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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

SS and Other Propaganda

Talking Points Memo has started to look like a single issue blog -- Social Security all the time. I understand the concern and emphasis in the minds of many bloggists et. al. out there, since it appears this was chosen to be the issue (why truly raise it during the campaign? that's silly). Furthermore, obviously, it is a very important one, one that ultimately hits to the core of the Democratic Party. And, it is an issue which it can really gain traction on.

Honestly, what truly drives my distaste (an apt word -- we are not just talking policy differences here) of the President's strategy is the dishonesty of it all. For those who find the word um misleading, the sorts who want to call "torture" something else like "abuse," let's say that it is just not really the truth. And, furthermore there is an ultimate immoral taint to it all, which again is something that must be recognized when examining the true passion rising in the loyal opposition. We are not just annoyed the other side has power -- we are upset on just how they are abusing it. I use the word advisedly -- abuse, not misuse.

Anyway, now that he is re-elected, President Bush can (in various levels of hysteria) discuss the "problem" ("crisis") threatening the system, while ignoring how his policies worsened the situation. And, generally, misleading the public*:
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.

Thus, in effect violating his oath to uphold the Constitution, which in a little known aspect of the Fourteenth Amendment states:
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.

All the talk about how the trust fund is just a pile of worthless paper in effect lays the groundwork for defaulting on almost two trillion dollars worth of US Treasury bonds. After all, it is one thing to recognize that the bonds put in place of the money spent (on things like his tax cuts) cannot just be spent in the future as if they were regular legal tender. It is quite another to suggest that there is not legal obligation, no "trust," being set up at all.

This is a quite immoral, if nifty, way of dealing with our obligations. It's like promising to pay your children's college tuition, recognizing it will mean some hard (but quite doable) work to obtain the money, so just deciding the promise doesn't mean anything. This is so even without suggesting that making less payments into the college fund already set-up would somehow solve things. In fact, even talking about the two together would be misleading (immoral) because of the tendency to imply otherwise. You know, like talking about 9/11 and Iraq in the lead-up to the war in the same conversation, but denying blame when people think Iraq was involved in 9/11.

Other examples can be suggested, but one that we can close on regards the administration's use of propaganda. Maureen Dowd, whose tabloidish pieces sometimes annoy, hit the nail on the head recently:
They flipped TV's in the West Wing and Air Force One to Fox News. They paid conservative columnists handsomely to promote administration programs. Federal agencies distributed packaged "news" video releases** with faux anchors so local news outlets would run them. As CNN reported, the Pentagon produces Web sites with "news" articles intended to influence opinion abroad and at home, but you have to look hard for the disclaimer: "Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense." The agencies spent a whopping $88 million spinning reality in 2004, splurging on P.R. contracts.

Even the Nixon White House didn't do anything this creepy. It's worse than hating the press. It's an attempt to reinvent it.

-- Maureen Dowd

And, yes, this sort of thing was done in the past, but the level of current wrongdoing is just noticeably different. Of course, there are also different sorts of this type of thing -- the use of misleading and/or slanted science and sociology has been addressed in the past. This includes abstinence only programs that in the end worsen the health prospects of our teens, ethics boards where different voices are pressured off, and scientific findings (such as global warning and environmental protection methods) skewered. Finally, the penchant for secrecy has also affected research, leading historians and others to put forth multiple statements of concern.

John Negroponte was spoke of by one commentator as a "fascinating" choice, but not a word of his questionable past (human rights questions, WMDs scare tactics) was mentioned. I noted last time how Fred Kaplan only mentioned such problems in passing, perhaps just trying to put a nice face on a nominee sure to be confirmed. Nonetheless, difference of policy alone is not a problem here. It is a basic feeling that something wrong is going on. I need not emphasize this fact each time, but it's worthy of underlining now and again.

After all, suggestions that the other side are really the moral ones aside (their skill is suggested by the fact this is not laughed out of the water), I might not be a born again Christian like the President, but I know morality and lack thereof when I see it ... and this is not it [with apologies to Justice Stewart].


* The link goes to the horse's mouth, so to speak, and also has a discussion on the new class action law which shifts various lawsuits to the federal court with the intention of decreasing their number. There is an amusing bunch of b.s. on how lawyers somehow rob the public by being involved in certain class actions with thousands of members, resulting in small per person judgments ($50 in the account addressed). Thus, the greedy lawyers get big money while we get chickenfeed. The fact that the guilty party still has to pay out significant funds to the public, thus (1) compensating a loss and (2) being somewhat deterred from future wrongdoing is somewhat ignored. And, if small amounts are meaningless, what about the small amounts the average citizen receives from Bush's tax cuts?

**An article discussed the practice: "And those were not isolated incidents, David M. Walker, the comptroller general, said in a letter dated Thursday that put all agency heads on notice about the practice.

In fact, it has become increasingly common for federal agencies to adopt the public relations tactic of producing "video news releases" that look indistinguishable from authentic newscasts and, as ready-made and cost-free reports, are sometimes picked up by local news programs. It is illegal for the government to produce or distribute such publicity material domestically without disclosing its own role."