Saturday, November 06, 2004

Social Security – Avoiding the Stupid Pond

Kerry tried to make it a hot topic during the campaign but let’s face it, Social Security is boring. Boring that is until you need it. Maybe its your grandmother or your parents who get that monthly check. Not especially big but ask them to do without it. As for the rest of us, even with your pension (if you have one) and your IRA and your 401K you will still find yourself severely compromised in your sunset years without Social Security. Is the system in trouble? Yes and no.

Here’s what the
Social Security website says:
If Social Security is not changed, payroll taxes will have to be increased, the benefits of today's younger workers will have to be cut, or massive transfers from general revenues will be required. Social Security's Chief Actuary states, "If benefits were reduced to meet the shortfall in revenue for the combined program, the reduction would need to be 27 percent starting with the exhaustion of the Trust Fund in 2042 and would rise to 32 percent for 2078. Alternatively, if additional revenue were provided beginning in 2042, revenue equivalent to a payroll tax rate increase of about 3.1 percentage points (from 12.4 percent under current law to about 15.5 percent) would be needed for the year. The additional revenue needed for 2043 would be equivalent to a payroll tax rate increase of about 4.5 percentage points for the year. Thereafter, the amount of additional revenue needed would gradually rise, reaching an amount equivalent to an increase in the payroll tax rate of about 5.9 percentage points for 2078 (or about 50 percent higher than today's rate).
If we leave well enough alone the system will last another 38 years. If we make a few minor changes now it may last even longer. However, if we were to, say, reduce the amount going into the fund and divert that money into personal retirement accounts 38 years might fall to 10 years. Is the system in trouble? That all depends on W. and us. Is my information factual. No, but in future posts it will be.

ALL OF US, Liberal, Conservative, Christian, Gay, Straight, Atheist, and other Americans need to become well informed and fast. You see, W. thinks he has a mandate and all of that political capital he thinks he earned on November 2nd is just burning a big hole in his pocket.

What can we do? The first thing we need to do is study up on Social Security. For that I have included a link in my links section – put more suggested links in the comments field. Next, we need to learn what W. has in mind and coordinate a response. If he has a good idea (why am I doubtful?) then we need to encourage him. If he has a bad idea then we need to let the world know it – especially that part of the world that includes the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Let’s work together to stay our of the stupid pond on this. This not a conservative issue, it is not a liberal issue, this is an American issue and that means ALL OF US!

Friday, November 05, 2004

Getting Along

I am both a liberal and a Christian. I used to think I was a moderate but then I read a web site created by popular LA Talk radio scion Dennis Prager. Prager has a test to see if you are really a Liberal - I passed or failed or whatever you call it when you are labeled a liberal. So I am a liberal, not my designation but it is Prager's so I will go with it. I have a lot of respect for Talk Radio hosts. Talking for three or four hours in an effort to fire up hatred in your followers and anger in your detractors is hard work. Divisiveness sells. Divisiveness generates anger and anger drives ratings and ratings drive revenue. I am in the media business, I know.

KKLA is a Christian Radio station (99.5 FM in LA) which has a talk show host named Frank Pastore. Frank really likes to flame off against liberals. I found this editorial by Frank in today's LA Times. If memory serves, Frank thinks the LA Times is a liberal newspaper. If the LA Times is so liberal, why did they print Frank's editorial? Would Frank run an opinion piece from the Times? Is Frank an opportunist? Here is what Frank, a devout Christian, wrote about Liberals in the LA Times (you may need to use the free registration for this link):

The left must be defeated in the realm of ideas, just as it was on Tuesday at the ballot box. The left hates the ballot box and loves its courtrooms, which is why it hopes to continue to advance its agenda through the courts. This must end.

The left bewitches with its potions and elixirs, served daily in its strongholds of academe, Hollywood and old media. It vomits upon the morals, values and traditions we hold sacred: God, family and country. As we learned Tuesday, it is clear the left holds the majority of Americans, the majority of us, in contempt.

Frank is angry. He likes to make other people angry. Frank believes that God is on his side. I am starting to feel sorry for having made my first post such a nasty one now that I read what Frank has to say. I said some nasty things about Conservative Christians. To all conservative Christians, I am sorry for my tone and for the thoughtlessly speaking out in anger. Please forgive me. There are many things about which we disagree but I want to work with you. I don't think Frank wants to work with me. I am however willing to work with Frank.

Liberal Humor - Cut us a break, we're bleeding over here!

This is a send up on the email Bush sent to his supporters following his victory (yes, once again, he won, accept it). The obvious edits are in blue. I know when I post this I am putting off half the audience - forgive me in advance....

We had a long night -- and we had a great night. The voters turned out in record numbers and delivered an historic victory (yeah, for gay-bashers, FoxNews watchers, and Ralph Reed).

I want to thank our supporters across this country. At every stop I asked you to make the calls, put up the signs, talk to your neighbors, making large cash donations on behalf of defense contractors, energy companies, and pharmaceutical manufacturers,. and get out the vote. And because you did your part, we are celebrating today. Thanks to you, we received more votes than any presidential ticket in history.

52% of America has spoken. And I am humbled (now there’s a verb you don’t normally associate with this guy) by the trust and confidence of my fellow citizens. With that trust comes a duty (kind of like the National Guard, but safer): I will serve all Americans more crap from Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, so help me God (there’s that word again). I am proud to lead such an amazingly ignorant country -- and I am proud to lead it forward into the abyss.

Reaching our goals will require the broad support of Americans making over $200,000 a year. A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation and take every penny we can get. We have one country, one. Not two, not three, but one.

A campaign has ended, and our cause is renewed. The United States of America goes forward with confidence and faith (again). I can see a new day coming, and I am eager for the work ahead. God (wow, God must really like this guy) bless you all, and God (maybe even more than Rush Limbaugh) bless America. Did I mention God?

A Thoughtful Retort

If you go down to my first post "Can a Nation at War with Itself Win the War on Terror?" there is a thoughtful response from a well educated Christian friend. Check the comments field, the response is longer than the original post and has better grammar and vocabulary to boot! The reason for this is that the person who wrote it is better educated than I am.

Bush – He is Not the Village Idiot

“Somewhere in Texas a Village is Missing its Idiot” Popular lefty bumper sticker

The left has portrayed President Bush as the Village Idiot. A stumbling, shallow, irritable know nothing. I am certainly guilty of this. Triumph the Insult Dog (in a popular web movie) congratulated one of Bush’s handlers for cleverly changing strategies in the 2nd debate from stuttering to stammering. Cute.

Let’s face it, we all want to think the opposition is composed of idiots and W. does have a way with words. However, I think the left is delusional if they believe W. is the idiot they make him out to be. This President may not be articulate and may not do all of his homework but he is no dope. Democrats can underestimate Bush until he personally dumps us into the ash can of history. We are the ones who lost the Whitehouse along with seats in the Senate and the House. How smart is Bush? Smart enough to make a case that appealed to the American public earning him a clear majority of the votes. W. may not be the sharpest tool in the shed but from where I am sitting he looks a whole lot sharper we do.

If we are going to effect change in America we need drop the myth that we are dealing with an idiot. We also need to drop the myth that the religious right is composed of idiots. I spend hours with these people every week and they are at least as smart as we are. If we are going to engage in dialog it must start with that modicum of respect that first assumes we are speaking with our intellectual equals. Perhaps we need to throw in just a smidge of humility.

For what its worth, Andrew Sullivan found this piece in the NY Times on Bush’s intelligence:

Mr. Bush's score on the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test at age 22 again suggests that his I.Q was the mid-120's, putting Mr. Bush in about the 95th percentile of the population, according to Mr. Sailer. Mr. Kerry's I.Q. was about 120, in the 91st percentile, according to Mr. Sailer's extrapolation of his score at age 22 on the Navy Officer Qualification Test.

A Positive Month at Church

Our pastor is an interesting guy and wise beyond his years. In addition to having a graduate degree in theology he is also an MD and is about to publish his first book. We have had a few medical crises in my family and he was always right on the money when it came to giving advice.

It would have been very easy and even popular for our pastor to hit the pulpit and get the flock all fired up about the election. Lord knows thousands of pastors did just that. Our guy took a different path. For the last month he kept a lid on things by doing a series of sermons on “40-Days of Purpose.” This is a popular book in Evangelical circles and is making the rounds in the world of conservative Christianity complete with t-shirts, day planners and videotapes. The upshot is that you need to study your Bible and volunteer for service to the community. Seems reasonable. The book is a little on the shallow and boring side but that is what we needed, at least I did.

I would also note that our church did not circulate those nasty partisan "non-partisan voter guides." We have done so in the past but not for the last two or three years. I always raise a real stink about it anyway. There are some Democrats in our Church, like 1% - 2% of the congregation and we get a little tense around election time but this year was much better thanks to the thoughtfulness of our leadership. Thank God.

Lifeguard at the Stupid Pond: Bush and Fiscal Reality

You have just won a presidential election. You are a Republican, scion of Christian virtue, champion of fiscal conservatism. What is your first policy move? How do you spend your new found political capital? What is a 3% mandate worth? From ABC News:

The government hit the current debt ceiling of $7.384 trillion on Oct. 14, forcing Treasury to begin a series of bookkeeping maneuvers to keep financing the government's normal operations without breaching the debt ceiling. But Treasury Secretary John Snow has warned that those special measures would last only until mid-November.

But there's more

Republicans have proposed that the debt ceiling be raised by $690 billion to $8.074 trillion, an amount that would get the government through next September, when the 2005 budget year ends.

A 3% mandate equals $690 Billion. I hope W. has a Capital One card.

From the Inside

One of my main motivations for starting this page was to give those of us on the left some insight into the world of the religious right. After all, these are the people who appear to be running the show right now (ouch).

For the record I am a liberal Democrat and proud member of the ACLU. I have also attended an Evangelical Free church for most of the last 10 years. So, what is it like in Bush country? Do these folks really wear white hoods and burn crosses? Obviously not. For the most part they are working stiffs just like the rest of us. In fact, most of them belong to the social demographic that the Democratic Party once appealed to and that is why it is more important than ever to understand who the religious right is and what drives them. Truth be told, they are driven by the same things that drive us liberals - fear, concern and hope. They have just come to some very different conclusions about how to approach things, but some conclusions are not so different.

As a liberal, I have found Christianity to be a constructive outlet for my desire to effect positive change in the world. Through the church I have volunteered at a homeless shelter and helped repair the dilapidated house of an elderly women. I have prepared and delivered meals to people who were shut in and sat with families who have suffered a terrible loss. All of the stuff we liberals talk about but just can’t find the time to do. By the way, many of the same people who call themselves the religious right have gone out of their way to help me without regard for my party affiliation and without concern over my ACLU card. You don’t have to join a church to help people; I have some links to the right that promote worthy causes.

The church also teaches some very positive values. Jesus (the guy that seems to be the center of attention) had a lot to say about how much better the world would be if we just tried, in some small way, to stop being mean to each other. With these things in mind I believe the religious right and the political left can find some small parcel of common ground.

I promised dispatches from behind enemy lines in the culture war and at least from a liberal’s perspective, that is where I am. From time to time I will put up a flaming post on what I do think is wrong with our nation and with the religious right but we also need to find common ground.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Can a Nation at War with Itself Win the War on Terror?

While liberal Democrats, moderate Republicans and Libertarians have sought inclusion and social justice, conservative Christianity has coveted political power by dividing and conquering America. Americans have been systematically labeled, cleaved off and stigmatized. “Social Liberals”, “Secular Humanists”, “Gays”, “the Liberal Media Elite”, “Academics”, “Environmentalists”, “Mainline Protestants” and “Abortion Rights Advocates” have no place in a “Christian America.” The Religious Right’s dream of an exclusive America where only they can be heard has been perfectly realized in their chosen leader President Bush and his handler-in-chief Karl Rove.

President Bush’s America is a nation torn asunder along the lines so carefully drawn by American Evangelicalism. For the Christian zealot, the American dream is not be shared so much as horded. Indeed, the Christian right in its moral zeal to socially and intellectually cleanse American society has turned the American mainstream into little more than a bigoted swamp.

Ultimately, being American does not mean that I need to love or even like people because of the color their skin, their sexual orientation or their religion. Being American does mean that I agree to work with these people toward a common goal regardless of my personal feelings. President Bush has waged war on this essential American ideal as surely as our nation is waging war on terrorism. Whether this President can win the war on terrorism while leading a culture war against his own countryman may well be the historic question of our age. Sadly, religious zealots both Christian and Muslim are in a better position to bring about what fascism and communism could not accomplish, the destruction of our Union.