Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Deficit Hawks Don't Seem Worried About The Cost Of Wars

By Manifesto Joe

While the "deficit hawks" in Congress are scheming for all kinds of attacks on Social Security and other flimsy strands of the U.S. social safety net, news just came out that an estimated $5 billion-plus of what was spent for rebuilding in war-ravaged Iraq was wasted. Yep, wasted.

Here's a link to a story about this.

It's funny how it is with deficit hawks, most of them Republicans -- there's never enough money to keep jobless people going, but there's always money for a war, and for its ancillary costs.

The Iraq war is now supposed to be over in terms of the U.S. combat role, or so says President Obama. Don't bet on it. The U.S. is leaving 50,000 troops in the country, and insurgents are suddenly re-emerging to launch coordinated attacks. I hope I am pleasantly surprised, but I doubt that U.S. forces will be leaving Iraq anytime soon. Expect a permanent occupation, similar to the ones in Germany and Japan, and one not nearly as tranquil.

Meanwhile, the cost will keep rising, well beyond the estimated $750 billion that the Iraq war has already cost U.S. taxpayers.

The way the Republican Party and the DINOs play politics, Obama will end up holding the bag for all this, one way or another. If he withdraws all U.S. troops eventually, expect something perhaps worse than a Vietnam scenario, with Iraq descending into chaos and civil war. "Obama lost the war!" will be the Fox News mantra.

If he keeps a permanent occupation force in Iraq, then the Michael Steeles out there will have license to rewrite history. Never mind that Obama has always regarded the Iraq war as a terrible mistake. It has become his war, regardless of Il Doofus' grotesque 2002-03 decision and regardless of the outcome. Politically, he's in a no-win situation.

Meanwhile, expect a solid bloc of Republicans and a few "Blue Dog Democrats" to try to cut Social Security and stymie extensions of unemployment benefits, while at the same time supporting every war appropriation that comes before them. For them, there's always a deficit for life -- and there's always a huge surplus for death.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Obama's Vacation: Have The Republicans, At Long Last, No Sense Of Decency?

By Manifesto Joe

It's not enough that Republicans oppose anything and everything that might address the country's socioeconomic ills.

President Obama can't even go on vacation. The minute he and his family landed at Martha's Vineyard, these ludicrous hypocrites started calling him "the Clark Griswold president" -- a reference to the character played by Chevy Chase in the National Lampoon vacation movie series.

I suppose that if one is a ruthless, disingenuous, opportunistic gob of political pond scum, it's a good gamble that the American people, at least enough of them, are this stupid and also suffer from amnesia. Given the huge success that the right wing of the Republican Party has had at the polls over the past 30 years, there must be some truth to this.

But how many of us have forgotten Il Doofus, and how much time he spent on vacation in that prairie oasis of Crawford, Texas? Not everyone, and certainly not me.

In the first place, anybody who would want to spend an August vacation in Central Texas has got to be a drooling idiot. Where I live in Texas, today it was something like 110 in the shade this afternoon. I had to spend some time outdoors earlier, and it felt like a sauna out there. I sweated out a fresh shirt in less than an hour. At least the Obamas have the good sense to go up north to Martha's Vineyard in August. That's evidence of their intelligence.

Then, let's look at the numbers. This is from a Washington Post article:

Veteran CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller, a fastidious keeper of presidential statistics, has kept count. By his tally, Obama has embarked on nine "vacations" since taking office, bringing his total days off to 48. Some of those trips lasted a day and some, like his Christmas holiday in Hawaii, more than a week.

By comparison, Bush had visited his ranch in Crawford, Tex., 14 times at this point in his administration and spent 115 days there. And yes, Democrats let him have it, too, complaining that he was a chronic vacationer.

White House advisers made clear in the days leading up to this getaway that a president, especially a wartime president overseeing a country in the grips of economic distress, is never really on vacation.

Here's a link to the entire article.

There are plenty of grave political issues to argue about right now. This isn't one of them. But this illustrates how low, slimy and contemptible the Republican right wing has become, that they would begrudge a president of the opposing party a few rounds of golf, reading time, and some precious time with his family. Il Doofus was on vacation on Aug. 6, 2001, when he was warned that a terrorist attack on U.S. soil was imminent. He stayed in Crawford for a month after that. Funny how the Republicans never mention any of that.

The world suffers from the staggering number of people in it who are stupid, or lacking in moral character, or both. And, unfortunately, there are also a good many who have plenty of moral character on a personal level but have trouble thinking their way through a grocery list.

As long as there are all of the above in America, there will be a Republican Party. And that's sad, because the U.S. needs a responsible conservative political party, and a responsible opposition party. Right now, it has neither.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How Hot Is It? In Texas, It's No Biggie, But Then ...

By Manifesto Joe

Six months ago, those of us living in this part of Texas were digging out from the worst snowstorm of modern times. Over a foot of snow fell, which is unheard of in these parts. Thick tree limbs snapped, and transformers blew. This city was crippled to the point of stand-still.

Six months later, we're on our 18th consecutive day of 100-plus-degree afternoon highs. Today it was 101, and this is expected to go on for another week, at least. But then, in Texas, we're pretty used to summers like this. In 1980, we had 42 such days in a row.

They are not used to it in Moscow. I saw that they had an afternoon high of 102 there not long ago, which must be some kind of record for that part of Russia. Plus, they've been having these nasty peat bog fires that have bedeviled firefighters and the military over there.

Climate change, assuming (pretty safely now) that it is real, is something that's happening so slowly that it's still a subject of debate. But climate scientists are noticing all kinds of extremes around the globe -- flooding in Pakistan, China and the American Midwest, the unheard-of summer heat in Russia, etc. -- and say those extremes are symptoms of what they've been warning us about for decades.

Even our record-shattering Texas snowstorm of February has a global-warming explanation. During the brief cold spells here, we tend to see sleet and ice storms more often than snow. Even here, in the northern part of the state, we usually don't see any of them more than two or three times per winter.

But it often gets, as they say, "too cold to snow," on the occasions when we do get stout "northers," as they are called down here. Sometimes there's ice, or sleet. At times the cloud cover breaks, and it's just clear and gets down to something like 16 degrees Fahrenheit in the very early morning.

Not in February. Here, we had a system that parked itself over the region, and the temperature held at 30 or 31. It snowed, and just wouldn't stop. The infrastructure here isn't built for all the weight that the snow accumulation posed, and it turned into a minor disaster.

If it had gotten 5 degrees colder, like it usually does here, we would have had a typical February ice storm and things would have gotten back to normal within 48 hours.

I've not dwelt much on the science of climate change, in large part because we don't stand to be that profoundly affected by it where I live. We already have extremes here -- long heat waves, brief cold snaps, tornadoes, even dust storms on rare occasions. I grew up close to the South Texas coast, and hence I've been through the dead-hit eye of a Category 3 hurricane. That's a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you really don't want to have.

Climate change probably won't bring anything to this region that we haven't seen many times before. But if you watch or read mass media, of course you know that the world revolves around New York, with a few assists here and there from L.A., Washington and Chicago. It's been hot in NYC this summer, too, and they're expecting it to continue in coming summers.

Even Washington has been a blast furnace, as illustrated by this post from Truthout.

I'd have to admit that I probably don't know any more about climate science than does Sen. James Inhofe, Retardican-Okla. But keeping an open mind seems wise. And from what we've been seeing this year, my money is on the opinion of the vast majority of climate scientists. Stay tuned.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

As Older Americans Become Paupers, Talk Of Cutting Social Security

By Manifesto Joe

I turned 54 late last month. Where I work, nearly half the work force we had 30 months ago has been laid off or pushed into buyouts. Many of those who hit the sidewalks were about my age, and from what I've heard, they've had trouble finding work. If you're over 50, people don't want to hire you.

And now, amid this rapid impoverishment of upper-middle-aged Americans, there's serious, bipartisan talk in Washington of cutting Social Security.

People in their 50s and 60s are being put into an economic vice grip. There was plenty of talk in the past about how much we baby boomers were going to be needed for the work force, since there are so many of us and fewer workers among the younger generations.

I also remember futurists of the 1960s and 1970s talking about how, by now, we were all supposed to be working 25-hour weeks. Hahahahahahahahahahaha!!!...

We have now seen the future, and it looks a lot more like some high-tech version of the 1930s. But since I make the comparison, let's go back in time.

One of the main reasons FDR and Congress created Social Security in 1935 was the destitution seen then among Americans born between 1860 and 1880. The old were perhaps hit hardest by the Great Depression -- a 65-year-old back then was often physically unable to work at most jobs, and unable to be hired for less-demanding
ones. And if you can imagine what it's like to be thrown out of your house and into the street as a younger person, envision what it must be like when you're old.

And yet now, in the middle of what's being called the Great Recession, Washington's "deficit hawks" are talking about raising the age for standard Social Security benefits to 70. House Minority Leader John Boehner is on record as favoring this. It's being discussed seriously by people like former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, who's "serving" on President Obama's debt commission. (See previous post.)

What seems to be in the works is a deliberate impoverishment of people over 50 -- or not? Inside the Beltway, most of the big players are over 50, but they aren't the kind who will be laid off and have to live on a limited term of unemployment while they search fruitlessly for a new job. Maybe they are so out of touch with reality, as it is experienced by most people, that it isn't deliberate. Or maybe they know exactly what they are doing. The truth is somewhere in between. It's easy for someone whose ass isn't on the line to talk about breaking eggs to make an omelet, about things being tough all over, and so forth.

Another thing that apologists would point out is that the raising of the retirement age would be implemented gradually, with people born after 1964 being the main victims. They will someday grow old, too, and they will wonder how this travesty ever happened.

There are a lot of myths being floated as this debate goes on inside the Beltway. Moveon.org recently named five of them:

Top 5 Social Security Myths

Myth #1: Social Security is going broke.

Reality: There is no Social Security crisis. By 2023, Social Security will have a $4.6 trillion surplus (yes, trillion with a 'T'). It can pay out all scheduled benefits for the next quarter-century with no changes whatsoever.1 After 2037, it'll still be able to pay out 75% of scheduled benefits—and again, that's without any changes. The program started preparing for the Baby Boomers' retirement decades ago. Anyone who insists Social Security is broke probably wants to break it themselves.

Myth #2: We have to raise the retirement age because people are living longer.

Reality: This is a red-herring to trick you into agreeing to benefit cuts. Retirees are living about the same amount of time as they were in the 1930s. The reason average life expectancy is higher is mostly because many fewer people die as children than they did 70 years ago. What's more, what gains there have been are distributed very unevenly—since 1972, life expectancy increased by 6.5 years for workers in the top half of the income brackets, but by less than 2 years for those in the bottom half. But those intent on cutting Social Security love this argument because raising the retirement age is the same as an across-the-board benefit cut.

Myth #3: Benefit cuts are the only way to fix Social Security.

Reality: Social Security doesn't need to be fixed. But if we want to strengthen it, here's a better way: Make the rich pay their fair share. If the very rich paid taxes on all of their income, Social Security would be sustainable for decades to come. Right now, high earners only pay Social Security taxes on the first $106,000 of their income. But conservatives insist benefit cuts are the only way because they want to protect the super-rich from paying their fair share.

Myth #4: The Social Security Trust Fund has been raided and is full of IOUs

Reality: Not even close to true. The Social Security Trust Fund isn't full of IOUs, it's full of U.S. Treasury Bonds. And those bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States. The reason Social Security holds only treasury bonds is the same reason many Americans do: The federal government has never missed a single interest payment on its debts. President Bush wanted to put Social Security funds in the stock market—which would have been disastrous—but luckily, he failed. So the trillions of dollars in the Social Security Trust Fund, which are separate from the regular budget, are as safe as can be.

Myth #5: Social Security adds to the deficit

Reality: It's not just wrong—it's impossible! By law, Social Security's funds are separate from the budget, and it must pay its own way. That means that Social Security can't add one penny to the deficit.

I smell the stench of Grover Norquist here -- the concept that government must be reduced to the size where it can be drowned in the bathtub.

This is probably not something the right wing will be able to pull off in the long run. When your belly is empty and there's no roof over your head, you've got nothing to lose. It's not likely that our power elite is going to let things go that far, even when the victims are going to be those over 50.

But history teaches that many horrors can be perpetrated before action is finally taken to correct them. The idea here is to prevent this atrocity before it happens.

The boomers started out as a pretty bad-ass generation. Then they went soft during the Reagan years. Time to get tough again, fifty- and sixty-somethings. The barbarian elite is at the gates.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Tax Cut Expiration: $175,000 A Year Is Middle-Class, Says CNN

By Manifesto Joe

The propaganda machine aimed at continuing Il Doofus' tax cuts for his rich friends is shifting into high gear, and the allegedly liberal Mainstream Media are falling for the line, and into line.

CNN is no exception. Sunday afternoon I watched a special report focusing on a family in New Jersey who were supposed to exemplify "the middle class." There was one enormous, gaping problem -- they aren't.

This was a couple with two kids. Both parents work at secure jobs. The man is a Certified Public Accountant. Their household income -- $175,000 a year.

Man, if that's middle class, I want to know which planet that's on, and how my wife and I can legally immigrate there. That's well over twice as much as my household has ever brought in, and in real, inflation-adjusted dollars.

I understand that a lot hinges on what one's definition of "the middle class" in America is. It may not necessarily be a family of middle income -- by definition, the middle class includes professionals such as doctors, lawyers, CPAs and such. These groups fall short of what is traditionally regarded as the upper class, people who can get into the Social Register and so forth.

But these groups are at the very highest end of the upper middle class, and are hardly representative of a broader view of middle America. Many more people are "lower" middle class than are "upper" middle class. In 2008, according to the Census Bureau, the median annual income of U.S. households was just over $52,000.

This would probably put the aggregate midpoint of the U.S. "middle class" at somewhere around $70,000 per household, when the very large lower middle class living on median incomes is included.

This report illustrates the insularity of much of the allegedly liberal MSM. If these are "liberals," they are most certainly of the limousine variety. I guess they pay a lot more at CNN than they do the rank-and-file workers in the sector of the MSM where I work.

What to do about the expiration of the tax cuts is certainly a debatable issue. On one hand, it's worth recalling that when the previous tax rates were in effect, late in the Clinton presidency, the federal government was running a record surplus. On the other hand, letting taxes go back up broadly, now, might derail an already-weak economic recovery. I think the Obama administration is on the right track by suggesting that taxes go back up only on families making $250,000 or more a year. I'd say that is filthy rich by almost anybody's standards.

But the debate isn't helped by the kind of laughable distortion I saw yesterday on CNN. This focus couple, making $175,000 a year, were lamenting that they would have to cut back on discretionary spending by about $350 a month in order to meet the bigger tax bill.

Poor little tootsies!

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

POSTSCRIPT: Here's a link to the CNN report by Allan Chernoff. It looks even more stupid on second viewing. And, predictably, there's no way for the viewer to comment negatively.