Friday, May 27, 2005

Thoughts on Hillary in 08

USA Today's poll says, for the first time, that a majority of Americans would likely vote for Hillary Clinton, should she run for President. Naturally, a poll in 2005 has little meaning on events in 2008. But, it does get you thinking. Conventional wisdom has generally been that she's such a divisive figure that, though she could win the nomination, she'd get trounced in a general election. We won't know until she tries. But, this poll shows her negatives falling and her positives rising. So, it's good news for her.

Hillary is, like Bill, a centrist Democrat. Voting for her would entail making compromises from me, just like voting for Bill did. Of course, after 8 years of Bush, I'm certainly less likely to oppose the Democratic nominee in 2008. Voting for Nader was fine when I felt sure Gore would win, or that Clinton would be re-elected. But it doesn't seem fine anymore.

It also might be that the Republicans kind of blew their wad criticzing her while she was first lady. Bringing up things like Whitewater, Travelgate and her old healthcare plan would only serve to remind voters of the Republicans' unpopular attempt to kick her twice-elected husband out of office.

Of course, they'll go right after her with all sorts of personal and professional attacks. But, Hillary, unlike John Kerry, is a real fighter in that arena (as Bill had been) and she'll surround herself with real fighters like the people who worked on her husband's campaigns. I think that this is why her popularity is rising. Democrats, after the last election where the genteel John Kerry seemed afraid to wade into the muck, and to fight hard, would like a fighter now.

I still think she's a divisive figure and I think she could well lose in a disaster, but... if she loses, she'll go down fighting and she'll inflict some damage. It would be nice to see the Republicans try to deal with a target that hits back.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Filibuster III: Revenge of the Frist

Well, so much for the opposition party.

Republicans were threatening to destroy the Senate's filibuster rules, as they apply to confirming Presidential appointments. See, the Republicans have a majority, but not the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster and take all nominees to a "yay" or "nay" vote in the full senate, which would usually go according to party lines.

Never mind that the Republicans, as a minority Senate party during the Clinton years used all sorts of procedural rules to stop Clinton's nominees. This is the new era and history means nothing.

If Republicans got rid of the filibuster, a key weapon for minority parties (if they're a slim minority) then Democrats said they'd shut down the Senate by becoming procedural nitpickers. We were heading for all out war.

Then the Democrats caved in to a ridiculous compromise. We won't get rid of the filibuster, said the Republicans, if you don't filibuster nominees except in extreme cases. Of course, we have no idea what constitutes an "extreme case." It probably involves a nominee who hisses, shoots lightning from his finger tips and screams "You don't know the power of the Dark Side!"

That means that Priscilla Owen, who once waited a year and a half to rule on a case between a dying patient and his insurance company, so that the patient had died by the time she delivered her verdict (in favor of the insurance company) and was thus, being dead (let's call this habeas corpsus) was unable to appeal... will face an easy confirmation vote so that she can take her seat on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Nice.

C'mon, Dems, I know Senate politics are a matter of collaboration. But when your role is always "bend over" then there's a problem.

This just in: on hearing the news, Priscilla Owen aprently laughed evilly, shot lightning out of her finger tips and hissed, "you don't know the power of the Dark Side!" At least it gets Dick (Palpatine) Cheney hot.

Viagra for Sex Offenders! (I'm For it.)

Yeah, there's a big flap going on about the fact that 200 convicted sex offenders received Viagra prescrptions, subsidized by Medicaid. It's leading folks to say we're subsidizing rapists.

Take a deep breath, everybody. Take a step back.

Medicaid subsidizes the treatment and drug costs of low income Americans. Now, if you want to say that Viagra shouldn't be covered, that's fine, though the implication then is that rich people should have access to it and that poor folk shouldn't. Still, it's a debate we could have. As it stands now, it's covered.

But to sex offenders? Are you being ludicrous, Mike?

I don't think so. Medicaid isn't supposed to dole out assistance based on a person's criminal history. You don't deny a flu shot to a convicted burglar. Ex-cons are as eligible for Medicaid as any one else, and, yes, ex-cons pay taxes and are still citizens so can expect to be treated like anyone else by a government run program like Medicaid.

And no, the government isn't subsidizing rape, pedophilia or anything like that. It's subsidizing medicine, which is what it's supposed to do.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

GEtting German Spam?

Here's why.

It's a virus that some people have contracted that sends whacky German spam to people's address books. On thing I was glad to see in the Computer World story linked to above is that, even though I don't speak German, I followed some of the links and thought "my, what weird, Nazi style racial overtones." I visited Berlin and Munich a few years ago, working on a story, and I did learn there, from a lot of people in my age group, that Germans get more than a little miffed about the perception that everything in German culture is somehow related to racism, Naziism or the like. So, I felt bad for thinking that (hey, I couldn't read the text)...

No reason to feel bad, it seems. The links do tend towards ultra-nationalistic, racist web sites.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The War Over the War Continues

If only for the sake of history, maybe we do need to make sure that the world knows that the war in Iraq was inevitable, no matter what the WMD evidence turned up. Bush had his mind made up about this one years before. Here's the text of an email I just received (from a reliable person) that tells you what you can do about it:

This article ( talks about the smoking gun British intelligence memo (,,2087-1593607,00.html) that proves Bush had already decided to go to war in the summer of 2002.

It also talks about the appalling lack of media coverage that this story has gotten here in the states, and the eight-eight congressional Democrats who recently sent a letter to the White House asking for a
response to this memo. (

Was this letter covered by the media at all? Was this memo covered at all? Has the media talked at all about the implications of this memo?

If you are able, please take a moment and read the article, and contact the editors named, at the New York Times, and Washington Post urging them to give this story the coverage it deserves. Also, take a moment and contact your local papers and demand coverage for this story.

From the original article:

* First, send a message to the New York Times and the Washington Post, demanding that they cover this most significant of stories. Top brass at the New York Times can be emailed at the following addresses: Executive
Editor Bill Keller at <>, and Managing Editor Jill Abramson at <>. For the Washington Post, try National Editor Michael Abramowitz at <>, and Associate Editor Robert Kaiser at <>.

* Next, forward this article on to everybody you know, and ask them to write the Times and the Post as well, and then to forward this article in turn to everyone they know. With some luck, perhaps we can achieve a critical mass which can no longer be ignored by these papers, with the electronic media then to follow.

In any case, we are evidently going have to take this country back ourselves, without even the benefit of a competent media to report the news.

Newsweek and the Riots

By now, you're all aware that Newsweek has issued a mea culpa about a story in it May 23rd issue in which writers Michael Isikoff and John Barry reported on a source's contention that military interrogators at Guantanomo Bay had flushed a copy of a prisoner's Koran down a toilet. The story, says Newsweek, "sparked angry and violent protests across the Muslim world from Afghanistan, where 16 were killed and more than 100 injured, to Pakistan to Indonesia to Gaza. In the past week it was condemned in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Malaysia and by the Arab League. On Sunday, Afghan Muslim clerics threatened to call for a holy war against the United States."By now, you've no doubt heard people blaming the liberal media, or blaming the media in general for being careless and sparking these riots. I don't think any of this is true and I think that Newsweek went too far in it's apology.

First, in defense of the writers: Sources do make mistakes. Sometimes great sources make mistakes. One thing you try to do, as a journalist, is to verify what people are telling you. Sometimes, it's easy. If a source tells you that George Washington was at the Gettysburg Address you can pretty easily figure out that the source is wrong. But, in this case -- the source tells you that soldiers at Gitmo flushed a Koran down a toilet, what can you do? Well, first, I guess you call the Pentagon and they deny it. Does that prove the source wrong, though? No, the Pentagon tells lies and half truths all the time. All this tells you is that the Pentagon denied it, not that your source is wrong.

Next, you ask if it's possible to flush a book down a toilet. You realize quickly that, yes, if you tear the pages out, it's pretty easy.

Of course, you ask if its plausible that our troops would behave this way. Uh... yes, it is.

One point of contention here is that the Newsweek source backed off from the story, after the fact. Originally, they said this would be in a Pentagon report. The Pentagon says they investigated this, it never happened, and it's not in the report. The source hedged, saying maybe it was in a draft report. Again, though, we're judging truth here by what the Pentagon chooses to release in its reports. I'm not prepared to say "it didn't happen" based on that."

Count two against Newsweek is that its story caused the riots. Even Newsweek admits to this. I think it's a childishly simplistic view of the events. Sure, the Newsweek story made people angry,but the riots and demonstrations weren't caused by one news story or one accusation. The demonstrators have a litany of complaints. Had our behavior in those prison camps and in the two countries we now occupy not been so shoddy, one could imagine that this story would not have sparked riots and demonstrations. The White House and the Pentagon will be happy to blame all of this on Newsweek, but come on... the real problem here is that even most mainstream Americans, on the left and right, read a story about a US soldier desecrating the sacred Muslim book and think, in context of what they already know: "well, sure he did." They don't hate us because of some little story in Newsweek that can be retracted into oblivion. They hate us for patterns of behavior that stretch back years in the case of prisoner abuse and decades when you consider our support for dictatorships in the Middle East.

Let's not miss the larger view here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Okay, now we're going crazy.

Dailykos has a fun bunch of posts about why avidly pro-war bloggers, radio personalities and preachers don't enlist or, at the very least encourage their audiences and supporters to enlist. The military has a bit of a recruiting crisis. It was easy when it was all about "free college" and "learning job skills" but now it's all about getting shot at in either Iraq or Afghanistan. The Reserves and National guard are especially hurt since the unspoken and unkept promise was always that it was exceedingly unlikely for them to be sent into battle.

But, is it really fair to those on the pro-war side to demand that they enlist, have their children enlist or be hypocrites?

It certainly sounds fair and it took my awhile to come up with why this notion is entirely wrong.

The military serves the civilian population. This is a good thing because there are plenty of countries around the world where the opposite is true (our "allies" in Pakistan, for example). The second you start saying that say, Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh should either sign up or shut up, you're making it logically impossible for yourself to vote against a President with no military service record. If a pundit who hasn't served can't be pro-war, then how can a pesident who has never served send troops into battle? Obviously, most people are fine with a president who has no, or a scant, service record. Clinton and Bush will rack up 16 years between them, after all. This will only get more common, of course, as we move away from the conscripted generations of the World Wars, Korea and Viet Nam.

Do I think that people who haven't or will never serve should be damned careful to think about the real people they're calling on to risk their lives and health? Of course. But whether you're on the left or the right, one thing that is true in America now and will hopefully be true in the future, is that civilians have the right not only to have an opinion about military operations but to ultimately direct military operations.

I still think the war in Iraq was wrong. The people who support it are wrong. But they surely have a right to their opinions, whether they served or not.

Monday, May 09, 2005

An even CHEAPER Social Security fix

Take the $87 billion initially devoted to the war in Iraq. Invest it in stocks and bonds for an average 6% return over 65 years... you get: $3,840,612,533,192.53.

More than DOUBLE Social Security's supposedly projected shortfall.

The war in Iraq wasn't a national emergency. Potential Social Security shortfalls are a national emergency. If we could allocate $87 billion, with little debate, to the war in Iraq, than why not to Social Security?

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Well, Solving Social Security was easy!

I couldn't help it, I had to do this.

I went to a compound interest catalogue on the Web and asked it the following question...

If we took $200 billion, the amount of money we've spent on Iraq and Afghanistan, and invested the money in bonds and equities for 65 years, getting a 6% return (a low estimate for an equity portfolio)... we would get $8,828,994,329,178.23 by 2070. The supposed shortfall in the trust fund is only $1.3 trillion.

If we only invested the money for 35 years, we'd get $1.5 trillion, enough to make the system solvent in 2040 when payouts would start to exceed tax receipts.

Or, let's say you think my investing the money in stocks and corporate bonds is too risky. So, assume a 3% return for 65 years, which could be done by investing, as we do now, in US Treasury bonds. We'd have $1.36 trillion in 2070 -- enough for solvency and an extra $600 billion dollars.

And all we'd have to do is divert $200 billion from elsewhere in the budget and we'd only have to do it once. That's less than half the Pentagon's budget, by the way. The Pentagon would only have to do without for one year. Their budget could return to normal the following year. No taxes raised, no benefits cut, problem solved.

I used this calculator.

Oh, and Wisdom from Charles Krauthammer...

This one is rich.

He starts by saying that the Democrats "lured Bush out onto a far limb on Social Security..." Hello? This was Bush's idea! He chose this issue, thinking he could make it seem like the Democrats were doing nothing while disaster loomed, and it bit him in the backside. Bush didn't get lured anywhere. It's just that his opponents didn't do anything to stop him from wandering into traffic.

Anyway, Krauhammer wants you to know that your benefits aren't really being cut under this plan -- you're just get less money. Actually he can't bring himself to be that blatant so he admits, with a sigh, "Yes, these are cuts, but only in the growth of promised benefits in the future -- based on formulas written in the pre-baby boomer retirement era that so inflate benefits that they are entirely unsustainable. They cannot possibly be paid by the taxes of the fewer workers in the future who will be supporting the many retirees."

Actually this is stupid. Workers today are 5 times more productive than they were during the pre-Baby Boom years. Five times more productive. It means they're creating 5 times the goods and services that workers in the past did. So, really, because individual workers are so much more effective, fewer workers should be able to hold up the Social Security system. If they're not able to do so, it's because wages (and thus the taxes collected on those wages) haven't risen fast enough to justly compensate workers for their new productivity. And who's fault is that?

Anyway, Krauthammer says, the cuts won't be so bad. Krauthammer, for one thing, says that they're only for "Wealthy" Americans. He doesn't mention the Middle Class, or people earning just 20 grand a year. See, he's already using the Brooks trick. It's just Donald Trump who's giving anything up!

Krauthammer then explains, correctly, that the cuts move from changing Social Security increases from growing along with wages to growing along with prices. Wages only grow 1% faster than prices, he says, so it's just a 1% cut. This seems misleading. Wages are a bigger pool than prices. So, 1% of wages is more, in dollar terms than the equivalent of 1% of prices. Remember this shift to price ndexing only works because it reduces the growth of benefits.

It also ignores the reason that we're wage indexed, rather than price indexed, in the first place. The benefits are supposed to keep up with society at large and it's the prevailing wage, more than the prevailing price of goods, that determine living standards. Pretend its 1980 and you've made a dumb agreement with your boss: "give me a raise equal to annual price inflation every year and I will work for you forever and never ask for another thing." Guess what you would have in 2005? A 1980 living standard. Whatever you could have bought in 1980, you could buy now. But, you'd be able to get nothing more. On average, people in 2005 live better than people in 1980. But price indexed you, would be left out.

David Brooks Exposes a Key Rhetorical Trick in the Social Security Debate

Everybody picks on David Brooks, so I try not to do it too often. In the Times today, though, he exposes a Republican lie about Bush's Social Security plan that everyone should watch out for.

Call it the "Bush is a progressive" swerve.

Here are Brooks' own words: "He's asking middle- and upper-class folks to accept benefit cuts so there will be money for the people who are really facing poverty.

He has asked us to redistribute money down the income scale. Why should programs for children and families be strangled so Donald Trump can get bigger benefit checks?"

See, Brooks' editors won't let him print an outright lie, so he has to admit that the Bush plan calls for benefit cuts on the middle-class. What he doesn't tell you is that under the Bush plan, the "middle class" starts at the paltry income of $20,000 a year. But, more tellingly, he immediately switches topics. He mentions the middle class cuts but he talks about Donald Trump, as if the Donald is really the one bearing the burden here.

Brooks is even angry about Bush opponents who bring up the middle class cuts, rather than his more comforting "take it from Trump" angle: "The Democratic leadership has dropped all that shared sacrifice talk and started making demagogic appeals to people's narrow self-interest. Nancy Pelosi cries out that Bush's progressive indexing idea means 'cutting the benefits of middle-class seniors.'"

So, I get it, Mr. Brooks. We're all supposed to make the sacrifice, but we're not allowed to debate it. I can see why Brooks wants to avoid this debate. To write an honest column supporting the Bush Social Security plan, he needs to come out and say that he believes that the middle class, broadly defined, has it easy enough that they should give up their retirement benefits. He'll have to face criticism from middle class retirees who, even under the current system, are just scraping by. He would have to answer that criticism by telling them what they could or should do without. He'd have to take the very hard to defend position that the vast majority of American retirees deserve less than they'regetting, in the face of a reality that tells us that they probably deserve more.

It's funny, but when Bush wanted to cut taxes, he gave more to the rich than to anyone else. But when it comes to a plan that takes something from the rich, well, everybody right down to a person make 20 grand a year has to sacrifice. To further the debate on Bush's Social Security Plan, people like Brooks want to conflate the middle and upper classes. But they've never done that before, not on any other issue.

They want you to hink about The Donald getting a monthly check that even he'd admit that he doesn't need. While you're thinking about that, they'll actually be picking your pocket.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Tony Blair Stays... But Wounded

So, the British elections were the story of the week. For those who don't know, the British vote for their members of Parliament who then pick the prime minister, so the whole thing is a mix of local issues and a referendum of the guy in charge. Tony Blair will win an unprecedented third term as Prime Minister from the Labour Party, but he was greatly wounded in these elections.

His party once had a 161 seat majority. They're now down to 66. The Liberal Democrat party, their version of our Deaniacs, made impressive gains, as did the Tories who have been an ineffective opposition to Blair for a decade now. Blair won, but it was hardly a victory he could gloat about.

Blair's support for the war in Iraq, against the sentiment of voters in his country, hurt him the most. I think that commentators in the US, who criticized France and Germany over not supporting the war, should take note of this. In a democracy, leaders can't just ignore the will of the people. Blair has done a good job for England and he's really a Clintonesque figure who has found an effective way of pushing a liberal agenda while still embracing free markets and strong defense and his impressive record let him squeak by. A lesser politician, or a leader of a democracy that was more anti-war than the British would have been creamed. So, I think the critics of "old Europe" need to at least acknowledge that the leaders who opposed us in Iraq had an obligation to their people. Blair messed up on that front and his party suffered for it.

I've been saying that all along. Fine, I was against the war from the start, so seeing opposition in France and Germany was pleasing to me. But, I always said, if you respect democracy than you really can't criticize the leaders of those countries, or of Spain, which changed governments mid-war due to anti-war voters, or of Italy, where the population has recently turned against the war, just for listening to the will of their people.

If you really respect democracy, you're not sad for the Labour losses in Britain. You realize that Labour made the mistake of defying its own voters. This might be a tragedy for Blair, but I think it's good news for democracy. The people took note of his good record and kept him. But they also took note of his defiance and they punished him for it.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Don't Panic (British Consulate Explosion)

I'm late, but, a quick post on the explosion outside of the British Consulate in Manhattan:

It took place just before 4 am, or, around when the polls opened in Britain.

Nobody was hurt.

It was, apparently, some freaking toy grenades loaded with real gun powder. Penny ante terrorism, at best. This was a street-crime level event. Heck, there were probably more important, or more violent street crimes committed in the city last night.

I'm not to saying that people couldn't have been hurt or that this wasn't a bad thing.

But dealing with terrorism is all about "keeping perspective." Let's see if perspective is kept in this case. This was hardly the Madrid Rail Bombing in its scope. It also might be the act of one of the city's many paranoid weirdos and not any organized terrorist group. If it was the act of an organized terrorist group, it shows how their capabilities, at least in New York, have diminished.

So, keep an eye out for the xenophobes, the enemies of civil liberties and the security hawks to try to make more of this than it really was. Exageration is a tool for a lot of those types.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

It's Too Early To Talk About Benefit Cuts

Sorry I can't link to this, but The Wall Street Journal keeps most of its content for paid subscribers only: Today, Robert Pozen defending his aggressive plan to means test Social Security on the Journal's Op-Ed pages. I was surpised by a few of his statements, which I'll summarize and respond to.

First, he says that his plan doesn't involve cuts in benefits. It does, of course, promise smaller payouts than the current plan promises, but, he argues that the current plan can't make good on its promises anyway. His plan, he says, pays out more than a bankrupt Social Security system will be able to.

This point completely messes up the debate. What our politicians should be doing is figuring out a way to meet the current system's obligations and promises. It's frankly too early in the discussion to just accept that the current system can't be saved with all promises intact and we're only hurting ourselves to accept Pozen's proposal right away.

One proposal would be to simply tax earnings over $90,000 a year the way earnings below $90,000 are taxed, creating a Social Security flat tax, of sorts. I'd go with a progressive system and actually cut the rate on earnings below $90,000 a year and put in a slightly higher rate on earnings above. One of Pozen's objections to any sort of tax increase on higher wage earners is that it's somehow unfair to the rich. But I'm not sure how it's more unfair than Pozen's plan, which cuts benefits for everybody making over $20,000 a year.

But, fine, leave the tax system the way it is and simply make Social Security a more important part of the over-all budget. If you think about it, it's amazing that we found $200 billion for foreign occupations and found money for big Pentagon budget increases but that we somehow can't afford Social Security. And what's been the effect of our military spending anyway? It's created an international mood of fear that has driven oil prices (along with toehr commodities) through the roof and stagnated our economy, which would otherwise be in recovery. Since the best fix for Social Security is higher productivity, higher wage growth, and a growing economy, this problem really can't be separated from the problem of the budget at large and the problem with the budget at large is... priorities.

This is a crucial moment in a young debate. If the public accepts, at this point, that benefit cuts are proper and inevitable, then those cuts will occur. But we don't have to accept that, yet. We might not ever have to accept it. I, for one, would like to see the government justify the rest of the budget before we go any further. There are probably a lot of Pentagon programs that could be safely cut and then injected into the Social Security system in order to shore it up. Why don't we talk about that and then we can talk about benefit cuts?

Sunday, May 01, 2005

What is the Middle Class, anyway?

America prides itself on being a "classless" society. But, by that, I think that people mostly just mean that things are not as rigid as they were in 19th century London. Certainly, we have economic classes in the United States and the middle class, in a bell curve kind of way, is meant to be the largest. So, what is it?

It can't just be an income number since costs of living vary so greatly in the U.S. Do you need to own property to be Middle Class? Or does renting in a Middle Class neighborhood count? Is there an age component to this? If you're just out of college and are doing about as well as most people just out of college, are you Middle Class? If your salary doesn't increase as you get older, are you then lower class?

Why do I care? Well, our political leaders seem to want two things. First, they want middle class support. Second, they want to define expectations. The expectation is that if you work and earn a salary, you should be at least in the Middle Class and you should enjoy the benfits of that lifestyle.

Bush's Social Security plan rests on the work of Robert Pozen and the plan suggests that anbody making over $20,000 a year is sufficiently Middle Class to have their Social Security benefits cut. Does that seem right to you? It sounds way off, to me.

Atrios has suggested that Middle Class means that you own your own home in a decent neighborhood with decent schools and, if there's not great public transportation where you live, that you own as many cars as there are wage earners in the family. That seems about right. Discussions on Atrios have revealed that people have a hard time doing that with combined salaries (for a couple) govering around $100,000 a year. I believe those accounts. The housing bubble is especially hurting property owners and it's making it hard for renters to become property owners, even if they make a nice chunk of change.

Then there's potential Republican Presidential candidate, Virginia Senator George Allen, who said this on Meet the Press this morning:

"In the event that a personal savings account approach is taken, allowing them to invest in a home in addition to right now it's stocks, bonds and other financial instruments, if people can invest in their own home, they'll know it. They'll understand it. They'll take care of it. And they'll enjoy it and they don't have to worry about mergers and acquisitions and scandals and market share. And by the time they retire, they're going to have a pretty good nest egg there and they don't need as big a house, usually, because they don't want to be cutting grass and trimming hedges, and that is good for the economy as well."

Allen suggests that it's just fine for a retiree to have to sell the family home in order to live. See, it's just an investment, not anything to get attached to! Do you all think that's okay? Is that what a member of the Middle Class should expect out of life?

In our political discussions we talk a lot about the economy in he abstract but very little about what Americans want or expect in exchange for the work that we do. I think we need to change the conversation because, right now, I think the folks in Washington find a lot about the average American life acceptable at a time when the average American should be demanding better.