Monday, February 28, 2005

Crunch time – “White House officials are telling Republican lawmakers and allies on K Street that they must begin to overcome opposition to President Bush's proposal for changing Social Security within six weeks, GOP strategists said yesterday.” Hey, ho, let’s go.
Noooo! Croooow!
A counter-fisking

Normally I don’t respond to comments but every once in a while I get a novella from one poor, misguided baseball fan that is so detached from history that I feel compelled to slap him around a little before sending him on his way. Here’s his response to my post below that suggested that Howard Dean might be worse for the Democrats than Terry McAuliffe:

Yeah, because vituperative belligerence paid off so poorly for the Republicans in 1993-94, right? And "getting along as best we can, agreeing to disagree" has brought such major dividends to the Democrats in the last 2 to 3 cycles.
Let’s see: who was in control of both houses of Congress as Bill Clinton was trying to ram through his secret health care proposal in 1993-(Nov.) 1994? Why, it was the Democrats! All the Republicans did was make note of the fact that Bill and Hillary were trying to restructure one-seventh of the entire U.S. economy without a debate. Then Newt Gingrich came along with the Contract for America detailing in large letters and black ink exactly what the Republicans would do if they were given control of Congress. Result: GOP landslide that has not been reversed (or even reduced) since 1994.

The problem for the Democrats is not that they obstruct or “get along” – it’s that they’re now a party completely bereft of ideas. I defy you to find a single Democrat with a clear position on Social Security, the cornerstone of FDR’s New Deal. Even the New Republic’s editor (and Al Gore’s Harvard professor) Marty Peretz recognizes this problem. Get along, stand astride, whatever: the Democrats aren’t going anywhere if their message is: “We’re not Republicans” and nothing else.
Bush won by an historically slight margin last time, with his wartime standing and financial advantage, against a bum candidate nobody liked. Presidential nominee Howard Dean would have been a lot more likely to narrow that gap or better, as opposed to provoking some kind of GOP blowout (unless you know of some untapped supply of 10,000,000 Bush voters who didn't turn out last November, but would have rushed to stop the "Deaniacs'). Even a grinning cipher like Edwards could have outperformed Rondo Hatton, reporting for duty.
I won’t quibble with anything here. Kerry was a dud but I doubt that Dean would have done better.
So you think Mr. Status Quo (McAuliffe) was a loser, and now you think that Mr. Snarky Sound Byte will be a loser, too. Quelle surprise, to quote France's troop. Who would your most-feared choice for the party job be, then? Who's out there who would restore the Dems to glory? Zell Miller's very available.
Well, allow me to retort! The secondary problem for the Democrats after their lack of a lucid and unifying ideology is their perception as a party of East-coast liberal elitists. John Kerry (along with crazy Teresa) was a perfect embodiment of this smarter-than-thou smarminess that turns off all the NASCAR dads and Midwest Moms. So who do the Democrats install as their figurehead? The anti-war doctor-governor from Vermont! When Dean was making his “Red States” tour last week, even the Democratic governor of Kansas couldn’t find the time to meet with Dean. She’s no dope.

Who would have been a better choice? John Breaux from Louisiana or Bill Richardson from New Mexico or even Martin Frost from Texas. But Howard Dean?! Why not just take a Kennedy and tell the Red States to kiss his drunk rump?
The Democrats' big national problem is that they haven't gotten 50.1% of the votes for any candidate since the Voting Rights Act was passed and they lost the South. That's not likely to change, but there's no reason they can't rile up the base like the GOP did in the 1980s and 90s, make Congress more of a dogfight, and continue to pick off weak targets like Bush Sr. and Gerald Ford when they get the opportunity. Dean's much-vaunted "grass roots" effort-- the only reason he had a national campaign at all despite party friction-- would seem to be a good starting blueprint.
"Rile up the base?" What have the Democrats offered in the past four years aside from angry, unsubstantiated rhetoric that Bush stole the election in 2000? They’re a party of whiners, gripers, and thumb-suckers that won’t win against a Gerald Ford or even a Rutherford B. Hayes until they grasp that national security is now the #1 concern among Americans. A month before the last election, you couldn’t find a pol in Washington who had the slightest idea where Kerry stood on the most critical issue of the day. Howard Dean is not likely to change that paradigm.
The "Karl Rove is salivating to get a crack at Howard Dean" stories of a year ago were obvious B.S. then, but the Dems fell for them. (The fact that they gibed perfectly with certain bigwigs holding onto their institutional power-- cough, Hillary in '08, cough-- didn't hurt a bit, either.)
It’s true you know: we’re really scared of Dean. Please, please don’t nominate him in 2008! Pinkie-swear!
Now the Dems have pulled a switch in tactics, at least from the rhetorical side. And I'd be interested to hear someone explain how the attempt's certain to make the numbers worse for them.
Harry Reid caused me to chuckle the other day when he predicted that Democrats would pick up from one to nine seats in the Senate in 2006. Well, when you’re down to the lowest representation in the Senate since the 1920’s, I guess you have nowhere to go but up…
The Iraqi spark?

Something big is going on in the Middle East. Here’s Jackson Diehl in “A Mideast Makeover? Popular protests spur changes from autocrats”:

As thousands of Arabs demonstrated for freedom and democracy in Beirut and Cairo last week, and the desperate dictators of Syria and Egypt squirmed under domestic and international pressure, it was hard not to wonder whether the regional transformation that the Bush administration hoped would be touched off by its invasion of Iraq is, however tentatively, beginning to happen.
And Michael Barone says that “Minds are Changing” both in the Arab world and across Europe:

Minds are changing in Europe, too. In the left-wing Guardian, Martin Kettle reassures his readers that the Iraq war was "a reckless, provocative, dangerous, lawless piece of unilateral arrogance" -- the usual stuff. "But," he concedes, "it has nevertheless brought forth a desirable outcome which would not have been achieved at all, or so quickly, by the means that the critics advocated, right though they were in most respects."

Or read Claus Christian Malzahn in Der Spiegel. "Maybe the peoples of Syria, Iraq or Jordan will get the idea in their heads to free themselves from their oppressive regimes just as the East Germans did," he writes. "Just a thought for Old Europe to chew on: Bush might be right, just like Reagan was."
These articles were written before the collapse of the Syrian-backed government in Lebanon today. It’s just like the months after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Worst Dean since Dean Wormer

I never thought I’d see somebody as disastrous for the Democratic Party as Terry McAuliffe, but how great is Howard Dean? The guy’s been head of the DNC for less than a month and he’s already supplied us with a lifetime of gaffes. Barely moments after Patrick Hynes’s knockdown “Misunderestimate Dean?” was published in American Spectator, Mickey Kaus finds this gem from Howard: “This is a struggle of good and evil. And we're the good.”

Please don’t stop there, Howard. You’re the smug, self-satisfied, screaming face of the Democratic Party now.

Extra: Jeff Jarvis tries to bring sanity to the Left Wing. His advice is not heeded.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

My Oscar picks

I probably won’t watch, but here are my predictions. If I’m correct across-the-board I’ll come back and gloat:

Best Picture: “The Aviator” (Hollywood always picks the “epic” pictures)
Director: Clint Eastwood (That’s right: they’re going to screw Scorsese again, but then they have to give Eastwood something after giving “Aviator” best picture)
Actor: Jamie Foxx (He was awesome in “Collateral” also.)
Actress: Hilary Swank
Supporting Actor: Morgan Freeman
Supporting Actress: Virginia Madsen

Here are the nominees.
Must-read and quote of the day: “Liberals have been slow to grasp the mainstream reaction to the no-values culture, chalking it up to Karl Rove, sinister fundamentalists, racism, or the stupidity of the American voter. Since November 2, the withering contempt of liberals for ordinary Americans has been astonishing. Voting for Bush gave "quite average Americans a chance to feel superior," said Andrew Hacker, a prominent liberal professor at Queens College. We are seeing the bitterness of elites who wish to lead, confronted by multitudes who do not wish to follow.” John Leo in “Can Liberalism Survive?”

There has been a lot of criticism of Senate minority leader Harry Reid, but this piece of trivia strikes me as passing strange:

Reid neither drinks nor gambles, although he has lived his entire life in a state with no shortage of vice. He carries himself with quiet ease, and he speaks in a soft monotone, even when his words are spoken in anger, as they were after the Republican National Committee mailing went out. He is a no-nonsense worker known for rarely saying ''goodbye" at the end of a phone call.
People are also creeped out by his “Ahoy-hoy!” telephone greeting.
Viking Pundit gets results

Obviously, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was chagrined by this brutal takedown, enough to take an unexpected step:

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt asked the country's parliament yesterday to amend the constitution to permit a multi-candidate presidential election this fall, a surprising step toward democracy in the Arab world's most populous nation.
Good news. And they captured the six of diamonds too!

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Now that’s what I call eclectic

Here are the first 15 songs I downloaded from ITunes:

“Accidentally in Love” – Counting Crows
“The Auctioneer” – Leroy Van Dyke
“Ophelia” – Gibson Brothers
“Deep Purple” – Nino Tempo and April Stevens
“The Unicorn” – Irish Rovers
“Alone” – Susan Tedeschi
“A Little Less Conversation (remix)” – Elvis Presley
“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” – Charlie Daniels
“We’re Gonna Make It” – Little Milton
“Mohammed’s Radio” – Linda Ronstadt
“Golddigger” – Supreme Beings of Leisure
“Friends of P” – Rentals
“Lucas with the Lid Off” – Lucas
“The Bad Touch” – Bloodhound Gang
“Jack, You’re Dead” – Louis Jordan

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Left-wing lunacy - I would just as soon ignore Ted Rall and his ilk but both the PoliPundit and John Hawkins have responded to his challenge (scroll down to the picture). Many other examples are sure to follow.
Academy awards apathy - Martin Devon ranks his Best Picture picks for the Oscars and if “Sideways” is his choice for the #2 best movie last year, then I predict that this year’s Oscars will have the worst ratings in the history of the show.
Irony alert – Before becoming a U.S. Senator (D-NJ), Jon Corzine was the CEO of investment firm Goldman Sachs. Corzine spent his career urging investors to place their faith and money in his hands with the promise, one supposes, that private investment would yield a greater return than stuffing cash into a mattress. It’s probably safe to say that Corzine doesn’t have to worry about his golden years.

But now, Corzine declares private investment through personal accounts a terrible idea and that Americans should be happy with their meager return on government-controlled Social Security. What a tool.
I know I'm really behind the curve here but BugMeNot is a life-saver.
Happy 3rd blogoversary to Susanna of Cut on the Bias!
A Democrat proposes a Social Security plan! It’s not very good.

Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself." – Mark Twain
The Economist: “Can southern Iraq’s marshes be restored?”
“Spare” us the lame bowling metaphors

CNN analyst Bill Schneider visited a bowling alley and asked some of the mid-30 patrons how they felt about the Social Security debate. An excerpt:

SCHNEIDER: But you won't scare these young workers by telling them personal accounts are risky because, as this tech support specialist from Boston put it, Social Security is just as risky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As it right now, it is a risk. You probably won't even get the money when you retire. So, it probably won't be any different.

Scroll down near the bottom of the transcript for the full story.
As America changes, so do the Yellow Pages

Past: Discos, CB radios, adding machines, phonographs, typewriters
Present: Botox, paintball, Feng shui, satellite equipment, ISPs, laser vision correction
Future: Data mining, nanotechnologists, genetic analysis, security cryptographers
A message for Hillary? Lorie has the blog post title of the day. (Runner-up)

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Air we go again

Yet another CEO takes on Air America – “Air America is estimated to be operating at a multimillion-dollar loss annually. [Danny] Goldberg said he expects the it to be profitable either this year or next.

Ha-ha, good luck with that, Danny! I occasionally listen to Morning Sedition on my morning commute and it’s a train wreck. These guys throw out an endless litany of half-truths and outrageous statements, oblivious in their two-man echo chamber of their own self-contradictory rhetoric. There’s not a whit of evidence that they’re trying to convince anybody to their point of view – it’s 100% spitballing. Danny Goldberg will find out soon enough that it’s not marketing that’s the problem, it’s the product.

Extra - Here are those tolerant, open-minded Morning Sedition guys: “Americans are blindingly ignorant. [snip] Americans just don't care. …And that dangerous embrace of apathy, ignorance and mediocrity stands at the front lines of the battle we now face.” Stupid Americans! Why aren't you listening to our great show?!?
Sixty-second Social Security rundown

Ugh…I’m getting seriously burnt out with Social Security posts. Here’s today’s quick rundown: in 1935, Franklin Delano Roosevelt discovered a previously unknown clause in the Constitution that Americans have the right to retirement benefits. Everybody loved it when taxes were low and benefits were high, but the oncoming of the Baby Boomers will put a serious strain on the system. Because a great many younger workers believe the system won’t be around in 40 years, they want Social Security reform. However, older Americans – who would not be affected by reform – nevertheless want to block any change to Social Security. Republicans are nervous about a backlash from older voters and there are a number of alternate plans being debated in Congress, although not by Democrats who are instead intent on ignoring the problem and playing politics. Still, some believe that due to the undeniable magnitude of the problem, Social Security reform will eventually pass into law.
Expat Yank compares and contrasts the values gap between America and Europe. Check it out and keep scrolling.
Speak up or shut up?

Anklebiting Pundits: “So we say to Harry Reid - please hold more press conferences where you spout out inane happy thoughts.”

Hoystory: “Reid would be well advised to keep his trap shut.”
Hope and oppression in the Middle East

Hope: “Saudi Vote Stirs New Enthusiasm - With More Elections in the Offing, Candidates Debate Strategy, Issues

Oppression: “Egypt’s Brutal Answer

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Japan, in this Feb. 23, 1945 file photo. The dwindling group of American survivors gathered this weekend, 60 years later, to commorate the battle of Iwo Jima, at reunions around the country.
Here’s your gun…now let gravity do the work – France has committed one military officer to help train Iraqis. Un. Uno. A single officer. Fini. (Via GOP Bloggers)
Gay Patriot has a report from my alma mater – “Gay rights must have come a longer way than the Gay Left wants us to believe.... if the only thing the Rutgers LGBT crowd can get excited about is stupid names for sandwiches on The Grease Truck.” Ah, the grease trucks. Great gyros at 2 a.m.
Speaking of the objective tendentious NY Times - The Cato Institute’s “Daily Debunker” takes apart their main editorial today on the inheritability of personal accounts.
Elusive honesty in the Social Security debate

I would never say an unkind word about Robert Samuelson who is unsparingly analytical in his articles, (unlike a certain NY Times columnist whose last name rhymes with “Strugman”). In “Journalistic Malpractice,” Samuelson fairly criticizes:

1.) The Media, for an aversion to arithmetic that results in a failure to properly frame the issues it reports: “Reporters have to reach independent judgments, but this founders on math phobia.”

2.) President Bush for pushing personal accounts which, by themselves, will not solve the long-term funding problem of Social Security: “Judged by this arithmetic, Bush's Social Security program is a hoax. He's claiming to make Social Security sustainable. In 40 to 50 years, Bush's approach might work. But in the next 25 years -- when the real budget problem occurs -- it does little. Bush wants it both ways: He wants to appeal to younger voters by offering personal accounts; and he doesn't want to offend older voters (including baby boomers) by cutting their benefits. This may be smart politics, but it's lousy policy.”

3.) Democrats: “Journalists echo Democratic criticisms, but that's not balanced or clarifying, because the Democrats, like Bush, aren't acknowledging the unpopular choices posed by an aging baby boom generation.”

To be fair, while he hasn’t been entirely forthcoming while pushing personal accounts, President Bush has at least hinted at cutting benefits (through price indexing) or raising the payroll income tax cap. The Democrats on the other hand airily wave their collective hand and declare “there is no crisis” in a limp effort to play politics, thereby abdicating any leadership on the issue of entitlement spending. If anybody can find a Democrat who has taken a meaningful position on Social Security, please contact me. Because as Samuelson forcefully notes, there is no way to change the numbers:

Once you've done this math, you recognize that benefit cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are inevitable. They're the only other way to limit massive tax increases or immense budget deficits. Moreover, the benefit cuts have to affect baby boomers, because they will be the people on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
By reviewing the way the MSM reacted to the prescription drug benefit debate, Samuelson makes the case that J-school graduates either don’t have the mathematical capacity or political objectivity to competently report on the Social Security issue. That’s why the bloggers need to fill the void and bring some much-needed honesty to the debate.
It’s a geopolitical hat trick! – Mark Steyn explains how the political opponents of John Howard (Australia), Tony Blair and Dubya are facing defeat because they don’t get the “One Big Thing”: “Howard was supposed to be in trouble in last fall’s election, but he won big. Bush was supposed to be in trouble up until about 7pm Eastern on November 2nd, but he too won big. Blair was supposed to be in trouble over his “lies” on the war, but in the British election, likely to come in May, he’s now set for another landslide. Iraq, we were assured by all the commentators, was an electoral liability, and so it was – for the opposition parties.”
As long are you keep making money for us

Here’s a story in today’s WashPost about how labor unions are pressuring financial groups to back off from supporting Social Security reform that includes personal accounts. But they’re not so outraged at the investment firms to pull their pension funds out of the hands of private investors:

The union letters expressed "concern" about the investment firms' lobbying for the accounts and asked that it stop. But the letters didn't threaten to withdraw union pension funds from the management of the firms that don't change their view.
Mmmm…that’s some delicious irony there.
Our friends the Saudis – Little Green Footballs details “Saudi Connections to Alleged Assassination Plotter.” I’m sure Prince Bandar is already scheduling appearances on the Sunday talk shows to explain this away (again).
My #1 pet peeve

Driving past McDonalds the other day, I noticed with no small amount of loathing that they are now accepting credit cards. Except for roadside fruit stands, there are no places left in America that won’t take Visa. Which leads to a simple question: Doesn’t anybody carry money anymore?!?!? Can’t you people carry just a few dollars so you don’t have to charge that roll of Life Savers at the CVS (while I’m waiting in line behind you)? Credit cards are fine at the gas pump or for major purchases, but now there seems to be no bottom – “For some, no purchase is too small for plastic”:

For years, Marcia Levi refused to accept either credit or debit cards for purchases under $10 at her downtown gift shop, Chocolate Moose. Customers complained. She lowered the threshold to $5. Customers still complained, so two years ago she gave up on any minimum.

"People come in and charge $2.25 for a card or $1.75 for jelly beans," said Levi, who co-owns Chocolate Moose with her sister Barbara. "It's annoying. In the past two years, they've just whipped out the card without thinking about it, no matter how small the purchase."
Last weekend, I was in a coffee shop in Northampton and – swear to Buddha – I was the only person in the place with legal tender. When it came my turn to pay for a cappuccino, I facetiously asked: “Do you take cash?” The girl behind the counter laughed.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Why 65 should be 70: because 2005 is not 1935

It gladdens my heart to see so many articles about Social Security lately. I’m starting to believe, despite the doubts expressed in the WashPost today, that Americans understand the problem at hand and are genuinely searching for a 21st century solution. In that spirit, William Saletan writes in Slate that because Republicans won’t raise payroll taxes and Democrats won’t cut benefits, Americans should consider raising the retirement age and decouple it from the Depression-era reasoning that set it at 65:

Opponents of a higher retirement age say life expectancy is the wrong number to look at. According to AARP, "The fact that most people are living longer does not necessarily mean they can work longer; those in physically demanding jobs would be hit hard by a higher retirement age." Fair enough. So let's look at the number of physically demanding jobs. And let's look at how many people, given those demands, could work longer.

In its 1935 report, Roosevelt's committee attached a table of occupations held by employed Americans aged 55 or older. More than 80 percent worked in agriculture, manufacturing, trade, or domestic and personal service. Fewer than 10 percent worked in professional service or clerical occupations. Today's economy looks nothing like that. In 1999, Eugene Steuerle and Richard Johnson of the Urban Institute reported that the percentage of Americans working in physically demanding jobs—defined as jobs "requiring frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing more than 25 pounds"—had fallen from more than 20 percent in 1950 to less than 8 percent in 1996. Two years ago, Johnson and Steuerle added that the percentage of 55- to 59-year-old men who said health problems interfered with their jobs had declined from more than 27 percent in 1971 to less than 20 percent in 2002.
Saletan estimates the “new 65” retirement age: “In short, if you were designing a system in 1999 for people who could expect as many active years as a 65-year-old person could expect in 1935, you'd set the retirement age at 70. And by 2015, you'd raise it to 73.” Social Security’s original intent in 1935 was to prevent old-age poverty for Americans devastated by the Depression and unable to support themselves in an economy based on farming and dock-working. Now we need to ask healthy seniors to answer phones or cut keys at Home Depot. In sum, this is not 1935 anymore and we can't continue to burden young workers while holding this unrealistic ideal that Social Security is an inviolate program, untethered to modern times.
Viking Socialism

Christopher Caldwell has a comprehensive article in the Weekly Standard today called “A Swedish Dilemma – Immigration and the welfare state” which examines the economic and cultural consequences of a large influx of mostly-Muslim foreigners into the Scandinavian state. An excellent read, via Arts & Letters Daily.
Spartacus has “a modest proposal for Social Security reform” where workers would be forced to set up their own IRA accounts. Spart makes some good points, but I find it hard to believe that people will accept as mandatory something they can already do voluntarily.
Where have all the Sam Nunns gone?

They’re working at the Concord Coalition, according to William Tucker in “Democratic Moderates in Exile”:

Everyone at Concord attributes the current Democratic obstructionism to an emotional attachment to the era of Franklin D. Roosevelt. "Social Security and Medicare represent liberalism's two greatest triumphs," says [former Senator (D-NE) Bob] Kerrey. "Democrats are having a terrible time admitting that all the countries problems haven't already been solved. But it's wrong to argue Bush's proposals threaten the system. You have to think in terms of 2035, not 1935."
Well put. And you gotta love this line: “Concord is scornful of New York Times' columnist Paul Krugman and other liberal advocates who swear there is no crisis.”
Two NYC police officers cleared in RACIAL SHOOTING! - By way of MM, the New York Post asks the rhetorical question: “Where’s the Times when cops are cleared?”
Push-polling among the young and old – Both MTV’s laughably “non-partisan” Rock the Vote and the AARP are polling until they get the results they want: “Because of its maniacally manipulative methodology, the AARP/RTV survey can tell us nothing reliable about what Americans think about Social Security. But it speaks volumes about the sponsors. Neither AARP nor RTV wants to hear what their constituents think. Both groups are far more interested in telling their constituents what they should think — whether they like it or not.”

Monday, February 21, 2005

I can name that tune - So I picked up one of these opera compilation CDs today and, during dinner, I heard "Flower Duet from Lakme" by Delibes. And I said: "Hey, it's the British Airways theme song!" Now you know.

BTW – I realize that Mark and Pejman are probably rolling their eyes right now in derisive contempt: “But of course it’s Delibes, heathen.”
The magic of the market

Nobel laureate and economist Gary Becker writes in Opinion Journal that he supports personal savings accounts for Social Security. But he extends his argument beyond purely economic reasons and focuses on how partial privatization would alter the political behavior of the federal government:

So the really strong arguments for privatization are that they reduce the role of government in determining retirement ages and incomes, and improve government accounting of revenues and spending obligations. All the other issues are really diversions, because neither advocates nor opponents of privatizing Social Security generally answer the most meaningful question: Is there as strong a political economy case for eliminating government management of the retirement industry as there is for eliminating its management of most other industries?

My answer is "yes."
This argument for personal accounts reminds me of a section from P.J. O’Rourke’s “Eat the Rich” as he explains how the British took a laissez-faire approach to Hong Kong and – by doing nothing – created one of the greatest economic powerhouses on the planet:

[British colonial officer John] Cowperthwaite has said of his role in Hong Kong’s astounding growth: “I did very little. All I did was try to prevent some of the things that might undo it.” He served as the colony’s financial secretary from 1961 to 1971. In the debate over the 1961 budget, he spoke words that should be engraved over the portals of every legislature worldwide; no, tattooed on the legislators’ faces:

“…in the long run the aggregate of decisions of individual businessmen, exercising individual judgment in a free economy, even if often mistaken, is less likely to do harm than the centralized decisions of a government; and certainly the harm is likely to be counteracted faster.”
This is precisely why I think Democrats and other opponents of personal accounts are so opposed to reform: they’re not afraid of failure – they’re terrified of success.
Shocking revelations: Dubya loves family, country, mother

I pretty much ignored the “Bush tapes” story after reading the Sunday NY Times story which revealed that Dubya was dismissive of John McCain and thought that Al Gore was a liar. And?

Anyway, Mickey Kaus speculates on the political fallout: “But another round of explosive front-page revelations from secretly recorded phone conversations like today's and Bush's approval will hit 70 percent.” Meanwhile, DJ Drummond lists one salient quote and notes “Until the Democrats can produce a leader with that kind of perspective, or unless the Republicans abandon such leaders, the country will follow the Republican ideal, because leaders like W have learned the American ideal, and put it into practice as their personal code of duty.”
OMG "Populous"! – I remember playing Populous until all hours of the morning. Anyway, here are the essential 50 video games of all time.
Let's all pretend we care about Europe

Here's Mark Steyn on Dubya's "Let's play nice" tour:
The EU isn't the Arab League, though for much of the past three years it's been hard to tell the difference. But it, too, is out of step. The question is whether the Europeans are smart enough, like the savvier Sunnis in Iraq, to realise it. The Washington Post's Fred Hiatt compared the President's inaugural speech with Gerhard Schröder's keynote address to the Munich Conference on Security Policy last week and observed that, while both men talked about the Middle East, terrorism and 21st-century security threats, Mr Bush used the word "freedom" 27 times while Herr Schröder uttered it not once; he preferred to emphasise, as if it were still March 2003 and he were Arab League Secretary-General, "stability" – the old realpolitik fetish the Administration has explicitly disavowed. It's not just that the two sides aren't speaking the same language, but that the key phrases of Mr Bush's vocabulary don't seem to exist in Chirac's or Schröder's.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

It’s about time:GOP plans offensive on Social Security Hope to spark public support for Bush overhaul.”
Fox flubs Daytona 500 coverage

It seemed like every time Fox cut away from the Race, something would happen on the track. The slavish urge to collect advertising dollars reached its nadir with 20 laps left as the drivers were three-wide. Commercials? Now? Sure enough, not 15 seconds into the break, there was a huge pile-up. Adding insult to injury, Fox decided to play the audio from one of the spotters trying to guide his car through the accident. The monologue went like this: “Stay low stay low stay low [car crashes] f---“. I’m not sure if my 9-year-old heard it.
Color me unsurprised – “Tunnels’ leaks may hike cost of Big Dig”: “The hundreds of leaks permeating the Big Dig tunnels could drive up the project's $14.6 billion price tag, according to the US Department of Transportation inspector general.”

That’s your tax money, America. And mine: “The move is significant because it shows that, three months after revelations that hundreds of leaks riddle the tunnels, the top federal overseer of the Big Dig is not convinced the state has the situation under control. And if the Big Dig's price goes up, the difference would be borne entirely by the state.” Super, great, thanks Ted Kennedy.
I am so there - Lindsay Lohan on Face the Nation? Oh, Lindsay Graham. Anyway, Mark Kilmer has the Sunday morning lineup. No young starlets are scheduled.
Speaking of no-talent SNL clowns

Here’s an old Johnny Carson interview in Rolling Stone:

I did throw a line against Chevy Chase once. Somebody talked about ad-libbing, and I said that I didn't think Chevy Chase could ad-lib a fart after a baked-bean dinner. I think he took umbrage at that a little bit.
Now that’s funny! (Via Fark)
How to be a writer for Saturday Night Live

[Scene: conference room at NBC. Chinese food containers are scattered around the table. A group of youngish writers are discussing a skit.]

“I have an idea. Do you know how when you go to a restaurant, sometimes the waiter will say ‘Careful, the plate is hot?’”

“Not if you’re having sushi.”

“Stay with me here. So the plate is hot. What if the plate is really hot?”

[murmur of appreciation]

“Yeah, it’s so hot that the waiter has to use oven mitts.”

“And then what?”

“Well, then the next plate he puts down is even hotter and sets the table on fire.”

“So the plates are hot?”

“Hot?!? They’re super hot! Don’t you see? We’re taking an everyday situation and extrapolating it to an unrealistic degree. Exaggeration equals comedy, man!”

“What happens next?”

“The next plate: even hotter. It melts through the table.”


“The last plate is so hot – I mean hot – that the waiter has to serve it with a welding mask and tongs. It’s glowing red. When the diner looks at it, she vaporizes from the heat.”


“Because it’s, you know, really hot.”

“How do you plan to wrap this up?”


“How about if Satan comes out and reveals that it’s a restaurant in hell?”

“So it’s hell, but no fire and brimstone? Only the plates are hot?”

“Yeah, they’re hot. Hotter than you might normally expect.”

Saturday, February 19, 2005

The beacon of the world - Why millions say softly: “God Bless America
Good bookmark – The WashPost has set up a page with collected articles, editorials, and analyses of the Social Security issue.
Is there a problem with commenting? I haven't had any in days and then on the post below there are two listed, but they won't display. I apologize for this latest Blogspot bug.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Quote of the Day - "Not-so-slowly, but surely, Karl Rove's vision of a vanquished Democratic Party is being realized. The Democrats, meanwhile, do not seem to know what has hit them. Like stoners searching for their cars, they are dazed and confused by the realities of Twenty-First Century politics."

Whoa, dude, I can't believe we made Howard Dean our chairman. Dude.
More fringe theories - I’m not sure I fully understand his explanation, but Steven Landsburg says that boosting the savings rate through personal accounts will help to boost investment and productivity that is needed down the road. Meanwhile, in a related vein, OJ on Right Views believes that the growth of current personal accounts (such as 401k accounts) will boost tax revenues just as new revenues are needed for Social Security.
You’re gonna need a bigger boat
Great minds think alike, once again

Viking Pundit, last month: “2018: A fiscal Odyssey into the red

Charles Krauthammer, today: “2042: A Fiscal Odyssey

Although, like me, Krauthammer notes that the critical year is thirteen years hence:

The really important date is 2018. That is when this pay-as-you-go system starts paying out more (in Social Security benefits) than goes in (in payroll taxes). Right now, workers pay in more than old folks take out. But because the population is aging, in 13 years the system begins to go into the red. To cover retiree benefits, the government will have to exhaust all of its FICA tax revenue and come up with the rest -- by borrowing on the world market, raising taxes or cutting other government programs.
Nice job, Charles. How about throwing a hat tip my way?
Polipundit has started a counter of the days since John Kerry promised to sign the form releasing his military records. Meanwhile, InDC Journal gives us a glimpse into the future of Oliver Willis' counter calling for Brit Hume's resignation.
SS calculator smackdown – Everybody’s slamming the Reid/Schumer Social Security calculator which finds that even if you invest in Microsoft circa 1982, you’ll never earn as much as the beneficence of the government. There’s CATO and the Heritage Foundation, along with Patrick Ruffini, Shaking Spears and Political Calculations.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Eat the rich

Here’s Lawrence Kudlow on “The Democrats’ Class-Warfare Death Wish”:

There are many reasons why the tax-the-rich, class-warfare battle cry is a non-starting political dud. But here are a few eye-openers.

According to exit polls from last November's presidential election, middle-income voters showed no signs of supporting class-warfare policies. In the $50,000 to $75,000 income group, which comprised 23 percent of last year's electorate, Bush defeated Kerry 56 percent to 43 percent. Bush also won the next higher income bracket, the 14 percent of voters earning between $75,000 and $100,000, by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent. All in all, exit polls showed that people earning $50,000 and above -- a group representing 55 percent of all voters -- went for Bush 56 percent to 43 percent.

It would appear that the middle class once more rejected a class-warfare, tax-the-rich platform. This won't stop Democrats from again committing political hara-kari, but voter data seem pretty conclusive that populist left-wing campaigns against rich people and businesses are doomed to failure.

Another reason for plunging Democratic fortunes is that roughly 50 percent of U.S. families -- or about 95 million people -- are card-carrying members of the investor/ownership class. Investors tended to vote in favor of Bush by about 10 percentage points. They are undoubtedly quite happy to create wealth by investing and keeping more of their dividend and stock market gains.

The Democrats make yet another huge mistake in their opposition to Social Security reform through personal savings accounts that can be invested in financial markets. If you take them at their word, Democrats must think investment markets are risky gambles. The voting public thinks differently.
The top 10% income bracket in America already pays for two-thirds of all taxes collected in the United States, up from 55% in 1986. The class warfare strategy of the Democrats is an exhausted and immoral position – a cudgel used for purely political reasons. The future of America is based on economic freedom, not tired slogans and confiscatory policies from the 1930s.
Setting up donor fatigue - Terry McAuliffe’s final act as a secret GOP operative
Let’s get small

Noting that Alan Greenspan was worried about large-scale borrowing to start personal savings accounts, the Minuteman hits on a solution:

Well - here is a true "One Minute" compromise that may not only make sense, but revive the long abandoned premise of this blog: lower the transition age for eligibility for personal accounts from 55 to, say, 35.
This will imply much less transitional borrowing, at least early on, and give participants many, many years to reflect on the consequences of their decision and to plan accordingly.
Viking Pundit approves! The key to Social Security reform is baby steps. Start with small voluntary personal accounts for younger workers and it would severely undercut the objections of both fiscal conservatives and the anti-reformists who knock partial privatization because of the transition costs. Open that door just a little and – if personal accounts are as successful as we think they’ll be – the political pressure to expand the ownership society will only grow. [Disclaimer: I just turned 37 this past Monday - hooray, I'm ineligible!]
Start (the movie) in the name of the law!
Staying the course, right over the cliff

The Boston Globe has an article today titled “Some skeptical as Bush sell Social Security plan” that starts out with this graf: “Just a few miles from the cavernous airplane hangar where President Bush told 1,000 cheering supporters about his plan to save Social Security yesterday, Pamela Cawley, working at a sub shop downtown, said she cannot imagine handing over a portion of her retirement into a private investment account.”

Later in the article, Pam C. is quoted: “Cawley, for example, said she believes there is "no chance of my Social Security being there when I'm ready to retire.””

Then he said: “Let's reach out to the NASCAR cracker church-mongers

LaShawn Barber is not amused by Howard Dean’s racist joke during a meeting with the Democrats’ Black caucus. Erick and the Cracker Barrel Philosopher have some additional comments and be sure to check out John Hawkins review of Howard Dean quotes. Yeaahhhh!
Happy blogoversary! - The New England Republican turns one.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Pete DuPont on Socialism’s Last Redoubt – “Why do Dems oppose Social Security reform? Because they're committed to government control.”
Thus spoke Greenspan – “Action is needed on Social Security reform before the first wave of baby boom retirements -- starting in 2008 -- threaten the resources of the system, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told a Senate panel Wednesday.”
Just like Diogenes in search of an honest Democrat

Writing in the Seattle Times, Ruben Navarette declares that the Democrats are not playing above the board: “Bad Faith on Social Security

I suppose I can't blame Democrats for fighting President Bush's plan to reform Social Security. I just wish that, for the sake of the economic welfare of future generations, they'd fight fair.

So far that hasn't happened. First, Democrats pooh-poohed the idea of a "crisis" and turned a blind eye to the demographic reality that having fewer workers per retiree means a crushing tax burden on those left in the work force. They distorted the impact of the president's plan to allow younger workers to invest in private accounts. Then they came up with the wild accusation that Republicans have a secret agenda to destroy not only Social Security but the legacy of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Meanwhile, Rich Lowry asks this question of the AARP:

Under current law, if no changes occur in Social Security's financing and the so-called "trust fund" runs out sometime around 2042 as projected, Social Security benefits will automatically be cut by more than a quarter. Shouldn't advocates of the status quo therefore be branded as effectively in favor of steep future benefit cuts?
Good question! If the Democrats hate President Bush’s proposal of private accounts coupled with benefit adjustments in the out years, what is their alternative? According to Joshua Marshall, they have lots of super ideas:

Chatterers notwithstanding, Democrats have a range of well-thought-out proposals for doing that, ranging from changes in fiscal policy, to adjustments in the program itself, to supplements to it.
Marshall didn’t link to any of these proposals so, like Diogenes, I went in search of an honest Democrat and a bona fide proposal to save Social Security. I sought answers on the Democrats home page, on Senate minority leader Harry Reid’s site, on House minority leader Nancy Pelosi’s web page, and even the site for the House Democrats, eager to preserve FDR’s New Deal. No luck.

But then I remembered that a chap from Massachusetts ran for the presidency a couple months back. Surely he would lead the way on this critical issue! Alas, FactCheck revealed the man’s duplicity:

A Kerry ad claims "Bush has a plan to cut Social Security benefits by 30 to 45 percent." That's false. Bush has proposed no such plan, and the proposal Kerry refers to would only slow down the growth of benefits, and only for future retirees. It was one of three possible "reform models" detailed by a bipartisan commission in 2001.

The ad also says nothing about what Kerry would do to address the troubled state of Social Security finances. Unless taxes are increased, the system's trustees say currently scheduled benefits would have to be cut 32%.
I’ve Googled high and low and Yahoo-ed far and wide and yet I cannot find any of these “well-thought-out proposals” actually, um, proposed by any Democrats. Joshua Marshall, can you help me out? That’d be great.
New York state of mind

What’s a New York liberal to do in response to the free elections in Afghanistan and Iraq? Kurt Andersen discusses the ambivalence “When Good News Feels Bad”:

Like “radical chic,” a related New York specialty, “liberal guilt” once meant feeling discomfort over one’s good fortune in an unjust world. As this last U.S. election cycle began, however, a new subspecies of liberal guilt arose—over the pleasure liberals took in bad news from Iraq, which seemed sure to hurt the administration. But with Bush reelected, any shred of tacit moral rationale is gone. In other words, feel the guilt, and let it be a pang that leads to moral clarity.

Each of us has a Hobbesian choice concerning Iraq; either we hope for the vindication of Bush’s risky, very possibly reckless policy, or we are in a de facto alliance with the killers of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. We can be angry with Bush for bringing us to this nasty ethical crossroads, but here we are nonetheless.
Or as Jon Stewart stuttered the day after the Iraqi elections: “I’ve watched this thing unfold from the start and here’s the great fear that I have: What if Bush, the president, ours, has been right about this all along? I feel like my world view will not sustain itself and I may, and again I don’t know if I can physically do this, implode.”
The opposite of Intercourse, Pennsylvania

From the “News Hour with Jim Lehrer” here are columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks discussing Social Security:

MARK SHIELDS: What we have here really I think are two competing American narratives. The first is the great frontier story, myth if you would, of the rugged individualist, the guy who owes nothing to anybody, who by sheer guts, determination, self reliance, prevails over others and wears no man's collar.

The other is the competing frontier narrative of the small town where people pool their talents, their time, their energy, resources to build a barn or to build a school, and Social Security certainly follows that second model. And that's what it has been about. And I think what we're talking about here is something, you know, rather profound, and I think that's what we're going to be wrestling with over the next, it's going to be a great philosophical fight as well.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that?

DAVID BROOKS: I imagine the third frontier town called Crush Your Children, Wyoming, where one generation imposes incredible costs on the generation to come. And which is what the Social Security system is right now; it's an over promised program where today's seniors are getting benefits, and my generation, frankly will be getting benefits that will impose ruinous tax rates on my kids' generation. And that's just where the burdens are being thrust and that's why this system and why the Medicare system aren't sustainable.
Only in Dick Cheney’s Wyoming!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Why add a question mark? - Mark Steyn: “UN Forces: just a bunch of thugs?"
James Taranto on the decline of the Democrats: “What's missing? Any sort of positive agenda, any indication that the Democrats stand for anything other than nostalgia for Vietnam and the Depression. Seventy years ago, when the New Deal actually was new, it was the Democrats who were "radicals" and the Republicans who "defended their principles aggressively" against them. That didn't work out so well for the GOP. Nowadays the Democrats have nothing to offer but the Same Old Deal.”
Raising educational standards in Massachusetts

There was no end to the desultory and overheated criticism of the Massachusetts MCAS test when it was introduced several years ago. The MA Department of Education decided that a high school diploma should mean something and, over the vocal objections of the teachers’ union, instituted a test to guarantee that Bay State students achieve some minimum standard of capability. Now business leaders are pushing Governor Mitt Romney to raise the educational bar, so to speak:

State education officials start debate today on whether to raise the MCAS score that high school students need to graduate, a move they say would better prepare students for college.

The Board of Education has no timeline on raising the passing score, but its chairman acknowledged yesterday that the federal government requires Massachusetts to raise the bar for passing the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests by 2014.

In recent weeks, board members have faced pressure from business leaders and
Governor Mitt Romney to beef up graduation requirements. The original passing score was set nearly six years ago. Education officials vowed to raise it, but have not, partly because of concerns that students could not meet a higher standard.

''The real question we're wrestling with is how to encourage the system to reach higher," board chairman James A. Peyser said yesterday.
Right now, over 95% of MA high school students pass the MCAS test and receive a high school diploma (students get several chances to pass the test and receive test help.) Strange as it might seem, between the accountability of the MCAS test and charter schools, Massachusetts may lead the nation in education reform that produces real results.
Happy 2nd blogoversary to Poliblog!
Wasn't that a minor hit for Rick Springfield? - Howie Kurtz tell us to "Blog 'til you drop"
Caveat blogster, part II - "Have a blog, lose your job?" Don't write about work-related matters, blog from home, and you should be OK. (HT: Joel at Southern Appeal)

Monday, February 14, 2005

One-eighth of every paycheck

One of my favorite columnists, Jeff Jacoby, has a great overview of the Social Security issue on Town Hall:
One tiny notch at a time, payroll taxes have been ratcheted up to a level that would have been unthinkable in Franklin Delano Roosevelt's day. No wonder Social Security is so unpopular among the young. It provides no security for their retirement, while it impoverishes them in the present. In exchange for an eighth of their earnings today, it guarantees nothing but higher taxes tomorrow. That there are politicians who defend so regressive an arrangement wouldn't have surprised FDR. But how shocked he would be that they call themselves Democrats.
As I've noted before, 80% of Americans now dole out more in payroll taxes than income taxes. I can't understand how Democrats can justify this Ponzi scheme in its current form, much less the prospect of a lifetime of taxation followed by automatic benefit cuts. It's time to start thinking of 21st century solutions. (By way of one of my daily reads, Social Security Choice.)
Well, well, well - Lookee what we got here (via Poliblog)
Mobilizing for inaction

The WashPost has an article today titled “Democrats mobilizing on Social Security” and it occurred to me that “on” was a carefully chosen preposition for that headline. The Dems aren’t campaigning against Social Security, but you certainly can’t argue they’re taking steps conducive to the long-term health of the program.

Democrats at one time considered offering an alternative plan -- probably emphasizing tax-preferred savings. But with Republican leaders now urging Bush to provide only a broad outline of his plan and to leave the details to the GOP-controlled Congress, top Democratic lawmakers intend to hold back on their ideas for now and instead hammer away at Bush's proposal.
Ah, yes, these mythical “ideas.” We’re all breathlessly anticipating the Dems plan.
A target-rich environment

I’ve steered clear of the whole Eason Jordan scandal on this blog because discussing the liberal bias of the mainstream media is as revealing as discussing the blueness of the sky. It’s a given. It’s a known quality. The rise of the blogs has only illuminated an existing condition and it shouldn’t surprise anybody outside of the NY Times offices that the “alternative media” is exposing unmistakable liberal tendencies in the MSM. Jonah Goldberg hit the right note today in “Raines, Rather, Jordan….Why the right-of-center bloggers are more successful”: “The most obvious one is that the Right's hunting preserve is teeming with big game.” Saddle up!
The promise and peril of personal accounts – Writing in the WashPost, economist Estelle James details “How It’s Done in Chile.”
The Ponzi game, revisited

Scrivener finds an old quote (1967) by Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson praising the “Ponzi game” of Social Security back when there were still plenty of workers per retiree then comments: “In today's world Samuelson's description seems almost quaint.”

Extra: An indefatigable Krugman-basher, Scrivener has also collected his Social Security posts at this common link. Check it out.
Do two wrongs make a right?

From the WashTimes: “Frist has the necessary votes to change filibuster rules

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says he has the 51 votes needed to change Senate rules and make it easier for Republicans to overcome Democratic filibusters against President Bush's judicial nominees, but he hopes such a change won't be necessary.

"We need to restore the over 200-year tradition and precedent of allowing every nominee of the president who has majority support an up-or-down vote on the floor of the United States Senate," Mr. Frist told The Washington Times on Thursday.
I’m ambivalent over the issue of using the “nuclear option” to change long-standing Senate rules. On the one hand, I don’t like the idea of changing rules on the fly and this procedural maneuver will bring down a shower of criticism on the “imperial” Republican leadership. On the other hand, the Senate Democrats have invented from whole cloth a new definition of “advise and consent” – one that hasn’t existed in the Senate for two centuries. Ultimately, I would have to say my position on the matter is similar to Polipundit’s: “I think it’s better to let the Democrat filibusters continue, so that we can elect more and more Republican senators.”

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Michael Barone on the political impact of bloggers: “So what hath the blogosphere wrought? The left blogosphere has moved the Democrats off to the left, and the right blogosphere has undermined the credibility of the Republicans' adversaries in Old Media. Both changes help Bush and the Republicans.” Cool. (Hat tip: Betsy)
Quote of the Day

Here’s Grammy nominee (for best comedy album) Triumph the Insult Comic Dog in today’s NY Times Magazine:

I see your album is up against one by Al Franken, as well as another by Jon Stewart.

Forces to be reckoned with, yes? They sure took down the president. And Franken's liberal radio is really taking off. I own a conch shell with more listeners.
The Grammys – phhbbbltttt

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Family matters - I have to go away a couple days to attend to some personal issues. Be back later.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Caveat blogster - Be careful out there: “Free Expression Can Be Costly When Bloggers Bad-Mouth Jobs
Somebody call the Waaaaaah-mbulance - The Democrats are now beyond parody.
In his defense, it was close to Happy Hour - Kennedy's `Swift' flight home costs taxpayers $2,490 (Hat tip to reader Jill)
"Straw Men" delay Social Security debate: "Let's not repeat the mistake of waiting too long. It is time to earnestly begin the debate about strengthening Social Security for the future. Setting up "straw men" simply delays an honest debate — and moves us closer to a real crisis."
Texas has “Fight Terrorism” license plates.
Shocking revelation: pills are expensive

In terms of the first four years of Dubya’s presidency, there’s been no issue I’ve been more critical of than the prescription drug benefit. Now estimates for the cost of the Medicare expansion have skyrocketed to $700+ billion over ten years. Ironically, this is almost the exact same projected cost for the transition to personal savings accounts for Social Security reform. Would seniors be willing to give up a small portion of their ever-escalating federal benefits to help younger workers save for their own future?

Yes, that was a rhetorical question. Nevermind.
Military argot - I’m a “sergebutt.” I guess it’s better than the alternatives.
The dawn of a new era?

In today’s NY Times, Thomas Friedman takes a huge swipe at the Democrats (and a tiny one at Donald Rumsfeld.) Basically, he notes that downplaying the elections in Iraq fails to appreciate the grave moment at hand:

There will be a lot of trial and error in the months ahead. But this is a hugely important horizontal dialogue because if Iraqis can't forge a social contract, it would suggest that no other Arab country can - since virtually all of them are similar mixtures of tribes, ethnicities and religions. That would mean that they can be ruled only by iron-fisted kings or dictators, with all the negatives that flow from that.

But - but - if Iraqis succeed in forging a social contract in the hardest place of all, it means that democracy is actually possible anywhere in the Arab world.

Democrats do not favor using military force against Iran's nuclear program or to compel regime change there. That is probably wise. But they don't really have a diplomatic option. I've got one: Iraq. Iraq is our Iran policy.

If we can help produce a representative government in Iraq - based on free and fair elections and with a Shiite leadership that accepts minority rights and limits on clerical involvement in politics - it will exert great pressure on the ayatollah-dictators running Iran. In Iran's sham "Islamic democracy," only the mullahs decide who can run. Over time, Iranian Shiites will demand to know why they can't have the same freedoms as their Iraqi cousins right next door. That will drive change in Iran. Just be patient.
It’s a worn axiom that democracies do not declare war against each other. But if we can turn the tide of kleptocracy and dictatorship in the Middle East, it will only enhance our security in the United States.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

A genuine Amazing Race envelope on Ebay. Starting bid: $350 !?!?! Oh come on!
It’s the same old song

Here’s yet another blog excoriating the Democrats for their lack of vision:

It's official. The Democrats have retreated into a posture of resentment and complaint. You know you've hit a low point when Senate minority leader Harry Reid is pleading with Bush to make the RNC and Rush Limbaugh stop picking on him.

Bill Clinton advised in the immediate aftermath of the election that it's "a mistake for our party to sit around and ... whine about this and that or the other thing." But since November that's precisely what Democrats have done -- about the president's cabinet choices, about Social Security, about the elections in Iraq, about the budget.
What’s the source of this latest jeremiad? The left-of-Castro Rolling Stone blog.
Senator Splunge can’t shut up

It seems so easy to pick on J. Francois Kerry, but he just asks for it. Mark Kilmer finds him on Imus rationalizing his loss while Ryne McClaren ridicules Kerry for his conditional “promise” to sign the form to release his military records. Meanwhile, only a small majority of Bay Staters can stomach the thought of Kerry 2008.
Nobody saw this coming: Costs soar as U.S. government surprised that seniors take advantage of Medicare drug benefit. Who knew?
The “safety net” has turned into casino chips

Writing in the WashPost, 59-year-old Robert Samuelson urges America to “Cut My Benefits”:

Give Bush credit for broaching, however indirectly, these sensitive issues. Criticize the Democrats for their limp "how dare you" response. But recognize that Bush's chosen vehicle for overhauling Social Security -- "personal" investment accounts -- distracts from what ought to be the central question: How much should younger and poorer taxpayers be forced to pay for older and richer beneficiaries?

People talk about potential benefit cuts as if they would be war crimes. The unspeakable truth -- unspeakable because hardly anyone speaks it -- is that benefit cuts are inevitable, because the baby boom's retirement costs will force them. The combined spending of Social Security and Medicare, according to government projections, would require at least a 30 percent tax increase by 2030. "Personal accounts" don't come close to closing the gap. Sooner or later, chances are there will be a political backlash or a budget crisis. The wiser policy is not to wait; it is to pare benefits now.
President Bush and the Democrats are playing a game of “chicken.” Dubya doesn’t want to admit that there must be benefit cuts for younger workers as a trade-off for personal accounts. The Democrats don’t want to acknowlege there’s a problem at all. But if nothing is done, the issue of benefit cuts will be taken out of the hands of the politicians since – by law – benefits will be automatically slashed by 30% around 2042. Why can’t the politicians in Washington act like adults – just once – and accept meaningful reform instead of just kicking the can down the road once again? It’s depressing.
John Hawkins is a Futurama piker!

There, I said it. Anybody who lists his favorite quotes from the show and fails to list a single line by Dr. Zoidberg is simply a fraud. He’s the best crustacean-based TV character ever, bar none.

Dr. Zoidberg: Now open your mouth and let’s have a look at that brain.
[Fry opens his mouth]
Dr. Zoidberg: No, no, not that mouth.
Fry: I only have one.
Dr. Zoidberg: [surprised] Really?
Fry: Uh... is there a human doctor around?
Dr. Zoidberg: Young lady, I am an expert on humans. Now pick a mouth, open it and say "brglgrglgrrr"!
Once again, the conservative, sandwich-heavy portfolio pays off for the hungry investor!
The Anklebiting Pundits speculate on “What to Expect from a Dean DNC.” Frankly, I thought the Democrats would turn back when Dean intemperately blurted “I hate Republicans” but, hey, it’s their funeral.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Amazing Race update: Four teams, four continents, one winner

Season finale tonight and all teams started out from Shanghai, China by train to Xi’an, China, home of the Terra Cotta Warriors. It’s a 17-hour train ride so all the teams are bunched up again, including the cash-poor Adam & Rebecca who managed to beg more than enough money from tourists at the Peace Hotel. At Xi’an, the teams visit the Drum Temple and the first Detour: Spray or Scroll. Teams must either go to a nearby automobile factory and spray-paint a car body or head to a textile factory and search through bolts of cloth for the next clue. All teams choose Spray and arrive in order of most aggressive taxi driver. Adam & Rebecca, who were in last place with no money, finish this task first and head to the next clue at the Terra Cotta Warrior exhibit. There, in a rare moment of lucidity, Adam tells Rebecca that they should move far away from the clue box before they open the envelope to throw off the other teams. This tactic is wildly successful as the Kris & Jon waste valuable time searching for the clue box. Eventually K&J find the next clue, followed by Freddy & Kendra, and finally by Hayden & Aaron who (dumb luck again) ended up with a boneheaded cab driver who takes them miles away from their destination.

The next clue tells teams to head to Huan (sp?) Mountain and once again Hayden & Aaron have trouble with their cab – they’re just not having a good day. Meanwhile A&R and K&J are racing around the mountain looking for the next clue. Roadblock: one team member must take the key provided and search among thousands of padlocks on the top of the mountain (left by married couples as a sign of fidelity) to find the right lock. A&R, K&J and later F&K are all searching together while H&A are still trying to find the shuttle up the mountain. All the women take on the Roadblock and as soon as Kris started on the padlocks, I turned to the wife and said: “Kris will find it first.” Why? She (and Jon) are machines on challenges. Sure enough, Kris finds the right padlock and heads down the mountain. It’s off to the Pit Stop at the South Wall of Xi’an where K& J arrive as Team #1.

Meanwhile, Hayden & Aaron finally arrive but Hayden is flustered from the taxi run-around. She is stabbing away at padlocks along with Kendra and Rebecca and (whoops!) breaks off her key in one of the padlocks. The directions instruct them to go to the North Peak Hotel for a replacement key but you can already sense that H&A are cooked. Kendra finds her key and although Hayden returns with the replacement key she can’t catch up with Rebecca who has a long enough lead to find her lock. Hayden & Aaron give up and accept a four-hour penalty just to get off the mountain, even though they know it spells defeat. H&A and A&R both arrive at the Pit Stop together but Phil asks H&A to step aside so that he can name Aaron & Rebecca as team #3. Hayden & Aaron are philosophical but Aaron has one final task to perform. He gets down on one knee and proposes to Hayden, who tearfully accepts. Aaron, who was a bit of a jerk to Hayden during portions of the race (remember: “I’m good at moving asses”) tears up a little bit. They kiss. It’s great.

1 – Team Mellow – Kris & Jon
2 – Team Models – Freddy & Kendra
3 – Team Androgynous – Adam & Rebecca
4 – Team Actors – Hayden & Aaron (eliminated but engaged)

The final three are set. Now the race for a million dollars.

Teams start out from Xi’an and must head to Honolulu, Hawaii. Because of Chinese travel restrictions, teams must wait until a travel agent opens up in the morning, so K&J and F&K are close, while A&R are a couple hours behind. In Honolulu, the teams drive marked cars to a state park and pick the next clue. It’s a Detour: Outfits or Outriggers. Teams must either find matching Hawaiian outfits at a warehouse or paddle an outrigger canoe 2 miles down river. F&K and (later) A&R take the outrigger while K&J look among thousands of Hawaiian shirts for a matching pair. I thought this was a poor choice, but Kris & Jon found their outfits and finish up in first place. They head to a local airport slightly ahead of Freddy & Kendra.

Roadblock: One member of each team must skydive and all the men take on this final task. Jon and Freddy go up in the same plane although Jon jumps first and splashes down onto a sandbar where Kris is waiting. They take the clue: head to Chicago. Freddy is close behind and Adam follows up about an hour later; surprisingly, Adam doesn't cry out for his mother during this task.

At the airport, Kris & Jon ask for the quickest flight to Chicago but the American Airline agent says it’s a 9:45am flight on (surprise!) American Airlines. Freddy & Kendra find a faster flight on United so they end up arriving in Chicago somewhat quicker. Adam & Rebecca are about an hour-and-a-half behind and it becomes apparent at this point that they’re vying for third place while F&K and K&J are in the race for first.

Back in Chicago, Team Models and Team Mellow are on each other’s heels. First they must head to a Water Tower for the next clue, which tells them to head to Gino’s Pizza. It’s only 8am in the morning, but the teams must each a small deep-dish pizza before receiving the next clue. The pizzeria is open! Freddy & Kendra arrive first and stuff their faces with pizza. As they run out to catch a cab, Kris & Jon are literally arriving around the corner (but F&K don’t take their cab!). The clue tells them to go to Ping Tom Park in Chicago but their cabbie has no idea where it is. Neither does his dispatcher. Oh boy. Meanwhile, the cameras show Kris & Jon finishing and then finding a taxi driver who immediately knows where Ping Tom Park is. Serendipity, or creative editing? It’s a race to Pom Pom Park! (Oh yeah, Adam and Rebecca’s flight is landing just about now). It’s a race to the end. Who will it be? It’s……

Freddy and Kendra! They run to the finish line past the other teams and Phil announces they’re the winners of Amazing Race 6. Hooray! Kris and Jon arrive moments later, and they hug F&K, Phil, and each other. Adam & Rebecca arrive sometime later and we’re forced to endure Rebecca mouthing some vague platitudes like “Adam will always have a place in my heart.” Kris & Jon hint that they’re going to spend some more time together then Freddy and Kendra talk about how the Race has brought them closer. And that’s a wrap.

Final three
1 – Team Models – Freddy & Kendra – Winners of Amazing Race 6
2 – Team Mellow – Kris & Jon – Loved by America
3 – Team Androgynous – Adam & Rebecca – Whatever

Epilogue: Freddy & Kendra were not my favorite team, especially after Kendra’s “ghetto Africa” comments, but they won the same way Chip and Kim won Amazing Race 5, by getting the fastest flight to the final destination city. (Frankly, any team was preferable to Jonathan & Victoria - now let’s never mention them again.) No matter what, the perpetually upbeat Kris & Jon will be America’s sweethearts and always beloved by TAR fans. Now get ready for The Amazing Race 7, starting in only three weeks. Sweet!
Don't forget: Amazing Race 6 finale tonight! I hope Team Mellow wins.
Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax the guy behind that tree

I’ve always hated the facile argument that we should simply “raise taxes on the rich” to pay for [fill in the blank]. First of all, it’s like punishing people for working hard and saving responsibly. Second, it’s the height of political cowardice and expediency to disproportionately burden a small constituency for the benefit of a larger one (in other words, robbing Peter to pay Paul will always have the support of Paul).

Today Senator Jon Kyl convincingly argues against the politically popular position of socking the “rich” in “We can’t tax our way out of the Social Security crisis” by raising either payroll taxes or the cap on taxable income. And for good measure, check out this older “Ant & the Grasshopper” post on the Safety Valve (come back, Toren!).
Why Democrats lose: they’re smarter than you

Here’s Roger “No L” Simon in US News & World Report trying to explain why the Democrats keep losing elections in “Dem Blues”:

Others say message isn't really the chief problem. Over and over again, critics say that Democrats have become tainted by a "cultural elitism," the sneering belief that "blue staters" are better educated, more sophisticated, and morally superior, compared with "red staters." "We do sneer at red staters," said [Gore campaigner Bill] Daley. "We convey that we are out of touch with the average person. We are truly a Washington, D.C.-focused party, and that includes unions, feminists, et cetera." Many also say that while Hollywood has been good for the Democratic Party in terms of contributing money, the Hollywood connection reinforces the notion that the Democrats are a condescending, leftist elite.
This superciliousness translates to the Social Security debate where the Democrats will not deign to admit there is a problem, much less propose their own solutions. Above all, the Democrats stand athwart a program that – by all reports – will be voluntary. If personal accounts are a terrible idea destined to rob future retirees of a secure future, the opposition can certainly make that case. If younger workers believe that the accounts are a scam, they can stick with the current system, no harm no foul. But the Democrats, who know that you shouldn’t be allowed to shop at Wal-Mart, who know you should embrace wind power (but not in Nantucket!), also know that personal accounts are the pathway to penury. Therefore, poor misinformed America, they’re going to make up your mind for you.
The newsweeklies dive in – Both Time and Newsweek give their versions of the Social Security debate this week. Time is more straightforward with the tried-and-true “Q&A” format. The Newsweek piece, however, is longer and more snarky, taking huge bites out of both President Bush’s plan and the Democrats’ denial of reality.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Candy for everyone - A good post by Chris over at Signifying Nothing: “That social security, and its related pal Medicare (which is universal healthcare for poor seniors, packaged as a handout for everyone), are both in serious fiscal trouble is no unforseeable accident; it’s the unavoidable consequence of a system established by Democrats to ensure these two welfare schemes wouldn’t be taken away at the ballot box, like “welfare as we know it” was and Medicaid is almost certain to be.”
Backed the wrong horse, did you? - “France wants a fresh start in relations with the United States and both sides have much to contribute to a renewed transatlantic partnership, Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said in comments published Monday.” Mon dieu!
MC Hammer has the greatest agent in America

How does he do it? How does a washed-up one-hit-wonder who is now a punchline to a joke about “The Surreal Life” able to finagle himself into not one but TWO Superbowl commercials?!? That ain’t right. Anyway, Slate reviews the best and the worst of the Super bowl commercials, including this zinger: “A Lays potato chips ad uses MC Hammer for comedic value. Sadly, no comedy results.”

Allow me to nod along with this statement: “Remember when we all thought Bud was a genius marketing company, back in the heyday of the Whassup ads? Now Bud spends all its ad time bickering with Miller. Verdict: Bud's lost its footing.” Except for the “returning troops” commercial, lame lame lame. Note: one of my favorite Super Bowl ads of all time is the one where two guys must decide between toilet paper and Bud Light. They take the Bud Light, then emphatically request “paper” when asked “paper or plastic.” Then – and this is what made it great – the cashier asks if they want their one-inch-long receipt. It’s quickly snatched away. Classic.

Extra: Sports Illustrated reviews the ads along with Daniel Drezner.

Why do I suspect there’s a certain “screw you” quality to Kofi’s Annan’s “punishment” of Benon Sevan? Sevan is a Cypriot official who had already retired from the United Nations and had been collecting a token salary of $1 a year. In light of Paul Volcker’s investigation, Sevan was suspended with pay. So, in the end, Kofi Annan didn’t even have the nerve to take a single dollar away from a corrupt U.N. official.

Mark Steyn is right. It’s time for regime change in the UN: “But, if the UN wants to hold meetings, hector Washington, steal money and give tacit approval to genocide, let it – and let it sink into irrelevance.” Amen.
The Democrats’ no-good awful, horrible week

Noemie Emery writes in the Weekly Standard that the Donks just had “The Dems’ Week from Hell” and she lists four reasons why: 1) Barbara Boxer and allies assault Condi Rice, 2) Ted Kennedy calls Iraq Vietnam, 3) Evan Bayh joins the jihad, and 4) John Kerry goes on Meet the Press

Emery: “Everything that has been wrong with the Democrats in the past several years was on vivid display during Hell Week: the teeth-grinding shrillness; the race card, misplayed with such gusto; the self-interest so blatant it defeats its own purpose; the crippling dearth of ideas.” Yipes.
Private accounts for Congress – not for America

George Will has a must-read column in Newsweek titled “Harry Reid’s ‘Roulette’” and subtitled: “Members of Congress are doing very well indeed under a plan comparable to the one President Bush would allow all Americans to participate in”:

Begun in 1987, the Thrift Savings Plan, which as of December 2004 had assets of $152 billion, is a retirement-savings plan open to all civilian federal employees, including senators, and all members of the uniformed services.

They can invest as much as 14 percent of their salaries in one of five retirement funds. Consider the rate of return of C Fund, one of the five. It is a common-stock fund, so it should represent the risks that Reid thinks should terrify Americans:

In only four of 17 years has the rate of return been negative. But in 11 years the rate has been greater than 10 percent, in eight years it has been greater than 20 percent, in four years it has been greater than 30 percent. The compound annual rate of return for the last 10 years has been 12 percent, and the return over the 17 years has been 12.1 percent.

[Senate minority leader Harry] Reid participates in the plan, but opposes allowing all Americans the comparable opportunity that Bush is proposing. But if the numbers just cited are the result of roulette, the legislators should let the rest of us into the game in which they are prospering.
One of the governing tenets of 1994’s Contract with America was one stating that Congress must comply with rules imposed on the rest of America. If personal accounts are disallowed by Congress, then obviously Congress must divest itself from the Thrift Savings Plan.
Religion of peace update / Our friends the Saudis” double shot – Jeff Jacoby reviews “Religious hatred, Saudi-style” in the Boston Globe.
We oweHousehold debt via the Economist

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Satire lives! - During the opening of the new comedy "American Dad" tonight, "Dad" picks up the newspaper which has the headline: "Democratic Party missing: feared dead." Ha!