Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Congress: Tax cut compromise paves way for future Social Security benefit cuts

I happened to notice something important about the recent tax-cut "compromise" that extends jobless benefits to some of the long-term unemployed. It's a key part of the bill, and a dangerous harbinger for the future, but I haven't heard anyone complain about it yet.

Now I don't want to be a stick-in-the-mud about a bill that delivers tangible short-term benefits to a large part of the electorate-- my taxes and withholding will both change to my favor. The bill is an $850 billion stimulus bill, with all the barnacles, and ugliness, and pork-grease gravy that characterize every large money bill. And all acknowledge, the funds will be borrowed.

Now, at first I was quizzical as to how the self-characterized "deficit hawks" (of both parties) could have been so handily flim-flammed into voting for a bill funded directly with debt. The effect of the bill on the economy is similar to running our credit cards to their max, and then cutting our monthly payments, such that the debt will take longer to pay off. It's a good thing interest rates are so low. How could the debt hawks have been so expertly taken?

Consider this. One of the key provisions of this glorious compromise bill is a 2% cut in the "payroll tax" for every worker. This is an immediate 2% pay raise for a large number of working Americans. The Bush-era tax cuts were also extended for two more years. And of course, jobless benefits were extended to some who had run out of benefits (50 weeks was the previous limit, I believe).

The payroll tax, though... what about that? The payroll tax funds Medicare and Social Security. The payroll tax is the funding mechanism that was built into the original design of the system, and similar to insurance premiums. What this compromise accomplishes, in effect, is the underfunding of Social Security and Medicare, thereby ensuring their malfunction in the future. An insurance company has to demonstrate they're adequately funding their future obligations; if not they have to raise premiums. In this case, the FICA funding mechanism has been cut with no offsetting adjustments in benefits. Or perhaps that's the plan-- underfunding now will necessitate cutting benefits in the future.

This state of affairs appears to have only one goal-- to end Social Security and Medicare sooner rather than later. And this issue has been raised by precisely no one-- not in the press and not in government. I'm not inclined to think this was the accidental outcome of a chaotic bare-knuckled negotiating scenario. Maybe the deficit hawks weren't taken.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

What's wrong with this picture?

I was thinking about purchasing some jazz, and SomaFM sent me to an Amazon link, which I clicked and found they sell MP3 downloads. Pay $9.99 to download the whole CD, or $ 0.99 to download each of the four songs on the album.

There's something wrong here. This is a product sold by software. The dollar-each songs are a good deal in this case. I'm pretty sure nothing comes with the "full CD" download that's not in the $6.00 cheaper a la carte separate cuts  (I'm specifically thinking of cover art). I believe the songs download with album art.

I probably shouldn't even buy from Amazon, after what they did to Julian Assange in response to a visit by Joe Lieberman. I have been avoiding it. I found this interesting, though. A product sold by software that doesn't understand the value of what it's selling. I wonder how this is priced on iTunes? I shall explore this.

Here's how iTunes does it. They only offer some of the tunes to download. You can't get all the songs unless you purchase the whole album for $9.99.

Basically this proves Amazon's software doesn't optimize the purchase in favor of the vendor. Apple's does. Also, this proves downloading music is expensive, considering how ephemeral this medium feels-- they'd like everyone to download (and pay for) this media for every device in the house, or at least whenever you lose, break, or upgrade one. Get it for your computer, your netbook, the new phone. I don't even know if I like this album.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Just a quick political rant

This is a completely political post, because I haven't posted in awhile (I just moved to a new home, and I've been busy, and the holidays are here and eating up all my time, and all that jazz).

1. Sarah Palin is a moron! She's the absolute worst kind of moron, because she has no clue how shallow and stupid she is. She's dangerous, that's all I'm going to say.

2. Julian Assange, the Australian founder and director of Wikileaks, is kind of a freak, but he's not a criminal, and he's certainly not a terrorist. He's even a bit of a hero, and I admire his resolve. Despite all the contrary reporting in the US press, he's not on the run. The press can't seem to say enough bad about him, but they're ignoring the story (the myriad of stories) he's disclosed to the world. If some idiot dipshit (inspired perhaps by Sarah Palin or someone else) doesn't assassinate him, I believe his legal troubles will disappear because there's nothing to them but the yapping of those who are embarrassed by his revelations.

3. If I hear one more time that the rich have to get their tax cut so they can create jobs I'm going to vomit. This is a blatantly dishonest and disingenuous dichotomy invented and spread by rich scum-suckers who don't want to pay their fair share. They'd rather cut Medicare and Social Security (going to the aged and poor) than pay one dime more in taxes. For my part, I'd rather lose the middle class tax cut altogether (even for those who make under $250,000, where I fit in) than have the whole Bush tax cut extended for the uber-wealthy. I can afford to pay a bit more in taxes if it will benefit the country. The "less taxes create jobs, more taxes destroys jobs" meme is a blatant, and cynical, lie! Businesses create jobs because that's how they make money. PERIOD! The reason there's a jobs crisis is because so few people in the country can afford to buy anything. There's no market! The economic collapse took all the consumers' money, and many of their jobs. Reducing the taxes paid by the rich won't replace that money in the economy-- they've already bought everything they need or want.

4. The New Republic is recommending (even predicting) the Democrats will move closer to the center, and insists the move will be good for the country. But that's stupid, because the Democrats are already so far right of center they're unrecognizable. And the Republicans are vying with each other in every state to see who can get the least evolved Neanderthal elected to high public office. Paul LePage, the new governor of Maine, is a true knuckle-dragger. And he's a quantum leap over Palin, who's a blinking starlet and, thankfully dim enough that despite the laudatory coverage she gets everywhere (WTF is that about?), she shows her true colors whenever she opens her mouth. I do believe, when she gets onto the big stage (Facebook is her preferred venue these days), American voters will see what a urinal cake she really is. Maybe someone in the press will actually point and say the unthinkable-- "she's too fucking stupid and angry to handle any responsibility." But that's not likely.

5. The wars we're waging in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the proxy wars we're financing in Iran and Somalia and Yemen and Pakistan, have to end. Now! They're an utter and tragic waste. They'll never succeed (ask yourself, "succeed at what?"), and have done nothing but bankrupt our country and make a whole lot more people hate the USA, and hate us for better reasons. We've alienated our staunchest allies. We're not a bit safer, but we're much poorer. And we've done a lot more evil mischief as well. It's time to admit it-- our imperial wars, and the "war on terrorism," have been a complete failure. Washington has to stop lying to our young soldiers, and to our naive and uninformed citizens. It's ovah, Joey. Bring them all home, and cut the Pentagon budget by at least 1/3. That's a start.

That is all... for now.