Fiscal Cliff Negotiations—So Far, So Good

Here is President Obama’s initial fiscal-cliff-avoidance proposal he reportedly offered to Republicans:

  • $1.6 trillion in new revenue (including restoration of top marginal rates, higher taxes on capital gains and a return to the 2009-level estate tax, which itself is way too generous but not as bad as today’s)
  • $400 billion [correction:] $600 billion in additional entitlement cuts, which when added to the almost $1 trillion discretionary spending cuts already a part of law and a similar amount of “savings” from shutting down the two wars, makes well over $2 trillion in total spending cuts
  • About $200 million in additional stimulus, including an extension of unemployment benefits (which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office acknowledges would add 300,000 jobs) and an extension of the payroll tax holiday and some money to invest in infrastructure improvements as well as some money to help still-stressing homeowners modify their mortgages
  • A delay in those pesky automatic spending cuts to Defense and entitlements for one year
  • Ending congressional approval of raising the debt ceiling, a silly technical requirement that in Republican hands has become fiscally dangerous

Here is how Huff Po’s Ryan Grim reported the Republican summary of Obama’s proposal:

The proposal is based on a two-step plan that would decouple the high-end tax and capital gains rates from the middle-class rates, extending only those for the middle class. It would revert estate taxes to their higher 2009 level, and raise an additional $600 billion in taxes elsewhere, according to the GOP summary. It then proposes tax reform required to raise at least as much as the tax hikes, and entitlement reform that would trim $400 billion from the programs.

Here’s how Fox’s favorite conservative pundit, Charles Krauthammer, reacted, uh, overreacted, to the President’s proposal:

It’s not just a bad deal, this is really an insulting deal… Robert E. Lee was offered easier terms at Appomattox and he lost the Civil War. The Democrats won by 3% of the vote and they did not hold the House. Republicans won the House. So this is not exactly unconditional surrender, but that’s what the administration is asking of Republicans.

There not only are no cuts in this, there’s an increase in new spending with a stimulus – this is almost unheard of. I mean, what do they expect? They obviously expect the Republicans will cave on everything. I think Republican ought to simply walk away.

Here is that other intellectual of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, and his reaction on Thursday:

walk away rush

This is, unfortunately, one time that we can count on Republicans not taking Limbaugh’s advice. They won’t walk away. Their greasy fingerprints—the grease courtesy of their fat-cat donors—will be all over what happens, either a deal or an adventure into short-term fiscal uncertainty.

Finally, here is Ezra Klein’s analysis of Obama’s proposal that should make liberals breathe a little—I said a little—easier, as we worry about our side’s negotiating prowess:

We’re seeing two things here. One is that the negotiations aren’t going well. When one side begins leaking the other side’s proposals, that’s typically a bad sign. The other is that Republicans are frustrated at the new Obama they’re facing: The Obama who refuses to negotiate with himself.

That’s what you’re really seeing in this “proposal.” Previously, Obama’s pattern had been to offer plans that roughly tracked where he thought the compromise should end up. The White House’s belief was that by being solicitous in their policy proposals, they would win goodwill on the other side, and even if they didn’t, the media would side with them, realizing they’d sought compromise and been rebuffed. They don’t believe that anymore.

Perhaps the key lesson the White House took from the last couple of years is this: Don’t negotiate with yourself. If Republicans want to cut Medicare, let them propose the cuts. If they want to raise revenue through tax reform, let them identify the deductions. If they want deeper cuts in discretionary spending, let them settle on a number. And, above all, if they don’t like the White House’s preferred policies, let them propose their own. That way, if the White House eventually does give in and agree to some of their demands, Republicans will feel like they got one over on the president. A compromise isn’t measured by what you offer, it’s measured by what the other side feels they made you concede.

The GOP is right: This isn’t a serious proposal. But it’s not evidence that Obama isn’t serious. He’s very serious about not negotiating with himself, and his opening bid proves it. Now that they’ve leaked his initial offer, the next question is obvious: What’s their offer?

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“The Holy Grail Of Liberalism”

I heard Mitch McConnell, who spent four years as the leader of Senate Republicans trying to undermine Barack Obama’s presidency by undermining the economic recovery, say this today:

The only reason Democrats are insisting on raising rates is because raising rates on the so-called rich is the holy grail of liberalism. The holy grail of liberalism. There aim isn’t job creation; they’re interested in wealth destruction. Not job creation, but wealth destruction.

Like the Holy Grail related to Jesus, which mythically found its way into the hands of tidy-white Europeans for safekeeping (uh, but they seem to have lost it anyway), the myth that McConnell and other conservatives believe about liberals, you know, that we hate rich people and want to take all their stuff, is a persistent myth.

It is so persistent that a prominent leader of the Republican Party—right in the middle of what are supposed to be serious discussions on the budget—thinks nothing of standing on the floor of the U.S. Senate and proclaiming it to the world.

But is it really just a myth? Are liberals really “interested in wealth destruction” ? Really? Of course we are! Why? Because we want everyone to be poor! We want everyone to suffer and starve and die! That’s what we want. We want to destroy the rich so everyone can die in misery and pain equally. Yep, that’s what we want.

And the first step in doing that—our holiest of grails—is to put those onerous 39.6% Clinton tax rates back on the backs of the rich so they will just give up and quit. So they will just surrender all their money to us. So we can then take their money and give it to lazy slobs, mostly lazy slobs of color, who don’t want to work, who don’t want to do anything but live off the efforts of others, who want nothing more out of life than to sit around the house and suck the life out of the wealthy, those productive folks who Republicans tell us create all the jobs.

Jobs? Did someone say jobs? Who the hell needs jobs when we can destroy the wealthy!

Yes, that’s what we want; that’s why we exist.

And after all the wealth is gone, after we get our holy grail, and get our jollies on all that “wealth destruction,” then we liberals can sit back and watch everyone croak.

All thanks to us! Long live liberalism!

Marvin Miller, R.I.P.

Marvin Miller, who succumbed to liver cancer on Tuesday, turned diamond dogs into millionaires.

As the first full-time executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, commonly known as the players union, he warred with big league owners and won a series of victories, victories they still hold against him by helping to keep him out of baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Under Marvin Miller’s leadership, the players would no longer have to beg or be at the mercy of baseball’s lords. He turned what had been a toothless association into arguably the most powerful union in America.

Miller forced owners to negotiate the first collective bargaining agreement in the history of professional sports. That was in 1968. The minimum salary in baseball at the time was $6,000 and the new agreement raised it to $10,000.  Today, thanks to him, the minimum salary is $480,000.

In 1970 he won for players the right to use agents in salary negotiations and later the right to have an arbitrator settle disputes between players and owners. That seemingly small victory would soon lead to his greatest victory in 1975, a decision by an arbitrator declaring that pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally could become free agents. (Interestingly, an appeal of that decision was heard in a Western Missouri district court—Kansas City Royals Baseball Corp. v. Major League Baseball Players Association.)

That 1975 arbitrator’s decision essentially killed baseball’s “reserve clause,” a devilish contract provision that was invented by greedy 19th-century owners who knew that if players were free to offer their services to the highest bidder, it would empower players and cut into owner’s profits. (For more on the reserve clause, see this 2009 piece on Curt Flood.)

The reserve clause had essentially made players the property of team owners, and players were bound to the teams that first signed them unless the owner traded them or released them. Ridding baseball of the reserve clause changed the game and finally allowed players to fully benefit from their skills and labor.

And speaking of labor, Marvin Miller was a real union man with a working class background. His father was a New York garment district salesman and his mother was a teacher. Miller started his career in government working for the National War Labor Board and then worked as an economist and negotiator for the United Steelworkers union. In 1966 he became head of the players association, and using his knowledge as a labor economist, his skills as a negotiator, and a union’s right to strike, players became at least the equals of owners at the negotiating table.

Passing away at the age of 95 , Miller never made it into the Hall of Fame, where he unquestionably belongs and where, eventually, he will end up. The owners, as he knew, had a lot to do with his rejection, time and again. Former White Sox pitcher Bob Locker, who created ThanksMarvin.com, noted how Miller’s accomplishments transcended baseball by saying:

He ought to have a statue in front of the Baseball Hall of Fame — and every other sports hall of fame.

Many former players, writers, and broadcasters have protested Marvin Miller’s exclusion from the Hall of Fame, including former Yankees pitcher and author of Ball Four, Jim Bouton, who said,

Essentially, the decision for putting a union leader in the Hall of Fame was handed over to a bunch of executives and former executives. Marvin Miller kicked their butts and took power away from the baseball establishment—do you really think those people are going to vote him in? It’s a joke.

Marvin Miller will, though, have the last laugh. He will be a Hall of Famer and live forever as part of baseball history, while his spiteful owner-critics will be forgotten. As the great baseball historian, Bill James, put it,

If baseball ever buys itself a mountain and starts carving faces in it, one of the first men to go up is sure to be Marvin Miller.

Knowing that, may he rest in peace.

House GOP: Women Need Not Apply

Here is how women voted in the last two presidential elections:

The following is a graphic showing next year’s Republican committee chairmen in the House, kindly put up by St. Rachel Maddow on her Tuesday night show. This gem goes to show how much Republicans learned from the election:

More Hell From Harry Reid

One of the biggest failings of the mainstream press over the past few years has been its lack of clear and continual reporting on Republican obstructionism in Congress, particularly how Republicans in the Senate have used the filibuster to obstruct Democratic—and democratic—governance.

I would guess that most regular folks, even people who are routine consumers of news but maybe not political junkies, don’t really understand how the modern filibuster—which traditionally meant talking a bill to death—works and don’t understand why it is that in a body of 100 members, in a Democratic society, that it takes 60 votes to get any real business done.

And that lack of understanding of how the U.S. Senate works is partially the fault of the press, which tires rather quickly of reminding folks of such technical matters, even though those technical matters matter a lot, in terms of what has been happening in Washington.

Read this stunning paragraph from Ezra Klein:

Filibusters used to be relatively rare. There were more filibusters between 2009 and 2010 than there were in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s combined. A strategy memo written after the 1964 election by Mike Manatos, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Senate liaison, calculated that in the new Senate, Medicare would pass with 55 votes — the filibuster didn’t even figure into the administration’s planning.

Think about that. Medicare, a remarkably large social program, was not only not filibustered, it wasn’t even expected to be filibustered. Compare that to these days of Republican minority obstructionism, where even mundane matters—like whether a bill should even be debated—are subject to the filibuster, requiring the majority to invoke cloture and, if 60 votes can be rounded up, to end the filibuster and move on to the matter at hand.

As Klein says,

Today, the filibuster isn’t used to defend minority rights or ensure debate. Rather, the filibuster is simply a rule that the minority party uses to require a 60-vote supermajority to get anything done in the Senate. That’s not how it was meant to be.

There is serious talk among Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, of changing the rules regarding the filibuster. It turns out that on the first day of a new Congress, the next new one is scheduled to meet on January 3 of next year, there is a method available—now known as the “nuclear option” — for adopting rule changes in the Senate with only a simple majority vote—a filibuster wouldn’t work.

Now, obviously Democrats have to be careful here. They likely won’t always be in the majority in the Senate, and it would be foolish to set a precedent that would completely shut down the minority, much like the minority in the House is made irrelevant by its rules.

To that end, Harry Reid, who should have acted before the opening of the last session of Congress in 2011, is proposing what he calls “a couple of minor changes” to make the Senate “more efficient.” Those changes include:

♦ eliminating the right to filibuster the debating of a bill, but not the right to filibuster the final passage of the bill itself

♦ forcing filibustering Senators to actually stand on the Senate floor and conduct the filibuster, as opposed to merely invoking a filibuster from their offices

Those sound like sensible changes, some would even say too sensible, since the filibuster would still exist and 60 votes would  still be needed to pass legislation, given what mood Republicans have been in since the Dawn of Obama.

So, how did the leader of the obstructionists, the man whose one self-admitted priority four years ago was denying Barack Obama a second term, how did that guy, Mitch McConnell, react? Come on, you know how. He got pissed. He called it a “temporary exercise of raw partisan political power,” and a “naked power grab.”

Other Republicans were equally outraged. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, no stranger to overstatement, threatened something, but I’m not sure what:

I think the backlash will be severe. If you take away minority rights, which is what you’re doing because you’re an ineffective leader, you’ll destroy the place. And if you destroy the place, we’ll do what we have to do to fight back.

Do what we have to do to fight back” ? Huh? Is he going to blow up the place? Because if he’s not going to wedge a grenade down Harry Reid’s trousers, what else is available? Obstruction? That’s what Republicans have been doing.

As Reid said of such threats,

What more could they do to us?

What more, indeed.

For his part, Ezra Klein says that Reid’s minor reform effort “doesn’t go nearly far enough.” He writes:

The problem with the filibuster isn’t that senators don’t have to stand and talk, or that they can filibuster the motion to debate as well as the vote itself. It’s that the Senate has become, with no discussion or debate, an effective 60-vote institution. If you don’t change that, you haven’t solved the problem.

Defenses of the filibuster tend to invoke minority rights or the Constitution’s preference for decentralized power. It’s true the Founding Fathers wanted to make legislating hard. That’s why they divided power among three branches. It’s why senators used to be directly appointed by state legislatures. It’s why the House, the Senate and the president have staggered elections, so it usually takes a big win in two or more consecutive elections for a party to secure control of all three branches.

But the Founders didn’t want it to be this hard. They considered requiring a supermajority to pass legislation and rejected the idea. “Its real operation,” Alexander Hamilton wrote of such a requirement, “is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of government and to substitute the pleasure, caprice or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent or corrupt junta, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority.” Sound familiar?

Of course that sounds familiar. We have been living with Hamilton’s description ever since Mitch McConnell declared war on President Obama. And it is McConnell who has led his “corrupt junta” into unprecedented abuse of an important Senate rule, a rule that must be used judiciously or else it becomes, in Ezra Klein’s words, “a noxious obstacle” :

Filibusters are no longer used to allow minorities to be heard. They’re used to make the majority fail. In the process, they undermine democratic accountability, because voters are left to judge the rule of a majority party based on the undesirable outcomes created by a filibustering minority.

Yes, voters are left to judge. But they need critical information to properly judge. And that critical information comes largely from the press, which did not do a good job of explaining how dogged Republicans were in their pursuit of those “undesirable outcomes” that Klein referenced.

But despite that, despite the trembling economic recovery, despite an entire cable news channel and almost all of talk radio against them, Democrats were able to largely prevail in November.

And making a couple of modest changes to the filibuster rule in the Senate may just make governing a little easier. If it doesn’t, if Republicans dig in their obstructionist heels even deeper, then at least the American people will be able to see them, day after obstructionist day, standing on the Senate floor holding up progress.

And that in itself would be progress.

Fox Gets Thwacked

In what can only be considered one of the sweetest dope slaps Fox “News” has ever received in real time on its own air, I present to you the appearance of Thomas Ricks, who today set the record straight on Fox’s hyper-partisan coverage of the tragedy in Benghazi.

Although Ricks is no Sean Hannity, he is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter who has spent considerable time covering military conflicts around the world and reporting on defense issues. He has also written several books, including books on the Iraq war. And he apparently knows a little about professional wrestling, as he executes a perfect spinning headlock elbow drop on a Fox host:

Word To Democrats: Be Careful On Entitlement Reform

A few Republicans are publicly divorcing themselves from Grover Norquist, which is a good sign. But not enough Republicans are yet ready to absorb fully the meaning of the GOP’s defeat on November 6.

As President Obama has said several times now, if the last election had one clear message, it was that the wealthiest Americans, those who have been doing pretty well despite a sluggish economic recovery, need to “pay a little more” in taxes and thus get things started in terms of fixing our long-term fiscal problems.

On Sunday, John McCain’s lap dog, Sen. Lindsey Graham, clearly abandoned Grover Norquist and his infernal tax pledge. I have heard replayed numerous times the following excerpt from Graham’s appearance on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos:

I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform.

In context, though, Graham was not endorsing an increase in marginal tax rates (“I agree with Grover, we shouldn’t raise rates,” he said), but only an increase in revenues by other means, like capping deductions for wealthy families (“If you cap deductions around the $30,000, $40,000 range, you can raise $1 trillion in revenue,” he claimed). But, so be it. In whatever form, it is clear that some Republicans, feeling the heat of November 6, are starting to warm up to an increase in federal revenues and it seems likely that more, perhaps enough to get a deal done, will follow.

Now comes the “if Democrats will do entitlement reform” part.

Appearing with Lindsey Graham on ABC’s This Week was Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat who signed onto the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan.

He said a couple of things that illustrate the problems for President Obama and the Democrats, in terms of getting a deal that Democrats like me can support. First, Durbin suggested that Social Security shouldn’t be part of a larger budget deal since it is funded separately and “does not add one penny to our debt.” It’s pretty clear that most Democrats feel the same way. They believe that the relatively simple fixes for Social Security don’t belong in the discussion going on now. So, leave that program out of it.

Then we have this:

DURBIN: Medicare is another story. Only 12 years of solvency lie ahead if we do nothing. So those who say, “Don’t touch it, don’t change it,” are ignoring the obvious. We want Medicare to be there for today’s seniors and tomorrow’s, as well. We don’t want to go the Paul Ryan route of voucherizing it, privatizing it, but we can make meaningful reforms in Medicare and Medicaid without compromising the integrity of the program, making sure that the beneficiaries are not paying the price for it, except perhaps the high-income beneficiaries. That to me is a reasonable approach…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Does that include raising the age for Medicare eligibility?

DURBIN: Here’s my concern about that, George. What happens to the early retiree who needs health insurance before that person’s eligible for Medicare? I had it happen in my family, and I’ll bet a lot of your viewers did, as well. We’ve got to make sure that there is seamless coverage of affordable health insurance for every American. My concern about raising that Medicare retirement age is there will be gaps in coverage or coverage that’s way too expensive for seniors to purchase.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that a fair point, Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: Not really. I don’t think you can look at entitlement reform without adjusting the age for retirement, like Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan did. It goes to 66, 67 here pretty soon for Social Security. Let it float up another year or so over the next 30 years, adjust Medicare from 65 to 67 over the next 30 years, means test benefits for people in our income level. I don’t expect the Democrats to go for premium support or a voucher plan, but I do expect them to adjust these entitlement programs before they bankrupt the country and run out of money themselves. So age adjustment and means testing for both Social Security, Medicare I think is eminently reasonable. And all those who’ve looked at this problem have done that over time.

Democrats would, of course, agree to means-testing entitlements. No doubt about that. But raising the eligibility age for retirement and old-age health care? Not so fast.

Paul Krugman, a leftish economist, is definitely opposed to the idea, as he indicates in this short post, his generalized objection based primarily on the differences in life expectancy between economic classes (folks with lower earnings don’t tend to live as long as those with higher earnings, thus raising the eligibility age would have a disproportionately harmful effect on lower wage earners).

There have been more specific objections to raising the age, including these:

  • folks with physically demanding jobs would likely be forced to hang on another few years to keep their insurance;
  • cost-shifting to retirees who won’t have adequate income to absorb the increase;
  • an increase in the number of uninsured Americans (especially among low-income groups, including African-Americans and Hispanics);
  • the obvious increase in the cost to those employers who offer health care benefits to retirees (the employer plan would become the primary payer), which would, among other things, discourage employers from offering such retirement plans.

Now, an astute reader might suggest that some of these objections could be answered by provisions already in place in the Affordable Care Act. In fact, I heard a commentator this weekend suggest that raising the eligibility age for Medicare was no big deal since ObamaCare will provide coverage for those seniors who can’t afford it.

Well, that turns out to be partially true, at least according to a study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which looked at raising the age in the context of the Affordable Care Act (it assumed an increase in the Medicare eligibility age to 67 that would go into effect in 2014, just for simplicity). I suggest all those interested in this topic read that study, but its conclusion was as follows (highlights mine):

Previous studies conducted prior to the enactment of the 2010 health reform law concluded that raising the age of Medicare eligibility would produce significant federal savings, but would also increase the number of uninsured older adults and shift risk and additional cost onto retirees who lack health insurance and onto employers that offer retiree health plans. Our analysis, which takes into account the coverage expansions and subsidies in the ACA, finds that net federal savings to the federal government would be considerably lower than previously estimated because the federal government would incur new costs associated with expanded coverage for 65- and 66-year olds under Medicaid and premium tax credits and cost-sharing assistance for lower-income individuals in the new health insurance Exchange.

We estimate that nearly one-third of the 65- and 66-year-old adult population who would be affected by an increase in the age of Medicare eligibility [about 5 million people]—those with low incomes who would qualify for Medicaid or generous premium tax credits and cost-sharing assistance through the Exchange—would face lower out-of-pocket costs than they would have paid under Medicare in 2014 as a result of this policy change –generally those with incomes below 300 percent of the FPL [federal poverty level]. However, two-thirds would face higher out of-pocket costs, on average, due to higher premium contributions for employer-sponsored coverage and for coverage in the Exchange. The shift of adults ages 65 and 66 from Medicare to the Exchange is also projected to increase premiums that would be paid by adults younger than age 65 in the Exchange, as older adults enter the Exchange risk pool. In addition, Part B premiums paid by the elderly (ages 67 and over) and by disabled Medicare beneficiaries would be expected to increase, as the healthiest and lowest-cost segment of the Medicare population is removed from the Part B risk pool and shifted to the Exchange or to employer-sponsored plans. States and employers are also expected to see increased costs.

The study warns:

Given the magnitude of the changes that we estimate would occur by raising the Medicare eligibility age, this analysis underscores the importance of carefully assessing the distributional effects of various Medicare reforms and savings proposals to understand the likely impact on beneficiaries and other stakeholders.

It’s just not as simple as Republicans, like Lindsey Graham above, make it. And Democrats need to be careful about getting giddy over a possible Republican retreat on raising revenues and under the influence of such giddiness make a bad agreement on entitlements.

In short, Democrats need to remember who their constituents are.

The Unpardonable Sin: Voting For Obama

You alone are to be feared. Who can stand before you when you are angry? From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet—

—the Book of Psalms

ear. Religion rules by fear. And lots of it.

Men,” Mark Twain wrote, “are more compassionate…than God” because “men forgive their dead, but God does not.”  And who wouldn’t fear a god who holds a grudge past the grave?

Or past an election.

James Dobson, who for years was one of the most prominent voices in conservative evangelical Christianity, suggested, during a solemn, I-can’t-believe-my-eyes, post-election discussion with other like-minded zealots, that God may have judgment on his mind:

It’s my speculation that America has turned its back on the principles that we have believed in for 230 years. And there’s a lot of wickedness that’s going on out there. Fifty-five million babies have been murdered, and we don’t think God sees that? 

Franklin Graham, who now runs his dad’s part of the Evangelical Empire, The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, explained to Newsmax how the election of Barack Obama may just move God to finish us off:

“In the last four years, we have begun to turn our backs on God,” Graham reiterated. “We have taken God out of our education system. We have taken him out of government. You have lawyers that sue you every time you mention the name of Jesus Christ in any public forum.

“What has happened is we have allowed ourselves to take God out of everything that we do – and I believe that God will judge our nation one day.”

And, “maybe God will have to bring our nation to our knees – to where that we just have a complete economic collapse” to do that, Graham said. “Maybe at that point, people will again call upon the name of almighty God.”

Fear. Do what God’s self-appointed spokesmen say or else.

It never occurred to Franklin Graham, of course, that we almost had a “complete economic collapse” under the God-fearing evangelical Christian George W. Bush, but perhaps that is because lately God has had a hard time communicating to the leaders of the Evangelical Empire.

Pat Robertson said in January the following:

I spent the better part of a week in prayer and just saying, “God just show me something,” and I’ll share with you—uh, some things I’ll share with you. I think he showed me about the next president but I’m not supposed to talk about that, so I’ll leave you in the dark…but I think I know who it’s gonna be.

We know now that Robertson thought he heard God say that Mitt Romney would be the next president. We know that because Robertson fessed up last week:

So many of us miss God. I’ll tell you, I won’t get into great detail about elections, but I sure did miss it. I thought I had heard from God. I thought I had heard clearly from God. What happened? What intervenes? Why? You ask God, how did I miss it? Well, we all do and I’ve had a lot of practice.

Oh, my. If God can’t make his message clear to Pat Robertson, what hope do the rest of us have?

In any case, in the context of God’s vindictive behavior toward his creation, or more narrowly, the American electorate who elected Barack Obama, I will bookend this piece with more Mark Twain, a famous excerpt from his Letters From The Earth:

I will tell you a pleasant tale which has in it a touch of pathos. A man got religion, and asked the priest what he must do to be worthy of his new estate. The priest said, “Imitate our Father in Heaven, learn to be like him.” The man studied his Bible diligently and thoroughly and understandingly, and then with prayers for heavenly guidance instituted his imitations.

He tricked his wife into falling downstairs, and she broke her back and became a paralytic for life;

he betrayed his brother into the hands of a sharper, who robbed him of his all and landed him in the almshouse; he inoculated one son with hookworms, another with the sleeping sickness, another with gonorrhea;

he furnished one daughter with scarlet fever and ushered her into her teens deaf, dumb, and blind for life;

and after helping a rascal seduce the remaining one, he closed his doors against her and she died in a brothel cursing him.

Then he reported to the priest, who said that that was no way to imitate his Father in Heaven. The convert asked wherein he had failed, but the priest changed the subject and inquired what kind of weather he was having, up his way.

$90 Billion And Counting For Walmart’s First Family

I don’t know how successful the strike against Walmart will be this week, but if you want to support the efforts of workers to get a living wage and benefits from the retailing giant, then stay away from the store on Black Friday, which, unbelievably, actually starts this year on Thanksgiving evening.

You can also make a contribution to help striking workers by going here.

I captured this shot from MSNBC last night:

Think about that for a minute, then think about the fact that thousands upon thousands of Walmart workers who work full-time (by Walmart’s definition of 34 hours per week) don’t make enough to surmount the poverty line. And think about the thousands upon thousands of Walmart workers who need public assistance—taxpayer money—just to survive.

Making Change At Walmart puts the Walton family wealth in a different light:

  • Let’s put it this way, according to Forbes’ list of the most valuable sports franchises, the Walton heirs could afford to buy every major league baseball team, every NBA team, every NHL team and every NFL team, and still have money left over to buy some of the most valuable soccer teams in the world.
  • To put it yet another way, according to a recent Time article, the net worth of the average American household is $319,970. Multiply that by 2,797,137 and you have the Walton heirs’ wealth.

It’s not that the Walton family is wealthy beyond most people’s imagination. That’s not it at all. It’s how they got wealthy beyond most people’s imagination: partly on the backs of Walmart’s workers.

And now some of those workers are saying enough is enough. Let’s join them this week.

If This Keeps Up, Single-Payer Will Be Here Before You Know It

An article published last month on Remapping Debate points out what may become a trend among American employers:

Beginning next month, Sears and Darden — the latter of which owns several restaurant chains, including Olive Garden and Red Lobster — will cease to offer defined benefits in which the employer, as part of its compensation package, provides employees with a set of health insurance benefits and continues to offer those benefits even when the employer’s costs for insurance rises.  Instead, they will implement a defined contribution model, in which the companies will offer employees a fixed annual sum — like a voucher — that they can use to buy insurance for themselves and their families.

A voucher? Sound familiar?

Along with this monumental change comes what the writers of the article term a “large-scale marketing campaign,” designed, of course, to sell a very undesirable modification of “the multi-generational compact between management and labor.”

That marketing campaign, just like right-wingers selling their distasteful wares, purposely uses terms like “choice” and “empowerment,” as in, the good-hearted employers are merely offering their employees more choice among insurance plans and empowering them to take charge of their health care. Who could be against that?

Remapping Debate, though, is not sold:

According to numerous health care experts, economists, and even some in the consulting industry itself, however, that rhetoric belies the true motivation behind the shift: reducing the company’s exposure to ever-rising health insurance costs by shifting those costs directly onto employees, who will be forced to either pay more out of pocket for the same level of insurance or pay the same amount for less robust coverage.

An important point to make here is that this fixed contribution scheme is just the latest attempt to shift costs from employer to employee:

Several experts pointed out that benefits have already been significantly eroded in the group insurance market, as many employers have switched to “consumer-directed” health care models in which low premiums are coupled with very high deductibles and occasionally a health savings account. But [Kathleen] Stoll of Families USA said that the implementation of the fixed contribution model could greatly exacerbate that problem. When their contribution to health insurance is already limited to a fixed amount, Stoll said, employers will be more liable to make changes to that contribution. If the company has a bad year, for example, it may simply choose to freeze the contribution or even lower it in order to cut costs.

In my experience, the company doesn’t even have to have a bad year to cut costs. Profitable companies have been squeezing employees, when it comes to wages and benefits, including health care benefits. This is just another cost-shifting model and look out if it becomes popular:

According to Jacob Hacker, a professor of political science at Yale University and an expert on the American health care system, if the defined contribution health insurance model were to catch on, it would fit into a larger, historical context.

“The fundamental thing to recognize is that this is part and parcel of the more general risk shift,” Hacker said. “The reality is that health care, retirement, all of the fundamental sources of security are shifting from larger organizations like employers and the government onto individuals.”

This cost-shifting, though extremely problematic for workers in the short-term, may mean that in the long-term Americans will finally say goodbye to employment-based health insurance coverage altogether and demand a single-payer, Medicare-like system for all.

And the sooner the better.

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