Wednesday, February 23, 2005

A must read piece...

In the days following the election I wondered how we could lose. I mean, after all, we were right! We had the facts and the evidence on our side. Jonathan Chait explains in an excellent piece in The New Republic that being right doesn't really matter to conservatives- what matters is ideology.

Conservatives believe that big government impinges upon freedom. They may also believe that big government imposes large costs on the economy. But, for a true conservative, whatever ends they think smaller government may bring about--greater prosperity, economic mobility for the non-rich--are almost beside the point. As Milton Friedman wrote, "[F]reedom in economic arrangements is itself a component of freedom broadly understood, so economic freedom is an end in itself...."

We're accustomed to thinking of liberalism and conservatism as parallel ideologies, with conservatives preferring less government and liberals preferring more. The equivalency breaks down, though, when you consider that liberals never claim that increasing the size of government is an end in itself. Liberals only support larger government if they have some reason to believe that it will lead to material improvement in people's lives. Conservatives also want material improvement in people's lives, of course, but proving that their policies can produce such an outcome is a luxury, not a necessity.

In other words- just because privatizing Social Security will not actually save the system or make anymore richer doesn't mean that they won't do it; because it was never about those things in the first place. It was always about attacking the size of government.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

I haven't been updating lately...

Life has been intruding, requiring me to attend to things that acctually make me money. Also, the news has just been so depressing lately. Iraq has elected a pro-Iranian, fundamentalist premier, now Syria and Iran have become best buddies- just about the only stability in that entire region came from the fact that Iraq, Iran, and Syria were all basically equal in strength, and all basically hated each other. Looks like we have transformed the Middle East, after all- former enemies have united. Against us, but at least it's something.

Oh, and North Korea. They're not just a third world nation lorded over by a grown up Cartman with a bizarre fondness for Members Only jackets in beige. They're a third world nation lorded by a grown up Cartman with a bizarre fondness for Members Only jackets in beige with nukes.

On top of that, several conservative commentators have opined lately that the USA is headed toward full-on fascism. Not even a right wing pseudo-journalist gay prostitute in the press room can cure that kind of existential angst. What have we wrought, oh Lord? What have we done to displease You?

Things used to be easy for me- every time things went awry, every time the shit hit the fan, I could always count on a few simple things to get me through- donuts, The Daily Show, porn- but now, nothing. I don't even count the days until 2008- I just slump in my chair idly waiting for something to happen. It could be a small thing. It could be the second coming. All I know is that we're stuck with GWB and there's not a goddamn thing we can do about it.

Please bear with me- I'm in a funk.

Friday, February 11, 2005

It's been a long week...

I've been rather busy, hence the long absence. So what am I doing on Friday night? In bed, laptop at the ready, blogging. Yeah- some fun. Most of the best stories have blogged elsewhere, so I'm really just getting caught up. Nothing too brainy tonight.

Clearly my favorite story of the week is Gannonpot Dome. So it would seem that the Bushies have found a way to keep the liberal media in check. They gave daily press passes to a right wing fake reporter with a fake name who worked for a fake news organization. He was uncovered when he asked a obviously partisan question on Social Security that described Democrats as "divorced from reality." He allegedly worked for Talon News, an agency that fronts for GOPUSA and only employs Republican activists, not professional journalists. I guess that's one way to get your message out.

North Korea has nukes. Super. We will no doubt be invading Manitoba to divert the world's attention.

Howard Dean is back, heading up the DNC. This is a good move- he's from outside the beltway, he has a kind of goofy charisma that John Kerry lacked, he's not afraid to stick his neck out. Exactly what the Dems have been missing lately.

That's really all for now- I will probably do some real blogging Sunday.

Friday, February 04, 2005

The Morning Roundup

File Under "The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend" Two countries that hated each other for years will now finally be able to make peace. Good, right? Ummmm- maybe not. Despite the heartfelt embrace between a dead soldier's mother and an Iraqi human rights activist who cast a vote in her nation's first "free" election in half a century, things in Iraq remain messy. The lead story in the Times today reveals that the early returns show a Shiite party with strong links to Iran in the lead.

Should this party retain its lead and ascend to power, these two historically warring nations can resolve their differences and unite in their hatred of the United States. Just in time for the invasion of Iran, which Condi says is "not on the agenda at this point"(emphasis added). Meaning that it will be as soon as we've cleaned up our present quagmire.

George Dubya's Rolling Misinformation Tour 2005 The Pres hit the road yesterday, to hype up his Social Insecurity Fiasco. Oddly, he only seemed to visit Red States with Democratic Senators who have vowed to stop him. Coincidence? I think not. And despite the oft stated assertion that young people generally support the plan, the Times found many who did not (note- they conducted man on the street styles interviews in the bluest of Blue States, Boston, Mass).

More media outlets are analyzing the plan in detail, and are finding what the Post found yesterday- it's just a loan to government, immediately paid for with massive new Federal borrowing, followed by benefit cuts on the back end. This plan will not save Social Security as much as cripple it for good, and Progressives need to keep the pressure on the President and the Congress to dump it.

All parties agree- doing nothing is not an option, but the system can be saved with good ideas in more or less its present form with a minimum of difficulty. Despite the President's assertion in teh SOTU that he will listen to all ideas, he immediately stated that he would not consider raising the payroll tax. That's too bad, because Salon notes in the above piece that raising a two percent increase would keep the system afloat.

What would two percent mean? The payroll tax is split 50/50 between employer and employee, so two percent would actually be borne by the worker as a one percent raise. For a worker making $50K (simply to keep the math easy), 1% equals an extra $500 per year. Assuming that the worker receives 26 paychecks per year, he would pay an extra $19.24 per check.

And that's without benefit cuts. How much more could be saved if we also raised the retirement age? If we means tested benefits? If we invested the Trust Fund in something other than Treasury bonds? Fix the system- don't dismantle it.

How Hard Could It Be? That is the slogan for Kinky Friedman's campaign to become the Governor of Texas. Kinky, one of my favorite people in the universe, is the writer/humorist/musician who rose to marginal obscurity in the 1970s with his country band The Texas Jewboys, and went on to write a series of hysterical mystery novels in 1990s. Kinky draws his inspiration from former pro wrestler and Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, who the Kinkster notes, " didn't realize that wrestling is real and politics is fixed."

The Times writes, To get on the ballot he needs 45,000 signatures, none from anyone voting in a Republican or Democratic primary. But he voiced confidence, saying, "There's so much apathy; that leaves me a lot of people."

Two Passings Of Note Max Schmeling passed away at 99, prompting me to ask, was Max Schmeling still alive? Seriously, Max Schmeling was a true giant- even though the Nazis touted him as the pinnacle of Aryan supremacy, he fought them every step of the way. He refused to join the party, he saved some Jews from the camps, and when the Nazis ordered him to divorce his Czech wife, he refused that as well.

And Ossie Davis, the actor and activist, has passed away at 87- he will be missed.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

State of the Union wrapup

The reports are in, and the results are mostly good for the President. Obviously, the headlines are dominated by the Social Security proposal, and virutally every story notes the chorus of Democratic boos, drawing comparison to the House of Commons. The Post also carries a story on how moderate Republicans reacted to some of the more conservative measures. All major media agree- expect a nasty fight.

It would seem that few commentators have noted the frequent appeals to young Americans. That's too bad, because for all his talk about the troubles of partisan politics, his speech was a blatant play for young voters. It's no secret that a majority of young Americans support fiddling with Social Security, while older voters are more skeptical and those facing imminent retirement adamantly opposed. But since older voters only have so many elections in front of them, the future, it seems, is with the future.

Hence, the President wants to toy with Social Security sooner rather than later, or at least make the effort. Young voters would be well advised to get off this bandwagon- the proposal is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. The plan is not the 401(k) style nest egg builder that it sounds like. According to the Post, here's how it works.
  • A worker elects to divert 4% of his FICA total wages into the personal account, up to $1,000 per year.
  • The taxpayer may not choose how to invest the money- it must go into a conservative mixture of mostly government bonds.
  • Upon retirement all the money that accrues in the account is his, but his Social Security benefit would also be reduced by the amount of the worker contributed into his account as opposed to traditional Social Security.

A "senior administration official" quoted in the Post explains, "The person comes out ahead if their personal account exceeds a 3 percent real rate of return, which is the rate of return that the trust fund bonds receive.... So, basically, the net effect on an individual's benefits would be zero if his personal account earned a 3 percent real rate of return. To the extent that his personal account gets a higher rate of return, his net benefit would increase."

If the rate of return in the account mirrors the rate of return of the Social Security Trust Fund, then there is no gain and no loss. For what it's worth, the Congressional Budget Office projects a rate of return of 3.3%- a fraction higher than the Trust Fund's growth.

In the meantime, the federal government has control over your money, and since it has limited the investment to government bond funds it amounts to little more than a loan to the Feds at the interest rate they have chosen. One other thing- if the account does worse than the rate of return of Trust Fund, then the taxpayers loses that money.

It's a gamble with the system. True, something needs to be done to ensure Social Security's long term viability, but the President's plan is little more than a roulette table where you only allowed to bet on black or red. You'll never get rich that way, and green zero will still come up once in a while.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

He must be proud

On the whole, I was impressed. He was polished and passionate. He stayed on theme and drove home his points. Good job.

From a political perspective, he was transparent about his motives. The generational appeal suggests that he is interested in adding mew Republicans to the party. He directly referenced young Americans at least three times, made several other references to "future generations," and even tied the war to his responsibility to future generations. He is trying to brand the Republican party as the party of youth.

The GOP political operation has always been better at marketing than Democrats. They fine tune their message with polls and focus groups. They test not only various language choices but also the various contexts within which to place the language. Tonight's context- maintaining a strong union for future generations- served as the backdrop for everything else.

The President did a great job tonight, much as it pains me to say, and his speechwriters must be ecstatic. His performance tonight was equal to his speech after 9/11, and was on par with Clinton. The loyal opposition has its work cut out for it.

More generational appeals

I am amazed at how much of this speech tries to attribute his policies as a legacy to future generations. Economic policy, social policy, military policy- he sees all of his major policies as building a world for the future. He has really tapped into his idealist rhetoric for this speech, not the realist language of past years. I am also quite impressed at how much he has grown as a speaker over the past four years. He has always been better in front of a friendly room, but he is holding his own against some unfriendly quarters.

Social Security

Makes requisite pitch to AARP members- if you're 55 and up, it will not change. Good.

Who was the lonely clapper for the scheduled rise in benefits?

I find it curious politically smart that he set up his pitch by quoting all Democratic politicians on the need to reform Social Security. It's an attempt to show that this is not a Republican attack on Social Security. But then he calls his plan "a better deal," subtly referring the New Deal.

Much of the speech so far has overtly appealed to generational interests. He has made direct appeals to "young Americans" on economic issues- this goes directly back to the post I wrote over the weekend about what Bush sees as his legacy- the long term disabling of the Democratic party. Making this direct plea to young people is a conspicuous and obvious pitch to recruit long term Republicans.

First time he's pissed me off

"Junk lawsuits" "irresponsible class actions" "frivilous asbestos claims"

What-friggin-ever. Tort reform benefits no one except insurance companies, who jacked up the premiums to protect against liability and now want to weasel out of their responsibility to pay up.

"Comprehensive energy strategy?" What planet is he on? He did make the required pitch to ethanol (anyone watch last week's West Wing?) I'm all for reducing the reliance on foreign energy, but making the OPEC nations the 51st through 67th states is probably not the best idea.

Economic puffery

Cut the deficit in half by 2009. Half the room gave him a standing ovation. Could it be that has raised the deficit?

Here we go....

He didn't start with the state of the union is strong. Free and sovereign Iraq. Nice touch. False, more or less.

Hmmm, the state of our union is "confident and strong." Nice touch- he has better writers working for him lately.

Is it just me...

Or is Breyer the only Supreme Court Justice present?


Why is Bill Frist trailing behind the President on his way down the aisle? Makes him look like a lapdog.

State of the Union 2005- Live Blogging

It's State of the Union nightm and I will be live blogging tonight. I've picked the CBS feed as my source, principally because Dan Rather could possibly go apeshit and run around in his underpants. 10 to 1 the State of the Union is strong.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Site News

I have done some feature addition- scroll down to the bottom of the page and you can now add my XML feed to your My Yahoo and My MSN pages. You can also subscribe to my content with your XML reader, or with Bloglines.

Also in the works- a likely migration to a dedicated domain name, and perhaps a swimsuit edition.

Okay, maybe the swimsuit edition is a bad idea.