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June 22, 2012
Posted On: Jun 17, 2012

 

Recall Election Golden Rule: He Who Has the Gold, Rules
 
Post recall election there has been no shortage of attempts to spin what the results mean. One unquestionable takeaway is that in this election, money mattered a lot.
 
Gov. Walker's billionaire backers, along with outside spending from corporate funded special interest groups like Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Republican Governors Association and shadowy groups like the "Coalition for American Values", outspent Tom Barrett and groups supporting him by a reported 8 to 1 margin.
 
Don't think that makes a difference? Then consider just one example of what that kind of spending advantage means. In a 30-minute evening television news program, the place from which most people get their information, you'd barely notice the 1 or 2 Barrett ads sandwiched between a 5,6, 7 or 8 Walker ads.
How did Gov. Walker rack up such an astounding cash advantage?
 
In addition to having a lot of really wealthy "friends", Gov. Walker exploited campaign finance laws to play by different rules than his opponent as he mounted his unprecedented $30 million cross-country cash grab.
In a regular election cycle, both a sitting Governor and their opponent are limited to accepting an aggregate maximum in donations of $10,000 per individual. However, Gov. Walker was not, and in some cases is still not, limited to this contribution amount.
 
What was the result? Gov. Walker raked in over twice as much from $10,000 plus mega-donors alone than his election opponent Tom Barrett raised in total for his campaign.
 
Based on One Wisconsin Now's analysis of Gov. Walker's campaign finance reports, he raised over $7.3 million in campaign contributions from just 167 individuals exceeding the $10,000 per election cycle limit.
And we haven't even touched on the role the foundation controlled by Gov. Walker's campaign chair played in trying to drive public opinion, like using columnists whose paychecks depend on foundation grants to dutifully pass along talking points spoon-fed to them by the campaign... but that's a column all its own.
 
Debate away about the meaning of the election results.
 
But cutting funding by $1.6 billion for K-12 public schools while giving corporations and the wealthy $2.3 billion in tax cuts is no more popular today than it was last November when recall petitions began circulating.
Can you really argue Tuesday's election results were an endorsement of policies that make it more difficult for women and armed service veterans to fight workplace discrimination? Or think that Gov. Walker won a mandate for more tax increases on seniors and working families and even higher tuition for University of Wisconsin students?
 
The inescapable, bottom line fact is that Gov. Walker and his wealthy, right-wing allies bought a win.
 
 President Obama talks about Social Security
 
Social Security is not in an immediate crisis. It's not the driver of our deficits, the way Medicare and our health care programs are. We can easily tweak the Social Security program while protecting current beneficiaries, ensuring that it's there for future generations. There are ways that involve, for example, slightly raising the [payroll] cap. I think it's a pretty sensible thing to do. What I've said to [Republicans] is, "I am prepared to sit down with you, the way Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill sat down together. And make very modest adjustments that extend the life of Social Security for 75 years." We can do that again. But it's going to require us not playing politics with Social Security. All of us must understand that millions of Americans have been lifted out of poverty because of Social Security. It is the linchpin of our social safety net. We can't privatize it. We don't want it to be subject to the winds in the stock market. We want it there for people over the long run.
 
GM pension changes leave retirees' money unprotected, group says
 
The General Motors Retirees Association is protesting GM's plan to buy out pensions of up to 42,000 U.S. salaried retirees and move other retirees to an annuity program controlled by Prudential Insurance Co. of America.
 
The association calls GM's decision "galling" and says it threatens retirees' financial security. In a letter to GM Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson, signed by association president Jim Shepherd of Scottsdale, Ariz., and posted on its website, the group asks GM to reverse course."By eliminating this large class of salaried retirees from the pension plan, you are abandoning the hard-earned benefit of an ERISA-protected pension promised to thousands upon thousands of GM retirees in return for their commitment and loyalty," the letter reads. "This surpasses basic unfairness; indeed, it is sheer irresponsibility and greed."
 
ERISA stands for the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, the 1974 federal law that sets standards for private-industry pension plans.
 
GM Friday called the plan "good for retirees." The automaker announced this month that it would offer lump-sum buyouts to salaried retirees who retired between Oct. 1, 1997, and Dec. 1, 2011, and off-load its U.S. salaried retirees' pensions to Prudential Insurance Co. of America.
 
In total, 118,000 U.S. salaried workers will be affected, including 42,000 who have been offered buyouts. Those that don't take them will have their pensions moved to the annuity Prudential will manage. The moves are expected to trim GM's pension liability by $26 billion.
 
The association says retirees lose in both cases, because the plan puts pension assets at risk and leaves retirees without coverage under the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., a federal agency that protects pension benefits in private-sector plans. Once GM transfers pension assets to Prudential, the PBGC coverage goes away.
"Ninety-nine percent of the emails that I'm getting agree with the letter," Shepherd, a retired GM fleet account executive, said in a phone interview Friday.
 
"The most frequent phrase is 'GM threw me under the bus.'" On Friday, Cindy Brinkley, GM's vice president of global human resources, sent Shepherd a letter via email. In the letter, the automaker said it believes the changes will provide salaried retirees with more choices and greater protection for retirement benefits.
"We believe that these changes are good for retirees … and for the company, which will see its pension obligation reduced significantly," wrote Brinkley. "Strengthening our balance sheet will allow GM to do something we haven't done in decades — focus our attention and resources on being the best carmaker we can be. That is good for everyone with a stake in GM's success."
 
Shepherd said of 200 emails he received Thursday and Friday, only one person was happy to be offered a lump sum; the choice between taking a lump sum and continuing with regular pension payments is voluntary.
Shepherd said some are concerned that there is no guarantee of protected funding with Prudential. Many are cautious, given the past collapse of investment banks such as Bear Sterns.
 
Roman said insurance regulations protect annuities, though coverage varies by the state each retiree lives in. For example, Michigan's maximum annuity protection is $250,000.
 
GM praised Prudential's record in the retirement business. GM noted that Prudential is an investment-grade company, and GM is not. Prudential must use a separate account to make benefit payments to GM retirees. And those assets would not be subject to claims of general creditors should Prudential fail and file for bankruptcy, the automaker said.
 
If the GM salaried retiree annuity funding were to drop, Prudential would use funding from its general account to continue making annuity payments to GM retirees, adding another safeguard, GM spokesman Dave Roman said. "The plan will be fully funded when it moves to Prudential," Roman said.
 
GM has received some retiree questions through call centers and emails. The company has scheduled more than 75 meetings for retirees across the country, Roman said. He said GM won't update how many of the 42,000 retirees take the lump sum until after their decisions, which are due on July 20. GM will spend between $3.5 billion and $4.5 billion cash in the pension deal.
 
Strengthening Social Security
 
Americans have been paying into Social Security for more than 75 years and collecting earned benefits when they retire. Without any changes, Social Security will be able to pay 100 percent of benefits for the next 20 years. After that, the program will still be able to pay 75 percent of promised benefits. However, with gradual and modest adjustments, we can ensure that future generations will receive the benefits they've earned.
 
Social Security should continue to guarantee that Americans who work and pay into the system receive benefits based on what they earn and contribute.
 
Social Security benefits should keep up with inflation and last for as long as an individual lives.
 
Social Security must be put on stable financial ground, but any adjustments to the program should be implemented gradually so people can plan for their futures and any changes do not impact those in or near retirement.
 
We must protect benefits for people who count on them most, including surviving spouses and families, low-wage workers, and individuals who become disabled and can no longer work.
 
Social Security should be kept separate from the rest of the federal budget.
 
Why Social Security matters
 
Social Security's guaranteed benefits are a rock-solid commitment to American families. Companies can go out of business. Pension plans can be terminated. The stock market can take a nose dive. But Social Security benefits are there in good times and bad.

Americans earn Social Security's guaranteed retirement benefits by making contributions out of every paycheck throughout their working lives. To demonstrate the significant value of Social Security retirement benefits, consider this: You would need to have saved $386,000 as of January 2012 to buy an annuity (a kind of investment product that guarantees to pay you a steady stream of income) that would pay out an amount equal to the average monthly retirement Social Security check of $1,228.

Social Security benefits are fundamental to the economic security of most older Americans. Today, more than half of all Americans age 65 and over rely on Social Security for more than 50 percent of their family income. Nearly one in four relies on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their family income.
For most retirees, their Social Security benefits and total income are relatively modest. The average annual Social Security retirement benefit is roughly $14,700 a year, and about half of seniors have an income of under $20,000 a year.

But Social Security is much more than a retirement program. Among the nearly 55 million Americans receiving Social Security benefits in 2011 were disabled workers and their families, and the spouses and dependents of deceased workers.
 
Personal investments, pension and 401(k) accounts, and individual retirement accounts are all important parts of retirement savings, but Social Security is the guaranteed base of retirement security for most Americans. We need to make the modest adjustments necessary to strengthen it for both current and future generations.
To tell Washington how you would strengthen Social Security for today’s seniors and future generations
 
Myths about Canada’s Health Care System
 
Myth #4: Canada has long wait times because it has a single-payer system.
 
The wait times that Canada might experience are not caused by its being a single-payer system.
Wait times aren’t like cancer. We know what causes wait times; we know how to fix them. Spend more money.
Our single-payer system, which is called Medicare manages not to have the “wait times” issue that Canada’s does. There must, therefore, be some other reason for the wait times. There is, of course. It’s this: In 1966, Canada implemented a single-payer health care system, which is also known as Medicare. Since then, as a country, Canadians have made a conscious decision to hold down costs. One of the ways they do that is by limiting supply, mostly for elective things, which can create wait times. Their outcomes are otherwise comparable to ours.
 
Please understand, the wait times could be overcome. Canadians could spend more. They don’t want to. We can choose to dislike wait times in principle, but they are a byproduct of Canada’s choice to be fiscally conservative.
 
Yes, they chose this. In a rational world, those who are concerned about health care costs and what they mean to the economy might respect that course of action. But instead, they attack the system.
 
Myth #5: Canada rations health care; the United States doesn’t.
 
This one’s a little bit tricky. The truth is, Canada may “ration” by making people wait for some things, but here in the United States we also “ration” — by cost.
 
An 11-country survey carried out in 2010 by the Commonwealth Fund, a Washington-based health policy foundation, found that adults in the United States are by far the most likely to go without care because of cost. In fact, 42 percent of the Americans surveyed did not express confidence that they would be able to afford health care if seriously ill.
 
Further, about a third of the Americans surveyed reported that, in the preceding year, they didn’t go to the doctor when sick, didn’t get recommended care when needed, didn’t fill a prescription or skipped doses of medications because of cost.
 
Finally, about one in five of the Americans surveyed had struggled to pay or were unable to pay their medical bills in the preceding year. That was more than twice the percentage found in any of the other 10 countries.
And remember: We’re spending way more on health care than any other country, and for all that money we’re getting at best middling results. So feel free to have a discussion about the relative merits of the U.S. and Canadian health care systems. Just stick to the facts.
 

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