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Jan 19, 2005
Social Security, Iraq and Mushroom Clouds
By Rob Gross

Ok, let's see. President Bush paid off the big pharmaceutical companies by making it illegal for Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs even though this would prove costly to 40 million seniors and disabled Americans. He rewarded big energy companies by undermining the Clean Air Act even though this would endanger millions of Americans who live near certain polluting power plants. And, of course, the biggest boon of all went to Halliburton and other oil and defense industry giants after talk of mushroom clouds and fictitious sales of uranium rallied the nation behind an unnecessary war in Iraq.

So, who will be rewarded next? Why not Wall Street and the big brokerage firms? By claiming that Social Security is in trouble even though the facts say otherwise (remember Iraq and mushroom clouds) the Bush administration can proceed with its plans for privatization. They'll keep repeating the message, "Social Security is in trouble…Social Security is in trouble" until it sticks. They'll totally use the Iraq model. Key to their strategy will be to get the media behind the cause. Get ready for an all out TV and radio ad blitz telling us that "Social Security is in trouble." Of course, Fox News will back them no matter what they say. And they can probably pay off some influential commentators, a la Armstrong Williams.

That's what the president's "reform" is all about. It's simply a huge payoff to stockbrokers at the expense of America's workers and disabled. When millions of American taxpayers start investing their social security accounts in the stock market someone will have to manage those accounts. And someone will collect a fee whenever securities are bought and sold.

One problem with all this is that Social Security was never intended to be a government sponsored 401k plan. Social Security is an insurance policy and it has worked well for nearly 70 years. Its chief goal is to insure that recipients avoid poverty in their golden years. Like the name implies Social Security is secure. And while the stock market will go up and down Social Security is the great American safety net that can never be taken away.

Another problem is that in order to get the privatization ball rolling, George W. Bush, that master of budgetary prowess, plans to borrow $1 trillion to $2 trillion to cover transition costs. These costs are to replace the benefits that will be diverted to investment accounts. Even if the investment accounts do well the substantial new debt created by this plan will likely lead to higher interest rates and negatively impact the economy. This would certainly hurt the stock market, including the new investment accounts that workers will need to rely on for their retirement.

But never mind these details. The president has been superbly playing his role as chief fear-mongerer. He actually said that the Social Security system will be "flat bust bankrupt" by the time today's younger workers retire. According to the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office, however, the Social Security system is wholly sound until 2052, after which incoming revenues will still be able to cover 81% of payments to beneficiaries. This is hardly "flat bust bankrupt." In fact, this shortfall can easily be remedied with a little tweaking over the next 47 years.

So why would the president disseminate such disinformation? Because it's what he knows and it's what he does. And boy did it work well before! Remember Iraq and mushroom clouds?

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