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I take it that

I take it that we will be forced to allow at least 48 hours for the collective media swoon over President Bush's embrace of "progressive indexing.

Here's a bit from CNN's "Morning Grind" ...

When President Bush takes his new (Democrat-friendly?) pitch for "progressive indexing" across the Potomac this morning, look for signs of his new resolve. His Social Security plan still faces an up(Capitol)hill climb, and nothing he said last night changed that. But few things embolden Bush more than bold strokes, and from Social Security to North Korea to the filibuster/faith debate, he made a few of those strokes last night.


Progressive indexing might not sound sexy. But the idea (developed by financier Robert Pozen) of offering bigger checks to low-income retirees, and cutting benefits for the middle class and wealthy, is the most dramatic move Bush has made to broaden his reform plan's appeal since he publicly embraced the largely unappealing private accounts last year. Bush may have addressed millions of TV viewers last night, but his remarks were narrowly targeted to people named Snowe, Chafee, Nelson and Lincoln -- moderates in both parties who say they want Bush to focus less on private accounts and more on shoring up the system's long-term solvency. He did that last night. (So far this morning, no one's used the word "welfare" to describe Bush's plan. But stay tuned).

If you've dewobbled your knees and caught your breath, let's remember a few elementary points.

First, the White House has <$Ad$> been saying the president supports 'progressive indexing' for months. So I'm not sure it counts either as dramatic, let alone a move. Second, let's state specifically what this to-some-sexy-sounding proposal offers: steep benefit cuts for all but the lowest income Americans and meager increases in benefits for them. It's hard to see how there's anything particularly progressive about gutting Social Security for the entire middle class. And how this comes off as a politically attractive proposal once anyone understands it is hard to figure.

All that has happened here is that the president has temporarily bamboozled a few folks in the media by trying to spin phase out. He is calling for steep and growing benefit cuts for everyone in the middle class and he still demands a partial phase-out of Social Security to be replaced by private accounts.

Social Security's support of the poorest Americans is a critical part of what it accomplishes. But Social Security is not poor relief. That is only what the president wants to make it -- in part because, once it is, it is far easier to cut further, since it has no organized political constituency.

Social Security is the sheet anchor of the modern American middle class. It's why working Americans can approach retirement with an assurance of security and a modicum of leisure. It stimulates economic vitality by creating a floor of security that facilitates economic risk-taking in investment and business. It's why parents don't have to shortchange investment in children's education by supporting parents in their old age. It provides economic security to families hit by catastrophe and misfortune in mid-life. As I said, it's the sheet anchor of what we've come to know in the last century as middle class life.

Okay I have a

Okay, I have a job for some rich tech-guru: Get these students filibustering Frist set up with a more robust webcam set up!

These young worthies are performing an important public service making the now-faltering Sen. Frist into an object or mockery and ridicule on news wires across the country. And yet from what I can tell they're webcasting their filibuster to viewers across the country with a jury-rigged contraption that can't handle the traffic they're getting.

So they're not able to stream video any more but rather have to rely on a substantially more feeble 30 second refresh set up.

And this isn't some idle matter. Without constant surveillance, Frist and maybe Santorum and Mark Levin could swoop by with a bunch of their goons, toss these kids in a van and we'd never hear from them again.

We've already gotten one of the world's preeminent physicists to show up and lend a hand. So certainly we can get these folks a decent web cam, right?

There was so much

There was so much bamboozling going on tonight in that press conference that it was easy to miss one essential contradiction in the president's argument. You don't have to worry about private accounts, he said, because if you want you can fill your account with US Treasury bonds which have no risk at all. They're backed by the full faith and credit of the US government. But he says that the very same Treasury notes, when they're in the Trust Fund, are just worthless IOUs.

Are they really that

Are they really that stupid <$NoAd$> or they getting paid? Headline on an AP story running at CBSNews.com: "Bush Smiles At The Little Guy."

The article begins ...

President Bush put a populist face on his Social Security plan by urging Congress to tilt the system to benefit low-income retirees of the future as part of a plan to shore up the program's finances.

At a prime-time news conference Thursday night, Mr. Bush said he envisioned a plan under which all future retirees could "count on a benefit equal to or higher than today's seniors," a formula that left open the possibility that guaranteed benefits for middle and upper income seniors could be cut in later years to bring Social Security's finances into balance.

So that's smiling on the little guy, a plan that promises huge benefits cuts for everyone in the middle class. And that formula? Apparently the author of the piece doesn't get that the president meant a benefit equal to or higher in straight numerical terms. Freezing benefits in today's dollars amounts to huge benefit cuts in itself. How would you like to be making what people made for doing your job in 1960?

Late Update: A couple readers have written in to say that what the president was referring to was so-called 'progressive indexing' and that this does not call for freezing benefits at their current nominal dollar levels. True. But what I'm pointing to is where the president is setting what you might call his line of guarantee -- the line he's saying no one will fall below. And, as I note above, where he's setting that line already amounts to a massive cut in benefits that only grows with time.

What did I miss

What did I miss? The president offered no specifics at all. He still says some portion of Social Security must be phased out and replaced with private accounts. And just as it has been since the beginning of Bamboozlepalooza, pretty much everything he said was meant to deceive his listeners.

Start with his three principles from the beginning of the news conference. The first two principles used coded language which translates into massive Social Security benefit cuts for the entire middle class. I bet it didn't sound like that when he said it, did it? His plan would turn Social Security -- the sheet anchor of the American middle class -- into old age welfare.

Principle number three was just the same old demand for private accounts dandied up in different clothes

Basically, from this president, it's phase-out today, phase-out tomorrow, phase-out forever.

Beside that, I heard a lot of whining about politics and how everyone isn't nice to him.

Which makes me think about the conceit which started President Bush off on this titanic effort: his belief and repeated claim that Social Security wasn't the third rail of American politics any longer. No more current in rail; lost its juice. He'd grabbed it a couple times and he'd come out just fine, he always said.

Folks weren't stuck in old-fashioned ways of thinking anymore and wouldn't punish politicians who tried to upend Social Security or phase it out and replace it with private accounts. Plenty of Washington's worthies act as though this 'third rail' phraseology is a challenge to politicians' courage, a symbol of benighted public opinion that won't let right-thinking statemen do what needs to be done.

But why shouldn't the public punish politicians who try to scam them into phasing out the most popular and successful government program in American history? It doesn't occur to these folks that some people think that this amounts to a vast hoodwink on the middle class. And those who try to pull something like that deserve every ounce of political payback they get.

However that may be, it turns out it's still the third rail, as it should be.

I'll tell you, back when we designed the anti-privatization T-Shirt we've been selling and giving away for the last few months, the first version of the shirt was entirely different. On the front it had a cartoon character guy grabbing on to the rail and getting fried out of his mind. And that over a caption that read "Feel The Juice!" with all the appropriate squiggly electricty lines around the words.

On the back it said, "Social Security: The Third Rail of American Politics Since 1936."

Subtle? No. But I can't say that bothered me.

I decided against it because it underplayed just how difficult it was going to be to turn back the push for privatization. It took too much for granted.

But tonight, watching the president complain about the rough shake he and his folks are getting, and having heard the same whining from congressional Republicans all day, that line kept popping back into my head as the best response: Feel The Juice! They deserve every bit.

Filibuster against Frist hits

Filibuster against Frist hits the AP Wire.

Late Update: See their webcam here. The cam doesn't seem to be streaming at the moment. But soon enough I assume they'll get the live feed back up and running.

Duce Duce From The

Duce! Duce!

From The Hill: "Reps. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) and John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) have been meeting with 30 House Republicans over the past few weeks to coordinate a more aggressive strategy to defend Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), according to a Republican source familiar with the meetings."

Lest anyone forget, both Feeney and Sweeney had high-profile roles in the Florida 2000 travesty.