Saturday, April 16, 2005

 

LA Times gets it all right on Bamboozlepalooza

Once again, why do Ohioans have to get accurate information from reporters outside Ohio?

From today's LAT:
About 10,000 of those eligible for personal accounts — less than 5% — have signed up for the accounts since they became available at the start of 2003, according to Laurie Fiori Hacking, OPERS' executive director.

Of those who have chosen the accounts, most have directed that their money be invested in the system's "moderate" or "aggressive" pre-mixed portfolios, according to spokesman Richard Baker.

OPERS records show that the "moderate" account lost money in two of the last four years and during the first three months of this year. It posted a five-year annualized return of 1.86%.

That compares to the 1.8% that Bush said Friday was the rate of return for Social Security.

The OPERS "aggressive" portfolio had a five-year return of 0.26%.

By contrast, the fund that pays for the system's traditional pensions, which is handled by professional money managers, had a five-year return of 3.52%.
By the way, the Plain Dealer still has it wrong.

Friday, April 15, 2005

 

AP gets part of it right

Associated Press reporter Jennifer Loven sounds a little too optimistic to us when she writes:
The White House signaled Friday it may compromise on how private retirement accounts would be created as part of a Social Security overhaul. President Bush kept pushing for major changes.
This smells like the same sucker-bait the Bush administration has been dangling for some time. Loven builds her shaky case this way:
"We're certainly willing to discuss it," said Allan Hubbard, head of the National Economic Council, who spoke at a breakfast meeting with reporters and was quoted by USA Today.

Democrats have adamantly opposed Bush's plan, in which younger workers would be allowed to divert some of their Social Security tax contributions into private accounts invested in stocks and bonds, noting it would result in a cut in guaranteed benefits. Democrats have said they would be much more inclined to embrace private accounts if they did not require the payroll tax diversion and would be an add-on to the traditional government benefit check rather than a partial replacement.

McClellan portrayed the private accounts as an idea the president has floated, and he contrasted that with many Democrats' opposition.

"Unfortunately, we have too many Democratic leaders who are simply saying what they're against and ruling things out," he said.
Well, yeah, they have. Like refusing to consider changes that will weaken Social Security. What's the White House willing to rule out? In fact, their will be no movement until the White House agrees to put some boundaries in writing. In the absence of this, we don't give Loven's take on the situation much credence.

On the other hand, Loven got one thing right that some of her journalistic brethren haven't:
Bush has not yet offered his ideas for addressing Social Security's future insolvency and has acknowledged that private accounts would not solve that problem.
Too bad she didn't use that for her lede.

[UPDATE] We hope Loven didn't mistake this for compromise.

 

PD let's Bush off easy with pre-visit story

The Plain Dealer's Susan Jaffe may be well-intentioned, but she needs to spend some time studying an issue before she tackles it.

First, given that neither audience members nor reporters will be allowed to ask questions, we'd think most editors and publishers would be in more of a mind to wipe their ass with the White House's press releases than take them seriously.

But to make matters worse, Jaffe, in a nutshell, let's Bush and his entourage play the old mixing apples and oranges game in their pre-Bamboozlepalooza hype. You know, there really is no excuse for this since it's been well established that the private accounts do nothing to "fix" Social Security.

Ms. Jaffe: The private accounts Bush touting can only be one of two things. Either they might be an addition to Social Security if it involves new money, or, they might be a further detriment to Social Security if it involves individuals diverting money to the accounts. Either way, private accounts do nothing to address what can be best described as a possible future shortfall. As we have noted before, even Bush admits that much.

And she is apparently on even less familiar ground when she writes about the PERS individual accounts. We need to set up our point with a few snippets from her story:
[Bush] will take a seat at a table with members of the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System to highlight a program that resembles what he's proposing for Social Security.

"He is going to be hearing about a program in Ohio that has been successful that shares some of the same principles he is proposing for Social Security," said White House spokesman Allen Abney.

[. . . ]

Abney said PERS has a personal account option that Bush will use to make the point that Americans should be able to divert a portion of their Social Security taxes into private investments accounts.

[. . .]

[PERS spokesman Rich] Baker also pointed out that only about 10,000 of nearly 147,000 PERS retirees have signed up for what's called the "member-directed plan," featuring a choice of nine mutual funds.
That would suggest that about 7 percent of the eligible public workers signed up, but Jaffe is clearly confused and wrong here. It's true, as far as we know, that 10,000 have signed up for the "defined contribution" plan instead of the "defined benefit" plan. And it's true that PERS has about 147,000 retirees (we think the number is actually somewhat fewer). But retirees CAN'T participate even if they wanted to because they are, well, retired. They aren't paying in anymore.

In fact, there are well over 650,000 public workers who pay into PERS. Not all of these are eligible for a variety of reasons, but we'd guess that number of eligible public workers is about half that amount, making the participation rate more like 3 percent.

That 3 percent pretty well suggests that in the "market place of ideas" private accounts have lost badly with Ohio. Why? Because the traditional PERS plan has done well using professional investment staff. The 3 percent also doesn't measure how many beat the pros. We're guessing that number drops the total down to about 1 or 2 percent. Big whup.

 

How Ohio's reps voted on ethic panel bill

Given all the DeLay stuff, a proposal arose yesterday to create a “bi-partisan task force with equal representation of the majority and minority parties to make recommendations to restore public confidence in the ethics process.” (H.Res. 213)

Okay, that seems like God, country and Circleville pumpkin pie.

But not when DeLay is giving the evil eye to those moderate GOPers who are wavering. Nope, the Republicans tabled the idea 218-195.

But, the silver lining is that the Ohio Dems finally stayed together on this one.
For tabling the ethics task force proposal
Boehner (R)
Chabot (R)
Hobson (R)
LaTourette (R)
Ney (R)
Porman (R)
Pryce (R)
Regula (R)
Tiberi (R)
Turner (R)

Not-voting
Gillmor (R)
Oxley (R)

Against tabling
Brown (D)
Tubbs-Jones (D)
Kaptur (D)
Kucinich (D)
Ryan (D)
Strickland (D)

[UPDATE] - Al Franken's blog has more about the arm twisting behind the vote.

 

PD: LaTourette to host Bush but not sign on to plan

The Plain Dealer confirms that LaTourette will show up at the Bamboozlepalooza in Kirtland and introduce Bush. The PD is also able to get Steve to go on the record about Social Security.
"Off the top of my head it doesn't appeal to me," said LaTourette, adding that he would need to see a detailed plan of how such accounts would work.

"I would have to look at how you're going to pay for it," Sen. Mike DeWine said.

LaTourette and DeWine, who both face re-election next year, focused instead on the possibility that Republicans and Democrats might forge a compromise offering workers tax incentives to set aside savings for retirement in accounts that don't rely on diverting payroll taxes from Social Security.

Such an approach, which many Democrats have expressed a willingness to discuss, would mark a significant departure from the plan Bush outlined in January. LaTourette and DeWine emphasized that no proposal to revamp Social Security is likely to pass Congress without some Democratic support.

They said they believe that while Bush has succeeded in persuading the public that something must be done to address Social Security's long-term solvency, he has yet to win their constituents' support for any concrete action.

"I think the district is far from unanimous on how it should be solved," LaTourette said. "I'm the same way. I don't know how it should be solved."

DeWine said that in his conversations with people across the state, he detects no consensus yet that Social Security taxes should be allowed to go into accounts that would be invested in the stock and bond markets.

"He [Bush] has not made the sale on private accounts yet," DeWine said, "but he has made the sale on convincing people that there's a problem. So he's halfway there."
[. . . ]

He said Bush has repeatedly told him that he is open to a wide range of ideas on how to fix the program.

"He's never said that [personal accounts] is a dealbreaker," LaTourette said.

 

Republicans sell out Ohioans on bankruptcy bill

Yesterday the House passed the bill to limit access to bankruptcy protection, S 256, by a vote of 302 to 126, with 73 Democrats voting for the bill.

It looks like Tim Ryan got pulled his "estate taxed" head out of his ass in time to get on the right side of this bill. And Gillmor is still a non-vote.

But WTF with Strickland's "for" vote? The median family income in his district of $32,888, the second lowest of all of Ohio's congressional districts. When you are still thinking about a run for governor, that counts as a stumble.

For the bankruptcy changes:
Boehner (R)
Chabot (R)
Hobson (R)
LaTourette (R)
Ney (R)
Oxley (R)
Porman (R)
Pryce (R)
Regula (R)
Strickland (D)
Tiberi (R)
Turner (R)

Non-vote
Gillmor (R)

Against
Brown (D)
Tubbs-Jones (D)
Kaptur (D)
Kucinich (D)
Ryan (D)

Thursday, April 14, 2005

 

Anti-privatization rally in Cleveland Friday

The Ohio branch of Americans United to Protect Social Security says it will be holding a rally Friday, April 15 at 10 AM. Speaking at the rally will be Massachusettts Congressman Rich Neal (MA-2). The rally is to be at Voinovich Park, located directly behind theRock and Roll Hall of Fame at E. 9th Street and the Lakefront, Cleveland, OH

Questions? Call Tom Powell-Bullock 440-554-7203.

 

LaTourette is no pal of DeLay wing

We'd like to think that Steve LaTourette is wise enough to read his constituents and keep his independence Friday on the Social Security issue. This would be a prime opportunity for a moderate to dig in his heels.

Readers should be reminded that LaTourette is no pal of the Tom Delay wing of the GOP, and many have forgotten that he was one of the three Republicans on the House Ethics committee that were purged by Dennis Hastert at DeLay's behest because they refused to support the "DeLay rule" when DeLay's Texas indictments became an issue.

 

More on LaTourette

In 2004, Project Vote Smart polled congressional candidates about their views on a number of issues including Social Security.

Candidates were asked if they support any of the following proposals:
  1. Allow workers to invest a portion of their payroll tax in private accounts which they manage themselves.

  2. Allow workers to invest a portion of their payroll tax in private accounts managed by private firms contracted by the government.

  3. Invest a portion of Social Security assets collectively in stocks and bonds instead of United States Treasury securities.

  4. Increase the payroll tax to better finance Social Security in its current form.

  5. Lower the annual cost-of-living increases.

  6. Raise the retirement age for when individuals are eligible to receive full Social Security benefits.

  7. "Other" or "expanded principles"
LaTourette wrote that he supported #1 and #3. #1 IS the Bush plan. Actually, it is the riskest version of the Bush plan because even his supporters have retreated and morphed the plan into something closer to #2.

 

LaTourette in the crosshairs

We can't wait to see how Steve LaTourette handles the spotlight at the Social Security fest in Kirtland tomorrow. His office confirms he is going to be at Bush's "private event."

Historicially, Steve has been all over the place about Social Security. The optimists have put him tentatively in the the anti-phaseout camp because he hasn't been a cheerleader on privatization. The cynics, however, point out that in 2000 he endorsed the "centrists" Republican Main Street Partners' position that calls for:
. . . establishing individual savings accounts, restoring Social Security to permanent actuarial solvency, improving work incentives and/or resolving internal administrative problems.
Five years ago, LaTourette could get away with that. Now that the real debate is on and the number crunchers have done their magic, the obvious problem is that you can't do any of this for free.

So reporters might want to ask if 1) Steve had changed his mind since 2000 and 2) if not, how does he suggest it be paid for: higher taxes or reducing benefits?

And, reporters might want to ask Steve if he also still endorses the RMSP's belief that
It is estimated that, as a result of this, by 2013 Social Security will be making greater payments to retirees than it will take in from the workforce. By 2032 the Social Security Trust Fund will be completely exhausted.
Hey, waittahminute. Steve didn't get caught up in a little "sky is falling" hysteria, did he? He wouldn't make the same mistake again, would he?

We also suspect that the RMSP, as lifeless as it seems, knows it has to recast its Social Sercurity position if it wants to fullfill its loft goal of supporting moderate Repubs. Even its own members seem to leery of privatization.

 

How Ohio's reps voted on "Millionaire's Kids Tax"

Not enough money to shore up the Social Security Trust Fund. Not enough money for body and vehicle armor for our troops. Not enough money to fund state unemployment services.

But enought money to make sure Paris Hilton is taken care of. Sheesh.

Yesterday the U.S. House voted 272-162 on Wednesday in favor of HB 8 that repeals the federal estate tax in 2010 and beyond. (An alternative proposed by the Dems that would have increased the exemption, starting in 2006, to $3 million for an individual and $6 million for a couple was rejected 238-194.

Here's how Ohio's congressmen and women voted. Can someone that knows him better please explain Tim Ryan's vote?):
For eliminating the tax
Boehner (R)
Chabot (R)
Hobson (R)
LaTourette (R)
Ney (R)
Oxley (R)
Porman (R)
Pryce (R)
Regula (R)
Ryan (D)
Tiberi (R)
Turner (R)

Abstain
Gillmor (R)

Against
Brown (D)
Tubbs-Jones (D)
Kaptur (D)
Kucinich (D)
Strickland (D)

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

 

Targeting Ohio's DC delegation

We are starting to learn more about the Bush visit to Kirtland this Friday. Rather, we are starting to learn more about one of the groups organizing to defeat Bush's privatization proposal. Ohio United to Protect Social Security, the newly-created affiliate of Americans United to Protect Social Security, said today that it has a:
. . . goal of persuading Ohio’s congressional delegation to oppose the Bush plan – with an intense focus in the next two weeks on President Bush’s visit to Ohio on Friday and the upcoming U.S. Senate Finance Committee Hearings in Washington on April 26th.

[. . . ]

The group said it will reach out to undecided members of Ohio’s congressional delegation across the state and ask them to pledge to protect Social Security’s guarantee. Many have yet to take a public position on the President’s privatization scheme.
Besides rallying opposition to Bush on the April 15, OUPSS says it is going to conduct a petition drive and at some point release a report on the impact of privatization on benefits. We expect the Ohio report to look like the one they prepared for Iowa.

Tom Powell-Bullock and Kate Evans are working on the OUPSS effort. They are described as veteran Ohio campaign operatives both having worked on the Ohio Victory 2004, which, as we recall, was the name for the Kerry campaign in Ohio.

Warning: the AUPSS web site seems to be pretty quirky. We couldn't get the email sign-up mechanism to work and the above-mentioned report on Iowa is dated April 29.

 

Two suggestions for the media

Jesse hits the nail on the head:
1.) Put out stories that are more rigorously researched and not afraid of reporting the right thing rather than the balanced thing.

2.) Stop listening to the "anti-MSM" conservative brigade, whose major problem is that the media doesn't report conservatism as fact.

There, that should work.

 

Bamboozlepalooza tour coming to NE Ohio

So far, we are unable to find confirmation at the White House or U.S. Treasury web sites, but the Dispatch today reports that Pres. Bush is coming into Ohio this Friday, April 15. As always, the public sure-as-hell ain't invited:
President Bush will be pitching his Social Security plan in Ohio on Friday, but at least one group plans to offer a rebuttal.

The president will be holding an invitation-only roundtable to discuss his plan to overhaul Social Security at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, the White House announced yesterday.
This is U.S. Rep. Steve LaTourette's district. As we have noted, LaTourette has apparently not endorsed any of the Bush plan and has kept a low profile in his district on this issues, so it will be interesting to see if he has a scheduling conflict like some others have had. There is no note of the Bush visit on LaTourette's web site (actually, most of his links don't work). We'll be watching for his response.

The group that the articles says will "offer a rebuttal" is Americans United to Protect Social Security
A newly formed Ohio chapter of Americans United to Protect Social Security plans to be on hand, said Tom Powell-Bullock, the chapter’s communications director.

Campaign officials say they plan to spend up to $500,000 in Ohio attempting to persuade the state’s congressional delegation to oppose Bush’s plan.

The national organization is a consortium of labor unions and other Democratic-leaning groups that oppose Bush’s Social Security plan, charging private accounts would undermine the system.
AUPS is a group initiated by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the AFL-CIO.

Monday, April 11, 2005

 

Ohio's Senate makes its own moves into the Schiavo swamp

Chris Geidner has and update about Ohio politicians who want government officials to crawl into your deathbed. Geidner says State Senator Jeff Jacobson's will soon be introducing a bill that would give a say to the Attorney General and prosecutors. It would also give equal weight to all family members who object to enforcing the dying's wishes.

We posted earlier about state representatives crafting their own version of Terry's law.

 

Ohio taxes: Ready, fire, aim . . . and Niquette delivers a steaming shitpile again

The Republicans in Columbus are so sure their tax overhaul will provide the "long-missing" stimulus to business that, hey, they may even get around to studying whether it's going to work . . . after they get it passed.

But what do the experts think? We'll get to how Mark Niquette answers the question in the pages of the Dispatch below.

First, however, before one can determine if the tax shift is a solution, one has to agree on the problem. We have to confess that we've suffered from a knee-jerk response that we suspect a lot of the politicos and pundits have been plagued by, namely, the loss of manufacturing jobs in Ohio. Indeed, over 200,000 manufacturing jobs (and the relatively high wages and benefits that tended to go with them) have been lost in just the last few years.)

But, a tip-o-the-hat to Bill Callahan for finding something that throws an enormous wrench into this conventional wisdom. He quizzes readers (using data from Site Selection via Donald Iannone's fascinating economic development blog):
Guess which state ranked...
-- fourth in location of new manufacturing facilities (256 projects)
-- first in manufacturing facility expansions (714 projects), and
-- fifth in location of other new corporate facilities ("offices, headquarters, distribution centers, research and development facilities, speculative offices, speculative industrial buildings, mixed-use facilities and hotels" -- 879 projects)?

Why, yes, it's Ohio...
Callahan sums up the situation pretty well:
So contrary to what we keep hearing about our "unfriendly business climate", Ohio actually seems to have been very attractive to corporate decision-makers compared to other states. Gee, they can't be all that worried about our tax system, can they?
Beyond the Site Selection data, the truth is that since the days of when George Voinovich was governor, the administration and the General Assembly have chased after every pro-business panacea that was vetted by the Business Roundtable, the Chamber and the Buckeye Institute. (Old timers might remember Voinovich and his Republican leaders in the Statehouse moaning about how Ohio's Workers' Compensation system was the "Silent Killer of Ohio Jobs.") Every two years the Republicans have come up with a new tweak to some tax or regulation that was "killing" Ohio's jobs.

As cynical as we got about some of this, the Site Selection data might suggest that some of the changes worked. But again it should be noted that there are no studies we know of that show why Ohio is attracting these businesses.

Regardless, the Site Selection ranking clearly suggests that the problem facing Ohio isn't really about being more "business oriented." On the contrary, it seems to us that it suggests that the state should be more "worker oriented." Some things that come to mind are a better focus on education including adult education, remedial skills programs, tuition credits, etc.,

Now back to Niquette and his story. The Dispatch editors gave the story an intriguing subhead that asks,
"Will the broad array of cuts and a new business tax spur job growth? Who knows?"
We're glad the paper finally asked that question, because they for one don't. But that hasn't stopped the paper from writing about the issue for nearly three months. We guess that given the Dispatch's taste for the "he said, she said" type of writing that passes for journalism on Third Street, the editors never really worried about such things as, "Will the tax change work?"

But, Niquette still couldn't be serious about getting an answer because he wastes the first half of the story checking in with companies like Honda and Ford that have an obvious horse in the horse.

And, it's not until the 12th paragraph do we find out that:
The state is paying a Massachusetts firm to forecast the effects of Taft's changes and doesn't expect to release its report for several weeks.
Several weeks? Say, doesn't that mean the report might arrive too late to be considered by the legislature? Why, yes it does! Hmm . . .

Then Niquette introduces some quotes from someone who is meant to appear as an independent, academic type: William F. Fox from the Univ. of Tennessee. (For some inane reason, Niquette felt compelled to point out the Fox was an Ohio native.) But Fox has a horse in the race, too, which Niquette conveniently leaves out. Our brief googling shows that Fox is already a strong advocate for the kind of "gross receipts tax" contemplated for Ohio. He is also apparently a paid consultant to the State of Hawaii which has such a tax in place. We suspect, too, that Fox has already served as a consultant on the Ohio proposal.

The only real "independent" in Niquette's entire story is William A. Raabe, who is described as a tax professor at Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business, and whom OSU describes as "one of the country's leading tax educators and authors."

And, despite the article's subhead, Raabe says he knows whether the Taft/Republican plan is sound thinking:
"Is this package of ideas the right way to go? Generally, no.''
That bottom line is that out of 1,000-word story, Niquette interviews only one guy that has the credentials and the independence to be asked to weigh in on the issue, and that one guy says Taft's idea sucks. And they pay Niquette for this?

The fact is that Taft and the Republicans have had months to prove their case for the gross receipts tax and they have yet to do it. This story is proof of that. That won't stop the Republicans from jamming it down everyone's throat, and no one, least of all the Dispatch, is serious about holding them accountable.

 

More on Ohio's rightwing clergy and Blackwell

Joe Hallett has a good, above-the-fold front pager about Rev. Parsley, the World Harvest Church and the other fringe church leaders who are lining up to support Blackwell.

Ohio's press corps was embarassingly scooped last week by the NY Times story on the efforts of the far-right bible thumpers and their Ohio Restoration Project to organize support for Kenny Blackwell. We at Hypothetically Speaking also scooped them on Parsley's rally featuring the intellectually challenged Alan Keyes and Ann Coulter. (No one'e picked up on the Karl Rove story, yet.)

It appears that Hallett is trying to make up for lost time and he covers a lot of bases. We suspect there is still more to come from him on this.

The most frightening line for us was this:
"I guess you could say it’s our turn," said Greg Quinlan, founder of the Dayton-based Pro-Family Network.
Their turn for what? It's not like their issues and candidates have been losing at the ballot box. It seems that they want to 1) suppress the opposition and 2) purge the GOP of anyone that believes in choice or keeping the government out of the bedroom.

This seems to us like the perfect story for some of the other papers and investigative writers around the state. It's not like the Democrats and the moderate Republicans won't be silent on this issue. More importantly, Parsley and Russell Johnson are going to have to walk a tightrope to keep this thing legal while protecting the tax-exempt status of their churches. Our guess is that they've probably already stumbled a few times.

In the past, we have referred to some of the involved church leaders as theocratic conservatives or theocons. Upon reflection and after some emails from others, it does seem that this is a misnomer. As we understand it, one of the tenets of conservatism is that less government is preferred over more government, that there is an inherent loss of individual liberty that occurs as government expands.

But, given these religious groups seem to be fixated on more government involvement. The have a compulsion to craft laws and inforcement mechanisms on morality. They want the government to decide who you should marry (Issue 1). They want the government to decide what type of people can adopt and be foster parents. They want the government to make private health decisions (Schiavo and abortion). And to put the icing on the cake, they want to elect a governor who will find even more nooks and crannies to stick the government's nose into.
"We want our government leaders to pursue policies that prioritize life, faith and issues of the family," Parsley said.
So what's conservative about that? Nothing, as far as we can tell. And, from the people we've been talking to later and from anecdotes from others, it seems like a lot of other true conservatives are seeing that someone(s) hijacking their political movement.

But the real question is, are Ohio Democrats smart enough to know how to capitalize on this rift?

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