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Pension battle becomes new front in the class war

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Slowly but surely, pension issues have become the new front in the class war being waged on ordinary Americans. And what is particularly disturbing is politicians and media pundits who constantly portray those who have managed to secure decent pensions as greedy and evil. Big Money interests want us to believe that workers who earn a decent pension are evil - as if retirement security is something we shouldn't all aspire to. We saw this during the New York City transit strike, where the political Establishment tried to pit the working class against itself and deflect attention from the real culprits, essentially saying the transit workers were evil for having banded together to secure decent wages/pensions, and that they should just accept economic persecution like other workers are forced to accept. And we are now seeing it again in the debate over state public pensions.

In >a href="http://www.usatoday.com/money/perfi/retirement/2006-01-16-pension_x.htm"this USA Today story about how politicians have refused to adequately fund public pension commitments, Alaska Republican state representative Bert Stedman calls for massive cuts to state worker pensions, claiming "If we don't act now, we're going to have social conflict in the future between the haves and the have-nots -- those with government pensions and those without." That's exactly the frame the right-wing wants us to see these issues in: the supposedly evil "haves" are those workers who secure a decent retirement, and they are the ones supposedly harming the "have-nots." Not surprisingly, this exact frame is parroted on Fox News, most recently with Neil Cavuto hosting a show shamelessly regurgitating the concept that workers with decent retirement benefits are evil. Because let's be clear - when conservatives berate so-called "class warfare" they are berating any effort by the middle class to better itself, but are fully in support of having the economic elite wage a class war on everyone else, or using their power to manufacture a class war between the poor and the middle class.

But really, what a lie it all is. Beyond the fact that this line of reasoning on pensions actually asks us to treat pension cuts as a virtue and secure retirement as evil, there are the actual economic realities of what's actually going on. For instance, one paragraph before the Alaska Republican made his ridiculous comment, USA Today noted that "average annual benefits for retired state and local workers grew 37% to $19,875 from 2000 to 2004." That's right - we're actually expected to believe there is a crisis because between 2000 and 2004 the average state/local workers' annual pension grew from $14,507 (just above the poverty line) to $19,875. Worse, we're expected to believe that these people earning less than $20,000 a year in their retirement are the evil "haves" who are hurting the have-nots. And we're led to believe that state governments who made these pension promises can't possibly be asked to make good on them because it would cost too much - even as states continue to give away hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to already-wealthy multinational corporations (see Wal-Mart and Goldman Sachs for two good examples).

Of course, we're not expected to actually look at the real "haves" who are destroying this country - the executives who have run their companies into the ground, slashed workers wages and benefits, all while pocketing massive bonuses for themselves. Just look at yesterday's New York Times story about United Airlines. As the company has secured $4 billion in wage/benefit cuts from workers, 400 of its top executives who ran the company into bankruptcy are giving themselves roughly $500 million in bonuses. Same thing with Delphi - as the company demands massive wage/benefit cuts, the Wall Street Journal notes executives who ran the company into bankruptcy have crafted a plan to give themselves "as much as 10% of the restructured company and $90 million in bonuses."

These are the real "haves" who are destroying this country - not government workers who earn, on average, less than $20,000 in annual retirement benefits. These are the real "haves" who are being allowed to wage a merciless class war on ordinary Americans. And every time you hear a politician blame ordinary citizens for the country's economic decline remember that what they are really doing is trying to deflect attention from the behavior of their Big Money campaign donors who are the real cause of our problems.
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David Sirota is a full-time political journalist, best-selling author and nationally syndicated newspaper columnist living in Denver, Colorado. He blogs for Working Assets and the Denver Post's PoliticsWest website. He is a Senior Editor at In These Times magazine, which in 2006 received the Utne Independent Press Award for political coverage. His 2006 book, Hostile Takeover, was a New York Times bestseller, and is now out in paperback. He has been a guest on, among others, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and NPR. His writing, which draws on his (more...)

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