|Number 582||July 31, 2015|
This issue of the Notes is going out on the Blue Moon. That only occurs, well, once in a blue moon, I guess. A blue moon isn't really blue, but is simply the second full moon in the same calendar month. It only happens every few years. This has nothing to do with this issue of Nygaard Notes, but I thought it was interesting.
Even more interesting, perhaps, is the update on Social Security that appears in this issue. Long-time readers know that I am a Social Security nerd, so sit back and enjoy the latest trip through the looking glass of Social Security propaganda.
No room for more, let's get to it.
Yours in a Blue Moon,
This week's "Quote" of the Week comes from an article on the website of the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) called "In Cuba, Reform or Transition?" It was posted on July 22nd, and the author is Daniel Hellinger.
"Earlier this year I spent two months in the Vedado district of Havana, living in an apartment rented to me by a family that runs a six-bedroom casa particular (something like a B&B) across the street. During my stay, the Cubans I met gave varying responses to my standard questions:"What do you think of Raúl's reforms?" and "How are things going for you?" They unfailingly welcome change—so long as three major accomplishments of the revolution are left untouched. No one wants a future without free, quality universal health care; free, quality education; and the peace of mind that comes with streets that are virtually free of crime or violence at any hour of the day or night. Moreover, while Cubans clearly welcome the thaw in relations, they are not looking to the U.S. to save them. Virtually everyone who talked to me seemed to agree with the government's approach to rectifying problems; where they disagreed was over the pace of change, with most hoping to see it speed up, but more than a few anxious about their jobs, rations, pensions, etc."
What is the "green left"? What is "extractivism"? Are we living in the "anthropocene epoch"? These are the kinds of things you'll start thinking about if you spend some time on the website called "Climate and Capitalism." I think it's a great site.
Here's what they say about themselves: CLIMATE & CAPITALISM is an ecosocialist journal, reflecting the viewpoint of environmental Marxism. It has three goals: 1. To provide news and analysis to inform, educate and develop the green left; 2. To contribute to building an international movement against capitalist destruction of the environment and for ecosocialism; 3. To encourage and facilitate collaboration and exchanges of views among socialists and ecology activists."
Are you a socialist? Are you an environmental activist? Then you'll love this site. If you're neither a socialist nor an environmentalist, I still think you'll love this site. Maybe you'll discover that you really ARE a socialist!
Here are some examples of headlines you will find on Climate and Capitalism:
Here's another quote, this one from Amartya Sen: "Campaigns against pollution that causes climate change often focus on reducing energy usage, when poor countries desperately need that energy to give their citizens freer and fuller lives. A new ethical framework for evaluating environmental issues is needed."
Relevant to the last issue of Nygaard Notes, we have this quotation, from editor Ian Angus:
"No one could mistake the pope's June 18 encyclical letter Laudato Si' (Praise be to you) for anything other than a religious statement. ... And yet this lifelong atheist and Marxist finds more to agree with in Pope Francis's statement than in just about anything I've seen from greenish NGOs and politicians. I have many profound disagreements with the Catholic church, but we are allies in fighting the number one crisis facing humanity today."
On the "Climate and Capitalism" website you can search by subject, or look at their list of "Ecosocialist Resources," which refers you to "articles, reports, talks and videos that are relevant to our mission."
On the site you can download ecosocialist flyers, like "Why is fighting racism important for the climate movement?" and "What could we do now to start building a sustainable society?"
It's great reading, very energizing, very broad, very deep. Check it out HERE!
Last week the Trustees of the Social Security program released their annual report. And, despite what you have heard from a million sources for a million years, the Social Security program is in good shape. I've said it a million times (yes, I like the particular exaggeration of "million"), but don't take my word for it. Here are a few groups who know more than I do:
The Center for American Progress says, "Today's Social Security trustees report once again highlights the program's strength in providing basic income guarantees to retired and disabled workers and their families, as well as to the survivors of deceased workers."
The Center on Budget & Policy Priorities headlined their response, "Social Security Trustees Confirm Long-Run Shortfall, Though Not an Imminent Crisis," adding that "Social Security can pay full benefits until 2034, the new trustees' report shows..."
The respected National Academy of Social Insurance also says, "Social Security is fully funded until 2034."
If you're really into it, you could read the actual report of the Social Security Trustees, which was released on July 22. A summary, with links to the whole mind-boggling report, can be found online
(On a related note, The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has some reassuring news about the Medicare program: "The 2015 Medicare Trustees Report shows that Medicare solvency remains greatly improved since passage of health care reform with the Hospital Trust Fund paying full benefits until 2030 and the increase in per enrollee spending continuing to be lower than overall health spending. Implementation of the Affordable Care Act and other changes in the health care system, including payment and delivery system reforms that emphasize coordinated care especially for people with multiple chronic conditions, incentives that are reducing the rate of hospital readmissions, and a slowdown in payments to hospitals and private Medicare plans, are improving Medicare's financing.")
I mentioned some of the following facts, from a press release by Social Security Works, to some friends of mine, and they were surprised by some of them. Perhaps you will be, too:
"The most important takeaway from the 2015 Trustees Report is that Social Security has a large and growing surplus. The report projects Social Security's cumulative surplus to be roughly $2.8 trillion in 2015, growing to about $2.9 trillion around 2019. Without any Congressional action to increase Social Security revenue or cut benefits, the system will be able to pay full benefits to America's seniors, people with disabilities, and survivors of deceased workers for nearly two decades, until 2034, one year later than projected in the 2014 report; and it will be able to pay about three-quarters of benefits after that."
"More specifically, journalists may want to give special attention to the following: Income to Social Security from all sources WILL EXCEED all expenditures in 2015, which is why the program's reserves will continue to grow. This has been true every year since 1983." [Emphasis in original.]
"It is sometimes reported that Social Security is paying out more money in benefits than it is collecting in income, but that is wrong. This claim counts only Social Security's income from payroll contributions, disregarding one or both of its other two dedicated sources of income: investment income and dedicated income tax revenue. When income from all of Social Security's statutory revenue sources is counted, its 2015 revenue will surpass its outlays."
The Disability Insurance Shortfall
At the moment, the biggest threat is to the Disability Insurance part of Social Security. (I mentioned this briefly back in Nygaard Notes #578.) Not to get too wonky about it, but the Social Security system has three parts to it, which you'd know if you knew what the letters OASDI stood for. They stand for "Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance," which is what most people call "Social Security." All three parts—retirement, disability, and survivors benefits—are paid for by payroll taxes but, for some reason, the taxes go into two different funds: one for Disability Insurance (DI), and the other for Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI).
In their just-released report, the Social Security Trustees point out that the Disability part of the Social Security system ("DI") is facing a cash problem. As the White House Council of Economic Advisers explains it, the Trustees "predict that the trust fund for the disability portion of the program will face a shortfall in 2016, as they have for the last several years. If Congress fails to act to address this long-foreseen imbalance in the program's finances, 11 million Social Security disability beneficiaries could face a deep and abrupt 19 percent reduction in their disability insurance benefits in 2016." (Note: Disability payments are really low to begin with. The average monthly benefit is $1,019.25)
Social Security Works explains the problem further, saying, "It is important to note the long-anticipated DI shortfall can be easily addressed, unless opponents of Social Security choose to engage in hostage-taking. Congress can and should rebalance the revenue between the OASI and the DI trust fund as it has done 11 times in the past. The long history of transfers between the Social Security trust funds reflects policymakers' traditional and proper treatment of the old age, survivors, and disability programs as one entity, because they are so intertwined and their income is from the same sources."
As I pointed out in Nygaard Notes last month, this is all explained more thoroughly on the website of the National Women's Law Center. And on the website of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Threats in the Congress
At the moment, the fate of Social Security and Medicare is in the hands of people in Congress who want to destroy them. For example, we have House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, M.D. (Georgia Republican) stating that "Medicare and Social Security are on an unsustainable course." So, he says, in order to "do what's right... the House Budget Committee recently launched our Restoring the Trust initiative to raise awareness about the looming insolvency of these programs..."
Well, the first thing one notices here is that there is no "looming insolvency," so any "awareness" based on that idea is going to lead us astray. And, indeed, the "Restoring the Trust" initiative is yet another propaganda campaign aimed at eroding support for one of the most popular government programs in history. On the Budget Committee website we read that "To begin the conversation, the Committee has released a policy paper entitled Restoring the Trust for All Generations: Principles for Saving and Strengthening America's Health, Retirement, and Economic Security Programs." The "conversation" to which they refer has to do with "a call to action in order to build a consensus in support of reform."
In the context of this "initiative," it must be understood that "reform" means "attack." And, even more in the spirit of George Orwell, "saving" means "destroying." And "strengthening" means "weakening." The aim of "Restoring the Trust" is, in fact, the same as every other such initiative for the past 20 years or so, which is to erode trust in this super-reliable program which, after all, has paid benefits on time to many millions of people since 1935. The irony here is almost too much to bear, too Orwellian, so I'll leave it at this: The only serious threat to Social Security and Medicare is the people who say they want to "reform" these programs.
Hope in the Congress
Having said that, it is nonetheless possible to find people in the Congress who actually want to protect the Social Security program. California Representative Xavier Becerra, for example, has introduced a bill called the "One Social Security Act." This bill would simply merge the two existing Social Security trust funds into a single unified Social Security Trust Fund, which would fully fund the Disability Insurance program from here on. Short of that, Congress can simply reallocate some of the funds in the OASI trust to the DI trust. Social Security Works points out that this "requires a change in accounting, not policy changes to the program that would cut benefits or increase revenues." Of course, it also means that Congress has to do the right thing, and their corporate funders didn't send them to Congress to do things like this. So, we'll see what happens.
Despite years of propaganda and attacks on the very idea of social insurance, a majority of USAmericans still support the program, and many want it expanded. Is that a crazy idea? Well, the Campaign for America's Future on July 22nd, in an article called "Expanding Social Security Is Completely Affordable", says it's not crazy:
"The fact is that, as the richest nation in the world at the richest point in our history, not only can we afford the current levels of Social Security protections, we can afford to greatly expand Social Security. Social Security's benefits are modest and don't cover a number of eventualities, such as parental leave and sick days, which the Social Security programs of other developed countries cover.
"Social Security is a solution to the looming retirement income crisis where most workers will be unable to retire without a drastic reduction in their standards of living. Social Security is the most universal, secure, and efficient source of retirement income that we have, providing a guaranteed, inflation-protected source of income that one will never outlive. And expanding Social Security is completely affordable. Millionaires and billionaires should pay the same rate as everyone else on all of their income. The trust fund will remain strong, even with expanded benefits."
The Alliance of Retired Americans just published a fact sheet—"Social Security Expansion Bills"—that lists 8 bills currently working their way through Congress. Check out the Social Security page on their website to see the fact sheet and much more.
I published a major article back in 1999 called "Social Security Reform: The Organizing Opportunity of a Lifetime." It's still timely. Look it up online, or go to the Nygaard Notes website and see NN #6.
The threat to Social Security continues. We all need to understand the nature of the threat, and take action to preserve and expand this ever-more-essential program of social insurance.