Saturday, February 05, 2005


For those keeping score at home:

6 Republicans, 3 Democrats.

The liberal media strikes again...

Danny Boy Wakes Up

Okrent dares to say some unkind things about Judith Fucking "The Queen of All Iraq" Miller.

And, note to Bill Keller: this has nothing to do with the Plame case. If you don't think it's the right time to be discussing Miller in public, then Miller shouldn't be, you know, discussing things in public herself.



This is pretty unbelievable. Jonah's explanation for why he can't go fight bad guys in Iraq:

As for why my sorry a** isn't in the kill zone, lots of people think this is a searingly pertinent question. No answer I could give -- I'm 35 years old, my family couldn't afford the lost income, I have a baby daughter, my a** is, er, sorry, are a few -- ever seem to suffice.

Yes, that's right. Being 30something and having a wife and baby make you ineligible to go to Iraq.

Oh, wait, that's not actually true at all.

MASCOTTE, Fla. — Mourners remembered Spec. Eric Ulysses Ramirez as one of his unit’s most valuable soldiers in Iraq and as a Star Wars fan who lived to be a “Jedi in his time.”

Ramirez, 31, was killed while on patrol near a prison about 30 miles west of Baghdad before dawn Feb. 12 when his California National Guard unit was attacked by small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and homemade explosive devices, the U.S. Army said.


Ramirez’s widow, Tracy Benson-Ramirez, accepted three Gold Stars — one for herself and one each for her daughter, Isis, who turns 2 next week, and son, Chase, who was born in December.


I hate to pick on this mostly decent Times article on Social Security, but I was struck by this:

Taken as an annuity payment that would last the rest of his life, that money would generate $11,270 a year, or $940 a month, Mr. Baker found. Even after the offset carved out of the standard Social Security check, this worker's retirement benefit would add up to $24,530 in today's dollars, or $2,044 a month. That would be substantially more than the $21,220 a year - or $1,771 a month - that Social Security currently promises a medium wage worker after a similar career ending in 2050.

Two things here. First, I'm not sure an extra $273 per month qualifies as "substantially more." It's certainly not trivial, but it isn't huge. That's nitpicking I suppose.

But, more importantly, this calculation leaves out something very important -- it's based on the assumption that current promised benefits remain in place. The Bushies have signalled their desire to cut promised benefits.

Let's back out what this calculation actually tells us. Here we have someone diverting the maximum amount allowed into their private account until retirement. If the Bush plan cuts promised benefits by any more than about 15 percent of what is promised for a new retiree in 2050, the average retiree will be worse off (ignoring for the moment the unrealistic stock returns implicit in this calculation).

That's a fairly simple benchmark. Any more than a 15% cut, and the average retiree will be unambiguously made worse off by the Bush plan.

The End of Punditry As We Know It

Juan Cole politely suggests you should know something about a subject before you pontificate about it before an audience.


Why Does Newsmax Hate America?

Apparently the United States of America aren't good enough for Newsmax and its readers. I just got spammail from them with the subject "retire overseas!" and an ad for a book about "offshore Edens" for retirement.

Wanker of the Day - Director's Cut

Josh Marshall explains in great detail why Kristof's column today was just awful. It just frustrates the hell out of me that someone with access to the most valuable piece of print real estate in the country, and who is at least nominally on "our side" (in his own mind, at least), can be just so amazingly wrong on a subject like this. This isn't that complicated.

Mouth Breathing Morons

I've been getting tons of monkey mail lately claiming that in 1999 Harry Reid supported privatizing Social Security. It's the latest memo out of Wingnut Central, being propogated by such paragons of ethical journalism such as Brit Hume (please, can we have another article about blogger ethics? It's been at least a week) and the rest of the monkey brigade. Odds are Tim Russert will be on it tomorrow, if he hasn't already.

Of course, it isn't true. Frankly, even if it was true it would be irrelevant - the fiscal picture has changed a wee bit since then. But, nonetheless, it isn't true.

I really wonder how the residents of Wingnuttia and their media mouthpieces sleep at night. I hate when I make a mistake. I hate when I get things wrong - it makes me feel like a fool and I feel responsible for making others who might not see the correction look like fools too if they pass it on. But, for some reason these people never get tired of being wrong. They must really get off on it.


One thing I've been thinking about lately is how across the spectrum of ideologies and beliefs, there seems to be a surprisingly strong belief, coupled with an almost morbid desire for, in the high probability of some catastrophic civilization/world ending ending event happening in our lifetimes.

The Rapture crowd thinks the flaming sword of the baby Jesus is going to destroy the world.

Lefties think catastrophic weather changes as a result of global warming will be seriously damaging, or that resource depletion will make sustaining the current standard of living impossible.

Conservatarian types tend to imagine some major terrorist or event will push our country towards police state/dictatorship or anarchy.

And, of course, the Y2K bug had techies running for the hills, after they pocketed their overtime paychecks.

Now, without passing judgment on the likelihood of any of these events, I find the interesting thing is how much people think, one way or another, that "the end is near" and, more than that, have a morbid desire to see it actually happen. I'm not saying people really want the end of the world to happen, but I think it's the type if thing which would provide the ultimate justification for their particular worldviews.

Bobo's World


(CNN) -- A Florida couple accused of torturing and starving five of their seven children were taken into custody Friday night in Utah after detectives were able to track their cell phone signals, authorities said.

Capt. Jim Cernich of the Sheriff's Office in Citrus County, Florida, said deputies in San Juan County, Utah, apprehended Linda Dollar, 51, and John Dollar, 58, on a road after recognizing their gold 2000 Lexus sport utility vehicle.

The Dollars face charges in Citrus County, where they lived in Beverly Hills, on one count of aggravated child abuse/torture for all five children.

The accusations include pulling out the children's toenails with pliers and keeping them so malnourished they "looked like pictures from Auschwitz," authorities said.


Authorities went to the home in Beverly Hills, about 85 miles north of Tampa, and interviewed the other children, including twin 14-year-old boys who were so malnourished they weighed 36 and 38 pounds apiece, Tierney said.


The Dollars are accused of forcing the five children to sleep in a closet in the master bedroom with a "wind chime affixed to the door so that the Dollars would know if they tried to get out of the closet," Tierney said.

In addition, they are accused of using a cattle prod or some sort of stun gun to shock the children, securing them to spots in the house with chains, striking their feet with hammers and pulling out the children's toenails with pliers.

Wanker of the Day


Friday, February 04, 2005

Bonus Cat Blogging

Things We Learn This Evening

The Council of Economic Advisors are lying hacks.

And, they're telling you to SELL! SELL! SELL!

Friday Cat Blogging

Deep Throat Poppy

Over at Romenesko, Adrian Havill suggests that Poppy Bush was in fact Deep Throat. Havill makes it sound as if this is some shocking new theory. I've never followed the ins and outs of this issue, but I have certainly heard it before....


Yglesias is clearly correct that the long run plan is to default on the Trust Fund bonds. I tend to doubt we'll see a proposal along those lines this legislative cycle, but it's part of the long run plan.

This would involve a multi-trillion dollar transfer of wealth from poorer Americans to wealthy Americans.

Even More SS

Dan Froomkin has some nice stuff which you should go read and come back.

Let's talk about what social security isn't:

A system in which your payroll taxes are invested in Treasury Bonds until you retire, at which point you're entitled to the annuity value of the principal plus interest.

Let's talk about what it is:

It's a system under which your payroll taxes are collected and which entitles you to the following:

1) A retirement annuity which begins payment on the day you elect to start collecting benefits, is adjusted annually for inflation, and which continues to pay your benefit until you die.

2) A life insurance policy which:

a) pays a laughably small death benefit when you die.

b) Provides significant monthly benefits to a surviving spouse who has dependent children and for the children.

c) Gives your spouse full entitlement to your retirement annuity upon his/her retirement. The spouse, if entitled to his/her own retirement annuity, can choose the greater of the two.

3) A disability insurance policy which provides payments to you and your family if you are unable to work.

More SS

Reader P.K. writes in:

My column this morning wasn't the finest - sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't. Anyway, this may be a better explanation of how the clawback works.

Suppose you invested $1000 a year (constant dollars) in a fund that pays 3 percent real interest. Then after 40 years you would have about $77,000. Suppose that your life expectancy is 20 years at retirement, and that you can buy an annuity with present value equal to that lump sum. Then you would get about $5,000 annually.

The Bush plan, as far as we can tell, is that if you elect to take the private account, your conventional benefits are cut by $5,000 per year. So investing in bonds gets you right back where you started.

If you buy risky assets, and do better than 3 percent, you may end up with, say, $7,000 per year; in that case you have a net gain of $2,000.

But if you do worse, and end up with a lump sum only large enough to buy, say, a $3,000 annuity, your benefits are still cut by $5,000, and you're $2,000 a year worse off.

So what's really happening with the private accounts is that people will be encouraged to take a mortgage on their Social Security benefits, and to speculate in the stock market.

And, of course, all of this has zero bearing, at best, on long-term government finances. In practice, whoever is running America in 2050 will probably end up bailing out the unlucky, so it's a major net negative.

Survivor Benefits

Why oh why does CNN's economics correspondent seem to not have the basic understanding of our social security system...

I Was Tired Of Talking About Social Security Anyway


(New York City) A New York State court ruled Friday that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry.

State Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan said that the New York State Constitution guarantees basic freedoms to lesbian and gay people, and that those rights are violated when same-sex couples are not allowed to marry.

The ruling said the state Constitution requires same-sex couples to have equal access to marriage, and that the couples represented by Lambda Legal must be given marriage licenses.

"This is a historic ruling that delivers the state Constitution's promise of equality to all New Yorkers," said Susan Sommer, Supervising Attorney at Lambda Legal and the lead attorney on the case.

"The court recognized that unless gay people can marry, they are not being treated equally under the law. Same-sex couples need the protections and security marriage provides, and this ruling says they're entitled to get them the same way straight couples do."

The Big Story

Marshall writes:

So basically the president is finding hardly any Republicans in any of these states who are willing to go on the record in support of his plan. This is why I would never make it in the news business. I woulda thought that'd be a big story.

This is a big story, and hasn't been getting much attention. The truth is, collectively, the media is much more in favor of Social Security privatization than are Republican members of Congress. Print journos are improving, but the NPR/CNN/MSNBC/FOX/ABC/CBS/NBC coverage is just awful. By awful, I mean fact-free coverage which favors the Bush agenda.


Well, George narrowly escapes presiding over a net job loss in his first term. A proud achievement.

True or False

Putting this here so I remember. Many on the Right have claimed that there would be no change to the disability/survivor portions of Social Security, usually in the context of lying to African-Americans about how unfair the system is for them. Bush chimes in:

He tried to clarify his approach. Responding to questions from the audience here, he told the mother of a mentally retarded adult daughter that there would be no change to the disability portion of the system.

Your In-Laws Are Going to Live With You

They want to save a few pennies by making it harder for old people to go into nursing homes:

He and Mark B. McClellan -- head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which administers the federal component of both programs -- implied that the administration hopes to drastically loosen the requirement that states provide long-term care in nursing homes. Keeping the elderly out of nursing homes should result in better health and lower costs, they said.

Currently, states must secure a waiver from McClellan's agency to shift elderly patients to home- or community-based care. Changing that would require action by Congress.

More SS

Big Media Matt makes a pretty good attempt to describe what's going on.

Increasingly I'm getting the impression that this stuff is "all too complicated" for people to understand. It isn't that complicated, but it's complicated enough that the explanations can be confusing. I revert into academic mode when I start talking about this stuff, possibly sacrificing clarity for precision. In any case, all good writers are encouraged to find ways to communicate the details of the Bush plan in concise and easily understandable bits.

Wanker of the Day

Yes, I know we're only 28 minutes into the new day, but it's...

Michelle Malkin!

(via Orcinus)

Boiler Room

Unka Karl's paying overtime...

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Late Night

Have fun.


Let's complain about the media by pretending they said things they didn't actually say. The White House Whiners:

Myth: Jonathan Weisman's Washington Post Story today (p A13), includes the headline that "Participants would Forfeit Part of Accounts' Profits," which is flat wrong. The article says workers who opt for personal accounts "would ultimately get to keep only the investment returns that exceed the rate of return that the money would have accrued in the traditional system." This statement, unfortunately, is also flat wrong. Both the headline and this assertion are completely inaccurate. The White House is seeking a correction from the Washington Post.

Reality: Under President Bush's plan, participants would get EVERY SINGLE PENNY OF THEIR RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS -- BOTH the PRINCIPAL AND INTEREST.

Myth: The WP story suggests that President Bush's proposed personal retirement accounts actually benefits the Federal Government more than the account holder, by providing a "claw back." A "claw back" is typically a feature of a plan where the government guarantees a certain combined benefit from the traditional system and the personal account. Under such a plan, the better your account does, the less you get from the government. Therefore, the gains in the accounts are "clawed back."

This is just ridiculous. The Post is exactly right -- the briefer stated clearly how this works. Your guaranteed benefits are reduced one for one for every dollar you put away, compounded at 3% per year until you retire. They didn't claim what the Whiners pretend they claim in the last paragraph. The more you divert to your private account, the more your guaranteed benefits are reduced. That's a fact. The Post was very clear that the better your account does, the more money you would have.

Whaa whaa White House Whiners. What a bunch of liars.

And this is just bullshit:

A personal retirement account would belong entirely to the worker. If the account earns a 3% real rate of return - the worker would be right back where he started - at $15,000 of combined benefits per year.

Ø A worker could earn a higher return through his personal account investments. The Social Security Actuary assumes he will invest in a conservative mix of stocks, corporate bonds, and government securities that would result in a 4.6% real rate of return. In this case, the account would be large enough to provide about $7,000 per year of benefits, so he would have a combined future benefit of $17,000. His combined benefit would be $2,000 per year higher than had he not chosen the account.

That $15,000 number is putting into place BUSH'S PLANNED CUTS TO THE SOCIAL SECURITY SYSTEM. So, if we cut your benefits, and then you invest in stocks and do well, then you'll do better than you would have without investing, but worse than you would do under current federal law.

The press had better start figuring this stuff out.

Open Thread

I'll be on Air America in about an hour. You know, Bush sucks, he lies, Social Security's great, blah blah blah...


More idiocy.

Wankers of the Day



It's pretty fascinating that the Bushies have quickly gone from "we've got a solution to this crisis" to "we have a plan that has nothing to do with the problem."

If only the press would catch up.


The WaPo has corrected their earlier Social Security article. The correction is deserved, but the difference is almost entirely one of semantics. The new version says:

If a worker sets aside $1,000 a year for 40 years, and earns 4 percent annually on investments, the account would grow to $99,800 in today's dollars. All of that money would be the worker's upon retirement. But guaranteed benefits over the worker's lifetime would be reduced by approximately $78,700 -- the amount the worker would have contributed to Social Security but instead contributed to his private account, plus 3 percent interest above inflation. The remainder, $21,100, would be the increase in benefit the worker would receive over his lifetime above the level he would have received if he stayed in the traditional system.

The difference is that previously they'd written that the government would just "keep" the $78,700, when in fact they're just reducing your guaranteed benefits. It's not entirely an issue of semantics, but the upshot for most people will be identical.

Even More Boo Hoo

1999: Republicans Booed Clinton's Entrance
Many Republican lawmakers gave him a cool, though not impolite, reception.
There were a smattering of boos when Clinton first entered the House
chamber, but they were quickly drowned out by applause. Some Republicans
barely applauded, or refused at all to clap. House Majority Leader Dick
Armey (R-Texas) and U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) were conspicuously silent.
[Boston Herald, 1/20/99]

1998: Republicans Booed Clinton's Medicare Proposal
Clinton's health-care initiatives, chiefly in the form of a medical bill of
rights, found support on both sides, especially his attack on managed-care
health-care plans. ... Clinton's proposal to expand Medicare to allow
Americans as young as 55 to buy into the system drew shouts of "no" and some
boos from Republicans during his speech. [Chicago Tribune, 1/28/98]

1997: Republican's Booed Clinton's Opposition to the Balanced Budget
The Republican response was far warmer than perhaps any of Clinton's
previous four State of the Union speeches. Time after time, Republicans
jumped to their feet to join Democrats in applauding the president. Only
once did they unmistakably and collectively show their disapproval--when
Clinton spoke disparagingly of a GOP-sponsored constitutional amendment to
balance the budget. Many Republicans hissed and some booed. [LA Times,

1995: Republicans Booed Clinton and Walked Out During Speech
The upheaval wrought by the Republican election landslide was visible
throughout the president's State of the Union address - from the moment
Speaker Newt Gingrich took the gavel to the striking silence that often
greeted Clinton from the GOP. At one point, Republicans even booed. About 20
of them left as Clinton went on and on for an hour and 20 minutes. [AP,

Boo Hoo

Apparently the wingnutosphere citizens have had their delicate sensibilities offended by the fact that Democrats engaged in a bit of booing last night. The Rude Pundit gives them a history lesson.


Jesse says:

If Peter Orzag's calculations are correct in this New York Times article, in the first 20 years of privatization, it would cost $4.5 trillion dollars to shore up a system projected to run a $3.4 trillion deficit over 75 years. Bush wants to commit the government to an unnecessary extra $1.1 trillion of spending that will still result in my benefits getting cut when I retire.

That's about right. Well, not entirely -- what they want to do is put this in motion and then a few years from now scream "crisis" again and cut benefits further. But, yes, as is being proposed, Jesse is correct -- we want to borrow an extra trillion so that we can cut everyone's benefits by 40%.

Plan 2

The benefit offset which woke our intrepid Post reporter up isn't new. It was a feature of "Plan 2," the previously floated plan which has essentially been the basis of the whispered Bush plan. It's that feature which left some of us scratching our heads awhile back, as we couldn't actually comprehend that the expected total benefits of the magical plan 2 were as bad as the study said. I was in an email exchange with a couple of people trying to figure out if they just screwed up the table. But, they didn't. As CBO described it:

CSSS Plan 2 would introduce IAs by:

Allowing workers to divert 4 percentage points of their payroll taxes, up to $1,000, to a personal account, which would belong to covered workers;

Disbursing the principal and interest in those accounts--in the form of annuities that would supplement Social Security benefits--to workers at retirement or to their heirs if they died before retirement; and

Reducing the traditional benefit by the annuitized value of a notional (or theoretical) account, equivalent to the diverted payroll taxes accrued at the Treasury interest rate minus 1 percentage point.

Participation in IAs would be voluntary, but there is an unambiguous incentive for individuals to participate. In this analysis, CBO assumes 100 percent participation.

CSSS Plan 2 would lower benefits relative to current law by changing the computation of benefits from wage indexing to price indexing starting in 2011. CSSS Plan 2 would partially offset the benefit reduction resulting from price indexing by:

The point in bold is the key point. There isn't necessarily a one for one match here. It's not clear whether the plan itself or the scoring of it reduces benefits "by the annuitized value of a notional" instead of your actual account, but much of the impact is the same.

By how much was "plan 2" expected to cut your total retirement income? Not your guaranteed benefit, but the guaranteed benefit plus your private account annuity?

Here's a handy table from CBPP (on Senator Graham's modified plan 2 legislation):

The first column under the Graham plan says it all. That's the total retirement income generated -- both from your guaranteed benefit and your private account

And we're supposed to support this why?

Some added explanation: "Scheduled Benefits" are what are promised under current law. "Payable Benefits" are what the system is expected to be able to afford to pay once it "goes bankrupt."

Social Security Rallies

In Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas, Florida.


Peter Orszag gets it right:

Under the White House Social Security plan, workers who opt to divert some of their payroll taxes into individual accounts would ultimately get to keep only the investment returns that exceed the rate of return that the money would have accrued in the traditional system.

The mechanism, detailed by a senior administration official before President Bush's State of the Union address, would hold down the cost of Bush's plan to introduce personal accounts to the Social Security system. But it could come as a surprise to lawmakers and voters who have thought of these accounts as akin to an individual retirement account or a 401(k) that they could use fully upon retirement.

"You'll be able to pass along the money that accumulates in your personal account, if you wish, to your children . . . or grandchildren," Bush said last night. "And best of all, the money in the account is yours, and the government can never take it away."

The plan is more complicated. Under the proposal, workers could invest as much as 4 percent of their wages subject to Social Security taxation in a limited assortment of stock, bond and mixed-investment funds. But the government would keep and administer that money. Upon retirement, workers would then be given any money that exceeded inflation-adjusted gains over 3 percent.

That money would augment a guaranteed Social Security benefit that would be reduced by a still-undetermined amount from the currently promised benefit.

In effect, the accounts would work more like a loan from the government, to be paid back upon retirement at an inflation-adjusted 3 percent interest rate -- the interest the money would have earned if it had been invested in Treasury bonds, said Peter R. Orszag, a Social Security analyst at the Brookings Institution and a former Clinton White House economist.

"I believe you should be able to set aside part of that money in your own retirement account so you can build a nest egg for your own future," Bush said in his speech.

Orszag retorted: "It's not a nest egg. It's a loan."

Under the system, the gains may be minimal. The Social Security Administration, in projecting benefits under a partially privatized system, assumes a 4.6 percent rate of return above inflation. The Congressional Budget Office, Capitol Hill's official scorekeeper, assumes 3.3 percent gains.

If a worker sets aside $1,000 a year for 40 years, and earns 4 percent annually on investments, the account would grow to $99,800 in today's dollars, but the government would keep $78,700 -- or about 80 percent of the account. The remainder, $21,100, would be the worker's.

Benefit Offset

That's the phrase of the day, the week, the month folks. It means that your private account isn't so private and your personal account isn't so personal. Money you put in your private accounts -- quite possibly the vast majority of that money -- will simply be taken away from your social security benefit. It appears that the WaPo people actually picked up on this:

Even more curiously, a "senior administration official" who briefed reporters on the Social Security proposal earlier today disclosed details of the White House plan that I don't think will play well in Peoria. Most significantly, this official revealed that most or all of the earnings from new "personal" or privatized accounts will be paid not to the holder of the account, but to the government. The senior official called this a "benefit offset." It's one way to finance the creation of these private accounts, but it's going to cause quite a political stir, I think.

But, this shouldn't be a big surprise. Benefit offsets have always been part of the whispered plans.


A lot or even most of the money in your private account is just going to deducted from your benefits. Zero sum game.

A lot or even most of the money in your private account is not going to be able to be left as an inheritance -- you'll be required to buy an annuity upon retirement, and if you die one day later the money will be all gone.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005 Conference Call # Change

There was a mixup. The passcode you were given is the same, but the number is:


Take the Polls

Will update as they appear. Feel free to suggest in comments.



Denver Post

CBS News


In case you need a little help spotting all the lies, CAP helps.

"frivolous asbestos claims"


SOTU as Prepared

So you don't have to watch.

Rally in DC

Tomorrow. Go.

Join House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and other leaders of the House of Representatives to stand up against privatization of social security

Social Security Rally

Cannon Terrace, Capitol Hill
(in front of the Cannon Building at the intersection of Independence and New Jersey)

Thursday, February 3, 2005

9:00 am

(Please arrive NO LATER than 8:45 a.m. for setup)


Not a single question during the Social Security press briefing was asked about survivor and disability benefits.


You can read the full thing here. Ignore the bit about it being embargoed until the speech.

All Your Risk Are Belong To You

So, here's the basic Bush piratization plan:

Cuts in guaranteed benefits to make the system solvent in perpetuity without any tax increases.

A "voluntary" system of accounts that lets you divert up to 4 percentage points of your payroll taxes, subject to smaller cap in early years. Initial investment choices would be based on the Thrift Savings Plan.

On top of guaranteed benefit cuts, there's a one for one benefit offset up to a 3 percent real rate of return, or the real rate of return on Treasury bonds (unclear if it's actually 3 percent or just expected to be 3 percent -- I assume the latter). In other words, your SS benefits are cut dollar for dollar up until you hit that magic limit then the extra is yours. Odd, I thought the trust fund wasn't real. Silly me. There's very little actual "ownership" here.

Opting out of the system essentially involves putting all of your money in bonds, insuring that you can't possibly exceed the actual rate of return on bonds).

Upon retirement, you're forced to buy an annuity such that your SS benefits plus the annuity purchased from your personal account at the minimum give you poverty line income. Unclear what happens if there isn't enough money to get you to the poverty line. The federal government would handle the annuities. The rest you can spend when you want.

If you retire and die the next day, as with any annuity the money reverts back to the issuer - in this case the feds. In other words, it isn't inheritable If the government underestimates life expectancy (the miracle cure appears), I imagine we'll hear talk about how those annuity contracts are "just IOUS" and the gov't can't afford to pay, blah blah blah.

They're claiming they'd only need to borrow $664 billion through 2015 ("the budget window") to handle the transition costs. No word on 2016 and beyond... I see Big Media Matt is on this point and our incompetent press. Expectation of course is that when 2015 or so rolls around, we get to scream "crisis!" again and cut future benefits further. Neat game.

Pre-SOTU Thread

My guess is 26 freedoms.

Post-SOTU Conference Call

I'll be cohosting one for Click through to find out how to join us.

Afternoon Thread

Have fun.



In the latest sign that the G.O.P. is intent on politicizing everything Iraq-related, Congressional Republicans are reportedly planning to show up at tonight's State of the Union address with purple ink on their fingers to send the message that they support Iraqi voters.

As Pierce wrote:

You do not own their courage.

The people who stood in line Sunday did not stand in line to make Americans feel good about themselves.

You do not own their courage.

They did not stand in line to justify lies about Saddam and al-Qaeda, so you don't own their courage, Stephen Hayes. They did not stand in line to justify lies about weapons of mass destruction, or to justify the artful dodginess of Ahmad Chalabi, so you don't own their courage, Judith Miller. They did not stand in line to provide pretty pictures for vapid suits to fawn over, so you don't own their courage, Howard Fineman, and neither do you, Chris Matthews.

You do not own their courage.

They did not stand in line in order to justify the dereliction of a kept press. They did not stand in line to make right the wrongs born out of laziness, cowardice, and the easy acceptance of casual lying. They did not stand in line for anyone's grand designs. They did not stand in line to play pawns in anyone's great game, so you don't own their courage, you guys in the PNAC gallery.

You do not own their courage.

They did not stand in line to provide American dilettantes with easy rhetorical weapons, so you don't own their courage, Glenn Reynolds, with your cornpone McCarran act out of the bowels of a great university that deserves a helluva lot better than your sorry hide. They did not stand in line to be the instruments of tawdry vilification and triumphal hooting from bloghound commandos. They did not stand in line to become useful cudgels for cheap American political thuggery, so you don't own their courage, Freeper Nation.

You do not own their courage.

They did not stand in line to justify a thousand mistakes that have led to more than a thousand American bodies. They did not stand in line for the purpose of being a national hypnotic for a nation not even their own. They did not stand in line for being the last casus belli standing. They did not stand in line on behalf of people's book deals, TV spots, honorarium checks, or tinpot celebrity. They did not stand in line to be anyone's talking points.

You do not own their courage.

Wankers of the Day

The Press:

The White House official who briefed reporters on the speech said Mr. Bush would take detailed positions on Social Security in coming weeks and months, but only to the extent that doing so would help Congress move forward. The official, who spoke before an auditorium full of journalists, insisted on not being quoted by name. Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, said the goal in not allowing the use of the official's name was to keep the focus on Mr. Bush.

Just fucking tell us the officials name. This is ridiculous.

...According to WH'ho, the mystery official was Dan Bartlett.

Morning Thread

Chat away.

Help the General

The General needs your help. Ask yourself -- what would Republican Jesus do? And, then, do the opposite.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

More Luskin

DeLong explains in more detail just why exactly higher productivity improves the fiscal situation in the trust fund and is not, as Luskin claimed, just a wash.

To understand this, it's important to remember that only initial benefit levels are pegged to the wage index, so it only impacts the first year of SS benefits. Benefit increases in subsequent years are pegged to the CPI. However, the FICA cap impacts the potential taxes paid by the entire working population (those who are at or above the cap). An increase in the wage index lifts revenues fairly substantially, while increasing per capita SS benefits by not very much.

Let's say the current FICA cap is at $100,000. If the wage index goes up by 10%, then the cap goes up to $110,000. This means that anyone who earns between 100-110K income (and their employer) now has to pay taxes on that income. How does a big 10% jump in the wage index impact total social security payouts? It increases the real benefits of new retirees by 10% over the previous year's but leaves everyone else's benefits (everyone who retired earlier than the current year) untouched. So, the average social security benefit is not changed very much.

Luskin's claim was that increases in productivity/wages were a wash because wages *and* benefits go up about one for one. This just isn't true.


Some guy writing in the National Catholic Reporter says:

But then, out of politeness, she suggested that Stewart was educating young people on political issues. The idea that the “Daily Show” format really gets young people to care about the world, however, is ludicrous. Its tone tells us to dismiss the world as absurd.

I disagree. The Daily Show usually manages to convey that things actually do matter, even though media coverage of those things is quite absurd. It's an episode of Hardball or Inside Politics which tells you to dismiss the world as absurd.

I do think certain types of irreverent satire can turn people off, but I don't think the Daily Show is one of them. South Park is more guilty of this -- it adopts the pose that everything is bullshit and that you're uncool unless you understand that.

Open Thread



Good for the Senate Dems.

Now, I'm assuming all of those in the know are correct when they claim that there's no way the Republicans could get away with shoving this into a budget reconciliation bill...

The Self-Correcting Blogosphere

I can't find his email so I'll do it here. Big Media Matt is wrong when he writes:

One reason current law won't allow Social Security to promise all the benefits that have been promised is that FICA revenue is projected to decline as a share of GDP over the decades. This is because though the FICA cap is indexed to inflation, rising income inequality means that each year a higher and higher proportion of total payroll income falls above the cap. We could fix that with an ad hoc adjustment, switch the index away from the CPI and toward a fixed proportion of payroll, or just eliminate the cap altogether (and lower rates accordingly) and that would eliminate the "perpetually growing" element of the infinite horizon deficit without making the tax burden on future generations any higher than what we're paying today.

The FICA cap is pegged to the wage index already. While the proportion of GDP escaping the clutches of the FICA tax is increasing over time, it's largely because of disproportionate increases at the upper end of the income distribution relative to the median... and, to add, rising nonwage income...


It is not partisan for anti-torture Democrats to oppose Gonzales. It is partisan for anti-torture Republicans to support him.

Pro-torture Republicans, of course, love the guy.

Donald, Meet Kevin

Luskin today:

And in the column today, Krugman betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the economics of Social Security itself. He write, "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." Krugman has forgotten -- or chosen to ignore -- that under current law Social Security benefits are indexed to wage growth. If the economy grows like Krugman is talking about, yes, payroll tax revenues will grow too -- but so will benefits, nearly perfectly proportionately.

Sadly, No! (trademark Sadly, No! productions) Kevin Drum explains.

Luskin tries to justify saying this by adding:

The sensitivity tables given by the Trustees of the Social Security Trust Funds don't show this -- because they arbitrarily cut off the calculation after 75 years. But the reality is that the early benefits of increased tax revenues are eventually offset by the higher cost of benefits. Gee -- think how good Krugman could make that look if he reduced the window of analysis to just 10 years.

Really, Krugman only focused on 75 years! How dare he! The Wanker! But, look, Luskins's just wrong here. As the SSA explains:

The cost rate decreases with increasing real-wage differentials, because, higher wages affect the taxable payroll immediately but increase benefit levels only gradually as new beneficiaries become entitled. In addition, cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) to benefits are not affected by changes in wages, but only in prices. Each 0.5-percentage-point increase in the assumed real-wage differential increases the long-range actuarial balance by about 0.54 percent of taxable payroll.

To Luskin, the fact that benefits eventually catch up with increased revenues mean that in the end it's a wash and Social Security is DOOOOOOMED at some unspecified date even longer than 75 years from now. But, that's because Luskin seems to not understand why there's any sort of wee problem with the long room solvency of Social Security -- a presumed unique demographic phenomenon known as The Baby Boom which is going to begin skewing the ratio of retired/workers. This is to a great degree a temporary problem. When all of those people die, and the age distribution of the population is no longer affected by them, then that problem will largely go away. So, if 20 year olds start earning more/paying more in taxes now, they don't start getting juicier benefits for another 47 years, while that additional revenue is in place to take care of "current" obligations.

That doesn't mean that revenue/benefit ratios won't ever needed to be tweaked to keep the program in rough balance, but jeebus on a cracker, how many years of guaranteed solvency do we need to satisfy these people? 5000?

...okay, I'm not exactly right here. Depending on the assumptions made, the retiree/worker ratio problem doesn't go away as the boomers die. So, Luskin is correct when he suggest we should perhaps be worried about a disaster in the system 75+ years from now.* I do think the fertility, mortality, and immigration assumptions used to derive these numbers are pretty silly (mostly the immigration), but that's a separate argument.

*That's sarcasm, of course. The fact remains that if long run wage growth remains high, then it's always the case that higher revenues are received "now" and higher benefits aren't paid until "later." That process doesn't magically stop 75 years from now, but for a precise accounting we'd need a sensitivity analysis result from the "infinite horizon" mode...

Good Riddance

Alterman says:

We note for the record that Sullivan included both yours truly and Sontag in his infamous lie that: "The middle part of the country--the great red zone that voted for Bush--is clearly ready for war. The decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead--and may well mount a fifth column,” when he added, “These people have already openly said they do not support such a war, and will oppose it. Read Sontag and Chomsky and Moore and Alterman and on and on, and you'll see that I'm not exaggerating.” The only problem is that neither Sontag nor I ever opposed a military response to Al Qaida in Afghanistan. I certainly never said so, as the little liar proclaims, and I will offer a thousand bucks to the charity of Andy’s choice—including the re-remodeling of his P-town bathroom--if he can prove I did. Andy just made that up.

A fifty percent rate of accuracy is not high enough when you’re accusing people of treason fella. Sullivan is right he was not “exaggerating.” He was lying. He still is. America will be a better country without his blog, but I, for one, will mourn the loss of material.

In the aftermath of 9/11, Sullivan not being content with the actual enemies we had, decided to go hunting for more. He pioneered the use of 9/11 to crush dissent - not the "fifth column" of his feverish imagination, but any critical look (except for his) at the post-9/11 response. Sullivan helped mainstream the notion, once thought utterly un-American, that critical voices are tantamount to treason.

Plenty of people went a bit nuts after 9/11 and said stupid things, but most of them don't proudly display those worst moments as one of their greatest hits (note the dishonest after the fact editing).


Not nice for members of his own party to ridicule his ideas.


Occasionally I link to satirical pieces without clearly branding them as "satire," as that sorta ruins the joke.


One great idea which is floating around out there is the need to create permanent spaces for lefty types to congregate - both for general merriment and constructive activities. An example of this is The Tank, which is a nice space in NYC where us lefty bloggers were given a home during the RNC. Cosmopolity is losing the space, sadly, though hopefully they'll find a replacement. And, they're pushing to make the concept national -- to create similar spaces around the country.

And, on a related note, let me suggest that you attend your local drinking liberally events.


Jack Shafer picks up on the rather important and entirely ignored Judith Miller bombshell.


It's a shame we can't have a semi-sensible public conversation about changing our immigration policies because so many of the people involved in the anti-immigration movement are racist nutcases.

Wanker of the Day

Bob Kerrey.

There's nothing intrinsically offensive about his policy prescriptions -- it's his pretending to not comprehend the political situation in which we currently exist.

The Democrats are not in a position to propose some sort of compromise plan. Anyone who, unlike Kerrey, hasn't slept through the past 4 years understands that no good comes from trying to compromise with the Bush administration.

It isn't that good "social security plus" ideas don't exist - it's that they aren't going to be enacted under a Bush led Republican congress.

Kerrey's failure to understand, or failure to be honest about it, makes him... Wanker of the day!

Monday, January 31, 2005


Nicely addresses the crucial point:

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.

And I suspect that at least some privatizers know that. Mr. Baker has devised a test he calls "no economist left behind": he challenges economists to make a projection of economic growth, dividends and capital gains that will yield a 6.5 percent rate of return over 75 years. Not one economist who supports privatization has been willing to take the test.

But the offer still stands. Ladies and gentlemen, would you care to explain your position?

The Social Security Trustees, to their immense shame, have scored various models using these contradictory assumptions -- that stocks will grow and the economy won't.

I'm still waiting for someone to hammer it home with the reverse calculation that Krugman discusses earlier in the column -- assuming stock returns are 6.5% - 7%, what long run rate of growth does that imply, and what impact would that have on the solvency of the trust fund. The "I'm pretty sure it's true" answer is that it'll make it more than solvent for all eternity, but I'd like to see someone lay it out.

Wanker of the Day

Fred Barnes


Until reading this I had rather mixed feelings about the necessity for a timetable for leaving Iraq. What I do think is important - and it's time for the press to start asking - is just how permanent our designs on Iraq are? Why are we building the Biggest Baddest Embassy Ever and a bunch of permanent military bases? The elephant in the living room is of course the high probability that even if things work out wonderfully, and the security situation improves, the Bushies still intend to maintain a significant permanent presence in Iraq. Is that true? I don't know. But it's time for somebody to start asking.

Still, as upyernoz points out, if you lack a timetable (one filled with caveats and conditions and whatnot is fine) then it's difficult to ever credibly withdraw without granting the insurgents (or Michael Moore of course) the "credit."

When Hacks Collide

Kurtz and Gallagher still going at it.
I hate when I have to side with howie.


For those following my tech problems (exciting stuff, I know), on the 2nd try I managed to get a functional 2.5" USB hard drive enclosure which is currently on good speaking terms with my computer, so I can get all the stuff I need off the hard drive before the computer goes to repairland.

It's actually quite a cool gadget. If you have an old laptop with a functioning disk drive, just pop it out and put it into one of these $20 or so gadgets and you have an instant little external drive for backups or whatever.

Stupid is as Stupid Does

Jesse has a bit of fun with Luskin's latest idiocy, but let me address the profound stupidity of this passage:

And Bush is right — according to the National Center for Health Statistics, at age 65 the median African American male lives 14.6 more years, compared with 16.6 more years for whites. That means African Americans have 2 fewer years to collect their Social Security benefits than whites do, even though they pay the same amount of taxes during their working lives.

Uh, no. "African Americans" don't have 2 fewer years to collect. The African-American male who survives the median time after 65 has 2 fewer years to collect than the white male who survives the median time after 65. And, unless these people had exactly the same lifetime salary profile they didn't "pay the same amount in taxes." If we're kind to Luskin and acknowledge that we know what he probably meant, he's still wrong -- on average African-Americans don't pay the same amount of taxes during their working lives as do white Americans.

And, of course, at some point he dropped the "male." Regularly overlooked in all of this is even if we buy the bogus claim that social security is a bad deal for African-American males because they don't live as long as white males, it's important to remember that African-American females have a higher life expectancy at birth than white males, and only a couple of years lower life expectancy than the entire white population.

Education Secretary Demands Removal of Vermont from Nation’s Textbooks

Scary stuff:

Washington, January 31– Following on her protest last week against a PBS cartoon character’s visit to Vermont, where he encounters a lesbian couple, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced at a press conference today that her department was not engaged in a “trivial” or “merely symbolic” campaign against a children’s television program.

“Buster Bunny is not the problem,” said Spellings. “Though I note with some dismay that Buster travels the country accompanied only by his father because his parents are divorced, and I do not see why our children should be subjected to yet another glamorization of the divorce lifestyle. No, the problem is Vermont itself. It is Vermont to which I object. Christians everywhere should be outraged that it was represented in this children’s program.”

Spellings proceeded to unveil the Department of Education’s proposed map of the “forty-nine God-fearing United States,” with the “territory of Vermont” represented by a lightly shaded area. “Until such time as Vermont sees fit to rejoin the rest of the nation in condemning gay ‘civil unions,’” Spellings said, reading from a prepared statement, “we propose that Vermont be visually expelled from the heterosexual Union. We further propose that the nation’s students be instructed that Vermont is no longer a real state, and that they will not be responsible for remembering its capital, which is not only obscure but French-sounding as well.”

There is No Crisis

Organize yourself a nice SOTU house party and help with the pushback. be clear, you don't actually have to watch the SOTU.

Tivo Blogging

It's nice to see that Tivo is finally getting smart and opening up their platform for developers. I've never been one who believed in "convergence" - that one day your TV and computer would become the same appliance. Watching TV and doing computer stuff just are not all that similar activities, even though they both have nice shiny screens. But, with wireless technology it's rather obvious that your TV and your computer should be able to talk to each other, and a Tivo-type device is an obvious intermediary.

Hoped for features:

Full access to and control of Tivo's scheduling directly. You can currently schedule things online through Tivo's server, but that's of limited value as your Tivo only checks in once per day. (Apparently it phones home more often than that if you're networked)

Sending video back to your Tivo. Current "Tivo to go" only lets you download recorded shows. Ideally you'd be able to send anything, but at the very least you should send back things you've downloaded.

Cheap Snark

Who knew Mickey Kaus was running the German welfare program...


Last night's little quote from The Queen of All Iraq wasn't just about the usual Miller-bashing, it was actually a bombshell revelation. Here we have a New York Times reporter going on the record saying that according to a source, the Bush administration was in talks with Chalabi about a position in the new Iraqi government. So, in one neat little package we learn that the Bush administration backs Chalabi and has significant influence over appointments in the new government, once it exists.

Isn't this important?

Repeat, Judith Miller on Hardball:

We now are told, according to my sources, that the administration has been reaching out to Mr. Chalabi, to offer him expressions of cooperation and support and according to one report he was even offered a chance to be an interior minister in the new government.


There have been people commenting recently about the latest generation's increasing comfort with authoritarianism. I don't know if that trend is true, but these poll results should scare us all:

Yet, when told of the exact text of the First Amendment, more than one in three high school students said it goes "too far" in the rights it guarantees. Only half of the students said newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.

"These results are not only disturbing; they are dangerous," said Hodding Carter III, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which sponsored the $1 million study. "Ignorance about the basics of this free society is a danger to our nation's future."

The students are even more restrictive in their views than their elders, the study says.

When asked whether people should be allowed to express unpopular views, 97 percent of teachers and 99 percent of school principals said yes. Only 83 percent of students did.

Facts Schmacts

Look, I'm all for the notion that speed gets in the way of accuracy at times in blogging, in the same way that no matter how careful you are if you host a 3 hour daily radio program you're bound to get a few things wrong at times, and the notion that egregious errors are generally spotted and pointed out by readers. But, blogs are not "self-correcting" - you actually have to, you know, make corrections. And, especially if you operate a comment-free blog, your errors are not necessarily going to be pointed out to the rest of the world. And, more importantly, when you do stuff which is journalism-like, instead of pundit-like -- that is, passing along information from sources, then there's a wee bit of obligation to try to verify that information.

Conservative bloggers engage in faith-based blogging. They say the "blogosphere is self-correcting!" and this absolves them from any responsibility to actually acknowledge or correct their errors. Wankers.

Prior to Hinderaker's presentation, the week before the November elections, I visited the Powerline site. To my surprise an Oct. 27 post covered alleged voter fraud in Racine, Wis., my hometown. The charges involved the registering of illegal aliens to vote. The story seemed outrageous, so I made a few phone calls to check it out.

What I discovered was troubling. There was no factual basis for the voter fraud allegations. Powerline posted the story based on the word of a single individual employed by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). This was hearsay at best, posted as "news" at a time when voter registration efforts by the Democrats and 527 groups were coming under fire by conservatives.

At class I asked Hinderaker if posts to Powerline were fact-checked. He was dismissive of the question, so I asked if he was aware that the Racine voter fraud story was inaccurate. He stated that he was not, slapped his hands together and stated that the blogosphere was all about speed and therefore did not allow for fact-checking. Mr. Hinderaker went on to say, "Our readers let us know when we get it wrong."

And therein lies the cautionary Catch-22: Bloggers may serve as media watchdogs, but who will watch the blogs? Do you have time to fact-check what you read online?

Let me be perfectly clear. I believe bloggers of all political and social stripes have much to offer. They provide a pulpit for the average citizen and a dizzying variety of insights on a wild array of topics. But blogs can also be ideologically driven, presenting hearsay as fact without apology.

Extremists on both the right and the left would love nothing more than to lend their blog-of-choice credibility beyond its due. The blogosphere is the perfect vehicle for disseminating ideologically driven rants against people and policy. There are no checks and balances, no fact-checkers, no code of ethics, no professional associations or peer review. It is illustrative, and sadly ironic, that the blog lionized for breaking the Rathergate story does not fact-check its posts and apparently has no intention of doing so.

I don't agree with the last bit. There are checks and balances and fact-checkers and peer review. But, at the end of the day bloggers have to correct themselves no matter how much criticism they get from readers and other blogs. And, people should really stop comparing the reality of blogs with the ideal of journalism - as we learned during the Jayson Blair fun, fact checkers are not apparently a key feature of the New York Times reporting process.

The End of AT&T

Not sure what exact significance this has, but it nonetheless somehow seems to be significant.

After 128 years as an independent company, since just after the invention of the telephone that's the centerpiece of its business, AT&T will be absorbed into its offspring SBC Communications in a stock-and-cash deal valued at $16 billion.

SBC also will be assuming about $6 billion in AT&T's net debt, bringing the total value of the deal to $22 billion.

SBC, announcing the deal Monday, said it could find value in AT&T even with the decline in its traditional long distance business. Shares of AT&T fell about 5.6 percent in early trading Monday morning while shares of SBC were down slightly.

The deal marks the end of several eras, one that started with company founder Alexander Graham Bell, and another that began when a federal judge split the original company into eight separate entities in 1984.


There's nothing particularly offensive about this letter from PNAC suggesting that we increase the size of our military. But, nor was there any good reason for "even the liberal" Peter Beinart to add his signature to the list.

...steve suggests that prime fighting age Beinart enlist.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Latest Conservative Wanker

Thomas Woods, author of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History." A sampling of his profound thoughts:

A commitment to "the unvarnished truth" would also presumably include Dr. Woods' description of current American foreign policy as "war after war against the enemies of Israel, at American expense."

It would also include Dr. Woods' belief that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was planning to "use the distraction of [an American] war with Iraq … [as] an opportunity to carry out the ethnic cleansing of the two million Palestinian Arabs living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza."

It would also include Dr. Woods' memorable insistence that the September 11 attacks were "bound to" happen to us because of "the barbarism of recent American foreign policy" in "attempt[ing] the hubristic enterprise of running the world – and not even on Christian principles."

The Queen of All Iraq Speaks II

"We now are told, according to my sources, that the administration has been reaching out to Mr. Chalabi, to offer him expressions of cooperation and support and according to one report he was even offered a chance to be an interior minister in the new government."

holy crap

The Queen of All Iraq Speaks

Part I:

"those people who said there were large sections of the country that wouldn't be able to vote... that couldn't vote... that turned out not to be the case..."

Anyone Recording MSNBC

Heard a variety of interesting (but not entirely consistent) reports about what Judith Fucking "The Queen of All Iraq" Miller said to Chris Matthews just recently. If anyone can put together a transcript...

...looks like it repeats at 9. Tivo set...

Evening Thread


Hercules Down

Horrible. Possibly very horrible.

...good. Reuters is saying up to 15 killed which, while horrible, is much less horrible than it could have been.

Wanker of the Day


...oh lordy, it was a late entry, but I believe Gregg Easterbrook deserves "honorable mention" (and probably lifetime achievement in wankery as well).

Afternoon Thread

have fun

Morning Monkey Mail

Just curious, but seeing the Wellstone Center posted on the left menu,
has anyone connected the political dots, showing how the late senator
was bilked out of his cumulative FICA contributions, because he had no
eligible survivors?
How ironic, defrauded by the very Ponzi scheme he so dearly loved.

Sunday Bobbleheads

Document the atrocities.