WE THE WALKING DEAD: Decades of shambling!


Interlude—O’Reilly plays an old card: Sunday’s panel on Meet the Press featured the walking dead.

In Jim Sheridan’s film, In America, a grieving father, defeated by grief, says he “can’t think...can’t feel.” Our intellectual elites have been afflicted by this condition for quite a few decades now.

This death-in-life may be hard to see when it afflicts our elites. The people in question are famous TV stars. They’re well-known and quite self-assured.

Our brightest young journalists won’t describe the condition. Doing so could end their careers.

At any rate, our intellectual elites have been shambling about, arms extended, for quite a few decades now. Voters get badly conned in the process.

Consider one brief shining moment from last night’s O’Reilly Factor.

Mr. O did a very brief segment with “Fox business anchor John Stossel,” one of the channel’s resident libertarians. The comrades quickly agreed—it’s Obama’s fault that benefits are being “denied to some families who lost loved ones, killed in action in Afghanistan, all because of the government shutdown.”

As the segment ended, the tandem took turns topping each other about the dangers facing the country. We were struck by one statement by Mr. O, a statement we highlight below:
O'REILLY (10/15/13): So you are not particularly worried, though? You are not worried about this country? I mean, I know Stossel will be OK.

STOSSEL: Yes, I'm totally worried. I'm really worried as much we’re promising Medicare recipients we have enough money to pay for their healthcare. We don't.

O'REILLY: And we don't. No, and Social Security too.

STOSSEL: Dodd-Frank and Obamacare will kill the economy. I am very worried.

O'REILLY: Are you convinced that the Obamacare thing is going to kill the economy, are you?

STOSSEL: Well along with Dodd Frank and the 157,000 pages of other regulations that they have got.

O'REILLY: All right. John Stossel, everybody!

Directly ahead, as mentioned, the head of the Fisher House, which rescued the grieving families, will be here. He is angry tonight.
Cable viewers were helped in their quest to be angry—and they were urged to be fearful. Among other things, viewers were told that “we don’t have enough money to pay for their” Social Security.

We were a bit surprised to hear Mr. O say that.

For decades, the future meltdown of Social Security was a major theme in the pseudo-conservative playbook of fear. In recent years, this theme has been mentioned much less.

Instead, viewers are told that Obamacare is going to kill the economy. Whatever happened to the claim that Social Security was going to collapse?

Social Security is bound to collapse! For decades, this gloomy claim was sold to the public—and the claim was widely purchased. In 2004, Tucker Carlson, hosting CNN’s Crossfire, recalled a famous survey from 1995:
CARLSON (12/16/04): I want to put up probably the most famous poll ever taken on Social Security. It was taken 10 years ago. But I think it says something important.

SPERLING: I know exactly the one you're talking about.

CARLSON: Yes. This was taken by Luntz Research, Frank Luntz. And it asked two questions. Will Social Security exist by the time you retire? Twenty-eight percent say yes. Second question, do you believe in UFOs? Forty-six percent say yes.


More people believe in UFOs than they do in Social Security being there when they retire!
In fact, that was a survey of younger Americans, ages 18-34. If the famous old survey was on the level, most of those people didn’t believe that Social Security would still exist by the time they retired.

This scary claim has largely faded from view in recent years. Just a guess: For various reasons, it’s getting harder to claim that the program’s infamous trust fund is just “a worthless pile of IOUs”—that “the money isn’t there” because “we’ve already spent it.”

At any rate, that worthless pile of IOUs is no longer Scary Claim One. Today, Scary Claim One involves the fact that Obamacare is destined to ruin the nation. It’s “the worst thing since slavery,” Ben Carson recently said!

Last night, O’Reilly threw in a famous old claim, a claim which once did yeoman duty. This helps us note an important fact:

Our journalistic elites have been the walking dead for several decades now.

That shambling on Sunday’s Meet the Press isn’t a new phenomenon. For decades, voters were told that Social Security wouldn’t be there when they retired. They were handed a string of skillful deceptions designed to create this belief.

Tens of millions of voters got deceived in the process. During this time, our shambling elites, who can’t think and can’t feel, failed to respond to these claims.

It wasn’t that they weren’t smart enough, although they aren’t all that sharp. To appearances, they just didn’t care if the public got conned in that manner.

Decades passed in which bullshit reigned. Our elites just sat there and stared.

Last night, O’Reilly played a famous old card amid the newer cries of alarm. For decades, the walking dead looked away from this play as they shambled forward.

Tomorrow—part 3: Frank and Gladwell talk books

Update on Rosenthal, dead or alive: This past Sunday, Elisabeth Rosenthal returned to the front page of the New York Times.

Rosenthal is authoring a series, “Paying Till It Hurts.” The series involves another topic the walking dead have long avoided—the astoundingly high cost of American health care.

For decades, the walking dead averted their gaze as people were misled about Social Security. Similarly, journalistic elites have looked away from the astounding amounts of looting which characterize our health care.

They’ve simply refused to deal with the topic. It’s as if they can’t think and can’t feel!

Is Rosenthal fully alive? We had mixed reactions to her first three reports, which appeared on June 2, July 1 and August 4. At that point, her series disappeared.

Ten weeks later, her series is back. We haven’t yet read her new piece with care.

To read her new report, click this. Our question, which we can’t answer:

Is this the work of a real living person? Or is this a cloud of gorilla dust disbursed by the walking dead?

One last question for you to ponder: Have you seen this series mentioned, in any way, by your favorite liberal news orgs? The last time we checked, Rosenthal’s series hadn’t been mentioned, not even once, on The One True Liberal Channel.

Guys with flags get the full monte there. As they do, the massive looting in American health care rolls merrily along.

Red and blue voters get looted together. No one’s encouraged to notice.


  1. Bob is right that the SS Trust Fund isn't a problem, but SS has a huge problem that will undoubtedly cause it to cut benefits in the future. One way to look at it is to focus on the unfunded liability. However, a simpler way is to view SS as a pay as you go program. (This is a slight simplification, because SS has collected more money than it paid out, thus building up a Trust Fund. However, this SS Trust Fund is small, relative to the overall SS income and outgo.)

    Viewed as a Pay as You Go, demographics will force benefits to be reduced. The ratio of people paying in to people receiving benefits is dropping. In order to keep the same benefit level, assessments would have to become unaffordable. In 1949 the ratio of workers to retirees was 159. by 2010, it was 2.9 and it's moving to 2. Currently, the Trust Fund is helping, as past excess SS income is used to pay current retirees. But, the Trust Fund will run out in a few years, and the ratio of workers to retirees will continue to drop.

    A worker to retiree ratio of 2, means that the average worker must pay half of the average retiree's SS + half of his Medicare + all the rest of the federal, state, and local taxes. At today's costs, I'd guess that the average retiree gets around $24,000 per year in SS and Medicare benefits. So, $12,000 would have to come out of the average working person's after-tax income.

    1. "In 1949 the ratio of workers to retirees was 159. by 2010, it was 2.9 and it's moving to 2." Why is this always cited as though it's a permanent condition when, in fact, it's more like a rat going through a python's digestive system? The Baby Boomers will all be dead...sooner rather than later...and the ratio of workers to retirees will normalize. This was all planned for well ahead of time. That's why there's a trust fund. Sheesh!

    2. The "seniors" are our own parents. If not for Social Security, we'd have to support them ourselves.

      I think they could probably raise Medicare premiums somewhat - $106/month is awfully low, ridiculously low. And Social Security is somewhat means tested now, with it being taxed for people with higher incomes. Medicare, of course, is means tested as you pay in. Its 1% of wages unlimited, I believe.

      Its delicate, of course. They could totally collapse support if the public sees these as more welfare programs than earned benefits.

    3. In 1975 it was 3.2

    4. @ D in C:

      Yeah, those are some scary stats! Imaging the ratio dropping from 159 workers per retiree, where it was in 1940 to 8.6. Wow, that would also be one heck of a roller coasterish gut wrenching drop. A drop like that would obviously throw the SS system into turmoil! But wait a minute... that was the drop we experienced from 1940 to 1955, yet somehow SS limped onward. But surely a if the ration was cut in half again, to 4 workers per retiree, that would certainly be the last nail in the coffin of SS... Oops, we hit that ratio in 1965. In 1990 the ratio was down to 3.4--Ack! this madness must end!!!


      p.s. I am aware that initial big drop was a result of more people starting to claim benefits in the early years of the program after a short period in which there were SS taxes going in to the system and few retirees claiming benefits. But hey, you're the actuary D in C, why is it my job to provide nuance here when you are perfectly happy to rehearse stale talking points.

  2. In this piece in The Guardian by Dean Baker, he asks: "This fact raises the obvious question, why are projections of deficits based on unaffordable healthcare costs always treated in the media as a basis for cutting benefits to seniors rather than a reason for cutting payments to providers like doctors, drug companies, and medical device companies?" —http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/14/shutdown-republicans-government-spending-delusions

    Why indeed.

    1. Yes, Sharon, the ratio of workers to retirees will (presumably) eventually stabilize. It will stabilize at around 2.0 or less. The ratio is dropping because people are living longer and longer, not because of baby boomers.

    2. No David you are wrong on that point. People are not really living longer, not in a way that impacts SS. The infant mortality rate has gone down.

  3. In order to address the fear-mongering of folks like O'Reilly, someone on our liberal pundit staffs would need to be watching what is being said on Fox. From what I've seen, liberals read and watch only liberal sources while conservatives read and watch only conservative sources of information. I think liberal pundits may be assuming liberals do not need to be told about these things because they are not exposed to them. Bob assumes that liberals want to attract new viewers, convert independents or change the views of conservative voters. I'm not sure that is their goal. I think they focus on strengthening their hold on liberals, not winning new people over.

    1. "[L]iberals...watch only liberal sources"? Where would you find those. I can think only of Bill Moyers on PBS. Most everything else is "pseudo-liberal."

  4. Can anyone explain Bob's complaint about Rosenthal's healthcare piece? ...I mean other than the fact that he didn't get to write it?

    1. His complaint is that her piece didn't get wider mention.

    2. So why this?:

      "Is Rosenthal fully alive?...Is this the work of a real living person?"

      An odd way to show appreciation for a well-written piece...and Bob carefully refrains from stating outright approval of any piece that Rosenthal has ever written.

    3. Going on past efforts, he seemed to take issue with the lack of outrage in her pieces. She took an almost glib, ho-hum approach to things which might merit a more aggressive approach.

  5. As long as we keep electing people who want to kill Social Security, it won't be there down the road.
    Same as if we let a firebug who wants to burn our homes down house-sit for us while we travel for the next month, our homes won't be there when we return from our trip.

  6. While watching these pundit TV shows, Bob is probably reading on his computer, enjoying his dog's company, making to-do lists, drinking a cup of coffee and eating a snack, putting logs on the fire, etc. -- like everyone else. We are not engrossed in these pundit TV shows or the "reality" TV shows. They're all at least 50% background noise; I don't think people even want these shows to be very informative. With someone like O'Reilly, there is a segment of the population that enjoys his personality, just like there is a segment of the population that enjoys Joe Giudice's personality. No one watches O'Reilly thinking that's the most productive use of his time to get information on public policy, no one.

    The mystery is what attracts people to such antipathetic people as O'Reilly, Matthews, Maddow, Hannity, Giudice (Teresa and Joe both), the Kardashians, etc. Maybe its interesting from a psychology perspective but its not influencing public policy, Bob.

    1. "With someone like O'Reilly, there is a segment of the population that enjoys his personality..."

      >>> yes, its hard to articulate what exactly style is, but style-wise o'r has it head and shoulders above his competitors. the other cable news outlets dont have nearly as good a grasp on casting, which I think determines 50% or more of the success of a *show*.

      "No one watches O'Reilly thinking that's the most productive use of his time to get information on public policy, no one."

      >>> i disagree. there are many people whove been convinced that the likes of o'r show is the only place to get the truth. and o'r knows what they want to hear regarding social issues, and he feeds it to them while slipping in the pro-corporatist propaganda, which is all his bosses care about.

  7. "Rosenthal, dead or alive?":

    As with her earlier semi-efforts, Rosenthal displays no capacity to express outrage at the obscene facts that fall in front of her.

    Over and over she regurgitates incriminating evidence of a big pharma pricing scam, indolent politicians, corrupt regulations, hamstrung care-givers and hopeless, penny-less patients, but she can't seem to come to any conclusions about what's causing it and who's to blame.

    She acts like a disaffected health inspector going through a WWII concentration camp: “The conditions are sparse, but clean. While the prison does have a cafeteria, hunger seems rampant throughout the camp. Death rates are high when compared to prisons in the rest of the world, but perfectly normal with respect to other German internment facilities.”

  8. For what it's worth, surveys like the one Tucker Carlson cited way back when keep getting churned out. This report is, alas, from Monday:

  9. Listen, Mr Oreiley is entetainement. But at very least he tries to get to some truth unlike not sure maybe MSNBC with no balance.
    Remeber we do not have a objective media in this country anymore.

  10. Lionel says:

    "The "seniors" are our own parents. If not for Social Security, we'd have to support them ourselves.

    I think they could probably raise Medicare premiums somewhat - $106/month is awfully low, ridiculously low. "

    If a senior has no source of income besides social security, such that a son or daughter would wind up supporting them, then they are going to have a bunch of trouble finding more than $106/month for medicare out of their social security check. It may not sound like a lot to someone with a full-time job, but $106 could be 10% or more of a check that must also pay for housing, food and other living expenses. My husband worked his whole life at well-paying jobs and gets $1732 per month. If $1000 goes for rent (LA area), and $500 goes for food, how much is leftover for things like copays, gas, clothing, prescriptions, gifts for grandkids, etc.

    So raising that $106 Medicare cost is not a trivial suggestion.

    1. I pay $930/month for my daughter's insurance and $106/month for my Medicare. Seems very strange.

      I'm not volunteering for the increase in Medicare price as there is so much waste in the federal government that should be eliminated first, of course. And Medicare is means tested as you pay in (no limit on the amount of wages that you are taxed on).

  11. cacambo -- Here's the actuarial nuance you asked for. A drop in the worker-to-retiree ratio from159 down to 8 is only about half as big as a drop from 4 to 2. You can see this when you put it in dollars.

    Suppose the average SS retiree gets $15,000 per year. At a ratio of 159, the average worker pays $94 per year. If the ratio is 8, the average worker pays $1875. That's an increase of $1781 per year.

    However, when the ratio drops from 4 to 2, the average worker's payment rises from $3750 to $7500. That's an increase of $3750 per year.

    Another factor was the rise in female employment. Working women pay into SS just like working men. However, on average, a retired female worker gets only a little more in SS benefits than the non-working wife or widow of a retired male worker. So, the period when large numbers of women entered the workforce (roughly 1960 - 1990) gave a big, one-time boost to SS solvency.

    BTW the same principles apply to Medicare.

  12. OMB (Poo on your Platter Again)

    "One last question for you to ponder: Have you seen this series mentioned, in any way, by your favorite liberal news orgs? The last time we checked, Rosenthal’s series hadn’t been mentioned, not even once, on The One True Liberal Channel."

    August 26, 2013 "All In" With Chris Hayes

    A correction, we are sure, will be forthcoming.

    No? Oh, because of the weasel words "last time we checked"?

    Yes, it is part of BOB's Lawrence O'Donnell like showmanship.