Civilization

#1

Long ago, human beings decided to stop scavenging in the forest and come together to form “civilization” with representative governments and economies of trade based on businesses that provided a product or a service at a reasonable price for the benefit of the majority in the community.

#2

The mismanagement by 3 consecutive Republican presidents – Harding, Coolidge and Hoover – resulted in the Great Depression…

source:

http://www.ssa.gov/history/briefhistory3.html

EXCERPT:

“As America slipped into economic depression following the Crash of 1929, unemployment exceeded 25%; about 10,000 banks failed; the Gross National Product declined from $105 billion in 1929 to only $55 billion in 1932. Compared to pre-Depression levels, net new business investment was a minus $5.8 billion in 1932. Wages paid to workers declined from $50 billion in 1929 to only $30 billion in 1932.”

‎#3

In response to the economic devastation that left millions of Americans destitute, Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the “New Deal” programs – Civilian Conservation Corps, Works Progress Administration, Public Works Administration, etc. – which put unemployed Americans back to work building roads, bridges and infrastructure that we still use today, several generations later. In fact, the Public Works Administration helped build the Hoover Dam. To secure prosperity for the majority of Americans after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression, FDR also created Unemployment Insurance, Medicare, and Social Security, which several generations of Americans have enjoyed the benefits of in youth and in old age.

source:

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,910233,00.html

EXCERPT:

“[The WPA] provid[ed] jobs for 8.5 million Americans who otherwise would have been unemployed….[Those federally funded workers built] 125,110 public buildings, 8,192 parks and 853 airports….[as well as assisted with] the Hoover Dam, Chicago’s sewer system and the aircraft carriers Yorktown and Enterprise. In all, the two agencies disbursed $9.8 billion….

The WPA generally paid better than relief, but not as well as private industry. Unskilled laborers earned as little as $19 a month; professional and technical workers not much more than $94 a month. Fortunately, some WPA families were also eligible for relief payments. By law, nine out of ten WPA recruits had to pass a means test, and Congress did not want them to have too much money left for luxuries.

Still it gave eating money in hard times to some Americans who later became famous, including Actors Orson Welles and Burt Lancaster and Artists Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Oh yes, and a fellow named Richard Nixon earned $3.50 an hour from the National Youth Administration, a division of the WPA, for doing research in the Duke University law library.”

* (Ronald Reagan’s father also found employment during the Great Depression through FDR’s “New Deal” programs.)

#4

EXCERPT from Griftopia by Matt Taibbi, pages 49-51; Spiegel & Grau 2010:

“In 1981 Reagan appointed Greenspan to head the National commission on Social Security Reform, which had been created to deal with an alleged short-term funding crisis that would leave the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund bankrupt by 1983. It goes without saying that any political decision one makes with regard to Social Security is hazardous; cutting benefits is a shortcut to electoral death, and the alternative, raising taxes, isn’t so palatable either.

Greenspan’s solution was to recommend hikes in the Social Security tax, which of course is not considered a real ‘tax’ (Reagan would hilariously later describe such hikes as ‘revenue enhancements’) because the taxpayer theoretically gets that money back later on in benefits. The thinking here was that in the early eighties, with so many baby boomers now in their prime earning years, the Reagan administration would hike payments to build up a surplus that could in twenty to thirty years be used to pay out benefits when those same baby boomers reached retirement age. The administration accepted those proposals, and the Social Security tax rate went from 9.35 percent in 1981 to 15.3 percent by 1990.

Two things about this. One, Social Security taxes are very regressive, among other things because they only apply to wage income (if you’re a hedge fund manager or a Wall Street investor and you make all your money in carried interest or capital gains, you don’t pay) and they are also capped, at this writing at around $106,000, meaning that wages above a certain level are not taxed at all. That means that a married couple earning $100,000 total will pay roughly the same amount of Social Security taxes that Lloyd Blankfein or Bill Gates will (if not more, depending on how the latter two structure their compensation). So if you ignore the notion that Social Security taxes come back as benefits later on, and just think of them as a revenue source for the government, it’s a way for the state to take money from working-and middle-class taxpayers at a highly disproportional rate.

Second, Greenspan’s plan to build up a sort of Social Security war chest for use in paying out benefits to retirees twenty years down the road was based on a fallacy. When you pay money in Social Security, it doesn’t go into a locked box that is separate from the rest of the budget and can’t be used for other government spending. After the Greenspan reforms, the Social Security administration bought T-bills with that money, essentially lending the cash back to the government for use in other appropriations. So if, let’s say, your president wanted an extra few billion dollars or so of short-term spending money, he could just reach into the budget and take all that Social Security money, leaving whoever would be president two decades later holding not cash to pay out Social Security benefits, but government notes or bonds, i.e., IOUs.

And that’s exactly what happened. The recommendations ushered in after Greenspan’s commission effectively resulted in $1.69 Trillion in new, regressive taxes over the next twenty years or so.

But instead of keeping their hands off that money and preserving it for Social Security payments, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II spent it—all of it—inspiring the so-called Social Security crisis of George W. Bush’s presidency, in which it was announced suddenly that Social Security, far from having a surplus, was actually steaming toward bankruptcy. That bad news was released to the public by then-Treasury secretary Paul O’Neill, who let it slip that the Social Security fund had no assets at all, and instead just had pieces of paper in its account.

‘I come to you as managing trustee of Social Security,’ O’Neill said. ‘Today we have no assets in the trust fund. We have the good faith and credit of the United States government that benefits will flow.’

In other words, Greenspan and Reagan had conspired to hike Social Security payments, justifying it with the promise of building up a Social Security nest egg for subsequent decades, then used up that nest egg on current government spending.

Now, it was bad enough that Greenspan, who as a Randian was supposedly against all use of government ‘force,’ would propose such a big tax hike. But what made his role especially villainous was that when George W. Bush decided to start sounding alarm bells about the future of Social Security, it was not other than Alan Greenspan who came out and argued that maybe it was time to cut Social Security benefits. This is from the Washington Post story in February 2004:

Greenspan offered several ways to curtail federal spending growth, including reducing Social Security and Medicare benefits. The Fed chairman again recommended raising the age at which retirees become eligible, to keep pace with the population’s rising longevity. And he reminded lawmakers that they could link cost-of-living increases in benefits levels to a measure of inflation other than the consumer price index, a widely followed measure that some economists believe overstates the rise in overall prices. A measure that showed less inflation would cause benefit levels to rise more slowly.

To recap: Greenspan hikes Social Security taxes by a trillion and a half dollars or so, four presidents spend all that money on other shit (including, in George W. Bush’s case, a massive tax cut for the wealthy), and then, when it comes time to start paying out those promised benefits, Greenspan announces that it can’t be afforded, the money isn’t there, benefits can’t be paid out.

It was a shell game—money comes in the front door as payroll taxes and goes right out the back door as deficit spending, with only new payroll taxes over the years keeping the bubble from popping, continuing the illusion that the money had never left. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, way back in 1983, had called this ‘thievery,’ but as the scam played out over the decades it earned a more specific title. ‘A classic Ponzi scheme’ is how one reporter who covered Greenspan put it.”

#5

The mismanagement of Republican President George W. Bush (2001-2009) and the Republican-majority Congress (2001-2007) led to the Great Recession we are just now creeping and crawling our way out of in 2011.

Reminder: Bill Clinton left a $200 billion surplus (cash in hand) that was projected to be a $5.7 Trillion surplus over the next 10 years. Yes, the dot-com bust happened. Then Enron – the biggest single contributor to the Bush/ Cheney 2000 campaign – declared bankruptcy, along with WorldCom and Tyco. But that was nothing compared to the unregulated Jack-in-the-box surprise of “Subprime.” The Bush S.E.C. allowed “self-regulation” by the Wall Street banks concerning the buying and selling of subprime-mortgage-backed securities.

The result of George W. Bush’s presidency:

– 10% unemployment, 17% underemployment

– 30% (or more) loss of home values

– The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost half its value, dropping from its high of 14,000 in October 2007; consequently many stock portfolios and 401ks lost half their value

– Credit Markets were frozen because Wall Street banks double-crossed us on the use of the $700 billion bailout; the bailout was not used as it was intended

– The average American’s wages were stagnant during the “Lost Decade” that George W. Bush presided over: “The Big Zero”

– $1 Trillion wasted on the false war in Iraq

– $1 Trillion wasted on tax cuts for the Superwealthy

– Even General Motors and Chrysler went bankrupt as a result of Republican Party Rule

– Over 4,000 US soldiers killed during the false war in Iraq

– Over 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians killed during the false war in Iraq…oh, and the shoes did fly!

So, here we are in “civilization” trying to make sure that we have a country where we “provide for the general Welfare” and our citizens can live out their respective “pursuit of happiness.”

– Universal Health Care saves $$$ and strengthens our country, because healthy workers are more productive workers.

source:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/18/opinion/18krugman.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

EXCERPTS:

“So anyone who is really serious about the budget should be focusing mainly on health care. And by focusing, I don’t mean writing down a number and expecting someone else to make that number happen — a dodge known in the trade as a ‘magic asterisk.’ I mean getting behind specific actions to rein in costs….

That’s why I say that Mr. Obama gets too little credit. He has done more to rein in long-run deficits than any previous president. And if his opponents were serious about those deficits, they’d be backing his actions and calling for more; instead, they’ve been screaming about death panels.

Now, even if we manage to rein in health costs, we’ll still have a long-run deficit problem — a fundamental gap between the government’s spending and the amount it collects in taxes. So what should be done?

This brings me to the seventh word of my summary of the real fiscal issues: if you’re serious about the deficit, you should be willing to consider closing at least part of this gap with higher taxes. True, higher taxes aren’t popular, but neither are cuts in government programs. So we should add to the roster of fundamentally unserious people anyone who talks about the deficit — as most of our prominent deficit scolds do — as if it were purely a spending issue.

The bottom line, then, is that while the budget is all over the news, we’re not having a real debate; it’s all sound, fury, and posturing, telling us a lot about the cynicism of politicians but signifying nothing in terms of actual deficit reduction. And we shouldn’t indulge those politicians by pretending otherwise.”

– Social Security strengthens our country, because all of us can enjoy our lives without having to work every day of it just to get by.

source:

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-sanders-social-20110214,0,1455718.story

EXCERPTS:

“Before Social Security was established 75 years ago, more than half of our elderly population lived in poverty. Because of Social Security, the poverty figure for seniors today is less than 10%. Social Security also provides dignified support for millions of widows, widowers, orphans and people with disabilities.

Since it was established, Social Security has paid every nickel it owed to every eligible American, in good times and bad. As corporations over the last 30 years destroyed the retirement dreams of millions of older workers by eliminating defined-benefit pension plans, Social Security was there paying full benefits. When Wall Street greed and recklessness caused working people to lose billions in retirement savings, Social Security was there paying full benefits….

So what are the facts?

According to the latest report of the Social Security Administration, the program will be able to pay all of its promised benefits for the next 26 years. After 2037, Social Security will still be able to pay about 78% of promised benefits.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has come to a similar conclusion: Social Security will be able to pay full benefits to every eligible recipient until 2039, and after that, it will be able to cover 80% of promised benefits.

Although Social Security will be strong for more than a quarter-century, Congress should strengthen it for the longer term. That is why I agree with the president, who has called for raising the cap on taxable income. Today, that cap is at $106,800; no matter how much money you make, Social Security taxes are only deducted on the first $106,800. But by removing the cap on incomes of $250,000 or more, we can make Social Security fully solvent for generations to come.

Even with no change, the fact is that Social Security has a $2.6-trillion surplus that is projected to grow to more than $4 trillion in 2023. Is this surplus, as some have suggested, just a pile of worthless IOUs? Absolutely not!

Social Security invests its surpluses, as it should, in U.S Treasury bonds, the safest interest-bearing securities in the world. These are the same bonds that wealthy investors and China and other foreign countries have purchased. The bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, which in our long history has never defaulted on its debt obligations. In other words, Social Security investments are safe.

Further, despite the manufactured hysteria about a crisis, Social Security has not contributed one penny to the very serious deficit situation the United States faces. Social Security is fully funded by the payroll tax that workers and their employers pay; it’s not paid for by the Treasury. Our deficit has been, in recent years, largely caused by the cost of two wars, tax breaks for the rich, a Medicare prescription drug program written by the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and the Wall Street bailout — not Social Security.

Why has there been such a concerted effort to privatize Social Security, raise the retirement age or cut benefits? First, Wall Street stands to make billions in profits if workers are forced to go to private financial establishments for their retirement accounts. Second, as the Republican Party has moved far to the right and become more anti-government, there are more and more Republicans who simply do not believe government has a responsibility to provide retirement benefits to the elderly, or to help those with disabilities.

Needless to say, I strongly disagree with both of those propositions. In my view, maintaining and strengthening Social Security is absolutely essential to the future well-being of our nation. For 75 years it has successfully provided dignity and support for tens of millions of Americans. Our job is to keep it strong for the next 75 years.”

Bernie Sanders is an independent senator representing Vermont.

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