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February 28, 2005

What liberal media? (Part 32,101)

A headline in today's NYT blares

Income Off 2.3 Percent, Spending Flat

Similarly, the AP screams

Americans' personal incomes take a dive

Good God, that's a disaster, right? If we lose 2.3 of our personal income every month like we did in January, how long before we're totally screwed?!

Those patient enough to read past the first paragraph learn that the real story was not the January decline, but the December surge of %3.7 that preceded it. That sounds much better, doesn't it?

It turns out that the huge spike in December was due to an enormous Microsoft dividend that single-handedly skewed the personal income stats for the average American.

The stories then proceed to tell you what the figures for December and January would have been had the Microsoft dividend never been paid:

Excluding that one-time dividend impact and other factors, personal income rose 0.5 percent in January compared with a 0.6 percent gain in December, the department said.

So in other words, there was average monthly increase in incomes of 0.55% for the last two months of 2004. By my calculations, that rate annualizes out to nearly 7%. Not too shabby, huh? And on top of that, you have a huge-ass dividend from Microsoft.

In July of last year, my company paid me the largest bonus I'd ever earned -- essentially double what it had been in years past. I guess according to AP/NYT logic, August was my "worst month" because of the drop-off, and an indicator of a terrible year. I should have refused the bonus, I guess.

Classic, right? I don't even know why I'm surprised.

Sully to Pope: "Die already!!"

It looks like Andrew Sullivan has joined William F. Buckley in expressing annoyance that John Paul II won't just lie down and die already. Am I the only one who finds this a bit odd? Am I missing something here? Is it because I'm not Catholic?

But there is also a point at which clinging to life itself becomes a little odd for a Christian, no? Isn't the fundamental point about Christianity that our life on earth is but a blink in the eye of our real existence, which begins at death and lasts for eternity in God's loving presence? Why is the Pope sending a signal that we should cling to life at all costs - and that this clinging represents some kind of moral achievement? Isn't there a moment at which the proper Christian approach to death is to let it come and be glad? Or put it another way: if the Pope is this desperate to stay alive, what hope is there for the rest of us?

President Rice update

Okay, now we have to nominate Condi, just to prove Oliver Willis wrong.

February 27, 2005

Sex abuse at the U.N.

So much for its being an "isolated incident...."

Rocked by widespread abuse of women and girls, including gang rape, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations also has found sexual exploitation cases in at least four other missions -- in Burundi, Liberia, Ivory Coast -- as well as more recently in Haiti, they added.

"We think this will look worse before it begins to look better," Jane Holl Lute, assistant secretary general for peacekeeping operations, told reporters. "We expect that more information will come from every mission on allegations. We are prepared for that."

Encouraging news from the Middle East

The Wolfowitz-ization of the region continues. No wonder Bush's critics are directing so much of their attention these days to gay escorts.

President Hosni Mubarak yesterday asked Egypt's parliament to amend the constitution to allow for direct, multiparty presidential elections later this year, for the first time in the nation's history.

The unexpected proposal from Mubarak, a former Air Force general who has ruled Egypt unchallenged since 1981, represents a drastic change in a country with a 50-year history of autocratic, one-party governments.

In other regional news, Saddam's half-brother has been captured.

UPDATE: And now the UAE? (Hat tip: Ace)

February 26, 2005

President Condi?

I know there's been a buzz about this for a while, but I never paid much attention to it... until recently. I know it sounds ridiculous to say that a single photograph has put me over the edge, but I'm not so naive as to believe that image and packaging aren't crucially important in presidential politics these days. Well, check out this image and this package. (Everyone else is posting it, so why not?)

It's not all packaging, of course. She's tough, smart, and strikes just the right balance on social issues: pro-gun and pro-choice. She should be capable of gaining broad support among religious conservatives without terrifying social moderates and libertarians.

A Rice candidacy could substantially cut into the Democrats' share of some of their core constituencies. Given current demographics, Democrats require a strong showing from females voters and the black vote in its entirety to be competitive. Any significant erosion in either category spells trouble. Consequently, it could make a Hillary Clinton candidacy a much more likely possibility.

The Clinton-vs.-Rice scenario (which is starting to look less contrived than it once did) would be a great deal more than a wet dream for political bloggers. It would guarantee this country its first woman president, and those (hopefully mythical) Americans who would refuse to vote for a woman on general principle would be removed from the equation. And can you imagine the reaction of fanatical Muslims everywhere? "These Americans are crazy!"

Condi Rice has now officially joined the triumvirate of people whom I would like to see run for president in 2008: McCain, Guilliani and Rice. According to this straw poll, I'm not the only Republican thinking along these lines. I know it's still ridiculously early to be discussing such things, but I can't help but be optimistic.

February 24, 2005

The Crackers

I really don't know if this will be funny to anyone outside of New York or not.

(Hat tip: Patricia)

Libertarians against Libertarians

For many years, I've considered myself a small-l libertarian. I used to believe I was in a distinct minority, but with the explosion of the internet and the growth of the blogosphere, I'm learning there are a hell of a lot more people like me out there than I once realized.

But if there are so damn many of us, why are we not better represented by politicians? Randy Barnett blames the Libertarian Party, at least in part. His argument is that the creation of the LP has siphoned off libertarian influences from both major parties, and that the Democrats and Republicans are decidedly less libertarian as a result.

I tend to agree, but I'd add another point as well. I frankly believe the Libertarian Party has saddled us libertarians with a bit of an image problem. Despite the widespread popularity of libertarian principles, the LP leadership itself has a tendency to attract people whom many would consider extremists and fanatics. In this respect, it functions a bit more like a single-issue special interest group than a viable political party.

They also tend to be a fractious and contentious lot. As the saying goes, get 10 Libertarians together in a room, and you'll have 17 different opinions. Moreover, as a practical matter, they seem to be completely lacking any ability to prioritize. For example, in the face of a $2.5 trillion federal budget, I'd just as soon table the adademic debates on, say, legalizing blackmail or child pornography until we get the overall size of the federal spending a bit more under control. That's just me.

Hat tip to Dean Esmay, who also points out the existence of the Democratic Freedom Caucus and the Republican Liberty Caucus, both of which seek to worth within the respective parties to forward libertarian goals and ideas. I decided some time back that (while still an uphill battle) it would be easier to move the Republican Party back to a more libertarian conservativism than to rescue the LP from the ideological wilderness. That's why I've included a link to the RLC over on the left-hand side of this site.

The "Jeff Gannon Hypocrisy" hypocrisy

Damn. Radley Balko can't catch a break. He's getting hammered from both sides for his recent Fox News column which dealt in part with the role of bloggers in uncovering the Jeff Gannon scandal.

To be sure, hypocrisy abounds on both sides of this issue. Many on the left, to whom Clinton's sex life was strictly off-limits, are gleefully trafficking in every salacious detail of Gannon's "side job" as a M4M escort. They'll claim, of course, that they're not really hypocrites, but they're merely illustrating conservative hypocrisy. Riiiiight. Sorry, but that's just self-serving crap. Granted, the spectacle of Ann Coulter defending a gay hooker against the vicious homophobia of the left is a bit of a howler, but this is no way justifies the shameful treatment Gannon has endured from the left-hand side of the blogosphere.

So in the midst of all this posturing, along comes libertarian columnist Radley Balko (who voted for Kerry, by the way), saying

Likewise, many of the same leftist blogs that castigate the religious right for intolerance didn't hesitate to reveal the sexual peculiarities of White House correspondent/sympathizer James Guckert, aka Jeff Gannon.

This prompted AMERICAblog to respond with the headline "FOX News defends hookers." Classy, huh? Balko's inbox is filling up with hate mail, from enraged conservatives and liberals alike. That's a sad commentary on the current American political landscape. With left and right both consumed in a bizarre role reversal for political advantage, people like Balko are the only ones making any sense. Everything else is just partisan bullshit.

Optimism in Lebanon

Would we still be seeing the positive signs currently coming from Lebanon had the U.S. not intervened in Iraq? It's hard to know for sure, but Walid Jumblatt doesn't think so.

Walid Jumblatt is not the sort to be described as a friend of the United States, much less of the Bush Administration. In November 2003, the Druze leader and Lebanese parliamentarian described Paul Wolfowitz as a "virus" and regretted that the Deputy Defense Secretary hadn't been killed in a terrorist rocket strike on his Baghdad hotel the month before. So it says something about the changing face of Middle East politics that Mr. Jumblatt seems to have converted to Mr. Wolfowitz's way of thinking.

"It's strange for me to say this," he recently told Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, "but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing."

February 21, 2005

Karl Rove as Jewish scapegoat

For many Democrats, Karl Rove is providing the same function the specter of the "Evil Jew" provides for fanatical Islam. Rather than face their own failures and shortcomings as a culture, they blame their miserable lot on a sinister conspiracy of Jewish bankers and political manipulators.

Many Democrats are similarly uncomfortable confronting their own failures and defeats. They have woven elaborate fairy tales about "stolen" elections and loony conspiracy theories involving Jeff Gannon, and this is supposedly the "Reality Based" community. Their favorite go-to guy, of course, remains Karl Rove. In their world view, Rove is an evil mastermind possessed of supernatural intelligence, outmaneuvering the hapless Democrats at every turn. His demonic powers can be used to explain everything from crop circles to tsunamis. Witness the recent remarks by Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), in which he blamed Rove for the entire Rathergate/Memogate fiasco.

Come on, let's admit it. This has reached the level of pathology. Glenn Reynolds comments that if Rove really is that smart, the Democrats are doomed. I would go one further: If the Democrats really believe Karl Rove is that smart, they are equally doomed.

February 20, 2005

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, RIP

One wonders what grim personal demons finally drove Hunter Thompson to this in the end. There's nothing I can really say, other than that he was an American original, and he will be missed.

Hellfire and eternal damnation

Sorry for the light blogging the past few days, but I've been up to my ears in, among other things, income taxes. For what it's worth, the person who designed the New York State income tax forms is going to hell. I'm just sayin'....

February 18, 2005

Gee, I hate I missed that

Power Line has an account of some rather spectacular-sounding fireworks at the Howard Dean-Richard Perle debate. It sounds like someone lost their temper in a rather grand fashion, and it wasn't Howard.

The new DNC chairman may, however, be second-guessing his initial second-guessing of his original decision not to allow media coverage of the event.

I just read an account of the debate held last night between Richard Perle and Howard Dean wrritten by a left winger who attended the debate. The highlight of the report is when some 52 year old Democrat threw a shoe at Richard Perle while screaming "mother f****** liar" numerous times as the police dragged him out of the debate hall. He missed Mr. Perle, who took the incident in light fashion. I believe there were local TV stations there, so I would think the whole episode would be on tape. Ah, the Democrat Party at work!!!

UPDATE: Kevin from Preemptive Karma saw the whole thing. Read about here.

More clear-headed thinking on Social Security

Charles Krauthammer takes the president to task for emphasizing the year 2042 as Social Security's Day of Reckoning. His problem with this is twofold. First, this date is essentially meaningless, representing an estimate as to when a fictitious trust fund will run out of fictitious money. Second, the date sounds so impossibly distant that it will be difficult to rally the citizens to avert a crisis many of them will not live to see, particularly if that remedy involves sacrifice on their part.

The real Day or Reckoning, Krauthammer argues, comes much sooner, in 2018. That is the year that the Social Security surpluses are predicted to dry up and become deficits. The difference will have to be made up somewhere -- reduced benefits, higher taxes, increased deficit.

Private accounts, however attractive they may be, are not going to solve this problem in and of themselves, and he argues that Bush should not sell them as a cure-all. He also takes the Democrats to task, however, for their head-in-the-sand denial that a real problem exists.

While Krauthammer doesn't pretend to have all the answers, he does have a refreshingly candid and straightforward approach to facing current realities, and to framing the questions we should be asking. I wish this were more typical of the present debate than the partisan hyperbole we're getting from both sides.

February 17, 2005

Blogging note

I am in hell. By that, I mean I am busier than a person should have to be. There probably won't be much blogging today, but if anything critical should happen, like a war breaking out with Syria or Ashlee Simpson singing the wrong lyrics or something, just drop me an e-mail so I can shirk my responsibilities and bloviate about it.

February 16, 2005

Not that there's anything wrong with that

Jeff Gannon's treatment at the hands of some lefty bloggers is now well beyond disgusting. Rather than sticking to the legitimate issues of his qualifications and credentials and the White House's knowledge thereof, many bloggers have seen fit to delve into the salacious details of Gannon's private life as a gay hooker.

Of course they're always careful to follow it up with a quick "Not that there's anything wrong with that! Heavens no; we hate to even bring it up, and the only reason we do is to point out Bush's hypocrisy, and besides, they did it to Clinton, and..."

Look, here's a tip. If you feel compelled to explain why what you're doing isn't gay baiting, that's probably a red flag. But all's fair in love and Bush-hatred, I guess. Anything, anything at all you can find to throw at this president in hopes of damaging him is fair game.

But let me ask you guys this: Do you really believe these details are inflicting enough damage on Bush to justify the jettisoning of the principles on which you (rightly) stood during Clinton's impeachment? I don't. In fact, I see yet another conservative scandal being transformed into a liberal scandal by overreaching.

What can we expect next? Maybe an exposé from DailyKos on how George and Laura adopted a "colored" baby? Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.

UPDATE: Jeff's take on this is worth a read.

Questions on Social Security

Rich Lowry has some questions for the AARP on their campaign to scare seniors into opposing Bush's Social Security reform. I'd like to know the answers to some of these myself.

  • Since Bush has said that any proposal won't affect anyone 55 years of age or older, what possible reason -- other than sheer ideological hostility -- do you have to oppose reforming the system?

  • Your group's advocacy suggests that reform puts at risk the benefits of current Social Security recipients, even though cutting those benefits is off the table. Are you routinely so dishonest, or is this a special case?

  • In 1950, 16 workers supported each retiree. By 2040, there will only be two workers per retiree. Does it occur to you that that is very bad news for workers? Or is your ultimate ambition to have each retiree supported by his own individual worker? Perhaps this worker can be made to fan his designated retiree with a palm frond and deliver him fruity drinks poolside?

  • The current system is already a bad deal for young people. Any tax increases or benefit reductions will make it worse over time. Do you realize that your members have grandchildren? Or do you believe the financial futures of those grandkids just don't matter much to your members?

  • What is your favorite feature of the payroll tax that funds Social Security and that some fellow opponents of Bush's proposal advocate increasing to fund the program's obligations: (a) that it is regressive, disproportionately falling on low-income workers; (b) that it was already drastically increased in the 1980s, so it is supposedly ripe for another drastic increase; or (c) that it acts as a job-killing tax on employment?

  • If you like old people so much, why do you try so hard to scare them? Or does AARP market research show that the elderly enjoy being frightened?

  • Your group has suggested that investing in the stock market is much too complicated and risky for anyone attempting to build assets for retirement. Do all your officials therefore eschew investing their own money in the market? If so, what is their preferred investment vehicle (and please don't say stuffing cash under a mattress)?

There's more. Click on the link to read it.

February 14, 2005

Dean: Why not?

I know my conservative buddies give me a hard time about it, but I still have a bit of a soft spot for Howard Dean. Sure, I've made a few jokes at his expense, but really, who hasn't? You just can't help it. Still and all, I found him to be a much more attractive candidate that John Kerry.

I know much of the Democratic establishment is nervous at the prospect of having Dean at the helm of the DNC, but I believe their anxieties are largely misplaced. Howie is not the raving leftist that many portray him to be. This categorization was the result of his vociferous and dogged opposition to the war in Iraq, which in many ways became the defining issue of the 2004 campaign.

His record is more moderate than than his detractors would have you believe. Dean is one of the few Democrats I know who can sound convincing while preaching the gospel of fiscal conservatism, rather than merely paying lip service to the idea.

I tended to view Dean as the John McCain of the Democratic Party: a populist with strong grass roots support who was unafraid to speak candidly or to go against the conventional wisdom of his party when he thought necessary. Ultimately, I believe it's Dean's candor and his maverick reputation that spooks the establishment more than his ideology. He's his own man, and he's not completely bought and sold by the traditional power brokers of his party.

I think the fears of Dean driving the party off the cliff are misplaced. He has a proven ability to raise money and to energize the party base, and those are the two most important jobs of a party chairman, in my book.

The only real downside I see is Dean's Gingrich-like propensity to let slip the occasional bizarre comment during off-the-cuff discussions with the media. This is a potential trouble spot, since we can expect Dean now to be a fixture on the Sunday morning talking heads shows, but I think it's one which can be easily overcome with a little experience and discipline. Remember, before he rose to prominence on the national stage last year, his political experience was limited to governing a state about the size of Bush's Crawford ranch. He wasn't quite ready for prime time smash-mouth politics on the national stage, but he'll get there, and I predicted he'll do so quickly.

I think the Democrats should relax. He may not be a messiah, but I think they could certainly do worse, just like they have for the past four years. And who knows? It Dean is truly successful in branding the Democratic Party as the proper home of fiscally conservative social progressives, he may even bring enough disaffected Republicans to jump ship to make a real difference.

In any case, it will be an interesting ride.

February 12, 2005

Terror hag convicted

Radical moonbat lawyer Lynne Stewart was convicted Thursday for smuggling messages of violence on behalf of her client, the blind terror master Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman. (By the way, why do so many of these guys have fucked up eyes? Is there some kind of fatwah against eating a goddamn carrot once in a while?)

Stewart has always been attracted to what she euphemistically refers to as "progressive" causes, but why did she take this case? What values could a "progressive" possibly share with this murderous cleric's hateful, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, homophobic ideology? The answer is obvious: virulent anti-Americanism. For Stewart and her ilk, hatred of this country trumps every other principle, and even Islamofacists become acceptable bedfellows. And her defense was novel, basically amounting to "lawyers shouldn't go to jail." Swell.

Ah, well. In truth, I don't expect any different from the Lynne Stewarts and Ward Churchills of America. What's really disappointing, however, is to see the reaction to this conviction on the part of many mainstream liberals, many of whom have expressed sympathy for Stewart.

These liberals seem to view her as Atticus Finch made over -- a principled attorney who defends unpopular clients simply because they deserve a fair trial. And granted, such a person would be honorable, but it's outrageous to suggest that this image even remotely applies to Stewart.

Make no mistake, she was not merely concerned with judicial fairness; she was an outright sympathizer, famously saying "good for them" upon learning that a militant group in the Philippines had taken hostages. Then, of course, she went from sympathizer to collaborator, when she illegally smuggled out messages of violence from her imprisoned client. She understood full well the implications of what she was doing, as her self-described Academy Award-worthy performance indicated. Rahman may deserve a fair trial, but Stewart is no Atticus Finch. There is nothing to admire here.

And yet many liberals feel pity for her. One might have hoped that three and a half years after 9/11 we'd be spared such nonsense. Guess not.

There's much to admire in American liberalism: its passionate commitment to equality, fairness, and basic human rights. The fact that so many liberals are still capable of sympathy for this traitorous ogress, however, highlights liberalism's fatal flaw, and why I cannot in clear conscious support them for so long as we are at war with this particular enemy.

If there were any justice, Stewart would have to serve her time in the same prison as her blind boyfriend. He could marry her (here's where his blindness comes in handy), treat her like chattel, make her wear a tent over her head, and beat her with sticks when she's inadequately deferential or submissive.


February 11, 2005

Is WFB senile?

Maybe it's time for him and the pope both to step down.

At church on Sunday the congregation was asked to pray for the recovery of the Pope. I have abstained from doing so. I hope that he will not recover.

Clinton hails McAuliffe

"...and then, schwing!!! Just like granite, baby! Ha ha ha..."

February 10, 2005


Why has no one come up with a TV show called "Blogger Idol?"


All right, if you thought the Violence Box was strange, you have to check out God Jesus.

Roger is on the mother of all rolls lately. He'll have to get his own blog if he keeps it up at this rate.

UPDATE: Treacher comments: "Danger! Danger, God's holy son!"

Two Jeff Gannon scandals

I'll admit I haven't completely kept up with the whole Jeff Gannon thing. (Hell, I'm still trying to sort out the whole Eason Jordan scandal.) It's certainly outrageous that this guy, whoever he is, managed to get White House press corps credentials under false pretenses. Christ, does this White House never do background checks?

The left half of the blogosphere has been having a field day with this, and it's hard to blame them (Dan Rather- and Eason Jordan-sized megastories are hard to come by on their side of the internet, so they have to get their jollies where they can.)

In reading about it on the lefty sites, however, there's something that bothers me. It's the way the liberals play up the gay porn aspect of it (examples here and here.) The real scandal, of course, is that he's a "fake" reporter with access to the White House, not that he's gay or even a gay pornographer.

The liberals can couch this as much as they like in "this doesn't really matter, of course, except that it highlights the hypocrisy in the Bush administration, blah blah blah," but I'm sorry, that's just crap.

They can dress this up however they like, but it's backhanded gay-baiting, plain and simple. It's also not an isolated incident, but rather part a disturbing new pattern. They've done it with RNC chair Ken Mehlman, with South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, and with Montana Republican Mike Taylor.

This kind of behavior is ugly, no matter which side does it (and both sides do!) Nevertheless, it's worrisome to see how exploiting homophobia has become a standard political weapon in the arsenal of the left these days. And I think if you were to ask Dick Cheney's gay daughter, who's a lesbian homosexual, she'd agree.

UPDATE: Bill and INDC has more.

North Korea "admits" to nukes

Time to send Jimmy Carter with another check. Actually, there doesn't seem to be anything really new here. I suspect it's yet another phase in the cycle of "I'm going to be loud and boisterous and threatening until you give me more money and then I'll shut up and go away for a while."

The Violence Box

Some things defy easy description. Just click on the link.

UPDATE: Looks like we get a two-fer today. I bring you Clown Porn.

(Hat tip: Roger)

February 09, 2005

Social Security truths II: The myth of transition costs

In my previous post I wrote about some problems with the current Social Security system, and how private accounts, although not a panacea, can improve the situation. The most common criticism of partial privatization is the "transition cost" involved. If monies are diverted from the current system into private accounts, the logic goes, the difference will have to be made up until such time as the accounts start providing benefits of their own. These costs are often estimated at $2 trillion, and the implication is that we simply cannot "afford" the transition at this time, if ever.

The problem here is that these costs are in many ways as illusory as the trust fund itself. First of all, in order to have an honest comparison, we need also to consider the cost of doing nothing. For starters, we have the trust fund itself, which currently has a balance of about $1.5 trillion. As I pointed out previously, this is debt that will have to be repaid at some point.

The $1.5 trillion liability is just its present value, however. Add to that the $150 billion or so a year that comes from the FICA surplus, as well as the interest this debt accrues and compounds, and you're talking about a future liability totaling in the vicinity of $10 trillion (warning: PDF).

A move to private accounts can obviously lessen this liability, but the critics charge that it's a bad idea because the private accounts will begin costing us now even though they won't yield any benefits until later. Well, there's some truth to that, but let's examine it a little more closely.

Now is the perfect time to begin gradually phasing in private accounts, while FICA is still running large annual surpluses. Yes, diverting funds to private accounts will decrease the size of these surpluses, but is that necessarily a bad thing? Remember that the Social Security surpluses are immediately converted to government debt which must be paid back with interest in the future. It seems to me that private accounts would force us to face the true costs of the system sooner rather than later, as opposed to hiding them under a mountain of debt called a "trust fund."

Granted, diminished FICA surpluses would result in an increasing budget deficit. Still, this plan would have the benefit of facing the costs we know are coming sooner rather than later, while at the same time forcing us to be more candid about the true size of the federal deficit, which has long been distorted by the Social Security surplus.

Now don't get me wrong, there's no free lunch here. But for all the angst over "transition costs," it strikes me that they are nothing more than a different (and more honest) way of looking at Social Security's unfunded mandate.

All right, I'm off my soapbox now. I'm officially burned out on the whole issue, but I feel better having gotten that off my chest.

Social Security truths I: The myth of the trust fund

People of good will can genuinely disagree about the wisdom of private accounts or other Social Security reform measures, but before we get too far into that dialog, we should at least make sure we all agree on some basic truths regarding the existing system.

I am continually dismayed by the amount of disinformation out there on this topic. I assure you, that is no accident. The government is not anxious to draw attention to how the system really works.

What I'm going to tackle now is this notion of a Social Security "trust fund." Many people believe that an account exists somewhere, flush with funds from FICA payroll tax surpluses, strengthening the Social Security system for decades into the future.

Well, it's not true. I know many of you already know this, so you should feel free to skip this post, but I'm going to address the myth of "transition costs" later, and this is a prerequisite.

Each year, Social Security takes in more money in payroll taxes than it needs to meet the current obligations of the system. The leftover surplus is then "invested" in the so-called "trust fund." This mode of investment, however, is a dubious one. The surplus is used to purchase a certain type of government bond. Like all bonds, these are debt instruments. Essentially, it means the monies are transferred into general revenues, where they are immediately spent by Congress on wars, farm subsidies, debt service, whatever. The Social Security trust fund contains no actual money, merely IOUs from the government, promising that someday they'll pay back the money they've already spent.

I would like to think the problem with this should be obvious. The fund we're led to believe safeguards our payroll taxes and will pay our benefits when we retire is nothing more than a pile of debt.

Some of the president's opponents, Josh Marshall being a notable example, have had some grand fun mischaracterizing our position as "government bonds are worthless pieces of paper." As is often the case, Marshall completely misses the point. Government bonds can be a sound investment vehicle for you, me, Josh Marshall or the government of China. For the government to purchase treasury bonds as an "investment," however, makes no sense.

If you write me an IOU, that piece of paper has value to me. If you write one to yourself, however, you've accomplished nothing. When the time comes for Social Security to redeem these bonds, how will they be paid for? There are three options:

  • cut government services
  • raise taxes
  • borrow more money

or some combination of the three. In other words, the vaunted "trust fund" is nothing more than a promise that the government will someday pay Social Security back with money that it doesn't have.

This is more than merely dumb; it's dishonest. Referring to an enormous unfunded mandate as a "trust fund" is disingenuous in the extreme. It encourages us to believe it's an asset when it's really an obligation. It also masks the true size of the federal budget deficit, by moving the Social Security surplus into general revenues, where it doesn't belong.

Think of it as a corporation that raided its pension fund until there was nothing left in it, and then said, "Don't worry. We'll pay that money back out of our revenue stream when the time comes." The difference is that in the corporate world, people would go to jail for that type of shenanigans.

This is exactly why Al Gore wanted a Social Security "lockbox." The lockbox is merely an annoying metaphor for actually saving the Social Security surpluses instead of spending them. He knew that the surpluses were being spent as fast as they came in, and he recognized that this practice was unwise for the future of the program.

It's hard to argue with that in principle, but in practice, the lockbox raises some interesting questions. Where would we invest the funds? If we were to choose government securities, we'd be right back in the same mess we're in now. If we were to choose private securities, we'd face some uncomfortable questions about how the government would choose which corporations to own stock in, and whether widespread government ownership of private corporations is a good idea. Moreover, the critics of private accounts would have to explain why it's okay for the government to invest our contributions in the stock market, but it's somehow sinister for us to do so individually.

Despite these details, I think the lockbox idea is sound, but it probably never stood a chance of becoming reality, even if the 2000 elections had worked out differently. It's not very likely that Congress would vote to deprive itself of a revenue stream of borrowed money, particularly when most Congressmen will be long retired when the bills start coming due.

It must be pointed out, however, that the private accounts the president proposes will accomplish much the same thing, albeit on a smaller scale. The money that workers choose to divert to private accounts will be out of reach for the Washington spenders. It will be in a highly distributed "lockbox." Unlike the bogus "trust fund," this is real money that will be safeguarded against the day that it's needed, and it can never be converted into debt.

The president's plan provides for no more than 4% of one's income to be diverted to private accounts, but that 4% would represent a partial return to fiscal sanity, as our payroll taxes will begin to build genuine wealth as opposed to accumulating government debt.

I support private accounts, but they are not a cure-all for everything that ails Social Security. Nonetheless, they can help move us down the road of honest accounting. One way or another, the money we pay into the system should be set aside for our old age, not immediately consumed by a spendthrift government. Private accounts can help.

The transition costs of such a program? That's a subject for the next post. (God, I'm starting to sound like Paul Krugman!)

February 08, 2005

Bush's Social Security plan now officially dead

Dick Morris has just predicted it'll pass.

February 07, 2005

Heh, I'm famous...

...in a story about mud-wrestling female soldiers, no less.

A female member of a National Guard military police unit was demoted for indecent exposure after a mud-wrestling party at the Army-run Camp Bucca detention center in Iraq, a military spokesman said Sunday.

The party occurred Oct. 30, as the 160th Military Police Battalion, an Army Reserve Unit from Tallahassee, Fla., prepared to turn over its duties to the Asheville-based 105th Military Police Battalion, said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, spokesman for detainee operations at Camp Bucca.

The funny thing is, once when I lived in South Carolina, I repeatedly had problems getting my checks cashed because I was confused with a certain "Lieutenant Barry Johnson," who evidently had some money-management issues.

Sometimes I'd get phone calls for the guy, too. There was one guy who called, obviously drunk, who wanted to schedule a reunion. I was unable to convince him I was not the guy he wanted:

Caller: Is this Lieutenant Barry Johnson?
Me: No. My name is Barry Johnson, but I'm not a lieutenant.
Caller: No shit! Hell, I shoulda figured you'd make captain by now! Congratulations.
Me: No, I'm not a captain either. I'm a civilian.
Caller: Really? No kidding. Ah hell, I don't blame ya! I've been thinking about going out myself...

Anyway, it went on like this for a while, and I forgot exactly how it ended. Wonder if this could be the same guy? Hey Cynical Barry Johnson II, are you on this case?

Fiscally conservative Democrats?

Have you noticed that more and more Democrats are referring to themselves as "fiscal conservatives" these days? What do they mean when they say this? I suspect it's nostalgia for the "glory days" of the 90's, when Bill Clinton presided over a nominally balanced budget for a few years. Granted, this was accomplished with an oppositional Congress to help control spending, and an economic tailwind to spur revenues, but it nevertheless makes for a convenient talking point when decrying the exploding Bush deficits.

To me, fiscal conservatism means keeping taxes and spending as low as possible, in recognition of the fact that government revenue is ultimately the taxpayers' money, and should be handled frugally and responsibly. Bush has performed abysmally on the spending side of this equation, and thus left the Republicans vulnerable on this issue.

But what does fiscal conservatism really mean for Democrats? As near as I can make it, it means tax the wealthy as much as you have to so that we can balance the budget no matter how much we spend (although I remain skeptical of their ability to deliver a balanced budget even under this formulation.)

There are encouraging signs, however, that Bush may finally be getting serious about spending. These "fiscally conservative" Democrats, of course, will be the first to scream bloody murder at the thought actual spending cuts. Expect a long, hard battle over this one, complete with all the melodramatic grandstanding we've come to expect from the Left when someone threatens their piggy bank. Whether Bush wins this battle or not, I predict it heralds an end to the age of "fiscally conservative" Democrats. When they get a look at genuine fiscal conservatism, I doubt they'll like it much.

February 06, 2005

Get ready for it!

Four years into his presidency, Bush finally comes up with the novel idea of reining in federal spending. I've been skeptical up 'til now, but it appears his new budget will actually (get this!) cut programs.

All I can say is, brace yourselves for the media storm that's sure to ensue. I'd wager they're burning the midnight oil at the New York Times even as I type this, mulling over potential headlines. What'll it be this time, guys? "Elderly Widow Forced to Eat Alpo?" Nah, been done. "Rickets: America's New National Shame?" Has potential. "Honor Students Compelled to Give Handjobs to Pay Tuition Bills?" Maybe. "Tom Joad Returns: Bush's Legacy on the Farm." Like it! But can we work "Tobacco Road" in somehow?

Gee, I can't wait....

A year of regression

A year ago, we were finally making some progress. It was actually legal to say the word "fuck" on network television, so long as it was a noun and not an adjective, or a verb and not a pronoun, or some arbitrary bullshit bureaucratic distinction. But it doesn't matter; the point is it was a little-noticed milestone on the road to repealing the last vestiges of federally enforced puritanical standards for the entertainment industry.

Then came MTV's stupid-ass halftime show, which ushered in a full twelve months of steadily increasing fines and penalties for "indecency," not to mention the extraordinary overkill of network self-censorship.

Was it worth it, people? All for a half-second glimpse of Janet Jackson's horrific breast? No, I say, a thousand times no!! My only hope is that with another Superbowl under our belts and a new chairman heading the FCC, we can finally begin to move on. Let the bureaucrats at the FCC go back to doing... well, whatever the hell they did before the term "wardrobe malfunction" joined "hanging chad" in the lexicon of infamy.

Message to Dems:

Stop invoking FDR when opposing Social Security privatization. He'd be on our side:

In a written statement to Congress in 1935, Roosevelt said that any Social Security plans should include, "Voluntary contributory annuities, by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age," adding that government funding, "ought to ultimately be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans."

Are you listening, Oliver Willis? Kos? Atrios?

(Hat tip: Cliffs of Insanity)

February 05, 2005

"But... but... I'm smarter than you, dammit!!"

That's the gist of Juan Cole's "rebuttal," if such it can be called, against Jonah Goldberg's "monstrous warmongering." It's a sure sign the academic lefties are on the wrong side of history when they're reduced to sputtering in indignant rage while gesturing towards their credentials in lieu of an argument.

Cole finishes his whining bitch-fest with a challenge to debate Goldberg face-to-face on Middle East issues. Man, I'd love to see that. I can't predict who'd win on technical points, but I'm pretty sure I know who'd come out looking like an insufferable, pompous ass. But then, what would you expect from someone whose blog is entitled "Informed Comment?" Geezes, get over yourself already.

(Via Glenn)

February 04, 2005

It's a great day

Both members of the White House titty police are officially gone. My guess is Gonzales will not only uncover the boobies at Justice but have them augmented as well.

But what is there to say about his confirmation? I still can't believe that all but six Democrats voted against the first Hispanic to be nominated for AG because they thought he wasn't nice enough to terrorists, even though it was clear he had the votes to be confirmed anyway. If this is still the prevailing mindset of the Democratic Party three years hence, I predict the GOP will be able to nominate Tucker Carlson and still win the White House. I'm just sayin'.

Kinky for governor?

Kinky Friedman is a true Renaissance man! Already a successful musician (with his Texas Jewboys) and an accomplished author (with "'Scuse Me While I Whip This Out" and many others), the Asshole from El Paso is branching out into politics, now having officially entered the race for governor of Texas.

Best news I've heard all day!

(Hat tip: Tim)

Final Gonzales vote count

Since a lot of people are asking, here is the rundown of the votes. The Senate confirmed Gonzales by a vote of 60 to 36. All Republicans voted with majority. "Independent" James Jeffords joined 35 Democrats in opposing Gonzales. The six Democrats who voted with the majority are

  • Landrieu (LA)
  • Lieberman (CT)
  • Nelson, Ben (NE)
  • Nelson, Bill (FL)
  • Pryor (AR)
  • Salazar (CO)

Second thoughts about Dean

Regular readers know I've always had a soft spot for Howard Dean. It is perhaps for this reason that I never understood all the Democratic angst at the prospect of Dean heading the DNC. It strikes me that Howie has a proven track record of both raising money and energizing the party's base. What more do you want from a party chairman?

Well, the New Republic's resident Bush-hater Johnathan Chait is giving me second thoughts. He calls the idea "suicidally crazy."

The DNC chairman has two main jobs. First, he transmits the party's message -- an important role when the party lacks a president and majority leaders in Congress. This job requires one to master the dismal art of "message discipline," boiling down the party's ideas into a few simple phrases and repeating them over and over until they have sunk into the public consciousness.

It's a role for which Dean is particularly ill suited. During his campaign, remember, he fashioned himself a straight talker, delighting reporters by repeatedly wandering "off message." On the plus side, he won friends in the media by appearing honest and human. On the negative side, he did himself enormous damage, when, for example, he suggested that he wouldn't prejudge Osama bin Laden until he had been convicted in a court of law.

For presidential candidates, the negatives of "straight talk" usually outweigh the positives. Paul Maslin, Dean's former pollster, wrote in the Atlantic Monthly after the campaign fell apart: "Our candidate's erratic judgment, loose tongue, and overall stubbornness wore our spirits down." But at least for a presidential campaign there are some positives in going off message. In a job like party chairman, a loose cannon is nothing but downside.

The second major task of the DNC chairman is to run the party organization. And here, if this is at all possible, Dean looks even worse. Garance Franke-Ruta, who wrote sympathetic Dean pieces in the American Prospect during the campaign, spoke with several former Dean staffers. One called the candidate "a horrible manager" and added, "I wouldn't trust him to run a company." Another called his management style "just a disaster."

Dean, remember, raised about $50 million by positioning himself as the most anti-Bush candidate, but blew through it so fast that he was nearly broke by January. This represents the sort of financial acumen you associate with deluded, flash-in-the-pan celebrities -- cue the narrator for VH-1's "Behind the Music": "But the good times and lavish spending couldn't last for M.C. Hammer" -- not with chairmen of major political parties.

Give it a read. I don't know that I'm completely convinced that Dean would be an epic disaster for the Democrats, but Chait does raise some pretty good points. Call me undecided. Fortunately, since I'm not a Democrat, I don't need to worry about it much either way.

Net job gains in Bush's first term

Remember all that talk campaign talk about Bush being the first president since Hoover to preside over a net loss of jobs? Well, I guess that was wrong. Not bad for a president who took office at the beginning of a recession, exacerbated by the most devastating attack on American soil in history.

Diplomad nails it

As a former expatriate myself, I have an idea as to how Diplomad felt, sitting there on foreign soil, listening to Bush's SOTU address. He sums up in a nutshell how many of us feel about this president:

Let's be blunt. You don't want to be on the wrong side of an American President who has shown he will literally "pull the trigger..."

Amen, brother! That's exactly why I voted for Bush in 2004 after voting against him in 2000. It wasn't because of stem cells or gay marriage (on which I disagree with him), it wasn't even because of taxes and social security (on which I agree), and it certainly wasn't for his mad debating skills or soaring flights of rhetoric (which he lacks.) It was this and this only. Diplomad goes on:

This is a man who is not afraid to draft and push the world's agenda. He had nothing politically to gain by liberating Iraq. He could have followed the tried-and-true tepid measures of the past: more UN resolutions, more "consultations" with the EU and Muslim countries, a bombing raid here and there, etc. Instead he went right for the root of the problem: the existence of Saddam's regime and the climate of fear and oppression that ruled Iraq. On elections in Iraq he could have stalled and postponed and begged for help: instead he put his faith in the US military's ability to deliver on security and in the people of Iraq's desire for freedom. On Afghanistan, he could have limited himself to some ineffectual missile strikes, some UN resolutions, an appeal for the arrest and trial of the Al Qaeda thugs. No. He gambled his Presidency on removing the Taliban, crushing Al Qaeda, and moving Afghanistan towards democracy. On the Palestinian question, he could have followed the failed policies of the past: schmooze with Arafat, give him money, pretend that he didn't control the "radical" elements, consult with the EU, keep sending special envoys hither and yon, etc. No. Bush cut off Arafat, refused to deal with the Palestinian authority until they held free elections, and now we have a chance, more than ever before, for a solution.

Well said. I could never have phrased it so compellingly, but these were the thoughts in my head as I broke with my own 16-year tradition of voting for third-party candidates. But it's not a tradition I regret breaking. Indeed, I'm as proud of this vote as any I've ever cast.

February 03, 2005

Sanity check

Okay, was I completely drunk last night? More to the point, did I actually see President Bush and Joe Lieberman swappin' slobber on the House floor? I could have sworn I saw it with my own eyes, but no one I talked to today remembers it.

BTW, Joe Lieberman looks like that dude on Canada's five-dollar bill (not real dollars.)

UPDATE: Okay, I didn't imagine it.

The day the music died

It was 46 years ago today, but Buddy Holly still rules.

Blind faith in Social Security

Whenever I want a bunch of e-mail, all I have to do is write about Social Security. I'm getting quite a few e-mails today from people who are trying to convince me that private accounts are a terrible, terrible idea.

It astonishes me how much blind faith these people place in the federal government. Think about it. What they're saying is, "I don't want to own my own assets in my own account. I'd much rather just have a promise that the government will pay me back at some point in the future, by either taxing someone else or borrowing money on the capital markets."

Well okay, whatever floats your boat, I guess. I don't really understand that mindset, but you should have the right to stay in the current system if that's what you want to do. That's why the private accounts will be voluntary.

And that's the big difference between our two sides. We don't presume to decide what's best for you. Your side, however, does presume to dictate what's best for us. We'd prefer to keep some of our own contributions rather than let the government spend them and then promise to pay us back someday. Call us crazy! But please, don't deny us the option of private accounts just because you wouldn't choose them for yourselves.

"Only Nixon can go to China," part whatever

Last night's speech really drove home how far we've come on Social Security. We're actually having a serious national debate on private accounts, which a decade ago was unimaginable. I worry, however, that we haven't yet come far enough to make it a reality, and that this golden opportunity might be lost. Let's face it: many politicians will oppose any Bush initiative simply because it comes from Bush.

I found myself wishing that Bill Clinton had done more on this issue. He was clearly interested in the idea of partial privatization, but he failed to go to the mat for it. Granted, Clinton also faced staunch opposition in Congress, but he was very successful when it came to pushing "conservative" issues, such as welfare reform and NAFTA.

At the end of the day, Clinton was more a detail guy than a broad vision guy. That's too bad, because meaningful Social Security reform could have been his legacy. Would he have succeeded? I don't know, but I do think he would have had a stronger chance than Bush. Unfortunately, he didn't want to take the political risk, and that's too bad. Our current president is more than willing to take the risk, but the winds are not at his back.

February 02, 2005

Thoughts on Bush's SOTU

I never expected to say this aobut a Bush speech, but I thought it was strongest on economic issues. Social Security was obviously the big topic of the night, and I was encouraged to see Bush begin to decouple private accounts from the system's structural problems. They really are separate issues, and should be treated as such. Bush delivered a brief primer on the problems facing the current system, summarized various proposed remedies, and solicited new ones. Private accounts were then mentioned, not as a cure-all, but as a way to make the program more attractive to young workers.

This is exactly what I've been hoping he'd do. Privatization stands on its own merits -- actually owning the money you contribute, knowing the government can't take it away, and being able to leave it for your family when you're gone. I'm sold already.

Bush also pre-emptively defused some of the most oft-levied criticisms of the idea by stipulating

  • eligible investments would be limited to conservative, highly diversified portfolios comprising both bonds and equities (duh!)
  • limited fees and management costs (easily doable in the age of no-load funds and ETFs)
  • insurance against last-minute market swings for retirees (once again, an issue the market has already solved in a number of savings plans currently available)

and finally, last but not least, that private accounts will be voluntary. No one needs to participate who doesn't wish to. In short, there are no major concerns that cannot be addressed, and I think it's time we began an earnest national debate on the plan, stripped of both crisis-mongering from its proponents and fear-mongering from its detractors.

Tax code simplification sounds attractive as well -- simple, pro-growth, and fair. I'm imagining something like a flat tax with a large standard deduction and a preservation of the home mortgage deduction. A terrific idea, but one that's going to be much tougher to pull off than even Social Security reform. Aligned against Bush on this one will be not only the Democrats, but every tax lawyer, every accountant, and every rich-ass billionaire who doesn't want to part with his own pet loophole. In short, he will be opposed by almost everybody. Ah well, we can always dream, and go down swingin'.

And the economic hits just kept coming! He also promised a federal budget with a subinflationary growth rate, which would eliminate more than 150 wasteful and unnecessary programs. He spoke about it in such specific terms I have to believe he's serious. I would prefer to have seen such a budget four years ago, but better late than never, I suppose. If he does propose such a budget, however, look for his critics who call him a spendthrift now to immediately switch gears and recast him as a penny-grubbing skinflint.

Like I said, there wasn't really much to excite me besides the economic issues. There was the usual pie-in-the-sky stuff (e.g., making cars run off Red Bull, or whatever), the trotting out of the heroes, and all that. He spoke effectively on the war, but some of his lines (e.g., facing the enemy there so we don't have to face him here) are getting a bit shopworn. The biggest disappointment of the evening came with his endorsement of some damn "marriage" amendment to the Constitution. I suppose I'm comforted in the knowledge that it's about as likely to pass as Ashlee Simpson is to win a Grammy, but it's still an ugly bit of pandering that I thought he'd backed off from.

Anyway, I thought it was a nice speech, overall. This was no Clinton-style laundry list of bland, inconsequential half-measures and resume-padders. It was strong on content and specifics, and outlined a bold, meaty (and dare I say "conservative?") agenda for the next four years. I'm cautiously optimistic. Let's hope he follows through.

Another question

Does anyone else remember a president getting booed during a SOTU address?


All right, I know I said I wasn't going to liveblog, but I've gotta ask: who is that Monica Lewinski-lookin' gal sitting next to Laura?

State of the Union

I don't think a SOTU address is sufficiently excited to liveblog. Deadblogging should suffice.

Keeping our powder dry

It took only hours for the blogosphere to debunk yesterday's "Jihad Joe" hoax, but I can't help but think we missed an opportunity by jumping the gun. Think how much cooler it would have been if we had waited until "60 Minutes" used it as the centerpiece of an anti-war story.

Timing, people, timing!

Happy Groundhog Day

Maybe I should post the same stuff I posted yesterday. You know, like in that movie? "Groundhog Day?" With Bill Murray. Get it?

February 01, 2005

"Meet our demands, or GI Joe gets it!!"

They're kidding, right? This image looks faker than CBS's TANG memo to me, but some Islamist idiot is clearly hoping it can be used to extort the release of Iraqi prisoners.

Drudge has already noted the similarity between the "soldier's" plastic, stoic expression and the action figure below, but for me the giveaway is the gun. Who the hell is holding it, and how? Is someone gripping it carefully by the butt, without placing their hands on the stock or the trigger? If so, why? Wouldn't that be difficult to do? An M-16 with a C-Mag weighs about 15 pounds. Sorry guys, it looks for all the world like the tiny, plastic rifle from the action figure's accessory pack, held carefully between thumb and forefinger by someone just out of camera range. Nice try though.

But from a distance, does anyone else think the "soldier" looks a bit like Oliver Willis?

(Okay, you have to kind of squint a little.)

UPDATE: Backcountry Conservative has more.

U.N.: "Hey, don't worry!!"

"There's no 'genocide' in Darfur," says the United Nations, "only 'mass murder, torture and rape!'"

Wow, that's a relief! I feel better already, knowing the 70,000 people who've been slaughtered by the Janjaweed militia weren't victims of "genocide." You may think it's merely an issue of semantics, but it's actually a terribly important distinction. See, since it's not "genocide," we don't have to, you know, actually do anything about it! Hooray, problem solved by defining it away!

You know what's really scary about this whole story? It's that half this country, including a man who damned near became our president, continue to take the corrupt, incompetent, hypocritical assholes at Turtle Bay seriously. I think it's long past time to tell the U.N. to go to hell, but since that isn't going to happen, can we at least stop pretending that the U.N. is capable of conferring any kind of legitimacy at all to our foreign policy?