Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Long Road Back: Beating Liberalism Together

In the aftermath of 2012's disastrous presidential election, the GOP has consigned itself to irrelevancy.  The party that was once at the fore of emancipation for slaves, women's suffrage, and civil rights is now trailing history rather than making it.

The GOP's message of small government is logically irreconciliable to its practices.  On the one hand, the GOP insists on strict adherence to the Constitution; on the other hand, it passes a federal law to obviate the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution even though no federal law could possibly trump the supreme law of the land.  To this day, there has been no intellectually satisfying explanation of why the Republican Party thought it was the business or the prerogative of the federal government to involve itself in the issue of marriage.

In this respect, the Republican's actions on gay marriage parallel the intellectual idiocy of liberals on the issue of abortion.  Expediency trumped process; in their haste to usher in an era of on-demand abortion, liberals gave us a decision in Roe v. Wade that cobbled together amendments to form a constitutional foundation for abortion as an individual right, despite the fact that women who exercised that right did not even have the right to vote until passage of an amendment that came after the amendments referenced by the Supreme Court in Roe. Why wait for an amendment when you can achieve a result with immediacy?

The answer is legitimacy.  Abortion is not, despite the insistence of liberals, a settled issue. To this day, everyone, even the most liberal legal minds, recognize the intellectual vapidity that was and is Roe.  50 million dead unborn children later, and abortion as an individual right has no permanence.  In this respect, abortion as a right has no parallel to freedom of speech, assembly, or the right to bear arms. For all of its flaws as it relates to delayed gratification, process brings with it legitimacy for results.

When the Republican Party committed itself to the Defense of Marriage Act, it chose gratification over legitimacy, and ushered in the inevitable uncertainty that follows results which short circuit process.

Today, states are now legalizing gay marriage.  By offering up a federal law directly in conflict with the Constitution, the GOP managed to invite the federal courts into the issue of gay marriage.  Instead of merely recognizing gay marriage in other states under the Full Faith and Credit Clause, states will now have the ability to define marriage stripped from their purview.  This is historic in every respect, for states have always defined marriage.

The absolute worst thing the federal government can do as it relates to traditional state matters is something.  Sometimes, restraint is the better part of valor, but today's Republican Party does not understand such principles.  They are tactically stupid.

Moreover, why on Earth would you want to deny homosexuals the right to marry, given the assimilating power of the institution?  If you wish to see homosexuals integrated from the fringes of society, away from their exotic subcultures that you abhor as a proponent of traditional morality, give them marriage.  Nothing could be more effective to reduce or even eliminate homosexual activity than marriage, as any heterosexual couple could tell you after years of marriage.  

As it relates to other communities now ostracized and alienated by Republicans in power, some of those communities are natural Republican constituencies.  Hispanics come to mind, with their strong commitment to traditional family structures, their tendency towards conservative Catholic values, and their immigrant work ethics.  Today, we have allowed Arizona and other states to effectively create an atmosphere where Hispanics must carry papers in order to demonstrate that they are legal residents of the United States.

Fifty years ago, a major selling point of this country and its values versus the Soviet Union was that our citizens could travel without papers.  The above clip, from the movie The Hunt for Red October, exemplifies this basic American freedom.  You could travel from state to state with no papers, but in today's America, we now want Hispanics in Arizona and elsewhere to carry papers.  The police have expanded powers to stop and detain them if they cannot prove via papers their legal residency, and the net effect is that there is no probable cause: you can be pulled over and queried based on your ethnicity.  We all know this is the net effect of such laws, and there is something distinctly anti-American about said laws, something almost...communist.

The Republican Party at the state level has effectively signed on to such agendas without any question.

Social issues and their alienating power are but one problem the Republican Party must overcome; in order to address the utter lack of credibility it has on fiscal issues, Republicans must realize some very hard truths indeed.

When you have to finance an initiative with the issuance of debt, you are spending money.  When you cut taxes and create deficits, the deficit and the tax cut that created it will be financed with the issuance of debt. The tax cut thereby becomes a spending item.

No one seriously argues that financing the purchase of a television or a car with debt in the form of a loan or credit isn't spending; however, Republicans will argue until the sun goes down that a tax cut is not spending no matter how much debt it creates.  No tax cut that is unaccompanied by a commensurate cut in spending items should ever be passed into law.  You can have whatever you damn well wish to pay for, but as it relates to government spending, it is better to pay as you go than to pay with interest because the government has the unique ability to print money in order to lessen its debt obligations. The net result of such practices is that Americans pay higher prices over time and lose purchasing power in the process.

Republicans have not only signed on to deficit exploding tax cuts, they have also wholeheartedly embraced massive spending programs such as the Medicare prescription drug benefit or massive outlays in defense spending.  What they never seem to be prepared to do is ask why so much money is needed, or if the money is being spent effectively.

Medicaid fraud and waste estimates run as high as $100 billion annually, yet the GAO found that the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services had just eight staffers tasked with policing such waste at a time when the Department of Health and Human Services had an astonishing 65,000 employees and Medicaid cost $300 billion a year.  Today, that cost has risen to $457 billion annually, or 40% more than the entire economic output of Greece.

Republicans are well aware of the factors driving Medicaid waste and fraud, because these issues have been thoroughly investigated by the GAO and House Oversight Committees time and time again.  They simply have been unable to sublimate their findings into any meaningful action to curb the waste and fraud:

"Without a significant incentive for states to crack down on Medicaid waste, fraud, and abuse, journalists and other watchdog groups – as opposed to state agencies – often expose Medicaid fraud schemes. This is true even when the cases of fraud should be obvious to any competent government official. For example, between 2008 and 2010, Texas’s Medicaid program spent more on orthodontics, particularly braces, than all 49 remaining states combined.5 However, no one at Texas’s Medicaid agency or at CMS failed to prevent or even publicize that several Texas providers were fraudulently bilking taxpayers out of tens of millions of dollars until an investigative journalist at a Dallas news station uncovered the scheme.6"
To put it mildly, Republicans have the opportunity to save taxpayers $1 trillion over 10 years, and they aren't doing anything meaningful to highlight this issue or to fix it.   Such issues are ripe for Republicans who wish to gain electoral traction, but the sad truth is that today's GOP is more interested in gay-bashing or forcing Hispanics into a corner. 

Republicans could articulate a message that highlights such waste and proposes a way forward to cut or eliminate the waste by providing incentives to states, but they have not done so as yet, even though they are well aware of the problem and even the obvious fixes:

"States are primarily responsible for fighting Medicaid fraud and abuse with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) responsible for supporting and overseeing state fraud and abuse prevention activities.4 However, the policy of an open-ended federal reimbursement of state Medicaid spending significantly reduces the incentives for states to act as wise stewards of federal tax dollars. For example, in order to return $1,000 in fraudulent Medicaid funding for state purposes, a state with a 60% federal Medicaid reimbursement rate would have to identify and recover $2,500 of waste, fraud, and abuse in its program. Since 60% of the total recovery would have to be returned to the U.S. Treasury, the state would have to refund $1,500 of the $2,500 it recovered. Moreover, due to the open-ended federal Medicaid reimbursement, many states view Medicaid as an economic growth engine and therefore lack much interest in where the money is going. States would also have to increase resources to uncover the waste, fraud, and abuse. For these reasons, the federal Medicaid reimbursement demonstrates one of the core reasons the Medicaid program suffers from rampant waste, fraud, and abuse."
The simple and obvious solution is to allow any state that identifies $2,500 in Medicaid funding to keep what it finds.   The financial incentive in such a solution for states would take care of the issue quickly.  You might also reform the open-ended federal Medicaid reimbursement that causes states to view Medicaid as an economic growth engine.

Instead, what Republicans are fighting for is the virtual elimination of Medicaid, which will not happen at any point in the near future.  The stupidity of Republicans as it relates to playing into fear-mongering liberals is clearly seen by the following clip, in which Tommy Thompson actually stands up and asks a crowd who would be better than him to do away with Medicare and Medicaid:

The sheer idiocy of standing up in public and saying that you are the best candidate to eliminate two programs that cover medical care for 96 million Americans ought to be obvious. When nearly a third of your population receives medical coverage from those two programs, the political implications of saying you're going to be the best candidate to eliminate both are suicidal at worst and purely asinine at best.

Such statements belong in think tank reports, not in the public videotaped speeches of candidates for public office. They certainly do not belong in the platforms of any political party that wishes to achieve electoral dominance.

As always, it's not what you say, it's how you say it.  Paul Ryan could have reductions in Medicaid spending by noting the sheer profligacy of the program and the $100 billion in annual waste and fraud.  Instead, Paul Ryan articulated a plan for Medicaid reform that would result in 14 to 27 million Americans losing their Medicaid coverage.  Do you think those individuals rushed to the polls to vote Republican on Election Day?

Instead of making the valid point that preserving Medicaid and Medicare involves addressing the endemic fraud and waste currently consuming those two programs, Ryan proposed a plan that would effectively gut the programs entirely over time.  Tommy Thompson held himself forward as the best man for eliminating the programs altogether.

In doing so, they likely cost the Republican Party a constituency of some 96 million Americans.

Combined with the Republican Party's salvos against gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, whose families are likely to vote for their sons, daughters, cousins, aunts, uncles, fathers, mothers, and friends to have civil rights, alienating constituents seems to be all the rage of the Republican Party these days.  Factor in the natural constituency of Hispanic Catholics and the state level salvos of Republicans against that demographic, and the Republican Party is consigning itself to utter and complete electoral obliteration.

This is not to say that Republicans will face a total voting bloc of these demographics all voting Democratic. It is simply to say that Republicans are alienating more voters these days than they are winning.  What's the problem with a tax break for same sex married couples?  It's a tax break, and tax breaks are part and parcel with Republican doctrine.  We give tax breaks for oil wells, for mortgage interest deductions, for purchasing new cars, and for the depreciation of equipment over time.   Giving another tax break does not mean endorsing the whole of the homosexual community and every one of its practices.  It would, however, go a long way to winning their vote if they saw their economic interests as aligned with that of Republican policies.

And why not allow homosexuals to bring their partners onto their insurance plans? The cost of the uninsured is far greater to society over time.  Coverage equals out to treatment, and treatment equals out to preventative care and better health with lower healthcare costs.  It is simply in our broader interest to abandon these tacks, and it is consistent with our ideals to do so: the uninsured person who lacks the resources to pay is likely to wind up on the rolls of Medicaid, or wind up stiffing the hospital for the bill altogether, resulting in passed on costs to other consumers.

But Republicans, even the ones you might like as a libertarian minded voter, cannot simply answer a question effectively or articulate a clear position that carves out such reasoned positions. Watch Ron Paul meander around a simple question, and watch the devastatingly simple evisceration of his long-winded, meandering answer to a question that has already been answered in effect by law:

The correct answer is yes. That's all. The Supreme Court has already ruled that equal protection applies to any person on U.S. soil as it relates to these sorts of programs. There is no need to go into a long-winded, wandering, pathetic speech about everything from Afghanistan to the philosophical underpinnings of the question.  Just say yes.  You can make the point that uncompensated care in this country costs some $60 billion annually, and you can talk about how hospitals are closing their emergency rooms to avoid the requirements that they treat uninsured patients who come into the emergency room for routine or basic care.  But just say yes, up front and personal, and don't let the liberal moderator hang you with a simple yes or no question.  Don't hang yourself with an idiotic attempt to change the subject.  Of course we don't deny a five year old emergency care, regardless of his residency status.  That's not America.

It does no good to have these kinds of answers to these kinds of questions.  None.

Republicans, when on their message of smaller, more limited government and individual liberty, can only win.  The only time a message of greater government prevails is in an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty.  Republicans realized this under George W. Bush and expanded government across the spectrum in ways that ought to make any liberty-minded, fiscally conservative individual vomit in disgust. The Patriot Acts, the National Defense Authorization Act, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, No Child Left Behind, TARP, and other such programs and initiatives, along with the wildly expanded spending they brought, were anathema to traditional Republican principles.

It is also anathema to Republican survival, including that of small government expanded individual liberty principles, to construct constituencies of division and rancor.  Republicans can articulate the choice between liberalism and individualism as an issue that crosses party lines, and they can win votes doing it by constructing constituencies of mutual concern:

Every issue raised in the above clip is relevant today: the national debt, an increasingly interventionist and militaristic government, taxation, rampant spending, the debt limit, inflation, and so on and so forth. Every single one of us has concerns about these issues, because these issues are universal.  We have the most to lose, and we are doing the least to keep it from happening.

The Republican Party nominated Mitt Romney, the one candidate who could have lost to an incumbent president who lost 13% of his support from 2008.  America didn't go liberal; America didn't have a choice.  Even if Mitt Romney had won in November, the course of this country would not have changed. His policies and outlooks were substantively the same while he was in office as governor of Massachusetts.  This is a man who ripped the 47% and then proceeded to receive 47% of the popular vote.

This is what Mitt Romney had to say about Ronald Reagan during his Senate campaign:

Ladies and gentlemen, your Republican nominee for the 2012 presidential race. 

A rerun of these errors in 2016 simply will not work.  Telling rape victims their rapist's child is a gift from God is tactless and stupid, and preaching individual responsibility while being a deadbeat dad doesn't play in Peoria.  There is no such thing as illegitimate rape.  Calling yourself pro-life and family values after having a mistress get an abortion makes for a personal actions that are irreconciliable to your actual behavior.  Nominating a man who was never Republican in any real sense for your party's presidential nomination, a man whose fortune was built on borrowing money on the credit of companies he bankrupted in order to pay himself and his partners huge dividends, does not work in an election campaign.  He is not a businessman; he is a pirate.

Anyone else besides Mitt Romney who went out and borrowed money against his newly acquired company's assets in a way that virtually ensured he would be unable to repay would be castigated in their community as a deadbeat or a con-man in small town America.  On Wall Street, they call it private equity.

The hard truth is that beating liberalism will entail rejecting all of this for one simple word: together.  Together, we have an interest in jobs, in personal freedom, in reducing the scope of government's intrusion into our lives, and in keeping the national debt low and deficits at bay so that the interest rates on our personal debt remains low.  For Republicans to come back in 2014, to rejuvenate themselves for 2016, they will have to learn how to focus on doing things together as opposed to alienating entire swaths of the electorate with their policies.  If they don't do this, the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty that enables creeping totalitarianism in the form of liberal policies will prevail until freedom is all but extinguished.

It is no longer possible to entertain the notion that exploiting that atmosphere will lead to Republican gains. Yes, George W. Bush was re-elected, but he governed in a manner wholly consistent with our ideals as a free and responsible people.  In eight years, he did nothing to ameliorate the rampant mortgage fraud and over-injections of liquidity into our economy that would eventually blow up into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. He spent and spent and spent.  His eight years were very good for him as an individual politicians and for the pseudo-Republicans who rose with him during his ascendancy.  For average Americans, the outcome was disastrous.

Almost 1 in 3 of us are on government assistance if you count Medicare and Medicaid, and real unemployment is in the double digits after four years of another administration.  Mortgages are still underwater, the stock market is a bubble waiting to burst.  Financial crimes have largely gone unprosecuted, and the correction of the market has been delayed, but it will come to banks who are still insolvent regardless of the $29 trillion in bailouts, loans, and giveaways they have received.

Exploiting fear and uncertainty for electoral gains cannot lead to Republican gains or liberty gains because such exploitation is mutually exclusive to our core ideals. We must articulate a way forward that clarifies our commitment to fiscally responsible government, limited government, expanded individual liberty and self-determination, and fighting government waste to save taxpayers money.

When we talk about the deficit or the debt, we must link those items with inflation and interest rates to show average Americans how their lives will be affected by reduced purchasing power or an inability to obtain financing for education, the purchase of a home, or the financing of everyday goods necessary to their quality of life.  When we talk about taxes, we must first highlight how wasteful government is in order to stand firm against tax increases by insisting that the waste be cut to raise revenue before we resort to taking more money from average Americans.  We must be clear in our messaging that whatever the government takes from one of us will have implications for all of us, in the form of fewer jobs and opportunities. And we must make it clear that whatever we do, we do it together.

Republicans must look core constituencies in the eye for an honest reckoning, particularly within the executive and shareholder communities, in order to say that bailouts are inconsistent with fundamental American ideals.  We are not funding or encouraging future moral hazard with more TARPs.  We must say that financial fraud, and dishonesty in business, are fundamental threats to our Republic and the economy that makes us the strongest country in the world, and we will not tolerate such practices in the future.  No more non-prosecution agreements, no more deferred prosecution agreements, no more tolerance of what is the financial equivalent of treason against our market economy upon which all Americans depend.  We will have the rule of law in our markets, and we will have integrity in financial accounting and reporting.  We will prosecute those who break the law no matter how rich they are, and no matter how much they've contributed to political campaigns in the past.

And we will do this together, because Americans by and large have wanted accountability for these issues for a long time.  After four years of Obama, they haven't gotten it and the statute of limitations is running out on the financial crimes that led to our present economic situation.

Republicans and libertarians can win on this issue alone.  Americans are still outraged, and rightly so.

It is no compromise of our core ideals and commitments to the Constitution to hold that states should have to give Full Faith and Credit to same sex marriages entered into in other states.  It is the supreme law of the land that they do just that, and if we have stood for the repeal of sodomy statutes in most states, then there is no basis in criminalization for treating gays and lesbians any differently from the rest of the population.

It is no compromise of our core ideals and values to hold that a five year old child whose parents are here illegally should receive emergency medical care necessary to save his life.  It's an affirmation of our values.  The Good Samaritan didn't ask for a green card or papers.  He just did what was morally upright.  It doesn't mean that we endorse illegal immigration.

Republicans can articulate a position with a path towards citizenship and a greatly streamlined process towards legal immigration that is consistent with our commitment to reduced government bureaucracy and efficiency. 

What is important is that liberty-minded individuals and parties articulate a position on issues that draws people together rather than apart to build a new coalition of voters to defeat liberalism's coalitions of fear and uncertainty.  The road back will be long, but liberalism can only offer a false zero-sum sense of security.  In exchange for a modicum of security, liberalism will siphon off the opportunities for individual achievement beyond the mean until opportunities are limited for all but a select few.

What few of Barack Obama's supporters care to acknowledge is that income inequality under Obama has worsened.  The Republican failure to highlight this was inexcusable.

In the end, the policies of Barack Obama, misbegotten as they are, will only result in further exacerbation of the issue of inequality, for every similar ideological regime in history has led to the emergence of extremes in wealth and poverty.  Dachas on the outskirts of Moscow, bread shortages within.  What few Republicans managed to highlight was that it was Obama who expanded taxpayer coverage into derivatives clearinghouses, thereby ensuring that taxpayers would be required to backstop derivatives, even overseas. Obama also protected CEO pay and executive bonuses, regardless of performance, under the justification that executives who drive companies into insolvency need to be retained to see it through bankruptcy. 

It's not as if Republicans haven't had opportunities to articulate the Together message.  These sorts of facts and realities pique the outrage of nearly every American across all demographics.  The question is whether or not Republicans can carve out a message that highlights the hypocrisy, cronyism, and ineptitude of the Obama Administration while simultaneously articulating an alternative that draws people together behind a consistent, principled program of reduced government, reduced waste, expanded individual liberty, and reduced debt.

Only together can this be done.  

Friday, November 30, 2012

Ragehammer: Obama and Your Retirement

According to a recent Investment Company Institute Report, Americans presently hold $18.5 trillion in retirement savings through their 401(k)s, IRAs, and other retirement assets. This is significant, given that our national debt has skyrocketed under President Obama, and the federal government is proposing to get rid of 401(k) retirement plans by

Why? Well, with our national debt approaching $18.5 trillion, and more baby boomers set to retire, the government faces a two-fold problem: first, it has to finance its Treasury auctions somehow, and what better way to do that than to force trillions of dollars in 401(k) savings to be converted over to Treasury holdings; second, "[f]inancial services firms -- the mutual funds, insurance companies and investment managers who currently are holding that $4.3 trillion for the nation's workers -- don't want to hand it over when the baby boom generation asks for its cash."

We know that the Federal Reserve is now buying up to 61% of the bonds issued by the Treasury because there is no real demand for U.S. debt at the present time.  Unless our central bank is monetizing the debt, the United States can't find a buyer for its debt issuances.  

What better way to finance that debt than to force 401(k) savings into annuitization, which would be administered by the wonderful financial services industry, whose member businesses would in turn invest their newly acquired largesse into Treasury bonds for a steady return and avoid ever having to "hand it [the $4.3 trillion in retirement savings of the nation's workers] over when the baby boom generation asks for its cash."  

To quote Stevie, the fuckery factor is through the roof on this.  Under the prentense of protecting low income workers, who can't save enough money for their retirements, the Obama Administration proposes to step in and fix the fundamental unfairness of the retirement savings system by converting it into annuities that are in part or in whole funded by Treasury purchases.  Oh, and those companies holding on to your retirement savings for you? They never have to give those savings back to you, because those savings get converted into annuities.  

Now, an annuity works very well for the financial services industry, because it generates commission fees of up to 14%.  You can't get that kind of commission if you're selling a mutual fund.  The return you receive on the annuity is dwarfed by the revenue gained by the annuity seller, who receives many times the return you'll get on the investment and gets to charge you fees all the while.  You'll likely be insured as well, and you'll pay for that insurance, which only gives you the original amount you put into the annuity if you die before it matures.  

Still, despite the fact that the news media has excoriated the sellers of annuities for years, calling attention to their abusive practices and exorbitant fees, annuities continue to sell briskly because people consider them a safe investment.  After all, you're guaranteed to at least break even on the initial amount you put into the annuity, right? Wrong. You get at least that original amount back, but by the time you get it back, when you factor in inflation and fees and everything else you've paid, you got hosed.  

Despite the fact that 401(k)s have only suffered in the marketplace because the federal government refuses to fucking prosecute the charlatans who destroyed our economy with mortgage fraud and securities fraud, or to go after the assholes who manipulated the interest rates of countless financial instruments by rigging the LIBOR, the government remains convinced that the answer to what ails retirement savings is to make it harder for American workers to get those savings.  That's right, harder.  

Presumptuous Shithead Herb Kohl
The Savings Enhancement by Alleviating Leakage in 401k Savings Act of 2011 (SEAL Act) would reduce the number of loans a 401k participant could take to three at a time.  It would also ban products like debit cards linked to 401k accounts, because at the end of the day, you shouldn't have the discretion to take your money out of your account at your convenience, because that would be wrong.  The SEAL Act is, like all authoritarian measures out of Washington, D.C., bipartisan in nature.  It had a Democrat and a Republican to co-sponsor it.  Herb Kohl and Mike Enzi felt that Americans who'd lost their jobs and were borrowing against their 401ks were abusing the system.  This is what Kohl had to say about the matter: 

"While having access to a loan in an emergency is an important feature for many participants, a 401k savings account should not be used as a piggy bank. As the frequency of retirement fund loans have gone up, the amount of money people are saving for their retirement has gone down."
 What a fucking scold you are, Herb! A presumptuous little shit, even, who presumes to tell Americans who elected you to represent their interests that they shouldn't be using their money in a retirement savings account as a piggy bank! Well, we're sorry to have run afoul of your delicate sensibilities, but we don't have a department store owned by our family to use as a piggy bank or to fund our elections to Congress.

Seriously, go fuck yourself.

Presumptuous Shithead Mike Enzi
Let's get this straight: Herb Kohl and Mike Enzi, two men who were present for the financial deregulation that rolled back Glass-Steagall and enabled commercial and investment banking to come together and rob Peter to pay Paul, want to tell the rest of us that the financial cataclysm they helped to cause in no way justifies our excessive borrowing from our own retirement accounts?!  Words fail. You could see this entire idea as a father knows best situation, except in this case father has run the household finances off of the fucking cliff and doesn't want his children to crack open their piggybanks just yet to buy food and pay their mortgages.  What a crock of complete shit.

Again, go fuck yourself in the ear with an elephant dick.

The very same federal government that presided over the decline of pension plans to fund retirements now wishes to bring those plans back, albeit in a drastically altered form to fund its debt issuances, with nary an indication of the hypocrisy involved.  Years ago, when the Studebaker Corporation failed, and its employees found themselves lacking a pension, Congress decided to do the only thing it could have done to make things worse: something.

It passed the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which in turn established an entity called the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, to insure private pensions.  The results were predictable enough: Congress tried to erect a set of regulations to require companies to make timely contributions to their pension plans to keep those plans funded, and the companies gamed the regulations to avoid adequately funding the plans by assuming the rosiest of projections:  

"Since pension liabilities are, for the most part, future liabilities, companies calculate their present obligation by applying a discount rate to what they will owe in the future. As interest rates move lower, they have to set more money aside because it is assumed that their assets will grow more slowly. The principle is familiar to any individual saver: you need to save more if you expect, say, a 5 percent return on your investment instead of a 10 percent return. What is much in dispute is just which rate is proper for pension accounting."
"Corporations have been gaming the system by using the highest rates allowable, which shrinks their reported liabilities, and thus their funding requirements. The P.B.G.C., when calculating the system's deficit, uses what is in effect a market rate; whatever it would cost to buy annuities for everyone covered in a pension plan is, it argues, the plan's true "liability." The difference between these measures can be extreme. Depending on whom you talk to, General Motors' mammoth pension fund is either fully funded or, as the P.B.G.C. maintains, it is $31 billion in the hole." 
The net result is that pensions are now rare among workers, unless those workers happen to be in the public sector or in industries traditionally dominated by unions.  Studebaker went under after agreeing to its third benefits increase in six years, a concession it gave to the UAW after the UAW abdicated on its responsibility to its members by allowing Studebaker to, gasp, "stretch out its pension funding schedule."

In the end, companies realized that they could underfund their pension plans, because the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation was there to pick up the tab for failing pension plans.  It's the very definition of moral hazard: you give companies a means to jettison their responsibilities onto the taxpayers, and then sit back and watch them do just that.  

Today, our government wishes to create another moral hazard: it wishes to fund its fiscal shortfalls with our retirement savings, by forcing those savings into Treasury bonds because allowing Americans who work hard and smart to save for their retirement while low-income Americans cannot do the same is, you guessed it, unfair.  That's not to say that low-income Americans are to blame for their lot in life.  A lot of what low-income Americans are facing is a direct result of their government's decision to a.) gut the manufacturing sector of this country; b.) favor the financial sector of this country; and c.) convert our economy into a service-based economy while d.) not doing a damn thing to combat protectionism and currency manipulation in China or here at home.

In other words, the federal government is now fashioning another solution for another problem that it created by creating a problem to address the earlier problem.  While most of us believe that we will never see our Social Security benefits, the government wishes to do us one better: it wishes to ensure that we won't see our 401k benefits to boot.

After all, we don't save enough, and why would we, given the fucking reality that no amount of savings can outpace the inflation, or escape the cyclical downturns caused by overinjection of liquidity into the market and the asset bubbles thereof, and no amount of prudent saving can exempt our retirement savings from the greedy grasping hands of our government, which now seeks to take our retirements and roll them over into Treasury bonds to save itself and its friends in the financial services industry the hassle of seeing us take that money out of the market in order to, I don't know, finance our golden years or avoid having the money confiscated over our objections by an outright grab or more financial shenanigans and economic meltdowns?  Yes, that's a very long sentence I just wrote, but fuck you for noticing because the point is that you're about to be robbed.

And when the die is cast and these things come to pass, look in the mirror and realize that you are the problem.  Not only did you somehow manage to cast your vote for the one candidate who could lose to Barack Obama in 2012, you also managed to return incumbents to Congress in overwhelming numbers.  Congratufuckinglations.  You think everybody else's goddamned representative and senator should be kicked out, but you want to keep your own.

Fanfuckingdamntastic, America.   Remember Herb Kohl? He retired this past year, which is apparently the only goddamned way someone leaves the Senate these days, unless of course they die like Teddy Kennedy while still in office. 'Merica, Fuck Yeah!