Monday, January 31, 2005

Melting Glaciers

See this site for comparisons of Alaskan glaciers photographed a century ago and again last year.

Eerie Parallel

Kevin Drum via Tom Cleaver of Redress Press notes the following NY Times article from September 3, 1967:
U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote
Officials Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror

by Peter Grose, Special to the New York Times

WASHINGTON, Sept. 3-- United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting.

According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong.
The article goes on to explain how U.S. officials declare that this election will bring legitimacy to the newly-formed government in Saigon, setting the stage for withdrawal of U.S. military occupation in the country.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Privatization and Bigotry

As I have noted here, the recent claims by the Bush administration that Social Security treats African-Americans unfairly is false for several reasons. The essence of the administration's argument is that the lower life expectancy of African-Americans diminishes the value of the Social Security benefits they receive. The argument is based on a thoroughly discredited report by the conservative Heritage Foundation. Even as early as October of 1998, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities offered this thorough critique. I recommend reading the entire CBPP report, but here are its main conclusions:
The Social Security Administration's Office of the Chief Actuary found that Heritage both overstated the payroll taxes that workers pay for Social Security and understated the Social Security retirement benefits that workers receive, with these errors being particularly large for African Americans.

Heritage inappropriately assumed that if Social Security is not privatized, it will be restored to long-term actuarial balance entirely by raising payroll taxes and that this tax increase will begin in 2015, a decade earlier than the Social Security actuaries project would be necessary.

Heritage failed to calculate the rate of return for the full Social Security system. It ignored Social Security disability and survivors benefits in making its calculations.

Heritage failed to factor in transition costs — the costs that workers would have to pay under a privatized system to continue financing the Social Security benefits of current retirees and near-retirees.

The Heritage estimates fail to take into account administrative costs, the fees that investment companies charge on individual accounts, and the costs of converting accounts to annuities, an omission that results in a substantial overstatement of the rates of return for individual accounts.

Heritage ignores the variation in rates of return that would occur with individual accounts and the likelihood that low-income workers and minorities would receive below-average rates of return.
Then, after dismantling a number of the false assumptions which undergird the case for privatization, the CBPP report concludes as follows:
The Heritage analysis suffers from large flaws. It understates the rate of return for Social Security and overstates the returns under individual accounts. When the deficiencies in the analysis are corrected, the African-American and Hispanic-American communities no longer are the winners Heritage portrays them as being under these accounts. They are more likely to be injured than aided by the elimination of Social Security retirement benefits and their replacement with individual accounts.
All of this analysis is important as a precondition to capture the essence of the problem in the Bush administration's rhetoric. These flaws in their argument are well-known; even the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration has written a memo pointing out "major errors in the methodology" of the Heritage report. To traffic these lies with the intent to mislead is bad enough, but consider the cynical assumption upon which the entire argument rests: that high infant mortality rates among African-Americans is expected to continue unabated for decades to come. Rather than treat the social inequalities in our health-care system as a problem to be fixed, President Bush is in effect establishing them as part of the permanent structure of our society. Paul Krugman notes this moral dimension of the argument in yesterday's NY Times:
What's really shameful about Mr. Bush's exploitation of the black death rate, however, is what it takes for granted.

The persistent gap in life expectancy between African-Americans and whites is one measure of the deep inequalities that remain in our society - including highly unequal access to good-quality health care. We ought to be trying to diminish that gap, especially given the fact that black infants are two and half times as likely as white babies to die in their first year.

Now nobody can expect instant progress in reducing health inequalities. But the benefits of Social Security privatization, if any, won't materialize for many decades. By using blacks' low life expectancy as an argument for privatization, Mr. Bush is in effect taking it as a given that 40 or 50 years from now, large numbers of African-Americans will still be dying before their time.

Is this an example of what Mr. Bush famously called "the soft bigotry of low expectations?" Maybe not: it isn't particularly soft to treat premature black deaths not as a tragedy we must end but as just another way to push your ideological agenda. But bigotry - yes, that sounds like the right word.

A Truthful Bush Speech

Juan Cole imagines a truthful speech by President Bush from the fall of 2002:
My fellow Americans:

I want us to go to war against Iraq. But I want us to have our eyes open and be completely realistic.

A war against Iraq will be expensive. It will cost you, the taxpayer, about $300 billion over five years. I know Wolfowitz is telling you Iraq's oil revenues will pay for it all, but that's ridiculous. Iraq only pumps about $10 billion a year worth of oil, and it's going to need that just to run the new government we're putting in. No, we're going to have to pay for it, ourselves. I'm going to ask you for $25 billion, then $80 billion, then another $80 billion. And so on. I'm going to be back to you for money more often than that unemployed relative that you don't like. The cost of the war is going to drive up my already massive budget deficits from about $370 billion to more like $450 billion a year. Just so you understand, I'm going to cut taxes on rich people at the same time that I fight this war. Then I'm going to borrow the money to fight it, and to pay for much of what the government does. And you and your children will be paying off that debt for decades. In the meantime, your dollar isn't going to go as far when you buy something made overseas, since running those kinds of deficits will weaken our currency. (And I've set things up so that most things you buy will be made overseas.) We'll have to keep interest rates higher than they would otherwise have been and keep the economy in the doldrums, because otherwise my war deficits would cause massive inflation.

So I'm going to put you, your children, and your grandchildren deeply in hock to fight this war. I'm going to make it so there won't be a lot of new jobs created, and I'm going to use the excuse of the Federal red ink to cut way back on government services that you depend on. For the super-rich, or as I call them, "my base," this Iraq war thing is truly inspired. We use it to put up the deficit to the point where the Democrats and the more bleeding heart Republicans in Congress can't dare create any new programs to help the middle classes. We all know that the super-rich--about 3 million people in our country of 295 million-- would have to pay for those programs, since they own 45 percent of the privately held wealth. I'm damn sure going to make sure they aren't inconvenienced that way for a good long time to come.

Then, this Iraq War that I want you to authorize as part of the War on Terror is going to be costly in American lives. By the time of my second inaugural, over 1,300 brave women and men of the US armed forces will be dead as a result of this Iraq war, and 10,371 will have been maimed and wounded, many of them for life. America's streets and homeless shelters will likely be flooded, down the line, with some of these wounded vets....

So why do I want to go to war? Look, folks, I'm just not going to tell you. I don't have to tell you. There is little transparency about these things in the executive, because we're running a kind of rump empire out of the president's office. After 20 or 30 years it will all leak out. Until then, you'll just have to trust me.

Iraqi Opinion Poll

According to this Zogby International poll:

Sunni Arabs who want the US out of Iraq now or very soon: 82%
Shiites who want the US out of Iraq now or very soon: 69%

Sunni Arabs who say they will vote on Sunday: 9%
Sunni Arabs who say they definitely will not vote on Sunday: 76%
Shiites who say they likely or definitely will vote: 80%
Kurds who say they likely or definitely will vote: 56%

Friday, January 28, 2005

Concerned Citizens

Let me give a quick shout out to my uncle-in-law who is blogging from Minnesota. Neil Haugerud is a former sheriff and Democratic State Representative, as well as a simply interesting guy and informed citizen. He has written a book of short stories called Jailhouse Stories about his days as sheriff of Fillmore County in southeastern Minnesota.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Apparently, in the State of Exception authoring memos which put the U.S. government on record for the first time in its history as sanctioning the use of torture is not enough to prevent one's confirmation as Attorney General by the Senate Judiciary Committee. However, failing to disclose and then denying one's role in covering up the President's (then Governor) embarrassing DUI may be just the hitch that grinds the whole process to a halt. This may be the story with White House counsel Alberto Gonzales's nomination for the cabinet post. See Michael Isikoff's Newsweek article.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman writes the obituary of privatization schemes in his NY Times op-ed:
President Bush is like a financial adviser who tells you that at the rate you're going, you won't be able to afford retirement - but that you shouldn't do anything mundane like trying to save more. Instead, you should take out a huge loan, put the money in a mutual fund run by his friends (with management fees to be determined later) and place your faith in capital gains.

That, once you cut through all the fine phrases about an "ownership society," is how the Bush privatization plan works. Payroll taxes would be diverted into private accounts, forcing the government to borrow to replace the lost revenue. The government would make up for this borrowing by reducing future benefits; yet workers would supposedly end up better off, in spite of reduced benefits, through the returns on their accounts.

The whole scheme ignores the most basic principle of economics: there is no free lunch.

There are several ways to explain why this particular lunch isn't free, but the clearest comes from Michael Kinsley, editorial and opinion editor of The Los Angeles Times. He points out that the math of Bush-style privatization works only if you assume both that stocks are a much better investment than government bonds and that somebody out there in the private sector will nonetheless sell those private accounts lots of stocks while buying lots of government bonds.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Fun with Self-Referentiality

Josh Marshall notices the humor in CNN's latest headline:
Poll: Nation split on Bush as uniter or divider.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Inauguration Blues

In honor of the inauguration:


Privatization: The Real Story?

Given that no Social Security privatization scheme is likely to pass in either branch of Congress (at least, so it appears at the moment), Ed Kilgore of the DLC wonders what the true purpose of this entire campaign has been.
You have to wonder if the purpose, if only the fallback purpose, of the Bush SocSec campaign is to suddenly shift the debate from personal retirement savings accounts financed by payroll taxes to personal general savings accounts stuffed with sheltered upper-crust investment income.
In other words, this has all been a pretext--a bait and switch--for the creation of tax-sheltered savings accounts for the wealthy.

16th Century Candor

I enjoy the frankness of the authors of the 16th century. Rabelais' sophomoric scatology, Marguerite of Navarre's sexually explicit tales, Montaigne's open discussion of his impotence (only occasional, mind you), and this passage from Luther:
These words ‘just’ and ‘justice of God’ were a thunderbolt in my conscience. They soon struck terror in me who heard them. He is just, therefore He punishes me. But once when in this tower I was meditating on those words, ‘the just lives by faith,’ ‘justice of God,’ I soon had the thought whether we ought to live justified by faith, and God’s justice ought to be the salvation of every believer, and soon my soul was revived. Therefore it is God’s justice which justifies us and saves us. And these words became a sweeter message for me. This knowledge the Holy Spirit gave me on the privy in the tower.
Luther did not really have to tell us exactly when and where this key revelation came to him. Indeed, in a later era such as that of Descartes, this sort of personal detail would not have been deemed "respectable" enough for public disclosure. Psychoanalytic theorist Norman O. Brown makes much of Luther's recounting of the "tower experience" in Life Against Death, writing that "Luther with his freedom from hypocrisy, his all-embracing vitality, and his all-embracing faith, records the scene of his crucial religious experience with untroubled candor." Stephen Toulmin's Cosmopolis has more about the "untroubled candor" of 16th century thinkers. At that point, there was an openness to the complexity of life that dissipated with the onset of rationalism in the following century. The question for Toulmin is whether we can retrieve some of that candor now.

Against Academics

In teaching Erasmus recently, I read a passage of Encomium Moriae (The Praise of Folly) which hits pretty close to home in terms of criticizing academics who would quote the name of Erasmus' book in Latin and such. Against academics, he writes:
They contrive to make their profession seem to be the most difficult of all. What is actually tedious they consider brilliant.... The most touching event is when they compliment each other.... They are fools praising fools and dunces praising dunces.

Monday, January 17, 2005

War on Facts (Part CXXX)

The Bull Moose sees the true meaning of President Bush's recent comment that he would not be seeking a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage after all. His reason is that the Defense of Marriage Act should be sufficient, but he claimed precisely the opposite during the campaign. Thus, the Bull Moose writes:
The dirty little secret of the Republican Party is that behind closed doors the establishment has contempt for the religious right. And the GOP illuminati certainly do not leave their homes in the morning with a passion to prevent Jim from marrying John or to save a fetus from an abortionist. For instance, many have loved ones who are gay, or they may be gay themselves. The powers that be in the GOP are far more concerned about eliminating the estate tax for multimillionaires than halting the death of the unborn. Here is a thought experiment - if you really believe that the sacred institution of marriage is in dire jeopardy, would you make private social security accounts your top priority?

The GOP big wigs pay obeisance to the religious right because they provide the foot soldiers for their campaigns. The Republican establishment cynically manipulates the cultural issues because they recognize that a party that is dedicated to redistributing wealth upward has little chance of majority status. Once elected, Republicans reward the religious right with some crumbs while the real goodies are handed out to their wealthy donors and their corporate cronies.


The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 3, 1968:
Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
It is prophetic in so many ways.

Against Oligarchy

See if you can guess who wrote the following:
The depravity of the business classes of our country is not less than has been supposed, but infinitely greater. The official services of America, national, state, and municipal, in all their branches and departments, except the judiciary, are saturated in corruption, bribery, falsehood, mal-administration; and the judiciary is tainted. The great cities reek with respectable as much as non-respectable robbery and scoundrelism.
Apart from some stylistic differences, this sounds about like one of Howard Dean's criticisms of "Ken Lay and his boys at Enron" or "Dick Cheney and the corrupt Halliburton contracts." Actually, it is Walt Whitman from his Democratic Vistas published in 1871, as quoted by Jeffrey Stout in Democracy & Tradition.

ELCA Report on Sexuality

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has published the report (warning: PDF) from its Task Force for Studies on Sexuality, i.e., essentially the results of its deliberations on gay marriage and ordination. The upshot is that the church should agree to disagree in order to maintain unity, recommending that the chuch "concentrate on finding ways to live together faithfully in the midst of our disagreements."

For those hoping for a prophetic message like that of the United Church of Christ or a showdown like that in the Episcopal Church regarding the ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson, this report will be disappointing. However, its neutrality is itself a statement in favor of toleration, and there are some signals toward local autonomy that may be heartening for communities that find this whole debate antiquated. For example, though no formal changes were made to the definition of the sacraments or to the guidelines for church discipline, the report states that "this church may refrain from disciplining those who in good conscience, and for the sake of outreach, ministry, and the commitment to a continuing dialogue, call or approve partnered gay or lesbian candidates whom they believe to be otherwise in compliance with [the standards regarding the sexual conduct for rostered leaders] and to refrain from disciplining those rostered people so approved and called." In other words, the same things are still not allowed, but if a community chooses a form of principled disobedience, its choice will be respected.

In general, this reflects an approach to ethical truth that is contextual, local, particular, and timely rather than decontextualized, general, universal, and timeless. It is Wittgensteinian and practical, rather than Cartesian and theoretical. I would guess that Martin Luther would approve of this direction.

One interesting though unsurprising statistic: while the Lutherans surveyed oppose same-sex blessings and rostering (ordination) 56% to 23%, the ratio is quite different for those age 24 and younger: 43% favor these practices, while 27% oppose them. Indeed, opposition steadily increases up the age scale, indicating that the consensus may change dramatically within a generation. And, of course, it will, as it has on other contentious issues in the past, e.g., women's ordination. It is just a matter of time.

FoW Wow

For you readers out their who know Chris and Adam or any of you who just like the Fountains of Wayne, you might be interested to hear about their latest exploits. I was (halfway) watching football this weekend while following the newly walking ten-month-old all around the house when I heard "Stacy's Mom" accompanying a Dr. Pepper commercial. Then (twice) I heard "All Kinds of Time" setting the tone for an NFL Network commercial--one of those "spirit of football" sorts--depicting slow-motion footage of famous quarterbacks standing in the "pocket." And I thought about Chris and Adam's pockets: cha-ching.

War on Facts (Holiday Edition)

In honor of the sacrifice made by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for the citizens of this country, President Bush has decided to target one of his insidious pieces of propaganda at the African American population. The Star Tribune has the report:
Of all the lies -- let's call them by their right name -- that the Bush administration is spreading about Social Security, none is as vile as the canard Bush repeated last Tuesday, when he said, "African-American males die sooner than other males do, which means the [Social Security] system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people. And that needs to be fixed." That is an entirely phony assertion; it has been debunked by the Social Security Administration, by the Government Accountability Office and by other experts. Bush and those around him know that. For them to repeat what they know to be a blatant lie is despicable fear-mongering.
...[The faulty study by the Heritage Foundation upon which Bush bases his remark] failed to factor in the progressivity of Social Security benefits; on a taxes-paid to benefits-received ratio, those with lower incomes get more back. Blacks tend to earn less than whites, and thus their Social Security benefits are larger in comparison to taxes they pay.
...[Furthermore,] Social Security is more than retirement benefits. It also includes survivor and disability benefits. Blacks benefit disproportionately from those programs. While blacks are 11 percent of the workforce, for example, they are 18 percent of those receiving disability benefits. Almost half the blacks receiving Social Security -- 47 percent -- are getting disability benefits or survivor benefits.
Remember a couple of years ago, the White House honored this holiday by submitting an amicus brief in the Michigan case against affirmative action. Now they use this moment to announce, in albeit indirect and deceptive form, their intention to deprive African Americans of one of their most beneficial social programs.

As for the truth about Social Security, see also this article by Roger Lowenstein in the New York Times Magazine.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

American Monsters

In a recent essay which can be found here in The Religion & Culture Web Forum of the University of Chicago's Marty Center website, Jeremy Biles elevates his Ph.D. in Religion and Literature from the University of Chicago to its apex in writing on a topic that no one else I know could have done such justice: the monster truck. I highly recommend reading the whole essay (and viewing the accompanying pictures as well), but here are some of the highlights.
... Monster trucks, I contend, are complicit with the sinister, negative, oppositional aspect of the sacred, and embody the transgressive, destructive force associated with death and the underworld. Like many other countercultural phenomena, this domain of custom culture inspires its fearful fascination through a combination of underworld associations and spectacular displays of destructive power. In particular, these trucks are the automotive embodiments of that most conspicuous form of potent alterity: sacred monstrosity.
In a section entitled "Auto-da-fé: The Car as Icon," Mr. Biles compares this sacred monstrosity to the epitome of profane identity in the industrialized West: the ordinary automobile.
... The dream of auto-mobility that found its realization in the production and distribution of the car is part and parcel of the American dream on the whole. Indeed, the freely roving person behind the wheel might be considered the horizontal counterpart of vertical or upward mobility within a free market economy.
... However, the almost religious zeal with which cars have been embraced in America has not, in fact, culminated in the triumph of individualism. On the contrary, “mass car ownership heralded the beginning of consumer capitalism” — and what the automobile heralded at its advent has also become its destiny: The car is no longer only an icon of American individualism, but simultaneously an icon of American mass consumerism and the triumph of corporate capitalism.
... To be sure, the icon of the automobile retains an aura. The peculiar seductiveness of cars is at once double and other to the aura of the monster truck. It is a seduction predicated on the allure of mass-produced objects, and underwritten by the exhilaration of consumption itself. The fetishization of commodities is thus epitomized in the automobile, which, however, far from assuring a mobilizing individualism, is the embodiment of the age of mass production, with its attendant impediments and de-individualizing effects. For example, the irony inherent in the mass-production of machines of auto-mobility finds its most poignant expression in the traffic jam. A parody of the assembly line, the traffic jam is a phenomenon that dramatically displays the diminution of individuality and the arresting of mobility, forward or upward.
In the final section "From Traffic Jam to Monster Jam: Hyperbolic Consumption," Mr. Biles argues that the "the Monster Jam is staged as the antithesis of the traffic jam."
... If the car has become the icon of mass consumerism and its de-individualizing effects, the monster truck—originally the customized, singular, unique creation of individual labor—is the expression of a kind of rage against the machines that embody consumerist culture in late capitalist society.
... In fact, the monster trucks might be said to apotheosize road rage—that violent expression of opposition to the frustrating, de-individualizing effects of a road glutted with traffic—while the trucks’ ritualized auto destructions afford a cathartic "visual pleasure…associated with humanity’s most atavistic traits and rudimentary instincts."
There is a twist, however.
... But the exuberantly sensational and gratifying images of this mechanical mayhem are by no means the straightforward expressions of wish-fulfillment. Nor do they simply represent a revolutionary reclamation of individualism and freedom in confrontation with the homogenizing effects of capitalism and mass consumerism. On the contrary, I will argue that the spectacle of the Monster Jam dramatizes an inversion that ultimately “preserve[s]…sociopolitical and economic structures intact,” with corporate America left standing as the beneficiary of the ritually affirmed status quo.
... The ritual of the Monster Jam capitalizes on the audience’s ambivalence vis-à-vis the automobile through a three-act challenge to, and concomitant re-affirmation of, capitalist ideology.
... The first act of the Monster Jam rally consists of competitive races between pairs of monster trucks over a looping semi-circular course with impediments that include rows of junked cars.
... In an iconoclastic rage, the monster trucks variously trample, crush, or overleap the anonymous cars, those icons of freedom and individuality that have come to emblematize mass production. Here, then, is the initial challenge to the dominant ideology. But this routine simultaneously heralds the triumphant re-instatement of an American economic ideal: individual talent and effort, embodied in the custom vehicles, are the inevitable victors of a ritual of competitive consumerism; far from corroding or opposing the system, they here dramatically comply with its conditions.
... Lumbering to the center of the arena is a “transformer,” an earth-moving machine outfitted as a fire-breathing, car-eating monster. Raising its victim up with powerful claws, the Robosaurus, seen here, scorches the automobile before crushing it between mechanical mandibles, making carnage of the car. The singular monster devours and destroys the anonymous automobile: thus the second challenge. However, in this auto-cannibalistic display, the massive monster embodies the very thing it was to consume: mass consumption itself. In a moment of conspicuous, indeed hyperbolic, consumption, the transformer violently literalizes consumerism by devouring the automobile—a spectacular, fascinating re-affirmation of capitalist ideology.
... In the third act, the monster trucks participate in a freestyle competition in which each machine is given the opportunity to display as much creative destruction as possible, crushing and jumping cars, letting their engines roar, and spinning donuts that stir up thick nimbuses of dust. It is in this third act that the trucks’ drivers, attempting to whip the crowd into a frenzy with risky stunts, are most likely to lose control of their vehicles. On the night that I attended the Monster Jam, a truck called Destroyer fulfilled the destiny implied in its name. Using junked cars as a ramp, Destroyer attempted to ride out a wheelie, before tipping over and crashing. This was clearly the highlight of the evening. With the crash of the monster, a staple of any Monster Jam rally, the audience goes wild. In fact, the ideal outcome of the freestyle competition, from the fans’ perspective, is a crash. For this reason: what we fans love most is to see a monster work itself into such a frenzy of destruction that it actually exhausts itself, destroys itself. In this instance, Destroyer’s frenzy of destruction extended beyond the cars to the very agent of destruction. The automobile-destroying Destroyer proved also to be autodestructive. But Destroyer’s crash marks the third re-affirmation of capitalism—this one with Aristotelian overtones, for the crash is also the death of the monster, and has all the cathartic moment of a tragedy. This catharsis has a rhetorical, persuasive effect: in stirring up excessive emotions of rebellion and opposition—those emotions most likely to corrode the prevailing ideology—it also rids the audience of those emotions. It thus effects a rewarding, gratifying release of potentially dangerous sentiments. To the cheers of fans, the destruction of the destroying machine spectacularly glorifies the risk-taking individual even as he stumbles and crashes, again and again.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Essential Reading

Essential reading on Social Security:

1. Kevin Drum's "Social Security: A Conversation."

2. Brad DeLong's "The Social Security Party Line: Talking Points."

War on Facts (Part CXXV)

This news from the front comes to us from Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post: President Bush is the "President of Fabricated Crises."

The Politics of Social Security

A good article about the Social Security by U.S. Senator Tim Johnson appeared yesterday. He writes a number of the main points that everyone should know.
...The central component of the program has always been that seniors would know exactly how much money they could expect every month. There would be no guessing game or fear of market crashes. Social Security was to remain a secure, guaranteed benefit.
...While the Social Security Trust Fund has a very long-term problem, it is not an immediate risk. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Trust Fund remains solvent for nearly half a century, until 2052; and even after that, all recipients would continue to receive roughly 80 percent of today's Social Security buying power. This means we must work together on the best plan possible for future beneficiaries and not rubber-stamp the first plan floated.
...The [President's] scheme adjusts benefit levels based on consumer price indexing rather than wage indexing. This would leave beneficiaries with a smaller annual cost of living adjustment, or COLA, at a time when Medicare premiums are skyrocketing at nearly 17 percent per year.
...These changes and the resulting benefit cuts would apply to everyone, even people who chose not to set up a private account. Such a plan essentially results in a steep "retirement tax" on all seniors. Such a plan is not "reform" and it will not "strengthen" Social Security.
...Further, the privatization component of the plan doesn't fix the basic solvency problem for the Social Security Trust Fund. Rather, private accounts would throw the Trust Fund up to $2 trillion deeper in the red. Future generations would be tied down with this debt -- a debt we would likely be forced to borrow from countries like China and Japan.
...I believe that we must honor our promise to those who have worked hard and earned the right to a secure retirement that is safe and protected in their late years.
This has just the right mix of reasons based on facts and non-cognitive rhetoric used so effectively by Republican politicians.

On a related note, this issue of "defending the security of Social Security" could become a source of great advantage to Democrats (and all who oppose privatization) in some districts where (a) the incumbent is a Republican supporter of privatization and (b) the demographics of the district lean toward senior citizens, i.e., recipients of Social Security benefits. The Left Coaster has the details.

Monday, January 10, 2005


Kevin Drum can't figure out why our society is so blinkered.
How did we get to this point? How did we convince ourselves as a society that raising taxes by a small amount in order to keep Social Security benefits at a barely livable level is literally unthinkable?

Someday our children will look back on this era and wonder what kind of madness overtook us. Healthcare costs are spiralling out of control, we're spending $100 billion a year on an unwinnable war overseas, the combination of budget deficits and trade deficits threatens to ruin us, and yet somehow what really matters is that we have to cut Social Security benefits today — today! — in order to avoid the mere possibility of a small tax increase decades in the future.

It's madness. And yet we live in a time when madness has become conventional wisdom. I wonder what it will take to wake us up?
Good question. And when we finally do wake up, will we realize that we are all giant bugs?


Saturday, January 08, 2005

Back in Business

Almost as soon as I set foot in my door after a fairly lengthy vacation, I (a) came down with a cold and (b) lost all of the data on my harddrive. Fortunately, everything important was backed up. So I have just finished wiping the harddrive and reinstalling the operating system and all of the software. It is actually sort of exhilarating to have what feels like a brand new computer again. Maybe I'll start doing this every month.

What happened? Some sort of software malfunction. It is difficult to say because I had been updating anti-virus software as well as loading some other programs.

On the whole, the process of reinstalling everything, which was aided greatly by my brother's knowledge and patience, went smoothly for the most part. The next time I buy a computer, however, it is definitely going to be a Mac. If you have ever experienced something like this, you might appreciate an article entitled "How to install Windows XP in 5 hours or less." Here are the first twelve steps (out of 147):

1. Back up entire d: drive to iMac upstairs. rsync rocks.
2. Find Windows XP install disc.
3. Reboot with Windows XP install disc.
4. Asked for product activation. Curse Microsoft.
5. Search my house in vain for my original, 100% legitimate, retail Windows XP box.
6. Reboot.
7. Search control panels in vain for a window, dialog, tab, or pane that displays my current product key.
8. Search Google for “windows xp get current product key".
9. Find a utility on a cracker web page in Russia that displays the current product key. This is one of the more lame utilities, since most of the good ones allow you to change it. I don’t wish to change it; I actually have a perfectly good product key, I just don’t know what it is.
10. Reboot with Windows XP install disc.
11. Reboot repeatedly as required.
12. Boot screen. Choose between “Windows XP Professional” and “Windows XP Professional". Brilliant. Pick one. The wrong one. Boot into f**ked Windows XP install. Hard reboot. Pick the right one. Make mental note to hack boot.ini later.