Saturday, November 05, 2011

The haves, the have-mores, and the have-a-fisking

I know it's been a while since I've posted anything here. The short version is that circumstances at work have caused me to work a lot harder than before, which has resulted in me having less free time than before. That doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon, so I'm going to have to do some work-arounds in order to continue writing here.

One of those work-arounds is that I've changed my schedule a little bit. Before, I was working 50 hours a week, 7 days a week. Some people don't like to work 7 days, but I loved it. For one thing, it prevented my ditzy assistant manager from goofing things up too badly. When I say my assistant is ditzy, I'm not exaggerating. If there is something that can be fouled up, she will find a way to foul it up. One day, I'm going to write a book on that subject.

But now, I'm going to throw in a weekly day of rest into my schedule. For now, my day of rest is on a Saturday so that I can catch some college football. I haven't watched any college football in about 20 years or so, and the game has changed a bit during that time.

I'm also going to try to write some more, although it looks like this will be my last fisking of Gene Lyons. (A fisking is a point-by-point refutation of another person's writings, with an emphasis on the refutation being humorous.) Gene has had a weekly column published in my state-wide newspaper for about ten years or so now, and I've done 0n-and-off fiskings of his columns for at least the past 7 years.

But now, Gene's columns are not being carried by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette anymore, due to their picking up of another Arkansas liberal columnist John Brummett. Brummett doesn't seem to be as insane or delusional as Gene obviously is, so I don't know if I'm going to have any fun fisking any of his columns.

Luckily, Gene is still being carried at, and that is where I got his latest column. As usual, Gene's blatherings are in Commie Red, while my snarky comments are in the coolest shade of blue. Let's jump in!

Now and then, George W. Bush told the unvarnished truth — most often in jest. Consider the GOP presidential nominee's October 20, 2000 speech at a high-society $800-a-plate fundraiser at New York's Waldorf-Astoria. Resplendent in a black tailcoat, waistcoat and white bow tie, Bush greeted the swells with evident satisfaction.

"This is an impressive crowd," he said. "The haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elites; I call you my base."

Any questions?

Oooh, ooh, pick me, pick me!

At the 2008 version of the dinner, then-Senator Barack Obama said, “Contrary to the rumors you have heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father Jor-El to save the planet Earth.” Using your logic, Gene, that means Obama is... Superman!

Funny, I don't recall Superman being such a miserable failure in the comic books, do you?

But seriously, Gene, don't you think it's a bit dishonest of you to not tell your audience that the fundraiser that Bush was at was for charity? That traditionally it is used by the candidates to poke fun at themselves?

Dishonest? Gene? Why, that's certainly unprecedented!!!!

Eight months later, President Bush delivered sweeping tax cuts to that patrician base. Given current hysteria over what a recent Washington Post article called "the runaway national debt," it requires an act of historical memory to recall that the Bush administration rationalized reducing taxes on inherited wealth because paying down the debt too soon might roil financial markets.

Eleven years later, the Post warns in a ballyhooed article reading like something out of Joseph Heller's "Catch-22," that Social Security — the 75 year old bedrock of millions of Americans' retirement hopes — has "passed a treacherous milestone," gone "cash negative," and "is sucking money out of the Treasury."

Anybody who discerns a relationship between these events, that is, between a decade of keeping the "have-mores" yachts and Lear jets running smoothly and a manufactured crisis supposedly threatening grandma's monthly Social Security check must be some kind of radical leftist.

That, or somebody skeptical of the decades-long propaganda war against America's most efficient, successful and popular social insurance program. It's an effort that's falsely persuaded millions of younger Americans that Social Security's in its last days and made crying wolf a test of "seriousness" among Beltway courtier-pundits like the Post's Lori Montgomery, who concocted an imaginary front page emergency out of a relatively meaningless actuarial event.

So, the thing to take away from this is that grandma doesn't have to worry about a "crisis" "threatening" grandma's Social Security check. Apparently, everything is hunky-dory out there in America.

All in service, alas, of a single unstated premise: the "have-mores" have made off with grandma's money fair and square. They have no intention of paying it back. That's the only possible interpretation of the Post's admonition that "the $2.6 trillion Social Security trust fund will provide little relief. The government has borrowed every cent and now must raise taxes, cut spending or borrow more heavily from outside investors to keep benefit checks flowing."

???? But, you just said, Gene, that grandma doesn't have to worry about a "crisis" "threatening" to take away her Social Security check? And now, you're saying that the have-mores have already taken it away??


Little relief? In fact, the law's working precisely as intended. After 28 years of generating huge payroll tax surpluses to cover the Baby Boomers' retirement benefits, the system must now begin to draw upon those funds to help pay current benefits—the vast majority still covered by current payroll tax receipts.

"Rather than posing any sort of crisis," explains Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, "this is exactly what had been planned when Congress last made major changes to the program in 1983 based on the recommendations of the Greenspan commission."

Again, this is the beneficiaries' money, invested by the Social Security trustees in U.S. Treasury bonds drawn upon "the full faith and credit of the United States."

1983? Why, I'm sure there was a President then. If only I could remember who it was that was President then.

Ray-burn, wasn't it? Eh, something like that, I'll look it up later. I'm sure it isn't important, anyway.

Far from being "meaningless IOUs" as right-wing cant has it, they represent the same legally-binding promise between the U.S. government and its people that it makes with Wall Street banks and the Chinese government, which also hold Treasury Bonds.

A promise not very different, The Daily Howler's Bob Somerby points out, from the one implicit in your bank statement or 401(k) (if you're lucky enough to have one). Did you think the money was buried in earthen jars filled with gold bullion and precious stones?

Raise taxes, cut spending or borrow? What other options does the U.S. government, or any government, have?

On his New York Times blog, Paul Krugman dissects the Catch-22 logic behind the Post's bogus crisis. You can't simultaneously argue "that the trust fund is meaningless, because SS is just part of the budget, then claim that some crisis arises when receipts fall short of payments, because SS is a standalone program." For practical purposes, it's got to be one or the other.

So is Social Security a "Ponzi scheme?" No, it's group insurance, not an investment.

Not a Ponzi scheme? Well, if Gene and a great economist like Paul Krugman (snicker) thinks so, then it must be true. After all, Krugman won a Pullet Surprise, I mean, a Pulitzer Prize or something like that.

I wonder who taught Krugman about economics? You don't think it was this guy, do you? Nah, he seems to know what he is talking about, and Krugman... doesn't. I don't think Krugman could dissect a Taco Bell burrito.

You die young, somebody else benefits. Its finances have been open public record since 1936. Do fewer workers support each beneficiary? Sure, but who cares? It's denominated in dollars, not a head count. The Boomers were nearing 40 when the Reagan administration fixed the actuarial tables. No surprises there.

"Denominated in dollars, not a head count."

Good heavens, I think he's actually serious with that.

Reagan? Reagan, reagan, reagan....?

OH, right! It was Reagan who was President in 1983! I knew it was something like that!

Hey wait! Did Gene just admit that Reagan, a Republican, fixed Social Security? By golly, he did!

Are longer life expectancies screwing up the numbers? Not really. Most of the rise is explained by lower infant and child mortality, not by old timers overstaying their welcome. Kevin Drum points out that gradually raising the payroll tax one percent and doubling the earnings cap over twenty years would make Social Security solvent forever.

But that's not good enough for the more hidebound members of the $800-a-plate set. See, over 75 years Social Security has provided a measure of dignity, security and freedom to working Americans that just annoys the hell out of their betters.

But don't worry, Superm- I mean, Obama will fix all of this.

This is an amazingly cogent column by Gene. Just as rife with errors as before, and a little more insane than before, but still much improved. It was probably an aberration, but time will tell.

Please bookmark!