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The Great Betrayal

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Dear Mr. President, Speaker Boehner, Senators, and Members of Congress:

I am retired, and I want to be sure I understand what is going on: According to news reports, you are all negotiating among yourselves to reduce the national budget deficit before you raise the so-called debt ceiling of the United States (in order to pay America’s bills), and I heard that you have decided to put Social Security and Medicare “on the table” in order to reach a deal with each other. I guess this means that Uncle Sam is considering cutting what they refer to as my “benefits,” and the President has said that, if you all do not get an agreement before August, he cannot guarantee that my next Social Security check will be sent to me.

I am dependent on my small monthly Social Security check to survive, because I lost almost all my other savings in the recent stock market crash—- I thought I was being prudent and responsible, when I invested what I could scrape together in Wall Street, but I was wrong, they squandered my money. I knew, though, I had a backup plan with Social Security because I paid into Social Security for over 40 years when I was working, with the understanding that these payments were like premiums, and that I had a contract with my government for an annuity in my old age. Social Security is my annuity contract, and you people cannot now just change the contract I paid for after all these years.

It is not my fault you people in Washington have been irresponsible, and thrown away my premiums just the way Wall Street did. The same goes for my Medicare. Social Security and Medicare cannot be “on the table.” Uncle Sam owes me what I have been paying for, a contract is a contract, and my government cannot cheat me in my old age. This is a matter of life and death for people like me. Please help.

Sincerely,

Alpha Granny

I am afraid that Alpha Granny is touchingly naive. Yes, she did everything according to the rules: worked hard, paid her taxes, even understood that Social Security was never intended to be more than a cushion because she saved whatever extra she could afford and invested it, ahem, privately, in The Market, just as she was advised to do—- but in the end, she was a chump, because she thought “her” government owed her what it promised her. Based on, you know, the full faith and credit of the United States of America.

We now know that the system does not like little, un-ruthless, un-greedy, un-rich dummies who trust the word of perfidious Uncle Sam. What is not so understandable is exactly how we arrived at this sorry state of affairs. The Republican explanation is straightforward, black-and-white, and is that of the libertarians and free market adherents: Democratically-elected government over-promised by acceding to the demands of those less productive voters who figured they could get a free lunch forever by milking money from the really productive members of society, until finally they milked that cow dry, and the “welfare state” is naturally collapsing from the weight of their greed. In other words, taxes to support a comforting and nurturing community are nothing more than a way for the lazy and unproductive to steal from the righteous and productive in society…. so now, good riddance to the whole idea of social contract and nanny government, it is way past time to cut out that twentieth century nonsense. In other words, all power to those who are already super-rich, they’ve earned it.

It is hard to overstate the glee with which Republicans and free marketeers from the global corporations go about dismantling every protection sheltering the little people, siphoning away whatever crumbs of wealth the dupes may have tucked away, reducing them to such penury they can only strive to survive and are rendered incapable of fighting back.  The entire process has been described in excruciating detail by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine. The tactics for bringing about America’s version of the shock have been efficiently laid out by programs and policies created by The American Legislative Exchange Council (A.L.E.C.) and other corporate-funded front organizations and think tanks.  You can see these policies in action now in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin and other states which voted in Republican governors and legislatures in 2010.

Implementing these tactics in the first place depends on the existence of a severe economic crisis, which can be engineered and pro-longed if it does not occur naturally (as actually happened during the ’80’s and ’90’s in third world countries seeking loans from the World Bank, according to Klein).  This is exactly what we Americans have been experiencing since the 2008 Wall Street implosion of the “too big to fails.” Once this revolutionary opportunity has been seized by capable hands, one deliberate shock will be made to follow another. Needless to say, any real improvement in the economy will be short-circuited or crushed until the old social system collapses, and the New Order can be imposed at will on the lingering political chaos.  The new order?  Whatever you want to call it, it will solidify and reward the new elite who run the big corporations, and their flunkies and hangers-on. I myself call it corporate feudalism, a system in which nation states will become pretty much mere tools of global Big Money.

The main prize here is of course securing control of the United States. We are in the middle of that battle, although most people have no idea what is really going on—- the victims do not even recognize they are in such a war. One would like to think that the Democratic Party, because of its political history with FDR and the Great Depression, would recognize what is hapenning, sound the alarm, and be fighting vigorously for the people against the powerful corporations. Unfortunately, you would be wrong, at least when it comes to many national Democrats, not just in Congress but in the White House.

President Obama has been moving steadily to the right since his election, and it no longer possible to rationalize his retreat from the progressive change many thought he promised. Some worry that elements from the DLC, triangulating away, have determined that Obama’s re-election depends on his “moving right,” a decision reached while the President made his tour of Asia after the 2010 election. That is a story for another article; what we have to acknowledge here and now is that at this moment in time the contrived battle over the debt ceiling is being waged completely within the Republican, free marketeer framework, and it is nothing more than an exercise to see which party can move further to the right. So soon as the President offers a rightist proposal (like cutting Social Security) the more the Republicans demand (“put Obamacare on the table”). Every time Obama moves to the right, the corporate flunkies in Republican suits back off, complaining he is not willing to meet them in the middle, and is not serious. Having suggested cutting Social Security voluntarily, you can be sure the topic will never go away. He is suckered into a trap, and will be ambushed again and again. One cannot help but ask: Surely, he knows what is going on? But, what if he does, and it is all kabuki theatre?

Alpha Granny says that “a contract is a contract,” and what she instinctively is asking for is what the intellectuals call “the rule of law.”  That means the sanctity and enforceability of a contract, which is the very foundation of today’s corporate business.  Poor old dear, rule of law really works only for those with clout. The middle class and the weak and un-rich have very little clout… and are about to be deprived of whatever clout they may once have had. Nothing so infuriates a free marketeering Republican as hearing some bleeding heart whine about protecting “the most vulnerable” among us; such sentiments deserve a sneer at best, if not a full-blown character assassination. The wise politician, alert to self-protection, is busily aligning himself with the predators, not the victims.  According to his calculation, the momentum is on the side of the Koch brothers’ tribe. Just ask Eric Cantor, as he throws yet another monkey wrench into the works, with his characteristic sneer.  

  • Jim B

    Just saw on cnbc that Obama walked out of the meeting when Cantor interrupted him.

    But, aside from the comment on SS I worked part time a few years ago as a rural mail carrier. There were several people on my route that had SS as their only income. They would be upset if the checks didn’t come on time. For our part if a SS check came in we made sure it was delivered.

    If this debt ceiling is not raised there will be some upset people and rightly so.

  • FreeDem

    Social Security is not a promise. Never has been. Social Security is an anti-poverty program largely targeted at seniors. It’s no more of a promise than welfare was for poor single mothers. Social Security isn’t a contract. It’s not an annuity.

    The only thing on the table as far as Social Security is concerned is a change to how the government calculates inflation. It would be part of a wider effort to better calculate inflation for a range of government policies. If that’s going to be enough to drive someone into poverty, well then let’s take a look at shoring up benefits for those in the greatest need. But let’s not act like it’s violating some sacred promise.

  • Teddy Goodson

    if you remember, but Congress monkeyed with the slush fund at once.  

    Taxes: The contributions (what Alpha Granny thinks of as her premiums) went into the accounting folder for future SS payments, but it was, as FreeDem noted, not locked away—- and so it was treated like any other income into the Treasury, spent on other things by Congress, and little IOUs replaced the cash in the accountant’s records (so Granny is right, her ‘premiums’ evaporated just as her retirement account on Wall Street evaporated—- which has to make the Republican agrument for privatizing social security look stupid to even the most die-hard Republican). Not all taxes are necessarily fungible—- some are, uh, ‘earmarked’ and put away into lockboxes for very specific purposes (but manipulative governors can still find a way to ‘borrow’ from the box).

    Contract: FreeDem is correct, Alpha Granny never had a written contract with Uncle Sam for what she thinks of as her annuity. However, as a Realtor I am only too aware that a contract can be created without paperwork between a professional licensee and a member of the public by perception; moreover, you can sell your house on a verbal agreement, no signatures required—- and judges have consistently found against the professional and in favor of the average member of the public when the member of the public assumed/perceived they had a contract (for representation in real estate matters). When Granny saw the deductions on her paystub for Social Security, and saw retirees relying on receipt of regular payments from Social Security, it’s only reasonable for her to perceive she had a contract to get her own regular payments from the fund into which she made payments. In other words, she indeed has a contract. We take care of each other. American society does not have disposable people.

    Cost Living ‘adjustment’: We all agree the BLS stats, especially for COL are, well, somewhat odd, but let’s be careful here: Alpha Granny’s cost of living may be different from that of the average, younger working stiff—- more on health care, less on entertainment, maybe? Stats are too easily manipulated (“figures don’t lie, but liars figure”)—- Granny’s afraid that COL-tweaking is the thin edge of the wedge. Once Social Security is on the table the tweaking will aboslutely not stop with COL.

    Simple fix would include raising the cap on the amount of salary subject to the SS tax (ahem, premium), which would rake in the sheckels to meet demand. Richard Nixon, of all people, once talked about instituting an ‘incomes policy’ which would have ensured every American of a bare minimum income, at the time he did not mean just the elderly. Social Security is an incomes policy; Norway is using the take from their North Sea oil wells to set up such a policy, especially for retirees… so it’s not unheard of among civilized societies.

    Health care cost is the killer and that’s a War and Peace-sized story but the simplest thing would be single-payer universal minimum care (including preventive) and private medigap insurance, if we could re-educate people away from the no-tax Grover Norquist pledge, and realize that you get what you pay for, and the best things in life are not free.

    Just give poor old Alpha Granny her due.  

  • glennbear

    Although my situation is different that Granny’s I can empathize. Four years ago I sold my house in the northeast, retired and moved to VA since I could no longer afford the costs of living in the north. My original plan was to supplement my state government pension with interest income from savings but we all know what has happened to interest rates thanks to the Wall Street gambling cartel.

       The loss of interest income and the need to spend my savings capital made me go to plan B which was to apply for social security at 62 instead of later. Now the GOP hero Chris Christie (NJ governor) is trying to fiddle with my NJ State Pension and the national GOP is trying to decrease my Social Security benefits. I worked and contributed to both of these systems for 45 years which means I am not asking for a “handout”

      To the same individuals who Granny addresses I ask, please tell me what my “plan C” should be since you want to make my “plan B” unworkable ?

      There are simple changes that can be made to SS that would ensure it’s continued health such as removing the income cap on contributions but since this would affect individuals at higher income levels the GOP will torpedo any such changes.