Jan 31, 2008

September 25, 2007: Bait and Switch, Pachyderms In The China Shop, Social Insecurity, The Way of The Pterodactyl

Every day brings new outrages. It is easier, it seems, for Joe Citizen to step in elephant dung than it is for a Republican Senator to give head in an airport men’s room.

Back in the good ‘ol days the Democrats ran a television ad depicting an elephant loose in a china shop, ending with the beast wrapping it’s trunk around a plate labeled “Social Security” and about to smash it. Of course the Resumlicans cried “foul” comparing the piece to the famous ad produced by the Johnson Campaign in ’64 about Barry Goldwater and nuclear weapons. Neither ad, unfortunately, had much play for the squeamish jackasses, always prone to crawl out of the mud and take the high road, quickly reverted back to “issues” campaigning.

Of course the Democrats were too kind. Gone are the days when they can simply laugh the pachyderms off the stage as John Kennedy so successfully did in 1960. Kennedy famously said: “Have you ever seen elephants at the circus. There they are with their heads full of ivory, eyes firmly fixed on the posterior of the one before them, walking around in endless circles”….Unfortunately the times, as the saying went, were “a-changing”.

It is far more serious than that now. An index of just how serious it is can be seen in the plight of the poor pachyderm itself. When Thomas Mast made the elephant the symbol of the Republican Party he could not have known the peril in which he put the beast; for making the pachyderm the symbol of greed, avarice, gluttony and incompetence has taken its toll. In fact it has rendered the once majestic beast so onerous, so hated around the world, that it has been hunted to near extinction. Soon we will be about the business of casting about for a new mascot for the Republican Party. The rat comes immediately to mind but the new mascot must be appropriately indifferent and cold-blooded. No compassionate conservatives here! For this reason, a reptile or an insect will have to do, perhaps the snake, lizard or roach.

But I digress. Today the Pachyderms came bearing gifts by once again raising the cry over Social Security and pretending to beat the drums to “save’ it. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was the point man this time warning of an impending 13.6 trillion dollar shortfall in “ coming years” if we don’t do something to fix the broken system. This is up from 11.3 trillion dollars when Bush last sounded the alarm just two short years ago.

The problem, as Al Franken has revealed, is that this is a gross overstatement meant to create a “crisis”. Why do we need a crisis? So the Neo-cons can once again override sound public policy and institutional memory and impose the ideological imperative. Let’s start from the beginning with a nod of thanks to Mr. Franken.

First the fact that real money, instead of treasury notes, are not in the vault at the Social Security Administration is that for years (mostly under Republican administrations) the government has been raiding the trust fund to artificially lower the deficit and make it look like we were making great strides to balance the budget; rendered seriously out of whack by the huge tax cuts to the rich. So if there are no greenbacks in the box it is because George broke into the Social Security lockbox within months of usurping the throne and breaking a major campaign promise in the bargain. So he has no one to blame but himself for the alleged shortfall.

Second as Franken so clearly points out, in order to get to this astronomical number of 13.6 trillion ‘Ol Two-Cows’ Social Security Administration changed the parameters (numerical expressions in the form of mathematical formulae describing a universe as opposed to perimeters meaning boundaries). In this case average life expectancy was increased to age 150 over an indefinite period. This means that the Bush Administration demanded the new projections to require that Social Security would, in the out years, fund an average retirement of 83 years extrapolated into infinity. So to read this properly one has to translate ‘Bush speak’ “13.6 Trillion shortfall in the coming years” to its real meaning: 13.6 Trillion shortfall over eternity. As Franken pointed out a 13.6 Trillion dollar shortfall over 13.6 Trillion years is one dollar a year. It should be clear that this projection is no more legitimate than assuming an average lifespan of 150 and retirement of 83 years. Garbage in, garbage out as the old saying goes.

Third, as Franken again demonstrates, Bush’s remedy—private accounts—moves up the crises date from roughly 2042 when the system allegedly begins its death throes. Franken made some calls to actuaries and statisticians and their conclusion was that because Dubya begins taking monies immediately out of the system and directing it to his stock-jobbing buddies on Wall Street that the crisis he describes begins within a year of it’s adoption by the congress. So Dubya moves the crisis up a few decades rather than solve it. Why? So the congress can act when the country is beshit in conservatism; before the boomers retire and become once again the wards of the state—and much more liberal by definition.

Katrina had taken Social Security Reform off the front burner forcing Bush to drop the centerpiece of his second term. Now it is back. Perhaps because the Neo-Cons, heeding the voice of Newt Gingrich, sense that their moment in the sun is about to be eclipsed and that they must now make hay while the sun still shines. There is deep foreboding in the herd. ‘Ol Two-Cows’ has become the modern political equivalent of that meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs. Our cosmic ‘pet rock’ hurtling toward us, threatening a cataclysm so earth-shattering as to obliterate the sun, re-arranging life on earth. A systemic convulsion of 1932, if not biblical proportions, now threatens the Neo-Con paradise. Perhaps the pachyderm and the politics the beast symbolizes will go together the way of the pterodactyl. If so, it will be of small loss. One hates to say goodbye to the majestic beast, but if it saves Social Security and leads to a New Deal so be it.

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