Click here to go to the Home Page Prepare for an Attempt on the Life of Social Security - Solidarity America - By John Funiciello - BC Columnist

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Banks, pundits, financial “experts,” and politicians who do their bidding are predictably warning us about the impending demise of Social Security in about 21 years and they have been hammering us with the same warning, year after year, every time the trustees of the system release their regular report.

In so many ways, it is their method of softening up the American people for cuts to the program, at some future time, of course. Right now, in the beginnings of a presidential campaign, everyone is treading lightly around the issue, and they do not say they want to cut Social Security benefits. Rather, they just want to make judicious cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.

Politicians feel secure about threatening cuts to Medicaid, because that’s a program that provides some health care to the poor, who would not have any access to health care without it (except for hospital emergency rooms, which George W. Bush proclaimed was our American equivalent of “universal health care”). Anyway, the poor don’t vote, so there is no penalty for cutting their benefits. As for Medicare, politicians feel safe about suggesting cuts in that program, because they depend on the propaganda that has been aimed at older Americans, that finding a good health insurance company (an oxymoron?) is far preferable to having a government program.

The same George Bush, when he occupied the White House, made an attempt to convince the Congress that having workers divert some of their Social Security deductions from their paychecks into their own “private retirement accounts” was a good idea. When the recent economic collapse came, people looked at their Social Security checks and breathed a sigh of relief that they did not have such private retirement accounts in the market. Millions saw their private accounts plummet, with some losing about half of their retirement savings. The brilliance of the Social Security system shone in the minds of most who made the comparison of the two visions, and Bush’s plan was put back into the box in which the right keeps its ideas, ready to be pulled out at some opportune moment.

Trustees of the system recently released their latest report and the same predictions have been all over the news, broadcast and print, warning us of the impending disaster. Especially vociferous are the right wing pundits on cable and the “business press,” who would love to get their hands on just a portion of the funds that provide benefits to 55 million Americans. Imagine the profits on just 10 percent of that amount.

One observer has departed from the usual doomsday threat. Michael Hiltzik, financial reporter for the Los Angeles Times, who, noting the 55 million who receive benefits and that Social Security keeps 20 million of them out of poverty, suggested that benefits be increased, not decreased.

He wrote at the end of April: “…. And it points to the best way to improve Social Security’s value for all Americans: by increasing benefits to better serve the neediest workers, and expanding its reach to cover workers and dependents who have been cheated by or excluded from the system for far too long. Yes, you heard me right. It’s time to shut down the talk of cutting benefits, which serves nobody, and pump up the volume on making them better. The idea has been around for years, but its supporters have been hunkered down against a conservative campaign to cut, cut, and cut. Its emerging from its foxhole now because the long recession and two stock market crashes have put the final bullets into the hopes of millions of Americans for a secure retirement…”

It makes eminent sense. Nearly 20 years ago, when there was a debate raging over an increase in the minimum wage in New York, right wingers hauled out the usual arguments against it: there would be a loss of jobs, there would not be as many job opportunities, small businesses would be harmed, the economy would suffer. And, all of this was in light of surveys and studies over many years that showed that all of this was nonsense. What a quick calculation did show at the time was that there were three major “industries” in New York, agriculture, health care, and tourism. A modest increase in the minimum wage at that time would have put as much money into the state’s economy as any of the three major industries.

Of course, by now, that has changed and the total amounts of economic activity of the three “industries” has greatly increased, but the principle is the same. Today, there is another debate on a modest increase in the minimum wage in New York and the same old arguments against it have been raised by most of the business community and the right wing. (We’re not forgetting New York’s “financial industry” and the vast amounts of money involved, it’s just that we’re concentrating here on industries that actually produce something.)

Simply put, a raise of about $1.50 in the minimum wage in New York would raise billions of dollars for the entire economy, and that’s what the proponents of increasing benefits to those on Social Security have in mind. Instead of constantly talking about reducing benefits for those who are going to be collecting benefits soon, they should be talking about raising the minimums, especially for those whose monthly checks hover around the $600 mark. And, for untold thousands, that is the only check they get to cash every month. It is those who are at the bottom end of Social Security benefits who need the raise. Many of them are desperate and they are the people who have little in the way of creature comforts. Monthly rent for a room might take half of their benefit.

Never believe the profound lie that Medicaid and Medicare provide a “safety net” for these people and that, if all else fails, they can go to the emergency room. Let George Junior Bush try getting treatment for cancer in the emergency room. Republicans have made themselves incapable of pronouncing the word “increase,” when it comes to social programs that help the downtrodden. Rather, they prefer to cut and cut, then cut some more, all the while desperately fighting for increases in military and defense spending, cuts in the tax rate for corporations, and reductions in the tax burden on the wealthy. There are too many Democrats who have swallowed the toxins of social cuts, as well.

The American world is, indeed, divided into two parts, the 1 percent and the 99 percent and, as always, the 1 percent is in charge. Just ask Mitt Romney, who believes, as he said during the GOP primary campaign, “Corporations are people, too, my friend.” In that simple declaration, he placed himself squarely in the corner of the rich and powerful and showed himself to be securely in the pocket of Corporate America. That’s the 1 percent, of which he is a proud member. He will tell you that those people are the “job creators.” Don’t believe that for a second, either.

As economist Richard Wolff said recently in a cogent analysis of the state of the U.S. economy, the people who claim to be job creators are not. In reality, all of us, together, are the job creators. When the people participate in the economy, the money circulates and that makes for business and industry that are alive and which create jobs.

When the wealth of a nation is given to the self-proclaimed job creators, it disappears and is no longer available to the national economy and that’s why economies sink, just like the American economy is sinking. The response of the Republicans and others on the right is to cut more and more of those things that benefit the greatest number of people, including wages. That’s what makes an economy run. That’s what makes an economy succeed and provide for the masses of the people.

Let’s not be fooled that Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare, as well as other social-benefit programs need to be cut as is being proposed by so many of the 1 percent. Rather, those programs, along with benefits (like food, clothing, and shelter) need to increase for the millions of children who are suffering in a country that says it cannot afford to take care of them.

There is no shame among Republicans and others on the right who can say with a straight face, “The U.S. can’t afford to feed, house, clothe, educate, and provide health care for the children and the poor.” But it won’t matter much who is shamed and who isn’t, or who has committed shameful acts, when what’s left of the economy is lying under their feet.

For the rest of us, fight any cuts to Social Security and the other social programs that still exist and demand that programs that benefit all be increased! The welfare of our people is too important to be left to the 1 percent and their politicians. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union organizer. His union work started when he became a local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Click here to contact Mr. Funiciello.

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May 3, 2012 - Issue 470
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