Monday, January 31, 2005

Hope and ambiguity in Iraq

Michael Ignatieff takes us to task for showing a general indifference to Iraqis' fledgling attempt at self-governing and the election that took place yesterday (and was, at least in terms of turnout in what was a relatively quiet day, a successful event).

Just as depressing as the violence in Iraq is the indifference to it abroad. Americans and Europeans who have never lifted a finger to defend their own right to vote seem not to care that Iraqis are dying for the right to choose their own leaders. Why do so few people feel even a tremor of indignation when they see poll workers gunned down in a Baghdad street? Why isn't there a trickle of applause in the press for the more than 6,000 Iraqis actually standing for political office at the risk of their lives? Have we all become so disenchanted that we need Iraqis to remind us what a free election can actually be worth?

Explaining this morose silence requires understanding how support for Iraqi democracy has become the casualty of the corrosive bitterness that still surrounds the initial decision to go to war. Establishing free institutions in Iraq was the best reason to support the war -- now it is the only reason -- and for that very reason democracy there has ceased to be a respectable cause. The administration's ideologues -- the ones who wrote the presidential inaugural and its image of America in the service of ''the Author of Liberty'' -- have managed the nearly impossible: to turn democracy itself into a disreputable slogan. Liberals can't bring themselves to support freedom in Iraq lest they seem to collude with neoconservative bombast. Meanwhile, antiwar ideologues can't support the Iraqis because that would require admitting that positive outcomes can result from bad policies and worse intentions. Finally there are the ideological fools in the Arab world and even a few here at home who think the ''insurgents'' are fighting a just war against American imperialism. All this makes you wonder when the left forgot the proper name for people who bomb polling stations, kill election workers and assassinate candidates. The right name for such people is fascists.

I think Ignatieff is wrong in saying that "Establishing free institutions in Iraq was the best reason to support the war," because that was rarely -- if ever -- articulated by the administration as a reason at all. It was the last reason mentioned, when all other real reasons Bush took us to war (WMD, Saddam/al Qaeda connection, establishing military bases in the middle east to replace those in Saudi Arabia) failed to materialize.

But I think Ignatieff is correct in criticizing the left and the antiwar movement for its lack of support for Iraqis' initial efforts at democracy. It is the same criticism that can be leveled at the Right and the Left for the indifference shown to the Iraqi dead.

The indifference is the unfortunate byproduct of the ambiguous nature of this war. A war that should have been noble in its aims (freeing the Iraqi people of both a tyrant and crushing sanctions), but was brought about through administration deception and carried out on the quick and the cheap. The ambiguity of U.S. soldiers under-equipped and Iraqis without electricity while we wallow in sanctimony, low interest rates, and massive tax cuts. And it's an ambiguity borne of distrust of the Bush administation intent on having these elections come hell, high water, "fascist" insurgents, and voters who don't even know who they're voting for.

But, as Herbert admits, you must be hardhearted not to admire and applaud the bravery and zeal Iraqis showed yesterday, by all accounts. Yes, we lost in November as 51% of voters chose Bush's mishandling of the war and his creation of an environment in which Abu Ghraibs could exist. But progressives and liberals should not be bitter or indifferent to genuine hope.

At the Darari primary school, east of the Tigris River in central Baghdad, the courtyard teemed with people of all ages, and of all ethnic and religious groups, doing what American military commanders here have urged for so long: standing up for themselves, and laying down a marker, with their votes, that signaled they could not be intimidated into surrendering their rights by the insurgents who have terrorized the country with guns and bombs and butchers' knives.

The voters were the same people, mostly, who crowded polling centers in the fall of 2002, six months before American troops toppled Mr. Hussein, to re-elect him in a one-candidate referendum by an official vote count of 100 percent. Then, all was uniformity, and cries of fealty to the dictator.

On Sunday, everything about the voting resonated with a passion for self-expression, individuals set on their own choices, prepared to walk long distances through streets choked with military checkpoints, and to stand for hours in line to cast their ballots.

It awaits to be seen if this is the turning point that will mark the beginning of real change for Iraq. I rather doubt it, as I think fear and conservative Islam will smother liberal democracy in its crib. But it is the best news that we've had since this bloody adventure began. It is, at best, curmodgeonly not to join the Iraqis in celebrating an historic day.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Jim Capaldi, dead at 60

Jim Capaldi
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
It's only when one of these guys dies -- and it seems to be happening with startingly frequency these days -- we're reminded just how great they were back in the day. Traffic's sound still sounds new.

Friday, January 28, 2005

The "marriage expert"

Yesterday I asked, what the devil is "a marriage expert."

The incomperable Bob Somerby tells us.

WHO IS MAGGIE GALLAGHER: Maggie Gallagher, “marriage expert,” is also a nasty, angry woman with a ripe, smut-lovin’ mouth. Example? In November 1999, she leaped into action when the press corps ginned up its phony Naomi Wolf flap. Many pundits played the smut card in their phony campaign against Wolf (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/3/03), and Gallagher brought an especially loud mouth to the crowded table. In a November 6, 1999 Washington Times column, the “marriage expert” directly addressed Gore. “So now I hear you've gone out and hired a feminist babe with big hair, friend of your daughter, to help boost your MQ (that's ‘masculinity quotient’ to you outside the Beltway),” she wrote. In the course of her column, she characterized Wolf, a former Rhodes Scholar, as “this pretty little writer thing (don't get me wrong, smart too, gives real good pen) who's going to teach you how to be a man” and she said that Gore had been “looking for manly sex tips from a girl.” After an inexcusable comparison to Monica Lewinsky (such comparisons were required in Gallagher’s smutty cohort), our expert again called Wolf a girl: “Al, baby, the really big problem here is that you are going to a girl to get advice on how to be a man.” At the time, Wolf—the “girl,” who “gives good pen”—was a 37-year-old, world-acclaimed writer, the married mother of a young child. But so what? “Marriage experts” like Maggie Gallagher will continue to degrade our public discourse as long as their colleagues in the mainstream press corps prefer to stare off into air. Each evening, crackpots like Gallagher flood cable programs, where they trash the mainstream press for its disturbing, alleged “liberal bias.” The kookiness (and smuttiness) of the cable discussion makes our national discourse a joke, but mainstream scribes would rather eat live worms than comment on the endless degradation. Is Maggie Gallagher a “marriage expert?” In fact, she’s a smutty, foul-mouthed, loud, angry kook, whose type has made a sick joke of our discourse. But alas! High-minded typists of the mainstream press corps don’t care enough to take notice.

So now you know who's on the White House payroll providing "marriage expertise."

He'll be operating the snowblower after the ceremony

The snowblower
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
I know that Dick Cheney does not like to attend to the duties usually reserved for VPs, such as attending state funerals and the like. But does he have to be so peevish about it?

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?

What could he possibly have been thinking? Did someone tell him they were going to Lambeau Field? Or did he not think that the suffering of the victims of the holocaust were worth having to suffer through the cold during the ceremony?

Symbols matter. And Cheney just sent a big ugly green one to the world: "My comfort is paramount, the rest of you, '*&%$ off.'"

"100,000 deaths haven't gone away"

As we approach the wonderful day when Iraqis gratefully see the dawn of democracy in their country, it would be fitting to remember, as Daniel Davies does at Crooked Timber, that the Lancet study has not gone away, nor has it been debunked.

Because the fundamental point that Roberts makes in the article is absolutely correct; it is a far greater disgrace that 100,000 people1 can be needlessly killed and everybody carries on as they were before. You don’t have to accept an entirely consequentialist view of wars to accept that the consequences of wars have to be relevant to assessing whether they’ve succeeded or not. The best evidence that we have is that the consequences of this one were bloody disastrous. And as far as I’m aware, the list of war supporters who have seriously engaged with the possibility that this war was a failure numbers two; Marc Mullholland and Norman Geras. Marc mentions the Lancet specifically and ends up worried about his previous position; Norm doesn’t and doesn’t. If you know of any other examples, I’d be very grateful. But I honestly think, that’s it.

Other than that, the response in the world of weblogs has been exactly the same as the rest of the media; in the immediate aftermath of the report, half-assed attempts to rubbish the survey, or links to same. Then, when this didn’t work, just pretend that it’s all been dealt with and move on. Maybe say “I’ll get back to you on that” and never do. After a few months of this concerted inattention, many pro-war voices have even decided it was safe to use the old slogan “well Iraq is certainly a better place because we got rid of Saddam”, when this claim is quite obviously highly debatable (just like “of course the world is a safer place because we got rid of Saddam” …)

Whether or not one supports the war, whether or not one believes the voting that takes place will be a successful turning point in this gruesome conflict (unlike all of the other "turning points" that have been hyped thus far), and whether or not one is confident that Iraqis can shake off one hundred years of colonialism, monarchy, and despotism to become a beacon of democracy in the middle east, our collective shrugging off the death and suffering we have brought down around the ears of Iraqis is shameful, disheartening, but, I'm afraid, not surprising.

The fact that left wing, anti-war voices have generally ignored the Lancet study just as assiduously as the freepers indicates just how far we have lurched to the Right in this country, and just how far removed we are from the very people we're supposed to be "liberating."

And no, I am not shrugging off the price American soldiers are paying every day for this grand experiment in democracy-building either.

We have lost our moral bearings. I realize that Bush's day of accountability has passed, but it is amazing how quickly we have become desensitized to the horrors daily coming out of Iraq.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

A $40 million party -- for the troops!

Remember, we're honoring the troops here.

First stop: The "Heroes Red, White & Blue Inaugural Ball" at the Mellon Auditorium. On paper, it sounded great: an unofficial late party for wounded soldiers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Gen. Richard Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman.

Into the crowd of military dress uniforms, sequined gowns, canes, prosthetic forearms and wheelchairs, emcee Geraldo Rivera waded uncertainly, pausing awkwardly and shaking hands. "Hi. How are you?" he said to Cpl. Christopher Fesmire, a 26-year-old Marine from California who lost his legs in Iraq last fall. "How's life? Having a good party?"

After a brief exchange, Rivera moved on and Fesmire shook his head. Rivera? "Didn't he give up the location of a bunch of Marines?" he asked to no one in particular.

Well, yeah, which made for an awkward moment when Rivera took the stage. "I've been deployed in my own way," he began. A tight laugh skimmed the room. It got worse: Rivera called himself an "overpaid" reporter covering the war, not that different from an "underpaid hero" fighting the war. The silence was deafening. Faltering, he groveled to the soldiers, "We love you. We adore you. . . . You're our new rock stars!"

"Aaah!" joked Fesmire darkly. "We're gonna go back and trash the hotel room."

This was followed by Wolfowitz (who mispronounced Rivera's first name), Myers and Rumsfeld. The evening's big act, Nile Rodgers and Chic, sang -- to a group of soldiers missing hands and legs -- "Clap your hands. Hoo!" and "Dance to the beat. Move my feet. Feel the heat."

Class. Oh, and dignity. That's what it's all about, man.

"Lots of different types of families"

I guess they got to her.

Education sect'y Margaret Spelling then.

Spellings became the subject of conservative sniping soon after moving to Washington after she was asked on C-SPAN to react to census data showing a decline in the traditional family. "So what?" she replied, noting that there were "lots of different types of family" and that she herself was "a single mom."

And now.

"You should also know," Spellings says, "that two years ago the Senate Appropriations Committee raised questions about the accountability of funds appropriated for Ready-To-Learn programs." A bit ominous, we think.

"We believe the 'Sugartime!' episode does not come within these purposes or within the intent of Congress and would undermine the overall objective of the Ready-To-Learn program -- to produce programming that reaches as many children and families as possible," Spellings wrote.

Why, you might wonder, given that preschoolers who watch the episode learn how maple syrup and cheese are made, not to mention useful English-language phrases (the series is also designed to help children for whom English is a second language).

Because, Spellings explained in her letter, "many parents would not want their young children exposed to the life-styles portrayed in this episode." She did not say how many is "many," or cite a source for that information.

After only two days on the job!

Fiscal restraint

Preznit turkee takes aim at the federal (and intellectual) deficit.

"We will not be paying commentators to advance our agenda," Mr. Bush said at a news conference. "Our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet."

"At least when our agenda ain't drunk on its own power, heh, heh," Bush did not say.

And, excuse me, what exactly is a "marriage expert?"

Ms. Gallagher, a marriage expert who has testified before Congress, admitted she had erred in failing to disclose to readers a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services for writing and advisory work about marriage policy. Her syndicated column runs nationally, including in The New York Post.

But Ms. Gallagher drew a distinction between her work and that of Mr. Williams, saying she had been hired for her expertise, not to spread the views of the administration.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

"Tim was growing an old dog now"

Chapter 6, in which the incomparable Bob Somerby compares Tim Russert to Elisabeth Barrett Browning's pet spaniel.

The Passion of the Mel

Okay, just in time for the period of quiet seething by the Right as the most important movie in the history of Christendom was not nominated for best picture, best director, or best actor, I finally watched "The Passion of the Christ."

In short, it was okay, though I have to admit they got me when the Roman sadist guards dug that cat-o-nine tails thingey into his ribs. Ouch.

Some observations.

According to casting, Christ and his apostles were all Italian surfer guys.

According to make-up, Christ was a metrosexual dude, hip to the more recent trend of young males waxing their legs and chest.

According to Mel, children are, beneath their cute facades, really the spawn of Satan (that part resonated deeply for me).

According to Mel, Pontius Pilate was a pretty good guy (after all, he invented Pilates, didn't he?), troubled by political pressures from Ceasar ("next time, my blood spills"). At the same time, the Roman centurians were a bunch of thuggish sadists. And don't get me started with the Pharisees -- they look like caricatures of Nazi caricatures of Jews.

According to the cinematographer (who did receive a nomination), the Pieta was indeed carefully staged and should have, in reality, included Monica Bellucci.

As I said, it was ok. It certainly didn't deserve all of the furor that accompanied its release. Nothing in it was revolutionary, except that for moralists to hail it despite the over-the-top violence is a little bizarre. I do think that Gibson's genius was in recognizing the zeitgeist of victimhood that Christians have been asserting of late. He positioned himself as a Hollywood outsider (yes, despite "What Women Want") and made it seem as though a conspiracy was afoot to see that Christ's "last 12 hours" would go unseen. It just wasn't that powerful an affirmation of Christ on earth, and after a while the suffering is so relentless it ceases to seem like suffering. But it is perfect for our strange times. Christian conservatives can no doubt see themselves in a figure who is certainly not meek, who is beaten to a bloody pulp (literally), but who rises to march into the sun to a martial beat. With holes in his hands and feet.

Oh, and I did learn that, at least according to the way Aramaic was spoken in the film, Ceasar was pronounced Kaiser.

I guess Christie's off the Christmas card list

Christie Todd Whitman is shocked that her plea to return the Republican Party to its better, Eisenhower-like angels, is not going over so well with her colleagues.

"I expected criticism," Mrs. Whitman, 58, said last week, sitting in the living room of Pontefract, her family's gracious farm in New Jersey's hunt country. "But I'm surprised at how personal the attacks are."

The bitterness of the reaction is all the more surprising because Mrs. Whitman's book, like her public record, performs some astounding contortions to avoid criticizing the president himself.

Mr. Bush's decision to break his campaign promise to curb carbon emissions from power plants? A reasonable choice, Mrs. Whitman argues, marred by poor public relations. She asserts, without irony, that Mr. Bush is a closet environmentalist, forced to hide his inner tree hugger for fear of riling Republican extremists.

In fact, the only member of the Bush inner circle cited in the book for environmental negligence is Barney, a Scottish terrier Mrs. Whitman sold to the president, and who "christened" the carpet in Vice President Dick Cheney's office.

Barney, out of all that stupid, insular clan, gets it.

A really, really good blog

At least based on this, Mark Derry's first post, which defines what makes a good blog and what makes a...well...really a shoulder-shrug of a blog. Really, you must visit Derry's Shovelware and prepare to be amused, annoyed, and above all, led to some other really terrific blogs and postings, in particular this one from Libertarian John Perry Barlow in which the author recounts the "taste of the system" he gets when a misdemeanor amount of controlled substances is teased out of the bottom of a bottle of ibuprofen whilst his suitcase was being searched for explosives by the TSA. It is harrowing. Also harrowing is the fact that I was completely unawares of this posting, which at one time was getting huge traffic. Where was/am I?

Scrolling more on Barlowfriendz I also learned the sad news that Luke Scully, son of former Grateful Dead road manager Rock Scully, was apparently killed by the Dec. 26 tsunami.

As for Barlow, he lost round one in his quixotic effort to get the case thrown out of court on illegal search and seizure grounds, but that's ok as the objective is to get it to the state appelate level to become precedent. The TSA may well be sorry they took on a guy as rich and ornery as Barlow.

Thanks to Ezra for the original link.

Another tough-talking candidate

Evan Bayh appears poised to make a run for the Democratic nomination in '08. So he's taking a stand...or something on Social Security.

Josh Marshall is absolutely right (and why, after more than four years of watching preznit turkee operate, Dems still play his game I will never understand). Waiting for Bush to actually announce his support for a specific proposal is a fool's game. Bush won't "negotiate with himself" so he won't make such an announcement until the bill is already on the floor of the Senate and Frist and Hastert have already maneuvered its passage in the middle of the night.

And, please, Senator Bayh, please don't fall into the trap where four years from now you're saying, "I actually voted for Social Security reform before I voted against it."

As a member of the Special Committee on Aging, I have been carefully evaluating the various proposals for long term Social Security reform. I believe that all aspects of reform must be reviewed to ensure that the long-term viability of the Social Security system is restored [my emphasis, sadly].

Aaargh. That's just the kind of statement a candidate like Bush (Jeb?) will use to turn against an opposition candidate. "See," he will say to adoring, hand-picked throngs, "my opponent stated that the current system is not viable long-term and yet he opposed my party's bold attempts at reform. This tired old libural should be stomped to a bloody pulp." Or something like that.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Chickens. Home. Roost

During the Bush campaign there was very little mention of Social Security PRIVATIZATION (oh, I forgot, the leadership of Oceania has instructed us not to use that word, but rather refer to "personal accounts"). There was a great deal of talk about the "sanctity of [heterosexual] marriage." There were even hints that the great Republican majority would propose a Constitutional Amendment banning ickiness.

Now, with a Man Date behind him [heh, heh], Dear Leader has been backing away from supporting a marriage amendment, and instead is focused, laser-like, on PRIVATIZATION. He still supports the idea, he says, but political realities are, you know, what they are. Even Rick "the Beast" Santorum is sounding pragmatic on the issue these days.

Well, the radical clerics who Rove raised to new prominence during the campaign are pissed, and have decided to use support for Social Security PRIVATIZATION as the cudgel to push Republicans into coming through on the promises they hinted at last Fall.

In a confidential letter to Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's top political adviser, the group said it was disappointed with the White House's decision to put Social Security and other economic issues ahead of its paramount interest: opposition to same-sex marriage.

The letter, dated Jan. 18, pointed out that many social conservatives who voted for Mr. Bush because of his stance on social issues lack equivalent enthusiasm for changing the retirement system or other tax issues. And to pass to pass any sweeping changes, members of the group argue, Mr. Bush will need the support of every element of his coalition.

"We couldn't help but notice the contrast between how the president is approaching the difficult issue of Social Security privatization [emphasis added] where the public is deeply divided and the marriage issue where public opinion is overwhelmingly on his side," the letter said. "Is he prepared to spend significant political capital on privatization but reluctant to devote the same energy to preserving traditional marriage? If so it would create outrage with countless voters who stood with him just a few weeks ago, including an unprecedented number of African-Americans, Latinos and Catholics who broke with tradition and supported the president solely because of this issue."

The letter continued, "When the administration adopts a defeatist attitude on an issue that is at the top of our agenda, it becomes impossible for us to unite our movement on an issue such as Social Security privatization where there are already deep misgivings."


The members of the coalition that wrote the letter are some of Mr. Bush's most influential conservative Christian supporters, and include Dr. James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the Southern Baptist Convention, the American Family Association, Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich.

Several members of the group said that not long ago, many of their supporters were working or middle class, members of families that felt more allegiance to the Democratic Party because of programs like Social Security before gravitating to the Republican Party as it took up more cultural conservative issues over the last 20 years.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, declined to talk about the letter, but said, "The enthusiasm to get behind his proposals is going to require that he get behind the issues that really motivated social conservative voters."

Asked to estimate the level of discontent with the White House among the group on a scale from one to 10, Mr. Perkins put it at 8.

I guess the radical clerics didn't get the memo to stop saying "PRIVATIZATION." It will be interesting to watch, in the weeks ahead, as Republicans propose a "traditional marriage" amendment in the Senate -- despite the certainty of its defeat -- and the radical clerics come out in support of "private accounts." Jesus, as we learned in Paul's Letter to the Cato Institute, was determined to take up the cause of PRIVATIZATION before his untimely death.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Rendering freedom and liberty

Dear Leader addresses the nation:

We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. America's belief in human dignity will guide our policies, yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.

Well, before we encourage reform we'll take this opportunity to render prisoners we're holding in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay to countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia where we'll encourage that they be tortured into giving up information for the GWOT.

Jeanne at Body and Soul reads the inaugural address and notes that it begins with a bald-faced lie.

Best computer games of 2004: It's Christmas in January edition

Via Crooked Timber, Paul Ford nominates some obscure games that were his favorite last year, including AASO:AG, in which

The choice of weapons is really interesting, too. You start out with a crate, a cattle prod, and a Bible, and by using them in different ways you get more weapons to use. For instance, after you beat a detainee with a Bible, you get pork and bananas, which you can either (spoiler alert) feed to the detainees or insert into their rectums, or both. But it's not as easy as it sounds! The detainees will eat the bananas, but they'll get really angry if they have to eat pork.

"Save Social Security first."

That, you no doubt recall, was President Clinton's challenge to Congress to use the federal budget surplus, then about a guadzillion dollars, to bolster social security. His plan at the time was to use the surplus to create personal savings accounts on top of what workers and employers paid in to Social Security, as opposed to preznit Bush's plan to divert monies away from SS and into private accounts.

You would think, then, that Bush & Co. would consider Clinton's remarks toxic. After all, they remind us that Bush ignored Clinton's sage advice, and instead wiped out the surplus exactly as Clinton feared -- through tax cuts and new spending. Hell, it reminds us that we even had a surplus, something we won't see for a long, long time to come.

Yup, you'd think so. But that's why you aren't working in the White House right now!

With their push to restructure Social Security off to a rocky start, Bush administration officials have begun citing two Democrats -- former President Bill Clinton and the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan -- to bolster their claims that the retirement system is in crisis.

But the gambit carries some risk, Bush supporters say. Clinton's repeated calls during his second term to "save Social Security first" were specifically to thwart what President Bush ultimately did: cut taxes based on federal budget surplus projections. Likewise, internal Treasury Department documents indicate that Moynihan, a New York Democrat who was co-chairman of Bush's 2001 Social Security Commission, expressed misgivings about the president's push to partially privatize Social Security.

Just when you think the administration has plumbed the very depths of the sea of Mendaciousness, when you think they've reached the summit of Mount Hypocricy, this kakistocracy exceeds all expectations.

More than their 18-1/2 minutes

The Vega mourns the passing of Johnny Carson (1925-2005), who, when asked how he became a star, replied, "I started in a gaseous state and then I cooled."

Carson, it seems to me, taught America that it was okay to stay up late. I would hazard a guess that since his final sign-off from the tonight show, America's adults have been going to sleep earlier and earlier, to the point where it is difficult to be certain if we're even awake anymore. For thirty years, from 1962 to 1992, Carson decided what was funny -- and sometimes not so funny -- among some of the most turbulent events of the era.

Another memorable moment occurred in 1963, when one of Mr. Carson's guests was Ed Ames, an actor-singer who played an Indian on the television series "Daniel Boone." Mr. Ames was there to teach Mr. Carson how to throw a tomahawk, and he brought along a cardboard image of a sheriff as a target. In his demonstration, Mr. Ames threw the tomahawk across the stage, and it imbedded itself deeply in the sheriff's crotch. The audience was in an uproar; people were literally falling out of their seats with laughter.

When Mr. Ames went to remove the tomahawk, Mr. Carson held his arm and the uncontrolled laughter commenced anew. As the laughter subsided, Mr. Carson looked at Mr. Ames and said, "I didn't know you were Jewish."

But equally important to those of us who joined the Reality-based Community thirty years or so ago, is the passing of Rose Mary Woods, Richard Nixon's longtime secretary, and the "cause" of the infamous 18-1/2 minute gap in the Oval Office tapes. That gap would prove fatal to the Nixon's presidency, as his credibility -- even among his fellow party members -- was doomed.

Miss Woods, the president's private secretary, in 1973 was transcribing secretly recorded audiotapes of Oval Office conversations. She was working on a June 20, 1972, tape of a conversation between Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, that might have shed light on whether Nixon knew about the Watergate break-in three days earlier. While she was performing her duties, she said, the phone rang. As she reached for it, she said she inadvertently struck the erase key on the tape recorder and kept her foot on the machine's pedal, forwarding the tape.

A photograph taken of Miss Woods re-creating the event, nearly sprawling to do both simultaneously, made her gesture look like a gymnastic feat. Some wags, according to a Washington Post article at the time, dubbed it "the Rose Mary Stretch."

Miss Woods testified to a federal grand jury in 1974 that she might have caused a four- or five-minute gap in the tape, but no more. Subsequent investigations concluded that there were five to nine separate erasures, but no one has ever determined what was erased. She had complained earlier to the grand jury that some of the tapes were of such bad quality that she doubted that exact transcripts could ever be made.

Adios to them both.

If you have a chance, grab the print edition of the New York Times. On the obituary page there is a still of Carson, with a marmoset on his head, bemusedly looking directly across the page at the photo of Woods in full stretch. It is worth a million words.

Cartoon exploitation

Turns out the radical cleric isn't in it just for the children, he's dedicated to protecting -- not condemning -- animated characters.

Once upon a time, you might expect the Dobsonians to take their lumps and slink away. But things have changed; anything can be spun. The Conservative Voice steps up to assure us that Spongebob is the real victim here -- of radical homos. "Dr. Dobson is concerned that these popular animated personalities are being exploited by an organization that's determined to promote the acceptance of homosexuality among our nation's youth," explains CV. Fortunately, "It has fallen instead to the world of bloggers, commentators and pundits to report what the media has chosen to bury, distort and ignore."

From their lips to Perfesser Glenn Reynolds ears! "HAVE I BEEN UNFAIR TO JAMES DOBSON over the SpongeBob affair?" cries the Perfesser. "...yes, I have, by falling for the New York Times' spin." Dobson, like a pariah suddenly sensing a loophole, gets with the new reality: "From the outset, let's be clear that this issue is not about objections to any specific cartoon characters. Instead, Dr. Dobson is concerned that these popular animated personalities are being exploited by an organization that's determined to promote the acceptance of homosexuality among our nation's youth."

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Entitled to a better press corps

The LA Times's Joel Havemann and Maura Reynolds write "Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg of New Hampshire — is laying plans to institute a procedure that would make it harder for Democrats to block benefit cuts."

The procedure would allow the Republican-controlled House the ability to push through cuts in "entitlements" on a simple majority, and eliminate the risk of a filibuster.

Since then, the deficit has ballooned, to $412 billion last year. Gregg, who is new to the Budget Committee's chairmanship this year, said the chief culprit was the growth of the giant entitlement programs — so-called because they entitle people to federal benefits according to their age, income or some other characteristic.

A quick glance at the budget numbers shows why entitlements loom so large. The biggest, Social Security, will entitle the elderly and disabled this year to checks totaling about $510 billion, one-fifth of the federal budget [emphasis added]. Medicare benefits for the same groups will cost an additional $325 billion.

In comparison, the programs that Congress can enlarge or reduce annually in its regular spending bills are very small. Economic development grants to poor communities, a traditional target of budget cutters, will cost an estimated $4.6 billion this year. The government will spend about $1.2 billion this year to subsidize passenger railroad travel on Amtrak.

Is it too much to ask that reporters writing about the federal budget have enough background on the subject to allow them to point out that while SS may be one-fifth of the budget, the program represents zero-fifths of the federal deficit?

Capitalism on the march!

Newt Gingrich passes out candy and cake, describing a plan that doesn't exist.

"If you frame the private Social Security accounts as giving your children the right to choose, as opposed to cutting benefits or forcing anyone to do anything, I think it's a total winner for us," Mr. Gingrich said in an interview. "The accounts will create the first 100 percent capitalist society in history. Fifty years from now, relatively poor Americans for the first time will have their own personal savings; they'll see the power of interest buildup over time and appreciate the importance of property."

"100 percent," huh?

Oh, really?

I see.

Who knew?

Well, "100 percent capitalist society" for the poor as they watch their interest compound... Lucky duckies.

The Big Tent of today's GOP!

The GOP raises its rainbow flag, and there is much rejoicing throughout the land.

And is this what they mean by "big tent?"


And oh, what the hell, since we're substance-free (blogwise, that is) and just running a posting of the blogroll this morning, go to Fafblog. Go to Fafblog now.

Me? I'm off to shovel.

UPDATE (4:08pm): Above, I meant shovel snow. I am aware, Dear Readers, that I shovel a great deal of something entirely different on this humble blog.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Methinks Brooksie was kicked in the head by an ostrich skin boot

David Brooks sits in Washington and watches the disgusting display of greed and unembarassed materialism while listening to Bush's "freedom is on the reign" speech and comes to the conclusion that Bush's newly-found idealism represents the true face of our country.

Maybe so (though, maneuvering through the sea of Hummers, Escalades, and Navigators this Saturday morning I'm...not so sure). But it sure ain't the true face of Washington and certainly not the Bush administration's foreign policy.

Two years from now, no one will remember the spending or the ostrich-skin cowboy boots. But Bush's speech, which is being derided for its vagueness and its supposed detachment from the concrete realities, will still be practical and present in the world, yielding consequences every day.

With that speech, President Bush's foreign policy doctrine transcended the war on terror. He laid down a standard against which everything he and his successors do will be judged.

When he goes to China, he will not be able to ignore the political prisoners there, because he called them the future leaders of their free nation. When he meets with dictators around the world, as in this flawed world he must, he will not be able to have warm relations with them, because he said no relations with tyrants can be successful.

Perhaps instead of criticizing Brooksie, I should bedfriend him and meet his dealer because the stuff is certainly mind-altering.

At what point is Bush going to take on the Saudis? Musharraf's Pakistan? Putin's Russia? And, I can almost certainly promise you human rights will not be a major topic when he visits "getting rich is glorious" China. No, ensuring that China continues to buy US dollars will be the major topic, along with a smattering of "what the ^&%$ do we do about North Korea?" Sure, he may not have "warm relations with these choir boys," maybe he'll sit at a different table with his clique in the lunch room or something, but his cliche-ridden speech on Thursday will most certainly not be "yielding consequences every day." The US has been dedicated to "freedom and liberty abroad" for two hundered years, never more so than in the last fifty. But that hasn't stopped us from, in Condaleeza's words when talking about Hussein's relationship with phantom terrorists, "cavorting" with some of the worst dictators in history.

The speech does not command us to go off on a global crusade, instantaneously pushing democracy on one and all. The president vowed merely to "encourage reform." He insisted that people must choose freedom for themselves. The pace of progress will vary from nation to nation.

Iraqis may be wondering if "encouraging reform" is what the U.S. has in mind there and when they got to make their choice.

And, no, it didn't command us to go off on a global crusade. It didn't ask us to make any sacrifices in the cause of global freedom or even in the cause of the war in Iraq, a conflict not mentioned -- once -- during the address. In fact, the speech didn't really say much of anything; it was about as inspiring and "practical" as the rendition of Ashcroft's "Let the Eagle Soar" that was the other highlight of the inauguration ceremonies.

Kevin Drum deals with another fuzzy-headed Republican who has suddenly adopted the language of Human Rights Watch.

There are good reasons for Bush to treat Saudi Arabia and Pakistan this way. Lots of presidents have done the same thing. But Bush hasn't rejected realism, he's fervently embraced it while telling his speechwriters to say the opposite.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Red state values, or, Why can't we all just get along?

What would David Brooks say?

A wife who had sex with another woman, but refused to let her husband join them, was arrested after assaulting and kicking him out of the house Saturday, Murfreesboro Police reported.

Changes your whole picture of Murfreesboro, TN, doesn't it?

Via Romanesko.

Freedom is on the march

Freedom, it's coming your way.
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
Just not in our nation's capital.

And, of course, not among our "allies" in the GWOT.

President Bush's soaring rhetoric yesterday that the United States will promote the growth of democratic movements and institutions worldwide is at odds with the administration's increasingly close relations with repressive governments in every corner of the world.

Some of the administration's allies in the war against terrorism -- including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Uzbekistan -- are ranked by the State Department as among the worst human rights abusers. The president has proudly proclaimed his friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin while remaining largely silent about Putin's dismantling of democratic institutions in the past four years. The administration, eager to enlist China as an ally in the effort to restrain North Korea's nuclear ambitions, has played down human rights concerns there, as well.

Even the Crazy Church Lady thought the speech was over the top, and it's no mean feat to top her for over-the-topness.

The administration's approach to history is at odds with what has been described by a communications adviser to the president as the "reality-based community." A dumb phrase, but not a dumb thought: He meant that the administration sees history as dynamic and changeable, not static and impervious to redirection or improvement. That is the Bush administration way, and it happens to be realistic: History is dynamic and changeable. On the other hand, some things are constant, such as human imperfection, injustice, misery and bad government.

This world is not heaven.

The president's speech seemed rather heavenish. It was a God-drenched speech. This president, who has been accused of giving too much attention to religious imagery and religious thought, has not let the criticism enter him. God was invoked relentlessly. "The Author of Liberty." "God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind . . . the longing of the soul."

Pegs calls this a sign of "mission inebriation" at the White House. I call it delusions of grandeur -- God isn't simply on "our" side, He's interning for Karl Rove.

War? What war?


"Well, one of the concerns people have is that Israel might do it without being asked," Mr. Cheney said. "If, in fact, the Israelis became convinced the Iranians had a significant nuclear capability, given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might well decide to act first, and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards."

"We don't want a war in the Middle East, if we can avoid it," he said. "In the case of the Iranian situation, I think everybody would be best suited or best treated and dealt with if we could deal with it diplomatically."

No, certainly not. We don't want a war in the Middle East.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The New York Times and hallucinogens -- right out of junior high

I saw this New York Times story on Sunday, but didn't comment on it as I was in a rush to get out the door for my annual appointment to collect a New York City parking ticket (yes, you gotta feed the meter on Sunday, and -- word to the wise -- don't try to save a quarter or two, saying, "we'll only be 20 minutes). But I was struck by the snarky tone and the complete inanity of the report, and reminded that Times reporters are unable to report on the potential of cannabinoids, hallucinogens, or opiates without giggling, getting red faced, and acting like characters in "Reefer Madness."

So I am glad that Mark Kleiman has read the story, as well as the Post/AP story that beat the Times and gets it exactly right.

The experiences the experimenters are hoping to facilitate resemble moments of mystical insight more than they do drunken binges. One standard "endpoint" of such studies is reduced use of sedatives and pain-killers, leading to a more conscious dying.

Whether this will turn out to work or not I don't know; that's why they call it "research." And the reporter is clearly right about one thing: if using the hallucinogens to address the fear of death is a good idea, there's no reason to wait until people are actually dying to start the process. After all, none of us is getting out of here alive.

But the reporter, who doesn't seem to have bothered to talk with anyone working on the current studies or anyone who worked on the previous studies, or to read any of the voluminous literature, seems to have worked from the principle that a sneer always makes a good story. Or perhaps he simply doesn't grasp the possibility that a chemical, used under the right conditions and with the right intentions, might facilitate something closely resembling a major religious experience, though that possibility is illustrated by traditions from the Eleusinian Brotherhood to the Native American Church.

Whatever the explanation, his trivializing, moralizing, condescending tone in talking about something of which, on the evidence of the story, he appears to be entirely ignorant is really pretty contemptible. Presumably the copy editor who wrote the silly-clever headlines didn't know any better.

Exporting fear and anger

Richard Armitage, Colin Powell's Ass't Sec. of State, expresses regret that we are an export leader in some areas.

"Ice cream, Mandrake. Children's ice cream!"

A simple sponge.184
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
The bastards.

Now the radical cleric is going after our beloved undersea avatar of moral purity and panglossian optimism.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 19 - On the heels of electoral victories barring same-sex marriage, some influential conservative Christian groups are turning their attention to a new target: the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants.

"Does anybody here know SpongeBob?" Dr. James C. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, asked the guests Tuesday night at a black-tie dinner for members of Congress and political allies to celebrate the election results [my emphasis].

SpongeBob needed no introduction. In addition to his popularity among children, who watch his cartoon show, he has become a well-known camp figure among adult gay men, perhaps because he holds hands with his animated sidekick Patrick and likes to watch the imaginary television show "The Adventures of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy."

Now, Dr. Dobson said, SpongeBob's creators had enlisted him in a "pro-homosexual video," in which he appeared alongside children's television colleagues like Barney and Jimmy Neutron, among many others. The makers of the video, he said, planned to mail it to thousands of elementary schools to promote a "tolerance pledge" that includes tolerance for differences of "sexual identity."

The video's creator, Nile Rodgers, who wrote the disco hit "We Are Family," said Mr. Dobson's objection stemmed from a misunderstanding. Mr. Rodgers said he founded the We Are Family Foundation after the Sept. 11 attacks to create a music video to teach children about multiculturalism. The video has appeared on television networks, and nothing in it or its accompanying materials refers to sexual identity. The pledge, borrowed from the Southern Poverty Law Center, is not mentioned on the video and is available only on the group's Web site.

Have they no shame, no decency?

Don't answer that.

Methinks they doth protest too much. And does this go beyond their basic homophobia? Is it in any way related to the fact that these Red State arbiters of our culture are themselves sponge-like?

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

As long as they don't play any Beethoven

Originally uploaded by vegacura.
Can it get any worse?

On Thursday, MSNBC Inauguration coverage begins at 6 a.m. ET with Imus in the Morning live from Washington, D.C. Chris Matthews then anchors MSNBC's all-day coverage from the President's departure from the White House on to the prayer service at St. John's Church at 9 a.m. ET, the swearing-in on Capitol Hill at noon, and through the Inaugural Parade. MSNBC will cover all the inaugural news and events of the day with NBC News and MSNBC reporters including Jeannie Ohm, Norah O'Donnell and David Gregory at the White House; Chris Jansing, Bob Kur and Andrea Mitchell at Lafayette Park; Amy Robach, David Shuster, Kelly O'Donnell, Chip Reid, John Seigenthaler, Andrea Mitchell and Campbell Brown at Capitol Hill; Lester Holt, Natalie Morales, Natalie Allen, Alex Witt, Sean McLaughlin, Rosiland Jordan and Al Roker on the parade route. In the evening Ron Reagan and David Shuster will report live from the inaugural balls.

MSNBC's Thursday coverage continues with a special edition of "Hardball with Chris Matthews," 7-8 p.m. ET, followed by "Countdown with Keith Olbermann," 8-9 p.m. ET. Matthews and Scarborough return with special editions of "Hardball," 9-10 p.m. ET and "Scarborough," 10-11 p.m. ET.

"A presidential inauguration is a time to appreciate the constancy of our political process," said Chris Matthews. "Like clockwork, since 1789, we've sworn in our Presidents and recommitted ourselves to our republic. No country in the world can match this record of legitimate government."

Featured panelists for MSNBC's inauguration coverage include Newsweek managing editor Jon Meacham, former Congressman J.C. Watts, presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, MSNBC political analysts Pat Buchanan, Ron Reagan and Monica Crowley, NBC News correspondents Andrea Mitchell and David Gregory and "Scarborough Country" host Joe Scarborough.

Good to know that Doris Kearns Goodwin has been rehabilitated.

They told me there'd be fireworks, but I had no idea

One ring to rule them all
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
The presidential motorcade will be led by the parade of Orcs. Let no man stand in the way of Leader.

Tell me again, which one's the queer and which is the crypto-nazi?

Ah, remember a time before the advent of cable TV, when two politically opposed gentleman could have a sober discussion of the political events of their day?

[ABC's] reporting of the 1968 Republican gathering--like the convention itself--passed [sic] came off without incident. The Miami gathering was marred only, in Buckley's view, by Vidal's insistence, during their debates, that he had based the "entire style" of the transsexual hero of his novel Myra Breckinridge on Buckley. Buckley replied that Vidal was "immoral" and held American culture in "disdain," but there the colloquy ended. Buckley tried to convince the producers to allow the two commentators to make their presentations separately for the ensuing Democratic convention but it was no go: A star had been born.

Amidst the violent chaos that was the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention however, Buckley and Vidal began to argue over the relative provocational potential of the student protestors' raising of a Vietcong flag the night before. Buckley compared it to the raising of a hypothetical Nazi flag during World War II. Vidal then insisted that "as far as I'm concerned, the only sort of pro- or crypto-Nazi is yourself." "Now listen, you queer," retorted the conservative elder statesman, "stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I'll sock you in the goddam face and you'll stay plastered." The evening degenerated from there.

Tucker Carlson's got nothing on his bow-tied forebear.

"I just can't figure out how to turn on my solar powered calculator"

Another reason to keep the wingnuts away from Social Security. Arithmetic.

To the rescue came Ronald Reagan with the most expensive inauguration in history, and the pomp was put back in the romp. Each inauguration thereafter has been bigger, better, more elaborate than the one before, and complainers have surfaced accordingly.

According to Michael Nelson's "Guide to the Presidency," George H.W. Bush's 1989 inauguration cost $30 million, Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration ran $25 million, and George W. Bush's 2001 ceremony cost around $40 million. This year's costs are expected to run closer to $50 million.

It must have been the five that threw her.

Via Tbogg.

Of dead horses, baits and switches

Well, that sure was quick.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) predicted yesterday that partisan warfare over Social Security will quickly render President Bush's plan "a dead horse" and called on Congress to undertake a broader review of the problems of an aging nation.

Hmmm, maybe too quick.

Thomas, one of Capitol Hill's most powerful figures on tax policy, is the highest-ranking House Republican official to cast doubt on the president's plan for creating individual investment accounts. He said that as an alternative, he will consider changes such as replacing the payroll tax as Social Security's financing mechanism and adding a savings plan for long-term or chronic care as "an augmentation to Social Security payments."

"What I'm trying to get people to do is get out of the narrow moving around of the pieces inside the Social Security box," Thomas said at a forum on Bush's second term sponsored by the National Journal. "If we miss this opportunity . . . I think we will have missed an opportunity that may not present itself for another 20 years."

Bush's plan for allowing younger Americans to divert a third or more of their payroll taxes into private investment accounts to enhance their long-term benefits has drawn fire from Democrats, who say it is a risky step toward partial privatization of Social Security. Many Republicans have expressed reservations about the political wisdom of Bush's vision for restructuring the nearly 70-year-old retirement and income security program, and Thomas's comments will fuel the controversy.

The mercurial Thomas, whose chairmanship of the tax-writing committee allows him to heavily influence the fate of Bush's domestic agenda, also said he wants to consider revisions to the tax code simultaneously with debate over Bush's private-account proposal. The White House had indicated a preference to put off revisions to the tax code until next year.

Let's see. While Democrats are railing at Republican plans to kill off Social Security, the GOP quietly backs away from that fight and meanwhile pushes through a "compromise," a "bipartisan" plan to "reform" the tax code through a retirement savings plan that is little more than a massive tax shelter for the rich.

Or am I just cynical. Perhaps, but as Kevin Drum wonders, there is surely something afoot. Rove is rarely so hamfisted when rolling out a new initiative as he has been with Social Security.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Mr. Cheney's Free Lunch, or, Laff Out Loud

In the middle of a generally useless "profile" of that international man of mystery, Dick Cheney, Lizzy Bumiller and "Dick" Stevenson repeat the mythological "lady in the lake" moment that Cheney experienced while watching Arthur Laffer doodle on a napkin.

Despite his reputation in recent years for exerting his influence primarily on post-Sept. 11 foreign policy, helping to manage domestic policy is in many ways the more natural outgrowth of his background.

Once a candidate for a doctorate in political science, he went on to serve in several economic policy positions in the Nixon administration and became chief of staff in the Ford White House. During that time, friends say, he was scarred by what he considered one of the great policy mistakes of recent history, the imposition by President Richard M. Nixon of wage and price controls, a step that flew in the face of the conservative belief in free markets.

Over dinner one night in the mid-1970's, he watched Arthur B. Laffer, one of the earliest proponents of supply-side economics, sketch on a napkin a curve showing that, beyond a certain point, higher tax rates generate diminishing amounts of revenue by reducing incentives to work and invest.

It was one moment in the introduction to Washington of a new way of thinking about tax policy, and as with many Republicans of the time, Mr. Cheney became increasingly convinced in the late 1970's and early 1980's that lower taxes were the answer to unleashing the economy's potential for growth.

In other words, Bum-iller and Stevenson don't say, Cheney remains an adherent to the Voodoo economics that left the US economy shackled with deficits following the Reagan administration, despite Congress having to put through emergency tax increases early in Reagan's first term.

And we are once again witness to an egregious lack of skepticism on the behalf of the Times' White House correspondents. "[B]eyond a certain point, higher tax rates generate diminishing amounts of revenue by reducing incentives to work and invest"? Who says?

Oyster reminds us of Alan Murray's defenestration of the supply siders' dream date, via the CBO's own supply-side-minded economist:

DO TAX CUTS pay for themselves? That's been the hot debate of American political economy for the better part of three decades. But it ended last week -- with a whimper.

The great argument got its start in 1974, when a White House chief of staff named Donald Rumsfeld sent his deputy, Richard Cheney, to have lunch with an ebullient young economist named Art Laffer and his journalistic sidekick, Jude Wanniski. According to local lore, Mr. Laffer sketched a curve on a cocktail napkin suggesting that a cut in income taxes could provide such a spark to the economy that government revenues would rise, not fall. The free lunch was born.

The problem with Mr. Laffer's graph, however, was that it had no numbers on the axes. How much would growth be boosted? At what level of taxation would tax cuts become self-financing? Those remained the big unknowns as the issue became a central question of American politics.

In Washington, the debate became a bureaucratic battle focusing on the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation, the two agencies responsible for advising Congress on the costs of budget and tax changes. By convention, both use "static" scorekeeping that assumes budget and tax changes have no effect on overall economic growth. Supply-side proponents have criticized both agencies relentlessly for this, but to no avail -- until last week.

Enter Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economist on leave from Syracuse University and an avowed advocate of supply-side "dynamic" scoring. A few months ago, Republican congressional leaders plucked him out of a job at the White House and made him director of the CBO. Last week, in his agency's analysis of President Bush's tax and budget plan, he provided his new bosses with their first taste of dynamic scoring.

The results: Some provisions of the president's plan would speed up the economy; others would slow it down. Using some models, the plan would reduce the budget deficit from what it otherwise would have been; using others, it would widen the deficit.

But in every case, the effects are relatively small. And in no case does Mr. Bush's tax cut come close to paying for itself over the next 10 years.

FOR THE HANDFUL of people who read the report in its entirety, there is another surprise. Of the nine different economic models used to analyze the president's plan, only two showed a large improvement in the deficit over the next decade as a result of "supply side" effects. Both those models got their results by assuming that after 2013, taxes would be raised to eliminate the remaining deficit. The theory is that people will work harder between 2004 and 2013 because they know that their taxes will be going up, and will want to earn more money before those tax increases take effect.

Using those same models, if the assumption is changed so that government spending falls after 2013 to close the deficit -- the outcome preferred by most supply-siders -- the economic benefits disappear. The president's plan would cause the deficit to become slightly wider over the next 10 years than it would have been otherwise.

Advocates of dynamic scoring have tried to make the most of these tepid results, calling the report a good first step. "You've got to crawl before you can walk, and you've got to walk before you can run," says economist Bruce Bartlett, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis and former Reagan administration Treasury Department economist who pushed Mr. Holtz-Eakin for the CBO post. Democratic opponents are still at arms, fearing the report is the camel's nose under the tent.

But it should make both sides wonder what the hubbub of the past 30 years has been all about.

Mr. Holtz-Eakin says the new analysis, while costly and time consuming -- it took 35 government analysts a month and a half to complete the work -- is still a worthy effort, helping lawmakers to find the particular policies that encourage economic growth the most. Former CBO chief Robert Reischauer agrees that "it was a very useful exercise." And former CBO director Dan Crippen, who many think lost his chance for reappointment over the dynamic-scoring issue, says the results "validate what CBO has been saying all along, that depending on the assumptions, the effects could be positive or negative."

No doubt, a lot of questions will be raised about how far to push this analysis. Democrats, for instance, may start advocating "dynamic scoring" for education spending, which many believe also has positive effects on the economy.

But the great debate launched by Mr. Laffer and his napkin in 1974 is for the most part over. Certainly, tax cuts can improve overall economic growth. And certainly, revenues may rise as a result. But at current levels of taxation, those effects are relatively small. There is no free lunch. [emphasis added]

We know, of course, that the Times' reporters can't be bothered to question whether Dick's formative years experiences retain any validity. We also know, of course, that "deficits don't matter!" Why? Because, the Times would surely tell us, Mr. Cheney says so, that's why.

The Times' craptacular "profile" of Cheney makes even more painful the loss of Marjorie Williams. Sincere condolences to her widowed husband, Timothy Noah, and their two chidren.

Answering the wrong questions

Slate's Chris Suellentrop makes an important distinction regarding the "debate" over Social Security. If opponents of the preznit's (non declared) "plan" continue to focus on the fact that his numbers simply don't add up, we're gonna lose, because providing answers to a math test during a philosophy exam is a sure way to flunk.

Monday, January 17, 2005

The 70-year old attack on Social Security

The public strongly supported the new program, but conservatives attacked it as a socialistic scourge. Playing on the fact that each worker was to receive a government number, the Hearst papers published front-page illustrations of a man wearing a chain with a dog tag. Henry Ford said Social Security could cost Americans their basic freedoms, like the right to change jobs or to move from one town to another. A shareholder in a utility filed suit, claiming that the payroll tax was unconstitutional. The case went to the Supreme Court, where, in 1937, Justice Benjamin Cardozo, as if to resolve the historic debate over federalism, ruled, ''The conception of the spending power advocated by Hamilton . . . has prevailed over that of Madison.'' The new agency's organizational elan won over some critics. W. Albert Linton, a skeptical insurance executive, visited the Social Security headquarters in Baltimore and was amazed when the staff plucked his name and address from among the 26 million records. ''I think it is amazing,'' he said, ''the way they have solved the technical aspect.''

But the opposition wouldn't die. The issue that sparked the loudest protest was one that still burns today: the trust fund. Deductions from pay envelopes began in 1937, but benefits weren't scheduled to start until 1942, and there was a great deal of mistrust about where the money was going. Government actuaries sheepishly explained that Social Security was building a reserve eventually expected to reach $47 billion. This was an awesome sum -- eight times the total then in circulation. Alfred Landon, the Republican who ran against Roosevelt in 1936, called it ''a cruel hoax'' on the American people. His platform, sounding uncannily that like that of Republicans today, stated, ''The so-called reserve fund . . . is no reserve at all, because the fund will contain nothing but the government's promise to pay.'' Arthur Altmeyer, head of the Social Security board, came under heavy fire at a Congressional hearing. Looking for a way to safeguard the reserve, he made an intriguing suggestion: why not let the government invest in sound private securities, and thus insulate the surplus from Congress's eager hands? As Altmeyer recounted in his memoir, Arthur Vandenberg, a Republican senator from Michigan, threw up his hands and snickered, ''That would be socialism!''

Roger Lowenstein does the unthinkable and actually (and carefully) reads the 225-page annual report of the Social Security trustees, and speaks with "actuaries and economists both inside and outside the agency, who are expert in the peculiar science of long-term Social Security forecasting. The actuarial view is that the system is probably in neeed of a small adjustment of the sort that Congress has approved in the past. But there is a strong argument, which the agency acknowledges as a possibility, that the system is solvent as is."

It's an important article to read at a time when conservatives seem poised to make their most foreceful assault in 70 years on the federal government's most successful program. He dissects the critics argument by actually looking at real numbers not imagined impending doom, notes the political arguments at the heart of the opposition to the program, and gives us a little history as well.

"We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now."

Rev. Martin Luther King, 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City, broadens the aims of the Civil Rights Movement to encompass opposition to the Vietnam War and U.S. geopolitics.

I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join with you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together: Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam. The recent statement of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: "A time comes when silence is betrayal." That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

The truth of these words is beyond doubt but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation's history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement well and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

51% means never having to say you're sorry

As the scholars of Padua might say, "Bejeebus."

President Bush said the public's decision to reelect him was a ratification of his approach toward Iraq and that there was no reason to hold any administration officials accountable for mistakes or misjudgments in prewar planning or managing the violent aftermath.

"We had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 elections," Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. "The American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me."

Gosh, when you put it like that I start to think I voted for the clown myself.

But I didn't, and he and his bunch are still responsible for -- by today's count -- 1,357 dead American troops.

Oh, and fundies, come on in and join the Coalition of the Lied To.

On the domestic front, Bush said he would not lobby the Senate to pass a constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage.

While seeking reelection, Bush voiced strong support for such a ban, and many political analysts credit this position for inspiring record turnout among evangelical Christians, who are fighting same-sex marriage at every juncture. Groups such as the Family Research Council have made the marriage amendment their top priority for the next four years.

The president said there is no reason to press for the amendment because so many senators are convinced that the Defense of Marriage Act -- which says states that outlaw same-sex unions do not have to recognize such marriages conducted outside their borders -- is sufficient. "Senators have made it clear that so long as DOMA is deemed constitutional, nothing will happen. I'd take their admonition seriously. . . . Until that changes, nothing will happen in the Senate."

Bush's position is likely to infuriate some of his socially conservative supporters, but congressional officials say it will be impossible to secure the 67 votes needed to pass the amendment in the Senate.

No shit, but I wonder if the radical clerics are going to accept that. After all, they rely on public battles over which they have little chance to win. It increases their sense of victimhood (and isn't too bad for the coffers for that matter).

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Bush propoganda machine rolls on

Frank Rich doesn't invoke his name in his Sunday essay coming out tomorrow (I'll post a link as soon as the Times posts it on their site), but Joseph Goebbels would be amazed by the blitzkrieg of propoganda unleashed by the administration.

It's becoming increasingly obvious that the administration has effectively built a network of "journalists" they can call on to parrot White House talking points and lead the cheers for Bush & Co's cynical campaigns. Give them the loud megaphone of FoxNews and Sinclair (and CNN's passive participation in the three ring circus), and you have propoganda machine that would have put their German forbears to admiring shame.

...[P]haps the most fascinating Williams TV appearance took place in December 2003, the same month that he was first contracted by the government to receive his payoffs. At a time when no one in television news could get an interview with Dick Cheney, Mr. Williams, of all "journalists," was rewarded with an extended sit-down with the vice president for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, a nationwide owner of local stations affiliated with all the major networks. In that chat, Mr. Cheney criticized the press for its coverage of Halliburton and denounced "cheap shot journalism" in which "the press portray themselves as objective observers of the passing scene when they are obviously not objective."

This is a scenario out of "The Manchurian Candidate." Here we find Mr. Cheney criticizing the press for a sin his own government was at that same moment signing up Mr. Williams to commit. The interview is broadcast by the same company that would later order its ABC affiliates to ban Ted Koppel's "Nightline" recitation of American casualties in Iraq and then propose showing an anti-Kerry documentary, "Stolen Honor," under the rubric of "news" in prime time just before Election Day. (After fierce criticism, Sinclair retreated from that plan.) Thus the Williams interview with the vice president, implicitly presented as an example of the kind of "objective" news Mr. Cheney endorses, was in reality a completely subjective, bought-and-paid-for fake news event for a broadcast company that barely bothers to fake objectivity and both of whose chief executives were major contributors to the Bush-Cheney campaign. The Soviets couldn't have constructed a more ingenious or insidious plot to bamboozle the citizenry.

Meanwhile the White House has put the Williams scandal (and it is -- or should be -- a scandal, probably an illegal one) completely on the doorstep of Rod Paige and the Dept. of Education.

Right. Using tax payer dollars to sell Bush's agenda is a tested way of doing business for this administration.

Via Josh Marshall, the Times brings us this heart warming tale of pressuring government workers to lie on behalf of the ruling party.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 - Over the objections of many of its own employees, the Social Security Administration is gearing up for a major effort to publicize the financial problems of Social Security and to convince the public that private accounts are needed as part of any solution.

The agency's plans are set forth in internal documents, including a "tactical plan" for communications and marketing of the idea that Social Security faces dire financial problems requiring immediate action.

Social Security officials say the agency is carrying out its mission to educate the public, including more than 47 million beneficiaries, and to support President Bush's agenda.

"The system is broken, and promises are being made that Social Security cannot keep," Mr. Bush said in his Saturday radio address. He is expected to address the issue in his Inaugural Address.

But agency employees have complained to Social Security officials that they are being conscripted into a political battle over the future of the program. They question the accuracy of recent statements by the agency, and they say that money from the Social Security trust fund should not be used for such advocacy.

"Trust fund dollars should not be used to promote a political agenda," said Dana C. Duggins, a vice president of the Social Security Council of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 50,000 of the agency's 64,000 workers and has opposed private accounts.

Deborah C. Fredericksen of Minneapolis, who has worked for the Social Security Administration for 31 years, said, "Many employees believe that the president and this agency are using scare tactics to promote private accounts."

While outraged -- and wondering if we will every get the bad governance genie back into the bottle that this corrupt administration has uncorked -- I am no longer surprised. Increasing my outrage still further.

Read Josh's piece. He also has a link where you can lodge a complaint with SSA.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Learning from Iraq

Dan Baum has written a fascinating account in The New Yorker about an effort by junior officers to share -- in real time -- the knowledge and experiences they're getting while commanding companies in Iraq.

Majors Nate Allen and Tony Burgess became friends at West Point in the nineteen-eighties, and at the end of the nineties they found themselves commanding companies in separate battalions in the same Hawaii-based brigade. Commanding a company is often described as the best job in the Army; a company is big enough to be powerful and small enough to be intimate. But the daily puzzles a company commander faces, even in peacetime, are dizzying, and both Allen and Burgess felt isolated. “If I had a good idea about how to do something, there was no natural way to share it,” Allen said. “I’d have to pass it up, and it would have to be blessed two levels above me, and then passed down to Tony.” Luckily, they lived next door to each other and spent many evenings sitting on Allen’s front porch comparing notes. “How are things going with your first sergeant?” one would ask. Or “How are you dealing with the wives?” “At some point, we realized this conversation was having a positive impact on our units, and we wanted to pass it along,” Allen told me. They wrote a book about commanding a company, “Taking the Guidon,” which they posted on a Web site. Because of the Internet, what had started as a one-way transfer of information—a book—quickly became a conversation.

“Once you start a project, amazing people start to join,” Allen said. Among them was a captain based at West Point who was familiar with a Web site called, which lets sportsmen post questions and solicit advice about everything from how to skin a squirrel by yanking on its tail to how to call a turkey by blowing on a wing bone. Burgess and Allen liked the Alloutdoors model, which allows for lots of unmediated, real-time cross-chat and debate. They figured that such a site for company commanders would replicate, in cyberspace, their front porch.

In March of 2000, with the help of a Web-savvy West Point classmate and their own savings, they put up a site on the civilian Internet called It didn’t occur to them to ask the Army for permission or support. Companycommand was an affront to protocol. The Army way was to monitor and vet every posting to prevent secrets from being revealed, but Allen and Burgess figured that captains were smart enough to police themselves and not compromise security. Soon after the site went up, a lieutenant colonel phoned one of the Web site’s operators and advised them to get a lawyer, because he didn’t want to see “good officers crash and burn.” A year later, Allen and Burgess started a second Web site, for lieutenants,

The sites, which are accessible to captains and lieutenants with a password, are windows onto the job of commanding soldiers and onto the unfathomable complexities of fighting urban guerrillas. Companycommand is divided into twelve areas, including Training, Warfighting, and Soldiers and Families, each of which is broken into discussion threads on everything from mortar attacks to grief counselling and dishonest sergeants. Some discussions are quite raw. Captains post comments on coping with fear, on motivating soldiers to break the taboo against killing, and on counselling suicidal soldiers. They advise each other on how to kick in doors and how to handle pregnant subordinates. Most captains now have access to the Internet at even the most remote bases in Iraq, and many say they’ll find at least ten or fifteen minutes every day to check the site. They post tricks they’ve learned or ask questions like this, which set off months of responses: “What has anyone tried to do to alleviate the mortar attacks on their forward operating bases?” Here are snippets of conversations posted on Companycommand and Platoonleader in the past year:

Never travel in a convoy of less than four vehicles. Do not let a casualty take your focus away from a combat engagement. Give your driver your 9mm, and carry their M16/M4. Tootsie Rolls are quite nice; Jolly Ranchers will get all nasty and sticky though. If a person is responsible for the death of an individual, they do not attend during the three days of mourning; that is why if we kill an individual in sector, we are not welcome during the mourning period. Soldiers need reflexive and quick-fire training, using burst fire. If they’re shooting five to seven mortar rounds into your forward operating base, whatever you’re doing needs to be readjusted. The more aggressive you look and the faster you are, the less likely the enemy will mess with you. It is okay to tell your soldiers what the regulation is; but as a commander, you should make the effort to get the soldier home for the birth. A single wall of sandbags will not stop any significant munitions. Take pictures of everything and even, maybe more importantly, everyone. The right photo in the right hands can absolutely make the difference. It’s not always easy to reach the pistol when in the thigh holster, especially in an up-armored humvee. If they accept you into the tent, by custom they are accepting responsibility for your safety and by keeping on the body armor, you are sending a signal that you do not trust them. If tea or coffee are offered, be sure to accept the items with the right hand. Do not look at your watch when in the tent. Have the unit invest in Wiley X’s—these sunglasses also serve as sun-wind-dust goggles. Supply each soldier with one tourniquet; we use a mini-ratchet strap that is one inch wide and long enough to wrap around the thigh of a soldier. Cotton holds water. Even with the best socks, and plenty of foot powder, your feet are likely to start peeling like you’ve never experienced. You’re more likely to be injured by not wearing a seatbelt than from enemy activity. You need to train your soldiers to aim, fire, and kill. The average local is terrible at trying to read a map; however they do understand sketches—the simpler the better. The second you see your soldiers start to lose interest, or roll their eyes, or not pay attention, your S2 has failed and you, your soldiers, and the mission are in danger. Vary the departure and return times, vary the routes even if the route includes a U turn, doesn’t make sense, etc. Let’s talk about what not to bring: perishable food, lighter fluid, porn, alcohol, or personal weapons. But you might be able to get away with a Playboy or two as long as you’re not stupid about it. The 9mm round is too weak, go for headshots if you use it.

The story also illustrates how younger officers have proven far better able to adapt to conditions they weren't trained for, and far more willing to ignore the rigid hierarchy of the U.S. military, than military planners would have expected. The latter quality will have interesting implications for the military even after the war in Iraq is over -- it's what led to soldiers to publicly question Donald Rumsfeld during his recent Q&A, something that would have been unheard of in earlier generations of soldiers.

And speaking of officers' increasing disregard for rank, near the end of the article we find this passage:

Thomas White, who was fired from his job as Secretary of the Army in May of 2003 for clashing with Rumsfeld on a number of issues, including how many troops would be needed, told me that the lesson the Army needs to take away from the run-up to Iraq is precisely the one no officer wants to learn. “If I had it to do again, what [Gen.] Shinseki and I should have done is quit, and done so publicly,” he said. White called it a measure of Rumsfeld’s contempt for the Army that he didn’t name a permanent Secretary of the Army to replace him until this past November. “To spend more than a year at war without a Secretary of the Army is unthinkable,” White said.

A week before the Presidential election, the Association of the United States Army held its annual convention in Washington. Membership in the association is open both to Army personnel and the corporations that sell things to the Army, and the gathering transformed the lower level of the Washington Convention Center into an arms bazaar. Attractive women posed fetchingly beside Bradley Fighting Vehicles, Volvo displayed its trucks, Barrett Firearms showed off its new .50-calibre sniper rifles, and the Gallup Organization offered an array of “business improvement services.” Upstairs, professional-development experts gave officers tips on everything from “actionable intelligence” to unit finance. Officers mingled in the hallways in dress-green droves, those who had been in combat distinguished by unit patches on the right arm rather than the left. The talk of the convention was a book published in 1997 that the officer corps has recently rediscovered. Many carried the volume under their arms, and no fewer than six urged me to read it: “Dereliction of Duty,” written by an Army major named H. R. McMaster. Using once classified Vietnam-era documents, McMaster finds fault not just with Robert McNamara, then the Secretary of Defense, who dismissed warnings from the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the Vietnam War would be hard to win, but with the four Chiefs themselves, who were complicit, because they failed to publicly voice their misgivings. “Each one of those four went to their graves thinking they didn’t do enough to protest,” White told me. “They should have put their stars on the table and said, ‘We won’t be part of this.’”

I wonder what Tommy Franks will go to his grave thinking about. Or Donald Rumsfeld. George Bush? We know the answer to that one.
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