Monday, January 31, 2005

Brand new day – From Arthur Chrenkoff writing in Opinion Journal, a “roundup of the past two week’s good news from Iraq.” Happily, it’s a very long article. Be sure to check out today’s Best of the Web also.
Separated at birth?

Nancy Pelosi

Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter) aka “Mom” from “Arrested Development
I love this idea!
Credulous Kerry duped by unnamed Arab leaders

Occasional senator and presidential loser John Kerry appeared on “Meet the Press” this past Sunday, affirming the wisdom of the American people who rejected him. After some tepid praise for, you know, that election, Kerry fell back into his usual bit of fatuous grandstanding decorated in stentorian tones. Here’s my favorite part:

MR. RUSSERT: Is the United States safer with the newly elected Iraqi government than we would have been with Saddam Hussein?

SEN. KERRY: Sure. And I'm glad Saddam Hussein is gone, and I've said that a hundred times. But we've missed opportunity after opportunity along the way, Tim, to really make America safe and to bring the world to the cause. I mean, look, I sat with any number of Arab leaders, and I said to them, you know, "Mr. Prime Minister" or "Mr. President, is your country--do you believe Iraq, being successful there is important?" The answer is yes. "Do you believe that if it's a failed state, that's a threat to the region?" The answer is yes. "Do you believe that it could be a haven for terrorism even more than it is today?" and so forth. The answer is yes. Then you say, "Well, why aren't you there? What is the problem?" And the problem becomes one of the way in which this administration--they will tell you openly--has approached them and the world. [snip]
I can see it now: Kerry is chillin’ around the hookah with Hosni Mubarak who’s telling him – for shizzle! – of course he wants to see democracy take root in Iraq. Syria’s Bashir Assad is also “down wit democracy dawg!” Then Saudi prince Bandar was all like: “Hey, we would have sent election workers in there if only President Bush had asked, but he never calls, can you dig it Johnny K?”

Anklebiting Pundits hit it:

He's either a liar or an idiot to think that other Muslim and European countries want to help us in Iraq but haven't because of how they were asked. The bottom line is that unless there was a bogus resolution from the corrupt UN these countries will do nothing. Some plan, eh? Well, at least now he can say he has met with "foreign leaders". Sadly, Kerry thinks they are right and we are wrong.
As does the NY Post’s John Podhoretz:

Kerry seems to believe that the autocrats and oligarchs in the region are actually rooting for the creation of a democracy in their midst — and want to help the United States make it happen.

Okay, what politician wants to join Kerry in pooh-poohing an election in which at least 8 million Iraqis braved death to cast a ballot? What politician wants to cite Mubarak and Abdullah in support of that position?
And Slate’s Fred Kaplan sees the big picture where Kerry could not:

Finally, imagine a Syrian watching Al-Arabiya, seeing Iraqi-born Syrians going to special polling places to elect Iraqi leaders, observing that no Syrians of any sort have the right to elect the leaders of Syria—and perhaps asking himself, "Why?" It is not inconceivable that this flicker of democratic practice in Iraq could ignite a flame of some sort across the Middle East. To what end, and for ultimate good or ill, who knows. But something happened in Iraq today, something not only dramatic and stirring but perhaps also very big.
It’s chilling to think how close Kerry got to the Oval Office. Here’s a guy who voted against the confirmation of Condi Rice, but thinks that “Arab leaders” are on the up-and-up. A stable, prosperous, democratic Iraq is the last thing they want since it can only have a destabilizing effect on their own corrupt regimes:

EGYPT, June 13, 2001: The ruling National Democratic Party maintains its majority in the upper house of parliament, largely controlled by President Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak stands every five years as only presidential candidate in yes-no referendums.
IRAN, February 24, 2004: Conservatives win a majority in Iran's 290-seat legislature. Reformers boycotted the vote after more than 2,400 candidates were banned from running by the ruling Islamic establishment.
OMAN, October 4, 2003: The country holds its first open election to all citizens for an 83-member advisory council, which has no formal powers but is consulted by the sultan on new laws and policies.
SAUDI ARABIA, September 12, 2004: The first municipal elections in 45 years are postponed until February. Elections will be held in three stages beginning on Feb. 10 in in the capital, Riyadh. Polling in the eastern and southwestern regions will follow, starting March 3. Voters in the north will cast ballots April 21.
SYRIA, March 2-3, 2003: Syria's ruling party the National Progressive Front win
two-thirds of the 167 seats in the legislature. The election was boycotted by five opposition groups which claimed it was undemocratic.
YEMEN, April 27, 2003: The ruling party, the General People's Congress, wins a majority in the 301-member Parliament, in the country's first election in six years. Opposition groups accused the ruling party of rampant election fraud.
Good ole gullible Kerry. I’m going to send him an E-mail: “Dear Senator Kerry, I’m an Arab prince who wants to help promote democracy in Iraq. If you could just send me $1000 for bus fare, I’ll head over to Baghdad…..”

Extra - Here are some more riffs on Kerry from Polipundit, NE Republican, The Kerry Spot, and the Dusty Attic.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Quote of the day

From Omar at Iraq the Model:

I walked forward to my station, cast my vote and then headed to the box, where I wanted to stand as long as I could, then I moved to mark my finger with ink, I dipped it deep as if I was poking the eyes of all the world's tyrants. I put the paper in the box and with it, there were tears that I couldn't hold; I was trembling with joy and I felt like I wanted to hug the box but the supervisor smiled at me and said "brother, would you please move ahead, the people are waiting for their turn"
The title of this particular post is “The people have won.” Right on.
More on Iraq - There are tons of Iraq election links at (where else?) Instapundit. It looks like the natural order of things will be some end-zone victory dancing followed by ruthless badgering of the defeatists.
Election day in Iraq

What could I add that hasn't been said by a thousand other bloggers? It looks like turnout in Iraq was enthusiastic and terrorist attacks were somewhat muted and ineffective. Fox News was running with a headline: "Election Success." The other news channels weren't far behind. There's a lot of commentary on The Corner including the text of President Bush's speech today.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Mark Kilmer has the rundown of the guests on the Sunday news shows. I couldn’t agree more with this statement: “Host Tim Russert will talk to JF Kerry. Non-stop. For the entire show. Irrelevancy on the day of the first democratic election in Iraq.” I’ll probably watch the late repeat on CNBC anyway.
Joe Scarborough: “Why do they [Democrats] choose words that can only be seen as providing comfort to the terrorists who want to delay, undermine, and dismiss this historic election? For one simple reason: Because success in Iraq means validation of the president's foreign policy goals. And too many Democrats and editorial writers would rather see America humiliated abroad than see the President succeed at home.”
The expectations game – Scott at Election Projection reviews the measure of success in the Iraqi elections.
The party of “no”

Fred Barnes writes in the Weekly Standard that the Democrats think obstruction is the key to electoral success, just like Newt Gingrich in 1994:

Democrats misunderstand their situation. Their view is that Republicans have been mean and bruising while they've been too nice and forgiving. That's right. They think former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, who was plainly obsessed with obstructing Bush at every turn, was too kindly. The lesson of the 2004 election for Democrats, then, is that they need to play rough. The real lesson, of course, is that blatant obstructionism is a failed strategy.
The key difference is that when Newt Gingrich’s Republicans were gunning for Congressional control in 1994, he introduced the “Contract with America,” a list of proposals and bills that the Republicans clarified as their platform. The modern-day Democrats have no ideas, have offered no counter proposals, and obstruct for obstructionism’s sake. This strategy will backfire on them.
The Social Security reform plan emerges

It looks like the Bush Administration has decided on a proposal for Social Security reform. More importantly, they’ve picked a winning sales pitch. Repeat after me: 401(k), 401(k), 401(k) – from the Boston Globe: “Bush plan similar to 401(k)

President Bush's advisers have settled on a proposal for structuring the personal accounts they hope to create in Social Security, and the accounts would resemble those of many company-sponsored retirement plans, with just a handful of investment options.

Under a plan advisers said this week they had recommended to Bush, the personal accounts filled with funds diverted from Social Security would be specifically modeled on the Thrift Savings Plan for federal employees, which is similar to a 401(k) offered by private companies. Both defer taxes on retirement savings.
About 45 million Americans currently participate in the popular 401(k) programs, holding assets in excess of $2 trillion. Most of these workers are already sold on the idea of personal savings accounts. As a marketing tactic, this is a step in the right direction.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Something smells rotten in the Evergreen State - I’ve been uneasy with the idea of a re-vote in the Washington state governor’s race, but look at these poll numbers. Obviously, Washington voters think something went wacky in November and they ended up with the wrong governor.
Couldn’t have done it without you! – Via Betsy, a GOP group is putting up billboards in Hollywood thanking everyone (e.g. Michael Moore) for their help in getting Dubya re-elected. That’s gotta sting.
Hyperventilate much? A fisking

When you work at a left-wing echo chamber like the Village Voice, you don’t really need to deign to provide facts to prove a point. Instead, throw out some second-hand quotes and a well-placed sneer at President Smirky McChimp and all your colleagues will shower you with praise. Heck, you don’t even need to run it by the editor. The end product is an article such as “Bush’s unprecedented attack on African-Americans.

For four years Bush didn't meet with the Congressional Black Caucus and paid no heed to African Americans, except, of course, to repeat the Republican mantra of how terribly concerned we all are and how we just want to include you under the big Republican tent. But yesterday, reinvigorated by his election mandate, Bush called the caucus and fed them a line of bull****.
I could go on for pages with quotes from Cynthia McKinney and Maxine Waters about our President, but what’s the point? It’s all Bush’s fault that he hasn’t met the CBC halfway 95%-way. (Also, note that only meeting with the CBC = “paying heed” to African-Americans.)

Arguing that his "reforms," ranging from education to Social Security, will help blacks, he offered an insulting cliché: "Civil rights is a good education. Civil rights is opportunity. Civil rights is home ownership. Civil rights is owning your own business. Civil rights is making sure all aspects of our society are open for everybody." When you get past the rhetoric, Bush's ownership society amounts to an unprecedented attack on black people.
And the “insult” is? Who’s insulted by school vouchers and home ownership? Whatever… let’s gnaw on the bone of this “unprecedented attack.”

Social Security reform that turns over substantial hunks of a person's account to Wall Street, where the vicissitudes of the marketplace can yo-yo it up and down, is little help to anyone, let alone blacks. The only source of retirement for 40 percent of all African Americans is Social Security, according to Melvin Watt, a Democratic rep from North Carolina. Without it, poverty rates among blacks would double.
Employing the Paul Krugman style of hyperbole, we see that a 2% diversion of payroll taxes into personal accounts is “substantial” and that the wild presumption is that Social Security will be dissolved entirely. If Bush wanted to wage war on African-Americans, he would keep them chained to a Ponzi scheme where they pay taxes for a lifetime and (more likely than not) expire before they can collect benefits. At least personal accounts, with all their awful “vicissitudes,” offer the opportunity for real asset accumulation in a transferable account. (See more on this from Don Luskin here and here.)

The American Journal of Public Health reported in December that 886,000 more blacks died between 1991 and 2000 than would have died had equal health care been provided. The health of minorities, many of whom live in poor industrial brownfields, can only get worse if Congress passes Bush's "Clear Skies" clean-air legislation, which promises a 70 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and mercury emissions by 2018.
A 70% reduction in emissions is bad? Here’s where that editor would have come in handy.

Members of the Black Caucus point out that Bush wants to cut Medicaid. "That would be disastrous for my state," said Tennessee congressman Harold E. Ford, Jr. Blacks are particularly hard-hit in rural areas, which face more cuts in social-welfare programs and dwindling access to health care.
Funny, I missed the White House memo promising to cut Medicaid. No matter: let’s plow ahead anyway.

According to Mississippi congressman Bennie Thompson, insurance companies don't want to insure doctors in medically underserved areas. "And when you tie in blacks in [rural] areas, the disparities go off the charts."
Is that true? Is it rural doctors alone or is malpractice insurance rates skyrocketing because of “lottery” settlements? A review of insurance rates for rural doctors would have been useful here, but I suppose we’ll take the word of Mississippi congressman Bennie Thompson of the House Agriculture Committee.

"We've got to shed ourselves of bigotry if we expect to lead by example," Bush said. "And I'll do the very best I can, as president, to make sure the promise—and I believe in the promise of America—is available for everybody."
I love that conclusion, meant to elicit snorts of derision. “Nice try, Bushie!” And there was much eye-rolling in the Voice newsroom.
Charles Krauthammer believes that Democrats will pay a “heavy political price” for their recent displays of peevishness: “Rice and Democratic Politics.”
Closer to Zarqawi? – “The government on Friday announced the arrests of two close associates of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, including the chief of the terror mastermind's Baghdad operation. The announcement came two days before historic elections that extremists have vowed to subvert.”

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Byrd on a wire - Lorie Byrd is a one-woman blogging machine on PoliPundit tonight. I especially liked the one titled “Must be a slow news day” that wonders why sometime-Senator John Kerry is on “Meet the Press” for the full hour when there might be other events going on January 30th. Other important things, you know.
Night of the living dead voters - Sound Politics has all the latest on the election that will not die: the Washington state governor's race.
A grasping Sully shops for new enemies

Andrew Sullivan finally responds to Heather MacDonald’s article on torture by attacking…Little Green Footballs. And, in fact, not an LGF post but selective comments left on the blog. Has Sully never heard of “ACPOTI”? What a limp and illogical retort.

Update: LGF responds with “Sully off the rails again

Andrew Sullivan shows that he’s not above a cheap smear, by describing LGF as “the enthusiastically pro-torture site.” He uses the exact same smear tactic used by the loony left sites; he quotes a handful of extreme comments (and some not-so-extreme), and claims that they represent my views, despite a highly obvious disclaimer to the contrary at the top of each page of comments.
The words “jump” and “shark” come to mind.
Poor Javier Lopez

From NY Post Page Six:

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning wasn't happy the way the New England Patriots ended his season. At Edith's restaurant in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, the other night, Manning "looked totally dejected and had a puss on his face of 'Don't bother me,' " a spy reports. Peyton drank Coronas and his wife, Ashley, sipped margaritas. "Everyone knew who he was, including the Mexican waitstaff . . . He kept telling the waiters, 'This week I am known as Javier Lopez.' " Manning devoured a platter of shrimp, lobster tail and filet mignon, but "he was avoiding all eye contact with everyone else in the restaurant and stared out into space a lot," said our witness. "At one point, his wife asked him if he was listening to her and when he did not respond, she grabbed his hand and asked him again and he said despondently, 'No, I was thinking about football.' And when it came time to pay the bill, the wife said she would put it on her credit card since it is the same account, and he said, 'Believe me, I know.' "
Go Patriots!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

New Social Security blog – The Club for Growth has started a blog called “Social Security Choice” which is chock full of articles and statistics on our favorite entitlement program. Check out this post on the ascent of the payroll tax rate over the years (which dovetails nicely with my post on this very topic yesterday.)
#1 involves bloggers - Dumbest moments in business, 2004 edition (HT: Business Pundit)
Wizbang has more on the Big Dig: “Going deeper into the hole” And now the Boston Herald is reporting that critical computer files on the construction of the Big Dig have gone missing. Of course.
Fisk-o-rama! Heather MacDonald demolishes Andrew Sullivan's facile moralizing in "Tortured Logic on Torture." No answer from Sully so far. He's probably busy with his latest hit piece on Alberto Gonzales. (HT: Betsy)
Personal accounts won’t work? They’ve been fine for federal workers

Lost in all the debate and disparagement of personal savings accounts for Social Security is this salient fact: federal employees have prospered under a program very similar to the reform that President Bush is proposing. Pete Dupont reviews “The New New Deal” on Opinion Journal:

There already is a model for such a reform, the Thrift Savings Plan, or TSP, for federal employees. It allows them to contribute up to $12,000 into a personal account they own and control. Employees can chose from five different funds: government bonds, a fixed-income fund, a common stock fund, international investments and a small-cap stock-investment fund--or a mixture of them. Today, nearly 3.5 million federal employees participate, and the fund's value is more than $120 billion. No one has lost his shirt, and participants own real assets for their retirement.
Ownership of assets!?!” harrumphs the AARP and now the AFL-CIO. Heresy!
Drowning in debtWhite House to project $427b deficit - Yes, I know there’s a war on, but that’s why we should have focused recourses on defense and homeland security instead of massively expanding the Medicare system with a prescription drug benefit.

We’re going to halve the deficit? Big deal. As Luskin notes, the CBO is indicating that the Social Security surplus will start to head down in 2012 and the stress on the federal budget will quickly become as serious as a heart attack. Apres 2012, le deluge.
Tragedy31 Marines killed in copter crash in Iraq. Early reports indicate that it was due to weather or mechanical failure, not enemy fire, FWIW.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Christian Science Monitor is no fan of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez: “But his populist strategy is likely to hurt the very people who believe in the Chávez revolution, because it gives them false hope.” Is it necessary for every OPEC nation to be corrupt, or is it simply recommended?
The money pit - The Boston Globe reports that state officials were "too cozy" with the construction firm that built the Big Dig and, as a result, leaks in the Boston tunnel system were overlooked. You could knock me over with a feather.
SS reform is hobbled by a lack of imagination

U.S News & World report head honcho Mort Zuckerman has a piece in his magazine attacking Social Security reform as “A cure worse than the cold.” It’s full of all the expected caveats about transition costs and investment returns, but the shortest paragraph in the article is this throwaway line:

Most important, to the extent that there is a deficit, it could be covered by a variety of modest combinations of tax hikes and benefit cuts--each of them quite manageable.
Note this blithe rhetoric, the wave of the hand: simply raise taxes again and all will be “manageable” which I imagine is true for any government program. Let’s recap some critical facts about the ever-increasing payroll tax courtesy of the Cato Institute:

- The Social Security payroll tax rate has grown from just 2 percent in 1949 to 12.4 percent today.
- Social Security taxes have been raised more than 40 times since the program began.
- The maximum original Social Security tax was just $60. Today it is $11,000.
- Nearly 80% of Americans pay more in Social Security taxes than they do in federal income tax.
America cannot continue to heap taxes on younger workers; that option is right out.
Submitted without comment

Soldiers from Task Force Olympia unload a cake from a HMMWV for the Iraqi's Army day in Mosul, Iraq. (U.S. Army photos by Spc. Adam Sanders) [From Central Command.]
Victory is mine! - Family Guy quotes

Monday, January 24, 2005

This blows: Rob and Amber from “Survivor” will be in “The Amazing Race 7”

Why? They already have a million between them. Silly me, I thought the allure of “TAR” was that it pitted ordinary people against each other in a race around the world. Now it’s exactly one step away from “I’m a Celebrity, get me out of here!” Sad.
With a hat tip to a reader: "The Philosophy of The Amazing Race" (P.S. - Nice football picks!)
Cats and dogs living together – Viking Pundit agrees with Al Hunt

From Saturday’s “Capital Gang” on CNN:

SHIELDS: OK. Al Hunt, the fact is that -- it's hard to make an argument that there's a mandate for Social Security reform when the country, a third of George Bush's own party, Republicans, are against private accounts and half the American people are.

HUNT: Well, Mark, in all due respect to you, I think it's a false choice. It's kind of like asking Ed Rendell [governor of Pennsylvania] who he wants to win the Super Bowl, the Steelers or the Eagles. I think -- I think that, basically, what the Democrats have to do is they have to steal a leaf from the Republicans in the '70s and '90s. And it's not enough just to say no, they have to offer alternatives. And I think that's not an ideological issue. I don't think it was a mandate for Iraq. I don't think anyone thinks that. I think Social Security right now, the president is on the defensive and in trouble. But if the Democrats are just negative, then I think they're going to have -- they're not going to win these arguments, though you got to love Harry Reid's hat.
Ha-ha, ah yes, the self-immolation of the Democrats will proceed with fashionable headgear. The Dems think they’re going to stymie like it’s 1993, and do to Social Security reform what Newt Gingrich did to the Clinton health care plan. As David Brooks pointed out last week: not gonna happen. Americans rejected health care reform because it amounted to a government takeover of one-seventh of the entire U.S. economy. The GOP didn’t have to do anything in 1993 because most Americans had concluded that Hillary’s secret plan was a bad idea. But with Social Security, everybody knows there’s a problem (if not a crisis) that will only expand with time. If the Democrats simply sit back and throw spitballs at Bush’s proposals, they’ll seem unserious and obstructionist, especially to the legion of younger voters who will carry the burden of the Social Security system as their own retirement “guarantees” wither away.

The Democrats are looking for the 1994 “Hail Mary” in 2006 but if recent history is any guide, they’ll likely end up with a repeat of 2002. Sweet.
Not Zarqawi, but closer - “Iraq forces arrest top al-Qaeda lieutenant”: “Iraqi security forces have arrested the "most lethal" top lieutenant of al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq — a man allegedly behind 75% of the car bombings in Baghdad since the U.S.-led invasion, the prime minister's office said Monday.”

Jonah Goldberg thinks that either the Bush inaugural or the pending Iraqi elections taunted Zarqawi to declare that he’s firmly on the side against freedom and democracy. Jonah calls it the “best news of the weekend” although I would have preferred Zarqawi’s capture. Soon enough.
Patriots to the Super Bowl again: “These Patriot playoff wins are like Ray Charles songs, Nantucket sunsets, and hot fudge sundaes. Each one is better than the last.”

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Farewell, Johnny

There’s a lot of things I’d like to say about Johnny Carson, but I stick to this one: in an age where nearly every Hollywood figure needs to spill his/her life story to Oprah, Johnny Carson was intensely private and felt no need to explain himself. He was a rare comic talent, a model for all, and he will be missed. (By the way, skip “The Tonight Show” tomorrow night and stick to Letterman, who idolized Carson and will likely have an emotional tribute).
Stop Dean

The Democrats are once again in a panic over Howard Dean. The former governor is vying for control of the Democratic National Committee and the Dems may have “settle” for Dean simply because they can’t find anybody better. From Newsweek: “Anybody but Dean, part 2 - While the GOP danced, the Dems once again found themselves looking for a leader who's not from Vermont

As David Wissing wryly notes: “Of course the last time the Democrats spent all their time trying to stop Howard Dean, they ended up with the awful John Kerry as their nominee.” Ouch.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Zarqawi in custody?

This is almost surely the 50th false alarm, but the story comes from a somewhat reputable source (AP/Jerusalem Post) and reports on an interesting exchange:

Iraq's interior minister on Saturday refused to comment on rumors that the top terror leader in the country had been taken into custody.

"I wouldn't like to comment for the time being," Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib said when asked about rumors that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had been arrested. "Let's see. Maybe in the next few days we will make a comment about it."

Pressing him, a reporter asked, "Does that mean he is in custody?"

"No comment," the minister repeated.
Possible motive for delaying the announcement: “Rumors spread that Iraqi authorities had al-Zarqawi in custody but were waiting to announce it just before the Jan. 30 elections.”
Top 25 innovations of the past 25 years
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result

From Time: “Donkeys in Denial Almost three months after the Presidential election, Democrats still have no clue how to take on George Bush

What bold leadership moves have national Democrats made so far? When Congress convened earlier this month to certify presidential electors and confirm Bush's reelection, House Democrats and California Senator Barbara Boxer challenged Ohio's electoral ballots, forcing a few hours' debate on election reform. They had the noblest intentions, attempting to call attention to election day breakdowns in Ohio and the sad state of election reform since 2000. But as one Republican aide told ABC News, "This is a golden opportunity to remind people that President Bush won and John Kerry lost." Most Americans outside the beltway got the impression that the Democrats couldn't accept the election results. It sounded like whining.

As noble as the Dems' intentions were, they knew it was a losing battle. If the party is serious about election reform, it first needs to win some elections. It can't get its agenda enacted without taking back the White House and Congress. But party members seem more enthusiastic about noble losing causes then about winning. Several party members say the key to success during the 2nd Bush term is to fight the President tooth and nail on his agenda with every obstructionist technique they have at their disposal, particularly Senate filibusters. That's worked wonders in the past two Congressional elections. Most Americans would rather support politicians who have ideas—even ideas the voters don't completely agree with.
If the Democrats continue on this course of reactionary, mindless opposition to President Bush’s agenda, without clarifying their own positions, then 2006 will mark the fourth straight election season where the GOP expands its power in Washington.

Friday, January 21, 2005

I did not know that about Aquaman: Fun facts about Social Security (HT: RWN)

My favorite: “Social Security is founded on the principle, that, because some people won't save for retirement, all must be punished.”
Pictures of Jenna make my life so wonderful…and she’s not engaged. (Phew!)
What lockbox? - David Limbaugh excoriates Democrats for using “Shameless Semantics” in the Social Security debate. (Hat tip: Crush Kerry)
Hope grows in Iraq

A day after President Bush gives a speech about expanding freedom throughout the world, this story appeared in the WashPost: “Most Iraqis remain committed to elections, poll finds

An overwhelming majority of Iraqis continue to say they intend to vote on Jan. 30 even as insurgents press attacks aimed at rendering the elections a failure, according to a new public opinion survey.

Western specialists involved with election preparations said they were struck by the determination and resilience of ordinary Iraqis as they anticipate their country's first free election in half a century.
Afghanistan, Iraq…will a democratic “domino effect” take hold in the Mideast? This is a good sign.
The Swag-dance film festival opens

The national assembly of Hollywood lefties known as the Sundance Film Festival opened yesterday. Aging actor Robert Redford spoke:

"This is really a festival about different voices in film that really reflect, a little more accurately, the world we live in," Redford said.
Holy cannoli, can I get an invite to that world? From Page Six:

The Sundance Film Festival, which opened yesterday in Park City, Utah, is more commercial than ever. At the Motorola Lodge, celebs get free phones, Escada dresses, Kiehl's products and Mercedes loaners. On Main Street, Hewlett-Packard is giving out iPods, cameras, computers and printers. Nearby is the Levi's ranch where jeans, Xboxes and Ray-Bans are doled out. Seven jeans, Swarovski crystal and Cake makeup have a celebrity dressing suite at the Goldener Hirsh Inn. The Park City satellite of Marquee will be pouring Crown Royale for celebs, while Fred Segal has set up a spa at the Village at the Lift right next to the Yahoo! Café and the Timberland suite. One lucky winner at the Hewlett-Packard & Entertainment Weekly party tomorrow night will go home with a $25,000 gift bag including an all-expense-paid trip to South Beach, Adam + Eve intimate apparel, AG Jeans, a spa weekend in Arizona and goodies from MAC Cosmetics.
Hey, it’s all about the art, man!
“Take that, East St. Louis!” – Viking Pundit beats out some to make the top 10 list on Right Wing America and the top 40 list on Right Wing News. (Looks like I’m a right-winger.) Thanks for the nod, guys.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Inauguration Day

I just caught the replay on C-Span and I thought President Bush’s speech was great. Suddenly (although not unexpectedly) I’m jealous of all the bloggers to traveled down to Washington today. I should have been there. A great day, nonetheless.
The Michael Moore hypocrisy review

Rather than simply link to a story about how Michael "Bowling for Columbine" Moore's bodyguard got caught with a gun, I thought it would be more interesting to show the post titles for some fellow bloggers:

Bowling at the airport
Bowling for hypocrisy
Bowling close to home
Bowling for bodyguards

From the Rosie O’Donnell School of Irony
Move over, Rosie

Moore subscribing to his own lies?
"We Loves Our Guns"
Fat man’s gun man arrested
Maybe he bought it at a bank
Gun laws are for the little people
The irony gods are working overtime today
Michael Moore: Guns are OK for me, but not for thee
Guns for me, not for thee

and my favorite: "Irony surrenders"
GOP Bloggers is now up and running! Update your blogrolls accordingly.
George Will says that Social Security is “an opportunity, not a crisis.” A good article.
Going beyond the transition from frat boy to President

Jeff Jacoby writes that President Bush is the “Same man, different President”:

It was always an overstatement to say that 9/11 changed "everything," but it certainly changed Bush.

The man being sworn in today is a radical conservative with an audacious agenda, from overhauling Social Security to overhauling the Middle East. He is deeply polarizing, more loathed by Democrats than any Republican since Richard Nixon and more admired by Republicans than any GOP leader since Ronald Reagan.

The nonideological, can't-we-all-get-along slacker of 2000 has been replaced by an intense, uncompromising, undiplomatic hawk. The visionless son of the visionless father has become the nation's crusader in chief, a president determined to change the world -- and not terribly concerned if much of the world hates him while he goes about it.
Jacoby also explains to those who are still bitter over the election why Americans chose Bush over that other guy.
Satellite radio roundup

On a humorous note: This morning, I had on the Country station which was playing a song titled “I’m a Truck” by Red Simpson. Then I switched to the Fifties station which was playing Fats Domino’s “I’m gonna be a wheel someday.” I should have flipped to the Sixties station for “(She’s my) Little Deuce Coupe” and other car-thropomorphic songs.

On a less-serious note: BBC News broadcast a piece about American inaugurations before moving into the Condi Rice hearings. First, they cited Kennedy’s speech “in 1960.” (Strike one – it was 1961). Next they stated that Condi Rice sat through “two full days of hearings.” (Strike two – it was more like one day and a couple hours). Finally, they declared that Senator Joe Biden voted against Dr. Rice’s nomination. (Strike three – he voted for it). All within five minutes.

Finally, on Fox News (the television station audio), Nancy Pelosi was sitting down with the morning crew. There were some genial blurbs about the Bush inaugural, the Rice hearings, the cold weather. But when asked about Social Security, Ms. Pelosi said that Democrats are willing to work with the President as long as the reform doesn’t 1.) expand the public debt or 2.) cut benefits. Hmmm…I’m TAXing my brain to figure out what other option she has in mind.
Wow, that’s cold.
In an alternate universe - Michelle Malkin has the lead-in for a story about a Republican Senator blocking a Democratic President’s nomination of an African-American to a cabinet position.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The President on the “looming crisis”

I just discovered that a new web site has been created declaring that “there is no crisis” in Social Security. But here’s what the President had to say about the issue:

[The President] then listed the consequences of failing to address "the looming fiscal crisis in Social Security." Addressing the students, he said: "If [we] don't do anything, one of two things will happen — either [Social Security] will go broke and you won't ever get [the benefits you are promised]. Or if we wait too long to fix it, the burden on society of taking care of [the baby boomers'] Social Security obligations will lower your income and lower your ability to take care of your children to a degree most of us who are your parents think would be horribly wrong and unfair to you and unfair to the future prospects of the United States."
Clearly the President is just using scare tactics and…um…what? Oh, yeah, that was Bill Clinton. Sorry for the confusion.
The dumb lawyer defense?Dahlia Lithwick has some of the dialogue from a case argued before the Supreme Court: a condemned murderer who claims his lawyers suck. It looks like some of the Justices agree, but is that enough? Interesting stuff.
Overheard on Futurama last night

[Professor Farnsworth visits a youth rejuvenation resort and his age is turned back from 160 to 53, with unexpected consequences]

Farnsworth: “I've got to find a way to escape the horrible ravages of youth! Suddenly I'm going to the bathroom like clockwork every three hours! And those jerks at Social Security stopped sending me checks! Now I have to pay them!”
Extra fun: See this debate in the Wall Street Journal on “Social Security Reforms: Necessary or not?” (HT: Instapundit)
Lileks on the Condi Rice nomination hearing: “Listening to Sen. Boxer is like having someone pump six gallons of lukewarm tea up a catheter tube. Slowly. It’s like being beaten to death by a moth. The rest of the questions were a bit more adept, inasmuch as they postured and preened with greater skill – but I kept wondering, who’s their audience? Who are they talking to? Who is this supposed to impress? I suppose if you believe that Abu Ghraib is the defining crime of the 21st century, you’re impressed that they’re still gnawing the bone; if you still believe that the solution to Iraqnam is the addition of Russian forces (!) (as Kerry suggested) (!) then this was heartening: truth to power, man. But to someone who is not on the mailing list, it’s more of the same.”
Sorry for the light posting. Blogger was acting up and then I had to watch last night's "Amazing Race" with my kids.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Amazing Race update: The prayers of a million “TAR” fans come true

All the teams are up in the dead of night to rip open the first route marker: travel from Corsica to Nice, France by ferry. Before you can scream “bunching again?!?” the teams are bunched up waiting for the 11:30am ferry. Hayden and Aaron, who came in last on the non-elimination leg in the previous show have no money and are reduced to begging the locals for lucre. It looks like they do OK due in no small part to Hayden’s miniscule tank top. All teams arrive in Nice and take various different flights to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

From the international airport, teams take two charter planes to a small African village and the Detour: Raise the Roof or Mud the Hut. Hayden & Aaron (all caught up), Kris & Jon, and Adam & Rebecca carry and install a roof to a hut with little difficulty while Lori & Bolo, Freddy & Kendra and Jonathan & Victoria slap mud onto the side of a hut wall. Everything is going fine until Victoria cuts her hand on something in the mud. Once again, everything that has made Jonathan one of the most loathsome persons ever to be pixilated by a television camera rises to the surface. His wife is screaming and he’s continuing to slap mud while simply saying “Mind over matter, Victoria.” Once more into the heart of darkness.

After the Detour, teams must take two (2) donkeys and walk the pair of donkeys three miles to the Church of Saint George, which is carved into the earth (eye-poppingly magnificent, BTW). At the Church they must hand off the TWO donkeys and continue to the Roadblock which asks the question: “Who has an eye for detail?”

Did I mention the teams must take two donkeys and that it’s three miles from the Detour to the Roadblock? Good. (Foreshadowing! Foreshadowing!)

At the Roadblock, one team member must take a pendant from a priest within the church and then search among worshippers outside the church for a matching pendant. Once they choose the correct worshipper, they receive the next clue. Hayden and Aaron found the smoothest road to the church and finish quickly. The clue directs them to the Pit Stop which is an overlook outside the Ethiopian village; in a fantastic comeback, Team Actors are Team #1. With a minimum of sniping, Team Wrestling arrives as Team #2 and Team Mellow come in as Team #3.

Back at the church, a miracle occurs. Better than the parting of the Red Sea. Better than water into wine. Surely the hand of the Almighty has taken pity on Amazing Race fans and set in motion the demise of the most hated team in reality TV history. Praise the Lord! Team Dysfunctional arrived at the church with only one donkey!

But wait! Here comes Satan! He’s not going to give up on his favorite team! The spirit of Lucifer enters Team Androgynous and some strange evil takes hold. At Jonathan’s request, Adam & Rebecca decide to YIELD Freddy & Kendra! WTF!!! Now Team Models must wait before they’re allowed to perform the Roadblock. Why? Why? Why did they do that? Because Jonathan asked them to? A vein starts throbbing in my head.

Like a duck hit on the head, the confused Adam heads away from the church while a ticked off Freddy & Kendra stare at an hourglass and Team Dysfunctional hustles back three miles to get another donkey. The sand runs down on the hourglass and a majorly-pissed Kendra asks Rebecca why she yielded them. Rebecca mumbles something about “so many questions.” Then she sees Adam finally returning to the church and deadpans to the camera: “Never send a woman to do a man’s job” which was either a malapropism or (more likely) another jab at Adam’s lack of testosterone.

Despite the time handicap, Freddy finds the pendant and they book to the Pit Stop as Team #4. It looks like Adam finds it soon afterward but “TAR” editors are always playing with the time compression so it’s hard to tell. In any case, in a subsequent scene we see Victoria searching among the worshippers, obviously alone and despondent.

The Pit Stop is only a mile away and teams have thus far finished in the order they completed the Roadblock. I’m thinking: Team Androgynous must be ahead of Team Dysfunctional, right? Right? They wouldn’t go into a valley to find a “lookout,” right?

Here it comes: the violins soar, the camera shakes with the perspective of a running team, and we see Team #5. It’s Adam and Rebecca! Why, that means…no, they wouldn’t have back-to-back non-elimination legs. No, no, no.

Jonathan and Victoria arrive at the mat with a dozen Ethiopians in tow, knowing that they’re the final team and Phil declares: “You’re the last team to arrive.” Say it, Phil, say it! “And I’m sorry to tell you, you’ve both been eliminated from the race.”

And across the Amazing Race Nation, there was much rejoicing. Amen.

Final results:
1. Team Actors – Hayden & Aaron
2. Team Wrestling – Lori & Bolo
3. Team Mellow – Kris & Jon
4. Team Models – Freddy & Kendra
5. Team Androgynous – Adam & Rebecca
6. Team Dysfunctional – Jonathan & Victoria - ELIMINATED

More at the Amazing Race home page. And here’s my favorite quote so far from the Television without Pity TAR6 forum: “The first 58 minutes could have been a blank screen and this episode still gets an A+ ” Yes.
Social Security roundup

I have to prepare for my ever-popular Amazing Race review, so I’ll review a couple of good articles I caught today:

Brendan Miniter writes in Opinion Journal: “Social Security reform will lead to party divisions, but not for the Republicans

David Brooks from the NY Times thinks the Democrats are taking their cues from 1994 in “The Gingrich Democrats”:

But if you look at the campaign against Social Security reform in Congress, you see a party still believing the old ideas will work if only they are pursued more ruthlessly.

This is a delusion. Newt Gingrich did help Republicans regain the majority. But that doesn't mean his tactics, even in caricature form, will work for the Democrats, whose problems are deeper. The truth is that Democrats probably need a leader who will make liberals feel uncomfortable, the way Clinton did, not someone who will make them feel righteous and good.
James Pinkerton in Newsday reviews “Managing the cost of an aging America

Meanwhile Jane Galt of Asymmetrical Information echoes my criticism that the Democrats refuse to elucidate any positions on the very programs that are considered the bedrock of Democratic policy, Social Security and Medicare:

One of the interesting features of the Social Security debate has been the number of people on the "leave Social Security alone" side who cheerfully proclaim that we don't need to do anything about Social Security because it's Medicare that's going to drive our nation into bankruptcy. I find this interesting, and not merely because it has an odd "why should I patch up this broken leg when the patient's just going to die of something else eventually" sort of flavour.

One oddity is that having proclaimed that Medicare is a total catastrophe, not one person I've seen make this argument has displayed the faintest whiff of interest in doing anything about it; indeed, as far as I can tell, most were among the chorus castigating George Bush for making the prescription drug benefit insufficiently generous.
Well put.
I didn’t go to evil school for six years to be called Mr. Evil

Do you have a co-worker with an advanced degree, maybe even a Ph.D. who lords it over you? Maybe he/she demands that you address him/her as “doctor” and belittles you for your relative lack of knowledge? Let’s say that this person’s high-handed and imperious manner makes everybody miserable, fueling extravagant plots of revenge.

Now, imagine if you discovered that Dr. Boss received her vaunted diploma from “Hamilton University” with headquarters in a Motel 6 in Wyoming. Paul Sperry in Reason magazine has the delicious true-life tale in “Cut-Rate Diplomas.”
The Gore disease spreads - Captain Ed noticed the same fallacy in Kerry’s whine: “The complaints center on Cuyahoga County, of course, where Cleveland voters complained of standing in line for hours due to the lack of voting machines, a side effect of the higher turnout from 2000. However, what Kerry doesn't mention -- again -- is that Cuyahoga County election officials are Democrats, not Republicans. The county goes heavily Democratic in elections at all levels. If anyone screwed Cuyahoga County voters, it's the Democrats who have always promised their minority-bloc voters the moon and delivered below subsistence.” (Hat tip: Young Pundits)
Sore loser alert

Occasional Senator John Kerry gave a speech yesterday to honor to Dr. King gripe about voter “disenfranchisement” in the 2004 election. I just loved the progression in this line:

"In Democratic districts, it took people four, five, 11 hours to vote, while Republicans [went] through in 10 minutes. Same voting machines, same process, our America," Kerry said.
“Four! Five!” (oh, hell, let’s go for it) “Eleven hours! I ran out of gas. I, I had a flat tire. I didn't have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn't come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts!”

Voter suppression in Democratic districts? Those damn Democratic voting officials!

Monday, January 17, 2005

Don’t say a word

It looks like the Democrats have their battle plan all ready for the Social Security debate: deceive, inveigle, obfuscate. And for heaven’s sake, don’t propose your own policy. Here’s new Congressman and former Clintonite Rahm Emanuel on “Meet the Press” yesterday:

MR. RUSSERT: We do know that life expectancy has gone from 65 to 80, so that 80 million people will be on Social Security for 15 to 20 years. Will the Democrats come forward with a specific plan to save Social Security and what will it encompass?
REP. EMANUEL: Yeah. What the Democrats will do is we stand ready to work on the retirement security. I've laid out here just briefly some of the things we are going to deal with helping people establish a retirement plan for themselves in addition to Social Security.
MR. RUSSERT: No, but specifics.
REP. EMANUEL: All right.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me go through a checklist.
REP. EMANUEL: All right.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you consider raising the retirement age?
REP. EMANUEL: Tim, I'm not going to sit here and negotiate it. To quote...
MR. RUSSERT: But why won't the Democrats or the Republicans level with the American people?
REP. EMANUEL: Well, no, we will. Well, first of all, Tim, you talk about leveling with the American people, as you just said, Social Security right now is--in 2042 we face the challenge. He wants to use the word crisis. I think when 80 percent of the workers who work at small businesses have no retirement plan, that to me has an immediacy that uses the word "crisis." When literally nearly 40 percent of the households, 27 million households, have no retirement plan outside of Social Security, that has an immediacy to me. We stand ready to work on that. On the notion of Social Security, on the notion that when you blow all the smoke away, we're talking about raising--borrowing another $2 trillion, cutting benefits up to 40 percent...
MR. RUSSERT: What is your alternative?
REP. EMANUEL: Well, the alternative, as you well know, is we work here, we have an alternative as it relates to retirement plans and helping people develop retirement plans on top of Social Security. I will not tell you what we don't do, and as you know on this show, Tim, and you're smart to what happens in this town, the president proposes and Congress disposes, he'll come forward with his plan. We'll work from there. We stand ready to help strengthen people's retirement security...
MR. RUSSERT: Is this a lesson that you've learned from Mrs. Clinton's health-care plan, where she proposed a plan, the Democrats [sic] did not propose any viable alternative, they just sat back and watched that sink? Is that your plan for the president's Social Security plan?
REP. EMANUEL: No, we stand ready to work with him.
Sure you do. Let’s see how the Democrats have clarified their positions on that cornerstone of the New Deal:

Democratic National Committee: No proposals, no specifics, no acknowledgment of a problem at all.
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi: Ditto
Senate minority leader Harry Reid: “Therefore, we have time to craft a thoughtful solution that will ensure that future generations can depend on Social Security.” Possible solutions proposed: zero.
You gonna pay for that?

The WashPost has an editorial today titled simply “Social Security” which promises to be the first in a series of “discussions” on our favorite entitlement program. Described as a “Social Security 101” review, today’s editorial ignores the elephant in the room – the program’s institutional insolvency – and focuses instead on what a swell deal it is for everybody. You would think an article that extols the benefits of a program would at least mention the cost in passing. An inauspicious start, IMO.
Take that, Franz! - Varifrank some Euro-weenies in their place: “Today, I was unprofessional.” (Hat tip: Jeff)
Patrick Ruffini has a new site design but, sadly, no link to Viking Pundit yet. (Sigh)
I never fail to laugh at this graphic.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The iceberg metaphor again – “Social Security is just the tip of a very large iceberg
Amazing Race insider slang – After digging around the Amazing Race web site, I discovered that the crew calls the person who sits in the backseat with the map the “nagivator” because they’re constantly nagging the driver. Heh.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Friday, January 14, 2005

If you’re feeling sinister, grab your Arab strap and listen

From High Fidelity:

Barry: Holy shite. What the f*** is that?
Dick: It's the new Belle and Sebastian...
Rob: It's a record we've been listening to and enjoying, Barry.
Barry: Well, that's unfortunate, because it sucks ass.
My co-workers tease me mercilessly about my love for Belle & Sebastian – now who’s laughing?!? Ha! (Hat tip: Fark)
And the sky is blue – From Brian Wise: “Ted Kennedy is not smart
Yes they are! Mass Backwards has the best inadvertent photo caption ever.
As Cher would say: “You better sit down, kids

Can we agree that this….

…is a problem? Because the reality is worse. As Robert Samuelson notes in today’s WashPost, “It’s more than Social Security”:

Our national government is increasingly a transfer mechanism from younger workers (i.e. taxpayers) to older retirees. In fiscal 2004 Social Security ($488 billion), Medicare ($300 billion) and Medicaid ($176 billion) represented 42 percent of federal outlays. Excluding spending that doesn't go to the elderly, the Congressional Budget Office crudely estimates that these programs pay an average of almost $17,800 to each American 65 and over. By 2030 the number of elderly is projected to double; the costs will skyrocket.
In article about the challenges of President Bush’s second term, The Economist also gives warning on the explosion of Medicare spending:

These numbers can be hard to interpret, but the larger point is that Social Security is on an unsustainable trajectory, one that goes well beyond the retirement of the baby-boomers. It is not an immediate “crisis”. In fact, payroll-tax revenues will exceed pension payments until 2018, masking America's overall fiscal imbalance. Nor is it America's biggest long-term fiscal problem. The financial burden from Medicare will be much bigger (see chart 2). Mr Bush's first-term decision to introduce a prescription-drug benefit for retirees worsened Medicare's long-term financial imbalance by more than twice as much as the entire Social Security problem. Nonetheless, Social Security needs fixing. And that means either boosting revenues (for instance, by raising payroll taxes) or reducing promised benefits.
My supply of homespun metaphors to describe the entitlements problem is lower than a doodlebug in Aunt Tilly’s root cellar: the iceberg ahead, the pyramid scheme, generational war, the termites eating your house, etc. Washington can agree to face the problem now or it can fall back on political grandstanding and demagogic innumeracy.
An embarrassment of riches

From today’s Page Six: “We hear that it could get crowded for the Democrats in 2008. John Kerry has said he won't rule out running again, and now comes word Tipper Gore is telling friends that Al is eyeing another race himself.”

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Brits offer their advice on Social Security

The Economist (UK) thinks it has “The route to real pensions reform” and the solution is personal accounts along with “progressive indexing” which is a graduated combination of the current wage indexing and the proposed price indexing:

This combination of progressive indexing and balanced accounts would cut the long-term deficit of Social Security by half, from a present value of $3.8 trillion to $1.9 trillion over the next 75 years. Of course, the transition from the current system to this combination would require some federal borrowing before the system's economics are reversed. But under reasonable estimates of participation in investment accounts, all borrowing would be completed by the end of the 75-year period. At that time, the Social Security system would be in financial balance and would be self-sustaining.
The Economist also suggests that time is running short for action:

The time for this type of reform is running out. After the baby-boomers start to retire in 2011, their benefit formulas will in effect be locked in—politically it is virtually impossible to change these formulas for those in or near retirement. Thus, to fix the long-term finances of Social Security, Congress has a one-time opportunity to link personal retirement accounts with benefit reform through the introduction of progressive indexing. That opportunity should not be missed.
A pragmatic review from a disinterested party.
Washington Times: “Solving Social Security’s problems
Is Scenario #2 taking shape?

Will Democrats swallow personal accounts for Social Security if President Bush gives in on taxes? For the record, the answer is “no.” But Bob Novak thinks Senator Lindsey Graham may be trying to broker a deal: “GOP willing to take hike for reform” Interesting.
Yeah, right - Dirtbag Jonathan of "Amazing Race 6" insists it was the editing it was his medication he was just playing the part of a reality TV "bad boy": "As the show has unreeled over the weeks, the drumbeat for Jonathan's head has grown louder among fans — and now he has begun to get word out through friends that he was only playing a part. " Sure...he's a real peach when the cameras are off.
Kennedy’s speech

I heard most of it on C-Span and, frankly, I was amazed. Here was one of the most senior and liberal members of Congress preaching to the Democrats on 1.) the future and 2.) values. Only a diatribe about drunk driving could have made it more surreal.

Mark Kilmer quipped: “Sounds like a plan. For defeat, anyway.” Meanwhile, John Hawkins eviscerated “Ted Kennedy’s Socialist Agenda.” But the most withering criticism of the downward spiral of the Democrats was by Joan Vennochi in the Boston Globe “Blurred messages from Democrats”:

Here’s the new Democratic Party slogan: We stand for nothing but victory.

As a political strategy in 2004, it did not win the White House for Democrats. Red state voters were not tempted to switch from a candidate who shared their absolute conviction that abortion is wrong or that waging war in Iraq is a valid way to fight terrorism. It seems unlikely to prevail in future presidential elections, either.

It's a cliche that happens to be true: To win support, candidates and parties have to stand for something. They cannot be strictly against the opposition. Even worse, they cannot be for and against what the other side believes in.
I think the Republicans understand this, which is why President Bush has been pushing (for example) the issue of Social Security reform. Thus far, the Democrats have been placed in an untenable position of either claiming there is no problem or proposing reforms of their own. They can’t do the first and they won’t do the second.
Oil-rich Muslims throw some tip money at Indonesia

Mark Steyn also reflects on the response to the Great Satan in “Coalition of the Giving”:

Colin Powell was foolish to suggest that, in its response to this crisis, the Muslim world would come to appreciate the true nature of the US. Fat chance. "It's OK that aid from the US is here," said Hilmy Bakar Almascaty, spokesman for the Islamic Defender Front. "But if they open bars, sell alcohol or open prostitution centres, then we will fight them." Almascaty also warned the Australian charity Youth Off the Streets that its plan to open homes for 35,000 Indonesian orphans was all very well, but on no account was it to try converting Muslim children. Jeez, man, would it kill you once in a while just to send a box of chocolates and a card saying "Thank you, you infidel sons of whores and pigs", and leave it at that?
Apparently so. (Hat tip: Arts & Letters)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

I can stop anytime I want to!

From the Atlantic magazine’s Primary Sources – “Addicted to DSL”:

What happens when Internet users are taken offline? To find out, Yahoo and the media agency OMD commissioned a cruel study: a group of Internet users were unhooked for a two-week period and asked to record in diaries what they did and how they felt. The diary entries were almost uniformly miserable: the subjects discovered—doubtless to Yahoo's delight—that the Internet was more deeply embedded in their daily lives than they had realized.
Also, scroll down to “The Costs of Doing Business” for the nitty-gritty on a World Bank report suggesting that poor countries remain poor because of unfathomable corruption and bureaucratic regulation that stifles business development.
Rope-a-dope scenario #2: The personal accounts-or-bust tactic

The other day, I suggested that personal savings accounts may be a ploy designed to force other reforms on Social Security. But suppose President Bush holds firm on private accounts as recent reports would suggest. For much of the Left, Social Security is not in crisis and, even if it were, the projected shortfall is less than the cost of President Bush’s tax cuts. The obvious implication is that we should raise payroll and/or income taxes to prop up the “greatest program ever.”

Suppose President Bush responds: “OK, we’ll restore the old tax rates to help soften the budget shortfall starting in 2018. And we’ll increase the payroll tax by 2% with the provision that the 2% will be used exclusively for private savings accounts.” Holy crow, how would the Democrats respond to that ju-jitsu?!?

My feeling is their reaction would be exactly the same as this exchange with the president of the National Education Association when confronted with the issue of school vouchers. That is, the ultimate goal for the Democrats is always to keep Americans from controlling their own destiny and forever dependent on the government. On the other hand, President Bush understands that if the door were opened for personal, transferable savings accounts, the political pressure to expand the “ownership society” would only grow. As George Will writes today, the Democrats are intent on standing in the way of the choices that define the modern generation:

Be that as it may, last week Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times reported that the DLC, and Third Way, a new group of centrist Democrats, will oppose any plan to permit the diversion of a portion of payroll taxes into personal accounts. Congressional Democrats seem almost solidly opposed to allowing Americans the choice of personal accounts. These Democrats are putting themselves in opposition to the high value that contemporary Americans, and especially young people, place on "autonomy." So Democrats are on a collision course with the constituency that is the vessel of their hopes: voters 18 to 29 are the only age cohort John Kerry carried.

So beyond their desire to deny the president any substantial victory, what are Democrats thinking? If Democrats are thinking that people are more interested in security than choice, they still have to convince young people that unreformed Social Security is secure. Are Democrats thinking that there is no political price to be paid for being completely negative, offering no idea except the status quo? If Democrats are thinking that proposing changes in Social Security is politically dangerous, they should stop licking their wounds and consider how they got them.
Since blind opposition to Dubya has been a big winner for the Democrats over three election cycles, they’ve decided that they should try even more obstructionism. (Go Howard Dean!) Meanwhile, President Bush will be speaking to the ever-expanding “investor class” about choice and financial freedom.
Making his case – Here’s the transcript from President Bush’s speech and forum on Social Security yesterday.
The Algonquin Round Table, it ain’t – Yesterday morning, I tuned into Air America for the first time since the election only to find that nothing has changed. The station wasn’t on ten seconds before the hosts were belittling Republicans (or, broadly, people who voted for Bush) as “simple” and “stupid people who love to hate.” Verily, it was the most stultifying, back-of-the-classroom, self-satisfying blather. Anyway, Drudge is reporting that Air America’s ratings are heading down and Brian at Tomfoolery has some additional thoughts.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Amazing Race update: Rappelling teams and one repelling team

With the father-daughter team of Gus & Hera eliminated last week, it’s now an all-couples race. Six teams started out in Budapest and picked up clues at a wine cellar, instructing them to head to Corsica, the birthplace of Napoleon. (Note: after Sweden, Norway, Germany and Hungary, this is the fifth stop in Europe – wasn’t this supposed to be a race around the world?) All teams arrive at Napoleon’s birthplace, but it doesn’t open until the morning so they're all bunched up again.

Adam and Rebecca must have queued up early because they’re the first inside to take a clue from a Napoleon impersonator. Fast Forward!?! Didn’t we have one just last week? A & R sprint off to do some deep sea diving and skip all remaining tasks. Rebecca, who is a certified diver, dons an old diving suit and walks over to a lobster trap to retrieve the clue while Adam flounders on the surface. Once again, Adam whines and repeats those magical words that every girl loves to hear: “Tell my Mom I love her” (which, for the record, is the title of tonight’s episode.) Rebecca resurfaces but the rules of the Fast Forward dictate that both team members must perform the task. Adam is told he must go back down and touch the lobster trap to complete the challenge. Once he stops invoking his mother’s name and figures out how to operate the air valve, he finishes up quick. Adam & Rebecca fly off to the Pit Stop as Team #1.

Meanwhile, all the other teams head to the Detour at the training center for the French Foreign Legion, which appears to be some kind of French military group. The teams must choose between 1.) climbing up a steep wall then rappelling down the other side or 2.) taking a boat to find submerged clues attached to buoys in the sea. Everybody chooses to climb except for Team Dysfunctional (Jonathan & Victoria) who head down to the water after Jonathan looks at the wall and declares: “I’m not going to do something I’m not good at.” Victoria stayed on the boat while Jonathan was pulled behind on a raft; in my mind, I could see myself throwing buckets and buckets of chum into the ocean – oh, it was delightful.

Anyway, everybody’s battling wall and water except for Hayden & Aaron who suddenly develop directional dyslexia. They’re driving all over and arrive last to the Detour. Freddy & Kendra finish the climb and rappel first followed soon afterwards by the repellant Jonathan and the woman who should just change her name to “Hurry up, stupid!”

Off to the Roadblock where teams must stomp grapes a la “I Love Lucy” and make five bottles of, um, grape juice. Freddy & Kendra finish quickly and head off to the Pit Stop as Team #2. Team Dysfunctional, Team Wrestling (Lori & Bolo), and Team Kris & John are all stomping away together and the yelling is incessant among the first two teams. Kris & John are cool, calm and collected – could it be that they realize that bickering only wastes time and energy? Maybe the other teams should take a cue from the team that has finished #1 most often, eh? Anyway, these three teams finish up and head to the Pit Stop before Hayden & Aaron even arrive at the vineyard. However, as the teams read the clue for the Pit Stop we hear that ole provisional verb “may” as in “The last team to arrive may be eliminated.” The wife and I turn to each other knowingly: this will be a non-elimination leg where the final team to arrive won’t be eliminated from the race.

Sure enough, Hayden & Aaron arrive last but are not eliminated, and they hand over all the cash they’ve acquired so far as punishment. The final results:

1. Team Androgynous - Adam & Rebecca (Fast Forward)
2. Team Models - Freddy & Kendra
3. Team Wrestling – Lori & Bolo
4. Team Mellow – Kris & Jon
5. Team Dysfunctional – Jonathan & Victoria
6. Team Actors - Hayden & Aaron (Non-elimination leg)

Note on previews for next week: It looks like the teams get out of Europe and head back to Africa. This should make Kendra happy.

More at the Amazing Race 6 home page.
Closer than you think – Did I say that the Social Security crisis starts in 2018? Donald Luskin reviews the numbers and declares: “The reality is that the Social Security crisis begins to materialize in just five years.” Uh-oh.
Rathergate – John Podhoretz says that CBS was “Boxed in by bias
Reflections on the responsibilities of leadership

Here’s President Bush speaking to the Wall Street Journal:

I think it's a very important part of the debate -- and the opinion makers are beginning to show up and express their opinions, people beginning to opine about this, that or the other. And all the opinions matter, and we're listening very carefully. In the end what matters is reforming the system so that it is not -- doesn't 20 years from now pop back up on a President's screen saying, oh, goodness, we got to do this again.

… there is a divide in America -- the seniors obviously don't want anything done to the system. And I interpret that to mean they don't even want anything done to their check. They want the promises fulfilled, which will happen.

Now, there's a whole generation of people coming up -- you've seen the sea change. I mean, the issue has changed in our lifetime very quickly, our political lifetime. I mean, it really has; it has shifted, because a lot of people don't think they're ever going to see a dime. And, to me, that is an opportunity to get something done.
And here’s insouciant Congressman Rob Simmons (R-CT):

"Why stir up a political hornet's nest . . . when there is no urgency?" said Rep. Rob Simmons (Conn.), who represents a competitive district. "When does the program go belly up? 2042. I will be dead by then."
Truly a profile in courage.
Happy second blogoversary to Silent Running!

Monday, January 10, 2005

Your other Social Security blog – I’ve been remiss in failing to note that Tom Maguire of Just One Minute has been tenacious on America’s Ponzi scheme. Maybe we should team up.
The fight continues in Washington stateSound Politics has been persistent in highlighting the questionable governor’s race. Keep scrolling.
What if it’s all another rope-a-dope?

Yesterday’s NY Times posed this query on Social Security: “Q. Social Security is supposed to be the "third rail" of politics, fatal to those who tamper with it. What has changed?” George Will followed up today by writing “Democracies generally do difficult things only under the lash of necessity.” Yet President Bush seems committed to grabbing the third rail and staging a debate on the future of Social Security.

But what if the prospect of personal savings accounts is all just a punching bag where the Democrats will flail away as the Administration lays out a broad argument for modernizing Social Security for the 21st century?

For example, when Social Security was formed, the age at which benefits could be collected was pegged at 65; the average life expectancy for Americans born in 1930 was 60 years. According the World Almanac, life expectancy is now at 77 years and retirees who start collecting benefits at 65 can expect to live another 18 years. Second, the calculation used to determine benefits are based on wage indexing which has traditionally outpaced inflation. As Arnold Kling writes today on Tech Central Station, fixing current benefits to inflation would preserve the current promise of while tamping down spiraling entitlement payments (an idea already distorted and demagogued by the Democrats as a “benefit cut.”)

It seems to be that, while the goal of personal ownership is laudable, the private savings accounts are fraught with problems. Liberals, of course, oppose personal accounts because it takes resources away from government which is anathema to them. So the rhetoric on the left will focus on the evil stock market and the Wall Street fat cats who will benefit, even if their clients will see a better return than they would under Social Security. But fiscal conservatives like me (who hated the prescription drug benefit) should be troubled by yet another trillion piled on top of the national debt. If Republicans are ambivalent and Democrats are dead-set against personal accounts, they have little chance of passing through Congress.

Say the Bush Administration proposed personal savings accounts as the centerpiece of Social Security reform and Democrats scramble for garlic and crosses more garlic:

"Their strategy is, we're going to scare people, cut benefits, privatize and call it a reform agenda," said Representative Rahm Emanuel, Democrat of Illinois.
Then Bush springs the trap:

But Mr. Bush's strategy puts Democrats in a difficult position. If they argue that Social Security is fundamentally in good health, Republicans could accuse them of irresponsibly glossing over serious long-term problems.
Suppose President Bush retorts “OK, no privatization. But we’re absolutely not going to raise the regressive payroll tax yet again. Instead, let’s hold benefits constant by indexing to inflation and slowly raise the age for full benefits.” Those reasonable, 21st century changes may not “save” Social Security but the vanishing point of insolvency may be extended out decades.

More and more and more younger Americans believe Social Security is broken and they are paying into a system which will return only a small fraction of their sacrifice. Even if President Bush’s reform proposal goes down to defeat, it will be a Pyrrhic victory for the Democrats who will have to explain in 2018 why they didn’t do something when they had the chance.
Interrogation or torture?

If you were watching “Fox News Sunday” you might have seen roundtable regular Bill Kristol express some ambivalence about the issue of "aggressive interrogation"/torture and cite “an essay by Heather MacDonald in City Journal.” It’s called “How to interrogate terrorists” and starts off thusly:

It didn’t take long for interrogators in the war on terror to realize that their part was not going according to script. Pentagon doctrine, honed over decades of cold-war planning, held that 95 percent of prisoners would break upon straightforward questioning. Interrogators in Afghanistan, and later in Cuba and Iraq, found just the opposite: virtually none of the terror detainees was giving up information—not in response to direct questioning, and not in response to army-approved psychological gambits for prisoners of war.
Mickey Kaus comments: “Heather Mac Donald pretty much destroys the easy, win-win idea that harsher methods don't yield useful information, and she documents the high-level imposition of sometimes absurdly strict rules to protect even prisoners like Mohamed al-Kahtani, the alleged 20th hijacker.”
Riddle: What has 66 feet and types?
Answer: Beautiful Atocities’ Foot Fetishists’ Guide to the Blogosphere
January 6th 2005: the day the loony left bubbled over. Read Patrick Hynes “The Day the Wheels Came Off” in the American Spectator.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

GMTA, of course

Yesterday I sardonically asked here and in a sort-of mirror post on Blogs for Bush: “Who says the Democrats are out of fresh ideas?”

And here’s the wonderful Mark Steyn today:

But, as the 2004 field reminded us, this isn't a party exactly brimming with talent and fresh faces. And, as for ideas, when was the last time you heard a fresh policy from a Democrat? The serious arguments about war, social security, immigration and pretty much everything else are all within factions of the right. The Democrats' only contribution is to insist that someone in Halliburton has figured out a way to get the touch-screen voting machines to make Democrats' votes vanish. Democrats' votes are vanishing because Democrat voters are vanishing because Democrat intellectual energy has all but vanished. Or as Republican Congresswoman Deborah Pryce summed up Thursday's Boxer rebellion: ''Their objection is a front for their lack of ideas.''

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Pai Mei taught you the five point palm-exploding heart technique?”

We rented “Kill Bill Volume 2” tonight and it was great; I can see why it made a lot of the top ten lists this year. (Hey, look! A non-Social Security post!)
Republicans have a “hidden agenda” to make you rich

So says Patrick Ruffini who condemns the whole premise of even a perfectly solvent Social Security system:

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

Fiscal realities aside, that's a choice that's morally indefensible.
I’ve said many times before: if today you tried to impose a 6.2% tax on Americans with the promise that (maybe) they’ll get some help in their old age, it would never become law. Isn’t it past time to bring a Depression-era program in line with modern times?