Copyright © 2005 Frank Lynch.
Me: Frank Lynch
These are my mundane daily ramblings.
Is Bush laying the groundwork for his impeachment? It's been questioned by some who are smarter than I am whether or not Bush has plans to default on the bonds which are in the Social Security Trust Fund. (See Kevin Drum a few days ago, and today Josh Marshall.) But Josh raises a question in a later post today, that were Bush to default on the bonds, it would violate his oath office, specifically regarding "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned." The next logical conclusion would be this: isn't violating the oath of office grounds for impeachment? (Josh didn't address it, but I bet the cogit flashed.)
(I'm also not sure why defaulting on the bonds is even an issue for Bush: the Trust Fund won't need to draw on the bonds until Bush is out of office.)
UPDATE: (Thursday, February 10) Al Franken is also
looking at the impeachment line, only he thinks the impeachable
offense has already occurred, because Bush has
already questioned "the validity of the public debt" with
his statement that "There is no trust."
Brit Hume should be thoroughly investigated. Media Matters for America has documented how Fox news anchor Britt Hume twisted the meaning of FDR's words to suggest that FDR believed in the eventual end of government's involvement in Social Security, when, in fact, FDR was merely talking about a time when the early retirees would be succeeded by generations who would have already contributed. FDR was most clearly not calling for privatization.
This is an outrageous distortion of FDR's meaning, and Hume should have known it. Either he twisted the words himself, or he committed an incredible lapse in his journalistic responsibilities by not looking at FDR's words for himself. They are not new, and they are easy to find, as they have been up on the Social Security Administration's web site since at least 1996. Here's the broader 1935 FDR quote (as shown on that 1996 page) from which Brit Hume excised his selectively distorted portion:
"In the important field of security for our old people, it seems necessary to adopt three principles: First, non-contributory old-age pensions for those who are now too old to build up their own insurance. It is, of course, clear that for perhaps thirty years to come funds will have to be provided by the States and the Federal Government to meet these pensions. Second, compulsory contributory annuities which in time will establish a self-supporting system for those now young and for future generations. Third, voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age. It is proposed that the Federal Government assume one-half of the cost of the old-age pension plan, which ought ultimately to be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans."
Where FDR is talking about "self-supporting annuity plans," he is not talking about private accounts, he is talking about the natural progression of the program as the initial tranche of government-funded retirees leave the system through their deaths — supplanting the original old-age pension plan (talked about in the first part of the quotation), that is, for those who started in the plan at a point where they were "now too old to build up their own insurance." This is not privatization.
Hume should know better. Fox should immediately investigate the process Hume went through to arrive at his distortions; Fox should also investigate who on Hume's staff was aware of this malignant effort to warp Social Security, and if Hume is found culpable he should be sentenced to Ratherland.
A question for those assembled...
Because I'm too busy myself right now and you may already recall
having seen it... The "problem" with Social Security seems to be
that starting in 2018 (or 2012, under Bush's basic plan) the
Social Security Trust Fund will need to start tapping into its US
Treasury Bonds, requiring the US government to start "paying up."
But do they have to be redeemed by the US Government? Can't some
of them be sold to bond buyers? (What share of the bonds it holds
are at maturity in 2012/2018?)
The election is over, get over it.
It's sad and funny at the same time, really. Handshakes over
Israel and Palestine don't get mentioned, nor the budget, nor
Social Security, but Horsefeathers is still going on about John Kerry's military record. Anyone want to cue a famous
Knight Errant? (I mean, I know bloggers are entitled to their own
focuses, but really, what those focuses say about us...)
Further out on a lonely limb? I've exchanged some pleasant emails with David Hogberg as a result of his deflating rumors that federal employees (including those in Congress) don't pay into Social Security — which, if they weren't would make them susceptible to charges of hypocrisy. But proving that people aren't always predictable, yesterday he wrote a column in the Spectator which actually had more extreme rhetoric than that being used recently. That is, while Bush has not used the word "crisis" recently (and even explicitly walked back from it), Hogberg argued again for using the c-word. It raised chuckles from a number of people, including Kos , who, noting a conflict between Hogsberg's articulation and the President's, asked "So who is right, and who is wrong? This one is too easy to call."
You know, while it may be funny to remark on a columnist who's not in lockstep with the White House semantics, there's really no reason to. Bush has been frequently shown to be wrong, and complaints have even been lodged about the White House pushing for specific language. So if Hogsberg wants to argue for crisis, fine. I disagree with him, but he's welcome to, and I personally think that using language like that makes him sound even more extreme. And since this looks like it's breaking down to a battle of words, gentlemen, start your engines!
But I don't think Hogberg's defense that Bush is saying bankrupt is much of a defense. Bush is also
saying "the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt" by 2042 which is flat wrong, since
Personally, I think it's not a great idea to run to Bush's words for support. Bush will change his words to suit the occasion. If I were a pundit, I'd formulate an argument — carefully, no one wants to be caught in Juan Cole's crosshairs — and damn the torpedoes! I wouldn't rely on Bush.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, proclaiming that it was "time to open a new chapter in our relationship," called on France and Europe in general today to put aside past differences and embark on a joint effort to expand their relations in the Arab world, build a new Iraq and bring about peace in the Middle East.
See, we have to be clear when we call for that because the
wrong guy got elected, and he and Rice seemed more than happy in
2003 to threaten all sorts of long-standing international
relationships. If I were a foreign leader, I'd want to know in
advance how far the United States wanted to push on Iran, and
whether or not it was going to give the IAEA a decent chance. Of
course, fool me once...
Better to remain silent. We don't know who said it, but someone, somewhere, once said "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." Reading Juan Cole's latest round against Jonah Goldberg, you really have to wonder what got the better of the common sense of Goldberg and his landlord. Goldberg is clearly a midget regarding knowledge of the Middle East compared to Cole; Goldberg is also unqualified to write about it at all, much less call Cole's informed conclusions into question.
Goldberg should have used restraint before sitting down at
keyboard; his publisher should have said something like, "Jonah,
even though I agree with you, what's your background on this?"
Goldberg has made a clear argument, however, against the wisdom
of salaried columnists: if they can't write with authority about
something, don't. Call in someone who can.
It's pretty clear why Bush backed off
the highfalutin language about freedom and democracy in his
Inaugural address: if we didn't allow nasty regimes to continue
on, how else would we get
our torture done for us?
Banking on the Social Security Trust is just blather? That's what David Frum thinks; he thinks the bonds it holds are worthless IOU's because they come from the government itself, and the government can easily forget about debt it owes itself: "If Fred writes an IOU for $10 to Jim, Jim has an asset. But if Fred writes an IOU to Fred for $10, he has not created an asset for himself — he's created a reminder notice," writes Frum.
Nice rhetorical twist — except that it's more like Fred has written an IOU to his brother, and if he shafts his brother word will get out and Fred will have trouble floating IOUs elsewhere. Meaning, if the US chose to default on its bonds, investors around the world will take notice. There will be higher risk associated with our bonds and interest rates will rise to accommodate the risk. You think Greenspan would let Bush get away with that?
Really, its as if Frum thinks the U.S. lives in a vacuum or
something, its own little closed system. The Trust Fund is most
certainly not a "hoax," as Herman Cain and others of his ilk would have
What's a theocracy? Do you need men or women of the cloth (any cloth) actually in official government positions as a necessary condition? It's relevant, because the White House is playing down concerns that a theocracy is being established in Iraq. According to the New York Times,
Yet the clerics clearly want to influence the leaders. For Cheney et al, the paper walls are sufficient to say it's not a theocracy. In fact, it's important to them to keep pointing to those paper walls not just because of foreign policy, but also because of domestic policy. Remember, during the election Bush solicited the Pope for help against John Kerry, seeing an opportunity to use abortion as a wedge between Kerry and Roman Catholic voters. It's all part and parcel of an administration that works to stop PBS from running a film of a cartoon bunny visiting a Lesbian couple in Vermont — it's not like they were having sex or anything, they were just being people.
Bush plans to raise taxes. That's the only logical conclusion that results from Social Security plans which will increase the national debt by trillions. The bills have to be paid, and the money has to come from somewhere, right? And on top of that, since it won't be enough to fix Social Security's shortfalls, he plans to cut benefits.
No doubt about it, privatization makes sense to me...
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
Department. Ever since that law perfesser at that university
what wears Orange and White highlighted the web site Social
Security Choice, I've been watching it fairly closely, responding
to a number of their posts and seeing them respond to me. While
it's not at all like an open debate between diverse teams of
those who are pro-privatization and those who are not, there has
been a reasonable back and forth. And no "your mother's" have
been exchanged, either. But I just want to point out a post from
David Hogberg, who went the extra mile to actually deflate a contentious rumor which, if
true, would have added fuel to pro-privatization arguments. So, a
hat's off. (For what it's worth, this contentious rumor —
that the Congress and federal employees can escape Social
Security contributions if they participate in their special
savings plan — was subject of one of my posts a week ago.)
It may not have been due to global
warming, but then again it might. The weather this weekend
has been surprisingly warm, and it took an extra effort to dress
for the occasion. I didn't take that effort, and for much of my
walking in Manhattan today I found myself carrying my coat,
rather than wearing it. Even setting it down on the sidewalk
while I took pictures of surrounding buildings. For much of my
walk (from 23rd Street down to Canal) the sun was in my face, and
it was real work to get decent photos. But then I realized I
needed to look at the sun not as an obstacle but an opportunity.
On Fifth Avenue I caught some yellow plastic barracades, whose
translucence and shadows worked out nicely; fire escapes on the
east side of Crosby Street in Soho reflected the sun so brightly
it was as if they wanted to jump off the buildings. From a
photography standpoint, it was very much like the Stephen Stills
song: "if you can't be with the one you love, then love the one
Cheney is in the "not yet" camp when
it comes to concerns over the kind of government which might be
established in Iraq. Appearing on Fox, he probably felt a need to
reassure the audience of the confused which voted for Bush. In a
sense, he's right to say that the Islamic influence and unequal
rights for women isn't a done deal. But then, if it wasn't
a done deal, we shouldn't look to Cheney for an accurate
prognosis: for a long time, he was saying things like "we just don't know"
to Tim Russert about alleged connections between Iraq and 9/11
that had already been debunked. So I'm just saying.
I wonder if the right wing's glee from last week over the election in Iraq will be sustained, now that it looks like a religion few of them practice (Islam) will be enshrined in the Iraqi constitution? There may be some comfort in the phrase "not yet," but there has to be a recognition that a process is different from a result. Last Sunday's election was both process and result, but the results didn't end with Sunday's process.
Writer's alert. Writing is not easy, and I don't think consistently writing well is easy for anyone. Good writers not only write, they edit. They may not edit as they write, but they should certainly do so afterwards. And in the process of editing, if something sticks out like a sore thumb, they should attend to it. For instance, Nicholas Kristof's column today. It's all about how Democrats who oppose Social Security privatization should be willing to compromise with the President, and how stonewalling is a mistake. But then, in the middle of the column, Kristof writes,
True, there is one powerful objection to private Social Security accounts: We can't afford them now. Mr. Bush's plan would cost $1 trillion in its first decade and $3.5 trillion more in its second decade. Financing this with debt — an Argentinian approach — would be utterly reckless.
So there's this heaping objection which Kristof acknowledges supports arguments against privatization. Does this stop Kristof from getting behind privatization, or chastising Democrats? No. He blithely suggests tax increases, something the President would never consider.
A writer who offers a thesis-crumbling point like that one
really needs to start his column over, from a different point of
view. Instead of arguing that Democrats are obstructionist, the
point of view should have been more along the lines of "do
Democrats have legitimate complaints?"
Bush hasn't cut taxes. This is an interesting way to reframe Bush's claim that he's
cut taxes. Bush hasn't really cut taxes because the budget still
has to be paid for; Bush has merely shifted the tax burden lower
and later. Bush can't claim to have cut taxes until he cuts the
budget. (This is similar to the way I put it in one of my Ten Questions For President Bush from
last April, where my lead question was "At a time of increased
federal deficits, why do you continue to refer to the checks some
Americans received from the IRS as 'tax cuts' instead of 'money
stolen from future generations'?") (Via Hilzoy at Obisidian Wings.)
That Liberal Media. The New York Times
killed an article seriously discussing Bush's bulge, for fear it
the election. This is the impact of the incessant carping
that there's a liberal bias in the media: Bush cheats in the
debates, confident that he could get away with it, and the
Newspaper of Record is too timid to push the button on their
story. (Via Will via Suburban Guerilla via Digby.)
This is like shooting fish in a barrel. Yesterday's lead post was about an over-the-top cartoon posted by Kerry Kerstetter at Social Security Choice. I'm about to post about another of his chosen cartoons, but before I do so, shall we ask the big question? I mean, who is Kerry Kerstetter? Here's the bio at Social Security Choice:
So let's be clear about this, unlike other CPA's, Kerry Kerstetter has clients who are "real people." Unlike your accountant, who has a client portfolio consisting of robots, alien monsters, dust bunnies, amoebas, and perhaps even a stray meerkat. But not Kerry Kerstetter (no sirree bob!), who helps real people.
Wait, I'm being unfair: Kerstetter's client portfolio could actually be diverse, covering all of the above; that is, we know he has "real people" for clients, but perhaps fakes, too. (Kerry, can you clarify in the comments? Thanks.)
Now, for the latest wrong cartoon. Here. The cartoon asserts that Social Security "runs out" in 13 years. This is wrong. And if Kerry Kerstetter doesn't know better, I'm going to have to email Brad Delong about his "stupidest man alive" rankings. Social Security doesn't "run out" in 13 years. Far from it. What happens in 13 years is that pay outs exceed revenues, and according to plan, it starts drawing on its Trust Fund. It's been saving up for this, it has reserves, it's not "running out." It's like when you notice you're running low on canned peaches and you go down into the cellar to get a jar or so that you canned this summer or the last. That's all. If Kerstetter really believes Social Security "runs out" in 13 years, he's stupid. And if he doesn't believe it, he's lying to post this cartoon. He is, after all, a CPA, who deals with real people. Although perhaps his alien monster clients have turned his mind to mush with one of those zapper things. End of story.
You know, I'm going to have to flat out say this explicitly,
because Kerstetter doesn't get it: America deserves better than
the crap that Kerstetter is posting. And for him to continue
doing so doesn't work in the best interests of anybody.
Pinch me. Since the President (er, the
Executive) is only one branch of the government, and there
are checks and balances — in this case, Presidential vetoes
can be overridden by a two-thirds vote — can someone tell
me why payroll tax increases are really off the table?
Just 'cos he says so doesn't make it so. There are already
44, 45 Democratic senators lined up against privatization. What's
more likely, the passing of privatization reforms, or getting
some Republicans to agree to an increase in payroll tax? (Dear
Mr. President, please find enclosed one copy of the U.S.
Constitution. Since you recently swore to uphold it, I thought
this copy might come in handy...)
Why didn't this happen before the GOP
convention? Being the neighborly sort, I was glad the GOP
chose NYC for their 2004 convention (though not thrilled with the
kajillion mentions of 9/11); still, I think it would have been a
little more interesting if this judicial decision had been handed
couple months beforehand. Can't win 'em all, I guess.
Mind the deceptive phrasing. In a critique of E.J. Dionne's column in the Washington Post, Ramesh Ponnuru at NRO's "The Corner" writes, "The basic point of the column is to minimize the fiscal problem. He does this chiefly by ignoring the $5.8 trillion the government will have to come up with to pay for benefits between 2018 and 2042."
Wrong, Ramesh: the government has to come up with money to cover the bonds its sold to the Social Security Trust Fund, just like it perpetually has to come up with money to pay back investors all around the world. There's nothing special about Social Security in this regard. The U.S. government has to come up with money for its past deficit spending, not Social Security.
This is not a point of mere semantics: it's not a burden for
Social Security to pay its benefits. It may be a burden for the
US government to cover its loans, but well, we should have listened
more to Clinton in 1998. Don't blame Social Security for
Wall Street must be very disappointed. The January jobs report is out, and it failed to meet Wall Street's expectations. Like December's. And like November's. And while November's numbers were revised up in December, they were still too low; October's were strong but revised down when the November report came out, and September's were also disappointing.
Atrios is practicing the prejudice of lowered expectations by noting that Bush narrowly escaped a net job loss for his term, but let's remember, the 2004 job production falls short even of Bush's own forecast issued this past February. Note what I wrote in December:
What we can learn from the use of the word "crisis." Use of the word crisis to describe what Social Security faces in the future has dropped precipitously. And given that privatization is starting to have the attributes of a fetid corpse, let's start off with a quick review of some basics before we examine the semantics.
I doubt that the President will be able to persuade us ever again of what his genuine motives are, not since that screw-up in getting us into Iraq — not just because he got us in, but that it could have been averted easily by giving the inspectors the extra time they wanted, and that his rationale for the war has constantly shifted. There's just not a lot of reason to trust him when it comes to motives.
But let's look into the White House web site at the progress in language. I'm not going to be very thorough here, because there are others who have more time and actually make money for blogging, but let's look at Scott McClellan's briefing for January 6. The significance of this is that, if you use the site's search engine for "crisis," and order by date, this was the last occasion in which the word crisis was used by the WH to describe Social Security's situation. McClellan used the word more than once, but look at this section:
Note the reference to "a unique opportunity": that language alone undercuts the urgency of the situation, because if it were truly urgent the Congress would realize it and act no matter who was in the White House or controlled the various branches of government.
Also if I may add, the "unique" opportunity was under Clinton, when we weren't running a budget deficit; in 1998 Clinton wanted to put money from the surplus into Social Security, but was frustrated by Republicans, who he said wanted to raid the surpluses instead of strengthening Social Security. See here, where he said,
So Clinton was being the fiscal conservative, insisting that
So let's go back to the phrase "unique opportunity." This is not about improving the Social Security or the country, this is about "because I can." Remember how he said he'd earned political capital as result of the election and he intended to use it? Whether or not you agree that he had a mandate (I don't), given the limited impact of what privatization will do for the country in anything close to a positive sense, it's difficult to look at this initiative as being anything more than swagger and payback. (That same McClellan press briefing, by the way discusses an internal memo which discussed the political opportunities which reforming Social Security meant in terms of the relative powers of the Republican and Democratic parties.)
For many of you this is all only a reminder. But at a point when we're scratching our heads and asking "why is he doing this?" (even some Republicans are asking) perhaps a reminder will be helpful in shaping the argument.
Pay attention to the disconnected arguments. The Club For Growth's lobbying affiliate is releasing an ad promoting privatization. That's fine, they're welcome to. And the ad reassures current retirees and boomers that there will be no changes to their benefits. That's also fine. But for those younger the ad states:
You can see the ad here.
A couple things to point out: one, they shift from shortfalls
in benefits under the current plan to privatization without any
mention that Bush's plan calls for benefits cuts as it is, even
with privatization. That is, they change the subject entirely
when they move to discussing private accounts. (See this post regarding how you're
expected to do better under current Social Security than under
Bush's plan.) Secondly, I don't believe Bush's plan will allow
you to pass your privatized account onto your children. Unless
I'm wrong, you buy an annuity with the funds you've accumulated
at retirement, and you forfeit the balance when you die. Am I
wrong? I'll certainly correct the record if I'm wrong, but this
is a deceptive ad.
I find this strange. Miami is a big
market for retirees, yet there's no mention of Social Security on
the home page of the Miami Herald
— nothing, not veiled, no Bush, no reforms, nothing. Maybe
they think they covered it all yesterday? Maybe they don't think
that those who are concerned read them online? I find it odd.
(Nothing on the home page of
The Palm Beach Post, either, nor on the pdf of today's front
page.) And Bush is visiting the state today!
Since the courts won't compel Cheney to open up his files on
his energy panel (wasn't it clever to have that energy panel
headed up by a VP, who could then wrap himself up in the idea of
White House confidentiality?), and since Cheney has no interest
in opening them up otherwise, I'd say this is good reason to hold
up the energy plan whose delays Bush griped up about the other
night, wouldn't you? I mean, all in the interests of government
Well, this rhetoric is ratcheting up nicely. So now the Democrats are being compared to insurgents. I'm sorry, but when you show a cartoon like this without commentary, you're suggesting you endorse the view; and comparing Democrats who disagree with you over Social Security to insurgents is waaaay over the top. Maybe Kerry Kerstetter hasn't heard, but our troops are dying at the hands of insurgents. Rather than post this cartoon without comment, it should be shown and spat on.
UPDATE: Over at Daily Kos, a comment has been made that the privatization camp has made another mistake by reminding us of Iraq: "Linking the administration's plans for Social Security reform with the botched Iraqi reconstruction effort is an argument that can't be heard enough."
UPDATE 2: Kerry Kerstetter responds, sort of, but still doesn't seem to
be cognizant that the cartoon he published was over the top. You
publish it, you own it. If you don't think it's over the top to
compare those you disagree with to the insurgents, perhaps some
time with families of the fallen will help. If you do
think it's over the top and publish it anyway, then you've
You'd be better off if you left Social
Security as is? So Bush & Co has said that privatization
won't resolve funding issues for Social Security. Apparently
you'll be worse off under the Bush plan than under Social
Security as is. More here and here. You can also read about it in the extract
I posted from the Roger Lowenstein article which posted here; the plan that the President spoke
about last night is basically the same one which the CBO analyzed
and Lowenstein wrote about. (If the privatizers want to argue
against this, fine, we entertain all arguments. We still wish
they'd all sit down together and hash it out on TV: it's just as
important as a presidential debate.)
Solutions that don't solve. If you haven't heard (you can read about it over at Talking Points Memo), the Bush Administration is backing off claims that privatization will help the fiscal health of Social Security. This is a point made a few Sunday's ago in the New York Times Magazine, in an article by Roger Lowenstein. He pointed out that Bush & Co. had only one plan analyzed, and in it, savings resulted not from privatization but from benefits cuts. (My write up, with extracts, is here.)
The argument is now reduced to political philosophy about what
the program should be, and whether a shift in the program will
benefit its participants. It has little or nothing to do with the
fear appeals used to get your attention. This is very much like
the bait-and-switch used on the rationalization for invading
Iraq. As you know, the emphasis started out as WMDs and the new
post-9/11 world, with the suggestion to Americans that Saddam
Hussein was behind 9/11; it morphed into humanitarian, and now
seems to be about planting democracy.
This is a mischaracterization of my positions. I have never said I'm against reform; I haven't even said privatization is wrong, I just remain skeptical of it. I'd like to see something like the old College Bowl game show, where a team from the pro- privatization camp debates a team from the anti-privatization camp. All together on the same page, responding to each other's arguments in real time. And from teams, not Luskin v. Krugman. But Luskin's own blog (as well as Social Security Choice) doesn't allow comments from readers, so clearly they aren't promoting dialog.
Truth be known, I'm in favor of fixing Social Security and have said so several times. But because I don't see it Luskin's way, he sees me as being "anti-reform." That's like the false choice which hawks created over Iraq: anyone who wanted to give the inspectors more time were tarred as wanting to give the inspectors forever, and free reign to Saddam. Well, we were right about Saddam Hussein, and the hawks were wrong. Are we going to wake up with a similar feeling about privatization?
And as for Luskin's other point, that it really doesn't matter
where you start the 75 year period, I can accept that. But as one
of my commenters reminded, securities laws prohibit anyone
talking about future performance on the basis of past
performance; you can't logically extrapolate from the past.
I actually think the October 2002 speech in Cincinnati was far better; even though we now know that much of it was bluster, Bush clearly laid out his rationale for addressing Saddam Hussein, pinning it on what he described not as a single issue of humanitarian abuse, terrorism, or WMD, but the combination of them in one regime. The rhetoric, too, was far more riveting: "we cannot wait for the final proof — the smoking gun — that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." He also supported his claims with enough details to make you shiver.
Last night's speech, however, left you scratching your head when it came to Social Security. He fudged on some details, suggesting that the growth in the number of retirees was unforeseen by those who set the program up, for instance. He also claimed that in 2042 the system will be "exhausted and bankrupt." You can justify "bankrupt" if it can't meet all its obligations, but if it can meet 80% of them "exhausted" is a lie. That, I think, is the big difference between the 2005 SOTU and 2002 Cincinnati: in each case he wasn't telling the truth, but in Cincinnati we didn't know. Last night he peddled a lot of the same lies that have already been dispensed with.
There is also the issue of audience reaction. In Cincinnati, Bush had the advantage of a partisan audience; much of last night's audience knew to wail in disbelief at some of what the President was saying, diminishing its impact.
So I certainly disagree with Lukas on the relative quality of
the speech. Another question I have is over Lukas' appreciating
the President's remark over Senators having the same program he's
proposing. Isn't the TSP which the President was talking about
in addition to Social Security as we know it? Anyone?
In the midst of democracy in Iraq, in
itself a good thing, the American nation may not feel the same:
for the first time in a decade, the Marines missed
their January recruitment goal. Let's not go crazy over this,
but perhaps it's an "early indicator," and let's watch it.
Everything is on the table regarding
Social Security? The President listed many alternative
adjustments to Social Security, saying he wanted one change that
would make the program self-sufficient forever. But he really
said everything was on the table. Will this be like his saying he
would give inspections in Iraq a chance to work, only to cut them
off with an artificial deadline of "time is running out"? Have I
just identified yet another parallel with the selling of the war
Culture of life. I was glad to hear
the President embrace an appreciation of life tonight: there are
too many abortions in the country, and I hope the President can
expand educational programs which will help the underprepared
take adequate precautions that One Night Of Sin doesn't lead to
an unwanted pregnancy. But I was surprised (actually, not) that
capital punishment wasn't part of this discussion. After all, the
Pope wrote a long encyclical on life drawing attention to
limiting capital punishment as part of a comprehensive
appreciation for life; and what with Bush having gone to the Pope
to plea for Catholic support against John Kerry (who favors
keeping abortion laws as they are), and what with the Pope being
in the hospital, I really thought that Bush would have been more
cognizant of what the word "life" means. But perhaps I quibble.
Frivolous asbestos claims. For a long
time, eliminating frivolous asbestos claims was just a dream,
until the President mentioned it in tonight's State of the Union
address; it may still be a dream, but used car salespeople (if you click the link,
that's what "aftermarket" means) can rest assured that their
dreams may become a reality. How about African-Americans, who
just last week the President claimed don't get a fair deal in
Social Security because they die earlier? Sorry, the President
wants to change Social Security. No mention of new health
initiatives to help you out. Too bad you're not selling used cars
with questionable asbestos.
Semantics debate? I just heard Tim
Russert say that there's a semantics debate going on over whether
reformed Social Security accounts would be "private" or
"personal." Let's be clear, it's not a semantics debate, it's a
word choice debate. We all know what the words mean. And
privatization captures it. If there's a debate, it's between the
President and the populace over what the word privatization
means. He was capable of making American think Saddam Hussein was
behind 9/11, he ought to be able to tell them what he really
means by the word privatization. Leave the language alone.
Even without the arithmetic, there's nothing so unusual about thinking that stocks could return something like 6.5 percent, after inflation, over the next 75 years. After all, they've returned exactly that over the last 75 years, according to Ibbotson Associates.
Let's say that's so, for argument. Let's also say, for
argument, that we're in calendar year 2005 (the beginning, or
thereabouts). 2005 minus 75 equals, what, 1930? (Can somebody
check my math for me?) Can anyone figure out a reason why
starting a comparison of stock market growth in 1930 might be a
bit misleading? October,
A privatizer comes clean. Over at
Social Security Choice, Louis Woodhill openly states that he wants to take Social
Security away from the Democrats as a political issue. He's OK
with increasing the deficit to increase benefits on Social
Security, just to shut Democrats up. How much do they really care
about Social Security?
The Iraq-Social Security parallels keep coming. I mean, not that the issues themselves are similar, but the way that Bush & Co. have campaigned to have them addressed. African Americans, it seems, are the Social Security equivalent of Abu Musab al Zarqawi.
How so? Well, you'll recall that one of the arguments for invading Iraq was that Saddam Hussein was harboring al Zarqawi. Said Colin Powell in his (hah!) Adlai Stevenson Moment at the UN Security Council,
Powell would invoke Zarqawi's name 21 times in his presentation. Musta been a serious dude, well worth taking out; and the ensuing history of our engagement has shown his formidability, and what a danger he's been to our troops.
Except, that rather than deal with Zarqawi and the danger he represented, the White House chose to keep him as card in their hand to justify war against Iraq. And in Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack (pages 300-301) you can read about the background disucssions they had over whether or not Saddam Hussein was really "harboring" someone in an area where he (Hussein) had no control, with Cheney's chief of staff arguing that his mere presence counted for harboring.
So here you have an Administration not doing all it could to remedy a problem, and instead leveraging that problem to fulfill a bigger goal.
As for African-Americans, last week Bush talked about the lower life expectancies of African Americans, and argued that they receive a worse "deal" from Social Security as a result; therefore we should change Social Security. (Bush's arguments have been refuted.) But did Bush say anything about programs to improve the life expectancy of African-Americans? No. Why would he do that, when he wants to argue for changing Social Security instead?
Don't listen to tonight's State of the Union address with
expectations that you'll hear anything about new health programs
targeting African-Americans. They didn't target al Zarqawi when
they could have, either.
"Where there is yet shame, there may in
time be virtue." (Johnson)
Well, it's not looking good for reform in the Bush White House,
not when you've got Senators like John Cornyn being quoted as saying about the delayed vote on the
Gonzales nomination, "They want [...] to try to taint this
nominee with the perceived sins of the Bush administration." Got
that? Perceived sins, no acceptance that torture is wrong
or that Bush and Gonzales were complicit in attempts to move the
bar on what constitutes torture, allowing for more and more
egregious treatment of prisoners. They still don't see how this
attitude endangers our troops, since the Geneva Conventions
require reciprocity. But hey, whatever. All for the good of the
GOP, you know? (How many Republican senators will show their
statesmanship and vote to reject Gonzales?)
So glad I don't have the time to blog about EVERYthing. If I blogged about every alarm, then a few weeks ago I'd have been raving about the NYC subway fire that knocked out an entire local line and struck an express line down to one-third its normal capacity, and how it was going to take 3- 5 years to restore it, and the impact it was going to have not just on New Yorkers but on New Jersey commuters who come in on a bus over the George Washington Bridge. But I didn't, I was too busy. But then a few days later when the original timeline was brought back to a matter of months, I said, you know, I should write about how quickly things change and how sometimes it makes sense to hold your opinion back. But I didn't, I was too busy. And so now, today, that local line that was supposed to take years, then months, is actually working as of today.
So the CIA has put the final nail in the coffin, and officially concluded that Saddam Hussein hasn't had any chemical weapons since 1991. Not 'till just before the war, but since 1991. Keep in mind that a majority of Americans has concluded that the war in Iraq wasn't worth it. That may be moderated as a result of the recent Iraqi elections, but I can't imagine any grosser negligence from a President than sending his country to an unnecessary war. Bush's refusal to let the inspectors have more time under his artificial "time is running out" deadline has cost us too many lives and led to too many crippling injuries, as well as too huge a debt burden.
We sure did get us a war president, didn't we? What the hell was this exercise all about, some kind of compensation for an inferiority complex?
I want to know, I really want to know how he was being
advised: who was feeding him the "now or never" garbage, the "we
can't turn all these ships around"? (Hat tip to Kevin Drum.)
A belated welcome to those of you coming
from Tom Tomorrow's "This Modern World" blog. Enjoy the
photos, enjoy the political posts, but please check out my
Samuel Johnson site, within which this blog
resides. (If you don't know who Samuel Johnson was, he lived in
the 18th century, wrote something like 400 essays, a Dictionary,
literary criticism, and has been looked to by both liberals and conservatives.)
Seriously, it's the assemblage of nearly 2,000 Johnson quotes that I'm really
proud of. So set a spell, and find your bookmark button!
Oh pish posh: Paul Krugman's reality
check. If you haven't done it yet, make Paul Krugman your
first reading priority today. It's about the unsustainable growth
that the stock market would need in order to make privatization
work, and how, if the economy were actually growing fast enough
to support that growth, Social Security
wouldn't need reform.