MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Writing in the New York Times, Thomas Edsall pens a thorough debunking of arguments for austerity. In particular, he provides a detailed analysis that lacerates the arguments made for cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits.
The only significant misstep in Edsall's March 6 commentary is the title: "The War On Entitlements." Medicare and Social Security are not entitlements; they are earned benefits that most Americans labor very hard to receive during the last stage of their lives.
Headline aside, Edsall launches a full bore critique of the notion of austerity measures such as raising the age at which one receives Social Security and Medicare, means testing, etc. The reality is that Social Security and Medicare are already flat regressive taxes – and the less affluent assume the biggest burden in terms of the percentage of their income paid toward these earned benefits.
Edsall explains, first of all, about the current inequities in how Social Security and Medicare are funded by taxpayers:
Earned income in excess of $113,700 is entirely exempt from the 6.2 percent payroll tax that funds Social Security benefits (employers pay a matching 6.2 percent). 5.2 percent of working Americans make more than $113,700 a year. Simply by eliminating the payroll tax earnings cap — and thus ending this regressive exemption for the top 5.2 percent of earners — would, according to the Congressional Budget Office, solve the financial crisis facing the Social Security system….
Medicare, in turn, is financed by a flat 1.45 percent tax on the first $200,000 of earnings for a single person and $250,000 for a married couple, matched by the employer, after which it rises by a modest 0.9 percent on all income above the $200,000 and $250,000 levels.
The Medicare and Social Security taxes are jointly known as FICA (for Federal Insurance Contributions Act) — or payroll — taxes. The combined FICA taxes are highly regressive. The non-partisan Tax Policy Center found that the poorest quintile pays a 7.3 percent FICA rate, while the top quintile pays 6.8 percent. The top 1 percent of the income distribution pays a 2 percent rate, and the top 0.1 percent pays just 0.9 percent. In other words, the rate paid by the poorest quintile is 8.1 times as high as the rate paid by the top 0.1 percent.
(Photo: Rosie O'Beirne)
WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
I received a letter from a friend this past week. It was a letter he should never have had to write, yet did so out of desperation. He is 80 years old, living off occasional writings and Social Security. He has Medicare, but no dental insurance, and that’s the problem. He needs dental work. A lot of dental work. $10,000 worth of dental work. Many dental insurance plans for individuals are so expensive, and give relatively few benefits, that many dentists suggest the premiums just aren’t worth it. Without the dental work, my friend, like many people in the country, will suffer significant additional problems. Infection is one. Poor nutrition is another. There are even links to diabetes and thickening arteries.
So, my friend sent a letter to his friends asking for help. Not a lot of help. Maybe $100 from each of us.
JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
When millions of Venezuelans and South Americans sadly pay homage to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, it’s a little hard for the U.S. authorities and corporate media to peddle the lie that he was a “communist dictator”. "
Quite the contrary…
Chávez demonstrated what a real Democratic leader does for the people of his country. Democracy was no myth to Hugo Chávez. That’s why it’s absurd to hear the U.S. corporate media (an extension of the oil and weapon industries) demonize Chávez in the attempt to paint him as a “dictator” and that he didn’t improve the conditions of poverty, which, ironically, was mostly created from U.S. corporate policies and intervention: reaping the profits-revenues from South American resources, everything from fruits to oil to coal, and leaving nothing for the people prior to Chávez’s leadership.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
With less than week to go before conservatives of all stripes gather for the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at Washington, D.C.’s Gaylord Resort and National Convention Center, it can be said without equivocation that the run up to the gathering has been just about as dysfunctional as the Republican Party itself.
While rebranding, rebooting, repositioning and the coalescing of the various competing factions within the Party might have been the main order of pre-CPAC business, instead tweets, email, texts, blogs, and radio rants have focused on who has or hasn’t been invited to speak, and which groups have been excluded.
A parade of the usual suspects (Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich), and wannabees (Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, and Paul Ryan) will grace the stage. NRA President David Keene and its Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre are also scheduled speakers.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT No jail time for bankers
On Wednesday, March 6, US Attorney General Eric Holder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, admitting that the Department of Justice believes that Wall Street financial titans are too big to jail. According to the American Banker,
Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the size and interconnectedness of some institutions has "made it difficult for us to prosecute" in some cases, in response to a question from Grassley, the panel's lead Republican, about the HSBC deal.
"I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if we do prosecute — if we do bring a criminal charge — it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy," said Holder, who cautioned he was speaking generally and not about the HSBC case specifically. "I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large." (Italics added by BuzzFlash at Truthout.)
Addressing bank size is something lawmakers in Congress would "need to consider," he added.
In essence, the chief law enforcement officer of the United States conceded that he cannot uphold laws governing financial fraud and manipulation in regards to those who run large financial entities. His argument is that holding individuals criminally accountable for imploding the economy would endanger the economy. Say what? Isn't Holder just giving them further license to plunder away?
Holder's response to the Senate Judiciary Committee came about in a discussion of the hefty fine applied to HSBC for what would appear to be multiple criminal violations of the law, but not accompanied by any charges against individuals.
BuzzFlash at Truthout has repeatedaly chastised the Department of Justice (DOJ) for its ongoing disregard for enforcing the law when it comes to Wall Street. Regarding HSBC, one of our commentaries was "When Big Banks Like HSBC Are Not Prosecuted Criminally, It May Be Killing Us":
Matti Taibbi has a devastating article in Rolling Stone on how the soon-to-be-departed head of the Department of Justice (DOJ) criminal division, Lanny Breuer, admits that the DOJ won't prosecute banks too big to fail, such as HSBC and UBS – among many others. Why?
Because as Taibbi quotes Breuer: "Our goal here is not to destroy a major financial institution."
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Philip Zimbardo’s TED Talk on Abu Ghraib and “The Psychology of Evil” is up to 2,374,000 hits. Apparently people are hungry to know about the deep psychology of American foreign policy.
And perhaps they’re hungry to look, again . . . again . . . at the Abu Ghraib torture photos that first surfaced in 2004. Cruelty and evil inspire a twisted awe; they pull us into the black hole of our own heart, where we see ourselves in hideous distortion.
“Nothing is easier,” said Dostoevsky (quoted by Zimbardo in his presentation), “than denouncing an evildoer. Nothing is more difficult than understanding him.”
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The most basic instinct of humans is self-preservation and keeping free from personal harm. So when you have a nation where police arrest more people for marijuana possession than for violent crime, it would appear that protecting citizens from physical harm takes second place to enforcing archaic laws demonizing a weed that induces euphoria and an urge to eat.
After all, alcohol is socially sanctioned as a way of relaxing with friends or alone. No one gets busted for sipping from a can of beer on the front porch or drinking champagne at a swanky charity fundraiser.
Yet despite the action of 18 states to legalize the medical use of marijuana -- and in Colorado and Washington State to decriminalize it for recreational use – arrests at the local and federal level are proceeding full steam ahead, to the detriment of public safety – given a limited amount of law enforcement resources.
The Huffington Post recently highlighted an FBI report that revealed, "in 2011, marijuana possession arrests totaled 663,032 — more than arrests for all violent crimes combined. Possession arrests have nearly doubled since 1980, according to" the FBI.
Americans interested in not getting mugged, beaten, hit by their husbands, etc., should think about the implications of a law enforcement culture that ups its arrest records – and wastes police and court time, not to mention prison costs – by making easy marijuana pinches. This policy is from the White House down, given that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has spent a good part of the Obama years cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries. President Obama and the DOJ are currently sending mixed signals, with Obama playing the good cop while the DOJ plays the bad cop, leaking that it is pursuing how to strategically challenge the Colorado and Washington State recreational use laws.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT Stiffing the Working Class
A recent New York Times (NYT) business article confirms a commentary that BuzzFlash wrote, "A Tale of Two Economies: Skyrocketing Stock Market for the Rich, Devaluation of Work for the Rest," in September of 2012
The March 4 NYT headline lays it out bluntly: "Recovery in U.S. Is Lifting Profits, but Not Adding Jobs." But it's really worse. It's not just that the nation is at a relative plateau of joblessness. Even those who are employed are finding that their wages are not growing relative to the explosion in corporate profits.
The grim figures in terms of the working class speak for themselves in the NYT story:
As a percentage of national income, corporate profits stood at 14.2 percent in the third quarter of 2012, the largest share at any time since 1950, while the portion of income that went to employees was 61.7 percent, near its lowest point since 1966. In recent years, the shift has accelerated during the slow recovery that followed the financial crisis and ensuing recession of 2008 and 2009, said Dean Maki, chief United States economist at Barclays.
Corporate earnings have risen at an annualized rate of 20.1 percent since the end of 2008, he said, but disposable income inched ahead by 1.4 percent annually over the same period, after adjusting for inflation.
As BuzzFlash at Truthout noted in "A Tale of Two Economies" last autumn:
However, what is more important than the unemployment rate is the overall degradation of work and wage stagnation and decline under the current corporate and business climate that devalues labor. Since around 1990, the working class has been paid less on an inflation-adjusted basis while accumulating more debt. So even if one has a job in the labor force, if you are among the lower 99% the odds are that you have been feeling economic stress and anxiety for some time….
WILL DURST FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
LOLLY BECK-PANCER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The Farm Bill may be responsible for what’s on our plate, but it is not acting responsibly. The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, nicknamed the Farm Bill, is the primary agricultural policy tool of the U.S. government; it regulates international food trade, food stamps, and allocates funding to support farmers. It is responsible for the nutrition of 45 million low-income Americans- half of them children- enrolled in its food stamp program.
Americans on food stamps stretch their assistance dollars as far as possible. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the Farm Bill to subsidize healthful fruits and vegetables to make them the financially accessible as well as favorable choice. However, in the bill, nutrition is overshadowed by business interests. Since 2008 farmers have received annual subsidies of approximately $17.3 billion to support commodities such as wheat, corn, grain sorghum, barley, oats, upland cotton, long-grain rice, medium-grain rice, soybeans, peanuts, and other oilseeds, and cheddar cheese, butter, and nonfat dry milk. In 2008, $4.2 billion went to subsidizing corn alone - the one vegetable on that list, which, according to Michael Pollan, doesn’t even make it to our table on a cob. Among its primary uses are producing rapidly fattening cows and ethanol, both multi-billion dollar industries.