The Watch

The Watch is concerned about the increasing pressure towards feudalism in the United States from corporations, social regressives, warmongers, and the media. We also are concerned with future history concerning our current times, as non-truths which are “widely reported” become the basis for completely false narratives.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Social Security Deform

Social Security Scam Watch

Adam Felber takes on the Social Security reform question:

2) The Plan

So what happens if we siphon off some of this energy (social security taxes), and allow people to put it into individual retirement accounts for themselves? Well, Gramps is screwed, obviously - he's relying on the work that's being done right now. How are we going to keep him comfortable, able to buy the soft food, the bizarre Christmas presents, and the Levitra that has become the bane of Grandma's existence? That's the $1 trillion to $2 trillion "transition cost." That's what's going to keep Gramps healthy, happy, and priapic.

So the plan, that we present-day workers put aside our own Social Security taxes into individual accounts, relies on two little details: 1) That we invest wisely and the market never, ever collapses, and 2) that somebody covers that $1 trillion to $2 trillion of lost benefits money over the next decade or so. Anyone have any ideas? Can anyone spot me the cash? Hello? Well, we'll just have to ask the President...

Read the whole thing, it is really quite good.

When asked what measures we could take to keep the solvency of Social Security, Bush began babbling in a foreign language. Here is a sample:

But the law will be written in the halls of Congress. And I will negotiate with them, with the members of Congress. And they will want me to start playing my hand. "Will you accept this? Will you not accept that? Why don't you do this hard thing? Why don't you do that?"
It goes on and on like that for several paragraphs. Bush won’t be tricked into actually laying out his plan for Social Security. Oh No! You aren’t going to catch him out with questions at a press conference. He is much to wiley for that.

Adam Felber, picking up on Bush's inner monolog, or trialog, catches a conversation between "Bush", "Dubya", and "the President", in which they try to hammer out the terms of an agreement on social security:

PRESIDENT: It won't work.
BUSH: Well, it's the only one I'll sign off on, hotshot.
PRESIDENT: The numbers don't add up. My opponent over there thinks it's okay to throw seniors to the dogs, but I believe in keeping promises.
BUSH: That's not fair! I believe in keeping promises and hope for America and stuff. You're not even saying anything specific about my plan!
PRESIDENT: See how it feels, jerk? Not so comfortable when my shoe's on your other foot, is it?
DUBYA: Now, come on. This isn't productive. Now, Mr. Bush, what's wrong with the President's proposal?
BUSH: The numbers don't add up. It's not hopeful enough.
PRESIDENT: Take it or leave it.
BUSH: I believe in the power of the American people, and the President seems to think that Americans aren't smart enough to solve their own problems.

Bush’s War Watch

Faces of the fallen shows photos of the deceased in Iraq, by date and branch of service.

Killing the American Superpower Watch

James Wolcott points out a book by Emmanuel Todd called After the Empire in which Todd points out that our little adventure in Iraq is going to weaken us to the point of irrelevance:
This is the argument made in Emmanuel Todd's After the Empire, one of the most important books of the last few years. Contrary to those Le Monde intellectuals who see the US as a super-superpower, a hyperpuissance, Todd, a French demographer and author of a book correctly foreseeing the fall of the Soviet Union, says the US has become a "big little bully" incapable of picking on anyone its own size. It makes a show of force attacking the weak--dirtpoor countries with no air defences, such as Iraq and Afghanistan--because a "show" is precisely what it is. "These conflicts that represent little or no military risk allow the United States to be 'present' throughout the world. The United States works to maintain the illusory fiction of the world as a dangerous place in need of America's protection."

Problem is, the fiction is only fooling Americans. The rest of the world has wised up. Todd points out that Germany, Russia, France, and even Turkey declined to join our great adventure in Iraq, and guess what?--nothing happened! Apart from sappy boycotts and juvenile gestures ("freedom fries"), they went unpunished. "True power is economic power, and that is what America lacks today." (Because of our indebtedness and deficits--we're a superpower depending on the kindness of creditors.) Moreover, the smaller countries that did lend minor support in Iraq have nearly all withdrawn from the fray, or about to do so, having unheeded the warning Todd lays down in his concluding chapter:

"We should not follow America's military leaders for whom the term 'theater of operations' has ceased being a metaphor. Fighting alongside the Americans in Iraq would only amount to playing a small role in a bloody vaudeville show."

Bush’s Mistakes Watch

In this powerful five minute Window’s Media presentation, "Mistaken", the lies and incompetence of the Bush and company are juxtaposed with the death, destruction, and humiliation they have brought to the world. One of the most effective messages I’ve seen in a long time. Warning, sound.

Life Watch

In this extremely important post, Digby lays out why being against the death penalty and for a woman’s right to choose are not contradictory. Both positions rely on the idea that politics and government agents are not the right tools for trying to create morality in a messy world. It is a powerful idea, and one we need to explore further.

Tax Watch

Here is an interesting new book, Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich - and Cheat Everybody Else by David Cay Johnston. Mr. Johnston finds that the middle class is effectively subsidizing the very wealthy, as he describes in this Booknotes interview:
Most people believe that the higher your income, the greater the share of your income you pay in taxes, and that those who are the most successful provide benefits for those who don`t do as well. And what I show in the book is something it was astonishing to me to learn. In fact, I hired a graduate student in economics to doublecheck all of the findings. And that is that the middle class and the upper middle class, people making $50,000 to $500,000 a year, actually subsidize the richest people in America now. This was not historically true, but they do now.

Bob Somerby quotes and comments on Johnston, illustrating this situation by using one of the Right’s newest bogeywomen, Teresa Heinz Kerry:

Teresa Heinz Kerry reported income of just over $5 million last year, slightly more than half of it from investments in tax-exempt municipal and state bonds, her 2003 income tax return shows, confirming her status as the wealthiest spouse of any major party nominee in United States history...

The two-page document...showed total income of $5,073,554 last year. Her primary source of income was the tax-exempt bonds, investments that generally produce a lower interest rate, but those in the highest tax brackets can often pocket more cash if they choose municipals.

Ms. Heinz Kerry paid a federal tax of $628,401, which is 12.3 percent of her total income and 27.4 percent of her adjusted gross income.

She was a big beneficiary of the reductions in tax rates on dividends and capital gains that have been enacted under President Bush. She collected more than $2.2 million in dividends, all of which qualified for the new 15 percent tax rate, saving her $440,000, compared with the 35 percent rate that previously applied to dividends for those with million dollar-plus incomes.

You can see that people who argue that they very rich pay as little as, or even less than, the very poor in taxes, as a percentage of their income, may indeed be correct.

Hate Watch

In this post, Digby and David Neiwert try to point out how we can get people to vote in their own best interests again. One of the issues is that scapegoating of others, even people who have the best interests of everyone at heart, is creating division within our country, fomented by hate radio. Digby notes:
People are hurting and they are told relentlessly day in and day out that liberals from big cities are the ones inflicting the pain. This would be funny if it weren't so tragic.

Election Watch

The official results from November 2nd differed from the exit polling in very suspicious ways (errors always skewed towards Bush, errors were largest in battleground states), but the GOP has a solution to that problem. They are calling for an end to exit polling (again). They tried to do away with it in the aftermath of 2000, but failed. Maybe this time they will succeed and there won’t be any suspicious patterns in 2008. Problem solved!

In this post, Digby highlights an article by Jonathan Rausch that reframes the election results:

A) The election was a stunning triumph for the president, the Republicans, and (especially) social conservatives. Because the country turned to the right, President Bush received a mandate, the Republicans consolidated their dominance, and the Democrats lost touch with the country.

B) Bush and the Republicans are on thin ice. Bush barely eked out a majority, the country is still divided 50-50, and the electoral landscape has hardly changed, except in one respect: The Republican Party has shifted precariously to the right of the country, and the world, that it leads.

Usual answer: A. Correct answer: B.

Blog Watch

Here is an interesting site that examines the morals of those who would hold their morality against us. It is entitled "RedMorals", and although it perpetuates the ultimately harmful Red vs. Blue false dichotomy, it does emphasize the absurd hypocrisy of the situation. This for example is about Bob Barr, who was one of the most vicious Clinton impeachment managers, and the author of the "defense of marriage act":

Bob Barr, Georgia Republican congressman from 1995 to 2003, and currently conservative Republican activist, began dating his second wife, Gail Barr, while still married to his first wife, according to an affidavit signed by Ms. Barr. When Gail Barr became pregnant for a third time in 1983, Bob Barr expressed no opinion whether she should maintaing the pregnancy or abort. When she made the decision to abort, Bob Barr drove her to the clinic, and paid for the abortion. Mr. Barr admitted under oath that he did not object to the abortion. According to Gail Barr's affidavit, Bob announced to Gail that he no longer loved her in 1985, and moved out of the house.

We are told the media are scandal-driven, and not driven by party politics . . . but did YOU know this about Bob Barr, moralizer extraordinaire? And why not?

Ivory Tower Watch

Conservatives are always crying about how liberal academia in this country is. This article is an interesting explanation of that phenomenon.

Humor Watch

Finally, here is a good chuckle about a Fox news personality, Chris Wallace. He seems to have written a book about profiles in American courage, and highlights an anecdote from the Grover Cleveland era as the height of American political courage. Read the rest of the inane prattle by Wallace, and Somerby’s hilarious commentary on it .

Also, Adam Felber wraps up the Peterson case, and it’s implications for abortion.

That’s it for a while. Have a wonderful holiday!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

We had to burn Social Security to save it

Social Security Scam Watch

The ideological extremists in the GOP (ie the people currently leading the country) have long maintained an animosity towards Social Security, and have longed to kill this very successful social program. For some reason, the idea that the elderly and infirm should be provided with some small, minimum income is abhorrent to these people. The notion that Bushco wants to “save” Social Security is as ridiculous as them wanting to “save” the Democratic party.

Paul Krugman, one of the only prominent voices who consistently offer the truth about Bush’s economic policies, lays out the problems of privatized retirement plans, both in Chile and the UK, in a recent editorial. He points out that these plans fail to keep seniors out of dire poverty (requiring government bailouts) and expose huge amounts of money to “fees” for handling the accounts. In Chile, these administrative fees run about 20%. Currently, Social Security only uses about 1% of income for administration. He ends with this assessment:

Privatizers who laud the Chilean system never mention that it has yet to deliver on its promise to reduce government spending. More than 20 years after the system was created, the government is still pouring in money. Why? Because, as a Federal Reserve study puts it, the Chilean government must "provide subsidies for workers failing to accumulate enough capital to provide a minimum pension." In other words, privatization would have condemned many retirees to dire poverty, and the government stepped back in to save them.

The same thing is happening in Britain. Its Pensions Commission warns that those who think Mrs. Thatcher's privatization solved the pension problem are living in a "fool's paradise." A lot of additional government spending will be required to avoid the return of widespread poverty among the elderly - a problem that Britain, like the U.S., thought it had solved.

Britain's experience is directly relevant to the Bush administration's plans. If current hints are an indication, the final plan will probably claim to save money in the future by reducing guaranteed Social Security benefits. These savings will be an illusion: 20 years from now, an American version of Britain's commission will warn that big additional government spending is needed to avert a looming surge in poverty among retirees.

Krugman has also pointed out that “Once you realize that privatization really means government borrowing to speculate on stocks, it doesn't sound too responsible, does it?"

The motive to kill Social Security is pretty plain. But what are the effects of privatization likely to be? Suddenly, all workers will be part owners of the Ponzi scheme that is the stock market (sure, you can make some money in investments. But for the big players, the game is to wait until lots of people put their money in, then take that money out, lather, rinse, and repeat). The brokerage houses will be taking 20% of the vast amount of money going into and out of Social Security for “administrative costs”. These private accounts will come with much reduced income guarantees. They will tie Americans into a psychological state of wanting what is good for the stock market (which in so many cases is antithetical to what is good for workers).

What Bushco is offering the public has the very same symptoms as what they are threatening about the current system. They say the current system may have to provide reduced benefits. But their proposed system shows only reduced benefits. They use projections of robust growth to paint their individual savings accounts in a good light, and projections of poor growth to paint the current system in crisis. But robust growth shows the current system is in great shape, and poor growth shows their retirement accounts to be horrible ideas. What they really want is for everyone to save for their own retirement, period. That is what they are realy offering. No one helps anybody else. And that is the end of Social Security. "Privatizing" Social Security is really ending it, but they are afriad to say that.

Josh Marshall describes these schemes this way, couching it as “401k reform” for the sake of argument:

Under my hypothetical 401k reform we change all the stuff about different companies deciding how much or how little they want to contribute. And we also change the part about your having a choice about how much or whether you contribute; now, it's all mandatory.

There's also a change in the part about your choosing which sort of investments you want to place your funds into. Under the reformed 401k everybody's money goes into government bonds in one lump sum pool. When you retire you can get your money, or rather, your slice of the pie back, with a few adjustments depending on how much you really need the money after all. Other folks may need it more.

And one final thing: the income now gets taxed when you earn it, not at retirement.

Now, if this 401k reform plan were on the table, wouldn't pretty much everyone say: 'Give me a break. You're getting rid of 401ks and replacing it with some sort of weird government pension plan where all the money goes into low yield investments and it's not even clear whether I get my return on what I put in.' Most people would say -- and most journalists would undoubtedly follow their lead -- that calling this '401k reform' was some cheap rhetorical hoodwink. As indeed it would be.

And that's just what the advocates of 'Social Security reform' with private accounts are up to. They want to phase out the program; but they're just too cowardly to say it. They lack the confidence of their ideological ambitions.

A similar post points out this expert opinion:

"They are using smoke and mirrors in the sense that they are cutting taxes in the here and now and making cuts way off in the future," said Laurence J. Kotlikoff, a professor of economics at Boston University who has written extensively on the long-term financial problems of Social Security and Medicare. "What I see them doing is very gradually wiping out the old system, and putting something very minor in its place."

Finally, here is Treasury Secretary John Snow, who unfortunately won’t be with us in the glorious second Bush term, “explaining” the “plan” on Faux news. Note the brilliance:

WALLACE: So anyone who is investing in these private accounts would be trading the chance -- maybe, as you say, a very good chance, but still the chance -- for higher returns from these private accounts for a certain cut in their government benefit?
SNOW: Well, remember, it's all voluntary. It's all voluntary. And nobody --
WALLACE: But that would be --
SNOW: That's right.
You reduce your claim in the future against Social Security so the government's long-term obligation goes down...
WALLACE: ...What would happen in this country if some seniors should end up losing money because of their investment in the private accounts and end up not having enough to make ends meet?
SNOW: Well, Chris, look, this is to supplement Social Security, right? It's an add-on. It's an addition.
WALLACE: Well, it isn't an add-on because you said it's a tradeoff. . . .
SNOW: What [Bush] said was, no increase in payroll taxes.
Now, that's awfully important, to rule out increases in payroll taxes. Because the experience of Europe indicates very strongly that when we have very high payroll taxes, it hurts employment. It hurts growth in the economy. It hurts jobs. We don't want to go that way. We don't want to go the way of Europe...
WALLACE: But is that just the tax rate, or does that also mean no increase in the income cap?
SNOW: Well, you know, we don't have a detailed plan yet.
What the president said was, no increase in rates.
WALLACE: It was rates? So you're saying that the income cap could conceivably be raised?
SNOW: Well, I'm not saying it would be. We don't have a plan yet.
WALLACE: But you're not saying it wouldn't be?
SNOW: Well, I'm saying what the president said. The president said, there will be no increase in payroll taxes as such.
WALLACE: Which you understand as tax rates?
SNOW: Well, as I say, that's what the president said. All I can do is repeat the president on that one.
WALLACE: So there is some ambiguity on that?
SNOW: Well, the president said, no increase in rates. That's what he said, and that's where we are. We don't have a detailed plan yet. We will at some point.

In the end, Snow just throws his hands up and admits that there isn’t even a plan yet. Just like in Iraq!!!

Terra Watch

Why can’t liberals just line up behind Bush’s War like good little soldiers? Don’t they know that we’re at war? With Terra?

David Neiwert at Orcinus tackles this question with his usual erudition, explaining why people are still opposed to the war in Iraq, and why it makes us LESS safe.

In the meantime, it should not surprise anyone that liberals are unenthusiastic about the Bush administration's substitute: warmed-over Cold War strategies combined with a megalomaniacal vision of American global hegemony. Moreover, its "war on terror," as I've argued frequently, is manifestly a political public-relations campaign that does not take any serious steps at actually confronting terrorism. We know this isn't a real war on terror because we still haven't caught either Osama bin Laden or the anthrax killer -- and don't show any signs of doing so soon. We know this administration isn't serious about terrorism precisely because we are now spending the bulk of our national energy fighting a war in Iraq that made the likelihood of future terrorist attacks exponentially greater. ... As the Bush administration had made it clear it intended to invade Iraq, it seemed simultaneously clear that it simply had failed to make any kind of valid case for doing so. And many of us said so.

There were five major substantive objections to the invasion of Iraq:

-- Its rationale was predicated on questionable assertions about the presence of weapons of mass destruction.

-- It seemed similarly predicated on an assumption that Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks.

-- There seemed to be little or no planning for the post-invasion environment, particularly an extended occupation.

-- It would destabilize Iraq, creating an environment ripe for inviting fresh terrorist activity.

-- And most of all, as I pointed out at the time, it would seriously dilute our ability to actually fight the war on terror.

Looking back, all five of these objections were not only well grounded, they proved prophetic. All five are now the essence of what has gone wrong with the invasion.

Local Watch Watch

I wrote three letters to the editor of our local paper recently, but it doesn’t seem as if they are going to be published. I thought I would share them with you here in that case. The first was on the hackery of the Clinton scandals, in response to an editorial by a right winger complaining that right wing hate radio doesn’t have anything to rant about these days, unlike the glorious Clinton era.

The second was in response to this letter:

Sore losers teach the wrong values

Liberal sore losers, please remove your Kerry and anti-Bush bumper stickers. They are negative, distracting, offensive in some cases, and anti-American when they say Bush "is not your president."

Bush won fair and square, and he is the president and commander in chief. You are teaching bad values to your children. If you have a problem, then get involved instead of just hating America.

and went like this:

In a December 20, 2004 letter to the editor, writer John Ferrara is concerned that pro-Kerry and anti-Bush bumper stickers are teaching bad values to our children. Although I have no such stickers on my vehicle, I would suggest to Mr. Ferrara that we are in worse danger of teaching bad values to our children when they learn that Mr. Bush specifically asked his White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to legally justify torture. Gonzales and his team wrote such a memo in August of 2002, and he has been rewarded by Mr. Bush with a nomination to be our next Attorney General.

Thanks to Bush and Gonzales, our country now tortures people who have not only not been found guilty through due process, but in most cases do not even have access to due process at all. Cruel and unusual punishment of the guilty is explicitly barred by the 8th amendment, but apparently it is just fine in the eyes of Bush and Gonzales for anyone we capture, regardless of their guilt or innocence.

Our nation is now an international torture criminal. Future generations of Americans may well wonder why the “bad values” of our current citizenry extend to pretending this is not the case, and allowing the torture of prisoners, sanctioned by Mr. Bush, to continue.

Finally, since Mr. Bush is not equivalent to “America”, opposing him is not “hating America”. I call it “thinking”.

The third letter was in response to this piece of brilliance:

If you're offended, then move abroad

I am tired of liberals and their political and governmental leaders worrying about whether we might occasionally offend someone who has come here from another culture.

Since 9/11 there has been an upsurge in patriotism by the majority of Americans. The dust from the attacks had barely settled when the politically correct crowd began complaining that our patriotism might offend others.

I am not against immigration since like all of us accept native Americans are immigrants or their descendants. I have enormous respect for anyone who has the courage to move to new country with a new language and culture. However, there are a few things that those who have recently come to our country, and some who were born here must understand. Americans have our own language, culture, history and lifestyle.

Our society has been developed over the centuries through struggles and victories by men and women who have sought freedom. We speak English, not Russian, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese or any other language. Therefore, if you wish to become a part of culture. you need to learn our language.

"In God we trust" is our national motto. This is not a Christian right-wing slogan. This country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. It is appropriate to display it on school walls. If God, Uncle Sam, the stars and stripes or the Pledge of Allegiance offends you, move to another part of the world because they are part of our culture.

to which I wrote:

In a December 20, 2004 letter to the editor, writer Robert Corson suggests that if the Christian “God . . . offends you, move to another part of the world”.

One of the greatest things about this country, perhaps THE greatest thing, is that every citizen has the right to tell a proselytizer for any religion to go take a hike. We are under no legal obligation to worship any particular god, follow any particular doctrine, or believe any particular creed.

One can only imagine the howling that would come from the very people who would promote the tyranny of the majority in religion if a mass conversion suddenly occurred in this nation, and another religion (let’s say Islam for the sake of argument) became the majority religion. The first amendment would look pretty good to those people then, wouldn’t it? No doubt they would launch legal and libertarian maneuvers to keep the Koran out of schools, prohibit Ramadan from becoming a federal holiday, etc. Or to ask a less fanciful question, which part of our “Judeo-Christian” heritage will get to determine what hangs on our school walls? Roman Catholics? Southern Baptists? Unitarians? Protestants and Catholics have two different versions of the Ten Commandments, for example: whose gets displayed, and by what right?

As to crowing about “In God we trust” being a national motto (officially enshrined only 48 years ago, at the height of the Red Scare), I would point out that pre-World War II Germany’s motto was “God is with us”. They also enjoyed “upsurges in patriotism” from time to time.

I am a church-going Christian myself, and somehow I’m sure that the institution of Christianity in the U.S. will survive the onslaught of the mighty forces of the atheists and agnostics and civil libertarians. In this country, it is their right, and everyone’s right, to question religion creeping into our civil structure. And if Mr. Corson doesn’t like that, then he too is welcome to look to other parts of the world as his home. There are several wonderful theocracies. Let’s try not to become one of them.

Dear Melissa assures me these won’t be published, and she is probably correct. But I don’t see how they are any worse than the two which they did publish, so we’ll see.

Letters, they get letters

I sent four letter to the editor of our local paper today on Social Security. Want to bet that any of them get published? Here they are:


President Bush’s calls to privatize Social Security are a scam. He uses poor economic growth models to create a false “crisis” for the program, but under those same models, his private accounts perform horribly as well. He uses rosy, robust economic growth models to emphasize the wonderful potential returns of private accounts, but under those same models, the current program does just as well if not better. People in this country need to ask themselves why the GOP suddenly seems to care about whether Social Security will provide for the poor or infirm in the future. They have never cared before.


President Bush’s calls to privatize Social Security are a scam, and look exactly the same as the way he scammed this country into an unnecessary, illegal war in Iraq. First, he gets everyone worked up about a phony crisis (“Social Security is about to crash!” “Saddam’s evil death machines will be arriving within the hour! 9/11!”). The press provides coverage of Bush’s wild, fear-inducing claims, but does no research into how false they really are. Bush presents a neoconservative “solution” to the “crisis” (“Let’s create private funds that will allow Wall Street to fleece the working class!”, “Let’s invade Iraq, even though it is an international war crime!”). He proceeds without a real plan. There is still no plan for Iraq, and still no plan on the table for privatization, even six years after he first proposed it in his run for the white house in 2000.

No doubt the outcomes will be similar as well. He will create a national disaster, claim that everything is going great, promise to “stay the course”, accept no responsibility, and leave American taxpayers to clean up the mess.


President Bush’s calls to privatize Social Security are a scam. It is well known that elements in the GOP have long wished to kill Social Security, and that is precisely what they are setting about to do. Having the government speculate on the stock market with workers’ wages is incredibly risky, and is guaranteed to provide smaller returns than the current system. The current system pays about 1% for administrative costs. “Privatized” retirement plans in other countries like the one in Chile pay 20% or more in administrative costs, and you can bet Wall Street will take much more than 1% for “handling” all of that Social Security money.


President Bush’s calls to privatize Social Security are a scam. In 1983, Alan Greenspan and Ronald Reagan raised wage taxes to fund Social Security and preserve the program through the retirement of the baby boom, even as they simultaneously lowered income taxes for the wealthy. The working class in this country has been laboring under those increased wage taxes for over 20 years now, creating a huge surplus of Social Security revenues which is now projected to keep the program fully funded, depending on economic growth, until sometime between 2042 and 2052. Even after that point, the program could be continued indefinitely at an 80% benefit level. Very small adjustments to the program’s income (equivalent to just ¼ of George W. Bush’s tax cuts!) would keep the program fully funded for many more decades.

That Alan Greenspan has now blessed Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy and is also trying to stampede Americans into Social Security “privatization” by citing the impending non-crisis indicates that he has been playing a shell game with our wage taxes for the last 21 years. This effort to rip off working people who have been sacrificing all this time to save Social Security is filthy and shameless.


Monday, December 20, 2004

Loose ends

So Many Links, So Little Time Watch

In preparation for the holiday week, I’m going to try to clean out my list of things I’ve been meaning to send this week. It may get a little hectic, but hang on for the ride!

Sore Loserman Watch

Here is more on the press’s war against Gore we were talking about last time. This article was published in Rolling Stone magazine, and does a really good job of summing up most of the atrocities committed by the press regarding Gore, and it is entitled “The Press vs. Al Gore”. I should note that in the last Watch I mistakenly attributed the misquote of Gore on “Love Canal” to Ceci Connelly. It turns out that the misquote mysteriously belonged to Connelly and Katherine Seelye simultaneously. I’m not sure whether that makes it more or less likely that it was a smear job.

Tis the Season To Be Victims Watch

I actually ran into people complaining that Christians and Christmas were being persecuted and not “allowed” to say “Merry Christmas”. This delusion was expressed at the adult bible study at my church. Amazing. I spoke up, saying I had faith that Christianity in American would survive somehow, even against the onslaught of the mighty atheists. But I didn’t frame it as well as James Wolcott:

This "fear of Christmas" is a phantom menace conjured every year so that certain crybaby Christians can adopt victim status and model a pained expression over the sad fact that not everyone around them isn't carrying on like the Cratchits. This thin-skinned grievance-collecting gives birth to all sorts of urban legends and rumors about big institutions being hostile to Christ's birthday, such as the one that swirled on WOR radio last week about how Macy's employees had been instructed not to say "Merry Christmas!" to shoppers. A fiction that was put to rest when the host hit Macy's website and saw its "Merry Christmas" greeting, and Macy's employees chimed in over the phones to say there was no such policy. To read conservative pundits, you'd think everybody was wishing each other Happy Kwanzaa! and averting their eyes from oh so gauche Nativity scenes. I've got news: Even here on the godless, liberal Upper West Side, people wish each other Merry Christmas without staggering three steps backward, thunderstruck and covered with chagrin.

More Theocracy Watch

Here is the Rude Pundit, commenting on the Ten Commandments stuff Bush is trying to pull:

Let's be clear here, shall we? There are two primary reasons that "God" is mentioned so much in documents by the Founders of this country: one is convention - it's just what you fuckin' did. It's like saying, "Dear Electric Company," when, in reality, the electric company ain't that "dear" to you. The other reason is that the Founders knew they had to use propaganda in order to appeal to the yahoos living in glorified cabins in the woods of New Hampshire: if you invoke "God," then stupid people will think you're legit. The "Creator," whether "God" or "Jesus," is the shiny trinket that distracts the children so the adults can do their work. Whatever Ben Franklin may have believed about deities great and small, he knew that the masses had to be placated so that they could go about the work of building a fuckin' nation. When Thomas Paine, the rudest of the Founders, decided to wreck notions of a public religion in The Age of Reason, he sent the manuscript to Franklin. A bespectacled whoremonger, Franklin understood the average new American, and he warned Paine not to publish the book: "Think how great a portion of mankind consists of weak and ignorant men and women, and of inexperienced, inconsiderate youth of both sexes, who have need of the motives of religion to restrain them from vice, to support their virtue, and retain them in the practice of it till it becomes habitual, which is the great point for its security." Franklin feared the unrestrained public; they needed religion as a distraction in order to avoid savagery.

The Joys of Being an International Torture Criminal Watch

More signs that the torture of detainees was known and hushed up:

Civilians told not to report beatings
. . .
It is among dozens of documents made public yesterday that allege brutal and sometimes illegal military interrogation methods employed against prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The documents reveal that senior U.S. officials, who claimed they were unaware of the abuse, were repeatedly informed of accusations of abuse through official channels.

In the documents, government witnesses describe the regular use of violence — much of it inflicted on prisoners by a top-secret task force devoted to capturing "high-value targets" in Iraq.

There is no record, among the documents made public yesterday or previously, that makes clear whether the abuses — separate and apart from the highly publicized incidents at Abu Ghraib — have stopped or whether anyone has been held responsible for them.

Online Activism Watch

If you go here, you can send a message to Rep. Conyers, who is asking for a large number of electronic messages in support of congressional investigations into voting fraud and the use of electronic voting machines in Ohio and elsewhere. This is a small chance to help make our country a better place – take it!

And here is something fun. You know all those complaints the FCC got about something on Monday Night Football? It turns out that more than 95% of those complaints came from one organization, the “Parents Television Council”. They have a handy form for contacting the FCC on their website. You could use this to complain about “indecency” that you come across from right wing television and radio shows, should you choose. Let’s make the FCC enforce their new draconian rules on everyone equally, shall we?

Our Royal Family Watch

Robert Parry describes just some of the ways that the media has been sucked by the Bush family . . . but continues to be taken in:

You might think that the major media that got suckered by George W. Bush’s Iraqi weapons-of-mass-destruction claims just last year would show some humility about its own fallibility. But, no, the elite U.S. news media is now criticizing common citizens who have raised questions about voter fraud in the Nov. 2 election. The New York Times has joined the Washington Post and other major news outlets in scouring the Internet to find and discredit Americans who have expressed suspicions that Bush’s victory might not have been entirely legitimate. The New York Times' front-page story was entitled, “Vote Fraud Theories, Spread By Blogs, Are Quickly Buried.” [Nov. 12, 2004.] As odd as these attacks might seem to some, this pattern of protecting the Bush family has a history. It actually dates back a couple of decades, as the major media has either averted its eyes or rallied to the Bushes’ defense when the family has faced suspicions of lying or corruption . . .
When George H.W. Bush was linked to the misguided strategy of covertly arming Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, again major U.S. news outlets – with the exception of the Los Angeles Times – did little to dig out the truth. Even today, after the junior George Bush has sent more than 1,100 U.S. troops to their deaths to clear Iraq of non-existent WMD stockpiles in 2003-04, the U.S. news media won’t tell the American people about the senior George Bush’s role in helping Hussein build a real WMD arsenal in the 1980s.

Etc., etc. This article outlines many of the blindnesses displayed by the media for Bush family crimes and shenanigans.

Blog Watch

Here are a couple of newer blogs that may catch your fancy. Fafblog contains the rantings of three contributers, Fafnir, Giblets, and the Medium Lobster, all of which are hilarious. Fafblog seems to be in the lead for “Funniest Blog” over at the Koufax awards.

Please also see “Crooks and Liars” a great new blog that links to a lot of video clips.

Humor Watch

Bernard Kerik is the gift that just keeps on giving. No matter that Rudy Guiliani thought that this philandering, mobbed-up, crooked goomba was the best the country had to offer in “Homeland” security. At least he had a fictitious nanny story to fall back on. The good folks at have found his “LETTER FROM BERNARD KERIK FORMALLY WITHDRAWING FROM ANSWERING QUESTIONS FROM SOME LOUSY GOODY TWO SHOES STICKING THEIR FAT NOSES WHERE THEY AIN'T GOT NO BUSINESS ANYHOW”. Enjoy!!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Achieving "truth" through repetition

Press Corpse Watch

Today, I’d like to talk about the power of the press, and how it is often misused. I’m not sure what the final take-home message is, other than the press is incredibly powerful and now seems to be run by incompetents and miscreants, both of which are pretty obvious points. But I guess I would like to emphasize that often the press just makes things up . . . with no consequence to them. Broad, narrative arcs are created out of very thin air, and used to try to explain, categorize, and defame. Specific details are generated out of whole cloth, often maliciously, to hurt other people. And yet, even when these deliberate falsifications come out, no one loses their job, no one is reprimanded, the “retractions” are soft and weasely. This is especially true if the victim is a Democrat or a progressive, but we’ll see that this phenomenon touches a lot of people, regardless of their affiliations. The press often tries to defend itself by claiming that even though the story isn’t “factually” true, it reveals some “inner truth” about what readers believe to be true, or would like to be true, or some other such nonsense. This pattern is a sign of a dead national media, one that cannot and will not police itself or the people in power, and is a very bad sign for our democracy.

Take a trip back with me through memory lane, to remember some past and study some recent incidents. Some you may even believe to be true, and you can bet that future “historians” will get the details wrong, as constant repetition of these lies has engraved them in our national memory:

Poppy’s grocery scanner

Here’s one that affected a Republican, but a Republican who was on his way out of office. Poppy Bush goes to a convention, makes some small talk with a guy working a grocery scanner. The one journalist who was actually at the event writes that Bush had a “look of wonder” on his face at one point. And the editorial writers go to town about how out of touch Bush is, how he has no experience of the common man, hasn’t entered a grocery store in 25 years, etc. All of which was untrue, but made for good editorial writing. Most of the story is documented here.

Hillary’s gift registry

At the end of the Clinton’s term, some friends of theirs got together to buy them some furniture to help them furnish their new living spaces. Somehow, the false idea that Hillary had registered for gifts got associated with the story, and acid-penned and brain-addled gossip monger Maureen Dowd was off to the races with several baroque and bizarre fantasies about Hillary picking out expensive gifts and items. Dowd even supplied dialog for Mrs. Clinton and her friends regarding this completely fictitious, grubby registry. But, as it turned out, this was completely false. No retraction from Dowd that I know of has ever been issued. Here is one take on this story.

White House Trashing (also theft from Air Force One)

Then, there was the story of the trashing of the White House and Air Force One. To the whorporate media’s credit, they didn’t invent these tall tales . . . they just passed them on with no proof. These two were invented by Bushco, pushed by Ari “mouth of Sauron” Fleisher, and carried dutifully by the press. GOP journalists moaned and writhed and foamed about the immoral Clinton administration, and failed to notice that both stories were complete and utter bullshit. Here ( is an account by FAIR of how the conservative media ran with this false story. Josh Marshall writes about how the Bushies advanced this story through innuendo.

Escalating lies about the Air Force One “scandal”, and Bush’s retraction of the story, are discussed here.

While we are at it, every Clinton “scandal”. Ever.

We should mention here that every “scandal” that was used to flog Clinton while he was in office, including the gifts, trashing the White House, stealing from Air Force One, the travel office flap, murdering Vince Foster, fathering a child with a black prostitute, running drugs out of a Mena airport (!), Whitewater, FBI filegate, etc. etc. ad naseum infinitum, ALL of them were completely unsubstantiated. They were investigated through the legal process and the Clintons were found not guilty of wrongdoing in all of them. The only real legal issue Clinton had was the fact that he gave a misleading deposition in a civil lawsuit that was later dismissed by the presiding judge for lacking substance. And it was only Starr’s wild, illegal, runaway investigation that even put him in that position, where Clinton’s sex life was under legal investigation. What a farce. And yet, when you think of Clinton’s term in office, doesn’t the word “scandal-ridden” come to mind? The GOP paid a lot of good money to make that so. There are things not to like about Clinton’s policies, but the “scandals” that plagued him were to a huge degree created out of whole cloth by a little group of people, feeding a gullible and in some cases actively complicit press. That the New York Times has never apologized or retracted its incredibly irresponsible reporting on Whitewater, just for one, is a sad indictment of that once great paper. You can read more about it in “The Hunting of the President” or watch the documentary.

It should also be noted that the number of Clinton government officials that were convicted of crimes committed for conduct while they were in office is ONE. The chief of staff of the secretary of agriculture was convicted in a case that involved football tickets. The most heavily investigated administration in modern times was also one of the very cleanest. The corresponding number for the Reagan administration is 30 . . . and would have been much, much higher, including cabinet members and the Vice President/President himself, if George HW Bush hadn’t have pardoned all of his Iran-Contra co-conspirators on Christmas Eve, 1992. What, you don’t remember the media outrage against Poppy Bush saving his own ass by pardoning Cap Weinberger and several others for cabinet-level, Constitution-busting treachery? That’s because there wasn’t any.

Gore: Campaign 2000

A whole chapter needs to be devoted to the press’s trashing of Gore. Unlike the Clinton “scandals”, which were created by GOP operatives, and merely passed on by a non-functioning press, most of the very damaging false stories about Gore which appeared during campaign 2000 were created by the press corpse itself. Some were created or flogged by the GOP, and these were picked up by the mainstream media with gusto. But many were just created by the reporters assigned to cover Gore by the nation’s top newspapers. Imagine the delight of Bushco when they realized that they didn’t even need to do the dirty work anymore, that the mainstream media would smear Gore itself, through slanted writing and even through vicious lies.

The best documenter of the Gore media outrages is Bob Somerby. He has done a very thorough job of sifting back through all the evidence to find out what really happened. First, “invented the internet”. Gore never said he “invented the internet”, but what he did say about his role in helping to create it is very true. The GOP decided to flog this story, and the presstitutes ran and ran and ran with it. See this for the details. And this is a story that won’t ever die.

Then there was the Love Story incident, in which Gore was painted to have an inflated picture of himself.

The “Love Canal” story was one that was wholly invented by Ceci Connoly, the reporter covering the Gore campaign for the Washington Post. She deliberately misquoted him, then she and others ran to write about what a horrible person he was based on that deliberate misquotation. There was a heartbreaking segment on “This American Life” about the schoolkids Gore was talking to at the time, and how they tried, in vain, to get the news to report the truth. It is the first segment.

The Buddhist Temple flap also found Gore not at fault, though you’d never know that from reading the papers.

There are a million others. The Florida schoolgirl chair flap. Doggie pills. Farm chores. Growing up in a fancy hotel. In each instance, the press deliberately lied or repeated lies from the GOP, desperately painting Gore in a bad light. “Al Gore” is now a national joke, just as the GOP had hoped. But Gore still beat Bush in 2000, despite the media trying to deep six him. Read more about the truth behind these stories, and you’ll see yet again how close America came to having a great chief executive.

Judge to rape victim: “Get over it”

Here’s a more recent example. A judge was talking to an assistant prosecutor about a 14 year old rape victim. He said, about the victim, "(She) is 14; she can't go through life as a victim. She's got to get over it.” In this quote, we see that the judge is expressing the desire that this poor girl overcome the crime committed against her, because she has a long life ahead of her. One reporter took this conversation, and began telling the world that the judge told the victim, to her face, that she needed to “get over it”. The reporter went so far as to go on Bill O’Reilly’s show and present this lie. Needless to say, the outrage over this lie was tremendous. The victim and her family are incredibly upset, the judge’s life is about ruined, with him getting death threats from people all over the country.

Kerry and Nascar

John Kerry was left relatively untouched by the press in this election cycle. For the most part, they did not make up false stories about him. They failed to call the false stories coming from the GOP out as lies, of course, but they didn’t seem to be actively trying to destroy him, as with Gore. Yet, old habits die hard. Once again we find Maureen Dowd inventing quotes to beat Kerry with. In this case, she created a quote from Kerry: “Who among us doesn’t like NASCAR?”. Then she proceeds to flog him with it, for being a phony. Other reporters pick it up as if it is the Gospel truth, and also flog Kerry with it. See Somerby for what he actually said, and how this got started. No retraction from Dowd, of course.

Osama’s last appearance

How about Bin Laden’s last appearance, right before the election, when he released a video? Remember how all of the media decided that this move helped . . . Bush? Did any of you experience cognitive dissonance over that, as I did? My only thought was, "Why is this asshole still alive to taunt the US? Thanks for another job well done, Bush." Once again, the media creating the reality they want.

“Moral Values” victory

Finally, in the weirdest piece of media projection, we find this absurd meme about Bush’s win being brought about by, or evidence of, or a mandate for “moral values”. Why the press wants to further empower the lunatic religious fringe in this country I will never know, but the truth of the matter is while there were some people who said “moral values” were important in their vote, something like 22%, this number is way down from years past. In 1996, when Clinton was re-elected, the number was about 40% or so, with none of the accompanying crowing about “moral values”. Lesson? They paint events any way they chose, in any way that is good for them.

All of these examples leave me feeling a bit afloat, in a world where history is being written by the most delusional elements of our society, and where those elements control the perception of reality to a large degree. I don’t know what the answer is to it, or even if there is an answer. But we have to cling to the actual truth of events, rather than the GOP/media line, if we are to retain even a blurry picture of reality.

Monday, December 13, 2004


Armor Watch

You may have heard Rumsfeld get asked a hard question last week about armored vehicles in Iraq. Many wingnuts are angry that a reporter put the guardsman up to asking the question, but of course they ignore that his statement, that soldiers are rummaging through garbage to find ways to reinforce their vehicles, is true. Rumsfeld replied that they just couldn’t produce armored vehicles fast enough. But Whoops! It turns out that was just a lie:

Armor Holdings Inc., the sole supplier of protective plates for Humvee military vehicles used in Iraq, said yesterday that it could increase output by as much as 22 percent per month with no investment and is awaiting an order from the Army.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Wednesday in response to sometimes pointed questions from soldiers that the Army was working as fast as it can and supply is dictated by "a matter of physics, not a matter of money."

Armor Holdings last month told the Army it could add armor to as many as 550 trucks a month, up from 450 now, Robert Mecredy, president of the company's aerospace and defense group, said in a telephone interview. "We're prepared to build 50 to 100 vehicles more per month," Mecredy said.”


A Valley firm that provides critical armor for military vehicles in Iraq is operating at only half-capacity despite complaints from soldiers who say they are being sent into combat without adequate protection.

"We've been telling the Pentagon for months that we have the capacity to double our production," said former U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, a consultant for ArmorWorks of Tempe.

"We're ready, and we haven't heard a thing."

The issue of adequate armor protection for military vehicles in Iraq became front-page news this week when a National Guard soldier from Tennessee stood up at a town hall meeting in Kuwait and confronted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.”

Decent Journalist Suicide Watch

Robert Parry has the story of journalist Gary Webb, who conveniently committed suicide this weekend. An excerpt:

In 1996, journalist Gary Webb wrote a series of articles that forced a long-overdue investigation of a very dark chapter of recent U.S. foreign policy – the Reagan-Bush administration’s protection of cocaine traffickers who operated under the cover of the Nicaraguan contra war in the 1980s.

For his brave reporting at the San Jose Mercury News, Webb paid a high price. He was attacked by journalistic colleagues at the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the American Journalism Review and even the Nation magazine. Under this media pressure, his editor Jerry Ceppos sold out the story and demoted Webb, causing him to quit the Mercury News. Even Webb’s marriage broke up.

On Friday, Dec. 10, Gary Webb, 49, died of an apparent suicide, a gunshot wound to the head.

Whatever the details of Webb’s death, American history owes him a huge debt. Though denigrated by much of the national news media, Webb’s contra-cocaine series prompted internal investigations by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice Department, probes that confirmed that scores of contra units and contra-connected individuals were implicated in the drug trade. The probes also showed that the Reagan-Bush administration frustrated investigations into those crimes for geopolitical reasons.

The mainstream media ridiculed Webb at the time, of course, though he has turned out to be correct.

More Social Security Hysteria Watch

If you are a real glutton for economic analysis, here is a good collection of analyses which speak more to the state of social security. The conclusion the author comes to is that social security is not in crisis.

Again, the shape of this public “debate” is becoming very similar to the “debate” leading up to the disaster of Bush’s War. Bush invents a crisis and lies and lies and lies about it (“Saddam’s unmanned drones of death will drop nukes on us!!” “Social security is going to crash and burn!”), but only at the politically convenient time (after his 2002 vacation for Iraq, after the election for Social Security). People get worried. The media do nothing to bring some sanity or rationality to the debate, but instead cheerlead as the populace is threatened into allowing Bushco to create a ruinous situation, so that Bush contributors can profit (military contractors war profiteer in Iraq, investment houses funnel the social security money). The details of the plan don't matter, nor are they attended to (amazingly, it has been about six years since Bush was honking on about these personal savings accounts coming up to 2000, and he still hasn’t put forward an actual proposal). Disastrous and predictable consequences follow: chaos in Iraq,
the fleecing of the entire American working class. It doesn't matter as long as there is confusion and government money is exposed for corporate cronies to steal. Bush declares that everything is going swimmingly amidst the wrack and ruin he has caused and vows to "stay the course".

There are some differences, of course. Social security crashing during the baby boomers’ retirements was a real issue at one time. Then again, in the rush to war, it is pretty clear that no one knew exactly what Saddam had in Iraq by way of weapons. There were many suspicions, but we didn’t know until we got in there what was actually going on. In the social security situation, we do have a much better idea of the facts. And we are still managing to mess up the debate.


(It’s OK if you are a Republican). Today, Atrios put together some quotes from Judith Regan with a report about Ms. Regan’s activities with Bernard Kerik, who just withdrew his nomination for head of Homeland (yechh, I hate that word – why don’t we just say “Vaterland” already?) Security:

REGAN: Absolutely. I don't think there's any question. I mean, here's Hillary who's been standing by her man all these years and allowing him to behave in this reprehensible fashion.

REGAN: You know, look at Monica Lewinsky talking about being suicidal, being on antidepressants, you know, gaining this huge amount of weight. This is clearly a woman who has suffered and is suffering inside because she has no depth of feeling and no morality whatsoever. And so, I decided, after being involved in this ugly negotiation, which I found morally reprehensible, that we should make fun of the whole thing, and we should make a comment about the amorality of everybody.

REGAN: I would never tell. Unlike Monica Lewinsky, I keep my secrets and take them to the grave.

REGAN: I don't know. I mean, I think that they're going to move forward here, and I think it's alarming to me that the country is not concerned about having an amoral man in the White House.

REGAN: I said, "You know what? There's a really great morality tale here with a great, great moral lesson," and nobody's really said that.

REGAN: Well, partially, but it's also an "amorality tale" because the one thing that's missing from "Monica's Story" is, you know, deep thinking about her own amorality, which we saw -- was in ample evidence during the Barbara Walters love fest the other night. I mean, here's a woman who clearly knows a lot about sex, but knows nothing about right and wrong.

REGAN: You know, the amorality tale, "Monica's Untold Story," is about her amorality, and the amorality of all of the people in this ugly story. But one of the things that was remarkable about her two hours is her utter lack of sincere remorse. And in that case, I would say she is a true soulmate of Bill Clinton because the two of them -- she learned a lot about spinning. She learned a lot about publicity. You know, she learned a lot about changing her image. And she tried to do another Barbara Walters show, but I don't know if America's buying it. I'm sure not.

Ms. REGAN: Well, I think that the social fabric of this country has become completely unraveled. I think the sexual revolution had a lot to do with that. I think that we are in terrible shape. I think we have a country where half the kids are being raised by single mothers. A lot of that has to do with male behavior. We look at the men in this country who do not want to be accountable to their wives, do not want to be accountable to their children and we have as a president a man who could be a symbol of everything that is good; he could be a wonderful husband, he could be a wonderful father. He is in a position of great authority to show this country and to lead this country in a way that is much more important than economically.

Ms. REGAN: this kind of fame, don't grow up thinking, You know, what I really want to do is to be a good citizen, to be loyal to my friends, to care about my neighbors, to get married, to be faithful to my husband, to have a family.' These are not the things that we're teaching.

Ms. REGAN: We can conquer others with force but to conquer ourselves we need strength.' And this is really what we need in America today. We need to conquer our own impulses. We need to understand that we can't act on them all the time because it feels good for us. We have to care about the other.

Ms. REGAN: Let me tell you something, my father has never cheated on my mother, my brothers have never treated cheated on their wives. I come from a big Italian Irish Catholic family and I have to say that for the most part, they have not cheated on each other. My brothers were virile...


Former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik conducted two extramarital affairs simultaneously, using a secret Battery Park City apartment for the passionate liaisons, the New York Daily News has learned.

The first relationship, spanning nearly a decade, was with city Correction Officer Jeannette Pinero; the second was with famed publishing titan Judith Regan.

His affair with Regan, the stunningly attractive head of her own book publishing company, lasted for almost a year. ... The tumultuous Regan-Kerik romance carried on for months, through the writing, publication and promotion of his autobiography, "The Lost Son: A Life in Pursuit of Justice," which Regan's company published.

Enjoy those Republican Family Values!!

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Fundamentalism and Fascism

Social Security Howlers Watch

Now that Bush looks like he is finally going to put forth a proposal on privatizing Social Security, we will see if the media totally falls for the scam or whether there are still reputable elements who will call out this ridiculousness for what it is.

The bottom line: Social Security has already been saved.

Paul Krugman broke silence from a break he is taking to publish an article in the NYT yesterday which addresses the ideas I’ve been going on about for a while now:

Right now the revenues from the payroll tax exceed the amount paid out in benefits. This is deliberate, the result of a payroll tax increase - recommended by none other than Alan Greenspan - two decades ago. His justification at the time for raising a tax that falls mainly on lower- and middle-income families, even though Ronald Reagan had just cut the taxes that fall mainly on the very well-off, was that the extra revenue was needed to build up a trust fund. This could be drawn on to pay benefits once the baby boomers began to retire.

The grain of truth in claims of a Social Security crisis is that this tax increase wasn't quite big enough. Projections in a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office (which are probably more realistic than the very cautious projections of the Social Security Administration) say that the trust fund will run out in 2052. The system won't become "bankrupt" at that point; even after the trust fund is gone, Social Security revenues will cover 81 percent of the promised benefits. Still, there is a long-run financing problem.

But it's a problem of modest size. The report finds that extending the life of the trust fund into the 22nd century, with no change in benefits, would require additional revenues equal to only 0.54 percent of G.D.P. That's less than 3 percent of federal spending - less than we're currently spending in Iraq. And it's only about one-quarter of the revenue lost each year because of President Bush's tax cuts - roughly equal to the fraction of those cuts that goes to people with incomes over $500,000 a year.

Given these numbers, it's not at all hard to come up with fiscal packages that would secure the retirement program, with no major changes, for generations to come. . . . .
But since the politics of privatization depend on convincing the public that there is a Social Security crisis, the privatizers have done their best to invent one. . . . .
For Social Security is a government program that works, a demonstration that a modest amount of taxing and spending can make people's lives better and more secure. And that's why the right wants to destroy it.

You see? It’s all just a shell game. Making working class people who pay wage taxes pay a lot more, promising them Social Security . . . and then taking away Social Security because of a “crisis”. Greenspan is not only duplicitous in this deliberate fleecing. He is also the chief engineer of both halves of it. There is a book on this issue, published in 1999, called “Social Security: The Phony Crisis”.

Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler has recently been increasing his examination of these issues as well. Here is a critique of some current debate on the issue, as well as a historic look at how the media responded when Al Gore tried to point out that Bush was trying to privatize SS unnecessarily during the 2000 campaign. Here are some examples of the media response to Gore:

Hardball, MSNBC, May 5, 2000:
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Norah, let’s start in talking about this amazing campaign. Who would have believed that George W. Bush would have looked so clean and so good right now after that bruising fight with John McCain? He’s up five points in a number of polls this week, and yet you see Al Gore picking away at him with these left jabs of his…It’s the same thing he did to Bill Bradley—attack, attack, attack.

Russert, CNBC, May 6, 2000:
JOE KLEIN: The concern I have about the Gore campaign is that he has learned one lesson and he’s kind of becoming a one-trick pony.
TIM RUSSERT: Attack. Attack. Attack.
KLEIN: Attack. Attack.
RUSSERT: Governor Bush put forward a Social Security plan calling for a partial privatizing, and he attacks, saying that is risky…Why—why—why does Gore just, almost knee-jerk, attack, attack, attack?

Inside Politics, CNN, May 17, 2000:
CHARLES COOK: For Governor Bush, it’s a chance to show sort of bold leadership…But at the same time, getting into that area is certainly a risky thing and it’s going to test all of George Bush’s abilities of persuasion to sell this, because Al Gore is very good at the attack, just look at what he did to Bill Bradley on health care… BERNARD SHAW: What comes to mind, Stu?
STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, in general, he has been attacking for months now and there’s been a lot of criticism that he’s been overly negative. Once again, here, attack, attack.

KONDRACKE (4/30/00): Look, the dynamic here is perfectly obvious. Gore is behind in all the polls, so he's doing what worked with Bill Bradley, attack attack attack, and, you know, and he's hoping that it'll work on George W. Bush. The difference is that George W. Bush is not going to take it forever. I mean, George W. knows how to counterpunch, and I predict soon that he'll start doing it.
BARNES: Yes, he's not going to be the guy on the ropes just getting punched. No rope-a-dope for him. But look, Gore was attack attack attacking, and he's—in the beginning, and now he's been going down as a result of that attack attack attacking. He doesn't—I don't think he knows how to deal with Bush, who doesn't want to really get—engage him in a back-and-forth, wisely.

Do you see a pattern?

Somerby then examines some GOP claims about how little the transition to private accounts will cost. (One suspects the upshot of this will be similar to Iraq: they’ll lie like crazy to create some semblance of consensus in the media, then they’ll do what they want, then when it all goes to hell they will pretend not to notice). Somerby responds to Krugman’s column and in this essay, he shows how Tim Russert, as just one example, is willing to shill this lie to the public. Expect performances like this to be common as this “debate” begins in earnest, but beware of people who are screaming “crisis”. There isn’t one.

Like Bush’s War and Bush’s Election, this Social Security “reform” is the next big crisis that I fear America is waltzing blindly into. As in the first two cases, I pray it is not too late for the US to stop making such stupid, easily avoided mistakes. But we are up against the Bush propaganda machine, and as we’ve seen at least twice before, they have a powerful way of separating ourselves from what is good for us.

Fundamentalism and Fascism Watch

Quick quiz: What is wrong with this quote about Christian fundamentalists in this country?:

They hate liberated women and all that symbolizes them. They hate it when women compete with men in the workplace, when they decide when or whether they will bear children, when they show the independence of getting abortions. They hate changes in laws that previously gave men more power over women.

They hate the wide range of sexual orientations and lifestyles that have always characterized human societies. They hate homosexuality.

They hate individual freedoms that allow people to stray from the rigid sort of truth they want to constrain all people. They hate individual rights that let others slough off their simple certainties.

Answer? Sorry, it was a trick question. That quote actually refers to Islamic fundamentalists, and what they don’t like about America (in addition to our foreign policy). As you can see, the differences are pretty slight. We have our own homegrown American Taliban right in our own country.

The quote comes from this interesting essay, “The Fundamentalist Agenda” on the similarities of all fundamentalisms, found in a scholarly study of the phenomenon about a decade ago. An excerpt:

They identified five characteristics shared by virtually all fundamentalisms. The fundamentalists' agenda starts with insistence that their rules must be made to apply to all people, and to all areas of life. There can be no separation of church and state, or of public and private areas of life. The rigid rules of God—and they never doubt that they and only they have got these right—must become the law of the land. Pat Robertson, again, has said that just as Supreme Court justices place a hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution, so they should also place a hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible. In Khomeini's Iran, and in the recent Taliban rule of Afghanistan, we saw how brutal and bloody this looks in real time.

The second agenda item is really at the top of the list, and it's vulgarly simple: Men are on top. Men are bigger and stronger, and they rule not only through physical strength but also and more importantly through their influence on the laws and rules of the land. Men set the boundaries. Men define the norms, and men enforce them. They also define women, and they define them through narrowly conceived biological functions. Women are to be supportive wives, mothers, and homemakers.

A third item follows from the others. (Indeed each part of the fundamentalist agenda is necessarily interlocked, and needs every other part to survive.) Since there is only one right picture of the world, one right set of beliefs, and one right set of roles for men, women, and children, it is imperative that this picture and these rules be communicated precisely to the next generation. Therefore, fundamentalists must control education by controlling textbooks and teaching styles, deciding what may and may not be taught.

Fourth, fundamentalists spurn the modern, and want to return to a nostalgic vision of a golden age that never really existed. Several of the scholars observed a strong and deep resemblance between fundamentalism and fascism. Both have almost identical agendas. Men are on top, women are subservient, there is one rigid set of rules, with police and military might to enforce them, and education is tightly controlled by the state. One scholar suggested that it's helpful to understand fundamentalism as religious fascism, and fascism as political fundamentalism. The phrase “overcoming the modern” is a fascist slogan dating back to at least 1941.

The fifth point is the most abstract, though it's foundational. Fundamentalists deny history in a radical and idiosyncratic way. Fundamentalists know as well or better than anybody that culture shapes everything it touches: The times we live in color how we think, what we value, and the kind of people we become. Fundamentalists agree on the perverseness of modern American society: the air of permissiveness and narcissism, individual rights unbalanced by responsibilities, sex divorced from commitment, and so on. What they don't want to see is the way culture colored the era when their scriptures were created.

The essay goes on to catalog the roles of fundamentalist versus progressive drives, and to show how progressive agendas can be accpeted if they use the trappings of fundamentalist emotions.

Digby, who is well aware of the fact that Democrats need to market themselves better, examines this essay and proposes a re-framing of the debate as “fundamentalism versus America” being the real struggle. This does three things: it pits us against Islamic fundamentalism, it highlights the progressive ways in which we differ from fundamentalism as a culture (which are in danger), and it also helps to push American fundamentalism out of the mainstream, where it so desperately wants to be. Together these two essays shed a great deal of light on recent human behavior, and point to a useful strategy for getting our culture back on the track towards humanity (maybe humaneness is a better word).

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Time to put it on "ignore"

Bush’s War Watch

I’ve decided that I don’t really need to pay attention to Bush’s War much anymore. Why should I bother? The media clearly seem to want to ignore it. (The “handover” in June was the signal to the news networks that Iraq could be “Afghanistanized” onto the back pages.) Our right-wing brethren in this country seem to be perfectly happy ignoring the human and fiscal costs. That is it a rapidly deteriorating situation which could have been avoided is self-evident. That the true believers in Bush will continue to ignore the reality of the situation is also evident. Why should we bother to lose sleep over this gross injustice? It doesn’t help anyone, and it hurts us to stress about it.

The destruction of Fallujah, the “city of mosques”, is such an affront to the Islamic world that a recent Pakistani editorial was recently subtly entitled “I am become death – the destroyer of worlds”, in reference to Bush. The sexual humiliation and torture of Iraqi prisoners, of which the news of widespread horrors continues to come out in trickles as the Pentagon drolly talks about “a few bad apples”, is not winning us any friends. The Bush/Rumsfeld execution of this fiasco seems carelessly designed, or even careFULLY designed, to enrage the muslim world against us. A sane approach to foreign policy might just as carefully avoid enraging the entire muslim world, but that’s my Bush.

And so, you’ll pardon me if I don’t act surprised when the retributions for our torture and desecration bear the fruit of future death and destruction on Americans, even ones I know and love, even ones in my family, or ones I count among my friends. And yes, “they blew up the twin towers”. “They” did indeed. But “they” were not in Iraq. Remember that every person we’ve harmed in Iraq was innocent in 9/11. The karmic debt we have accumulated for letting a few a-holes run roughshod over more than 60 years of global law and American foreign policy is staggering, and it will continue to sweep more innocents into its net.

When the next attack comes, the administration will not say “maybe we shouldn’t have pissed off all of the Muslims in the world.” It will say, “See, we told you so!” and the bloodshed and mayhem will predictably be continued and intensified. We will have been Israelified to the point where only the leaders who call for the most blood of our enemies will be rewarded. Such a lovely future. But you’ll pardon me if I don’t want to watch it unfold too closely.

Bush Apologizes Watch

It turns out that the President can actually say he’s sorry. Check out this news story:

“President Bush Takes Responsibility for Prisoner Abuse

Washington (FA wire) - In the wake of yet another well-photographed Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, President Bush today offered his apologies and took responsibility for the incidents. "I'm the Commander in Chief," he said in a press conference on the White House lawn. "The conduct of the military is therefore my responsibility. I want to apologize to the Iraqi people and the American people."

"When you look at what happened, you have to conclude that this abuse was a systemic problem," the President went on. "And there's little doubt that the fact that so many soldiers believed the Iraqis were partly to blame for 9/11 had something to do with these atrocities. In retrospect, I regret that I allowed and encouraged this misapprehension for the short-term benefit of securing popular support for the war - it definitely caused our soldiers to view themselves as avengers rather than liberators. That's my fault."

The President went on to concede that U.S. troops believing they were fighting an enemy that had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction might have also fueled their rapacious behavior. "Another big 'oops,' there," he said. "When you consider that that the enemy had no terrible weapons, didn't really fight back, and wasn't even remotely responsible for any terrorism against Americans.... well, letting our soldiers believe that this was the case might not have been the greatest idea. That one's on me. My bad."

Oh wait – it turns out that this story is actually from the very funny comedy blog, Fanatical Apathy. That explains everything.

Dean Watch

The DNC will soon choose a new chairman and one of the possible people for the job is Howard Dean. He was my favorite candidate from the primaries, and though Democrats by and large did not vote for him, I found he was able to communicate Democratic principles and express a Democratic vision for the country the most articulately. He makes it sound so simple: why it is right to be a Democrat, how the Republicans have failed, and he never sounds apologetic about his convictions.

Recently, the DLC, a very corporatist piece of the national Democratic machinery, felt it was necessary to publicly denounce Michael Moore, because Republicans would like to see Moore’s name become a bad word. Why? Moore actually cares deeply about the subject of class in this country, and he also can reach large audiences through his medium. All this internecine fighting within the Democratic party may seem trivial, but the instinct on the part of this group to demonize one of Bush’s most effective critics seems retarded at best, quisling at worst. Moore worked his ass off through the election season, even through pneumonia, to get people out to vote, and to vote against Bush.

As the leaders in the Democratic party attempt to create new divisions within the party, wouldn’t it be nice to have a visible leader of the DNC who can express himself in this way? From today’s speech:

“Let me tell you what my plan for this Party is:
We're going to win in Mississippi
...and Alabama
...and Idaho
...and South Carolina.
Now we need to build on our successes while transforming the Democratic Party into a grassroots organization that can win in 50 states. I have seen all the doomsday predictions that the Democratic Party could shrink to become a regional Party. A Party of the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest.

We cannot be a Party that seeks the presidency by running an 18-state campaign. We cannot be a party that cedes a single state, a single District, a single precinct, nor should we cede a single voter.

As many of the candidates supported by my organization Democracy for America showed -- people in places that we've too long ignored are hungry for an alternative; they're hungry for new ideas and new candidates, and they're willing to elect Democrats. ... There is a Party of fiscal responsibility... economic responsibility.... social responsibility... civic responsibility... personal responsibility... and moral responsibility.
It's the Democratic Party.”

The excerpts of the speech don’t really do it justice. Go read the whole thing. The guy really can articulate a vision for a party that can’t seem to find one.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Seeing is, apparently and unfortunately, believing

Imagination versus Visualization Watch

One thing that has surprises me about my fellow humans (though perhaps it shouldn’t) is our real blind spot to consequences and concepts that are not EXPLICITLY dramatized with visual images. That is to say that for many people, if we don’t have pictures to go with our stories, it is as if the stories don’t exist.

For example, there were anecdotes of people who watched the move “The Day After Tomorrow” and seemed suddenly to realize, for the very first time, that global climate change might just be a problem. It was as if they literally needed to see it (or a dramatization of people dying in highly exaggerated, severe weather events) for their brains to process the information. Just saying, “If we continue to mess up our atmosphere, we will be screwed,” is not enough. People need Roland Emmerich to create a shlocky disaster film about it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Nobody enjoys a good dystopic vision of the future more than I do. From Soylent Green to Silent Running, it is interesting to see environmental jeremiads given life on film. But I read a news story (which I wish I could find now) about an American automobile executive who had decided, upon seeing “The Day After Tomorrow”, that maybe it might be important to increase the fuel efficiency on his company’s cars, because global warming was a serious issue. Gee, do you think? This guy literally had to watch a piece of crap popular movie before he could even come to that conclusion. Hooray for the power of film and visual imagery and all that, but boo to this executive, who presumably had the ability to improve the situation before this and never acted.

The power of the image is well understood by our Republican leadership, as is obvious from their actions. The American people are shielded from certain realities of our lives day in and day out by their absence in the visual imagery we use to communicate. Take poverty, for example. It is real, and it occurs to millions of people, including children and babies, in our own country. And the policies of the corporatists push more and more people into more and more severe poverty. How much poverty do we see depicted in any kind of visual medium? Very, very little. It is hidden, shameful, out of sight, and though we can discuss it and read and write articles about it, for many if not most people, if they don’t “see” it, it doesn’t exist.

Likewise, the costs of Bush’s War are hidden from us. The cost in treasure is easy to hide. Billions of dollars are disappearing, misappropriated into this dark pit of corruption. I think at last count Halliburton had about $8.5 billion in tax money they couldn’t account for. That’s roughly $100 from every taxpaying family in the US just gone, for which we are getting no benefit, either here or abroad (unless you consider having richer, more corrupt corporate cronies looting the treasury a benefit). Not even counting the looting, profiteering, and corruption that are occurring, the American people probably wouldn’t make a squeak about it unless someone made a movie about corrupt executives profiting off of the war. Or maybe a movie or series of pictures that literally showed how much money was disappearing, what the real opportunity costs of this foolish, murderous folly was. Without the pictures, it will mean nothing to most people. And the right wing understands this. Look at the shrieking fits they have concerning Michael Moore, whose chief crime seems to be putting images together with concepts, so that even the most unimaginative can understand that they are being screwed.

As far as the human costs, they are well hidden from view. We can show our weapons bombarding a city, causing “shock and awe”, firing at buildings. Photos of dead, maimed, screaming, crying, bloody, battered, exploded Iraqis are very rare. Also rare are photos of dead Americans, their bodies and futures turned into hamburger. Imagine this: the public is so protected from images of our own war dead that the Pentagon won’t even provide the incredibly sanitized images of the flag-draped boxes that bring them back to Dover AFB. (Yes, I know this policy was put in place for the Gulf War and persisted unaltered throughout Clinton’s tenure. Two important points: Clinton had zero combat deaths during his term, if you count military actions that he initiated. And he also attended military funerals, such as those from Powell’s fubared Somalia deployment, which Chimpy never does. When Reagan died, it finally gave W the chance to be seen next to a flag-draped coffin.) Our losses, except as they affect individual families, have been abstracted to the point of meaninglessness. There is no national sense of mourning, no sense of loss or senselessness or even meaning. Remember how the right wing flipped its wig when Ted Koppel’s Nightline dedicated a single show to showing the faces and reading the names of the dead from Bush’s war? They understood that even this tasteful show of respect for the fallen was a chink in the wall of invisibility they had built around the victims of this criminal war.

Finally, we get to torture, our national shame. Consider for a moment, that A) our President wanted his legal department to find a way to justify torture (!I still can’t get over that!) and that B) his justice department complied. (Can ANYONE tell me why these human scum stains are still in office?) But this, more than anything, has really been hidden. No pictures of what we are doing to other human beings are leaking out of Guantanamo, though there are awful stories. Of course, without pictures, Bushco is safe with its torturing gulags. When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke (that is, when the public found out about it, the administration knew months and months beforehand), remember what really steamed Rumsfeld’s crabs? It wasn’t that the torture happened, it was that pictures of the torture got into the media. He kept going on and on about how these pictures got into the media, and what a problem that was. Of course it was a problem. Without the pictures, the less imaginative portion of our population can’t decide whether torture is wrong. In fact, they even seem incapable of visualizing it. The Rude Pundit tries to paint a mental image of the shoe on the other foot in this post. As he describes, think of any movie you’ve seen where the good guy is tied up, and the bad guy comes in wearing a uniform, and tortures the good guy. It makes you hate the torturer, doesn’t it? We are that torturing bad guy, wearing that uniform, and the rest of the world is learning to hate us because of it. Bush can’t even go to Canada in peace and safety because he is an international torture criminal. But in this country, we don’t seem to get the picture.

“Bring it on!” Watch

Attached is a graph of US casualties in Bush’s War, labeled with various events for reference. The killing of Americans has continued at a relatively steady pace and is increasing. The various milestones (“Mission Accomplished”, “Sovereignty”, capturing Saddam) have little to no effect on the rate of death of our servicepeople. This graph is kept updated.

Friday, December 03, 2004

The Incredible President Limpet

The Incredible Mister Limpet Watch

If you watch only one web-based Quicktime movie this week, make it this one. It turns out that unbeknownst to most of us, a certain very famous actor has been playing bits and pieces of Dubya’s life throughout his career. Only now, in retrospect, can the fullness of his artistic achievement be appreciated. Enjoy!

Red versus Blue Watch

Here is a really interesting page for those who enjoy maps. This takes the traditional Red State versus Blue State maps which are usually used and plays with them in a number of revealing ways to give much more information about the way the country is divided by geography and politics.

The traditional map uses bright, solid red and bright solid blue to show states carried by either party. It shows a vast, red swath with blue areas in the west, northeast, and northern midwest. Then, the authors distort the size of each state to accurately reflect the population that live there. This shows a much more even size distribution of the two colors. They also show a map where the size of a state shows the relative power in the electoral college of that state. Here, there is a slight increase in the size of the red areas.

The process is then repeated by counties. That is fascinating. Finally, the authors color each county in a range from red through purple to blue, both in a straight geographical map and in a map that reflect popluation. The results are well worth examing.

Several of the points concerning the conflating land mass with population are made even more eloquently here.

Election Theft Watch

There is an excellent article on what is really happening with electronic voting, especially in Florida, entitled “Was It Hacked?”. This article strings together a lot of the pieces not only about Flordia in 2004, but about Georgia in 2002. It also takes a harder look at the ownership and executives in the largest electronic vote counting companies. An excerpt:

Votes collected by electronic machines (and by optical scan equipment that reads traditional paper ballots) are sent via modem to a central tabulating computer, which counts the votes on Windows software. Therefore, anyone who knows how to operate an Excel spreadsheet and who is given access to the central tabulation machine can, in theory, change election totals.
On a CNBC cable TV program, Black Box Voting exec Harris showed guest host Howard Dean how to alter vote totals within 90 seconds, by entering a two-digit code in a hidden program on Diebold's election software. Harris declared, "This is not a 'bug' or accidental oversight; it is there on purpose."
A quartet of companies control the U.S. vote count. Diebold, ES&S, Sequoia and SAIC are all hard-wired into the Bush campaign and power structure. Diebold chief Walden O'Dell is a top Bush fund-raiser. According to "online anarchist community", "At Diebold, the election division is run by Bob Urosevich. Bob's brother, Todd, is a top executive at 'rival' ES&S. The brothers were originally staked by Howard Ahmanson, a member of the Council For National Policy, a right-wing steering group stacked with Bush true believers. Ahmanson is also one of the bagmen behind the extremist Christian Reconstruction Movement, which advocates the theocratic takeover of American democracy." Sequoia is owned by a partner member of the Carlyle Group, which is believed to have dictated foreign policy in both Bush administrations and has employed former President Bush for quite a while.”

Also, please check out this, in which a computer programmer hacks into a play voting database and erases his tracks. He provides step-by-step instructions for doing this (with screen shots!!), and since many of these systems are built on the execrable Microsoft Access database platform, which has no real security to speak of, this could be happening to votes all over the country and no one but the perpetrators would know. An excerpt from this site:

Would you trust your bank account balance if their systems were this easy to hack? As a result of my hands on testing, I have absolutely no faith that my vote was counted or will be in future elections where this software is used. It is simply too easy to change! Any motivated insider or hacker of moderate skill can change hundreds of thousands of votes with very little effort and almost no chance of being caught.

The best part is that if anyone tries to question the results, you can ridicule them and call them sore losers! Conspiracy theorists! But won’t this be caught in a recount? Check this out - with the new machines, YOU CAN’T DO A RECOUNT! There’s no paper trail. It’s the perfect crime.

This is the democracy we’re exporting to the rest of the world.

Watch What They Do, Not What They Say Watch

Here is a very illustrative little juxtaposition from Quiddity, showing what happens to things like Pell grants versus what the Chimpleton says about them.