October 15, 2003


Writer's note: Partial retraction on my above commentary about Ed Asner (Kevin McCullough, World Net Daily)

In my WorldNetDaily column, I incorrectly quoted both myself and actor Edward Asner near the end of the column. The lack of accuracy occurred because I did not wait to review the audio of the media session in which Mr. Asner and I interacted. To date, I still have not personally reviewed the audio, but have made multiple good faith efforts to obtain it. I will not only review it upon receipt but also play the actual audio on my radio show so as to communicate the quote correctly in all formats.

Upon reflection, I should have waited for the original audio so as to quote the parties involved as accurately as possible. Fairness and truth are what I am in constant search of and, therefore, when I am wrong I should be the first to admit such shortcomings. I do apologize to Mr. Asner for use of the inaccurate quotes regarding Joseph Stalin.

What follows is what I have been told are the actual quotes on the audio recording:

McCullough: "If you could portray an historical biography and you had an unlimited budget, unlimited support cast and everything you could ask for, who would it be?"

Asner: "Well, you know something, they've played Hitler, nobody has ever really touched Stalin, it just occurred to me. It's not because I am a liberal or anything like that. Stalin is one big damn mystery, I wonder why nobody has tried it? Many people, you know, speak of the fact that he killed more people than Hitler – why does nobody touch him? It's strange. So, and he was about my size, my height – with a wig I probably could do it."

We ran a blurb about the original version last week, but it seems Mr. McCullough must have written up what he heard in the context he heard it, rather than precisely. It's hard to imagine what Mr. Asner finds mysterious about Joe Stalin [see, for instance, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (Alan Bullock)], but we'll give him some benefit of the doubt that wanting to play a short Leftist mass-murderer isn't simply wish fulfillment, nor the desire to shriek out "Smash the forces of Reaction!". Our apologies if we misled anyone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 15, 2003 5:29 PM

Stalin is certainly a mystery to me.

After all, he didn't kill all those people with his bare hands. What were the others thinking?

On a lower level, why did the Stalinists cling to their economic beliefs so fervently in the teeth of the evidence? Well, we know why, the same reason Creationists do, but still, it requires explanation, and I've never seen any that satisfies.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 15, 2003 5:47 PM

Weren't you saying just the other day that the New Deal would have worked if only it had been given a chance?

Posted by: OJ at October 15, 2003 5:50 PM

Set aside the moral abomination of even hinting that he has any merit, and I'll stick with the Hollywood history.

Robert Duvall DID play Stalin in an HBO movie. Did rather well, too. Covered his family life, the murder of Sergei Kirov, I'm trying to remember how it covered the murders, but I don't remember it either playing them up or papering them over.

But it has been done, there, Ed.

Posted by: Andrew X at October 15, 2003 6:41 PM

The New Deal did work for the short time it was tried, and the boom that was set off after the war was just what Moley and Tugwell had recommended in 1933.

What requires explaining on this side of the world is how what I will, for lack of af better term, call neo-cons can continue demanding a return to the conditions that collapsed the economy in the 1920s.

Anyhow, if I ever am going to get a good explanation of Stalinism, it won't be from a movie.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 15, 2003 9:36 PM

The neocons are recommending tight money?

Posted by: OJ at October 16, 2003 12:40 AM


Enlightening comment/question. Why would Stalinists/Marxists/Leninists/Statists in general stick with an economic or social program that is obviously deficient?

Simple answer is because it all seems so rational or logical. It's the story of intellectualism in its various forms. If only the right people were in charge. The deceptive but tempting rationale for power. The greatest attribute of the US constitutional system is the simple fact that the founders anticipated this human capability for self-deception and the abuse of power by limiting power thus the damage that the rationalist in power is capable of inflicting on his innocent countrymen. Stalin was a materialist as has all the 20th century tyrants. Their systems were all based on what they believed was a scientific rationalism. Only in retrospect has it become obvious just how demented they all were/are. The so-called conservatives you speak about, i.e. Reagan, etc. were correct about communism/socialism and the other statisms. FDR and his brain trusters, the modern Democratic party and the left and the other American statists were and still are wrong.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at October 16, 2003 10:02 AM

No one here has yet explicitly stated that the New Deal "failed," although Tom C. claims that FDR and his "brain trusters" were "wrong." I still feel the need to point out one inconvenient fact, a fact that is implicit in any comparison of poverty rates among the elderly (along with various other indices of health and welfare) before and after the New Deal. The change is dramatic. There is a bit more than simple selfishness behind the powerful political support for Social Security; the elderly know what the program has done for them. So should you.

I can predict the inevitable responses, to the effect that Social Security is somehow "broken" or about to go bankrupt. The math, unfortunately, is not as simple as the privatizers would have it; the most generous calculations have shown that it would take roughly 2% of GDP to keep Social Security solvent through 2050 and beyond, with less needed once the baby boomers have (to put it indelicately) died off. Just some food for thought.

Posted by: M. Bulger at October 16, 2003 3:46 PM

Well, Orrin has labeled the New Deal a failure many times. This seems hard cheese for the New Deal, which was tried only for a few months and showed good early results.

Which brings us back to the USSR in the 1920s. The Soviets went in with a theory, which was not working out. So they adopted, in depseration, the NEP, which worked fairly well. As soon as possible, the dumped it and shot Bukharin. In other words, absent the shooting, they acted exactly like conservative Republicans in the 1930s.

Is this a mystery. Well, I can observe it. I just cannot explain it.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 16, 2003 3:53 PM

M. Bulger:

It is projected that, by 2025, there will be approximately 2 workers for every retiree. Today, the average wage is around $34,000/yr, and under current SS guidelines, that person would be eligible for roughly $15,000/yr in SS payments, once retired. Thus, in 2025, keeping SS solvent would require 20% of every worker's gross earnings, all else being equal.
However, the burden on Medicare will expand far faster than on SS. The National Center for Policy Analysis projects that by 2030, SS and Medicare expenditures will consume 36% of Federal Income tax revenues, in addition to current payroll tax revenues.
These projections are based on moderate increases in medical costs, as well as on current mortality tables. As it's virtually certain that the rate of mortality will drop, these estimates actually understate the challenge.
Privatization merely lessens the burden to future workers, and increases the benefits to future retirees.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 17, 2003 2:10 AM

How could they maintain the NEP without nullifying Leninism? The idea/dream of utopian socialism/communism is the point. Conspiracies and such are the reasons cited for its disasterous results, never the faulty reasoning of intellectuals.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at October 17, 2003 9:49 AM


We should leave Medicare out of this. Spiralling costs for Medicare parallel spiralling medical costs in the U.S. in general. The problem is not with Medicare, but with health care per se.

As for privatization, the big obfuscation here is where current and near-future retirees will be left once some proportion of payroll taxes are diverted into private spending accounts. Republican math demands that we send millions of current retirees into poverty before the presumed benefits of privatization start coming into play. There is, however, a drastically increased risk associated with privatization, which the recent batch of corporate accounting scandals made rather clear to a number of Americans. Hence the low profile that privatization schemes have had for the past year or two. The unreliability of private pension schemes was one of the major reasons for poverty among the elderly prior to the advent of Social Security, and understandably also a major justification for the original approval of the program.

As for your other SS math, these sorts of figures have been thoroughly debunked more often than they needed to be (http://www.epinet.org/content.cfm?id=904 is one example I can come up with in a minute's search). As I said originally, 2% of GDP per year is all that is required to keep the books in order.

Posted by: M. Bulger at October 17, 2003 12:08 PM


Of course the government is the problem with Medicare--that which government pays for costs more: public schools, college, medical, etc.

Posted by: oj at October 17, 2003 12:40 PM

I'm a little baffled by your examples, OJ. Do public schools cost more than private ones? Is the cost per student less at private than at publicly funded colleges? I confess I don't have the figures at hand, but I would be greatly surprised. I always thought the conservative arguments had more to do with the _content_ of publicly funded education, and with its quality.

There is an argument that a government-run single-payer health insurance system would, by virtue of bargaining power alone, significantly reduce medical costs in this country. I am unsure as to the ultimate validity of this argument, but the U.S. does have higher per capita healthcare costs than any other industrialized nation, and this despite measurements of public health (longevity, viable births, etc.) that lag behind most Western nations. The major difference: the U.S. is the only one without a single-payer system. There are other factors that come into play in such comparisons, but I fail to see how government funding equals higher costs. There are very few examples of privatization followed by decreases in costs.

Posted by: M. Bulger at October 17, 2003 2:51 PM

Yes, public education spending per pupil is spectacularly higher than for parochial school pupils. Conservatives have problems with spending so much more money and ending up with less well-educated kids.

The major difference health wise is, of course, that the U.S. has about a 10% black population as opposed to the homogenously white European populations of those other nations. Socialized health is less expensive though because you're simply denied services. If you're Canadian and you need something as basic as a CAT scan you have to go get it done in the States. If you want a transplant, forget it.

Posted by: oj at October 17, 2003 3:01 PM

Gee, Tom, I don't know how they could have kept NEP just because it was working? How could Reagan accept the biggest deficits in history without giving up Republicanism?

It wasn't Democrats screaming for a balanced budget amendment.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 17, 2003 3:54 PM


Reagan did give up classic Republicanism. He opposed tarrifs too, which had been the key to the party for most of its dominance.

Posted by: oj at October 17, 2003 4:27 PM


If you don't believe that NEP was in direct conflict with Marxist/Leninist ideology and that the only important criteria for Soviet government was ideological purity except as temporary modification then you don't really understand the problem. These were not politicians trying to serve human constituents but rationalist materialists trying to remake the world through the denial of human nature. Feeding the cities and the bureacrats who resided there was the goal. The forced industrialization policies that you so admire could then proceed. The wonderful array of Soviet made consumer products and the efficient distribution of necessities are all the evidence I need for the success of their rational economic policies. NEP was a band-aid and quickly abandoned. It was Leninist desperation, pure and simple.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at October 18, 2003 9:30 AM

M. Bulger:

Well, if you don't like possibly debunk-able projections, then here are some projections and facts that almost everyone can agree on:

* People are living longer, and the trend is likely to continue.

* SS payments are made with current tax revenues.

* Gen X and Y are smaller in numbers than the retiring Boomers.

* There is considerable resistance to raising the retirement age, or decreasing benefits.

Therefore, we'll have fewer workers directly paying the pension benefits of more retirees, who will be drawing payments for far longer than any previously retired generation.
In fact, the bulk of Boomers will still be around when the Xers start theoretically being eligible for SS retirement benefits, based on current rules.
The wage and benefit figures in my above post were drawn directly from gov't sources. If you accept that the wage/benefit ratio is likely to remain constant, the burden of SS payments will DOUBLE by 2030.

That's what I'd like to avoid.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 18, 2003 6:28 PM

As to privatization of SS accounts:

Of course, no current or near-future retiree will have their benefits changed.
That DOES mean that there will be a short-term cost associated with privatization, as the SS "Trust" Fund, that despicable Ponzi scheme, becomes a cost to the gov't, instead of a profit center.

First, privatization will likely cover only a small part of the mandated contribution, with the rest being handled in the current manner.
Next, it's unlikely that privatization will take the form of an IRA-like freedom. I expect that there will instead be three to six choices of varying risk and profit potential, including a Treasury paper fund, for those who prefer the unreformed system, similar to many 401(k) plans.
I further expect that account holders will pay a small premium to cover "gap" insurance, which will pay the difference between some minimum benefit and the value of one's account, should withdrawals be made in a down market.

Should these reforms be undertaken, future retirees will enjoy larger pension payments, (on average), and the cost to taxpayers will be reduced. Everybody benefits.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 18, 2003 6:48 PM
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