Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Spotlight on Ketchum: the PR company behind the shill scandals.PressThink: Bloggers Are Missing in Action as Ketchum Tests the Conscience of PR

The loss of Marjorie Williams hits hard. The recent death on January 16 of Washington journalist Marjorie Williams has spurred an outpouring of tributes from colleagues and admirers. She was the wife of a friend, Tim Noah of Slate magazine, and she combined a gracious spirit with a razor-sharp mind that was captured in her remarkable profiles of Washington power players, combining elegance with hard-hitting and often devastating reporting. She will be missed by those who knew her and by the world of journalism. Here's the original, thoughtful obituary: Post Columnist Marjorie Williams Dies (washingtonpost.com) At Beliefnet, editor Steve Waldman has put together a tribute page to Marjorie that includes the published articles on Marjorie and personal tributes.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Time Magazine offers a comprehensive look at the Bush administration paved the way for torture -- and, just as critically, what standards are in place now. Here is the background on the "Torture Files": http://www.time.com/time/archive/preview/0,10987,7601050117-1015886,00.html

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Armstrong Williams, role model. Here's my latest parody in Slate: Pundit for Hire - Please, Mr. President, I can shill for you, too! By Art´┐ŻLevine

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Gonzales's perverse pro-torture reasoning is now on full display. He passed along with his okay this pro-torture memo from the Justice Department in August, 2002 and led the administration's meetings on bending the laws and treaties to accomodate torture, but now he's backpedaling from his original positions. He evasively failed to disavow his earlier actions under tough questioning from Democrats. No wonder: he wrote his own memo to the President recommending that the Geneva contention shouldn't apply to accused terrorists. The New York Times offers a clear overview -- with links -- of the legal scaffolding built by administration officials, including Gonzales, that paved the way for torture and abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

As journalist Mark Danner argues in an op-ed piece against Gonzales, "Mr. Gonzales is unfit to serve as attorney general...Mr. Gonzales is unfit because the slow river of litigation is certain to bring before the next attorney general a raft of torture cases that challenge the very policies that he personally helped devise and put into practice. He is unfit because, while the attorney general is charged with upholding the law, the documents show that as White House counsel, Mr. Gonzales, in the matter of torture, helped his client to concoct strategies to circumvent it. And he is unfit, finally, because he has rightly become the symbol of the United States' fateful departure from a body of settled international law and human rights practice for which the country claims to stand."

Monday, January 03, 2005

Social Security privatization: the new Iraq? As today's New York Times editorial makes clear (indirectly), the Bush administration's efforts to stampede Congress into backing so-called "partial" privatization of Social Security has all the hallmarks of our rush to war. That point was also crisply made by the Washington Post's Richard Cohen in his column, "Social Security Slam Dunk." First, they promote scary "facts" -- a $10 trillion shortfall -- and then say the crisis is immediate. Just like all those nuclear reactor rods and other "hard" evidence showing we were under imminent threat of WMDs. It turns out that the $10 trillion shortfall is a made-up estimate if the current system was projected into infinity, not just the next 75 years. An actuarial association wrote to the administration to say that such estimates had no value, but the administration is just ignoring those expert opinions, just as it threw into the the trash State Department "Future of Iraq" and other authoritative reports on the need to provide enough American manpower and troops to secure a post-war Iraq. They had a fantasy to fulfill then -- happy Iraqis garlanding us with roses and ushering in democracy -- and they have a new fantasy: workers enriching themselves in the stock market as the need for government-paid Social Security withers away.

We'll see the equivalent of the Iraqi turmoil on the domestic front when today's workers discover their "investments" won't cover basic needs when they're older, and, much sooner than that, government programs starving because of the $2 trillion shortfall in government revenues because of funds shifted out of the Social Security system. What I mean is that there won't be Iraqi-style car bombs or elderly people rioting in the streets because their Social Security benefits won't pay their heating bills,but that the Bushies' unrealistic plans will clearly be in a disastrous free-fall, as in Iraq. All this doesn't mean that we don't need to adjust the program -- say, by, means-testing -- or extending retirement age, but it's not worth gutting a longstanding program just to see if the wishful thinking of privatization zealots might come true. Who will b0e the domestic version of Richard Clarke, a government insider to step forward and blow the whistle on this administration's crackpot Social Security schemes?
The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: The Social Security Fear Factor

Update: Paul Krugman focuses on the phony nature of the Social Security crisis in this Monday's column. Some excerpts:
"Today let's focus on one piece of those scare tactics: the claim that Social Security faces an imminent crisis.

"That claim is simply false. Yet much of the press has reported the falsehood as a fact. For example, The Washington Post recently described 2018, when benefit payments are projected to exceed payroll tax revenues, as a "day of reckoning."

"Here's the truth: by law, Social Security has a budget independent of the rest of the U.S. government. That budget is currently running a surplus, thanks to an increase in the payroll tax two decades ago. As a result, Social Security has a large and growing trust fund.

"When benefit payments start to exceed payroll tax revenues, Social Security will be able to draw on that trust fund. And the trust fund will last for a long time: until 2042, says the Social Security Administration; until 2052, says the Congressional Budget Office; quite possibly forever, say many economists, who point out that these projections assume that the economy will grow much more slowly in the future than it has in the past."

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