February 27, 2005

All Politics Should Be Like This

Kathy Mitchell of Consumers Union was kind enough to tell me about an extremely funny song that's part of their campaign for a more sane prescription drug policy. It's by the Austin Lounge Lizards, with a video put together by The Animation Farm.

Believe me, I'm not cutting the song any slack because I agree with its political perspective. In my snotty opinion, not much political humor of any orientation is truly funny. But this is! You should check it out.

February 25, 2005

Jerry Falwell, Explained

Have you ever wondered how Jerry "Gays and Feminists Caused 9/11" Falwell became such a vicious, bloodthirsty lunatic? Via the New Yorker, this section from Falwell's 1987 autobiography, Strength for the Journey, goes a long way toward explaining it:

There were times that Dad's pranks bordered on cruelty. One of his oil-company workers, a one-legged man he nicknamed "Crip" Smith, complained about everything. Dad and Crip's co-workers got tired of the old man's bellyaching and decided to take revenge. One morning Crip called in sick and Dad volunteered to send by lunch to his grateful but suspicious employee. Dad and his chums caught Crip's old black tomcat, killed it, skinned it, and cooked it in the kitchen of one of Dad's little restaurants. They called it squirrel meat and delivered it to Crip on a linen-covered tray. When Crip returned to work the next morning, Dad and his co-conspirators asked him how he liked his meal. They knew he would complain even about a free home-cooked lunch, and when Crip called it "the toughest squirrel meat" he had ever eaten, they were glad to tell him why.

I can't decide what's most insane about this. Is it:

(1) that Falwell grew up with a father this batshit crazy; or
(2) that Falwell seems to have little recognition of how batshit crazy his father was? And shows no signs of wondering how growing up in a family like that warped his own view of the world?

As I say, I got this from this week's issue of the New Yorker. Note that while it appears at the beginning of a humor piece by Ian Frazier (one of the funniest writers on earth), the quote itself is real.

Of course, Frazier may not be the first person to take fear and anger toward Falwell and turn it into comedy. I believe others have too.


If you've noticed a weird technical glitch over the last few days, my apologies. Not only has it prevented any new comments, it's also prevented me from adding new entries.

Instead I've had to call everyone I know individually so they could enjoy my opinions. They were not pleased.

February 21, 2005

Holy Confusing Movies With Reality, Batman!

(above) Our nemesis Saddam Hussein, in
one of his many terrifying guises.

Radley Balko recorded Rep. Chris Cox's "We've found WMD!" speech at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference. Here are Cox's exact words:

"We continue to discover biological and chemical weapons and the facilities to make them inside of Iraq, and even more about their intended use, including that a plan to distribute sarin, and the lethal poison ricin -- in the United States and Europe -- was actively being pursued as late as March 2003. The facility where the weapons were being made also housed a large inventory of perfume atomizers of various shapes and sizes to mimic the brands on store shelves in the United States. It doesn't take a wild imagination to understand the chilling implications. It does take imagination to combat it. And that's why we're lucky have an administration that gets it."

Now, some people are wondering whether Cox was referring to anything real whatsoever, or whether this was wholly the product of his fevered imagination.

The answer is: this came mostly from the peculiar, overheated space between Cox's ears. However, it did have one very, very (very) small toehold in reality. Specifically, someone had probably told Cox a garbled version of something in Annex A of the Chemical Weapons section of the Duelfer report on Iraq's WMD. Here are the relevant excerpts:

A former IIS officer claimed that the M16 directorate had a plan to produce and weaponize nitrogen mustard in rifle grenades, and a plan to bottle Sarin and sulfur mustard in perfume sprayers and medicine bottles which they would ship to the United States and Europe. The source claimed that they could not implement the plan because chemicals to produce the CW agents were unavailable...

Future Plans To Produce CW Agent

ISG is unable to corroborate the sensitive reporting that the IIS was planning to produce nitrogen mustard, sulfur mustard, and Sarin, but assesses that if plans to produce chemical agent within the IIS existed, the M16 chemical preparation division would have been the group tasked with carrying them out.

* A former Iraqi intelligence officer reported that the M16 chemical preparation division planned to produce and weaponize nitrogen mustard using CS rifle grenades. The source provided ISG with two grenade launchers and cases of CS grenades he claimed M16 officers were supposed to modify.
* The same source later reported that the IIS had a plan to produce Sarin and sulfur mustard, which the IIS planned to distribute to the US and Europe. The source claimed that the director of M16, Nu�man Muhammad al-Tikriti, gave him a perfume-bottling machine that was to be used to help carry out this plan.

Both of these plans are extremely difficult to corroborate because:

* The reporting on this activity states it was never carried out.
* According to the source of the above information, only Fadil Abbas al-Husayni, Adnan Abdul Razzaq, Nu'man Muhammad al-Tikriti (the director of M16), and Tahir Jalil Habbush (the director of the IIS) knew details about the plans to produce chemical agent within M16.

So, let's run down Cox's specific claims and evaluate them:

• "We continue to discover biological and chemical weapons..."

Completely false.

• "...and the facilities to make them inside of Iraq..."

Completely false.

• "...and even more about their intended use, including that a plan to distribute sarin, and the lethal poison ricin -- in the United States and Europe -- was actively being pursued as late as March 2003."

Almost, but not completely false. The excerpts above from the Duelfer report speak of a single, uncorroborated IIS source claiming there was a plan to distribute sarin and mustard (not sarin and ricin) via perfume bottles. Given America's experience so far with single, uncorroborated sources in Iraq, we may not want to give this too much weight. Moreover, even the source never claimed the plan could be carried out—because they had no sarin or mustard. There is also nothing I've seen in the Duelfer report that has the source claiming this was "being pursued as late as March 2003."

• "The facility where the weapons were being made..."

Completely false. There were no facilities to make weapons.

• "...housed a large inventory of perfume atomizers of various shapes and sizes to mimic the brands on store shelves in the United States..."

Below is a picture from the Duelfer report of the purported perfume atomizers. I haven't spent much time at perfume counters lately, so maybe someone who has should judge whether these "mimic the brands on store shelves in the United States."

• "It doesn't take a wild imagination to understand the chilling implications."

Completely true. All you need to do is watch the first Batman movie, in which the Joker (played by Jack Nicholson) brings Gotham to a halt with his nefarious poison perfume scheme. I'm sure Chris Cox has seen it. Whether he's aware it was a movie and not real is another question.

February 20, 2005

Some Things

I'm finishing several projects, so my appearances here have been and will continue to be light for a while. But here are some worthwhile things elsewhere:

1. Paul Krugman's review of The Coming Generational Storm: What You Need to Know About America's Economic Future by Laurence J. Kotlikoff and Scott Burns.

2. Ross Gelbspan, longtime global warming gadfly, has written an appeal to Americans to "join a people's campaign to ratify the Kyoto Protocol." In other words, Americans should try to diminish our government's intransigence by directly endorsing the Kyoto Protocol as individuals. The petition, which I just signed, is here. (Thanks to mk for the links.)

3. If you enjoy online fights, visit Dennis Perrin and join the fray.

4. You should definitely watch this short film.

(While irrelevant to the movie, what was perhaps the most hideously embarrassing event of my life involved one of the actresses who appears in it. Please do not ask. You will not receive an answer.)

February 17, 2005

Everything I Needed To Know About Life I Learned From Brit Hume

You've probably heard about Brit Hume brazenly ripping FDR's words out of context to make it seem like FDR would have supported Bush's Social Security privatization schemes. If not, a good rundown is here.

Seeing this, Bob Harris has presented Brit Hume's other edits of US presidents:

"The truth is that all men... ought to be mistrusted."
-- James Madison

"A pen is certainly an excellent instrument... to inflame... a man."
-- John Adams

"To be prepared for... peace... is one of the most effectual means of preserving... war."
-- George Washington

"Liberty... is a plant."
-- George Washington

"... slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong."
-- Abraham Lincoln

"... Fear... we have nothing."
-- Franklin Roosevelt

"You can fool all of the people... all of the time."
-- Abraham Lincoln

Man, I wish I'd thought of that. At least I can get in on it by presenting Brit Hume's edit of Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the... evil.

For my sake... kill... kill... thine adversary quickly...

Verily I say unto thee... commit adultery... fornication... adultery... yea, yea!

February 16, 2005

Drinks Are On Bob

From This Modern World, here's a picture of Bob Harris at the moment he won on Jeopardy! last night.

All Mankind Is One

Humans differ enormously across this large planet. Yet one thing unites us all: shameless lying.

For an enjoyable example, read this New York Times article about efforts to reduce sex trafficking in Japan:

After years of denying it had a problem with trafficking in humans, Japan is now putting the finishing touches on a law that would make the practice illegal in this country and help foreigners forced into the sex industry here.

The story points out that Japan grants huge numbers of "entertainer visas" each year. 80,000 currently go to Filipinos alone. Many women apparently also come from Colombia and Thailand.

Now, here's the shameless lying:

...Joji Imai, president of the Association of Japanese Promoters Recruiting Foreign Entertainers, said cases of prostitution were isolated. "Many of the customers who like to patronize clubs with foreign entertainers are interested in learning foreign languages or discovering foreign cultures," Mr. Imai said. "They enjoy different cultures, such as Filipinos' cheerfulness."

Uh... you bet!

Now, like most lies, this is partly true. I'm sure the customers in question enjoy learning about foreign cultures. That's just not all they enjoy learning about.

So, as a favor to Mr. Imai, I've made a more complete list. These customers enjoy learning about:

• Filipinas' cheerfulness. Also, their vaginas.
• Thai women's Theravada-inflected Buddhism. Also, their vaginas.
• Colombian women's views on the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Also, their vaginas.

February 15, 2005

Bob! Harris! On! Jeopardy!!

Amy Goodman and Alex Trebeck don't have much in common! There is one thing, though! Both of their shows, Democracy Now! and Jeopardy! use an exclamation point as part of their official title!

I don't think it's possible to beat this joke into the ground!

Seriously, though... Bob Harris, longtime valued friend of this site, is competing today on Jeopardy! in round one of their super-duper giganto all-time championship. Tune in and cheer Bob on.

UPDATE: Bob won! He now advances to the second round. Then hopefully to the third and fourth. If he wins there, he would face Ken Jennings and the other survivor in a three day long battle. I believe the winner of that match receives the right to consume the brains of his competitors, thereby absorbing their souls. (There may also be some money involved.)

I see Bob has been too modest to mention this so far on his site. Where he gets this self-control I'll never know.

February 14, 2005

Why The Government Should Give Me Money

There's an article in the new issue of the Atlantic called "The Massless Media" about narrowcasting in all its forms: satellite radio, niche magazines, angry little websites, and so on. (Not online.) It compares the chaotic media situation now to the chaotic media situation after the American Revolution, when everyone was publishing little newspapers, pamphleteering, and making rude gestures in public.

That seems like a valid comparison to me. But here's something I did not know:

Congress even granted American publishers lower rates for postal delivery, a valuable subsidy that made starting up and running a paper more economical.

Wow! You may or may not know that TODAY, here in 2005, the government in Sweden actually subsidizes political speech—books, radio, etc. The reason for this is their belief that free markets actually squelch speech. They're right about this: free markets lead to advertiser-supported media. And advertiser-supported media is almost always conservative media.

But Sweden's actions seem anti-American, don't they? Subsidizing political expression? But it turns out it's as American as apple pie and George Washington's nose hair.

I feel sure that if we could dig up the corpses of the founding fathers and re-animate them, the first thing they'd say is: the government should give Jon (ie, me) money.

February 12, 2005

Steve Gilliard Knows What To Do

Steve Gilliard today has an excellent post/suggestion/rallying cry. It's about Social Security specifically, but is true for almost any issue. If anyone reading this participates in his editorial-writing contest, I'd love it if you cc me when you send it to him.

UPDATE: Thanks to Suzanne G. for forwarding me her excellent op-ed. I'll link to it here when it gets picked up for publication. If anyone else is working on something—and you should be!—I'm eager to see it.

(Via There Is No Crisis.)

February 11, 2005

May God Bless You, Stephen Moore

Stephen Moore is president of the Free Enterprise Fund and co-founder of the Club for Growth. You can hardly turn on a television or radio without hearing him yammering about the wonderful world that will erupt when we privatize Social Security. Sometimes I think I will open the medicine cabinet in my bathroom and he will be inside, ready and eager to discuss marginal tax rates.

You might gather from this that I don't like him. But you would be wrong. No one who makes me laugh like Stephen Moore can be all bad. For instance, a recent Los Angeles Times editorial quotes him complaining about a "witch hunt against corporate excess and corporate accounting scandals."

What I enjoy so much about this is that the stock market, without the heavy hand of government regulation, would collapse in three minutes. Without someone setting rules and punishing fraud, the Dow Jones Industrial Average would now be—instead of 10,796—approximately 4.

So when I hear Stephen Moore say these things, I imagine a group of small boys who raise money to hire one of their own as a spokesperson, so their spokesperson can constantly complain to adults about a "witch hunt against crossing the street without looking" and "a witch hunt against drinking Drano to see what would happen."

February 10, 2005

You Have Dysentery? Fantastic! That's Uniquely American!

You may have already seen this wonderful exchange between a woman named Mary Mornin and George Bush on his "Let's Destroy Social Security Tour":

MS. MORNIN: Okay, I'm a divorced, single [57 year-old] mother with three grown, adult children. I have one child, Robbie, who is mentally challenged, and I have two daughters.

THE PRESIDENT: Fantastic. First of all, you've got the hardest job in
America, being a single mom...

MS. MORNIN: I work three jobs and I feel like I contribute.

THE PRESIDENT: You work three jobs?

MS. MORNIN: Three jobs, yes.

THE PRESIDENT: Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that
you're doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)

MS. MORNIN: Not much. Not much.

The amazing thing's that George Bush probably believes this is true--ie, that no one else on Planet Earth works three jobs. All those foreigners are slacking.

And yet all over the world, people do work three jobs. Just not in first world countries. In other first world countries, people working three jobs in order to survive is generally seen as a bad thing... particularly when they have retarded children who might actually need them at home. In other first world countries, Bush's audience would have risen up and stoned him for saying Mornin's situation is "fantastic!" But not in America.

MS. MORNIN: I work three jobs and I feel like I contribute.

THE PRESIDENT: Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that
you're doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)

MS. MORNIN: Not much. That's because I also have cholera.

THE PRESIDENT: Fantastic! That's uniquely American! (Applause.) I bet you spend a lot of time in the bathroom, what with all the vomiting and diarrhea! (Laughter.)

MS. MORNIN: Well, I don't really have a bathroom, because we were evicted from our apartment. Now we live on the gigantic garbage heap on the edge of town.

THE PRESIDENT: That's fantastic! (Applause.) I bet at night it gets pretty damn cold! (Laughter.)

MS. MORNIN: It does, it does.


February 09, 2005

Women Find It Really Hot When You Hate America

Ladies! I have an important question.

Ann Coulter just went on MSNBC to talk about Ward "Roosting Chickens" Churchill, and explained:

These guys want to go around acting like big radicals, getting laid by co-eds with hairy armpits who probably don't like men...

Here's what I need to know: if I get my act together, I could probably act like a big radical. But which women, specifically, are going to go for this? Will it be only coeds with hairy armpits who probably don't like men?

I don't want to seem greedy. I mean, getting all the coeds with hairy armpits who probably don't like men should be more than enough. But... if my acting like a big radical will be found appealing by such a small subset of women, a small subset that probably doesn't like men, isn't it possible my big radical act will be found attractive by other women too? That is, I could get the coeds with hairy armpits who probably don't like men, and:

non-coeds with hairy armpits who probably don't like men
• coeds with hairy armpits who probably do like men
• coeds without hairy armpits who probably don't like men

...or some combination thereof?

Do you see what I'm saying? I've created a Venn diagram, below, which should clarify what I'm asking.

Please hurry, I need to know soon.

(Via Crooks and Liars, via Buzzflash.)

February 08, 2005

People Saying Things

Rather than linking to lots of things myself, I'm going to link to Bob Harris linking to them.

And: can this be a real picture? My apologies if not and I've been easily taken in. (UPDATE: Bob Harris writes to point out the picture is NOT real.)

Also, here's a little Zeynep. The Washington Post article she references is well worth reading, both for the reasons mentioned by Zeynep and others.

February 07, 2005

The Truth Is More Horrifying Than You Ever Imagined

There's an extremely important insight by journalist Allan Sloan in a new Newsweek article about Social Security:

[T]he Democrats... keep clinging to the idea that Social Security's accumulated surpluses—known as the "trust fund"—will protect benefits under the current system until 2042. Plenty of people share that opinion. But they're wrong... The money isn't being saved... The fund's irrelevant, folks. It's an accounting entry, not real money.

God. It's hard to get your mind around it, but when you finally do, you'll understand that Sloan is right. Clearly an incredible scam is being perpetrated on our great nation.

But... it gets worse. Thanks to this prompting from Sloan, I've realized something even more horrifying: even "real money" is—and I can't believe the Federal Reserve's gotten away with this for so long—JUST PIECES OF PAPER.

I know, you don't want to accept it. Neither did I when I figured it out. But just think about it for a while, and you'll see I'm right.

So, I don't think I'm being immodest when I say I've uncovered the greatest conspiracy in the history of mankind. We've got to tell The People!!!

February 05, 2005

Nicholas Kristof Weighs In On The Pigeon-Crapping Crisis

It's impolite to say so in a blue state, but President Bush has a point: there is a genuine problem with paying for Social Security, even if it isn't as dire as Mr. Bush suggests...

I'm deeply afraid that we're going to go through this debate as we did the health care battle of 1994—by rejecting a White House proposal but agreeing on nothing in its place.

In that case, it won't just be Mr. Bush who loses. We'll all lose.

-- Nicholas Kristof, via Kevin Drum

NICHOLAS: It's impolite to say so in this part of town, but George has a point: whether it's twenty or forty or a million years from now, we're going to face genuine problems with pigeons crapping on public statues.

GEORGE: Exactly! We must build a giant laser to destroy Mars!

NICHOLAS: Well, that's an interesting proposal. I can certainly see where you're coming from, although I have some reservations about borrowing $20 trillion to pay for the laser.

GEORGE: Giant laser! Destroy! Destroy Mars!

NICHOLAS: Yes, well put. At least you're willing to contribute to the debate. But unfortunately, liberals like Mary simply refuse to deal with the pigeon-crapping problem.

GEORGE: Pigeon-crapping holocaust!!!

NICHOLAS: Well, you say tomato... but the point is, Mary is being deeply irresponsible.

MARY: Look. I agree that in a perfect world, pigeons wouldn't crap on public statues. If it starts getting bad forty years from now, it'll be a problem, although a small problem. But here in the REAL world, we have to prioritize. All our town's stoplights are broken, and kids keep getting hit by cars. The water system is broken, and old people are dying of dysentery. Let's fix those problems, and then worry about the pigeons. And let's definitely not spend $20 trillion on a giant laser to destroy Mars that doesn't do anything about the pigeons in the first place.

GEORGE: Laser! Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzkkkkkka-BOOOM!

NICHOLAS: Indeed, George. Now, Mary—sometimes I despair for our side! You yourself agree there's a pigeon-crapping problem, yet you have no constructive proposals.

MARY: Oh for the love of god. I have one million constructive proposals if the pigeon-crapping ever gets out of hand. I just think we should deal with our bigger problems first. And I especially don't think we should listen to George. Perhaps you've forgotten, but when I agreed there was a small problem with the hedges in the park getting overgrown, he used that as an excuse to spend $10 trillion on a giant laser to destroy Neptune! In fact, that's one of the reasons we had to cut back on pigeon extermination!

NICHOLAS: Well, you agreed there was a problem with the hedges. I'm not sure what you're complaining about.

GEORGE: Lemme tell ya—everybody on Neptune had something to complain about! KA-BLAM!!!

NICHOLAS: Yes, they did. And while I might quarrel with the way George destroyed Neptune, I certainly admire his willingness to grapple with the big issues. I wish I could say the same for my team.

MARY: You know, Nicholas, I'm not so sure we're on the same team. You seem almost crazier than George.

NICHOLAS: Me, crazy? I'm the most rational person around. Some people want to fix the water system, while others want to blow up Mars. In a better world, we would join hands and compromise. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go free some brothel workers on Saturn.

GEORGE: Don't take too long! Because pretty soon, Saturn's going BLAMMO!

February 04, 2005

A Debate On The Pigeon-Crapping Crisis

President Bush used his State of the Union address Wednesday to launch a determined push for sweeping changes in the nation's Social Security system, including new individual investment accounts for younger workers...

Bush added new details to his proposal for individual accounts, under which workers could direct some of the taxes now paid for Social Security to mutual funds investing in stocks and bonds.

In a significant shift in his rationale for the accounts, Bush dropped his claim that they would help solve Social Security's fiscal problems...

A Bush aide, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity, was more explicit, saying that the individual accounts would do nothing to solve the system's long-term financial problems.

-- from the Los Angeles Times

GEORGE: Do you agree that pigeons taking craps on public statues is a problem?

MARY: Pigeons? Uh, sure. It would be nicer if they didn't. I mean, it's not happening much now, but I know it might in forty years or so if pigeons keep breeding the way they are.

GEORGE: So you agree we must build a giant laser to destroy Mars!

MARY: What?

GEORGE: You said there's a pigeon-crapping crisis!

MARY: Hold on. I didn't call it a "crisis." And also --

GEORGE: But you agreed there's a problem! We cannot be so irresponsible as to pass this pigeon-crapping problem, crisis, bloodbath, whatever term you want, onto our children. Therefore we must spend 20 trillion dollars on a giant laser to destroy Mars!

MARY: 20 trillion dollars? Geez, I almost died of dysentery because our town's water system is broken. I'd much rather --

GEORGE: So... you're an obstructionist! You agree there's an incipient holocaust of pigeon-crapping, yet you want to do nothing. Disgusting.

MARY: Uh, whatever. But I'm confused by this laser idea. What does that have to do with pigeons?

GEORGE: Nothing whatsoever!

MARY: ... come again?

GEORGE: I must be honest. Building a laser to destroy Mars has nothing to do with the pigeons. But you agree we're about to all die from pigeon-crapping. We've got to do something. And any solution must include a giant laser to destroy Mars!

MARY: I don't get it. What else do you think should be part of the solution?

GEORGE: That's easy: in the future, pigeons will continue to crap on statues. But we shall no longer refer to it as pigeon-crapping. It will be called "pigeon-giving." The catastrophe will be averted! And most important of all, WE WILL HAVE BUILT A GIANT LASER TO DESTROY MARS!!!!!

February 03, 2005

The Actual Bush Plan

I've looked into the details of the Bush plan, and can now explain it. Here it is. Are you ready? I'm not joking about this. This is the plan:


Under Bush's plan, most people would get about the same or lower benefits as they would with no changes. As you'll recall, according to Bush, with no changes Social Security will "collapse." So, under Bush's plan, Social Security will collapse.

The only difference is that what was previously called "collapse" will be redefined as "A-OK."

One of Josh Marshall's readers has it exactly right, here.

(Well, there is one small but important change. We will borrow about the same amount as under current law, but we'll do it sooner. This might cause a gigantic financial meltdown, the kind you associate with third world countries. But apart from that, everything will be the same!)

Details on request.


Robert Kaiser is an associate editor at the Washington Post. He seems to be a smart, honest guy. Nonetheless, like most of his ilk, he appears incapable of (1) providing accurate information on Social Security, and (2) providing it in a way normal humans can understand.

Why? Your guess is as good as mine. Well, unless your guess is that his mind is controlled by a microchip implanted in his brain by aliens from Planet Zarquon. I think my guess is better than that.

Here's an example, from Kaiser's Live Online appearance just after the State of the Union:

Washington, D.C.: I'm glad that the older generations of Americans writing in are so in touch with THEIR concerns, and I certainly understand them. However, for those of just entering the work place for whom lower benefits are a mathematical certainty without some changes do you see a chance for some reform or with it be an all or nothing ideological fight? Do you anticipate the Democrats putting forward a reform plan or simply attacking any plan the President puts forward and continuing to pretend there is no problem?

Robert G. Kaiser: Good question. Remember every time you hear a politician talk about the system's bankruptcy, or crisis, or predicts that it won't be able to pay benefits, that politician is implying that the government will, for the first time in American history, simply default on its obligations. Those obligations are the formal IOU's the Treasury has put in the Social Security trust fund--IOU's that promise to repay the billions in Social Security tax revenues that the government has "borrowed" to pay for its ordinary operating costs for decades.

Avoiding the costs of government is now a reflex for presidents and Congresses. President Bush repeated it last night when he said, "we must not jeopardize our economic strength by increasing payroll taxes," another way of saying, we must not pay for what we owe our seniors if that means adding slightly to the FICA tax (an increase of less than 2 percent would solve the problem, experts say). Would that really "jeopardize our economic strength," or would it be an honest way to pay obligations that Congresses and Presidents have freely incurred over many, many years?

I would hope, as the father of two daughters who are members of your generation, that over the next few years, common sense will prevail, and there will be modest modifications to Social Security that will keep it alive for them, and for you. But this is far from guaranteed, especially in our polarized political environment.

The Washington, D.C. questioner bases his question on misinformation he's been fed. The first thing Kaiser should have done was clear that up. The second thing he should have done was explain the situation clearly. For instance:

Washington, D.C.: I'm glad that the older generations of Americans writing in are so in touch with THEIR concerns, and I certainly understand them. However, for those of just entering the work place for whom lower benefits are a mathematical certainty without some changes do you see a chance for some reform or with it be an all or nothing ideological fight? Do you anticipate the Democrats putting forward a reform plan or simply attacking any plan the President puts forward and continuing to pretend there is no problem?

Imaginary Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for your question. There are many things to say about it. But first, I'm afraid you've fallen victim to some scaremongering on the part of President Bush.

It's by no means a mathematical certainty that—even with no changes to Social Security— there will be any shortfall in the program's finances. According to one of the projections made last year by the Social Security Trustees, all promised benefits can be paid indefinitely.

However, it's true there could (not will) be a shortfall. For instance, under the main projection by the Social Security Trustees, all promised benefits can be paid with no changes through 2042. After that, if nothing at all is done, only 73% of promised benefits could be paid.

Nevertheless, someone like yourself would still receive higher benefits than retirees today. I realize this is confusing, but here's why:

The promised level of benefits rises over time. Right now an average retiree gets a little less than $15,000 per year. When you retire, your promised benefits will be over $20,000. If nothing is changed, the shortfall would mean you couldn't get the $20,000. But you'd still get more than $15,000. (These numbers are all in 2004 dollars; that is, taking inflation into account, so they're directly comparable.)

So, it's true you'd get "lower" benefits in comparison to what you're promised... but they'd still be higher in real terms than today's.

Secondly, if a shortfall does occur, it doesn't mean promised benefits WILL be cut. Given the history of Social Security, it's more likely there will be changes; that is, payroll taxes (or perhaps other taxes) would be raised, and you'd still get your full benefits. This kind of thing has happened before in the past.

Third, it's hard to make predictions about politics. So I can't say for sure what the Democrats will or won't propose. But at the moment they seem set on a course of saying that this isn't a problem until 2042, if ever, so there's no reason to fix something that isn't broken.

February 02, 2005

Surprisingly, There Are Things On The Internet Besides This Site

1. The faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville has voted to call on the university to divest from companies providing arms to Israel. Details are here.

2. The Swift Report has broken the news that Bush's State of the Union address tonight will identify a new "axis of evil": SpongeBob, Buster and Winnie the Pooh.

3. An emailer who wishes to remain anonymous recommends the website of John Holbo and his wife. (The emailer is not John Holbo, his wife, nor both.) Their website has also been nominated for a Koufax award for best writing.

4. et alia has joined forces with Harry of Scratchings (formerly here) to form a new and mightier Scratchings.

5. The New York Times has started a website!

I Hate Those Talibs At The National Organization For Women

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Bill O'Reilly is the only thing that stands between us and the totalitarianism of the American Civil Liberties Organization.

Last year, O'Reilly pointed out that the ACLU is a "fascist organization." This was true, but didn't go far enough. So thank goodness that recently, when discussing the ACLU's opposition to teaching evolution in public schools, O'Reilly called them what they really are: THE TALIBAN.

The thing about the Taliban, though, is that they're sneaky. The ACLU is far from their only outpost in the United States. I have therefore compiled a list below of other American parts of THE TALIBAN:

• The National Organization for Women
• Americans United for Separation of Church and State
• The 19th Amendment
• All Stone Buddhas
• Everyone killed on 9/11
• Math

Welcome Weirdos!

This website has an open door policy. All are welcome: cranks, eccentrics, malcontents, queer ducks, oddballs, deviants, kooks, heteroclites, freakazoids, and so on. It could hardly be otherwise, since I may personally belong to some or all of these categories.

One particular oddball just commented on a long ago post here. (I'm referring to Norman, not Fazal Majid or Anna. Neither of them are oddballs; Fazal is an eccentric, while I believe Anna is a combination malcontent/kook.) Norman argues that the "so-called Armenian genocide" was not a genocide at all. In fact, "518,000 documented Ottoman Muslims... were directly slaughtered by Armenians."

And who knows? Perhaps he is right. I will start investigating this just as soon as there is a scientific breakthrough extending the human life span to nine million years. Until then, however, I will have to take a pass.

February 01, 2005

Krugman On Stock Return Issue

I just mentioned this... but now I will mention it again, because Paul Krugman wrote about it today.

For years, economist Dean Baker has been pointing out a glaring flaw at the heart of the argument for privatizing Social Security. It's this:

The reason the Social Security Administration predicts there will be a shortfall in Social Security revenue in 2042 is that the SSA believes the US economy will grow very slowly over the next 75 years—about half the rate of the past 75.

Privatizers look at this and say: well, we should make everyone put their Social Security money in private accounts invested in the stock market! That will solve the problem! Because we know the average return on stocks is 7%! Then they plug the 7% into their calculations, and it shows that privatization would be great.


It's true the average stock return over the past 75 years has been 7%. But there's no way for the return on stocks to be that high in an economy growing much more slowly. Baker has been trying and trying and trying to get privatization supporters to write down some numbers showing how it could happen. But they simply refuse. They know it's impossible.

Of course, the Social Security Administration could be wrong. The economy could grow like it did in the past, in which case stock returns could be like those of the past too. But then there's nothing wrong with Social Security.

Anyway, Paul Krugman (working together with his avenging economist beard) points this out here. He also graciously cites Baker.

The amazing thing is that this isn't fancy math. It's third grade arithmetic. And yet the privatizers have been able to get away with it so far. Baker has said that if they pull this off, he'll devote the rest of his life to trying to shut down academic economics departments. As he says, if economic departments can allow the most important government program in the US to be ripped to shreds based on a lie that could be understood by a nine-year old, there's no reason for them to exist.