Howard Unleashed, Once More

Howard Dean addressed the Campaign For The America’s Future’s “Take Back America Conference” this morning. It was vintage Dean–an over the top stemwinder with no regard for facts or logic. A principal theme of the speech was retirement income, both Social Security and private pensions. Try, if you can, to follow Dean’s logic:

It wasn’t enough for the president to try to wreck the public pension system that we had. It wasn’t enough for him to try to turn over Social Security to the same people who brought us Enron, his good friends and political contributors.

Huh? What part of President Bush’s proposed Social Security reform would “turn over Social Security to the same people who brought us Enron”? Presumably Dean is talking about private accounts. But those voluntary investments would be limited to approved bond and stock funds. Unless Dean thinks that all investments are somehow the same as “Enron,” his charge makes no sense. And, by the way, Dean is a multimillionaire, mainly due to inherited wealth. Where do you think he keeps his own money? Under the mattress?
Dean continues:

Pension plans ought not to be controlled by companies, they ought to be controlled by the people who those pensions belong to. That’s the working people of America.

Of course, that’s just what President Bush’s personal accounts would do: put retirement savings under the control of the “working people of America,” just as 401(k) plans put retirement savings under the control of millions of Americans. If working people have a right to control their own retirement savings, then why isn’t Dean supporting Bush’s plan?
Dean continues with this ludicrous charge:

Enron began around the time the president took office.

Normally I would assume that this is the kind of thing Dean blurts out on the spur of the moment, without premeditation. Except here, his speech was largely devoted to talking about Enron, pension plans and Social Security, so it seems more likely that this patently false claim was scripted. As pretty much everyone knows, Enron’s illicit activities occupied more or less the entire decade of the 90s. Within months after President Bush’s inauguration, Enron announced its first billion dollar write-down, and an SEC investigation had been launched. I can only assume that Dean thinks the old rules are still in place, and because he is a Democrat, he can get away with saying anything. Here’s more:

This week the labor department estimated in 2004, underfunding of pension plans, grew to $450 billion. 60% of companies take advantage of outdated accounting rules to avoid making annual contributions. The president wants to take away our Social Security. and then he’s going to take away the private pension plans, too? * * *
Forty thousand Americans lost their pensions. Another tens of thousands just last week, when the courts took away the United Airlines’ workers’ pensions. this is a serious problem.

Well, it is a serious problem. That’s why the administration has proposed a package of reforms including stricter accounting rules and measures to shore up the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. CBS News reports:

The proposal has won praise from some of the Bush administration’s usual critics for being financially sound and a necessary fix to prevent another debacle like the savings and loan crisis in the 1980s, in which taxpayers ended up bailing out thousands of failed banks. But it’s also been criticized by some in the business community, who are usually supportive of the administration.

And the Executive Director of the PBGC says that “[t]he funding-rule weaknesses highlighted in this [GAO] report are the very ones the Administration

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