Monday, December 31, 2012

Homicidal Democracy: Suffocated by Equanimity

First, an important announcement for MeanMesa visitors. 

 MeanMesa Adopts Shocking New Attitude of Tolerance

With this posting MeanMesa undertakes a "new attitude" toward descriptions of the GOP base.  In an effort to "broaden" the old, somewhat controversial, previous terms, there have been some "soul searching" and "thought provoking"  late night meetings here at the Short Current Essays Galactic HeadQuarters.

This blog's young contributor, Cameron, was, unexpectedly, adamant.  His relentless, nagging, lament during these late night meetings?

"The constant reference to the GOP base as 'hill billies and bigots' is simply too exclusive.  It selectively neglects any proper attention the Republican Congressmen in its overly specific focus on GOP voters."

Cameron, slipping comfortably into one of his more editorially philosophical moods, added, "The continual use of the terms 'hill billies and bigots' falls far short of the high literary ideals of MeanMesa."  He continued, "The practice reveals a troubling lack of equanimity."

Equanimity?  Give us a break, Cameron.

To "bring everybody up to speed," let's review the dictionary meaning of the term: "equanimity."  [Thanks to Webster/Google]

1:  evenness of mind especially under stress i.e. nothing could disturb his equanimity
2:  right disposition : balance

Of course, there was simply nothing to do but respond quickly with a mitigating commitment to, as Mullah Nassr Edin might have said, "do better." 

Consequently, upon further discussion, the following, reconciling agreement was made to resolve this troubling "interruption in the force." 

"It lacks equanimity.  Got it?  EQUANIMITY!" (image source)

Henceforth, references to the GOP base will use the "hill billies and bigots" term only about two thirds of the time.  For the remaining third -- in an effort to achieve "greater equanimity" and to include the Congressional Republicans in such descriptive instances -- MeanMesa will adopt the term:

 "tea bag scum."

There now.  Having remedied this stubborn "equanimity problem" so generously and so effectively, MeanMesa is now not only entirely rehabilitated in the "literary sense," but also wonderfully re-invigorated and refreshed for the next post.

(image source)
Does this mean that MeanMesa is actually going to write a post on "equanimity?"  Yes.  Happily, we have an example close at hand.

The first part of this deals with "equanimity" as it embraces both tea bags on the street and the miscreant horde they've sent to Congress.  In the second part, the synthetic "equanimity" expounded by the repetition of the over-simplified and deceptive cracks that "the problem is simply that there is no compromise" will be the topic.  So, here we go!

Homicidal Democracy: Suffocated by Equanimity

2012 saw the already drearily over used complaint about partisan compromise reach a frequency unseen in the prior years of Congressional deadlock. Buried miles below the incessant media cracks about how "the two sides will not compromise," we find the lost meaning we may have sought all along.

"Compromising" with Congressional Republicans, at least as it is characterized by their commercial, "wholly owned" media, is depicted as some sort of Holy Grail of bi-partisan politics. The complicit media dutifully trotted out the same tears and sighs every day during the two year campaigns. The part of the story left missing was any discussion of what, exactly, "compromising" with the Republicans would mean.

They certainly weren't talking.

MeanMesa will, for anyone who hasn't been paying attention, address this right now.  "Compromising" with the Republican Congressmen means giving them everything they wanted to loot next year while they still thought they were going to win the election.  This evaluation of the scheme only gains more mass when we recall the repeated pundit analysis that the tea bag scum [there it is...] had yet to accept the fact that they had, in fact, lost the 2012 election -- and not "just barely," either.

Now relegated to the violent extortionist control of less than one fourth of the three branches of government, the scum continues to insist that they answer to no one, are not bound by public opinion and, actually, serve without the burden of representing any kind of particular constituency other than the ghostly hypotheticals of the hidden oligarch class which issues their marching orders.  MeanMesa has always suspected that their imaged purity may be both deceptively shallow and not so deceptively, utterly putrid.

You know, scum.  The happy part is that's working less and less.  Hardly a time for compromise.

They are simply grotesque, opportunistic ideologues of convenience.  Even better, their heavily financed image as anything else is growing as fractured as a natural gas well on a Pennsylvania farm.  Any day now, even the tap water will be aflame -- that is, more and more of the base voters are beginning to feel incendiary themselves.

A Little More About "Compromising"

The Psychology

By continually proposing that "compromising" is actually a solution to the political and economic problems confronting us, Americans find a convenient means to deflect responsibility, in this case, the responsibility of citizens to direct our democratic government.  With the convenient, all encompassing excuse that these is "no compromise," coupled with the hollow proposition that a "compromise" would offer the solutions everyone says they seek if there were to be one, the burden of having a position, endorsing a plan, supporting some leader or pursuing some political policy is conveniently eliminated.

When "no compromise" is accepted as "the problem," the possibility of being "mistaken" is removed from the picture, obviously, it turns out, a very attractive alternative for the citizens.  

MeanMesa has proposed a number of times that one analysis serves to explain much of this right away.  The American electorate has become desperately co-dependent.  It has been groomed in many absolutist habits, but this may be  evidence of the aggregate sum of all of them.  We have become far more likely to stand for nothing than risk the possibility of being wrong.

If the country collapses under the growing weight of this present calamity, that will not occur because we were wrong in our ideas for solving our problem, it will be because we would not dare to have ideas -- right or wrong -- to solve our problem.

We forsake that seemingly hazardous responsibility in favor of all sorts of massless alternatives -- ideological purity, an exquisite and voluntary lack of information or, perhaps, even a self-destructive stoic nihilism which has extinguished all hope.

We are simply watching our own gang rape with stolid grey faces, frozen in a stoic equilibrium, punctuated only by a furtive whimper now and then.  This is not an exaggeration. 

What in the hell are we doing?

There are no dragons here.

The "Partners" in Compromise

Running in terror from a dragon would probably make pretty good sense.  The reason such flight would be "sensible" has everything to do with all the horrible things that dragon has done in the past. However, if it weren't a dragon, and instead it were a crooked used car dealer, would we still be inclined to run away so desperately?

Or worse, run back to the same used car lot where we got royally screwed the last time?

When we speak of "compromise," we are speaking of partners.  When we add in the additional idea about equanimity, we are speaking about the quality of those partners, at least with respect to what's required for deal making.

The old idea that compromise alone fully maps the path to a solution to our difficulties implies that we have already assumed the qualities of those compromising partners both reflect "workable honor," that the conflicting positions which are to be compromised represent roughly equally mixed combinations of what is desired and what is not and that both parties to the compromise have agreed to finish up with both an ox well fed and another ox at least slightly gored.

This means that while me might ultimately, grudgingly, compromise with the crooked used car dealer, we really can't expect to make a similar settlement with the dragon.  

So, the "mix" of factors for compromising doesn't really even begin with pure  "equanimity."  We also have to take a "hard nosed" look at the records of our potential compromise partners.

Why would we be anxious to compromise with partners whose records lack any particular evidence of past accomplishments we might wish to share?

In this case, even an overly generous review of recent GOP policy accomplishments comes up bare, if not outright frightening.  GOP policy for the last four decades has not accomplished the objectives which were meant to initially justify everything from banking deregulation to pre-emptive wars. It has been destructive.  

It has been a train wreck.  And, that is not just once in a while, either.

Constantly offered a full plate of decidedly "easier to ingest" propaganda, the Republican base has been encouraged to simply refuse to inform themselves. We have heard the embarrassing results with one egregious misstatement after another from a political party which would have moved ahead in the polls if it had simply shut up.

A similar embarrassment fell upon the very top of the Party apparatchiks, in this case their "red faced" Presidential candidate himself, when, after swallowing the same propaganda, he found himself without a Secret Service ride home at precisely the same time he expected to be bathing in victory as the next President.

Clinging to Compromise, Equanimity
 and "Working Together"

Two months ago the psych divisions of the commercial media had clearly been issued orders to promote the "both parties are the same" meme at every possible opportunity.  Interviews with the "man on the street" or the "busy housewife" all seemed to include this same "clarifying opinion."

That was deception.

Even then -- even before we were told nightly for months that the race was solidly locked in a "dead heat" -- Americans had already long ago disabused themselves of this clearly manipulated, simplistic confusion.  Confronted with a "meme campaign" that wasn't working, the new media refrain became "if the parties could only work together."

You know, work together with ... you guessed it ... "equanimity."

The commercial pundits -- the ones in the $5,000 suits reporting on politics as if it were still 1960 -- began a relentless insertion of the "compromise" and "equanimity" words, either directly or by insinuation, wherever possible in their "news" broadcasts.  Occasionally, we listened to a drifty, commercially sentimental proclamation of fealty to the "two party system."

That, obviously, didn't work for the Republican controlled commercial media, either.

These two parties in their current form will never work together.  MeanMesa, for one, has no desire whatsoever to ever "work together" with the Republican Party as it is now cast.

In fact, MeanMesa has trouble falling asleep some nights while recalling that 47% of American voters were "totally on board" with this nonsense.

Putting It Back Together

If "something is to be done" with this present catastrophic state of our democratic process, fixing the election itself will barely represent more than a good beginning.  It's the electorate.  That's the problem.

It would be easy enough to simply say that the "electorate problem" is that part of the electorate doesn't vote the "right way."  However, we've had too many good years of solid adversarial "two party" rule to think this very seriously.

This is not a case of political disagreement.  Political disagreement started being dismantled in the Reagan years with the old "Moral Majority."  When voters began to accept the idea that the new, ultra easy, "morals" of Jerry Falwell's Christian right represented a reasonable way to select a candidate in a secular democracy, the truck had begun to "roll down the hill."

What we have today has its ugly roots in this development from the 1980's.  And, of course, we also have the political equivalent of a "wrecked truck" -- one which came close to installing a creature like Mitt Romney into the Oval Office.

Rather than becoming "down in the mouth," with all these toils and travails, let's get down to some MeanMesa suggestions.  None of these can be accomplished over night, and most of them will be pretty much impossible so long as the tea bags retain their Bronze Age death grip on our Congress, but a few "light houses" on a far horizon are far more positive than the seemingly endless grey malaise this 2013 New Year brings us.

Think of these as a New Year's "wish list."

1. Civics Education in Public Schools

We are all familiar with the competitive collapse we face when compared to other counties with functional educational systems.  However, when we discuss that grave short coming, we tend to concentrate on mathematics and science.  This suggestion is that, just perhaps, we should focus on "citizen building" first.  If we could do better at that specialty, maybe the other short falls would lessen a bit.

One of the reasons we have crappy public school outcomes has to be the inability of parents as citizens to effectively demand better performance.  If those same parents had a basic grasp of what is required to make their goals materialize, the prospect of some of those goals being realized would improve greatly.

But, how could we do this?

We institute new requirements for classes on economics, civic government and perhaps even a bit of sociology.  Additionally, we absolutely cease buying text books from anyone who has anything to do with the "fountain of fundamentalism and fascism" known as the Texas school board.

Parents everywhere else don't want their kids to become Texan jack-asses.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."

Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey, 1816 

2. An Understandable National Budget

Every oily expert across the country seems to have a life's ambition of skewing the national books into something that will better serve whomever has contracted him.  The result is an incomprehensible mess.  Citizens have, amazingly, lost interest in their own finances.  Further, they have long ago ceased having any sort of trust in the information they are getting.

An example is the House of 2010.  Citizens have no idea whether the deficit has gone up or down.  Sure, they are told whatever message will serve the interests of the messenger or they are confronted with what may actually be fairly objective data but in a form most have no time to decipher.

After the Great Republican Recession of 2008 citizens have once again become interested in actually knowing how the country is doing.  But, now, economic data -- from any source -- is not considered trustworthy.  Supper PACs with microphones and television networks routinely attack whatever economic data might emerge which doesn't reinforce their talking points.

This one can be solved rather directly.  The government owes us this one.  As tax payers we need to know the latest information in an easy to understand, reliable form -- information which has been prepared for us under strict rules by reliable agencies which we can trust.  

Or even, grow to trust.

3.  Year Round Political Fact Checking

MeanMesa is pleased to say that this idea has grown  into a robust "power player" for many voters already.  The problem is that with the credibility of the commercial media at a well deserved, all time low, the Americans who access the existing fact checkers are limited to those on line.

This must be expanded so the "non-on-line" also have access to it.  The existing fact checking industry is competitive.  This means that credibility has become the marketed product, and totally in tune with the mantras of "market correction" and "value selection" so often chanted by the free enterprise chorus, fact checking companies which produce results are getting the business.

Tens of millions of American, for instance, know all about Nate Silver even though we have to assume that major commercial networks still have no faith.

During the campaign -- MeanMesa saw at least one fact check on President Obama, too -- voters very reasonably adopted a rather aggressive caveat emptor ["buyer beware" Lat.]  attitude toward the various campaign claims.  The "morning after fact checking" curse continually tormented the Romney campaign.

In MeanMesa's view, this new development was so effective that it should somehow be expanded into a day by day, year by year affair along with some plan to greatly increase accessibility to it by voters.  There has been talk about laws which would automatically place elected officials under oath when they spoke from their office -- not likely in a government like ours, but the fact checking business could cover a lot of the same ground. [MeanMesa - Are We Too Dumb for a Free Press?]

4. Federalization of Voting Rights and Processes

As if serious affronts to democracy ever really bothered them, this election's Republicans have pulled a massive "bite and grab" maneuver on our democratic system which may have set a new low.  The GOP's tea bags retain control of the House in spite of the fact that more Americans voted for Democratic members than Republican members.

This has to stop, and it has to stop now.  Without democratic elections, we're done.

Even the hill billies should know this.

MeanMesa has proposed several solutions to this.  Election courts, entirely dedicated to the judicial protection of voters' rights, could offer rapid access for prosecution and remedy for the schemes we watched unfold during the 2012 election. [MeanMesa - Election Courts]

However -- and this is being mentioned more and more frequently now -- it's clear that the entire US election process needs to be federalized.  The same rules and regulations must prevail over elections whether you are a voter in the swamp country of Alabama or in an air conditioned polling station in Connecticut.

The laws governing voter registration, register voter purging and scammy GOP tricks like the infamous Rove plan for "caging" must not only be distasteful but illegal, prosecuted and penalized.  Reflect for a moment.  Now, name a single political operative who has pilfered votes or disenfranchised voters who is now in a penitentiary. There are a few cases -- such as the successful prosecutions of Ohio anti-democracy criminals Ken Blackwell, Vu and Bennet -- but the rate of actual proceedings compared to actual crimes in far less than one in eight.

The federalized regulations should drive a permanent stake through the heart of electronic voting machines owned by Republican political hacks [Romney's son owned major stock in a voting machine supplier in the 2012.]  The machines have a terrible record of being vulnerable to tampering and out right fraud and cheating.

Naturally, the Citizens United ruling must be set aside at once.  2012 saw Chinese mob casino money and Saudi petro-dollars flowing freely into the Republican coffers along with who knows how much other invisible dough.  MeanMesa isn't surprised that the GOPCons slithered right into this anti-democracy gold mine, but there is absolutely no reason why the American political democracy has to be sold to the highest bidder.

If we put up with this kind of behavior, we will rapidly lose the initiative.  This is precisely the "enemy from within" about which we have been repeatedly warned.  If the situation tips to the favor of those who value our democracy so little, we will have no choice but to accept all that they hand us. 

"Putting up with this kind of behavior"  means that we simply sit through the final destruction of the free election as our national process for self-governance.

Finally, the ideas of the electoral college and "winner take all" census redistricting need to take their permanent place in history.  These things were created years ago by elitists not dissimilar to those we see around us today.  Both policies were originally designed to protect slavery, but that original mission has expanded greatly since then.

When you are having a conversation about "what can be done," the items on this list are hardly a comprehensive recipe for solution.  However, they may well be very good places to start.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

For What It's Worth: Alan Grayson's Email

Some of Alan Grayson's most famous words. (image source)
"Boehner is holding his breath until America passes out."

From time to time MeanMesa posts along an email from Freedom Works, a painful, yet perhaps necessary, glimpse into what the tea bags' Central Command is vomiting out to its faithful.  Remarkably, even as the facts of the last election are still attempting to "catch up" with the scoundrels who engineered the disaster, apparently most of the tea bags are still believing.

Even the tea bags deep in the bowels of Freedom Works are warming up for a civil war.  This time, however, they aren't attacking the voters.  This time, they are attacking each other -- perhaps for room "under the bus."

From the looks of what's transpiring on Capitol Hill, there remains some of this "catching up" left to be done.  The Red State Confederacy who dutifully "ate the dog food" and voted for the Mittens presents an electoral waif -- a tragic remnant whisp of 21st Century, two party, "minority-hood."

There's the South -- notably not including Florida -- and the rest are "fly overs" scattered among the corn fields and cattle yards of the rural middle of the nation.  Everywhere one finds any particular population of voting Americans, one also finds "miles of blue."

Shades of Maxwell Smart.

Also notable is the ideological equivalent of the "invisible barrier of silence" which offers poll after poll clearly showing that a sizeable majority of the citizens support the Obama proposals.  The tea bags, ruminating to FOX News behind the shield wall, won't even countenance the majority of Republicans who are now also ready to support the President's plan.

So, who are these tea bags listening to these days?  Certainly not their constituents.

Oh, right.  The lobbyists of the oligarchs, of course.  The tea bag maxim is still in place.  Anyone without a lobbyist bleeds.

Alan Grayson is Returning to the Congress

Representative Alan Grayson (D-Florida) [image source]

MeanMesa hasn't seen any House Member who comes even close to the folksy Florida Democrat.  Have a look at the email from Congressman Grayson to MeanMesa.  This looks like an undeniable case of straight thinking.

The Email

Dear MeanMesa:

Here are what I modestly and humbly refer to as "Grayson's Laws of Legislating": (1) Vote for what you're in favor of. (2) Vote for what you can live with, if you must do that to get what you need. What we've been seeing in the House of Representatives lately have been massive and pervasive violations of Grayson's Laws of Legislating. Instead of "I'll vote for X because it's right," or "You don't like X and I don't like Y, but I'll vote for X and Y if you vote for X and Y," instead it's "If I don't get Z, I ain't votin' on nothin'." And that's the problem.

Let's take one very pertinent example: the impeding tax increases on taxpayers making less than $250,000 a year. I don't know a single Member of the House, Democratic or Republican, who has said on the record that he or she is in favor of raising taxes, starting next Tuesday, on taxpayers making less than $250,000 a year. Let's suppose that you crafted a one-sentence bill reading as follows: "There shall be no income tax rate increases for the 2013 tax year on taxpayers making less than $250,000 a year." Let's suppose that you then administered sodium pentathol to every Member of Congress. Let's suppose that you then had a vote on that bill. Obviously, it would pass the House by 435 to 0, or something close to that. Followed immediately by unanimous passage by the Senate, and the President's signature.

(Here is another entertaining thought experiment: Just for fun, administer sodium pentathol to Rush Limbaugh, too. You'd have three hours of total silence on the airwaves.)

So anyway, in the case of "no income tax rate increases for everyone but the rich," Grayson's First Law of Legislating is sufficient. Everyone's in favor of it, so everyone votes for it. Done.

It turns out that many, many components of the so-called "fiscal cliff" could be resolved quite simply by applying Grayson's First Law of Legislating. I think it's fair to say that a majority of the Members of Congress, right or wrong, are in favor of raising the debt ceiling before the government's borrowing capacity is exhausted. I think it's fair to say that a majority of the Members of Congress, right or wrong, are against a 27% cut in Medicare payments to doctors, starting next week. I think it's fair to say that a majority of the Members of Congress, right or wrong, are against an 8% cut in air traffic control on Jan. 1. If you had single votes, up or down, on 90% of the components of the "fiscal cliff," the outcome would not be in doubt.

And as for the remaining 10%, then you've got Grayson's Second Law of Legislating to apply. I really, really don't want to see unemployment insurance benefits cut off for millions of unemployed workers, seven days after Christmas. Maybe Rep. Skullinrear (R-Tea Party) doesn't care. But Rep. Skullinrear really, really doesn't want to see a 12% cut in defense spending from sequestration next week. I may not share Rep. Skullinrear's morbid preoccupation with blowing stuff up. Nevertheless, his morbid preoccupation with blowing stuff up, together with my odd aversion to seeing families living in cars, gives the two of us something to talk about.

Mick Jagger, that eminent political scholar, had it all figured out more than forty years ago. You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find - you just might find -- that you get what you need.

But in the House, that's not what we're seeing at all. Instead, we see what might be called the "Young John McCain" Law of Legislating. Senator John McCain has written that when he was a toddler, he sometimes got so furious that he held his breath until he passed out.

Now John Boehner is doing it. Boehner is holding his breath until America passes out.

It's been ten months since the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board coined the term "fiscal cliff" when he called attention to the "massive fiscal cliff of large spending cuts and tax increases" that will go into effect less than a week from now. Ten months. But in all of that time, there has been nothing in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives even remotely resembling a line-by-line vote on whether each one of those spending cuts and tax increases, individually, is good or bad. Just John Boehner holding his breath until the Democrats "agree" to extending tax breaks for the rich, and cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits.

It's the worst case of legislation constipation that I've ever seen. But that's what happens - what ought to happen -- when the folks in charge say over and over again, "I'm in favor of X, but I won't vote for X, or even allow a vote for X, unless I get Y."

We're going to need some kind of patch to get through this. But I hope that the Powers That Be learn from this mistake. Slice it all into little pieces, and then vote each piece up or down. It works. And it's a lot more practical than hoping that John Boehner, or Barack Obama, pulls a rabbit out of his hat.


Alan Grayson
Oh, you can't always get what you want.
Oh, you can't always get what you want.
Oh, you can't always get what you want.
But if you try sometimes,
You just might find, you just might find,
You get what you need.

- The Rolling Stones, "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (1969). 

Monday, December 24, 2012

236 Years Ago Today -- and Today

Portrait of General and First President George Washington (IMAGE SOURCE)

236 years ago on Christmas Day, 1776, this General led the Continental Army across the Delaware River to attack and capture Trenton, New Jersey.  This victory was considered to be the first real victory for the Continental Army.  Trenton was fortified by Hessian mercenaries and a few British troops.

This is a soldier.  

This is a General.

Photograph of Senator John McCain (IMAGE SOURCE)

This is Senator and Presidential candidate John McCain.  Considered a "war monger" by many Americans, he is both the son and grandson of US Navy Admirals. He served in actual combat 28 minutes over North Vietnam and received 32 Navy citations for valor when he was released after being a prisoner of war.  He graduated 898th in a class of 900 from Annapolis.  He now serves the Republican Party in the US Senate as a "war expert."

General George Washington.

Senator John McCain.

When we are warm and well fed tomorrow on Christmas, we need to remember the freezing, wet boat trip across the Delaware River 236 years ago, made by an army which was short everything from food to ammunition but not short of valor.  We need to remember the quality of men who established the ideals of our country -- and lived them.  We must not be confused about who is whom.

We know.

MeanMesa's compliments to General George Washington.

Thank you, and R.I.P.

How to Quit Worrying and Love the Chained CPI

Do we see George W. Bush or Rush Limbaugh in these pictures?

First, the Difference Between CPI and COLA 
from the "horse's mouth"

In this case the "horse's mouth" is the Social Security Administration.  You can read the whole article here.  It's important to have a good look at the official version before we start in with the "slightly different" versions being bandied about in our Congress.     

  • Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI, Social Security) benefits are indexed for inflation to protect beneficiaries from the loss of purchasing power implied by inflation. In the absence of such indexing, the purchasing power of Social Security benefits would be eroded as rising prices raised the cost of living. Recently, the Consumer Price Index used to calculate the Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) for OASDI benefits has come under increased scrutiny. Some argue that the current index does not accurately reflect the inflation experienced by seniors and that COLAs should be larger.
  • Others argue that the measure of inflation underlying the COLA has technical limitations that cause it to overestimate changes in the cost of living and that COLAs should be smaller. This article discusses some of the issues involved with indexing Social Security benefits for inflation and examines the ramifications of potential changes to COLA calculation.


OASDI benefits are indexed for inflation to protect beneficiaries from the loss of purchasing power implied by inflation. In the absence of such indexing, the purchasing power of Social Security benefits would be eroded as rising prices raise the cost of living. By statute, cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for Social Security benefits are calculated using the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). Some argue that this index does not accurately reflect the inflation experienced by the elderly population and should be changed to an elderly-specific price index such as the Experimental Consumer Price Index for Americans 62 Years of Age and Older, often referred to as the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E). 

Others argue that the measure of inflation underlying the COLA is technically biased, causing it to overestimate changes in the cost of living. This argument implies that current COLAs tend to increase, rather than merely maintain, the purchasing power of benefits over time. Potential bias in the CPI as a cost-of-living index arises from a number of sources, including incomplete accounting for the ability of consumers to substitute goods or change purchasing outlets in response to relative price changes. The BLS has constructed a new index called the Chained Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (C-CPI-U) that better accounts for those consumer adjustments.

Price indexes are not true cost-of-living indexes, but approximations of cost-of-living indexes (COLI). The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2006a) explains the difference between the two:

As it pertains to the CPI, the COLI for the current month is based on the answer to the following question: "What is the cost, at this month's market prices, of achieving the standard of living actually attained in the base period?" This cost is a hypothetical expenditure—the lowest expenditure level necessary at this month's prices to achieve the base-period's living standard. . . . Unfortunately, because the cost of achieving a living standard cannot be observed directly, in operational terms, a COLI can only be approximated. Although the CPI cannot be said to equal a cost-of-living index, the concept of the COLI provides the CPI's measurement objective and the standard by which we define any bias in the CPI.

Just a Little More About "Chaining"

The fundamental idea of the COLA was an adaptation to the also fundamental idea that the standard of living in the United States would continually improve.  Without the COLA seniors receiving Social Security benefits would gradually find themselves once again approaching "poverty conditions" in two ways. 

First, because the lower and lower buying power of Social Security benefits without COLA adjustments would gradually move recipients below the "dignity" idea simply because the rest of the country, comparatively, prospered more and more.  If this were to occur, those currently contributing pay roll taxes to Social Security would be less and less convinced that it was a good deal.

Second, the country had accepted the more or less inevitable currency inflation.  With prices inflating, again, Social Security benefits which couldn't "keep up" would look less and less attractive to those currently paying into the system.

The very first part of this discussion about "chaining" is important.  As long as the over all standard of living continued to improve, COLA, in a sense, already amounted to "chaining."  The reason we might not at first think so is because  previously standards of living were always increasing.  Now, however, we find standards of living decreasing.

If we were willing to accept the idea [and the public relations damage] of negative COLA's based on the continuing contraction of the economy, the "chaining" idea would simply become superfluous.  In this modern case that idea is introduced to revive the capacity to decrease Social Security benefits as the over all standard of living decreases.

Automatic Cost-Of-Living Adjustments
July 1975 -- 8.0%
July 1976 -- 6.4%
July 1977 -- 5.9%
July 1978 -- 6.5%
July 1979 -- 9.9%
July 1980 -- 14.3%
July 1981 -- 11.2%
July 1982 -- 7.4%
January 1984 -- 3.5%
January 1985 -- 3.5%
January 1986 -- 3.1%
January 1987 -- 1.3%
January 1988 -- 4.2%
January 1989 -- 4.0%
January 1990 -- 4.7%
January 1991 -- 5.4%
January 1992 -- 3.7%
January 1993 -- 3.0%
January 1994 -- 2.6%
January 1995 -- 2.8%
January 1996 -- 2.6%
January 1997 -- 2.9%
January 1998 -- 2.1%
January 1999 -- 1.3%
January 2000 -- 2.5%
January 2001 -- 3.5%
January 2002 -- 2.6%
January 2003 -- 1.4%
January 2004 -- 2.1%
January 2005 -- 2.7%
January 2006 -- 4.1%
January 2007 -- 3.3%
January 2008 -- 2.3%
January 2009 -- 5.8%
January 2010 -- 0.0%
January 2011 -- 0.0%
January 2012 -- 3.6%
January 2013 -- 1.7%

The above list of COLA calculations from 1975 to the present illustrates this idea of never having a "negative COLA."  After remaining below around 4% increases through the Bush autocracy, COLA suddenly increased to almost 6% in 2009 when the economy was attempting to stagger back to its feet.  With the 2009 COLA, Social Security benefit recipients found themselves "doing better" than other Americans who still had jobs and pay checks.  Additionally, the high COLA in 2009 was stimulus -- it pumped cash and liquidity back into the wreckage remaining after the Bush era looting. [COLA table source: ]

Next, when we look at COLA for 2010 and 2011, we see that Social Security benefits were showing a stability which was absent in much of the rest of the economy.  Had there been a cost of living adjustment in these two years  -- 2010 and 2011 -- it would have been negative.  Predictably, many younger Americans who should have, according to our traditional pattern, been starting jobs and careers were returning home to older parents whose Social Security benefits were higher than what they could have earned.

The more enduring aspect of this side of the economy's collapse centers on this exact point.  Younger workers in more stable times began to accumulate wealth when they reached this age, but during the Great Republican Recession of 2008, many of those young Americans were deeply in debt and without much of a prospect for any kind of decent job.

The toxic Bush "regulation-free episode" not only wrecked the EU and also deeply wounded Asia and Arabian wealth as well, but here in the US there were no new cars or even relatively nice used ones for the 20-somethings.  Even the normal rate of marriages tapered away after facing the prospect of making love with one's new wife in the same bed where one had first enjoyed the hushed sex of his teen age years.

The 20-somethings were still interested in sex, of course, but in the post-Bush economy they had also become much more interested a warm place to live,  in food and in the angry banksters on the line calling about their student loan defaults.  Only the most fool hardy had ambitions which included buying a house.

The mighty engine which was the American consumer economy had suddenly found itself under attack during the autocracy of the unelected President.  The American middle class found itself without Congressional defense, and it took some incredibly serious hits.  We are presently "absorbing" the massive looting and the economic damage it caused.

As a note:  The primary reason that our democratic institutions are currently in such a precarious, dangerous state is precisely because too many American voters have still never accepted the gravity of the horrendous economic damage which was done during the Bush years.  When we consider economic matters such as the topic of this posting, we need to remember to require a little durable optimism.  Things here may, actually, have gotten about as bad as they are going to get for the foreseeable future.

When the tea bags in the House of Representatives keep demanding "entitlement cuts," they are referring to out right reductions in Social Security benefits.  They want these changes so the repayment of the incredible debt they incurred against the Social Security Trust during of the immense borrowing of, again, the Bush Administration can be delayed until they are out of office.

Thankfully, voter opinion is beginning to turn on this issue, too. Until now the tea bags have been given a "more or less fact free ride" by the commercial media -- which has steadfastly reported just enough of the tale to assuage the low information voter among the GOP base. However, the Republicans, especially given the election disaster they have just endured, suspect that the hypnotic veil is lifting.

Decreasing Social Security benefits has long been a "dog whistle" to the low income Republican base convinced that it is supporting its dead beat neighbors.  This deception has now, quite clearly, begun to crumble in its foundation.

The full thrall of the spell is not entirely broken, but it is breaking.

Austerity and the Basic Idea Behind the COLA

Of course not everyone in the US lives under the same conditions.  The differences in various standards of living are practically one of the "axioms" which justify the "free enterprise" system.

Because of this, no one expected the folks who live primarily on income from their Social Security benefits to necessarily be inhabiting the top percentile of the standard of living. Quite the opposite, Social Security was designed to provide a lower level "backstop" with respect to how poor Social Security recipients would be.  The program was, famously, designed to provide dignity during one's later years, and in this case, "dignity" meant a better standard of living than abject poverty.

Elderly poverty was rampant after the First Great Republican Depression in the 1930's, and Social Security was devised as a means to mitigate that horrible poverty.  When Social Security became law, the lives of seniors improved enough that the life expectancy began to climb.  With respect to everybody, poverty kills.  With respect to older Americans, poverty really kills.

The material [above] from the Social Security Administration explains at least the prevailing supposition of how the COLA - Cost of Living Adjustment - was intended to work.  It should also provide a fairly persuasive suggestion that the calculation of things such as the COLA and the CPI are quite empirical.

In other words there are "legislated rules" which direct the calculation of such things.  If this were not the case, whoever controlled the Congress would be able to simply set the COLA and the CPI where ever convenient.

Let's just say that this brief discussion has "broken the ice" just a bit.  In no time we find ourselves facing some truly perplexing questions. 

We have all heard the repeated litany of conceptually divorcing Social Security from the debt and deficit discussions.  Over and over, Ronald Reagan's historic explanation that "Social Security has nothing to do with the budget deficit." has been proffered up by all sorts of players, remarkably, almost exclusively Democrats.

Yet, here we are again.  The House tea bags, still tragically blinded by their ideological hatred of Social Security, have demanded cuts to "entitlement spending" as the required ante for their cooperation in matters such as raising the debt ceiling, increasing tax revenues and overall "shrinkage in government spending."

This behavior of passionately and desperately attacking the wrong problem is a common trait of addicts and alcoholics -- even when they are behaving more or less honestly.  With the House tea bags, the same trait is strikingly and unilaterally "self-defining" even when they are not acting honestly, which now is most of the time.

Social Security as an Economic Factor

The statement that Social Security has nothing to do with causing the budget deficit is true.  Politicians from Ronald Reagan to Bernie Sanders have unequivocally said exactly this -- even when they knew we were listening.  However, the Social Security program does, actually, have a good deal to do with how the economy is  functioning.

During times of grave recession, monthly Social Security benefit checks act as a "buffering stimulus."  Although the same checks were also being cashed during better economic times, during a recession they represent a direct infusion of literally billions of dollars worth of cash into the nation's economy every month.

When the economic problem is, unmistakably, a demand side problem, more cash in the pockets of Americans creates demand immediately.  Further, those receiving Social Security benefits, by and large, spend those benefits basically as quickly as they get them.

Republicans have always obsessed over the huge pile of money in the Social Security Trust.  In fact, this obsession prompted Ronald Reagan to make his famous statement about Social Security playing no part in the budget deficit.  Reagan went ahead to strike a bipartisan deal to double the revenue to the Social Security Trust to accommodate the increased demands of the population bubble we call the "baby boomers."

The constant refrain from the Republican "economy experts" is that the size of  the Social Security Trust is the "problem."  Their perennial solution has remained unchanged for decades.  The Trust Fund must be removed from the control of the Social Security Administration and placed in a Wall Street "casino" investments where it will accrue funds more rapidly.

Although the program which issues the benefit checks is entirely solvent for decades, it does present a pressing economic problem for Republicans right now.  They really are now the official owners of the huge debt from the money they borrowed from the Trust.  Although the form of the loans was in a sort of "special Treasury note," debts must still be repaid sooner or later.

As a political Party clearly bereft of any particular plan for economic policy and  governance, all that currently occurs to the Republicans is to reduce the monthly benefit payments sufficiently to relieve the growing pressure to repay the money they borrowed during the Bush years.  A straightforward legislative solution to simply solve the fiscal problem would involve raising taxes and, hence, would be unthinkable for them.

There may be also something to say about the economic impact of raising the "ceiling" of income which carries the Social Security tax from its current [2013] base of $113,700.  The obvious solution -- if one is even required -- is to simply raise this ceiling so more income is taxed.

If this ceiling were raised, the increased Social Security revenue would be extracted from, in this case, income over $113,000.  The question for the economic impact of such a change is whether or not a Social Security tax dollar withheld just above the $113,000 mark diminishes economic demand as much as a Social Security tax dollar withheld from, say, a $40,000 income would.

MeanMesa is convinced that the burden should be shared even more than it is now.  The ceiling for paying the Social Security tax, if we want to roughly compare it to the period in the COLA chart above, has increased from $14,100 in 1975 to the current $113,700 in 2013.

Contribution and benefit bases, 1937-2013
Year Amount
1937-50 $3,000
1951-54 3,600
1955-58 4,200
1959-65 4,800
1966-67 6,600
1968-71 7,800
1972 9,000
1973 10,800
1974 13,200
1975 14,100
1976 15,300
1977 16,500
1978 17,700
1979 22,900
1980 25,900
1981 29,700
1982 32,400
1983 35,700
1984 37,800
1985 39,600
Year Amount
1986 $42,000
1987 43,800
1988 45,000
1989 48,000
1990 51,300
1991 53,400
1992 55,500
1993 57,600
1994 60,600
1995 61,200
1996 62,700
1997 65,400
1998 68,400
1999 72,600
2000 76,200
2001 80,400
2002 84,900
2003 87,000
2004 87,900
2005 90,000
Year Amount
2006 $94,200
2007 97,500
2008 102,000
2009 106,800
2010 106,800
2011 106,800
2012 110,100
2013 113,700

Payroll deductions for Social Security do, in fact, remove "demand creating" money from the economy, but the benefit payments actually, in fact, increase demand because they are almost entirely spent by benefit recipients.  When just about all the "demand creating" processes in the economy had faltered in 2008, Social Security benefits were still pumping money into the economy, yes, stimulating it. [Read the entire article: ]

Also importantly, the money being "pumped into the economy" was "paid for money," not inflationary stimulus rolling off the printing presses in Washington, D.C.

Obama the Social Security Chess Player

The President, for the second time in the last 24 months and in another notable episode of apparent "self-contradiction,"  has once again placed Social Security "on the table" while dealing with House Republicans.  In both instances Republican "extortionists," unable to coherently formulate any kind of economic policy to solve the disaster they created in 2008, are again threatening to eliminate unemployment insurance, Pell Grants and a number of other programs during "negotiations" about deficits and debt.

Violence against any of these "targets" they are now threatening would further aggravate the already horrible "demand side" crisis. 

So, how does the President entice these profoundly unstable ideologues to the bargaining table?

Don't freak out.  Our guy is playing chess.

The only thing that will get creatures such as Ryan, Boehner or Cantor to even answer the Congressional phone is a ghostly insinuation of caving in to the Republican base's favorite "red meat" and "dog whistle" wet dream: cutting entitlements.

Cutting Social Security benefits.

By the way, the "Ryan-Cantoresee" tea bag Mafia version of "cutting Social Security benefits" includes continuing to collect Social Security taxes from poor and middle class Americans at the same rate as now after benefits are reduced.  The "Ryan-Cantoresee" plan would further injure the economy and, according the CBO, also further increase the national debt.

The President had to hint that he might be willing to "cut entitlements" to get the Republicans to pass the debt ceiling increase -- rather than default -- in 2011.  Now, the bullies in the GOP House "boys only" club have doubled their threat.  If the President doesn't cave in on "entitlement cuts" this time, two hostages will be castrated then decapitated by the GOP -- first the fiscal cliff, then following that up, another wildly crazy refusal to increase the debt ceiling.

See, as Americans, we own the cliff.  Going over the cliff would be an entirely self-imposed injury.  The GOP doesn't own the cliff.  The GOP may have built the cliff during the autocracy, but they gave it to us as quickly as they could once they were through looting. This hand off is sort of like the young, proud, new father instantly placing his "bundle of joy" into the hands of his wife when his son poops.

All the things that Republicans are anxious to do to "save the economy" have to be considered in light of the fact that these are the same Republicans who wrecked the economy!  And, not just the same Party, either.




MeanMesa is not worried about the COLA chaining, entitlement cuts or even the fiscal cliff.  Barack Obama has our back. Trust him.

MeanMesa's compliments to the President.