The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Social Security’

THE SINS OF THE FATHER

“Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.”

Exodus 20:5 (KJV)

There are some conservative American Christians who believe that the government is conducting a systematic attack on their beliefs.  They point to an increasing volume of anecdotal evidence to support this claim.  But in light of recent events, perhaps they will have to re-examine their view.

It would appear that at least one governmental agency has taken the admonition in the above Scriptural verse to heart and has decided to act as God’s instrument to fulfill it.  It may come as a surprise to most of us but that agency is the IRS.  Perhaps IRS has misread the verse from Exodus and believes that it is the Supreme Being – or at least the Supreme Enforcer of Righteousness.

Most people when they hear from the IRS are, like Queen Victoria, “Not amused.”  There is nothing very funny about anything that agency does – or threatens to have the ability to do.  That sentiment has long preceded the obvious politically motivated refusal to give conservative organizations a tax exempt determination.

But even the IRS has reached a new low – leading one to believe that somewhere there really is a bottomless pit.  Thanks to an act of Congress, the former time limit of ten years that the agency had to collect taxpayer debts has been lifted.  And the IRS has wasted no time taking advantage of its newly extended abilities to reach into the taxpayers’ pockets.

The problem isn’t that the agency is collecting monies that a specific taxpayer has failed to fork over to them.  The agency feels that it is perfectly correct to collect those funds from the descendants of the taxpayers who originally incurred them.

Now this may astound you but there are apparently some “errors” which occur in the course of governing this great country.  In fact, there are quite a few of them which occur regularly.  In previous posts I made reference to how the IRS annually sends refunds to people who fraudulently claim that the government owes them money.

From sending millions in over 200 separate refunds to a single address in Florida or similarly sending half a million bucks claimed on 100 returns to one address in Bulgaria, the agency has shown its abilities in mastering the fine art of ineptitude.  But the current rampage against the taxpayer comes not from the IRS’ own inadequate procedures but rather from another federal entity.

If you’ve been amazed at how inept the roll out of Obamacare has been, it should be no surprise that the same agency which was responsible for that debacle, HHS is also the source for other mistakes which the IRS is trying to set right.  And the particular division of HHS which apparently screwed up is none other than the Social Security Administration.

SSA not only administers retirement benefits into which all Americans are forced to pay through payroll deductions or, in the alternate, on their tax returns.  But it also administers disability payments to workers who are (purportedly) unable to work due to physical impairment or mental issues.  The second of these two programs has been fraught with fraud.  Even SSA acknowledges that.

But while the erstwhile crooks who con the taxpayers out of their hard earned dollars by making false disability claims has increased substantially in recent years, there have always been some who made false claims or received benefits after they no longer qualified.  It is these people who are currently being targeted by IRS.  Or more correctly, it is their children who are being forced to make restitution for these “overpayments.”

Let’s think about this for a moment.  Purportedly, a person received payments to which he or she was not entitled – let’s say 40 years ago.  Then, for lack of anything better to do, someone in SSA noticed that their agency had made a $350 mistake.  And they decide that going after this will help relieve the national debt.  So they inform IRS that there is a balance due them for the mistake which they originally made.

But there’s a problem.  The individual who received this overpayment died ten years earlier.  Not to be deterred by this, the IRS has figured out that their child, who was four when this problem started, is still alive and has a refund due on her return.  So the IRS flags her return and deducts the overpayment to her parents from her return and sends her a notice, explaining why her refund is $350 short of what she was expecting.

I’m not sure this program will prove to be anything near the windfall either for IRS or SSA that pursuing and shutting down fraudsters who collect around $50 MM per year in bogus refunds receive would prove to be.  Frankly, I doubt it.

As this will do little to contribute to federal revenues, I can only assume that the IRS is adhering to the principles espoused in our quote from Exodus.  It will be interesting to see if some religious group decides to file suit to block this program, citing the once venerable precept of “Separation of church and state.”  Meanwhile, it appears that the sins of the father will indeed be heaped upon the children.  We’ll have to stay tuned to see for how many generations that will last.

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COULD YOU DO ME A FAVOR?

It was very bleak and large, dark cumulus clouds overhung the Las Vegas Valley when Gracie and I left for the dog park around six-thirty this morning.  It reminded me a little of a winter day which I spent in the Orkney Islands – but the winds weren’t nearly as blustery and there was no sound of the splashing of the sea against the coastline.

When we returned home I gave Gracie her morning treats and took comfort in a hot cup of coffee, planning what I intended to accomplish.  But then, as I was listing out the tasks I had to do, the phone rang.  It was an elderly friend, David who had called.

David is in his late eighties and asked if I could do him a favor.  He wondered if I could take him to the Social Security office as he needed to get a copy of his Social Security card since he couldn’t find his.  My heart stopped.  There is nothing that I find more depressing than going into a government office building.  They are consistently bleak – as though by design – so that those who have business to attend to will exit as quickly as possible.

Nevertheless, David is a good friend and I know his vision makes it difficult for him to drive – and also makes it a bit hard for him to complete forms.  So I agreed to take him.

I picked him up and we arrived at the SSA office at 10:30.  When we walked in, we went to the kiosk and got a ticket and he filled out an application for a replacement social security card.  The waiting room was jam packed and as I listened to the conversation of those patrons who had occupied all the seats I gathered we were one of the few for whom English was a first language.

As David was completing his form I glanced at the number on our ticket to get an idea how long we would be waiting.  We were A 926 – and A 813 had just been called.  I shrugged my shoulders but then looked around and saw that there were 19 numbered windows in the facility and behind each was an employee.  I thought to myself, “Perhaps this won’t be so bad after all.”

Someone’s number was called near where we were standing and I scrambled over to the seat so that David could have it, beating out a twenty-something year old who was staring at it lasciviously.  And as luck would have it, a few minutes later another seat opened up next to David’s and I took it.

We had been in the building for about twenty minutes and they were only just calling A 822.  Perhaps this was going to take longer than I had anticipated.  But as I learned, some of those who had taken a number left in frustration and so that ultimately knocked about twenty people or so out of the queue.

Because I am inquisitive by nature I started looking around the office, giving up my seat to an elderly Hispanic lady who was sporting a foot bandage.  I walked to the end of the building which housed Window 19 and looked at the man behind the glass divider.

He had that dreadful look of ennui which comes from doing the same repetitive thing day after day for an entire career.  There was no emotion whatever on his face, as though his soul had been drained from his body.  And it was the same at Window 18 and Window 17 and with each of the employees down to Window 1.  Not a smile, not a grimace, nothing but a mindless stare.

And I noticed one other thing.  As I walked past each window there were none of the usual office decorations which commemorated the upcoming Holidays, whether that was Hanukah or Christmas or Kwanza.  Not the least bit of personalization of that 8’ x 8’ area that these folks called home during their work day.  I suspect that was more by edict than by choice – but after many years in this environment, I’m pretty sure the joy of the Holidays consisted for them as a day away from their bleak workplace.

A 853.  Only an hour into it  and only 73 more numbers to go. “ Please, God give me patience,” I said to myself.  So having completed my tour of the windows I stepped outside.  There were a number of signs posted on the entranceways but I hadn’t the opportunity to read them on our way in.  So I took a few minutes’ leave of David and sauntered out.

Of course, the signs appeared in two versions – English and Spanish.  As you might expect, one specifically stated that no firearms were to be taken into the building.  Even those who, under state or local law had a permit to carry weapons were prohibited from taking them inside this Federal property.  Of course, exempt from this were police and SSA security personnel.

In light of the Newtown, CT massacre of Friday, I have to admit that I found this almost laughable.  It’s as though posting it would have dissuaded Adam Lanza or anyone else whose goal was to wreak mass havoc from carrying out his mission should his target have been the SSA and not the Sandy Hook School.

The other sign which I saw was one announcing a change in office hours, effective 1/02/13.  This SSA facility will now be open M-F from 9:00 – 3:00 – except that on Wednesdays it will close at noon.  The previous hours were from 9:00 – 3:30 Monday through Friday.  So a massive work week which is currently  thirty-two and one half hours is being cut to twenty-seven.  Is this an effort to avoid having to comply with Obamacare?  I think not.

But I admit to feeling both outraged and envious.  When I was in my own businesses I don’t recall ever working less than sixty and usually eighty hours a week to keep the darn things afloat.  What a dummy I was.  Here I was busting my hump to try to make a go of it and I could have gotten a cushy job with the Feds at the mere cost of losing my personality.  I’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of that a bit longer.

Having completed my canvass of the exterior I wondered if there were anything inside that I might have missed.  Indeed there was a lot.

When I re-entered the building (A 861) I discovered it was lunch time.  Rather than looking at the unsmiling faces of those behind the windows, I saw that fifteen of them had been closed with stainless steel shutters and the two security guards were busily locking them down.  My heart sank as I realized this would greatly slow down the process of calling our number.

A seat was open next to David and I took it.  We were directly in front of a monitor which was broadcasting SSTV.  This included a short video extolling the wisdom of getting answers to all the questions we had regarding life in general and Social Security in particular by going to www.ssa.gov.  The commercial was hosted by George Takei of “Star Trek” fame and Patty Duke whom I best remember for starring in “The Flying Nun.” Oh, wait. That was Sally Field in the role of Sister Bertrille. So I guess I don’t remember Patty Duke’s work that well at all.

Of course, there were other announcements (in English and Spanish) which panned across the screen.  It surprised me that the same informational pieces were not also posted in Tagalog (Filipino).  Recently, the Department of Justice determined that Clark County, NV had a sufficiency of Filipino voters that our voting material also had to be available in their language.  Perhaps the DOJ and SSA don’t communicate with each other as they should.

It was after losing interest in these repetitive announcements on SSTV that I turned my attention to yet another sign which prohibited the use of cameras within the building.  I began to ask myself, “Why”?  Would posting pictures of this drab interior cause someone with suicidal tendencies to take the plunge and do themselves in? 

But as I reviewed this ban on photography, yet another posted item caught my eye.  It was placed at a height that only an NBA player could read – directly above the exit door.  The print was so infinitesimally small that it would have been virtually impossible to read by anyone who had not brought a magnifying glass with them.  It was entitled “GSA (General Services Administration) Rules and Regulations Regarding Conduct on Federal Property.”  For your edification, I have provided a link to this document which was crafted in 2005, here:

 http://www.aphis.usda.gov/mrpbs/asd/downloads/rules.pdf

Incidentally, the type that you see in this government download is exactly the same type that appeared on the wall of the SSA’s facility.  If you can read this at a height that is two feet above your head, posted in an exit way with people constantly leaving the facility, then you are a far better person than I.

A 925.  “Thank you, Lord.  Only one more to go.”  A 928.  What happened?  Where’s our number?  Then I remembered that SSTV had said that there were certain people with special needs who might be accommodated sooner but that we shouldn’t worry because our number would be called.  And it was – the very next time. 

“A 926 – Window 12.”

David and I made haste to the magic window and sat down.  A zombie-like employee addressed us with that warm greeting, “Yes?”  I looked at the man to see if his pulse were sufficient to last while we conducted our business with him.

When David explained that he required a replacement card, the man said, “You know you are only entitled to three replacement cards in a year or ten in a lifetime.  Have you exceeded these limits?”  David, said, “No, sir.  This is my first replacement card.”

To which our friend behind the window said, “Let me see your driver’s license.”  David handed it over together with his application for a new card.

I thought that was interesting.  SSA requires a driver’s license (among other forms of identification) for obtaining a new Social Security card.  But in order to vote in this state you don’t need to have one.  I guess that says something about how we value our priorities.

By the way, the Social Security card clearly states that it is “Not To Be Used For Purposes of Identification.”  Why they exist at all – other than for those who cannot remember their number (or in the case of some of us) their multiple numbers – is beyond me.  But I don’t make the rules.

Five minutes later our automaton friend handed David a piece of paper and asked him to review the information that it contained, to verify that it was accurate, “under penalty of perjury.”  David reviewed it and handed it back, affirming that the information was correct.

I really wanted to say, “Is that the same oath Bill Clinton took in his impeachment trial?”  But I thought that was only going to slow down the process and that the satiric nature of the comment would be lost on our friend behind the window so I held my tongue.

David got his receipt from the man behind the window with the pronouncement that his new Social Security card would arrive in the mail within two weeks.  This was delivered in the same monotone, uninspired way in which he had conducted the rest of his conversation.  And so we left.  It was nearly one o’clock.

I was hungry, as was David so I suggested we have luncheon together.  He thought that was a good idea.  As we were close to one of my favorite restaurants, we went there to dine. 

I ordered the Mongolian Beef luncheon special.  After a considerable amount of hemming and hawing, David went with the Cashew Chicken.  He really doesn’t like Chinese food – which I am sad to admit I knew.

Payback is a horrible thing.

THE FISCAL CLIFF AND APPLE PIE

The negotiations on the fiscal cliff, if I may use that term to describe the posturing in government that is underway, drag on at their same slow pace as before the election.  We’ve all heard about it – and some of us have taken the time to understand its implications.  Probably just a few of us.  Perhaps the reason so few of us concern ourselves with the matter is that, as I review today’s “Trending News” on Yahoo, the subject didn’t make it into the top ten.  We have higher priorities.

Of the top five items on that list of what Yahoo viewers found important, four were concerned with “celebrities” and their activities which included one law suit; one romantic breakup; one engagement and one speeding ticket.  Rounding out the list just in time for the next $500 Million Powerball drawing was a seven time lottery winner’s advice on how to increase your chances of winning in the random game – a subject which he covers in a book which has sold thousands of copies.

Of course, none of these has anything to do with our subject – but in reviewing the list of today’s news items, there were two entries which I found that did pertain.  These were stories about whether doctors should prescribe the “morning after” pill to teen girls without parental consent and a report about the CDC’s engaging in a three year program to educate minority gay and bisexual men about AIDS prevention.  Whoever said, “Money is the root of all evil” must have lived before the time of our sexual liberation.

According to the CDC report they estimate that 1,000 “young people” whom they define as being between the ages of 13 and 24 are infected monthly with HIV.  The cost of drug therapy to control the virus is approximately $400,000 per person over their lifetime.  This report focuses strictly on people in that age group and does not address older people who are similarly infected.

Since most people in that age group don’t have the benefit of a trust fund from Grandma to pay for the drugs they will need, the taxpayers, monthly are incurring an ultimate liability of an additional $400 Million to add to the amounts we are already spending on Medicaid – which will no doubt be the provider of the drugs that they will require.

Now I don’t want to sound like one of those stodgy old conservatives who is merely concerned about his or her own welfare and that of their family.  Actually, I think of myself as a warm and caring person who generally makes decisions based on logic, tempered with compassion.  But I do become mildly rankled when I read stories like this.

At the heart of the fiscal cliff discussion is the issue of “entitlement” programs which include Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  While those three are lumped together under the same heading, I believe that the only one of them which actually qualifies as an “entitlement” is Medicaid – the healthcare program for those who cannot afford treatment because of their limited financial circumstances.  The other two, Social Security and Medicaid are funded by the working taxpayer and by their employers who pay into both funds in similar amounts.  In the latter two cases if people receive benefits it is because they are entitled to do so because they paid for them.

As we know, Social Security and Medicare are nearly bankrupt.  That is because the Federal government has regularly engaged in financial chicanery and pillaged the funds which taxpayers paid into them to use them for other purposes.  One of those purposes has been to fund Medicaid – to which no one has every directly contributed a dime.

If you read through Obamacare, it is clear that health services will soon be rationed.  A panel of fifteen as yet unnamed bureaucrats (who may or may not have any medical background) will determine what services you and I are “entitled” to receive.  In the absence of any realistic, soundly based principled attempt to cut waste and fraud and the overhead costs engendered by a bureaucracy to administer these programs (and now we will be adding to that, digging ourselves yet deeper in debt) it had to come to that.

So with my empathetic view toward life I theorize that I am one of those fifteen people who will have the responsibility for determining who shall receive and who shall be deprived of health benefits and two cases come before me.  There are only enough funds to treat one of these patients.

The first is one of these young, newly-infected HIV patients.  He is in his present situation because he was uneducated or careless or unconcerned about the consequences of his liaisons.  The second is your grandmother who has worked all her life, paid her taxes and raised a family.  She got into her condition through the natural process of getting old.

I don’t mean to sound heartless but I’m sorry HIV “victim,” you’re out of here.  I made my decision based on the “greater good.”

Grandma makes a terrific apple pie.

GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTING –PART II

It is the Tuesday before we turn our attention to our national day of Thanksgiving.  We have a lot for which we should be grateful despite the many challenges that lie ahead of us.

I began writing this blog a little over a year ago.  With the exception of about ten posts which were the work of others and which I re-blogged, the writing has been an expression of my thoughts and feelings, my hopes and my concerns.  There are now over 450 original posts which have been uploaded for your review.

No one either lives or writes in a vacuum.  If a person were to write the “Great American Novel” and no one read it, would its existence matter?  And so I remember that when I began and started to learn to navigate a little bit around Word Press, the excitement I felt when someone first clicked the “like” button on something I had written.  I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, somebody actually read what I had to say.”  I guess we all need a little validation for our efforts.

As my blogging journey continued, I suddenly had a “follower”.  Just one – but that was exciting.  And then another and a few more.  As I began reading other blogs, it was only natural that I noticed how many followers some of them had.  Hundreds and hundreds, which led me to feel that what I had to say was probably only important to me and perhaps a handful of others.

And while I wanted to stop and enjoy a private pity party for a bit, I realized that if what I had to say mattered only to an audience of one – myself – I was honor bound to say it – with or without the acclamation of others.  It seems to me that is what personal honesty and responsibility are all about.

Perhaps one of the nicest compliments I have heard about my posts has come from two different people at the dog park who are not “followers” but are regular readers.  In the past week both of them have commented on specific posts and have described them as being written with “passion”.  I can think of no higher accolade and I am grateful to them for those words of encouragement.

And it is to all of you have taken the time either to click the “like” button and especially to those of you have taken your time to leave a comment to whom I want to express my gratitude and thanks.  Although you may not have realized it, your comments were a sustaining nourishment that enabled me to get as far with this blog as I have.

And there is one more thing about your comments which needs to be said.  You have provided the inspiration for many of these posts by causing me to think about things which otherwise I might have overlooked.  Such is the case with this post’s predecessor – which before reading the three comments that are currently posted, I considered a completed work.  But your thoughtful commentaries have now given rise to this post, and two more which will follow in the next few days.

So with a grateful heart, I say to all of you, “Thank you.”

And now – on to the subject of this post which I dedicate to all those who have taken their time to comment in the past.

When Gracie and I returned home this morning from the dog park I was sitting out back enjoying a beautiful morning and a strong cup of coffee.  Gracie, who in many ways is my muse, was happily munching on a homemade dog biscuit and I was thinking about the comments that “illero” and “irishsignora” and “William Lawson” had left on the first episode of “Government Accounting”.  And then I was inspired.

I agreed in my reply to “illero” that the amount of money deprived our seniors through SSA’s accounting gimmickry was chump change, although we both felt that the practice was petty and wrong.  But then I read “irishsignora’s” comment about how she is teaching her children about the value of things.  The combination of the two caused me to think about the real story here – one beyond that which I reported in the first post on this subject.

That caused me to think about Albert Einstein who understood the importance of “compounding” (read more in the next post) and that led me to think about the implications of this practice not just in one year but over periods of time.

If you followed my logic in “Government Accounting” (I wonder if I have to go back and rename it Part I – nah), SSA is currently saving $200 Million a year through their practice of always rounding down to the next lowest dollar the benefits that they pay out to seniors.  When you have a government running a $1 Trillion annual deficit, that is truly small potatoes.

But think about it for a moment.  According to the SSA, the “average” beneficiary receives a payment for a little over 16 years.  So, assuming that there is an annual increase in benefits of any amount (we just had a three year period where there were no increases – but that is an all time first in the history of the program), each year this accounting gimmick is going to compound the savings to SSA by an equal amount.  So in year two, the savings will amount to $400 Million, in year five, $1 Billion and in year sixteen, $3.2 Billion.  This is no longer “chump change” – and I think the late Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen would strongly agree.

And what is the cumulative amount denied our senior Social Security recipients over this sixteen year time horizon?  It totals up to a rather staggering $30.2 BILLION.

Those of our elderly who may occasionally have to resort to eating canned cat food could certainly trade up and buy a whole lot of filet mignons with that much money.  Even at the current market price.

GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTING

Well the news is in.  The Social Security Administration has announced that our population of seniors (and other beneficiaries) of the Social Security Trust Fund will receive a 1.7% increase in the size of their checks in 2013 from the present amount they are receiving.

For the last statistical data I was able to find, ending in calendar year 2009, that meant 33.5 Million people or so will receive this increase in their benefits.  The number has undoubtedly grown in the three years since that data was published by SSA as more “Baby Boomers” have retired.

I happened to be speaking with a friend who is 70 years old and this subject came up.  Because of her age, she is one of the last of those who can actually do arithmetical computations without the benefit of a calculator.  And she mentioned an interesting point to me.

When she received her last benefit increase, it was actually less than the 1.5% amount that was widely reported – both in the media and by SSA.  I asked if she were sure of this and she went to her desk and from a drawer took out a sheet of paper on which she had done the computation in longhand and showed it to me.  Her math was impeccable.

In addition to all the problems the government has to address there is one that goes unheralded and unreported.  I’m here to correct that problem.  You see, apparently government computers are fine when it comes to millions and billions and trillions of dollars.  But they have a problem with “cents”.  All Social Security checks are now created in even dollar amounts only.

You are probably one of those thinking individuals who says, “Well, if it comes out to $.51 or more, they round up to the next dollar.  If it is $.50 or less they round down.”  That would be reasonable and fair..

But in my friend’s case, that isn’t what happened.  Her last increase would have meant that she earned a dollar more than she receives per month were that the case.  But her actual check is for a dollar less than what it would be if the above assumption were true.

This, of course, prompted my curiosity.  And with an SSA office only about a ten minute drive away, I decided to stop in and pay my public servants a visit and inquire about their accounting practices.

So I called to find what time they opened and was there fifteen minutes before the doors were unlocked.  I was about 20th in line when I arrived.  As I waited for them to begin their business day, I thought it was interesting that there were only two people ahead of me who appeared that they would qualify to receive benefits due to age.  I don’t know why the others were there, unless they thought it was “Free Donut Day” at SSA.  Or maybe they were there doing investigational reporting.

So we filed into the typically grim and dismal government building and each of us took our turn taking a number.  There were some uncomfortable pressed-material chairs available for our seating and since I had brought a copy of “Atlas Shrugged” with me and remembered to take my reading glasses, I was prepared for the wait however long it would be.  As it turned out, it wasn’t all that bad – about an hour.

When my number was called, I dutifully went to Window 8 which was where I was informed by the automated, robotic announcer I belonged.  A very nice lady in her 50’s asked how she could help me.  So I explained that I was there to gain an understanding of how increases in Social Security benefits were computed.

She explained that SSA no longer issues benefits with cents.  (I had figured that out).  All checks were rounded out to even dollar amounts.  So I pulled out the sheet of paper that my 70 year old friend had handwritten and asked why she had not been “rounded up to the next dollar amount” instead of being “rounded down”.

The answer was that all benefit amounts were “rounded down” to the next whole dollar amount.  (By contrast, my friend who has Medicare “Part B”  and is presumably paying $99.90 for this insurance is actually charged $100.00 for it – so I know that government computers are smart enough to round up – if they are told to do so).

Now this may sound trivial to you.  If it does, you are probably not a senior who is living on an occasional dose of cat food to supplement your meager income because you’ve run out of money before you’ve run out of month.  But let’s consider the overall picture for a moment.

Assume that the average amount that is being withheld from recipients is $.50 per person per month.  That’s not much – only $6.00 per year per person,  multiplied by 33.5 Million people equals about $200 Million a year.

In other words, our senior citizens, through this little accounting gimmick are financing the $80 Million or so that we pay Congress, the salary of the President and Vice-President, the salaries of the members of the Supreme Court, the entire Cabinet and there is still money left over to invest in companies like Solyndra.

Government accounting.  You gotta love it.

GOOD NEWS FOR SENIORS

If you don’t like pizza – well, you’re just un-American.  I’m a good and loyal American so it goes without saying that I not only like, I LOVE pizza.  Hot, cold, thin or thick crust – other than throwing pineapple and ham on it (or peanut butter), it’s almost impossible to ruin this all-American favorite.  (We did invent it didn’t we?)

Well if you’re thinking that under our ever-beneficent radical socialist leaders in Washington, seniors are going to be able to get all the pizza they can eat, I’m sorry to report that you’re wrong.  (At least for the moment – but who knows?)  No, I’m referring to new job opportunities which those who rely on walkers to perambulate may soon have available to them.

You see, there’s this law that passed called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a/k/a/ Obamacare).  And a mighty law it is indeed – as we’re only beginning to discover.  Fortunately, it doesn’t fully kick in for another year so that allows us time to think and pine and fret over its implications as they begin to further unfold.  But there are a few things about it which we do know.

(This includes those Democrats including my own former Congresswoman Shelley Berkley who recently failed to advance her career to the United States Senate and is now out of politics.  The good Congresswoman followed leader Pelosi’s advice and voted to pass the bill without bothering to read it.  Details, details.)  And, by the way there are a lot of details.

One of the details that we do know is that employers will be required to provide health insurance for all employees who earn less than $15 per hour.  If they fail to do so they will be subject to a fine of $2000 per employee.  But the cost of the insurance is likely to be at least five times as expensive as the fine.  So, in essence, the reasonable employer will make the choice between spending $2000 per year or $10,000 per year – and which number do you think she will select?

But, wait – there’s a way around this.  You see this only applies to those employees who are considered “full time” employees – that is to say that they work (or at least show up) for 30 hours or more a week.  (Whatever happened to the 40 hour work week?  I guess I owe myself a lot of back pay at an overtime rate!)

So, as an alternative, an employer can cut back on her full-time staff, reducing them to part-time status and thus skirt this provision of Obamacare.  Apparently when our esteemed Congress passed this bill and the President signed it into law, they overlooked this eventuality and the consequent reduction in income and standard of living that those whom the law is intended to benefit will undergo.  I guess it’s just another example of unintended consequences.

But in my musings, I have arrived at a solution which I would like to share with all those small business owners (and little pizzerias that I love to frequent).

HIRE THE ELEDERLY

You see, if we merely raid the retirement homes to find the able-bodied among our senior citizens, we can recruit them to work in our stores and businesses and avoid this provision of Obamacare since they already have insurance, Medicare.

And this works out well for our seniors.  Not only will it provide them with additional income that they need to compensate for the rising prices of food and gas (the kind you put in your vehicle) which are far outstripping the increase in their Social Security benefits but, since their doctors are now becoming veterinarians, there’s no need for them to worry about missing their appointments – since there won’t be any.

And this works out for the pizza-eating public as well.  I mean really, would you rather see some acne-pimpled teenager tossing the dough for your pizza, or some lovely silver-haired lady who reminds you of your grandmother?

“I’m here to pick up my extra large pepperoni, mushroom, green pepper and onion pizza, Grams.  Oh, wait.  Don’t strain yourself.  Let me help you lift that.”

INCUMBENTS AND MASOCHISM

I have a simple philosophy when it comes time to vote.  I look at the candidates in each race, irrespective of their party affiliation.  If one of those happens already to hold the office and is seeking re-election, I look at their record during the time they have served.  And it all comes down to one simple question.

“Did you Mr. or Ms. Whatever do anything that was productive during the time that we paid your salary that would justify your retention in your current position?”

Normally, but not always, the answer I come up with is a resounding, “No.”  And as a result of that, I seldom will vote for a person who is an incumbent office holder.  That is true on a local, county, state and national level.  This also, I must admit, is why over my entire voting career I have probably helped only about twenty percent or so of those who have gotten my support elected.

You see, incumbency is a tremendous advantage.  You have only to look at the  Presidential race to realize that the incumbent, with arguably the worst track record in American history is currently marginally favored to win re-election.  Either that speaks to his “charisma” or to the fact that Americans, as a nation, are essentially masochistic.

Perhaps you have heard the old expression, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”  I can think of no better example of that than within the political sphere.  Let’s look at one example – your retirement benefits and those which they who “serve” you in Congress enjoy.

As you may be aware, for its first time since being founded by FDR, Social Security is actually in a deficit position.  That is simply because of the shenanigans that those who serve us on Capitol Hill have been playing with income to the fund by offering us a “tax holiday” on these necessary contributions in an effort to stimulate the economy.  In other words, they’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, with the hope that things will get back to “normal” once the economy really starts pumping.

That would probably not be a bad thing if the economy were starting to pump along at this point after the recession hit us as has been the case in previous recoveries.  Whether you want to attribute the fact that we are running at only a sluggish 1.2% improvement in GDP to all the nonsense that has emanated from Washington, or you choose to blame it on President Bush, it really doesn’t matter.  We have the numbers and they’re putrid.

But, for the purposes of optimism let’s assume that things eventually get back on track and that Social Security is once again solvent – and will be a reliable source of income for your personal retirement.  For some reason, I’m always optimistic early in the morning which is when I’m writing this.

So you’re a typical wage earner.  You have a good, secure position and your FICA contribution comes out of your weekly paycheck as it has when you joined the work force at age 18, a fresh High School graduate.  You’re willing to accept the fact that changes in health and longevity will require that you work longer than your parents in order to collect your Social Security benefits.  After all, it’s likely that you will live longer than they did.  So let’s say that our lawmakers, after looking at all the actuarial studies and the economic forecasts decide to raise the minimum retirement age to receive a reduced benefit from the current age of 62 to 65.  That means that you will have to work for 47 years to collect your Social Security benefit.  You’re okay with that.

The median amount of benefits that a current Social Security recipient receives is about $1,100 per month.  That’s what you (adjusted for inflation) will receive for the monies that you, and the equal contribution that your employer, paid into the fund during your 47 years of labor.  That’s what you will have to live on – together with any savings you have set aside.

Now let’s review the retirement plan for Members of Congress.  Not too long ago they decided to be egalitarian and include their own income as being subject to FICA – but that is a relatively recent development.

The Congressional retirement plan, one that every thinking person would like to have, says that if a person serves for a twenty year period, they are then eligible to receive a retirement benefit irrespective of their age.  So in essence, a bright young star who was elected to Congress at the Constitutionally approved minimum age of 25 would be eligible for retirement at age 45.

What benefit would he receive?  If I told you that he could expect about $85,000 per year, you might be shocked.  You might even be angered as you compared this to your $13,200 benefit and that he had only to put in 20 years of service to receive this benefit compared to your 47 years of hard work and labor.

And you should be shocked.  We should all be shocked – and outraged.  The obvious inequity is the reason that retiring Member of Congress Ron Paul has refused to participate in this program, describing it as, “immoral”.

Which leads me back to my original reason for voting against incumbents.  You see, it is obvious that most of them do what is in their interest, this pension scam being a perfect example, and forego doing what is in the people’s interests.  In the absence of any sense of virtue and righteousness on their part to do the just and fair thing, the only solution I see is not to allow them to stay in office long enough to obtain the benefits which they are only too wiling to heap on themselves.

There’s an old joke which comes to mind.  It goes, “Do you know the difference between a masochist and a sadist?”  The answer is, “A masochist says, ‘Beat me, beat me’.  And the sadist says, ‘No.’”

I’m afraid that when it comes to describing many of our incumbents in office they give a slightly different answer.

They ask, “How hard?”

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