Advocacy groups like the A.A.R.P. have long been on the leading edge of the fight for the rights of older Americans. The right to self-determination, driving privileges and, especially, the right to work as long as one is able are all cornerstones of that fight. Americans, however, have long cherished the right to retire from one’s lifetime labor before injury or sickness forces the choice upon them. Retirement security is therefore a principle concern of our democracy, and so remains a political hot potato.
We live at a time when the war on the working class has brought pensions squarely into the cross-hairs of politicians and pundits looking for scapegoats and an easy fix. In the past, it was the working poor and jobless who bore the brunt of the economic blame that so often circulates during tough times. Today, working class Americans with careers in industry, law enforcement, fire protection, the military, education, and state and municipal services are being attacked because they earn decent wages and benefits that include retirement security. This malevolent scrutiny is added to the cynical attacks mounted by Wall Street interests on Social Security. The promise of dignified retirement that is so critical to the American way of life is under dire threat.
Early December is a great time of year for me, despite the cold of the winter wasteland I now call home. Football is in full swing, baseball’s hot stove season is roiling, and the world of politics typically reaches its messy and convoluted pinnacle. This year has not been a disappointment. The time referred to as silly season by NASCAR fans is living up to its billing as the lines between politics, reality TV, and sports blur ever more.
President Obama appointed a commission to examine our national debt and annual deficits (allegedly), and they have rendered their verdict: kill Social Security by a thousand cuts. The causes of the debt are no more mysterious than the real reasons for the conclusions of the Deficit Commission; the Rational Middle has explored them many times, as has economist Dean Baker. Our accelerating medical costs, the wars in the Middle East, and the tax shortfalls of the recession are the reasons for the debt. Wall Street’s desire to get its greedy hands on an additional $2 trillion annually (which it will use to generate billions of dollars in fees, regardless of actual performance) is the reason for the so-called deficit hawks; killing Social Security accomplishes that Wall Street goal. Any who question the motives should ask this question; why would a deficit reduction commission propose more tax cuts? The technical term for that kind of a move is ass-backwards.
The Hasselhoff family is getting a “reality” TV show. That is all.
Once again we have arrived at the “bowl season” where college football excellence is redefined as mediocrity. There is NO NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP at the highest level of college football…there never has been one either. We were told, many years ago, that no playoff could exist because it would require too many games; Oregon has played 12 games and Auburn 13…college teams used to play 11 before the bowl games. Speaking of bowl games, there are 35 this year, meaning that 70 of 120 or so teams are playing in the “postseason”. Speaking of mediocrity, Auburn’s Cam Newton was ruled eligible to play (as a student-athlete) because he is only a serial cheater in the classroom…his Dad is the NCAA’s principle villain for acting as Newton’s agent (allegedly). Phew…that was close; just so long as the kid didn’t get paid for playing ball; those pesky academics are really besides the point.
In a world of Hasselhoff TV and the NCAA Junior NFL, the Rational Middle is listening…
The archetypal American politician works the rope lines at small town parades, shaking hands and kissing babies. Politicians also like to give out tokens of their appreciation to the constituency, party favors and earmarks usually go over well. This is a time-honored ritual that is not without redeeming qualities. Representatives serve at the pleasure, and for the benefit, of the citizens in their districts. Good constituent service, and the ability to remember someone’s name, go along way with the average voter.
Other redeeming qualities long appreciated, have fallen under scrutiny in these volatile times. Earmarks, as an example, used to be a measuring stick for the effectiveness of a member of Congress. The items now derisively referred to as pork-barrel spending are nothing more or less than targeted line items; projects in the district that allow federal taxes harvested from the area to return to the area. Having spent some time looking at earmarks myself, I have seen some crazy ones. But most voters would be surprised at the rather mundane and mostly reasonable list of projects completed with federal tax dollars. Far from the vagaries of the main body of the federal budget, earmarks represent transparent spending that is easy to track and evaluate.
TARP, Wall Street, big banks, investment banks, car companies, Stimulus, housing bubbles, Fannies & Freddie, deficits, exploding deficits, extended unemployment benefits, lions, tigers, and bears…oh my! I really don’t blame folks for screaming; “What the heck is going on!” In answer to all of this complexity, some news outlets and politicians have “simplified” the situation for us common folk. In their words, the bailout and stimulus, TARP and other measures are all the same deal. And, in the common refrain of our time, they are all President Obama’s fault.
Of course, some of this is the responsibility of our current president, while some of the “blame” goes to the previous president. It is my contention that most of this activity was necessary and effective, if not always executed with the greatest efficiency. Our economy is in a bad way now, but it would have been much, much worse. I think it is critical that we explore these issues, because the policies that made them necessary are threatening to make a second pass. The story of the Great Recession is a story of Americans spending a great deal of money without getting much of substance in return.
Something doesn’t make sense. The process is askew. Shouldn’t aim come before fire? The media and Congress are operating today, based on their actions, as though a debt crisis is our great national problem. The people don’t believe that; poll after poll find jobs and the economy are more important than the federal deficit. We are constantly told that Congress went against the wishes of the people when they voted for health care reform. The same polls tell Congress that jobs matter more than the deficit; where is the drumbeat for action on that front?
I can hear folks thinking already; the people say jobs, but what do the professionals say? Economists have been beating the drums for real stimulus for over a year now. The collapse of the housing bubble blew a $2 trillion hole in the economy; a hole that resulted in precipitous falls in state and federal income tax and local sales tax collections. Better than half of our current federal deficit is a direct result of the recession; a fact which means once people go back to work, that potion of the deficit will no longer be an issue. The professionals are calling for federal action on jobs, the people are calling for federal action on jobs, the media are being led like sheep towards the false idol that is debt crisis.
The pundits are in overdrive on the subject of the so-called entitlements. The theme of conversation is fairly simple;
- Greece and Portugal are broke
- Greece and Portugal are large welfare states
- The U.S. welfare state is large and growing
- The U.S. will soon be broke
- We need to dismantle the U.S. welfare state
The pundits certainly are in overdrive, and proving every day that speed does in fact kill. The ultimate target of this theme, a theme being driven through financial reporters who got F’s in their ECON 101 courses, is the privatization of Social Security and Medicare. Never mind the brief use of Medicare as a tool for the right in its fight against health care reform. That was then, this is now. Privatizing the two pillars of the U.S. retirement system would drive $2 trillion or more annually, into the hands of Wall Street investment concerns. We have all seen how much profit those boys on the Street can generate even while they are losing their investor’s money. Combined with Grover Norquist’s push to strip away taxes and Americans making more than $250,000 per year, and you get a $2.5 trillion Wall Street windfall; an annual bailout if you will…and a redistribution of money away from the working class.