What Karl Rove Leaves Out of His New Memoir

So I’m a bit behind on my reading. What with the plethora of books purporting to explain the origin and progress of the post-meltdown economy, I only recently got around to the most intriguing political memoir of the Bush II years, Karl Rove’s Courage and Consequences: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight.

But I was eager to see what the president’s consigliere has to say, especially about Social Security privatization, the fight Rove deliberately picked to kick off his boss’s second term and that quickly sank both Bush and the Republican Party. The subtitle, of course, is a defensive reaction to criticism from the Republican right that the Bush administration didn’t do enough to rein in domestic programs and even pushed through a modest stimulus package when the economy was tanking in 2008.

Hey, Rove seems to be saying, forget my occasional attention to economic and political realities. I’m a Tea Partier just like you.

Rove’s other project is to rewrite the history of his and Bush’s Social Security gamble, perhaps the worst domestic political miscalculation by a president in the past 40 years. Continue reading What Karl Rove Leaves Out of His New Memoir

Hungary: Template for Social Security’s Future?

Former Sen. Alan Simpson, co-chair of our super-secretive National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, says the panel is looking at “15 different options” to restructure Social Security. The commissioners aren’t letting on what these are, of course. But they may be looking carefully at Hungary, where the post-communist government adopted a partially privatized system in 1997 and is now thinking of downgrading it still further.

Let’s review the order of events:

Hungary was one of a slew of former Eastern Bloc states that adopted radical pension “reform” in the ’90s, spurred by two factors: 1) They were nearly broke, and so when the World Bank and International Monetary Fund came offering loans if they would only adopt certain structural reforms like pension privatization, Continue reading Hungary: Template for Social Security’s Future?

Deficit Commission Member Predicts Deadlock

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a member of President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, predicts the panel will not come up with a unified pan to cut the deficit – and slash Social Security. Schakowsky, appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is one of the small number of reliable pro-Social Security voices in the commission.

Speaking yesterday on a panel at the America’s Future Now! conference in Washington, she said,

“I think it’s unlikely we’ll achieve that kind of consensus. There are 14 of us on the commission, and the dominant ethic is that deficit reduction is comparable to the security of the United States, and so sacrifices have to be made. Yet many on the commission don’t want to talk about any increase in revenue. And many of us are reluctant to talk about reductions in benefits.”

Continue reading Deficit Commission Member Predicts Deadlock

Grannies with Cat Food on the Mall

The Obama deficit commission is, at bottom, an attempt to end-run the electorate by enabling lawmakers and political appointees to cut a backroom deal to slash Social Security. One way to stop it emerged this morning from the America’s Future Now! conference in Washington.

At a panel on “Holding Congress Accountable,” Darcy Burner of ProgressiveCongress.org and Progressive Congress Action Fund suggested that the people who would be harmed by Social Security cuts need to become more visible.

“We have the potential with this to stir up a lot of outrage. An army of old ladies marching on Washington with cans of cat food would be a strategy. We nede to mobilize all the people who would be affected by this – that the idea that they get too much from the system is ridiculous.”

Continue reading Grannies with Cat Food on the Mall

Our Schizophrenic Deficit Commission

There’s a very basic problem built into the president’s mandate for his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The commission is supposed to submit a plan to reduce the deficit, short-term, and shrink the national debt, long-term. But doing the one may actually make it harder to do the other.

Sometimes it seems like the deficit hawks – Pete Peterson, Sen. Kent Conrad, and other fiscal puritans – use the terms “deficit” and “debt” interchangeably. Both sound bad, unvirtuous, possibly un-American. And it makes sense that the larger the deficit, the more debt the government has to issue to pay for its activities. (As a refresher, the deficit is the difference between the government’s revenues and expenditures in any given year or set of years. The debt is the outstanding value of the bonds the government issues.) But shrinking the deficit doesn’t necessarily mean the debt will go down too.

Continue reading Our Schizophrenic Deficit Commission

Changing the Direction of the Social Security Debate

When it comes to Social Security, the best defense is a good offense. A new study by the National Academy of Social Insurance, arguing for restoration of survivor benefits for college students, creates an opportunity for the program’s defenders to get out of their defensive crouch.

Reagan budget director David Stockman dismissed it as “dogs and cats”: just another relatively small, miscellaneous expenditure that could easily be chopped to pay for the new president’s upper-income tax cuts. And so it was in 1981, when the Senate voted to eliminate Social Security survivor benefits for young adults who remained in college until age 22.

Continue reading Changing the Direction of the Social Security Debate

Eric signing “Understanding the Crash” at America’s Future Now! June 8

Understanding the Crash, my new book with Seth Tobocman and Jessica Wehrle, is now available from Soft Skull Press. Seth and I will be signing copies at the America’s Future Now! conference, Tues., June 8 at 3 p.m. at the Omni Shoreham Hotel (Regency Ballroom) in Washington, DC.

Understanding the Crash explains the collapse of the housing bubble and the subsequent financial crisis and recession in graphic format. Most other books that have appeared since the crisis of September 2008 concentrate on the Washington-Wall Street drama of the bailout. Understanding the Crash tells the other side of the story too: the financial devastation of millions of Americans caused by banks’ reckless and unethical lending practices, and the grassroots effort to fight back. The graphic format makes the story easy to read and understand.