Nov 2012 13

by Sandor Stern

Regarding Your Lexicon…

I love words –– not simply because they have been the primary source of income throughout my career but when chosen well, I love the sound in my ear and the arrangement of letters on my page. I love them for context and intention. They are the primary source of primate communication. That is why I am so puzzled by your lexicon that twists and turns established meanings into contexts and intentions that are far removed from origins.

Let us look at some together.

DONATION – a gift usually to a charitable cause. We also give donations to non-charitable causes like political parties. People give $5, $100, $1,000 in support of the shared political viewpoint they hope will win the election. But what about gifts of millions of dollars? Are they gifts or investments? When the oil billionaire Koch brothers give tens of millions of dollars towards the election of an administration that favors more oil drilling in the USA, is that a donation or an investment? When casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson makes a multimillion dollar gift to elect an administration friendly to his casino interests in the USA and off shore, is that a donation or an investment? On the flip side, when trade unions offer millions of dollars to their political allies is that donation or investment? Aren’t the unions wanting an administration that favors the workers? Yes, the aim is the same for billionaires and unions; elect an administration that will further their interests.

But the purpose is so very different.

The billionaires act to increase their personal wealth; the unions act to directly improve the wages and working conditions for millions of citizens in their organizations and indirectly improve those conditions for nonunion workers by raising the bottom line. As I’ve written in an earlier blog –– what’s better for the economy, a billionaire buying one Bentley or 99 workers each buying Fords?

When individuals like Bill Maher (and there were many of them) give a million dollars to an administration –– is that an investment? How? What does he gain? He is offering money to an administration that seeks to increase his personal income tax. He is actually donating against his own best interests. He is donating for what he perceives is the good of the country. That for me is the established meaning of the word –– donation.

JOB CREATORS – self explanatory, right? The idea behind this shibboleth is that businessmen create jobs and that if the government increases their personal income tax they will have less money for job creation. Let’s be factual –– businessmen do not create jobs. Business, not men, creates jobs; and business is driven by a demand for goods and services. What sane businessman would hire workers if his business did not require it to meet product or service demands? The past five years have revealed the fallacy of the job creator label. The demand for goods and services has been poor and in order to create profits the “job creators” have been cutting back on expenses through hiring non-union workers while avoiding overtime pay, pension and health benefits by assuring their employees work less than 40 hour weeks. That reduction in payroll effectively takes spending money out of workers’ hands and reduces the demand for goods and services: a Pyrrhic Victory in the end. These are your so-called “job creators.”

On the flip side, the rant that “government does not create jobs” echoes from the far right. In fact, government is less dependent than the private sector in the demand for goods and services for job creation. Aside from the millions of workers in municipal, county, state and federal jobs, how about those jobs that government directs towards private enterprise? How about those companies that supply the armed forces? How about those companies that are hired to build roads, bridges, subways? Do you think that The Army Corp of Engineers has its own manpower to fix the structural disaster of Hurricane Sandy? Do you take your own trash to the city dump? Do you wash the street outside your house or investigate the burglary that stripped your home of valuables or the fire that destroyed it?

ENTITLEMENT – the dictionary meaning is “to furnish with proper grounds for seeking or claiming something.” It’s that simple –– “proper grounds.” Somehow you have twisted the meaning of the word so it has a connotation of getting something for nothing. And now both Social Security and Medicare are derisively viewed that way. Folks, this is not charity or welfare. “Proper grounds” involves citizens paying for these government administered plans through a lifetime of hard work. Those payments entitle you to reap the promised benefits. If you pay for auto insurance and crash your car, are you not entitled to have the insurance pay the cost of repair? If you pay for life insurance, is your beneficiary not entitled to collect? How about your payments for health insurance or house insurance? How about your payments towards your personal pension? All of these plans entitle you to the benefits offered. If you don’t pay a Social Security payroll tax of 6.2% (4.2% last year thanks to Obama’s tax cut) to match your employer’s contribution of another 6.2%, you will not receive Social Security benefits. If you do not pay a Medicare payroll tax of 1.45%, you will not receive Part A Medicare benefits unless you pay a premium of over $450 a month. And if you want to add Medicare Part B to your coverage, you will pay a monthly premium of $100 to $250 depending on income. These are the “proper grounds” for entitlement and there is nothing demeaning about it.

WELFARE – the dictionary meaning is “concern with the improvement of disadvantaged social groups.” Medicaid is one example of a helping hand from the government dispensing your tax dollars. But before you start screaming for the demise of Medicaid look at the requirements needed to receive that money. Your maximum monthly income cannot exceed $500 and your total assets excluding home, car and personal possessions cannot exceed $2000. Do you know anyone who earns $500 a month and owns a home and a car? I don’t think so.

On the other hand, you don’t scream about another helping hand the government dispenses. How about billions of dollars in “welfare funds” to oil companies like Chevron and Shell and agriculture corporations like Monsanto that earn billions in profits every year? Those welfare funds were originally intended to help small oil companies and farmers with the costs of oil drilling and produce competition. Now that money goes to the major corporations that lobby successfully to keep the welfare funds pouring into their coffers. So are these the “disadvantaged social groups” your party favors? That’s a far cry from a helping hand to a person with a monthly income of $500.

BIG GOVERNMENT – we know “big” and we know “government” but what exactly is “big government”? What exactly warrants your derisive hostility? Is it the size –– as in the number of people employed? Is it the intrusiveness –– as in regulations?

If size is your issue -–– the claim that federal employment has grown over the past years is not true. According to statistics from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management federal employment has actually declined by 2 million since the 1960’s. With regard to your cry to reduce it even more better be careful what you wish. People without jobs are people without spending money. Not only will the demand for goods and services drop but the cost to the government in unemployment benefits and various welfare benefits will rise while government takes a hit from a reduced base of personal income taxes. That is a lose-lose situation.

As for government intrusiveness –– you need to explain to me why a government is bad because it regulates banks, insurance companies, mortgage companies, drug companies, food suppliers –– and any other business that directly affects the well-being of every citizen. And please explain to me why your fury over the intrusion of federal regulations does not extend to your desire for government intrusion in your bedroom (contraception, abortion, same sex marriage) and the workplace (gender equality with equal pay for equal work).

Just asking.

Your inquisitive friend,


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