Thursday, September 15, 2011

Another old joke formally updated as new facts roll in

Perry: Hi big pharma.

Merck: Would you do us a favor and force our vaccine on young, innocent, most likely Christian Texas girls even though it would allow them to prevent cervical cancer, thus encouraging them to be promiscuous for the rest of their lives? We'll contribute $23,000 directly to your campaign and give another half million to the Republican Governors' Association who will funnel a big chunk of it to you.

Perry: Of course: What's not to like, big pharma.

Merck: OK, then how's about we give you $5000?

Perry: Hell no: What kind of candidate do you think I am?

Merck: We've established that, we're just haggling over the price.

For 2 more old jokes updated, see previous blog here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Some debunking of Republican fiction

Here are the facts:

Republican debate

It takes the kind of strong stomach which I don't have to watch what passes for "presidential caliber" Republicans "debate" each other -- especially in front of an audience of TeaScreamers.

I watched pieces of it until my gorge started to rise. I switched to the Patriots NFL season opener, only to have my digestive track further insulted by the inane commentary of the ESPN announcers, falling all over each other as they sucked up to Brady and Belichick and any player that they happened to like on any particular play.

I soon clicked off the Tube and read a few chapters in a wonderful book of interconnected and moving short stories called "The Imperfectionists" (Tom Rachman).

My wife, who has a somewhat stronger stomach than mine later pointed out some interesting pieces of the Republican debate that I missed. For example, from the CNN transcript here is Ron Paul on militarism and Al-Qaeda:

PAUL: First thing I would like to do is make sure that you understand there's a difference between military spending and defense spending. I'm tired of all the militarism that we are involved in. And we're wasting this money in getting us involved. And I agree, we are still in danger, but most of the danger comes by our lack of wisdom on how we run our foreign policy.

So I would say there's a lot of room to cut on the military, but not on the defense. You can slash the military spending. We don't need to be building airplanes that were used in World War II -- we're always fighting the last war.

But we're under great threat, because we occupy so many countries.

We're in 130 countries. We have 900 bases around the world. We're going broke.

The purpose of al Qaeda was to attack us, invite us over there, where they can target us. And they have been doing it. They have more attacks against us and the American interests per month than occurred in all the years before 9/11, but we're there occupying their land. And if we think that we can do that and not have retaliation, we're kidding ourselves. We have to be honest with ourselves. What would we do if another country, say, China, did to us what we do to all those countries over there?

 Can it be? Some actual sense in this debate? There was some applause after these remarks, mostly (I think) because Ron Paul went on to say we needn't take on the responsibility to be "policeman of the world", and to talk about how George Bush won on a platform decrying "nation-buliding."

But then frothy Rick Santorum, one of the lowest-watt of the low-watters, attacked Ron Paul on the above statement, which resulted in this exchange.

SANTORUM: We should have -- we are not being attacked and we were not attacked because of our actions. We were attacked, as Newt talked about, because we have a civilization that is antithetical to the civilization of the jihadists. And they want to kill us because of who we are and what we stand for. And we stand for American exceptionalism, we stand for freedom and opportunity for everybody around the world, and I am not ashamed to do that.


BLITZER: Thirty second, Mr. Paul.

PAUL: As long as this country follows that idea, we're going to be under a lot of danger. This whole idea that the whole Muslim world is responsible for this, and they're attacking us because we're free and prosperous, that is just not true.

Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda have been explicit -- they have been explicit, and they wrote and said that we attacked America because you had bases on our holy land in Saudi Arabia, you do not give Palestinians fair treatment, and you have been bombing --


PAUL: I didn't say that. I'm trying to get you to understand what the motive was behind the bombing, at the same time we had been bombing and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis for 10 years.

Would you be annoyed? If you're not annoyed, then there's some problem.


Clearly the TeaScreamers knew what they wanted to hear, and it wasn't what Ron Paul was telling them. I wonder if it ever occurred to these folks that Al-Qaeda has not attacked other western, non-Islamic democracies such as Canada and France, whose presence in Islamic territories is minimal. Sure Osama and Al-Qaeda represent Islamic extremism, but they were also somewhat descriminating in their choice of target. If the branch of Christian extremism and "American exceptionalism" represented by the Screamers were to take over our policies we could expect to be the target of a lot more violence, and not just from Al-Qaeda.

Finally, there's Bachmann commenting on Perry's executive order making HPV immunizations mandatory for Texas girls:

BACHMANN: I just wanted to add that we cannot forget that in the midst of this executive order there is a big drug company that made millions of dollars because of this mandate. We can't deny that...


BLITZER: What are you suggesting?

BACHMANN: What I'm saying is that it's wrong for a drug company, because the governor's former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company. The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor, and this is just flat-out wrong. The question is, is it about life, or was it about millions of dollars and potentially billions for a drug company?

BLITZER: All right. I'll let Senator Santorum hold off for a second.

You've got to response to that.

PERRY: Yes, sir. The company was Merck, and it was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them. I raise about $30 million. And if you're saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended. 

A lot of us are reminded of an old joke, often attributed to G.B. Shaw or Winston Churchill, about the woman to agrees that she would sleep with some man who offered her $ 1 million. When he lowers his offer to a few dollars she says "Of course not, what kind of a woman do you think I am?" and he responds "We've established that, we're just haggling over the price." In any case, does anyone actually believe that $5000 was all that Merck gave to Perry? 

(The Washington Spectator, a muckraking newsletter, has had some recent articles about financial support for Rick Perry. )

Even CNN, by the way, has pointed out a few of the almost universal factual errors in what these candidates had to say. One of the biggest was Perry's claim that Pres Obama's stimulus program created "0 jobs". This is totally false; ironically, as even Michele Bachmann said, thousands of the Texas jobs that Perry takes credit for resulted from Federal money and were public-sector jobs. Of course, Bachmann's attacks on Obama's healthcare plan are no more factual either -- including her claim that the plan would penalize the Medicare program.

But why go on? There was nothing in the debate that was much related to reality, and certainly nothing useful or constructive. It was all posturing for the discerning and knowledgeable group of TeaScreamers in the audience -- the ones who think that a person without the ability to pay medical bills should simply be allowed to die.

Just nice, plain, hometown  folks, most of whom seem to have taken some kind of Christ into what passes for their hearts -- I don't know what they've taken into their brains. They'll be a major factor in who gets the Republican nomination, which seems just about right, come to think of it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Solvency and the Social Security Trust Fund

At the moment, because of the decrease in population growth and the Great Recession, Social Security is paying out more money than it is taking in through FICA taxes. However, SS has a $ 2.5 trillion surplus built up over the years. Money from this surplus has been borrowed by the Federal Government, partly to pay for two unfunded wars. In exchange, SS has been reimbursed by U.S. government bonds. These bonds are so good that the interest that the U.S. government pays on them has actually been decreasing, a fact that right-wing ideologues never seem to mention. Far from being a Ponzi scheme, Social Security has not only been reliably paying out its commitments to retirees, but has also been financing undeclared and unbudgeted wars, and helping out with the deficits caused by the Bush Tax Cuts.

Even if nothing is done, Social Security will continue to pay 100% of its commitments through 2037, and 78% of its commitments thereafter (this from economists from within and without the Social Security System). However, there are easy and relatively painless fixes that will guarantee 100% of its commitments for the foreseeable future. One of these is simply to withhold FICA on all income up to $180,000 (up from the current $106,500) and, maybe, raise the retirement age by a year or so. A similar, though partial, patch was passed by Pres. Reagan working with Tip O'Neil in 1985 -- in the days when Republicans' main goal was not to keep the economy sour in order to stand a better chance at winning an election.

Below are some quotes, mostly through the AP, supporting these statements.

AP: "Social Security Has Built Up A $2.5 Trillion Surplus ... Benefits Will Be Safe Until That Money Runs Out ... In 2037." A January 27 Associated Press article noted that while "Social Security will post nearly $600 billion in deficits over the next decade," without any changes to the fund, "[b]enefits will be safe until that money runs out. That is projected to happen in 2037." From the article:
Social Security has built up a $2.5 trillion surplus since the retirement program was last overhauled in the 1980s. Benefits will be safe until that money runs out. That is projected to happen in 2037 -- unless Congress acts in the meantime. At that point, Social Security would collect enough in payroll taxes to pay out about 78 percent of benefits, according to the Social Security Administration.
The $2.5 trillion surplus, however, has been borrowed over the years by the federal government and spent on other programs. In return, the Treasury Department has issued bonds to Social Security, guaranteeing repayment with interest. [Associated Press, 1/27/11]
(Dean) Baker: "Treasury Bonds ... Are Never Referred to As 'I.O.U.'s'" In "The Business Pages Of Major Newspapers." In an August 25, 2010, post on his Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) blog Beat the Press, economist Dean Baker, who is co-director of CEPR, pushed back against a New York Times piece that referred to Treasury bonds as "i.o.u.'s." [The New York Times, 8/25/10] Baker called this "absurd" and continued:
The business pages of major newspapers are full of references to Treasury bonds all the time. The bonds are never referred to as "i.o.u.'s." The article then includes the bizarre assertion about government bonds that the only way for the government to make good on the bonds it has outstanding: "is to issue mountains of new debt or to take the money from elsewhere in the federal budget, or perhaps impose significant tax increases -- none of which seem like especially practical options for the long term."
[Times reporter Matt] Bai's opinion is radically at odds with perceptions in financial markets. These markets view it as almost inconceivable that the government will not honor its bonds, which is why the interest rate on long-term bonds is near its lowest level in the last 60 years. [Beat the Press,, 8/25/10, my italics]
NYT: "False Impression" That Trust Fund Is "A Worthless Pile Of I.O.U.'s." In a January 2005 editorial published during the weeks before the Bush administration released its plan to privatize Social Security, The New York Times responded to President Bush's suggestion that in 2018 Social Security would be bankrupt by saying, "In suggesting that 2018 is doomsyear, the president is reinforcing a false impression that the trust fund is a worthless pile of I.O.U.'s -- as detractors of Social Security so often claim." The editorial added that for decades, payroll taxes had "exceeded benefits, with the excess tax revenue invested in interest-bearing Treasury securities." The editorial continued:
That accumulating interest and the securities themselves make up the Social Security trust fund. If the trust fund's Treasury securities are worthless, someone better tell investors throughout the world, who currently hold $4.3 trillion in Treasury debt that carries the exact same government obligation to pay as the trust fund securities. The president is irresponsible to even imply that the United States might not honor its debt obligations. [The New York Times, 1/10/05]

Left Unchanged, Tax Income Will Still Cover 78 Percent Of Benefits After 2037

Social Security Board Of Trustees: After 2037, "Annual Tax Income" Would Fund "78 Percent Of" Social Security Costs. Contrary to Varney's suggestion that after 2037 Social Security benefits would no longer be funded, the 2010 Annual Report Of The Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds reported that even if no changes were made to Social Security's funding, the "annual tax income to the trust funds is projected to equal about 78 percent of program cost" after 2037. From the report:
Social Security's combined trust funds are projected to allow full payment of scheduled benefits on a timely basis until the trust funds become exhausted in 2037. At that time, annual tax income to the trust funds is projected to equal about 78 percent of  program cost. By 2084, annual tax income is projected to be about 75 percent as large as the annual cost of the OASDI program. [2010 Annual Report Of The Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds, 9/9/10]

Friday, September 9, 2011

SS and Ponzi: a few more words and a diagram

Nick Baumann of Mother Jones has an article about Social Security and Ponzi schemes which contains the following helpful Venn diagram. Show it to anyone who repeats the "Social Security is a Ponzi scheme" claptrap.

In my blog: Perry, Ponzi, Pfui I point out that Social Security and Ponzi schemes also have the common property that the payoff to previous investors -- now retiring -- is financed by current investors (workers).  SS is no more a Ponzi scheme than borrowing from a bank is a robbery.

social security ponzi scheme venn diagram 

(BTW, "pfui" was in the NY Times crossword the other day: I feel exonerated by Will Shortz. Nero Wolfe actually used the expletive quite a few times in Rex Stout's stories.)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Beneath contempt, item # 3,604

Again, from last nights Republican "debate":

(BRIAN) WILLIAMS: Governor Perry, a question about Texas. Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times. Have you...
(APPLAUSE) [Some of the most vociferous of the evening.]
Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?

PERRY: No, sir. I've never struggled with that at all.

(The vociferous applause even got Brian Williams nonplussed -- though not the Wall Street Journal writer James Taranto  who blames it on the liberals.)

Perry goes on to list all the safeguards there are for accused murderers -- safeguards that he and his followers mostly oppose, incidentally, such as legal appeals. He is currently pondering whether to allow DNA testing that might exonerate three prisoners on Texas' death row. You would think that for such a strong supporter of safeguards this would be a no-brainer...

Perhaps Perry should have read this about a likely innocent man who was executed in Texas, and the New Yorker story on which it is based.

Just for a moment -- whatever your religious beliefs or non-beliefs -- just for a moment imagine that the Jesus Christ of the Sermon on The Mount were in the audience. Could you imagine that Jesus applauding along with this crowd of Republican Neanderthals?

Beneath contempt, item # 3,602

Here's a bit of Rick Perry's take on climate change, from last night's display of Republican idiocy.

PERRY: Well, I do agree that there is -- the science is -- is not settled on this. The idea that we
would put Americans' economy at -- at -- at jeopardy based on scientific theory that's not settled yet, to me, is just -- is nonsense. I mean, it -- I mean -- and I tell somebody, I said, just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said here is the fact, Galileo got outvoted for a spell.

But the fact is, to put America's economic future in jeopardy, asking us to cut back in areas that would have monstrous economic impact on this country is not good economics and I will suggest to you is not necessarily good science. Find out what the science truly is before you start putting the American economy in jeopardy.

HARRIS: Just to follow up quickly. Tell us how you've done that.  (APPLAUSE)
Are there specific -- specific scientists or specific theories that you've found especially compelling, as you...(CROSSTALK)

PERRY: Let me tell you what I find compelling, is what we've done in the state of Texas, using our ability to regulate our clean air. We cleaned up our air in the state of Texas, more than any other state in the nation during the decade. Nitrous oxide levels, down by 57 percent. Ozone levels down by 27 percent.

(The Republican Debate at the Reagan Library -

This is totally laughable. Galileo wasn't "outvoted": he was threatened with torture and possibly death by the Inquisition in Rome, the exact analog of the present-day anti-science religious fundamentalists to which Perry so publicly and proudly belongs. In fact, serious astronomers and mathematicians largely supported Galileo, but were afraid to say so publicly lest they be broken on the rack or have their insides punctured by iron spikes (the way many religious folks have historically determined truth).

Perry, like just about every anti-science person, doesn't understand science. Science makes hypotheses and tests them. If they are contradicted by observation then they are rejected. However, even if 1000 experiments support  a theory, it is not "settled" permanently and absolutely: it is considered provisionally correct, with the warning that future experiments or observations may show it to be false. (This happened last century with Newton's venerable theory of gravity.) Only religious pronouncements are given absolutely and they almost never stand the test of observation (see Galileo and the Inquisition, e.g.).

The fact that every scientific society and maybe 98% of scientists not only believe in global warming, but also believe that it is largely human-caused is about as close to total scientific support as has ever, historically, been the case for a theory. Yet, even then, any true scientist will still hold that is may turn out to be wrong. However, this kind of honesty is just about the opposite position from that of the total know-nothings like Perry and his followers.

Finally, there is the garbage that Perry throws in about pollution: as a distraction from the follow up question about climate change. The only reason that Texas cleaned up as much of its pollution as it did -- and it still has some of the most toxic water and air in the country -- is that the EPA -- which Perry loves to hate -- made it do so. There are literally hundreds of articles documenting this; here's one from Bloomberg BusinessWeek. A majority of Americans are still supporters of the EPA -- they don't like to breath noxious air and don't like industrial waste contaminating their kids' bodies and minds.

Yet the Republicans are repeating over and over the Big Lie that cleaning our environment is bad for business.

Recently there have been a bunch of interviews with business execs from small and medium-size companies, about federal regulations. Almost unanimously they say that the regulations are not a significant problem for them; rather, they say, it is the lack of consumer spending, difficulty in getting financing,  and high insurance costs that prevent them from expanding and hiring. Here is a recent and well-publicized survey from McClatchy News. This is exactly the opposite of the stories that Republicans are making up.

Alright, there I go again: What part of "beneath contempt" don't I understand?