Tag Archives: boomers

A Boomer’s Straight Talk

That’s a bit unfair,since Dave Lindorff (This Can’t be Happening blog) isn’t exactly the kind of person you’d label a boomer.He says he’s  turned 62. Even so, in this world of squirming,equivocating politicians and their Oh- so- smart expert slide rule advisors, his is a voice of passion about real things in real life. Such a relief after reading, or should I say, trying to read, all the sychophant journalists with their two bit sermons about how broke we are and how we all have to sacrifice.Do these guys seriously think this country is poor?

   Here’s a bit of Lindorff:

But here’s the thing. The reason these parties and lobbies are trying so hard now to use the recession and the national deficit as cover to decimate and destroy these two proven and critically important social programs into which all working Americans have been paying all our working lives, is that they realize what most 50 and 60-something Americans haven’t realized yet: that we are about to become the most powerful political force in the country, and that we are certainly going to demand both an excellent government Medicare program, and a decent retirement program.

Pres. Franklin Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act into law. Franklin Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act into law

The way I see it, we in the Baby Boom generation–those people born between 1946 and about 1964–are just starting to hit retirement age. In another 10 years, we will become a political force twice as powerful and certainly more than twice as noisy and demanding as the current senior lobby. We can either wait until then, after they have successfully gutted the two programs we depend on, making it so we have to fight to recreate or restore them, or we can start organizing now to defend and improve them, and save ourselves a whole lot of trouble.

Lindorff’s proposal,invoking what the Washington Post sneerlingly refers to as “common sense.”

Let’s start building a coalition of Baby Boomers, working through every conceivable organization–labor unions, churches, veterans organizations, alumni organizations, political chapters, etc.–with one goal: Defending and improving Social Security and Medicare.

Here’s the argument. Social Security is said to be in danger of “running out of money” in 2037, because there will supposedly be too many retirees drawing checks and too few younger workers putting money into the so-called Trust Fund. The Trust Fund itself had its trust broken by our politicians, Republican and Democrat, who have for years been raiding the money we put into it, leaving us with government IOUs. These IOUs, the Republicans and the corporatists now say, they don’t intend to honor. (The main reason for these raids has been to fund America’s imperialist wars, which the public never would support if they had to pay for them up front through higher taxes.) Well, first off, we need to demand that they honor those IOUs. Second, since that would mean raising taxes to fund our retirement, we need to demand that the money come not from our working kids and grandkids, but from the rich. It’s really an easy fix. Require that the FICA tax which pays for Social Security benefits apply to all income, not just the first $106,000 of income, and make it also apply to investment income, which currently pays no FICA tax. (I’m not talking about retirement investments. They can be exempted. I’m talking about regular taxable investment income.)

As for Medicare, which we’re told is going to run out of money sometime before 2017, the answer there is to stop making it a program just for disabled and old people, and to expand it to cover everyone, which is what President Obama should have proposed way back in 2008, instead of the outrageous health “reform” that was pushed through Congress and which is going to be undone by the courts anyhow.

 

Robbing the Old to Give to the Young (and the Rich)

Advocates for the preservation of so-called old-age entitlements have been warning for some time that Social Security and Medicare may be offered up as a sacrifice to offset the cost of the bailout and stimulus.  This would suit conservatives, who for years have been looking for ways to undermine the popular programs. Leading that charge are the the “granny bashers” hunkered around the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. With an endowment of $1 billion, the Foundation pursues an agenda that consists mainly of bitching and moaning that greedy geezers are taking money away from poor young things with their unconscionable demands for basic health care and income support. With increasing support from the media, the punditry, and some members of Congress, they warn that aging boomers will soon bankrupt the country and destroy the lives of future generations.

It’s particularly absurd that this argument emanates from the likes of Peterson, himself now an octagenarian, who was Nixon’s Secretary of Commerce and and more recently chair of the Council on Foreign Relations. Peterson, who is worth $2.8 billion, was also head of the now-defunct Lehman Brothers, and is probably best known as senior chairman of Blackstone Group, a finance company currently enjoying harsh criticism from the Chinese for having lost that country $80 billion in lousy business. While attacking the programs that support poor elderly people, Peterson seems to have no objection to government bailouts for his old comrades on Wall Street. Bill Greider recently wrote a comprehensive piece in The Nation on the machinations of Peterson and his anti-entitlement cohort. 

This week, Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research,  a Washington think tank,  points out the essential flaws in the granny bashers’ prognostications of doom. In fact, he argues, they have it backwards:

The recent collapse of the housing bubble and the resulting stock market plunge have reduced the wealth of older workers and retirees by close to $15 trillion. This is a transfer to the young, since they will be able to buy the housing stock and the corporate capital stock for a far lower price than they would have expected to pay just two years ago.

Remarkably, the granny basher crew has somehow failed to notice this enormous transfer of wealth from the old to the young. They just continue their crusade to cut Social Security and Medicare as though nothing has happened.

It should be evident that the granny bashers don’t care at all about generational equity. They care about dismantling Social Security and Medicare, the country’s most important social programs. It is important that the public recognize the granny bashers’ real agenda so that they can give them the respect they deserve.

William Greider on “Looting Social Security”

Veteran progressive journalist and radical geezer Bill Greider has written an essential article in the current issue of The Nation, on the strategic attack now underway against Social Security and Medicare.

Governing elites in Washington and Wall Street have devised a fiendishly clever “grand bargain” they want President Obama to embrace in the name of “fiscal responsibility.” The government, they argue, having spent billions on bailing out the banks, can recover its costs by looting the Social Security system. They are also targeting Medicare and Medicaid. The pitch sounds preposterous to millions of ordinary working people anxious about their economic security and worried about their retirement years. But an impressive armada is lined up to push the idea–Washington’s leading think tanks, the prestige media, tax-exempt foundations, skillful propagandists posing as economic experts and a self-righteous billionaire spending his fortune to save the nation from the elderly.

These players are promoting a tricky way to whack Social Security benefits, but to do it behind closed doors so the public cannot see what’s happening or figure out which politicians to blame. The essential transaction would amount to misappropriating the trillions in Social Security taxes that workers have paid to finance their retirement benefits. This swindle is portrayed as “fiscal reform.” In fact, it’s the political equivalent of bait-and-switch fraud.

I addressed this subject last month in a series of posts on the coming “entitlement wars“–but Greider does a better job than I ever could, laying out the history, the players, and the tactics employed in this long-brewing struggle. He documents how conservatives are working to exploit the recession, along with public fears and misapprehensions, to manufacture intergenerational conflict, and thereby achieve their cherished goal of rolling back the entitlement programs responsible for rescuing millions of elders from desperate poverty. He also explains why this fight “could become a defining test for ‘new politics’ in the Obama era.”

Defending Social Security sounds like yesterday’s issue–the fight people won when they defeated George W. Bush’s attempt to privatize the system in 2005. But the financial establishment has pushed it back on the table, claiming that the current crisis requires “responsible” leaders to take action. Will Obama take the bait? Surely not. The new president has been clear and consistent about Social Security, as a candidate and since his election. The program’s financing is basically sound, he has explained, and can be assured far into the future by making only modest adjustments.

But Obama is also playing footsie with the conservative advocates of “entitlement reform” (their euphemism for cutting benefits). The president wants the corporate establishment’s support on many other important matters, and he recently promised to hold a “fiscal responsibility summit” to examine the long-term costs of entitlements. That forum could set the trap for a “bipartisan compromise” that may become difficult for Obama to resist, given the burgeoning deficit. If he resists, he will be denounced as an old-fashioned free-spending liberal. The advocates are urging both parties to hold hands and take the leap together, authorizing big benefits cuts in a circuitous way that allows them to dodge the public’s blame. In my new book, Come Home, America, I make the point: “When official America talks of ‘bipartisan compromise,’ it usually means the people are about to get screwed.”

The Social Security fight could become a defining test for “new politics” in the Obama era. Will Americans at large step up and make themselves heard, not to attack Obama but to protect his presidency from the political forces aligned with Wall Street interests? This fight can be won if people everywhere raise a mighty din–hands off our Social Security money!–and do it now, before the deal gains momentum. Popular outrage can overwhelm the insiders and put members of Congress on notice: a vote to gut Social Security will kill your career. By organizing and agitating, people blocked Bush’s attempt to privatize Social Security. Imagine if he had succeeded–their retirement money would have disappeared in the collapsing stock market.

Old folks–and anyone who plans on becoming old some day–need to gear up for this one. A good start is to read Greider’s long article in its entirety.

Here Come the Entitlement Wars, Part 3: Arrivederci, Retirement

As the subject of entitlement “reform” once again rears its head, we would do well to look at the experience of Italy. As Bloomberg reported recently:

Italy did for retirement financing what President George W. Bush couldn’t do in the U.S.: It privatized part of its social security system. The timing couldn’t have been worse.

The global market meltdown has created losses for those who agreed to shift their contributions from a government severance payment plan to private funds meant to yield higher returns. Anger is rising both at the state, which promoted the change, and money managers such as UniCredit SpA and Arca Previdenza, which stood to profit.

While earlier conservative governments made cuts to Italy’s basic social security program and raised the retirement age, it was the leftist government of Romano Prodi that instituted a privatization option for of the TFR, a lump-sum payment that Italians receive when they retire.

 

According to Bloomberg, “The TFR plan was meant to dent Italy’s risk-averse culture and lure more people to investment funds.” The (apparently wise) Italians invest in the stock market at very low rates, preferring to keep their money in the bank.  In fact, only 10 percent chose to shift their TFR funds to the private plan–but those people have seen their money evaporate as Italy’s benchmark stock index fell 50 percent in 2008.

 

Efforts to privatize a portion of the U.S. Social Security system have failed under both the Clinton and Bush administrations. (A leading proponent of partial privatization under Bill Clinton was Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, soon to become Obama’s chief economic advisor.) But a combination of recession and demographics, fueled by disinformation, already seems to be reviving a debate that had been written off as the “third rail” of American politics.

 

While “privatization” may have become a dirty word, we might instead simply see cuts to Social Security and Medicare, leaving old people to fall back more and more on their own resources–which in the end, amounts to pretty much the same thing.


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Here Come the Entitlement Wars, Part 2: Turning Class Conflict Into Generational Conflict

Writing for the Guardian today, Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research comments on the emerging entitlement wars:

The classic definition of “chutzpah” is the kid who kills both of his parents and then begs for mercy because he is an orphan. The Wall Street crew are out to top this. After wrecking the economy with their convoluted finances, and tapping the US Treasury for trillions in bail-out bucks, they now want to cut Social Security and Medicare because we don’t have the money.

Besides being so galling, the attack on entitlements is based on disinformation: As Baker points out, “Social Security is solidly funded long into the future”–unlike the big banks and other private financial institutions. Medicare’s funding problems are due largely to “the explosion of private sector health care costs,” and could be vastly alleviated by a single-payer system.

But advancing the fear of old-age entitlements as a ticking time bomb, serves an important purpose: It diverts attention from the real purveyors of economic malaise: It’s not the banks, the investment industry, or the insurance companies who are bankrupting our country–it’s the greedy old geezers! It’s not the corporations and the rich people who are getting more than their share–it’s those greedly old geezers! And where are we going to get the money to pay for our stimulus package, our jobs and our infrastructure and our tax cuts? From those greedy old geezers, of course.

And suddenly, instead of a real debate over politics and policy, or corporate malfeasance, or social injustice, what we have is a showdown between the generations.

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No Country Club for Old Men

Last week my old friend Sam Smith, who made his entrance to geezerdom just a year after I did, celebrated his 71st birthday with a post on his excellent, iconoclastic website, The Progressive Review.

Sam, who has been blogging since before the word existed, is one of those stubborn old farts who refuses to subdue his radical spirit or retire to the golf course, despite what he calls a “culture which has done everything in its power to infantilize, institutionalize and ignore its elders.”

Called “No Retirement Age for Rebellion,” Sam’s birthday post is a homage to members of the so-called Silent Generation who, like Sam himself, have managed not to give in or give up—and might stand as a model for young people today.

The twenty olds of today are in a situation much like the twenty somethings of my era. We had been taught–whatever our ethnicity or gender–to believe explicitly in white male hegemony and in the rules of the Cold War. Within ten years of leaving high school that was no longer part of our truth. Today, the mythology of Reagan-Clinton-Bush economics and the America’s superpower status have been similarly shattered. Never again will a majority of Yale undergraduate tell pollsters they want to go into investment banking.

Our establishment was stupid, cruel, selfish and incapable of reform. Today’s is no ifferent–just the issues. Instead of segregation and nuclear bombs we have a collapsing economy, damaged ecology and destroyed democracy. If today’s young want some idea of how to cope, I suggest our example, not because it was any more than occasionally on target but because there are so few parallels. Our efforts ranged from a civil rights revolution to drinking coffee, talking about it all and doing nothing. But there are no right answers when you suddenly find yourself trapped in an interregnum between insanity and uncertainty. The first step, however, is to separate yourself from those who have been running the place and turn your loyalty not to the powerful but to the best truth you can find.

The interesting thing about the rebels of the Silent Generation, Sam writes, is “that it stuck with us. Unlike the later boomers, many of whom seemed to use the 1960s as a crash pad for their souls and then lost interest once the draft was eliminated, I am struck by the number of refugees of the silent generation who are still on the case.”

The post–in which Sam also manages to quote both Cicero and Charles Bukowski—is worth reading in full.

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