Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Time to Slay the "Thieving Geezer" Meme!

How it got started, who can say? Sometimes memes (ideas or beliefs that catch hold in the popular Zeitgeist) just have a way of infecting millions of brains because they sound so plausible on the surface. Anyway, the last time I reacted to this one was about a year ago, following an AARP Bulletin piece by Tom Brokaw- who suggested that seniors make greater sacrifices in their "entitlements" (like opting to forgo Social Security) for the benefit of the "Kids".

I called the AARP out for publishing this rot, and argued that it is a non-starter since most seniors I know can't afford to make any such "sacrifices". In addition, they're not receiving "entitlements" but rather a return on monies they already paid into Social Security via FICA or payroll taxes for many decades. Sure, the actual SS payments are generally significantly larger than what they paid in - but thank Richard Milhous Nixon for one decent thing he did - which was to introduce larger payments via the yearly cost of living adjustment(COLA). If not for that move, 90% of seniors would be below the poverty line, living off dumpster-retrieved cat food or tossed out kibbles.

In my own parents' case, they'd both have been living on the streets at the whim of strangers' charity - or having to live with one or other offspring, in conditions in which they may not fare well. In my case, I'd likely have been the most plausible one to do that, but they'd have suffered mightily from the perennial dry air and high altitude (over 6600') where I live.

Far better for them to have received a decent SS benefit, and lived on their own in dignity.

What the elder "sacrifice" mongers like Brokaw forget is that if those "entitlements" weren't there to provide that support, 8 out of 10 elderly would have to move in with those adult "kids".

But somehow, the image of rich, greedy old farts persists ....despite the fact that the AARP's own statistics show that only the uppermost quintile of seniors receive more than $50,000 a year in their retirement. The unlucky ones who don't hit that threshold are eaten alive by medical costs, and let's bear in mind Medicare only pays a fraction of those.

The latest contribution to this codswallop comes from David Brooks - the resident neo-liberal ensconced at The New York Times. Brooks does pay some lip service to how oldsters volunteer their time and energies to assist young 'uns (e.g. in tutoring, being a substitute parent etc.) but then in the next breath he writes:

"Far from serving the young the old are now taking from them. First they are taking money. According to Julia Isaacs of the Brooking Institution, the federal government now spends $7 on the elderly for each $1 it spends on children.

Second they are taking freedom. In 2009, for the first time in American history, every single penny of federal tax revenue went to pay for mandatory spending programs....As more money goes off to pay for promises mostly made to the old, the young have less control"

There is so much wrong with just these first two points that it boggles the mind. Consider the first paragraph. Not processed or mentioned is: 1) how many "boomerang" kids come back to live with their parents after they graduate college. Many of them return and stay for years, some decades. Brooks ought to be thankful the "geezers" have enough to cover their own expenses and these boomerang kids- who often just take and hardly give back at all.

There is also no mention that corporate welfare sucks up an equal $7 per adult, but that is off Brooks' radar. This welfare appears in dozens of forms that rarely see the light of day in the corporate mainstream press or electronic media - because these corporations are also beneficiaries of it! In many cases, the corporate welfare emerges as subsidies or tax breaks.

For example, right now as I write this, PhRma companies are permitted to leave all foreign, out of country profits off the table in terms of tax scrutiny. Other corporations, via defective laws passed in the 1990s are allowed to just hang shingles in some little dump in the Caymans or elsewhere, and escape tax liability at home. There was some talk during Obama's 2008 campaign of addressing this, but so far I haven't seen a thing and it continues. Then there is the 51 cents per gallon federal subsidy for the Big Ethanol producers. This is egregious at so many levels it is difficult to list them. One is that it destroys the whole "free market" and equal competition myth underlying it. (Of course, the Oil companies also still benefit big time from the Oil Depletion Tax allowance). Another is the fact that ethanol is less efficient than petrol, and one must use 1.1 gals. of the latter to obtain 1.0 gal. of the first. The waste in energy to produce ethanol (not to mention the volume of food wasted by using corn to produce it) is in the billions.

My point? Before you go off on the "geezers" take care of those corporate parasites first! Including all those defense contractors that have reaped enormous plum deals since the Reagan era.....based on $75 hammers, $300 toilet seats and so forth. No wonder our country first became world debtor during Reagan's tenure. Oh, and who can forget the choice contracts dealt out to Halliburton, Bechtel Inc. and others over the Iraq war - which itself was an ILLEGAL invasion according to the UN Article VI pertaining to the Nuremberg Laws, and which may end up costing us over $3 trillion - when all the war wounds, medical costs, PTSD effects etc. are factored in.

But oh no, it's easier to single out those geezers, who Brooks also has the absolute nerve to assert are "taking freedom". No, the U.S. and its embedded corporatocracy itself are taking "freedom" by turning the country into a permanent corporate-military war state - one which now spends 15 times more than the next ten nations combined, including the Chinese, Russians, India, etc.

To fix ideas here, it helps to go back to Eisenhower's great speech from April 16, 1953. These are the words then that ring most true now, and that the propagandists like Brooks and his cronies ought to consider :

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies- in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."

You processing that, Brooks? Is it seeping through that neo-liberal noggin? a nano-byte, maybe? THIS is where the real focus ought to be, on the incessant undeclared wars emerging from a contrived capitalist, corporate war-security state that feeds off them - making the military-industrial complex even more of a threat than it was when Ike warned us about it in his January, 1961 farewell speech. An M-I-C, according to former defense analyst Chuck Spinney, that can't even account for the $1.2 TRILLION it received in the late 1990s!

And now you want to take food out of poor seniors'mouths??? Just so we are clear on this, let me also provide a quote from the article: 'Stealing From Poor, Making Rich Richer':

"Social Security isn't broke, but millions of retirees who depend on it are, and many more would be broke without it. The average retired worker's Social Security benefit is just $922 a month--about $11,000 a year. Disabled workers average just $862.

One out of three seniors depends on Social Security for 90 to 100 percent of their income. Two out of three seniors depend on it for more than half their income. Even with Social Security, many seniors must choose between eating and heating, paying the mortgage or paying for medicine."

The preceding article appeared about two years before former Fed Chairman Allan Greenspan's term expired. It had to do with Greenspan's (then) recommendation to congress that cuts in Social Security be used to finance the ongoing Bush tax cuts. In other words, help the rich continue to be able to buy their yachts and Lexuses off the backs of poor seniors. Brooks merely takes this sludge to a new level, but he saves his best disinformation in the number three objection:

"Third, they (the old) are taking opportunity. For decades federal spending has hovered around 20% of GDP. By 2019, it is forecast to be at 25% of GDP. The higher tax rates implied by that will mean less growth and fewer opportunities"

Of course, Brooks has it ass-backwards. Research has shown higher taxes actually lead to higher growth, and lower debt as proportion of GDP. What has placed us into our untenable predicament has actually been: 1) the monstrous Bush tax cuts ($2.2 trillion in all - though they are set to expire in 2011, at least for those earning over $250 k a year. In truth, ALL ought to expire!) , and 2) launching wars with NO taxes to pay for them - something unheard of.

In their excellent book, The Indebted Society, James Medoff and Andrew Harless note(p. 23), going back to the start of the "supply side" bunkum in Reagan's first term:

"For the health of the economy, Reagan's policies turned out to be just about the worst thing that could have happened: investment did not increase, growth continued to stagnate, and the federal deficit ballooned to new dimensions .

In 1981, the year Reagan took office, the public debt was 26.5 % of the gross domestic product (GDP)....In 1993, the year that Bush left office, the public debt was a staggering 51.9 percent of the GDP."

The authors trace this nasty outcome almost entirely to: 1) the Reagan tax cuts, coupled with 2) $2.1 TRILLION in defense spending during his 8 years (fortunately, his 'Star Wars' boondoggle never got off the ground - as that would likely have added another $100 billion).

They also show that the supply side nonsense invented by Arthur Laffer doesn't work as claimed. Instead, they discovered (p. 87) that : "high tax rates are associated with higher productivity growth" There is a consistent and strong relationship.

"Trickle down" - the presumptive basis of supply side- therefore doesn't work, because as Medoff and Harless note, in a tax cut environment, the wealthy don't create jobs- they plow more and more money into speculative ventures to enhance their own personal portfolios, such as hedge funds, commodities futures, ETFs, or exotic betting in the credit markets.

What actually happens, then, is that the tax burden is shifted to the backs of the working and middle classes who can least afford it. (Especially now, as the AMT or 'Alternative Minimum Tax' claims more and more middle class folks). This assures increasingly higher taxes for those (lower, middle income) groups, while the wealthy see their tax benefits enhanced.

It is time people cease to feed at the propaganda troughs of those like Brooks and many others, who blame the elderly for stealing from the future generations. No! It is the capitalist- war profiteer national security state that is doing that - check Ike's April 16, 1953 message warning of the "Garrison state". And process it!

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