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February 18, 2005, 6:15 P.M.

And another from the mailbag: Reader Brian M wrote recently to share his thoughts on Social Security:

Dear Ed,

Here's my take on the Social Security situation and why I think the story regurgitated in the mainstream media is mostly agitprop.

There's no question that the demographic trends of the US population has the potential of putting a squeeze on the social security system. The baby boomers, as a class, didn't have enough kids so the calculations that led to the original configuration aren't the same as in the 1930's.

That having been said, it does not mean that the present -- and already changed from the original configuration -- system needs further "adjustment."

The rationale for the need for change in the system is basically that the money earmarked for Social Security benefits will run out in about 2015, according to the projections by the trustees of the Social Security trust fund. Their numbers, however, are taken out of context. The numbers were created as a "worst case scenario" for the purposes of planning, not for a best guess of where the system would most probably be. Thus when these particular numbers are used as a rationale for change, the political agenda of the proponents of the change come into sharper relief.

The actuaries hired by the Social Security trustees projected running out of money around 2015 based on a GDP annual growth rate of 1.8 percent. The problem is, sustained growth rates that low haven't occurred since the Great Depression. Thus either either the actuaries know something we don't know about coming economic malaise (unlikely) or the numbers at the very foundations of the proposed need for change aren't appropriate for use as benchmarks in policy discussions pertaining to the solvency of the Social Security system.

To show you how far off base they are, I point to a study by the significantly-right-of-center Heritage Foundation which shows that since 1970, annual GDP growth has averaged double what the Social Security actuaries have assumed: GDP growth has averaged 3.16 percent per year -- after inflation. If you want to read the study, go to the following link.

Thus, if we can use the past 35 years as a point of comparison, it follows that revenues from Social Security taxation will grow at twice the rate presently predicted. Of course, if the economy grows that the even rosier rates predicted by Bush, the amounts will be still higher. The most important point here is that this salient fact is absent from virtually all "mainstream" debate, a fact for which democrats need to accept most of the blame, as they are in the best position to point out the hocus-pocus which Bush and his ilk are peddling to the public like so much snake oil.

I don't have an argument with having a debate over whether, given GDP growth rates of 3.16 percent, Social Security revenues still won't be enough. If that really is the case, then a meaningful policy debate can proceed, and, I feel, in good faith. But since the present debate is founded on numbers which are negated by historical precedent, I'm compelled to conclude that the "debate" has much less to do with th epublic good than it has to do with the advancement of the agendas of certain constituencies who put the present bunch of policymakers into office.

It is no secret that the banking, securities, and insurance industries have been historical patrons of Congress and the White House. The next question is who will benefit most from the proposed changes? Among others, the banking securities and insurance industries, of course.

In my view, what we're seeing here is a large-scale wealth transfer program from the middle class to the wealthy, one that will take place over the course of a few generations. Because the changes will be slow, they'll go largely unnoticed as a political issue. Instead, we'll just have larger and larger numbers of people who are old and disabled who live in poverty, and who, of course can be blamed for their plight. Once again, the democrats are in an excellent position to point this out, but they are largely silent on the issue. No wonder why: their patrons in the finance business will cut off their campaign contributions if they don't get on the Bush gravy train.

I should add one more point: it seems that the reform of the Social Security tax structure enacted under Bush the Elder (and spearheaded by Alan Greenspan) has made its way into the Memory Hole. We already had this debate, and Social Security taxes went up as a result. The population numbers used for that fix of the Social Security system are no different from the ones being used today. The only difference is the shift in political power away from the middle class, in favor of the rich.


February 18, 2005, 6:00 P.M.

From the mailbag: Reader Walt K sent me some thoughtful comments on my recent article, "Why Can't We Just Fix Up the Old Schools?":

Hi Ed,

I found your article on "Why don't we fix up the old schools" very informative. I'm generally on your side of the fence on this issue.

In order to comply with modern standards and student population growth, it makes a lot of sense to build the new school complex at the Parade Rd. site. Then we would be acting just like any other progressive American community. As you well know, Laconia is not a progressive community. There's the rub. One thing that bothers me is what would happen to the High school site, in the heart of the city. Would we end up with another dead carcass like the Scott and Williams factory? Or, lots of other buildings left standing for sentimental reasons. Our city is something like an old barnyard full of fond memories of old junkers that were once sleek machines, but now are rusty vermin nests at best, all cluttering the grounds. It would be very nice if some leadership could come forth by Novemeber ( sooner to be preferred) and propose a vision for the city, encompassing school construction, industrial renewal, and residential/commercial development that could make Laconia a progressive American community. IN GOOD TASTE, and palatible to our "old timers".

I haven't seen any action yet on the housing and commercial development at Allen-Rodgers. Will that be happening this summer? I am hoping that it could be a catalyst to pull the whole city into enthusiasm about modernizing renewal.

As it is now, our kids want to grow up and move away from this place. Is that what we want?



As always, thank you for your insightful comments. The option that I favor for the schools, and the one which I think is gaining the most traction, is what is known as option #3. This option is for a new High School to be constructed on the Parade Road site and the middle school to be relocated to the current high school site. Some portions of the current High School would be used for the new Middle School but not the oldest sections of the building because of their age and method of construction.

A friend and fellow building committee member who is in manufacturing, pointed out recently that OSHA regulations would not permit him to manufacture parts in the existing high school because of the condition of its systems. This condition does not exist because the buildings are not well maintained, because they are. This condition exists because the buildings and systems have outlived their design and functional life. The buildings still function as well as they do because of the care and maintenance that they have received over the years, allowing them to operate beyond their anticipated life.

Option #5 would see both schools constructed on the Parade Road site. Although popular, this option is meeting resistance because there of the difficulty in having middle school children walking to that site, because of the problems of having middle and high school students on the same “campus”, because of the amount of parking and field space required for a combined facility, because of the question of what to do with the current high school site, and because of the question of future expansion.

One of my principal goals when I was elected to the school board in 1997 was to see that the district engage in the process of developing a strategic operating plan. During my time on the board, that planning process was begun and completed and the district eventually adopted a plan that brought together considerations of program needs, building needs and budget needs in planning for the future of the district. This plan is continuously updated and reviewed and it serves as the basis of the districts operations and planning in all aspects of the running of the school district. Several years ago I suggested that the city needed the same type of planning. For a lot of reasons, none of them good, that has not occurred. I think that a city wide, comprehensive strategic plan is necessary to insure that Laconia’s future growth is not arbitrary or haphazard. I also believe that planning will create support of city wide capital projects and will create a roadmap of sorts for future development.

I hope that you will write to your city counselor and tell her that you support the school building projects. Much of the new growth in the city will occur in Ward 1 and these facilities will be needed for many reasons, including the need to keep up with future growth and to continue to encourage families to settle in Laconia as opposed to surrounding communities.


February 13, 2005, 12:10 P.M.

"Damn the Torpedos, Full Speed Ahead!" Seeing CNN’s story about Richard Perle’s testimony before the House Select Committee on Intelligence was unsettling. It’s not only that I don’t trust Perle’s motives or believe a word that he says, but also that Perle was on the vanguard or the Bush Administrations push to invade Iraq, and he and the administration are now talking about intelligence failures and nuclear weapons programs in Iran.

In his testimony, Perle claims, among other things, that pressure put on US intelligence assets in Iran by the CIA (the agency which Perle regularly criticizes) resulted in a breach of security and mass killings of agents within Iran. Perle said: "the terrible setback that we suffered in Iran a few years ago, when in a display of unbelievably careless management we put pressure on agents operating in Iran to report with greater frequency and didn't provide improved communications channels for them to do it." He went on to explain that: "The Iranian intelligence authorities quickly saw the surge in traffic, and as I understand it, virtually our entire network in Iran was wiped out," he added, using it as an example to support his argument that, in intelligence matters, "we're in very bad shape in Iran.”

Perle does not claim that the information about which he is testifying is based on first hand information. He said he had heard about it after he left government from people who had first-hand knowledge of the operation. If this is true, the result is that the beginning and end of our human intelligence in Iran lies (pun intended) in expatriates, political exiles and displaced former official who, because of their own personal and political agendas inherently reliable just like their Iraqi counterparts proved to be. In fact, these are the very same assets utilized in determining that Iraq was an immediate threat to US security because of its active WMD program. According to the CNN report, former U.S. officials who spoke to CNN on Saturday called Perle's testimony "exaggerated," "inaccurate" in some details and "timed to mislead." Apparently, the CIA had no comment when contacted by CNN and A Pentagon spokesman told them that he had no information.

The timing is what concerns me. I didn’t see Perle’s entire testimony, only the portion played on CN last night. I don’t get the sense, however, that Perle was preaching caution based on our past mistakes. I get the sense that he is beating the administrations war drum, and arguing that the threat posed by Iran is bigger than we know because of the intelligence failures of his favorite whipping boy, the CIA. Couple this with the not so subtle threat to Iran in the State of the union address and it seems that we have begun the inexorable march to war. The handwriting is on the wall.

A spokesman for The Senate Intelligence Committee recently indicated that, like the house committee, the Senate committee is taking a "proactive" review of U.S. intelligence capabilities in Iran. This is being done at a time when the Bush administration's has noticeably stepped up its attacks on the current Iranian regime. Sarah Little, communications director for committee chairman Sen. Pat Roberts, (R- Kansas). CNN reported that, according to Little, the committee is also looking at intelligence capabilities in North Korea and China, said, She characterized the review as part of the "normal oversight" functions of the committee, but added that it was motivated due to skepticism regarding the accuracy of U.S. prewar intelligence on Iraq.

All of this work seems to suggest that the government wants to avoid a repeat of the embarrassment that followed the failure to find and WMDs in Iraq although their existence was our expressed pretext for that invasion. I don’t, however, see any reason to suggest that the lack of intelligence about what Iran is actually doing will slow things down. It seems that the plan is in place, the train is on the track and nothing can stop it. Iran is in the cross hairs.

The president and his neocon advisors (and with the ascension of Condoleezza Rice they are his only advisors) truly believe that their mission and mandate is to bring their version of democracy to Iran, Syria, and Jordan as well as Afghanistan and Iraq. They fully intend to implement their plan despite what the people in those countries or other people around the world may think, and despite the obvious problems of implementation demonstrated in Afghanistan and Iraq. There is nothing to suggest that what has happened in Iraq or in Afghanistan has caused them to exercise any caution or reflection. Damn the torpedoes….

February 13, 2005, 10:00 A.M.

I read a great Doonesbury this morning and it validated an observation that I have and that others had pointed out to me. Donald Rumsfeld looks, acts and sounds beleaguered.

Naturally, there could be many reasons why Rumsfeld is not his old feisty self, but one can’t help but think that the situation in Iraq can’t be belping his mood. Finding a way to extricate U.S. troops from Iraq and still save some modicum of face must weight heavily on his mind.

Religious parties have made great gains according to the results of the elections in Iraq, and it is inevitable that religious law will have a prominent place in the new Iraqi constitution. Women will suffer in status as second class citizens and the “true democracy” envisioned by Rumsfeld and his boss will certainly be less than inclusive of all Iraqis. Islamic or Quranic law may also not be the first choice of minority Kurds and tension will certainly result within the new government over the issue of imposing a religious-based legal structure on the entire society. This issue must keep Rumsfeld up at night.

Perhaps Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is Iraq’s George Washington, with the strength and grace to not seize the day and use his recent political victory to create a full-fledged theocracy in the model of Iran. By all accounts he has no intention of running the government himself, and we can only hope that his subordinates and followers can exercise the same restraint. Even so, it is difficult to reconcile the concept of a constitution based on Islamic law and the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld concepts of democracy and freedom. Certainly, women’s rights and religious freedom won’t be on the menu.

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