Copyright © 2005 Frank Lynch.
Me: Frank Lynch
These are my mundane daily ramblings.
Echoes? There's still a sheen on yesterday's Iraqi elections; certainly in terms of the humanity, we should continue to celebrate the limited blood and the massive turnout. We can all agree on that, right?
Now, would it be untoward to think of the future, and compare yesterday's voting to the joy and exuberance of a wedding day? I mean, there will be tough days ahead, when dissent will need to be worked out. And of course there will be great days to accompany those tough days. That kind of sober approach isn't unwelcome, is it?
Okaaaaaay... Now that I've taken you that far, how about
thinking about 1967, and the United States' enthusiasm over
elections with 83% turnout in Vietnam and the good fortune we
hoped for then? (Any raincoats at the parade, or is this
like the final scene in Holes?)
New rules of engagement for the press? A Washington Post reporter writes that his cell phone was confiscated when he was phoning in notes for a story, because he'd been asking questions without an official escort. Not while working in Iraq, mind you, but while covering an inaugural ball:
Was the purpose of the escorts to monitor the reporter? Nope, the reporter thinks the escorts were there to intimidate any to whom the reporter might talk:
Philosphical arguments for privatization: Ponzi scheme? An argument frequently made against the structure of Social Security as it exists is that, at its core, it's some kind of pyramid or Ponzi scheme, because payments to retirees are dependent on the payroll taxes of new workers. But pyramid schemes and Ponzi schemes occur when there are finite pools of people funding the others. Unless we go through some staggering decrease in birthrates, Social Security doesn't fit this concept: calling Social Security a pyramid/Ponzi scheme is over-the-top rhetoric.
Don't believe me? Go argue with the Social Security Administration:
Social Security is and always has been either a "pay-as-you-go" system or one that was partially advance-funded. Its structure, logic, and mode of operation have nothing in common with Ponzi schemes or chain letters or pyramid schemes.
Why are the Iraqi elections a vindication? Earlier this week, Bush refused to answer what kind of turnout he thought would be required in order to demonstrate the elections were a success. "The fact that they're voting in itself is successful," he answered to a reporter's question. So how could Bush say that the high turnout confirms the Iraqi desire for democracy, when clearly had their been low turnout Bush would not have said anything like, "Well, I guess they don't care." It makes no sense.
Others look at the turnout as a message that the US can go:
Other analysts said recent opinion polls indicate that many Iraqis viewed the election as one way to accelerate the U.S. withdrawal rather than as a vindication of U.S. policy. "They realize that the quickest way to get the United States out of Iraq is to create a new government," said Henri Barkey, a former State Department policy planning staff member now at Lehigh University. "Not to vote would mean a continuation of the status quo. So the election is not a vindication of U.S. policy."
Are African-Americans really at a disadvantage in Social Security? The Heritage Foundation says it looked at everything which Paul Krugman talked about in his Friday column, and did so back in 1998. Their conclusion? Even when you take survivor benefits, lower incomes, and so on into consideration, African-Americans are still disadvantaged. And they say it's due the earlier mortalities of those who reach retirement age.
Let's say that's true, just for argument. Why would you want
to amend Social Security in response to that? Wouldn't you want
to work to extend the life spans of those who reach retirement,
so that African-Americans live as long as whites? "Fixing" Social
Security to compensate African Americans is like fixing Social
Security in order to deal with the federal budget's reliance on
the Social Security Trust Fund as a buyer of bonds. The firemen
are hosing down the wrong house.
The low level of bloodshed in the Iraqi
elections is surely attributable to their occurring a mere
five days after Robert Burns' birthday. Bagpipes go back to ancient
Egypt, you know.
African-Americans have all new bonds to break. At least, that's what I think, and they're entitled to disagree with me. But the race card is being played pretty baldly by those promoting privatization; not just by Bush, but by pundits and bloggers who support the concept.
Lost in this, but noted by some, is that Bush wasn't expressing any interest in alleviating differences in life spans, or announcing new health programs to help African-Americans. No, their mortality rate was merely a ploy.
Now, I'm not an African-American, and can't speak for any of
them. But if I were, I would say that in this regard I didn't
need Bush's spotlight. Come to me when you're trying to
help me, Mr. President, not when you're trying to
"Hallelujah" may be the wrong word given
the circumstances, but congratulations to the Iraqi people
for their bravery in flocking to the
polls today. And thank you, God, for the blood has been very
limited, all things considered. And thank you, President Bush,
for implementing better planning on this phase.
Redefining the terms of the Social Security battle. Over at MyDD, Jerome Armstrong has a good post on how the Privatizers may be backing away from "crisis" language (no more asteroids hitting the earth!) and at the same time accelerating their 2014 "tipping point" to 2008, that point at which baby boomers start retiring. (You can see some of the term war going on here, at Social Security Choice, where Kerry Kerstetter tries to suggest that the only people who think it's merely a problem and not a crisis are those who think they'll be unaffected for one reason or another; and some back pedaling to "Serious Problem" here, by Adam Doverspike, based on his read of poll opinions.)
Using even 2014 as a crisis point has always struck me as a little myopic. Every year, millions of Americans retire, and start to draw on their savings, just as Social Security will be doing in 2014. Just as Americans plan for retirement, Social Security has also planned. It's not a crisis; it's happening on schedule.
I agree that something has to be done to improve a program
which will not be able to meet all its obligations 40-50 years
from now (although it will still be meeting around 80% of them at
that point). But completely revamp it? That's like saying the
answer to unwanted pregnancies is abortion.
Who could profit from privatization? Much has been made about the possibility that Wall Street will have a great new opportunity for fees and commissions should private accounts go through. But I suspect that this is not the only place where profit can occur. While the stock prices of the 90's may have been inflated due to irrational exuberance, surely inflation also occurred due to an increased amount of money chasing a limited number of stock shares, thanks to far greater market participation through employee 401k's and so on. When an increased money supply chases a limited number of goods and services, inflation is basically general; but when that money focuses on a specific sector, prices in that sector will rise.
I could be talking through my hat, but if more money comes into the stock market, share prices will increase. And those who hold the shares before the money flows in will have an opportunity for additional profit by selling their shares. (Won't they?)
Now, the New York Stock Exchange doesn't represent the entire market, but at the end of 2004 the total value of its shares was $13.7 trillion. In 2003 (latest available), Social Security took in $632 billion. The President has not laid out a specific plan, but if 65% of contributions go into privatization, that represents about 3% as much as the value of the NYSE. All the money probably wouldn't go into NYSE stocks, but a lot would. And a lot of what goes into the NYSE would probably go into the safer Blue Chips. So it's quite conceivable that investors could see the value of their stocks increase by 3% merely due to an influx of money. I admit that 3% doesn't sound like a lot, but it becomes their 3%. That's a cool $30,000 on a million dollar portfolio. There may not be that many who have million dollar portfolios, but I imagine those who do would rather have the $30,000 than not.
Now, let's think about who the shareholders are. A lot of shares are tied up in pension funds, certainly, and this increase in stock prices should benefit pension funds. And the same for other institutions such as universities and so on, that manage endowment funds.
But beyond that, there's a class of wealthy people (the ones who Bush looked after so carefully with his tax decreases focused on stock dividends) and that's those who hold shares outside of 401k's. These people are his friends. And something makes me suspect that he's looking after them again...
So what's the deal? Well, the first link describes the "modeled after the TSP" part, and says:
"Modeled after" is an important phrase, because it indicates that it follows to some extent, but not completely. When they're the same, people don't say modeled after, they say they're the same. And Cain has to demonstrate that the programs are the same in order to claim hypocrisy on the part of legislators who participate in TSP yet oppose privatization for the masses.
I don't think he's demonstrated that. And if you click though his link to the TSP language there suggests that TSP is in addition to Social Security. (I could be wrong here, because this page doesn't explicitly say it's in addition, nor does it say that participating in TSP precludes participation in Social Security).
For instance, there's this:
[Y]our TSP contributions are voluntary, and in an amount you choose. Your TSP benefits are in addition to your FERS or CSRS annuity. If you are a FERS employee, the TSP is an integral part of your retirement package, along with your FERS Basic Annuity and Social Security.
Since contributing to Social Security is not voluntary, and TSP is described as a part of the package, that makes me feel that it doesn't replace Social Security. And there's also this:
The TSP is one of the three parts of your retirement package, along with your FERS Basic Annuity and Social Security. Participating in the TSP does not affect the amount of your Social Security benefit or your FERS Basic Annuity.
Endorsing democracy. Tomorrow is going to be one damned serious day in Iraq's history. I don't share the President's enthusiasm that the mere actuality of the vote is a sign of success, but I do recognize the significance of the concept. I am praying so hard that the threats and intimidation will be empty bluster, that the terrorists aren't so truly inhuman that they kill masses of their own people tomorrow. They've already shown a willingness to stand in the way and kill their own, I just hope there's a sufficient thread of humanity in them that they will draw the line far lower than overwhelming carnage. The image of the Chinese student protester standing up to the tank comes to mind: the tank would not run him over, and the protester was just one person.
I really want the voting to go well, but if it goes badly, we have to remember how Bush has contributed. Not for a moment would I excuse the terrorists and cast my eyes away from their responsibility, but the incompetence of the reconstruction effort, and the ignoring of State Department planning for a post-Saddam Iraq, has led to an atmosphere where the opportunity for democracy isn't shown in its best light.
Let's reframe it for a moment. Remember when AT&T was broken up in the early 80's? Remember how, when customers who were used to one phone bill and one customer service number that would handle questions about billing for local and long distance and take care of repairs for your telephone and the wiring in your home, newly ushered into unimagined complexities, longed for a return to the "good old days" of Ma Bell?
Sure, Saddam Hussein was wicked, but you can imagine people appreciating the old "order," even as they chafed in fear. Tomorrow's turnout may be low in the face of the intimidation and deadly threats; and if it is low, you can forgive the Iraqis who weren't willing to risk their lives. The value of democracy and a "new Iraq" may not have been made apparent by the coalition effort. Perhaps it's all too soon.
The desires for the flourishing of democracy, the honoring of the troops, and the recognition of the threats which Iraqis face are all fine sentiments; and the recognition of the various causes for disgruntlement which many might feel is also sweet; but to make suggestions to "the democratic left" as if it truly holds obstructionist, anarchistic preferences, is a bit over the top in its preachiness.
Obviously the democratic left wants democracy to thrive. Obviously the democratic left wants what's best for the US, any patriot would. For Marshall Wittmann to suggest we are otherwise is insulting.
Now, if he'd started from a different slant, such as "I can't help but disagree with the extremists on the left," that would have been so much better. Each of the major parties needs to distinguish its various constituencies, and not consider itself or the others monolithic. I really object to this address to the "democratic left."
Take the time to read the fine print. You'll have a better understanding of what goes on in the Social Security debate if you read what the privatization camp assumes, and what they leave out of their discussions. It's not just reading the fine print, it's also clicking through to read more of what they link you to.
For instance, the Cato Institute has a calculator which ostensibly compares what you would receive under Social Security as is, to what you would receive under their plan. (British English sometimes uses the word "scheme" on these occasions.) Kevin Drum points out that the assumptions of the rate of growth for stocks and bonds seems overly optimistic, and Atrios points out that assumptions about your growth in salary are also steep (that is, most people can't expect their wages to increase so steeply over time: this has greatest impact on the young people who put their current salaries into the calculator).
An example of your needing to click through to read links can
be seen in a post this morning from Donald Luskin. Luskin writes about a Paul Krugman column
where Krugman discounts the importance of race as a factor in
judging the financial returns of Social Security. While Krugman
discusses the advantages which African Americans experience due
to average lower incomes and greater receipt of survivor
benefits, Luskin doesn't mention these aspects of Krugman's
conclusions, and acts as if Krugman simply sweeps away the two
year difference in life span of those who reach 65 as if it's
meaningless and insignificant. (Blacks who reach age 65 die about
2 years earlier than whites who reach 65.) But everything else
Krugman says, as components of the Social Security debate, don't
matter to Luskin, who seems disingenuously intent on playing the
race card. (He's titled his entry "Spoken Like A True White Man,"
Grudging praise from Donald Luskin to Dianne Feinstein for at least trying to come up with an alternative idea to private accounts: make the private accounts in addition to current Social Security payroll taxes. He appreciates the effort, but still has a couple problems with her alternative to private account assets coming from payroll tax deductions:
There's a lot here in these two ideas, and they're both worth addressing.
While the proposal does seem to discount the argument of the Wall Street windfall, it greatly reduces the element of risk, because the idea is that current payroll taxes would still be going into a secure pot, Social Security as we know it, backed by the most secure investment on the planet, US Treasury Bonds. Retaining this core security is a big element of the concern, and it's left intact by the concept of "add on" private accounts. (Also, if I may so, I find it very considerate of Luskin to worry about a progressive's idea being flawed because he fears it might erode other aspects; I think Feinstein is probably capable of making that determination herself. Luskin calling this a flaw sounds more like a false alarm to protect his own ideas.)
His latter complaint is more telling. Poorer people will have more trouble contributing to add-on accounts, but I'd like to hear Luskin remember the impact of payroll taxes when he talks about the high rates if income taxes on the wealthy. When you add up payroll taxes and sales taxes and so on, the tax tiers are really flatter than many on the right would have you believe.
I suggest that if Luskin really wants to demonstrate that the poor will be better off with privatized accounts than under the current system, I think he needs to address some specifics:
The devil is in all these details. It's not the kind of thing where we can discuss reform without these details, or it's as vague a promise as "I hope."
As for Luskin's complaint that Feinstein's proposal won't do anything to improve the fiscal stability of Social Security, neither will private accounts. Roger Lowenstein's New York Times article showed that stability won't come from privatization, but it will come from reducing benefits or increasing taxes. Further, he writes about the only plan which the White House had analyzed by the CBO that "all seniors would be poorer than under present law. In other words, absent a sustained roaring bull market, the private accounts would not fully make up for the benefit cuts."
UPDATE: Donald Luskin's response to this post is here. (I really wish this conversation over the fence were happening at the same fence, Donald... How about getting your landlord to turn the comments back on?)
UPDATE 2: I've given careful consideration to Luskin's
response, and while he's forthright, much of it comes down
to "in theory this should work." He agrees that no one has put
forth adequate specifics for any real debate, and offers
solutions such as variable annuities from insurance companies or
such to make sure that people don't outlive their private
accounts. But let's be honest: without a concrete plan for how it
would go beyond theory, how can you argue for private accounts?
It's just a concept otherwise. And there's no reason to be overly
enthusiastic about a concept that lacks details. Take the recent
Medicare bill, for instance: yes, people wanted the basic idea of
prescription drug benefits, and to appease that desire a bill was
pushed through congress. But how many people would have argued
for a prescription drug plan where the government was expressly
forbidden from negotiating prices? Was that aspect given adequate
public debate? And as for variable annuities themselves, when
people start to see that their moneys will come from a fund that
presumes pooled risk, some people dying at this age and others
dying at another, will that still be considered a private
account? I strongly feel that it's important for any proponent of
privatization to argue details at the same time as they argue for
privatization; only then can the debate really, intelligently,
consider the pluses and minuses. Secondly, one should also
compare the job growth in 2004 which Bush projected last February
to what the economy actually achieved, and recognize that we need
to be very careful about the "promises, large promises"
which seem to be the soul of the privatization campaign.
The President is pro Grade Inflation, too. In today's New York Times, David Sanger and Richard Stevenson somehow miss the full extent to which Bush was downgrading expectations on Sunday's elections in Iraq. This is about all they wrote on the issue as discussed in Bush's press conference yesterday:
And that's pretty much it. But read this part of the transcript:
A dodge, obviously: he knows about all the efforts being made to intimidate voters. But to flatly suggest that the actual turnout doesn't matter is a clear expression on his part that the participation of the Iraqi people really doesn't matter yet. These elections have largely been imposed on Iraq; sure, with the cooperation of the interim government, but it was the US that came up with the date of January 30.
It's time for me to reiterate something I predicted back on December 3: Bush's solution to holding the elections on time is hold them, and then decide later they have to be held again, due to one reason or another. He now has Ukraine as a precedent (which I noted originally), and so has the liberty to get votes re-cast at some unspecified future date when it's safer.
Are Bush's ducks really ducks? And if so, why does he need to spend so much money persuading you that they are? You know the line: "If it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck." You know it's not a cat, it's plain enough it's a duck. So what's this?
Separately, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and nine colleagues released a report showing that the Bush administration spent more than $88 million last year on contracts with public relations firms, an increase of 128 percent over the last year of the Clinton administration. Medicare and Medicaid officials have spent the most on outside publicity firms over the past four years, the report said.
That 128% increase figure means, to remind, that Bush more than doubled PR spending to promote what I guess they recognize are difficult sells. And we know that some of the money went for sells that were not transparent (videos disguised as news, commentators promoting programs without disclosure, and so on). So it's not just the amount of spending, it's also the method.
And of course, this was the Administration, not the campaign (although it's impossible to say there wasn't any positive benefit to the campaign).
Sometimes transcripts aren't enough: you
need the tape and the secondary criticism. Yesterday I posted
two items on Bush's press conference, both based on the
transcript. Transcripts, of course, say little about mood,
although this one caught Bush's chuckles over accusations that he
was a liar. They don't tell you what Kathryn Jean Lopez (at NRO's
the Corner) noticed, that Bush was in a general state of good
cheer throughout. And because the transcripts don't point that
good cheer out, they also don't point out that perhaps good cheer
was not the order of the day, with us having lost 36 troops
yesterday in Iraq. But you know? Lopez didn't notice that either,
and James Wolcott noticed she didn't notice.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005:
So much for the dialog over Social
Security. In the post below I linked to a site sponsored by
the Club for Growth, arguing for Social Security privatization. I
even went there and commented in a number of their threads,
completely politely, yet cogently, not a troll at all I assure
you. I'd even prove it to you, but there were so many liberals
commenting, that they've taken all comments down. It's now a
one-way street. The chickens.
First, because it argues that you should recognize that an asteroid hitting us (in the years 2018 and 2042, key dates on the Social Security calendar) is a crisis, and that if you're sensible enough to see that you'll agree that Social Security is in a crisis.
Now, obviously planetary destruction ("a huge asteroid is on a course that will cause it to smash into the earth in 2042, killing everything including the cockroaches") is a crisis, but to compare what happens to Social Security on these dates is just silly. In 2018 the program needs to start dipping into its trust fund, and if nothing is changed by 2042, the program will still be able to pay 80% of its benefits. So I don't think we're talking about anything on the scale of the destruction of the planet.
The second part is that the pro-privatization crowd has been frequently referred to as being like Chicken Little (the sky is falling, the sky is falling!). By talking about an asteroid hitting Earth this blog is literally acting like Chicken Little; it's no longer figurative. It's like they're walking right into a rhetorical trap.
I just can't tell if it's funnier than it's stupid or stupider than it's funny.
I don't have a problem with taking action now to shore up Social Security, but to talk about is as being in the red when it merely starts relying more on the trust fund its built up (which was planned, by the way) and as "broke" in 2042 when it will still be able to pay 80% of its benefits is completely over the top.
We shouldn't overreact to the problem; we should be judicious
and think carefully about what we're doing. The last time Bush
was talking about "time is running out," we got ourselves into an
If it's so small, then you can give it back. Today's New York Times discussed the lucrative business of speculating on the periodic price increases of pharmaceuticals. Yup, medicine. One profiteer is buying a $45 million home in the Hamptons, the most expensive house in New York State. But don't worry, he says that his take is only a drop in the bucket compared to what the drug manufacturers make:
That's ride, he's only going along for the ride. Bus his drop
in the bucket, added up across millions of buckets, is a drain on
the economy. Glad to see it's going to be put to good use, like
on a $45 million mansion. (The article also points out that
because manufacturers can't get a handle on genuine sales volume,
they mistake speculative buying for consumer sales, presume
demand is up, and proceed to manufacture unnecessary medicines,
which wind up being stockpiled again.)
It's all in how you define "matters," I guess. If it's only the final outcome, whether or not you're approved, then no, it doesn't.
But because Rice willingly lied to the country when she talked about the aluminum tubes on CNN in 2002, because she participated in the President's efforts to skirt the UN and make it irrelevant, because she "forgot" the CIA's admonition about the yellow cake and let a reference slip back into the President's 2003 State of the Union Address (the ability to remember what you can and can't say is kind of important for Secretary of State, don't you think?), because she helped persuade the American public that an unjustified war is the right thing to do, then, yes, it matters very much how Durbin and every other senator votes on her nomination.
Democrats should take a stand here, just as much as in the case of Alberto Gonzalez. And you know something? There should be some Republican senators who also have enough of a statesman streak in them to abandon partisanship and vote against her. It shouldn't be a partisan issue, it should be an appreciation of how very different this country has become and whether or not we want it to continue on this path.
Support the troops: reject Alberto Gonzalez. It's really very simple, it's not complicated. Gonzalez personally undermined the nation's adherence to the Geneva Convention by trying to find ways to skirt it; the reciprocity of the GC means that he put our troops at risk of being tortured. Got it?
That's the practical implication of his actions. The principle is an issue, too: our country should not condone torture. Ever. It's wrong. Would Jesus have tortured anyone? (Or, if you retort that he wouldn't have needed to, would Paul have, once he'd seen the light?) Beyond that, the quality of the information you get from torturing is too low to justify lowering ourselves.
Gonzalez was evasive in his testimony to the Judiciary Committee — so many "I don't recalls" that it's a wonder he remembers his wife's name. And, given revelations this week regarding the way he got Bush excused from being a juror on a trial, it's apparent that he also lied under oath to the Judiciary Committee. This is not the guy we want as Attorney General.
So, I reiterate what I first said here: Gonzalez must be rejected. Support
the troops, it's that simple. Any Senator who votes for Gonzalez,
objectively, is supporting torture instead of our troops.
No haggis here tonight, but we certainly made do. It's really not easy to get a sheep's stomach, you know? But we pulled out a Scottish cookbook we picked up in Edinburgh in 1989 on our honeymoon, and made steamed mussels. I confess the recipe wasn't that different from what we normally do, but somehow the fact that we used a Scot cookbook made it "morally" different. But we had Jean Redpath and Andy Stewart on in the background (right now I'm listening to the Trash Can Sinatras, which also counts). For dessert we had some Walker Shortbread cookies, with some kick ass orange marmalade spread on top: a true palate cleanser. And no, to the best of my knowledge, I don't have an ounce of Scot blood in me, anywhere, but I've been there three times and nowhere else on the planet have I had such a feeling of inner peace.
Under arrest in Iraq right now a top lieutenant to the leading insurgent fighting to prevent Sunday's key national elections. Iraqi government officials say that Abu Umar al-Kurdi has claimed responsibility for at least 32 car bombings in Iraq. His boss, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the United State's most wanted man in Iraq.
We absolutely have to get this guy: too many families have
gaping holes thanks to his efforts. And here's another
reason my blood boils, one which Wolf Blitzer never seems to
remind his audience of: the U.S. passed up on taking al Zarqawi
out before the invasion, in order to have another argument for
going to war against Iraq. That's right, they cynically played
with world opinion when they could have taken the guy out. And
soon it will be two years since the invasion, and al Zarqawi is
still free. Did the US assume they could get him after the
invasion started? If so, what would be the human cost of that
When all else fails, blame it on Microsoft. I've been hunting out web pages where my site has been critically acclaimed and printing them out, quite successfully from sites like CNN, Fortune, the BBC, Penguin's UK site, and several others. Then I hit Slate for a few items; Slate is now owned by the Washington Post, but it used to be owned by Microsoft. And each time I've tried to print a page from Slate, it's crashed my browser (Opera) or caused a problem with my printer.
It could be coincidence, but Microsoft has not designed its pages to be compatible with other browsers than Internet Explorer. I went to Encarta's site, remembering that it used to recommend my site, and I was even willing to pay a premium to use a streaming version, but it said I couldn't do it using Opera, I had to use IE.
Three articles from Slate, three browser crashes, plus a complete re-boot to make the printer stop printing page after page with a single line of gibberish.
IMPORTANT REQUEST, as an aside... Do any of you have a
copy of the Encarta encyclopedia, either the CD-ROM or an online
subscription? Does it still list my site (samueljohnson.com or
The Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page) as a recommendation under
"Samuel Johnson"? (This is actually important to me.)
Let's all remind ourselves of what Bush said in a debate against Kerry in 2004:
We have gone from the biggest deficits eight years ago to the biggest surpluses in history today. Instead of high unemployment, we now have the lowest African-American unemployment, the lowest Latino unemployment ever measured. 22 million new jobs, very low unemployment nationally. Instead of ballooning the debt and multiplying it four times over, we have seen the debt actually begun to be paid down. Here are some promises that I'll make to you now. I will balance the budget every year. I will pay down the debt every year. I will give middle-class Americans tax cuts, meaningful ones. And I will invest in education, health care, protecting the environment and retirement security.
Sounds about right to me. Yesterday
Senator Clinton gave a speech seeking common ground over
abortion, affirming the right to choice while calling for
united efforts to prevent unwanted pregnancies. I'd like to
see the full speech, but it's not up on her
Senate web site yet. I think this is where the argument needs
to shift to, for both humanitarian and political reasons. Those
who are Right to Life need to see a more human side to those who
seek abortion: the phrase "Abortion on Demand" lowers the
decision to something as simple as going to 7-11 and choosing a
flavor of a Slurpee. At the same time, the Pro-Choice side could
gain a lot by acknowledging the good intentions of the other
side, and being aware that to them abortion really is something
like a holocaust. I'm not saying either side should change its
mind, only that they show more respect for each other and work on
something they can all agree on.
Great Scott!! It's Robert Burns'
birthday, and felicitations to all of you who are celebrating,
whether of Scots heritage or not. No haggis here tonight (I still
haven't figured out how to get the parts), but I'll probably whip
something up using some salmon or seafood. I think I'll spare the
family the CDs of piper recitals, and stick with Jean Redpath,
Silly Wizard, and the Trash Can Sinatras.
Whaddaya know, I'm getting traffic from
Powerline today. They're citing
Johnson's line about women preaching, and naturally sending their
readers to my site. I wonder if they know how many ways Johnson
can be seen as being a
Wrapping privatization in bipartisanship. Today's Washington Post mentions that the new Bush line is to cite Clinton and Moynihan when talking about Social Security's supposed instability. "With their push to restructure Social Security off to a rocky start, Bush administration officials have begun citing two Democrats -- former President Bill Clinton and the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan -- to bolster their claims that the retirement system is in crisis."
Where has the Post been? Bush floated this last October in his
debates against Kerry; I caught it at
the time, and I recommend you click through that last link
for additional details about the committee Bush formed in 2001 to
look at the issue. Here's a hint: privatization was a foregone
conclusion for the panel.
"I did not know that" was a famous Johnny Carson line, and were he still alive, he'd say that about this opinion: it's us Libruls that are using scare tactics over Social Security. Yup, here's the headline from an opinion piece over at GOPUSA.com: "Liberals Should Stop Scaring America on Social Security Reform." The writer, Kevin Fobbs, figures that we're avoiding genuinely rational arguments when talking about Bush's judicious plans; and yet, oddly, it's Fobbs who refers to 2042 as a point at which Social Security will be "completely bankrupt" (it won't, actually: it should still be able to cover 80% of benefits even if nothing is done). It's also Fobbs who accuses Ted Kennedy of being indifferent because of his age when 2042 rolls around, ignoring the fact that Bush probably won't be alive then either.
I'm all for a vigorous, honest debate, but Fobbs' efforts to
demonize Democrats over this is just plain silly. If I were
Fobbs, I would have actually dealt with progressives arguments
about the dangers or their lack thereof, rather than attempting
to merely sweep them out of view of his readers. He really missed
an opportunity to improve the public discourse.
Alberto Gonzalez forgot to mention
something... When Alberto Gonzalez was being grilled by the
Senate Judiciary Committee, he was asked about an incident where
Bush was called to jury duty in 1996; he focused on the
proceedings in court, which suggested that no special action was
taken by him. However, he somehow failed to mention that the
court proceedings happened because he'd lobbied for Bush being
excused beforehand. Net result? Bush never talked about his 1976
DUI arrest until it was brought out just before the 2000
election (at which point Bush cried foul). What a one-sided AG
this guy will be! We really need every Democratic senator to vote
against him; we can't be a party that condones torture. (Via Buzzflash.)
Someone who was truly sensitive to international affairs (hmmm...) would know that football is a completely different sport than what we Amurricans follow; that the sport we call "soccer" is what the rest of the world really calls football; and that by referring to the period following one of his American Football matches as "Post-Football," he's risking our international relations, the mission in Iraq, and even possibly the price of tulip bulbs. I'm shocked (shocked) at his insensitivity.
This is a cultural war, gang, and we can't afford to have
liberalism taken over by people who, if they had their way (let's
be honest!), would be facing off against Michael Kinsley on CNN's
Crossfire a long time ago in a galaxy far away.
Could Social Security privatization be a wedge issue? There's no question but that Bush has outpaced legislative sentiment with his calls for privatizing Social Security. In order to revamp a program put in by FDR, a Democrat — and need I add, a program which works really well — he needs the support of not just Republicans in his own party but also the Democrats. Democrats are pretty against it, and so are a lot of Republicans.
As for the populace (who vote for Republicans and Democrats every two years), last Sunday's New York Times magazine article by Roger Lowenstien shows that not only is it easy to demonstrate that the program is most certainly not in crisis, but that it's easy to demonstrate the dishonesty which some are showing in arguing for privatization. A solid example was Lowenstein's discussion of how one think tank started counting deficit cash flows when they started, ignoring the surpluses built up to that point, in order to make it sound more severe. A similar point can be made about forecasts to infinity, brought back into present dollars, when historically its been agreed that forecasts that go beyond 75 years are pretty worthless.
While most "wedge issues" are applied on the voter base, the difference here would be that the wedge is applied on the Republican voters so much as the tenuously united, vocal Republican party.
Imagine taking this "surely you're smart enough to see" approach in dealing with proponents of privatization —
And so on, and so on. Who will admit that they're not smart enough? Sure, they'll try to side-step the rhetorical jab, but in doing so they remain vulnerable to the truth.
There will come a point when the lofty convention rhetoric of the RNC will need to be curtailed. The Bushies are already confronting it in their battle for what words get used (is it privatization? is it personal accounts?), suggesting that they know, even after focus groups conducted years ago, that they're on tenuous footing. (They're also showing it in the backpedaling over Bush's inaugural address. If he'd only started talking like Yeats, gyres and all that, he'd be out of office before anyone understood what he meant.)
I ventured out briefly for the paper and I have to tell you, it's pretty bitter out there. The weather reports are saying we "only" had a foot dropped on us here in Brooklyn ("only" because last night there were estimates that it might go something like 18-21 inches). But you can't tell that from what you see, because the plows have come through and there are considerable drifts from the wind. I didn't mind going out into the storm yesterday when it was only a few hours into it: there wasn't much wind and I could take my gloves off to control the camera, but doing so this morning was painful. Nonetheless, I'm letting you have this shot from our block, don't expect more. (Maybe I'll post some from another storm; will you be able to tell?)
I'm sure there are other NYC photobloggers with more shots of the storm; I've already seen them at joe's nyc, NYC Street Photos, rion.nu, Gotham Pixel, and overshadowed. (If you have some and I haven't listed you, add your link to the comments, and make sure you use the good ol' href tag so people can go directly rather than having to cut and paste the url.)
If those aren't enough for you, photoblogs.org has a list of photobloggers who have flagged themselves with New York City as a keyword; happy hunting!
So our plain-speaking President talks
all about the importance of freedom, and ending tyranny in his
inaugural address on Thursday, and today his staffers rushed to
add footnotes, to assure Russia and the Saudis that he was only really talking about tyranny in Afghanistan and
Iraq, elsewhere it's probably OK. But because he's our plain
speaking President, his staff also has to harangue the press
about using the adjective "private" or the verb "privatize" with
respect to Social Security, even though the President has used those terms. I guess they really
like the lipstick more than the pig, because when I look up
private in the
dictionary, the word seems accurate to me: "undertaken on an
individual basis," is one connotation; another is "belonging to a
particular person or persons, as opposed to the public or the
government;" and "intended for or restricted to the use of a
particular person or group or class of persons : not available to
the public;" and "owned by or concerning an individual person or
entity." If it's not that, what is it? Huh?
(To paraphrase the famous line from "Duck Soup," Who you gonna
believe, me or the English language?)