Social Security: Beyond Red and Blue

(1 pm. – promoted by DDadmin)

George Carlin said it bluntly a few years ago, and it was dismissed as comedy by more than a few who saw that it wasn’t – who saw that he he was using the comedic stage as a platform to deliver a serious warning, to pass on the truth as he saw it clearly:

They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land, they own and control the corporations, they’ve long since bought and paid for the senate, the congress, the state houses, the city halls, they got the judges in their back pockets, and they own all the big media companies so they control just about all the news and information you get to hear.

They got you by the balls. They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying. Lobbying to get what they want. Well we know what they want. They want more for themselves and less for everybody else.

But I’ll tell you what they don’t want. They don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That’s against their interests. They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they’re getting f*cked by a system that threw them overboard 30 f*ckin’ years ago. They don’t want that.

You know what they want? They want obedient workers – obedient workers – people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paper work, and just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime, and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it.

And now they’re coming for your social security money.

They want your f*ckin’ retirement money. They want it back. So they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street.

Carlin was a unique talent – he had a stage presence that was fun to listen to and he had a way with phrasing and delivery that made the depressing message he had to pass on a little easier to swallow than dry facts would have.

But the dry and cold hard facts of the situation Carlin so eloquently described, unpleasant as they may be, are as much if not more important to know if anything is to be done, if the American people are ever to rise up, exert the power they have, and take back control of their country and their own destiny.

In the past week or so we’ve learned of a few attempts by various people to address from various angles some specific aspects of the overall problem Carlin ranted about.

We’ve heard veteran war correspondent and journalist Chris Hedges note as recently as two days after Christmas 2010 that “We are beginning to understand, as Karl Marx knew, that unfettered and unregulated capitalism is a brutal and revolutionary force that exploits human beings and the natural world until exhaustion or collapse” and that over that past decade or so “Our manufacturing base has been dismantled” while “Speculators and swindlers have looted the U.S. Treasury and stolen billions from small shareholders who had set aside money for retirement or college.”

Chris does his best to warn that “Civil liberties, including habeas corpus and protection from warrantless wiretapping, have been taken away. Basic services, including public education and health care, have been handed over to the corporations to exploit for profit” but clearly points out what is obvious to many but to not nearly enough that “The few who raise voices of dissent, who refuse to engage in the corporate happy talk, are derided by the corporate establishment as freaks.”

The other day we heard Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri and author of “Super-Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire” Michael Hudson talk with The Real News Networks’ Paul Jay about the 800+ empire of military bases the U.S. has established around the globe, about how all of the money that the military spends abroad is spent on foreign economies and is then “siphon[ed] up into the central banks. And the central banks would have nothing to do with these dollars but to keep their currency stable by recycling the dollars into US Treasury bills.” and about how “If it weren’t for the military deficit, America would have had to finance its own domestic budget deficit. It’s been foreigners that are financing the budget deficit.”

Hudson concluded with the observation that “Now that foreigners are essentially saying, we don’t want any more dollars, we’re not going to fund your deficit, all of a sudden they think: who’s going to fund the deficit if not foreign central banks? The answer is: American labor, the American middle class and working families are going to fund it, not the military.”

It appears the rest of the world has had enough of financing it’s own encirclement and subjugation by the U.S. military, and that from here on in it is you who is going to be paying that bill, along with a few other bills.

It also appears that Carlin’s “owners” seem to think that you will continue happily to be their personal ATM machine even if you have to go hungry – groceries being the luxury they are for many these days, while Jeannette Wicks-Lim at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) has concluded from her recent economic research that America has arrived at a point where most minimum wage earners can no longer afford the basic necessities of life in America, and while she tries valiantly to propose combining minimum wage and earned income tax credit policies to guarantee a decent living wage for all, few inside the beltway bubble, or anywhere else for that matter, listen if they even hear her.

William K. Black is professor of economics and law with the University of Missouri. Nearly two years ago, in an interview  with Bill Moyers in April 2009, Black did his best to get the message and warning out that the U.S. banking collapse was driven by massive fraud, that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was covering up systemic U.S. bank insolvency – that American banks and credit agencies had conspired to create a system in which so-called “liars loans” could receive AAA ratings and zero oversight, amounting to a massive fraud at the epicenter of US finance.

[Black] equated the entire US financial system to a giant “ponzi scheme” and charged Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, like Secretary Henry Paulson before him, of “covering up” the truth.

“Are you saying that Timothy Geithner, the Secretary of the Treasury, and others in the administration, with the banks, are engaged in a cover up to keep us from knowing what went wrong?” asked Moyers.

“Absolutely, because they are scared to death,” he said. “All right? They’re scared to death of a collapse. They’re afraid that if they admit the truth, that many of the large banks are insolvent. They think Americans are a bunch of cowards, and that we’ll run screaming to the exits.

Black teaches White-Collar Crime, Public Finance, Antitrust, Law & Economics. A former financial regulator, he held several senior regulatory positions during the Savings & Loan debacle, and is author of “The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One (2005)” in which he focuses on the role of “control fraud” in financial crises. Black developed the concept of control fraud as frauds in which a corporate CEO or a head of state uses uses the entity he or she controls as a “weapon” to commit fraud. Control frauds cause greater financial losses than all other forms of property crime combined.

Black talks in this video interview released this morning with Paul Jay of The Real News Network, calls the current Republicans’ deficit ceiling bluff a direct attack on Social Security, and “an insane thing to do”, but goes on in his analysis to say that “it’s precisely the threat that the Republicans use, time after time, and they use it not because they’re insane but because it works, because it causes Obama and some other Democrats to suddenly give them things that they want“. In so many words, if the Democrats cave once again to Republican blackmail, it will be another example of the failure of Obama’s seemingly all or nothing drive for “bipartisanship” with forces decimating the U.S. economy, and it will be once again you who pays for the failure, on top of all the other bills being shoveled onto you by Carlin’s “owners” of America.

Real News Network – January 4, 2011

William K. Black: Forces pushing for cuts in social security

are preparing the conditions for its demise.

TRNN Video Transcript:

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. In the coming weeks in Washington, Congress is going to have to vote on whether to raise the debt ceiling or not. That’s the maximum amount the federal government is allowed to borrow. Right now that number’s $14.3 trillion, but the government already has borrowed over $13 trillion. So it’s not going to be very long before it hits that ceiling. So what happens if Congress refuses? Well, a meltdown of the global financial system, Treasury bills–no new Treasury bills offered, and not able to service Treasury bills that have already been offered. So on Sunday, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, threatened on Meet the Press not to vote for raising the cap. Here’s what he had to say.


DAVID GREGORY, PRESENTER, NBC’S MEET THE PRESS: If you talk about the budget, you talk about spending. How will you vote on the debt ceiling? Will you vote to raise it, which is a vote that’ll come up in relatively short order?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Right. Well, to not raise the debt ceiling could be a default of the United States on bond and Treasury obligations. That would be very bad for the position of the United States and the world at large. But this is an opportunity to make sure that government is changing its spending ways. I will not vote for the debt ceiling increase until I see a plan in place that will deal with our long-term debt obligations, starting with Social Security: a real bipartisan effort to make sure that Social Security stays solvent, adjusting the age, looking at means tests for benefits. On the spending side, I’m not going to vote for a debt ceiling increase unless we go back to 2008 spending levels, cutting discretionary spending.


JAY: Well, over on ABC, Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the US Council of Economic Advisers, said if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling, the impact on the economy would be catastrophic. Here’s what he had to say.


AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, CHAIR, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: I don’t see why anybody’s talking about playing chicken with the debt ceiling. If we get to the point where you’ve damaged the full faith and credit of the United States, that would be the first default in history caused purely by insanity.


JAY: Now joining us from Kansas City, an expert on insanity in Washington, William K. Black. Bill Black’s associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri – Kansas City. He teaches about white collar crime, public finance, antitrust law. And he’s the author of the book The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One. Thanks for joining us, Bill.


JAY: So what do you make of the latest insanity?

BLACK: Well, it’s right out of the movie Blazing Saddles. And, of course, the famous case is the sheriff is surrounded by the angry townspeople about to lynch him, so he takes out his pistol, points it at his head, and says, don’t move or I’ll shoot–

[Blazing Saddles film clip plays]

BLACK: –which, of course, is spectacularly funny, because that’d be an insane thing to do. But it’s precisely the threat that the Republicans use, time after time, and they use it not because they’re insane but because it works, because it causes Obama and some other Democrats to suddenly give them things that they want.

JAY: So do you agree with this assessment? If the lending cap is not raised, it would be catastrophic for the global financial system. Is that a true statement?

BLACK: There would be a default on the United States debt. Interest rates on US debt would skyrocket. The Dow Jones would probably fall 1,000 points, and most every stock market in the world would fall. And everyone would know that it was Lindsey Graham and the Republican Party’s fault for causing the crisis. You may recall when the Republicans killed TARP the first time around that something similar happened and they immediately caved. This would be vastly worse than what happened on the first TARP vote.

JAY: So then it’s kind of a silly bluff, because there’s no way that the Republicans, as far as we can understand it, would ever allow such a thing to happen, you–one would think an easy bluff for the Democrats to call.

BLACK: Well, but it’s not silly if you’re playing with people that don’t understand how to deal with bullies, and it doesn’t appear that the Democrats have figured–or at least key Democrats in the White House, have figured out that this is a standard ploy in game theory. And it was of course pulled on President Clinton. Remember, after the Democrats lost control of the House and legislature, the Republicans shut down the federal government, and expecting that Clinton would cave rather than have that happen. Well, instead, Clinton told the American people the Republicans were irresponsible and endangering the nation, and the Republicans lasted exactly one day. And once you call their bluff–then, of course, when they threatened it again, Clinton just smiled, and the Republicans went away and had to play nice.

JAY: Well, let’s talk about the substance of the issue. Graham’s saying that long-term debt’s going to be out of control or is out of control, and the first way to take it on is reform of Social Security. So they want to raise the eligibility age–the talk now is up to 69–and they want to do various other kinds of means testing, for example. So what do you make of the necessity to deal with Social Security if you want to deal with long-term debt?

BLACK: None of the things that are the predicate for this make any sense. First, we aren’t in a deficit crisis currently. We’re in the Great Recession. And in the Great Recession, you need to run deficits to get out of the hole much faster, get people working. And right now, in fact, the deficit is too small, and Lindsey Graham agrees, because Lindsey Graham was part of the majority, substantial majority, that just voted to decrease taxes, to increase the deficit, to try to deal with the recession. And that we are not in trouble historically. In other words, the deficit as a percentage of GDP and wealth is far lower in the United States now than it has been at other times in our history. The key is to reestablish growth, and running a short-term deficit during a great recession is one of the ways you do reestablish that growth. Beyond that, cutting Social Security does nothing to help with the, quote-unquote, “solvency”, which is itself a non sequitur in the case of the US deficit. And there in fact isn’t a crisis in Social Security. And if you take the age at which you can earn Social Security from 65 to 79, you do substantially reduce the value of the benefits to people. And this is particularly true for people who work through labor. You know, for somebody who is a professor, retiring at 69 instead of 65, you know, that’s not such a big deal for me. But if you’ve been working very hard, you simply cannot–in physical labor, you know, the typical 66-year-old can’t do that. So that’s a very big deal for poorer people.

JAY: What are the legal obligations, if any, to people who have been paying in all these years? And if you’ve been–started working at–when you’re 20 and you’re now 60 and you’ve been paying in for 40 years expecting to retire at 65, now all of a sudden the contract gets changed on you and you’re told it’s 69, I mean, is that legal? Congress can simply pass the law and that’s the end of the story.

BLACK: It’s legal. The issue is ethics and how you treat people. And the issue is: does any of this make any sense? And it really doesn’t make any sense.

JAY: The main argument that Graham and his colleagues are making is less about short-term deficit and more about long-term debt. You’ve seen these graphs where they show within 20, 30 years the debt ratio becomes unsustainable and you–. And so that’s why they’re going after retirement issues, ’cause in theory it affects long-term debt more while still allowing some short-term stimulus. You see this in Europe as well. They’re–the big austerity measures in Europe are mostly focusing on age people receive pensions. What do you make of this long-term debt issue?

BLACK: This is silly math that doesn’t make any sense, to take these curves and extrapolate them. And everybody knows that, by the way.

JAY: Bill, you say, well, everybody knows this about, you know, the fact that once growth begins, assuming it does, that these numbers start to change. But if everybody knows it, then the Republicans really know it, and not just the Republicans but all the voices preaching for austerity right now. If they don’t really believe this issue, why are they going after Social Security? It can’t even be that politically favorable for the majority of people that vote for Republicans, even if some of the Tea Party movement might like it.

BLACK: You’re exactly correct. They do know it. You know, there is no question but that [Erskine] Bowles and Alan Simpson know these things. Why? In the case of people like Simpson, what they hate is Social Security. And what they hate about Social Security is that it works so well. Social Security transformed the United States, from a place where to be old was typically to die in poverty, to a place where you have a dignified life as a senior. And Social Security, as a result, is a spectacularly popular program that–you know, majorities in the tune of 80 percent of Americans think it’s great. It’s also a program that is really efficient, really well run–in contrast, by the way, to private health insurance, which is a total pain in the rear and much more expensive and has far more paperwork. So this is a program that the Democrats created over Republican opposition that has proven immensely popular with virtually all Americans, including Republicans, and the Republican leadership hates it and wants it to be a failure. And like so many other areas, in regulation, for example, financial regulation, the Republicans are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure, that they will huff and they will puff and they will cause deficits and they will cause, you know, even a default on the debt if necessary to prove that Social Security has failed. So what they saw, those people like Simpson and Bowles, was a unique political opportunity to cut back on Social Security. The entire deficit commission, after all, was not even supposed to deal with Social Security. It is those two cochairs that decided that they were going to go well in excess of their appropriate mission and take a slug and try to get people to attack Social Security. They think they have a political avenue to do that right now, given how upset people are about the Great Recession.

JAY: So this is to a large extent an ideological position, in other words, proof that government can’t do things. And even if they wind up not winning on Social Security, they help create an atmosphere in Washington for getting other things that they want.

BLACK: No, it’s more than that. They want to make changes that will make Social Security far less popular with Americans. And the two things they’re suggesting will make Social Security far less attractive to the American people. If they means test it in the way they do, they will dramatically reduce the support of middle- and upper-middle-income Americans for Social Security. And if they raise the minimum age from 65 to 69, they’ll make it a program that far fewer poorer laboring working-class Americans will even be able to take advantage of before they die, and that will reduce its popularity with that group. So this is actually a pretty clever mechanism to take a second whack at Social Security five years from now once they’ve dramatically reduced support for the program.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Bill.

BLACK: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

R.S., better known in the blogs as One Pissed Off Liberal, asked earlier today in Long live the rebels! that “As Americans, do we have an enormous tolerance for governmental lies wired into our psyches?  Do they somehow get a ‘we’re the government’ pass on any and all violations of the law or good conscience?  Are we, nevertheless, always and forever going to give them the benefit of the doubt?  No matter what outrageous lies they tell us?  No matter how much they steal?  No matter who they torture?  No matter who or how many they kill?” and pointed out that “It’s time to quit accepting, defending or even embracing what these bastards have done and are doing still.  It’s time to stand up against these monsters.  It’s time to do the right thing.”

Fortunately, there are some in academia and other places scattered few and far between who had internalized OPOL’s message before he wrote it. I’ve quoted from a few of them above. They write of their own warnings and of their own proposed solutions for some aspects of the overall problem, but can there be enough social pressure on the real owners of America and their employees (political appointees?) in Washington to force real changes without all of the population rising up to support and stand behind the lonely and too often thankless work they do?

These may be what seems to be overwhelming and insurmountable problems for a country and for you to face.

There are awesome forces arrayed against the population, it seems.

What can be done? What can you do?

Here is one suggestion from Rebecca Solnit, courtesy of the remorslessly upbeat Tom Engelhardt, shortly before Christmas 2010. You can be, as you’ve always been, part of the “Shadow Government” over which Carlin’s “owners” have no control and are most afraid of:

Who wouldn’t agree that our society is capitalistic, based on competition and selfishness? As it happens, however, huge areas of our lives are also based on gift economies, barter, mutual aid, and giving without hope of return (principles that have little or nothing to do with competition, selfishness, or scarcity economics). Think of the relations between friends, between family members, the activities of volunteers or those who have chosen their vocation on principle rather than for profit.

Think of the acts of those — from daycare worker to nursing home aide or the editor of — who do more, and do it more passionately, than they are paid to do; think of the armies of the unpaid who are at “work” counterbalancing and cleaning up after the invisible hand and making every effort to loosen its grip on our collective throat. Such acts represent the relations of the great majority of us some of the time and a minority of us all the time. They are, as the two feminist economists who published together as J. K. Gibson-Graham noted, the nine-tenths of the economic iceberg that is below the waterline.

Capitalism is only kept going by this army of anti-capitalists, who constantly exert their powers to clean up after it, and at least partially compensate for its destructiveness. Behind the system we all know, in other words, is a shadow system of kindness, the other invisible hand. Much of its work now lies in simply undoing the depredations of the official system. Its achievements are often hard to see or grasp.


The official economic arrangements and the laws that enforce them ensure that hungry and homeless people will be plentiful amid plenty.  The shadow system provides soup kitchens, food pantries, and giveaways, takes in the unemployed, evicted, and foreclosed upon, defends the indigent, tutors the poorly schooled, comforts the neglected, provides loans, gifts, donations, and a thousand other forms of practical solidarity, as well as emotional support. In the meantime, others seek to reform or transform the system from the inside and out, and in this way, inch by inch, inroads have been made on many fronts over the past half century.

The terrible things done, often in our name and thanks in part to the complicity of our silence or ignorance, matter. They are what wells up daily in the news and attracts our attention.  In estimating the true make-up of the world, however, gauging the depth and breadth of this other force is no less important. What actually sustains life is far closer to home and more essential, even if deeper in the shadows, than market forces and much more interesting than selfishness.

Most of the real work on this planet is not done for profit: it’s done at home, for each other, for affection, out of idealism, and it starts with the heroic effort to sustain each helpless human being for all those years before fending for yourself becomes feasible.  Years ago, when my friends started having babies I finally began to grasp just what kind of labor goes into sustaining one baby from birth just to toddlerhood.

If you do the math, with nearly seven billion of us on Earth right now, that means seven billion years of near-constant tending only to get children upright and walking, a labor of love that adds up to more than the age of this planet. That’s not a small force, even if it is only a force of maintenance. Still, the same fierce affection and determination pushes back everywhere at the forces of destruction.


We tend to think revolution has to mean a big in-the-streets, winner-take-all battle that culminates with regime change, but in the past half century it has far more often involved a trillion tiny acts of resistance that sometimes cumulatively change a society so much that the laws have no choice but to follow after. Certainly, American society has changed profoundly over the past half century for those among us who are not male, or straight, or white, or Christian, becoming far less discriminatory and exclusionary.

Radicals often speak as though we live in a bleak landscape in which the good has yet to be born, the revolution yet to begin. […] both of them are here, right now, and they always have been. They are represented in countless acts of solidarity and resistance, and sometimes they even triumph. When they don’t — and that’s often enough — they still do a great deal to counterbalance the official organization of our country and economy. That organization ensures oil spills, while the revolutionaries, if you want to call them that, head for the birds and the beaches, and maybe, while they’re at it, change the official order a little, too.

Want change you can believe in?

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Skip to comment form

    • Edger on January 6, 2011 at 00:04

    It’s now, as it has always been…

    Us and Them

    Us, and them

    And after all we’re only ordinary men.

    Me, and you.

    God only knows it’s not what we would choose to do.

    Forward he cried from the rear

    and the front rank died.

    And the general sat and the lines on the map

    moved from side to side.

    Down and out

    It can’t be helped but there’s a lot of it about.

    With, without.

    And who’ll deny it’s what the fightings all about?

    Out of the way, it’s a busy day

    I’ve got things on my mind.

    For the want of the price of tea and a slice

    The old man died.


    Crossposted in orange…

    • RiaD on January 6, 2011 at 01:51

    i just wanted to say thank you

    not only for this essay, but for all your essays, all the work you put into trying to wake people up, shake them out of their propagandized thinking, using comedy, music, articles… every means possible, saying the same things in different ways.

    if just ONE person catches the truth with each essay you write- just think how many you’ve helped to see the light!

    anyway… thanks

    you inspire me, you do.


    • rossl on January 7, 2011 at 02:31

    Goes well with Jack’s Smirking Revenge’s recent piece, Time To Explode, IMHO.  And I’m getting the Amnesty International chapter at my high school to do Food Not Bombs in Philly…indoctrinating those kind, well-meaning worker bees one at a time! 😉

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