A modest proposal

Atrios wrote an online column for USAToday yesterday:

We already have an excellent, if not especially generous, program in place. Workers contribute during their working lives in exchange for a promised benefit level during their retirement years. This program is called Social Security.

Instead of considering some exciting new program to try to encourage workers into saving more, another Rube Goldberg incentive contraption designed to nudge individual behavior in the right direction, we should increase the level of retirement benefits in the existing Social Security program.

That sounds like blasphemy because we’ve all been fed the myth that Social Security is bankrupt. It is almost universally accepted in policy circles and in the pundit class that strengthening Social Security involves cutting future benefits relative to what current law promises because according to current projections, Social Security only has the ability to pay promised benefits in full until 2033, and then 75% of them thereafter. The basic thinking is that we must promise to cut benefits now so that we won’t necessarily have to cut them 22 years from now. What?

Imagine if that is how we treated defense spending. Since it appears budgets will be tight in the 2030s, best to mothball all those aircraft carriers today. Who would buy that argument?

The reality is that we will make our defense decisions about the 2030s in the 2030s. That’s just how we should treat federally financed retirement programs. We never actually have to cut benefits if we make the policy choice to keep funding them.

Social security is only bankrupt to the extent that our political leaders lose the will to invest in a decent retirement for American workers.

As the system exists, large numbers of Americans nearing retirement will have little more than fairly meager Social Security benefits (the average benefit for retired workers is currently $1230) to survive on in their old age. We can doom them to a life of insecurity and relative poverty or we can take the obvious step to improve their lives: Increase Social Security benefits.

The goal of a retirement system should be to ensure that retired people have sufficient income to live out the remainder of their lives without a radical reduction in quality of life after they stop working. Our current system, a modest mandatory government retirement program combined with individual savings, is failing to do that. Strengthen Social Security now, not by cutting benefits, but by increasing them.

News you can use

Johns Hopkins newsletter alert:

Engaging in physical and mental activity after acute ischemic stroke has been shown to improve recovery and function. In addition, a recent study reported in ?Lancet Neurology (Volume 10, page 123) found that the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) improved motor function when started soon after ischemic stroke occurrence in people with moderate to severe motor deficits.

Researchers randomly assigned patients who had an ischemic stroke and resulting paralysis or weakness on one side of the body to take 20 mg of Prozac or placebo for three months starting five to 10 days after the stroke.

Of 113 patients included in the analysis (57 in the Prozac group and 56 in the placebo group), the researchers found that motor function improvement after three months was significantly greater in the Prozac group than in the placebo group. Also, fewer participants taking Prozac developed depression, a common consequence after a stroke.

The practice of prescribing antidepressants following a stroke is one that is gaining ground, and this study supports its benefit.

Back to school in Chicago

Chicago teachers have voted to suspend their strike and will return to school this morning. The full contract won’t be revealed until after the membership ratifies it:

The vote, with 98 percent in support of suspension, was not a final vote on the union contract but rather an agreement to suspend the strike pending a final vote on the agreement hammered out between Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago school board and the teacher’s union over the weekend.

What remains unclear is which side, if either, emerges from the walkout victorious.

With details of the contract yet to be revealed, we have little to go on beyond the statement of Chicago Teacher’s Union president Karen Lewis who noted, “We said that we couldn’t solve all the problems of the world with one contract and it was time to end the strike.”

Lewis’ remark would suggest that the union failed to get everything it hoped to achieve.

Bilingual elementary school language teacher America Olmeda added, “I think this contract was better than what they offered. They tried to take everything away.”

Also unknown is the impact the hearing set for tomorrow in a Chicago courtroom had on the teachers’ decision to go back to their classrooms. Mayor Rahm Emanuel had brought the court action in reliance on a state law that prohibits teacher walkouts when they are “strikes of choice” rather than a strike designed to address an economic issue.

While it appears that the parties had agreed on a 16 percent hike in salaries over the next four years, the strike was called over the failure of the parties to come to terms on how teacher performance is to be evaluated along with disagreement over union’s demand that teachers who have been laid-off get the first crack at open positions.

Teachers aren’t completely happy with the offer, according to the Chicago Tribune:

The voice vote was taken after some 800 delegates convened at a union meeting hall near Chinatown to discuss and debate a tentative contract. Union leaders had already signed off on the agreement with Chicago Public Schools.

“We said we couldn’t solve all the problems. . .and it was time to suspend the strike,” CTU President Karen Lewis said at a news conference after the vote.

“The issue is, we cannot get a perfect contract. There’s no such thing as a contract that will make all of us” happy, Lewis said.

But “do we stay on strike forever until every little thing we want can be gotten?” she said.

“I’m so thrilled that people are going back, all of our members are glad to be back with their kids. It’s a hard decision to make to go out, and for some people it’s hard to make the decision to go back in,” Lewis said.

Taibbi on Mitt

Leave it to Taibbi to put things in perspective. Yes, the one percent does need to believe these things. How else can they justify what they do? Now how do we rationalize the beliefs of the Tea Partiers and the rest of Fox Nation?

Matt Taibbi says that Mitt Romney’s recently leaked remarks about low-income Americans were “insane.”

“I think he really genuinely believes that the only reason that his particular message isn’t resonating is that people want something for free and he’s not offering it to them,” Taibbi, a contributing editor forRolling Stone, told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. “It’s crazy.”

[…] Taibbi, who famously labeled Goldman Sachs a “vampire squid” and recentlylambasted Romney in a Rolling Stone article, said the top one percent on Wall Street looks down on the poor because it’s the only way they can psychologically excuse their “mass fraud and theft.”

“It’s all based upon this idea that ‘poor people deserve to be poor because they don’t work hard enough and I deserve the money that I make because I do work hard,'” Taibbi said. “It’s just a pervasive belief … the psychological underpinning of almost everything they do. If they didn’t have this way to excuse their dismissal of the poor, then they wouldn’t be able to do a lot of the things that they do.”

He noted that “everybody pays taxes in one form or another, whether sales tax or payroll tax,” and that income taxes comprise a small percentage of Romney’s own recent taxes.

Taibbi added that Romney, who comes from a privileged background, disregarded another “tax” that many poor people have to pay: “a kind of qualitative tax which nobody talks about — this sucky hard work tax.”

“If you’re low-income enough to not be paying income tax, you’re doing a shitty job that nobody else wants to do in this country,” Taibbi said. “You’re cleaning toilets. You’re driving buses at the night shift. You’re bussing tables. You’re doing all these things that Mitt Romney is never going to do.”

Freeloaders to protest at Romney’s Doylestown headquarters

DOYLESTOWN- Fallout continues over the secret video showing Mitt Romney expressing his disdain for half the nation at a private fundraiser held at the Florida home of 76ers co-owner, Marc Leder. On Wednesday at 12:00pm local residents will gather at Romney Headquarters in Doylestown to protest Romney’s “inelegant” comments and call on Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick to stand up for his constituents who need Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid by denouncing Romney’s statements. Since the story broke, Republicans like Linda McMahon have distanced themselves from Romney’s remarks. On Wednesday, protesters will ask Rep. Fitzpatrick to do the same.

What: Romney “47% Freeloaders” Protest

When: Wednesday, September 19, 12:00p.m.

Where: Romney HQ,, 115 North Broad Street, Doylestown, PA.

PA Supreme Court punts on Voter ID

I’ve never heard of a decision like this. They vacated the lower court decision without vacating the law. It seems designed to throw the political hot potato back to the lower court and doesn’t seem to be good news, but some experts are saying it’s good news and almost forces the judge to enjoin the law before the election.:

In a potentially significant victory for Democrats, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated a lower court’s decision to uphold the states’s restrictive new voter ID law on Tuesday, and asked the judge to consider enjoining it instead.

The law, passed by a Republican legislature and governor, requires voters to have specific, state-issued photo ID — a move that opponents say could disenfranchise tens of thousands of people, most of them minorities, students and the elderly.

“We are not satisfied with a mere predictive judgment based primarily on the assurances of government officials,” the court wrote of arguments that voters would not be disenfranchised by the law.

The court ruled 4-2, with two dissenting justices saying it should have blocked the law outright. One justice accused the court of “punting” and said she would have “no part in it.”

The state Supreme Court sent the case back to the Commonwealth Court judge, but with instructions that seemed almost designed to force him to enjoin the law. Given the fact that there are less than two months until the election, the justices wrote, “the most judicious remedy, in such a circumstance, is the entry of a preliminary injunction, which may moot further controversy as the constitutional impediments dissipate.”

The judge was instructed “to consider whether the procedures being used for deployment” of ID cards comports with the law as written — which the court itself made clear was not the case. “The Department of State has realized, and the Commonwealth parties have candidly conceded, that the Law is not being implemented according to its terms,” the justices wrote.

The justices, for instance, noted in their decision that while the law called for voters to be granted state-issued ID simply upon an affirmation, “as implementation of the Law has proceeded, PennDOT — apparently for good reason — has refused to allow such liberal access.”

If those procedures are not being followed, or if the judge was “not still convinced … that there will be no voter disenfranchisement arising out of the Commonwealth’s implementation of a voter identification requirement for purposes of the upcoming election” then he would be “obliged to enter a preliminary injunction,” the higher court wrote.

The court agreed that the short timeframe of the law’s implementation just months before Election Day presented a potential constitutional issue, but noted that even the appelants agreed that such a law could be implemented.

The two Democratic justices who were most outspoken during last week’s oral arguments both dissented from the majority opinion, saying the high court should have issued an injunction itself.

Justice Seamus P. McCaffery wrote in his dissent:

I was elected by the people of our Commonwealth, by Republicans, Democrats, Independents and others, as was every single Justice on this esteemed Court. I cannot now be a party to the potential disenfranchisement of even one otherwise qualified elector, including potentially many elderly and possibly disabled veterans who fought for the rights of every American to exercise their fundamental American right to vote.

While I have no argument with the requirement that all Pennsylvania voters, at some reasonable point in the future, will have to present photo identification before they may cast their ballots, it is clear to me that the reason for the urgency of implementing Act 18 prior to the November 2012 election is purely political. That has been made abundantly clear by the House Majority Leader. I cannot in good conscience participate in a decision that so clearly has the effect of allowing politics to trump the solemn oath that I swore to uphold our Constitution. That Constitution has made the right to vote a right verging on the sacred, and that right should never be trampled by partisan politics.

McCaffery was referring to a declaration in June by Pennsylvania’s GOP House majority leader, Mike Turzai, that the voter ID law “is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

Justice Debra McCloskey Todd wrote in her dissent, “By remanding to the Commonwealth Court, at this late date, and at this most critical civic moment, in my view, this Court abdicates its duty to emphatically decide a legal controversy vitally important to the citizens of this Commonwealth. The eyes of the nation are upon us, and this Court has chosen to punt rather than to act. I will have no part of it.”

The decision gave Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson until Oct. 2 to file his new opinion.

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