On more than just local government

Thursday, January 27, 2005

It ain't as easy as it looks

From the New York Times:

"If individual investment accounts become an integral part of Social Security, as President Bush is proposing, what will happen to workers who become disabled before they retire?

"Will they be allowed to draw on the savings in their retirement accounts? Will their standard Social Security benefits be increased to make up for the fact that because they have worked fewer years, their personal accounts are likely to be smaller than those of retirees? If they do receive higher benefits, will they have to forfeit their investment savings?

"These are among the dozens of questions posed in a report issued on Wednesday by the National Academy of Social Insurance, a private, nonpartisan organization of academics and government officials who specialize in issues like Social Security, Medicare and unemployment compensation....

"...Currently, 16 percent of those receiving monthly Social Security checks are people under retirement age who cannot work because they are disabled. They receive the same benefits, based on their earnings in their working years, that they would receive if they were retired. This is a central element in the safety net provided by Social Security.

"Social Security provides more than half the total income for about half of these disabled people and more than 90 percent of the income for about one-fifth of them.

"The premise behind almost all proposals to divert tax money into private accounts is that ordinary Social Security benefits would be reduced to save the government money, but theoretically retirees would be at least as well off because income from their private accounts would make up for the lower benefits.

"But this would not work well for people who become disabled. Their accounts would not provide as much income as those of retirees, since they would have had fewer working years to put money into accounts."


Knickers atwist

Didn't the Clinton adminstration catch hell for something just like this? Guess this is the "freedomization" of repressive regimes.


"The acquisition of IBM's PC business by China's largest PC maker, Lenovo Group Ltd., may pose a threat to U.S. national security and deserves a closer review by the U.S. Congress and government agencies before a decision is made on whether or not to approve the deal, three U.S. lawmakers said this week.

"Those concerns were set out in a letter yesterday to U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow that was signed by three Republican congressmen: House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter and House Small Business Committee Chairman Don Manzullo.

'Specifically, the congressmen worried that the $1.75 billion deal could transfer advanced technology and corporate assets to the Chinese government, along with licensable or export-controlled technology, and may result in certain U.S. government contracts involving PCs being fulfilled by the Chinese government, according to a statement released by the House Armed Services Committee."

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Must have been the Cliff's Notes

Allegedly, W's favorite book is Natan Sharansky's The Case for Democracy.

According to Chris Suellentrop in Slate, "most of the discussion surrounding Sharansky's book has focused on what he calls 'the town square test' for free societies. Here's how Sharansky defines the test, which Condoleezza Rice endorsed during her Senate confirmation hearings: 'Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm?'

"Sharansky uses this test to devise the central policy recommendation in The Case for Democracy: He wants to 'turn a government's preservation of the right to dissent—the town square test—into the standard of international legitimacy,' and he recommends sanctions and pariah status for the nations that fail it."

So, let's see. How many of our ALLIES and major trading partners pass this test? Saudi Arabia? Egypt? Uzbekistan? Russia? China?

Must be ripe for an invasion.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Is there a greater bullshit artist than Ahhnold?

From his meeting with the editorial board of the Orange County Register, Ahhnold tries to explain what a special interest is. I think the steroids have addled what's left of his brain.

You talked about special interests, but you're going to raise $13 million to qualify initiatives from special interests. Could you define what exactly is a special interest?

A: I think any group that is interested in a specific thing. An industry, a business, a union, all are special interests.

Q: Does that include businesses seeking state contractsor whose businesses are affected by regulations and who come to Sacramento to lobby your administration?

A: I think it's very important to differentiate between lashing out at special interests having control over our legislators versus lashing out at special interests. There's no reason to lash out at special interests. There's only a reason to lash out and say, "I'm against the special interests paying the politicians for their campaigns, then they owe favors back, then they go in and they write the laws."

I mean, you know, those guys are the ghost writers of our laws up there in Sacramento. That has to stop. And so therefore what I want the people to know, is that the decisions and the things that you hear about, right now with education to take an example, taking money from education, those are the special interests. Because they have an interest in keeping things the way they are. Just because there's more money for them, there's more money for everybody. That's what they want to do.

What I'm saying is that the legislators can listen to them, then make the decisions that are right for the people, not for the special interests. And the special interests will be very, very powerful up there and throwing their money around and they will be throwing their power around and the legislators get intimidated by that.

So therefore they make decisions based on what decisions the politicians should be making, not what is best for the people.

And so what I am saying is, we have to make decisions, the politicians, the legislators up there, should listen to the people, not the special interests. The special interests are there, they've always been there. That's fine. But don't get influenced and don't make decisions based on what's best for them. Make decisions on what's best for the people.

And the special interests will then be out there campaigning and they will be spending money and for these various initiativesor against initiatives. I mean you see it, you write about it. And they are out there. I want to let people know that those people are not working for your interests, they are working for them. So always be conscious of that.

Q: Is the Chamber of Commerce a special interest?

A: Of course. The Chamber of Commerce is interested in helping the businesses of California. And then there are special interests out there that are businesses. All of them, the key thing is not to go and say that they are bad. It's just that their influence - if they have influence on the legislators, that is evil and bad. Because then they do not represent the people any more. They represent the special interests. That's what we see over and over, and that's what I'd like to break, that habit. Let them know that this time it is over, we have to fight that, we have to do everything we can to fight that.


Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Lies, damned lies and Social Security

The biggest problem with Social Security is not the generally accepted, but highly disputed, proposition that it will not deliver any benefits to our children's children when they get older. The biggest problem is that many of the proposed solutions are worse than anything the present system offers.

Two statements drive me crazy:

1) "The system doesn't deliver a return on investment that one could get in the secuities market." Of course, it all depends on what you call ROI. The law now requires that the Social Security Administration invest its enormous surplus only in government bonds. This clearly is not as much as one can get in the stock market. But it is much, much safer, as we all sadly learned in the "dot-bomb" years.

The REAL ROI is how much you ultimately get back from the system compared to what you put in. In this case, the primary variable is how long you live. Live to 66, and your investment doesn't pay out. Live to 90 and you make out like a bandit.

This is actually the key question. When should somebody start getting benefits? If one is pushed into retirement at 65, the system is being stressed more than if you let a person retire when they wish...very likely later than that arbitrary time frame.

2) "People should take control of their own investing." Many of these same people can't balance their own checkbook or keep from maxing out the multiple credit cards they've built up over their lives.

What happens if someone blows it all? Isn't the government going to be dealing with their needs anyway, but at a higher cost to the system? No one is going to be left out in the cold.

It is time for the Bush administration to stop thinking "pie in the sky" and try to deal with some real issues regarding social security. Why should the payroll tax be capped, thus making the system highly regressive? Why shouldn't there be means testing for benefits? Why shouldn't the later retirement options be sped up so that people dip into the system when they want it rather than some arbitary age?

And, one other thing, W, a symposium on ANYTHING offers disparate voices, not just the ones you want to hear. Grow up! It's OK to hear arguments you don't agree with.

You have the big chair. Use it more wisely.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The pink elephant in the room

All these blovine Senators and not one of them, save Barbara Boxer, would say to Condoleeza Rice during her confirmation hearing, "Hey. You lied to us the last time. Why should we think you are telling us the truth now?"

No matter how smart, how dedicated, how controlled, how seemingly unflappable Dr. Rice was during today's hearing, she has a stain on her that no one, save Boxer, wants to talk about.

So she will become Secretary of State and, once again, a senior politico gets away with murder. In her case over 1300 Americans and an untold number of Iraqis.

Ah, ain't government great!!!!!

Monday, January 10, 2005

The co-respondent

Yet another house has been tumbled by falling mud. One would think we would have learned about where to build and, more importantly, not build houses.

California is a paradise with natural disaster looming over the horizon. This is the pact with the devil that all Californians make. However, there should be some adult supervision to keep us from expanding our opportunities for folly.

When we build in fire zones, underneath muddy hillsides, cantilevered off of cliffs or in an historic floodplain, the people who should be telling us to rethink our decision are the insurance companies. They understand the risk. But by writing policies at reasonable prices to cover some, if not all of the cost of rebuilding, they have become enablers.

These companies provide a false sese of security that what goes away can be replaced. But lives can't. Nor can the less terminal, but still important, memories and memorabilia.

It is up to the insurance carriers to make the cost of placing one's home and kin in danger an expensive proposition. Hopefully, this will create a sense of responsibility among the buyers of these properties.

Human nature is such that we can never keep people from putting themselves in harm's way. However, we can make it so that they have to think long and hard about doing it. Since the pocketbook usually attracts the most attention, that should be where it hurts.

The fraud known as Ahhnold – Part 2 of many

If there was any doubt that Arnold Schwarzenegger was governing in a parallel universe, last week’s State of the State message should have proven the case. The self-described anti-politician announced a policy of complete political control of state institutions in the Governor’s office. One man rule. It sounds like he may have listened to his father more than he admits.

Ahhnold’s Four Points were, on the surface, statements of populism. In fact, they are the seeds of oligarchy. Ahhnold doesn’t like the fact that he couldn’t convince people to support his candidates, so the rules must be changed. He doesn’t like the fact that he made a deal with the teacher’s union last year, so he unilaterally abrogates it and blames the victim for the crime.

He claims that California has a spending, not a revenue problem, while piling on initiative after initiative that does nothing but increase spending without any revenue to offset them. Finally, he claims that commissioners make too much money while meeting not often enough, when 96% of the commissions he wishes to end offer stipends of only about $100 per meeting.

The last of the points is a complete joke and is indicative of why this Governor has become the one most assistive to the special interests. After all, most of the commissions and review boards he wishes to put an end to exist for the protection of the consumers against the people who have given Ahhnold most of his enormous political war chest. Now, I wonder, why are they on the first target list? Could it be payback?

Schwarzenegger rode into office on a tide of disdain for Gray Davis due to his mishandling of the deficit, the energy crisis and for being addicted to raising campaign money. In over a year, the deficit has gotten worse, there is no energy policy and even more campaign money than ever before has been raised.

The difference between Ahhnold and Gray is that the present Governor shovels the BS better than the previous one. But that is not governing. That is being a sow to the thirsty mouths of the rich and powerful.

The Legislature needs to come up with its own plans for the future structure of California, if only to protect its position as an equal branch of government. If they don’t, we will be a Gubernatorial dictatorship as far as the eye can see.

And Republicans should beware. The Law of Unintended Consequences, the only immutable law of government, will eventually rear its ugly head and give that power to a Democrat. Think about whether that’s the government you would want to live under.

Friday, January 07, 2005

The problem with merit pay is just the beginning

Ahhhnold's State of the State speech was filled with the usual yada-yada that occupy those useless speeches. However, as he reached his Four Points, through which he plans to change California government as we know it, we came to see that the turning of the New Year has brought with it a complete erasure of all agreements and events that occurred in 2004. Like a governmental Magic Slate.

In particular is the complete screwing the education establishment has gotten. Last year, at the height of the negotiations on keeping the lights on for 2004-05, Ahhnold made a deal that would keep his hands off their future revenue in exchange for a couple of billion dollars of anticipated revenue. Now he wants to renege on the deal.

In addition, he wants to add the requirement that teacher pay be linked to a merit system. Good teachers will be rewarded. Poor teachers won't.

From a purely logical prespective, this makes sense. Practically, it can't. After all, who is responsible if a parent doesn't provide an environment supporting the things the teacher has fought so hard to instill in a student?

This student hasn't succeeded because of his/her parents, not the teacher. Maybe we should sterilize those parents who prove to be non-supportive of the education of their children. It makes about as much sense.

Ahhnold loves sound bite policy making. The problem is that we are left holding the bag. We still have a huge deficit. Ahhnold has put Gray Davis to shame regarding fund raising. (But, they aren't special interests. Only the nurses, teachers, police and fire associations, etc. are.)

He also got his pride hurt when none of the people he backed for election the the State Legislature won. Toughen up, Ahhnold. This isn't the pattycake of Hollywood. This is REAL hardball.

Who knew Ahhnold would take the wusses way out and blame everything on somebody else. Nice superhero.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Tsunami Shame

The lateral two-step being danced by the upper echelons of the Bush Administration may just be the embarassment over having been caught asleep at the switch when the tsunami hit South Asia. I hope it is, because the other alternative is even more embarassing...that this administration, seeing that the devastation was taking place in a part of the world that has little geopolitical importance in today's Iraq-centric world, chose to ignore it.

The cause and effect from a United Nations bureaucrat calling the US "stingy" to the sudden outpouring of aid cannot be missed. Maybe it's just that everybody in and around the White House is preparing for their next job.

Colin Powell must either feel that he is already out the door and being ignored or that he has lost any sense of the "magic" that made him a political superstar in the run up to the 2000 election. I hope it is the former, but after four years of kowtowing to the Bushies and trumping up evidence of WMD, it is hard to know whether he has any of himself left.

The shame of it all is that is was totally unnecessary. If W had only come out immediately and said that "we will be there to help as soon as we know what is needed," none of this would have happened. But, considering how disciplined this White House has been, it leads one to believe that they really didn't care all that much. After all, you don't bother W in Crawford unless you absolutely have to. Just ask Richard Clarke.

The United States now has added so much additional fodder to the "why I hate America" song because if this. I don't know if even four years will expunge it. We seem sure to have to wait until 2009 for someone else to try to make amends. In the meantime, thousands, including the homeless, orphaned and disaffected will join the terror cells and many more will die because of that.

Our shame will be washed in blood.