Wednesday, June 29, 2005

US wakes up, finds itself in bed with WHAT!?

"A record 57 percent also now say the administration intentionally exaggerated its evidence that pre-war Iraq possessed nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
Fifty-three percent of Americans say the war was not worth fighting...

Fifty-one percent said they want to see a timetable for withdrawing troops. For the first time, a plurality of Americans, by 50%-47%, sees the war in Iraq as a separate action from the war on terrorism.
By 46%-43%, a plurality says the war in Iraq has made the U.S. less safe from terrorism.
By 53%-46%, Americans say the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq. That's the highest level of discontent since the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib prison scandals last summer.

In addition,

By a record 61%-37%, those surveyed say the president doesn't have a clear plan for handling the situation in Iraq. Bush's job-approval rating has suffered, too. His approval rating is 45%, equaling the lowest of his presidency. At 53%, his disapproval rating has reached a new high."

... now where's that damn morning after pill!?

Monday, June 13, 2005

The overlooked $2,300 billion deficit upper

And you thought half a trillion was bad...

"... Blessed by historical habits that have no relationship to what our government does today, our legacy of cash accounting now serves to mislead and confuse. The April issue of Economic Indicators, a publication prepared by the Council of Economic Advisers, for instance, projects a unified budget deficit -- the one that lumps the Social Security surplus in with the rest of government -- of $427 billion. (New reports this week that we may be on track for a smaller deficit don't change the fact that the accounting methods are misleading. We'll stick with the $427 billion figure until they make the new estimate official in midsummer.)

The $427 billion deficit, however, is a massive understatement of our true deficit. The real deficit is $2.3 trillion larger. That's more than five times the publicly discussed $427 billion figure -- but it never enters public discussion.

If the executive branch of government were held to the standards of Sarbanes-Oxley, it would be on a fast track to a criminal trial. We would forget about Ken Lay because the crimes at Enron are mere rounding errors compared to what our government does.

A bipartisan problem
Some readers will expect a diatribe against President George W. Bush to follow.

It won't.

This is a bipartisan problem. Both the Democrats and the Republicans, in or out of office, have been using accounting methods that are, at best, quaint and, at worst, criminal. And they have been doing it for decades.

You can understand what's going on by comparing our government to a large corporation like General Motors.

When General Motors (GM, news, msgs) files its annual report, it must report on the condition of its pension fund and other obligations to current and retired workers as well as its profit or loss. If the pension liabilities -- the retirement benefits it has promised workers -- exceed pension-plan assets by more than a certain amount, General Motors must make contributions to the pension fund, reducing its profits. The two, profits and pensions, are deeply linked. General Motors also has substantial health-care obligations to its retired workers.

Sound familiar?

Our government is in a similar position -- but with a lot more zeros on the numbers it uses. It reports its annual profit and loss as a surplus or a deficit. Separately, it reports on its long-term pension, disability and health-care obligations. Unlike General Motors, however, the government doesn't include these figures in the annual statements of surplus or deficit.

The buried details
You can find them only in the trustees' reports for Social Security and Medicare.

The 2005 reports (each over 200 pages) show the programs to be underfunded by a total of $33.7 trillion (in today's dollars) over the next 75 years. That's four times the $8 trillion in formal debt shown in regular government accounting.

You learn still more when you compare the 2005 reports with the reports from 2004. In 2004, the combined unfunded obligations of Social Security and Medicare were $31.4 trillion.

That's an increase of $2.3 trillion in a single year. The trustees' examination of the plans over a longer time period, termed the infinite horizon, shows an even larger change, $7.2 trillion (see table below).

But let's not look so far in the future. Let's stay with the traditional (if inadequate) 75-year measure, that $2.3 trillion. It isn't mentioned in other government documents. It is missing from Economic Indicators. Indeed, it is absent from virtually all discussion of the federal budget -- the one currently estimating a piddling deficit of $427 billion for fiscal 2005.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Onward, Christian Soldier!

Connecting the Dots 101

The legal battle over the life of Terri Schiavo may have ended, but a thick, fervent crowd remains in the makeshift encampment outside the Woodside Hospice House here . . .
No, we're not going to go home," said Bill Tierney, a young daughter at his side. "Terri is not dead until she's dead" . . .
Mr. Tierney, a former military intelligence officer in Iraq who works as a translator and investigator for private companies, cried as he talked about watching the Schiavo spectacle on television and feeling the utter need to be at the hospice.
New York Times
Protesters With Hearts on Sleeves and Anger on Signs
March 28, 2005

Bill Tierney . . . had just returned from eight months working as an interrogator for US forces in Baghdad, and had come to talk, on the record, about torture.
''The Brits came up with an expression – wog,'' Tierney said. ''That stands for Wily Oriental Gentleman. There's a lot of wiliness in that part of the world.''. . .
After explaining his various psychological tactics to the audience, interrogator Bill Tierney (a private contractor working with the Army) said, ''I tried to be nuanced and culturally aware. But the suspects didn't break.''
Suddenly Tierney's temper rose. ''They did not break!'' he shouted. ''I'm here to win. I'm here so our civilization beats theirs! Now what are you willing to do to win?'' he asked, pointing to a woman in the front row. ''You are the interrogators, you are the ones who have to get the information from the Iraqis. What do you do? That word 'torture'. You immediately think, 'That's not me.' But are we litigating this war or fighting it?'' . . .
Asked about Abu Ghraib, Tierney said that for an interrogator, ''sadism is always right over the hill. You have to admit it. Don't fool yourself – there is a part of you that will say, 'This is fun.' ''
Boston Globe
Spy world
February 13, 2005

... what a piece of work is man. Well, this man anyway.