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Big Matters
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RIDING THE THIRD RAIL
Re: David Hogberg’s Social Security Softies:

David, the opponents of reform are just making any excuse in order to preserve Social Security as an issue against Republicans. Chile privatized in 1980 and it has been very successful. One thing that bugs me, however, is the “conventional wisdom” that there is no trust fund, because someone doesn’t have the cash in a bank vault. The trust fund is a paper obligation, as is a Bank CD. The asset backing the CD is some sort of investment instrument, while the asset backing the Trust Fund is the taxing power of the government, who has borrowed the money without paying a fair return. That we will have to borrow is foregone, but the trust fund exists as a federal obligation and individual records are kept. We should bit the bullet. Switch over to Private now, and then cope with the shortfall.
G.B. Hall
Marietta, Georgia

By setting up personal savings accounts, I have been told by a conservative economist, will take over $50 billion the first year out of Social Security. This amount will increase incrementally every year. To replace this money, one of three things must be done: 1) seriously reduce benefits. This will happen if the money to pay the benefits is not there, 2) raise taxes. Either raise the amount that is taxed above $89,500, or raise everyone’s taxes. President Bush, last week took raising any kind of taxes to solve the problem off the table; 3) continue to borrow the money, and increase the deficits of our country. There is another problem, no one is addressing. Everyone, who knows anything about the stock market, knows that buying and selling shares of stock is not free, everyone knows that there are brokerage fees. Who is going to pay the brokerage fees? Will these fees be taken out of the Social Security money, or will they be deducted from the amount that individuals put into their savings account, or will the government have to borrow more money to pay these fees. No one is talking about this!

My real problem with these types of programs is the same with any and all privatization programs. Why should the government collect taxes, then turn this money over to a private business so that business can make money off of it? Here in South Carolina where I live, the state owns the school bus fleet. There is talk of privatizing it, so the taxpayers will save money. A private company will be given ownership of the bus fleet. My problem is that the taxpayers have bought these busses, but the proposal will turn ownership over to a private company, This company will not have to invest any of its money into becoming the owner of the fleet. Then the company will be given the tax money once spent on operating these busses. They are supposed to improve the system, while reducing the cost to the state. However, what company is going to become involved in this scheme without the potential of making a profit. The first thing it will do is set aside the money it needs to make its profit. Now the school bus system has less money to operate the system. Yet the state tells us this can be done by spending less taxpayer’s money on the buss system. There will be losers, those families which depend on this system to get their children to school. The only winners will be the company that got the contract. Programs like these are nothing but rip-off taxpayer’s money to benefit those who have the political pull to grab up these contracts.
Jim
South Carolina

I, for one, am delighted that the debate over real reform of Social Security is coming at a time when the facts at hand give us (gasp, choke) privatizers some potent ammunition to use against those who want to build a bridge to the 19th Century.

One needs to look no further than the Federal Government’s own Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) to see what a “basket” of professionally managed investment options can do to supplement a necessarily reduced social security benefit. The TSP basket of investments includes moderate risk as well as low risk investment options.

Since the late ’80s, when civil service retirement was bifurcated into two programs (we older feds were allowed to opt out if we had substantial time under the old system), the TSP has accumulated some very good data that will show that the growth over time which works for federal employees can and will work for the larger population.

Of course, many TSP participants weren’t thrilled with their rate of return (actually shrinkage in assets) when the tech bubble burst in 2000, but markets have recovered, as history teaches us, and the arrival of TSP statements are once again a happy event at Federal employee homes.

We have the ammo to win this argument. The only question remaining is does the Administration and the Congress have the grit to pass something meaningful? If they do, the investor class will swell, to the detriment and woe of our socialist, income transfer loving “friends” on the left.
Frank Stevenson
Williamsburg, Virginia

“Let people manage the money themselves: They have to do better than the .86 percent annual return the Feds get for them.”

How hard will that be? I could almost match that return by hiding the money in a coffee can. Even CD’s would outproform such an anemic return.
Boris Berejan M.D.
Neenah, Wisconsin

MUDDLED MINDS
Re: Christopher Orlet’s Progressive Oxymorons:

A wonderful summary of the muddled liberal mind. It would seem that at some point cognitive dissonance would overcome these people, but I suppose that would require some initial cognition on their part. My favorite liberal dilemma is that created by their desire to eliminate the concepts of good and evil. If they were really committed to the idea, they would not be able to find evil in the philosophy and deeds of the conservatives. Their political philosophy, like their economic philosophy, leads to one end — bankruptcy.
Bob Oliphint
Taylor, Texas

Take “Responsibility.” If there is one thing the progressive abhors it is personal responsibility. Whether it involves crime, drug abuse, or poverty, progressives like to blame everyone but the responsible party, the usual objects of their censure being capitalism, the bourgeoisie, religion, or the military-industrial complex. Confronted with the case of an unmarried, illiterate 14-year-old girl with multiple children living in unspeakable squalor, the progressive will doubtless fault a greedy, misogynistic, racist society, and absolve the waif and her biological architects from all blame.
Kate Shaw

Almost in its entirety, Lakoff’s list of “progressive moral values” is Grade A hooey, a bumbling attempt to staunch the flow of blue political blood from the Democrat Party and liberals, a political stage prop.

Not surprising, absent are a few things that matter to most Americans. Foremost is respect for life, as in being pro-life. Another is respect for marriage and the family. A third is respect for others, as in not demonizing, mocking and belittling others, which is how Democrats and liberals continue to speak about those who voted for President Bush, especially Christians.

And while Lakoff mentions freedom and equality, how can or does he reconcile those with the ongoing racial-and-intellectual smearing of Condoleezza Rice and Clarence Thomas by white Democrats and liberals-as well as the mainstream media-and the silence from black America on such despicable activity?

Lakoff’s list underscores the gods that progressives and liberals worship: self and state. But until they bring the Creator into their values, I suggest the only progression progressives will see is a continued regression in their political and social relevance and power. How can you trust someone who places no value on life itself?
C. Kenna Amos Jr.
Princeton, West Virginia

UP FROM WEBERIANISM
Re: Ralph R. Reiland’s Fat Cats, Calvin, and the Poor:

Yes, Mr. Reiland — the “whole thing” is more complicated than what your college chapel speakers apparently communicated: “the fat cats are God’s people.” Max Weber had a piece of the truth. But being a secularist Weber missed the sacred heart of Christianity (correctly identified by such titans as Augustine and Calvin): that “God is, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, making peace through the blood of His cross” (St. Paul to the Colossians, 1:20). God’s eternal decrees of blessing or curse, salvation or damnation, for each of His creatures (cf. Gospel of St. Matthew 25:31-46) flow directly out of God’s divine character as He reveals it by His Word the Bible.

Here’s the mistake Weberites — and far too many professing Christians — make: we humans all too readily assume our own moral worth and (self) righteousness. We go on to assume that the material blessings God promised in covenant with His chosen people (see, e.g., Deuteronomy 7) belong to us because we make ourselves righteous. And we prove our righteousness to ourselves by producing much wealth.

Biblical Christianity counters that faulty humanistic logic. God the Son informs us: “Why do you call Me ‘good‘? No one is ‘good‘ except God alone!” (Gospel of St. Luke, 18:19). Saint Paul, speaking by God’s Spirit, counts all human wealth achievement to be “dung” in view of the “surpassing value” of being in Christ, “not having a righteousness of my own…but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God…” (Philippians 3:9). Even those people whom God destines, elects and adopts as His own from all eternity “like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way. But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall upon Him” (Isaiah 53:6) — that is, on Jesus Christ, the holy and perfect sacrificial Lamb of God. (John 1:29) Jesus’s death and resurrection brings salvation from sin for His chosen people (Gospel of St. Matthew 1:21; Gospel of St. John 13:1,8; 15:13-14) God the Son’s sacrifice on behalf of God’s people justifies them in God the Father’s account books, truly making those once-sinful people righteous according to God’s standard of perfection (Romans 3:24,26; I Corinthians 5:21). This justification comes to a man only as God’s own grace-gift, by His eternal initiative (“predestination” if you will) and not the man’s own temporal choice (Gospel of St. John 1:12-13; 17:2-3; Romans 8:33; Ephesians 2:8-10).

Oddly, history loads upon John Calvin primary responsibility for having taught “predestination”. Truly Calvin did so teach. [See his Institutio — the Institutes of the Christian Religion] But by no means did Calvin particularly emphasize that doctrine. Actually the greatest Reformation-era defense of God’s sovereign election and destining of His people comes from another Augustinian Biblical scholar: Martin Luther. No one reading “De Servo Arbitrio” (The Bondage of the Will) could ever reasonably conclude that man can save himself from God’s wrath, or convince himself of Divine grace by pointing to all the wealth he has produced in this life. Max Weber should have looked to his own German Reformation for fuller theological understanding of Christianity. Working in this world merely reflects obedience to the commands of the God Who destines the world to come.

Mr. Reiland’s “whole thing” — that is, a “Calvinist” world-and-life perspective and theology, one truly Christian and Biblically-grounded — once dominated American life. Some encouraging signs suggest a rising renewal of that “whole thing.” Thanks for a challenging article.
David James Hanson
Fayette, Iowa

The piece by Robert Morris University professor Ralph Reiland did not do its topic justice in eight paragraphs. The article waxes about the book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber, which was published in 1904. Apparently, 100 years after its publication, Mr. Reiland decided it was time to object to Mr. Weber’s premise in The Protestant. In fact, it appears Mr. Reiland may even object to Calvin, Predestination and wealthy Calvinists.

To be specific, Mr. Reiland’s article needs more context and explanation than was offered. First, while the anecdote about Endora was mildly amusing, the reader would have been better served if that space was used to tell us something about Max Weber, an object of his article, which Endora was not. Mr. Weber was a nudist, insane and decidedly odd. Of course, there is more, and in anecdotal form, but my point is not to tell his story but to at least show there was more importance to the context in who Mr. Weber was than Endora.

Secondly, Mr. Reiland refers to Predestination as “Calvin’s doctrine.” It was not. Predestination and election (the doctrine is that before the foundation of the Earth was even laid, by the creator Jesus Christ, those people to whom would be given to Christ were chosen [elected] by God the Father, our own personal merit has no merit in God’s selection process) are Biblical terms (a review of a Bible’s concordance will immediately show this), thus, they are Biblical, or more accurately God’s Doctrines. For those who question the doctrine, you can decide for yourself by searching and finding just one example in the Biblical accounts in which God did not do the choosing but the man/women chose a Holy God of their own free will. To save time, there is no such account. For easy examples of predestination, look at Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, all of the prophets, and the accounts of Jesus approaching his soon to be apostles by instructing them to put down their nets and follow Him to be fishers of men. These men were all chosen first.

Thirdly, Mr. Weber’s apparent conclusion 100 years ago that Calvinism promotes capitalism is questioned by Mr. Reiland. I could not agree more. As noted, Calvinism is Biblical, it did not just spring to life during the Reformation. In fact, Augustine would be by “definition” a Calvinist, though he predated Calvin by 1100 years. Thus, Weber’s thesis has foundational problems from the outset by a false premise that predestination was “new” to the Reformation, though it was certainly new to that time having been lost shortly after Augustine’s time.

What I find most troubling, and believe Mr. Reiland could be the most enlightening, is Weber’s apparent belief that Calvinism led to a belief that “God signifies his favor by giving the best cars and top knickknacks to the elect.” I agree with Mr. Reiland that it is “more complicated than that.” But, while I appreciate the dismissive nature of Mr. Reiland’s conclusion, we do not live in a world that understands, much less respects, the Bible and its doctrines, which allows for context of a dismissive comment. However, the dismissiveness can be based upon a Biblical basis-as mentioned (an understanding of predestination does not lead to the pursuit of worldly goods but to love and sacrifice in the name of the One who chose us despite our “bad things”) or upon an effrontery to the simple minded Weber. Mr. Reiland has left me wondering.

This begs the question: if one is elect and predestined to eternal paradise, are the best cars and knickknacks even important?
Steve Shaver

You are correct in that there is more to it than what you’ve presented. That there are those who are anxious about their salvation implies certain truths about their spiritual condition that you fail to consider: the lost do not care about the things of God and, therefore, are not in a state of anxiety about it. Conversely, those who are anxious are in that state only because they are under conviction of sin with a corresponding loss of the assurance of their saved state. Not that they are now lost — that is the Arminian line of thinking — just that they are depriving themselves of the blessing of assurance that derives from repentance and a humble exercise of their faith.

More importantly, though, you err when you assert that this anxiety drove some to pursue success as a means to reassure themselves of their saved state. You have it reversed: from the Calvinist perspective, the pursuit of virtue is a result of one’s saved condition, not a means to it. Further, possession of worldly wealth is by no means an indicator of favor in the eyes of the Most High God. Capitalism, as a practical expression of the tenets of biblical and reformed faith, generally results in prosperity. It is not, in and of itself, designed to be purely a means to wealth.

A thorough consideration of Calvinism and its influence on our history would be quite a profitable discourse; I encourage you to take this to a higher level.
Mark Brown

KERIK AND STICK
Re: The Washington Prowler’s Kerik Moves:

Yeah, I know, it’s yesterday’s news now, so who the hell cares? And even if the Kerik thing were still topical, who the hell cares about my opinion?

Me, that’s who.

And for the record, I got bad vibes about the guy in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Now, it may or may not have made sense for Rudy to have Kerik right behind him at every single press event (I would have thought that the police commissioner had better things to do than to act as stage dressing), but in each such event I found Kerik’s demeanor troubling, suspicious, sidling-up so close to Rudy that I thought he was going to…well, let’s just say that he presented a perfect picture of the government functionary who is desperately seeking for the limelight to fall on him, but who, frustratingly, has to remain in the background while some politico grabs all the attention.

Call me old-fashioned, but I still prefer my heroes to be, by choice, the strong, silent types.
Charles R. Vail

BOXED IN
Re: Jim Harper’s Thinking Out of the Black Box and the “Boxed Cars” letters in Reader Mail’s Readiness Matters:

I am forever amazed at what rights some people will give up in exchange for some perceived measure of safety. In response to Harper’s article about black boxes being installed in cars, Bruce Thompson feels that product liability protection for car makers is a fair swap for surrendering our ability to go where we please without it becoming a matter of public record. He makes the case that this will decrease the manufacturer’s insurance costs. How wonderful! We get to pay for their protection from lawsuits. Even if the savings were to be passed on to the consumer, I doubt they would exceed the added cost we would have to bear for having the boxes installed.

Charles Sampson argues that we have no right to privacy on a public venue. Really. I missed it when we lost the right to be secure in our persons and property the moment we walked out the door of the house and into the street. He further asserts that his fellow engineers set our speed limits at the maximum from which a vehicle can safely be brought to a stop in event of an emergency. That is just plain silly. I doubt that I’m the only one to see speed limits raised and lowered without the road being re-engineered for emergency stops.

Thompson is upset at idiot lawyers and Sampson is upset at idiot drivers. While I share their ire, it is not sufficient cause to surrender yet more of our rights.
Unsigned

LISTENING IN
Re: William Tucker’s Unlike a Rolling Stone and Doug Welty’s letter (under “Song of the Day”) in Reader Mail’s Readiness Matters:

I have no idea how old — or young — Mr. Tucker is. In 1965 I was 18, and at a party, when I first heard “Like a Rolling Stone.” Already a “rock” fan, I knew and appreciated for their unique qualities Dylan, the Beatles, the Stones, and many others (Who, Them, and more). The previous song played on the record player was the Byrd’s cover of Mr. Tambourine Man, and Like a Rolling Stone immediately got the room silent. Fifty or so people had never heard it, and had never heard anything like it. And although silent to appreciate the music and lyrics, all were already tapping to the beat or shaking their hips.

Rock had evolved, the ante had been raised by an order of magnitude. Nothing would ever be the same. Elvis, in a minute (six actually) had become a dinosaur. A century from now, people will still play this song, and the only Elvis that stands a chance of being remembered then is Costello.

In his last completed novel, Mostly Harmless, Douglas Adams established the pecking order. Elvis runs a restaurant and does amazing burgers, but the saying on that planet is “Bob only knows.”

Bob only knows what Mr. Tucker has been drinking (or smoking).
Raphael Cohen
Montreal, Canada

It would take far too many words, even for cyberspace, to list the shallow inaccuracies of Tucker’s overview of Dylan. Focusing on his central rant — that “Like a Rolling Stone” is the greatest song of all time, is somewhat easier. Consider first the impact: the merging of words used at their highest level with music at its most potent, in itself was an enormous step for music and culture. That it was a powerful and successful song and clocked in at over six minutes also had repercussions that last to this day (when was the last time you heard a country and western song over FOUR minutes on the radio?). On top of that, the direct influence Dylan’s collective work, but most notably that song, on artists like The Beatles, Johnny Cash and Pete Townshend (of The Who), has had an exponential effect on what we now look at as rock ‘n’ roll. No “Like a Rolling Stone,” no Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, Tommy or Pet Sounds. “Dylan couldn’t even tune Elvis’s guitar”? Insane! In 500 years people will STILL talk about and listen to Bach and Beethoven…and Bob Dylan. Elvis will be a curiosity.
Unsigned

Doug Welty nailed it in his Tuesday letter. Bobby Zimmerman (Dylan’s real name — and weren’t those folksy singers supposed to be “real?”) was an gnawing, whiny, raspy assault on the ears — kinda like Neal Diamond. And Meat Loaf.

As a disc-jockey some decades ago, I used to cringe when a Dylan 45 was coming up on the must play play-list (of course, later, when I was the Program Director and higher, I could zap or eliminate those more caustic sounds; in fact I refused to play Barry McGuire’s “Eve Of Destruction” because it was such a downer).

He was awful. No, they were awful.

What we need are more of the Ponytails, Leslie Gore, the Shirelles, Frankie Valli, etc.
Jonathan B. Frost

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