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Daley Weekly: Austerity, Clarity and the Muddled East

Living the Dream

Well, I have been searching Craigslist for the perfect little place to park my camera gear while in Seattle. I just need a place for three months, furnished, with a deck so I can smoke and a kitchen so I can burn the toast while I am out on the deck. Found the perfect place. Got a written and signed lease and ignored the warning not to send money. Idiot. I am on the street again living out of a suitcase, out a couple of grand, and nearly penniless. But I do have health insurance to help cover the cost of my hypertension prescription.

What’s Next?

Everything that the Congress left hanging in the air when they left for their August recess is still hanging in the air. The Transportation Department lessened the emergency around the need for money for the Highway Trust fund by announcing that the fund was going to be just fine well into next year. And the Treasury Department thrust the Debt Lid back on the agenda by announcing that the U.S. borrowing limit would be reached as early as next month. Tea Baggers in Congress who apparently are willing to shut down the government rather than provide funding to Planned Parenthood may get their chance soon.

Refugees

The steady stream of refugees driven into Europe by violent conflicts in Iraq and Syria has become a river. Frightening scenes of the police beating back crowds, terrified children, and folks trapped in train stations are juxtaposed with efforts by other countries to deal with the fleeing masses. The U.S. just agreed to take in 10,000 and France, Germany, and England also are offering accommodation. But Hungary and Macedonia are not so open to all this. Perhaps they are waiting for Donald Trump to make the inevitable candidate visit overseas to establish his foreign policy credentials. While there, perhaps he’ll help the Hungarians design the border fence they are proposing and perhaps even convince the Syrians to pay for building it. (Whoever the Syrians might actually be these days.)

Iran

The Senate Democrats gave the President a major victory when they blocked Republican efforts to stop the nuclear deal with Iraq. They defeated the effort by refusing to give the 60 votes needed to proceed to debate on their measure reversing the deal. Big leadership kudos on this go the Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois who took charge of the effort to prevent a reversal of the agreement when Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada dithered and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the supposed next Democratic Leader, opposed it.

Muddle East

We thought that an essential bit of intelligibility about the situation in the Land of Perpetual Conflict had finally emerged when the U.S. apparently gave the Turks tacit approval to attack the Kurds, the most effective military force against ISIS. Another little bit of clarity came this week when a fellow known as Ayman al-Zawahiri – the post-Osama leader of Al Qaeda – attacked the top leader of ISIS for “sedition” because he had proclaimed himself Caliph. It must be good for us that these two are not joining forces and it certainly reduces the level of confusion.

ACA Enrollments

ACA enrollments reached 9.9 million by mid-year. Eighty-four percent of these were receiving subsidies.

Protecting Our Heritage

When the Heritage Foundation attacked the Obama Administration for incompetence over a cyber security breach at the Office of Personnel Management, they apparently did not realize that someone was hacking into their own web site and stealing personal information about their donors.

Interest Rates

The Federal Reserve seems poised to make some kind of an increase in interest rates, but cannot find the right time to do it. Just when everything looks peachy, China goes in the ditch or Greece decides it’s had enough and tries to rebel against austerity, or the jobs numbers are blah. I’m not sure I care. The stimulus that the Fed has given to the U.S. economy over the last few years has kept us from falling into the austerity trap, in spite of the very best efforts of some in Congress.

Klepto Bankers Beware

The U.S. Justice Department this week announced that it has a new policy – corporate officers will now be held personally culpable for criminal offenses committed by their companies. You will have noted to your chagrin the past practice of fining the company, but letting the criminal behavior of the people who work in the company go without prosecution. This is a critical step forward in efforts to stem the criminal behavior of multi-national financial institutions that have bilked investors and consumers out of billions, laundered trillions of dollars for the drug cartels, and manipulated currencies to bring themselves massive profits. I knew I liked that Etta who took over as Attorney General – at last, my love has come along.

The Boehner Suit

Remember that during one of last year’s interminable budget fights, Speaker John Boehner used the threat of bringing a lawsuit against the Administration over the ACA to quiet some of the dissent in his Caucus. Alas, this week a federal judge ruled that the House of Representatives does have standing to bring this suit. No telling where this might go, but it is yet another threat to subsidies under the ACA. The judge allowed the part of the suit that challenges the right of the Administration to fund the mandatory subsidies without having to get an appropriation directly from the Congress.

Presidential Stuff

The candidate lineup for the next Republican Debate is out and it includes some new faces – Carly Fiorina and Gov. John Kasich are now in, as are Donald Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Interesting to note that Ben Carson has tied Donald Trump in a recent Iowa poll. We thought that that Trump has peaked out at just over 20 percent, but he seems to have reached 37 percent in a South Carolina poll.

Jeb Bush seems completely befuddled by the destruction of his Front Runner status. Befuddlement must be the state of a whole bunch of candidates over there – the plan went off the tracks.

Chris Christie is looking over his shoulder again because three leading executives of United Airlines have resigned as they are facing a criminal investigation centered on David Samson, Christie confidant and the former Chair of the New York, New Jersey Port Authority. The charge is that the airline established a special, money-losing flight route to accommodate Samson’s vacation travels while they were asking for major investments in the Port-operated Newark Airport.

Rick Perry’s second run for President is over. He was running out of money. Given that Perry barely made a dent in the polls, it won’t make much of a difference, big picture.

On the Dem’s side, Martin O’Malley also is cutting staff. Never a positive sign when you are already in a deep hole. No word on staff cuts from what’s his name from Virginia or from Lincoln Chaffee. No real sense that either of them actually have staff to cut. A week or so ago Conan O’Brien, the talk show host, decided to try to move Chaffee from zero to one percent in the polls. So far, Chaffee is still at zero.

Puerto Rico, My Heart’s Devotion

Looks like Puerto Rico may be about to sink back in the ocean – ocean of debt that is. Much like Greece, Puerto Rico is one of the victims of the great fraud induced Recession. Less growth plus fewer tourists equals bankruptcy. The hedge funds that own a whole bunch of Puerto Rican debt are suggesting that while states might be able to default on loans but not so a mere Territory. The hedgers are suggesting that the Puerto Ricans would be much more prosperous if they destroyed their economy by laying off a bunch of teachers, reducing health care benefits and cutting their minimum wage. But, the hedgers tell them, no restructuring of the debt.

This austerity prescription will lead to economic lassitude, just as it has everywhere else. The hedgers will lose their money anyway while imposing even further impoverishment on the Puerto Ricans. What is the point here?

We are waiting for some hedge fund manager to leap before the karaoke mike and inform us in song: “I feel petty, oh so petty.”

Medicaid Expansion

It looks as though Alaska’s Gov. Bill Walker may be going to pull it off. Remember, the legislature dithered around with his request to expand Medicaid so he decided to go ahead and do it anyway.

Naturally he got sued, but a judge just gave his plan the OK.

Schedule

It gives me spinal shudders and nervous twitches, but the Congress has returned and is set to be in D.C. for the next couple of months with the exception of the week of September 21 and the week of October 12.

Bill Daley, National Legislative Director
bill@allianceforajustsociety.org

Remember to follow the Alliance for a Just Society on Facebook

Bill Daley
http://allianceforajustsociety.nationbuilder.com/

Daley View: WHY IS A RAVEN LIKE A WRITING DESK? and Other Musings

I was in the Hart Senate Office Building for a meeting with Senator Manchin’s staff that ended around 2:30 PM. 82655_600Normally I would have bolted for the door to get fresh air, but I was starving. I went into the basement to the American Grill and was putting mustard on my cheeseburger when the shooting started outside the building. They locked us in.

“Gunshots have been reported on Capitol Hill requiring staff in all Senate office buildings to immediately shelter in place. Close, lock and stay away from external doors and windows. Take annunciators, emergency supply kits and escape hoods; and move to your office’s assigned shelter-in-place location or the innermost part of the office away from external doors or windows.”

Reports of just what happened are still being pieced together, but apparently a woman suffering through her own mental illness tried to ram through security at the Executive Office Building next to the White House. When she failed, she led the police on a chase that ended just outside the Heart Building. She had a child in the car with her. The woman was shot and has died.

She was unarmed. The police aren’t even being paid. Read more

There’s Only One Cliché Coming Out of DC That Seems to Fit

First They Sentenced Us to Death By A Thousand Cuts.

Now They Threaten us With Death By a Thousand Clichés.

I am largely mystified by the apparently widespread support for further austerity. The leadership of the House of Representatives continue to manufacture governmental crises to force draconian cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, in the face of totally lousy economic news.http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-dAbK_N0SYoY/T89IKE2JknI/AAAAAAAAATs/E_01in9ExBY/s1600/cliche.png

The latest jobs news out Friday the 6th gives us further reason to pause and reflect on just how ruinous the Great Recession has been for the people of the country. There was overall job growth of about 169,000 new jobs, but the unemployment rate is still at 7.3%. Overall job growth for the year was revised downward from previous estimates. Read more

Montana Without Senator Max Baucus

 

How do we want to handle his replacement?

 

Max Baucus assumed the position of US Senator from Montana on December 15th 1978. For 35 years he has been making decisions that affect the lives of not only people from Montana, not only people from the United States, but people from around the world.  The Senator has made many friends, to be clear on this issue he has grown quite influential during his tenure. But he made just as many enemies with his votes. For progressives in Montana, his tenure has been, as they say, a mixed bag.

Now he is leaving the Senate. Read more

Take These Chains Off My CPI (Consumer Price Index)

 The deficit crowd cheered when the President included a concept called “Chained CPI” in his 2014 Budget.

This is a proposal to change the way the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is calculated. This change is about as wonky as wonk-dome can get, but here’s a try.

Currently the CPI grows based on overall increases in the cost of goods. The new idea is to calculate how much consumers change their purchasing habits when prices rise. If there is an increase in the cost of Stella Artois, then some beer drinkers will switch to less expensive brews. Say they turn to my favorite, Tecate.

This tendency to switch choices will be calculated as a part of the new Chained CPI. So the effect of the change will be slowly to reduce the benefits paid out through programs like Social Security.

chained-cpi-benefit-cut

Now you may think that switching from Stella to Tecate won’t amount to much.  But it keeps growing over time. The COLA for this year was 1.7 percent. If my monthly Social
Security check was $1,250 last year, it increased to $1,271.25 this year.  Were the Chained CPI in effect it would be $1,267.50, amounting to $45 less a year. Again, that might not seem like a big reduction, but if the COLA is the same next year, the difference increases to $91.32 for the next year. And as the SSI checks get smaller and smaller, inflation will drive prices higher.

The cumulative effects of the change will have severe effects on the poor and the elderly. Two populations that already have few choices on how they spend their money, especially in the all-important areas of health care and pharmaceuticals.

There are also some very specific problems with the new plan, particularly for those who have no retirement support other than Social Security.

The change especially impacts women who tend to work less, earn less, and live longer.

Chaining the CPI may also amount to a subtle tax increase for the middle class, assuming that the new method will be applied to the way IRS calculates tax brackets. Over time, the brackets will rise more slowly and, as incomes gradually increase, folks will slip more quickly into higher brackets.

How the Numbers Add up, and not for the Best

The really big problem with Chained CPI, and the point of this essay is that reducing Social Security is simply a bad idea in general.  The plain fact is that the growing income inequality, a severe recession and wage stagnation have created an enormous “retirement security gap.” This gap is the difference between what people should have saved for retirement and what they actually have.

The HELP Committee of the U.S. Senate estimates the retirement gap at $6.6 trillion. Half of Americans have less than $10,000 in savings. Then throw on top of this the $1 btp-chained-cpi-obamatrillion in student debt. Whoa. We’re getting into real money here. How are we going to close this gap?

The Solution is the Same Program They are Attacking

Well one obvious way is to expand Social Security and Medicare so that they can help fill up the bucket. Instead, our political leaders all seem intent on making the gap worse. The bucket isn’t full enough so let’s poke a hole in the bottom.  “Let’s chain down that CPI!” say these deficit hawks.

Why?  When Social Security has zip to do with the deficit (and Simpleton and Blows know it)? Besides, ‘fixing’ this problem will not make the austerity preachers happy. The “Fix the Debt” corporate tax dodgers and the right-wingers simply want to dismantle the social insurance system.

And the Democrats have taken the bait. Rather than support expansion of these vital programs, many Democrats, including apparently the President, have joined the rush to austerity in a recession and are buying into a compromise with an ideology that rejects physical fact, economic science, and the idea that government can be an instrument to advance the common good.

 

Give me a break!

 

There is much to appreciate in the President’s Budget, but the Chained CPI is not one of them. Beyond opposing this bad idea, progressives shouldchainedcpi_taxes go on the offensive.  Social Security and Medicare need to expand not shrink.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Family Unity and a Path to Citizenship– the Time is Now!

 

As I stood on the West Lawn of the Capitol this afternoon listening to Dolores Huerta, an idol of mine, I felt like I was experiencing the making of Fernandohistory. In the midst of her powerful speech I took a moment to observe those around me. I looked around at the thousands of faces surrounding me—a mix of gender, age, and ethnicity but all standing with pride, their eyes filled with an unwavering sense of determination. No longer would they be paralyzed from frustration or fear. Read more

Daley’s Glossary: Guideposts in the Labyrinth of our current Fiscal Debate

Listening to the current national fiscal debate is like standing before a labyrinth with only your ears to guide you. There are strange terms and “impending deadlines” being thrown out into the airwaves and the only things to be sure of– is the spot marked “you are here.”

Because the wonky debate inside the DC Beltway will be conducted in head-spinning clichés that the media like so much, I feel compelled to offer a brief series of definitions to clarify the situation and make our imperative clear:

We must continue to push cutting prescription drug costs and increasing taxes on Wall Street to fill gaps in the government’s revenues. We must continue to insist that there be no cuts to social insurance programs American families need for their security. Stay strong. This is an historic fight.

Read more

The Distasteful Politics of Food

How, what, and where we eat everyday is strongly influenced by the federal government, in partnership with major food corporations, through a piece of legislation called the Farm Bill. Many of the social determinates of health that impact our communities find their roots in the Farm Bill a massive piece of legislation up for renewal in 2012.

We need to pay close attention to this legislation in the coming months. In particular, we need to focus on the ways in which the Farm Bill enables corporate practices that contribute to racial disparities in health, set us back in terms of racial equity, and promote greed over need. In a climate where Congress is looking to make cuts, corporate agribusiness will be working hard to protect their interests, leaving the rest of us with a huge tab that will cost not just in dollars but also in lives. Read more