Eden Hill Journal

Comments, dreams, stories, and rantings from a middle-aged native of Maine living on a shoestring and a prayer in the woods of Maine. My portion of the family farm is to be known as Eden Hill Farm just because I want to call it that and because that's the closest thing to the truth that I could come up with. If you enjoy what I write, email me or make a comment. If you enjoy Eden Hill, come visit.

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Location: Maine, United States

Monday, January 31, 2005

Social Security Answers

Here's a .pdf document called Saving Social Security: A Guide to Social Security Reform, dated January 27, 2005 summarizing the Republican strategy for selling the public on the need for Social Security reform:
The document source is identified on page 103:
"For more information about how this speech was developed, please contact Rich Thau at Presentation Testing, Inc. at 212-760-4358."
According to Josh Marshall, January 31, 2005:


the document was used by congressional Republicans at a weekend retreat.
It'll be interesting to see how this debate all plays out. I'm tempted to think that Bush will get his way on this one. Once again, the public perception and the reality don't exactly agree, yet the Republicans are being encouraged to act not so much on the reality as on the public perception. To muddy the debate a bit, In a section titled "Communicating Social Security Reform" on pages 6 and 7, statements like these seem to muddy the waters:

  • "Personalization" not "privatization": Personalization suggests increased personal ownership and control. Privatization connotes the total corporate takeover of Social Security; this is inaccurate and thoroughly turns off listeners, who are very concerned about corporate wrongdoing.
  • Keep the numbers small: Your audience doesn’t know how trillions and billions differ.They know these numbers are large, but not how large nor how many billions make a trillion.
  • Calling the trust fund meaningless will raise hackles. Taxpayers believe it is the source of the monthly checks paid out by Social Security. But, everyone agrees that it is an empty promise.
  • Don’t say, “Social Security lifts seniors out of poverty”
  • Advocates who have educated themselves on the issues sometimes find it hard not to “set the record straight.” Stay focused—don’t get sidetracked.

Here's a good one from page 8 under "Special Issues for Those Over 50":

  • Know how challenging the sale will be:

The "sale?" Republicans are selling Social Security reform to their constituents? OK, so who is turning Congress into a bunch of sales people?
What's strange is that I was listening to Public Television's Nightly Business Report tonight and a guy came on, a former advisor to George W. Bush and now Columbia University expert, and he virtually parroted this same sales pitch to the camera. The only mistake I detected was when he spoke of these personal accounts as "building wealth." This document advises on page 7, "to most Americans building wealth sounds unattainable—especially in the context of Social Security. But on the other hand, putting aside a nest egg sounds like common sense."
Shame on him...

Yet there is one thing in particular that troubles me as I read through this document. While the document characterizes the existing Social Security trust fund, presumably built on "IOUs from the government" (page 87) as "an empty promise" (page 86), under the proposed program, investors nearing retirement will be encouraged to invest in bonds, a more stable investment than stocks. Presumably, government bonds are the most secure investments of all, a fact reflected in their low rate of return. Yet what are these "IOUs from the government" if not government bonds? Has the US government invented for the sake of the Social Security trust fund a low return form of investment that in reality is merely "an empty promise" or are these IOUs in the form of government bonds? If they are government bonds and if they are an empty promise, what would be the advantage if investors under the new system invested their accounts in government bonds as they neared retirement?
I am inclined to think that this document wasn't drafted to clarify any issues but rather to coach congressional Republicans and other conservatives on the new approaches to painlessly selling this program to the American public. Reading it leaves me feeling like I am sitting at an abandoned salesman's desk in the showroom of a high-pressure car dealership while the salesman and his boss watch me sweat over the deal on closed-circuit TV. George Orwell comes clearly to mind.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Salvador Option

US and Israeli trained death squads for Iraq? Sure, why not? Rumsfeld's newest idea...
Full circle, anyone? Hey, maybe we could even put Saddam back in charge. That'd fix 'em! Maybe this time he would agree to sell all his oil to American companies instead of those damned French and Russians. I suspect we could arrange a few kickbacks to keep him happy. Speaking of kickbacks, has anyone been following the debate with the Christian Aid organization regarding the auditing of Iraqi oil money since the 2003 war?

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Social Security

Can someone clear up the Social Security debate for me? I'm confused. As I understand it, the Social Security "payroll taxes" run a surplus each year. These payroll taxes amount to a 13 or 14 percent flat tax on the first $80,000 plus of earned income. From this income, the Social Security Administration meets its obligations to the program. Since more money is taken in than is expended each year, there is a yearly surplus.
That surplus gets invested in Treasury bonds or something like that. That is to say, the US government borrows the surplus from Social Security and spends it the same way it spends our income tax. The current accumulated taxpayer debt to Social Security is somewhere on the order of three trillion dollars. If left untouched, this system would continue in this condition until the year 2018 or so. At the rate we're going now, in 2018 the Social Security payroll taxes would just about equal Social Security expenses. Since it is projected that Social Security will continue to run an annual surplus till 2018, the big nest egg which is now three trillion dollars would be more by that time. However, after 2018, that nest egg would need to be tapped. It is projected that as the system now stands, that nest egg would expire sometime in the 2040s. This is how things would work if the current laws are kept in place and the current rates and benefits are left unchanged.
But President Bush is saying that Social Security will reach critical mass in 2018 and after that date, Social Security will be in trouble.
My question is, if there is a three or four trillion dollar nest egg of US government bonds that can be cashed in after 2018, why is 2018 a critical time for Social Security. If anything, I would think it would be a critical time for the taxpayers because taxes would need to be raised to pay back that debt to Social Security. Is President Bush somehow suggesting that taxpayers should escape having to pay their debt to the Social Security recipients?
Could someone who understands this situation explain it to me in plain English?

Friday, January 28, 2005

The Speech Bush Should have Given


Monday, January 24, 2005

Rumsfeld's Spooks

I just heard a short report on Public Radio that the Pentagon today announced the formation of special military intelligence teams that would be deployed with special operations forces around the world. According to the reporter, these newly formed intelligence groups have already been operating in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Bosnia, but would be deployed in many other nations in the future.
What I find curious about this is that it seems to essentially establish and legitimate the very forces that were denied by the Pentagon just last week in this little give-and-take:
Pentagon blasts article alleging reconnaissance missions in Iran
The reporter covering this new announcement was not able to say whether the newly established intelligence chief would have any oversight over these units, nor was he clear on just how long the existing units had been operational. He did say, though, that the Pentagon did not believe that it required any additional authorization in order to establish these operational units.

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe that we are away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War (500 BC)

From The Sorrows of Empire, 2004, Chapter 9, page 255
I would suggest that we have learned some new tricks in the past 2,500 years.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Sesame Street on Sunday Morning

Can you believe it? Both my wife and my oldest son Jake just criticized me this morning because I was sitting in front of the TV watching Sesame Street. Big Bird had just resolved a stressful situation involving change and the Cookie Monster was trying not to eat the letter for the day, an oatmeal cookie with a big D on it.
My wife criticized me because she just criticizes everything I do unless I am doing it specifically for her. My son, though, thought I could be spending my time better watching some Sunday morning sports (as in hunting/fishing) program. I had said that I thought Sesame Street was a much better program than CBS News but Jake argued that CBS News wasn't on. I would have expected Sunday morning church broadcasts so I hadn't even looked, but in our house the choices are simple. We get PBS and the CBS affiliate, Channel 5 from Bangor.
But I get the last laugh... My wife is sitting in front of the TV now watching Sesame Street and enjoying it. Jake, on the other hand, is packing his bags to go ice fishing in the frigid cold.
Op! I spoke too soon. I hear the sports chatter now...

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Consensus Is...

Here is a good one:

Monday, January 17, 2005

So Many Things

I have heard about so many things today from several different sources. Not only did I have one of my most lucid and creative dreams ever in the night last night, and followed it with a sleepless period of higher-level thinking, but then when I read today's daily newspaper...
There was an article about a black hole in space eating up an area 600 times larger than our own galaxy. Estimates are that it has already eaten 300 million stars the size of our sun. That's a lot of solar systems up in smoke, don't you think? And do you suppose any of those stars hosted planets that supported life, maybe even intelligent life, maybe even life which had conceptualized God and Heaven or perhaps technology and space travel only to be completely and inescapably drawn into the black hole? Can you even imagine the terror of that?
Then there was the front page article about the conviction of the Abu Ghraib guard. Apparently testimony that he was ordered to abuse the prisoners as a systematized part of their interrogation didn't matter. What are they doing, punishing all the grunts and promoting all their superior officers for this? Only in BushWorld, right?
On tonight's TV news there was an interview with a man who claimed that malaria alone claims nearly 150,000 children's lives each month in Africa. Children... That's nearly as many deaths each month as the tsunami killed. The tsunami deaths were a disaster. The deaths of African children is what? Routine? Barely even noteworthy?
What is the nature of these things and where is God? And the worst question of all: When it is all said and done, when earth plunges into the sun and the sun plunges into a black hole, what will any of it have mattered? What will it matter who loved whom, who lived and who died, who probably went to Heaven, who invented the transistor, how much money Bill Gates made in his lifetime?
I'm not being suicidal or anything like that, nor am I promoting corruption and evil. I'm just trying to work out in my head what makes anything significant and what people should focus their lives on. What really matters?

Friday, January 14, 2005

This morning's weather Posted by Hello
Take a look at Maine in this picture, if you can find it. A warm front passing off to the north, a cold front pushing in from the west, heavy fog down off the coast, strong south winds with temps in the 50s, fog and heavy rain - snow melting like crazy! This is something that happens some years but doesn't happen in other years and when it does happen, it makes a real mess. If Maine is the tailpipe of the eastern seaboard as it is sometimes called, this must be the backfire.
Tomorrow it will be cold again and all of the doors on all of the cars will be frozen shut. Whatever old snow still remains on the ground will be frozen hard too making skiing and snowmobiling quite unpleasant.
After a rain like this, though, it is possible to go hiking on the lakes and maybe even mountain hiking, as long as it doesn't get super cold. It's January, though, so it is usually quite cold and windy. I'll hibernate till March!

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Yulong Snowmountain Posted by Hello

Photos taken in Yunnan Province in southwestern China by Aayang from Shanghai Posted by Hello

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


I am a little bit puzzled by something. Yesterday evening I was driving home with my wife from a late afternoon shopping trip searching for something on the radio to keep me awake - my wife and I don't talk much. I had to change channels when Public Radio went from talk to classical bedtime music. I passed on a Christian station preaching soothing reassurance of salvation for the saved. What I landed on was a conservative talk radio program ranting on, among other things, the use of torture in America's prisoner of war prisons. The host's suggestion was that it is no big deal. Probably most Americans would approve of the use of torture against those who hate us such as Arab Islamic terrorists.
My problem is, though, that whenever I look at an issue like this, I try to walk a mile in the other guy's shoes.I used to think that was Christian, but I can't see that it is any part of modern American evangelical Christianity. But it used to fit under the canopy of the Golden Rule... Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I tend to think that modern American imperialism, now fostered even by the Christian Right, has abolished this notion from our minds. But if you do make the effort to walk a mile in the other guy's shoes, you realize a few things.
First, you realize that the other guy might be one of the prisoners of war that American men and women are torturing. You might be the victim of man's inhumanity against man.
Second, you might be one of those American men and women who are ordered by their superiors to torture prisoners and you would go through the rest of your life with what you had done, with that torture, on your conscience.
Third, you might be a member of a culture or a nation that is hated by Americans. Your government might argue that if it is okay for Americans to use torture on those who hate Americans, it has to be okay for you to use torture on Americans who hate you.
Finally, you could be one of those American prisoners whose only defense against torture, the Geneva Conventions, has already been rendered useless, invalid, indefensible, by the Bush administration in America's zest for free trade and empire.
The Bush Administration policy on the use of torture against prisoners of war opens the flood gates wide open. Why would the American people want that? Like I said, it puzzles me.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Angels and Demons

I just finished reading another Dan Brown book, Angels & Demons. That's the second Dan Brown book I've read. The first was The DaVinci Code. Both of these books were the type of book that I have a really hard time putting down to go do something else, such as work or sleep. This book features a tour of Rome with a focus on the Illuminati. Brown's style is to overwhelm the reader with details that may be real or may be fiction but if real have been kept secret through the ages.
The secrets in this book center on the Catholic Church in Rome and an organization of enlightened artists and scientists in Galileo's time.
As with The DaVinci Code, the end of the story contains a few surprises, but virtually every chapter in the book contains surprises relating to the details of the sites his characters explore. It almost makes me want to explore Rome myself!

666 Posted by Hello