The CEO attack on Social Security and Medicare

It’s here! Economist Dean Baker:

Last week, I wrote about the conspiracy of corporate chieftains to impose a budget plan involving large cuts to Social Security and Medicare, regardless of who wins the elections in November. According to veteran Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein, who wrote approvingly of these efforts, many of the top executives of the country’s biggest companies are meeting behind closed doors to design such a budget plan.

This plan is expected to follow the designs of the plan crafted two years ago byMorgan Stanley Director Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson, the co-directors of President Obama’s deficit commission. The Bowles-Simpson plan called for a reduction in the annual cost of living adjustment for Social Security that is equivalent to a 3 percent cut in benefits. It also called for gradually raising the normal retirement age to 69 and phasing in lower benefits for workers who earned more than $40,000 a year. The Bowles-Simpson plan would also raise the age of eligibility for Medicare to 67.

Pearlstein indicated that these corporate honchos were prepared to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to get their plan put into law. He put the necessary figure at $278 million. This target is made easier by virtue of the fact that the CEOs sit on trillions of dollars of corporate revenue and, thanks to the Supreme Court, all their contributions for this effort will be fully tax deductible.

That’s the state of play, at least according to Pearlstein’s assessment, or my interpretation of his assessment. The question is whether this juggernaut can be stopped.

Well, if it were a straight question of where the money lies, the answer is clearly no. The CEOs seeking to cut back or dismantle Social Security and Medicare can probably outspend the defenders of these programs ten to one. However, there is still the simple fact that the voters overwhelmingly support these programs.

He goes on to describe how to get politicians to answer specific questions about Social Security. Go read the rest.


I can’t tell you how much I hate these fucking things. They’re ungodly loud, too. At least once a year, one of the drivers gets killed, but it doesn’t discourage the rest.

And it’s not just the city. When I lived in the Hellmouth, my apartment building backed up onto a park and the dirt bikers would go right alongside my apartment and into the woods. I called the police all the time (because they’re illegal on public property), but they never did a thing. The fact that I took a picture of one wearing a Hellmouth police department jacket might have something to do with it.

For profit education

So this is how it always works. You design a “need” that happens to coincide with what you want to sell, and then you pay some politicians to agree with you:

Reuters has the scoop on an event that took place earlier this week where nearly a hundred education profiteers — ranging from executives at testing companies to private equity moguls eager to invest in education technology — met at a swanky Manhattan club to cheer on the privatization of the U.S. education system:

The investors gathered in a tony private club in Manhattan were eager to hear about the next big thing, and education consultant Rob Lytle was happy to oblige. Think about the upcoming rollout of new national academic standards for public schools, he urged the crowd. If they’re as rigorous as advertised, a huge number of schools will suddenly look really bad, their students testing way behind in reading and math. They’ll want help, quick. And private, for-profit vendors selling lesson plans, educational software and student assessments will be right there to provide it.

Reuters goes on to note that education has become a huge business in just the past seven years. In “the venture capital world, transactions in the K-12 education sector soared to a record $389 million last year, up from $13 million in 2005.”

The policies that have allowed for these education profiteers to get involved with the system have been pushed by politicians from both parties, and many of them — such as the aggressive expansion of charter schools and high-stakes testing — have been endorsed both by President Obama and Mitt Romney, although Romney appears to be much more supportive of outright privatization.

Many of the privatization architects who attended the Manhattan confab are also political donors. According to Federal Election Commission data, Lytle was a Romney donor in 2007, giving $500. Meanwhile, Princeton Review and 2Tor’s John Katzman has spread thousands of dollars over numerous politicians from both major political parties, giving $4,800 to Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) while also donating tens of thousands to Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sam Brownback (R-KS), and others over the past decade.

Katzman has been particularly insistent in his desire to see large chunks of the education system privatized. At the event, he apparently “urged investors to look for companies developing software that can replace teachers for segments of the school day” — a convenient way for schools to do away with a number of their teachers altogether.

A rotten cliche of a man

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Color me surprised, right? The terrorist who walked into a Sikh temple and started executing people was a white supremacist active in white-power “hate rock” circles. Not everyone who commits a hate crime falls into a neat little box, but this guy does, and Potok estimates there are 200,000 people in America like him:

The gunman who allegedly attacked a Sikh temple in southern Wisconsin, killing six people and wounding four, was a “white supremacist skinhead” and “frustrated neo-Nazi” who led a white power punk and metal band, groups that track extremism said Monday.

Wade Michael Page, 40, was the founder of End Apathy, according to Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. In a blog post about Page, Potok cited an April 2010 interview that the alleged gunman gave to the “Uprise Direct” music website about the band’s work.

[…] Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research for the Anti-Defamation League, said Page was a mem­ber of the Ham­mer­skins, “one of the oldest and largest hardcore racist skinhead groups,” and iden­ti­fied him­self as a North­ern Ham­mer­skin, part of the group’s upper Mid­west branch.

End Apa­thy had been a fea­tured band in recent years at many Hammerskin-organized white power music con­certs, such as the August 2010 “Meet & Greet BBQ & Bands” in North Car­olina, the Ham­mer­skins’ St. Patty’s Day Show in March 2011 in Orlando, Fla., and Ham­mer­fest 2011 last Octo­ber in Orlando, Pitcavage noted in a blog post, in which he described Page as a “white supremacist skinhead.”

“We had identified Page several years ago as someone who was prominent in the white-power music scene,” he told NBC News. He said Page also used a pseudonym, “Jack Boot,” an apparent reference to the high military boots worn by members of dictatorial regimes such as Nazi Germany.

What a sad little man.

How to stop the shootings

Josh Holland with a piece on Alternet. The money graph:

The reason we can’t have a sane, adult discussion of how to cut down on random gun violence is simple: the NRA has hoodwinked a lot of reasonable gun owners into believing that there’s a debate in this country over banning firearms altogether. We’ll never be able to have a serious discussion about how to cut down on gun violence until that group accepts the actual terms of the debate. And the NRA has a vested interest in making sure they remain obscure because the organization represents gun manufacturers and a small, highly ideological minority of gun-nuts, rather than (typically responsible) gun owners.

The problem isn’t Ed DeMarco

Neil Barofsky on why Ed DeMarco won’t be fired — and why he’s not the real problem with the Obama administration’s housing policy, or the economic fallout. Tim Geithner is, and ultimately, President Obama, who stands behind him:

Now, three years later, with a tightening presidential election and a Democratic base disillusioned by the government’s abandonment of its promise to help homeowners (less than 8 percent of the funds originally allocated in TARP for foreclosure relief has actually been spent), Geithner and the administration would like to present themselves as having undergone a conversion.

Let’s be very clear about what is going on here. This is not a conversion – it is a political convenience. Geithner may well be correct when he wrote in a letter to DeMarco that an effective principal reduction program would “help repair the nation’s housing market” and that the refusal to do so is not “in the best interest of the nation,” but it is his own policies that are primarily to blame for where we are today.

As we enter the final phase of the election campaign, we need to end the meaningless political posturing and recognize that as a country we have severely mishandled the housing crisis. It may be a fair debate whether we should have gone with the “all in” approach that I and others have advocated or the “do nothing and let the market find its natural bottom” approach advocated by many conservatives. There should, though, be little question that the chosen policy – a “foam the runway” approach that assisted the banks and only a fraction of the homeowners that could have benefited – has been a failure and has left us stuck in economic mediocrity. Geithner wrote this week to Demarco: “You have the power to help more struggling homeowners and help heal the remaining damage from the housing crisis.” If only he had heeded his own advice.

That’s right. Let’s call this what it is: a distraction. The administration has given nothing but lip service to the consumer side of the housing crisis, and in doing so, deepened and extended the economic crisis. They picked a side, and it was the bankers, not us. This wasn’t something the Republicans made them do: President Obama and Tim Geithner had the power to fix this. They still do.

I’ve written about Guy Saperstein before. Guy is a retired civil rights attorney who was listed as one of the Top 100 Lawyers In America, a major Democratic donor, part-owner of the Oakland A’s and a past president of the Sierra Club Foundation, and originally an enthusiastic Obama supporter. He says it’s time to squeeze Obama – not just over Ed DeMarco, but over the same housing policies Tim Geithner and President Obama have designed. The listserv email he sent is too long, so I’ll pick the most pertinent parts:

While it is comforting to believe the Obama Administration wants to do the right thing, there is too much evidence to the contrary. If the progressive community is serious about protecting home ownership as a core component of the American Dream, it needs to change tactics and raise the ante. And there is no better time to do so than in the middle of an election campaign. In fact, it is likely that if we don’t do it now, when the election is over we will have no leverage at all.

He then goes into the background of various “roads not taken” by the administration, and how they worked to undermine any progressive remedies. Oh dear, moral hazard!

This all would be bad enough, but it gets worse: The Obama Administration is still protecting banks, servicers and investors—at great cost to homeowners and home ownership. While more and more homes go into foreclosure, banks are not putting them back on the market, but are bundling and selling them to hedge funds, which are converting them to rentals. Banks and loan-servicers are subverting home ownership, while profiting from rentals, excessive late fees and foreclosure fees, while the federal government does nothing to stop the profiteering or provide serious protection for homeownership.
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