Saturday, January 01, 2005

Noble and Knave of the Year Winners

The readers of the Washington Times have elected the winners of the 2004 Noble and Knave of the Year. Drum roll please....

Knave of the Year

Runners up:
Knave of the week twice in 2004, former President Jimmy Carter earned numerous nominations for using a child's funeral to bash the Iraq war, as well as calling the war that won us our independence "unnecessary." Also earning top marks was another two-time Knave of the week, Mr. Kerry. Not only did Mr. Kerry slap every National Guardsmen in the face by comparing them to draft dodgers last February, but he also suggested during the campaign that President Bush might reinstate the draft if re-elected. Mr. Kerry's campaign team revealed a similar shamelessness when it tried to silence the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth by filing a complaint with the Federal Election Commission. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was a crowd favorite, as was also-ran Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean. A lot of readers were quite upset at Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat, for leaving out "under God" while he led the House in the Pledge of Allegiance. But more readers were steamed at Sen. Harry Reid for some uncouth comments about a sitting federal judge on the Senate floor — a Knave-of-the-week moment he recently surpassed by calling Justice Clarence Thomas an "embarrassment." For consciously ignoring the swift boat veterans' ads, the mainstream media was at varying times a frontrunner. Closing out the top, however, was Sen. Ted Kennedy, who lost by just two votes. Readers remembered with apparent opprobrium how Mr. Kennedy equated the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal to Saddam Hussein's torture chambers; and were equally upset when he asked for his own commemorative library at the University of Virginia.

As 2004 was an election year, numerous clowns demanded the spotlight. No one, perhaps not even 2003's Knave Michael Moore, spewed as much hatred and foolishness as the billionaire who financed them all. The liberal cavalier, who fancies himself at times a high-browed scholar and America's moral voice, bankrolled every left-wing outfit from to America Coming Together. But his most egregious offense came when he equated some shameful soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison with the September 11 hijackers, and their prisoners — lest we forget, many of them terrorists — with the victims in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

With a total of 86 votes, George Soros is the Knave of the Year.

Noble of the Year

Runners up:
While 2004's top nobles are by no means marginal figures, the Saturday feature is intended as a space to honor those individuals whose accomplishments might otherwise go unheralded. A classic example of the kind of accomplishment the editorial board appreciates was found in Judge Raad Juhi, the Iraqi who has questioned Saddam and many of his former cronies in the Ba'ath regime. So dangerous was his job (he has survived numerous assassination attempts) that Western media outlets honored Judge Juhi's request for anonymity, until he consented to be interviewed by the Wall Street Journal. We are happy to see his name among the top ten. The Iraqi citizens of Thul Fiqar al Battar, who rose up against renegade cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, also received scant attention by media outlets, but are here honored by our readers.

Many of the top nobles seemed to have one common characteristic: They inspire others to do great deeds. There was Sgt.-Maj. James Jordan choosing to go with his troops to Iraq rather than retire; Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi standing firm while terrorists held his citizens hostage; the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division for a year-long tour in Iraq; and Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinal who gave up fame and fortune to serve in Afghanistan. He was killed in action in April.

Others arose from the depths of an election year. There was senior White House political adviser Karl Rove, who, by designing Mr. Bush's successful campaign, showed that he understands America better than anyone on the left; Rear Admiral William Schachte Jr., for uncompromising resolve in the face of Mr. Kerry's attack dogs; and of course the bloggers, the scourge of the mainstream media, for their dedication to honest reporting.

But in the end, of all people, it was a celebrity, or in this case, an artist, who readers most admired. There are few works of art that capture a moment as perfectly as Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." While the rest of Hollywood campaigned, Mr. Gibson created, and with his own $25 million produced a film that awed the world. For his sacrifice, he was attacked as an anti-Semite, yet he refused to answer the cheap shots leveled at his father, Hutton.

With a total of 114 votes, the Noble of the Year is Mel Gibson.

We would like to thank our readers who participated in the contest as well as wish all our readers a Happy New Year.

Friday, December 31, 2004

The Democrats' losing streak

Looking ahead to 2005, clear-thinking Americans can only hope that the Democrats' losing streak in US Congressional elections and Presidential elections continues. Joshua Muravchik, author of one of my favorite books, Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism, has written an interesting column in Commentary magazine titled Why the Democrats keep losing. Here's an excerpt:
The aftermath befitted the morrow of a civil war. Tens of thousands of Americans visited the website of the Canadian immigration service to learn how they could take themselves into exile. A Florida psychotherapist reported treating more than a dozen people for sudden depression. "Hard times, brutish times, lie ahead," intoned the New Republic.

The New York Times turned its op-ed page into a kind of wailing wall, where a procession of mourners poured forth their laments and imprecations. Garry Wills: "We now resemble [Europe] less than we do our putative enemies . . . al Qaeda [and] Saddam Hussein’s Sunni loyalists." Thomas Friedman: The Bush people "have used . . . religious energy to promote divisions and intolerance at home and abroad." Maureen Dowd: "jihad in America. . . . One party controls all power. . . . One nation dominates the world."

The proverbial visitor from afar might have been astonished to learn that all of this rhetorical tearing of hair and rending of garments was occasioned by nothing more than the results of a presidential election, and not even the wailers themselves could have doubted that this election would be followed by another four years hence. Clearly something else was going on.
Yes, it's true. Hard times, brutish times, lie ahead. What with about two million jobs created in the last year, with President Bush and Congressional Republican leaders scheming up ways of reforming our legal system to keep America competitive internationally, it's enough to drive a man to drink.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

The aging of the Western world

President Bush is encouraging Congress to reform social security. Part of that reform, Bush suggests, should be an option for workers to contribute their money into a personal retirement account, instead of having the money be sent to the United States Treasury. Tech Central Station columnist Arnold Kling supports the personal retirement accounts concept, as do I. But Kling points to a flaw in the manner that many "experts," of the left and right, describe the current social security system, it's financial problems and how these problems are likely to be solved. Here's an excerpt from one of Kling's numerous columns on social security:
If the Baby Boomers were to postpone their retirement, the problem would go away. There would be more workers producing output, and there would be fewer retirees to absorb Social Security taxes.
Kling references an analysis of the demographics of the Western world. It seems that Japan is facing the worst demographic nightmare of the developed nations, with Italy not very far behind. Back to Kling's column......
It is fair to conclude that the Social Security problem is largely an artifact of the retirement age. Raising the retirement age to something like 73 would make Social Security quite manageable. This increase in the retirement age does not need to affect anyone currently over the age of 50. In other words, the higher retirement age would not take effect for more than 15 years. By that time, continued improvements in health should make work a viable option for most Baby Boomers.

Of course, no one would be forced to work. People who are too unhealthy to work would still be eligible for disability. People who are healthy but want to retire before age 73 would have to finance their early retirement out of their own savings.

It is important to recognize that we are not necessarily doomed by demographics to suffer a reduced standard of living in 25 years. (It is even more important to recognize this in Japan and Europe, where, as Culhane's paper shows, populations are aging faster than in the United States.) A lower standard of living comes from demographics combined with the strict retirement age, which provides a strong disincentive for the elderly to work. There are mainstream economists on the left and on the right who agree that reducing the distortion caused by the retirement age is the single most powerful policy tool that we have available for addressing the Baby Boom Social Security issue.
Kling believes that implementing personal retirement accounts will improve the United States economy, independent of whether the retirement age is raised or projected benefits are reduced. Kling sees an incentive effect in having people contribute to their own account rather than having their money absorbed by the government combined with an unenforceable promise to pay retirement benefits in the distant future. Workers will see that their accounts grow faster when they earn more money and contribute more to their personal retirement account.

As for the transition cost of allowing for personal retirement accounts, Kling argues such a transition cost is really not a cost at all. The government is simply meeting its commitment to today's workers today, instead of meeting that commitment decades later when they retire.

Personally, I believe that a simple and effective way of reducing projected taxpayer paid social security benefits for future retirees would be to, from here on out, replace the wage indexing with the price indexing of contributions or even get rid of indexing altogether. (See the Social Security Administration's web site for details on indexing and how retirement benefits are calculated.)Confused? Read the entire column by Kling and you are less likely to get snowed by the upcoming debate.