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Monday, February 21, 2005  
Hunter S. Thompson shows himself to the exit.

The Edge... there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.


Tuesday, February 15, 2005  
Breaking away from politics for a minute, everyone who sits in front of a computer for a living should be listening to KEXP, the radio station associated with Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen's Experience Music Project. An example of how sweet they are: they are doing daily black history month features, and today they are spotlighting Eric B. and Rakim. Last week's features included Shuggie Otis, A Tribe Called Quest, Leadbelly, and Sir Mix-A-Lot. That's just righteous.


Monday, February 14, 2005  
I haven't blogged about social security because (a) I haven't blogged about much of anything, and (b) I don't really know a lot about economics. I have been reading Kevin Drum with real interest on the subject (see his excellent overview here), however, as well as some of the debate threads on the subject at Obsidian Wings (for example, here, here, and here), where conservatives von and Sebastian Holsclaw each have their own flavor of reform that they'd like to see; von prefers to eliminate 401K limits and allow the markets to create and control the private accounts, while Sebastian favors a fairly strict means-testing regime. Neither supports the president's plan, as both are leery of the government intervention the Bush plan requires. However, both seem to be happy that the question is being discussed, as if the conversation will eventually turn away from what Bush has proposed to one of the other possible policies.

Drum summarizes his criticisms of the Bush "plan" thus: "To the extent that there's a problem with Social Security at all, I think it's fairly modest and can be fixed with a couple of simple, straightforward changes." And I think that's right; eliminate the income cap for the Social Security tax (currently set at $80,000), and introduce some modest means-testing (say, a 25% benefit cut for all recipients with a post-retirement AGI of 100,000, and a 50% cut over $150,000), and the funding gap would snap shut, no problem.

But, just because Bush's privatization plan is a bloated, ineffectual poison pill doesn't mean that private accounts are an inherently bad idea. Drum goes on to set out the parameters of what sounds like a pretty good plan, which he says he got from Fortune magazine columnist Kevin Longman:
Longman's idea is that instead of cutting benefits 25% we should move the age at which you start getting checks from 67 to 72. This reduces the number of retirees being paid benefits and cuts costs by about 25%, thus putting Social Security on a permanently sustainable course.

However, the retirement age doesn't change. It stays at 67, and this is where private accounts come in: they're used to pay for retirement between ages 67 and 72. This has several advantages over standard privatization proposals:

- You don't have to buy an annuity. Your private account only has to last five years, so it's easy to just draw it down 20% each year.

- Regular Social Security kicks in at age 72 and takes care of you for as long as you live. You don't have to worry about running out of money.

- If your investments do badly, the worst that happens is that you have to put off retirement for a year or two. That's bad, but it's not catastrophic.

- On the other hand, if your investments do well, or if you're willing to live on a reduced amount for a few years, you can retire early.

- You have money left to bequeath to your kids all the way until age 72. Under Bush's privatization proposal, you turn your account into an annuity at age 67, so your kids inherit only if you die before then.

- If you don't feel like retiring at all, you can just cash out your account and buy a boat or something. It's your choice.

Neat! That sounds great! Sign me up!

The problem, of course, is that these alternatives aren't on the table, and won't be. I appreciate that people like von and Sebastian genuinely believe that there is a better system that we could put in place of the current pension-style system. However, I think it's pretty irresponsible to hold that while the Bush program is an ineffectual fraud, it's a useful "conversation starter," as if this was a mannered debate at an academic conference. It's not - Bush's plan is the stated objective of a Republican president with a Republican congress that has shown itself to be ridiculously compliant to Bush's will. Bush's plan is the plan, and he's not looking for other options. More Drum:

And now the $64 question: if I could live with [the Longman] plan, why am I so unalterably opposed to private accounts? Simple: it's because my plan is a fantasy. It's not the plan on offer from George Bush and it never will be — and in the real world, supporting private accounts means supporting George Bush's version of them

And that's why I oppose private accounts: because I live in the real world, not fantasyland.



Tuesday, February 08, 2005  
Oh, now come the fuck on.

I know it's a bit random to break my tomblike silence just to whine about the dishonesty and mismanagement of the Bush administration, but this was just too brazen. Via Pandagon, the American Progress Action Fund is digging around in the '05 budget, and finding nothin' but ooze:

The budget includes over a billion dollars in revenue from drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), even though Congress hasn't authorized such drilling and has rejected President Bush's proposal to open ANWR to oil exploration for the last four years. Budget Director Josh Bolten defended the move, claiming, "the budget is the right place to present the entirety of the president's policies, so all of his proposals are reflected in there." Really? The Bush budget excludes all funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the administration's $2 trillion Social Security package.

So the budget director has explicitly admitted that the "budget" is, in fact, nothing more than an artifact of political propaganda. This is confusing to me. I must have misunderstood what they meant by "budget." See, I was thinking that they meant "budget" in the sense of "the central document to actually manage and control the solvency and operations of any enterprise.", you know, the fucking budget. Apparently not. Apparently it's just one more pulpit to preach from.

Yeah, yeah, I know, the U.S. Government hasn't passed an accurate budget in years. But this is the first time I have heard of this particular tactic. And, it's a multitasker - it also provides ammo for the Republicans when they bring ANWR up for another vote. I will bet whatever you care to name that when ANWR comes up again, opponents of the measure will be accused of trying to "add to the deficit."

You know, there are really only two possibilities, neither one good:

(1) There is, somewhere, a secret, shadow budget that actually does capture all the expenses, including the expenses that are "off-the-books," and compares them to real, verifiable income, and shows exactly how fucked we are, but the American public is not permitted to see it.

(2) There isn't, and we are just hurtling down the highway blindfolded and whistling.



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