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September 8, 2005

Shamelessly politicizing the Gulf Coast tragedy
Posted by Teresa at 02:54 PM *

My head. is going. to explode.

Quoted today, in the Mother Jones blog:

[I]n CongressDaily today: “[White House spokesman Trent] Duffy asserted that the vast spending that would be required to address the hurricane’s impact adds to the need to change Social Security, which threatens to strain the budget in coming years.”

As I hope everyone knows by now, Social Security is in no danger—except from the Bush administration, which wants to privatize it. All the stories you’ve heard over the past several decades about Social Security going bankrupt have been false—a well-funded long-term disinformation campaign conducted by people who do not wish you well.

No, really. Just because you wouldn’t believe it if you read it in a book, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. That’s what’s been happening. For decades.

The White House is in on that conspiracy. (God, I hate this! Conspiracy! It’s so tacky!) The Bushies floated the idea of Social Security privatization at the beginning of this term of office. It didn’t prosper. I take Trent Duffy’s proposal to mean they’re at it again.

This is like Bush’s tax policy shifts during his first administration. There’s a budget surplus? Cut taxes for the rich. There’s going to be a budget shortfall? Cut taxes for the rich. After a little while, it became clear that the only part he cared about was cutting taxes for the rich.

Privatizing Social Security’s another one of those campaigns. There’s absolutely no need for it. Social Security’s doing fine, and should continue to go on working and doing what it does far into the foreseeable future. But Bush wants it, or anyway his very rich friends want it, so it’s just going to keep popping up.

When it does? Say no. Write to your congressman. A miserably impoverished old age is no one’s idea of fun.

Comments on Shamelessly politicizing the Gulf Coast tragedy:
#1 ::: cmk ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 03:09 PM:

This is like Bush’s tax policy shifts during his first administration.

Umm. I would say, this is Bush's tax policy: rather than dealing with his administration's actual fiscal irresponsibility, twist and spin a national tragedy into another opportunity to justify further damage to the safety net.

#2 ::: Michael Falcon-Gates ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 03:49 PM:

Maddening but predictable. The Shrub and his backers want what they want... mmm, a yearly one percent load on the fourteen percent payroll tax on everybody, the drool from those financial managers threatens to turn Manhattan into a second New Orleans... why should the weather change it?

#3 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 04:08 PM:

I worked for Social Security for a few years. Bush is lying about the 'crisis.'

It is true that by about 2017 the Social Security Administration will be paying out more money than it will be taking in. By mid-century, SSA will only be able to pay 70 per cent of the benefits due.

There are a couple of simple solutions to this:

Remove the cap--currently the amount you pay in OASDI taxes doesn't go any higher after your salary reaches $90K per year. This won't be popular with those who are in this bracket.

OR

Raise the retirement age limits. Been done once, can be done again.

Either one of these solutions will extend Social Security's solvency.

Bush's retirement savings accounts already exist, they're called IRA, 401(k) and Keogh plans. And people are not using them. Why does he think another savings account is going to be any different? (And you do get a tax break if you're using one of these.)

One thing that is not being factored in is that many boomers plan to continue working after they retire (different job), which means in many cases they will still be paying into Social Security.

It's nowhere near as bleak as Bush and his c/r/o/o/k/s er, cronies are painting it.

Lori Coulson

#4 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 04:16 PM:

Remove the cap--currently the amount you pay in OASDI taxes doesn't go any higher after your salary reaches $90K per year. This won't be popular with those who are in this bracket.

And guess which bracket contributes to the GOP.

Lori: I agree with you completely. There are a lot of us who won't be able to retire - we can't afford it, even with 401Ks and IRAs.

#5 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 04:24 PM:

I was shocked when, shortly after 9/11, Bush announced that they needed to restructure government agencies to remove unionized workers. He said unions made it too difficult to respond quickly to crises.

I realized that he was using the 9/11 attacks as a club against unions. It didn't matter that it was bullshit, only that he could twist a tragedy to his advantage.

The bastard.

#6 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 04:28 PM:

I thought the reason Bush started his whole Social Security campaign is that he discovered the SSA fund was all in U.S. Treasury Notes that he doesn't want the Federal Government to redeem (since he's already legally/illegally? borrowed and spent an equivalent amount of real money).

#7 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 04:35 PM:

If you want to see something *really* frightening, take a look at some of the people who have retired at age 65 and have ~only~ a Social Security check for income.

I know a fellow in this situation, and he asked me how he could get more money from SSA. I had to tell him that the only way he could do that was if he waited to file for benefits until he was age 70... The only way he'll get more money now is to work part-time.

I'm worried that he's just the tip of the iceberg. You know all the kids that are moving back in with their parents because they can't make it on their own? What happens when Grandma or Grandpa has to move in as well?

Social Security is not and was never intended to be the sole source of retirement income -- the assumption was that you would have a pension and your own savings to see you through.

How many companies have walked away from their pension systems?

It's going to get nasty.

Lori Coulson

#8 ::: veejane ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 04:37 PM:

I hesitate to call it a conspiracy -- there are no secret meetings in underground parking lots here. It's just a concerted campaign of misinformation, in spite of and sticking its tongue out at reality, official and public data, and the general public it pretends to inform.

This administration is based on the success of the tactic, so far.

We might call it a "shoutdown" against the American public, but part of the problem is the American public's willingness to be bamboozled.

#9 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 04:46 PM:

We might call it a "shoutdown" against the American public, but part of the problem is the American public's willingness to be bamboozled.

Or unwillingness to think about what they might be hearing or seeing. There are people who believe that "if it's on TV, it must be true, because the government wouldn't let them put it on TV if it weren't."

#10 ::: Carrie ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 04:54 PM:

A friend of mine uses a phrase: "outrage fatigue." I've been suffering from it for quite a while now.

/going back to read the post from a couple days ago about stress.

#11 ::: Ken ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 04:55 PM:

So let me get this straight.

Every time something bad happens, the call goes out to raise taxes (more generally phrased as "repeal the [disparaging adjective] tax cuts"). That's not politicizing a tragedy.

But, given the need to spend scads of money by a new situation, the idea of limiting Social Security benefits - that is politicizing a tragedy?

#12 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 04:58 PM:

This isn't about -limiting- SS Benefits -- it's about gutting Social Security, and rerouting the money to the Stock Market.

Believe me, you do not want this to happen.

Lori Coulson

#13 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 05:00 PM:

No, the idea of limiting Social Security benefits when new circs arise is a recognition that their first efforts to limit them weren't getting anywhere, but Katrina changed everything!

If it sounds familiar, it should. Substitute "9/11" for Katrina.

#14 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 05:04 PM:

While this editorial only briefly mentions Social Security at the end, I thought some of you would no doubt be interested in it:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/06/AR2005090601363.html

I'm feeling the need to re-evaluate my own responses to poverty that I see every day in my own neighbourhood.

#15 ::: Lizzy Lynn ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 05:19 PM:

Speaking as someone who does not expect to be able to stop working until forced to by age and infirmity, I am going to need Social Security and do not want it to go away. Scares me silly to think the Bushies might win this one. But Duffy's linkage of SS to Katrina strikes me as so transparently weird that I find it hard to believe it will be taken seriously.

However, I don't think the Bushies expect anyone to take it seriously, they just want to keep the idea out there, a voice muttering in the background. They still want to do it, of course.

#16 ::: Rich Magahiz ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 05:47 PM:

"Oh, did I say Social Security? I meant Medicare."

#17 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 06:21 PM:

Speaking of Katrina and politics, perhaps someone less busy than I can answer this question: Does southern Louisiana have any congressional or senatorial elections this fall?

#18 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 06:26 PM:

Robert - this is an "odd" year so there are no regular Congressional races this year. There might be a special election somewhere though.

#19 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 06:29 PM:

I've been suggesting raising, rather than eliminating, the cap on FICA income contributions, for a while. If we raise the limit on FICA-taxable income to $250K, then using the US Census Bureau 2004 numbers for distribution of income (and using households*mean within distribution segment, less $90K to account for current contribution, and capping at $250K), Social Security would bring in an additional $66,611,246,528.

$66.6 billion dollars. Per year (and increasing with increased mean income, which is almost inevitable with inflation). It might not completely cover the shortfall in the long run -- but it would make a difference, and extend the program's viability by a bunch of years.

#20 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 06:35 PM:

Bruce: That solution is simple, obvious, and hurts all those wealthy contributors to Republican congresscritters. So it won't get done that way.

#21 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 08:05 PM:

Here's the deal on Social Security:

Contributions are based only on wages, not on other income, and there is a cap on contributions. This way Social Security is funded primarily by the working class. Benefits are linked to contributions (or disability), so the benefits also go primarily to the working class. This leaves the upper classes with very little standing to criticize or meddle with the program. They don't pay for it, they don't benefit from it, and they can keep their hands off of it. Also, because it was a pay-as-you-go program, there wasn't a big pot of money to loot.

This changed when the baby boom workers have made extra payments into the Social Security trust fund to pay for their retirement. That is a big pot of money. It is being used to run the government while reducing taxes on the upper classes. The upper classes are now arguing that possession is 9/10 of the law, and they should not have to pay back the money they essentially borrowed from the workers' retirement fund. That is the Social Security crisis in nutshell: It has too much money, not too little.

Many well-meaning progressives have proposed increasing the Social Security contribution limit in order to fund the government. But that breaks the social contract that successfully protected Social Security for decades. As soon as the rich pay more into Social Security than they get in benefits, it becomes a welfare program, and could be attacked as such. Also, having Social Security fund the government is how we got in this mess. Restoring the income tax cuts would allow the government to fund itself properly, and to repay the money borrowed from the trust fund so the workers can have their retirement.

#22 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 08:07 PM:

Bruce, my husband would pay more in FICA if that passed, but we'd never object (or, worse, turn
Republican) if that happens. That's one of the things that SHOULD happen, if we had a responsible federal government.

But, since we clearly don't...

#23 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 10:38 PM:

And guess which bracket contributes to the GOP.

Hey! Not all of us!

Removing or raising the cap would affect us materially and I'm all for it.

MKK

#24 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 11:03 PM:

Mary Kay: Nothing personal intended - I know not all the higher brackets support the white elephants, and not all the lower brackets support the donkeys. But the probabilities run that way....

#25 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 11:28 PM:

I could afford to pay more in FICA too, but it's the wrong tax for ending the deficit. Having me pay more in income tax would accomplish the result much more fairly.

#26 ::: NeoLotus ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 01:24 AM:

Sorry for OT post but this needs to get around:

I just got back from a FEMA Detention Camp

#27 ::: Luthe ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 02:01 AM:

Jesus f**cking Christ on a flaming cross.

"It could cause a riot. You don't understand the type of people that are about to come here...."

This, from a FEMA man setting up a detention (oops, I mean 'refugee') camp.

Never in my life have I seen or heard more flagrant racism or disregard for my fellow man. And the scary thing is, I know it's not just this one guy. It's the attitude of an entire government.

I am ashamed of my government. They are giving my country a bad name.

#28 ::: NeoLotus ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 02:23 AM:

Luthe, what you are seeing is FASCISM, American style. I have real fear. The kind that tells me I should prepare to fight for my life with every fiber of my being. But the groaning weight of disbelief would make me a "conspiracy theorist" and "tin-foil hatter." But there are just too many stories now to deny that SOMETHING is very WRONG in this country.

#29 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 03:08 AM:

One thing I've come across on another blog -- my comment being rejected because the "org.uk" part of my email address is "questionable content".

I think there are people out there who just don't want to hear.

#31 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 05:19 PM:

Mary Kay: Nothing personal intended - I know not all the higher brackets support the white elephants, and not all the lower brackets support the donkeys. But the probabilities run that way....

This is a problem I have with the Thomas Frank school of criticizing the working poor for "voting against their economic interest." (I am, in general, a fan of Frank's.) To pick a counter-example, Jews tend to have a higher median income than the general population, and vote about 75%-25% Democratic. They, too, are voting their cultural/social priorities over their economic interest, but no one is claiming that they're misled.

We shouldn't focus on whether people are voting against their economic interest - that's actually a noble thing. We should focus on whether people's votes are fully informed. And that's where I think much of the working poor support of Republicans falls down.

#32 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 12:21 PM:

IIRC, Social Security is actually a lot closer to bankrupcy than most people think. 2018 is supposed to be the year when the expenditure overtakes the income, but there is a social security fund that will keep it going long beyond that with what people have already paid in.

Unfortunately, in 1985 Reagan needed to raise money fast and therefore took a loan against Social Security as a one-off measure (replacing the money in there with Treasuries). As a one-off measure, this was both remarkably convenient and remarkably successful - so guess how many years since then have not had the money from Social Securities replaced with Treasuries...?

This means that, thanks to effective governmental theft, if more will then be going out of Social Security than coming in, taxes will have to be raised to redeem the treasuries. In short, you've already had the money in there - but neither party dares to say this because they will then be blasted for complicity.

That is still no excuse for the Bush plans (which IIRC move this situation forward to 2012).

#33 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 12:27 PM:

I don't seriously expect to get much from Social Security, because it's being used as a cash cow to keep the government running without having to admit that it needs to raise taxes. 401Ks and IRAs didn't start early enough for me to have a big kitty. I don't make enough to have lots of stocks or any real estate. Unfortunately, I'm just young enough that the 'protection' Bush talks about in his speeches pushing 'privatization' (read 'ripping down the safety net') won't protect me. I figure I'll have to work until I drop dead.

#34 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 12:48 PM:

Alex Cohen: They, too, are voting their cultural/social priorities over their economic interest, but no one is claiming that they're misled.

I've seen an interview with Thomas Franks where he acknowledges this point (well-off liberals voting against their narrow economic interests), and he's jokingly proposed a sequel: What's the Matter With Connecticut?

#35 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 12:50 PM:

What baffles me about the privitization of Social Security argument is the juxtaposition of "invest in the stock market" at a time when we still remember the "adjustments" of the 90s, and the yo-yos the stock market has been doing in recent years. Do they think we didn't hear about all the people about to retire that had their stock-market-invested retirements trashed and now have to stay or go back to work. Do the pro-privitization people think we've forgotten? Or that we didn't notice in the first place?

I have a reputation for a bad memory, but it's not that bad.

#36 ::: LIn Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 12:55 PM:

Gore airlifts Katrina victims out of New Orleans: Former vice president chartered 2 private aircrafts [sic]

Have others noticed that the people taking action and doing things "refuse to be interviewed" (see above article) but those who have done nothing, contributed nothing but words, messed up, and generally got in the way, are front-and-center in front of the cameras?

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