Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Press releases: War on the average Joe

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Right now, Maine can afford to pay its state employees' pensions for the next 10 years with no additional investment — without any sort of supplement, not even workers' biweekly paycheck deductions. The nationwide McClatchy newspaper group published that fact on Sunday in a massive, comprehensive report on public pension funds nationwide.

But that information was nowhere to be found in the pages of MaineToday Media's papers — the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal, and the Morning Sentinel. While Maine's largest newspaper chain routinely publishes national news from the McClatchy wire, they shut the door on the most revealing package yet published on the major issue under debate in Augusta right now.

Of course the papers, owned by Richard Connor, did not ignore the issue entirely — in a Sunday economic dispatch from Washington, sole DC reporter and (therefore) Washington bureau chief Jonathan Riskind wrote: "Americans understand that the country is headed off a fiscal cliff."

And the papers' lead editorial that day — the day McClatchy was telling Americans that the sky is not even close to falling with regard to pension funding — described "rampaging pension costs that can no longer be ignored." The editorial declared necessary the proposals by Governor Paul LePage to cap retirees' pensions and medical coverage, partly allowing LePage to lower Maine's effectively flat income tax by more than half a percentage point — a massive boon to the rich that will have next to no effect on moderate- and low-income families.

In doing so, the MaineToday papers have declared themselves clearly on the side of the wealthy robber barons who have stolen so much of America's bounty. (Recent stats, most prominently cited in a March 5 Michael Moore speech in Wisconsin, suggest that a few hundred ultra-wealthy American citizens are richer than half the country's people, put together.) Ironically, the editorial decried the description of this phenomenon as "class warfare," calling that term "trite and tedious."

It is only so for those people — and those media outlets — who exist to serve the rich, and not the people as a whole. For the rest of us, we are indeed engaged in a war between the classes, and nothing less than a fight to the death — whether by homelessness, cold, starvation, or broken hearts.

For Connor and his staff to go on to proclaim, as they do, that "the wrath of angry taxpayers should be aimed at politicians and bureaucrats who agreed to costly benefits over the years without giving sufficient attention to the financial consequences those benefits would eventually impose" is downright disingenuous. It is doubly so when the media organization in question has only rarely and shallowly treated these important issues of accountability when it comes to election time.

And then the editorial goes from factless to misleading to downright irresponsible, raising the specter of "the looming crisis presented by the ever-rising costs of entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare." Even with no additional support, those programs won't run out of money for decades, according to independent analyses, including by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

Our social safety net is strong, and so are our pension funds for public employees. For politicians to spout otherwise — particularly as justification for transferring more wealth to the super-rich — is deceitful. For newspapers to parrot that fear-mongering is shamefully abdicating their vital role as arbiter of truth in a complex society. If regular people, who are too busy trying to make their own ends meet, must rely on intentional misinformation — or, as egregious, withholding of truth — then we do indeed have a serious societal crisis on our hands. It's just not the one the politicians and the mainstream media are telling you about.