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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

AND... While We Are Watching North Korea, Obama Puts Entire Future of Social Security/Welfare at Risk!

Protesters deliver petition to the White House and warn president that cuts fatally undermine safety net for millions of Americans

Barack Obama will propose cuts to social security benefits on Wednesday that risk fatally undermining the safety net Democrats once fought so hard to protect, according to campaigners who have delivered a two-million name petition to the White House.

As officials confirmed that Obama's budget will include $1.2 trillion worth of spending cuts and limits on welfare, a small but noisy group of protesters gathered outside the White House to register their horror.

The president has offered up the cuts as a compromise to try to bring Republicans back to negotiations on a universal tax-and-spending agreement and break a fiscal deadlock that has paralysed Washington. So far the idea has been met with derision on Capitol Hill, making it highly unlikely that the White House budget proposal will be enacted.

But a growing number of Obama's supporters on the left fear the concession will act as a permanent line in the sand, making it impossible to resist future pressure to reduce spending on welfare. In particular, they are angry at the president's proposal to link further increases in social security to a less generous measure of inflation, known as the "chained" consumer price index, or CPI.

Damon Silvers, policy director at the union umbrella group AFL-CIO, described the chained-CPI approach as "Washington-speak for benefit cut".

"In fact, this is the worst kind of cut, targeted directly at what makes social security an effective safety net: namely, the protection against inflation," he added.

Speaking in the West Wing before demonstrators handed over their petition, White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the proposal, pointing out that Republicans proposed far more sweeping cuts to welfare entitlements.

"I think Democrats and allies understand that this budget the president will put forward tomorrow is not his ideal budget," he said. "It is a document that recognizes that to achieve a bipartisan solution to our budget challenges we need to make tough choices."

He also rejected criticism that Obama is only interested in middle-income Americans, not low-income Americans: "There will be investments in our budget that demonstrate the president's commitment to expanding the middle class by providing what he calls ladders of opportunity to those who are not in the middle class but aspire to be there."

But Silvers told the Guardian that conventional wisdom in Washington - namely that the budget proposal was just an elaborate dance, a kind of Japanese "kabuki" with Republicans - risked underestimating how significant a moment this will be.

"It is extremely dangerous to put this type of proposal on the table," he added. "We think the president ought to be fighting for a repeal of the sequester instead of replacing it with yet more austerity."

The implications of squeezing social security at a time of rising poverty were underlined by Phyllis Zolotorow, a campaigner in the crowd from Maryland, whose husband and son were reliant on social security when they fell ill.

"Over the two years there were no increases, my family suffered terribly as our rent went up by $100 a month," she said. "Chained CPI will force us to make the painful choice of buying food or paying rent - we will become like Dickensian England."

For groups on the left, the sense of betrayal is particularly strong because Obama was twice elected on a mandate of protecting social security and other welfare entitlements such as Medicaid and Medicare.

Roger Hickey of the Campaign for America's Future, which helped organise the petition, said: "We came together to stop the privatisation of social security by George W Bush, and we sent him back to Texas before he could do it."

"More than 70% of American people hate the idea of cutting back benefits and the president needs to keep the promise he made when he was trying to get our votes, and stop."

The White House argues that its balanced approach to the budget - involving spending cuts and tax rises - is the only way to reduce the deficit over the long term and maintain the economic growth needed to encourage job creation.

Wednesday's budget will actually propose slightly more deficit reduction than the current, and much-hated, sequester: targeting $600bn in new revenue from taxes and $1.2tn from spending cuts over the next 10 years.

Carney said: "The president's budget will replace the sequester, which was designed to be bad policy for everyone with not just $1.2tn in deficit reduction, but $1.8tn in deficit reduction. In other words, it will go further than the sequester."

Even if the Washington consensus is correct and chained CPI is an issue over-blown by the left, such a budget amounts to a sizeable serving of austerity.

For the growing number of Democrats who fear for the future of social security, this is not just a hypothetical debate but has touched a nerve at the very heart of Obama's political base.


The Grand Betrayal Has Arrived!


Bob Pollin: Costs of Social Security and Medicare have NOTHING to do with rise in fiscal deficit

US, South Korea on High Alert in Anticipation of Pyongyang’s Missile Launch

South Korean soldiers ride a military truck on the road leading to North Korea at a military checkpoint in the border city of Paju on April 10, 2013. (AFP Photo / Jung Yeon-Je)
The United States and South Korea have upgraded their military surveillance status in anticipation of a possible mid-range missile launch by Pyongyang, the latest escalation of tension in the war-weary peninsula.
The Combined Forces Command is effectively at Watchcon 2 status ready to tackle a "vital threat" from North Korea; Yonhap news agency reported citing an anonymous senior military official. If the next upgrade occurs, the nations will be in a state of war.

Seoul has also launched an emergency task force to analyze North Korea's preparations of a missile launch, the official said.

“There are clear signs that the North could simultaneously fire off Musudan, Scud and Nodong missiles.”

To counter this “vital threat”, two Aegis destroyers with SPY-1 radar, have been placed on standby on the coasts of the Korean Peninsula.

South Korean military is also operating early warning aircraft Peace Eye and ground-based missile defense radar system Green Pine to counter a potential rocket launch.

S. Korean and US intelligence believes that the North has completed all the necessary arrangements for an east coast mid-range missile launch after relocating two of the Musudan missiles last week and mounting them on mobile launchers, possibly to correspond with April 15 birthday celebrations of Kim Il-Sung.

These missiles have a 3,000-4,000 kilometer range, allowing them to potentially hit the US forces in the Pacific Ocean.

Furthermore, Seoul believes that the North may fire off several missiles from different sites, in case of an unsuccessful launch of the Musudan missile, which has never been tested before, as up to five TELs (transporter-erector-launcher) as seen in satellite pictures.

The TELs are perceived to be launch platforms for short-range (300-500 kilometers) Scud missiles and medium-range Nodong missiles, capable of hitting targets 1,500 km away, the source said.

On Tuesday, Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of US Pacific Command told the US Senate Armed Services Committee that US has the capability and is ready to tackle any threat emanating from Pyongyang.

“I believe we have the ability to defend the homeland, Guam, Hawaii and defend our allies,” Locklear said, adding “We have demonstrated to the people of the region, demonstrated to the leadership of North Korea, our ability and willingness to defend our nation, our people, our allies and our forward deployed forces.”

Lockland concluded that the US could intercept a missile even if it launched in the next several days.

"If the missile was in defense of the homeland, I would certainly recommend that action (of intercepting it). And if it was defense of our allies, I would recommend that action," Locklear told a Senate hearing in Washington.

But as Pyongyang tells foreigners to evacuate S. Korea after warning of ‘thermonuclear’ war, Japan, has authorized shooting down any threat coming from Pyongyang, and announced on Tuesday that it has deployed PAC-3 missile interceptors to key locations around Tokyo.

Meanwhile China, one of the only sympathizers of North Korea has closed its border with the North to tourists.

The Korean peninsula has seen tensions escalate since the North's third nuclear test in February, which resulted in toughened UN sanctions and drew much international condemnation.