Monday, January 31, 2005

Kevin's in the WaPo

Kevin Drum of Washington Monthly had an article today in the WaPo.

What is interesting about this, aside from the actual topic of the article, is that Kevin isn't a journalist. He's a blogger who built a following from his blog, Cal Pundit (now on hiatus) and was invited to start blogging on Washington Monthly. Regular readers know I'm a big fan of Kevin's writing and I'm very happy for him.

His article is in defense of the filibuster. Although interesting, I think Kevin missed a real opportunity to provide some much needed context in this debate. While Rs complain bitterly about 10 Bush nominees having been blocked, more than 60 of Clintons nominees were blocked through parliamentary manuevering including secret holds and denial of hearing before the judiciary committee. Of course, it's possible that an editor removed any such context.

But here it is,
More than a dozen of President Clinton's Circuit Court nominees received the American Bar Association's (ABA) unanimous "well-qualified" rating, but their nominations were defeated because their hearings were rejected by Republicans.

The following Circuit Court nominees from 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000 are in this category: H. Alston Johnson (5th Circuit), James Duffy (9th Circuit), Kathleen McCree-Lewis (6th Circuit), Enrique Moreno (5th Circuit), James Lyons (10th Circuit), Robert Cindrich (3rd Circuit), Stephen Orlofsky (3rd Circuit), Andre Davis (4th Circuit), James Beaty (4th Circuit), and J. Rich Leonard (4th Circuit).

Allen Snyder (D.C. Circuit), who was also rated "well-qualified" by the ABA, received a hearing but was not allowed a vote by the Republican-controlled Committee.

More than a dozen other Circuit Court nominees with "partial well-qualified" or "qualified" ratings were also defeated by Republicans who blocked their hearings or votes, including Helene White (6th Circuit), Jorge Rangel (5th Circuit), Robert Raymer (3rd Circuit), Barry Goode (9th Circuit), Christine Arguello (10th Circuit), Elizabeth Gibson (4th Circuit), Elana Kagan (D.C. Circuit), James Wynn (4th Circuit), Bonnie Campbell (8th Circuit), Kent Markus (6th Circuit), and Roger Gregory (4th Circuit).

Dozens of District Court nominees from 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000 with unanimous "well-qualified" or "qualified" ratings also were blocked by Republican refusal to give them hearings or votes. In all, nearly 60 of President Clinton's judicial nominees were defeated through Republican blocking of hearings and votes, despite their ABA ratings.
And in response to their hollow charges of racism, they should be reminded that two Clinton nominees for a Fifth Circuit, Enrique Moreno and Jorge Rangel, both rated "well-qualified" by the ABA were blocked from even having hearings by the Rs, much less a floor vote.

Here is what President Clinton said in July 2000,
"They are so determined to keep an African-American off the court, they have allowed a 25 percent vacancy rate on the Fourth Circuit, just to keep an African-American off the court," [Clinton] said.
....
He also cited the example of Enrique Moreno, whose nomination was opposed by Texas' Republican senators, who said Moreno lacked experience.

"Texas' senators said he was not qualified, because to them he was not a guaranteed ideological vote," Clinton said.

Clinton said he has appointed one of the most diverse federal judiciaries in history, with almost half of his appointees women and minorities.

"Justice may be blind, but we all know that diversity in the courts, as in all aspects of society, sharpens our vision and makes us a stronger nation," Clinton said in a written statement from the White House.
So why doesn't the liberal media call them on this?

Republican Playbook

Josh has a PDF of the Republican phase-out playbook.

You need to check this out. Complete with a golden egg on the cover.

Iraq's Election

The news today seems to focus everywhere on the election in Iraq. The stories are all very positive and full of conjecture and speculation. When the votes are counted, we'll know the turnout and the outcome. This isn't an American election so it is hard to "know" anything before the votes are counted, no matter what you might read.

No question that the election went as well as could be expected, but 'expected' included the Sunnis not voting, and they didn't. Yes, it's true, and wonderful that the massive bloodshed feared did not materialize and that is cause for celebration. But the 300,000 troops and police that made it possible will never again be out in that number -- where is that reported today?

So is there any reason to believe the election will eliminate the insurgency? Will Iraq be any different next week than it was last month? Don't misunderstand me. I really do hope that this is the dawn of a new day in Iraq and the Middle East, and my criticism here is aimed at the news media and their baseless speculation.

If history is any lesson, nothing will change next week, next month or maybe even next year in Iraq. The capture of Saddam was greeted with an increase in violence. The supposed handover of sovereignty was greeted with an increase in violence.

The reason for the insurgency has not changed, and in fact, by the election, may have been cemented. But I guess that reality has no place in American news.

So what's news worthy about the wild-ass speculation? Does it please your overlords?

Here is what I hope. That this election is the first step in the journey to a free and stable Iraq and that the hope this election brings will make it much harder for the insurgency to garner popular support. But this hope, isn't 'news'.

Rs Launch Push to Phase-Out Soc Security

The WaPo reports today that they have obtained a copy of the Rs play book handed out at their recent mountain retreat. The Rs committed to the phase-out and are supposed to be beggining a big push to follow the SoU address this week.
The congressional Republicans' confidential plan was developed with the advice of pollsters, marketing experts and communication consultants, and was provided to The Washington Post by a Republican official. The blueprint urges lawmakers to promote the "personalization" of Social Security, suggesting ownership and control, rather than "privatization," which "connotes the total corporate takeover of Social Security." Democratic strategists said they intend to continue fighting the Republican plan by branding it privatization, and assert that depiction is already set in people's minds.
....

The Republican's book, with a golden nest egg on the cover, urges the GOP to "talk in simple language," "keep the numbers small," "avoid percentages; your audience will try to calculate them in their head" and "acknowledge risks," because listeners "know they can lose their investments."
This story claims that a sea changed occurred at the retreat and the Congressional Rs are on board. We shall see.

But more importantly, who has our plan and when does it begin?

Sunday, January 30, 2005


Today's Message from Homeland Security

The Propaganda Remix Project

Million Dollar Baby

I'm off to see Million Dollar Baby.

I'm told it has a surprise ending and apparently there is something in the plot that offends the Right, so they have been spoiling the surprise to ruin the movie financially. Everything is political with these people.

I never listen to, or read the kooky right, so there is no chance that they could directly ruin the moving for me. However, I don't want one of their minions to do it for them.

UPDATE (5:01 PM): Wow. That's quite a movie. I haven't seen enough movies this year to say, as nearly every critic does, that it's the best movie of the year, but it's outstanding.

If you like great films, go see it before the blot twist is ruined for you.
UPDATE UPDATE(6:40 AM): It occurred the me that I should clarify what I described above as a "surprise ending". That's was my understanding but it's not accurate. There is no big, sudden surprise. It' s a plot twist that takes the story in a direction that one is not prepared for. Waiting for a sudden surprise, as I was, negatively affects the viewing experience.

It's an excellent moving and if you like excellent movies, go see it.

Hillary on Abortion

Despite good intentions, I never mentioned Hillary's comments last week to abortion rights activists in New York. I happen to agree with her completely.

Hillary has told us exactly where we need to be as a party on this issue, and the NYTs in an editorial today lays it out. I would encourage you to read it.

Here's the gist,
Speaking on Monday to about 1,000 abortion rights supporters in Albany, Mrs. Clinton did two important things. First, at a moment when women's reproductive freedom is under severe assault, she firmly restated her support for Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. What made Mrs. Clinton's speech noteworthy, however, was her second, complementary tack. Without retreating on principle, she deftly shifted the focus of the abortion discussion to where there is the broadest agreement, and where President Bush's policy failure is most apparent - namely, abortion prevention. Echoing her husband's call to make abortion "safe, legal and rare," the senator said that abortion "represents a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women," and that "the best way to reduce the number of abortions is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in the first place."
It is fair comment to point out that most abortion opponents also oppose sexual education on, and access to, conterception. They are wrong on this issue and we are right, and we should be calling them on this at every opportunity. This is where everyone I know who supports abortion rights stands, and this should be the constant message from our party. It is also the morally correct position.

Instead of letting Rs define our position on abortion, we should be defining thiers. They think unwanted children are just punishment of a sinful life.

And we should be asking them at every opportunity what they have done to prevent unwanted pregnancies and what they have done to give women an alternative to abortion.

Post Election Gloating?

Matt thinks we need to be prepared for about 3 weeks of the hawks post-election gloating before reality sets in again. I'm not so sure. There will be some, to be sure, but I think most of the hawks have learned now that in Iraq nothing really changes the basic dynamic. They got burned on the capture of Saddam and the handover, (both of which were promptly follow-up with even more violence) and will be much more cautious this time.

In fact, I think "cautious" will be the most used neo-con word for this week. "I'm cautiously optimistic." "We view the results with cautious optimism," blah, blah, blah.

Of course, Matt is much smarter than me and one can never really go wrong underestimating the intellect of those who masterminded the Iraqi policy that got us here.

Election Day in Iraq


It appears that the Iraqi elections went as well as could be expected. From the stories I've read, estimates of turnout vary greatly. Apparently final results are expected in 10 days. Only then will we really know how many Iraqis voted.

From reports, turnout was heavy in the Kurdish north and Shiite south, and almost non-existent in the Sunni triangle. In other words, exactly as expected.

Regarding violence, the lastest report I've seen indicates 8 suicide bombing, mostly in Baghdad, killing 36 people, including the 8 bombers. At least one bomber was in a voting queue in Baghdad. There were also some shootings. Inevitable, as the week goes on, reports will trickle out of other violence on election day, but still, I think this a success. It's amazing what 300,000 boots on the ground will do.

Today was a remarkable day in Iraq, and lets hope the beggining of a new, positive chapter.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Chief Justice Scalia?

Last November the buzz was that Sandy was on the short list to move up to Chief. I explained at that time, why that would not happen.

Now, according to the Sunday WaPo, Scalia is the buzz. If Bush decided to choose a current member of the court to elevate, Scalia is the obvious choice. And frankly, I don't think we should waste our resources opposing him. We couldn't win, and moving him up doesn't change the balance of the court? But there was nothing in the WaPo piece that I thought was very persuasive. No question that he would love the job. Who wouldn't. But reports that he is being charming now in a campaign for the job, are just silly. Scalia is famously charming. I've meet him twice at bar functions while in DC (He and I are members of the Illinois Bar) and he is a charming SOB.

What I said in November bears repeating:
I think it's a no-brainer that should a new chief justice be chosen from within the court that would be Scalia. He is the easiest to defend. Thomas also gets mentioned but why fight that fight? Besides, conservative or not, we all know Justice Thomas is not the first choice of the Xtian Soldiers for other reasons.

But, there is no reason to just assume that a new Chief would be chosen from among the court as everyone in the media seems to do. Although Rehnquist was so chosen, there is no tradition requiring such. In the history of the Supreme Court there have been 16 Chief Justices, and only 4 of them were elevated from Associate Justice (prior to Rehnquist, the last elevation was Justice Stone in 1946).

Bush is free to nominate anyone as Chief, and could just as likely pick Miguel Estrada, who is very young (early 40's) and could be Chief for 40 years! How's that for a legacy! In contrast, Scalia is 68, and no matter how you slice it, has a shorter shelf life.
If Estrada doesn't get put up for Chief, he'll get the next spot, and there is plenty of reason to believe there will be another slot. Justice Stevens is 84 and Sandy 74.

We need to keep our powder dry on Scalia, and save our resources to fight over a nominee that might actually tip the court. A great stragey for Bush would be to draq us into a fight over Scalia, that we would be doomed to lose, and then put up a facist on the next spot taking advantage of our weakened position (having gone to the matresses and lost on Scalia).

Today's Message from Homeland Security

The Propaganda Remix Project

The Payola Scandal is Just Beginning

Can you imagine the outcry if the Clinton admin had done this? They would impeach him again. And why are so-called journalist giving the Rs a pass on this? If I had a talk show and a prominent R were coming on the show, she would be put on the spot.

The Syndicates can see this coming. There are a lot more names our that will be popping up very soon.
"All the syndicates are concerned about who might be exposed next," an executive at one said yesterday. Sure enough, Salon.com reported a few hours later that "Ethics & Religion" columnist Michael McManus received about $10,000 from the HHS for subcontracted work to promote a Bush-administration marriage initiative.

Universal is putting together guidelines for its creators (including op-ed columnists) covering matters such as potential conflicts of interest. Lee Salem, Universal's executive vice president and editor, noted that this is little trickier for a syndicate than a newspaper. "Our creators are not employees," he said. "We contract with them for a service." But Salem emphasized that the guidelines are important nonetheless.

TMS has "explicit ethics provisions" in the contracts all its creators sign -- indeed, violating those provisions is what gave the syndicate grounds to drop Williams. The contract includes language about creators not receiving money from entities they write about. And TMS yesterday postal-mailed a letter to its opinion columnists reminding them that they should be careful about conflicts of interest.

Dollar May Be in Trouble

Most Americans have no idea how we finance our massive Federal debt, much less how important the value of the dollar is to our way of life.

The problem our economy faces is that foreign currency investors have an option now. The Euro. And the dollar has recently fallen 21% against the Euro.

For a generation, the dollar has been the International currancy. Nations around the world buy dollars and our bonds long deemed the safest investiment in the world. The 3 largest purchasers of our debt are Japan, China and the Soc Security Trust Fund. As the value of the dollar falls against the Euro, foreign investors are increasingly looking to the Euro.

This article from Bloomberg explains recent events regarding the dollar and reasons that we should all be concerned. Foreign investors do not like the debt we are running up and Bush's refusal to do anything about it.
Here's a taste,
China also has been in the news as traders speculate that Asia's No. 2 economy may pull the plug on dollar-denominated debt. Such a move by the second-biggest holder of U.S. Treasuries after Japan could send shockwaves through global markets.

Fan Gang's Comments

Hence all the fuss over comments by Chinese economist Fan Gang. Fan isn't a government official; he's director of the state- owned National Economic Research Institute in Beijing. The connection seemed close enough for traders who found great relevance in Fan's comment that China has lost faith in the dollar, to which its currency is pegged.

``The U.S. dollar is no longer, in our opinion is no longer, (seen) as a stable currency and is devaluating all the time, and that's putting troubles all the time,'' Fan said, speaking in English, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. ``So the real issue is how to change the regime from a U.S. dollar pegging to a more manageable reference, say euros, yen, dollars -- those kind of more diversified systems.''

Paul Donovan, London-based senior global economist at UBS AG, seemed to speak for many traders and investors when he said: ``This in fact is a scenario we consider to be highly likely.'' Certainly more likely than, say, China letting the yuan trade freely.
If foreign investors stop buying our debt, the dollar will fall more and interest rates will rise -- to make the debt attractive to buy. Inflation is also a major danger.

If you have any interest in such topics, this is a good read.

click to enlarge

I Really Miss Him,

But what is most funny is that so many of my loopy friends who had nothing nice to say about Bill for 8 years also really miss him.

Friday's LATs has a great article on Bill Clinton's appearance this past week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

At Davos Forum, Every Topic Is Fair Game for Bill Clinton

Here is the lede,
Taking center stage at the World Economic Forum, former President Clinton delivered a virtuoso performance Thursday with a discussion of everything from Mideast crises to his past as president and future as a global activist.

Clinton was clearly in his element in the high-powered annual talkfest that is Davos. He won a standing ovation from a rapt audience of political, business and cultural leaders.
Read the article and you will miss him too.

Here is what Bill had to say about Iran,
Clinton urged restraint in dealing with Iran over its nuclear program and said British, French and German negotiators deserve a chance to work out a diplomatic solution.

He called Iran a far more formidable foe than Saddam Hussein's Iraq and a "perplexing" country split between "two governments": a hard-core minority that controls security forces and a reformist, pro-Western majority. A hasty and bloody military strike might alienate that majority, he said.

"We ought not to do any [military action] until we have exhausted all reasonable diplomatic efforts," Clinton said, describing the main danger of a nuclear Iran as the potential transfer of nuclear materials to terrorists.

"Deterrence still works, just like it did between us and the Soviet Union. So if Iran had a nuclear weapon, the main thing it would do is cast a pall over the Middle East. But they'd have to think a long time before they used it, because they'd be toast if they used it."
That's right, the refreshing view of a intelligent person who understands this complicated world.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Gonzales

I haven't had time to write something about this, but Ed Kilgore at New Donkey really says it all.

Like Ed, I think a President should be given great deference in his cabinet picks, and I too am not an absolutist on torture (don't email me on this, read Ed's comments), but here Ed sums up the problem with Alberto,
If you believe, as I do and I hope you do, that the war on terror is an ideological war in which perceptions of American values and good intentions are in the long run as important as military assets, then confirming the Poster Boy for Torture as Attorney General provides a propaganda victory for Islamic Jihadism that's potentially just as damaging as those images from Abu Ghraib. Moreover, Gonzales's confirmation will also reinforce the already dangerous impression that the United States will only obey those rules we get to set ourselves, an impression the administration finds ways to strengthen nearly every day.
I think the same applies to Condi as well.

Cheney All Dressed Up

WaPo
At yesterday's gathering of world leaders in southern Poland to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the United States was represented by Vice President Cheney. The ceremony at the Nazi death camp was outdoors, so those in attendance, such as French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin, were wearing dark, formal overcoats and dress shoes or boots. Because it was cold and snowing, they were also wearing gentlemen's hats. In short, they were dressed for the inclement weather as well as the sobriety and dignity of the event.

The vice president, however, was dressed in the kind of attire one typically wears to operate a snow blower.

Cheney stood out in a sea of black-coated world leaders because he was wearing an olive drab parka with a fur-trimmed hood. It is embroidered with his name. It reminded one of the way in which children's clothes are inscribed with their names before they are sent away to camp. And indeed, the vice president looked like an awkward boy amid the well-dressed adults.

Like other attendees, the vice president was wearing a hat. But it was not a fedora or a Stetson or a fur hat or any kind of hat that one might wear to a memorial service as the representative of one's country. Instead, it was a knit ski cap, embroidered with the words "Staff 2001." It was the kind of hat a conventioneer might find in a goodie bag.

It is also worth mentioning that Cheney was wearing hiking boots -- thick, brown, lace-up ones. Did he think he was going to have to hike the 44 miles from Krakow -- where he had made remarks earlier in the day -- to Auschwitz?

His wife, Lynne, was seated next to him. Her coat has a hood, too, and it is essentially a parka. But it is black and did not appear to be functioning as either a name tag or a billboard. One wonders if at some point the vice president turned to his wife, took in her attire and asked himself why they seemed to be dressed for two entirely different events.



What the hell was he thinking?

Race for DNC Chair

As you may know, there is a race on for DNC chair. I haven't had much to say about it because I don't know much about it and there hasn't been much to read about it that I could forward.

But it seems the people whose opinions I respect the most seem to really like Simon Rosenberg. I really don't know anything about Simon other than his name comes up all the time.

Josh Marshall makes the case for Simon and it's worth a read.

How Will the Election Work?

This is going to be a very bloody weekend in Iraq. And the outcome, at least as far as the Sunnis are concerned, is not a mystery. They will not vote. Many Shiites in unsecured areas, like Baghdad, won't vote either. This will be written about endlessly but it hasn't been "news" for some time. So you won't read about it here.

But if you're curious about the mechanics of the election process in Iraq, CSM has the story.

Now That's Tragic

The headlines the last couple days have been full of the tragic story of the Marine helicopter crash that killed 31 Marines. I was at a large dinner meeting last night honoring an Illinois Supreme Court Justice retiring and the crash was all the buzz in small discussion groups.

But 56 other soldiers have died so far this month in Iraq and no one really seems to notice or even care. Those deaths are now just routine.

Now that's tragic.

Kennedy Wants the Troops Out

Because it's Teddy, the Right will be all over this. I myself don't like the feeling that having created this mess, we are now just abandoning these people,.....like Poppy did in 91.

But it's hard to argue with Teddy's comments as reported here. And Teddy's not alone.
Earlier this week, Rep. Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.) advocated withdrawing all but a force of 30,000 by year's end, and a group of House Democrats introduced a troop pullout resolution on the floor. Republican Rep. Howard Coble (N.C.) said recently that the United States should consider withdrawal if the Iraqi government is unwilling or unable to "shoulder more of the heavy lifting."

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Not a Time to Eat Our Own

Go read the Moose.

I understand the frustration with whin'in Joe Lieberman. Believe me, I understand.

But the Moose is right.

Merit Raises

The WaPo reports that Civil Service is on it's way out at DHS and soon the rest of the Federal workforce. Instead of raises based upon time on the job and other objective criteria, the raises will be based upon performance and merit.

Will these new rules be applied to Bush? Because, if my calculations are correct, he owes us money.

Here's a Dirty Little Secret,

We've never "taken" Baghdad, and even today don't control it.

The New York Times
Starkly put, Baghdad is not under control, either by the Iraqi interim government or the American military.

On the bright spring day in April 2003 when marines helped topple Mr. Hussein's statue in Firdos Square, Baghdad, more than any other place in Iraq, was the place American commanders hoped to make a showcase for the benefits the invasion would bring.

Instead, daily life here has become a deadly lottery, a place so fraught with danger that one senior American military officer acknowledged at a briefing last month that nowhere in the area assigned to his troops could be considered safe.

"I would definitely say it's enemy territory," said Col. Stephen R. Lanza, the commander of the Fifth Brigade Combat Team, a unit of the First Cavalry Division that is responsible for patrolling a wide area of southern Baghdad with a population of 1.3 million people.
Read the rest.

Col Lanza will likely soon find him self crawling down holes in Afghanistan's "tribal zones".

Health Savings Accounts,....

Are the latest panacea.
President Bush laid out a plan yesterday for reducing the nation's spiraling health care costs, proposing tax credits to encourage expansion of health savings accounts and calling for allowing small businesses to pool together for health coverage across state lines.

Speaking before an audience that included Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Bush said market forces hold the key to moderating the cost of health insurance, which is strangling many working families and small businesses, resulting in 45 million Americans going uninsured.
I'm somewhat involved in health insurance issues as a result of my day job. We've watched our health insurance premiums skyrocket. One proposed "solution"is these accounts. However, they won't make our premiums go down. Rather, we would agree to these accounts with much higher deductibles and co-pays in the hopes that the premiums will go up by less. In other words, these accounts are the key to getting less of more.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Well, Okay, some monkeys.

(via TPM)

Today's Message from Homeland Security

The Propaganda Remix Project

Douglas Feith is Out

DoD News: DoD Announces Departure of Undersecretary Douglas Feith

Feith misled Congress about the US intelligence community's assessement of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaida.

In this Slate profiled of Feith it is reported (atributed to Bob Woodward) that Gen Tommy Franks described Feith as "stupidest guy on the face of the earth".

He'll be missed.

More Payola

I suspect we have only scratched the surface of this scandal. the FOIA requests are flying.

The Washington Monthly
First it was Armstrong Williams. Now, we have a second example of a conservative pundit on the Bush administration payroll. In a scoop in today's Washington Post, Howard Kurtz reports that syndicated columnist and pro-wedlock guru Maggie Gallagher had a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to promote the president's $300 million marriage promotion initiative. She also received $20,000 from the Justice Department to write a report titled "Can Government Strengthen Marriage?" for a conservative advocacy group, the National Fatherhood Initiative, the founder of which, Josh Marshall notes, is Wade Horn, the HHS assistant secretary who arranged the first contract. Gallagher never disclosed any of this to her readers.

Read the rest.

Replacing Greenspan

Greenspan will retire next year. Good riddance as far as I'm concerned. But Krugman warns of the dangers involved in Bush replacing him.
Today it's even more crucial than usual that the Fed chairman have the markets' trust. The United States is running record budget and trade deficits, and the foreigners we depend on to cover those deficits are losing faith. According to yesterday's Financial Times, central banks around the world have already started shifting into euros. If Mr. Greenspan is replaced with someone who looks like a partisan hack, capital will rush to the exits, the dollar will plunge, and interest rates will soar.

Yet President Bush, as you may have noticed, only appoints yes-men (or yes-women). This is most obvious on the national security front, but it's equally true with regard to economic policy. The current Treasury secretary has no obvious qualifications other than loyalty. The new head of the National Economic Council apparently got the job because he is a Bush classmate and fund-raiser.

So Un-Presidential

The WaPo reports today that poor G-dub spent yesterday begging the GOP to support his Soc Security phase-out that he has, rather stupidly, staked his presidency on.
President Bush pleaded for patience yesterday from Republican lawmakers who will shape Social Security legislation, summoning them to the White House at a time when they are expressing increasing frustration about his handling of his top priority for the year.
Their own polling data shows that they've been successful in convincing people that their are problems with Soc Security. Unfortunatly, that same data shows that no one trusts them. :(

Most telling about the character of these people is this passage,
Senators and administration officials said that during the meeting, Bush emphasized the need to act quickly after he presents his proposals, and both sides said most senators agreed that something needs to be done.
So little confidence does Bush have in his own idea that he fears if the public has any chance to think about it, it will fail. So, his plan is to pull a fast one.

That's our President, folks.


Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Cost of War

I mentioned last night that the Admin would request an additional $80 billion for FY 2005 to wage war. This sum is in addition to the $25 billion "emergency appropriation" from last fall that is also for FY 2005.

With troops deployed we have no choice but to spend the money, but keep in mind that this $105 billion is not contained in the FY 2005 budget or deficit projection. The entire amount is in addition to those monies and there is no plan to pay for any of it.

The entire sum is to be borrowed, like the rest of the deficit and paid for by the sale of "worthless IOUs".

CREW Files Bar Complaint Against Gonzales

The Rs have been doing this stuff for years. Its about time that those on our side stepped up.

Link
Today, CREW filed a complaint with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the State Bar of Texas requesting an investigation into misrepresentations White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales made in a written response to a question posed to him by the Senate Judiciary Committee which is considering Gonzales’s nomination for Attorney General.
(via Atrios)

When You Make a Deal with the Devil

Reader 'Tim A' points to this piece in today's NYTs.

Here's the lede,
WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 - A coalition of major conservative Christian groups is threatening to withhold support for President Bush's plans to remake Social Security unless Mr. Bush vigorously champions a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

The move came as Senate Republicans vowed on Monday to reintroduce the proposed amendment, which failed in the Senate last year by a substantial margin. Party leaders, who left it off their list of priorities for the legislative year, said they had no immediate plans to bring it to the floor because they still lacked the votes for passage.
I must admit, I'm really enjoying this. Rove and company just assumed the hateful Xtian right would be their patsies, as they always had been. Apparently, the patsies have their own agenda. They have a lot of hate to spew and they want to start now.

Zuckerman on Soc Security

Josh Marshall points to a real gem.

I've been waiting for someone to write the comprehensive article that sums up the whole Soc Security privatization issue since this debate began in earnest. I often fantasized about doing it myself, but I have neither the time nor talent for such an undertaking.

Well, US News Publisher Mort Zuckerman has done it. And don't email me pointing out some reason or another why it is not perfect. It's close enough, and the best I've seen. Please do email me with any other examples.

Here is the key point in this debate that really never gets made,
....if you make pessimistic predictions about economic growth, immigration, and wage inflation, the projected revenues may not be enough to pay benefits. The Social Security actuaries, for instance, project that growth will average only 1.6 percent after 2010, about half the rate we have enjoyed in the past century. But if the economy grows at anywhere near the levels that Bush's own budget experts project, the surplus, in effect, would never run out. And more-optimistic forecasts than those of the Social Security actuaries are supported by the recent history of economic and demographic trends.
If the economy averages the growth of the last two years (hardly stellar) the trust fund would never run out.

And why hasn't anyone asked Bush the obvious question: Mr President, which economic forecast is accurate? The one that you use to budget, estimate deficits and tax cuts or the one that you use to predict doom for Soc Security? They can't both be accurate so who's lying?

That he gets a free pass on this makes we CRAZY!

There is much more to this then I can cover here. This article is a must read.

Use the email feature (click on the envelope below this post) and email this article to everyone you know who cares about -- or is misinformed on -- the Soc Security issue.

Boxer's Opposition to Condi

When I posted last night about the Democratic opposition to Bush nominees I missed Wolcott's comment from Sunday on Barbara Boxer's opposition to Condi. Go read Wolcott, it's short and sweet.

James Wolcott: Lonely Are the Brave

Tuesdays With EJ

EJ comments on the bizarre efforts of G-dub's family and admin to discredit his inaugural address.

I commented on this earlier.

EJ offers some context about why the downplay of the speech matters,
But the Freedom Shuffle is a terrible mistake for Bush, because the greatest barrier to Bush's success in his second term is the intense cynicism he has inspired about his motives. This cynicism affects the near majority that voted against him at home but also a vast number of citizens in nations around the world that were once American allies. It is a cynicism that, if it spreads further through the Muslim world, could doom the very best aspirations of Bush's policy.

Bush supporters see this cynicism as mean-spirited. In fact, it is the bitter fruit of bitter experience. A war originally justified in the name of ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction is transformed with some well-chosen phrases into -- presto! -- an episode in the long struggle for freedom. The shifting rationale is never acknowledged. His disquisition on this struggle did not even mention the central theater of battle in Iraq. No need to mire grand dreams in grim realities. A nation that should be the world's leading advocate of human rights gets caught up in a torture scandal, and the president has yet to hold himself or high officials accountable for this deep stain on his country's reputation.

And now we learn that we should not read too much into the president's enchanting freedom talk. He just wants to look "bold."

For his own sake and ours, Bush and his advisers should not be making it easier for adversaries and skeptical allies to dismiss freedom as an advertising slogan used to justify whatever foreign policy the administration decides to pursue. All presidents need a dose of realism, but surely this president doesn't want it said that his willingness to stand up for freedom depends on what the definition of "freedom" is.
And where Saudi Arabia fits into this grand vision of G-dub's is a matter that has not come up enough (everyone talks about China, Russia, Iran, yada, yada, yada, but did any nation play a larger role in 9-11 that SA?)

Reporters need to specifically ask Bush this question, but the cowards never will.

Stick a Fork In It,...

it's done.

You may recall that the AARP sold it's members down the river last year on Medicare jumping in bed with Bush.

Apparently, they've had a change of heart, and without them, there will be no Soc Security phase-out.

USATODAY.com - AARP 'dead set against' Bush's Social Security plan

Here's the lede,
The nation's largest seniors' lobby will oppose any proposal that takes tax money out of Social Security to create private investment accounts for today's workers, the head of AARP said Monday. That puts the group on a collision course with President Bush and Republicans in Congress.

AARP has already unleashed an advertising campaign against Bush's expected proposal. The comments by William Novelli appear to slam the door on overtures from GOP congressional leaders, who hoped the seniors' group might support a compromise plan that includes private accounts. Just last week, Rep. Jim McCrery, R-La., chairman of a House subcommittee on Social Security, said he wants to include AARP in talks when his panel begins work on legislation.
(via TPM)

Monday, January 24, 2005

Democrats Growing Some,....?

What's this? Democrats in the Senate actually showing some resolve?

The New York Times
"The honeymoon is over and we are now in the full throes of our new marital arrangement here," said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip, after he and other Democratic leaders introduced a priority list on Monday sharply at odds with that put forward by Republicans.
....
Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia led the Democrats' opposition [to Condi], and has reserved an hour of floor time on Tuesday. So has Senator Barbara Boxer of California, who challenged Ms. Rice on the administration's rationale for the war during last week's hearings of the Foreign Relations Committee. Other Democrats, including Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, are also to speak.

Mr. Gonzales, whose nomination could be put to a vote in the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, is another nominee encountering sharper-than-expected opposition. A number of committee Democrats - including Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Dianne Feinstein of California and Charles E. Schumer of New York -say they are leaning against voting for him or rethinking their support. As a result, Mr. Gonzales could face "no" votes from six or more of the committee's eight Democrats.

Democrats continue to seek more documents and more precise answers from Mr. Gonzales regarding his role in formulating policies on the treatment of foreign prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guant√°namo Bay, Cuba. Drawing particular scrutiny has been Mr. Gonzales's role in the writing of a 2002 Justice Department legal opinion - since disavowed - that provided a narrow definition of torture.
It's about GD time!

Striking a Blow For,....To Democracy

This is an interesting development. Although the Sunnis are boycotting the election, they are never-the-less demanding a role in drafting the new constitution.

From Tuesday's NYTs
Although Sunni participation would be good news for those who want the political process to move forward in Iraq, it is not necessarily a matter of acquiescence. In the last week, Sunni leaders have threatened to scuttle the constitution if the post-election government and American officials do not bring them in. A measure in the transitional basic law approved last spring allows just 3 of the country's 18 provinces to nullify a draft of the constitution if two-thirds of their residents vote against it in a referendum. Sunnis are a majority in at least three provinces, and Sunni leaders are now bringing up this measure as leverage to put Shiite, Kurdish and American officials on notice that the minority Sunnis expect a place in postelection politics.

"Certainly because we withdrew from the elections, that doesn't mean we won't be part of the drafting of the constitution," said Sheik Brahim al-Adhami, a senior member of the Muslim Scholars Association, which says it represents 3,000 mosques and is the most influential Sunni group to call for an election boycott. "The elections are one matter; the constitution is another."How long before Tom DeLay proposes dispensing with elections for Congress saying, 'the elections are one matter, but running Congress is another.'

So, do we captiliate and allow them to bypass democracy, because they want too?

105 Billion Dollars!

WaPo
The Bush administration will announce as early as Tuesday that it will seek about $80 billion in new funding for military operations this year in Iraq and Afghanistan, pushing the total for both conflicts to almost $300 billion so far.

Administration and congressional officials said on Monday that the new request would come on top of the $25 billion in emergency spending already approved for this fiscal year. That means funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will total nearly $105 billion in fiscal 2005 alone -- a record amount that shatters initial estimates of the cost.

Mathew Gross: Countdown to Catastrophe

Care about global warming?

Go read Mathew, but be forwarned, the news is not good.

Today's Message from Homeland Security

The Propaganda Remix Project

What About Those Already Born?

The Moose makes an excellent point.

G-dub spoke today by phone to the anti-abortion rally, and as the Moose points out, his message would be very liberal and progressive if he applied it to America's children.

The Moose:
One does not have to be pro-life to appreciate that Catholic Church policy is consistent with the President's message. The Catholic Church and Catholic Charities do indeed support private and governmental social services for the born as well as the unborn. They adhere to the "seamless garment" social philosophy.

The Bush Administration is another matter. In the next few weeks, expect the Bushies to introduce an austerity budget that cuts those very programs that "protect the most dependent." All of the cutbacks, of course, have been precipitated by the deficit that was created by the Bush tax cuts for the comfortable.

Yes, Mr. President, as you stated today, "The strong have a duty to protect the weak." Even after they are born.
Here is yet another example where we can beat them over the head with an issue, so will we?

Rummy's Own Private CIA?

This WaPo story was all the buzz yesterday. Apparently, Rummy doesn't like being dependent on the CIA for human intel, that presumably, he can't manipulate. So, according to the WaPo he has ordered a "reinterpretation" of current US law, so that he could create his own secret spy network.

Sen John McCain, who is on the Senate Armed Services Committee, was asked about this yesterday on Face the Nation. McCain is arguable Rummy's biggest R critic. He too had only just leaned about Rummy's spies from the WaPo and indicated that there would be hearings, but he was also quick to defend Rummy. He noted that many were frustrated by the failure of our human intelligence in the wake of 9/11 and speculated that these spies likely grew out of that frustration. (PDF transcript here)

I think we on the left need to be cautious about this story and should not assume laws were broken. 80% or more of all US intel is ran out of the DoD. This fact is why some Rs held-up and ultimately gutted the intelligence reform bill. The DoD won't give this turf up to a National Intelligence Director.

So where does it say that Rummy can't have his own spies? The prohibition may exist somewhere, but until it appears clearly illegal, we shouldn't bit. Rs love to embarrass us with issues like this as examples of our being weak on matters of national security.

I think Rummy's biggest problem may be the redirection of congressionally appropriated funds.

The NYTs story today seems less pointed.
The Pentagon has created battlefield intelligence units that for the first time have been assigned to work directly with Special Operations forces on secret counterterrorism missions, tasks that had been largely the province of the Central Intelligence Agency, senior Defense Department officials said Sunday.

The small clandestine teams, drawn from specialists within the Defense Intelligence Agency, provide the military's elite Special Operations units with battlefield intelligence using advanced technology, recruit spies in foreign countries, and scout potential targets, the officials said.

The teams, which officials say have been operating in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries for about two years, represent a prime example of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's desire to expand the Pentagon's ability to collect human intelligence - information gathered by spies rather than by technological means - both within the military services and the Defense Intelligence Agency, whose focus is on intelligence used on the battlefield.

"It is accurate and should not be surprising that the Department of Defense is attempting to improve its longstanding human intelligence capability," the Pentagon spokesman, Lawrence Di Rita, said in a statement on Sunday. "A principal conclusion of the 9/11 commission report is that the U.S. human intelligence capability must be improved across the board."
So let's keep our powder dry until we know more of the facts.

RIP Johnny Carson

The New York Times : Johnny Carson, Low-Key King of Late-Night TV, Dies at 79

Again forgive me for straying from politics, but I must comment on the passing of Johnny Carson. I guess if you're much younger than me you don't get it , but Johnny Carson was an American cultural institution the likes of which no longer exist.

From the time of my first memories until I was 30 years old, Johnny was on TV every night after the news. My parents and grandparents watched him every night, and of course, as I got older and could stay up past 10:30, I did as well. His show was the one show that everyone watched.

Some of the biggest laughs I have ever had came from watching Johnny Carson, and I can still smile at some of the incidents that happened on his show. The last several years he hosted the Tonight Show I took him for granted (after all, I had no memory of him not being on TV), until he was gone.

The truth is I didn't start missing Johnny today, I've missed him for a long time. For me his show will always be about that time in my life growing up and living at home with my family.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Even The Admin Thinks the Speech Vacuous

I cannot recall ever having seen an admin work so hard to convince everyone to ignore their president's inaugural address. It's odd as hell and pretty funny.

His family too. Poppy can't believe any one would pay any attention to what he son has to say.

Everyone who works for Bush has been ignoring him so long they seemed geniunely surprised that anyone noticed the content of his speech.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Bibi Beating the War Drum,....Again?

Wolcott thinks so.

And I think he may be on to something. However, despite my earlier statements, I just don't think Bush could ever get the necessary support from even his own party to launch another war, no matter how badly he wants too.

I think the saber-rattling at Iran is just that. They are, quit rightly, concerned about Iran's nuclear program and want to keep Tehran guessing to keep them interested in talking. They also want to keep Paris interesting in talking to Tehran.

Getting back to Wolcott, he reminded me of something I had forgotten about. Bibi's role is lying to our Senators to freighten them into a war that Israel very much wanted. Wolcott guotes an April, 2002 Novak (the traitor) column. It's worth the read.

...Meanwhile, Back in Iraq,

We're losing the war.

Knight Ridder's coverage of the war in Iraq has been award winning and rightly so. While the every major newspaper carried front page propaganda from the admin (including the NYTs and WaPo who buried any story that question the party line) Knight Ridder stood alone for its pre-war reporting that questioned the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the ties between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

Not withstanding the timid reporting still coming out of the so-called major dailies and the victory declarations this week, it appears pretty clear that we are losing the war in Iraq,
BAGHDAD, Iraq - The United States is steadily losing ground to the Iraqi insurgency, according to every key military yardstick.

A Knight Ridder analysis of U.S. government statistics shows that through all the major turning points that raised hopes of peace in Iraq, including the arrest of Saddam Hussein and the handover of sovereignty at the end of June, the insurgency, led mainly by Sunni Muslims, has become deadlier and more effective.

The analysis suggests that unless something dramatic changes - such as a newfound will by Iraqis to reject the insurgency or a large escalation of U.S. troop strength - the United States won't win the war. It's axiomatic among military thinkers that insurgencies are especially hard to defeat because the insurgents' goal isn't to win in a conventional sense but merely to survive until the will of the occupying power is sapped. Recent polls already suggest an erosion of support among Americans for the war.

The unfavorable trends of the war are clear:
Read the rest here

Friday, January 21, 2005

A Vacuous Sermon

I didn't hear any of G-dubs speech live. I listened to some of the talking heads last night talking about it, and I think I can fairly sum it all up as follows: Blah, blah, blah, blah.

It's just a speech, people!

I think the best context and commentary came from Zbigniew Brzezinski last night on the Newshour,
If the speech, if the speech was to be taken literally, then clearly it would imply commitment to some sort of a global crusade vis-à-vis a variety of states with many of whom we have all sorts of mutual concerns, even if we don't like their practical policies. I mean, take a few examples. Take China; we have a major state instability with China, but China is hardly a democracy. What about the Tibetans? Take Russia; we have a common stake with regards to terrorism, but what about the Chechens? They're being treated in a tyrannical fashion. Take an even more complex issue: what about Israel, which is a friend of ours, and its security against Palestinian terrorists? But what about the oppression of the Palestinians and their desire for freedom?

The fact is that the speech was high-sounding. If it was to be taken literally, it would mean an American crusade throughout the entire world, and I don't know how that would be implemented practically. More Iraqs, perhaps, or is it just a general statement which doesn't give us much guide to policy, suited for the occasion but not to be taken as the point of departure for serious policy?

....So the themes are a little different. It's freedom versus tyranny. But where are the tyrannies? In fact, the really serious tyrannies are the ones we have to deal with. And we're not going to deal with them the way we have dealt with Iraq. So as a statement of a program, it's vacuous. As a sermon, it's nice, it's moving, and has some elegant moments, but it's vacuous.
It was indeed a vacuous speech from a vacuous man. We all know that, so lets move on to more productive pursuits.

By the way, listening to Walter Russell Mead try and take G-dub seriously was at times laugh out loud funny.

Friday Krugman

Krugman today makes an interesting observation about the stock market's past and future performance.
Fifty years ago most people, remembering 1929, were afraid of the stock market. As a result, those who did buy stocks got to buy them cheap: on average, the value of a company's stock was only about 13 times that company's profits. Because stocks were cheap, they yielded high returns in dividends and capital gains.

But high returns always get competed away, once people know about them: stocks are no longer cheap. Today, the value of a typical company's stock is more than 20 times its profits. The more you pay for an asset, the lower the rate of return you can expect to earn. That's why even Jeremy Siegel, whose "Stocks for the Long Run" is often cited by those who favor stocks over bonds, has conceded that "returns on stocks over bonds won't be as large as in the past."

But a very high return on stocks over bonds is essential in privatization schemes; otherwise private accounts created with borrowed money won't earn enough to compensate for their risks. And if we take into account realistic estimates of the fees that mutual funds will charge - remember, in Britain those fees reduce workers' nest eggs by 20 to 30 percent - privatization turns into a lose-lose proposition.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Military's Self-Inflicted Wound

LA Times

The hunt must never end, no matter how tired we are, no matter how thin we are streached, no matter the danger to our society and our citizens, we can never rest until each and every homo is sacked from the military,......no pun intended.

This really is remarkable,
As the Pentagon begins its open-ended review of U.S. strategy in Iraq, military leaders face withering attacks for having insufficient boots on the ground, for making National Guard troops into regular soldiers and for involuntary recalls of thousands of former service members who returned to civilian life long ago, most believing they would never again wear a uniform.

But at the same time that the U.S. armed forces are hurting for qualified soldiers, they're also firing qualified soldiers just because they're gay. According to Pentagon statistics, three to four gays and lesbians, on average, have been sacked every day for the last decade.

Worse, many of those discharged include badly needed infantrymen, nuclear power engineers, missile guidance and control operators and nuclear, biological and chemical warfare specialists. Another category in short supply, translators, was highlighted last week with the publication of data I obtained from the Pentagon that reveal that since 1998, 26 Arabic and Farsi language speakers have been fired from the military for homosexuality.
And if you think the loss of a few translators is no big deal, read this from today's NYTs.

The Price of Homophobia
....Three years after the towers were destroyed, the F.B.I., rife with translation problems, admitted it had an untranslated backlog of 120,000 hours of intercepts with potential value about looming threats. At the State Department, a study showed that only one in five of the 279 Arabic translators were fluent enough to handle the subtleties of the language, with its many regional dialects.

The military's experience is no more encouraging, with intelligence results muddied at times by a rush, as one inquiry put it, to recruit Arab convenience store owners and cabdrivers, who couldn't handle the task. The military is right to rely more on its language schools, but it can take several years to produce fluent graduates. The folly of using "don't ask, don't tell" policy against such precious national resources amounts to comfort for the enemy.

A Hero for Our Time

Putting Some Heat on Bush
Hansen, a lifelong government employee who heads NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, has inspired both anger and awe in the nation's scientific and political communities since publicly denouncing the Bush administration's policy on climate change last year.

Speaking in the swing state of Iowa days before the presidential election, Hansen accused a senior administration official of trying to block him from discussing the dangerous effects of global warming.

In the University of Iowa speech, Hansen recounted how NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe told him in a 2003 meeting that he shouldn't talk "about dangerous anthropogenic interference" -- humans' influence on the atmosphere -- "because we do not know enough or have enough evidence for what would constitute dangerous anthropogenic interference."

But Hansen said that scientists know enough to conclude we have reached this danger point and that their efforts to get the word out are being blocked by the administration. "In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it has now," Hansen said. He added that although the administration wants to wait 10 years to evaluate climate change, "delay of another decade, I argue, is a colossal risk."
....

After the barrage of criticism, John H. Marburger III, Bush's top science adviser, told Science magazine that if the researchers continue their protests, they might alienate influential lawmakers who set federal science budgets.
Read the rest.

Today's Message from Homeland Security

The Propaganda Remix Project

thereisnocrisis.com

Note the new ad from thereisnocrisis.com. This is a great resource for information to oppose Bush's attempt to phase-out Social Security.

Check it out.

Bush Tax "Reform"?

Nick Confessore has a very interesting, if a bit windy (5000 words), history of modern Republican tax cutting and where this might go in G-dub II.

The goal of this nuts is to eliminate all taxation on non-wage income such that the entire federal tax burden is on wage earners. Much of this has already been done. Nick points out how this wasn't always the R goal and how things have changed the last few years.

Here is a taste,
During the latter half of the 20th century, most Democrats and Republicans accepted -- at least in theory -- the notion that taxation should be as broad-based as possible; no one swathe of the public, and no one sector of the economy, should absorb too much of the cost of government, both because it was unfair and because it was inefficient. The 1986 act brought the federal tax code closer to that vision by cutting loopholes and, as a consequence, expanding the pool of taxpayers. But Republicans today have something else in mind. By their lights, the old consensus is not only outdated, but egregiously so, even offensively so. Bush's call for reform gives them a chance to replace it with something else.

And in many respects, the replacement is already well under way. After four rounds of largely Republican-inspired tax legislation, today's code is a profoundly different instrument than the one that existed when Bush first took office. And though the White House has never publicly laid out a common rationale for its policies, Bush's changes -- which have cut income taxes on high earners, reduced rates on capital gains and dividend income, temporarily eliminated the estate tax and allowed businesses to write off the cost of new capital purchases more quickly -- depart drastically from the old model of reform. Bush's cuts have greatly reduced the costs formerly borne by corporations and the wealthy, leaving the tax code considerably less progressive than it once was. Instead of getting rid of loopholes so that fewer businesses escape paying taxes, conservatives have essentially set out to universalize those loopholes, aiming for a day when corporations won't have to pay taxes at all. (According to a recent report from the Center for Tax Justice, a liberal watchdog group, 82 of America's largest corporations paid no income tax in one or more years of Bush's first term.) Bush's tax reform, in other words, is shaping up to be not merely a departure from the spirit of the 1986 reform -- but a wholesale repudiation of it.
Perhaps most frightening is the fact that with current R numbers in both houses, they don't really need much compromise from our side.

If you are interested in such things, and have the stomach, go read it.

Wolcott, What a Hoot!

SpongeDob Stickypants? Go read Wolcott for the answer.

Eric Mink

Eric Mink is the commentary editor for the editorial page of the St Louis Post-Dispatch , where he also writes a weekly column. Eric deserves a wider audience.

Eric's most recent column described the dysfunction of the Bushies to domestic security.

Eric noted that the new FBI computer system was considered a key component of managing domestic security (The FBI's notoriously archaic computer systems were among the factors that contributed to the failure to prevent the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001) and expressed concern that the new system appeared to be a near complete failure. He then noted other failures,
The story reminded me of a similarly unsettling report released last fall by the Justice Department's inspector general that the FBI had yet to translate more than 120,000 hours of accumulated terrorism-related audio tapes in foreign languages. Some recordings, it noted, might have been erased by mistake.

About the same time, the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security issued a scathing report criticizing the department for failing to create a unified watch list of terrorist suspects to replace the dozen being used by nine different agencies. The official, Bush appointee Clark Kent Ervin, earlier had reported on serious lapses in his department's efforts to secure ports and air cargo systems against shipments of explosives and low-level nuclear materials and on the substandard performance of air marshals.

Ervin was rewarded for his dedication, in a manner of speaking: The White House refused to renominate him when his appointment expired in December.

....The FBI's stubborn computer problems, for example, might have something to do with the agency having had five different chief information officers in two years, according to a 2004 Government Accountability Office report. Information Management Journal, an industry publication, reported last month that the Department of Homeland Security - which has existed only 26 months - is on its fourth chief of cybersecurity.

The problem, like most problems in big organizations, starts at the top: President George W. Bush himself already has burned through four chief White House counterterrorism advisers; he's now on his fifth in four years, and his second term hasn't officially started.

Last month, just after losing his job as DHS inspector general, Ervin told USA Today that the sprawling department of 183,000 employees who used to work for 22 different federal agencies was "a huge, dysfunctional bureaucracy." Secretary Tom Ridge, who recently had announced he was leaving his post, hadn't been able to bring "management expertise and experience" to bear on running the place. "Ideally," Ervin said, "you need someone who's got corporate experience."

Two weeks later, after the ill-advised flirtation with Bernard Kerik, Bush named federal Judge Michael Chertoff to succeed Ridge as secretary of homeland security. Chertoff is a veteran Republican lawyer who served in the Justice Department under John Ashcroft. He has no corporate experience.
Eric's columns appear every Wedneday and you will be seeing more of him here.

Regrets

Kevin Drum points to Tim Dunlop, who points to these parting comments from Colin Powell's deputy, Richard Armitage:

"I'm disappointed that Iraq hasn't turned out better. And that we weren't able to move forward more meaningfully in the Middle East peace process."

Then, after a minute's pause, he adds a third regret: "The biggest regret is that we didn't stop 9/11. And then in the wake of 9/11, instead of redoubling what is our traditional export of hope and optimism we exported our fear and our anger. And presented a very intense and angry face to the world. I regret that a lot."

Me too. And I can't help but feel that this reaction has given great satisfaction to those who attacked us and murdered our people, and I regret that very much.

Inauguration Day

I wanted to write something today to mark the occasion but the Moose beat me to it.

Read the Moose.

Bob Rubin on Soc Sec

Bob Rubin was Clinton's Treasury Sec and often credited as the genius behind Clinton and his fiscal policies. As Josh points out, a lot of us have been wondering when he would chime in on Bush's Soc Security phase out.

TodayJosh Marshall points to an article by Sid Blumenthal that quotes Rubin thusly,
"It's a badly, badly flawed plan," Robert Rubin, the former secretary of the treasury and current Citigroup director, told me. "From a fiscal point of view it's horrendous. It adds to deficits and federal debt in very large numbers until 2060." He calculates that the transition costs of Bush's plan for the first 10 years will be at least $2 trillion, and $4.5 trillion for the second 10 years. The exploding deficit would have an "adverse effect on interest rates, an adverse effect on consumption and housing prices, reduce productivity and growth, and crowd out debt capital to the private sector. Markets could begin to lose confidence in fiscal policy. The soundness of social security will be worse".

Rubin adds that the stock market is hardly a sure bet. "You are not making social security more secure by subjecting people's retirement to equity risk. If you look at the Nikkei in Japan you get a sense of what can happen."


By the way, no one is covering the politics of this debate better than Josh at TPM. It's a near opposion with him. Regular readers know that I hold Josh in the highest regard. His work and his blog are outstanding.

And another issue in this debate that doesn't get enough attention is the effect on the market of suddenly troughing billions into it literally overnight. We used to think a P/E of less than 20 was good. Stocks now regularly trade at P/Es north of 40. What the hell would these private accounts do to stocks? Will we say any P/E below 100 is great?

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Time Gets it Right

Big Media Matt on TAPPED points to this piece in Time that seems to get the Soc Security issue, at least mostly, right.
The President last week surrounded himself with citizens ranging from children to an 80-year-old and warned that the Social Security system will be "flat bust, bankrupt" by the time workers in their 20s retire. As early as 2018, Bush said, "you're either going to have to raise the taxes of people or reduce the benefits." At another appearance intended to promote federal standards for testing high school students, Bush went off script to warn a group of teenagers, "The system will be bankrupt by the year 2040."

That sounds pretty scary--except that it's not true. What will actually happen in 2018, according to the Social Security trustees who oversee the program, is that the money paid out in benefits will begin to exceed the amount collected in taxes. And since Social Security will run a surplus until then (and has been running one for some time), it has billions available that it can tap to fill the gap. Even under conservative estimates, the system as it stands will have enough money to pay all its promised benefits until 2042 and most of its obligations for decades after.

What's more, even if you take the President at his word--that a crisis and bankruptcy are fast approaching--the introduction of private accounts does nothing to slow that process. On the contrary, it makes things worse, by diverting payroll taxes from current retiree benefits and bringing the end of surpluses that much closer.
In other words, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Time article is worth a read. It contains interesting backqround about why Bush seems so interested in this issue.

More Problems for Bush's Soc Security Phase-out

The WaPo reports today that House Ways and Means chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA) doesn't think the phase-out Bush is talking about could pass both Houses.

Thomas suggested that he would be interested in some sort of deal that dealt with the payroll tax that funds Soc Sec and Medicare but offered no specifics.

But here is the kicker that Thomas apparently wants to talk about,
Perhaps most provocatively, Thomas said lawmakers should debate whether Social Security benefits should differ for men and women, because women live longer. "We never have debated gender-adjusting Social Security," he said. A House leadership official said that not even Republicans on Thomas's committee would vote for that idea. Thomas also said the system might take into account the need of blue-collar workers to retire younger than office workers.
Oh yea, gender and class indexing have a bright future.

There's no real substance to this article other than the fact that, perhaps the most powerful Comm chairman in the House doesn't think it will fly.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Terrorist Alerts?

The election safely behind them, expect no more terrorist alerts.

From today's WaPo,
In April, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced that al Qaeda terrorists might strike during this week's presidential inauguration festivities in Washington. The warning was part of a drumbeat sounded by U.S. officials throughout 2004 that terrorists were seeking to launch attacks both during and after the election season.

Nine months later, the threat level has been lowered, and Ridge, speaking at a news conference last week, said there is no evidence of a plot to disrupt President Bush's inauguration. Previous warnings, Ridge explained, stemmed from threat reports tied to the elections -- not to the inauguration more than two months later.

'Bush Broke?'

Josh Marshall today makes the observation that although we assume Bush to be a wealthy man,
...if you look at his most recent federal financial disclosure form from May 2004, you'll see that a good percentage of President Bush's personal wealth is tied up in (horribile dictu!) US Treasury notes, i.e., a worthless stack of paper/IOUs.
He invited a reader to pour over Bush's financial disclosure and attempt to determine how much Treasury paper Bush held.

Although I suspect others have done this by now, I decided to give it a go.

First, let me say that I am not an accountant and not the best person to go over such a document, and with that disclaimer, here goes.

The Public Financial Disclosure Report only provide broad ranges of values so an exact figure cannot be determined.

If I counted correctly the total number of Treasury Notes itemized, Bush holds at least 26 Treasury notes valued between $4,750,000 and $9,756,000.

In addition, he appears to have trust assets invested in Tresury notes of $135,679.

That's an awful lot of money invested in worthless IOUs.

Tuesday Krugman

I like Krugman best when he gives me the facts to beat over the head of Rs. We don't get that ammo so neatly today but still Krugman makes a point worth reading.

He draws comparisons between the selling of Iraq and Social Security modification. Here's the lede,
A charming man courts a woman, telling her that he's a wealthy independent businessman. Just after the wedding, however, she learns that he has been cooking the books, several employees have accused him of sexual harassment and his company is about to file for bankruptcy. She accuses him of deception. "The accountability moment is behind us," he replies.
Everyone has observed that the admin again relies on fear mongering,
But there's another parallel, which I haven't seen pointed out: the politicization of the agencies and the intimidation of the analysts. Bush loyalists begin frothing at the mouth when anyone points out that the White House pressured intelligence analysts to overstate the threat from Iraq, while neocons in the Pentagon pressured the military to understate the costs and risks of war. But that is what happened, and it's happening again.

Last week Andrew Biggs, the associate commissioner for retirement policy at the Social Security Administration, appeared with Mr. Bush at a campaign-style event to promote privatization. There was a time when it would have been considered inappropriate for a civil servant to play such a blatantly political role. But then there was a time when it would have been considered inappropriate to appoint a professional advocate like Mr. Biggs, the former assistant director of the Cato Institute's Project on Social Security Privatization, to such a position in the first place.

Sure enough, The New York Times reports that under Mr. Biggs's direction, employees of the Social Security Administration are being forced to disseminate dire warnings about the system's finances - warnings that the employees say are exaggerated.

Still, there are two reasons why the selling of Social Security privatization shouldn't be another slam dunk.

One is that we're not talking about secret intelligence; the media, if they do their job, can check out the numbers and see that they don't match what Mr. Bush is saying. (A good starting point is Roger Lowenstein's superb survey in The Times Magazine last Sunday.)

Monday, January 17, 2005


Today's Message from Homeland Security

The Propaganda Remix Project

WaPo Poll

From tomorrows WaPo:Political Divisions Persist After Election,
President Bush will begin his second term in office without a clear mandate to lead the nation, with strong disapproval of his policies in Iraq and with the public both hopeful and dubious about his leadership on the issues that will dominate his agenda, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

On the eve of Thursday's presidential inaugural ceremonies, the survey found few signs that the country has begun to come together since Bush defeated Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) two months ago. The president has claimed a mandate from the election, but the poll found as much division today as four years ago over the question of whether Bush or Democrats in Congress should set the direction for the country.

Fewer than half of those interviewed -- 45 percent -- said they preferred that the country go in the direction that Bush wanted to lead it, whereas 39 percent said Democrats should lead the way. During the first months of his presidency, after the bitterly disputed 2000 election, Americans said they preferred Bush to take the lead by 46 percent to 36 percent.
That's the good news. Here's the bad news,
But the public also wants cooperation from the Democrats. At a time when Democratic leaders are preparing to challenge many of Bush's major initiatives, nearly seven in 10 Americans agree that Bush's victory means that congressional Democrats should compromise with him -- even if it means compromising on their party's principles. Only one in four said Democrats must not compromise on things they find objectionable, even if it means less gets accomplished.
On Social Security?
Those surveyed gave Bush negative marks -- 38 percent approval vs. 55 percent disapproval -- for his handling of the Social Security issue, and three in five said the system will not have enough money to pay benefits by the time they retire. But by 54 percent to 41 percent, the public supported a plan that would include a reduction in the rate of growth of guaranteed benefits and private savings accounts financed with a portion of payroll taxes. A proposal with those elements is under consideration by the Bush administration.

Other polls have shown sizable opposition when the Bush plan is described as cutting future benefits, and the varying results among surveys suggest that the communications battle to frame the problem and the solutions may prove crucial to the outcome, as was the case in the fight over Clinton's health care plan in 1993 and 1994 and the battle to reduce the rate of growth in Medicare spending, which cost Republicans after they won control of Congress in 1994.
We've got our work cut out of us.

Read the whole article here,

Sy Hersh: Iran is Next

In the latest of his trademark big investigative pieces for The New Yorker, Sy Hersh say Iran is the next target.

Citing numerous sources, including one "former high ranking official with the CIA" Hersh concludes that the admin, emboldened by their election win and consolidation of power at the Pentagon and State departments is going forward with it's plans to democratize the Middle East.
“This is a war against terrorism, and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush Administration is looking at this as a huge war zone,” the former high-level intelligence official told me. “Next, we’re going to have the Iranian campaign. We’ve declared war and the bad guys, wherever they are, are the enemy. This is the last hurrah—we’ve got four years, and want to come out of this saying we won the war on terrorism.”
Perhaps most provocatively, Hersh claims US Special Forces have been on the ground in Iran scouting out targets to develop a plan to strike quickly wiping out a much military infastructure and nuclear facilities as possible in quick precision strikes.
It is possible that some of the American officials who talk about the need to eliminate Iran’s nuclear infrastructure are doing so as part of a propaganda campaign aimed at pressuring Iran to give up its weapons planning. If so, the signals are not always clear. President Bush, who after 9/11 famously depicted Iran as a member of the “axis of evil,” is now publicly emphasizing the need for diplomacy to run its course. “We don’t have much leverage with the Iranians right now,” the President said at a news conference late last year. “Diplomacy must be the first choice, and always the first choice of an administration trying to solve an issue of . . . nuclear armament. And we’ll continue to press on diplomacy.”

In my interviews over the past two months, I was given a much harsher view. The hawks in the Administration believe that it will soon become clear that the Europeans’ negotiated approach cannot succeed, and that at that time the Administration will act. “We’re not dealing with a set of National Security Council option papers here,” the former high-level intelligence official told me. “They’ve already passed that wicket. It’s not if we’re going to do anything against Iran. They’re doing it.”

The immediate goals of the attacks would be to destroy, or at least temporarily derail, Iran’s ability to go nuclear. But there are other, equally purposeful, motives at work. The government consultant told me that the hawks in the Pentagon, in private discussions, have been urging a limited attack on Iran because they believe it could lead to a toppling of the religious leadership. “Within the soul of Iran there is a struggle between secular nationalists and reformers, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the fundamentalist Islamic movement,” the consultant told me. “The minute the aura of invincibility which the mullahs enjoy is shattered, and with it the ability to hoodwink the West, the Iranian regime will collapse;like the former Communist regimes in Romania, East Germany, and the Soviet Union. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz share that belief, he said.
I have no doubt that their are plenty of nuts, lead by Cheney, who really think moving into Iran next makes perfect since. My immediate response is, them and what army? I think that has a practical matter, bravado aside, they don't have the support in Congress, or the military power -- given how bogged down we are in Iraq -- to do it. Of course, cruise missile strikes don't take a lot of power so that is always an option.

Another issue here that jumps out at me, if Hersh is to be believed, is their continued naivete regarding their ability to effect government change on a society from the outside. Given the nationalistic pride every citizen feels for his homeland, and the serious dislike all Muslim Middle Easterners feel for the US these days, why doesn't it occur to these kooks that a US attack on their nuclear program may push dissidents into supporting their own government against American imperialists? Small nations take great pride in their nuclear programs and it is reasonable to think that even dissident Iranians may resent our unilateral destruction of their program. I guess they figure if they keep trying someone is bound to eventually greet us with flowers.

I think what we have here is a mix of wishful thinking about what might have been if Iraq had gone well, and a propaganda campaign to keep Iran interested in talking.

Read the article and tell me what you think.

The Real Republican Agenda

The Bull Moose is written by Marshall Wittman, recovering R (thought not a D, as I understand it) and until recently, a spokesman for Sen John McCain. Marshall currently works as a Senior Fellow for The Democratic Leadership Council. Here, Marshall explains his political journey.

Bull Moose today has another excellent post about the President's comments this weekend about his lack of interest in the Gay marriage amendment and what really motivates Rs.

Marshall notes Bush's recent comments wherein he seems to abandon seeking a marriage amendment and blaming it on the Senate and the statement of Scott McClellan the following day re-stating how hard the Pres intends to work to save marriage from the gays, despite the G-dubs comments otherwise. Marshall then observes,

What the President initially stated likely reveals what he really believes - that the last thing he wants is to spend precious and perhaps diminishing political capital on is a distasteful fight over gay marriage. After years of observation, the Moose has concluded that the Republican establishment does not share the passion of the religious right about divisive cultural issues.

The dirty little secret of the Republican Party is that behind closed doors the establishment has contempt for the religious right. And the GOP illuminati certainly do not leave their homes in the morning with a passion to prevent Jim from marrying John or to save a fetus from an abortionist. For instance, many have loved ones who are gay, or they may be gay themselves. The powers that be in the GOP are far more concerned about eliminating the estate tax for multimillionaires than halting the death of the unborn. Here is a thought experiment - if you really believe that the sacred institution of marriage is in dire jeopardy, would you make private social security accounts your top priority?

The GOP big wigs pay obeisance to the religious right because they provide the foot soldiers for their campaigns. The Republican establishment cynically manipulates the cultural issues because they recognize that a party that is dedicated to redistributing wealth upward has little chance of majority status. Once elected, Republicans reward the religious right with some crumbs while the real goodies are handed out to their wealthy donors and their corporate cronies.
Marshall says Nick Confessore got it exactly right in his Sunday NYTs Magazine piece,"Breaking the Code", and concludes,

Perhaps some day it will dawn on the rank and file of social conservatives that they are being manipulated to serve another agenda by the hierarchy of the Republican Party. Until then, as both the New Donkey and Matt Yglesias have also pointed out, the GOP will take them for suckers.
It seems to me that we Ds should be asking ourselves and our leaders what exactly we intend to do to get the message out to these social conservatives that they are just being played for fools. It's a safe bet their not ready New Donkey or Big Media Matt's blogs.

We should be calling the Rs on this nonsense at every opportunity. At every public opportunity we should make them squirm.

"Cross Fire" on CNN is dead and good riddence. How many missed opportunities has our side had on that lame program where the so-called lefty gave a pass to the R?

We have to stop giving free passes.