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    • The Technology of Violence and its effect on prosperity and freedom
        Prosperity is two things: 1) How much you can produce with your technology and social organization; 2) Who gets how much.   The second is determined by a number of factors, but the simplest is the structure of violence.  Those who aren’t good at fighting, don’t get as much of the surplus created by [...]
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Boogiemen and Clubs

The Third Way picking off sleepers in the Mead Hall

I’m trying to find the motivation to write anything in the last couple of days.  The small evil group who runs the world and to whom no one we know belongs seems determined to take away our social insurance benefits that we pre-paid.  I was on my way home from Philly last night listening to All Things Considered and let me tell you, there is a reason why I gave up NPR news programs back in the mid Naughties.  Last night, they interviewed some asshole from a casino corporation who is advising the president on the “fiscal cliff” from the business perspective.  I don’t remember his name (and for some reason, I can’t find the clip) but I was so infuriated after his little spiel that I could barely drive.  Here’s a summary of what he said:

He recognizes that the current economic environment is bad.

He thinks we need to cut back on “entitlements”.

He thinks that the American people need stability and something they can count on beyond the next quarter.

He thinks that social security can be replaced with something that works better.

He is convinced that if taxes are raised on the wealthy, they won’t have enough money to spend in casinos, leading to job loss.

Here’s what he really meant:

His business is suffering because not enough people are gambling.  They’re actually more concerned with keeping their houses than losing them, if it can be believed.

He doesn’t want to pay the employer’s part of social security.  Well, neither do I but now that I am self-employed, I am paying both parts and since it is MY MONEY, social security is the best way to ensure I have something to retire on.

He thinks it’s a bad idea to make Americans uncertain about their economic futures with layoffs and stuff because it means fewer people are going to gamble.  So, getting people back to work and stable is a good thing, mostly for him but if it turns out to be good for the average American, that’s good too. For some reason, like many business people, he seems to have a blind spot where the social insurance programs are concerned.  Making Americans more secure about their retirement futures might just get them to visit a casino in their younger years.  On the other hand, people like myself, who are unlikely to ever make the money I did a year ago are going to sock money away in a mattress and never visit a casino ever if there’s no social security on the horizon or a paltry sum compared to what we were lead to believe (I’ll address that a little later).  So, Mr. Casino man really needs to think this through.  Or maybe he has thought it through and has been convinced by his consultants that the illogic of his contradictory thoughts will not get much scrutiny from the NPR interviewers.  The consultant, probably from the company Mr. Grinch Consultants Inc, was correct.

He seems to have in mind a replacement for Social Security and Medicare.  We can count on his suggestion to have something to do with the private market.  That means there will be an administrator raking in the big bucks.  This is completely unnecessary.  Social Security is the best run government agency we have with very low overhead.  It’s extremely efficient.  Therefore it must be dismantled. This reminds me of the interview I heard on Ann Applebaum’s book about the Iron Curtain last night on the BBC History Extra Podcast.  When the Communists took over Eastern Europe, they were determined to put their ideological stamp on the economy.  When their plans failed, they blamed everything but communism. For example, if there was a private grocery store that everyone wanted to go to and as a result, the state store was suffering, the ideologues reasoned that the problem was the private store was making the state store look bad.  Solution: Close the private store.  In our case, the business community is upset that Social Security, being socially secure, is making their privatization schemes look bad.  So it must be replaced. To me, this demonstrates that the problem is not necessarily communism vs capitalism.  The problem is ideologues.

I don’t even know what to say about the wealthy, taxes and gambling.  It seems to me that the way they got to be so wealthy is that they figured out a way of gambling without suffering any losses.  Now, they have more money than they can spend in several lifetimes.  Surely the casino owner is not expecting me to feel sorry for them that need to pay a little more in taxes. If they want to gamble and be entertained, a slight increase in taxes isn’t going to prevent that. Besides, this conflicts with his other statements about the stability of the economy to average Americans.  There are very few really rich people, even though they have a disproportional share of the wealth.  Therefore, even though the level of luxury, entertainment and gambling they demand is high, it is limited by the monetary barrier of access.  There may be a high ratio of servant/employee to wealthy dudes but it’s a niche market.  On the other hand, there are millions of working and middle class people who can afford to gamble a little bit of money and take in a Cirque du Soleil show.  In this respect, I see the casino owner not that different from a car company owner.  You’re going to sell a lot more Ford Focuses and Toyota Camrys than Maybachs or even Lexus SUVs.  He’s going to get more bang for his buck by selling more affordable sedans.  In this case, the casino owner is correct to assert that working and middle class people need more economic stability but he’s not really making a case for sparing the upper class from tax increases.  The wealthy are not going to find themselves suddenly homeless and unable to afford a vacation in Vegas.  If he expects more middle class people visiting Las Vegas to have a bit of money to spend then there’s no reason to think that the wealthy are going to suddenly cut back because they get hit with a small tax increase.  Besides, the employees who previously served the rich hand and foot can be reallocated to serve the middle class guy from California less lavishly.

Does that make sense?  I am not an economist after all but this doesn’t appear to be rocket science.  (I am also not a rocket scientist)

Anyway, would someone please tell me WHY the president needs so much input from the business community??  Just because they have an opinion, and it always seems to involve killing the social insurance programs, doesn’t mean that the opinion is a good one.  Nor does it mean that it must be followed.  We do not need to compromise with people who are going to kill the economy down the road when future seniors have no money to spend.  The president needs to hear from more people like myself and my colleagues who were mailed out little retirement account booklets by our companies when were were still employed that showed what our incomes were going to be like 30 years in the future based on pensions, 401K savings and SOCIAL SECURITY.  Yes, the company factored that in.  I have saved some of my little booklets and would be happy to share them with any politician or president who is thinking of tinkering with the formula that all of us working people relied on decades years ago.  Did we pay that money or didn’t we?  And if we did, we want it.  All of it.  We earned it.

By the way, I don’t think there is a good place to cut off Social Security and Medicare benefits.  No matter where you do it, there are going to be people who are unfairly penalized because they were born a few months too late.  That’s going to create a lot of resentment, anger and unless the economy improves and employers decide to hire everyone between the ages of 45 and 70 without any penalty, it’s an unworkable and unfair plan.  And as a citizen of this country who paid a lot of money in taxes in the past couple decades of working, in New Jersey, no less, where we lose 39 cents for every dollar we send to DC, I deserve to be heard and treated with as much respect as some Sheldon Adelson wannabe.

So, this is where I turned off NPR because high blood pressure and driving on 95 at rush hour is not a good combination.

Now, on to the boogiemen.  I have been told that the Third Way and the DLC and the neoliberals are an unholy alliance and they are planning a ritualistic sacrifice where they stand around in a circle in dark robes and masks and watch General Petraeus and his biographer have sex while they slaughter a goat or some such thing.  And I have been  told that I am not taking their threat seriously because I have made fun of them and said “boo!” to the boogiemen.

But here’s the thing: I don’t like ANYONE who plans to strip our social insurance programs or offer us a “truck system” in its place or wants to substitute a 401K, which really is like gambling against the house, or wants to means test or take away Tricare from my mother or any other stupid, ill-conceived, hard hearted, ruthless, callous, sociopathic pro-casino owner plan.  No, I do not.  I don’t care if they are Third Way or Republicans or neoliberals or just passive progressive Democrats who fold the minute a Tea Partier stirs up a breeze.

The problem is not that these people are organized and determined.  The problem is that WE are NOT.

It doesn’t do us any good to worry about the enemy if we don’t have a plan to rally the troops to fight back.  And this is the awful legacy of the Obama years: he has completely dismantled the new deal coalition of left of center partners.  We won’t go into all of the details of what Obama is all about or his character traits (or lack thereof) or how the left was deceived and betrayed or how they could have used the threat of Hillary Clinton to shake Obama to the core during the 2012 election year and decided to pass on it for some unfathomable reason or neglected to pressure any candidate or party at all during 2012 or any of that.  It’s too late to hold Obama’s feet to the fire now since he’s re-elected and the left didn’t protest- at all.  What I am saying to all of you out there who are worried about losing the social insurance programs is that you can’t do anything about the tidal wave that is headed your way if you do not join together and push back.

We need to organize and do it quickly.  I have suggested an umbrella group called a Federation for Democratic Reform based on the Christian Coalition model.  The purpose would be to organize a voting bloc, to lobby effectively, to vet candidates and to promote the policies that we want to see.  Since we are as uncooperative as cats, I suggest we adopt the “12 Word Platform” and make holding the line on the social insurance programs as our first goal.

Now, I am an idea rat.  I am not good at organizing.  You should see my file cabinet and my car.  But I am good at spotting trends.  And the trend that I see is despite the crowds and protests in Greece and Spain, the governments in both countries are totally ignoring what the people actually want. We’re next.  And while Greece has a real problem with its tax system, the US does not.  There is no reason why the 300+ million of us have to tolerate the theft of the money that the wealthy took for their ridiculous tax cuts in the past 30 years.  We shouldn’t have to put up with the dismantling of our social insurance programs simply because Wall Street wants more money to put on the global craps table.  We don’t need to endure failing infrastructure and expensive wars and have a bunch of wealthy media people running around like chickens with their heads cut off hysterical about some “fiscal cliff”.  As the famous quote goes, “Your inability to plan ahead does not constitute an emergency for me”.  In this case, it is beyond offensive that anyone in the media or government should make any of us working and middle class people feel sympathy for the absurdly wealthy or shame that we are asking for our money back or urgency to put all of our skin in the game so that the wealthy don’t have to put any in the game at all.  Fuck that shit.

What is lacking here right now is the ability of the new deal proponents to coalesce and say FUCK THAT SHIT!  That is what is needed.  I would like to hear a discussion in the left blogosphere of how we intend to get the band back together.  No more discussion of Third Way boogiemen.  There are all kinds of boogiemen out there.  What I want to hear is how many of us are going to grab our weapons, join together and go out of the mead hall to fight the Grendels out there.  Anyone who starts wordsmithing and getting in a snit about who they will and won’t stand next to should be offered the opportunity to go out into the night by themselves to fight the monster alone.

Save your breath, Obama fans, this one will change your mind

Wall Street wants a cut of Atlantic City’s market

If it weren’t enough that we bailed out the finance industry, gave them billions of dollars, took their toxic assets off their hands, compensated them for their bad bets and ignored every other blessed thing in the country while the bankers plaintively whined, “But what about *me*!?”, the bankers new plan for the elderly and retired people is really the worst.

According to the NYTimes (and they are no Romney fans, let us note), the Obama administration is fully behind the finance industry’s plan to market securities to the elderly and retired people.  You know, those people in your family who watch Fox News, buy gold coins from Glenn Beck and stock in Israeli oil companies?  Just think about it, some massive pension funds gave money to Goldman-Sachs for hinky securities, the brokers called them “muppets” and got away with it, and Goldman got a slap on the wrist when the pension fund lost a ton of money.  Now, multiply that stupidity across a whole nation of elderly former supermarket cashiers and bus drivers with little nest eggs that they are setting aside for themselves and their children’s inheritance.

And the Obama administration is giving this scheme its blessing:

Bipartisan majorities in Congress and President Obama are to thank for this development. Bowing to the financial industry, they joined forces last April to pass a law that requires the Securities and Exchange Commission to lift the ban on mass advertising of private offerings.

The S.E.C., for its part, made matters worse this week when it proposed a rule to implement the law that utterly fails to address the fact that ending the ban will make everyday investors more vulnerable to fraud. While the commission has no choice but to lift the ban, it does have leeway to write the rules to decrease the threat to investors. It has not used that flexibility.

For instance, while the new law allows for mass advertising of private offerings, it also says the buyers of such securities must be “accredited investors,” generally defined as those with at least $1 million in net worth (not counting a home) or at least $200,000 of yearly income. The law also says that private stock issuers must take “reasonable steps” to verify that investors qualify as “accredited.” But the S.E.C. did not impose or even suggest verification procedures to ensure that investors meet the criteria.

Now, if this were a rule that allowed average people access to valuable IPOs, that would be one thing.  I’ve always thought it was unfair that only certain already rich people had access to inside information that would allow them a head of the line pass to make a killing.  But that’s not what we’ve got here.  What we’ve got is a way for the finance industry to sink their teeth into our future inheritances while potentially leaving our elderly parents destitute.  Someday down the road, we’re going to hear some young, hotshot, banker asshole in a bar say something about how it’s not his responsibility to save stupid people from themselves.  He’s in it for himself and he didn’t do anything illegal.  He’s just smarter than the suckers who bought what he was selling.

So, there you go. Obama, instead of leveling the playing field and making sure that all investors get stellar service from accountable brokers, is doing exactly the opposite, as if investing in the market was just what everyone wanted to do with their retirement savings.

I don’t like the way this is sounding.  Why would any senior citizen with a comfortable living from pensions and social security need to risk any of their money on the market?

Unless some of that comfortable living shrinks up and dies away and they need to find some way to replace it?  Doesn’t this sound like the brute force way to privatize Social Security?  Make your Social Security payment so tiny that you are forced to risk money on  the stock market?  Like involuntarily forcing you into 401Ks with risky mutual funds just when you should be sticking it all in a boring, plodding annuity?

It sounds like a finance industry wet dream, like introducing the gambling addicts to a whole new casino.  Instead of rehabbing them, Obama will be enabling them further.  The bankers will not be curbed in the least, nor will they be held accountable when millions of people lose everything they own to them.  I can almost picture them in a room with Obama, talking about “what everyone already knows.  Social Security is dead. We have to force the public to face up to it and give them an alternate way to make money.”  The sociopaths in the bespoke suits and manicured hands look at the president in what passes for what they call sincerity.  They nod gravely at one another.  Well, what can they do?  The world is changing.  Ohhh, so THAT’S the Change!™ Obama was always talking about.

You know how I know that this is the kind of conversation they’re having?  It’s because this is the same schtick I and my colleagues heard from our 401K managers in a seminar on all the fantastic new products they were rolling out to us a few years ago. “Social Security is going to be a thing of the past.  Where else are you going to go?”  They *almost* made it sound like they were doing us a favor since there wouldn’t be any social security anymore.  And then I thought, how do they know that?  Who told them?  Is that part of the plan??  Deliberately remove this leg of the retirement stool and force us all into risky mutual funds?

So all you Democratic loyalists who are screaming about how the Republicans are the worst people on earth and how you can’t trust them and OMG, if you don’t vote for Obama, we are all well and truly *f^&$ed*!, you can save your breath.  He has betrayed you.  You’re just sticking your fingers in your ears singing “la-la-la, I can’t hear you”.  He will never be YOUR president because you ask nothing of him.  And once he has you in his win column, he will ignore you and move on to the tougher nuts, the religious and the libertarians.  He is exactly the same kind of president to the liberal Democrat that Romney will be to the liberal Democrat.

Democratic loyalists need to ask themselves what they are going to get out of this and they should pay attention to who the Obama administration is courting.  You will only get what you want from the party if you deny them  what they want.  Otherwise, why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?  The scare tactics don’t work on me because I’m not a fricking pushover.

Stop acting like stupid mooning girls with a crush on a player.

The Democrats in Exile theme song:

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