Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Future is Now for Social Security

Have you thought about Social Security lately? Perhaps it's time.

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of being told that working, lower and middle class Americans who have worked hard and done right by this country will have to temper their expectations or expect less in Social Security benefits. Or pensions. Or Medicare. This must stop, and we have the power to stop it.

Ever since the Reagan-era adjustment to Social Security, we've seen a long list of proposals that seem to focus on privatizing the system, turning it into a 401(k) retirement program, or simply having it pay out less based on a raised retirement age. Most Americans are living longer, and many are working longer, but the simple truth is that elderly Americans need Social Security to survive, because at some point, you have to stop working, but you still need food and shelter.

What seems to be the main barrier to any meaningful reform is this idea that raising taxes will only hurt the economy. What we've seen over the past 40 years are tax cuts that have blanketed the wealthy with new money and the promise that you too can get wealthy, so why fight against your own self-interest? Usually this is the realm of Republicans, but Democrats too bought into the myth that the stock market and other investments, over time, will enable you to live your golden years in prosperity, and with Social Security as an extra bonus as opposed to a necessity.

This was always a false promise, and those who had the money to support, or run as, politicians who would maintain this dream have done very well for themselves. The result has been an expectation that the middle class will just have to make do with less.

Here in New Jersey, we had Governor Chris Christie tell us that public workers were the actual problem, and that our benefits were too generous, but that raising taxes was a non-starter because that would force wealthier residents to leave the state. We now have a Democratic Senate President, Steve Sweeney, who carried Christie's bucket, refusing to post a millionaire's tax for next year's state budget, insisting instead that public workers need to pay more for their health insurance and pensions.

It's perverse, and it's had a real impact on people's lives. Raises are being wiped away by increasing medical costs, while pensions for both public and private workers are being slashed, cut or canceled.

For Social Security (remember Social Security? This is a post about Social Security), the first action should be for Congress to raise the income limit on the Social Security tax. Right now, all Americans pay Social Security tax up to $132,900 of their income. Obliterate that. Make all Americans pay the tax no matter their income. Why should a high school principal pay the same amount as Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, especially when Social Security will mean everything to that worker, but bus fare for the titans of industry?

Or there is this proposal that would not only raise the income level, after a doughnut hole between $132,900 and $400,000 (why?), it would also raise the Social Security tax rate. The payoff, though, is it would increase benefits. The problem is that although it has support in Congress, it doesn't have enough support to overcome the structural obstructionism that is currently in vogue in the legislature. This is reason enough to ask candidates who run for office in 2020 their opinion on this particular bill.

And that's exactly what I will be doing this week. I'll be calling my representative, Tom Malinowski, and the offices of Corey Booker and Robert Menendez, to begin putting pressure on them to support a fix that will put the program on a path to sustainability for the long term. Please try to do the same with your federal representatives.

It's our future, right?

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Going the Wrong Way on Cars and Climate

Serves me right for reading. I come across this article on the automobile industry in my favorite rag and it makes me really stop and think. Not that I think about the auto industry on a regular basis, but here we are at a turning point that has both national and global ramifications.

I had no idea that China was so influential when it comes to car sales in the world. From the article:
China increasingly rules the global auto market and determines its course. In recent years, China’s voracious appetite for vehicles has accounted for almost all of the growth in global sales. Chinese consumers bought 24 million cars last year, far more than any other nation. Americans were a distant second with 17 million cars. General Motors sells far more cars in Asia — 947,000 in the first three months of this year — than it does in the United States.
That's impressive. And it also points out the scary math that I'm sure people think about, but that hasn't been given its due. The United States has about 330 million people and Chin has almost two billion. India has another billion plus. Our birthrate has been dropping for a few years and our chief executive is not fond of growth through immigration. How, then, are we to compete? Tariffs will only go so far and, it seems, will do more harm than good for the workers and suppliers that are making the engines go. Tariffs will also raise prices and cut profit margins. Moreover, young people are moving out of rural and suburban areas into more urban settings, where a car is not a necessity and is even seen as a liability that costs too much, pollutes, and makes life more difficult in a city.

And then, of course, there's the environment.

Except for those Know Nothings who are running the government, the general consensus and facts as we know them clearly show that the climate is warming, and that's having a profound effect on our planet. We love our cars in the United States, and they have done a great deal of good for our growth, our economy, and our national pride. Those days, though, are on their way out. Americans are buying fewer cars and auto manufacturing is done mostly in Mexico. Cars pollute. They need parking lots and roads and gas stations and gas and insurance and money to buy all of those extras, and increasingly that money is going to other places in the economy.

It would be nice if our national policy was not moving in the exact opposite direction that it needs to on cars and energy. A push for electric cars would help. A push for more mass transit systems would help even more. China is not going to go away, or even lose, whatever that means, a trade war. They simply have too many people and too much government that is willing to step in and ensure that their key industries have the leverage they need to succeed.

The United States, though, does have strategies it can follow to ensure its continued economic advance, but they should not include more fossil fuels and larger SUVs and trucks. Many businesses are taking it upon themselves to commit to a greener, cleaner future, and perhaps American ingenuity and creativity will enable us to shift away from the old model and into the new one. The rest of the world sees the danger. We seem to see only threats to our way of life, which in many ways needs a serious upgrade.

We need leaders who will realize this and enact policies that will help us get there.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, June 2, 2019

June Is Thank Your Teachers Month

I went to an interesting event yesterday. Some of my high school classmates, and those of other classes, honored a teacher who had dies recently by collecting money and dedicating a bench to his memory and legacy. It was a wonderful affair, attended by about 20 people and followed by some reminiscing at a nearby establishment.

Which led me to thinking that people should do this much more for their teachers, and I am and am not saying this just because I'm a teacher. I am saying it because I know how much time, energy, care, and dedication teachers devote to their craft and their students. I'm not saying it just because I'm a teacher because I think it should be regular practice to thank and to honor anyone who's done something that's impacted your life. We say thank you to service members, and rightly so.

It's time for everyone to thank their teachers. 

You don't have to fund a bench, or anything physical, but it would be a nice gesture. So would establishing a scholarship or naming a room, area or award for them. Be creative and make it a lasting gesture. More than that, though, write your teachers letters or send them private messages on social media. You don't have to make it public, just heartfelt.

I'll let you in on something that's perhaps a secret: Teachers adore, love, and live for hearing from their students. We see you at your most vulnerable ages, and at those times when you might be awkward, unsure of yourself, embarrassed, afraid to speak out or sure that we might not like you. I can say with certainty that we want to see and hear about how much you've grown, how you've overcome that obstacle, how you discovered a truth because of what you did in our class, or just how you're living your life.

Honestly, we do.

And don't fret about that time in class when you, you know, and you think that's how we define you. We don't. We saw you as the future and we ant to hear from you in the present.

Pick one of your teachers. Let them know how you're doing. Thank them for any contribution they made to your life. You will make somebody happy.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest