Social Security and Medicare aren’t Entitlements 159

Some may not have thought I had it in me, but I always planned to critique Barack’s performance when necessary.  It’s become necessary.  Riding home on the Metro tonight, I read a four-page article on the mobile New York Times latest news section.  After a fairly standard opening paragraph, I got to this beauty of a quote:

“We expect that discussion around entitlements will be a part, a
central part” of efforts to curb federal spending, Mr. Obama said at a
news conference. By February, he said, “we will have more to say about
how we’re going to approach entitlement spending.”

There is so much wrong with this sentence I hardly know where to start, so I will start with the obvious response that found its way into the title of this blog.  Social Security and Medicare are promises, not entitlements.  They are part and parcel of the societal compact we have crafted over 230 years of contest and compromise.

If anything, they are woefully underfunded.  They need to be bigger.  They need to be a Pension and Health Care System that lets all of us plan for and live a decent life.  Properly managed, a pension and heath insurance system for 300 million can pretty much pay for itself.  Lift the cap on Social Security contributions, set taxes back to what they were when Reagan left office and we can have both of those programs as far as the eye can dream.

Beyond the offending quote was the story itself.

Barack appointed a new Chief Performance Officer to implement his pledge to go through the budget line-by-line.  I don’t know anything about the woman he selected, but I assume she is perfectly qualified.  However, in all four pages of this ridiculous story, there was not a single mention of the defense budget and agricultural subsidies and trade agreements and unaccountable government contractors or any one of a dozen ways to heal our economy before looking at Social Security and Medicare.

How can we honestly address the economic challenges we face if the solutions being offered don’t seem to address the problem at hand?

I have been
pleased with his Barak Karate so far, so I am willing to take a wait
(for now) and see attitude.  The key is to never stop seeing, I
suppose, so, I’ll be keeping an eye on this one as the details come out with regards to how Barack plans on handling the three core components of the progressive agenda he ran on – health care, energy and the economy.  I don’t totally disagree with the framing he offered for what we see coming in the years ahead, but I am not too happy about the missing context of the asses he’ll need to kick once he takes office.

Perhaps he is playing this one close to the vest as many things before, though I really see no upside in using neocon framing for core progressive programs.

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159 thoughts on “Social Security and Medicare aren’t Entitlements

  • miguelitoh2o

    Thanks for posting this Jason. It is galling to see the money that’s been thrown at the financial crisis directed to those well heeled corporate fat cats who orchestrated said crisis, while the average American is treated, (or minimally referred to), as dead weight in the system. The boat of the economy will float only when those ‘little people’ have attained a sense of security, that our society would do for us what we did for AIG, et al. Only then will the gears of consumer spending fully engage the financial engine of Wall Street and bring the ship of our economy to the wind. Whoa! That’s my metaphor for the day. Signing off…

    • Jason Everett Miller

      I am always happy to float a good boat metaphor! (Must be the Sailor inside who never dies…)

      I think getting some of these done will require subterfuge so as to not inspire concerted opposition. Perhaps this is simply a shot across the bow, warning that Obama is willing to take on everything, but not necessarily meaning what that sort of thing usually means – deep cuts while leaving the inmates in charge of the asylum.

      Oops. Mixed our metaphors. Or is that an allusion? My wife is the English major.

      Land Ho!

  • bluebell

    I finally agree with you Jason.

    Obama needs to channel FDR and he isn’t going to do that by threatening the safety net. Americans have already lost confidence in the markets and their housing values and fear for their jobs.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      I knew it had to happen eventually! I am hoping (natch) that he simply phrased it poorly and what he really meant is that we will reform how the programs are funded and administered.

      Barack is a better communicator than this, though some of what the NYT wrote was paraphrasing so a missing context is certainly implied.

      Still, the bullshit flag needs to be flown.

      It was really the word “entitlement” that pissed me off. That is one of those words that mean one thing and have come to means something totally different.

      We need to take the language back.

      • hunter

        Jason, sorry, but you and everyone else who is shouting from the rafters about Obama talking about “entitlements” simply don’t know what you’re talking about.

        Let me start by saying that I agree with probably everyone else here on my position toward entitlements: they aren’t big enough, and we need to pay for them with a real progressive income tax.

        But redefining standard-discourse political terms is not going to change anything about the reality. Take a gander here:

        Social Security and medicare ARE entitlements. That’s what they are. Obama did not make this word up, nor is it a recent invention, nor is it wrong to use this term when talking about those programs. Nor does it imply as someone here said “getting something for nothing.” If I buy a ticket to a movie, I am entitled to see the movie. There is nothing wrong with this term.

        Please get over this. If nothing else, it makes you (and by association, people like me who agree with you on policy matters) look like ignoramuses who don’t know standard political diction.

        • Jason Everett Miller

          Thanks for taking the time to make a thoughtful comment instead of using ad hominem attacks. Oh, wait, you didn’t make a thoughtful comment in a thoughtful manner.

          Doesn’t matter, because you are wrong, thoughtfully so or not.

          As we have discovered these last 40 years, framing and semantics matter a lot. The word “entitlements” has been redefined to mean people living large off the system. When the words we use are no longer up to the task of defining our conversation properly, then we must use different words. “Entitlements” has the same skewed meaning in our modern lexicon as progressive or liberal or even conservative.

          We don’t live in a world where everyone rushes to their Webster’s Dictionary to look up the true meaning of words, so that means progressives must be cautious in how they approach a debate that can be derailed from the get-go by using charged language with multiple meanings.

          Barack is a much better communicator than that and surely knew what he was doing when he used the word. Perhaps it was a subterfuge or a distraction for the easily confused republican leadership, but I don’t doubt for a minute that he knew what using that specific word would bring as a reaction.

          • TheRealFish

            Hey, Jase, the idea that because the neo-fascists have redefined terms over the past 40 years means we must choose another euphemism is, well, not well thought out either.
            Perhaps calling it bullsh*t would be closer to my feelings on the issue.
            Because neo-f**ks made “liberal” carry dirty connotations does not mean I have to call myself a “progressive” as one example. Hell, the founders were mostly flaming liberals, their act of revolution was flaming liberal and, ergo, this is by definition a liberal country.
            The entitlement concept was formed by the real person behind your icon/avatar. Citizens of this country are entitled to access to health care beyond their years of physically being able to produce for the “commonwealth.” (Another concept Teddy was fond of: The resources of the country belong to all citizens; those who grow rich on those resources owe a debt for their largesse from the public trough by paying progressively higher taxes than those less fortunate, less resourceful, less blessed by position of birth, but hold the entitling position of simply being a citizen).
            We are entitled to retirement health care.
            We are entitled to affordable access to health care throughout our lives as citizens.
            Those are entitlements by definition, and to choose to bow to the distortions placed in our path by the enemies of our constitutional way of government by the citizenry is weak kneed cowardice.
            We need to fight back, take back our language from the distorting propagandists, and rub their noses in it.

          • Jason Everett Miller

            I understand your point and in a normal situation would probably agree that tilting at the semantics windmill is a good use of our resources.

            However, I don’t think we have the time to deprogram 46 million people before we convince them to pitch in and help. If framing progressive arguments using different lingo will get the job done quicker, that is why I advocate flanking maneuvers to get around bottlenecks in our body politic. Banging our head against the wall feels good only when we stop.

            As to the Founders, they were “liberals” to a point and that point was slavery. I admire the country they designed and the path they laid out for us, but hardly think any of them would be considered all that “liberal” today. To a man, with the possible exception of Madison, they each pissed all over the Constitution they helped to write and swore to protect if and when it suited them.

          • TheRealFish

            Because of the process of distortion of these last 40 years, today’s “liberal” is nearly yesterday’s Goldwater Republican. Thank your chosen deity that they do not rank as one of today’s liberals.
            Yes to the slavery thing. There’s much evidence several of the founders wanted to kill slavery, but felt the public-at-large as well as the south half of the first 13 states would simply not go for it (re: the whole “wolf by the ear” quote of Jefferson where he said, “we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.”).
            They were guilty of situational ethics and morals, but I find it hard to accept an argument that there is any situation less “liberal” — as with the shared literal root with “liberation” — than their revolution, or any concept that is less liberal than that citizens can own a country and not some demi-god monarch.

          • Jason Everett Miller

            I don’t deny the country they created was the most liberal act in the history of western civilization and that philosophically they are without question progressive. In implementation, however, they fell far short of their stated ideals and goals.

            As it has been ever since.

            That wasn’t my point. My point was this country has been a victim of its personality defect from the day it was founded. We traded a demi-god monarch for an elected aristocracy and have yet to see that they (we really) live up to the Constitution and its requirements. The American people have allowed Orwell’s fantasy to become reality. That we are waking up this year doesn’t make forty years of programming go away.

            Individual states of enlightenment notwithstanding, many Americans will take a bit longer to get there, which may require creative solutions with regards to language and positioning.

      • rylly

        Confucius said something along this line: The first step in change is starting to call the thing by its actual name.
        Bushco mangled so many names in his regime that we are dizzy from the effect of mis-named programs that mean their opposite…Patriot Act…rendition…enemy combatants.
        When MSM gets wind of reality, our country may become informed.

        • Jason Everett Miller

          It’s been going on long before Bush. I think Orwell was actually pretty accurate in his predictions and timing – he just didn’t envision it being the beginning of the nightmare and couldn’t envision the subtle nature of the disease. We have been fed a false reality for the last three decades. The Internet finally evolved the technology to help get us out of the matrix. I love irony.

  • Hmmm

    I, for one, have always resented the term “entitlements” as it implies that we are getting something for nothing. I have paid into SS for longer than I like to think about, and as far as I am concerned the government OWES me!

    I have also never understood why we have a cut-off level for paying for SS, or why so many government workers are not a part of the SS system.

    Oh and by the way, if you think for one minute that rich people don’t bother collecting their SS–think again!!!

    • Bwakfat

      Perhaps Obama is thinking means testing. People with a net worth of a couple million on retirement donate their ss to those they likely exploited to get there.

    • clearthinker

      When you write

      I have paid into SS for longer than I like to think about, and as far as I am concerned the government OWES me!

      it shows why the programs are called ‘entitlements’… you feel ‘entitled’ to something.

      Unlike a pension, whereupon retirement you get money paid out to you that was invested for you over the years, Social Security pays out money that is collected by current workers who are taxed. In fact, it is quite similar to a Ponzi scheme and only works if there are more people paying into the system (at the bottom of the pyramid) than taking out (at the top).

      • San Fernando Curt

        No, it does not. Social Security operated the way you describe from its inception in the 1930s until “reforms” by the Reagan Administration increased payroll taxes for working Americans to expand the Social Security trust fund. In return for these higher taxes, workers would pay into a protected fund, proceeds of which would be available to them when they retire. Today’s workers are funding their own retirement, not retiring on the backs of future workers.

        The Reagan plan also allowed the trust fund to be put to other uses, and since the 1980s it has been freely pillaged to decrease this country’s deficit balance. Incidentally, like so much else going south, you can thank Alan Greenspan for the Reagan reform brainstorm. This time bomb should go off about the time boomers begin retiring en masse – next year.

        • Jason Everett Miller

          Thanks for chipping in.

          It is long past time we went back to the original idea of having our retirement reside in a nation-wide, untouchable fund that we all contribute to and then tap during retirement at the level of contributions.

          There should be all kinds of add-on services involved which allow each of us to design the retirement plan that makes sense for ourselves, with a baseline program that provides a real retirement for our older citizens at a predefined age or if a citizen becomes disabled.

          Winner take all is killing us at all levels.

          • clearthinker

            JEM: We never had that idea in this country, at least not from money collected by the government.

            Much of the problem in talking about SS is exactly the point illustrated on the thread: people don’t have an accurate understanding of what the system is.

          • Jason Everett Miller

            Ideas are supposed to evolve to meet the changing times. I suspect this is why many of the progressive advances made during FDR’s presidency would eventually succumb to inertia.

            This is same beef I have with the unions – that they kept all that good stuff for their members, negotiating industry-by-industry, but failing to bring those benefits to the national level in any meaningful or sustainable way.

            I think people are mostly riffing on how it should be vice how it was meant to be or how it is today. I am a big fan of throwing all underlying assumptions, precedent and definitions in the interests of doing it right moving foward.

        • clearthinker

          Not exactly. SS is still “pay as you go” but what the Trust Fund did is to try to keep the SS tax separate from the IRS tax — although it’s still debatable if that happens once the money flows into OMB.

          The Trust Fund was created to account for the relative surplus of monies coming in from the baby boom bubble. It’s not “invested” in the usual sense, it’s just money held by the government to pay out at a later date. In other words, the government buys special bonds with the money as a holding mechanism (they supposedly can’t sell these bonds elsewhere).

          So the system is still pay-as-you-go, but it can absorb surplus funds collected as a buffer for possible deficit payouts in the future. However, there is no special account for you as a worker where you are funding your own retirement like a IRA or 401(K). This is born out by a continued debate if the government really does have money to pay out in the future or not.

        • KitBinns

          This is a far more important point than squabbling over the term “entitlements”. I choked listening to Sen McConnell talk about the deficit problems being caused in part by SS. In fact, until about 2018, the amount going in to SS will continue to exceed what is being taken out, so it MASKS the deficit (as it has for decades).

          From around 2018 til around 2042, we will be “withdrawing” the accumulated surplus. After that, we may have a problem meeting the full demands unless we make some changes (which we should do now, as we did in the 1980s to put us on the sound footing described above.)

          BTW, in spite of Jason RStephen’s charge that it is bad to call SS an “entitlement”, the fact is that in the past defenders of SS integrity specifically called it an entitlement precisely to defend it against government incursion, in apposition to things like welfare or other discretionay spending. We paid for it, we earned it, we get it. Government can’t take away the rights we gained by so doing, so it is an entitlement. First I ever heard of this objection to the term (and I’m 61)!

          • Jason Everett Miller

            Again, not my point. Also, if you don’t think the word “entitlement” means something vastly different to the right than it does to the left, then you haven’t been paying attention to what’s coming from fringes of political debate.

            As long as I can remember, at least the last 30 years or so, neoconservatives have turned “entitlement” into a pejorative. Kind of like liberal. If the idea is to have clear, honest communication about policies the American people as a whole, and not just the left, need to get behind then we must be precise in our wording.

            Especially with terms that have multiple meanings depending on who’s listening.

      • Jason Everett Miller

        Click on the link I provided above to the actual meaning of the word, which is a legal term meaning something you are owed by way of law or contract.

      • Hmmm

        Hey–here is a news flash for you–most american companies no longer fund pensions for their employees, and many of the companies that used to do it have broken faith with those contracts as well (such as United, which as part of its bankruptcy scrapped a good part of their pension program.) Further, companies that still have pensions always show you a figure that INCLUDES SS payments. Universal health care and universal pensions would do so much more for this country than bailing out the banks and wall street ever will.
        As for 401ks, have you looked at any lately? Most have lost 40% or more of their value at this point and NOT through any stupid decisions by their holders! I hate putting any more into my fund, since it just keeps losing money! So I don’t think 401s are the answer either.

        • Jason Everett Miller

          Which is why I think a national pension system is the only way to go in order to guarantee security and not just provide a “safety net” to keep seniors out of the gutter. There is safety in numbers as well as economies of scale to be gained by thinking outside the box on this one.

    • TheRealFish

      As Teddy Roosevelt first characterized it, the “something” that every citizen of this country owns is that which he termed the “commonwealth.”
      His reasoning is that since this is a country by and for the people, as our founders stated very clearly, we are all shareholders in the common-wealth of this country and are, therefore, entitled to the dividends of being part owners of that commonwealth.
      One such dividend is that we should not want for proper health care in our old age, saith Mr. Roosevelt the First.
      It ain’t for nothing. The United States is the ultimate corporation (though TR would have utterly hated it being stated that way!), we are all investors, and those old-age safety nets are dividends to which we are entitled.

  • ~flowerchild~

    Good post.

    The choice of the word ‘entitlement’ annoys me too. The phrase ‘welfare for old people’ makes me cringe. ‘Promise’ works for me…because that is exactly what it is. Money is removed from wages and paid to support those who have stopped working either from age or disability with the promise that the same will be done for you when it’s your time.

    Yep. Promise works.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      Thanks, Flower!

      As I mentioned, I think we aren’t going big enough with this stuff. My dad is on Social Security disability and it is barely enough to “survive” on let alone live. Never mind someone who is perfectly healthy trying to live on such a pittance of a retirement.

      We should expand the program to encompass IRAs and 401K as well. That way you don’t lose the group benefits when going from job to job. In fact, the benefits are much better the more people you add to the group.

      If these are the type of changes Barack is talking about (and the NY Times isn’t reporting) than I have no beef with the new administration.

      We’re cool.

    • Wordie

      flowerchild said:

      The choice of the word ‘entitlement’ annoys me too. The phrase ‘welfare for old people’ makes me cringe. ‘Promise’ works for me…because that is exactly what it is. Money is removed from wages and paid to support those who have stopped working either from age or disability with the promise that the same will be done for you when it’s your time.

      Oh I so agree with you that the words, “entitlement” and “welfare” are absolutely horrible, and demeaning as well. They subtly encourage the conservative mindset that says that people on Social Security are moochers of some kind, when in reality people pay into the system their entire working lives and what they ultimately collect is based upon what they had earned over their lifetimes. (At least, that’s the case with Social Security Disability and Social Security based upon retirement; SSI is a little different.) Your concept of “promise” is good, but I’m afraid that if it came into wide use, it would soon come to be seen as merely a euphemism for “entitlement.”

      So why not call it what it is, insurance. That’s why they called the authorizing legislation for Social Security the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA), isn’t it? Just as with any other sort of insurance, one pays into the system in the expectation of a future payout when circumstances require it.

      Oh, and I don’t think Obama is going to “fix” Social Security in the GWB sense (in other words, ruin it). I think he’ll be following through on his campaign proposal to raise (or eliminate?) the maximum tax, the wage ceiling above which currently no taxes are paid. Why shouldn’t high wage earners pay full FDIC taxes on everything they earn?

  • Tom Hollenbach

    Good post, Jason, but I think it might be jumping the gun. Obama also said on the campaign trail that he wanted to extend Social Security taxes to the higher income brackets, which would indicate a different intention than cutting. I gather that this quote was in response to a specific question and may have just been budgetary boilerplate about looking at everything. Also, there are progressive ways that Medicare spending could be reduced, like capping drug prices.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      I don’t disagree. My next blog is about the “follow-up” story on this from the NY Times that is just as loose with the paraphrasing and editorializing in the guise of news.

      They still have an out-of-context assertion that he may be “cutting” these programs, though the words they have in quotes could mean anything, including what you point out as being a more general notion of fixing things that aren’t working.

      As I said, I’ll be keeping an eye on the details as they emerge from Barack’s team over the coming months.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      Just getting warmed up, dijamo. Wait until I go after the asshats in the republican party leadership and their new-found concern for the tax payer’s money. Thanks for stopping by!

      • bluesplashy

        Good post Jason. I thought I heard Obama say entitlements and Social Security in the same sentence but I wasn’t sure. And that was all I heard passing through the room. This morning I am so weary of the economic thing – some moments it is seems overwhelming. Listening to NPR talking heads bringing up how Americans need to go spend again. I am not sure if they realize how much we (the people) are freaked out about all this. I think this will be changing how our society operates for a long time. There are so many people out there with so much credit card debt they are just teetering on the edge. But I rant in the wrong place. What I wanted to say was word up on the republicans fweeping about fiscal conservativism NOW – just UN BE LIEV ABLE. They need to put a sock in it. They need to sit in the back of the room and be quiet and pray no one notices they are still around.

        • Jason Everett Miller

          Drives me nuts, but it is inevitable that the republican leadership would use selective memory to maintain the left-right paradigm. I suspect the republican rank and file are not fooled anymore, but that is mostly circumstantial evidence on my part. Thanks for the reply!

  • dickday

    Good post Jason. If you get rid of the word entitlements you have more options. We need all the options we can find.

    Social Security, Railroad Retirement, Federal Workers Compensation, Military Pensions,

    This could all turn into a real discussion.

    Take Military Pensions. A lot of us have written about the recent scandal involving ‘retired generals’ Quadruple dipping might be looked at. If one is making a million bucks a year off the prestige of military service, why should you get a pension during that time?

    If you are making half a million a year, why should you get three or four grand in Social Security benefits. You are obviously not retired.

    Railroad Retirement is a mess. Especially the disability provisions.

    If the word entitlement is taken off the table, we would be forced to take another look at scores of government programs, state and federal.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      Love it. Our lexicon is no longer up the challenges we face and in the interests of being “fair” with federal benefits we have lost sight of the enormous gray areas in the system that can be tightened to provide better services to the folks that need them.

      There seems to be no sense of shame or shared sacrifice left at the top of the various ladders in America. these clowns thought trickle down meant pissing all over our heads once they got to the top of the heap rather than reaching back and helping more people up.

      What they fail to understand (or learn from the many times it has happened in the past) is that if there is no security at the bottom, then the top rests on a faulty foundation that will eventually crumble under the weight of numerous contradictions.

      • The Old Grouch

        Late to this one, and I agree with your crumbling foundation metaphor completely.

        Do these Republiclowns not realize (he asked, rhetorically) that properly providing for the elderly and the very young, rather than being a loss, is in fact a net gain for society at large? Or is it, sincerely this time, that they lack the very concept of society at large on which to base their premises?

        • Jason Everett Miller

          The problem has been it isn’t all “republiclowns” but really a more generalized and bipartisan Upper Class who seems to be out of touch with what it’s like to struggle or forgot how they got to where they are. We need a better class of rich people in this country.

          • The Old Grouch

            I use the term for one reason: It is they who have been the prime movers, if you will, of such policies. It is they who are the sellers of the idea that there is no such thing as a common good.

            And I do agree that we need a better class of upper class.

          • Jason Everett Miller

            I guess in my mind the prime movers have been those in the backrooms that we never see, regardless of what they call themselves.

            They are “republicans” or “neoconservatives” in the latest incarnation, but they are quick to take any label that allows them to accomplish their nefarious deeds. In Woodrow Wilson’s time they were democrats and the republicans were the “socialists” who had to be defeated.

            This is why I focus my attention on their motives and actions vice what they choose to call themselves today because that will surely change once we root them out.

          • The Old Grouch

            Possibly, although in my lifetime it’s been those who fly the elephant flag, and wish with great passion that FDR had never been born.

          • Jason Everett Miller

            Mine as well.

            I just hope that now is a good time to force the republican faithful to re-examine their expectations in light of all the recent evidence that their “leaders” were hoodwinking them all along.

            That requires separating the voters from the tools at the top. Can be confusing at times to tell the difference, but I think we must to get things done.

          • The Old Grouch

            If there were a verb meaning “to believe falsely” it would not have any significant first person, present indicative. — Ludwig Wittgenstein

          • SqueakyRat

            Wittgenstein was wrong about that. “If I believe falsely that the Dow will hit 15,000 this year, then I will be very disappointed next Christmas” is perfectly significant. It’s even true.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      Figured I would shake things up a bit. Thanks for noticing! I started to read that article by Zinn (one of my favorite activist writers) but don’t have time right now.

      I agree that our education system should provide as much quality education as someone wants to get. It needs to be funded and mandated at the federal level, allowing the states to deal with specific implementation issues.

      Like so much of what we do, we seem to have gotten this one ass-backwards as well.

  • clearthinker

    Just a reminder:

    Social Security is not a pension program, it is transfer of monies like a tax. There is no “investment” of monies to be withdrawn at a future date. The monies you have deducted from your paycheck are given “immediately” to your parents and grandparents in their monthly check.

    OMB is supposed to keep the monies collected separate from other taxes but the books of the US government get a little muddied at that level.

    Social security is one of the most regressive taxes in our system and was set up at a time when there were more workers per beneficiaries and the benefits were far more limited.

    Medicare/Medicaid were set up by LBJ as part of the Great Society where even more initiatives were passed in a short time without a real looking at the long-term effects and consequences. At that time, the United States at its peak of its wealth and economic might (as a goods producer and scope of it’s economy).

    As a result, all of these programs could do for some rethinking — and now may just be the time for it. You should read Obama’s comments in that context.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      Social Security has most certainly become a pension plan for a number of retirees who barely made ends meet while they worked. Hence my idea to transform both plans into a national pension and health insurance system, which is really what is needed for most of the citizens in this country.

      I suspect the NY Times took Obama’s words out of context to create a pseudo controversy they could pump for a few days. They are beginning to be indistinguishable from their sensationalist counterparts on TV.

      Thanks for the comments.

        • Jason Everett Miller

          Actually, that isn’t what I am doing. I was offering a critique of what was sloppy wording on Obama’s part, given the environment we live in and the media’s penchant for spinning innocent comments into implied context.

  • hoosiertransplant

    I’ve never been convinced Social Security needs any kind of major overhaul, but no doubt there’s ways it could be improved. I always opposed letting the right wing get its hands on it because I always believed their efforts to “fix” things were based in bad faith. Much of the right wants to get rid of Social Security completely, solely for ideological reasons. The right doesn’t care if Social Security works or not, or can be “improved” or made more “efficient; it simply wants Social Security gone, regardless of consequnces.
    Anyway, I don’t think Obama’s comments sound like a major commitment to overhaul the system anytime soon. Instead, they sound like a boilerplate comment that “you know, we’ll look at everything.” Maybe down the road, Obama might want to look at some sort of overhaul or even radical change in Social Security, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon, if ever.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      I don’t think it is the “right” who are against social security.

      It is a small subset of neoconservatives who see Social Security as emblematic of a “Nanny State” rather than the republican rank and file, many of whom rely on SSI benefits to live. Problem is, liberals somehow let the neoconservative leadership and mouth-pieces redefine the terminology.

      I am hoping this year we are able to take the conversation back.

      • Hmmm

        Besides, if my government won’t “help” its citizens, then what good is that government?

        And for those who bellyache about not having enough money for ss or health care, why aren’t you making a huge noise about the money for constant wars that just keeps getting thrown down the rat hole?

        • Jason Everett Miller

          That was the whole reason we formed a country, to provide things for ourselves that we couldn’t as individuals. A guarantee of dignity in old age is one of those things.

          Thomas Paine said in Common Sense:

          Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamities is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer!

          We have been exposed to the miseries of government from the beginnings of this country, with very few of the blessings. It is long past time we demanded what we continue to pay for and have never received.

  • debbiedoesnothing

    Jason, I never thought I’d find myself saying this, but I totally agree with you on this one. I hope O’s not just looking to get even with all the little old ladies who voted for Hillary.

    There are things in the programs that could be improved that could both save money for the taxpayers and improve conditions for Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare recipients. There is a lot of unnecessary bureaucracy and redundancy in the programs that waste money and create headaches for the recipients, as well as inefficiencies that leave the programs wide open to abuse. And note that most of the money generated by Medicare/Medicaid fraud goes to hospitals, doctors and other businesses, not to the patients.

    Medicare and Medicaid should be wrapped into the universal health care program. Everybody should have access to the same health care – everyone from the guy in the homeless shelter to the fat cats in Congress.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      There’s a lot of that going around. Seems my actual political predilections were getting lost in the mix lately.

      Good thoughts, though remember that Medicaid is a state-level program that would pretty much bankrupt the federal system as it is currently designed if they were folded in together.

      We really need to throw out all our assumptions and start from scratch. Most of these programs were designed much too long ago to be fixed by nibbling at the edges.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Dorn76

    A good start would be for all us under 50 or so to realize that we can’t possibly receive anything resembling the payouts under our current system.

  • highplainslawyer

    Let’s see.

    We are in a depression, where the government is desperately trying to figure out how to spend in excess of a trillion dollars in financial stimulus.

    The recipients of those Social Security checks probably are spending nearly 100% of those checks for food, clothing, energy and housing. In other words, the money paid through Social Security gives lots of bang for the buck.

    On the other hand, Obama is talking about $240 billion in tax cuts, most of which going to business. We know that between 30% and 50% of those tax cuts are spent, while the rest is saved or used to pay down debt. In other words, the tax cuts do not provide much bang for the buck.

    So what’s the proposal? More tax cuts and cut back on Social Security.

    Does not compute!

    • Jason Everett Miller

      No actual proposal yet, though I am beginning to suspect they NY Times caught me with my mouth open on this one. I should know better than to react to my first reading of a story. I am hoping that Barack is indeed speaking in terms of re-examining how to best manage these programs vice any sort of cuts.

    • Wordie

      I wonder if it’s possible that Obama has in mind to tie the availability of those business tax cuts to business actions that will have the effect of economic stimulus. More jobs, etc. He was, after all, talking about creating more jobs in the private sector.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      I think we need national defense, international relations and state relations at the federal level, the latter to include things like funding for national health insurance, education and pension benefits.

      We need the power of numbers to make the federally funded things for all citizens both effective and affordable. Otherwise, I think we really got off track when we concentrated so much power in Washington and turned the states into vassals. The bigger the budgets, the more chances there are for corruption and greed.

      Either way, “lock box” was a much more important metaphor than we gave old Al credit for.

      • Zipperupus

        I would have preferred “safety deposit box,” because lockbox rings like a cowbell (apologies to Walken).

        I personally have no problems with Obama’s rhetoric. It implies that nothing is sacred in the budget. This invites debate and discussion. As long as SS is sacrosanct, it will continie to be ransacked and misunderstood.

        My worry is more nebulous: exactly what state and federal pillars can we touch that are not protected by entrenched corrupt interests? Not the military. Not corporate welfare. Not the federal reserve. Not big oil. Not medical insurance. Not the media complex. Not the prison system.

        It strikes me that the only policies/concepts that can be reformed are those that benefit the poor and middle class. The core problems remain while we eat away our safety net in the interest of spirited debate. That is fiddling while Rome burns. What do you think?

        • Jason Everett Miller

          I think you are exactly right, but more and more people are beginning to wake up to that fact.

          Once we reach a critical mass or critical thinkers, some of those sacred cows will be sacrificed on the alter of common sense. I suspect that Barack recognizes the institutional barriers of which you speak and is trying to figure out a way to flank the forces that are even now gathering to block our way.

          Won’t be an easy victory, but we will be victorious.

  • rstephen

    Sooner or later we’re going to have to face the fact that economically, Obama is a Republican.

    #1 He’s already signed onto the discredited Republican theory that tax cuts are what stimulate the economy – half of the Obama package is more of the same tax cut gospel that got us into this mess in the first place.

    #2 He’s now talking about cutting social security and medicare to make up for the deficit created by more tax cuts. This is the exact same thing that Reagan did: transferring wealth from the poorest and most vulnerable to the more affluent.

    Obama’s stimulus plan is destined to fail because it is based upon the same supply-side garbage that got us into this mess in the first place.

    • Zipperupus

      And you know this all because you have read and understood his plan? Did you visit the Akashic records or is this omniscience just a pose.

      Discredit and debate what exists. Don’t create accusations whole cloth from predictive punditry. You always appear whenever there is tension over Obama in order to mischaracterize and repudiate him. That is cynical opportunism devoid of substance. You should be ashamed.

    • SchrodingersCat

      This is the third thread I’ve read where you’ve posted this exact same comment. The third reading did not cause me to improve upon my original assessment: unless you have some facts to back up what you say, you should go fling your monkey poo somewhere else.

  • pacr

    Great thread.

    At the risk of being contrary, I think Social Security etc are exactly ‘entitlements’: you are entitled to them. The word fits precisely. Conservatives may demean the word, the same way they spit out the word ‘liberal’, but we on the left should be proud of our accuracy and the heritage that created ‘entitlements’.

    At the same time we should not get confused: Social Security is absolutely not a pension plan. The fact that many people use it as such is because they failed or were not able to be part of a pension plan. This is why they are ‘entitled’ to Social Security.

    Social Security needs to be adjusted slightly either to gather in more money or pay out less. This is because the trust fund [which was $2.366 trillion at year end 2008] is temporary and results from the baby boomers paying in more than their elders pulled out. Once the baby boomers retire the trust fund will run down quickly and we will be back to the original pay-as-you-go system. However there are not enough Gen Xers etc to support the baby boomers on a pay as you go system, so something has to give. You either raise taxes on the Gen Xers or you reduce the lifetime pay out to Baby boomers [by delaying retirement for instance]. You could [and should] get rid of the payroll tax cap so the wealthy pay the tax on their entire income.

    These adjustments are fairly minor and reflect the fact that the original system was designed to pay out for a few years after retirement. Now we all live much longer we need to re-think retirement age. I assume Obama is thinking along these lines. If so he’s being sensible about protecting the ‘entitlement’ programs so many people rely on.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      Thanks for the comment, but I have to disagree with the idea that Social Security shouldn’t evolve to meet our precise needs.

      Like health insurance, pension benefits need to be nationalized and divorced from a specific job or plan. By keeping it at the individual level, we create insecurity for our retirees. This is the same problem I have with unions – they never took it to the next step and insist their good ideas be implemented for everyone.

      A pension plan would also solve the funding issues as well since people would contribute at different rates depending on their own resources, increasing the fund managed for everyone contributing only at the basic FICA rate. Lifting the caps and making “rich” people contribute to the stability of the country that gave them so much seems another no-brainer.

      I do agree that retirement age should probably be raised since people are working much longer these days, but we need to ensure that those people who can’t work are able to draw on their benefits when needed. The hoops that disability sufferers need to jump through are ridiculous.

      Thoughtful comment. Thanks!

  • Jason Everett Miller

    Interesting update: I received an email, apparently in response to this blog, that was with the subject line Entitlements is a Legal Term & reads as follows:

    There are Entitlements in the budget because Congress enacted Laws that say the American people are entitled to various social programs. That is why they are called Entitlements. It is spending that must be prioritized and paid for, it is not Discretionary.

    I will do the research for you, for $100, because my time is valuable. Otherwise, it is imperative upon you to do it yourself and post the correct information.

    I linked to the dictionary definition of “entitlements” in the comments and made quite clear I have no problem with the programs, only the framing of said programs with a word that has come to have a totally different meaning than the one found in Webster’s.

      • Jason Everett Miller

        Isn’t that note hilarious?

        I find it even more funny that this person had to go to my profile, follow the link to my personal website, click on contact and then send me an actual email. Seems like a lot of trouble to make an argument against something I didn’t write.

        I always thought that’s why we have commenting for our blogs. To make missing the point a little easier.

          • ricky

            Aardvark, entitelment, they are semantically the same when one implies words used by almost everyone imply a policy shift. You did not miss the point. You summarized it brilliantly. There is no “there” here.

          • Jason Everett Miller

            Again, you apparently missed the fact that it is a word used to describe the same thing and has two totally different meanings depending on who is listening and the context in which it is used. Can’t say that about aardvark, which pretty much means Ant Eater whether you are republican or democrat.

  • rstephen

    #1 Social security is NOT an ‘entitlement’ – it is “Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance” as it points out on the government website.

    It’s surprising that a president of the United States would not even know this. If Obama wants to cut back on social security insurance benefits, he should also look at cutting back on the benefits wealthier people are receiving from insurance companies when they loose their homes, crash their cars, or become ill.

    #2 The social security fund is NOT running a deficit, and won’t be for at least 30 years. But if Obama is going to make cutting social security “a central part of efforts to curb federal spending” – then what he is really planning on doing is using social security funds to pay for gigantic tax cuts for the more affluent. That is the same thing Ronald Reagan and George Bush. That’s the problem – NOT the solution.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      Again, I am not saying that is Barack’s intention to cut Social Security, although your response is one reason why I wanted to point out that this sort of framing can lead to confusion for some listeners.

      I am not arguing semantics. I agree with you that many people find the word “entitlements” to be laced with varied meanings. I also agree that Barack could have been more careful in his phrasing.

      I firmly believe that he simply intends to review that program and every other program to find ways to make it more efficient. I also think that both programs are horribly insufficient to our needs and will require creative thought to extend them to all Americans.

      I suspect the final solution will provide for our strategic goals through a variety of existing institutions and organizations.

      • rstephen

        I hope you are correct. I hope it was an unfortunate choice of words on his part, though he is known for being very careful about what he says.

        The entire quote is: “”We are beginning consultations with members of Congress around how we expect to approach the deficit,” adding, “We expect that discussion around entitlements will be a part, a central part, of those plans”

        The real question is: what does the “discussion around entitlements” entail? Is it a discussion about cutting benefits, toughening qualifications, raising the retirement age, etc. Or is it a discussion about eliminating the cap on contributions so that the wealthy pay on their entire income, or cutting back on benefits that go to people who really don’t need them? I could go along with the later – it’s the former that is worrisome.

        • Jason Everett Miller


          Which is why I am beginning to think the NY Times were sloppy. No follow-up questions like yours to get the real story. They would rather fill in the blanks with supposition.

          That’s why I thought his wording was poorly chosen as to create confusion when he really needs clarity. Especially with regards to this particular issue.

  • eds

    Jason, I don’t have time to review all prior comments.

    You are parsing ‘entitlements’ too closely. It has multiple meanings. Everyone who pays into SS correctly is entitled to receive benefits. But what you may be correctly concerned about is that some people have expectations out of line with reality. They may expect a cushy “safety net” and feel entitled to more than they will get once they fall into the net.

    I like SS as a safety net. I don’t like it as a Pension Plan. I think SS payments should be limited for those who have assets over some threshold. Having a pension in 6 figures and still drawing SS benefits is just not right.

    Expansion? Watch out for moral hazard while you inflate your expectations!

    • rstephen

      Entitlement def “A guarantee of access to benefits because of rights, or by agreement through law. It also refers, in a more casual sense to someone’s belief that one is deserving of some particular reward or benefit.”

      The problem with calling Social Security an ‘entitlement’ is that for most people, it sounds like there are people demanding something they really don’t deserve. But Social Security is really an insurance policy. It’s called “Federal Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance.” That’s exactly what it is – an insurance policy that is separate from the federal budget. And in the same way that you would certainly demand that your insurance company pay out if you are ever in a traffic accident, lose your home in a fire, or become ill – people who are covered by social security have every right to demand full payment if they are over 65, become disabled, or have a parent who dies.

      So it really doesn’t matter whether you “like SS as a safety net, not as a pension plan.” SS is an insurance policy, whether you like it or not.

      • eds

        You’re not making any sense. Insurance policies have limits. The difference is whether the limit is a minimal safety net or a cushy pension plan.

        It does matter what we want SS to be, if we act on our desires. You’re just interested in bogus attacks, so I’ll leave this subthread.

        • rstephen

          “Insurance policies have limits.”

          That isn’t true. Health insurance policies pay whatever is necessary to treat a particular illness to keep the person alive. In the same way, Social Security insurance pays whatever is necessary to obtain the basic necessities of life. And just like any other insurance policy, people who don’t pay in and don’t pay their premiums aren’t entitled to receive benefits.

          “It does matter what we want SS to be”

          That’s correct. “Federal Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance,” as the name clearly states, is an insurance policy. That’s how it was set up and that’s what it is.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      I think some people may have six figure pensions, but that is far from being everyone. It isn’t even a healthy percentage.

      I think we need to recognize the need for all citizens to have the opportunity for that outcome as their golden years, but most never have access to group plans that could lead there. That means leaving existing pensions plans alone and folding more programs into SSI such as IRAs and 401Ks and other instruments designed to provide for Americans in retirement.

      Yes, expand the program to include people who are dying on their own right now. Some will pay in the minimum. Some will pay the maximum. Some will choose to pay into a private pension plan instead, but if that goes south they still have the SSI minimum, which will be much higher because of a larger pool of investors and raised expectations.

      There is safety in numbers.

      • eds

        six figures is not a crucial level. Were you merely quibbling?

        We need to discuss health care separate from other Old Age entitlements, but in neither case do I see a basis for offering “cushy” benefits via the government, esp. to those who have other significant means of survival available.

        It may be time for a cultural shift to begin (or grow): How much “end of life” medical care should be covered? Should baby-boomers be trained and encouraged to provide peer-care on a volunteer basis?

        • Jason Everett Miller

          The number was one you quoted as being a “private” pension plan that nonetheless depends on many other people to perform.

          Expanding SSI into a more realistic retirement program would provide citizens the opportunity to invest with 200 million other people and all the economies of scale that represents with regards to the services in question.

          Be it retirement savings or health insurance or education or the environment or energy or food, pooling our resources is smart and efficient use of a finite system. We dump public money into every one of those private ventures. I’ll be more than happy if we finally start getting our money’s worth.

          That’s not providing cushy benefits via the government. That is using our constitutional compact to guarantee a minimum standard of living and in doing so making things better all the way to the very top.

          It’s the ideal our country was founded on.

          • eds

            I wrote much earlier: “I like SS as a safety net. I don’t like it as a Pension Plan. I think SS payments should be limited for those who have assets over some threshold”

            All quibbles about 6 figures aside, where do you stand on this?

          • Jason Everett Miller

            I think using SSI as a safety net misses an opportunity to provide retirement security for most of our citizens who have been left behind. Putting in a safety net was a good idea to start with, but the program didn’t evolve to suit the needs of society.

            I would be willing to set a realistic ceiling on contributions, but it would have to be much higher than it is right now. It may make me a socialist, but I think those with the most blessings from being an American owe a duty to help make that dream a reality for others.

            At the end of the day, I think we need to be more diligent in performing a common sense SWOT analysis of America and design policies to promote our strengths and mitigate our weaknesses.

          • Jason Everett Miller

            PS: The reason I say a security net was a good idea to start with and didn’t evolve is that when the system was designed most people got pensions through their employers. That isn’t true today and necessitates a rethinking of what the overall need is and to design a strategy to address it.

  • alan2a

    This is more of the Obama centrist, suck up to the Republicans crap. You’d think that the guy would have noticed and maybe made a link between the stock market, the depression, the unemployment and the housing debacle. Is that too much to expect?? The number of individuals who will end up working well beyond normal retirement age, the bullshit Bush projections of growth/inflation which are totally out of touch with any kind of reality suggest, that all the crap about Social Security running out of money is so much pure Republican/Obama bullshit!!!! Furthermore any talk regarding Medicare, with some form of Universal Health Care on the agenda is also pure political spin and Republican/Obama politics. Given that I am a 70+ year old retired individual who has lost every penny of my retirement in the market and am now destitute and have had to have my wife go back to work and myself go back to work, makes me want to puke when I read the political lies being propagated by our savior!!!!

    • Jason Everett Miller

      I am sorry you are caught up in our continuing national nightmare, but I can’t agree with Barack is peddling centrist or republican policies. I don’t think Barack will do anything but try to make your life better as soon as possible.

      I suspect he will meet the needs of citizens such as yourself (as well as my parents who rely on these programs) by either expanding existing federal programs or finding ways to better manage the outside fulfillment of national strategic objectives via non-profit and for-profit organizations.

      I suspect Barack knows that the money we waste each and every year will be more than enough to cover new priorities. His platform is one of re-engineering America. He doesn’t believe in bigger government or smaller government.

      Barack believes in smarter government.

      • eds

        I suspect you and I have similar views on Obama.

        Transforming “wasted” cash flows to “cover new priorities” may be much harder than it seems.

        “Barack believes in smarter government.”

        I hope he (his team) is strong enough to deliver both smarter and more effective government in a recession getting worse, without generating large inflation as “collateral damage”.

        • Jason Everett Miller

          I don’t underestimate the challenge Barack faces, but I think he has even less room for error than FDR had. We really need to go big if we are going to turn this country around. This current state of affairs has been forty years in the making, so I’ll be happy with forward progress and smart strategic planning happening in the next four.

          If he can hold it together and understand the proper investments to make, we still have all the resources we need to build a sustainable tomorrow. A lot of what needs to happen is outside Barack’s control, though, as it requires Americans to get and stay involved.

  • BBpdx

    I agree with Obama that these programs are in trouble and need to be examined.

    But I agree with the poster that the first step should be to raise taxes at the upper end, and lift or significantly increase the cap on how much income is taxed for Soc. Sec. The second step is to start cutting the ridiculous defense budget back down and see how much that gets us for the entitlement programs (I have no problem using that term.)

    Our nation is in a dire dire fiscal crisis right now. We’re about to add a $1 trillion deficit to all the deficits that the GOP has already run for the last years. At some point, we need to talk about revenues (taxes) AND costs (all programs).

    It’s just the adult thing to do. It’s what any of us would do with our own household budget.

    • BBpdx

      One more thing:

      “If anything, they are woefully underfunded. They need to be bigger. They need to be a Pension and Health Care System that lets all of us plan for and live a decent life.”

      Soooo, then they should be entitlements?

      • Jason Everett Miller

        I know they are entitlements. I agree that they should be guarantees for every citizen. My only argument is that he could have been more artful in his phrasing since the word has so many meanings for so many people.

        We should certainly put everything on the table, open up the books and figure out just how screwed we really are. All programs should be up for review and judged against what we need them to be vice what they have become.

        Both Social Security and Medicare are perfect vehicles for addressing some long standing problems in our society. They are widely accepted and basically understood by most people as something they may need at some point.

        I am not sure what this may look like, though, or how those budgets will be structured. I am still hopeful that Barack can get smart enough people involved to help him figure it out. Even if that means trusting some of the guys who broke it to begin with.

  • Oregon Activist

    Obama ran as a conservative Democrat. Why are people suddenly surprise with his neoliberal language, his tepid economic proposals, the fact that he leads with tax cuts and going after Social Security…none of that is surprising. He never pretended to be a liberal.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      I don’t believe he is going to cut SSI. In fact, I suspect he will re-engineer the program to work more effectively for more people. Same with Medicare. As good at as it is, it only covers 80% of the charges for a small number of Americans.

      There is room for improvement in every argument no matter how self evident. I think coming up with new language and framing for this one captures the imagination of conservatives and liberals alike. It might also help move the ball in some other strategic directions.

  • onceler

    We keep saying that Obama should “channel FDR” or something to that effect.

    Well, do we mean that or not? Would FDR have looked to decades-old programs to be sufficient for the situation he found himself in? No. So what does that mean? If Obama is talking about tinkering around with Social Security based on a false ‘crisis’ meme, I’m definitely against it. But what if he has in mind something even better than Social Security, more broad, and more impactful where and when it needs to be? I would only support him doing something to SS if it means replacing it with something more dramatic and reflective of what the needs of our society really are. Is such a thing possible? Has to be, right?

    • Jason Everett Miller

      I suspect your interpretation of Obama channeling FDR and thinking bold is spot on.

      That is the vision I think he needs to paint for people. My only argument is that imprecise language like “entitlement reform” leads to confusion. It has become a charged term for liberals and conservatives alike.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • sam_bolini

    After all of the moaning from the conservatives how Obama was a trojan horse who would turn this into a socialist muslim nation, it turns out that just the opposite is true. Turns out he’s a conservative, and the liberals and progressives who worked so hard to elect him are, once again, well and truly screwed.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      I agree that he was never classically liberal, but he is a far cry from the neoconservatives who drove our country to the brink of extinction. We aren’t screwed as long as we stay awake and hold Congress accountable. Obama has a plan that he ran on. I believe he means to implement it with our help. I am here to do my part to assist in that effort.

  • dhs

    Yes, the Obama team has been talking about “cutting payroll taxes” as part of the stimulus. i.e. cut ss and medicare taxes. Obama appears to be doing the work of the Republicans. A Trojan horse?

    So far I have been cutting Obama some slack, but this guy is beginning to scare me.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      Again, I don’t think this was a coded message that he intends to cut anything. All of his appointments and all of his moves thus far tell me he is very serious about fixing our various and sundry problems. Your comment is why I think it is important he frames his solutions a little more clearly.

  • homas

    Only a fool would take on the baby boomers by cutting SS or Medicare. At least not before taking big (I mean 50%) cuts in the defense budget and agricultural subsidies and trade agreements and unaccountable government contractors. And a reversal of Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy. The working people paid for Obama’s campaign and he’d damn sure better be answering to them, i.e. Change You Can Believe In!

    • Jason Everett Miller

      I think this is all on the horizon, though he will have to come at each of those goals in different ways because of decades of entrenched interests with deep pockets and nefarious means.

      I think Barack will in fact fix SSI and Medicare by addressing all the gaping holes in the budget that you pointed out. And those are just the obvious holes that we can see. The ones he’ll plug once he can open the books are most likely the most significant.

      I suspect all of that and more is on the agenda given the ambitious campaign platform he promised. The man strikes me as someone who can deliver.

  • exjournalist

    Good post Jason, and hopefully Much Ado About Nothing…but still a necessary discussion.
    I remember hearing that the number one cause of death for elderly Americans before Social Security was implemented was hypothermia.
    We are at the tail end of another Gilded Age but entrenched Corporate power presents a colossal challenge to reform, which makes framing that much more important.
    Unfortunately, the corporations do most of the framing, and it will take a concerted effort to pry the frame away from them. High-profile statements are a good place to start.
    So many catchphrases and false assumptions need to be torpedoed: “benefits and living wages are ‘income redistribution,'” “government bad-private good,” “play the class warfare card,” “deregulation fuels innovation,” “tax cuts create jobs.”
    In fact, the more I think about it, it seems the entire frame needs to be replaced and there is not enough time to do it incrementally.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      Great comments. I am convinced that we have been in a depression since Reagan took over. It was more subtle than the last one but has been just as fierce.

      Thinking back these last 30 years, I recently decided that Orwell was right on target with his dating, just missed some of the details and envisioned it as the end instead of the beginning.

      We are all just waking up and using the Internet to break the spell. We are in the process of creating a new lexicon, so I think it is important to identify charged terms and get rid of them wherever possible in favor of shared terminology.

      I think we all want the same things, but many are stuck inside the semantic programming we have been seduced by these last three decades.

  • unclesmedley

    There are two points inherent in this post that I believe will resolve themselves in fairly short order. The first is annoying, albeit predictable. Obama enjoyed a groundswell of popular support during the campaign; the media was not immune to his, shall we say, “charms.” Therefore, as a consequence of this goodwill and sycophancy will likely be a festival of iconoclasm. Many an ambitious blogger of the left will seek distinction with a willingness to find fault with our darling new president. Ho hum.

    The more persistent problem is the unrealistic article of faith that the so-called sacred safety-net should be off the table. A trillion dollar problem involves everything.


    Throughout the 230 year old experiment in democracy, the people have accommodated much more significant course corrections than reworking Social Security. Not only can such a thing happen–it must.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      Well, I am not a “blogger of the left” and have found much to admire in Barack’s performance thus far. As I mentioned in my blog.

      I also mentioned a need to judge these programs against the baselione of our needs rather than their existing parameters. On social service via government it is either go big or go home, because half measure cost twice as much and don’t work in the long run.

      However, the five things I cited as being worthy of cutting before any SSI or Medicare benefits are cut still hold true. We are bleeding more profusely from Defense Department created wounds than anything coming from our retirement programs.

      • ricky

        You might stop spending all this time implying policy implications behind phraseology (which is perhaps to much to ask of an “ad man”). Perhaps you should ask why you are driven to distraction by a NYT article that based itself on its own bias about SS and Medicare and used a vague quote from Obama to imply a position and priority that are not what the Times make them out to be. See Somerby.

        • Jason Everett Miller

          You might spend less time critiquing what I have to say and more time understanding what was said.

          I am well within my rights as a long-time Obama supporter to point out when I think he could have used words that don’t carry charged meanings or, if he does, the spend a few more words detailing what he really means.

          I am beginning to think you are just a troll, because you rarely offer anything of substance to he conversation, only some vague and ill-defined critique of a point I wasn’t trying to make.

          • ricky

            I know you are trying to make the complex compelling and the abstract tangible. You need to evaluate whether the NYT was accurately reflecting Obama or projecting its reporter’s envisioning Obama’s position, and maybe a substantive discussion can evolve rather than an
            effort to label commonly used terminology as proof of a neocon agenda.

            You may take me as a troll. I recognize you as a BS artist. A good one. Just never like the medium.

          • Jason Everett Miller

            Again, you mistake each and every comment I make. Almost on purpose, which is a very “troll” tactic to employ.

            I already admitted that the NYT may (and likely is) have been at fault here for not clarifying what Obama meant or for just filling in the blanks. This means our president-elect needs to be extra careful in presenting his ideas in a way that can’t be spun.

            Not sure where you get the context of your criticism, but it certainly isn’t from my blog, my comments or my thoughts about the coming Obama administration.

  • Viper 123

    The Republic of the United States as always had a problem with “entitlements”. We have also had a problem with “eliteness”. That’s how our American leaders have always felt about themselves in general.

    So it makes sense to me that these same “elite” and “entitled” feeling leaders would now turn around and say that the agreed upon and voted on policy of Medicare and Social Securiy are now entitlements and the problem. These same “entitled” feeling leaders will refer to my negotiated retirement as “legacy” costs and constantly will say we have to do something about that too. I worked in a prison environment for twenty years and I feel I earned my retirement at 55.

    So it’s only been our American leaders who have felt “elite” and “entitled” that have historically created the “legacy” problem that has always plauged this country. The problem has never been the normal American who has been most responsible for making this country great in spite of our very questionable leadership.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      No arguments from me. We have much more of an “elite” problem than an “entitlement” problem in this country.

      I don’t believe Obama means to revise SSI or Medicare into something less affective. I just think he could choose his words more carefully and, failing that, explain himself more fully so the corporate media can’t take things out of context or apply missing context.

      I hope we eventually figure out a way to have SSI become a national pension plan that can’t be taken down-sized or folded into “legacy” costs by employers.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • ricky

        Yes, Obama needs to make sure he himself edits every NYT article that references him and makes sure Jason corrects his syntax for terminology that Jason remembers has been misused by Neocons for decades before they even knew they would be called Neocons.

  • OldenGoldenDecoy


    Details… details…

    I’ll be keeping an eye on this one as the details come out with regards to how Barack plans on handling the three core components of the progressive agenda he ran on – health care, energy and the economy.

    Often times it’s better to get the info from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

    From Obama’s televised remarks yesterday … It’s only a start. I can only assume that he’ll keep expanding on it.

    Mentions of Health Care:

    To improve the quality of our health care while lowering its cost, we will make the immediate investments necessary to ensure that within five years, all of America’s medical records are computerized. This will cut waste, eliminate red tape, and reduce the need to repeat expensive medical tests. But it just won’t save billions of dollars and thousands of jobs – it will save lives by reducing the deadly but preventable medical errors that pervade our health care system.


    To help Americans who have lost their jobs and can’t find new ones, we’ll continue the bipartisan extensions of unemployment insurance and health care coverage to help them through this crisis. Government at every level will have to tighten its belt, but we’ll help struggling states avoid harmful budget cuts, as long as they take responsibility and use the money to maintain essential services like police, fire, education, and health care.

    Mentions of Energy:

    That work begins with this plan – a plan I am confident will save or create at least three million jobs over the next few years. It is not just another public works program. It’s a plan that recognizes both the paradox and the promise of this moment – the fact that there are millions of Americans trying to find work, even as, all around the country, there is so much work to be done. That’s why we’ll invest in priorities like energy and education; health care and a new infrastructure that are necessary to keep us strong and competitive in the 21st century. That’s why the overwhelming majority of the jobs created will be in the private sector, while our plan will save the public sector jobs of teachers, cops, firefighters and others who provide vital services.

    To finally spark the creation of a clean energy economy, we will double the production of alternative energy in the next three years. We will modernize more than 75% of federal buildings and improve the energy efficiency of two million American homes, saving consumers and taxpayers billions on our energy bills. In the process, we will put Americans to work in new jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced – jobs building solar panels and wind turbines; constructing fuel-efficient cars and buildings; and developing the new energy technologies that will lead to even more jobs, more savings, and a cleaner, safer planet in the bargain.

    Mentions of economy:

    There are fourteen (14) mentions of the word economy.

    So maybe it would make more sense to go read Obama’s entire message. It would most likely be much better reading Obama’s entire messages rather that relying entirely on the New York Times.


    • Jason Everett Miller

      Well, since I posted this prior to his speech and it was related to a specific set of words out of his mouth, I would have had to intuit what he meant to say or what he was planning on saying at his his economy speech.

      Since that is clearly impossible, your criticism of my blog is off base. Again. It is also related to something I wasn’t writing about. Again. You might want to check the time and date stamp before offering your advice in the future.

      Goes double for, Ricky, since I am obviously not the only one who thought it was a poor choice of words with implications beyond semantics.

      • ricky

        “As long as I can remember, at least the last 30 years or so, neoconservatives have turned “entitlement” into a pejorative.”

        In 1978 I do not recall hearing the term “neoconservative.” But I think you are projecting your current interpretation of the word
        onto Obama just as the NYT reporter projected Obama’s response to a question into policy implications for SS and medicare that involve spending cuts that would have a higher priority than cuts in other programs. In fact no quotes are avaialble from Obama to support claims he favors any cuts at all.

        • Jason Everett Miller

          There you go again not reading what I wrote and instead making it a game of semantics. Whatever the movement called itself, it started with Nixon and really started picking up steam when Reagan was elected.

          I also never claimed he favored making cuts, so you are making an argument against something I never stated and wasn’t the point of this blog in the first place.

          You continue to both misunderstand and misrepresent what I am saying.

  • ricky

    “there was not a single mention of the defense budget and agricultural subsidies and trade agreements and unaccountable government contractors or any one of a dozen ways to heal our economy before looking at Social Security and Medicare.

    How can we honestly address the economic challenges we face if the solutions being offered don’t seem to address the problem at hand?” JEM

    I did not say you claimed he called for cuts. I have said you imply he does based on his use of a common word that you, in 2009, have said is a 30 year old neocon epithet. But in the quote above, from your post, you sure imply the NYT or Obama is looking for cuts in the wrong places. And whether your critique is of the Times or Obama, you do a piss poor job of distinguishing between the two in your post. Envision your abstractions and evolve your points more tangibly.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      What I actually said was that because he used imprecise language with a term that is not well understood by run-of-the-mill citizens, that it was impossible to distinguish what he was getting at.

      Further, while I doubt he envisions cuts in SSI or any other social program, by using imprecise language he leaves the door open to the NY Times to do exactly what they did – imply he means to cut SSI and Medicare as part of his efforts to fix the economy.

      Envision your objections and evolve your critique to focus on what I actually wrote vice what you think I wrote or what I should have wrote.

  • exjournalist

    We need to get JEM’s main point that this is not about Social Security per se, but about terminology.

    And David’s post yesterday reinforces that point.

    “War on Terror” is just another meaningless catchphrase that needs a quick discarding.

    Oh yeah, Jason, I spent my first few years of life in a house with a sepia-toned photo of Teddy in the foyer. The homeowners were old enough to remember him and I’m only in my early 40’s. This is not ancient history.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      You got it exactly. We have been dining on the Two Minutes of Hate since Reagan took office. Orwell was off, but not by much.

      In the interests of being short on time, it might be necessary to simply talk around certain catch phrases to better reflect the reality we are facing vice the fantasy we just shrugged off.

      Love the story of the photo. American isn’t old to have ancient history, which drives me crazy about today’s political debates. It’s as if the story started with Baby Bush.

      The Internet is too filled with information for us to have such short memories.

  • OldenGoldenDecoy


    Oh ho hum…

    Criticism of this blog is off base?

    It’s quite an unreasonable stretch to call this a criticism from this statement:

    Often times it’s better to get the info from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

    From Obama’s televised remarks yesterday … It’s only a start. I can only assume that he’ll keep expanding on it.

    — snip — Obama’s remarks omitted —

    So maybe it would make more sense to go read Obama’s entire message. It would most likely be much better reading Obama’s entire messages rather that relying entirely on the New York Times.

    And again, as others in this thread have pointed out, it is not “imprecise” language to use the term “entitlement(s)” when referring to a program that is federal law. In federal law, I have never read a statute that includes the words “promise” or “promised.”

    And a big whoop if a thousand people think it was a poor choice of word. Like the saying goes, a person can call their ass a turkey but it doesn’t make it Thanksgiving.

    Yo Ho Yo Ho … a sailor’s life for me.


    • Jason Everett Miller

      There goes the old Sailor, splitting hairs again. Are you sure you weren’t a Ship’s Serviceman?

      The confused impressions of this particular word go far beyond “a thousand people” and could reasonably be attributed to at least 46% of the country.

      The more you comment, the better I understand loki.

    • OldenGoldenDecoy


      Oh oh . . .

      Ex . . .

      If this is about terminlogy as you say, and since you seem to have nothing better to do, can ya’ do me a big favor and please point to where the word promise and/or the word promised appears within any subchapters in this and/or in this ???



      Nine days and countin’ . . .


      • Jason Everett Miller

        Because it is an allusion and not meant to be taken literally. Taken literally, the word entitlements is fine, but hardly reflective of how many Americans define it.

        You seem to have a talent for being overly-literal if and when it suits your purposes, but perfectly willing to employ metaphor or hyperbole when it suits, yet not allowing others to enjoy the same freedom.


  • OldenGoldenDecoy


    Too fricking bad!

    When it relates to legal terminology I can get so literal that it would make most folks’ ani externus muscle pucker.

    Apparently there is a sphincter currently puckering tightly in this thread. And it’s not mine.


    • Jason Everett Miller

      Too bad the rest of the world isn’t so literal, regardless of a word’s origins. Is this really Billy Glad under a new name? He was quite fond of making ass-related metaphors.