Archive for September 2011

Is Ron Paul Really Off-Base?

After the announcement of the death by predator drone of Anwal al Awiaki, Ron Paul raised the very real question if this shouldn’t disturb Americans that an American citizen can be legally assassinated? Of course he was shouted down by both the left and right (remind anyone of the reaction to critics of going to war in Iraq?), and legally with the authorization of “any action necessary” to defend the United States, the President is acting legally. But even so… Doesn’t it bother anybody that the government through some opaque process can decide who can be killed?

Don’t get me wrong, I think this was a legitimate target, but who decides? What is the process that determines who is an enemy combatant and can be killed on sight? To me this is an important question to ask because what prevents the President from deciding if I am an enemy combatant and decides to take me out? Outrageous you say? Maybe, but exactly where are the checks and balances. And oh for you Tea Partiers, right to lifers, fearful of government death panels, why doesn’t this concern you? You think government can’t do anything right, but on killing people it is the epitome of efficiency? Ron Paul is raising a valid issue about what are the limits of power for government.

Think about this. Maybe by some colossal mistake, your name gets on “the list”, maybe only through exercising your right to free speech. So who do you petitiion to have your name removed? If you go to the courts will the government use the defense that national security will be compromised in reviewing the facts? As with Anwal al Awiaki, will the government say that how it was determined that you were listed for assassination is classified? There is something seriously wrong with all of this.

Preface to “It Really is Just the Economy Part II”

One of the things that I have learned in writing a blog, is that readers want short, to the point analysis, and going over a page, well, it just won’t get read. So I am trying to break this topic up as much as possible because quite frankly, it is not a short topic.

All our politics is really just about how we feel economically. If the economy is doing fine, then regardless of our leader’s politics, we vote him in. That is why all the polls on the various politicians is so meaningless. Clearly the Republicans are not happy with their cartoon character candidates for President so they want Chris Christie. But if he enters the race, like Perry, he will be closely examined, followed by a gagging reflex.

To sum up where we have been, Obama has appeared weak with his endless compromises with the Republicans and in an era of uncertainty, a guy who seems weak is the last thing we need. Worse, nothing he has done has had any measurable impact on the economy as it languishes. All the rest is irrelevant.   So, ignoring policies, the voter is leaning toward the other guy. Right now there is no examination of policies to see what might work, the polls just reflect wanting somebody new who seems sure of himself. The reckoning will come when we really look at what they stand for and if we think those policies will work.

The NYT kind of summed up the Republican agenda as the following (An Icy Political Vision):

“It is a program to wind down the government’s longstanding guarantee of health care to the elderly and the poor and incinerate the Democrats’ new promise to cover the uninsured; to abolish the Department of Education and its effort to raise national standards; to stop virtually all regulation of the environment and the financial industry; to reimpose military discrimination against gays and lesbians, deport immigrants, cut unemployment insurance and nutrition programs, raise taxes on the poor and lower them for the rich.”

Their economic plan is the same one that got us into this situation with low taxes and no regulation which reflects a kind of institutional amnesia forgetting that is exactly what George Bush brought us when we went over the cliff.  In the meantime the world economy seems to be going off a cliff as we have embarked  on an austerity kick in some moralistic need for self flagellation.  It is exactly what Econ 101 tells us not to do.  It is exactly what was done during the Depression, the Japanese lost decade, and other economic upheavals that proved so wrong.  As Dean Baker (economist) has said about Greece and the Conventional Wisdom that Austerity will make things better:

“When the government pulls money out of the economy by laying off workers, cutting government workers’ pay, and raising taxes, the expected result is a weakened economy. This is exactly what has happened in Greece.”

It is also exactly what we are doing at home and it is nonsensical.  Paul Krugman and other economists whose economics are not clouded by their conservative funding have been pointing out that there is no data to support the claim that regulations, taxes, and uncertainty has anything to do with businesses failure to expand (The Phony Fear Factor).  In a wonderful blog written by Kevin O’Rourke, The Importance of Economic History, he says:

“I have been reliably informed that a well-known department stopped teaching its undergraduates IS-LM just before the crisis hit in 2008. And the result is that you had people seriously peddling the line that austerity would be expansionary in the wake of the biggest downturn since the 1930s — and these claims were influential in Europe, it seems clear, in the fateful spring and summer of 2010.”

Basically we have a whole political party reinventing history and ignoring the “science’ we have developed about cause and effect in economics.  We shouldn’t be surprised based on their stance on evolution and climate change.  But with the intellectual bankruptcy of the Republicans, what are the Democrats offering us?  Well tepid at best, Republican policies.  Obama has proposed a jobs program that has no basis in a real plan for the future, just a band-aid on the jobs problem.  So the question becomes, what is the long term plan for all that ails our economy?  That is what “It Really is Just the Economy Part II” is going to address.  There are two parts to this.  Going back and learning from our history and employing Econ 101 (Things that Krugman, Gailbraith, Baker, et al have been trying to point out to us) to make the economy perform better, and real changes in our politics to build an American society ready to take on the challenges of the global market place.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I think I have an outline of where we should be going.  I am sure I have some of this wrong, but it is in the details, not the overall strategic approach.  It is the opposite of what the Republicans are proposing and if we follow their lead we really will crash and burn.  I am hoping in the coming months the Progressives will push Obama into realizing that he can’t just compromise with band-aids he thinks he can get done.  He has to communicate a road map for our future and then start fighting for it.  Keep in mind that if we settle for what we think is politically feasible, we will settle for failure.  Or as Paul Krugman expressed it in a Venn Diagram:

Note for the Venn Diagram challenged:  If there is no overlap, they are mutually exclusive.

Baseball Nirvana

I had the most wondrous night last night watching the end of baseball season which is usually a sad thing for me. Even with the pending playoffs, the end of baseball season marks the end of another summer, the falling of the leaves, no more warm nights on the porch with cold beer in hand listening to my favorite team, the A’s. But last night was a revelation in baseball, a celebration of perseverance, coming from behind, and just plain luck. It is and was everything that is true about the human spirit.

Let me start with the Giants, last years World Series Champions. I have always disliked the Giants because I felt their fans were, well, there for the winning, not the game. If you are an A’s fan, you certainly aren’t there for the winning, but I digress. I was proven so wrong this year. They sold out all their home games even though with injuries, they were just not up to even a wild card berth. But best of all, yesterday, on a beautiful day in San Francisco as only San Francisco can deliver, with a game that meant nothing except the last game of the year, the stadium was sold out to say goodbye to their team. That was a beautiful thing. I shall henceforth never disparage Giant’s fans again.

Then of course we have the games that meant something. Here we are at the last game of the season and we still don’t know who are the wild card teams. These games really meant something and they did not disappoint. First was the Cardinals shellacking of the Astros just so they could maybe be a wild card team. This is after an amazing comeback in September. So the Cardinals either have a playoff with Atlanta for the wild card slot, or if Atlanta loses, own it outright. And that leads me to the collapse of the Atlanta Braves.

It was a hard fought game against Philly, already in the playoffs. So it was a tribute to Philly that they didn’t just play their farm team and instead maintained the integrity of the game playing the boys that got them there. Atlanta had to win it because the Cardinals had won to simply force a wild card playoff, and even when they were ahead, they looked like a team that was just exhausted. The fight was just gone out of them and in the end Philly won it by some extremely poor pitching by Atlanta. So exit Atlanta who just looked too shell shocked after their collapse in September to deal with a playoff.

Then there was Boston and the Orioles. What a game. The Orioles had nothing to gain but self-respect and they were fighting for it. Boston, ahead with a 3-2 lead in the 7th, was put on hold with a rain delay. They got to the ninth when the game resumed with that lead, and then in a pitching meltdown (I think these guys just try to over pitch), with two outs the Orioles tied it up and then scored the winning run. In the end, the Orioles, the spoilers capped a meltdown of Boston which included costly base running errors. Again, what you saw with both Atlanta and Boston were teams that weren’t quite ready for the playoffs and had they got there, would have been soon gone. So Boston went into their club house hoping the Devil Rays would lose.

So now we get to the piece de resistance, the Rays game. Boston has lost so if the Rays win, they are in the playoffs. So in the early going, Yankees take a commanding 7-0 lead. That is why the Boston game was such a collapse. In their minds (Boston) the wild card was for their taking and all they had to do was win. When they blew it, they had to hope the Rays would lose, which they were well on there way to doing.

But the Rays were not going away and with a commanding lead, the Yankees put in their backup guys. And sure enough in the late innings the Rays didn’t give up and mounted a come back, tying it up 7-7 in the ninth. Now the Rays knew their fate was in their hands since they could see that Boston had lost. And in the dramatic fashion only baseball can provide, in the 12th inning, provided a walk off home run.

I don’t think I have seen three more exciting games with amazing finishes, and clearly the best teams won. Those with grit, determination, and baseball smarts came through and those that lost the faith and focus were pushed aside. The day was a tribute to the game, its players, and its spirit. Oh did I mention the A’s won too. I think this was one of the most exciting days of baseball I have ever witnessed. Bring on the playoffs.

The Horse Race

As is my habit I like to exercise with the news on. It gives me that extra burst of power that comes from pure anger. Today they were babbling about the horse race: X is up by y%, A leads B by z%, and my favorite, if the vote were held today, Obama and Romney are tied in Pennsylvania. So what did we just learn? Nothing. It is mental masturbation. People right now are not paying attention to the election and they comment based upon how they are feeling that day about the economy. But it has nothing to do with what either is proposing on the economy, because that is not even being discussed. Policies, what stinkin’ policies?

Now based upon what I know today, I could hardly see why anyone would vote for Romney because the Republican policies of low taxes and less regulation is the recycled gibberish that got us here. It makes no sense and I think what is being expressed is simply unhappiness with the present circumstances and the failure of the Obama Administration to do anything about it. But I think their unhappiness runs deeper than that. It is like the feeling of the Republicans toward their candidates, we are all looking for more.

If we were actually discussing policies, here is what might actually come out: Both sides are assuming that if we either cut taxes and regulations, or do massive stimulus spending, things will return to normal. But most people (the sane ones, not the Tea Party who are irrationally circling the wagons) sense on some level that there is a whole new economic world out there and they are scared. Neither side is either addressing that fear directly or offering a plausible road map to a prosperous future. Both sides are saying, let’s just get things back on track the way they were and everything will be fine. And if you come to that realization, then you understand why some middle of the road solutions simply won’t work. Neither side is addressing long term solutions and a compromise measure simply kicks the can down the road.

Here are some questions we might want to think about:

  1. How are we to compete in a global economy?
  2. What is it we will sell to the rest of the world that provides well paying jobs?
  3. Is a strong dollar really hurting us?
  4. What will get us out of our present tail spin?
  5. Does our present system push wages down and slowly reduce the middle class?
  6. Do our own citizens have the buying power to sustain our economy?
  7. Has the shift in wealth to a few crippled our economy?
  8. Even more important, has the shift in wealth to a few unbalanced the political system so most citizens are disenfranchised?

The bottom line here is that we need short term fixes to get us out of our tail spin, and long term fixes to address all the rest. The answers are out there, and they are not new. I will tell you right now cutting taxes and gutting government is a recipe to make our problems worse and continue our slide to oblivion. But at the same time, short term stimulus, without a long term plan is just a band aid on a major wound. In my blog “It Really is all about the Economy, Part II” (Part 1 described where we are and the politics of fear), I will tell you what I think are some of the answers. I have to finish Dean Baker’s book, End of Loser Liberalism, Making Markets Progressive, first so I can have a balanced view. The new world is a place of progressive economics, and government partnering with the market place.  That partnership is a balance of what encourages business and what improves the quality of life for all of us.  Unlike what conservatives have been trying to tell us. these two are not mutually exclusive.

Intellectual Dishonesty – David Brooks

David Brooks is sad to watch.  Here is a smart man, but when it comes to his politics he has put the blinders on because he really can’t stand the truth.  In the very depths of David Brooks soul is this basic distrust of Democrats.  To him they will always be tax and spend liberals and their ideas just hurt the economy.  The trouble is that his pathology of thinking is becoming more pronounced as his mind carefully sorts reality to only hear or see what he already thinks he knows.  In his NYT column today he said the following (The Lost Decade):

“Many Democrats are predisposed to want more government spending. So they pick up on the one current they think can be cured with more government spending: low consumer demand. Increase government spending and that will pump up consumer spending.

When President Obama’s stimulus package produced insufficient results, they didn’t concede that maybe there are other factors at play, which mitigated the effects. They just called for more government spending. To a man in love with his hammer, every problem requires a nail.”

The amount of intellectual dishonesty in this statement just boggles the mind.  First is the statement, emotionally loaded, that “Democrats are predisposed to want more government spending.”  It is those tax and spend Democrats who just want to waste your tax dollar, not in invest in your future through education, infrastructure, health care, or R&D.  It is name calling and playing on preconceived notions and emotions instead of any intellectual argument.  Sometimes spending is wasteful, sometimes it is the key to a bright future, but Brooks doesn’t make this distinction and just attacks spending as a buzz word to describe Democrats.  That in itself is sad and intellectually dishonest.

But the worst comes in his next implicit and dishonest bending of the facts.  While using the term “produced insufficient results” he is really implying that the whole idea of stimulus spending is destine to failure.  What he is doing here is tipping his hat explicitly to those who pointed out that the stimulus package was too small by at least a third to deal with actual job loss like Paul Krugman, Dean Baker , and others.  He is not denying that this spending did in fact create jobs, but he is implicitly making the statement that if this is true, further spending is frivolous (They just called for more spending).  Paul Krugman (Stimulus Tales) puts forth both his and Dean Baker’s correction of Brooks’ record:

“When information about the planned stimulus began emerging, those of us who took our macro seriously warned, often and strenuously, that it was far short of what was needed — that given what we already knew about the likely depth of the slump, the plan would fill only a fraction of the hole. Worse yet, I in particular argued, the plan would probably be seen as a failure, making another round impossible.

But never mind. What we keep hearing instead is a narrative that runs like this: “Keynesians said that the stimulus would solve the problems, then when it didn’t, instead of admitting they were wrong, they came back and said it wasn’t big enough. Heh heh heh.” That’s their story, and they’re sticking to it, never mind the facts.

And what the facts say is that Keynesian policy didn’t fail, because it wasn’t tried. The only real tests we’ve had of Keynesian economics were the prediction that large budget deficits in a depressed economy wouldn’t drive up interest rates, and the prediction that austerity in depressed economies would deepen their depression. How do you think that turned out?”

I will give Brooks his due, although on spending, you could drive a dump truck through his blind spot and fear of Democrats, the fix will certainly be more than just spending.  It will involve strategic spending, reforming the banks and tax laws, renegotiation of our trade laws, and many other things.  Although Brooks recognizes this, his revisions to these laws and institutions and mine would be considerably different.  He still thinks that what is good for Wall Street is good for the country.  Personally I would rather listen to Baker and Krugman, real economists who have been consistently right about the economy and who look at all the data to draw conclusions, not a columnist who carefully culls selected data to support what he already believes.

The Great Mischaracterization

How you frame a debate is critical to the answers you get and the press is mis-framing the partisan divide.  I am not saying there is not a large, and in my opinion, unbridgeable chasm, but it is not with two sides that have drawn to their respective corners.  The Media’s framing is that the left has become more radical, and of course we have the right controlled by the Tea Party.  But that not only mischaracterizes the real situation, but then results in a blame game that does not allow the rest of us to make rational decisions about our political processes.  They keep wondering where the moderate middle is, and if they really looked, that would be the Democratic Party today.

As a few pundits have noted, Ronald Reagan would not pass muster in the modern conservative Republican Party.  There was a time when Republicans understood that government had an important role in our lives, and when Democrats really were the tax and spend liberals.  But those days have not been with us in at least 20-30 years.  The Democrats have moved to the right with Bill Clinton’s embrace of Wall Street (repeal of Glass-Steagal), passing legislation to limit welfare, and moving more forcefully with the business community (what is good for business is good for the country).  In fact if you look at most Democratic positions in the last 20 years, they would be moderate Republican in the 70’s.  Meanwhile the Republicans have become anti-government, anti-tax, basically destroying the social contract.  So what we have is a country who has been moving right for 30 years and now Democrats who sound like moderate Republicans are the radical left.

So what that gives us is that anyone who is “moderate Republican” today is far to the right.  Ideas about finding middle ground simply move us further right.  Note that all of President Obama’s hated programs are nothing more than Republican positions a few years ago.  In the meantime, our economy has slowly weakened as right of middle solutions have simply set us up for economic uncertainty, variability, and transferred massive wealth of our nation to the “job creators” who don’t create any jobs except maybe in China.

In this characterization that things like a public option for health care are radical liberal solutions to be ignored, we never get a real debate about why this is a common sense solution for our future.  Think about how the Tea Party information challenged members told their representatives to keep government out of their Medicare.  So we get this media bias that many Progressive positions are part of the radical left and they don’t even get a fair hearing.  We get the extreme right (that is all that is left of the Republican Party) and the moderate right (“reasonable” Democrats) debating and moving us further and further right while the press laments no middle ground not understanding that we have moved so far to the right that middle ground of old is seen as radical left.  The Progressive caucus rarely gets any press and how many of you know their proposals for the economy?

Here is the really sad thing.  With this focus on right and left partisanship, we never focus on the issues themselves and the proposed solutions.  On economic issues, all the rage is the deficit.  Yet Paul Krugman has been mostly right all along the way ,telling us this is the road to a long recession,  and he is still seen as liberal outsider.  We continue to interview financial “experts” who never saw the housing bubble and were telling us right up to the crash, this could go on forever.  We have an austerity program being modeled after the failed European disaster and we never discuss that it is not working.  My point is that as long as we describe these arguments as left-right and that we yearn for the middle, we miss the whole point that we need effective policies.  Where in the political spectrum they lie is irrelevant.   Effective in today’s political climate is not compromise.  Compromise just moves us further right with more failed policies.  It is time to really start looking a policies and evaluate them on their history of performance, not whether it is a compromise solution or is it left or right.


Thought for the Day

The press is pointing out that the new feistiness of the President is because he is in full campaign mode. I don’t know what that means. Does that mean that when you stand up for what you believe and push back on those who are obstructionists then you are in campaign mode and when you roll over and compromise away your basic beliefs you are in governing mode?

UPDATE:  Jonathan Alter, editor for Newsweek, and pundit for MSNBC, exhibited everything that is wrong with our pundits today as he responded to a question from Martin Bashir.  The question was why has this feisty Obama been missing and Alter started explaining to us that you can’t govern this way.  Sadly Alter is one of those that still thinks the the two sides can work together.  He is living in a period about 20 years ago when we still had reasonable Republicans.  He doesn’t understand that the only way to govern today with a Republican Party bent on the other side’s destruction is to take it to the people.

Then Alter complained about “liberal whining”.  The guy was arguing back in the day that the ObamaCare Bill was the best we could get instead of understanding we needed to be fighting for the best there is.  He wanted to tout Obama’s record, and of course he sees it through the lens of legislative accomplishment, not effectiveness.  We are at almost 10% unemployment, the system that got us there is still in place, the once destroyed Republicans are back, and Jonathan wants us to be happy with our lot.  Get a new face with some new ideas because this guy is way past his mental prime living in failure he defines as success.  We need to forget about bipartisanship because middle of the road compromises will just lead to more failure and guys like Alter will never get it.

A Sign of “Fair and Balanced”

There is an interesting article in the NYT this morning about how flood victims in Pennsylvania blame “Congress” for the lack of funding for disaster relief (Flood Victims Getting Fed Up With Congress). Several quotes were in the vein that if they would just stop their partisan bickering and get something done, we wouldn’t be suffering. Let’s see if I have this right. Democrats are more than willing to fund disaster relief as it has always been funded, without trying to find major offsets in the budget. Republicans on the other hand demand cuts in spending to offset the relief and the problem is Congress? Once you demand offsets, the whole thing goes viral and nothing is going to happen.

I can’t help it. This is a direct result of our media being “fair and balanced” and failing to point out the outrageousness of one side of the argument, but just covering it as another equally viable point of view. The favorite analogy on this is a debate between flat earthers and those that know the world is round and giving each side a legitimate seat at the table. What we get from this kind of reporting is that our fellow citizens don’t really see what is going on and are unable to assign blame and hold the real villains accountable.

Finally for those that think offsets are just fine, think about this: We have a depressed economy. Disaster without disaster relief just further depresses it. Disaster relief with offsets at best just keeps the situation the same when we had this wonderful opportunity to do some real stimulus spending and help people really in need. But Congress is held hostage by the Tea Party, and nobody recognizes that this is not partisan bickering. This is being steamrolled.

Republican Presidential Candidates and Reality

Okay, it has been really entertaining watching the Republican debates, but when reality intrudes, well it just ruins the plot. What all these candidates offer in lashing out, blame, and some Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, is simple minded justice to people who are information challenged and are really, really afraid. Sadly these made up carton characters make great movies and entertainment, but don’t have much to do with reality, and would be disaster as leaders of our country.

Our favorite macho character in this play is Rick Perry. But then his fellow rabid Republicans got all over him for how he handled the immigration questions, especially his Texas Dream Act. See the reality is you can’t just build fences unless you have a bottomless pit of money and even more important, in reality, our economy is dependent on immigration. Just ask the farmers in conservative and very red Georgia when tough immigration laws cut off their supply of labor. Rick, on this one, has to deal with reality and well, reality is a bitch. But explaining to a bunch of hicks in the sticks that allowing innocent children of illegal immigrants a chance to be productive citizens is actually the most effective and cost efficient way to deal with them just goes against their whole blame game and barbarians at the gate fantasy.

But standing tall to these neanderthals resulted in the wonderful confrontation with the gay soldier serving his country in Afghanistan, and their Bible thumping minions, showed the cartoon character of their beliefs. It takes a real understanding and appreciation of humanity and the human condition to understand that life is not so simple as some dogma they mined from their religious literature about real character and the complexity of human experience. Their pandering to a small minority that wants to strip the basic freedoms from our fellow citizens and the true nature of their anti-democratic theocratic beliefs was there for all to see.

But when you get right down to it, their whole platform is based on a cartoon based perception of reality. They demonstrated over and over again that the true complexity of an issue and the complex solutions required to respect our democratic and constitutional underpinnings are just beyond their dirty Harry idea that we just need to shoot the bad guys (figuratively by gutting government and entitlements). Rick Perry’s views on capital punishment, bolstered by his belief that God is guiding him, allows him to ignore reality and leave the gross injustice of the system unexamined.

And so it goes with all of them. If this is what we have for Presidential material in the Republican Party, and more importantly half the nation would vote for these reality show drama queens, then we have really sunk to a new low. Our problems are deep and require complex and sometimes difficult to implement solutions to move the country forward. What we get from these folks is simple minded solutions about blame and morality, not solutions based upon real world outcomes. Of course everyone was shocked, shocked, shocked when Herb Cain won the Florida straw poll. It tells you one other thing. We also have morons for pundits. Maybe in my dream world both would just go away.

More Idle Thoughts About Cutting Entitlements

I think what really starts to make me wonder is how really serious and smart people tell us that “entitlements” must be cut along with providing some stimulus spending. Entitlements is code for Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. Really? Understand who these program really benefit and you understand how class warfare has been conducted under the radar. But “responsible” people will tell you that we have to do both. I don’t think they are responsible at all, merely shallow. It is the conventional wisdom of the day and it will do more damage than good.

But let me explain. Take a hard look at Europe right now and how their almost two year experiment with austerity is working out. If things keep going so peachy keen well, they may collapse their whole economy. It is trying to operate an economy based upon morality instead of Econ 101. As they institute austerity to “put discipline and confidence” back in the system, the whole economy spirals downward and confidence is not really the problem, demand is. As the economies become further depressed, none of their citizens has enough money to create demand with or without confidence. Businesses may have all the confidence in the world, but with no customers, only a fool would expand to have inventory he can’t move.

So here we are in the United States starting our own path down austerity, but of course we are expecting something different to happen. But the lack of jobs has reared its ugly head and even politicians understand that to create real jobs will require government spending because as predicted by Econ 101, business won’t. The problem with all this, is like the first stimulus package, it will be too small and a bandaid for the election. And to pay for it, really responsible people think we should reduce entitlements to those who are already on the margins. Both are destined to fail since the stimulus will be too small and not strategically focused for real long term growth, and with the reduction of entitlements further depressing our elderly and poor, spending is reduced, once again making the deficit worse (no revenue from a growing economy).

And let’s just examine the entitlements for a minute. Social Security is not in trouble and most analysts will tell you that with some minor adjustments in taxes, could go on indefinitely. Note I did not say increase in the age requirement. This is the one “responsible” people jump all over, but the people who really need it, are not living longer and they need it at 66 not some later date when they are dead. Means testing is just stupid because it sets up a whole bureaucracy to test means and the whole thing could be solved by raising the cap on income that is taxed for SS, which is just means testing without the bureaucracy on the other end of the SS spectrum.

As for Medicare and Medicaid, once again we need to ask the question what is an acceptable level of medical care provided to all our citizens? I think when you do that, you find that the last thing we want to do is cut benefits. But then you must ask yourself why do our delivery systems for this minimal care cost almost twice what is paid for the same services in other countries? I have one answer for you: Fee for Service. If hospitals and practitioners can increase their income by increasing services, their incentive is to do just that. HMOs like Kaiser Permanente and others charge a flat rate for care which puts the incentive on them to reduce the costs and to only utilize the most effective treatments. Wellness is one of their biggest focuses. Look at in this way, entitlements have to be looked at, but in making them more sustainable and cost effective, not what is generally intended, to cut benefits.

So while really smart people like Tom Friedman indicate that we have to look at entitlements, understand this is class warfare, and what we really need to do is examine how we continue these services without trying to fix our economy on the backs of the poor and elderly. But then asking Americans these days to be responsible adults and share some of the burden to pay for our future is kind of like pissing into the wind. Not very effective.