Thursday, February 10, 2005

Building A Better Media: Action, Action, Who's Got The Action 

Josh Marshall picks up on a George Will column that repeats a Presidential assertion regarding SS that isn't, well, accurate, and then proceeds to use the assertion to beat up on Harry Reid. It seems that Will thinks the option Federal employees have to invest in the Employee's Thrift Fund is in some way comparable to the President's SS proposal for "personal" accounts; that the President appears to share Mr. Will's confusion doesn't make it any more true.
Begun in 1987, the Thrift Savings Plan, which as of December 2004 had assets of $152 billion, is a retirement-savings plan open to all civilian federal employees, including senators, and all members of the uniformed services.

They can invest as much as 14 percent of their salaries in one of five retirement funds. Consider the rate of return of C Fund, one of the five. It is a common-stock fund, so it should represent the risks that Reid thinks should terrify Americans:


Reid participates in the plan, but opposes allowing all Americans the comparable opportunity that Bush is proposing. But if the numbers just cited are the result of roulette, the legislators should let the rest of us into the game in which they are prospering.

As Josh points out, Will has it wrong; the program in question is an add-on to SS, in which all Federal employees also participate, just like you and me; any funds an employee chooses to invest do not come from their or their employers SS contribution.

Read what Josh has to say. And note where he says, "Who will make the obvious point?"

Well, how about all of us, for a really pleasant bloody change?

I know this is rather ad hoc, and I plan to talk at greater length about how blogs might be a way to get some of the bang for our liberal buck (think metaphor, not actual money) that conservatives get from talk radio. But for now, let's talk about what a perfect example this is of how the Democratic Party gets shafted by the press, as well as a damn fine example of what can conceivably be done about it.

For instance, there are emails that could be sent directly to Mr. Will., correcting him, in an entirely civil manner, of course, and explaining his own confusion to him. It won't matter to him if he gets a couple of dozen, but the day we can generate 700 emails to someone like George Will, he'll begin to notice that he's being noticed.

An additional option, why not call Senator Reid's office and let him know about Will's column, what's wrong with it, and suggest that someone in the office needs to raise George's consciousness, in an entirely civil manner, of course, and that Senator Reid needs to request a correction of the inaccurate information about options for Federal employees, and suggest that George will also probably wish to apologize for his mischaraterization of hypocrisy on the Senator's part. Or call your own Senator and express the same concerns, and ask that your Senator's staff contact Reid's staff.

These suggestions lack a certain grandeur, I'm aware, compared with the storming of the Winter Palace, say. But what political action doesn't, compared with that?. And I hear it wasn't really all that grand, in the end. I think a lot of you younger folk might be surprised to know how many of the glories of the Civil Rights movement were the result of this kind of dogged organizing. (If you haven't ever read John Lewis' movement memoir, "Walking With The Wind," please, please, do yourself a favor and read it; immediately. Then, get others to read it. And if you have read it, read it again. I read it at least once a year. Seriously, I do.)

What matters in an action like this is volume; what helps to motivate people to make calls like this is knowing that their effort will be amplified by hundreds (and more) of others. One of the best organizational tools that Move-On had going for it when it was still an ad hoc grassroots attempt to avoid the Clinton impeachment, and helped it to become such an effective organization was its organizers' ability, (remember it was put together by a handful of people who had busy professional lives outside of their citizen-activisim), to use their internet savvy to let people know how many phone calls or emails or money contributions had been generated about a specific issue; there was immediate feedback. Does anyone doubt that the din of outrage from liberal blogtopia changed the dynamic of Democratic opposition to the Gonzales nomination, and to Condi Rice as well?

Yesterday eve, Josh was also highlighting an aspect of the President's propaganda about SS "reform," that we at the grassroots might have a major role in getting out to the rest of America.

I can scarce believe this, even as I type it, but it appears that this gosh-darned bolder-than-bold (see also bold-faced liar) President really thinks he can get away with defaulting on the T-Bills held in the SS Trust Fund, the better to be able to make tax cuts to the super-rich permanent, and, in a single stroke, genuinely bankrupt SS. Josh focuses on this paragraph from yesterday's Presidential dog-and-pony show held at the Commerce Department to push for the end to class-action lawsuits:

Some in our country think that Social Security is a trust fund -- in other words, there's a pile of money being accumulated. That's just simply not true. The money -- payroll taxes going into the Social Security are spent. They're spent on benefits and they're spent on government programs. There is no trust. We're on the ultimate pay-as-you-go system -- what goes in comes out. And so, starting in 2018, what's going in -- what's coming out is greater than what's going in. It says we've got a problem. And we'd better start dealing with it now. The longer we wait, the harder it is to fix the problem.
Read the whole folksy approach of Bush here; this is what you are going to hear repeated again and again; study it, figure out how to shred it.

It's simply not true that there is a Social Security Trust Fund? Well, knock me over with a feather boa? Damn, I wish someone woulda told me that back in '83 when I, like so many American voters, approved the huge increase in payroll taxes, matched by a similar increase paid by my employers, the raison d'etre for which was precisely that SS would be moved from a pay-as-you-go program to one that would deliberately start to bring in a surplus, which would be accumulated to pay for the coming demographic bulge represented by the retirement of the baby boomers. If I was misinformed-informed about that, frankly, I'd like my money back - all that money deducted from my salary for the past twenty-odd years, plus a reasonable rate of return, of course.

Here's Josh:

So if you've paid Social Security taxes in any of the years from 1983 until today, you've been advance paying. And now President Bush just said that money is gone. So, you thought you were advance paying to cover part of the future expenses of your generation's retirement. But it seems you were just a sucker since President Bush is now saying the money ain't gonna be paid back. You're just fresh outta luck, you could say.

So here's our question: Does Alan Greenspan think there's a Trust Fund? Does he believe those bonds are backed up by the full faith and credit of the United States government? Does he think they will and should be paid back? If he doesn't, he's got a hell of a lot of explaining to do since it was under his guidance that we came up with this whole idea.

Or how about Sen. Bob Dole? He was on the Commission too. What does he think? Does he agree? Or the recently-retired House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Archer (R). He was on it too.

Let's ask all of them ...

Exactly so. And let's ask a variety of Democrats to ask the President if what he is talking about is defaulting on the obligation to start repaying back to the SS Trust Fund what was borrowed by his administration to pay for huge non-stimulative tax cuts, not to mention a certain war and occupation, and an inefficient, poorly crafted Medicare prescription benefit that benefits almost no one but the President's base, and which we now know will be hugely more expensive than the hugely expensive price tag originally appended to the legislation.

Let's start a campaign to call key members of the House and Senate to ask them to organize themselves to better use the media in order to get this key question into the media echo chamber, until the President can't get away without answering it.

I'm not going to bother to provide specific links to Josh's discussion, because if you aren't reading him every day, several times a day, including weekends, and taking copious notes, you are failing in your obligations as a citizen and a patriot.

For a fine discussion of the Trust Fund, see Kevin Drum; read the comment threads to get a sense of some of the feints the administration will probably use to confuse and destroy all opposition. And not to get picky about this, but to suggest that the government might default on T-Bills could be considered an impeachable offense, but let's not go there; let's not have to go there; let's stop this gravy train for the already-have-too-much by making clear to the rest of American that what they are watching when they tune into the President's "Bamboozlepalooza" tour, is an economic train-wreck for the entire American economy.

As you can tell, these are tentative thoughts; all suggestions for how to organize ourselves will be gratefully read and blogged; use comments or email; we're dying to hear from everybody, because we're in the midst of discussions of how to expand Corrente to include more grassroots journalism, and to find the link between that and effective political grassroots organizing.

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