Friday, April 11, 2014

Debtor Dynasties

 (Updated below)

The Kochs and the Waltons have their patrimonial dynasties.

The Bushes and the Clintons have their political dynasties.

And just so we won't feel left out, we regular folk have been gifted with our very own debtor dynasties.

Now that the deficit hawks and the plutocrats who own them have been at least temporarily rebuffed in their quest to trim (Democrats) and slash (Republicans) the safety net, the poobahs have decreed that we are now responsible for our ancestors' alleged Social Security overpayments, even if they date back to the last century.

So, if you were hoping for an income tax refund this year and you were orphaned as long ago as the 60s, and your surviving parent or guardian had collected survivor benefits to feed and clothe you, the government just might try to claw some of that money back. They don't even have to supply you with any proof of overpayment. They don't have to obey the various laws exempting children from the debts of their deceased parents. They just keep the money you were counting on to feed and clothe yourself and your own children.

Marc Fisher of the Washington Post has the whole unbelievable story:
A few weeks ago, with no notice, the U.S. government intercepted Mary Grice’s tax refunds from both the IRS and the state of Maryland. Grice had no idea that Uncle Sam had seized her money until some days later, when she got a letter saying that her refund had gone to satisfy an old debt to the government — a very old debt.
When Grice was 4, back in 1960, her father died, leaving her mother with five children to raise. Until the kids turned 18, Sadie Grice got survivor benefits from Social Security to help feed and clothe them.
Now, Social Security claims it overpaid someone in the Grice family — it’s not sure who — in 1977. After 37 years of silence, four years after Sadie Grice died, the government is coming after her daughter. Why the feds chose to take Mary’s money, rather than her surviving siblings’, is a mystery.
All told, writes Fisher, almost $2 billion in refunds have been intercepted by the Treasury this year alone. Very old alleged debts account for $75 million of the confiscated money. And it's all the result of a sneaky little rider tucked into the Farm Bill three years ago. You remember the Farm Bill, the latest version of which cut several billion dollars from the food stamp budget? And which President Obama glowingly touted as shrinking the deficit? (along with shrinking millions of stomachs from lack of food.)

According to the Post, not one government official was willing to take credit for confiscating tax refunds from those hard-working Americans. Obama, though, loves to praise people for their "grit and resilience," for having no choice but to accept those euphemistic hard choices. I hope somebody asks him about this, newly fresh as he is from his Texas speech where he praised himself as the human culmination of LBJ's Civil Rights legislation. I would like to hear about the discrepancy between his civil rights and those of Ms. Grice (she is black) and thousands like her.

Ironically, she works for the federal government (Food and Drug Administration), so this is pretty much a quadruple whammy for her. First, Obama froze her pay. Then, Obama instituted the Insider Threat program requiring her co-workers to turn her in if she has personal or financial problems. Third, she was furloughed last year when the government shut down. And now, the government is taking back nearly $3,000 of her hard-earned money in order to satisfy a debt that may or may not be valid. Luckily, she has a lawyer to sue on her behalf. Whether she is now considered a threat for talking to the press is another story.

Update: Ms. Grice's senator is shocked, shocked at this travesty she knew nothing about, and has hastened to write a strongly-worded letter to the Social Security Administration requesting that their conscience be their guide in future generational thefts. 

Update 2: The Social Security Administration dug deep and located the remnants of its moral compass. I say remnants because due to popular outcry, it will only "suspend" clawing back from survivors alleged over-payments to deceased relatives pending a more thorough review, and only for alleged debts less than 10 years old. So your parent or guardian received payments on your behalf after 2003, you're still on the hook if the government says you are. It's a good thing this is an election year -- that miraculous time when congress critters get all interested in doing stuff for their constituents, and clamoring for press time to brag about same.


Fred Drumlevitch said...

Off-(specific)-topic, but yet two more examples of governmental arrogance and idiocy:

First of all, the state of Maine in its moronic "wisdom" now decrees that poor people shouldn't get effective pain management:

While this AP-originated story is slanted to emphasize the benefit of reducing opioid painkiller abuse, the fact remains that these substances are very effective painkillers (as has been recognized for millennia), and this current "management" of abuse is being done on the backs of non-abusers with a legitimate need for these substances. From the story:

"Unlike past state efforts to cut painkiller use, the new guidelines require patients with lasting pain to use smaller doses and to try physical therapy, chiropractic work or pain acceptance therapy. Maine's new rules limit patients to painkillers for just two weeks a year, allowing renewal in two-week intervals with special permission. Patients with chronic pain lasting beyond eight weeks fall into a different category and are required to try alternative treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy and chiropractic for pain relief."

While they are apparently making exceptions for cancer, AIDS, and other "end-of-life" conditions, I would still label their restrictive policies as bullshit. Government is 1) preventing effective medical care, 2) effectively punishing non-abusers, and 3) disproportionately harming the poor.

Another example of governmental arrogance and stupidity affecting medical treatment:

From a story in today's NYT: "The New York Police Department routinely performs warrant checks on shooting victims. If an outstanding warrant is found, the police generally handcuff and shackle the victim, often for the whole hospital stay, no matter how minor the underlying offense or how grievous the injuries."

The story starts with an example of a shooting victim who while hospitalized spent more than a week shackled "all because of an unpaid $25 fine for possessing a cup of wine in public". Many even more outrageous examples are contained in this story, as well as asinine rationalization by police and city officials.

This is insane.

James F Traynor said...

Insane? I am insane; you are insane; he, she or it are insane; we are insane; you (pl.) are insane; they are insane. How do you like them apples?

Jay - Ottawa said...

About the snow and cold of this past winter, Canadians will say, tongue in cheek: “It builds character, eh?” According to Fred’s report, the attitude seems to have morphed a bit, sans the humor, and seeped into Maine: “Tough it out; pain builds character.”

At first the PTB were happy to guide us into wasting years before the TV. Then the distractions of smart phones and iPads took over.

More distraction is still needed because too many of us continue to fuss about real issues. The unrelenting complainers, we precious few, come, in great part, from the cohort that is over the hill. So here’s the PTB’s latest solution: let the sick and the old folks suffer a bit more. How about an austerity front on pain meds? Fits right into the war on drugs. And it builds character. Most of all, from the view of serious people in state (and national?) capitals, such an austerity measure will keep the troublemakers tied down in the distraction of their own afflictions. Be it resolved then that the science of pain relief must be rationed.

I have another issue to report. Drum roll, please. Might even be a scoop. TAFTA (the Transatlantic Free Trade Area) will be signed into law within the next 50 days by the European Union with the USA. Don’t ask for a documentary source; I and others have wasted an afternoon googling for confirmation. The press in Europe seems to be under a gag order on the topic.

Provincial citizen groups in France have been fighting TAFTA ever since hints of it were in the air. The common people there know, as we should, they will be hurt by supranational corporations calling the tune to sovereign states once the document is signed.

The press on this side of the pond is also mum and playing dumb. Apparently, from inside the European Committee of 15, which has the power to act for all of the EU, information has been leaked to European protesters to bolster their puny campaigns against TAFTA. Bonne chance, mes amis! And may I congratulate those lucky 15 who are about to be numbered among the nouveau riche.

Remember, you heard it first here –– I mean from over there –– TAFTA will be signed into law between the US and the EU in about 50 days.

Pearl said...

Not long ago there was an article in the NYTimes and other media which I have been unable to find, that people who had chronic illnesses and were not improving, were to be cut off from physical care from health care providers in their homes or possibly retirement establishments paid from government coffers. This must have had a strong response as not long after this report this decision was rescinded I hope. The fact that these people who were not improving would deteriorate without the care they were receiving or feel abandoned was of no interest to the decision makers. They only made their plans depending on the dollars that could be saved and to Hell with the suffering of many people, mostly the elderly that would result.
There is evidently a great deal of confusion regarding care for chronically ill people, especially the elderly who cannot afford private help or have relatives available and which involve rising costs that may force decisions to the detriment of the patients. I will look into this further, but it chills the blood to read comments like Fred's today in Sardonicky. It is only going to get worse in our uncompassionate society.

Zee said...


What, exactly, is “unbelievable” about the WaPo's story about our Federal government visiting the (alleged) sins of the parent on a daughter randomly selected for punishment from among five otherwise-equal siblings?

As a long-time observer of the lunacy of our burgeoning Federal (and State) governments and their mindless bureauracies, the only thing that I find surprising about the WaPo story is that the Feds haven't dug up ol' Gramma Sadie Grice's grave and tried to pull the gold fillings from her teeth to recover her (alleged) debt to Social Security.

Or maybe they already have done so, and they just aren't telling poor Mary Grice, in the hope of getting away with some “double-dipping.”

Hell, the employee who dreamed up this legal subterfuge has probably earned some sort of “Quality Award” for her/his cleverness, and is hoisting a celebratory glass of wine in a hot-tub in some hotel in Vegas even as I write this.

But far be it from me to suggest that the bigger the government, the bigger and more anonymous the bureaucracy (and its bureaucrats) will necessarily be, and the more likely these “unbelievable” events will be to take place.

After all, if we just had perfect people in all the right places in a perfectly “checked-and-balanced” government and bureaucracy, all would be, well...perfect...wouldn't it?

I'm ready to hear how government and its bureacracy can grow, but corruption and bureaucratic mindlessness can be reduced at the same time, recognizing all along the way that people are—and will remain for the foreseeable future—flawed human beings.

Zee said...

@Fred, @Jay and et al. --

In keeping with my previous post, what's so very new about penny-pinching bureaucrats denying painkillers to those in serious, chronic pain without adequate “proof” of enduring pain?

That's been going on for years, especially in the United Kingdom, that model of uniform health care for everyone:

(Keep a stiff upper lip, keep moving, take some Ibuprofen, and all will be well...)

And on this side of the Big Pond...;

“[P]hysical therapy, chiropractic work or pain acceptance therapy[?]” as substitutes for medication that works?

Well, excuse ME!

Sorry, but “chiropracters” are charlatans, and “pain acceptance therapy” is just a convenient way of saying, “Sorry, but we can't afford—or be bothered—to treat you. Get used to it.”

And IMHO (and based on personal experience), “physical therapists” are mostly sadists, paid to tell the “patient” that he/she is just not working hard enough to get well—or, at least—he/she should just stop whining and get a grip.

I know from personal experience that OxyContin works for serious lower back pain, and that it can be “quit” immediately when the time comes. So leave it up to me and my doctor—and not some City/State/Fed bureaucrat—to decide if/when I really need it.

I also know that I will never allow myself to be treated again by a Physician's Assistant in the E-Room—or anyplace else—when I'm in crippling agony (and then, on a double dose of morphine), and the asshole sends me home with a day's worth of hydrocodone and tells me to come back tomorrow if I'm still in pain.

At E-Room rates, of course.


Thank God I found a Real Doctor the next day.

Bonnie said...

Just found this article this morning, and was shocked.

Bernie Sanders Exposes Koch Brothers' Goals

I had NO idea!

Will said...

Thanks for the link, Bonnie. The Koch brothers are just so darn adorable, huh? I bet they're really fun at parties!

Jay - Ottawa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jay - Ottawa said...

Several items on the Koch brothers’ Want List stand to be enabled soon enough through the backdoor of giant-sized trade treaties. Lots of Americans don’t like what they’ve heard about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). It would give multinational corporations authority to overrule the labor, civil rights and environmental laws of about thirty nation states –– all the likely signatories within TTIP’s Transatlantic Free Trade Area (TAFTA). TTIP would be to Europe and North America what the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) may become for trading nations along the Pacific Rim.

My very own secret agent man –– well OK, just a friend who happens to be a French citizen –– went to the website of the European Union (EU) in search of solid information about the proposed TTIP treaty. He found the glittering generalities quoted below, which may or may not be an open door to source information, or a layer of Cool Whip hiding manure. The weeks immediately ahead will tell.

“The European Union is based on the rule of law. This means that every action taken by the EU is founded on treaties that have been approved voluntarily and democratically by all EU member countries. For example, if a policy area is not cited in a treaty, the Commission cannot propose a law in that area.

“A treaty is a binding agreement between EU member countries. It sets out EU objectives, rules for EU institutions, how decisions are made and the relationship between the EU and its member countries.

“Treaties are amended to make the EU more efficient and transparent, to prepare for new member countries and to introduce new areas of cooperation – such as the single currency.

“Under the treaties, EU institutions can adopt legislation, which the member countries then implement. The complete texts of treaties, legislation, case law and legislative proposals can be viewed using the EUR-Lex database of EU law .”

Days ago rumors began to circulate about TTIP’s multinational-inspired dictates and the likelihood of a snap exchange of final signatures –– “within 50 days” –– between the EU and the USA. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, the mainstream media of Europe seem to be operating under a gag order concerning TTIP/TAFTA.

So, before quitting the EU website, my friend put three questions on the EU contact board. In light of the EU’s democratic facade and its touted transparency, he should soon receive the desired detail about the TTIP/TAFTA treaty.

“1. Would you send me the full text of the TTIP/TAFTA treaty, or the latest working draft?

“2. Can you provide names and addresses for the fifteen-member EU Commission who will sign the TTIP/TAFTA treaty with their US counterparts?

“3. Exactly when will the treaty will be signed?”

I and many others are on the edge of our chairs waiting for the EU Commission’s reply.

Anyone out there know where I might send a comparable set of questions to the American side of these TTIP/TAFTA negotiations?

Pearl said...

Thanks to Bernie Sanders and Bonnie for exposing the detailed plans of the Koch bunch. Since Bernie is the only important Progressive speaking out (where are all the ones that lost their seats in the last elections?), we
owe him some kind of allegiance and support for trying to start the ball rolling.

> Truthout had an interesting item worth reading plus another a commentor had written previously regarding why there seems to be no organized revolt to what is happening. Since it will be awhile before anything gets going, we
had better push harder with information to the masses.
"Why no Sustained Protests? (Yet) by Wolff in Truthout

> "To revive left protest on a scale comparable to the 1930s would require rebuilding the multiple, complex layers of connection among diverse > components of the left "
For a communist answer to this question (with 15 very interesting comments to this column).

Knowledge must become our strong weapon now. Pearl

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

First, to address Karen's post: I wonder if the pullback on pain killers is because they are so darned expensive. Since Shrub (AKA Bush Jr.)signed a dirty deal with Big Pharma stating Medicare would be unable to negotiate with Big Pharma for discounts, Medicare is paying full price for all the pharmaceuticals it provides. No surprise these costs are unsustainable and now the government is looking for a way to rein in the costs.

Second, and related to Jay Ottawa's comment - the TPP (Transpacific Partnership) - the sibling of the TAFTA - is being protested heavily by Doctors without Borders because under both agreements, Big Pharma will be able to extend the patents on all its drugs - even past 20 years - and worse, it will be able to go back and repatent drugs where patents have expired and generics are being used in developing countries - and probably in the U.S. as well.

I am very discouraged about Jay-Ottawa's information. If TAFTA is a done deal, the TPP is on its heels. This means that needed medicines will become even more unaffordable for many of us.

When will people wake up to what is going on? And when will Democrats recognize how complicit Obama is in this march away from democracy?

Zee said...

@Bonnie and @All--

I went to the "Crooks and Liars" site, and then on to Bernie Sanders own "" site,

where I found the same 1980 Libertarian Party recited.

Now, nothing in the 1980 LP platform would surprise me, even if I personally find it insane as quoted, but I can't find any original source cited by Sanders (or by "Crooks and Liars") that I seem to have any hope of examining to verfiy his claim, other than his "word," of course.

If you can shed any light on the source of this platform, I would appreciate it, because NO politician's word is worth much to me these days.

Bonnie said...

Zee, I wish I had more info, but didn't find anything either...sorry.

Zee said...


Thanks for looking further.