Sunday, January 30, 2005


"Intelligent Design" goes Mainstream

In Time magazine's profiles of the "25 most influential evangelicals in America", we read the following about this couple:
The projects that savings-and-loan multimillionaires Howard and Roberta Ahmanson have paid for over the years...includ[e] an institute linked to the antievolution intelligent-design movement....
and this:
The couple have been accused over the years of having an extremist agenda, mostly because a onetime pet charity, the Chalcedon Foundation, advocates the Christian reconstructionist branch of theology that says gays and other biblical lawbreakers should be stoned.
So, apparently funding the "anitevolution intelligent-design movement" is not an example of their extremist agenda. In this crowd, you have to support stoning gays to be considered extremist. Yikes.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Bush Channels "Elmer Gantry"

GB:"By our efforts we have lit a fire as well, a fire in the minds of men. It warms those who feel its power; it burns those who fight its progress. And one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world."
EG:"Sin. Sin, Sin. You're all sinners. You're all doomed to perdition. You're all goin' to the painful, stinkin', scaldin', everlastin' tortures of a fiery hell, created by God for sinners, unless, unless, unless you repent."
As Lulu Bains and the Iraqis might say:
"he sure rammed the fear of God up me!"

Friday, January 21, 2005


Tyrants, Beware

That's the headline in today's Daily News, and quoting Bush's Re-Inaugural address:
The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.
I thought I'd present a list of countries listed as "Not Free" by Freedom House, just so we know what we're signing on for:
*Afghanistan Algeria *Angola *Azerbaijan Belarus Bhutan Brunei Burma Cambodia Cameroon Central African Republic Chad China Congo Cote d'Ivorie Cuba Egypt Equatorial Guinea *Eritrea Guinea Haiti Iran Iraq Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan Laos Lebanon Libya Maldives Mauritania North Korea Oman *Pakistan *Qatar Russia *Rwanda Saudi Arabia Somalia Sudan Swaziland Syria Tajikistan Togo Tunisia Turkmenistan United Arab Emirates *Uzbekistan Vietnam Zimbabwe
By the way, the countries with stars next to them are/were members of the "coalition" fighting for liberty in Afghanistan or Iraq, while denying it to their citizens at home. Maybe we could start with them?

Thursday, January 20, 2005


Social Security 101

Since 1983, the Social Security System has been taking in more each year in payroll taxes and interest earnings than it pays out in benefits and administrative expenses, and the excess receipts ($153 billion in 2003 alone) constitute the Social Security Trust Fund. This accumulation of excess funds has grown to over $1.5 trillion (end of 2003) to prepare for the retirement of the baby-boomers, when Social Security expenditures will exceed payroll taxes, drawing down the Trust Fund. At the end of 2003, the Trust Fund was earning an annual return of 6% on $1.5 trillion, or $90 billion a year.

By law, the Trust Fund can only invest in US Treasury bonds, so in essence the funds are just transferred to the general funds of the US government, which issues IOUs to the Trust Fund. If these excess revenues had been invested elsewhere, say in the stock market, the US government would have had to borrow more money to fund its regular operations. So if it weren't for the Trust Fund, the current US National Debt of $7.6 trillion would be $1.5 trillion higher, or $9.1 trillion. Instead of owing that additional money to the Japanese government, for example, it owes that money to Social Security.

As soon as expenditures begin to exceed receipts (currently projected in 2028; search for the chart labeled KEY DATES FOR THE TRUST FUNDS and look at the column labeled OASDI), including payroll taxes and interest earned on the Trust Fund, The Social Security System will have to start calling in the IOUs, so the Federal government will have to pay its obligations to SSA from its general revenues. According to the latest projections, the IOUs will have all been called in, and the Trust Fund exhausted, in 2042. At that point, the Social Security System will have to borrow money from the federal government, raise payroll taxes, or cut benefits to avoid bankruptcy.

The government owes the Social Security system the money represented by these IOUs just as it owes a person who buys a US Savings Bond. If the Trust Fund is "worthless" or "on paper" or "doesn't exist", as some critics of the current system charge, then so are the Savings bonds, Treasury securities, and other federal obligations ($7.6 trillion worth) held by individuals, financial institutions, foreign governments, etc.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Good News for a Change

This news hasn't filtered into the mainstream press, so I'll have to let the Columbia Earth Institute's press release and a related webpage fill in the details. The tiny islands of Sao Tome and Principe, located off the west coast of Africa near Gabon, have passed an historic law governing the use of the proceeds their newly-discovered oil reserves. According to the release, the law:
provides for the establishment of an oil fund...into which all oil payments are to be made. The law limits the amount of annual withdrawals from the fund and restricts expenditures to national development, poverty reduction and strengthening of good governance. A portion of the monies paid into the fund will be retained to create a permanent reserve to foster development even after oil resources have been exhausted.
The country has been a functioning democracy (despite a few blips) for more than ten years, and has decided to use its oil reserves for the benefit of all its people. Moving.

Monday, January 17, 2005


Rumsfeld on MLK

Donald Rumsfeld, speaking at a memorial breakfast for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had the audacity to say the following:
And America would not have the moral authority it has, were it not for those of our citizens who forced our nation to confront its shortcomings, and realize that our dreams must include everyone.
So let me get this straight. The US can now go around the world blowing up whoever it wants and installing "democracy" because Martin Luther King fought for equal rights? Wretched.

Friday, January 14, 2005


Scare Tactics

From the latest report of the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees:
As we reported last year, Medicare's financial difficulties come sooner--and are much more severe--than those confronting Social Security. While both programs face essentially the same demographic challenge, health care costs per enrollee are projected to rise faster than the wages per worker on which the payroll tax is paid and on which Social Security benefits are based. As a result, while Medicare's annual costs are currently 2.7 percent of GDP, or about 60 percent of Social Security's, they are now projected to surpass Social Security expenditures in 2024 and reach almost 14 percent of GDP in 2078, more than twice the percent for Social Security in that year.
Guess which system - Social Security or Medicare - the Bush administration is trying to "reform" by running a public scare campaign. Guess why. They have no shame.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


"Extreme" Update

Well, Donald Rumsfeld's at it again. In a joint news conference with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov, Rumsfeld used "extremist" and "global struggle against extremism" three times in his <400 word opening remarks. The meme seems to be confined to Rumsfeld for now (at least among people who make the news), but he's trying his best to get it out there.

Also, it's worth reading the text of the news conference, because there's a lot of discussion about something called "MANPADS". It sounds like a male tampon, but it's actually "man-portable air defence systems", better known as surface-to-air missiles, which could be really nasty in the hands of extremists, don't you know. I don't know why, but I find it really funny to think about two secretaries of defense using the word MANPADS 14 times in a brief news conference. I guess I've been watching too much "South Park".

Friday, January 07, 2005


What a disgrace!

The Bush administration is sacrificing thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars to bring "democracy" to the Middle East. Meanwhile, a group of Israelis in Jerusalem is planning to disrupt this Sunday's elections for president of the Palestinian Authority by creating long lines at the five post offices in E. Jerusalem where Palestinian residents are required to go to submit their absentee ballots. I guess the humiliation of having to vote by absentee ballot in occupied territory isn't enough for David Hadari and his pals.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


Follow Up

A disturbing fact came to my attention today as I was trying to figure out how the upcoming Iraqi elections would be conducted. Ahmed Chalabi, former darling of the neocons as head of the anti-Saddam exile group, the Iraqi National Congress, is #10 on the Shiite list for National Assembly. So if the Shiite list gets only 4% of the vote nationwide (it will probably get more than 50%) Chalabi will be seated in the National Assembly. Aren't we lucky?


Recipe for Chaos

You think we had a mess in the US elections? Wait until the Iraqis (maybe) go to the polls on Jan. 30, 2005, when the entire country will be voting for all 275 members of a National Assembly (NA) that will then choose (from its membership) a President and two Deputies who will appoint a Prime Minster and a Council of Ministers to govern Iraq until adoption of a new constitution by nationwide referendum. The NA will also write the constitution that will be presented for approval by the Iraqi people by 15oct2005 (or by April 2006 if they need more time). (For excruciating details see the "Transitional Administrative Law" on the CPA's website.)

All 7,000 candidates for NA will be represented on a single ballot, most as members of party lists, so that there will be approximately 200 choices on the ballot. Each voter can choose only a single entry from the 200 listed on the ballot, so they can vote for an independent candidate or for a party list but not both. The party lists are ranked lists of candidates who have chosen to run together. If an independent candidate receives more than 1/275th of the vote nationwide, (s)he will be seated in the NA. If a given party list receives, say, 10% of the nationwide vote, then the first 27.5 people on that list will be seated in the NA. Some parties have submitted lists of 275 candidates, but they would have to receive 100% of the votes nationwide in order to seat their entire list. (For more details, go here.)

To make matters worse, voters will also be choosing 41 members of a "governorate council" to represent the governorate in which they reside (there are 18 of these "states" in Iraq). Finally, voters in the governorates of Dohuk, Arbil, Sulaimiya, Kirkuk, Diyala, and Neneveh will also be voting for members of a "Kurdistan Regional Government". Yikes.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


U.S. Gulag Spared from Tsunami!

One macabre thought that has occurred to me repeatedly in the week since the horrible tragedy in the Indian ocean is whether it affected the US military base on Diego Garcia. Since activities on the base are top secret, it wasn't clear if we would ever find out what happened there, especially to the "enemy combatants" who are held in "Camp Justice" indefintely, illegally, without charge. Well, today I read that the undersea topography of the area does not favor the formation of deadly tsunamis and that the earthquake was only experienced as a six-foot surge in sea levels, apparently not enough to do any damage.

So, just in case you were wondering, our disgraceful prison camp in the Indian ocean is safe, along with the hundreds of personnel and billions of dollars poured in there by the US military. No word on the thousands of former inhabitants of the island, who were all forcibly displaced to Mauritius in the 1960s to make way for the US military. Let's hope they're okay, too.

Monday, January 03, 2005


Telling Metaphor Watch

Not since someone in the Bush administration thought of calling the Iraq invasion "Operation Iraqi Liberation" (OIL) has there been a more unintentionally hilarious metaphor for all that is wrong with this presidency than Colin Powell "dropping the ball" in Times Square on New Year's Eve. It rings a lot more true than his pathetic attempt to suggest that he made a difference as the "reluctant warrior" during Bush's first term. In fact, the ball-drop metaphor is so blatant that you almost have to believe that Karl Rove set him up.

Many thanks to my friend Jeff for bringing this to my attention.

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