Fight the fear: Social Security panic ahead. Bloggers uniting to join the fight.

by: Paul Rosenberg

Tue Nov 09, 2010 at 15:00


I was just on a conference call with more than 50 bloggers, listening & responding to some of the most experienced folks there are in the multi-decade fight to preserve Social Security.  This included Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson, Co-Directors of Social Security Works, Roger Hickey, Co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, and Dean Baker, Co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Three things, right off the bat:

First, it's going to get ugly, fast. The oligarchs coming after Social Security have invested in this massively for decades now.  Pete Petterson alone has invested a billion dollars, and is about to spend $8 million more in an advertizing scare-fest, building up to the release of the Deficit Commission recommendations & accompanying legislatvie battle.  

Second, it's totally bogus.  Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit (it's separately funded, duh!) and is solvent for as far as the eye can see--until well into the 2030s at full benefits, and 75% after that, which is still a larger benefit than today, even if we do nothing.  If we scraped the cap on incomes taxed, so millionaires paid the same percentage tax as the rest of us, we could not only fill the shortfall decades from now, we could increase benefits by 2%.

Third, we can win this thing. Just like we've won this fight every time before, even though we were told it was a done deal.  Dean Baker was especially inspiring on this point.  In fact, he has a new paper out, "Action on Social Security: The Urgent Need for Delay".  The press release for it says:

There is enormous public confusion (much of it deliberately cultivated) about the extent of Social Security's projected shortfall. Many policymakers and analysts point out that projections from the Congressional Budget Office and the Social Security Trustees show the program to be out of balance in the long-term, therefore we would be best advised to make changes as soon as possible. This paper argues that supporters of the existing Social Security system should try to ensure that no major changes to the core program are implemented in the immediate future. It points out that:
    1.There is good reason for believing that the public will be better informed about the financial state of Social Security in the future, in part because of the weakening of some of the main sources of misinformation;

    2.Many more people will be directly dependent on Social Security in the near future. These people and their families will likely be strong defenders of the program;

    3.The group of near-retirees, who may be the victims of early action, will desperately need their Social Security since they have seen much of their wealth eliminated with the collapse of the housing bubble; and

    4.The concern over "maintaining the confidence of financial markets" is an empty claim that can be used to justify almost any policy.

Supporting the first point, Baker said a couple of things that backed up by graphs in the paper.  It's about Brad DeLong's long-hoped-for demise of the Washington Post, one of the main outposts of Social Security fearmongering and disinformation.

First, Baker told us, the Post's circulation is falling steadily:

Baker writes:

Traditional news outlets are mostly owned and controlled by individuals who are deeply hostile to Social Security. The best example of such an outlet is the Washington Post, which regularly uses both its opinion and news pages to promote the view that the program is in crisis, that benefits are far too generous, and that large cuts are essential. As a result of having one of the largest circulations in the country and also being located in Washington, the Post is enormously influential in public debate.

However, the Post's circulation is falling rapidly. Figure 1 shows data on the Washington Post's average daily circulation from 2002 through 2010 and projects it forward until 2040. Daily circulation has already fallen from close to 800,000 in 2002 to less than 600,000 in 2010. If the Post's circulation continues its 3.7 percent annual rate of decline, then it will be under 400,000 by 2020 and less than 300,000 by 2030. It can be assumed that the paper's influence in national debates will experience a corresponding decline.

If anything, this probably understates the pace of the Post's decline.  At some point, a catastrophic collapse would not be a surprise.

What's more, it's losing the online battle of the clicks to Huffington Post--losing badly, in fact:

Baker writes:

By contrast, many of the new media outlets that are growing have a more informed and nuanced view of the program. For example, the Huffington Post, one of the largest of the exclusively webbased news sources, has many reporters and columnists who take a more balanced view of Social Security's finances.2 While circulation at the Washington Post has been shrinking, the number of web viewers of the Huffington Post has been growing rapidly. The number of viewers of the Huffington Post first began to regularly exceed the viewers of the Washington Post in the second half of 2009. By the second half of 2010 the Huffington Post was drawing almost twice as many viewers as the Washington Post, as shown in Figure 2.

This is just a quick heads-up post to let you know to expect much more in the short term, and a bit about why we should feel optimistic for the long term.  A lot more info soon.

Stay tuned, and be ready to fight!


P.S. A message for Dems to consider: You think the 2010 elections were bad? Just turn your backs on Social Security.  You won't believe 2012!

Paul Rosenberg :: Fight the fear: Social Security panic ahead. Bloggers uniting to join the fight.

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Washington, DC is like a bordello (4.00 / 3)
They only service those who pay them.

Paul wrote --

P.S. A message for Dems to consider: You think the 2010 elections were bad? Just turn your backs on Social Security.  You won't believe 2012!

 

"Oh. My. God. .... We're doomed." -- Paul Krugman
http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...">http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...">http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...


Best summary of what's wrong with Obama and his dogs. (0.00 / 0)
Could We Have Predicted What Happened Last Tuesday

For his part, from his post-election press conference through his appearance on 60 Minutes through his inexplicable decision to jet off to Asia in a way that seemed to underscore to the American people his disinterest in both their domestic concerns and the feelings they had just expressed at the ballot box, the president once again illustrated three interrelated hallmarks of his presidency: his ability to endorse nearly every side of an issue, his inability or unwillingness to articulate (whether to the American people or perhaps, more importantly, to himself) any governing philosophy or core set of principles that inform his decisions (e.g., a progressive alternative to the Reagan mantra of "government is the problem, not the solution"), and his allergy to leadership, particularly if it means dealing with conflict or aggression from his political opponents. Over the course of the couple of days he stuck around America long enough to take both sides of the issue, President Obama made clear that he will oppose tax cuts for anyone but the middle class but on the other hand might be willing to extend the Bush tax cuts to the rich, perhaps for a couple years. Like his decision a year and a half ago to cut the stimulus and lard it up with tax cuts the prior eight years had proven to be inert in creating jobs -- a decision that just cost Democrats the House, by "proving" to the American people the uselessness of an economic stimulus and of government more generally -- extending the Bush tax cuts to millionaires would be both bad public policy and bad politics, as all available data suggest that any extension of tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires would be deeply unpopular with voters, who expressed more than anything else their angry populism last Tuesday. The president's differing opinions on whether he believes this is a good area for compromise with congressional Republicans was reminiscent of his various speeches on the importance of deficit spending while cutting the deficit, or his major energy speech on why we have to tackle climate change while expanding oil shale (perhaps the dirtiest, most energy-inefficient fuel ever explored), "clean coal" (which sounds great in West Virginia and would be even better if it existed), and offshore oil drilling (not exactly the most prescient moment in a speech made just two weeks before the BP disaster).



[ Parent ]
I liked this part (4.00 / 1)

What's costing the president are three things: a laissez faire style of leadership that appears weak and removed to everyday Americans, a failure to articulate and defend any coherent ideological position on virtually anything, and a widespread perception that he cares more about special interests like bank, credit card, oil and coal, and health and pharmaceutical companies than he does about the people they are shafting.


"Oh. My. God. .... We're doomed." -- Paul Krugman
http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...">http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...">http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...


[ Parent ]
2012 (4.00 / 7)
The history in similar economies is clear.  A President who addresses the problem and makes progress is re-elected (FDR).  A President who is unable to take the needed steps is consigned to the dust heap and rather roughly at that (Hoover, Cleveland, Van Buren).

The messages were clear: Republicans lost 52 seats in 1930.  Democrats lost 125 seats in 1894.  Clear and unheeded.  Not only did Hoover lose by sticking within "rules" that failed, he took down another 97 Republicans in the House.

The same applied to the pre-Civil War.  

Unfortunately, Harry Reid who stuffed the Deficit Commission with Social Security opponents was re-elected.  He should be dumped as Majority Leader for that alone.  Obama has been in cahoots all along and he said so in the Presidential debates (just like W.)

This is a harder fight by far because of Obama and Reid, especially Obama.  The fix is in.  We have one hand not only tied behind our back but actively fightoing against us.  Can we win?  Yes.  Will we win?  To be determined.  


I actually (0.00 / 0)
hope they come for Social Security.

It's a fight we'll win, and it will give progressives a jolt of adrenaline while making the battle lines clear.

Or is this just too optimistic?


I'm Afraid It May Be (4.00 / 4)
I never really doubted the outcome when Bush came after Social Security in early 2005.  I knew he was doomed.  And the longer the battle went on, the better.

But with Obama?  And how the Dems as a whole have been acting the last two years?

We have no choice, because they are definitely going to attack.  But I'd rather see us kill it as fast as possible, as decisively as possible, because if there's any chance for it to get drawn out, just about anything could happen.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Clinton gave us NAFTA, Obama will give them Social Security. (0.00 / 0)
If you read the article from the link I left up above, you will find that it describes his wishy washy risk aversion self to a tee.  

This was the take home line for me.  

the president once again illustrated three interrelated hallmarks of his presidency: his ability to endorse nearly every side of an issue, his inability or unwillingness to articulate (whether to the American people or perhaps, more importantly, to himself) any governing philosophy or core set of principles that inform his decisions (e.g., a progressive alternative to the Reagan mantra of "government is the problem, not the solution"), and his allergy to leadership, particularly if it means dealing with conflict or aggression from his political opponents.


[ Parent ]
I don't think Dean is thinking big enough (4.00 / 2)
Why wait for the Washington Post to die in order to protect Social Security (among other things)?  Why not start a campaign to boycott the Post for its campaign to undermine SS through falsehoods and one sided reporting?  Seriously - how many people do we have who are physically inside the Beltway who could organize such a operation?  (Those who are mentally inside the Beltway will of course be of no use here). Bowers, Stoller, Hamsher - someone should be able to pull that off.  Why should be be giving our hard earned money to an outfit that's trying to take away our hard earned retirement and disability security? It's clear its going to die anyway - why allow it to cause such damage during its decline?

(An added bonus would be undermining the Post as a platform for more wars and neoliberal education deform).

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.


I Think You Misunderstand (4.00 / 1)
Dean is simply saying that it will get easier over time for a number of reasons, even though we should expect them to keep on trying to destroy Social Security.

Given that we're up against a campaign that's spent over a billion dollars already, I think that simply fighting that battle here and now is thinking plenty big enough.

At least until we raise a billion ourselves.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
I get it (4.00 / 1)
And the next few months should be concerned with beating this immediate threat back. But once that is over, I still think it would be worth helping this process along.

My concern for the moment is how to stop this train.  I'll feel better when we get past arguing the facts and start to see some action.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.


[ Parent ]
I hate to focus on an individual ... (4.00 / 3)
... but if Obama was against cutting Social Security, that would be the end of it -- at least for now.  Since he's not, that's why it's going to be a bloody fight.  Obama and the Republicans and a few Blue Dogs against the rest of us.

There's complicated this and complicated that and all these different congressional hooha's.  But Obama embodies it all, and frankly, we have to be able to threaten to bring it all down.

Dump Obama is our leverage.

For the wheel's still in spin And there's no tellin' who That it's namin'. -- Dylan


If you hate to focus on the individual (4.00 / 7)
then don't. If Obama wasn't who he was, than he wouldn't be where he is. That's why individual remedies to institutional problems are unhelpful.  

And saying to Congress - 'don't cut Social Security, or in two years, Obama gets it' even if it was credible (which it isn't) is rather misguided.  Congress is the actor that needs to be stopped, so its members are the ones who need to be pressured.

Finally, since almost all Democratic voters and activists oppose Social Security cuts, but they disagree about whether to support Obama (and many, of course, do) making this about Obama rather than SS is completely counterproductive.

Not everything is a nail.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.


[ Parent ]
Thanks, David (0.00 / 0)
This brilliantly sums up the whole problem I've had with Jeff from the get-go.

And the solution: fight and win the actual battles right in front of us.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Dump Obama is a weapon in the fight (0.00 / 0)


For the wheel's still in spin And there's no tellin' who That it's namin'. -- Dylan

[ Parent ]
I think that Jeffroby is seeing this as a David vs. Goliath fight (4.00 / 2)
We slay the giant and everything falls into place.  And perhaps you see it as more as Boudica vs. the Roman Empire campaign.  If we successful execute a series of battles and grow in strength, perhaps the evil empire plutocrats will go away.  

I think you have the better strategy, but I think those of Jeff's persuasion are your strongest allies and will entice more of those from the center right to join the longer endeavor.  

It would be a shame if we lost the war because we can't tolerate our confederates.

"Oh. My. God. .... We're doomed." -- Paul Krugman
http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...">http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...">http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...


[ Parent ]
I'm not that simple ... (4.00 / 2)
... if folks want to primary every Dem senator or House member who votes any cutbacks, that's fine.  But Obama has the veto pen, and that makes him a point of attack.

There is nothing any progressive or gang of progressives can do that would result in everything falling into place.

Oh, and I vaguely recall that this catfood commission was created by Obama after it was  REJECTED by Congress.

For the wheel's still in spin And there's no tellin' who That it's namin'. -- Dylan


[ Parent ]
I'm with you. He's definitely a Manchurian president. (4.00 / 1)
But Paul is right too.   We need to put the fear into Obama and his kind (plutocrats, oligarchs, you name it) by building an organization that can be mobilized against it.  Obama thinks we have no other choice.  We need to build something that will put the fear of the people into these corporate Dems.  

"Oh. My. God. .... We're doomed." -- Paul Krugman
http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...">http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...">http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...


[ Parent ]
Mea culpa (4.00 / 2)
If Obama wasn't who he was, than he wouldn't be where he is.

Brilliant, David. I'm sure someone has already said this somewhere, but I'll say it here. There's a reason why Barack Obama is our first African-American President, and Jesse Jackson wasn't. At the time, we didn't care -- we were just so damned happy to see Martin Luther King's vision made flesh. We all knew better -- even Jesse himself knew better -- but it just didn't matter in that one, delirious moment that so many of us had been waiting for for so long.

Dump Obama makes no sense to me because for all that he's arrived before his time, and is something quite different from what he claims to be -- the fulfillment of the American promise -- I refuse to piss on the symbol, even as I oppose the man and his policies. I'm sorry, but I just can't do it. I've waited all my life for something that hasn't yet arrived, and clearly won't arrive in my lifetime, despite my hopes, but I completely understand Jesse Jackson's tears. Let him or Bruce Dixon say Dump Obama, and I'll consider it. Otherwise, I'll continue to think that the very phrase is an offense against history.


[ Parent ]
And that's why there's no limit ... (4.00 / 1)
... to what damage he can do to the American people or the world.

Obama is an offense against history.

For the wheel's still in spin And there's no tellin' who That it's namin'. -- Dylan


[ Parent ]
In my opinion, you're making a fundamental mistake, Jeff (4.00 / 1)
I doubt that what President Obama symbolizes, either for you or for me -- and you're talking symbolism no less than I am -- is the root of our difficulty. His failures may be more poignant because of that symbolism, but the danger which he represents is something which we've all created together. That, I think, was David's point. The fault lies not in our stars, but in our selves, if you will. Attacking the symbol of our failures as a people may be attractive, but because it overlooks our own complicity, it's unlikely to have the effect that you think it will.

That's why I respect your opinion, but can't share it. Replacing Obama without overcoming the forces which put him where he is would be little more than an exercise in regicide, which has always promised more than it's delivered.  


[ Parent ]
Indeed! (4.00 / 2)
Replacing Obama without overcoming the forces which put him where he is would be little more than an exercise in regicide

And why do you think that I don't know that?  I'm tactically focused, but that doesn't mean that I don't see anything else.

For the wheel's still in spin And there's no tellin' who That it's namin'. -- Dylan


[ Parent ]
I don't know what you know or don't know. I couldn't pretend to. (0.00 / 0)
Yes, it is a matter of focus, or rather of the focal point we choose. I think you've chosen the wrong one. I'm concerned that on balance, your tactical choices could lead to a strategic failure, and I don't think we could afford a strategic failure of that magnitude at the moment.

On pretty much everything else, I agree with you. I even agree that your thinking is more complex, and more astute, than can necessarily be gleaned from the points you're trying to make here.

Which is why the conversation will continue, I have no doubt.


[ Parent ]
It will (4.00 / 1)
See, I think we're in the midst of a strategic failure.  Hence I advocate drastic measures.

To you:  what's your stick?  If they sell out (again), is there any threat you can wield?  Any blow to strike to show we mean business?

For the wheel's still in spin And there's no tellin' who That it's namin'. -- Dylan


[ Parent ]
Your B doesn't follow from your A. Something in the middle is missing. (4.00 / 1)
Neither of us poses a credible threat -- and that's the point. Dump Obama is a slogan. Pointing out what's wrong with his policies is a strategy. If enough people come to believe that his policies, or those of his Democratic successors, are wrong, then we'll have something to threaten the Democratic leadership with. Until then, Glenn Beck will have more clout than we will, and he won't have much, despite his inflated opinion of his own influence.

There isn't any quick way for us to get what we want. You know that as well as I do. So the question I ask, and anyone considering joining you would ask, is how exactly do you propose to dump Obama, and even on the off chance that you succeed, what then? Exactly what will have changed?


[ Parent ]
I'll take it from there (0.00 / 0)
Pointing out what's wrong with his policies is a strategy. If enough people come to believe that his policies, or those of his Democratic successors, are wrong, then we'll have something to threaten the Democratic leadership with.

Are you aware that millions of people are already aghast at Obama's policies?  How many more do we need?

I contend that we have enough.  You then get a candidate and get them on the ballot, get media coverage, campaign!  Or a major figure decides that Obama is such a disaster that he or she needs to primary him to save the party, in which case we back the best of our options.

What do we accomplish?  If the president kicks us in the teeth, he or she pays!  Next time around, our threats will then be credible.

The outrage is there.  The question isn't how to build more outrage, but how to harness what already exists.

For the wheel's still in spin And there's no tellin' who That it's namin'. -- Dylan


[ Parent ]
Takes a Democrat to screw a Democrat - see Clinton. n.t (0.00 / 0)


[ Parent ]
The dearth of comments on this diary (0.00 / 0)
is truly depressing.  

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

Why do you think we're going to do better ... (0.00 / 0)
... than we did in the healthcare fight?  Or do you consider that a triumph?

We're forewarned.  But not forearmed.  Same leadership, same delusions.

For the wheel's still in spin And there's no tellin' who That it's namin'. -- Dylan


[ Parent ]
And Obama Cut Your Taxes (0.00 / 0)
I am no longer surprised at what the public will fail to believe. The ground work has been laid for a much tougher fight the last time. The retired and near retired have been reassure that it is only the young folk who will see changes. It isn't a fight about Social Security its a fight about Entitlements and the Deficit. People for the most part really don't understand how it works, they see it as a Christmas account that they start drawing from.

The coming fight is also an opportunity to push the broader narrative of the downsizing / outsourcing of the American dream.

We know the script they will use. We need to get in front of it right away.

We know that the retirement age is first out of the block.
In my mid fifties I can still carry two bundles of shingles up the ladder at 70 I really don't think that will be possible. And that is the image we need to get out there tomorrow in advance of any proposal. 40 an 50 year old working stiffs morphing into 70 year old working stiffs construction workers, truck drivers, nurses and so on. But people know it won't happen that way so finish up with fast food joints and coffee shops staffed with 70 year old's.

They have their talking points we have to have on tap the counter talking point (as a talking point / sound bite).

By the By what would SS look like if income distribution went forward as it was in the 70's, 80's and 90's. In the if the economy was like the 70's SS would be fine until x instead of 2036 etc.


And younger people need to understand (4.00 / 2)
that if 65-year-old mom and dad can't find a job at Walmart because the competition is too stiff, they'll have to turn to their children for support.

I agree (at least I think this is implied in your comment) that it's critical to get across the concept of SS as part of a bigger program of shared prosperity and security.  My worry is that the first step will be to turn it into a welfare program, where recipients can be demonized and pitted against those with meager pensions or 401Ks.


[ Parent ]
If they means tested, they will turn it into a welfare (4.00 / 3)
program; and that is the first step to illimination.  Ask the single and indigent people who can no longer collect General Assistance.   Ask the "welfare queens" how that worked out for them...  Takes a Democrat to screw a Democrat and Obama is going to screw us - count on it.  

[ Parent ]
This is good, stay on this Paul (4.00 / 1)
We know what they are going to recommend and we know it is intensely unpopular.  This is a great issue to get out ahead of and frame it the way we want before the commission gives their "advice".  

I say we keep on it and press hard over the next few weeks (and then months after they unveil the glory hole plan.)


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