Liberty & Power: Group Blog
A U of C representative said there are approximately nine women's advocacy groups on campus, but this would be the first men's advocacy group.
I wonder whether this will start a trend.
"U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R,Tx) understands the danger to Americans of permitting government to violate the law. In Torturing the Rule of Law, he said that the US government's use of torture to produce excuses for illegal actions is the most radicalizing force at work today. 'The fact that our government engages in evil behavior under the auspices of the American people is what poses the greatest threat to the American people, and it must not be allowed to stand.'"
Hunsinger's new book, Torture Is a Moral Issue, is"[a] collection of essays by thoughtful and moral people, including an American admiral and general, [that] demonstrates the danger of torture to the human soul, to civil liberty, and to the morale and safety of soldiers."
Roberts concludes,"Hunsinger, Paul and others are trying to save our souls, our humanity, our civil liberty and the rule of law. Obama can say that he forbids torture, but if those responsible are not held accountable, he has no way of enforcing his order. As perpetrators are discharged from the military and re-enter society, some will find employment as police officers and prison officials and guards, and the practice will spread. The dark side will take over America."
David T. Beito
Amy H. Sturgis
Keith Olbermann didn't mention it, preferring to focus on the closing of Gitmo and Cheney's speech.
Kudos to Maddow!
David T. Beito
It is way worse than I thought it would be, and that's no joke,"Mancow said, likening it to a time when he nearly drowned as a child."It is such an odd feeling to have water poured down your nose with your head back...It was instantaneous...and I don't want to say this: absolutely torture."
"I wanted to prove it wasn't torture," Mancow said."They cut off our heads, we put water on their face...I got voted to do this but I really thought 'I'm going to laugh this off.'"
So far, only two defenders of Bush's foreign policy, Christopher Hitchens and Mancow, have been waterboarded. The experience led both to reluctantly admit that it is torture. Apparently, this is the only way to convince pro-war conservatives, or their fellow travelers, that waterboarding is torture. Another strategy is to recommend that advocates of torture devote an hour this week to reading what Lord Acton said about power instead of watching the next episode of"24."
Amy H. Sturgis
David T. Beito
"Dees and his hate-seekers scour the landscape for hate like the arms manufacturers inventing new threats and for the same reason: it's their staple."
Cockburn recommends his readers send their checks to the Southern Center for Human Rights that"is basically dedicated to two things: prison litigation and the death penalty. [President and senior counsel Stephen Bright] fights the system, case by case. Not the phony targets mostly tilted at by Dees but the effective, bipartisan, functional system of oppression, far more deadly and determined than the SPLC's tin-pot hate groups."
Liberty & Power readers will appreciate Frederick Douglass' justly celebrated quotation that is prominently displayed on the home page of the website of Bright's organization.
"Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation are people who want crops without plowing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will."
Roderick T. Long
[In my latest column, I look at the new Social Security and Medicare trustees reports. They show that the discounted present value of the unfunded liability of these programs is now more than $100 trillion—twice the private net worth of the entire country. We will need to raise income taxes by 81% to pay all the benefits that have been promised under current law. I dismiss as a pipe dream the idea that spending will ever be cut enough to matter because the percentage of the population that benefits from these programs is growing daily and the elderly vote in the highest percentage of any age group. Therefore, anyone who denies that taxes will rise sharply in coming years is “either grossly ignorant of the fiscal facts, in denial, or living in a fantasy world.”]
To read the entire column, entitled "The 81% Tax Increase":
This week, the federal government published two important reports on long-term budgetary trends. They both show that we are on an unsustainable path that will almost certainly result in massively higher taxes.
The first report is from the trustees of the Social Security system. News reports emphasized that the date when its trust fund will be exhausted is now four years earlier than estimated last year. But in truth, this is an utterly meaningless fact because the trust fund itself is economically meaningless.
The 2010 budget, which was finally released this week, confirms this fact. As it explains in Chapter 21, government trust funds bear no meaningful comparison to those in the private sector. Whereas the beneficiary of a private trust fund legally owns the income from it, the same is not true of a government trust fund, which is really nothing but an accounting device.
Most Americans believe that the Social Security trust fund contains a pot of money that is sitting somewhere earning interest to pay their benefits when they retire. On paper this is true; somewhere in a Treasury Department ledger there are $2.4 trillion worth of assets labeled"Social Security trust fund."
The problem is that by law 100% of these"assets" are invested in Treasury securities. Therefore, the trust fund does not have any actual resources with which to pay Social Security benefits. It's as if you wrote an IOU to yourself; no matter how large the IOU is it doesn't increase your net worth.
This fact is documented in the budget, which says on page 345:"The existence of large trust fund balances … does not, by itself, increase the government's ability to pay benefits. Put differently, these trust fund balances are assets of the program agencies and corresponding liabilities of the Treasury, netting to zero for the government as a whole."
Consequently, whether there is $2.4 trillion in the Social Security trust fund or $240 trillion has no bearing on the federal government's ability to pay benefits that have been promised. In a very technical sense, it would lose the ability to pay benefits in excess of current tax revenues once the trust fund is exhausted. But long before that date Congress would simply change the law to explicitly allow general revenues to be used to pay Social Security benefits, something it could easily do in a day.
The trust fund is better thought of as budget authority giving the federal government legal permission to use general revenues to pay Social Security benefits when current Social Security taxes are insufficient to pay current benefits--something that will happen in 2016. Effectively, general revenues will finance Social Security when the trust fund redeems its Treasury bonds for cash to pay benefits.
What really matters is not how much money is in the Social Security trust fund or when it is exhausted, but how much Social Security benefits have been promised and how much total revenue the government will need to pay them.
The answer to this question can be found on page 63 of the trustees report. It says that the payroll tax rate would have to rise 1.9% immediately and permanently to pay all the benefits that have been promised over the next 75 years for Social Security and disability insurance.
But this really understates the problem because there are many people alive today who will be drawing Social Security benefits more than 75 years from now. Economists generally believe that the appropriate way of calculating the program's long-term cost is to do so in perpetuity, adjusted for the rate of interest, something called discounting or present value.
Social Security's actuaries make such a calculation on page 64. It says that Social Security's unfunded liability in perpetuity is $17.5 trillion (treating the trust fund as meaningless). The program would need that much money today in a real trust fund outside the government earning a true return to pay for all the benefits that have been promised over and above future Social Security taxes. In effect, the capital stock of the nation would have to be $17.5 trillion larger than it is right now. Alternatively, the payroll tax rate would have to rise by 4%.
To put it another way, Social Security's unfunded liability equals 1.3% of the gross domestic product. So if we were to fund its deficit with general revenues, income taxes would have to rise by 1.3% of GDP immediately and forever. With the personal income tax raising about 10% of GDP in coming years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, this means that every taxpayer would have to pay 13% more just to make sure that all Social Security benefits currently promised will be paid.
As bad as that is, however, Social Security's problems are trivial compared to Medicare's. Its trustees also issued a report this week. On page 69 we see that just part A of that program, which pays for hospital care, has an unfunded liability of $36.4 trillion in perpetuity. The payroll tax rate would have to rise by 6.5% immediately to cover that shortfall or 2.8% of GDP forever. Thus every taxpayer would face a 28% increase in their income taxes if general revenues were used to pay future Medicare part A benefits that have been promised over and above revenues from the Medicare tax.
But this is just the beginning of Medicare's problems, because it also has two other programs: part B, which covers doctor's visits, and part D, which pays for prescription drugs.
The unfunded portion of Medicare part B is already covered by general revenues under current law. The present value of that is $37 trillion or 2.8% of GDP in perpetuity according to the trustees report (p. 111). The unfunded portion of Medicare part D, which was rammed into law by George W. Bush and a Republican Congress in 2003, is also covered by general revenues under current law and has a present value of $15.5 trillion or 1.2% of GDP forever (p. 127).
To summarize, we see that taxpayers are on the hook for Social Security and Medicare by these amounts: Social Security, 1.3% of GDP; Medicare part A, 2.8% of GDP; Medicare part B, 2.8% of GDP; and Medicare part D, 1.2% of GDP. This adds up to 8.1% of GDP. Thus federal income taxes for every taxpayer would have to rise by roughly 81% to pay all of the benefits promised by these programs under current law over and above the payroll tax.
Since many taxpayers have just paid their income taxes for 2008 they may have their federal returns close at hand. They all should look up the total amount they paid and multiply that figure by 1.81 to find out what they should be paying right now to finance Social Security and Medicare.
To put it another way, the total unfunded indebtedness of Social Security and Medicare comes to $106.4 trillion. That is how much larger the nation's capital stock would have to be today, all of it owned by the Social Security and Medicare trust funds, to generate enough income to pay all the benefits that have been promised over and above future payroll taxes. But the nation's total private net worth is only $51.5 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. In effect, we have promised the elderly benefits equal to more than twice the nation's total wealth on top of the payroll tax.
Of course, theoretically, benefits could be cut to prevent the necessity of a massive tax increase. But how likely is that? The percentage of the population that benefits from Social Security and Medicare is growing daily as the baby boom generation ages and longevity increases. And the elderly vote in the highest percentage of any age group, so their political influence is even greater than their numbers.
The reality, which absolutely no one in either party wishes to face, is that benefits are never going to be cut enough to prevent the necessity of a massive tax increase in the not-too-distant future. Those who think otherwise are either grossly ignorant of the fiscal facts, in denial, or living in a fantasy world.
Bruce Bartlett is a former Treasury Department economist and the author of Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action and Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. He writes a weekly column for Forbes.
Jeffrey Rogers Hummel
Jeffrey Rogers Hummel
That said, the Washington Post has always been rather selective in its reporting of the news.
However, there is no major shift here because asset forfieture laws which supposedly target those who violate drug prohibition have already eliminated the American legal idea of innocent until proven guilty. Too many people take the attitude that I do not use any of the currently illegal drugs so why should I care about drug prohibition. Well here is yet another example of a pernicious concept developed for the war on people who use certain kinds of drugs being applied to everyone. And, because those being punished before or without even a trial are subhuman users of the"evil drugs" many do not even ackowldege this prior twisting of legal principle.
I would also like to add that demands to prove a negative have been the driving force behind our foreign policy since 2003, when we made the impossible requirement to fulfill, that Saddam Hussein prove he had no WMDs, to avoid invasion. Before the war Hussein released a massive amount of documentation showing he had destroyed the weapons in question but that was still not enough to save the lives of over 4000 American soldiers. We are now doing the same thing to Iran with regards to a nuclear weapons program that our own intelligence services said in 2007 did not exist.
Aeon J. Skoble
"I had an appalling expreince yesterday trying to trade in my daughter's used Nintendo DS games at Gamestop. Trying to trade in Petz Hamsters and Shrek 2 turned into a lesson in just how pervasive the surveillance state has become.
I walked into Gamestop to trade in the two used DS games, and the clerk asked me if I wanted cash or a store credit. When I replied "cash" the clerk asked for my driver's license. When I asked why, he told me that they are technically a pawn shop, and when giving cash for a trade-in they must report the recipient's driver's license number to the Department of Homeland Security and the Internal Revenue Service.
So, I changed my selection to "store credit," whereupon the clerk promptly asked me for my name and telephone number. When I asked why . . . you guessed it . . . he replied that, as a pawn shop, he had to report that information to the Department of Homeland Security and the Internal Revenue Service. He said that they needed to track these things.
Outraged, I replied that they do NOT need to track these things and that they already track way too many things. I told him that it was nobody's business but his and mine that I was selling used video games.
I reminded him that I cannot even buy cold medicine at the drug store without reporting the transaction to the government. (I no longer buy Sudafed. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, he who is willing to give up essential liberty to purchase a little decongestant deserves neither liberty nor decongestant.)
I stormed out of the store Petz Hamsters and Shrek 2 in hand. I doubt the kid even understood the point."
Kudos to Dan for standing up agaisnt surveillance, and thanks again for sharing the story. I have to note that, Ben Franklin's scorn notwithstanding, I do surrender my liberty for properly functioning cold meds. Help, help, I'm being repressed!