Questioning Motives

I don’t know about you but I am not one to fathom human motives. I’m not sure what my own are much of the time! But a recent article in Yahoo Finance News ventures into this dark realm when the author professes to know why Barack Obama failed to defend Social Security against the assaults from the Republicans who want to cripple the program — despite the fact that it is one of the most beneficial, cost-effective, and successful programs this nation has ever known.

The author, Dean Baker, Co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, tells us why he thinks Obama backed Mitt Romney in the first debate when the latter said the program must be reduced to save money.

There is a simple explanation for Obama’s refusal to defend Social Security. In elite Washington circles the willingness to cut Social Security is taken as evidence of courage. These people do not depend on Social Security. In fact, as Governor Romney demonstrated at his famous fundraiser speech, they actually have contempt for the people who do depend on programs like Social Security.

If Obama were to take a strong stand defending Social Security he could expect to be attacked harshly by these elites. In news stories and editorial columns, outlets like the Washington Post and National Public Radio would denounce President Obama in harsh terms. Needless to say, his wealthy funders might also have second thoughts.

If it is the case that our President is in awe of the Washington “elites” and motivated by the wish to be accepted by that type of person this is rather disturbing. If this really is the simplest explanation then Baker’s surmise increases in plausibility. But Baker’s guess cannot be said to be an assured thing; it is pure speculation. At the same time, I must confess that despite the fact that I am an Obama supporter and was delighted when he won the last election and plan to vote for him again — given the realities of the situation — I have always thought (and said in print) that he is far too conciliatory, too eager to please.

In any event, Romney is proposing cutting Social Security for retirees — who would be at least five years older under his plan — on the supposition that they have other retirement plans and don’t need the help. Baker contends that even if they had other retirement plans such plans are of questionable reliability and Obama could score big political points by recommending that Social Security benefits be increased, especially for lower-income persons who need help when they retire. But he has apparently been reluctant to do this. As Baker goes on to say in his article:

Given this reality, it would be sound policy for President Obama to insist, in contrast to Governor Romney, that Social Security cuts are off the table until we have fixed the larger retirement savings system. If anything, it would be reasonable to suggest increasing Social Security benefits, especially for low and moderate income workers.

Baker suspects Obama’s motives, and perhaps worries that Obama lacks the courage of his convictions.  Obama has made tough decisions, however — for example when he determined that the Navy SEALs should take Osama bin Laden out in spite of advisers who (we read) urged a different course of action that they thought would be less likely to fail. I dare say it was also his decision, and a good one, not to bring Pakistan into the loop and let them know what was about to happen. I suppose Baker would surmise that the Washington “elites” approved of those decisions. But the Social Security program is one that has benefited millions of people for many years and one which most of us consider a right that we have earned by dint of hard work and long hours on the job. It is not something that anyone, Democrat or Republican, should be tinkering with, much less threatening to take away from our children and their children — regardless of what the “elites” might or might not think.

Let’s hope that Dean Baker read the tea leaves incorrectly and that his venture into the realm of human motivations took a wrong turn. But we are left with the question why this President has not come out in support of Social Security? That in itself is bothersome.

Bang You’re Dead!

Just when you think you’ve heard about the most absurd human behavior —  a contest to see who can eat the most worms and cockroaches in order to win a python — you read a story like the one in a recent Minneapolis Tribune article that tells about a couple in a Minneapolis suburb who are making money from having created a “simulated killing of Osama Bin Laden experience.” (Seriously, I did not make this up!) Let’s start with a couple of paragraphs from the story itself:

Six AR-15 semi-automatic rifles are loaded with paint bullets. The Kevlar vests are 25 pounds of light body armor. And the nondescript industrial park in New Hope sits 6,900 miles from Osama bin Laden’s former compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

But the mixture of fear, adrenaline and smell of gunpowder was real enough to jump-start the heart rates of five mock Navy SEALs who cashed in Groupons for this simulated adventure that has transformed a firearms studio north of Minneapolis into a gung-ho war-game night out.

Eighteen months after a team of SEALs killed the world’s most-wanted terrorist, everyday folks like these guys can plunk down $150 for their own vicarious shot at Operation Geronimo.

The story attempts to make the project seem quite reasonable — giving a struggling business in a Minneapolis suburb a boost while helping people learn how to protect themselves under simulated conditions that make the adrenalin flow and the palms sweat, just like the “real thing.” Participants wear plastic body armor and use paintball rifles. But this is not Sheldon Cooper and his nerdy friends shooting paint balls at the pseudo-scientists in the geology department. This is supposed to simulate real life with real villains. The bottom line is that we have people pretending they are Navy SEALs, shooting cardboard cutouts of women who represent Bin Laden’s wives –“who might be carrying a bottle of kerosene” — or they might not. And, of course, there’s the fact that the real-life character they shoot in the end  — a former police sniper disguised to look like Bin Laden — constitutes a racial profile if there ever was one. Needless to say, there are minority groups in the Twin Cities who are deeply disturbed by reports of these goings-on.

So we have several interesting moral issues here in the name of teaching people how to protect themselves: racial profiling; acceptable “killing” of persons who might well be innocent bystanders in the name of “self-defense”; and fostering aggressive impulses in ordinary people who have a spare $150.00 to blow on playing a war game, of sorts. One of the participants was Ben Leber a former Minnesota Viking whose wife bought him a gift certificate for his birthday. Seriously?

I have blogged before about our limitless appetite for distractions, which Aldous Huxley noted many years ago. And to be sure, we need distractions in our stressful world. But isn’t there a point when these distractions start telling us something deeply disturbing about ourselves? Just when you think you have heard the most bizarre example possible you read about this newest attempt to give bored folks something to do in their spare time that will give them an adrenalin rush and make them feel like they have actually accomplished something important. Apparently, participants get so worked up they have trouble sleeping the following night. It does give one pause.