08/13/2012 archive

No Good Choices For Social Safety Nets

Since Saturday’s announcement of the right wing darling Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as Gov. Mitt Romney’s choice for his Vice President, the number one concern has been Ryan’s budget that would end Medicare as we know it, end federal funding of Medicaid and privatize Social Security. Those proposals are unacceptable for the majority of voters. But voting to reelect Barack Obama won’t protect those programs either. Pres. Obama and the Democrats have agreed to cuts and changes to those programs that are equally unacceptable. Mr. Obama has even lamented that he has not been given “enough credit for their willingness to accept cuts in Medicare and Social Security.” Even more worrisome is the person whose name has been bandied about as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s replacement, none other than the co-chair of the infamous Cat Food Commission, Erskine Bowles. Ezra Klein, Beltway insider and Washington Post political analyst, is betting on Mr. Bowles appointment if Pres. Obama is reelected:

For the Obama administration, Bowles has a number of qualifications. For one thing, Republicans adore him. Ryan has called him “my favorite Democrat.” Appointing Bowles to be Treasury Secretary would ensure a smooth confirmation, and it would be interpreted as a sign of goodwill and “seriousness” both by Republicans and by the media. Coming after a bitterly partisan election and at the outset of a hugely consequential series of negotiations, that could have real appeal to the White House.

One reservation you often hear when playing the “who will be the next Treasury Secretary” guessing game is, “but they have no market experience.” For better or worse, it’s considered crucial that the Treasury Secretary understand, and be capable of working with, markets. Bowles was an investment banker before he entered politics, and he currently serves on the board of directors for both Morgan Stanley and GE. He’s also personally beloved by Wall Street, where “Simpson-Bowles” has deep and fervent supporters, including many who have no real idea what’s in it. Appointing Bowles would be a signal to them that Washington is getting serious. [..]

There are downsides to Bowles, too. He’ll want the White House to go further than they’ve been willing to go on long-term health costs. But they’re prepared to do that once taxes are on the table. He’s also quite disliked by the left, which frequently refers to the Simpson-Bowles Commission as “the Catfood Commission.” That’s a drawback, but the Obama administration has always prized holding the center over placating the left. Indeed, Obama, who ran in 2008 as a post-partisan uniter and is unexpectedly and unhappily having to run a much more traditional and partisan campaign in 2012, might see that as a benefit. If he can press the reset button after this election, he’s going to do it.

Just what this country needs, another corporatist Wall St. buddy and former bank executive heading Treasury who, as Dean Baker points out, Mr. Bowles has been working to cut Social Security for 15 years:

While Simpson has seized the spotlight, it may prove to be the case that Erskine Bowles, his co-chairman, poses the greater threat to Social Security. The reason is simple: Bowles is the living embodiment of the rewards available to politicians who would support substantial cutbacks or privatization of the program. [..]

Bowles is an unsuccessful politician, having twice lost in runs for the Senate in North Carolina.

Yet, he is very successful financially. He pockets $335,000 a year as a director of Morgan Stanley, one of the huge Wall Street banks that was rescued by taxpayer dollars in the fall of 2008. He likely pockets a similar sum from sitting as a director of GM, another company rescued by the government.

This means that Bowles pockets close to $700,000 annually (@600 monthly Social Security checks) from attending eight to twelve meetings a year. This must look like a pretty attractive deal to current members of Congress. In other words, the message Bowles is sending members of Congress is that if you betray your constituents and vote to undermine Social Security, you will be amply rewarded even if the voters give you the boot.

Bowles has also lied to about Social Security’s solvency:

What we’ve done is make Social Security solvent for the next 75 years. As you all know, Social Security runs out of money in 2037. We’re not making it up. That’s the law.

Think Progress‘s Zaid Zilani debunked that lie:

Social Security is currently projected to be fully solvent until the year 2037. After that, it is expected to be able to pay out 75 percent of benefits until 2084, which basically equals full benefits, once inflation is accounted for. There is no threat of the program running out of money any time soon – certainly not in 2037. That does not mean that there aren’t positive and progressive changes that could possibly be made to the system.

As for Medicare and Medicaid, Dayen debunks the myth about the cost effectiveness of those programs:

The New England Journal of Medicine reports that Medicare and Medicaid spending has decelerated in recent years, and not just because of the Great Recession. The public programs have seen their cost growth slow significantly compared to private health insurance. And this is expected to continue for the coming decade.

This is so important because, as Paul van de Water of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains, the public debate has focused on transforming Medicare and Medicaid in the coming years, constraining cost in the very programs that are the most cost-efficient. If anything, the opposite should be true, and more and more of the system should be converted into public programs to increase the risk pool, allow for greater bargaining leverage on prices, and provide stability. [..]

The Obama campaign would have voters believe that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would destroy the Social Safety net but the idea of Erskine Bowles as Treasury Secretary would be just as bad for out social safety net. Mr. Bowles and his “Catfood Commission” are “grand bargains” we don’t need.

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Joseph E. Stiglitz and Mark Zandi: The One Housing Solution Left: Mass Mortgage Refinancing

MORE than four million Americans have lost their homes since the housing bubble began bursting six years ago. An additional 3.5 million homeowners are in the foreclosure process or are so delinquent on payments that they will be soon. With 13.5 million homeowners underwater – they owe more than their home is now worth – the odds are high that many millions more will lose their homes. [..]

Late last month, the top regulator overseeing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac blocked a plan backed by the Obama administration to let the companies forgive some of the mortgage debt owed by stressed homeowners. While half a million homeowners could be helped with a principal writedown, the regulator, Edward J. DeMarco, argued (we believe incorrectly) that helping some homeowners might cause others who are paying on their loans to stop so that they also could get their mortgages reduced.

With principal writedown no longer an option, the government needs to find a new way to facilitate mass mortgage refinancings. With rates at record lows, refinancing would allow homeowners to significantly reduce their monthly payments, freeing up money to spend on other things. A mass refinancing program would work like a potent tax cut.

Robert Reich: The Ryan Choice

Paul Ryan is the reverse of Sarah Palin. She was all right-wing flash without much substance. He’s all right-wing substance without much flash.

Ryan is not a firebrand. He’s not smarmy. He doesn’t ooze contempt for opponents or ridicule those who disagree with him. In style and tone, he doesn’t even sound like an ideologue — until you listen to what he has to say.

It’s here — in Ryan’s views and policy judgments — we find the true ideologue. More than any other politician today, Paul Ryan exemplifies the social Darwinism at the core of today’s Republican Party: Reward the rich, penalize the poor, let everyone else fend for themselves. Dog eat dog.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: “President Ryan” – Another Shrewd Move in the Corporate State’s Long Game

Paul Ryan’s looks are often compared to an actor’s, and that’s no accident: He’s being groomed for the role of a lifetime. When Mitt Romney accidentally introduced Ryan as “the next President” he may have been displaying the same predilection for accidental honesty – for truth-telling as political gaffe – that he showed when he praised Israel’s socialized health system.

And Romney may be right. The most likeable and electable extremist in the country just became the GOP’s 2016 front-runner. That’s no accident either.

All the signs suggest that the economy will struggle for years unless progressive steps are taken. Worse, another steep decline into recession or depression could occur at any time. If Obama’s re-elected and we’re still suffering in 2016, as now seems likely, our “electable extremist” will be in the perfect position to become the next President.

Heads we win, says Corporate America, and tails you lose.

Raymond J. Learsy: France’s 75% Millionaires Tax and America’s Insidiously Crafted Two Tiered Law Enforcement

France’s newly elected Socialist President Francois Hollande has vowed to impose a 75% tax on anyone’s income above a million Euros equivalent to $1.24 million. Clearly there is growing concern among the upper echelons of the France’s business class as Hollande presses forward his ‘manifesto of patriotism’ to ‘pay extra tax to get the country back on its feet again’ (“Indigestion for ‘les Riches,” New York Times, August 8, 2012).

The political rationalization for Hollande’s initiative is to provide political cover for the deep cuts that the government may need to make to France’s extensive social and welfare programs.

Yet the motivating force can be ascribed to a far more destructive impulse imbued with the class animosity dating back to the Revolution. Significantly, Hollande has been quoted, “I don’t like the rich.” Voila!

Matthew Rothschild: Victory for Anti-Nuclear Power Movement in the US

Wendell K. Potter: “Path to Prosperity?” For Many Senior Citizens, VP Pick Ryan’s Plan Would Be Path to the Poorhouse

Score two for the movement against nuclear power in this country.

In June, the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was in violation of the law for failing to adequately assess the environmental hazards involved in the storage of nuclear waste, a point that anti-nuke activists have been making for years and years.

In response to that court ruling, the NRC this week issued a statement that it was stopping the issuing of permits for new nuclear power construction, as well as for life extensions on old existing plants, until it satisfies the court’s concerns.

If Americans who are embracing Rep. Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” — and that now includes Mitt Romney — spent a few minutes reviewing a few recent research reports, they just might conclude that the Wisconsin Republican’s plan to reduce the deficit might better be renamed the “Path to the Poorhouse” because of what it would mean to the Medicare program and many senior citizens.

Ryan’s proposal, which will get new scrutiny now that Romney has made him his running mate, would end the current Medicare program for everyone born after 1956. It would replace Medicare with a system in which beneficiaries would receive a set amount of money from the government every year to buy coverage from private insurers. That money would go straight into insurance companies’ bank accounts, which would make them far richer and even more in control of our health care system than they already are.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan

Afghan policeman kills 10 fellow policemen

By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press

3 hrs ago

An Afghan police officer killed at least 10 of his fellow officers on Saturday, a day after six U.S. service members were gunned down by their Afghan partners in summer violence that has both international and Afghan forces questioning who is friend or foe.

A day earlier, two Afghans shot and killed six American service members Friday in neighboring Helmand province in the south where insurgents have wielded their greatest influence.

In the first attack, an Afghan police officer shot and killed three Marines after sharing a pre-dawn meal with them in the volatile Sangin district, according to Afghan officials.

Then at around 9 p.m. Friday in the Garmser district farther south, an Afghan working on an installation shared by coalition and Afghan forces shot and killed three other international troops, said Maj. Lori Hodge, a spokesman for the coalition in Kabul. A U.S. defense official confirmed the three victims also were Americans.

Attacks where Afghan security forces or insurgents disguised in their uniforms kill foreign troops have spiked with four such attacks in the past week. There have been 26 such attacks so far this year, resulting in 34 deaths, according to the U.S.-led coalition.

On This Day In History August 13

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on image to enlarge

August 13 is the 225th day of the year (226th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 140 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1521, the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan falls to Cortes:

After a three-month siege, Spanish forces under Hernan Cortes capture Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire. Cortes’ men leveled the city and captured Cuauhtemoc, the Aztec emperor.

Tenochtitlan was founded in 1325 A.D. by a wandering tribe of hunters and gatherers on islands in Lake Texcoco, near the present site of Mexico City. In only one century, this civilization grew into the Aztec empire, largely because of its advanced system of agriculture. The empire came to dominate central Mexico and by the ascendance of Montezuma II in 1502 had reached its greatest extent, extending as far south as perhaps modern-day Nicaragua. At the time, the empire was held together primarily by Aztec military strength, and Montezuma II set about establishing a bureaucracy, creating provinces that would pay tribute to the imperial capital of Tenochtitlan. The conquered peoples resented the Aztec demands for tribute and victims for the religious sacrifices, but the Aztec military kept rebellion at bay.

After the conquest

Cortes subsequently directed the systematic destruction and leveling of the city and its rebuilding, despite opposition, with a central area designated for Spanish use (the traza). The outer Indian section, now dubbed San Juan Tenochtitlan, continued to be governed by the previous indigenous elite and was divided into the same subdivisions as before.


Some of the remaining ruins of Tenochtitlan’s main temple, the Templo Mayor, were uncovered during the construction of a metro line in the 1970s. A small portion has been excavated and is now open to visitors. Mexico City’s Zócalo, the Plaza de la Constitución, is located at the location of Tenochtitlan’s original central plaza and market, and many of the original calzadas still correspond to modern streets in the city. The Aztec sun stone was located in the ruins. This stone is 4 meters in diameter and weighs over 20 tonnes. It was once located half way up the great pyramid. This sculpture was made around 1470 CE under the rule of King Axayacatl, the predecessor of Tizoc, and is said to tell the Aztec history and prophecy for the future.

DocuDharma Digest July 2012

Calendar Table

Week Sun Mon Tues Wed Thur Fri Sat
July 1-7 52 1 7 2 7 3 6 4 10 5 7 6 10 7 5
July 8-14 47 8 8 9 7 10 7 11 6 12 5 13 8 14 6
July 15-21 46 15 7 16 7 17 7 18 7 19 6 20 8 21 7
July 22-28 44 22 8 23 7 24 7 25 7 26 6 27 8 28 6
July 29-31 21 29 7 30 7 31 7

July 2012 on The Stars Hollow Gazette

Mostly an experiment-

Calendar Table

Week Sun Mon Tues Wed Thur Fri Sat
July 1-7 51 1 9 2 6 3 6 4 10 5 6 6 6 7 8
July 8-14 45 8 8 9 6 10 6 11 6 12 6 13 6 14 7
July 15-21 46 15 8 16 6 17 8 18 5 19 6 20 5 21 8
July 22-28 44 22 9 23 5 24 5 25 5 26 6 27 7 28 7
July 29-31 21 29 9 30 6 31 6

Sunday Train: zOMG these aint REAL HSR trains!

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

crossposted from Voices on the Square

This is more or less the three year anniversary of the first Sunday Train ~ a bit less than more, since this is the 12th of August 2012 and I think that the first Sunday Train was 16th of August, 2009. It emerged from a variety of blogging I had been doing over the previous couple of years, with a notion that if I set down a target of blogging on Sunday, it would make it easier for people to track the Sunday Train down. It was originally posted at my midnight-populist blogspot, Burning the Midnight Oil, crossposted to Agent Orange, My Left Wing, Progressive Blue and Docudharma, but I was never really enthusiastic about building up my own blog, and nor about  the constraints of blogspot, so over time I settled on writing the Sunday Train at a community blog, cross-posting it to other community blogs, and posting the summary to Burning the Midnight Oil, with cross-links to the blogs containing that week’s full post.

The crosspost list also varied from time to time: of those original community blogs, I rarely visit My Left Wing or Docudharma much anymore, and the best of Progressive Blue has been folded into the broader coalition at Voices on the Square, which since its launch last month has been the new home base for Sunday Train. The Sunday Train still rolls into Agent Orange (aka “daily kos”), and has for some time also stopped at Hillbilly Report and the Stars Hollow Gazette, and occasionally at the European Tribune.

In celebration of the three year anniversary, more or less, I am reprinting the diary  from the 16th August, 2009, “zOMG, these aint REAL HSR trains!”

XXX Olympiad: Closing Ceremonies

Spoiler Alert!

Acutally it’s been on live for a while now and streaming on the web, but I prefer to ‘enjoy’ it in the same manner as my readers, tape delayed.

Which I wouldn’t have minded so much if they’d just published an accurate schedule.

I got to see most of my weird and wacky favorites at least once and caught some of the pivotal moments though I didn’t let it dominate my life.  Title IX really showed its impact at these Olympics making up for some disappointments in areas of traditional strength.

In addition to being more entertaining, the men are grim relentless joyless competitors.

We are once again reminded that most subjective judging is thoroughly corrupt and that amateur umpires and referees make mistakes too often for all of them to be deliberate.  Again we see the demonstrated jingoistic bias and shallow understanding of traditional USA television, but…

Sometimes you get to see something surprising or inspirational or amusing that you’d be disappointed to have missed.  79 Nations got some medal, 50 got at least 1 Gold.

London 2012: A Gold Medal, or An Also-Ran?

The International Herald Tribune

August 12, 2012

There was anonymity. A U.S. shooter, Kimberly Rhode, 33, won her fifth medal at her fifth straight Olympics. No American has ever done that in an individual event, but almost nobody noticed. Her gun was stolen from her car after the 2008 Olympics, then she had a breast cancer scare. Is she on for 2016? You bet.

There were breakthroughs. Oscar Pistorius ran on prosthetic legs and Caster Semenya won the silver medal in the women’s 800 meters. And the Earth continued to spin on its axis. Women boxed for the first time. Three holdout nations – Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia – finally gave up their gender apartheid in sports and allowed women to compete.

“The I.O.C. is making a huge fuss about her being here – their spin is that Olympic sports are opening the door for women, especially Arabic women. Which is kind of a joke,” the observer said. “I think these girls are being propped up by the I.O.C. as their token Islamic female participants.”

I’d really rather skip the Superbowl Spectaculars in favor of rewatching my dvred Bissel Kitty Halftime shows, but they’re not going to be talking about that at the coffee machine tomorrow.

Rule Britannia: Olympic closing ceremony explained

By JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press

22 minutes ago

Organizers say the ceremony will be a celebration of British music “from Elgar to Adele.” Many viewers will have heard of Adele, the big-voiced singer who won six Grammys with her album “21.” Edward Elgar was the composer of the “Pomp and Circumstance” marches and the “Enigma Variations.” His composition “Nimrod,” regarded as quintessentially English, was played at the opening ceremony of the London Games – one of several elements linking the first night of the Olympics with the last.

From there, the ceremony explodes in a kaleidoscope of musicians and eras – from 1960s Mods with The Who, to the 1990s “girl power” of the Spice Girls.

British humor has a big role in the closing ceremony, with an appearance by Eric Idle of iconoclastic comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Expect surreal visual juxtapositions as he sings “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” the jaunty but sardonic ditty from the film “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.”

London Olympics: Preview of closing ceremony

By Lisa Dillman, Los Angeles Times

August 12, 2012

Like the opening ceremony, much of what will happen is being kept under wraps. But a few details have trickled out, and some interesting people have been spotted around town, so we can make a few educated guesses.

How else can you explain the rumored appearance of Muse and One Direction?

Annie Lennox, Kate Bush and Kaiser Chiefs, if they appear, could help the gala nudge into bronze-medal territory, up from the DNF zone.

Exact details are kept secret, but expected to perform are Adele, George Michael, the Who, Muse, Spice Girls, Pet Shop Boys, Annie Lennox and Fatboy Slim. No word yet if Sir Elton will be there.

There was one act I heard they were unable to book-

More Spoilers.