Wednesday, 22 December 2004

Entitlement reform

Once again I find myself in agreement with Joe Lieberman:

A rejoinder to this rejoinder is now being beta-tested by Sen. Byron Dorgan: Republicans exaggerate the “crisis” of Social Security, which can be fixed with a few modest tax hikes. Uh huh, in the sense that a bankrupt man might still be able to manage his car payments . . . if you ignore the fact that he owes house payments too.

House payments, in this case, are the unfunded liabilities of Medicare, which vastly outstrip even the unfunded liabilities of Social Security, by a margin of $62 trillion to $10 trillion. For several years, the nonpartisan board of Social Security and Medicare Trustees has flagged these figures, which everyone ignored. Joe Lieberman last year introduced a Senate bill to recognize these obligations in the federal budget. He was ignored.

Yet since Mr. Bush introduced the subject of Social Security reform at his party’s September jamboree, public debate has surged ahead of the White House and its Democratic sparring partners. USA Today, to give the underrated McPaper its due, produced a report in October forcing Medicare into the picture, noting it would take $53 trillion invested today to cover the $200 trillion in shortfalls the program is expected to generate just over the lifetimes of today’s youngest workers. By Monday night, even Peter Jennings of ABC News had decided there’s a story here.

Adding the unfunded liabilities of entitlements to the federal budget would be a great idea and would go a long way towards getting rid of the notion that there’s a trust fund, or that these benefits are “free”. It’s a good idea, so it naturally get’s dumped.

More gmail tribbles

If anyone is interested, I have some Gmail invites and have already inundated my family, friends and acquaintances with the past ones. If you want one send me an email; you can find the address by holding your cursor over my name below the post.

Gay marriage and Democrats

The GayPatriot thinks that pro-gay-rights advocates have “red state” demographics working against them (þ: InstaPundit). They may also have some problems in their base—in states “blue” and “red” alike. Here’s some numbers among self-identified Democrats from the exit poll we did in Jackson (estimated margin of error ±3.6%, α=0.05):

Race Supports same-sex marriage ban Opposes same-sex marriage ban
Black 79.5% 20.5%
White 39.9% 60.1%

Now, I would expect Jackson voters (black or white) to be more socially conservative than those in the nation at large, but I don’t think that 40-point margin between black and white Democrats would be that much smaller in, say, Oakland or Boston.

Of course, turning this into a working cross-cutting cleavage for Republicans is going to be hard work as long as the GOP can’t keep its semi-regular bigot eruptions under control.

On Natural Liberty Again

Earlier I mentioned, however briefly, my preference for natural liberty—and being left alone in the process. The Professor has a piece over at his MSNBC site that captures my thought pretty well:

My criticism of the United Nations continues to generate hostile email along the lines of “you just don’t like the U.N. because it stands in the way of world hegemony by the Evil Bushitler and his Likudnik neo-con cabal.”

Uh, no. In fact, I’m not a fan of U.S. “world hegemony” at all. Being the world’s preeminent military and economic power has its pluses, but not many. Countries with little else to boast of may draw great solace from military power—the old Soviet Union did that, and many older Russians are still nostalgic—but American don’t care about such things nearly as much. We have better things to do, and most of us, or our ancestors, came here to escape the problems of the rest of the world. We’d much rather someone else dealt with them, and left us alone—though when we express such sentiments we are then accused of “isolationism,” often by the same people who are otherwise complaining about American “imperialism.”

This pretty well describes my attitude. On Iraq, I favor seeing the job through and helping them get as close to liberal democracy as possible. Beyond that, I’m not all that concerned with what the rest of the world thinks or wants. Provided they don’t pose a threat to us, let them live their own history and we’ll live ours.

Brad DeLong, whom I like much better as an economist, has a couple of posts that drive my point home. One, which is unintentionally galling, I think, has a discussion of some Republican congressmen going to India to find—horror of horrors—that they don’t care about us. Boo hoo. India has done nothing to help us—they don’t agree with our approach to Iraq and the war on terror—and I’m having a hard time understanding why we should care.

As India sees it, the coming century is a race between them and China for global dominance. Nevermind that it’s only been a couple of decades since India solved their starvation problem and they have yet to dismantle the leftovers of feudalism. Even if they become an economic powerhouse, I don’t see how we lose anything. The only thing they really have to offer us is trade and I think we should take it. Trade with them. End of story.

India becoming a major power shouldn’t be viewed as a threat to us. China could possibly pose a threat to us, in a military sense, but I’m not sure what, if anything, can be done about it. We will continue spending a good deal more on defense than the rest of the world and it will take decades for China to pose a threat to us, outside of nuclear weapons. On that, they would be insane to attack us because our nuclear arsenal is going nowhere unless we launch it against someone. I don’t think they want that, so, again, I’m not sure how we lose anything.

Then Brad has a rather cute post on the reaction of the right to the possibility of torture in Iraq and elsewhere. He ends it with the following statement:

I would say it’s at least nine months past time for the intellectuals of the right to start “speaking more loudly about these worrisome trends.”
Of course, if you read the post he provides no evidence to support this assertion. He’s reffering to Abu Ghraib, but he offers no justification for the flood-the-zone coverage that Abu Ghraib received. Nor does he offer any proof that Abu Ghraib was known to be part of a systemic attempt to mistreat prisoners. He simply offers assertion. It’s not proof.

If you wonder why I prefer a “natural liberty” approach to the rest of the world, this helps explain why. Thanks to the internet, I’ve been reading foreign newspapers for a few years now and it hasn’t “furthered my understanding” in the sense that most multiculturists yearn for. On the contrary, it’s convinced me that we should stay out of their affairs and involve ourselves with them as little as possible outside of commerce. Brad’s writings on politics are a good example of this, but it gets worse when you read foreign newspapers. They’re very quick to blame America when things go wrong and slow to accept responsibility for their own problems.

I might have more to say about this later, but I’ve got a couple of other things to do. I'll close with a Jefferson quote that seems more apt with each passing year:

"Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations--entangling alliances with none, I deem [one of] the essential principles of our government, and consequently [one of] those which ought to shape its administration." --Thomas Jefferson: 1st Inaugural Address, 1801. ME 3:321


Michael Jennings has further thoughts on the Millau Viaduct and bridge design more generally, in response to this thread at Brian Micklethwait’s Culture Blog.

Cable-stayed designs are definitely in vogue on this side of the Atlantic; recent examples include the asymmetric Leonard Zakim bridge built as part of the “Big Dig” in Boston, the William H. Natcher Bridge over the Ohio River; closer to home, there’s the I-310 Hale Boggs Memorial Bridge crossing the Mississippi River just west of New Orleans, and in the future there’s the Greenville Bridge under construction on U.S. 82 and the proposed Charles W. Dean Great River Bridge on future I-69 and U.S. 278, both crossing the Mississippi River between Arkansas and Mississippi.

(I previously mentioned the viaduct here.)

Press Pulls Pigskin Poll

As Steven Taylor at PoliBlog notes, the Associated Press has decided to stop allowing the Bowl Championship Series from using its poll to determine the national title matchup. Ivan Maisel at has additional details that shed some light on the AP’s decision:

By pulling out of the formula, the AP has come full circle. In 1998, a sufficient number of AP members didn’t want their college football writers to be responsible for voting teams into the national championship game that the Division I-A commissioners developed the Bowl Championship Series formula to determine the standings used to pick teams for the BCS games.

AP members, worried about making the news instead of reporting it, felt better that their poll was only indirectly responsible for which teams received the eight-figure payout (this season: $14.4 million). ...

An AP voter in Alabama, Paul Gattis of the Huntsville Times, was chastised for voting Auburn No. 3 by the editor of his paper—in print. Three AP voters in Texas drew attention when they moved Texas ahead of California in the final poll, helping the Longhorns qualify for a BCS berth in the Rose Bowl instead of the Golden Bears.

This AP report gives the AP spin on the decision:

“By stating that the AP poll is one of the three components used by BCS to establish its rankings, BCS conveys the impression that AP condones or otherwise participates in the BCS system,” the letter [from the AP to the BCS] said. “Furthermore, to the extent that the public does not fully understand the relationship between BCS and AP, any animosity toward BCS may get transferred to AP. And to the extent that the public has equated or comes to equate the AP poll with the BCS rankings, the independent reputation of the AP poll is lost.”

On the other hand, the weak-mindedness that gave Tom Osborne and Nebraska a split national title from the coaches a few years back seems to have spread to the writers in the person of Neal McCready of the Mobile Register (þ: Big XII Fanblog), too:

I’m used to [my ballot] being publicized and scrutinized. In the past week, after the Austin American-Statesman published every ballot, I received hundreds of e-mails from irate Texas fans upset that I had the Longhorns No. 9 on my last week’s ballot. When they say “Don’t mess with Texas,” they mean it. Most of the e-mails received from the Texas faithful were profanity-laced and less than a stellar reflection on a university and its fan base. For the record, I’m not gay or Communist. I don’t live in a trailer and I still have all my teeth. Those that were diplomatic presented a strong case and after studying the numbers, I agree. I had Texas too low. I fixed it today, moving the Longhorns to No. 5. Please leave me alone now; you’re scaring my wife.

McCready previously had Texas (whose sole loss was to undefeated Oklahoma) ranked behind Louisville, whose only claim to fame was a close loss to 8–3 Miami in an otherwise weak schedule. Mack Brown lobbying or no Mack Brown lobbying, McCready clearly wasn’t paying attention to what he was doing.

Now, if only the Associated Press would go one step further and acknowledge that the act of producing a poll in and of itself undermines the independence of the AP from the sport it is covering, I might be able to respect this decision. But the AP’s choice to distance itself from a controversial system without also taking stock of the reality that the AP’s football and basketball polls are key determinants of the attention given to, and thus the profitability of, all college “revenue” sports—not just the BCS championship game, but also regular-season matchups and, via the NCAA selection committees, the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments—smacks of hypocrisy.

Ivan Maisel has more today on what the BCS does next in the wake of the AP’s decision.

This is my entry in today’s OTB Traffic Jam.

New England angst

New England fans are getting a bit antsy after the loss last night. A bit of a shocker, but probably a wake-up call. I hope the near miss for the Steelers acts as a wake-up call as well. The writer below suggests that the Steelers would “only” be 10–4 without Jermoe Bettis’s reemergence and he may be right. Even so, how difficult is the AFC when you look down on a team that’s 10–4?

As President Bush would say, New England misunderestimated its opponent. The Patriots went into Monday’s game with the same mindset that the 2001 St. Louis Rams entered Super Bowl XXXVI. But then again, the Greatest Show on Turf was a 14-point favorite. Heading into the season’s stretch run, and the playoffs, the Patriots should remember that before the celebration must come motivation.

Next, an assessment of the Steelers. To twist a Mark Twain quote, reports of Pittsburgh’s dominance have been greatly exaggerated. In their most recent performance, the Steelers barely won a game against a hapless New York Giants team (5–9). Their defense, which entered the game ranked first in the NFL, surrendered 30 points in that game. Meanwhile, their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, throws an interception on nearly every other play; he threw two against Big Blue. Were it not for the resurgence of Jerome Bettis, Pittsburgh would be 10–4 or so.

The Mosul Incident

An excellent first-person account of the killings in Mosul yesterday from an Army chaplain. Quite moving.

(þ: Blackfive)