Mister Pterodactyl
Sunday, March 20, 2005
Or, "do we really need all this corn?"

Seriously, between Davenport and Des Moines it's nothing but fields and barns and things like that.

Did I mention that I'm moving to Iowa? Probably not. I'm in Des Moines now, sitting in a Barnes and Noble Because it advertises wireless internet. I've long been jealous of other bloggers who can get high speed connections practically (it seems) anywhere they go. And my hotel room is limited to dial-up. It's like living in the Dark Ages!

I'll settle on an apartment tomorrow. [In truth I've already chosen, but the price is higher than I hoped for so I'll wait and see if something else pops up.] Then back to Wisconsin, go vistin' over the weekend, pack up and move out here. Third, get settled in. Fourth, get this state to change their stupid f#%$*&g primary system.
Saturday, March 12, 2005
I knew he wouldn't let us down.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
Fixing Social Security
In Sunday’s MJS, by-invitation editorials from Wisconsin US Reps Paul Ryan (R) and Gwen Moore (D), offering ten points for and against privatizing Social Security. [The intro says it’s about ‘changing’ SS, and both Representatives use words like ‘fixing,’ but we all know what we’re really talking about.]

Moore’s piece is kind of squishy. There’s the usual carping: the crisis isn’t ‘immediate.’ The stock market is too fickle. And (here’s a laugher) participants in the private account system won’t receive a full measure of SS benefits when they retire (I mean, isn’t that the point?). She does, however, manage to point out that the privatization plan is going to cost a lot of money. A lot of money.

Ryan’s isn’t much better. He starts out well enough stating the case for change, points out the actual nature of the ‘trust fund,’ explains some of the benefits of personal accounts (all of which we’ve heard before). But, well, #5: the “unfunded liability – what the program promises today’s workers but lacks the funds to pay” is up to 10.4 trillion and goes up another 600 billion a year. I assume he’s talking about the total amount that’ll be paid to current and future beneficiaries, but he doesn’t say it that way.

But my real problem with Ryan’s piece is the other thing he doesn’t say: how he plans on paying for it. If part of my SS contribution is diverted into a PA, then that money won’t be available to pay current recipients. Right? That’s going to create a shortfall, and that shortfall is going to have to be made up somehow. Right? How is that going to happen? And why won’t the proponents of PAs address it? [Some of them have been really weaselly about it.]

Fortunately, right after I started writing this post I got pointed to this interview, in which Ryan explains the whole thing. At retirement, your PA starts paying an annuity. If that annuity is less than what SS would have paid, SS makes up the difference. If more, the excess is yours (tax free!) and SS is off the hook. Therefore older workers who won’t have time to build a large PA will still get their full payment, and younger workers shouldn’t need to rely on SS at all.
Ryan is upfront with the price tag: $2 trillion in ten years. He specifies four ways to deal with that:
- He admits there’ll be some borrowing. Good for him.
- The changes he’s proposing will cause an upsurge in corporate profit, leading to increases in tax revenue. [But politicians are always saying stuff like that.]
- Limit government growth and use the savings to fund the transition. [Won’t fly. First, I don’t expect that Congress will be able to maintain the discipline over the time period needed; second, savings garnered this way could more helpfully be used to pay down the national debt.]
- Finally, in about twenty years the system should reach a point where all payments are coming from PAs. After that, SS payments (it’s still getting 6% of everybody’s paycheck) can be used to pay off the remaining debt, and after that SS contributions can be decreased.

I want to get behind this. I still have misgivings, due to the long time period involved and my doubts about Congress’ ability to maintain discipline, but I like it. And, out of personal self-interest, I’d take a PA if offered. Here’s hoping it works out.

Monday, March 07, 2005
Hugh Hewitt is mightily exercised over an article from Thursday’s LA Times describing an interview with a NK official. Written by Barbara Demick, the Times’ bureau chief in South Korea, the article reports what the man says in such a way that, if one didn’t know anything about NK, one might think that it’s not such a bad place. That lack of context is what has Hewitt in a lather; it’s propaganda, not news.
I am not too bothered myself; frankly, one would have to be really ignorant not to see through this. [Basically have to not pay attention at all and if you’re not, you’re probably not reading the LAT anyway.] Still, it would have been nice had the writer included a disclaimer, or at least some indication that she is not gullible or naïve enough to actually believe what he says. Instead she gives us this: “because North Koreans seldom talk to US media organizations, his comments offered rare insight into the view from the other side of the geopolitical divide.”
What polite phrasing.

Ms. Demick describes the man, who wished to be identified as “Mr. Anonymous,” as “an affable man in his late 50s who spent much of his career as a diplomat in Europe, [and] has been assigned to help his communist country attract foreign investment.” He calls himself “a businessman with close ties to the government,” and says he doesn’t want his real name used because “his perspective was personal, not official.”
‘A businessman with close ties to the government.’ Read: ‘a midlevel bureaucrat with enough ass-kissing time to be given a peachy out-of-country post.’

He says that NK wants a better relationship with the US, and admits that the economic problems his country is experiencing are the result of over-reliance on Soviet-bloc trade. He’s enthusiastic over NK’s recent announcement about its nukes while at the same time blaming the US for the energy shortage (if you recall, we stopped giving them help due to concerns about their nuclear program). Asked about the gulags, he suggests that they house “social agitators” instead of political prisoners and alludes to the US’s own human-rights offenses, though he doesn’t specify any. He further blames the failure of negotiations on American intransigence; if only we’d agree to one-on-one talks, everything would work out fine. And he downplays the Japanese-abduction issue as “something done by a few overly enthusiastic people long ago,” and claims that NK had tried to make amends. Also, Japanese politicians are making a big deal out of it merely for political gain.
Mr. Anonymous’ ‘personal perspective’ sounds an awful lot like the official one, doesn’t it?

The best part: “the most important point the North Korean said he wanted to convey in the conversation was that his nation was a place like any other.” Americans, he says, “have the wrongheaded notion that North Koreans are unhappy with the system of government under Kim Jong Il,” and “we prefer to have a benevolent father leader.” Westerners tend to stress individual rights, but “we have chosen collective human rights as a nation.”
I’m sure a lot of East Germans used to say the same things. Iraqis, too.

It’s interesting to hear from an actual North Korean. That’s all that was interesting here, though, as his comments could not have been more banal. It’s also disappointing, to say the least, that Ms. Demick (or her editors) could not see that. Nor, apparently, were they aware of the outright falsity of some of his statements. Or of the various human rights reports condemning NK. That’s just outrageous. Maybe Hewitt was right to be so upset after all.

And yes, it did take me three days to write this.

UPDATE: Jason Van Steenwyk is, um, moderately more pissed, and he has excerpts from the US Human Rights Commission report on the NK gulags. Caution: harsh language.

The Steenwyk link came via an email news service I subscribe to. Nice that he's including blogs.
Friday, March 04, 2005
Now that it's been a couple weeks...
How about a little more attention for this very amusing post from Old Whig. I can't imagine what state of mind he was in when he wrote this.

[Great comments, too; make sure to read them.]
Thursday, March 03, 2005
Flying in the face of all reason, no doubt accompanied by howls of protest from every side, someone has actually decided to offer Mister Pterodactyl a "job." This arrangement involves my regular presence at a "work-place," where I will perform previously specified tasks in exchange for several types of compensation, most notably periodic monetary disbursements, or "pay."

More on this situation as it develops.

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