Friday, December 31, 2010

Thanks in good part to the corporatist network of liars-for-hire, Social Security is now in the clutches of congressional Deficit Diddlers


In a truly indelible screen performance, Harry Secombe as Mr. Bumble tries to peddle cherubic young Oliver Twist (Mark Lester) in "One Boy for Sale," from Carol Reed's 1968 film version of the Lionel Bart musical Oliver! Thanks to the machinations of the Deficit Diddlers, the Evil Entitlement That Is Social Security is now formally an Oliver-like ward of Congress.

Obama's liberal base contends that the Social Security trust fund is not in immediate trouble. But this argument depends on an elaborate accounting trick. The trust fund is not filled with assets - gold bullion and Apple stock. It is filled with debt issued by the government to itself. The surpluses of the trust fund are in fact liabilities for the government as a whole. And these illusory surpluses are regularly used to subsidize the rest of the budget. The scheme begins to collapse in 2037, when promised benefits for Social Security recipients will suddenly drop by about 25 percent -- unless the system is reformed.
-- Michael Gerson, in a Washington Post column
this week,
"Face Social Security"

by Ken

Ever since I wrote last about the dreadful "compromise" tax package agreed on by the president and congressional Republicans (meaning primarily the Senate Republicans, without whom of course nothing can pass the Senate, despite the solid Democratic majority in the 111th Congress), I've been meaning to come back to it just to make clear what I think the Social Security "payroll-tax holiday" is really about.

Oh, a lot of people have pointed to this seemingly innocent, vaguely worker-friendly provision as the wedge the corporatist Right plans to use to begin -- finally! after all these decades! -- the dismantling of Social Security as we've known it. Naturally I think so too. Is there really any doubt about this? I just think the intent can be defined more specifically: that the idea is to manufacture a Social Security crisis.

Let's back up and consider this charming paragraph from the always affable-seeming, humble-seeming, and reasonable-seeming Michael Gerson -- our Mikey's shtick-in-trade being to present extravagantly insane ideology in the rhetoric of affability, humility, and reasonableness. As if wishing to keep us on our toes, Mikey sometimes actually is reasonable, up to a point, and unlike most hard-right ideologues he's even willing to browbeat segments of his ideological brotherhood.

The paragraph above is from the same column I set out to make fun of yesterday in connection with the dire problem the economy faces with respect to job creation: "So where are the jobs? (And are they ever coming back?" In that post I quoted this paragraph of our Mikey's:
The main achievements of the lame-duck session of Congress were reminders of what might have been. President Obama gave something to get something. To secure a second stimulus, he accepted Republican economic methods. To pass the New START treaty, Obama offered assurances to Republican senators on nuclear modernization and missile defense. Contrast this with health-care reform, imposed in party-line maneuvers that left an aftertaste of ideological radicalism.
I opined that the only thing remotely factual here is the perhaps inadvertent acknowledgment that the president "accepted Republican economic methods." I say "perhaps inadvertent," because in the year 2010 about the last subject you'd think a prudent right-wing liar-for-hire wants to open up for discussion is "Republican economic methods," now that the corporatist elites who own a controlling interest in the Right have dropped the fig leaf, leaving no doubt that those methods boil down to treating everyone except their own circle and the coterie of government and media whores, the liars-for-hire bought expressly for this purpose, as if the only reason for their existence is to have their labor exploited by their rightful masters.

It should come as no surprise that Mikey's column was headed for the proposition:
Only two proposals under discussion would reshape the American economic debate as well as the president's public image: reform of the tax code or reform of entitlements. Both are necessary, difficult and politically deceptive.
Of course if anyone knows about political deception, it's our Mikey. Let's go back to the paragraph I quoted at the top of this post and play along. It's telling us that:

(1) The government has been looting Social Security Trust Fund on a regular basis since, well, since before anyone remembers, making believe this was OK by giving it a whole pile of IOUs.
(2) Of course the government can't repay those IOUs, because where would the money come from? You couldn't raise it by, say, looting the SS Trust Fund, could you?
(3) So naturally it's about time -- no, well past time -- that Social Security, that lazy, fiscally irresponsible, "entitled," America-destroying wastrel, the Evil Entitlement That Is Social Security, man up and pay down the country's debts.

Debts to which it has contributed not one red cent, but never mind.

Oh, right-wingers love to kid about those gummint IOUs. They're real enough when it comes to looting the trust fund. It's not really looting, because it's all the same money, you know? Keep on walking, folks, nothing to see here! But when the subject is the fiscal health of Social Security, with reference to all those IOUs piled up in the SS lockbox, why, then SS's solvency is an "accounting gimmick." Tthe very idea of redeeming them is too ridiculous to consider. Just imagine how much that would add to the national debt. So now that we're "serious" about dealing with all that debt -- which you'll recall didn't matter when St. Ronnie of Reagan was piling up the debt -- it's time for the Evil Entitlement That Is Social Security to pay its fair share.

You might think that SS's "fair share" of that debt is zero. After all, it's the creditor of the debt it's involved with, not the debtor.

Alas, if you think that, it just shows that you're not serious about Dealing With the Deficit. The model for "serious" Deficit Diddlers is Catfood Commissioners-in-chief Erskine Bowles and "Crazy Alan" Simpson. My own view is that a significantly realer problem is the sociopathic lying of the Rampaging Right, but that just goes to show that I'm not serious. Why, it's possible that we're nothing more than members of President Obama's Liberal Base -- you know, the liberal base the president kicks delights in kicking in the groin every chance he gets, even while he's giving blowjobs to raving sociopaths on the Right.

If our Mikey tried to slip the above paragraph into a paper for a college political science, economics, or journalism class, he would have to hope for an extremely compassionate grader to aspire to a grade as high as F-minus. Count it a lucky thing that he isn't employed by a media enterprise with any serious pretense to honesty, because writing crap like this on a regular basis would in short order have him out on his right-wing ass.

Our Mikey's assault on Social Security is cunningly couched as "a modest proposal" (to borrow Swift's indelible phrase, in the deeply ironic sense he intended)," an exercise in extreme reasonableness as well as "realism." It's no big deal, he tells us, this modest proposal that the Deficit Diddlers of the president's Catfood Commission -- now those are serious people! -- have made, merely tinkering with tiny bits of Social Security. Never mind that was billing Mikey's column as a simple one-step prescription to solve all of America's problems. After all, he isn't responsible for website promotion. Is it his fault that his newspaper employs flunkies in the online department who write such inflamatory stuff based on . . . based on, well, reading the damned column?

Mikey even claims to have no special designs on Social Security. For this he has to resort to the drastic tactic of introducing some actual facts. In military parlance this would be referred to as "strategic retreat," I think, where you give up a patch of ground with the goal of taking substantially more. It might be nice, he suggests, to overhaul the tax system. However:
Most serious plans, including the options raised by the president's debt commission, would broaden the tax base, consolidate and lower rates, and eliminate most tax deductions and exemptions. But even a revenue-neutral tax overhaul would create a complicated system of winners and losers. Especially if the mortgage interest deduction, the charitable deduction and the child tax credit were modified or eliminated, the losers would know immediately who they are. The winners must be persuaded of abstract, future benefits.

Republicans would have an easy time criticizing a thinly disguised tax increase for millions of Americans. It would seem like another Obama overreach that fundamentally changes the economy in frightening ways - confirming an image that the president desperately needs to change.

And in Mikey's world of "realism," if there's something that's politically inconvenient, you ignore it, especially if it's something you didn't want to do in the first place, like honor those IOUs to Social Security. So, eliminating the option of overhauling the tax code (which I'm frankly glad to see Mikey eliminate, since goodness only knows what mayhem would be perpetrated in the process), that leaves "the other option, entitlement reform." This "seems more politically dangerous," he says, but "it is actually more promising." Especially if deep down you're a Deficit Diddler.
Medicare is the main policy challenge here, because rising health costs are the primary cause of unsustainable entitlement commitments. But Medicare reform -- the topic of intense, ideological debate -- is a political nonstarter. While Social Security is a relatively small contributor to future deficits, reforming it would be a large symbol and a logical place to begin.

Even to reach this shockingly meager conclusion -- "reforming" the Evil Entitlement That Is Social Security would be "a large symbol" and "a logical place to begin"! -- Mikey has to fib. Luckily, fibbing appears to cause him no special anguish. Social Security, he says, isn't "a relatively small contributor to future deficits." However, in point of fact it isn't any kind of contributor to future deficits. (Or at least it never was before now. We'll come back to this.) Being self-funding, it doesn't figure in future deficits at all.

Oh sure, the Deficit Diddlers love pointing to the dreaded year 2037, when Social Security revenue outgo is projected to overtake intake. First off, when was the last time the Deficit
Diddlers reformed the tax code in light of costs for, say, the defense budget projected ahead to 2037? Or, say, the billions squandered annually on our new fake-national-security industry, as described so rivetingly in the Washington Post's own special-investigation report on "Top Secret America" published way back in July? (Which reminds me that we still need to come back to that report.)

By law Social Security is required to make these projections. But as Paul Krugman and others have pointed out -- over and over and over -- the major adjustment for the demographic shift caused by the aging of the baby boomers (another favorite non- argument beloved of the right-wing liars-for-hire) was already made in the last reform of Social Security, and at this point there's no reason to believe that dealing with the specter of 2037 requires anything more than the normal course corrections that have always been anticipated.

For starters, we could get back to raising the income-level cutoff for contributions in line with increased income levels, which is supposed to be part of the system. Of course this isn't talked about by the Deficit Diddlers because it doesn't suit the interest of the economic elites who pay for their upkeep. As regressive as the payroll-tax system is (falling disproportionately on lower-income earners), it's still not regressive enough for our insatiably greedy plutocrats.

So in the end, what are we left with in our Mikey's case of Serious America vs. the Evil Entitlement That Is Social Security? Are you sitting down for this? The EETISS is (gasp) a "large symbol"! (Ohh, brutal!) What's more, mucking with it would be fun for people of the Deficit Diddling persuasion! (Sting like a bee!)

And that, as I see it, is the problem.

Here we have the Deficit Diddling stooges of the corporatist elite in solid agreement that Social Security as we know it must die. But how do you deal a death blow to what is generally conceded to be the most popular program ever undertaken by the U.S. government? Even Chimpy the Ex-Prez acknowledges this as a signal failure of his eight years of ideological insanity and real-world devastation. While the Bush regime was able to find enough suckers in Congress to go along with most everything else in its campaign of ideological rampaging, they couldn't ram Social Security privatization through, not even after they heeded the advice of their consultants -- and we mustn't ever forget how much effort and money (especially money) the Right spends on messaging research -- to stop using that scarifying word "privatize."

So what the Deficit Diddlers really need is a good old-fashioned crisis.

That's right, Social Security needs to be in crisis. As even our Mikey notes in his column, Medicare actually is in crisis, but this is yet another thing the Deficit Diddlers don't want to talk about. Oh yes, the Entitlement That Is Medicare is evil too, but Teabaggers freak out when you talk tough about Medicare, on which they overwhelmingly depend, and more important, the crisis of this particular Evil Entitlement, being (as Mikey himself notes) attributable to the skyrocketing cost of health care, is beyond the boundaries of "serious" discussion because (as Mikey pointedly does not note) to the corporatist elite, skyrocketing health care costs aren't a problem, they're their wet dream come true. I think they made forcefully clear in the so-called health care "debate" that control of health care profits, I mean costs, isn't open to discussion. Isn't this why the health care brawl never rose to the level of an actual debate?

It seems to me we still owe a holiday hat tip to another cherished cartoonist, David Fitzsimmons, for another year's worth of heroic work.

So what the Deficit Diddlers need -- kind of desperately, actually -- is a Social Security ferchrissakes crisis. Which has heretofore been tough to arrange, what with the damned system showing every sign of continuing to be able to pay for itself, even without recouping all that money that's been lost to what our Mikey dismisses as "accounting gimicks." Hmm, think now: Social Security crisis, pays for itself, Social Security crisis, pays for itself Social . . .

Wait! What if Social Security didn't pay for itself? God, this is brilliant! What if, like most every other program the government pays for, it had to come to Congress every year, hat in hand, and beg for enough money to keep it functioning? Had to beg for life support even with the promise of spending cuts the Deficit Diddlers like to impose on certain kinds of programs -- you know, the kinds that actually benefit working American families rather than megacorporate fat cats.

Are you grasping this? Just imagine it: The Evil Entitlement That Is Social Security as part of the whole grubby process of budgetary sausage-making! With Deficit Diddlers occupying the necessary strategic places in Congress - and for the next two years, at least, the House should be in reliably diddling hands -- we should be able to get that damned Evil Entitlement into crisis in, well, hardly any time at all!

And it's so easy to do! Why, we've already done it! That innocent-seeming payroll-tax "holiday" has already made Social Security dependent on congressional largesse. It was of course built into the tax-"compromise" "negotiations," judging by what we learned about them from their results, that the newly created Social Security Revenue Shortfall of 2011 would have to be "made up" somehow. How exactly doesn't matter as much as the critial reality that, thanks to this year's Social Security Revenue Shortfall Creation Act, Social Security is now a captive of the congressional budgetary sausage-making process. It's now effectively in the clutches of the Deficit Diddlers.

I know, the payroll-tax "holiday" is only supposed to last for a year. (And don't forget to enjoy the irony that this, along with the grudging extension of unemployment benefits for all those souls whose jobs had to be flushed down the crapper so the corporatist elite could cash in on the bonanza of the Second-Greatest Depression, is what our Mikey referred to as President Obama securing "a second stimulus" in the tax-package "compromise." Does the man really have no shame? Oh, I know. It's a rhetorical question.)

Maybe the payroll-tax "holiday" will be allowed to expire; maybe it won't. As many people have pointed out, our recent experience should have taught us a lesson about the political improbability of reinstituting previously suspended taxes, since they present themselves upon scheduled expiration in the form of tax increases. The point is, this too is now part of the budgetary sausage-making process! Will anyone be surprised if, in order to protect the lower payroll-tax rates against a "tax increase," it is found necessary to "compromise" -- by squeezing money out of some other piece of the budget. It's Deficit Diddlers' Delight. Can't you see them already slobbering as they sharpen their budget axes?

So the news is that, thanks to the Great Tax "Compromise" of 2010, the Evil Entitlement That Is Social Security is now formally a ward of Congress. It's a happy day for the corporatist elites and thier stooges the Deficit Diddlers, not to mention their network -- in government and media -- of liars-for-hire.

You can almost see our Mikey creaming in his pants as he concludes:
Social Security restructuring is not the obvious choice for Obama, but it is the smart one. It is achievable. It would invest Republican leaders in a constructive national enterprise. It would reassure global credit markets that America remains capable of governing itself. It would result in a more progressive, sustainable system. And it would make a dramatic, timely political statement: that the president is capable not only of expanding government but of reforming it.

For cripes' sake, Mikey, get a towel or a tissue or something and clean yourself up.

Labels: ,


At 5:30 PM, Anonymous robert dagg murphy said...

All this stuff is made up. As if there is a shortage of something. These things are imaginary - a bunch of electrons in a computer. We need to rearrange the electrons so that the result is different.

The economy has two primary functions. 1. It needs to produce the things we want and need. 2. It needs to put purchasing power into peoples hands so they can buy the things they want and need.

First we must decide what we need. Here is a partial list upon which I think we can agree. If I am leaving things out please add them. 1. we need clean air, water and earth. 2. we need places to live that are beautiful and energy efficient and maybe many should be portable. 3. we need education based on facts and not myths and superstition and which emphasizes science, art, music and the learning of how to be self sufficient. 4. we need energy efficient transportation and the freedom to use it. 5. we need healthy and wholesome food and the knowledge to produce as much locally as possible. 6. we must put utmost importance into raising our children. Father does not always know best but he too can learn. 7. Social security should start at birth (call it life time fellowships) as our goal is to eliminate humanities need to earn the right to live and much of his stress and anxiety. The universe has prepaid the bill and it is easily within our ability to achieve. 8. We must start telling the truth and only the truth as it is essential to our survival. The universe operates only on truth and we must begin telling it immediately if not sooner.

Most importantly humanity needs to work at achieving the above mentioned goals. Work is the only true religion. No more second hand gods. The task at hand is ours to perform.

My new years wish is to make the world work for everyone in the shortest amount of time possible through spontaneous cooperation without disadvantaging anyone.

To quote from Bucky Fuller's poem "Ethics"

Youth has discovered all this
and is countering with comprehensivity and synergy
Youth will win overwhelmingly
For truth
Is eternally regenerative
In youth
Youth's love
Embracingly integrates,
Successfully frustrates
and holds together,
Often unwittingly,
All that hate, fear, and selfishness
Attempt to disintegrate."

Happy New Year to all.

At 9:17 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Hey, that all sounds good to me, Robert!

And a Happy New Year to you too!



Post a Comment

<< Home