Do I Do That?

So I was at the local ScienceBlogs million comment party last night. I was talking to Amanda Laden about something to do with Greg’s blog. She started a comment, obviously meant to lead to some other point, with, “There was the guy you were arguing with recently.”

I though, Let’s see, most recently. “Do you mean X?”

“No.” She shook her head. “I know X.”

“You don’t mean Y?” That was moderately high-profile, as low-profile internet slap fights go.

She waved a hand dismissively.

I thought harder. “Well, I’ve been going back and forth with Z a bit lately over the election.”

She frowned. “No, that wasn’t it either.”

We never figured out who it was, and I never did find out what the rest of her point was going to be. I did, however, discover that it’s possible, just barely possible, that I have a tendency to get into arguments in the blogosphere. Who knew?

The Secret Liberal Agenda

You’ve seen it, heard it, read it. You’ve seen the people who say, “Yeah, what Obama is saying isn’t so bad [or even, is great], but if he gets into power he’ll XX,” where XX is “put everyone on welfare” or “put terrorists in his cabinet” or “really try to teach the Kama Sutra to kindergartners.”

Up until yesterday, I thought these were either people whose meds needed tweaking or Republicans cynically trying to obscure Obama’s message. After yesterday, I finally get it. The reason that so many conservatives think liberals have a secret agenda is that they can’t talk about their own real agenda in public.

You’ve seen the video by now, the yahoo at the Republican convention talking about bombing Iran. You may have thought he was an outlier, someone put on the web because he’s an extremist. Watch it again. Watch how he switches back and forth between being elated that he’s somewhere where he can speak his mind and being nervous that maybe he still shouldn’t be saying this.

This is a man who knows he’s telling secrets. This is a man who is not being who he feels he needs to be when he’s at home. He doesn’t even look like the same man he is when he’s being public.

When the Republicans are hiding so much, is it any wonder they think that Democrats are doing the same thing? Of course, what they don’t get is that liberals don’t have to hide. That permissive atmosphere that scares conservatives so badly is just freedom to a liberal. Liberals have the freedom to be who they want to be, dress in any ridiculous fashion that appeals to them, and speak their minds about what they want to accomplish. It’s just that simple.

It almost makes me feel bad for conservatives. Then I see something like this video and remember that there’s a reason they have to hide.

Why Social Security Isn’t Private

The last time the stock markets took a big downturn, in 2002, an interesting thing happened. It wasn’t just those with 401(k)s/403(b)s and IRAs who were affected, although they were. By that point, 401(k)s had been in existence for over 20 years, about half of many people’s working lifetimes. People nearing retirement age watched the stocks in their savings decrease in value by about one-third over seven months and decided they couldn’t afford to retire. Others had already retired and had to draw out a much larger percentage of their savings than planned to meet their expenses.

Workers earning pensions were affected too, even though a change in the market doesn’t affect the monthly amounts already owed to them. Federal regulations require that companies pre-fund much of their employees’ pension benefits, and most of these funds are held in stocks. When the stock markets plunged, employers lost millions, perhaps billions, of dollars in pension funding. But their liabilities, the amounts they would some day have to pay out to retirees, didn’t decrease. Companies suddenly owed their pension plans–big time.

This took companies by surprise, since they’d been happily riding the tech bubble with the rest of us. Bad surprises are not good for the stock price of a public company, and over the next few years, many companies decided that responsibility to their shareholders meant they couldn’t have another surprise like this one. They froze their pension plans. Put simply, a pension freeze means that employees–new employees or all employees–stop earning additional benefits. What they have at the time of the freeze is what they have when they retire.

Most companies that froze their pension plans replaced them with a 401(k) or something similar. In essence, they shifted the burden of stock market fluctuations–the risk of having to deal with something like what we’re seeing this year–onto their employees. Now it will be the employees, not the companies, looking at the stock market and deciding what they can and can’t afford.

This shifting of employees onto the nonexistent mercy of the market had recently slowed down. Fewer companies made the switch in 2007, and very few new companies have announced freezes in 2008. However, with the markets taking another dive, and with new pension funding legislation taking effect this year, that could change rapidly. Even more people may soon be hitched to the rollercoaster that an unregulated market becomes.

Now imagine yourself at the end of 2007, having just told the boss to piss off, having made an ass of yourself at the best holiday party ever, planning to retire January first and live off your 401(k). Then remember what happened to the markets in January. Then remember what’s been happening to prices all year. Unless you bought an annuity (which you should have done anyway, but that’s another post) with a cost of living increase built into it, or have a small pension from a frozen plan, your Social Security payment is the only part of your retirement income that is going up instead of straight down.

And that is why your Social Security is not invested in the market.

Update: Reminder to self–no blogging when sleepy. All of the above was written in response to Al Franken’s ad supporting Social Security in its current, secure form. This is one of the reasons I support Franken.

When even Warren Buffet stands up and says that the stock market return assumptions on which we pin our hopes for retirement are pollyannaish, it’s ridiculous that we still have politicians talking about privatizing Social Security (which Coleman has, even though he calls it something else) as though the potential for reward could outweigh the risk. Social Security is there to carry us through when nothing else does. If we put it in the hands of the people who got us into the current financial mess, we might as well just call it Social.

Obama on the Markets

Not content to patch up this crisis, he wants to keep them from happening again.

I do not believe that government should stand in the way of innovation, or turn back the clock to an older era of regulation. But I do believe that government has a role to play in advancing our common prosperity: by providing stable macroeconomic and financial conditions for sustained growth; by demanding transparency; and by ensuring fair competition in the marketplace.

Our history should give us confidence that we don’t have to choose between an oppressive government-run economy and a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism. It tells us we can emerge from great economic upheavals stronger, not weaker. But we can do so only if we restore confidence in our markets. Only if we rebuild trust between investors and lenders. And only if we renew that common interest between Wall Street and Main Street that is the key to our success.

See how he wants to do it here.

Thanks to Bora for the link.

Music as Memory

I remember down in Galveston,
When storm winds swept the town,
The high tides from the ocean, Lord,
Put water all around.

When I heard that a hurricane was headed for Galveston, I shuddered. Thousands of people in Galveston did not, electing to stay on the island during the storm. Two thousand of those have escaped or been rescued from what are being described as “splintered houses.” Five have been found dead.

The trumpets warned the people,
“You’d better leave this place”.
But they never meant to leave their homes
Till death was in their face.

What’s the difference between them and me? Well, there are probably several, including the fact that the closest I’ve been to a hurricane was having a chunk of vacation washed out, along with the roads, in Scotland in 2004. At least I wasn’t in Cornwall, where a town was swept into its harbor. Of course, they didn’t have any warning, unlike people in Galveston.

The trains they all were loaded
With people leavin’ town,
The tracks gave way to the ocean, Lord,
And the trains they went on down.

Another difference is that I grew up surrounded by folk music, and the Chad Mitchell Trio’s version of “A Mighty Day” still gives me goosebumps. That song captures everything, the relentless rhythm of the surf and the surge, the wailing of the winds, the despair of those (most of the city) who didn’t make it out.

The waters like some river
They went a-rushin’ to and fro
I saw my father drownin’, Lord,
And I watched my mother go

I can only think that the modern residents of Galveston have never heard this song. Playing it at the local festivals can’t be good for attracting business to the area. But Hurricane Ike was only a category 2 storm, and still five are known to be dead in Galveston.

Now death your hands are icy.
You’ve got them on my knee.
You took away my mother now.
You’re comin’ after me.

Songs like this exist because we can’t afford to forget.

Palin Exposé

Hey, look! There’s a new biography of Sarah Palin coming out before the election! This will be the in-depth, thoroughly investigated, hard-hitting detailing of her background that we’ve all been wai–what?

Oh.

It’s coming out from Zondervan Press, a Christian religious publisher. It wasn’t planned before McCain’s inexplicable announcement (because no one thought her worth the attention), so it’s being written and printed in about six weeks. And the author says:

We live in an age that values relationship over authority and instant information over accuracy, so breadth of knowledge and depth of conviction are the most prized commodities for our leaders. Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin brings both of these qualities and more to her new role as John McCain’s running mate and I’m eager for readers to have the opportunity to know her and her brand of leadership more thoroughly.

Instant information over accuracy?!? A biased puff piece that’s proud to be a biased puff piece? Blegh. In other words, it’ll be just like the last Palin biography, the one with an “Editorial Review” from Fox News.

Okay, bored now. Done with Palin. Nothing there. How about we go back to comparing the candidates’ records instead?

A What?

In case you’ve ever wondered what a digital cuttlefish is or how it would work its way into my blogroll, here’s a hint:

The other day, when I went out
To give the pigs their slop,
I noticed something quite unique,
That caused my jaw to drop:
My eyes bugged out a little bit;
My brain was doing flips–
For every pig was waiting there
With lipstick on their lips!

The rest is here. Enjoy.

Slick 4 Prez

Oh, how I love Sinfest. Er, it’s a cartoon. With something to offend everyone. Last week, it was the Republicans.

Start here to watch Slicky choose his VP. Get introduced to the concept of a PILF. And whatever you do, don’t stop reading before the “hair-off.”

They’re Daleks? That Explains So Much

A friend flew out of town on Sunday. While in the airport, he noticed something curious.

The RNC still had an ad running in the commercial loop on the TV monitors in the bookstores. I knew I’d heard the music before, and finally placed it … it’s the Kaled victory march! I loitered in the bookstore and watched that ad at least 3 times, just to be sure. No, I’m not kidding.

The Kaled victory march, for those of you less geeky than my friend (or all of you), is from I, Davros, a Doctor Who audio play done by Big Finish Productions.

For context: this is right after the councilors are exterminated by Davros, and Davros is making his big power play.

Davros being the leader of the Daleks. You know the Daleks.

McCain, Davros. The RNC, Daleks. Beautiful. They really couldn’t have done much better if they’d tried, now could they?

State of Terror

From a conversation with a friend today:

My world is largely divided into people who scoff at the idea that I could be scary and people who are terrified of me. There is a small group of people who see the potential for terror but aren’t scared, although they do have visible moments of wariness. These are my friends.

Feel free to chime in in the comments and sort yourselves out. I’m taking my scary self to bed. :)