Archive for the ‘Class Warfare’ Category

A lot of conservatives/Trump voters are confused as to why Liberals are saying that the tax bill Congress passed today will be bad for entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.  Below is a brief explanation as to why, but first let’s stop calling them “entitlements” because they aren’t.  It’s not like welfare, which you are “entitled to” if you meet certain criteria and into which you don’t have to contribute.  Call Social Security “deferred payments” or a “pension”.  For that matter call Medicare “pre-payed health insurance”.  But they’re not entitlements because you paid into them!  Okay, got that off my chest.

Social Security has always been a “partially reserved” fund.  In other words, like many pension funds, it was never “fully funded” 100%.  Simply put, every penny we have put in isn’t there for a lot of very complicated reasons I won’t get into here (see Note 1).  For the most part how much the fund contains at any given point depends on how well the economy has been doing and each generation pretty much pays for the next generation.  That’s why we hear stories like “Social Security only funded until 2034”.  That year could be later if the economy has a good run or it could come sooner if we have another recession/depression.  Medicare works similarly.

Since the health of those two “deferred payment” programs depends on the economy and the Deficit (see Note 2 at bottom) is one of the leading indicators and factors that affects the health of the economy, any increase in the Deficit forces the US to borrow more, which in turn increases our Debt.  The Tax Bill passed today (see Note 3) will decrease Revenue and Congress has not offset that decrease in Revenue by reducing how much we spend.  So the GOP, who used to accuse the Democratic party as being “Tax and Spend Liberals” has now officially become the party of “Taxes for Thee but not for Me and My Wealthy Friends”–a tried and true method to destroying any economy.

In the past one of the most important ways the GOP has tried to bring the deficit down is to make changes to Social Security and Medicare.  They can try to push back the age at which we can start receiving Social Security–this is called “full retirement age” (see Note 4).    The GOP will say they can save millions by just pushing back that age for you and I and it is true, it will save money.  But it will make our lives infinitely harder.  Maybe I won’t be able to continue working when I’m 67.  Last I heard they are talking about pushing it back to 70.  My grandparents died at 75. What if I pass away then?  That means I’ve been working since I was 14 and contributing to Social Security all those years and if I’m lucky I might get 5 years of benefits out of it.  That’s nuts and patently unfair.

Not only can they do that, they can change the formula for how much you can receive if you remain employed.  For now, if you try to get Social Security early, you can only collect a certain amount.  For example in 2015  your benefits would have been temporarily reduced by $1 for every $2 you earned above $15,720.   This “earning limit” gets changed every year.   So the GOP could say that your benefit is reduced by $1.50 for every $2 or say that the earning limit doesn’t increase (and therefore won’t help you keep up with Cost of Living Increases).

In regards to Medicare, they could start “means-testing” (again this is a GOP proposal that’s been around for a while).  This would mean the government would check to see how much you make and say that anyone making above a certain level must pay a greater percentage of Medicare costs.  On the surface this sounds fair.  But the fairness of it depends on what that “income level” is determined to be.  For example, the 2015 poverty threshold for a single individual was $12,082 / year.  Can you imagine living on that?  If you make more than that, the government doesn’t consider you poor.  The same principle will be applied to Medicare means-testing.  The GOP will push for a very low “means” and the already struggling Middle Class will be hit very hard.  If the Middle Class is dependent upon Social Security for retirement (and we have a good idea that they are, see Note 5 ) and the GOP plans on reducing those benefits along with Medicare benefits, then there is going to be a lot of elderly people really struggling.  In fact, an elderly care crisis has already begun.  The timing of this deficit increase, in order to give the wealthy more tax breaks, could not have been worse for the average American.

To sum it up, there are lots of ways that the GOP can affect these two programs that will hurt not only the Poor but the Middle Class, and they’ve been making noises for years that they can’t wait to get their grubby hands on them (Speaker Ryan has said he’s been dreaming of cutting them since college). By passing this tax bill they have essentially created a budgetary crisis for which they will now claim is the reason why they have to change the rules for these two programs. Anyone who voted for Trump and is happy about this Tax Bill better enjoy the pennies they get back in April because they’re not going to be happy further down the road when they have to resort to eating cat food.  Unfortunately it won’t be just Trump voters who will be eating kitty kibble–we all will.

NOTES:

  1. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/08/18/5-facts-about-social-security/  Just Google history of social security and you can drown in the details if you so desire
  2. Do NOT conflate Debt and Deficit.  They are NOT the same thing.  In simple terms, a budget deficit is the difference between what the federal government spends (called outlays) and what it takes in (called revenue or receipts). The national debt, also known as the public debt, is the result of the federal government borrowing money to cover years and years of budget deficits.
  3. “The plan would permanently drop the corporate tax from 35 percent to 21 percent, while also rewriting the individual tax rules to lower rates and restructure deductions. The plan would cut taxes in 2018 for the vast majority of households, with by far the largest benefits going to the wealthy. Many of the tax breaks are set to expire at the end of 2025, leaving a large section of the middle class to pay more in taxes. But Republicans promise a future Congress will intervene to prevent that tax hike from happening.”  from the https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/gop-tax-bill-passes-congress-as-trump-prepares-to-sign-it-into-law/2017/12/20/0ba2fd98-e597-11e7-9ec2-518810e7d44d_story.html?utm_term=.7cfa59492113
  4. I was born in 1970 so right now that means I can’t start collecting until I’m 67 years old.    Follow the link to find out what your full retirement age is.   https://www.thebalance.com/when-can-i-start-receiving-social-security-benefits-2894602
  5. https://www.forbes.com/sites/patrickwwatson/2017/10/12/boomers-are-not-saving-enough-for-retirement-neither-is-the-government/#5624b5d81a4d

Some quickies for you:

  • Dinesh D’Souza, asshat extraordinaire, is a big whiny child.  Those evil prosecutors are doing their job and trying to put him in prison.  How dare they?!  He’ll get probation and we’ll probably still have to see his idiocy on Bill Maher.
  • Conservatives are freaking out because the President saluted with a coffee cup in his hand.  I would rather have a latte in the middle of my salute than a Scottish Terrier.  And never mind about the real problems this country has because the paranoid, desperate, white, male base eats up this shit up.
  • Can I just say how much I admire Gabby Giffords?  She is absolutely amazing to have come back from that horrible tragedy in Tucson AND launch a PAC to fight against NRA extremism.  What’s even better?  It’s working.
  • If I hear one more liberal complain that the President isn’t liberal enough, is ineffectual and that Congress sucks, I’m going to go nuclear and remind them that it’s probably because they didn’t vote in the f*%!ing 2010 mid-terms.  Here’s just one very good example of how that has hurt and will continue to hurt us for years to come.
  • How effed up is that Emma Watson, of Harry Potter fame, gave a speech to the U.N. on feminism and as a result was threatened with sexual violence and having nude photos of her posted online. This kind of terrorizing online is getting worse, not better.  I don’t know the solution but I really feel for any woman who is harrassed and terrorized because she speaks her mind on the Intertoobs.
  • Love the fact that big tech companies are divesting themselves of ALEC.  If you don’t know who they are, they’re what’s wrong with America.  A group of corporate representatives and conservatives who draft “model” legislation that they then push using vast resources in multiple states.  Their laws which include gems like SB1070, Stand your Ground,  Voter ID, and many more are nightmares and they’re making headway in many state legislatures because people aren’t paying attention to what’s happening on the state level. They’re too busy hating the President (see “Coffeegate” above and Congress (lowest approval ratings ever) on the national level and worrying about things that aren’t immediate threats (Ebola, Isis, etc).
  • And speaking of ISIS, don’t you just love that we’ve gone to war and there was absolutely no debate in Congress?!  They’d rather have yet another vote on appealing Obamacare.  Never mind that the rising cost of healthcare has actually slowed down as a direct result of the law, which was one of the main points of it in the first damn place.  Who needs facts….right?

I’d better stop while I’m ahead.  Methinks I’m getting my mojo for political blogging back and it’s about damn time!

ht to John Cole over at Balloon Juice for writing about the modern practice of punishing people for crimes they haven’t yet committed

From the source article they cite at the NY Times:

“…risk scores are not based on the defendant’s crime. They are primarily or wholly based on prior characteristics: criminal history (a legitimate criterion), but also factors unrelated to conduct. Specifics vary across states, but common factors include unemployment, marital status, age, education, finances, neighborhood, and family background, including family members’ criminal history.”

In a way we’ve been doing this kind of things for decades but now they’re calling it “evidenced based sentencing”.  I’m gonna call BS on this and here’s why.

20+ years ago when I was a probation officer for the state of FL, I did both pre and post conviction sentencing reports–basically risk assessments. Back then the two biggest factors in recidivism for those on community supervision were known to be employment and positive family support. The inclusion of these things was actually a reform, meant to help offenders by putting them in the situation that would most likely lead to more positive results. Unfortunately, the “why” of it got lost in the implementation. It became a factor in how they were punished instead of how they were helped. And this came about during the Reagan and Clinton years with the resurgence of conservative politics and the “get tough on crime” wave of nonsense that swept the nation.

So judges would often sentence someone with a job and/or a stable home to live in to serve their sentence under community supervision and of course that meant that the poor would be more likely to go to jail. And the ability of a person who has been incarcerated to recover their lives was and still is infinitely more difficult than that of a person who was lucky enough to serve their sentence in the community. Basically it was always unfair.

It did get better over time in some jurisdictions but this was due only to 1) the progressive nature and quality of the judges 2) the quality and quantity of community resources (e.g., semi-independent living for the mentally ill, advocacy organizations that helped people coming out of the system to find jobs and homes, drug treatment programs with living spaces, etc) and 3) the progressive nature and quality of the officers doing the risk assessment. An officer could shade and characterize things to suit their own bias against the offender or they could choose to help.

For instance when we did a psi report one of the things we had to do was investigate the home address they proposed to live in.  We also had to interview family members.  If they didn’t have a home to live in or if the one they listed fell through, the officer was not required to but could contact family members–often people who cared about the offender but were not informed as to what was going on in their case would want to help. I don’t know how many times I was able to find a family member who was willing to take an offender into their homes but it was only because I put forth extra effort. Or if they were mentally ill and their family wouldn’t or couldn’t take them, I’d try to find a bed in a group home for them somewhere*. 99% of officers just left it at “they’ve got no place” so they aren’t suitable for community supervision.

That bias is now being given steroids by adding in things that the offender has no control over whatsoever. If their parents or siblings are assholes, how is that their fault? If you were born and raised in the ghetto and that’s where your family lives, how the hell are you supposed to be able to control that?  You’re in jail awaiting sentencing and you’re supposed to just pull a nice apartment in SoHo out of your ass?

As I mentioned earlier, the problem is that these things should never have been a part of the sentencing equation in the first place. The ONLY thing they should have EVER been considered for was in how to treat and help offenders. Unfortunately this country is so wed to being “tough on crime” that they’ve lost sight of the ultimate goal which is not only equality before the law but also reducing recidivism not just for society’s sake but for the individual’s sake as well.

Add on to this trend of incarcerating the poor and disadvantaged for simply being so, the use of blatantly biased drug laws, three strikes laws and the push to incarcerate non-violent offenders and voila you have the clusterfuck that is the American Correctional System.  We incarcerate more people than China, which has a population four times larger than ours.  Next time you hear a stupid bumper sticker talking point from a politician about being tough on crime.  Tell him to STFU because you’re not buying it any more.  Tell them you want to hear a detailed plan for reducing prison overcrowding, increasing the fairness in our justice system AND reducing recidivism.  I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it–You can’t reduce recidivism without treating the underlying causes and treating the underlying causes does not mean throwing everyone in prison.

___________

 

* Thanks again Ronnie Reagan for destroying the nation’s mental health institutions….you screwed the mentally ill for many generations……

The following news stories actually make me not only wonder if our species will survive for much longer but also if we deserve to survive our own stupidity and neglect.

  • The City of Detroit found 11,000 rape kits that were abandoned and never tested.  After testing less than 7% of them they identified 100 serial rapists and 10 convicted rapists.  So if that pattern holds and they test the rest of them, they can expect to discover several hundred more of these scumbag.  ht mistermix at Balloon Juice
  • The AZ legislature is pushing a bill that would allow people to carry guns into building even if it’s forbidden (if they don’t have lockers available you can ignore the ban).  They’ve also advanced the idea that some gun owners can carry even if there are lockers and ban.  And to make it truly impossible for local governments to forbid guns in their government buildings, they’ve approved and forwarded a bill that says any local government who enforces local ordinance over state law can be fined.  This is like the trifecta of stupid.  They’re begging for someone to go into government buildings and commit mass murder.  I certainly will be avoiding those buildings like the plague if this crap passes.  ht JM Ashby at Bob Cesca
  • New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, back when he was a prosecutor, let a child slaver off easy so that he could take down a political rival.
  • Pat Robertson, TV Evangelist, told a woman that having cancer was her own fault for not forgiving her abusive father.  Okaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyy
  • A new law went into effect in Michigan that says businesses and individuals who purchase private insurance must take out a separate rider to cover abortion care.  Essentially, if a woman needs an abortion for ANY reason and if she doesn’t have  a separate rider for it, she will have to pay out of pocket for the cost of that care.  So if I lived there, had a miscarriage and needed a D&C to shorten the process  and suffering so I could get back on my feet sooner, I would have to pay completely out of pocket for it.  Likewise for women who have become pregnant as a result of incest and rape.  That’s insane.  The real kicker is that there is not a single private insurance provider in the marketplace that provides this insurance.  This could not only bankrupt women and their families, it in effect nullifies Roe v. Wade, and will force women to seek out cheaper and more dangerous care for such things.  I hope the women in Michigan enjoy being second class citizens because it looks like the state is on target to vote the same politicians who’ve created these laws back into office.
  • Billionaires in the 1% are getting their panties in a twist and crying lots of salty tears because the rest of us are tired of having the economy manipulated while they gamble with our money and take what little wealth Americans have managed to accumulate over the last few decades.  The 99% have had the temerity to exercise their Freedom of Speech and the Right to Vote in more progressive candidates.  However, so far as I know there have been no lynch mobs or guillotine lines nor any proposed by anyone of significance in any “likely to happen” fashion.  The 99% are simply using the peaceful system of governance and the wonderful mechanisms given to us by the Founding Fathers.  However, reading some of the recent comments by the 1% (here’s a few examples here and here) might make one think that we are in the midst of a communist peasant uprising (or fascist style takeover depending on which historical example they erroneously choose).  Truth is, if we were in such a state, their heads would already be on pikes.  In reality nothing is happening to them and that’s the stupid thing.  We should be curtailing their almost godlike power over our economy and our elected officials. Their message gets broadcast loud and clear.  We hear about their perspective 24/7 on Fox News, read their whining on major websites and news sources (in addition to reading about their phenomenally ignorant take on history), and suffer under the vagaries of the worldwide economy which they essentially control.  As Jon Stewart said the other day, they make money regardless of how the economy fares.  So why should they give a crap about us? They don’t and the majority of Americans haven’t yet grasped this fact and what it will mean for this country, and indeed the world, in the long run.  Until Americans decide to stand up and pull up our pants, they’ll be back there having their way with us and complaining that its hard, nay dangerous, to be a billionaire.

Jon Stewart on The Daily Show sometimes gets on my nerves with his “both sides do it” tendencies, but in a recent segment absolutely decimates Eric Bolling and Fox News coverage of food stamp fraud.  Video here:  http://www.hulu.com/watch/608697

For those “over the pond” folks who cannot access the video, here’s a summary.

Jon shows Eric Bolling calling him out.  Tape of Bolling saying he is going to take Jon “to school”.  After making fun of Bolling for this ridiculous call out, Stewart walks through their hypocrisy step by step.  He points out that one hippy (who was used as THE example of food stamp fraud on 6 different Fox shows) does not represent the millions of poor Americans.  But okay, we don’t have to argue that point.  Let’s address how much fraud there actually is.  So he show that food stamp fraud is about $3 billion annually and is not anything to sneeze at.  Jon then compares that to the amount of money not paid by corporations due to loopholes in the U.S. taxes every year, which amounts to about $4 billion a year.  Then he shows a clip of Bolling saying that the money lost due to unpaid corporate taxes of “$4 billion is a pittance, a pittance!” in the larger scheme of things.  So $3 billion lost in our effort to feed poor Americans is too much but losing $4 billion to corporations every year is a pittance.  Hmmmmm……

Stewart then asks why do they, meaning Fox and conservatives, think this?  He shows clips of them talking about corporations being “job creators”.  He then shreds this next point like a master.  JP Morgan was instrumental in causing the recent Great Recession that affected the entire world.  They sold sub-prime mortgages and derivatives as triple A investments and the bottom fell out.  They created a whole lot of poor people. Did you know that JP Morgan Chase also administers the food stamp EBT program for 24 states making hundreds of billions a year on that contract alone?  Did you know they get paid per customer?

Jon then supposes that JP Morgan must put that money back into our economy by creating jobs…that’s what conservatives and Fox News claim.  Turns out that is not the case.   To handle the customer support calls on the food stamps program, JP Morgan hired offshore operators who get paid $3.50 an hour.  That’s right–the job creators are creating jobs alright, just not in the frigging U.S.    So no matter what happens, corporations win if the rest of lose and they always make sure we lose.  After all, it’s in their best interest, which is making a profit.

Stewart sarcastically explains this business model for us:

“But don’t think of it as JP Morgan shorting homeowners.  Think of them as going long on hunger.”

He follows that massive wallop with another as he ends the segment.  He says:

So what I’m getting from Fox is this….Exploiting government largess while reprehensible and morally corrupting for an individual is a-okay for corporations.  

Then there appears a picture behind Stewart of a little girl and carton of milk and he says:

So, maybe this will help.  Don’t think about food stamps and head start and programs like that as feeding and helping a small child.

As the milk carton disappears from the picture, Stewart finishes with:

Think about it as investing in promising start-up with a liquidity problem.  

It was an absolutely brilliant takedown.