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Tag Archives: Social Security

OK for AFL-CIO to Bash McCain, Yet Anti-Obama Mail Racially Suspect?
A tale of two mailings: One reporter revels in the the AFL-CIO’s big political push against McCain, while another laments “…new, harsh anti-Obama literature in my mailbox.”

Posted by: Clay Waters
10/21/2008 3:44:04 PM

Steven Greenhouse, the Times’ pro-union, anti-Wal-Mart labor reporter, seemed pretty enthused about the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s attack mailings against John McCain in “A.F.L.-C.I.O. Targets Seniors,” the neutrally headlined story he filed to the “Caucus” blog Tuesday morning.

Only two of the 19 paragraphs of Greenhouse’s story are devoted to (very mildly) fact-checking the false claims from the union-backed mailing. Here’s an excerpt:

The latest mailer is headlined, “John McCain: A Disaster for Retirees.” It criticizes his proposal for partially privatizing Social Security, saying, “This risky move will jeopardize the chances of a secure retirement for millions of Americans.”

The mailer also seeks to undermine the Republican candidate by saying, “McCain will cut Medicare.” It says he “wants to fund his pro-insurance company health care plan by taking more than $1 trillion from Medicare.”

The McCain campaign has attacked such assertions as wildly distorted, while some neutral experts have noted that Mr. McCain has never proposed such a large cut in Medicare, although he has indicated he would cut health care programs to help balance the budget.

Greenhouse is soft-pedaling here. In fact, the watchdog group FactCheck.org, which the Times has often treated as gospel when it comes to “correcting” John McCain claims, flatly calls the charge that McCain plans to cut Medicare by such a large amount “false.”

Ms. Ackerman said, “Once retirees and seniors hear from their unions about where McCain stands on privatizing Social Security and taxing health-care benefits and where Obama stands on the issues, we know we can get a majority of these voters to support Obama.”

Over the past week, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. expanded its campaign efforts into three additional states — Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia — that were won by George W. Bush in 2004, but are now viewed as winnable for Mr. Obama.

“We have a very nimble program because we have union members everywhere,” [Karen] Ackerman said.

Greenhouse let AFL-CIO political director Ackerman crow for several paragraphs about the group’s big budget and massive campaign effort, while never uttering a discouraging word. It was almost as if they were on the same team.

Compare that reaction to the scandalized tone taken by another Times reporter, Damien Cave, to the sight of two anti-Obama mailers in his Florida mailbox that dared to attack Obama on taxes and crime. Cave’s story, “In Florida Mailboxes, Harsh Attacks on Obama,” was filed on “The Caucus” blog Monday evening.

Early voting in Florida began today, with long lines at several polling places, a flood of robocalls, a rally by Senator Barack Obama in Tampa — and some new, harsh anti-Obama literature in my mailbox.

Those of us who live in swing states are already familiar with negative television ads from both Democrats and Republicans. At this point, I’m on the verge of having nightmares with the giant ball of orange thread rolling through Senator Obama’s health care ad — the one that runs incessantly here, ending with a narrator saying Senator McCain will leave you “hanging by a thread.”

But even in this hot-headed environment, the literature stands out. One flier, paid for by the Republican National Committee, states that in the midst of the economic crisis “Barack Obama’s solution is to take more of your money!”

By several fact-checkers’ accounts, that’s a misrepresentation of Senator Obama’s tax plan, which would cut taxes for roughly 95 percent of the country.

To prove himself right, Cave linked to an article by Times’ reporter Larry Rohter, who has rarely met an Obama attack he couldn’t spin in Obama’s favor. But both Cave and Rohter are wrong. Obama’s tax plan can’t cut taxes for 95% because many Americans pay no income tax at all. As the Media Research Center’s Brent Baker has argued:

That 95 percent is impossible since one-third of those who file with the IRS are “non-payers,” people who end up paying no tax or get money back which exceeds their payments. Obama plans to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and create other credits. For those for whom the credits surpass their tax obligation, those are not tax cuts, but spending hikes or federal giveaways akin to welfare.

Cave was grossly offended by another piece of literature, which dared to question Obama’s record on crime:

The second piece of literature, paid for by the Republican Party of Florida, provides a new line of attack. It alleges that Senator Obama would be soft on crime. Few issues are as racially radioactive, especially here in Miami, so it is worth asking: Does the flier go over the line?

Some of it focuses on Senator Obama’s voting history (oversimplifying a present vote in the Illinois senate to suggest he is “against protecting children from danger,” in one example). But on the front, there is a picture of Senator Obama, looking menacing, with an all-black background. On the other side, above the address it says: “Obama: ‘he acted more as a friend to criminals than to cops…’”

At the end, Cave half-heartedly clarifies that race wasn’t actually mentioned in the flier:

It ends with “Barack Obama, not who you think he is” but it does not mention Mr. Wright, nor does it mention race.

Calls to the state Republican party were not returned.

The Times: No Nose for News on Biden’s “International Crisis” Comment
Even Dan Rather recognizes it’s a big story — but the Times buried it under a separate headline.

Posted by: Clay Waters
10/21/2008 2:49:10 PM

On Tuesday, Times’ reporter Michael Powell mentioned Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden’s striking assertion (the top story on the Drudge Report early Tuesday afternoon) that foreign forces would generate a crisis to test the mettle of Barack Obama:

More than 1,000 miles away, in Belton, Mo., Mr. McCain freshened his criticism of Mr. Obama as too untested to be president by seizing on remarks from Mr. Obama’s running mate, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., that an international crisis might test a new Obama administration.

Mr. McCain asserted that Mr. Biden had told donors Sunday that in a crisis, Obama and Biden supporters “would have to stand with them because it wouldn’t be apparent that Senator Obama would have the right response.”

Mr. Biden, according to remarks recorded and transcribed by ABC News from a fund-raiser in San Francisco, had said: “Mark my words: it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking.

“We’re about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here, if you don’t remember anything else I said. Watch, we’re going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.”

Dan Rather himself (who knows something about political double standards from all his years of liberal bias as CBS anchor) said that Biden’s outburst “would be above the fold in most newspapers today” if said by Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. So how did the Times play it?

Certainly not above the fold; instead, it was buried in the 11th paragraph of the Powell story on A-18, under the headline “Obama Briefly Leaving Trail to See Ill Grandmother.”

McCain Hypocritically Goes After Obama’s “Spread the Wealth” Gaffe
Reporter Michael Cooper, still protecting Barack Obama’s left flank on taxes.

Posted by: Clay Waters
10/21/2008 11:39:16 AM

John McCain spent the weekend hammering Barack Obama for his “spread the wealth” comment to Joe the Plumber. Michael Cooper’s Monday “Political Memo,” “‘Spreading the Wealth’ as Both Accusation and Prescription,” makes the point that in a sense we’re all socialists now thanks to the federal bailout of the financial system, but then twisted that observation into a predictable partisan accusation of hypocrisy on the part of McCain, while fact-checking McCain’s tax plans with a vigor the paper has rarely expended on Obama’s claims.

In a radio address on Saturday, Mr. McCain said that “at least in Europe, the Socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives.” Asked in an interview on “Fox News Sunday” whether he believed that Mr. Obama’s plans amount to socialism, Mr. McCain said, “I think his plans are redistribution of the wealth.” Pressed again on the subject, Mr. McCain said, “That’s one of the tenets of socialism.”

And in rallies from Miami to North Carolina to here, Mr. McCain gets some of the biggest crowd reactions when he thunders that Mr. Obama wants to “spread the wealth around.” Some members of the audience even chant the line along with him.

Still, at rally after rally Mr. McCain denounces Mr. Obama for wanting to redistribute wealth, hitting especially hard on Mr. Obama’s plan to give tax credits, in the form of checks, to some people who do not pay income tax. (Mr. McCain omits the fact that his own health care plan would do much the same thing, giving tax credits of $5,000 to families for health insurance, regardless of whether they pay income taxes.)

The problem is that Obama is falsely claiming his plan would cut income taxes on 95% of people — an impossible figure, given that many Americans don’t pay any income tax at all.

Cooper also let in some labeling bias. While the Cato Institute is accurately described as a “libertarian research group,” the liberal Brookings Institution is merely a “public policy research group.”

Obama’s Social Security Whopper
He tells Social Security recipients their money would now be in the stock market under McCain’s plan. False.
Summary
In Daytona Beach, Obama said that “if my opponent had his way, the millions of Floridians who rely on it would’ve had their Social Security tied up in the stock market this week.” He referred to “elderly women” at risk of poverty, and said families would be scrambling to support “grandmothers and grandfathers.”

That’s not true. The plan proposed by President Bush and supported by McCain in 2005 would not have allowed anyone born before 1950 to invest any part of their Social Security taxes in private accounts. All current retirees would be covered by the same benefits they are now.

Obama would have been correct to say that many workers under age 58 would have had some portion of their Social Security benefits affected by the current market turmoil – if they had chosen to participate. And market drops would be a worry for those who retire in future decades. But current retirees would not have been affected.

Analysis
In our “Scaring Seniors” article posted Sept. 19 we took apart a claim in an Obama-Biden ad that McCain somehow supported a 50 percent cut in Social Security benefits, which is simply false. Then, on Saturday Sept. 20, Sen. Barack Obama personally fed senior citizens another whopper, this one a highly distorted claim about the private Social Security accounts that McCain supports.

What Obama Said


In Daytona Beach, Florida, Obama said in prepared remarks released by the campaign:

Obama, Sept. 20: And I’ll protect Social Security, while John McCain wants to privatize it. Without Social Security half of elderly women would be living in poverty – half. But if my opponent had his way, the millions of Floridians who rely on it would’ve had their Social Security tied up in the stock market this week. Millions would’ve watched as the market tumbled and their nest egg disappeared before their eyes. Millions of families would’ve been scrambling to figure out how to give their mothers and fathers, their grandmothers and grandfathers, the secure retirement that every American deserves. So I know Senator McCain is talking about a “casino culture” on Wall Street – but the fact is, he’s the one who wants to gamble with your life savings.

That’s untrue. All current retirees would be covered by exactly the same Social Security benefits they are now under what the Obama campaign likes to call the “Bush-McCain privatization plan,” which Bush pushed for unsuccessfully in 2005.

Who Would Have Been Affected


As the White House spelled out at the time, on page 5 of the document titled “Strengthening Social Security for the 21st Century,” released in February 2005:

Bush Plan: Personal retirement accounts would be phased in. To ease the transition to a personal retirement account system, participation would be phased in according to the age of the worker. In the first year of implementation, workers currently between age 40 and 54 (born 1950 through 1965 inclusive) would have the option of establishing personal retirement accounts. In the second year, workers currently between age 26 and 54 (born 1950 through 1978 inclusive) would be given the option and by the end of the third year, all workers born in 1950 or later who want to participate in personal retirement accounts would be able to do so.

Nobody born before Jan. 1, 1950 could have participated, and anyone born on that date would be 58 years old now. The earliest possible age for receiving Social Security retirement benefits is 62, for early retirement at reduced benefits. Full retirement age is currently 66, and scheduled to go up to age 67 in coming years.

It is certainly true that the stock market carries risks, as recent events remind us. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down nearly 17 percent for this year, for example, and despite gains in other years it is still barely above where it was at the start of 2000. But historically there have also been rewards for those who make diversified investments and hold for long periods. When Obama spoke, the Dow Jones average still stood 305 percent higher than it had at the start of the 1990’s.

Disappearing nest eggs?


Also worth noting here:

  • The private accounts would have been voluntary. Anybody fearful of the stock market’s risk could simply stay in the current system.

  • Obama’s reference to “casino culture,” disappearing “nest eggs” and gambling with “your life savings” are also misleading exaggerations. Only a little over one-fourth of any workers’ total Social Security taxes could have been invested (a maximum of 4 percent of taxable wages, out of the total 15.3 per cent now paid, split equally between worker and employer.)

  • Speculation in individual stocks would not have been permitted. Workers would have had a choice of a few, broadly diversified stock or bond funds.

  • While McCain has voted in favor creating private Social Security accounts in the past, and endorsed Bush’s 2005 proposal (which never came to a vote in Congress), he is not making a strong push for them as part of his campaign. In fact, a search for the term “Social Security” on the McCain-Palin Web site brings up the following: “No documents were found.”

Footnote:  When we contacted the Obama campaign for comment, spokesman Tommy Vietor defended Obama’s remarks as accurate:

Vietor: You don’t have to be retired to rely on Social Security. Millions of people who will one day retire rely on Social Security as they plan their future. Senator Obama’s bottom line is absolutely true. If McCain got his way and we had private accounts . . . people who are relying on that money for their retirement would be in a very difficult situation.

We would grant Vietor a point if Obama had made any mention of workers being fearful of their future retirement (although this would apply only to those who had chosen to participate in private accounts, and not to everybody.) But Obama did not say that. Instead, he referred to “elderly women” in danger of poverty. He spoke of families “scrambling to figure out how to give their mothers and fathers, their grandmothers and grandfathers” a secure retirement – not to families worrying about their own retirement.  If Obama did not mean what he said to be a reference to current retirees, he could say so clearly and amend his words.

-by Brooks Jackson

Sources
The White House, “Strengthening Social Security for the 21st Century,” Feb 2005.

Dow Jones & Co. “Dow Jones Industrial Average Historical Performance” Spreadsheet accessed 20 Sep 2008.

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