Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Alan Greenspan Forecasts Extremely Low Economic Growth for Germany, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Holland and Canada

Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, weighed in last week on one of the pressing issues facing the incoming Trump administration and the country — slow economic growth. Greenspan’s explanation is novel and bound to be controversial. To preview: He blames the welfare state and overall uncertainty for the slowdown. …

By scouring economic statistics, Greenspan thinks he’s discovered heretofore hidden relationships that explain weak productivity growth.

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Instead of nominating Marco Rubio, the Republicans should just cut out the pretense and nominate his doppelgänger: Charlie McCarthy

Bill Clinton had a line during his 1992 campaign that he said, mantra-like, so often in fact that eventually it lost its meaning and was just a cringe-inducing song-like chorus.  The line, the slogan, was, “People who work hard and play by the rules.”  It was—until he repeated it to a point well beyond when people actually would think of its meaning when they heard it, rather than just cringe or role their eyes—a very effective campaign mantra and also one that said something meaningful.  And it’s a line that I’ve thought of repeatedly since Thursday night’s debate.

Marco Rubio neither works hard nor plays by the rules.  Except, of course, the rules that politicians these days play by, although Rubio has throughout his political career—which is to say, virtually throughout his adult life once he graduated from law school—been jaw-droppingly adept at it, finding two billionaires to sponsor his political career and shore up his personal finances. One of them is human, the other is a corporate person.

The corporate person is GEO Group, the second-largest private, for-profit prison company in the United States—is there another country that has a private-prisons industry?  I have no idea—and whose company’s only client is government entities.  Including the State of Florida, thanks to Rubio during his tenure as Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives (of billionaires, human and corporate).  The other is Miami billionaire Norman Braman.

A common refrain about Rubio is that he’s a man in a hurry.  A refrain that I trust is about to become common is that he also is a man on the take.  Which he is.  Pure and simple.  This spade needs to be called a spade, and will be, whether it’s Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders—or a massive swell from the news media of the sort that, finally, is occurring in the wake of Wednesday’s debate calling all but one member of the entire cast (Kasich was the exception) grifters, scam artists, fraudsters, liars on a truly grand scale—that begins it loudly enough to be heard.

Regarding GEO-Group-as-Rubio-family-financier, the first article about it (to my knowledge) in a major national publication was by Staten Island-based freelance writer Michael Cohen published in the Washington Post on April 28 of this year.  Its title is “How for-profit prisons have become the biggest lobby no one is talking about.”  Its subtitle is “Sen. Marco Rubio is one of the biggest beneficiaries.”  Among its paragraphs about Rubio is this one:

Marco Rubio is one of the best examples of the private prison industry’s growing political influence, a connection that deserves far more attention now that he’s officially launched a presidential bid. The U.S. senator has a history of close ties to the nation’s second-largest for-profit prison company, GEO Group, stretching back to his days as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. While Rubio was leading the House, GEO was awarded a state government contract for a $110 million prison soon after Rubio hired an economic consultant who had been a trustee for a GEO real estate trust. Over his career, Rubio has received nearly $40,000 in campaign donations from GEO, making him the Senate’s top career recipient of contributions from the company. (Rubio’s office did not respond to requests for comment.)

The statute of limitations has run on potential public corruption charges under the federal criminal code.  But many public officials have been charged and convicted for conduct that bears, let’s just say, a resemblance to Rubio’s. Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell would dispute that his was one such case, since McDonnell contends that when he pushed that vitamin supplement in exchange for $165,000 (or whatever the amount was) in gifts and sweetheart loans, he did so not in his official capacity but as a private individual.

Then there is the curious case of Norman Braman, Florida tax policy when Rubio was speaker of the Florida House, and Rubio’s job teaching Political Science at a Florida public university courtesy of a newly created and paid for in full by Braman after Rubio left the Florida House in order to run full-time for the U.S. Senate.  (Full time except for that adjunct teaching position, of course.)  In an article published Monday on Alternet, Lou Dubose of the Washington Spectator summarized the details as revealed earlier by The New York Times:

In an interview with The New York Times, the senator described Norman Braman, a Miami billionaire who once owned the Philadelphia Eagles and now sells BMWs, Rolls-Royces, Cadillacs, Audis and Bugatis, as “a father figure who had given him advice on everything, from what books to read to how to manage a staff.”

Braman, the Times reported, gave Rubio more than advice.

He contributed $255,000 to an advocacy group Rubio formed to lobby for one of his signature-mark initiatives while he was speaker of the Florida House of Representatives: a dramatic reduction of property taxes and increase in the state sales tax.

When Rubio left state government, he got a job teaching at Florida International University, committing to raise his salary from private donors. Braman contributed $100,000 to the university, earmarked for Rubio’s salary.

Braman donated to Rubio’s U.S. Senate campaign, and hired Rubio as a lawyer for seven months while he campaigned. He hired Rubio’s wife, and her company, to work for his charitable foundation. And he is reported to have committed $10 million to Rubio’s presidential campaign.

The New York Times reporters suggested that Rubio’s involvement with Braman will lead to a more thorough examination of the Florida Senator’s personal finances as the presidential campaign continues.

Dubose’s article is titled “Marco Rubio’s Financial Messes” and subtitled “Fishy financials don’t make for a great campaign.”  And, really, they don’t.

Rubio’s debate riposte—not about any of this, which he wasn’t asked about, but to a question about problems with his and his wife’s handling of their family’s cash flow—was that, well, he unlike Bush and Trump comes from a family of very modest means, and as an adult he received no financial assistance from his parents.  This presumably will do double duty as a response to questions about what the conduct that many people, I suspect, will view as amounting to public corruption.  But it’s a line that will continue to work only until someone other than me—to reiterate, e.g., Trump, Sanders, Clinton, or journalists—points out that many, many people who come from families of very modest means actually do work hard and do play by the rules.

Many of them, like Rubio’s mother, whom he mentioned during the debate in reference to Medicare and Social Security—he said she relies on them—are weak as people.  So, too, is he, by his own admission, for allowing his mother to rely on those federal programs rather than supporting her, including paying her healthcare costs.  Like people did in the old days. I was unaware of this admission by him, and in fact was unaware that he thinks Medicare and Social Security weaken us as people, until I read Steve Benen’s post yesterday on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC blog (h/t Paul Waldman):

Later, the far-right Floridian referenced entitlements – Rubio is on record condemning Medicare and Social Security for “weakening us as a people” – and said to laughter, “Nothing has to change for current beneficiaries. My mother is on Medicare and Social Security. I’m against anything that’s bad for my mother.”

That same record (video, actually) includes, specifically, Rubio’s statement that Medicare and Social Security have made us as a people lazy.

It will be a relief to many that as long as Mrs. Rubio is alive, Medicare and Social Security will be safe under a Rubio presidency.  Enabling the lazy Rubio to avoid having to support her.

The Democrats can only hope that Marco Rubio will be the Republican nominee for president.  Our current campaign finance system reduces most American politicians to ventriloquists’ puppets, but Rubio is unmistakably Charlie McCarthy reincarnate.  To the point of comedy.  Like the original Charlie McCarthy.  Next time you hear or see him speak, just think of how comfortably he would fit on Edgar Bergen’s lap.*

A week or two ago I read—I don’t remember where—that there is a Super PAC tied to Rubio that has a huge amount of funding but only one donor, whose identity is anonymous.  Rubio indeed would fit perfectly on Edgar Bergen’s lap, but here’s betting that that donor isn’t Edgar Bergen.

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*Link to Paul Krugman’s blog post from this morning titled “Policy and Character” added. 10/30 at 11:01 p.m.

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2015 Social Security Report Release Day (w/updates)

At 1:30 EDT the Trustees of Social Security will hold a media availability at which they will release the 2015 Social Security and Medicare Reports. If past practice holds the Reports will be released on line at or before that time in both a web (HTML) format and in PDF. Assuming past file name conventions hold the two URLs will be:
http://www.ssa.gov/oact/tr/2015/index.html and
http://www.ssa.gov/oact/tr/2015/tr2015.pdf

Once the Report is released this post will be updated with key numbers, dates and talking points. I will also be working with the text of the Report to transform it into more readily accessible form as an Excel Workbook with associated .jpgs and .pngs of the more important Tables and Figures. More on that as we go along.

Note the above links will be dead until Report release. The actual launch page for current and past Reports is here:
http://www.ssa.gov/oact/tr/index.html
Right now that current Report shows as the 2014. This should update to 2015 immediately on release and so this is probably the best link to be clicking on in the meantime. At least it will get you somewhere other than dreaded Room 404.

Back with more when there is more.

Update 1 Report not out online but Treasury Press release has Trust Fund Depletion in 2034 and 75 year actuarial gap at 2.68 or down from 2.88. Reasonably good news but the devil is in the details which are still forthcoming.

Update 2 HTML version online under first URL cited above.

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Rick Perry Says Social Security and Medicare Were Given to Us by God. Seriously. [Addendum added.]

The things we have in this country were given to us by God, not by government.

Perry: Government isn’t your savior, Nick Gass, Politico, today

Social Security and Medicare were given to us by God?  Who knew?

The highway system, sewer and water systems, airports and air traffic control, operation of shipping ports, public school systems, and (going back a way) electrification of the Tennessee Valley?

The research that resulted in the polio vaccine?

Guess I’ve been under a misapprehension about their provenance.

ADDENDUM:  It just occurred to me that, presumably then, the things Canadians, Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, and Germans have in their countries were given to them by God, not by government.  And the French, too—especially their healthcare system, widely regarded as one of the best in the world and available free of charge to everyone.

Which makes me wonder why God favors Canadians, Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, Germans and the French over Americans.

That said, I do understand why God favors the residents of blue states here in this country over red states.  Just in the last year alone, God has saved many, many more lives and lessened pain and physical suffering for far more people in blue states than in red states simply by deciding to significantly expand Medicaid availability under Obamacare.  Why did He decide to be a savior for so many more people in California than in Texas and Kansas?  He’s obviously a Democrat.  But he’s supposed to be nonpolitical.

This is testing my faith.

Added 6/5 at 2:58 p.m.

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In the ‘Be careful what you wish for’ category …

Is it just me, or did Joni Ernst just effectively announce that she wants to kill farm subsidies?  Of course, how effectively she announced it will depend on whether her opponent, Bruce Braley, picks up this ball and runs with it.

Although maybe she’s talking about something else she thinks is pork.

Be careful what you wish for, Iowa voters.

This is the perfect opening for Braley to inform the public about the really dramatic reduction in federal spending in the last few years–and what, exactly, the effects are.  (Tuition at public universities; medical research; etc.  Y’know; all the stuff that Obama should point out, but doesn’t trouble himself to.)

And, speaking of out-of-the-mouths-of-babes admissions, this one is downright-comically jaw-dropping—and presumably will be mentioned in the soon-to-be-filed “cert” petitions to the Supreme Court in the slew of voter-ID/voter-access cases that have made headlines in the last month.

I mean … seriously … how dumb is Chris Christi?  I do suspect that by now most people know they shouldn’t buy the deed to that bridge he’s selling.  But just in case they didn’t know before ….

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Repeal LyndonJohnsonCare?

While I was reading an article on the web this morning from my phone, up popped one of those incessant anti-Obama/anti-Obamacare “take-a-survey” ads—one of those little square red-and-white-bordered things with a goofy-looking picture of Obama on it.  My laptop software blocks these things, so I was lucky enough to have not seen one of those in a while.

This one (I guess) is new.  In any event, it’s all ready to go for 2016.  The picture is of the inside of a hospital operating room.  Obama, of course, is in the picture, but he’s not alone.  He and Hillary Clinton are standing in the forefront, next to each other and looking at each other.  Both are wearing surgical scrubs and surgical gloves.  The title above the picture asks: “Repeal Obamacare?” Below the picture is an invitation to click to take the survey.

I assume that by now, most people know that Obamacare works entirely through private-sector medical providers, mostly—unlike Medicare—via private-sector insurers.  I also assume that most people know by now that there are millions of Americans, including millions who have fulltime jobs, who, because of a preexisting medical condition or because of insurance premium costs, actually had no access at all to operating rooms until January 1, 2014 but do have that access now.  So this particular ad seems unlikely to be effectual.

But still, I’d like to see Dem ads whose title asks: Repeal LyndonJohnsonCare?

And also ones that ask: Repeal FDRPensionPlan?  I especially recommend that one to Bruce Braley. With a tag line about chickens coming home to roost.

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CBO Releases 2014 Long Term Budget Outlook

    2014 Long Term Budget Outlook (pdf 64pp)

While we are still waiting on the 2014 Social Security Report we do have today the release of CBO’s annual Budget Outlook which among other parts does include a chapter on Social Security. I plan to extract and post some Tables from it but in the meantime people can have their own look and draw their own conclusions. Key pieces:

p. 10 Table 1-1. Projected Spending and Revenues in Selected Years Under CBO’s Extended Baseline

Note that under CBO’s 10 year window (the one used to score legislation) non-interest spending is projected to drop from 19.1% of GDP to 18.8%. Or essentially flat, and BTW this includes spending on Social Security and Medicare. On the other hand TOTAL spending INCLUDING interest is projected to increase from 20.4% to 22.1%. With the entire difference being made up by interest payments rising from 1.3% of GDP to 3.3%. I for one would be interested in seeing and discussing the interest rate assumptions that go into that increase, perhaps it just represents some reversion of 10 year Bond Rates to the mean. Please chime in in comments.

p. 25-44 Chapter 2: The Long-Term Outlook for Major Federal Health Care Programs

Lots and lots of good stuff here. I haven’t even started sampling yet. Bon appetit!

p. 45-51 Chapter 3: The Long-Term Outlook for Social Security

Ditto. And my first stop at this particular buffet table, with reports in the next hours or days. My first focus might well be on: Table 3-1. Financial Measures for Social Security Under CBO’s Extended Baseline on p. 50. Note that while the main text does highlight the need for an “immediate and permanent increase of 4.0%” this is based on the assumption that despite all the uncertainties in the projections that we need to address the 75 year actuarial gap in one gulp. But an inspection of Table 3-1 shows that the actuarial gap for the first twenty five years is just 2.1% of payroll or 0.7% of GDP. Which might suggest to some that an plan to address the first 25 years IN the first 25 years by implementing something like the Northwest Plan’s phased in FICA increases while putting in contingency plans for actions in the decades that follow that might be more reasonable and prudent than trying to pre-fund a retirement insurance reserve 75 years in advance.

But let me turn this over to you all.

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Julie Boonstra, Americans for Prosperity, and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Trial

The Tea Party group Americans for Prosperity has now released its factual documentation for its misleading ad featuring Julie Boonstra, a Michigan woman stricken with Leukemia who suggests Obamacare forced her to take on a new plan that is now “unaffordable.” The ad has been widely pilloried ever since Glenn Kessler discovered that her premiums had come down, likely making her overall costs a wash or even cheaper. Gary Peters, the Dem candidate for Senate in Michigan, had written to TV stations insisting on documentation.

The documentation provided by AFP, which was passed along from TV stations by the Peters campaign, doesn’t actually back up the ad’s key claim. But it tells us something interesting about how the AFP campaign — and by extension, the broader GOP strategy against Obamacare — really work.

To buttress the ad’s charge that Boonstra’s “out of pocket charges are so high, it’s unaffordable,” AFP cites a single Politico article reporting that “consumers may have to dig a little deeper into their wallets to pay for health care in the Obamacare insurance exchanges,” because the law could mean additional out of pocket expenses. Needless to say, that doesn’t shed light on Boonstra’s individual situation. And on that front, AFP’s documentation offers this (emphasis mine):

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More On the Real Reason Healthcare Insurance Companies Are Now Encouraging Obamacare Enrollment

In light of some of the comments to my post yesterday arguing that that the real reason that healthcare insurance companies are now madly encouraging Obamacare enrollment is fear of a pro-public-option or pro-single-payer political juggernaut, I want to make clear that by single-payer I do not mean Medicare-for-all.   Single-payer would be, in essence, “the public option” extended to everyone rather than limited to the 5% of Americans who have private healthcare insurance through the non-group (i.e., non-employer-provided) market.  It is not tax-funded identical-for-all healthcare insurance, which is what Medicare is.  I do think that eventually this country will have Medicare-for-all-type healthcare insurance, but not in the near term.  If single-payer works well, then of course that would be the longterm solution, with no need for Medicare-for-all.

I also want to make a point about federalism as it relates to the ACA insurance-market exchanges and, especially, to Medicaid and, for that matter, to any other federal social-safety-network program.  I said in my post yesterday what I think is obvious: that federalism has been a disaster for Obamacare.  But I want to point out that the only reason that Medicaid works under current pre-Obamacare Medicaid is that that program came into being and was effectuated before the hard-right turn of the Republican Party.  Ditto for food stamps.  The really weird, but successful, argument by rightwing governors and state attorneys general to the Supreme Court in the ACA litigation on the Medicaid-expansion provision in the ACA is that, well, y’know, now that traditional Medicaid has been a part of each state’s law for decades, and is popular, it would be politically impossible for state legislators to end that program–the result under the ACA as the statute was written, if a state refused to agree to the ACA Medicaid expansion.  This, they argued–successfully!–meant that the ACA was effectively coercive of state  legislators and therefore infringed upon state sovereignty.  On that “ground,” the Supreme Court struck down that part of the Medicaid portion of the ACA.

That’s also known as the  conservatives-having-their-cake-and-eating-it-to theory of constitutional law.  The argument was so deeply hubristic that its actual success is stunning and outrageous.  But I have no idea why anyone would think that federalism must be a part of a national healthcare insurance law. It does not.

As for whether or not the public will catch on that the main problems with the Obamacare-exchanges-and-private-policies part of the Act is a failure of the healthcare insurance market and of the healthcare market itself–a question that several commenters raised–well, that was what my post was about.  Yes, the public will catch on, once the Dems have a smart, committed, knowledgeable and articulate spokesperson with a high enough national profile to educate them about it.  I expect that that will happen fairly soon.

Finally, although this should be the subject of a separate post, a hallmark of the current Supreme Court is how many really weird, outlandish rightwing arguments the current conservative-legal-movement five-member majority have made the law of the 50-state-soverign-lands.  As I said in an ignored post here last weekend, the Court’s neo-federalism-on-steroids jurisprudence has quietly but profoundly and thoroughly upended federal-in-relation-to-state constitutional law as it had existed since the post-Civil War era. This is a deeply dangerous juggernaut.

I wish more readers would read that post.  It does deal with really important stuff. Honestly.

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Kochcare vs. Obamacare: Finally, Finally, Obama Comes Out Swinging

Mr. Obama also singled out sponsors of a “cynical ad campaign” discouraging Americans from signing up for the new health care program by arguing that it would effectively put the government into the room when women undergo gynecological exams and men undergo colonoscopies.

“These are billionaires several times over,” Mr. Obama said, evidently referring to the conservative political activists Charles and David Koch, without naming them. “You know they’ve got good health care.” But if people who turn down the new health care subsidy get sick, he said, the Kochs would not care. “Are they going to pay for your health care?”

Obama Makes Impassioned Defense of Health Law, Peter Baker, New York Times, today

Damn!  A few days ago, when I first read about these silly Koch-sponsored ads, I thought I would post here commenting on the good news: The Koch brothers are promising to pay the medical expenses of young people who forego healthcare insurance now available to them via Obamacare!

That was how I interpreted the ads, anyway.  I mean, after all, the only other option for these newly christened “young healthies” who do have the option of gaining affordable healthcare insurance through Obamacare is to not have healthcare insurance at all. Sort of like the many millions of seniors who, without Medicare, would have no access to healthcare insurance at all, because of its high cost or because of preexisting conditions.

But since the Kochs aren’t urging seniors to forego Medicare in order to keep the government out of, say, the chemotherapy room or the coronary-bypass-operating room, I figured the difference was just that the Kochs aren’t willing to pick up the tab for the elderly, who will have no choice but to continue to let the government into the examining room with them and their doctor.  I mean, what other possible reason would there be for the Kochs to not run ad campaigns similar to those directed at young people but instead directed at Medicare recipients?

None, I thought!

But I was wrong.  According to Obama, the Kochs have no intention of paying the medical bills of the young people who, at their urging, and misunderstanding the ads just as I did, forego Obamacare in order to keep the government out of the physician’s examining room. And out of the delivery room. And out of the orthopedic surgery room.  Among other rooms.

How disappointing. All those young people who thought from that ad that they’d be inviting the Kochs into all those medical rooms, and that the Kochs would accept the invitation!  Or at least have United Health Care, WellPoint and Blue Cross Blue Shield stand in for them in those medical rooms. Only to hear the president say that that’s not what the Kochs meant.

Of course, what the Kochs actually are doing is trying to keep United Health Care, WellPoint and Blue Cross Blue Shield from being ushered into the examining room via Obamacare. And also from keeping their targets—the young currently-healthies—from themselves entering the examining room, at all, or from entering it and then having to pay large out-of-pocket retail costs (should they happen to have a savings account or a decent-sized regular paycheck, and can pay it).  Even if they suddenly become unhealthy.

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