Friday, January 28, 2005

Down in the Subway

Here's another edition of Down in the Subway, this week spotlighting the Washington Underground. There's an interesting post on how the invasion of Iraq may have negative consequences. Anyway go check it out and leave a comment saying hello!

Round the Horn and the Dangers of Leaves

I just want to report that this morning for a brief period of time I was afraid of a leaf. I had opened the door and was heading out when I realized I should probably put on a jacket, so I turned around and saw something big and dark scuttle across the floor near my feet. After a moment I realized it was a leaf, and calmed down--but it was a moment of confusion.

Moving on.

And then . . . considers the pampered life of those (like Jonah Goldberg) who are comfortable with Torture.

blogAmY has some comments on the Kids Come First program, designed to help children get the medical attention they deserve.

Chris "Lefty" Brown has some thoughts on a recent plot twist at Law and Order.

Collective Sigh puts a human face on the ups and downs of the stock market (where Bush wants to put Social Security, if you'll recall).

Rooks Rant has a piece on a prediction President Bush made in 1988 about Social Security.

Dohiyi Mir has a story on how some Democrats are challenging the one party rule in the House and Senate.

Gamer's Nook has an interesting factoid about the new Secretary of States confirmation.

MercuryX23's Fantabulous Blog has a letter from his Congressperson about the proposed Delay rule.

Steve Gilliard's News Blog has a story on the rough and tumble world of pre-teen soccer.

Trish Wilson's Blog has hypothetical legal situations for those who want to test their minds.

And that's it for another week. Remember keep watching the leaves.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Chile And Social Security

Good article at the Times on how Private Retirement Accounts worked in Chile. They have not performed as advertised, apparently.
For all the program's success in economic terms, the government continues to direct billions of dollars to a safety net for those whose contributions were not large enough to ensure even a minimum pension approaching $140 a month. Many others - because they earned much of their income in the underground economy, are self-employed, or work only seasonally - remain outside the system altogether. Combined, those groups constitute roughly half the Chilean labor force. Only half of workers are captured by the system.

Even many middle-class workers who contributed regularly are finding that their private accounts - burdened with hidden fees that may have soaked up as much as a third of their original investment - are failing to deliver as much in benefits as they would have received if they had stayed in the old system.
Worth reading for a hint at how the Bush plan might work.

The Beat Goes On!

The new Chemical Brothers album (Push the Button) just came out, and it is super good, particularly "Hold Tight London," "Close Your Eyes," and "The Boxer." I don't know if it will be a big hit (frankly I suspect it won't, unfortunately), but it certainly shows that the Chemical Brothers are on top of their game.

It's interesting because we have had strong releases by both The Prodigy (Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned) and Fatboy Slim (Palookaville), certainly releases that equal or surpass the albums they put out when the recording world was trying to push Electronica. Take Fatboy Slimps Palookaville (2004) and You've Come a Long Way, Baby (1998). While You've Come A Long Way Baby has some undeniable singles ("The Rockefeller Skank" and "Praise You") the rest of the album can't really compare to Palookaville either on tunesmanship or on breadth.

Not to say that it's not a great album, but it's an album from an earlier time, when Fatboy Slim (and most Electronic artists) seemed to have a narrower idea about what kind of music they could put out.

At any rate, all three albums are great, although Push the Button seems the best to me just now.

Examiner finds man breathing in morgue

The Associated Press is reporting that a man in Raleigh North Carolina was found breathing in the Morgue. Here with additional commentary is Irwin J. McIckleson, a fictional 1910s plutocrat.
Once again we see that this modern world has abandoned the traditions that made this country great. Remember it was tradition that caused the United States to break away from England. And it was tradition that led the North to victory over the South in the Civil War. And you have abandoned tradition.

In my day it was considered indecent for anybody to breath in the morgue. It was a terrible strain on our morgue workers, having to dash in holding their breath, working until they turned blue and then dashing back out. But it was worth it. Because it was tradition. And also because the souls of dead men would try to enter their bodies through the mouth and cause sickness and dementia. So you see this tradition was based on wise consideration. But you, foolish future men, you have opened yourself up to madness by allowing your morgue attendants to work in the morgues will breathing!
Upon reflection, Mr. McIckleson's words may not be entirely germane to the story, but he makes some . . . points and I need to fill up the page somehow.

Listening vs. Talking

Thomas L. Friedman rights a correct, if somewhat obtuse, column today on how President Bush might improve our relations with Europe. He suggests that the next time President Bush swings through Europe, he tries listening instead of speaking.
If Mr. Bush did that none of the European pundits would be able to pick apart his speeches here and mock the contradictions between his words and deeds. None of them would comment on his delivery and what he failed to mention. Instead, all the European commentators, politicians and demonstrators would start fighting with one another over what to say to the president. It might even force the Europeans to get out of their bad habit of just saying, "George Bush," and everybody laughing or sneering as if that ends the conversation, and Europe doesn't have to declare what it stands for.

Listening is also a sign of respect. It is a sign that you actually value what the other person might have to say. If you just listen to someone first, it is amazing how much they will listen to you back. Most Europeans, though, are convinced that George Bush is deaf - that he cannot listen or hear.
This isn't a bad idea. But Mr. Friedman doesn't consider how President Bush and his supporters look at Europe. It's been clear that a lot on the right don't think that Europe is worth the respect that listening would require. That was a clunky sentance so let me put it another way. Europe doesn't have anything to say that President Bush and his supporters think is worth listening to.

Maybe a scene from The Simpsons Episode 1F19, "The Boy Who Knew Too Much" will make my point.

Blonde (Europe): Freddy honey? I think something just dropped into the back seat.
Freddy (President Bush's America): I'm not paying you to talk.
So while this is good advice, President Bush would risk offending a lot of his supporters to do it. He would also have to face criticism something neither he nor Karl Rove are much interested in. So, while it might be a good idea, it's not going to happen.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Remember the Math

President Bush gave a press conference today, where he answered a lot of questions predominately on Iraq and on Social Security. On Iraq, President Bush still isn't able to come up with any mistakes he might have made but at least he avoided the question better this time.

On Social Security has one idea that he's kind of latched onto.
. . . And here's the problem: the -- as dictated by just math, there is -- the system will be in the red in 13 years, and in 2042 the system will be broke. That's because people are living longer, and the number of people paying into the Social Security trust is dwindling.

. . . The threshold question is, will Congress -- is Congress willing to say we have a problem. We do have a problem. The math shows we have a problem. And now is the time to act on the problem. And once people realize there's a problem, then I believe there's an obligation for all sides to bring forth ideas.

. . . I am going to continue to speak directly to the American people about this issue and remind them about the math; and remind them that if you're a senior, nothing changes; and speak to the younger folks coming up about the forecasts.
Here is some math President Bush would like you to remember.

h The Social Security System will be running a deficit in 2017-2018 and the trustfund will be empty in 2042.

h If this happens, the system will require benefit cuts and / or tax increases.

Here is some math that President Bush would like you to not remember.

y The United States government is running an enormous deficit due to poor fiscal policies forwarded by the Bush Administration.

y The Social Security projections (showing it falling apart in 2042) are based on pessimistic assumptions about the future of the American Economy. The promised benefits of personal accounts are based on optimistic assumptions about the future of the American Economy. It is unlikely that both scenarios will play out at the same time.

y Personal accounts will be much more expensive to maintain as compared to how social security costs (where less that 2% is siphoned off to pay for administrative costs).

On the plus side President Bush is promising not to cut benefits to current seniors. Although that begs the question of how he is going to pay for the transition costs.

Also for those of you who believe we have a liberal media, check out these questions.
Q. Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy. Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet, in the same breath, they say that Social Security is rock-solid and there's no crisis there. How are you going to work -- you said you're going to reach out to these people -- how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?

. . . Q. Mr. President, we saw the Democrats yesterday devote nine hours to Ms. Rice. We may see something similar with regard to Judge Gonzales. There's just simply a lot of anger on the Hill by Democrats at you, personally, and at your administration. And isn't this going to dog your efforts at whatever you do down the line, from the Supreme Court to immigration to whatever?
Yeah those were some real toughies from the "liberal" press corps.

A Quotation

From John Adams Inaugural Address.
In the midst of these pleasing ideas we should be unfaithful to ourselves if we should ever lose sight of the danger to our liberties if anything partial or extraneous should infect the purity of our free, fair, virtuous, and independent elections. If an election is to be determined by a majority of a single vote, and that can be procured by a party through artifice or corruption, the Government may be the choice of a party for its own ends, not of the nation for the national good.
Of course, by Adams lights the existence of parties at all would be seen as a corrupting influence on the will of the people. Still something to think about.

The Battle over History

I am not a plumber and I have minimal training in plumbing, therefore I would be loath to give advice on how to lay pipes.

I am not a mechanic and I have minimal training in how to fix cars, therefore I would advise you to go to a mechanic rather than me to get your car fixed.

I am not a historian, and I have only a few high school classes in history under my belt, but I can tell you for a fact what really happened during the civil war and what snooty college professor types are trying to shove down our throats.

The New York Times has an editorial today on a recently published book "The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History."

Much of the time when you see someone banging on about being politically incorrect it means they have a racial slur or a misogynist observation to share with you. To be fair, sometimes it just means they are a person who wants to assert their own individuality by rejection an imposed morality (just like everybody else).

At any rate Thomas Woods Jr. (the author of the book) is probably not in the later category.
Most ominously, it ["The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History."] makes an elaborate argument that the 14th Amendment was "never constitutionally ratified" because of irregularities in how it was adopted. This, too, is a pet cause of the fringe right, one the Supreme Court has rejected. If it prevailed, it would undo Brown v. Board of Education and many other rulings barring discrimination based on race, religion and sex. But Mr. Woods does not carry his argument to its logical conclusion. If the 14th Amendment was not properly ratified, neither, it would seem, was the 13th, which was adopted under similar circumstances, and slavery should be legal.
It strikes me that the goal of this book has nothing to do with uncovering historical accuracy and everything to do with colonizing the past. Woods wants to discover an American history that confirms his prejudices.

Oh, and in real life I do have a MA in American History.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Carrot and the Stick

There are pretty much two ways to motivate people, the Carrot (or the hope for a positive result) and the Stick (or the hope to avoid a negative result). Rich Lowry today urges President Bush to stop using the stick so much in the Social Security debate.

Lowry notes that Social Security crisis is some 40 years out so it's hard to get people worked up about it now. To his credit, Lowry doesn't mention those worthless IOUs. Rather he'd like to see President Bush forsaking on the positive aspects of his Social Security phase out plan.
Bush must keep his priorities straight: Private accounts are what he campaigned for, they are relatively popular, and they will create more savers and investors in America, shifting the electorate in a more pro-free-market direction over time. By focusing on the private accounts, Bush will stay on the strongest possible rhetorical ground, offering a better, new deal for younger workers. Any eventual compromise with Congress will have to include some measures to improve Social Security's finances -- if nothing else than to reassure the financial markets -- but it won't have to solve everything in one fell swoop. Who cares if Congress in, say, 2020 has to come back to adjust the program's financing again?
A few points might help clear this up. Democrats are largely in favor of Personal Retirement plans; but feel that they should be implemented on top of Social Security, not instead of Social Security.

Secondly, a quick conundrum. The projections to show that Social Security will run out of money in 2042 are based on the assumption that economic growth will be slow--2-3%. If the economy grows faster than that, say at 6%, than the trust fund will last considerably longer. One interesting note. In projecting how much money the new social security private accounts will save, you have to make certain assumptions, such as how fast the economy will grow. Well in order to sell private accounts as bringing in a lot of money they have generally assumed that past economic growth rates (right around 6%) will hold.

Or to put it another way, if the economic projections that project a crisis in Social Security hold, it's unlikely that private accounts will make enough money to make a difference. On the other hand, if the economy grows at a rate where private accounts will bring in an adequate amount of money, than Social Security isn't really in a crisis at all.

Something to think about.

In other Social Security news, Jack Kemp writes an article today that starts with this crowdpleasing paragraph.
In the face of an audacious stonewall by Democrats against President Bush's ownership society vision, personal retirement accounts in particular, there is growing pessimism among some conservatives. A few Republicans fear that aggressively pursuing the vision could endanger their congressional majorities.
I'd just like to point out that President Bush has yet to propose a social security plan, and that no voting or parliamentary procedures have been taking place in regards to this issue. So I'm not sure how Democrats are stonewalling President Bush. Unless "stonewalling" is a new Republican word for disagreeing (Republicans love making honest disagreements sound like vicious stabs in the back).

The rest of Kemp's argument compares the debt question of the Revolutionary era with the Social Security Crisis of today, in order to suggest that phasing out Social Security is a step forward. Personally I see it the other way. Alexander Hamilton and George Washington worked to figure out a way to pay the debt owed America's Creditors. In the same vein President Bush needs to figure out a way to pay back the debt owed America by saving the Social Security Program, not thrusting the risk back onto the people he owes the money too.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Sometimes I'm not Very Bright

I just saw this picture over at the New York Times attached to an article entitled "Northeast Digs Out of Deadly Blizzard."

My first thought? "Boy is that an elaborate Ice Sculpture."

Yeah, not my finest moment.

Edwin J. Feulner is a Filthy Prevaricator

Actually I don't know anything about Mr. Feulner's hygiene, so it's possible, even probable that he is actually a neat and tidy prevaricator. defines preverication as "To stray from or evade the truth; equivocate." Let's see if Mr. Feulner fits this description.

Here's a section from his latest article on the Social Security "crisis."
Over the next 75 years, Social Security is scheduled to pay out $27 trillion more in benefits than it will take in through payroll taxes. PRAs would close that gap.(1) Without them we'll have to raise taxes or slash benefits - or both - to keep the program going.

Of course, there are some who still deny the country faces a problem. "The system is not in crisis; it has money to last for about the next half century, and even then, if nothing is done the required benefit cuts would still leave retirees better off than those getting benefits today," the Minneapolis Star-Tribune wrote in a recent editorial.

Unfortunately, that assumes that Social Security can really rely on its trust fund to pay benefits. There are billions of dollars worth of IOUs in that fund, but no real money. (2) So, in 2018 when the program starts spending more in benefits than it takes in through taxes, the government will still need to increase taxes or cut spending in order to pay those IOUs out of general revenues.
Here are where Mr. Feulner misses the mark in an attempt to deceive the American people.

1. Mr. Feulner guarantees that Personal Retirement Accounts would close the gap. In theory he can believe what ever he likes; but the evidence doesn't exactly point towards his theory. For one thing setting up and maintaining the PRAs will drain a lot of money out of the system. For another it's impossible to know how much money these PRAs will actually produce.

2. The money in the Social Security Trust fund, as we have mentioned many times, is in United State Government Treasuries. I don't know what is wrong with conservatives who seem determined to tear down America. The America I know is an honest country who pays her debts. Conservatives see us as a deadbeat nation who won't (or can't) pay off her debts. You decide which you think describes us better.

3. This isn't a deception actually, although Mr. Feulner would probably prefer you not to think about why this situation arises. Feulner also suggests that, because we are a deadbeat nation, raising taxes won't work because we'd just spend the money anyway.

Edited because I consistently mispelled Mr. Feulner's name.

More on Social Security

There's an interview with the long-suffering economist Paul Krugman over at Rolling Stone. I say long-suffering because Krugman has been patiently explaining some of the economic issues for quite a long time, and it has to be hard to figure out new ways to explain them in his New York Times editorials. Anyway it's a good interview, and I particularly liked this exchange.
In selling the idea that there's a crisis, Bush has a lot of powerful words on his side: "choice," "freedom," "ownership society." What words do you have to counter his sales job?

Scam. Three-card monte. I've been thinking a lot about flying pigs. The privateers are claiming that you can have something for nothing. They're basically saying, "Let's assume that pigs can fly." And when you say, "You know, it's not good to assume that pigs can fly," they respond by saying, "What's wrong with you? Don't you understand the enormous advantage of flying pigs?"
Personally I've never understood the advantage to flying pigs. I mean wouldn't that make it harder to get bacon or ham or pork chops?

Steel Cage Match

Some of you might think it's alarmist of Liberals to suggest that the Conservatives might prefer destroying Social Security to saving it. If you feel this way, I'd advise you to check out this article from the Claremont Institute. Mr. Masugi, writing on their behalf, sets up President Bush's second term inaugural as a chance for him to respond to and reject FDR's 1944 State of the Union speech.
FDR (aided by Woodrow Wilson) transformed the earlier understanding of equality by making the Declaration an instrument of class warfare and a means of overthrowing limited government.

Bush's challenge is to overthrow the FDR legacy. It appears he knows what he's doing. In his New Yorker profile of Bush advisor Karl Rove, Nicholas Lemann concludes that "Rove's Republican-majority America would be not just pre-Great Society, and not just pre-New Deal, but pre-Progressive era. Rove's intellectual hero is James Madison."
Nice. I guess we don't have to accuse the Bush administration of building a bridge to the 21th century (no disrespect to James Madison intended). I should also point out that Masugi makes it clear that he expects President Bush to reject FDR's entire legacy (including Social Security, one would assume), not just the 1944 inaugural speech.

Of course the Claremont institute isn't completely satisfied with President Bush's inaugural speech. For one thing he concedes too much to multiculturalism (I have more to say on this subject, but will leave it for another post). For another, he didn't vilify his political enemies as Terrorists, like FDR did.
Having set his goals so high, Bush should remember FDR's admonition in the State of the Union Address he is answering:

'One of the great American industrialists of our day - a man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis - recently emphasized the grave dangers of "rightist reaction" in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop - if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called "normalcy" of the 1920's - then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.'

In the midst of WW II FDR was calling his conservative Republican opponents Nazis. If President Bush wants realignment he will have to pay his Democratic opponents back in kind, as he sets about creating freedom abroad and restoring it at home. Such are the means by which the truths of the Declaration of Independence will be revived. I eagerly await his State of the Union Address.
Of course it's kind of a stretch to suggest that President Roosevelt was condemning republicans as fascists. He was talking about some potential factory owners, while making it clear that other factory owners saw the same dangers he did. To put it in historical perspective, one of the reasons German and Italian companies went along with facism was that it solved all the messy problems of unions and workers rights. It's not hard to believe that some of America's capitalists might be attracted to the same sort of philosophy.

On the other hand, the only connections between Liberal Democrats and Islamic Terrorists is that neither of us thinks much of President Bush. The truth is in their program and in the type of society they want to create, Islamic Terrorists have more in common with Christian Fundamentalists than with Liberal Democrats. But my guess is that the Claremont Institute would rather not see them vilified as terrorist sympathizers.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

New Format, New Quote, comments on "unscripted" television!

Yep. And we have finally updated the Quotes Page. So hooray. Also this week's logo had an assist from frequent poster "Random Goblin."

Watched the first new episode of the Apprentice (season 3) last night, and I am having trouble with the term unscripted television, often used to describe reality shows. Because we have three seasons of apprentice and in all cases one particular drama seems to play out. The Sammy Scenario. In the first season, there was this guy called Sam who went in the board room three times and was finally eliminated because nobody on his time liked him and they all agreed that he had no future in the Trump Organization. In the second season, there was a character named Stacy J. who fulfilled the same role.

And now in the third season we have Danny (spoilers follow). It helps (in my book anyway) that he reminds me distinctly of Peter Buck (guitarist for R.E.M. with whom he shares a certain fashion sense) and Michael Moore (the facial features, and certain mannerisms). He takes a long time to come up with a pretty crummy promotional scheme, but Mr. Trump doesn't fire him because the real problem was that they couldn't sell the burgers even as fast as he brought people in because they didn't have enough people working the cash registers. So Danny lives another week, and if the pattern holds he will probably get another week after that.

Anyway it seems to be following a pretty solid script on that score--one Sammy per season of the Apprentice. But last season they couldn't really come up with another Omarosa (the break out character of the first season), nor could they come up with another Troy (the likeable character of the first season). We'll have to see how this season goes.

So you see we here at Make me a Commentator!!! are not just focused on Social Security.