Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Death of the Planet: "every year, natural habitats and dependent vertebrate populations decrease by an average of 1.1 percent".

The source for the quote in the title is an article I read on CNN this morning, discussing the possibility that anywhere between ten and a quarter of the world's bird species are likely to be extinct by the end of the century (year 2100).

The article ends with this summary from another recent report on extinction probabilities:

"In November the World Conservation Union reported that it found 12 percent of all bird species were threatened with extinction, along with nearly one-fourth of the world's mammals, a third of amphibians and 42 percent of all turtles and tortoises."

This is the world we are leaving to our children. I would bet that most citizens of the United States and other countries would rather these extinctions be averted, and yet this is not a prominent topic of discussion in our public dialogue, among our leaders, or in the media... it is likely that the Scott/Laci Petersen murder case generated more coverage and bigger headlines than every report on this topic in the last decade, combined. Very sad.

This needs to change - and the only way to do it, is to take action yourself... talk about this to your friends, demand your local media cover these stories, demand your elected representatives at every level address these issues, and raise them in every public forum (such as this) that you can.

--Thomas Leavitt

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Social Security: changing the frame of discussion.

Progressives need to change how the discussion around "reform" or "privatization" of Social Security is being framed in order to win this fight. Attempting to defend the traditional conception of Social Security as a government funded "retirement plan" is a losing proposition, when faced with the Republican counter-meme that "privatized" retirement funds invested in the securities market under the direction of the individual taxpayer are a superior option and will generate greater long term returns.

What's the alternative framework for dicussion?

Simple: go back to basics.

Social Security is not a retirement plan. It is a floor, a commitment that says, if you've worked hard all your life, this is as far as we, as a society, will let you fall, and no further. The purpose of Social Security is to preserve the dignity of our citizenry in it's old age, to prevent people from being thrown out on the streets when they can no longer work. It is not intended, and it never was intended, to provide people with a comfortable retirement - that has been, and always will be, the resposibility of the individual themselves (thus there are pension plans, IRAs, 401(k)s, mutual funds, house payments, etc.).

That is the truth we need to speak.

We need to abandon the polite fiction of a "social security trust fund", and admit and acknowledge that Social Security is a "pay as you go" system - one that should be funded by the increasing tax base provided by economic growth.

On this basis, we need to challenge the notion that any part of Social Security needs to be "privatized" - by pointing out that there are already a wide array of "private" retirement fund options (many even subsidized by the government).

We especially need to challenge the absurd concept that the Federal government needs to borrow trillions of dollars to finance any "reform". This is insane - no responsible investment advisor would suggest mortgaging your home to invest in the stock market (even at today's low interest rates) - let alone taking a "second mortgage" to do it, and yet that is exactly what the Bush Administration is proposing to do: mortgage the country to finance private investment by individuals in the stock market.

That such a proposition has currency in today's political environment speaks volumes about how badly those defending Social Security are served by the current "retirement fund" meme.

It needs to be killed, dead, now. Those defending Social Security need to ban any language referencing that meme from their vocabulary, and instead replace it with terms like "dignity", "respect for our elders", "if you work hard all your life, no matter how bad your luck, there will be something there for you", "as past generations met their commitments to their elders, so to will this and future generations", "we will never allow people too old to work to be thrown out onto the streets due to lack of an income", "some folks have good luck, some folks have bad luck, some folks have no luck at all, and yet work hard all their life - Social Security is there for the woman who worked three jobs to put her kids through school and was never able to save a penny for herself; Social Security is there for the factory worker who got sick, lost his job, and saw the efforts of a lifetime consumed by medical and other bills; Social Security is there for the mid-level manager who trusted the leaders of his company and saw his retirement fund wiped out by accounting fraud", etc.

We need to quit fighting the right-wing on it's own turf, and change the terms of the debate, or we are going to lose this battle, and see one of the most fundamental success stories of our time, the vast reduction in poverty among the elderly, wiped out.

--Thomas Leavitt