Posts Tagged Social Security

My Sister is a Single Mom, My Nephew is NOT a Criminal

In 2003, my older brother Jeff got married to one of the most kind and generous people I’ve ever had the good fortune to have met, my sister-in-law Karen. I was pleased to give them a humorous and lighthearted toast them at their wedding as his best man.

At the end of 2006 I got a call from Karen announcing that she was pregnant, and on August 27, 2007, their beautiful son Jacob was born. Jacob, is now almost 5, in preschool, and loves him some trains. He’s a great kid, so when I hear of Rick Santorum calling him a criminal and slurring his mother, it makes my blood boil.

On May 20, 2010 at 2 am, Jeff passed away from brain cancer leaving behind his wife and young son. Jeff was receiving Social Security Disability Insurance and both Karen & Jacob now receive Social Security survivor benefits.

Way back in 2000, we found out that Jeff had a brain tumor. He collapsed after getting out of the shower one day. Fortunately his girlfriend (a previous relationship to Karen) was over and heard the thud as his body hit the floor, knocking his head on the corner of the sink on his way down. She called an ambulance right away and they took him into the hospital where, upon conducting an MRI, they discovered a tumor that grew like a ginger root with little fingers reaching ever deeper into his brain. He tried radiation therapy which caused him to lose hair in a circle on the side of his head. Later on, when he started having some heavier symptoms which at first resembled pneumonia, but then became more clearly due to the tumor, they performed surgery to remove as much of it as possible. When I spoke with him before the surgery, I told him not to worry, saying “It’s just brain surgery, it’s not rocket science.” At least it was good for a laugh. Throughout the last few years of his life he underwent grueling and repeated batteries of chemotherapy, slowly but surely deteriorating his ability to work, think and function. It even took a toll on his personality, making him zoned out and almost zombie-like on the bad days. Eventually the tumor made its way to his brain stem. The doctors said they could operate, but his quality of life would be greatly effected because of the amount of brain tissue they’d have to remove. He chose death.

The doctors gave him 2 months. My wife and I boarded a plane as soon as possible and went to visit. She’d had experience with this kind of thing before and suggested that it was important to go to see him as soon as possible since you never really know how long someone has and we would want to be able to visit with him before he was unable to communicate. I’m sure glad I married such a smart woman. We were able to talk and share memories, laugh, have fun with Jacob, and in the end cry as we said goodbye for what we knew would be the last time.

Jacob was then a bit younger than 3. The saddest part of this is that he’ll never remember his dad, but thanks to his father, he’ll continue to get survivors benefits until he turns 18. This will help him to go to college and become a successful young man. It will help make up for the money my brother, Jacob’s father, can not provide, and I can’t believe that anyone who’s even somewhat seriously being considered to become the President of the United States is demonizing kids like him for the fact that they’re using the social safety net that we have in our country. But, much to my chagrin, Rick Santorum believes that the social safety net is destroying our country.

“Most people agree a continuation of the current [welfare] system will be the ruination of this country. We are seeing it. We are seeing the fabric of this country fall apart, and it’s falling apart because of single moms.

Now, granted, my brother’s family is not what you would normally think of as recipients of “welfare”, but they are. Yes both parents are college graduates, both had/have good jobs, Jeff had good insurance and was well cared for, and Jacob has 4 loving grandparents (and even a wonderfully mirthful great-grandmother) within a few hours drive. However, they still rely on the Social Security system, a system that Jeff paid into and that Karen still pays into, to help provide a decent life for their child.

Back in October, Santorum explained his reasoning for attacking single moms, saying that they’re:

“the political base of the Democratic party.” He continued, “Why? Because it’s so tough economically that they look to the government for help and therefore they’re going to vote. So if you want to reduce the Democratic advantage, what you want to do is build two-parent families; you eliminate that desire for government.”

So even Santorum admits that it’s economically tough to be a single parent. Unfortunately he is advocating making it even tougher on them in the name of “reducing the Democratic advantage” by having less single parent families. Say what? How does this even work? I’m not sure how you prevent people getting a divorce, having children out of wedlock, or from dying, but maybe it’s that magic theocratic pixie dust he’s been snorting. Why does this man think that staying in a bad relationship or getting married to your baby-daddy will cause a decrease in Democratic performance? He thinks that getting into or staying in a bad marriage will cause a lowered “desire for government”? What, does he think that we’re all going around lusting after government or something? Oh, yeah, sorry, I forgot…he’s a Republican, so of course that’s what he thinks.

While they constantly hold up the constitution screaming about how this or that or the other is not in there, they always overlook or forget or just don’t plain know about what it says in the preamble explaining the purpose of the constitution.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Yeah, ya see that part there about “promote the general Welfare”. The founders thought that was important. Just as important as the other 5 things on the proverbial “to do” list while writing the constitution: form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. Notice which of these words are capitalized and which are not. The only one that is NOT capitalized is the one most often referred to by the Republican party, the one about the common defence, and yes, that is the spelling that TJ and the Founders (great band name) used.

Anyhow, this really steams my clams. Cutting people off of critical aid will not help anyone. It will only deepen the economic strife that people already find themselves in. This type of draconian reactionary policy would serve to further tilt the playing field against single mothers and their children. It would further redistribute wealth to the 1%. It would cause increased desperation amongst the lower rungs of our economic ladder, likely causing increases in crime, the very crime that he’s so afraid will be caused by providing nutritional assistance, food stamps, social security benefits, health care, and protection against lapses in employment. The very crime that he’s accusing my 4 year old nephew of committing.

Genesis 29:14 “You are truly my flesh and bone.” ~ Laban, to his nephew Jacob

Cross Posted on Daily Kos

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Hitting our Heads on the Debt Ceiling

Sometimes we’re a bunch of idiots. As a nation I mean, not so much as individuals (though some would certainly qualify). I’ve seen people advocating for not raising the debt ceiling and I honestly understand the frustration that leads to that argument. Those who advocate this position are really just upset that the country is carrying a deficit and going deeper into debt every day. They are thinking that $14.3 Trillion is an unimaginable sum and scratching their heads as to why the ceiling would need to be raised even further. They figure that by not raising the ceiling, it will force the government to reign in spending and balance the budget. Unfortunately, this simply isn’t true.

No matter what the final budget that comes out of Washington this year looks like, nothing changes the fact that we’ve already budgeted for the current year, and unless it’s raised, we’re going to hit debt ceiling. In fact, we already have, but Treasury Secretary Geithner took action to “create additional headroom” so that the department could continue to fund obligations and effectively extending the deadline to August 2. These are “measures” such as raiding government retirement funds for their treasury bonds. This is not good.

President Obama knows this is playing with fire saying:

“The full faith and credit of the United States is the underpinning not only of our way of life, it’s also the underpinning of a global financial system. We could actually have a reprise of a financial crisis, if we play this too close to the line….”

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is also sounding the alarm, noting a failure to raise the ceiling could cause:

“severe disruptions in financial markets,”

Even former Fed Chair and fiscal conservative guru Alan Greenspan says in plain English that he’s “scared” and calls the games being played over the debt ceiling an:

“extraordinarily dangerous problem for this country.”

Okay, but why is this such dangerous stuff? Why doesn’t it make sense to enforce the ceiling and let the government slash everything they need to in order to regain fiscal sanity?

I don’t want to sound alarmist here, but this really is important. There are real consequences to not raising the debt ceiling that would impact everyone in this country, potentially setting us back to the the great depression. Our country is already in trouble with a sluggish economy and huge levels of unemployment (myself included). Failure to raise the debt ceiling would cause credit rating agencies such as Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s to downgrade United States’ debt, just as they did on Monday to Greece’s. They did this because they felt that:

a default on some debt appears “increasingly likely.”

There are several negative consequences for us if this happens in the US. One is that the cost of borrowing will increase so that those lending us money, such as Japan, China and the UK, will demand (and be able to get) a higher rate of return in exchange for taking on the now riskier debt. This is also true for individual bondholders, companies who invest in T-bills, etc. Some large bondholders may, if the situation gets dire enough (although I don’t think it will), unload some or all of their US debt, causing a spike in the interest rate.

Another consequence is that the US government itself, the largest holder of Treasury bonds, with about $8.5 Trillion invested in them, may start to dip into these bonds to pay debts. These bonds are currently being held in trust funds (see my last article which references how these differ from discretionary spending here) for things like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Selling them would destabilize Social Security and wreak further havoc on an already underfunded Medicare/Medicaid system. It would also have the effect of flooding the bond market with securities that nobody would want to buy, further driving up the interest rate and thus the cost of debt.

A flood of Treasury securities on the market will spur the Federal Reserve to purchase bonds if they wish to keep the lending rate low, putting more money into the system and lowering the value of our currency. This would have a deleterious effect on our buying power as citizens and thus create a huge drag on the world economy. Nobody would want to hold US dollars because there would be increasing fear that a government default would erode the economy. This in turn causes a panic induced “sell” mindset among currency traders, pushing the value of the currency down.

If the Fed opts not to purchase the bonds, interest rates would skyrocket, causing a those who can even get a loan right now to defer. This would have the impact of further reducing economic expansion through business start ups or freezing demand based upon borrowing. Because of the above factors, the stock market would also likely plunge due to falling demand and skittish/risk averse investors not wanting to get soaked. Falling demand would in turn precipitate another round of layoffs because, contrary to conservative ideas, companies hire when there is more demand, not when taxes are cut.

If the debt ceiling is not raised, the government would either have to default or immediately fill an an estimated $125 Billion per month hole (most likely with cuts). This is equivalent to approximately 40% of government spending, a Tea Party wet dream. If this occurs, it will almost certainly effect all functions of the government causing mass layoffs which further damage the economy. Lower levels of employment also further reduce the tax base of the government and increase demand for government services such as Unemployment Insurance, food assistance, cash assistance, etc. It also has the effect of further reducing market demand since people without income will spend significantly less.

Unfortunately, this is exactly the approach the right wingers want to take. They are attempting to force us into a choice between austerity and default. Nobody really wants the latter because of the reasons outlined above, but to those who wish to “drown [government] in a bathtub“, the former is pure bliss. People like Grover Norquist would love to force this on us again and again in order to roll back the great society and new deal. They’re taking the nation hostage over it because it could, in “one fell swoop“, eliminate the programs that the right has been fighting for years. Programs such as Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, Headstart, Pell Grants, etc. Programs that help the poor, elderly, weak and disabled. Programs that prevent many people from slipping out of the middle class.

These are the kinds of cuts that come as the strings attached to IMF bailouts. Why do you think they’re revolting in Greece?

Time and again, it has been shown that recessions are when government spending is most needed, and in fact increasing spending puts people back to work putting money into people’s pockets and increasing demand, thus healing the economy. When people have more money and have economic security, they will spend more, creating more demand and more demand means more jobs. This is Keynesian Economics, a well known and simple formula that was proven to work back in the 30’s and 40’s. This is a time when we need to increase government spending, not decrease it, even if it causes a larger deficit. This will help pull us out of this recession and bring us toward greater and broader prosperity, it worked during the Great Depression and there is no reason it wouldn’t work today. While our immediate deficit and the national debt are important long term concerns, we must take a more long term approach to them, incurring more debt now, but coming up with a solid plan to pay it off.

Those on the right want to convince us that that there are only two choices here, default or austerity, but this is a false choice. There is actually a third option, tax increases. If we are serious about paying off the debt, and I know I am, we must implement tax increases, such as the Schakowsky Plan, on those who make the most in our society. Those who make the most benefit the most from the infrastructure provided by our government, and should therefore pay more for the privilege of living under it. If the government wasn’t there with all the incumbent legal, military, police and judicial protection their money receives, these people would have their wealth stolen. In anarchy, the bandits wouldn’t head to the ghetto, so it’s only fair that those who are benefiting the most from the government pay more for it. It’s the only just way to eliminate our deficit and pay off our debt.

Cross Posted on Daily Kos

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Changing the Conversation on the Budget: An Idea for Good Governance

As a Precinct Committee Person for the Washington County Democrats, I’ve taken it upon myself to meet my neighbors and update their voter registrations. As I speak with people about various topics, including the budget, and as I’ve spoken with people in the past about the budget, it has become clear to me that virtually nobody knows what the budget actually looks like. People have their ideas, but they’re often skewed, misinformed or just plain wrong. This has an obvious negative impact on any budget discussion in our country. If people don’t know where their money is going, how can they effectively debate what should be done?

Part of the reason for this is an intentional mingling of all income and expenditures from all sources, even if taxes are raised and distributed independently from one another. Some examples of this are, Federal Insurance Contributions Act-Old Age, Survivors, & Disability Insurance (FICA-OASDI, commonly referred to as Social Security), FICA-Medicare, and Unemployment Insurance (UI). These funds are raised, administered and distributed as trusts, separately from the general budget. Unfortunately (from a clarity standpoint), these trust funds have been combined with other federal funds, resulting in a picture of the budget that looks like this. By combining these trusts with the general budget, it makes it appear that Defense is 18.74%, interest on the debt is 4.63%, and all the other departments of the government are only 19.89% of spending. This provides an inaccurate description of how our taxes are spent (and how they’re raised).

What happens when you separate the trust funds (aka. “mandatory spending”) from the rest of the budget? The Defense Department suddenly looks much more robust at 43.32% of “discretionary spending”. This is followed by interest on the debt at 10.7%. Everything else is a total of 45.98% (the next largest expenditure is for the Department of Health and Human Services at 5.13% and it shrinks substantially from there). Looking at discretionary spending will allow for a more honest debate about what we can/should cut and possibly where we need to raise more revenue.

But how can we educate people most effectively? That’s where the idea for a “tax receipt” comes in. The idea of a “tax receipt” is that the government should start sending out receipts that break down each taxpayer’s share of taxes into easy to understand information and graphic depictions. A simple mailing like you receive yearly from the Social Security Administration detailing your Social Security Account would be all that’s needed. It should separate out social security and medicare, showing personal contributions to each program and each program’s revenue and expenditures as well as projections into the future. This would give people the knowledge to address problems with these specific programs (or not touch them if they’re working). It should spell out what your amount of income tax paid was and how it was spent, line by line. This way, people could see that they spent, $XXX on the military, $YYY on veteran’s benefits, $ZZZ on highways, bridges and transportation, etc. This type of mailing should detail total revenues, disbursements, and projections into the future. It should also show the current and projected deficits, the national debt and “your portion”. Reigning in the debt is not a conservative issue, it is an American one and this would help clarify the conversation on how to do so.

A statement of this sort would help to redefine the debate, changing the focus and bringing the conversation out of the realm of the imaginary budget into the realm of the actual budget. If expenses were broken out so that it was obvious that the military is almost 45% of all discretionary spending, nearly equal to all other government spending on everything else, perhaps more people would see the need to cut it back.

This may even bring on more support for certain tax increases. It would help groups to point out that through tax breaks and loopholes, the wealthy are able to substantially lower their tax burden. It would also make the comparison more stark when someone looks at the total amount they pay compared to corporations. By using the tax receipts of wealthy people who are willing to pay more (like Warren Buffet), you could easily demonstrate the need to eliminate the cap on Social Security taxes and apply them to all sources of income. Currently FICA-OASDI (Social Security) taxes are only applied to the first $106,800 of “gross wages”, but does not apply to investment income (interest, dividends, capital gains).

There are many proposed solutions out there regarding raising taxes, but I like the Schakowsky Plan for adding new brackets for income above $1 Million. This would be a lot cheaper for the rich than the Eisenhower era tax brackets were, while providing stability to the system so they could continue their lifestyle. A tax receipt would help provide the knowledge base to balance the budget through this or other progressive means, such as those outlined in the People’s Budget.

As Jim Wallis said:

Budgets are moral documents.

We need to educate people on the facts if we want to establish a moral and just budget. This idea will help do just that.

Cross Posted on Daily Kos.

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