Saturday, December 1, 2018

Senior Citizen Political Junkmail: The Social Security Roll Call

For reasons well beyond my understanding (that likely relate to Algorithms), I find myself on the receiving end of quite a bit of conservative political junk mail.  It's your bog standard "Trump is amazing, the Lib-ruhls are trying to ruin the country, give us money so we can stop them!" stuff.  But that's not all I get.

For even less comprehensible reasons, I receive junk mail (and spam phone calls) aimed at conservative seniors - your AARP, Social Security receiving, Medicare-covered folks.  And this stuff?  This stuff is just baffling.  I've decided to start documenting the worst of it, because if you haven't seen this stuff, it's just evilly manipulative and silly.


Your parents probably get mail like this.  Let's dive in and inspect it in detail.


On the Proper Pronunciation of "Liberal"

When receiving this sort of mail, you have to understand that the word "Liberal" is not a three-syllable word.  It's two - "Lib-Ruhl."  Pronounced with a combination of a snarl, a growl, and the sort of disgust you normally apply to discovering that your shoe is covered with the output product of a very large, slightly sick dog.  Discovered, of course, at the opposite end of your house from the entry door, stamped neatly across the carpet.

Here, we see your typical liberal (as understood by the target of this type of mail), reaching out to grab your {guns, retirement funds, unborn children, Social Security entitlements, Medicare, nation, morals, everything you care about}.  Note the evil gleam in their evil eyes as they evilly perform their evil acts of evil, the monstrous appearance, and the general otherworldly evil about them.

Also, the super-hipster tentacle beard, clearly being worn ironically.  Or non-ironically, whichever is worse at the moment.


Here, we don't see this phrase specifically, but it's implied with "Greedy politicians" - regardless of the actual reality of that term and who it might apply to.

The Roll Call

When you open the envelope, you're greeted with a somewhat oversize (seriously, this stuff is all gigantic paper, and I couldn't even fit it on my scanner) Roll Call of Social Security Recipients.  Very official.  To be completed by the addressee listed below.  You've got official numbers on the right in a splat box (it's not an asterisk, it's not a star, it's a splat, dagnabbit!).  The whole thing looks like it's printed on a Very Official Lined Letterhead, with a proper Dot Matrix Printer.  Except for the checkboxes.  You can read the questions, but for now, just soak in the attempted officiality of the document.  It's a very thick piece of paper as well.  They didn't skimp on their poll form.


The Leading Questions

These questions lead so hard, you might just fall over.  What's a leading question?  To borrow from Wikipediaa leading question is a question that suggests the particular answer or contains the information the examiner is looking to have confirmed.  Stuff like, "Can you describe for me the expression on Jennifer's face when you punched her?" (before it's been established that the subject under questioning did any punching), or "How mind-numbingly idiotic and harmful to America do you think Hillary Clinton's foreign policy 'proposals' are?"  It's the sort of stuff where the desired answer is part of the question - it's generally not permitted in courts, but on these requests-for-money-in-the-form-of-surveys?  They're on full, glorious display.

Let's take a look at Question 1.

As a Social Security recipient, are you concerned that your benefits will be decreased, or even disappear entirely, if there is no action taken to stop the government spending that's endangering the Social Security Trust Fund?

I'm not a Social Security recipient, nor, honestly, do I expect to be.  I'm not even 40, so clearly someone's marketing intelligence is wrong here.  The rest of the question?  Quite leading.  It takes, for granted, that the government spending is endangering the trust fund, and that one should be greatly concerned that benefits will be decreased (unlikely), or even disappear entirely (very unlikely)!  The far more likely situation of "benefits not keeping up with inflation" isn't offered as even a possibility.  Also, the slightest bit of concern that benefits might decrease requires a "Yes" answer.  Not very much room for nuance here.


Question 2 asks me (by name!) if I support the passage of H.R. 1218  The Social Security Lock-Box Act - a bill that protects Social Security from the spending of greedy politicians?  I mean, what can I say here?  We've established in Question 1 that government spending is endangering the Trust Fund, and here, we just move onto Greedy Politicians.

I mean, who wouldn't want to protect their Social Security from the spending of "greedy politicians"?


At no point in this mailing does one get any actual details on H.R. 1218, but Congress has a website with a few details.  Here's the summary:

To amend titles II and XVIII of the Social Security Act to establish a Social Security Surplus Protection Account in the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund to hold the Social Security surplus and a Medicare Surplus Protection Account in the Federal Hospital Insurance Trust Fund to hold the Medicare surplus, to provide for suspension of investment of amounts held in such Accounts until enactment of legislation providing for investment of the Trust Funds in investment vehicles other than obligations of the United States, and to establish a Social Security and Medicare Part A Investment Commission to make recommendations for alternative forms of investment of the Social Security and Medicare surpluses.

So... stockpile money away until someone figures out how to best invest it in the stock market, I think.  Can't say that sounds like the greatest idea to me, but we've already established I'm not the target market here.

On to Question 3.

Will you hold responsible any politician who votes against passage of H.R. 1212 - The Social Security Lock-Box Act?

Again, "hold responsible" means "kick out of office when you get the chance."  Primary, vote against... whatever.  Presumably, unless they're an otherwise upstanding model of model Republican values, at which point they would have voted for this act!  Or something like that.

But, really, this question doesn't matter.  We're almost to the meat of the survey - the main point.  The Big One (sorry, Alaska).  The Giant Burrito.  The Split Pea Fog.  The Main Meat.  The Grand Gopher.


Finally!  Question 4!

Russell, will you make a contribution today to help The Council for Retirement Security send Social Security Roll Call documents to concerned seniors across America?

YES, I am enclosing a donation of...

NO, I do not want to contribute today and I understand that this will prevent seniors from receiving roll call documents to help pass legislation that protects Social Security.

Wow.  Guilt trip with your survey, anyone?

The entire point of this particular envelope of junk mail is to get donations, so they can send out more junk mail.  To... uh, Social Security, something something Congress.  And just in case you think that's not the point, the included letter also makes it clear.  So, the whole point of this survey (just like the whole point of any of these so-called "surveys") is to get you to enclose a donation.  Usually, they're a bit less overt about the "If you don't donate, you're ruining the country" thing, but... here?  Nah.  Shameless, all the way.

Again, this is a thing that's been mailed out to an awful lot of people, and they want to mail it out to plenty more.


Then What?

What happens after you send in your survey with donation?  Well, just in case you thought they were going to toss it in a circular file, they have a personal guarantee on the back - which is either hysterically weasel worded, shows a complete lack of attention to detail, or is a subtle hint that without a donation your poll goes in the trash.

Emphasis mine, here.  Twice, "your signed poll" is mentioned.  Go back and look at the whole front page - see a place for a signature?  No?  That's because there isn't one.


The only place for a signature is on the back - in the "SECURE" credit card donation form.  You wouldn't want to put your credit card number just anywhere - you're supposed to only enter it in a secure form.  This is obviously secure - I mean, it says so in inverted emphasis!

That... theoretically, will be delivered to your Congressional representatives.  You can read the guarantee on the right for yourself, but, the way I see it, there are two options for returning the form:


  • If you include a check, or no donation, your form isn't signed, so it will be thrown out.
  • If you do have a "signed form," it's because you've written your credit card information on the back of the form - which will be delivered to members of Congress.  With your credit card information on the back and your address on the front.  I guess that's one way to fund things!

I can't say I find either of these options particularly appealing, but per the wording on the form, those are the choices you've got here.  Lose/Lose.


But Wait!  There's More!

The donation-request survey is bad enough - but there's still more.  There's a letter included.  Two pages, four sides, complete with "fake ink pen" to guide you to the highlights, and a reminder at the top to "Please read this letter within 24 hours."  Just in case you'd filled out the survey and hadn't read through the extra-bonus guilt trip.

Apparently, they need my answers, specifically - they're missing from their roll call!  They need my views on the biggest threat facing Social Security!  Mine!

Read through it.  It's manipulative, leading, somewhat poorly written crap, designed to get a donation.

When you get to the bottom, you've got a "handwritten" (printed) page number, and a reminder: "over, please."  It's important that you keep reading, because they haven't made their main point yet.


On page 2, we learn that it's MY Social Security Trust Fund, and that government IOUs are worthless.  They still have some value as long as the government continues rolling along, and if that doesn't happen, we have far bigger problems than Social Security.

The "ink" arrow here highlights the key, most important part of this letter: My $19 is urgently needed to send out 38 more pieces of unsolicited junk mail to other people, so they can send donations for yet more unsolicited junk mail!  I'm honestly surprised they didn't include the popular "exponential calculation" - if I send $19, and all of those 38 people send in $19, and all of those people send in $19, we can reach 54,000 seniors from your contribution alone*!

* Assuming everyone else obeys, of course.

We learn here that "greedy politicians have knowingly raided Social Security, using that money to finance wasteful spending sprees."  The ink again informs us that "They must be stopped!" - as if that weren't clear, already.  Apparently, we're supposed to imagine that politicians are just waltzing over to the Social Security Safe, helping themselves to stacks of $100s, and heading down to Vegas for some good old fashioned Coke and Tequila off hookers.  Or whatever the worst thing you can imagine politicians doing is.  Awful, awful stuff.  Definitely awful.

But, of course, there's more.  "Next page, please."


Ah, yes, the "Social Security is MY personal savings account for MY retirement" myth, in full glory.  And, again, "money in their pocket."  Just swiping your personal $100s to go do... something awful.  Maybe hire Joesph Stalin as the babysitter or something.

Again, more fake ink arrows, and the "over, please" request.


And, finally, the last page.  Remember how I said that "holding them responsible" meant "voting them out"?  Just in case you were unclear on that, "And it will show them that if they fail to take immediate action, you'll remember on Election Day - and vote them out of office."  And, again, "It's unacceptable!" in the commonly used fake ink pen.

Another request for a donation, saying that without my help, they can't spam 500k seniors with this crap, and a nice reminder of a 5 day deadline for a $19 donation.

P.S.  Just in case you forgot literally the last paragraph already, please send all this back within 5 days.  Your $19 donation.  To help send 500,000 pieces of junk mail to seniors.  Your $19 donation.  Within 5 days.  Ok, we're out of space on the page now, thank you!


My Response

I normally just send this stuff back with a "Please remove me from your mailing list" response and their own trash (it's amazing how much of my trash was junk mail at one point - sending it back at least makes it their problem).  This one?  I decided a better reply was in order.  A nice, actually handwritten reply.  Which, also, reminds me that I should re-learn cursive for stuff like this, and maybe use some lined paper as a guide.  You can see how little I hand-write stuff...

I really don't expect much in the way of social security.  The system probably won't totally collapse by then, but... if it does, well, no real surprise to me, and I'm trying to work around the edges to come up with ways of being self sufficient enough to deal with expected shocks.

I should have requested a donation from them to my retirement efforts (since my social security money goes into their pockets), but hopefully this gets me off their list.


Bonus Political Junkmail: A Trump Prayer Card

As a bonus example of the sort of nonsense I get in the mail, here's a prayer card out of a "Pray for Trump, oh, and send us money so we can send more of these things out..." bit of mail I've received.

I really don't have a problem with the concept - though the "And therefore send us money so we can send more of these out" thing is pretty worn out on me.

What I do have a problem with is the fact that, on the back of this card, they haven't bothered putting anything actually relevant to the rest of the package.  Is it that hard to get someone to write a reasonably generic, non-offensive prayer that's actually about the Trump family?  Apparently so.


Even if you don't like Trump at all, Matthew 5:44 suggests that praying for him would be a decent enough idea.  But the Lord's Prayer is just a lame cop-out here.

Final Thoughts

I'm not opposed to mail campaigns, but the increasing number of "Send us money so we can send junk mail to even more people!" requests I get in the mail is getting very, very old.  My attempts to cut down the torrent have been moderately successful, and having a box for flat stacked paper recycling has been well worth the space, but at some point, I wonder the wisdom of sending endless streams of paper to people who are just annoyed by it.  On the other hand, I do appreciate them funding the postal service (and I do my best to help by sending back just about every business reply envelope that comes in the house).

On the other hand, my daughter is getting an increasing number of pennies and nickels from the mail - it's now a common tactic to send a coin or two and request them back, along with, of course, another donation.  And I have enough return address labels to last me decades.

If I had a wood stove (which I will, eventually, have), I'd consider turning all of this into paper bricks and using them to heat the house.  For now, they just end up in recycling (or in the business return envelopes).

But, sadly, I'm not the type of person who wakes up every morning to their Trump shrine, rich from the stock market, outraged about the way the nation is going, just waiting, waiting for some worthy cause to give my money to.  I mean, I think the nation is on the way down, like any empire past it's peak, but I see Trump not as a cause, but as a symptom of the decline already well under way.

I'm actually considering a separate blog project to document all the political junk mail I get in 2019 and 2020, because it should be entertaining going into an election year.  I guarantee most of it will be the sort of extreme conservative stuff this is!  Anyone interested in that project?

2 comments:

  1. Paper bricks? I'm intrigued.

    Actually, I think trying to find a network of folks from all over the US to document the political junk mail might be quite an interesting project. Just from a purely historical perspective, since I doubt much or any of it gets saved anywhere, even in libraries. Maybe we should make it a law that every political video/ad/junk mail needs to have a copy submitted to the Library of Congress along with who paid for it and who produced it and such. Add the LoC doing a nice metadata/searchable stuff, and even your local elections might reveal some pretty interesting things about people.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Paper bricks are something like this: https://dengarden.com/home-improvement/How-I-make-quick-and-easy-Newspaper-Bricks-for-burning-in-my-fire

      I don't have a biomass heater for the house yet, so they're of limited use to me right now. But, eventually, I'll probably heat with junk mail.

      If I create a separate junk mail blog, it's easy enough to add submitters to it. Interested in posting junk mail?

      Delete

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