Friday, January 21

What cost Freedom?

So, we have a new President. Same as the Old President.

And according to his inaguaral speach, he and American, stands for Freedom.

Freedom from oppression.

Freedom from Tyranny.

Freedom from Fear.

Freedom from Want.

But at what cost will we aquire this Freedom and most importantly...

who will grant us Freedom from that?

I thought his speach was well said, very strongly presented, inspiriing, thrilling -- and completely false.

So it seems that America did not invade Iraq because of Weapons of Mass Destruction. It was not because of ties between Saddam and Osama, or support for 9/11. Those muslim children we saw dancing in the streets at the news of the destruction of the World Trade Center, were in Palistine, not Iraq.

It seems we invaded to free them from tyranny and oppression.

Do tell?

I seem to remember the last time that a President went to war to save innocent people from oppression and slaughter. And I remember the response from the right-wing.

From the floor of the House of Representatives they threatened our President with charges of treason, as soon of the first American soldier lost their life in this effort to end the murder of innocent people.

That President was Bill Clinton and the right-winger who made the threat was Dana Rorbacher (R-CA) over the conflict in Bosnia. In Bosnia we formed a true coalition, which included as many troops from both Europe and Russia as it did from America. It was a conflict that ended nearly 10 years of violent ethnic cleansing, in a complex three-way religious entanglement and yet - not a single American Soldier lost his life.

Freedom and security was restored.

Just as it was restored in place of decades of violent terrorism in Northern Ireland during Clinton's Presidency.

America can be a force for bringing Freedom to the world. It has been.

But it also be a force that can bring horror and chaos.

Chaos like Fallujah. Chaos like Mosul. Choas like this so-called election in Iraq, where candidates are afraid to announce themselves or be assasinated.

Is this the Freedom that George W. Bush is promoting?

When there are election irregularities in Ukraine, the right-wing speaks up. When there are election irregularities in Washington State which appear to benefit a Democrat, the right-wing speaks up. When there are election irreguralities in Florida and Ohio which appear to benefit George W. Bush.

They grow silent. Even belligerent and dismissive.

Is this the Freedom he ment?

Right-wing evangelicals breathed a sigh of relief as Bush was sworn in.

Bush would protect life.

Especially the innocent life of the unborne. Yes, and the fact that Abortions have increased under the first term of George W. Bush as more and more Americans fall further into poverty, lose their heath-care and consequently the ability to properly provide and care for children.

Strangely: the idea of having more children die slowly from improper health care - or live in neglect with parents who are both forced to work to survive and provide - doesn't seem be the kind of life they want to protect.

Is this what he calls Freedom from want?

He's already nominated the National Security Advisor who failed to respond to the August 6th PDB that declared "Bin Ladin determined to strike in the United States", to become the head of American foreign Policy.

He's nominated the White House Counsel who argued that torture is not really torture - that the Geneva convention doesn't apply, and apparently neither does U.S. Law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice - to suspected terrorist, as America's new "Top Cop". (Note: Not convicted terrorist - suspected terrorists because to date the Bush Administration has completely failed to convict anyone in relation to 9/11. You can't convict someone in a U.S. Court or even a Military Tribunal using information that has been gained via torture. It's inadmissable).

They haven't proven that anyone currently in custody at Guantanemo or at Abu Ghraib have done anything wrong what so ever. It is extremely likely that many of these people are completely innocent, yet they will remain in custody in all likelyhood - indefinately.

Life in Prison - with occasional torture - for nothing?

Are these innocents in Guantanemo, Abu Ghraib and the many others who have been wrongfully accused and convicted in U.S. Prison, or on death-row worth saving?

Apparently not.

Is this the Freedom he was talking about?

I think it was.

I think this is exactly what he means, even if he doesn't realize it.

It seems now that charity and forgiveness are no longer Christian Values. The prime Christian Value of today seems to be fear (of terrorists), bigotry (to deny gays the right to exist) and hated (of liberals).

God Bless America and George W. Bush.

Welcome to four more years of Hell on Earth.

Vyan

Fact Check: Social Security

Does Social Security Really Face an $11 Trillion Deficit?

Bush and Cheney say yes. But actuaries say the figure is "likely to mislead" the public on the system's true financial state.

January 21, 2005

Modified: January 21, 2005

Summary

President Bush and Vice President Cheney have told audiences that Social Security faces an $11 trillion shortfall if nothing is done to fix the current system. But they fail to mention that this is over the course of the “infinite future." Over the next 75 years -- still practically a lifetime -- the shortfall is projected to be $3.7 trillion.

The "infinite" projection is one that the American Academy of Actuaries says is likely to mislead the public into thinking the system "is in far worse financial condition than is actually indicated," and therefore should not be used to explain the long-term outlook.

Analysis

In a roundtable conversation on January 11, the president said the Social Security system “is going to be short the difference between obligations and money coming in, by about $11 trillion, unless we act.”

President Bush

Remarks at Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, January 11, 2005

Bush: Now, I readily concede some would say, well, it's not bankrupt yet; why don't we wait until it's bankrupt? The problem with that notion is that the longer you wait, the more difficult it is to fix. You realize that this system of ours is going to be short the difference between obligations and money coming in, by about $11 trillion, unless we act. And that's an issue. That's trillion with a "T."

Vice President Cheney echoed this claim in a January 13 speech at Catholic University when he said, “Again, the projected shortfall in Social Security exceeds $10 trillion.”

Both are correct -- but fail to mention that nearly two-thirds of that colossal bill doesn't come due until after the year 2078.

The Trustees Report

The projection comes from the 2004 Social Security Trustees report which estimates that the system’s unfunded obligations are $10.4 trillion over the course of what they call the "infinite horizon." Historically, the infinite-horizon projection has not been included in the annual report, and was only added in 2003.

Previously the Trustees had used only a 75-year projection to estimate the system’s long-term deficits, roughly the length of a human lifetime. (Average life expectancy at birth has now increased to just over 77 years, up from just under 75 years as recently as the 1980's, according to the National Center for Health Statistics .) The Social Security Trustees' 2004 projection shows a $3.7 trillion shortfall over this 75-year period.

The Trustees reasoned that the 75-year window should be extended to the infinite future to give policymakers a better idea of the changes necessary to keep the system sustainable indefinitely -- especially beyond 2078 when they said Social Security’s deficit will be increasing even faster than during the next 75 years.

Vice President Cheney

Remarks at Catholic University, January 13, 2005

Cheney: Another argument against Social Security reform with voluntary personal accounts is that the so-called transition costs would be too high. Yet focusing merely on transition costs is to overlook the greater cost of doing nothing. Again, the projected shortfall in Social Security exceeds $10 trillion; that figure is nearly twice the combined wages and salaries of every single working American last year. There will be no -- there will be costs no matter what we decide.

A technical panel set up to advise the Social Security Administration later said that infinite-horizon model is useful but “it is difficult to understand." The panel recommended that the infinite-horizon calculations be expressed more prominently as a percentage of the taxable payroll rather than the actual dollar amount. Referring to the 2003 trustees report, the panel said:

Technical Panel on Assumptions and Methods: The Report also briefly mentions the infinite horizon actuarial deficit of 3.8 percent. This figure is more informative that the dollar value of the infinite horizon unfunded obligations, and should be presented more prominently….

While the…information is useful, it is difficult to understand. The $10.5 trillion is a large figure, but it needs to be seen in the context of the present value of taxable payroll over the infinite horizon, which is on the order of $275 trillion.

Later, in the 2004 report issued last March, the Trustees updated those figures to a $10.4 trillion deficit and a $295.5 trillion taxable payroll.

Social Security Deficit and Payroll Taxes

The percent of taxable payroll is the portion of an employee’s payroll tax that goes toward Social Security and is currently set at the rate of 12.4 percent, half of which is paid by the employer and the other half by employee. Over 75 years, the Trustees estimate the actuarial deficit is 1.8 percent of taxable payroll. This means that for the system to be completely solvent over the next 75 years, without adjusting benefits, payroll taxes would have to go up to 14.2 percent immediately. And to be solvent for the "infinite future," the $10.4 trillion shortfall equals 3.5 percent of taxable payroll, or a tax increase to15.9 percent of wages.

The Infinite Horizon – Is it useful?

Contrary to the technical panel’s endorsement, the American Academy of Actuaries, a nonpartisan organization that sets standards of practice for actuaries in the US , disputes the value of the infinite horizon projection. In fact, they said it probably would mislead anyone lacking technical expertise and that it provides “little if any useful information” about the system’s long-term finances. In a December 2003 letter to the Social Security Advisory Board, the Academy wrote:

American Academy of Actuaries: …The new measures of the unfunded obligations included in the 2003 report provide little if any useful information about the program’s long-range finances and indeed are likely to mislead anyone lacking technical expertise in the demographic, economic, and actuarial aspects of the program’s finances into believing that the program is in far worse financial condition than is actually indicated.

The Academy states that there is already much uncertainty using 75-year projections, and that extending estimates into the infinite future only increases that uncertainty, producing results that "are of limited value to policymakers.” They point out that changes which took place over the last 75 years were unforeseeable to actuaries in 1928, such as the Great Depression or the baby boom, and therefore have no reason to doubt that unforeseeable changes will not occur in the future.

Demographic and economic assumptions have always been a controversial issue among demographers predicting the long-term sustainability of Social Security. Significant advances in life expectancy have taken place over the last century, which exert more pressure on the system's finances as people live longer lives. Whether future mortality rates will continue to slow or increase with medical technology, the Academy of Actuaries argues that the inconsistencies which arise from such long-range assumptions are "inevitable" when making projections over the course of infinity. For this reason, they conclude that the infinite-horizon measurement is a “detriment” to the Trustees Report. They write:

American Academy of Actuaries: Thus, we believe that including these values in the Trustees Report is unnecessary and is, on balance, a detriment to the Trustees’ charge to provide a meaningful and balanced presentation of the financial status of the program.

One final note: The Trustees and actuaries give the $10.4-trillion figure and others what is called "present value," a theoretical lump-sum figure that takes into account expected future inflation and interest rates. Otherwise, any continuing deficit projected into the infinite future would automatically become an infinitely large sum.

Sources

Table IV.B7.--Unfunded OASDI Obligations for 1935 (Program Inception) Through the Infinite Horizon, "THE 2004 ANNUAL REPORT OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE FEDERAL OLD-AGE AND SURVIVORS INSURANCE AND DISABILITY INSURANCE TRUST FUNDS," 23 March 2004: 59.

Technical Panel on Assumptions and Methods (2003), Report to the Social Security Advisory Board. Washington, D.C., October 2003.

Related Articles

Social Security Ads: Risk or Protection?

Pro-Bush group's first TV ad states the problem correctly. But the AARP uses a misleading photo.

Wednesday, January 19

Rice Defends War - other news

Rice Defends War, Talks Diplomacy

Rice at her confirmation hearing

Condoleezza Rice’s confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was dominated by her detailed defense of Bush’s Iraq war strategy. Rice, who consistently used the threat of WMDs to justify the invasion, was clearly rankled by the well-backed grilling from Senator Barbara Boxer that her “loyalty to the mission…to sell this war…overwhelmed [her] respect for the truth.”

Rice raised some eyebrows at the hearings when she suggested that 120,000 Iraqi troops had been trained, a figure which Senator Joe Biden described as “malarky.” Biden responded, “Based on his own interviews on trips in Iraq, the actual number of fully trained Iraqis was closer to 4,000.” Rice’s optimistic statements on Iraq to the committee have been flatly contradicted by a growing accumulation of intelligence reports submitted to the White House, according to a Knight-Ridder report. The hearings continue Wednesday morning.

Senator Boxer weighed in on another confirmation hearing when she told blogger DailyKos that the “torture memo” record of Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales was what swayed her vote. “I would say I am leaning ‘no’ on him at this point because I saw those pictures and they haunt me and I’ll never get it out of my mind and I couldn’t even sit and watch all of them.”

The continuing descent of Iraq into bloody chaos was underlined by the Iraqi Interior Minister Falah Hassan al-Naqib, who told a press conference, “If there are not good elections, we won’t have a constitution, and there will be chaos, and we will have a civil war.” The minister’s warning was followed by unusually frank remarks from John D. Negroponte, the American ambassador to Iraq, who “acknowledged that there was no end in sight to the insurgency and that American officials still did not know how big it was.”

Support from the American people for the war continues to slip. A new Los Angeles Times poll found that the percentage of Americans who believed the situation in Iraq was “worth going to war over” has sunk to a new low of 39%.

The British Army is now embroiled in its own Iraq torture scandal. On Tuesday, three soldiers went on trial for what prosecutors called “shocking and appalling” mistreatment of Iraqi detainees. Photos taken in May 2003 by British soldiers showed a “bound Iraqi being dangled over a loading dock by a forklift, another being subjected to a simulated kick, and both Iraqis stripped and simulating sexual acts together.”

The White House plan to privatize Social Security received a sharp jab from a top Republican lawmaker when House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA) told the Washington Post that “partisan warfare over Social Security will quickly render President Bush’s plan ‘a dead horse’.”

The Florida delegation to the Democratic National Committee has voted unanimously to endorse Howard Dean to be the party’s next chairman, “bucking an effort to orchestrate an endorsement of one candidate by all 50 state party leaders at the same time later this month,” the New York Times reports. Scott Maddox, the Florida Democratic chairman told the Times, “The only knock against Howard Dean is that he’s seen as too liberal. I’m a gun-owning pickup-truck driver and I have a bulldog named Lockjaw. I am a Southern chairman of a Southern state, and I am perfectly comfortable with Howard Dean as D.N.C. chair.” In The Nation magazine, columnist John Nichols also praised Dean’s candidacy for DNC chair. “His presidential run was inspired in its use of new technologies and grassroots fundraising, in its willingness to get ahead on issues like the war and in the overall boldness of its approach — all characteristics that a resurgent Democratic Party must emulate,” writes Nichols.


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Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's nominee for secretary of state, took the oath on Tuesday from Senator Richard G. Lugar before testifying at a confirmation hearing by the Foreign Relations Committee.





Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
Senator Barbara Boxer sharply questioned Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday at her confirmation hearing.

Enlarge This Image

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
Ms. Boxer's berating tone drew a flash of irritation from Ms. Rice.


FOREIGN RELATIONS

Rice Sees Iraq Training Progress but Offers No Schedule for Exit

By STEVEN R. WEISMAN and JOEL BRINKLEY

Published: January 19, 2005

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 - Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's nominee for secretary of state, refused Tuesday to set any timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, but declared that the United States was making "some progress" in training Iraqi security forces.

Under persistent bipartisan questioning at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ms. Rice also declared that beyond strengthening Iraq's fledgling police and military, the most urgent task facing Iraqis after the elections was to overcome differences among Sunni Arabs, Shiites, Kurds and others by seeking political reconciliation among themselves.

"The Iraqis lack certain capacities, and if we focus in this next period after the election on helping them to build those capacities beyond where they are now, I think we will have done a major part toward the day when less coalition help is needed," she said.

By far the most severe questioning came from Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, whose berating tone clearly rankled Ms. Rice and brought an uncharacteristic flash of irritation. In the morning session, Ms. Boxer focused sharply on Ms. Rice's position that Saddam Hussein had been close to acquiring nuclear weapons, showing her statements on a cardboard display.

"I personally believe, this is my personal view, that your loyalty to the mission you were given, to sell this war, overwhelmed your respect for the truth," Ms. Boxer said, noting that she was one of the minority of Senators to vote against authorizing the use of force in Iraq.

"Senator, I have to say that I never, ever lost respect for the truth in the service of anything," Ms. Rice responded, her voice sharpening. "It is not my nature. It is not my character. And I would hope that we can have this conversation and discuss what happened before, and what went on before and what I said, without impugning my credibility or my integrity."

Democrats also focused on Ms. Rice's past advocacy of the Iraq war and her role in deciding how many troops would be needed there, while several Republican senators called on Ms. Rice and the Bush administration in general to be more forthcoming about its strategy and specifics to back up its claims of progress.

"I can't give you a timeline," Ms. Rice said, in discussing how the administration planned to measure the success in Iraq that would allow an American disengagement. "But I think we will know when the Iraqis are able to have in place institutions, no matter how fragile and no matter how young, where they're actually beginning to try and solve their own problems within those institutions."

Ms. Rice opened the hearing by pledging to reinvigorate diplomacy on a number of fronts, from the Middle East to North Korea to Europe. But while going out of her way to commend various senators for their questions and their support, she refused to second-guess the decisions of the past or predict the future.

"This was never going to be easy," she said at one point, responding to a challenge about Iraq from Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who was making his most prominent appearance in Washington since his defeat in the election by President Bush.

"It was always going to have ups and downs," Ms. Rice added. "I'm sure that we have multiple, many decisions, some of which were good, some of which might not have been good." But she added that "the strategic decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein was the right one" and that success in Iraq would spread freedom and stability elsewhere.

The theme of Ms. Rice's opening statement was that history would favorably judge the Bush administration's struggle to expand freedom, particularly in the Muslim world, just as President Harry S. Truman is hailed by historians for laying the foundation of defeating Communism after World War II.

Declaring that there would be a renaissance of diplomacy in the administration's second term, Ms. Rice also promised the senators to upgrade American efforts at "public diplomacy," the term for waging a public relations campaign to sell American policies in the face of a skeptical world, particularly in the Middle East.

She said the administration would step up its efforts in the Middle East, hold Russia accountable for its backsliding on democracy and work with allies on Iran and North Korea.

Rice Sees Iraq Training Progress but Offers No Schedule for Exit


Published: January 19, 2005

(Page 2 of 2)

As she testified into the evening, answering round after round of questions from all 18 senators on the committee, Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Indiana Republican who is its chairman, scheduled a brief additional hearing on Wednesday, indicating that the nomination would be approved and sent to the Senate for final confirmation on Thursday, shortly after Mr. Bush's inauguration.



Despite the widely understood outcome, it was a day of considerable drama. Though Ms. Rice is a well-known advocate of administration policies, this was the first time for her to answer questions from senators since being chosen to succeed Colin L. Powell, and the Democrats' tough words on the eve of Mr. Bush's inauguration signaled that the war would continue to be a divisive issue.

The hearing ended in the evening with an extraordinary colloquy between Senator Kerry and Ms. Rice in which the senator, the recent Democratic presidential nominee, alternatively asked sharp questions and offered lectures about various themes from his campaign, from Iran to North Korea, to Russia, working with the Europeans, enlisting Arab countries to help in Iraq and the role of the State Department in planning for the war.

But in concluding, Mr. Kerry pledged that if Ms. Rice reached out, he was prepared to meet her halfway, and Ms. Rice said she looked forward to working with the man who had spent the last two years trying to replace President Bush.

Other Democrats with skeptical questions were Senators Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the committee; Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut; and Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin.

Mr. Biden dismissed as "malarkey" Ms. Rice's assertion that 120,000 Iraqi troops had been trained. He said that based on his own interviews on trips in Iraq, the actual number of fully trained Iraqis was closer to 4,000.

Mr. Dodd and Mr. Kerry also focused on whether the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and elsewhere constituted torture or violations of international law, and on the damage that disclosures about those techniques had done to American standing in the world.

Citing instances of forced nudity and simulated drowning as interrogation techniques, Mr. Dodd asked "whether or not you consider them to be torture or not." Ms. Rice declined to characterize them.

"Senator, the determination of whether interrogation techniques are consistent with our international obligations and American law are made by the Justice Department," she said. "I don't want to comment on any specific interrogation techniques."

But not all the difficult questions came from Democrats. Mr. Lugar cited the exchange between Mr. Biden and Ms. Rice over the number of trained troops and acknowledged that it might be difficult to determine the exact number. But he appealed to Ms. Rice to come up with "some measurement" to gauge progress on the issue. "This is going to be up with the American people for quite some time," he said.

Also reflecting some impatience with the difficulty of measuring results in Iraq, Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, asked what constituted success in Iraq and what American plans were after the election. Ms. Rice again returned to the need for training Iraqis to defend themselves and for time to let Iraqis write new laws and a constitution.

"Our role is directly proportional, I think, Senator, to how capable the Iraqis are," she said. "And so as Iraqis become more capable, then I would assume certainly our help will be needed less. I am really reluctant to try to put a timetable on that because I think the goal is to get the mission accomplished, and that means that the Iraqis have to be capable of some things before we lessen our own responsibility."

Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, followed later with a question about whether the United States should "take a more realistic and perhaps a different view of how we define success" than one calling for the country to be fully stable, democratic and pluralistic.

On other subjects, including the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, Ms. Rice avoided specifics except to say she intended to re-energize the American role. She deflected a question about whether there should be a special Middle East envoy, saying the time had not come for that decision.

One hint of her views came, however, came when she told Senator Lincoln Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican, that a Palestinian state "has to have territory that makes it viable" and not be "so broken up that it can't function as a state." That appeared to be a reference to Palestinian complaints that the West Bank should not be pock-marked or broken up by Israeli settlements.

Ms. Rice told senators that despite setbacks in Russian democracy , evidenced by its crackdown on freedoms and its interference in Ukraine and elsewhere, there was much cooperation with the government of President Vladimir V. Putin.

She reserved some of her harshest language, not for China or Russia, but for President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, whose government she said had "not been constructive" because of his tough tactics against the news media and the opposition.

"Is it possible for you to say something positive about the Chávez administration?" Mr. Chafee asked, apparently taken aback at the toughness of her words.

When Ms. Rice said "it's pretty hard, Senator, to find something positive," Mr. Chafee said her attitude "seems disrespectful to the Venezuelan people" who elected Mr. Chávez.