January 31, 2005

Beyond the Bounds

Every time I think that this administration has reached some sort of nadir of conduct, something else lands on me. While I'm not the first to see this story in Sunday's Washington Post, it should be posted on every street corner. Bluntly, this is sheer insanity:

The Bush team has expanded the use of "minders," employees or volunteers who escort journalists from interview to interview within a venue or at a newsworthy event...[snip]...Several reporters covering the [inaugural] balls were surprised to find themselves being monitored by young "escorts," who followed them from hors d'oeuvres table to dance floor and even to the bathroom.

That's right, the Republicans running the inaugural balls assigned teams of young republicans to follow around the reporters who were desperately trying to find something interesting to say about big, expensive parties where no knows really how to dance (this is non-partisan: I wouldn't want to go to Democratic Inaugural Balls either). What is the point? Why bother assigning someone to help the reporter navigate the anarchy of a dance floor? Unless, it really isn't about the reporter:

Their real purpose only occurred to me after I had gone home for the night, when I remembered a brief conversation with a woman I was interviewing. During the middle of our otherwise innocuous encounter, she suddenly noticed the presence of my minder. She stopped for a moment, glanced past me, then resumed talking.
No, the minders weren't there to monitor me. They were there to let the guests, my sources on inaugural night, know that any complaint, any unguarded statement, any off-the-reservation political observation, might be noted. But maybe someday they'll be monitoring something more important than an inaugural ball, and the source could be you.

Yup, the minders are there to keep track of whom the reporter talks to, and to remind anyone who might complain about anything that their words are noticed and recorded. What unmitigated, pathetic, power-hungry, partisan gaul. The Republicans have control of all three branches of government, just won re-election to the most powerful, and have advanced (at least in words) a profound agenda to move the country far to the right, and on top of that they feel the need to set minders on every reporter at the inauguration. Bush, after using poetic words to describe the benefits of freedom and liberty, has done just about everything in his power to remove those same ideals from this country. All right, that's hyperbole, but if people can't speak freely at the inauguration of Bush's second term, where can they?

I'm ashamed of my party.

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The Latest Hip Fire

Am I the only person who finds it peculiar that Matt Yglesias uses a line from last year's greatest thing ever (Franz Ferdinand) to describe this year's greatest thing ever (The Arcade Fire)?

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Intra-Court Hijinks at the DC District Court: Green Smacks Leon

Senior Judge Joyce Hens Green has ruled that the "enemy combatants" held at Gitmo have "enforceable consitutional rights". Of course this puts her directly at odds with a judge in the same court who's heard similar cases. Who could have predicted that? Oh, yeah - me (and other people paying attention to the cases). I presume the DC Circuit will next weigh in on this bizarre intra-district court split.

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Portrait of Mrs. C.

I spent part of Saturday at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. It's not amazing, but it's got a nice collection for a museum its size, and it's easy to get around. There were some things in it I really loved (a Utrillo, a Sargent, a Ming-era bowl, a beautiful little silver fruit stand, panels from the grand salon of the famed Normandie), but there was one work that really stood out to me that's relevant to my post below regarding God, The Devil and Bob. Part of what makes protests against the creations of artists so pointless and irritating is that artists, being creative people, can find a variety of ways to express what they want to express. For example, they can turn a flip cartoon into a preachy 22 minutes of pushing Christian "values". Or, in the case of my visit to the Carnegie, they can turn the tamest thing (say a large formal portrait of a fully-dressed woman) into something really dirty. I mean I can't be the only one who thinks that William Merritt Chase's Portrait of Mrs. C. is designed in a way that leaves the viewer with a pretty lewd impression. If you don't know the work, this detail may give you an idea - but it really has to be seen in person to get the whole effect.

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Stupid Protesters - You'd Have Liked God, The Devil and Bob

Why in the world were the typical right-wing religious protesters knocking God, The Devil and Bob? I gave that a try on DVD over the weekend (hey, with a crack sitcom writing team behind it and the voices of James Garner and Alan Cumming it seemed worth a try). I didn’t like it, but it seems that the Christian right would absolutely love it. I suppose they might find God’s sunglasses or his interest in Julie Newmar to be heresy. But in terms of the preachy messages and sentiments of the show (it’s explicitly against all the usual big evils from strip clubs to the Warren Court), those are sermons that I think they’d strongly agree with.

Oh, there was one great thing about the show – the Devil’s sidekick, Smeck. But other than that, it was a rather lame series.

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January 28, 2005


There seems to me something very wrong with the fact that De-Lovely, a film that highlights the creation of splendidly clever works of art, is itself such a tiresome, ungainly mess. There are a few great little things about it. The costumes for example. And the photography is very nice. And some of the production numbers are very enjoyable (my favorites were those sung by Robbie Williams and Diana Krall). And how can you not enjoy looking at Ashley Judd for a couple of hours. But on the whole, this is something of a disaster. While there are a few wrenchingly beautiful lines in the script, to call most of the script banal would be too much a compliment. And generally, to be about such interesting people, it's really not that interesting.

Posted by armand at 12:54 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A Disrespectful Ski Parka?

There are not many days that I'll leap to the defense of Dick Cheney, but as criticisms of the Vice President go, bashing his wardrobe seems a rather picayune matter.

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January 27, 2005

Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead: Part II

Via the New York Times, we see that Douglas Feith (Woodward had a quote by some American General - Tommy Franks, I think - in one of his books where the general called him "the stupidest man alive") is stepping down. Feith ran Rumsfeld's special inteligence directory that cherry-picked the Iraqi intelligence to "prove" that Saddam had WMD. He will not be missed.

Posted by baltar at 08:34 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 26, 2005

David Gregory, Secure in His Masculinity

I just love it when the Wonkette live-blogs a presidential news conference. I mean generally the things are so sad. The president has just a handful, usually has them in the middle of the day when no one can watch, and then, even in those conditions which are pretty ridiculous for a country that's supposed to have representative and responsive government - he doesn't honestly answer many, if any, questions. But the Wonkette's zingers ... well, they really help you get through them.

Posted by armand at 03:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Cowards, Traditionalists or Those Who Laud Incompetence

32 Democratic members of the US Senate today showed themselves to fall into one (or more) of those 3 categories today. Among those voting to approve the nomination of the serially-incompetent Condoleeza Rice as Secretary of State were such supposed champions of the Democratic party as Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, Dianne Feinstein, Jon Corzine, Jay Rockefeller, Pat Leahy and Russ Feingold (who, of course, also voted to confirm John Ashcroft as Attorney General). The 12 Senate Democrats and the Independent who actually had the guts to vote against Rice's nomination: Daniel Akaka (D-HA), Evan Bayh (D-IN), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), Mark Dayton (D-MN), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Jim Jeffords (I-VT), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), John Kerry (D-MA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI).

As to the future, Bayh's vote is the clearest sign yet that he is virtually certain to run for president in 2008.

Posted by armand at 02:42 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 25, 2005

Bush's Inauguration Speech

I realize I'm late to this party, but I did want to get my comment out about Bush's Inauguration speech. What makes this so late is that, within 24 hours of the speech itself the White House was backing away from the sweeping claims made. I admit to being stumped by this. Bush had two and half months to write the thing, he knew it would be read and dissected by everyone (domestic and foreign). You can't just declare "we didn't really mean that." Like I said, very weird.

That being said, I'm going to assume that Pres. Bush really did mean what the speech said, and comment on it. Perhaps even more so than the State of the Union, the inauguration speech sets the tone for the term, and the ideas and ideals put forward need to be taken seriously.

The speech itself is reproduced in the indented paragraphs, with my comments. I am not convinced, or moved.

Vice President Cheney, Mr. Chief Justice, President Carter, President Bush, President Clinton, members of the United States Congress, reverend clergy, distinguished guests, fellow citizens:
On this day, prescribed by law and marked by ceremony, we celebrate the durable wisdom of our Constitution and recall the deep commitments that unite our country. I am grateful for the honor of this hour, mindful of the consequential times in which we live and determined to fulfill the oath that I have sworn and you have witnessed.

Maybe so, but actions (to my mind) speak louder than words, and the President’s actions have not done much in the way of “protecting and defending” the Constitution. Enshrined in the Constitution is the idea of checks and balances. This president (or his agents), however, has done everything he can to remove those checks against the executive branch and shift power away from the legislative and judicial. Remember Cheney's Energy Task Force? Torture memos? “Enemy Combatants”? Federal crackdown on Medical Marijuana and doctor assisted suicide? (A transfer of power from the states to the federal government.) I could go on, but the point is that President Bush has clearly sought ways to circumvent the Constitution. Being President means getting to exercise executive authority – it doesn’t mean you get to exercise supreme authority. There are co-equal branches of the government, and they get to tell you “no”.

At this second gathering, our duties are defined not by the words I use but by the history we have seen together. For a half a century, America defended our own freedom by standing watch on distant borders. After the shipwreck of communism came years of relative quiet, years of repose, years of sabbatical. And then there came a day of fire.
We have seen our vulnerability, and we have seen its deepest source. For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny -- prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder, violence will gather and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders, and raise a mortal threat. There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom.

Well, this sounds nice, but isn’t really accurate. The source of our vulnerability is regions that “simmer in resentment and tyranny” and are under the “reign of hatred and resentment”? Actually, the source of our vulnerability is that we really haven’t spent much money to defend our ports, chemical plants, railroads, interstates, etc. The source of the threat is non-state actors who happen to live in a region that is filled with tyranny (a great deal of which we aided and abetted during the cold war). By the way, there are other regions in the world filled with “resentment”. Are we threatened by them, too?

We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.

Well, honestly, no. I really don’t think that all of those Islamic Fundamentalists are genuinely a threat to the survival of this country. I’ll easily grant that they can do damage to us and our interests, but I defy anyone to come up with an even implausible scenario that sees our country collapse and end as a result of their actions. Additionally, I find it interesting that a President that calls Putin a friend, who goes out of his way to help the Saudis, and turns the other cheek to Pakistan's Wal-Mart approach to nuclear secrets wants to expand freedom everywhere. If this is true, can we expect to see a revision of long-standing American (both Democratic and Republican) policies?

America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights and dignity and matchless value because they bear the image of the maker of heaven and earth. Across the generations, we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave.

True, but we make clear exceptions. Can the Kurds go and exercise the rights of self-determination? The Palestinians? The Sunnis in Iraq? What about the rights of self-determination of the people in Pakistan (dictator), Saudi Arabia and Kuwait (theocracies both), and Russia (used to be a democracy, now isn't really)? For over half a century we made exceptions to these ideals: it was called self-interest. We didn't pick a fight with big countries over how they treated their citizens because we didn't really want to go to war with the USSR or the PRC (China) to free those people. We enjoyed our rich lifestyle too much. Now, the world is safer. We could pick fights with those countries (or others), though it would cost us. Is Bush really saying that the US is going to rid itself of the exceptions, and have a genuinely moral foreign policy? The last President to attempt this was Jimmy Carter, who is generally vilified by the entire Republican party. Is that what Bush wants to return to?

Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation's security, and the calling of our time. So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

See, there is no exception here. "...in every nation and culture..." That doesn't leave much wiggle room. It's a laudable moral goal (no one could deny that, and it does hearken back to the ideals of the founding generation), but is it really practical, or even beneficial? For example, would a democratic Saudi Arabia really continue to sell us the oil we need? Would it really benefit us if Egypt democratically decided not to let us use the Suez canal anymore (or Panama the Panama canal)? See, I'm all for morality, and I'm fine with Bush painting broad strokes here (no details, did you notice: how are we going to accomplish this?), but I'm also self-interested enough not to necessarily want to give up the things I enjoy (light, heat, food) in order to bring democracy (which might not like me or my ideals) to the rest of the world.

This is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary. Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities. And when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own.
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's kind of him to recognize that other state's choices of governments and laws might be different from ours. What if the way they choose rejects our ideals and values?

The great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations. The difficulty of the task is no excuse for avoiding it. America's influence is not unlimited, but, fortunately for the oppressed, America's influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom's cause.

OK, where? How? One can argue that we have freed the Iraqis (though they aren't really free yet, and it may be awhile). However, other than that, what else have we done? Afghanistan? They more or less attacked us, so freedom wasn't the main motivating force there. Ukraine? Yeah, Bush should get some kudos for that one: we took the moral high-ground (in the face of Putin's clear preference the other way) and stuck with it. But where else? We trashed a democracy in Venezuela (encouraged a coup). We wink at Musharif's obvious attempts to avoid anything democratic in Pakistan. And while we sometime condemn Putin's anti-democratic maneuverings in Russia, we don't seem to have actually used any of that "considerable" influence to try to push him the other direction (or if we have, I haven't seen it, and it hasn't done any good). I guess what I'm saying is that our past track record (not just Bush, but over the past half a dozen Presidents) hasn't really let the world know we're a beacon for democracy and self-determination in the world. I'm not sure they are going to believe us now.

My most solemn duty is to protect this nation and its people from further attacks and emerging threats. Some have unwisely chosen to test America's resolve and have found it firm.

By the way, this paragraph is a tough segue. It just doesn't flow with the previous one.

We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right.

He's doing that "every" thing again: no exceptions.

America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies. We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people.

If he is going to repeat himself, I can too. This is all very moral and good, but this does clearly mean that most of our allies in the entire Middle East shouldn't be. Is that really what we want? And by the way, how in the hell does this help us fight Bin Laden and Al Qaeda? They aren't states, we don't have relations with them, and to fight them effectively requires the assistance of states that really are quite nasty. Which comes first, freedom or terrorism?

America's belief in human dignity will guide our policies. Yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators. They are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.

OK, this is clearly ironic. This man just finished a campaign where there was no "free dissent" at any of his public speaking stops, and there were all sorts of stories before the inauguration about the banning of signs and demonstrations near the festivities. I'm not sure that Bush has seen "free dissent" in four years. I'm supposed to believe he wants it?

Some I know have questioned the global appeal of liberty, though this time in history -- four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen -- is an odd time for doubt.

Well, I don't doubt that liberty isn't appealing, I just worry that some people, once "liberated" will choose to reject the ideals and values that we find in liberty (which, if I'm not mistaken, Bush said was OK a half a dozen paragraphs before). And if they do that, will we allow it? And, by the way, liberty may have advanced swiftly in the past four decade, but (historically) liberty has retreated as well. Spain got back a dictator after democracy (Franco), as did France (Napoleon), Russia (Lenin), China (Mao), and others. The fact that there are more people free today doesn't mean that they can't stop being free later (see: Putin, Vladimir)

Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.
Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world. All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know the United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.
Democratic reformers facing repression, prison or exile can know: America sees you for who you are: the future leaders of your free country. The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did, "Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it."

Again, very moral and "good". I can't complain about that. But are we really going to start helping Chinese pro-democracy dissidents? How? Arms? Money? US Passports (if they are US citizens, China couldn't arrest and jail them as easily)? Bluntly, are we willing to destabilize relatively stable and helpful relationships with powerful and important states (China, Russia, Pakistan, etc.) in the name of trying to make them free?

The leaders of governments with long habits of control need to know to serve your people, you must learn to trust them. Start on this journey of progress and justice, and America will walk at your side.
And all the allies of the United States can know we honor your friendship, we rely on your counsel and we depend on your help. Division among free nations is a primary goal of freedom's enemies. The concerted effort of free nations to promote democracy is a prelude to our enemies defeat.

See, I know this is a crock. We may honor the friendship of our allies, but we certainly haven't relied on their counsel. In fact, we've annoyed more of our democratic (European) friends than our dictatorial (Middle Eastern) friends. So to tell other democratic states that we like their advice (which they know is a lie), and then to turn around and admonish them that they shouldn't foment "divisions" among free states (when Bush, just a half a dozen paragraphs ago, was in favor of free dissent) is about the height of hypocricy. And makes the high moral tone of this whole address somewhat suspect.

Today, I also speak anew to my fellow citizens. From all of you, I have asked patience in the hard task of securing America, which you have granted in good measure. Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill and would be dishonorable to abandon. Yet, because we have acted in the great liberating tradition of this nation, tens of millions have achieved their freedom. And as hope kindles hope, millions more will find it. By our efforts, we have lit a fire as well as a fire in the minds of men. It warms those who feel its power; it burns those who fight its progress. And one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world.

I think this is a long-winded way of saying "I made a mess in Iraq, thank you for letting me try to fix it."

A few Americans have accepted the hardest duties in this cause -- in the quiet work of intelligence and diplomacy, the idealistic work of helping raise up free governments, the dangerous and necessary work of fighting our enemies.
Some have shown their devotion to our country in deaths that honored their whole lives, and we will always honor their names and their sacrifice.

I can't be snarky about this. I can't think of anything more disheartening than fighting and dying in a war of such clear ambiguity (getting rid of Saddam - good; creating a civil war and pissing off the rest of the world - bad). It is very honorable for people to carry out orders and go into danger when they must know that there is every chance it won't work out well in the end (see: Vietnam). In some sense, fighting World War II is easy (Hitler, Auschwitz - what's debatable?). It's the small, dirty, confusing wars that are difficult.

All Americans have witnessed this idealism, and some for the first time. I ask our youngest citizens to believe the evidence of your eyes. You have seen duty and allegiance in the determined faces of our soldiers. You have seen that life is fragile, and evil is real, and courage triumphs. Make the choice to serve in a cause larger than your wants, larger than yourself, and in your days you will add not just to the wealth of our country but to its character.

See, I think I might just disagree. Bush is encouraging the younger generation to go give of their time and energy (public service, the military, AmeriCorps, something). That's all well and good. But can't one argue that a legitimate idealism is in opposing the things that Bush has done? Fighting (metaphorically) for the environment, a sane education policy, a coherent foreign policy, the wise use of force or just raising the level of intelligent discourse so that this democracy works better (owww - I just wrenched my shoulder patting myself on my back). How about a bunch of idealists joining the Republican Party and dragging it kicking and screaming back to the ideals and policies it had before this President came along? Public service isn't just about joining some form of the government, but about taking action that benefits the country as a whole, not just yourself.

America has need of idealism and courage, because we have essential work at home -- the unfinished work of American freedom.
In a world moving toward liberty, we are determined to show the meaning and promise of liberty.
In America's ideal of freedom, citizens find the dignity and security of economic independence, instead of laboring on the edge of subsistence. This is the broader definition of liberty that motivated the Homestead Act, the Social Security Act and the G.I. Bill of Rights. And now we will extend this vision by reforming great institutions to serve the needs of our time.

This is, genuinely, insane. Economic independence, by definition, provides no security against "laboring on the edge of subsistence." That's the whole point of having taxes and things - to reduce economic independence and allow the society as a whole to have security from falling over the edge. And no definition of "economic independence" motivated any of those acts of legislation he cites. Each of those was about less independence in the name of greater societal benefits (the Homestead act gave away government land to create a population where their wasn't one; the GI Bill used taxpayer dollars to send soldiers to school to create a more wealthy middle class; and Social Security transferred wealth from productive people to unproductive ones in the name of rewarding them for their age).

To give every American a stake in the promise and future of our country, we will bring the highest standards to our schools and build an ownership society. We will widen the ownership of homes and businesses, retirement savings and health insurance, preparing our people for the challenges of life in a free society.

Nothing wrong with this, if this is what the (democratic) country wants. Just remember: free means free to succeed, and free to fail. Once you own something, you are responsible for its success or failure. There is nothing wrong with that kind of free-enterprise system, but let's be clear that there it can go wrong.

By making every citizen an agent of his or her own destiny, we will give our fellow Americans greater freedom from want and fear and make our society more prosperous and just and equal.

No, this is wrong. Changing the economic basis of the society may or may not make the society more prosperous (depends on what the new "owners" do with what they now own), but I don't think it will do anything for just or equal. How could it? It's an economic system. Just actions by individuals within the system can reduce injustice and inequality, but the system can't. In fact, one needs to have laws to enforce equality, else the economic system might just create inequality (feudalism? plantation farming?). In any event, whatever the "ownership society" will do, it will clearly increase fear. Removing government safety nets (whatever economic or moral good it might do, and we can debate that) will increase the fear people have about the economic well-being. Without those safety nets, they know that the loss of a job, injury or just bad luck could drive them out into the street. Its in the definition.

In America's ideal of freedom, the public interest depends on private character, on integrity and tolerance toward others and the rule of conscience in our own lives.
Self-government relies, in the end, on the governing of the self. That edifice of character is built in families, supported by communities with standards, and sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran and the varied faiths of our people. Americans move forward in every generation by reaffirming all that is good and true that came before ideals of justice and conduct that are the same yesterday, today, and forever.

There is nothing wrong with good character, and clearly the more freedom a society has (economic, legal, etc.), the greater the "character" of individuals matters. After all, without a government to create laws and norms, you depend on the actions of individuals to be "good" and "just". Great. For the record, however, Bush is clearly showing his ignorance of the Renaissance and the great philosophers that were the real Founding Fathers of America: Locke, Hume, Rousseau, etc. The "ideals of justice" may have been written about long after Christianity, Judaism and Islam came around, but those "ideals" were not discovered. The Renaissance philosophers argued that all men (today, we'd include women - they were sexist back then) are equal and can be rationally shown to be. That everyone possesses rights that cannot be taken from them, no matter what religion pops up or moves in. It's this insight - removing the rights of man from a religious basis - that creates the foundations for the diverse society that can function as a democracy. Bush would do well to remember that.

(For the record, Bush's whole passage comes close to why I'm not a libertarian any more. I used to be a fairly strong one a few years back. But I no longer believe that people's "character", when removed from government imposed restrictions, will be thoughtful or benign. In other words, the more freedom you give people, the more they will be nasty and brutish (to quote Hobbes). Given sufficient "character", a libertarian society would be great. But Marx and Lenin made assumptions about "character" as well, and look where that got them. But I digress.)

In America's ideal of freedom, the exercise of rights is ennobled by service, and mercy, and a heart for the weak. Liberty for all does not mean independence from one another. Our nation relies on men and women who look after a neighbor and surround the lost with love. Americans, at our best, value the life we see in one another and must always remember that even the unwanted have worth.

Fine. More Christian imagrey. However, if "liberty...does not mean independence", why is Bush arguing for a more independent basis for economic exchange?

And our country must abandon all the habits of racism because we cannot carry the message of freedom and the baggage of bigotry at the same time.

Well, I'm certainly not going to argue for racism.

From the perspective of a single day, including this day of dedication, the issues and questions before our country are many. From the viewpoint of centuries, the questions that come to us are narrowed and few. Did our generation advance the cause of freedom? And did our character bring credit to that cause?

Back to freedom, huh. OK. A generation is a big thing. I'm not sure where one starts and one begins. So I'm not sure its up to Bush to do the work of a generation all in a few years. That being said, advancing freedom is great (back to a moral foreign policy). And from where I sit, the character that is being used to advance freedom (if that's what the Iraq adventure is being called) is clearly wanting. Our government disdains the opinions of the rest of the world, is angry that they won't help us, is upset that some in Iraq don't want our "liberty", makes those who disagree with the conduct of the war feel unpatriotic in expressing their dissent, debates seriously how far one can go in extracting information from people before it is called "torture", writes position papers that argue that the president has no check or balance upon him during wartime (though this one is not declared), and generally refuses to acknowledge real facts on the ground in making policy choices (yeah, I remember that "reality-based" quote still). That is not, for all the religious trappings of all the public speeches, character.

These questions that judge us also unite us, because Americans of every party and background, Americans by choice and by birth, are bound to one another in the cause of freedom.
We have known divisions, which must be healed to move forward in great purposes. And I will strive in good faith to heal them. Yet those divisions do not define America. We felt the unity and fellowship of our nation when freedom came under attack, and our response came like a single hand over a single heart. And we can feel that same unity and pride whenever America acts for good, and the victims of disaster are given hope, and the unjust encounter justice, and the captives are set free.

For the record (and I realize I'm farting into a hurricane, here), they didn't attack our "freedom": they attacked us because our policies harmed their attempts to impose their way of life on the rest of the Middle East. Saying they "hate freedom" damages the public debate about this, and harms our ability to find good policies to remove the threat of terrorism. It lowers the debate, and isn't worthy of our President.

We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul.

Poetic. A genuinely nice paragraph.

When our founders declared a new order of the ages, when soldiers died in wave upon wave for a union based on liberty, when citizens marched in peaceful outrage under the banner "Freedom Now," they were acting on an ancient hope that is meant to be fulfilled.
History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the author of liberty.

I like the historical stuff better than the religious notes. As noted, liberty has waxed and waned in historical context. This stuff is a little Fukuyamaesque, but I'm sure his speechwriter has read that stuff.

When the Declaration of Independence was first read in public and the Liberty Bell was sounded in celebration, a witness said, "It rang as if it meant something." In our time it means something still. America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof. Renewed in our strength, tested but not weary, we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom.
May God bless you, and may He watch over the United States of America

Nice ending. I guess, by the way, that "liberty to all the inhabitants" doesn't include the freedom for same-sex couples to marry? And while "tested but not weary" sounds nice, what does it mean? Is this a dig at Vietnam - we got out because we were "weary"? In crass political terms, I think it means "I'm still going through with this."

In any event, as a whole, the speech is clearly more foreign than domestic. It speaks to great changes internationally, and only hints are changes domestically. However, those changes are fundamental. Bush is claiming to bring a moral basis back to our foreign policy: other states will be taken to task for denying their citizens liberty. Honestly, how is that different from Carter (30 years ago)? I'm serious. Carter was ridiculed for trying to be a good person when our policies needed "toughness" (read: bang on the Soviets). If his was a disaster then, why is Bush that much better today? Sure, no Soviet Union, but can we really afford this kind of reach (far, far greater than any previous American foreign policy)? The answer might very well be "yes" (I'm an idealist, I can accept a moral basis for our foreign policy, though I'd want to debate it). However, the devil is in the details and the actual policy changes. Given the retractions/retreats cited at the beginning that began within 24 hours of this inaugural address, its hard to take any of this seriously. And if nothing is going to change, it will be a long and lonely four years.

Posted by baltar at 08:12 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Continued Military Personnel Problems

As I've argued before, the continued fighting in Iraq is making it harder and harder for the US military to recruit and retain the numbers needed to fight this war. USA Today ran some numbers today (two separate stories: here, and here) that provide generally bad news:

During the first two months of the 2005 fiscal year, which began in October, the Army Guard fell from 25% to more than 30% short of its recruiting goals. Earlier this month, the Army Reserve's top commander, Lt. Gen. James Helmly, sent a memo to Army leaders saying the Army Reserve was suffering severe personnel problems and becoming a "broken force."
The active Army was able to meet its 2004 recruiting goal of 77,000, in part because it rushed 6,000 recruits it had planned to enlist in 2005 to boot camp early, leaving less margin for error this year. In one sign of the concerns in the Army, the service is adding 574 new recruiters to bring its nationwide force up to more than 6,000.

So the Army, which was missing it's target by a bit under 10%, was only able to make the 2004 targets by pushing 2005 recruits into the training pipeline early. The Guard is off of its recruitment targets by 25 to 30%. These numbers cannot be sustained. And this is at a time when we clearly need more troops both in Iraq and the foreseeable future.

(The caveat to this is that wherever USA Today got the statistics from - it isn't listed in the article - doesn't include the retention numbers. In other words, the Army doesn't need to recruit as many if more stay in the Army. The other piece of good news is that both the Air Force and the Navy are over their recruitment targets, though that's mostly irrelevant given the kind of war we are in.)

Posted by baltar at 04:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The 77th Annual Academy Award Nominations

The nominations were announced this morning. Do any of you have anything you want to say about them?

My thoughts? Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and its director should have been nominated, as should have the director of Finding Neverland (if you're going to nominate it for Best Picture ...). Julie Delpy should have been nominated for Best Actress (though not at the expense of Kate Winslet's nomination) for her performance in Before Sunset, Rodrigo de la Serna should have been nominated as Best Supporting Actor for The Motorcycle Diaries. That said, the Academy got several things right, and I'm pleased to see that Lemony Snicket was nominated for some of its considerable technical strengths.

Posted by armand at 12:55 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

The Shifting Nature of the 4th Amendment

This post by Orin Kerr is realy interesting. He discusses how recent decisions, including yesterday's in Illinois v. Caballes, are moving 4th Amendment questions from being the nature of the search or surveillance employed to the government, to the nature of what the government is searching for. That is a very troubling trend.

Posted by armand at 11:26 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hafer for Lt. Governor in PA?

In the comments section of an earlier post I'd noted that last year Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell had been boosting a possible US Senate candidacy by Republican-turned-Democrat Barbara Hafer, but that now most of the serious talk among Democratic insiders on the Senate race was swirling around State Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. So what happened? According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Rendell still likes Hafer - but now he wants her to run for Lt. Governor of Pennsylvania instead. Rendell hope she'll be able to oust the inexplicably popular current Lt. Governor, Catherine Baker Knoll.

Posted by armand at 08:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 24, 2005

Illinois v. Caballes

If I was forced to pick my two favorite Supreme Court justices Ginsburg and Souter would probably top the list, so any case in which they stand together as the only dissenters will catch my eye - and that happened today in Illinois v. Caballes. The Court ruled 6-2 in a decision written by Justice Stevens that a particular search was legal. I think they got it wrong - and Justice Ginsburg's dissent lays out why succinctly. You might want to read Justice Souter's dissent though too. It raises some interesting practical points about the use of drug-sniffing dogs.

Posted by armand at 12:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Respecting Dr. Rice

"No one in official Washington doubts that Dr. Rice, who is widely respected on both sides of the aisle, will be confirmed in a vote expected on Wednesday."

"Widely respected on both sides of the aisle"!?!?!?!?! If that analysis is accurate what's going on in DC these days is even worse than I thought. And that's a terrifying prospect.

Posted by armand at 10:08 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

If You Are Disgusted by Star Jones Reynolds and The View ...

... and c'mon, who's not, you should take a minute out of your life to read this review of the performances of Mrs. Jones Reynolds and co-host Kathy Griffin on what I guess should be referred to as the pre-game special that preceded this year's Golden Globes Awards. I would never in a billion years thought that I would deeply regret missing Star Jones and pre-awards-show schmoozing before something put on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, but this commentary on the coverage makes me really wish I'd watched it. It sounds hilarious, albeit in a somewhat appalling fashion.

Posted by armand at 09:32 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Rob Andrews Out, Bill Lockyer In

The upcoming races for the Democratic nominations for governor in two of the country's biggest "blue" states became clearer this weekend. Attorney General Bill Lockyer has begun publicly seeking official endorsements in California's contest. I was a fan of Lockyer's when he was a state legislator. He was a tough and effective fighter. But I've cooled on him since he became Attorney General. He'll face State Treasurer Phil Angelides in the primary. That field may also include State Controller Steve Westly.

In New Jersey, South Jersey Congressman Rob Andrews has announced he will back US Senator Jon Corzine in the race for governor. Andrews announced that all of the South Jersey Democratic chairs were also going to be backing Corzine in the race. I like Corzine a lot (though I certainly have nothing against Acting Governor Codey who seems to be a hard-working and talented guy) so I consider this to be good news.

Posted by armand at 09:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 23, 2005

Alternative Histories

Mark Kleiman alerts us to one of the twists of history of which I was unaware. I love these little thought experiements. Yes, many things in history are the result of major structural changes in the world - but seemingly random things can matter too. Do ya'll have any favorite random events? I've always wondered a bit about what might have happened differently if the torpedos that hit HMS Nelson in October of 1939 (when she was carrying many of the top officials in the British navy, including Winston Churchill) had actually exploded.

Posted by armand at 03:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 21, 2005

Michael Powell Out


The censor-in-chief (aka FCC chairman) that led the fight against such fundamental threats to American society as the exposure of Janet Jackson's breast is resigning.

Posted by armand at 12:47 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Shaun of the Dead

When all is said and done and I look back on the films of 2004 a few years from now (when I've had a chance to see more of the smaller releases, plus some of the larger ones that I originally had qualms about seeing), I bet this British comedy will rank in my top 10 films of the year. There's very little to it, but it's sweet, somewhat unexpected, and often bloody hilarious.

Posted by armand at 12:41 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 20, 2005

To Filibuster or Not? To Go "Nuclear" or Not?

This article on Law.com does an excellent job of explaining what's going on with the appelate judicial nominees that the Senate refused to approve in the last Congress (or the ones out of that set that the president has resubmitted for confirmation). The Democrats look unwilling to waver on their opposition to most of them, but there are a few cases in which an accomodation may be reached. The article discusses how that could potentially come about.

Posted by armand at 01:08 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Secret Things

Hot girl-on-girl action! You might think I'm being a little silly begining this post that way, but given the length of time the movie takes to get to anything else ... OK, that's not really accurate. It's starts with women pleasuring themselves. The girl-on-girl stuff follows that.

What's the movie about beyond that? Well, not a lot really. It's all about sex and maniuplation and women using all of themselves and tormenting men to get ahead. Oh, and saying no to love. Or at least trying to. On the whole it's risque and pretty and intriguing. Not amazing, but it holds one's interest - and not just when Coralie Revel is naked.

Posted by armand at 11:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Louisiana Amemds Its Constitution to Ban Gay Marriage

An anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment was approved by a huge margin in a state-wide election there last fall, but a district judge struck the amendment down because of how it was constructed. Yesterday the Louisiana Supreme Court unanimously reversed the lower court's ruling. As if this week wasn't already filled with more than its share of depressing political news ...

Posted by armand at 09:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Anthony Shriver

I don't know enough about the potential field of candidates to say whether or not I think Anthony Shriver should run for governor of Florida, but this article does reaffirm one truth about the Democratic party - Shrivers are better looking than Kennedys.

Posted by armand at 09:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 19, 2005

Senate Foreign Relations Approves Rice

The nomination of Condoleeza Rice has been approved by the Senate Foreign Relations committee. All Republicans on the panel voted for her, as did six Democrats (Biden, Sarbanes, Dodd, Feingold, Nelson of Florida, and Obama). The only votes against her came from John Kerry and Barbara Boxer. It appears, therefore, that she will soon be confirmed with the support of a large majority of the members of the US Senate.

Given Rice's long record of extraordinary incompetence at the NSC I think it's now appropriate for the president to lead us in prayer.

Posted by armand at 12:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More Pro-Life Democrats in the US Senate?

The conventional wisdom seems to be that the two incumbent Republican senators who will face the toughest races for reelection in 2006 are Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. In the last few weeks the Democratic leadership in those states seems to have been coalescing around the candidates that they think will pose the strongest challenges against the Republican incumbents - Bob Casey in Pennsylvania and Jim Langevin in Rhode Island. Polls have been done that suggest both Casey and Langevin would in fact defeat the incumbents if the 2006 races were held today. That's interesting, and so unusual that it's not hard to understand why the party would be trying to boost their candidacies. But one thing about these actions stands out to me - both these potential Democratic candidates are anti-choice. Given the large number of progressive Democrats in both of these Kerry-supporting states I am rather concerned about the party officials annointing someone to speak for them who doesn't share their values. Don't get me wrong - I'd love to see Santorum defeated. But I hope that the voices the people who are most imperiled by his presence in the Senate are not drowned out in the attempt to remove him from office. Casey would be better than Santorum - but just because he's electable doesn't mean he's necessarily the best candidate the Democrats can come up with.

Posted by armand at 11:43 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

January 18, 2005

GW to the People of DC: I'm Going to Tax and Endanger You!

No wonder DC voted so heavily for Kerry if this is how the president treats the people of the nation's capitol.

Posted by armand at 12:38 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Stewie Griffin - XXX

While one can certainly make a case for the most damaging member of the president's administration (after the man himself) being Rumsfeld or Gonzalez or Bybee, I wonder if we should add Michael Powell as a contender for that post. Not only are his morals police egregious on philosophical grounds, and probably very harmful to society on that score, they are also ridiculously inept - no one has the vaguest clue about what exactly they require. That's the kind of censorship that can lead to both horrifying and ridiculous extremes. It's already gone so far that Fox has decided to obscure the bare asses of the Griffin men (yep, I'm talking about animated characters) on reruns of The Family Guy because they are afraid they'll get fined for indecency. This is what our government is worried about? Images of cartoon characters?

Posted by armand at 11:17 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The New State Department?

Drezner has an interesting post commenting on a Financial Times article about Rice's reshaping of the State Department. He generally approves (less neo-cons, more realists, in his opinion).

What is interesting, for us IR people, is that Stephen Krasner (that old dinosaur) is getting the Policy job at State. That's really high up. I haven't read Krasner in quite a while, but I don't remember any brilliance. Here's the quote by him from the FT article:

"The notion that you can create an ideal world is what walked us into Mao's China, Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia. If you want a decent life, what you need is a political system which is prudent and limited. I think that the United States has actually done pretty well in that regard."

To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure what this means. Is he saying that Idealism (or Liberalism - which, for those non IR types, has nothing to do with the democractic party) got us into China, Germany (World Wars I and II? NATO? when and where?), and Russia (when were we "in" Stalin's Russia? We placed troops in Vladivostock in 1919, but other than that, what is he talking about?)? How were our policies in those times and places bad (which he does not state, but implies)? Anyone got a clue?

Posted by baltar at 09:51 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 15, 2005

This Whole Social Security Debate (Part Deux)

I guess, since nobody jumped all over me, that my basic assumptions from the earlier social security post were more or less accurate. This post will briefly discuss the nature of the "crisis", and the proposed solutions.

As mentioned in the previous post, the crisis is that present payroll taxes will no longer pay for full benefits for social security retirees starting in 2018. At that point, amount workers are paying in will be less than what Social Security is paying out to those damn baby-boomers who are retiring. As many have noted, the overpayments by the baby-boomers throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s have been "invested" in US government bonds. So, in theory, past 2019 all the government has to do is begin to cash in those bonds and use the money to pay the boomers to sit in their deck chairs and drink Mai-Tais. (If the goverment does this, the amount of money in the bonds will last until 2041 or so.)

The problem with this is that those bonds just mean that one part of the government has to hand money to another part. What really happened to the surplus payroll tax money over the last three decades is that we spent it. Yeah, Congress gave some bonds to the Social Security Administration, but we didn't invest it in IBM, Microsoft, or even CDs. We just spent it, and promised to pay it back later (the bonds).

Look at the first table here (the one labeled: "CBO's September 2004 Baseline Budget Projections"). Notice the column labeled 2004. Towards the bottom, it has a section labeled Deficit or Surplus, and for 2004 it indicates that the total debt is 422 billion dollars. Also notice, however, that we have 574 billion dollars of "on-budget" debt and 153 billion dollars of "off-budget" surplus. That surplus is the extra social security money being collected right now. The rest of the goverment (Pentagon, Agriculture, Justice, etc.) is overspending not by 422 billion dollars, but actually by 574 billion. We're just using the 153 billion from social security that isn't needed to pay today's retirees to make the actual deficit look less than it is.

So, really, what the social security "crisis" refers to is that starting in 2019 that little bit of a surplus will become a deficit. This is why many people just shrug this off: the Government budget is one big spreadsheet, not separate ones for social security and the rest of the government, and this item in the budget will get larger starting in 2019. Big whoop. There is something to this argument, but the what frightens most people is that the cost of paying for Mai-Tais for the boomers will get really, really big (several trillion over some years), and it will be difficult to fund that through normal budget actions (though not necessarily impossible). Hence, there are a set of proposed solutions.

Solution One is the Presidential one: private accounts. The idea here is simply that rather than let the government take all the payroll tax dollars to use today in the budget, workers should be allowed to put some of that money into what they want to invest in (stocks, bonds, CDs, whatever). This is akin to the government forcing people to save money (which Americans basically don't do). When the workers retire, they take the money the goverment forced them to save and get to spend it. The reason why this plan looks good is that if you compare the rate of return for money workers "invest" (they don't really invest it, of course) in social security historically to what they could have done with the money themselves (again: stocks, bonds, CDs, whatever), then social security is the worst "investment" they could have made in terms of having a big pile of money to live on when the hit 65 or so.

The problem with this is that, as was outlined above, social security doesn't "invest" the payroll tax dollars at all. They use todays worker to pay for yesterdays worker/todays retiree. So, if todays worker puts less money into social security (because they are diverting some part of the payroll tax to a private account), that leaves less money to pay for the people who are already getting social security. As noted, starting in 2019 we already won't have enough present worker money to pay the retirees, so if we institute this plan then the long term prospects are good (the workers private accounts pay for part of their benefits, so the government will pay out much less), but short term things really suck. After all, even less money will be coming in via payroll taxes, but payments to retiring baby boomers are just as high as ever. This is what everyone is calling "transition costs": the extra costs to the goverment of switching from the present system to the private account system. Estimates of this cost range from a trillion to four trillion dollars (over many years), presumably in addition to whatever the costs are to fund the retiring baby-boomers. The President has been, umm, unclear, on where this extra money would come from.

Solution Two is to (gasp!) raise taxes or (gasp!) lower benefits, or both. Via Kevin Drum/Washington Monthly, there is a handy Social Security Administration publication (note: pdf file) that discusses all this, and compares (table on page 25) what benefit reductions and increased taxes would be necessary to solve the crisis (i.e., make the income from the payroll taxes equal the outflow of benefits to retirees). It turns out that raising payroll taxes by 2% (not trivial, but not huge either) would remove the crisis. I'm unclear if that solution includes the bond money (which, as I noted, isn't really saved anywhere at this point) or not.

Solution Three is to do nothing. The crisis is at least a decade and a half away, and all sorts of things can pop up between now and then that might make it worse, or better. In any case, any solution that is tried now might not be applicable when the crisis really rolls around, so we might not solve anything. Not many people are proposing this option, but it is worth mentioning.

Here is where I'm really confused: How do private accounts solve the coming crisis? The problem is that in 2019 the payroll taxes alone will no longer pay for the benefits. How does creating private accounts (and diverting even more money out of paying benefits) solve the problem? I guess I can see how it might help many years down the line (when people have invested enough and long enough into private accounts so that there is real money there to retire on, but that will take decades), but how does it help us now? Anyone know the answer?

Posted by baltar at 01:04 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

January 13, 2005

The Best Song Oscar

OK, the nominations aren't out yet, but is it ever too early to start cowering in fear of the hideous tunes Oscar viewers will assaulted with mid-way through that endless awards program? My question is ... does anyone remember any songs from this year's films? I remember Accidentally In Love from Shrek II. But that's it. I guess one of the favorites is Old Habits Die Hard from Alfie (which I don't remember, even though I saw Alfie). Other possible nominees are Josh Groban's Believe from Polar Express and Million Voices from Hotel Rwanda. Does anyone know just how good or awful these are? Are there other possiblities?

Posted by armand at 01:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

This Whole Social Security Debate

The left wing of the blogosphere is mostly up in arms (Kevin Drum, slacktivist, and there are others) about Bush's proposed "fix" for social security. Bush is running around saying things like this:

"As a matter of fact, by the time today's workers who are in their mid-20s begin to retire, the system will be bankrupt. So if you're 20 years old, in your mid-20s, and you're beginning to work, I want you to think about a Social Security system that will be flat bust, bankrupt, unless the United States Congress has got the willingness to act now. And that's what we're here to talk about, a system that will be bankrupt." (From Bush's speach in Utah yesterday, Link

Now, I freely admit that I don't think I entirely understand this whole debate. If someone wants to correct my mis-understandings (or, plainly, stupidity), just jump in.

Point the First: Social Security was set up sometime in the 1930s so that working people would be taken care of partially (not, and never intended to be, fully) by goverment money.

Point the Second: The system operates by puting a special tax (not a regular tax) on present workers, and sending that money to the people who have retired.

Point the Third: From the beginning of the system until now, more money has been paid in by workers than is going out to retirees. This is expected to continue for a while.

How long until the present system doesn't work? Ah, here's where (I think) it starts to get tricky.

Point the Fourth: The extra money that has been coming in for the past 75 or so years the government has put somewhere safe: US Government Bonds. In other words, the government took the money and lent it to itself.

Point the Fifth: The payments in from present workers will be less than what needs to be paid out to retirees starting in 2018 (scroll down to the chart titled "Key Dates for the Trust Fund"). In other words, the government will need to either find more money (by increasing taxes or borrowing it) to pay out to retirees or reduce the amount they pay out to retirees starting in 2018.

Point the Sixth: It isn't that simple. The Social Security system has been taking in more money that it has been spending, and lending it to the rest of the government. In theory, past 2018, the government can start cashing in those US Savings Bonds and using that extra money to pay benefits. According to the same source above, once the Social Security system starts cashing in the bonds, it can fully fund payments to retirees until 2029. Only after 2029 would the government have to either reduce payments or raise taxes or borrow money.

(Point the Sixth and a Half: The "extra" money from bonds runs out in 2041, at which point payments to retirees are made entirely from the payroll taxes of whomever is working at the time. By all available estimates, there will be fewer people working per retiree in 2041 than today, so there is no way to fully fund social security at this point. This is the crisis)

Point the Seventh: It isn't that simple. The "interest" that is used to pay retirees starting in 2018 is really just tax money: the Social Security system is getting that extra money from the rest of the government, who will need to come up with the money to give to the Social Security branch. Where will the government get the money? It will either have to raise taxes, borrow it, or change the Social Security Act to reduce payments to retirees so that it doesn't have to give the "interest" to the Social Security system.

None of this mentions Bush's "Privatization" plan, or other solutions. I'll leave that to another day, and merely ask: Is this right? Can anyone correct me where I'm wrong? (and point me to a cite?)

Posted by baltar at 09:26 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Prince Harry the Nazi

I'm not going to usually take time out to criticize 20 year-old celebrities, but what was Prince Harry thinking wearing a Nazi uniform? There's dumb and there's callous but I'm not sure of the right word to capture the cold-hearted stupidity of that move.

Posted by armand at 09:12 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 12, 2005

Bush not Exonerated in CBS Fiasco

As Kos notes, just because the people at CBS were incompetent doesn't mean that Bush wasn't AWOL. There's a great deal of information that makes it appear that President Bush didn't complete his military service.

Posted by armand at 02:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Famous Names for '06 Races

One Democratic scion will run for governor of Florida in 2006, but another has opted not to run for governor in Massachusetts.

Posted by armand at 01:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Giving Up the Search for Iraqi WMD

It's over. And we seem not to have found anything of note. All those scary stories Rice, Cheney and the president told us back in 2002 and 2003 - they were wrong.

Apart from the big picture though, one line in this story struck me as really strange - "Bush has expressed disappointment that no weapons or weapons programs were found". Is that true? If so ... he wanted Saddam Hussein to have WMD. So I'm really hoping that's just a poorly worded sentence.

Posted by armand at 12:31 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 11, 2005

Father-in-Law Attacks Illinois Governor

How has this not gotten more nation-wide press? Family disputes, corruption charges, politics ... this story has all the makings of something television news would love.

Posted by armand at 12:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Michael Chertoff to Head Homeland Security

So are we allowed to ask the President why Chertoff, a man with all sorts of qualifications for this job, was a runner-up to someone who had few - if any? I mean we've seen (time and time again) that competence has little to do with one's standing in the Bush administration. But even to the eyes of partisan conservatives Chertoff being a number two pick behind Kerik must be somewhat embarrasing.

Posted by armand at 12:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

CBS Ruins the Party for Everyone

As is all over the news, CBS's external probe of the National Guard story has found serious flaws in how CBS followed it's own internal guidelines about sources, information and reporting. Morale in CBS is reported to be very low. Well, good. It should be. They serious screwed up a story. They have already fired five (with Dan Rather on his way out), and maybe more will go.

The thing is, not only CBS takes a credibility hit with this. Their failures splash over onto all major news organizations (print and TV), and allow charges of bias and distortion to be more easily made (though not proven). For all the talk of blogs, the internet, and cable TV replacing the traditional news outlets, let us keep one thing firmly in mind: only the major news sources have the budgets, people, and training to be able to chase down major news stories. Without these organizations, our knowledge of what goes on in our own government, between governments, and in other states falls off dramatically. And that information is critical to democracy and policy. CBS made it harder for the traditional news sources to be believed, which makes it easier to dismiss what they do uncover and report. That hurts all of us.

Posted by baltar at 08:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 10, 2005

Chief Justice McConnell?

That's a possible nomination that makes a lot of sense to me. His is certainly a name to watch.

Posted by armand at 04:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Stratfor - It's Time to Leave

Andrew Sullivan alerts us to the fact that Stratfor deems the war over - and lost.

Posted by armand at 04:16 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Ambassador Death Squad

What Matt says: "Put a man with lots of death squad experience in charge of your counterinsurgency, and you tend to wind up with death squads."

Posted by armand at 10:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Cokie Earns Her Pay

Since I have spent a fair amount of time here bashing the analysis of Cokie Roberts, I feel it's only fair that I should note that her story on NPR this morning was actually reasonably good. Of course it was not news. The Republican leadership in the House has been reining in committee chairmen for years, and the awarding of committee chairmanships has been dependent on who toes the party line and raises money for the party for at least 3 or 4 Congresses now. Despite what you might read in your school text books, seniority doesn't control those matters in the US House. But Cokie's report did a decent job at explaining how the process works. Where she was wrong was when she suggested this was new, and that Hastert was finally learning how to control his troops.

Something she could have mentioned considering her topic (the awarding of committee chairmanships in the US House) is that Californians now run a host of major ones - Ways and Means, Appropriations, Rules, Armed Services, Natural Resources, Homeland Security (those are the ones that I can name off the top of my head). While there are no Californians in the top party leadership positions, their influence will certainly be heard in the caucus and in the major committees. And of course even in this era of strong party leadership in Congress geographic interests and alliances still count for something.

Posted by armand at 10:04 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Discussion Topic of the Day - The Top TV Theme Songs

Retrocrush is compiling a list of the top 100.

What do I think should be on it? Among the themes that would make my top 20: Green Acres, Hong Kong Phoey, Bewitched, The Rockford Files, The Facts of Life (I'm not happy about that, but it's very catchy), and, of course, Twin Peaks. But having given this matter some thought (ok, about 90 seconds of thought) I think the all-time best might have been the theme for Dallas. Yes, of course it's cheesy - but it was so perfectly appropriate to the show.

Oh, as to British shows ... Absolutely Fabulous perhaps? Though perhaps it should be Red Dwarf - even though I hate that song. I once was unable to get that out of my head for days on end. That was really annoying.

Posted by armand at 09:49 AM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

January 09, 2005

Next Head of the Bank of Israel - Stanley Fischer

Stanley Fischer, Vice Chairman of Citigroup, former chief economist at the World Bank, and possibly best known in international economic circles from his years at the IMF, has been on the short-lists for a host of major economic posts in recent years - but that he's taking this one is quite a surprise.

Posted by armand at 03:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 08, 2005

"Adventure Has a New Name"

This one-liner is likely to be the funniest swipe at an Eisner-family creation all weekend.

Speaking of Eisner-related disasters, did anyone read that piece on Eisner bringing Ovitz into Disney (and the debacles that followed) in the latest issue of The New Yorker? It made up for that issue of the magazine being the least interesting one in several months. Well, it made up for it if you find it hard to tear yourself away from tales of giants of industry destroying their own careers - and seemingly recognizing their mistakes while they make them.

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January 07, 2005

Number 2 at State - It's Bob Zoellick

So it's finally decided (after weeks and weeks and weeks ... Rice seems to share the immediate, take-charge decision-making style President Bush employs when reading to pre-schoolers) and Bob Zoellick will be the Deputy Secretary of State. He would not my pick in an ideal world, but a Bush administration is hardly my ideal world, and he seems to be a capable guy.

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More on Gonzalez

Chris Suellentrop reviews the nimble responses of AG-to-be Gonzalez that clearly imply that he think the president can order torture, irrespective of the law.

And Publius resurrects a great old post of his. As Praktike notes: "I don't see how anyone in their right mind would feel comfortable with Alberto Gonzales at the helm of the Department of Justice after reading his piece."

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Buckets of Your Money Going to Armstrong Williams

Since frequent commentors Joshua and Morris have been going on and on about No Child Left Behind (in the comments section of a post about Fallujah) I thought I'd link to this story - Armstrong Williams received $240,000 from the government to promote NCLB on his show. That strikes me as, at the very least, unethical.

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January 06, 2005

Ghost in the Shell II: Innocence

Wow. If you never saw Ghost in the Shell you missed one of the best-looking animated features ever. And this one ... wow. The imagery, details, use of light and movement ... wow. It looks phenomenal and draws upon looks resembling everything from Taiwanese parades to Blade Runner to the cathedreal in Milan to Griffin and Sabine to Coruscant to the dreams of William Gibson. And on top of that it's actually trying to make a meaningful statement. It's an entirely different sort of thing from most of the films that make "best of the year" lists, but I think deserves to be on more of those.

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Gonzalez: Though Shalt Not Render Unto Egypt

Al Gonzalez a few minutes ago:

Durbin: I read in the paper today that we rendered someone to a country where they would be tortured. Is that illegal?

Gonzales: That would be unlawful, yes.

If it's illegal - why did it happen? Perhaps someone should look into that.

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The Gonzalez Confirmation Hearings

This blog is doing a great job covering them.

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January 05, 2005

What if Al Gonzalez Had Worked for Pinochet?

Josh Marshall raises an interesting question.

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January 04, 2005

Jesperson Doesn't Face Gender Discrimination

This editorial in the Sacramento Bee strongly disagress with the 9th Circuit's recent ruling in Jesperson v. Harrah's. What was the case about?

"Harrah's Casino in Reno fired a bartender with a stellar 20-year work record because she refused to follow a new 'Beverage Department Image Transformation' policy requiring women to wear stockings, lipstick, foundation, blush, mascara and nail polish. They must fix their hair 'teased, curled, or styled'. In contrast, men merely have to be clean and neat in appearance."

A panel of the 9th Circuit held that Harrah's policy isn't discriminatory. The vote was 2-1. Would they have held the same if halter tops were involved? How about corsets? I agree with the paper. This decision is very troubling.

Oh, for what it's worth, the judges who supported this were Barry Silverman, a Clinton appointee who's usually considered one of the circuit's moderate or conservative judges, and, hold on to your hat, Wallace Tashima, a Carter appointee who's usually considered one of the leading liberals on that supposedly left-wing circuit. Judge Sidney Thomas dissented.

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The Supreme Court Forecasting Project

The latest issue of Perspectives on Politics (sorry, I don’t know how to link to it) features a symposium on the Supreme Court Forecasting Project. This project is built with the goal of creating a statistical model that can predict the voting behavior of the Supreme Court. This is (according to the goals of political science) a worthy endeavor. But the model itself is yet another example of the atheoretical numbers fetish that marks political science at its worst.

The symposium article by Andrew Martin, Kevin Quinn, Theodore Ruger and Pauline Kim lays out the decision tree that is the core of their model. I suppose one can praise their forthrightness in acknowledging the lack of theory behind their work. They explicitly note “variables were not chosen for explicitly theoretical reasons. Rather, they were chosen based on their availability and plausible relationship to Supreme Court decision making.” But that hardly excuses the fact that they are clearly trying to build a major endeavor upon an unstable foundation. Once you get past that, all you have to do is look at the initial steps in the decision tree to note more problems. The first questions is – was the lower court decision liberal? That opens the door to all sorts of coding problems. Many decisions aren’t obviously “liberal” or “conservative” – far from it. It is no surprise that there are serious reliability problems with that measure. Then the next step in the decision tree deals with which circuit it comes from – but there is no theoretical reason behind the groupings of the circuits. Even the goal – predicting whether the Supremes will affirm or reverse – is simplistic. There is no discussion of the grounds upon or scope of the ruling.

Suzanna Sherry of Vanderbilt University Law School notes these problems, and others, in her scathing response to this article. Much of her response deals with the methodological problems in this study. But Sherry finds some interesting results here that withstand these criticisms. Most interestingly, the model is best at predicting the conservative justices, and does a poor job of predicting the votes of the four justices often referred to as the liberals. Since this is a heavily attitudinal model this suggests that justices like Rehnquist and Scalia make their decisions on the basis of their politics, but the other justices are different. Sherry constructs a strong case in arguing that the “liberal” justices vote on the basis of the law and precedent. Sherry further notes that while the “conservatives” vote their politics and the “liberals” vote the law it appears that Justice O’Connor is doing something else. O’Connor takes a “rather cavalier attitude toward precedent” – even precedents she has joined. She appears to basically take a pragmatic approach to legal questions. Sherry further notes that Justice Kennedy behaves this way on occasion too, but that he does it more rarely and more explicitly.

There are serious problems with this project. But even with its flaws it does strengthen the “attitudinalists” case that some justices on the Supreme Court, perhaps particularly those often labeled “conservative”, decide cases on the basis of their political preferneces.

Posted by armand at 03:23 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Superfluous Endings - Snicket and Neverland

Two movies, two days, two needless final scenes. I'd recommend both Lemony Snicket and Finding Neverland, but I don't understand why the scripts for both of these films ended with scenes that explicitly laid out emotions and meanings that were made perfectly clear and staged in beautiful non-explicit ways just a scene or two before. Moviegoers, even children, aren't idiots. They get the point. They don't have to be read to.

That complaint aside, I recommend Finding Neverland very highly. I think it's one of the best films of the year. It's really quite moving and sweet and well-acted, but what surprised me most was the directing job. Marc Forster (previously best known for Monsters Ball) did superb work - I really hope he gets an Oscar nomination.

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January 03, 2005

Lemony Snicket: The Miserable Movie

It's definitely not Jim Carrey's best film and performance of the year - that would be Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Sadly, here he too frequently just hams it up. But if you can overlook his overacting this is a delightful film adaptation of the first 3 Lemony Snicket books (Bad Begining, Reptile Room and Wide Window). The production design is great. The script is very good (happily Daniel Handler and Robert Gordon didn't just follow the books from points A to B to C). It's quite funny. And if the ending is a bit drawn out and overly sweet ... considering the audience for this, I'm willing to overlook that. As to who shines on-screen - Meryl Streep is marvelous as Aunt Josephine, and Emily Browning and Liam Aiken both turn in very fine turns as Violet and Klaus. If you like the books you should like the movie. And it's a great family film too.

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Sullivan and Mendolsohn on Angels in America

Since I recently watched the film version of Angels in America I was interested in this Andrew Sullivan.com link discussing the work. Included in the post is a link to David Mendelsohn's interesting review of the film for The New York Review of Books. I bring this up again because both the post and the review get at a key reason why I so dislike the ending of the play (and movie), and I dislike the ending immensely. The way that the Joe Pitt character is abandoned really doesn't fit with the tone of the play, and the fact that he's not redeemed while the completely loathsome Louis is ... well, it's just one of several ways that Perestroika doesn't work (in terms of fitting together coherently), but morally it's possibly the most appalling. That said, I think in a lot of ways the play does work (Millenium Approaches certainly does) and to critique the politics of the play on the basis of the movie, as is done in the Sullivan post, is really pretty silly even if Kushner's politics are themselves silly. The play and the movie aren't the same work.

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January 02, 2005

Bob Matsui, Dead at 63

One of my favorite members of Congress died late Saturday. The cause of death was a stem cell disorder.

Bob Matsui of California was elected to a 14th term in the US House this past November. He was a committed progressive on social issues, but he had worked hard on economic matters to try to create policies that were both business friendly and fit with the humanitarian and environmental goals that are core beliefs of the Democratic party. He was probably the most visible support of free trade policies among the Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee (he ranked 3rd in seniority, behind Charlie Rangel and Pete Stark, among the Democrats on the panel). On top of that, he was generally known as a sincere, unpretentious, nice man. He was one of the good guys in DC, and he will be missed.

It should probably be noted that as the ranking Democrat on the Social Security subcommittee Matsui was one his party's leaders on that issue. That post will now likely be filled by Rep. Ben Cardin of Maryland, though I suppose it's possible Sander Levin would leave his leadership post on the Trade subcommittee to take this position. Presuming Cardin takes it, it would give him a very visible platform as he mulls a race for governor in 2006.

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Kuwait - Land of Censorship

Kuwait's Information Minister is resigning because of complaints that he's not doing enough to enforce censorship - against Western ideas. Don't you just love the kind of people Americans have to risk their lives to keep in power just because we are incapable (or unwilling) to change the petroleum economy?

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When a film achieves such critical acclaim you inevitably enter it with very high expectations. My advice - don't think about that when you go to see it. It is a good movie. It is a very good movie. But I wouldn't say it's the year's best film. Basically, it's a moving look at the life of an unhappy loser (so kind of like Alexander Payne's last film, About Schmidt ... and I suppose one could argue that Election is about that too). And it's very well done, no question. And I think that the talk of Oscar nominations (and maybe even wins) for the supporting perfomances by Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen is completely understandable. Both are great. But don't watch it expecting a cinematic miracle. It's a very good movie. But it's not flawless.

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College Bowl Season Thoughts

Happy New Year! If there's one thing that marks the start of another year in the United States it's college football bowl games. Looking back over yesterday (and the preceding weeks) the following things stand out to me:

That the Big East had an automatic slot in one of the Big 4 bowls was ridiculous. All the "best" Big East teams lost games (in some cases, multiple games) they should have won in November meaning that the Pitt Panthers were the Big East's representative in the big money bowls even though they lost 3 games during the regular season. They were, predictably, drubbed by Utah (who finishes the season undefeated) in the Fiesta Bowl 35-7. Thankfully Louisville and Bobby Petrino join the Big East next year. That should greatly improve the quality of the conference (and that I'm saying that about Louisville should speak volumes about how far it's fallen).

Relatedly, the game I wish I'd seen was the Liberty Bowl. Louisville came back to beat Boise State 44-40, led by Baton Rouge native Stefan LeFors (who has in many ways been the most impressive NCAA quarterback this season).

I'm glad that the season is over for Paul Peterson. The Boston College quarterback was a great, under-rated player, but since he broke his hand in November, and then broke his leg ... he needs to rest.

Congratualtions to David Greene. He led Georgia over Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl to finish his collegiate career with 42 wins. He is the winningest quarterback in NCAA history.

There are still two big games to go - the Sugar Bowl on Monday, and the Orange Bowl (for the national championship) on Tuesday.

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