Tuesday, May 31, 2005

From breadbasket to basket case – Another (short) article on the downward spiral of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Let’s not forget about the impending famine in North Korea, either. Hmmm…I wonder what these two governments have in common?
Too soon? Never!Patrick Ruffini has started the “2008 Wire” to complement the Decision 08 blog. My guess is that Hillary is a shoo-in for the nomination in 2008 because the Democrats are now a party running on the fumes of nostalgia.
Fifteen minutes of fame stretched over three decades - After milking it for thirty years, Woodward and Bernstein confirm W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat. I hate those guys (mostly the media whore Woodward) because they’re held up as the exemplars of journalism. Well, hell, I could win a Pulitzer too if I had a deputy director of the FBI feeding me critical information. Unfortunately, there's no chance these guys will shut up. I guarantee they'll be on "Meet the Press" Sunday.

Follow-up from the Corner: “Credit the Today show for having on a very feisty Pat Buchanan and Chuck Colson this morning to balance out the huzzahs for Vanity Fair and Mark Felt. Buchanan ended by saying Woodward and Bernstein ended up as "stenographers." Matt Lauer felt compelled to tout them for having kept the Deep Throat secret for decades. Why wouldn't they keep the secret? It's been a celebrated multi-millionaire's life for those two since Watergate, and the Deep Throat thing was a juicy part of the legend.” My thoughts exactly.
Wither Europe - Mark Steyn on the sparkle and fade: “The big story of the past three decades is that the more it's mired itself in the creation of a centralised pseudo-state, the more "Europe" has fallen behind America in every important long-term indicator, from economic growth to demographics. "Europe" is an indulgence the real Europe can't afford. The followers recognise that, even if the leaders don't.” Don’t worry, those leaders know what’s best for Europe no matter what the people say.
The sociology of Scrab3b3le

I’m halfway through a book titled “Word Freak: The Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius of World Competitive Scrabble Players” about the misfits who memorize seven-letter words to compete in Scrabble tournaments. NY Times columnist John Tierney uses these word nerds as examples of why men will go to lengths to succeed that women will not in “The Urge to Win.” Interesting analysis, except it doesn’t nearly go far enough to describe the insular subculture of men who sit around challenging each other with anagrams.
Losing the battle, winning the war

Despite the CATO-funded Zogby poll showing a majority of likely voters in favor of President Bush’s overhaul of Social Security, I’m skeptical that an agreement can be reached in Congress where the filibuster-crazed Democrats will surely block reform. The best we can hope for is another band-aid measure that shifts the bulk of the problem to a future Congress.

But while legislators squabble over arcane details such as the taxable wage cap, it looks like President Bush is digging into the Democratic base. From the Baltimore Sun – “Bush could draw voters through Social Security debate - GOP hopes to attract young, minorities even if plan flops”:

Bush is increasingly targeting his Social Security push to minorities and younger people - groups that disproportionately vote Democratic - in efforts to reap electoral benefits for Republicans even if he ultimately fails to enact his proposal.

Bush and party strategists hope to draw such voters to the Republican Party with a plan marketed and calibrated to appeal to them. They are betting that the president's central themes in the Social Security debate - allowing more Americans to take charge of their retirement security and fixing a system that shortchanges those who can least afford it - will win over new investors and minority groups that rely most heavily on the program.

Even if the measure collapses, some Republican officials and backers of the president's plan say, Bush could win what would be a more far-reaching victory.
Part of the problem with Social Security reform is that the system is not yet in crisis. But once younger workers realize that the National Ponzi Scheme will collapse just as they’re about to retire, they’ll embrace reform and – perhaps – the Grand Old Party.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

From the White House:
On Memorial Day, we honor the men and women in uniform who have given their lives in service to our Nation. When the stakes were highest, our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen answered the call of duty and made the ultimate sacrifice for the security of our country and the peace of the world.

Throughout our Nation's history, members of the Armed Forces have taken great risks to keep America strong and free. These proud patriots have defended the innocent, freed the oppressed, and helped spread the promise of liberty to all corners of the earth. In serving our Nation, they have been unrelenting in battle, unwavering in loyalty, and unmatched in decency. Because of their selfless courage, millions of people who once lived under tyranny now are free, and America is more secure.
The planes from Westover Air Reserve Base are flying overhead this morning. God bless our troops.
Low turnout but democracy nonetheless - “Candidates loyal to Hariri sweep election”: “Candidates loyal to the son of assassinated politician Rafik Hariri swept the first Lebanese election largely free of Syrian domination, claiming all 19 parliamentary seats in Beirut, results showed Monday.”
Dollar gains - Euro drops to seven-month low after French reject EU constitution.
Malicious hatred – From South Africa’s Jon Qwelane in “Run Osama Run! ”: “I had definite feelings on 9/11 because I felt the way those towers were attacked was gross. I am not so sure anymore, and America needs to seriously question its brand of "morality". ” I was so angry, I flushed two Korans down the toilet.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Satisfying on so many levels

Do you know the haughty French? The cheese-eating surrender monkeys who are constantly haranguing the United States for our unilateral, self-interested policies? Today they overwhelmingly ignored urgent pleas by Jacques Chirac to give up their sovereignty and rejected the EU Constitution. So Chirac is humiliated, the worldly French are exposed as selfish hypocrites, and Europe will continue to have little leverage over the U.S. economy. It’s all good.
Victor Davis Hanson reviews liberal MSM bias, the irrelevancy of Air America, and the rise of the blogs in “High Noon for High News” – check it out.
The inevitable John McCain - The Sunday morning lineup

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Chief Justice Antonin Scalia? – The Senate considered the conservative justice such an ideologue that they only confirmed him to the Court by a vote of 98-0. Take that! (Hat tip: Polipundit)
Quiet here...low traffic and not a lot of blogs updating elsewhere. I guess everybody's taking it easy this weekend.
Publius Pundit surveys the Bizarro-world injustice of Indonesia where a pot-smoking surfer girl (maybe) gets twenty years in prison, while the Bali bomber gets thirty months. With lots of Australia links.
A little help?

When I read this story: “London’s Big Ben mysteriously stops ticking” I was reminded of some movie where terrorists (?) make a demand of the British government and, to signal that they’ll pay a ransom, the Brits made Big Ben ring 13 times. Anybody have the foggiest what I’m talking about? Or is it another false memory?

Follow-up: Thanks to the New England Republican, who correctly noted it was from the James Bond movie "Thunderball" and Big Ben had to strike 7 times at 6' o'clock.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Udderly adorable

The cow and I : A woman rests on a cow-shaped bench in Hanover during the 30th Church Day organized by the German Protestants.
Viking women are best – Sweden tops the world in “sexual equality”; the United States is #17 in terms of providing pay and opportunity to women.
Let’s turn that frown upside down!

OK, enough of that. I’m home from work and I’m gonna mow the grass now that it’s finally stopped raining. Then I’m going to have some Sam Adams Cherry Wheat and watch a sporting event of some kind. Maybe poker.

In the meantime, here’s the always fantastic P.J. O’Rourke (I have all his books, even “Bad Haircut”) in a tax we can all support – “Soak the Celebrities

America's media and entertainment industry has a gross (as it were) revenue of $316.8 billion a year. If we subtract the income derived from worthy journalism and the publishing of serious books, that leaves $316.8 billion. Surely this money can be put to a more socially useful purpose than reportage on the going forth and multiplying of Britney Spears.
P.J. suggests a celebrity tax of 100% indexed up. Heh-heh.
The second term blues

From the Boston Globe – “Bush’s sputtering second term”: “This can’t be the way George W. Bush and Karl Rove imagined the president's second term would go. Less than seven months after Bush won reelection, strengthening his party's hold on Congress as he did so, the president has hit a wall with his domestic agenda.”

Clearly, some of the President’s problems stem from an obstreperous minority party in the Senate (the House of Representatives seems, ironically, more orderly.) I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that when the only tool you have is a filibuster, it gets used a lot.

But I’m most disappointed about Bush’s efforts to do something to reform Social Security: he simply has not managed to move the ball on this issue. To be fair, he has raised the profile of Social Security’s pending insolvency and the message appears to have reached a lot of younger Americans, who overwhelmingly favor reform. But a hard core of Americans who actually vote (the seniors) are opposed to any change, even though it doesn’t affect them. Meanwhile, the Democrats are content to bury taxpayers under the crush of entitlement spending for temporary political gain.

Maybe I set my expectations too high. I fervently and hopefully believed that when Americans looked at the numbers (2 – 3 = negative fun!) they would accept that reform is necessary, sooner rather than later. But, just like the Senate filibuster deal, it’s so much easier to kick the can down the road.
How to stop a nomineeRequest classified documents and cry foul when they’re not provided.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

My sentiments exactly

Here’s Jayson on Polipundit:

You know, slightly off topic, but the Democratic Party really has disintegrated over the past 25 years. Hell, they used to run this country like the Tsars in Mother Russia.


They’re trying to keep a bunch of liberal college and grad school students all frothing at the mouth over the UN Ambassador. The UN Ambassador!!!

Sheesh, indeed. Sheesh, indeed.
What the hey?

Man, I’m just baffled by the Democrats’ filibuster of John Bolton’s nomination to the United Nations. For some reason, I assumed that filibuster fatigue had set in, but the Dems appear to be committed to “obstruction forever.”

Since I thought that breaking the logjam on a handful of judicial nominees was a “small-v victory” for the Republicans, I have to come down on the side that this was a small-d defeat. Ultimately, Bill Frist has to be able to deliver on the most basic kind of chore such as getting his President’s administration choices through the Senate. (Rumor has it that Frist had a deal with Harry Reid, and Reid – unsurprisingly – broke his word.) There hasn’t been an executive branch block of a nominee since John Tower and that was to be Secretary of Defense (what? fifth in line to the Presidency?).

That’s why I find the filibuster of John Bolton bizarre: it is so small potatoes. The Democrats can’t credibly assert that after months of investigations and hearings that they need still more information. It’s just obstruction and pettiness now.

Well, I need to review some of the blogs for reaction. Smell you later.

Update – Steve at Pardon my English has the right idea.

Extra – Dr. T over at Poliblog has very similar thoughts: “However, this is a remarkable amount of energy to put forth to block a nominee to an office that ultimately isn’t as important as the Democrats (and Republicans) have been making it out to be.”
Another decade, another economic scapegoat

Robert Samuelson says we should stop pinning economic woes on India and China in “Sputnik scare, updated”:

The Sputnik syndrome is an illusion. It transforms a few selective economic happenings -- a satellite here, a Toyota there, poor test scores everywhere -- into a full-blown theory of economic inferiority or superiority. As often as not, the result is misleading. We are now going through this process with China and India.
But in the end, the future is in our hands alone:

On being overtaken, history teaches another lesson. America's economic strengths lie in qualities that are hard to distill into simple statistics or trends. We've maintained beliefs and practices that compensate for our weaknesses, including ambitiousness; openness to change (even unpleasant change); competition; hard work; and a willingness to take and reward risks. If we lose this magic combination, it won't be China's fault.
Blame Canada!
Democrats block Bolton’s nomination to useless debating society

As someone who believes this country is about to go into a tailspin because of the crush of entitlement spending, I cannot believe the Senate is still debating whether or not to elevate John Bolton to that feckless collection of do-nothing empty-suit polyglots known as the United Nations. What next? The ambassador to Luxembourg? The undersecretary of state for South American tariff policy? It’s just the United Nations! Enough already, just vote.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

We could be chillin’ like ice-cream fillin’ – Mark Coffey assembles the Coalition of the Chillin’. Prof. B. provides the logo. Cool.
Even the Boston Globe admits

Bush and Frist got what they wanted

What does the vaunted compromise actually do? First, it guarantees an up-or-down floor vote on three of the most reactionary judges ever to come before the Senate: Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor, and Priscilla Owen. It was Democratic resistance to these appellate nominees that caused Frist to go nuclear in the first place. He and George W. Bush won. The three judges are now likely to be confirmed, and other extremist nominees will keep coming.

Second, the deal commits the GOP to relent on the plan to scrap the filibuster, but only for now. Frist is free to revive the nuclear option any time he likes, say, when the first Bush nominee to the Supreme Court comes before the Senate. Frist can hold this threat over the heads of Democrats, who are committed to minimize the use of filibusters.
Extra – Here’s Linda Chavez: “As in any compromise, neither side got all that it wanted, but conservatives clearly came out ahead.”

Follow upThe Senate confirmed Owen, 56-43

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Whoopi loves anatomical metaphors

From the NY Post’s Page Six:

Whoopi Goldberg is still mad at the Democrats. Goldberg, who was renounced last summer after making a lame double entendre about George W. Bush at a John Kerry fund-raiser, told Air America's "Politically Correct" host David Bender: "My party abandoned me. There's no other way to say it: they put their tails between their legs and they ran. I've closed my eyes to the party. I haven't turned my back on them, but I no longer feel comfortable saying that I feel like I'm represented by them. Until people can stand up for what's right in the face of whatever is flying at you, nothing is going to change."
If I remember correctly, another kind of anatomical reference got Whoopi in trouble at that Kerry fund-raiser. Oh, and speaking of Air America, the latest Arbitron ratings are out and the lefty network continues to tread water.
Reform Lite – Business Week believes that a low-grade Social Security reform plan may be in the works, sans personal accounts.
All my Republican brethren: chill

When even the NY Times calls the Senate deal “a modest victory for Bush” you really should calm down a little.

I never thought the nuclear option would go to a vote, so “losing” this vote seemed like a very minor setback to me. The GOP gained three up-or-down votes and the Democrats gained…what? The opportunity to (maybe) filibuster a Supreme Court justice. It’s a small-v victory for the Republicans, that's all.

John Podhoretz had two good posts on the Corner today: “Don’t turn a victory into a defeat, part I and II.” Also, John Hawkins has a good review of reaction on the Left along with commentary. Meanwhile, good ole Ryne McClaren has reactions from the conservative blogs and Scott Elliott has some positive thoughts of his own.
The filibuster deal – An unbelievably comprehensive media roundup on How Appealing
Greatest Senator Splunge headline ever

From Joan Vennochi in the Boston Globe: “The Caveat Emperor”:

At this point it comes as no surprise. John Kerry is releasing all his military records -- but then again, he isn't.

During an interview yesterday with Globe editorial writers and columnists, the former Democratic presidential nominee was asked if had signed Form SF 180, authorizing the Department of Defense to grant access to all his military records.

''I have signed it," Kerry said. Then, he added that his staff was ''still going through it" and ''very, very shortly, you will have a chance to see it."
Or not. You see they need to find one of those 9x12” envelopes and then there’s the question of how much postage…you understand. (Eh, Mark is better at this kind of low volume ridicule. Have at it!)
Ben Bradlee – a paragon of journalistic integrity

Former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, who supervised Woodward and Bernstein through Watergate, had some harsh words for Newsweek recently. From Editor and Publisher: “Ben Bradlee criticizes Newsweek on sourcing debacle

Ben Bradlee, former executive editor of The Washington Post and a onetime Newsweek D.C. bureau chief, criticized the news magazine for taking too long to retract its recent, inadequately sourced Koran-abuse item. He added that under certain circumstances he would reveal a source who lied to a reporter and came out against single-source stories, in a conversation Monday with E&P.
Why in his days, Bradlee would never stand for such journalistic malfeasance! Unless, of course, you’re trying to bring down Nixon:

It calls to mind the highest achievement of modern journalism, which as we all know was Watergate. If you read the self-encomium by Woodward and Bernstein--"All the President's Men"--you will discover, after the confessions of tampering with a grand jury and illegally obtaining telephone records, the story of a very bad day for our heroes and for their editor Ben Bradlee. WoodBern had run a front page story that day, and by noon they had been ravaged by Nixon's Press Secretary, Ron Nessen, who denied it all and called them liars and frauds. They checked with the Delphic Oracle, then plying his trade under the pseudonym "Deep Throat." He confirmed Nessen's claims. The story was wrong. The Post had lied. So WoodBern went to Bradlee, who wrestled with his conscience and quickly won: "F**k it," he said, "let's go stand by our boys," and he wrote an editorial reasserting the Post's confidence in the story.
That and more transgressions against Bradlee’s Washington Post are also recounted here. The more things change, Ben?

Monday, May 23, 2005

The aftermath

Very mixed reviews over at Polipundit
They’re apoplectic over at Blogs for Bush.
The Bulldog Pundit is losing it over at Ankle-bite Pundits
Professor B. thinks that “if threatening to abolish the filibuster blew out the logjam, well done.”
David Wissing’s thoughts are close to mine: “Details are still coming out, but it appears Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor will get floor votes. Saad and Myers will not, but it wasn’t clear if they would get 50 votes anyway.” True, but if Myers and Saad have problems (e.g. Myers has little bench experience) the Democrats should have made that case and allowed a straight vote.

I guess the question of “who won” hinges on whether or not you think this compromise somehow codifies the previously unknown concept that a judicial nominee needs 60 votes to be confirmed instead of the previous standard of a simple majority. I don’t think it does and, in fact, makes it much more difficult for Democrats to filibuster in the future since they run the risk of alienating the moderate GOP deal-makers, who could throw up their hands and vote for the nuclear option if the obstruction continues unabated. The terms of the agreement couldn’t reasonably bar inoffensive conservative judges from the bench (nor would it stop the elevation of Scalia or Thomas) without risking charges of bad faith.

Essentially, the Senate is at the same position as before except three nominees will get an up-or-down vote. It’s a minor, if temporary, win for the Republicans.
Half a loaf? Or lipstick on a pig?

Boy, see what happens when you take a break to watch 24? I’m getting caught up on Fox News and Bench Memos but at first glance, the grand Senate compromise to avoid the rules change only kicks the can down the road. (Let’s see how many metaphors I can squeeze into this post!) After months and years of left-wing vituperation, Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, and William Pryor will get their up-or-down votes. After that, who knows, but it looks like the Democrats have retained their invented “right” to filibuster judicial nominees.

But can they use it again? By signing on to use the filibuster only in “extreme” circumstances, the Democrats need to tread carefully. For example, if Dubya decides to elevate Antonin Scalia to the Chief Justice position, how could they block a Supreme Court Justice approved by a 98-0 vote? If the Democrats continue to use the filibuster indiscriminately, it will make them look (more) petty and obstinate.

As I’d noted several times before, I never believed the Democrats would allow the rules change to come to a vote. They would always seek to retain the filibuster. The question is whether the Republicans gave up too much in Constitutional principle for a temporary vote.
Oh, that’s a really useful field of study - Scientists say they have located the parts of the brain that comprehend sarcasm
Football Fever - After reading Friday Night Lights, this surprises me not one whit.
A bridge too far

Robert Novak has the inside scoop on the judicial filibuster saga and puts the blame for the GOP backlash on my senator, “Splash” Kennedy:

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Senate's 73-year-old liberal lion, has orchestrated a solid Democratic front that has succeeded beyond all expectations. It has kept 16 Bush nominees off the appellate bench, some permanently. But Kennedy went too far. Had he blocked two or three judges, the reaction would have been modest. Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, hardly a fire-eating Republican, told the Senate Friday that the nominees are being "held hostage as pawns in a convoluted chess game that is spinning out of control."

If the Daschle-Kennedy power play had been intended to intimidate the Republicans regarding the Supreme Court, it had the opposite effect. Sen. Gordon Smith, a moderate Oregon Republican who had been a "qualified" backer of the "nuclear option" as late as Tuesday, went to the Senate floor Thursday to declare unqualified support.
Novak hints that there will be no compromise because the fight is really about the next Supreme Court justice; the Republicans insist on an up-or-down vote while the Democrats maintain the right to filibuster anybody they find “extreme.”

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Howard Dean on MTP

Mark Kilmer has a review and Captain Ed liveblogged the show. As for me, I was baffled by Dean’s insistence (several times) that “We need more than one party in charge.” Call me crazy, but maybe the Democrats should try winning some elections.

And I could have written Dean’s response on the Social Security question: always criticize the President’s plan first, offer no solutions, but insist that you’re willing to “come to the table.” Sure, whatever.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

How to destroy a nation

Zimbabwe was once an exporter of food to southern Africa, thanks in part to white-owned farms formed during British colonization.

Starting in 2000, Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe allows pensioners and squatters to seize the farms. Some farmers are beaten and killed. The number of white farmers in Zimbabwe drops from 4,500 to 400 today.

Agricultural production plummets and now Zimbabwe needs to import food.

Farms are failing, people are starving, the economy is a basket case. What do you do?

Invite the white farmers back.

White farmers evicted by Robert Mugabe's government have reacted with contempt to an offer that they should return to Zimbabwe to take part in "joint ventures" with those who brutalised them and stole their land.
Simply unbelievable. BTW, isn’t this the plot for Atlas Shrugged? Please, John Galt come back and save our farm!

Extra – Jane Galt (how appropriate!) has some additional input on Zimbabwe’s spiraling economy.
Another pundit declares: “Frist has the votes

David Brooks slams the mushy moderates in Congress in today’s NY Times and writes about the prospect of a rules change to overcome Senate filibusters of judicial nominees:

Positions will probably harden over the weekend, making a deal less likely tomorrow. The minority leader, Harry Reid, told a small group of us Friday he was cautiously optimistic that he had the votes to defeat the nuclear option, but I think he's wrong. John McCain, Lincoln Chafee, John Warner and maybe Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe will vote against the nuclear option, but none of the other Republicans are likely to. Bill Frist has the votes.
Boy that’s a thin margin but after two days of debate the GOP seems a little emboldened while it appears to me that it’s the Democrats scrambling for a way out. The problem for the Democrats is that they simply cannot take the chance of Bill Frist calling a vote and blocking a filibuster of a future Supreme Court nominee.

Therefore, I’m going to make a prediction: next week when there’s a cloture vote on Priscilla Owen’s nomination, at least six Democrats will vote to stop the filibuster and allow an up-or-down vote. Same with Janice Brown. Harry Reid will publicly express disappointment but secretly he’ll be relieved that the concept of the judicial filibuster will live on for another day.

Friday, May 20, 2005

100% Fun - Band to Band

It’s like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon but for music fans. Match two bands together by musicians and collaborators.
Cover confusion

I consider myself pretty well versed in music trivia, so imagine my surprise when I heard "You Better Run" on my satellite radio, sung by the Rascals. It was a #20 hit for them in 1966. All this time, I thought it was originally done by Pat Benetar!

Also on XM: they played Queen's #1 hit "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" then said it was originally done by Elvis! Oh, man, I'm going to have to check ITunes later for that one. Crazy.
Won’t come back from Dead Man’s Curve Meet the Press ?

From the American Spectator Washington Prowler:

"We're not far from the talk of dumping [Howard] Dean becoming action," says a knowledgeable Democratic operative, who has worked on both Capitol Hill and at the DNC. According to this source, none other than Democratic loyalist [James] Carville, as well as other senior Democrats, have been talking about how to blunt Dean and get a more positive message and messenger out into the public eye.
Howard will be on Meet the Press this Sunday where Russert is sure to review some of the DNC chair’s intemperate remarks.
Ted Kennedy then and now on judicial nominees, via Radioblogger - "We owe it to Americans across the country to give these nominees a vote. If our Republican colleagues don't like them, vote against them. But give them a vote." That was a “then” quote, natch.
Fair and balanced media alert - When I saw the title of this Boston Globe editorial – “Ignoring the Rules” – I figured there would be little “pox on both your houses” talk. Nope: it’s all the Republicans fault for bringing the Senate to the edge of a Constitutional crisis. The only remarkable thing about the editorial is the sheer impossibility of its existence had the roles been reversed.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

GOP has 51 votes – So says Chris Matthews, according to Ankle-biting Pundits. Further: “He [Matthews] says the reason for the negotiations continuing is to allow the Dems a face-saving way out so the trigger doesn't have to be pulled.” That sounds very much like my analysis.
We get it - Is there anything more tiresome than Andrew Sullivan’s stream of self-indulgent “nobody hates torture more than me” posts? Ace has it exactly right.
Social Security roundup

Time/Warner CEO Richard Parsons writes there’s “A real opportunity to fix Social Security
Two economists, Professor John Shoven and Peter Orszag find some common ground on the stark choices facing Social Security and Medicare.
And the Democrats’ tactics are laid bare in “The Lessons of Wexler's Plan For Social Security” and “Wexler's Social Security plan has some Dems complaining.”
Why Islam is disrespected – Here’s Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe: “Christians, Jews, and Buddhists don't lash out in homicidal rage when their religion is insulted. They don't call for holy war and riot in the streets. It would be unthinkable for a mainstream priest, rabbi, or lama to demand that a blasphemer be slain. But when Reuters reported what Mohammad Hanif, the imam of a Muslim seminary in Pakistan, said about the alleged Koran-flushers -- ''They should be hung. They should be killed in public so that no one can dare to insult Islam and its sacred symbols" -- was any reader surprised?”
Who says the Democrats are childish? - Bill Frist cheats at tic-tac-toe and rock-paper-scissors. Duke sucks.
Jobless claims down – “The number of new people signing up for jobless benefits dropped sharply last week, offering an encouraging sign for the health of the labor market.” I blame yadda yadda yadda.
Edging back from the precipice

A couple weeks back, David Wissing asked readers to send in guesses on when the nuclear/Constitutional option vote would be taken and what the outcome would be. He refused to take a guess of “never” so I didn’t enter the contest. But I still doubt there will be a rules change for two reasons:

1. Bill Frist will not call the vote unless he’s absolutely certain he has 50 votes, and there’s no indication he does. Three Republicans have already stated that they’ll vote against the rules change, so Frist can only lose two more defectors. Does he want to gamble and risk a humiliating defeat in the Senate? Nope. I’d like to believe Mitch McConnell that “Frist has the votes” but I’m not convinced.
2. Harry Reid can’t take the chance that the GOP does have the votes. The rules change would emasculate the Democrats’ ability to stop nominees to the appeals courts and, more importantly, to the Supreme Court. The Democrats will do everything in their power to prevent a rules change vote; get ready for a flurry of compromises if a vote is scheduled. The problem with all the “deals” thus far is that they seek to codify that judicial filibusters are acceptable, which is something that the Republicans won’t agree to.

IMO, the Democrats have more to lose here. If the rules change is defeated, the GOP can at least claim they stood on the principle that judicial nominees deserve an up-or-down vote as the Constitution decrees. Meanwhile, the Democrats will enjoy the pyrrhic “victory” of their obstructionism in keeping highly qualified candidates (according to the ABA) off the federal bench. If the rule change passes, however, the only thing the Democrats will have is a political issue for 2006. I seriously doubt that the issue of Senatorial rules will resonate with many Americans beyond the MoveOn wackos. Furthermore, I think Americans incensed by the end of judicial filibusters will be more than counterbalanced by voters heartened to see nominees receive a fair vote. Do the Democrats really want to head into yet another election with the strategy of ginning up anger in their base? Aren’t the rank-and-file Democrats utterly fatigued by the whole “stolen” 2000 election narrative by now?

Therefore, the Democrats simply cannot roll the dice by allowing the rule change to come to a vote. My guess is (as Mickey Kaus outlined ) that some Democrats will break away from the filibuster and vote for cloture, thereby sidestepping a rule change showdown. We’ll see.

Extra: The two-year journey to the nuclear/Constitutional/Byrd option. Also, the Poliblogger takes a critical look at Harry Reid’s half-truths and outright lies.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Security high for new Star Wars movie

Unfortunately, the old “You don’t need to see our tickets” Jedi mind trick didn’t work.
Scenes from the former bread basket of AfricaMugabe admits he needs food aid to rescue Zimbabwe: “President Robert Mugabe yesterday abandoned his confident forecasts of a bumper harvest in Zimbabwe and confessed that international food aid was needed to avoid famine.”
Judicial fight updates – Be sure to bookmark Bench Memos and Confirm Them
The likely Constitutional option – From the WashPost: “But the scenario most widely expected among senators in both parties is that he would seek a ruling from the chair -- Vice President Cheney, if it looked as if the vote was going to be close -- that filibustering judicial nominations is out of order.”

The Republicans would probably want to keep Cheney out of sight, if possible, to indicate that the Senate’s Constitutional option is separate from the disinterested executive branch. Maybe I’m extrapolating, but it appears from this passage that the WashPost believes the rules change is a done deal.
Fiskus Maximus – Matt Hoy lays down a brutal fisking of the New York Times and its highly disingenuous editorial on judicial nominations.
We can no longer afford this system

Robert Samuelson has long been been a Cassandra on crushing burden of entitlement spending, but you have to applaud his tenacity. Americans don’t want to hear their benefits need to be cut, so they ignore him. Politicians don’t want to pass unpopular reforms, so they dismiss him. But he gets right back up again! Good for him.

Anyway, Samuelson writes today that the only possible way to fiscal sanity is to raise the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare in “Retirement at 70.”

By 2030 spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (which provides nursing home care) is projected to almost double as a share of national income (gross domestic product). Holding federal spending constant -- again as a share of GDP -- would mean eliminating almost 50 percent of the remaining spending on non-retirement programs. If we paid for higher retirement spending with taxes, we'd have to raise taxes at least 30 percent and, including today's deficits, as much as 50 percent. To me, neither outcome is desirable. If you agree, then the only alternative is to cut retirement benefits. Baby boomers can't be excluded, because they're the people getting older. We need to prod them to work longer -- and to mix work and retirement -- by reducing the subsidies that encourage earlier retirement.

These proposals will be seen as harsh, even cruel. They aren't. People who reach 62 or 65 or 70 have no automatic claim on their juniors. Why should a couple in their thirties with two children, car payments and a mortgage subsidize the retirement of a couple in their mid-sixties with no mortgage, whose children are long gone, who could still work and who have had a lifetime to save for retirement? The only answer is that older couples expect to be subsidized (in part because they've spent their lives subsidizing their elders) and will be furious if they aren't. But that is a political explanation and not a moral or social justification.
By advocating personal accounts, President Bush is trying to break this cycle of dependency which cannot be sustained because of the demographic shift that will occur when the entire country has a worker-to-retiree ratio similar to Florida’s.

Extra: Scott from Election Projection adds “Raise the Retirement Age.”
Sully smackdown by the Instapundit: “But, I confess, I find the question of what Andrew thinks less pressing than I used to.” Heh-heh. Me too! RWN has additional thoughts.
DNC chair: “DeLay is guilty, guilty, guilty!”

But let’s give Osama the benefit of the doubt:

"I've resisted pronouncing a sentence before guilt is found," [Howard] Dean said during the 2004 Democratic primary campaign. "I still have this old-fashioned notion that even with people like Osama, who is very likely to be found guilty, we should do our best not to, in positions of executive power, not to prejudge jury trials."
Oh, Howard! You're a present all tied up with a bow.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Just like Fight Club - Ryne McClaren: “And, as always the first rule of criticizing the MSM is that you mustn't criticize the MSM.”
And I wore an onion on my belt…which was the style at the time – Over at Volokh, there’s a lot of confusion over Justice Stevens dissent in the Supreme Court’s wine-selling case.
Making it up

From “Breaking the RulesThe Framers intended no more than a Senate majority to approve judges”:

Many people question whether changing the rules to allow only a majority vote for confirmations is proper, or even constitutional. However, the text of the Constitution, the record of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and Supreme Court decisions all concur to show that the Constitution intended no more than a majority “vote” for the Senate’s “Advice and Consent” for judicial appointments.
What the Democrats lack in legal foundation or historical precedence, they make up for in petulance and demagoguery.
Let’s not forget about Social Security

Nothing we haven’t heard before but here’s Mort Kondracke with “Democrats can’t just criticize on Social Security”:

One Democrat after another adopted the line that Bush plans "deep cuts" in Social Security benefits "to pay for private accounts" and that practically every retiree will suffer losses through the combination.

But the "deep cuts" notion ignores that fact that, under current law, benefits will automatically be slashed by at least 27 percent for everyone in 2041, when the Social Security system is expected to go bankrupt. Bush's plan will slow the rate of increases in benefits for many retirees to keep the system solvent, and will allow younger workers the chance to invest part of their Social Security taxes in private markets to lessen the losses.
And House Ways and Means chair Bill Thomas claims that Bush has already won the Social Security debate by convincing Americans there’s a real problem:

Thomas' comments, coming as he begins to write legislation, reflected his frustration that individual investment accounts have dominated the debate. Bush proposes letting workers divert one-third of the payroll taxes that pay retirees' benefits into such accounts. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, and other opponents argue that would put retirement savings at risk.

Without change, Social Security will begin paying out more in benefits than it collects in taxes by 2017, according to the Social Security Administration. Projections show that it will deplete its reserves by the middle of the century. By 2079, it will be able to pay only 68% of promised benefits.
The problem, of course, is that too many Americans look at 2079 and say: “I’ll be dead. Gimme mine now.”

Monday, May 16, 2005

Rolling Stone is for poseurs

I picked up Spin magazine today (Trent Reznor on the cover) and they have a bunch of music lists. I thought this one was particularly good:

Five good bands that are difficult to Google:

1.) !!!
2.) The Music
3.) A
4.) The The
5.) X
Blast from the past – I’ve done a mini-update of my Smarter Harper’s page. I’m going to try to give this at least a minimal amount of attention once again.
Shocker - Social Security reform coverage overwhelming negative
USA Today: “The Constitution is bunk

Two-hundred years of history and tradition? Feh!

In our view, a qualified nominee within the judicial mainstream ought to be able to attract at least a handful of Democratic or independent votes, in addition to the 55 Republican votes. That is not an unreasonable standard for lifetime appointees whose rulings often establish important precedents.
Yeah, funny thing is we have this document called the Constitution that clearly enumerates the very issues that require supermajorities in Congress. Maybe some of the things in this 215-year old document are out-of-sync with modern times. Happy day: we can change the law if we like! But until that day, we’re governed by the laws as they stand now. USA Today is correct in that it would be nice to draw support from some of the politicians across the aisle; it’s quite another thing to claim that the Constitution should be amended (or simply re-interpreted) that a judicial nominee now requires a 60-vote majority. Shame on them for trying to conflate the two positions.
Attention voters of ME, OH, NB, AK, KS, PA, & VA - There’s no point in me contacting Drunk Ted or Senator Splunge, but you can call your Senator and politely persuade him/her to vote to override unconstitutional judicial filibusters.

Here’s some background: “Why Republicans can’t let the judicial filibuster succeed” and Bill Frist’s USA Today article “It’s time for an up-or-down vote.”
Oops, I did it again

I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that a career in teaching is an easy or less-than-noble pursuit (see post and comments below) – and I don’t think I did. However, I do believe that an education in engineering is a much better preparation for the demands of the 21st century than, say, philosophy. Here’s an excerpt from an interview that “The World is Flat” author Thomas Friedman of the NY Times gave to Wired magazine:

Short of Washington fully embracing the Friedman doctrine, what should we be doing? For instance, what advice should we give to our kids?
When I was growing up, my parents told me, "Finish your dinner. People in China and India are starving." I tell my daughters, "Finish your homework. People in India and China are starving for your job."
Plus, a lots of them speaks English gooder than us.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Stereotype alert – For Pentecost, my church had a combined service with the local Chinese church. And since it’s the weekend before graduation, they asked all graduating seniors to come up to the front and say their names, majors, and plans for the future. Almost all the Chinese students were receiving engineering degrees; the Caucasian kids were getting degrees in philosophy (two!), political science, education and such. Sigh.
Whoops-a-daisy - Newsweek apologizes for Quran story: “Newsweek magazine Sunday apologized for a May 9 report alleging U.S. interrogators flushed the Quran down the toilet at Guantanamo Bay, a claim that had prompted attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Gaza Strip that left 15 dead and scores more injured.”

You just know that this story will live on forever.

Follow-up - Told you so: "Muslims skeptical over Newsweek back-track on Koran" (HT: Little Green Footballs)

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Our friends the Saudis

They’re sending suicide bombers to Iraq - “Martyrs in Iraq mostly Saudis”:

Who are the suicide bombers of Iraq? By the radicals' account, they are an internationalist brigade of Arabs, with the largest share in the online lists from Saudi Arabia and a significant minority from other countries on Iraq's borders, such as Syria and Kuwait. The roster of the dead on just one extremist Web site reviewed by The Washington Post runs to nearly 250 names, ranging from a 13-year-old Syrian boy said to have died fighting the Americans in Fallujah to the reigning kung fu champion of Jordan, who sneaked off to wage war by telling his family he was going to a tournament.

In a paper published in March, Reuven Paz, an Israeli expert on terrorism, analyzed the lists of jihadi dead. He found 154 Arabs killed over the previous six months in Iraq, 61 percent of them from Saudi Arabia, with Syrians, Iraqis and Kuwaitis together accounting for another 25 percent. He also found that 70 percent of the suicide bombers named by the Web sites were Saudi. In three cases, Paz found two brothers who carried out suicide attacks. Many of the bombers were married, well educated and in their late twenties, according to postings.
"While incomplete," Paz wrote, the data suggest "the intensive involvement of Saudi volunteers for jihad in Iraq."
In a telephone interview, Paz said his list -- assembled from monitoring a dozen Islamic extremist Web forums -- now had more than 200 names. "Many are students or from wealthy families -- the same sociological characteristics as the Sept. 11 hijackers," he said.
And inciting hatred right here in America:

Saudi Arabia has long been generous to Muslims in America. Not only does the House of Saud supply funding to build mosques in the United States, but it provides a wealth of religious literature to stock those mosques' libraries and study halls. What does that literature say? Representatives from the human-rights organization Freedom House spent a year sampling Saudi-supplied literature at mosques in major American cities, and encountered a variety of troubling texts. Among other things, Muslims are urged to avoid befriending Jews and Christians; to treat their time in the United States as they would a trip behind enemy lines; to revile Sufism, Shia, and other non-Wahhabi variants of Islam; to rob and inflict violence on Muslims who engage in homosexual acts; and to kill Muslims who convert to other faiths. The usual anti-Semitic slurs are recycled (The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, for instance, is treated as a historical document in Saudi-donated textbooks), and many of the publications urge that women be required to wear veils and banned from various jobs. The report allows that most of these documents were supplied in the 1980s and 1990s, and that the government of Saudi Arabia claims to be "updating" its books and study materials. But the researchers add that the titles in question remain "widespread and plentiful" in the United States, and continue to be used in the education of Muslims here.

"Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Invade American Mosques," Freedom House
Sunshine is the best disinfectant.
NASCAR update - Kasey Kahne just won his first Nextel Cup race tonight, after six second-place finishes over the past two years. Good for him.
Rock the boat

Here’s John Hawkins: “Just the record, I like John Bolton, I think he's EXACTLY the type of guy we need to send to the UN, and I do expect him to be confirmed by the Senate. The UN is a corrupt, bloated, moral cesspool/debating society and we need someone who's going to push for change, not a "go along to get along" type of UN rep. It's time to take off the kid gloves with UN and Bolton is just the guy to do it.”

I strongly agree (big surprise, I know). Fifty years of glad-handing and tea luncheons has brought us Oil-for-Food, sexual abuse in Africa, inaction in Darfur, and the high farce of Zimbabwe on the Human Rights commission. Let’s start banging some shoes on the table.

[Banging his shoe on the table] “Order, order! Do you kids wanna be like the
real U.N., or do you just wanna squabble and waste time
?” – Principal Skinner
As you like it - Bin Laden henchman ‘seriously wounded’:

Iraq’s most wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has been seriously wounded, according to a doctor who claims to have treated him last week.

The doctor told an Iraqi reporter in the western city of Ramadi that Zarqawi was
bleeding heavily when he was brought into hospital on Wednesday. After treating his wounds the doctor tried to persuade him to remain, but the Jordanian-born terrorist’s minders drove him away.

The claim was supported yesterday by a senior commander in the Iraqi resistance who had been to Ramadi to investigate the report. The doctor, who refused to specify the nature of the wounds and asked not to be identified, was detained by the Americans on Friday for questioning, residents said.
From the Times of London, which is somewhat more reputable than the usual sources on “Osama’s capture” or such.
Democrat offers plan; fellow Dems angered and confused

I chuckled at the wording of this AP story – “Democratic congressman offers first Social Security fix”:

Breaking with party leaders, a Democratic congressman plans to introduce Social Security legislation, saying his first commitment is to his constituents.

Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., said Friday: "I have the largest amount of Social Security recipients of any Democrat anywhere in the country. My allegiance to seniors is greater than my allegiance to the Democratic Party."
And how did the House minority leader respond to this maverick legislator?

Wexler said he had twice spoken with Pelosi about his plan. While he would not reveal her reaction, he said, "It would be wrong to assume it was a receptive conversation."
Bwahaha!!! And here’s more from B4B.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Bolton can’t get hired for the UN and Annan can’t get fired

From Fox News - Annan didn’t disclose key meetings: “U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan did not initially tell investigators in the Oil-for-Food probe that he met twice with representatives of his son's employer as the Swiss company began soliciting United Nations business.”

[Costanza] “Was that wrong?” [/Costanza]
This Caddyshack quiz is a fraud. Lacey is Judge Smails’ niece, not the Bishop’s. Anyway, I got 13 14 out of 20.
Western Massachusetts update

The Pentagon’s list of base closings has come out and Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee is losing 13 jobs at the Army Reserve Center, but picking up an additional 80 jobs, possibly because of the closing of Otis Air Guard Base on Cape Cod.
Breaking news from Scrappleface: “Pension Bailout OKd for United Airlines, Social Security
A comical inversion of the facts

Charles Krauthammer writes that the rules change to overcome the filibuster of judicial nominees is not radical, but a suitable response to unprecedented obstructionism – “Nuclear? No, restoration”:

Two hundred years of tradition has been radically and unilaterally changed by the minority. Why? The reason is obvious. Democrats have not had a very good run recently in the popularly elected branches. Since choosing the wrong side of the culture wars of the 1960s, they have won only three of the past 10 presidential elections. A decade ago they lost control of the House for the first time in 40 years, and now have lost all the elected branches. They are in a panic that they will lose their one remaining ability to legislate -- through the courts.
I sincerely hope that the Republicans take what some have called the “Byrd option” or the “constitutional option” but frankly I’m skeptical that they have the votes, no matter what Mitch McConnell might say. Hope I’m wrong. Bring on the recess appointments.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Dramatization -- may not have happened” – We have reports of heavy Simpsons references from Damian Penny and Bizblogger.
Noted without comment - Connecticut prepares for first execution in 45 years

Update: He dead.
From USA Today - "You will not see Democrats in the Senate go forward with an effort that unravels the safety net," says Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a Finance Committee member who has said he wants to work with Republicans to modernize Social Security.”

Whatever, dude.
Who has the money?

I fear I may have been a little insensitive towards workers at United who have seen a good chunk of their pensions disappear when I launched into a Social Security post yesterday. I understand that these workers put their faith into a pension program and (probably) could not have foreseen this event. My point was that workers and retirees cannot count on pension programs or Social Security since they can disappear due to the vagaries of corporate mismanagement and legislative fiat, respectively. Let’s face facts: the workers at United would have been better off if the money channeled into pension funds was instead placed into personal 401(k)s. Which is why this paragraph from today’s NY Times is so baffling:

The United debacle also holds a broader lesson about retirement security. The level of risk that exists in pensions and other retirement savings plans has no place in the core tier of retirement savings, Social Security. If lawmakers and policy makers are not yet convinced of that, they should talk to the people at United.
Huh?!? Social Security is already well past a “level of risk” – it’s on course to go bankrupt in the exact same manner as the United pension fund. That’s the opinion of both the Social Security trustees and the Congressional Budget Office. Investors Business Daily has this issue dead to rights:

Another lesson pertains to Social Security reform. With $13 trillion in unfunded liabilities, Social Security's problems dwarf PBGC's. Yet, it's pretty much the same deal: Workers have been promised everything, but there's not enough money to pay for it all. Key Democrats in Congress argued Wednesday this underscores the need to keep Social Security as it is. Just the opposite, we think.

Workers whose retirement plans are taken over by the PBGC see retirement benefits slashed by as much as 50%. The same thing will happen to today's workers in Social Security.

Letting workers invest Social Security taxes in private accounts — ones they actually own, with real money in them — would guarantee they don't end up like the unfortunate employees of United.
Up for sale on EbayAmber’s backpack from The Amazing Race
Finally, a compelling reason to reject John Bolton

He’s a cyborg:

I was an early bird when I worked at the American Enterprise Institute. So was John Bolton. It seemed that no matter how early I arrived -- I could be at my desk as early as 5:00 a.m. -- John's office, which was at the end of the corridor from mine, was already open, ready for business. This reminds me of a conversation between two young AEI staffers. One said she wondered whether John Bolton ever slept. The other claimed no one had ever seen him eat. I did see him order an English muffin once at a breakfast at the Mayflower Hotel, but I can't say he ate it.
And he was always asking if you knew Sarah Connor. But despite three additional weeks of intense investigation, critics have come up empty. Here’s David Brooks in “A turning tide for Bolton”:

The momentum has shifted on the Bolton nomination because John Bolton turns out to be a more complicated figure than earlier portrayed. It's become clear that earlier tales of him chasing women down hallways are unreliable. It's become clear that while he's abrasive, he is professional. If Senator George Voinovich reads these transcripts before he votes, I'm sure Bolton will be confirmed.
And today’s Washington Post comes out, tentatively, for Bolton:

On April 19th the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unexpectedly postponed a vote on the nomination of John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, citing concerns that he had engaged in a pattern of abuse of subordinates and manipulation of intelligence. Three weeks of further digging, mostly by Democratic committee staff members, have not produced evidence of such a pattern. The committee ought to give Mr. Bolton a vote today. Ours would be an unenthusiastic, deference-to-the-president yes.
Get ready for a lot of sound and fury by committee Democrats today, signifying nothing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A sign of things to come

Great post over at Ankle-biting Pundits about how “United Airlines bankruptcy offers preview of Social Security”. Under the bankruptcy agreement, pension benefits will be cut by 25% for UAL retirees:

"It's a hammer blow to thousands of retirees who will have to somehow make do with lower pension checks. The promises United made to them are worthless," said Joseph Tiberi, a spokesman for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
Exactly, Mr. Tiberi. Those promises are worthless, mainly because there's no money with which to pay them. Reminds me of another large scale retirement program.
Indeed, except that defined benefit program is currently estimated to see 27% benefit cuts, rising eventually to 35% below the *cough* “guaranteed” benefit.
The Amazing wrap-up

Let’s tidy up some loose ends:

First, it looks like Joyce’s hair is coming back in:

Here’s a good recap of the final episode from USA Today.
Pat at Brainster has his Amazing Race review, and let me clarify something: although I had heard the rumor about wagering on Uchenna & Joyce, I had nothing to do with the heavy action from Massachusetts.
Lorie is happy for her team and wonders if Team Africa was required to pay the cabbie (hard to find confirmation on that one.)
The Television without Pity TAR forum is hot with conspiracy theories that the producers held up that early plane to Miami so that Team Africa could get on.
Finally, I’m getting a lot of Google hits for “Amazing Race” and “prize” or “prizes.” As far as I know there’s only the top prize of $1 million for the winning team, although I’m sure that all the teams receive a stipend for traveling and such. As for prizes handed out during the Race, I recall that Team Friends Forever got a flat $20,000 in the first leg, Team Karate got a pair of SUVs, Team America got a $20,000 voucher for Travelocity (they can use it on their honeymoon!). And Team Survivor racked up I think four separate trips to the Caribbean and such.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Amazing Race update – Team Africa wins the Race!

TAR recap: Peru, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Botswana, India, Turkey, England

The final three teams started out from London, England and made way for Kingston, Jamaica and Frenchman’s Cove for the next clue. Of course, the first direct flight doesn’t leave for hours and hours, so all the teams are bunched onto the same flight. This gives Team America a long stretch to bicker and Ron makes it clear that he’s not ready for marriage. Kelly weeps and smudges her makeup. Oh well.

At Frenchman’s Cove, teams hit the first Roadblock and this is a creative one. One team member has eight chances to limbo under a limbo bar; the lower the person can limbo, the earlier they can depart from the beach the next morning. All the women (Joyce, Amber & Kelly) do this one; Amber & Kelly get an 8:15 departure and Joyce goes to 8:30am.

After a night on the beach, the teams head off to Grant’s Level and the next clue. Detour: Raft It or Build It. Teams must either go down a river eight miles on a bamboo raft or build a bamboo raft and simply cross the river for the next clue. All teams decide to build a raft but only Team Africa decides to wear work gloves as they hammer together bamboo and tie wire around the bamboo. Yet again, here’s another great task for Team Survivor since Rob is a construction worker and built a raft on Survivor. Maybe there will be a coconut-eating contest later. Anyway, the next clue informs teams to head to the Pit Stop at Montego Bay.

All three teams finish the tasks and take taxis to the Pit Stop - and all three taxis need to stop for gas. Then, past the gas station, there’s a random police check and Rob & Amber are pulled over. (Karma! It’s karma!) Team Africa and Team America race ahead of them, laughing all the way. But then a couple miles down the road, Uchenna & Joyce’s taxi gets a flat tire and they need to stop. (Reverse karma!) Back on the road, all three teams are taking different paths to the Round Hill Hotel and it’s anybody’s guess who will arrive first.

It’s Team America as Team #1, followed seconds behind by Team Survivor. Team Africa arrives a moment later as the last team…but…it’s the final non-elimination leg of the Amazing Race so they’re still in the competition.


#1 – Team America – Ron & Kelly
#2 – Team Survivor – Rob & Amber
#3 – Team Africa – Uchenna & Joyce – NON-ELIMINATION LEG

Second half: teams start out from Jamaica in the final leg in the race for one million dollars. They start out for Lucea where teams must pick up a sack of onions and take it to a restaurant and chop ‘em up. Ron & Kelly refuse to share a taxi with Team Survivor then tell their driver not to call up a driver for them. Because they came in last, Team Africa has no money and it’s impossible for them to beg money or find free transportation in the middle of the night. At one point they’re talking to some ambulance drivers but they can’t help. Eventually they find a kind soul who takes them to the airport where they can beg for cash.

Rob & Amber arrive first and start chopping up 50 onions. Ron & Kelly arrive soon afterward and we hear that Kelly isn’t used to chopping things – shock. Meanwhile, poor Uchenna & Joyce can’t seem to find anybody in the airport willing to give them a couple bucks. (Side discussion: it seems that teams are allow to say they’re “in a race” but not that they’re in “The Amazing Race.” Hmmm…) Eventually, they scrape up $40 and find a driver to take them to chop onions. Meanwhile, Team Survivor finishes their task and head to Rose Hall and the next clue.

At Rose Hall, both Team Survivor and Team America arrive together. Detour: Pony Up or Tee it Up. Teams must either take horses into the water and allow them to swim around a buoy or hit golf balls until they land one ball onto a small green. Both teams decide to tee it up and they must take turns until they hit the green. Everybody sucks, but Rob hits the green and Team Survivor receives the next clue telling them to head to San Juan, Puerto Rico. However, they arrive too late to catch the early flight despite their pleas. Rob disgustingly says something like “my mother's sick” then “this could change my life.” Yes, winning another million dollars changes everything. Putz.

Team Survivor makes the first flight to San Juan and Team America is on a flight three hours later. Rob & Amber are shown arriving in Puerto Rico just as Uchenna & Joyce are arriving at Rose Hall to tee it up. Team Survivor finds the next clue and must drive themselves to a sugar refinery. The teams are really splitting up now with Team Survivor way ahead and Team Africa way behind.

No matter! The sugar refinery doesn’t open until 7:30 in the morning so all the teams are bunched up again and it’s a brand new race. In the morning the teams race into the refinery to a Roadblock: one team member must jump off a 35 ft. high bridge then swim to a buoy. Ron jumps for Team America, then Uchenna for Team Africa. Inexplicably, Team Survivor gets lost finding the bridge and for the jillioneth time this episode we hear Rob say “This could have cost us a million bucks.” He’ll fill that in as his catchphrase on the application for “The Amazing Race – All Stars.”

Teams must now travel to Miami, Florida and find the Rickenbacker Causeway for the next clue. On the drive to the San Juan airport, all the teams are together again. Ron & Kelly take a wrong turn and the sniping starts up. Meanwhile, Team Survivor and Team Africa both book an 11:15 flight to Miami but somehow Rob finds out there’s a flight boarding that very moment and he and Amber race down to the gate. Son of a....they get on the flight.

But wait! Back from commercial, they move the gangway back to the plane and let Uchenna & Joyce on! Rob says “this sucks” but not “that may have cost us a million dollars.” With Ron & Kelly on the later flight, it looks like it’s a race between these two teams. At the causeway in Miami, teams find the next clue and must head to Little Havana and find the “King of the Havanas.” Team Survivor gets bad directions and are sent to a corner 14 streets past the right location. Team Africa find the Cuban cigar store right away and are instructed to head to the finish line.

Best moment: Rob is looking for the King of the Havanas and sees a sign with a crown. Oh, no, it’s the Tire King.

Team Africa is racing to Fort Lauderdale and the finish line but they don’t have enough cash to pay the taxi driver. Uchenna starts begging people as they’re driving (leaning out the window) with little luck. When they arrive, they need to pay the driver as they are standing right outside the finish line. Team Survivor is catching up…but Team Africa is still a couple bucks short. Finally the cab driver gives them a break and they sprint into the park and to the finish line.

After an agonizing amount of time, Team Africa races to Phil and arrives as Team #1 to win the Amazing Race. They’re really ecstatic and Uchenna gushes in tribute to the other teams assembled; Joyce is weeping yet again. All the other teams are thrilled to death that it wasn’t Team Survivor and Rob & Amber receive a smattering of applause as they arrive as Team #2. Team America arrives as Team #3 and Kelly brings up marriage again in front of a speechless Ron.

Final standings (as predicted!)

#1 – Team Africa – Uchenna & Joyce – WINNERS of THE AMAZING RACE 7
#2 – Team Survivor – Rob & Amber
#3 – Team America – Ron & Kelly

Great race – see you next time.

Extra – Kris has her final TAR7 analysis. Hey Kris, it’s been great working together!
Amazing Race 7 finale tonight – “Karma can only be portioned out by the cosmos!*

I’m probably going to set up my laptop and type for two hours straight tonight, so let’s do the season review & predictions now.

First, here are all my recaps in order: episode one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.

And, lest we forget, here’s how the teams have finished up so far:

#11 – Team Redneck – Ryan & Chuck
#10 – Team Paris & Nicole – Megan & Heidi
#9 – Team Friends Forever – Debbie & Bianca
#8 – Team Mom/Son – Susan & Patrick
#7 – Team Karate – Ray & Deana
#6 – Team Spicoli – Brian & Greg
#5 – Team Showtunes – Lynn & Alex
#4 – Team Codger – Meredith & Gretchen

Which leaves the final three:

Team Survivor – Rob & Amber
Team Africa – Uchenna & Joyce
Team America – Ron & Kelly

Prediction: Let me just state for the record that, despite the presence of Team Survivor, this has been a great season of the Amazing Race. The competition has been phenomenal with some genuine “race to the mat” moments, unbelievable locales, and some really interesting race dynamics. The last five episodes (since Team Karate got the boot) have been awesome.

I think tonight’s game is going to come down to karma: Team Survivor has had too much good luck and Team Africa too little.

I’ve been annoyed throughout the season at the sight of Rob & Amber, not least of all because they’ve already won a million dollars on a reality TV show. Throughout the Race, they’ve capitalized on their celebrity in a way no other team could. Several times, they’ve managed to get star-struck bystanders to abandon their lives for a day and guide them through a task. As a result they’ve come in first place four times and every time they’ve received a prize for their top finish.

Meanwhile, look at Uchenna & Joyce. First of all, they both lost their jobs at Enron and WorldCom and they’re having trouble conceiving. But they’ve pulled it together as a team and came in first place twice. The first time was after Joyce had to shave her head – no bonus prize. The second time they were #1, Ron & Kelly won a $20,000 Travelocity prize after coming in last.

There must be cosmic realignment. There must be justice. Therefore my prediction is as follows:

Winner of the Amazing Race 7 – Team Africa – Uchenna & Joyce
#2 - Team Survivor – Rob & Amber
#3 – Team America – Ron & Kelly

In case I’m too overloaded to update my post tonight, be sure to check Dummocrats, Brainster’s Blog, along with TAR fans Lorie Byrd and David Wissing.
Driving the liberals stark-raving mad

I’m going to have to check out the Democratic Underground in the wake of this news:

A lawsuit seeking to force Vice President Dick Cheney to reveal details about the energy policy task force he headed and the pro-industry recommendations it made was scuttled Tuesday by a federal appeals court.
De-nied! Thank heaven for those conservative judges.
But how much of that is Ted Kennedy’s bar bill? – Wizbang compares how the political parties match up with regard to privately-funded junkets.

Monday, May 09, 2005

100 days

Let me jump the gun a little and congratulate PoliPundit for keeping the pressure on John Kerry to sign his Form-180. As Mickey Kaus noted: “Once upon a time an embarrassing promise like Kerry's might have been forgotten until the next campaign. Now he's nibbled to death by blogs.” There is no escape, Senator Splunge!
Update your blogroll - The underrated Spartacus has moved. Why not add Viking Pundit while you're at it?
A fisking on nuk-u-lar power

From the Boston Globe: “Why nuclear power is not the answer”:

President Bush is once again playing word games that mask a deeply flawed energy policy. The chief proponent of ''clear skies," a legislative assault on essential pollution protections in the Clean Air Act, is now advocating for ''safe, clean nuclear power" as a way to curb our dependence on foreign oil.
- People in glass houses shouldn’t throw around “scare quotes” and misleading statements while condemning “word games.” The author would have you believe that Bush has advocated nuclear power as a replacement for foreign oil when he knows that the President has promoted nuclear in the broader context of energy independence and security.

Bush would have us believe that new nukes could be a panacea, ending our dependence on foreign oil while preventing emissions of perilous greenhouse gases whether or not the president admits there is such a thing as ''global warming."
- It’s hard to pack this much falsehood into once sentence outside of a Paul Krugman article. Bush has not called nuclear energy a “panacea”, has not claimed that it will end our dependence on foreign oil and nuclear energy will prevent emissions of greenhouse gases. Then there’s the dismissive snort of the enviro-religious who will not brook any debate on the certainty of climate change.

Few Americans would think to use the words ''safe" and ''clean" to describe an industry whose high-level radioactive wastes sit in temporary storage at dozens of operating and decommissioned plants across the country, with experts still unable to agree upon an adequate means of long-term disposal.
- Would you rather have nuclear waste contained in water tanks or dispersed throughout the atmosphere? Radioactive isotopes from coal-burning plants pose a much greater radioactive threat than nuclear waste.

There are also economic reasons for looking skeptically at nuclear power. Over the course of the last 50 years, billions of taxpayer dollars have been showered upon the nuclear industry, and it still remains only marginally profitable. The energy bill that the president is now pushing would authorize major expenditures on new reactor designs while providing free federal insurance protection in the event of a power plant disaster. If nuclear power is so safe and clean, why is this extraordinary level of government buffering needed?
- Note that non-specific “billions” over a half-century. A quick search on Google reveals this report and table from the Department of Energy which reveals that natural gas has been the largest recipient of energy subsidies, in both tax credits and R&D while nuclear has received funding only in research and development (presumably for safer reactor designs.) Furthermore, Bush’s nuclear power initiative spends $1.1 billion over seven years while (the questionable investment into) renewables suck up $1.9 billion. Ask California if they’re willing to spend that money to avoid rolling blackouts.

Assuming the president is serious about advancing a more environmentally sound energy agenda, he will need to revisit his opposition to known and practical ways of cleaning up our nation's coal-fired power plants. Rather than looking enviously toward France, with its 78 percent dependence on nuclear power, he should take responsibility for our own power sector, which is 51 percent dependent on coal. That coal, if burned in state-of-the-art facilities, can meet much of our electricity needs for the coming generation at much lower environmental cost than the antiquated behemoths that today are allowed to belch out millions of tons of uncontrolled sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere.
- Dubya’s on it: “Technology also allows us to use our most abundant energy source in a smart way. America as enough coal to last for 250 years. But coal presents an environmental challenge. To make cleaner use of this resource, I have asked Congress for more than $2 billion over 10 years for my coal research initiative. It's a program that will encourage new technologies that remove virtually all pollutants from coal-fired power plants. My Clear Skies initiative will result in more than $52 billion in investment in clean coal technologies by the private sector. To achieve greater energy dependence, we must put technology to work so we can harness the power of clean coal.”

Cleaning up coal-fired power plants also calls for creative measures to reduce those plants' emissions of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas targeted by the Kyoto Protocol. Faced with the Bush administration's refusal to ratify the protocol, the governors of 10 Northeast states have begun to advance their own Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. This flexible ''cap-and-trade" program, if done right, will scale back carbon dioxide emissions through a flexible diet that will include retooling conventional power plants, investing in energy efficiency, and tapping renewable energy like wind and solar.
- Bravo! This Northeast consortium will surely counterbalance the CO2 output of, say, China, which is not covered by the Kyoto Protocol.

To ease our transition from fossil fuels over the coming decades, cleaner-burning natural gas is a vital resource. Ensuring a safe and adequate supply of this fuel is no small challenge, however. We need to advance a responsible process of gauging the actual need for new gas supplies and evaluating sites for import facilities. Offshore terminals as well as remote onshore sites need to be rigorously examined.
- Way to hedge your bets. We need natural gas but we obviously can’t do any of those terrible things to actually obtain the gas such as drill into the earth.

Looking beyond fossil fuels, we need to provide real incentives for renewable energy technology. If wind energy were a priority, we would see industrial-scale facilities cutting into fossil fuel-based power production throughout the nation. These and other renewable resource-based facilities could achieve what has already been attained in Denmark, where wind energy alone provides close to 20 percent of the nation's electricity.
- The United States has been pouring money into renewable energy for over 30 years and they still don’t add up to 1% of our total energy output. If we’re really serious about renewable energy, we would accept the fact that, just like burning fossil fuels, they require sacrifice.

To be sure, renewable energy has its flaws. Solar can be costly; wind can mar pristine landscapes and ocean horizons; and hydro dams can disrupt fish habitats. But if sited carefully and operated intelligently, each can contribute substantially.
- We can hope the wind blows and the sun shines, intelligently and substantially, of course.

A ''safe, clean" US energy policy will also require a major investment in the right forms of transportation. Accessible and affordable public transit is our best antidote to car-dependent sprawl. Governor Mitt Romney should be held accountable for longstanding, unfulfilled transit commitments made in connection with the ''Big Dig" highway project.More hopefully, several states in the Northeast including Massachusetts are advancing ''clean car" regulations that echo the tough emission standards pioneered by California's Legislature.
- There are no nuclear-powered cars.

A bright energy future that offers cleaner air and lower costs to consumers while standing against the rising tide of global warming is possible. But we must act now, pursuing multiple avenues for innovation and investment rather than single-technology panaceas.
- What an oxymoronic mess. We should pursue multiple avenues for energy independence, except for nuclear which is safe, reliable, and emits no greenhouse gases. Great plan.
Draw the line on payroll taxes

Today’s editorial in USA Today urged a rise in the retirement age to stave off the problem of Social Security’s solvency in “As lives get longer, benefits should come later.” But it also served as an important reminder on some critical facts:

Government of and for the retired. Forty cents of every federal dollar spent go to a retired person. That includes Social Security, Medicare and benefits for retired government workers. This amount, about $800 billion, is almost 10 times what government spends on education at all levels from Head Start to post-doctoral fellowships.
A heavy tax burden on workers. The amount of benefits paid annually is more than 4,000 times what it was in 1941. To pay for these soaring benefits, the tax rate has been increased 22 times, taking it from 2% to 12.4%.
The new workforce. Many economists see healthy people ages 65 to 75 as the nation's biggest untapped resource. Currently, 12% of those older than 65 are in the workforce. If that number rose to just 25%, about 4 million jobs would be added to the economy, producing $360 billion a year in economic output.
Look at point #2: benefits have risen sharply over the years and payroll taxes have skyrocketed to keep pace. From Rome to modern day, history has proven time and again that when the tax rate becomes too burdensome on the populace, widespread tax evasion follows. To meet the level of promised benefits, it’s been estimated that payroll taxes will have to rise to 18%. Will younger Americans meet this burden when they have no guarantee the system will be around for them in the future? Unlikely.