Personal Power Dynamics- a Refresher

The squeeze is here.  The outgoing hardasses among our elected officials have a limited time only to solidify the 1%’s stranglehold on the money stream.  They’ve been busy the last couple of years on the cocktail weenie circuit.  Witness this exchange between Gwen Ifil and Paul Krugman from last week’s Noose Hour:

THAT, ladies and gentleman, is what happens to a journalist when all they ever hear is people all around them telling them that cutting “entitlements” is unavoidable.

Every time I see crap like this, I shake my head.  To me, it looks like Ifil is very sincere.  She truly believes that people who do not have wealth *must* give up some little piece of whatever they have.  She doesn’t question why or whether this is the best solution or what will happen down the road.  She has “thought stoppers” carefully positioned in her mind by the people who she hangs out with.  Her attitude is religious, not rational.

I’ll give her a hint as to why we shouldn’t go down this path.  Back in the mid 2000′s, the pharma industry was full of Gwen Ifils.  Those over educated, technically proficient college graduates were doing Ok.  No one was getting rich but we weren’t living in public housing.  And many of my friends didn’t think they would need social security or medicare when they retired.  Those days are gone.  We are now the new precariats.

But I digress.

Gwen Ifil is not the worst of the bad actors on news hour programs.  She seems to be more earnest than some of her counterparts on shows like This Week with George Stephanopolous.  Yesterday, George Will got his bow tie in a twist and did his best “I shall not be mocked, sir!” at Krugman, while his syrupy, cynical side kick Mary Matalin opportunistically joined in. (What was it, Carville?  Was the sex *that* good??) It is impolite to point out that people who insist that the working and middle class eat their poison mushrooms are not being honest or mathematically correct on cost savings.

Ahhh, the old “civility defense”.  Let’s call this what it is, shall we?  It’s the best bullying tactic on TV.  Call your opponent impolite and have your gang join in.  We have seen how this works in religion as well.  NO ONE is allowed to question a religious person’s beliefs.  It’s impolite.  That’s why we have faith based initiatives, red beanie dudes monitoring women’s fallopian tubes and pious and extremely tedious church ladies who know much more about gay sex than we do tut-tutting over the “homosexual agenda”.  The minute you tell them you don’t believe their shtick because it’s irrational and cruel, they get all up in your grill about how rude you are to them and how polite society does not question others’ belief systems.

In personal power dynamics, one of those 3 day courses that are given to corporate management and salesmen and which the scientists were encouraged to try out on their colleagues, we learned about the passive-aggressive scale.  This scale goes from 1 to 10 with the lower end representing passive communication and pressure while the upper end represented aggressive communication and pressure.  The optimal sweet spot for communication and negotiation is between 5-7.  That represents assertiveness without aggression.  People who communicate in a passive style, that is 1-4, are at a distinct disadvantage in getting what they want.  In order to be more productive, they need to step it up into the 5-7 zone.  Conversely, if you are a fucking abrasive asshole, you need to tone it down or you will jeopardize your ability to get things done in the future.

HOWEVER, if you’re in the sweet spot and your opponent starts ratcheting up the scale, getting more aggressive, YOU need to get more aggressive in order to hold your ground.  If you’re at 5 and he goes to 7, you need to go to 7.  If he goes to 8, you need to go to 8.  He needs to see that you are not going to back down and that your committment is as strong as theirs.  This will force him to come down or disengage.

The call for civility and the “no-mockery” zone thing is a pre-emptive strike that is intended to keep the true aggressor from looking truly aggressive.  George Will with his stupid bow tie and nerdly glasses looks all refined and low key but he’s been very successful at bludgeoning his opponents.  Paul Krugman has just enough Princeton ego and mocking amusement to push Will and force him to invoke his civility strategy.  The civility strategy is deployed to prevent people like Krugman from getting too assertive and meeting aggression with aggression.

It’s almost impossible for one guy like Krugman to do battle against this almost impenetrable wall of irrational belief.  Oh sure, Will and his gang know that what they’re saying isn’t true and that they’re working for the bad guys. But I think we give the Gwen Ifils and David Gregory types more credit for their intellects than they deserve.  You can bet that they got to their present positions by being bright politicians, not by sticking to the facts and reasoning things through.  They are experts at navigating the rungs of media power.  They aren’t economists and they don’t have to actually experience the real world the way the ex-pharma worker does- well, not yet anyway.

But they *have* been somewhat protected from the effects of their belief system on their wider audience.  We send a lot of emails to our congressmen.  But do Ifil and Gregory have any idea how their brainless acquiescence to the dominant dogma is received by the average American?  Maybe it’s time they found out just how unpopular it is to the 300 million of us who don’t live inside the beltway.

When was the last time you contacted the News Hour?  When was the last time that any media personality heard from someone other than their own little circle?  When was the last time that Gwen Ifil felt uncomfortable?  When was the last time that George Will or Mary Matalin was called mendacious?

It’s time we stepped it up to at least an 8.  Paul Krugman needs some help.

No one loves you more than you love yourself: Alan Simpson edition

Screen Shot 2012-12-06 at 9.04.34 AMAlan Simpson was on the DailyShow with Jon Stewart last night. I guess he was sent by the powers that be to soften up the younger crowd.

Note to the powers that be: If you’re trying to sell something as unpalatable and sadistic as cuts to the social insurance programs (and let’s be honest here, raising the retirement age even by one year while recalculating the COLA based on some new criteria *is* a cut), don’t send this guy. You want to send some young, hot dude, like Ben Affleck, not some crotchety, old guy who is prematurely decomposing before our eyes and is already sucking off the government teat.

Oh, did I forget to mention that? In 2010, this is what Alan Simpson had to say about Americans who put so much of our own blood, sweat and money into our social insurance benefits policies:

In a letter responding to criticisms against him from a group representing older women, former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson wrote that he has “spent many years in public life trying to stabilize” Social Security. However, he wrote, “Yes, I’ve made some plenty smart cracks about people on Social Security who milk it to the last degree. You know ‘em too. It’s the same with any system in America. We’ve reached a point now where it’s like a milk cow with 310 million tits!”

Nice.

I think what angers me the most about Alan Simpson’s “Suck it up, people. It’s not as bad as a hot poker up your rectum” attitude is that it’s so out of touch with the reality of our present working environment.

Women my age were socked with a surplus SSI tax the minute we started working full time. We were told that we needed to pay our benefits in advance. Ok, fine. And then we started working and almost as soon as we hit that pension vested mark, our companies shifted us over to 401Ks.

But that wasn’t all. In the US, it takes 5 years at most companies to go from 2 weeks to 3 weeks of vacation. Maternity leave is not paid. If you have sick days, you’re lucky, but these usually get factored into the maternity leave you get, along with your vacation time, if you’re lucky enough to work for a company that grants it. So, you come back to work exhausted with no vacation or sick time. And you do that for years while you pay the highest child care costs in the western world.

Meanwhile, our European cousins get 6 weeks of vacation time to start.

Our work ethic in America is relentless. We work hard, very hard, for a lot longer than most of the developed world, and get a lot less time off to enjoy the rest of our lives. In the last decade, I routinely had weeks of vacation time left at the end of the year from the 4 weeks I worked up to after 20 years. I rolled them over to the next year. And why did I have so much time left over? I was afraid to leave my desk, not that it mattered in the end.

Here’s my point: The American worker is wildly productive. It’s insane how hard we work for as many decades as we do under the constant stress and fear of layoff and economic insecurity. The masters of the universe should be grateful that all they have to pay is 7% of an employee’s social security benefit. But no, they are not grateful. They don’t want to have to pay anything.

Meanwhile, if any of us had known back in 1986 that we were going to be set on a track of decades of work with few productive, restorative breaks only to end up with absolutely nothing when the time came to retire, if we were ever able to retire, we would have done things quite differently. Maybe we would have demanded more up front. Maybe we would have screamed bloody murder when George Bush stole the White House from Al Gore. Maybe we would have tarred and feathered Newt Gingrich back in the 90s and rode his fat ass out of Washington on a rail. Maybe we would have saved more, bought smaller houses (although, my house is already pretty reasonable). Maybe we would have seen the social issues as what they were, a clever decoy to get older conservative voters to sign on to punitive economic policies. Maybe we would have been a lot more vigilant about absolutely everything.

But we didn’t know. And why didn’t we know? It’s because we are Americans and bad stuff happens to people in other countries. Even now, you’re probably sitting there reading this thinking, “They can’t be serious about cutting social security for those of us who don’t have decent pensions to retire on. They couldn’t be that heartless. We’re Americans.”

Oh, yes, they would. They would do it. And that’s because “No one loves you more than you love yourself”. In other words, do not expect people like Alan Simpson or Nancy Pelosi, and definitely NOT Barack Obama, to care two shits about what happens to you. Politics to them is a game, not a service. They spend their days listening to lobbyists of the self-identified “Jahb creators” crying crocodile tears about how hard it is for them to find good help anymore. Those people don’t think you deserve the salary you’ve got, let alone retirement benefits. They definitely will expect you to “suck it up, people”. You WILL retire poor, if you can retire at all. That’s what you get for sacrificing the best years of your life to American capitalism so the 1% can live comfortably.

They’re going to try to turn Social Security into a welfare program instead of a social insurance program. That money is ours to do as we like, whether or not Alan Simpson, acting like some selfish ex-husband on behalf of the rest of the selfish ex-husbands in the elite group of rich and well connected, thinks we need it or not. They will never, never stop until the Republicans and conservative Democrats and their backers are reduced in numbers in the House and Senate to make them completely impotent. They don’t care about you. They don’t love you. Your life is not important to them and they’re going to do everything in their power to deprive you of the money YOU paid because in order for the rich to take what they want they have to convince themselves that  you haven’t worked hard enough. Yes, that is what they think.

Are you going to take this lying down?

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Found this QOTD over at Corrente:

If we didn’t share in the prosperity, why should we share in the sacrifice?”

Yes, all of us should be asking ourselves this question.

Ok, here’s my theory about why the Masters of the Universe want to kill the social insurance programs

Remember what I said about Wall Street workers?  Let me refresh your memory:

The finance class actually consists of a bunch of overqualified strip miners.  They’re overworked, which might explain the number of bad decisions they make, and their compensation system decouples the consequences of their actions from the actions themselves.  They are being paid to make “deals” and the purpose of those deals is to extract “wealth”.  In a way, it’s not that much different from getting into the cab of some giant piece of earth moving equipment and mowing down the side of the mountain and then loading that potential ore onto a conveyor belt to be separated from dirt.  They live in a “company” town and are paid “company scrip”.  It’s a truck system for them as well.  The compensation is not proportional to the amount of work they do, they can be fired at will and they’re never going to leave that mountain because they owe their souls to the company store.  The more they work, the more compensation in bonuses they are promised but it’s never enough.

Once you think about this metaphor of Wall Street doing the work of strip miners, the present set of circumstances will start to make a lot of sense.

We know that Social Security does not add to the deficit.  In fact, we have a trust fund worth almost $3 trillion dollars.  Sure, that trust fund has taken a hit in the past four years because so many people are out of work and can’t pay their taxes but once people are working again, the kitty will start to grow again.  And if all that is needed is a couple of tweaks to solve the minor shortfall, it’s really not as damaging to the economy or rich people’s ability to spend ungodly amounts of money on themselves as they pretend.

So, it’s not a deficit problem- at least not from the government’s side of things.  Sure, Medicare does need to be fixed but that requires some spine stiffening on the part of the Democrats to crack down on providers.  Did I tell you about my lab partner’s husband’s 4 hour hernia operation and recovery in the hospital?  $70,000.  No, that is not a mistake.  There’s something truly out of whack when if comes to costs and payments to hospitals, doctors, insurance companies.  It’s a real problem.  And since the rest of the developed world has found reasonable solutions at much lower costs, it’s moronic for our elected officials to tell us that the costly ACA, with downstream repercussions they failed to study, is the best we can do.  Please, do we look stupid to you?

Anyway, back to Wall Street.  The Social Security trust fund is solid and fixable and millions of us late boomers paid into the surplus funds to cover our own retirements.  What isn’t solid and fixable is the 401K system, which really is a Ponzi scheme.  Pretty soon, a lot of aging baby boomers will be taking money out.  That’s going to hurt someone’s bottom line.  The bonuses and skimming going forward isn’t going to be nearly so lucrative as it was over the past two decades.  After the Baby Boom came the Baby Bust in the late 60′s.  Looks like The Pill really caught on in a big way.

In the past couple of decades, many companies ditched their pensions for the 401K.  Let the kids pay for their own retirements.  None of this deferred compensation crap.  And life was good for the shareholders and the bankers.  But once that money starts to get withdrawn, the salad days will be over.  So, Wall Street must get more people into 401Ks or they won’t be able to continue strip mining.  The problem is that most people are already in one if their employer offers it.  The market is finite and pretty soon will plateau.  At some point, the investment portfolios are also going to reach a steady state.

BUT, if you raise the retirement age and keep a lot of older people working, they will be forced to put their money back into the market.  Well, they won’t be able to retire until they’re much older than their parents were at retirement.  If they have any hope of ever taking time out to go travel or garden, they’re going to have to risk their money in the market, hope that it will pay off so they can get out of the job market before they’re dead and forget about social security.

My theory is that raising the retirement age forces more savings to stay in the market longer and that with a pool of people who can’t retire yet still working, the amount of money going into 401Ks and IRAs is going to go up. Stripville!

It makes sense from a timing perspective.  There’s really no need to cut a deal with Republicans right now.  The Democrats have enough seats to keep things pretty much unchanged.  If the tax cuts expire, it’s going to look bad for Republicans to hold middle class tax cuts hostage in order to satisfy their rich friends.  In fact, just about anything the Republicans stamp their feet and insist on is going to look bad for them.

But Obama still wants to cut a deal and make us all a lot poorer as a nation and as individuals.  And he really doesn’t have to do this.  So, why do it?  I think it’s because the strip miners have told him that if he doesn’t, the market is going to start to drop and it will pick up speed and saving the banks is the most important thing ever!!!  All serious people agree about this.  If he doesn’t cut the social insurance programs in order to prop up the 401K system, it will be all his and the Democrats’ fault when the market finally starts to fall.

Yep, that would suck for seniors who are about to retire so if I were them, I’d start looking around for other places to put that money.  But history has shown that Obama and his droogs at Treasury will bend over backwards to please bankers even if it means opening a revolving line of credit for the bankers to the taxpayer cash stream in perpetuity.  (Read Neil Barofsky’s book for more horrific details).

It’s been my feeling that the 401K is behind a lot of what’s really messed up in our economy and for some reason, we never hear anyone of sufficient gravitas talking about it.  But just imagine what would happen to the economy if we tried to phase it out even if most of us hate it with a white hot passion.

All hell would break loose.

The Top Comment du Jour from the NYTimes article on killing the social insurance policies

The NYTimes writes with astonishment and confusion that Americans are not willing to eat their poisoned mushrooms where social insurance programs are concerned.  For some weird reason, they sent more liberal minded Democrats to Congress next term and those Democrats appear almost to be willing to represent their voters.  It looks like Americans who have for decades paid Social Security taxes, a Surplus tax (done because we are too menny) and Medicare taxes, are not buying the idea that Social Security is a drag on the deficit or that the burden to fix Medicare must fall solely on the shoulders of working people.

This in spite of the relentless media messaging that tells them that they must sacrifice more skin.  Maybe waiting until people have lost their careers, savings and houses in the biggest financial catastrophe since the Great Depression is not the best time to apply so much pressure to Americans that they cry mercy, especially since most of them won’t have big enough pensions (if they have them at all) to retire on.  You’d think the masters of the universe would have figured out by now that if you reduce or eliminate pensions and force everyone to “save” money in insecure and risky 401K programs that those dullards would naturally hang on to their social insurance programs with their dear lives and the politicians who are eager to cut a deal would start facing resistance.  Never fear, they’ll probably just threaten to eliminate the mortgage interest deduction, plunging the housing market into a further slump.  That’s more immediate than cutting Social Security and so Americans will take the deal.  I can almost see Mitch McConnell winding up for that pitch.

Whatever.

What I really liked was this comment in the Readers’ Picks section of the article.  This sucker from commenter Kevin Rothstein got over 350 recommendations.  It’s at the top of the list, which should tell the NYTimes what is really bouncing around in Americans’ heads:

Enact Medicare for all. Stop the political nonsense. Eliminate the Department of Homeland Security. Cut the defense budget in half. Leave Afghanistan now. Close most of our overseas military bases. Spend money on upgrading infrastructure. Invest in alternative energy. End our dependence on fossil fuels. Bring back tax rates prior to Reagan. There. Problem solved.

This is not rocket science.  Here’s another one from reader TS:

Mr Pear, Social Security and Medicare are NOT entitlement programs. It seems that the right has defined them as such but, as with many other issues, that doesn’t make it true. Anyone who draws a paycheck has SS and Medicare deducted. If the interest from those funds were untouched by greedy lawmakers they would be more than solvent. I PAY into Social Security. I PAY into Medicare just as I would an insurance policy. I’m not entitled to these benefits, I EARNED them.

Pretty much.   There’s more where that came from in the reader’s picks.  Oddly enough, the editor’s picks are calling the social insurance programs “entitlements” and think that we need to balance any cuts in “entitlements” with increased taxes and other cuts in spending.What’s really amusing is that those comments are getting less than half of the recommends than the reader’s picks.  So, I think we have to conclude that the unending propaganda and redefinition is not working.  The jig is up.  Americans know when they’re being conned.

We are assigned a Social Security number at birth.  That’s when we enter into the social compact to make sure we all have something to fall back on in case some young 28 year old asshole banker gambles away our futures, or our working parent dies or we develop a chronic condition and can’t work.  It’s sinful to take our money for decades, make promises based on actuarial data, take MORE money to cover a shortfall and then at the last moment, when there’s no way or time to make up the difference, pull the rug out from under a generation of Americans just so that we don’t raise taxes on the insanely wealthy.  To do that would be fraud and I’m agin’ it.

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Later, a theory on what’s really behind the push to raise the retirement age and cut social security payments.  It’s only partially about taxes.

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.

Is it just me or is the Petraeus sex scandal…

… a giant manufactured distraction from the so-called Grand Bargain that Congress is negotiating now to deprive us of the social insurance programs we paid for in advance?

Sex scandals are as old as the hills.  We need to stop acting like they’ll stop the earth from turning and start take a more French attitude about them.  Do you know how many of their leaders have done things that would give the Villagers distracting gossip for years to come?  How about almost all of them.  They’ve all had affairs or mistresses or children whose births were not consecrated by the marital bond.  At some point in their history, probably right after The Terror or maybe it was the Nazi Occupation, the French started to realize that if they took every person who’d ever had a sexual indiscretion out of their leadership ranks, they would still be begging for bread and run over by rich aristocrats or living in fear or some crazy German.

And Petraeus is not even that important.  Oh, sure, the CIA is an important department and spies and all that.  But Petraeus is never going to be president, at least not now.  It’s very rare for former military generals to get to be president.  Eisenhower was the last one and I can only think of one other- Ulysses S Grant.  Grant was corrupt in a completely different way not having anything to do with sex. But I don’t care about Petraeus.

I don’t care about Petraeus’s tawdry, Jerry Springeresque love life where one mistress texts another mistress telling her to keep away from her man.  Can’t you picture it?  Two heavily made up women in skin tight clothing fighting over some skinny dude with a mullet?  He’s sitting there in the background with a bemused look on his face as the camera pans over the scene but he’s actually trying to figure out how he can talk them into a threesome.

Um, that’s not going to keep the heat on when we’re 65 and have to wait 5 additional years for our social security benefits to kick in.

I used to think that the politicians were going to put so much economic pressure on the American people that we would take the deal of immediate relief  and give up our claims to our pre-paid deferred compensation.

But that’s not really how it is.  It’s the politicians who are trading our futures for their short term relief.  Why are we not talking about that?  And why don’t we all vow to keep ourselves in good physical shape so that we can seek out and find all of the young congressmen and Senators who are going to sell us out?  Let’s make a promise to never leave them alone if they cut this deal for as long as they live.  Even after they retire from Congress or are voted out, let’s make it our mission to remind them every day of their lives that we are still here and we will remember and make sure they remember and that for them, the pressure will never, ever let up.  There will never be any short term relief for any young member of Congress who bargains away our prepaid retirement benefits.  We will be the albatross that hangs around their necks until the day they die.

Bribing North Korea

It looks like Karl Rove and his Crossroads GPS group are in a heap of trouble.  Very wealthy people gave mucho dinero to Karl and all they have to show for it is pretty much the same thing they had before the election.

But these guys didn’t get to the top by playing pattycake.  There’s a reason why many industries committed genocide against their employees.  They don’t want to be tied down.  They want to be “weightless”.  All the pension, social security and health benefits costs were keeping their hard earned money out of their own pockets.  So, they went on purges and listened to consultants from McKinsey and Boston who made them believe that they could get much of what they wanted by stressing the superstars to the breaking point and outsourcing everything else.  And what they couldn’t produce themselves, they could license in from the desperate startups.  Right?  You know I am.

Of course, that won’t really work out for many reasons that are unfamiliar to them.  If you’re a scientist, you’re better off developing your hobby for photography or serving tables in a restaurant than in an insecure startup or the crazy world of the corporate lab where all your hard work could get you laid off at any moment.  Or relocated to an expensive area of the country.  And then laid off again. As a lifestyle, it sucks.  But at some point, they’re going to have to hire some of us back.  Maybe there will be some nasty superbug that will need an antibiotic that no one has been working on or maybe the “Christians” will need medication to help them adjust to reality.  Social Security is still out there weighing the wealthy down.  They find it profoundly irritating.

Anyway, regardless of the sturm und drang on the Republican side and the fact that they are just now getting around to asking whether they made the “Christians” too hard assed, self-righteous, condescending, rigid, judgmental, mean-spirited, sex-crazed, irrational, willfully ignorant and just plain unbearable to be around, they aren’t going to give up trying to gut social security while they still have a lame duck session.  And when they have so many legislators retiring or leaving involuntarily, the billionaires still have a few tricks up their sleeves.  For instance, if those newly liberated reps and senators don’t do this one last favor for them, they’ll never work again.  How’s that?  You think you have a posh office at some K Street lobbying firm waiting for you when you get out or a nice Board of Directors appointment or financial industry position?  Think again. They can make all of that go away and leave you with nothing but a rented U-Haul for you to cart your papers back to Indiana.

Maybe there’s an opportunity here for the rest of us.  This situation reminds me of North Korea in the Clinton years, always threatening to go nuclear if they didn’t get what they wanted.  The answer to ratcheting down the threat was to pay them off.  We fed them during a famine, if I recall correctly and sent them oil.  If it kept North Korea from behaving badly, it was a small price to pay.

So, maybe we can offer to pay these retiring and defeated legislators to go away and do it without hurting anyone.  And anyway, if they gut social security to save their cushy jobs, they might have a fat bank account but they may never be safe again from the raging grannies and people from New Jersey who will break their knees (metaphorically).  It would be an ignominious demise, heaped with utter shame and disgrace.  They might have to leave the country.  But if they’re willing to take the money from the rich and powerful to cast a final vote in favor of the people who already have too much money at the expense of the ones who will soon have none, then shame might not be a problem for them.  You might as well take money from the middle and the left.  Our money is good.

So, name your number.  How much will we need to collect to make you go away without touching Social Security or changing Medicare?  We can all chip in and put the money in an escrow account called the “Retired Legislators and Mashie Niblick Lifestyle Readjustment Fund” or something like that.  We promise not to invest in mortgage backed securities with it.  Then, after you leave office and your successor is sworn in, we will dispense the funds to you.  Consider it our parting gift, a nice little nest egg for you to start the next phase of your life.  (Sorry, no Obama Phone.  We’re talking about serious payoffs here.)

No, don’t thank us.  WE will thank YOU.

Whaddya say?  Get back to us ASAP because I think there are some people in New Jersey who are doing practice swings with their lead pipes.

{{KIDDING!! Just kidding!}}

So, here’s a poll for all of you who want to retire someday on the money that you pre-paid for decades:

Takin’ a break today

It’s rainy and yucky today.

Anyway, this one goes out to all those chemists out there who have been freed from wage slavery:

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

By the way, Ezra Klein wrote something intelligent after a four year self-induced psychogenic fugue.  It appears that he has woken up to discover that he is a Democrat after all and that some of the people that Obama hangs with in Washington are not:

Of course, those who say we should raise the Social Security retirement age — either the age of eligibility or the age for full benefits — don’t get laughed at. It’s considered a very thoughtful, courageous effort to deal with our entitlement programs. People who mention it often make a joke of how brave they’re being. For instance, here’s New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) at an American Enterprise Institute event:

You are going to have to raise the retirement age for Social Security! Whoa! I just said it and I am still standing here. I did not vaporize into the carpeting.

Big applause, of course.

This is one of Washington, D.C.’s more disagreeable conceits. The people wandering around calling for a higher retirement age will never feel the bite of the policy. Think tankers and politicians and columnists don’t retire at age 62, or even age 65. They love their work, which mostly requires sitting down in air-conditioned rooms. They stick around pretty much until they’re about to die.

Too bad this awakening comes too late to do anything about it but we must be grateful for small things.

But as Ezra says:

The courage it takes to call for a higher retirement age is the courage to say that other people who don’t have it as good as you do should be the ones to pay to shore up Social Security. It’s the same kind of courage as a poor person calling for higher taxes on the rich, or a sitting congressman calling for a war he’ll never have to fight in.

Or the courage of an A list blogger to defend future social security recipients after the blogger failed to pressure the Democratic nominee he helped get elected with threats of electoral suicide if he didn’t drop the Grand Bargain plans.

Just sayin’.

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:

Melange:A World of Woo, tribal belief, willful self-delusion and Jane Mayer

There are a lot of interesting nuggets in the intertoobz these days.  Some of these things go together and show the lengths we will go to delude ourselves or cling to tribal beliefs.

Let’s start with a podcast.  So, you’ve given up the Judeo-Christian belief system for God 2.0 or no god at all.  Some of us would call this progress.  Giving up bronze age superstition and tradition for something more modern and relevant is quite a bold step.  So, why are so many of you turning to woo?  Woo is defined as “ideas considered irrational or based on extremely flimsy evidence or that appeal to mysterious occult forces or powers”. Woo includes the belief in astrology, auras, energy fields, homeopathy, accupuncture, chiropracty and vaccination phobia.  Seth Andrews of the Thinking Atheist interviews various professionals who debunk these woos and tries to explain why otherwise rational people are attracted to them. Let’s put it this way, if you’re into woo, it’s hard to take anything you say seriously. You’d might as well be a nutcase fundy eschatologist.   Check out Seth’s recent podcast here.

Jay Ackroyd tries to lead Digby to the light when it comes to Obama’s commitment to a Grand Bargain on Social Security and Medicare.  First, go read the piece from Digby where she actually sounds like she’s blown right on past where Conflucians are sitting straight into the arms of the former Democrats who are so angry they’ve started to identify with the Tea Party.  Wow.  That’s quite a leap.  I know the party will reel her back in and, to be honest, we don’t really need more Tea Partiers in Congress, thank you very much.  But, yeah, Digby.  Jay’s right.  The Obama contingent are not liberals.  However, Jay is not right that they’re centrists.  The Obama contingent is definitely on the right side of center.  Nooooo doubt about it.  The only way that they are centrists is if you consider moderate republicanism centrist.  That would make Bill Clinton a flaming commie.  No, no, don’t go there, Jay.  We have seen the studies.  There’s no way in hell that Bill Clinton is a centrist in the same way that Obama is a “centrist”.  The center moved in the past 12 years.  You guys have got to accept this because your irrational belief that Clinton is an evil Republican dude compared to Obama, is what got Obama elected in the first place.  You’ve been done in by your tribe’s woo.  I mean, think about it: your group is asking us to believe that Bill Clinton is, was and always will be more conservative than Barack Obama.  Step back and think about that and ask yourselves if that’s rational given everything you now know.  If YOU can’t swallow it, why are you asking US to believe it?

As for Digby, I really like her and I’ve found her recent evolution to be promising, if only temporary in the lead up to the election.  I expect her to chicken out even though her “Hey! We’re eating grass!” moments are fun to read.  There is a place for left of center Democrats who don’t have our minds so wide open that our brains have fallen out.  We just need to create it.  It probably won’t happen this election cycle unless the Obama half of the party is defeated by the Clinton half of the party.  That’s where we are now.  You may not think the Clinton half is sufficiently liberal but the American people do.  In any case, they’ll drag the party back leftwards like an earthquake in Japan.  It could be a true realignment on the way back to sanity.  And remember, Wall Street rejected the Clinton half last time.  So, you know, how much more proof do you need??  Besides, there is no hope for Howard Dean.  Most people don’t know who he is and wouldn’t like him if they did.  We need to be realistic and work with what we’ve got.  And as far as I can tell, Americans would be ecstatic to return to the Clinton years, even if they were supervised by his wife. A woman in charge would be very good for women in general, wouldn’t you agree?  Especially when that woman is a passionate defender of women’s reproductive rights?  I mean, can women really trust Obama after they way he dragged his feet on the conscience rule, betrayed us in the healthcare law and kept Plan B behind a counter?

As far as everyone having “skin in the game”, Obama’s term for sacrificing in the upcoming Grand Bargain, um, I’ve seen my industry devastated by Wall Street grasshoppers and I’ve lost a very good living, permanently.  So, you know, I’ve already been flayed.  Not only that but I’m in the age cohort who has to wait until I’m 67 before I get the Social Security I prepaid for decades.  I’m not sacrificing anymore skin.  No, do not even ask.  Don’t make us come down there to Washington to make your lives miserable.  You do not want crowds from the size of my graduating class on the mall.  No, you do not.  I suggest that Congress go hunt people with an excess of skin, ie wealthy people.  Give them a good reason to whine.

The last bit is an interview of Jane Mayer on Fresh Air with Terry Gross entitled “Obama in Impossible Bind Over Donors”.  The Impossible Bind is that he wants and needs money from the wealthy and Wall Street but he doesn’t want average voters to know how indebted he is to his big donors so he has to blow the donors off in public.  It’s a sad, sad situation.  Terry, to her credit, seems to have come around after being such an insufferable Obama fangirl in 2008.  Jane Mayer valiantly tries to make Obama look good when it comes to fundraising.  You can almost hear Jane pleading with the audience to understand what Obama is up against but I found her extreme earnestness irritating.  It’s a cruel world out there.  Poor Obama, forced to accept SuperPAC money and trying to make it look like he doesn’t like it.  It’s all the fault of the mean Republicans that he’s sucking up all the money he said he didn’t want.  And while Romney is appearing at the SuperPAC soirees, Mitt has a deputy actually ask for the money, while Obama goes to the soirees and the money just mysteriously appears for him but he doesn’t suck up to anyone to get it.  I find the distinction indistinct.

Oh, but Obama isn’t giving away the Lincoln Bedroom!  So, you know, there’s that.  And that’s presumably why the donors are complaining.  They get nothing from Obama.  Not even a tote bag.  He won’t even take pictures with his donors so they can use that to name drop. It sounds like Obama got too much of a reputation as a schmoozer in 2008 and he’s desperate to squash that meme this year but that doesn’t mean he’ll be turning the filthy lucre down.  He just doesn’t want to have to thank anyone publicly for it.

But the funniest part of the interview is when Mayer is forced to debunk the idea that Obama made the bulk of his campaign money from millions of teensy contributions.  I know, you’re probably thinking that small contributions mean less than $100 because that’s what the Obama campaign lead us to believe in 2008.  We were all under the impression that millions and millions of working class Joes were mailing $20 to him in gratitude with a little note saying, “Bless you, Barack!  Save the Republic.  We’ve been waiting all our lives for you!”  Right?  Intellectually, you know it’s not true because the sheer size of the amount of money he collected, plus all of the contributions from wealthy Wall Street contributors, is public information. But the meme kinda slipped into the chinks of the gray matter and created it’s own woo.  It just *had* to be true because so many people repeated it.  It’s sort of like that woo we debunked about Obama running a fabulous campaign.  Um, no he didn’t, unless you consider gaming the caucuses and paying off the superdelegates and DNC fabulous, and we can prove it but myths die hard.

Anyway, it turns out that the definition of small depends on who is using it.  Small donations to you and me would be less than $100.  Small donations to the Obama campaign means maxing out at $5000.  See the difference?  One is $4900 more than the other. What working class stiff has $5000 to stuff into an envelope for a guy who had less than two years of national political experience before he decided to run for president?  And inadvertently, Mayer exposes what the Obama campaign thinks of the people who gave less than $5K.  They’re not even on the campaign’s radar.

But the final bit of silliness from Mayer is when she contrasts Bill Clinton’s extroversion against Obama’s intellectualism.  That’s got to be a first.  Whatever you might think of Bill Clinton,  making the guy who went to Georgetown, Yale Law School and was a Rhodes Scholar sound like a high school dropout car salesman next to Obama doesn’t really work too well.  What she’s really trying to say is that Clinton is a gregarious politician who likes politics and can carry on an intelligent conversation with anyone, even his enemies, but that the Obama contingent doesn’t like politics and getting hands dirty and actually doing the stuff that gets things done.  I know that she didn’t mean to say that but that’s essentially what she said.  If you were a big money donor, whose campaign would you rather give $5 million to?  (George Soros, call me!)

Once the bloom is off of Obama’s rose, you can’t listen to this stuff without laughing at all of the holes in the arguments.  The woo is gone.

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