Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

Think at your own risk.
Thursday, February 24, 2005
Taming of the pundits, part 1
Just witnessed a truly Orwellian moment on MSNBC's "Hardball." Chris Matthews opened the show saying -- and I'll paraphrase while I wait for the transcripts to post on msnbc.com -- "President Bush and Vladimir Putin held a tense, tense press conference today on the subject of democracy..." Then Matthews tosses to reliably Bush-friendly reporter Norah O'Donnell, whose report totally contradicts what he just said. Sounding like an old gal' from the Pravda days (perhaps fitting since she was in Mother Russia), O'Donnell proceeds to talk about how harmonious, genial and warm the presser (and prior meetings) were. She used the word "warm" over and over. When she threw back to Chris, rather than challenge her on her assertion (which conflicts with the actual newswer, which I watched in its entirety, and in which a testy Vlad challenged any notion that his country is any less democratic than the U.S.) Matthews breezed right by it, kicking off his discussion with neocon Richard Perle and neocon sounding David Ignatius of WaPo. I would love to know what the producer said into Matthews' ear... "move on," maybe?

The discussion also trended Orwell, when the three men bantered about the "loony" questions from two Russian journalists who challenged Bush on press freedom in the United States, including assertions that reporters here have been fired for opposing the president.

"Ridiculous", "loony", "I don't know where that came from" were the comments from the chat choir. Matthews even said he had never heard of such a thing happening? Really?

Try this (E&P: Columnists fired after criticizing Bush), and this, and this. And this, too (From MSNBC):

FCNBC and MSNBC on Monday said they had terminated their relationship with Peter Arnett after the journalist told state-run Iraqi TV that the U.S.-led coalition’s initial war plan had failed and that reports from Baghdad about civilian casualties had helped antiwar protesters undermine the Bush administration’s strategy. “IT WAS wrong for Mr. Arnett to grant an interview to state controlled Iraqi TV — especially at a time of war — and it was wrong for him to discuss his personal observations and opinions in that interview,” NBC News President Neal Shapiro said in a statement. “Therefore, Peter Arnett will no longer be reporting for NBC News and MSNBC.” Arnett, who won a Pulitzer Prize reporting in Vietnam for The Associated Press, appeared on NBC’s “Today” show Monday to apologize for his statements. (MSNBC.com is an NBC News-Microsoft joint venture.)

And if you'd prefer threats to firings, try this, courtesy of the Center for American Progress:

REPORTER DEFAMED FOR TELLING THE TRUTH ABOUT TROOPS: "A White House operative alerted cyber-gossip Matt Drudge to the fact that [ABC News correspondent Jeffrey] Kofman is not only openly gay, he's Canadian. Drudge said he was unaware of the ABC story until 'someone from the White House communications shop tipped me to it'…White House press secretary Scott McClellan tried to be nonchalant, indicating that he wasn't planning an investigation of the incident." [Source: Washington Post, 7/18/03 and 7/20/03]
posted by JReid @ 7:16 PM  
Rush's GOP world tour
Let's start with the premise that in general, I have no problem with Rush Limbaugh per se. He's an entertainer who has a popular show on the radio, (okay, and an overly chubby, hypocritcal drug addict....) and this is America, so that's fine. What I have a problem with is the U.S. government climbing into bed with him, i.e., airing his one-sided, right-wing, GOP-promoting program on Armed Forces Radio, or dispatching his fatness to Afghanistan as some sort of goodwill ambassador. Limbaugh just doesn't belong on an overseas trip that is in any way connected to the government.

Even worse: On his official trip to the poppy capital of the world, Rush used his time with American troops to bash George W. Bush's political opposition. (Armstrong must be jealous ... Rush gets an overseas trip, and all he got was cash.) Next we'll find out Rush isn't his real name and that he's pimping himself out via an online escort service ...

Media Matters is on the story, though they haven't come to a conclusion as to who paid for El Rushbo's (and right wing oppo-wife Mary Matalin's) trip. (WaPo's Al Kamen dropped the nugget last week that Limbaugh was originally to be accompanied by his soon-to-be fourth wife -- yeck -- CNN anchor Daryn Kagan, before she dropped out). Could be Rush is paying for his own ticket. But by his own admission, he is staying at the headquarters of the very governmental agency USAID, and was ushered into a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. And NewsMax reported this bit of info last week, indicating Rush sought the trip by contacting his buddies at the Pentagon:

Highlights:
America's top talk radio host Rush Limbaugh is planning to travel to Afghanistan next week to visit the troops and highlight the U.S. success in bringing democracy to Osama bin Laden's former headquarters.

Limbaugh confirmed the visit to NewsMax Friday morning, saying that seeing the troops are his "main reason for going." The top conservative talker has scheduled three meetings with U.S. forces, with locations to be announced later for security reasons.

Limbaugh said he had been asking the Defense and State Departments to arrange a troop visit for two years. He will also be meeting with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. White House advisor Mary Matalin, a former talk radio host herself and friend of Limbaugh's, will also be on the trip, according to Reuters.

The trip is reportedly being arranged through the U.S. Agency for International Development.

So what was Rush up to in Karzai country? This from the Limbaugh show transcript:

SYCOPHANTIC GUEST HOST: Rush Limbaugh in Afghanistan. Rush, I gotta tell you, I was going to tell you that it was important to convey, as you did, our just gratitude beyond the describing of it for the sacrifice made by our young men and women who are over there doing that. Can you describe the kind of quarters you have? I mean, given that it is a country with not a lot of infrastructure, what have they offered you?

RUSH: Well, the place I am is part of the US AID, Agency for International Development compound, which is down the street from not only the Karzai residence, but from the US embassy, and it is all Americanized. Generators run and it's all -- I don't need any foreign power converters. I only have one English-language television station here, and that's the BBC. It's as boring as it can be. I've had enough of that and CNN International while I was over in Dubai, so (raspberry) to that. But I don't need any television here. I've got Internet. I can't get my personal e-mail to work on their LAN connection here, but we'll get that worked out before I leave.

It's just -- I'll tell you, you know, you talked about the opportunity to convey to the troops. It is. I can talk about them on the radio program as you do and we salute them and so forth, but I just felt so small compared to these people standing before them, and they're just as eager. They're excited to see people from back home. And, by the way, folks, if you're wondering I didn't go politically correct on them. I told them exactly who's saying what about them in an opposition fashion. I told them what I think is the sort of phony baloney, plastic banana, good-time rock 'n' roller of some members of American left saying they support the troops but they don't support their mission -- and I haven't run into anybody who has snickered.

A bit later:
GUEST HOST: We are on the phone with the Doctor of Democracy himself, America's anchorman in Afghanistan, live with us. Rush, getting back to your schedule. If you could give us some idea about it: A meeting with Karzai, the government, the ordinary Afghanis, again, meeting with troops. How much of the country are you going to be able to see?

RUSH: Well, all of it. I mean, it's an incredible itinerary. ... I just now got to where it is I'm staying. From the moment we got off of the airplane it was over to the US Agency for International Development to meet with them because they're working with the military, sort of a unique alliance. It's all part of the president's agenda to make sure that after routing the Taliban, that the country of Afghanistan does not descend back into what it was, and so his recipe of human freedom is the foundation for this, and the military is working with the USAID people to actually develop this country, to develop the infrastructure. They're building roads over here to improve commerce -- and, you know, ideas travel on roads, too. The Taliban hated road construction because ideas move on roads. So we stopped there. That was about an hour. From there, went over for a scheduled meeting with the president, Hamid Karzai, and by the time we got there -- and the schedule was up in the air. He had requested we move it to Friday, which was fine with me because I'd rather talk to him after having seen a lot of the country than not having seen it all. From there went back to the embassy, met the ambassador, got a briefing from him. Everybody wants to tell me what they're doing, what their area is responsible for and how well they're doing and what their challenges are. And then from there it was back over here to what they call the Kabul Compound, which is part of the embassy, but it's separated.

And one more bite:
GUEST HOST: Now, Rush, in those question-and-answer sessions with the troops that were describing there, what kind of questions are you getting from them?

RUSH: It's amazing. They're asking, "Are you gonna run for office? What do you think...?" I only had a couple policy questions about things going on in Afghanistan. One of them was, "Do you think that the US system should be what they should adopt or do you think we should allow them to adopt their own system?" and I said, "A great question, and you know, I actually wouldn't impose anything on them. Just give them their freedom. I trust freedom. I trust free people. Let free people make up their own minds about things and you can trust the results," and I said, "There are a lot of people in America who don't trust free people to do the right thing. I won't mention a political party; you all know it, and I won't mention the ideology; you all know it.

Media Matters, your ball ...
posted by JReid @ 5:44 PM  
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Modest Good News
The good news out of President Bush's trip to Europe is that all 26 NATO countries have pledged to help train Iraqi forces.

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- President Bush, working to cement an era of stronger U.S.-European relations after the divisiveness of Iraq, hailed NATO's modest pledge to help train security forces there Tuesday, saying "every contribution helps."
The bad news is that the offer is much less dramatic than it sounds:
NATO's secretary general said all members of the alliance would help train Iraq's military. "All 26 allies are working together to respond to the Iraqi government's request for support by training Iraqi security forces, providing equipment and helping to fund NATO's efforts," Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told the NATO summit.

The mission comprises just over 100 instructors training senior Iraqi officers in Baghdad's heavily protected "Green Zone." More than half the NATO instructors are American.

Alliance planners hope to expand that operation to 160 instructors, which they say is adequate for the current phase of the mission. They hope for a further expansion in September to allow NATO to help run a military academy outside the Iraqi capital - if it can find the troops and money needed.

Meanwhile France's President Jacques Chirac made clear that "Old Europe" intends to defy Mr. Bush on China and Iran. And NATO is pressing ahead with plans to essentially scrap the Atlantic alliance in favor of a more Europe-centric approach.

China is of particular concern to Washington these days, since the Pentagon fears things could come to a head over Taiwan, which would trigger an American pledge to defend the "renegade" province against its mammoth owner.
From BBC: The EU imposed a ban on exports of military equpment to China in 1989, following the crackdown on democracy activists in Tiananmen Square.

China sees Taiwan as a renegade province, to be allied to the mainland by force if necessary. The BBC's business reporter Mark Gregory says the Pentagon is worried that at some point it might be called upon to defend Taiwan from Chinese attack.

China has the world's fifth largest national arms budget - though it is still dwarfed by the US military budget.

In other words, Bush did all that glad-handling to little effect. Craig Crawford (of the Hotline and MSNBC) said on Imus this morning that he didn't like seeing Bush be so nice to the "Euro weenies" and that he preferred to see him being mean rather than sucking up. I guess that's one way to look at it.

In one piece of good news, Chalabi's out and Ibrahim al-Jaafari, known to be a moderate Shiite, is apparently in as Iraqi P.M.

Meanwhile, nations around the globe, including our friends in South Korea, are beginning to dump dollars in favor of diversifying into Euros. Not good news for the still-falling dollar ...
posted by JReid @ 12:25 PM  
Saturday, February 19, 2005
Where is the love?
As George W. Bush prepares to jet off to Europe, he's got to be asking himself three questions:

1. Will those damned protesters show up?
2. Will the European press cut him a break? and
3. How much does a president have to butter up the Europeans before he can get a little love?

Bush kicked off the buttering on Saturday, praising Europe as the pillars of the free world in his weekly radio address.

“Leaders on both sides of the Atlantic understand that the hopes for peace in the world depend on the continued unity of free nations,” he said. “We do not accept a false caricature that divides the Western world between an idealistic United States and a cynical Europe,” Bush said.

Bush also threw bouquets at Europe's well-known priorities:

Outlining his goals for the trip, the president also said he would discuss how to best advance peace between Israel and the Palestinians; trade issues; and reducing European barriers to American agricultural goods.

“Even the best of friends do not agree on everything,” he said, adding that America and Europe need to cooperate to fight terrorism and poverty and promote trade and peace.“That makes our trans-Atlantic ties as vital as they have ever been,” he said. (MSNBC)

...and he tried in as convincing a way as possible to assure his soon-to-be hosts that the U.S. has no designs on attacking Iran. ... (appently Tehran isn't buying it, either, Mr. Hersch)

The Weekly standard was characteristically skeptical of the new nicey-nicey approach:

There is a danger, in my view, that the Bush administration, in its newfound eagerness to show its kinder, less Martian, more Venusian side, will actually create bigger problems for itself. In its efforts to be diplomatically accommodating, the nited States may end up supporting and bolstering a vision of Europe that is directly at odds with long-term U.S. goals and interests. Nothing is to be gained by unnecessarily antagonizing Europeans, to be sure, and the United States is right to pursue ways of cooperating. But if the early signs of the new détente are any guide, the Bush administration may find itself walking into a trap.

But the truth is, Bush's new friendly posture and Rice and Rummy's recent charm offensive aside, the president is heading to a Europe that is increasingly cool, not just to him, but to America and the trans-Atlantic alliance in general.

Europe is drifting away for a million reasons, beginning with the obvious one: the countries on that continent are drifting toward each other. And as the E.U. creates the possibility of a common future (and, more unsettling for us, a common defense), there is less and less of a need to rely on the good graces (and great defense) of the United States. Europeans are forging a common identity that is so far from our own, it's hard to recognize us as common pillars of anything anymore. Where we are flirting with Islamophobia and kicking ass at home and abroad, Europe is handling their Islamic population bomb with heightened securlarism and overt capitulation. We are polls apart on Likud-led Israel, which the neoconservative U.S. administration fiercely defends but with whom Europe has testy relations (to put it kindly), over the Sharon government's treatment of the Palestinians.

We have sharp diffences on how to handle Iran, Syria and North Korea.

And though it rarely makes the press, trade issues are increasingly heightening the tensions between "us" and "them" -- and I don't mean petty boycotts and freedom fries. Moreover, Europe is increasingly going its own way on trade, looking increasingly toward Asia and away from us for trade partnerships.

How ironic that the joint triumphs of the U.S., Western Europe and the Soviet Union during World War II has put us on a collision course with the nations we helped to save, and the rump of the empire we later had to defeat.

Russia is moving ahead with its plans to hook Syria and Iran up on the missile and nuclear tip. That's just one more thing Bush will have to gently nudge his buddy Vlad on when he gets overseas.

All this leads you to wonder, is the rest of the world realigning without us? And will it be enough to have roguish Pakistan, hobbled Iraq and gung-ho Australia in our corner?

posted by JReid @ 4:02 PM  
Thursday, February 17, 2005
Shuffling the deck chairs
Before you breathe too heavy a sigh of relief that GWB avoided another Bernie Kerik moment by picking a diplomat for NID, take a walk down memory lane regarding John Negroponte's history as former ambassador to Honduras, and his questionable record regarding human rights. From Wikipedia:
From 1981 to 1985 Negroponte was US ambassador to Honduras. During his tenure, he oversaw the growth of military aid to Honduras from $4 million to $77.4 million a year. At the time, Honduras was ruled by an elected but heavily militarily-influenced government. According to The New York Times, Negroponte was responsible for "carrying out the covert strategy of the Reagan administration to crush the Sandinistas government in Nicaragua." Critics say that during his ambassadorship, human rights violations in Honduras became systematic.

Negroponte supervised the construction of the El Aguacate air base where Nicaraguan Contras were trained by the US, and which critics say was used as a secret detention and torture center during the 1980s. In August 2001, excavations at the base discovered 185 corpses, including two Americans, who are thought to have been killed and buried at the site.

Records also show that a special intelligence unit (commonly referred to as a "death
squad
") of the Honduran armed forces, Battalion 3-16, trained by the CIA and Argentine military, kidnapped, tortured and killed hundreds of people, including US missionaries. Critics charge that Negroponte knew about these human rights violations and yet continued to collaborate with the Honduran military while lying to Congress.

In May 1982, a nun, Sister Laetitia Bordes, who had worked for ten years in El Salvador, went on a fact-finding delegation to Honduras to investigate the whereabouts of thirty Salvadoran nuns and women of faith who fled to Honduras in 1981 after Archbishop Óscar Romero's assassination. Negroponte claimed the embassy knew nothing. But in a 1996 interview with the Baltimore Sun, Negroponte's predecessor, Jack Binns, said that a group of Salvadorans, among whom were the women Bordes had been looking for, were captured on April 22, 1981, and savagely tortured by the DNI, the Honduran Secret Police, and then later thrown out of helicopters alive.

President Bush's choice of Negroponte for National Intelligence Director stumpedthe MSM, who were forced to throw out their short list of potential nominees. But by moving the former U.N. ambassador, who was only last year named to head the U.S. embassy in Iraq, into the intel post, the Bush administration seems to have demonstrated three things:

1. No one else would take the job. (MSNBC confirmed that several potential nominees turned Dubya down for the post). That left the administration to shuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic, moving their key Iraq guy back home. (Now they'll have to find a new sucker to take on the hornet's nest in Baghdad).

2. Iraq is a bigger mess -- or much more stable -- than we thought. Why would the administration yank its ambassador so soon? The Baghdad embassy will be America's largest, and at this point, one of its most important (if not the most important). Could the Bushies be raring for a pullout? And what frightening appointment awaits us as Negroponte's replacement? (Scary thought: Doug Feith is leaving his post at Defense in June, and he's nursed a long-time dream of remaking Iraq ... or worse, could a Wolfowitz ascendance, or even a Rumsfeld insertion be in the offing? That would certainly clear the way for Connecticut Joe to take the helm at the Pentagon...)

3. Porter Goss is in for a fight. Goss just yesterday was forced to admit that North Korea has the capability to become the world's largest nuclear supermarket (while he and Rumsfeld told the Senate that essentially, another al-Qaida attack on the U.S. is all-but inevitable). Now he will have to share the anti-terror spotlight with Negroponte, who has accepted a job that will make him, not Goss, the primary briefer to the president on intel matters, and who the president says will have some sort of budgetary authority (the Pentagon is likely to fight that last one). Still, many have described the NID job as as due for all the blame if something goes wrong, and none of the credit if nothing goes wrong. Question is, would he get more blame than Porter?

Negroponte does have the requisite qualifications for anything related to Bush: he's close to the family. Note this passage from MSNBC:

From 1997 to 2001, Negroponte was executive vice president for global markets at
The McGraw-Hill Companies.

And of course, McGraw-Hill has longstanding, close ties to the Bush family that go back three generations.
posted by JReid @ 9:59 AM  
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
First, do no harm
Howard Dean appears to have stepped in it again. CNN is getting everyone Black they can get their hands on (Congressman Clyburn and the deputy chief of staff of the Republican Senatorial Committee so far today) to comment on the following comment made by Dean on Feb. 11:

No one expects Dean, famously outspoken, to completely muzzle himself.

Dean jokes that the Washington insider's definition of a gaffe is "when you tell the truth and they think you shouldn't have."

During a meeting Friday with the Democratic black caucus, Dean praised black Democrats for their work for the party, then questioned Republicans' ability to rally support from minorities. "You think the Republican National Committee could get this many people of color in a single room?," Dean asked to laughter. "Only if they had the hotel staff in here."

Not sure how bothersome that comment will prove to be, but to be honest, complaining about it is like buying a Benz and then complaining about the foreign parts ...

Are we all just a bit too sensitive? After all, NY Congressman Charlie Rangel reportedly called former President Clinton a "redneck" didn't he? And I love Charlie Rangel...

Meanwhile, CNN just reported that Dean is calling for some resignations of his own, blasting NY GOP chairman Stephen Minarik for linking Democrats to a civil rights lawyer recently convicted of aiding terrorists. Dean said Minarik should either apologize or resign. From Newsday today:
Dean's call for an apology or resignation came one day after Republican Gov. George Pataki scolded Minarik for the remarks. Minarik touched off a firestorm on Monday by saying that in electing Dean as national party chairman on Saturday "the Democrats simply have refused to learn the lessons of the past two election cycles, and now they can be accurately called the party of Barbara Boxer, Lynne Stewart and Howard Dean."
Note the scolding from a very up-for-reelection George Pataki... here's a hint, it might not be going well...

In the "why aren't the Dems doing this" category, the GOP is sending out the following email from "Mindy and Kate":

We're Mindy & Katie, two members of the RNC web team. Today we're launching the first installment of Off the Record, a weekly series of candid interviews with Party leaders, activists, and rising stars in the GOP.

Recently, we went Off the Record with John Thune, the new Senator from South Dakota who defeated former Democrat Minority Leader Tom Daschle in the 2004 elections. Senator Thune, who had just returned from Iraq, speaks about the emotional trip, life as a Senator and some personal favorites - certainly more than you get from an average TV soundbite.

To watch the video now, visit www.gop.com! And join us in the following weeks as we sit down with several GOP Congressmen and Party leaders who are working hard to combat the Democrats' obstructionist tactics and pass meaningful reforms for the American people. Stay tuned!

Sincerely,

Mindy, Katie, and the rest of the RNC eCampaign

P.S. Visit gop.com now and watch Off the Record with Senator John Thune. While you're there, sign up to be a GOP Team Leader for access to exclusive opportunities coming soon.

Throw in the "No" Internet ad making the rounds in Repub ranks, and you've got a definite creativity gap between the two parties.
posted by JReid @ 3:53 PM  
Monday, February 14, 2005
Happy Valentine's Day, Alan Keyes!
Alan Keyes' daughter is coming out as gay. ... God really does work in mysterious ways.
posted by JReid @ 1:59 PM  
Occupation-Free
Scott McClellan just delivered an irony bonanza in the daily WH presser, saying, and I paraphrase:

"The people of Lebanon deserve the chance to choose their leaders, free from foreign occupation."

McClellan was responding to the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister, billionaire businessman Rafik Hariri, who died along with nine others in a massive bombing in Lebanon.
(BBC version)

Speaking of choosing leaders under foreign occupation, the votes are in in Iraq, and it's official: The U.S. has midwifed a second Iran. The Shia party backed by Iranian Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani won just under half the votes, with the Kurdish slate taking about 25 percent and our boy Allawi's secular shia slate coming in a distant third. Of course, that doesn't mean Allawi won't have a role the new government. Incidentally, our former client Ahmed Chalabi might be on the comeback trail, too...

On the Grammys: it actually was a pretty decent show. Jamie Foxx and Alicia Keys brought the house down, all the good acts got a little somethin'-somethin' (Keys, Usher, U2, John Mayer and that snotty little Kanye West -- who also gets the award for least gracious nominee, with his scowling and bitching after losing Best New Artist to Maroon 5 and his speech after winning the rap award -- "everybody kept askin' what I'd do if I didn't win ... I guess we'll never know!") and the late, great Ray Charles got lots of love. Love the fact that Loretta Lynn and Jack White took home a trophy, too!

Oh, yeah, and let's not forget, Big Bill took home the gold as well, scoring a second Grammy for the recorded version of his presidential autobiography, "My Life." Love that!
posted by JReid @ 12:51 PM  
Friday, February 11, 2005
A philosophical issue
Scott McClellan just let a little bit of truth sneak out during his Friday WH press briefing, responding to a reporter's question about whether the issues of "private accounts" and Social Security solvency are separate: McClellan called private accounts a "philosophical issue" that's about "trusting people" and giving them control over their own retirement. In other words, privatization has nothing to do with fixing the long-term fiscal problems of Social Security,and everything to do with conservatives' philosophical opposition to the government-run Social Security program itself (including an argument -- rarely advanced publicly -- that the Social Security system, in and of itself, is a threat to Americans' privacy). (Check out this CATO dispatch shortly after the 2002 midterm elections.)

Key para:
In his policy analysis, "'Saving' Social Security Is Not Enough", Tanner makes a strong case for the creation of individual investment accounts to solve the mounting problems that Social Security faces. In the study, Tanner notes that "instead of saving Social Security, we should begin the transition to a new and better retirement system based on individually owned, privately invested accounts. The new system would allow workers to accumulate real wealth that would prevent their retiring to poverty."
Other quotes from privatizers:
“Social Security is the soft underbelly of the welfare state. If you can jab your spear through that, you can undermine the whole welfare state.” -- Stephen Moore, CATO Institute/former president of Club for Growth, to the NYT.

“Social Security should be reformed not because the system is going broke but because it’s a lousy program,” Grover Norquist, NYT

“The (private) accounts will create the first 100 percent capitalist society in history. ... Fifty years from now, relatively poor Americans for the first time will have their own personal savings; they’ll see the power of interest buildup over time and appreciate the importance of property.” -- Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, NYT.
Two questions later, McClellan backtracked, at least partially. Paraphrase:

Q: "Is it right that the Bush administar has two goals: one is to get the personal accounts, which may do lots of wonderful things but they don't help the solvency of Social Security ... and then youve got the other goal of improving the solvency of Social Security, but they're really separate things..."

McAnswer: "No, it's one goal ... to strengthen social security for our children and grandchildren and both things are part of the same goal. ... yes, personal accounts in themselves don't solve the solvency issue, but they are a part of strengthening Social Security..."

On a related note, Paul Krugman made an excellent point on Al Franken's show yesterday regarding means testing: namely, that it wouldn't help, since the wealthiest Americans -- the top 1 percent, only get slightly more than 1 percent of the benefits under the current system, so means testing wouldn't save much money.

BTW, with the news of Florida Congressman Clay Shaw's apparent apostasy on the Social Security issue (he's making his own proposal to counter the president's) comes a warning for Democrats: they had better get out in front of this issue with ideas of their own. Here's a thought: why not revive the Clinton-era idea of a national 401K that would be an add-on, to, rather than a replacement for, Social Security?
posted by JReid @ 1:04 PM  
Thursday, February 10, 2005
Going Nuclear
George W. Bush is no John F. Kennedy. Yet, with North Korea's announcement that it has, and plans to "bolster its nuclear" arsenal to counter what it calls U.S. aggression, Bush could find himself facing the Kennedy scenario. NYT's Nicholas Kristoff made the prescient point yesterday that so far, Bush has totally mishandled North Korea, saying the president has been "startlingly passive" as Kim Jong-il expands his arsenal. So it's tough to see where the administration goes from here.

From Kristoff:
North Korea is particularly awkward for Mr. Bush to discuss publicly because, as best we know, it didn't make a single nuclear weapon during Bill Clinton's eight years in office (although it did begin a separate, and secret, track to produce uranium weapons; it hasn't produced any yet but may eventually). In contrast, the administration now acknowledges that North Korea extracted enough plutonium in the last two years for about half a dozen nuclear weapons.
From the CIA's World Factbook:
In December 2002, following revelations it was pursuing a nuclear weapons program based on enriched uranium in violation of a 1994 agreement with the United States to freeze and ultimately dismantle its existing plutonium-based program, North Korea expelled monitors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and in January 2003 declared its withdrawal from the international Non-Proliferation Treaty. In mid-2003 Pyongyang announced it had completed the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods (to extract weapons-grade plutonium) and was developing a "nuclear deterrent." Since August 2003 North Korea has participated in six-party talks with the United States, China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia to resolve the stalemate over its nuclear programs.
And Kristoff makes the point that the U.S. has few viable options on the table:

In fairness, Mr. Bush is paralyzed only because the alternatives are dreadful. A military strike on North Korea's nuclear sites might have been an option in the early 1990's, but today we don't know where the plutonium and the uranium are kept, so a military strike might accomplish little - but trigger a new Korean war. To fill the time, Mr. Bush has pursued six-party talks involving North Korea, but they have gotten nowhere.

Not to mention the fact that we've bogged down more than 150,000 troops at a time in Iraq, with a total troop rotation exceeding 940,000 so far, plus tne new, neocon noises we're making toward Iran...

More Kristoff:
The other option is the path that Richard Nixon pursued with Maoist China: esolute engagement, leading toward a new "grand bargain" in which Kim Jong Il
would give up his nuclear program in exchange for political and economic ties with the international community. This has the advantage that the best bet to bring down Mr. Kim, the Dear Leader, isn't isolation, but contacts with the outside world.
How about turning to the UN? Their record on stopping proliferation has been dismal (Pakistan, India, Israel and Libya kicked off nuclear and other "mass destruction" weapons programs under the United Nations' nose, though the latter has purportedly given up its ambitions).

In short, it doesn't look good.

BTW, here's a good analysis the BBC. Money quotes:

Only last month, Pyongyang said it was ready to treat the US as a "friend", and officials in the region expected new talks to start in a matter of weeks.

The turnaround, according to North Korea, was provoked by recent high-profile speeches by the Bush administration, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's branding of Pyongyang as an "outpost of tyranny".

North Korea last took part in talks on its nuclear programme in June But analysts said the real reason was last week's briefing of Asian officials by Michael Green, a senior US envoy.

During visits to Japan, South Korea and China, he is believed to have alleged that North Korea sold enriched uranium - a key ingredient of nuclear weapons - to Libya in 2001.

If true, that transaction would undermine North Korea's claim that its nuclear arsenal is purely defensive, and threaten to escalate its row with the US to a dangerous new level.


and:
Military action is highly unlikely because of the size of North Korea's conventional army, and the international consensus that it does have a nuclear weapons programme, and at least six to eight nuclear weapons already in its arsenal.

The US is also currently preoccupied with Iraq and Iran so diplomacy is its only choice, analysts said.

###


posted by JReid @ 4:26 PM  
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
...The soft underbelly of a White House stooge
By the by, it seems that friendly White House correspondent Jeff Gannon is hanging up his presidential knee pads...

The "reporter" who somehow got himself a press pass to attend WH briefings, where he reliably pitched softballs to the president or his press secretary, announced he's quitting, after a media watchblog, mediacitizen ... ahem ... outed him.

The post:

The Talon News correspondent at the center of a scandal over his White House press credentials quit last night amid a growing online investigation into his history, including allegations of involvement with several websites appearing to support gay pornography and promote male prostitution.

Jeff Gannon (a pseudonym) announced last night via his personal website that he had found it "no longer possible to effectively be a reporter for Talon News. In consideration of the welfare of me and my family I have decided to return to private life."

Read it all here. And more on Gannon here.
posted by JReid @ 1:41 PM  
The soft underbelly of the welfare state
Before the wingers get too geeked up about Social Security reform, and before you moderates start signing on, remember what the intellectual architects of privatization, the libertarian CATO Institute, has had to say about the New Deal program conservatives love to hate:

More than actuarial tables are at stake in the overhaul, particularly for ideological conservatives who think the current Social Security system verges on socialism.

“Social Security is the soft underbelly of the welfare state,” according to Stephen Moore, the former president of Club for Growth, an anti-tax group.

“If you can jab your spear through that, you can undermine the whole welfare state.”
---- Globe and Mail, Feb 2, 2005

And this from a memo written by an aide to Karl Rove early this year:
For the first time in six decades, the Social Security battle is one we can win -- and in doing so, we can help transform the political and philosophical landscape of the country. We have it within our grasp to move away from dependency on government and toward giving greater power and responsibility to individuals.
BTW the idea of creating private Social Security accounts that would eventually replace the traditional program isn't new, and it isnt' George W. Bush's idea. Last July, a pair of Republican Senators introduced a bill that is virtually identical to what Bush is proposing:

This from Human Events magazine, July 20, 2004:

New Legislation for Real Social Security Reform by Merrill MatthewsPosted Jul 20, 2004

Last week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) introduced a dramatic and sweeping Social Security reform proposal. The legislation would allow workers the option of having personal retirement accounts, rather than relying on a Social Security system that is financially unsustainable.
Currently, the Social Security payroll tax takes 12.4%--split between the employer and employee--of workers' incomes. Under the Ryan-Sununu bill, workers would be able to devote, on average, 6.4 percentage points, just over half the total tax, to their personal accounts. Thus the legislation would create the largest accounts ever proposed in Congress; and it is turning out to be the most popular Social Security reform bill on Capitol Hill.
The HE writer even used the same rhetoric Bush has been using on the stump:

HE: Of course, there would be no change in Social Security of any sort for today's retirees. Indeed, there are no benefit cuts in the bill of any sort for anyone at any point.

ABC News, Feb 3:
"We must guarantee that there is no change" in current or promised benefits for anyone age 55 and older, he said in a move to neutralize opposition from older Americans.

And let's not forget that Bush and Co. have already admitted that their plan won't fix Social Security's finances ...

Meanwhile, it looks like Bush's $2.5 trillion budget isn't making many friends on Capitol Hill:

But it’s almost certain that more senators and congressmen of both parties will step forward to fight Bush’s proposals, as nearly all the programs slated for chopping have champions on the Hill, including some of the most powerful bulls in the Senate.
...

Many of the cuts may have little chance of passage, given the number or power of the programs’ congressional patrons.Bush has already put himself at odds with Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the new chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, by proposing to eliminate nearly $600 million in agricultural subsidies and shear the Department of Agriculture’s budget by 9 percent.

“I am concerned that the budget proposal would have the effect of cutting support programs for Southern agriculture while leaving other regions largely untouched by the budget knife,“ Cochran said, hinting that the trench lines are as likely to fall along geographic as along ideological divides.

Keith Ashdown, who as the vice president of policy for Taxpayers for Common Sense has rooted out many of the proposed cuts buried in Bush’s budget, predicted “most are dead on arrival,” adding, “The president will move heaven and earth before 50 percent of these cuts are made.

... Especially since it turns out his administration woefully underestimated the cost of the 2003 Medicare bill, which is now set to cost upwards of $1.2 trillion over ten years.

Some conservatives are finally waking up to the decidedly unconservative slant of this White House's policies, which seek to expand the reach of federal government in an unprecedented way into the lives of individual Americans, while using American power abroad in a breathtaking grab for global domination that true conservatives realize will jeopardize American democracy.

Money quotes from the folks at The American Conservative:
The last weeks of 2004 saw several explicit warnings from the antiwar Right about the coming of an American fascism. Paul Craig Roberts in these pages wrote
of the “brownshirting” of American conservatism—a word that might not have surprised had it come from Michael Moore or Michael Lerner. But from a Hoover Institution senior fellow, former assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, and one-time Wall Street Journal editor, it was striking.

Several weeks later, Justin Raimondo, editor of the popular Antiwar.com website, wrote a column headlined, “Today’s Conservatives are Fascists.” Pointing to the justification of torture by conservative legal theorists, widespread support for a militaristic foreign policy, and a retrospective backing of Japanese internment during World War II, Raimondo raised the prospect of “fascism with a democratic face.” His fellow libertarian, Mises Institute president Lew Rockwell, wrote a year-end piece called “The Reality of Red State Fascism,” which claimed that “the most significant socio-political shift in our time has gone almost completely unremarked, and even unnoticed. It is the dramatic shift of the red-state bourgeoisie from leave-us-alone libertarianism, manifested in the Congressional elections of 1994, to almost totalitarian statist nationalism.

Whereas the conservative middle class once cheered the circumscribing of the federal government, it now celebrates power and adores the central state, particularly its military wing.”


posted by JReid @ 12:32 PM  
Monday, February 07, 2005
Super Boring
I'm happy for the Patriots, I suppose... even though most everyone today should be on Limbaugh watch, to see if his royal drugness will go after Donovan McNabb...

The game was pretty good, despite McNabb's many mistakes -- throwing continually into double coverage will generally get you intercepted, man... but the ads were AWFUL, BORING and UNINSPIRED. (See high-and lowlights here -- and here). Advertisers and the NFL were so fearful of the school marms at FCC and the Family Research Council that they put out drivel and dreck at $2.5 million a pop. The only ad even approaching humor was from godaddy.com. Hats off to them for having some cojones. All the others generally stunk (although Hammer getting tossed over a wall was good for a laugh and you've got to love Carson Kreesley's jaw dropped ogle of the passing hunk in the Diet Pepsi ad.)

I didn't even bother to watch the McCartney show at half time...
posted by JReid @ 10:08 AM  
Friday, February 04, 2005
Ossie and Paul
Paul Krugman nails the Social Security argument today, building on yesterday's WaPo report on that background briefing in which a White House official admitted that the president's privatization scheme won't fix Social Security's finances after all.

Krugman's take: offering people private Social Security accounts in exchange for reduced guaranteed benefits is like pushing folks to borrow money from the bank and then go gambling in Vegas, on the hopes that your winnings will exceed your loan debt. Money graphs:
Bush-style Social Security privatization: it is, in effect, as if your financial adviser told you that you wouldn't have enough money when you retire - but you shouldn't save more. Instead, you should borrow a lot of money, buy stocks and hope for capital gains.

Before President Bush's big speech, a background briefing by a "senior administration official" made it clear that the plan calls for exactly the "borrow, speculate and hope" strategy I described - not just for the system as a whole, but for each individual.

Here's the money quote: "In return for the opportunity to get the benefits from the personal account, the person forgoes a certain amount of benefits from the traditional system. Now, the way that election is structured, the person
comes out ahead if their personal account exceeds a 3 percent rate of return" - after inflation - "which is the rate of return that the trust fund bonds receive. So, basically, the net effect on an individual's benefits would be zero if his personal account earned a 3 percent rate of return." Translation: If you put part of your payroll taxes into a personal account, your future benefits will be reduced by an amount equivalent to the amount you would have had to repay if you had borrowed the money at a real interest rate of 3 percent.

Peter Orszag of the Brookings Institution got it exactly right: "It's not a nest egg. It's a loan."

Bush is still pushing the idea, but a new Rock the Vote poll suggests young people may not be buying... Taking into account RTV's political philosophy, it's still a good bet that once people understand what Bush's program really means -- for themselves and the Social Security system as a whole -- it looks less and less attractive.

On another note, RIP Ossie Davis. And deepest condolensces to Ruby Dee and their family. Really a tragic day...
posted by JReid @ 1:00 PM  
Thursday, February 03, 2005
A little bit of truth
From Dan Froomkin's column in the Wash Post today: Very interesting...

"...careful observers of the run-up to war in Iraq will recognize some
similarities in this strategy. Back then, as the president was making an
argument for going to war, many critics said that he confused Americans by
linking Saddam Hussein to the terrorists who struck on Sept. 11, 2001.

Now the Bush message is: Social Security is going bankrupt; Let's give people private accounts. Doubtless, the president is hoping the public will link those two
concepts as well.

Before the speech, a senior administration official spoke at length and on background [emphasis added] about Bush's plan for private accounts. He also pretty clearly implied that the White House sees across-the-board benefit reductions in
the offing. They just don't want to talk about it.
[emphasis added]

Here's the transcript of that very important briefing. When push came to shove, and it did, the official was grudgingly more forthcoming than the president on some key issues.

For instance: "QUESTION: "[A]m I right in assuming . . . that it would be fair
to describe this as having -- the personal accounts by themselves as having no
effect whatsoever on the solvency issue? "

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: . . . that's a fair inference. . . . "

QUESTION: But is it fair to say that when everybody wakes up tomorrow morning, the president is not going to have given them an answer tonight about the $3.7 trillion shortfall, and that presumably, since he's ruled out higher taxes, that the deal that he goes along with is going to have to come up with $3.7 trillion worth of benefit cuts? "

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I'm not sure I would categorize it that way. . . . "


posted by JReid @ 7:05 PM  
Showdown at the old-k corral
President Bush's looming showdown with Democrats over his proposals to privatize Social Security is heating up. The day after his SOTU extravaganza (which CNN's poll declared a smashing success, with 60 percent approving ... oh, did I mention that twice as many Republicans as Democrats watched Bush's speech and that the same percentages participated in the poll? ... but I digress) Bush took his show on the road to stump for his plan (Hello, Fargo!), the media offered bouquet after analytical bouquet, and the Democrats went on the attack.

Harry Reid is turning out to have quite a left hook. He and Nancy Pelosi gang tackled the president's plan today, but the real test for Reid will be whether he can hold his Senate caucus together to deny Dubya his 60 votes. First thing to do might be to work on that pesky Ben Nelson, the only Senate Dem not to sign a letter to the president opposing his plan. (It will be interesting to see how Bush reacts to a world where he actually needs some Democrats...)

Speaking of Democrats, the DCCC has declared Mr. Bush to be living in a "state of delusion." And here's a good piece by Krugman for good measure, from about a week ago (on the UK's try at pension privatization).

The Social Security debate is now being framed this way: either the sky is falling and only Wall Street investment advisors can save us (Republicans), or the system ain't broke, so leave it the hell alone (Democrats). The truth is somewhere in the middle, of course, but there you go...

On a related note, WaPo apparently erred in its initial analysis of how workers would fare under Bush's plan -- described as being more like a loan than a pension. ... Here's the original, and here's the correction.

On a non-related note, apparently Rumsfeld offered to resign twice ... that's what passes for a bombshell on CNN these days...
posted by JReid @ 4:38 PM  
Wednesday, February 02, 2005
State of the ... Look out, Iran and Syria!!!


Okay, so let me get this straight ... first we're going to free corporations from "frivolous asbestos claims," (seriously, it was in the speech...) and then we're gonna free workers under age 55 to play the market with part of their Social Security money, and then we're gonna free the entire world????

I for one am relieved that the president climbed down a bit from the Wilsonian overreach of his inaugural address. After all, we simply don't have the cash (or the troops) to rev up the lawn mowers of freedom across the entire global back lawn. But Syria and Iran can't be sleeping too well tonight. We all know what happened to the last country whose name figured prominently in a Bush SOTU address... Key words to watch for in the coming months: "uranium from Niger..."

Sure bet Larry King/Paula Zahn/Today Show guests: Janet and Bill Norwood (they stole the show last night, and well they should, having given their son to the president's cause). New right wing salute: one purple finger up.


posted by JReid @ 11:10 PM  
ReidBlog: The Obama Interview
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