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QUOTATION: People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote - a very different thing. - Walter H. Judd

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2004-11-13 - 8:28 a.m.

Bill Moyer NOW

Last night’s Bill Moyer NOW was a bonanza – I tuned in to hear the interview with Sister Joan Chittister, but stayed to hear the interviews with Christian Parenti on the elections in Afghanistan and NOW's David Brancaccio talked with economist Laurence Kotlikoff, author of COMING GENERATIONAL STORM: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT AMERICA'S ECONOMIC FUTURE, about what may be ahead for ordinary Americans.

Although I have read her weekly newsletters for more than a year, I had never heard Sister Joan Chittister speak before. How articulate, how intelligent, how well informed. Had I had people like her at my high school boarding school, I might still be a practicing Catholic. She makes perfect sense. I wish John Kerry had had some of her no-nonsense approach to the moral values issue. It's the Beatitudes, Stupid!

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Verse 3)
Blessed are the meek: for they shall posses the land. (Verse 4)
Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted. (Verse 5)
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill. (Verse 6)
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. (Verse 7)
Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God. (Verse 8)
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (Verse 9)
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Christian Parenti is a correspondent for THE NATION, and most recently the author of THE FREEDOM: SHADOWS AND HALLUCINATION IN OCCUPIED IRAQ. He just came back from Afghanistan where he spent a month chronicling what is really taking place on the ground. Parenti spoke with David Brancaccio about a very different view of Afghanistan than the portrait of flourishing democracy. In fact, he pointed to war lords and poppy production. I predict we’ll be back fighting the war lords again in ten years to free the people of Afghanistan. Women are faring better these days, because they are earning more per day – maybe $7 a day – harvesting poppies. He reports that the poppy fields are burned in compliance with orders from U.S., but AFTER the harvest. The Taliban has been ousted, but new regime (although elected) is little better, according to Parenti. I’m going to read his book.

The interview of Kotlikoff was enough to cause you to withdraw your money from the bank, buy land or gold and hide it under your mattress.

From The Coming Generational Storm:

In 2030, as 77 million baby boomers hobble into old age, walkers will outnumber strollers; there will be twice as many retirees as there are today but only 18 percent more workers. How will America handle this demographic overload? How will Social Security and Medicare function with fewer working taxpayers to support these programs? According to Laurence Kotlikoff and Scott Burns, if our government continues on the course it has set, we'll see skyrocketing tax rates, drastically lower retirement and health benefits, high inflation, a rapidly depreciating dollar, unemployment, and political instability. The government has lost its compass, say Kotlikoff and Burns, and the current administration is heading straight into the coming generational storm.

But don't panic. To solve a problem you must first understand it. Kotlikoff and Burns take us on a guided tour of our generational imbalance, first introducing us to the baby boomers -- their long retirement years and "the protracted delay in their departure to the next world." Then there's the "fiscal child abuse" that will double the taxes paid by the next generation. There's also the "deficit delusion" of the under-reported national debt. And none of this, they say, will be solved by any of the popularly touted remedies: cutting taxes, technological progress, immigration, foreign investment, or the elimination of wasteful government spending.

This morning’s editorial in the N. Y. Times on the same subject gives some suggestions for President Bush:

As the Dollar Declines

For all its professed desire for a strong dollar, the Bush administration has apparently decided that letting the dollar slide is a good way to shrink America's trade deficit. This is dubious economic policy. It provides a modicum of relief to American exporters, but it increases the nation's vulnerability to higher prices and higher interest rates, while ignoring fiscal measures that would more assuredly anchor the United States in the global economy.

The dollar, which has declined nearly 30 percent against the euro since President Bush took office in 2001, fell to a record low this week. The decline has not been as marked against other currencies, largely because China and Japan prop up the dollar by investing heavily in United States Treasury securities - in effect, lending us money so we can buy their goods. Meanwhile, the Treasury secretary, John Snow, has largely eliminated the phrase "strong dollar" from his workaday vocabulary.

The underlying problem is that deficits in America's global transactions are at record levels, putting Americans at risk of either a slow deterioration in living standards or abrupt spikes in inflation and interest rates. There are three ways to get that deficit down: America can reduce the federal budget deficit, thus lowering the amount of interest we pay foreign countries to finance that deficit; trading partners like Europe and Japan can expand their economies, increasing their demand for American goods; or America can allow its dollar to fall to increase its exports.

The only lasting remedy is to reduce the federal budget deficit. That, in turn, calls for specific policies, like - we may have mentioned this before - rolling back the Bush tax cuts. Letting the dollar weaken is a far less responsible approach, an unwieldy and risky attempt to reduce the trade imbalance without the political pain of deficit reduction.

During the Bush years, 92 percent of the nearly $1 trillion increase in publicly held debt has been financed by foreign lenders. Foreign ownership of Treasuries has tripled from the peak of the Reagan deficits in 1983. Because of this enormous dependency, anything that might affect foreign lenders' willingness to invest in Treasuries - including dismay over the United States' long-term fiscal disarray, better investment opportunities elsewhere, or geopolitical or economic strife - could cause the dollar to tank….

…The president, wed as he is to deficit-bloating policies, is not likely to step up to that responsibility without a stern shove from Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike. While they're at it, they should press Mr. Bush to choose Treasury officials who are true economic stewards, not merely cheerleaders for his "tax cuts above all" policies. If leadership is not forthcoming, the invisible hand of the global financial community is all too likely to provide the push.

I’m hoping my library has Mr. Kotlikoff’s book to help me better understand what, if anything, we as individuals can do to protect ourselves and our investments from further erosion of the dollar. For sure, I’m writing to Feinstein, Boxer and Thompson, urging them to do what they can to encourage their Republican colleagues to join them in trying to bolster the dollar in what seems to be an already bankrupt country.

Good Reviews or Voter Fraud or not?

The headlines on November 12 were meant to reassure us about the election results: "Vote Fraud Theories, Spread by Blogs, Are Quickly Buried'' or "Mostly Good Reviews for Electronic Voting"

If you’ve been following the Scott Peterson murder trial, you know the three criteria for believability of culpability: motive, means and opportunity. The question being asked is not whether this election was stolen but rather whether the system is secure to prevent future elections from being stolen. That the system relies upon only partly secure computer systems, owned and run by partisans, with no paper backup, is not the basis for confidence that results are accurate in a hotly contested election.

It is clear that this election could not be recounted in many, if any, state. I believe for confidence to be regained in our elections, Congress should restructure the system, including the Electoral College.

And on to more pleasant things...we're going to go watch Chelsea run in a Sectional Meet at Folsom. Wish her luck!

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