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Archive for November, 2010

The Cliff Notes version of the bi-partisan deficit reduction commission has leaked even though the full report isn’t due for another couple of weeks.  That probably means that the commissioners have agreed on their recommendations.  Despite the supposed mission of the commission — to reduce the deficit — that seems to be pretty far down on their list of priorities.

Rather, the emphasis is on reducing taxes (at least for some) and cutting spending.  Take, for example, the proposal to raise the retirement age.  But there was no accompanying recommendation to raise the cap so that more money would be paid into the system by current earners.  If that is representative of the ideology driving the rest of the recommendations, it’s fair to say that the burden of deficit reduction will be disproportionately put on that vast majority of Americans who are working and middle class.  Here’s why.

Working class or blue collar jobs are those that require a higher level of physical labor.  And while it’s true that all of us are living longer than seventy years ago when Social Security began, working class people often cannot physically continue to work well into their 60s.  So raising the age at which “full benefits” kick in is, in reality, a benefits cut for working class Americans.

The other kicker is changing the rules for cost of living adjustments.  The biggest impact of inflation on older Americans is the rise in medical costs, which would not be considered under the new scheme.  So, again, the effect is a benefits cut, potentially a very significant one, especially if the GOP manages to dismantle those parts of health care reform that would put downward pressure on costs of services.

Yet, they seem to leave the cap untouched.  The cap provides a 6% tax cut on wages above $107,000 — another tax break for those at the top, leaving everyone else to pick up the slack.  By not raising the cap, the commissioners have demonstrated that they are ideologically to the right.

That ideological bent will certainly be apparent in their other recommendations.  There’ll be talk of the need to sacrifice, painting such sacrifice as our patriotic duty.  But it seems that patriotic sacrifice will be reserved for the vast majority of Americans while allowing the top few percent to escape.

On the other hand, Rep. Jan Shakowski (D-MI) has released her own proposal that would take a big bite out of the deficits without further sacrificing the middle class.  She calls for allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for the top two brackets, raising the cap on Social Security taxes, implementing cap and trade (which would create thousands of new jobs in the growing alternative energy sector), and several other distinctly progressive solutions.

Rep. Shakowski’s proposal, along with those from the deficit reduction commission, should provide an opportunity for a healthy debate.  Whether that debate will happen remains to be seen.  Unfortunately, debate lately has been limited to who can get the best shots in rather than an open, honest, rational discussion of the pros and cons of a particular policy recommendation.

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I used to respect Sen. John McCain.  But as I’ve watched him waver and outright flip-flop on issue after issue in an attempt to curry favor in an increasingly extreme GOP, what respect I had has evaporated.  The latest opportunistic change of heart is relative to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

At one time, McCain said that when the military leaders came to him and recommended repeal, he’d be on board.  That was then.  But when they, both military and civilian (in the persons of the Secretary of Defense and the Chair of the Joint Chiefs) did just that, he waffled.  He wanted to see a study — a common delaying tactic in government — that would assess the impact on morale and readiness.

So, the military did a study.  And while it hasn’t been released in its entirety, it seems pretty clear that some clear-headed leadership would minimize the residual resistance among the troops.  After all, President Truman simply ordered the military to integrate.  And the military obeyed the Commander-in-Chief.  President Obama could have done the same, but he obviously wants to be a consensus-builder and to repeal the law, rather than simply order the military to stop discriminating against individuals who want to serve their country, regardless of their sexual orientation.  So he went along with the idea of a study.

But now that the study has been completed (and the results weren’t to Sen. McCain’s liking), he’s criticizing the study.  Seems he’ll do just about anything to keep from having to actually act on his previous position.  Never mind that most of our allies, and some nations that aren’t exactly allies,  have openly gay members of their military without it affecting their morale or their effectiveness.  They must be shaking their heads that we can’t just do it.  There have been gay and lesbian members of our military for our entire history.  It hasn’t affected morale.  It hasn’t affected readiness.  It hasn’t affected combat effectiveness.  But if somehow that gay service member is identified as being gay, we fire them, even if they have skill sets we desperately need, after spending millions of dollars on their training, and after they’ve already demonstrated both that they can serve honorably and that their fellow soldiers

Wouldn’t you have loved being a fly on the wall the night after Mrs. McCain endorsed the repeal?  Ole John, not exactly known for having an even temper, must have pitched a righteous fit, so Cindy dutifully tried to walk back her comments a bit.  But since she had previously given her support to the “No H8” campaign, it comes off as more than a little awkward.

I hate to tell him, but the hard right is never going to like John McCain.  He just isn’t pure enough for their tastes.  No matter how hard he tries.  No matter how many flip flops.  And I hate to tell him that he’s a dinosaur.  And like the dinosaurs, those who resist knowing that the person next to them in the fox hole, or in the cockpit, or tending to their wounds is gay are eventually going to retire or muster out.  The younger generation generally doesn’t share their elders’ homophobia.  They don’t care who their buddies love.  Mostly they want to know that someone’s watching their back during a battle, that if they get wounded, someone will drag them out of danger and get them help.  It’s time to end the madness.

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