Blackout in Montgomery


Philadelphia, Penn.

If you want to understand why the president’s plan to destroy Social Security is moving ahead in Congress despite the lunacy and sophistry of its arguments, and despite polls showing widespread skepticism, just read the cover story in the April edition of Montgomery Living, a glossy magazine published in Montgomery County, Alabama.

I received a copy of this magazine erroneously, I assume because I live in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, where there is a magazine by the same name.

I thumbed through this misdirected magazine out of curiosity, and was immediately struck by what was missing: black people. Here’s a picture magazine being published in a state that the Census Bureau tells us is 26 percent African-American (that’s twice the percentage of black people in the general American population) and out of all the 146 people depicted in the editorial portion of the publication, only five are black-and all of those are way in the background.

Then I turned to the feature article, written by the magazine’s editor, Jennifer Steward Kornegay. The cover headline was “A Presidential Occasion” and featured a photo taken from the floor of a towering, smiling President Bush reaching into a sea of (white) hands.

Inside, the headline was “Selling Social Security,” and the article gave only the White House line. It began with a description of the 4000 people who had “anxiously awaited the arrival ” of the president and who gave him a “thunderous applause” as he entered the sports hall of Auburn University “wearing an ear-to-ear smile.” There was, of course, no mention of the fact that this audience, like the audiences at the 59 other stops on the president’s Social Security road show, was handpicked using advance tickets provided by the state’s Republican congressional delegation.

The article went on to quote the president as saying that while “Social Security was a good idea,” now “the math has changed,” and that “in 2029, the program will be $200 billion short.” The article featured a box saying that the cost of “fixing” Social Security in 2004 was $10.4 trillion, and that “every year we wait costs an additional $600 billion.” The box also claimed, erroneously, that “Today’s 30-year-old worker can expect a 27 percent benefit cut from the current system when he or she reaches normal retirement age,” a grim picture that, “without action” will “only get worse.” (The truth: that prediction, cited ad nauseum by the president, is based upon an unreasonably pessimistic assumption by the highly politicized Social Security Board of Trustees of only 1.8 percent annual economic growth between now and 2040.)

The article then described Bush’s privatization plan for Social Security as “one key part of the president’s plan,” though even the president himself has admitted that privatization does nothing to solve any projected shortfall in Social Security funding, and in fact worsens any problems by reducing the amount current workers pay into the Trust Fund, thus necessitating $2 trillion in extra federal borrowing.

Finally, in a complete non-sequitor, the article quotes an unnamed “local financial professional” as touting the pension plan for public employees in Galveston, Texas, who opted out of Social Security and who now instead pay into a local pension system. Since nobody is talking about fully privatizing Social Security, the Galveston public employee pension is as irrelevant as GM’s pension plan. Further more, unlike the Social Security system, the Galveston plan has no disability provision, or survivor benefits, and thus is wholly different from Social Security. (As well, it is worth remembering that in severe economic downturns, municipalities like Galveston can go belly-up, taking their pension programs with them. And if Galveston’s workers get laid off prematurely, they will not be able to just start working at another job and half their partially invested pension roll over into a Social Security account.)

All in all, the Montgomery Living article gave an entirely false impression of the popularity of the president’s proposal, of the nature of the alleged “problem” facing Social Security, and of the nature of the president’s proposed “solution.”

No wonder people are confused.

At least Montgomery County’s African-American citizens won’t be snookered, though. If the Montgomery Living art director’s choice of photos, and the accompanying advertisements’ almost complete avoidance of black faces, are any indication of the magazine’s target demographic, it’s unlikely that they will even read this magazine. And judging from the photos of the president’s visit, there weren’t too many of them joining him for his “town hall conversation” in Alabama, either.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.

He can be reached at: dlindorff@yahoo.com












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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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