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Saturday, December 18, 2004

Loose Lips... 

One interesting byproduct of the Kerik nomination going down the tubes and continuing to cause embarrassment for both the President and Rudy Guiliani is all the loose talk it's spawning...inside the Administration. See Elisabeth Bumiller's article in today's Times and notice how many sources are talking to the press-- anonymously and frankly.

It makes you wonder if the stone wall of silence in the Bush White House isn't beginning to crumble- even before his second term begins. It's way too early to generalize, but we'll keep an eye out.

Sports Stadium Blues 

Boffoblog has pointed out to Washington baseball fans that a new stadium needn't always be a burden for the host city. We're having our own problems here in New York, where the city seems intent on selling out the west side of Manhattan to the New York Jets football team.

A good example of how to avoid public financing and still keep sport fans happy might be the Boston Red Sox, who finally realized that Boston wasn't going to allow or pony up for a new Fenway Park. The Sox have added attractive and expensive new seating to historic Fenway and seem to have kept in the black nicely. A World Series victory didn't hurt either!

BTW- Matt Clement, Edgar Renteria, welcome to Red Sox Nation!

Justifiable Homicide-2001 

Since the Bernie Kerik abomination of a nomination has prompted some second looks at both Kerik and his sponsor, Rudy Giuliani, I'd like to suggest that readers get their hands on the scathing expose' documentary film, "Justifiable Homicide". The film, produced by Jon Osman and Jonathan Stack, premiered in the wake of September 11 in 2001, when no one wanted to hear about the seamy underbelly of the Giuliani mayoral administration. It got almost no play, but thanks to the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, some of us got a look at this important film back then.

The documentary is based on the brutal murder of cousins Antonio Rosario and Hilton Vega, two Puerto Rican young men who were shot by two NYPD detectives in the Bronx in early 1995. One detective was Mayor Giuliani's former bodyguard. Sound familiar? Well, Bernie Kerik is also a former bodyguard of Rudy's. It seems to be a career path for men of questionable character.

Anyway, see the film. You'll never be able to stomach listening to Rudy talk about law and order (or decency) again.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Sandra Jacques, Single Mom, Shill, and More 

Josh Marshall in his Talking Points Memo blog has linked to a little more background info in the Edmund Andrews NY Times piece today regarding the President's "single mom for Social Security privatization," Sandra Jacques. Again, Marshall describes the wonderful astroturf term in an earlier post.

Suffice it to say she's not your everyday single mom...

Krugman on Social Security Privatization 

Paul Krugman is back today on Social Security. Read his latest column on the experience being touted in other nations with privatization.

The two mains points of Krugman’s column today are the following:

1) …that the privatization schemes that have been tried elsewhere in the world have resulted in the failure of some retirees to escape poverty, as their investments under the plan don’t always pan out. In the end, government needs to bail out these retirees. Uh, another Social Security… only now it’s welfare.

2) …that the cost of administration under plans tried abroad are higher than the administrative costs of Social Security, despite the claims of the Wall St. cheerleaders for privatization.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

"Model 2"-- Buyer Beware! 

The Bush Administration calls their plan for younger workers in the Social Security world they envision “Model 2.” It might better be described as a double-edged sword with a sharp spike, involving two bad deals and one massive disaster waiting to happen.

The first bad deal is the “ownership society” concept of investing up to $1,000 of younger workers’ annual payroll taxes in mutual funds made up of stocks and bonds. This is advertised as an enhanced, self-managed benefit, but it really amounts to a Trojan Horse, intended to further undermine the Social Security trust fund, so that retirees will have to depend entirely on their own investments eventually. It’s designed to kill Social Security, not to save it.

Here are the main reasons why “ownership” in this case amounts to fleecing.

The first reason is that most people are not very good investors; we get in trouble by picking bad investment vehicles on our own and we pay too much for the “help” we get doing it. Most people who manage their own investments do more poorly at it than pension funds do. We shouldn’t necessarily be pushed to manage our own pensions— and investment counselors shouldn’t be handed our last resort, safety net money. We should do our investing with money we save beyond the last little pile, not betting with the last chips left on the table.

The second reason why the “ownership” concept won’t work is that when there are bad times on Wall St. (like those we’ve just recently come through) and many folks have their pensions hammered by the forces of the “ownership” marketplace, there’ll be a fight over taking care of basic needs for those who got hurt, and a backlash from those who’s positions are better, splintering our social contract with each other as citizens. This eventuality, while serving the aims of the conservative shock troops who believe we’ll all be better off if we are left to the marketplace all the time, means that the most important glue of ownership in our government we have, our safety net at the back end of life, will be severed.

I said two bad deals. The shorter-term scam behind putting money “back in the hands of the people” through these investment accounts is a cover-up for turning around and cutting benefits on the remaining benefit portion from the Social Security trust fund. The plan the Bushies propose in order to temporarily prop up the SS trust fund— once investment monies are diverted-- is simple. They plan to give less of it back to taxpayers. In order to sell people on reduced benefits, the plan has the catchy “ownership” portion that people can obsess on, while the boring payback on the trust fund is cut “in order to make the transition.” They could never sell a benefit cutback on it own, but in this case, it’s all designed as part of a package deal “to get control” of the system, while giving taxpayers “ownership.”

OK, those are the two bad deals. What’s the disaster? Well, in order to make this whole thing happen, the Bushies will need up to two trillion dollars of our money to pay current and near-term retirees, while funneling lots of younger workers’ money into their Wall St. buddies investment vehicles. They know we’d never agree to give it to them outright, so here’s what they thought might work instead. Finance it with debt!

But, you say, aren’t the Republicans the party of balanced budgets? They wouldn’t add to the deficit, would they?

Sure they are. It’s just that this money is not going to be counted as part of the operating budget. It’ll be “off the books.” Like Enron’s little side businesses were “off the books.” So it won’t count. Until it does, later, when foreign investors don’t like the look of our real deficit, and bail on their US investments. Or perhaps, if we’re lucky, it doesn’t matter until the size of the shortfall becomes another reason to cut the rest of the programs that make our government worth having. Is a pattern emerging here? What’s the real agenda?

These eventual disasters would mean the end of government, as we now know it (and possibly the end of a functioning economy too). My underlying point is that starving the beast is exactly what the “reform” of Social Security is all about, as a stealthy enterprise dressed up as reform. It’s an opportunity to make the federal government harder to support and therefore important to diminish in size and power. Think about it, has the far right ever been interested in “saving” Social Security? Come on, this “ownership society” concept is so disingenuous as to be laughable!

Seriously, the trust fund is projected to be solvent into the 2040’s, giving us time to find real solutions that aren’t drastic in nature. Instead, the issue is being hyped as a crisis in order to support a radical solution. This ruse should smell bad to everyone who isn’t committed to killing off a basic safety net that underlies our social contract.

More Ohio Stories...(2) 

The Ohio November election story painted clearly in today's Post should prompt serious concern for anyone who cares about the integrity of our process. If you haven't seen the article by Michael Powell and Peter Slevin referred to in a BBDB post yesterday (below), it's worth it. For anyone rushing off, here's the bottom line:

"...While some promote conspiratorial theories, most have a straightforward bottom line. "A lot of people left in the four hours I waited," recalled Thivener, the mortgage broker from Columbus. "A lot of them were young black men who were saying over and over: 'We knew this would happen.'


"How," she asked, "is that good for democracy?" "

Casualties of War 

Have you wondered if anyone was paying mind to the number of coalition casualties, given as how the US military seems to be under orders to avoid keeping accurate accounting of same?

Well someone is. icasualties.org has a webpage that more or less keeps current with the carnage, at least of the coalition casualties. Remember, of course that The Lancet, the British medical journal, has estimated that 100,000 Iraqis have perished in the conflict already.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

More Ohio Stories... 

It's a tale of two precincts. Yeah, in Ohio. Michael Powell and Peter Slevin profile thousands of "lost votes" in the November election in tomorrow's Washington Post.

Tanya Thivener waited hours in Columbus to vote in the rain, watching disgusted voters walk away, convinced they couldn't make a difference, while her mother waited fifteen minutes in a Republican, white, suburban precinct to cast her vote.

Was it intentional? Let's find out. Congressman Conyers is still working to uncover the facts behind the charges regarding the Ohio vote.

Another Social Security Sham  

For the next couple of days, we'll be treated to some trumped up news from the President's "Conference on the Economy," a collection of made-for-TV "experts" on matters the White House would like to push it's POV across on.

Most visible among these is a panel on Social Security, which will feature Wall St. types and a "single mother from Iowa," Sandy Jacques.

Boffoblog has tracked down a bit of info on Ms. Jacques, who turns out to be a classic "astroturf" operative (Josh Marshall explains). Boffoblog calls Jacques "as representative of the views of single mothers as Dick Cheney is of college dropouts."

Jacques smells like a hired gun from this vantage. I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot of this kind of shill as the Social Security demolition squad starts hiring.

In an effort to help spread a little truth in between the layers of White House cheese coming our way on Social Security,Boffoblog and Marshall's "Talking Points Memo" are hitting the Links to the right for frequent reference.

Kerik's "Nanny" 

Just speculating on the Kerik story one step further... Josh Marshall points out that it's been damn hard to find an actual "Nanny" in any of the "Nanny Problem" stories about Bernie Kerik's nomination being derailed. What's the betting that somebody decided that one of the stories that WOULD come out was much worse?

Just pick, which problem of his WASN'T worse?

Ready to Fight for OSHA, Workplace Rights, State by State? 

Just when you start thinking about how a more reactionary Supreme Court might undo much of the progress Constitutional Law in this country has made since the 1950's, someone reminds you that 1950 is current events to the hard right. Professor Mark Santow e-mailed today to remind us that we may have to fight hard to make sure we're heard, "before Americans lose most of
the protections and securities that protect opportunity and freedom."

Santow cites todays Editorial Observer column by Adam Cohen in the NY Times as evidence that the legal beagles of the right want to go all the way back to the New Deal to start fresh. There's a lot of talk in circles close to White House ears about revisiting the Roosevelt Court's 1937 decision, Wickard v. Filburn, a landmark ruling that laid out an expansive view of Congress's power to legislate in the public interest.

Y'know, the New Deal? A Bush court could make "Groundhog Day" into a silent movie starring Charlie Chaplin with all the legal history we'd have to revisit.

Research Libraries to Become Searchable on Google 

The news that Google is scanning major research libraries to include their noncopyrighted material as accessible through a Google search is wonderful news for geeks like me. Must come as a bit of a downer to Bill Gates, though. Sounds like Google might be a little harder to topple than Netscape was.

When You Want to Say Goodbye, But it Seems So Gauche... 

"Full Confidence" has become the expression of choice for describing the moment just before the White House says you're toast. Dana Milbank explains, but refuses to "speculate."

Monday, December 13, 2004

Pedro Going, Going, Gone.  

Goodbye Pedro. Sweet sadness for Sox fans as we thank him for being fierce, bringing the pennant and the Series and for felling the Evil Empire finally. Here in New York I'll see him more, but love it less as he joins the Mets. Sad moment...

Social Security Doomsdays Abound 

A picture sometimes IS worth a thousand words. See this chart on Kevin Drum's blog if you believe we are about to lose Social Security unless Bush (kills it in order to...) saves it.

Muscle Bound (over) 

Don't ask me why, but these two follow-up items just seemed to fall together today….

First, per our recent heads-up, General Augusto Pinochet, strongman and murderer, was finally indicted in Chile. But where did his money go? hmm...

Second, for those among us who felt there were more questions lurking about Bernard Kerik, today's papers bring no surprises. How DID they think that nomination was going to work? And where did all HIS money come from?
Joyce Purnick has some choice words that also remind us here in the Big Apple of the pre-sanctification days of Rudy Giuliani, when Bernie Kerik was a chauffeur with an attitude, before becoming a lawless Commissioner of Police.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Next Court 

I was just thinking about the inauguration (in between dreaming of huge protests there) and the fact that Rehnquist will swear in the President... thinking that in addition to being a tribute to his life of service to the country it's also an opportunity to get the public involved with considering his replacement in the same breath as the honeymoon that surrounds the pomp of the inauguration.

It would be a huge mistake to let the proper sentiment around Rehnquist's illness and the parties and pageantry imbuing the balls and swearing in distract us from the event that will follow as night follows the day. Bush is dead set on appointing someone who will reverse Rowe v. Wade, civil rights decisions, and civil liberties decisions that keep this country from slipping into a condition where liberty is privilege, not basic right. It's payback time for the hard right and religious right.

Be ready for the velvet glove around the iron hand. This will be classic Rove showmanship at inaugural time to make the next appointment seem a simple and proper legacy. The legacy I remember is that Rehnquist was the replacement nominee when Nixon couldn't sneak G. Harrold Carswell, an outright racist, onto the court, making Rehnquist seem mild in comparison.

Twelve Days of Rummy...(unarmored) 

Time to get in the holiday spirit! To help with this, Maureen Dowd has written new lyrics to the twelve days of Christmas...sit back with a hot rum(my) toddy and sing along!

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