social security

Guest Editorial: Why Saturday’s Bernie Sanders Rally Left Me Feeling Heartbroken

The Stranger SLOG has the article Guest Editorial: Why Saturday’s Bernie Sanders Rally Left Me Feeling Heartbroken. The author Pramila Jayapal is a state senator from Washington’s 37th District.

1) This is one small result of centuries of racism

2) When the disruption first happened, the crowd (mostly white) turned ugly.

3) I don’t have any answer on what is “right.”
But here’s what I would have loved to have happen: after the protestors were able to get the mic and say their piece and have the 4.5 minutes of silence for all the black people who have been killed, I would have loved for Bernie Sanders to take the mic and respond. And also to speak about Social Security and Medicare too. Here’s what I would love even more: for the Sanders campaign and BLM nationally to sit down and talk about an agenda on racial justice that he can use his presidential platform to help move. Imagine rolling out that agenda and inviting black people to talk about it on stage with him. Now that excites me.

4) I had not yet endorsed Bernie Sanders (and still have not), although I was incredibly excited about his candidacy.

5) Here’s what I am trying to deeply think about: How do we call people in even as we call them out?

Pramila has some other important and eloquent things to say in her editorial. You really ought to read the whole thing. I have given you the 5 topics she covers in the hopes that it will make you want to read more. What she says in item 4 is instructive about some facts you may not know and heartening to me.

We all need to reach out to each other and talk this thing through.

Conversation on Greek Debt Crisis

Falling out of the conversation discussed in my previous post, The Question I Wanted to Ask, is the link to the Conversation on Greek Debt Crisis. I have been unable to view the video myself because it uses Adobe Flash Player. I have banished Flash from my computers over security issues, but if you are cavalier about security, you can probably watch this.

What intrigues me about this post is the comment in that original article:

Watching Stephanie Kelton guide the conversation, sitting next to Bernie Sanders as she was, it was clear the delicate challenge she faces in poking at the edges of the precepts of the status quo without pushing things into the scary and marginalized territory of counter-intuitive reality.

Stephanie Kelton is a name to remember and someone worth following. Bernie Sanders has appointed her as the Chief Economist for the minority of the Senate Budget Committee of which he is the ranking member. In her previous academic career, she was one of the active advocates of the Modern Money Theory (MMT). A lot of MMT followers and I are hoping great things will come of her appointment. If she can find a way for Bernie Sanders to talk about this theory to explain how he can accomplish all the things he wants to accomplish, then it would give him great credibility. The problem arises because of the nature of MMT. It describes reality in a way that is counter-intuitive in the face of all the propaganda that the oligarchs have been feeding us about money and government deficits.

In one previous post Alan Greenspan Let’s The Truth Slip Out, I show a video of Alan Greenspan letting loose the truth about the fiction that Social Security will run out of money. Even he admits to the fact that the right wing propaganda is completely phoney.

Will Hillary Clinton Adopt Hedgie Billionaire John Arnold’s Schemes for Retirement Insecurity?

Naked Capitalism has the story Will Hillary Clinton Adopt Hedgie Billionaire John Arnold’s Schemes for Retirement Insecurity?

The front-running scheme for “retirement security” — backed by billionaire John Arnold — looks an awful lot like it’s “on the table” because it guarantees that middlemen collect fees for “managing” what we used to call your “nest egg.” Will Hillary Clinton’s campaign platform support it?

Hillary Clinton Has Ruled Out Expanding Social Security.

Don’t be lulled into thinking all plans are the same.

This is a warning to watch your wallets. The article is too filled with just pejoratives, and a little light on specifics, but it does warn us of things to watch out for. In fact, this plan might sound a little like the Modigliani/Muralidhar plan or the one I proposed in my previous post in November 2013 Elizabeth Warren: We should be talking about expanding Social Security benefits. However, the devil is in the details. The details in this case is all about the size of the fees. Large fees can turn a retirement plan from a saving grace (pun intended) to a disaster for the retiree.

Here is a very simple test for any retirement plan. If any manager gets to be a billionaire by managing such a program, then the beneficiaries are being robbed. Those billions of dollars represent money that the beneficiaries should have had.

Stop laughing at Donald Trump

The Washington Post has the article Stop laughing at Donald Trump.

I have been saying for a few days now, that the more the lame stream press castigates Trump, the more his numbers will go up. I use the boyfriend/girlfriend syndrome as the reason. As a parent, if you disparage the boyfriend or girlfriend of you child, that will only make the child cling all the harder to the boyfriend/girlfriend.

The Washington Post article has an even better reason, and ends with this possible suggestion.

Republicans especially need to stop laughing. Their upcoming debates should challenge, not ignore, the unfocused fears of immigration and national diversity raised by Trump and like-minded candidates, and instead present a more nuanced and realistic view of the future, in which the national economy will depend on investment in today’s children and racial minorities. While they are not yet the force on Election Day that they will be in the foreseeable future, racial minorities will represent all of the growth in our labor force for the next 20 years, and their success will translate into economic prosperity and future contributions to Social Security and Medicare. Trump happily appeals to older, more conservative white baby boomers and seniors, but he could do them a favor by showing them the role that our diverse younger generations — many with immigrant roots — will play in our future. Vilifying them cannot be a lasting political strategy for tomorrow. And it cannot be a working national philosophy today.

As far as Trump goes, if his focus is on the 2016 election, he doesn’t care about a lasting political strategy for the distant tomorrows. However, pointing out that seniors’ near term future may depend on the success of the people that they fear, perhaps someone could get their attention. The seniors need to be shown that the seniors should be helping these “minority” groups succeed, because the seniors’ welfare depends on it. Of course, the fact that such help is morally and humanely the correct thing to do should add to the luster of doing the right thing.

How Bernie Sanders plans to win, and change Washington

CBS’s Face the Nation has this article, How Bernie Sanders plans to win, and change Washington, on their web site.

In an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday, Sanders said that the president ran “one of the great campaigns in the history of the United States of America” in 2008, but he also made a mistake by trying to negotiate fair compromises with Republicans and their leadership in Congress.

Before giving you the money quote on this topic, let me show you a clip that I think deserves a lot of emphasis.

Democratic Presidential Candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, supports Pope Francis in ending what he calls “casino-type capitalism.” The senator believes Pope Francis has been a “voice of conscience” all over the world.

Now back to the President’s big mistake. I have commented on what Bernie Sanders has said before, but it is well worth repeating for the skeptics. You actually have to go to the article and watch the video to get the whole thing and the real impact. What Bernie says here, is one of my main complaints against Obama, almost from the day after he took office, and, remember, I voted and campaigned for Obama.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, says he’ll be able to build a giant grassroots movement of support to win the Democratic nomination and the 2016 election, but that he’ll also go one step further than President Obama did successfully harness his grassroots support to change Washington.

In an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday, Sanders said that the president ran “one of the great campaigns in the history of the United States of America” in 2008, but he also made a mistake by trying to negotiate fair compromises with Republicans and their leadership in Congress.

“The truth is Republicans never wanted to negotiate, all they wanted to do is obstruct,” Sanders said. “What I have said throughout this campaign is electing Bernie Sanders as president is not enough. Not going to do it. We need a mass grassroots movement that looks the Republicans in the eye and says, ‘If you don’t vote to demand that your wealthy people start paying their fair share of taxes, if you don’t vote for jobs, raising the minimum wage and expanding Social Security, we know what’s going on, we’re involved, we’re organized, you are outta here if you don’t do the right thing.'”

He plans to build that grassroots coalition by bringing more people into the political process and focusing heavily on poverty and income inequality.

“I’m going to be going around the country not only to blue states…but to red states, conservative states. We’re going to go to Alabama, we’re going to go to Mississippi,” Sanders said. “I think the message that we have is resonating. People are going to get involved in the political process, we’re going to drive turnout up and when we do that we win.”

Gaius Publius: Hillary, TPP, the World of Money, and the Center for American Progress

Naked Capitalism has the article Gaius Publius: Hillary, TPP, the World of Money, and the Center for American Progress. Here are a few of the shocking statements in the article. (I have left out the links that are in the excerpts in the original article. You’ll have to go to the article if you want to see them.)

  • Exxon is one of the largest owners of unmonetized methane (yet-to-be-fracked natural gas) in the country.
  • “Left-wing” support groups and think tanks like EDF (Environmental Defense Fund) and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) strongly support (pdf) the “temporary” transition to natural gas as a bridge fuel.
  • By many reports both EDF and NRDC receive money in various ways, as well as advice, from the oil and gas industry and their advocates.

One of the most important — and “centrist” (code for “corporate-friendly”) — think tanks in the Democratic Party ecosystem is the Center for American Progress, or CAP. They do some good work, and their associated Web group, ThinkProgress, does excellent work. But when it comes time to put their “money” where Money’s mouth is — for example, to support cuts to Social Security and Medicare — CAP is on the anti-progressive side, and reliably so.

I was unaware of the influence of corporate money in some of these organizations. I feel played like a Tea Party member who didn’t realize that the Tea Party was invented and funded by the Koch brothers.

Study: Social Security in REALLY bad shape

USA Today has the story Study: Social Security in REALLY bad shape.

“The projections developed by the Office of the Chief Actuary for the Trustees Reports are intended to reflect all aspects of future possible trends in demographic, economic, and programmatic factors, given current Social Security law,” Goss and other SSA officials wrote. King and Soneji’s projections “were within the range of reasonable uncertainty as specified in the Trustees Report, and therefore should cause no alarm.”
“Fair, transparent and accurate forecasts give Congress more of a chance to consider of all the policy proposals to preserve the solvency of Social Security,” King said. “And it’s easier to make changes to Social Security now than in the future.”

The other unmentioned assumption has to do with the wealth and income distribution. Since income has been shifted from the middle class to the wealthy in the last 30 years or so, the level of social security contributions from the middle class has declined below previous expectations.

If the SSA actuaries disclosed the impact of income distribution on their calculations, then I would be all for increased transparency. The Republicans would ignore that issue, but one can only hope that at least one politician who was looking out for the middle class would keep harping on it. Who is going to be the politician to do it after Bernie Sanders finishes his term as President?

I have put this story in the category of Greenberg’s Law of the Media.

If a news item has a number in it, then it is probably misleading.

In this case, there are several things that are misleading.

  • The numbers they give you are intended to lead you to one of the solutions. If they had put in the numbers that they left out, it might lead you to think of other solutions.
  • When the article talk about using fiscal gap accounting methods they say, “Under this accounting system, SSA’s projected unfunded liabilities would be $24.9 trillion (instead of the $10.6 trillion projected in 2088).” They don’t explain that you cannot draw the same type of conclusions from a larger number calculated by a different method, than you would if that same larger number had been calculated by the traditional method. In fact the implication is that the larger number is more “truthful” in a sense. It makes no sense to imply that.

If I didn’t make clear the reasoning behind my judgment, tell me why you think I am wrong, and I will try to tell you what I left out of my explanation. I can’t guess all the things that were going through your mind when you read this compared to all the things that were going through my mind when I wrote it.

Alan Grayson: No to ‘Fast Track,’ No to Trade Treachery 1

Alan Grayson explains the trade issue in the video, No to ‘Fast Track,’ No to Trade Treachery, that he has put on YouTube.

Grayson really sells the explanation of the problem.

The article on Hullabaloo, Grayson Launches New Trade Offensive, provides a commentary and a quote about something that caught my attention, and not necessarily in a good way.

Note the pivot, at 7:01, to his counter-proposal. It’s a fascinating, workable idea.

Warren Buffett, the greatest investor of our lifetime, has offered a plan for liberating us from the trade deficit. He would require importers to obtain certificates for the goods and services they sell us. The charges for those certificates could be used to increase Social Security and Medicare benefits, rebuild our roads and schools, and cut our taxes.

I support that plan, and I will be offering legislation to implement it. It is the light at the end of the tunnel for our economy.

Here is where I really started to get the feeling of the presentation going into demagoguery. This moment went by so fast in the video, that I could hardly think very deeply about the proposal. I am happy that there is the transcript to read at our leisure and think about carefully.

As I think about it, I see that there are attractive features to the proposal, but the consequences of any legislation based on this proposal are not easy to predict. Especially when we have not even seen the legislation.

Let me list a number of consequences that are easily foreseen.

  1. The cost of imported goods will rise to cover the cost of the certificates.
  2. The level of imports will decrease.
  3. Prices for what we do buy will rise because the cost of imported goods will rise, and because the cost of American made replacements for those goods will be higher.
  4. The goods being made in America to replace the imports will mean higher wages and additional jobs for residents here.

What we don’t know, and cannot predict is the net result from these changes as far as who will benefit and who will lose.  The ultimate question is whether or not the net benefit will be positive for the USA and for the rest of the world. Even that ultimate question is not that simple.  It will take years for this country and the rest of the world to digest these massive changes.  The trajectory of benefits will have upswings and downswings which will be painful on the downswings and perhaps feel good on the upswings.  We don’t know for sure whether the long term trend,  if we keep these new policies in place, will be up or down.

See my previous post Constructing Models of the Economy to get some idea of why there is so much uncertainty in making sudden large shifts in the rules.  That post tries to make it easier for you to picture that there are large number of very large forces that are in some kind of balance at any moment in history.  The economy can be quite sensitive to small changes in the balances, let alone large  changes in the balances.

I am not saying we should not make any changes because we will never be able to accurately predict the consequences.  I am saying that when we make changes, there is very little likelihood that they will turn out exactly as we had hoped.  We need to make plans that anticipate that we will have to be constantly measuring the impact of what we have done and be prepared to make corrections.

The larger  the changes and the more quickly they are done, the more difficult it will be to control what happens.  The irony is, that the way we got into our fix of needing to make large changes quickly, is that we weren’t monitoring the situation closely enough to make the small, gradual changes that we have needed to make as soon as we saw that deregulation and trickle down economics was not working at all as predicted.

This lack of foresight is the reason why there are large and catastrophic events in history as we swing wildly between one extreme and another.

It is not easy to figure out how quickly or how slowly we need to go.  That is why we need to be wise as citizens, and we need to choose wise people to put in charge of implementing the desire of the citizens.  A large part of the wisdom we need to have is to have the humility to imagine how little we can predict the future.

Jeb Bush Backs Hike in Social Security Retirement Age

Social Security Works posted this on their Facebook wall.

Jeb Bush Quote

When we have too much unemployment already  and too much pressure to keep wages down, the last thing we ought to be doing  is trying to prevent people from retiring as early as possible.  How oblivious to the consequences of our actions can one person be?

Social Security Works linked to the National Journal article Jeb Bush Backs Hike in Social Security Retirement Age.

At his appearance, Bush said America’s demographic realities would force changes both to Social Security and Medicare, which he called an even “bigger challenge.”

“We have to be cognizant of that and recognize that someone in their 30s is not going to get the benefits under their current situation,” he said of Social Security.

What Jeb (John Elias Bush) Bush wants you to ignore is that technological changes bringing on ever more rapid automation will trump demographic changes.  Future society will require much less physical work to provide for all the needs of the people on earth than is true of current society.  We will have to choose how to deal with this fact of life.  Do we turn this into a society where every one can have a decent standard of living while equitably sharing in the minimal amount of labor that is needed?  Or do we concentrate the wealth and the work in the hands of the few, because we can eliminate the income and wealth  of all the people that are not “needed”?

This is an important decision that we in society will have to make.  We cannot avoid it.  We see which way the oligarchs want the choice to be made.  Are you going to let them trick you into accepting their choice?

If you find my prediction hard to believe, just mull over the changes we have seen in going from an agricultural society to an industrial one, and soon to a post industrial one.  Fewer and fewer people have been able to produce more and more per hour worked.  Can you project this trend into various possible futures? Can you imagine how impossible it was for people in the old agricultural society to foresee where we are today?

DFA [almost] Live: Bernie Sanders issues call to action

Democracy For America arranged a conference call with Bernie Sanders a few days ago. I participated in DFA Live: Bernie Sanders issues call to action. Below is an excerpt from an email I just received from DFA.

“Will you run for president in 2016?”

That’s the first question that Democracy for America Executive Director Charles Chamberlain asked Senator Bernie Sanders on Wednesday night’s DFA Live call — the question that everyone is wondering about. And here’s what Sen. Sanders said:

“I’m giving it very serious consideration, but for a decision of that magnitude and what it means to one’s family and friends, one has to make sure you can do it well. We are reaching out all over the country to determine if we can put together a grassroots organization.

If we do run, we will be taking on the billionaire class and all the big money interests, including the Koch brothers. We have to determine what kind of support is out there and if there is a willingness to mix it up with the big money interests.”

More than 3,200 DFA members signed up for the call and asked some very incisive and compelling questions: How will we repeal Citizens United? How can we expand Social Security and raise the minimum wage? What will it take to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal? And so on.

This is the very statement that made me realize that we might be better of spending our draft Elizabeth Warren efforts on Bernie Sanders instead.

Listen to the whole session below:

Here is a candidate who seems able to benefit from our efforts. Our efforts to draft someone who has never expressed interest in running for President seems less useful when their is an excellent alternative. If I didn’t think that Bernie Sanders was an excellent alternative, I would keep up my efforts to draft Elizabeth Warren.

If you want to contribute, here is the link to ActBlue contribution page associated with DFA and the conference call.