Monday, January 17, 2005

He Got Re-Elected! Part 3

In which the President demonstrates he is the President of all Americans. As a primer, let's turn to the Post article:
With his inauguration days away, Bush defended the administration's decision to force the District of Columbia to spend $12 million of its homeland security budget to provide tighter security for this week's festivities. He also warned that the ceremony could make the city "an attractive target for terrorists."

"By providing security, hopefully that will provide comfort to people who are coming from all around the country to come and stay in the hotels in Washington and to be able to watch the different festivities in Washington, and eat the food in Washington," Bush said. "I think it provides them great comfort to know that all levels of government are working closely to make this event as secure as possible."

But he's not providing security! That's the crux of the complaint. The sole reason the issue is not being raised. The District government is being forced to use its budget to protect the President's party (small p party, bit P Partying). The District is a special city. Seat of the national government- the world's hegemon- and host of an unending procession of national and international leaders. In other words, a permanent target with very regular security responsibilities.

The difference between who pays for Thursday is nearly meaningless. Cash is cash. What counts is the rest of the year. The money the city spends to secure this week is money the city can't spend to prepare evacuation plans, train first responders and keep them equipped, etc, etc. Of course, that's not too much of a problem for the President. The odds of a DC based homeland security crisis threatening him are relatively small. First, he's not here all that often. Second, the resources devoted to his personal security are fantastic. The threat during the rest of the year is born by DC residents- overwhelmingly black, overwhelmingly Democratic, and far poorer than this week's celebrating guests. DC's well heeled visitors this week can be assured that no cost will be spared for their security. DC's day to day residents are denied that security. Yet, as the President said:

On the election Bush said he was puzzled that he received only about 11 percent of the black vote, according to exit polls, about a 2 percentage point increase over his 2000 total.

"I did my best to reach out, and I will continue to do so as the president," Bush said. "It's important for people to know that I'm the president of everybody."

Sunday, January 16, 2005

He Got Re-Elected! Part 2

In which the President addresses leadership on Social Policy.

In an announcement which shocked only the domestic Anti-Liberty activists, President Bush declared he will not be pushing the anti-gay marriage amendment before Congress. Apparently, sometime after the election, enough Senators convinced the President that 1996's Defense of Marriage Act (or DOMA as it is called by acronymaphiles which permits states to not honor gay marriages recognized by another state) is adequate at present. If/When the courts overturn DOMA (hello interstate commerce clause), the fight may be renewed. Which is a clever approach to law- and constitutional law- making. If something is illegal under current law, amending the laws to make that point all over again is the height of pointless. Even more so in the case of gay marriage than other areas of potentially redundant laws and amendments considering gay marriage is currently legal in no state (Massachusetts is a tough case seeing as how 2003's court decision won't last).

Of course, the President who has staked his name on bold leadership pounded the nation's guts back and forth over this issue from February to December 2004. Come 2005, he has himself a new tune. If gay marriage is an attack on the family, why has the President decided it is politically expedient to not defend the American family?

It's a damn shame no one can be held accountable on this one. I look forward to the Religious Right, or whatever the standard term is for the Anti-Liberty League, raising howls and, temporarily at least, calling the Administration to the carpet on this. You know, just like they've been promising to do as they walked around pounding their chests and acting like kingmakers for the last two months. I'll not be holding my breath- they voted for the bait, they deserve the switch.

He Got Re-Elected! Part 1

In the first in a series of postings inspired by President Bush's recent interview with the Washington Post, let's talk about accountability.

The Post writes and quotes the President thusly:
President Bush said the public's decision to reelect him was a ratification of his approach toward Iraq and that there was no reason to hold any administration officials accountable for mistakes or misjudgments in prewar planning or managing the violent aftermath.

"We had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 elections," Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. "The American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me."

To make a long complaint brief, Is he serious? Does the President truly believe that accountability is strictly a binary proposition? How does a voter who thinks Sec. Rumsfeld should be held accountable for Abu Ghraib but the rest of the administration is doing fine? Is the President arguing that anyone who has a single accountability complaint with the Administration should vote for the opposition? And more to the point - as a leader- it is not his duty but rather the electorate's to effect accountability?

There is an admirable quality to this approach- a certain United We Stand ethic from the top of the Administration down. But admirable does not equate with advisable even necessarily desirable. In electoral math that shakes out, roughly, to a strategy of 'So Long as More of You Succeed than Fail, We'll Be O.K.' Which is no way to run a country.

Certainly, the country did elect President Bush's approach to governance over any of the alternatives (ok, only one real alternative was offered. And that alternative most frequently arrived at American's eyeballs as 'Not George'). And part of the President's approach is an embrace of holding no one accountable. So this sentiment should not come as an honest surprise. To seemingly shrug off his responsibilities here- to pass the buck from himself to the voters- is surprising nonetheless. Advisors and appointees of the Executive Branch serve at the pleasure of the President (the President does not serve at the pleasure of the Electorate, he gets a fixed term). It is his job- and no one else's- to hold his advisors and appointees accountable (matters of illegality being the exception).

A more disconcerting thought- what does this portend for the next 4 years? With the Constitution denying the electorate the opportunity to hold this second Administration accountable what is the breakwater against reckless actions within the Administration? Clearly, we can't count on the President to hold anyone accountable.

Monday, January 03, 2005

A Serious Question

Let's do the unconscionable and take the Bush Administration at its word. Ok, the Social Security "crisis is now." Now being understood to be a proxy for 2018 (when the trust fund comes into play) rather than 2042 (when the trust fund is exhausted). How do private accounts avert the 2018 crisis?

The 2018 crisis- in a nutshell- goes something quite like: The Trust Fund owns government bonds. For the government to make good on these bonds, it must shift resources through higher taxes, reduced spending, even more debt. This plan of action is untenable. (Reminder/ Warning: We're assuming that the Bush Administration's premises are not incorrect.) How do private accounts avert the 2018 crisis?

Through a trade- a private account for a cut to your guaranteed benefit- private accounts can reduce the financing gap. They very well may not improve or even sustain retirement income for those who participate. But that is not (or at least would not be) Social Security's problem. The long term ledger for Social Security improves as obligations are off loaded. Simple

It is not, however, as simple as that. Social Security is planning on using the money which will be directed to private accounts to pay current retirees. No way around it- Social Security must have that money or current retirees will see their checks shrink. Not a problem we are told. Any tinkering with Social Security will require a certain amount of transition costs- in this case an estimated $2 trillion. A medley of new debt, tax increases, and benefit cuts (but not for current retirees they swear) can be used to finance the transition.

How do private accounts avert the 2018 crisis? We now stand 13 years away from 2018. Let's call those between 50 and 65 years old our 'near retirement' population. The universal expectation is that persons like myself- mid-20s through say 40 year olds, let's call them 'young'- will be likely to take up personal accounts whereas the near retirement population will not (they will be unable to take advantage of very much compounding, any prudential financial advisor would be transitioning them out of growth, i.e. risky, investments soon). 13 years down the road, we are looking at world in which the 'young' are making the trade- lowering Social Security's long term obligation to them but are not collecting reduced benefits yet yielding no net realized savings for Social Security from the Trade. They are also not contributing the full (currently) anticipated payment for the retired population. The retired population (which now consists of today's retired and those near retirement) is still collecting the full 'pre-private accounts' benefits. By 2018, are we not looking at reduced revenues (versus current expectations) against the same benefit payments (versus current expectations)? Unless something has been missed, private accounts turns the 2018 crisis into a 2014 or 2012 crisis. Correct?

Now, you may fairly say, but... but... the transition funds. A fair observation. If the transition is financed by debt, how is that any solution to the 2018 crisis- a crisis precipitated by the need for the general government to directly (in an indirect way) pay Social Security benefits? If it is benefit cuts- particularly directed at the near retirement population (current retirees, it is sworn, will be spared and the 'young' have a different deal facing them)- how will they have time to prepare? And won't these cuts have to be more dramatic- deeper and starting earlier- than under a no private accounts environment? A similar question presents itself on payroll tax increases.

Long term, private accounts can be used to fix the imbalance. But that has nothing to do with the properties private accounts. Long term, anything can be used to fix the imbalance. How does this proposed long term solution get us through the nearer term 'crisis?' Or is this just the danger of taking the Bush Administration at its word?