extension of the Bush estate tax cuts on estates worth over $5 million. If the deal had not been struck, estate taxes on estates over $5 million would have gone back up from 0% to the pre-cut rate of 55%. Instead, the rate will be 35% for the next 2 years.

There's More... :: (0 Comments, 1032 words in story)
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