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Social Security: The Anti-Populist Empire Strikes Back

The Gilmer Free Press

The long knives have been coming out over Social Security lately. The latest wave of attacks was triggered by an amendment from Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) which would have expanded Social Security benefits, and which won the support of most Democrats in the Senate. That signaled a potential shift in the political tide – toward Social Security in particular and economic populism in general.

It also meant that it was time to suit up conservatism’s frayed old straw men and send them into dubious battle once again.

The attackers this time around include a “libertarian” finance writer, an editor for the National Review, and – inevitably – the editorial board of the Washington Post. But the battle against economic populism isn’t just being waged by the right. There are factions within the Democratic Party that want to re-empower its “centrist” wing, and they’ve been pushing back on the party’s new populism – which the movement to expand Social Security both reflects and reinforces – this week as well.

(These issues will be discussed next week at the Populism 2015 conference, cosponsored by the Campaign for America’s Future.)

 

War on Warren … and the Elderly

The first volley came from Megan McArdle, a conservative economics writer who once blogged as “Jane Galt” (as in “John Galt,” the hero of Ayn Rand’s government-hating, poor-despising, fraud-celebrating, and occasionally sadomasochistic novel “Atlas Shrugged.”) There were several reasons why McArdle was likely to attack the Warren amendment. One is her longstanding hostility to Warren herself. That hostility is evidenced in blog posts like this one, in which McArdle characterizes Warren’s academic work as “actively, aggressively wrong” and “terrible advocacy masquerading of (sic) social science.” Journalists who cover Warren’s work, McArdle wrote, were “wearing duncecaps.”

Unfortunately, McArdle’s weak grasp of the facts and carelessness with methodology seriously undercut her Warren critiques. (Mike Konczal points out some of McArdle’s early mistakes H E R E, while I addressed some of her other errors H E R E.)

In addition, McArdle has long demonstrated a truly Randian antipathy toward retired people. Case in point: When columnist Allison Schrager wrote that “I don’t know if it’s ever going to be realistic that everyone saves enough to spend the last third of their life on vacation” about retirees, McArdle gushed that Schrager’s comment was “my favorite line in my newest column …”

The “vacation” comment, addressed toward the aged and infirm from young and healthy commentators, was insensitive to the point of brutality. So, perhaps predictably, McArdle doubled down on it. McArdle writes: “It was nice that a combination of rising life expectancy and broader pension coverage allowed a large segment of American workers to take what amounted to a multi-decade vacation” – (see what she did there?) – “… but this was never going to be sustainable.”

That statement isn’t just fiscally incorrect. It also smears retired Americans with work-battered bodies – a cohort which includes 75-year old retired warehouse workers, 80-year-old former coal miners, and 90-year-old ex-waitresses – as lazy and undeserving “vacationers.”

Ayn Rand would be proud.

 

The right gets it wrong about the left getting it wrong about … well, you know.

This combination of traits – a hostility toward older Americans and working people, conjoined with an inability or unwillingness to grasp the basic financial mechanisms of social insurance – is characteristic of Social Security’s diehard opponents. So it must have galled them to see Social Security expansion become the expressed goal of most Senate Democrats with the Warren amendment vote.

McArdle beat the rest of her cohort out of the gate, responding with a piece in Bloomberg View entitled “The Left Gets It Wrong About Social Security.” While McArdle doesn’t mention Warren by name, her amendment is the cause of her ire, and her editors illustrate the piece with a color photograph of the Massachusetts senator gesticulating from a podium.

McArdle’s piece is a rehash of repeatedly discredited tropes and talking points, beginning with its first (slightly Yoda-ish) sentence: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that Americans are underprepared for retirement.”

There’s an implicit rebuke in that word, “unprepared” – as if saving for retirement, like washing the dog, is a chore Americans are just too lazy or too forgetful to perform. If you get fleas – well, it’s your own fault then, isn’t it?

In reality, most Americans are incapable of saving for retirement. Their wages have been decimated by the diversion of wealth toward the powerful few, their pensions have been gutted by corporate cutbacks, and surveys show that they’re struggling from month to month just to make ends meet.

And that zinger’s just the opener. Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times deserves bonus pay for wading through the rest of McArdle’s methodological muck for his rebuttal – including the implication that Social Security benefits are “generous” (they lag behind those of other developed countries); the conflation of Social Security with “the welfare state”; and the attempts to discredit the government’s legal obligation to repay the trust funds.

Hiltzik writes that “it’s rare to find so much sophistry, misunderstanding and misinformation about Social Security packed into one article,” and he’s right. McArdle’s work should be placed in a time capsule for eventual study by archaeologists of the future, who will no doubt marvel at our capacity for political and economic self-delusion.

 

A Thin Veneer

But McArdle is not alone. National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru wrote on the same subject this week, also in Bloomberg View. (Does ex-mayor Michael Bloomberg share the elites’ desire to cut Social Security, along with their misconceptions about its fiscal status? Why, yes he does.)

Ponnuru’s piece is called – well, funny thing about that. It looks like it once had a much harsher headline. It’s currently entitled “Elizabeth Warren is Wrong About Social Security.” But it can also be found on the Internet as “Democrats Offer Delusional Social Security Plan.” And the url for the piece reads “elizabeth-warren-is-delusional-about-social-security.” (Here’s a screen grab, in case it’s changed later.)

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The apparent morphing of its title seems intended to provide a veneer of objectivity to Ponnuru’s slanted piece. Ponnuru, who once wrote a book characterizing Democrats as the “Party of Death,” undoubtedly needs to trim his rhetorical sails once in a while. But it doesn’t take long until the cracks in the veneer become visible.

“Neither political party has a plan to pay for the promises we’ve already made to people contributing to the system,” Ponnuru begins. But that’s not true. Both Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who put forth a similar proposal, have proposed payment mechanisms.

From that misleading opener, we’re taken on a wild ride that includes misperceptions about the financing of social insurance, the mischaracterization of Social Security as an anti-poverty program, and the citation of a methodologically flawed study from the American Enterprise Institute that incorrectly ascribes all sorts of economic evils – including “reducing work, saving, and even birth rates” – to Social Security.

Ponnuru writes about “reduc(ing) reduce Social Security’s unfunded liability – assuming, of course, that anyone still cares about that.” The left does, with a set of proposed funding mechanisms that includes a financial transaction tax, a small increase in the overall payroll tax (which for most voters would only amount to a dollar or so per week), and higher taxes on the wealthy. Since these ideas are taboo on the right – though popular with everyone else – Ponnuru may have concluded that it’s better to pretend that this part of the populist agenda simply doesn’t exist.

But then, the anti-Social Security crowd has been playing by the same rules for decades: Ignore the needs and wishes of the majority, mislead the public about the fiscal facts and your opponents’ arguments, and stigmatize the elderly (a cohort which most of us will eventually join) as a morally flawed “special interest.”

 

Post Traumatic

Which gets us to The Washington Post. That newspaper’s editorial column has long been a mainstay of the political “center” – if the “center” is defined as the consensus view of corporate-funded Republicans and corporate-funded Democrats. That “center” – as opposed to the one occupied by the midrange of voter opinion – has wanted to cut Social Security for some time. Expansion is anathema.

The Post’s editorial board has always hewn dutifully to the anti-Social Security script: stigmatize older people, marginalize those who would support them, and repeat the economic misconceptions promulgated by the funders of the “anti-entitlement” movement.

True to form, a new Post editorial is headlined “How progressives are pandering to the elderly.” That’s a phrase worth unpacking. In certain circles the “elderly” are considered some sort of narrow special interest group, rather than – well, most of us, sooner or later. And reflecting the majority’s will on an issue – which is presumably part of a politician’s job in a democracy – becomes “pandering” when it defies the wishes of elites and insiders.

How does the Post argue its case? If you’ve been following the script, you already know: By wrongly characterizing Social Security as an anti-poverty program. By describing a benefit increase for cash-strapped seniors as even “more lavish” than their current income. (It’s currently $1,328 per month; pretty lavish, eh?) And by gently libeling the trust funds as “a bit of a fiction.”

Just in case their ultimate target isn’t clear to readers, the editors illustrate their editorial with the image of a beaming Elizabeth Warren.

 

What About The Democrats?

Social Security expansion, and economic populism, aren’t just bones of contention for the right. They’re also key elements in the battle for the Democratic Party’s future. The leading (if as yet undeclared) candidate for the presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton, has yet to say whether she still supports the idea of a bipartisan commission to recommend Social Security cuts. Some on the left are encouraging her to join Warren, Manchin, Sanders and others in supporting Social Security expansion and other populist ideas.

The party’s “centrist” wing isn’t taking that lying down. Politico summarizes the counter-arguments to a populist presidential campaign theme in an article about the Chicago mayoral election entitled “Rahm shows Hillary how to tame the left.” Edward-Isaac Dovere quotes Clinton and Obama insiders like Ben LaBolt, who says that “a roadshow of national progressive groups … tried to use (Chicago’s mayoral race) to send a message about the issues and messages they cared about, but in some ways, they misjudged the race …”

Concludes Dovere: “To many Democrats, there are two possible lessons: First, that the professional left talks a much better game than it delivers … and second, that focusing voters on the progressive elements of a candidate’s record, as Emanuel did during his runoff, can blunt a challenge from an ineffective opponent.”

In other words: Who needs proposals like Social Security expansion – ideas which are popular (and populist) as well as pragmatic – when it’s easier to just talk up a couple progressive (or progressive-seeming) items already in your resume? Besides, the left can’t deliver anyway.

Unfortunately, that’s a serious misreading of the Chicago election. (My very different take is H E R E.) And it misses the point to say, as Paul Begala does, that “Democrats are in array” (meaning united) for 2016. That may be true, but the real concern should be elsewhere, with unmotivated independents, persuadable Republicans (they exist), and disaffected elements within the party’s base. All three groups feel very strongly about Social Security, according to the polls, and there is evidence that it’s a vote-shifting “valence issue” for a large chunk of the electorate.

The world is not what it was 20 or 30 years ago. As the economy changes, bringing more inequality and uncertainty, the political world is changing, too. Candidates would be well advised to pay more attention to voter opinion, economic realities, and the shifting political tide – and less attention to the empty racket emanating from the reflexively anti-Social Security and anti-populist peanut gallery.

~~  Richard Eskow ~~

Taxes and the End of the Nuclear Age

The Gilmer Free Press

Following the arrival of spring each year, our nation renews its commitment to our priorities on Tax Day, April 15th, from education to health care, infrastructure and national defense. Included among these expenditures are nuclear weapons programs—weapons that can not and must not ever be used.

The funding for these programs, while more transparent than in the past, is still quite secretive. From the beginnings of our nuclear programs in 1940 we have spent as a nation in excess of $6 trillion dollars on them. This Tax Day we will spend ~$56.3 billion more on these same programs. From Los Angeles County’s expenditure of $1.785 billion to our nations capitol at $107 million, these are monies that we can ill afford to spend.

The squandering of these dollars—while continuing to inadequately fund national programs on infrastructure, education, health care and the environment—speaks to who we are as a nation. No one would argue against spending the entirety of these monies to secure, dismantle and clean up the existing environmental legacy of these weapons. Thereafter these monies could be more appropriately reallocated to programs that benefit all.

This year’s expenditures come at a critical time—just when international efforts to control the spread of nuclear weapons through the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and the remarkable and long sought controls over Iran’s capability to acquire a nuclear weapon, we propose these massive expenditures on more weaponry of mass destruction. Is this the best we can do to lead by example?
This month’s preliminary accord between the P5+1 and Iran to remove Iran’s capability to build a nuclear weapon significantly enhances the security of the region and the world and needs the support of anyone who wishes to reduce the likelihood of nuclear war. Yet this too is being held in abeyance by political hardliners in Iran and the U.S. Congress.

Seventy years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we continue to maintain and modernize our nuclear arsenals as though locked in a Cold War time warp that has long passed. Our President, held hostage by Congressional leadership, proposes to spend an additional $1 Trillion over the next 30 years just on the “modernization” of our arsenals.

This in spite of being bound by international treaty along with the other nuclear states to work in good faith toward complete disarmament by Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The NPT Review Conference will begin this month in New York at the U.N.

This year’s conference comes at a critical time as the non-nuclear states have grown impatient with the lack of progress of the nuclear states in meeting their legal obligations. Failure to make real progress threatens the entire treaty and will likely shift the focus to a nuclear weapons ban convention similar to conventions on other weapons of mass destruction like chemical and biological weapons.

The world must come together this 70th year of the Nuclear Age and speak with one voicefor humanity and the future of our children. Now is time to end the insanity that hangs over us, the threat of nuclear annihilation. We must move forward with a shared sense of tomorrow. Our children deserve this.

Pat’s Chat - 04.14.15

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Brushy Fork Christian School, specializing in Early Childhood Education, Grades K-2, is now accepting registration for fall enrollment.  Open House will be held on April 16, 19 and 21 from 9-11 AM and 6-8 PM at the school, 1122 Brushy Fork Road, Buckhannon, WV 26201.  For more details call 304.472.0962.


Also the Seventh-day Adventist is having an Inside Yard Sale on May 04, 05, and 06 and would welcome donations of clean, useable items for the sale.  Proceeds will benefit the Brushy Fork Christian School.


“An Amazing Fact:  In August 1814, after British troops broke through American lines, they began burning W. S. government buildings all across Washington, D.C., and it appeared the young nation would collapse.  Then, suddenly, massive thunderclouds gathered and the first-ever recorded tornado in the city’s history rampaged through the capital.  The violent twister decimated the British army and, at the same time, a torrential downpour of rain extinguished the fires they had just set – changing the course of the war and saving the fledgling nation.”  (I copied this from an Amazing Facts newsletter.)  I know many of you have experienced this same kind of divine power at some time in your life or you probably wouldn’t be reading this Pat’s Chat!  You can learn many other interesting facts and interesting stories by tuning in to Amazing Facts on the Discovery Channel on Sundays at 7:30 AM.


Maybe you are one who has read the book about 6-year-old Alex Malarkey, “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven” and were thrilled by his description of heaven, heavenly music, the devil and Jesus.  In an open letter Alex has since said, “I did not die.  I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention.”  The book has been taken out of print by its publisher, and bookstores have stopped carrying it.  The Bible says nothing about going to heaven and returning to earth.  Paul spoke of seeing heaven in vision (2 Cor. 12:2-4) and Daniel and John as prophets wrote of visions of heaven, too, in Dan. 7:9, 10 and Rev. 4.  Alex is now 16 years old and his advice in his open letter is that people “should read the Bible, which is enough.  The Bible is the only source of truth.  Anything written by man cannot be infallible.” Don’t toy with thoughts of contacting psychics or mediums.  Although a director of a media ministry says of Alex that it is not true that Alex recanted, The Washington Post said “there was proof everywhere that he did not stand behind the content of this book.  But it was a bestselling book.  Nobody in the industry wanted to kill it.”


Jesus Himself definitely called death a sleep when talking about Lazarus.  When He called him from the grave, He didn’t say, “Come down” – He said, “Lazarus, come forth.”  He had told the disciples that Lazarus was asleep, but a little later He finally had to say plainly, “Lazarus is dead.”  Read John 11.  Read for yourself Eccl. 9:5 or go online to www.deathtruth.com.  It is dangerous to believe otherwise.  Spiritualism is from the archenemy of God and is dangerous, and if you have thoughts of contacting mediums or psychics, you will be getting into very close contact with the devil himself who can appear as an angel of light or your relative or anyone he wants to pretend he is, and he knows all our secrets and so can convince the gullible that they are seeing someone they have loved in the past.  If people go directly to heaven when they die, Jesus is no longer needed for a resurrection at His 2nd coming.  I think we all ought to listen to Alex’s advice and study the Bible for ourselves.


Someone said that Alex’s book would still have sold if they said it was just the imagination of a six-year-old boy.  It still would probably have sold millions.  Look at the Left Behind series.  It SAYS it is fiction but some churches have made it into doctrine! Make sure that what you are hearing or watching or reading matches what the Bible says and you won’t go wrong.  (Some of my information came from a News Commentary entitled “Heavenly Hoax: How a 6-Year-Old Boy Fooled the World” by John Bradshaw, speaker and director of It Is Written in the April 2015 Adventist World – NAD, page 6 and 7.


Maranatha!

1040 For Peace

The Gilmer Free Press

In the fiscal calendar this is Tax Time. In my church calendar it is the season of Easter, the holiest time of the year for all Christians. For my Jewish brothers and sisters it is Passover season. By my garden’s reckoning it is Spring.

There is a certain irony that resurrection time parallels Tax Day for I have just meditated on gospel passages reminding me of Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple followed by his arrest, judgment and execution by the state. It is with this background that each year I am expected to file my federal taxes to share the costs of government expected of all citizens. I do file each year but each time I find myself asking, as I am sure you do also: What does my tax dollar buy?

Unfortunately I have found ever since I began working that the U.S. tax dollar is disproportionately paying for war: past, present and future. This year that amounts to 40 percent. During the Vietnam War, I was issued a Draft card and notified to report for military duty. It was my obligation to fight. I reported to the Armed Forces Entrance and Examination Station at 39 Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan but when issued an order to “take one step forward and join the finest fighting force the world has ever seen, the United States Army,” I refused.

My mother thought I was crazy. She told me I had ruined my life, dishonored our family, and deserved to be prosecuted and put in jail. Five years and $10,000.00 was the penalty for induction refusal.

I had wanted to join the military and fight in ‘Nam when I graduated from high school but a college scholarship and family pressure sent me off to college. I encountered a History professor who had served in the German Army during World War II. The question he asked each of us was: “What would you have done, if you had been ordered to serve in Hitler’s army during that period?”

On my Induction day in 1970 I answered that question by refusing to step forward and fight in what my conscience told me was an unjust war. As fate would have it, I am once again confronted with that challenge each April 15th when I am asked to pay my taxes with the largest percentage going to current and past and future wars. As a conscientious objector to war, I believe that paying for war is participation in war. That is something that my religious beliefs forbid.

And so this year as I have done for four decades I will file my taxes. I will pay for roads, health care, social programs, government operations, education, etc. But I will also refuse a portion of my tax debt. I will withhold $10.40 of my taxes owed as a symbol of my refusal to participate in war with either my body or my money. I will join with 1040 for Peace members who choose to support peaceful alternatives to war by donating that money to groups that work for peace and justice.

~~  Jack Payden-Travers, Lynchburg, VA -  Director of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund in Washington, D.C.  ~~

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