America's Pension Crisis -- Where's the Rage?

02/21/2011 02:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We should all be inspired by the breathtaking speed that protests against repressive regimes are spreading across the Middle East. It's amazing how the power of the Internet has enabled these heroes to galvanize the public to take their countries back from the dictators.

At the same time, it saddens me that there has been no uprising in the U.S., with the exception of the phony-baloney Tea Partiers ranting about high taxes.

While the American public appears to be divided over whether unions should have generous wages and pensions as they do in Wisconsin, they are remarkably complacent when it comes to their own pension poverty. While I don't blame people for being angry about subsidizing public sector pensions that start at age 50 why don't they mind that they will probably have to work into their 80s? Most likely because their employers aren't required to deliver this bad news and the media hasn't covered this fact until Saturday's front page Wall Street Journal article.

Why is nobody up in arms that the mortgage mess won't be remedied anytime soon, thanks to lobbying by the financial dis-services industry? I'm sure that's why Elizabeth Warren was forced to selected leaders of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, who are "more friendly to the financial industry," than to borrowers, according to the Wall Street Journal. The result: we taxpayers will continue to be on the hook for future bank bailouts.

It didn't take long for the newly-elected Tea Party members of Congress to get cozy with K Street, where many lobbyists have their offices in D.C.. As pointed out in Business Week, according to the Sunlight Foundation, nearly one-fifth of the 87 new Republican House members held fundraisers from lobbyists -- as opposed to the constituents who elected them -- in early February. "A lot of members did say they were coming to Washington to change it," Sunlight editorial director Bill Allison told Business Week. "It's very hard to change it when you are sitting down with the kinds of lobbyists who are interested in keeping the status quo."

Cozying up with lobbyists isn't simply an easy way to pay off your campaign bills, it ensures you a job as a lobbyist in the event that your constituents throw you and other bums out of office. As I pointed out in my book, America, Welcome to the Poorhouse, this revolving door strategy was dreamed up in 1995 by then-House Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas and conservative activist Grover Norquist, calling it the "K Street Project." The idea: Republicans would take over the big lobbying firms as successfully as they already had taken hold of the House of Representatives. As a result, between 1998 and 2004 some 42% of former House members and 50% of former senators became registered lobbyists.

For that reason, don't be surprised that even if we're lucky enough to see Sen. Richard Shelby and House Majority Leader John Boehner get thrown out of office they will likely end up with cushy jobs lobbying for the financial dis-services industry. That will be the payback for Shelby, who, as chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee opposed credit card reform and a Bush administration proposal for mortgage reform. Bankers and real estate interests thanked him with nearly $2 million in contributions in 2007-2008, ranking him fourth in the Senate. He is also King of Earmarks, having sponsored or co-sponsored 66 earmarks totaling more than $173 million in fiscal year 2010 alone, ranking 19th. And in Boehner's previous job as chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee student loan-industry officials got him to draft legislation that would prevent borrowers from locking in a low fixed interest rate, along with making it more difficult to extend payment terms.

Comedian Lewis Black famously said that the Republicans were the party of bad ideas and the Democrats of no ideas. Those of us who consider ourselves progressives need to get off our butts and take this country back.