08/14/2012 archive

Criminal Dissent

Earlier this year Pulitzer prize winning author, Chris Hedges and several other prominent activists and politicians filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration  over Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) alleging that it violated free speech and associational rights guaranteed by the First Amendment and due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Obama DOJ argued that the group had no standing to bring the suit since they had been harmed. Federal Judge  Katherine Forrest of the Southern District of New York saw it differently in her ruling (pdf)on May 16 when she issued a preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of the highly controversial indefinite provisions of NDAA, Sections 1021 and 1022. The final hearings were held last week on whether the injunction enjoining enforcement of 1021 will be permanent.

From Chris Hedges on Criminalizing Dissent:

[..] Any activist or dissident, whose rights were once protected under the First Amendment, can be threatened under this law with indefinite incarceration in military prisons, including our offshore penal colonies. The very name of the law itself-the Homeland Battlefield Bill-suggests the totalitarian credo of endless war waged against enemies within “the homeland” as well as those abroad. [..]

Barack Obama’s administration has appealed Judge Forrest’s temporary injunction and would certainly appeal a permanent injunction. It is a stunning admission by this president that he will do nothing to protect our constitutional rights. The administration’s added failure to restore habeas corpus, its use of the Espionage Act six times to silence government whistle-blowers, its support of the FISA Amendment Act-which permits warrantless wiretapping, monitoring and eavesdropping on U.S. citizens-and its ordering of the assassination of U.S. citizens under the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, is a signal that for all his rhetoric, Obama, like his Republican rivals, is determined to remove every impediment to the unchecked power of the security and surveillance state. [..]

The language of the bill is terrifyingly vague. It defines a “covered person”-one subject to detention-as “a person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.” The bill, however, does not define the terms “substantially supported,” “directly supported” or “associated forces.” In defiance of more than 200 earlier laws of domestic policing, this act holds that any member of a group deemed by the state to be a terrorist organization, whether it is a Palestinian charity or a Black Bloc anarchist unit, can be seized and held by the military. Mayer stressed this point in the court Wednesday when he cited the sedition convictions of peace activists during World War I who distributed leaflets calling to end the war by halting the manufacturing of munitions. Mayer quoted Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ dissenting 1919 opinion. We need to “be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe,” the justice wrote. [..]

The Justice Department’s definition of a potential terrorism suspect under the Patriot Act is already extremely broad. It includes anyone with missing fingers, someone who has weatherproof ammunition and guns, and anyone who has hoarded more than seven days of food. [..]

Contrast this crucial debate in a federal court with the empty campaign rhetoric and chatter that saturate the airwaves. The cant of our political theater, the ridiculous obsessions over vice presidential picks or celebrity gossip that dominate the news industry, effectively masks the march toward corporate totalitarianism. The corporate state has convinced the masses, in essence, to clamor for their own enslavement. There is, in reality, no daylight between Mitt Romney and Obama about the inner workings of the corporate state. They each support this section within the NDAA and the widespread extinguishing of civil liberties. They each will continue to funnel hundreds of billions of wasted dollars to defense contractors, intelligence agencies and the military. They each intend to let Wall Street loot the U.S. Treasury with impunity. Neither will lift a finger to help the long-term unemployed and underemployed, those losing their homes to foreclosures or bank repossessions, those filing for bankruptcy because of medical bills or college students burdened by crippling debt. Listen to the anguished cries of partisans on either side of the election divide and you would think this was a battle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. You would think voting in the rigged political theater of the corporate state actually makes a difference. The charade of junk politics is there not to offer a choice but to divert the crowd while our corporate masters move relentlessly forward, unimpeded by either party, to turn all dissent into a crime.

Not that there is any solace in the argument of voting for Obama to protect the Supreme Court from more corporatist right wing appointments, when Pres. Obama has his good friend and mentor Cass Sunstein waiting in the wings, salivating to further gut and criminalize dissent.

But thank you, Judge Forrest.

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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Paul Krugman: Romney/Ryan: The Real Target

So, let me clarify what I believe is really going on in the choice of Paul Ryan as VP nominee. It is not about satisfying the conservative base, which was motivated anyway by Obama-hatred; it is not about refocusing on the issues, because R&R are both determined to avoid providing any of the crucial specifics about their plans. It is – as Jonathan Chait also seems to understand – about exploiting the gullibility and vanity of the news media, in much the same way that George W. Bush did in 2000. [..]

So, a memo to the news media: you have now become players in this campaign, not just reporters. Mitt Romney isn’t seeking a debate on the issues; on the contrary, he’s betting that your gullibility and vanity will let him avoid a debate on the issues, including the issue of his own fitness for the presidency. I guess we’ll see if it works.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Happy Birthday, Social Security! Now About Your Gift …

Today, August 14, is Social Security’s 77th birthday. That presents us with a difficult challenge: What do you give a government program that has everything … except a secure future of its own?

Let’s take a look at the options for this year’s celebration.

The Gift Pile

Talk about an embarrassment of riches! Look what Social Security can already list among its gifts. It’s got:

Hundreds of millions of people who love it. Polls consistently show that Social Security, along with Medicare, is one of our most popular government programs.

The best balance sheet in the entire government. Despite all the scare talk (which we’ll get to shortly), no program in US history is on a firmer financial footing than Social Security. It’s a stand-alone program which isn’t allowed to contribute to the overall government deficit, and is absolutely solvent until the mid-2030’s.

No other program can say that.

New York Times Editorial: A Question of Improper Money Flows

Standard Chartered, the London-based bank, may soon reach a settlement with bank regulators to resolve charges that it violated American banking rules that restrict transactions with Iranian clients. The rules are intended to impede money flows that might finance terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

The bank has said it “strongly rejects” allegations that it improperly processed $250 billion of transactions for Iranians. The claims were leveled last week by New York’s Department of Financial Services, a regulatory agency recently formed by merging the state’s banking and insurance departments. But if the bank does not settle the charges, its officials will have to rebut them this week at a meeting called by Benjamin Lawsky, the former federal prosecutor who leads the department. It seems a safe bet that the officials would rather settle than have to defend the bank’s actions, with specificity, before the authorities. [..]

While authorities usually act together in such cases, the feds have been on the Standard Chartered case for years without bringing charges or reaching a conclusion.  [..]

Mr. Lawsky’s challenge is to work cooperatively with federal regulators, while standing his ground.

Robert Dreyfuss: Obama’s Regime-Change Policy in Syria

The Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA are making war plans for Syria. And they’re pretty much announcing them.

Over the weekend, on a visit to Turkey, a NATO member, to meet with Syrian opposition leaders and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explicitly declared that Washington’s policy toward Syria is now in what she called the “operational” phase. “We have been closely coordinating over the course of this conflict, but now we need to get into the real details of such operational planning,” she said adding: “Our intelligence services, our military have very important responsibilities and roles to play, so we are going to be setting up a working group to do exactly that.”

Make no mistake: this is regime change by force. It’s not exactly like Iraq, and it’s not exactly like Libya (yet)-but it’s regime change by force anyway.

Ari Berman: Romney-Ryan Economic Plans Would Increase Unemployment, Deepen Recession

Much has been written in recent days about Paul Ryan’s plans to privatize Medicare, dismantle Social Security, massively cut taxes for the wealthy and drastically redistribute income from the bottom to the top.

Yet perhaps the most disturbing feature of Ryan’s budget is that, in the midst of a prolonged recession, it would cost the US economy millions of jobs. Ryan’s 2011 budget plan proposes what the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities calls “the most severe and wrenching budget cuts in US history-two-thirds of which would come from programs for people of low or moderate incomes” (Medicaid, Pell grants, food stamps and low-income housing). According to the Economic Policy Institute, “the shock to aggregate demand from near-term spending cuts would result in roughly 1.3 million jobs lost in 2013 and 2.8 million jobs lost in 2014, or 4.1 million jobs through 2014.”

Robert Kuttner: Food and the Fed

The record drought and crop failures will create shortages, especially of corn, and will increase the prices of many foods that either contain the stuff or use it to feed livestock. That, in turn, will cause an uptick in the rate of inflation. And higher prices will give the inflation hawks in the Federal Reserve more ammunition in their insane campaign for higher interest rates.

At the most recent meeting of its policy-setting Open Market Committee, Aug. 7, the Fed declined to lower interest rates further, under pressure from inflation hawks. The vote to keep rates at their present level was only 7-3, with the dissenters favoring tighter money. [..]

It’s also clear that the insane weather is a clarion call to get far more serious about global climate change. Readers of my stuff will note that, like columnist Gail Collins on the subject of Mitt Romney’s dog-on-the-roof, I never pass up an opportunity to point out that World War II cured the Great Depression; and that today we need massive social investment to cure slumping demand.

Believe Nothing

The ad’s cynicism contributes to a phenomenon that increases each year, and that is that we are becoming a nation that believes nothing. Not in nothing, but nothing we’re told by anyone in supposed authority.

Peggy Noonan

A closer look at Paul Ryan’s federal budget plan

By David Lauter and Lisa Mascaro, Washington Bureau, Los Angeles Times

August 14, 2012

Under Ryan’s plan, which has passed the Republican-controlled House twice in slightly different versions, the Internal Revenue Service would tax the wealthiest Americans less, but many of the poorest ones more; Medicare would be transformed; Medicaid would be cut by about a third; and all functions of government other than those health programs, Social Security and the military would shrink to levels not seen since the 1930s.

The Ryan plan would not balance the federal budget for another 28 years at least, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. … It’s also partly because Ryan’s proposed tax cuts considerably outweigh even his ambitious spending reductions.

Ryan himself concedes that his plan would not balance the budget this decade, predicting it could be balanced by the “mid-to-early 2020s” because his plan would ignite rapid economic growth. Like his onetime mentor, Jack Kemp, the 1996 Republican vice presidential nominee, Ryan argues that the key to economic growth is not balancing the budget but lowering tax rates.

In the more than two years since his budget was unveiled, Ryan has not specified any tax breaks he would eliminate. Independent analyses have shown that offsetting the tax cuts would require changing things such as the mortgage interest deduction, the tax exclusion for employer-financed health insurance or other popular tax preferences widely used by middle-income households.

Ryan would shift Medicare from a system in which everyone gets the same set of benefits, paid for by tax funds, to one in which the government would give each senior citizen a fixed amount of money.

Ryan would also gradually lift the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 by 2034.

Ryan’s plan would keep the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush and add an additional $4.5 trillion in cuts over the next decade. It would do that by replacing the current six tax rates with two – 10% and 25%. It would also eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax and cut corporate taxes.

The net result would be a tax increase for the bottom fifth of households and a big tax cut at the top, according to the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan Washington think tank.

In many cases, low-income households would see a tax increase of $100 or less, but some would be hit harder. Among households earning between $10,000 and $20,000 a year, about 1 in 5 would get a tax increase averaging over $1,000, the Tax Policy Center analysis showed. Households earning more than $1 million a year would get nearly 40% of the benefits of the plan, with a cut averaging about $265,000. Ryan has not challenged those figures.

Ryan would increase the military budget by $300 billion over the decade.

Ryan would keep in place the across-the-board cuts on the domestic side and deepen them by $700 billion more over the decade.

Some of the domestic spending cuts are spelled out in Ryan’s blueprint – a cut in food stamps, for example, that would impose new limits on the length of time recipients can receive aid. Like Medicaid, the food stamp program would become a grant to the states, giving local jurisdictions more say in how the money is spent. Pell Grants for college students would similarly be capped, with new requirements that make only lower-income students eligible. Worker training programs would also be reduced.

Overall, the CBO said in its analysis that under Ryan’s budget, spending on defense and all domestic programs other than Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid would fall to 6% of the total economy by 2030, about half the current level. That would mean a smaller share of the economy going to federal domestic spending other than entitlements than at any time since the New Deal.

Herr Doktor Professor

Culture Of Fraud

August 10, 2012, 5:10 pm

The big story of the week among the dismal science set is the Romney campaign’s white paper on economic policy, which represents a concerted effort by three economists – Glenn Hubbard, Greg Mankiw, and John Taylor – to destroy their own reputations.

Romney’s tax plan is now a demonstrated fraud – big tax cuts for the rich that he claims would be offset by closing loopholes, but the Tax Policy Center has demonstrated that the arithmetic can’t possibly work. He turns out to have been dishonest about when he really left Bain. And on and on.

Is it really surprising, then, that the economists who have decided to lend their names to the campaign have been caught up in this culture of fraud? Maybe some of them were initially reluctant, or thought they could support the campaign with selective renderings of the truth. But the pressure was on to be team players, to give the campaign material it could use – and so, one day, they all ended up putting their names to a report that is just plain dishonest, in ways that can be and have been easily documented.

Galt / Gekko 2012

August 11, 2012, 3:45 pm

What I do know is that anyone who believes in Ryan’s carefully cultivated image as a brave, honest policy wonk has been snookered. Mark Thoma reviews selected pieces I’ve written about Ryan; he is, in fact, a big fraud, who doesn’t care at all about fiscal responsibility, and whose policy proposals are sloppy as well as dishonest. Of course, this means that he’ll fit in to the Romney campaign just fine.

The Ryan Role

August 13, 2012, 5:24 am

Look, Ryan hasn’t “crunched the numbers”; he has just scribbled some stuff down, without checking at all to see if it makes sense. He asserts that he can cut taxes without net loss of revenue by closing unspecified loopholes; he asserts that he can cut discretionary spending to levels not seen since Calvin Coolidge, without saying how; he asserts that he can convert Medicare to a voucher system, with much lower spending than now projected, without even a hint of how this is supposed to work. This is just a fantasy, not a serious policy proposal.

What Ryan is good at is exploiting the willful gullibility of the Beltway media, using a soft-focus style to play into their desire to have a conservative wonk they can say nice things about. And apparently the trick still works.

Romney/Ryan: The Real Target

August 13, 2012, 1:54 pm

Like Bush in 2000, Ryan has a completely undeserved reputation in the media as a bluff, honest guy, in Ryan’s case supplemented by a reputation as a serious policy wonk. None of this has any basis in reality; Ryan’s much-touted plan, far from being a real solution, relies crucially on stuff that is just pulled out of thin air – huge revenue increases from closing unspecified loopholes, huge spending cuts achieved in ways not mentioned. See Matt Miller for more.

So whence comes the Ryan reputation? As I said in my last post, it’s because many commentators want to tell a story about US politics that makes them feel and look good – a story in which both parties are equally at fault in our national stalemate, and in which said commentators stand above the fray. This story requires that there be good, honest, technically savvy conservative politicians, so that you can point to these politicians and say how much you admire them, even if you disagree with some of their ideas; after all, unless you lavish praise on some conservatives, you don’t come across as nobly even-handed.

So that’s the constituency Romney is targeting: not a large segment of the electorate, but a few hundred at most editors, reporters, programmers, and pundits. His hope is that Ryan’s unjustified reputation for honest wonkery will transfer to the ticket as a whole.

Paul Ryan’s Budget Priorities: Transforming Government

By: David Dayen, Firedog Lake

Monday August 13, 2012 8:15 am

In fact, the Romney campaign has said that they would never reduce defense spending below 4% of GDP, which means the entire discretionary budget would have to have a negative rate of spending. That includes everything the government does outside of mandatory spending and things like Social Security with a dedicated funding stream. Ryan would also slash spending on mandatory programs for the poor. In fact, in his initial budget, 2/3 of all the spending cuts would hit the poor directly.

Tim Murphy has all of this in chart form. The bottom line is this: Ryan’s priorities have nothing to do with balancing the federal budget. His budget doesn’t do so for over 20 years. He voted for every single budget-busting program of the Bush Administration and he believes in federal spending to support his home district. Balancing the budget is a convenient crutch for his real goal – changing the way government works entirely. He thinks the poor don’t have a safety net, but a hammock. He wants to sever that hammock from the tree, and sever the relationship between government and its neediest citizens. He wants to either privatize government services or end them. Period, end of sentence.

But it’s not just Ryan and Romney, these are Democratic goals too and they’d much rather talk about who cuts less than about massive income inequality, stratification of social class, permanent unemployment, decaying infrastructure, and the humanitarian needs of the 99.9% of us who keep you in your phoney baloney jobs you ungrateful bootlickers.

The Great and Narrow Fiscal Debate of 2012

By: David Dayen, Firedog Lake

Monday August 13, 2012 9:35 am

(T)his is not only a debate we shouldn’t be having at a time of mass unemployment, but a debate the public doesn’t want in a time of mass unemployment. The media have done yeoman work in trying to conflate “the economy” with “the deficit” – and considering that we could actually use a higher deficit right now for stimulative reasons, this is partially true – but that’s not the debate we’re going to be having. We’re going to talk about what the role of government should play 20 years in the future, rather than what it should play right now when we have an unemployment crisis.

It’s a choice between one distinct ideology, and a technocratic center which doesn’t reflect the core belief of the party as it has been defined over the years. The part of the debate that believes Social Security needs to be adequate to provide for retirement and not cut from its already puny benefit – that will not get a hearing. The part of the debate that says that Medicare and Medicaid do a better job of controlling health costs than private insurance, and that they should be expanded and joined for a single-payer program, starting with allowing people to buy in to Medicare – that will not get a hearing. The part of the debate that says that in a time of mass unemployment, government must be the spender of last resort to increase aggregate demand and create jobs – that will not get a hearing. This great deception, that the pole of the debate represented by the Administration represents the [left]ward pole, will only facilitate a post-election move to cut safety net spending, as the “wise responsible middle course.”

I don’t think that the electoral outcome will give running room for policies to deal with mass unemployment – that seems like a rabbit out of the hat. It seems much more likely it will give running room for the policies that would naturally arise out of a two-month debate where one side wants to end a substantial portion of the safety net, and the other side merely wants to cut it in the spirit of compromise as part of a grand bargain.

Erskine Bowles Heaps Praise on Paul Ryan in 2011 Video

By: David Dayen, Firedog Lake

Tuesday August 14, 2012 7:35 am

Just avail yourself of Erskine Bowles, floated as a potential replacement at Treasury in an Obama second term, the “liberal” half of the Bowles-Simpson catfood commission, singing the praises of Paul Ryan, a year after Ryan rounded up his fellow House Republicans on the commission and denied the votes necessary to pass the deficit plan because they would have been considered a violation of the Norquist pledge, as a tax increase.

Is War Now Entertainment?

NBC debuted its latest version of reality programming with “Stars Earn Stripes,” hosted by retired Gen. Wesley Clark. The series premise is real celebrities competing in various challenges for charity based off actual training exercises used by the U.S. military, accompanied by members of the United States Armed Forces and others. The money will go to charities that honor the troops but, as Glenn Greenwald wonders, will actual troop feel about their combat experiences and lives being exploited for fun and profit by NBC since the money NBC will from commercials will not go to charity. But, hey, it’s for The Troops. Are you against the troops?

The ways in which this is all so sleazy, repulsive and propagandistic are too self-evident to require much discussion. There is, though, a real value: here we have a major television network finally being relatively candid about the fact that they view war and militarism, first and foremost, as a source of entertainment and profit. Recall the incredible April, 2003, speech given by then-MSNBC-star-war-correspondent Ashleigh Banfield regarding how NBC and MSNBC, then owned by military supplier GE, benefited from propaganstic war coverage in Iraq, a speech that (as she clearly anticipated when she delivered it) caused her subsequent demotion and then disappearance from MSNBC and cable news [..]

I suppose you watch enough television to know that the big TV show is over and that the war is now over essentially – the major combat operations are over anyway, according to the Pentagon and defense officials – but there is so much that is left behind. . . .

That said, what didn’t you see? You didn’t see where those bullets landed. You didn’t see what happened when the mortar landed. A puff of smoke is not what a mortar looks like when it explodes, believe me. There are horrors that were completely left out of this war. So was this journalism or was this coverage?

There is a grand difference between journalism and coverage, and getting access does not mean you’re getting the story, it just means you’re getting one more arm or leg of the story. And that’s what we got, and it was a glorious, wonderful picture that had a lot of people watching and a lot of advertisers excited about cable news.

But it wasn’t journalism, because I’m not so sure that we in America are hesitant to do this again, to fight another war, because it looked like a glorious and courageous and so successful terrific endeavor, and we got rid of a horrible leader: We got rid of a dictator, we got rid of a monster, but we didn’t see what it took to do that. [..]

It’s actually necessary that America have a network reality show that pairs big, muscular soldiers with adoring D-list celebrities – hosted by a former Army General along with someone who used to be on Dancing with the Stars – as they play sanitized war games for the amusement of viewers, all in between commercials from the nation’s largest corporations. That’s way too perfect of a symbol of American culture and politics for us not to have.

Nine Nobel Laureates have called for NBC to end the show:

Nine Nobel Peace laureates, including retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, on Monday called on television network NBC to cancel its “Stars Earn Stripes” reality show, calling it a bid to “sanitize war by likening it to an athletic competition.” [..]

“It is our belief that this program pays homage to no one anywhere and continues and expands on an inglorious tradition of glorifying war and armed violence.

“Real war is down in the dirt deadly. People – military and civilians – die in ways that are anything but entertaining,” the letter said.

The Nobel-winning signatories called on NBC to “stop airing this program.” [..]

A number of anti-war groups have sponsored a petition to get NBC to protest NBC’s glorification of war without the blood and dying:

NBC has created an entertainment show that breaks new ground. “Stars Earn Stripes” is co-hosted by retired U.S. general Wesley Clark.  NBC promoted the show during its Summer Olympics telecast as the next big sporting event.  But the sport it’s exhibiting is war.

On “Stars Earn Stripes,” celebrities pair-up with members of the U.S. military to compete at war-like tasks, including “long-range weapons fire.” Only there isn’t any of the killing or dying.

Our wars kill huge numbers of people, primarily civilians, and often children and the elderly.  NBC is not showing this reality on its war-o-tainment show any more than on its news programs.  Other nations’ media show the face of war, giving people a very different view of war-making.

In the United States, our tax dollars are spent by the billions each year marketing the idea that war is a sport and associating the military with sporting events.  Media companies like NBC are complicit in the propaganda.

While 57% of federal discretionary spending goes to the military, weapons makers can’t seem to get enough of our tax dollars.  In the spirit of transferring veterans’ care to the realm of private charity, “Stars Earn Stripes” will give prize money each week to “military-based charities” in order to “send a message.”  We have our own message that we will be delivering to NBC: Dont lie to us.

One of NBC’s corporate parents, General Electric, takes war very seriously, but not as human tragedy — rather, as financial profit.  (GE is a big weapons manufacturer.) A retired general hosting a war-o-tainment show is another step in the normalization of permanent war.

You can sign the petition here

On This Day In History August 14

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

August 14 is the 226th day of the year (227th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 139 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law.

On this day in 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs into law the Social Security Act. Press photographers snapped pictures as FDR, flanked by ranking members of Congress, signed into law the historic act, which guaranteed an income for the unemployed and retirees. FDR commended Congress for what he considered to be a “patriotic” act.

U.S. Social Security is a social insurance program that is funded through dedicated payroll taxes called Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA). Tax deposits are formally entrusted to the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund, the Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund, the Federal Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, or the Federal Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Fund.

The main part of the program is sometimes abbreviated OASDI (Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance) or RSDI (Retirement, Survivors, and Disability Insurance). When initially signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 as part of his New Deal, the term Social Security covered unemployment insurance as well. The term, in everyday speech, is used to refer only to the benefits for retirement, disability, survivorship, and death, which are the four main benefits provided by traditional private-sector pension plans. In 2004 the U.S. Social Security system paid out almost $500 billion in benefits.

By dollars paid, the U.S. Social Security program is the largest government program in the world and the single greatest expenditure in the federal budget, with 20.8% for social security, compared to 20.5% for discretionary defense and 20.1% for Medicare/Medicaid. Social Security is currently the largest social insurance program in the U.S., constituting 37% of government expenditure and 7% of the gross domestic product and is currently estimated to keep roughly 40% of all Americans age 65 or older out of poverty. The Social Security Administration is headquartered in Woodlawn, Maryland, just to the west of Baltimore.

Social Security privatization became a major political issue for more than three decades during the presidencies of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.