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Friday, December 31, 2004

Flip-flop:
U.S. Boosts Tsunami Aid Tenfold to $350M

The United States is pledging $350 million to help tsunami victims, a tenfold increase over its first wave of aid, President Bush announced Friday.



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Fraying?

Maybe this has been noticed before, but it was new to us. This week, Doonesbury has Bush interviewing a candidate for Secretary of Toady Affairs. Ever since the Iraq war, the cartoonist, Gary Trudeau, has portrayed Bush as an asterisk wearing a Roman centurion's helmet. At first, the helmet was in superb shape, but now it's looking shop-worn (or worse). No single panel shows the complete helmet, so we took components from several panels and combined them into this single image.



Dings on the sides. A broken golden span at the forehead. Lost and bent bristles (or whatever you call those dark-red fibers at the top).

Is Trudeau saying that the Iraq war is going badly? So badly that it's beginning to tarnish Bush's image?


2 comments


Thursday, December 30, 2004

Joe Republican:

We've never seen this before. It was a Yahoo message board post we found this evening. We liked it. Here it is:
JOE REPUBLICAN

Joe gets up at 6 a.m. and fills his coffeepot with water to prepare his morning coffee. The water is clean and good because some tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water-quality standards.

With his first swallow of coffee, he takes his daily medication. His medications are safe to take because some stupid commie liberal fought to insure their safety and that they work as advertised.

All but $10 of Joe's medications are paid for by his employer's medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance - now Joe gets it too. He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs. Joe's bacon is safe to eat because some girly-man liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.

In the morning shower, Joe reaches for his shampoo. His bottle is properly labeled with each ingredient and its amount in the total contents because some crybaby liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and how much it contained.

Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. the air he breathes is clean because some environmentalist wacko liberal fought for laws to stop industries from polluting our air.

He walks to the subway station for his government-subsidized ride to work. It saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees because some fancy-pants liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.

Joe begins his work day. He has a good job with excellent pay, medical benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some lazy liberal union members fought and died for these working standards.

Joe's employer pays these standards because Joe's employer doesn't want his employees to call the union. If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed, he'll get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some stupid liberal didn't think he should lose his home because of his temporary misfortune.

Its noontime and Joe needs to make a bank deposit so the can pay some bills. Joe's deposit is federally insured by the FSLIC because some godless liberal wanted to protect Joe's money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the GreatDepression.

Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae-underwritten mortgage and his below-market federal student loan because some elitist liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his lifetime.

After work this evening, Joe plans to visit his father at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive. His car is among the safest in the world because some America-hating liberal fought for car safety standards.

He arrives at his boyhood home. His was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers' Home Administration because bankers didn't want to make rural loans. The house didn't have electricity until some big-government liberal stuck his nose where it didn't belong and demanded rural electrification.

Joe is happy to see his father, who is now retired and lives on Social Security and a union pension because some wine-drinking, cheese-eating liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn't have to.

Joe gets back in his car for the ride home, and turns on a radio talk show. The radio host keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. He doesn't mention that the beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day.

Joe agrees: "We don't need those big-government liberals ruining our lives! After all, I'm a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have."


19 comments

Option 5:

We were astounded to read in the Washington Post, the following story, Bush expected to delay major tax overhaul:(emp add)
Under what has become known among lobbyists on K Street simply as "Option 5," Bush's previous tax proposals would be enhanced, not replaced. Washington would create lifetime savings accounts and retirement savings accounts to replace the current array of tax-preferred savings accounts for retirement, education and health care.

A lifetime savings account would allow each person to save up to $5,000 a year, shielding capital gains, interest and dividend income from all taxation. Unlike existing tax-favored accounts, the money could be withdrawn at any time for any reason. A family of four could shield $20,000 a year from investment taxation, and since few families could save that much, capital gains, interest and dividend taxation would effectively end for the vast majority of Americans, the Treasury study said.

The plan would also repeal the alternative minimum tax, the parallel income tax system that was set up to ensure the rich pay taxes but that increasingly ensnares the middle class. For low- and middle-income taxpayers, the standard deduction would be significantly increased.

The current four tax-filing categories -- married filing jointly, married filing separately, single and head of household -- would be simplified to just married couples and all others. The six current income tax rates -- 10 percent, 15 percent, 25 percent, 28 percent, 33 percent and 35 percent -- would collapse to four, losing the 28 percent and 33 percent brackets.

And corporations would be allowed to immediately deduct -- or "expense" -- from their taxes a portion of the cost of business investments, instead of having to slowly write off those costs based on complex depreciation allowances.

To cover the cost of the tax changes, the plan would tax the value of an employee's health insurance benefit as if it were income. "Most Social Security benefits" would also be taxed as income, the report says. Finally, the plan eliminates the itemized deduction for state and local tax payments.


7 comments


Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Moron:

From the White House transcript: (we have not added anything to this text)
Q Mr. President, were you offended by the suggestion that rich nations have been stingy in the aid over the tsunami? And is this a sign of another rift with the U.N.?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I felt like the person who made that statement was very misguided and ill-informed. The -- take, for example, in the year 2004, our government provided $2.4 billion in food, in cash, in humanitarian relief to cover the disasters for last year. That's $2.4 billion. That's 40 percent of all the relief aid given in the world last year, was provided by the United States government. No, we're a very generous, kindhearted nation.

You know, the -- what you're beginning to see is a typical response from America. First of all, we provide immediate cash relief, to the tune of about $35 billion [sic]. And then there will be an assessment of the damage, so that the relief is -- the next tranche of relief will be spent wisely.
Million, billion, what's the difference? Who cares?


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Boomerang:

We commented on ABC's peculiar reporting on Good Morning America earlier today. Now, we praise the network for a good, solid, one-hour report this evening: "Tsunami"   Well done. Balanced. Informative.


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Pfizer aid = Total U.S. government aid (as of this post)

From Pfizer: (emp add)
Pfizer to Provide Medicines, Financial and Logistical Support to Relief Effort in Asia

Pfizer to Provide $10 million in Funds to Relief Organizations; Company to Also Donate an Estimated $25 Million Worth of Medicines and Healthcare Products

New York, December 29 -- The colleagues of Pfizer express their deepest sympathy and condolences to all those affected by the earthquake and tsunami that struck Asia and the east coast of Africa.

Pfizer today announced plans to commit medicines, funds, and logistical support to the relief effort following this catastrophic disaster. Pfizer will donate $10 million to local and international relief organizations operating in the region. These will include the American Red Cross/International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Rescue Committee, Catholic Relief Services, CARE, UNICEF, and Save the Children as well as local relief organizations.

Within hours of the disaster Pfizer colleagues began working with local governments and relief organizations to assess which of the company’s medicines are needed. As a result of these assessments, Pfizer will contribute approximately $25 million worth of the company’s healthcare products which includes the anti-infective products Zithromax, Zyvox and Diflucan. Pfizer organizations in Asia have already begun donating Pfizer medicines and discussing logistical support issues with local health and relief officials.

"Pfizer is responding to this enormous tragedy through the donation of needed medicines, funds, and logistical support to assist both in the immediate relief and the longer term management of the disease and health risks," said Hank McKinnell, Pfizer chairman and chief executive officer. "In addition to our financial contribution and product donations, we are ensuring that Pfizer colleagues with the needed medical and technical skills are available to assist with the relief effort throughout the affected areas."

The Pfizer Foundation Matching Gifts Program will match US employee contributions to non-profit organizations assisting in the relief effort.
We don't care if it's self-serving public relations or not. This is a good thing.

[Boring mathematical comparisons deleted from original post.]


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A few words:

We feel compelled to make a number of points in response to the comments in our post (below) about ABC's Good Morning America segment on children affected by the tsunami.
  • We thought it was unusual for GMA to only report stories about white European children. Four out of four reports. That is not anywhere near representative of the situation.
  • It may be that ABC was lazy, and got the footage from a European media outlet.
  • We do not make light of any casualties. We do not endorse belittling the story of, say, the Czech supermodel.
  • Often a reason for interviewing non-natives is because few natives can speak English. But that doesn't apply in this case. The areas affected included tourist resorts, and millions of people in the region (e.g. India) speak English.
Now to the second part. President Bush.
  • We believe he doesn't give a damn about the problem besides offering a perfunctory prayer to salve his own conscience.
  • Bush's response to the biggest catastrophe in a decade was totally inappropriate: No public appearance. No statement. He was hiding out at his ranch. During this crisis, instead of doing something positive, he decided to ride a bicycle.
  • A substantial part of Bush's political support comes from racists, and they look upon south Asians with disdain similar to that which they hold towards African-Americans, thus, our choice of adverb for Bush's limited support.


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The color of love:

We were surprised to see on ABC's Good Morning America a segment about the children who have been victims of the tsunami. Total casualties are (currently) estimated to be 60,000. One third are children, or 20,000. The ABC report began with the usual talking head.



It was followed by four stories about affected children. They were all white Europeans. (Swedish, prob Swedish, Swedish, German)   The segment ended with pan shots of native kids amongst general destruction, but they were not identified, nor were any details of their trauma reported.



It got us thinking about the whole relief operation. Since most of the victims - natives of south Asian countries - are pretty dark skinned, it's no surprise that Bush - a man from the Confederacy - was niggardly with the aid money.

updated insert


83 comments

11,000

Yes, another number.

We have followed the Catholic Church sexual abuse story off and on, but never had an idea of how many people were affected. We'd read of 500 here (Boston) and 500 there (Los Angeles), but never got a sense of the total.

In a Reuters story about the church's financial woes, we read:
Nearly 11,000 people have accused priests of child sexual abuse from 1950 through 2002, according to a church-commissioned study released this year. There could be thousands more who have not yet come forward.
So, there you have it. A number you can refer to in future debates.

One of the reasons we're interested in the numbers game is that, if another organization with less public support (e.g. something 'leftist') generated those kind of abuse statistics, you'd hear nothing but a roar of outrage - along with 'proof' that such people are degenerate, immoral, and worthy of hatred.


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Tuesday, December 28, 2004

0.000136 %

Initial aid pledged by the United States in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami: $15,000,000 ($15 million)

Total GDP of the United States: $11,000,000,000,000 ($11 trillion)

That comes out to 0.000136 % - a little more than one millionth of the GDP. In reaction to that pledge, Jan Egeland, the U.N. humanitarian aid chief called the United States 'stingy'.

Latest news is that the aid has been increased to $35 million. That's much better. Now the aid is a whopping 0.000318 % of GDP

NOTE: The right-wing radio is going ape-shit over the 'stingy' remark. How dare anyone criticize the United States!


20 comments


Monday, December 27, 2004

Falling ...



While tooling around the web, we found this short two page report from Rep. John Tanner (Tenn) of interest: (about potential Asian control over U.S. via financial markets)
http://democraticwhip.house.gov/docuploads/budget05_tanner.pdf
Excerpt:
Interest payments alone will soon surpass all domestic discretionary spending like military, health care, education and infrastructure.
Is that correct? All domestic discretionary spending?


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Sunday, December 26, 2004


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Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas!

We won't go into all the recent stories about who is attacking or defending Christmas, except to say that O'Reilly is acting like a boob, and most conservatives are making a mountain out of a molehill.

We will, however, address the generic "Happy Holidays" greeting. Which holiday are we talking about? The holiday in question is the legal Federal Holiday of Christmas Day.

Here is the relevant federal law (5 U.S.C. 6103):
(a) The following are legal public holidays:
New Year's Day, January 1.
Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the third Monday in January.
Washington's Birthday, the third Monday in February.
Memorial Day, the last Monday in May.
Independence Day, July 4.
Labor Day, the first Monday in September.
Columbus Day, the second Monday in October.
Veterans Day, November 11.
Thanksgiving Day, the fourth Thursday in November.
Christmas Day, December 25.
So it would appear to be entirely appropriate (and accurate) to wish everyone - no matter what their religious inclination - a Merry Christmas.


11 comments


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Ayes Have It:

Bush on Putin:
I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul....
Bush on Rumsfeld:
I know Secretary Rumsfeld's heart. I know how much he cares for the troops. He and his wife go out to Walter Reed in Bethesda all the time to provide comfort and solace. I have seen the anguish in his -- or heard the anguish in his voice and seen his eyes when we talk about the danger in Iraq, and the fact that youngsters are over there in harm's way. And he is -- he's a good, decent man. He's a caring fellow.


1 comments

Factoid:

From a Yahoo Finance article, The Top Givers, about charitable donations from extremely wealthy people: (emp add)
The year's other billion-dollar-club members include No. 1 givers Bill and Melinda Gates, the world's largest international donors, who made history this year by giving their estimated $3 billion Microsoft Corp. dividend to their foundation. It's one of the largest donations in history by a living donor. To put it into perspective, that one gift is three times bigger than the amount that America's richest family, the descendants of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. founder Sam Walton, has given during their entire lifetimes, according to our ranking.


3 comments


Monday, December 20, 2004

Caring about the military - Republican style:

Won't attend any funerals of fallen soldiers.
President  
   
Indifferent to requests to up-armor vehicles.

Didn't personally sign letters of condolence
to families of troops killed in action.
Secretary of
Defense
 
   
Didn't know how many troops had died.
Thought it was 2/3 of the actual count.
Deputy Defense
Secretary
 



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Sunday, December 19, 2004

Over at the Pentagon, printers are being used so that Rumsfeld won't get writer's cramp:





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Sing a song of sadness:

Yahoos news: Rumsfeld to Sign Condolence Letters Himself: (excerpts)
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will now personally sign letters of condolence to families of troops killed in action, after the Pentagon acknowledged signing machines had been used in the past.

[Rumsfeld said,] "While I have not individually signed each one, in the interest of ensuring expeditious contact with grieving family members, I have directed that in the future I sign each letter."

Military families told the newspaper the autopen-signed letters reflected a lack of respect for the losses the families had suffered.
From Pink Floyd's When The Tigers Broke Free:
[...]
And the Anzio bridgehead
Was held for the price
Of a few hundred ordinary lives.

And old King George
Sent Mother a note
When he heard that father was gone.
It was, I recall,
In the form of a scroll,
With gold leaf and all.
And I found it one day
In a drawer of old photographs, hidden away.
And my eyes still grow damp to remember
His Majesty signed
With his own rubber stamp.


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Faint praise:

In the Yahoo story, President Bush Named Time's Person of 2004, we read that Bush was chosen:
  • "for sharpening the debate until the choices bled"
  • "for reframing reality to match his design"
  • "for gambling [our] fortunes ... on his faith in the power of leadership"
  • [And who remains] "a polarizing figure in America and around the world"
In other words:
For bullying political opponents in order to gamble our fortunes on policies not grounded in reality.     And pissing off half the country and most of the world in the process.
UPDATE: Time also cites Bush's "clear-cut election victory." But it wasn't that big a victory. A 3% margin of the popular vote. A 286 - 252 Electoral College result. One that could have been reversed if one medium and one small state went for Kerry instead of Bush (i.e. 18 EV). Clear cut? No.


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Friday, December 17, 2004

This is getting ridiculous:

Over at the Howler, we read about a CBS News report on Social Security: (emp add)
THE WHOLLY INCOHERENT AWARD: Liberals and centrists will have to fight if they want the public to hear real reporting. How incoherent can our Big Top Scribes be? Here’s how John Roberts began a report on the CBS Evening News:
ROBERTS (12/15/04): Franklin Roosevelt's Social Security safety net is quickly developing huge financial holes. In 1935, the system was flush, 16 workers paid in for every one that drew retirement benefits. That ratio is now just a little more than 3 to 1. By the time all the baby boomers have retired, just 2 to 1. In 2042, Social Security will become insolvent, and today's young workers risk losing their benefits.
Wrong, Mr. Roberts.

Here are the real numbers:
  • President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security legislation in 1935.
  • In 1945, a decade after Social Security was implemented we had 40 workers for every retiree. link
  • In 1950, there were 16 workers for every retiree. link
  • In 1960, there were 5.1 workers per retiree. link
  • In 1970, there were 3.5 workers for every retiree. link
  • In 1980, there were 3.2 workers for every retiree. link
  • In 1995, there were 3.3 workers per retiree. link
  • The ratio in 1998 is slightly more than three workers per retiree. link
  • By the year 2030, there will be fewer than two workers contributing to Social Security for each retiree. link
This isn't projecting into the future, with all the uncertainties that go with it. We are talking about established historical FACT. And the CBS reporter didn't get it right.

Mr. Roberts is a disgrace.


13 comments

Anti-democratic and taking a swipe at liberals:

David Ignatius writes today in the Washington Post about the upcoming elections in Iraq: (emp add)
Given the stakes for the United States in these elections, you might think we would quietly be trying to influence the outcome. But I am told that congressional insistence that the Iraqi elections be "democratic" has blocked any covert efforts to help America's allies. That may make sense to ethicists in San Francisco, but how about to the U.S. troops on the ground?
So, Ignatius wants the election rigged. Despite the fact that congress is Republican controlled, and that Bush himself said democracy is the goal, Ignatius is blaming an Iran-friendly electoral result on "ethicists in San Francisco". Is that a reference to Pelosi? And who are these "ethicists" he's referring to?

Mr. Ignatius is a disgrace.


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Truly hopeless:

On Thursday's News Hour there was a segment on Fixing Social Security. Two guests were invited to discuss the issue, "Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget at the New America Foundation; and Kenneth Apfel, public affairs professor at the University of Texas -- he was the commissioner of the Social Security administration from 1997 to 2001."

Here is a brief excerpt: (emp add)
MAYA MAC GUINEAS: ... they built up programmatic surpluses and they saved them into Social Security trust funds ...

... by saving all those additional monies that we brought in through the Social Security system in a government trust fund, where the dollars end up getting co-mingled with other government money and inevitably allow people in Congress to feel like the money there's to spend and they spend it, the money doesn't really get saved.
The Social Security trust funds are bonds. They are not co-mingled with other government money (what ever that means). Now, let's see what a former Social Security administrator has to say in reaction: (emp add)
RAY SUAREZ: Professor, did that create part of today's situation, that idea that you could use that money that was collected in excess of what was being paid in benefits?

KENNETH APFEL: Well, actually the changes in 1983 were incredibly important, a very big step in the right direction that put the system on a path to be resolved for about 40 years, maybe even 50 years. That's not a bad solution; I think it was one of the best things that the Congress did during the 1980s was to make a big step in this direction.

There's another step we have to take, there's another whole round of issues that need to be resolved with Social Security, another round generally on the same order of magnitude as were made back in 1983. I tend to think that we're going to need to see some changes get made in both the tax side and the spending side, and Maya and I generally agree with that; I don't think these have to be the least bit dramatic.

And I think that building some trust funds I think is a good thing for the Social Security system, so that basically there's some reserves there when people need them.
No rebuttal whatsoever to the notion that the Social Security surplus was (a) co-mingled with other government funds, or (b) that the funds were being "used".

Mr. Apfel is a disgrace.


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Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Degrees of Christianity:

We found these two posts under a Yahoo news story about the falling dollar of interest:
Re: What are libs doing abroad?
by: nov204_is_911_pt2 (37/M/CO)

If GWB would actually read the Bible and live according to the ethos of Christ, well lets just say he'd have a pretty thoroughly different domestic policy than he does (not to mention foreign policy.) His faith is 12-step, kiddie-pool Christianity and his policy shows a phenomenally shallow committment to the Word.

Re: What are libs doing abroad?
by: godbiessgwb (34/M/Arlington, TX)

I bet you're an atheist, and I don't need to be lectured about Christianity from someone who doesn't even believe in God. Bush is the most Christian leader we've had in a long time, he's even more Christian than Reagan is, and Reagan was a pretty Christian president. So shut your face lib.


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Pretty amazing:

We clicked on a link to what we thought was a book at Amazon.com and saw this banner/link:
At first we thought we'd been directed to a fake Amazon page (a popular gag), but no, it was really a product for sale. For sale at Amazon.com, in fact. Here is the price info:
List Price: $1,995.00
Price: $1,495.00
You Save: $500.00 (25%)
We're not making fun of this product, as the user comments indicate it's a very useful device. It just seemed pretty remarkable that an expensive piece of medical equipment doing a fairly sophisticated task was being retailed.


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Medal madness:



JUST TO BE CLEAR: We're not saying these guys are Nazis. We're saying that there is a similar medal fetish in play.


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Look to the top:

William Kristol writes an Op-Ed in the Washington Post that is critical of Rumsfeld. Look at what several webloggers have to say about it: (emp add)
  • TAPPED (Matthew Yglesias): Bush is the issue here -- every single one of "Rumsfeld's" bad decisions were decisions Bush could have countermanded; indeed, almost all of them were instances where Rumsfeld disagreed with other important actors inside the government and the real national mistake was for Bush to take Rumsfeld's side.

  • The Bull Moose: The Moose applauds Kristol's piece, but would add that the soldiers also deserve a better President than the one we have. That issue, though, has been settled. [...] While the Moose believes that Rummy should go, the buck stops on the President's desk.

  • Eric Alterman: Er, the buck stops with Rumsfeld, says Bill Kristol, not with the guy who appointed him, retained him, and continues despite everything, to express full confidence in him.


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Josh Marshall is 100% correct:

Over at TPM, Josh Marshall says it all. We have been discussing the Social Security issue on this blog and privately, and many of the things we've said are in the TPM post. Josh focuses on the Important Facets of the debate:
  • There is no crisis.
  • Bush is lying when he talks about Social Security.
  • Bush wants to abolish Social Security.
  • Republicans want to end this successful government program because they don't like to see any successful government welfare program. ('welfare' as in Welfare Capitalism)
  • Democrats must be united in this fight.
  • Democratic participation in order to minimize the damage created by the 'reform' is bad politics and bad policy. This is one issue that must not admit compromise.
  • Ending Social Security must be seen as a purely Republican goal.
  • Democratic unity should be strictly enforced by the power centers within the party.
  • The Republican plan should not be described as a 'reform' or 'rescue' or any other mild characterization. The talking point should only be that the Republicans want to end the program.
  • Stay away from disparaging the stock market. That's missing the point.
  • The focus should be on proclaiming Social Security as a guaranteed benefit that goes to everybody.
  • Democrats should get into the fight and raise hell.


1 comments


Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Greater than or equal to:

The 40th U.S. fatality in Iraq this month matches the count for December last year - and we're only half way through. So it's certain that this December will have a higher count than last year's.

Not counting March 2003 - when the war started - every month this year will have had a greater U.S. fatality count than the same month the previous year.



SOURCE: Iraq Coalition Casualty Count


2 comments


Monday, December 13, 2004

Last week in Washington:

Here are the last two questions (and non-answers) from Monday's press briefing at the White House [Dec 6]: (emp add)
Q Scott, on the Middle East, many evangelical Christians are supporting right-wing Jews in Israel who want to rebuild the temple on Temple Mount in Jerusalem. They believe this is a prerequisite for Christ's return to Earth. They believe when Christ returns to Earth -- they call this "the Rapture" -- he will take back with Him the true believers, and the rest, the non--believers, Jews and Muslims, will be left behind to face a violent death here on Earth. My question is, as a born-again Christian, does the President support efforts to rebuild a temple on the Temple Mount?

MR. McCLELLAN: Russ, we can sit here and talk about religious issues, but I'm not -- I will be glad to take your question and if there's more, I will get back to you on it.

Q Is he a born-again Christian?

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.


4 comments


Saturday, December 11, 2004

David Brooks vs. the Truth:

In Saturday's Op-Ed by David Brooks, Real Reform for Social Security, we read:
... let's be clear about what this Social Security reform debate is really about. It's about the market. People who instinctively trust the markets support the Bush reform ideas, and people who are suspicious oppose them.
That is a lie. It's not distrust of markets that fuels the opposition to the "reforms". It's that the changes proposed will destroy the uniform guarantee of Social Security. Destroyed because individuals would be managing their own accounts. Some will do well, some will do okay, and some will do poorly. Those who do poorly will be shit out of luck, and not getting any Social Security Insurance - since the insurance component is gone.

Not only that, but the changes proposed will result in higher-than-needed administrative costs (brokerage fees, etc.). So further erosion will take place of the nest egg. No market distrust here, just an awareness of the realities of portfolio management.

Within the crowd that oppose Bush's plan, some want Social Security to be unchanged - to continue purchasing government bonds for greatest security. But others entertain the notion that some of the money could go into the stock market (and other investment vehicles) - but only collectively, by the Social Security administration - which can get the best prices for transactions and portfolio management. Not everybody who opposes Bush distrust markets. In fact, they think market participation, via 401K's, is fine as long as there is a rock-solid base of a poverty-preventing insurance program to start with.

MORE BROOKS BULLSHIT: Have you heard this one?
"When the Social Security program was created, there were 42 workers for each retiree. Now there are about three workers per retiree, and in 2030 there will be two."
There are so many things to be said about that. Improvements in worker productivity means smaller ratios can support retirees. Also, a surplus has been built up which means it's incorrect to simply cite the ratio. But most deceptive of all is the "42 workers for each retiree" canard.

Really. When the first check was cut to that woman with SSN 00001, there were millions of workers for each retiree. Millions. So when we went down to 5 or so in 1960, the system must have crashed. Right? (see our post on that statistic) And even Brooks manages to get the facts wrong here. In 1945, a decade after Social Security was implemented we had 40 workers for every retiree.

WHAT THE?     Brooks also writes:
The White House is heading toward a reform plan that would tie the benefit levels to prices rather than wages, which is a serious benefit cut. It would then use the power of the markets to compensate retirees for those cuts and to create a reserve fund to make the system solvent.
Let's get that straight. Current retirees and those about to, people with absolutely no market component of their S.S. account, may get a "serious benefit cut". But not to worry, Brooks says, because the power of the markets will compensate these retirees. Except they don't have anything in the market. Wow!     (Yes, we are aware that it's possible that there could be a COLA formula properly tailored for different age groups, but that sounds like a complicated affair. Can you imagine? A COLA formula based on which years and how much you diverted to a private account. And conservatives complain about the complexity of the tax code!)

EVEN MORE: Brooks helpfully tells us that there will be
"$11 trillion in liabilities that threaten to bring down the system"
But that figure is a projection of liabilities into the "infinite future" (until the end of time, conventionally reckoned as the 'heat death' of the universe in 500 billion years). If Brooks is a fan of projecting to infinity, we'd like to see him comment on the expected population of red states. $11 trillion is nothing compared to having every square inch of land occupied by a red-stater (and after a certain point, they'd have to be standing on each other's shoulders).

ALSO: Brooks writes:
"You already see some Democrats growing concerned over the perception that their party is trying to build a bridge to the 1930's.   ...   [Bush's proposal] is actually about building a bridge to the 22nd century."
No. Bush is building a bridge to the 19th century.

FINALLY: As to trusting the market. You can trust the market to do well over time but also to realize that it fluctuates and is therefore unsuitable for the reliability which an insurance program demands. Brooks is saying that people who don't trust the market to be a monotonic positive function also don't trust the markets in general.

That's a lie.


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Friday, December 10, 2004

Diagramming Krugman:

In today's New York Times, Paul Krugman writes about the Bush proposal for social security. The current system works like this:



Krugman describes the Bush plan this way:
Privatization would begin by diverting payroll taxes, which pay for current Social Security benefits, into personal investment accounts. The government, already deep in deficit, would have to borrow to make up the shortfall.
Which is shown below:



But then Krugman goes on to say:
... in essence, such schemes involve having the government borrow heavily and put the money in the stock market. That's because the government would, in effect, confiscate workers' gains in their personal accounts by cutting those workers' benefits.

Once you realize that privatization really means government borrowing to speculate on stocks, it doesn't sound too responsible, does it?


Also, the scheme assumes there will be high stock returns, but Krugman says that's not realistic.

This is what Bush means when he talks of "fixing" Social Security.


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Another one joins the ranks:

Over at TPM, Josh Marshall writes: (emp add)
The Post discusses the president's domestic policy plans and particularly the effort to phase out Social Security.

One nice passage: "To build public support and circumvent critics in Congress and the media, the president will travel the country and warn of the disastrous consequences of inaction, as he did to sell his Iraq and terrorism policies during the first term, White House officials said."

This would seem to be analogy critics could use to some good effect.
More and more people are seeing the "fix" of Social Security for what it really is - ending the program.



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Thursday, December 09, 2004

Into the "infinite future"

Yes, if you want to scare the hell out of people, simply claim that there will be enormous deficits for a program. A program where you take tiny losses - and sum them until the end of time. Don't believe us? Read this from the New York Times: (excerpt, emp add)
Bush Rules Out Payroll Tax Hike for Social Security

If nothing changes, trustees project a shortfall of about $11 trillion in what the government needs to pay promised benefits to the coming waves of retiring baby boomers and beyond, into what trustees called ``the infinite future.''


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Letters to the New York Times:

In the wake of two Op-Ed's in the New York Times promoting privatization of Social Security, there were some good letters. But in a single letter published two days later, we read: (excerpts, emp add)
To the Editor:

As the father of the Chilean pension system, José Piñera ("Retiring in Chile," Op-Ed, Dec. 1) paints a seemingly attractive picture of personal retirement accounts.

[...]

Even the World Bank, a staunch proponent of private accounts, now concludes that they fail to prevent poverty in old age and that more needs to be done to strengthen the public safety net.

[...]

... rather than spend trillions of dollars we don't have on risky private accounts that weaken Social Security, we should strengthen the guaranteed benefit for all generations.

Ladan Manteghi
Dir., AARP Office of Intl. Affairs
Washington, Dec. 6, 2004


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It's catching:

Yesterday we expressed our view that Bush is out to end Social Security. Simple as that. All the talk of partial privatization is a ruse. Now we read Yglesias in TAPPED who writes: (emp add)
IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING. The president wants to make it clear that finding the $2 trillion he'll need to finance his proposed abolition of Social Security won't be raised through higher taxes, so we'd better hope the Central Bank of China has a serious hankering for more bonds.
Mark A. R. Kleiman has related thoughts.


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Dowd on Rumsfeld:

We watched Rumsfeld handle that soldier who asked the question about armoring vehicles and felt that the Defense Secretary was up to his usual bag of tricks - tricks designed to put the interlocutor on the defensive. (Variants of the "gosh and golly" crap he uses in other forums.) Specifically, Rumsfeld's request that the soldier repeat the question. The original question was succinct and well delivered. However, when the soldier repeated it, it was less crisp and lost its punch.

In today's Op-Ed, Dowd makes a point of Rumsfelds attitude: (emp add)
Rummy, however, did not hesitate to give the back of his hand to soldiers about to go risk their lives someplace he didn't trouble to go.

He treated Thomas Wilson - the gutsy guardsman from Tennessee who asked why soldiers had "to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles, and why don't we have those resources readily available to us?" - as if he were a pesky Pentagon reporter. The defense chief used the same coldly cantankerous tone and squint he displays in press briefings, an attitude that long ago wore thin. He did everything but slap the kid in the hospital bed.

In one of his glib "Nothing's perfect," "Freedom's untidy" and "Stuff happens" maxims, Rummy told the soldier: "As you know, you go to war with the Army you have."
At least somebody else noticed.


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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Another place to go:

We also like this week's Troubletown cartoon about the change in network news, post Rather and Brokaw.


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Don't beat around the bush:

We read again about Republican plans to change the accounting in order to hide massive shortfalls connected to Social Security "reform". And over at TAPPED, they have a quick summary/comment on the subject.

Let's not waste time here. The Republicans want to end the Social Security Insurance program. That's all there is to it.

Any move away from the safest and most reliable system, of universal enrollment and government issued bonds, is a move away from the original intent. It is not reforming the program. It's ending it.

UPDATE: Yesterday, over at The Left Coaster, Steve Soto has similar thoughts:
... Social Security was never intended or designed to be an investment vehicle. It was simply supposed to be an old age insurance policy, guaranteeing a basic benefit so that seniors would not become destitute. And as such, once you implement the structural fixes that can and should be done to address the system’s long term solvency, there is no case to be made for transforming an old age insurance policy into something that it was never intended to be in the first place.


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Hopeless:

From Newsweek: (excerpts, emp add)
The Christmas Miracle

Most Americans believe the virgin birth is literally true, a NEWSWEEK poll finds

Seventy-nine percent of Americans believe that, as the Bible says, Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, without a human father, according to a new NEWSWEEK poll on beliefs about Jesus.

Sixty-seven percent say they believe that the entire story of Christmas—the Virgin Birth, the angelic proclamation to the shepherds, the Star of Bethlehem and the Wise Men from the East—is historically accurate.

Sixty-two percent say they favor teaching creation science in addition to evolution in public schools; 26 percent oppose such teaching, the poll shows. Forty-three percent favor teaching creation science instead of evolution in public schools; 40 percent oppose the idea.
We won't go into the details here, but both Matthew and Luke's stories about the birth and early life of Jesus are a complete invention. They were crafted to persuade a Jewish audience (birth in Bethlehem because that's where King David was born, trip in-and-out of Egypt to create a parallel with Moses, etc.)


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Great Oliphant:

We highly recommend today's Pat Oliphant cartoon.


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Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Divisions:

We've been reading a lot about how the country is divided between Red and Blue, Religious and Secular, or NASCAR and NPR, to name a few. But those categories are way too large and don't properly address policy issues (e.g. "red" people like Republican foreign policy but would benefit from a Democratic domestic agenda).

A new way of classifying people is sorely needed. With that in mind, we propose going back to an old standard - classifying people by the kind of car they own. Here is GM's company saying* from many years ago:
"Chevrolet is for the hoi polloi, Pontiac for the poor but proud, Oldsmobile for the comfortable but discreet, Buick for the striving, and Cadillac for the rich."
That king of division is not geographically based and promotes a richer dialogue. Plus, there is the fun aspect of critiquing the cars on their own merits (with the added benefit of getting Mickey Kaus to quit writing about politcs and concentrate on his true love: rear wheel drive).

Let's do it! - updated for the current mix of manufacturers.

* NOTE: We discovered the saying in an 1996 issue of the Wilson Quarterly (vol X, no 5). If any readers are familiar with it, we'd be interested to know and appreciate comments. For example, the saying is not dated, but we suspect it was from the 40's or 50's.


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The doctor is out (of his mind):

Here is what, in essence, the Senate Majority Leader said on ABC's This Week.



Two falsehoods. From the CDC:
  • HIV has not been recovered from the sweat of HIV-infected persons.

  • Contact with ... sweat has never been shown to result in transmission of HIV.
Read the full story over at Liberal Oasis.



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Sunday, December 05, 2004

Vote for Democratic Veteran!

Democratic Veteran, a weblogger we like, is up against the bad guys in the Weblogs 2004 Awards: Best Military Blog category. We reccomend a vote for DV.


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Flashback:

Reader xp brings to our attention the Bushmaster 2004 - a remote control that Karl Rove might have used during the debates. (Apparently it's made in Japan.)


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Fox News as portrayed on the Simpsons:

In tonight's Simpsons, the show started out with a "media circus" and several news trucks were shown, one being that for the Christian Science Monitor.



Then local Springfield reporter Kent Brockman said, "Here's Fox News", and we see the front of a huge truck (with the song "We are the Champions" playing).



But then more of the truck comes into view, and look at what's also part of the vehicle.



Right on!


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Friday, December 03, 2004

Jacoby the Joker:

The weblog Busy, Busy, Busy has a good "shorter" of Jeff Jacoby's latest essay claiming A left-wing monopoly on campuses. Following the link to his op-ed, we were not surprised to see that he cites a number of clearly biased sources. Here they are:
  • "Virgin" Ben Shapiro, a columnist for the conservative TownHall.com. Shapiro recently praised Ann Coulter's latest book, How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must): The World According to Ann Coulter. "How to Talk to a Liberal is Ann Coulter at her best."

  • A survey published in the American Enterprise magazine that, as we pointed out in an earlier post, classifies all Democrats as liberals.

  • A poll conducted by the Center for the Study of Popular Culture - David Horowitz's shop - which has the online magazine Front Page. What's happening over at Front Page magazine? Current essays: Asserting a link between Saddam and TWA flight 800, an attack on liberal Christians, and a pean to Scalia.

  • A New York Times report on Republicans in academia, co-authored by Daniel Klein. Who is Daniel Klein? An associate professor of economics at Santa Clara University, who recommends the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Essentially, this guy tilts libertarian-conservative (and likes John Stossel!)

  • The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which conducted a survey. What is this outfit? We took a quick look and discovered that the director from 1986 to 1993 was Lynne Cheney (back then it had a different name: National Alumni Forum).
There you have it, Jacoby cites a bunch of suspect data - in a manner that does not inform the reader of the conservative origins.


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Thursday, December 02, 2004

Exurbs and faith organizations screwing the cities:

Tell this one to David Brooks. From the Los Angeles Times (subcription): (excerpts, emp add)
'Outsourcing' of Homeless Stirs Intercity Debate
A dispute erupts after Santa Clarita hires a group to shuttle people to L.A. instead of opening a winter shelter.
November 27, 2004

... Santa Clarita officials decided this week not to reopen a winter shelter that had operated for several years and instead pay $36,000 to a nonprofit group to transport homeless people from Santa Clarita to shelters in the San Fernando Valley and downtown Los Angeles.
[NOTE: San Fernando Valley is part of the city of Los Angeles]

Santa Clarita Mayor Bob Kellar ... defended the city's actions and denied that the city's plan was to export its homeless citizens. "I can certainly understand her concern," he said, "but I'd like to respectfully say we're not trying to outsource or create difficulty for the citizens of Los Angeles."

Lutheran Social Services of Southern California, the agency chosen by the City Council to transport the Santa Clarita homeless, has been caught up in an unfortunate controversy, said Claire O'Garro, an agency official who is overseeing the Santa Clarita project.


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