Dec 11, 2013
Kucinich Says Obama Got the Deal He Wanted
Posted on Aug 4, 2011
Robert Scheer: Yeah. So … I guess I’ll get to … you’ve been around Washington; you’re around politics. How did Social Security come into play? We know that the Social Security fund has been, they’ve borrowed from it to cover the Treasury obligations. How did it get put on the table, and is this some sort of red herring issue?
Virginia Reno: Well, it is a real confusion, between the fundamental separate purpose of Social Security and its separate status and separate funding. And historically, throughout most of the 75 years of Social Security, when it needed attention there was appointed an advisory council on Social Security, and its job was to look at Social Security and say, what do we need to make this a good retirement, disability and life-insurance program? Does it cost too much, are the benefits adequate or inadequate, is the coverage right, do we have it right? It was never discussed as part of ‘we have to reduce budget deficits in the rest of the budget.’
Robert Scheer: So this is just a political football right now?
Virginia Reno: Well, it’s become a different framing of the issue, and one that confuses many policymakers, and I think the American public is very confused by it.
Virginia Reno: Well, it is argued that it’s a more accurate measure of the cost of living for consumers on average. But the evidence from the same sources shows it is not more accurate for seniors, or for people with disabilities, because they spend a larger share of their budget on health care. And health care is rising faster in price than most other consumer goods. So in fact, if you had a special consumer price index just for the elderly—and there is one, on an experimental basis—it rises faster than the index that’s used for the cost of living adjustment.
Robert Scheer: So what is presented as a neutral, obviously scientific thing to do by some economists, by some politicians, talk show people—oh, no, this is just a more accurate way of measuring the cost of living increase—in fact it’s not. It doesn’t really, it’s not fair …
Virginia Reno: It’s not more accurate for the beneficiaries.
Robert Scheer: No, and that’s who we’re talking about [laughs] …
Virginia Reno: Right.
Robert Scheer: … after all, the whole point about cost of living increase is how are prices affecting the people that we’re talking about. So let me ask you, do you feel a sense of frustration that this program, this incredibly successful program, is now being questioned in this unscientific way?
Virginia Reno: Well, I think the more important question—it’s good to hear that some people are asking the right questions. And I guess I find a sense of optimism only in the sense of when we ask the American people what they think, the good news for policymakers is that Americans value Social Security and they’re willing to pay for it. That’s true across party lines—Democrats, Republicans and Independents say they don’t mind paying for Social Security because they value what it does for their families and for millions of other people that depend on it. And across age groups, when workers are posed a choice—would you rather pay more than see future benefits cut—they say we’d rather pay more. That’s large majorities in both cases. So the American people are behind the program; they understand it, and it is unfortunate that it’s getting tangled up in the budget-deficit debate when in truth, it should be set aside and evaluated so that it remains in balance as a solid system without getting tangled up in the rest of the budget.
Robert Scheer: Right. And for the very reason you mentioned—people know it’s a great program; they know it helps every family; as I’ve said before, it helps the young, because you don’t have to worry so much about your grandparents; it helps their children …
Virginia Reno: Absolutely.
Robert Scheer: So people know that across the country. The way that they’re attacking Social Security, though—and this unfortunately includes even the White House, includes the Democrats, there’s some Democrats as well as Republicans—is they’re saying they’re saving Social Security by doing these things. And I, for the life of me, don’t understand what needs to be saved at this time, when the Treasury still borrows from the Social Security trust fund rather than the other way around.
Virginia Reno: Well, Social Security can’t borrow; it has no legal authority to borrow. So it’s absolutely true that changes will be needed over the long term to keep it in balance for 75 years, but even as you pointed out, the 75 year forecast—it’s 100 percent solvent for the next 25 years, it’s 90 percent solvent for the next 50 years, and it’s 87 percent solvent for 75 years. So it’s a long way there, but some modest changes—if the forecasts don’t change in the next decades—some changes will be needed.
Robert Scheer: Well, Virginia Reno, I want to thank you. I wish we could get you on prime time television to make this clear. I mean, I just think it’s one of the most unfair attacks on the most successful program we’ve ever had in this country, and I applaud you for trying to enlighten us on that. So thank you, again, for Truthdig Radio and Pacifica.
Virginia Reno: Well, thank you for inviting me. It’s been great talking with you.
Howie Stier: This is Howie Stier, reporter for Truthdig.com. Faced with diminishing productions and fewer roles in Hollywood, one visionary actor decided to create his own role: part Fitzcarraldo, Werner Herzog’s crackpot visionary who was bent on building an opera house in the middle of the Peruvian rainforest, and part Mr. Keating, the role Robin Williams played in “Dead Poets Society,” the teacher who exhorted his students to make their lives extraordinary. Our guest today has produced the first Shakespeare production in Iraq—and arguably, in doing so, has done more for American cultural diplomacy than the U.S. State Department programs have. We have in the studio today Peter Friedrich of L.A.’s Circle X Theatre, and now head of the drama and film department and senior lecturer in fine arts at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani. Thanks for being here, Peter.
Peter Friedrich: Thanks, Howie.
Howie Stier: You decided to give up L.A. and acting and the life of an actor, and access to all the bars and restaurants, to go to Iraq.
Peter Friedrich: [laughs] Yeah, you know, I was looking at different things; my friends know for a while I was doing a little career roulette. In the years after 9/11 I was on the eligibility list for the fire department; I was, I guess one acting role I was hanging on to is trying to be a member of Blue Man Group, and went to New York a few times for that, but never quite could close it out. And then I started reading about this new university in Iraq; there was an article in The New York Times. And a couple months later, off I went.
Howie Stier: Now, you went to the university after pitching the academics there with the notion of teaching drama. You’ve spent your whole life studying drama, teaching drama; you were teaching drama at City College of Los Angeles.
Peter Friedrich: I was teaching English at City College of Los Angeles.
Howie Stier: But your background is in the theater…
Peter Friedrich: Yes, it is.
Howie Stier: You’re a Shakespearean?
Peter Friedrich: Yeah, I went to American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. I’ve done classical and contemporary plays, here in L.A. mostly, with Circle X Theatre Company.
Howie Stier: So what was the reaction when you proposed this idea of teaching?
Peter Friedrich: There was a lot of interest. The pitch went great. They wanted to start right away.
Howie Stier: Now, you go to Iraq, and then what happens?
Peter Friedrich: They had no memory of what I was talking about.
Howie Stier: They needed an English teacher.
Peter Friedrich: I’m pretty sure they did.
Howie Stier: So how did you develop interest, then, in the theater, and how did it go forward?
Peter Friedrich: Well, I guess at first it was just about hanging on and, you know, doing the job that was really needed as opposed to my own sort of Dead-Poets-Society-in-Iraq dream about what I’d be doing there. And then eventually, you know, you start bonding with the students; you start becoming a family; and then, actually, the part about cultivating interest—that’s not hard at all. But getting something physically on its feet once it’s really crunch time, to get in front of everyone on stage—that’s, that was unbelievably hard.
Howie Stier: Now, who are your students at the University of Iraq?
Peter Friedrich: Students come from all over the country; they’re all Iraqis. They come from the north, the south; there’s rich and poor; it’s a very, very diverse student body.
Howie Stier: But many of them are very affluent …
Peter Friedrich: I would not say—I would say the majority are not; there are certainly some who are. If you were at the university with me tomorrow, I don’t know … I guess in a class of 20 you’d probably think three or four were really wealthy, 10 were really poor and the rest were in the middle.
Howie Stier:OK. But these are the future leaders of Iraq, and …
Peter Friedrich: I certainly think so, yeah.
Howie Stier:… and it’s a very selective college.
Peter Friedrich: Yes.
Howie Stier: You told me earlier, their idea of American theater is “Titanic.” They like “Titanic.”
Peter Friedrich: Yes. [laughs] Anything with acting or drama or even love, yeah—you know, “Titanic” … the theme to “Titanic” is playing in every taxi around town.
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