advice from a fake consultant

out-of-the-box thinking about politics, economics, and more…

Social Security: Where’s Our Tahrir Square? February 3, 2011

We have seen some amazing days in Egypt, and it’s provided a better lesson than anyone could have ever wanted for how taking action, against long odds, can really get something done.

A secret police mechanism has been pushed aside, an Army has chosen not to attack The People, and a President who was backed by the “full faith and credit” of the US Government on Friday was being told by that same US Government on Tuesday that it’s time to go.

The People, in fact, spoke so loudly that Mr. Mubarak has informed Egyptians that he’s going to “pursue corruption”, which, if taken literally, could eventually look like a puppy chasing its own tail.

The People, however, are unhappy with his answer, and they’re speaking even louder yet…even to the point of being willing to take beatings, gunfire, and, believe it or not…camel charges…to make their voices heard.

And that got me to thinking about Social Security.

You know, we are facing the potential for a great big Social Security fight for pretty much the entire term of the 112th Congress—and it seems to me that a series of great big “Cairo-style” marches might be the way to make our voices heard, so that this Congress understands that great big benefit cuts are something that we will not tolerate.

Oh, Vanity of vanities!
How wayward the decrees of Fate are;
How very weak the very wise,
How very small the very great are!

–William Makepeace Thackeray, from the Vanitas Vanitatum

It’s a simple point I make today: we want a Social Security program that’s in fiscal balance, and raising the income tax cap can do that without changing the retirement age, or means testing, or anything else…so let’s just do it, already.

(Raising the tax cap? If you make over $107,000 a year, that income is tax-exempt when it comes to Social Security. Taxing that income would fix the entire financing problem, with money left over, which means you could actually cut payroll tax rates for all workers at the same time.)

On the other side are those who seek to cut benefits for future recipients, and there is no logical reason why, when we have a simple fix in hand—but there is still such a community of folks, and they have considerable influence in all the right places.

But as we have learned this week, even when the other side has considerable influence—even in the wrong places—people can beat the odds and change the political dynamic, and they can do it in a way that can’t be turned back, even if the other side is willing to kill you where you stand…and the women and children you brought with you as well.

And if pro-democracy demonstrators in Liberation Square can do it…why can’t we, who want to make Social Security work for everyone, do the same?

Now I’m not suggesting that we gather up our camels and bottles and gasoline and head for the barricades—but I am suggesting that if we do not make the same kind of assertive showing the “Tea Party” folks did during the runup to the health care debate, then we are missing a huge opportunity, and if we fail we’ll have to wonder if not acting on this kind of strategy cost us support we badly need.

And we can even do it in an alternative way: let’s schedule friendly Town Halls with members of Congress who would like to help, and let’s hear from constituents—of all persuasions—about how they would absolutely not like to see their Social Security cut.

And who, exactly, is going to show up to demand they get their benefits cut?

My guess, it’ll be just the opposite: I would expect to see lots of folks, of all ages, who are tired of getting screwed, and who don’t want to get screwed again—and how much you wanna bet they’ll be nice and enthusiastic about expressing that point of view?

Get it on the TV, build a bit of momentum, and by summer you could be scheduling a nice “Social Security Flat Tax Now!” march on the National Mall, kinda like what Stewart and Colbert did last year.

Once you do that…as we learned during the health care debate…Democrats and Republicans alike can be “managed” more effectively, and those “paid for by Pete Peterson” deficit commission staff members end up being a less profitable investment than a credit default swap denominated in Icelandic krona and executed with the Central Bank of Greece as a counterparty and a consortium of the Central Banks of Portugal and Iceland as guarantors.

It may be snowing today, but the blossoms will be on the cherry trees in just a few weeks, and if we’re going to get this together, we better get started right away.

So…my Social Security friends and allies…anyone know some cooperative Members of Congress?

Author’s Note: We spent some time in December working to help Betsie Gallardo, who was trying to have her Florida prison sentence commuted so that she could end her life at home with a bit of dignity.

That effort was successful, and we now know that she did pass away January 31st, surrounded by friends and family, and we wish her adoptive mother, Jessica Bussert, and all those friends and family all our warmest thoughts.

It will soon be spring, and the flowers will again bloom, and when they do perhaps we’ll see in them, as we did with Betsie, a reminder of the beauty that life can bring—and just how fragile that beauty can be.

 

Social Security: The War Begins Tuesday, And You Better Say…Oh, No! November 7, 2010

It is my job to bring to you not just the news that took place, but the news that has yet to happen.

Today, that’s exactly what we have.

There is a war coming to try to change Social Security from a social safety net to a “revenue stream” for certain corporate interests, and that war is set to begin Tuesday morning, according to information that was provided to me yesterday afternoon.

Follow along, and you’ll be both forewarned and forearmed.

BIG MISTAKE
MANY MAKE
RELY ON HORN
INSTEAD OF
BRAKE

BURMA SHAVE

–Actual “Burma Shave” Message, 1945, from Verse By The Side of the Road, Frank Rowsome, Jr.

So here’s the dish: a limited partnership corporation called The Blackstone Group, through years of trading in real estate, operating hedge funds, giving financial advice to other companies and governments, and buying and selling companies (Hilton Hotels is one of theirs, the company that makes Corexit, the oil dispersant, is another), made its co-founder and former Chairman Peter G. Peterson a more-than-billionaire; a billion of that went to endow a Foundation that bears his name.

The Foundation has a particular interest in things budgetary and governmental, and they are seen as one of the groups most looking to change the way Social Security works today.

(Change, you say? Indeed, and if you’ve been following this series of stories, you already have an idea of what that might entail.)

The next thing you need to know is that there is a Great Big Deal Presidential Commission currently at work who is charged with identifying…

“…policies to improve the fiscal situation in the medium term and to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long run. Specifically, the Commission shall propose recommendations designed to balance the budget, excluding interest payments on the debt, by 2015. This result is projected to stabilize the debt-to-GDP ratio at an acceptable level once the economy recovers. The magnitude and timing of the policy measures necessary to achieve this goal are subject to considerable uncertainty and will depend on the evolution of the economy. In addition, the Commission shall propose recommendations that meaningfully improve the long-run fiscal outlook, including changes to address the growth of entitlement spending and the gap between the projected revenues and expenditures of the Federal Government.”

…and that the Commission is going to deliver a report with its suggestions December 1st.

It would be fair to say that there are those who are concerned that “the fix is in”, so to speak, and that the report will be the beginning of an effort to privatize Social Security…and guess what?

Managing the Federal Government’s Social Security money, for a handsome fee, would be a spectacular business opportunity for Pete Peterson and The Blackstone Group, and to help create the environment where that can happen, the Peterson Foundation is dropping $20 million on a TV ad campaign to try to convince you to get interested in privatizing Social Security, too.

This Tuesday morning, November 9th, Peterson will appear at Washington, DC’s Newseum to unveil the advertising campaign, presumably to the delight of the assembled throng and the sipping of the coffee of the assembled media; this according to a Peterson Foundation press release that came across my desk yesterday.

There’s even a catchy name for the reform program: “OweNo”…and if you’ve already written your own “Oh, No!” Social Security joke, you’re apparently a bit faster on your feet than the guy who tried to sell Chevy Novas in Spanish-speaking countries…or the folks who came up with this catch phrase.

So that’s the story: come Tuesday, Pete Peterson, with a presonal fortune that comes from a Big Fat Wall Street Firm That Would Love To Manage Your Money For Big Fat Fees, is dropping $20 million to tell you that it’s time to “get a Chilean”…and I’m here to tell you that such a procedure is going to hurt your wallet, a lot—and when it’s all over, you’re the one who’s going to be saying “Oh, No!”

FULL DISCLOSURE: This post was written with the support of the CAF State Blogger’s Network Project.

 

On Cooking That Turkey, Or, What To Do After The Sarah Palin Press Conference November 26, 2008

So it’s more or less 30 hours until Americans enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, and you’re asking yourself the annual question: “Isn’t there a simple way to cook a turkey?”

Well, America, there is…and it does not involve bags, or injections, or even stuffing. No fancy preparations and no fancy equipment are required (with the exception of a large flat pan with metal handles, a carving fork or large tongs, and a food thermometer).

Here’s the cool part: this method for cooking turkeys isn’t just a method for cooking turkeys…and if you follow the directions, you’ll soon discover that not only have you learned a new way to cook a turkey, you’ve learned a new way to cook almost anything that can walk or fly.

We only have 30 hours, so we better get right to it…

Now before we go any farther, let’s relieve some of the Thanksgiving cooking stress with a video that is as topical as it gets.

Some of you may not know about the most unfortunate aftermath of Sarah Palin’s recent effort to pardon a Thanksgiving turkey…and I won’t spoil the fun if you have not yet seen it…but I will tell you that what is attached to the next link may the single funniest—and most disturbing—piece of political video I have ever seen; and somehow Palin remains blithely unaware of the events occurring just over her shoulder the entire time.

Take three minutes, watch the video, have a sip of the first glass of wine of the day…and when that’s done, we’ll get back to work.

So, are you laughing now?
OK then, let’s have some fun.

You may recall my telling you that what we are about to do can be used to cook any number of things; and to make for a better explanation I’m actually going to discuss cooking a boneless chicken breast first, and then we’ll move up to turkeys, using essentially the same technique.

So here’s what we do: turn the oven to 375 F. (190 C.), and turn the stove to either medium high (electric stoves) or nearly as big a flame as the burner will make, if you’re using a gas stove.

Grab the pan and toss it in the oven to heat.

Now what we are going to do is brown the chicken breast on top of the stove, flip it, and then cook it the rest of the way in the oven. The reason we are going to do this is because when you cook on top of the stove, you cook from bottom to top, creating a breast that’s “done” at the bottom but still “rare” at the top (you compensate for this by flipping the breast in the pan, but I have a better plan).

Cooking in the oven exposes the chicken to heat from all sides, creating an item that’s cooked on the outside and into the middle evenly (for a steak: done on the outside, perfectly pink in the middle…yummm).

So now that the pan’s hot, let’s try it: pull out the pan, put it on the hot burner, pour in just a bit of oil…and lay the breast in the pan by putting it in the part of the pan that’s closest to you first, then letting it fall away from you. (This prevents the hot oil from spattering on you…which is always a good thing.)

After a minute or so, you should see the breast browning, and that’s when we flip it over and then just put the pan right in the oven, then shut off the stove.

If you are a fancy high-falutin’ cook, you can tell when it’s done because it will feel like a well-done steak—and if you are a cooking mortal, it’s done when the thermometer tells you the temperature at the thickest part of the breast is 165 F. (75 C.).

The reward for your experimental effort should be an especially juicy breast that is not dried-out and tough. Pretty cool, eh?

“My cooking is so bad my kids thought Thanksgiving was to commemorate Pearl Harbor”

Phyllis Diller

So how do we scale this process up to a turkey?

It’s actually really simple.

We need a substantially larger pan (I have a 14” restaurant-style sauté pan that I use for this application), and any metal pan with a reasonably thick bottom, relatively shallow sides (no saucepans or kettles), and heat-resistant handle(s) should do just nicely.

We also need to make a temperature adjustment.

As we move into larger items, we lower the oven’s temperature. We do this because we don’t want to overcook the outside before the inside is done. Instead of 375 F. (which is great for chicken breasts and steaks), we would lower the oven to 350 F. (175 C.) for something like a boneless pork loin or a small roast of beef or a whole chicken, and we would go down to 325 F. (165 C.) for something as large as our turkey.

For food safety reasons, we don’t want to use lower temperatures.

It is imperative that you raise the internal temperature of anything you cook from 40 F. (4 C.) to 140 F. (60 C.) in under two hours to avoid foodborne illness…and cooking turkeys at 275 F. (135 C.), as some suggest, is just a bit too risky for my taste.

Now a few words about measuring temperature in a bird.

Unlike “walking” meats, birds have hollow bones that do not transmit heat well. Therefore you do not want the tip of your thermometer touching—or very close to—bone when checking your turkey. (Beef, and the other “walking” animals, are the exact opposite. Their heavier bones transmit heat quite well, and the meat closest to the bone will often be the first meat below the surface to be fully cooked on a large roast of beef.)

Instead, use a location deep into the breast, away from bones…and as with all birds, a 165 F. (75 C.) internal temperature is the goal. And as with all birds, that temperature will give you a juicy, not-dried-out, result.

We are not going to stuff our bird.

This is also for food safety reasons.
The stuffing makes it take even longer to raise that turkey’s internal temperature (not to mention the stuffing’s)…and that’s a bad thing.

Bake the stuffing in its own pan…do not cook it in the bird.
Trust me on this.

There is no need to “prepare” the turkey—no rubs, no flouring the skin, nothing.
As an experiment I did a sea salt “rub” about 10 days ago on a turkey breast…and to be honest, all it did was make the skin salty.

OK, so our big pan is in the oven, getting hot…and the stove is on that same setting we used for the chicken breast…and now we take the pan, put it on the stove—and in goes the turkey, breast side down (remember, place it in the pan moving away from you to avoid splashing oil, just as with anything else you put in a pan with oil…).

You’ll have to brown one side at a time…and your fork or tongs (BBQ tools work if you don’t have big kitchen tongs or a carving fork…) can support the turkey so you don’t have to hold on to it.

It’s gonna splatter a bit (the less water, the better), but don’t be scared…and after a minute or so one side will be nicely browning, so do the other side next, and then flip the whole thing breast side up, and put the pan in the oven.

Except for taking the bird’s temperature from time to time (again, 165 F., or 75 C. internal temperature) and taking it out when it’s done, you are completely finished with the work on this project.

In fact, it’s probably about time for that second glass of wine.

So let’s take a moment and summarize.

Hot oven, hot stove, hot pan, put object to be cooked face down in pan on the stove, don’t splatter yourself, get it brown, flip it, put it in the oven, have a second glass of wine, remove from oven when done.

And just like they always tell you at the Fair: “It’s just that easy”.

So have a great day, don’t stress over the cooking…and remember, this technique works great on anything from a partridge to a steamship round.