It is terribly disturbing that the public has been fed so much disinformation about so many issues that it has trouble discerning what the truth is. A determined effort to invigorate honest debate, inject some truth serum into our politicos and engage in a determined reality check might begin to move the country on a more enlightened path.
For example, wasn’t Social Security originally intended to be a safety-net retirement fund? And if that is the case why aren’t benefits distributed to those who are actually retired or earn only part-time wages? One doesn’t have to support means testing to favor withholding distributions to those who are fully employed well past the designated retirement age. When Clay Shaw (R.FL) appeared on C-Span’s Washington Journal last week he said he was already receiving Social Security yet he is an active member of Congress, receives a salary and also contributes to the Congressional Retirement Investment Fund. Isn’t something askew here?
If President Bush is really serious about mending Social Security and not dismantling it, Congress should be encouraged to revise the provision that allows government to use the current Social Security surplus for other purposes. It is said that in the beginning there used to be 16 workers for every retiree but that, when the baby boomers retire that ratio will become 3 to1. If that premise holds as a reason to dismantle the “pay as you go” structure then it should be equally valid that the system can no longer afford to be raided by Congress, leaving a trust fund full of government IOUs. Such an adjustment might actually force the president and Congress to devise realistic budgets instead of omnibus spending bills.
Treasuries are always loan instruments in a sense in that they are purchased against the “full faith and credit” of the U.S. government. The invested funds are then used for other purposes with the promise to repay bond owners at some future date. But attempting to apply the same principle to Social Security is a false analogy because those monies were previously earmarked for a specific purpose and should never have become a giant government slush fund. Now, more than ever, with what the president refers to as a crisis and with Republicans even stooping to quote President Clinton’s “a looming crisis” reference, earmarked SS funds should actually remain in trust. U.S. Comptroller, David Walker, has referred to the trust fund as merely an “accounting device.” Maybe it’s time for such devices to end and real accountability to begin.
In addition, despite the cost to corporations, the SS cap should certainly be raised. Corporate America has received quite enough protections from this administration, and raising the cap would help infuse the retirement fund with some insurance money, especially if the trust fund were in fact sacrosanct.
In other areas, to shore up the real looming crises in Medicare, the Prescription Drug Plan and Medicaid, Congress should redesign its legislation that prohibits negotiating with drug companies for lower prices. With the prospect of the huge additional outlay when the Prescription Drug Plan takes effect, the Bush refusal to negotiate with an industry that makes enormous profits and spends more money on advertising than on R & D is unconscionable.
How this administration could float the notion that we would be able to fight a war, costing billions of dollars, create jobs by supporting companies that keep exporting them and at the same time give huge tax cuts to the rich is astonishing. That so many people have bought into the concept is even more astonishing. Only by encouraging the public to focus on less important, more personal issues could our much larger needs and inequities be so misunderstood and so unattended.
Right-wing radio has created a considerable body of echophants who all seem to use the same words and phrases. They call Washington Journal, for example, to say they support President Bush “100%” or that Democrats are always “whining”, one of Rush Limbaugh’s favorite rants. Most disturbing about these folks and the administration, though, is a serious disconnect from reality. For example, one of the few presidential domestic budget increases is for “abstinence only” programs not notable either for accuracy or success in educating our youth. And the Family Council crowd bemoans the fact that the days when someone who was shot fell bloodlessly to the ground have been replaced by depictions of blood and gore – something like what really happens when people get shot. Pretty much everything has become a political issue for “the right.” Thus “Million Dollar Baby” is a target because it departs from a particular political vision. As Frank Rich puts it, “what intrudes in the final third of “Million Dollar Baby” is real life.”
Reality, except for its own particular version of it, is certainly not the long suit of this administration. That presidential deaf ear is finely tuned to avoid having to confront the global realities resulting from our domestic and foreign policies and behavior. As Tom Friedman says in a piece well worth reading:

…through our profligate use of energy, we are generating huge windfall profits for Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan where the cash is used to insulate the regimes from any pressure to open up their economies, liberate their women or modernize their schools and where it ends up instead financing madrasses,mosques and militants fundamentally opposed to the progressive, pluralistic agenda America is trying to promote.(full article here)

If it hasn’t been clear before now, it should certainly begin to dawn on even the most loyal supporters that it is time for us to require the president and our elected representatives to address real events in real time and not try to wish or spin away the truth about how our tax dollars are spent or what passes for morality in our name. In short it is way past time for a reality check.

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