Thursday, March 31, 2005

Courage and cowardice

Here’s Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly:

There are only two ways to significantly improve Social Security's finances: benefit cuts and tax increases. Bush is too gutless to propose either one, so he's desperately trying to sucker someone — anyone — into proposing them first. Nobody with half a brain should oblige him.
Drum’s cynicism is matched only by the spinelessness of the Democrats. Suppose that a Democratic Congress was discussing the reform of a major Republican-led program such as No Child Left Behind or the Space Defense Initiative. It would be inconceivable that the GOP would be silent on the issue. The Democrats, however, know there’s a problem with Social Security; Drum admits as much. Yet they’re unable to formulate a position on what is arguably the cornerstone of Democratic ideology.

While it’s true that a specific piece of legislation has not been forwarded, the Bush administration has made no secret of some of the details of a reform plan. Here’s Allan Hubbard, the White House director of the National Economic Council:

Hubbard said raising the payroll tax remains "off the table'' as a way to address Social Security's long-term funding shortfall. Raising the $90,000 cap on yearly wages subject to Social Security taxes will be considered, Hubbard said.

Hubbard said Bush likes an idea put forth by Democratic economist Robert Pozen that supports private accounts as part of a plan that imposes benefit cuts on the wealthy while maintaining the current structure for the poor.
There you go: no payroll tax rate increases, but the cap on taxable income could rise. Also, an indexed benefit cut designed to protect the benefits promised to lower-income Americans. That’s a plan. Those are solutions. If nothing is done, automatic benefit cuts of 27% (for everyone) kick in when the trust fund is depleted in 2041.

Tackling the issue now takes courage; ducking it is cowardice.
Breaking news: Pope John Paul is not doing well.
They should have hired a sound engineer

I missed the first hour of “Left of the Dial” but it was instantly annoying not because of the chattering lefties, but because the soundtrack was a quarter-second off from the visuals. It was an endless distraction – anybody else think so? Or was it my cable?

Anyway, the best part of this HBO documentary on Air America Radio was Election Day 2004. There wasn’t a single person in that echo chamber willing to entertain the slightest notion that Bush might win; then reality came crashing down on them. I haven’t laughed so hard since reading the November 2nd entries on John Kerry’s blog (now erased). I’ll be sure to catch the whole thing this weekend.

Extra: Logical Meme does an excellent review of “Left on the Dial” and the myriad problems at Air America.
Senator Splunge update - John Kerry wins the “Jackass of the Week” award while Polipundit reminds us that it’s now been a solid two months since the Senator promised to sign the form releasing his military records. Dave Wissing has the original transcript from Meet the Press 60 days ago.
Just noticed – Technorati passed one billion links tracked. Wow. The Internets is huge.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Howard Dean’s Australia itinerary, via Tim Blair.
Zimbabwe Votes – “The parliamentary elections on Thursday have been rigged so comprehensively that it's unlikely President Robert Mugabe will be unseated no matter how much his 25 years in office have harmed his countrymen.”
We need pictures!Bill Kristol takes a pie to the face. This should make for a lively Fox News Sunday.
A bankruptcy of ideas

Yesterday there was a post on Daily Kos called “No need for Dem plan” that concluded the Democrats don’t need to make any counterproposals to reform Social Security: “The more desperate the GOP becomes with their failing Social Security effort, the more shrill their demands for a "Democratic Plan" will become.”

Battered by years of setbacks in both national and state politics, the American Left is celebrating their miniscule, pseudo-victory over a yet-to-be-proposed reform plan. But, as I’ve made clear for some time, I believe this absence of seriousness on issues both foreign and domestic will condemn the Democratic party to irrelevancy. The Republicans are now shaping the terms of debate on every important issue; the Democrats simply say “no.”

Writing in the NY Times today, former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) believes the Democrats have set up an “inverted pyramid” in which they choose a candidate first and later try to figure out what their platform should be:

Democrats who run for president have to build their own pyramids all by themselves. There is no coherent, larger structure that they can rely on. Unlike Republicans, they don't simply have to assemble a campaign apparatus - they have to formulate ideas and a vision, too. Many Democratic fundraisers join a campaign only after assessing how well it has done in assembling its pyramid of political, media and idea people.

There is no clearly identifiable funding base for Democratic policy organizations, and in the frantic campaign rush there is no time for patient, long-term development of new ideas or of new ways to sell old ideas. Campaigns don't start thinking about a Democratic brand until halfway through the election year, by which time winning the daily news cycle takes precedence over building a consistent message. The closest that Democrats get to a brand is a catchy slogan.
I think Bradley is trying to soften the blow of his criticism with that “too hurried to form an ideology” line. John Kerry had been running for president practically his entire life and the muddled message he sent to America wasn’t that he’d fight the war on terrorism today, but that he fought the war in Vietnam yesterday.

Today, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg came out with a new Democracy Corps memo that blamed Kerry’s anemic share of the Catholic vote on the candidate’s empty rhetoric. From Beltway Buzz:

In 1996, Bill Clinton carried the Catholic vote 48 to 41 percent. Al Gore lost the Catholic vote 52 to 45 percent. And John Kerry, himself a Catholic, lost the Catholic vote by a “stroking” [sic] 13 points, 43 to 56 percent. According to Greenberg, Kerry lost Catholic ground to Bush in swing states including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Specifically, Greenberg blames Kerry's lack of vision and moral centering on his inability to carry the Catholic vote.
Democrats can continue to stand on the sidelines and throw tomatoes, filibuster judges, and generally gum up the works of government. But, in the end, you can’t beat something with nothing.
Protecting their racket

According to this WashPost story, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) will be spending millions of dollars in an effort to derail personal accounts as part of Social Security reform. Where does the AARP get all their cash to drive the fight against private investment?

That kind of work is expensive but AARP can afford it. The association took in $350 million last year from a variety of royalty-producing enterprises, including insurance, prescription drugs and mutual funds.
Of course. By the way, not once in the WashPost article is it clarified exactly what the acronym “AARP” stands for. Sloppy journalism, that. But then I’m just one of those crazy bloggers.
Always an honor – Viking Pundit makes John Hawkins’ top 40 list (take that, Wizbang!)
Even more TAR7 - Miss Alli from Television without Pity raves about the latest episode while over 700+ Tw/oP reviewers give it a grade of A+

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Amazing Race 7 update – Into the heart of Africa

It’s going to be a marathon Amazing Race recap tonight since it’s a two-hour episode; normally such a task is reserved only for the finale. Anyway, teams started out from Buenos Aires and headed out to Johannesburg, South Africa. There’s only one flight out of Argentina and everybody’s on it so all teams are starting from square one.

Once the teams arrived in Johannesburg, they had to choose a marked car waiting outside the airport with the next route marker. The first Fast Forward of the game is revealed and one team can choose to do a single task and go directly to the Pit Stop. Ray & Deana decide to take the Fast Forward and drive to some tall cooling towers where they will each walk across a foot bridge. All the other teams head to the Detour except Rob & Amber who also decide to try the Fast Forward. However, when Team Survivor arrives at the tower, they see that Team Karate has already started the task and they must decide to either wait and see if they’ll finish or give up and take the Detour. Just as Rob & Amber start to argue, the word is passed over the walkie-talkie that Team Karate completed the Fast Forward. Team Survivor leaves after wasting a good chunk of time while Team Karate heads to the Pit Stop at Soweto Overlook as Team #1.

The Detour is either Tribes or Tunnels: Lynn & Alex take Tribes as does a (late) Rob & Amber. They must collect a series of artifacts and deliver them to representatives of certain African tribes in a village. Meanwhile, Greg & Brian, Uchenna & Joyce, and Meredith & Gretchen go underground and search some caves for the next clue. Gretchen takes a bad fall and Team Codger falls further behind. From here everybody heads to a Soweto marketplace and the Roadblock. At the Roadblock, one member from each team must purchase five items for an orphanage; teams then deliver these items to the orphanage for the next clue. This clue tells teams to head to the Pit Stop at Soweto where Phil is waiting.

Team Codgers arrive in last place but – good news! – this is the first non-elimination leg of the Race and they are still in the competition. Bad news: this season, not only do teams have to give up all their cash, they must also surrender their backpacks and continue the Race with only the clothes they’re wearing and their U.S. passports. Ouch.

Part I of this leg:

#1 - Ray & Deana –Team Karate – FAST FORWARD
#2 - Ron & Kelly – Team America
#3 - Brian & Greg – Team Spicoli
#4 - Lynn & Alex – Team Showtunes
#5 - Rob & Amber – Team Survivor
#6 - Uchenna & Joyce – Team Africa
#7 - Meredith & Gretchen – Team Codger - NON-ELIMINATION LEG

Part II: Teams head out from South Africa to Gaborone, Botswana. Once there, they must travel by train and bus to a statue of a giant aardvark (not a typo). All teams are bunched up once again and they all hit the Roadblock. One team member must pick an African bushman who will set up a sack on a tree; the Racer must then throw a spear through the swaying sack. Team Spicoli finishes first and heads off to a village and the next marker. Boston Rob, exhibiting none of the skills of the Boston Red Sox pitching lineup, finishes last. However he drives ahead of several teams as the Land Rovers make their way across the African desert to a village and the next clue.

Through many seasons of the Amazing Race, there have been instances where the urge for speed overrides good judgment. Tonight, Brian & Greg use too much gas in their Land Rover, hit some soft sand, and completely flip their vehicle. Neither of them is injured but their cameraman is shown on the ground, obviously hurt, and the brothers are distraught about what they had done. Lynn & Alex pull up to the wreck and stop to see if everybody’s OK. This is followed by Team Survivor; Boston Rob does not even slow down to show the slightest bit of concern. The remaining teams at least pause to see if the brothers are all right before continuing on. Eventually Brian & Greg get a replacement SUV and continue on.

At the African village, it’s the next Detour: Food or Water. Teams must either grind up corn to fill up a basket to a certain level or suck water from an underground spring and fill up eight ostrich eggs. The most satisfying moment of this Detour was watching Team Codger pass Team Karate and the insufferable Ray who has been contemptuous of all the other Racers but especially the elderly Meredith & Gretchen. Ray & Deana simply cannot figure out the trick of grinding corn and they’re still pounding away as Team Spicoli pulls up in their replacement Land Rover. They head for the Water challenge and start filling eggs.

At this point, TAR cuts away from the African village to the salt pan (a dried lake) which is the next Pit Stop after the Detour. Team America arrives only moments ahead of Team Survivor and Phil can’t conceal his disapproving scowl. You didn’t stop for the wreck? asks our favorite host. No, replies Boston Rob, we’re in a competition. Fans familiar with the look that Phil gave Jonathan in TAR6 will recognize the silent condemnation bestowed on Rob.

Back to the village where Team Spicoli is working double-quick to fill their eggs while Ray & Deana are sniping at each other. They appear to finish close together but it might be a TAR camera trick. We can then see the Land Rovers moving over the desert with Team Karate miles ahead of Team Spicoli in the final sprint to the Pit Stop. Now the brothers are a half-mile behind. A hundred yards. A stone’s throw.

The shrinking gap between these teams builds suspense because you can start to do the racing math in your head: if the brothers get close enough to make it a foot race to the mat, you know they’ll win. Sure enough, both teams leap out of their SUVs about the same time and Brian & Greg outrun Team Karate to the mat. Phil tells the brothers that their cameraman will be OK and they’re obviously relieved at the news.

Part II of this leg:

#1 – Ron & Kelly – Team America
#2 – Rob & Amber – Team Survivor
#3 – Uchenna & Joyce – Team Africa
#4 – Lynn & Alex – Team Showtunes
#5 – Meredith & Gretchen – Team Codger
#6 - Brian & Greg - Team Spicoli (thanks Pat)
#7 – Ray & Deana – Team Karate – ELIMINATED

Epilogue, or why I hate Team Survivor again: I’ve been swaying back and forth with Rob & Amber but tonight I was reminded again why I don’t like them in The Amazing Race. First, it is undeniable that their celebrity is an advantage that no other team has the luxury of capitalizing on. In the South Africa leg, Amber is recognized while shopping in the market and suddenly she has a star-struck personal shopper helping her through the Roadblock. They pick up another woman (or was it the same woman?) who guides them through Soweto to the Pit Stop. Second, Boston Rob can be a right bastard sometimes. Yes, all the other Racers hate you and you hate them. But for heaven’s sake there were people lying on the ground next to a flipped-over Land Rover and you couldn’t even stop for a second? What a jerk. I used to hate Lynn & Alex because they never shut up about Rob & Amber but, dammit, they sort-of have a point. Down with Team Survivor - bring on the Yields.

Extra: Kris at Dummocrats also has an Amazing Race recap and writes this about Team Survivor: “Now, I understand it's a race, but all they needed to do was slow down, roll down the windows and make sure that everyone was okay. Plus, you could see that someone was hurt on the ground. You all may not know this, but the camera crews rotate among all the teams, so it's likely that Rob & Amber had traveled with the cameraman who was injured. It's not like this was some stranger. I think they showed a lack of common decency.” Right on.
The time is now

Writing in Opinion Journal, Brendan Miniter warns that Republicans will pay a political price down the road if they abandon their principles now. From “Worse Than No Reform”:

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer dropped by our offices recently to talk about, among other things, Social Security. This was no dry, by-the-numbers discussion. Mr. Hoyer clearly feels passionate about the issue and fully understands that what's at stake is not how large grandma's check will be, but how the welfare state will be organized. In the process of making his arguments, he unwittingly demonstrated that the claim that Democrats have no reform ideas is flat wrong. By the end of the meeting it was clear that if Republicans fail to pass Social Security reform this year, they will deserve to lose control of Congress and perhaps even the presidency.
I want a vote one way or another; let every member of Congress stand up and be counted on Social Security reform. Then, in ten or thirteen years when entitlement spending starts to crowd out all other government functions, Americans can look back and see which party wanted to tackle the problem and which party chose to act irresponsibly for temporary political gain.

Extra: Don Luskin adds his two cents.
That’s just wrongGay Patriot has been intimidated into silence. DJ has some additional comments.
Krugman is nuts.
They’ll surely get him nowAbu Al-Zarqawi “cornered.” We’ll see.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The agony of the MSM - One of those perfessional journalists (with a degree and everythin’) unleashes a torrent of bile on bloggers. We’re crazy to publish opinions without editors!
Err America update - The Daily News has a good article about the filmmakers of “Left of the Dial” while FauxPolitik finds that a former Air America host has been “airbrushed out” of all online media, in the classic Soviet style.
Speaking of Big Brother

I’ve asked this question before, but do all OPEC nations need to be oppressive dictatorships? It looks like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is taking a page from the Stalin playbook. From the WashPost: “Chavez’s Censorship Where ‘Disrespect’ can land you in jail”:

Ten days ago [Hugo] Chavez handed [minister of communication and information Andres] Izarra a still-bigger stick: a new penal code that criminalizes virtually any expression to which the government objects -- not only in public but also in private.

Start with Article 147: "Anyone who offends with his words or in writing or in any other way disrespects the President of the Republic or whomever is fulfilling his duties will be punished with prison of 6 to 30 months if the offense is serious and half of that if it is light." That sanction, the code implies, applies to those who "disrespect" the president or his functionaries in private; "the term will be increased by a third if the offense is made publicly."

There's more: Article 444 says that comments that "expose another person to contempt or public hatred" can bring a prison sentence of one to three years; Article 297a says that someone who "causes public panic or anxiety" with inaccurate reports can receive five years. Prosecutors are authorized to track down allegedly criminal inaccuracies not only in newspapers and electronic media, but also in e-mail and telephone communications.
Someone who “causes public anxiety?” Rosie O’Donnell – stay out of Venezuela!

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Happy Easter – I spent my day going to church then listening to my new Kingston Trio CD while getting bankrupted by my son in a marathon game of Monopoly. Nine-year-olds are always so gracious in victory. Sigh.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Mark Kilmer has the rundown of the Sunday morning talk shows (here, here and again here). Joe Lieberman will be skipping Easter Sunday services to appear on Meet the Press.
ABBA back on top in Poland! - #1 songs around the world
The capacity for change

WashPost: “Rice describes plans to spread democracy

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday set out ambitious goals for the Bush administration's push for greater democracy overseas over the next four years, including pressing for competitive presidential elections this year in Egypt and women's right to vote in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.

Rice, in an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters, said she was guided less by a fear that Islamic extremists would replace authoritarian governments than by a "strong certainty that the Middle East was not going to stay stable anyway." Extremism, she said, is rooted in the "absence of other channels for political activity," and so "when you know that the status quo is no longer defensible, then you have to be willing to move in another direction."
Here’s the whole transcript. The concept that Islamic extremism evolves from the despair at the lack of democratic alternatives is one that has been expounded by Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis for some time now.
This reminds me that I really need to do a cursory update of Smarter Harper’s if only to expose that hack magazine.
AARP’s Social Security deception

Have you seen the AARP commercial where a plumber disassembles a home to clear a clogged drain? Oh it’s a riot. FactCheck isn’t so impressed:

AARP's latest TV ad shows a suburban home being flattened to repair a clogged kitchen sink, and claims that the creation of individual accounts would "dismantle Social Security" and "lead to huge benefit cuts."

The ad is intended to be humorous but presents a distorted picture. It both understates Social Security's financial problems and misrepresents the effect that individual accounts would have.

Social Security's problems are more serious than a stopped-up drain. And the system isn't about to sink like the Titanic, either, as an earlier ad by Bush supporters says. Social Security is more like a home being eaten slowly by termites.
No, it’s not about to sink but it’s heading straight towards an iceberg.

Friday, March 25, 2005

John Hawkins fields a question on Social Security and why the Democrats are fighting reform. I think his reason #1 is very prominent in the minds of the Donks.
Starbucks is putting quotes on their cups in a series called “The Way I See It.” So far the authors of those quotes and the ideas presented have a decidedly liberal tilt and not everybody is happy about it.
Massachusetts is first in taking the mostBizblogger tips us off to the recently released rankings from the National Taxpayers Union for members of Congress. Every single member of the Massachusetts delegation received an “F” for a reflexive obsession to raise taxes. (Kerry got an “incomplete” for missing so many votes in the Senate.)
ABC News backing off on “talking points” memo?

This morning, the ABC News blog The Note discusses the political fallout of the Terri Schiavo case. But nowhere in the “news summary” do they mention the disputed memo allegedly circulated among Republican lawmakers about the possible political gain among certain voters. For example, why does ABC News ask this rhetorical question:

5. Does this galvanize the GOP base?
But not this question:

5. Does this galvanize the GOP base as a recent internal memo circulated among Republicans suggests?
It seems strange to leave out that relevant detail, unless ABC News now believes they’ve fallen ass-backward into another Rathergate. Stay tuned.
Just a soupcon of honesty on Social Security, please

The WashPost editorial today on Social Security unleashes most of its criticism on the Democrats and their “Dishonest Debate”:
The nation faces a severe economic threat from the aging of its population combined with escalating health costs. The sooner it begins to grapple with this problem, the less painful the solution will be. For Mr. Bush, that would mean acknowledging the need for more revenue. For the Democrats, it would require for a smidgeon of honesty about Social Security's state.
RTWT. The WashPost also exposes the hypocrisy of the “Medicare is a bigger problem” distraction: “If they aren't willing to play a constructive role on the supposedly "minor" challenge of Social Security, why should anyone believe that they would behave constructively if the administration wanted to fix Medicare?” Indeed.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

None dare call it welfare

Here’s Robert Samuelson in today’s WashPost:

In 1935 Americans 65 and older were 6 percent of the population. They're now 12 percent and by 2030 are projected to be 20 percent. Most Americans can now save for their own retirement, including the cost of health insurance. The Social Security debate ought to involve moral values and economic realities. How generous a "safety net" for the elderly can a decent society afford without overtaxing the young or harming the economy? How can changes be made without being too disruptive? Instead, the debate has degenerated into an obscure technical exercise focused on baffling accounting concepts (trust fund "solvency," "unfunded liabilities").

Despite what you've heard, the real issue is not Social Security's "solvency." It is the total cost to the government of baby boomers' retirement, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (which covers much nursing home care). The real issue is preventing those costs from becoming economically oppressive and politically poisonous.
At David Brooks’ suggestion, I’ve ordered a copy of “The Coming Generational Storm.” Unless something is done before the senior voting bloc reaches critical mass, I’m afraid we’re going to be locked into a period of escalating taxes and generational conflict.
Coming around? - In The Hill, the appropriately named David Hill writes “The Social Security polls will shift” as Americans come to further understand the scope of the problem. Let’s hope so. (Hat tip: SS Choice)
The Drudge Report alternative - The Roth Report stays fresh with the news and blogs without a series of annoying pop-up and pop-under ads.
A smear passes through the bowels of the MSM

Here’s a paragraph from the Boston Globe’s Ellen Goodman on “Death and Politics”:

What about Tom DeLay, for that matter, a politician on his own life support for fund-raising improprieties, who cast himself as Terri's protector against ''medical terrorism." And don't forget the infamous ''talking points" memo ABC News found reminding Republican senators that ''the prolife base will be excited" and it's a ''great political issue."
A memo that, as Powerline has meticulously detailed (starting here, then here and here) is almost certainly a left-wing invention. And here are some additional factoids ignored by the media elite:

The document, which was posted online by ABC News, as well as several Democratic-leaning websites, was unsigned, bore no Senate office letterhead, and was rife with errors, including the incorrect Senate bill number and the misspelling of Schiavo's name. For days, Republicans denied any knowledge of the document, and a number of Republican Senators claimed they had never seen it.
But, of course, the objective ABC News and Ellen Goodman believe what they want to believe. Dump this one on the pile along with the “stolen election of 2000” and the fixed Diebold voting machines.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Fox News chose “Dem activists debate battle tactics” as the title for this story, but I would have called it “Leftist bloggers strive to weaken Democratic Party, hasten irrelevancy.”
I’m about to curl up in a ball and cry – They’re predicting 3-5 inches of snow tonight. I’ve already drained all the gas out of my snowblower and put away the shovels. It’s March 23rd for heaven’s sake! Enough already!!!
From the Department of the Treasury: Strengthening Social Security
I didn’t expect that – Entertainment Weekly picks the greatest Monty Python sketch of all time. Of course, there will always be a warm spot in my heart for #20 on their list. (Hat tip: Smarter Cop)
The year of reckoning moves closer

WASHINGTON, March 23 (Reuters) - The U.S. Social Security trust fund will exhaust its assets in 2041 instead of 2042 as forecast last year, while the Medicare trust fund is due to be depleted in 2020, rather than 2019, the funds' trustees said on Wednesday.

In addition, the trustees projected Social Security outlays to outstrip tax income in 2017 instead of the 2018 previously forecast.
I guarantee that the Democrats will now attack the Social Security trustees as pawns of the Bush Administration. It’s the standard modus operandi of that crowd.
More TAR! - Kris at Dummocrats also has a review of last night’s Amazing Race.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Dopiest article of the day

Writing in Slate today, Jacob Weisberg has a piece titled “Bush’s First Defeat” declaring Social Security reform dead. The subtitle is: “The president has lost on Social Security. How will he handle it?” After a long discussion about how the Democrats have aligned against personal savings accounts, Weisberg concludes that this rebuke will weaken Bush politically. But then here’s the conclusion to the article that successfully refutes everything said beforehand (oh, and please forgive a certain verb that indicates Weisberg is insensitive about certain recent news):

But if Bush is shrewd enough to euthanize carve-out accounts while shifting to make solvency his goal, he will leave his Democratic opponents in a quandary. A package of innocuous tax increases and benefit cuts could extend the life of the trust fund out to 75 years in a fairly painless way. Substantively, it would be hard for even the most partisan Democrats to oppose this kind of compromise, which serves their goal of protecting the future of Social Security. But politically, Democrats would be loath to help Bush turn his first major defeat into another political victory.
Defeat? This sounds to me like the setup for a major victory: Bush backs off on personal accounts but proposes a range of indexed benefit cuts and a minor increase in the cap on payroll taxes. By now, even if Americans haven’t embraced personal accounts, they understand the long-term funding problems facing Social Security. The Democrats have defined themselves solely by their opposition to President Bush; how would they react to a Republican plan to save Social Security? I smell another Howard Dean Scream.
Amazing Race update – Stuck in South America

In TAR6, the Race never made it once to South America. TAR7 appears to be making up for that deficit with yet another leg of the Race south of the Panama Canal. Teams started out from an Argentinean ranch and headed to a horse farm and the first Roadblock. One member from each team had to play gaucho and race a horse around a barrel course in under 40 seconds. Almost all teams finished on their first or second attempt except for whiny Deana of Team Karate who seemed unwilling to do any of the standard techniques of equine mobilization. She finally succeeded when she went to the stick.

After the Roadblock, teams could take one of two flights from Mendoza to Buenos Aires: a 9:30am flight or a 2:30pm flight. Team Survivor just barely made it onto the earlier flight much to the deep dismay of the first four teams: Team Spicoli, Team Showtunes, Team Africa, and Team America. The other three teams ended up on the (much) later flight so it looks like either Team Codgers, Team Mom/Son or Team Karate will be eliminated. (Or will they? We’re just about due for a non-elimination leg.)

Once in Buenos Aires, teams race to a clock tower to receive their next clue which tells them to take a train (across the street) to Tigre and find the riverside docks. At the river, Teams hit a Detour. They must choose between Shipwreck or Island: either find a certain shipwrecked boat by way of an old picture, or find a particular island farther down river for the next clue. Through what can only be characterized as an evil intervention by Loki, Team Survivor finds the ship in no time and heads off to the Pit Stop. Meanwhile, the motorboat taken by Team Showtunes takes on water and soon afterwards the engine dies. They are forced to wait for a replacement boat and Phil does a voiceover to remind us that in the Race this is just dumb luck and teams won’t be credited for time. At the Pit Stop, it’s Team Survivor, then Team Spicoli, Team Africa, Team America and a waterlogged Team Showtunes.

Hours after these first five teams have checked in at the Pit Stop, the flight carrying the last three teams arrive and we’re treated to an aggravating monologue by Ray (Team Karate) who tells the camera he’s not about to be beaten by an elderly couple or Team Mom/Son. Good for you, jerk. Anyway, Ray & Deana head off and find the next clue fairly quickly and Meredith & Gretchen foolishly follow them as Team Karate is heading back to the dock. Eventually they figure out the mistake and turn around again. Meanwhile, Susan and Patrick (who had been giving Deana a run-for-the-money in the whining competition) miss the earlier train to Tigre and then have the misfortune of picking the wrong boat, which breaks down a mile from the docks. They also get a replacement boat but the multitude of problems on horseback, flight, train, and boat keep them far behind the other Teams. Team Mom/Son arrive last at the Pit Stop and (sad music is the tip-off) are eliminated from the Race.

Final standings – Leg #4

1 – Team Survivor – Rob & Amber
2 – Team Spicoli – Brian & Greg
3 – Team Africa – Uchenna & Joyce
4 – Team America – Ron & Kelly
5 – Team Showtunes – Lynn & Alex
6 – Team Karate – Ray & Deana
7 – Team Codgers – Meredith & Gretchen
8 – Team Mom/Son – Susan & Patrick – ELIMINATED

Next week: A two-hour Amazing Race! Blood and bruises! Flipped cars! Yikes!
George Allen to Senate Democrats: "I double dog dare you" in "Call Senate Democrats' bluff"
Can the United Nations reform?

The Economist is hopeful, calling Kofi Annan’s proposals as the most sweeping reforms since the U.N. was formed in 1945. Here’s a recap of the recent, unsavory, past:

If there is one thing on which both critics and supporters of the United Nations agree—especially since the enormous row over the Iraq war—it is that the world body is in need of reform. America and its allies were exasperated at the UN’s failure to agree action against Saddam Hussein’s regime. Opponents of the war were equally angry at the UN’s failure to stop America from launching it. In the run-up to the Iraq invasion, there was the revolting spectacle of Britain and France sucking up to Lansana Conté, the tinpot dictator of tiny Guinea, because the UN’s rules had given him one of the Security Council’s rotating seats. Earlier, there was the equally stomach-churning sight of the tyrannical Libyan regime getting a turn at chairing the UN’s Commission on Human Rights. Then there was the gross embezzlement that has been uncovered in the UN’s $70 billion oil-for-food programme in Iraq—not to mention the UN’s prolonged inaction while the mass slaughter has continued in Sudan’s Darfur region.
Nowhere to go but up with that resume.
ANSWER clowns meet the Protest Warriors – some great pictures from Exit Zero
Die in Britain, survive in the US

In a perfect follow-up to my post the other day, Jeff Jacoby writes in the Boston Globe “National health insurance: the wrong Rx”:

As it happens, the real-world consequences of single-payer healthcare -- also known as socialized medicine or national health insurance -- are well-documented. Single-payer care exists in Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, and much of Western Europe. And wherever it has been tried, writes John C. Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis, ''rationing by waiting is pervasive, putting patients at risk and keeping them in pain.''
Or as P.J. O’Rourke once said: “If you think health care is expensive now, wait until it’s free.”

(P.S. - Welcome, In DC Journal readers!)

Monday, March 21, 2005

The continuing Democratic crack-upHoward Dean calls Republicans “brain dead.” Jon Corzine compares Dick Cheney to Saddam Hussein. Republican headquarters in Kentucky burglarized. Washington state GOP headquarters vandalized.

Update: RNC chair Ken Mehlman responds to Corzine: “Comparing the Vice President to a tyrannical despot who murdered thousands of his own people is rhetoric you would expect to hear from Michael Moore but not a United States Senator. Instead of focusing his time making desperate and outrageous comparisons, Senator Corzine should focus his energy on bipartisan solutions to save Social Security.”
One trick pony - From the Cato Institute’s Daily Debunker: “U.S. Senate Democrats have remained surprisingly united — with some notable exceptions — in their opposition to President Bush's Social Security reform proposal. But by systematically removing one idea after the next from the negotiating table, Senate Democrats have talked themselves into supporting a massive tax increase that would certainly cost jobs and would probably cost them politically.”
USA Today editorial: Democrats have no ideas
Harry Reid in USA Today: “We got nothin’
Stop me before I spend again

Back in December, I excoriated Sebastian Mallaby of the WashPost for a condescending article he wrote suggesting that Americans with personal Social Security accounts would be discombobulated by an abundance of choices (that is, freedom). But in the latest edition of Fortune magazine, there’s a story called “Why Johnny Can’t Save for Retirement” suggesting that human brains aren’t wired for the kind of risk/reward planning required for long-term investing. That is, although most Americans know that Social Security is in trouble and know they should be saving more in their 401(k) plans, they can’t make the logical leap and take steps that would alleviate those problems today.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Canadian health care in action, er, that is "inaction"

A letter from the Moncton Hospital to a New Brunswick heart patient in need of an electrocardiogram said the appointment would be in three months. It added: "If the person named on this computer-generated letter is deceased, please accept our sincere apologies."
Oh, sure, they have the cheap drugs, but try waiting three years for surgery on a torn knee ligament. “Rather than leave daughter Emily in pain and a knee brace, the Ottawa family opted to pay $3,300 for arthroscopic surgery at a private clinic in Vancouver, with no help from the government.” (Hat tip: Fark)
The answer to Senate filibusters can be found at the polls

George Will comes down against the threatened change in Senate rules that would circumvent the Democrats’ filibuster of judicial nominees. While I think he glosses over the Constitutional requirement for supermajorities, I agree with this sentiment:

Republicans might reach 60 if the president devoted as much energy to denouncing obstruction of judicial nominations as he is devoting to explaining Social Security's problems. Solving those problems is important, but not as important as achieving a judiciary respectful of the Constitution.

No Democratic filibuster can stop the 2006 elections. Those elections, however, might stop the Democrats' filibusters.
I’m going to make a far-reaching prediction here: I think in the 2006 midterm election we’ll see the Republicans defy history once again and pick up more seats in Congress. Americans simply are not going to support a Democratic party that is defined by obstructionist policies and a rudderless philosophy.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The GOLD record

As of this morning, Viking Pundit passed 500,000 unique visits. It's been a great ride and I hope to continue on for at least two more years. As always, thanks to Moe Freedman and everybody for stopping by.
Suddenly Galveston – The WashPost covers familiar ground: “In Texas, a Model for Bush ProposalCounty opted out of Social Security
Harmonic convergence – OMG, both Blogger and Weblogs ping are working this morning?!? It’s a miracle!
It’s coming

Writing in today’s NY Times, David Brooks predicts that the “Do-Nothing Conspiracy” that exists today will dramatically transform politics and America. Everybody knows that expanding entitlements will crush the economy:

Tax increases on that scale would decimate the economy. Benefit cuts would cause pain. Doing nothing would lead to enormous deficits, an immobilized government and stratospheric interest rates. It would mean the end of the United States as a great economic power.
But because the political parties are so polarized, nothing can be done. Even this past week, Congress couldn’t vote to slightly slow the growth of Medicaid; where will they ever find the backbone to trim Medicare or Social Security? As a result, both parties are going to pay a price:

But over time, the entitlements crisis will begin to transform politics. The parties will grow less cohesive. The Democrats are held together by the common goal of passing domestic programs that address national needs - like covering the uninsured. But with all the money going to cover entitlements, there will be no way to afford new proposals. Republicans, meanwhile, owe their recent victories to the popularity of tax cuts. But those will be impossible, too. Both parties will lose a core reason for being.
The government has made promises it simply cannot keep and the expansion of entitlement spending is crowding out the discretionary spending that many people call “government.” Now is the time for Washington to behave like adults and make the painful choices, before the federal government is transformed into little more than a fund-transfer station.
What are they hiding?Second Big Dig expert raises safety issue: “An internationally renowned specialist hired to solve the Big Dig's leak problems has left the project, saying he was denied information about the situation and can no longer say that the tunnels are safe.” It’s the $15 billion question. Bruce at Mass Backwards has more on this unimaginable boondoggle.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Quote of the Day - "Social Security's a joke, and everybody knows it," Mr. [Dustin] Helms said. "By the time I retire it's not going to be around. I might as well stick around here." “Here” being Galveston, Texas where in 1981 three Texas counties opted out of Social Security for private investment accounts. From the NY Times: “On Texas coast, a laboratory for private accounts.
Europe looks down, shuffles feet

In today’s WashPost, Charles Krauthammer declares that there’s no refuge remaining for the Euro-left than shame:

Now that the real Arab street has risen to claim rights that the West takes for granted, the left takes note. It is forced to acknowledge that those brutish Americans led by their simpleton cowboy might have been right. It has no choice. It is shamed. A Lebanese, amid a sea of a million other Lebanese, raises a placard reading "Thank you, George W. Bush," and all that Euro-pretense, moral and intellectual, collapses.
Chirac has been quiet lately.
You must remember this – Interesting story on Slate about the U.S. Memory Championship. Who knew such a thing existed? Competitors must memorize things like a 50-line poem and the order of a pack of shuffled playing cards.
Lieberman to Krugman: Drop Dead!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

FDR Responsible for Prolonging - Not Ending - Great Depression: “Two UCLA economists say they have figured out why the Great Depression dragged on for almost 15 years, and they blame a suspect previously thought to be beyond reproach: President Franklin D. Roosevelt.” These guys will probably be run out of town for such heresy while Ward Churchill remains at U of C.
The man with a plan - For the record, the Robert Pozen plan is very close to what I’d like to see for Social Security reform and, if yesterday’s press conference is any guide, it may be the preferred course for President Bush also. It features a scaled-down personal account plan, indexed benefit cuts, and no payroll tax increases.
I second that emotion: “For at least two weeks now Blogger has been a royal piece of crap. Even w.bloggar, which is my preferred method of posting won't work with it half the time. This is, hands down, the poorest sustained Blogger performance since I began using it 3 years ago.”
Quote of the Day – “Either it’s going to happen in the next eight to nine months, or it won’t happen for the next eight to nine years.” Senator Chuck Grassley on Social Security reform (hat tip: GOP Bloggers)
What media bias? – One of my fave bloggers, Lorie Byrd, has an article in the American Spectator on the signs that media bias has ended. Nicely done, Lorie! Check it out.
Krugman loses the top partisan spot

Don Luskin points out (here and here) that in his most recent article, NY Times columnist Paul Krugman actually attacked a Democrat: “Stop the presses! Paul Krugman, America's most dangerous liberal pundit, has taken the nearly unheard of step of criticizing a Democrat in his latest column in the New York Times!”

Clearly this was a bald-faced tactic to bring down his partisanship ranking on Lying in Ponds and it did not escape their notice: “Paul Krugman dropped from first to third in the partisanship rankings after yesterday’s uncharacteristically mixed column on Social Security. There were six negative Democratic references (compared to 18 for all of 2004), including three to Joe Lieberman. It did not qualify as a crossover column, because it mostly criticized Republicans (surprise!). Still, the column is a big departure for Mr. Krugman, who has not been this critical of Democrats for anything, even for being too cooperative with Republicans, in at least a couple of years.”
How you know Wolfowitz was a good choice for the World Bank: The NY Times and Europe are upset.
Stupid addictive game – my top score is 6059
Then he took his wife’s private jet to her Idaho mansion

Associated Press: “Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., argued that more oil would be saved if Congress enacted an energy policy focusing on conservation, more efficient cars and trucks and increased reliance on renewable fuels and expanded oil development in the deep-water Gulf where there are significant reserves.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

A welcome new blog: Updates on the Cedar Revolution (hat tip: Brainster)
The Beltway Buzz has a lot of good stuff today - add it to your bookmarks.
You want Social Security polls? We've got polls. It looks like most Americans - for some wacky reason - think the system needs reform. Go figure!
Dems promise to obstruct the Senate. GOP: “What else is new?”

Why the sudden hysterics by Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats over the potential rules change to overcome filibusters on judicial nominees? Why are they, in the words of Mark, “puffing their hair…like alley cats” and promising to scowl intensely at Republicans in the Senate chamber? Well, if you believe the American Spectator, it’s because it looks like the Senate Republicans are really going to take the “nuclear option”:

Reid's urgency may be the result of a closed-door -- what some Republican staff called secret -- Senate Republican caucus luncheon on Tuesday afternoon. Rumors were circulating in the Capitol's halls and on K Street that the subject of the luncheon was when and how the nuclear option would be used in the very near future.
The Democrats have promised to slow the Senate’s business with procedural motions if the Republicans force through the rule change to override filibusters on judicial nominees.

I used to be against the rules change, but now I want to see what happens when the Democrats go ballistic. I’m sure the “government shutdown” tactic will work out just as well for them as it did for Newt Gingrich. Plus, we can enjoy the hypocrisy of Kennedy, Schumer and that Constitutional scholar Robert Byrd, who will all deliver frothy, podium-pounding jeremiads against the imperious Republicans.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Amazing Race 7 update – In which I give in and learn to like Rob

Teams starts out from Santiago, Chile and must drive a marked car to the Andes mountains in Argentina. However, the cars are all in a parking garage that doesn’t open until 5am so everybody is bunched up. The route marker warns us that there’s a Yield ahead and we see some teams discussing the prospect of putting Team Survivor at a disadvantage. However, after several hours of driving, Rob & Amber arrive at the next route marker first so the scheming became moot. All teams are heading from Santiago, Chile to Puente Vieja, Argentina high in the Andes mountains and we see an incredible serpentine highway heading up up up.

Well, all teams except two. At only twenty minutes into the show, it’s pretty clear that either Team Mom/Son or Team Friends Forever will be in last place. Susan & Patrick spend almost two hours trying to find the highway out of Santiago (!) while Debbie & Bianca drive over two hours past the exit for the mountains. They finally figured something was wrong with their internal compass when they saw the ocean (!!!). Here’s a travel tip: if you’re trying to find the mountains, turn around when you reach the beach.

Once in Puente Vieja, all the teams pass up the Yield and head for the Detour: Paddle or Pedal. Teams must either paddle seven miles down a river or bike the same distance over some train tracks; everybody picks paddle except for Team Spicoli. About halfway through, one of the brothers gets a flat tire and they have to walk the rest of the way hauling a mountain bike. After finishing the course, the teams head to a traditional Argentinean ranch where they rip open the next route marker...

Roadblock: one member from each team must consume four pounds of meat that might be served in a Andean barbecue. (The wife and I turn to each other, eyebrows raised. Four pounds? No way.) Team Showtunes arrive first followed closely by Team Survivor and right away you can tell it’s going to be a huge struggle. Alex (of Lynn & Alex) keeps at it, but Rob turns to Amber and asks what happens if he opts not to complete the Roadblock. It’s a four hour penalty from the time the next team arrives. Rob immediately quits, convinced that even with the penalty, he would finish ahead of other teams trying to cram 64 ounces of charred cow.

I’ve never seen an Amazing Race team benefit from taking a penalty. But, man, Rob is thinking outside the box. And not only does he skip the task, he convinces other teams that they cannot finish it either. This logic works wonders on small-stomached Deana and the elderly Meredith who also decide to take the penalty. Once these teams followed Rob’s strategy, Team Survivor was guaranteed at least a seventh place finish. It was – boy it pains me to say this – brilliant strategy. Rob, I tip my Red Sox cap to you sir.

Exhibiting the iron stomach of Chip (season 5), Uchenna finishes eating his meat and Team Africa is briefly in first place and on their way to the Pit Stop. But Alex finishes soon afterward and Team Showtunes also head to the Pit Stop at an Argentinean ranch. Somewhere along the way, Team Africa takes a wrong turn and Team Showtunes hit the TAR shower mat as Team #1. Uchenna and Joyce arrive minutes later as team #2. They’re followed soon afterward by the other teams that finished the meat, Team Spicoli and Team America. The three teams that took the penalty arrive soon afterward, leaving Team Mom/Son and Team Friends Forever at the barbeque. The ranch hands have graciously positioned buckets in case one of the racers needs to, um, empty the contents of his/her stomach.

The final two teams realize that taking a penalty is no longer an option so it’s an eating contest to the end between whiny Patrick and determined (but too thin) Debbie. Patrick involuntarily throws up and this must have freed up some space in the stomach because sometime later he finishes and Team Mom/Son head to the Pit Stop where they arrive as Team #8. Team Friends Forever finally make it in, but they are eliminated from the Race.

Final standings – Leg #3

#1 – Team Showtunes – Lynn & Alex
#2 – Team Africa – Uchenna & Joyce
[five other teams]
#8 – Team Mom/Son – Susan & Patrick
#9 – Team Friends Forever – Debbie & Bianca – ELIMINATED

Next week: Rob continues to scheme. A Roadblock on horseback.
Am I a dork? Be honest - A little piece of trivia about your favorite blogger. If I should happen to be in the cereal aisle at the supermarket, I always point to a certain box and say to my wife: "Kix just keep getting harder to find."
Social Security roundup

Michael Tanner from CATO writes “Senator Reid has no Social Security plan”: “Harry Reid needs to tell the American people what he plans to do about the looming Social Security crisis. If Reid plans to raise taxes to prop up Social Security, or cut benefits, he should tell us so. If he has another idea, he should share it with us. But fearmongering is not a Social Security plan.”

David Brooks has “A Requiem for Reform”: “If Social Security reform fails - and obviously I hope this obit becomes obsolete - it will be many years before any sort of big entitlement reform will come up again. The parties will keep playing chicken, and we will soon find ourselves catastrophically buried under our own debt.”

Stephen Moore on “Raiding Retirement”: “It may be that the only way to stop this raid on our retirement dollars would be to deposit the money into privately owned worker accounts. If workers have the dollars in their personal accounts, there is no way Congress can get at the money to (mis)spend on other activities.”

and finally: “GOP chairman says Congress will pass Social Security bill, voters will penalize Democratic foes.”
Happy two-year blogoversary to Matt Margolis! I spoke to Matt on the phone once. I think it was right after the third Presidential debate and I was convinced that Bush had sealed the election. I was very excitable on the phone and I think his response was: “Are you going to post anything tonight [on Blogs for Bush]?” All business, that guy. Now if I could only get onto his blogroll.
UNrepairable – From the Boston Globe: “The unfixable UN
Preparing the “nuclear option” - Driving the home today, I heard Harry Reid on the Ed Schultz radio show bitterly complaining how the Republicans were about to overturn 200 years of Senate rules. He was, of course, talking about how the Republicans are preparing to make a rule change to overcome the Democrats’ filibusters on judicial nominees. It seems that Chuck Schumer and the Donks suddenly discovered a clause in the Constitution that allows for filibusters where none existed before. Now they’re outraged that the GOP would overturn their extra-Constitutional maneuver with another parliamentary maneuver.
You are not reading this! – Protein Wisdom has the Iraqi Information Minister explaining the demonstrations in Lebanon. (Hat tip: RWN). I miss that guy.
Social Security accounts Lite

I missed an excellent George Will article from the Sunday WashPost. In “Lindsey Graham’s Good Idea,” Will praises the idea of raising the cap on taxable income (“it hardly blurs the distinction between conservatism and Bolshevism”) to help pay for a gradual transition to personal accounts. This is a devil’s bargain and I suppose it depends on how badly the Republicans want to push for the accounts. My feeling is that we have to draw the line on taxes instead of giving in to “just a little bit more” every time.

The Democrats' implausible contention is that Social Security, a response to the 1930s, needs no serious rethinking, even though in 1935 retirement, as currently understood, was largely a luxury of society's upper crust. And even though Social Security takes income from the working young who are funding family formation -- buying houses, educating children -- to subsidize, in many cases, the long-term leisure and recreation of the not-very-elderly majority of Social Security recipients who could work but choose instead to begin drawing benefits at 62. And even though the age cohort of Americans over 65 is significantly more affluent than the cohorts under 55.

Democrats have no reform ideas, but they have a slogan -- "Fix it, don't nix it." The spectacle of adults chanting such childishness is embarrassing, especially because their chant mimics their recent slogan about the government's system of racial preferences, "Mend it, don't end it," which meant: Change nothing.
A better idea to tamp down transition costs might be to limit personal accounts to Americans under 30 and cap the contributions to 2% of income. Since this is the very demographic in danger of automatic benefit cuts in 2042, twenty-somethings can build up a nest egg for 37 years that will more than compensate for the 27% benefit cut required by law when the Social Security trust fund goes bankrupt. We need to open the door just a little and make everybody in America part of the investor class.
The beginning of the end for the Big Dig

Me in November 2004: “Despite Massachusetts officials’ strong protestations to the contrary, I’m starting to believe that it’s only a matter of time before the Big Dig is closed down as a safety hazard. Give it a couple years of band-aid measures and bureaucratic delusion.”

Today’s Boston Globe – Doubt aired on safety of I-93 tunnels: “The engineering specialist who led the investigation into leaks in the Big Dig says he can no longer say with confidence that the Interstate 93 tunnels are safe to drive in, according to a letter obtained by the Globe.”

That’s $15 billion of your money, America.

Monday, March 14, 2005

We are coming to liberate our country

Massive anti-Syrian protest held in Beirut: “Hundreds of thousands of opposition demonstrators chanted "Freedom, sovereignty, independence" and unfurled a huge Lebanese flag in Beirut on Monday, the biggest protest yet in the opposition's duel of street rallies with supporters of the Damascus-backed government.”
It’s big – “The rally, perhaps the biggest anti-government demonstration ever staged in the Arab world, was the opposition's bid to regain momentum after two serious blows: the reinstatement of the pro-Syrian prime minister and a huge rally last week by the Shiite group Hezbollah.”
Speaking of Joe Lieberman

Here's a blurb from "The Unbranding" in the New Yorker:
Lieberman is a study in the dangers of steroidal muscularity, becoming an outlier in his own party. (He has edged to the right as his running mate in the 2000 election, Al Gore, has moved leftward.) His fate was sealed with a kiss, planted on his cheek by Bush, just after the President delivered his State of the Union address. “That may have been the last straw for some of the people in Connecticut, the blogger types,” Lieberman told me. But he is unapologetic about his defense of Bush’s Iraq policy, saying, “Bottom line, I think Bush has it right.”
The fuzzy slipper brigade strikes again!
Nattering nitwits of negativity

Here’s Sebastian Mallaby excoriating the Democrats for the absence of their solutions to Social Security in “The Missing Proposal”:

Last year Democrats impaled themselves on the Iraq war. They were so anxious to denounce the invasion that they failed to acknowledge the most basic point of all: that, having waded into Iraq, the United States could not leave prematurely. By attacking the Bush policy relentlessly, Democrats sounded negative. By refusing to say clearly that they would finish the Iraq job, they sounded irresponsible.

Now Democrats risk making the same mistake on Social Security. They are so anxious to denounce private accounts that they fail to acknowledge the most basic point: Social Security has a serious deficit. The Post reported Friday that nearly every Democratic senator refuses even to contemplate the Bush proposals. But the Democrats have no proposal of their own. They sound negative and irresponsible.
A must-read. I’ve been striking the same tone for months and so far only Joe Lieberman seems to recognize the trap the Democrats are setting for themselves.
What liberal media? - From those biased hacks at Fox News Columbia University: “U.S. media coverage of last year's election was three times more likely to be negative toward President Bush than Democratic challenger John Kerry, according to a study released Monday.”
A pajama-clad army of freedom writers

Are bloggers the modern-day Voice of America? Writing in the Boston Globe, Hampton Stephens declares that bloggers have had a profound impact on recent positive world events and could hold the key to liberalization in Iran. From “Uncle Sam’s Blog”:

Although the international blogging phenomenon is in its infancy, Internet trends spread fast, so US foreign policy makers would do well to take notice soon. A chief aim of public diplomacy has always been to foster liberal political culture where authoritarian states are attempting to snuff it out. President Bush clearly believes America's interests are served by the spread of freedom and democracy. To that end, US policy makers should recognize blogging as a perfect tool to promote the proliferation of independent democratic voices.
And there’s this: “Iran's ruling mullahs are clearly worried.” Tremble before us!

Saturday, March 12, 2005

That’s some sweet irony there – From Scrivener: NY Times employees get a small taste of the future of Social Security and Medicare
InDC Journal on right-leaning blogs: We like to talk amongst ourselves

We also post more, link more, and have more overall popularity than the Lefties, who aren't superstars of ideological cross-linking either.
Another one!Happy 2nd blogoversary to Business Pundit
More Rice than a Chinese lunch special - Mark Kilmer has the Sunday morning lineup and it looks like Condi is making the rounds
New signs on the Arab street

Here’s Tom Friedman in Sunday’s NY Times:

From Baghdad to Beirut, the Middle East has seen a series of unprecedented popular demonstrations for democracy. There were, however, two street protests in December that got virtually no coverage, but were just as important, if not more. One took place in the Egyptian Nile Delta town of Mahalla and the other in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya. Both of these raucous Egyptian demonstrations, which involved marches, strikes, denunciations of the government and appeals to Parliament, were triggered by President Hosni Mubarak's decision to sign the first substantial trade agreement with Israel since Camp David. That decision brought Egyptian workers from both areas into the streets. They were furious. They were enraged. Why?

They were not included in the new trade deal with Israel.

Now, that's a new Middle East.
Let’s hope so.
Fark reviews a book on the French diet: "Book discovers how the French stay so thin. Involves different lifestyles and food choices, and an exercise regimen of raising both hands above head frequently." Heh-heh.
What’s so great about taking away my kids’ college fund?

As James Lileks likes to say, the following is full of “screedy goodness” so if you don’t want to hear me rant about Social Security (again) then skip on down. But I’m going to vent on this: I’m whole-heartedly sick and tired of hearing about how Social Security is either “the greatest social program ever” or the “greatest government program of all time” or some other laudatory balderdash.

First of all, Democrats make it sound like the enactment of Social Security was some great moment in history, such as the building of the Panama Canal or the cure for polio. Even as a piece of legislation, it’s remarkably pedestrian: take money from younger workers and give it to destitute seniors. During a time when the FICA tax was merely 2% and seniors were devastated by the Great Depression, Social Security met a need during a troubled time.

Now Social Security is an anachronism. If Congress tried to pass legislation today asking Americans to give up 12.4% of their paycheck, nobody would support it. Yet the FICA tax has creeped up over 70 years because Americans have been heard the mantra that Social Security is the “greatest program ever.” Now 80% of Americans pay more in the FICA tax than in income tax and there’s talk of – yet again – raising the payroll tax. To which I respond: not one more cent. I’m trying to raise my own family and, as far as I’m concerned, I do not bear any responsibility to further supplement the lifestyle of healthy, well-off seniors.

The U.S. government has made promises it simply cannot afford to keep. It’s time to cut future benefits, perhaps indexing them so that the truly needy still receive a full benefit. But we cannot keep raising payroll taxes and punishing younger workers no matter how “wonderful” Social Security is portrayed to an audience that no longer believes it.
P.J. O’Rourke writes: “Kerry loves the mainstream media…and has contempt for the American people”
Today’s conundrum for the anti-war left - Saddam Hussein offered a $2 million bribe to the UN’s chief weapons inspector to doctor reports on weapons of mass destruction. The weapons he didn’t have. (Hat tip: Blogs for Bush)
Breaking: Brian Nichols is in custody
Rampage - U.S. Customs Agent Found Dead in Atlanta – It seems extremely likely that the killer is the same man who murdered three people in the Atlanta courthouse. It's also extremely likely that this guy can't be reasoned with and is going to go down in a hail of bullets.
Update: The Astute Blogger did indeed comment on the area comparison between ANWR and the Neverland ranch yesterday. Check it out.

Friday, March 11, 2005

More on ANWR – By way of Red State and Ex-Donkey, it looks like the Senate Budget Committee fought back an attempt to strip oil exploration in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from the energy bill. This means ANWR exploration cannot be filibustered and, as a budget provision, only requires a majority vote.
From Occam’s Toothbrush: Putdown of the Week

I run hot and cold with Chris Matthews but sometimes he has a shining moment when he cuts to the quick. Nice one.
An issue Jesse Jackson hasn’t exploited yet: minority horticulturists. Sigh…
Happy 1st birthday to Mass Backwards!
Fat cats in Congress are playing ostrich with Social Security

The Poliblogger doesn’t find the rhetoric on Social Security particularly helpful:

I don’t care if it qualifies as a crisis or merely a problem – how does relabeling it as a ‘non-crisis’ remove the problem? This is simply renaming the issue and hoping that no one notices that the 800 lb rabid gorilla ithat you’ve now labeled a ‘non-crisis’ is still outside the front door, waiting for you to peek out. Naming the gorilla Fluffy does not help you because sooner or later, you still have to poke your head out.
Steven thinks the problem is politicians are ignoring the math and somehow coalescing around the idea that Social Security is still “manageable” – the way a third-grader “manages” a Rottweiler walking through a hot dog forest. (Too much animal imagery – ed.)
On Ebay: The American flag that flew from the crane at the Pentagon after 9/11. The bids are approaching $400K. (Note to seller: was it necessary to use so! many! exclamation points!?! Yes, it’s a piece of American history! But tone it down a little, please?) Hat tip: Say Anything
Is that guy still around? – John Kerry, owner of multiple SUVs that aren’t his, has not been busy installing solar panels to any of his five mansions. But he doesn’t want to drill for oil in ANWR either and he’s going to “call out” President Bush on energy policy. I’m sure Dick Cheney is heaving a heavy, evil laugh at the thought. Kerry’s opportunistic hypocrisy hasn’t escaped the New England Republican.
Backed into a corner – Mort Kondracke: “Expect Mideast foes of freedom to stage violent counterattacks.”
George Will says it’s time to disband the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights citing, among other reasons, “Almost everything designated a "civil rights" problem isn't.”
Matt Hoy has a good Social Security post, attacking Krugman and citing FactCheck (just like I did a couple days ago.)

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Solvency is job #1

It looks like President Bush is shifting gears on Social Security reform. He’s not necessarily giving up on personal accounts and the “ownership society” but it looks like he’s being realistic to the problem at hand:

President Bush rejected any "Band-Aid solutions" that do not permanently solve Social Security's future fiscal problems, switching his focus Thursday from touting personal accounts to the program's long-term solvency.

"We need to solve this issue now and forever. The longer we wait, the worse it gets to solve it," Bush said from the stage of the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts.
When Dubya says “the sky is blue” (i.e. Social Security is on a problematic path) what will the Democrats say in response? There’s no problem with the sky until 2042? President Bush still has the upper hand in this debate because he’s been honest about the need for reform. Personally, I’d still like to see a small optional pilot program for personal accounts. We’ll see.
Coming around

Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe: “The Arab Spring

''IT IS time to set down in type the most difficult sentence in the English language. That sentence is short and simple. It is this: Bush was right."

Thus spake columnist Richard Gwyn of the Toronto Star, author of such earlier offerings as ''Incurious George W. can't grasp democracy," ''Time for US to cut and run," and, as recently as Jan. 25, ''Bush's hubristic world view."

The Axis of Weasel is crying uncle, and much of the chorus is singing from the same songsheet.
Even Jon Stewart worries about ideological implosion.
Social Security crossroads

Robert Novak thinks a compromise plan may be in the works:

[Senator Robert] Bennett's plan would attack the unmistakable Social Security funding deficit by cutting benefits, graduated to hit hardest in upper income brackets. There would be no tax increase. President Bush's proposed voluntary personal accounts as part of Social Security would be written into law but would not go into effect for five years, when George W. Bush would no longer be president.

Hardly a month ago, it was inconceivable that Bush would accept such a watered-down proposal. But now, it is probably the most that can be hoped for. Whether the Republicans declare victory, such a proposal will shape partisan politics into the future.
Watered-down?” This would be a huge victory for President Bush just by establishing the concept of individual accounts (they would start as an add-on with the option to move payroll taxes later) and avoiding a tax increase. Let the Democrats think they’ve scored a win here. In fact, ignore everything I just said.
Right after all - John Hawkins has a cornucopia of pre-war predictions about the long-ranging consequences of elections in the Middle East. An excellent roundup.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Granddad liked his Social Security, dagnabbit

Former Labor Secretary, and failed Massachusetts politician, Robert B. Reich has an article in USA Today that is steeped in mawkish, personal nostalgia yet devoid of any serious discussion on Social Security. Here’s the opening paragraph that would have been crossed out in heavy red marker by any self-respecting high-school paper editor:

My grandfather lost all of his savings in the Great Crash of 1929. He never trusted the stock market after that. But he kept working, and by the time he retired, he had a tiny nest egg. It still wasn't enough to retire on. He and my grandmother relied on the Social Security checks they got every month. Granddad died at the ripe old age of 91.Only years later did I understand that those checks didn't come from Granddad's own payments into Social Security. They came from the Social Security contributions of my father and mother's generation, made during their working lives.
Maw and Paw were thrilled to turn over that money to Grandpa, who would sit in his rocking chair and spin yarns about his life on the farm. And, of course, nothing has changed in the past 50 years since Pappy was smoking his pipe that could diminish those hagiographic memories of egg creams and Ebbets Field.

Sentimental tripe, all of it, without a redeeming passage. Reich should be justifiably embarrassed.
Not big fans

Here’s the Columbia Journalism Review on a certain CNN segment:

Television isn't the medium we usually turn to for in-depth coverage, so when we flip on one of the cable networks, our expectations are appropriately low.

On rare occasions, however, there is TV news so witheringly bad, so excruciatingly empty, it makes us want to gnaw through the cable feed with our teeth in order to escape from it.

CNN's "Inside the Blogs" segment is one such occasion.
Whistling past the Iraqi ballot booth - Q&O fisks the Boston Globe: “Robert Kuttner argues in the Boston Globe that the apparent struggle for freedom that's starting to break out in the Mideast is just a clever illusion fostered by the Neocons. And even if it isn't, it has nothing to do with anything George W. Bush did.” That lucky Chimpster!
Dan Rather skedaddles – I really didn’t have much to add to the whole CBS/Rather/Memogate saga that hadn’t been said better by many others. RatherBiased has been a relentless haranguer and they have their “Last Word” tonight.

Extra: Lorie has some additional thoughts on Dan’s departure. Courage.
Walter Williams details “More Social Security deceit.” Pay special attention to the explanation on how the 6.2% tax your employer pays is really a tax passed on to you.
A dissenting opinion - Kris at Dummocrats has an Amazing Race update

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Amazing Race update – Mucho rapido, por favor

Teams started out from Lima, Peru and hiked over to the bus station to catch a bus to Arequipa, known as the “White City.” The first bus appears to leave at 6:20 but Rob of Team Survivor finds a security guard who tells him a later bus has fewer stops and arrives sooner. Rob then bribes the guard to keep the information secret, but this subterfuge is discovered and the other teams are not amused.

Once in Arequipa, the teams hit the first Roadblock of the Race: one team member must shine five pairs of shoes on the street. Everybody finishes relatively quickly and the ten teams are separated onto two flights to Santiago, Chile.

In Chile, teams make their way to a statue of the Virgin Mary for their next clue, which is a Detour: Shop or Schlep. Teams must make a choice between shopping for a bunch of ingredients for a Chilean recipe (easy, but finding produce could take time) or carrying 180 books to the Library of Congress (strenuous, but straightforward). This one seems like a coin flip in terms of time required to finish. Most of the younger teams carry books eight blocks down the street while the others search for fish and vegetables in a local food market.

Boy, I don’t like Rob of Team Survivor, but the man can stack books. He loads all 180 books onto a handcart and Rob and Amber make it to the Library far ahead of everybody else. The next clue tells them to head to the Pit Stop where they arrive (dammit) as Team #1. They win a trip to the Caribbean where they can enjoy themselves and roll around in the money they won on Survivor. Did you know they were on Survivor? Yes, Survivor, that lesser reality show.

Team America (Ron & Kelly) takes two trips with the handcart but arrive next, followed closely behind by Team Karate (Ray & Deana). With (almost) all the book carriers completed, we get to see the other Teams buying three kilograms of fish. Funny thing: the fish weighed the required 3kg at the market, but at the restaurant it only weighs 2.9kg! More fish! Team Showtunes (Lynn & Alex) are outraged that they were cheated out of a couple ounces and start yelling at the fish mongers. They’re shooed away in a blizzard of Spanish profanity and macho arm-waving.

Anyway, through some taxi misadventures, Team Spicoli and Team Paris & Nicole are bringing up the rear and somebody’s going to be eliminated. The California brothers Brian and Greg haul books while Megan and Heidi (surprise!) play to their strengths and go shopping. It’s always hard to tell who’s really ahead and behind at this point because TAR always tries to keep viewers guessing with video editing. However this time we see both teams pull up in their respective taxis side-by-side at the Pit Stop. It’s a foot race up some steps to a fountain and Team Spicoli edges out the blondes by only seconds.

Final standings – Leg #2:

#1 – Team Survivor – Rob & Amber
#2 – Team America – Ron & Kelly
#3 – Team Karate – Ray & Deana
[five other teams]
#9 – Team Spicoli – Brian & Greg
#10 – Team Paris & Nicole – Megan & Heidi – ELIMINATED

Next week: Rob, who was on Survivor, competes. Other teams may also be present.
Once you learn how to fake sincerity, everything else is easy

Wash Post: “Social Security Stance Risky, Democrats Told - Bush Could Outflank Their Rigid Opposition

"Why has the public not taken out their anger on the congressional Republicans and the president?" they [Democratic pollsters James Carville & Stan Greenburg] added. "We think the answer lies with voters' deeper feelings about the Democrats who appear to lack direction, conviction, values, advocacy or a larger public purpose."
Other than that, they’re a swell bunch!
Images from the Cedar Revolution

As more than 70,000 Lebanese thronged Beirut in the largest demonstration against Syria and its president, Bashar Assad, since protests began last month, Syrian soldiers drove east yesterday from the Lebanese mountain posts they have held for decades. But no deadline was set for their complete withdrawal.

Boston Globe story here. Something’s going on in all corners of the world (hat tip: Instapundit).
From the WashPost: "Mideast Strides Lift Bush, But Challenges Remain"

Monday, March 07, 2005

FactCheck: False attacks over “windfalls” to Wall Street

New information turned up by shows that the type of private Social Security accounts being proposed by President Bush would yield very little profit to the securities industry, contrary to persistent claims of a potentially huge "windfall" to Wall Street.

What we have discovered is that the model for Bush's accounts -- the Federal Thrift Savings Plan for federal workers -- actually paid securities firms a net total of only 16 cents for every $10,000 in workers accounts. The TSP had refused to make that information public -- until now. It shows that fees actually being paid to Wall Street are hundreds of times smaller than some critics had assumed.

For that reason and others we find that ads run in Louisiana by the liberal Democratic group Campaign for America's Future are grossly misleading. The group is accusing Republican Rep. James McCrery, who is chairman of the Social Security subcommittee and a supporter of Bush's private accounts, of "corruption" for accepting campaign donations from Wall Street, which it falsely claims will "profit most" from private accounts.
Read the full analysis. The “Wall Street fat cats” angle has always been cynical demagoguery aimed to denigrate personal accounts. What does it matter if financial firms take a small fee as long as they return a profit far and above the paltry payback Americans receive with Social Security? I’ll take my chances with Wall Street, along with the millions of workers who put their faith into 401(k)s.
Lileks on the “all your money are belong to us” crowd – “This is the lamest argument I’ve heard for the do-nothing-ever-nowhere-anytime approach that seems to characterize the opposition these days, but at least it tells you where some opponents of private accounts reside. It’s not Social Security they love, I suspect, it’s what it represents. It’s not socialism as they’d like, but it’s all we’ve got. In their vision of society, all obligations to one another are equal – at least that’s the presumption from which their ideas flow.”