Tuesday, September 24, 2013

...in which I rant all over you about "Entitlements"

en·ti·tle·ment noun -ˈtī-təl-mənt\

Definition of ENTITLEMENT

1: the state or condition of being entitled ; a right to benefits specified especially by law or contract

2: a government program providing benefits to members of a specified group; also : funds supporting or distributed by such a program

3: belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges

Let’s just get this all out in the open, shall we? Because I like nothing more than a little brutal truth with my afternoon coffee.

Calling any one of our many social safety nets “entitlements” is a very basic way of trying to demean someone, because in your head you’re calling them a dirty, lazy bastard.

It’s also gross and says more about you than them, but that’s beside the point.

Today, that word is used very politically to frame an issue while being disingenuous in the process. Because those who use it—those who get their abridged, talking-pointed information from politicians with an agenda who have passed it on to others to impart from a studio somewhere, with jazzy graphics behind them and a ticker scrolling below—don’t want you to concentrate on the whole picture. They only want you to glom onto the aspects they think can ratchet up the rhetoric enough to get them into office… or get them higher ratings - respectively.

But, “entitlements” wasn’t always used as a bad word, nor was it applied in the way that it is today, and if you don’t want to take my word for it, take a quick second to read about the “spin” on “entitlements” and its social etymology.

See, number three in the above definition is the nasty stain people who use this word to malign are trying to get across – that most people on welfare, food stamps, unemployment and/or Medicaid are somehow lazy good-for-nothings who don’t want to work. But if you really care about being correct, rather than divisive, pull up Google and do some research regarding who actually gets some of these benefits (no, I won’t do it for you, you lazy, good for nothing) and you’ll find otherwise… unless you limit yourself to Fox News and their subsidiaries. (Pure, for-profit propaganda and they could give a witch’s tit about silly things like facts.)

However, be warned. To understand “entitlements” you have to understand the basic premise behind minimum wage, poverty, class warfare, political divisiveness, how someone gets into office, and what they have to do to stay there. So, whew… yeah. You have to know more than a little bit about a whole lot of shit to even get a glimpse of the entire picture.

Let me just say this… I have never met ONE SINGLE SOLITARY PERSON who relies on food stamps, Social Security, Medicare, unemployment, or the like, who acted as if they were entitled to anything. Mostly they acted embarrassed. Ashamed. And that’s because certain politicians want it that way. Because it benefits their platform—while they, of course, kowtow to Big Tobacco, Big Oil, Big Pharma and god knows who else with their palm greasing and such, so that the richest of the rich can get the tax breaks they so richly deserve. One might effectively (and easily) argue that these are the real folks who think they’re entitled... but that’s a discussion for another day. (It should also be noted that these same folks are the ones who help get them into office.)

Of course, there are people who abuse all of the above programs, but is that a reason to shame the majority who aren’t, while simultaneously and drastically reducing or eliminating these social safety nets?

People also abuse alcohol, should we stop selling it? People abuse public parks and recreation areas by defacing things, graffiti, etc. Should we get rid of those altogether? People abuse Emergency Rooms and doctor’s offices to try and get pain meds when they really don’t need them, should we get rid of those medications altogether? How about people who use handicapped parking when they don’t need that, should we just not have those spaces available at all?

GASP! You know what people also abuse? Guns. Yeah, I won’t even go there, because you’ve either stopped reading by now, or you’ve pulled my little analogy together on your own.

Another thing. Please don’t tell me you’re a God fearing person and then malign a theoretical someone you don’t know and have never met but you just KNOW is out there (because a bobble head on TV told you so) and shame them because they can’t feed their kids, or themselves, because they’re a teacher who doesn’t make enough to survive but they’re working hard every day to make sure YOUR KID has a good education, or a returning Vet who can’t feed his family and get the mental health care he deserves and fought for… or any number of folks who are just trying to get by without being treated like third class fucking citizens.

How about the elderly in our midst? They who already paid into the system but are one of the main reasons for the growth of the Big Three “entitlements”  - Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid - which account for 71 percent of all government spending other than the third of the budget dedicated to defense.

Take a second to wrap your head around that one, budgetarily speaking – and then we’ll discuss how cutting food stamp benefits, or even taking them away altogether, will have any valuable effect on our budget. That’s like hacking an ice cube off a glacier and saying you’ve effectively altered its weight.

"We have dozens of federal entitlements and they go to all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons, ranging from crop subsidies to student loans to unemployment benefits. While there are a lot of entitlement programs, only three are big enough and growing fast enough to have a real impact on the trajectory of government spending. (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) Over the past quarter century, these three major entitlement programs have accounted for more than 100 percent of the growth in real per capita federal spending and more than 100 percent of the growth of government as a percentage of the overall economy.

The growth in these programs has been driven primarily by the aging of the U.S. population. Over the past quarter century the number of Americans over the age of 65 increased at a rate of half a million a year. But the big story is what is happening now. Starting in 2011, the elderly population has begun to grow by a million and a half a year. That's three times as quickly as before and it's a trend that will continue in the decades to come.

One other fact is worth noting: Over the past 50 years we have brought about a remarkable transformation in the nature of retirement and the quality of life of our senior citizens. In 1959, more than 30 percent of seniors lived in poverty and only 25 percent had health insurance. Now, nearly all have health insurance and less than 9 percent live in poverty, the lowest of any age group. But providing these benefits has required a substantial commitment by the federal government."

What does this mean? Well, first off… you have Granny and Gramps to blame for a nice chunk of our “entitlement” woes. I urge you to go tell them that, right now. Tell them the paltry monthly check they get is just too much. I’ll wait. If Nanna doesn’t strangle you with her Snuggie®, or Gramps doesn’t poleaxe you with his four-footed cane, come on back and we’ll finish up this discussion…

Listen, I’m all for reform in any area where there is abuse. How about we start with offering a true living wage and keep behemoths like Walmart—the largest low-wage employer in the US—for whom many of their products are made outside the US by slave labor, thereby denying Americans even more shitty, low paying jobs—from fueling the need for these kind of government subsidies in the first place?

 How about we stop trying to intervene in messes that aren’t ours to fix and cut that goddamn defense budget a bit? And while we’re at it, how about making sure all military personnel get the health care they deserve without having to beg for it? You know, just for shits and giggles.

How about paying teachers what they’re worth? Teachers spend money, you know. Quite often on YOUR kids because their districts can’t pay for supplies. The more dough they have, the more they can support your children, while also stimulating the economy with more money. See, that’s how it works? The more money you have, the more you can spend, and the better off the economy is.

While we’re at it, how about we address poverty and how a lack of education and school funding in many areas only perpetuates things like violence, drug use, and unemployment? How, if we’re not prepared to educate our kids properly, we shouldn’t be bitching when they’re all working at Walmart or McDonalds and subsidizing their income by getting food stamps… or worse, being meth-heads, and/or ending up in the clink? Unless, of course, the only kids who deserve a good education are the ones who were lucky enough to be born in certain places…

How about we start enforcing penalization of employers who hire illegal workers because they’re offering paychecks so low, nobody wants the jobs but people who shouldn’t be getting them in the first place?

How about we take a look at oil subsidies and Big Pharma and medical related price gouging?

How about taking Wall Street and the banks to task for their part in our economic mess, and maybe see if some monetary restitution to America is in order? Let them plug some of the holes they gouged into the USS Titanic.

Make no mistake. A lot of those gouges that were made were far out of the hands of the average American. We The People never asked or approved of so much war spending. We The People didn’t turn bankers into burglars, We The People didn’t do a great many things to cause the economy to hit the shitter, but now that it’s come time to clean up the mess, We the People are the first ones to be lined up over the kitchen sink while Uncle Sam looms ominously behind us with a lubed up truncheon.

How about we try to look at facts and statistics, rather than baseless rhetoric, and understand that you can’t pull one thread out of the afghan and not address the other snags, without turning the goddamn blanket into a pile of useless string?

And finally, on a personal note, how about a little fucking empathy and less judgment?

If you’re one of the lucky ones who have DONE EVERYTHING ALONE AND NEVER ASKED ANOTHER PERSON FOR A DAMN THING, well… you’re a liar. Someone taught you to wipe your ass, make your way safely through a fire drill, donated some clothes that their kids grew out of, fixed your toilet/heater/car because you couldn’t afford a plumber/electrician/mechanic. Someone babysat your kid because you needed a break. Someone took you aside and taught you some lesson for which you are a better person. Someone walked you through your first steps at your first job, and maybe covered for you when you were late so you didn’t get your ass fired. Someone washed your clothes at some point, and someone even built that house you’re living in.

Someone put out a fire in your house, or stopped when you had a flat tire. Someone treated you when you were sick, someone read to you, someone told you that you were being an asshole when you needed to hear it, and another someone said thank you because you did something for them.

Someone left the pharmacy open an extra ten minutes after hours in order to fill a prescription because your kid was wailing in the car and they knew that their small act would make your night easier. Someone loaned you some sugar, or their car, or some money when you needed it. All of us have had a someone or two in our lives—I’d venture to say more than a few.

For the religious amongst ya, someone took you to church, preached a bible verse to you, maybe even baked you a pie, simply because they knew you’d like it. Someone thought you needed God, so they showed you the way.

Nobody, let me repeat that, NOBODY has gotten to where they are today all by themselves. You’ve all had family, friends, teachers, and yes, sometimes the government, lend you a hand along the way. If you’ve never been unemployed, disabled, on welfare, or a senior citizen—excellent! But I guarantee you, you’ll be at least one of these very soon…

Final thought and it’s a snarky one because you already hate me by now, anyway:

I hear tell that some Jesus fellow had an interesting way of handling the sick and hungry…

He cured and fed them.

***If you’re interested in how a couple of the Big Entitlements might actually be the answer to the problem, check out this article by Ezra Klein – one of my favorite wonky debunkers. The reader comments are pretty interesting here, too.


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