Tag Archives: Social Security

GOP Tax Plan: A Complete Social Restructuring of the United States

4 Dec

Welcome to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, 500 pages of far-right dreams smashed together in two weeks and rushed to a vote in the middle of the night. While there is an enormous amount of this plan that we should all be mortified about — specifically how it hoards wealth for the top 20% of Americans and steals money from the poor and middle class — there is far more going on here, much of which has little to do with tax “reform.”  I worry that most people are not paying attention to everything it does over time, as evidenced by the fact that most of the people who voted to rush this through have not even read the whole plan, nor have there been any substantive hearings or analysis provided. This massive document is also difficult to read because much of the marginalia is hand written scribbles, eliminating even concerned senators’ ability to read and understand the implication of the entire document before voting on it.

In addition to the sociopathic maldistribution of wealth this plan secures, the social ramifications are profound and are antithetical to what we have worked so hard to accomplish in the ways of equity in the past 100 years.  For example, this plan includes Medicare reductions that will end cancer treatment for people on Medicare. Yes, you read that correctly. This sounds like a death panel to me, and it should not come as a surprise, given that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have been working to dismantle Medicare for years now. Oh, and as an added bonus it eliminates the Individual Mandate from the Affordable Care Act, basically robbing 13 MILLION Americans of coverage.

As outlined in the Chronicle of Higher Education, this bill creates even more barriers for people who are not in the top 20% of Americans to afford a college education. For example, this bill puts additional taxes on charitable donations to colleges that allow for financial aid. Small liberal arts colleges are heavily dependent on charitable gifts to survive. The message is quite clear, the GOP does not value education, as further evidence that Betsy DeVos is the secretary of Education. People do your homework here! Obviously, the lack of access to eduction benefits the GOP, as it encourages ignorance and precludes critical thinking skills: skills that would allow people to ask questions of the government, the people that are supposed to be public servants.

Another alarming part of this bill — so alarming I needed to get my smelling salts just to be able to write this — is the reversal of The Johnson Amendment. Yes, this is part of the Religious Freedom Act (specifically Christian agenda freedom) coming from the far right wing, which now controls our government. The Johnson Amendment, created by LBJ in 1954, prohibits all non-profits, or what is called a 501 (c) (3) from making any type of political endorsement or stand to lose their tax exempt status. Trump and his henchmen are now about to reverse this in this tax plan, but ONLY for churches, allowing them to become tax-free lobbying organizations. So much for separation of church and state.

The bill slashes the corporate tax rate, eliminates the bulk of the estate tax, and changes “pass-through” business taxation in a way that benefits only the wealthiest of business owners. These changes are PERMANENT. The tweaks that MIGHT make a small change for poor and middle class taxpayers expire within the first three years. At the end of ten years, the vast majority of households making $75,000 or less will see their taxes rise, often by 20% or more.

Many deductions are eliminated or severely curtailed including bike-to-work incentives, moving expenses, most mortgage and home sale deductions, tax preparation deductions, and disaster relief deductions. State and local tax deductions are greatly reduced, penalizing blue states that fund federal programs for red states.

The bill will increase the deficit by at LEAST $1 TRILLION. So much for the party of fiscal responsibility. Deficit hawks like Sen. Flake and Sen McCain (the Arizona Stooges) believe that wealth will trickle down as businesses have more revenue, even though EVERY major corporation interviewed has indicated that the vast majority of this revenue will be used to pay bonuses and reward stockholders, giving no benefit to the average American. Sen. Murkowski sold out her constituents in exchange for getting drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Yeah, that’s a tax issue… Sen. Collins accepted a fig leaf promise for a vote someday on an ACA bill that won’t come close to solving the problems caused by the loss of the individual mandate. Sens. Johnson and Daines pretended that minor changes to the pass-through rules would help small business owners. Overall, over 20% of Republican Senators had major objections to the bill but voted for it with vague changes and vaguer promises.

The most nefarious impact is yet to come. As that big deficit hole comes into reality, Republicans will certainly use it to insist on austerity measures. This is a feature, not a bug. As the deficit grows, they will insist that Social Security, medicaid, and medicare be slashed to balance the budget.

Our only hope for derailing this monstrosity is putting pressure on the conference process that will reconcile the House bill (awful in many different ways) with the Senate abomination. Getting the House to accept all the little tweaks and odditities may be difficult, and losing them may make the final bill impossible to pass again in the Senate.

TAKE ACTION: Contact your Representative and Senators and demand that they stop this horrible bill. It’s not tax “reform”, it won’t serve the middle class, it crushes the poor, and it includes elements that will reshape the social network and basic protections that we rely on today into something mean, nasty, and unrecognizable.

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Congressional GOP Gets Lost in Oz

16 Oct

ScareBoehner copyToday’s post will be greatly enhanced if you start humming the wishful tunes of Dorothy’s stalwart companions. The Shutdown has already cost close to 5 Billion Dollars thus far. As the government shutdown enters its third week and the debt ceiling looms, Republicans in the House and Senate seem to be searching for a brain, a heart, and some courage.

IF I ONLY HAD A BRAIN! Sadly, the longer the shutdown continues, the more absurd the claims of individual GOP Congresscritters gets. Initially, the refusal to fund the government was presented as a “principled” stand against the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare.”) When their bullying demands were met with stern resistance by Senate Democrats and President Obama, the House GOP got confused very quickly. They still stand for something, they assure us, and they’ll be sure to let us know what it is… as soon as they figure it out.

Almost daily, Speaker John Boehner hints at a new plan, lets a few details leak, holds a short press conference, and fails to bring anything to the floor. Apparently he left the shared brain with Mitch McConnell, who needed it to try to reason out a compromise that might pass the Senate. In the meantime, the usual crew — Ted Cruz, Michele Bachmann, Louis Gohmert, Mike Lee, and all the rest of the lollipop guild — keep changing their off-kilter tune. The fight isn’t really about health care (except when it is), it’s about the size of government (except when it isn’t). Forced to abandon their thinly-veiled racist rants against the president’s signature accomplishment, they just don’t know what to do.

IF I ONLY HAD A HEART! Members of Congress continue to draw their salaries while hundreds of thousands of federal workers go without. There’s still no guarantee that retroactive pay will be part of any deal. Even more dramatically, nearly SEVEN MILLION FTE worth of government contractors are without work during the shutdown and have no chance of retroactive pay. All this ignores the thousands of kids turned away from Head Start, the millions deprived of food, medical, and housing care, the thousands more who are just waiting for funds to run out one program at a time. If the shutdown continues to the end of the month, there will be no money to pay out Social Security or Veterans’ Benefits. And, just to prove how heartless they are, GOP leaders in both chambers of Congress are proposing to strip health benefits from their staff, driving them (ironically) to the ACA exchanges without an employer subsidy. You can bet all those staffers would like to drop a house on the leaders of the House.

IF I ONLY HAD THE NERVE! The media still spin this as a problem coming from the far right of the GOP (when they aren’t falsely laying blame on the President). It may be that the loudest voices from the fringe started the shouting, but in every vote so far the Republicans have voted as a tight bloc, more evidence of the GOP sharing one brain. All the so-called moderates have refused to stand up for what’s best for the country. In the Senate, the GOP managed to filibuster a clean debt ceiling bill. If there are voices of reason in the party, they refuse to speak. Sadly, the Gerrymandering of House districts leaves too many representatives sheltered from reality. GOP ratings in polls are dropping like the Wizard’s balloon but most House members can rely on at least a slim majority to return them to office.

CALL TO ACTION: We live in the United States, not Oz. We need elected officials who take their responsibilities as civil servants seriously and who govern with compassion, reason, and courage. Republicans should look seriously at their Representatives and find ways to support new voices in Congress that will bring true compromise and balance. Democrats should take courage and support challenges to GOP folks that seemed undefeatable. The people are paying attention, and the next election should be a clear message about what we really need.

On Social Security, Is the White House Possessed by Thatcher’s Ghost?

10 Apr
If she's laughing, be afraid.

If she’s laughing, be afraid.

This week one of the prime movers in late 20th Century geopolitics died. Margaret Thatcher’s deeply conservative, pro-corporation, anti-business, slash the safety net and cut the taxes approach to governance helped set the stage for the fiscal gambling and international financial meltdown from which we are still struggling to recover. Remember her effort to secure a poll tax–oh she was a madcap, our Maggie. With a legacy like that, you might think that smart politicians would steer clear of her policies.  The English Punk group, The Jam gave the world an all too accurate portrait of Thatcher with their song, Town Called Malice, which basically addresses the death of the middle class and economic oppression.  The architects of this oppression were Thatcher and Reagan.

Sadly, the President of the United States — a DEMOCRAT elected by a coalition of the poor, people of color, women, and other marginalized and oppressed people — seems intent on taking an unprecedented and disastrous budgetary step. In the latest mind-numbingly awful round of budget “negotiations” with Congress, the White House has made it clear that cutting Social Security is part of the package.

This makes no sense. Even St. Ronnie the Addled, Thatcher’s partner in crime in the 80s, famously noted that cutting Social Security did NOTHING to reduce the deficit. Worse, the proposed plan, tying benefits to a particular Consumer Price Index, is viciously regressive. Those who depend on Social Security — the elderly disproportionately from marginalized populations — have expenses that don’t fit with chained CPI. The bulk of their expenses are health care, which increases much faster, and non-discretionary spending. You know, like food. The White House proposal effectively shoves retirees into poverty even faster.

The President’s stated goal seems admirable: compromise. Like all his fiscal wrangling with the GOP, however, he seems to think that compromise starts with capitulation and goes downhill from there. By taking the first ever major blow to Social Security, a Democratic President is easing the country into the Teahadist dream world where the New Deal and Great Society are erased forever.  Looks like most Americans will need to get used to eating cat food.

It isn’t too late. Many Democrats in Congress oppose the President’s plan and have proposed much more sensible starting points for budget negotiations. Please contact your members of Congress and ask them to support these smarter plans. Then contact the White House and make it clear that putting Social Security on the chopping block is unacceptable. If that doesn’t work, we should start raising some money to hold an exorcism.

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me and The Republican Death Eaters

18 Sep

Carl Kasell admiring my youth and good looks.

Not a big surprise to any TSM followers, but my husband and I are a bit on the nerdy side.  We are big NPR junkies and have been for more than two decades.  (I still miss Bob Edwards doing Morning Edition.)  Our dedication to NPR grows fever pitched on Saturday mornings, when Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me comes on the air. In fact, we don’t pick up the phone or attend to any demanding tasks until after the program has finished. You can’t imagine how thrilled we were when we attended a live taping of this week’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me show here in Portland, OR. We had a tremendous time and were fortunate enough to attend a small soiree with the cast after the show. Peter Sagal and Roy Blunt Jr. commented on the past week’s Republican Debate when Wolf Blitzer asked Representative Ron Paul what we should do if a 30-year-old man who chose not to purchase health insurance suddenly found himself in need of six months of intensive care.  The response from the Republican crowd sent chills up my spine, which I felt again while watching the taping of one of my favorite radio shows.

Ron Paul replied to Blitzer’s question with a very flippant, “That’s what freedom is all about – taking your own risks.”  Spoken like a true privileged white, heterosexual, man of power. But wait, it gets worse. Blitzer followed up with should, “society should just let him die?”  Here is where I almost threw up in disgust. The Republican crowd erupted and shouted “Yeah,” in response.  Are these people Death Eaters straight out of Harry Potter?  Please someone help me here. Have we really devolved into a culture of such avarice, ignorance, and selfishness, that we cheer for Death?

Peter Sagal compared the Republican mob cheering for Death to Rick Perry having the Grim Reaper as a running mate, as, he noted George W. Bush had done, to which Peter Grosz quickly retorted: “Hey, that’s not fair to the Grim Reaper. He has a family.” Roxanne Roberts then chimed in, “…and the Grim Reaper has a heart.”  All of us in the audience were laughing, as were the people on the panel, but it was clear  by the look on Roy Blunt Jr.’s face, as with the faces of us all that we were laughing to cover up the grotesque knowledge that there is a population of vocal Republicans that think it is acceptable to scream out you would rather see someone die than make sure people have health insurance.

Looking just at where the current 21st century Republican stands on the issues, the following people would be diagnostically insane to vote Republican:

  • Anyone in the LGBT community
  • Anyone dependent upon Medicare/Social Security  (I guess there are no poor senior citizen Republicans)
  • Anyone believing that women should have the right to make their own health care choices regarding their bodies
  • Anyone believing that Government works to protect all citizens, regardless of religion, color, gender identity, sexual orientation,socioeconomic status, or age.

Is it just me, or does that seem to be an exceedingly large population that the current crap, oops, sorry, I mean crop of Presidential Candidates excludes?  You know the GOP is way off track when life-long Republicans like Clint Eastwood leave the party.

Fortunately, despite the darkness provided by the GOP Death Eaters, we had a lovely evening with the cast of Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.  Despite having a very long day of travel and doing a show, they were generous enough to spend time and visit with us after the show. What a very genuine and kind group of people.  Each person we got to meet with I would want to have as a friend and or invite to dinner.  And I got to meet and have my picture taken with The Carl Kasell.  Now I just have to get him to leave his voice on my message machine.

Wednesday Word of the Week, September 14: Veracity

14 Sep

Useful equipment for candidate speeches.

This week’s word is: VERACITY

conforming to the truth or fact; accuracy – Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

Lately this seems to be not just a problem for some of our nation’s political figures, but an intentional option. Why bother with facts or the truth if you can just adjust your comments on the fly?

The most blatant example is Senator Jon Kyl (R – AZ), who attacked Planned Parenthood in April. Kyl said on the Senate floor that 90% of Planned Parenthood’s business was providing abortions, an error of 3000%. When he was caught in this lie, he responded through a spokesperson that the comment

was not intended to be a factual statement.

What? He makes a specific claim clearly intended to affect public policy that was never meant to be true? I suppose that we should, somewhat ironically, appreciate his transparency about the comment, but why did he make it? What possible purpose did he have in lying to his colleagues and the American people other than to promote his personal agenda over provable reality?

Sadly, this kind of dodge has grown more artful as the Republican presidential hopefuls have begun their campaigning in earnest. There are many examples, but two stand out, especially since they come from the winner of the Ames Straw Poll (Bachmann) and the current front-runner in the pre-primary polls (Perry).

Michele Bachmann took advantage of natural disasters, displaying her typical crass lack of sympathy with the American people, to maintain that Hurricane Irene and the east coast earthquake were signs of God’s wrath.

I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’

Apparently, God was angry at the size of the U.S. budget deficit (a nice change from His more typical wrath at the gay community à la Pat Robertson). When called out on her gross insensitivity, Bachmann took a Kyl and said that her words were simply a METAPHOR

a word or phrase that means one thing and is used for referring to another thing in order to emphasize their similar qualities – Macmillan Dictionary Online

Let’s be generous for a moment and assume that Bachmann actually knows what a metaphor is. In that case, she meant to say that lethal devastation was similar to God’s wrath, not the real thing. How does that differ in principle? She’s still saying that innocent people should suffer because the Congress of which she is a member can’t balance a budget. Culpability, insult, and ignorance all in one backpedal, that’s pretty amazing. Of course, we could skip the metaphor excuse and go with her other, contradictory explanation, that she was simply being HUMOROUS

full of or characterized by humor; funny – Macmillan Dictionary Online

Which is it, Michele? A bad analogy or a tasteless joke? Do you know the difference?

Just when the separation of truth and state seemed to reach its peak, enter Rick Perry. Perry has famously maintained that Social Security is unconstitutional, not just in speeches but in his book, Fed Up. During his first debate performance, he referred to this vital program as a “Ponzi scheme” and a “monstrous lie.” When (surprise, surprise) such comments polled very badly with most Americans, Perry took a Kyl as well.

Suddenly, he issued statements maintaining that anyone currently on Social Security should not fear for its viability, nor should anyone about to enter eligibility. What does that mean, Rick? That those people should be comfortable living a monstrous lie? That your presidency would do nothing to end an unconstitutional practice? That you support bankrupting future generations with a scheme you loathe just to get a few more votes?

Mitt Romney is famous for his flip-flops, trying to hide from his past by reinventing his positions. As venal and manipulative as he may be, Bachmann and Perry have lowered the game to a whole new level. What a travesty when Romney rises to the top of the ethical heap.

Americans must pay attention. In this cynical age, most people have come to expect their political leaders to delivery carefully crafted messages to each demographic, to make promises that garner votes regardless of their political viability. What an horrific shift if we let people vying for our highest office simply retract or recast their statements. Candidates, stand by your policies and we will vote accordingly. You’re only human, you’re allowed to make mistakes; when you do, say “I was wrong.” If that doesn’t happen very often you’ll gain credibility and we’ll know where you stand. Own your words. That’s

the quality of behaving according to the rules and standards of your job or profession – Macmillan Dictionary Online

INTEGRITY, a principle of leadership.

Rational Republicans: Faint Praise Indeed

13 Jul

The New Republican Party?

Well, “Mussolini did keep the trains on time,” a very common defense of the fascist dictator of Italy during WWII.  How tragically sad it is when we as humans have to find some miniscule form of praise for “leaders” behaving rationally.  Today we will look at three Republicans who are often treated as heroes for demonstrating inconsistent rational behavior.

Mitt Romney has announced that he will not sign the Iowa Anti- Gay Pledge, which he called “undignified and inappropriate.”  The Iowa Anti-Gay Pledge says that, “the presidential candidates must back a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and have affirmed their belief that gay men are a public health risk, that gay parents are inferior to straight parents, and that homosexuality is a choice.”  Big surprise, Ms. Prick Santorum and Ms. Bat Shi_ Bachmann have both signed the pledge.  (Basically, Bachmann has declared her own husband a public health risk–Oh please, TSM audience! You know he is a big closet queen). Has the Tea Party taken over the Republican Party?

What makes me particularly angry here is that we have to praise Romney for being rational here.  “Gee, at least he did not burn any of those fags and send them to concentration camps–what a good guy.”  If not being a complete bigot, of the George Wallace camp is the new standard for hero worship, we are in HUGE trouble as a nation. Click here to see the full article on the “Pledge” and Romney.

Moving on to two others that we have to praise for being rational.  Shall we look at the Siamese Republican Twins of Maine? We have talked about Snowe before.  Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have agreed NOT to beat up a bunch of senior citizens, steal their money, and leave them homeless:

There are solvency problems with both programs,” Sen. Olympia Snowe said in an interview on Friday, “They have to be addressed but not as part of the debt reduction talks.

Thank you, Senator Snowe for being a rational person.  Forgive me if I don’t throw a parade to celebrate your humanity. Collins agreed with Snow and proposed to end the tax subsidy for ethanol production and that would save close to $6 billion a year.

Let me clear, I really do appreciate all three of these Republicans doing the right thing.  However, have our standards for leadership from our elected officials plummeted so low that showing a glimpse of humanity for those they are charged with protecting makes them look like heros? While I am painfully aware of the puritanical strain that runs deep through our country’s history, am I completely  naive to think we will learn from our mistakes? My hope is that we will soon see more Republicans like the late Betty Ford. Click here to see the full article.

Government Shutdown Reality Check

26 Feb

Rage ≠ Responsible Government

As most Americans know by now, the budget debate deadlock in Washington could easily lead to a shutdown of the Federal government. If a budget (or continuing resolution) is not passed before Friday, March 4, the shutdown will occur. President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Speaker of the House John Boehner have all said that they want to keep this from happening. If it does, however, the responsibility will land squarely on the partisan grandstanding of the House.

Sen. Reid and the President have both made it very clear that they will not be blackmailed by the Tea Party minority in the House. The recent budget passed under Boehner’s leadership includes a lot of red meat for the Teabaggist base and not a lot of substantive cuts that indicate a real desire to reform government or reduce deficits (or create jobs, for that matter). The partisan attacks on abortion rights, women’s rights, public broadcasting, and health care reform make very little budgetary difference and create a poison pill that will stop the proposal cold in the Senate. Rather than negotiating in good faith, the House seems bent on creating a train wreck of petulance.

So what would really happen if there is no budget compromise and the Federal government shuts down? Let’s look at some facts:

  • Federal workers would not be paid during the shutdown. They would receive retroactive pay (with no interest) once government is running again. Contractors (all the jobs shoved off the Federal payroll by Reaganite “smartsizing”) get nothing. Members of Congress get full pay and benefits with no delays because their pay is authorized by the Constitution. As so often happens, the more you make, the less you lose.
  • The wars will go on. Funding for active military efforts is exempted. Processing of military benefits claims, however, will freeze. You can fight, but you’d better not leave service or get injured.
  • Federal parks, museums, and other cultural centers will close, depriving all Americans of access to their cultural history and natural beauty.
  • Processing of passport and visa applications and renewals will halt. This will have a major impact not just on vacations that families have already paid for, but will affect business as well.
  • Social Security payments will be made, but new applications and any support functions will be halted.
  • Aid and grant payments to states will be halted, creating even deeper holes in already crippled state budgets.
  • Toxic waste cleanup at over 600 Federally-designated sites will be halted.

Of course, the ripple effect of a shutdown is even more complicated. Everyone knows what it’s like to get back to work after a few days off. It takes time to get caught up. When the whole business of government has to recover at the same time, it could be weeks before things are running smoothly again, even if the shutdown is relatively brief.

And what about those Tea Party priorities? Since the Federal money has already been disbursed, Planned Parenthood will not shut down if the government does, nor will Public Broadcasting. Instead, millions of decent, hard-working civil servants will be furloughed, reducing household spending and injuring American businesses, while House Republicans draw their pay and enjoy their Federal healthcare, abdicating their responsibility to govern. The shutdown is such bad government, in fact that even Michele Bachmann (R – Can’t Find It On A Map) has said it’s a bad idea. You know your leadership strategy is lousy when it crosses the Bachmann line.

How'd that last shutdown work out, Newt?

The last major shutdown was something of a standoff between then President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich. At the end of the day, the Republican congress that forced the standoff came out very badly indeed. Gingrich’s infamous petulance cost him credibility and resulted in national ridicule.

If this House chooses to paralyze the country again, choosing misguided principle over hard facts, the blame falls squarely on Boehner and his Tea Party cohorts. The President and the Senate must not make their tax cuts mistake again and should continue to stand firm on a responsible budget. Compromise with fiscal terrorists? I prefer not to.

(Some research for this story done with thanks to The Christian Science Monitor, MSNBC, CNN, and The Huffington Post. I was initially inspired by the lighthearted but hard-hitting Feb. 25 Tom the Dancing Bug strip.)

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