Entitlement is a propaganda word

Conservatives who believe the world is a jungle and we all have to fend for ourselves manage government affairs in such a way as to assure that will happen. What they lack in leadership skills they make up for in propaganda, however. They love to call Social Security an "entitlement," for example, as in the phrase "people who think they are entitled to a government handout." Such whiny people don't exist except in Wikipedia footnotes (also supplied by wingnuts).

Yet everyone in Washington--liberal, neoliberal, centrist, other--uses the word entitlement when talking about Social Security. Originally it was just bloodless bureaucratese but you better believe the Fox News daily talking points memo tells the blowdried talking heads to use it.

Reality check: Social Security payments aren't something you're entitled to, they are something you own. "Paid-in" is the accurate way to describe them.

There are two federal taxes on a paycheck. One puts money in the "general fund," used for day to day operations of government. The other, confusingly called "payroll tax," funds Social Security. The latter exists off the government balance sheet (and is not part of any deficit)--it's held in trust for you and paid out when you need it.

The program has worked well for seven-plus decades but again, conservatives spread the meme that the money has been squandered and you will never get it back. Not true--Congress under Reagan (yes, that Reagan) took steps to fund the trust by raising payroll taxes and it's presently flush. The trustees regularly report on the state of the fund and disability payments are the only part where corrections are needed in the near term:

Combined trust fund assets are projected to exceed one year’s projected benefit payments for more than ten years, through to 2035. However, the Disability Insurance (DI) program satisfies neither the long-range nor short-range tests for financial adequacy. DI costs have exceeded non-interest income since 2005 and trust fund exhaustion is projected for 2018; thus changes to improve the financial status of the DI program are needed soon.

Unfortunately your president has embraced the conservative meme and just proposed lowering payroll taxes as part of his jobs package. The reduced revenue to Social Security will be replaced by IOUs from the general fund, which then makes Social Security subject to deficit-reduction theatre such as we all endured over the "debt limit crisis."

An emerging wisdom is that a Republican can't end Social Security (as Bush demonstrated) and that it will take a Democrat. Obama appointed a commission stacked with people who use the word entitlement and he is taking the first steps to ending the program.


"Mini-Maximizer" [mp3 removed -- a revised version of this track is on Bandcamp]

The percussion is mostly the Vermona DRM1 mkii; the synths mostly Reaktor (Lazerbass!). The track was inspired by watching some Vermona gear demo'd live on YT and wishing the "sequencer runs" could be more concise. One could dance to this, probably, but not for long.
"The New Kraftwerk" - Home Computer Monthly
"Not sure what this is about" - SpinCycle

Copying is good for us

Required reading (hat tip DS), especially if you are sick of copyright-owners' sanctimony about their so-called property rights, is Rebecca Tushnet's essay for the Yale Law Journal, "Copy This Essay: How Fair Use Doctrine Harms Free Speech and How Copying Serves It," [PDF]

In a free society private rights are always balanced against the public good, and Tushnet gives some solid reasons for straight-up, non-transformative copying, which courts are increasingly calling "stealing." Examples include:

--copying that promotes democracy by "literally putting information in citizens hands" (for example, speeches, textbook histories, the New York Times' publication of the Pentagon Papers) (pp. 564-565)
--copying for self-expression (using the most apt words to explain and define beliefs, such as the full text of a poem, or "cover versions" of songs) (pp. 546, 568)
--copying for persuasion (using the best words to reach a particular audience, such as MLK's oft-copied "I Have a Dream" speech which itself contains much copied language), (pp. 546, 574)
--copying for participation and affirmation (e.g., the words of a religious ceremony or political oath that must be exact and repeated by everyone in a group) (pp. 546, 578)
--even something as mundane as making a mix CD is participatory and "requires judgment about value and meaning" (p. 545)

She couches these examples of copying as freedoms under the First Amendment of the US Constitution and makes no apology that they are fundamentally, irreconcilably opposed to copyright protection schemes. She offers no solutions but is concerned that the balancing tests under the "fair use" exceptions to copyright (which take First Amendment concerns into consideration along with many other issues), are increasingly focused on whether the copy "transforms" the original in some way, when there are plenty of other reasons why straight copying is still necessary and valid.

But isn't the First Amendment just concerned with political speech? First Amendment rights have been defined over years of judicial decisionmaking and according to Tushnet, can be interpreted to include "protecting political speech, promoting democracy or self-government, furthering the search for truth, or enhancing autonomy and enabling self-expression." (p. 538)

This is important to keep in mind as more and more cases are decided requiring "transformation" of words, pictures, or sounds to avoid infringement. These cases are increasingly stacked in favor of copyright holders who can afford to litigate. One sampling case said that the use of the tiniest sample doesn't even have to be recognizable to be infringing! (Bridgeport Music vs Dimension Films, 2004 WL 1960167) Tushnet argues that these balancing-test, fair-use-based, apparently fair decisions are having the deleterious effect of narrowing the scope of First Amendment rights even though they aren't decided on pure First Amendment grounds. Her essay makes a vigorous case for "straight copying" as a basic right in danger of vanishing.

When we hear about decisions like Bridgeport, we tend to think, "well, there's law and then there's what's moral and ethical--clearly copyright has gone off the rails." Tushnet gives us some "rails" to counter the self-righteous arguments of copyright thugs. The First Amendment protects us against their predations whatever they might say, be able to argue in court, or get written into law in the form of onerous statutes.