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Monday, May 09, 2005

Shell Game

Krugman nails Bobo's useless hide to the wall with some actual figures, without having to soil his tongue by mentioning Bobo's foul nom de suck.

Hell hath no fury like a scammer foiled. The card shark caught marking the deck, the auto dealer caught resetting a used car's odometer, is rarely contrite. On the contrary, they're usually angry, and they lash out at their intended marks, crying hypocrisy.

And so it is with those who would privatize Social Security. They didn't get away with scare tactics, or claims to offer something for nothing. Now they're accusing their opponents of coddling the rich and not caring about the poor.

Well, why not? It's no more outrageous than other arguments they've tried. Remember the claim that Social Security is bad for black people?


Well, we remember, and hopefully blacks do as well, because it epitomizes these weasels' approach to every damn thing. That was as shitty and cynical as it gets.

But the current righteous squeals of indignation are eerily harmonious, are they not? At least we know that Karl Rove's autofax is working.


Before I take on this final insult to our intelligence, let me deal with a fundamental misconception: the idea that President Bush's plan would somehow protect future Social Security benefits.

If the plan really would do that, it would be worth discussing. It's possible - not certain, but possible - that 40 or 50 years from now Social Security won't have enough money coming in to pay full benefits. (If the economy grows as fast over the next 50 years as it did over the past half-century, Social Security will do just fine.) So there's a case for making small sacrifices now to avoid bigger sacrifices later.

But Mr. Bush isn't calling for small sacrifices now. Instead, he's calling for zero sacrifice now, but big benefit cuts decades from now - which is exactly what he says will happen if we do nothing. Let me repeat that: to avert the danger of future cuts in benefits, Mr. Bush wants us to commit now to, um, future cuts in benefits.

This accomplishes nothing, except, possibly, to ensure that benefit cuts take place even if they aren't necessary.


Exactly. This is shaping up to be, amazingly, an even bigger shell game than we'd supposed four months ago. That's pretty bad when these assholes can confound even our impossibly lowered expectations.


Now, about the image of Mr. Bush as friend to the poor: keep your eye on the changing definitions of "middle income" and "wealthy."

In last fall's debates, Mr. Bush asserted that "most of the tax cuts went to low- and middle-income Americans." Since most of the cuts went to the top 10 percent of the population and more than a third went to people making more than $200,000 a year, Mr. Bush's definition of middle income apparently reaches pretty high.

But defenders of Mr. Bush's Social Security plan now portray benefit cuts for anyone making more than $20,000 a year, cuts that will have their biggest percentage impact on the retirement income of people making about $60,000 a year, as cuts for the wealthy.

These are people who denounced you as a class warrior if you wanted to tax Paris Hilton's inheritance. Now they say that they're brave populists, because they want to cut the income of retired office managers.


Redefining terms and moving goalposts around to suit the story du jour has been part and parcel of Iraq policy already, obviously, but these cheap tactics have really hit their stride in domestic policies, particularly SS privatization. How many different terms have been marketed just in the last four months? Three? Four?

They haven't been able to keep their story straight for more than a week at a time throughout this mess of a marketing campaign, but the Democrats are the bad guys for not just grabbing their ankles the moment Himself clears his throat.

I thought these people were anti-drug. What the fuck are they smoking?


Let's consider the Bush tax cuts and the Bush benefit cuts as a package. Who gains? Who loses?

Suppose you're a full-time Wal-Mart employee, earning $17,000 a year. You probably didn't get any tax cut. But Mr. Bush says, generously, that he won't cut your Social Security benefits.

Suppose you're earning $60,000 a year. On average, Mr. Bush cut taxes for workers like you by about $1,000 per year. But by 2045 the Bush Social Security plan would cut benefits for workers like you by about $6,500 per year. Not a very good deal.

Suppose, finally, that you're making $1 million a year. You received a tax cut worth about $50,000 per year. By 2045 the Bush plan would reduce benefits for people like you by about $9,400 per year. We have a winner!


There it is, the proverbial money shot, the heart of the current phase of the marketing bamboozle. Bush makes like he's throwing the peons a freakin' bone, and has the goddamned nerve to even insist it's on the backs of the Hiltons and Trumps. Nothing could be further from the truth. He's putting the squeeze on a rapidly dwindling American middle class, who really are bearing the brunt of paying the bills in this country anymore.

It's like when he took a plastic turkey to the troops in Iraq at Thanksgiving a couple years ago. It's just something to posture and preen in front of the cameras with; you're not supposed to actually scrutinize it.

Like most of what passes for policies from these crooks.


I'm not being unfair. In fact, I've weighted the scales heavily in Mr. Bush's favor, because the tax cuts will cost much more than the benefit cuts would save. Repealing Mr. Bush's tax cuts would yield enough revenue to call off his proposed benefit cuts, and still leave $8 trillion in change.

The point is that the privatizers consider four years of policies that relentlessly favored the wealthy a fait accompli, not subject to reconsideration. Now that tax cuts have busted the budget, they want us to accept large cuts in Social Security benefits as inevitable. But they demand that we praise Mr. Bush's sense of social justice, because he proposes bigger benefit cuts for the middle class than for the poor.


There ya go. You want to save Social Security and get rid of the deficit and help pay for this war that's cost $300 billion so far (with not a speck of return in terms of actual oil)? Repealing just half the tax cuts would accomplish almost all of this; it would certainly go a long way toward that.

If you didn't know better, you might almost think that someone might be profiting somehow by this nation's perennial indebtedness. Why not make it more by having a big giveaway to Wall Street, on your dime?

Bobo and his fellow nematodes won't have to worry about the future; their careers of deceit and bullshit will ensure that they are provided with nice sinecures from the occupants of the boots they've licked. The rest of us do not have the option of relying on distributors of thick envelopes.

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