Friday, October 06, 2006
Bell knocks it out of the park!
There is no doubt that Bell improved his chances tonight. He was flawless, he said all the right things and even nailed the stumper on the Alamo! Strayhorn was totally outclassed and she revealed her ineptitude in several responses. She actually looked like the chimp president on the President of Mexico. Kinky self-destructed but thanks for the softball question in the second round. All in all it was a great night, if only somwebody besides the choir was watching!
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
They Thought They Were Free
From Milton Mayer: "They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945"
“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret, to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security…I do not speak of your “little men”, your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about – we were decent people – and kept us so busy with continuous changes and “crises” and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the “national enemies,” without and within, that we had no time to think about those dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?
To live in the process is absolutely not to be able to notice it – please try to believe me – unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, “regretted”, that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all those “little measures” that no ”patriotic German” could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.”
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Reflections on America 9/11 +5
Excuse also using 9/11 to get attention - using it in any way is disturbing to me.
I have been struggling with my feelings amid all the
rending of hair and gnashing of teeth that accompanied the 5th
"anniversary" of the latest act of terrorism in America. (and for those
who may be ignorant of history - there have been many such acts and actors
both foreign and domestic).
Like everyone, I remember where I was, while watching in disbelief and horror
as the second plane crash into the WTC Tower -
I was with my Dad and sister preparing for my Mother's memorial service.
So, perhaps my view is slightly less empathetic than had I been
doing something more "normal".
This week strikes me as filled with hollow pomp and false "patriotism"
In the drive toward making 9/11/01 a cultural "touchstone" and
elevating it to a national day of mourning we've forgotten some
important facts about what happened five years ago and what
has happened in the ensuing period.
First - While I didn't wallow in the "news coverage" of Monday's proceedings (does that really qualify as "news") I don't think I heard a single mention of the fact that people from 80 different countries died in the WTC and Pentagon on 9/11/01. Eighty countries and every color and creed, yet from all appearances only US citizens died - or at least they're the only ones who mattered.
Second - While the deaths are tragic and the stories of survivors and families who lost loved ones are heart rending - I don't think we should canonize either the victims or those who surive them. Tragic? Of course. Yet the ceremonies attempt to make them some sort of patriotic martyrs. I think that's wrong. they were normal people caught in abnormal circumstance - The firefighters and police who died and perhaps some of those on United Flight 93, may qualify as heroes but none of these folks were martyrs.
Third - In spite of the chest beating rhetoric, 9/11 was not about religion and should not be viewed as an excuse for another holy war. As noted above, the people who died that day included every race and religion on Earth. They were murdered by sick twisted individuals - who claimed to be Muslims - although true folowers of Islam would never engage in such evil behavior.- to borrow from an Alan Sorkin script:
"A martyr would rather suffer death at the hands of an oppressor than renounce their beliefs. Killing yourself and innocent people to make a point is sick, twisted, brutal, dumb-ass murder (not to mention completely prohibited in true Islam). we don't need martyrs right now. We need heroes. A hero would die for their country, but they would much rather live for it."
We do need heroes - people who are willing to do what they believe and what is right, no matter what happens.
Fourth - It may sound "Unamerican" but I am sick to death of politicians and others who clammer for photo-ops and use this (or any) tragedy to grab the limelight for their own purposes.
Finally - I grieve. Of course I grieve for the loss of life - but I grieve more for what has happened to the country I love.
I am reminded of Walter Karp's "The Politics of War" where he makes a distinction between the American Republic and the American Nation. To make his long argument short, the Republic is the idea and ideals embodied in the Bill of RIghts - liberty, justice, individual rights and all the best things I think of when I consider the USA. Karp regarded the American Nation, as a poor dim thing, assembled as a corporate entity, sustained by "artificial patriotism", and given the semblence of meaning only when puffed up with the excitements of a foreign war. In other words "Bushites and Bubbas"
Certainly this is not the first time in American History that those in power lied to the public, forced the nation into an unwanted and uncessary foreign war, suspended individual rights, supressed dissent, or profited from its actions. In fact that has been a pattern of American government almost from its inception. Karp's book focuses on the egregious conduct of Presidents McKinley and Wilson with regard to the "Spanish-American War" and World War I. But history offers other
examples: From the internment camps of WWII, and the black lists and "kanagroo courts" of McCarthyism to Viet Nam and the Civil Rights movement, government has engaged in trampling civil liberties, spying on citizens and rabidly persecuting and prosecuting dissension.
Yet this time is different. This time there seems to be no concern. No official opposition while the 60% "minority" disagress with our government's actions. Why is that? This administration elevates to an art form the sytematic and brazen distortion of facts - to an extent never before seen in US history. And I have to ask - where is the outrage? Where are the voices of dissent and opposition? Where are the media watchdogs? Is it because those who question are marginalized and discounted? Because they are so few and their voices so weak?
The Bush administration - part deux - has lied so many times about so many things - especially the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq - without being held accountable. How can this be? I can only conclude our political system is utterly and most probably irrevocably corrupt and broken.
I'm reading a book by Lewis Lapham (Editor of Harper's Magazine) called "Gag Rule: on the suppression of dissent and the stifling of democracy". I recommend it.
I've been struck by his use of literature and speeches from the past to illuminate how far we have fallen down the slippery slope of trading a false sense of security for individual rights and freedom.
Here are some examples:
“as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries, the law ought to be King.”
“when it shall be said in any country in the world, my poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want; the taxes are not oppressive….when these things can be said, then may that country boast its constitution and its government.”
Teddy Roosevelt, in criticizing Woodrow Wilson’s Theory Of WWI, observed:
“To announce that there must be no criticism of the president or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but it is morally treasonable to the American public.”
Hermann Göring – during the Nuremburg Trials – regarding successful propaganda:
“All you have to do is tell them that they’re being attacked, denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”
1947 during McCarthyism:
Henry Steele Comager, inn Harper’s Magazine, “Who Is Loyal To America?”
“It is easier to say what loyalty is not than what it is. It is not conformity. It is not passive acquiescence to the status quo. It is not preference for everything American over everything foreign. It is not an ostrich-like ignorance of other countries and other institutions. It is not the indulgence of ceremony – a flag salute, an oath of allegiance, a fervid verbal declaration. It is not a particular creed, a particular vision of history, a particular body of economic practices, a particular philosophy.
It is a tradition, an ideal, and a principle. It is a willingness to subordinate every private advantage for the larger good. It is an appreciation of the rich and diverse contributions that can come from the most varied sources. It is allegiance to traditions that have guided our greatest statesmen and inspired our most eloquent poets – the traditions of freedom, equality, democracy, tolerance, and the tradition of Higher Law, of experimentation, cooperation, and pluralism. It is the realization that America was born of revolt, flourished on dissent, became great through experimentation.”
September 14, 2001
Barbara J Lee – the only elected official in either Chamber of Congress to vote against equipping GW Bush with unrestricted power to prosecute as he saw fit any action against any nation, organization or person he determined was in any way involved in what he defined as terrorism.
“As we act, let us not become the evil we deplore.”
Within one hour of her statement and vote – she received several thousand e-mail death threats from as far away as Guam.
Lewis Lapham in Gag Rule: On the suppression of dissent and the stifling of democracy
“How high a price do we set on the head of freedom? If we delete another few paragraphs from the Bill of Rights (for our own protection , of course in the interests of peace , prosperity, and carefree summer vacations), what do we ask of the government in return for our silence in court? Do we wish to remain citizens of a republic, or do we prefer some form of autocracy in which a genial man on horseback assures us that repression is good for the soul? With what secular faith do we match the zeal of Islam and combat the enmity of the impoverished people of the earth to whom the choice between war and peace presents itself as a choice of no significance? How define the American democracy as res publica for which we might willingly give up our lives – our own lives not the lives of hired mercenaries? And of what , if anything, does the res publica consist?”
In the words of Edward R Morrow - "Good night and Good luck"
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
This article has only one new piece of information-- that current projections forecast the depletion of the presently designed Social Security trust fund with the current funding schedule to occur in 2040 rather than in 2041 (as estimated last year). The article is written in the "he said-she said" (HSSS) style that is the norm in this age of gutless wonder editors and journalists.
The fact is that this "problem" has a definite set of causations and a definite solution. There is no need for properly educated journalists to behave as if the causes and the solution are matters of opinion that require far greater knowledge than most people have or can assimilate with proper instruction. This HSSS style of writing is a cop-out that serves only t! hose in power who will be making decisions about such matters. The public deserves far better information.
Chicken Little alarms and coded (loaded) language are used in the article in connection with the Bush administration's position on the situation--language that was proven to be deceptive and prejudicial during Bush's 2005 medicine show and shell game on the subject. I personally find this to be irresponsible reporting and an offensive show of disrespect for the intelligence of the American voters.
I will, once again, at the risk of boring my readers, offer the proof of the dishonesty of this way of characterizing the Social Security "problem".
First, Social Security is not an "entitlement" unless you consider a lender's expectation of repayment of debt to be an entitlement. In the vernacular of political speech "entitlement" connotes an expectation of benefit that is not earned by the beneficiary and thus is questionable by belt-tightening co! nservat ives. That is not what the Social Security benefits are. Why? Because Social Security is an old age and survivor insurance program fully funded by the people and their employers with real money that comes from work and sales. It is a program whose funding plan is carefully calculated using the best actuarial practices and demographic data available.
The dishonesty comes about when writers and speakers say that the government has funded the program. This is absolutely false. The truth is that Congress mandated that the trustees of the SS program must invest all funds not needed for current benefit payments in US securities, as opposed to, say, certificates of deposit or some other relatively secure investment. Thus, the US government has been borrowing from the real contributions made by workers and employers by dint of Congressional mandate since the very beginning of the program.
Bush continues to lie about this fact. In 2005 he made a grandstand! ing app earance at a repository of SS trust fund securities in West Virginia. Standing in front of a row of filing cabinets purported to contain US securities held by the SS program, Bush waved his hand at them and said, "The IOUs contained in these cabinets are nothing but paper."
Let's see... Have you ever looked at a US Treasury bond or other US security? Does it say anywhere on the document that the value of the security will be determined by the US government at time of surrender on a case by case basis? Could the government decline to pay anything to one bond holder and then pay the next bondholder in line the full face value? Well, that is exactly what George W. Bush's statement means. He did not say that the securities held by China or any other trading partner are worthless. He only said that those held by the SS trust fund were "nothing but paper". If that is his position it goes against the most holy principle of banking, held in great reverence since bankin! g began .
But do you see any exposition of this point in the article below? This "journalist" is apparently attempting to frighten readers with the same deception that has been offered to the public since Bush began his attempt to kill off the SS program.
Honest actuarial analysis would explain that the determination of required funding of the SS program is a forecasting task that is, of course, subject to change as time goes by, and the projections must be updated and funding changed periodically in order to keep the program viable. No one should be alarmed that projections change with time. It is sheer dishonesty to play the fear card about the changes reported in the article below.
If we all would put the charlatans on notice that the jig is up, and if we would show them up to be the unconscionable liars they are, maybe we could put an end to this kind of fearmongering.
From: [undisclosed individual]
Date: Mon May 1, 2006 8:08pm(PDT)
Subject: Social Security, Medicare Trust Funds Sink
Social Security, Medicare Trust Funds Sink
By MARTIN CRUTSINGER, AP Economics Writer
1 hour, 23 minutes ago
The trustees for the government's two biggest benefit programs said
Monday that the trust fund for Social Security will be depleted in
2040, a year earlier than expected, while Medicare will exhaust its
trust fund just 12 years from now.
The annual report showed deterioration in the financial condition of
both programs although the problems in Medicare were depicted as far
more serious because of the skyrocketing costs for health care.
A year ago, the depletion of the Social Security trust fund had been
projected to occur in 2041, one year later than the current
estimate, and the Medic! are hos pital insurance fund had been forecast
to last until 2020, two years longer than the current estimate.
The trustees, who include the head of the Social Security
Administration and three members of President Bush's Cabinet,
painted a sober assessment of the health of the two programs in
advance of the looming retirements of 78 million baby boomers.
They stated that the projected long-term growth rates for both
Social Security and Medicare are not "sustainable under current
The trust funds contain the equivalent of government IOUs. To raise
the actual cash to meet obligations, the government must borrow more
money from the public by issuing marketable Treasury securities,
raise taxes or cut spending in other programs.
Bush tried last year to overhaul Social Security with the
introduction of private investment accounts for younger workers but
the idea went nowhere in Congress. Democ! rats at tacked the Bush
program as a hidden effort to cut future benefits.
In this year's State of the Union address, Bush asked Congress to
create a bipartisan commission to study entitlement reform. But even
this modest proposal has not generated much interest, in part
because lawmakers do not want to address entitlement reforms in a
congressional election year.
Treasury Secretary John Snow, the chairman of the trustees group,
said the new report depicted "a looming fiscal crisis as the baby
boom generation moves into retirement" and he urged Congress to move
"The serious concerns raised by the trustees' reports demand the
attention of America's policy-makers and the public," Snow said.
But Democrats charged that the administration was using the trustees
reports to try to create an air of crisis to make radical changes to
the two benefit programs.
"There is no crisis," said Rep. Pete Stark, D-C! alif. " There remains
plenty of time to mend rather than end Medicare."
While the depletion of the reserves built up over past years is
projected to occur in just 12 years for Medicare and 34 years for
Social Security, both programs will face financing issues much
sooner at the point that the amount paid out each year exceeds the
amount the government collects to fund them.
For Medicare, that occurred for the year of 2004. However, the
program is projected to be in the black again this year before
crossing over to paying out more than it takes in permanently in
2006 and the years following that.
For Social Security, the point at which the program will pay out
more in benefits than it takes in will occur in 2017, the trustees
projected, the same as in last year's report.
The one-year faster depletion of trust funds in the case of Social
Security occurred because the government estimated a slightly lower
avera! ge of 2 .9 percent rather than 3 percent for the inflation-
adjusted return for the trust fund's government bonds.
For Medicare, the faster exhaustion of the trust fund occurred
because of rising prices for hospital care and greater utilization
by sick people of the program.
The trustees estimated that in 2040 when the Social Security trust
fund is depleted, it will be able to pay 74 percent of benefits from
the taxes imposed on current workers.
The trustees estimated that the monthly Part B premium that Medicare
beneficiaries must pay to cover insurance for doctor visits will
have to rise by around 11 percent next year to $98.20 after an
increase this year of 12 percent.
Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said in
a statement that the projected increase for next year, if it comes
about, would mark the fourth double-digit advance in Medicare
They said they would introd! uce leg islation to cap future increases
to the amount the Consumer Price Index rises in a given year. Last
year, consumer prices rose 3.4 percent.
The trustees report reduced the estimate for the cost of the new
drug prescription benefit in Medicare, which went into effect this
year, by around 20 percent, attributing part of this reduction to
the fact that people are signing up for less costly drug plans.
Democratic critics said the funding shortfalls for Social Security
and Medicare should be viewed in the context of Bush's drive to make
the tax cuts of his first term permanent.
Sen. Jack Reed (news, bio, voting record), D-R.I., said that if
Congress approved Bush's request to make his tax cuts permanent and
enacted a permanent fix for the alternative minimum tax, which was
designed to tax the wealthy but is falling on more middle-class tax
payers, that would represent a cumulative revenue shortfall equal to
2! percen t of the total economy over a 75-year period.
That is three times the shortfall estimated by the trustees for
Social Security over the same period, Reed said. ***
Social Security: http://www.socialsecurity.gov
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The
information contained in the AP News report may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written
authority of The Associated Press.
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Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Why I despise CNN
Now, when I see that headline, I think that late Who bassist John Entwistle has somehow, inexplicably, risen from the grave and slaughtered his wife and children. And, that is what they want you to think, too, so you click on that story. Except it is not a juicy story like that. It is about some young British guy. Who cares? Not me. That's for damn sure.