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Friday, January 14, 2005

When Do the Swift Boat Veterans Retire? 

According to Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei in the Washington Post, the administration, or as Paperwight calls it, the “campaignistration,” will reactivate the fundraising and grassroots structures of 2004 to lobby and advertise for Social Security privatization. One assumes the ‘FDR’ ads referred to in today’s earlier posting are merely the first wave of what will become a drumbeat of advertising meant to thump their story home.

According to the Post article, “The campaign will use Bush's campaign-honed techniques of mass repetition, never deviating from the script and using the politics of fear to build support -- contending that a Social Security financial crisis is imminent when even Republican figures show it is decades away.

Bush aides said that in addition to mobilizing the Republican faithful and tapping the power of business, they plan to target minority voters who have not been able to afford to save and might be open to the argument that the president's plan would turn them into investors.”

Here we go again.

"We have nothing to fear but Social Security itself" 

Now, look for ads featuring FDR, paid for by Bush-shill group Progress for America, supporting privatization, according to Jeff Fleischer at MoJoBlog.

Next, we’ll be seeing Abraham Lincoln in ads for secession and slavery…

Pesky Pension Problems Plague Privatizers 

Proponents of Social Security privatization used to talk about the experience of other countries with investment accounts (apparently the one time 'foreigners' could be right for them). We’re not hearing so much about foreign experiences anymore and it’s not surprising to anyone who’s knows existing private account programs elsewhere.

It used to be Argentina that they all talked about. Then Argentina’s economy imploded and all the things that used to be great about Argentina suddenly seemed, well… not so great.

Next, privatization shills turned to Britain’s experience to sing the praises of a Tory-inspired conversion from public to private pensions. If the British themselves are to be believed, that has been an unmitigated disaster for them as well, with 20-30% of pensions ending up in the pockets of investment firms, 75% of pensioners likely not to have “adequate savings” for their pensions, and their equivalent of the Chamber of Commerce calling for more guaranteed benefits, not more risk. So says Paul Krugman in his latest column and Norma Cohen in The American Prospect.

Krugman points out that the system they now wish they had is from another country: the United States.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Weigh In- It's Your Democracy 

Politics is all brass tacks, it’s all local. Just dig up Tip O’Neill and ask him. In the interests of remembering the maxim, we post a link to Josh Marshall’s member lists, appearing through links at bottom of his post today at Talking Points Memo.

List 1- “The Fainthearted Faction”- Members of Congress and the Senate who sit on the Democratic side, but may be tempted to stray on Social Security.

List 2- “The Conscience Caucus”- Members of Congress and the Senate who sit on the Republican side, but have staked out positions on Social Security that are supportive of retaining a solid safety net.

Check out the lists, bookmark them, watch for updates. These people will be at the epicenter of the mother of all battles, legislatively speaking. Some need your support, others are begging for your negative feedback. Give both and give freely—this what democracy is all about!

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Currency Roulette 

Boffoblog is back from vacation and has latched onto a potentially ominous problem confronting the US economy. The weakening US dollar is now being challenged in black market circles by the Euro as the currency of choice- and stands some chance of being bumped from its hallowed place as the world’s reserve currency in the not-so-distant future.

If this were to occur, the dumping of US debt by foreign currency holders, including major central banks could cause a free fall. It’s not a problem serious economists are worried about in the near term, but imagine the effect $2 trillion additional US debt would have in making these international markets think about the wisdom of keeping dollars on hand.

That borrowing is exactly what the Bush Social Security privatization plan intends as a financing scheme to cover ‘transition costs.’ Does this seem risky to anyone?… oh, wait- yes, it does.

Oh, but it’s just the former Treasury Secretary, former Comptroller, former Commerce Secretary, three former US Senators, and the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve. These guys are HAS BEENS… forget’em, let’s roll the dice!

Not an Option? 

The UK’s Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, has taken questions in Commons about a Newsweek story on the ‘Salvador Option’ by Michael Hirsh and John Barry. The ‘Option’ refers to Pentagon consideration of a plan to enlist Kurdish and Shiite kidnapping/possibly execution squads to make supporters and sympathizers of the Iraqi insurrection ‘pay a price.’

Cautioning a Labour MP, “not to believe all he reads in the newspapers and...from the more excitable elements of some who comment on defence matters,” Hoon also added that he speaks frankly to the US and other allies “but it is in the nature of that frankness that it is best done privately rather than publicly”.

In that oh so indirect, yet frank way, one hopes the communication has been made that such a plan would make the coalition, er, unwilling.

EDITOR’S UPDATE: Donald Rumsfeld now denies the Newsweek story altogether, calling it, “nonsense.” Of course, Rumsfeld denied torture allegations at first as well, so we’ll wait and see...and hope that if this ‘Option’ has been under consideration, that the bright light of public scrutiny will end the possibility of support for such squads.

El Salvador's Legacy 

I guess it was inevitable that this Administration would turn to the savage tactics used in El Salvador during the 1980’s. This is where they learned to fight a proxy war by supporting right-wing paramilitaries against progressives, labor, campesino peasant farmers, and those elements of the Catholic Church there who objected to the oligarchy. The group who viewed this brutal policy as ‘anti-communism’ is the same group that President H.W. Bush’s son has turned to for foreign policy advice.

As Frontline journalist Joe Rubin has pointed out, “President George W. Bush recruited many Reagan/Bush-era veterans of the Central American wars to serve on his foreign policy team. Despite objections from Democrats in Congress, Bush's déjá vu appointments have included Eliot Abrams (who pled guilty to two counts of lying to Congress during the Iran Contra hearings), Richard Armitage, John Poindexter, Roger Noriega and Otto Reich. Most recently, John Negroponte was appointed ambassador to Iraq. Negroponte was ambassador to Honduras under George H.W. Bush and was criticized by human rights organizations for not doing enough to stem death squad activity there.”

The move to consider reviving the discredited policies of the Central American wars of the 1980’s in Iraq has been brewing for some time. Vice President Cheney, himself a former hardline supporter of aid to the groups responsible for rampant death squad activity in El Salvador, has been attempting to rewrite the history of this troubled nation. During the Vice Presidential debate, Cheney
referred
to the 75,000 killed there during the civil war as though their deaths had been at the hands of the rebels, when in fact the UN Truth Commission established otherwise, that 80-90% of all the killing in El Salvador was committed by the US-supported Army and paramilitary death squads.

For anyone wanting to understand the horror and savagery the US policies wreaked on this tiny country, I recommend reading Teresa Whitfield’s Paying the Price, a detailed history of the Salvadoran Army’s killing of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter, for the crime of speaking out against other such killings.

Having interviewed innocent civilian victims of this policy and seen the results, I can’t believe this is the path being considered again. It’s unspeakable.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

SS Phaseout- Do's and Don'ts: 

Tips from the playbook for Privatization:

1- Never call it “privatization.”

2- Always remember to call it “a crisis.”

But- if you said point 2 out loud, take a drink.

(thanks TPM, Krugman, and Paperwight)

The "Salvador Option" 

Oh, my God.

Here’s a truly horrifying and yet totally unsurprising piece of news from the bowels of this Administration. (via Whiskey Bar)

The Salvador Option.

As someone who has spent time in El Salvador, I find the idea that another American Administration would entertain getting in bed with death squads again truly repugnant.

75,000 people died in the war in El Salvador in a place the size of Massachusetts. They died in the most brutal, disgusting ways imaginable. That anyone could draw the conclusion that the U.S. policy there was “successful” stretches the imagination to a nightmarish extent.

Yet supporting death squads is an option being discussed in this Administration's Pentagon as a means of making Sunnis “pay a price” for supporting the insurrection in Iraq. According to Newsweek reporters Michael Hirsh and John Barry, the “Salvadoran Option” of funding indigenous paramilitaries is being proposed.

“Following that model, one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, according to military insiders familiar with the discussions. It remains unclear, however, whether this would be a policy of assassination or so-called "snatch" operations, in which the targets are sent to secret facilities for interrogation. The current thinking is that while U.S. Special Forces would lead operations in, say, Syria, activities inside Iraq itself would be carried out by Iraqi paramilitaries, officials tell NEWSWEEK.”

Please say it isn't so.

The National Guard, CBS, and the President 

I think it’s a good day to revisit the Bush National Guard story, since the purge at CBS is on page one everywhere. Kevin Drum has done an interesting post on the CBS internal investigation, which is worthwhile as backstory reading for journalism junkies.

However, the point I’m most fascinated by is the way that President Bush has managed to slide by in two consecutive election cycles on the issue. He's done so without answering serious questions about his service, while he successfully loosed surrogates on his opponent to savage John Kerry’s better documented and courageous stint in Vietnam.

I suggest anyone who wants more information on Bush’s National Guard duty read the article written on the same day the 60 Minutes piece aired in the Boston Globe. Walter Robinson and the Globe Spotlight Team covered most of the same territory as Mary Mapes and her ill-fated television piece and no one has questioned their sources.

For more background on the National Guard issue and how it’s been handled throughout Bush’s career, check James Moore and Wayne Slater’s book on Mssrs Bush and Rove, Bush’s Brain .


Privatization is Job One 

The President has telegraphed that he'll probably not wait for the Republican majority to define elements of the coming Social Security privatization legislation. In an interview with the Wall St Journal, Bush has pledged to "lead on this issue," and to "provide cover" for members of Congress. Bush pushed away suggestions that he'd let the parameters of the bill be defined in Congress, saying, "I have the responsibility to lay out potential solutions."

Asked to spell out more of the details, Bush replied, "You'll find out soon."

It's clear that this legislation, far from being pushed back as some have recently suggested, is first on the White House's docket.

Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Two 'Crises' 

"You may not feel it, your constituents may not be overwhelming you with letters demanding a fix now, but the crisis is now,"
-President Bush, December 2004, on Social Security


“I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.”
-President Bush, January 2002, on Iraq


Anyone see a trend towards, er, um, overstatement?

Monday, January 10, 2005

Hi Bob for Politicos 

Paperwight appears to be back and has a treat for all-- a Social Security crisis-hype drinking game.

Hours of fun and lost brain cells to expose the lying-dog Bush "campaignistration" tactic (reminiscent of Iraq WMD)-- telling the big "this will be very bad if you stop to think about it" lie--then pushing a radical solution....

bottoms up!

Bob Herbert 

You don’t find much writing that’s as graphic, passionate and clearheaded as Bob Herbert’s in the mainstream media. Read his column today in the Times and see Links (on the blog's right) for his columns. His writing about Iraq has focused most frequently on the soldiers and their families. Today’s column is about the leadership, or lack of it and begins as follows:

“The assembly line of carnage in George W. Bush's war in Iraq continues unabated. Nightmares don't last this long, so the death and destruction must be real. You know you're in serious trouble when the politicians and the military brass don't even bother suggesting that there's light at the end of the tunnel. The only thing ahead is a deep and murderous darkness.”

Democrats More United 

"You cannot have bipartisanship based on a political strategy of polarization,"—Congressman Rahm Emanuel

It looks like Congressional Democrats have figured out that they got snookered on Iraq, on the budget, on anything this President has announced as a bipartisan effort since taking office and they’re ready to begin acting like a loyal opposition should.

Today’s Washington Post has an article by Dan Balz that hits this theme and indicates that there’s more unity now than Democrats have previously been able to muster. They’re seeing that the Administration has taken on issues like Social Security in such a polarizing way that there may be opportunities to divide Republicans over their proposals while keeping Democratic opposition relatively firm.

"Four years ago, as a new president, his inaugural address indicated he wanted to work with people and then he didn't," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.). "That Iraq experience was the most painful. There's a much reduced expectation that you can work with this White House or work with this Republican leadership."

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Concord Coalition Weighs In on Borrowing 

Today’s NY Times carries a full-page advertisement by the Concord Coalition, whose warnings on deficit spending once successfully focused attention on responsible budgeting in Washington. Their luminaries, including Pete Petersen, Bob Kerrey, Warren Rudman, Sam Nunn, Robert Rubin, and Paul Volker, are warning today about the dangers of debt incurred to fund private Social Security accounts.

While the text of their ad avoids taking a firm position for or against private accounts, their message on borrowing the estimated $2 trillion the Bush Administration has suggested adding to the national debt to do so is unequivocal. “More debt is not the answer,” they inveigh.

In a message being repeated worriedly in some financial circles for over a year, the advertisement warns that the message such borrowing would send internationally is that the US refuses to get it’s fiscal house in order. The kind of irresponsible borrowing proposed to fund private accounts will likely concern those carrying the country’s enormous foreign debt, the Coalition ad claims. Such a development would increase the risk of rising inflation, sharp interest rate spikes, and a plunging dollar.

**********

All this to radically change a system that essentially works and with real reform would continue to help fund retirements for generations to come. Kinda’ defies the meaning of security…

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