(December 15, 2004 -- 9:40 AM EST
|Personal & Long-term
Yes, I am terrified. Mind you, not the complacent, iconic, SUV-sticker: Let's Support the Troops - as long as it it them and not me, kind of terror. Rather, I am petrified by a sinister attempt by a contemptuous, underhanded and wholly disingenious government to take my future security away from me. Is this a plot currently being hatched in some far-away capital? No, it it taking place, open and notoriously, in the halls of Congress, on the impetus from the White House.
The bastards want to privatize Social Security ! ! !
The Theft of Social Security
Question: What is so wrong with Social Security that it needs an immediate fix?
Question: Does the Social Security system have any inherent problems?
Answer: Sure - as currently administered, it will turn cash-negative, sometime in 2025.
Therefore, one may assume, the Social Security reform program, championed by President Bush, and swallowed as Koolaid by our GOP-led bobble-head Congress, will 'solve' the problem, in ways and with foresight only a paternalistic government looking out for the little fella', can.
Simply put, privatizing our Social Security system, does nothing more than force the US Government to go into massive, untenable debt 20 years before its time has come.
Other pundits, far more qualified than I, have commented on this important issue, Paul Krugman of the NY Times, Josh Marshall, one of my favorite bloggers, but let me give you here my own synopsis and kvetch. At the root of the problem, our government runs the largest insurance program in the world. But because it is a government, with the right to issue legal tender, it has set the program up in a way no insurance company would get away with. We, our nation, our government, take in insurance premiums in the form of a 16% tax on the first $90,000 each taxpayer makes a year, and we pay out, an average of $860 a month to every retired person who contributed to the system. Since its inception, this system has produces huge excesses of cash coming into our Treasury. And like sound fiscal managers, we have placed these excess cash contributions into a lockbox, into a portfolio, under a mattress, so as to be available when the positive cash flow turns negative, on or about 2025, right?
NO, unfortunately not. Congress never could stand to have ready cash sitting around, untouched, so the gonifs decided to account for the money, as though it were an ordinary tax receipt, and simply give the Social Security Administration, an IOU, for the money so taken. The political advantage of doing this is obvious - it is a lot easier to balance the budget if we count the net cash excess from Social security as 'income' - and so it has been, for about 70 years.
Clearly, the system, as presently constituted, must change, and such a change must be implemented over the next twenty years. If not, come 2025, the US Government will have to start incurring debt to pay out its social security obligations - something which is unfathomable, even considering the moral underpinnings of the current congress. Other remedies are available, such as raising the retirement age, or increasing the percentage amount of the social security tax, or the amounts subject to withholding. And actuarially, these increases would be rather significant. Our population had evolved dynamically quite a bit over the past century. When the Social Security system first went into effect, there were 16 wage earners for every retiree; now, the ratio is five to one, and by 2025, the ratio will be three to one.
Something has to be done - but let's be clever about it and figure out some options which are fair, make economic sense, and places priorities where they belong.
Let's deal with this issue, in terms of
Absence of a Safety Net,
SSA needs an immediate overhaul as urgently as Iraq needed an immediate, pell-mell, breathless invasion because of the imminent danger of some unavoidable horror happening. The SSA is under no risk of bankruptcy for the next 20 years. So let's leave it alone, especially as the US is currently burdened by the twin towers of record deficits and record negative trade and current account balances.
Privatizing Social Security: the trigger mechanism for the removal of America's fiscal support by the Far East. Currently, China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, as well as a smidgen of Middle East oil producers, are huge net investors in US Treasury Notes - they lap up, like so many trained pets, most of the debt instruments our Treasury spews out every month to finance our deficit and disturbingly growing trade imbalance. The question has loomed for several years, now - why are they doing it, and how long can we expect them to continue doing so, especially since the Euro now seriously challenges the greenback as a comfortable, solid means of maintaining currency reserves.
If and when (and it is probably only a question of when) these nations decide to de-emphasize the US$, the first sign will be that there are few if any buyers at our monthly Treasury auctions, and interest rates will suffer quite a hicup. The next stage is worse - when these net investor nations decide to slowly (one hopes) dispose of their gigantic hoards of Treasury Notes. Think bathroom wallpaper. You ain't never seen a basement bargain sale like that.
Back to the SSA. Suppose the GOP rams their program through Congress. Will it even work. Krugman doesn't think so - not because that's his opinion - his assessment is based on the simple fact that such a program has
never worked, and lots'a nations have tried it. Unfortunately, history and the lessons one learns from history, are fairy tales in the White House. We don't need no History - we make our own. And as you know, if you keep repeating the same lie over and over again, it takes on elements of truth, and with a few more mentions, voila - we have history, manufactured to order, in real time. Learning from one's own mistakes is Soooo pre 9/11 - a much sounder approach is simply to deny that mistakes never were made - it removes the temptation to say I'm sorry. When you are that close to the Almighty, you become almighty, yourself.
To understand the reason the White House believes the time is NOW and the impetus to reform Social Security must be heeded, it makes sense to look at the larger picture. What does the GOP stand for? Well, in the last election, many elements came to the forefront which had not yet been etched into the American conscience. Now, we all know:
The dividing lines set up as follows:
Above the water (the tip of the iceberg):
Moral High Ground versus Gay Rights
Pro-Life stance versus Women's Rights
Our (one and only Christian) God vs your semblance of God
or Godliness (if any)
- Garden of Eden Dream vs Evolution Facta
- Sanctity of the newly fertilized ovum vs stem cell application miracles
Not yet so obvious, but just as prevalent:
Mining & Energy Industries versus Breathers' Rights
- US Sovereign Policy versus the rest of the world's cares
- Preemptive brawn vs diplomatic finesse
- We are ordained to break treaties, but you can't
On the economic issues, there is a Leitmotif which can best be described as: Wealth vs quality of life for all.
Everything this administration does, has a dual requirement:
1) Disproportionally benefit the ruling class (read that as the wealthy)
2) Can be spun as 'good for everybody'
NOTE: If the second prerogative cannot be met, then the president can always pronounce that he is 'convinced' it is a good idea, and the public and the media will usually quell their inquiries. If the Preznit of the United States feels this way, how can we argue with it. After all he knows it all, cuz he never reads the papers. He gets his info and visions directly from God.
Some examples: the 2003 Tax refund and lowering of the Federal Income tax brackets.
It's your money
- $600 tax refund
- Annual savings in Federal Income Taxes: $350
- $400 increase in NY State Income Taxes
- $2500 increase in Real Estate (mostly school) Taxes
- 1% increase in local sales tax
- 25% increase in the cost of a subway fare in New York City
Direct and demonstrable causes, not merely coincidental development along independent chains of events.
In other words, the vaunted tax refund now cost me and my family at least $2800 a year How is that for a negative annuity. A one-time $600 'tip' from GWB which now costs me $2800 a year. Nice dribble-down economics, eh? (But then, I wasn't intended to be the beneficiary - the White House merely wanted me to Think I was getting some of my own money back from the "People's Choice".)
But look at how that very same program made sense for someone in the really high income tax brackets, like, say, Vice President Cheney. Let's do his math:
- $600 tax refund
- Annual savings in Federal Income Taxes: $91,000
- $8,000 increase in Washington DC Taxes
- $2500 increase in Real Estate Taxes (actually, he doesn't pay any - he lives for free in Blair House)
- 1% increase in local sales tax
- 25% increase in the cost of a Metro subway fare in DC (I doubt he has ever seen the insides of a Metro station)
In his case, the tax refund/lowered tax bracket program put him ahead by some $80,00 a year. Nice positive cash flow, eh?
Some other examples:
Medicare Overhaul - Cave in to Pharmaceuticals (imagine agreeing in advance to only purchase medications at LIST price). Have you ever attended a Oriental Rug sale? Rugs with a street price of $2000 are shown as being worth ten grand, then sold at a whopping 80% discount - for $2000. Get the gist of this? How long will it take the major pharmaceutical companies to double their list prices and then gleefully sell drugs to the US Government at full list?
As Clinton said - We are all patriots - that is not what is dividing us - we merely have different political attitudes
What it comes down to, is how to split up the pot
Wealth building vs expense of maintaining the working population
Looking at the working class in the same light as a rancher looks at his herd of cows
Keep the cost of upkeep as low as possible, without jeopardizing the quality of the beef
Mindful of spending too much on health and preventative medical costs - look at cost benefit of permitting some of the young heifers to die if the overall benefit of doing so, outweighs the cost of keeping the entire herd healthy
Attitude about troops - expendable raw materials for the war - like Humvees, except cheaper.
Attitude about overtime costs. Keeping down overtime costs and the minimum wage is a clear example of how easy it it to reward rich friends, the employers, by transferring economic benefits directly into their pockets, by withholding the same chits from falling into the pockets of the ungrateful minions.
Cynically, the US population is too high by about 30 million people.
If over the next three years 30 million American workers died off (above and beyond the statistically expected death rate), the economy, as currently constituted, would boom.
Unemployment would be a thing of the past
Outsourcing of jobs to third nations would not only not be a [politically sensitive] issue, it would absolutely become the thing to do, in order to SAVE the economy from inflation
The ratio of voters embracing wealthy, empowered Republicans versus the Democratically dominated blue collar electorate, would swing heavily in favor of the GOP
.Currently: Not a level field
Added benefit - there would be fewer retirees in the social security pool. Republicans do not rely on social security - they see it as a cancerous growth on their wealth-retention scheme, and they would just as well abandon the entire program. As it is the SS system is terribly regressive. Because only wages up to $90,000 are subject to SS taxes, workers are (essentially, for the most part) taxed on their entire earnings, whereas executives making millions in salaries are only taxed on the first $90,000 of wages, and any investment income is exempt from SS taxes. Grantedly, the benefits paid to SS recipients are based only on an indexed sum of wages earned upon which SS taxes were paid, but still, were there NO limit on the amount of wages subject to SS taxes, the entire benefit scheme tilts towards conferring better (comparative) benefits to the lower strata of wage earners, at the expense of those with high wages.
Elimination of estate taxes.
Huge transfer of wealth to the top 1 %, tipping the scales even further away from equilibrium. And let's not kid ourselves about who pays for the elimination of estate taxes. We all do. The 90 Billion historically raised via taxation of wealth transfers from one generation to another within the truly wealthy, constituted a reliable portion of the total intake of the US Treasury. Once that income stream is cut off, it must be repalced with alternative fees or taxes, certainly much more broad-based; therefore, you and I absolutely will subsidize the tax-free handing off of family wealth to the sons and daughters of the super-rich.
Rangers - $250,000 - all you need is one thousand Rangers, and then you don't have to go any further. Small circle, clique of CEO's
Oh, we forgot to mention Wall Street in our analysis about why the Government so badly wants to reform the Social Security program. There is a chance that the 40 million of wage earners, many of whom are clueless about the difference between a stock and a bond, would be herded to Wall Street's retail brokerage houses. The Ka-Ching reverberating among the tall buildings lining the canyons of Wall Street would be a welcome cacophony to an industry which has been bedeviled for several years by unwholesomely low bonuses. This would perk the Street right up again, like a giant Starbucks horn of plenty.
Interesting investment opportunity. Lisa Marie Presley, it seems, wants to cash in on the annuity stemming from her position as sole heir to the Elvis estate. Reported at a cool fifty Mill a year, this revenue stream of mostly royalty payments must have a wondrous bottom-line effect - yet she is selling out at a mere twice-revenue ratio. Good for the buyer - that's some deal - but wait, he intends to place the assets he acquires into a public company - very smart, in the IPO he raises enough money to pay the 100Mill to Lisa Marie, and in the end he ends up owing, for a zero net investment, a large percent of this divine income stream. Look into it - there may be an opportunity to purchase an aliquot interest in a solid royalty annuity here, as a small-time investor in the public company-to-be.
(October 4, 2004 -- 9:40 AM EST // link)
I asked a 28-year-old engineer if he and his family would participate in
the Iraqi elections since it was the first time Iraqis could to some degree
elect a leadership. His response summed it all: "Go and vote and risk being blown into pieces or followed by the insurgents and murdered for cooperating with the Americans? For what? To practice democracy? Are you joking?"
From: [Wall Street Journal reporter] Farnaz Fassihi
Read the entire, chilling account..Scroll down to the 9/29 entry.
Tom Friedman is back at his op/ed desk at the NY Times. Read how pissed he is. Interesting sponsor.
(September 25, 2004 -- 9:40 AM EST // link)
This What-If scenario, by Juan Cole, blows your mind. It is repeated here in its entirety. His blog is a must-read.
(May 13, 2004 -- 9:40 AM EST
If America were Iraq, What would it be Like?
President Bush said Tuesday that the Iraqis are refuting the pessimists and implied that things are improving in that country.
What would America look like if it were in Iraq's current situation? The population of the US is over 11 times that of Iraq, so a lot of statistics would have to be multiplied by that number.
Thus, violence killed 300 Iraqis last week, the equivalent proportionately of 3,300 Americans. What if 3,300 Americans had died in car bombings, grenade and rocket attacks, machine gun spray, and aerial bombardment in the last week? That is a number greater than the deaths on September 11, and if America were Iraq, it would be an ongoing, weekly or monthly toll.
And what if those deaths occurred all over the country, including in the capital of Washington, DC, but mainly above the Mason Dixon line, in Boston, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco?
What if the grounds of the White House and the government buildings near the Mall were constantly taking mortar fire? What if almost nobody in the State Department at Foggy Bottom, the White House, or the Pentagon dared venture out of their buildings, and considered it dangerous to go over to Crystal City or Alexandria?
What if all the reporters for all the major television and print media were trapped in five-star hotels in Washington, DC and New York, unable to move more than a few blocks safely, and dependent on stringers to know what was happening in Oklahoma City and St. Louis? What if the only time they ventured into the Midwest was if they could be embedded in Army or National Guard units?
There are estimated to be some 25,000 guerrillas in Iraq engaged in concerted acts of violence. What if there were private armies totalling 275,000 men, armed with machine guns, assault rifles (legal again!), rocket-propelled grenades, and mortar launchers, hiding out in dangerous urban areas of cities all over the country? What if they completely controlled Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Denver and Omaha, such that local police and Federal troops could not go into those cities?
What if, during the past year, the Secretary of State (Aqilah Hashemi), the President (Izzedine Salim), and the Attorney General (Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim) had all been assassinated?
What if all the cities in the US were wracked by a crime wave, with thousands of murders, kidnappings, burglaries, and carjackings in every major city every year?
What if the Air Force routinely (I mean daily or weekly) bombed Billings, Montana, Flint, Michigan, Watts in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Anacostia in Washington, DC, and other urban areas, attempting to target "safe houses" of "criminal gangs", but inevitably killing a lot of children and little old ladies?
What if, from time to time, the US Army besieged Virginia Beach, killing hundreds of armed members of the Christian Soldiers? What if entire platoons of the Christian Soldiers militia holed up in Arlington National Cemetery, and were bombarded by US Air Force warplanes daily, destroying thousands of graves and even pulverizing the Vietnam Memorial over on the Mall? What if the National Council of Churches had to call for a popular march of thousands of believers to converge on the National Cathedral to stop the US Army from demolishing it to get at a rogue band of the Timothy McVeigh Memorial Brigades?
What if there were virtually no commercial air traffic in the country? What if many roads were highly dangerous, especially Interstate 95 from Richmond to Washington, DC, and I-95 and I-91 up to Boston? If you got on I-95 anywhere along that over 500-mile stretch, you would risk being carjacked, kidnapped, or having your car sprayed with machine gun fire.
What if no one had electricity for much more than 10 hours a day, and often less? What if it went off at unpredictable times, causing factories to grind to a halt and air conditioning to fail in the middle of the summer in Houston and Miami? What if the Alaska pipeline were bombed and disabled at least monthly? What if unemployment hovered around 40%?
What if veterans of militia actions at Ruby Ridge and the Oklahoma City bombing were brought in to run the government on the theory that you need a tough guy in these times of crisis?
What if municipal elections were cancelled and cliques close to the new "president" quietly installed in the statehouses as "governors?" What if several of these governors (especially of Montana and Wyoming) were assassinated soon after taking office or resigned when their children were taken hostage by guerrillas?
What if the leader of the European Union maintained that the citizens of the United States are, under these conditions, refuting pessimism and that freedom and democracy are just around the corner?
How to Lose a War
The ever-insightful professor Cole nails it.
My own view is that Muqtada has now won politically and morally. He keeps throwing Abu Ghuraib in the faces of the Americans. He had his men take refuge in Najaf and Karbala because he knew only two outcomes were possible. Either the Americans would back off and cease trying to destroy him, out of fear of fighting in the holy cities and alienating the Shiites. Or they would come in after Muqtada and his militia, in which case the Americans would probably turn the Shiites in general against themselves. The latter is now happening.
The Americans will be left with a handful of ambitious collaborators at the top, but the masses won't be with them. And in Iraq, unlike the US, the masses matter. The US political elite is used to being able to discount American urban ghettos as politically a cipher. What they don't realize is that in third world countries the urban poor are a key political actor and resource, and wise rulers go out of their way not to anger them.
Same thing holds true in India. The overthrow of the current regime was totally unexpected by the ruling party - but the slums sent their denizens to the polls. That'll do it every time.
(May 7, 2004 -- 9:40 AM EST
Exit Plan for Iraq
Fall of Saigon - April 29, 1975
One Picture = 1,000 Bloody Recommendations
(May 6, 2004 -- 9:40 AM EST
Outrage Outrage Outrage
Here is the REAL outrage. As devastating as the release of the disgusting,
dehumanizing prison images are, what makes me truly boil in anger, is the fact that
hadn't it been for Sy Hersh's
solid piece of investigative reporting,
the world would never have seen hide nor hair of these haunting images.
An internal Army investigation three months ago found evidence of widespread, systemic atrocities, but the seriousness of the crimes committed was somehow never recognized within the military, and efforts were made to make sure that the Pentagon, White House and POTUS were not embarrassed by having first-hand knowledge of the details. And, of course, the bad apples were permitted to remain in their positions of power.
Apparently, our military is conditioned to shield our Nation's leadership from the
agony and shame associated with personal knowledge of Human Rights abuses.
It is apparent that the Don't Ask - Don't Tell policy of the Armed Forces applies to more than merely a private's sexual preference. It also has become the manifest
Pentagon policy regarding operational failures, strategic screw-ups, and planning disasters.
How many more of these sordid and embarrassing disclosures of abject incompetence must we endure? I am getting sick and tired of hearing our leadership trivializing their own incompetence, or lack of foresight and planning,
by a dismissive claim of 'how could we possibly have predicted THAT'
Examples: the events of 9/11, the leadup to the Iraq war, the looting of the Baghdad Museum, the insurgency operating in the relative void created from the total dissolution of Iraq's military and security apparatus - the list goes on and on and on and on and on and NO ONE in the Administration has a clue that it would be really nice if they would at least learn from their own mistakes.
Instead, they simply continue their policy of dismissing as insignificant and isolated any screw-up, and they carry on with the only exceptional skill they possess: spinning and manipulating the media and the public at large into a belief that Kerry is worse than they, and that, in any event, the blame really lies with the
Clinton Administration, aided by a few disgruntled former loyal Administration officials who recently have become deranged and now inexplicably have turned into sour-grape critics of the current administration and busy themselves spreading false rumors and scurrilous innuendos about the competence and trustworthiness of high-level administration officials, including the court-appointed President.
Well, I say that it is time to tell President Bush and his entire entourage: You're FIRED
Respectfully, you have had more than enough on-the-job training. Regretfully, this noble experiment simply didn't work - your learning curve has been nothing but disappointment - and now we need to put somebody in place who can plan and execute without having his staff spend the majority of their time cleaning up the President's messes.