Thursday, February 17, 2005

Alan Greenspan, Villain

For years, it has seemed to me that Alan Greenspan was a sober and competent pilot for the US economy, managing to keep economic growth bubbling along without threatening the inflation of the 60s and 70s. However, in recent years, it has gradually become clear to me that he is willing to use the soapbox of his office to promote Republican and big business interests at the expense of the interests of the working class.

Social Security is the biggest example. To quote Kevin Drum:
In 1983, at a time when Social Security was genuinely facing a crisis - it was mere months away from failing at the time - a commission appointed by President Reagan and headed by Alan Greenspan proposed a series of fixes. Among other things, the Greenspan commission recommended increasing payroll taxes.

But there was a twist: Knowing that the baby boomers would begin retiring around 2010, Mr. Greenspan recommended raising payroll taxes by much more than was needed to pay benefits at the time. The surplus would be used to buy Treasury bonds, which could be redeemed when the boomers retired and payroll taxes were no longer sufficient to fully fund retirement benefits.
So the deal was that in the period from 1983 to about 2018, workers would pay more in Social Security payroll taxes in order to make Social Security solvent in the years 2018 to approximately 2040. But what actually happened to this extra money? The surplus money was squandered on Bush's tax cuts benefiting mostly the wealthy. What did Greenspan say about this? He supported them:
Greenspan made it abundantly clear, as he has in the past, that there is no contest in deciding between the two: tax cuts unquestionably are superior to spending increases. "If long-term fiscal stability is the criterion," he told the senators, "it is far better, in my judgment, that the surpluses be lowered by tax reductions than by spending increases."
In other words, Greenspan endorsed Bush's fiscal recklessness which turned surpluses into deficits without even the benefit of increased government services. This strategy has amounted to giving away the Social Security surplus to the rich.

Most recently Greenspan has endorsed Bush's private accounts idea, in the spite of the fact that he knows that it is a fiscal disaster in the making
Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan's testimony before the senate banking committee undermined virtually all of the Bush administration's arguments for diverting some social security tax payments to fund private retirement accounts.

If the hole left in social security finances by the diversion were filled by added government borrowing, as proposed by President George W Bush, creating the private accounts would not add to national saving. For Greenspan, that is the overriding long-term retirement issue facing the nation.
Others blasting Greenspan recently include Matthew Yglesias, in the American Prospect and Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly and Max Sawicky of MaxSpeak.
Permalink 11:30 PM

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Future of Sport: Instant Muscles

Okay, something non-political for a break.

Former Oakland Athletics Jose Canseco is in the news again for rumors that his home run hitting prowess was aided by anabolic steroids. Steroids are basically bull testosterone, which does increase the rate at which new muscle is built and speeds up recovery from injury. But steroids are reported to have nasty side-effects including sterility, moodiness, acne, hair loss, liver disease.

I'm here to confidently predict that the plague of anabolic steroids in athletics will soon be over---because something much, much better will take its place. The first thing to note about building muscle is that animals have mechanisms to prevent too much muscle from forming. Why is that? Well, it's because most animals, throughout most of evolutionary history spent their lives on the edge of starvation. Since muscle burns calories, having more muscle than you need is wasteful and dangerous to your survival.

Of course, humans in countries like the US these days are more likely to worry about obesity than starving to death, and muscle is sexy and useful, so maybe we would like to rethink our reluctance to build too much of it. The key seems to be the protein myostatin that turns off muscle growth. Blocking the production of myostatin turns off the body's inhibitions to building muscle, and the muscle just grows and grows.

There have been rare mutations that cause myostatin to either not be produced, or to have its activity blocked. Such a mutation led to a ultra-muscular breed of cattle, the Belgian Blue. A variant has also been found in a super-muscular baby boy born in Germany recently.

In 2001, researchers at John's Hopkins University developed "might mice" that blocked the activity of myostatin. The intended goal of this research is to help with muscle-wasting conditions such as Muscular Dystrophy or old age. But of course, it is only a matter of time, some suggest 5 to 10 years, that muscle-building drugs become available to athletes. In contrast with steroids, these drugs promise to be undetectable by drug tests.
Permalink 10:27 PM

Nukes: How Bush Makes the World More Dangerous

Stephen Walt, writing in the Boston Review brings up an issue I had been meaning to blog about: the threat of nuclear weapons, and what the US should do to address that threat. The approach taken towards Saddam Hussein, which is to invade our enemies before they actually have nuclear weapons, has a big drawback, in that some of them (North Korea, perhaps) already have nukes. And the invasion of Iraq could have the unintended side-effect of making any government that is unfriendly to the US that much more determined to get nukes, if only to protect themselves from an American invasion.

To quote Walt:
The Bush administration has been scornful of existing institutions and dismissive of other states’ opinions, emphasizing instead the unilateral use of American power to “promote liberty” and preempt potential threats. The result? America’s global standing has plummeted, and with it the ability to attract active support from many of its traditional allies. Instead, many of these states have been distancing themselves from America’s foreign-policy agenda and looking for ways to constrain its power. So-called rogue states such as Iran and North Korea have become more resistant to American pressure and more interested in acquiring the ability to deter American military action. Efforts to “promote liberty” at the point of a gun have arguably strengthened the hands of authoritarian rulers in the Middle East, Central Asia, Russia, and elsewhere. The strategy of preventive war and the goal of regional transformation led the United States into a costly quagmire in Iraq, demonstrating once again the impossibility of empire in an era in which nationalism is a profound social force. President Bush’s overall approach to foreign policy demonstrates why global hegemony is beyond our reach, and even some supporters of this strategy have begun to recognize that fact.
What is Walt's suggestion: to dedicate the power of the US to maintaining peace, promoting multilateralism, promoting international agreements. This means taking the step that is called "appeasement" by the hawks, which is to sign nonagression agreements with the evil dictatorships such as Iraq and North Korea. That doesn't mean that we abandon our efforts to promote democracy, but that military might would no longer be considered a legitimate tool for democracy promotion.
American power is most effective when it is seen as legitimate, and when other societies believe it is being used to serve their interests as well as America’s. On the other side, America’s enemies will try to rally support by portraying the United States as a morally dubious society that pursues dangerous and immoral policies abroad.
He ends with a warning:
Although geography, history, and good fortune have combined to give the United States a remarkable array of advantages, it would still be possible to squander them. Unfortunately, there is as yet no clear sign that President Bush intends to change course in his second term, which means that America’s international standing is likely to deteriorate further over the next four years. And if the United States ends up hastening the demise of its existing partnerships and creating new partnerships whose main aim is to contain us, we will have only ourselves to blame.
Permalink 9:18 PM

Monday, February 14, 2005

Ed Schultz Show

Just wanted to note that there is an up-and-coming liberal talk show host, Ed Schultz who could be the Anti-Rush. Ed Schultz broadcasts from Fargo, North Dakota, deep in the heart of Bush country. From a Newsweek story on him
Ed Schultz comes from Bush country and looks like it. At 6 feet 2 and 250 pounds, his idea of the good life is eating wings, fishing for walleye and watching football on TV. He passionately defends his right to own a gun, eat a steak and drive a Suburban. He loves his nation, his wife and his son, who plays golf for Texas Christian. He's the kind of guy the president might grab in a rope line, give a fake jab to the gut and call by his nickname, "Big Eddie," just like a friend.

But Schultz doesn't want to be George W. Bush's buddy. For three hours every day he rails against Bush on his nationally syndicated radio show from Fargo, N.D., calling the administration "government by the rich, for the rich" and Bush's policies an "axis of bankruptcy." The White House is listening. When Bush came to Fargo this month, Schultz's producer was barred from attending the event (the White House blamed local officials). "Is this what the president thinks of us folks in the heartland?" Schultz asked his listeners. "He's afraid!"
Click the heading for Ed's webpage.
Permalink 11:36 PM

Eason Victim of Witch Hunt

Bloggers (especially those on the right side of the blogosphere) are proud of their trophies---big names brought low by dedicated troops of bloggers who fact-check their asses. The most recent trophy is the head of Jordan Eason, head of newsgathering at CNN, who was forced to resign because of the blogger-fed controversy over his remark that he thought the US military was targeting journalists. While such a comment is indeed offensive, it was an off-hand remark, not a prepared statement, and what is more, there is reason to believe that it is true.

Mike Moran says:
That probably sounds outrageous to the public, who, thanks to the bang up job the mainstream media has done reporting what happened in Iraq, know little about the still unresolved questions surrounding the precision bombing of al-Jazeera's offices during the war, or the tank rounds fired into the hotel that housed the international press corps in Baghdad. The Overseas Press Club's own demand for an investigation into these incidents, put in a January 2004 letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, has received no definitive reply from the Pentagon. From our perspective, this is an open question.

Bloggers can certainly play a constructive role in journalism by holding journalists accountable for the accuracy of their news stories. But this kind of hounding of journalists for saying the wrong thing will have the effect of making journalism much worse---it will discourage journalists from saying anything controversial or anything that could be offensive to the government. That outcome will greatly undermine the principle role of journalism in holding our government accountable. See another article I wrote on this topic.
Permalink 11:19 PM

SS gives us an opening: Progressives can win on Health Care

Republicans talking about a crisis in Social Security can be turned to the advantage of progressives, if we only have strong leadership. We must respond to talk of a crisis by pointing out that
  • There is a looming fiscal crisis in the US, but it isn't Social Security, it's medicare.

  • The dimensions of the upcoming medicare shortfall dwarfs any possible SS shortfall by an order of magnitude.

  • The Republicans have no plan to address this tide of red ink.

  • The only realistic plan is national health insurance.
Yes, I know that the Democrats got burned on health care under Clinton, but we must try again, and get it right this time. Getting it wrong can literally bankrupt the nation, and the Republicans are surely getting it wrong. Last year's Medicaid drug benefit is a seriously flawed bill that will end up costing the US trillions and still will do next to nothing to hold down skyrocketing drug prices. Millions of Americans are uninsured or underinsured. A single catastrophic illness can send the average American family into bankruptcy. This is true even for families with health insurance. What are the Republicans doing about it? Trying to make it more difficult for average people to declare bankruptcy. What starker evidence is needed that Republicans are not on the side of average American families?

What the Democrats need to do is to offer every American health regardless of income. We have to propose using the power of single-payer health care to force drug companies to the bargaining table to lower drug costs. This can work---it works in Canada, it works in Europe. In the US, it has worked to keep costs down for Veteran's Hospitals. We know it can work, but it isn't being tried because of opposition from
  • drug companies

  • insurance companies

  • HMOs
Democrats have to bite the bullet and propose national health care. And it can't be some kind of Frankenstein's monster sewed together using the existing health insurance network---that network is broken. It is the problem, not the solution. We have to be willing to take on the powerful drug, insurance, and HMO interests. We have to be willing to fight. The money is of course on the other side, but I really think that we can get the voters---the vast majority of them---on our side if we do it right.
Permalink 9:59 PM

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Bill gives Homeland Security Director Power to Suspend Law

Via the Ithaca Action Network

The Daily Kos reports that House Bill 418 gives the Director of Homeland Security the sole discretion to suspend any and all laws he sees fit to secure our country and its borders and allows no court to bring a case about it or damages resulting from any action to close borders or roads, in the event someone is arrested or civil liberties are suspended.

This is a potentially very dangerous assault on our basic freedoms. Contact your Congressman. Click permalink for contact information for Ithaca areaFor Ithaca:

Maurice Hinchey:

Washington Office:
Office of Rep. Hinchey
2431 Rayburn H.O.B.
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-6335
Fax: (202) 226-0774

Binghamton Office:
Office of Rep. Hinchey
100A Federal Building
Binghamton, NY 13901
Phone: (607) 773-2768

Ithaca Office:
Office of Rep Hinchey
123 S. Cayuga St. #201
Ithaca, NY 14850
Phone: (607) 273-1388

Representative Boehlert
45 Church Street
Cortland, NY 13045
607-758-9007 (fax)

Washington Office
2246 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-3223
202-225-1891 (fax)
Permalink 1:12 AM

Memo in 2001 Warned of Al Qaeda

Revelations about the incompetence and/or dishonesty of the Bush administration elicit nothing yawns these days, but according to a newly declassified memo, Condoleeza Rice was warned by Richard Clarke in January, 2001 of the danger of Al Qaeda and was presented with a plan for dealing with the threat. This pretty much confirms Richard Clarke's story. Not that it would have made any difference, but it is interesting this came out after Rice's confirmation hearings for Secretary of State were over.
Permalink 1:05 AM

A Uniter, not a Divider

(via MyDD)

On Donkey Rising David Gopoian reports on a study by the University of Michigan on the 2004 elections. On a scale of 0 to 100, Kerry was rated 72 by Democrats (about typical) but only 32 by Republicans. That's the lowest rating Republicans have given the Democratic candidate ever; even McGovern got a 38. More surprising still was Bush's ratings: He received a rating of 84 among Republicans (beating even Reagan), but only 29 among Democrats. Among Republicans, Bush got the highest rating of any President since the survey began, but among Democrats, he got the lowest rating ever.

It appears that the country is more polarized than ever.
Permalink 12:48 AM

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Right to Sue under Attack

Congress took its first big step yesterday to implement President Bush's plan to overhaul the nation's legal system, approving a measure long sought by business to impose new restrictions on class-action lawsuits.

Many Democrats joined in on this pro-business move, including my own Senator Chuck Schumer.
Permalink 7:54 PM

Go, Barbara

Barbara Boxer, on Social Security (via Talking Points Memo)
So clearly, Social Security is not in crisis, is not bankrupt, and is not collapsing.

Yes, there is a challenge we should address.

Have we ever faced a similar Social Security challenge before? Yes. During the Reagan presidency in 1983. Working together, Democrats and Republicans, we resolved the challenge then just as we can do now. So why would an otherwise optimistic George Bush turn into a prophet of pessimism on Social Security?

Because, his initiative is not about meeting the challenges of Social Security to keep it sound; it is not about bringing together Democrats and Republicans as Ronald Reagan did to ensure that full benefits will be there for all Americans. It is about one thing and one thing only: destroying Social Security.

How do I know that? Am I being partisan? Am I being unfair by stating in a very clear way that I believe the true goal here is to destroy Social Security? Not at all. I am simply telling the truth as told by this very White House.

On January 6, 2005, the White House wrote a Social Security memo. Although marked “not for attribution,” fortunately, we have it.

The most telling sentence in the entire memo is this: “For the first time in six decades the Social Security battle is one we can win – and in doing so, we can help transform the political and philosophical landscape of the country.”
Permalink 7:52 PM

What else is new?

The left is once again being accused of supporting terrorism.
Permalink 7:51 PM

Lawyer Sentenced

Other civil-libertarian news: Lynne Stewart, a civil rights lawyer, has been convicted of aiding terrorists for reading a statement made by her client, Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind cleric who was convicted in 1995 of conspiring to attack U.S. targets.
Permalink 7:50 PM

More on Civil Liberties

On a related front, Ahmed Abu Ali, an American citizen, has been held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia since June 2003. He has not been tried, and has had no access to legal representation. U.S. District Judge John D. Bates said about Ali's case:
The government’s “position is as striking as it is sweeping," the judge said. He warned that its behavior would allow the government to arrest people and deliver them to another country in order to avoid constitutional scrutiny, or even "to deliver American citizens to foreign governments to obtain information through the use of torture."
Recently, Federal prosecutors have asked this same judge to dismiss the challenge to Ali's imprisonment made by Ali's parents. He is being asked to rule based on secret evidence that no defense attorney is allowed to review.
Permalink 7:49 PM

Update on the Torture Front

Notice that I've taken down my link to the Stop Gonzales website. That particular battle was lost, due to the fact that a number of Democrats voted to confirm, making a filibuster impossible. The hall of shame on this vote go to Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Ken Salazar of Colorado, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Bill Nelson of Florida, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

All except Lieberman are in the difficult position of being Democrats in Red states (although I don't see how torture is an American value), but Liebermann's vote is unforgivable. By installing Gonzales, we are announcing to the world that the US has no problem with the use of torture. Gonzales has argued that the Torture Treaty does not
bar cruel and inhuman tactics.
. Gonzales also provided legal arguments supporting the use of "extraordinary renditions" in which torture is "outsourced" by shipping suspects to countries where it is expected that they will be tortured:
Gonzales, the new Attorney General, argued during his confirmation proceedings that the U.N. Convention Against Torture’s ban on “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” of terrorist suspects does not apply to American interrogations of foreigners overseas.
Permalink 7:48 PM

I'm Back...

Sorry, I haven't posted in so long. I'm sure our readership has fallen from 6 down to 1 or 2 at this point. I've had the flu...
Permalink 7:44 PM

Thursday, February 03, 2005

New Torturer General

Via Body and Soul
Well, it looks like we have a new attorney generalissimo.

Every Republican (including the one who spent several years of his life being tortured in a Vietnamese prison) voted for torture, along with six despicable democrats -- Joe Lieberman, Ken Salazar, Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, Bill Nelson, and Mark Pryor.
Permalink 11:29 PM

Missing the Point of a Free Press

Here's an ominous trend: Networks are rejecting paid issue advertisements because they are too political or too controversial. Some recent examples:
The networks reject these ads because they are deemed to be upsetting to those who disagree with the political views expressed in the ads. The irony here is that even according to people with the narrowest views of freedom of the press, political speech especially requires free expression:
The First Amendment, understood in this light, is not so much a matter of protecting rights as ensuring sound public judgment through the process of public deliberation. The true meaning of the law should therefore be determined, and limited, by matters having to do with the political process (broadly defined). Political speech should be encouraged since it is essential to the functioning of democracy, while non-political speech should be less fully protected when it conflicts with other interests and rights, such as privacy.
The media, in its cowardice, is failing to fulfill its most important role in a free society.
Permalink 10:53 PM

Reasons Change, Goals Remain the Same

As Kevin Drum and others (Atrios and Josh Marshall) point out, the Bush administration is now candidly admitting that their Social Security plan will do nothing to solve the manufactured crisis that they've been hyping in recent weeks:
"In a significant shift in his rationale for the accounts, Bush dropped his claim that they would help solve Social Security's fiscal problems — a link he sometimes made during last year's presidential campaign. Instead, he said the individual accounts were desirable because they would be "a better deal," providing workers what he said would be a higher rate of return and "greater security in retirement."

A Bush aide, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity, was more explicit, saying that the individual accounts would do nothing to solve the system's long-term financial problems."
This is a recurring pattern with the Bush administration: Manufacture a crisis in order to scare people into jumping on their bandwagon to do what the administration wanted to do, anyway (cut taxes, invade Iraq, privatize Social Security). If the facts later turn out not to support their claims that there was a crisis, they just invent other reasons for doing it. With this administration, decisions are always firm, while the facts supporting those decisions shift with the wind.
Permalink 9:52 PM

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Libertarians on the side of the Angels

Well, speaking figuratively, of course. I have my disagreements with libertarians, but I have to say that liberals and libertarians are standing shoulder to shoulder, reading from the same page, there is no daylight between us, speaking with one voice (hmm, I'm sure I've left out a few cliches...) on two issues: (1) Torture (and in general, the erosion of civil liberties), and (2) the distortion of science by politics. via Jim Henley:


Click permalink for the rest...
Here's the great libertarian blogger, Arthur Silber

The United States was uniquely the creation of the Enlightenment, and it originally embodied the Enlightenment’s cardinal values: reason, individualism, and free markets. For a long time now, individual rights and economic freedom have been under relentless assault – an assault carried forward by the Bush administration in a manner the most determined statist can only envy. The present administration goes so far as to advocate lifelong detention of “suspected” terrorists, with no charges ever being filed and without access to a lawyer. And the administration’s efforts on behalf of corporate statism seek to make permanent the Republican alliance with certain business interests in an immensely destructive melding of the private and public spheres, in a way which has nothing to do with genuine economic freedom. (By the way, this is true in spades of the administration’s proposal to “privatize” Social Security; more on that soon.)

Philosophically, reason has similarly been under attack for many years. But now, the outright rejection of reason has become commonplace. Mark this well, and let me repeat in very plain terms a point I discussed just last week: the fact of evolution is not a question open to legitimate debate. It is supported by endless amounts of scientific data, and nothing has yet been found to contradict or undercut its central arguments. Yes, there remain certain areas to be filled in – but this does nothing to undercut the truth of evolution. It simply means that certain explanations are not yet complete. But as is discussed further below (and in the earlier post), recourse to notions such as “intelligent design” explains nothing. It only represents ignorance parading as knowledge, and the substitution of faith for reason...

I am convinced that the neverending war atmosphere in which we now live plays a significant part in this, as well: people who are relentlessly terrified by their own government, and who have any number of mainstream commentators adding to the frenzy, are not likely to step back and reflect on basic ideas, at length and with care.

Fear is not conducive to detailed, analytic thinking. Instead, it gives rise to meaningless, propagandistic phrases such as, “You’re either with us or against us,” “You’re not antiwar…you’re on the other side!,” that teaching evolution represents nothing less than “an assault by the secular elite,” and that the ACLU is the equivalent of “the Taliban.”

It’s all propaganda, and it’s all designed to marginalize anyone who dares to disagree with the conventional wisdom, as announced by the self-appointed few. And it’s anti-intellectual in the most profound meaning of that term.

We are becoming a nation of ignoramuses. No wonder fewer and fewer people around the world respect us. In large part, they’re entirely correct.

Permalink 1:56 PM

The Decent into Totalitarianism

As I said in this post, although I am a liberal, I don't want to silence or eliminate conservatives, libertarians, and other voices of people who disagree with me. I think that politics is about arguing over the direction the country should take, and it can't function if there is no disagreement. However, many modern American conservatives (as well as conservatives from other countries) aren't agreeing to disagree anymore. Click permalink for the rest...

This was pointed by Kevin Drum in Delineating Dissent
....Andrew Sullivan is right to point with dismay to the final paragraph of Fred Barnes's recent diatribe in the Weekly Standard:
Senate Democrats have enough votes to block major Bush initiatives like Social Security reform and to reject Bush appointees, including Supreme Court nominees. They may be suicidal, but they could undermine the president's entire second term agenda. At his news conference last week, Bush reacted calmly to their vitriolic attacks, suggesting only a few Democrats are involved. Stronger countermeasures will be needed, including an unequivocal White House response to obstructionism, curbs on filibusters, and a clear delineation of what's permissible and what's out of bounds in dissent on Iraq.

Say what? The White House should tell us what kind of dissent on Iraq is permissible and what isn't? Is that really how these guys think?

This post spurred the following comment from a self-proclaimed moderate, Joe Schmoe ( think that's a pseudonym?)
Some of the Democrats' "dissent" on Iraq borders on treason. I think that the Bush White House has been far too easy on the Democrats with respect to Iraq.

Sen. Edward Kennedy's (D-Mass.) recent remarks are a perfect example. ("American troops are part of the problem, not part of the solution") Brit Hume asked Secretary of State Rice about them over the weekend.

From Craig (who is British)
Kennedy's speech (especially once it is backed up with a "no" vote on the budget for the military) is more adhering to your enemies, giving them aid and comfort, than Benedict Arnold could have ever hoped to accomplish.

From Walter E. Wallis
Since we know that the primary weapon the enemy has against us is the breaking of our will to continue the fight, then actions specifically to that purpose are, indeed, treason. If democrats lack the wit to disagree with policy without going over the line, that is their problem. If ONE soldier dies because of that bloviating asshole Kennedy, that is too many. Whack his peepee.

Permalink 1:12 PM