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« Liberal Outrage: January 2011 | Main | Liberal Outrage: March 2011 »

Liberal Outrage

"We're burning the furniture to heat the house"

Attempts to retrieve natural gas via "hydrofracking" in Pennsylvania are dumping radioactive material into the drinking water.


By fnord12 | February 27, 2011, 3:32 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (1)| Link



Everybody wins, i guess

TPM:

In a new Kaiser Health poll, just 52% of Americans knew that the health care reform bill signed into law by President Obama is still in place. Meanwhile, one fifth -- 22% -- of all Americans believe that the law has been overturned, while another 26% aren't sure what's up with the law.
...
The results are a shocking finding given how contentious -- and highly publicized -- the battle over health care reform has been. Republicans made dismantling the health care overhaul a central plank of their midterm platform.

People who like the bill get to keep it, and those that don't can just assume it's been repealed. We all get to occupy our own reality. In my reality, i've decided that President Bernie Sanders has enacted Single-Payer.


By fnord12 | February 24, 2011, 5:59 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Glenn Greenwald has a question

Link:

For two years now, the Obama DOJ has been defending the constitutionality of DOMA in federal courts around the country. In response to objections from gay groups, Obama officials -- and their supporters -- insisted that the President had no choice, that it's the duty of the Justice Department to defend the constitutionality of all laws enacted by Congress, and that it's dangerous for the President to pick and choose which laws to defend or not defend. That's actually a reasonable position; there is a genuine danger in having the President selectively defend Congressional statutes (although many past administrations have refused to defend particular laws where they believed they could not in good faith do so). Although I believe it is appropriate in rare cases for the DOJ to refuse to defend a statute or even affirmatively argue for its unconstitutionality (provided it continues to enforce the law until it's repealed or struck down), there is a valid concern on the part of those who argue -- as Obama supporters did for the last two years -- that it's never appropriate for the DOJ to refrain from defending a statute or, at least, that it would be wrong to do so in the DOMA case.

But for those loyal Obama supporters who spent two years defending the administration's DOMA position on this ground: if they have even a minimal amount of intellectual honestly, shouldn't they now criticize the President's reversal, this new refusal to defend DOMA? If they really believed what they were saying for the last two years -- that a President is required to defend the constitutionality of all statutes -- then shouldn't they be vocally condemning Obama now for doing exactly that which they insisted he has no power to do?


By fnord12 | February 24, 2011, 11:52 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Shorter Roger Cohen

Pensions for police and firemen in New York are too high, so teachers getting paid $54K/year in Wisconsin should lose their right to unionize.


By fnord12 | February 23, 2011, 3:06 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Getting to the heart of the matter.

Donald Rumsfeld memo:

This memo was sent on April 7, 2003, to then-Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith. Rumsfeld's subject line read, "Issues w/Various Countries," and it reads:
We need more coercive diplomacy with respect to Syria and Libya, and we need it fast. If they mess up Iraq, it will delay bringing our troops home.

We also need to solve the Pakistan problem.

And Korea doesn't seem to be going well.

Are you coming up with proposals for me to send around?

Thanks.

This is literally the entire memo. No, it's not a parody.


By fnord12 | February 23, 2011, 11:08 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Social Security

In my post on 401ks, i quoted a line that mentioned "uncertainty about the future of Social Security". It was incidental to the article and i was going to just ignore it, but it's been bugging me so i had to come back and correct it.

Despite all the fear mongering you may be hearing, Social Security is actually doing just fine. Here's the story:

In the past, current Social Security benefits were paid by current workers. So the current generation of workers supports the previous. In the 1980s, people realized that when the baby boomer generation retired, there would be more retirees than current workers. Due to the fact that our GDP continually increases (so a smaller group of more productive workers could support a larger group of retirees), this wasn't going to be a catastrophe, but there was going to be a gap. In order to fix it, Alan Greenspan worked with Ronald Reagan and the Democrats in Congress (led by Tip O'Neil) to increase the payroll tax that funds social security. This was probably the most regressive way to fix the problem, but it did fix it. The Social Security Administration began developing a surplus, basically putting money in the bank so that when the boomers retired, it could make up the gap.

(This next paragraph is irrelevant to the debate but i'm adding it just in case it comes up... in the 2000 presidential election campaign, there was a debate about what to do with the surplus. To date, it had been kept as an untouched fund - you may remember Al Gore getting made fun of on SNL for going on and on about a "locked box". The Republicans wanted to 'borrow' the money and include the funds in the general budget. The Republicans won, and now the SSA holds treasury bonds instead of actual dollars. But they'll come due and get traded in for actual dollars when they are needed. So, like i said, irrelevant.)

Now, it was estimated that Social Security would have to start dipping in to the surplus fund between 2012 and 2014. It'll probably be sooner rather than later because with the current recession, people are going to be retiring earlier (which also could mean they'll take the early retirement packages, which means SSA pays out less benefits in the long run). With the surplus, everything will be fine until about 2037. At that point, the surplus runs out and the SSA will be obligated to pay out more than it will take in until our demographics shift again (when all the boomers die, essentially, but it's a little more complicated than that).

Does that mean the fund will be completely bankrupt and go out of business? No one gets any social security at that point? The country goes bankrupt?

No. It means one of two things: Either in 2037 people start receiving 80% of their guaranteed benefits instead of 100%, or the government steps in and covers the remaining 20% out of the general funds budgets. Neither would be a catastrophe.

And that's assuming that no new laws are passed. Right now, there's a very simple and obvious change that would fix the problem completely. Currently, you only pay the payroll tax on your income up to $107,000. If you make more than $107,000, you pay the payroll tax as if you only made $107,000. So if you make $120,000, $250,000, $1million, etc., per year, you're paying less of a percentage of your income into Social Security than people who make $107,000 or less. Eliminating this cap would close the Social Security gap completely.

My opinion is that in addition to doing that, we should also raise the payroll tax in general so that we can actually increase Social Security benefits, either by lowering the retirement age or by increasing payments so that older people can actually live off Social Security. As we saw in the 401k post, people are generally not very good about planning for their future and many people wind up at retirement age without enough savings. Plus with our seemingly increasingly deeper economic downturns, people are forced into unemployment earlier and unable to find new jobs. Having a lower retirement age and/or higher benefits would help. But i'll concede that essentially forcing people to save for retirement is a bit of a Nanny State thing, so i'm willing to debate it.

As for the current proposed solution of raising the retirement age, that is absolutely nuts. First, as we saw above, the coming 'catastrophe' is really about reducing future benefits. So we are going to solve the problem of reducing future benefits by... reducing future benefits? Looking at that solution in its best light, all we are doing is reshuffling the benefits around. It solves nothing. At worst, what it does is ensure that only people that can survive to the higher retirement age will receive any benefits. Poor people who won't have enough savings to make it to age 70 or whatever, and people with physically demanding jobs would couldn't possibly work that long, will never see any money from Social Security, while those who do have money and/or jobs that permit them to work until 70 will get 100% of their benefits. Ridiculous! Better that everyone get 80% benefits than those who need it least get 100%.

Republicans and opponents of Social Security have done a fabulous job of sowing panic about the program, despite the facts. Obama and the Democrats either actually believe it or feel like it's pointless to resist the rhetoric, so they also seem ready to make a benefit-reducing compromise. It needs to be resisted. We're better off letting things reach "catastrophe" in 2037 than make any of the changes currently being discussed.

Finally, and this is really a separate discussion, our long term deficit problems are actually due to rising medical costs. The recently passed health care bill actually addresses those problems to a degree. If we want to go further in addressing our deficit problems, we have to do more on the health care front. A public option would be a good start; single-payer would be even better. Social Security has nothing to do with our deficit problems since it is funded entirely by the payroll tax through 2037.


By fnord12 | February 21, 2011, 8:10 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



401ks no substitue for actual pensions

Ummm... no kidding?

The 401(k) generation is beginning to retire, and it isn't a pretty sight.

The retirement savings plans that many baby boomers thought would see them through old age are falling short in many cases.

The median household headed by a person aged 60 to 62 with a 401(k) account has less than one-quarter of what is needed in that account to maintain its standard of living in retirement, according to data compiled by the Federal Reserve and analyzed by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College for The Wall Street Journal. Even counting Social Security and any pensions or other savings, most 401(k) participants appear to have insufficient savings. Data from other sources also show big gaps between savings and what people need, and the financial crisis has made things worse.

It's a great time to raise the retirement age for social security! And force public employees to give up their pensions!

And i don't think the answer is to dump more money into that sinkhole.

Vanguard Group, one of the biggest providers of 401 (k) plans, has changed its advice on how much people should save. Vanguard long advised people to put 9% to 12% of their salaries--including the employer contribution--in their 401(k) plans. The current median amount that people contribute is 9%, counting the employer contribution, Vanguard says.

Recently, Vanguard has begun urging people to contribute 12% to 15%, including the employer contribution, because of the stock market's weak returns and uncertainty about the future of Social Security and Medicare.

Some 401ks don't even offer a guaranteed return option, so you're basically stuck with stocks and bonds, hoping that you don't retire during a downturn. And it seems like more companies are dropping the matching employer contribution, leaving the program with nothing but a tax deferral. I think you're better off stuffing money in your mattress.

Someone likes 401ks, though:

Initially envisioned as a way for management-level people to put aside extra retirement money, the 401(k) was embraced by big companies in the 1980s as a replacement for costly pension funds. Suddenly, they were able to transfer the burden of funding employees' retirement to the employees themselves....

They were a gold mine for money-management firms. In 30 years, the 401(k) went from a small program to a multi-trillion-dollar industry supporting thousands of financial planners and money managers.


By fnord12 | February 21, 2011, 7:46 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Not being entirely serious...

...but now that we're emerging at a consensus that presidents don't get a lot done during their second term, and acknowledging that Obama is stymied by an economic crisis he inherited, and assuming that a Republican would have had to have done a lot of the same basic stabilization things that Obama did, doesn't it make more sense for us to help a really awful and easily defeat-able Republican get elected in 2012 so that we can vote them out in 2016 to take advantage of the next "first 100 days" burst of legislation before everything gets gummed up again? Otherwise, how long are we waiting until we actually see some new legislation of any importance. (My assumption is that a "third term" Presidency like George H.W. Bush after Reagan doesn't result in the 100 day burst. Actually, i doubt Biden will run for president. Who exactly do we have on the bench? (I'm free, if anyone is interested.))

As an aside, the bills that Yglesias lists at accomplishments during Clinton's first term were in fact truly awful pieces of legislation. If those are the sort of "accomplishments" we're waiting for, let's not bother.


By fnord12 | February 18, 2011, 12:34 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



LCD Soundsystem and the free market.

Yglesias again:

This is my current understanding of the dilemma. Optimal allocation of LCD Soundsystem tickets requires demand-responsive ticket pricing. But good rock bands are not composed of narrow-minded amoral profit-maximizers. Consequently, they're motivated to price tickets at a lower level than the market will bear leading, in turn, to middlemen getting the rents. What's needed is a way for bands to price tickets at demand-responsive levels in a way that's consistent with the norm that the guys in a cool band shouldn't be narrow-minded profit-maximizers. The best solution here, I think, is charity.

Update: Atrios says "Just play more shows.", which is what the band is actually doing.


By fnord12 | February 17, 2011, 10:40 AM | Liberal Outrage & Music | Comments (0)| Link



What's your life worth?

Based on this NYTimes article (via Yglesias), here's the number various Federal agencies use when determining the monetary value of a human life when determining policy.

AgencyUnder BushUnder Obama
EPA$6.8 million$9.1 million
FDA$5 million$7.9 million
DOT$3.5 million$6.1 million

By fnord12 | February 17, 2011, 10:19 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Asteroid violation

Crazy libertarians:

On the other hand -- and at the risk of confirming Mark Kleiman in his belief that libertarians are loopy -- I don't speak for all libertarians, but I think there's a good case to be made that taxing people to protect the Earth from an asteroid, while within Congress's powers, is an illegitimate function of government from a moral perspective. I think it's O.K. to violate people's rights (e.g. through taxation) if the result is that you protect people's rights to some greater extent (e.g. through police, courts, the military). But it's not obvious to me that the Earth being hit by an asteroid (or, say, someone being hit by lightning or a falling tree) violates anyone's rights; if that's so, then I'm not sure I can justify preventing it through taxation.

By fnord12 | February 15, 2011, 2:00 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



No decline in America's education ranking

You always hear that America's schools are in decline, and the annual rankings of the US vs other countries seems to support that, but it turns out that it isn't true (also see Daily Howler). Turns out we've always been at the bottom of the list.

As Kevin Drum says:

Now, we're still below average among these dozen countries, so this is hardly a glorious result. But we aren't doing any worse than we did in the supposed glory days of the 50s and 60s. We're doing better. And as Mathews says, "If we have managed to be the world's most powerful country, politically, economically and militarily, for the last 47 years despite our less than impressive math and science scores, maybe that flaw is not as important as film documentaries and political party platforms claim. And if, after so many decades of being shown up by much of the rest of the developed world, we are improving, it might be time to be more supportive of what we already doing to fix our schools."

By fnord12 | February 15, 2011, 12:24 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Is it because you don't get paid more?

Krugman shows that Americans are working longer than they used to, but it's more prevalent in higher income brackets. He attributes it to an increased desire to make money (contra David Brooks). That may be true in the top-most brackets, but i suspect the discrepancy between the lowest and middle brackets is because the lowest paid workers are probably hourly, and companies do their best to keep those workers at 35-40 hours (to avoid having to pay overtime) or under 20 (to avoid paying any benefits at all). Salaried workers in the middle tiers are more likely to be FLSA exempt, etc., and therefore companies can "ask" them to put in more than 40 hours, stay late, work weekends, etc., without having to pay them any more.


By fnord12 | February 15, 2011, 12:20 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



It's a state rep, so i shouldn't really care, but still...

Kansas GOP Rep Connie O'Brien:

REP. O'BRIEN: My son who's a Kansas resident, born here, raised here, didn't qualify for any financial aid. Yet this girl was going to get financial aid. My son was kinda upset about it because he works and pays for his own schooling and his books and everything and he didn't think that was fair. We didn't ask the girl what nationality she was, we didn't think that was proper. But we could tell by looking at her that she was not originally from this country. [...]

REP. GATEWOOD: Can you expand on how you could tell that they were illegal?

REP. O'BRIEN: Well she wasn't black, she wasn't Asian, and she had the olive complexion.

...
O'Brien has been the target of scathing media coverage since her remark, and numerous Kansas Democratic Party lawmakers have asked her to apologize. For her part, O'Brien counters that she's been told she's "got olive complexion" and that she's not going to apologize until she's "had time to think."

To be fair, in the full transcript, it seems there was also an issue about the woman in question not having a driver's license. But O'Brien's response to Gatewood's question is the telling point here.

I'm tired of everyone being asked to apologize for the things they say. She didn't make a mistake. She didn't spill her oatmeal on someone by accident. She's dumb, she's a racist, and she said what she thinks. You can't just apologize for that.


By fnord12 | February 15, 2011, 10:33 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (1)| Link



Keep your government out of my ________

Link.

25% of Food Stamp recipients don't believe they've participated in a government program.
40% of Medicare recipients.
44% of Social Security recipients.
60% of Home Mortgage Interest Deduction participants.

Maybe the government needs to hire a (better?) PR firm?

Update: Similarly, Fewer Want Spending to Grow, But Most Cuts Remain Unpopular.


By fnord12 | February 14, 2011, 12:44 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Vermont keeps looking better

Ezra Klein interviews the governor of Vermont, who is taking advantage of a clause in the ACA that allows states to set up their own health care system. He's going single-payer.


By fnord12 | February 11, 2011, 8:45 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Not quite a correction

Last month i linked to an NYT article talking about how the Obama administration was in disarray over their economic policy. It certainly helped explain why they've seemed so ineffective. But Brad DeLong basically says the article was garbage.

Either way, unemployment is still 9%.


By fnord12 | February 9, 2011, 11:05 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (1)| Link



Time warp?

Weirdly anachronistic political cartoon.


By fnord12 | February 9, 2011, 9:41 AM | Comics & Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Common ground

Didn't think it could happen, but here's some interesting positive news: Tea Party Republicans team up with liberal Democrats to block the renewal of key provisions of the Patriot act.

It's not over yet, of course. There'll be arm twisting and re-votes. But it's a nice start.

Update: Well, not the Tea Partiers, exactly:

You'll likely hear some media accounts saying that the "Tea Party" wing of the GOP was responsible for beating back the Patriot Act, but that's not quite true. Of the 26 Republican "nay" votes, only eight came from the massive freshman class, and many of those generally associated with the right-wing faction -- including Michele Bachmann and Allen West -- voted with the GOP leadership in support of the bill. Indeed, looking specifically at the 52 members of the House Tea Party Caucus, 44 of them voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act.

Tea Partiers, in other words, generally backed the bill, their rhetoric about "limited government" notwithstanding.

But while it wasn't Tea Partiers who were responsible for the outcome, it's extremely unusual for 26 House Republicans to blow off their leadership on a high-profile vote on anything.


By fnord12 | February 9, 2011, 9:09 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



What if Mitt Romney had been elected president in 2008?

Brad DeLong:

I see only two key policy differences between RomneyWorld and ObamaWorld. Had Romney been elected president in 2008 we would not have repealed the military policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." And had Romney been elected president in 2008, Elizabeth Warren would not now be assistant to the president for Consumer Financial Protection.

Otherwise? As far as policy is concerned, we would be smack on the mark that we are on now.

But the politics would be very, very different.

I agree with DeLong's conclusions, but he uses it as an opportunity to attack Republican political hypocrisy whereas it makes me wonder why Obama's policies look so much like a Republican's.


By fnord12 | February 4, 2011, 9:50 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Shoot for the moon

Some say Bill O'Reilly is the most reasonable of the Fox News crew.

About a month ago, Bill O'Reilly interviewed David Silverman, president of American Atheists, and the Fox News host thought he had a trump card to bolster beliefs in the supernatural.

"I'll tell you why [religion's] not a scam, in my opinion: tide goes in, tide goes out," O'Reilly said, in all seriousness. "Never a miscommunication. You can't explain that. You cannot explain why the tide goes in.... See, the water, the tide comes in and it goes out, Mr. Silverman. It always comes in, and always goes out. You can't explain that."

The notion that tides can be -- and have been -- explained by the effects of the moon and its gravitational influence on the spinning earth completely eluded the Fox News personality.

Apparently, O'Reilly heard about some of us mocking him over this, so he released a video for "premium members" of his website, including a challenge to those who've scoffed at his evidence of the supernatural.

"Okay, how did the Moon get there? How'd the Moon get there? Look, you pinheads who attacked me for this, you guys are just desperate. How'd the Moon get there? How'd the Sun get there? How'd it get there? Can you explain that to me? How come we have that and Mars doesn't have it? Venus doesn't have it. How come? Why not? How'd it get here?"

Nicholas Graham noted, "In fact, prevailing scientific theory is that the Moon formed as the result of a massive impact with Earth."

Right, and the reason Mars and Venus don't have Earth's moon is because it's Earth's Moon. Other planets have their own moons. It's really not that complicated.


By fnord12 | February 3, 2011, 11:53 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (1)| Link



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