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George Curry

Social Security, Medicare Should be Off the Table

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(NNPA) Even though feuding Democrats and Republicans reached a last-minute deal on New Year’s Day to avoid the fiscal cliff, a lively debate will continue in coming months over the role the federal government should play in the lives of its citizens.

In one corner are Republicans who contend that federal spending has run amuck – and it should be slashed. In the other corner are Democrats, including President Obama, who make the right oral arguments, but the wrong moves to defend such worthy American staples as Social Security and Medicare. In most political crises, Republicans will fight and Democrats will take flight.

Let’s begin with a president who doesn’t seem comfortable in the rough-and-tumble world of politics. He has a tendency to give away the store even before the store opens up its doors for business.

As Paul Krugman wrote July 31, 2011 the New York Times, “Republicans will surely be emboldened by the way Mr. Obama keeps folding in the face of their threats. He surrendered last December, extending the Bush tax cuts; he surrendered in the spring when they threatened to shut down the government; and he has now surrendered on a grand scale to the raw extortion over the debt ceiling. Maybe it’s just me, but I see a pattern here.”

Unfortunately, that pattern remains unbroken.

A Center for Policy and Budget Priorities blog noted, “Boehner complains that, in what the White House describes as an offer of $1.2 trillion in spending cuts and the same in tax increases, Obama counts interest savings that accrue as spending cuts, thus making the one-to-one ratio illegitimate.

“More importantly, however, is that, when viewed correctly and in their entirety, the non-interest spending cuts under the President’s latest offer would actually exceed his proposed tax increases and would roughly equal the spending cuts that Boehner himself proposed in his deficit-related negotiations with the President last year.”

And that’s on top of cuts already made.

The CBPP also pointed out, “When those negotiations broke down, the President and Congress enacted the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA), which established annual caps on discretionary spending for each of the next ten years. These caps, which will cut spending by what the White House estimates to be $1 trillion over the next decade, reflected a tentative agreement by the President and Speaker over discretionary spending in those negotiations.”

President Obama has already signaled a willingness to make additional concessions on Social Security and Medicare.

Let’s take a closer look at Social Security.

A story by FAIR noted, “Social Security is not bloated or poorly run. Its shortfall is primarily the result of people living longer, and therefore drawing benefits longer.”

As a CBPP fact sheet observes, “In June 2012, 56 million people, or about one in every six U.S. residents, collected Social Security benefits. While three-quarters of them received benefits as retirees or elderly widow(er)s, another 11 million (19 percent) received disability insurance benefits, and 2 million (4 percent) received benefits as young survivors of deceased workers.”

It also noted, “Social Security benefits are much more modest than many people realize. In June 2012, the average Social Security retirement benefit was $1,234 a month, or about $14,800 a year. (The average disabled worker and aged widow received slightly less.) For someone who worked all of his or her adult life at average earnings and retires at 65 in 2012, Social Security benefits replace about 41 percent of past earnings. This replacement rate will slip to about 36 percent for a medium earner retiring at 65 in the future, chiefly because the full retirement age, which has already risen to 66, will climb to 67 over the 2017-2022 period.

“Moreover, most retirees enroll in Medicare’s Supplementary Medical Insurance (also known as Medicare Part B) and have Part B premiums deducted from their Social Security checks. As health-care costs continue to outpace general inflation, those premiums will take a bigger bite out of their checks.

“Social Security benefits are modest by international standards, too. The United States ranks 30th among 34 developed countries in the percentage of a median worker’s earnings that the public-pension system replaces.”

Social Security plays an outsized role in the lives retired African-Americans.

“Social Security is a particularly important source of income for groups with low earnings and with less opportunity to save and earn pensions, including African Americans and Hispanics,” CBPP said. “Among beneficiaries aged 65 and older, Social Security represents 90 percent or more of income for 35 percent of elderly white beneficiaries, 42 percent of Asian Americans, 49 percent of blacks, and 55 percent of Hispanics.”

Yes, money spent on Social Security and Medicare is well spent. And that’s why Obama should summon the courage to stand his ground.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

National Rifle Association Misfires Again

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(NNPA) When the National Rifle Association finally revealed last week what it was willing to do to help curb gun violence in schools, it fired a blank.

“Politicians pass laws for Gun-Free School Zones. They issue press releases bragging about them. They post signs advertising them. And in so doing, they tell every insane killer in America that schools are their safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said at a so-called news conference in which he refused to take questions.

As 20 innocent kids, most of them 6-years-old, and six caring adults were being buried last week, the best idea the NRA had to offer was for us to begin arming teachers with guns. That’s the same feeble, ineffective “answer” LaPierre provided five years ago after the Virginia Tech shootings. Instead of making productive suggestions in the aftermath of 26 deaths in Newtown, Conn., LaPierre went on to blame Congress, President Obama, the media, video game manufacturers – everyone but the NRA, which thinks it should be alright for citizens to own an arsenal of automatic weapons.

LaPierre failed to note that many schools already have armed guards on site. Columbine High School, for example, had a two armed policemen stationed in the school in 1999, yet 15 people were killed and 23 injured.

The NRA executive sought to belittle gun-free school safety zones. But Media Matters, the watchdog group, pointed out: “In fact, primary and secondary schools – where firearms are typically prohibited – are much safer environments for young people than the surrounding communities, even taking into account horrific school shootings. Since the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics began recording homicides at schools in the 1992-3 school year, the proportion of youth homicides that occurred at school has never exceeded 2 percent of total youth homicides. Suicide was also much more likely to occur away from school.”

It added, “Even gun advocate Gary Kleck noted in his 1997 book Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control that “Both gun carrying and gun violence are thus phenomena almost entirely confined to the world outside schools.”

No political rant would be complete these days without an attack on President Obama. And when LaPierre fired at the White House, he was again off target.

In his remarks, LaPierre said, “Ladies and gentlemen, there is no national, one-size-fits-all solution to protecting our children. But do know this president zeroed out school emergency planning grants in last year’s budget, and scrapped ‘Secure Our Schools’ policing grants in next year’s budget.”

What LaPierre neglected to say was the Secure Our Schools policy grants are not the only source of financing school safety initiatives. In fact, the Department of Education has requested nearly $200 million for its Successful, Safe and Health Schools program.

The NRA official also took aim at video games, listing some by name: “Bulletstorm,” “Grand Theft Auto,” “Mortal Kombat,” “Splatterhouse” and “Kindergarten Killers.”

But Max Fisher wrote in the Washington Post, “Looking at the world’s 10 largest video game markets yields no evident, statistical correlation between video game consumption and gun-related killings.”

While there is no provable link between acts of violence and video games, states with higher gun ownership rates and weak gun laws have the highest rates of gun deaths, according to the Violence Policy Center.

It said in one report, “The analysis reveals that the five states with the highest per capita gun death rates were Louisiana, Mississippi, Alaska, Alabama, and Nevada. Each of these states had a per capita gun death rate far exceeding the national per capita gun death rate of 10.34 per 100,000 for 2007. Each of the top-ranking states has lax gun laws and higher gun ownership rates.

“By contrast, states with strong gun laws and low rates of gun ownership had far lower rates of firearm-related death. Ranking last in the nation for gun death was Hawaii, followed by Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York.”

Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center and a native of Newtown, Conn., said the NRA’s plan to arm teachers won’t work.

“The NRA plan, which cynically allows for the continued sale of the assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines marketed by its gun industry corporate donors has already been tried, and it did not work,” Sugarmann said.

He added, “Now is the time to limit the increasingly lethal firepower available to civilians and halt the sale of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. The American people understand that – even if the NRA and the gun industry that helps fund it do not.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

One Week, Two Sides of Obama

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(NNPA) Over the span of one week, two different sides of President Obama emerged in different yet unforgettable terms. This first was political, involving Susan Rice’s decision to withdraw her name as a candidate for Secretary of State. The second was deeply personal in the wake of mass murders in a Newtown, Conn. elementary school.

In a column explaining her decision to withdraw her name, Rice said:

“ …As it became clear that my potential nomination would spark an enduring partisan battle, I concluded that it would be wrong to allow this debate to continue distracting from urgent national priorities — creating jobs, growing our economy, addressing our deficit, reforming our immigration system and protecting our national security.”

That was the public perception: A loyal UN Ambassador declining to fight for a promotion so that an embattled president could avoid a showdown with Republican hypocrites in the Senate.

Just as Rice withdrew her name to give Obama a way out, I believe that if the president had insisted, Rice would have kept her name in the ring and ultimately would have been confirmed by the Senate to succeed Hillary Clinton as the next Secretary of State. But evidently Obama would rather switch than fight, to paraphrase an old cigarette commercial.

According to the Washington Post, “When asked if Obama had tried to dissuade her, [Rice] said that he ‘understood that this was the right decision, and that I made it for the right reasons.’”

In his statement accepting Rice’s decision, Obama said, “While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks, her decision demonstrates the strength of her character and an admirable commitment to rise above the politics of the moment to put our national interests first…”

Obama didn’t demonstrate any strength of character when he abandoned Rice. And this is one of the troubling things about Obama: He frequently caves in to Republican extremists, even when he has public opinion on his side.

When Obama first defended Rice, we all thought he had finally discovered some political backbone. He said at a news conference, “If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody they should go after me. For them to go after the UN ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi…to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.”

Game on. Or so we thought.

Had Obama chosen to fight, it would have set the tone for his second term. Instead, he retreated behind the comfort and safety of Susan Rice’s loyalty rather than standing up to conservative bullies. Republicans not only have Rice as a political trophy, but if Senator John Kerry is the eventual nominee as expected, they will get a chance to replace him with Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts.

This is not the first case of political timidity by Democrats. Republicans nominate – and fight for – for extreme ideologues to serve on the Supreme Court. Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and John Roberts are but three examples. But weak-kneed Democrats are afraid to fight for liberal justices and instead settle for centrist nominees who will be “accepted” by Republicans. The end result is a more conservative Supreme Court because Republicans nominate far-right conservatives and Democrats don’t have the guts to offer a liberal counter-balance. This was true of both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

While President Obama refused to fight for a Susan Rice nomination to be Secretary of State, he demonstrated in Newtown, Conn. that he is at his best when serving as Comforter-in-Chief to a bereaved nation.

The president visited the city two days after the massacre of 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. According to authorities, Adam P. Lanza, a 20-year-old gunman, inflicted the carnage before killing himself.

“I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief; that our world too has been torn apart; that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you, we’ve pulled our children tight,” President Obama said. “And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide; whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it.”

Obama noted that he has attended similar services in three other cities. “Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by a mass shooting. The fourth time we’ve hugged survivors. The fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims,” he said. “And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and big cities all across America – victims whose – much of the time, their only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Word and Number Games Played in Fiscal Showdown

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It should be embarrassing enough that President Obama and House Republicans postponed making tough fiscal decisions by kicking the can down the road to New Year’s Day – when certain automatic budget cuts will go into effect unless they act to avoid what is called a fiscal cliff. Instead of moving quickly to solve their self-created problems, both sides continue to misrepresent basic facts.

For example, House Speaker John Boehner [D-Ohio] has criticized the Obama administration for refusing to give list of specific cuts. He said the administration “put $400 billion worth of unspecified cuts that they’d be willing to talk about.”

FactCheck.org stated flatly: “Boehner is wrong.” It explained, “The president’s deficit-reduction plan, as proposed to Congress in September 2011, itemizes ‘nearly $580 billion in cuts and reforms to mandatory programs, of which $320 billion is savings from Federal health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.’ Those proposals are also listed in the president’s fiscal 2013 budget proposal in a section, beginning on page 23, titled ‘Cutting Waste, Reducing the Deficit.’

“The Medicare proposals, for example, are a mix of reduced payments to certain providers, including teaching hospitals and post-acute care facilities – as well as the higher premiums and new fees for certain beneficiaries…”

FactCheck.org, an organization that holds public officials accountable, also noted that Republican are running a numbers game.

“In a Dec. 3 letter to the president outlining the GOP counterproposal for deficit reduction, Boehner and other GOP leaders said there is ‘four times as much tax revenue as spending cuts’ in the president’s proposal,” the organization recalled. “The GOP math works like this: Obama’s proposal includes $1.6 trillion in new tax revenue and roughly $400 billion in spending cuts. In an email to us, Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said that ‘when Sec. Geithner made his proposal to us, the number he used – repeatedly – was $400 billion.’ However, as we mentioned earlier, on several Sunday talk shows, Geithner said the total savings comes to $600 billion over 10 years.”

Both Republicans and Democrats are playing being selective in their choice of words.

“In part, the discrepancy is a matter of language. Republicans are saying ‘spending cuts’ while Democrats are saying ‘savings,’ ‘reforms’ and ‘spending cuts.’ But the more substantial difference between the Democrats’ and Republicans’ spending cuts-to-tax hike ratios is that Republicans do not count the $1 trillion in discretionary spending cuts agreed to in the Budget Control Act of 2011,” FactCheck.org states. “The White House argues those are part of the ongoing negotiations to resolve a deficit crisis. Nor does the GOP include the $800 billion ‘saved’ from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

President Obama and Secretary of Treasury Timonty Geithner overstate exaggerate the amount of spending cuts in the president’s plan, according to FactCheck.org.

“On NBC’s ‘Meet the Press,’ Geithner said, ‘We have laid out a very detailed plan of spending cuts, $600 billion dollars in spending in mandatory programs over 10 years.’ The president made the same claim in a Dec. 4 interview with Bloomberg News, saying his proposal has ‘$600 billion in additional cuts in mandatory spending.’

“It’s true that there’s nearly $600 billion in estimated savings from mandatory programs: $326 billion in health programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, and $254 billion in other programs, such as farm subsidies. But not all of these are ‘spending cuts,’ and the administration’s own deficit-reduction plan doesn’t label them as such – instead calling them a combination of ‘cuts and reforms.’ “There are tens of billions in new fees and surcharges and increased premiums in Medicare alone.

Table S-10 of the revised fiscal 2013 budget proposal outlines numerous other new and higher fees under the section titled ‘Mandatory Initiatives and Savings.’”

Amid the word and numbers games, the public is clear about what should be done, even if Washington isn’t.

A Gallup poll in November found, “Forty-five percent of Americans now say they favor reducing the federal budget deficit with an equal balance of tax increases and spending cuts, up from 32% last year. At the same time, the percentage favoring an emphasis on spending cuts is now 40%, down from 50% last year, while the percentage in favor of reducing the deficit primarily through tax increases is unchanged at 11%.”

A Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll conducted Nov. 29-Dec. 2 found that a majority of Americans –53 percent – would blame Republicans in Congress if Washington fails to reach a deal in deficit talks to avoid the fiscal cliff.

The survey found that only 27 percent would fault President Obama would if negotiations between the executive and legislative branches of government fail, 12 percent would split the blame equally between the two sides and 2 percent have no opinion.

Like Ronald Regan, this could be Obama’s “make my day” moment.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

The Right-Wing Witch Hunt Against Susan Rice

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(NNPA) Media Matters, the media monitoring group, has published a report titled, “Myths And Facts About The Right-Wing Witch Hunt Against Susan Rice.” It is a point-by-point rebuttal of some of the most flagrant lies being about United Nations Ambassador Susan E. Rice, President Obama’s leading candidate to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Below are some of the highlights:

MYTH: Rice Fabricated Her Statements As Part of An Obama Administration Cover-Up.

FACT: A Washington Post editorial [11/22/12] noted: “Ms. Rice’s Comments” On Sunday Shows “Were Based On Talking Points Drawn Up By The Intelligence Community.” It explained:

“[A]s congressional testimony has established, Ms. Rice’s comments on several Sunday television talk shows on Sept. 16 were based on talking points drawn up by the intelligence community. She was acting as an administration spokeswoman; there was nothing either incompetent or deliberately misleading about the way she presented the information she was given.

“… Nor was her account of what happened as far off the mark as Republicans claim. Though investigations are not complete, what has emerged so far suggests that the attack was staged by local jihadists, not ordered by the al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. Officials believe that it was inspired in part by demonstrations that took place that day in Cairo. That is not so far from Ms. Rice’s explanation that ‘this began as a spontaneous . . . response to what transpired in Cairo.’”

MYTH: Rice Had No Reason To Connect Benghazi Attack To Anti-Islam Video.

FACT: Rice Said Benghazi Attack Was A Response To Violent Protest At U.S. Embassy In Cairo … “On-the-ground accounts indicate that Ms. Rice’s description of the attack, though wrong in some respects, was accurate in others. Witnesses to the assault said it was carried out by members of the Ansar al-Shariah militant group, without any warning or protest, in retaliation for an American-made video mocking the Prophet Muhammad.” [The New York Times, 11/27/12]

MYTH: Rice Prematurely Gave A Definitive Assessment Of The Attack.

FACT: During Sunday Shows, Rice Repeatedly Emphasized Ongoing Investigations And Cautioned Against Jumping To Conclusions.

RICE: …. first of all, it’s important to know that there’s an FBI investigation that has begun and will take some time to be completed. That will tell us with certainty what transpired.

“But our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous – not a premeditated – response to what had transpired in Cairo. In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated.

“We believe that folks in Benghazi, a small number of people came to the embassy to – or to the consulate, rather, to replicate the sort of challenge that was posed in Cairo. And then as that unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons, weapons that as you know in – in the wake of the revolution in Libya are – are quite common and accessible. And it then evolved from there.

“We’ll wait to see exactly what the investigation finally confirms, but that’s the best information we have at present.” [ABC News, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, 9/16/12]

MYTH: Rice Should Have Called The Attack Terrorism Because She Saw Classified Intelligence Suggesting Possible Al Qaeda Involvement.

FACT: References To Al Qaeda Were Removed To Protect National Security … The New York Times reported on Nov. 16:

“David H. Petraeus, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers on Friday that classified intelligence reports revealed that the deadly assault on the American diplomatic mission in Libya was a terrorist attack, but that the administration refrained from saying it suspected that the perpetrators of the attack were Al Qaeda affiliates and sympathizers to avoid tipping off the groups.

“Mr. Petraeus, who resigned last week after admitting to an extramarital affair, said the names of groups suspected in the attack – including Al Qaeda’s franchise in North Africa and a local Libyan group, Ansar al-Shariah – were removed from the public explanation of the attack immediately after the assault to avoid alerting the militants that American intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them, lawmakers said.”

Media Matters observed, “The article also noted that Petraeus reportedly said that after the references to the specific terrorist groups were removed and replaced with the less specific word ‘extremists,’ ‘the final document was put in front of all the senior agency leaders, including Mr. Petraeus, and everyone signed off on it.’”

There are legitimate questions that should be asked of Susan Rice such as her service on the National Security Council at the time of the Rwandan genocide and her role as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. But her confirmation should rest on her answers to legitimate questions, not an illegitimate political witch hunt.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

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