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Beat me! Beat me! Make me write bad checks!

Brian Fischer asks why Republicans allow themselves to be branded as stupid:

Why indeed.

Let me think.  No, no, don’t tell me.  Could it be because of something like *this*?:

Senate Republicans on Friday pledged to block President Barack Obama’s choice to lead the consumer finance watchdog until Democrats agree to restructure it, ramping up an expected fight this year over the controversial new bureau.

The group of 43 Republicans, led by minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Mike Crapo, an Idaho senator who is the top Republican on the banking committee, said the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau lacks congressional oversight.

Yes, the Republicans are threatening to filibuster the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau nominee until the Democrats agree to weaken the agency’s powers.  And what is the CFPB, in case you haven’t been paying attention since, oh, 2008, and the whole reason why Elizabeth Warren ran for the Senate?  The agency is a watchdog for all those vexing problems that get average consumers into trouble.  Like credit card rates and mortgage rates and financial industry “products” that are sold to the little people who don’t know that the financiers have rigged the game.  The CFPB is supposed to be on the side of the average consumer, protecting your right to not be exploited.  What’s not to love?

“As presently organized, the CFPB is insulated from congressional oversight of its actions and its budget,” the Republicans said. “Far too much power is vested in the sole CFPB director without any meaningful checks and balances.”

The consumer bureau, which was created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial oversight law to oversee mortgage lending and other sectors that played a role in the 2007-2009 financial crisis, was controversial before it even opened its doors.

Republicans and business groups have criticized the bureau’s broad authority over a wide range of financial products, and they want it to be funded by congressional appropriations rather than through the Federal Reserve.

Oh, dear, it seems that Senator Warren knew what she was doing when she put this agency together and now, it appears to have a bit more bite in it than our financial industry overlords like.    Apparently, the finance version of the FDA, checking things out for us and sticking warning labels on dangerous products, means a little too much transparency for the finance flim-flam guys.  Therefore, it must be defanged.

Of course, the Fox News cohort will swing into action and tell the fanbase that this is just another intrusion of government into their lives and if you want to take risks with your money and lose every penny of it, by golly, that’s your right  living in god fearing America where at least you know you’re free.  If the financial industry so-called “jahb creators” are to continue to be successful, they have to be able to take advantage of people.  That’s how you get the big bucks.  And anyway, if this government agency does its job right, all the other agencies might feel inspired to do good stuff too and we can’t have that.  I mean, it’s bad enough that the Social Security administration is so efficient with such low overhead.  It’s obscene, I tell you.  Speaking of obscene, gay people who aren’t married have sex using various and sundry orifices.  And women are having consensual sex!  Consensually!  Let’s obsess on that for awhile, shall we?

If you are a Republican and you aren’t super rich, you’re as dumb as a doorknob.  I see some of you out there saying, “I’m not a registered Republican.  I’m a registered Democrat. It’s none of your business who I vote for”.  That’s worse than being a conservative Republican because you *know* that there’s something unsavory and stupid about being a conservative Republican and you don’t want the label but you feel entitled to vote stupid. So, not only are you voting stupid, you’re a coward.  I’d feel much more respect for people who at least owned their stupidity instead of hiding behind their false party affiliation. Sorry, that’s just the way it is.  Why anyone would want to take pride in today’s definition of the word “conservative” is beyond me.  It just screams stupidity to the rest of us.

Americans Who Pay Attention Leadership Council: There’s no accounting for taste

Press Release

The Americans Who Pay Attention Leadership Council met recently to discuss how the President should deal with the Republicans and have concluded that there’s no pleasing those people.

“It’s a trend we have noticed for some time now”, a senior official of the leadership council says, “Republicans seem to get off on yanking our chains.  We think it’s a consequence of the way the country developed over 300 years.  The two distinct cultures that developed in the north and south were incompatible, probably shouldn’t have been stuck together to begin with and the Union hasn’t been as successful as anticipated.  But it’s too late to fix it now.”

When asked what the main sticking point seems to be, the council says it has to do with the comfort level that Republicans and their followers have with exploitation of other human beings.

“We have seen a progressive decline in living standards since Americans decided to let the Republicans have their way.  We have noticed that Republicans are particularly good at throwing fits, playing the victim, blaming other people for their bad behavior and generally acting like poorly disciplined adolescents.  Before you know it, they’re going to be out partying all night, totalling the family car and knocking up their girlfriends.”, the senior official said.

“It’s important for the president and the other party to stop acting like negligent and permissive parents.  What feels good to the Republicans is probably not good for America. It’s time for the White House to stop listening to the friends of Republicans who keep telling it to give the Republicans another chance or they’ll jump off a bridge.  They need to be grounded, not going through some squishy therapy session where we’re all supposed to get along.  Unfortunately, the president is behaving like he’s living vicariously through Republicans so this could be a problem.”

The Leadership Council reiterated it’s observation that an increase in cable news ratings was inversely proportional to American living standards and recommends a low cable diet.

Chris Christie: Faux Outrage or Genuine Distress?

I’ve read a lot of skepticism about Chris Christie’s harsh words for his party.  Even the NYTimes is jumping into the speculation frenzy by pointing out that Christie’s harshest words were for Speaker Boehner while he was rather conciliatory towards Eric Cantor.  So, is Chris Christie just trying to score some political points for his future presidential campaign by contrasting himself against his own party or is he genuinely frustrated?

I’m going to go with the latter and here’s why.  First, everyone in Congress expected a vote on Tuesday for Hurricane Sandy funds.  Chris Christie and Peter King were not the only people who were surprised that the Sandy vote was pulled at the last minute.  We can debate whether it was personal ire towards Christie from the Republicans or some bigger strategy.  I lean towards a bigger strategy.  Republicans are not stupid.  They’re like zombies who think.  You can never turn your back on them. Pulling the Sandy bill serves some purpose of theirs.  We don’t know what yet but they’re going to use Sandy and New Jersey for something.  Count on it.

Secondly, the shore businesses that were devastated by Hurricane Sandy need to be at least partially up and running by Memorial Day.  That’s only 5 months away.  People tend to forget that New Jersey’s economy relies heavily on shore business during the summer.  We’re not all trashy, spangly Guidos and Guidettes.  The shore money usually comes from families renting houses for 1-2 weeks in the summer in places like Avalon and Lavalette.

Time is of the essence.  Christie’s re-election will definitely hinge on whether or not he can deliver the funds in time or not.  Getting people all fired up against Republican House members isn’t going to help him *this* year.  It might have an impact in 2014 but Christie might be gone by then.

Now, is it possible that Christie is playing a part in some elaborate game where he blusters and storms about Sandy relief and the Republicans wring their hands and say, “All that money will increase the deficit.  We can’t afford it without some skin in the game from every American in the form of cuts to Social Security and Medicare.”  Well, I hate to be tin-foily but anything is possible with this bunch.  But if this all hinges on the debt ceiling crisis that’s coming up in March, then I think Christie doesn’t give himself enough time to get the job done at the shore by going along with it, something I’m sure he has reiterated to Boehner’s office.

So, I’m going with genuine distress.  That doesn’t mean I like Christie (I don’t) or think he’s secretly a nice guy (as if) or that he’s undergoing a character building experience (dream on).  I think he’s as self-interested as any other governor who’s running for re-election.  Sandy might be Christie’s Waterloo and he knows it.

The latest news is that Boehner is scheduling the Hurricane Sandy vote for Friday.  It’s very interesting timing.  The bill includes money for fisheries in Alaska and the Gulf coast that were also damaged by Sandy.

huh?

Also, the funds would be split into two parts.  $27 billion now and $33 billion for later projects.  If we assume that the Republicans know they can’t get around passing *some* kind of Sandy relief, splitting the bill into two parts still gives them leverage to get what they want later.

 The new Congress is sworn in today.  So, one of the first things they will vote on is a spending increase, which Republicans will use next year against their opponents when they run for their seats.  Sweeeet.  Can’t you just hear the campaign stump speeches now?  “My opponent was sworn in only a year ago and the very first thing he/she did was vote to increase the deficit by $27 BILLION dollars.  We’ll be working for the Chinese before you know it.  The world will end, dogs and cats will be living together…”

The People Say: Screw the rich, go over the cliff already

You should read the comments in the latest update post on the so-called “fiscal cliff” negotiations on the NYTimes.  The jig is up.  Republicans are threatening to screw us now and blow up the economy in a couple of months just so some rich people can keep their incredible deal on taxes.  Oh, yeah, they’re really concerned about the deficit.  Read some of these beauties

Cleveland, Ohio

Once again, I considerate it unconscionable for the right wing Republicans (Tea Party included) to obstruct the normal functioning of our government down to the wire. We Americans don’t deserve such treatment from Republican congressmen. Hopefully, these renegades will be voted out in their next respective elections. Good riddance!

Staten island

Let’s go off the cliff. As a middle class taxpayer, I am OK with that.The Republicans’ will be paying for it long range. They should — as fierce defenders for the 0.1% , holding the country hostage!

            Charlotte, NC

Tax increases for everyone are not horrible, especially if Congress acts to phase them in over time rather than letting them hit all at once. The bigger problem is a failure to act on Medicare, AMT, cancelling the sequester, etc. Congress should stop wrangling over what they can never agree on and take up the pieces of legislation they can now pass given the increase in revenue projections from new tax revenues.

Chicago

It should be clear that the Republicans desperately want cuts to Medicare and Social Security cuts but do not want to take any responsibility for them. That is why they will not say what cuts they want, or for that matter, what loopholes they want to close to increase revenue. This of course follows running on how the President cut Medicare.

Pres. Obama has been clear what he wants on revenue, I would think that the Republicans should not also force him to list the cuts they want.

So instead we will continue to let the rest of the world think we are ungovernable when they hold up increasing the debt ceiling to force agreement for cuts they want. And we can succeed, again, in tanking the economy.

And this one is the top comment with over 128 recommends:

Arizona

I know this whole “Democracy” thing is a lot of smoke and mirrors, and is largely a charade, but The American People spoke in November, and we support President Obama’s plan, and overwhelmingly agree that the wealthier among us need to pay more than the rest of us.

The real crime here is that no matter what happens, it seems likely that the “Romney Rate” on income earned from dividends will barely budge up from its current 15%. Keep in mind that dividends were counted, and taxed the same, as regular income before the Bush Tax Cuts were put in place (at 39.6% marginal rate).

That rate has dropped from 39.6% to just 15%. That is what the GOP donors are really fighting for, the preservation of this lop-sided, unjust, and class warfare tax rate that does nothing but suck wealth out of this economy.

Pretty much.
Let’s do it.  Mano a mano. Let’s fight this class war.

Wayne LaPierre is not crazy.

He says we can call him crazy but I don’t think that’s his problem.

He was on Meet the Press and here’s some of what he had to say:

“If I’m a mom or a dad and I’m dropping my child off at school I’d feel a whole lot safer” if there were trained armed security guards or police protecting the school from people such as Lanza, LaPierre said, although he conceded that “nothing is perfect” as a deterrent against crime.

LaPierre also said, “We have a mental health system in this country that has completely and totally collapsed. We have no national database of these lunatics” and complained that de-institutionalization of the mentally ill had put too many dangerous people on the streets of America. “We have a completely cracked mentally ill system that’s got these monsters walking the streets,” LaPierre said.

LaPierre goes on to suggest that we spend $2 billion on training armed school security guards.  Ahhh, but that could be a problem.  We don’t pay non-teacher school personnel too terribly well and these days, they’re all on contract without bennies.  You’re going to have to find a lot of very altruistic people for that kind of job.  And if they’re altruistic, aren’t they also likely to not see guns as an answer?  Besides, the vast majority of armed school security guards will never see action in their entire careers, if you can call that kind of job a career.  What will they do with their time besides frisking the odd MILF who drops off cupcakes at the office but forgets to bring her driver’s license?

It’s a problem when people are this tense, but one which LaPierre promotes anyway.  Before 9-11, parents were not terribly worried about dropping their kids off at school.  But as soon as everyone started to see an elementary school as a soft target of terrorism, the electronic doors and intercoms went up, the security cameras are mounted on every corner and no one feels safe.  It doesn’t help that the local news and Fox is broadcasting a steady diet of molestation and kidnapping in numbers disproportional to the actual statistics.

But all that security comes with a price and the price will continue to rise as long as there are people roaming the streets with guns.  In LaPierre’s world, the people with the most liberty and freedom are the lunatics with the guns.  The rest of us have to live behind barricades.

As for the databases to check the mentally ill, doesn’t LaPierre know that the Republican party sees maintenance of such databases as “discretionary spending”?  If we left it up to the Tea Partiers and Libertarians, the government would consist of a military and not much else.  Besides, I believe it was the NRA that fought tooth and nail against background checks.  But whatever.

The mentally ill are not all violent and I’d be pissed off if I had autism or aspbergers and suddenly started to be treated like a loose cannon.  Same goes for convicted felons.  Not all of them are dangerous.  Some felons go to prison for securities fraud or embezzlement or for possession of drugs.  And I’ve never met a video game that has killed anyone.

What makes people dangerous is not a video game or paranoid schizophrenia or a felony record.  It’s the ready access to a gun.

The solution seems like a no-brainer, which is why I think LaPierre is not crazy.  He just has no brain.

Republicans bringing back the bad old days

William Tell keeps his hat on

You have to give Republicans credit for their dogged persistence.  They are going to drag us kicking and screaming back to the bad old days if it takes them a lifetime.  Look at all of the systems and bad ideas that western civilization got rid of over the past couple of centuries that the Republicans have updated and passed off as new and shiny.

1.) Sumptuary Laws: Wiki defines them as “are laws that attempt to regulate habits of consumption. Black’s Law Dictionary defines them as “Laws made for the purpose of restraining luxury or extravagance, particularly against inordinate expenditures in the matter of apparel, food, furniture, etc.””  The Chained CPI is the perfect way to restrain consumer spending, to the eventual detriment of the economy.  Back in the middle ages, the aristocrats didn’t want to have to compete with the commoners for things like purple dye and fine cloth.  If some merchant could buy that stuff for his daughter and supplies were strictly limited, that meant a duchess might have to do without.  We can’t have that.  In a similar way, the chained CPI is almost guaranteed to keep seniors from spending too much.  The working assumption is that they will scale down their purchases, going for cheaper consumer goods, probably of lower quality as well.  This will save the upper salaried from having to give up their Bush tax cuts or have their payroll taxes increased.  More money for them to spend on whatever their hearts desire, less for everyone else.  Too bad for poor seniors who scrimp and save for the meagerest luxuries.  This is what you get for a lifetime of work and getting laid off in your middle age.

Besides, it’s so much easier to tell who the lower classes are at a glance.

2.) The Truck System: Wiki defines it as “an arrangement in which employees are paid in commodities or some currency substitute (referred to as scrip), rather than with standard money. This limits employees’ ability to choose how to spend their earnings—generally to the benefit of the employer. As an example, scrip might be usable only for the purchase of goods at a company-owned store, where prices are set artificially high. The practice has been widely criticized as exploitative and similar in effect to slavery, and has been outlawed in many parts of the world.”

The proposed Medicare voucher system comes pretty close to a truck system.  Employees pay into the Medicare system throughout their working lives with the expectation that when they are of age, they will be paid their deferred compensation in the form of Medicare benefits.  Instead, they would get a voucher whose worth is much less than the originally promised benefit and it could only be used to purchase health care from a private insurer, who has no incentive to compete because there is no public option.

Truck systems have been outlawed in much of the world because it is seen as a form of slavery. Note that the proliferation of unpaid internships for college students is also a form of truck.  They cost parents a lot of money, the student gets no pay and the internship itself is frequently of questionable value in terms of acquiring further employment.

3.) Fear and lawlessness: In Republican world, the only people who have any true liberty are insane people with guns.  Apparently, there is nothing anyone can do to stop them.  Absolutely nothing. Everyone else is at their mercy and must either pay handsomely for security or fight gunfire with gunfire.  That leaves the rest of us afraid to walk around or go to school safely without fear of being gunned down.  We’re the ones huddled behind castle walls while the lawless roam at will.

4.) Serfdom: This trend is disturbing.  This is what you get when you make precariats out of workers.  The more insecure their lives are, the more they are willing to take whatever work they can get to pay their bills and they’ll do it at remarkably low prices. The attacks on labor unions is designed to create more insecurity.  Note that when you decide to go along with this trend, it’s bloody hard to win back your rights without some major socioeconomic shock, like a Great Depression.  As much as people might dislike labor unions, it’s better to have them to push around the management than not have any.

5.) Exploitation: If you want to know what the Republicans and their allies in the 1%, listen to this This American Life* episode about the The Little War on the Prairie.  This war was between the Minnesota Dakota against the US government who cheated them out of their lands.  You might be surprised to find that Thomas Jefferson was the guy who laid out the strategy of how the government was going to acquire the Dakota off their lands.  Basically it goes like this: we want the Indian lands, they aren’t going to give it to us nicely.  So, we’ll sell things to them that they want and get them deeply into debt.  When they see they’re in a hole they can’t climb out of, we make them an offer they can’t refuse.  We’ll cancel the debt if they give up their land.

It worked.  It also lead to the largest mass execution on American soil in the 1860s.  Go listen to the whole thing.  Abraham Lincoln turned out to be a decent guy but he must have been overwhelmed by the Civil War.  It’s a sad story.

So, how does this apply to Republican strategy?  As I’ve been saying for a couple of years now, it’s the Republican plan to put us in thumbscrews.  The idea is to basically turn down the heat on the economy so that people ain’t got jobs, people ain’t got money.  The corporations will stop investing, bankers will sit on the cash like the greedy dragons they are and the whole executive branch of government will be invaded by financial industry moles who will make sure that no one outside of their little evil group to which no one we know belongs gets any relief for the debt they can’t get out from.  And let’s make this clear, we’re not talking about the people who stupidly took out mortgages on homes they couldn’t afford.  Those people got their comeuppance early.  No, the squeeze is now going to be on the middle class, including the college educated, whose wages have plummeted but whose living costs have not.  As long as there is an ongoing crisis of funding the government, unemployment insurance and all the other things that keep the economy barely chugging along, the screws on us will get tighter and tighter.

The Republicans want to break the social insurance programs.  We know this because if the deficit was really bothering them, they could end the Bush Tax Cuts on the highest earners and end the wars.  If they really wanted to cure the deficit problem, they would enthusiastically back a jobs program and fund unemployment benefits so that money could go back into the economy through consumer spending and so that people could pay their taxes again.

This is not what they are advocating.  So, I can only conclude that they are willing to risk severe injury to some industries, like pharma, and the economy in general and have people lose their houses and careers because they want to push us to the point where we are overwhelmed with living expenses that we can’t pay.  Then they will generously offer to turn the money tap back on if we just give up our social insurance programs.

The temptation is going to be great in the next couple of months, especially for the state of New Jersey.  Unemployment rates here were already above 10% when Sandy hit.  Now that one of the state’s major industries, tourism, has suffered a devastating blow, there will be a lot of pressure on our Congressional delegation to cut a deal so the money can flow.  I expect every one of New Jersey’s representatives and senators to crumble.

What would happen if we don’t give in?  I don’t know but it sounds to me like taxes will go up on the wealthiest among us.  I don’t know about you but my Bush tax cut never did amount to very much.  I’d never even miss it.  But I’m guessing that if you make between $250K and $800K, it amounts to quite a bit of money.  It might mean a change in social status. I suspect that’s why the White House press corps was so anxious to find out what the plan was when Obama gave his post Sandy Hook shooting presser.  They’re trying to figure out where they will stand after January 1, 2013.

So, that’s my theory and I’m sticking with it.  The wealthy and their political arm think they can wait us out.  It’s all they’ve got left at this point.  They’re never going to be able to swing another wave election with social issues.  That demographic is dying off.  So, they’ll just keep us in pain until we give in.  Maybe it will work, maybe not.  Either way, they’re going to strangle the economy until they are no longer under any obligation to participate in social insurance.  And then they’ll move in and take everything.

That’s the Republican party in it’s modern form.  It’s still the same bunch of rapists and pillagers.  They’ve just got a formal party organization to hide behind now.  We’re now back to the bad old days of the Sheriff of Nottingham.  It’s hard to believe the middle and working class happily squandered their advantage over the past 30 years over such tripe like “family values” and “patriotism” and the “moral majority”.  I thought people would have learned their lessons by now but the Tea Party has signed up a whole new set of gullible Americans who are more than happy to bash the head of the person lower than them in the hierarchical scheme.  Some people never learn.

* I know nothing about semiotics but I find it interesting that Ira Glass, the semiotics major, manages to find stories that tie in so well to current events in a metaphorical sense.  Accident?  Coincidence?  Intentional?

Negotiations, Marketing and Sandy

Republicans steal Obama’s lunch money again

This morning’s post of stuff is in no particular order.  The first and third may be related.

Krugman writes in his blog, Conscience of a Liberal, today that, as expected, Obama is turning out to be a lousy negotiator on the so-called Fiscal Cliff conundrum:

Here we go again — or so I find myself fearing.

Obama’s fiscal deal offer was already distressing — cuts to Social Security, and a big concession, it turns out, on taxation of dividends, retaining most of the Bush cut (with the benefits flowing overwhelmingly to the top 1 percent). It wasn’t clear that the deal would have gotten nearly enough in return.

But sure enough, it looks as if Republicans have taken the offer as a sign of weakness, as a starting point from which they can bargain Obama down. Oh, and they’re not giving up at all on the idea of using the debt ceiling for further blackmail.

In other words, all of a sudden it’s feeling a lot like 2011 again, with the president negotiating with himself while the other side enjoys the process.

The Republicans have been dying for Obama to offer a social insurance program cut.  For weeks now, they’ve been saying that Obama wouldn’t name any spending cuts in a game of gotcha chicken.  The minute Obama blinked it was a.) not going to be enough to satisfy them and b.) going to come back to bite the Democrats in the ass because they were the ones who finally conceded on spending cuts that no one likes without getting much of anything in return.  So, what does Obama do?  He blinks.  Not only does he blink, he practically gives away every advantage he had and the Bush tax cuts remain pretty much intact for the 1% while the Chained CPI takes a big chunk of money away from vulnerable seniors as well as raising their taxes.

By the way, there is a very good reason why the Chained CPI is a horrible idea.  It’s predicated on the idea that seniors will choose to scale down on their consumer choices.  They’ll buy more generic goods at the grocery store or go to Walmart more often than Macy’s.  (Great, I can just imagine what my limited fashion choices are going to look like in 20 years.  More sparkly things that fit my tall frame even less well because all of the patterns are cut for some 5’2″ model from the Phillipines.)  And I might as well just forget about replacing any Apple gadgets when I hit retirement age.

How does this benefit Main Street?  If seniors now have to forgo the few little luxuries they have or pick the progressively less expensive items, isn’t that going to have an effect on what is sold and consumed?  And won’t that eventually impact the economy and create a progressively larger drag on it?  Just askin’ because to Republicans, the fate of the economy doesn’t seem to be very important as long as they get their exemptions on their dividends and they don’t have to look at a poor person in Walmart clothing.  What I see evolving is a modern version of the Sumptuary Laws where the “most vulnerable seniors” will still be able to buy low quality consumer goods because that’s where they are in the social ladder and should not seek to rise above their station.

More on this: Thereisnospoon’s post from this morning laments along with Markos Moulitsos at DailyKos that Obama is a bad negotiator and he’s is going to betray the left that supported him.

Let me tell you a little joke:

There was a dull witted guy who came home from work early one afternoon to find his wife in bed with another man.  The guy is distraught so he goes to the kitchen and returns with a sharp knife.  Then he stands over the bed and holds the knife to his throat.  The wife looks up and starts to laugh.

“Why are you laughing?”, he says, “You’re next.”

Ba-dum-dum.

I kept thinking about this joke all during the election season and I would have told it sooner but some people would have just called me a racist.

On to Sandy.  I got an email from Senator Menendez about the negotiations for Hurricane Sandy funds and it has occurred to me that if Menendez and Lautenberg concede on the so-called “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations, it could be that they’re being pressured to give in or the funds will be much, much smaller than we need or non-existent.  Would the Republicans screw business owners in New Jersey who have been footing the bill for their states for decades by getting the least amount of federal funds back for every dollar they send to Washington?  Sure they would.  They’re not concerned with the fate of New Jersey, the shore communities that make their livings in the summer or the fact that the Northeast Corridor trains from DC to New York cut through this state or that New Jersey towns are really suburbs of either New York City or Philadelphia.  No, all that matters is that the Republican donors get to sit on as much wealth as they can possibly accumulate under them.  I’d like to hear what is going on with the Sandy reconstruction funds and be reassured that they aren’t being held hostage to the Republican terrorist threat but I am not hopeful.

The last item has to do with marketing.  There’s a grocery store in my town that I have been going to faithfully since I moved here in 1992.  But lately, the things I like are disappearing from the shelves.  It started with some bagged salad items but the trend is picking up steam lately.  Suddenly, I can’t find 2% yogurt anymore.  More than once I’ve bought groceries home, stuck my spoon in what I thought was going to be a thick and creamy Greek yogurt and unwittingly spooned a glob of honey flavored paste in my mouth.  Almost every flavor of yogurt on the shelf is 0% fat yogurt.  Oh sure, there are something like *two* flavors out of zillions that are 2%.  They’re usually in flavors I don’t like, like pineapple.  Don’t get me wrong, I like pineapple but I don’t want it in my yogurt.  I want lemon in my 2% Greek yogurt.  Can’t find it anymore on my grocery store shelves.

A similar thing has happened to the UHT milk.  The store has moved the location of the UHT milk to the juice aisle and reduced the size of the section devoted to it.  No explanation.  It just happens to be the only milk I buy because otherwise, fresh milk spoils in my house before we get around to drinking it.  You can store UHT milk forever.  But no, the UHT milk is on its way out.

The hummus crisis is emblematic of this trend.  In my grocery store, we have more flavors of hummus than I can count:

I can’t believe that Hillsborough can really distinguish between so many brands and flavors of hummus.  I’d like to see how much hummus gets dumped by the store.  But there is only one kind of babaganoush, which my house prefers.  We also like Tsazhiki but it’s ridiculously expensive.  I’d be inclined to make it myself but I don’t want to make it with 0% fat Greek yogurt, which is just about all there is.

I blame marketing and those stupid loyalty cards.  Apparently, there weren’t enough of us buying Chobani 2% lemon yogurt and now, the marketing people at Chobani and Shop Rite headquarters are going to send nothing but 0% yogurt from now until doomsday.  The thing that drives me nuts is not that they should be sending less of the flavors that were selling slightly less well but it turns out that they aren’t sending any of those flavors at all.  It’s apparently all or nothing in marketingland.

It somehow never occurs to them that flooding the shelves with only one type of yogurt or middle eastern spread or milk or whatever is reducing their sales.  I won’t buy 0% yogurt because it tastes bad, I don’t care how many suburban soccer moms have decided that 2% fat in yogurt is bad for you, I’m not buying the 0%.  Ever.  I do not like mouthfuls of pasty yogurt so I will go without it.  So, right there, Shop Rite has lost my yogurt purchases when I used to buy yogurt there routinely.  But it’s even stupid from a Greek yogurt perspective.  When Greek yogurt first hit the stores several years back it was special because of the unique flavors like lemon, honey and pomegranate.  If Greek yogurt manufacturers drop that uniqueness and instead go for more mainstream flavors like strawberry and the absolutely worst flavor in the world, strawberry-banana, what will make Greek yogurt stand out among the Dannons, Yoplaits and store brands that are much less expensive?  Instead of being something special that Americans would experience and come to love gradually, the Greek yogurt manufacturers have killed themselves by listening to their marketing experts and become just like every other yogurt on the shelves.  Except because their yogurt is strained, the end product of a 0% yogurt has none of the creaminess of a typical American or European style yogurt.  So now not only is the flavor not “Greek”, it’s got the consistency and mouthfeel of Elmer’s School Paste.  I will now go out of my way to Wegmans to find something that is now considered “niche” or I’ll make it myself.  Same with babaganoush.  From now on, I’ll go somewhere else for that or I’ll buy an eggplant for half the price at the little farmer’s market produce store and make it myself.

The steady encroachment of marketing on my grocery purchases feels like a combination of Soviet five year plans crossed with bullying.  “You buy the yogurt we have because we tell you what you want and like even if you don’t want or like it and now we have no way of knowing what you want or like because we don’t give you any way to make a choice that we can collect data on.  Suck it up, suburbanite.  Why do you have to be different from your neighbors??”  I guess I don’t like the idea that I am subsidizing the rest of Hillsborough’s preferences (we don’t know how much they prefer these items because the loyalty cards can’t measure lack of choice) with higher costs for the items I actually like or can’t even find anymore.

Do we know that all the residents of Hillsborough like the same thing or am I the only one who ever complains?

Don’t answer that question.

In any case, the trend continues in Shop Rite which means I am finding myself buying more and more stuff at other stores.  It’s a shame.  I really used to like that grocery store.  But whatareyagoingtodo?  I want choice.  I gotta be me.

To the Phones

Smaug makes his opening bid

Following Atrios at Eschaton, Call the White House, your Senators and your House members to say no to proposed cuts to Social Security via the Chained CPI.  They *are* cuts.

This is what the 1% have been waiting for.  This is why the bankers and well-connected have been strangling the money supply for the past 4 years and holding the economy hostage every time there is an expiration of their tax rates.  They need for us to feel enough pain so that we will give up something that is very important to us.

It has never been about the deficit.  It has always been about weakening and then eliminating the social insurance programs and using the chained CPI to calculate Social Security benefits is their first blow.  Don’t let them get away with it without a fight.

Say “NO!” to the Chained CPI.  But don’t just stop there.  I’ve always believed that you shouldn’t oppose a law or proposal without a working counter proposal.  Don’t just complain.  So, tell your elected officials that you would like to strengthen Social Security by raising the payroll tax on higher income earners.

Here’s who to call:

White House

202-456-1111

Your Senators

Your House Members

We didn’t share in the prosperity, why should we share in the austerity?

Spread the word!

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.

Oh, Brother

The bro comes home.  (yeah, yeah, I know it’s Fox but in this rare case, it happens to be accurate. The footage has not been digitally retouched):

Check it out here.

Cool.

**********************************

Some of the comments I’m reading are encouraging readers to jump on the “Let’s pin the Benghazi disaster on Obama right before the election!” bandwagon.  Nah gunna do it.  Here’s why:

1.) It has been our policy here at The Confluence since 2008 to not propagate either party’s memes or propaganda.

2.) In this case, it would be disrespectful of the four embassy staff who died there to cynically use their deaths as a way to score political points.  I’d rather keep the investigation free of electoral politics.  There *is* a story there and people should be held accountable if they neglectfully or knowingly ignored warnings that put these people in danger but we must weigh this against the diplomatic mission and the current events and developing situation in Libya.  That will require a thoughtful investigation so that the State department and the CIA benefit from learning what went wrong and who spilled the beans, etc.  It will NOT benefit from a cynical election year ploy to undermine the State department and foreign policy in order to disgrace Obama.  Let him take himself down, he seems to be doing a pretty good job of it without any assistance.

3.) Hillary Clinton is a big girl.  Yes, she is.  This is her job.  Let her do it.  If she gets called to Capital Hill to testify, she can handle it.  The Republicans have inadvertently screwed themselves here.  She’s a seasoned veteran of cynical, hypocritical, politically motivated investigations.  I hope they won’t call her up before the investigation is complete but even if the House Republicans rush her, I feel confident that she will do her homework and do the best that she can.  Let’s not undermine her mojo by trying to protect her.  We overcome sexism and misogynism by taking on challenges and rising to the occasion.

4.) We let Bush get away with a lot of really nasty s%^&.  He started an unnecessary war in Iraq based on lies, he and his party drained the Treasury to reward their contractor cronies, they increased the deficit, refused to “cut and run” (it doesn’t get more cynical than THAT phrase) and the whole fiasco has destabilized part of asia and cost thousands of military servicepeople their lives and limbs.  If you weren’t upset by all that by demanding accountability from Cheney and Bush but you’re getting your knickers in a twist over Benghazi, then you have your priorities seriously messed up.  You need to do some soul searching.

The foreign policy debate is coming up between Romney and Obama and I suspect that much will be made of Benghazi.  Or not.  I think this could backfire on the Republicans because there is a way for Obama and the Democrats to go on the offensive here that might win them back a bunch of Clintonistas.  It would require Obama to fake passion about something.  And that’s the problem.  He’s not a passionate guy and he doesn’t appear to believe in much of anything so any attempt at passion will look forced.  I dunno, maybe one of the debate prep team members will slap him around and knock some sense into him.  We’ll see.  But if they’ve been paying attention, they will know what to do.  This could be the Republicans third rail if they’re not careful.

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