Of course I'm liberal, I believe in liberty.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Our Real Tax Rates

Much of the debate on Social Security centers on trust fund and whether it is 'real' or not. For years I've been claiming the trust fund is basically an elaborate hoax as the extra money paid into social security simply went into the general fund to be spent like every other tax, leading to a rather regressive tax code. Ironically, it is now conservatives who claim the fund isn't really a fund, which means we have a problem as soon as 2018.

So if there is no fund and social security tax is just another income tax, what are the current tax rates? Social security charges 6.2% to the individual and 6.2% to the company. I'm going to assume a tax is a tax, whether the company pays it as part of your benefits (from the employer's perspective) or the employee pays it directly. If you disagree that splitting the tax is more than just an attempt to make the tax look smaller than it really is feel free to subtract 6.2% from the results.

Tax RateTax w/ SSSingle Filer's Income
15% 27.4% $7,151-$29,050
25% 37.4% $29,051-$70,350
28% 40.4% $70,351-$87,900
28% 28% $87,900-$146,750
33% 33% $178,651-$319,100
35% 35% $319,101

The tax rates don't look so progressive any more, do they?

UPDATE: I should point out this table is intended to be used as a talking point, representing the most extreme interpretation of the social security tax. In my opinion, only the portion of the tax that goes into the trust fund really should be treated as a normal tax. Unfortunately, I'm having trouble finding that number. If I find it I'll add a column to the chart.

UPDATE 2: fixed the link to the original tax bracket table.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Two For Two: Courts Rule Correctly Again

I agreed with the courts on the sticker issue and agree again with this:
An atheist who tried to remove "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance lost a bid Friday to bar the saying of a Christian prayer at President Bush's inauguration.
The atheist is being silly. More than that he hurts his own side doing this kind of thing, much like the church hurts itself pushing creationism1, making all of us liberals look like the PC Nazi's the right loves to claim we are. There is nothing wrong with Bush2 saying a prayer at his inauguration. There is also nothing wrong with swearing on the Bible to uphold the Constitution.

Now, if he decides to swear on the Constitution to uphold the Bible we've got a problem!

(via The Moderate Voice.)

1I haven't written that article yet. Let's just say it is a very personal story...
2Other than the fact the voters choose the wrong guy, but that's another matter entirely...

Sticker Shock

One of the great things about debating an issue with someone who disagrees is it really helps me contemplate and clarify my own thoughts. This is what blogging should be about, but unfortunately we all tend to stay in our own little echo chambers which tends to lead to sloppy thinking and unjust criticism of those that disagree.

"Man, those liberals are idiots!" "Yea, and they have no moral grounding!"

"I sure wish rapture would come and take all those damn fundamentalists away so we didn't have to deal with this crap!"

Not good.

So here is the question: was the court correct when it ordered a Georgia school district to remove stickers challenging the theory of evolution from its textbooks on the grounds that they violated the U.S. Constitution. The sticker states thus:
This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.

This is an interesting question because the sticker is in and of itself a factual statement. However, it is a statement that applies to all of science, not just evolution. But the fundamentalists don't have a problem with thermodynamics, they have a problem with evolution.

I actually would be in favor of a chapter that discussed the religious controversy over evolution and provided a dialog of the debate. I think that would be very appropriate for the high school or even junior high level. (I'm not so sure about grade school, though.)

But we have to be careful here. The sticker doesn't suggest there are religious concerns with evolution, it suggests there are scientific concerns, implying these concerns are above and beyond those found in all the rest of science. But the reason the sticker is being put on the book is purely religious.

There is nothing wrong with teaching about religion in the public schools. We should do it more. I'd love to see high school classes comparing religions, religions of various nations discussed in sixth grade, etc.

But you can't teach religion itself in a public school. There is no getting around the fact the some people are trying to insert church doctrine into a science book in a public school. That's is what is unconstitutional and that is why I agree with the court.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Defenders of Creationism

You know, even though I usually disagreed with Paul over at WizBang!, I knew he wasn't as rational as he claimed to be, but I really wasn't expecting this from him.
Evolution Nazis- Don't Let Children Think

Say What?

"Judge Rejects Georgia School Board Evolution Stand"
Is evolution a proven fact? No. Neither is Relativity, Newton's Laws of Motion, Quantum Mechanics, or anything else in Science. Science isn't math and it never has nor ever will prove anything, but it's damn good at discovering the truths of our physical world. For a theory to be scientific it must be falsifiable. Theories become accepted as near fact as they withstand repeated attempts to find holes and disprove them. Evolution has done a remarkably good job explaining the details of biology and is on as solid ground as anything else in science.

The only reason for those stickers are religious ones, not scientific. Let the scientists teach science and the ministers teach the gospel.

UPDATE: I'm getting complaints I didn't include the sticker in the post. Those complaints are perfectly valid; I was on my way out when I decided I had time for a quick post, basically reprinting the comments I left at the Wizbang! blog. Sorry about that. Here is the sticker in question:
The stickers read: This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.
Children should be taught to think for themselves, including questioning evolution and all of the sciences, Paul and I agree there, I think. Every good scientist questions everything, at least up to a point. But there is no doubt this sticker is directed at evolution for very religious reasons, which is why the court rightly rejected it.

At the Wizbang! blog someone posted a comment I agreed with completely:
“This book contains material on scientific theories. All scientific theories, and scientific thought that may be presented as fact, should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered”
Although the above note is not placed in textbooks by means of a sticker, the statement seems to be implicit, or at the least should be implicit, in any science textbook.

Posted by: RicardoVerde at January 13, 2005 11:04 PM

Social Security Petition

Moveon.org as an online petition to Congress opposing Social Security privatization.
Congress must protect Social Security. It should not be phased out through a risky privatization scheme

Via Matthew Yglesias (sort of).

Tips For Struggling With Intellectual Masturbation

Just go read this. Hall Of Fame material.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A Foreshadowing of the Distant Future? 

There's a fascinating, thought provoking blog entry over at Legal Fiction, "THE INTERNET & TSUNAMI RELIEF - A Foreshadowing of the Distant Future?".
...I think we are quite literally witnessing a phenomenon that has never happened in human history. In a span of days, hundreds of millions of dollars instantly appeared to help the devastated region. Nothing like this has ever happened - not this much, this fast, over the Internet.

In roughly ten years, the human race has constructed a global infrastructure connecting it to each other as never before. I am more convinced than ever that the invention of the Internet is destined to take its place alongside tools, the wheel, agriculture, and the printing press as one of the greatest milestones in the history of the human race...
I agree. The Internet has created a fundamental paradigm shift on how the world operates and how we view each other; it has all happened at a dizzyingly fast pace. I often remind my eight year old daughter that the Internet really isn't any older than she is. As a girl who only developed the habit of good spelling to improve her Google searches, she has a hard time imagining that time long, long ago where if someone didn't know something they would either have to go to a library or just live with the ignorance. In her world, answers and knowledge are always a click away. Once while playing a video game I wasn't sure what to do next to defeat some boss I was battling, so she ran upstairs to her room while I thought about it; a few moments later she came down and told me a strategy that worked for someone else. That's her world.

On the emotional side, the other night I spent a few hours clicking though the "Next Blog" link at the top of my blog (blogspot puts it there) and it was fascinating. I found a 12 year old girl in Malaysia with exactly the same interests as my daughter (well, plus boys to a bit), a women posting her family's move from America to Africa and a boy in Indonesia that just discovered the cool lyrics to Hotel California. I'll admit I teared up a bit1; the world never seemed smaller.
...this infrastructure also the potential to bring the world together – to connect it within a larger global market and information infrastructure. Railroads, telegraphs, radios, and television all helped transform the United States from a collection of bickering states into a nation. Today, even though we root for our home states in sports events, we would never dream of fighting a war for them.

The ultimate goal of humankind should be to replicate this evolution on a global scale. The great promise of the Internet and global markets is to draw the world together and make it interdependent. Though I will never live to see it, I would hope that the world will one day treat the idea of nations and nationalism as antiquated relics from a distant past. I want nationalism to become limited to soccer games. The end of nations – that is both the dream, and the logical implication, of globalization over the very long-term...
On the other hand, how would someone in 1940's France or Germany would feel about the two countries sharing the same constitution, not by conquest but by choice. The world is moving very, very fast right now; it is almost impossible to tell where we will end up in even the very near future. I feel we are at a critical point in history where many different outcomes are possbile. My biggest fear is every mistake George Bush makes will be magnified a thousand times over. There are real reasons this was the "most important election ever" and we lost.
Anyway, the most frightening aspect of their argument was that as “Empire” grows, it becomes more vulnerable. Because it is for all practical purposes a growing organism that has no true center (like the Internet), a collapse at any one point could bring the whole thing down. For example, when the world is truly interconnected within “Empire,” a financial crisis in Thailand or Argentina could bring down the whole thing – as could a terrorist attack that caused the world’s markets or cyber-infrastructure to collapse...

As much as I reject their values, I fear they may be prophetic. In an interdependent world, we are just that – interdependent. A collapse in any one place could cause a massive chain reaction that sucked us all down into the abyss. If we're all tied together, any one who falls in the water could drown everyone.
Yes and no. The odds of the entire planet failing may go up, but the odds of any individual area failing goes down because the rest of us are there to help, just like with the tsunami relief. This is sort of the opposite of the nuclear problem. Back in the cold war the odds of total global catastrophe was relatively high; today the human species is safe from nuclear extinction, but the odds of a single bomb going off in, say, London or Washington is much higher. Hmmm, perhaps the internet issue and the nuclear issue cancel each other out...

Actually, this dual dynamic is everywhere. Just as the internet is connecting us it also makes it much easier to find others that think just like we do. We are simultaneously entering an era of great unity and great polarization. How these forces interact going forward could be anyone's guess.
Before I finish, I want to make one last point about the rise of the Internet and its potential implications. And here’s where I’m going to get science-fictiony, so indulge me. I suspect the day is coming when computers will able to interface with the human brain. Maybe it will be one hundred years, maybe it will be a thousand. I don’t know. But I think the day is coming. If and when that happens, I’m not sure that we’ll actually be humans in the same sense that we are today. If you and I can connect in a similar way that two computers can, would it be coherent to say that we are still different entities? If you and I can download each other’s mind into our own, would we still be different?

My point is that I can imagine a day where human existence evolves into something more collective and more like a computer network. For the sake of argument, let’s say that the great interfacing happens in the year 2500. If it does, it would be wrong to think that it happened overnight. In reality, the evolution would have occurred gradually and along a spectrum through time. Thus, the rise of human communities on the Internet may eventually come to be seen as a link between earlier human life and future human life in the same way that certain primate species link us to our ancestors. In other words, maybe we are witnessing the rise of something post-human in something as unlikely as tsunami aid. Emailing, instant messaging, blogging – perhaps these will be seen as points along the road toward something truly different.
Though he doesn't use the term, he's describing the singularity (that's the phenomena, not the world famous prog group from Denver). It is fair to claim humans trumped the evolutionary arms race when we learned to develop tools and pass on that information to our decedents; we now 'evolve' exponentially faster than any other creature. The prophesied singularity trumps our tools by allowing intelligence itself to grow exponentially, adding another exponent to our2 evolutionary advantage.

Anyway, that's a great, thought provoking post. Read the whole thing.

1 Hey, it was really, really late. The next one of you to call me a girly-man is going to get it; I'm going to kick your ass! Yea, that's what I thought; sit back down.

2 Of course, the definition of 'our' is debatable here. If this happens, will we still be us?

Scare Tactics

Matthew Yglisias worries the Democrats are pushing the wrong scare story on social security:
I must admit to being slightly distressed by the impression I'm getting from the news coverage that the Democratic Social Security plan is to spend a lot of time fear-mongering about the evils of risky private accounts. That seems like the wrong scare story to tell. A stock portfolio is, indeed, risky, but we all appreciate that it's better to have one than to not have one. The scary thing is the cut in the guaranteed benefits that Bush wants to use to pay for your "private" account.
Absolutely right.

Here's the bottom line, currently social security is an insurance policy that channels money from those that die young to those that live a long life. Private accounts are savings that let you keep your money should you die young, necessarily having fewer funds available for the living.

In other words, current policy is better while you are alive and privatization is better after you die.

Which do you prefer?

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The War Against Evolution

As you may have noticed, the fundamentalists in this country have declared war against evolution and the scientific method it is founded on.

A great article in Salon, "The New Monkey Trial", details just how obsessed, organized and well funded these holy warriors are and they are well on their way to victory.

For example, we learn that Dr. Jonathan Wells, who appears to be a reasonable scientist who just happens to believe in "intelligent design" instead of evolution, actually decided at a very young age to dedicate his life to fighting the evils of evolution -- long before he ever earned a "Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from Berkeley and another in religious studies from Yale.

A member of the Unification Church whose education was bankrolled by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, he's written that he sought his degrees specifically to fight the teaching of evolution. As he put it in an article on the Moonie Web site True Parents, "Father's words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father [Sun Myung Moon] chose me (along with about a dozen other seminary graduates) to enter a Ph.D. program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle."

Be scared, people. This world is at war between the forces of religious fundamentalism and enlightened reason. Enlightened reason must win.

Dr. Wells is a senior fellow at a group called the Center for Science and Culture which proposed a wedge strategy that "seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies."

"The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built ... Yet a little over a century ago, this cardinal idea came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science. Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry, and environment. This materialistic conception of reality eventually infected virtually every area of our culture, from politics and economics to literature and art."

We live in a country where 48% of the population believes dinosaurs walked the earth with humans, even with all their education and the press trying to tell them otherwise. (Heck, one out of four adults still think the sun goes around the Earth.)

Think how that number can climb once they visit the Dinosaur Adventure Land "the place where dinosaurs and the Bible meet" or the soon to be completed Genisis Park.

Chris Mooney doesn't think the threat is all that serious, despite all of this.

That said, I'm not as pessimistic as Goldberg. Although Democratic politicians tend to be cowards on this subject, the elite media still have no love for creationism, and that's a powerful force to be reckoned with. Science's defenders should bring out national television crews, and let them interview the Bible-thumpers who come out for these battles on the local level. One of these types appears in Goldberg's article--and I'm telling you, mainstream journalists are not ready to embrace people like this.

Kevin Drum agrees, the liberal (or at least well educated, elite) media will save us.

I think Chris is right. As I've said before, the mainstream media really is biased toward showing what they're familiar with, and what they're mostly familar with is their fellow college educated social liberals. Unfortunately, this is a two-edged sword: when it comes to the crackpot end of the spectrum, lefty crackpots get a lot of press and end up convincing a lot of people that liberals are nuts, but conservative crackpots are mostly considered weird loons confined to their weird little rural communities and are therefore ignored.

I, however, am far more pessimistic. I think the threat is real and building. I guess the November election really shook me; before that I had great faith in the corrective force of democracy. Democracy didn't correct itself.

I now think of our society as much more delicate, much more unstable than I thought only a few months before. I don't think the elite in the fourth estate are going to save us from this one, not on their own.

Remember, most of us 'elite' think of science as a very different endeavor than, say, the priesthood. After all, scientific theories must be falsifiable and withstand years of observation, experimentation and criticism before any scientist will begin to think of a theory as fact.

But to the lay person, science is no different than any other elite endeavor; a bunch of people in power they don't know get together to determine their version of the truth, then preach it to everyone else.

Have you looked for a gluon lately? No, me neither. There is a huge, real difference between science and religion, but the lay person takes either one on faith. To them it doesn't seem so different.

It's not hard for creationists to convince the public that the evidence for evolution is weak. Scientists accept evolution as something very close to fact, but Americans never have. In a November 2004 CBS News/New York Times poll, about evolution, 55 percent of the respondents said that God created humans in their present form. Twenty-seven percent believed in the evolution of man guided by God, and 13 percent believed in evolution without God.

So it should come as no surprise that the majority of Americans -- 65 percent, according to the poll cited above -- favor teaching creationism alongside evolution in public schools. Creationism is the perfect culture-war issue because it inevitably pits majorities in local communities against interloping lawyers and scientists. In a country gripped by right-wing populism, it's not hard to stoke resentment against scientists who have the gall to think that they know more than everybody else.

But some are already fighting back. For the punch-line to this comic go here (via Majikthise).

Be nice, be sensitive, but fight back. I don't want my child growing up in the world these fundamentalists are trying to build. And to all those 'conservative' libertarians out there, look with whom you are allied. Do you really think these people have the same vision for America you do? Do you think it is even close??


Rumor has it "Fox News is considering hiring Spc Charles Graner as a commentator and pinch-hit host should he be acquitted of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib."


Are Superheroes Innately Conservative?

At the Comic Book Politics course blog I discussed a few days ago, there is an interesting letter posted that claims comic book heroes are innately conservative icons:
I think it important to remember that the superhero is at his essence a libertarian or conservative icon, simply because he uses his 'gifts' and his will to set things right as an individual. Even an anti-system rebel-- say 'Batman' in DK2-- is an individual imposing his or her vision upon the world. The values are individual rather than collective. Moreover, it is the individual, the hero, who is uplifted over the group. One person sets things right, usually with violence. This fits right into the extreme individualist models so common in modern American conservatism or libertarian thought.

Much liberal politics is really based upon working with patience and understanding to 'dissolve' problems, or to attack them at their roots, long before they exist.  The teacher who gets an inner city kid interested in engineering prevents a villian, but such stories are difficult to tell in comics and not superhero stuff. Talk is the stuff of liberal politics, or as Winston Churchill once put it, "Jaw, jaw is better than war, war".
I think this is largely correct, but we must be very careful here. There seems to be an implication that individuality is a conservative ideal in opposition to liberal ideal of promoting the group. But this simply is not correct. Is that activist fighting the system in the attempt to promote gay rights or save an endangered species a conservative? Is the military a liberal institution because it promotes the group over the individual? (Liberal radio host Randy Rhodes claims this, btw.) Are those promoting multiculturalism and the "salad bowl" view of integration conservative, with the liberal "melting pot" advocates fighting back? Is patriotism a uniquely liberal concept? I don't think so.

Now, I'm not claiming the opposite, either, I just don't think the left/right divide works well in this case. I do think, however, that liberals tend to promote cooperation while conservatives promote competition. Conservatives don't think it is wise to look beyond the natural order of eat or be eaten while liberals think we can rise above all that and find a better humanity. Looking at the cooperation/competition divide it becomes less obvious whether comics tend towards liberalism or conservatism. "With great power comes great responsibility", is that a liberal concept or conservative one? I'd like to claim it is liberal but I doubt conservatives agree.

Still haven't received my books from Amazon, so I can't participate in the other discussions, yet. Oh well.... (And I was holding DKR at the bookstore the other night, but already ordered it; such is life.)

Death Squads

For the record, I'm against death squads. Just saying.

And yes, the position holds even if I knew for sure this would bring order to Iraq. Sadam brought order to Iraq. He was a bad man. Just saying.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The Real Social Security Choice

Carpe Bonum fights the good, conservative fight on Social Security. He seems to be one of the few willing to argue on the real differences between current Social Security and the privatized plan when he asks if they are losing the spin war on benefits:
Indeed. And if the debate ignores the fairness of the benefits to contributions ratios and the many other positive consequences of privatization, Social Security reform will die on the vine.

Browse around the Carpe Bonum archives for lots more on this.
Indeed, the "fairness of the benefits to the contributions ratios" pinpoints the difference between the Republican and Democratic ideology on this matter. With privatization you get to keep all the money you put in, with interest. Currently, you might not see a single dime of the money put into Social Security, you might die at a young age. That's the difference between an investment and insurance. Honest Republicans should to be arguing this point, but most won't. Why? Because they'll lose that debate. Here's the difference between the two ideologies in a nut shell:

The Republican plan for private accounts is better for you after you are dead, the current Democratic insurance plan is better for you while you are still alive.

Which do you think the people prefer?

UPDATE: Just On Minute has more from the Republican side.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Iraq, Is There a Way Out?

I'm pretty hawkish as liberals go. I supported Gulf War I, Kosovo and Afghanistan and would have supported intervening in Rwanda and, perhaps, Sudan. But not Iraq. It isn't that I disagreed with the desired end result; the replacement of Saddam Hussein with Democracy while establishing a beacon freedom in the Middle East is a fine goal, just not a realistic one. Heaven knows if I had the same rose-colored glasses as worn by Paul Wolfowitz I would have been in favor of the war as well, but these neo-cons are idealists of the worst kind. Kevin Drum reminds us how far removed these guys were from reality with Wolfowitz' congressional testimony before the war:
Mr. Wolfowitz...opened a two-front war of words on Capitol Hill, calling the recent estimate by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki of the Army that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in postwar Iraq, "wildly off the mark." Pentagon officials have put the figure closer to 100,000 troops.

....In his testimony, Mr. Wolfowitz ticked off several reasons why he believed a much smaller coalition peacekeeping force than General Shinseki envisioned would be sufficient to police and rebuild postwar Iraq. He said there was no history of ethnic strife in Iraq, as there was in Bosnia or Kosovo.

He said Iraqi civilians would welcome an American-led liberation force that "stayed as long as necessary but left as soon as possible," but would oppose a long-term occupation force. And he said that nations that oppose war with Iraq would likely sign up to help rebuild it. "I would expect that even countries like France will have a strong interest in assisting Iraq in reconstruction," Mr. Wolfowitz said. He added that many Iraqi expatriates would likely return home to help.

....Enlisting countries to help to pay for this war and its aftermath would take more time, he said. "I expect we will get a lot of mitigation, but it will be easier after the fact than before the fact," Mr. Wolfowitz said. Mr. Wolfowitz spent much of the hearing knocking down published estimates of the costs of war and rebuilding, saying the upper range of $95 billion was too high....Moreover, he said such estimates, and speculation that postwar reconstruction costs could climb even higher, ignored the fact that Iraq is a wealthy country, with annual oil exports worth $15 billion to $20 billion. "To assume we're going to pay for it all is just wrong," he said.
Sigh... Is it possible to be more wrong than this?

However, I've also been in the "you break it, you buy it" camp, believing that now we are in we must win. Most of the negatives have already occurred, Bin Laden got his recruitment and propaganda machine, the U.S. lost its moral authority in the world, our military is completely tied up and unable to respond to any emergency, etc. I never thought this war was worth the risk, but now that we are there and suffered the negative we should win and reap the positive. But all that assumes the war is still winnable. Problem is, I'm not so sure it is. How do we get out gracefully while minimizing the damage to both ourselves and Iraq? Until today I hadn't had a clue.

But something changed today that may be just what we need and Bush should take advantage of a new development. According to this report leading Sunnis with end their boycott of the Iraqi elections if the U.S. provides a timetable for withdrawal:
Iraq's most influential Sunni group will abandon its call for a boycott of Jan. 30 elections if the United States gives a timetable for withdrawing multinational forces, a spokesman for the group said Sunday.

Members of the powerful Association of Muslim Scholars relayed their request to a senior U.S. embassy official at a meeting Saturday, the Sunni official said on condition of anonymity.

The meeting was confirmed Saturday by U.S. Embassy spokesman Bob Callahan, who said an unnamed senior embassy official in Iraq met with leading association members in an effort to persuade them to participate in the landmark election for a constitutional assembly.

Callahan described the meeting as an "exchange of views" but would not elaborate. He said U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte was not present.

It is extremely unlikely the United States would consider giving a timetable for a withdrawal.

In the election — the first democratic vote in Iraq since the country was formed in 1932 — the Sunnis are certain to lose their dominance to the Shiites, who comprise 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people.
Bush should take this compromise. Agreeing to a timetable now is far superior than the "declare victory and retreat" option somewhere down the line. We need the Sunnis to participate in the election for Iraqi Democracy to stand a chance. There is even some possibility that a U.S. withdrawal will end most of the fighting, though I'll admit my own rose-colored glasses may be involved in that assessment. But the fighting among Iraqi's should decrease with both elected Sunnis in power and no U.S. to pick on. Heck, in the worse case scenario the freely elected Iraqi government could always invite us back in if all hell breaks loose.

I don't see a whole lot of good ways out of Iraq, but this may be a unique opportunity for a less-bad way out. Bush should go for it.

Insurance, Not Savings

I've been meaning to write how Social Security is not a savings plan but a form of insurance, and as such, is much more efficient at delivering a guaranteed rate of return than any individual savings plan ever could. In my mind this is the reason the current model is much better than what the president is contemplating. But I see Josh Marshal has posted a letter stating exactly what I wanted to say, so I'll just reprint it here:
Josh -

You've mentioned Social security as insurance, previously, but I think the point deserves more emphasis. Reducing social security benefits and replacing (some of) the lost benefits with private investment accounts is still gambling EVEN if the accounts earn a relatively optimistic rate of return, and EVEN if the accounts are limited to conservative investment options. The reason why private investment accounts are RISKY is because people don't know how long they will live. Someone living to (say) 95 is going to do much worse with private investments, simply because the privately invested money is going to run out well before they die.

The scam here (on the part of those trying to sell private investment accounts as a substitute) is that they (implicitly) are talking about what someone who lives to the AVERAGE lifespan will be getting. But half (or so) of retirees are going to live LONGER than average. This half will either have to withdraw money more slowly (live less well) [and how will they be able to predict this?] or will exhaust their private investment accounts long before they die.

So with private accounts, those who die early end up with some (or much) of their money going to the heirs, and those who die late end up (potentially) in poverty. Only the hypothetical "average" person (the one who dies at an average age, having exactly exhausted his/her private investments at exactly the right time) is going to do as well as any "predicted" outcome for private investment accounts.

Now, an argument can be made that private investment accounts are better than insurance; after all, if you die young all that money paid into the program just disappears with social security. With private investments you can pass the money on to those you love. On the other hand, to have the same guaranteed return every retirement year will require a much larger investment in the earlier years. If the Republicans want to have an honest debate, let's have it. They won't have this honest debate, though, because they know they will lose. It is our job to let the public know what is going on are repeat over and over again why this is a bad idea. Don't give up on security.