Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Eldricht Horror of Flat 138

Good article about H.P. Lovecraft over at Salon (by Laura Miller) for those of you who like him. I do like him, and not in the way Ms. Miller seems to like him.
There is a ferocious imaginative power driving these tales, and all the more so for being, to cop a favorite Lovecraftian word, unwholesome. In the Freud-crazed '50s and '60s it became fashionable to denounce Lovecraft's fiction as "neurotic," to which the only conceivable reply is: Duh. How could anyone think of presenting such an observation as an insight when neurosis lies palpitating on the surface of the work? These tales are veritable carnivals of anxiety, repression and rage; that's the source of their appeal. They aren't in any sense healthy, but then neither is the poetry of Baudelaire.
There's a bit of disdain in Miller's approach here, perhaps deserved. But I still find his work, particularly the stories about the Dreamlands, to be very imaginative and powerful (if, as others have noted, not all that scary).

Friday, February 11, 2005

An Update

Well it turns out there is an answer to the question asked above, and Archy has the answer.

It's Friday Afternoon!

So, like, whatever happened to Heckle and Jeckle?

Down in the Subway

This week the nation (well that part of the nation that is reading this blog) turns it's lonely eye on the Rational Anarchist, who has a little essay on budgets and borders.

For those of you who like Monsters, you might also like this cartoon.

Round the Horn Pt the Duck: Old Red Eyes is Back

And here we go.

All Facts and Opinions has a very sober overview on the advances made in the Israeli / Palestine conflict this week.

archy has a bit on elevator speeches, which are actually an interesting mental exercise as well as being practical.

Bloggg has a way you can vote for your favorite America (and, indirectly, against President Bush).

Corrente has a story on the increasing numbers of bankruptcies due to medical bills.

Echidne of the Snakes has a thinkpiece on obscene phone calls or crank obscene phone calls.

I like the word "thinkpiece."

Left is Right has some thoughts on individual savings and Social Security.

Musing's Musings has some words about recent revelations by the 9/11 commission.

Pen Elayne on the Web has some comments on the current buzz in the blogosphere and how that reflects the real world.

Rubber Hose has analysis of how the Bush Budget raises some taxes without even trying.

And that's it for another week--tune in later when we take our weekly trip Down in the Subway.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Post Card from the Monster

Just got a letter from the Monster who is off this week on a trip to the island of Maui in the Pacific Ocean. He sent a letter and a photo, so for those interested here it is. If you aren't interested then please send $5.00 and a self addressed stamped envelope to NOT INTERESTED, 123 Fake Stree, Your Town, FX, 00002.

And here's his letter.
Dear Readers.

Arghhahhooga ahhhghhsnnnik arrrummmsttttaaakk

That is how a monster roars! I say to all my fans, arrrooghhhaaa.

I say to Jonah Goldberg bah! Him not respect the monster way. Monsters not evil. Monsters just rambunctious.

Monster say Maui nice. Me eat several lizards.

Monster say goodbye.

The Monster
we may hear from the monster as he continues his journey, although getting through customs when you are a monster isn't all that easy, so who knows.

I'm Troubled

H.R. 418, the REAL ID act of 2005, passed today. Section 102, amends a previous act (the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996) to include the following provision.
`(1) IN GENERAL- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive, and shall waive, all laws such Secretary, in such Secretary's sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section.

`(2) NO JUDICIAL REVIEW- Notwithstanding any other provision of law (statutory or nonstatutory), no court shall have jurisdiction--

`(A) to hear any cause or claim arising from any action undertaken, or any decision made, by the Secretary of Homeland Security pursuant to paragraph (1); or

`(B) to order compensatory, declaratory, injunctive, equitable, or any other relief for damage alleged to arise from any such action or decision.'.
Aren't conservatives the ones worried about the power of the Federal Government? Or about too much power being concentrated in few hands (something we should all be worried about, frankly)?

Is pretending that the Social Security Trust Fund doesn't exist constitutional?

This question was raised by a poster at Democratic Underground, and it's worth considering. The 14th Ammendment to the Constitution, fourth section, states, in part, "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned."

What do you think? Does saying that the Social Security Trust Fund, held in Government Securities, not exist? Is that the same thing as questioning the public debt?

Do you want a President who is Truthful?

Some in our country think that Social Security is a trust fund -- in other words, there's a pile of money being accumulated. That's just simply not true. The money -- payroll taxes going into the Social Security are spent. They're spent on benefits and they're spent on government programs. There is no trust. We're on the ultimate pay-as-you-go system -- what goes in comes out. And so, starting in 2018, what's going in -- what's coming out is greater than what's going in. It says we've got a problem. And we'd better start dealing with it now. The longer we wait, the harder it is to fix the problem.
- President George W. Bush, February 9, 2005
Is this the truth? Is there really no Social Security Trust Fund as the President suggests?

If you've been paying attention here, you know that this is not true. There is a social security trust fund. It's invested in United States Treasuries, considered by many to be an extremely safe investment. Consider this statement by Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan (lifted from Talking Points Memo).
The National Commission believes that the investment procedures followed by the trust funds in the past generally have been proper and appropriate. The monies available have generally been invested appropriately in Government obligations at interest rates which are equitable to both the trust funds and the General Fund of the Treasury and have not -- as is sometimes alleged -- been spent for other purposes outside of the Social Security program.

Of course when Greenspan wrote that he, and Ronald Reagan, were trying to talk American Workers into paying higher payroll taxes so that they could have some money set aside to save Social Security. Now President Bush is telling Americas workers that the United States Government has, in effect, pissed away the money by investing it in United States Treasuries.

Why does President Bush want to feed this deception? Well because the money to pay those Treasuries has to come from somewhere. If the Government were functioning in a sane way, that would be no problem--you simple budget to pay that money back. But President Bush's enormous tax cuts have bottomed out the budget, and it would be really nice (from President Bush's perspective) if they didn't have to pay that money back. So he'll talk as if the trust fund doesn't exist and he'll hope nobody catches on.

Which, of course, takes us back to the title of this post.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Ben Shapiro Boy Prognosticator Laughs Hysterically

Yep Ben Shapiro is laughing like the Joker on ecstasy as he writes his latest article, called "It's the Democratic party, they can cry if they want to." In it, in between horrific gales of laughter, he writes about how the Democrats are a bunch of crybabies.

For example there's this section, written while Ben was laughing in a way you would really find disturbing. "Somebody call the waaaambulance. Realizing that they're losing the political battle, the Democrats have fallen back on their last resort: weeping." Ben was laughing so hard during that section milk shot out of his nose in a truly disgusting manner.

And if that wasn't enough hideous merriment for you, take this section. "Today's Democratic leaders only remember Clinton's tears, and think they can get away with avoiding legitimate charges by turning on the water works. They'd do well to remember Edmund Muskie, the prospective 1972 Democratic presidential candidate, who fell out of the race because he supposedly shed a few tears after the media ripped his wife. He had a good reason to cry, and he still lost." Ha ha ha ha ha you'd hear Shapiro said as he jammed the knife in, laughing like the Hobgoblin after he became an evil demonic monster in the Inferno Storyline.

How do I know that Ben Shapiro is laughing like the devil himself? I don't. But if Ben Shapiro can claim that the Democrats are crying all the time (when in fact they are simply defending themselves) I can claim that he's laughing hysterically. If he's actually got evidence that Democratic leaders are shedding real tears, . . . well that'd be different. But if he has, he didn't present it in this article.

New Link

I just realized I forgot to actually add Republican Sinners to the Liberal Coalition Roll over there on the right. I thought I had, but I hadn't. So now I have.

Coming Attractions

I've focused pretty heavily on the Social Security part of President Bush's State of the Union and other appearances lately. But perhaps I've been over focusing. According to Tony Blankley (who you can soon see on Left, Right & Center, maybe), President Bush pretty clearly laid out our future foreign policy.
There is only one word that describes each of those two statements: Ultimatum -- a final demand, the rejection of which will end negotiations and cause a resort to force or other action. The president has not left much to talk about, other than the technical procedures by which the uranium programs and terror support programs are to be dismantled.

The only other thing missing from President Bush's statement is an express deadline by which his demands must be acceded to. But, given that the Iranians have not denied the existence of their nuclear programs, and given that the world can observe the terrorists activities of Syria and Iran, the implicit deadline for action must be measured in months, not years.
Of course it's hard to determine if Mr. Blankleys interpretation of the State of the Union is the correct one. Certainly the President had some hard words for both Iran and Syria, but were those really a sign of imminent military actions against those nations? Our military is stretched pretty thin (just ask a national guardsman you know), and Iraq continues to keep us pretty busy.

Still Mr. Blankly and President Bush swim in similar intellectual waters; what might seem far-fetched to us, might make perfect since to them.

Adding it up

As you know we are in budget season once more. The White House has sent over a budget which cuts a large number of programs and calls for cut backs in a number of other programs. But it's also a little phony. Both the costs for President Bush's proposed Social Security Personal Accounts scam and for the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts are not in the budget. But don't worry, Bush did put something into the budget, according to the Progress Report.
No matter which way you slice it, the administration's budget is egregiously fiscally irresponsible - by its own estimates, it will result in a $390 billion deficit in 2006. Worse, that figure is only arrived at through trickery. The budget includes over a billion dollars in revenue from drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), even though Congress hasn't authorized such drilling and has rejected President Bush's proposal to open ANWR to oil exploration for the last four years. Budget Director Josh Bolten defended the move, claiming, "the budget is the right place to present the entirety of the president's policies, so all of his proposals are reflected in there." Really? The Bush budget excludes all funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the administration's $2 trillion Social Security package.
So if a figure is going to make the Bush Administration's Budget look good it must be added. But if it is going to make the budget look irresponsible, well, those numbers can be left out.

The number one priority of this administration isn't balancing the budget, it isn't Saving Social Security, it isn't even keeping our troops safe. It is protecting the Bush Tax Cuts. Once you understand that, this kind of budgetary flim-flam becomes quite understandable.

Talon and Monsters

This is a strange story which I will summarize briefly. Jeff Gannon has been a White House "reporter" who works for Talon News and asks softball questions at White House Press Junkets. His masterpiece came in a Presidential Press Conference a few weeks back. Coincidentally enough it was also the question that got people paying attention to him with less then great results.
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?
MediaMatters followed up that question with a profile of Gannon suggesting that he was not really a reporter, but a plant by an organization friendly to the Administration.

Also he made #2 on Democratic Underground's Top Ten Conservative Idiots a couple of weeks back, whereupon, in a show of good sportsmanship, he wrote in and hoped that he could make it to #1.

Now the story takes a salacious turn, so those of you with young children, well, don't worry kids it's been boring up till now, but in a few paragraphs I'm going to be talking about the cookie monster. At any rate Daily Kos and site associates have apparently discovered that Mr. Gannon apparently owns several Gay Porn websites. In light of this recent revelation, Mr. Gannon has apparently decided not to continue his association with Talon News, although obviously we can't comment on how voluntary this dissassociation was.

So what's the point? Just that this is a total flash in the pan story, and the focus is going to be on exactly the wrong story. See now Mr. Gannon fits into a pattern we've seen before; that of the seemingly moral man who seeks to impose his morality on others, but really has a shame of his own. Rush Limbaugh, Bill Bennett and Bill O'Reilly have all gone through similar stories over the last few years. We're used to that story. It's a good story.

But that's not really the problem with Gannon. Daily Kos put it particularly well.
There is some concern that focus on the more salacious details of Gannon's hypocrisy detracts from more substantive discussions and investigations currently going on by various diariests.

In a way, that may be true. Gannon is a propagandist, funded by god knows who, who essentially provide McClellan a lifeline whenever the White House press corps backs him into a corner.
This is the real story. If the White House wants to continue giving guys like Gannon press credentials, I guess that's their right, but we should be aware of who these people are.

Speaking of stories, incidentally, Jonah Goldberg has a problem with a certain type of story we tell. In his latest article, he spends some time talking about real Monsters that live around us, mentioning the child abusing Dollars as well as other child abusers in our society. Then he has this bit.
Monsters of a different sort play a big role in my life these days. My house is drenched in Elmo, Cookie Monster, Grover, and other cute and cuddly beasts. My daughter still can't get enough of "Monsters Inc.," a wonderful movie that nonetheless perpetuates the idea that monsters aren't by their nature evil. In the film the creatures are just as terrified of human kids as the kids are of the giant creatures.

A lovable monster is a very new concept because, first and foremost, monsters are about evilness.
Presumably Mr. Goldberg prefers G.I. Joe--stories where the bad guys are definitely bad and deserving to be shot up.

It's hard to know how to take this, as I'm quite sure that Mr. Goldberg is being, in part, facetious. The point to Monsters Inc. and dozens of other children's books and movies is that we shouldn't judge people by outward appearance (at least in relation to what Mr. Goldberg is talking about--Monsters Inc. is about a number of things in reality (I suspect another problem Mr. Goldberg has with the movie is that the head of the company turns out to be the real monster)). You can't always tell a monster by what he looks like.

Of course I suppose it's possible that Goldberg has a problem with that message as well.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Stock Tip

Here's a stock tip for those of you interested in the market. Muskrat Bob's Discount Mattress Safari (MBODMS). As you know there is a lot of talk about a Social Security Crisis right now, based on the theory that investing the Social Security Trust Fund in United States Treasury Bonds is pretty much the same thing as pissing it away.

Well we can't let this situation go on forever. And if money isn't safe in United States Treasuries, where will it be safe? I think I has the solution, as Mr. Homestar Runner would say. Mattresses. For keeping money safe, nothing works better (now that we can't trust United States Securities). I foresee that within three or four years the Social Security Trustees will be buying thousands of mattresses.

Plus think about the individual market. When these economic doom-sayers convince the American Public that Treasury Bonds are worthless, don't you think they will want their own mattresses? Now you might argue that many of them already own mattresses. But here's a clue, Sherlock. Sleeping on money is uncomfortable (particularly coin money).

Sorry for the hostility in that last paragraph, but I'm just totally convinced that if you all buy mattress stock, my mattress stock will rise in value.

Oh and I'm not serious, and I don't even know if MBODMS is real stock symbol, and if it is I have no way of knowing whether or not they are any good.

Why do the Democrats have to keep being the Democrats

Continuing on with our theme of Conservative Commentators advising Liberals, let's turn to Star Parker's latest.
Going forward, it seems to me that the Democratic Party has two options. One is to concede that Bush is correct that our goal must be to continue on the path of advancing freedom and personal responsibility, and to contend with him about details on how best to achieve this. Or, they can reject the premise that freedom and personal responsibility are our goals and continue to promote more government.
Well I am for Personal Accountability and Freedom. I suspect many Democrats are (except in those cases where Personal Accountability is code for screwing the poor).

Take Iraq for example. We invaded that country because we were told by the CIA and by the Administration that Iraq contained weapons of Mass Destruction and was a clear threat to the United States. It turns out that statement is false. Someone should be held accountable for that mistake. Nobody begrudges Iraqis their freedom, but when you are going to spend American Money and American Lives you need more to justify it.

Or take Social Security for another. It's clear that many Republicans and Conservatives feel as you do, Ms. Parker. Social Security is a bad program and should be eliminated. That said, most of your colleagues don't have the same willingness to attack it directly. Instead we have this double talk about wanting to save Social Security while really working to destroy it. I think your colleagues should be held accountable for this double talk.

At any rate this is the same offer Conservatives have been making for years. Support our programs and we will let you change a word or two (although the total thrust of the program won't change in the slightest). It's not surprising that most Democrats prefer not to accept this offer.

Howard Dean - Not Southern

Apparently the fact that Howard Dean will be the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee is bad news, primarily because he's not Southern. This news come to us thanks to Larry Kudlow
But let me add a more simple reason why Dean should never chair the DNC: He is not from the South and has no pull in the South.

In their White House bids, Al Gore and John Kerry were destroyed in the pro-military, anti-tax, culturally conservative South. Not merely the Deep South, but the border states as well. Meanwhile, Democratic senators, House members, and governors have been crushed in a series of Republican landslides in the Southern states.

The Dems will not reclaim the White House until they start the process of electoral recovery in the South. This has long been former Sen. Zell Miller's message to his party. At the very least the next DNC chair should be a moderate from the Rocky Mountain West, someone with good communication skills who can reach out to Southern voters. But if Dean, another Northeast liberal, rises to the top, the headline becomes clear: "Dems to South: Drop Dead."
Yeah, I can confirm that Dean is definitely not from the South. No Southerner he. But the other part of the thesis is less definite.

Basically the assumption is that we can't really win America unless we win the South. Note that Mr. Kudlow doesn't consider the Northeast States, the Mid-Atlantic States, the Great Lakes States, the Plains States, the Rocky Mountain States, The South-Western States or the Pacific States as relevant. The only states that really matter are the Southern States.

It's easy enough to see why Mr. Kudlow and other Conservatives would propagate this view point. They see the South as safe ground, where traditional prejudices and resentments make them, more or less, unassailable. Personally, I'm not sure about this assessment; I think the South has a certain generosity of spirit and bone crushing poverty that might bush them the other way, if those traits were capitalized on.

Bringing up Zell Miller, of course, makes Mr. Kudlow's point even more explicit. If the Democratic Party is to be an effective party they need to be the Republican Party. A lot of conservatives don't seem to understand why Democrats would rather the Democratic Party stayed the Democratic Party.

At any rate, the idea that a Northeastern DNC Chair is a "screw-you" to the South is total crap. We are all Americans. It's time that Mr. Kudlow and others who would play on regional resentments learned that. It's past time that the American people taught him that.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Saving Social Security Pt II

Jacob Sullum is another brave soul who praises President Bush's goal to Save Social Security. He says that President Bush's proposal is well reasoned and balanced, and that, unlike Democrats, he is willing to listen to his political opponents (we'll see how that turns out). And then he writes this charming paragraph.
Although sold to the public as a pension system, Social Security is based on the forced transfer of resources between generations. It steals from the poor to give to the rich, and it substitutes dependence on a beneficent state for self-reliance and voluntary mutual aid. It may not be financially bankrupt, but it is morally so.
Sort of begs the question, doesn't it? Why would you want to Save Social Security if you think it is a morally bankrupt system?

Reality is Partisan

My attempts to get this catchphrase to take off haven't really worked so far.

Anyway, just read a fascinating article by Donald Lambro, which puts the Conservative Argument into perspective. He presents evidence (after a fashion), that shows that Democrats have to give in on the Social Security issue.
A Zogby poll last month of more than 1,000 likely voters found that 30 percent of Democrats said they liked the idea [President bushes private accounts . . .

An Annenberg poll in December found that 54 percent of Hispanics supported the concept of "allowing workers to invest Social Security funds in the stock market." . . .

Zogby found that 58 percent of workers younger than 50, the target group for Bush's plan, support it. That number rises to 61 percent among workers under 30. . . .

Most Americans do not believe the system is in "crisis," as some have said, but Zogby found that 61 percent correctly believe it faces "serious problems" and needs "major changes."
All this support and President Bush has yet to actually put his plan on the table. I guess we Democrats should look at these polls and immediately cave. I mean if the American people favor President Bush's phase out of Security Social (based on polls commissioned by the Libertarian CATO institute), well, there's little point trying to change peoples minds. Or is there?

What's striking about this article is how little actual argument there is. Instead, Mr. Lambro seems content to just run down polling numbers as if those were a suitable substitute for a good counter argument.

The truth is Paul Krugman, Joshua Michah Marshall, and others have put forward well reasoned critiques of President Bush's plan to push us in this direction. The Republican response is largely to talk about polls and warn that Democrats are out of step with the American people. If they have counter arguments, why aren't they presenting them?

Oh wait, Lambro does have a fact or two. I guess I should give credit where credit is due.
In fact, Social Security trustees, the Congressional Budget Office and the General Accounting Office (Congress' auditing agency) all agree that the retirement fund is in deep trouble. It will begin running a deficit in 2018. By 2027, the annual deficit will be over $200 billion a year; by 2033, over $300 billion.
Oh my, that sounds pretty bad when you take it completely out of context. That huge a deficit--I guess the only solution to a budget deficit of billions is to set up a Personal Account system that will cost trillions.

Did the Holocaust really happen?

I know a lot of people have been wondering if the Holocaust really happened, and we here at Make Me a Commentator!!! are happy to provide an answer to that question once and for all.

The answer is yes. The holocaust really happened. And anybody who thinks it didn't happen is either a gullible moron or has ulterior motives.

If you are interested in Holocaust Denial, however, you might check out this article at Salon (warning, you'll probably have to watch an ad). David Irving is a holocaust denier. Deborah Lipstadt wrote a book challenging David Irvings work as inaccurate and accused Irving of deliberately misreading and ignoring documentary evidence. Snoop Dogg was not involved in this issue at all, but I am mentioning him for demographic reasons. Irving didn't like Lipstadts book and so sued her for libel in England. England's libel laws are seriously messed up (as they start with a supposition of guilt rather than a supposition of innocence). The judge "not only said that Irving was an "antisemite" and a "racist" but that his "falsification of the record was deliberate and ... motivated by a desire to present events in a manner consistent with his own ideological beliefs even if that involved distortion and manipulation of historical evidence." So Lipstadt won the trial.

As is traditional when someone puts forward a retrograde nonsensical argument like this, Irving is defended by the old, "He has a right to write what he wants." Fair enough, although it kind of misses the point doesn't it? He doesn't have a right not to be criticized; and he's the one who sued to shut someone else up. Anyway the article is well worth checking out.

Go Look at Talking Points Memo Again!

I've pointed you there often enough on this Social Security issue, so what's one more time? Mr. Marshall wrote a good long post discussing several aspects of how what the President is proposing differs from Social Security. Here's a good section of it.
Is it fair to say that President Bush is trying to "phase out" Social Security? Well, what is Social Security? For seventy years it has existed as a defined benefit social insurance program. What does that mean? It is a social program in which everyone who works during their lifetime gets a guaranteed benefit in retirement. It's not meant to be a sole means of support. Those who pay in more get more back; and those who pay in less a bit less. But everyone who works is guaranteed a benefit which provides at least a modicum of comfort and dignity in old age. Have the benefit structures changed over time? Yes. But they change for everyone together, not by the vagaries of chance or individual fortune.

Social Security envisions a retirement in which recipients, hopefully, have three sources of income: Social Security, some employer-based pension and personal savings. The latter two, in varying degrees depend on how hard you work, how much you make, how wisely you invest and the vagaries of chance. Social Security, as a defined benefit program, is meant to be the one leg of the stool which is a flat guarantee.

At root, with all the statistics and flimflam over words, President Bush wants to change that. He wants to phase out Social Security in favor of private investment accounts. In the latter case, there is no guarantee at all, just as there is no guarantee in private nesting, which of course is just as is should be. He wants to get rid of the defined benefit program and change it to a defined contribution program -- not partially, but totally. Indeed, he said this in his recent press conference quite clearly. But few of the reporters present latched on to the statement or its significance. Social Security, he said, is "now in a precarious position. And the question is whether or not our society has got the will necessary to adjust from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan. And I believe the will will be there. (emphasis added)."

There's no 'partial' here. He's talking about phasing out one and replacing it with the other. Reporters and commentators don't seem to get that this is a category difference, though this is something that is widely understood in the pension policy community.
I would suggest reading the whole post--he also takes on the question of whether or not Clinton proposed something like this back in the nineties.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

New Format, New Quote!

New quote and a new format--once again with a guest logo designer (the same one who designed the one from two times ago). And a new quotes page.