"We Iraqis know that Americans have made and continue to make sacrifices for the Iraqi people. I have come here to thank you and to assure you that your sacrifices are not in vain...Today we are better off, you are better off, and the world is better off without Saddam Hussein." Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi before Joint Session of Congress, 9/23/04
March 08, 2005
MUST Read on Social Security Reform
Factcheck.org puts out one of the best discussions of the issues facing social security. If someone really believes there is not much of a problem, then read this to cure yourself of that affliction. The article also shows how damned difficult it is to permanently fix social security, even with "moderate" changes as proposed by Democrats or private accounts as proposed by the administration. The sad thing is that the most likely solutions which seem to be pushed forth today will completely unravel within 10 years, at which point we may very well be talking about "fixing" social security yet again.
One problem the factcheck article (which is only looking at the 75 year window) does not address is what happens in 2018 - the year when social security starts taking in less than it gives out. At that point, social security starts calling in the bonds from other arms of government. These bonds were given to social security in return for the excess social security cash and has traditionally been used to cover up budget deficits. In fact, almost 50% of the national debt is in the form of these bonds. Social security sees this debt as an asset and some mistakenly refer to this as a lockbox of some type. The only problem is that, as with any asset, there is a liability. This is a liability from other parts of government that must pay back the money they have "borrowed" from the social security trust fund. The money is going to have to come from somewhere, as either tax increases or budget cuts. How this issue is handled will directly influence the 75 year window as it could easily create issues in GDP growth which would then effect the social security 75 year horizon.
March 05, 2005
A Clinton Storm Brewing
When I first read blog posts (here, here, here and here) about the comments made by Bill Clinton regarding Iran, I thought it was a joke of some sort. Unfortunately, it does not seem that way. Notice of Clinton's remarks was sparked by this Amir Taheri article which questions Clinton's thinking.
The most baffling part of Clinton's comments is the following:
[It is] the only one with elections, including the United States, including Israel, including you name it, where the liberals, or the progressives, have won two-thirds to 70 percent of the vote in six elections: two for President; two for the parliament, the Majlis; two for the mayoralities.
In every single election, the guys I identify with got two-thirds to 70% of the vote. There is no other country in the world I can say that about, certainly not my own.
Does Clinton believe that Iranian elections are really free (someone needs to explain to him how the slate of officials are really chosen)? Does Clinton really "identify" with the liberals and progressives in Iran? Does he really have a CLUE what being a "liberal/progressive" politician in Iran means? Maybe he should find out what President Muhammad Khatami's views are on equal opportunity for women, or his stance on the acceptance of homosexuality by society, or his concepts of separation of "church" and state, or his ideas about tolerance of other religions. It sounds like Clinton might be in for a shock.
A "real" liberal, as most westerners would define it, in Iran is considered a heretic and can best be expected to be thrown in jail and definitely does not have the opportunity to run for political office in the Iranian system.
This may set off quite the storm. How adeptly Hillary can handle it should go a long way toward displaying how ready she is to run for President in 2008.
I actually though that Clinton, outside of the whole Lewinsky affair, was a decent President. Not the most honest or morally upright, but he did a decent job of stewarding this country. However, his comments really leave me wondering how smart a person he really is.
March 03, 2005
LA Times Puff Piece on North Korea
Just as one comes to the conclusion that the LA Times can't sink any lower, they put out an apologia for North Korea. Many people are not amused and Hugh Hewitt appropriately comes down on their editorial staff.
Imagine a 1938 Los Angeles Times piece, "Germany, Without the Rancor": "There is love among the Nazis. There is hate. There is fighting. There is charity....People marry. They divorce. They make blond children..."
"The Jews? Why always the Jews? Is there any country where there is a 100% guarantee of human rights? Certainly not the United States."
For a quick summary on conditions in North Korea, read even a few pages of this blue-ribbon report. Evidently no one at the Times has, not even their bureau chief in South Korea.
March 02, 2005
ADL Attacks Robert Byrd
I was wondering when the ADL was going to get pissed off with the left's usage of Hitler == Bush logic. Looks like Byrd is getting nailed over his latest remarks. This may put Dean in the spotlight as there will be a lot of people looking to see if the DNC will formally renounce Byrd's remarks. The interesting thing is that Byrd was not making a direct comparison as is so often done by anti-Bush folks, although his explanation is rather weasly - it's pretty obvious what he intended. Given Byrd's KKK background, he seems to be an easy target for the ADL to make their point with.
More info here with some background. Also, here is an article that discusses the growing movement of the Jewish vote from Democrats to Republicans. Byrd's comments won't help Democrats. He might also consider not following DigitalRoom's How to Win An Argument which points out that when being out-argued, one can't go wrong with the proverbial:
Compare your opponent to Adolf Hitler.
This is your heavy artillery, for when your opponent is obviously right and you are spectacularly wrong. Bring Hitler up subtly. Say: "That sounds suspiciously like something Adolf Hitler might say" or "You certainly do remind me of Adolf Hitler."
UPDATE: to those who asked, yes I am a programmer, ergo the use of a double equal. It was entirely unintentional though - just habit.
Let Them Rot?
Jonah Goldberg has some appropriate comments for Matt Yglesias's concepts of realpolitik. What is happening to American liberalism indeed. It's anchor has been lost. I never thought I'd see the day that a Republican president would become the leader of liberal internationalists (aka: neocons) and the left would be willing to allow dictatorships to oppress their people if it serves the purposes of realpolitik.
Having gotten that rant out of my system, Yglesias IS right to wonder if all this democracy talk will amount to a hill of beans, but talk about a limited vision.
Update: Liberals Against Terrorism has a good post about the crossroad Hezbollah now faces. It would indeed be interesting if Hezbollah is willing to give up terrorism in order to have a major seat at the political table. I won't be holding my breath, but it is indeed an interesting development and just goes to show nobody can predict how things might play out should democracy sweep through the middle east.
Rolling Stones Take on MoveOnGood article on MoveOn at Rolling Stone - its successes (almost non-existent: Dean as DNC head and contributing to changing the social security debate) and failures (too many to count).
"My view of MoveOn is that they're like muscular adolescents," says Rosenberg. "Their body has grown too quickly -- they're going to make mistakes."Good analogy. MoveOn will turn into a powerful adult when it can figure out how to capture the vitality of the angry left and combine it with appeals to the center of the political spectrum. If it can't accomplish that, it'll be gone as a meaningful force by 2010.
Don't Steal the Salad at Chuck E. Cheeseor you'll get Tasered.
Bill Kristol on Changing Minds
Bill Kristol has an excellent piece online for The Weekly Standard titled After 1/30/05. He goes over some of the anti-Bush minds that may be coming around on the usefulness of the Iraqi war in forcing a change in the middle east.When Walid Jumblatt and New York magazine are starting to wonder whether Bush was right or not, you know some seismic shifts are occuring in the international landscape.
A Democrat Hopes Democracy in the Middle East Does Not Work Out
And some wonder why the right may think there is the little itsy-bitsiest reason to think that SOME on the left harbor unpatriotic sentiment. Best of the Web hilights a Jon Stewart interview in which Clinton aide Nancy Soderberg states "There's always hope that this might not work" in referrence to peace spreading throughout the Middle East. Soderberg also goes on to state that Democrats might still be saved by something going wrong with Iran or North Korea. "Well, there's still Iran and North Korea, don't forget. There's hope for the rest of us." Soderberg does ultimately grudgingly give praise to Bush and, admitedly, this is the Jon Stewart show where the interviewees are expected to throw out red meat to the overwhelmingly liberal audience. However, some of the thinking does seem to be particularly ingrained and it gives rise to some of the questions of patriotism by the right.
At least Jon Stewart has been forcing his Democratic viewers to come to terms with the concept that maybe, just maybe, President Bush was right in forcing Democracy on the middle east at the point of a bayonette. Of course, things still may ultimately fail and Jon Stewart won't have to face his worst nightmares, but is that way of thinking one that is going to win over the majority of Americans? Is there any doubt about the REAL reason the Democrats had their heads handed to them in November?
Bush Might Win on Social Security by Losing
When it comes to social security, Bush may have bitten off more than he could chew. Although at the beginning of the year, it appeared that he might be able to take on the third rail of politics, it looks like now he may get burned. Atrios makes the appropriate point:"why would any sane Democrat even think about trying to give him a victory on this issue when there's no chance of a reasonable plan making it out of a conference committee?"
From a short-term political viewpoint, Atrios is entirely right. There is absolutely no point in handing Bush a political win and from a historical viewpoint, this may indeed shape up similarly to Clinton's healthcare debacle. This is a case where Bush's communication skills may come back to haunt him since someone with more rhetorical nuance may be better positioned to sell the issues with social security. However, a complete failure by Bush to make any changes whatsoever should send shivers down the back of any supporter of Social Security. Democrats' positioning on the matter may insure that if they win, social security will eventually be gutted because they will insure no meaningful discussion of social security occurs within the next decade. There does not seem to be a middle ground - give Bush personal accounts while insuring the necessary tax increases or benefit cuts that social security requires so it won't collapse under its own weight.
Democrats have gone to the history book and have used what they learned during HillaryCare to craft their defense. The problem for social security's supporters is that similarly to the resulting political landscape after Hillarycare, if Social Security reform falls by the wayside after this attempt, expect that no meaningful political effort will be exerted on its behalf for at least 2-3 more election cycles (not to mention that no politician will touch Medicare, a program with infinitely more problems, with a 10 foot pole). Bush certainly won't bring it up again and I doubt another Republican president will dare touch the third rail, especially in a first term. A Democratic president will be even more hamstrung since a major part of the Democratic defense is that Social Security is not really in that bad shape and President Bush is simply exagerating and lying about the problems it faces. After all the Democratic rhetoric expended over the last three months, it is difficult to picture the American public suddenly taking a Democrat at his/her word should they turn around again and say Social Security is in crisis and MUST be fixed before it is too late.
That leads this country to the brink of when ss starts to call in its IOUs from other parts of government that can not pay and either drastic benefit cuts, tax increases, or age eligibility changes will have to be made. Social security will no longer appear as a benefit but will increasingly be seen as a burden, especially by a younger generation that feels it is getting the shaft. At that point, even Bush's mild prescriptions will be laughed at as quaint and the changes to social security may make it completely unrecognizable. At that point, my guess is the presecription will be to totally eliminate a large class of beneficiaries which will do far more damage to social security than private accounts as it would become seen as a welfare program and not a universal benefit.
If Karl Rove, being the evil genius that he is, wanted to gut social security, I doubt he could have come up with a better plan than what is shaping up in this fight. Either the Republicans get something they want tacked onto social security (private accounts) or the Democrats successfully defeat Bush and he still wins because social security gets further weakened as no serious attempt to fix its problems occurs for at least the next decade. And not to mention that by taking up social security first, if Bush loses, he has insured that there won't be much stomach by either side for the even larger Medicare battle that must take place.
UPDATE: Of course, I might be completely wrong about nothing happening this year. It could be that the pressure on politicians to do something may be too great as suggested by Alan Greenspan and that both sides will put down their political posturing and come up with a compromise solution. Of course, that may be wishing for too much. Even if Bush does not get his private accounts but is able to get Congress to agree on some type of reform, he'll be able to claim the mantle of the "saviour of social security." I am not sure that is what either side wants - conservatives will not raise taxes (I don't see how any solution can not raise some taxes) and Democrats don't want to see a Republican, especially Bush, credited with saving social security.
If nothing happens this year, I revert to my previous comments.
On another related point, I have been watching some of these congressional town hall meetings that the press continues to spout about and it is interesting to see how white and how old the meetings are. Do people really believe that these meetings are "representative?" My guess is that the AARP movtivation wagon has done a great job of getting its grassroots out and that most younger people, who are already very pessimistic about seeing much from social security, are too busy working their asses off to be able to attend.
UPDATE: The latest Carville strategy memo points to some of what I am talking about. It notes that more people see Bush favorably as attempting to fix a big problem is social security than they see him as acting irresponsibly, even if they are not for personal savings accounts. An interesting point that Carville makes hilights what I see as the biggest long term problem for the Democrats in their current approach: "To say there is no problem, simply puts the Democrats out of the conversation for the great majority of the country who want political leaders to secure this very important government retirement program. Voters are looking for reform, change and new ideas, but Democrats seem stuck in concrete.” Carville admits that in his polling, a majority of people, even if they disagree on personal retirement accounts, believe that Democrats "don't have any particular ideas around retirement."
February 10, 2005
NY Times Willing Myopia over Nuclear ArsenalsThe NY Times wrote an editorial today castigating the administration over research on a new line of nuclear warheads.
This program sends a clear message to the rest of the world: now that the superpower arms race has ended, Washington sees nuclear weapons as an important part of its military strategy against small and midsize states. It should be no surprise if those nations conclude that they must develop nuclear weapons of their own.Has the Times noticed that China still has a large nuclear arsental and is at best an authoritarian regime that most feel will challenge the US for hegemony later in this century? Last I checked, they were making improvements in their long-range delivery systems. Is the Time's satisfied that Russia is somehow going down a road toward a pacifist democracy when all signs point to its returning to some of its most disturbing authoritarian tendencies? I think its a little premature for the Times to conclude that this country should not continue to develop that which has been its military backbone for the last 60 years. I also seriously doubt that even if we did not expand and improve our nuclear arsenal, that countries such as Iran would suddenly drop their nuclear weapons programs because of a less aggressive posture we were taking toward them. Iran's need for the bomb has less to do with protection from the US as it does with Israel and gaining military leverage over the EU which is all to willing to roll over and expose its belly.
February 08, 2005
The Rich and Farm SubsidiesInteresting to see who benefits from farm subsidies.
David Rockefeller, the former chairman of Chase Manhattan and grandson of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, who received 99 times more subsidies than the median farmer; Scottie Pippen, professional basketball star, who received 39 times more subsidies than the median farmer; Ted Turner, the 25th wealthiest man in America, who received 38 times more subsidies than the median farmer; and Kenneth Lay, the ousted Enron CEO and multi-millionaire, who received 3 times more subsidies than the median farmer.I think Bush is doing the right thing by going after farm subsidies. They distort the marketplace and really just help a small group of people who don't need the help. However, this is such an entrenched subsidy that Bush will actually have to work to push this through. Its one thing to propose these cuts - its another to expend political capital on it. I think he's got political capital to spare, but my guess is that social security reform is more important and when push comes to shove, this is being used as a bargaining chip in the larger ss fight.