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Millionaire pundit’s boo-hoo-hoo deserves ridicule

May 19, 2011 Leave a comment

The Millionaire Pundit Class gets a fair amount of attention at The Daily Howler, where Bob Somerby reminds us regularly that highly paid “journalists” don’t face the same kinds of problems that trouble ordinary folks…like us. That helps to explain why so much class-conscious piffle gets published and broadcast, he suggests.

One boo-hoo-hoo topic that fully deserves scorn is the “down and out on $250,000 a year” meme, recently deployed again in the Fiscal Times and sympathetically portrayed by NY Times reporter-columnist Andew Ross Sorkin.

The original FT piece examined a hypothetical two-earner family with $250 K in income who “end up in the red” anyway. Of course, these “poor” people are setting aside $41,000 a year in savings, spend more than $16,000 owning two cars, and put another $19,000 a year towards child-care and after-school care. (Remember, as Felix Salmon points out, the average U.S. family of four earns about $66,000 a year pre-tax…not much more than the $250 K family puts into savings and cars.)

The point of the piece? These “poor” people earning $250 K can’t possibly afford to pay higher taxes.

Why would NYT pundit Sorkin look favorably on this idea? Well, for one thing, he recently purchased a posh apartment on NYC’s Upper West Side for more than $2.3 million! The very idea of higher tax rates must put his shorts in a twist.

Felix Salmon’s take is spot-on:

The thing which really annoys me about all these pieces is that they seem to be based on the idea that a sensible fiscal policy would only raise taxes on people who are so rich that they never need to worry about money. Which of course is ridiculous.

No surprise…Simpson’s been clueless for a long time

May 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Thanks to tireless Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler, we are reminded that ex-Sen. Alan Simpson has been parading his unfamiliarity with the facts about Social Security for a long time.

Somerby links to a Huffington Post item from June 2010 transcribing a back-and-forth between Simpson and pro-Social Security activist Alex Lawson.  Says Somerby,

[R]ead the transcript of Simpson’s interview with Lawson. If we take Simpson’s statements at face value, that interview showed that Simpson knows almost nothing about the Social Security system. But people! So what? Who cared?

Did anyone in the mainstream press corps react to Simpson’s gong-show last year? If they did, they did so quietly. Indeed, we’ve seen many liberals slam Simpson for this week’s ridiculous session with Grim. But we have seen no one recall last year’s disaster, an interview which was widely ignored by various mainstream elites.

The Lawson conversation featured Simpson making factually inaccurate statements about life expectancy and retirement age that he repeated in his recent interview with Ryan Grim (see previous post, “Simpson is a know-nothing blowhard.”)

Bill Sez: Take it away, Bob Somerby:

[T]here is no expectation of competence for our major elites. There is no sanction—none at all—for complete, astonishing ignorance. (Beyond that, there is no expectation of even modestly honest behavior.) Elites like Simpson are allowed to blunder ahead, even after they’ve made it clear that they (apparently) have no idea what they’re actually doing.

Surprise! Alan Simpson is a know-nothing blowhard

May 11, 2011 Leave a comment

He may have co-chaired a Presidential commission on deficit reduction, but former GOP Sen. Alan Simpson is largely unfamiliar with actual facts about the Social Security program and about key demographic trends in the U.S.

Like many members of the Pain (for others) Caucus, Simpson “knows” what he knows and refuses to accept corrections of his false perceptions and assumptions. After all, his lifestyle or well-being will never be diminished by his recommendations to cut benefits or increase the retirement age. He’s a perfect representative of the species Beltway Blowhard.

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‘I would not get a policy,’ says Aetna CEO

April 8, 2011 1 comment

At a time when Republicans seem eager to destroy Medicare and push older Americans into the individual insurance market, there is one insurance company CEO who knows first-hand what a terrible idea this is.

“I would not get a policy given my personal medical history,” Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini told Kaiser Health News. “I have one kidney. I have a broken neck from an extreme skiing accident. Given the experience with my son and myself, I’m uniquely prepared to see how to fix this system. I’ve watched it work from the inside.”

Bertolini’s son was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer as a teenager, was enrolled in hospice but survived, then received a kidney transplant from his father. Those experiences influenced Bertolini to ease Aetna’s rules about hospice enrollment, and it leaves him repulsed by the “death panels” argument used by Republicans to oppose the Affordable Care Act.

A real big flash point comes up with end-of-life care. Politicians will say ‘death squads: they’re going to put you in front of a committee and decide you’re going to die’. That’s just wrong, it’s not even remotely close. It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you’re on, someone takes an issue that is good policy and turns it into a political dogfight that creates a dialogue that’s not helpful.

Bill Sez: It’s remarkable how much a powerful guy’s policy preferences are shaped by his family’s experiences with life-threatening illness and injury. This interview deserves much broader attention than it’s likely to receive.

Smart guys agree: Brooks is a con man

April 6, 2011 Leave a comment

The Republican budget plan fomented by Congr. Paul Ryan et al is being called the ‘blogger full employment act of 2011.’ And it pleases me no end to see smart people agreeing about the absolute hackyness of David Brooks’ fulsome praise for Ryan’s proposal.

Dean Baker weighed in quickly:

Representative Ryan has provided a valuable service to the country by tossing out a piece of warmed-over dreck that calls for a massive upward redistribution from the nation’s workers to the rich. ….[M]any pundits will applaud the plan as brave, innovative and creative. In making these pronouncements these pundits will immediately reveal themselves as worthless hacks who either lack the ability or desire to do their own thinking.

James Kwak also gagged at Brooks’s ‘moment of blather’:

The Ryan plan will affect health care consumption, because poor seniors won’t be able to afford the health care they get now. So it will reduce overall spending on health care — but exactly by depriving people of care they would have had under Medicare. I think that’s called “rationing.”

….Ryan decided to go after Medicare. And, according to David Brooks, “His proposal will set the standard of seriousness for anybody who wants to play in this discussion.” No. Seriousness means doing something about health care costs themselves — not transferring the fiscal problem to households.

Both Kwak and Baker point out that the real problem is health care costs, not Medicare or Medicaid. More on that soon.

David Brooks is a con man (2)

April 5, 2011 Leave a comment

As blogger Adam Serwer explains, “the concept of ‘seriousness’ in Washington punditry is closely tied to the sacrifices rich people expect everyone else to make on their behalf in order to rescue America not merely from fiscal ruin but from moral decline as well.” Wouldn’t you know, David Brooks weighs in with a column praising Ryan as “courageous,” “serious” and “gutsy.” (Would you expect anything less?)

Or as Kevin Drum puts it, the “serious” Ryan proposal is

dedicated almost entirely to slashing social spending in a country that’s already the stingiest spender in the developed world, while simultaneously cutting taxes on the rich in a country with the lowest tax rates in the developed world.

Better yet, the Ryan plan also raises taxes for everyone except the rich. What a country!

Update: also from Kevin Drum

I’m pretty sure that Ryan is going to loudly and relentlessly insist that his Medicare proposal isn’t a voucher plan. I’m not sure why, but I assume that “voucher” must have polled poorly …. But if it walks like voucher, talks like a voucher, and quacks like a voucher, then it’s a voucher.

It’s class war, and the wealthy are attacking

April 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Republicans are finally coming clean about their intentions to dismantle Medicare and Medicaid while ushering in a new age of chickens in every pot and ponies for every child. It’s just another skirmish in the war of the rich vs. everybody else, with the GOP as the wealthy’s mercenary foot soldiers.

House Republican leader Paul Ryan proposes to change Medicare from what it is today — a program with the government paying for defined benefits — to something very different — a program to which the government would make defined contributions. As Aaron Carroll at The Incidental Economist explains,

A defined contribution plan is NOTHING like a defined benefit plan. Going to a voucher system, is a total change from Medicare. It’s the “end of Medicare as we know it”. Medicare right now is the equivalent of Canada’s single payer health care system. You want to end that; you want to privatize it. It’s a radical change. Own it. Deal with it.

The ongoing growth of health-care costs is the real problem — Medicare and Medicaid spending are symptoms, not causes; costs are going up even faster for people who have private insurance or none at all.

To hold down increases in Medicare spending, you can either (a) cut benefits or (b) reduce payments to doctors, hospitals and others. Ryan wants to go all-in on cutting benefits without admitting that’s what he’s doing. Perhaps he chooses not to address payments because doctors and hospital executives and nursing-home owners tend to vote Republican.

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