Transcript: Thom Hartmann riffs on the State of America and baby boomer retirement, 28 Dec '10

Thom Hartmann: Greetings my friends, patriots, lovers of democracy, truth and justice, believers in peace, freedom and the American way. Thom Hartmann here with you. And as we approach the end of the year, I think it’s an interesting time, and this isn’t one of those kind of CNN fluff pieces of the ten worst wardrobe malfunctions of the year or something like that. But rather take a cold hard look at the situation in America.

The, I want to share several different sets of stats with you. The first is, and these are like symptomatic of what’s going on here and why. And if we as a country don’t start recognizing and reconciling ourselves to these things and then doing something about them instead of just standing around as democrats and Republicans, as progressives and conservatives, as whatever. As two or three or four or five sides, throwing stones at each other. If we don’t start actually doing something about these things, it’s just going to get worse and worse.

And you know the tragic news is that these issues that I’m about to share with you, the official position of the Republican party which is set to take over the House of Representatives, is oh this is fine, this is the way it’s supposed to be. And the official position of the Democratic party has been, for years, since Harry Truman first tried to introduce single payer health insurance in 1947 since Franklin Roosevelt in 1936 said, "a necessitous man is not a free man" and in 1944 tried, gave his speech on his Four Freedoms. The Democratic party has been committed to fixing these things, by and large. Now I’m not here to apologize for the failures of the Democratic party and we all know that they are legion from free trade, etc. But that said, it’s a hell of a lot better than the Republican party, pardon my language. A heck of a lot better. I’m going to try to make this a family friendly show here.

Europe, looking at, over at Alternet. It’s a great piece over on Alternet. "America in Decline: Why Germans Think We're Insane" . This was written by Democrats Ramshield which means, Ramshield is an area in Germany, this is the, like Democrats Abroad, they’ve got chapters all over the world. And I’m assuming, although it’s told in the first person voice. “As an American ex-pat, living in the European Union, I’ve started to see America from a different perspective,” is the opening sentence. I’m guessing more than one person wrote on this. Let me just lay this out. This is how Europeans look at us. They think we’re insane.

We have right now 76 million people in the baby boom generation who are entering retirement with frankly a near disaster ahead of them. This from Dave Carpenter over at Huffington Post. “Starting in January more than ten thousand boomers a day will turn 65, a pattern that will continue for the next 19 years.” When Reagan came into office, 1980, the year Reagan was elected, and keep in mind six months before that election Jimmy Carter was way out ahead and then the hostages didn’t get released and then he tried to release the hostages and he couldn’t and now there’s a considerable body of evidence that Bill Casey, Reagan’s campaign manager, later CIA director who died the day that he was supposed to give testimony to the senate on this issue or who had a seizure and had part of his brain cut out, he died a few weeks later, actually had helped engineer the capture of the American hostages by the Iranians as a campaign trick. Barbara Honegger and Gary Sick and others have written books about this called October Surprise.

But in any case, the day that Reagan came into office, 39% of workers in the private sectors, and virtually all in the public sector, which is a heck of a lot of Americans, almost half of all Americans had a pension. Now I realize that 30 years of Reaganomics has caused a lot of people to forget about the difference between what a pension is and what a savings account is. A pension means that you get a certain amount of money until the day you die, no matter how long you live. No matter what. My dad worked in a tool and die shop for 40 years. When he retired he had a pension and it paid enough that he and mom could comfortably live until they both died. His pension rolled over to my mother after my dad died. As well as social security. So they had this. Now it’s 15% of Americans. Pensions are vanishing.

The few that are left are largely, well they’re almost all exclusively union workers and most of them are government workers. And you know what the Republicans are trying to do about that. You know, yesterday we talked about Grover Norquist, oh we should allow the states to declare bankruptcy so they can break their contracts with these unionized workers and do away with these pensions that are busting the states. Well I’m sorry, the pensions don’t bust the states, you pay into the pension throughout your working life. Pensions are run by insurance companies or by states who have people who work as if they worked in the insurance company, actuaries, and they say okay a certain number of people are going to die young, a certain number of people are going to die in their 90s, so here’s how we calculate how much money we’ve got to have. And frankly the biggest problem with state pension funds right now is that many of them were convinced to invest their money in the stock market by people like Goldman Sachs or they invested their money in Enron and never recovered from it when they should have frankly been investing their money in treasury bonds.

But you know that said, you know they paid attention to Wall Street, in other words. That said, 42% of workers now have 401Ks. In other words, instead of having pensions, instead of about half of us having pensions, a little less than half of us now have 401Ks. Now I remember when this hustle came out. It started with Nixon, it got pushed really hard under Reagan. With Nixon it was individual retirement accounts. Then the 401K section of the tax code and all this kind of stuff. And I said, this is a scam. What, I’m going to put my money, I’m going to give my money to the banks where they can churn it and skim money off the top, it’s tax free so they have more of my money to play with, and the theory is that at some point in time I’ll have more money than if I paid it into a pension or into social security or simply just kept it in a savings account.

I have no 401K, I just, I have always thought that this thing was a scam. I’m not saying that you should or shouldn’t. I’m not an investment advisor, I might be really stupid about this. But I just, and I realize some companies actually match dollar for dollar payments, in which case it makes a lot of sense. Except for the fact that if you try and take it, well let’s not get into that. Anyway. Most, we have shifted from pensions where you get the money no matter what, no matter how long you live to 401Ks where you get your money back out and when the moneys all gone then you are homeless, you are broke. Many retirees banked on their homes as their retirement fund, now 22% of homeowners, 11 million people, owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth.

The EU, the European Union, back to Democrats Ramshield piece, The EU has a larger economy and more people than America so it’s a reasonable comparison right? In the EU, the European Union, about 9% of all the money spent, the budget, is spent on medical care and every single citizen has full healthcare and full dental, whether they’re employed or not. 9% of GDP. We pay 16% of GDP and we have 50 million uninsured Americans and many of the insured ones have no dental. And the Europeans are looking at us going are these people nuts? We have 59 people medically uninsured, 132 million without dental insurance, 60 million without paid sick leave, and 40 million on food stamps. Did you know that in the European Union there is no such thing as food stamps? Because there’s no need for it. Because unemployment insurance never ends. And no it’s not bankrupting those countries, these so called “PIGS” countries got bankrupted because they bought investments from Goldman Sachs. We’ll be right back.


Thom Hartmann: So here’s the problem. And my question to you is what do we do about it? Now my suggestion is wake up as many people as possible and participate in the political process. You’ve heard this a million times from me. But maybe you’ve got another suggestion, maybe there’s something that you think that we can, you know, take it a step further. Der Spiegel, it’s like Time and Newsweek for Germany, Der Spiegel. It’s a news magazine. Just ran recently an interesting feature, this again, you can read this over at Alternet, titled “A Superpower in Decline.” And this is the English translation although Der Spiegel has an English website, you can read it on their website as well. The subhead is “Full of Hatred.”

“The Tea Party, that group of white older voters who claim that they want their country back, is angry. Fox News host Glenn Beck, a recovering alcoholic who likens Obama to Adolf Hitler, is angry. Beck doesn’t know quite what he wants to be, maybe a politician, maybe president, maybe a preacher, and he doesn’t know what he wants to do either. Or at least he hasn’t come up with any specific ideas or plans. But he is full of hatred.” So the Europeans don’t feel like, you know, in their news they’ve got to balance commentary about the right with commentary about the, they don’t have to say oh and by the way we think Michael Moore is a little loony, or that guy Thom Hartmann on the radio.

They point out that our actual unemployment rate isn’t 10%. If you include the people who have given up looking for work, a number we stopped counting in various ways between the Reagan administration and the Bush administration, we basically no longer count those people. We used to count them before Reagan. That our actual unemployment, real unemployment, in the United States is around 20%. The Democrats Ramshield asked the question, “Isn’t it better to invest in a social safety net than in prison?” We have two million people in jail in the United States. Unlike here, in Germany, jobless benefits never run out. Jobseekers continue to be medically uninsured when they’re unemployed, as are their families.

Now you say, well don’t they just you know laze around like bums? Common misconception. There is a small percentage of people who, given the opportunity, will spend their lives goofing off. It’s probably less than 3 or 4 %. Just like there is a small percentage of people who, given the opportunity, will spend their lives stoned or drunk. It’s similarly probably around 2 or 3 %. In fact they may even be the same people. But these are people who are suffering from some form of mental illness. They are not the average normal person. The average normal person in our society, in our culture, frankly I think in the human race, enjoys participating, enjoys working, likes to feel like they’re contributing, likes to feel like they’re part of society, enjoys interacting with their fellow beings, likes the freedom that comes from having some income and having a, having meaningful employment. So to say that we should refuse to offer benefits to people who have fallen through the cracks, not because of anything on their, you know, any decision that they made, but because the country is going down the tubes, and I’m going to get to why in just a second. To say we shouldn’t give them insurance or unemployment benefits, because that will just make them lazy. Jim Demint’s theory, Tom Coburn’s theory, is just wrong. People want to work.

Okay so they want to work. Okay, so where are the jobs? “More than half,” this by Pallavi Gogoi, I’m not sure how you pronounce it, over at Huffington Post today. “More than half of the 15 thousand people that Caterpillar Inc. has hired this year were hired outside the United states.” They’re hiring outside the United States faster than they’re hiring inside the United States. “Of the top 500 corporations,” the S&P 500, the Standards and Poor’s, top 500 corporations in America, “496 of them, all but 4, showed substantial profits this year. Stock market is at it’s highest point since before it melted down in 2008. But according to the Economic Policy Institute, a DC think tank, 2.4 million American jobs have been created by American companies this year, but 1.4 million of those jobs were created overseas.” Had those jobs been created in the United States, our unemployment rate would be a full point lower and you probably wouldn’t have seen the house of representatives go to the Republicans.

Robert Scott, the senior international economist for the Economic Policy Institute says, “There’s a huge difference between what is good for American companies versus what’s good for the American economy. The days when our secretary of the treasury as was famously said during the Eisenhower administration, ‘What’s good for GM is good for America,’ would say such a thing are over. Caterpillar has built three brand new plants in the last two months in China. Half of all the revenue of these Standard & Poor 500 companies, the S&P 500 companies, half of it is generated outside the United States. And the tax loophole that lets those companies pay no taxes at all on money that they make inside the United States if they’re running operations outside the United States that have reincorporated in the Cayman Islands, that tax loophole that the democrats wanted to close to help in part pay for the 9-11 responders bill, that tax loop hole is intact because the Republicans wouldn’t let them close it. They held the 9-11 workers hostage for this.

Dupont, remember Dupont? The all American company that made nylons, they made parachutes, they made all… Dupont now sells less than 1/3 of it’s products in the US. It’s stock by the way is up 47%. Dupont’s US employees, the number of employees in the United States between 2005 and 2009 shrank by 9%. In the same period they grew 54% outside the United States. They just opened a huge research facility hiring many, many people, Dupont did. Isn’t this great? American company making more profits? Hiring more people? In Hyderabad India. Coca Cola, 93 thousand employees. Five years ago, 19% of them were in the US, now 13%. The republicans are destroying this country.


Thom Hartmann: Okay so we’ve got a disaster in the United States. We’ve got ten thousand boomers a day becoming eligible for social security. Now the good news is there’s 2.6 or 2.7 trillion dollars in that trust fund, it’s going to be fine for another 25 years other than the hole that was just drilled into it by the tax compromise. But some of that, I think even that, I think is being paid out of the general fund. But 3 out of 4 Americans right now are opting to take social security at the age of 62 which means that you get less money forever than if you wait till 65 which is a sign of crisis, economic crisis among people in their 60s. 3 out of 4. It’s about a quarter less. Health care expenses are soaring.

A 55 year old man with typical drug expenses needs to have about 187 thousand dollars just to cover future medical costs. That’s like, in the bank, to cover your co-pays and things for Medicare and Medicaid and health insurance and what not. The average American does not have 187 thousand. Now a lot of Americans thought they had that in the equity in their homes but that’s gone. We have lost the American dream and the Europeans are looking at us going you guys are friggin’ crazy. And as Der Spiegel points out, you can thank the tea party for it. I mean literally, from Der Spiegel: “Europeans routinely recoil in disbelief and disgust. American society is breaking apart. Millions of people have lost their jobs and fallen into poverty.” They’re astounded by even the concept that you would humiliate somebody at the store by giving them food stamps to spend to get food. You have to have food stamps?

What do we do? I say we wake people up, I say we get politically active, I say we take over the Democratic party. Progressives need to get active in the democratic party, I say we push democrats from the president all the way down to the local school board in more progressive directions. I say we take back history. Ever since Reagan started quoting Thomas Paine, the radical history, the progressive history of this country which started with Thomas Paine through Thomas Jefferson through, I mean, through a long series of presidents. Zachary Taylor, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Grover Cleveland who said the iron heel of industry is upon the throats of the average American worker in his state of the union address in 1887 as I recall. To Teddy Roosevelt who said a square deal, everyone deserves a decent retirement, healthcare for their families, time for a vacation, actually he was arguing for a 50 hour work week. This was in 1904. To Franklin Roosevelt, to Lyndon Johnson, that progressive tradition that is the history of the United States is being rewritten by conservatives as a libertarian selfish I me screw the poor, build up the rich, which is destroying this country. What do we do?

Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.

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