What Does Social Security Privatization And Gay Marriage Have In Common?

After a prominent gay-rights organization hinted that they would back the Bush Administration’s privatization policy for Social Security, dozens of LGBT activists wrote letters to every member of Congress denouncing the statement and swearing that they will not negotiate for their rights:

Dozens of prominent advocates for gay rights sent a letter to every member of Congress yesterday stating that they would reject any plan to bargain for equal rights, and specifically decried a report that the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay political organization, was planning to “moderate” its positions and would possibly support President Bush’s plan to create private Social Security accounts.
The letter, titled “Where We Stand,” was released by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) in response to an article in yesterday’s New York Times. The article quoted officials from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) as saying that, in light of defeats for gay rights in the Nov. 2 election (including the bans on same-sex marriage passed in 11 states), the organization decided to place less emphasis on same-sex marriage and more on “strengthening personal relationships.” One HRC official was paraphrased as saying that the group would consider supporting Bush’s efforts to partially privatize Social Security in exchange for the right of gay partners to receive benefits under the federal retirement program.

I’m mystified by the linkage of Social Security privatization and suppression of gay rights. If anything, privatization — as HRC points out — would allow Social Security recipients to name their own beneficiaries, an elegant work-around for the lack of domestic partnership recognition. Beyond that, it would appear that the LGBT activists in question put much more effort into knee-jerk reactions against Republicans and the Bush administration than in pursuing policy positions specific to their cause.
How does privatization of Social Security impact gays any more or less than it does any other person in the pension system? It doesn’t, at least not negatively. This reaction highlights a trend among single-issue political advocates to lose focus and try to spread their impact across many different debates. The end result transforms LGBT activists (or others, just name an issue) into nothing more than proxies for a political party — usually the Democrats, as they resemble more of a coalition of special-interest groups than a focused philosophical group anyway.
As such, the impact of their letter-writing campaign will likely only be felt amongst Democrats, who take their votes for granted anyway. The HRC actually has the right idea — taking the partisanship out of the campaign and opening up to new ideas and new alliances that could boost their central cause: helping gays and lesbians.

Berry Quits, A Day After Her Term Expired

Only in Washington could an official resign from an office she no longer occupied, but the Bush Administration won’t complain anytime soon. Mary Frances Berry, along with Cruz Reynoso, decided to “resign” rather than battle the government in court and possibly against federal marshals, allowing two new Bush appointees to take their seats on the Civil Rights Commission:

Mary Frances Berry, chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, resigned yesterday after more than two decades of criticizing the administrations, both Democratic and Republican, that she served.
Berry, an independent, and Vice Chairman Cruz Reynoso, a Democrat, sent resignation letters to President Bush a day after the White House moved to replace the two. Both had resisted leaving Monday, arguing that their terms would not expire until midnight Jan. 21, 2005. The White House maintained that their six-year terms expired on Sunday, and that they had been replaced.
In brief letters to Bush, Berry and Reynoso said that they believe they still have time left to serve but that it is not worth the fight.
“Given that the conclusion of my tenure is only a few weeks away, a legal challenge would be an unwise expenditure of resources,” wrote Berry, a civil rights history professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “Therefore, I am resigning my position as commissioner on the United States Commission on Civil Rights effective immediately.”

And so the Berry Era ends at the CRC with a growl, not a roar as she threatened earlier. As I wrote yesterday, Berry’s unseemly behavior in defying an appellate court ruling and the language on her appointment from Clinton makes a farce of the mission of her board: enforcing the law. Berry typifies the kind of bureaucrat that we often see in Washington DC, such as J. Edgar Hoover, who see their office as a birthright and refuse to leave quietly and with dignity. Hoover had to be carried out of his office, and it looked like Berry wanted a similar (but much livelier) exit.
So long, Mary Frances, and don’t forget to take your baggage with you on your way out.

Cracks In Partisanship On Social Security Appear

The first cracks in the partisan divide on Social Security appeared this evening, with Florida Congressman Allen Boyd (D-FL) announcing that he would support George Bush’s plan to save the plan through privatization:

President Bush’s call for private accounts within Social Security drew an early expression of bipartisan support Tuesday when Florida Rep. Allen Boyd stepped forward to the disappointment of Democratic leaders.
“There are some of us who are willing to work across party lines” on legislation to repair Social Security’s solvency, he said.
“This is the only bipartisan bill that I know of,” Boyd added at a news conference where he said he would serve as the chief Democratic supporter of legislation drafted by Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona.

And that’s the entire problem with the Democratic approach to both Social Security specifically, and to bipartisanship in general. Bush received an inordinate amount of criticism for polarizing Washington during his first term, with Democrats castigating him for not working in a spirit of bipartisanship. And yet only George Bush bothered to come up with anything creative to address the looming disaster of Social Security, while all his opponents could do was scream about the sky falling and, at the same time, try to scare old people into thinking Bush would steal their pensions. Rep. Boyd just pointed out that the emperor has no clothes.
For his trouble, he can expect that the Democrats will do their best to marginalize him in the next electoral cycle. At the moment, they’ve lowered the hysterics, focusing instead on the costs for transitioning to private accounts. Boyd and Kolbe point out that the $2 trillion price tag (over 10 years) for conversion pales before the estimated $22 trillion the existing system will have to suck out of the economy over the next 75 to remain solvent. The GOP has the winning argument, which may explain why Democrats preferred unity and hysterics rather than reasoned debate on the issue.
Now that Boyd has broken the ice, expect to see more Democrats come on board to tackle this critical problem. Until we resolve our Social Security catastrophe-in-waiting, any program of fiscal responsibility will necessarily fail, as a ripple gets overwhelmed by a tidal wave.

Bring A Crowbar And A Jackhammer

George Bush today appointed two new members of the Civil Rights Commission, replacing two whose terms have expired. However, at least one of them may need to be bodily removed from the offices as she threatens to stay put until she is good and ready to go:

President Bush on Monday moved to replace Mary Frances Berry, the outspoken chairwoman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission who has argued with every president since Jimmy Carter appointed her to the panel a quarter century ago.
But Berry balked at leaving now, arguing through a spokesman that she and vice chairman Cruz Reynoso, who also is being replaced, have terms that run until midnight Jan. 21, 2005. The White House maintained that their six-year terms expired Sunday and that Berry and Reynoso had been replaced.

The last time Berry went to the mattresses with George Bush was almost exactly three years ago, when she threatened to keep the first Bush appointee, Peter Kirsanow, from taking his seat on the commission. The AP covered the story on December 7, 2001:

Administration officials are trying to avoid a three-ring circus at Friday’s regularly-scheduled meeting of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, but they may have little luck since the committee’s chairwoman has taken the role of ringmaster.
President Bush’s appointee to the commission was sworn in at the White House Thursday night and planned to attend the commission’s regularly scheduled meeting, but commission chairwoman Mary Frances Berry said the administration will have to send in U.S. marshals to seat Peter Kirsanow, a Cleveland lawyer and member of the largely conservative Center for New Black Leadership.

Believe it or not, that dispute took six months to adjudicate, the circus finally coming to a close only after a federal appellate court told Berry that Wilson was through. That same decision also made clear that the next term starts at the time the last term expired, which goes to the heart of the current dispute. Berry’s prior term expired on December 5, 1998, at which point President Bill Clinton offered Berry another term. However, he didn’t get around to formally appointing her until January 26 of the following year — and Berry insists, despite the appellate court ruling on the Kirsanow case, that her current term expires six weeks from now as a result.
Predictably, the outgoing staff blame the Bush administration for the impasse, with reasoning that underscores why Bush replaced as many of them as he could:

Bush also replaced the commission’s staff director, Les Jin, with Kenneth Marcus of Virginia. Jin said Berry’s and Reynoso’s tenure dispute stems from a disagreement with the White House about when they began serving their six-year terms.
“The commission has had a long history of independence and of trying to protect civil rights,” Jin said. “And it just seems like we would have been much better served if they (the White House) had tried to take the initiative to engage in a conversation about a smooth transition rather than try to heighten a battle over six weeks.”

The Bush administration is enforcing the law, a mission which should have been the focus of the Civil Rights Commission rather than a years-long turf war designed to promote Mary Frances Berry rather than civil rights. Berry continually put herself above the law, holding the commission work hostage while she threw her temper tantrums and attempted to trump the will of the people with the weight of the bureaucracy. Now she’s trying to hang on to every last second by using an argument she lost over two years ago. Greedy and grasping hardly begins to describe it.

Bush Picks Up Myers’ Support For Intelligence Bill

George Bush has decided to make another push to get the intelligence-reform bill through Congress, and he now has new support to undercut objections from GOP House members that have blocked its passage. Joint Chiefs chair General Richard Myers, whose objections have been used to stall the bill from coming to the house floor, announced yesterday that a Congressional conference session addressed all of his concerns and that he now supports its passage:

An Oct. 21 letter written by Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has until now been used by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) to strengthen opposition to the measure on the ground that it could harm the country’s war fighters. …
“The issue that I commented on, I understand, has been worked satisfactorily in the conference report,” Myers said at a breakfast with reporters yesterday. “That part has been accommodated,” he said, adding: “I haven’t seen the specific language.” …
Bush will reportedly also attempt in his letter to deal with the opposition of House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), who has pressed for the inclusion in the measure of a number of immigration and law enforcement provisions, some of which were opposed by Senate members and were dropped from the compromise bill.
Bush’s letter, the administration and congressional sources said, will express support for several of Sensenbrenner’s proposals but will say he is pleased that the more controversial issues were dropped for consideration next year.

It would appear that Bush has cut the legs off of Duncan Hunter and probably James Sensenbrenner and will get House speaker Denny Hastert to finally produce the bill for a vote. I believe that the reforms included in this bill will prove damaging to intelligence analysis rather than beneficial, and in the immediate aftermath of the election, I don’t see the necessity for rushing it through Congress. The additional bureaucracy it creates will only impede the flow of information to the President and narrow down the options available to him even further than our existing structure does.
However, with Myers withdrawing his objections, I don’t see Hunter being able to stand up to an undeniable majority in the House who want to vote on the bill. I expect it to pass Congress in the next week or so and for Bush to sign it into law before Christmas. Congress and the White House, having created this bureaucratic behemoth, will have to watch it carefully to ensure it does not create new breakdowns in intelligence analysis — or we may find ourselves waiting on another commission report to explain why Washington DC suddenly disappeared in a flash of light.

Ridge Resigns From DHS

The Washington Times reports that Tom Ridge will resign as director of the Department of Homeland Security at a press conference scheduled for 2:45 ET this afternoon:

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has informed the White House and department staff that he has resigned, U.S. officials said today.
In an e-mail circulated to senior Homeland Security officials, Ridge praised the department as “an extraordinary organization that each day contributes to keeping America safe and free.” He also said he was privileged to work with the department’s 180,000 employees “who go to work every day dedicated to making our company better and more secure.”

As the Times notes, the US has not had another terrorist attack under Ridge’s watch. Despite taking on such a difficult and unwieldy task, he has performed extremely well. We all owe a debt of thanks to Ridge.

Campaign Finance Reform In A Nutshell (Where It Belongs)

A small case of campaign-finance comingling here in Minnesota provides an excellent object lesson as to why the McCain-Feingold reforms do nothing to eliminate checkbook politics. The Star Tribune’s Dane Smith reports on a $300,000 personal contribution made by Matt Entenza, the DFL House minority leader, to a 527 that essentially laundered the money:

Faulting both major political parties for an elaborate “shell game,” national campaign experts say it may be difficult if not impossible to trace the path of $300,000 that DFL House Minority Leader Matt Entenza contributed to a national “527” organization, which in turn spent generously on campaigns and voter registration in Minnesota.
Minnesota Republican Party officials are trying to build a case that the Entenza donation to the 21st Century Democrats was improperly reported and illegal, and that the money was spent directly on behalf of DFL House candidates in Minnesota through a 21st Century political action committee that paid for field workers.
Entenza and 21st Century officials contend that his contribution was perfectly legal and that not a penny of it flowed to 21st Century field staff on the House campaigns. Rather, they claim, Entenza’s money was donated to the Young Voter Project, a separate 21st Century program aimed at turning out students on college campuses and other young voters in several presidential battleground states, including Minnesota.

Here’s how the game works. Entenza donated the money in several installments, presumably to keep the total amount from being realized and reported by the press or the state GOP. The money flowed into the general fund of 21st Century, essentially commingling Entenza’s money with everyone else’s contributions. This so-called “soft money” cannot be used for specific campaigns; it must be used only for party-building activities, such as get-out-the-vote efforts and registration of new voters. 21st Century has these programs, but they also campaigned on behalf of a number of DFL candidates for the Minnesota House. Because Entenza put no earmarks on the contributions, and because 21st Century does not track distribution of specific donations to specific programs, the Minnesota GOP claim that Entenza’s donations amounted to a money-laundering operation to get more cash to his House colleagues.
Entenza, of course, denies this and claims that all of his filings were correct and his donations perfectly legal. (He also donated $75,000 to the DFL House caucus fund.) 21st Century also argues that no requirement exists to create separate funds for different efforts; in fact, they note that money is always fungible, and donations without earmarking will always flow to the program most in need of funding, regardless.
Without speculating on any actual wrongdoing, just this description of the black hole that 21st Century represents shows just how sick this “campaign reform” is in operation. Far from preventing checkbook politics, the necessity of allowing 527s to work around soft-money bans creates an entirely new way to launder money in politics, and this smells to high heaven.
In Minnesota, candidates for the House who receive public subsidies cannot spend more than $27,000 on the race. Entenza’s money allowed DFL candidates an out to spend an additional $20K on the fifteen swing districts through 21st Century instead of their own campaigns. As the GOP argues, Entenza could have donated that money directly to the caucus — but then it would have been distributed directly to the candidates, who would still have had to contend with the spending limits or be forced to bust the caps and waive public financing.
If Entenza broke the law, then he should be prosecuted for campaign finance violations; if 21st Century acted criminally, their tax exemption should be revoked. I suspect, however, that what they did was perfectly legal. Cases like this, even on the local level, should convince voters that all John McCain and Russ Feingold created with their “reforms” is another version of organized crime, a shell game as Aron Pilhofer correctly characterizes it.
This system needs to be dismantled, and in its place put full and immediate disclosure and force contributions to go directly to candidates and political parties. That makes the parties and candidates directly responsible for its use, and allows the electorate to immediately determine whose money funds which candidates and causes. Eliminate “soft” and “hard” money distinctions, get rid of tax exemptions for political-action groups altogether, and quit pretending that checkbook politics can be eliminated while adhering to the First Amendment. Otherwise, we will continue to be amazed at the lengths to which people like George Soros and Matt Entenza can go to push their money into the system without a trace of where it went.

Democrats Vulnerable In 2006: Washington Times

Amy Fagan analyzes the Democrats’ election chances in the 2006 Senate races and comes to much the same conclusion I did a week ago — that the worst of the Republican realignment may still be ahead of them:

Democratic senators in the states that President Bush won will face a tough road to re-election in 2006, Republicans say, with their sights set most eagerly on two Democrats named Nelson — Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Bill Nelson of Florida. …
In Nebraska, Gov. Mike Johanns, a Republican, looks like Mr. Nelson’s probable challenger for 2006, and Mr. Bush is expected to campaign on his behalf. In Florida, Republicans will be gunning for Mr. Nelson and hope to recruit a big name such as term-limited Gov. Jeb Bush to challenge him.
“These two definitely are going to be watching their backs,” said David Mark, editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine. “Particularly on judicial nominees, they’re going to be real careful on who they decide to block.”

In fact, Democrats have five red-state seats up for contention in the next cycle, while the GOP have only three: Rick Santorum (PA), Lincoln Chafee (RI), and Olympia Snowe (ME). Of the three, only Chafee is at risk, even with a long history supporting liberal causes. Voters may tend to keep him in office in order to maintain influence, since the GOP will remain the party in power, although that may give individual voters a bit too much credit. Pennsylvania went to Kerry by a thinner margin than Ohio went to Bush, and the incumbency gives him an advantage that only a major name could dent (perhaps Ed Rendell?).
More to the point, the Democrats have to defend states that went for Bush in much greater margin than the GOP states went to Kerry. The “Bush Factor” in these states, the margin separating Bush from Kerry, is very significant:
Bill Nelson, Florida – +5.0
Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico – +1.1
Ben Nelson, Nebraska – +33.5
Kent Conrad, North Dakota – +27.4
Robert Byrd, West Virginia – +12.7
The problem actually extends to all of 2006’s Senate races. The average Bush factor across the Democrat seats is -1.95, while the GOP has a 12.6 average. This means that the Democrats have much less support in all their races for the blue-state agenda, which forces them to take on a more conservative voting record for survival in 2006. As Fagan correctly analyzes, this means obstructionism is probably dead for judicial nominees for this session. Even if it’s tried, the most vulnerable Senators will not be able to sign on, making a filibuster all but impossible to sustain.
The next session of the Senate will have to be more compliant to the Bush Administration’s agenda and nominees. Expect to see a flurry of appointments right at the beginning of the term, possibly including at least one Supreme Court justice. If the Democrats have done their homework, they will be very ostentatious in approving the President’s selections. If not, they will help to elect a filibuster-proof majority for the GOP in 2006.

White House Delays Rice Confirmation Hearings

Does the White House anticipate problems with the nomination of Condoleezza Rice in the US Senate? Richard Lugar told Fox News Sunday that his offer of an early hearing in the lame-duck session was refused, postponing her confirmation debate until the new Senate session takes office in early January:

At the urging of the White House, a key Senate panel will put off consideration of the nomination of Condoleezza Rice to be secretary of state, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Sunday.
Sen. Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican, said he had suggested “a very early time” for his committee to take up the nomination, which must be approved afterward by the full U.S. Senate.
“The White House suggested that that would not be appropriate — that is, in December,” Lugar said on “Fox News Sunday.” “So we’ll not be having hearings in December. But we’ll have hearings as soon as possible in January.”

Lugar told Fox that he foresees no problems for Rice and the White House in confirming her appointment to State, but turning down an offer of an early hearing will raise a few eyebrows. Democrats have made a lot of noise about Bush nominating people for important Cabinet positions that agree with his policies a little too closely, a ridiculous argument in any organization. An executive needs to appoint people who support his vision and plans; doing anything else leads to nothing but confusion, mixed signals, and inertia, results we can ill afford during wartime.
I suspect that Bush wants the delay in order to both get a better majority in the Senate and to avoid the inflammatory suggestion that the popular Colin Powell is being given the bum’s rush out of office. The delay indicates the GOP may anticipate more problems than Lugar lets on in getting Rice’s nomination through the Senate, and they may be preparing for a replay of the Abu Ghraib hearings, this time on the entire Iraq invasion. It looks like they want as many friends in the room as possible when it happens.