A headline in the local rag by AP writer Stephen Ohlemacher on Aug. 23, 2009: “Millions face shrinking Social Security payments”. Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? Of course, a bit of digging, a bit of figuring — why simply reading the article in its entirety — shrinks this catastrophe from biblical proportions, down to a ho-hum situation; something most right-wingers and occasional thinkers cannot be bothered to do. So. Ring the bell of doom once more, since fear sells, and sells well.

Parsing the evidence reveals that Social Security is not slated to receive a cost of living raise over the next two years (the first time since 1975). Mostly, this event follows an unprecedented Social Security rate increase recorded this past January — a 5.8% boost on average, the largest since 1982. However, energy prices have lately fallen from record highs in 2008, which has dampened inflationary tendencies. Bucking energy trends, health care costs (no surprise), continue to rise.

Consequently, Medicare costs to subscribers will increase $2 (from $28 to $30), while Social Security pegged to inflation (unable to fall by law) remains constant. Thus, of the 32 million participants in Medicare, 6 million folks who have their Medicare payments deducted from their SS payout, will realize a net drop of $2. This statement ignores the fact that average SS premiums increased last January by about $66, during the energy boom.

Of course today, with gas prices down significantly and seniors and others on Social Security, locked into an average $66 increase thanks to the energy spike of 2008, the AP chooses to post the headline: “Millions face shrinking Social Security payments”. Accurate, yes. Relevant to something more than selling newspapers and hyping conservative anxiety, no. This is the dumbing of America. Hand the average reader a copy of this Ohlemacher post and watch them arrive at the titled conclusion to the AP story.

More portentous is the thrust of such fear mongering. A herding of public opinion toward notions of privatizing Social Security in the name of efficiency and tax relief. Lobbyists for Wall Street are counting on an attention deficit citizenry to forget recent investment abuses exposed during last year’s housing bust. Denouncing government policy seems fashionable of late. Vapid argument coupled with emotional outburst is the hallmark stratagem promoted by private sector interests in the health care reform debate. Similar schemes directed toward the Social Security Administration, could corrode public sentiment to the delight of private investment bankers.

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