Wednesday, April 25, 2012

When Austerians Attack

Nothing brings the deficit concern trolls out of the warped woodwork like the annual report on the Social Security trust fund. Sanity takes a holiday, and  before you know it, there is an epidemic of punditry panic. Social Security will definitely maybe might start running out of money in a quarter century. It's been broke since it started, say the reactionaries,and it's still broke. The myth continues year after year after year. We have to fix it now, now, NOW! Fixing it means privatizing it, snipping a little here, slashing a little there, and government apparatchiks showing up on TV looking really, really grim and serious. Heaven forbid that they suggest raising or even scrapping the contribution cap on the FICA payroll tax to make the trust fund whole and healthy.

The Glum and The Feckless: Labor, HHS and Treasury

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones, (a supposedly left-leaning publication named after an anarchist founder of the labor movement), thinks old people can share the sacrifice by having their monthly checks "modestly" curtailed to make sure their great-great-great grandchildren can also retire someday. Apparently Mr. Drum thinks cutting back from two meals to eating once daily is a reasonable sacrifice, given that the average check barely keeps recipients alive, and given that grocery and gas prices are spiking sharply. Drum is a bona fide member of the Centrist Fetish Club and a fan of the debunked Cat Food Commission, whose mantra was that impoverished old people should share the sacrifice with Goldman Sachs. Grandma forgoes home heating and Lloyd Blankfein gives up the tax deduction on his corporate jet, and everybody is sacrificially ovine and equally happy. Blecch.

But do you know what really has the knickers of the markets and their government representatives in a twist? The fact that hordes of sick and damaged people are going on Social Security disability or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Those funds will start dwindling in only a few short years, because the ill and maimed are becoming unreasonable by taking the easy way out and not finding another nonexistent job. To hear at least one so-called expert tell it, The Long Depression is causing a mass outbreak of malingering.

A business editorial writer at the New York Times named Eduardo Porter has written a rather odiously indignant piece for today's paper. He suggests that once a person is deemed disabled or too sick to work, it instills a sense of laziness and apathy. His solution is to get those malingerers off their aching duffs and make them go back to work. He does not say where the jobs are, because that is not his job. His job is to tell the suffering masses to just get a job:

Every year, a vitally important issue gets lost in the din: disability insurance payments, which account for almost $1 out of every $5 spent by Social Security, are growing out of control.
Disability insurance takes too many workers out of the job market prematurely. It reduces their lifetime income and, to top it off, slows economic growth. Yet in contrast to the heated arguments about Social Security and Medicare, fixing the disability problem inspires hardly any discussion.
Notice it is not disability or disease that takes too many workers out of the job market. It is the insurance program itself! The social safety net is a hammock, allowing sick people to laze around when they should be working and slaving through the pain, and growing the economy and making the Plutocrats of the .01 percent even richer.

According to Porter, it is just way too easy to fake pain and get on the disability dole for life. He utterly fails to mention that recipients are periodically reviewed as a matter of course: depending on the length and severity of the condition, reviews are conducted as soon as six months after approval for temporary disability, or as infrequently as every seven years should the problem be deemed severe or permanent. 

And Mr. Concern Troll says since the benefits are so awful, why do we force these poor people to live on such a pittance? They would be so much better off working through the agony. Not once does he suggest a correlation between the increased numbers of disability cases and the health insurance crisis. It never occurs to him that people are putting off going to the doctor because they lack funds and that treatable diseases are needlessly turning into catastrophes and bloating the disability rolls. He does not mention the fact that 50 million and counting are uninsured. He fails to take into account that more and more employers are not even providing health insurance and that people who don't receive necessary care when they get sick are not productive workers. And it naturally does not occur to him that we can always raise the monthly stipend for our most vulnerable citizens by cutting the crap and scrapping the cap. (wouldn't that make a nifty campaign slogan?)

As a business writer, Porter turns to the economic, rather than the medical, profession to back up his specious claim that we Americans are just getting magically healthier all the time:
“The health of nonelderly Americans is improving consistently, and we have more technology to help people at work,” observed Mark Duggan, an economist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who has advised Social Security on the assumptions underpinning the trustees’ forecasts. “Yet every year the fraction of people on this program is growing.”
So, where is all this fantastic technology that helps disabled people work? Since most employers are cutting back wages and benefits, where are the examples of miracle bosses humanely helping slightly damaged workers keep their jobs? Porter doesn't offer any. 

Porter thinks we should rein in the unhealthy and jobless and cut off their lifelines. He is really ticked off that these disabled people even have the nerve to qualify for Medicare benefits after a two year waiting period. It does not seem to bother him that individuals too sick or injured to work are denied government medical coverage for 24 long months after they have been certified unemployable.  (The only exemptions to the two year wait are kidney dialysis patients and those with terminal Lou Gehrig's Disease.) This cruel irony of the government certifying people disabled while knowing some of them will get worse or die for lack of medical care is totally lost on him. The truth is that when some  people finally do start getting their paltry monthly checks, they suddenly  become too rich to qualify for Medicaid. And that their pre-existing condition makes purchasing private coverage too expensive. Oh well.

I'd never heard of Eduardo Porter before reading his opinion piece today. He must simply be the newest member of the Centrissimo Club, where David Brooks, Thomas Friedman and Kevin Drum schmooze, enthuse and peruse over the 99% plight. The Four Horseshit Men of the Apocalypse.


Anonymous said...

Kevin Drum--his peces in Mother Jones these past months are my reason for unsubscribing fro what used to be a worthwhile source.


Jay–Ottawa said...

The Social Security Trust Fund (SSTF) is forever in trouble, forever in the crosshairs of the Austerian Hunt Club. Maybe it's time to cull the beast called Social Security. Yesterday, it was Paul Ryan pulling the trigger. Today, according to the picture nested in Karen's post, the trigger is being squeezed -- ever so regretfully -- by three straight shooters from the Cabinet of Populist Barack Obama.

Could it be some interest group has arranged for hired guns to drill Social Security between the eyes to make it a sure bet that ALL retirement savings forever after would be funneled into the sure hands of Wall Street? Whatever is publicly owned and operated should be privatized, right? Social Security runs its whole operation with less than 1% administrative costs. Scandalous waste; privatize it!

Until our budget-starved beast of a country is forced to auction off the Bill of Rights and most of the Rocky Mountains for resale by profiteers, Social Security is the biggest and handiest pot of money to continue the gambling spree on Wall Street.

As it turns out, the SSTF never borrowed money from the Treasury, and it has never contributed to unbalanced budgets or the debt. In fact, it is the US Treasury itself that keeps draining the SSTF in return for IOUs. So shoot the piggy bank.

It's Treasury that owes Social Security the billions it borrowed to pay off other creditors. Treasury owes the SSTF more than the US has borrowed from China. And all of us have a rough idea how deeply indebted the US is to China. Social Security holds 17.9% of the debt; oil exporting companies 11.7%; China 9.5%. So blame Social Security.

As former Senator Don Riegel argued a year ago this month, it's Timothy (The Frown) Geithner who should pay back his 17.9% IOU to the SSTF. Geithner and the Great Populist Barack Obama might also restore payroll taxes that are the "input" to the SSTF.

And how about an iddy-biddy-mini tax on the numerous transactions on Wall Street (much of it account churning on hapless investors). A transactions tax would help dig the nation out of debt and discourage gambling by the addicted 1%.

Never forget, it was Wall Street that got us all --the little guys as well as the big spenders -- into this mess with fake finance. If anybody should be drowned in a bathtub, it's the big bankers who killed Glass-Steagall so they could gamble with other people's money. My money, your money, the money of people in other countries. They're still doing it.

4Runner said...

A few months ago I accompanied my wife to the downtown Miami SS office so she could apply. The waiting room was crowded--with many younger people, some in their 20s. When we got to the window, I asked the clerk why so many young were there, she said simply "disability claims". While I don't wish to malign the disabled, I'm thinking there's gotta be some malingering involved with a few of these claimants. Fraud is rife in Florida, for sure. But not rooting it out has to be detrimental to all such social programs.

Karen Garcia said...

Hello everyone,
Gail Collins has a column on the boring presidential campaign. My response:

The constant barrage of horserace politics is starting to numb my mind. Flashy pictures of the Obamas are following me all over the Internet. Are you in? Join MIchelle, and show that you have have Barack's back! Send in $5 for a chance to win dinner with Barack and George Clooney, and feel right at home in a mansion full of $80.000-a-plate elites and special interests.

Then there are the Romneys, with their chances to win "a bite with Ann" and telling us know how charming and marvelous it is that women can leave the house. They try so shallowly to convince us they "get it." We don't have jobs, we're in debt, but don't expect the government to help you out, peons! There is dignity in hardship. Since Mitt is only second generation rich, so can you. Burn your bridges like he did, and be a vulgar vulture!

The news media informing us of the day's events? Fuggedaboutit. Tune in and be instantly informed of the latest gaffes, the latest polls, the latest variety show appearances, the mad whirl of the cults of personality. The cable channels are raking in wads of anonymous Citizens United cash, and they are not about to spoil things by broadcasting in the public interest.

If you want to maintain your sanity, get involved in citizen activism that has nothing to do with one percent presidential campaigns. Mark May 1st on your calendar. If you can't get to a protest, just refuse to buy anything that day, and turn off the TV.

Anonymous said...

Ok. Corrections: my fingers aren't very adept on this ipod. 'pieces' and 'from' should make my comment intelligible.

Anon z

Jay–Ottawa said...

It also strikes me as odd that so many young people would be filling chairs in SS waiting rooms. What data prompted Eduardo Porter to launch into his report on disability abuse? How many people, grouped by age cohort, are recipients (as distinct from applicants) of Social Security disability? For how many months or years? Is there a table, that takes into account the continuous rise in population, and shows radical upticks in the proportion of applicants and recipients over recent decades? Are there any figures, from Porter or others, on how many applicants turn out to be ineligible? Or how many recipients are later found to be malingering? Over all, what is the approval rate, or ratio of applicants to recipients, for SS disability insurance? In other words, how many of those young people, like the ones 4Runner and his wife saw, get turned away empty-handed? Has a large-scale investigation, by outsiders or a governmental IG, documented negligence on the part of Social Security's screeners? How much fraud was there in dollar terms in recent years? Is any attempt made to recover funds from cheats, and if so, what percent is successfully raked back?

Lots of questions. Here's another to assure us the Austerians have a sense of proportion. If there are sound measures, safeguards and penalties for abuse, like the ones alluded to above to frustrate disability cheats, would Timothy Geithner and Ben Bernanke be willing to apply the same kind of standards against Wall Street bankers? They received billions and trillions from taxpayers; the disability cheats took in ... what? ... thousands, maybe millions.

Karen Garcia said...

My sense is that the young people hanging out at Social Security offices are there to apply for SSI, which is a form of federal welfare. It covers disabilities such as drug addiction and ADD and the like. The monthly stipend is much less than the average social security check and is often coupled with Medicaid, unlike Social Security for disabled workers. The Social Security website has all the conditions covered.

Anyway... I just read Charles Blow's NYT post, which is an exercise in centrist fetishism. My reply...
Since when did the government help overextended borrowers? The last I heard, the government program (HAMP) designed to help underwater homeowners refinance was an abject failure. Foreclosure fraud became rampant and unpunished. A special task force designed to prosecute banksters remains an empty promise. Three months after President Obama announced it at his State of the Union address, the so-called task force doesn't even have an office or phones.

Meanwhile, the TARP bailout which saved the big banks turns out never to have been completely repaid to taxpayers after all. The rich got richer, and we got shafted.

The question is not if another financial collapse will occur, but when. What little regulation of the big banks was legislated via a watered-down Dodd-Frank bill is being defunded and defanged. Remember the Volcker Rule? It's been banished, right along with Mr. Volcker himself.

Mitt is indeed a mendacious miscreant. But while Obama inherited the mess, he teamed up with some of the same characters (Geithner, Summers) who created it. It has never been cleaned up.

You are right. We are not stupid.

Patricia said...

I love the "work till you drop" mentality. Why is it that money you pay in, to collect later, isn't yours and you are somehow supposed to be convinced you don't deserve it? Why is it that the Pentagons budget can never be cut but the elderly, the disabled and those that live in poverty can always do without. @ Jay the reason so many young people are applying for SSI disability (I know some who have)is because they can't get jobs and can't survive. Some of these people would work even with a disability, but there aren't any jobs with wages you can survive on. Another financial collapse will occur, you are right, then everyone will become serfs to the Bank Empire.

Denis Neville said...

Re: all those young people filling chairs in SS waiting rooms [many with mental health issues - bipolar, schizophrenia, personality disorders, etc.]

Karen’s right about SSDI. It doesn’t offer much to live on. Social Security benefits are based on how long one has worked [It is important to remember that SSDI is not “free money.” It is money that they placed, when working, into their Social Security Accounts before becoming disabled.], so monthly benefits will barely cover the necessities, such as rent, utilities, or food, not to mention money for medical care, transportation, insurance, etc. Many will not qualify for other public assistance, such as SNAP (food stamps), because they now make too much money with SSDI. Many barely make ends meet; many don’t.

At the hospital, I worked with many people needing SSDI assistance. It is not an easy, slam dunk process. One has to apply; then get an disability examination; then wait for a disability hearing (the waiting period is now well over two years); then receive a denial (most applications are denied the first time); then reapply for SSDI, doing it all over again, to receive yet another denial. Usually by this time, one has to hire a lawyer to reapply and repeat the same process. It can take three to five years before finally receiving approval.

It is a very time consuming and frustrating system. Many people with genuine disabilities have to live with their families, or others, as they can go through years and years of appeals.

I could not live on that, or like that. I am fortunate. But many have no choice.

Mittens and the “zombie-eyed granny killer” (faux Catholic) Paul Ryan will make their lives even more untenable.

Zee said...

I have heard so many arguments on both sides as to whether or not Social Security is going to go bankrupt in 1 year/20 years/75 years that I hardly ever listen to the discussions any more. If any of you out there care to try to persuade me one way or the other, well, take your best shot.

I do not want to see the truly disabled forced to live on less than a pittance. And, according to my friend @The Doktor, that is truly what the disabled receive; and, then, only after extreme efforts are made to finally persuade the Feds that one really is disabled.

Once again I have to point out to Progressives that some of us out here are willing to take a “haircut” on our Social Security benefits if it will help out those who have only Social Security or Supplemental Security Income on which to live.

In about four-and-a-half years' time, Mrs. Zee and I will both begin to draw Social Security benefits. Now I'm not saying that that money won't be welcome after another few years of inflation eats away at our other sources of income.

However, we could get by with somewhat less if it is used to help others like Dok—and other people that I know or have known.

Yet “means testing” is something that neither Liberals or Conservatives—except for a few Conservative pundits—ever seem to care to talk about. We've even told our local lefty Congresscritter that we are prepared to take a Social Security hit, and he seemed genuinely disinterested. Why is that?

Is it a fear that if means-testing is implemented, it will blow the whole program out of the water in the minds of taxpayers? I seem to recall that one of Social Security's selling points back in the 'thirties was that everyone was guaranteed a share, so that everyone was willing to “buy in.”

Well, I think it's time that we started to think about means-testing. I'm about three pages into my “Fair Share” rant (one of those Progressive “red flags” that perpetually alienate Conservatives) which I will try to share with @Valerie soon, and I'll try to include a “fair” way to implement means-testing, too.

Jay–Ottawa said...

I do appreciate it being brought forward, more clearly than I tried by clumsy indirection, that the Social Security Administration is not routinely stuffing money into the pockets of disability cheats. From what some of you report after research and professional observation, it appears the SSA’s screening process may actually be too tight, forcing broken youth to spend a lot of time jumping through hoops applying and reapplying for help, then waiting around for years for crumbs obtainable from no other source.

The point I was trying to make has to do with screening disparity and benefit disparity, something like the income disparity that gets too little play in the MSM. The deficit hawks keep homing in on Social Security for a variety of reasons: on one day it’s payments are said to be too generous or delivered too early in life, on other days the screening is lax, or its administration inefficient, or Wall Street could do it better – flimflam found in every hell-bound grifter's bag of tired arguments.

The elephant in the room, of course, are the loans, giveaways and protection for Wall Street – immense sums, real clubby dealings by the people's agents with certifiable criminals, and superquick payments without strings, some of the Fed’s giveaways literally done off the record in the middle of the night.

Every time this government’s overseers approach Wall Street they go blind. Voting records and poling numbers indicate most Americans are equally blind and go along with "reforms" targeting the young who are messed up and the old who are barely getting by. Wall Street looters, like the war profiteers, remain untouchable. We find it more satisfying to run down people with crutches and canes.

Willie Sutton was more clever – and more honest -- than our quiescent population and the Administration's deal makers. The big money? -- Willie knew exactly where it was.

And so I come away from these musings with a different conclusion from Karen’s reply to Charles Blow. We are stupid.

Anne Lavoie said...


I have read several times that you are willing to take a 'haircut' on your Social Security benefits, yet you are going to wait until 65 to file. Why not voluntarily take a haircut by filing at 62? Please enlighten us.

Zee said...

@Anne Lavoie--

Frankly, I guess that it just didn't occur to me to file at 62 as a way to volunteer for a haircut. I also don't expect that I'll need the extra dough at all in a mere six months, so why take it then?

(Actually, I will reach full SS maturity at 66, when I do anticipate needing some supplement to my income.)

Moreover, I guess I'd like to see something more "formal," or, in writing, as to what will be done with my voluntary cut before I accept one, if that's at all possible.

I want my share to go to help others on SS and SSI, not just back into the general fund to be mis-spent on the next war or Wall Street bailout.

I've also said before that I'm prepared to pay a somewhat higher premium for Medicare. That, I can't do anything about 'til I hit 65 and again, law-makers seem indifferent to the idea.

Zee said...

A couple of additional thoughts on Social Security fraud, “haircuts,” and related topics, in two parts to avoid the “character count” limit:

@Anne Lavoie--

I guess that I don't want my haircut to be a “voluntary,” one-family sacrifice, either.

I'd like to see it enacted as across-the-board law for everyone in my economic situation and above. And maybe even for those a little bit below my economic situation, too.

The Patriotic Millionaires claim that they want to pay more in taxes, but how many of them have simply drawn up a check for more than the amount they owe Uncle Sugar?

Well, none apparently. You can find out why not in their reply to this same question to them from Sen. Orrin Hatch:

If we're all in this together, well, let all of us who can afford some sacrifice, sacrifice together, too, not as “Lone Rangers.”

Zee said...


Hard to find out how much Supplemental Security Income fraud actually occurs out there. I was able to find only one estimate from a seemingly-reliable source, The Oregonian:

The authors of this 2008 article intimated that losses for fraudulent SSI claims might be as much as $11B at the time. I know, I know: a pittance in terms of the magnitude of the Federal budget. But roughly double the entire New Mexico State General Budget, and probably at least a few other small states.

SSI—which is not the same as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)—paid out $43B in 2008, so the incidence of fraud might be about 3.9%, which does not seem too terribly high:

I was not able to find any information whatsover regarding SSDI fraud.

Medicare fraud seems to be much better documented, and is in the neighborhood of $48B-$60B on outlays of $509B in 2010:

That's an incidence of fraud that's between 9.4% and 11.8%, which seems pretty high to me. I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine how many State General Fund budgets might be below $48B-$60B.

Progressives with whom I have argued the issues of government waste have told me that fraud is just something that I have to get used to as a cost for “doing the right thing.” Well, if accurate, SSI fraud seems pretty low, something that I can live with as the cost of doing business.

But I must say that I find a Medicare fraud rate of 10% to be just too damn' high, and something that I won't just roll over and accept.

I've remarked over at Reality Chex that I think that in general, Conservatives want to do the right thing by their fellow man, but they don't want to be taken for a ride, either.

I think that's why the “welfare queen” myth perpetrated by Ronald Reagan was so successful in turning Conservatives rabidly against the Great Society vision of Lyndon Johnson. (And yes, I know in retrospect that the “welfare queen” was indeed a rare occurrence, if not entirely mythological.)

And real government waste, fraud and abuse still captures the imagination of Conservatives, even when it's really just small potatoes. “Tip of the iceberg,” we think. Hence the outrage over the General Services Administration's hard-partying ways.

So far, the Obama administration has met the whole thing with a big yawn. Some GSA employees were fired, some were allowed to resign. Big fat hairy deal.

Well, I think that theft or misuse of government funds—indeed, the Peoples' funds—should be taken much more seriously. How many SSI recipients could have been supported on the $800+ grand or so blown by the GSA? How many SSI recipients could have been supported by the $48-$60B stolen from Medicare?

It literally is money stolen from the lame, halt and blind. Widows and orphans. The mentally handicapped. Society's most vulnerable.

Theft of government money should be a crime punished much more seriously than with a firing or resignation, and/ maybe repayment of the theft.

It should call for jail time comparable to that for armed robbery; but, before incarceration, put 'em in public stocks and provide a generous supply of rotten vegetables.

Progressives: punish government waste, fraud and abuse appropriately and win yourselves some more friends among Conservatives.

The Doktor said...

It's Hard out here For a Gimp!

I have been nudged by a friend to try and come up with something relevant on the topic of disability in general and payments or lack there-of specifically... I make no promises other than this; I won't tell any known falsehoods.

I'm already in pain from this exercise in typing so i just had a hydrocodone as I can expect things to get worse.

long story short;
From my perspective these programs suffer from the same phenomenon that afflicts anything decent; a few f'ups wreck things for the "most" of us who would not take advantage of a worthwhile program. But part of the problem is also vote hungry politicians on the left and right who enabled alcoholics and drug addicts to be able to get full disability benefits! Now that has been severely curtailed in recent years, but to a certain extent the damage has been done as far as an issue of credibility goes. There are way too many people on the dole who don't deserve to be, whether it's welfare, or disability or what have you. And once again it's an easy target for vote hungry politicians to call someone lazy who actually has a serious problem through no fault of their own, in comparison with someone who got hurt at work and should be getting workmans comp and going to rehab and or learning a new trade or discipline, or someone who got hurt performing some other dangerous activity and tries to get this type of compensation.
But the bottom line is what is someone supposed to do if they legitimately can't earn enough to live on anymore? That's where I'm at. I grew up being the butt of jokes, chased home from school, always having to give up the good parts of my lunch mom made for me or my lunch money, never being picked for sports, even the coaches made fun of me... I decided to prove them all wrong and taught myself how to be a mechanic and worked on every kind of car in the world, I was very good but reality started crushing down on me and I had to give it up. So I ended up in sales, and after a number of years even the effort of standing and smiling was too much for more than just a few minutes. So I opened my own business where I could name my own hours and make very good money doing very specialized work for wealthy people. Now I can barely do a few hours of work a week, I get up and take pain meds, get loosened up enough to move and work for a little while until the pain is so bad I'm exhausted and then I go sleep until I can get back up and do it all over again, usually two or three times a day, 7 days a week. I have multiple disabilities and the SSA still thinks I should go back to a sales position!

The Doktor said...

Part two;
By all appearances if I lied and said I was completely disabled and couldn't do anything AND signed over 25% of my claim to a lawyer I'd be in like Flynn. That 25% figure is right in the paperwork from SSA, once again we see the hands of politicians and special interests screwing things up for everybody. Democrats and Republicans.
As I have said before, I see Repubs as hardened criminals and the Dems as hapless flunkys who only occasionally voice any real opposition to the crimes being committed. President Obama has talked a good game, but his accomplishments in this arena are mixed at best.

Van Jones comes readily to mind as an example.

Like most of these issues there is no easy "one size fits all" fix! I truly believe it comes down to the need for new political parties, the very same belief that got me thrown off of Reality Chex, after I was so inconsiderate as to point out that the caretaker of that particular site was dead wrong on a number of issues, and of course the ultimate insult;
I didn't come to her pity party!

By way of example that too many people are on welfare who don't need to be, check out reality shows and youtube videos... how is it these otherwise able bodied people have so much time on their hands!?!

IMHO we need a living wage system that guarantees that nobody starves and also that there is no unemployment; if you can't or won't go find a job, one will be provided to you. You have to go to work. If you don't like it you can starve, prove your disability, or get a better job or open a business.
People like me pose an interesting problem; I want to work, I love to fix things, but I can't sustain any activity for very long, should I starve? Should I get partial disability? Should I get full disability with a clause that states that if I make too much money I may have to pay some back into the program?

Karen Garcia said...

Dear Doktor,
As one gimp to another, thanks for sharing your story. It always helps to have a sense of black humor, irony and dignity in the face of life's crap attacks.

Some of you have asked that I repost my Times comments here, so allow me to share responses to both Krugman and Brooks, respectively:

Even Paul Ryan had to publicly dump his literary free market heart-throb (Ayn Rand) this week when protesters at Georgetown University accused him of being a heartless austerian, because of his reverse Robin Hood agenda.

Reading about the uproar in Europe has been a vicarious pleasure. The fact that whole governments can collapse over this stuff gives me cause for hope -- hope that citizen revolts such as Occupy will strike fear and good sense into our own elite political class.

But old habits die hard, and the plutocrats are as tenacious as pitbulls when it comes to holding on to the 93% share of the national growth they've managed to seize since the 2008 meltdown. The One Percenters are structured to clamp down hard, and never let go until their victims are sucked dry and become limp as rag dolls. So it will take some intense obedience training in the form of regulations and higher taxes to whip them into shape. As beloved Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner put it in Portland this week, the wheels of justice turn slowly and you can't legislate away greed and stupidity. (He is another closet austerian, despite trying to talk the populist talk these days).

Spanish political scientist José Ignacio Torreblanca writes that harsh economic policies just serve to ensure that life will be Hobbesean: poor, nasty, brutish and short. It is time, he says, to call "Basta! to the nonsense of austerity!"

Is that a campaign slogan, or what?
Aside from the fact that government is not a business (despite what vulture capitalist Mitt Romney would have us believe), your premise that our politicians are loath to experiment doesn't hold up.

The power elites have conducted many an experiment over the years. They've been the mad scientists, and we've been the lab rats. How about that great experiment called the Graham-Leach-Bliley Act, allowing banks to gamble with customer accounts? The hypothesis of Greed is Good, that banks can regulate themselves, caused an explosion Alan Greenspan and his free market Ayn Randians never saw coming. We are still in tatters from that experiment: record numbers of foreclosures and foreclosure fraud by banksters, half of all Americans either in poverty or on the brink, half of all college graduates unemployed or underemployed.

And how about those Bush tax cuts that were supposed to trickle down wealth from the "job creators" to the hoi polloi? We are awash in something all right, and it isn't jobs or shared prosperity. And who can ever forget the grand experiment known as Iraq, and all those hearts and minds and oil and universal good will it was supposed to engender? It has instead spawned global blowback and a security state so massive that we ourselves have been caught up as pawns in the War on Terror and its civil rights abuses.

The results are in. But the Frankensteins won't take responsibility for the monsters they created.

Denis Neville said...

Zee said, “And real government waste, fraud and abuse still captures the imagination of Conservatives, even when it's really just small potatoes. “Tip of the iceberg,” we think.”

@ Zee – Since you think that “theft or misuse of government funds—indeed, the Peoples' funds—should be taken much more seriously,”

How about the big potatoes? Who are our biggest corporate welfare queens? The true leeches sucking the taxpayers dry with the eager complicity of their minions in Washington.

Conservatives: Let’s see who really is a deficit hawk and who is a deficit peacock. What tax breaks would you get rid of? What specific legislation would you change? How would you punish this kleptocracy? Win yourselves some more friends among Progressives.

Will said...

Let's be serious here: 800,000 bucks for a party in Vegas is a LOT of taxpayer money! Do you know we could buy a little more than one half of one Tomahawk cruise missile ($1.41 million each @ Raytheon) to protect our Homeland with that kind of cash? The nerve of those people from the GSA!

Zee said...


"The SSI program, or Title XVI of the Social Security Act 1611, provides monthly federal cash assistance of up to $674 for an individual and $1,011 for a couple (as of 2011) to help meet the costs of basic needs of food, shelter and clothing."

That's $8,088 a year for an individual, and $12,132. A pittance, for sure. I don't think that sum even brings an individual up to the Federal poverty level.

It should be more.

But that $800K+ would have provided this minimal benefit to about 100 individuals or 66 couples over the course of a year.

I don't see those numbers as inconsequential. And I get exceptionally angry when I think about the actual amount of money that our government likely pisses away on a daily basis.

So yes, I think the GSA partiers and others like them should do serious time, not just lose their jobs.

As to whether or not we should spend money on Tomahawk missiles, well, I also think that we need some measure of both guns and butter to keep our country safe.

Zee said...


I thought you would know me well enough by now to know that I oppose all government subsidies at all governmental levels--Federal, State and Local--to any business enterprises.

That includes everything from oil companies to solar panel manufacturers to Dubya's Texas Rangers baseball stadium sweetheart deal.

As David Cay Johnston said, "If it's a sound investment the market will make it. If the investment is unsound, why should taxpayers be forced to subsidize it?" -- Free Lunch

As for the Wall Street banksters who nearly wrecked this country--and may yet do so again--who received government bailouts and then awarded themselves bonuses for the great jobs they did, well, I could swear that I'm on record in this forum as believing that they should all be in the slammer, with their bonuses raked back in full.

If I haven't said this here previously, well, I'm saying it now.

My guess is that at the street-level--not in Washington--you would find many Conservatives who advocate exactly what I am advocating.

But you won't see that in Washington, because there are neither Conservatives nor Liberals there any more, only Corporatists.

So yes, by all means, let's roast the big potatoes with the small.

valerie said...


Thanks for weighing in. I know that you are in a lot of pain and sitting at a computer is hard, to say the least.

I love it when you comment and I love it that you call it as you see it - which definitely wouldn't go down well with a certain blog administrator who will remain un-named. I am surprised you lasted as long as you did! But you are welcome here - where we might snip a little at each other but all opinions, which are thoughtful and reasonable, are given due consideration.

While there are certainly hard-hearted Conservatives who want to throw the baby out with the bathwater - It is far more simple and less time consuming than having to fish the brat out of the murky suds - We lefties can’t open up the flood gates for exploitation either. What we all have to recognise is that no matter what system we have, crafty individuals will find a way to game the system to their benefit – be they on the small end of the system or the large end of the system.

I think part of the problem with everyone being provided with a job in exchange for a paycheck is that some people simply won't work. They will do what they did in East Germany, they show up and do next to nothing. So the burden of getting anything done falls on their fellow employees with a work ethic. I know people who have been in this situation and they said it was far better for these people to just stay at home than to take the job from someone who really wanted a job.

I don't really know what to say about these free-loaders. But I DO know, they don't live well on welfare and the money they spend goes right back into the local economy. If I contrast that with the big scammers who find ways to get the government to pay corporate welfare, well, they are certainly scamming FAR MORE as they suck at the teat of government.

I have come to the conclusion, that while we can and should try our best to filter out scammers ON ALL LEVELS, we are going to have some abuse no matter what we do - That is the cost of living in a First World society where we don't just throw people away like garbage.

My concern is that people who are trying to get off of Unemployment or are not getting sufficient Social Security or Disability are not getting the help they need and deserve. "By the grace of God" I have been blessed with pretty good health. And I am certainly willing to pay more in health care and more taxes to assure that my fellows who aren't get the care and support they deserve to live a dignified existence.

Zee said...


I, too, thank you for "weighing in" on this important topic.

I don't know that I can offer any additional response beyond what @Valerie has already said, except to thank you for your remarkable sense of self-reliance and optimism in the face of enormous adversity.

The Doktor said...

Part 3;

First of all; Thank you Karen!... for such an open, safe forum to have interesting discussions where someone might actually give a shit about my two cents worth...

I have been trying to read a book called "White Liberals and Black rednecks", it's a hard read you might say, but it's interesting because it stands so many of my prejudices ( we're all prejudiced in one way or another ) on their heads! e.g. much of African American slang is from slave owners which is from European ancestors! White Liberals have consistently argued for programs that actually force people not to work and have caused damage to poverty stricken communities, e.g. Welfare.

@Valerie, Hi There! For once I have to disagree with you, most people love to work once they find something they can actually do successfully. So, just because a few malcontents want to put sand in the gears doesn't mean we shouldn't have a machine at all! Telling millions of people to sit at home and wait for a check because somebody saw somebody else taking to many coffee breaks sounds like a bit of an over-reaction to me... >;- )

Every place I've ever worked ( 80+ ) there's been over achievers and underachievers, and I've been on both sides!

Earning your own way in life gives one a sense of purpose and accomplishment that can't be achieved any other way. It's what pulls people together instead of pulling them apart, it's a commonality of purpose to strive for something good as opposed to a sense of hopelessness waiting for the next calamity or failure with no hope of being able to actively affect your own destiny.

I can't imagine not being able to work, even if it was something that I may not now recognize as work.
Think Steven Hawking..... I'm not remotely suggesting I could ever even hold his piss bucket, but he has no physical abilities, and the "work" that he does is almost immeasurable....

I sure do miss you guys!