Copyright © 2005 Frank Lynch.
Me: Frank Lynch
These are my mundane daily ramblings.
The coup, continued. As you probably know by now, a special law was passed in the wee hours to avert Florida's judicial process regarding the removal of Terry Schiavo's feeding tube. But there were only three Senators present, out of a body of 100. No quorum, according to our Constitution, and the ideologues apparently care nothing for the Constitution or due process any longer.
We all know of course how the Medicare prescription bill's voting was held open for hours, when the normal time is about 15 minutes; and we also know how, on that same bill, the correct information on the plan's cost was deliberately withheld from Congress, as well as how there was an attempt to bribe one Representative right on the floor of the House.
How many have died? The Pope's encyclical on life (Evangelum Vitae), which argued against both abortion and the death penalty, came out in US bookstores in 1995, ten years ago. Consistent with that, the Vatican has frequently sought to have death sentences in America commuted to life imprisonment. But there hasn't always been a unified effort on the part of the faithful: those who protest abortion don't always remember the simultaneous admonition against capital punishment, and abortion can take precedence in their minds. In addition, John Kerry received focus during the 2004 campaign for the way he partitioned his personal views from what he saw as his political responsibilities. I would have liked it very much if the Catholic Church in America had been more evenhanded and criticized Bush for his record on the death penalty, but that didn't happen.
The good news, belatedly, is that Catholic bishops here in the
US are now preparing to take on the death penalty with
greater energy. I wish it had happened before the campaign, of
course, and regret its not having been an active effort for the
last ten years. But better late than never.
When to vacation, and when to cut it
short. Carpetbagger looks at all the times George Bush
never cut a vacation short, in spite of looming turmoil, and
this weekend when he did, for Terri Schiavo. Such
diligence on the President's part needs to be done more often.
Tom Tomorrow is turning 44. The
person behind the persona behind This Modern World,
that is... Or maybe it's just the person behind both the persona
and the comic; it's tough to keep straight. Anyway, here's a link
to his Amazon wish
list (but he tells you to read this
first). I still can't believe he doesn't have any Pogo or
Krazy Kat on his list, but what the hey, he might have plenty on
his shelves already.
Political distractions. Look: over there! Now look over there! Quick, over there! With all the hubbub surrounding the Terri Schiavo fight, Social Security, and so on, did you notice that yesterday was the second anniversary of our invasion of Iraq? Beyond producing a boom in T-shirt sales, what else was accomplished? Obviously, there were no WMD's, and we would have found that out had we given the inspectors more time; and the mass-gassing which Bush often cited happened back in 1988. Human rights? The Pope said it was an unjust war, and Human Rights Watch also said it couldn't be justified on humanitarian grounds, given how old or low quantity were Hussein's abuses, compared to the human scale of war. (Some estimate the deaths of about 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians.)
And terror? Has it improved our position in the war on terror? No: The CIA has pointed to Iraq as a rallying cry.
US lives? Over 1,500 dead.
Bush's radio address yesterday was a fairly inept attempt to defend what we've done. From the get go, there are stock phrases which deflate at a pin-prick; he said "we launched Operation Iraqi Freedom to disarm a brutal regime, free its people, and defend the world from a grave danger," when we now know that Saddam Hussein was definitely not a grave danger, thanks to the first Gulf War and subsequent sanctions. Consequently, it's a lie for Bush to have said "because we acted, Iraq's government is no longer a threat to the world or its own people." (He wasn't a threat before the war.)
No, I never expected Bush to admit what a screw-up he is. But
I do hope we all remember what we've done; and based on the small
attendance at rallies yesterday, I can't help but wonder.
Abdicating the role of the "Daddy
Party." Americans trust Democrats, more than Republicans, to
take care of Social Security. See the poll results over at Eschaton. (I've made this argument before.)
I hate to point this out, but there comes a time when you have
to admit that an administration is not just full of liars, but
pathological liars: a crew to whom the idea of truth has little
or no value. And if we are the greatest nation on the planet,
it's high time we started calling ourselves merely "the most
powerful" and not "the greatest": we cannot claim greatness so
long as our government behaves this way.
Not good. How often would Social
Security privatization be superior to Social Security as it is?
That's an important question: it goes beyond looking at just the
mean to looking at the shape of the distribution. Kevin Drum reports on a series of simulations
where in about a third of the occasions, people would have been
better off staying in Social Security. Surely this is a wake-up
call: the purpose of Social Security is not to improve the
average, but to provide security. Can privateers guarantee
anything? No: to do so is to promise that the stock market and/or
specific portfolios will provide specific performance. The
financial industry is forbidden by law from doing any such
thing, and for good reason.
A little good news from Iraq.
Insurgents' attacks against US soldiers are down, according to Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler. He
interprets that as meaning that the insurgency is weakening. I
hope that's true, but it looks to me as if the insurgents have
shifted their focus, and are
targeting the Iraqi security forces and people now.
This is of greater impact than, say, if the local art house
decides against running French film. Science museums tend to be
regional, drawing on a wide geographic area. (Here in the New
York area there are actually three, but that's rare.) So in
addition to it potentially stifling the production of
documentaries, it also stifles the dissemination of views to a
significant proportion of the population. This is a problem...
The future of healthcare? This is pretty scary: in the future, your doctor's diagnosis of your condition could be overruled by some doctor/bureaucrat with a completely different specialty, on the basis not of actually seeing you, but by watching old tapes of you... Scary huh? Well, tell it to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a heart surgeon who disagreed with the doctors who declared that Terri Schiavo is in a vegetative state: on the basis of watching video highlights.
And by the way, don't these Senators who were thinking of subpoenaing her to appear and "testify" have any sense of how that charade would have made them look? It's one thing to trot out a 1935 car to argue about Social Security, but expecting a vegetative woman to testify — or even suggest that you really expect it — demonstrates an incredible disrespect for the families involved, as well as Terri Schiavo herself.
Krugman's veracity. Don Luskin takes joy in the fact that Joe Lieberman concurs with his opinion that Paul Krugman erred regarding no costs to deliberating on what to do with Social Security; but if Luskin had Atrios in his RSS feeds, he'd know otherwise by now.
UPDATE: Don Luskin responds to Atrios and mentions me along the way ("naive wannabes on the Left"). Luskin's argument? The cost of delaying increases in accordance with the interest rate. What's that mean? It means that in real terms it doesn't increase at all; so the present value of the money is unchanged. Try again, Don.
UPDATE 2 (March 20): Brad Delong has
weighed in with many of the same considerations voiced here
and in the comments. He doesn't take the path I've taken (that
one might discount the future value using the growth rate which
privateers think we'll get with private accounts), but he points
to inflation as well as how the liabilities in Social Security
grow with time just like all other liabilities, in terms of
future value and inflation and all that.
"I wouldn't be caught dead in a 1935 automobile," said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (N.C.), vice chairman of the House Republican Conference's PR effort on Social Security. "And I want to make sure we have an updated system of Social Security, because that's America's investment vehicle."
This isn't a metaphor you can stretch very far before breaking, and if I were pushing for the elimination of Social Security, I'd stick to the topic instead of a metaphor which only makes the reader go "whuh?" I mean, you wouldn't reject Duke Ellington's music on the basis of its age, you need concrete reasons to do so. And should the Empire State Building be torn down, too? (Seen via The Carpetbagger Report.)
UPDATE: Welcome to all you visitors from thismodernworld.com.
Tom's link is a catalyst for my explaining the Krazy Kat panel
here: the specific strip I pulled it from is from New Year's Day,
1925, and both Ignatz and Officer Pup were questioning the value
of their 1924 tools (Ignatz with the brick, and Officer Pup with
his club). Both were happy to resort to them in time of need, and
found they still worked quite well.
Overworked refs? In his book What Liberal Media?, Eric Alterman remarked about the erosion of judgment in the media, brought on by relentless complaints about bias, to the extent that the media second-guesses itself on far too many issues. How could one not notice that phenomenon with respect to how C-Span had planned to cover a lecture about the Holocaust? To counter a historian Deborah E. Lipstadt's discussion, C-Span wanted to include the opinions of David Irving:
Mr. Irving, a British writer, sued Professor Lipstadt for libel for calling him a Holocaust denier, but the British Royal High Court of Justice dismissed the lawsuit on April 11, 2000, concluding that Mr. Irving was anti-Semitic and racist and that he persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence.
C-Span's efforts are clearly in line with the "he said-she said" format of news writing which is in current vogue. It's high time that journalists and the media regained their footing, and started asking themselves...
Another point to recognize — and this is the burden of
those on the right — is that since it's the right which has
been working the refs, this one is the result of their
The faces of Ireland. Tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day, and I'm posting this now on its eve because I won't be able to tomorrow, what with the morning rush. For those of you with Irish heritage here in the United States or elsewhere, as well as those of you in Ireland (Republic and Northern), I wish you all a pleasant reflection on all that Irish culture has given the world. There's a persistent sense of rebellion in an outline of Irish history, which deservedly gets lost when you look at lives as lived: it's not all ambushing Michael Collins or casting off chains, the bulk of Ireland is like the bulk of humanity, people wanting to get on with their day, wanting to get their job done. The focus we here in America might put on Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness or Ian Paisley Jr. or Sr. is certainly misplaced: they are not the face of Ireland. If you want to know the face of Ireland, go there; and go to a grocery store or something, and see that they buy a head of lettuce just the same as you or I do. (You won't hear them say "Aye, and it's such a nice Irish green, it is." Honest.)
With respect to Mr. Adams, I haven't kept up on Irish politics, but no matter how strong his leadership is within Sinn Fein, I was pleased to see that both President Bush and Senator Kennedy are giving him the cold shoulder tomorrow. The murder of Robert McCartney was horrible; and the IRA needs to go through a hugely punishing gauntlet to atone for it. Bush's and Kennedy's repudiation of Sinn Fein/Adams should send a loud message that they must amend their ways — at least some of them.
But again, Ireland is a vibrant country, not afraid to assert itself nor draw on its strengths. And its culture throbs with the intensity of the heart of an obese person who participated in the Empire State Building stairway run. Yes, U2 and Joyce and Yeats easily come to mind, but there's Flann O'Brien and Hamilton Harty, too. And let's not forget St. Patrick, either: I very much doubt he really sent all the snakes out, but the legends are that he broke the bonds of slavery to pursue his Christian mission.
May we all break whatever bonds prevent us from our
missions. Cool? Have a happy St. Patrick's Day. (I can't
guarantee any posts on Thursday because of a school event, but if
I can I will.)
Four years later, and still no plan. In May, 2001, Bush set up a commission chaired by Daniel Patrick Moynihan to find a way to make private accounts work (not see if they were appropriate, but find a way to implement them). On that occasion, Bush said:
The threat to the stability of Social Security has been apparent for decades. For years, political leaders have agreed that something must be done. But nothing has been done. We can postpone action no longer. Social Security is a challenge now; if we fail to act, it will become a crisis. We must save Social Security and we now have the opportunity to do so.
So, four years later, where is the President on bolstering Social Security's finances? Here's an exchange from his press conference today:
So the President, after four years, still hasn't put forth a plan; further, it's not even apparent that he has a plan, or one which will "fix" Social Security, that is.
Four years, and no plan. And Condoleezza Rice had the nerve to
criticize Richard Clarke for not coming up with a plan to combat
terrorism (something he actually accomplished, in a matter
of months). When will this Administration be held accountable?
When will America repudiate these clowns?
"Openly hostile." A key problem with achieving balanced budgets occurs when you want to maintain Bush's tax cuts. When they were originally voted on, it was with the understanding that they were temporary; that's how Bush campaigned for them. Soon afterwards, he went on this hooey about how they needed to be made permanent, a classic bait-and-switch. Maybe it's only coincidence, but Clinton raised taxes and balanced the budget (without a single supporting Republican vote), and shortly thereafter the nation's longest period of economic expansion began. Now, of course, we have these huge deficits again, Bush wants to protect the tax cuts, and Republicans in the Senate don't feel the need to compensate for expenses by raising taxes, or raising taxes in one area to compensate for cutting them elsewhere. All of Alan Greenspan's words about PAYGO were forgotten today, when the Republican-led Senate voted to avert financial sensibility. (No "Stop me before I kill again" for them.)
"They have become openly hostile to balancing the budget," one sponsor, Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., said of GOP leaders. "Openly hostile to anything that gets in the way of tax cuts, regardless of what the consequences are for our budget or the economy. That's a sad moment."
And as I've said before, tax cuts are really just fobbing the
bill off on all our kids. Funny how Right to Lifers don't rise to
the fore to stop deficits being foisted on the future
generations... Maybe some do and I'm being unfair, but if the
future is really that important, why aren't we acting that way?
Me and W. B. Yeats. St. Patrick's Day is approaching, and as an Irish American, it's time for me to go mano a mano against one of the best poets of all time. (I can still recite his "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death" by heart; it's fabulous iambic tetrameter.) So here we go.
The traditional opposition role. You probably know how it goes: the opposition sits on the sidelines and carps, never offering solutions. How better to describe those who want to quote-unquote reform Social Security? Sure, it's one thing to talk about projected deficiencies, but what's their solution? Do they have a solution? Personally, I think it's high time they put one together, and showed how it will resolve the problems they espy. Otherwise this is just the screaming meemies. If we're going to do anything, I'd rather it were in response to something concrete.
Let's be clear: if they scream and scream without a plan, they're just whackos. It's high time they put forth something concrete, and showed how it will resolve the problem. Where the hell is their plan?
"[N]owhere did it tell me that Social Security is only legally obligated to pay me only 73% of my benefits in 2042. Since I'll be 72 that year, what reform proponents have been warning me about has concerned me greatly."
"Legally obligated"? I want to know more about that, because I was under the impression that there wasn't really a legal obligation on any of the benefits. In a Supreme Court ruling against a deportee, Social Security benefits weren't considered a contract. So I honestly suspect that this is an area where Hogberg could afford to do some reading. But then, so could we all.
But here's the larger issue: Hogberg's percentages have nothing to do with presumed contracts so much as presumed ability to pay. And privatization, the supposed Holy Grail of so many on the web site for which he posts, does nothing. If he's concerned about meeting benefits payments, there is no reason for him to have allied himself with the privatization crowd.
(Your turn, David: if you want to reply, post it in the
comments here, where it can be discussed in an open environment.
Your landlord still doesn't allow comments, and apparently
doesn't want debate.)
Nowhere near important as steroids in
baseball. But it seems the MTA has decided against banning subway photography for
now. As someone who takes subway pictures and sometimes makes you look at them, this is
good news. No, it's not as important as steroids in baseball,
which are also not as important as the huge failures we've seen
regarding a quick trigger in Iraq and so on. But then again,
Hammerin' Hank never used steroids, and it would be shame if our
ability to compare eras was hurt even further. As for the role
model thing, well, it's time parents stepped up to the plate.
No real mandate, apparently. The Washington Post reports, no surprise, that the public doesn't support the way Bush is handling Social Security: a mere 35%. And it's not that they don't recognize a problem exists, either, so it's Bush's solution which is getting the thumb's down.
How much of his second term is he going to waste on this effort? At what point will he cut bait?
In gracious negotiations, the opposition will sometimes look
for ways for the other side to save face, a bone or something to
throw the other side's way, in order to allow for some semblance
of a proud withdrawal. But that shouldn't be the case here: Bush
claimed far too much, understanding far too little, and hewed to
a position he's held for far too long (1978 at least). As I've
said over and over, his 2001 commission that he set up with
Daniel Moynihan was set up to find a way to make private accounts
happen, not to assess whether or not they were a solution.
Halliburton. Maybe there really
aren't enough competitors who can handle so many aspects of war-
services. And maybe Dick Cheney had nothing to do with them
getting a no-bid contract. But have they no shame? They've
overcharged the U.S. for $108 million. (And we know why this report wasn't
released last October when it was completed, too. Some "moment of
A puzzle growing ever uglier. You know how the US government announced that it didn't intend to apply the Geneva Conventions to detainees at Guantanamo; you know about then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales's torture memos; and you probably also know how we've sent detainees to other countries with poor human rights records in order to be, uh, interviewed. Did you also know that we're suspected of having kidnaped people in other countries? And that some of them have been innocent?
The government has a new web site pushing Social Security "reform." The Treasury Department announced the new site on Friday, and here it is. Unfortunately, it moves beyond debatable characterizations like "bankrupt" and into all new territory:
Social Security is sound for today's seniors and for those nearing retirement, but it needs to be fixed for younger workers. The government has made promises it cannot afford to pay for with the current pay-as-you-go system. (Emphasis mine.)
"Cannot afford" is clearly an evaluative judgment, and worth arguing with: the Social Security Trustees' projections are extremely sensitive to small changes in variables such as immigration, longevity, worker pay, and payroll tax rates. (Again I refer you to Roger Lowenstein's New York Times Magazine article, wherein he shows how these variables work together and discusses how small changes make big differences. Another important point to bring out is that Lowenstein mentions that these projections are based on the Trustees' "intermediate" models, not their "pessimistic" or "optimistic" ones, and that an independent actuary named David Langer has concluded that the intermediate projections have been too negative, that for the last ten years its "optimistic guesses were dead on.")
So all in all, the projections themselves are overly deterministic — they imply certainty when they should really proclaim uncertainty, using confidence intervals. And then, to conclude that the deficits in these overly deterministic projections are something which the "country cannot afford" is just wrong, when small changes in taxes can improve the situation dramatically.
The page I found this on also repeats that chart from the White House's web site showing the cash flow after 2018, and how the program needs to start drawing on its reserves. (Click here or the chart itself to see it in a larger form.) I've discussed my problems with this chart before, but since that discussion I've had even more. As I've said before, it starts the chart just as the cash flow changes from positive to negative, leaving out the many years where the surplus, the positive, has been mounting; they don't want the scale of the chart to show how many years the surplus has been positive or by how much.
But my additional concern is that by focusing on this measure and this point in time, it allows them to magnify the scale of the deficits; it doesn't show how small the deficit is in comparison to the overall Social Security expenses. They clearly don't want you to see the deficit in terms of the overall context. In 2042, under the "most likely" projection and with no changes, Social Security is expected to be able to pay 77% of the promised benefits; if we were to redraw the chart, it would be like adding five more "lines" to the y-axis on the bottom to get a more proper perspective. (That is, the red section at 2042 looks like it's about 40% of the negative section, when it should only be about 23% if you wanted to show it in context.)
That chart isn't my only concern with this page on the Treasury Department's site. One of my biggest issues is that it concludes with an argument for private accounts by talking about the returns workers might receive, without mentioning any assumptions. All these projections depend on assumptions about economic growth rates; no mention is made about what they are, their reasonableness, or how it's basically promising future performance on the basis of historical performance (something the financial industry is expressly forbidden from doing, by law).
Another issue I have with the page is that, while it discusses projected deficits as being the problem, it doesn't say how to deal with them. Private accounts will not secure the program, the White House has admitted. (Nor is there any mention of transition costs here, either — can the government afford transition costs, and make the "red dates" happen earlier?)
Transition costs are discussed elsewhere on the site (using an advance search on Google helps, since the web site has no search engine). One page repeats Joshua Bolten's defense he wrote for USAToday. He claims that the transition costs are minor, but then again, he also uses the "infinite years" deficit projection of $10 trillion (instead of the 75 year estimates which have been used traditionally); estimates of the $2 trillion in transition costs should have been on the prior page, don't you think? (The other page on the web site which mentions transition costs doesn't mention their size at all, only that they can be eased by phasing in accounts. Again, can't someone on this site be more honest about what goes on? The transition costs should have been mentioned in the first page I discussed, along with assumptions about stock value growth.)
Sharing across the generations. Every
parent does something like this, it may be talking about seeing
Johnny Bench (who I never saw, but I did once see Dave
Kingman strike out five times in a night, against Nolan Ryan and
some Astros relievers — does that count?). Today I was in a
mall with my daughter after her dentist appointment, and there
was this kiosk/cart selling these game consoles that had all
these early arcade games on them. I was finally able to
show her "Burger Time," that game where the chef tries to
assemble hamburgers while being pursued by hot dogs and fried
eggs. The version I had on Intellivision had much better
graphics, and I remembered playing it for hours. It was a
learning experience for her, and also for me, because she showed
me how to curse down through a game list and so long. Some nice
sharing; we didn't buy it. And now I have to remember to tell her
about that inglorious Mets game where Kingman tied an NL record.
[A]ccording to the subscription-only Congress Daily, during a congressional hearing on child care funding in connection with the endless effort to reauthorize the 1996 welfare reform law, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) said this: "The issue of child care is a Washington-based issue. It is not an issue out in the states."
Which has more skeletons? Green-Wood Cemetery (over 600,000), or Tom Delay's closet? The Washington Post reports that in 2000, Delay, his wife, and two aides went on a $70,000 trip to Britain (I've been there, it's nice), and most of the costs were covered on paper by a public policy group which then received reimbursement from an Indian tribe and a gambling services company. And then? Delay later voted against a law that would have hurt gambling interests...
Two months later, in July 2000, DeLay and 43 other Republicans joined 114 Democrats in killing the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, which would have made it a federal crime to place certain bets over the Internet and was opposed by eLottery and the Choctaws. The bill was supported by 165 Republicans and 79 Democrats but fell about 25 votes short of passage; because of a parliamentary maneuver, it required a two-thirds majority vote.
Perhaps you also saw this item in Thursday's Washington Post about how
Delay and his aides took a trip to South Korea sponsored by
foreign agents, a clear broach of ethics rules? Each of these
articles made the WaPo front page: twice in three days. Pretty
good work, Mr. Representative.
Stock market pragmatism. The Cunning
Realist has a post reminding of the huge potential downfalls of
investing in the stock market, not just the penny stocks which
can be so risky that it would be like betting at the horse track,
but even if you were to invest like Donald Luskin or Bill Frist.