Saturday, February 05, 2005


Is Social Security Going Broke?

Steven Thomma of Knight Ridder's Washington Bureau reveals shocking news about Social Security:

WASHINGTON - The argument for dramatic change in Social Security is clear:

The promise of secure retirements is a "hoax." Taxes paid by workers are "wasted" by the government rather than prudently invested. And "the so-called reserve fund ... is no reserve at all" because it contains nothing but government IOUs.

President Bush? No, Republican presidential candidate Alf Landon and his party's platform in 1936.

(Source: Knight-Ridder News Article Social Security overhaul is long-standing conservative dream dated Feb 4, 2004.)

Yes, the Republicans have been predicting disaster for the Social Security program since before World War II. They were wrong then, they're wrong now.


Tonight's Movie: "Tank Girl"

Tonight's movie suggestion: "Tank Girl" starring Lori Petty. The bad guys work for "Water and Power" - whose logo is a silver "W" on a black background with a small "P" underneath (W is President?). A group of power-hungry thugs dressed in pseudo-Nazi uniforms, each with a big "W" on it, seems ominously prescient. Tank Girl's victory over the forces of "W" in the end makes the whole thing worthwhile.

The movie is rated "R" for language, cartoons, and other things Michael Powell wouldn't approve of.


Bush: Making Social Security Neither

The Billionaires for Bush web site has a great "Make Social Security Neither" press release:
"Privatizing Social Security is like a dice game, your retirement income will be based on how the market is doing when you get out. Some could lose everything, but others might win big, said Cassius King, the Billionaires for Bush Minister of Theoretical Finance. The Securities Industry Association points out that Bush's Social Security scheme will give $39 billion to securities firms over the next 75 years. King continued, "If $39 billion sounds paltry, consider that it is more than a 100,000% return on the $36 million the securities industry invested in the President's reappointment campaign. That's in the Halliburton zone!"
Billionaire Lou Tan Pillage suggests you discover your "billionaire name" by clicking here.

Friday, February 04, 2005


War With Iran Would Be Stupid (updated)

But then, look who will be making the decisions. Remember when there just wasn't any point in negotiating with Iraq? According to the BBC:
Rice rules out diplomacy on Iran

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she sees no need to get involved in European efforts to persuade Iran to drop its nuclear programme.

She was speaking on her way to London at the start of a tour which will see her visit a number of European countries and the Middle East.

European officials have repeatedly asked Washington for closer cooperation in dealing with the programme.

But Ms Rice said Tehran knew what it needed to do.

Source: BBC (Emphasis in original)

I wonder how long it is before a picture of George W. Bush shows up in the dictionary definition of the word "hubris."

- - - - - - - - - -

The BBC has more on Ms. Rice and Iran:
"Diplomacy can work in this case if there is unity of purpose and unity of message that the international community expects them to live up to their obligations," she said.

"I really do hope that the Iranians will take the opportunity that is being presented to them."

Asked if she envisaged circumstances in which the US would attack Iran, she said: "The question is simply not on the agenda at this point in time."
I'd feel better if Ms. Rice's comments were not so similar to Mr. Bush's position in the lead-up to the Iraq war. Flashback from the August 2002 Iraq War build-up:

The public line in Washington is that President Bush is listening carefully to many people, including America's allies. But he surely does not like what he is hearing.

The issue of UN weapons inspection also points up the transatlantic divide. It is a key international demand that Iraq should re-admit the inspectors and allow them to continue their search for weapons of mass destruction.
Source: BBC ("US isolation on Iraq grows" dated August 22, 2002)

Next on the Iran war game plan will be statements stating UN inspections would be worthless.


Low Voter Turnout Among Iraqi Sunnis Feared

Now that the initial media "turning the corner" spin has died down, the real Iraq vote story is starting to emerge. As widely expected, the low numbers of Sunni voters means ongoing long-term problems for Iraq. According to Knight-Ridder News:
Low voter turnout by Sunnis fuels fears of more civil strife in Iraq
By Tom Lasseter
Knight Ridder Newspapers

BAGHDAD, Iraq - With the first phase of ballot counting in Iraq finished, concerns were growing Monday that many of the country's Sunni Muslims may not have voted, raising the possibility that the election could aggravate the rift between Iraq's Sunni minority and a Shiite Muslim majority that appears poised to take power.

While Sunnis in some areas voted in higher numbers than expected, their overall turnout was low, according to a senior U.S. diplomat in Baghdad. Mainstream Sunni political parties boycotted the vote, and many Sunnis live in the most violent areas of Iraq and are subject to intimidation by insurgents.

"Sunni participation was considerably lower than participation by the other groups, especially in areas which have seen a good deal of violence, and where intimidation is most easily carried out," said the U.S. diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

If the final results confirm a low Sunni turnout, it would mean that despite the euphoria and dancing in the streets on Sunday, as much as 20 percent of the population, most of it in the heart of the country, may not accept the results as legitimate. That could provide new fuel for the mostly Sunni insurgency.
Source: Knight-Ridder News (Emphasis added.)

Yes, I know - it is only speculation about worst-case scenarios so far. However, with the Bush Administration in charge, maybe a Sunni-Shiite civil war is the "optimistic" projection.

Thursday, February 03, 2005


Bush Promotes Admitted Perjurer

Why is Elliot Abrams of Iran-Contra fame being promoted to a top spot in W's Administration? He possesses the #1 qualification - a proven track record of lying to Congress:

Elliott Abrams, who pleaded guilty in 1991 to withholding information from Congress in the Iran-contra affair, was promoted to deputy national security adviser to President Bush.

Abrams, who previously was in charge of Middle East affairs, will be responsible for pushing Bush's strategy for advancing democracy.

Abrams's 1991 plea stemmed from the congressional inquiry into the Iran-contra affair during President Ronald Reagan's administration. On Oct. 10, 1986, Abrams, then a State Department employee, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he did not know that Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North was directing illegal arms sales to Iran and diverting the proceeds to assist the Nicaraguan contras.

Abrams was pardoned by Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush.
Source: Washington Post

But wait, there's more! Mr. Abrams' name came up during the Plame investigation. Fortunately, the Washington Post reports without a hint of irony how the White House knows Mr. Abrams was not involved:
His name surfaced last year as part of the investigation into who leaked the name of a CIA operative whose husband publicly disputed Bush administration claims that Iraq tried to buy uranium in Africa. White House spokesman Scott McClellan has said that Abrams denied responsibility.
Given Mr. Abrams' track record regarding telling the truth about inconvenient facts, this satisfied the Bush Administration.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Molly Ivins' Good/Bad News on Iraq and Afganistan

Molly Ivins expresses my thoughts better than I do:
...The election in Iraq Sunday, like the one in Afghanistan last year, was moving, inspiring and hopeful. When there's a ray of light breaking through in a dark sky, I'd much rather concentrate on the ray than the black clouds.

But mitigating my optimism is the fact that I've been around for a long time. Not that longevity is any guarantee of wisdom, but it does provide perspective. I can remember when they had elections in Vietnam that looked hopeful in 1967. I can remember the elections in El Salvador in 1984. And I remember last year's election in Afghanistan, with the almost unbearably moving sight of Afghani women coming out to vote. Still, it didn't kill off a single raping warlord, did it?

We came (into Afganistan) like gangbusters and promised the earth -- we were going to nation-build, put in infrastructure, all that good stuff -- and it got siphoned away to Iraq, including $700 million that had been appropriated for Afghanistan, according to Bob Woodward.

The good news (can't help myself) is that we did Afghanistan right, if you will recall -- went in with pretty much global backing and the support of all our allies. And they're still there helping out, 8,300 NATO troops, including the French, the Germans and the rest of "old Europe."
Source: Working For Change

That about says it for me - I'm glad the elections happened, but I've seen this "turned the corner" hype so many times before that I don't believe it. Meanwhile, Afganistan's heroin trade is back in a big way, and the warlords seem to be in control with the Taliban waiting in the hills like they did after the Soviets left.


The Illogic of Social Security Reform

There are two components to retirement savings:
  1. Saving/investing enough money to have a comfortable retirement
  2. Ensuring one has a stream of income (an annuity) for life's necessities, like food and shelter, in the event one's retirement savings get wiped out by illness, disaster, market crashes, etc.
Social Security was designed to cover option #2: insurance against having one's savings wiped out by disaster. Originally designed to protect against a 1929-style stock market crash, it also helps protect against 1970s-style inflation destroying your retirement fund's savings.

Privatization advocates essentially want to force all US citizens to invest in the stock market, to "empower" them as part of an "ownership" society. This is illogical on its face: although government has an interest in making sure people purchase a minimal annuity to keep them off welfare in their old age, government should not force people to invest in riskier ventures like the stock market.

Far from getting government off people's backs, privatization advocates want the government to order people to open Individual Retirement Accounts and fund them with a fixed percent of their income. Why should government order me to purchase a smaller annuity while placing a larger percentage of my money at risk in the stock market?


Krugman on Social Security Privatization

The New York Times' Paul Krugman explains why the Bush Administration is lying about the benefits of privatization/"personal" accounts:

Which brings us to the privatizers' Catch-22.

They can rescue their happy vision for stock returns by claiming that the Social Security actuaries are vastly underestimating future economic growth. But in that case, we don't need to worry about Social Security's future: if the economy grows fast enough to generate a rate of return that makes privatization work, it will also yield a bonanza of payroll tax revenue that will keep the current system sound for generations to come.

Alternatively, privatizers can unhappily admit that future stock returns will be much lower than they have been claiming. But without those high returns, the arithmetic of their schemes collapses.

It really is that stark: any growth projection that would permit the stock returns the privatizers need to make their schemes work would put Social Security solidly in the black.
Source: New York Times (Emphasis added)


Those Darn Lawyers

Just when the politicians figure out a great way to steal people's land, those pesky lawyers show up and mention such "quaint" concepts as justice. The BBC reports:
Jerusalem land seizures 'illegal'
Israel's attorney general has told the government to call an immediate halt to confiscating Palestinian property in East Jerusalem under a 1950 land law. Meni Mazuz said he was never consulted about the policy, which was secretly approved by the cabinet last summer. <> He wrote to the finance minister saying the law could not be used for people absent from their property because of Israeli security measures.

"Mazuz gave his opinion to ministers that this decision is not legally defensible, that it cannot stand up to either Israeli or international law," he said.

Many of the Palestinian "absentees" affected by implementation of the 55-year-old law are cut off from their land by new structures like roads to Jewish settlements and Israel's separation barrier, which has been deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice.

Source: BBC (Emphasis in original)

Unlike Alberto Gonzales and John Ashcroft, the Israeli Attorney General is doing his job properly despite political pressure. If John F. Kennedy's book Profiles in Courage is ever updated, Israeli Attorney General Meni Mazuz would probably get a chapter for standing against his government's attempted land grab.

Monday, January 31, 2005


Flat Worlders, Unite!

Hey, lets have a do-over on the Middle Ages:
Evolution Takes a Back Seat in US Science Classes
..."The most common remark I've heard from teachers was that the chapter on evolution was assigned as reading but that virtually no discussion in class was taken," said Dr. John R. Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, an evangelical Christian and a member of Alabama's curriculum review board who advocates the teaching of evolution. Teachers are afraid to raise the issue, he said in an e-mail message, and they are afraid to discuss the issue in public.
Even where evolution is taught, teachers may be hesitant to give it full weight. Ron Bier, a biology teacher at Oberlin High School in Oberlin, Ohio, said that evolution underlies many of the central ideas of biology and that it is crucial for students to understand it. But he avoids controversy, he said, by teaching it not as "a unit," but by introducing the concept here and there throughout the year. "I put out my little bits and pieces wherever I can," he said.
But several experts say scientists are feeling increasing pressure to make their case, in part, Dr. Miller said, because scriptural literalists are moving beyond evolution to challenge the teaching of geology and physics on issues like the age of the earth and the origin of the universe.

"They have now decided the Big Bang has to be wrong," he said. "There are now a lot of people who are insisting that that be called only a theory without evidence and so on, and now the physicists are getting mad about this."
Source: New York Times

Why stop there? Is the "round earth" is just a fraud imposed by secular humanists? Does the sun really go around the earth? Why worry about falling US student test scores when knowledge of Biblical truths isn't even tested?


US Can't Find $9 Billion in Iraqi Oil Revenue

Republicans believe Kofi Annan should resign because of the billions in money allegedly skimmed from the Oil for Food program.

It now appears the Coalition Provisional Authority set up by the Bush Administration lost at least $9 Billion dollars in Iraqi oil revenue. The BBC reports:
The BBC's File On 4 programme has learnt that out of over $20bn raised in oil revenues during US-led rule, the use of $8.8bn is unaccounted for.

US government auditors criticise the Coalition Provisional Authority for failing to manage the money properly.

In one case, auditors say the key to a safe holding millions of dollars was kept in an open backpack in an office.
Even allowing for the chaos in the aftermath of war, the auditors still believe the management of the money should have been a great deal tighter.
One US company is accused of massively inflating its profits by setting up sham companies to send fake invoices which the coalition paid.

Others are alleged to have demanded dubious commissions which then came out of Iraqi funds.

Even some Coalition officials are said to have openly demanded bribes of up to $300,000 in cash.
Somehow I think this politically embarassing scandal will not receive the same level of Senate investigation as the politically convenient "Oil for Food" scandal.


Iraqi Elections Successfully Held?

Call me cynical, but I expect this election to have little effect on the insurgency. The "insurgents" are fighting what they perceive as the formation of yet another foreign-imposed puppet regime. Only if THAT perception changes in enough people's minds will the fighting drop off.


The BBC reports:

...some areas reported a better turnout than others.

Queues, for example, were seen forming outside polling stations in the former rebel stronghold of Falluja.

But voting figures were thought to be very low in Ramadi and Samarra. Four polling booths in the Sunni Azamiyah district of Baghdad never even opened, according to reports.

I guess it all boils down to what kind of constitution the Iraqis work out, whether enough Sunnis accept it, and whether the violence ever dies down enough for all Iraqis to participate.

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