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Copyright © 2005 Frank Lynch.

 

 

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Tuesday, January 11, 2005:

The sky is falling RIGHT NOW!! Josh Marshall highlighted an interactive exchange on the White House web site between " Chuck Blahous, President Bush's Social Security phase-out maven" and various citizens. Josh catches much, of course, but I think I also see something else... Read his whole post, but let me narrow in on this Blahous statement (italics Josh's):

As long as we have a Social Security system, there will be costs no matter what we do. The Social Security Trustees have told us the cost of maintaining the current system without change. It is approximately $10.4 trillion, in present value. That is the extra revenue that the system would need to have on hand today, above and beyond all payroll taxes, to meet the gap between taxes and promised benefits.

Josh clearly catches the dishonesty of the $10.4 trillion figure — it's the present value of a projection that goes out for an infinite number of years, which has never been done before. (In the past, the projections have never looked out more than 75 years; actuaries have no faith in anything beyond that.)

But that's not where the dishonesty ends: notice "would need to have on hand today." That is a flat out lie, because the only way we would need to have it on hand today would be if all those future obligations were due today. They're not: some of them don't happen for an infinite number of years, for instance. (UPDATE: Josh does see this, I wasn't reading clearly.)

But Josh's point remains, it's amazing the lengths to which the White House will go in order to alarm the populace. Why can't they get this excited about global warming?
Link | | 6:38 PM Home


Just goes to show how desperate they're getting. David Brooks, in today's New York Times:

Is there any way this can still work? Is there any plausible scenario for how Iraq can turn into a functioning society?

These are the questions I've been throwing at government officials, military analysts and other wise heads over the past few weeks. Their answers, both uplifting and depressing, suggest that if we are lucky, the near future in Iraq will come in three phases.

Phase 1: The Bloody Campaign Nearly everybody agrees that the momentum is with the insurgents these days.

Scott McClellan, back on December 2, repeating a familiar theme:

There are challenges that remain, but the terrorists and the Saddam loyalists are being defeated and they will be defeated in the end. They're growing more desperate because we're getting closer and closer to a free and democratic Iraq.

Now let's be clear, I don't want anarchy to succeed in Iraq; no one would, and for the short term it's costing us American lives. What I really want, along with a lot of other patriotic Americans, is for the White House to wake up and start facing realities. No more of this crap of "good news only briefings;" no more campaign trail braggadocio about democracy being on the march when the CIA has given you prognostications of nothing but dark scenarios. (Even David Brooks can see it, which is why I led with his paragraphs.)

Who in the White House is going to have the spine to stop telling him what he wants to hear? Failure to do so is costing American lives. If you denizens of the WH really support the troops, you'd be doing this on a daily basis.
Link | | 4:12 PM Home


Osama.

The two freed French journalists:

The two French journalists released by kidnappers in Iraq last month have told the BBC that their captors supported the goals of Osama Bin Laden.

"We realised they had a jihadist [Islamic holy war] agenda," said one of the ex-hostages, Georges Malbrunot.

Speaking on the BBC's Hardtalk programme, he said one gunman had told him: "We have to bring the fight to Europe... we're in 60 countries now".

They were held by a group called the Islamic Army in Iraq (IAI).

Mr Malbrunot's colleague, journalist Christian Chesnot, said one of the "jihadists" had told them that the IAI was "very close" to al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

And of course, our President, in March of 2002:

[T]he idea of focusing on one person is -- really indicates to me people don't understand the scope of the mission.

Terror is bigger than one person. And he's just -- he's a person who's now been marginalized. His network, his host government has been destroyed. He's the ultimate parasite who found weakness, exploited it, and met his match. He is -- as I mentioned in my speech, I do mention the fact that this is a fellow who is willing to commit youngsters to their death and he, himself, tries to hide -- if, in fact, he's hiding at all.

So I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him, Kelly, to be honest with you. I'm more worried about making sure that our soldiers are well-supplied; that the strategy is clear; that the coalition is strong; that when we find enemy bunched up like we did in Shahikot Mountains, that the military has all the support it needs to go in and do the job, which they did.

So, in order to justify not focusing on OBL, I guess he's kinda saying he can point to progress in other areas. Like, making sure our soldiers are well-supplied(!) or that the coalition is strong (read below about Ukraine, the fourth biggest supplier of troops, if you haven't already).

"We're in 60 countries now." Man.
Link | | 1:19 PM Home


Exactly what principle is being talked about? Did Scott McClellan say that the White House believes it should put journalists on the payroll when they don't feel their perspective on the issues is coming through? This is what he said yesterday regarding Armstrong Williams:

Q How many journalists does the administration have on its -- under contract to promote its programs? And what are the guidelines that you spoke of earlier this morning? You were very vague, and I'd like to know what they are.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not aware of any others that are under contract other than the one that's been reported on in the media. And questions have been raised about that arrangement. It ought to be looked into, and there are ways to look into matters of that nature. As a matter of principle, we believe very strongly that the media ought to be reporting in an objective, unbiased and fair manner. And so that's the principle upon which we believe people should be guided. And the government certainly has a responsibility to help when it comes to providing accurate information and helping to adhere to that principle.

Man, if it weren't for the White House straightening out those liberally biased facts, we'd be in a heap a trouble. (Al Franken was playing this passage, but I don't think this was his interpretation. I think Franken was just talking about the hypocrisy of McClellan citing principle when they had a journalist on the payroll, and didn't see that to the White House this is a principle.)
Link | | 12:51 PM Home


"Those Libs." For Social Security privatization to succeed, Bush has to convince the nation that the desire for reform is bi-partisan, otherwise it will be greeted with great suspicion. So I was surprised when I watched a pro-reform ad from Progress For America and went to their web site to find out more about them. The "Who We Are" tab didn't say much about who runs the group...

Progress for America, Inc. ("PFA") is a diverse coalition of concerned citizens, businesses, nonprofit organizations and community leaders who promote public policies that improve the lives of every American. PFA promotes nonpartisan policies that stimulate the economy, reduce tax burdens on American families and businesses, and encourage free trade. These policies create more jobs for American workers, more exports for American farmers, and higher living standards for American families. PFA also promotes policies that reform and improve education, and market-based reforms for the nation's energy policy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

but they have a pretty blatantly partisan tab in their navigation, "Those Libs:"

Organizations such as The Sierra Club, the labor unions and Hollywood big-wigs have been engaging in efforts that would impose their tax and spend beliefs on America. According to media reports, they are amassing resources to coordinate "a massive get-out-the-vote operation to defeat George W. Bush in 2004."

Keep an eye on their activities by clicking below...

Nothing more recent than July 2 listed "below." Personally, I find it really inept that an organization would launch a new television campaign, giving prominence to its web site, and then not make sure that the web site is dust-free. The page is pretty much about last November's election. Clowns.
Link | | 12:14 PM Home


Screw your Homeland Security allocations, we're having ourselves a party. Unlike previous inaugurations, the Bush administration is refusing to reimburse Washington DC for the expected security costs surrounding the inauguration, and has told the city to use Homeland Security moneys instead. These moneys had been earmarked for first response issues like hospital capacity, fire fighters, and communication centers. What if there had been no terrorist attacks on 9/11? Would the White House still be so niggardly (actually, it's more like they're shirking), or are they finding yet another way to capitalize on the attacks? They're really sick.
Link | | 11:30 AM Home

Monday, January 10, 2005:

Did Bush forget Ukraine? Kerry may have forgotten Poland, but it looks as if Bush hasn't given enough thought to the international implications of his foreign policy failures. Ukraine wants to bring its troops home, thus eroding the highly vaunted "coalition of the willing" even further. Doubtless they can read the Internet in the Ukraine, too, and that bit about Bush only wanting good news in his briefings wouldn't have helped retain them. Can't we have a recall, please?
Link | 5:19 PM Home


That didn't take long. Tucker Carlson is no longer listed as a host for Crossfire at the CNN page. I hadn't thought his contract had actually ended so much as non-renewal had been announced; maybe it was just too unpleasant to stick around. But his page is gone, too, not just the link: trying to hack a url based on the syntax of the other hosts' pages gets you nowhere.
Link | 4:18 PM Home


Liar. Armstrong Williams just finished an interactive session at the Washington Post, provoked by Friday's revelations that he was receiving money from the administration (through Ketchum, its PR agency), to promote No Child Left Behind. Here's some of what transpired:

Gaithersburg, Md.: Mr. Williams,

How would you compare and contrast your "paid" relationship/situation with that of Rev. Al Sharpton and his "paid" relationship/situation with the Kerry campaign?

Armstrong Williams: Mine is legitimate paid advertising to my production company and it is strictly for ad buys and commercial time. It's not pocketed by me.

Hmm. The money isn't pocketed by you? Do you not own "your" production company? None of the money went to you, yourself, directly or indirectly? Uh huh. Why, earlier in the session you said...

I'm an entrepreneur and a pundit and I made a decision to let No Child Left Behind buy advertising on my television show The Right Side, which I own.

So, I'm just wondering, again, how you differentiate yourself from Al Sharpton again? Can you clarify that?
Link | 1:16 PM Home


I propose a constitutional amendment. Since Bush can speak out on behalf of a half-dozen or so, I don't see why I can't suggest one. It would be a two-fer, impacting the Presidency: on the one hand, it would repeal Presidential term limits and on the other hand it would allow for a no-confidence recall vote. (If Californians can initiate a recall before a governor's term even begins, why can't we do the same with the President?)

The advantage, of course, would be that a President would never really feel like a lame duck who no longer had to consider the will of the people or poor approval ratings. Talk about "mandates" in instances of razor-thin victories would be replaced by a spirit of compromise. Heck, maybe even reality would set in about Iraq (it's looking worse for those January 30 elections, by the way, with the entire election board in Anbar province resigning in fear of the terrorist insurgents), and the recognition that the bed we've made smells pretty foul.

Some might argue — from a perspective of partisanship — that it might make a President more vulnerable to scandals over trivial sexual dalliances. Well, would it be such a bad thing to encourage a President to practice marital fidelity? Seriously, I do understand the concern that the potential of a recall vote could make a President vulnerable to the trivial, but we all know, from what Clinton went through, that the impeachment process isn't above that either.

If the public would be more swayed by trivia than by poor job performance, well, that's a risk I'd be willing to take. The populace should have some vehicle to repudiate a President who reveals himself to be a screw-up, without waiting four years.
Link | 9:34 AM Home

Sunday, January 9, 2005:

Will James Wolcott leave Vanity Fair? It could be serious: he really really wants to write about No Child Left Behind. (This is one of the most preciously funny bits I've read since Kevin Guilfoile's reinterpretation of Don McLean's Starry Starry Night.
Link | 9:17 PM Home


Disregard the truth. Given the long term implications of changes to Social Security, there's few debates in Washington which are more important. And because of its importance, careful consideration of the facts is, well, mandatory. Rhetoric should have no place in this debate.

That's why I was surprised to read a post from Patrick Ruffini lead with incendiary language, as if that helps shed light on anything. Before any facts are discussed, it's barb after barb after barb, all meant to rile his readers:

In the last few weeks, the Democratic strategy to distort the truth about personal accounts has congealed. Here's what they're going to do. They're going to claim that Social Security's solvency crisis is no more than a "myth", a ruse for the Republicans "hidden agenda" to "dismantle" the program. They're going to ignore the mathematical certainty that a relatively static number of workers cannot indefinitely support a mushrooming number of retirees. And as the White House official (on blogs, we attribute correctly) adeptly points out, this certainty is compounded by the wage indexation of benefits -- meaning that no matter how quickly tax revenues grow, benefits will grow just as fast, making it impossible for traditional Social Security to ever close this funding gap.

Well, it couldn't be clearer but that Bush is interested in dismantling Social Security as we know it: allowing workers to divert 65% of their contributions into the stock market, given its erratic ups and downs, is a fundamental transformation from guarantees to risk. It's also not true that the increasing number of retirees which we see right now is a permanent fixture; there is a demographic bubble (that's why they call it a "boom"), but "indefinite" has never been a useable time horizon. (In the indefinite future, the sun will go cold, too; what's the Republican plan on this one? I'd do something about farm subsidies, myself.) The time horizon which has traditionally been used is 75 years, and it's only recently been abandoned in order to make the numbers appear dire.

Note also that he doesn't get into the specifics of the very substantial charges that the "crisis" is a myth: no mention of Paul Krugman's columns in the past few weeks, nor arguments against them. By not discussing solid arguments at all, he's at leisure to call them mere bugaboos and pretend that they are.

There is also that very myopic statement that "no matter how quickly tax revenues grow, benefits will grow just as fast, making it impossible for traditional Social Security to ever close this funding gap." There are plenty of ways to increase tax revenues without relying on increases in workers' income to do so, such as raising the cap at which social security taxes are no longer taken out. How many people really set their monthly budgets in accordance with a shift in disposable income at the end of the year when they pass the cap?

Having said that, he proceeds:

But let's leave aside the question of solvency. The bottom line of this whole debate remains that modernizing Social Security with personal accounts is the right thing to do. Even if Social Security were perfectly solvent, it would still be the right thing to do.

I've truncated his paragraph deliberately, first because this is where he switches ideas and it doesn't hurt the discussion, and second because it's not clear to me that it is the right thing to do. I happen to think Social Security works very well: it's not a program where you take care of yourself, but a program where you help out those who have gone before you. It's like a debt to society, part of living in a great community. Personally, I don't think that transforming the program from something where we take care of our elders into something where we take care of ourselves will have a positive benefit on our culture. Maybe it's a cultural thing, but I happen to think we should look after one another. But, Ruffini seems to know what's right for the planet, and so maybe we should get back to what he was saying...

You accuse us of having a "hidden agenda." Let's spell out in clear terms of what that "hidden agenda" actually is.

The status quo that Democrats are so desperately defending is this: an average benefit of that's a paltry $926 a month, $11,112 a year. Seventy years of New Deal largesse, and this is the best you can do for seniors with no other retirement savings? The opportunity to make life dramatically better through significantly higher Social Security benefits lies before us, and your "solution" is simply to postpone doom?

Fiscal realities aside, that's a choice that's morally indefensible.

Well, perhaps it's morally indefensible if you can't defend it, but if you can, I presume that it ceases to be morally indefensible and at that point becomes morally defensible, taking it to a different terrain. So let's talk about a word he kind of glides over, "opportunity." Opportunity is like hope: it needs to be made substantial before it is anything close to a reality, and if it is not substantiated it's a fraud, an idle dream. It is true that an opportunity exists; and it may even be true that on average benefits will increase; but Social Security is not about taking care of a subset of the elderly or improving life for the subset, it's about guaranteeing security. Guarantee means no risk, and no risk means no stock market. In at least one case the stock market underperformed Social Security. How many cases do we need, how great a possibility of deprivation do we need before privatization becomes morally indefensible? Again, "opportunity" should not be the criterion in my view; nor should "average benefits;" the point is Security, that is, No Senior Left Behind.

(As an aside, how would you even determine how much to draw on per month in a privatized situation? How do you know how long you're going to live when you're a senior? What happens when the money in your "privatized account" runs out? Do you revert to the guaranteed benefit which Ruffini spits on? How can you recommend privatization without working through these details, much less be so adamant about it?)

Ruffini's arguments boil down to a predisposition, as do mine. We have different views of what the program should do, and his view does amount to a dismantling of the program because it fundamentally transforms how it works. He says what his agenda is, it's not hidden, and he doesn't like Social Security.

(Thanks to Phoenix Woman for the Christian Science Monitor reference.)
Link | 4:53 PM Home


Armstrong Williams and Samuel Johnson. My weekly essay springing from a Johnson quote, cut and pasted here for your benefit, no clicking required...

Of the innumerable authors whose performances are thus treasured up in magnificent obscurity [ed: in a library], most are forgotten, because they never deserved to be remembered, and owed the honours which they once obtained, not to judgment or to genius, to labour or to art, but to the prejudice of faction, the strategems of intrigue, or the servility of adulation. Nothing is more common than to find men, whose works are now totally neglected, mentioned with praises by their contemporaries as the oracles of their age, and the legislators of science.
  — Samuel Johnson: Rambler #106


Those who know the famous stories about Samuel Johnson know that he had little patience for "state hirelings," as he defined those were on the government pensions of his time — even considering them treasonous for letting money corrupt their sense of what was best for the country. The news that commentator Armstrong Williams has received nearly a quarter million dollars of taxpayer money to promote a Bush program, without any disclosure of the relationship to his audience, smacks of just the kind of corruption which Robert Walpole was known for and Johnson railed against.

Williams has claimed that he supported the policies even without compensation for coverage, but in a fit of utter hypocrisy he questioned Richard Clarke's motives surrounding 9/11 because "he's out selling books," during an appearance on CNN. The money may not have affected his opinions towards the specific policy they wanted him to promote, but it could very well have made him think more fondly of his patron, and other policies as a result.

It's a horrible abuse of the public trust, of course: people have a right to know when they're being advertised to. And the list of those who could be negatively effected doesn't end with the audience or Armstrong himself: other African-American conservative commentators may also have their sincerity questioned, as well as conservative commentators in general; liberal commentators, too, may be greeted with skepticism if the public imagines wealthy liberal philanthropists plying their pockets. Perhaps the only party which won't be affected is the government itself: the administration was already known for distributing PR videos disguised as news, and the people who learn about Armstrong Williams' devious relationship will likely already have heard about the PR videos.

But Armstrong Williams is now officially welcome to the obscurity offered by a library; he's already lost the syndication contract for his columns, and hopefully will soon be consigned to history's dust-heap. He's truly done a great disservice to his career, his industry, and now the program he believed in, for the renewed skepticism.

Just in case I don't post much more today.
Link | | 1:08 PM Home


Armstrong Williams, the quarter million dollar man, on discussing Richard Clarke's motives regarding 9/11 disclosures:

I refuse to believe that this president or any president, including former President Clinton, could have avoided what happened on 9/11. It happened.

Mr. Clarke is out selling books. I find it interesting the very timing of his telling this information.

Regarding the "timing," this discussion was in March of 2004, not just before the election (perhaps there should have been twelve-month moratoria on criticizing the president? one starting on 9/11, another at the beginning of the Iraqi invasion, and another leading up to the election?), but the utter hypocrisy of this guy, to criticize a very public book deal when he himself had been on the government payroll starting in 2003!
Link | 12:35 PM Home


I wish I could translate Czech. But the picture is worth a look nonetheless. Be the first in your neighborhood!
Link | 9:48 AM Home

Saturday, January 8, 2005:

Programming note. As I mentioned earlier, today we take the Christmas Tree down; I've brought all the empty boxes up from the basement, and as soon as the rest of the family returns from morning errands and we start the disassembly, I'll be live blogging the whole thing: the whines, the "aahs," the holiday music selections. So stay tuned. (Just kidding. Heh.)
Link | 11:39 AM Home


I saw my first Russel Crowe movie last night, Master and Commander. Of the three of us, I liked it most, and found it striking, but I don't think I really embraced the movie. I'd agree it was better than Return of the King, but I think it was less rousing. What I'd really like to know is this: why is it, that whenever a soundtrack wants to invoke the Bach Cello Suites, they always use the prelude from number 1? There are plenty others just as melodious, moody, and yet more interesting... That movement just seems like a little warm-up before you get to the real goods.
Link | 11:32 AM Home


I couldn't be happier about the news that the New York Times is considering subscription fees for its online edition. Count me among the radical loonies who believe that people should be financially compensated for their work, whether or not they "love doing it." If it has value, then the people who want to capitalize on that value should surrender something in return.

If the New York Times wants to charge, that's great. (If I recall, in Being Digital, Nicholas Negroponte expressed surprise that the Times would give its most valuable content — current news and opinion — away for free, while charging for its old information.) I really think that the Times will be a bellwether here, and I look forward to all newspapers charging for their access. There will certainly be a loss in traffic, but so what? Is traffic so important? A corporation has to turn a profit, or its investors will invest elsewhere. Why should the newsmedia bear any special burden?

The Times' content may not be so unique that, for the short term, traffic won't go to other outlets as The Moderate Voice predicts. But it's the long term that counts, and I think other outlets will start to look for the same revenue streams. I also have to admit to some selfishness here, but I don't think it's unjustified: my Samuel Johnson content gets a lot of traffic, and it's the rare visitor that puts anything in the tip jar. For a site like mine, subscription would never work (subscriptions require significant site loyalty and return traffic, something my site just doesn't have the nature to deliver), but it really is time that people on the Internet learned that everything needn't be free. (As I've said before, information doesn't want to be free, it wants to be inert; it takes effort to move it.)

And yes, I would pay for the Times. I've told them so in the past (perhaps $100 a year). And I also pay for Salon and Consumer Reports.
Link | 10:59 AM Home


I feel bad for anyone who, at this point, believes the Bush Administration is interested in small government. Yesterday's revelations that commentator Armstrong Williams works for the politburo are another piece of evidence that the Bush administration is really only striving for "government we like." The Administration taking advantage of Williams' insensitivity to his ethical responsibilities is fully in keeping with the videos which the department of Health and Human Services sent out, in the guise of a news segment, to promote the revamped Medicare program. These are clearly the kind of lumbering propaganda projects one would expect from the Soviet Union, as noted by a number of Senators. How long before we learn of smoking guns over the Swift Boat Veterans, when some operative has had a little too much to drink?

But we had Michael Powell and the FCC intervening over Janet Jackson, at the urging of an astroturf campaign, yet ignoring the political interventions of Sinclair Broadcasting Group; continued efforts by the President to limit a woman's right to choose, implicitly targeting Roe v. Wade; efforts to restrict the equality of gays; converting Social Security into a negative payback slush fund that enriches Wall Street and smarter, more active investors.

Small government? Not for a nanno-second.
Link | 9:52 AM Home


It looks like my site's host's problems have been resolved, so the world can go back to learning about patriotism and the last refuge of scoundrels, and so on. And I can also post here, confident that my typing and thinking will be of some value. But today will be a busy day around the house (taking the Christmas tree down, among other things), so posting may be light. I'll say it again, I encourage you to set up an RSS feed reader using either any built-in capabilities for your browser or an account at bloglines.com. More details here.
Link | 9:19 AM Home

Friday, January 7, 2005:

If you see this post in a timely fashion, consider yourself lucky. My host has been having technical problems for the last few hours, and it's not clear when they'll abate. And I'm bummed, because the stars aligned to bring me some extra traffic today. (Photo Friday is using the theme Silhouette starting today, at my suggestion, with a very prominent link to the front page of this blog.) I coulda been a contenda.
Link | 2:50 PM Home


The jobs glass is mostly half empty. The jobs report for December is out, and while it's better than November's, it falls way short of Wall Street explanations. Job growth for the year is also way short of the President's own projections made this year (so don't blame the brief 2001 recession or 9/11: those events occurred long before the projections were made and were taken into account); the tax breaks have not only not delivered the promised growth, but they've caused further deficits; these deficits have, in turn, caused the government to dip into the Social Security trust fund. And because the government wants to continue dipping into the Social Security Trust Fund, the Administration is claiming that Social Security is "in crisis."

Now, the details.

From the New York Times, emphases mine:

The economy added 157,000 payroll jobs in December, the Labor Department said this morning, fewer than economists had been predicting, but an improvement over the economy's performance the month before.

The overall unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.4 percent.

The figures for December come after two months of sharp swings in employment trends. For October, the Labor Department reported an increase of 337,000 jobs, a surge that far exceeded expectations. For November, the department had originally reported an anemic 112,000 jobs, but that figure was revised today up to 137,000.

Economists interviewed this morning called the December results positive and said they gave a picture of modest growth. But some of them expressed concern about figures indicating that the increase in jobs was not translating into increases in wages, which rose by .1 percent in December, rather than the .2 percent that had been forecast.

Where were we supposed to be by this point? This past February, W signed an economic forecast which projected we'd have 132.7 million non-farm jobs by the end of the year (see page 103 in the electronic copy of the pdf, or page 98 if you print it out). The Department of Labor press release says by the end of December we had 132.3 million; the shortfall (about 440,000 jobs) may not seem like much, but it's more than three months worth of growth, based on the December figures. (This shortfall should also make you skeptical of the projected 2005 jobs increase, another 3.6 million jobs — we'd only been promised 1.6 million more in 2004, so 3.6 million more is double. Sanguine, no?) I repeat: you cannot blame the shortfall on the events of 2001, since the projections were done in 2004. You may as well blame the policies of Jimmy Carter.

Now the President has repeatedly said that the tax breaks he campaigned for would create growth. Where is it? Certainly not in the jobs figures. And, as noted above, it's not in wage increases, either. All the tax breaks have really done, it seems, is increase the budget deficit. So due to the increased deficit, our children are paying for this miserable failure of an economic plan; and if you're not seeing the raises you've been accustomed to in the past, or are having trouble finding a job, so are you.

UPDATE: The most recent inflation data (Consumer Price Index for November) showed a 0.2% increase in the CPI. So if wages in December only went up 0.1%... Well, they haven't really gone up, have they?
Link | 10:40 AM Home

Thursday, January 6, 2005:

Gonzalez must be rejected. Alberto Gonzalez's past positions as well as his statements today show he's the wrong man for the highest law enforcement position in the land. In a back and forth with Senator Richard Durbin (no transcript online yet), Durbin asked whether the President could ever unilaterally decide that Congress had passed a law which was unconstitutional, and therefore not binding on the President. Gonzalez said it was theoretically, hypothetically possible; Durbin reminded him of an attempt Truman made to do so, and later told by the Supreme Court that he was wrong. Gonzalez replied that he was speaking about something which theoretically might occur, hypothetically. Durbin had to remind him that since Gonzalez had already advocated Bush setting aside the Geneva Convention and other laws because they were not binding, that this was not an issue of "theoretically." My point here is that this shows Gonzalez doesn't understand the full weight of his own actions in the field of law.

Another disturbing item is in this Washington Post article:

President Bush's nominee to head the Justice Department in his second term, White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, pledged today to preserve civil liberties as the nation wages war on terrorism and vowed to aggressively pursue those responsible for the abuse of U.S.-held prisoners.

Does this mean that it's a new concern now that he's been nominated for Attorney General? As White House counsel this wasn't a priority for someone giving legal advice to the President?

This guy is a dud. And we haven't even talked about his failed vetting of Kerik...

UPDATE: A transcript is up at the New York Times, and here's the exchange I meant, emphasis mine:

MR. GONZALES: Senator, you asked me whether or not it was theoretically possible that the Congress could pass a law that we would view as unconstitutional. My response was -- is that obviously we would take that very, very seriously, look at that very carefully. But I suppose it is theoretically possible that that would happen. Let me just add one final point. We in the executive branch, of course, understand that there are limits upon presidential power; very, very mindful of Justice O'Connor's statement in the Hamdi decision that "a state of war is not a blank check for the president of the United States" with respect the rights of American citizens. I understand that, and I agree with that.

SEN. DURBIN: Well, let me just say, in conclusion, I'm glad to hear that. I'm troubled by the introduction -- the hypothetical is one that you raised in the memo, relative to torture, as to whether the president had the authority as commander in chief to ignore the Geneva Conventions or certain other laws. This is not something that comes from our side of the table of our own creation, it is your creation, a hypothetical you created. My concern is this; I do not believe that this government should become a symbol for a departure from time-honored traditions where we have said that we will not engage in torture, directly or indirectly by rendition, which I hope to ask you about in the next round; that we will stand by the same standards of Geneva Conventions since World War II and, frankly, dating back to Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War in terms of the treatment of prisoners. I am concerned that that round of memos that went through the Department of Justice -- Mr. Bybee -- into the Department of Defense, into Guantanamo, and then migrated somehow to interrogation techniques in Abu Ghraib has stained our world reputation. I want to win this war on terrorism, but I don't want to do it at the expense of our soldiers who may some day become prisoners themselves. Thank you, Mr. Gonzales.


Link | 4:44 PM Home

Support the troops. Read Joe Galloway's latest.

There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but there may be only one good way out of the deepening disaster that is Iraq: Hold the elections on Jan. 30, declare victory and begin leaving.

Anything less, any more "staying the course," and we're likely doomed to an even bloodier and more costly defeat in a country divided along ethnic and religious fault lines and headed toward civil war.

...

The fallout from staying the course will be thousands more American soldiers killed and wounded, an Army so broken that repairs and reconstruction could take a decade or more and a federal budget deficit staggering under the costs of this war.

Consider these stories published this week:

-Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, commander of the U.S. Army's 200,000 Reserve soldiers, tells his boss, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker, that the Reserves are "rapidly degenerating into a broken force." The cause: The war in Iraq and dysfunctional Pentagon and congressional policies. (Baltimore Sun, Jan. 5)

-U.S. casualties as of this week: 1,340 killed in action, 10,252 wounded in action and an estimated 12,000 ill or injured. More than half the wounded Americans are hurt so badly they are not able to return to duty.

And on and on. Support the troops even further, and pay attention to the little "email this" icon in the upper right, thinking carefully about your friends and relatives who haven't learned Molly Ivins' first rule about holes ("when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging"). It may help to add in the email text box that Joe Galloway is the co-author of "We Were Soldiers Once... and Young" just as a reminder. But do it, support the troops.
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Wednesday, January 5, 2005:

An excuse to throw all the liberal voices overboard? CNN is not renewing Tucker Carlson's contract. Now of course Carlson was/is no liberal, and while he wasn't always impressive, he is our source for the story about then-governor Bush mocking condemned murderer Karla Faye Tucker's likely mercy pleas... I think the significance is that his stroll out on the plank will be the catalyst for yet more decisions about CNN's Crossfire, one of the few places where CNN gave liberal voices regular air time (no, Alan Colmes doesn't count). It was bad enough years ago when the liberal voice of Mike Kinsley was replaced by the much less effective Bill Press; its current time slot of 4:30 in the afternoon couldn't be more inappropriate for a show which was, face it, a ridiculous debate show. I have no idea why it couldn't do well in a slot like 10:30 PM, leading into Jon Stewart (wouldn't he love that!), but at 4:30 no one watches.

Maybe this is like the joke about the bad food ("and such small servings, too!"), but I hate to see the complete loss of the liberal voice, voiced regularly. The Saturday/Sunday panel shows aren't enough, those are still a ghetto. So I wish Carlson well, but what I really wish is that they could have found a way to make it work in the evenings. (Hat tip to the Moderate Voice for noticing this story, allbeit with a completely different take.)

UPDATE: Atrios sees the same loss of the liberal platform, and yes, Crossfire is apparently dead.
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Everything is beautiful, in it's own wa- ay... Actually, I think the song goes "everybody's beautiful," but via The Al Franken Show Blog via Josh Marshall, there's this scary entry from the Nelson Report newsletter:

There is rising concern amongst senior officials that President Bush does not grasp the increasingly grim reality of the security situation in Iraq because he refuses to listen to that type of information. Our sources say that attempts to brief Bush on various grim realities have been personally rebuffed by the President, who actually says that he does not want to hear "bad news."

Rather, Bush makes clear that all he wants are progress reports, where they exist, and those facts which seem to support his declared mission in Iraq...building democracy. "That's all he wants to hear about," we have been told. So "in" are the latest totals on school openings, and "out" are reports from senior US military commanders (and those intelligence experts still on the job) that they see an insurgency becoming increasingly effective, and their projection that "it will just get worse."

Our sources are firm in that they conclude this "good news only" directive comes from Bush himself; that is, it is not a trap or cocoon thrown around the President by National Security Advisor Rice, Vice President Cheney, and DOD Secretary Rumsfeld. In any event, whether self-imposed, or due to manipulation by irresponsible subordinates, the information/intelligence vacuum at the highest levels of the White House increasingly frightens those officials interested in objective assessment, and not just selling a political message.

When I worked in marketing research, occasionally some exec would reposition really bad survey scores in terms of "an opportunity exists to improve the reactions..." Maybe Bush's advisors can say something like, "look at how many fewer American deaths we could conceivably have! Isn't that great?"
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Not just Hollywood. Sandra Bullock, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Stephen Spielberg have all gotten press for their hefty donations to tsunami relief. But just as it doesn't make sense to think of any state as monochromatically Red or Blue, you should also be aware that some country performers are also helping out. There's a benefit concert this Sunday in Austin, participants include Willie Nelson, Joe Ely, and Patty Griffin.
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Misunderestimating the size of the pie. Atrios is rightly concerned about the way the math in this article on Social Security plans is written. Taking from the article...

WASHINGTON Jan 4, 2005 The Bush administration is focusing on a Social Security proposal that would allow younger workers to invest up to 4 percent of their payroll taxes in private accounts, with contributions limited to about $1,000 to $1,300 a year, an official said Tuesday.

Atrios' complaint is that the writer says "4 percent" instead of "4 percentage points," but as I pointed out in his comments last night, simply saying 4 percentage points doesn't communicate it, either, because that 4 percentage points is really almost two- thirds of all that an employee contributes towards his Social Security in payroll taxes. (Here's how it works: the "4 percent" is not 4% of his Social Security, it's 4% of his income. The employee contributes 6.2% of his income to payroll taxes, and the employer contributes another 6.2%. "4%" is actually 65% of all the employee contributes, and 32% of all that's contributed in his name, including the employer-contributed proportion.)

Thanks to Atrios for getting this thought going.
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Tuesday, January 4, 2005:

Preserves the presumption of innocence? Hardly. Regarding the House's vote that an ethics investigation needs the ethics committee's majority to approve it (rather than mere non-action by the Democratic and Republican committee heads)...

"This change restores the presumption of innocence in our process," said Representative David Dreier of California, chairman of the Rules Committee.

Uh, no. Presumption of innocence merely puts the burden of proof on the prosecution, it doesn't say whether or not an investigation should proceed. Grand juries never deal with presumptions of innocence before indictments (there's no defense presentation typically, for one thing); they merely listen to the prosecution's case and see if it's worth a trial. It has nothing to do with a presumption of innocence. This is just empty words from Dreier, trying to stretch a simple concept where it shouldn't be stretched. If anything, it handcuffs investigations. So much for the law and order party.
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Is it time to reposition the Republican Party? Everyone who's been awake for the last two months has been aware of the circular firing squad that's been going on about Kerry's loss to Bush. Much of the discussion's intensity, I think, is proportional to predispositions about whether the loss was conceivable: if you think your team is going to trounce the opposition 35 to 7, and lose by a field goal, the post mortems are more thorough. Several hypotheses continue to be voiced: jettison Michael Moore; be more open to abortion restrictions; be louder about being tough on terrorism and so on.

But progress may not be just dependent on repositioning the Democratic Party, it can also be helped by repositioning the Republican Party, at least in perceptions. Digby has a post on wingnuts who let their racism and/or anti-terrorism obstruct their sympathy with tsunami victims, and how Rush Limbaugh feeds into their prejudices. After discussing a series of calls on Limbaugh's shows, he writes:

Let's not kid ourselves about the base of the Republican party, the dittoheads, the alleged Christian Right. A vast number of them are primitive tribalists at best and racists at worst. There have always been many Americans who are racists and many of those have always been and remain very political. It is part of our national psyche. They are now fully sewn into the fabric of the Republican party's big tent (as they once were the Democrats') and they wield considerable clout. They have made strides in accepting those African Americans who agree not to discuss race into the fold. (And the leadership have learned how to effectively neuter this entire debate by hoisting the left with our own petard by accusing us of racism whenever we criticize a Republican racial minority.)

But at the heart of their reaction to 9/11, the invasion of iraq, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror in general is a knee jerk racism that says "those people" are our enemy and they must die. Ann Coulter sells millions of books that say it right out loud. Michelle Malkin and Daniel Pipes are both making quite a respectable stir making the case for "muslim" internment. And people are getting all steamed up about illegal immigration again.

It is intense tribalism that fuels the right wing, not ideology. In fact their ideology mostly flows from their tribalism. It fuels their resistence to redistribution of even the smallest amount of wealth (the "wrong" people will be helped) and it fuels their hyper nationalism (those "other" people are our enemies.) They make no distinctions between the "wrong" and the "other", it is anyone who isn't like them.

Digby makes some valuable points, but I think it's helpful to discriminate between what "fuels" Republican leadership, the feelings of right wing pundits, and the feelings of the rank and file. Let's take Digby's post as a starting point: if it's correct (as been hypothesized by some in the circular firing squad) that Bush won votes from Democrats who were uncomfortable with Michael Moore (or, their perceptions of him post Republican demonization), then it stands to reason that there are Republicans who will be uncomfortable with the likely future rightward shift of their elected Republican politicians. And these more moderate Republican voters may well be attracted to Democratic policies in the future, or, short of that, at least be more open to voting for Democrat candidates.

What I'm saying is that this phenomenon may not require any repositioning of the Democratic Party, so much as making it plain as day how radically right wing their own party is getting. I doubt very much that it makes sense to demonize Senators Hagel or Lugar or Snowe or similar moderates; but if more Republicans were made aware of some of Santorum's statements, or Delay's power grabbing, of Hastert's philosophy of blocking legislation that doesn't represent the majority of the majority — it seems to me we could create considerable discomfort. Enough to reform the Republican Party? No way, not even trying that, it's not a goal. But perhaps we can fragment enough Republicans off to tip the balance.

When you stop and consider how many Bush supporters were ignorant about the truths behind Iraq and WMDs and so on, it only stands to reason that many don't know the extremes in their own party. We don't need the Republican party to reposition themselves, we can do it for them: look at how the Republicans repositioned John Kerry, for Chrissakes!
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Memogate, revisited. Corey Pein at Columbia Journalism Review does a tidy wrap on the logical fallacies behind the "tough" analyses of the bloggers, and how they were given credibility by the MSM.
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Going soft on Tom Delay. (That Liberal Media, part what?) Today's New York Times goes into greater depth regarding how the Republicans now want to handle ethics issues in the House, and has this to say about Tom Delay:

In the past year, he has been admonished by the ethics panel three times: for his tactics in trying to persuade a colleague to support the Medicare drug bill, for appearing to link political donations to support for legislation and for involving a federal agency in a political matter in Texas.

That one sentence is about as vague a summary as Delay would wish for: it supports the article, and yet says practically nothing about all that he's done. Without describing the charges further, an uninformed reader has little idea of how much it meant when House Republicans voted to shield Delay last November, nor their reversal last night. So shall we add some important details here?

  • The "tactic in trying to persuade a colleague to support the Medicare drug bill"... Retiring representative Nick Smith said that he was approached by House "leaders" and told that if he supported the Medicare bill, his son — who was vying for the opening seat — would get campaign support to the tune of $100,000. This "tactic," of course, amounts to a bribe. So the Times has certainly soft pedaled that one. (Timothy Noah of Slate has been covering this extensively, you can read some of the articles here.)
     
  • Regarding the linking of political donations to legislation... I honestly can't complain about this wording, because to the conscious reader it's clear that laws were for sale, even if it's not clear what laws and for what price. But as an old joke about the man inviting the woman on a weekend for a million dollars goes, once you've established that something is for sale the next question is merely establishing the appropriate price.
     
  • "Involving a federal agency in a political matter in Texas." This refers to efforts to track down Democratic members of the Texas legislature who wanted to avoid a vote on Texas redistricting; the redistricting would have increased the number of Republicans not only in the Texas legislature but also in the Texas contingent of the U.S. House of Representatives. Redistricting had already been done in response to changes measured in the U.S. Census — the norm — but this wasn't enough for Republicans (i.e., Delay, who wanted ever more Republicans in the U.S. House), who wanted to force a second redistricting. The "federal agency" Delay is accused of enlisting in this power-grab is an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, which should of course have been defending the country rather than tracking down legislators. Clearly, an abuse of power. (For all the blow by blow on this one, I recommend you read up at Talking Points Memo.)

These are not the only lapses: Delay is also accused of soliciting corporate money for Texas state legislature campaigns, against the law in Texas. This was the offense which fell under the jurisdiction of a Texas DA, prompting local investigation and November's effort to shield Delay from needing to step down.

I wish the Times had gone into greater detail on these back stories: Delay strikes me as every bit as conniving as Robert Walpole, who created all sorts of pensions and positions to maintain power.
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Monday, January 3, 2005:

Perhaps it was going to get far too scandalous? Republican leadership in the House of Representatives have reversed themselves, apparently, and are now not only no longer considering loosening ethical standards, but reinstating a rule they'd recently rejected, which in its former state would have required Tom Delay to step down from his leadership position if indicted — but when revised in November made him safe. Now, with this reversal, Delay is again vulnerable.

It's a developing story, but I suspect not only that the ethical issues would have been a distraction (as the article states) but that it's quite possible it all looks so grim that unless they reversed themselves there was no hope of moral high ground. (You might consider yesterday's New York Times editorial as an example of heightened awareness on the media's part regarding the deepening scandals.) Ultimately, they may have protected more than their agenda by sticking to higher standards.
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A note for YOUR convenience. Blogging is a lower priority than normal for me today, so you may not see much. But here's something you can do to make it easy on yourself: if you haven't already done it, set up an account at bloglines.comit's free (or, if your browser searches for "feeds" that's fine too) and add this page's feed to your list: you can find the url for the feed here.

What's this do? Well, when you set up an account at bloglines you can list many many blogs with feeds, and then rather than hit each of your favorite blogs to see if they have new content, you go to your bloglines page and it will tell you about all of them at once. It will list each new entry for the blog with a little description, so you can go directly to a specific item as you choose — great for scooting past the big picture up top, if you want, you'll never see it. (It's also worthwhile; most of the political blogs in the left margin have feeds, and it can make your life easier, since not all blogs get updated every day.) So do yourself a favor, make your life a little easier, and set up a bloglines account.

If you already have a bloglines account, you can add my feed to it by clicking here.
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Sunday, January 2, 2005:

Further infiltration of the Liberal Media. On the current state of Saturday Night Live:

Mr. McKay added that post-9/11 patriotism, along with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, had made "S.N.L." reluctant to take hard shots at President Bush, an unwillingness that he feels persists at the show today. "In the name of political fairness or some odd sense of patriotism, Lorne has laid off the president for the last couple of years, and I don't agree with that move," he said. Instead, both writers said, "S.N.L. " has relied on pop-culture skits, which, while occasionally caustic, never really run the risk of offending anyone.

Can we all get our vigor back, please?
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Saturday, January 1, 2005:

Bush even lies to the Pope?? You may remember Sister Helen Prejean from the Tim Robbins movie "Dead Man Walking," where her character was played by Susan Sarandon. In the current New York Review of Books, Prejean writes about Bush's history with capital punishment while he was the governor of Texas. You probably already know it's not a pretty story. But regarding his refusal to commute the sentence of Karla Faye Tucker, whose likely pleas for mercy he mocked when being interviewed by Tucker Carlson, Prejean writes:

Bush was receiving thousands of messages urging clemency for Tucker, including one from one of his daughters. "Born-again" evangelists such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, normally ardent advocates of execution, urged him to commute Tucker's sentence. When Pope John Paul II urged Bush to grant mercy to Tucker, Bush responded disingenuously in a letter to the Pope, saying, "Ms. Tucker's sentence can only be commuted by the Governor if the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommends a commutation of sentence."

Where is the disingenuousness? In another case, she writes...

In the Lucas case, when "new facts" presented themselves, Governor Bush requested the Texas pardons board for commutation. When "new facts" in Karla Faye Tucker's case came to Bush's attention, he turned away, claiming that he was bound to follow the courts' decisions.

Can you beieve it? He lies to the Pope, even!
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The party of Moral Values considers setting ethics aside? Some Republicans in the House seem not to care about behaviors which would discredit the House of Representatives, lowering ethical standards even further than they did with the Tom Delay rule.

House Republican leaders are urging members to alter one of the chamber's fundamental ethics rules, which would make it harder for lawmakers to discipline a colleague.

The proposed change would essentially negate a general rule of conduct that the ethics committee has often cited in admonishing lawmakers -- including Majority Leader Tom DeLay -- for bringing discredit on the House even if their behavior was not covered by a specific regulation. Backers of the rule, adopted three decades ago, say it is important because the House's conduct code cannot anticipate every instance of questionable behavior that might reflect poorly on the chamber.

Republicans, returning to the Capitol on Tuesday after increasing their House majority by three seats in the Nov. 2 election, also want to relax a restriction on relatives of lawmakers accepting foreign and domestic trips from groups interested in legislation before the House.

A third proposed rule change would allow either party to stop the House ethics committee from investigating a complaint against a member.

Unbelievable, just simply unbelievable.

In other news, The Washington Post's latest What's In/What's Out list leads with this combination: Out? "Vote or Die." In? "Vote and Die."
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Google news search warning... Hopefully they'll change the "advanced search" interface, but as of now you can't use calendar-date parameters prior to January. Fat lotta good that does...
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The announcement that U.S. aid to the tsunami affected areas will increase to $350 million is welcome, there is no doubt about it. I just don't understand how our administration could be so numb as start off with an initial commitment of a mere $4 million without making it clear that more was bound to come; or Bush's failure to get before a mike until Wednesday.
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Hurricane Andrew's devastation was obvious when Ab and I drove through Louisiana in October, 1992. We visited New Orleans as an addendum to a trip to Atlanta, and it was showing few scars two months later. But drives up to Lafayette and up river to see antebellum mansions made it clear that Andrew had cut a mean swath; and while Florida bore most of the brunt, Louisiana suffered $1 billion in damages. Because New Orleans was unscathed, we weren't deterred from driving to New Orleans from Atlanta, but there is no way on God's green earth we would have made the other Louisiana side trips the primary reason we came.

I say all this because as much as Louisiana suffered under Andrew, it was mild compared to what parts of Asia have suffered as a result of last Sunday's tsunamis. So with that context, I was surprised to read that some European tourists have not been deterred from visiting tsunami stricken areas on their holidays:

As many Westerners waited for news of missing loved ones others arrived to take holidays as usual.

Engineer Paul Cunliffe, from Manchester, arrived on an almost empty flight from Malaysia. Gin and tonic in hand, Mr Cunliffe said he and two friends were booked into a beach-front hotel that had escaped serious damage, and had been assured of a "wonderful holiday".

"Our friends think we're mad. The only risk we face I think is if there's another quake. We love the place that much and we thought we would take the risk," he said.

Further south at Surin Beach, where 10 died, tourists also were out in force.

It strikes me as astonishingly callous: I cannot imagine how anyone could enjoy themselves there. And while I am ignorant of the specifics of the local conditions, I'd have thought that resources which go to making them merry (such as drinking water, gasoline, and so on) would be better used in recovery efforts. I admit I could be wrong on the latter point, but I still have a problem with the former: it seems like one of those movies that show colonialism in its worst form. (Hat tip to John Stinson for the news link.)

UPDATE: Read this comment left by Annelies.
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My sincerest wishes for a better 2005 for you. "Happy" may be a lot to ask, but we can hope for better, can't we?
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