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Saturday, January 29, 2005

Legal recourse for scott peterson....

By: Ed


I havn't seen the evidence against Scott Peterson so I will not render judgment about his guilt. This post is of strictly a legal nature that I, if I was his attorney, would persue.

As I understand it, Scott is charged with (and was found guilty of) two murders. One of his wife, Laci, and one of their unborn child. Now here is were it gets interesting. A woman, at the juncture Laci was at, could have aborted their child. When Scott does, though, he is charged with a murder. Is that not then sexism and thus unconstitutional?

Certainly the child is does not change in its human dignity or essence depending on what gender murders him or her. Therfore, the child (yet unborn) either has rights or it doesn't. It is a great hypocricy to charge Peterson with a murder when his wife could have legally done the same thing.

Ed

Monday, January 24, 2005

The Cold of Day; The Heat of War

By: Michael Akerman


It is cold.

The skies are blue, the sun is out, yet, still, it is cold.

The rays fight valiantly, but their is no victory: it is cold.

The winds whip about, the chill lances to the bone. It is cold; a cold like no other. This insidious chill sneaks into even the heating system. The dial says Max Heat, but the cold remains.

This is a cold that traps all: snares in its clutch with warm temptations of snow and ice. But this is no snow cold.

No, the cold from snow is an ally, a friend. The cold from snow does not bite, but dances, not into the bone, but across the skin. It is bracing without biting. It is chilling without killing.

For that is what this cold is. Even if no one and no thing dies, it is the death of feeling, of dedication. Sloth reigns, Queen to the chill's kingdom.

The forecasters claim warmth comes, but the sun is slain by this cold. Its rays seek the cold, certainly, Paladins of light to defeat the ice. But the cold seeks the corner. This Assassin chill hides in the shadows. It is the opportunist. Even as the sun plows ahead, one feels its presence, lurking in the dark, a chilling beast with eyes of flame in ice. It waits to act, and act it shall! It bides, as the sun seeks, testing the earth with gusts of wind until the sun is hid behind cloud or planet!

Then it comes, as it did today, with ferocity and veracity. I see it in the fountains, piled high with ice unquenchable. I see it in the trees, which shiver at the wind. Cars quiver when starting, fearful of the engulfing cold.

The chill embraces all things.

It is cold.




Preface: I actually posted this a few days ago, but it was via email, so it was somewhat error-ridden and didn't post until days after I sent it. So, I'm posting it again so that people can actually read it.

Some things are timeless. I've been reading Sun Tzu's The Art of War, which is a treatise, written about two-and-a-half millennia ago, that is still regarded as the authoritative military text.

A central tenet of Asian military philosophy is the conception that a war must be righteous, such that the gods will allow victory. Yoshida Shoin said,
To quell violence and disorder, to repulse barbarians and brigands, to rescue living souls from agony and torture, to save the nation from imminent downfall, these are the true ends of Humanity and Righteousness. If, on the contrary, arms are taken up in a selfish struggle to win land, goods, people, and the implements of war, is it not the worst of all evils, the most heinous of all offenses?


This samurai was right, of course, and echoes Sun Tzu. This philosophy is still applicable to modern day and, surely, should be applied liberally. However, modern times are hardly simple, and the Iraq war is something that falls into that gray area that calls its morality into question.

Democrats will point to this philosophy and cry "No blood for oil!" Republicans will point to the same and say "Protect us from Saddam Hussein!"

I think they're both wrong. I don't think the Iraq war was about oil. And I don't the Iraq war was right because of national security. For all that Bush justified it via WMDs, I think we should support it for the Iraqi people. We are not there to pillage lands, nor to save our country from imminent destruction. We are there to repulse the barbarians, to quell violence and disorder, and, most importantly, to free our fellow man from agony and torture.

Yes, the Iraq war was always righteous. It was, too, the right war at the wrong time, but only because it was far too late. Of the many opportunities presented Bush, Sr. and Clinton, there was a moral obligation to oust the regime that ran that country. "Justice too long delayed is justice denied," and I only hope we started in time.

I do know that we weren't so late that we missed the most crucial aspect: Uday and Qusay. Saddam's sons posed the biggest threat to Iraqi, and, indeed, international security, due to their ingrained lust for power and strong military connection. There is no doubt in my mind that the death of Saddam would have sparked an Iraqi civil war with far more bloodshed than our astoundingly easy war (any way you slice it, only about 1000 soldiers killed is absolutely a small number for a war), and may have been what Austria-Hungary and Serbia were to World War I.

We should all know that pulling out now would be ridiculous. It would be homicide of the highest order, effectively signing the death note of millions of Iraqis. But I fail to see how one claims the war was wrong in the first place.

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Bush Unleashed

By: UnrepentantNewDealer


"Hail to the Hypocrite"


President George "Hypocrite" Bush was sworn in for his second term today. I'm sorry if that sounds a bit harsh, but that's the way the truth is. Bush's command of the English language has never been all that strong, but his speechwriters are generally up to the task of creating a memorable turn of phrase. Not so today.

Despite its turgid language, I found myself nodding along in agreement as Bush talked about the importance of the spread of freedom to the safety of our own nation, that it must be

"The policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world... We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation--the mortal choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right... We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. America's belief in human dignity will guide our policies... All who live tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors."


I was nodding in agreement with these lofty principles in which I have always strongly believed, until I remembered this administration's track record. Sure, Bush can talk the talk, but has he walked the walk? To have successful relations with America, a ruler has to reject oppression and embrace freedom and treat their countrymen with dignity? Huh. That's funny. I seem to remember Russia having relapsed into despotism under Vladimir Putin during Bush's watch. Freedom and democracy in Russia being destroyed with barely a peep from this administration. But, wait, that's right, Putin is an "ally" of America in the "War on Terror." Besides Bush looked into the former KGB thug's eyes and declared him a good man.

The "president" of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, is an army general who seized power of a nuclear-armed Pakistan from a democratically-elected government. He keeps total power and has no appetite for such quaint concepts as rule-by-ballot-box, rather than by bullets, or for any sort of balance of powers or checks and balances. Like Putin, Musharraf imposes tyranny on his people. But, oh wait, that's right, Musharraf is also an "ally" in our fight against the Islamic extremists.

There are numerous other examples. Saudi Arabia and Burma come to mind. Most grievous is the situation in Darfur. A president who says that the relationship between the United States and another nation is dependent on how that nation treats its people would surely not have stood silently by while the government of Sudan and the government-trained Janjaweed militia wipe out the black African population of Darfur province. Yet that is just what Bush has done. If there were any case of a nation that needed a "regime change", it would be Omar al-Bashir's Sudan.

The Genocide Convention (to which the U.S. is a party) defines genocide as an attempt to wipe out a political, religious, or ethnic group "in whole or in part", and obligates all signatory nations to use whatever means necessary, including military force, to prevent or stop genocides. Because of this obligation, previous presidents, to their everlasting shame, have been reluctant to call a genocide by its name. Not this president. His administration condemned the atrocities in Sudan as genocide... and has done nothing since. How morally reprehensible can you get: to cheerfully acknowledge the presence of evil and do nothing to stop it when you have the power to do so? Edmund Burke's famous quote is eternally relevant: "Evil triumphs only when good men fall silent." The silence of this administration on Darfur speaks volumes.

So, rather than the cause of freedom being the chief foreign policy aim of the Bush administration, it seems that the United States has no problem with the peoples of Pakistan, Russia and other nations being denied their "God-given rights" so long as their despotic rulers deign to support our "War against Terror." "The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors"? Tell that to the black Africans in Darfur who are not merely being oppressed but are being exterminated. We ignore their oppression and excuse their oppressors because while saving the lives of millions of people is good in principle, in this case it would not serve any vital narrowly-defined "national interest."

So, it's not that I object to the words the president said. The sentiments he expressed are admirable. But actions speak louder than words. And the actions of this president give the lie to the lofty words he uttered today. Except for one brief moment under Clinton, when we intervened to stop the Kosovo genocide, America has never put the spread of freedom and the defeat of oppressive rulers at the top of its foreign policy agenda. We allied with Stalin to oppose Hitler, when they were merely two sides of the same evil coin and Stalin killed far more people than Hitler did. Sometimes such undesirable alliances are necessary in wartime. The policies of nations are guided by self-interest. But, Mr. President, if we are going to ally ourselves to such despotic rulers in the name of fighting this "War on Terror", spare me your platitudes about how "ending tyranny in our world" is America's "ultimate goal." Put your money and your actions where your mouth is or shut up!

Sorry if that seems too harsh. But as an idealist who actually believes America should live up to those lofy ideals, I will not be silent in the face of evil. Nor will I be satisfied with our leaders merely mouthing the words of freedom. If the president changes course and makes the words he spoke today a reality in his second term, history may yet look on him kindly. But he has given me little cause to expect anything less than rank hypocrisy from this president.



Social Security Re-rebuttal

While I'm leery of getting into an endless battle of rebuttal and counter-rebuttal, I think the matter of Social Security privitization is sufficiently important to warrant a spirited debate:

"The problem with these projections is that they are based entirely on this "trust fund," which is, in essence, a giant pile of IOUs built up from over half a century of the government skimming the surplus off the top to pay for other social programs. The assumption is that the government will eventually have to make good on these with real money, but that may not be the case."

The first claim is that the Social Security trust fund has been depleted by Congress to pay for other programs. This is a favorite claim of politicians, who love to claim that their opponent either has or will "steal" from the trust fund. Unfortunately, contrary to what you may have heard, they can't. According to the Social Security Administration "The assets of the funds provide automatic spending authority... No legislation is needed to spend a portion of trust fund assets on benefits or administrative costs (the Social Security Act limits expenditures to benefits and administrative costs)" [Emphasis mine].

Thus, according to the federal government, the government is prohibited by law from spending money in the Social Security trust fund on anything other than benefits and the administrative costs of running the program.

The second claim is that the Social Security Trust Fund is composed of "a giant pile of IOUs." Akerman makes the claim that this pile of IOUs has built up because the government has been taking money from the trust fund. In fact, again according to the SSA, "most of the money flowing into the trust funds is invested in U. S. Government securities. Because the government spends this borrowed cash, some people see the current increase in the trust fund assets as an accumulation of securities that the government will be unable to make good on in the future. Without legislation to restore long-range solvency of the trust funds, redemption of long-term securities prior to maturity would be necessary.

"Far from being 'worthless IOUs,' the investments held by the trust funds are backed by the full faith and credit of the U. S. Government. The government has always repaid Social Security, with interest. The special-issue securities are, therefore, just as safe as U.S. Savings Bonds or other financial instruments of the Federal government. It is thus likely that legislation will be enacted to restore long-term solvency, making it unlikely that the trust funds' securities will need to be redeemed on a large scale prior to maturity."

The government has never defaulted on its debts, and it's unlikely it would default in the case of Social Security's Trust Fund. And another myth bites the dust...

After making the claim that the government might not be able to pay the IOUs, Akerman then goes on to dismiss that possibility as "irrelevant" anyway. He views privitization as an improvement in the system and "If a system can be made better, even if it's okay now, our duty is to improve upon it." Well said. He then attempts to rationalize privitization: "Since only a certain percentage of the total current tax could be shifted to mutual funds (not stocks, technically), there would still be enough money in the system to pay it out (with deficits, yes, but not overly major ones) until the private system earned profits." The key part of the argument seems to be that while there would be deficits, they would not be too large, and the private system would soon make up for the deficits. So, nothing to worry about right? Wrong! As I wrote in my last blog post:



The administration acknowledges that the costs of the "transition" over the first 10 years would be between $1 trillion to $2 trillion. According to Krugman, the plan proposed by Bush's Social Security Commission in 2001 "would cost an additional $3 trillion in its second decade, $5 trillion in the decade after that and another $5 trillion in the decade after that. By the time privatization started to save money, if it ever did, the federal government would have run up around $15 trillion in extra debt."

So, $15 trillion in extra debt, on top of the $7,613,772,338,689.34 national debt (according to the Treasury Department's Bureau of the Public Debt at http://www.publicdebt.treas.gov/opd/opdpenny.htm) equals... let's see... subtract the four, carry the one ... A LOT!! Rounding, the number is about $23 trillion. We would go from having an almost $8 trilllion national debt today to a $23 trillion debt by midcentury, simply from privitization alone. And let's not forget extra non-related government spending over that period, which is bound to swell the national debt still further.

This is not merely an abstract matter. It will have real consequences. We have never had a national debt anywhere near that large. The reason economists warn against large national debts is that their consequences can be economically devastating. As in Great Depression-type devastation. By which point, any eventual savings from privitization by midcentury would be essentially irrelevant. With privitization, there would be deficits, they would be massive, and the system would almost certainly not be able to make up the deficits anytime soon, if ever.

But it gets worse for the proponents of privitization. As Paul Krugman points out, "financial markets would, correctly, treat the reality of huge deficits today as a much more important indicator of the government's fiscal health than the mere promise that government could save money by cutting benefits in the distant future. After all, a government bond is a legally binding promise to pay, while a benefits formula that supposedly cuts costs 40 years from now is nothing more than a suggestion to future Congresses. Social Security rules aren't immutable: in the past, Congress has changed things like the retirement age and the tax treatment of benefits. If a privatization plan passed in 2005 called for steep benefit cuts in 2045, what are the odds that those cuts would really happen?"

Any eventual savings under the system would likely be diminished by administrative overhead costs. Of the money that Social Security takes in, 99 percent are spent on benefits, and less than 1 percent on administrative costs. In Chile's privitized retirement pension system, management fees are roughly 20 times as high. That is about average for privitized pension programs. All these fees decrease the returns individuals get from their accounts.

And none of the privitizers' arguments mention the fact that the government, according to a number of economists, in the interests of reigning in deficits, is likely to cap the returns individuals could get from their personal accounts to the level of returns those who choose to remain under the current system would get, with the excess going right back to Uncle Sam to pay down some of the massive debt this mad privitization scheme would create. So much for the individual reaping the benefits of privitization, despite the fact that stocks would have a better rate of return than the current system. The choice is between getting guaranteed benefits of a certain amount or being able to get benefits up to but not over that certain amount. Why gamble with your retirement, and risk getting less, rather than more, when you have a sure thing in Social Security?

"When a person is allowed to make a decision, no matter how small, they begin to take pride in that decision's outcome. With the sense of ownership over these funds, people are much more likely to increase their productivity, thereby increasing not only the amount of invested funds, but the amount of taxes flowing into the "old" system."

I'm not quite sure what Akerman means by that. If an individual has an individual retirement account rather than a government-administered one, why would that lead to that individual increasing their productivity on the job? There doesn't appear to be any causality, no reason why the one would lead to the other. Is Joe Q. Public going to say, "Wow, now that I have a private retirement account, rather than Social Security, I'm going to work a lot harder! Because I 'own' this account, I am now going to care about planning for my retirement, and I never cared about this when I had a government retirement benefits program"? It appears to be a logical fallacy, the result of wishful thinking. Like so much of the President's agenda, I guess we're simply supposed to take it on faith.

Lastly, Akerman terms my conclusion that the administration's Social Security privitization plan is part of a larger pattern of rolling back all the progressive reforms of the Twentieth Century to be a "conspiracy theory." Well, let's look at the evidence. These extremist conservatives have philosohical objections to government-run social programs (such as Social Security, Medicare, etc.) and government-imposed regulations on businesses (which, in their eyes, includes everything from the Endangered Species Act to worker's safety and labor rights laws, to laws protecting the safety of America's food supply, water supply, and pharmaceutical drugs.) Any government intervention in the economy is viewed as heresy. Businesses should be free from the burden of government regulations. These are the opinions expressed by prominent conservatives. Akerman says that "One should be taxed proportionate to their means, but the current system does not do that. The tiers remove the equity from the system by arbitrary measures." Yet the current system does in fact do this. Those who can afford to pay the most in income taxes (the rich) do, those who can least afford to bear the burden (the poor) pay the least. The current debate among conservatives in Congress and in right-wing think tanks is not whether to abolish the income tax, but whether to replace it with a flat tax or a nationwide sales tax (both of which would shift the burden of the tax system off the rich and onto the backs of the poor and middle class).

I am reluctant to call them "conservatives". Traditionally, the word "conservative" has meant resistance to change, preferring to maintain the status quo. On the other hand, a "reactionary" seeks not merely to maintain the current status quo, but to return the nation to a previous status quo. It is indeed apparent that these "conservatives" are in fact radicals, reactionaries bent on undoing all the reforms of the Great Society, New Deal, and Progressive movement. Clinton's 1996 reelection campaign slogan was "Building a Bridge to the Twenty-First Century." The Reactionary Republicans' slogan could be "Building a Bridge Back to the Nineteenth Century", as they seek to reestablish the status quo that existed between government and the economy and business in the late Nineteenth Century (as well as to return the status quo between church and state to at least Seventeenth Century norms.) Just as world leaders persuaded themselves that Hitler did not have reactionary goals of resurrecting the former glory of Germany, despite the fact that he had laid out all his plans in writing in advance in Mein Kampf, so today many persuade themselves that Bush in his second term will reach out to Democrats and fashion a moderate, mainstream agenda. They ignore the history and stated goals of the Reactionary Republicans. Bush governed from the hard right in his first term, despite the fact that he lost the popular vote. Still, he had to moderate his positions somewhat in his first term, and postpone certain actions, such as Social Security privitization, until his second term. Now that he has been narrowly reelected, so that he can claim a "mandate", it would be preposterous to suggest that he will be a moderate.

During the past 4 years, we had the Reactionary Republican Bush, but he was prevented from pursuing his full agenda by the threat of not being reelected. Now that he no longer has to worry about that threat, now that Americans have inexplicably reelected this man, we shall not have a more moderate, more thoughtful, more compromising Bush. Rather, we shall have Bush unleashed. The amount of damage he managed to do in 4 years even with the impending election is bad enough. I shudder to imagine what havoc this man will create over the next four years. My only consolation is that Bush and the Reactionary Republicans will probably screw things up so badly, Republicans will be effectively locked out of national office for a generation. As cleaning up the mess his policies would create could take generations, that is a small consolation indeed.



Tuesday, January 18, 2005

A Problem Needs Dealing; Software Needs Revealing

By: Michael Akerman


I'm sure you've all read Smith's Social Security post by now (because you all read IVIC religiously, right? Right?). And I'm sure you know, I have to respond to it. Feel free to skip past the block quotes if you've already read it.

I think it was Ronald Reagan who coined the term, "This is a cure for which there is no known disease." The Gipper's description is aptly appropriate to describe the harebrained scheme of the man who, more than any other Republican, slavishly and self-consciously tries to emulate him.

First and foremost, Bush's whole claim for the necessity of his proposed reforms is that Social Security will go belly-up and not be able to pay benefits to younger workers:

[snip]

So, in 2018, the system will collapse, right? Wrong. Because the Boomers have been working all these years, contributing more in payroll taxes than the government is spending on benefits to current retirees. Because there are so many Boomers who have been working for so many years, and the government raised payroll taxes substantially back in the 1980s, Social Security has built up a little trust fund. Ok, a really, really big trust fund. So, in or around 2018, the government will have to start spending the money in that trust fund to cover paying out benefits to retires. But even then, as it currently stands, Social Security will be able to continue to pay out full benefits until at least 2042, according to the Social Security Trustees, or 2052 according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.


The problem with these projections is that they are based entirely on this "trust fund," which is, in essence, a giant pile of IOUs built up from over half a century of the government skimming the surplus off the top to pay for other social programs. The assumption is that the government will eventually have to make good on these with real money, but that may not be the case.

You see, people assume the government is capable of paying these bills because the government is capable of shouldering much larger deficits without flinching. These deficits, however, are almost invariably not paid with real cash. Rather, it is a system of trading credit in which some foreign or rich private official loans the government, and the government pays it back with a similar trade. Seldom, if ever, does actual money, gold, or debit change hands. It is just credit between the two. Now, with mounting deficits and decreasing surpluses on each side of the fence (compared to GDP), it is doubtful the government can actually afford these IOUs. And before someone points to the Clinton surplus ("the largest in history"), let me point out that this was, first, not actual money, but merely a reduction in the then-$5.7 trillion national debt, and second, that the 2000 surplus only ran $300 billion, which, while numerically a record, was only about 3% of the US GDP. Even so, the last budget surplus before Clinton was in '69, and Clinton's were almost entirely because of the astoundingly robust 90s economy.

Regardless, we are a government of deficits. We may not be able to pay the IOUs. Even if we could, though, it's irrelevant. If a system can be made better, even if it's okay now, our duty is to improve upon it. Smith did say this, which, honestly, surprised me a bit.

Just because there is no pressing threat to Social Security doesn't rule out any proposed reforms, it only eliminates their urgency. So, let's take a look at the arguments of the privatizers (let's call them "Privateers") and see if they hold up to the cold, hard light of reason.

The most-touted argument for privitization is that the money you pay in payroll taxes into Social Security is "your money, so you should be able to invest it as you choose." This also the easiest argument to debunk. The payroll taxes those of us who work pay to Social Security aren't "our money". The taxes we pay go to support those who are already retired. That generation worked and paid payroll taxes to support the generation before it. And so on.


While Smith is, perhaps, correct semantically, every dollar is very much your money, as it is the fruit of your efforts. In an optimal Republican country, you would likely be allowed to choose on your tax forms exactly where each dollar would go. That would be a beurocratic nightmare, and would severely damage some social programs that make this country compassionate, because they wouldn't be funded. In this case, though, doing what you wish with your money will not harm the program, due to its pay-as-you-go nature. Since only a certain percentage of the total current tax could be shifted to mutual funds (not stocks, technically), there would still be enough money in the system to pay it out (with deficits, yes, but not overly major ones) until the private system earned profits.

What about the argument that over the past 70 years, the stock market has delivered a higher rate of return for investment than Social Security? As far as I know, that one's actually true. You very well might get more bang for your buck from the stock market. Then again, you might not. Social Security is a sure thing. The stock market is America's favorite game of chance.

At the President's Social Security "Summit" this week, where the President conversed with "ordinary Americans" who agreed to parrot the White House's stance on this issue, Bob McFadden, a man from Medford, New Jersey, said, "I believe, personally, that if it's in a personal account, I can invest my money better than the government." This a common argument among the "privateers". The only problem is that you won't be doing the investing at all. The government will. At the same summit, Bush said, "You won't be allowed to just take that money and dump it somewhere."


This is actually a compromise situation. I assure you my party believes full privatization would be a better way to go, were it not for the ill-educated people who wouldn't know how to properly invest and the compassion (most) people feel for those poor fools. At any rate, being able to choose one's own mutual fund (out of the three) is a good step in the right direction. This allows not only customization of one's returns, and management of one's risks and rewards, but a sense of ownership is inherent. When a person is allowed to make a decision, no matter how small, they begin to take pride in that decision's outcome. With the sense of ownership over these funds, people are much more likely to increase their productivity, thereby increasing not only the amount of invested funds, but the amount of taxes flowing into the "old" system. I think, with this incentive, the estimates of deficits for running the system and idea that it does not improve the nation are false. I think this is a fine way to boost the economy, honestly.

And the idea that these particular mutual funds are somehow less sure than social security is not precisely correct. While there is a chance of catastrophic failure, it is approximately the same as the chance of failure under the current system. These particular funds have a long history of performing as well or better than the market as a whole. It's not really all that risky, and, since it's optional, and one could (presumably) move their savings about into different funds at will, it will not cause harm unless people are incredibly stupid and jump onto a sinking ship.


Which raises the question of why the President is so adamant about this issue. The President didn't simply misspeak when he said that Social Security will be "flat broke" by the time today's 20-year olds reach retirement age. Neither the government agency responsible for administering Social Security nor the CBA backs up what Bush is saying. Unlike Iraq's WMD, there is not a legitimate difference of opinion among the government analysts on this issue. If the president is so interested in creating an "ownership society", why won't he own up to the facts? He is deceiving the American people in the most cynical way. But to what end?

Again, Krugman has the scoop: "Last week someone leaked a memo written by Peter Wehner, an aide to Karl Rove, about how to sell Social Security privatization. The public, says Mr. Wehner, must be convinced that 'the current system is heading for an iceberg.' It's the standard Bush administration tactic: invent a fake crisis to bully people into doing what you want. 'For the first time in six decades,' the memo says, 'the Social Security battle is one we can win.' "

What battle could they be talking about? The battle to abolish Social Security, of course, the long-time dream of the ultraconservatives. And not just Social Security. These are reactionaries who want to abolish all of the government social welfare programs established in the Twentieth century, all of the programs of the Great Society and the New Deal, as well as all of the reforms of the Progressives. From "tort reform" to regulations on businesses to ensure the safety of our food supply, workplaces, and environment, government regulations are being abolished left and right. These Reactionary Republicans even dream of abolishing the income tax (which weighs most heavily on those who can afford to be taxed most heavily) in favor of a flat tax or a national sales tax (which would weigh most heavily on those Americans who can least afford the burden).


Now this sounds reactionary. One shouldn't jump to conspiracy-theories as conclusions. It's illogical to think that the top income-earners would even care about these taxes. As Democrats love to bandy about, these taxes simply don't burden them. At $100 million a year and above, one runs out of things to buy. Similarly, there's no reason for them to want to abolish the old social programs. Republicans, rich and middle-class (as well as the five or six poor people) benefit from these social programs like everyone else.

However, Republicans do, in fact, want to improve these programs, and we want things to be fair. Taxes shouldn't have tiers: one person should not be deemed worthy of special treatment for an arbitrary reason. The percentage nature of taxes takes care of that. I would never support a flat tax. One should be taxed proportionate to their means, but the current system does not do that. The tiers remove the equity from the system by arbitrary measures, and I think that is bad. As the staunch defendants of so many "rights," Democrats ought to support that.

The FDR social programs were all set up within a very short time, and are rife with inefficiencies. From Medicaid's high costs, poor returns, and unimaginable red tape, to social security's poor returns and eventual lack of solvency, these programs need fixing. Everyone should have an equal chance to succeed, and people on government-run programs do not get this advantage. These behemoths are unable to compete with their private counterparts because they don't have to. If we actually brought them some accountability, provided competitive alternative options (like the three mutual funds), and allowed people to move their business to whichever company they deemed most worthy, these beaurocratic nightmares would become viable, useful programs, that effectively helped the poor and downtrodden to get to the self-actualizing state of self-support.

All that said, I did see an interesting proposal in an editorial letter in the Raleigh N&O the other day (I can't remember who sent it, but it wasn't me, so don't credit me). The author suggested a 1% tax on incomes over $100 million a year or so. It would virtually guarantee solvency and, as I said, they wouldn't notice it. It infringes a bit on my belief in income tax equity, but one must make small sacrifices for the common good.




On a lighter note:

In tech news, Picasa 2 is out, and it's fricking awesome (in a good way, not the old way. Technically, the Hindenburg was awesome). Picasa was a photo sorting and album software that was purchased by Google last year, when they integrated Hello with Blogger to allow photo-blogging, but this new version is much better. Besides the integration of the Google search API into the search function (for labels and keywords and captions and such), it's got a very robust image editor, rivaling some professional photo editors. It's got a neat collage function, integration with gmail and, of course, Hello's BloggerBot, and, perhaps best off all, it's entirely free! This is a must-download, for sure.

I'll put up some examples of the collages below.


Picture Pile collage. Pretty cool, really. You can put a picture in the background, as Google's Blog did.



This is the standard style collage. Just pictures aligned along the edges. There are two other varieties, but I can't find any pictures that look good in them.
Posted by Hello

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Sunday, January 16, 2005

If it ain't broke, don't "reform" it!

By: UnrepentantNewDealer


"As a matter of fact, by the time today's workers who are in their mid-20s begin to retire, the system will be bankrupt. So if you're 20 years old, in your mid-20s, and you're beginning to work, I want you to think about a Social Security system that will be flat bust, bankrupt, unless the United States Congress has got the willingness to act now. And that's what we're here to talk about, a system that will be bankrupt."

Yes, fellow citizens, Our Fearful Leader is at it again! Now that his job is no longer in jeopardy, he has turned his attention to Social Security "reform". Long parenthetical aside follows:

(That word "reform" should set off alarm-bells. In 2000, George Bush was running in the Republican primaries against John McCain, a man whose primary claim to fame was his long crusade for campaign finance reform. In a cynical bid to attract the independent voters who admired McCain, Bush styled himself "The Real Reformer." When pressed to come up with any reforms he had initiated as governor of Texas, he could only come up with his "tort reform" bill, which was a bill that drastically capped the damages citizens could get from businesses in court. Basically, this meant that if you were injured by corporate malfeasance or incompetence, you wouldn't be able to get as much money in court as you used to be able to. Businesses don't do the right thing out of altruism. They do it because they know if they knowingly put a defective or dangerous product out on the market, they will be sued in court and lose a lot of money. But, through "tort reform", damages are capped, meaning businesses can put out defective or dangerous products and view any ensuing lawsuit as a mere nuisance, factored in as part of the cost of doing business. Never let it be said that businesses don't get their money's worth when they send bribes--I'm sorry, the politically-correct term is "contributions"--to the Bush campaign.)

Anyway, as everyone should know by now, Bush's social security reform plan is to privatize--I'm sorry, the administration-approved term is "personalize"--the system, to allow younger workers to divert their payroll taxes into a private account to accumulate interest for their retirement. There are a number of problems with this solution.

I think it was Ronald Reagan who coined the term, "This is a cure for which there is no known disease." The Gipper's description is aptly appropriate to describe the harebrained scheme of the man who, more than any other Republican, slavishly and self-consciously tries to emulate him.

First and foremost, Bush's whole claim for the necessity of his proposed reforms is that Social Security will go belly-up and not be able to pay benefits to younger workers:

"The Social Security system is an account where money comes out to pay for retirees and is put in the system by people who are working. And that's changed. More and more retirees have taken out money relative to the number of people putting money in. In the '50s, there were 16 workers for every beneficiary. So the system was in pretty good shape. Today, there's three workers for every beneficiary. Relatively quickly, there's going to be two workers for every beneficiary. And that's a problem. And that's a problem because in the year 2018, in order to take care of baby boomers... The money going out is going to exceed the money coming in."
http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/01/20050111-4.html


So, in 2018, the system will collapse, right? Wrong. Because the Boomers have been working all these years, contributing more in payroll taxes than the government is spending on benefits to current retirees. Because there are so many Boomers who have been working for so many years, and the government raised payroll taxes substantially back in the 1980s, Social Security has built up a little trust fund. Ok, a really, really big trust fund. So, in or around 2018, the government will have to start spending the money in that trust fund to cover paying out benefits to retires. But even then, as it currently stands, Social Security will be able to continue to pay out full benefits until at least 2042, according to the Social Security Trustees, or 2052 according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Economist Paul Krugman points out that "these projections assume that the economy will grow much more slowly in the future than it has in the past." Which seems very unrealistc. So, it's probable that Social Security will be able to coast along fine long after 2052. And even if it does need to be overhauled about 45 years from now, all that will be required to make Social Security solvent once again would be to raise taxes, raise the retirement age, or cut benefits.

Even if benefits are reduced as much as would be needed to restore the system to solvency, the actual amount of benefits, in real dollars, would be higher than today, even though Social Security would only be able to pay out 81% of benefits. According to the CBO, via Krugman, "The report finds that extending the life of the trust fund into the 22nd century, with no change in benefits, would require additional revenues equal to only 0.54 percent of G.D.P. That's less than 3 percent of federal spending - less than we're currently spending in Iraq. And it's only about one-quarter of the revenue lost each year because of President Bush's tax cuts - roughly equal to the fraction of those cuts that goes to people with incomes over $500,000 a year." (The New York Times charges for this article, but http://www.pkarchive.org/ doesn't. First click on "Columns" then on "Inventing a Crisis".)

So, by 2052, far from Social Security being bankrupt, benefits would actually be considerably higher than they are today. Well, there goes the President's claim that there is an urgent need to "save" Social Security from going bankrupt.

Just because there is no pressing threat to Social Security doesn't rule out any proposed reforms, it only eliminates their urgency. So, let's take a look at the arguments of the privatizers (let's call them "Privateers") and see if they hold up to the cold, hard light of reason.

The most-touted argument for privitization is that the money you pay in payroll taxes into Social Security is "your money, so you should be able to invest it as you choose." This also the easiest argument to debunk. The payroll taxes those of us who work pay to Social Security aren't "our money". The taxes we pay go to support those who are already retired. That generation worked and paid payroll taxes to support the generation before it. And so on.

This brings up a very large problem. If younger workers are allowed to put their money in a private account, how are those who are currently on Social Security, or will be soon, be able to support themselves? The government's answer: We'll just borrow to pay the difference. The administration acknowledges that the costs of the "transition" over the first 10 years would be between $1 trillion to $2 trillion. According to Krugman, the plan proposed by Bush's Social Security Commission in 2001 "would cost an additional $3 trillion in its second decade, $5 trillion in the decade after that and another $5 trillion in the decade after that. By the time privatization started to save money, if it ever did, the federal government would have run up around $15 trillion in extra debt." Which is not an economically wise thing to do when the government is already running the largest deficits in its history. The costs of "transition" to privitization would swell our debt well into the economic danger zone.

What about the argument that over the past 70 years, the stock market has delivered a higher rate of return for investment than Social Security? As far as I know, that one's actually true. You very well might get more bang for your buck from the stock market. Then again, you might not. Social Security is a sure thing. The stock market is America's favorite game of chance.

At the President's Social Security "Summit" this week, where the President conversed with "ordinary Americans" who agreed to parrot the White House's stance on this issue, Bob McFadden, a man from Medford, New Jersey, said, "I believe, personally, that if it's in a personal account, I can invest my money better than the government." This a common argument among the "privateers". The only problem is that you won't be doing the investing at all. The government will. At the same summit, Bush said, "You won't be allowed to just take that money and dump it somewhere."

So, even though he's arguing that Americans should be able to do what they want with their money on principle, turns out the government won't allow anyone to "waste" their money. Oh, no, the government will give you a list of approved stocks to invest in. Which of course deprives you of doing with your money as you please. Because the government knows best. Sorry, Bob, but I'm afraid the government thinks it can invest your money better than you can. Better hope they're right, eh?

All of the arguments put forward by the president and his chorus of "privateers" have proven to be either wishful thinking or unrealistic scenarios of impending doom. The Social Security system isn't broke, and even if it were, the "cure" they propose is far worse than the disease.

Which raises the question of why the President is so adamant about this issue. The President didn't simply misspeak when he said that Social Security will be "flat broke" by the time today's 20-year olds reach retirement age. Neither the government agency responsible for administering Social Security nor the CBA backs up what Bush is saying. Unlike Iraq's WMD, there is not a legitimate difference of opinion among the government analysts on this issue. If the president is so interested in creating an "ownership society", why won't he own up to the facts? He is deceiving the American people in the most cynical way. But to what end?

Again, Krugman has the scoop: "Last week someone leaked a memo written by Peter Wehner, an aide to Karl Rove, about how to sell Social Security privatization. The public, says Mr. Wehner, must be convinced that 'the current system is heading for an iceberg.' It's the standard Bush administration tactic: invent a fake crisis to bully people into doing what you want. 'For the first time in six decades,' the memo says, 'the Social Security battle is one we can win.' "

What battle could they be talking about? The battle to abolish Social Security, of course, the long-time dream of the ultraconservatives. And not just Social Security. These are reactionaries who want to abolish all of the government social welfare programs established in the Twentieth century, all of the programs of the Great Society and the New Deal, as well as all of the reforms of the Progressives. From "tort reform" to regulations on businesses to ensure the safety of our food supply, workplaces, and environment, government regulations are being abolished left and right. These Reactionary Republicans even dream of abolishing the income tax (which weighs most heavily on those who can afford to be taxed most heavily) in favor of a flat tax or a national sales tax (which would weigh most heavily on those Americans who can least afford the burden).

The common element of all these programs the Reactionary Republicans seek to abolish is that they benefit the common good, not the fat cat CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. What we are seeing under this administration is the total regearing of government away from providing for the "general welfare" of all Americans and towards making government a mere tool serving the narrow interests of the business and economic elite. It's time for every American who cares about the "general welfare" of this nation to fight against Social Security privitization tooth-and-nail. For it is just one battle in a much larger campaign. This is one campaign America cannot afford to lose.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

And now, a 40-years-late kinda moment.

By: Michael Akerman


http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/08/nyregion/08mothers.html?oref=login&th

Since reg. is likely required:

"After 40 years, after all the ceremonies, the visits to Mississippi,
the interviews, the strokes, the deaths of loved ones, births of
grandchildren and the simple march of time, the news came, and two
mothers, separated by 80 miles but locked together in history, came to
realize the obvious. Their sons had not come back, but a painful part
of their lives - and civil rights history - had.

Both in their 80's, they carried themselves yesterday with aplomb, and
a bit of resignation, having believed for so long that someday, maybe,
someone would be charged in the murder of their sons, Andrew Goodman
and James Chaney, and a companion, Michael Schwerner. They were young
men - Goodman and Schwerner, white New Yorkers, and Chaney, a black
Mississippian - killed in 1964 during a voter registration drive in
Mississippi in a crime that shocked the conscience of the country. On
Thursday, Edgar Ray Killen, described by officials as a former Ku Klux
Klan leader, was charged with the murders. Mr. Killen pleaded not
guilty yesterday."

Not to be nosey, but why are we trying to spend taxpayer money on
this? Does anyone see a point in locking up some old guy who poses no
danger to anyone (admittedly, he used to), when we could be saving
that space and money to rehabilitate current criminals? I think this
is just a weak and foolish attempt to build up a frothy, airy, foamy
pedestal of "justice" such that the prosecutors, detectives, and
mothers of the murdered can stand on top of it, claiming "We got the
bad guy! Justice is served!"

Would he have done anything like this again? His record, and all
logic, certainly indicates no. He has not murdered since the original
incident, if he is guilty, and he's frickin' 80 years old! Shouldn't
the point of the justice system be not to get some silly revenge, but
to rehabilitate those whom we can? This man requires no
rehabilitation.

I think the judge should throw this out, honestly. This is ridiculous.
Incidentally, if any of you happen to be said judge, feel free to.

*Pop* goes the pedestal!

~Michael Akerman

ADDENDUM:

I posted this originally on a mailing list, so I'm also going to post one of the other members' response and my response to that:

Yes. If someone hurt one of my daughters, I would feel that it was my responsibility to hunt down and do far worse to the perpetrator. And the only thing that would restrain me, would be a believable assurance that in fact the attack on my child was also an attack on society and that society would exact the punishment or revenge due to be paid on account of the crime.

Had I been the parent of one of the children killed, I would have long since been obliged to recieve my reckoning with the blood of the man that did the killing.

If I did that, I would expect to be charged with a crime- and I should be. If society will not punish the murderer, society has no right to tell me that I can not.

How long it's been and how old the murderer, is not relevant. I'm sorry the old fart didn't spend his life in prison and don't care if it's hard on him now. I don't care if the experience kills him sooner than he would have died anyway. I don't care if he becomes tender vittles for any old prisoner that wants him for any old purpose.

If he's guilty. I think it is known that he is, but there may be something we don't know. In any event, he is entitled to a trial. Like Bryan Dennehee (sp?) said in Desperado 'we're gonna give you a fair trial, followed by a proper hanging".

[Name Withheld]


That entire argument is built on the "how would you feel" premise, and
that is certainly not a valid system of justice. If it was, we would
all be in prison for being rude.

The justice system must be built upon a weighing of personal rights
versus society's rights. It is not you right to get revenge for a
crime. That is merely a baser instinct. You are not entitled to it.
You do not deserve it. Only an unbiased judicial process (or one that
allows for bias by random assortment) can have the moral grounds to
punish someone for a crime.

On a religious basis, Jesus said, "Let he who is without sin cast the
first stone." Whether Christian or not, these words do indeed describe
our judicial system. We cannot have one person decide another's fate,
so it is not in individual hands to punish a crime. Which is why that,
itself, is a crime.

So, an argument based on vengeance (which all of you have used) is
entirely invalid. Our justice system cannot mete out punishments using
the "grab your shotguns and let's shoot that no-good nigga for
something" method, and that's exactly what this is. Punishing someone
purely for the sake of punishing him.

It is true that our justice system does stray into a revenge system
far too often, but it cannot be said that this is how it should be.
Sun Tzu said that the ultimate acme of skill in war is to destroy your
enemy without wounding him. This is very much war, as are all trials,
and we are slaying a person who has already been defeated. Were he
still a danger to others, he would still be an enemy. Fact is, he's
not. What we are doing is attacking Russian because it used to be a
part of the Soviet Union. We cannot apply justice to deeds no longer
done, as it achieves nothing but wasted money and antipathy.

~Michael Akerman

Of course, he responded to clarify his argument, but it was essentially the same as above, so I won't reprint it.

I still agree with me ;).

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Saturday, January 08, 2005

E Pluribus Unum

By: UnrepentantNewDealer


First off, [insert amazingly heartfelt and thoughtful though maddeningly generic Happy New Year's message here]. This is my first post of 2005 and my first at IVIC's new address: http://ivicblog.blogspot.com/. May 2005 bring you joy unmingled with sorrow, happiness uncontaminated with grief, love devoid of bitterness, and freedom free from fear. And may the next year always be better than the year before.

One of the things I've always found annoying is how many Christians on the Right are convinced that Christians are being persecuted. Hmm, let's see... Christians are able to practice their religion free from government intervention. The currency of the United States says "In God We Trust." Almost 80% of Americans are Christians and most of our leaders are at least nominally Christian. Yeah, we're being persecuted alright. No doubt about it.

This persecution takes many forms, the most onerous of which, judging by the fever pitch of these complaining conservative Christians, is the fact that "Merry Christmas" has been replaced to a large extent in the national lexicon by "Happy Holidays." Don't let the seeming insignificance of this development fool you. It is but the first assault upon the Christian foundations of this great nation. Today, Happy Holiday sales and Winter Break, rather than Christmas sales and Christmas Break, tomorrow forcing all Christians to bow down and worship the golden calf of Baal! Yes, that is their nefarious plan. It must be! For how else could this be explained?

Truth be told, that whole "Happy Holidays" thing used to bug me too, until I realized it wasn't simply political correctness. Who started us saying "Happy Holidays", rather than "Merry Christmas"? It wasn't the PC crowd. It was businesses. When almost all potential shoppers in America were Christian, stores could have Christmas sales and not exclude a large potential group of customers. Now that that is no longer the case, they have "Happy Holiday sales" to get Jews and Muslims and atheists--in fact, everybody--to participate in the celebration of crass commericialism that is truly what the "holiday season" is all about. As annoying as it may be, the "Happy Holidays" trend is not being forced upon us by the ACLU but is being fostered by businesses chasing after every last dollar. After all, what could be more American than that?

I was talking to a Jewish friend of mine a number of years ago about Hannukah. It was never a major Jewish holiday, more of a minor festival, really, until the late 20th century, when businessmen realized its proximity to Christmas made it a perfect way to get Jewish customers to spend more of their hard-earned money. Now they even have Happy Hannukah cards. Jewish customers are encouraged by Hallmark to buy one card for each family member and friend for each of the eight days of Hannukah. And you thought Christians had it bad!

Of course there are things we Americans care about other than money. It's just that money is the one thing virtually all Americans care about. It is the core of our consumerist culture. We value not money, but what we can buy with it... happiness, of course!

Even so, many people still get hysterical when you shine the cold hard light of reason on their rediculous claims of being persecuted. Case in point is a letter in Tuesday's Greensboro News & Record. It's the second letter down. http://www.news-record.com/news/opinions/letters/tues_letters_010405.htm

Not only is it poorly written and overreacting, it is full of inaccuracies. How many logical fallacies can you count? 5 dollars to the winner! It almost seems unsportsmanlike, criticizing this letter. Like shooting fish in a barrel. Actually, that kind of sounds like fun...

But I digress. The most troubling part of this letter is the commonly-spouted nonsense on the Religious Right that this is a "Christian nation." Oh, really? Yes, indeed, most of the people in the United States have always identified themselves as Christian. But most of the people in Canada, Mexico, Argentina, the Phillapines and Spain could say the same thing, and they do not consider themselves "Christian nations." Usually, this argument hinges on a claim that the Founding Fathers set up a "Christian nation." If so, they sure went about it in a funny way. If a Christian theocracy is your goal, why would you insert an amendment into the national charter, listed first as it is the most important, that prevents there from being an established church and keeps the government from meddling in religious affairs? It makes sense only when you consider the fact that the Founding Fathers were not as Christian as the Religious Right would like you to believe.

But, Michael, surely you're not saying the Founding Fathers were anything short of devout Christians?

Sit down. Take a few deep breaths. Brace yourself. The most important leaders of the founding generation--the "Founding Brothers" as one famous contemporary historian has called them--were deists. The best summary of their faith can be found on http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/farrell_till/myth.html:

"Deism was a philosophical belief that was widely accepted by the colonial intelligentsia at the time of the American Revolution. Its major tenets included belief in human reason as a reliable means of solving social and political problems and belief in a supreme deity who created the universe to operate solely by natural laws. The supreme God of the Deists removed himself entirely from the universe after creating it. They believed that he assumed no control over it, exerted no influence on natural phenomena, and gave no supernatural revelation to man. A necessary consequence of these beliefs was a rejection of many doctrines central to the Christian religion. Deists did not believe in the virgin birth, divinity, or resurrection of Jesus, the efficacy of prayer, the miracles of the Bible, or even the divine inspiration of the Bible.

"These beliefs were forcefully articulated by Thomas Paine in Age of Reason, a book that so outraged his contemporaries that he died rejected and despised by the nation that had once revered him as 'the father of the American Revolution.' To this day, many mistakenly consider him an atheist, even though he was an out spoken defender of the Deistic view of God. Other important founding fathers who espoused Deism were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Ethan Allen, James Madison, and James Monroe."

Thomas Jefferson went so far as to take from the gospels only the stories that conformed to this Enlightenment worldveiw and rejected the rest as superstition, thus creating the "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth." Even George Washington, on his deathbed, requested that he not be buried until at least three days after his death, apparently convinced that Jesus had simply been buried alive and not resurrected at all. As president, Washington even refused to publicly take communion, lest he set a dangerous precedent for the intermixture of religion and politics. Of at least the first seven presidents, none professed any belief in Christianity, as opposed to Deism or Unitarianism.

Indeed, due to their own religious beliefs it is inconceivable that they thought of the new nation they were establishing as a "Christian nation" at all.

As far as the First Amendment is concerned, fundamentalists today seize on the fact that it does not contain the exact words "Separation of Church and State" (they came from a letter written by Jefferson), therefore the Founders did not intend for there to be any separation between the two realms. Even knowing nothing about the Founders' religious beliefs, it is obvious that such a separation is what they intended. How else can the words "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" be reasonably interpreted?

But Michael, if we're not an officially "Christian nation", why does our money say "In God We Trust" and the Pledge of Allegiance contain the words "Under God"?

Even the most cursory Google search reveals that Lincoln's Treasury Secretary was the first to add the words "In God We Trust" to U.S. currency. Two important things to note about this: First, this was after the Second Great Awakening, when Americans in general were far more religious and far more Christian in the most pious sense, than had been the case in the time of the Founders; thus explaining how this could happen in 1864, yet have been both incomprehensible and anathema to the America of 1776 and 1787. Second, this was in the middle of the Civil War, when both sides invoked the name of God to show that God was on their side. Anyone who might have objected to this new motto on the national currency had more important things to worry about in the midst of the Civil War. In any event, in the almost entirely Christian America that existed from the Second Great Awakening to the 1960s, there were few non-Christians to get offended at an entirely symbolic show of disregard of the separation of church and state.

The Pledge of Allegiance was first published in 1892. The words "Under God" were inserted by an act of Congress in 1954. This was at the height of the Cold War and America was still overwhelmingly Christian. In the McCarthyite rhetoric of the day, the Cold War pitted the "godless Russians" against the "Christian America." This late addition to the Pledge can only be understood in that context.

A little-known but even more troubling fact is that during the 1950s, the traditional American motto since the Foudning of our nation, "E Pluribus Unum" ("Out of Many, One"), a statement of inclusion and unity, was changed to mirror our money: the exclusionary and divisive "In God We Trust." Theocracies have mottos invoking God, not secular nation-states that maintain any pretentions of being democracies. As theocracies have a 100% failure rate in establishing God's Kingdom Here on Earth, emulation of a failed governmental system is probably not the best idea.

In the pluralistic America of today, when more than 20% of Americans identify themselves at non-Christian, it is hard to justify keeping such relics of bygone eras, especially as they seem to be in direct violation of the First Amendment. Which is, of course, why fundamentalists go to such lengths to perpetuate the myth that America is and always has been an officially Christian nation. By now it should be abundantly clear that this claim is complete hogwash.

A final note: My personal religious beliefs, for the record, are more orthodox and traditional than those of the Founding Fathers. But I do not believe that the fact that I am convinced my beliefs are right and I am in the majority gives me or anyone else the right to force their beliefs on the minority. I am secure enough in my faith that I do not feel threatened by the government refusing to shove my religion down the throats of others. If the courts strike the words "Under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance or the words "In God We Trust" from the quarter, if "E Pluribus Unum" once again becomes our national creed, my faith will not be shaken. I do not need govermental approval of my beliefs. My faith is not so fragile, not so shallow. I endeavor to live my life true to my beliefs and to the sentiment expressed by Jefferson himself: "I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

God Bless America,

E Pluribus Unum

Monday, January 03, 2005

Moving Time

By: Michael Akerman


My server has turned into an inadequate lump of filled space. I have been bandaging it by draft-moding some old posts, but I'm afraid it's finally moving day. Unless someone comes up with a better suggestion, I'll be moving it to http://ivicblog.blogspot.com.

Note that this site will redirect there eventually, and you can always reach the blog through http://akerman.blogsite.org.

So please, update your links, bookmarks, and RSS feeds.

~Michael Akerman

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Head+Wall=Relief

By: Michael Akerman


Interesting news item today. And by news item, I mean editorial letters. And by editorial letters, I mean regurgitated arguments from a now-centuries old debate.

http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/story/1979290p-8357449c.html (I don't think you have to register, but I'm not sure)

I can't help but thinking most of these people are fools, not because they believe in creationism, but because they think, for some reason, that creationism and evolution are mutually exclusive. Indeed, only the last letter seems to consider that they are not. The others (especially and to an extreme degree, such that I want to hit the author in the face with something hard, the fourth one) are not just foolish, not just naive, they are undoubtedly and unqualifiedly stupid.

There are limitations to both theories, and they are reconciled easily. For instance, evolution does not explain the ultimate origin of all things, nor the unlikely and counterintuitive fact that life exists. Remember, the point is to increase entropy, and life is simply no good at this. Indeed, living things tend to create larger, more dense substances with lower entropy as wastes. There, logically, had to be some impetus for life, which is known to Christians as God (the argument as to what it actually is is a different debate all together. I think it's God, personally, but that's virtually unprovable).

More convincing, perhaps, is that there had to be a creationary beginning to the universe. By all known natural laws, all current evidence, all observable fact, nothing comes from nothing, in the physical world. Thus, the ultimate creator had to be an "uncaused" non-physical being. Whether this being is sentient (God) or simply something like Card's philotes (non-sentient, following a set of laws) is not important at the moment.

So, evolution has these obvious and apparent holes. But Creationism, if anything, has even more magnitudinous fallacies. There is physical evidence that completely demolishes the 10000 year limit on the Earth's age. Additionally, there is fossil evidence forbidding the creation of Earth in but a week's time. But, clearly, a literal interpretation of the bible is foolish. More likely, the true time span was compressed to be more accessible to the "unenlightened" ages.

The next main tenet of creationism is that God created every species as it is in perfect form. This is so astoundingly blind that I'm not sure I need to shoot it down. If this was the case, bacteria would not gain antibiotic resistance, we would not have genetic maladies, there would not be a population of fruit flies on the verge of speciation. No, this "basic tenet" of creationism is utterly stupid.

So, clearly, neither theory is absolutely correct. However, as should be apparent, they are great compliments. The holes in each theory are entirely spackled by the alternate theory. In fact, there is some actual evidence that a combination of the two is correct.

Most scientists now believe that clay was the original molecule that developed into life. Many clays have molecular crystalline structures that self-replicate, and modify other nearby molecular structures to better match themselves. It is extremely likely that, given enough time, these structures would develop into basic amino acids and other base nutrient compounds, leading eventually into the assemblage of these into life.

If you'll recall from Genesis, you will note that God made man from the dust of the ground. If you'll recall from the above paragraph, it is considered likely that man evolved from the dust of the ground. This fits well with my theory (though it's hardly enough evidence to call for a scientific journal publication). The tale in the bible is not literal, but it's not that far from it. Remember, the tale is in a generally correct order, with generally correct information, but an incorrect time span. I think it's obvious that the most likely cause of this is that the story is a first-hand account of the creation, but due to ages of retelling, was modified such that common, lowly man could accept it within their limited understanding.

~Michael Akerman