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Posts Tagged ‘social contract’

Welcoming the New Year 2014

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

NewYear2Warm good wishes to all for a healthy and prosperous new year, inwardly and outwardly. We hope your prayers will be answered, especially your prayers for peace, for a stronger, more civil nation, for understanding and cooperation between persons, parties, and nations. Let the poor be better fed, the naked clothed, the shivering warmed . . . and let the forests and rivers grow thick with fishes and trees, turtles and birds, etc. Let humankind become a better steward of the planet that has been given to us to inhabit (but not to waste), more worthy and more considerate of the natural abundance around us.

We wish and pray for strength and persistence in abundance for those who work for the public good—health, education, employing the jobless and feeding the hungry—and for the reinforcement of the infrastructure (roads, levees, bridges) and the restoration of the environment we all need. Let the defenders of the public good prevail against those (especially the already highly privileged) who would weaken and diminish the benefits and liberties hard-won over many years of struggle for the common man and woman. And courage and abundance of cooperation for those who work to protect the earth and living things.

For those wearied by much toil and little pay, let there be better opportunities. For the discouraged, let there be rewards for their efforts, and renewed energy for further attempts. For the hungry parents of hungry children, and the idle, frustrated would-be workers, let there be well-paid labor, generosity of neighbors, and new chances to find and earn the bread of life. None should have to be hungry, nor without work.

For all these things, and more, we pray, and wish you and all your friends and family a much better new year, and stronger hope and energies, in 2014.

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In Honor of Medgar Evers and Res Publica

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

MedgarEvers_02281Conservatives’ rejection of all things “public” as “white flight”

“The gifts of God . . . should 
be enjoyed by 
all citizens in Mississippi.”  Medgar Evers (1925–1963)

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Fifty years ago today, Medgar Wylie Evers was killed in his driveway in Jackson, Mississippi, after returning from an NAACP meeting at a nearby church. Evers, a graduate of Alcorn A&M whose application to the University of Mississippi law school was rejected on racial grounds, had served as the NAACP field secretary for the state of Mississippi since 1954. One of his tasks was an investigation of the 1955 murder of Emmett Till. He was one of the first members of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC, est. 1957). The assassination of Medgar Evers was commemorated in Bob Dylan’s song “Only a Pawn in Their Game” (1964) and more recently in season three of Mad Men. Evers, who had served in the U.S. Army in France in World War II and was honorably discharged as a sergeant, was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

It was late on the night of June 11, and the killer was hiding behind a bush. Myrlie Evers found her husband on the front steps where he had managed to drag himself after being shot in the back. His car keys were still in his hands, and in his arms was a stack of T-shirts reading JIM CROW MUST GO. For thirty years the murder went unprosecuted (a trial in 1964 ended with a hung jury), until Byron De La Beckwith was convicted of murder in 1994. Throughout the 1994 trial De La Beckwith wore a Confederate flag on his lapel. MyrlieEvers@LIFE

On the night her husband was assassinated, Mrs. Evers and her children were watching a televised address to the nation by President John F. Kennedy in response to recent civil rights events, including Alabama Governor George Wallace’s refusal to allow two black students to register at the University of Alabama. (The president announced, “I am . . . asking the Congress to enact legislation giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public—hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments.”)

In an excellent 10-minute overview of the Jim Crow (segregated, apartheid) South into which Medgar Evers was born, and of early civil rights protests such as the lunch counter sit-ins, Rachel Maddow last night mentioned that, rather than cooperate with the legislation that ordered integration of schools and other public facilities, many white southerners opted to withdraw from desegregated public society. (“Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” as George Wallace put it.)

Rachel explained:

The southern part of the United States was forced to abolish its segregation laws. But it was a bloody, bloody fight. Throughout the old Confederacy, white people were asked, first as a matter of conscience, and then finally they were ordered as a matter of justice, to integrate on racial lines. And when the white people who had control of the laws and the government and the schools and the businesses, when the fight to hold on to segregation laws was a lost fight, and they knew they had no choice but to integrate the society they lived in, in many cases, instead of going through with that and living through that kind of change, a lot of them just decided to quit that society, they gave up public pools and public schools and in some cases movie theaters. They gave up whole cities and moved away. They called it white flight. The census from 1960 records a Jackson, Mississippi, that was majority white, almost two to one. By 1990 Jackson’s population had made the turn toward getting much smaller and it was much blacker. By 2010 Jackson, Mississippi, had become the second most African American city in the nation. White people in the previously legally segregated South, and really across the nation, abandoned places rather than see them change. [bold = LNW’s emphasis]

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Republicans Against Medicare: A Long, Mean History

Monday, October 15th, 2012

“. . . let’s be brutally honest here. The Romney-Ryan position on health care is that many millions of Americans must be denied health insurance, and millions more deprived of the security Medicare now provides, in order to save money. At the same time, of course, Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan are proposing trillions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy. So a literal description of their plan is that they want to expose many Americans to financial insecurity, and let some of them die, so that a handful of already wealthy people can have a higher after-tax income.” —Paul Krugman, “Death By Ideology” [our emphasis]

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Maybe You Know Someone Whose Life Depends on Medicare

In a column showing that Paul Ryan himself once used the term “voucher” to describe his plan to replace Medicare with something considerably less beneficial, Paul Krugman refutes Romney and Ryan’s claims that no one lacking money for health care will have to go without care. As the compassionate conservative George W. Bush similarly assured us, “[P]eople have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room.” Before the Republicans decided that euphemisms like “guaranteed benefit” sound better, before the Democrats turned “voucher” into a pejorative, Paul Ryan used the term himself. Last week Romney said:

[Y]ou go to the hospital, you get treated, you get care, and it’s paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital. . . We don’t have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance.

(By the way, can we just point out that the proper pronoun when referring to human beings is who, not that? It’s called a personal pronoun. Almost every time we hear that instead of who, it is in a context of less-than-kind-regard for the people being referred to. It’s a distancing term. Watch for it.)

In the vice presidential debate on Thursday night, Joe Biden looked into the camera and appealed to the American voter:

. . . these guys haven’t been big on Medicare from the beginning. Their party’s not been big on Medicare from the beginning. And they’ve always been about Social Security as little as you can do. Look, folks, use your common sense. Who do you trust on this? A man who introduced a bill that would raise [seniors’ required contributions to Medicare] $6,400 a year, knowing it and passing it, and Romney saying he’d sign it? Or me and the president? . . . Folks, follow your instincts on this one. [full transcript here]

The vice president has a good point here: Shouldn’t we trust the party that designed and pushed for Medicare—and Social Security, not to mention the WPA, the minimum wage, unemployment insurance, and many other social safety net programs—to protect this life-saving program, rather than the party that has long fought against it? Look at how the Republicans in Congress voted for or against Medicare in 1965, compared with the Democrats—and consider that only 3 Republicans voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) in 2009, and have voted 33 times to repeal it:

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Among the congressional Republicans who voted against the Medicare bill in 1965 were George H. W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Bob Dole, Barry Goldwater, and Strom Thurmond. And as early as 1961, then private citizen Ronald Reagan was speaking out against “socialized medicine.” His LP (shown above) was part of “Operation Coffee Cup,” a stealth campaign in the late 1950s and early ’60s sponsored by the American Medical Association to oppose the expansion of Social Security. Click here and here for a brief history of Republican efforts to cut or kill Medicare.

Republicans can call it “socialized medicine”—and they probably always will—but consider this:

Prior to Medicare, “about one-half of America’s seniors did not have hospital insurance,” “more than one in four elderly were estimated to go without medical care due to cost concerns,” and one in three seniors were living in poverty. Today, nearly all seniors have access to affordable health care and only about 14 percent of seniors are below the poverty line.

Don’t Cut Medicare—Expand It!

Further, a 2009 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 53% of Americans “strongly” favor expanding Medicare coverage to those aged 55 to 64, and an additional 26% support it “somewhat.” (see page 4). This is an idea pitched by John Kerry when he was running for president in 2004. Kerry suggested enrolling children in Medicare and lowering the age for adults by 10 years, and incrementally moving the eligibility up for the young and downward in age for older Americans, and eventually meeting in the middle so that all Americans would be covered. We love this idea and have often written to members of Congress to support it. We urge you to join us. We should not only protect Medicare as it is, but go stronger and push for wider coverage and fuller funding.

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In closing, we would like to quote a governor of the great state of Massachusetts:

There ought to be enough money to help people get insurance because an insured individual has a better chance of having an excellent medical experience than the one who has not. An insured individual is more likely to go to a primary care physician or a clinic to get evaluated for their conditions and to get early treatment, to get pharmaceutical treatment, as opposed to showing up in the emergency room where the treatment is more expensive and less effective than if they got preventive and primary care.

—Gov. Mitt Romney, address to Chamber of Commerce, April 2006

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President Lyndon B. Johnson, with First Lady Lady Bird Johnson behind him (in blue), and former President Harry S Truman at his right, signs the Medicare bill into law, July 30, 1965.

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Framing the Case for Infrastructure Investment, Taxing the Rich

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Attn.: Pro-Infrastructure Activists and Democratic Strategists:

In a Feb. 4 letter to the editor of the New York Times, Rick Stone of Madison, Wisc., makes a point that more of us should heed:

If the wealthy knew with certainty that their increased taxes would make the roads they drive safer, resistance might be less. Yet higher taxes have generally not been framed as such, but rather as a fairness issue—that you make too much, so we’ll take some of yours to give to others.

He is responding to an op-ed piece by Cornell University economics professor Robert H. Frank titled “Higher Taxes Help the Richest, Too,” a somewhat abstruse argument that takes about 900 words to make a rather simple point about why the wealthy resist tax increases. Still, we agree with the basic point, perhaps best summarized in the final sentence, “when the anti-tax wealthy make campaign contributions, they are buying only the deeper potholes and dirtier air that inevitably result when tax revenue is low.”

Earlier in his letter, Rick Stone cites the “behavioral economics concept of loss aversion—the idea that people strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains.” The impulse to avoid losses can best be countered by showing what the tax increases could make possible. And then—he doesn’t say this, exactly, but we do—change the discourse from a scarcity and austerity framework to a maldistribution-of-wealth argument.

Naomi Klein on The Rachel Maddow Show in October praised the genius of the “We Are the 99%” slogan and said the Occupy Wall Street activists were smart to take the protest to “the source of maximal abundance,” to put the lie to the discourse of scarcity. “It’s not a scarcity problem,” she said, “it’s a distribution problem.”

Mr. Stone of Madison is not talking specifically about reinforced levees or expanded public transportation, but his point applies there as well. When we push for raising taxes on the under-taxed Upper 1 or 2 Percent (and we do); when we try to generate support for what even sympathetic politicians timidly call “revenue increases,” we must show specific examples of what the revenues would pay for: stronger levees, repaired roads, expanded rail service, schools and post offices that are allowed to remain open, and so on.

We agree that arguments for higher taxes should be framed in terms of what they would make possible—that is why we are calling attention to this letter—but if Mr. Stone is saying that calls for higher taxes should not be framed as a fairness issue, then we disagree. He’s probably right that the benefits to the public (including the wealthy) should be at the forefront, but fairness should certainly be part of the argument.

What Would George Lakoff Say?

We have quoted before the advice given to us by U.C. Berkeley linguist and political analyst George Lakoff. He said that in promoting investment in infrastructure and other public goods, Democrats should not try to imitate Republican appeals to self-interest (and certainly not appeals to fear), but rather should argue for doing what is morally right. People will warm to the moral argument if it is presented simply and directly. It is right and fair for a government to collect some portion of people’s income to pay for the building of schools and roads and for monitoring food safety, etc. As we wrote in a piece on the social contract posted in Sept. 2009:

He said the moral appeal is always the best. It’s honest and it is more persuasive. Democrats and progressives, he said, always fall for the “Enlightenment fallacy,” the naïve belief that if you simply present the facts, people will see the light and support your cause. Not so simple. . . . Democrats should never try to imitate Republican appeals—it’s never believable. Instead, use the moral argument (the golden rule)—It’s the right thing to do. Expanding health care coverage, protecting our cities from hurricanes with reinforced flood protection is the right thing to do, morally and ecologically. 

Lakoff said Democrats and progressives are never persuasive with the appeal to self-interest—they can’t compete on that turf with Republicans. Part of the weakness of the self-interest approach is that it is fragmented, does not show how the various parts are connected, and therefore lacks a cohesiveness and persuasive force because it. To be persuasive, what we must do is show how seemingly disparate phenomena are related. Show, for instance, how the nation’s dependence on oil and the ravaging of the wetlands are connected; how the 10,000+ miles of oil and gas canals through the Louisiana wetlands destroy the storm-surge buffer that protects us from hurricanes, while the carbon emissions aggravate global warming, which intensifies hurricanes and raises sea levels, and so on. [Continue reading here.]

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Thanks to Rick Stone of Madison for taking the time to write the letter, and our best wishes for the people of Wisconsin—especially the embattled public employees and union members there. We stand with Wisconsin.

See also “Public Works in a Time of Job-Killing Scrooges

The Social Contract, Explained by Elizabeth Warren, Paul Krugman, and Robert Kuttner

Tyranny Disguised as Fiscal Discipline

Republican War on Working Families

‘Shock Doctrine’ in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, as in Egypt, ‘This Is What Democracy Looks Like’

 

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“There Is a Creative Force in This Universe”

Monday, January 16th, 2012

The Poor People’s Campaign, 40 Years before Occupy Wall Street

“Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. . . . God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty.” —from an imaginary letter from St. Paul to American Christians in a 1956 sermon by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

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In a time of resurgent, emboldened racism and a deliberate, legislated taking away of voting rights in states all across the land; in this time of meanness and hostility toward the poor and the “differently colored” from political candidates (mostly white and privileged); in these days of cowardice by public officials and those in a position to defend the weak, the poor, and the marginalized; and, more hopefully, in these days of a people’s movement toward economic fairness through Occupy Wall Street and other activism, we take some comfort and courage from the words and the actions of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Especially relevant today is his work on the Poor People’s Campaign.

We focus today on Rev. King’s remarks in the speech “Where Do We Go from Here?”, his last address as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to its members, in Atlanta, on August 16, 1967. The ideas of social and economic justice expressed in this address underlay his and the SCLC’s Poor People’s Campaign, on which Rev. King was working when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis. At the time of his death he was lending support to the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike. Selections from “Where Do We Go from Here?” follow. (See also King’s book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?)

Where Do We Go from Here?

What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on. . . .

We must develop a program that will drive the nation to a guaranteed annual income. . . . Now we realize that dislocations in the market operations of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will. . . .

. . . our emphasis must be twofold. We must create full employment or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted. New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available. In 1879 Henry George anticipated this state of affairs when he wrote in Progress and Poverty:

The fact is that the work which improves the condition of mankind, the work which extends knowledge and increases power and enriches literature and elevates thought, is not done to secure a living. It is not the work of slaves driven to their tasks either bay the task, by the taskmaster, or by animal necessity. It is the work of men who somehow find a form of work that brings a security for its own sake and a state of society where want is abolished. 

 

Work of this sort could be enormously increased, and we are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished. . . .

. . . Now our country can do this. John Kenneth Galbraith said that a guaranteed annual income could be done for about twenty billion dollars a year. And I say to you today, that if our nation can spend thirty-five billion dollars a year to fight an unjust, evil war in Vietnam, and twenty billion dollars to put a man on the moon, it can spend billions of dollars to put God’s children on their own two feet right here on earth. . . .

. . . as we talk about “Where do we go from here,” . . . the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question, “Why are there forty million poor people in America?” And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. . . . We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. . . .

When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrow. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

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Click here for a slide show of the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike and the immediate aftermath of King’s assassination.

King’s Last March by American Radio Works. See also ARW’s special features Beyond Vietnam; New Front in the Fight for Freedom; The FBI’s War on King; and From the Pulpit to the Heart

Read “Dr. Martin Luther King’s Economics: Through Jobs, Freedom” by Mark Engler in The Nation

And see the fine American Experience (PBS) documentary “Freedom Riders,” available through Netflix.

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The excepts above (except the epigraph) were transcribed from Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World (1986, 1992), with a foreword by Coretta Scott King, pp. 172–79. ¶ Top photograph by Dan Weiner: Martin Luther King, Jr., Montgomery, Alabama, 1956. Middle photo by Horace Cort for Associated Press.

Below: Memphis, 1968: National Guardsmen block the entrance to Beale Street in Memphis. Two days after the March 28 demonstration that King had led in support of striking sanitation workers turned violent, people continued to protest in Memphis (Mississippi Valley Collection).

 

 

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Talk of the Social Contract Should Not Make Rightists Reach for Their Guns

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Daily Kos reports:

After a video of [Elizabeth] Warren talking about the deficit and the social contract went viral last week (see above), Rush Limbaugh, the Fiscal Times and Rich Lowrey all spent time attacking her. Now, Lowrey has decided to spend another column going after her, and places like the Daily Caller and Reason have piled on. There is also this gem from right-wing blog Wizbang:

The Wizbang text reads:

When I hear the word “contract” I [strike-through: reach for my revolver] think of two unique definitions — formally, a legally binding mutual agreement made between two or more parties, or idiomatically, an attempt to hire an assassin to kill one or more of your enemies.

As many readers will recognize,  the “reach for my revolver” line derives from Nazi sources. The phrase “Whenever I hear [the word] ‘culture’ . . . I remove the safety from my Browning!” is usually attributed to Gestapo founder Hermann Goering, though Wikiquote attributes the line to a play by Hanns Johst first performed in April 1933 in honor of Hitler’s birthday.

Is this really the impression Wizbang wants to convey? Should those who think the rich should pay their fair share of taxes fear a right-wing Gestapo? We do not fear.

Support Elizabeth Warren: Sign the Petition

Please join us in signing the Daily Kos/Credo petition thanking Elizabeth Warren for speaking the truth. It takes only 21 seconds. Encourage her to keep talking about the social contract, the ties that bind us in a good way. Thank you.

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The Social Contract, Explained by Elizabeth Warren,
Paul Krugman, and Robert Kuttner

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

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“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. . . . You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate.”

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United We Stand, Divided We Fall

Elizabeth Warren, the consumer protection reformer and Harvard law professor who is now campaigning to represent Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate, has given one of the most direct and cogent explanations of the social contract we’ve ever heard. (It’s an idea that is not talked about often enough.) One way of describing the social contract, also known as the social compact, is of putting the Golden Rule into practice in society through the mechanisms of government for the benefit of all: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Share and share alike. It’s something children can understand, but not many bankers or senators.

Briefly, the idea of a social contract is of a mutually beneficial system that serves both the ordinary folk and the wealthy, and makes demands on all, a two-way street of reciprocal obligation and fulfillment. The closest the U.S. has ever come to enacting a social contract is through FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society. It is an ideal, never quite reached completely, but its essentials were in place not so long ago and could be restored by determined, sustained effort. Robert Kuttner has written about how during the boom decades after World War II a “managed, rather than laissez-faire, brand of capitalism . . . delivered broadly shared prosperity, as well as greater security for both the system and individuals” (The Squandering of America [2007], p. 6). More from Kuttner below.

Let’s go straight to Dr. Warren herself.

I hear all this, you know, “Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.”—No!

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.

You built a factory out there—good for you! But I want to be clear.

You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for.

You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate.

You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.

You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.

Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea—God bless. Keep a big hunk of it.

But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Isn’t this more or less the idea behind “United we stand, divided we fall”?

As Steve Benen at Washington Monthly notes of Warren’s remarks, “First-time candidates don’t usually articulate a progressive economic message quite this well.”

We have written lately about how the Democrats seriously need to sharpen and toughen up their communication skills. We hereby nominate Elizabeth Warren as one of the chief instructors and exemplars at the Democrats’ School for the Mute. The school also needs a disciplinarian. The Democratic party cannot depend on the skills of Barack Obama alone—though he has lately been showing signs of improvement. Every senator, every representative who wears a D after his or her name should be in intensive training. Dr. Warren—whose talk about economic fairness prompted Jon Stewart to say, “I want to make out with you!”—is the Teacher of the Week. (Click here for her Huffington Post blog posts.)

 

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We were alerted to the good professor’s comments by Paul Krugman’s well-titled column “The Social Contract” (see below, after the jump, for a full version, highlighted and underlined as a convenience for our readers). After explaining why President Obama is right to assert that the wealthy should bear part of the burden of reducing the budget deficit, Krugman cites the “eloquent remarks” made this week by Elizabeth Warren, now on the campaign trail in Massachusetts, countering the assertion that the rich should get to keep all their wealth. It’s hardly “class warfare.” Summarizing Warren’s argument, Krugman writes:

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody,” she declared, pointing out that the rich can only get rich thanks to the “social contract” that provides a decent, functioning society in which they can prosper.

This column follows several days after President Obama, in remarks in the Rose Garden (Sept. 19) on Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction, asserted with welcome clarity, “Either we ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share in taxes, or we’re going to have to ask seniors to pay more for Medicare. We can’t afford to do both. . . . This is not class warfare. It’s math.”

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NObama! No Cuts to Social Security, Medicare;
WPA-, CCC-style Jobs Programs Now

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

“We put those pay roll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.”FDR, 1941

“. . . if the tax cuts are extended, their cost to the Treasury will be used (again) as a rationale for cutting Social Security, Medicare, health care reform, and other social safety-net programs. As Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont has written in his letter to Speaker Pelosi, ‘Without a doubt, the very same people who support this addition to our debt will oppose raising the debt ceiling to pay for it.’ ”   From our letter to President Obama in Dec. 2010 urging him to stand against extension of the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy

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•  If you’ve thought of maybe contacting the White House or your representatives, now would be a good time. • White House e-mail: comments@whitehouse.gov  • Please join us in phoning the White House (202-456-1111) and members of Congress to say “Don’t touch Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid”; let the wealthy pay up for a change. Don’t let Republicans hold middle class and poor Americans hostage when they won’t budge on raising taxes. •  Tomorrow we’ll post a similar letter we’ve been faxing to members of Congress.

Following is an open letter to President Obama that we faxed (202-456-2461) and mailed to the White House this week.

An Open Letter to President Obama

President Obama:

As a former Obama campaign and OFA volunteer, I urge you, do not trim Social Security benefits or raise the Medicare eligibility age when the middle class is already nearing extinction. Only months after extending the Bush Tax Cuts for Millionaires, with the G.O.P. not budging on raising revenues, it is intolerable that you would even think of cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and federal pension programs. (And stop calling them “entitlements”: that’s a Republican term.)

Even if these programs are left intact, reducing federal spending by billions or trillions at a time when no other large domestic entity is spending at all will increase unemployment, choke consumer spending, and shrink the economy still further. You seem to be putting a lot more effort toward cuts than toward revenues. Seriously, austerity in a recession? You can’t really want to try the Herbert Hoover–Andrew Mellon route to reelection. I’m urging congressional Democrats to refuse the deal.

The millions who voted for you are begging you to address the nation’s real crisis and launch an ambitious WPA-style jobs program and lower the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to 55. That would restore public and investor confidence, and would invigorate this lame, sucking economy. If tax rates were fair, this wealthy nation could afford it. You could help make it happen.

Your reelection would be less in doubt if you gave America’s 15+ million unemployed and the nation’s crumbling infrastructure a comprehensive WPA-style jobs program at least 10 times as aggressive as the ARRA stimulus: public works, transportation (not just high-speed rail), public housing, environmental conservation (think CCC), schools, hospitals. Franklin Roosevelt didn’t wait for Congress: he established the WPA in 1935 by executive order. You could do the same.

You’re trying to make a “reasonable,” “centrist” deal with nihilistic extremists who want the government to shut down and to blame you for it. They don’t even believe in government. Claiming “progress,” you’re leading us straight into the G.O.P.’s chainsaw. Last December, after you asserted your readiness to fight the Republicans “next time,” I wrote to you:

. . . if the tax cuts are extended, their cost to the Treasury will be used (again) as a rationale for cutting Social Security, Medicare, health care reform, and other social safety-net programs. As Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont has written in his letter to Speaker Pelosi, “Without a doubt, the very same people who support this addition to our debt will oppose raising the debt ceiling to pay for it.”

I understand the political rationale for wanting to be seen as curbing the deficit, but any cuts are only acceptable if you follow them up with a really serious WPA-style jobs program. I worry, however, that you really don’t have the stomach for a fight. That’s really, really too bad for the millions of us (many unemployed) who put our faith in you. We, and labor and congressional Democrats, may not be helping you in 2012—or even in 2011.

Yours, etc.

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