Tag Archives: Dave Lindorff

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.

 

Time for Some Faux Financial Reform

The pitched battle over health care reform, won with considerable ease as predicted here long ago by the insurance, drug, and associated medical industries, can be viewed as just a warmup act for the fight over  financial reform. As the main event draws near,  eager reportorial eyes are supposed to turn to the awesome spectacle of Ben Bernanke’s Fed policing itself in the interest of protecting consumers. No. This is not a play by Dario Fo.

The base issue here is how corporate America can screw more money out of the middle and lower middle classes. They weren’t about to change health care and they sure as hell are not going to give up their authority over the nation’s wealth.

So what’s this all about? Very simply put, it is about reducing middle class America’s income by cutting entitlements. And that starts with Social Security.

Dave Lindorff on Counterpunch very neatly captures the moment:

The corporate press is weighing in with  dire warnings that this year, six years ahead of what had been predicted only a few years ago, the Social Security system would be paying out more in benefits than it takes in from the payroll tax. The reason for this earlier-than-anticipated event is the Great Recession, the paper explained. 

Well yeah. If you were 62, or 65, and you had lost your job, with no likelihood of it’s coming back, wouldn’t you, once your unemployment checks ran out, opt to start your retirement earlier than planned, so you’d at least have some money coming in each month?  Oh, and with 10 percent of the work force currently unemployed (actually close to 21 percent if you count the people who have given up looking for a nonexistent job, and those who have taken some low-paid part-time work out of desperation), there is a lot less money being paid into the Social Security Trust Fund. So with beneficiaries rising faster than anticipated, and the total national payroll in sharp decline, of course things have gone negative for Social Security earlier than originally anticipated.

So what to do about it?

Hank Paulson and Pete Peterson are both calling for benefit cutbacks, an older retirement age and other attacks on the system. Paulson of course is the the guy who as Treasury Secretary under President George W. Bush, helped engineer the real estate bubble that brought the economy to its knees, and who then engineered the sweet deal that helped his former company, Goldman Sachs, come out of the crisis as the nation’s biggest bank, fattened by tens of billions of taxpayer bailout dollars. Pete Peterson, the former ad exec turned self-described economic guru has been a perpetual doomsayer about Social Security, calling for its privatization.

But really, what’s the crisis?

A wave of Baby Boomers is about to start retiring next year (actually for those born first, in 1946, who decided to retire early at age 62, Baby Boomer retirement began in 2008), but that’s a demographic wave that will eventually pass. In the meantime, financing the benefits for Baby Boomer retirees simply means that current workers–the Baby Boomers’ children and grandchildren–will have to pay more in payroll taxes. Or–and this is what has people like Paulson and Peterson scared–Baby Boomers and their allies among younger workers, may decide to use their unprecedented electoral clout to take those extra tax payments not out of younger workers, but out of their employers. There is, after all, no legal, theoretical or even mystical reason why the Social Security payroll tax should be split 50/50, with half being paid by the worker, and half by the employer. It could easily be a 40/60 split, with the employer paying 50 per cent more than the worker, or even a 30/70 split. That is a political question. Likewise, there is no reason on earth why the payroll tax should be set at the same percentage rate for all income levels, as it is now, instead of progressively calculated, so that high-income workers would pay a higher percentage of income into the fund than low-income workers. And finally, there is no reason why the income subject to the payroll tax (the FICA tax on your W-2 statement) should be capped (currently at $106,800), or why investment income should be exempt.

The so-called Social Security funding “crisis,” which has Republicans and many Democrats warning of the system’s looming “insolvency” as though Social Security were just another AIG, could be solved simply by just eliminating the income cap, and taxing investment income.

Oh, but the conservatives wail, if we raise the payroll tax, America will become uncompetitive, and our economy will collapse.

How then to explain Germany, where social security as a percentage of GDP is much greater than in the US (40 per cent of Germany’s adult population receive some form of government income, whether in the form of retirement payments, unemployment compensation or disability payments–far higher than in the US)? Despite its high social welfare budget, and its high wages, Germany is the second-largest exporter in the world  after China, and despite Germany’s being a huge importer of goods and services, second only to the US, overall, Germany is a net exporter.

Clearly, the problem with America’s economy is not high social security costs, and the “crisis” facing Social Security is not that it is going to “go bankrupt.” It is simply that the corporate interests in America, and the wealthy, don’t want to have to pay for the system. They want the lion’s share of the funding to be paid by ordinary workers and the poor.

Ten Questions on Health Care to Ask at a Town Meeting

This from a buzzflash.com guest blog by Dave Lindorff, based on an idea from one of his readers. Should you go to one of the town hall meetings on health care reform, here are 10 good questions to ask. The questions about Medicare, which I’ve highlighted in boldface, are especially good ones for older people to ask. This is especially important because the media seems to be full of tales of loony geezers claiming the government is going to mess up their Medicare–if it doesn’t euthanize them first.

1. If Canada’s single-payer system is so god-awful, why have repeated Conservative governments at the provincial and national level in Canada never touched it? Canada is a democracy. If Canadians don’t like their health care system, why haven’t they gotten rid of it in 35 years? Since the system there is run by the separate provinces, many of which are very politically conservative, why has not one province ever tried to get rid of single-payer?
2. Why is rationing by income, as we do it here, better than rationing by need, as they do it in Canada?
3. Wouldn’t single-payer mean that companies could no longer threaten working people with the loss of their health insurance? Why is this a bad idea?
4. The bigger the insurance pool, the better. So doesn’t having a national pool, as with single-payer, make the most sense?
5. Why should we be allowing politicians who are taking money from the medical industry to write the new health care legislation?
6. How can the Congress be developing a health system reform scheme and not even invite experts from Canada down to explain their successful system?
7. If Medicare–a single-payer system here in America–is so popular with the elderly, how come it’s no good for the rest of us?
8. Isn’t it true that Medicare currently finances the most costly patient group–the elderly and infirm–so that extending it to the rest of the population–most of whom are young and healthy–would be much cheaper, per person?
9. The AMA, the Pharmaceutical Industry, and the Insurance Industry all bitterly opposed Medicare in 1964-5 when it was being debated in Congress and passed into law, with the right, led by Ronald Reagan, calling it creeping socialism. It became a life-saver for the elderly and didn’t turn the US into a soviet republic. Why should we give a tinker’s damn what those same three industry groups and the Republican right think of expanding single-payer now?
10. The executives of Canadian subsidiaries of US companies all support Canada’s single-payer system, and even lobby collectively to have it expanded and better funded. Why does Congress listen to the executives of the parent companies here at home, and not invite those Canadian execs down to explain why they like single-payer?

Health Care: Stop Sucking Your Thumbs

Let’s cut the crap. The real question about the health care reform “debate,” as Dave Lindorff writes on Buzzflash, is “why is the left in the US so goddamned polite and domesticated that these Right Wing cranks look positively rowdy.”

Back in the late 1950s and the 1960s, the Civil Rights movement wasn’t polite and domesticated. It brought activists to events in the Deep South all the way from New York and Boston. Its members rallied in the thousands to shut down segregated public and even private institutions. Its activists occupied buildings on university campuses, boldly confronting police and police dogs and armed men in white robes.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, anti-war protesters in turn shut down recruiting and induction centers, destroyed draft board records, tried to close down Washington, DC, got arrested in the hundreds, incited soldiers to desert and then helped hide them from the law, exposed the 1968 Democratic Convention as a farce, and faced down armed police and soldiers repeatedly, at one point in 1970 closing down the nation’s campuses in a national student strike when soldiers shot and killed four unarmed students at Kent State University.

Years earlier, when workers were being abused, they occupied factories, forcibly shutting them down with sit-down strikes, battled Pinkerton detectives and armed National Guard forces, and set up tent cities in Washington to make themselves heard.

And they won great victories.

But now, as health care reform dies a slow and painful death, it seems like half of progressives are wringing their hands while the other half are sitting on them.