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Posts Tagged ‘Social Security’

[UPDATE: Having listened to the President’s speech today, and the way he beat up on Ayn Ryan, I am greatly reassured. He was more the President I voted for, the one I last saw in Tucson. Hardcore Liberals may not be satisfied. But. given the gloomy advance word on this address, I feel much, much better. What happens now, substantively, will tell the tale. But this was a good—and progressive—beginning.]

 

Until recently, with the rise of the Tea Party—and all its factions—our friends on the Right have tended to march in lock step, at least when it counts. Cut taxes, strong defense, keep too many poor black and Hispanic folks from voting, protect the fetus—until it’s born, of course, then it’s on its own.

Democrats? We may not like guns, but we’re experts at forming circular firing squads. And we’re a bit too ideologically diverse for our own good. Any caucus that has Bernie Sanders and Joe Manchin in it—well, that’s one Thanksgiving dinner I’ll skip. So, too in the House, you’ve got Heath Shuler and Dennis Kucinich and everyone in between. The expression “herding cats” is overused, but apt. Whatever our qualms about Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi—well, would you like their jobs?

Again, the ornery Tea Party has muddied things for the GOP, perhaps enough to drive John Boehner to drink. More. But Team R still has a ways to go before achieving Dem-level discord.

Now, to President Obama. He’s a polarizing figure, isn’t he? And not just in the obvious way. Of course the Right reflexively assaults everything he does, no matter how good for the country it might be. If he cured cancer, they’d whine about crippling the health care and insurance industries; if he found a way to extend life expectancy for another 50 years, the Repugs would be all over the Sunday shows, defending the mortuary lobby.

No, the polarization I refer to is among Democrats, those of us who have more or less supported the President’s pragmatic approach to dealing with an intransigent GOP, and those of us who accuse him of caving and appeasing.

I’ve been squarely in the former, supportive camp (see my last post and many others). Not that I haven’t had my moments of exasperation, when I wanted the President to get fired up, and to drop his apparent obsession with playing the wise, judicious consensus-builder—especially with an opposition so relentless and vicious. But I fear the circular firing squad. I fear that disappointment with Obama will breed apathy, and leave the country at the mercy of the Radical Right.

I see that with an extremist GOP, and a group of possible, maybe, wannabe exploratory presidential contenders ranging from dull to clownish, 2012 should be a slam-dunk. Maybe not as resoundingly as in 2008, but comfortably nonetheless. The last thing we Democrats should do is bicker and divide—and, above all, stay home on Election Day. The 2010 debacle and its terrible consequences, especially on the state level, should be a lesson to us.

But this week, for the first time, I’m starting to lose it with the President.  Clinging to that middle way, courting independents, he has conceded the economic debate to Republicans; when the national conversation should be about investment (ah, the State of the Union seems so long ago), we are harping on austerity—a code word for greasing the wealthy while screwing the rest of us.

The Republicans negotiate by setting their markers far, far to the right. Paul Ryan’s absurd, draconian budget nukes cherished, vital social programs while granting obscene tax breaks under the ruse that rich folks really create jobs (honest!) instead of merely fattening their coffers, and squeezing more work out of the employees they have. Or downsizing further, to please their shareholders.

Now the GOP will set its blackmailing machinery into motion. Make these savage cuts—and preserve those tax breaks—or we won’t raise the debt ceiling. Or we’ll start shooting puppies.

Instead of playing hardball, the President’s impulse seems to be to meet the GOP half way—that is, halfway between center and right, not left and right; if you think as the political spectrum as a baseball park, the POTUS seems to eliminate left field and use the 410-foot mark in center as a starting point. He winds up around the 375 mark in RIGHT center and calls it a victory.

As much as I have supported President Obama, I dread his speech tonight. Rep. Ayn Ryan has given him a golden opportunity­—Americans overwhelmingly love Medicare and Social Security. And need them. I know scores of people­—hard-working, middle class people—who, without those two programs, will wind up either destitute or dead 10 years before their time.

The President should fight for those entitlements with all the ferocity and rhetorical skill he can muster. But I fear he won’t. I fear, in his determination to be the reasonable “adult in the room,” he will lend legitimacy to Ryan’s insanity (like the endless pundits who hail the Wisconsinite’s “courage” in fighting for the poor, beleaguered wealthy). I fear he will concede left field entirely.

And then, while I’ll still vote for him—to do otherwise is madness—I, too, will finally be “exhausted of defending him.”

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An open letter to liberals—and liberals who call themselves progressives.

When the West Coast map lit up brilliantly, beautifully blue on Nov. 4, 2008, pushing Barack Obama over 270 electoral votes, millions of us experienced a wave of political euphoria the likes of which we never imagined we’d live to feel.

Especially giddy were those of us old enough to remember another, bleaker November night in 1980, when a Hollywood second-stringer named Ronald Reagan swept into the White House, ushering in decades of right-wing policies that carried us into wars; greased the wealthy at the expense of the middle class and working poor; empowered a Christian fundamentalist, social conservative revival that threatened to turn the entire country into Dayton, Tenn., circa 1925; and validated a Lee Atwater-Karl Rove politics of the Big Lie and personal destruction that transformed “liberal” into a synonym for weak and unpatriotic—even, paradoxically, to many who tightly embraced liberal programs like Medicare and Social Security.

Oh, we got  jazzed about Bill Clinton and Al Gore in ’92. But Clinton’s centrism—many feel he governed as a Republican—his genuine personal failings and the relentlessly witch-hunting Right would drain much of the promise from his presidency and leave many liberals disappointed.  With the Supreme Court’s election of George W. Bush in 2000, and the 9/11 attacks, liberal Democrats became more cowed than ever.

But with the Obama ascendancy—after eight endless, disastrous years of Bush-Cheney and three decades of Reaganism—it was our turn. A revival. The dawn of a new liberal/progressive era.

Or was it? Many liberals are driven to distraction by President Obama’s almost obsessive desire to rise above the fray, to be the adult in the room, to reach consensus. We’re pissed because he’s too cozy with Wall Street; we’re pissed about the Bush Tax Cut extension; we’re pissed about the lack of a public option in the Health care bill; we’re pissed about Afghanistan, and we’re pissed about Gitmo and Bradley Manning. We’re pissed that he didn’t do more to plug up the BP leak. We’re pissed that he hasn’t done more to back unions in the Midwest. And in the Mideast, we’re either pissed that Obama didn’t intervene quickly enough to help the Libyan opposition—or we’re pissed that he intervened at all.

Now we’re preparing to be pissed—with good reason, perhaps—that our “middle way” POTUS won’t stand up to the Right and its resolve to destroy Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and all other remnants of the New Deal—and transform the USA into Kochistan.

Personally I agree with some, though not all, of the above. I remain a strong supporter of the President; perhaps my innate realism/pessimism kept me from expecting—and fantasizing—too much. Maybe President Obama hasn’t been a liberal messiah. But he has been an enlightened leader who has accomplished more legislatively than any President since Lyndon Johnson. This while dealing with a dysfunctional Senate, a rightist-rigged Supreme Court and a conservative propaganda juggernaut that has a frightening percentage of the electorate convinced that he’s un-American—or not American, and therefore not legitimate, at all.

(For more on POTUS’ accomplishments , check out http://whatthefuckhasobamadonesofar.com.)

How many of us would trade Obama for the deepest, darkest days of Bush-Cheney. Or a return to Reagan? Or, even more terrifying, any of the rightist ideologues now driving the Republican Party, zealots against whom Reagan himself might well lose a GOP Primary.

Why are we saddled with these Koch-and-corporate backed Teabagging extremists? Why are wingnuts like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann given any legitimacy? Why do we see a GOP House trying to eviscerate women’s reproductive rights; why do we see right-wing governors like Scott Walker, Rick Scott, Rick Snyder Paul LePage and John Kasich wage war on workers, teachers, firefighters and the middle class, while big business and the wealthy get fatter and fatter? Why do we hear about rolling back child labor laws? Why the talk bout “shared sacrifice”—that is for all but the richest Americans, the ones who can afford it? Why are we threatened with the destruction of social safety nets we foolishly took for granted—and for which many of us have paid for many years?

Well, one huge reason was the “enthusiasm gap” in the 2010 midterms. When millions of Democrats and other moderates-to-liberals said “Meh”  and stayed home, while fired up Teabaggers and righty extremists turned out in droves—along with independents who fell for the bullshit they heard on Fox News, and the lies in Koch-Chamber of Commerce-Rove-funded attack ads.

Whatever the level of one’s disappointment with Obama, the experience of 2010 should be traumatizing enough for millions of stay-at-homes not to make the same mistake again. Especially while the GOP is using the “voter fraud” myth to disenfranchise as many young and minority voters—Democratic leaning voters—as possible.

I still believe that in a second term, with a restored Congressional majority, Barack Obama can accomplish even more than he has in the past 26 months. And even if you remain disillusioned, even it depresses you to vote “against” the GOP instead of “for” Obama, as you did in ’08—get over it.

Think of the havoc a Pawlenty, Romney, a Rubio or whoever else can wreak. On social programs and women’s rights. On the middle class and workers. On the already corrupt Supreme Court. On international affairs.

If you think 2010 was bad….

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If Social Security is, as Conservatives tell us, heading for Armageddon, then why hasn’t Washington raised the FICA cap, currently at $106,800? Why, for instance, did Glenn Beck and Warren Buffett and Bill Gates and the Kardashians pay the same as I did in 2010? I maxed out in December; some of those folks hit their ceiling within the first few minutes of January.

Whether the great safety net actually will fray beyond repair by 2037—or whatever the current End of Days de jour—is open to debate. Many astute reasonable observers like The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein assure us that that Social Security is one of the most efficient federal programs, and that with a tweak or two it should be fine. Hardliners call for privatization, or a reduction in benefits, or a raised retirement age.

Privatization aside, some of those ideas were incorporated into the Simpson Bowles report. Specifically, the FICA cap would gradually increase to about $190,000 in 2020.

That goes too far—and not far enough. It still places a disproportionate burden on middle and lower income families. Why not a hybrid—cap it at current rates for those with incomes below, say $350,000, or $500,000 or even $1 million—then resume the contributions for all those above that. It’s something on the order of New York Sen. Charles Schumer‘s proposal for the Bush tax cuts—letting them expire only for true millionaires.

Either that or set an income cap for collecting Social Security. Without that $20,000 a year, or whatever it is, my 80-something in-laws would be on the street.  But Glenn and Warren and Bill won’t need it; nor will Kim, Kourtney and Khloe—unless they blow all their hard-earned, famous-for-being-famous $$$.

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Those draconian proposals released yesterday by Catfood  Commissioners Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson have aroused predictable hysteria; like a vintage John Waters film, there’s something to offend everyone (except perhaps the Koch Brothers)—a slashed defense budget for the Right, and for the Left, cuts to Social Security and Medicare—and a retirement age raised to 69. Before reaching for that Xanax,  keep in mind this caveat from the Washington Post‘s always sane and incisive Ezra Klein:

“Here is the most important fact about the proposal released by the co-chairmen of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform: It is not the commission’s report. And here is the second most important fact to remember: The commission itself does not have any actual power. So what we’re looking at is a discussion draft of a proposal to balance the budget authored by two people who don’t have a vote in either the House or the Senate.”

Doubtless the Bowles-Simpson report is just a first step. But the new retirement age seems a real possibility—and those French drama queens did get all rioty over the prospect, so it’s not an issue to be taken lightly.  Suppose that particular proposal  does make it way through the Congressional sausage factory. Retire at 69? Fine—that is if you have something to retire from.

We live in a hopelessly ageist culture; ask someone over 50 who’s been outsourced or downsized. Granted, the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us the unemployment rate for older workers is slightly lower than the national 9.6 percent figure. But that doesn’t measure underemployment, or the quality of those jobs, or the number of over-50s who’ve simply given up looking. As the AARP reports:

“Older adults tended to be out of work longer than younger people. The average duration of unemployment for workers age 55 and up rose to 44.3 weeks in last month’s report from 42 weeks in September’s. For those under age 55, the duration grew slightly to 33.2 weeks in October from 32.7 weeks the month before.”

Your blogger is nowhere near retirement. But I do have a couple of Boomer pals whose stories suggest what lies ahead. I’ll call them Mike and Marie.

By any measure, Mike was successful—an award-winning performer at a company  where good people routinely worked well past 65. Then came a double-whammy. Bad business decisions caused a wave of RIFs in the early 2000s. Mike dodged the layoffs and really wasn’t worried; he was hardly dead wood, still highly valued—so he thought—and still under 50. Then came whammy number two—the 2008 crash. One month to the day after Mike euphorically welcomed the election of Barack Obama, his boss called him to her office and said, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but I have to let you go.”

His colleagues were shocked. “We thought it was a clerical error—if Mike wasn’t safe, nobody was,” one staffer told me.

Mike was blindsided—and devastated. He eventually found a job, but considers it a band-aid because of whammy number three—his line of work is slowly becoming obsolete; now he’s trying to figure out how to reinvent himself.

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do in 10-15 years,” he says.

Mike’s still luckier than Marie. As a younger woman she was a high-energy professional—ironically in human resources. But then she dropped out and raised a family.

Now Marie’s over 60 and divorced. She has physical problems that limit her mobility, and while she’s looking for work, she lives in an area where jobs are scarce—especially at her age. Also, Marie adds, “my 18-year-old car died.” She relies on largely on Social Security.

“I have to find a job,” she says.

I really, really hope we cut our deficit and balance the budget and all that fiscally responsible blah, blah, blah. But people need help NOW. They need jobs NOW. There is much talk—especially from the right—that we musn’t “charge our bill to our children and grandchildren.”

Especially if they’re supporting their parents and grandparents.

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