Democracy or Plutocracy? A Chart

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.



We, the People

Wealthy Few

One Person One Vote

One Dollar One Vote


Limited Government





Taxes on the Wealthy

Tax Cuts for the Wealthy


Budget Cuts

Jobs programs

Bank Bailouts



Express Lanes for 2 or More People

Express Lanes for 2 or More Dollars

Security Lines at Airports

Special First-Class Security Lanes at Airports

Public Schools

Private Schools

Public Investment

Private Investment


Public Transportation Private Jets
Accountability Impunity
Rule Of Law Above The Law
Transparency Secrecy
Sustainable growth Polluter Growth
Medicare-For-All Healthcare For Profit
Clean Elections Rigged Elections
Savings Accounts Offshore Accounts
Credit Card Debt Credit Default Swaps
Union members Serfs
Layoffs Payoffs
Homies Cronies
Grassroots Astroturf

Feel free to add additional contrasts in the comments.
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Cut Social Security To “Save” It From Cuts?

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Should we cut Social Security to “save” it from cuts?
Just two days after the President pledged during the State of the Union address to improve Social Security “without putting at risk current retirees” and “without slashing benefits for future generations” the program is again being subjected to widespread, misleading attacks in the media.
With the headline Social Security fund will be drained by 2037, AP ran a (since-changed, original is still available here. It is worth comparing the original with the revised.) op-ed story that began,

Sick and getting sicker, Social Security will run at a deficit this year and keep on running in the red until its trust funds are drained by about 2037, congressional budget experts said Wednesday in bleaker-than-previous estimates.

The CBO story about Social Security is part of a larger overall budget deficit projection, the result of the recent vote to give more tax cuts to the wealthy. The AP story, widely echoed in the media, is instead focusing only on Social Security. But it is not “news” that the trust fund will be exhausted in 2037 (assuming continuing poor economic and wage growth — read this and everything Bruce Webb writes about Social Security at Angry Bear), it is the projection that had been understood for years. However, using better economic assumptions that could result from policies that increase the wages of working people and reduce the concentration of wealth the trust fund does not run out at all.
Even so, in 2037, under these bad-case scenarios, Social Security will still be able to pay 78% of projected benefits, which are higher than today’s benefits. So in this poor-case scenario, if nothing is done, recipients will face a cut of 22%.
Saying that we need to cut Social Security now because it might — might — have to be cut 22% in 2037 is saying we need to cut it to “save” it from cuts.
Deficit Commission Recommendations?
The AP story wrongly stated that the “Deficit Commission” had made recommendations to increase the retirement age and cut the program through reduced cost-of-living increases. In fact the commission was unable to agree on any recommendations.

A debt commission appointed by President Barack Obama has recommended a series of changes to improve Social Security’s finances, including a gradual increase in the full retirement age, lower cost-of-living increases and a gradual increase in the threshold on the amount of income subject to the Social Security payroll tax.
Obama, however, has not embraced any of the panel’s recommendations. Instead, in his State of the Union speech this week, he called for unspecified bipartisan solutions to strengthen the program while protecting current retirees, future retirees and people with disabilities.

To assist with its anti-Social Security formulation the AP story claimed “experts” (plural) are calling for “reform” by quoting one “expert” (singular) from the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute.
Running A Deficit?
Conservative outlets are expanding on the CBO report, claiming that Social Security is running deficits — as long as you don’t cont the interest that the program’s bonds earn. For example, note the use of the word “effectively” in CNS’ CBO: Social Security to Run $45 Billion Deficit in 2011

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports that Social Security will effectively run a $45-billion deficit in 2011 and continue to run deficits totaling $547 billion over the coming decade.

National Review, uses the word “broke” in CBO: Social Security Now Officially Broke, and claims the interest is only “camouflage,”

Today’s CBO report has some bad news about the deficit. But CBO has some really, really bad news about Social Security: It’s officially broke.
… But there’s a bit of camouflage attached: If you include the “interest” that the federal government “owes” the fictitious Social Security “trust fund,” then the program is in the black.

And so on…
Cut The Program To Save It From Cuts?
So does it make sense to cut the program to save it from cuts? The real agenda behind calls for cuts is so that the money does not have to be found elsewhere to repay the trust fund. The trust fund masked the harm done by tax cuts, and undoing tax cuts is what will be needed to pay back the money that working people have set aside for retirement,
Claiming that Social Security needs to be cut, or the retirement age raised, so that Social Security needs less funding is like your bank telling you that you need to cut back on food so they won’t have to pay you back the money you put into a savings account.
Update – As this was posted AP released an astonishing new attack, Social Security posting $600B deficit over 10 years. Ignoring the program’s huge trust fund and that there is no deficit at all when interest paid to that trust fund is counted, AP writes,

Social Security will post nearly $600 billion in deficits over the next decade as the economy struggles to recover and millions of baby boomers stand at the brink of retirement, according to new congressional projections.
This year alone, Social Security is projected to collect $45 billion less in payroll taxes than it pays out in retirement, disability and survivor benefits, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday. That figure swells to $130 billion when a new one-year cut in payroll taxes is included, though Congress has promised to repay any lost revenue from the tax cut.
. . . But the new projections show nothing but red ink until the Social Security trust funds are exhausted in 2037.

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Social Security Fight Not Over

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Tuesday the President pledged to improve Social Security “without putting at risk current retirees” and “without slashing benefits for future generations.” With the State of the Union speech out of the way Progressives can claim some credit and breathe a little bit easier for a while. But the fight is not over — it never is. The door is still open for new attacks. And Social Security’s attackers never, ever, ever, ever give up.
Demonstrating that, Ross Douthat in the NY Times calls President Obama’s statement of support for Social Security “evasion,” lamenting the “looming insolvency of our entitlement system.” Others in the “conventional wisdom” machine continue to demand cuts to ward off the threat of future cuts, claiming the cuts will “save” the system from cuts.
There is one and only one reason Social Security is such a topic of discussion and that is because it is a target of the corporate-conservatives who denigrate government itself. Social Security is government, therefore it just can’t be true that it works well, helps people and is the right thing to do. But it is. All the facts line up on Social Secuirty’s side, so they have to use trickery. They have to claim “insolvency.” They have to claim that life expectancy is longer now — even though they are referring to the effect of infant morality on statistics.
If Social Security’s attackers truly want to “save” entitlements they would address the cost of health care in this country. They would look at the rest of the world and realize that the only thing that can work for that is some form of Medicare-For-All.
What Digby said,

I’m glad that he said he didn’t want “fixing” Social Security to come at the expense of the vulnerable or by restricting benefits, but like the AARP I think danger lurks in the fact that he spoke about it in the context of deficit reduction. Best to be vigilant on this one.

By the way:

Let’s Keep the Success Going
You did it! You helped the Campaign for America’s Future sound the alarm to President Barack Obama that he must embrace jobs, not Social Security cuts. And he got the message. But the fight isn’t over. And we need your help to keep fighting.

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State Of The Union—Infrastructure And Jobs: Two Problems, One Solution

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Tonight, when President Obama gives his State of the Union address, he will be facing a nation that has millions of infrastructure jobs that need doing and millions of people out of work.
The President is planning to address these two problems with a proposal to modernize our infrastructure to bring our economy back to world-class competitiveness. Two problems, one solution. And, for good measure, we are hearing that he plans to throw in investment in education.
Last weekend, President Obama gave a preview of his State of the Union speech to Organizing For America:

A New Course
The idea of investing in our people is a new course after 30-plus years of cutbacks and lowered expectations. Since the Reagan tax cuts for the rich we have been told that there just isn’t the money for government to involve itself in big projects, that we are on our own, government won’t be there for us. So people fear that our economy in a long-term decline. All around us we see crumbling infrastructure, people out of work, people who work but had their pay cut or have not seen a raise in a long time.
A new course turns us away from the conservative on-our-own model and sees us as a nation again, concerned about protecting and empowering and investing in our people.
Investing in Our People — Dividends For Decades
Investing in our people is an idea that got lost sometime back during the Reagan Revolution, and now this lack of investment has come home to roost. As a result of tax cuts and cutbacks we have fallen behind China and Germany and many others. The first-class competitiveness that we used to take for granted has fallen behind too much of the world. Fallen behind, fallen behind — we hear this again and again.
Investing in our people will pay dividends for decades. Investing in modernizing our infrastructure will pay for itself by restoring competitiveness.
Infrastructure work—the rail, bridges, roads, schools, courts, power systems and everything else that makes our way of life better and makes our economy stronger by providing the soil in which business thrives—needs to be maintained and modernized. We have fallen behind and have to do it anyway one of these days. Modernizing our infrastructure will put millions back to work and help our businesses in the world.

More To Do
But modernizing our infrastructure is just catching up. We need to go beyond that. Investment is great but is not enough. It is not just our fallen-behind infrastructure that is hampering competitiveness. There are other things that have to change. Our trade policies are also holding us back. We need to develop and follow a national economic/industrial strategy. We have to take on mercantilist nations, and move toward more balanced trade that actually trades rather than big-corporate schemes to pit workers against each other to destroy unions and drive down wages. We need to make China bring its currency up to market rates. We need to renegotiate all the NAFTA-style anti-worker “free trade” scams.
When you close the factory we can’t make a living! Will we take the steps necessary to revive American manufacturing, and revive American wages? To lift the economy, lift wages. If we can bring back good jobs with good benefits and start to rebuild our middle class, we can start to have a good standard of living again, for all of us, not just a wealthy few.
Here are Scott Paul and Richard Florida discussing manufacturing and innovation on the Dylan Ratigan show today:

Conservative Austerity — The Wrong Approach
On the other side of the aisle there are calls to cut back, to reduce investment in our people, to reduce education, to send even more to the wealthy few. This austerity is premature and unjust. It is just weeks since another round of huge tax cuts for the rich, and now they are arguing for slashing programs vital to the survival of the middle class and poor. The way to get out of the debt is to invest and grow out of the debt!
The President is taking us in the right direction tonight, and should be thanked and congratulated.
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Filibuster Changes Would Bring The Public Back In

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
We all want to see the Senate start working again, and be more democratic. We have all lived through the breakdown of the Senate and the damage this has done to our democracy and the public’s faith in government because of the abuse of the current rules. There is a vote likely tomorrow and we want to see real changes. There is a way to fix the problem and restore public interest in government at the same time: make them talk!
On the first “day” of a Senate session the rules can be changed. The Senate met January 5 but did not adjourn the session, which means that the first “day” continues. The Senate reconvenes tomorrow. There is likely to be a vote on rules reform tomorrow. And if the vote is not tomorrow, the Senate can go into recess instead of adjourning for the day, and continue in the “first day.”
There are rumors in every direction about what they might do about the dysfunction of the Senate. Rumors aside, one month ago every Democrat in the Senate signed a letter in support of changing the rules to require Senators to actually talk. This is the best outcome and there is no reason at all not to do this. If another “compromise” against democracy occurs, the public will be further demoralized. The country does not need another blow against trust in government.
Restore Public Interest
The public thinks this is how it is done. The movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” has cemented this in the minds of everyone. Unfortunately it isn’t how it has been done, and the result is that the public does not even know that the Senate is broken. They only know that “government” doesn’t work for them, and the change they need just does not happen.
If the Senate required Senators to actually stand up and talk, in the conventional understanding of what a filibuster is, it would restore public interest. It would be dramatic. People would notice. It is a show, with a purpose. When Senators stand up and talk and don’t stop the public wants to know why and they want to get involved. People would want to weigh in. This is the right way to fix the Senate. Just as in the movie, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, the public will have a chance to rise in support of the effort, or let Senators know they oppose it.
Please visit Fix The Senate Now for more information. And CALL YOUR SENATORS to tell them you support reforming the filibuster!
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Common Cause Going After Scalia and Thomas For Conflict

You may have heard that Common Cause has asked the Justice Department to look into conflicts of interest involving Justices Scalia and Thomas, the Koch brothers, and their vote to allow the Koch Brothers and other big-money corporate interests to put unlimited money into our elections. More than $300 million went from these corporate interests into the 2010 midterms, and that was just the beginning.
Go read, and sign this petition!
This Common Cause letter explains. It asks the Justice Department “to investigate whether Scalia and Thomas’ participation at Koch-sponsored private meetings represents a shocking and undisclosed conflict of interest when they ruled on the Citizens United case — which opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate political spending.”
Go read, and sign this petition!

Social Security Videos

Sign this petition: Tell Obama: Keep Your Social Security Promise
Spread these around:

“I believe that cutting benefits is not the answer. … Raising the retirement age is not the best option. … Let me be clear, I will not do either. … The best way forward is to first look to adjust the cap on the payroll tax.” – President Obama during the campaign.
From CAF’s Social Security: Keep The Promise.

“I’m 59 and I’m just trying to make it until I can retire at 62.”
From PCCC, click here.

“Even though I don’t get a lot of money I would be homeless right now.”
From Social Security Online.

“What polls the worst is cutting Social Security.” “It will destroy the Democratic Party.”
From Sam Seder Majority Report Radio Show.
Another from Sam:

“For the public cutting benefits is the problem, not the solution, when it comes to Social Security.”

Harry Reid defending Social Security.
From The Young Turks.
Sign this petition: Tell Obama: Keep Your Social Security Promise

Best Of The Left

Every day I download some podcasts, plug an earbud into my ear, and take the dog for a walk. One of those podcasts is Best of the Left Podcast and I thought I would recommend it. It’s great.
The dog:
Paddington is partial to good podcasts.

When You Close The Factory We Can’t Make A Living

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
In a signal of change in elite attitudes, Steven Pearlstein wrote a Washington Post op-ed, Chinese follow same old script (and they get the punch line), describing the cost-to-us of the business-as-usual game we have been playing with China. Pearlstein has seen the light: China has an industrial policy and it is working for them as a nation. We do not. We have a lassez-faire ideology that enables a few at the top of “Multinational Corp.” to get really rich moving manufacturing infrastructure to China, leaving the rest of us with no way to make a living. Next week President Obama can announce that he is changing that.
Pearlstein writes about China’s bullying mercantilism, how it benefits China, the cost to us, and says “Enough!” He makes a startling suggestion to address the problem: do unto them as they are doing unto us. He writes,

“The right response to these challenges would be for the president this week to laud China for the success of its economic policies and announce that the administration will begin forthwith to apply each and every one of them to Chinese exports into the United States. Subsidies and directed credit for local companies, buy-American provisions for government agencies and government contractors, currency manipulation, the rules on “conditional market access” and “indigenous innovation” – surely China could hardly complain if we were to pay them the highest compliment by embracing their economic model.”

Read that paragraph again.
Pearlstein goes on to describe how a national industrial policy brings advantages to China, while our everyone-in-it-for-themselves ideology hampers us,

“…China can strike deals that may provide short-term profits to one company and its shareholders but in the long run undermine the competitiveness of [our] economy. What’s good for GE or Honeywell or Rockwell is, in this case, almost certainly not good for America and American workers.”

The Establishment
This column is significant because Pearlstein is part of what you might call “the establishment,” a DC opinion leader, not part of the labor movement or a social-justice non-profit or, worse yet, an advocate for the unemployed. But here he is joining with us on the “far left” to say that we can’t keep going down this road — that it is time to see ourselves as a country of people who are in this together, with common interests. He actually makes the far-left argument that, “What’s good for GE or Honeywell or Rockwell is, in this case, almost certainly not good for America and American workers.”
Will he keep his job? Or will others join him and begin to see that this is all of a piece. Our trade deficit is part and parcel of our budget deficit and our terrible unemployment problem and our bank bailouts and our deteriorating infrastructure and our deregulation and our tax-cuts-for-the-rich and our on-your-own ideology and our corporate-financed elections and our slow economic growth.
Evergreen Solar
To illustrate the difference a national industrial policy makes Pearlstein uses the instructive example of Evergreen Solar, a solar panel manufacturer that made waves this month announcing it is closing down its US manufacturing and moving it to China. Solar panel prices are plunging because of Chinese-subsidized manufacturing, and “Evergreen can still make money in China because of the lower costs and considerable government subsidies offered by the government there.” But not here.
The NY Times covered the Evergreen Solar story last week, in Solar Panel Maker Moves Work to China. These snippets tall the story,

… But now the company is closing its main American factory, laying off the 800 workers by the end of March and shifting production to a joint venture with a Chinese company in central China. Evergreen cited the much higher government support available in China.
. . . Chinese manufacturers, Mr. El-Hillow said in the statement, have been able to push prices down sharply because they receive considerable help from the Chinese government and state-owned banks, and because manufacturing costs are generally lower in China.
. . . In addition to solar energy, China just passed the United States as the world’s largest builder and installer of wind turbines.

The article includes a reminder that we are, after all, talking about China,

… Evergreen’s joint-venture factory in Wuhan occupies a long, warehouselike concrete building in an industrial park located in an inauspicious neighborhood. A local employee said the municipal police had used the site for mass executions into the 1980s.

Business As Usual
China cheats. We don’t stop them. They manipulate currency. They restrict imports. They subsidize exports. They subsidize companies. They steal intellectual property. They coerce companies to give up proprietary technology. They do what it takes to win key strategic industries, regardless of treaties and laws. And why should they if we won’t stand up to this cheating and stop them? They watch out for themselves, and we do not.
Yesterday, describing China’s currency manipulation as part of an industrial policy, I wrote that China looks at the overall, longer-term picture, seeing themselves as a country of people with a common interest. We do not. They understand that attracting industries to China is good for China and its people in the long term. We do not.
We follow a corporate/conservative greed-is-good ideology that says that the interests of individual companies and a few wealthy people are the interests of the country-at-large, and if companies can make larger profits in the short term and a few people can get wealthy closing factories and moving them to China that’s just fine, even if it means a loss of jobs and of the country’s overall ability to make a living in the long term. This just doesn’t work for us as a nation. Or, as Pearlstein put it, “What’s good for GE or Honeywell or Rockwell is, in this case, almost certainly not good for America and American workers.”
Obama’s State Of The Union Opportunity
Next week the President delivers his State Of The Union speech. This is an opportunity to announce a new direction. He can lead us in a transition back to a nation that sees itself in this together as a people watching out and taking care of each other. He can reject the conservative vision of each of us on our own, following a greed-is-good ideology that enriches a few but just doesn’t work for We, the People. He can announce the formation of a bold national industrial/economic policy where we again lead the world toward greater prosperity. And he can announce that we are going to, as Pearlstein writes, “pay [China] the highest compliment by embracing their economic model” — meaning do unto China as China is doing unto us. Enough!
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We’re Paying For Everyone Else’s Defense

Robert Wright: Sharing the Burden of Peace

In economics there is something called a ‘collective action problem.’€ Suppose there’s a row of merchants, and all are bedeviled by a troublemaker who roams their storefronts, scaring off customers. All merchants would benefit from getting rid of the troublemaker, but it doesn’€™t make sense for any one merchant to bear the entire cost of the necessary policing. Collaboration is in order.
The collaboration can take various forms. In a shopping mall, merchants may split the cost of a security guard. In a sidewalk setting, security comes from the town’€™s police, whose costs the merchants share by paying taxes. Either way, the point is that, in the absence of such collective arrangements, no single merchant is going to assume the burden of fixing the problem –€” unless that merchant is willing to let the other merchants be what economists call ‘free riders.’€ In other words: unless that merchant is a sucker.
… Correct me if I’€™m wrong, but aren’€™t China and Iran really far away? I realize that both pose a potential threat to American security. But don’€™t they also pose a threat to lots of other countries that are actually in their neighborhoods? So, if we appoint ourselves world police, and foot the bill for a correspondingly gargantuan arsenal, aren’€™t we suckers?

Yes, aren’t we just being suckers by paying for this huge military so the rest of the world gets to use its money investing in their people?