Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Social Security Recipients Get 1.5% COLA

A personal opinion on what ails government.

Daniel J Perin

Huffington Post, among other sources, announced Social Security benefits for nearly 58 million people would increase by 1.5 percent in 2014.  Based on the average pay to retired workers of $1,272 a month, that means we will receive about $19.  (Boy, I can hardly wait to run out and buy something with all that extra money!)

Fortunately, the deduction for our Medicare insurance will not rise from its current deduction of $104.90 for most of us retired seniors.  While Social Security raises over the years since 1975 have averaged just over 4 percent, many years it is immediately absorbed by an increase in the Medicare deduction from our checks resulting in a net gain of zero.  (Yes, we pay for our insurance every month like everyone else who has insurance from whatever source.  Depending upon the plan we choose from private insurers we may also pay a monthly fee for that coverage as well.)

To help fund the program the amount of wages subject to Social Security taxes is rising from 12.4 % tax on the first $113,700 in wages to $117,000 for 2014.  That amount is shared half by employers and half by employee withholding from their wages.

There may be a number of problems with the Social Security program and hopefully whenever we have a Congress willing to work on the many issues this country faces we may see some positive effort to adjust the program for long term success.  It is one of the most successful and appreciated government programs ever offered, even with its flaws.

I certainly am NOT complaining about my benefits.  I am the average recipient and so fit all the statistics related to the program payouts.  Much of my working life was spent in low paying or non-paying jobs—by choice—but never the less my benefits are much smaller than folks who worked in a career geared to advancement and thus, larger incomes and most likely providing additional retirement options.  I was fortunate in the eleven years prior to my retirement to work for a company that provided several retirement funding options of which I took full advantage.  That provided an investment balance that even after several economic downturns has been able to accrue returns allowing me to maintain a slight advantage in our now growing economy.

As I said, I am very fortunate.  A vast number of people have not had even the marginal opportunities I have had.  With no savings and low paying jobs, or no job at all, economic disasters such as our 2008 recession have left these folks homeless and broken.  Of course, one might make a case for the lack of financial judgment exercised that left them in dire straits.  For a long time we have been a society that lived on credit well beyond our means to pay.  Living on the “come” meant spending on the hope that a future check or financial miracle would take care of the need to catch up.  It almost never works. 

All such judgments aside, it is my belief that is our responsibility as a society to help those less fortunate no matter how they arrived at their condition.  Our giving never diminishes us.  Withholding our assistance does diminish us.  It is not a matter of giving money, though supporting assistance organizations is surely one way to help.  Perhaps the easiest way we have to be supportive is to maintain a positive outlook and to point out the good options for changing conditions—personally as well as throughout the public. 

A direct counter to this option is what we have seen in government the last five years.  A political morass that has left members of Congress unwilling and unable to support any effort proposed by the opposite party.  As a representative of the people to set as your primary purpose stopping all efforts to legislate because you do not like our President or the party he represents is reprehensible and unworthy of a position or salary.  This is a matter of disrespect of the Office of the President as well as disrespect of him as a person.  The vile invective heaped upon the President is not only unwarranted, but also indicative of a lack of a moral compass.  I will say it here, though it will likely be vehemently denied by detractors, this rejection of Barack Obama is nothing more than racial bigotry espoused by advocates of nullification in their attempt to consider the acts of the Federal government, and especially an unqualified President, null and void.

This small minority of small-minded folks, such as Ted Cruz, not only does not care what the majority of the public wants or believes, they admittedly want the government to fail so that the states can return to total self-government without Federal “interference.”  They make up their own facts that are easily identified as absolute lies by anyone willing to research the facts. We fought a civil war over this difference of opinion and the balance of Federal and States Rights won.  Get over it folks!  If you do not like the way government works, you can only change it by accepting your responsibility to engage in actually voting for people who will represent your views and be willing to come to a consensus that benefits the public as a whole.  When our representatives believe they have no obligation to those who elected them and that they can vote any way they choose (that brings them support from PACs), it is time to vote them out.

I am totally disgusted in the failure of our Congressional representatives to stand up and be counted as against this deliberate and demeaning effort to bring the country to a halt no matter the cost domestically and internationally.  It is clear their interest is more focused on getting re-elected than representing those who elected them in the first place.  Congress looks to me like a vast retirement home where the residents do not have to do anything they do not want to do, yet have every need taken care of (at our expense).  Perhaps if they had to live according to the same rules the rest of us have to live by, we would see some positive change.  Then again, speaking negatively, maybe not.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Economic Insanity, Again?

By Daniel J. Perin

So far for the first 10 days of the month of October, my retirement account has already lost 2% of its value due to the market uncertainty about the US default possibility.  During the 2008 Major Recession I sustained approximately a 15% loss, even though I have an adequate balance spread of assets.  Thanks to the stock market recovery since 2008 I recovered most of that loss.  However, each time the government fails to do its job and the markets and general economy take losses it becomes a bigger problem for those of us on fixed incomes.  It takes longer to recover, if at all.  The time span some of us have for that recovery does not match the value of retirement funds.  What that means for those who have little or nothing to meet these set backs is that they may well require public assistance, the last thing any of us want.  (And, incidentally, what the Republicans rant about--"takers" on the dole--and for which they are the primary cause).

This is simply my observation  of the stupidity of the small segment of Republicans who do not care about the dire results the public will sustain due to their ineptitude and callous egotistic, self-serving actions.  I am hopeful and I will survive because that is the basis of my belief system, but there is an increasing number of folks experiencing loss for the first time in their otherwise prosperous lives where they did not give a thought to broader economic issues.  Now, faced with economic uncertainty without adequate savings or retirement planning, they are scared out of their gourds and immobilized by that fear.  Then irrationality takes hold and the blame game begins. 

Failure to recognize personal responsibility for your own well being makes it far too easy to believe someone else is responsible for your problems.  Part of our responsibility concerns maintaining an active interest in who is representing us at local, state and national levels.  If we do not pay attention to how we are being represented, or what our particular interests are in the first place, we end up with misrepresentation and "me first" politicians totally disconnected from their constituents.  Talk about "government out of control," who do you think is supposed to control government?  We are--you and me as we learn of the issues and vote responsibly (not just during presidential election years).  It is the off-year elections where you send representatives to the House Of Representatives, currently held by intractable Republicans who are blocking ANY serious action.

Finally, I suppose we each have our "favorite" media channels, primarily the ones that we agree with.  Listening only to one side of the issues cannot possibly give us an understanding of those issues sufficient to make wise choices.  I know I have my favorites as well.  I admit, though, that I get so upset with their positions at times that I have to leave the room or turn them off.  There is no "right" or "wrong" side to the issues we face.  There are opinions, justifiably held, but hopefully open to discussion and COMPROMISE.  What we hear clearly from the Republican representatives with one voice is:  NO COMPROMISE!  And out the other side of their mouth they accuse the President of being unwilling to have a CONVERSATION about the issues.  They forget he already compromised and the result was the Sequester that cut off funding for numerous projects essential to various aspects of our society.  The Sequester came about because when the bill came due to "s**t, or get off the pot" the Republicans decided not to live up to the agreement that was the result of the President and Congress COMPROMISING.

How many of us have yelled out on Twitter, Facebook, or other social/news media outlets: "Throw all the bums out and start over"?  Or how many of us have suggested that if Congress cannot do the work required to keep the government operating, their salaries should be the first to go?  Why should they maintain their perks while they cut off the rest of us?  These may seem to be valid arguments and worthy of consideration AFTER we turn the lights back on!  Unfortunately, once the lights ARE back on most of us return to our self-interests ignorant of what is going on around us.

Personal disclaimer:  I have been so disgusted  lately that I have, for the most part, stopped reading/watching most news programs, cut off media blogs and news feeds and simply concentrated on my own personal interests.  This "rant" is a partial return to voicing my strong opinions and restarting my study of the issues and participation, one step at a time, in the political process.  Not sure how far it will take me this time around.