liberal ["liberalis" L - suitable for a freeman, generous; "eleutheros" Gk - free] (adj) generous, open-minded, not subjugated to authoritarian domination; (n) one who believes in liberty, universal suffrage and the free exchange of ideas. elite ["eslire" Fr -- to choose fr.L "eligere" -- choose] (n) the choice part; best of a class; the socially superior part of society.

Monday, February 28, 2005

why we went to war in Iraq justified at last

Eric Alterman has a tragi-comic review of the REAL justifications for our going to war in Iraq. He enumerates 14 reasons, and one of my favorites is:
Our soldiers will pick up innocent people off the street, torture them, proudly take pictures of themselves doing so, and these will become the new image of the American solider across the world.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Krugman Strikes Back

Thank you, Paul Krugman. Not only are your economic analyses helpful and incisive, but you know how to fight, too.

more snow

Anyone else feel blinded by the shifting drifts of economic statistics released by the U.S. government regarding the upward revision in GDP growth in the 4th quarter of 2004?

The Commerce Department says the upward revision shows that inflation didn't accelerate that much and that exports increased.

What's weird about that is that the higher exports are deemed to be the result of the weakness of the US dollar.

As ambiguous as that good news sounds, the punch line in this double entendre is
The deceleration in economic momentum from the third quarter reflected a moderation in consumer spending and the widening US trade deficit.
So the bad news is consumers are spending less and foreign consumers are spending more, even though we're still spending more on imports relative to what we sold them last quarter, than they are spending on our exports, relative to what we bought from them last quarter. The good news is, the dollar isn't worth as much so we're exporting more.

As Thomas Friedman said, "Oh, good. Now I'm relieved."

The Latest News on our Exit Strategy

Ari Berman over at the Nation serves up a toasty-hot appetizer on our Iraqi exit strategy.

Didn't everybody vote for Bush because they WANTED us to stay in Iraq permanently -- no matter what the cost in blood, treasure and friendship -- for the oil access?

Who's surprised? What surprises me is how dumb/naive everybody is acting about our "exit strategy" or lack thereof.

The insurgents aren't fooled.

Even Bill Scher is soft-pedaling the crescendo to this in his criticism of the centrist Dems in LO yesterday.

Sickest of all, Scher points out Hillary's posture:
Most importantly, she doesn’t make a clear distinction between the parties on this fundamental issue, leaving open the possibility that she would support them.
Oh great, Democrat imperialists. Lovely!

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Our Fearless Leader Explains the Truth to the World

John Snow, continued

Treasury Secretary John Snow spoke to the Chamber of Commerce in Tampa, Florida today. He told them that entrepreneurs and small businesses are the linchpin of the economy, and that's why President Bush refuses to raise taxes. It would hurt the hard-working middle class.

President Bush is also very compassionate in his feelings toward the children and grandchildren of retirees and workers born in 1950 or before. In fact, he is giving them a Special Deal, according to Secretary Snow, whereby their Social Security program won't be altered nor their promised benefits lowered.

In other words, if you were born in the last 54 years, and President Bush has his way, neither the Social Security program nor its benefits will be there for you.

But John Snow says that's because he's such a strong AND compassionate leader, and John Snow knows so much about compassion. At the heart of his speech in Tampa, he pitched a knuckleball:
No, those of us of a certain age aren't the ones who need to worry. It's our children and their children who will be left out by the current system. They are the ones President Bush is worried about.
He's making Bush sound like George Washington, a "father" worried about his "children."

Isn't that how Stalin used to refer to himself and the Soviets while backstage, he was shipping them off to starvation labor camps by the millions?

Beware Greeks bearing gifts. Beware the compassion of Conservatives! The Iraquis are reaping the fruits of George Bush's "compassion." So are the US Army and National Guard veterans and their families, the poor, the aged, the sick, the unemployed, and the students.

But Snow is the biggest con man since the Wizard of Oz. He actually has the nerve to stand there in front of the Chamber of Commerce of Tampa, FL and say this
The numbers simply don't work. As a result, today's 30-year-old can expect a 27 percent benefit cut from the current system when he or she reaches retirement age. The problem actually becomes more expensive with each passing year. And as it is, we are looking at $10.4 trillion in unfunded liabilities.
Is he even a member of the same government that runs the Social Security program? Doesn't he even read the trustees' or the Congressional Budget office reports? In 2042, if no adjustments are made, there may be a shortfall. (The trustees are expected to push it back two more years when they release their new report next month.) We'll see.

Meanwhile we have a record budget deficit, a record trade deficit, the price of oil is at an all time high, we have 150,000+ plus troops in Iraq, more in Afghanistan, and Defense spending is scheduled to increase by just under 9% next year.

What are they so worried about Social Security for?

It's obvious: they're not. Social Security is not in trouble. They want to wreck the power of government to regulate industry, raise taxes and manage the state and the economy. They want to burn down Monticello.

The whole society will utterly collapse in about a year because Snow and his boss didn't think it through. There will be disease with no health care, there will be workers without jobs, families without homes or money, no roads, no cars, no fuel, no food. That's what they want. A total collapse of the social order.

Why? So they can seize power, do away with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and rewrite the laws to benefit their own twisted vision of reality.

Most Republicans don't see that this is what's in store for them. They are too full of hate and fear of other people to look at the whole situation with any clarity. But Jack Snow knows. He's one of the insiders. He's one of the sirens now. He's luring the people, his people to their destruction so they can be robbed and subjugated by tyrants.

They're calling for 8 inches

The economy is in "good shape," Treasury Secretary John Snow said yesterday. He was pleased with the modest 0.1 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index for last month, and satisfied that the core inflation rate of 0.2 percent is low. He's concerned about the deficit, but thinks it can be watched by constraining spending.

He says that 2004 was a real turning point for the economy, that we've had good GDP growth (especially factoring in the Microsoft dividend payout), and the figures show a 4.4 GDP increase for all of 2004, which was way ahead of forecasts, making it the best year since 1999.

Snow didn't go into any details on the deficit, or on interest rates. Nor did he have anything to say about the real earnings of the average worker. It would be hard to imagine the 2004 tax cuts not fueling economic growth. But Snow made no reference to that yesterday. We know the plan is to make the tax cuts permanent, but with a 450+ billion dollar deficit projected for this year, that can only mean inflation and higher interest rates.

The continued rise in the price of oil will not help the ballooning trade deficit, the rise in energy costs conspiring to drive more jobs overseas, and the explosion in medical costs.

Good shape?
Yesterday's Department of Labor report on real earnings in January 2005 showed that
Real average weekly earnings fell by 0.2 percent from December 2004 to January 2005 after seasonal adjustment, according to preliminary data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor. A 0.2 percent increase in average hourly earnings was more than offset by a 0.3 percent decline in average weekly hours and a 0.1 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W)."

In case you were wondering where that leaves you, it means it's getting harder to keep up with the rising cost of living, and your wage increase isn't going to cover it.
Average weekly earnings rose by 2.3 percent, seasonally adjusted, from January 2004 to January 2005. After deflation by the CPI-W, average weekly earnings decreased by 0.7 percent.
It's snowing in Philadelphia as I write this at 1:15 PM EST on 02/24/2005. It hasn't hit New York yet.

I'm going outside to catch a smoke. There will doubtlessly be MORE TO COME on this topic. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Snow Job

The Washington Post reported that Treasury Secretary John Snow has hit the Social Security phase-out promotion tour with President Bush.

The Post quoted AP writer Laura Meckler as saying in her article that Snow told her
... the administration is going to "hit this hard" and wants to "get the facts out."

The aim of the stepped-up campaign, he said, is to "engage with the American people on the fundamentals of Social Security."
What Snow isn't telling us is probably just as -- if not more important than -- what he is telling us, however. For her part, Meckler tells us right at the outset of her article that
Treasury Secretary John Snow acknowledged Wednesday that the Bush administration has not yet succeeded in selling its plan for Social Security to the American people, and said backers would continue to travel the country educating people about the program's problems.
At least we can be sure that, whatever he is telling us, we're going to continue to hear a lot more of it.

The big guy at Treasury will be in Tampa and Jacksonville tomorrow and Friday talking to the Chambers of Commerce there. His theme seems to be that:

1) Social Security needs to be changed, fundamentally, in order to keep the system sound and the changes need to be made now, permanently; plus

2) President Bush will not make any changes that affect people born before 1950.

As I already mentioned, economic growth is good for our country for the jobs it creates and the prosperity it spreads. But it is also, importantly, part of a winning strategy on deficit reduction – one of the top priorities of this budget – because economic growth increases Treasury receipts.

So, Secretary Snow heads off to Florida to preach Social Security salvation after praising his Administration's 2006 budget proposal as job friendly and deficit reducing.

There are so many facts and details illuminating the falsehoods of this man's statements, promises and proposals, that I will have to continue this post tomorrow and later, perhaps.

To Be Continued
Meanwhile, the meteorologists are calling for heavy snow tonight in the northeast.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

the siren of social security

Our old friend, Grover Norquist was quoted today by Peter Wallsten and Joel Havemann in an LA Times article, Bush Shifts Pension Stance.

In the article about a recent statement Bush made to the regional press in New Hampshire, Wallsten and Havemann quoted Bush as saying,
"I've been asked this question a lot, and my answer is that I'm interested in good ideas," Bush said, according to the Birmingham (Ala.) News. "The one thing I'm not open-minded about is raising the payroll tax rate, and all the other issues are on the table, and that's important for people to know."

He was drawing a distinction between the amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax and the 12.4% tax rate, paid half by workers and half by employers, which he is opposed to raising.
Then Wallsten and Havemann spelled it out a little more, for those of us Blue staters and other who don't speak Bush,
In telling the regional newspapers that he was open to raising the $90,000 wage cap, Bush appeared to contradict previous statements by him and his staff.
Does he appear to or does he actually contradict himself?

This is where our helpful and informative authors weighed in with Grover Norquist. Who better with whom to raise George W. Bush's apparent self-contradiction than his greatest ideolgical mentor (besides, of course, Jesus and George H.W. Bush, his dad)? The Director of Americans for Tax Reform is known to heavily influence all Bush's economic plans, goals and policies, to much the same extent the Project for a New American Century influences W.'s foreign policy.

Our reporters, Wallsten and Havemann, set up their quotation from Grover Norquist with a reasonable premise.
But Bush's potential embrace of a higher wage cap could anger conservatives who have pushed for private retirement accounts.

Grover Norquist, a leading anti-tax activist and advisor to the White House on Social Security, said he did not believe that Bush would agree to raising the $90,000 cap, despite the apparent shift in his public negotiating position. But he acknowledged that the president's remarks would rattle some conservatives.

"Should it make us nervous when somebody says, 'I would think about cutting off your fingers,' even if you don't think he really would? Yes. It makes one nervous," Norquist said. "I understand that it's his job to say, 'Let's come to the table and have a conversation.' He's counting on the fact that once you get in the room, the American people will demand personal savings accounts, and they will not demand higher taxes."
George Bush will do ANYTHING to get people to support his privatization scheme. That's what he's good at. If you look at George W. Bush's record since he was in the Texas Air National Guard, you will see the record of someone who has never done anything well enough or honestly enough to earn the people's trust.

But, he just keeps going. His Social Security Privatization Tour (also known as the "Bamboozlepalooza"), has been extended to nine, now, from the originally scheduled four states! George is talking, talking, talking his was up and down the whole country, telling the people to get private social security accounts.

True, the other details of his plan are murky, and, as Wallsten and Havemann show, appear to shift from time to time. But anybody who knows George W. Bush knows he's not going to shift at all. That's what Grover Norquist said today, and he knows George W. Bush as well as anybody.

There isn't going to be any tax increase, tax-cut rollback or tax cap rise to pay for the corporatized Social Security accounts George W. Bush is selling to the good people of the United States right now. He's so sure people won't want more taxes that he can appear to entertain the idea, but just long enough to get the needed handful of wavering Democrats to the table.

"This reminds me of an old story," a certain old Republican president used to say.

I wonder what Lincoln would have thought of Bush's proposal, and of Bush himself, for that matter.

But surely both Grover Norquist and Bush are familiar with Homer's description in Book XII of the Odyssey:
First you will come to the Sirens
who enchant all who come near them. If any one unwarily draws in too
close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children
will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and
warble him to death with the sweetness of their song. There is a great
heap of dead men's bones lying all around, with the flesh still
rotting off them. Therefore pass these Sirens by, and stop your
men's ears with wax that none of them may hear...

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

over there

Today, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence held hearings on "Current and Projected National Security Threats to the United States." Goss and Mueller were followed by Vice Admiral Jacoby, Director of DIA and Tom Fingar, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence.

According to Katherine Shrader, who covered the hearings for the AP, CIA, FBI Warn Panel of Top Threats to U.S.

Goss indicated that proliferation and terrorism are the main threats and that
We must, and do, concentrate our effort, experience and expertise on the challenges that are most pressing: defeating terrorism; protecting the homeland; stopping proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and drugs; and fostering stability, freedom and peace in the most troubled regions of the world.
According to the AP's Shrader, one of Goss's most salient statements concerned the threat of Al-Quaida's continuing effort to
[find] ways to circumvent the U.S.'s security enhancements to attack the homeland.
Mueller went on to caution against "radicalized Muslim sleeper operatives inside the United States." He emphasized that,
I remain very concerned about what we are not seeing.
Mueller referred many times to the FBI's National Strategy For Counterintelligence. He emphasized domestic threats and our ongoing need to identify, disrupt and change behavior of "exploited institutions and individuals."

Overall, Shrader called our intelligence leaders' assessments "bleak".

Not to be outdone, Shrader informs us that Donald Rumsfeld
... also sent out a warning, telling the House Armed Services Committee he believes terrorists are regrouping for another strike. But he also said the United States is preparing to deal with any threat.

"The extremists continue to plot to attack again. They are at this moment recalibrating and reorganizing. And so are we," the Pentagon chief said.
It's interesting how the same story, as a reason to continue nuclear testing by the United States, appears on this week's front page of the Center for Security Policy.

Another Republican symphony played by think tanks, government appointees, and elected officials, conducted by Sir Donald Rumsfeld at the podium.

The Center for Security Policy has this quotation from Rumsfeld on their website:
Through the years, the Center for Security Policy has helped ensure a vigorous national security debate and, in so doing, has strengthened our national security, with energy, persistence and patriotism."

- Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
4 March 2001

They're promoting a removal of the ban on nuclear testing and more money for missile defense. That's what Mueller and Goss were singing about to the Senate Select Committee today.

Social security, education funding, tort reform ... it's all background music. The melody is being played by the basses and baritones. They sing an irresistable tune.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

question for Greenspan

As Josh Marshall pointed out yesterday, there seemed to be conflicting views in the administration between Alan Greenspan and George W. Bush over changes in Social Security.

He follows up on it today.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Next Crisis, please ...

The Congressional Budget Office released some new testimony on the Outlook for Social Security today.

Some of it came in the form of three Budgetary Perspectives, by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Director.
In 2008, the leading edge of the baby-boom generation will become eligible for early retirement benefits. Shortly thereafter, the annual Social Security surplus —the amount by which the program’s dedicated revenues exceed benefits paid— will begin to diminish (see Figure 1). That trend will continue until about 2020, when Social Security’s finances will reach a balance, with the revenues coming into the system from payroll taxes and taxes on benefits matching the benefit payments going out. Thereafter, outlays for benefits are projected to exceed the system’s revenues.

The key message from those numbers is that some form of the program is, in fact, sustainable for the indefinite future. With benefits reduced annually to match available revenue (as they will be under current law when the trust funds run out), the program can be continued or sustained forever.

Thank you, Director Holtz-Eakin.

But, meanwhile, over at the Commerce Department,

President Bush had to toss off his remarks concerning "our problem"
Some in our country think that Social Security is a trust fund -- in other words, there's a pile of money being accumulated. That's just simply not true. The money -- payroll taxes going into the Social Security are spent. They're spent on benefits and they're spent on government programs. There is no trust. We're on the ultimate pay-as-you-go system -- what goes in comes out. And so, starting in 2018, what's going in -- what's coming out is greater than what's going in. It says we've got a problem. And we'd better start dealing with it now. The longer we wait, the harder it is to fix the problem.
Josh Marshall was listening, too. Here's a relevant excerpt from his take on Bush's remarks
Following up on our earlier posts about the president's apparent desire to default on the US Treasury notes held by the Social Security Administration, two points ...

First, most of President Bush's personal wealth appears to be tied up in bonds. Do his get honored? Or is he out of luck too?

Second, what the president said today almost certainly violates his oath of office in which he swears to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

That would be the Constitution which reads (Am.XIV, Section 4): "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned."

-- Josh Marshall

Monday, February 07, 2005

Budget 2006

Today the Bush Administration released the new budget. It's going to take a bulldozer to sort out all the garbage in here.

Let's just start by saying that if the claims of the Office of Management and Budget are true, this is the rosiest time in our history.

On first glance, it's slick, but I noticed that in the EPA section, there is no mention of global warming whatsoever. That's strange because yesterday, the Independent had a whole series of articles on urgent warnings issued by 200 leading scientists meeting in Exeter, England to discuss climate change.


The Budget Director, Mr. Bolton, published an opinion piece in USA Today. The lies start in the second paragraph:
Early in the president's first term, the American economy suffered major shocks: a collapsing stock market, recession, terrorist attack, revelation of corporate scandals. These shocks sent revenues into a tailspin and produced budget deficits.
Mr. Bolton forgets to mention that government revenues were greatly decreased by huge tax cuts. He tries to say that the tax cuts were a response to economic difficulties, but everybody knows that Bush ran on a promise of "tax relief" before he ever got into office.

Jesselee at Stakeholder posted this yesterday:
WaPo's Dan Froomkin collects all the puzzle pieces and poses a hypothetical:

One Scenario
Okay, read that Bolten excerpt carefully, and tell me if this is a plausible scenario: Bush cuts Social Security benefits dramatically. As a result, the government never has to pay the Social Security trust fund back for all the Treasury bonds it has bought over the years with excess payroll taxes. That indeed reduces deficit pressures significantly, allowing the Bush tax cuts to become permanent.

As you may recall, the payroll tax is incredibly regressive -- because it's capped, the poor pay a much larger percentage of their income than the rich. As long as the money stays in the Social Security system, with its progressive payment formulas, they get paid back in their retirement with a better return. But in this scenario, a regressive tax on the poor would retroactively be subsidizing a tax cut that goes primarily to the wealthy.


The Bush plan for Social Security reform should be Dead on Arrival in Congress. Why?

Defaulting on the Trust Fund

Kevin Drum has figured it out. Bush has no intention of planning to pay the people back for the Treasury Notes in the Trust Fund.


The debate on privatization is over, or should be, on kos.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Nobody does it better

Look for to win some blogosphere award for one!

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Is that Joe Lieberman

With his lips on Dick?

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Good Point

After being named as the chief "do-nothing" Democrat economist/antagonist in the GOP Saving Social Security playbook, Paul Krugman strikes back with the ultimate in Social Security/Budget projection conundrums:
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.
The real dangers to the solvency of Social Security, at least within the actuarially forseeable future, are defense spending, homeland security spending, the Bush tax cuts, and Medicaid.

In AA we learned about not trying to fix problems in the future at the risk of avoiding problems we can fix in the present.

It's an elaborate form of denial, symptomatic of sick people.

hanging around oil

The Asia Times has a piece on the improbability of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, any time. Pepe Escobar doesn't quote anybody in the Bush Administration as going on the record to state that we're fostering internecine conflict and instability in Iraq. Escobar does mention, though, that
For many Iraqis, Sunni and Shi'ite, Washington's endgame is not withdrawal, but finding the right proxy government: only the naive may believe that an imperial power would voluntarily abandon the dream scenario of a cluster of military bases planted over virtually unlimited reserves of oil.

Washington doesn't even try to disguise it, and in Baghdad, US-appointed interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is widely referred to as either "the man from the Americans" or "Saddam without a moustache".

Then there's this, attributed to no one in particular and everyone in general:
As the Sunni resistance will inevitably become bloodier, balkanization is arguably the preferred Washington strategy - as is widely feared in the Sunni triangle.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Genesis 2:15

Bill Moyers wrote a stirring piece on the new faith-based politics and the Bush environmental policy.

As much as Christianity can be a portal into a broader perspective on unity, truth, restoration, reconciliation and even salvation, for all people, it is only available for those willing to look.

Moyers laments that, "And there is the danger: voters and politicians alike, oblivious to the facts."
Forty-five senators and 186 members of the 108th Congress earned 80 to 100 percent approval ratings from the three most influential Christian right advocacy groups.
Why is this a problem for us? Moyers fears the stakes of wielding our power in the world are too high for the traditional blundering of fools we call "the history of civilization."

Ok. We exterminated the buffalo, the Indian, the forests the coasts, the oceans the rivers the lakes. Why would anything be different now?

What's different now is that our capacity for destruction is so great. So Moyers was particularly disturbed that he read in the news that the Bush environmental staff comprise an administration
• That wants to rewrite the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act protecting rare plant and animal species and their habitats, as well as the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires the government to judge beforehand whether actions might damage natural resources.

• That wants to relax pollution limits for ozone; eliminate vehicle tailpipe inspections, and ease pollution standards for cars, sport-utility vehicles and diesel-powered big trucks and heavy equipment.

• That wants a new international audit law to allow corporations to keep certain information about environmental problems secret from the public.

• That wants to drop all its new-source review suits against polluting, coal-fired power plants and weaken consent decrees reached earlier with coal companies.

• That wants to open the Arctic [National] Wildlife Refuge to drilling and increase drilling in Padre Island National Seashore, the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world and the last great coastal wild land in America.

I read the news just this week and learned how the Environmental Protection Agency had planned to spend $9 million -- $2 million of it from the administration's friends at the American Chemistry Council -- to pay poor families to continue to use pesticides in their homes. These pesticides have been linked to neurological damage in children, but instead of ordering an end to their use, the government and the industry were going to offer the families $970 each, as well as a camcorder and children's clothing, to serve as guinea pigs for the study.

He's wondering how he's going to fight for his grandchildren, for the future. He sounded reasonable, eloquent and desperate.