'Entitlements' are human rights!... Corporate media attacking health care for the elderly, pensions as part of propaganda attack on so-called 'entitlements'

For more than a decade, the ruling class has been trying to take away the pensions people earned during their working lives, and Social Security, the modest dollars that keep many older people from abject poverty. But just as those of us who once worked as teachers, coaches, and others know that at a certain age we can no longer do the work we once could. I don't think I'd want to work alongside the current me on a scaffold cleaning brick at 12 floors above Drevel Blvd, as I did when I was working my way through the University of Chicago in 1967 -- a summer I spent working as a union construction laborer at 4554 S. Drexel. Yet the discussion, not only in the USA but across the so-called "civilized" world, is as if the aged, rather than a blessing on society -- and proof we are becoming more civilized and healthy -- are a burden. Only a society whose rulers praise nonsensical programs called things like "Race To The Top" could promote such thinking. And I also do not believe I have the temprament I had during the late 1990s, when I worked at Bowen High School in a job that included suppressing gang violence within the school...

So it was good to read an analysis by FAIR, which we subscribe to, pointing out the sustained attack on older Americans from the same plutocracy that wants to destroy public education and return us to a primitive time when Social Darwinism reigned.


Taking Aim at the Elderly. 'Fiscal cliff' deal spared the aged, pundits complain. Fairness and Accuracy in Media Media Advisory. 1/11/13. taking-aim-at-the-elderly/

The outcome of the "fiscal cliff" did not impress many in the corporate media, who have long favored some sort of Simpson-Bowles "grand bargain" that would pair tax increases with spending cuts to so-called "entitlement programs." The last-minute tax deal fell well short on

both counts--but the failure to cut benefits seemed to bother more pundits than anything else.

On Meet the Press (12/30/12), NBC's Tom Brokaw complained that Obama "could help himself a lot if he were tougher on the AARP"--by which he meant tougher on seniors, raising the retirement age for Social Security (which is really a cut in benefits--Extra!, 12/12) and "means-testing" Medicare. (When the discussion was taxes, Brokaw insisted that "$250,000 doesn't make you rich," but proposals to means-test Medicare assume that elderly retirees with incomes as low as $85,000 aren't paying enough for healthcare--FireDogLake, 12/14/12.)

Brokaw went on:

"I think it would have been helpful to him this morning to have said, "Look, we get this tax deal

done, I'm here to help on Medicare and Social Security reforms." We've got to address those, instead of just saying, "I'm going to protect the seniors who are there and the Medicare and Medicaid recipients." Give a little something. Show good faith about what needs to be done on deficit reduction and the entitlement programs."

In the Washington Post (1/3/13), David Ignatius raised the canard that the self-funded entitlement programs are connected to the budget deficit, arguing that Obama

should have

"... come to the table with a grand vision of his own-- a real strategy for cutting the deficit and the entitlement programs that drive it.... He didn't formulate a plan for long-term solvency partly because he didn't want to give up the political weapon of Social Security before the 2012 election."

Ignatius concluded that "it's Obama's job to lead the party toward entitlement reforms and other policies that will be painful but necessary."

The Post's Fareed Zakaria (1/4/13) agreed that the "administration did not go far enough on entitlement reforms, and the Democratic Party as a whole is too obstinately opposed to reform in this area."

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman (1/6/13) was more hopeful that Obama would still come around to cutting benefits:

"Maybe Obama has a strategy: First raise taxes on the wealthy, which gives him the credibility with his base to then make big spending cuts in the next round of negotiations. Could be. But raising taxes on the wealthy is easy."

Friedman added that "Obama has spent a lot of time

lately bashing the rich," and that it was time for him

"to stop just hammering the wealthy."

In Time magazine (1/21/13), Joe Klein complained of


There is a smugness and lassitude to the party

right now, an absence of creative new policy

thinking, a tendency to defend corroded

industrial-age welfare and entitlement programs.

They even blocked a modest money-saving change in

Social Security's cost-of-living index. And this

is where the real challenge of Obama's second term

will lie.

And liberal Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Alter (1/3/13)

criticized Obama's progressive critics before arguing:

Just as Republicans must learn to live with tax

increases, Democrats must learn to live with--and

vote for--changes in entitlements. They should

keep in mind that reforms such as a chained

consumer price index, which alters the inflation

calculation applied to Social Security, and means

testing the benefits of wealthy retirees, do not

threaten the social safety net.

Neither Franklin Roosevelt on Social Security nor

Lyndon Johnson on Medicare was wedded to any of

the particulars of those programs--only the

principle of guaranteed support from the


It is worth mentioning that Obama did, in fact, support

cutting Social Security benefits, endorsing Klein and

Alter's idea of a bogus change to inflation measurement

in order to siphon money away from older retirees (FAIR

Blog, 12/19/12). And the Affordable Care Act has

reduced the projected Medicare trust fund shortfall by

two-thirds--something that too often escapes media


Beyond that, there are plenty of ways for the federal

government to honor its commitments to Social Security

recipients and to pay for Medicare without punishing

those who rely on these programs for their retirement

and their health. The Medicare funding problem is a

matter of reducing healthcare inflation--which could be

addressed by limiting the growth of payments to doctors

and allowing the government to negotiate for lower drug

costs, for starters.

Far from being too tough on the rich, the fiscal cliff

tax deal was enormously beneficial to the wealthy--with

breaks on estate tax and investment income (Washington

Post, 1/8/13;, 1/4/13;, 1/10/13).

Other potential sources of revenue, like a tax on Wall

Street transactions, were basically off-limits.

But these arguments basically do not exist in the

corporate media, where well-to-do pundits piously argue

that the poor and the elderly should sacrifice

retirement benefits or pay more for healthcare as they



Will Obama Cave on Social Security?

With chained CPI a likely part of any debt

ceiling deal, outraged progressives are

organizing in advance

By Josh Eidelson


January 12, 2013

A top official at the nation's largest union federation

slammed a Social Security cut proposal that's been

floated by President Obama, but stopped short of

calling it a deal-breaker in the next round of budget


"We remain strongly opposed" to chained CPI, AFL-

CIO government affairs director Bill Samuel told

Salon. "It's a very substantial benefit cut."

"Chained CPI" is a proposed alternative method of

calculating cost of living adjustments, which would

reduce future increases in Social Security benefits.

Samuel said that for many seniors on fixed incomes,

even "the current system may not be adequate." He

called the claim that chained CPI could be

implemented in a way that would be fair to such

retirees "sort of ludicrous."

Obama has repeatedly touted chained CPI as an

aspect of a potential "Grand Bargain" with

Republicans to reduce the deficit. In a "Meet the

Press" interview aired on Dec. 30, the president

highlighted it both as an example of his willingness

to make concessions to the GOP and part of his

"pursuit of strengthening Social Security for the


The same day that interview aired, Republicans

reportedly dropped their insistence on including

chained CPI in the scaled-down so-called fiscal cliff

deal, signaling they expect it to be part of a larger

deficit deal in the next few months. So, it appears,

does Obama. Can labor stop them?

"The White House has signaled many times they're

very open to this concept, which puts us in a very

precarious situation," said Eric Kingson, a co-chair

of Strengthen Social Security. That coalition, whose

300-some member groups include the AFL-CIO and

some of its largest unions, supports increasing

Social Security benefits and opposes chained CPI,

which Kingson called "a disguised benefit cut."

Kingson and fellow co-chair Nancy Altman told

Salon they would recommend that the Strengthen

Social Security coalition oppose any overall deficit

deal that includes chained CPI. Altman, whom the

AFL-CIO is urging Obama to nominate as Social

Security commissioner, said, "I think we would

certainly have the view that there should be a line

in the sand that should not be crossed." But she

noted that individual coalition members would

"have to weigh a lot of things" in deciding whether

their own groups would also support torpedoing an

overall deal over chained CPI.

No member of that coalition is more prominent than

the AFL-CIO, the federation of 56 unions that played

a major role in reelecting the president. So will the

AFL-CIO pledge to oppose any deficit deal that

includes chained CPI? "I'm not going to answer

that," said Samuel. "That's theoretical. I expect we

will remain opposed to chained CPI."

Samuel said that the federation's overall priorities in

any budget deal are the same ones it pushed during

the "fiscal cliff" fight: raising taxes on the top 2

percent of Americans and averting cuts to Medicare,

Medicaid and Social Security. In a follow-up email

to Salon, Samuel added that it was "very unlikely"

that the AFL-CIO would support any deal that

included safety net cuts.

The AFL-CIO's strategy for the current budget wars

will be a topic of discussion at its Executive

Committee meeting on Wednesday.

National Nurses United executive director RoseAnn

DeMoro, one of 53 members of the AFL-CIO

Executive Council, said the federation needs to take

a hard line. "I think they should borrow some

cement from the building trades and draw a line in

the sand and keep it there ." she told Salon. "It

would be unconscionable for the AFL-CIO to

maintain a position of any type of wiggle room with

respect to that." DeMoro said that the varying

politics of its affiliate unions make the AFL-CIO "a

mixture of a whole lot of different forces," but said it

"needs to separate itself from the Democratic Party

and stand on its own."

The AFL-CIO drew a bright line early in the fiscal

cliff showdown. In an interview the day after

President Obama's reelection, AFL-CIO president

Richard Trumka told Salon that the federation

would oppose any fiscal cliff deal that didn't fully

end the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent, or

included any cuts to entitlements (chained CPI

included). But on Dec. 20, after Obama was widely

reported to have offered Speaker John Boehner a

"Grand Bargain" including chained CPI, Trumka

told the Huffington Post's Sam Stein that while "we

oppose the cuts," "Obviously I want to look at the

whole deal before we make any decision."

On New Year's Eve, hours before the Senate voted to

approve a deal that had no entitlement cuts but

extended Bush tax cuts on family incomes up to

$450,000, Trumka weighed in with a series of

critical tweets, including "its not a good #fiscalcliff

deal if it gives more tax cuts to 2 percent and sets

the stage for more hostage taking." (According to

Samuel, those tweets were meant to indicate that

"we were concerned about the direction the deal was

taking.") But in an emailed statement the next day,

Trumka called the deal "a breakthrough in

beginning to restore tax fairness," and said it

"achieves some key goals of working families."

However, he said, "lawmakers should have listened

even better."

Asked whether that deal had met the minimum

standards Trumka outlined in November, Samuel

said, "I think it depends how you count this, but it

came awfully close." He said that further tax

increases on the top 2 percent will be necessary. But

he touted the absence of entitlement cuts, the

extension of unemployment benefits, and Obama's

success in "breaking through the decades-long

Republican opposition to raising taxes." Samuel

said he believes Obama "did the best he could,

given the circumstances."

What's next? According to the AFL-CIO, in the two

months following Election Day, the federation

mobilized tens of thousands of people for

demonstrations supporting taxing the top 2 percent

and opposing benefit cuts, and generated over

15,000 phone calls. Samuel said the AFL-CIO will

"continue, and maybe even accelerate or ramp up"

such efforts over the coming weeks, with a

particular focus on the President's Day recess.

Samuel said he was optimistic that, once outcry

mounts over GOP hostage-taking on the debt

ceiling, Obama would be able to avoid making any

concessions in exchange for raising it. Instead,

Samuel predicted that the main deal-making will

revolve around the looming sequester cuts and the

coming expiration of government funding.

Samuel said he believes that pressure from the AFL-

CIO and its allies has succeeded in taking other

entitlement cuts, like raising the eligibility age for

Medicare, "off the table." As for chained CPI, he said,

Obama "clearly doesn't have the strong visceral

reaction against it that we do. But I think he

believes it's a pretty tough measure, and my

assumption is he wouldn't push it unless he was

getting something pretty significant in return" from

Republicans. Samuel said that increasing public

opposition to chained CPI could reduce the

willingness of the president, as well as Democrats

and Republicans in Congress, to put it on the table.

While it's already "pretty unpopular," he said, "we

have to make it a proposal that is unacceptable to

the public."

"We have a healthy degree of concern," said Samuel.

"One would have to going into this fight - it's not

going to be easy. Our record so far suggests that we

can be successful."



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