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One More Glance Behind The Curtain

February 22, 2011

“The spectacle of millionaires debating how to eliminate services to the poor and middle class is by now such a commonplace that it hardly deserves comment.” –Roger Hodge

The only thing more repulsive and infuriating is listening to those same  millionaires pat themselves–and each other– on the back for their “courage” in doing so.

[continued from yesterday’s post]

Social Security  is a self-funded insurance program (not an entitlement) that has never and can never contribute one nickel to the deficit. Until this past year, it took in more than it paid out, so every year  the surplus was loaned out to the government. In 2010 for the first time, it paid out more than it took in. But if the government, over time,  pays SSA back  what is owed, as promised, the program is solvent at least until 2037. Keeping it solvent beyond that will require small adjustments between now and then, not a major overall or any cuts in benefits. The withholding rate could gradually be raised by one-quarter or one-half of one percent, for example, and the limit on taxable income could be raised above the current level (the first $106,800 of wages & salary)  until it once again covered 90% of wage earners and then the program would be solvent through the end of the 21st century and beyond.  The only possible crisis  is if the conservatives renege on the contract and refuse to repay SSA for the money borrowed over the decades and instead choose to default in order to create an artificial crisis.  See Robert Reich, “Enough with the  budget baloney” in www.salon.com dated Feb. 15. Reich is a former trustee of the Social Security Trust Fund. Note:  in a recent poll only 12% of Americans favored restricting or  reducing Social Security benefits. Any politician claiming a popular mandate to do so is either delusional or lying. Raise the retirement age because people are living longer? Actually only the wealthy and near-wealthy, the one who don’t need Social Security,  are living longer than they were 30 years ago. Middle-class, working-class, and poor people, who need it the most, are not living any longer.

Paul Krugman points out that, in contrast to Social Security,  the ever-growing costs of Medicare and Medicaid are a serious budgetary problem–because the unregulated, privately set  costs of for-profit health care keep soaring out of control. The only sane way to control Medicare and Medicaid costs is to control health care costs. As long as for-profit health care charges jump 20-60% a year there is no hope of controlling health coverage costs. If you are serious about controlling government spending on these two programs, you have to be find a way to control ever-growing  health care prices, or you are not serious about controlling spending. More than any one factor, it is skyrocketing health care costs that are forcing government spending  up and up. Krugman believes most Americans understand this and that’s why only 12% in a recent poll are in favor of cutting Medicare or Medicaid benefits. There is absolutely no popular mandate for reducing benefits at all. There never has been.

The GOP-Conservative-Tea Party-Libertarians who dominate the House of Representatives passed a bill cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood  because they are pro-life  and PP is  pro-choice.  However,  no  federal funds have gone to abortion-related services in decades thanks to the Hyde Amendment started in the 1970s. In reality they are cutting off public funding for breast exams  (which PP provided for 800,000 women  last year), cervical cancer screenings (I mislaid that number), STD testing ( for 4,000,000 women and men)  and contraception to 2,500,000 people.  “This is what ‘Pro-Life” means?” asks Salon’s Rebecca Traister in the title of her post Sunday (www.salon.com).  If you are opposed to abortion and sincerely pro-life wouldn’t you want to promote contraception since it’s unwanted, unplanned pregnancies that motivate abortion? If you are  pro-life wouldn’t you favor prevention, screening, and treatment of  cancer and of STDs? Wouldn’t you want to promote women’s reproductive health in every way?

However,  federal subsidies for NASCAR through the Department of Defense, will  be continued. We’ve got money for that. First things first, you know.

The pre-school program Head Start is also on the chopping block, as are after-school programs. One Maryland county justified cutting off funding by saying lower-income women should be at home with their children, not out working.  Wow, that’s perceptive and compassionate. 

On Wisconsin: It’s power not money that’s the issue. The teachers’ unions and other public employee unions have been offering to accept cuts in pay and benefits all along, they just want to discuss the details.  Governor Walker is saying no, my goal is to break your right to talk to me, to bargain with me, to negotiate with me. I give orders, I hand down dictates, and  you follow them without discussion, debate, dialogue, or bargaining. Only I have a say.  It’s very transparent that his goal is to deny the unions and the workers they represent any rights regarding the conditions of their employment.  And the  Wisconsin state “financial crisis” is wholly artificial. He’s rammed through one tax cut after another for the rich, thus creating the state deficit while  bemoaning  it.  Tax revenues from corporations within the state  have declined by half because of tax cuts.   He follows the GOP pattern by arbitrarily creating the deficit by tax breaks for the wealthy and then claims that self-created deficit came out of nowhere and has tied his hands, leaving him no options but to make it up at the expense of the working class. It’s frustrating how many people still don’t see through this mess. But maybe enough do that we’ll soon  have our own version of the recent events in Cairo.

The Tea Party showed its true colors again in Wisconsin  by openly asserting  rich individuals and corporations should pay no taxes and have no societal obligations at all.  As the late Leona Helmsley once said, “Little people pay taxes, dear–and we’re not little people.”  In the eyes of Tea Party leaders, working people are subordinate flunkies who should sit down, shut up, and do what their betters tell them. So much for the corporate financed “grass-roots” Tea Party folks.  They are openly siding with the giant  corporations that ruined our economy against the working people,  towards whom they offer only contempt.

It should be obvious that slashing social services of various kinds will do nothing to balance the budget and do nothing to improve the lives of tens of millions of suffering Americans. The pretext is always a lie.  The real agenda is to eliminate all government actions that benefit anyone besides the very wealthy and the big corporations. Their goal is to privatize the public sphere,  leave people totally dependent on  the whims of  private, for-profit corporations, and thereby to redistribute income and resources upwards to the elite.  If you don’t believe that, then look at what’s happened in the last 30 years in terms of privatization; deregulation, subsidies, and tax breaks for giant corporations; and the resulting  redistribution of income upwards.  It’s been going on for decades. Only   now the rapacity and cynicism of the conservative agenda  is naked and unapologetic.  They believe no one can stop them now–and they may be right, if the American people remain so docile, fatalistic,  and passive.

Underneath is a revived form of Social Darwinism: survival of the fittest. According to this, America is supposed to be cockpit or a dog-fighting arena , not a cooperative society bound together by a social contract. There is only a brute fight for survival against everyone else. There are only two important  groups: winners and losers. Winners win because they deserve to win. Losers lose because they deserve to lose.  Winners take all.  Our reality TV shows dramatize this,  with their carefully staged, melodramatic spectacles that always climax with the much-awaited payoff:  announcing the winners and losers.   This mindset is truly anti-social. It is a malignant cancer destroying American society.

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