Get Your Blog Up

“This administration is populated by people who’ve spent their careers bashing government. They’re not just small-government conservatives—they’re Grover Norquist, strangle-it-in-the-bathtub conservatives. It’s a cognitive disconnect for them to be able to do something well in an arena that they have so derided and reviled all these years.”

Senator Hillary Clinton

Monday, January 31, 2005

The "crisis" takes a step back

Bad news for the President and his "private" associates from the CBO. Social Security's timeline for destruction had just gotten a little bit longer:
The Social Security system will take in more money annually than it pays out in benefits until 2020, two years later than earlier estimated, the Congressional Budget Office reported Monday in a modest change unlikely to alter the growing political debate over the program.

Congress' budget analysts also estimated the program's trust funds will be depleted in 2052, "meaning that beneficiaries will be able to count on receiving only 78 percent of their scheduled benefits beginning then.

"After the trust funds are exhausted, Social Security spending cannot exceed annual revenues," the analysts said. "As a consequence ... benefits paid will be 22 percent lower than the scheduled benefits."

In both cases, the CBO estimates are more optimistic than the most recent projections made by the Social Security Board of Trustees. In the annual report it issued last March, the board said annual income would fall behind benefit payments beginning in 2018, and the trust funds would be empty in 2042.

You read that right. The iceberg Social Security was heading for just got smaller as it moves farther into the future. Two years added until the trust fund dip, and ten years added to the solvency of the trust fund. That cannot bode well for the Bush "privatization" plan regardless of what anyone claims.

I wonder how long it will take the private account backers to get used to the new numbers?

Media "Private account" watch for Monday, Jan 31

Sorry for the absence yesterday, but I've been working nights the past few days and I really needed to catch up on real world things. We now continue with the White House's request to remove "private accounts" from the world at large.

We start in Arizona, where The Arizona Republic is clearly not in President Bush's corner. Writing about the state of the Union address, Billy House notes:
Bush's plan to overhaul Social Security and introduce private accounts into the retirement system, which he described as the centerpiece of his speech and which he hopes can be passed in five months, also is on the defensive.

It's not clear if it's on the defensive because of the name change or the fact that it's just a bad idea.

This article in the Indianapolis Star frets about the impact of Bush's attempt to derail Social Security not just on the elder, but the state's economy as well. They hate it so much, they refer to "personal accounts" twice, and "public accounts" only once. One red state that has no love, it seems.

Finally, Jill Barton of the Associated Press squeezes in a few "privates" in her article on Bill Nelson (Sen(D)-Fl) and his opposition to Bush's plan. Oddly, so does Republican Rep. Mark Foley:
"The idea that we're going to give people their money and say, 'Good luck, hope you can manage it,' that's not the case," Foley said. "I would not vote for a privatization account that allows the individual to be able to micromanage their own accounts, subject to the vagaries of the market."

Guess he has yet to see the playbook (PDF, kinda large).

That's it. Striking huh? In all fairness, most articles in the days past have been about Iraqi elections and their impact on the world, and lead ups to the State of the Union. Stay tuned, however, for more.

Social Security's not for investing

While getting ready to tally up the media's "private account" watch for the day, I stumbled up this op-ed piece in the Palm Beach Post by Tom Blackburn. He closes:
Now, about the "return on investment" in Social Security. Write this on the blackboard: It's not an investment plan. It's not an investment plan. It's not an investment plan.

It's a social safety net. The people who do worst with it are the ones who drop dead from a heart attack at their retirement party before they collect the first dollar. It doesn't matter what color they are. They get no personal gain. But they do get to live in a society where old age isn't instant poverty, where working-age people are not the sole support of both their children and their aged parents and where people who outlive their savings don't simply lie down in a ditch to die. They've paid for the privilege of living in a civilization even if it doesn't give them an impressive bank account to impress their relatives when they die.

To sell the gamble of shifting money into individual accounts, Mr. Bush has tried fear — Social Security will run out of money before you can get what you're entitled to. He has tried greed — personal accounts will give you pie in the sky. Last week, he shamelessly played the race card. He is using every emotional appeal in the pitchman's book to stampede the public and Congress into buying what he wants to do before he says what he wants to do.

He sold his tax cuts and was surprised by deficits. He sold his war and was surprised by the human and material costs of occupation. Now he is selling his Social Security program. This time, only a twice-burned bumpkin would settle for skipping over the details before the vote.

Well put.

Why so obstructionist?

So I guess the lesson Democrats should take from Daschle's campaign is: Try to avoid being labeled an "obstructionist" if you're running against a strong candidate in a state that votes overwhelmingly Republican and you happen to be leading your party's Senate caucus, keeping in mind that whether or not you succeed has very little to do with your actual behavior in office. Needless to say, I'm not sure how relevant this lesson is to Democrats thinking through their positions on Social Security privatization.

Oh, there's more...

I love a good Powerline fisking

Thanks, TBogg!

Privatization problems for Jeb, too

It runs in the family:
Rocked by scandals and shoddy results, Gov. Jeb Bush's drive to turn over many state services and millions of taxpayer dollars to private companies appears certain to be slowed by the state's newly minted Republican leaders.

House Speaker Allan Bense of Panama City and Senate President Tom Lee of Brandon say they will put the brakes on privatization efforts this year, a sudden shift away from what has been a cornerstone of Florida government since Bush took office six years ago.

For the governor, the move also may darken prospects for his latest major initiative -- a dramatic plan to overhaul Medicaid by giving private managed-care companies more control of health coverage for 2.3 million poor, elderly and disabled Floridians.

Another Republican casts his doubts

Financial Times:
Richard Shelby, chairman of the Senate banking committee, has become the latest senior Republican to cast doubt over the prospect of passing Social Security reform - one of President George W. Bush's top priorities for his second term in office.

Speaking to business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Mr Shelby said that his own priority as banking committee chairman would be to secure legislation establishing a tougher regulatory regime for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the giant government-owned corporations that support housing finance.

He also suggested that Congress might be sympathetic to business requests for a renewal of government reinsurance for terrorism cover, even though the White House is against renewal.

On Social Security reform however, Mr Shelby said "a lot of people in the Republican caucus" were "nervous about it".

Opinion polls showing a majority of Americans against reform of Social Security were taking their toll on Republican morale.

"I have seen some polls recently and they do not look good," he said.

Fact vs Fiction vs Fact

On the 29th of January I mentioned that Republicans would soon be ratcheting up the rhetoric on the Social Security front:
Representative Bill Thomas of California, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, discussed redirecting public attention on 2008 as an imminent danger point for the Social Security trust fund because baby boomers will begin retiring, people present said.

From an ABC News article today (my bold):
The chatter surrounding Social Security reform heated up this week as President Bush and the administration began making their case for privatizing the nation's retirement benefits system. With the impending retirement of millions of baby boomers, beginning as early as 2008, the Social Security system faces funding deficits over the next 40 years that could force lawmakers to raise taxes, lower benefits or take money out of the general budget to keep pace with the country's aging population.

And there it is, dropped neatly into the opening graph on an article about sorting out Social Security fact from fiction. If this date continues to pop up in stories like this one, it's going to be hard to keep people from believing it. A Republican talking piece is one thing, but a news report using it is another thing entirely.

Otherwise, it's a fairly poor piece, biased toward the President's side of things (as you could imagine with the 2008 reference). It does, however, point out that a tax hike of less than one percent on workers and business will, in essence, solve Bush's fake "crisis."

But it fumbles on a number of points:
(quoting Bush) "You realize that the system of ours is going to be short — the difference between obligations and money coming in — by about $11 trillion unless we act."

This is the biggest and one of the most controversial numbers the president has been using to make his case. First, some perspective on that number: $11 trillion is the size of the annual GDP of the U.S. economy! What the president is suggesting is that unless Congress acts now, Americans will have to make up a shortfall equal to the entire U.S. economy. It's unlikely this shortfall will ever occur. It's an estimate of the gap between promised benefits and revenues to pay for them if the government does nothing between now and the end of time.

Wow, how misleading! First off, there is no reference to the basis for that number, which would be if Social Security managed to meet only the meager projection set out by the agency forever. It's an infinite projection. If Social Security outlasts the earth and the universe, then we will hit that $11 trillion dollar shortfall.

Secondly, and I wish I had more of an economic background for this one, I'm not sure that the "annual GDP of the U.S. economy" and the "entire U.S. economy" are two different things. I'll report back with a more definitive answer later.

Also when mentioning historic rates of return it fails to mention that most people believe that the stock market will not be able to maintain it's historically strong growth due to it's recent steep rise. Stocks were either undervalued in the past, or they are overvalued now. If the later is true, there is even more risk to the private investing Bush is asking for.

Finally, it makes reference to the "passing down" of accounts. The article correctly points out that in certain instances, accounts are passed on to spouses and children. But, and perhaps this is only me, the whole idea is misleading in the first place. Social Security is already passed down to future generations. What's left over in the trust fund moves forward through the years to the generations that follow.

With allies like these...

Look over there! Social Security!

Is all this talk to privatize Social Security just a smokescreen for health savings accounts?
Emboldened by their success at the polls, the Bush administration and Republican leaders in Congress believe they have a new opportunity to move the nation away from the system of employer-provided health insurance that has covered most working Americans for the last half-century.

In its place, they want to erect a system in which workers - instead of looking to employers for health insurance - would take personal responsibility for protecting themselves and their families: They would buy high-deductible "catastrophic" insurance policies to cover major medical needs, then pay routine costs with money set aside in tax-sheltered health savings accounts.

Elements of that approach have been on the conservative agenda for years, but what has suddenly put it on the fast track is GOP confidence that the political balance of power has changed.

With Democratic strength reduced, President Bush, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Bakersfield) are pushing for action.

Supporters of the new approach, who see it as part of Bush's "ownership society," say workers and their families would become more careful users of healthcare if they had to pay the bills. Also, they say, the lower premiums on high-deductible plans would make coverage affordable for the uninsured and for small businesses.

"My view is that this is absolutely the next big thing," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose consulting firm focuses on healthcare. "You are going to see a continued move to trying to get people involved in the process by owning their own health accounts."

Critics say the Republican approach is really an attempt to shift the risks, massive costs and knotty problems of healthcare from employers to individuals. And they say the GOP is moving forward with far less public attention or debate than have surrounded Bush's plans to overhaul Social Security.

Indeed, Bush's health insurance agenda is far more developed than his Social Security plans and is advancing at a rapid clip through a combination of actions by government, insurers, employers and individuals.

Because what we really need is people to be more "careful" in their healthcare use, right? Too many people are going to the doctors when they only think they may be sick, rather than waiting for the end stage cancer or their diabetes to go out of control.

People should not be afraid they can't afford health care. Surely there is a better way.

A high early deductible will only keep poor people away from doctors and preventive health care. Those who do go will be saddled with higher levels of debt (news on the report here). Frankly, there is nothing compassionate about these ideas at all.
As far as ownership, well:
"Healthcare isn't like buying a Chevrolet," [Rep. Pete] Stark (D-Hayward) added, disputing Bush's assertion that individual patients can be empowered to control costs. "You can go to Consumer Reports and read about the new Malibu, but if I asked you to describe a regimen of chemotherapy for someone who has colon cancer, you'd be out of gas.

"We are talking about highly technical services that 99% of the public doesn't even know how to spell the names of," he said. "Secondly, there is no uniformity within the medical community as to what services ought to be used. It's a 'by guess and by gosh' sort of practice."

Sound like something you want to own?

*UPDATE* More at The Talent Show:
So, let's sum up the GOP plan for medical overhaul that will be part of this "ownership society". First, they want to encourage employers to dump you from your existing insurance plan (and if you read the rest of the article, if doesn't sound like they need much convincing). Second, they want to force you into an expensive insurance plan that will only cover "catastrophic" medical procedures. Third, on top of the higher cost of your insurance policy, they want you start saving up any extra cash that you probably don't have lying around. Finally, the whole point here is to ease the financial burden on your employer, make you pay more for less coverage, and encourage you to seek medical help as rarely as possible.

Dayton in trouble

This is certainly not encouraging for the upcoming 2006 elections:
Minnesota Sens. Mark Dayton and Norm Coleman both took hits to their public image in the past year, with their job approval ratings falling below 50 percent, according to the latest Minnesota Poll.

Dayton, a Democrat who's up for reelection next year, took the heaviest blow: His approval rating declined by 15 points in a year, from 58 percent to 43 percent. The approval rating for Coleman, who just began his third year in office, fell by 7 points, from 54 to 47 percent.

Dayton's job approval decreased among all categories of Minnesotans, grouped by age, education, income, party and ideology, with the largest drop among men -- down 27 points -- and 18- to 24-year-olds -- down 31 points.

While the Coleman numbers make it a little easier to swallow, most of Dayton's problem seems to be lack of recognition, with almost a third of his constituents having no opinion of him:
Dayton, a fifth-year senator who defeated then-incumbent Republican Rod Grams, finds himself in much the same position as Grams, who had an identical 43 percent approval rating in January of 2000.

Like Dayton now, Grams then was a question mark to a large number of Minnesota voters -- 28 percent had no opinion of him. Grams never got that number below 25 percent and was soundly defeated. That could suggest that Dayton's reelection might depend on his ability to make an impression on the one-third of Minnesotans who have yet to form an opinion of him.

"Very definitely -- and reaching them before my opposition does," said Dayton. He said he believes that he's "on the side of the best interests of the people of Minnesota" on issues such as pressing the Bush administration for "better answers to the situation in Iraq" and fighting for more federal aid to pay for prescription drugs for senior citizens and to educate disabled children: "I need to do a better job of explaining that to people."

Hopefully this will help:
Sen. Mark Dayton, whose advocacy of lower prescription drug prices for seniors helped propel him into the U.S. Senate in 2000, announced Monday that he will be the lead senator in the Democratic minority on the issue of prescription drugs as he heads into a reelection cycle.

Flanked by about 25 senior activists from Minnesota in the State Capitol, Dayton unveiled a sweeping proposal that essentially rewrites the Bush administration's legislation of a year ago. Its chief feature is authorizing the federal government to act as a bargaining agent for 41 million Medicare beneficiaries and to negotiate lower prices with pharmaceutical companies.

"This is about survival," Dayton said. "People are being ravaged by escalating drug prices that are out of control." He charged that Bush's prescription drug policies essentially have been written by pharmaceutical companies and other corporate health-care interests.

Dayton said that his multifaceted proposal would be "the major reform legislation of the Democratic caucus in the next year." It includes provisions that would lower Medicare premiums, reduce gaps in coverage and prevent seniors from being forced into HMOs against their will.

By giving Dayton the lead on such an issue, Democrats hope to shore up his creditials and raise awareness of Dayton and what he stands for. Hopefully it is not to late.

DNC race update

Wellington Webb has decided to drop out of the race and endorse Howard Dean:
Webb, a former three-term Denver mayor, pulled out of contention immediately after an influential group of state Democratic Party chairpeople overwhelming supported Dean, a 2004 presidential candidate who promises to rally the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party."

Also today, Colorado Democratic Chairman Chris Gates backed Dean after stumping for Webb for more than a month.

"Howard Dean has been a thoughtful advocate for progressive change, both as governor of Vermont and as a candidate for president. And I think he'll make a great national party chair," Gates said.

I'm beginning to think Dean is the guy that's going to win, and I wouldn't be upset with that. And before you tag me as one of the Dean guys, I never really supported him as a Presidential candidate even as friends pushed me had to do so.

That disclaimer aside, I think he, Rosenberg and Frost all bring elements necessary for future victory to the table, and the first challenge for any of them will be to defend themselves from their critics.

Dean and Rosenberg, I think, will face calls from Republicans that the Democratic party is moving farther to the left. All I would need to hear as a Democrat is that we as a part stand for what we stand for, and that all Americans benefit from Democratic principles. For too long, the party has apologized for believing what it does, and it needs to stop. Looking pathetic in the face of criticism concedes that the other side is right. And if the party is to go anywhere in the future, that needs to stop.

*UPDATE* I posted too soon, I guess:
The Association of State Democratic Chairs endorsed Dean during a national conference call. Dean got 56 votes, followed by Democratic activist Donnie Fowler with 21 votes. Other candidates had support in single digits. The state chairs ignored a recommendation made Sunday by the executive committee to back Fowler and supported Dean.

"If all of our members vote for him, that will be half of what he needs to win the chairman's job," said Mark Brewer, chairman of the Association of State Democratic Chairs, who noted the total membership of chairs and vice chairs is 112. "We're asking all of our state chairs and vice chairs to follow our endorsements. And we think they will."

The state chairs endorsed Dean, a former Vermont governor, because they thought he was best suited to help the state and local parties rebuild, Brewer said.

Dean revolutionized Democratic politics in the 2004 presidential campaign through his use of the Internet and his skills at fund raising, organizing and energizing new voters.

"Strengthening the state parties is a central part of our plan to make the Democratic party competitive in every race, in every district, in every state and territory," said Dean. "If elected DNC chair, we will make this vision a reality."

Victory for human rights

And no, I'm not speaking of the election in Iraq:
A federal judge ruled Monday that foreign terror suspects held in Cuba can challenge their confinement in U.S. courts and she criticized the Bush administration for holding hundreds of people without legal rights.

Judge Joyce Hens Green, handling claims filed by about 50 detainees at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, said the Supreme Court made clear last year that they have constitutional rights that lower courts should enforce.

"Although this nation unquestionably must take strong action under the leadership of the commander in chief to protect itself against enormous and unprecedented threats," she wrote, "that necessity cannot negate the existence of the most basic fundamental rights for which the people of this country have fought and died for well over 200 years."

I weep for the future

Seriously, I would've thought the fight for the freedom of the press would've already been won:
One in three U.S. high school students say the press ought to be more restricted, and even more say the government should approve newspaper stories before readers see them, according to a survey being released Monday.

The survey of 112,003 students finds that 36 percent believe newspapers should get "government approval" of stories before publishing; 51 percent say they should be able to publish freely; 13 percent have no opinion.

Asked whether the press enjoys "too much freedom," not enough or about the right amount, 32 percent say "too much," and 37 percent say it has the right amount. Ten percent say it has too little.

The sad thing is that if Democrats were to stand up for the first amendment, we would see them painted as concerned their so called loyal media was about to be taken down. Of course, the conservative bloggers are so concerned with their "new media" which has even fewer constraints than the current press does (thanks, atrios) that for them to wage the battle would be almost laughable.

In no way am I suggesting anyone roll over on this issue, I'm just stating the facts as I see them.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Dale Gribble, conservative American

Was I the only one who watched King of the Hill tonight and thought, after Dale accused Hank of being unpatriotic for cleaning off the American flag that Dale had painted on Hank's roof, that he was one step away from becoming a conservative blogger?

Just checking.

No bad news

I was going to write something similar, but I think this will do:
The screenshot on the right shows the collection of Times headlines as of 8 pm on Sunday. There are eight headlines about Iraq, seven of which are heavily positive and one of which is about the the number of people killed by insurgents. The only way the Times' coverage could be more positive would be to ignore the insurgent attacks altogether.

Which, I have a feeling, is what our conservative friends really want. No bad news, period, regardless of whether anything bad has actually happened. It's a brave, new, best-of-all-possible-worlds out there, folks.

John Kerry Meets the Press

On message with Social Security:
SEN. KERRY: President Bush is hyping a phony crisis. The crisis in America today is 45 million Americans who don't have health care. The crisis are 11 million children that I just talked about that we ought to be covering with health care. You know, Social Security does not run out as the president says and become bankrupt in 2018. It can pay 100 percent of the benefits until 2042, and after 2042, it can pay 80 percent of the benefits. And all you need to do to move Social Security into safety, well into the 22nd century, into the next century, is to roll back part of George Bush's tax cut today. His tax cut takes three times the deficit of what is contained in Social Security.

Now, there are any number of other things that you could do to try to fix it smart. What President Bush wants to do is put at risk something that has stood up not as an investment program but an insurance program, an insurance against poverty. Without Social Security, 50 percent of seniors would be in poverty. Without Social Security, people with disabilities, widows, orphans, children would not get help. And the president is willing to put that at risk so that you have $940 billion in fees that go to Wall Street and a whole bunch of young people get to invest money in who knows what, and there's no guarantee that money will be there for them in their lifetime.

Thank goodness for the right

According to most bloggers on the right, I'm very depressed now that democracy ruled out over my pessimism. I'm suicidal at the idea that Bush's democracy in Iraq is a success, and I'm disappointed that my insurgent allies did not run amok on election day.

Thank goodness for them so I don't have to think.

Of course it's ridiculous to think that a large majority of the left is going to cry themselves to sleep tonight. The 60% turnout is a pretty good number, but the main concern I have is that the Sunni turnout was unbelievable low.

In 2000, the voting population of Ohio was around 8.5 million. Would we call it a successful election if we said 5 million voted, but the entire cities of Cleveland, Cincinnati, and parts of Dayton failed to show up? I'll leave that up to you.

I'm pleased the way things went today. We should all take the time to pause and celebrate the fact the election went so well. Tomorrow, and over the course of the weeks to come, we will see the effects of these elections.

A quick side question: If this indelible ink thing works so well in Iraq, why don't we do that here is America to prevent people from trying to vote twice? Just curious.

Codey's out in New Jersey

After reading the positive poll numbers over at MyDD, I was a bit surprised to see acting Governor Richard Codey has announced he will not run for the full time office. Unsurprisingly, it's a matter of money:
Acting Gov. Richard Codey will not run for a full term in office, he told close political allies last night, ceding the Democratic nomination to U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine.

After wrestling with the decision for several weeks, Codey broke the news to his family Friday night and followed with a telephone call to Corzine. Last night, he made a round of calls to other top Democrats.

"He would have to raise $10 million to be competitive, and still get outspent 4-to-1. To be able to do that, and be all of the other things -- the acting governor, the Senate president, a father and his son's basketball coach -- he didn't know how he could possibly do it," one source close to Codey said.

Codey remained conflicted until the end, only more so because an independent survey released last week showed his popularity had skyrocketed since he replaced Gov. James E. McGreevey, who resigned in scandal Nov. 15.

Corzine is expected to win fairly easily come election time.

Iraqi election update

Since I'm up:
Suicide bombers attacked at least three voting centers in western Baghdad on Sunday, killing a total of eight people, including three bombers, police and witnesses said.

One policeman was killed and nine people were injured in the first attack, which occurred in the Dawoudi neighborhood.

Another bomber struck the al-Quds school, killing three policeman and one civilian, officials said. Six people were wounded.

The third bomber attacked the Mutamaizen Secondary School in the Mansour district, injuring three policemen, officials said.

FOX News just reported there's been five bombings, a dozen killed. MSNBC has a man on the ground in Ramadi, a city of 600,000 or so, and he's telling us a total of 150 people have voted so far.

I would think this is what most people expected though. Higher turnouts in the areas that are safer, and lighter turnouts as you hit the areas that are less safe.

Is it a success? Well, I guess so, in that elections are occuring. But it's clearly not going to put an end to the violence.

I doubt we will see a great number of bombs going off in the country, and you will see that called a success. In a sense, that's true. But the insurgents are not stupid and probably will not come out in a situation that does not benefit them.

*UPDATE* For updates actually from Iraq, try the aptly named Back to Iraq. Otherwise, latest reports say nine bombers, close to thirty dead.

Kentucky Senate update

New developments in the Kentucky State Senate dispute:
A Franklin Circuit Court judge refused yesterday to order the Kentucky Senate to seat Democrat Virginia Woodward in Jefferson County's disputed 37th District.

His decision sets up a battle in the appellate courts that could put the Kentucky Supreme Court in the middle of the controversy that has left the district without representation since the beginning of the year.

Judge William Graham kept in place his earlier ruling that Republican Dana Seum Stephenson could not vote, attend Senate events or receive pay as a senator.

In effect, he has ruled that, while he can't tell the Senate whom to seat, he may be able to decide that someone doesn't meet constitutional guidelines and order that person not to serve.

If Graham's decisions are upheld and made permanent, the Senate would be left with a choice of seating Woodward or declaring the 37th District vacant and ordering a special election.

Stephenson, you may remember, had failed to meet state residency requirements and was ruled ineligible to serve in the Kentucy state Senate.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Heightening the crisis

If at first you don't succeed, ratchet up the rhetoric:
In meetings on Friday, Treasury Secretary John W. Snow and Representative Bill Thomas of California, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, discussed redirecting public attention on 2008 as an imminent danger point for the Social Security trust fund because baby boomers will begin retiring, people present said. Even the most dire analyses say the fund will remain solvent for a decade or longer after that.

Baby boomers retiring - the new aluminum rods.

I'm not sure why, if people didn't believe you when you told them that the iceberg is coming in 20 years they would now believe you when you say it will be here in four, especially when there's no data to suggest it.

It is a sign that the White House is spooked, and they are fighting back. Now is not the time to let up.

*UPDATE* Can't argue with this, either:
"If we let the president successfully convince people there's a crisis in Social Security, when in fact there is no crisis at all, then shame on us," said Senator Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota, who as chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee presided over Friday's hearing. "We've got to fight on this issue, and we've got to wage an aggressive fight."

*UPDATE, TOO* Jerome has more.

Moore on "private accounts"

Stephen Moore, president of the Free Enterprise Club (and, no doubt, the Club for Growth and a contributor for the National review, although there's no mention) writes an opinion piece in the Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. It's about what you'd expect from a guy who wrote about how Bush's ownership society would save America, but the real oddity is that he is constantly referring to "private accounts."

Moore seems to address the problems inherent with the idea of privatization by ignoring them all together. Ignore the massive debt load that will be added to our record deficit, because everything will be alright in the future. Ignore the facts that say that Social Security is not in a crisis mode, because I say it is in one. Ignore the idea of benefit cuts because if you are lucky, you'll make the money we cut back through investing. And if you don't, well, we'll just ignore you. Oh, an ignore the fact that you don't have much knowledge of the markets, because you'll get to own that lack of knowledge when we ask you to invest it in you future.

But if you don't think about it, it's sunshine and lolipops for everyone.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Media "private account" watch, Day 5

Who let the partisan attack dogs out? There's talk of private accounts all over the news world today, much to the chagrin of the White House, which prefers the less abrasive and more love inspiring "personal accounts."

Tom Raum of the Associated Press drops the phrase at least three times in his article about Bush's attempts to rally the base around his plan. And remember the outcry about Kerry/Edwards politicizing politician's family members? Bush wouldn't - oh yes, he would:
Republican sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that in the private portion of the discussion, Bush invoked his twin 22-year-old daughters, Jenna and Barbara, as examples of the need to pass Social Security legislation. By the time they reach retirement age, the president was quoted as saying, the system will be bankrupt unless changes are made. According to administration estimates, Social Security will be able to pay full benefits until 2042. After that, it is projected that about 73 percent of promised benefits can be paid.

Of course, all of that is based on fairly pessimitic projections as required by Social Security, and may not happen at all. But Bush has an agenda to push.

Another AP article gives more details to Bush "Crisis of Legacy" tour plans, noting his first stop is scheduled to be in Fargo, North Dakota. Many believe this is an attempt to shake Democrats from there staunch opposition to Bush's plan. And it doesn't look like it's going to work:
[Sen. Kent] Conrad and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said they are happy Bush is stopping in the state but said they do not support the idea of borrowing money to pay for private accounts.

The New York Times reports on the tour with two uses of "private" and one "personal" as well as a sense of Mad Max urgency for the President. If this fails, one wonders what the President will do.

An unnamed staff writer for the Washington Post:
...[I]n remarks that got a mixed reception, Bush suggested that his proposal for partially privatizing Social Security -- to be unveiled in February or early March -- may not be as detailed as some lawmakers had hoped. Several quoted Bush as saying that he wanted to give them "a little running room."

Which also could be seen as the White House's inability to craft a bill they thought would pass, and their willingness to push of the hard work associated with it onto House and Senate Republicans. But that would be showing a bias, wouldn't it?

Also of note, Tom DeLay claims it is a "moral obligation" to mislead future generations out of Social Security. Go figure. And someone explain what kind of "cover" the President can lay down on this issue? Is it proposing a horribly risky and awful idea of reform so the House Republicans look like heroes when they propose something that is a bit more reasonable?

By the way, two references to "privatization."

Back to the AP, reporting on the Democrats press conference today expressing their opposition to the Bush plan and the objection of those who work for Social Security at being used as pawns in a political chess game:
Bush hopes to let younger workers divert a portion of their Social Security taxes into private retirement accounts that supporters hope would be more profitable than traditional government bonds because they could be invested in the stock market.

Later yesterday, Bush met privately with congressional Republicans at a retreat in West Virginia to discuss Social Security and other issues.

Uh, shouldn't that be Bush "met personally?" Just curious.

And finally, you'll be unsurprised to hear that Bob Novak is firmly behind the party, with two "personal accounts" in his latest. Nice work, Bob.

Writing with myself

Go read this post by Ezra Klein. Don't forget a lava lamp or something as a house warming gift.

Come back later and I'll give you some thoughts.

Are you done? Good.

For the most part I agree with Ezra, but I think he places to much blame on the bloggers and not enough on the readers themselves. Sure, blogs "encourage polarization and extremism rather than debate and understanding" but that's, in part, because that's what most readers look for. People on both sides of the political fence want that reinforcement that their views are correct, not to further themselves on the road to enlightenment. Bush or Boxer (whichever side you choose) are golden and can do no wrong.

Maybe I'm off base here. I've been doing this for less than a year, have a couple of readers and rarely get a comment. But it seems in this age that political thinking goes backwards for most people. Your party throws out an idea or does something right or wrong. Then the loyalist take over and attempt to justify this new policy that suddenly exists. It is not a question of "if A than B," but rather "There's B, now help me find A."

I would like to think, for example, that we all agree that torture is wrong. And what makes me sad about those who currently try to justify it is not their stance on the issue, but the feeling that if no one's hand had been caught in a prisoners butt in Abu Ghraib, that they wouldn't have to struggle to make excuses in the first place. And when logic fails, it's just because "the Donks" are stupid or the "Rethugs" are crazy.

And no, I'm not saying that we never should have learned about Abu Ghraib. What I mean is that if it had never happened in the first place.

Bloggers are not here to replace the media, and those on the right who think that need to take a deep breath. Politically charged rhetoric and the views of one man on the street of Iraq are not a news story, unless that particular news story happens to be about that person. And even that is hardly news, it's simply a view of one person's life.

Following the mad dash to reality TV, it should come as no surprise that the blogosphere has done what it has done. It is the ultimate in reality, where you can read what a Tennessee professor has to say about the world or a left wing activist's take on the DNC race. It is like having a conversation at a coffee shop where you bring your own cup of joe and everyone who wants to can watch and comment on it.

But I agree with Ezra. I like blogs. They are fun to read, and for those of us who languish in obscurity, it is a challenge to write a piece that gets noticed, or better yet commented on. I would love to hear what people think of what I say here, even if it is dismissed as partisan hackery or written on an eighth grade level. Believe it or not, I would love for people to point out when I'm wrong.

And the snark that Ezra mentions? Guilty as charged.

But enough about me...

Guess which Bush

If I just showed you this:
But it does send a message that the Republican Senate is not in lock-step with Bush.

You'd probably think it was just another article about Bush and his soon to be doomed privatization of Social Security. But it's not. Apparently this sort of thing runs in the family:
In a double-barreled shot at Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, is preparing legislation that would eliminate funding for a research center in Palm Beach County and use that money to pay for a health program for low-income Floridians.

Bennett also is preparing a bill that would tweak another high-profile legislative player: the Florida Marlins. The Marlins are seeking a $60 million tax break from the state.

The bill that would restore money to the Medically Needy program has not been finalized. And the likelihood of its becoming law is slim.

But it does send a message that the Republican Senate is not in lock-step with Bush.

Bush successfully lobbied lawmakers in 2003 to set aside $369 million to pay for the construction of the Scripps Research Institute in Palm Beach County. He heralded the plan as a high-tech endeavor that would create the world's largest research center.

And in a budget proposal released earlier this month, the governor did not set aside any money to continue the Medically Needy program that provides services for low-income, seriously ill Floridians.

Lawmakers of both parties quickly said the program will be funded. Bennett's bill is another sign of that commitment.

"I'm trying to figure out how to fund Medically Needy. The (Scripps) deal is not coming together. The money is damn near the same. Let's move on," Bennett said.

Ethics? I wrote a book about that once

And then there were three:
One day after President Bush ordered his Cabinet secretaries to stop hiring commentators to help promote administration initiatives, and one day after the second high-profile conservative pundit was found to be on the federal payroll, a third embarrassing hire has emerged. Salon has confirmed that Michael McManus, a marriage advocate whose syndicated column, "Ethics & Religion," appears in 50 newspapers, was hired as a subcontractor by the Department of Health and Human Services to foster a Bush-approved marriage initiative. McManus championed the plan in his columns without disclosing to readers he was being paid to help it succeed.


Horn says McManus, who could not be reached for comment, was paid approximately $10,000 for his work as a subcontractor to the Lewin Group, a health care consultancy hired by HHS to implement the Community Healthy Marriage Initiative, which encourages communities to combat divorce through education and counseling. McManus provided training during two-day conferences in Chattanooga, Tenn., and also made presentations at HHS-sponsored conferences. His syndicated column has appeared in such papers as the Washington Times, the Dallas Morning News and the Charlotte Observer.

Horn, who has known McManus for years, says he first learned about the payment on Thursday. In the wake of the Gallagher story, he asked his staff to review all outside contracts and determine if there were any other columnists being paid by HHS. They informed him about McManus. Horn says the review for similar contracts continues.

Which hints there may be more.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Deep in the heart of Texas

The Houston Chronicle has the latest on the Heflin-Vo dispute, and it does not look pretty for our ousted Republican friend. Talmadge Heflin, you may remember, was the Texas House candidate who lost to Democratic contender Hubert Vo by 33 votes. Unpleased with his loss, Heflin asked the Texas State House to overturn the election results and give him his old seat back.

I'll let the Chronicle take it from there:
The most important man standing between him and what he wants is acting like a good Republican judge.

In lawsuits, Republican judges tend to favor the defense, and Heflin is very much the plaintiff in this case.

Rep. Will Hartnett has the credentials. He's a North Dallas Republican, a lawyer, the son of and nephew of lawyers, the brother of four lawyers and chairman of the House Judicial Affairs Committee. He was vice chairman for eight years.


Hartnett, a mild-mannered, youthful politician who has not sought controversy in his 14 years in the House, showed considerable patience Thursday as he listened to lawyers for Heflin and Vo. He listened intently and kept a heroic smile on his face for most of the proceedings.

He signaled even before the hearing began that he intended to conduct it as more of a judicial than a political affair. He told several people he intended to chastise Heflin attorney Andy Taylor for repeated public allegations of voter fraud despite evidence that all or nearly all the illegal votes were due to honest errors.

I wanted to point out that last part to all those bloggers prone to shreiking fraud in Washington, Wisconsin, and anywhere else for that matter. There is a big difference between voter fraud and voter error. In cases where, say, a felon votes, it is possible that person does not realize he's not allowed to. Perhaps someone moves and votes at the wrong place. That's not fraud, but again, human error.

It's sad to say, but no election is perfect. And I'm ready to predict that no election ever will be. Fortunately, most elections are settled by a margin wide enough to overcome that error. In instances such as Florida in 2000 and Washington and Texas this year, we see the dirty cogs of our otherwise well functioning machine. And sadly, the partisan atmosphere leads many to cry foul rather than realizing there is a margin of human error on both sides.

Now let me get off my soapbox before the weight of my platitudes crushes it.

Anyway, it's not looking good for Heflin, and it's funny to see how smoothly this attempt to contest the election has gone despite the lack of bloggers pushing it into the mainstream. Perhaps those who call this the "new media" aren't as important as they thought.

Media "Private Account" watch, Day 4

In which the media seems to agree with the President, or gets tired of writing Social Security stories.

The AP slips in a "private account" mention in contrast to three "personal accounts" and one in the headline, "Bush advisers favor conservative personal accounts for Social Security."

This Knight Ridder article, while practically falling all over itself to praise the President and his goals uses the "private account" four times that I counted, and no
"personal accounts" at all. I guess that's what's known as fair and balanced journalism.

A Balitmore Sun opinion piece opens:
LET'S SAY you're 10 to 15 years away from retiring. Here's a financial plan you absolutely should not follow:

-Go from saving to spending so much more than you're taking in that you're sinking deeper and deeper into debt.

-In addition, take on a big responsibility that involves a lot of new spending, the amount and duration of which are open-ended.

-Make sure your income from now to retirement won't be as high as it could be.

-Borrow a big chunk from your retirement plan - cutting the income you'll be able to depend on once you stop working - so that you can invest in stocks, with the long-term but very uncertain hope that you'll offset the certain losses.

Why are we bothering you with this financial foolishness? To ask if there's really much difference between this obvious folly and President Bush's fiscal plans for the nation

They throw in a "private account" later for good measure.

Finally Bloomberg:
Private accounts should be set up as an addition to Social Security rather than a partial replacement, said Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, a key Democrat considering revisions to the retirement system with Republicans.

First words out of the gate. The article, however, is not all wine and roses:
Nelson is now offering a compromise on Social Security: If Bush agrees to make the accounts supplemental, Democrats will give the White House "bipartisan cover" on more difficult questions, such as raising the retirement age, Ornstein said.

Ben, Ben, Ben. This is the wrong way to go altogether. There is no offer to provide any cover to the President and his plan because it is an unnecessary dismantling of Social Security.

Josh Marshall says this may take Ben out of his "Fainthearted Faction." It seems to me it's the action of a man who is precisely faint of heart. But hey, it's Josh's faction, I guess.

More to come...


Goat Milk Fudge from Vice President Charlize Theron.

Sounds good to me.

Own the fear

It seems that Health Savings Account, championed by the President as part of his "ownership society," helps them "own" poorer health and greater debt:
With the new plans, individuals typically pay the first $1000, or $2000 for families, spent on medical care each year. The plans are coupled with so-called health savings accounts, or HSAs, which allow patients to set aside tax-free funds to defray health expenses.

But a survey of data from 4,000 adults with health insurance found that about half of patients with a high-deductible plan racked up medical debt and were faced with other billing woes, compared with 31 percent of those with more traditional health plans, according to the research group Commonwealth Fund, which studies health policy issues.

In theory, patients have a "greater financial stake" in their medical spending, control that will lead patients to be more judicious about visits to doctors. Health-care premiums rose five times faster than workers' salaries in 2004, but employers fund the bulk of that and are scrambling for fixes.

The Medicare Modernization Act, passed in 2003, made HSAs much more widely available to Americans. Big HMOs like UnitedHealth Group Inc. are beginning to adopt the plans as well, evidenced by the No. 2 managed care company's recent acquisition of Definity Health, a pioneer of the plans.

But the Commonwealth study also found that high-deductible plans could lead patients to skimp on care due to cost, which experts say can foil the plans' goal to curb health-care costs.

"Health savings accounts coupled with high-deductible health plans have potential pitfalls, especially for families with low incomes or individuals with chronic disease," said Karen Davis, president of the foundation, which studies health policy. "The evidence is that increased patient cost-sharing leads to underuse of appropriate care."

The Chilean model

New York Times:
Under the Chilean program - which President Bush has cited as a model for his plans to overhaul Social Security - the promise was that such investments, by helping to spur economic growth and generating higher returns, would deliver monthly pension benefits larger than what the traditional system could offer.

But now that the first generation of workers to depend on the new system is beginning to retire, Chileans are finding that it is falling far short of what was originally advertised under the authoritarian government of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

It speaks for itself. Go read the whole thing.

"Private" pay

A lesser known battle in the Social Security debate, this one amongst those who think private accounts are good - How much do we penalize people who choose the private accounts?:
A less-noticed element in most major Social Security proposals, including all three recommended by Bush's study commission in 2001, would impose another reduction for those who choose investment accounts. Retirees would not be allowed to receive both their full Social Security benefit and the entire proceeds of their private accounts.

Instead, at retirement, guaranteed benefits for workers with investment accounts would be reduced based on the amount of taxes used to set up the private accounts. The deduction would be made regardless of how a retiree's investments had fared.

Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House Democratic whip, says the reduction and other elements of private-account proposals will present problems for Bush once Americans look at the details. "The reality is there are substantial costs and substantial trade-offs," he says.

Most proposals also would require that workers with private accounts use those assets to buy an annuity when they retire. The amount remaining in the investment account, if any, could be passed on to heirs.

The benefit reduction based on contributions to private accounts has rarely been mentioned by Bush and other advocates of private accounts. But it is well known to Social Security experts such as David John, a leading advocate of private accounts at the conservative Heritage Foundation, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., author of the most prominent proposal in Congress.

Under a plan proposed by the 2001 commission, a medium earner would lose about 23% of his or her regular benefit, according to calculations by Social Security's chief actuary, Stephen Goss.

Some proposals take a bigger and more direct bite. Under a proposal by Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fla., 95% of the accumulated balance in each worker's private account would be transferred at retirement to the Social Security Trust Fund, where it would fund traditional benefits. The retiree would keep only 5% of his account.

I must say these proposals get worse and worse the more you learn. Losing money because you went to a private account that was specifically designed to make you more money?

If the government wants a chunk of the "private investments," why not just allow the government to do the investing themselves?

"Private" Parlance

CBS Marketwatch (currently owned by the Wall street Journal, so maybe it should have been expected):
Snow called the Social Security system "unsustainable" in its current form, and emphasized that personal savings accounts "should be part of Social Security reform." Some Democrats oppose the idea of allowing workers to put some of their payroll taxes into a so-called "privatized" Social Security plan.

"So-called" because that's exactly what it is is, a privatized Social Security. Just goes to show that Robert Schroder, who penned the piece, proudly displays his White House English diploma above his desk.

More to come in the daily round-up.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Martin Frost interviewed

Martin Frost, running for DNC, as interviewed by Burnt Orange Report. Personally, I think the guy may be getting a bit of an unfair rap. I would be okay with this guy in charge, especially from an organizational standpoint.

There was one answer that really stuck out for me:
One final point - which relates to the discussion in Question 10: It is long past time that the Democratic Party make a concerted effort to bring the scientific method into electoral politics to help target limited resources toward the most effective means of delivering our message and votes. It happens in the marketplace everyday, and Republicans have been conducting well-thought-out experiments in areas like voter turnout to learn more about what works in each election. We should be doing the same - and applying it to all our practices, from traditional methods like door-to-door canvassing, to relatively new political tools like online organizing.

Sounds good to me.

Ten myths about Social Security

The Century Foundation explains here.

Wolf! Wolf!

It is becoming increasingly clear that the Democratic Party perpetrated massive voter fraud in state after state in the 2004 election, just as it did in the 2000 election. The latest news comes from Wisconsin, where a task force has been formed to probe fraud apparently perpetrated by the Democrats in Milwaukee. (my bold)

Now let's read from the news article they think leads to these claims:
Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann said he and U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic agreed to investigate potential problems together. The effort will also include the Milwaukee Police Department and the local office of the FBI.

McCann told the newspaper the group of prosecutors and investigators, including one with computer expertise, will try to "see if there was voter fraud or not. That's the major thrust." (again, my bold)

So at this point, there's no evidence of any fraud, and I could just as easily make a claim that Republicans are to blame and be on equally safe ground.

There's more in the article:
McCann's announcement comes after a series of revelations by the newspaper that have left critics worrying that the problems signal either bureaucratic blundering or widespread fraud, though they can't determine which because the system itself is so messed up. (again, the bold is mine)

So there is absolutely no reason at this point to suspect targeted fraud by a political party. But leave it to the folks at Powerline, one of the pioneers of the new media, to create a partisan story to further their cause.

One more laugher from the aforementioned Powerline piece:
Voter fraud is the great unacknowledged issue of our time. Nothing will change unless an outraged citizenry demands change.

Ah, memories. Let's see what they had to say about "an outraged citizenry demand[ing] change" in Ohio:
Today's Democrats have no respect for our country's institutions or for democratic processes. Partisanship is all. Surely they must understand the damage they do to our institutions when they refuse to accept the basic principle of democracy: when you lose an election, the other guys get to govern.

So let the other guys run rampant with cries of fraud while at the same time dismissing any claims by the other side. Got it, guys. Thanks.

By the way, let me once again state that bipartisan attempts to clean up situations like these will ultimately lead to a stronger Democracy and should be applauded. I'm on the record as being all for it. But using instances like this for unproven claims of targeted fraud is simply ridiculous.

*UPDATE* Hey there, Crooked Timber readers! Thanks for stopping by. I've got some popcorn and some cold drinks in the fridge. Take off you shoes and let me rub your shoulders 'til you feel alright...

This sounds disgusting

It reminds me of a story involving a test product called "Mint Colt 45."

You can lead a couple to marriage...

So let's see. Tennessee is planning to reduce divorce rates in the state by introducing a new kind of marriage that is non-mandatory. It require couples to go through marriage counseling before they get married, requires counseling again if the couple is contemplating a divorce, and extends the waiting period before a divorce becomes final but does not stop it altogether. Sound good so far?

Oh, and the three other states that have tried covenant marriages have seen no noticeable decline in their divorce rates.

Explain to me how this will, as the bill's sponsor claims, "keep the family together" again?

Bush on tour to promote Social Security

President Bush has announced his Crisis of Legacy 2005! Tour. Some are nervous that it may just be a reprisal of his 1988 Texas tour (I wish I had one of those Ten Years 'til Destruction!) shirts now), but spokesmen claim we'll remember this one for years to come.

Hear such hits as "It May Be Private to You, but It's Personal to Me," and "Headed for an Iceberg," and "To Save You I Must Destroy You."

Personally, I hope that he gets picked up for Coachella Fest this year.

And in case you are curious, 4 "personal accounts," 3 "private accounts," and 1 "individual account." Fair and balanced takes on a whole new meaning.

This, however, does seem to cross a line

After getting her $40,000 from the administration to help them promote their marriage agenda, Gallagher reportedly testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of President Bush's Gay-Bashing Amendment to make gays second class citizens in the US Constitution.

Now, did those Senators know that when Gallagher was testifying on behalf of the Bush administration's position on marriage issues, as supposedly an independent expert on marriage, that she had in fact recently accepted money, a good deal of it, to help Bush promote his position on marriage issues? Didn't the Senators deserve to decide for themselves whether Gallagher was truly offering her independent vide on Bush's proposal, or whether she was influenced in her views to the tune of $40,000?

Apparently $40,000 dollars of the government's money buys you "independence." I would have thought it would be denying it that got you that label.

Media "Private account" watch, Day 3

When will the media learn how partisan it is to use the phrase "private accounts" instead of the new Bush literary roll out "personal accounts?" Apparently not today.

BET News pens an article about Bush's meeting with the black caucus:
[Rep Stephanie Tubbs Jones] cited a recent study by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation that found African American children are particularly reliant on Social Security's steady benefits and that private accounts “would not come close to making up for the drastic benefit cuts” the administration proposes.

More importantly, she rips into the idea that the Social Security formula should take into account race:
As for young Black workers “who experience early disability or death, would not have enough accumulated in their individual accounts to cover the amount of the cuts,” she notes.

“Arguments that minorities would receive great wealth from individual accounts are misleading and overlook the fact that existing racial income disparities would remain or even widen under individual accounts even if people of color and whites were earning the same rate of return,” says Tubbs Jones. “African Americans and Hispanics, who have lower earnings and higher rates of unemployment, would be severely disadvantaged by the elimination of a real progressive benefit structure in a system of individual accounts.”

Rep. Maxine Waters makes her feelings known too:
“We have an African American poverty rate of 24.4 percent; there are over 12.9 million children under 18 who are in poverty; there are 45 million Americans without health insurance; there is not a single metropolitan area where an extremely low income family can be assured of finding a modest two bedroom rental home that is affordable; and there are literally millions of people who are homeless,” she says. “At a time when the administration is about to request an additional $80 billion for Iraq, all of us must ask the president squarely: ‘What is your program for the millions of Americans in poverty? How many billions of new dollars are you prepared to devote to addressing the urgent needs of our people?’”

Next we have the AP's Terrence Hunt, discussing the President's news conference earlier today:
[President Bush] recognizes that some people are worried about the political risks and financial costs of overhauling Social Security by creating private investment accounts _ a step that could cost $1 trillion to $2 trillion in transition costs.

Well, I'm sure he recognizes the risks of "personal accounts," anyway.

ill Straub of Scripps Howard News Service has the same topic, same result:
The president has yet to issue details of a plan or even commit to offering a formal proposal, instead citing "the need to work together to get a solution that will fix the problem." He did say that any solution should include a provision for private accounts - permitting beneficiaries to devote a portion of their payments to a personal investment program - and a prohibition against increasing payroll taxes.

And again, the Washington Times:
"I'm open to good ideas from members of Congress. I'll work with both parties to get results," [President Bush] said, adding that any solution had to address the problem "fully and directly" by making the system "permanently solvent" and providing the option of personal accounts.

Bloomerg, also not on the President's payroll, opens:
President George Bush said he is open to a variety of ways to restructure Social Security as long as they include allowing younger workers to create private accounts and not raising the payroll tax.

At my quick count, "private accounts" are referenced six times, "personal accounts" only twice. Does that mean Bloomerg is three times biased against the White House?

Budget outlook worsens

L.A. Times:
White House officials said Tuesday that this year's budget deficit would reach a high of $427 billion, propelled by President Bush's request for an additional $80 billion for war costs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Separately, congressional analysts forecast a generally worsening budget outlook, saying the federal deficit would become a knottier problem in the next 10 years.

Together, the developments suggested Bush would have a harder time than previously thought in keeping his promise to cut the deficit in half by the end of his presidency. White House officials said, however, that they would still meet that goal.

They haven't lived in reality for this long, why start trying to get there now?

What will the community think?

Simpson's characters getting married? And they are gay? So much for FOX upholding family values, huh?

Can't wait to hear the outrage on this one.

"Shut up and vote is not Democracy"

Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee took Democratic critics to task, urging lawmakers to show a united front on foreign policy during wartime.

"Partisanship has its time and place, but we are at this point in time a nation at war," he said. "We need the strength of all our resources to fight and win. I am disappointed that others on the other side of the [political] aisle have taken this moment to wage a partisan campaign."

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid offered a terse response.

"It is a matter of fairness that those who have concerns about Dr. Rice be allowed to express them," he said. "Silence is not an important part of American history, but debate is. Shut up and vote is not democracy."

I like Harry Reid more and more every day.


ABC News:
Thirty-one Marines are believed to have been killed in a helicopter crash in bad weather, and four more are confirmed dead in a separate firefight, in the deadliest day so far in the Iraq war.

Additionally, a U.S. soldier died in a rocket attack north of Baghdad, bringing the apparent total U.S. military deaths today to 36.

Previously, the deadliest day for U.S. forces in Iraq was March 23, 2003, during the first week of the war, when 28 service members were killed.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

GOP has fears in 2006 regarding Social Security

David Espo of the AP falls for the White House schtick and reports:
House Republican leaders must consider President Bush's proposal for personal Social Security accounts "in the context of the 2006 midterm elections," their pollsters cautioned Tuesday in a confidential memo that said it will be difficult to sway workers nearing retirement, a key portion of the electorate.

Wait, did he say confidential memo? Bring on the meat, Espo!
Still, advocates of the plan have persuasive arguments on their side, the memo said, suggesting they stress that the accounts are voluntary; they will give workers a chance to control their own investments; and their children will be able to inherit what they have accumulated.

I've always thought the inheritance idea was a bit sneaky. In essence, any money you don't use does get passed along to future generations, including your kids. Of course, under the current system, your kids would be guaranteed to get something, whereas under the Bush dismantle plan, it all depends on investing acumen. I have a feeling the poll did not take that into effect.

Moving on:
In contrast, pollsters advised House GOP leaders that the arguments in opposition that are most persuasive with voters are "messages regarding families possibly losing retirement if the market goes down, and workers not having necessary investment knowledge."

Those arguments "have a greater persuasive impact" on voters age 55 and older, the memo said. That segment of the population is likely to make up 40 percent or more of the electorate in 2006, it said.

The pollsters also reported majority support for requiring payroll taxes to be paid on all income and reducing the starting benefit for all those who retire early. "But a majority of voters oppose increasing Social Security payroll taxes on all workers, reducing the starting benefit for all future retirees, raising the retirement age, or borrowing money and increasing the debt," the memo said.

I think that lays out a fairly decent battle plan for the Democrats. I wouldn't give up on the "there is no crisis" idea, either, but supplement it with the idea that market volatility could in fact create one under the Bush plan, and I think you've got yourself a winner.

And what should Democrats propose to "strengthen Social Security?" Read it again:
The pollsters also reported majority support for requiring payroll taxes to be paid on all income and reducing the starting benefit for all those who retire early.

Which I think is a logical conclusion that I have come to before here.

Keep watching, as the battle rages on.

Georgia GOP says abortion A-OK

Georgia Republicans, fresh with victory in last fall's election and now the majority force, have decided NOT to support a bill that would outlaw abortion in the state of Georgia. Take that conservative values voters!
Republican leaders Tuesday quickly ruled out giving their support to a newly introduced bill that would ban all abortions in Georgia, making the measure an almost certain failure.

"I don't expect any action on this bill," said House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island.

Republicans took over the House after last November's elections, making this year's legislative session the first time the party has run the show in both the House and Senate. When Democrats were in power, their leaders often avoided votes on controversial subjects like abortion, much to the dismay of many conservative lawmakers.

It's okay, she's on the payroll

We'll know soon enough, but Drudge reports the Washington Post runs tomorrow with a story that Armstrong Williams wasn't the only journalist on the White House payroll.

*UPDATE* From the Post, "Columnist Backing Bush Plan had Federal Contract."
In 2002, syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher repeatedly defended President Bush's push for a $300 million initiative encouraging marriage as a way of strengthening families.

"The Bush marriage initiative would emphasize the importance of marriage to poor couples" and "educate teens on the value of delaying childbearing until marriage," she wrote in National Review Online, for example, adding that this could "carry big payoffs down the road for taxpayers and children."

But Gallagher failed to mention that she had a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to help promote the president's proposal. Her work under the contract, which ran from January through October 2002, included drafting a magazine article for the HHS official overseeing the initiative, writing brochures for the program and conducting a briefing for department officials.

So it seems she got paid to do some contract work to support the President's position, but any articles she wrote were an added bonus. You could make an argument that the White House wanted to traffic on her good name, I guess.

*UPDATE, TOO* Pandagon has more, suggesting that folks like me let Maggie off a little easy. I think it's a shame that the White House does not think it's legislation has merits on it's own, and their constant need for approval in the media is a scary addiction. Maggie also should have clearly disclosed her relation in any articles on the subject with a quick, "Now I'm a paid consultant for the administration on this issue," which would have gone far to exonerate her from charges of graft.

Should Maggie have done what she did without letting people know? No, I don't think so. Is it as bad as Armstrong Williams? Again, no. If I were a National Review reader, I'd be very upset I'd been suckered in by her, too. Disappointed, but unsurprised.

*UPDATE, THREE* Just want to point out that I changed the name of the post now that the report is confirmed (from "Believe Drudge or don't"). It seemed more fitting.

Having your bases covered

It must be nice to be a conservative blogger so you can talk about how Michael Moore not getting an Oscar nom is a sign Hollywood is mad at him, but had he gotten a nod we would have heard about Hollywood being out of touch with America.

Fahrenheit 9/11, while a good movie, was not one of the five best pictures of the year. It's as simple as that. The reason the liberal bloggers don't care is because they weren't the ones pushing hard to get "their" picture nominated. It was mostly talk on the right, and mostly lumped in with the idea that Passion would get snubbed while F 9/11 would be celebrated.

Maybe liberals just don't crave some sort of vindication from the Oscars for the movies they enjoy?

Dean garners black support, bad picture

Here's the story:
Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor whose appeal to minorities was questioned during his presidential race, won support today from several key black Democratic National Committee members for his bid to be DNC chairman.

Dean is vying with former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and six other candidates for the chair position.

Dean today won the support of Yvonne Atkinson Gates, chair of the DNC's black caucus; Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois; and Minyon Moore, a longtime DNC member and former aide to President Clinton.

I find it hard to believe that the Denver Post couldn't find a better photo than that, however.

Who said it?

Who said the following statements:
"Let the Jews go on the defensive for a change. The crimes of their people cannot be explained away easily."

"Today the Holocaust is the shield that deflects criticism of Israeli policy; even to question Israel's behavior is to risk being branded an 'anti-Semite'."

"To survive, the Holocaust industry is always searching for its next mark. Ukraine's turn is just around the corner."

If you guessed a Bush administration delegate to Ukraine's presidential inauguration last weekend, give yourself a pat on the back.

Media "Private Account" watch, day 2

The Bush administration is asking their plan to create privatized accounts with Social Security money be called by another name. Day 2 notes a few reporters still have yet to get the memo.

David Jackson of the Dallas Morning News, in an article on deficit projections:
The deficits re-emerged amid the tax cuts as well as war and recession. Budget estimates also do not take into account potential changes to the Social Security system, analysts said. Allowing recipients to invest some money in private accounts - as Bush wants to do - could entail massive transition costs.

Nedra Pickler, Associated Press Writer, in an article on attempts by Bush to ease tensions with black leaders:
President Bush told black leaders Tuesday that his plan to add private accounts to Social Security would benefit blacks since they tend to have shorter lives than some other Americans and end up paying in more than they get out.

First paragraph, too. She's off the White House xmas list. I'm still looking for an actual quote on this one, though, as the article hints that the President defied his own new war on words.
And finally, in an article on the general Social Security debate:
Bush wants to let younger workers put a portion of their Social Security taxes into private investment accounts in exchange for a reduction in future guaranteed benefits.

Also of interest in Frank Luntz's interview on Air America Radio. Listen here.
And afterward ask yourself if, as Luntz claims, it is taking a side to use the private account phrasing the White House doesn't want you to, then wouldn't it also be taking a side to use the phrasing the White House does want you to?

Meanwhile Josh Marshall notes the latest New York Time article, and the Washington Post reports that Bush is pushing Senate Republicans for a quick vote on his proposal which includes - get this - "the addition of individual stock and bond accounts for younger workers."

In other words, private accounts. Stay tuned.

*UPDATE* Reuters falls prey:
But so far the president has offered only general principles that eschew tax increases and demand that workers be allowed to invest a portion of their Social Security payroll tax contributions in personal stock and bond accounts.

Darn right wing media.

*UPDATE* The Denver Post, on it's own, in an editorial:
Advocates of radical reform are making up their own math in their campaign to partly privatize Social Security. There's a storm ahead, but not the iceberg President Bush's advisers claim.

I think that counts, don't you?

*UPDATE, THREE* Josh Marshall has eeriely followed the same timeline as mine (scroll from there). Great minds think alike, I guess.

Let me see if I can explain

Lesbian, which is the word that John Kerry refered to Mary Cheney with during the debate is a non offensive term used to describe a gay woman.

"Faggot," on the other hand, is generally considered an offensive term to describe not only gay men, but also those considered weak or girly.

In summary, to refer to someone as a "lesbian" is generally not an insult, but to refer to someone as a "faggot" generally is.

Does that help clear up the confusion, James Taranto?

Something's got to give

It's obvious when you read these two stories that something doesn't add up.

First, from the AP:
At the current pace of U.S. deployments to Iraq, the Pentagon may be hard pressed by next year to provide enough reserve combat troops suitable for the mission, judging from the military services' own estimates of available manpower.

The notion of running out of reserve troops would have been dismissed only a year ago, but the strain of fighting a longer, harder war than U.S. commanders foresaw is taking a heavy toll on part-time troops of the Army National Guard, Army Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve.

The problem may ease if, as the Bush administration hopes, security in Iraq improves substantially this year.

Which would all be fine and good except (my bold):
The U.S. Army expects to keep its troop strength in Iraq at the current level of about 120,000 for at least two more years, according to the Army's top operations officer.

While allowing for the possibility that the levels could decrease or increase depending on security conditions and other factors, Lt. Gen. James J. Lovelace Jr. told reporters yesterday that the assumption of little change through 2006 represents "the most probable case."

Add to that this assessment, and things do not look to get better for sometime in Iraq.

Most qualified

Apparently the Democrats have risen up to voice their objections to Condeleezza Rice. 'Bout time. But what I find most interesting are the words of Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson:
On the other hand, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas, said that while mistakes were made it was wrong to rehash them. She lauded Rice for a "steady hand" in staying the course on the war on terrorism.

"I think Condoleezza Rice is the most qualified person" for the job, Hutchinson said.

She made some "mistakes" and helped lead the drive in the ineccessary war against Iraq, a war more than half the country now realizes was a mistake. And for that she is the most qualified person.

Which makes me wonder what other kinds of UNqualified people are working in the state department as well.

"Backers of Gay Marriage Ban Use Social Security as Cudgel "

That NY Times headline says it all. And in case you're wondering, SpongeDob signed it, too.

Look for a hardcore Christian Conservative to run for President in 2008.


Security, Opportunity and Responsibility

The Democratic agenda.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Is this any way to spread freedom?

Someone should ask Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzalez, the man who says America doesn't condone torture, how he feels about the fact that Iraqi prisoners are still being abused:
Prisoners have been beaten with cables and hosepipes, and suffered electric shocks to their earlobes and genitals, the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch said. Some have been starved of food and water and crammed into standing-room only cells.

"The people of Iraq were promised something better than this after the government of Saddam Hussein fell," said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the group's Middle East and North Africa division.

"The Iraqi interim government is not keeping its promises to honor and respect basic human rights. Sadly, the Iraqi people continue to suffer from a government that acts with impunity in its treatment of detainees."

Human Rights Watch said it interviewed 90 Iraqi prisoners between July and October last year, just after the government of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi assumed power from the U.S.-led forces which toppled Saddam.

Seventy-two said they had been tortured or mistreated.

"Detainees report kicking, slapping and punching, prolonged suspension from the wrists with the hands tied behind the back, electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body ... and being kept blindfolded and/or handcuffed continuously for several days," the group said in a report.

"In several cases, the detainees suffered what may be permanent physical disability."

The report also said Iraq's intelligence service had violated the rights of political opponents.

It highlighted the systematic use of arbitrary arrest, pre-trial detention of up to four months, improper treatment of child detainees and abysmal conditions in pre-trial facilities.


While the Human Rights Watch report looked solely at Iraqi institutions and did not address torture of prisoners by U.S. soldiers, it said international police advisors, mostly Americans, had turned a blind eye to Iraqi abuse.

* UPDATE * Don't believe Human Rights Watch? How about the U.S. government?
The Army launched dozens of investigations into detainee abuses across Iraq in the past two years - probing claims of beatings and torture that rivaled the Abu Ghraib prison scandal - but case after case was closed with U.S. troops facing no charges or only minimal punishment, military records released yesterday show.

The documents, internal reports from more than 50 criminal investigations, further refute government claims last year that photographs from Abu Ghraib showed isolated pranks of a few low-ranking soldiers.

The new records describe alleged misdeeds at U.S. facilities across Iraq that are, in some instances, strikingly similar to the publicized abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

The records include new allegations of forced sodomy, the use of dogs to frighten detainees and severe beatings of hooded and handcuffed prisoners. In one case, investigators determined that a commander and three members of an Army Special Forces unit - none of whom was publicly identified - had committed murder by luring an Afghan civilian to a roadblock before detaining him and shooting him.

No court-martial was convened in the case, according to the records released yesterday. Only one soldier was punished, receiving a written reprimand.

The disturbing details:
-A 73-year-old Iraqi woman told Army investigators she was subjected to sexual abuses and that a dog was let loose in a room where she and three other women were being held. Records indicate the investigation was closed.

-An October 2003 investigation found the soldiers who routinely stole money from detainees at a downtown Baghdad facility - what they called a "Robin Hood Tax" that went to buy sodas, ice and liquor - also were accused of beating hooded and handcuffed prisoners. One soldier reported seeing two others hold a detainee while a third "boot stomped" him in the gut, and also seeing a second detainee held against the wall while a soldier hit him in the stomach with a "chunk of wood."

When he reported the treatment, the soldier said he was told by a staff sergeant: "After you been at the hard site awhile you'll be doing it too." Two soldiers were found guilty at courts-martial, according to the investigation file. One received a reprimand and fine; the other was reduced in rank and confined for 60 days.

-After a soldier's wife last summer turned over to investigators a photo showing him pointing a gun at the head of a bound and hooded detainee, the soldier claimed he was acting at the direction of CIA and special forces operatives.

"I'm a private in the Army and I don't ask too many questions as to what's going on or what's being done," the soldier told investigators. He said he worked with special forces personnel at a safe house, where guard duty included playing loud music to keep prisoners from sleeping, dousing them with water, and poking, prodding or slapping prisoners.

Army investigators concluded the soldier had committed aggravated assault when he pointed his pistol at the detainee, but the investigative records do not indicate whether charges were filed.

-A detainee held by members of a Navy SEAL team at a facility in Mosul, Iraq, said he was stripped, subjected to loud music, doused with cold water and threatened that if he did not confess, "they would bring my wife and my mother and that they would rape them."

When interviewed by investigators, the SEAL team members denied abusing the detainee, "stating that he threw himself on rocks and rubbed himself against walls, and faked illness." The report concluded that the "investigation did not develop sufficient evidence to prove or disprove the allegations."

I hope when they raped the 73 year old woman she gave them information vital to the war on terror. Freedom is on the march, indeed.

Place your bets

I'm guessing that sometime after the State of the Union address (check local listings), Bill Clinton will come out and discuss the very issue raised by the Washington Post. Any wagers on the day?
With their push to restructure Social Security off to a rocky start, Bush administration officials have begun citing two Democrats -- former President Bill Clinton and the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan -- to bolster their claims that the retirement system is in crisis.

But the gambit carries some risk, Bush supporters say. Clinton's repeated calls during his second term to "save Social Security first" were specifically to thwart what President Bush ultimately did: cut taxes based on federal budget surplus projections. Likewise, internal Treasury Department documents indicate that Moynihan, a New York Democrat who was co-chairman of Bush's 2001 Social Security Commission, expressed misgivings about the president's push to partially privatize Social Security.

Nonetheless, White House officials -- and some Democrats -- say invoking Clinton and Moynihan could help move the Social Security debate beyond the question of whether there is a "crisis" in the system, and on to what to do about it.

"As we move forward with our efforts to talk about the problem and the need for reform, administration officials are talking about what leaders of the Democrat Party have said about the problem," White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said.

In public speeches recently, N. Gregory Mankiw, chairman of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, and White House budget director Joshua B. Bolten, both cited the same passage of a 1998 Clinton speech at Georgetown University.

"This fiscal crisis in Social Security affects every generation," Clinton said in the speech.

But neither Mankiw nor Bolten cited another passage from the same address: "Before we spend a penny on new programs or tax cuts, we should save Social Security first. I think it should be the driving principle . . . Do not have a tax cut. Do not have a spending program that deals with that surplus. Save Social Security first."

"The Bush White House should have read Clinton's speeches before they squandered the Clinton surplus," said Bruce Reed, who was Clinton's domestic policy chief at the time of the speech.

Oh, and in case you are wondering:
Moreover, Clinton never proposed diverting Social Security taxes from current beneficiaries to private investment accounts, as Bush has suggested, Clinton aides said.