Saturday, March 12, 2005

Krugman explains

Paul Krugman does his usual excellent job of penetrating and revealing the Bush Social Security scam in this article in the New York Review. The chart below, which uses Congressional Budget Office figures, shows how bundling Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid together -- a technique frequently used by those who are trying (under the guise of Social Security "reform") to get rid of Social Security entirely -- overstates the extent of the demographic problem facing Social Security due to the aging of the American population, thereby creating the impression of a crisis where none exists.

Krugman explains:

One way to describe the truth is to say that there is no program called Socialsecuritymedicareandmedicaid: these are separate programs with separate problems. ... Yes, the total rises drastically—but Social Security, although it is the biggest of the programs now and the only one of the three programs whose costs are driven mainly by demography, accounts for only a small part of that rise. That tells us that demography is not the main driver of these long-run projections.

How big is the demographic challenge? Pundits who want to sound serious love to contrast Social Security as it was in 1950, when sixteen workers were paying in for every retiree drawing benefits, with Social Security as it will be once the baby boomers have retired, with only two workers per retiree. But most of the transition from sixteen to two happened a long time ago. Since the mid-1970s there have been about three workers per retiree —and Social Security has been running a surplus. The real issue is what happens when three goes to two. How big a problem is that?

The answer is, medium-sized. As you can see in the chart, the aging of the population will cause Social Security spending to rise from its current level of 4.2 percent of GDP to a little over 6 percent by 2030, at which point it will stabilize. If demography were the only factor driving rising Medicare spending, it would rise in roughly the same proportion, from 2.7 to around 4 percent of GDP. So if demography were the whole story, we'd be looking at an eventual demography-driven rise in spending of between 3 and 3.5 percent of GDP by 2030, and no further increase after that. That's not a trivial increase, but it's also not overwhelming; a tax increase big enough to cover that rise in spending would still leave overall taxation in the United States well below the average for other advanced countries.

Still, a responsible government would prepare for the aging of America. Textbook fiscal economics says that when a government knows that its expenses will rise in the future, it should start running a surplus now. At first, this surplus should be used to pay off debt, which reduces the government's future interest costs. If the government runs out of debt to pay off, it can start to invest in assets such as stocks and bonds, which will yield future income. That's exactly the path the Social Security system, though not the government as a whole, has been following.

Krugman further explains the problems facing Medicare and Medicaid are due to rising medical costs, not the aging of the population.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/12/2005 02:21:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, March 11, 2005

Old blood

AP (via Boston Globe):

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. diplomat who has worked with reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan is President Bush's choice to be the new American ambassador to Iraq, an administration official said Friday.

Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-American, will be nominated to succeed John Negroponte in the post in Baghdad, this source said, speaking on condition of anonymity because no official White House announcement has been made.

Negroponte has been nominated by Bush to be the nation's first director of national intelligence.

Khalilzad, who had been a member of the National Security Council staff early in Bush's presidency, was sent to Kabul to be the top U.S. representative there in 2003.

Khalilzad started with the State Department in 1984, reporting at that time to Paul Wolfowitz, now deputy secretary of defense at the Pentagon.

You know, it seems to me that we see basically the same people being named, re-named, shuffled, re-shuffled, nominated and re-nominated for all sorts of positions, related and unrelated.

Could this mean that, in reality, there are really a limited number of people who have drunk the Kool-Aid and can therefore be trusted by the Bush Cabal to "do the right [=wrong] thing"? And because of this, they're forced to use the same people over and over again, instead of bringing in new blood?

It's a thought, and, if it's true (or has an element of truth about it), it's both encouraging and depressing. Encouraging because the circle of our oppressors may be smaller than we thought -- and depressing for the same reason: we're being run into the ground by a very small group of people.

Update (3/17): Kevin Drum comes to another conclusion:

[T]he message Bush is sending is plain. A number of pundits inexplicably thought that Bush might settle down in his second term and try to run a more conciliatory, less strident administration, and it's pretty obvious that he's trying to make it crystal clear that he has no intention of doing this. Second term Bush will be no different from first term Bush, and don't you forget it.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/11/2005 02:21:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Once again, the bottom line

I've already written to my elected representatives, so they know where I stand, but perhaps it might be worthwhile to address every other elected Democrat in the United States Congress:


Is that simple enough, is it clear enough? These are the marching orders from the rank and file: there is no crisis, and we will brook no compromise.

Ignore us at your own peril.

Update: More (damn him!) from Digby:

We cannot compromise with people like this. We must defeat them head on.

And we can do it. We shouldn’t throw out all common sense and run Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney in ’08. But we got very close this last time with a Massachusetts liberal up against a vicious smear machine and a wartime GOP incumbent. All this talk about white males and moral values and repositioning ourselves on abortion is outmoded political thinking in my view. This has come down to a classic philosophical fight between the two parties cross the entire spectrum of issues. I don't think that the condition exists anymore for splitting the difference. And I think we'll win if we consistently talk about what we believe in instead of outlining a list of positions. In this era I think that's what people are looking for.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/06/2005 11:33:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Why are they still there?

I was just thinking about the way the GOP's leadership made Arlen Spector bend over and take it up the nether regions in order to take the chair of the Judiciary Committee, and wonder just why it is that Snowe, Chafee, Collins et. al. don't look at that and see their own future if they ever get out of line? (McCain's a different story, he's an iconoclast, not a moderate.) I'm perplexed (as always) about why these folks haven't done a Jeffords yet, and concerned that perhaps the Democrats haven't been subtly planting hints about the advantages to them of doing so.

Might it be too much to hope that if the Republicans do unleash the "nuclear option" and cut off the filibuster on judicial nominations, and Snowe et. al vote against it, and the Democrats respond by shutting things down by withholding unanimous consent, that conditions then will be more ripe for the moderates to finally walk away from a party that's already abandoned them?

My feeling is that effectively they've already been shut out, but they just don't want to believe it.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/06/2005 11:18:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


More good

Here's some more good news for us, also linked to graphs, about people's attitudes toward government:

Read Chris Bowers' analysis of why we should be broadening the fact against Social Security phase out into a debate over what direction the country should go in, and who's ideology should be controlling. (Digby -- who's on a roll lately -- has also been making the same argument, as has Ezra Klein.)

That the Republican attitude against government has declined so significantly in just 10 years -- from 74% down to 49% -- is pretty amazing to me, and an indication that the death of the liberal/progressive ideal of government as potential solver of problems and improver of the quality of people's lives has been somewhat overstated. It's still quite true that the machinations of the Bush Administration may yet make it near to impossible to recreate and revitalize FDR's post-Depression social security state (through the bankrupting of the government, making it able to provide nothing except the most basic of services and payment of overwhelming debt), so it's not as if we're out of the woods, but looking at this chart gives me a lot of hope that the resources are out there for Democrats to use to fight against Bush, they just have to find the right way to tapped into the prevailing attitudes.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/06/2005 10:53:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Getting better, generationally

Peter Levine has some good news: evidence that we are indeed becoming more tolerant as a society, and that the change is likely to be permanent. It comes in the form of a study of people's attitudes towards racial intermarriage, which shows that as each new generation is born into a more tolerant climate, it carries that tolerance with it as it ages, and, in fact, improves on it.

This, of course, underlines the suggestion that social conservatives are pressing so hard to take advantage of their current ascendancy because, in the long run, they've already lost the war.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/06/2005 04:22:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


HST's Playboy interview

Amygdala has some interesting excerpts from Hunter Thompson's 1974 Playboy interview.

PLAYBOY: Do you ever wonder how you have survived this long?
THOMPSON: Yes. Nobody expected me to get much past 20. Least of all me. I just assume, "Well, I got through today, but tomorrow might be different." This is a very weird and twisted world; you can't afford to get careless; don't fuck around. You want to keep your affairs in order at all times.

More here.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/06/2005 04:09:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


NYC: Indeed!

Here in NYC, the Bloomberg administration wants "The World's Second Home" to be our official slogan. The New York Times' City section asked for alternative suggestions, and published their favorites. Here are some of them:

  • What's Next Starts Here

  • New York: So Sue Me

  • The Center of the Known Universe

    (Too much like Boston's "The Hub [of the Universe]" for comfort. -- Ed)

  • If It Happens Anywhere, It Happens Here

  • Come. Don't Come. Whatever.

    (This would reverse the trend which began with the "I [heart] NY" campaign during our big fiscal crisis in the 70's. We went from blissfully not caring if anyone came, because we knew they would anyway, to practically begging tourists to visit. Since it's now practically impossible to move around some areas, like Times Square and the Theatre District, because of slow-moving tourists walking three abreast as they gawk or otherwise deal with the overwhelmingness of the city, a return to not caring if tourists came might be refreshing -- as long as they continued to come anyway. -- Ed)

  • The World's Downtown

  • Where Else?

    (Indeed, where!? -- Ed)

  • Dream On

  • As Real As It Gets

  • Wonderful Town

  • New York: Why Not?

    (Indeed, why not!? -- Ed)

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/06/2005 03:30:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



Bold the states you've been to, underline the states you've lived in and italicize the state you're in now...

Alabama / Alaska / Arizona / Arkansas / California* / Colorado / Connecticut / Delaware / Florida / Georgia / Hawaii / Idaho / Illinois / Indiana / Iowa / Kansas / Kentucky / Louisiana / Maine / Maryland / Massachusetts / Michigan / Minnesota / Mississippi / Missouri / Montana / Nebraska / Nevada / New Hampshire / New Jersey / New Mexico / New York / North Carolina / North Dakota / Ohio / Oklahoma / Oregon / Pennsylvania / Rhode Island / South Carolina / South Dakota / Tennessee / Texas / Utah / Vermont / Virginia / Washington / West Virginia / Wisconsin / Wyoming / Washington D.C /

Go here to have a form generate the HTML for you.

[via Rook's Rant]

*Note: Actually, I cheated slightly in one respect, since I've never actually lived in California, per se. However, I did once determine that outside of New York (where I was born and raised, and where I now live) and Massachusetts (where I went to college in Cambridge and Boston), I have spent more of my life in California than any other state in the union -- I believe it added up to a total of over a year's worth of time in that state over the course of 30 years or so. (This is due to being either in San Francisco or Los Angeles for long periods when a new show was in production, plus time spent in the state while on tour with other shows.) Given this special status, I thought it was appropriate to single it out in some way.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/06/2005 02:34:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Open it up!

The secretive, top-down, us-versus-them culture that is pervasive in government security circles must give way to more inclusive processes.... Rather than working assiduously to keep the details of terrorism and our vulnerabilities out of the public domain, the federal government should adopt a new imperative that recognizes that Americans have to be far better informed about the dangers that they face.... How much security is enough? We have done enough when the American people can conclude that a future attack on US soil will be an exceptional event that does not require wholesale changes to how we go about our lives.... We must continue to remind the world that it is not military might that is the source of our strength but our belief that mankind can govern itself in such a way as to secure the blessings of liberty.
Stephen Flynn
America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us from Terrorism (2004)
quoted by Jonathan Raban in
"The Truth About Terrorism"
New York Review of Books (1/13/2005)

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/06/2005 01:59:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Serving the public interest

I haven't see much coverage of this, from Variety:

Pol wants b'casters to prove public service

By William Triplett

HOLLYWOOD -- Citing a need to improve local broadcast coverage of public issues, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) intends to introduce legislation requiring licensees to submit proof to the Federal Communications Commission that they are serving the public interest.

At a press conference Tuesday, McCain said results of a new survey of local broadcasting played a key role in prompting his legislation. The Lear Center Local News Archive tracked local news coverage of last year's elections. Among its findings:

  • Eight times more news coverage went to stories about accidental injuries than local elections.

  • Twelve times more coverage went to sports and weather.

  • Only 8% of local broadcasts contained stories about local candidate races.

"To those broadcasters whose dismal performance is captured in this study or whose performance was as dismal as the broadcasters in the study, I question how you are meeting your obligation to use the nation's spectrum to serve the public interest," McCain said in a prepared statement.

Bill would reduce current term of a license from eight years to three, and when applying for FCC renewal, broadcasters would have to demonstrate sufficient coverage of issues important to public interest. Broadcasters would also have to post on their Web sites information detailing commitment to local public affairs programming.

In addition, the FCC would have to decide whether these public interest obligations should be applied after the transition to digital television.

"I believe this legislation is a step in the right direction," McCain said. "It will have a small impact on those stations that are currently meeting their public interest obligations, but it should have a large impact on those citizens whose local broadcaster is not meeting its obligation to serve the local community. I refuse to believe that the public interest is served by three minutes of campaign coverage and a 12-second sound bite from a candidate during a half-hour local news program."

Sounds like a pretty good idea, and it gets us back to putting an obligation on broadcasters (who, after all, utilize the public airwaves) to provide community services, and not just use their stations as a license to print money.

Now, how about reviving the Fairness Doctrine as well?

Addendum: More here (CBS), here (Hollywood Reporter), and here (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel).

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/06/2005 01:48:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

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Bullshit, trolling, unthinking knee-jerk dogmatism and the drivel of idiots will be ruthlessly deleted and the posters banned.

Entertaining, interesting, intelligent, informed and informative comments will always be welcome, even when I disagree with them.

I am the sole judge of which of these qualities pertains.

All e-mail received is subject to being published on unfutz without identifying names or addresses.

I correct typos and other simple errors of grammar, syntax, style and presentation in my posts after the fact without necessarily posting notification of the change.

Substantive textual changes, especially reversals or major corrections, will be noted in an "Update" or a footnote.

Also, illustrations may be added to entries after their initial publication.
the story so far
unfutz: toiling in almost complete obscurity for almost 1500 days
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the proud unfutz guarantee
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.

If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.

(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)

Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.

original content
© 2003-2008
Ed Fitzgerald


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