Saturday, July 30, 2011

Another Brick in Neo-Feudalism

The following post from Dean Baker, commenting on the most recent lunacy from The Washington Post's Robert Samuelson:

Robert Samuelson Redefines "Wealthy"

Friday, 29 July 2011 17:27

The Washington Post once ran a front page piece questioning whether people who earned $250,000 a year, President Obama's cutoff for his no tax hike pledge, were really rich. However, it also features Robert Samuelson on its opinion page telling readers that seniors with income of $30,000 a year are wealthy. I'm not kidding.

In a piece titled "Why Are We In This Debt Fix? It's the elderly stupid," Samuelson tells readers:

"some elderly live hand-to-mouth; many more are comfortable, and some are wealthy. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports the following for Medicare beneficiaries in 2010: 25 percent had savings and retirement accounts averaging $207,000 or more."

Let's see, we have retirees who have their Social Security checks, plus a stash of $207,000. If someone at age 62 were to take that $207,000 and buy an annuity this money would get them about $15,000 a year. Add in $14,000 from Social Security and they are living the good life on $29,000 a year. And remember, 75 percent of the elderly have less than this.

To be fair, many of the people with $207,000 in savings will be older than 62 so their money will go further, but it is hard to believe that anyone can think of this as a cutoff for being wealthy, or at least anyone other than Robert Samuelson and his colleagues at the Washington Post.

My thoughts:
There is a unifying 'idea' (if it can be called that) behind the idiocy of Robert Samuelson and like-minded conservatives. Recall Orrin Hatch's assertion that the poor and less-well-off need to bear a greater share of the burden.

What unifies this — and the general Republican willingness to redistribute burdens from the wealthy to the rest of us — is a true Orwellian doublethink — a commitment to the Divine Right of Wealth, the more wealthy, the more divine. This is a view endorsed by most Democrats. It finds a clear expression in a blog post by Gregory Mankiw from August, 2009: Mankiw was convinced that wealth was an indicator of superior intelligence, which in turn is genetically based; therefore, wealth is an indicator of genetic superiority. (Where have we heard this before?) This is a just a specific instance of the widespread conviction that wealth is an indicator of superiority and virtue — indeed, that wealth is itself a virtue.

On this line, there is no inconsistency in viewing subsistence-level elderly as wealthy. They 'must' be to make them plausible candidates for taxation. "America doesn't tax the poor" just as "America doesn't torture." Conversely, the really really wealthy are over-taxed, and their suffering must be alleviated through transfers from those who are under-taxed.

The logic works, if you live in the frame of mind of a 13th Century European baron.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Israel Uses Facebook . . . and What Else?

It turns out, not surprisingly, that Israel made use of Facebook to identify and track pro-Palestinian activists recently. This is probably only a tiny fraction of Israel's overall effort to track critics.

First, most (possibly all, given post 9/11 developments) electronic communications are monitored by the anglophone countries, especially the U.S., U.K., Canada, N.Z., and Australia. This has been the case for many years. The Echelon facility, based in Britain, has been monitoring electronic communications for decades. It is located in Britain precisely to avoid US government violations of American law. Mention something like this in the hearing of a Times editor or reporter (like John Burns or Thomas Friedman) and you will instantly be labeled a "conspiracy theorist," despite the fact that such media figures know this to be the case.

Second, the Obama administration has repeatedly made clear than even unambiguous speech-acts are now being taken to constitute "material support" for whatever organization is in the sights of the U.S. government. The U.S. has dug itself into a nice hole on this one (possibly with some malice aforethought). The Supreme Court has ruled (and Obama, Democrats, and Republicans have endorsed the view) that spending money is a speech act. Of course, money can be essential to material support of an enterprise. Thus, the groundwork is laid for extending restrictions on freedom of speech by likening, say, vocal support for Palestinian rights to "yelling fire in a crowded theater." And this indeed is a rhetorical/political/legal move made by diehard Israel-supporters and their willing slaves in the U.S. government and media as they seek to choke off any and all support for Palestinians.

Finally, we know that the U.S. shares "intelligence" with Israel. Likewise, we know from recent reports that Google shares information on users to varying degrees with various countries. The U.S. leads in demands placed on Google, and Google usually complies. Israel likewise enjoys near-total compliance. We also know that the major telecoms have raised no word of objection whatsoever to U.S. demands for secret access. What Israel has demanded and received we can only guess, but given the hysterical support that Israel enjoys in the U.S., I wouldn't be surprised to find that it sees greater compliance than the U.S. government. Furthermore, there is a small army of extremist, pro-Israel fanatics ready to level any and every charge at any and every critic of Israel. Computing technology has made the collection and sorting of all this information very easy for years.

Thus we have three components that reduce Facebook to what is likely a tiny component of a much larger monitoring (and control) apparatus:
  1. Technological means;
  2. Vastly expanding conceptions of what constitute (a) threats and (b) legitimate means; and
  3. A disparate, dispersed but nevertheless organized body of very willing participants.

The advantages for those who support human rights, whether Palestinians' or anybody's (since I think it is safe to say that every last person on Earth _not_ in the top 5% of the most privileged is under attack) are:
  1. Sheer numbers;
  2. Growing ease of communication;
  3. Commitment to a stable, sustainable, humanitarian solution.

I think the strategy for We the People should be
  1. Absolute openness (combat secrecy with openness);
  2. Ever-repeated commitment to non-violence;
  3. An extended, open hand even to those with whom we disagree.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Of Course Social Security is on Obama's Hit List

Liberal Obama Loyalists (LOLs — call them losers for short) are rushing to endorse Obama assurances that, contrary to press reports, Social Security and other Depression-era social safety net institutions are not in his sights. Do we really need to argue the case against Obama still? Obama is a Clinton Democrat. Social Security was on Clinton's hit list, it's on Obama's. Likewise, it is on the hit lists of Joseph Lieberman, Charles Schumer, Barney Frank, Ben Nelson and most Democrats.

When are liberals and progressives going to figure this out? The Democratic strategy for 30 years has been to out-Republican the Republicans. The dividing line, to the extent that there is one, has been on social issues like abortion and gay rights — not on economic issues, not on military issues. Had Clinton not gotten embroiled in the Lewinsky scandal, he would have moved aggressively to privatize Social Security, many of his 'liberal' economic advisers (like Robert Rubin) advocated.

Similarly, when Obama was (supposedly) tackling American health insurance issues, he excluded all single-payer advocates and most (perhaps all) organized labor representatives from the discussion. We now know that even when he was publicly supporting the public option during the campaign, we was in fact privately and personally opposed.

If Obama had been on the political stage 40 years ago, people would have marveled agape at a Black Democrat who was (and is) more conservative than Richard Nixon or most Republicans before George W. Bush. Obama is significantly more conservative than Nixon, George H. W. Bush and Reagan on a number of issues.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama hit on a winning strategy of enlisting the support of many disaffected liberals and progressives. Now, his lies are laid bare. He knows he cannot win out support again (except for delusional diehards who forgive or overlook his wrongdoing). Instead, Obama is moving to claim more conservative voters, which is where is natural sympathies lie anyway.