R.T. Rybak has a blog

Good news for local politics: rtrybakformayor.blogspot.com/

I have more at Blogumentary.

The Pulse blog has some good articles critical of the mayor's performance.

Mr. McBoBo

Hey Kids, it's Mr. McBoBo!



Something that could be interesting to find out in the near future would be why $9 billion is unaccounted for in Iraq.

A lot to like, miles to go before they sleep

There was a lot to like about today's election in Iraq. The images of legions of Iraqis lining up to vote in the face of sucide bombers was certainly inspiring. That is the call of freedom and self determination, no doubt about it.

It would be a good idea to but the bubbly on hold, however. Let's do ourselves and America a favor, shall we? Let's not have an orgy of self-congratulation. Let's not have a "Mission Accomplished" moment. Let's have a moment of clarity.

First of all, let's give credit where credit is due. Grand Ayatollah Sistani deserves enormous praise for mobilizing popular support in favor of elections. He did so in defiance of the Bush Adminsistration orginal plans to plant Achmed Chalabai as puppet in chief. Later, Sistani sent thousands of protesters to the streets last year after Bush canceled the impromptu elections that were springing up. Both Juan Coleand Swopa over at Needlenose have excellent posts on this topic.

As usual, Bush was dragged kicking and screaming into doing the right thing (think 9.11 commission) and now will make political hay over the outcome.

The other fact that should not be drowned out in an excess of boosterism, is that while overall turnout was impressive, it was primarily Shiites and Kurds. The Sunnis appeared in much lesser numbers. It is to be hoped that they will reappear in peace as the newly elected government shapes itself. But the insurgency is rooted with the Sunnis. It is far too early to tell whether or not the election inflamed tensions or eased them. We do not know if this was the first step towards civil war or the first step towards a peacful, free and democratic Iraq. Let us hope for the latter.

All in all, I think it's a day to praise the Iraqi people, who despite being pounded to death by the hammer of the occupation and the anvil of the insurgency, bravely stood up and were counted.

Christopher Albritton's summary on Back to Iraq seems apropos:

Which is why, several of us journalists here are going to call this elections for the Iraqis. My friend Mitch and I were discussing this and regardless of who wins in the polls, the Iraqis won here and proved themselves—for a day, at least—stronger than the insurgency. And that's a very big symbolic victory. A huge one, in fact, and Iraqis should take great pride in themselves. When they had the opportunity, they stood up and were counted. The real losers were the Sunnis who didn't participate. They missed a golden opportunity to take part in a process that, while flawed, were the only game in town. I don't know what's going to happen next, and a civil war may still erupt, but if it does, the elected government—one elected by Shi'a and Kurds, for the most part—will have the moral high ground in it.

Historic Day

Iraq the Model: "Take a look today to meet the model of courage and human desire to achieve freedom; people walking across the fire to cast their votes."

Pictures from the polls

CNN: Iraqis vote amid violence

Amazing. I hope this day is a turning point. A day that finds Iraqis proud to begin taking over their country, and a day that finds terrorists increasingly isolated. I also hope this day won't provide fuel for the Bush Doctrine to expand into Iran.

Wishful thinking?

Plenty stupid

Mark Schmitt (the Decemberist) catches our illustrious governor calling MinnesotaCare "welfare healthcare" in an effort to turn the program into yet another Republican wedge issue.

He puts it better than I could:

The game of how-to-do-things-with-words continues: Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has apparently started referring to the state's health care program, MinnesotaCare, as "welfare health care." With this ugly tag, he hopes to win support for cutting the program. Less than 1% of the program's participants are actually welfare recipients, however. This is a program for working people.

A former legislator who designed the program put it well: "To the extent that there is welfare at play, it is the government bailing out employers who fail to provide this essential health insurance benefit to their employees."

This is truly disgraceful. If you want to know why welfare reform was not a total disaster, it is in fact because of programs like MinnesotaCare. In the past, government health care (that is, Medicaid) was largely limited to people on public assistance. The expansion of that and other programs to cover working people made it far easier to enter the workforce without losing health coverage.

I don't see how anyone could denigrate these programs unless they had a truly pathological hatred of anything that is public, governmental, or collective. And I suppose that's the answer.


Johnathan Miller reports that John Hinderaker said that it was "pretty clear" that "the Left has lined up behind the terrorists."

I don't think it's out of line to say: Fuck you, asshole.


Uh oh.

The US's free ride on deficit spending might coming to an end: China Has Lost Faith in Stability of U.S. Dollar, Top Chinese Economist Says at World Forum.

Asian central banks have been subsidizing Bush's deficit spending by buying up lots of bonds. If they stop doing that, the economic consequences will be severe. The US will need to bring its deficit under control, quickly. Expect pressure to cut social spending to accomplish that.

Godspeed, Iraqis

Tomorrow's the big day for Iraq, the elections. My thoughts are with the Iraqis who are struggling for a better, more peaceful future for their country.

It is also a crucial time for the US. A successful election is the best chance we have to extracate ourselves from the Iraq debacle. Peace with honor, wasn't that the phrase?



Cheney Kickin' It Live At Auschwitz

Oh, poor Dick... what were you thinking?

But seriously, folks... lay off the guy. It's hard to stay warm when you've got no heart.

[via TGAHWPI, Atrios, everywhere]


Wingnut Welfare, part 3

Another one!How many more?

I want a public outpouring of shame from everyone who voted Republican. This practice is disgusting.


I see that Hugh Hewitt is coming to town, so I decided to post this after all.

Hewitt Links to right wing payola bloggers

This is a snatch from Hewitt's blogroll. He links approvingly to two South Dakota bloggers who took payola from the Thune campaign without disclosing it. The first mention of the payola I can find on his site is in reference to the Kos pseudo-scandal.

Ironic, isn't it, that Hewitt didn't seem to care when it was a conservative blogger with disclosure problems.

Don't cross TCF

TCF is removing advertising from another publication: the City Pages.

CP published a followup to their earlier story about the Nick Coleman/Powerline feud called TCFU. In response, TCF pulled advertising from the weekly: "Given the extremely mean and dispiriting articles that your paper is printing about TCF (latest article titled "TCFU"), we are not going to advertise with your paper."

Damn, it's getting to be quite the thing. What do I have to do to get added to the TCF "enemies list"?

TCFU brings CP readers up to speed on the controversy, generated in part by their earlier article, which prompted my earlier post on the subject. As we noted here, parts of Coleman's anti-Powerline rant were totally accurate, like that Scott Johnson blogs at work. Johnson refuses to comment, but the evidence at this point is incontestable. Local blogger Mobjectivist applied some Perl-fu to the question of when Johnson posts his right wing missives:

I also believe I have the right to find out when The Big Trunk blogs. The following is a table of all blog posts made by The Big Trunk since Powerline started. He has posted over 3400 times since the middle of 2002. Over a fifth of his posts occur during what most consider banker's hours (9 AM to 5 PM). Remember that the Big Trunk is Vice President in charge of TCF National Bank's legal affairs.

Why, then, does Bill Cooper deny this? Mike Mosedale writes, "When contacted by City Pages, Cooper said he had checked into the matter of Johnson's blogging routine and found that the Big Trunk--Johnson's blogging nom de guerre--'didn't do any of this at work.'" Riiight.

But who cares? As CP notes, "Even by the least charitable view, Johnson's transgressions amount to nothing more than a garden-variety case of on-the-job internet slacking, which is a near-universal feature of the modern American workplace." I'd wager that nearly everyone who (1) has internet access at work and (2) has a blog has posted occasionally on their blog from work.

The over-reaction comes from Bill Cooper and TCF. Businesses can use their advertising might however they choose. But they shouldn't expect to be regarded neutrally when they throw their weight around politically.

No on Gonzales

Human Rights Watch: How Did We Get Here?

A novel plan to end the deficit

In Political Animal's comments, Felix Deutsch proposes a novel solution to the US's deficit troubles:

Around 2018 the war crimes/treason trial against GWB and other ranking members of the Bush admin will conclude with convictions for everybody.

Punishment will be public flogging, to be pay per view broadcast around the world. The beatings will continues until the deficit is gone.

End government propaganda

Two third-tier conservative pundits on "Wingnut Welfare". How many more are there?

Bush has called for a stop to the practice. (What about using Video News Releases and TV commercials? Will that be prohibited, Bush?) Meanwhile, House Democrats introduced the Federal Propaganda Prohibition Act which would make the prohibition of propaganda a permanent part of Federal law and require all federal PR contracts be disclosed to Congress.

I want to hear someone tell me this law isn't necessary. I want to hear someone tell me this law is a bad idea. You will be mocked, mercilessly.


Off Topic: Monopod, Monopod, Monopod!

I want to get a monopod so I can take better pictures with my digital camera. It has manual settings for up to ISO 400-equivalent, but the pictures are far more noisy than ISO 400 film. It takes the best-looking photos at its ISO 100-equivalent setting, but these are blurry except under the best stabilization/lighting conditions.

Does anyone have any recommendations? I already have a tripod. I want something lightweight that I can carry around with me all the time, and possibly also use with my film SLR. I have read the Photo.net page about monopods but if you've got anything to add, I'd love to hear it.

The Bush budget: Sell out and go broke fighting

Bush budget alarms GOP, angers Dems.

This caught my eye:

The CBO deficit estimate doesn't include at least $350 million in emergency aid the administration pledged for relief efforts after last month's tsunami in southern Asia.

It also omits two of Bush's domestic priorities: adding private investment accounts to Social Security and extending tax cuts, which could add several trillion dollars to the long-term deficit.

Say what? The US deficit and economic policy is already seen as a threat to the global economy. The projected deficit is the largest in US history. The dollar has dropped 35% against the euro in the last 4 years. Something like 86% of US debt is foreign owned, 33% by china. And the Bushies answer to this is to ask for more money to fund more and deeper wars, cut taxes, and spend an additional 2 trillion dollars we don't have to gut Social Security?

Sponge Bob holds hands with a starfish: In Church!

Sponge Bob has been busy, busy, busy. He'a got the Gay bug! He visited the United Church of Christ to advance his Gay Agenda.

The ugliest pattern...

An ugly pattern continues to emerge. Yet another columnist has been caught shilling for the Bush administration for cold hard cash.

Maggie Gallagher had a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services. It ran from January through October 2002 and included drafting a magazine article for the department official overseeing the initiative, the Post reported.

"Did I violate journalistic ethics by not disclosing it?" Gallagher was quoted as saying Tuesday. "I don't know. You tell me."

I can tell her. It's unethical.

This is the fourth time that we know about the Bushies have corrupted the news cycle with journalistic graft. Class action suit anyone?

UPDATE: In the plus column, Bush Orders an End to Hiring Columnists. I hope he doesn't break his arm patting himself on the back. It's a statement the leader of the free world should never have to make.


CNN: Deadliest day for U.S. in Iraq war.



Senator Dayton gave a barnburner of a speech today opposing the confirmation of Condoleeza Rice as Secretary of State. I'll let his words speak for themselves:

I rise today to also oppose the nomination of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice for Secretary of State.

I do so, because she misled me about the situation in Iraq before and after the congressional resolution in October, 2002, authorizing that war, a resolution that I opposed. She misled other members of Congress about the situation in Iraq, members who have said that they would have opposed that resolution if they had been told the truth. And she misled the people of Minnesota and Americans everywhere about the situation in Iraq, before and after that war began.

It is a war in which 1,372 American soldiers have lost their lives and over 10,000 have been wounded, many of them maimed for life. Thousands more have been scarred emotionally and physically. All of their families and many thousands of other American families whose loved ones are now serving in Iraq, who are suffering serious financial and family hardships, who must wonder and worry every day and night for a year or longer whether their husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters are still alive, will stay alive, and wonder when they will be coming home.

For many, the answer is not soon enough. I read in today's Washington Post that the army is planning to keep its current troop strength in Iraq at 120,000 for at least two more years. I did not learn that information as a member of Congress. I did not learn it as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, where I regularly attend public hearings, classified meetings, and top secret briefings. I did not learn it from the U.S. military command in Iraq, with whom I met in Baghdad last month. I read it in The Washington Post. Just as I read last weekend that the Secretary of Defense has created his own new espionage arm by -- quote -- "reinterpreting an existing law." Without informing most, if any, members of Congress and by reportedly -- quote -- "reprogramming funds appropriated for other purposes." ...

I might as well skip all the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings and meetings and top secret briefings and just read the papers. And thank goodness for a free and vigilant press to ferret out the truth and to report the truth, because we cannot get the truth from this administration.

And, sadly, the attitude of too many of my colleagues across the aisle is: our President wrong, wrong, or wrong. They defend him. They protect him. And they allow his top administration officials to get away with lying. Lying to Congress, lying to our committees, and lying to the American people. It's wrong. It's immoral. It's un-American. And it has to stop.




I thought that Kenneth Zapp's commentary about paying for stadiums in Sunday's Star Tribune was very good:

Let those who benefit pay for a new stadium

The Star Tribune's latest appeal for public funding for sports stadiums ("Ten years of talk is enough," Jan. 8) omits key facts and ignores a principle which should guide our discussion: A stadium should be funded by those who benefit from its existence.

First, the editorial failed to mention the funding plan for the new stadium for the St. Louis Cardinals announced in December 2003. The team will pay at least 75 percent of the costs and various public entities the rest. Why should the public here pay more than the public will pay in St. Louis?

Secondly, the issue of ownership and control of the stadium was ignored. Stadium proponents want the team to pay only one-third of its costs but keep all the revenue derived from its operations. These revenues include naming rights, concession fees, seat license fees, luxury box fees, special event revenue, and others.

The team cannot have it both ways. If it pays only one-third the costs, it should keep the enhanced revenue from the higher attendance and increased ticket prices. The rest of the revenues then could be used to pay for part of the public's contributions.

Finally, the public's contribution can be funded by taxes or fees applied to those who directly benefit from the stadium and the team's use of it. There is no need or justification for government forcing citizens who do not benefit from it to pay for a stadium.

Zapp goes on to list a number of policies that could be used to finance the stadium (first among them being that the team owners should have to pay for some of it!) that I thought sounded very workable.

I am not much of a sports fan, but I enjoy going to games (especially the Saints!) and I recognize that it is a matter of state and city pride to have major league sports teams. But for years and years, Minnesotans have rejected public financing of stadiums for private teams. I say the teams should either sell a majority of their stock to members of the community (like Green Bay) or pay for the bulk of their own stadiums. Like Zapp says: they can't have the community pay for the stadium, and then expect to be able to keep all the revenue, too.

Textbooks: The Muddle Machine

This article by a former textbook editor on how textbooks are made is very disconcerting. Textbooks are banal and voiceless because of the complicated process it takes to get them approved in large states. In a very real way, conservative Christian activists in Texas decide what is acceptable in our textbooks, tempered by multi-cultural activists in California. The result is a mushy paste that makes even the most exciting topics boring. I would say that the maxim about those who like sausage or the law would apply to textbooks as well, but no one really likes textbooks.

Sadly, I have no idea how this problem can be fixed.

Framing Social Security

Steve Soto links to linguist George Lakoff's take on Bush's inagural address. Lakoff also has some sage words to say about framing Social Security:

Democrats must come up with a set of values to explain why they feel that, say, Americans shouldn't be able to invest their Social Security funds in the stock market, Lakoff said. And the rhetorical battle will probably come back to the concept of "freedom."

"When Republicans talk about Social Security, they talk about freedom," Lakoff said. " 'You can invest your money better than the government can.' "The Democrats respond by giving all the facts and figures," he said. "None of them say, 'This is an issue about whether we're going to have a guaranteed annuity for everyone in our family, the American family, or whether you're on your own, buddy.' "Rather, they argue the details," Lakoff said. "As soon as progressives argue the details, conservatives come back and argue their own details, and nobody knows the difference. And as soon as you get into the technical details, the liberals lose. Because the other guys are arguing values." (emphasis mine)

I've been guilty of this myself, so from now on I'll always try to note the most imporant thing about Social Security: it is a guaranteed annuity. There's no guess-work or gambling on how long you'll live, or how well your investments will do. As long as you're kicking, Social Security will be there for you.

Onward St. George to great glory and the fall of man

I let the President's inaugural speech percolate in my head before commenting on it. I read it once, twice, three, four times. I read it on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The more I read it, the more uncomfortable I grow with it. The interesting thing to note is this: For the most part, I agree with the sentiment behind the speech. It is so deliberately idealistic and abstract that it is difficult not to agree with the general principles Bush outlined on Thursday. I would have really agreed with it if he had backed off about two-thirds of the God-talk. But in general, who doesn't agree with freedom? Who doesn't support ending tyranny in our world? Who doesn't support sunshine?

But this is George W. Bush talking. He's the President of the United States. Blood and money follow his words. When he gets a mouthful of God and Mission going, he's Joan of Bush, standing on a pillar in a glass house, holy sword pointed towards heaven in one hand, the other launching rocks. Then - Off to the ball. He is utterly disconnected from the reality of this policies.

Contrast William Langewiesche's Letter From Baghdad in this month's Atlantic Monthly with the idea that we are achieving our own security by "spreading freedom" in Iraq. It isn't that elections aren't good. Everybody supports elections and freedom. It is that when Bush says this:

America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way.

It doesn't jibe with this:

There is more: faced with resistance, we have failed with both the carrot and the stick. Take the stick first. The mere presence of American troops may help prevent the outbreak of factional fighting, but the U.S. military is not a police force, and at no level of strength can it serve as one on Iraqi soil. The soldiers don't know the language, the culture, or the people, and they don't know who does know, or whom to trust. As measured by the personal risks they take they stay in the country too long, but in terms of understanding the human terrain they rotate out far too soon. Their mission amounts to driving around in armored vehicles from which visibility is poor, trying to protect themselves, and occasionally engaging in politically disastrous assaults on neighborhoods and towns.


On the carrot side of the American intervention are the infrastructure projects­fixing the electrical grid, for instance, and providing for clean water and sewage treatment, and upgrading the hospitals (into which the growing numbers of casualties are now carried). These projects were supposed to promote stability and provide Iraqis with better lives. Billions of dollars have been poured into them through the device of open-ended "cost plus" contracts, by which companies (almost all of them large and American) are reimbursed for the cost of the work, however they define that work, with an additional fee on top. There is no incentive to run efficient or discreet operations­to tread lightly on Iraqi soil. Indeed, quite the opposite....

It is very interesting indeed that the President's father appeared in the Whitehouse briefing room today to tell the world that:

People "certainly ought to not read into [the speech] any arrogance on the part of the United States,"

Die-hard Bush supporter, Peggy Noonan, caught the same tone. Writing for the Opinion Journal" she articulates a feeling I have had for the last 4 years:

The inaugural address itself was startling. It left me with a bad feeling, and reluctant dislike. Rhetorically, it veered from high-class boilerplate to strong and simple sentences, but it was not pedestrian. George W. Bush's second inaugural will no doubt prove historic because it carried a punch, asserting an agenda so sweeping that an observer quipped that by the end he would not have been surprised if the president had announced we were going to colonize Mars.

And later,

And yet such promising moments were followed by this, the ending of the speech. "Renewed in our strength--tested, but not weary--we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom."

This is--how else to put it?--over the top. It is the kind of sentence that makes you wonder if this White House did not, in the preparation period, have a case of what I have called in the past "mission inebriation." A sense that there are few legitimate boundaries to the desires born in the goodness of their good hearts.

That's it exactly. Unfortunately, Ms. Noonan has yet to realize that the President's deficit of legitimate boundaries extends way beyond the preparation period for one speech. This quality is what makes him a true believer. A capitalist trotskyite, an idealogue of the greatest magnitude. Follow him at your peril and the peril of your children.

Interesting thought

Here's an interesting thought: If Howard Dean becomes DNC Chair, that could mean that gun control is essentially dead as a national Democratic issue. Dean supports the assault weapon ban and instant background checks, but that's about it.


Gazing idly at the carnage

The Beast 50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2004. Definitely an equal opportunity shit-list, as Al From ("Responsible for the inability of serious people to fully respect the Democratic Party"), Dan Rather ("has given the rabid right enough fuel to maintain their bogus 'liberal media' charge for years), and John Kerry ("Didn’t even have the balls to show up during the Ohio election challenge in the Senate") get dissed thoroughly along with the requisite paleocons, neocons, and popmonsters. But my favorite is who comes in at #3: You (or rather, Us).

You gaze idly at the carnage around you, sigh, and go calmly back to your coffee and your People magazine. You can’t stop buying useless crap, though you’re drowning in a deepening pool of debt. You think you’re an activist because you bitch all day on the internet, but you reelect the same gangsters at a 99% rate. You consider yourself informed because you waste a significant portion of your life watching the same three news stories cycle over and over again on your gargantuan, aerodynamic television set while you eat processed food. You really thought everything would be okay if Kerry won. Not only do you believe in an invisible man who magically farted out the universe, you also excoriate and marginalize those who disagree. You have a poorer understanding of your country’s foreign policy history than a third world peasant, but you can’t wait to see what Julia Roberts will be wearing at the Oscars. You cheer as Ukrainians challenge an election based on exit poll data, but keep waiting around for someone else to fix your problems. You can’t think, you can’t organize and you won’t act. This is all your fault.


Inauguration Day

I liked what Flash had to say about Inauguration Day over at Centrisity.

Enjoy today, Bush supporters. You won a hard-fought victory and the next four years are yours.

But 2004 was the first time you ever had to face the nascent Organized Left. You've been working on your organization for 30 years, and we've only just begun. But we've studied your successes and failures. We will reach parity closer than you think.

And then you will really have a fight on your hands.


Mitch Berg wonders why the same bloggers who said there were no WMDs (This is an over-simplification. There was a joke on our side that went "We know Saddam has WMDs. We still have the receipts." We said that the inspectors should be allowed to do their jobs. We also said that Bush was over-hyping the case that Iraq had WMDs, particularly nuclear weapons.) are now saying there's no Social Security crisis. Counterintuitively, Mitch's point is that these bloggers were wrong about the WMDs, and are therefore wrong about Social Security.

In reality, the opposite is true.

You see, on the left, we use these things called "facts."

These "facts" allow us to draw conclusions about the state of the world. Using facts, our conclusions about the world are more correct, more often than not, than those conclusions drawn without facts.

For example, when the Bush administration starting hyping Iraq's WMDs, we used facts to determine that their analysis was probably faulty, or at the very least overblown. We also noted the fact that (in large part due to Bush's military pressure) the weapons inspectors were back at work in Iraq. Using these facts, we concluded that a war was not necessary to destroy Saddam's banned weapons. We were right.

In the case of Social Security, we have used facts to determine that the best educated guess is that Social Security won't run out of money until about 2050. Furthermore, we have looked at facts from the past to determine that the date when Social Security is scheduled to run out of money has been receding into the future for a decade. In other words, these facts tell us that the "crisis" with Social Security is not only far away, but the health of Social Security is improving.

We also use "common sense guidelines" to help us avoid catastrophes. For example, Daniel Davies presented a simple set of rules to follow to avoid projects run by morons:

1. Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance.
2. Fibbers' forecasts are worthless.
3. The Vital Importance of Audit.

These rules apply equally well to the Iraq war as to Social Security. We know that Bush is telling lies about Social Security (let's be plain here: telling younger workers Social Security won't be there for them when it is projected to last until nearly 2050 is a lie.). Therefore, privitization is not a good idea. We know that his administration and its conservative cohorts in the right wing think tanks are fibbers. Therefore, their forecasts are worthless. We know the Bush administration has a problem with auditing and accountability. Therefore, we need not trust them with this multi-trillion dollar responsibility.

I hope this helps clear things up.


This should go down in the headline hall of fame:

Nation split on Bush as uniter or divider


Raining on the Prez's Extravagant Parade

Oliver Willis has a clip of Vanity Fair editor Judy Bachrach giving Fox News a reality check on Bush's $40 million inaugural party (or rather, ten parties) during a time of war. Way to set an example, George!

More on Social Security Insurance

More fodder for the grist mill on Social Security:

BlogPAC launched There Is No Crisis to counteract the conservative privatization PR offensive. I'm not sure I agree with the framing of "no crisis" though, because it may just reinforce the "crisis" frame. An example George Lakoff gives in his book Don't Think of an Elephant is how Nixon's famous "I am not a crook" remark branded him as a crook in the public imagination. I'm not the only one worried about this. However, maybe the shear audacity of standing up and saying that there isn't a crisis is good enough.

On the Wall Street Journal's EconBlog, Max Sawicky takes Arnold King to school over the Social Security phase-out. (It helps that King, unlike so many right-wingers, is honest about the true fiscal health of Social Security.)

Finally, another thing to think about when we discuss how to make sure Social Security is fiscally healthy: Pessimistic Conservatives Cannot Fix Social Security. The Bush administration and conservative ideologues like to pretend that it's impossible to fix Social Security without eliminating it as a guaranteed benefit. This pessimism is simply a result of their hostility towards government spending.

A trip down scandal lane

Here's a list of 34 scandals that are the legacy of Bush's first 4 years in office. Exploit, steal, bribe, extort, bomb, peddle influence, corrupt, make deals with the enemy...gosh, it's all good. As long as it's not sex. As Atrios points out, Whitewater pales in comparison. What did we spend on that shaggy dog story? $70 million? Want to bet you couldn't feed your family on what the gov has spent on catching the crooks in office?


The Walmart State

Walmart to get $1.3 million of your money to buy land:

PRINCESS ANNE - Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s newest planned distribution center could receive up to $1.3 million in federal aid following approval of a Community Development Block Grant application by Somerset County Commissioners this month.

The bulk of the grant - $810,000 - would help fund Wal-Mart's purchase of land for the proposed center on Revells Neck Road in Westover.

It's your money, as King George says. Now I may not be some fancy, big-city, ivory tower egghead like our dear President. But I could think of at least five better places $1.3 million could go to, other than the world's largest corporate empire.

Perhaps some of you can think of one or two or three hundred thousand.


Gay marriage? What about Gay Marriage?

The President's retreat from his efforts to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage truly represents the definition of a wedge issue:

Bush won't push ban on gay marriage

That's the politics of cynicism at work. Throw a volatile issue into the mix of campaign rhetoric in order to fire up the base, then quickly back away from all promises once the election is won. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad he's taking it off the table. But you know...the whole I-do-what-I-say-and-say-what-I-do act is suddenly pretty thin. One can only wonder how the neoconartists will work to divide the nation by shoving some puritanical moral agenda they really don't care about - and which any free society would reject on principle - down the throat of the nation.

Send in the clowns...to Iran

In arid prose, Seymour Hersh warns us of The Coming Wars in today's New Yorker. Hersh explains that circumstances and driving ideological ambition have conspired to accelerate rising tensions in Iran.

In my interviews over the past two months, I was given a much harsher view. The hawks in the Administration believe that it will soon become clear that the Europeans’ negotiated approach cannot succeed, and that at that time the Administration will act. “We’re not dealing with a set of National Security Council option papers here,” the former high-level intelligence official told me. “They’ve already passed that wicket. It’s not if we’re going to do anything against Iran. They’re doing it.”

George Tenent resigns. His replacement, Porter Goss, purges ranks for political correctness. Bush hands Rumsfeld a ringing endorsement. Bush says voters ratified his management of the war on terror. Rumsfeld has consolidated power and now controls covert operations that were formerly under the CIA's perview. Voila! Congress has no oversight in covert operations.

Now, the Pentagon is busy disavowing Hersh's article. But does anyone really doubt that we are running operations across the Iraq/Iran border into Iran or that the neocons aren't beating the war drums at the Pentagon and State? Hersh continues:

The government consultant told me that the hawks in the Pentagon, in private discussions, have been urging a limited attack on Iran because they believe it could lead to a toppling of the religious leadership. “Within the soul of Iran there is a struggle between secular nationalists and reformers, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the fundamentalist Islamic movement,” the consultant told me. “The minute the aura of invincibility which the mullahs enjoy is shattered, and with it the ability to hoodwink the West, the Iranian regime will collapse”—like the former Communist regimes in Romania, East Germany, and the Soviet Union. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz share that belief, he said.

I can only greet this news with a deep sigh. Iran is a real threat and a real tinderbox. It is terribly unfortunate that we must greet it with the leadership at hand. Their best thinking has drastically increased the enemy forces arrayed against us, turned Iraq into an orphan factory while literally watching our border defenses decay. I'm not surprised, mind you. Sad, but not surprised. The President is a man of his word. He promised more of the same and that is what he will deliver. It won't be pretty.

The coalition grows!

Here's some news you might not see in the borderline-traitor MSM: Romania is sending 100 more troops to Iraq.

Also, insurgents kidnapped a Catholic archbishop, set off a car bomb/ambush that caused US casualties, shot four and beheaded two "collaborators", and mortared polling stations in Basra. Could the insurgents be trying to set up the third Baath coup?

Two on Social Security

Rolling Stone: The Fake Crisis, an interview with Paul Krugman.

New York Times Magazine: A Question of Numbers. Roger Lowenstein runs the numbers on Social Security. There's a lot of doubt in those gloom-and-doom calculations.

They get letters

Jesus' General writes a letter to Hinderaker.


Punishing torturers

My favorite biker leather daddy tells us to "S-T-F-U" about torture, because Garner was sentenced to ten years in prison.

A good first step. But the buck stops where?

The government has tried to limit domestic political damage by pinning the blame on Garner as "ringleader" of a small group of "abusers" (maybe I should add "Just a few bad apples" to my list of torture justifications).

I've already linked to it, but Andrew Sullivan's article in the New York Times about the events that led to Abu Ghraib is worth linking to again. If you haven't read it, please do. It's an important piece.

The Bush administration was sending out mixed signals on torture.

The critical enabling decision was the president's insistence that prisoners in the war on terror be deemed ''unlawful combatants'' rather than prisoners of war. The arguments are theoretically sound ones - members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban are not party to the Geneva Convention and their own conduct violates many of its basic demands. But even at the beginning, President Bush clearly feared the consequences of so broad an exemption for cruel and inhumane treatment. So he also insisted that although prisoners were not legally eligible for humane treatment, they should be granted it anyway. The message sent was: these prisoners are beneath decent treatment, but we should still provide it. That's a strangely nuanced signal to be giving the military during wartime.

You can see the same strange ambivalence in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's decision to approve expanded interrogation techniques in December 2002 for Guantánamo inmates - and then to revoke the order six weeks later. The documents show that the president was clearly warned of the dangers of the policy he decided upon - Colin Powell's January 2002 memo is almost heart-breakingly prescient and sane in this regard - but he pressed on anyway. Rumsfeld's own revocation of the order suggests his own moral qualms about what he had unleashed.

But Bush clearly leaned toward toughness. Here's the precise formulation he used: ''As a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva.'' (My italics.)

Notice the qualifications. The president wants to stay not within the letter of the law, but within its broad principles, and in the last resort, ''military necessity'' can overrule all of it. According to his legal counsel at the time, Alberto R. Gonzales, the president's warmaking powers gave him ultimate constitutional authority to ignore any relevant laws in the conduct of the conflict. Sticking to the Geneva Convention was the exclusive prerogative of one man, George W. Bush; and he could, if he wished, make exceptions.

With these guidelines, Assisant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee came up with a new definition of "torture":

The president's underlings got the mixed message. Bybee analyzed the relevant statutes against torture to see exactly how far the military could go in mistreating prisoners without blatant illegality. His answer was surprisingly expansive. He argued that all the applicable statutes and treaty obligations can be read in such a way as to define torture very narrowly. Bybee asserted that the president was within his legal rights to permit his military surrogates to inflict ''cruel, inhuman or degrading'' treatment on prisoners without violating strictures against torture. For an act of abuse to be considered torture, the abuser must be inflicting pain ''of such a high level of intensity that the pain is difficult for the subject to endure.'' If the abuser is doing this to get information and not merely for sadistic enjoyment, then ''even if the defendant knows that severe pain will result from his actions,'' he's not guilty of torture. Threatening to kill a prisoner is not torture; ''the threat must indicate that death is 'imminent.' '' Beating prisoners is not torture either. Bybee argues that a case of kicking an inmate in the stomach with military boots while the prisoner is in a kneeling position does not by itself rise to the level of torture.

The path to Abu Ghraib is now clear. It leads directly from senior administration officials, and ultimately the President himself.

Who was responsible? There are various levels of accountability. But it seems unmistakable from these documents that decisions made by the president himself and the secretary of defense contributed to confusion, vagueness and disarray, which, in turn, led directly to abuse and torture. The president bears sole responsibility for ignoring Colin Powell's noble warnings. The esoteric differences between legal ''abuse'' and illegal ''torture'' and the distinction between ''prisoners of war'' and ''unlawful combatants'' were and are so vague as to make the abuse of innocents almost inevitable.

And so, is it enough that Garner was punished? No.

And the damage done was intensified by President Bush's refusal to discipline those who helped make this happen. A president who truly recognized the moral and strategic calamity of this failure would have fired everyone responsible. But the vice president's response to criticism of the defense secretary in the wake of Abu Ghraib was to say, ''Get off his back.'' In fact, those with real responsibility for the disaster were rewarded. Rumsfeld was kept on for the second term, while the man who warned against ignoring the Geneva Conventions, Colin Powell, was seemingly nudged out. The man who wrote a legal opinion maximizing the kind of brutal treatment that the United States could legally defend, Jay S. Bybee, was subsequently rewarded with a nomination to a federal Court of Appeals. General Sanchez and Gen. John P. Abizaid remain in their posts. Alberto R. Gonzales, who wrote memos that validated the decision to grant Geneva status to inmates solely at the president's discretion, is now nominated to the highest law enforcement job in the country: attorney general. The man who paved the way for the torture of prisoners is to be entrusted with safeguarding the civil rights of Americans.

Torture is wrong. I will not tolerate it, and I will not STFU about it.

P.S.: Mitch Berg has a link to something that I haven't addressed: terrorists who can't be broken. I think this is important, but I haven't said anything on it because it's clear that most of the people in Abu Ghraib, who were picked up mostly by random sweeps, were innocent. However, Sullivan does note in his article that the intelligence used to produce the 9/11 Commission report was procured without torture. I'm sure this will continue to be an issue in the future, so I will keep my eye on it -- and an open mind.

Nice touch

Rape prisoners with a glowstick, beat them till they die, kill ~100,000 innocents, fire the Iraqi army. What more can Bush do to screw over Iraq?

Damage the site of ancient Babylon while using it for a military base.

US-led troops using the ancient Iraqi city of Babylon as a base have damaged and contaminated artifacts dating back thousands of years in one of the most important archeological sites in the world, the British Museum said yesterday.

Military vehicles crushed a 2,600-year-old brick pavement, for example, and archeological fragments, including broken bricks stamped by King Nebuchadnezzar II around the same time, were scattered across the site, a museum report said.

The dragons at the Ishtar Gate were marred by cracks and gaps where someone tried to remove their decorative bricks, the paper said.

John Curtis, keeper of the British Museum's Near East department, who was invited by Iraqis to study the site, also found that large quantities of sand mixed with archeological fragments have been taken from the site to fill military sandbags.

''This is tantamount to establishing a military camp around the Great Pyramid in Egypt or around Stonehenge in Britain," Curtis said in the report.

Nice touch.

But at least it wasn't looted like other important archeological sites.

Is the Bush administration trying to lose the war in Iraq? Because they're doing a pretty good job.

Via Juan Cole, who notes that whoever decided to put a military base there should be fired, but probably won't be.

I support private accounts

I support private retirement accounts provided by the federal government. Anyone who's ever moved jobs knows that rolling over your 401(k) is a pain. And many service industry workers don't even get 401(k)s. So let's create a national 401(k) account for every American. If we want to enforce savings, an additional payroll tax can be applied, with a subsidy for those who don't make enough to effectively save for retirement. Citizens could chose their own brokerage firm to manage this account, and employers could provide a match like they do now (if you're lucky, that is).

Notice I didn't say anything about eliminating Social Security Insurance. That's a guaranteed benefit you can count on. Let's keep it that way.

That means Social Security can't be allowed to go bankrupt. Fortunately, its finances are in good shape, a fact that even Republicans have been forced to admit. In fact, Social Security's finances are getting better because of the amazing productivity improvements of the American worker. Pessimistic conservatives are not the ones we want running a plan to replace Social Security.

Keeping Social Security fiscially sound means not investing in private accounts, a move that will cost $15 trillion over the next four decades (those are CBO numbers). Instead, let's focus on fixing the overall federal budget problems, and create a new program that allows people to invest in their own private accounts for retirement income that supplements Social Security.


Handy Chart of Ethics

A few more words on this non-issue.

Here is a handy little graphic showing exactly why this is such an asinine "story":

Via Dem Watch

There are no stupid questions, only stupid people

The fact that Social Security looks to be solvent for the next 45 years by no means makes it an optimal system.

Will Americans continue to be forced to subscribe to the current system, whose mediocrity is well documented, or will they have the choice to manage at least some of the money they unwillingly shell out to the system?

If Chile can have a privatized system of Social Security, why can't the United States?

John Grimes, St. Paul. (emphasis mine)

That one sort of answers itself, doesn't it?

They're losing this one. We can make the Republicans pay for proposing it (think "Hillarycare").

This is what full disclosure looks like

By the way, this is what full disclosure looks like:

Kos disclaimer

In plain view, right under his logo.

You can see it yourself using the Internet Archive.

Saturday Cat Blogging

For a little levity, here's one of my cats catching a mouse.

Tucker catches a 'mouse'

Tucker's an old cat -- 15 years old. He was my childhood cat, and I got him when my parents moved.

Hewitt, O'Reilly, Novak: Right Wing Liars

Is "liar" too strong a word when a person makes something up?

I don't think so.

But that's what these three pundits did: they made accusations against Kos and Jerome Armstrong being unethical, when the facts show otherwise. The Wall Street Journal article had an exiting lead, but simply reading the details in the article showed that to be bunk. And one of the reporters who worked on the article called it a "dead story" when looking into the charges.

That these people are respected national commentators is a disgrace. Righties, if you have any self-respect, you'll put the smack down on these tools.

P.S.: Chris Suellentrop, you are a wanker.

Update: Good to see Hewitt getting some flack from his brethren (Hewitt's permalinks suck, so read em while you got em). His response to the criticism of his blathering is pretty weak, too.


Why are conservatives so angry?

This one's for the conservatives in the audience. Help me out.

Why are y'all so angry all the time? If it's not one thing, it's another...you're mad at Nick Coleman, the "MSM", labor unions, DemoRATS, civil rights activists, France, socialists (all 12 of them)...

What's your issue? You just won a tight election that validated your world view, you control all three branches of government, made gay marriage illegal in a dozen states, you've got this awesome war against evil, or Islamofascism, or whatever, that's going really well. And hell, most of you are rich (I'm looking at the Powerline guys, here.).

And yet, the anger. Always with the anger.

I think y'all should chill out. Maybe watch some movies, indoctrinate your kids about the evils of collective bargaining, take a vacation. Maybe look into some anti-anxiety medication (your doctor can help you out with that one).

Don't worry, W's got your back.

"Yowling" about torture

Linking is one of the things the Minnesota lefty blogosphere needs to get better at. Towards that end, I added a new blogger to our blogroll, Yowling from the Fencepost. When I posted about the four conservative rationalizations for torture, Moses from Yowling backed me up and linked to his own interesting take on the conservatives' emotional investment in torture.

Take a look at his posts:

Abu Ghraib scandal - Buckle your safety belt.

On the Geneva Conventions prohibition of torture.

From rationalized torture to prospective hit squads.

P.S.: In the course of linking to other blogs, I hereby promise not to say, "Just read the whole thing."

A man-made tsunami

Terry Jones asks: Why are there no fundraisers for the Iraqi dead?

Of course it's wonderful to see the human race rallying to the aid of disaster victims, but it's the inconsistency that has me foxed. Nobody is making this sort of fuss about all the people killed in Iraq, and yet it's a human catastrophe of comparable dimensions.

According to the only scientific estimate attempted, Iraqi deaths since the war began number more than 100,000. The tsunami death toll is in the region of 150,000. Yet in the case of Iraq, the media seems reluctant to impress on the public the scale of the carnage.

I haven't seen many TV reporters standing in the ruins of Falluja, breathlessly describing how, in 30 years of reporting, they've never seen a human tragedy on this scale. The Pope hasn't appealed for everyone to remember the Iraqi dead in their prayers, and MTV hasn't gone silent in their memory.

Nor are Blair and Bush falling over each other to show they recognise the scale of the disaster in Iraq. On the contrary, they have been doing their best to conceal the numbers killed.

[via Triptych Cryptic]

Oops! No WMDs anywhere. Sorry.

Search for Banned Arms In Iraq Ended Last Month
Critical September Report to Be Final Word

Four months after Charles A. Duelfer, who led the weapons hunt in 2004, submitted an interim report to Congress that contradicted nearly every prewar assertion about Iraq made by top Bush administration officials, a senior intelligence official said the findings will stand as the ISG's final conclusions and will be published this spring.

Thanks for lying to the American public with your insipid propaganda and fear-mongering, Bush Administration!

Accounting for torture

[I]n a democracy, the responsibility is also wider. Did those of us who fought so passionately for a ruthless war against terrorists give an unwitting green light to these abuses? Were we naïve in believing that characterizing complex conflicts from Afghanistan to Iraq as a single simple war against ''evil'' might not filter down and lead to decisions that could dehumanize the enemy and lead to abuse? Did our conviction of our own rightness in this struggle make it hard for us to acknowledge when that good cause had become endangered? I fear the answer to each of these questions is yes. . . . Advocates of the war, especially those allied with the administration, kept relatively quiet, or attempted to belittle what had gone on, or made facile arguments that such things always occur in wartime. But it seems to me that those of us who are most committed to the Iraq intervention should be the most vociferous in highlighting these excrescences. . . . I'm not saying that those who unwittingly made this torture possible are as guilty as those who inflicted it. I am saying that when the results are this horrifying, it's worth a thorough reassessment of rhetoric and war methods. Perhaps the saddest evidence of our communal denial in this respect was the election campaign. The fact that American soldiers were guilty of torturing inmates to death barely came up....
-- Andrew Sullivan (via Marty Lederman)


What conservatives believe about torture

As near as I've been able to figure, this is what conservatives believe about torture:

1. It wasn't that bad anyway.
2. Saddam Hussein/terrorists were/are worse.
3. Besides, they deserved it anyway.

Finally, they will fall back on flat-out justifying torture if necessary:

4. Torture is OK if the President says so.

Time to switch to Wells Fargo

Due to a series of circumstances involving U of M licensing deals and general laziness, I have a TCF Bank account. Even after I learned TCF employees are Minnesota's largest donor to the Republican Party, I kept it. I think it's time to switch.

In an absolutely bizarre move, the CEO of TCF is pulling all advertising from the Star Tribune (reputed to cost the paper $250,000) due to the ongoing Nick Coleman/Power Line feud (Chris posted some thoughts on this last week). Scott "Big Trunk" Johnson is a VP at TCF.

Via Norwegianity.

He's Running

Howard Dean announced his candidacy for the chairmanship of the DNC today.

"As important as organization is, it alone can no longer win us elections. Offering a new choice means making Democrats the party of reform—reforming America's financial situation, reforming our electoral process, reforming health care, reforming education and putting morality back in our foreign policy. The Democratic Party will not win elections or build a lasting majority solely by changing its rhetoric, nor will we win by adopting the other side's positions. We must say what we mean—and mean real change when we say it."


Celebrating Freedom, Honoring Turndown Service

Wealthy Republicans may need to abandon their pampered lives briefly when they hit the beltway for inaugural festivities: hotel workers may go on strike if no contract agreement is reached by Saturday. Hotel workers have been without a contract since September, when 94% of UNITE HERE Local 25 members authorized a strike. The main sticking points are health care for new employees, worker respect, and length of contract (more info here ) I hope a fair settlement is reached, but it would be interesting to see how a microcosm of upscale Republican lifestyles can survive without turndown service for four days.

[More news on other U.S. hotel strikes at LabourStart.] [Thanks to SarahD for the scoop.]


This just in: Bush corrupts media

Again, though I strongly disagree with the Bush administration's policies most of the time, it is not his policies alone that make him so dangerous to the America I believe is the lighthouse of liberty to the rest of the world. It is the way he promotes them, the way he gets them passed, his belief in secrecy when Democracy feeds on openess and finally, the way he believes reality can be altered by corrupting the soul of critical thought in America - the media.

Time and time again, Bush and Rove have stuffed our airwaves and therefore our heads with lies by manipualting the media. Now, USA Today reports they paid pundits to promote No Child Left Behind.

Seeking to build support among black families for its education reform law, the Bush administration paid a prominent black pundit $240,000 to promote the law on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other black journalists to do the same.

This is nothing new for the administration. They used the same techniques to produce deceptive advertising to promote the Medicare Reform Bill. A "newscast" featuring actors disguised as journalists extolled the virtues of the bill. There was no qualification anywhere in the piece as to the source of the "news."

There is nothing - nothing - more destructive to the fabric of our society than the cancer of stealth propaganda. There is not a line of truth this adminstration will not cross to achieve its ends. The ends themselves may be benign. They may be despicable. In either case, the end result is an uniformed truth-allergic citizenry that is susceptible to large scale manipulation - particularly when a toxic stew of fear and lies is mainlined into the public consciousness through the needle of the media.

UPDATE: Kudos to Rep. Henry Waxman-D (CA) for pushing the issue on yet another example of Bush's the ends-justifies-the-means style:

Bush's Drug Videos Broke Law, Accountability Office Decides

Now let's see some indictments.


Real wages for real people

Pawlenty's house economist, Tom Stinson, is doling out some phony magician-talk with his curious wage projections for 2005. As far as I can tell, he is predicting a whopping 2 percent wage growth, yet he's using a "broader measure of real personal income the total income of all Minnesotans from all sources -- in his forecast." Does this mean he's including sales of used CD's and blood plasma too? Or could it be he's factoring in the rich-get-richer elements of securities and mutual funds and tax breaks, which have nothing to do with wages? I don't believe him, and I bet his meager 2-percent wage prediction will be cited and stonewalled during negotiations with Minnesota's long-suffering public workers in the coming year. A basic living wage, for many public workers, will mean at least a 5% increase next year.

For a more realistic analysis, see Barbara Rose's excellent writeup, Real Wages Keep Falling, which paints a darker picture, and quotes an inside source which has no interest in duping the public or the policymakers:

Naturally, not many human resources managers are trumpeting their commitment to holding the line. But in a recent issue of Workforce Management, a leading trade journal for human resources executives, the latest advice is plenty blunt.

"Annual pay increases designed for optimal hiring and retention are no longer needed," the magazine declares.

"If your salary increase budget for 2005 is much higher than 3 percent, you're probably overspending," the article advised.

Wait, what about productivity and profit margins?

Really, this supposedly recovering Bush economy feels like brewing a Hummer coffee pot as the tires spin deeper into the mud.
Support unions in your neighborhood and your workplace, and let's fight for a living wage in the coming year.


Pawlenty Exposed

Looks like the geniuses over at Minnesota Democrats Exposed have some competition. Pawlenty Exposed (which has a nice punny ring to it, I must say) is open for business and rearing to go:

Minnesota is running a 1.4 billion dollar budget deficit. Thanks to Tim’s timely budgetary accounting statute changes, his Administration gets to remove inflation from it’s deficit calculations, lowering that number to 700 million dollars. We wish we could do that. I could just call up Visa and say, “hey, buddy, that fourteen hundred bucks I’m carrying on the plastic? Well, this is Tim Pawlenty’s Minnesota, pal, and I get to call it seven hundred.” I’m sure that’ll work.
(Anyone got a link on that? I haven't been paying attention.)

Up-From-The-Bootstraps George

More than a few lefty bloggers are jumping on Bush for this nugget:

Bush “likes somebody he sees as having overcome potential disadvantages, because he sees himself as having done that,” says Paul Burka, executive editor of Texas Monthly magazine and a close follower of the president.

Now at first glance, this view of himself might seem a bit strange--completely fucking ridiculous, if you will: afterall, he was born into extreme wealth, his family name is second only to a certain Kennedy family, has winning smile, etc.

But really, he's right. Who'd have ever thought an alcoholic, coke-snortin' felon with an IQ under 85 could ever become President of these fine United States?

Truly an American hero, that King George of ours.


Achieving Results, Addressing the Challenges Ahead Cooking the Books

In a fit of bean-counting hubris worthy of Arthur Andersen (not to mention the Soviet Gosplan), the White House Office of Management and Budget has decided to use its own outdated deficit predictions from February 2004 (none of which came true) in order to take credit for "reducing the shortfall" by about $100 billion. On top of that, they're predicting increased tax revenues (from where?), ignoring the "supplemental appropriations" which fund the Iraq war, and factoring out the devastation that Social Security "reform" would wreak on the budget. The New York Times is reporting on it today, and you can hear the alarm bells ringing in the source quotes:

Many analysts are dubious about the long-term plan. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that deficits will remain well above $300 billion if Mr. Bush's tax cuts are made permanent and if Iraq war costs taper off gradually. On Wall Street, analysts at Goldman Sachs predict that budget deficits will total about $5 trillion over the next 10 years.

"I've been watching this more than 30 years, and I have never seen anything quite this egregious," said Stanley Collender, a longtime author on budget issues and a senior vice president at Financial Dynamics, a communications firm in Washington.

"They are cutting the deficit from a number they never believed in the beginning," Mr. Collender said, referring to the decision to measure progress against the unrealized $521 billion deficit projection. "What if they had forecast that the deficit would be $800 billion last year? Would they take credit for having cut it by half?"

It's nothing new for the OMB to dispense such lily-blossoms wrapped in a tissue of lies, but here it seems to have breached a zone of hypocrisy and deceit. If Bush smirks his way through his cash-incinerating inauguration, knowing that his administration just keeps making stuff up and getting away with it (while stoked by his preposterous beatification as an "American revolutionary"), we're in for a frightening future if we don't start writing letters to our local papers and Congress. I would also advocate loopholing the hell out of your taxes, just to foil those bizarro-world revenue expectations, but only wealthy bastards can make any dent on that front (and they ain't reading this blog) (plus it's almost impossible to loophole the payroll tax, which will likely remain the same even despite any Social Security reform...)


Powerline Unbiased and Objective? Not quite...

A couple of days ago, Nick Coleman launched another broadside against the Power Line guys, John Hindraker and Scott Johnson. Coleman's attack was weak, I thought. He is obviously disgusted with the political opinions of the Power Line - yet he inexplicably failed to attack the ideology itself. Instead, he chose to focus on the blogger's alleged disingenuousness about how they create the blog (largely at work), how much money they make of the blog (who cares and there's nothing wrong with it), and that they campaigned for blogger of the year (again, so what? wouldn't you?).

Coleman's column rather incoherently paints the Power Line bloggers as disengenuous, crafty mouthpieces for the Republican party. Ironically, his argument shares an unfortunate quality with the Rathergate memos on which Power Line's fifteen minutes of fame is based: The conclusion is true but the arguments presented are crap. The Power Line guys aren't being disingenuous because they are Ivy League lawyers, or because the blog from work, or make more money on their blog than you or I. They are being disenguous because they claim to be fair, objective and unbiased when the are clearly exactly the opposite.

Both Mr. Johnson and Mr. Hindraker made this claim repeatedly during the conversation Luke and I had with them on Almanac. Mr. Hindraker clarifies his thinking in a revealing post:

...I think that distinctions can usefully be drawn among several concepts that are often assumed to be interchangeable: bias, objectivity and neutrality. "Bias" is usually used pejoratively; I would use it to mean reporting news in a way that is in fact slanted, while purporting to report it neutrally. I would say that the New York Times is biased, but Power Line isn't.

Hindraker's definition of bias is unusual. In fact, it's deceptive and self-serving. Under this definition, we are all given a reprieve from being biased by admitting them. I am a progressive. Therefore, I am unbiased. A more commonly understood definition is, "A preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits impartial judgment." In point of fact, the New York Times acknowledges and addresses its biases and represents many points of view. Powerline represents only one. By any definition, that's bias.

Mr. Hindraker continues,

"Objectivity" I understand to mean, essentially, fairness. Being objective means to weigh evidence and arguments fairly, as, for example, by reporting that President Bush turned in a mediocre performance in a debate, even though the person making that judgment supports the President. I would say that Power Line is objective, or at least tries to be, while 60 Minutes is not objective.

The concept of objectivity, while related to fairness, is less dependent on point of view. What is fair and what is not is essentially dependent on values. Objectivty can be defined as, "judgment based on observable phenomena and uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices." Facts are not conservative or liberal. They are simply facts. I would venture to say that whichever standards Mr. Hindraker, Johnson and Mirengoff use to spin their arguments, they are not objective. They are ideological. The facts used are carefully selected to conform with an ideology that, as near as I can figure, is to the right of the Platform for the Republican Party for the State of Texas. That's not objectivity. It's dishonest to claim that it is.

Finally, Mr. Hindraker writes,

"Neutrality" means indifference as among competing parties, candidates or ideologies. Power Line is not neutral; neither is the Washington Post. There are probably a few truly neutral news sites or commentators, but not many.

Not everyone will agree with my definitions; maybe no one will. But I think it is helpful to distinguish among these various concepts. In general, "bias" is not a term that it is helpful to apply to commentators, as opposed to reporters. Paul Krugman is a liberal and Ann Coulter is a conservative. One could say that they are both "biased" because they argue for a particular point of view, but that would be meaningless and unhelpful, in my opinion. With respect to commentatary, which is what we at Power Line generally do, the relevant questions are: Are the facts accurately and fairly represented? Are there other, obviously relevant facts that are omitted from the analysis? And, are the arguments made on the basis of the facts logical and persuasive?

I do not fundamentally disagree with Mr. Hindraker's relavent questions with respect to commentary. I would, however, add some. What makes a fact relavent? If a fact is left out, why was it left out? One of the most challenging tasks before modern Americans is the identification of truth in our political discourse. Identifying the biases and linguistic strategies of politicians and political writers isn't just helpful, it's essential. Bush and Rove have consistently used language to reshape reality in mind-bending ways. Healthy Forests. Clear Skies. Making good progress in Iraq. Patriot Act. Leave No child behind. Of course the Power Line bloggers would want to argue that they are unbiased and objective, though not neutral, purveyors of the truth. It's a perfect brand. It's unfortunately not true. I think that's what Coleman was driving at.