Social Security: The Coming Cave-in

From Huffington Post:

Robert Kuttner
Co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect
Posted: December 12, 2010 06:16 PM

If you think the Democratic base is mad at Obama now for making a craven deal with Republicans that continues tax breaks for the richest Americans and adds new ones for their heirs through a big cut in the estate tax, just wait a few weeks until Obama caves on Social Security.

How will this occur? The deficit commission appointed by the President has called for an increase in the retirement age, as well as other cuts in benefits over time. And the deal that Obama made with the Republicans just gave deficit hawks new ammunition by increasing the projected deficit by nearly $900 billion over a decade. Social Security will be in the cross-hairs.

The deficit commission has tried to camouflage these cuts by emphasizing that Social Security benefits for the very poor would not be reduced, and might even be increased. But in the commission’s proposal, the cuts would affect middle-class retirees. Larry Summers, who is stepping down as Obama’s economic chief, has refused to rule out cuts.

Social Security has also been softened up by the element of the tax deal that temporarily cuts payroll taxes. Supposedly, the trust funds will be made whole by a transfer from general government funds. But this increases the deficit.

So Obama has created a kind of pincer attack on Social Security. One arm is the deficit commission, which has created the blueprint. The other is the tax-cut deal, which increases the deficit, adding to the artificial hysteria that Social Security is going broke. Meanwhile, the right is playing a very cute game, congratulating Obama for the deal. According to columnist Charles Krauthammer, writing in Friday’s Washington Post, “Barack Obama won the great tax-cut showdown of 2010.” Really? How did he do that? It sure looked like he got rolled. “The President negotiated the biggest stimulus in American history, larger than the 814 $billion 2009 stimulus package.”

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Paychecks Aren’t Fair, That’s Why We Need a Law

Women’s E-News:

By Susan Feiner

WeNews commentator

Sunday, December 12, 2010

After U.S. senators declined to debate the Paycheck Fairness Act in November, Ann Michaud commended them for doing so in a Newsday opinion piece. Susan Feiner tackles Michaud’s arguments, starting with her analysis of the wage-gap figure.

(WOMENSENEWS)–The U.S. Senate decided in November not to open debate on a bill to strengthen current law against gender-based wage discrimination.

The Paycheck Fairness Act was supported by President Barack Obama, among others, as a means of closing the pay gap between women and men performing the same job. The act would have allowed workplace conversations about pay, leading to greater transparency and then hopefully, as in the public sector, greater wage parity.

A Nov. 16 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, based in Washington, D.C., found that half of all private sector workers are either expressly prohibited from discussing wage and salary information or that managers discourage them from doing so. Nineteen percent of all private sector employees can be terminated if they bring up the topic of pay with co-workers.

n a recent opinion piece in Newsday, the daily newspaper and Web site for Long Island, N.Y., pundit Ann Michaud called the Senate’s action correct. Michaud also invited Women’s eNews to find someone to weigh her words, which is why I’m here to take them on.

Women should be paid fairly, Michaud wrote. More women are primary breadwinners, she said, and women’s earnings gains have stalled. But Michaud balks at a law that would go so far as to make private salary information more public so women can see if their brethren are being paid more while doing the same or less.

Her main two reasons for this position: No. 1, the law is too intrusive on private work places. No. 2, the wage gap isn’t really as low as 77 cents on the dollar.

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For-profit colleges rake in hundreds of millions from post-9/11 GI bill

Student loans have become an immense burden on many students from lower middle class or working class families who looked at education as a way to improve their economic prospects.  Since the privatization of these loans even some student with an upper middle class back ground, brilliant people are finding themselves with advanced degrees from highly respected institutions, a couple of hundred thousand dollars in debt and no career prospects because Universities aren’t hiring and private industry is not looking for their skill set.

In 1980 when I went back to get a degree, I couldn’t afford to go to a four year school.  I could barely afford the two year school.  Even though the tuition for classes was less than the books I needed I still had to take a job at school, Pell Grants and student loans, in short all the student aid I could get.

I was on my own after school when it came to finding work, but career counselors had guided me into a growing (at that time) field.  In short the degree I earned was not a rip off.

In contrast a few years prior I had paid to go to “Modeling School”.  A privately run chain of for profit schools, they promised me placement in “their agency” and help starting out as a model.

They were a rip-off.

Now a whole bunch of people who have been ripped off by the privately owned education for pay institutions along with a number of our representatives in congress are voicing a need to regulate these degree for pay “schools”.

But at the same time “City Colleges”/”Junior Colleges” are being strapped for money (after all we can’t raise taxes and the state shouldn’t be responsible for schools)  while the privatizers circle like sharks smelling blood in the water.

Now comes a story about how these businesses are ripping off both veterans and the government while protesting their innocence.  The shrink from the idea of government regulation to insure they are not ripping off both students and the government, who guarantees the student loans with the same sort of overly dramatic dread  a vampire in a bad Hammer or Corman film viewed the rising of the sun or holy water.

From Raw Story:

By ProPublica
Saturday, December 11th, 2010 — 3:57 pm

For-profit universities collected about $640 million from the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill in its first year, according to a new U.S. Senate committee report. The boost to for-profits came at a time when the sector was subject to criticism for poor results and for leaving many students with unmanageable debts.

By aggressively recruiting members of the military, the schools have tapped a rich new source of government cash, in addition to the billions they’ve already absorbed from the federal Pell Grant program, according to Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, whose committee has been investigating alleged abuses at for-profit colleges.

ProPublica has posted a list from the Department of Veterans Affairs of the 500 schools that received the most Post-9/11 G.I. Bill funds. (For the list of all schools, contact Sharona Coutts

Recent government reports have highlighted problems at for-profit colleges, including recruiters lying to prospective students about the cost of courses, whether credits would transfer and future job prospects. The schools are under fire from the Department of Education for poor graduation rates.

“The for-profit colleges are rife with misleading recruitment practices, they are expensive to attend, they have huge profits, and have atrocious withdrawal rates,” Harkin said. “This raises serious questions about the share of military benefits that go to schools that have very poor outcomes.”

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WikiLeaks cables: Vatican refused to engage with child sex abuse inquiry

From The Guardian UK
Leaked cable lays bare how Irish government was forced to grant Vatican officials immunity from testifying to Murphy commission

Heather Brooke
The Guardian, Saturday 11 December 2010

The Vatican refused to allow its officials to testify before an Irish commission investigating the clerical abuse of children and was angered when they were summoned from Rome, US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks reveal.

Requests for information from the 2009 Murphy commission into sexual and physical abuse by clergy “offended many in the Vatican” who felt that the Irish government had “failed to respect and protect Vatican sovereignty during the investigations“, a cable says.

Despite the lack of co-operation from the Vatican, the commission was able to substantiate many of the claims and concluded that some bishops had tried to cover up abuse, putting the interests of the Catholic church ahead of those of the victims. Its report identified 320 people who complained of child sexual abuse between 1975 and 2004 in the Dublin archdiocese.

A cable entitled “Sex abuse scandal strains Irish-Vatican relations, shakes up Irish church, and poses challenges for the Holy See” claimed that Vatican officials also believed Irish opposition politicians were “making political hay” from the situation by publicly urging the government to demand a reply from the Vatican.

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Priced Out of those Oh so hip Cities like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles

When Tina and I realized we couldn’t afford to continue to live on Long Island she asked me where I would want to live.

I said, “Dallas.”  I had met people from the metroplex and they had told me that the cities that make up the metroplex, like Los Angeles had just about every sort of attraction one could want.  All sorts of sports teams, art museums, as big a selection of different cuisines and cultures as LA, cheap housing and a great music scene.

It also has its own gay ghetto.

And as I raved about earlier the, Grenada Theater.

When I was  in New York in 2002, the Village was still the Village, sort of and the East Village had the Charlie “Bird” Parker Festival. But Soho didn’t seem like some place artists could afford to live any more.

And like the Steve Earle song,

Now hell’s kitchen’s Clinton and the Bowery’s Nolita
And the East Village’s creepin’ ‘cross the Williamsburg Bridge
And hey, whatever happened to alphabet city?
Ain’t no place left in this town that a poor boy can go

From The Guardian UK:

Brooklyn’s Williamsburg becomes new front line of the gentrification battle

New York’s long cycle of gentrification has a new frontier – but the tattooed bloggers of Brooklyn know their chances of halting the march of commerce are slim at best

Paul Harris

The Observer, Sunday 12 December 2010

“It is huge. It is a kind of sterile feeling. This is not the kind of place that I want to shop,” said the 32-year-old freelance writer as she looked wide-eyed at gleaming aisles of beauty products, shampoos, a pharmacy counter and, incongruously enough, a giant walk-in freezer filled with beer.

It might be seen as odd to have such a visceral reaction to Duane Reade, a drugstore that seems to exist on virtually every street corner in New York. But this is not just New York. This is Williamsburg, perhaps the national capital for young “hipsters” trying to beat back the commercialism and standardisation that defines much of American day-to-day life. It is a place that prides itself – and has won fame – for rejecting the malls and big business brands of the rest of America.

So for many inhabitants, the new Duane Reade in the middle of the main drag of Bedford Avenue is not just a store offering cheap and convenient shopping. It is nothing less than an invasion of corporate America into their tranquil enclave of independent bohemians. It is, in short, the start of a battle for Williamsburg’s soul.

In the safer, less-corporate surrounding of the Blue Bottle coffee shop nearby, Nelson explained why she had founded a local campaign to boycott the Duane Reade store. “We simply do not need another drugstore here. It is not just an urban issue. It is a capitalism issue,” she said. Certainly the Blue Bottle is more typical of what New Yorkers – and much of America – associate with Williamsburg.

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Hip people who are different, bohemian and less interested in the pursuit of the god of money have been squeezed to the point where living someplace like New York or San Francisco takes so much energy there is little left over to follow one’s art or even enjoy any leisure time.

At the same time the ghettos and run down apartments, the lofts are being developed and sold to the wealthy elite.

While some cities still have cheap areas those areas are gentrified the moment the creative people move in and start making the place habitable.

The other day I was reading something about The Mission district in SF, I wonder if I would recognize the city.

The same for Berkeley.

And yeah a lot of people in the music scene here have a twang in their voice and seem retro in comparison to the plastic pop, but there is authenticity too.

Maybe Dallas should steal Austin’s logo “Keep Austin Weird” and make sure it keeps parts of Dallas weird.

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Galbraith: Whose Side Is Obama on?

From Alternet:

The fate of the entire country is at stake — we must reimagine our economy.

By James K. Galbraith
December 10, 2010
In a speech given on November 20, 2010 at the ADA Education Fund’s Post-election Conference at the Harvard Kennedy School, Galbraith asks who Obama is really working for, and demands that progressives seek leaders who will fight the good fight.

I want to raise a hard question — a question on which Americans are divided. It seems to me, though, we will get nowhere unless we realize where we are, what has actually happened, and what the future most likely holds.

Recovery begins with realism and there is nothing to be gained by kidding ourselves. On the topics that I know most about, the administration is beyond being a disappointment. It’s beyond inept, unprepared, weak, and ineffective. Four and again two years ago, the people demanded change. As a candidate, the President promised change. In foreign policy and the core economic policies, he delivered continuity instead. That was true on Afghanistan and it was and is true in economic policy, especially in respect to the banks. What we got was George W. Bush’s policies without Bush’s toughness, without his in-your-face refusal to compromise prematurely. Without what he himself calls his understanding that you do not negotiate with yourself.

It’s a measure of where we are, I think, that at a meeting of Americans for Democratic Action, you find me comparing President Obama unfavorably to President George W. Bush.

In economic policy it was said earlier we have a lack of narrative. [Earlier in the conference] Gregory King [of the AFSCME Union] asked why the people didn’t know that the Republican Party is uniformly and massively opposed to job programs, to state and local assistance, and to every legislative measure that might aid and promote economic recovery from the worst crisis and recession in modern times. Why is that that they didn’t know? Could it have anything to do with the fact that the White House didn’t tell them?

And why was that?

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We’ve Simply Run Out Of Room to Expand Fishing

Guess we’re going to have to rethink that ‘bounty of the sea’ thingie.


by Matthew McDermott, New York, NY
12. 8.10

Sorry to be the downer on the already depressing subject of overfishing, but a new study in the journal PLoS ONE (coming to TreeHugger via Mongabay) just reinforces the notion that we’re fishing the world’s oceans at rates far in excess of what they can take. Though the spatial expansion of what we’re fishing has actually declined since the mid-1990s, this isn’t because we’ve gotten much better at conservation, but is “rather an indication that we’ve simply run out of room to expand fisheries.”

Those of the world of the study’s lead author Wilf Swartz, whose work notes that since the 1950s the global catch of fish has increased 500%–going from 19 million tons in 1950 to 87 million tons in 2005, with the 1980s and 90s seeing the greatest expansion.


Report co-author Daniel Pauly says,
”This method allows us to truly gauge the impact of catching all types of fish, from large predators such as bluefin tuna, to small fish such as sardines and anchovies.”

Read the study: The Spatial Expansion and Ecological Footprint of Fisheries (1950 to Present)

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Saturday Night at The Grenada Theater

A couple of weekends ago we saw Girl In A Coma and the Dresden Dolls at the Grenada.

Tonight we saw a show with performers closer to our age group with a lot more gray hairs in the audience.

Clay McClinton

Marcia Ball

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