Posts Tagged ‘Social Security’

Positive Vibes for Negative Times

Sunday, October 29th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

good news jpgTrump to Puerto Rico: Drop Dead!

Trump to Americans struggling to afford health insurance: Drop dead!

Trump to North Korea: Drop dead!

Trump to the free press: Drop dead!

Trump to the LGBT community: Drop dead:

Trump to immigrants: Drop dead!

Trump to NFL players: Drop dead!

Trump to Iran: Drop dead!

Trump to pregnant war widow: He knew what he signed up for.

Trump to anyone who will listen: I am not a moron!

                                                         ***

In reply to my recent column on the Nibiru planet hoax and efforts to contact intelligent life elsewhere in the universe — maybe even set up a colony on Mars — my friend Ernie Miller commented: “It is nice you can maintain a positive outlook amidst the carnage and cacophony that is daily life.”

“Ernie,” I replied,“it ain’t easy.”

In truth, it has never been harder in the half century I have been writing about “daily life,” as it were.

As it is, today it is sometimes unbelievably depressing and infuriating to reflect upon the “carnage and cacophony” in which we are seemingly enmeshed. And writing about it? Everyone is writing about it. Social media is awash in it. Yes, actual factual information is vital, but that steady drumbeat of ignorance and arrogance at the center of most news stories today only seems to add to the great wall of negative energy engulfing our universal consciousness, making us act, if you will, as if we were all collectively unconscious.

Thank you, Carl Jung, for allowing me to misappropriate and mangle your theory for my own personal benefit. In my defense, my hope is that whatever bits of positive energy I can contribute to the greater consciousness can only be for the good of the collective universe.

So, here goes:

  • I’m getting a 2 percent raise in my Social Security check next year. That’s good news not only for me, but for millions of others who receive monthly checks (thank you, FDR) and who have not had a raise since 2012 because the government figured inflation wasn’t bad enough and the cost of living wasn’t going up so’s you’d notice. Some of us noticed. I could feel the vibe of 66 million recipients ripple across America when I read the story. It’s the first substantial raise in years. Most recipients are seniors over age 65, but some payments also go to the severely disabled and orphans. The average check is currently $1,377 a month, meaning next year’s increase will raise the typical payment by $27 a month. Listen, it’s a start.
  • We also learned that, despite the devastation Hurricane Maria visited on Puerto Rico, the Arecibo Observatory, made famous in the films “Contact” (Jodie Foster) and “GoldenEye” (Sean Connery), survived with what was called “fixable” damage and no casualties. This is positive news because Arecibo is a star in the search-for-life-in-the-universe universe. The radio telescope,  built in 1963, was the first to find planets around other stars, the first to provide an image of an asteroid and — back to Carl Sagan’s “Contact” — sent the famous Arecibo Message to M13, a cluster of bodies 25,000 light years away. The message informs any sentient beings who receive it who we are and where we live. Send us a text message. Of course, it’ll be at least 50,000 years before we get an answer, but it’s the sending that contributes hope to the universal consciousness. Arecibo’s radar has been called “by far the most sensitive planetary radar in the world” and the folks who fund it — the National Science Foundation — say it does “excellent science.” Alas, in this era of anti-science, an official at NSF says, what with the damage Arecibo did incur, “If you look at the overall sweep of things that we’re funding, we do have to make choices and we can’t keep funding everything that’s excellent.” Perish the thought. So, here’s looking at you, Arecibo, and here’s sending some positive vibes about you into the nearby universe.
  • Staying in Puerto Rico and the notion of doing what you can for the collective good, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, an alternative energy company, made the initial installment of his promise to restore the island’s power grid with solar energy. San Juan’s Hospital del Niño – a children’s hospital with 3,000 patients — has power again, supplied by a collection of Tesla solar panels in the parking lot. The Tesla Twitter account posted: “Hospital del Niño is first of many solar-storage projects going live. Grateful to support the recovery of Puerto Rico with (Gov.) Ricardo Rossello.” All kinds of positive energy here. Musk, of course, is also the one talking about establishing a colony on Mars and who’s willing to bet against him?
  • In an extraordinary example of quantum positive energy, a  hand-written note by Albert Einstein sold at auction in Jerusalem for $1.56 million. The note was written in November 1922, when Einstein, then 43, was in Japan for a lecture series. While in Tokyo, he learned he’d been awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. When a courier came to his hotel room to make a delivery, Einstein did not have any money to tip him, so he handed the messenger a signed note, written in German: “A calm and humble life will bring more happiness than the pursuit of success and the constant restlessness that comes with it.” A kind of e=mc2 for a peaceful universe. The message was obviously paid forward several times before someone realized what Einstein clearly knew at the time — a bird in the hand (a signed note from a Nobel laureate, say) is worth two (or even more) in the bush.
  • Chris Long, who plays defensive end for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, is donating his entire year’s salary to improve educational opportunities in the United States. Long used his first six game checks to provide two scholarships for students in Charlottesville, Va., his hometown. He’s dedicating the remaining 10 to launch the “Pledge 10 for Tomorrow” campaign. “I believe that education is the best gateway to a better tomorrow for EVERYONE in America,” he wrote on Pledge It.  “I’m encouraging fans, businesses and every person with a desire to join in my pursuit of equal education opportunities for all students to make their own pledge.’ He hopes to double his pledge with this collective effort.
  • In a somewhat desperate effort to find some positive news, I typed “good news” in the Google search bar. Voila! The web is awash in other folks looking to add positive energy to the collective consciousness. Duh. Some of the above came from that search. It’s good to remember: We are not alone, even in the private universe of our anxious minds.
  • Speaking of synchronicity, hurry it up, Mueller.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

AARP: New Publishers Clearing House

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

I had hoped the annoying email from the AARP would stop after I didn’t renew my membership a while back. I should live so long. They are relentless. And just in case I don’t look at my email, they make sure to send regular reminders via the U.S. Postal Service. Those I don’t mind quite as much. I want Crystal, our letter carrier, to keep her job, along with all the postal workers around the country whose jobs are being threatened by the austerity hawks in Congress.

Really, I don’t need an AARP card to show that I qualify for the senior discounts. And lately I’m finding their emails at least as annoying as the letters I get from Publishers Clearing House announcing in big, bold type that I could be the next winner of their Grand Prize. Look closely and there is small type saying “no purchase necessary,” and “odds of winning Grand Prize: 300,000,000 to one.” At least the AARP gave better odds in their email last month when they wrote, “Michael, We’re Giving Away $25,000 in the Brain Health Sweepstakes – Enter for Your Chance to Win.” I didn’t read any further: Brain health isn’t my forte.

Then there was one that said, “Michael, Intimacy After 50: What’s Normal?” I have to admit I was tempted to read that one just to see what they had to say on the subject. I imagine they don’t think highly of whips and chains and such. That reminds me of my favorite line from Eating Raoul where Paul Bartel as Paul Bland says, “I’m into S&M and she’s into B&D and we met at the A&P.” I like that movie.

There was one in January: “Michael, For a Limited Time Save 40% on the AARP Driver Safety course.” And in February: “Michael, For a Limited Time Save 20% on the AARP Driver Safety course.” That would have really bugged me if I were going to take a driver safety course and I’d missed out on that 40% off deal. There was another in March: “Michael, For a Limited Time Save 30% on the AARP Driver Safety course.” Now I’m waiting for that 40% off to come around again. When it does I’m going to jump on it. (I told you brain health isn’t my forte.) I figure you can never learn too much about safe driving.

The one on March 29 was kind of spooky: “Michael, Why Do Couples Split after 25 Years or More?” I didn’t look at that one either but I suppose they split for the same reasons couples split after fewer than 25 years. But the thing that was spooky about it is that Eva-Lynne and I would soon be celebrating our 25th anniversary. Was AARP trying to tell us something?

And then there was one that resembled a headline in the National Enquirer: “Michael, You Can Prevent Arthritis with These 7 Tips.” I have no idea what the tips are but it is way too late for me to prevent arthritis. I’ll tell you this though: If AARP can come up with some tips that will cure arthritis, I might consider renewing my membership. But for now I’ll pass.

At a time when issues of vital concern to seniors, when Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are on the chopping block, AARP sent, “Michael, These Inns Are So Fancy You May Never Want to Leave Your Room.” The accompanying text describes “Quaint inns for the astute and deep-pocketed traveler.” Of one, AARP wrote, “Countless repeat guests don’t blink at the $1,260-and-up nightly tab, which includes three sumptuous, made-to-order gourmet meals each day; plentiful outdoor activities, from snowshoeing to flyfishing; and personalized service that extends to round-trip transfers from distant airports.”

I replied to that one April 27: “Shame on you, AARP.” So far they haven’t answered.

Michael can be reached at michael@zestoforange.com.

 

Living the Iron Lady’s Legacy

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

President Barack Obama slipped the controversial "chained CPI" formula for cutting Social Security cost-of-living increases into his 2014 budget, angering liberal Democrats in the Senate, the House, and progressive organizations.

By Emily Theroux

When Barack Obama introduced his 2014 budget today, one controversial item made it look more like the kind of austerity plan that might have been devised by formidable British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher than a fiscal proposal by a “stateside” Democratic president.

That’s because, for the first time, a Democratic president has dared to propose cutting increases in Social Security benefits — the linchpin of the American social safety net. His inclusion in the budget of “$230 billion in savings from using a chained measure of inflation for cost-of-living adjustments” broke a campaign promise not to cut benefits for current or near-term retirees. The move infuriated progressives, who delivered 2 million petition signatures to the White House yesterday, demanding that the item be expunged.

An Obama adviser termed the infamous “chained CPI” budget item a “goodwill gesture” to Republicans. The president himself, according to Politico, viewed it as serving “a tactical purpose” by proving he’s not afraid to “flout party orthodoxy.” Liberal organizations like MoveOn, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, the National Organization for Women, and the Campaign for America’s Future called it a betrayal.

I call using the left (by goading them into a heated public confrontation purely to score points with his opposition) unmitigated, full-throttle political posturing.

 

New formula would cost retirees $112 billion

Robert Reich

President George W. Bush, barnstorming the country to hawk his much-maligned Social Security privatization plan in 2005, got zero, zilch, nada for his trouble. No one was buying Dubya’s scheme to turn the popular entitlement program into a high-stakes casino.

Obama might have paid more heed to the lessons of recent history before attempting to foist chained CPI on the American electorate. This ill-advised modification of the formula for calculating the consumer price index — a “market basket” of goods and services on which annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) to Social Security are based — would result in what the AARP has understated as “not a small benefit change” for the oldest and most vulnerable retirees, as well as for military veterans.

As economist Robert Reich observed in a videotape last week introducing an anti-CCPI petition later submitted to the president:

“The idea is that when prices go up, most people substitute lower-cost items. So a true calculation of the cost of living should take account of this substitution effect. This makes no sense for seniors, because they spend 20 to 40 percent of their incomes on health care, and they can’t substitute lower-cost alternatives.”

AARP estimates that chained CPI will cost Social Security beneficiaries $112 billion and veterans $25 billion during the next decade. Because the formula compounds benefit reductions over time, it will result in an annual benefit that is “roughly $1,000 (in 2012 dollars) lower by the time a beneficiary reaches age 85,” according to AARP’s Josh Rosenblum. “Eventually, … beneficiaries would lose a month’s worth of benefits every year.”

For veterans, the cuts are even worse. “Permanently disabled veterans who started receiving disability benefits at age 30 would see their benefits cut by … $3,200 a year at age 65,” wrote AARP’s David Certner.

 

CCPI ‘an idea not befitting a Democratic president’

“Mr. President, the chained CPI is a cut to Social Security benefits that would hurt seniors. It’s an idea not befitting a Democratic president. If you want to reform Social Security, make the wealthy pay their fair share by lifting the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes.”

That was the message delivered by former Secretary of Labor Reich’s petition. On this side of the pond, liberal economists like Reich and  Paul Krugman agree with advocacy groups for retirees and veterans that CCPI is a raw deal for Social Security recipients.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher/Getty Images

Yet Thatcher, who died Monday at age 87, would no doubt have applauded Obama’s heartless formula. (Thatcher, Reich tweeted, “gave Ronald Reagan the courage of his misguided conviction.”) She didn’t cotton to coddling “the less fortunate,” whom she regarded, as many on the extreme right do, as moochers, malingerers, and reprobates. Baroness Thatcher would have been right at home with Mitt Romney’s opinion of the “47 percent” of Americans who, in his flawed estimation, “believe that government has a responsibility to care for them.”

Mme. Thatcher once opined:

“I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand, ‘I have a problem; it is the government’s job to cope with it,’ or ‘I have a problem; I will go and get a grant to cope with it’; ‘I am homeless, the government must house me!’ … They are casting their problems on society, and who is society? There is no such thing. There are individual men and women, and there are families.”

 

Even tax-averse millionaires hate chained CPI

Chained CPI has a single dubious claim to fame: virtually everyone loathes it, from wealthy investors to veterans, from aged “pensioners,” as the Baroness would have called them, to hordes of boomers on the brink of retirement.

Everyone, of course, except Thatcherites “dismissing Britons in need as parasites and wastrels” (in the words of progressive blogger Richard Eskow), like-minded congressional Republicans  — and, now, our own inconstant leader. The Barack Obama of hope and change has transformed himself into someone that his once-loyal liberal base no longer recognizes.

Our peerless 2008 presidential nominee, whom we hurried to endow with shimmering waves of potentiality and purpose, turned out to be a mirage. Like the Nobel committee did a year later, we pinned on Candidate Obama our most quixotic aspirations, as the seemingly interminable nightmare of the Bush/Cheney oligarchy neared its bitter denouement.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker/AP photo

But our champion inevitably let us down. President Obama didn’t prosecute the torture-mongers for war crimes or the Wall Street banksters for the financial crisis. He didn’t slip on that pair of comfortable shoes and march with union members protesting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s legislative assault on collective bargaining rights. He didn’t advocate single-payer health insurance, fight institutional racism, or battle poverty. He didn’t swoop in to advance gay civil rights or create a pathway to citizenship for immigrants. He didn’t close Guantanamo or reject indefinite detention of prisoners or halt drone warfare, but instead took their precepts to lengths no one could have envisioned.

Despite an impressive record of policy achievements, Barack Obama is not now, nor has he likely ever been, the transformative president he vowed he would become if we worked our collective asses off to put him in office. Home safe after his successful reelection; dissed and thwarted by GOP obstructionists so many times, you’d think he swear off any notion of a “grand bargain,” he’s still trying to burnish his bipartisan cred. The far right may brand him a socialist, but Obama governs, as many on the left complain, like a predictable, center-right Clintonian Democrat or a moderate Republican — not the progressive icon we so badly needed him to be.

 

Congressional firebrands take action

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders/AP photo

I’m not alone in uttering this heresy. The din of disillusionment has been almost deafening in the blogosphere and on Twitter for the past week. If Congress cuts Social Security by implementing this callous adjustment — a deliberate and unnecessary “sacrifice” that, as Reich points out, the Republicans haven’t even asked for —– Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, as well as members of progressive groups, have suggested there may be 2014 primary challenges to Democratic members of Congress who vote for it. As for the House, Representatives Alan Grayson and Mark Takano collected the signatures of 29 progressives who vowed to vote against any bill that includes Social Security benefit cuts.

Florida Rep. Alan Grayson

Did Obama at least mean well, before ascending to the tantalizing pinnacle of power? We’ll have to leave that question to history. No one can imagine, before the fact, what it’s going to be like up there, in that rarefied stratum that’s only been attained by 44 Americans in the brief span of almost 237 years.

In the words of the troubadour, it’s lonely at the top, and — as I’m sure the Iron Lady could have told us if her lips weren’t sealed against anyone’s ears but Saint Ronnie’s —– as magnetic as the polar north.

emily@zestoforange.com

All Aboard the Fancy Feast Express!

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

'Signed Off' / Illustration by Lance Theroux

By Emily Theroux

Back in the ’80s, my irreverent sister Ann (not a millennial “hipster” but the genuine article) was fond of cracking, whenever either of us came up with a questionable idea, “Let’s not and say we did.” Long before the advent of air quotes and Facebook friending, our favorite throwaway line (which apparently originated as far back as the 1920s) was a pre-“Interwebs” verbal meme.

More often than not, we did all kinds of inadvisable things — and said we didn’t. But we were young and relatively carefree then; life, or what remains of it, has grown a great deal grimmer and more complicated since those heady days.

Case in point: Two weeks ago, my husband’s newspaper job (and, if the virtual writing on the wall proves accurate, a 40-year career in journalism) succumbed to the industry demon: budget cutbacks intended to keep a dying institution — the printed page — from fluttering away on the downdraft of technological progress. The ax fell just six years before Lance’s expected retirement. As bad luck would have it, his layoff occurred a week before congressional Republicans refused to stop the idiocy of deliberate fiscal “sequestration” and two cruel weeks before a positive jobs report hailed a .2 percent drop in the unemployment rate.

We joked, gallows-style, that the “Boehnerquester” arrived a week early in our household, where one of us (that would be me) is already on disability. Both of us are adult orphans with no prospect of any eventual inheritance. In these desperate times, the job market is virtually nonexistent for a 59-year-old unemployed newspaper artist — even one who has earned a slew of national and regional awards from three states and the District of Columbia, in categories ranging from design and illustration to news presentation and graphics.

Terrified yet absurdly hopeful, less than a month out, is probably an accurate appraisal of our current outlook. It’s almost spring. With no commute, we’ve been saving a small fortune on gasoline. We’re literally running on fumes and nervous energy.

I have absolute confidence in Lance’s skills, his talent, his courage and resourcefulness and tenacity, and even (for reasons I can’t explain even to myself) his prospects for a future no one can yet predict.

* * *

We’re not the only ones to find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma.

Since the sequester went into effect on March 1, official Washington has once again descended into “grand bargain” fever. This inexplicable fetish for diminishing the social safety net — provided for decades by Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, as well as food stamps, education aid, disability, unemployment, and veterans’ benefits — has long been exalted by Beltway pols and pundits. Now, even President Obama appears poised to break his campaign promise not to sacrifice vital social programs on the altar of “discretionary spending cuts” — the deceitful repackaging of lopsided supply-side dogma as “bipartisan compromise.”

If the sequester furloughs proceed, if the wrongheaded “chained CPI” index impoverishes older seniors whose savings have run out by tampering with the formula for Social Security’s cost-of-living increase, can Paul Ryan’s perennial austerity budget be far behind? Apparently not, as long as Ryan can hustle recent fiscal-cliff “tax hikes” on gazillionaires (along with the same $716 billion Medicare cut that the failed veep candidate brandished against Obama last fall) into something everyone agrees is not going to happen — an “Obamacare” repeal that would preserve the $1 trillion the law is slated to raise in tax revenues!

Washington Post editorial writer Stephen Stromberg’s recent take on the Ryan budget retread — uncharitably titled “Paul Ryan To Change Medicare for Boomers Over 55? Good.” — bristles with intergenerational hostility. (Overcome with curiosity, I Googled Stromberg’s photograph. As I suspected, he looked as though he started shaving last year and rarely trusts anyone over 49.)

Ryan’s budget “upgrade” could include “structural changes for boomers as old as 58,” warned Stromberg. Thank God, my husband and I have both lived long enough to dodge that bullet. But hi-ho, Steverino: You’re going to be an old fart, too, some day. It creeps up on the best of us, much faster than you could possibly imagine. Life, as Thomas Hobbes said in 1651, is nasty, brutish, and short. Rich or poor, upwardly mobile or in sudden harrowing freefall, most of us will likely make it to 65, with or without a safety net. After that, there’s only one exit, though many ways of reaching it.

Nothing — not all of David Koch’s billions or the gold-plated ripcord of his reserve parachute — can slow the inevitable human collision at the bitter end with implacable earth.

* * *

The koi pond in March 2009 / Photo by Lance Theroux

Once our pond thaws and the koi surface to feed, I imagine we’ll go back, Lance and I, to fanning out The New York Times, section by section, on the big glass-topped table on our deck — at least as long as we have a deck to spread it out on. Hot coffee, a mechanical pencil with a decent eraser, the Times crossword puzzle, and ink-smudged fingertips are all the religion I’ve ever needed on a Sunday morning.

The actual physical paper is still good for a great deal more than lining birdcages, clipping grocery coupons, or wrapping fish. But if our headlong hurtle out of the middle class hits bottom and we lose the house, I can always pack my grandmother’s bone-china teacups in crumpled wads of newsprint when the time comes to ship the family heirlooms to my younger sister, Beth. (Ann, two years my junior, is already gone. Like our father, she died tragically before the age of 60.)

Born when I was almost 13, during the Baby Boom’s penultimate year, Beth long ago relocated to the West Coast to practice family medicine in underserved communities, working for thankless wages yet undoubtedly reaping enormous spiritual dividends. Right up there with Pacific Coast Highway wildfires, earthquakes, and mudslides, my baby sister has survived a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and endured a subsequent residency in neurology, undertaken in her late forties so she could better treat MS patients and research the disease.

Should Beth go without Medicare benefits, if she lives so long that she becomes sick enough to need them? I don’t think so, Mr. Stromberg.

Some Entitlements in Need of Reform

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

I am always amazed when I hear some millionaire or billionaire (or their spokespeople in Congress or Fox News or talk radio) proclaim, “We’re broke!” According to them, our government no longer has the means to continue safety net programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

They themselves are not broke, of course. They’re doing just fine. And if you ask them, everyone in this country is pretty well off too, so we don’t really need the safety net anymore. They’re just symptoms of the “nanny state” anyway and that’s what’s wrong with this country by golly: all those people looking for handouts (you know, like retirees, veterans and disabled folks). You’ve probably heard statements of this sort (either on Fox News or on The Daily Show when Jon Stewart shows clips of the dumb things they say on Fox News):  “Poor people never had it so good as they have it now in the U.S. They have refrigerators, air conditioners and television sets. How bad off can they be?”

The Wall Street Journal published an article recently that even tried to make the case that the “middle class” in this country has not been harmed by the fact that real wages (adjusted for cost of living changes) have not gone up in decades as wealth has ballooned for a small percentage of people at the top of the economic ladder. According to the writer, wages aren’t a good measure anymore because of all the advances that have taken place that make life better for us all, as in healthcare, for example. (I’m not making this up.)

Another article in the WSJ a while back suggested that income disparity is good for everybody. The writer used Michael Jordan as an example. See, when Jordan was leading the Chicago Bulls to championships, his mediocre teammates got paid better, the arena was packed, which meant more people were hired to prepare and serve food and show people to their seats. Talk about a win-win. But a two-hour drive from Chicago would have taken the author to Freeport, Ill., and the shut down Sensata plant. Sensata, which manufactures sensor parts for the auto industry, is owned by Bain Capital, the private equity company founded by Mitt Romney. Despite a profitable 2011 Sensata laid off all the workers in Freeport last year and moved manufacturing to China—but not before forcing the American workers to train their replacements. Ironically, the plant was shut down the day before Election Day.

As described by Dave Johnson of the Campaign for America’s Future, “Bain’s business model is to purchase companies using ‘leveraged buyouts’ that borrow huge sums using the purchased company’s own assets as collateral, uses the borrowed money to immediately pay itself, then cuts costs by doing things like sending jobs to China, cutting wages and manipulating tax rules to cut taxes owed, along with standard big-business practices like consolidating business units, taking advantage of economies of scale not available to smaller competitors, squeezing distribution channels for price cuts, and other practices that bring competitive advantages.”

Bain is “entitled” to do this under the current laws of the United State of America. I think it’s about time we had some entitlement reform to stop this kind of thing from happening. If a U.S.-based company making good profits in this country wants to move to China, it should be allowed to do so only after providing extended health benefits and severance packages to each and every person who will lose a job as a reult of the move–or not be permitted to move at all.

Another entitlement in need of reform is the one that permits the underachieving or none-too-bright sons and daughters of wealthy people to attend great colleges and universities simply because a relative went there before. These “legacy students” are taking up space that might otherwise be given to hard-working students who have earned admission but whose families cannot afford the steep cost of sending them to a place like Yale or Harvard, for example. A worthy reform might be to require those who can readily afford it to pay for the education of one of those deserving people in addition to that of their own family member. The deserving individual would be selected at random from a pool of worthy candidates regardless of their race, creed or color. All they would have in common is that their families can’t afford to send them to the school. This would avoid the usual complaints about “reverse discrimination” that accompany affirmative action measures, while still advancing the goals because a disproportionate percentage of minority community members will be represented.

Why is someone who inherits a large piece of land “entitled” to sell it to developers for commercial use? Why is the concept of “private property” more important than preservation of the earth and the health of its inhabitants? Now there is some fertile ground for entitlement reform. Feel free to add your own. And for goodness sakes, let’s not allow them to take away the safety net:  Hands off Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid!

Michael can be reached at michael@zestoforange.com.

 

Harry Golden, My Father & ‘Entitlements’

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

I did a double take the other day when I saw the drawing of a face on the cover of a used book on sale in front of Ye Olde Warwick Bookshop. Only the cigar protruding from the man’s mouth told me it wasn’t the face of my father. The title of the book is You’re Entitle’ and the man smoking the cigar is its author, Harry Golden.

You’re Entitle’, published in 1962, was not nearly as successful as its predecessors, Only in America (1958), For 2¢ Plain (1958) and Enjoy, Enjoy! (1960). Those were his best known works, composed of selections from his writings in The Carolina Israelite, a newsletter he published from Charlotte, N.C., from 1942 to 1968. The newsletter enjoyed a national circulation via mail subscriptions. Golden used its pages to voice his opinions on many issues of the day, most famously his opposition to the segregation laws that still held sway in the southern states.

In the introduction to You’re Entitle’, his son, Harry, Jr., asks, “How many men can say—My father is a brave man?” He describes his father as “this fat little guy, short of breath, with his cigars and ideas in Charlotte; this immigrant and Yankee in the native- born South; this Jew in the citadel of Anglo-Saxon Protestantism; this integrationist in a land of segregation; this happy reformer among the complacent….He is the champion of many causes—some lost—but many, like the cause of the Southern Negro, that will inevitably be won.”

I would have bought the book if only because of the face on the cover that reminded me of my father; not to mention that pop had been an admirer of Golden. I was also intrigued by the title: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “entitlements” and all the recent yammering about “entitlement reform.” Neither my father nor Harry Golden lived to see the election (and re-election!) of the first African-American president, which both would have celebrated. But I doubt either would care much for his willingness to embrace any  “entitlement reform” that would entail cuts in funding and benefits in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Golden dedicated the book to his father, who emigrated to America from the Galicean town of Mikulinz. “All his life he spoke a halting English, though he certainly made his ideas clear enough,” wrote Golden. “He was enamored of the phrase, ‘You’re entitle’.’ In his youth, Golden would correct him, saying, “It ends with a d, Poppa.” His father would nod understandingly “but the next time it still came out, ‘You’re entitle’.’

That word, wrote Golden, “was the expression of a free man. No one was entitled in Eastern Europe. You served in the army for 10 years and it entitled you to nothing. Your taxes entitled you to no franchise. But in America men were free and entitled…” Golden wrote those words in 1962. My, how times have changed.

Here is what Golden said in a brief paragraph on foreign relations: “One of our crass stupidities is not realizing the strength of the most potent legislation of our times—social security.” He expresses annoyance that the benefits of social security are not broadcast in Spanish. “Uncle José returns to one of the Latin-American countries after working 30 years in the United States and there he sits every month and Uncle Sam sends him a check—magnifico!” Golden believed that providing social security in this manner would create goodwill towards the United States and diminish the appeal of communism among people in those lands. Today social security itself is under attack by right-wing idealogues, such as Paul Ryan, and it is almost unthinkable for anyone to advocate that it and other benefits, such as health care, be provided to undocumented workers.  In a later passage he suggests that both Republicans and Democrats need to change their attitudes towards the peoples of the rest of the world. “We need to accept humanity, and understand that these are people like ourselves.” Disrespecting someone’s homeland by calling it a “banana republic” will only antagonize the people who live there, he explains.

“It was easy to lick Mexico, to send the Marines to Paraguay, to patronize the Panamanians. And we never paid the slightest attention to many Latin Americans of considerable stature we had among our own people. Instead we sent New Englanders as ambassadors, men who had no sympathy for these people. Behind them came the big companies, vast mechanical monsters systematically removing the oil and the sugar and the raw materials. With friendship and a sense of partnership, discarding the ‘banana republic’ attitude, we could have built a tremendous moral force among our neighbors that would have been a model for the world.”  We know how that worked out. Our leaders still like to say we are a “model for the world” and we seem to like to hear it.  But it hasn’t sold too well to people in Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay and Venezuela in recent elections in those countries.

I have a few more things to say about entitlements, but I think I’ll save them for next time. I’ll end this post with a few more words from Harry Golden. Why? Because you’re entitle’ of course!

“All the upheavals and protests around the world have been triggered by one singular need—the need for human dignity. This is true in countries where the most unbelievable poverty exists….where sanitation conditions are as primitive as they were in the 12th century; yet when the students get out on the square to do their snake dance and shout slogans it is not for wages or shorter hours or for increased foreign aid from the United States. In every case it has had to do with their status as human beings, their need for acceptance as part of the open society of mankind, as equals.”

Michael can be reached at michael@zestoforange.com.