Political Animal

An Iran Scorecard

AN IRAN SCORECARD….After writing yesterday that I didn’t know anything about Iran, today I came across an interesting post over at Unfogged that gives a brief outline of who the various players are in Iran, who to trust, and who not to. It’s only one person’s opinion, of course, and I can’t vouch for it personally (especially since it’s an anonymous person), but the writer is an Iranian who seems pretty familiar with what’s really going on and it has a ring of reasonableness about it. It’s nice and concise, and I recommend reading it.

Informed dissenting opinions are welcome, of course.

George Galloway Update

GEORGE GALLOWAY UPDATE….A couple of months ago I blogged about a Daily Telegraph reporter who had rummaged around burned out Iraqi ministry buildings and found documents indicating that lefty MP George Galloway had accepted about half a million dollars a year from Saddam Hussein via oil sales starting in 2000. The Christian Science Monitor ran a similar story based on different documents alleging that Galloway had accepted $10 million over the past decade from Saddam’s government.

Today, via TBOGG, I find that the Christian Science Monitor has found that its documents were forgeries:

An extensive Monitor investigation has subsequently determined that the six papers detailed in the April 25 piece are, in fact, almost certainly forgeries.

The Arabic text of the papers is inconsistent with known examples of Baghdad bureaucratic writing, and is replete with problematic language, says a leading US-based expert on Iraqi government documents. Signature lines and other format elements differ from genuine procedure.

The two “oldest” documents – dated 1992 and 1993 – were actually written within the past few months, according to a chemical analysis of their ink. The newest document – dated 2003 – appears to have been written at approximately the same time.

The Telegraph documents still appear to be genuine, but they are also somewhat fuzzier about exactly what Galloway allegedly did and when he did it.

So where did the forgeries come from? And isn’t it odd that they would coincidentally be on the exact same subject as the Telegraph’s documents? As so often with supposed smoking guns in the Iraq war, I suspect this story will eventually turn out to contain less than meets the eye.

Pay to Play

PAY TO PLAY….Jim Battin is a California state senator who sits on the committee that oversees gambling issues. He is also the owner of a private consulting group and has recently begun soliciting business from Indian tribes that operate casinos.

In other words, for all practical purposes he is now both a legislator and a lobbyist all rolled up in one. Does he have a problem with that? Apparently not:

“If I felt conflicted, I would abstain,” Battin said. “I’m not interested in crossing the line.”

Honestly, my guess is that corruption and conflict of interest is no worse now than it’s ever been, but what’s different is that nobody even pretends to be ashamed of it anymore. After all, regardless of the legality of all this, don’t you think Battin would at least try to hide what he’s doing? You know, put the consulting firm in his wife’s name, or create a shell corporation that made it hard to track down? Or something?

But no. He doesn’t even seem to care. It gives “pay to play” a whole new meaning.

Social Security

SOCIAL SECURITY….Mindles Dreck has an interesting post up suggesting that Social Security isn’t really in big trouble. Why? Because we haven’t been taking into account the widespread popularity of tax deferred savings accounts (such as IRAs). When the boomers retire, they are suddenly going to have to start paying taxes on those accounts, and this will generate an extra $12 trillion that nobody’s expecting, more than enough to cover the projected shortfall.

Now, Mindles does warn that “There are so many ways I can think of to manipulate this number I’m going to remain skeptical until I’ve digested this,” and that’s probably good advice. Still, it’s an intriguing proposition and it will be interesting to see how the rest of the economics community reacts to it.

Of course, I’ve never been convinced that Social Security has any serious problems anyway. Although Medicare may be a bit tricky (since it’s tied up with the whole problem of rising medical costs in general), Social Security is pretty simple. Workers of the future will easily be able to support the Social Security retirees of the future, and the only question is how we feel like funding it. By my back-of-the-envelope calculation, for example, all we have to do is let the current $80,000 payroll tax cap gradually rise to about $300,000 or so over the next few decades and everything is taken care of without any increase in the tax rate at all. Simple. Then again, if this new study is correct, we don’t even have to do that. Even simpler.