Weekend Update 04-16-2011

Do you like ammonia-pathogen burgers? If you eat fast food or school lunches, the odds are pretty good you do. In fact, pink slime is present in an estimated 70% of US ground beef products. Yummy! I heard about pink slime this past week on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and then read the above article. Makes me glad I can’t easily eat fast food anymore. Given the cross-contamination risk even if the ingredient list appears safe, I haven’t eaten at a fast food restaurant since I was diagnosed with celiac disease. This certainly removes any slight temptation I might have ever had to risk it. Of course, if it’s in 70% of ground beef, that likely means that if you buy super-cheap prepackaged ground beef or hamburger patties in the grocery store, you might conceivably be buying something laced with pink slime. I wonder if there are any stats on that? The New York Times also has an article on the product.

A local news segment on Gluten Free in Austin!

I have to agree with Krugman. I assume the President has a strategy, at least one to win reelection. But I can’t tell what it might be. And it’s not just him. It’s as though there’s an almost complete absence of a voice exposing the nuttiness of GOP proposals. Maybe it’s a strategy to let them put all their cruel and wacky ideas on the table first so everyone can see what they want. I don’t know. I do know I would like to see something.

Of course, it wouldn’t fly politically, but a public option for Medicare would probably be hugely successful. It would be really hard for the government to do worse than the private system in the US, especially in its current state. The VA, which has been consistently underfunded for a very long time and which definitely has other issues, is nevertheless pretty successful both in providing care and managing costs. Also, Medicare isn’t the problem, it’s the solution. Duh. Anyone who can add and subtract ought to be able to see that much. Sadly, though, many don’t see it and it needs to be spelled out.

As is somewhat widely reported (though not as widely as it should be), Ryan’s plan for Medicare is basically to make almost everyone in the US pay immensely more than they currently do for health care, and stripping all those who can’t afford to pay exorbitant amounts for inadequate care of all access to health care. Truly, Americans are electing a government filled with people who hate them. It’s truly a bizarre thing to watch. The only thing “serious” about Ryan’s plan is his desire to royally screw most Americans. Before Medicare, poverty among the elderly was 37.1%. By 1999, it had dropped to 7%. Coincidence? I know that math is hard, but try to follow it. Basically, he wants to push most of us back into ending our lives in poverty. That’s the GOP plan. And from the rest of their proposals, they actually want us to just live poor and work for subsistence wages in sweat shops and be grateful for the privilege. Ryan, at least, isn’t doing much to disguise it. In his five point plane, three are fake. The two real ones are that he plans to savage most of the country in order to fund an equal amount of tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. His three fake points are in there to disguise the fact that he does nothing about the deficit, which his plan actually sends soaring through the roof.

I like Robert Reich on how to deal with right-wing bullies.

Colbert’s take on Senator Jon Kyl’s “not intended to be a factual statement” is hilarious.

Confession. I didn’t listen to President Obama’s economic speech. I probably won’t read it. I simply have better ways to spend my time. However, I do read analyses like this one. It sounds like it was better than many of us had feared. Which is at least something. Thank God he’s countering the GOP fantasy that we can continue to cut taxes and magically end up with more revenue. We’ve had thirty years now to prove that voodoo economics (as Bush, Sr. called Reaganomics) don’t work. The only time the deficit has significantly improved over the past thirty years was during the eight years of the Clinton administration when he raised taxes. (Some of that was a benefit from the Bush, Sr. tax hike. I miss him. He was the last Republican I recall who was serious about governing our nation.) I love fantasy as fiction genre, but I don’t confuse it with reality.

Read at least far enough into this story to get the bit about IKEA. Republican dreams are coming true. We get to be Sweden’s Mexico! I’m not sure what people expected, really. If you vote for people who despise normal, working Americans, do you expect them to suddenly like you when they’re elected? Or does everyone believe they’re the exception?

It’s a little odd that in order to run for President as a Republican, Mitt Romney has to distance himself from the most significant success of his political career.

9 things the rich don’t want you to know about taxes. Pretty good list.

Basically, our numbers on wealth and income concentration to the wealthiest are now similar to those of Russia and Iran. How is this even vaguely healthy? (I know. More math.)

It’s clear that many people can’t conceptualize the large numbers associated with our country’s budget. (At least, that’s the only reason I can fathom why so many people believe we spend much of anything on foreign aid.) The White House has published a tool which will generate your own personalized Federal Taxpayer Receipt. I plugged in my numbers and generated our receipt. Curiously, with all the credits that were available last year, we actually paid less in federal income tax than social security tax last year. The top item on the list? Defense, of course. Development and humanitarian assistance to other nations? 0.7% A pretty pitiful number for a nation as wealthy as ours. Lots of other categories and subcategories in the receipt. Take a look and get your receipt.

I keep hearing people gripe about “high taxes” when the truth is we have one of lowest tax burdens in the first world. I like this graph illustrating that point. It’s skewed, of course, because our wealthiest citizens and large corporations actually pay a significantly lower effective tax rate than all the individuals and business in the middle. If they actually paid their fair share, we might go up a little bit, but we would still be pretty far down the chart. The second chart illustrates how the effective tax rates on the wealthiest have plunged.

Like Krugman, I have no idea how Republicans are able to convince people they care about deficit reduction. It’s obvious from their proposals that deficits don’t matter at all to them. They care about lining their own pockets at the expense of the nation by continually reducing the tax burden on themselves and on those who fund their campaigns. They care about letting Wall Street and large corporations do whatever they feel like doing with no thought to the human cost (or even legality) of their actions. Beyond that, I’m hard pressed to see anything that they really care about. If there is something, it can’t be discerned from the bills they propose.

This was a pretty cool move by House Democrats. It’s definitely time to force Republicans to own the cruel and greedy nonsense they’ve been spouting and live with the consequences. In this case, they scrambled to save themselves, so I guess they didn’t really believe their own proposal. How about showing some intent to actually govern this country?

Finally, the first episode of the new Mortal Kombat: Legacy web series has been released. You’ll definitely recognize some of the actors!

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  1. Posted April 16, 2011 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Totally agree with you on Medicare. Its pretty stunning to watch. After living in CAD these last 2 years I have a hard time remembering how I ever rationlized voting for the people I did. Everyone is so afraid of raising taxes, but after living with higher taxes up here, let me tell you its worth it!

  2. Posted April 16, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    We don’t actually need to raise taxes for most of us to do significantly better than we are doing. Most of the hole the US is in comes as a direct result of cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans to the extent that they now pay a lower effective marginal tax rate than I do. And that’s perhaps one of the most insulting things about the Republican plan. They are trying to effectively eliminate Medicare in order to be able to fund even more tax cuts for the wealthiest — to the tune of 3 trillion dollars in tax cuts aimed solely at the top 1% of Americans. None of the Medicare cost-shifting (which is essentially just telling people to die since few people can afford to spend more than half of their fixed retirement income on Medicare — so many of the “vouchers” will of necessity go unused) goes to deficit reduction. Instead they just make up numbers (like 2.8% unemployment and reducing defense and other spending back to Calvin Coolidge era amounts) to create the illusion of deficit reduction.

    As someone who has been working for about three decades now, I am also disgusted by the blatant Republican attempt to break the social contract under which I have worked and paid taxes. But I don’t expect that to matter to them. We already saw in the last decade leading up to the financial collapse (for which they were all rewarded rather than suffering any consequences for their actions) that they completely lack a moral ethical framework.

  3. Posted April 18, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    But,,, what if you were wealthy someday, wouldn’t you want to keep your money? At least that’s what I keep hearing from all my middle class relatives. A serious misplacement of empathy at best, major greed at worst.

  4. Posted April 18, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    I would start by saying it’s delusion. The overwhelming majority of people will never be in the top 1%. So voting for things that benefit the top 1% and are actually counter to your own welfare and the general social good represents the perfect illustration of bondage and slavery to the passions of greed and envy.

    Ironically, it’s not even in the long-term interest of the top 1% themselves. Much of the income at that level comes from capital gains and capital gains depend on a healthy economy. However, as wealth (measured in both real terms and income) have become concentrated at the very top, everyone else has seen their income become stagnant and even decline (in real terms) over the past thirty years. There is a limit to the real goods any one person can purchase and consume. To put it simply, the rich can’t spend enough to keep the economy moving. That’s one of the reasons the present “recovery” has been so anemic. Debt-fueled spending masked that reality for some years before the crash, but that’s no longer an option for many families.

    Presently, the top 1% accounts for 23% of the nation’s income and something like 40% of its wealth. To provide a basis for comparison, thirty years ago, the top 1% accounted for about 11% of the income. That lack of equilibrium is actually all that’s “wrong” with social security. It did have some structural flaws, but Greenspan and others working on a commission Reagan put together addressed those problems back in the 80s using correct actuarial data and with full awareness of the generation dip following the boomers. Their formulas were correct. The problem is that the inflation-indexed FICA tax was designed to be capped at the 90% level. Because of the concentration of wealth and income, only about 84% of the nation’s income is taxed under FICA. Basically, the social security tax cap needs to be raised from the first 106k of income to the first 180k of income, at which point it would cover 90% of income again and the social security “problem” would be fixed.

    But that does nothing to address the other societal issues caused by a concentration of wealth now that’s most similar to Russia and Iran and greatly exceeds the concentration of most developed nations. Our society provides the basis for wealth and it used to be axiomatic in our country that a portion of that wealth would be returned to the society that fostered it. That is no longer true. Greed and the lust for power rule instead.

    I’ll also note that I’m among those who will certainly pay more taxes if the tax rates return to the Clinton era tax rates (back when we actually had surpluses). I still think that’s the only fiscally responsible thing to do. The Bush tax cuts were never funded by corresponding spending cuts. Instead, Congress and he piled a ton of spending on top of that which was also unfunded — including two wars funded not through shared sacrifice, but on credit. Returning to some sane level of responsible and serious governing makes a lot more sense than the nonsense Ryan and the House Republicans had the nerve to call a “budget”. We also need to undo the Bush era change to the capital gains tax. Capital gains income should be taxed at nothing less than the same marginal rates as wage income.

  5. Posted April 19, 2011 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    Another couple of thoughts that show how deep the delusion goes. While the gulf between the top 1% and even the rest of the top 10%, much less the bottom 90%, is huge and would take a major fluke to bridge, if Medicare is dismantled, the odds that your friends will end their lives bankrupt, poverty-stricken, and without meaningful access to health care soar. Given the inflation in health care and the much larger range of things we can do, I wouldn’t be surprised if, instead of a third like it was before Medicare, that number wouldn’t be well over half of seniors. So, by supporting policies to further enrich the top 1% (where the supposed Medicare savings are targeted in their plan) in the delusion that they might one day be rich, the mostly likely outcome for your friends is poverty and an earlier death.

    Also, while the Bush tax cuts have been extended for two years with a major fight, most of that goes again to the wealthiest. Everyone was hot and bothered trying to save the cuts for their wealthy friends and apparently didn’t notice that the stimulus-related Obama tax cuts and credits for the middle class were expiring. So the net effect in 2011 and 2012 — as a direct result of Republican policy — is that most of will pay more in taxes while the tax cuts for the wealthiest have been preserved at an immense cost.

    Of course, as the S&P warning about our credit rating illustrates, our economy itself depends on the entire social fabric. By acting contrary to the interests of our society, the wealthiest are actually destroying the basis for their own wealth. (I will note that it’s hardly universal. Many of the wealthiest are quite aware of that truth and have been pretty public about it, though without much effect to date.)

    The passions are pretty powerful things when they enslave us as individuals. They are much more powerful when they enslave a society.

  6. Posted April 19, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    I AGREE! I cannot wrap my mind around the intense need to give the richest 1% a break financially. And it really bothers me that this is the party that claims so much of the religious vote! I enjoyed the religious perspective in this article (compared to the Evangelical friends I was mentioning!). In particular, this quote.

    “In the United States in particular, a philosophy that exalts individual freedom is closely entwined with the dominant Calvinist tradition of seeing material success of a sign of virtue and divine favor.” 🙂

  7. Posted April 19, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Permalink


    Oops, forgot to actually link the thing. Here it is just in case you didn’t see it on my Twitter feed.

  8. Posted April 20, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    That was a good article. I enjoyed it.

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