The Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees finally released their report on the Status of their respective programs (8/5). In short, The financial outlook for Social Security is little changed from last year. The short term outlook is worsened by a deeper recession than was projected last year, but the overall 75-year outlook is nevertheless somewhat improved ... and is otherwise fine until at least 2037 with no changes. Dave Johnson of Campaign for Americas Future noted, It is just fine forever, in fact, if we do something simple like raise the cap on earnings that are taxed to pay for the program. (Thats right, when you make more than $106,800, you stop paying the tax! Compare that to the military budget. We spend more than $1 trillion on military and related programs each year more than every other country combined and unlike Social Security that is completely unfunded, and adds to the deficit.
As for Medicare, the report says, The outlook for Medicare has improved substantially because of program changes made in the [Health Care Reform Bill].
MoveOn.org has put together a list of the Top 5 Social Security Myths:
Myth: Social Security is going broke. Reality: There is no Social Security crisis. By 2023, Social Security will have a $4.6 tln surplus (yes, trillion with a T). It can pay out all scheduled benefits for the next quarter-century with no changes whatsoever. After 2037, itll still be able to pay out 75% of scheduled benefits and again, thats 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: We have to raise the retirement age because people are living longer. Reality: This is 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 did 70 years ago. Whats more, what gains there have been are distributed very unevenlysince 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: Benefit cuts are the only way to fix Social Security. Reality: Social Security doesnt need to be fixed. But if we want to strengthen it, heres 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: The Social Security Trust Fund has been raided and is full of IOUs. Reality: Not even close to true. The Social Security Trust Fund isnt full of IOUs, its full of US 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 marketwhich 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: Social Security adds to the deficit. Reality: Its not just wrong its impossible! By law, Social Security funds are separate from the budget, and it must pay its own way. That means that Social Security cant add one penny to the deficit.
See footnotes at pol.moveon.org/ssmyths/index.html.
Johnson concludes: Send a message to the politicians: No increase in the retirement age. No privatization. No Social Security cuts. Go to ourfuture.org/nosocialsecuritycuts. Or tell your Congress member that the only change needed for Social Security is to remove the cap on taxable income.
The White Houses National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, also known as the Cat Food Commission, is considering ways to cut the federal deficit, but Brian Beutler reported at TalkingPointsMemo.com (8/5) that Republicans unwilling to support any significant tax increases are pushing the group toward proposed slashes to entitlement programs such as Social Security benefits, military pay and health benefits and other budget cuts. The commission report is due 12/1 and House Dems have committed to voting up or down on the package if the Senate passes it first.
HEALTH REFORMS TAKE EFFECT. Adult children up to age 26 will be able to receive dependent coverage with all individual and group policies and insurers will be restricted in their ability to impose annual coverage limits, or to reject children with pre-existing medical conditions, among the health reform provisions that take effect in September, the Associated Press reported (8/3). Insurance coverage that starts on or after 9/23 will have to comply with these changes and others that were put in place when President Barack Obama signed the health overhaul into law 3/23. For most people, the changes wont affect their plans until coverage renews in the weeks or months that follow. Here are the highlights:
Adult children up to age 26 will be able to receive dependent coverage with all individual and group policies.
Lifetime limits on the dollar value of insurance coverage will be prohibited. This refers to how much your insurance coverage pays out to cover claims.
Restrictions will be placed on annual limits for coverage, a practice that will prohibited in 2014.
Insurers will be prohibited from rescinding or canceling coverage except in cases where the customer commits fraud.
Insurers will not be able to exclude children from coverage because of a pre-existing condition, but they can require parents to sign up kids only during a fixed annual enrollment period to ensure they dont wait until a child gets sick to buy coverage.
Insurers will be required to provide preventive care like immunizations or mammograms without charging co-pays or other forms of cost sharing. Some may not have to comply with this element if their coverage existed 3/23 and has not changed substantially.
The law will continue to develop over the next several years, but some of the biggest reform provisions start in 2014, when Medicaid will be expanded to reach more people, most residents will be required to have health coverage and many will receive help from the government through tax credits when they shop for coverage on health insurance exchanges.For more information on the law see healthcare.gov.
FUTURE OF GAY MARRIAGE DEPENDS ON ONE GUY. If voters want to discriminate against same-sex marriage, they have to come up with a better reason than that they just dont like it, a federal district judge in California ruled in overturning Californias Proposition 8 referendum that banned the practice. US District Judge Vaughn Walker (an appointee of President George H.W. Bush) wrote (8/4) that Proposition 8 was premised on the belief that same-sex couples simply are not as good as opposite-sex couples. Whether that belief is based on moral disapproval of homosexuality, animus towards gays and lesbians, or simply a belief that a relationship between a man and a woman is inherently better than a relationship between two men or two women, this belief is not a proper basis on which to legislate.
Paul Waldman noted at Prospect.org (8/5) that the side defending Prop. 8 in Perry v. Schwarzenegger put on a pathetic case that relied on explaining the harm done to straight peoples marriages when gay people are allowed to marry. And they just couldnt do it ... And all their talk about how important and wonderful marriage is only reinforced the fact that denying it to gay people was a serious harm done to them, one that needed a very strong state interest to justify it. And they couldnt come up with that either.
Waldman added that the case will probably come down to how Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy feels about the issue. We can say for sure that there will be four solid No votes on the Supreme Court against marriage equality Roberts, Alito, Thomas and Scalia. Were less certain about the Yes votes, but lets assume that the Courts four liberals Breyer, Ginsberg, Sotomayor and Kagan come around. That leaves Kennedy, something trial judge Vaughan Walker seemed to be well aware of. As Dalia Lithwick noted at Slate.com (8/4), Walkers decision included seven citations to Justice Kennedys 1996 opinion in Romer v. Evans (striking down an anti-gay Colorado ballot initiative) and eight citations to his 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas (striking down Texas gay-sodomy law).
Waldman concluded, Given Kennedys prior findings, Walkers extensive findings of fact, and the fact that the attorneys carefully crafted their case just to appeal to Kennedy, you might think the justice would find himself inevitably led to uphold Walkers ruling and strike down laws banning same-sex marriage. But as we know, all lofty talk about the the Constitution and precedent notwithstanding, the Court is going to do whatever it wants. When its even a marginally close call, they can find a legal basis for whichever outcome they prefer. What we dont know is what Kennedy prefers.
Same-sex marriage opponents plan to use the court ruling as an election issue, but Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said the GOP does not need to use gay rights as a wedge issue this year because immigrant-bashing is more effective. King, who represents Long Island, told Politico.com (8/7) that in terms of social issues, the raging controversy over the Arizona border laws is providing more than enough ammunition for Republicans in key districts. The Arizona immigration law is there, theres no reason to be raising an issue of gay rights as a wedge, he said.
BIG BIZ FLEXES MUSCLES IN CAMPAIGNS. Big business is starting to throw money around in the wake of the infamous Citizens United decision, in which the Republican majority on the Supreme Court in January overturned more than a century of precedent to allow corporations to get involved in political campaigns.
Target has drawn fire for its donation of $150,000 in cash and in-kind donations to a group, MN Forward, that backs right-wing Republican Tom Emmer in the Minnesota race for governor. MoveOn.org organized a petition objecting to Targets huge contribution to a anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-progressive candidate for governor in Minnesota. Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel took the unusual step of apologizing for the contribution and promising that later this fall, Target will take a leadership role in bringing together a group of companies and partner organizations for a dialogue focused on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, including GLBT issues. MoveOn was not satisfied, and moved another petition for Target customers to stop shopping at Target until it stops spending money on elections. (Ironically, Emmer in the general election might face Democrat Mark Dayton, an heir to the Dayton-Hudson fortune, which was the parent of Target. Dayton has never worked for Target and has no ties to the company, Minnesota Public Radio noted.) Best Buy also contributed $100,000 to MN Forward.
Targets support of Emmer became public because Minnesota requires the reporting of such contributions for state candidates. This is one reason that Republicans are determined to stop the DISCLOSE Act, which would require political organizations involved in federal campaigns to disclose the source of their funding. It got 57 votes, all Dems (7/27), but all Repubs voted against it, so it did not clear the 60-vote supermajority required to advance in the minority-controlled Senate.
States that have adopted rules requiring disclosure of corporate and union spending since the Citizens United ruling include Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, South Dakota and West Virginia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. All had previously banned any corporate spending on independent ads and changed state law to comply with the high court ruling, ABC News reported (7/24). A tenth state, Washington, broadened its existing disclosure rules.
The US Chamber of Commerce, which mainly represents big business interests, is sliming Alexi Giannoulias with a nasty personal attack ad, Mike Lux notes at OpenLeft.com (8/9). Giannoulias (D) has made government reform and transparency proposals a centerpiece of his campaign for President Obamas old Senate seat (see alexiforillinois.com). Lux wrote that because he takes on special interest corporate control of DC, the Chamber has decided to make an example of him.
TELCOS MULL NET NEUTRALITY WORKAROUNDS. Google and Verizon agreed on a policy recommendation that would keep net neutrality on the old hard-wired Internet, but would allow discriminatory practices that favor big spenders in the growing field of wireless services and in a parallel network that could become the pipeline for online movies and other advanced Internet services. A coalition at SaveTheInternet.com seeking to preserve the open Internet includes FreePress.net, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, MoveOn, Credo Action and ColorOfChange. They issued the following joint statement:
The Google-Verizon pact isnt just as bad as we feared its much worse. They are attacking the Internet while claiming to preserve it. Google users wont be fooled.
They are promising Net Neutrality only for a certain part of the Internet, one that theyll likely stop investing in. But they are also paving the way for a new Internet via fiber and wireless phones where Net Neutrality will not apply and corporations can pick and choose which sites people can easily view on their phones or any other Internet device using these networks.
It would open the door to outright blocking of applications, just as Comcast did with BitTorrent, or the blocking of content, just as Verizon did with text messages from NARAL Pro-choice America. It would divide the information superhighway, creating new private fast lanes for the big players while leaving the little guy stranded on a winding dirt road.
Worse still, this pact would turn the Federal Communications Commission into a toothless watchdog, left fruitlessly chasing complaints and unable to make rules of its own.
This is not real Net Neutrality. And this pact would harm the millions of Americans who have pleaded with our leaders in Washington to defend the free and open Internet. President Obama, Congress and the FCC should reject this deal, restore the authority of the agency thats supposed to protect Internet users, and safeguard Net Neutrality once and for all.
President Obama has pledged to support net neutrality, as has FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, but sometimes promises to voters get forgotten in the face of corporate lobbyist recommendations. Contact Genachowski and other commissioners via fcc.gov/contacts.html, call the FCC toll-free 1-888-225-5322 or write the FCC, 445 12th St SW, Washington, DC 20554.
BP SPILL WORSENS GULF DEAD ZONE. While the BP oil spill has been labeled the worst environmental catastrophe in recent US history, fertilizer runoff from Midwestern farms contributes to a Gulf of Mexico dead zone the size of New Jersey that could be every bit as harmful. Carolyn Lochhead of the San Francisco Chronicle noted (7/6) that each year nitrogen used to fertilize corn, about a third of which is made into ethanol, leaches from Midwestern cropland into the Mississippi River and out into the Gulf, where the fertilizer feeds giant algae blooms that suffocate marine life. Known as hypoxia, the oxygen depletion kills shrimp, crabs, worms and anything else that cannot escape. The dead zone has doubled since the 1980s and is expected this year to grow to 8,500 square miles, and hug the Gulf Coast from Alabama to Texas.
The Gulf dead zone is the second-largest in the world, after one in the Baltic Sea, and the Gulf dead zone is driven in part by subsidies for corn production, which is a heavy user of nitrogen and pesticides. The subsidies are driving farmers toward more corn, Gene Turner, a zoologist at Louisiana State University, told the Chronicle. More nitrate comes off corn fields than it does off of any other crop by far. And nitrogen is driving the formation of the dead zone.
Corn-based ethanol is heavily subsidized by the federal government, including a 51-cent-per-gallon tax credit. Corn ethanol subsidies cost $17 bln between 2005 and 2009, or two-thirds of all federal subsidies for renewable fuels, Environmental Working Group estimates.
The Chronicle also notes that a renewable fuels standard requires ethanol production to triple in the next 12 years, though much of that may come from cellulosic ethanol, which comes from wood, crop waste and grasses.
RAND PAULS REEFER MADNESS. Republicans are able to overlook a lot of youthful indiscretions among fellow Republicans (see the case of George W. Bush, among others), but what will they make of Rand Paul, the libertarian teabagger who is GOP nominee for the Senate in Kentucky? Jason Zengerle reported in GQ that when Paul was attending Baylor University, he was a member of a secret society called the NoZe Brotherhood, which aspired to blasphemy. Paul and a NoZe brother in 1983 kidnapped a female student, blindfolded her, tied her up, put her in their car and took her to their apartment, where they reportedly tried to make her take marijuana bong hits. After the woman refused to smoke with them, she told Zengerle, Paul and his friend put her back in the car and drove to a creek outside Waco and forced her to bow down and say she worshiped the creek god Aqua Buddha.
A Paul spokesman did not deny the report, but told Ben Smith of Politico.com (8/9), Well leave National Enquirer-type stories about his teenage years to the tabloids where they belong.
GOP WONT AID FREELOADING STATES. Democrats managed to get some assistance to cash-strapped states in July and August, but with little thanks to the Republican opposition. Extension of unemployment benefits for 2.5 million Americans was delayed for nearly two months because Democrats would not agree to cuts in the economic stimulus program. After Sen. Carte Goodwin (D-W.V.) was sworn in July 20 to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd, Democrats managed to pass the bill with the votes of Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, but only after the Dems agreed to jettison aid to financially strapped states, a COBRA insurance subsidy and assistance to the long-term unemployed who have been out of work more than 99 weeks.
In the House, Republicans on July 29 stopped a bill that would pay health-care costs for first responders to the 9/11 attacks in New York City, many of whom have respiratory issues caused by dust and debris breathed that day. The bill had a majority, 255-159, but failed to get the two-thirds supermajority needed under a rule that was designed to prevent dilatory amendments to the bill. One of the GOP objections was that the bill was paid for by closing offshore tax loopholes for foreign countries with US subsidiaries, which Republicans interpreted as a corporate tax increase. Only 12 Republicans ended up voting to help the afflicted 9/11 responders. (The bill hasnt even come up in the Senate.)
The Senate (8/5) finally passed a bill to send cash-strapped states $10 billion to help them stave off layoffs of 140,000 teachers and 160,000 police, firefighters and other public employees and $16.1 billion to help states with their Medicaid costs, but the price demanded by Collins and Snowe to get them on board for the $26.1 billion bill was to partially offset the state aid with a $12 billion cut from the food stamp program. And this was after the bill was halved from its original $50 billion size. The House approved the bill 247-161(8/10). Only two Republicans voted for the bill, which House Minority Leader Boehner belittled as a special-interest bailout and a payoff to union bosses and liberal special interests.
At least the food stamp cuts dont take effect until 2014, which gives Democrats time to reinstate the food stamp funds in a later bill, but it still leaves them playing catchup.
MARKEY: ICEBERG CREATES SPACE FOR GLOBAL WARMING DENIERS. University of Delaware climate researcher Andreas Muenchow said (8/6) that, according to NASA satellite data, a massive ice shelf four times the size of Manhattan has broken off from northwestern Greenland. The new ice island has an area of at least 100 square miles and a thickness up to half the height of the Empire State Building, Muenchow said.
The Hill reported (8/7) that Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who has been leading the legislative effort to confront climate change, used the occasion to chastise his obstructionist colleagues: An iceberg four times the size of Manhattan has broken off Greenland, creating plenty of room for global warming deniers to start their own country, Markey said in a statement. So far, 2010 has been the hottest year on record, and scientists agree arctic ice is a canary in a coal mine that provides clear warnings on climate. ...
Markey said it was unclear how many giant blocks of ice it will take to break the block of Republican climate deniers in the US Senate who continue hold this critical clean energy and climate legislation hostage.
Indeed, the giant ice island highlights the need for Congress to act. An expert report on Arctic temperatures published in Science magazine last year found evidence that the most recent 10-year interval (19992008) was the warmest of the past 200 decades.
According to a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report, 2010 Arctic sea ice extent was the lowest on record for the month of June.
And the National Snow and Ice Center said (8/4) that Arctic sea ice extent averaged for July was the second lowest in the satellite record, after 2007? and the trend is continuing downward.
Why are Arctic ice levels decreasing so rapidly? ThinkProgress.org noted (8/9) that numerous climate studies based on expert analysis have concluded that the trend in Arctic ice decline is a direct result of human activity.
BANKERS LESSON: STEAL BIG. Officers of United Commercial Bank lied about the bad debts on their books to defraud taxpayers out of $300 mln from the Troubled Asset Relief Program in November 2008. The San Francisco-based bank with $10.9 bln in assets went belly up and taxpayers lost their money, but Bloomberg News Jonathan Weil noted (8/4) that the bank officials so far have not been prosecuted. However, Alex Yan, a UCB employee was indicted in November 2008 on a charge that he embezzled $235,000 from the bank to cover gambling debts. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced in June 2009 to 27 months in jail and ordered to pay UCB restitution of $235,695. At the time of UCBs closure in November 2009, which cost the FDICs insurance fund $1.5 bln, an FDIC press release said the banks problem loans might have been identified earlier were it not for alleged fraud exercised by former senior management, currently under investigation by the relevant authorities. So far, Yan remains the only former UCB banker charged by the government with breaking the law. In this country, when it comes to matters of high-finance crime and punishment, little pigs get slaughtered, while hogs get fat, Weil noted.
GINGRICH RECONCILES MARITAL CHEATING: IT DOESNT MATTER WHAT I DO. In his recently published book and in speaking engagements, former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich repeatedly warns that President Obamas secular, socialist machine is threatening to destroy America by undermining the Judeo-Christian values upon which the country was built. But while Gingrich chastises the supposed erosion of values on the left, Alex Seitz-Wald noted at ThinkProgress.org (8/10), his past is tainted by his own contemptible value judgments, including numerous extra-marital affairs, and pressuring a divorce from his first wife while she lay stricken with cancer in a hospital bed.
In a profile in the September Esquire, Gingrichs second wife, Marianne whom he cheated on with his current wife, Callista breaks her 12-year silence on her relationship with Gingrich to reveal a portrait of man who understood the deep hypocrisy of his actions, but simply didnt care.
After he returned from Erie, Pa., where hed given a speech full of high sentiments about compassion and family values, she asked him, How do you give that speech and do what youre doing?
It doesnt matter what I do, he answered. People need to hear what I have to say. Theres no one else who can say what I can say. It doesnt matter what I live.
Marianne, who was Gingrichs closest advisor during his reign in the 1990s, went on to say that Gingrich believes that what he says in public and how he lives dont have to be connected. But of course, as Gingrich himself demanded when he led a crusade to impeach President Clinton for personal infidelity, politicians private lives are inevitably connected to their public ones. Nonetheless, Gingrich has himself admitted to continuing his illicit affair with Callista 23 years his junior while simultaneously prosecuting Clintons adultery.
Perhaps Gingrich has no qualms about committing the sins he rails against because he doesnt really believe in what he preaches. Esquires John Richardson notes that despite Gingrichs apocalyptic rhetoric, when encountering radical conservative activists, Gingrich over and over again takes the long view and becomes the very soul of probity. I wouldnt be able to describe what his real principles are, former Republican Rep. Mickey Edwards said of the former speaker. I never felt that he had any sort of a real compass about what he believed except for the pursuit of power. (Seitz-Wald, ThinkProgress.org)
GIBBS LEFT HOOK. Robert Gibbs angered liberal pundits and bloggers with critical remarks about their criticism of White House deal-making. In an interview with TheHill.com (8/10), Gibbs said some in the professional left would never regard anything the president did as good enough.
I hear these people saying hes like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested, Gibbs said. I mean, its crazy. He dismissed the professional left in terms very similar to those used by their opponents on the ideological right, saying, They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and weve eliminated the Pentagon. Thats not reality. Of those who complain that Obama caved to centrists on issues such as healthcare reform, Gibbs said: They wouldnt be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president.
Gibbs tough comments reflect frustration and some bafflement from the White House, which believes it has done a lot for the left, Sam Youngman wrote at *The Hill*.
In just over 18 months in office, Obama has passed healthcare reform, financial regulatory reform and fair-pay legislation for women, among other bills near and dear to liberals. Obama is also overseeing the end of the Iraq war, with the US on schedule to end its combat operations by the end of this month. Hes also added diversity to the Supreme Court by nominating two female justices, including the courts first Hispanic. Yet some liberal groups have criticized his nominees for not being liberal enough.
Theres 101 things weve done, said Gibbs, who then mentioned both Iraq and healthcare.
Gibbs said the professional left is not representative of the progressives who organized, campaigned, raised money and ultimately voted for Obama.
Progressives, Gibbs said, are the liberals outside of Washington in America, and they are grateful for what Obama has accomplished in a shattered economy with uniform Republican opposition and a short amount of time.
Dave Frum, former speechwriter for George W. Bush, tweeted that Gibbs comment was proof that Republican pols fear their base, while Dem pols hate theirs. (Editors Note: We think thats too harsh; Dems merely have contempt for their base.) Kevin Drum noted at MotherJones.com that Repubs pander to the right because one-third of the country self-identifies as conservative. Conversely, only about 20% self-ID as liberal, so Dems are better off pandering to the center and letting the center know that Dems arent part of the fringe left. But Kevin Drum wrote at WashingtonMonthly, I know why Gibbs is frustrated. I can even understand some of it. What I cant understand is what made Gibbs think it was a good idea to complain about the left to a reporter three months before an election in which Republicans already enjoy an enthusiasm-gap edge. And Digby blogged at digbysblog.blogspot.com that whats dangerously myopic about going ballistic as Gibbs did in his statements is that just 10 years ago we had a little event in which only a tiny portion of the base went with a *third party bid* from the left - and the consequences were catastrophic. Democrats, of all people, should remember that *every vote matters*.
A few hours later, with the blogosphere in full froth, Gibbs tried to walk back the attack, conceding it was inartful and does not reflect widely held views in the White House. I watch too much cable, I admit. Day after day it gets frustrating. Yesterday I watched as someone called legislation to prevent teacher layoffs a bailout [*Editors Note: I think that was Republican Leader John Boehner, but I know what he means about watching too much cable news*] but I know thats not a view held by many, nor were the views I was frustrated about.
Gibbs concluded, In November, America will get to choose between going back to the failed policies that got us into this mess, or moving forward with the policies that are leading us out.
So we should all, me included, stop fighting each other and arguing about our differences on certain policies, and instead work together to make sure everyone knows what is at stake because weve come too far to turn back now.
Glenn Greenwald, who blogs at Salon.com, said there will be no ceasefire, recalling then-Sen. Barack Obamas remarks at DailyKos.com in 2005: I trust that you will continue to let me and other Democrats know when you believe we are screwing up.
You can count on that, Mr. President.
From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2010
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