Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Five W's and the Social Security Debate

When I was a freshman journalism student at Northwestern, I was introduced to the five W's important in any story: who, what, when, where, why -- with a bonus "how".

The five W's and the bonus H swirled through my head in the aftermath of the latest GOP candidate debate and the heated exchange between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry over Perry's views on Social Security as a Ponzi scheme. What I found especially frightening was the enthusiastic applause from the audience for Rick Perry as he proposed, essentially, to dismantle Social Security.

WHO are these people? Are they independently wealthy trust fund babies? Do they think they will never grow old? Do they imagine that their fluctuating 401K's will support them adequately -- if they're lucky enough to have them -- and a job? Do they have well-off extended family from whom they can expect support in their dotage? What are they thinking??

WHAT happened to the third rail of politics -- the safety net for the hard-working middle class? The people doing the political posturing about Social Security being such a drag on the economy and the people -- like the President -- so ready to bargain and chip away at the social safety net that we middle class taxpayers have worked and paid for all these years are set for life. They'll never have to worry about paying for food and shelter as they age. They seem tragically out of touch with the rest of us.

WHEN did people start to ingest corporate Kool-Aid and turn on each other? Why can't we stand together and fight for what is legally and ethically ours? We've paid into the system for 30 or 40 or more years. It's true that some will get more from Social Security than they paid in. But a lot will get less -- much less. I have many friends -- as well as my parents -- who died before they collected a dime of Social Security.  Those of us lucky enough to survive to retirement aren't getting charity: we're collecting on the social insurance for which we have paid.  The current political climate seems set on playing one generation against another in an effort to distract us from the inequality and injustice of corporate welfare.

WHERE did all the money go that was supposed to prepare Social Security to thrive through the retirement of the Baby Boomers? I remember a substantial increase in payroll taxes during Reagan's first term with the express purpose of building a reserve. What happened to that? If it was depleted by government borrowing, hard-working, payroll-tax paying citizens are owed a big payback. (And if, as Perry said later, that his objection is to the government's sneak theft of the Social Security reserve funds, I can agree with that. But that isn't what he was saying earlier.)

WHY is Social Security even an issue in the debate when we have two costly wars ongoing, incredible tax breaks for the rich (whose personal wealth has climbed to breath-taking heights) while the increasingly productive middle class has seen wages stagnate -- for those who still have wages at all?

HOW are we going to regain sanity and come up with real solutions to our financial challenges minus political posturing and bipartisan rancor?

At this point, I only have questions.


  1. I agree completely. I recognize that we have to make changes to keep social security solvent, but why is our most vulnerable population the one to take all the hits. We can't continue to support our military adventurism and maintain adequate social services at the same time...we can't afford it both ethically and economically.
    Jann aka #1Nana

  2. Kathy,
    Our government robbed the Social Security coffers. It was supposed to be kept in a 'lockbox'. Remember Al Gore telling us that? Our govt has kept on 'borrowing' money out to pay for other fat cat earmarks and now it's all gone. You only notice the default when money gets tight. If we were flush, it would be life as usual.
    Remember when George W Bush told all of us a fw years ago that he wanted to change Social Security and have all of us responsible for our own retirement, rather than depend on the government? The Democrats made sure they squashed that quickly! If the American people became self-sufficient, god forbid, we wouldn't need the dems anymore.
    What would have been the difference between an employee having money taken out of their pay and put aside for retirement? One was the govt taking it. The other, the employee did it him/her self and watched over it him/her self? I would have preferred the latter, now with the knowledge I have seeing how our govt has stolen from all of us.
    Rick Perry is correct. Social Security, as it stands now, is just nothing more than a ponzi scheme. In order for 1 person to collect, 10 others have to be working and paying into the system. Rick Perry will NOT be taking Social Security away from anyone. But he will, if given the chance, straighten out the thievery. We are living longer, so the age to take retirement should be raised. Starting our with people age 55 and under is a great place to start. This will affect my husband but not me. It is what it is and it needs to be straightened out.

    'bout time, is what I have to say. America has avoided this nightmare long enough. Obama has done nothing than make life for us much worse. I'm seeking REAL hope and change right now. And that looks like a strong MF needs to get in to Washington and get 'er done!

  3. You speak for me too Kathy. I have also wondered just who are those folks that want to throw their grandparents to the curb?
    I remember in my working years being grateful to be paying into SS. I felt I was helping to support my grand parents and eventually my parents in a style I certainly couldn't afford on my own.
    Guess we need to get these peoples names and addresses so we can go move in with them or camp out on their lawns when they dismantle SS.
    I'm thinking it might be fun to move in with Rick and annoy the stew out of him.
    Arkansas Patti

  4. Thanks for your insightful comments, Jann, Morrison and Patti! I really appreciate your candor. I agree that changes need to be made and I think it outrageous that the federal government has been dipping into what was supposed to be a secure trust account -- coming directly out of our pockets -- to finance other things. I get a bit queasy about privatization in light of what happened with our 401K's in the 2008 financial debacle as well as the dot.com crisis. You're right, Morrison that what the government has done is horrible, unthinkable and something for sure needs to change.

  5. With my parents and my in-laws already retired, we are watching very closely what happens to Social Security. I think it is criminal that Social Security funds have apparently been used for other purposes. It's wrong on so many levels.

  6. Finally, someone who remembers the 5ws and the h! That's what I learned in journalism too. It has been whittled down to the 4ws over the years. No wonder journalists don't often get the complete stories. Thank you for your succinct article that hits the nail on the head. Those working class stiffs willing to get rid of Social Security are cutting off their noses to spite their faces. Do they think Wall Street tycoons are looking out for them? What needs to change, is who we elect into offices. If people what phoney crooks like Rick Perry to run the show they deserve what they get. Unfortuately, the rest of us will be hurt too. Google for Rick Perry scandals to see why he paid tribute to his wife, "The most beautiful First Lady." He doesn't want her hurting his chances to be the Big Man. Until we elect candidates who are ethical we will have a corrupt government. That means taking off our rose colored glasses and taking a good hard look at them despite what we see in those we blindly back who have scandals up the wazoo.

  7. Bravo, Kathy. You know, I didn't even want to watch because I knew it would make me mad. And it did -- but sometimes anger leads to positive action. I hope a lot of people are asking those very questions you posed.

  8. Brilliant analysis!
    I'm going to share it on Facebook! This needs to be read by lots of people.

  9. I suspect that Rick Perry's fans were the attendees. Not more middle of the road folks.

    I read recently that the rich have become richer because most of their income comes from capital gains, which is taxed at a lower rate than other earnings. So that part is a tax code issue.

    I agree with your post in most areas. For some reason, I've been given the ability to detach from all this, because there's nothing I can do about it until the next election. That allows me to be a hypochondriac instead!

  10. Dear Kathy, I'd like to respond to your posting point by point--always in agreement. I'm frustrated and feeling frightened by the political atmosphere in which we live and by the greed and lack of empathy and compassionate and by the fact that so many have forgotten that we are a community of citizens. We need to care for one another.

    However, I'm so behind in reading blogs that today, I'm only going to say, "Right on!" Thank you for your righteous anger and your candid words.