Saturday, January 08, 2005

Fighting the Social Security Hype 

I posted Thursday about how Social Security Commissioner Barnhart is using taxpayers’ annual Social Security Statements to propagandize for the Bush push to hype a funding crisis. It’s heartening to see that not everyone is taking this laying down.

After e-mailing a copy of my post to Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, I see he’s improvised at bit to put down this abuse. Marshall suggests someone with some time file Freedom of Information requests on the preparation of the Commissioner’s statement message. I wonder how much e-mail there will be between the White House and Commissioner Barnhart on the subject?

Hurry folks, Rove’s hard drive is being cleaned even as we blog…

PS- It wouldn't hurt to e-mail your Congressman/woman as well to complain.

In another direct mail update, I see my folks have received the latest AARP Bulletin. Bravo, they're fighting the hype as well.

Having a Ball 

Yeah, Yeah, I know there are some pretty serious issues to be thinking about on a Saturday morning— more casualties in Iraq, the aftermath of the Southeast Asian tsunami, the attempt to dismantle Social Security and more, but what seems also to have caught the attention of the NY Times front page is, “Who owns the baseball that ended the Curse?”

Doug Mientkiewicz
caught it at the end of the World Series against the Cardinals. He still has it. As they used to say in my Massachusetts high school days, “Possession is 9/10’s of the law.”

Tyler Kepner has queried Harvard Law School professors, former Twins teammates of the Sox’ first baseman, and Baseball Hall of Fame officials in an effort to run down the very long and short of the matter.

Meanwhile, real Sox fans know a Dan Shaughnessy story when they see one. Like many of the Boston writer’s brushback pitches, this high fast one will likely be put into perspective soon enough. While the initial story has tweaked New York into a page one lather fit for sore losers, the Boston Globe (bottom of article) has relegated the aftermath back inside the Sports section, where Mientkiewicz is quoted saying that his initial comments to Shaughnessy were meant in jest, including the offhanded statement that the million dollar ball would be his retirement fund.

I look for the ball to go on tour and hopefully reside in Cooperstown, where many a Son of Sam Horn will kneel in its presence.

On the other hand, think about the ball’s bargaining power to a man locked, mano a mano, in a battle to start the new season at 1st base against Kevin Millar

Friday, January 07, 2005

Cover Me, I'm Going In... (to vote) 

Kevin Drum reports two items under the wake up and smell the coffee heading:

1- over 50% of the Iraqi public faces unsafe conditions for the elections-- including its major cities. (according to commander of US ground forces, Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz) --per Dexter Filkins, NY Times today

2- We "may be seeing an incipient civil war" in Iraq...It would take 500,000 troops in Iraq and a $200 million annual pricetag to turn the situation around (according to past National Security Chiefs Scowcroft and Brzezinski)--per Ronald Brownstein, today's LA Times

A Commitment...Honored? 

A reader on TPM suggests to Josh Marshall that one commitment to Social Security President Bush ought to be asked to honor is to the Trust Fund. The US has 1.8 trillion in obligations to the Trust Fund accumulated through borrowing from same.

I'd like to hear the President wobble around an answer to the simple question, "Can you reassure the American public that you intend to honor the commitments made to the Social Security Trust Fund when the Federal government borrows from it to pay off debts?"

Or would you rather blame it for the debt crisis you've created?

Thursday, January 06, 2005

A Little Something from the Government... 

Well, I got my annual Social Security Statement today from the government.

As always, it contained my lifetime earning stats and how much I can expect to receive back from SSI if I retire at 62, 66,or 70 years old. There’s all the usual housekeeping information and something a little more this year from Social Security Commissioner Jo Anne B. Barnhart. She writes:

“…Unless action is taken soon to strengthen Social Security, in just 14 years we will begin paying more in benefits than we collect in taxes. Without changes, by 2042 the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted.* By then, the number of Americans 65 or older is expected to have doubled. There won’t be enough younger people working to pay all of the benefits owed to those who are retiring. At that point, there will be enough money to pay only about 73 cents of each dollar of scheduled benefits. We will need to resolve these issues soon to make sure Social Security continues to provide a foundation of protection for future generations as it has done in the past.”

Thanks to Jo Anne, I’m now better educated about Social Security.

Except that in her unasked-for little commercial for the Administration’s Social Security ‘reform,’ paid for by my taxpayer dollars, she neglects to mention that many people think the crisis is being way over-hyped. Ms. Barnhart omits that in “just 14 years,” the Social Security Trust Fund kicks in to make up the shortfall in income— just the way it was supposed to. She never says that with any one of several moderate changes in taxation or income levels subject to withholding over several decades before her doomsday, this crisis need never occur.

If you aren’t too happy with your statement being turned into an unpaid political flyer for the Administration’s agenda, write to your representative in Congress and the Senate. I know I’m going to.

What Our Forces Face in Iraq 

Thanks to Paperwight, Lawyers, Guns and Money, and Spencer Ackerman, we pass on more sobering news from Iraq.

Agence France Presse reported Iraqi intelligence service director General Mohammed Abdullah Shahwani's assessment that the Iraqi resistance probably numbers up to 200,000, 50,000 more than the US military has presently in the country. Our soldiers deserve an honest appraisal of the situation they face and apparently, it’s not going to come from our leaders.

See Paperwight for a timeline of how the Administration has downplayed these numbers throughout the occupation.

A Shout to Colby Buzzell 

I was reminded today of Colby Buzzell, the freespirited soldier-blogger from the San Francisco Bay area, whose My War blog opened a window into what was happening on the ground in Iraq, before his writing about personal experiences was shut down by superiors. Buzzell, known on his site as CBFTW, cleverly let a reader describe his censors in the following way:

"The people keeping CB from posting are the same people that kept him from skating the Ralphs parking lot back in the day...
that is all you have to know about liberty and freedom, the politics of skateboarding"

Buzzell’s Sept 10 post in his blog alerted me to a detail about his service that ran chills down my spine when I re-read it today:

"Right now my unit is engaged in some heavy fighting here in the Mosul area."

Additionally, Buzzell mentioned that information about what his outfit was going through could be obtained through Stryker Brigade News, a blog for the Guard unit that was later attacked in the December suicide bombing of the their mess tent in Mosul. I hope Buzzell is OK and that any reader with information about him and his Stryker comrades will share it, since we can now only see that even his blog posts of clipped news dispatches stopped in Sept 2004.

The Stryker Blog only re-posts news clips, however, even those portray a sense of constant attacks on US soldiers, few of which seep through daily in our press coverage.

Best wishes to Buzzell and fellow Stryker Brigade members. You are not forgotten.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

I Could Tell You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You... 

In time to preview the Gonzales hearings, No More Mister Nice Blog passes on another article from the UK press detailing torture used at Guantanamo Bay.

It’s incredible how little of the detailed information available in the foreign press makes it into US news… or maybe it isn’t. A lawyer for one of the suspects there has had all his notes confiscated and classified (standard procedure). However, the letter he wrote to Tony Blair was declassified- apparently only UK authorities have moved to allow publication of the details contained within.

In the US, the details of torture are classified “methods of interrogation.”


Can someone please ask Mr. Gonzales if this is what he had in mind when he wrote his torture memo?

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Index Change=Less for Retirees 

The Washington Post reports today in an article by Jonathan Weisman and Mike Allen that the Bush Social Security plan will likely call for a change in indexing that results in reduced defined benefits for retirees...in English, less money each month.

But with the 'offer' of individual accounts, many people will make up for that, the White House suggests.

Just as an aside, if anyone out there is waiting for the 'offer' to set up your own private retirement account, wait no longer. They're available...have been, will be. They're called IRA's, 401k's, SEP's, Keogh's, etc. We've got'em, thanks.

Meanwhile, we'd like the Administration to keep it's mitts off our Social Security, thanks.

...and serious thanks to Josh Marshall, for linking to the Post article in his continuing excellent coverage of Social Security 'reform.'

Krugman, Social Security, and the Long Term 

Paul Krugman has written the next installment in his series on Social Security, focusing today on the fakery involved in manufacturing a 'crisis' around the Social Security Trust Fund.

Krugman has written two previous columns on the subject, both previewing the series that he has begun today on dissecting the Bush Administration plan.

It's important to see the Trojan Horse aspect of the Bush plan and the politics behind it. While Krugman explains how the Bush effort hypes a non-existent crisis, remember that the politics behind the hype are twofold:

First, raiding the Social Security Trust allows Bush to get away with the crazy spend-and-spend budget he's pursued without ever raising taxes on the wealthy--even if it hits middle class Americans in their retirement.

Second, by dismantling Social Security, Bush (and Rove, who's shadow can't be missed behind this) will undermine the basis of the progressive contract, emptying a fund that protects us all against poverty in our old age, forcing everyone to rely on the marketplace (and on the Wall St firms so tied to the Administration) for ALL of our nest-egg.

It's a brilliant long-term political strategy to break the electorate away from ties with government and with each other, leaving everyone ever less dependent on each other to build a society of common values. It's classic Rove politics, breaking the electorate into ever smaller groups, each of which can be appealed to separately and against one another.

Monday, January 03, 2005

In Direct Terms... 

I wonder how the following concept in direct mail on Social Security would be received:

"Over the course of your working career, if you are ___ (let's say 47) years old and have earned on average, $35,000 per year in your lifetime, you have already paid ________ in taxes towards Social Security. You should, under current conditions, receive approximately_____ (lets say $23,000) per year from SSI at retirement IF SOCIAL SECURITY IS LEFT INTACT.

Do you think your investment in this base safety net will be safe if President Bush's privatization plan is enacted? He's ready to roll the dice, but we're concerned..."

NY Times Lambastes SS Fear Factor Exploitation 

Today's NY Times editorial page offers a cogent summary of the many reasons to oppose President Bush's Social Security privatization plan. It should be clipped, laminated, and posted on the walls of every wanabee retiree. Let's kill this plan before it kills the safety net Americans have been paying for since Roosevelt.

Alternative Plans... 

Bull Moose suggests Democrats come up with alternative plans for Social Security, taxes, and tort reform to show the insurgent power of the opposition. There is a basic critique of the Bush agenda within same post, but an assumption about Democratic opposition that's premised on saying 'no' being tantamount to being without an alternative. There are as many alternatives as there are Democrats, I'll bet, but...

... OK, so just in case anyone hasn't already thought of these...

Social Security: However hopeless passage would be, an ideal plan, or plans for SS might include increasing the cap on earnings taxed (so the truly wealthy can help do their share) and a slowly phased increase in the retirement age, starting in a decade or so. It's not as if SS needs to be turned upside down...that's the point in opposing this manufactured 'crisis!' ...as for giving younger Americans a method to save for retirement, don't we also have all manner of tax sheltered savings plans now? ...or am I missing something...

Taxation: On taxes, again, maybe the truly wealthy could participate fully in funding the government that currently serves them so well. Perhaps the estate tax is a way, maybe losing the continuing tax cuts for the super rich... how about combining that with stopping the drunken-sailor style spending this administration is engaged in? Why are we discussing turning our tax system upside down, simply because the right wants to starve off the federal government?

On tort "reform," what's really needed is an honest debate about why the civil courts are the only reason we have relatively safe products or recourse when being screwed by corporate interests. "Reform' is about eliminating that protection by giving those who have the money all the power in the courtroom as well. Rather than having a better plan to help do this, Democrats might want to 'just say no!'

Cole on Sistani's Next Move 

Juan Cole reports this morning on the latest pre-election bombing in Baghdad and thinks the time is soon coming for Sistani to ask for the US to leave.
I have to wonder if there's much benefit in waiting the additional month or two for the inevitable, instead of announcing before the election that we have a timetable... that it looks like our own plan...and might save some American lives in making our intentions to leave soon known... of course it's all hypothetical as hell, since Bush isn't listening to either of us...

Our Debt, Our Retirement, W's Playground... 

If you’re wondering why George W. Bush would rather take on Social Security than the overall national deficit, read Josh Marshall’s post over at TPM on where much of the moolah borrowed to pay off the debt comes from…you guessed it, the Social Security trust. Why pay that back, when you can just reorganize it away (and continue to give huge tax breaks to your rich buddies).

EDITOR'S UPDATE: If you really want a preview of some of the three-card monte games about to be introduced into federal deficit number calculations, read Edmund Andrews in yesterday's Times

Shirley Chisholm 

It seems we’ve entered a period of good people passing away daily here at home, while the death toll in Asia continues to rise (140,000+ now).

The news of Shirley Chisholm’s passing comes this morning, though she died Saturday. A friend recently edited a television biography of her for the PBS’ series POV, which I recommend and had the good fortune to see in the edit room. She was a giant figure in American political life, a woman who didn’t give a damn whether people said something couldn’t be done.

The first African American woman elected to Congress, Chisholm never did what people expected her to do. Running for President in 1972 was one of those surprises. Chisholm was an advocate for women, for African Americans, poor people everywhere, and for peace and justice.

"Women in this country must become revolutionaries. We must refuse to accept the old, the traditional roles and stereotypes."

"I stand before you today as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States. I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women's movement of this country, although I am a woman, and I am equally proud of that. I am not the candidate of any political bosses or special interests. I am the candidate of the people."

-Shirley Chisholm, 1924-2005

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Robert Matsui 1941-2005 

America's retirees lost a great protector yesterday in Robert Matsui. At 63, he was in the prime of his career in Congress and a leader in fighting efforts to compromise Social Security. He will be missed by Japanese Americans, for whom he gained an apology for their interning during WWII, and by all people who appreciate honest leadership.

Helping Congressman Moran See the Way 

Here’s a positive update from TPM, who's shoring up fainthearted Democrats on Social Security:

Josh Marshall
appears to have drawn blood at Virginia Rep. Jim Moran’s office. If anyone has a few minutes of spare time, this could be a nice Sunday to write a brief yet forceful letter asking Moran if he can clarify his position on Social Security, since as Josh has pointed out, it’s not clear from his previous statements whether he is standing firm with House Democrats against privatization.

Let’s make sure fainthearted Democratic legislators feel the pressure to stay together, since they will shortly be feeling pressure to peel off, once the White begins to pick a specific plan of attack.

The Honorable James P. Moran
United States House of Representatives
2239 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-4608

Jack Newfield  

With the great loss of life this past week, it’s been easy to overlook the passing of some great American figures. I recommend taking a moment to read Wayne Barrett on Jack Newfield, who passed away in December. While I don’t link to paid subscriber sites, you may want to check out Joe Conanson’s personal memory of his mentor as well at Salon.com

"Pick an issue. Study it. Figure out who the decision makers you want to influence are. Name the guilty men. Make alliances with experts. Combine activism with the writing. Create a constituency for reform. And don't stop till you have achieved some progress. This is what I mean by the Joe Frazier method. Keep coming forward. Be relentless. Don't stop moving your hands. Break the other guy's will."

-Jack Newfield 1938-2004

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