Tag Archives: Bill Clinton

Social Security’s future is being written in the streets of Ferguson

Bernie Sanders’s confrontation with members of Black Lives Matter should teach a lesson to everyone engaged in the struggle to defend Social Security: Unless the campaign for economic equality recognizes the need to prioritize racial equality as well—that racial and economic issues are not separate—preserving and expanding Social Security will become increasingly difficult.

In politics, context is everything. The most passionate advocacy, even for an utterly righteous cause, can sound presumptuous when the advocate ignores another issue more important to the same audience. Witness Sen. John McCain’s recent humiliating treatment by the Navajo, who chased him off their reservation on August 16, when he came to discuss a feel-good memorial to the World War II Code Talkers—but refused to address complaints that he had failed to protect tribal water rights or to oppose a copper mine that’s about to be built on Oak Flat campgrounds, an area of spiritual significance to the Apache.

On the opposite end of the political spectrum, Sen. Bernie Sanders recently received a similar lesson. On July 18, Black Lives Matter protesters disrupted a Netroots Nation forum in Phoenix Continue reading Social Security’s future is being written in the streets of Ferguson

Mario Cuomo was not a “liberal beacon”

The former New York governor, who was laid to rest yesterday, is being mourned as a “forceful defender of liberalism.” In reality, he was a creator of the Democratic center-right and consistent supporter of anti-entitlement crusades.

For anyone who’s followed American politics closely for the past 40 years or so, the headlines following his death were enough to set your teeth on edge: “Mario Cuomo, Ex-New York Governor and Liberal Beacon” (New York Times); “Three-Time Governor; Liberal Leader” (Wall Street Journal). This image of the late politician is even enshrined in Wikipedia: “Cuomo was known for his liberal views and public speeches.”

None of this has much to do with the truth, or Cuomo’s place in history. Indeed, the notion that he was any kind of liberal stems almost entirely from a single speech he delivered at the Democratic National Convention in 1984. The substance of his career tells a different story. So let’s look at the facts.

Continue reading Mario Cuomo was not a “liberal beacon”

“Rebuilding the Foundation” of Social Security, Chapter 1

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, “saving” Social Security doesn’t have to just be about making more fiscally “solvent.” It can also link up with efforts to raise wages, make the program more equitable, and even to start rebuilding the U.S.’s crumbling infrastructure – without privatizing it. In fact, there are a multitude of ways to make Social Security more secure – none of which involve cutting benefits for hard-pressed working people and retirees.

I’m giving over this post to John Burbank, executive director of the Seattle-based Economic Opportunity Institute. He lays out a menu of changes that would improve Social Security benefits and pay for them in a way that would make the program – and its funding – more equitable. I met John at the National Academy of Social Insurance conference earlier this month, Continue reading “Rebuilding the Foundation” of Social Security, Chapter 1

Who’s Going to Defend Social Security?

Strangely enough, it’ll probably be the Republican right. Once again.

Congressional Republican and Democratic leaders have chosen the members of the “Super Congress” that will determine round two of the spending cuts – and, possibly, tax increases – under the Budget Control Act of 2011. As expected, the GOP members are all hardliners on taxes – so much so that they all received the blessing of Citizens for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist. (I mentioned tax increases above because the joint deficit committee has the right to include them in its legislation, not because there’s much chance it will.)

Most of the attention, therefore, has focused on the Democratic members. Continue reading Who’s Going to Defend Social Security?

The Payroll Tax: Just Another Tax?

What does it mean that the U.S. no longer has a permanent tax code? That every major tax Americans pay, including income tax and the payroll tax covering Social Security, is now a temporary measure subject to — effectively — mandatory revision by Congress in the next one to two years? With passage of the Obama-McConnell “stimulus” package, American government is entering a fun-house period like no other in its history.

The tax cut/stimulus bill passed, of course. Indeed, the skids were really greased on this baby (to use then-Treasury Department official Bob Rubin’s choice phrase) like nothing since the 1983 Amendments to the Social Security Act. Here’s how the Wall Street Journal describes the situation we’re about to be living under: Continue reading The Payroll Tax: Just Another Tax?

“Inside Job” – See This Movie!

Charles Ferguson has made a documentary that must be seen if you want to understand why the same people who let the housing bubble and the 2008 financial meltdown happen are still in charge. But if you can’t go out and see Inside Job right away (it opens in New York and Los Angeles today), read Ferguson’s article, “Larry Summers and the Subversion of Economics,” summarizing his case in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The thesis of Ferguson’s film (a trailer is available here; a New York Times review is here) is simple, and astonishingly obvious: economics, as a profession, has been subverted by its proximity to power and money. Continue reading “Inside Job” – See This Movie!

Feedback Loop

When pension benefits are cut overseas, it’s not just a sad sidelight to the Social Security wars in the U.S. It has a direct effect on the debate in this country. Greece is the latest to do so, joining Hungary, France, Italy, Germany, and others that have enacted or are considering such moves. You can bet the deficit hawks in this country are watching, and are encouraged.

The new law, enacted Thursday, raises the age for receiving full pension benefits to 65 for all Greek workers; shifts benefits calculation to key off lifetime earnings rather than the retiree’s most recent, highest-paid years; and makes it easier for employers to fire workers. (That last has an effect on pension levels too, since it will lead to more and longer periods of unemployment, especially for low-wage workers, depressing one component of the formula used to calculate benefits.)

This should all sound very familiar. The last time a really serious surge of interest in “reforming” Social Security hit Congress – as opposed to the Bush administration’s comic-opera privatization campaign in 2005 – was in the mid-’90s. That’s when a small but highly influential group of lawmakers, Continue reading Feedback Loop

Why the Deficit Commission Won’t Cut Social Security: A History Lesson

Nostalgists for some imagined, bygone era of bipartisanship don’t hold out a lot of hope for the deficit commission. They’re right, but for the wrong reasons.

With a few exceptions, blue-ribbon presidential commissions are dismissed as window dressing, a polite way to kick the can down the road on a particular issue. Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is just such a one.

Disappointed that the commission won’t have the power to force an up-or-down vote in Congress, the deficit hawks call this an ominous failure of government, a further sign that Washington has forgotten how to govern. That’s a dubious proposition: Is a Congress that’s voted consistently and overwhelmingly to keep funding a wasteful, destructive, and ill-conceived “war against terrorism” in the Mideast, despite broad public opposition, for nine years now, really incapable of governing? It may be deeply misguided, but it’s certainly capable of making the proverbial “tough decisions.”

The deficit hawks are right, however, that the deficit commission doesn’t stand much chance of success. Especially of cutting Social Security, which in the wake of the new health care reform law, has become its primary target. To understand why requires a short history lesson.

The long war against Social Security, which began in the early 1980s, is now in its third phase.

Phase 1 began in 1983, Continue reading Why the Deficit Commission Won’t Cut Social Security: A History Lesson