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February 22, 2005

Tombstone blues

"We are living in very strange times, and they are likely to get a lot stranger before we bottom out." -- HST, 1976

Hunter S. Thompson was my Jack Kerouac. So was Jack Kerouac, of course, and Burroughs and Lester Bangs while we're at it, but Thompson was the one--the heroic lord of the joke, the king of the wild frontier.

I was first exposed to Thompson's style in college, in a letter my friend Tim Peter received, from a friend who was ripping it off. I'd never read and possibly hadn't even heard of Hunter S. Thompson, so I just thought this friend of Tim's must be some kind of comic genius: a world-class partier, wryly, ruefully, helplessly, happily reporting from the depths to which his own id had dragged him. I mean, I knew it was a joke, but what a joke!

I don't remember how or how soon the connection was made that the genuine article was a book called Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I don't remember who told me about it or loaned it to me. But Thompson's writing had everything I wanted: power, scope, intellect, politics, anger, hilarity, certainty--and, of course, drug use on an epic scale. For much of the next 10 years, my friends and I smoked pot, drank whiskey, dropped acid, and read Hunter S. Thompson. As Curt said, "The man writes just what I want to read!"

Well after college, long after I'd littered journals, logs, and long correspondences with my own knowingly shameless rip-offs, I loaned the book to my friend Mark, who'd somehow made his own pot-shrouded journey through a state university without ever being exposed to Thompson. Mark was at best bemused, and maybe even bothered. And Mark isn't stupid, nor any puritan. He knew it was a joke, but what kind of joke?

I couldn't begin to explain it. I mean, it wasn't only funny. Certainly it was in good part a cautionary tale--they weren't gleeful hippies, eyes spinning like pinwheels in a happy bacchanal. The character Thompson made of himself in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a man who believes himself to be at once in supreme control and in the grip of omnipotent forces from within and without. He twists and writhes, terrified, in the tentacles of his appetites, his attorney's appetites, and the colossal, hideous ignorance of the suffocating nightmare-world around him. And yet he is wise to it all and strolls haughtily right through the crowded lobby, master of his fear and therefore his destiny, taking his scam as far as it will go. Like Charlie Chaplin's petrified Little Tramp kicking the fat cop in the ass and then running, that's funny.

And what is his scam? Why, to be his own man to the limits of his ability to conceive of himself, in the face of hostility, stupidity, and indifference. To take the Constitution at its word and live free or die. To lull the bastards by playing the fool, and then stick in the blade. To acknowledge Paranoia and Violence as unavoidable companions. To call cowards, liars, and hypocrites by their names and never deny the limits, consequences, and pathos of such passion and excess. To run with the antelopes and wallow with the boar-hogs and above all to report back: "to cover the story for good or ill."

Yeah, that'll do, and I didn't even have to rip him off too badly to get it said. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 and the collection The Great Shark Hunt are probably the other crucial chunks of his canon; not nearly as fantastical as Las Vegas, but more than compensating with his journalist's eye, instinct, and critique. He didn't change journalism, of course, I suppose because his voice was so singular, and because journalism was on its way to becoming a pit of whores. (Literally, it would seem.) So he was merely one of the great literary stylists of the 20th century, leaving a trail no one could follow. It was remarkable today to skim the blog spectrum and see how many different people were conversant with the cliches and tropes of his style--and how few could resist blowing a few notes. He's insufferably easy to ape. Speaking personally, like sax players after Charlie Parker, like guitar players after Jimi Hendrix, I didn't want to write like anyone else--like myself--and for a long time I didn't. In a lot of ways I still don't.

In the '80s and '90s his talents atrophied, his vices expanded, he started choosing targets that were beneath him, and his style frequently parodied itself, losing its lean, sure velocity. But through a peak that lasted nearly 20 years, Hunter S. Thompson described and defined an era. He was like Twain and Hemingway crossed with John Henry and Pecos Bill. He covered fear and loathing with fearlessness and love, and he produced writing that is more brutal, exhilarating, and fun than anyone else I've ever read.

"The question this year is not whether President Bush is acting more and more like the head of a fascist government but if the American people want it that way. [...] Only losers play fair, and all winners have blood on their hands." -- HST, 2004

Posted by pk at 6:47 PM

February 18, 2005

The big foist

Letter to the Editor, Washington Post, 2/29/04:

Does Alan Greenspan have amnesia ["Fed Chief Urges Cut in Social Security," front page, Feb. 26]? More than 20 years ago he co-chaired a commission to ensure the solvency of Social Security. That commission recommended stiff increases in the payroll tax to create a surplus that would help fund the retirement of baby boomers down the road. The higher payroll taxes, which put a heavy burden on lower-to-middle income taxpayers, were signed into law and remain in effect to this day.

But in 2001 Mr. Greenspan endorsed a fiscally irresponsible income tax cut that effectively gives away the Social Security surplus he created primarily to high-income taxpayers. Now he suggests that those tax cuts be made permanent, while we reduce the enormous deficits that they've created only through cuts in spending, especially on Social Security.

Of course, Mr. Greenspan is right that we have tough choices to make on Social Security and Medicare. But he seems oblivious to the inconsistencies in his own position and to the huge inequities that these tax policies have created.


Mr. Greenspan's bias toward income tax cuts at the expense of everything else reflects only his personal preferences, not a judgment based on a careful reading of the economics literature. Perhaps it is time for his pronouncements on economic policy to be taken with a large grain of salt.

Chevy Chase
The writer was chief economist for the U.S. Department of Labor in 1999.

As Kevin Drum put it at the time Greenspan called for the cuts to which Mr. Holzer was responding:

Greenspan was part of the 1983 Social Security commission that raised payroll taxes. (It's one of several Ronald Reagan tax increases that his fans conveniently forget about when they're extolling the virtues of supply side economics.) Here's the Greenspan timeline:

1983: Recommended raising payroll taxes far above the amount required to fund Social Security. Since payroll taxes are capped (at $87,000 currently), this was, by definition, an increase that primarily hit the poor and middle class.

2001: Enthusiastically endorsed a tax cut aimed primarily at people who earn over $200,000.

2003: Ditto.

2004: Told Congress that due to persistent deficits Social Security benefits need to be cut.

So: raise payroll taxes on the middle class to create a surplus, then cut taxes on the rich to wipe out the surplus and create a deficit, and then sorrowfully announce that the resulting deficits mean that the Social Security benefits already paid for by the middle class need to be cut.

THEN George W. Bush declares that Social Security is in crisis and that the trust fund, since it is invested in Treasury bonds, might as well not exist at all, effectively dismissing/defaulting on over 20 years of taxpayer contributions...

AND proposes that trillions MORE be borrowed to cover payments to SS beneficiaries while incoming revenue is diverted to private, or "personal," or "goody-goody-gumdrop" accounts...

WHICH, I learned when I dropped my numbers in this calculator (via Kos), will net me out almost 20 percent less than the benefit I should expect under the current system.

The trust fund we invested in would be defaulted on. Our Social Security benefits would be cut. And Bush's deficit would stomp merrily over our children's economic future.

Drum also links to this old Billmon post excerpting a CNN interview with NYT reporter David Cay Johnston, author of the book Perfectly Legal, "The secret campaign to rig our tax system to benefit the super-rich--and cheat everybody else."

That's about the size of it. Except it looks more like stealing than cheating.

(All this started at TAPPED, BTW.)

Posted by pk at 9:51 AM

February 16, 2005

Paranoia inside slander wrapped in innuendo

After years of right-wing guffaws at Hillary Clinton's insinuation that there's a "vast, right-wing conspiracy," David Horowitz steps out in his shiny j'accuse-boots to present a new online enemies list, Discover the Network:

This site is a "Guide to the Political Left." It identifies the individuals and organizations that make up the left and also the institutions that fund and sustain it; it maps the paths through which the left exerts its influence on the larger body politic; it defines the left's (often hidden) programmatic agendas and it provides an understanding of its history and ideas.

Of course, that doesn't just mean American liberal Democrats--this "network" includes Muslims, Terrorists, Feminists, and, of course, Entertainers! Because America (or at least the Republican Party) is threatened from all sides.

Threatened, for example, by known radical insurgents R.E.M.

After all, "Losing My Religion"--"the song that has endeared them more than any other to the leftwing elites of Hollywood and Manhattan"--is "an atheistic agitprop mantra encouraging young people to abandon their religious faith."

But Stipe and his comrades [! -pk] had found their substitute for religion in radical politics. In keeping with the Political Correctness of his adoring collegiate audience, Stipe became a booster for the radical organization Greenpeace and environmentalism, animal rights and the homeless.

Animal rights? Will R.E.M. stop at nothing?! Only if stopped. BUT DTN IS HERE. All methods are questioned, all motives condemned. No detail is so seemingly insignificant that it does not raise an eyebrow.

For the next two years R.E.M. collaborated with Warren Zevon under the fake band name Hindu Love Gods. [Emphasis mine. pk]

Hey, I bought the Hindu Love Gods album. That might've been a crappy band, but it wasn't a fake one--and if the band was real, then surely the name was.... Oh, but how can I be sure?

The linchpin of DTN's case? Do you need more than: singer Michael Stipe "also writes Haiku poetry, [and] is a vegan of bi-sexual preferences"? Then here it is: Peter Buck once visited Cuba--and "met with" Fidel Castro. (Who is also indexed by DTN--after all, he is a known leftist.)

Things get a little hinky here, since DTN must contort themselves to cite David Corn's criticism of the gullible musicians' visit, but since Corn is only mentioned in Katrina vanden Heuvel's bio, no one will ever know they were citing a liberal critic. And anyway the link to Corn's story is dead, and further details of the trip--did Buck arrange to be picked up by Castro's secret guard in a cigarette boat, or was he on a UN junket with Sting, Elton John, and Bishop Desmond Tutu?--are unavailable. Which is to say, troubling questions remain.

As DTN concludes: "Communists have a term for those like Peter Buck, Michael Stipe and R.E.M. – 'useful idiots.'"

Ah. Indeed. Except, if R.E.M. are Marxist agents, how come they charge so much for their concerts? Oh, right--liberal hypocrisy.

The full scale of the conspiracy--the liberal conspiracy, I mean--will be revealed in time, no doubt. For now, it's 905 names and counting--counting every single day, you can bet.

Here's the full list, alphabetical by last name, starting in the A's with a bunch of Ahmeds, Akbars, and al-Something-Somethings. Or this crazy-quilt of headshots by first name offers stunning juxtapositions: Mohammed Atta next to...MASH's beloved Mike Farrell! John Podesta next to...John Walker Lindh, "the American Taliban"! Noam Chomsky next to...Norman Mailer--oh, wait, I guess you'd pretty much expect that.

Regardless, they're all there: Walter Cronkite, Bruce Springsteen, Katie Couric (she "considers herself a feminist"--'nuff said!)....

It's nice to see Daniel Schorr was left off; as an alumnus of Nixon's list, he's earned his rest. But Josh Marshall must be chewing his knuckles. Don't worry, Josh--you'll make it next year! God willing, we all will.

Posted by pk at 10:31 AM

February 15, 2005

They love a man in uniform

Here's MediaMatters on whether Guckert/Gannon does or doesn't say he did or didn't receive a classified memo regarding the Plame outing. And another sum-up, from Salon's Scott Rosenberg:

Eason Jordan's trial-by-blog is simply the latest example of the convulsive and painful but inevitable and long-brewing transformation of professional journalism from a protected sphere into a more open environment. That's important, but it's hardly news any more. The Gannon story, on the other hand, offers us a peek into the next chapter of the story--the one in which an opportunistic political establishment, sensing the vulnerability of the media, grabs the moment to reshape the public's very grasp of reality.

Let's remember that, while its press secretary is calling on the Jeff Gannons of the world for cover, the Bush administration is also offering under-the-counter payoffs to columnists and sending out video press releases in which PR people masquerade as reporters. This isn't a simple matter of a gaffe here and there; it's a systematic campaign to discredit the media, launched by an administration that desperately needs to keep propping up its Potemkin Village versions of reality (We'll find weapons of mass destruction! We'll cut the deficit! We'll save Social Security by phasing it out! Really!). When you're pursuing an Orwellian agenda, your first target must be anyone who has the standing to point it out. Messengers are a pain--but if you shoot enough of them (figuratively speaking!), and send out enough impostors, you can have any message you want.

As even the padded pants at Power Line apparently admit (when they're not wet-dreaming their way back through the Eason Jordan affair), it's hard to know what kind of story this is. (Don't you love inter-blog sniping? Just kiddin', Power Dudes! New Media rules! We gave you Jordan, now you give us McClellan!)

Maybe Guckert/Gannon is actually a gay-activist mole who was able to infiltrate a White House more porous than anyone imagined. Maybe he's a self-loathing homosexual desperately hoping to balance his twilight proclivities by producing reactionary propaganda by day.

His manfully calibrated bio--"I'm religious, but not TOO religious"--seems at odds with his mewling (was it on CNN?) about being followed to church by a pack of left-wing bloggers. If a mob did follow him to church, recall that Guckert/Gannon was known to left-wing bloggers only by his phony name at the time. He appears to have sought a much higher profile in other circles; maybe his avid self-promotion produced a more rabid following than he imagined. It's unclear, to paraphrase the "journalist" Guckert/Gannon, which reality he wished to be divorced from, but ironic that the two may have collided in his chapel dooryard.

Mr. Guckert/Gannon's public odyssey, which will end with an AM talk show or perhaps a wee-hours slot on Fox News following "Cal Thomas After Dark," has only begun. Although that's certainly a tempting toboggan ride to follow, a small and shrinking number are still wondering who, in their fool head or in their right mind, allowed him--with his fake name, shaky credentials, and shady past--to set foot even once, let alone daily, for months, into the White House. Especially this White House.

Actually, it's probably as simple as the Rove propaganda wing, in their lust for the big fix, taking his patron (and their pal) Bobby Eberle's word that "Gannon" was ramrod-straight. No doubt they were eager to swallow it--after all, his build and bio are equally ripe meat for the red-state faithful and the more bluish libertines to whom he pandered online. That he "studied journalism" under the guy who made those funny Purple Heart buttons so Republicans could mock a war hero's wounds at their national convention probably meant more to this White House than the fact that he only spent 50 hours doing it. The fact that the Hill denied him a press pass probably just made him more attractive--a real maverick! They don't follow "the rules" like those Hill-staff sissies. Golly, and just look at that lantern jaw!

It's no surprise that that's all it takes to earn their rubberstamp. It's not news that ham-fisted hubris and sloppy system-rigging are rampant with this White House, and their tough-guy fetish is also well known. Look at how thoroughly not-vetted Bernard Kerik was before The President announced his nomination to The Most Important Job In The Age Of Terror. The comparison is quite apt, on all levels, though I haven't seen it made anywhere else.

So, there promises to be a few more amusingly artful accounts of mistakes made and behavior regretted before it evaporates into the ether. That'll be fun, and that'll be that.

Whether news that Guckert was able to go from posting his gay male escort services online to being ushered into the White House under a phony name on behalf of a fake news organization--and was never asked to pass an FBI background check--constitutes a real "story" among the Republican Party faithful, or the mainstream press corps, remains to be seen.

--Eric Boehlert, Salon, 2/15/05

Will it bother anyone that this White House, to whom we continue, against all reason, to entrust our national and personal security, so foolishly and publicly allowed its sanctum to be penetrated by one so befouled according to their own dogma?

Yes, well, that's a question.

Posted by pk at 9:06 AM

February 14, 2005

Begging several questions...

Sorry to run with this tawdry episode, but it's pretty hard to fathom. "Jeff Gannon" didn't just run a couple male-escort websites. He's a male escort:

Why does it matter that Jeff Gannon may have been a gay hooker named James Guckert with a $20,000 defaulted court judgment against him? [snip]

This is the Conservative Republican Bush White House we're talking about. It's looking increasingly like they made a decision to allow a hooker to ask the President of the United States questions. They made a decision to give a man with an alias and no journalistic experience access to the West Wing of the White House on a "daily basis." They reportedly made a decision to give him - one of only six - access to documents, or information in those documents, that exposed a clandestine CIA operative. [snip] What kind of leadership would let prostitutes roam the halls of the West Wing? What kind of war-time leadership can't find the same information that took bloggers only days to find?

Someone had to make a decision to let all this happen. Who? Someone committed a crime in exposing Valerie Plame and now it appears a gay hooker may be right in the middle of all of it? Who?

Ultimately, it is the hypocrisy that is such a challenge to grasp in this story. This is the same White House that ran for office on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. While they are surrounded by gay hookers? While they use a gay hooker to write articles for their gay hating political base? While they use a gay hooker to destroy a political enemy? Not to mention the hypocrisy of a "reporter" who chooses to publish article after article defending the ant-gay religious-right point of view on gay civil rights issue.

Who in the White House is at the center of all of this?


Posted by pk at 2:34 PM

February 8, 2005

That's telling them, sir.

Salon: "As his Social Security roadshow pulled into Tampa, Fla., over the weekend, Bush was asked how his plan would ensure that Social Security won't run out of money down the road. Here, straight from the White House Web site, is the president's answer in its entirety:"

Because the--all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculate, for example, is on the table; whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There's a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those--changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be--or closer delivered to what has been promised.

Does that make any sense to you? It's kind of muddled. Look, there's a series of things that cause the--like, for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate--the benefits will rise based upon inflation, as opposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those--if that growth is affected, it will help on the red.

Okay, better? I'll keep working on it.

Yeah, you do that.

The only halfway credible explanation for "the Bulge photo" after Debate 1 last fall was that Bush did so badly, he couldn't have been wired. Clearly, however, he could have done much worse. (Follow the link: it also seems clear that he was wired.)

Posted by pk at 8:04 AM

February 5, 2005

Defense of Marriage '05

What with the recent hubbub about supposed cartoon proxies for the gay-rights movement being pilloried for their expressions of tolerance and inclusion, and the bully president calling once again for the denial of civil rights to a group of our citizens, I've been thinking about this post from last year--and, lo and behold, here it pops up in our On This Day column.

It was one year ago today, during the second Bush's first term--an era we had hoped to have said goodbye to by now. Instead, since this post is, sadly, still every bit as relevant, here's an encore posting--but with updated starter links. After all, bigotry never sleeps!

Posted February 5, 2004:

If this discriminatory amendment is ever tacked onto the U.S. Constitution, I think I'll talk to my wife about turning our marriage into a civil union, because at that point whatever "sanctity" marriage holds will be gone. It will no longer be a framework within which I'll wish to honor her or raise our child.

Why, in the year 2004, is the President of the United States talking about supporting a Constitutional amendment abridging the civil rights of people simply for being as God or Nature created them? This is fundamentally wrong, affecting principles far more significant than simply the right of persons of the same sex to marry.

Let's be very clear: Homosexuality is a naturally occurring orientation. People who don't believe that are mistaken. Why should this country's agenda reflect the ignorance and bigotry of its most backward, narrow-minded citizens?

Why are these people so blind to the fact that the more inclusive they make the institution of marriage, the stronger and more "sanctified" it will be--along with our families, our communities, and our country?

Why must we tiptoe around their delicate sensibilities, sexual squeamishness, and primitive morality while they trample and abrogate the privacy and civil rights of others?

I hope that whoever takes up our side of this debate--i.e., the Democratic nominee--is able to strike the right note of authority and patronization that will gently convince the supporters of such an amendment that they are wrong. These meaningless wedge issues make me furious.

"Tonight I call for this Congress to pass a law against people putting broomsticks up their asses."
"We wholeheartedly support the president's call for a law against people putting broomsticks up their asses!"
"With all due respect, with so many more pressing problems, it hardly seems necessary to legislate against people putting broomsticks up their asses."
"Senator, are you saying you're in FAVOR of people putting broomsticks up their asses?!"
"Certainly not; no reasonable person would advocate--"
"Then why do you oppose the No Broomsticks Up Your Ass Act?"
"I simply believe it's not--"

The irony of such an amendment is that its "positive" effects would only ever be symbolic. Would it lower divorce rates? Would it make fathers stay home? Would it make giddy teenagers or drunken adults less likely to leap before they look? Would it end abuse, adultery, or domestic indifference? No, because neither church nor state will ever perfect the formula that produces healthy, responsible individuals who grow up and get married at the right time, in their right mind, to the right person, for the right reasons. Some marriages work out, some don't, and the government can no more "sanctify" a marriage license than a driver's license.

Only in its negative impact would such an amendment be effective. Healthy, responsible individuals of a certain orientation would be prevented from entering, with society's blessing, the personal arrangement that many people agree is the one most likely--though of course not guaranteed--to produce healthy, responsible individuals. If marriage were walled off from such people--and that injustice was recognized by other, accepted people--it would become a mean, exclusive country club, a drinking fountain that says "Whites Only," and an ever-increasing number of people would leave it behind for good.

Straight moderates need to recognize that we have a stake in this fight and not be driven to the sidelines by the false moral certainty of a loud minority. Marriage will never be a perfect institution, but it deserves better than this. For that matter, so does America.

Posted by pk at 7:58 AM

Bright, bright, sun-shiny day

Today's forecast in Indianapolis is sunny, low 50s, but the whole region, from I'd say Chicago to Louisville to Cleveland, is under this new category of pollution alert--"fine particulate pollution" or something--because a stagnant, downward-pressed air mass has been stalled here for a week and all our microscopic airborne filth is piling up.

I usually ignore summer ozone alerts, but on the other hand, it's usually over 90 when they're issued, so it's not hard to retreat into the AC. Today it's a little tougher; it's the kind of day you want to bust outdoors, especially with a 3-yr-old, but they recommend avoiding or limiting outdoor activity. And although I am a robust young man in his 30s, I have pan-air allergies and chronic sinus infections, so we'll probably just have to seal the biodome, boost the oxymeter, and watch plasmavision from our isolated hydrotanks.

Of course, the pollution alert underscores the fact that it's not supposed to be 50 degrees in February anyway, and you have to have blinders on to think very much of such "beautiful weather" is a blessing. What kind of world have I brought kids into?

This kind:

The Environmental Protection Agency ignored scientific evidence and agency protocols in order to set limits on mercury pollution that would line up with the Bush administration's free-market approaches to power plant pollution, according to a report released yesterday by the agency's inspector general.

Staff at the EPA were instructed by administrators to set modest limits on mercury pollution, and then had to work backward from the predetermined goal to justify the proposal, according to a report by Inspector General Nikki Tinsley.

Mercury is a toxic metal released as a byproduct by coal-burning power plants and other industries, and it is known to have a range of harmful health effects, especially on young children and pregnant women.


"The political level made the decisions, and the staff did what they were told."


Industry welcomed the proposal, which involved lower costs and less burdensome regulations.

--Washington Post, 2/4/05

Posted by pk at 7:48 AM

February 4, 2005

Robber Barons

They wouldn't do that, would they? Sam Rosenfeld, TAPPED:

[Pres. Bush, SOTU] So here is the result: Thirteen years from now, in 2018, Social Security will be paying out more than it takes in. And every year afterward will bring a new shortfall, bigger than the year before. For example, in the year 2027, the government will somehow have to come up with an extra $200 billion to keep the system afloat -- and by 2033, the annual shortfall would be more than $300 billion. By the year 2042, the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt. (emphasis added)

There's a lot of dishonesty packed into that passage, but I believe the word "somehow" was what triggered the initial Democratic grumbling; that word is certainly what provoked me to sputter and scream at the TV screen in rage. The subtext of this "somehow" is, of course, that the Social Security Trust Fund--established through payroll tax hikes in 1983--doesn't exist, and apparently never did.

Though it has some stiff competition, the prospect of a government default on its debt to the Trust Fund is the most brazen outrage of the entire privatization debate. Payroll taxes on working people's wages were apparently jacked up 20 years ago just for the hell of it, and in the ensuing years have helpfully served to finance large income-tax cuts for wealthy Americans. How many Americans actually know what the Social Security Trust Fund is, let alone whether or not it's a "myth," as David Frum said on television after the SOTU and an endless number of fellow conservatives have been insisting for a while now? How many Americans are aware that their payroll taxes were raised on the explicit promise of shoring up Social Security, and that now Republicans are set to break that promise?

"That money's as good as gone anyway," the crooks say. After all, the Trust Fund is "invested" in U.S. Treasury bonds. We might as well have bought swampland with it! Link is to MediaMatters, where we find the eminent Brit Hume fallaciously explaining (emphases MM's)...

On paper, there's quite a lot of money that is in--that is in the Social Security trust fund--that is credited to the Social Security system on the government's books. ... And while the money has been put into government notes, and that is to say, has been borrowed by the government and spent on various things, and therefore does not exactly physically exist in the government's treasury anywhere. ... And that is the money that allows people to say that the system remains solvent for quite a long period of time.

However, that money would have to be -- would have to come from somewhere to be paid into the Social Security system when the moment comes.

Yeah, it "would have to come from somewhere": The government would have to pay it back, just like I'm paying back the loans on my car and my house.

"That is the money that allows people to say that the system remains solvent." As though "that money" is so much rhetorical smoke and we're all a pack of fools. Haven't you heard? Your money isn't actually at your bank! Do we need Jimmy Stewart to give the speech he gave during the run on Bailey Building and Loan? "Your money's not here--it's in Bill's house and Ted's house!"

I know "my money" isn't just a pile of greenbacks somewhere--if it was, the pile would be in my basement. What part of the modern banking system does Brit Hume think we don't understand? And what do they expect the Chinese to do when they find out the U.S. government doesn't even honor debts to its own citizens?

Rosenfeld again:

This is the most brazen Robin Hood-in-reverse scam you can imagine, unfolding over the course of two decades. People ought to know about it.

Posted by pk at 1:55 PM

February 3, 2005

Marshall draws down

The X's and O's on his Capitol Hill chalkboard get numbing, but now and then Josh Marshall cuts to the crux:

[P]retty much every member of Congress is going to be asked by some reporter somewhere what they think of President Bush's Social Security phase-out plan. And let's be clear, that's what this is. The idea of phasing out only part of Social Security is just a con. The plan here is to get rid of Social Security entirely and replace it with a government system of private investment accounts in which everyone can sink or swim as well as they can manage.

If you don't make enough during your working life to save much, you're out of luck. If your investments go bad or you die young, you and your kids are out of luck too. On the margins there may well be a new system of elder welfare for those who can prove they would die or be without any means of support absent a government hand-out. But gone entirely will be the current Social Security system in which every American who pays into the system over their lifetime has a guaranteed bedrock of retirement security which can't be taken away ever, not as a matter of a handout or disgrace or pity, but as a matter of right to a modicum of comfort and dignity in retirement after a lifetime of work.

If you doubt that the plan is to get rid of Social Security entirely you are simply naive. Look at the structure of all the phase-out proposals. They don't really envision a hybrid system for the longterm. They are all designed to siphon money out of the system, weaken it, trigger the crisis President Bush now falsely claims exists and create an accelerating pressure to complete the process of phase-out.

If you think about it, nothing else would really make sense. If partial phase-out is a good thing, why isn't total phase-out even better? This isn't about solvency; it's about the ideology of people who don't believe in or approve of the near-universal, defined-benefit program America has had for seven decades.

That's the plan and that's what's at stake.

We could have an honest debate about whether we'd be better off with Social Security or a system of government-regulated 401ks in its place. But the president knows that's a debate he can't win. So he's trying to scam the public into helping him destroy what the vast majority want to protect.

Social Security can be put on the course to complete phase-out in the 109th Congress, or the effort to phase-out Social Security can be put to rest for decades. If a newly-reelected president, with compliant majorities in both houses of congress, and all the weight of his office put behind the effort gets stopped in its tracks by a battered, but recovering party like the Democrats now are, no one will try it again for a very long time.

Unfortunately, that's a big "if". Bush lies, and people like believing him. Those purple fingers could end up showing Social Security the door.

Posted by pk at 9:55 AM