Monday, January 31, 2005

It's not "privatizing," it's "personalizing."

Today's Washington Post describes the GOP's new preferred word for privatizing Social Security:
The congressional Republicans' confidential plan was developed with the advice of pollsters, marketing experts and communication consultants, and was provided to The Washington Post by a Republican official. The blueprint urges lawmakers to promote the 'personalization' of Social Security, suggesting ownership and control, rather than 'privatization,' which 'connotes the total corporate takeover of Social Security.' Democratic strategists said they intend to continue fighting the Republican plan by branding it privatization, and assert that depiction is already set in people's minds.

Ever notice how the GOP is really into the 1984-style renaming things? It's not an estate tax, it's a "death tax." And now it's not about privatizing Social Security, it's about "personalizing" it. (via Talking Points Memo)

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Little Black Lies.

Paul Krugman describes George Bush's shameless lies to African-Americans about what the current Social Security system does for them:
This week, in a closed meeting with African-Americans, Mr. Bush asserted that Social Security was a bad deal for their race, repeating his earlier claim that "African-American males die sooner than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people." In other words, blacks don't live long enough to collect their fair share of benefits.

This isn't a new argument; privatizers have been making it for years. But the claim that blacks get a bad deal from Social Security is false. And Mr. Bush's use of that false argument is doubly shameful, because he's exploiting the tragedy of high black mortality for political gain instead of treating it as a problem we should solve.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

National Taxpayer's Union spams for Bush

I just received this spam at my work e-mail address from the National Taxpayer's Union:

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Date: Tue, 25 Jan 2005 20:27:34 GMT
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From: "National Taxpayers Union"
To: "Paul B Murray" <deleted>
Subject: Paul B, Tell Congress to Support the President's Social Security Reforms
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This is a multi-part message in MIME format.
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Dear Paul B,

Shortly after his re-election, George W. Bush began to use the "bully pulpit" of the Presidency to push Congress toward implementing several reforms that are essential to the continuation of the Social Security program. Simply put, Social Security reform is necessary in order to secure the retirements of millions of Americans and head off the system's inevitable slide into insolvency. Wisely, President Bush has chosen to make two of the guiding principles of reform the creation of individual savings accounts and doing so without raising taxes. Speak out today! Don't let Congress turn a blind eye to this problem. Let them know that you support reforming Social Security.

You can take action on this alert either via email (please see directions below) or via the web at:

Please tell your friends about this urgent campaign.

We encourage you to take action by February 24, 2005

Tell Congress to Support the President's Social Security Reform Plan

If you have access to a web browser, you can take action on this alert by going to the following URL:

Just choose the "reply to sender" option on your email program.

Your letter will be addressed and sent to:
Your Congressperson
Your Senators

Dear [decision maker name automatically inserted here],

I urge you to support President Bush in his efforts to reform Social Security. The President has outlined several goals for Social Security reform that wisely includes individually owned retirement accounts and no tax hikes. Unfortunately, some in Congress would prefer to raise taxes or simply let the system slide towards its collapse.

As you know, current workers are paying Social Security benefits for today's retirees. With the retirement of the baby-boom generation and America's changing workforce, the government's own analysts have determined that in less than a generation Social Security will be insolvent. Rather than forcing Americans into paying higher taxes or enduring huge benefit cuts, I urge you to support the President's broad outline for Social Security reform.

The time for action is now! Social Security needs to be updated for the 21st Century. Personal retirement accounts and no tax hikes are the keys to reform.


Paul B Murray


If you received this message from a friend, you can sign up for NTU's Taxpayer Action Center at:

If you would like to unsubscribe from NTU's Taxpayer Action Center, you can respond to this email with "REMOVE" as the subject, or you can visit your subscription management page at:
National Taxpayers Union 108 N. Alfred St. Alexandria, VA 22314

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For the record:

1. My middle initial is not "B."
2. I never signed up for the NTU.
3. I loathe the NTU's single-issue obsession with the subject of taxes.
4. I want my readers to write their politicians to oppose Bush's plan.
5. The NTU's spamming makes them the moral equivalent of pond scum.

Can I be any clearer?

AARP 'dead set against' Bush's Social Security plan

Well, at least they're on the correct side of this issue, unlike when they helped Bush push through his idiotic Medicare prescription drug bill:
The nation's largest seniors' lobby will oppose any proposal that takes tax money out of Social Security to create private investment accounts for today's workers, the head of AARP said Monday. That puts the group on a collision course with President Bush and Republicans in Congress.

AARP has already unleashed an advertising campaign against Bush's expected proposal. The comments by William Novelli appear to slam the door on overtures from GOP congressional leaders, who hoped the seniors' group might support a compromise plan that includes private accounts. Just last week, Rep. Jim McCrery, R-La., chairman of a House subcommittee on Social Security, said he wants to include AARP in talks when his panel begins work on legislation.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Bush tries to sweeten the pot.

Bush's Social Security plans are receiving a mixed reaction, so they're trying to make it more palatable. But the basic ideas are still the same -- and they're still unacceptable.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Does Social Security Really Face an $11 Trillion Deficit?

George Bush and Dick Cheney have both claimed that Social Security faces a deficit of $11 trillion. The non-partisan Annenberg Political Fact Check cites the American Academy of Actuaries, who characterize the "infinite future" projection used to obtain the figure as being misleading to the average person:
President Bush and Vice President Cheney have told audiences that Social Security faces an $11 trillion shortfall if nothing is done to fix the current system. But they fail to mention that this is over the course of the "infinite future." Over the next 75 years -- still practically a lifetime -- the shortfall is projected to be $3.7 trillion.

The "infinite" projection is one that the American Academy of Actuaries says is likely to mislead the public into thinking the system "is in far worse financial condition than is actually indicated," and therefore should not be used to explain the long-term outlook.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

"This is not a crisis."

Look who's saying that:
Even Newt Gingrich, the Republican former speaker of the House of Representatives and a supporter of private accounts, says, "The combination of higher birth rates and more immigration makes the United States the healthiest of developed nations. This is not a crisis."

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports, "Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) is warning that Republicans could lose their 10-year House majority if the White House follows through with that proposal."

And later in the same Bloomberg article:
Driven by the nation's immigrants, the U.S. has the fourth-highest birthrate -- after Turkey, Iceland and Mexico -- among the 30 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of the richest countries. The U.S. is one of six OECD members whose birthrate rose in the last 25 years, and the only one of the six with a fertility level above the line needed to increase population, the United Nations says....

"I can't think of any developed country that has a state pension system in better shape than the U.S.," says Monika Queisser, administrator of the social policy division of the Paris- based OECD. "Social Security makes relatively generous payments at low cost. It's solvent until the middle of the century, and can be for much longer with some tweaking. And the U.S. has a growing population."

So, President Bush, maybe you should turn your attention to Medicare, which will be in trouble much earlier than Social Security, thanks in part to your poorly designed prescription drug benefit. (via Talking Points Memo and There Is No Crisis)

The pros get involved.

Naturally, after I launch this new blog, I find that there's one being done by some real blogging pros, who have nice graphics and radio ads once they can raise money to air them. (What can I say? This is not my day job; nobody pays me to do this. We're a low-budget operation here.)

I pondered throwing in the towel and just directing you there, but I'm not going to do that just yet. I'm going to try and do my part here explaining why this issue is so important.

In the meantime, I've signed up and added their graphic to this page and my main blog.

Antisocial insecurity

Scott Rosenberg describes how I feel about this subject:
I've been fighting a sense of despair on the subject of the brewing battle over Social Security. Here, once again, as with the runup to Iraq, we have a major battle in which the Bush team is systematically bulldozing a set of facts in order to throw up a new Potemkin-village reality in which their ideological preferences make sense. They've got the majorities in Congress, they had their "accountability moment," and now facts are just inconveniences to be flicked away. Social Security must be dismantled, therefore it must be in crisis. Don't believe it? They'll keep saying it, and much of the media will dutifully repear it, until you ask yourself, "Am I crazy?"


It's a good post; read the whole thing. (via

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

New Doubts On Plan For Social Security

A powerful House Republican expresses skepticism in this Washington Post story:
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) predicted yesterday that partisan warfare over Social Security will quickly render President Bush's plan "a dead horse" and called on Congress to undertake a broader review of the problems of an aging nation.

Thomas, one of Capitol Hill's most powerful figures on tax policy, is the highest-ranking House Republican official to cast doubt on the president's plan for creating individual investment accounts. He said that as an alternative, he will consider changes such as replacing the payroll tax as Social Security's financing mechanism and adding a savings plan for long-term or chronic care as "an augmentation to Social Security payments."

I suppose it's good to hear someone say that Bush's proposals appear unlikely to pass. But I'm nervous about letting this Congress anywhere near the topic. (via Talking Points Memo)

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

A Question of Numbers.

This NYT Magazine article by Roger Lowenstein is required reading for anyone who wants to understand Social Security as it was and is -- and what those calling for change really want.

There is so much good information in this article that pulling out a key paragraph or two as cannot do it justice. But here are two paragraphs from early in the piece:
After Bush's re-election, I carefully read the 225-page annual report of the Social Security trustees. I also talked to actuaries and economists, inside and outside the agency, who are expert in the peculiar science of long-term Social Security forecasting. The actuarial view is that the system is probably in need of a small adjustment of the sort that Congress has approved in the past. But there is a strong argument, which the agency acknowledges as a possibility, that the system is solvent as is.

Although prudence argues for making a fix sooner rather than later, the program is not in crisis, nor is its potential shortfall irresolvable. Ideology aside, the scale of the fixes would not require Social Security to abandon the role that was conceived for it in 1935, and that it still performs today -- as an insurance fail-safe for the aged and others and as a complement to people's private market savings.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Stocks' payoff myth.

Allan Sloan points out that last Friday was a historic day: the five-year anniversary of the U.S. stock market peak, as measured bythe Dow Jones Industrial Average. The Dow closed Friday at 10% off that peak, and the Wilshire 5000, S&P500 and Nasdaq are all much lower than that.
I'm dragging out all these numbers because there's a lesson here, one that some people have forgotten because stocks have done well the past two years. It's this: Even though stocks have produced double-digit profits on average every year, the market can go down and stay down for extended periods. So on average, you do great. But in the real world, you can lose your shirt if you need to cash in your chips during a bad market patch and don't have the staying power to hold on for better days.

This all matters, big time, given the trial balloons the Bushies are launching to substitute private investment accounts for about half of Social Security's current benefit formula. (My math: The change they're floating to tie benefits to inflation rather than wages would cut benefits for next-generation workers by 46 percent, compared with the current formula.) On the charts, your private investment account looks great: Stocks have produced an average of 10.4 percent a year for investors since 1926, according to Ibbotson Associates. That makes stocks sound like sure-fire investments. But there's no guarantee that you'll actually make that kind of money, unless you have staying power measured in decades. If you got in at the Dow's 1929 peak, you had to wait until 1954 to break even. In 1964, you had to await 1972.

Now, it's 2000 to who-knows-when. You make good money on average, but life isn't always average. A six-foot man can drown in a lake that averages six inches deep if he steps in the wrong place.

I'm not any sort of guru, but simple arithmetic makes it unlikely that stocks over the next decade or two will repeat what they've averaged for the 79 years covered by Ibbotson.

He goes on to explain why, but you really should read the entire article.

About this blog.

I've decided to start a new blog dedicated to one of the most important political issues facing us this year. I call it The War on Social Security, for that's what it is: a deceptive attack by conservative idealogues to effectively destroy one of the best social programs ever created. They hate the idea of government being involved, and want individuals to assume responsibility. The buzz phrase is "the ownership society." What this phrase really means is "you're on your own."

It's one thing for them to have this opinion; while I don't agree, I don't question its validity. What inflames me is that they are cloaking their plans in the guise of "saving" Social Security. They've tried for 70 years now to convince Americans that Social Security is bad. Unsurprisingly, the public has never agreed. So now they're perpetuating a sneak attack that begins by peddling the myth that the program faces an imminent crisis.

I say it's time to go to the mattresses on this one. We need to tell all our Senators and Representatives, both Republicans and Democrats (for there are a few who appear willing to cave in on the issue) to reject the Bush Administration's plans for Social Security. Bush means business, and he wants action this year. We need to stop him, and pressuring Congress is the only way it can happen.

I can foresee that the issue of Social Security will be dominating my attention in the months ahead -- along with some personal issues, anyway -- and rather than have it swamp this page, I decided to give it a separate one. So please read The War on Social Security, not because I have any unique insights, but because I'll be trying to link to those who do ... and to the accurate facts, which are going to be in short supply from this administration.