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

I’m so glad I don’t have cable.  The last thing I want to see today is a bunch of civility bullies taking to the fainting couches because the demographics are swinging against the nitwit religious right who were duped for 30 years into selling our birthright for a mess of social issue pottage.

Oh, so now we’re not supposed to raise our voices as the forces of meanness, inequality and exploitation double down on the “compromise” and “bipartisanship” crap.  Hey, I don’t know if you guys know what it’s like to be formerly middle class, a college graduate in a highly technical field with years of experience who can’t find a job without taking a steep pay cut but that would include everyone I know.  Frankly, I’m fed up with the lies about how the wealthy just can’t find good help anymore and if you guys think I’m going to let the decades of surplus social security payroll taxes I PREPAID go without a fight, you’ve got another thing coming to you.

We’re not going to quietly and obediently eat our poisoned mushrooms just because we are getting in the way of the job exploiters’ desires to be free of any responsibility to behave like decent Americans and human beings.  We’re going to ask loud and clear:

“Why do the rich hate America?”

People who tut-tut us about our “tone” might find their asses defenestrated.

Earth to DC pundits: we’re sick of the “fiscal cliff” crap

In case you were wondering, I’ve been in Pittsburgh visiting relatives and doing things that I’ll fill you in on later. I’ve been staying with a favorite aunt who doesn’t have time for the Internet and whose neighbors have put passwords on all their modems since the last time I was here.

Anyway, the anecdotal evidence suggests that the urgency of the fiscal cliff is not resonating here. People are bored with it. It’s not like Iraq where the Bushies scared everyone into thinking Saddam Hussein had WMDs that he could drop on us in 40 minutes. No, it’s like they really want mute the next TV pundit who is hyperventilating about his taxes going up in January.

Oh, and that whole messing around with social security or any social insurance program? It’s a no go. Don’t even think about it. These relatives live in a different reality than I do. By that I mean, they watch TV news. And this “fiscal cliff” campaign has been a waste of time. Go over it already. No one here gives a flying f#^*. It’s just a bunch of rich people whining to them. Of course, if working people’s taxes go up in January and benefits get cut, they’re going to be pissed. But no one here is fooled into believing that legislators are twisting themselves into knots on their behalf.

They’re just tired of the incessant droning on and on about the fiscal cliff and, surprisingly, they have very little sympathy for whiny rich peoples’ immiment loss of their Bush tax cuts.

So, there you go, TV pundits. You have created a crisis that instantly triggers bathroom breaks. Suck up the new tax levels and stuff a sock in it.

Gun control is another matter. They’re not opposed to that. And they’ve made the connection with the shooters being primarily “white males”. So, verily I say unto you congress persons and senators brutally ripped from your eggnog and ski vacations, your time would be better spent legislating some way to make it inconvenient for white men to intimidate the rest of the country with their god given right to bear arms.

Senator Menendez hedges on the Chained CPI

Here is the response I got from him following the email I sent the other day.  Menendez is a pretty liberal guy so if this is the best he can do, we’re screwed.

There are two things that Menendez should keep in mind. 1.) If in doubt, ask the actuaries for the data.  Modeling the numbers is not difficult.  Then you will be able to see if there is a cut and how big it is. 2.) Think about the generation that is between 45-55 years old.  We worked our asses off for this country with fewer days off or retirement compensation than most developed countries. Imposing a Chained CPI on us would be like an American version of a sumptuary law, forcing us to forgo goods and services we had planned on acquiring when we retired.  If we had known 30 years ago that a bunch of hard ass Republicans and media pundits would sacrifice us in order to keep their Bush tax cuts, we would have never put up with the surplus payroll tax.  It’s fraudulent to change the rules now.

We’re not stupid enough to believe this is going to strengthen anything, especially social security.:

Dear Ms. X:

Thank you for contacting me to express your opposition to the use of the Chained Consumer Price Index (C-CPI-U).  Your opinion is very important to me, and I appreciate the opportunity to respond to you about this important issue.

As you know, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a very important measure of inflation used by the federal government.  The current CPI does not take into account the changes in consumer spending patterns as consumers substitute more expensive goods for similar less expensive goods.  To get an alternative estimate of the effect of consumer substitution, the Bureau of Labor Statistics created the C-CPI-U for consumers, which reflects changes both in prices and the composition of consumer purchasing habits.

While the C-CPI-U may calculate a more accurate estimate of inflation that consumers face, some are concerned that this change will have the effect of reducing future Social Security benefits if it is used to calculate the annual cost-of-living adjustments.

I have not taken a position on this specific issue, but rest assured that I will keep your views in mind. I strongly believe that we must protect and strengthen Social Security because it is the main source of retirement income for millions of seniors.  Social Security benefits provide essential financial security to our nation’s seniors.  Rest assured, as I have done throughout my career, I will continue fighting to keep Social Security strong for generations to come.

Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.  Please do not hesitate to contact me once again if I can be of further assistance.  I invite you to visit my website (http://menendez.senate.gov) to learn more about how I am standing up for New Jersey families in the United States Senate.

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!

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?

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

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.

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