God tells me to copy and paste, so you can't stop me. -- Kate

"You know, I could run for governor, but I'm basically a media creation. I've never done anything. I've worked for my dad. I worked in the oil business ..." -- G.W. Bush

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use. -- Galileo Galilei

Thursday, March 31, 2005

I need someone to explain something to me because I have some real problems with this stuff.

On the one hand we have this:
PARIS (Reuters)

- Pope John Paul, now being fed through a nasal tube because of his throat problems, effectively wrote his own "living will" last year in a speech declaring some life-extending treatments a moral duty for Roman Catholics.

The ailing Pontiff sharply narrowed Catholic guidelines for treating patients nearing death in March 2004 when he described tube-feeding as a normal treatment rather than an extraordinary measure that can be stopped if all hope of recovery fades.

This indicates he would want to be kept alive by artificial means even if he fell into a coma or a persistent vegetative state, such as the brain-damaged Terri Schiavo in the United States whose feeding tubes have been removed after 15 years.

. . .

"The intrinsic value and the personal dignity of every human being does not change no matter what the concrete situation of his life," he told doctors and ethics experts attending a Rome conference about patients in a vegetative state.
On the other hand:

-- When 5-year-old Jenny Richardson orders fast food, it's french fries only or a hamburger without the bun. She doesn't share birthday cupcakes with her friends.

And now, because of Roman Catholic Church rules, she can't have part of her First Communion rite, either.

Jenny suffers from celiac disease, which causes her to get sick from eating gluten, a protein in wheat and other grains. She can safely eat rice.

The Archdiocese of Boston has told the family that the church cannot substitute a rice communion wafer for the traditional wheat one, citing 2,000 years of tradition and faith.

. . .

The Vatican takes the matter seriously enough that in 1994, it issued rules for all bishops to follow. Among them: "Special hosts [which do not contain gluten] are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist."

“I think part of the problem is we are so accustomed to all these little round, pre-cut hosts we've lost any real sense we're taking part in one loaf," says the Rev. Austin Fleming, pastor of Our Lady of Christian Help Church in Concord, Mass. "We many are sharing one bread and becoming one with Christ. We can't make different flavors for different folks and maintain that theological reality."

You see, since wheat was the stuff of the bread at the Last Supper, then the wafer cannot be rice. Rice wasn’t the Savior’s grain of choice so it has to be a wheat wafer. (By the way, I’m guessing the Apostles chewed the bread but I was always told not to chew the wafer, that you had to swallow it whole.)

What about "The intrinsic value and the personal dignity" of Jenny?

So can someone explain to me how this little kid can’t have a rice Communion wafer in church but the Pope can have a feeding tube. Jesus didn’t have a feeding tube. As far as know, there weren’t any feeding tubes on the planet at the time of Christ.

So how does the Pope get to have a feeding tube but this little kid can’t have a rice wafer that won’t make her sick or possibly kill her? It’s handy that the Pope gets to make life extending decisions for himself. Infallability, it's a wonderful thing.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Philadelphia drivers don’t pay attention to red lights or signs.
I don’t know why but I find this really funny and have a bizarre bit of pride in the numbers.

Roosevelt Blvd. Red Light Camera Catches Thousands (!) in First Month
In the first month that red light cameras have been installed at Grant Avenue and Roosevelt Boulevard, more than 5,000 drivers have been caught running the red.

Numbers released by the Parking Authority and Pennsylvania house speaker John Perzel show that 5,169 cars were caught on camera running the red light at Grant and the Boulevard over the last 28 days.

Perzel could barely believe it:

“I don't think anybody listening to KYW would have believed that 5,169 people would have still gone through the red light camera, after all of the PR that we've put out to tell people that it's there. There are signs that say it's there. It's inconceivable to me that the number is still that high."

But city and state officials are heartened by the fact that there were only two accidents at Grant and the Boulevard in the month after the cameras were turned on.

The grace period runs for three more months. After that time, warnings turn into real $100 fines.
5,169 people went through the red light. That would have been $516,900 in fines if the red light runners had been fined. Gee, if things stay like that maybe the city can lower the wage tax or the property tax or get rid of the 1% sales tax. Nah, the politicians will just line their pockets more than usual.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

I’m amazed at this, I don’t know what else to say. I do wonder if I would get taken too.

How to sell your self for a song
The chance to win theatre tickets is enough to make people give away their identity, reveals a survey.

Of those taking part 92% revealed details such as mother's maiden name, first school and birth date.

The detailed personal information was gathered by market researchers who asked the questions as part of a fake survey on theatre-going habits.

Dangling the chance to win free tickets was enough to make people surrender everything needed to impersonate them.

'Disturbing' results"

During the course of the survey many people freely volunteered key details such as name, address and postcode.

To elicit other details the questions asked by the market researchers were cleverly put together to make people hand over personal information.

One of the questions was about the way that actors pick stage names. Those taking part in the survey were told that many stage names are created using a pet's name and the actor's mother's maiden name.

When asked what their stage name would be using the same criteria, 94% volunteered information.

Such data is potentially hugely valuable to identity thieves who need it to answer the supplementary security questions many websites impose on those signing up.

By the end of the survey, the fake researchers had everything they needed to pose as those taking part, to take out credit cards in their name and even open bank accounts.

Chris Simpson, head of Scotland Yard's computer crime unit, said the results of the survey were "disturbing" and added: "Preventing the theft of your own identity is relatively simple, but it relies on the individual taking steps to protect themselves."

Mr Simpson said people should share sensitive data with as few people as possible, shred personal correspondence before throwing it away and never share passwords across different computer systems.

The Home Office reports that more than 100,000 British people every year suffer identity fraud.

The survey, which questioned 200 people stopped on London streets, was carried out for Infosecurity Europe which takes place from 26-28 April. .
Bricks as pets; clean, quiet and . . . well maybe not too much fun. I’m sure that if you try you could have fun with a brick just don't introduce in to vandalism. Bricks are innocent and law abiding but will go bad under poor choice of owner.

Where can I find a pet brick?

New young bricks can be purchased from a local brick store (known euphemistically as a "hardware store") for less than a dollar apiece. However, very few brick stores treat their bricks well, callously leaving them outside in crowded stacks under sun and rain. These bricks tend to have health problems, in the form of chips and cracks. We do not encourage rescuing a brick from such a source, as this will only encourage the store owner to order more from its local "brick mill."

Brick breeders are as yet a rarity, but if you are lucky you may find a good breeder near you. A few fancy brick varieties are available from such breeders.

We encourage adopting. There are many abandoned bricks that desperately need homes, and brick rescue organizations are swamped, as more bricks are abandoned than can be fostered effectively. Contact your local SPCB (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Bricks) to see if they have any bricks available for adoption. Alternatively, search in fields and abandoned buildings, and you may find a timid, feral brick among the weeds. With proper socialization, these bricks can be turned into excellent pets.
And now for something really different . . .

Paw Painting by by Cricket, Snip and Widget.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

From pekin prattles:
I heard today an estimated $4 million dollars were expended by a Congress/President in extraordinary actions, flying back to the nation's capitol, and holding all-night sessions, for this one person.....how SAD! These voting people knew NOTHING of the case. It has been given voice, replayed, and replayed for nearing 15 years....and EVERY decision to date by judges with FULL exposure and knowledge has been the same....The woman is brain dead! YES MRI has been performed and found her brain lobe atrophied and replaced by spinal fluid....THIS IS NOT regenerative!
$4 million dollars! And what good has come of it?
Oh my, what a surprise!

A parcel which vibrated and made strange noises caused panic in a post office in eastern Germany.

"The post office worker thought it could have been a dangerous object, even a bomb," a police spokesman said.

Officers in Chemnitz were called and noticed that the sender's address was on the package.

When they confronted the red-faced sender, he explained it was a lifesize inflatable sex doll which he had folded up to send back to the manufacturers because it had failed to have the desired effect.

"He opened the package and expertly removed the batteries," said the spokesman. "It was rather embarrassing for the sender."
The sender is probably trying to forget this but the folks at the post office have a story to laugh about for a long time.
This sounds like something to buy just for the fun of it. A cat or dog would probably rip it apart.

It's the ultimate early morning alarm call for those too tired or lazy to get out of bed.

Scientists have built an intelligent alarm clock that runs and hides after the snooze button is pressed so that the sleeper has to get out of bed to find it in the bedroom to turn it off again.

The 'Clocky' clock does not give the restless a five minute break and then an opportunity to turn it off again for another five minutes by using the snooze button repeatedly.

Instead it zooms into action.

It rolls off the bedside table and uses its wheels drive off and find a hiding place somewhere in the room.

It is also programmed to go to a different hiding place each time it is used so there would be no chance of throwing a pillow at it to cover it up.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Boston, also claim that their invention will motivate the worst sleep-in offenders whose brain will be forced to become awake and alert.

I’m not sure Clocky is ready for prime time or wake-up time. It looks like it could use some work to look nice on a bedside table but it sure looks ready to be a fun pet toy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

This is sort of an unfair comparison but it is fitting in the light of what’s been happening in D.C. the past couple of days.

"bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States"

Bush reaction: continue with vacation

Congress passes bill to 'save' brain-dead Florida woman.

Bush reaction: immediately return to DC to sign a bill into law to prevent an act of barbarism.
Comment from a Digby post

Congress's Midnight Frenzy
The sight of Congress and President Bush intruding into the sufferings of the Schiavo family was appalling. Washington had years to properly consider the agonizing dilemmas that cases like this one raise for uncounted, less publicized American families. But the Republican leadership did nothing until the issue ripened to a maximum moment for simplistic political exploitation.

Most Americans appreciate the complicated and sensitive concerns at stake here far better than the politicians. Whatever the range of opinion on the underlying issue, polls show that the public recoiled at the sight of elected officials racing to make hay of this family's private pain. Those findings only underline the hubris of the House majority leader, Tom DeLay, and the other G.O.P. leaders. Their egregious pandering was directed not at the bulk of the populace, but at their base vote among the evangelical and fundamentalist conservatives who have been demanding greater deference since working to deliver Republican victories last year.

The political timidity of potential opponents was woeful. No one dared even demand debate in the Senate. In the House, many opponents seemed simply to prefer to stay away. Arguments against the bill were led by Florida Democrats, who had the most reason to be offended by Congress's crude overriding of state government.

Sanctimonious rhetoric rang out about the value of each individual life even as a strategy memo was reported circulating among G.O.P. lawmakers cynically relishing the points to be scored with the right-to-life political machine in next year's elections. The rush to save Terri Schiavo was mixed with the urge to get rid of Senator Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat who faces re-election next year.
Who needs ‘reality TV,’ soap operas and dramas when real life is so full of it, in more ways than one.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Here I go, stealing again. This time from Suburban Guerrilla and Digby.


By now most people who read liberal blogs are aware that George W. Bush signed a law in Texas that expressly gave hospitals the right to remove life support if the patient could not pay and there was no hope of revival, regardless of the patient's family's wishes. It is called the Texas Futile Care Law. Under this law, a baby was removed from life support against his mother's wishes in Texas just this week. A 68 year old man was given a temporary reprieve by the Texas courts just yesterday.

Those of us who read liberal blogs are also aware that Republicans have voted en masse to pull the plug (no pun intended) on medicaid funding that pays for the kind of care that someone like Terry Schiavo and many others who are not so severely brain damaged need all across this country.

Those of us who read liberal blogs also understand that that the tort reform that is being contemplated by the Republican congress would preclude malpractice claims like that which has paid for Terry Schiavo's care thus far.

Those of us who read liberal blogs are aware that the bankruptcy bill will make it even more difficult for families who suffer a catastrophic illness like Terry Schivos because they will not be able to declare chapter 7 bankruptcy and get a fresh start when the gargantuan medical bills become overwhelming.

And those of us who read liberal blogs also know that this grandstanding by the congress is a purely political move designed to appease the religious right and that the legal maneuverings being employed would be anathema to any true small government conservative.

Those who don't read liberal blogs, on the other hand, are seeing a spectacle on television in which the news anchors repeatedly say that the congress is "stepping in to save Terry Schiavo" mimicking the unctuous words of Tom Delay as they grovel and leer at the family and nod sympathetically at the sanctimonious phonies who are using this issue for their political gain.
Explains why I don’t want to do a one topic blog but doesn’t explain why I don’t take the time to write more for myself.

X-celling Over Men
Published: March 20, 2005

Men are always telling me not to generalize about them.

But a startling new study shows that science is backing me up here.

Research published last week in the journal Nature reveals that women are genetically more complex than scientists ever imagined, while men remain the simple creatures they appear.

"Alas," said one of the authors of the study, the Duke University genome expert Huntington Willard, "genetically speaking, if you've met one man, you've met them all. We are, I hate to say it, predictable. You can't say that about women. Men and women are farther apart than we ever knew. It's not Mars or Venus. It's Mars or Venus, Pluto, Jupiter and who knows what other planets."

Women are not only more different from men than we knew. Women are more different from each other than we knew - creatures of "infinite variety," as Shakespeare wrote.

"We poor men only have 45 chromosomes to do our work with because our 46th is the pathetic Y that has only a few genes which operate below the waist and above the knees," Dr. Willard observed. "In contrast, we now know that women have the full 46 chromosomes that they're getting work from and the 46th is a second X that is working at levels greater than we knew."

Dr. Willard and his co-author, Laura Carrel, a molecular biologist at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, think that their discovery may help explain why the behavior and traits of men and women are so different; they may be hard-wired in the brain, in addition to being hormonal or cultural.

So is Lawrence Summers right after all? "Only time will tell," Dr. Willard laughs.

The researchers learned that a whopping 15 percent - 200 to 300 - of the genes on the second X chromosome in women, thought to be submissive and inert, lolling about on an evolutionary Victorian fainting couch, are active, giving women a significant increase in gene expression over men.

As the Times science reporter Nicholas Wade, who is writing a book about human evolution and genetics, explained it to me: "Women are mosaics, one could even say chimeras, in the sense that they are made up of two different kinds of cell. Whereas men are pure and uncomplicated, being made of just a single kind of cell throughout."

This means men's generalizations about women are correct, too. Women are inscrutable, changeable, crafty, idiosyncratic, a different species.

"Women's chromosomes have more complexity, which men view as unpredictability," said David Page, a molecular biologist and expert on sex evolution at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass.

Known as Mr. Y, Dr. P calls himself "the defender of the rotting Y chromosome." He's referring to studies showing that the Y chromosome has been shedding genes willy-nilly for millions of years and is now a fraction of the size of its partner, the X chromosome. "The Y married up," he notes. "The X married down."

Size matters, so some experts have suggested that in 10 million years or even much sooner - 100,000 years - men could disappear, taking Maxim magazine, March Madness and cold pizza in the morning with them.

Dr. Page drolly conjures up a picture of the Y chromosome as "a slovenly beast," sitting in his favorite armchair, surrounded by the litter of old fast food takeout boxes.

"The Y wants to maintain himself but doesn't know how," he said. "He's falling apart, like the guy who can't manage to get a doctor's appointment or can't clean up the house or apartment unless his wife does it.

"I prefer to think of the Y as persevering and noble, not as the Rodney Dangerfield of the human genome."

Dr. Page says the Y - a refuge throughout evolution for any gene that is good for males and/or bad for females - has become "a mirror, a metaphor, a blank slate on which you can write anything you want to think about males." It has inspired cartoon gene maps that show the belching gene, the inability-to-remember-birthdays-and-anniversaries gene, the fascination-with-spiders-and-reptiles gene, the selective-hearing-loss-"Huh" gene, the inability-to-express-affection-on-the-phone gene.

The discovery about women's superior gene expression may answer the age-old question about why men have trouble expressing themselves: because their genes do.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

First, some American History;
First Continental Congress: 1774
Second Continental Congress: 1775
Declaration of Independence: 1776
American Revolution: 1776-1783
Constitution created and ratified: 1787-1789
Washington became President: 1789-1797
Bill of Rights: 1789
First national election: 1796?
And let’s not forget the fun of the Civil War: 1861-1865

The way I see it, the new Iraqi government is doomed to failure particularly if the U.S. government stays on top of them to put together a government as soon as possible. As soon as possible could take some time, and probably should take more time then they are bing given. Look how long it took for the early American colonists to come up with a decent working centralized government. The biggest difference between the Iraqi’s now and the new United States then; then they decided the timetable, now outsiders are deciding and pushing the timetable. The Iraqi people need to learn how to work together. Forcing a schedule decided on by others does not help them. If it is truely to be an Iraqi-made government then Iraqis really need to be setting the schedule and making the decisions.

New governments don’t just happen overnight, much as we would like to see it happen that fast. You have groups who have different wants and needs. For some issues they don’t want to work together and don’t know how. Why do we expect them to have a government in place and working for all Iraqis at the drop of a hat when first generation Americans couldn’t do it quickly?

If they can’t make then they can’t make it. It makes no sense to force things along, all it does is promote bad feelings all around. The best the world can do is support the process that the Iraqi’s decide on and try to keep things stable while the citizens of the country do the best they can.

Now, having written this, I can't help but wonder if the idea behind the forced schedule is that the Iraqis are supposed to fail.

I didn't used to be into conspiracies but lately I just can't help thinking that way.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

I’ve been meaning to blog but I read blogs through lunch instead of posting something. Now I’m trying to slip in some stuff during the afternoon.

Here’s something I found interesting and important. Transplant cures man of diabetes.

A 61-year-old man has become the first person in the UK to be cured of type 1 diabetes thanks to a groundbreaking cell transplant technique.
After receiving insulin-making cells from the pancreases of dead donors, Richard Lane of Bromley, Kent, no longer needs insulin injections.
Here is the mental_floss fact of the day. Interesting magazine, learn lots of stuff that I can’t remember right now.

Another of my favorite things, NBox Comedy, it helps me through my workday. Be careful if you don’t use headphones at work, there’s a good bit of profanity.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

And now for something completely different . . .

It’s time for Craft Corner Deathmatch!

Savage Crafters, Start Your Glue Guns!

The world of crafts tends to bring to mind genteel images, like quilting bees, decoupage lampshades and the pre-prison aura of Martha Stewart.

It does not usually evoke chain-link cages, spotlights, rabid fans and a deafening announcer shouting things like "Step away from the glue gun!" and "Shut the craft up!"

But crafting and grudge-match pro wrestling may end up more closely entwined in the public imagination after tomorrow night [9 March at 10pm], when the Style Network introduces "Craft Corner Deathmatch," an unconventional game show in which two amateur crafters go head to head in timed trials, trying to make the best pillow out of old couch fabric or a brooch using only candy.

Viewers who have had their fill of the recent craze for crafting and home-makeover shows may be disappointed to learn that everyone comes out alive from the "death" matches. But one contestant eventually is voted out of the cage by three judges, and the winner goes on to compete against a real craft professional, Jocelyn Worrall, who is known on the show as the Craft Lady of Steel and who once worked for - you guessed it - Ms. Stewart.

Dan Taberski and Jo Honig, the show's creators, also enthusiastically pointed out during an interview that on three occasions during tapings of the show in a studio in East Harlem, competitors had given themselves nasty, if minor, cuts. "Which is fantastic," Mr. Taberski said, his eyes lighting up. "The fact that someone drew blood on a crafting show? It's exactly what the show should be."
"Craft Corner Deathmatch" may seem like a blended-by-committee mixture of recent television trends - equal parts "Iron Chef," "Shabby Chic" and "American Idol" - but Mr. Taberski and Ms. Honig, former producers for "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central, said the idea came from a game in which they tried to imagine a show based on two elements so disparate that network executives in their right minds would run screaming. For example, they made a pilot for MTV called "X-tremely Old," in which a strike team of elderly women offered romantic advice and other life help to 20-somethings.

"Instead of trying to give them what they want, we try to do the opposite," Mr. Taberski said. "What doesn't go together? Crafts and gladiators. Old people and MTV. 'Hey MTV, why don't you put some old people on your network?' "

Ms. Honig added: "That poison and babies idea we had really hasn't gone anywhere yet."

Neither has the old ladies' show, which MTV passed on. But when Mr. Taberski and Ms. Honig went to pitch comedy ideas last year to E!, owned by the same company that owns the Style Network, a series of communication foul-ups led an E! executive to think that they were there to propose ideas for home-makeover shows. They did not have any, but threw out the "Craft Corner Deathmatch" idea just for laughs.

"And that was the only idea she liked," Mr. Taberski recalled.

A team of craft experts helped them come up with dozens of competitive projects, like making handbags out of Astroturf, bowls out of rolls of tickets, watchbands using only hot glue and decorative doodads and Barbie clothes using fabric scraps. ("Or as we call them, 'Schmarbie' clothes, because you can't use the brand name on television," Mr. Taberski explained.)

At the beginning, the show's creators worried that they might have trouble finding talented amateur crafters - not simply out-of-work actors pretending to love macramé - who would want to show off their skills in such a ludicrous setting. "It's not a competition type thing," Mr. Taberski said of craft-making.

But they found that crafters were much more rabidly competitive than they had assumed, and also that there were many more than they had imagined in the New York area, where they sought contestants as a way to reduce airfare costs and keep the show's budget low. In two days of open casting, more than 300 applicants showed up for the show's 26 spots, many of them, Ms. Honig said, were "these cool hipsters from the East Village and Williamsburg who are completely into knitting and craft things you'd never expect."

Many were so intent on getting on the show that they tried to sway the producers with craft gifts, including a homemade clock with the logo of Idiot Box, Mr. Taberski and Ms. Honig's production company, that now hangs in their office in Midtown. (In the end, the woman who contributed the clock was not chosen. "She was a bit older," Ms. Honig said. "We were concerned she wouldn't be able to move fast enough.")

Mr. Taberski said the applicants' zeal had encouraged him about the show's prospects. "Anytime that people love something so much that they'll fight for it in a cage," he said, "it's funny."

Maria Schoenherr, an artist and accessories designer who lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn, was among those with such a love of craft. She landed a spot on a recent show, beat her competitor but then lost to the Craft Lady of Steel in a cutthroat pillow-making contest. (She lost in spite of receiving a score of 10 from one of that show's judges, Eartha Kitt, who complimented the whipstitch in Ms. Schoenherr's pillow, saying that she envisioned unraveling it and using the lacing "to tie down my man." Even the show's effusive host, Jason Jones, seemed at a loss as to how to respond to this.)

Ms. Schoenherr, 31, said she considered the idea for the game show a bit dumb, but an instructor of hers at the Fashion Institute of Technology talked her into auditioning. She said many friends and colleagues her age were into crafting, though they didn't necessarily think of it as such. "It's not exactly fine art and not exactly design," she said, "but there's a whole lot of homemade gifts involved."

Young craft fanatics also tended to show up in large numbers for the tapings. Joy Figueroa and Dara McLaurine, both 17 and seniors at Hunter College High School on the Upper East Side, found out about the tapings from a craft Web site and spread the word to others in their school knitting club. Asked what they thought of the show, they rolled their eyes, but Ms. Figueroa said: "I'm a total geek, so I would probably totally watch it."

Ms. Honig and Mr. Taberski say they hope the show, which has filmed 13 episodes, taps into a huge craft-geek audience and explained that - as lifelong noncrafters - they had to keep reminding each other to make sure that the craft elements of the show were not buried by the comedy. In that spirit, the two have worked hard to adopt a love of crafting. Ms. Honig recently attended a scrapbooking convention in Atlanta, and Mr. Taberski even decoupaged the company's Christmas card. Given several opportunities to make fun of crafters in a recent interview, the two resisted at every turn.

"We are not being irreverent about craft," insisted Mr. Taberski, who once worked as an aide in the Clinton administration and knows how to please a constituency. "We're just being irreverent near it."

Thursday, March 03, 2005

This editorial says so much about how bad privatizing would be if it goes through as planned. I’ve read about having to buy an annuity in another article; your money could be hanging around and out of your control for up to a year while the annuity is being set up. Privatizing is just down right bad for most American workers.

It’s an especially annoying and frustrating plan coming from people who will never have to deal with it in the real world.

Some Inheritance

Published: February 23, 2005

As he stumps for Social Security privatization, President Bush always gets a big round of applause for promising that the money in a private account could be passed on to one's heirs.

If those happy clappers only knew the details.

Under the president's proposal, when you retired you would not be able to start spending the money in your private account until after you bought an annuity, a financial contract in which you hand over a lump-sum payment and, in return, get a monthly stream of income for life. The upside of buying such an annuity would be that you'd be protected against outliving all of your money. The downside is that even if you died immediately after retirement, the most your heirs would inherit would be the amount that remained in your private account after you had paid for the mandatory annuity. (If you lived longer, of course, you might well need to spend the remainder to supplement the annuity's low monthly payout. )

The idea of making the private accounts part of one's estate is particularly appealing to low- and middle-income earners, who may not have all that much to leave to their heirs under normal circumstances. But those are exactly the people who would have to use the largest share of their accounts to buy annuities. The government would require that annuities be large enough to keep recipients above the poverty line for life. The less you had to start with, the less you'd have left over after buying the mandatory annuity.

What if you died before you retired? As with many claims Mr. Bush makes about Social Security privatization, the fate of your private account in the event of your untimely death is unclear. But one issue that raises big doubts about whether that money could be inherited is the question of how the trillions of dollars the government would have to borrow to set up a privatized system would be repaid.

Under the president's proposal, when you retired, your traditional Social Security retirement benefit would be cut by an amount equal to all the deposits you had made into your private account plus interest. (The interest would be three percentage points higher than the rate of inflation.) The benefit cut would be each person's contribution to repaying the huge debt the Bush administration would take on to "pay for" privatization.

But if you died before you retired, you would have already used some of that borrowed money to set up the private account and yet would never have made any contribution to repaying the debt. So in that case, how would the government recoup your share of the amount it had borrowed? Well, it could let your share of the debt go unpaid - in effect bequeathing to your heirs and their fellow citizens ever-higher deficits. Or your spouse could inherit your private account and the benefit cut that went with it. Or the government could take its cut from your private account before the money went to your survivors - a grab that could wipe out your stash.

The White House would hotly deny that the last alternative could happen. Nothing freaks out the Bush administration more than the suggestion that the government would ever tap someone's private account - even for money that is owed to the government. It doesn't, however, seem too bothered about gutting your traditional benefits. Go figure.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Krugman strikes again. The only good reason I’ve so far to in favor of private accounts is that you could pass on the money you don’t use to your heirs. Unfortunately there are so many reasons against private accounts that I just can’t go along with privatizing. The cost of the changeover, all the unknowns that the Administration doesn’t want to talk about like the fees being paid to brokers, and whatever other fees they decide to charge, make the plan of private accounts a bad idea.

At one time I was for private accounts, they made quite a bit of sense during the 80’s when the stock market was doing good. I started paying more attention and reading more and realized that it wasn’t a good plan. The stock market is a gamble and that’s something the Administration doesn’t want people to realize.

It seems to me that Repubs should be against private accounts, it sure seems like they would make government bigger. At least initially we would have Social Security and whatever agency that would oversee the private accounts. Bigger government, lots more workers and more money spent. Personally, I could use a new job but I don’t want anything to do with privatizing Social Security.

Just Say No
Published: March 1, 2005
President Bush's effort to hustle the nation into dismantling Social Security as we know it seems to be faltering: the more voters hear about how privatization would work, the less they like it.

As a result, some Republicans are reported to be talking about a compromise in which they would agree to some kind of tax increase, probably a rise in the maximum level of earnings subject to the payroll tax. They would offer to use the revenue from that tax increase, rather than borrowed funds, to establish private accounts, thereby assuaging fears about the huge debt buildup that would take place under the administration's plan. They might even agree to make private accounts an add-on to traditional benefits, not a replacement.

But it would still be a bad deal. Creating private accounts in the current environment, no matter how they are financed, would be a mistake.

First, think about the fiscal implications. We have a huge budget deficit, largely caused by Mr. Bush's decision to cut taxes while waging war. Any realistic plan to bring the budget deficit under control will have to include tax increases, especially if we want to avoid the harsh cuts the administration is trying to impose on Medicaid and other essential programs.

There may be a place for a rise in the payroll tax maximum in such a plan: AARP, among other groups, has proposed such a rise as one way to improve the Social Security system's long-run finances. Devoting the extra revenue to the trust fund would also reduce the overall budget deficit.

But if the revenue from a rise in the payroll tax maximum was used to subsidize private accounts rather than to bolster the trust fund, it wouldn't address any urgent priorities: it wouldn't help the long-run finances of Social Security, it wouldn't reduce the budget deficit, and it wouldn't support crucial programs like Medicaid.

What it would do, instead, would be to get in the way of any return to fiscal sanity. After all, raising the maximum taxable income would be a fairly stiff tax increase for some taxpayers. For example, someone making $140,000 a year might owe an extra $6,000. And the taxpayers who would be hit hardest by this tax increase would, in many cases, be the same people who will face a growing burden from the alternative minimum tax.

As a result, an increase in the payroll tax maximum would make it much harder to pass other tax increases, frustrating efforts to do something about the deficit.

Furthermore, it's all too likely that any compromise that created private accounts would turn into a Trojan horse that let the enemies of Social Security inside the gates.

This might happen almost immediately, as a result of the legislative process. As you may have noticed, moderates don't run Congress. Suppose that a moderate senator thinks he has struck a deal for fully funded private accounts that don't directly undermine traditional Social Security. Almost surely, he would be kidding himself: by the time the conference committees were done with the legislation, the funding would be gone or greatly reduced, the accounts would be bigger, traditional benefits would have been cut, and the whole thing would have turned into a privatization wish list.

Even if that didn't happen, private accounts, once established, would be used as a tool to whittle down traditional guaranteed benefits. For example, conservatives would use the existence of private accounts, together with rosy scenarios about rates of return, to argue that guaranteed benefits could be cut without hurting retirees.

In short, anyone who wants to see the nation return to fiscal responsibility, wants to preserve Social Security as an institution or both should be opposed to any deal creating private accounts. And there is also, of course, the political question: Why should any Democrat act as a spoiler when his party is doing well by doing good, gaining political ground by opposing a really bad idea? (Hello, Senator Lieberman.)

The important thing to remember is why the right wants privatization. The drive to create private accounts isn't about finding a way to strengthen Social Security; it's about finding a way to phase out a system that conservatives have always regarded as illegitimate. And as long as that is what's at stake, there is no room for any genuine compromise. When it comes to privatization, just say no.

E-mail: krugman@nytimes.com

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