Social Security must keep ensuring dignity for all

It used to be that working hard and playing by the rules earned most people economic security and the ability to retire with dignity. But jobs are being outsourced, the jobs that remain offer lower wages and fewer benefits, and the retirement savings of most Americans has been decimated by the stock market — if it wasn’t already used to pay the mortgage.

Employers are shifting pension costs onto workers in a fend-for-yourself retirement system. The typical defined contribution retirement account held only $17,794 in 2009. The typical retirement account for people who had been putting money in from 2003 to 2009 was $59,381.

That may seem like a big number, but it’s closer to peanuts. The best retirement accounts provide a stream of income until death. That’s called an annuity, and at $59,381, it would be $285 per month. At $17,794, it’s closer to $85 a month. Both figures leave the retiree living in severe poverty.

Fortunately, one underpinning of the American Dream remains intact: Social Security. Social Security is the float that keeps seniors out of poverty. But it’s not just a retirement program. Yes, my dad gets it, advancing along in his 10th decade. So does my colleague, whose husband died early, leaving her a widow with two young kids. Another friend, disabled by Parkinson’s disease and no longer able to work, gets disability insurance from Social Security, as does the Ingraham High School student who lost his dad. Social Security is insurance for life.

It’s not what the Wall Street bankers want you to think, and it’s not what D.C. politicians are saying. But these are the facts: Social Security has a $2.5 trillion surplus. It pays a regular and dependable stream of payments to 54 million citizens. In Washington, more than 1 million people receive the earned benefit of Social Security. They, their parents or spouses paid into it, and have earned the benefits they now receive. Social Security isn’t an entitlement; it’s earned through years of hard work.

In Snohomish County, almost 100,000 citizens receive Social Security, including 15,000 disabled workers, 6,700 children and more than 7,000 widows and widowers. Those benefits total $113 million, which is pushed back into the county economy for food, services, rent, utilities and other essentials. Because of the multiplier effect, the economy grows by $170 million, which accounts for 1,600 jobs. As goes Social Security, so go the livelihoods and financial security of more than 100,000 people.

But the benefits don’t seem to matter to the Wall Street one-percenters. They want us to believe Social Security is in trouble, and that benefits won’t be paid. They are pocketbook thieves and ideological warriors, eager to earn a buck by gambling Social Security benefits on Wall Street. Win or lose their bets, they will pocket a hefty amount — because the house always wins.

The average Social Security benefit is $1,162 per month. For the bottom half of seniors, Social Security provides more than 80 percent of their retirement income. For the top half, Social Security is one-third of their income, on average. Policy makers should be considering how to strengthen Social Security, not cut benefits to retirees, widow(er)s and their families. The easiest way: End the cap on taxable income that enables millionaires to get away with paying a lower rate than middle class families. This fix would ensure that the top 1 percent contributes equally to Social Security. It’s fair, increases benefits as private retirement plans dwindle, and evens the playing field so everyone can retire in dignity.

Want to know more? I recommend the free forum, “The Threat to Social Security: An Issue for All Generations,” from 6:30-8 p.m. Tuesday at the Jackson Conference Center at Everett Community College. The keynote speaker will be Nancy Altman, author of “The Battle for Social Security” and a nationally renowned expert on Social Security.

She will puncture myths, discuss changes to strengthen benefits, and describe Social Security’s importance to every generation of Americans — from children of the Great Depression to those born in this Great Recession. U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, will also speak. Since the Economic Opportunity Institute is a sponsor, I will be there as well. I look forward to seeing you there.

Originally published in the Everett Herald

GOP leaders announce the formation of the "American Nightmare Movement"

Republican leaders announced today their plans to form an “American Nightmare Movement” (ANM) as a public-private partnership to promote more realistic expectations among the populace.

With funding from the US Chamber of Commerce and David and Charles Koch, the ANM is a response to the so-called American Dream Movement developed by and former Obama Administration green energy czar Anthony Van Jones.

According to ANM spokesman Anthony Wilcox, “The goal of the American Nightmare Movement is to raise the consciousness of the American people about the nightmarish nature of the world.  It’s a tough place here on earth, and people have to stop dreaming that government will make things right.  Get over the dream-world fantasy of a Marxist utopia. Wake up to the nightmarish reality of life on earth, especially when government meddles in the free market.”

Republican Leaders announce the American Nightmare Movement
Republican Leaders announce the American Nightmare Movement

Speaker of the House John Boehner elaborated.  “Things are tough and people need to lower their expectations. People will have to learn to make do with less.  Less jobs. Less health care. Less education. Less housing. Less disaster relief.   Less policing.   Want A real nightmare?  Follow President Obama’s lead and implement more regulation, taxation, environmentalism, unions, public education, and social programs such as Social Security and Medicare.  You want to live in the USSR?”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded to the announcement by saying, “The President believes the Republicans have gone too far.   The American dream is alive and well.  All it takes is less partisan bickering and more cooperation to achieve shared goals.”

Asked by reporters for his response to the American Nightmare Movement, Van Jones said, “Life on earth doesn’t have to be nightmarish. If there were less corruption, less military spending, fewer tax breaks for the rich, less outsourcing of jobs and profits, and a bit more common sense, we could have a pretty good life here for almost everyone.”


Washington State is Coming Up Short

in so many ways… but let’s start with revenue. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons, svilen.milen

The Olympian reported (so it might be true) that the Gov is calling the legislature back in special session to deal with a revenue shortfall of at least 1.3 billion dollars. It’s probably a 2 billion dollar deficit, but the accountants are still penciling that out.

So the legislators are coming back sometime in November to address the shortfall. The tea party tax initiative that passed last general election cycle requires a super majority for the State to raise taxes, and the repub side has not yet warmed to the necessity of taxes for essential services, so this is likely to be another session devoted to finding things to cut. The activists who like education and essential services like medical care, disability services and more will be doing all they can to oppose another all-cut budget, but it’s going to be a struggle. There are arguments over whether the super-majority initiative is constitutional, whether closing tax loopholes (that could produce the 2 billion) are subject to the super-majority rule, but it’s an uphill battle. You have to give the Norquist puppiteers credit for creating a wildly successful and destructive political agenda, but what is the end game? When the success of trickle down, unregulated, free market economics is the meltdown of 2008, it does raise the question of “where do we go from here?” Further down the right wing rathole? I would rather not.

Activists, including Washington Can, have been organizing and gearing up for the next legislative session, but will now need to hustle to put an agenda together for the special session. I think we need to focus not just on posing loopholes that can be closed, let’s look at budget cuts that will truly share the sacrifice. How about:

  • Immediate cuts in pay to State Legislators of 25%
  • Immediate 100% cut of travel budget for legislators
  • Let’s sell the Governor’s mansion and cut the expense of maintaining that big house
  • Let’s set the thermostats at 55 degrees in cold weather and 85 degrees in hot weather for the office and meeting space that the legislators use. (apologies to the staffers)
  • Let’s convert the Capitol campus to public garden space and save the cost of mowing that big lawn

Just some ideas off the top of my head. What are your ideas? What services should the legislature cut in this special session? Shared sacrifice anyone? Can we make the legislators uncomfortable enough to challenge the super-majority rule? Or to vote as a super majority to do the right thing and raise revenue?

Or if you insist, what loopholes need to be closed to fix this mess?

Quickie: Rick Perry's extremism revealed

In The message from Rick Perry’s book: Repeal the 20th Century Seattle P-I columnist Joe Connelly describes the extreme anti-government views of Rick Perry.

The 1930s are in the crosshairs. Social Security has been America’s most successful social program in lifting our seniors out of poverty. In Perry’s view, however, it is “a crumbling monument to the failure of the New Deal,” “something we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years now,” and was put into place “at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government.”

In a wider sense, Perry represents a new extreme in American thought — those who would roll back the Progressive Era and the New Deal, and roll up powers given government in fields from workplace safety to punishing polluters.

Journal editor resigns over 'problematic' climate paper

The editor of a science journal has resigned after admitting that a recent paper casting doubt on man-made climate change should not have been published.

The paper, by US scientists Roy Spencer and William Braswell, claimed that computer models of climate inflated projections of temperature increase.

It was seized on by “sceptic” bloggers, but attacked by mainstream scientists.

Wolfgang Wagner, editor of Remote Sensing journal, says he agrees with their criticisms and is stepping down.

“Peer-reviewed journals are a pillar of modern science,” he writes in a resignation note published in Remote Sensing.

“Their aim is to achieve highest scientific standards by carrying out a rigorous peer review that is, as a minimum requirement, supposed to be able to identify fundamental methodological errors or false claims.

“Unfortunately, as many climate researchers and engaged observers of the climate change debate pointed out in various internet discussion fora, the paper by Spencer and Braswell… is most likely problematic in both aspects and should therefore not have been published.”

"I have a gun and I'm NOT afraid to use it."

The attitude of conservatives nowadays is: “I have a gun and I’m not afraid to use it.”   They have lots of power and they’re willing, in fact, eager to destroy much of what we hold dear.

They believe or pretend that they’re doing God’s work and that they’re saving the People from the evils of government and liberalism.  In fact they’re dangerous fanatics who are out to destroy our environment, our economy, and our heritage.

Armed with their slimy, deceptive talking points (“Social Security is a ponzi scheme”, “Socialism doesn’t work”, “Government-run hospitals are filthy”, “Only private industry creates jobs”, “We won’t raise anyone’s taxes,” “Taxes and regulations are destroying jobs”, “Pro-life”, “Liberty”,…), they can beat back any arguments.       And the ill-informed and struggling voters largely follow them.  For example, Washington State voters rejected I-1098 and passed I-1053 by almost two-to-one margins.

Voters in Weimar elected National Socialists.

Conservatives have perfected a winning electoral formula: corrupt, bankrupt, and mismanage government, then blame government and taxes for problems.  Enough voters go along with them so that conservatives can win at the polls or steal elections.  And like the proverbial frog in the pot, we’re slowly being boiled.  Their plan to drown government and liberals in a bathtub of red ink, corruption, and mismanagement is succeeding.

I had hope that President Obama would resist the conservative onslaught, but he’s caved in or doesn’t care or has been out-numbered, or all three. The Democratic Party is corrupted too, by the need to raise funds, though it’s not as bad as the GOP.   Moreover, it sure does seem incompetent.   Democrats coddle Republicans; when given the chance to impeach or indict them; they look the other way, or “look forward.” The “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” was poorly named; it was also largely a sellout to vested corporate interests.  Obama is shooting himself in the foot with all his sellouts. His approval ratings are dropping, and he may drag the rest of the Democratic Party over the cliff.

I like to say that our enemy is “conservatives”, not “Republicans.” There are conservative and centrist Democrats , and they are part of the problem too.

Unfortunately, it appears that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better, because jobs, profits, technology, and sanity are being shipped overseas.

Right wing propaganda books

While shopping in Issaquah today, I stopped at Barnes & Nobel to look for the book “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power” by Jeff Sharlet.     As I looked through the Current Affairs section I was struck by the large number of right wing propaganda books — by Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Michael Medved, Michael Savage, Anne Coulter, and others.

A lot of the books attack President Obama, by questioning his citizenship, patriotism, or morality.  They portray him as a far-left radical (a portrayal which is so out-of-sync with reality that it’s almost unbelievable that they can write these books with a straight face).   Many of the books are about how liberals  are destroying America. There were a few books by “reformed” liberals.   There were more right wing than left wing books.

It’s quite possible that most Americans realize that these right wing books are biased. But  even if most people disbelieve the conservative rhetoric, many definitely do believe it, and the marketing of these books is successful in that it clouds the issues and drowns out progressive and moderate voices. (It’s the “Right Wing Noise Machine,” as David Brock so aptly named it.) It shifts the dialog to the right or causes people to tune out or to “split the difference.”   Indeed, oftentimes I meet someone who describes themselves as “Independent” or “non-political” or “middle-of-the-road”, and they often say things like, “Oh, progressives are as crazy as the Tea Party people.” And I can’t talk to most of my suburban neighbors about politics or they tell me I’m crazy.

Speak sense to a fool and he’ll call you a fool.

As  Mike Lofgren’s says,

The media are also complicit in this phenomenon. Ever since the bifurcation of electronic media into a more or less respectable “hard news” segment and a rabidly ideological talk radio and cable TV political propaganda arm, the “respectable” media have been terrified of any criticism for perceived bias. Hence, they hew to the practice of false evenhandedness. Paul Krugman has skewered this tactic as being the “centrist cop-out.” “I joked long ago,” he says, “that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read ‘Views Differ on Shape of Planet.’

I believe in free speech and a free press. But if bookstores routinely publish distortions and lies, it bodes poorly for the future of America.

We need to win the hearts and minds of the public and open their eyes to how they’re being screwed.