The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Leonard Pitts, Jr. - Ignorance may be bliss, but it's also dangerous

Miami Herald - Posted on Fri, Feb. 18, 2005


Ignorance may be bliss, but it's also dangerous

Three weeks later, I'm still waiting for a good explanation of what Jeff Gannon was doing in the White House. And for you to be upset about it.

Gannon is the fellow who made himself memorable during last month's presidential news conference by asking about Democratic pessimism regarding the nation's economy.

Specifically, he asked if President Bush could work with ``people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality.''

The unusually partisan phrasing prompted reporters and liberal groups to ask the same question: Who is this guy?

Well, it turns out that Gannon is not really Gannon. James Guckert says he prefers that pseudonym for ''commercial'' reasons.

It also turns out that a company he owns is the registered owner of several sexually suggestive Web addresses., to name just one.

Most curious of all, though, is that it turns out he is not really a reporter, at least not if that term still denotes a disinterested observer of events. Rather, Guckert writes for a website,, which is linked to another site, That site serves, as you might gather, to promote the Republican Party.


Guckert resigned last week, saying he and his family have been threatened and harassed. If true, that is deplorable.

But it's also deplorable that he was ever seated in the White House briefing room. As to how that happened, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan has pleaded ignorance, saying that, ``In this day and age, when you have a changing media, it's not an easy issue to decide, to try to pick and choose who is a journalist.''

Which is patently ridiculous. Contrary to the press secretary's Hamlet-like agonizing, it's not all that hard to know who is and is not a reporter.

If an individual reports for a recognized media outlet that observes customary standards of journalistic integrity -- even if it tends to view the world through a conservative or liberal editorial prism -- that person is a reporter.

But if the person works for an outlet that simply promotes, or advocates for, one political party or another, then the line between reporter and shill has been well and truly crossed.

It's not brain surgery. So you'll have to forgive me for not extending the benefit of the doubt to McClellan.

My problem is that he speaks for an administration with a long record of manipulating truth and propagandizing the public.

These are the folks who pay pundits to say nice things about them.

The ones who pressure scientists to change science that conflicts with political goals.

The ones who ignore their own experts when confronted with information they'd rather not believe.

And this is a president whose press conferences occur with only slightly more frequency than ice storms do in Key West, who ducks hard questions posed by actual reporters, preferring to bat slow pitches tossed by citizens prescreened for their support.


So planting a party stooge among the real reporters hardly seems out of character.

The thing is, a government that is not scrutinized by an energetic and adversarial press is a government that is not accountable for its actions. A government that is allowed to create its own reality is a government that can get away with anything.

So where is our outrage?

Frankly, the only thing more galling than the brazenness with which the White House abrogates the public's right to know is the sheep-like docility with which we accept it, with which we become complicitous in our own hoodwinking.

When the history of this era is written, people will wonder why we didn't challenge its excesses, why we didn't know the things we should have.

If you're still around, remember the uproar you do not hear right this moment and tell them the truth.

Ignorance was easier.


© 2005 and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, February 18, 2005


Fact Finders
by Jonathan Chait

The New Republic

Post date 02.17.05 | Issue date 02.28.05

Imagine that God were to appear on Earth for the unlikely purpose of settling, once and for all, our disputes over economic policy. And suppose that, to my enormous surprise, he announced that every empirical claim advanced by conservatives was correct. Cutting taxes produces such great economic growth that even the poor benefit. Privatizing or eliminating social programs like Medicare and Social Security will cause the elderly to save more money and enjoy higher living standards. Slashing regulations, by eliminating unintended side effects, actually does a better job helping those whom the regulations were intended to help than the regulations themselves. Suppose that God presented these conclusions so convincingly--if his stature alone did not suffice--that everybody immediately accepted them as truth.

How would liberals respond? No doubt by rethinking and abandoning nearly all their long-held positions. Liberalism, after all, claims to produce certain outcomes: more prosperity and security, especially for the poor and middle classes; a cleaner environment; safer foods and drugs; and so on. If it were proved beyond a doubt that liberal policies fail to produce those outcomes--or even, as conservatives often claim, that such policies hurt their intended beneficiaries--then their rationale would disappear. It may be hard to imagine liberals advocating capital gains tax cuts as a way to lift up the working stiff. But that's just because there's no evidence to show they do. If the evidence were to change, so would the liberal mindset. The point is that liberalism has no justification other than the belief that liberal policies produce beneficial outcomes.

Now imagine the opposite were to happen. God appears in order to affirm liberal precepts: Current tax levels barely affect economic incentives, social programs provide tremendous economic security at modest cost to growth, and most regulations achieve their intended effects without producing undue distortions. Would economic conservatives likewise abandon their views? Some certainly would, but a great many would not. Economic conservatism, unlike liberalism, would survive having all its empirical underpinnings knocked out from beneath it.

And not because conservatives are necessarily more stubborn. (Indeed, on an individual level, liberals may well be just as stubborn as conservatives.) Rather, conservatism, unlike liberalism, overlays a deeper set of philosophical principles. Conservatives believe that big government impinges upon freedom. They may also believe that big government imposes large costs on the economy. But, for a true conservative, whatever ends they think smaller government may bring about--greater prosperity, economic mobility for the non-rich--are almost beside the point. As Milton Friedman wrote, "[F]reedom in economic arrangements is itself a component of freedom broadly understood, so economic freedom is an end in itself."

We're accustomed to thinking of liberalism and conservatism as parallel ideologies, with conservatives preferring less government and liberals preferring more. The equivalency breaks down, though, when you consider that liberals never claim that increasing the size of government is an end in itself. Liberals only support larger government if they have some reason to believe that it will lead to material improvement in people's lives. Conservatives also want material improvement in people's lives, of course, but proving that their policies can produce such an outcome is a luxury, not a necessity.

The contrast between economic liberalism and economic conservatism, then, ultimately lies not only in different values or preferences but in different epistemologies. Liberalism is a more deeply pragmatic governing philosophy--more open to change, more receptive to empiricism, and ultimately better at producing policies that improve the human condition--than conservatism.

Now, liberalism's pragmatic superiority wouldn't matter to a true ideological conservative any more than news about the medical benefits of pork (to pick an imaginary example) would cause a strictly observant Jew to begin eating ham sandwiches. But, if you have no particular a priori preference about the size of government and care only about tangible outcomes, then liberalism's aversion to dogma makes it superior as a practical governing philosophy.

Conservatives don't always dwell on their first principles because those principles have little use in converting unbelievers. But they pop up from time to time, especially when conservative factual claims come under stress.

Take, for instance, the current debate over privatizing Social Security. Los Angeles Times Editorial Page Editor Michael Kinsley has argued that privatization cannot increase national wealth--an argument that, if true, would undermine the idea's central rationale. A recent National Review editorial implicitly accepted the thrust of Kinsley's argument and proceeded to gamely offer up some possible second- and third-order benefits that privatization could produce. (People might be induced to save a bit more, and maybe higher debt would discourage spending.) Seemingly unpersuaded by its own reasoning, the editorial righted itself by declaring that "reducing dependence on Washington is a worthy goal in its own right."

Likewise, conservative columnist George F. Will conceded not long ago that, contrary to the claims of privatization advocates, Social Security does not face a financing crisis. But Will declared his support for privatization anyway. "[T]he best reasons rise from the philosophy of freedom: Voluntary personal accounts will allow competing fund managers, rather than a government monopoly on income transfers from workers to retirees, to allocate a large pool of money."

This preference for removing power from Washington is simply something that either you accept or you don't. It's neither right nor wrong in an absolute sense. It does, however, make empirical reasoning pointless. Viewed pragmatically, Social Security raises questions about which economics has a lot to say: balancing the tradeoffs between retiree incomes and costs to workers, allocating risk, and so on. Liberal thinking, unlike conservative thinking, actually hinges on the outcome of those questions.

This doesn't mean that conservatives don't believe their own empirical arguments. Nor does it mean that ideologically driven thinking can't lead to empirically sound outcomes. In many cases--conservative opposition to tariffs, price controls, and farm subsidies--it does. But empirical reasoning simply does not drive their thinking. What appears to be conservative economic reasoning is actually a kind of backward reasoning. It begins with the conclusion and marches back through the premises.

Consider the conservative view of health care. Conservatives repeat the mantra that the United States has "the best health care system in the world"--a formulation used endlessly by President Bush. That isn't true by almost any objective measure. The United States devotes a far higher share of its economy to health care than any other country. Yet, according to the most recent World Health Organization study, the United States ranks just 37th in overall health care performance. These massive inefficiencies derive in part from our huge numbers of uninsured. The uninsured end up forgoing treatment until they arrive at the emergency room. Basic preventive care, of the sort universally available in every other advanced country, would avert such disasters--at less cost to the economy and with less suffering and fatality for patients.

The only way to deem the U.S. system the "best" is if you substitute ideological criteria for pragmatic criteria. Our health care system is indeed the best at minimizing the role of government. France, on the other hand, produces better measurable health outcomes at a vastly lower cost. Yet conservatives would consider the notion that France has a better health care system than the United States to be self-evidently false.

The conundrum is that the remedy of smaller government is particularly ill-suited for the problem of health care. The market for medical services does not resemble the market for blue jeans. Among other problems, health insurance firms have every incentive to deny coverage to those most likely to get sick, which makes the individual health insurance market inefficient and prohibitively expensive. Economists call this phenomenon "adverse selection," and it is inherent in the private health care market. It cannot be solved without some kind of government intervention.

For this reason, conservatives have almost nothing to say about adverse selection. When they do write about the topic, they tend to call for bromides like (to take an example from a David Brooks New York Times Magazine essay last year) "reforming the health care system so competition works as it does in every other sphere--to improve value, spur innovation and reduce costs." This is classic backward reasoning: Start with a solution (competition) and then proceed to make it fit the problem. In this case, the author doesn't even explain how to make the solution fit the problem. He simply assumes that it can be done because market forces work everywhere and always.

If liberalism is not the mirror image of conservatism, what is? The more apt parallel is probably socialism. True socialists believe that allowing capitalists to keep some of the fruits of workers' labor is inherently immoral. They also tend to believe that free enterprise does not work very well. But, like the conservative belief that big government doesn't work well, this empirical belief merely sits atop a deeper normative belief. For committed socialists, doing away with "exploitation" is an end in itself.

Contemporary economic liberalism is less of an ideology than the absence of one--a rejection both of dogmatic fealty and hostility to the free market. Franklin Roosevelt famously called for "bold, persistent experimentation." The New Dealers vacillated wildly between promoting competition and squelching it, fiscal tightening and fiscal loosening, putting people to work and pulling workers out of the labor pool. They were accused, correctly, of incoherence.

But incoherence is simply the natural byproduct of a philosophy rooted in experimentation and the rejection of ideological certainty. In an open letter to Roosevelt, John Maynard Keynes called him "the Trustee for those in every country who seek to mend the evils of our condition by reasoned experiment within the framework of the existing social system. If you fail, rational change will be gravely prejudiced throughout the world, leaving orthodoxy and revolution to fight it out." Note how Keynes defined his and Roosevelt's shared ideology as "reasoned experiment" and "rational change" and contrasted it with orthodoxy (meaning the conservative dogma that market economics were self-correcting) and revolution.

That definition of liberal obviously leaves a very wide berth. It's wide enough, in fact, to encompass every president from FDR until at least Ronald Reagan. At the time, of course, liberals did not consider Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon their ideological kin. But, in historical retrospect, that is only because the underlying assumptions of the New Deal were so broadly shared. It was impossible to imagine a president who stood outside that consensus, so all the fights took place within it. While those on the right wing of this ideological consensus were more cautious about government activism than those on the left wing, they did not challenge the underlying assumptions.

Eisenhower used the federal government, rather than states and localities, to build the Federal Highway System, and he made no effort to reduce a top tax rate that stood at an absurdly high 91 percent. Nixon declared, "We are all Keynesians now." He raised Social Security benefits and proposed an ambitious national health care plan. Conservatives have since renounced Nixon's economic record, and no wonder. Today it would place him on the left edge of the Democratic Party.

It's not a coincidence that the two most economically liberal Republican presidents--Nixon and his successor, Gerald Ford--also displayed the most serious interest in empiricism. Both required their assistants to produce detailed "Brandeis briefs" outlining the essential arguments on both sides of any policy debate. Ford invited Milton Friedman and John Kenneth Galbraith into the Oval Office for a free-ranging debate on economic policy.

Since the mid-'70s, the GOP has grown steadily more conservative, and therefore less pragmatic. Genuine ideological conservatives, banished to minority status since Eisenhower, briefly resurfaced under Barry Goldwater, and, after falling back again, began to take control of the Republican Party. Conservatives correctly see George W. Bush as one of their own. Bush does frequently depart from conservative orthodoxy, as with his tariffs, farm subsidies, and Medicare drug benefit. Yet conservatives understand that Bush sees these compromises as politically expedient, not a genuinely felt embrace of expansive government. His signature proposals--massive tax cuts and Social Security privatization--both reflect a belief that reducing government is an end in itself. Outside events exert not even the slightest influence on his policy goals. Bush steadfastly embraced his tax cuts as the economy veered from boom and surplus to slowdown to wartime to recovery and deficit.

Meanwhile, Democrats have continuously reexamined their policies in light of changing conditions. Bill Clinton came to office planning to spur the economy with a Keynesian stimulus, but abandoned those plans after fierce debate among his staff economists. Instead he embraced the novel goal of sparking recovery by slashing the deficit in the hopes that lower interest rates would enable sustainable growth. As that policy seemed to work, moderate liberals continued to embrace the credo of fiscal restraint. But, after the economy slid toward a recession in 2001, liberal economists abandoned short-term restraint in favor of temporary tax cuts to encourage spending.

Clinton also recognized the failure of welfare, previously a cherished liberal goal, to accomplish its stated purpose, and he enacted a sweeping overhaul. Many liberals complained, but the main objections centered around the details--certain punitive provisions and the lack of adequate job-creation measures--not the concept of welfare reform.

That Clinton's economic policymakers had great use for empirical inquiry, and Bush's do not, is hardly a secret. One way to see the contrast is to compare the economic summits each president has held. Clinton's 1992 Little Rock economic summit featured a vigorous and open-ended debate between diverse participants, and it helped persuade the Clinton team to alter the economic blueprint developed during the campaign. Bush's summits have been tightly scripted affairs in which supporters testify to the virtues of his policies.

Or compare two memoirs: Robert Reich's Locked in the Cabinet and Paul O'Neill's The Price of Loyalty. Both books chronicle the disillusionment of a former Cabinet member. Reich, the former Clinton labor secretary, bemoans the triumph of cautious deficit-cutting over public investment, but his tale is larded with academic policy debates he simply happened to lose. O'Neill, the former Bush Treasury secretary, mourns that administration's hostility to expertise and fact-driven debate. "You don't have to know anything or search for anything," he says of the ideologues in the administration. "You already know the answer to everything. It's not penetrable by facts. It's absolutism."

Part of this difference reflects the cultural predilections of the last two presidents--Bush is the instinctive antiintellectual who likes to go with his gut, and Clinton is the former Rhodes scholar who relished academic debates. But it also reflects the natural tendencies of conservatism and liberalism. Bush's administration gives primacy to political advisers over policy wonks in large part because they have no need to debate their ends, only the means of achieving them.

The next liberal administration, whenever it happens, will not be nearly so certain. Aside from rolling back conservative excesses, its economic agenda will take its cue from external events, and the decisions it arrives at could, in time, be cast aside through experimentation. Ultimately, those policies, whether they move left or right, will be measured against their effect on people's lives, not the degree to which they bring the government closer to some long-ago agreed-upon vision. In time, those policies will be altered yet again to suit a changing world. This is known as progress.

Jonathan Chait is a senior editor at TNR.

Cokehead Party vs. Pothead Party

This wonderful insight comes from a blogger at dailykos named demokerryat:

I came away from [Bush's last press conference] with a small insight. Its not the Daddy party vs. the Mother party. It's the cokehead party vs. the pothead party. It is no coincidence that I can't stand people on coke and I can't stand Republicans. Potheads? Some of the best people I have met are potheads. One party is all about belligerence, overconfidence, and it hates nuance. The other is about reflection, introspection, and making sure there is enough food. The last decade of politics has seen a cranked up, delusionally overconfident jerk trampling all over a well-meaning, gifted, but underachieving slacker.

Don't believe me? Picture yourself at a bar. A brawl breaks out. Would you rather be aligned with the potheads or the cokeheads? Well, you would probably say the cokeheads (but of course, then you are probably with the jerks who started the fight). Republicans are the party of war. Now, picture yourself hanging out at home, eating dinner, watching a movie. Would you rather be surrounded by the cokeheads or the potheads? Democrats are much better on the domestic front because it is there natural environment. Plus, potheads care about others: "It must really suck to be out delivering pizzas right now so we better give the delivery person a really good tip. "

Anyway, I would love to get a urine sample from old W.

FDR, Social Security, and the Joplin Globe


Joseph Perkins’ op-ed piece on Social Security privatization parrots a favorite misrepresentation of the political right — that Franklin Delano Roosevelt would have favored the Bush plan for ending Social Security as we know it. Perkins quotes out of context the same line from FDR that Fox News’ Brit Hume has used to mislead the American public.

When FDR, in a Jan. 17, 1935, speech to Congress, discussed the desirability of “voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age” he was suggesting a supplement to the “compulsory contributory annuities” (Social Security) that he was then proposing, not a replacement. In other words, he was looking toward the invention of the 401K and other such voluntary retirement investments.

Hume claimed that FDR saw these voluntary investments as eventually supplanting the compulsory investments when he quoted FDR’s reference to annuities that “ought to ultimately be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans” as if they referred to Social Security itself. This is an outright falsehood. What FDR thought should be “ultimately supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans” were the “non-contributory old-age pensions for those who are now too old to build up their own insurance” that he proposed at the same time.

FDR’s grandson recently wrote in the Boston Globe: “As a former Wall Street lawyer, my grandfather fully supported the opportunity of every American to have fair investment opportunities. But Social Security was — and is — something different. It was — and is — the guaranteed basis of a secure retirement. ... Drastic changes that divert the payroll tax to privatization will almost certainly eliminate that guaranteed benefit by crippling the ability to pay benefits, imposing trillions of dollars of new costs on the government and creating massive federal debt.”

Jeff Martinek

Thursday, February 17, 2005

John Dear - Pharisee Nation

Published on Tuesday, February 15, 2005 by
Pharisee Nation
by John Dear

Last September, I spoke to some 2,000 students during their annual lecture at a Baptist college in Pennsylvania. After a short prayer service for peace centered on the Beatitudes, I took the stage and got right to the point. “Now let me get this straight,” I said. “Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ which means he does not say, ‘Blessed are the warmakers,’ which means, the warmakers are not blessed, which means warmakers are cursed, which means, if you want to follow the nonviolent Jesus you have to work for peace, which means, we all have to resist this horrific, evil war on the people of Iraq.”

With that, the place exploded, and 500 students stormed out. The rest of them then started chanting, “Bush! Bush! Bush!”

So much for my speech. Not to mention the Beatitudes.

I was not at all surprised that George W. Bush was reelected president. As I travel the country speaking out against war, injustice and nuclear weapons, I see many people consciously siding with the culture of war, choosing the path of violence, supporting corporate greed, rampant militarism, and global domination. I see many others swept up in the raging current of patriotism. Since most of these people, beginning with the president, claim to be Christian, I am ashamed and appalled that they support war and systemic injustice, that they do it in the name of God, and that they feign fidelity to the nonviolent Jesus who gave his life resisting institutionalized injustice.

I am reminded of Flannery O’Connor’s great book, “Wise Blood,” where her outrageous character Hazel Motes is so fed up with Christian hypocrisy that he forms his own church, the “Church of Christ without Christ,” “where the lame don’t walk, the blind don’t see, and the dead don’t rise.” That’s where we are headed today.

I used to think these all-American Christians never read the Gospel, that they simply chose not to be authentic disciples of the nonviolent Jesus. Now, alas, I think they have indeed chosen discipleship, but not to the hero of the Gospels, Jesus. Instead, through their actions, they have become disciples of the devout, religious, all-powerful, murderous Pharisees who killed him.

A Culture of Pharisees

We have become a culture of Pharisees. Instead of practicing an authentic spirituality of compassion, nonviolence, love and peace, we as a collective people have become self-righteous, arrogant, powerful, murderous hypocrites who dominate and kill others in the name of God. The Pharisees supported the brutal Roman rulers and soldiers, and lived off the comforts of the empire by running an elaborate banking system which charged an exorbitant fee for ordinary people just to worship God in the Temple. Since they taught that God was present only in the Temple, they were able to control the entire population. If anyone opposed their power or violated their law, the Pharisees could kill them on the spot, even in the holy sanctuary.

Most North American Christians are now becoming more and more like these hypocritical Pharisees. We side with the rulers, the bankers, and the corporate millionaires and billionaires. We run the Pentagon, bless the bombing raids, support executions, make nuclear weapons and seek global domination for America as if that was what the nonviolent Jesus wants. And we dismiss anyone who disagrees with us.

We have become a mean, vicious people, what the bible calls “stiff-necked people.” And we do it all with the mistaken belief that we have the blessing of God.

In the past, empires persecuted religious groups and threatened them into passivity and silence. Now these so-called Christians run the American empire, and teach a subtle spirituality of empire to back up their power in the name of God. This spirituality of empire insists that violence saves us, might makes right, war is justified, bombing raids are blessed, nuclear weapons offer the only true security from terrorism, and the good news is not love for our enemies, but the elimination of them. The empire is working hard these days to tell the nation--and the churches--what is moral and immoral, sinful and holy. It denounces certain personal behavior as immoral, in order to distract us from the blatant immorality and mortal sin of the U.S. bombing raids which have left 100,000 Iraqis dead, or our ongoing development of thousands of weapons of mass destruction. Our Pharisee rulers would have us believe that our wars and our weapons are holy and blessed by God.

In the old days, the early Christians had big words for such behavior, such lies. They were called “blasphemous, idolatrous, heretical, hypocritical and sinful.” Such words and actions were denounced as the betrayal, denial and execution of Jesus all over again in the world’s poor. But the empire needs the church to bless and support its wars, or at least to remain passive and silent. As we Christians go along with the Bush administration and the American empire, we betray Jesus, renounce his teachings, and create a “Church of Christ without Christ,“ as Flannery O’Connor foresaw.

Troublemaking Nonviolence, the Measure of the Gospel

The first thing we Christians have to do in this time is not to become good Pharisees. Instead, we have to try all over again to follow the dangerous, nonviolent, troublemaking Jesus. I believe war, weapons, corporate greed and systemic injustice are an abomination in the sight of God. They are the definition of mortal sin. They mock God and threaten to destroy God’s gift of creation. If you want to seek the living God, you have to pit your entire life against war, weapons, greed and injustice--and their perpetrators. It is as simple as that.

Every religion, including Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism, is rooted in nonviolence, but I submit that the only thing we know for sure about Jesus is that he was nonviolent and so, nonviolence is the hallmark of Christianity and the measure of authentic Christian living. Jesus commands that we love one another, love our neighbors, seek justice, forgive those who hurt us, pray for our persecutors, and be as compassionate as God. But at the center of his teaching is the most radical declaration ever uttered: “love your enemies.”

If we dare call ourselves Christian, we cannot support war or nuclear weapons or corporate greed or executions or systemic injustice of any kind. If we do, we may well be devout American citizens, but we no longer follow the nonviolent Jesus. We have joined the hypocrites and blasphemers of the land, beginning with their leaders in the White House, the Pentagon and Los Alamos.

Jesus resisted the empire, engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience in the Temple, was arrested by the Pharisees, tried by the Roman governor and executed by Roman soldiers. If we dare follow this nonviolent revolutionary, we too must resist empire, engage in nonviolent civil disobedience against U.S. warmaking and imperial domination, and risk arrest and imprisonment like the great modern day disciples, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day and Philip Berrigan.

If we do not want to be part of the Pharisaic culture and do want to follow the nonviolent Jesus, we have to get in trouble just as Jesus was constantly in trouble for speaking the truth, loving the wrong people, worshipping the wrong way, and promoting the wrong things, like justice and peace. We have to resist this new American empire, as well as its false spirituality and all those who claim to be Christian yet support the murder of other human beings. We have to repent of the sin of war, put down the sword, practice Gospel nonviolence, and take up the cross of revolutionary nonviolence by loving our enemies and discovering what the spiritual life is all about.

Just because the culture and the cultural church have joined with the empire and its wars does not mean that we all have to go along with such heresy, or fall into despair as if nothing can be done. It is never too late to try to follow the troublemaking Jesus, to join his practice of revolutionary nonviolence and become authentic Christians. We may find ourselves in trouble, even at the hands of so-called Christians, just as Jesus was in trouble at the hands of the so-called religious leaders of his day. But this very trouble may lead us back to those Beatitude blessings.

John Dear is a Jesuit priest and the author/editor of 20 books including most recently, “The Questions of Jesus” and “Living Peace” both published by Doubleday. He lives in New Mexico where he is working on a campaign to disarm Los Alamos. For info, see:

### - Ridge, pollsters met during Bush campaign

Ridge, pollsters met during Bush campaign
By Pete Yost, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge met privately with Republican pollsters twice in a 10-day span last spring as he embarked on more than a dozen trips to presidential battleground states.
"We don't do politics in the Department of Homeland Security," Ridge said last year.
Tim Dillon, USA TODAY

Ridge's get-togethers with Republican strategists Frank Luntz and Bill McInturff during a period the secretary was saying his agency was playing no role in Bush's re-election campaign were revealed in daily appointment calendars obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act.

"We don't do politics in the Department of Homeland Security," Ridge told reporters during the election season.

His aides resisted releasing the calendars for over a year, finally providing them to the AP three days after Ridge left office this month.

Homeland Security officials said the meeting with Luntz at department headquarters was aimed at improving public communication of the department's message, particularly on TV. Ridge declined an interview with the AP about the calendars, referring questions to former aides.

"We did not discuss homeland security in a presidential campaign context," said Susan Neely, a former assistant homeland security secretary who attended the May 17 session with Luntz and Ridge. "We asked him his impression of how well we were explaining whatever the issues were of the day. There was no follow-up meeting."

Neely said the discussion took place after Ridge and Luntz ran into each other and the homeland security secretary expressed an interest in hearing Luntz's assessment.

McInturff, who has done the polling for all of Ridge's campaigns for Congress and Pennsylvania governor, said the two meet every few months to "shoot the breeze."

Homeland security officials said the May 26 conversation between Ridge and McInturff was personal and the secretary did not discuss any homeland security-related issues.

"When you've got Secret Service protection it's a heck of a lot easier for me to meet the secretary of a major agency at the agency than it is for him to come to Old Town and have lunch," McInturff said. Old Town is a neighborhood in Alexandria, Va., home of McInturff's company, Public Opinion Strategies.

"I have zero connection with anyone doing business with homeland security, zero connection with the Bush campaign," McInturff said.

Ridge's meetings with the pollsters occurred just before the first of 16 trips, from late May to late October, to 10 states important to the president's re-election campaign. During the same period, Ridge made 20 appearances in nine uncontested states.

Four days after the meeting with Luntz, Ridge went to Missouri for appearances in Kansas City and St. Louis. In the ensuing five months, he averaged one public appearance a month in his home state of Pennsylvania, traveled three times to Florida and made one trip each to West Virginia, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arizona and Washington.

Luntz helped write the 1994 "Contract With America," the issues centerpiece in the GOP's takeover of the House a decade ago. Luntz said he recalls nothing about the 45-minute discussion with Ridge. He said he received no compensation for the meeting.

Under the Hatch Act, which restricts political activity of executive branch employees, costs associated with political activity by Cabinet members may not be paid with federal funds.

Luntz is one of "dozens, hundreds" of people the department talks to about how to better communicate the complicated issues of homeland security, Neely said.

Luntz's comments were "very reinforcing" that the way Ridge and his aides were communicating the department's message "was generally working, and to continue that," said Neely.

Homeland Security Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said any assertions that politics played a part in homeland security scheduling "are absolutely inaccurate and do not reflect reality."

Ridge also participated in a number of events last year with elected Democratic leaders.

"A vast majority" of the areas Ridge visited during his nearly two-year tenure were in urban centers and border or coastal states that tend to lean Democratic, Roehrkasse said.

When Ridge was running the department, he said the war on terrorism is "about as apolitical or bipartisan as you can get. There's no Republican or Democratic way to do it. We just have to do it right, regardless of our party affiliation."

At the time of Ridge's meetings with the pollsters, President Bush's re-election campaign was reeling from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the news media was speculating that Ridge might replace Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, or even Vice President Dick Cheney.

Neely said Ridge's future in government did not come up in the meeting with Luntz.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Bloggers and the Mainstream Media

From Dailykos:

Blogging changes how business is done in American journalism. The MSM isn't over. It just can no longer pose as if it is The Guardian of Established Truth. The MSM is just another player now. A big one, but a player.

The blogosphere isn't some mindless eruption of wild opinion. That isn't their power. This is their power:

1. They use the tools of journalists (computer, keyboard, a spirit of inquiry, a willingness to ask the question) and of the Internet (Google, LexisNexis) to look for and find facts that have been overlooked, ignored or hidden. They look for the telling quote, the ignored statistic, the data that have been submerged. What they are looking for is information that is true. When they get it they post it and include it in the debate. This is a public service.

2. Bloggers, unlike reporters at elite newspapers and magazines, are independent operators. They are not, and do not have to be, governed by mainstream thinking. Nor do they have to accept the directives of an editor pushing an ideology or a publisher protecting his friends. Bloggers have the freedom to decide on their own when a story stops being a story. They get to decide when the search for facts is over. They also decide on their own when the search for facts begins. It was a blogger at the World Economic Forum, as we all know, who first reported the Eason Jordan story. It was bloggers, as we all know, who pursued it. Matt Drudge runs a news site and is not a blogger, but what was true of him at his beginning (the Monica Lewinsky story, he decided, is a story) is true of bloggers: It's a story if they say it is. This is a public service.

3. Bloggers have an institutional advantage in terms of technology and form. They can post immediately. The items they post can be as long or short as they judge to be necessary. Breaking news can be one sentence long: "Malkin gets Barney Frank earwitness report." In newspapers you have to go to the editor, explain to him why the paper should have another piece on the Eason Jordan affair, spend a day reporting it, only to find that all that's new today is that reporter Michelle Malkin got an interview with Barney Frank. That's not enough to merit 10 inches of newspaper space, so the Times doesn't carry what the blogosphere had 24 hours ago. In the old days a lot of interesting information fell off the editing desk in this way. Now it doesn't. This is a public service.

4. Bloggers are also selling the smartest take on a story. They're selling an original insight, a new area of inquiry. Mickey Kaus of Kausfiles has his bright take, Andrew Sullivan had his, InstaPundit has his. They're all selling their shrewdness, experience, depth. This too is a public service.

5. And they're doing it free. That is, the Times costs me a dollar and so does the Journal, but Kausfiles doesn't cost a dime. This too is a public service. Some blogs get their money from yearly fund-raising, some from advertisers, some from a combination, some from a salary provided by Slate or National Review. Most are labors of love. Some bloggers--a lot, I think--are addicted to digging, posting, coming up with the bright phrase. OK with me. Some get burned out. But new ones are always coming up, so many that I can't keep track of them and neither can anyone else.

But when I read blogs, when I wake up in the morning and go to About Last Night and Lucianne and Lileks, I remember what the late great Christopher Reeve said on "The Tonight Show" 20 years ago. He was the second guest, after Rodney Dangerfield. Dangerfield did his act and he was hot as a pistol. Then after Reeve sat down Dangerfield continued to be riotous. Reeve looked at him, gestured toward him, looked at the audience and said with grace and delight, "Do you believe this is free?" The audience cheered. That's how I feel on their best days when I read blogs.

That you get it free doesn't mean commerce isn't involved, for it is. It is intellectual commerce. Bloggers give you information and point of view. In return you give them your attention and intellectual energy. They gain influence by drawing your eyes; you gain information by lending your eyes. They become well-known and influential; you become entertained or informed. They get something from it and so do you.

6. It is not true that there are no controls. It is not true that the blogosphere is the Wild West. What governs members of the blogosphere is what governs to some degree members of the MSM, and that is the desire for status and respect. In the blogosphere you lose both if you put forward as fact information that is incorrect, specious or cooked. You lose status and respect if your take on a story that is patently stupid. You lose status and respect if you are unprofessional or deliberately misleading. And once you've lost a sufficient amount of status and respect, none of the other bloggers link to you anymore or raise your name in their arguments. And you're over. The great correcting mechanism for people on the Web is people on the Web.

There are blogs that carry political and ideological agendas. But everyone is on to them and it's mostly not obnoxious because their agendas are mostly declared.

7. I don't know if the blogosphere is rougher in the ferocity of its personal attacks than, say, Drew Pearson. Or the rough boys and girls of the great American editorial pages of the 1930s and '40s. Bloggers are certainly not as rough as the splenetic pamphleteers of the 18th and 19th centuries, who amused themselves accusing Thomas Jefferson of sexual perfidy and Andrew Jackson of having married a whore. I don't know how Walter Lippmann or Scotty Reston would have seen the blogosphere; it might have frightened them if they'd lived to see it. They might have been impressed by the sheer digging that goes on there. I have seen friends savaged by blogs and winced for them--but, well, too bad. I've been attacked. Too bad. If you can't take it, you shouldn't be thinking aloud for a living. The blogosphere is tough. But are personal attacks worth it if what we get in return is a whole new media form that can add to the true-information flow while correcting the biases and lapses of the mainstream media? Yes. Of course.

I conclude with a few predictions:

Some brilliant rising young reporter with a growing reputation at the Times or Newsweek or Post is going to quit, go into the blogging business, start The Daily Joe, get someone to give him a guaranteed ad for two years, and become a journalistic force. His motive will be influence, and the use of his gifts along the lines of excellence. His blog will further legitimize blogging.

Most of the blogstorms of the past few years have resulted in outcomes that left and right admit or bray were legitimate. Dan Rather fell because his big story was based on a fabrication, Trent Lott said things that it could be proved he said. But coming down the pike is a blogstorm in which the bloggers turn out to be wrong. Good news: They'll probably be caught and exposed by bloggers. Bad news: It will show that blogging isn't nirvana, and its stars aren't foolproof. But then we already know that, don't we?

Some publisher is going to decide that if you can't fight blogs, you can join them. He'll think like this: We're already on the Internet. That's how bloggers get and review our reporting. Why don't we get our own bloggers to challenge our work? Why don't we invite bloggers who already exist into the tent? Why not take the best things said on blogs each day and print them on a Daily Blog page? We'd be enhancing our rep as an honest news organization, and it will further our branding!

Someone is going to address the "bloggers are untrained journalists" question by looking at exactly what "training," what education in the art/science/craft/profression of journalism, the reporters and editors of the MSM have had in the past 60 years or so. It has seemed to me the best of them never went to J-school but bumped into journalism along the way--walked into a radio station or newspaper one day and found their calling. Bloggers signify a welcome return to that old style. In journalism you learn by doing, which is what a lot of bloggers are doing.

Finally, someday in America the next big bad thing is going to happen, and lines are going to go down, and darkness is going to descend, and the instant communication we now enjoy is going to be compromised. People in one part of the country are going to wonder how people in another part are doing. Little by little lines are going to come up, and people are going to log on, and they're going to get the best, most comprehensive, and ultimately, just because it's there, most heartening information from . . . some lone blogger out there. And then another. They're going to do some big work down the road."

Frank Rich -- The White House Stages Its 'Daily Show'

The New York Times
February 20, 2005
The White House Stages Its 'Daily Show'

THE prayers of those hoping that real television news might take its cues from Jon Stewart were finally answered on Feb. 9, 2005. A real newsman borrowed a technique from fake news to deliver real news about fake news in prime time.

Let me explain.

On "Countdown," a nightly news hour on MSNBC, the anchor, Keith Olbermann, led off with a classic "Daily Show"-style bit: a rapid-fire montage of sharply edited video bites illustrating the apparent idiocy of those in Washington. In this case, the eight clips stretched over a year in the White House briefing room - from February 2004 to late last month - and all featured a reporter named "Jeff." In most of them, the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, says "Go ahead, Jeff," and "Jeff" responds with a softball question intended not to elicit information but to boost President Bush and smear his political opponents. In the last clip, "Jeff" is quizzing the president himself, in his first post-inaugural press conference of Jan. 26. Referring to Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton, "Jeff" asks, "How are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?"

If we did not live in a time when the news culture itself is divorced from reality, the story might end there: "Jeff," you'd assume, was a lapdog reporter from a legitimate, if right-wing, news organization like Fox, and you'd get some predictable yuks from watching a compressed video anthology of his kissing up to power. But as Mr. Olbermann explained, "Jeff Gannon," the star of the montage, was a newsman no more real than a "Senior White House Correspondent" like Stephen Colbert on "The Daily Show" and he worked for a news organization no more real than The Onion. Yet the video broadcast by Mr. Olbermann was not fake. "Jeff" was in the real White House, and he did have those exchanges with the real Mr. McClellan and the real Mr. Bush.

"Jeff Gannon's" real name is James D. Guckert. His employer was a Web site called Talon News, staffed mostly by volunteer Republican activists. Media Matters for America, the liberal press monitor that has done the most exhaustive research into the case, discovered that Talon's "news" often consists of recycled Republican National Committee and White House press releases, and its content frequently overlaps with another partisan site, GOPUSA, with which it shares its owner, a Texas delegate to the 2000 Republican convention. Nonetheless, for nearly two years the White House press office had credentialed Mr. Guckert, even though, as Dana Milbank of The Washington Post explained on Mr. Olbermann's show, he "was representing a phony media company that doesn't really have any such thing as circulation or readership."

How this happened is a mystery that has yet to be solved. "Jeff" has now quit Talon News not because he and it have been exposed as fakes but because of other embarrassing blogosphere revelations linking him to sites like and to an apparently promising career as an X-rated $200-per-hour "escort." If Mr. Guckert, the author of Talon News exclusives like "Kerry Could Become First Gay President," is yet another link in the boundless network of homophobic Republican closet cases, that's not without interest. But it shouldn't distract from the real question - that is, the real news - of how this fake newsman might be connected to a White House propaganda machine that grows curiouser by the day. Though Mr. McClellan told Editor & Publisher magazine that he didn't know until recently that Mr. Guckert was using an alias, Bruce Bartlett, a White House veteran of the Reagan-Bush I era, wrote on the nonpartisan journalism Web site Romenesko, that "if Gannon was using an alias, the White House staff had to be involved in maintaining his cover." (Otherwise, it would be a rather amazing post-9/11 security breach.)

By my count, "Jeff Gannon" is now at least the sixth "journalist" (four of whom have been unmasked so far this year) to have been a propagandist on the payroll of either the Bush administration or a barely arms-length ally like Talon News while simultaneously appearing in print or broadcast forums that purport to be real news. Of these six, two have been syndicated newspaper columnists paid by the Department of Health and Human Services to promote the administration's "marriage" initiatives. The other four have played real newsmen on TV. Before Mr. Guckert and Armstrong Williams, the talking head paid $240,000 by the Department of Education, there were Karen Ryan and Alberto Garcia. Let us not forget these pioneers - the Woodward and Bernstein of fake news. They starred in bogus reports ("In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting," went the script) pretending to "sort through the details" of the administration's Medicare prescription-drug plan in 2004. Such "reports," some of which found their way into news packages distributed to local stations by CNN, appeared in more than 50 news broadcasts around the country and have now been deemed illegal "covert propaganda" by the Government Accountability Office.

The money that paid for both the Ryan-Garcia news packages and the Armstrong Williams contract was siphoned through the same huge public relations firm, Ketchum Communications, which itself filtered the funds through subcontractors. A new report by Congressional Democrats finds that Ketchum has received $97 million of the administration's total $250 million P.R. kitty, of which the Williams and Ryan-Garcia scams would account for only a fraction. We have yet to learn precisely where the rest of it ended up.

Even now, we know that the fake news generated by the six known shills is only a small piece of the administration's overall propaganda effort. President Bush wasn't entirely joking when he called the notoriously meek March 6, 2003, White House press conference on the eve of the Iraq invasion "scripted" while it was still going on. (And "Jeff Gannon" apparently wasn't even at that one). Everything is scripted.

The pre-fab "Ask President Bush" town hall-style meetings held during last year's campaign (typical question: "Mr. President, as a child, how can I help you get votes?") were carefully designed for television so that, as Kenneth R. Bazinet wrote last summer in New York's Daily News, "unsuspecting viewers" tuning in their local news might get the false impression they were "watching a completely open forum." A Pentagon Office of Strategic Influence, intended to provide propagandistic news items, some of them possibly false, to foreign news media was shut down in 2002 when it became an embarrassing political liability. But much more quietly, another Pentagon propaganda arm, the Pentagon Channel, has recently been added as a free channel for American viewers of the Dish Network. Can a Social Security Channel be far behind?

It is a brilliant strategy. When the Bush administration isn't using taxpayers' money to buy its own fake news, it does everything it can to shut out and pillory real reporters who might tell Americans what is happening in what is, at least in theory, their own government. Paul Farhi of The Washington Post discovered that even at an inaugural ball he was assigned "minders" - attractive women who wouldn't give him their full names - to let the revelers know that Big Brother was watching should they be tempted to say anything remotely off message.

The inability of real journalists to penetrate this White House is not all the White House's fault. The errors of real news organizations have played perfectly into the administration's insidious efforts to blur the boundaries between the fake and the real and thereby demolish the whole notion that there could possibly be an objective and accurate free press. Conservatives, who supposedly deplore post-modernism, are now welcoming in a brave new world in which it's a given that there can be no empirical reality in news, only the reality you want to hear (or they want you to hear). The frequent fecklessness of the Beltway gang does little to penetrate this Washington smokescreen. For a case in point, you needed only switch to CNN on the day after Mr. Olbermann did his fake-news-style story on the fake reporter in the White House press corps.

"Jeff Gannon" had decided to give an exclusive TV interview to a sober practitioner of by-the-book real news, Wolf Blitzer. Given this journalistic opportunity, the anchor asked questions almost as soft as those "Jeff" himself had asked in the White House. Mr. Blitzer didn't question Mr. Guckert's outrageous assertion that he adopted a fake name because "Jeff Gannon is easier to pronounce and easier to remember." (Is "Jeff" easier to pronounce than his real first name, Jim?). Mr. Blitzer never questioned Gannon/Guckert's assertion that Talon News "is a separate, independent news division" of GOPUSA. Only in a brief follow-up interview a day later did he ask Gannon/Guckert to explain why he was questioned by the F.B.I. in the case that may send legitimate reporters to jail: Mr. Guckert has at times implied that he either saw or possessed a classified memo identifying Valerie Plame as a C.I.A. operative. Might that memo have come from the same officials who looked after "Jeff Gannon's" press credentials? Did Mr. Guckert have any connection with CNN's own Robert Novak, whose publication of Ms. Plame's name started this investigation in the first place? The anchor didn't go there.

The "real" news from CNN was no news at all, but it's not as if any of its competitors did much better. The "Jeff Gannon" story got less attention than another media frenzy - that set off by the veteran news executive Eason Jordan, who resigned from CNN after speaking recklessly at a panel discussion at Davos, where he apparently implied, at least in passing, that American troops deliberately targeted reporters. Is the banishment of a real newsman for behaving foolishly at a bloviation conference in Switzerland a more pressing story than that of a fake newsman gaining years of access to the White House (and network TV cameras) under mysterious circumstances? With real news this timid, the appointment of Jon Stewart to take over Dan Rather's chair at CBS News could be just the jolt television journalism needs. As Mr. Olbermann demonstrated when he borrowed a sharp "Daily Show" tool to puncture the "Jeff Gannon" case, the only road back to reality may be to fight fake with fake.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company | Home | Privacy Policy | Search | Corrections | RSS | Help | Back to Top

John Negroponte and Central American Death Squads

From dailykos: This what Bush's nominee for America's first National Intelligence Director:

From 1981 to 1985 John 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.

In early 1984, two American mercenaries, Thomas Posey and Dana Parker, contacted Negroponte, stating they wanted to supply arms to the Contras after the U.S. Congress had banned further military aid. Documents show that Negroponte brought the two with a contact in the Honduran armed forces The operation was exposed nine months later, at which point the Reagan administration denied any US involvement, despite Negroponte's participation in the scheme. Other documents uncovered a plan of Negroponte and then-Vice President George H. W. Bush to funnel Contra aid money through the Honduran government.

During his tenure as US ambassador to Honduras, Binns, who was appointed by President Jimmy Carter, made numerous complaints about human rights abuses by the Honduran military and he claimed he fully briefed Negroponte on the situation before leaving the post. When the Reagan administration came to power, Binns was replaced by Negroponte, who has consistently denied having knowledge of any wrongdoing. Later, the Honduras Commission on Human Rights accused Negroponte himself of human rights violations.

Speaking of Negroponte and other senior US officials, an ex-Honduran congressman, Efrain Diaz, told the Baltimore Sun, which in 1995 published an extensive investigation of US activities in Honduras:

Their attitude was one of tolerance and silence. They needed Honduras to loan its territory more than they were concerned about innocent people being killed.

The Sun's investigation found that the CIA and US embassy knew of numerous abuses but continued to support Battalion 3-16 and ensured that the embassy's annual human rights report did not contain the full story.

The question of what John Negroponte knew about human rights abuses in Honduras will probably never be answered definitively, but there is a large body of circumstantial evidence supporting the view that Negroponte was aware that serious violations of human rights were carried out by the Honduran government with the support of the CIA. Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, on 14 September 2001, as reported in the Congressional Record (, aired his suspicions on the occasion of Negroponte's nomination to the position of UN ambassador:

Based upon the Committee's review of State Department and CIA documents, it would seem that Ambassador Negroponte knew far more about government perpetuated human rights abuses than he chose to share with the committee in 1989 or in Embassy contributions at the time to annual State Department Human Rights reports.
Among other evidence, Dodd cited a cable sent by Negroponte in 1985 that made it clear that Negroponte was aware of the threat of "future human rights abuses" by "secret operating cells" left over by General Alvarez after his deposition in 1984.

Dana Milbank - Secretary On the Offensive

Secretary On the Offensive

By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 17, 2005; Page A01

Two dozen members of the House Armed Services Committee had not yet had their turn to question Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at yesterday's hearings when he decided he had had enough.

At 12:54, he announced that at 1 p.m. he would be taking a break and then going to another hearing in the Senate. "We're going to have to get out and get lunch and get over there," he said. When the questioning continued for four more minutes, Rumsfeld picked up his briefcase and began to pack up his papers.

The chairman, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), apologized to his colleagues for a rather "unusual" situation.

With the Bush administration asking Congress this month to write checks for half a trillion dollars for the Pentagon, you might think the secretary of defense would set an accommodating posture on Capitol Hill. But, to paraphrase Rumsfeld's remark in December about the Army, you go to budget hearings with the defense secretary you have, not the defense secretary you might want or wish to have at a later time. And Donald Rumsfeld doesn't do accommodating very well.

Asked about the number of insurgents in Iraq, Rumsfeld replied: "I am not going to give you a number."

Did he care to voice an opinion on efforts by U.S. pilots to seek damages from their imprisonment in Iraq? "I don't."

Could he comment on what basing agreements he might seek in Iraq? "I can't."

How about the widely publicized cuts to programs for veterans? "I'm not familiar with the cuts you're referring to."

How long will the war last? "There's never been a war that was predictable as to length, casualty or cost in the history of mankind."

Rumsfeld's blunt manner was seen as refreshing four years ago, but these are different times. A few prominent Republican legislators have called for Rumsfeld's resignation, over his resistance to increased troop strength in Iraq, his perceived disparagement of the armed forces in December and the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. Yesterday, GOP lawmakers greeted him with doubts on a variety of matters including war spending, death payments and veterans' benefits.

Yet, for a man in need of friends on Capitol Hill, Rumsfeld was both bipartisan and bicameral in his gruff treatment of tough questioners. In the afternoon he appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee with sharp words for Republicans and Democrats alike.

When Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) mentioned an estimate of the costs for increases in troops' death benefits and life insurance, Rumsfeld said: "I've never heard that number."

Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) then complained about long-term Army expenses being included in an emergency spending package. Rumsfeld said the matter "really is beyond my pay grade." When Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) observed that there are few positions beyond Rumsfeld's pay grade, Rumsfeld retorted: "Senator, I thought Congress was Article 1 of the Constitution."

Rumsfeld and others in the Bush administration can afford to be cavalier with the minority Democrats. More surprising is the rough treatment some Republicans receive. Bush aides assume they can take GOP lawmakers' loyalty for granted, but they risk antagonizing people whose votes they need on crucial issues such as Social Security.

Asked by Rep. John M. McHugh (R-N.Y.) for his position on soldiers' death benefits, Rumsfeld replied: "As a presidential appointee, I tend to support the president."

Rumsfeld responded to Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) as he often scolds journalists: "You had so many questions there. Now let me see if I can pull out another one." As the exchange with Forbes continued, Rumsfeld requested: "Could you speak up a little bit?"

Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.) pressed Rumsfeld on whether he had talked with an aide who was quoted last month as saying Congress had been too generous in expanding military retirement benefits. "No, I have not, nor have I seen the statement that you've quoted in the context that it might have been included," the defense secretary replied.

Rumsfeld seemed to be spoiling for a fight from the start, when in his opening statement he implicitly chided Congress for "an increasingly casual regard for the protection of classified documents and information."

When the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Ike Skelton (Mo.), asked about the number of insurgents in Iraq, the secretary said, "I am not going to give you a number for it because it's not my business to do intelligent work." (He presumably meant to say "intelligence.") Ultimately, Rumsfeld admitted he had estimates at his fingertips. "I've got two in front of me," he said.

"Could you share those with us?" Skelton inquired.

Not just now, Rumsfeld said. "They're classified."

In Europe last week, Rumsfeld joked that he was no longer the "old Rumsfeld" who disdainfully referred to France and Germany as "Old Europe."

But Wednesday, he made it clear that the new Rumsfeld would not be a softy. When he scolded Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) by saying she incorrectly described his role, Tauscher inquired: "Is that old Rumsfeld talking to me now?"

"I think so," Rumsfeld said, smiling.

"I'd prefer new Rumsfeld," she requested.

"No, you don't," he said.

Maureen Dowd -- Bush's Barberini Faun

The New York Times
February 17, 2005
Bush's Barberini Faun


I am very impressed with James Guckert, a k a Jeff Gannon.

How often does an enterprising young man, heralded in press reports as both a reporter and a contributor to such sites as,,, and, get to question the president of the United States?

Who knew that a hotmilitarystud wanting to meetlocalmen could so easily get to be face2face with the commander in chief?

It's hard to believe the White House could hit rock bottom on credibility again, but it has, in a bizarre maelstrom that plays like a dark comedy. How does it credential a man with a double life and a secret past?

"Jeff Gannon" was waved into the press room nearly every day for two years as the conservative correspondent for two political Web sites operated by a wealthy Texas Republican. Scott McClellan often called on the pseudoreporter for softball questions.

Howard Kurtz reported in The Washington Post yesterday that although Mr. Guckert had denied launching the provocative Web sites - one described him as " 'military, muscular, masculine and discrete' (sic)" - a Web designer in California said "that he had designed a gay escort site for Gannon and had posted naked pictures of Gannon at the client's request."

And The Wilmington News-Journal in Delaware reported that Mr. Guckert was delinquent in $20,700 in personal income tax from 1991 to 1994.

I'm still mystified by this story. I was rejected for a White House press pass at the start of the Bush administration, but someone with an alias, a tax evasion problem and Internet pictures where he posed like the "Barberini Faun" is credentialed to cover a White House that won a second term by mining homophobia and preaching family values?

At first when I tried to complain about not getting my pass renewed, even though I'd been covering presidents and first ladies since 1986, no one called me back. Finally, when Mr. McClellan replaced Ari Fleischer, he said he'd renew the pass - after a new Secret Service background check that would last several months.

In an era when security concerns are paramount, what kind of Secret Service background check did James Guckert get so he could saunter into the West Wing every day under an assumed name while he was doing full-frontal advertising for stud services for $1,200 a weekend? He used a driver's license that said James Guckert to get into the White House, then, once inside, switched to his alter ego, asking questions as Jeff Gannon.

Mr. McClellan shrugged this off to Editor & Publisher magazine, oddly noting, "People use aliases all the time in life, from journalists to actors."

I know the F.B.I. computers don't work, but this is ridiculous. After getting gobsmacked by the louche sagas of Mr. Guckert and Bernard Kerik, the White House vetters should consider adding someone with some blogging experience.

Does the Bush team love everything military so much that even a military-stud Web site is a recommendation?

Or maybe Gannon/Guckert's willingness to shill free for the White House, even on gay issues, was endearing. One of his stories mocked John Kerry's "pro-homosexual platform" with the headline "Kerry Could Become First Gay President."

With the Bushies, if you're their friend, anything goes. If you're their critic, nothing goes. They're waging a jihad against journalists - buying them off so they'll promote administration programs, trying to put them in jail for doing their jobs and replacing them with ringers.

At last month's press conference, Jeff Gannon asked Mr. Bush how he could work with Democrats "who seem to have divorced themselves from reality." But Bush officials have divorced themselves from reality.

They flipped TV's in the West Wing and Air Force One to Fox News. They paid conservative columnists handsomely to promote administration programs. Federal agencies distributed packaged "news" video releases with faux anchors so local news outlets would run them. As CNN reported, the Pentagon produces Web sites with "news" articles intended to influence opinion abroad and at home, but you have to look hard for the disclaimer: "Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense." The agencies spent a whopping $88 million spinning reality in 2004, splurging on P.R. contracts.

Even the Nixon White House didn't do anything this creepy. It's worse than hating the press. It's an attempt to reinvent it.


Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company | Home | Privacy Policy | Search | Corrections | RSS | Help | Back to Top

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Its Ok to Call Them Fascists

From the dailykos:

Its Ok to Call Them Fascists
by cvcobb01

Wed Feb 16th, 2005 at 12:24:51 PST

Especially when conservatives are saying it about themselves. Via Jack Whelan at After The Future I read that The American Conservative magazine is worried about the strains of fascism it sees on the right. In an article chillingly entitled "Hungry for Dictatorship," Scott McConnell writes that "there are foreshadowings well worth noting." As he goes on to say:

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.”

In his usual brilliant fashion, Whelan breaks it down for the rest of us:

Fascism is best understood as a primitivistic, anti-modern movement that attracted people with its romanticism of a return to the purity of its warrior tribal origins. Fascism was a celebration of the bold, audacious will to power--an adolescent preoccupation, perhaps, but no less dangerous for that...

If you are a dyed-in-the-wool bourgeois, it’s extremely difficult to understand the appeal of the National Rifle Association exactly for this reason. Owning a gun, like piercing one’s tongue, is an effective way to say I’m not one of those empty corporate or bureaucratic suits who has no real idea who he is or what he stands for except to measure his life by his climb in the hierarchy or by the amount of money he has made. “I own a gun,” says the NRA redneck. “I am a hunter warrior--don’t mess with me. Just try taking my gun away, you gutless bureaucrat. Make my day.”...

It’s all regressive and nostalgic, especially now since real warfare in the twentieth century has offered little possibility for gallantry from the mindless mechanical slaughter in the trenches during WWI to the bureaucratic futility of Vietnam to the high-tech risklessness of the airwars in Serbia or Afghanistan. The warrior has evolved into the technician, and the technician is a classic bourgeois. Perhaps that's another reason we went into Iraq--Americans needed to prove to themselves they still had the guts to fight on the ground.

But these are all ways that are in the mode of rebelling without a cause. There can be no cause if there is no vision of future possibility.

Whelan's farther on the left than I am, but the "vision of future possibility" is as good a way of explaining what our job is as Democrats as I've heard yet. It is also a way to start to theorize how to frame the debate. During the campaign and even today, I hear the Dems call the right "extremists" and "radicals." But I don't think those words have the sting some of us think they do. If the election is any indication some Americans seem to like radicals, while others probably believe that in a fire-with-fire world, it may take extremist actions to defeat extremist enemies. It's the old bring a gun to a knife fight approach, and we Dems can seem weak opposing it.

I'm sort of feeling my way through all of this at the moment, so I don't have any real answers. But I think we can unpack words like fascist and start using it against the right. For one thing, we should stop calling it radical and start calling it corrupt. To my ears, hammering home the idea that the right is almost totally corrupted by all those big corporate dollars already rings true, and as we all know "corporatism" is a fundamental concept of fascism. See how it works, boys and girls?

But as we have all lamented time and again on these pages, beyond framing the right as wrong and opposing its corrupt agenda, we also have to offer our own optimistic "vision of future possibility." Looking back--and for as much as I learned to admire him--Kerry just couldn't pull it off. Clinton did, Obama might, and dare I say it, we have a new leader at the DNC who might be able to as well.

Joe Conason - ‘Liberal’ Media Silent About Guckert Saga

‘Liberal’ Media Silent About Guckert Saga

by Joe Conason

Proof that "the liberal media" is but a figment of right-wing mythology has now arrived in the person of one James Guckert, formerly known as Jeff Gannon. Were the American media truly liberal—or merely unafraid to be called liberal—the saga of Mr. Guckert’s short, strange, quasi-journalistic career would be resounding across the airwaves.

The intrinsic media interest of the Guckert/Gannon story should be obvious to anyone who has followed his tale, which touches on hot topics from the homosexual underground and the investigation into the outing of C.I.A. agent Valerie Plame to the political power of the Internet. But our supposedly liberal media becomes quite squeamish when reporting anything that might humiliate the Bush White House and the Republican Party.

Until very recently, Mr. Guckert served as the White House correspondent for Talon News, a Web site owned and operated by a group of Texas Republican activists who also run a highly partisan site called Mr. Guckert resigned from his Talon job after liberal bloggers exposed his ties to Web sites promoting homosexual prostitution. On Valentine’s Day, posted new evidence indicating that Mr. Guckert not only constructed those gay-play-for-pay sites, but worked as a male escort himself—and continued to do so until he got his first White House press pass in 2003.

Using his "Jeff Gannon" alias, Mr. Guckert soon became a familiar face in the briefing room, where White House press secretary Scott McClellan would call on him as "Jeff." No doubt Mr. McClellan welcomed his mushy-soft, Democrat-baiting questions.

George W. Bush called on him during his most recent press conference—a signal honor for a reporter from an obscure Internet publication, and quite a surprise to the dozens of actual reporters bypassed by Mr. Bush on Jan. 26.

Mr. Guckert’s archived writings suddenly disappeared from the Talon News Web site, but several of his greatest works have been preserved by the watchdogs at They show that he had no journalistic purpose, let alone experience. His copy featured long passages lifted directly from White House press releases. Last year, during the Internet frenzy over Senator John Kerry’s "intern girlfriend," he falsely wrote that the young woman had "taped an interview with one of the major television networks at Christmas substantiating the alleged affair."

He also made a curious cameo appearance in the Valerie Plame controversy. In late 2003, Mr. Guckert called former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. During that interview, the Talon correspondent mentioned a C.I.A. document that supposedly showed Ms. Plame had dispatched Mr. Wilson, her husband, on a government mission to Niger to investigate rumored Iraqi uranium purchases. That allegation was meant to discredit the former ambassador, who had exposed White House intelligence abuses. Administration leaks to the press about Ms. Plame’s C.I.A. work are currently under investigation by a special prosecutor.

What Mr. Guckert seems to have been is not a journalist but a Republican dirty trickster. He was schooled at the Leadership Institute—an outfit run by veteran right-wing operative and Republican National Committee member Morton Blackwell. (It was Mr. Blackwell who distributed those cute "purple heart" Band-aids mocking Mr. Kerry’s war wounds at the Republican convention last summer.) His former employers at Talon News include leading Republican fund-raisers and former officials of the Texas Republican Party who have been active in partisan affairs for the past two decades.

How did this character obtain a coveted place in the White House? What did the White House press staff know about him? How does his story fit within the larger scandal of payola punditry, with federal funds subsidizing Republican propagandists in the press corps? Did someone in the Bush administration give him a classified document?

Such questions are evidently of little concern to our liberal media outlets, whose leading lights prefer to deliver prim lectures about the unwarranted invasion of Mr. Guckert’s private affairs and his victimization for his conservative views. In fact, everything known about him comes from material he posted on public Web sites, but that’s beside the point.

Imagine the media explosion if a male escort had been discovered operating as a correspondent in the Clinton White House. Imagine that he was paid by an outfit owned by Arkansas Democrats and had been trained in journalism by James Carville. Imagine that this gentleman had been cultivated and called upon by Mike McCurry or Joe Lockhart—or by President Clinton himself. Imagine that this "journalist" had smeared a Republican Presidential candidate and had previously claimed access to classified documents in a national-security scandal.

Then imagine the constant screaming on radio, on television, on Capitol Hill, in the Washington press corps—and listen to the placid mumbling of the "liberal" media now.

You may reach Joe Conason via email at:

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Donna Brazile -- Reid comes out punching

Harry Reid vs. The Republicans: Round One
By Donna L. Brazile
Roll Call Contributing Writer
February 15, 2005

When Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) walked into the room to speak to a group of hungry Democrats assembled to elect former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, he looked like a championship prizefighter.

Reid -- who is, in fact, a former boxer -- had spent the past week defending himself against attacks by both the Republican National Committee and its conservative allies. Instead of ducking and weaving, Reid went on the attack as if he had been thrown a sucker punch.

By attempting to compare the new Minority Leader to his predecessor, former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), the Republican Party has breathed life into a Congressional leadership that now thirsts for a little blood of its own. In their cowardly rush to personally "Daschle-ize" Reid as an obstructionist, they not only insulted Reid, but they also rallied the Senate Democratic Caucus to stand behind its leader.

Instead of sitting off to the sidelines in their nice Senate offices like a bunch of dutiful public servants, Senators in the restless minority rushed to the floor and the airwaves to collectively defend Reid's good name and to reiterate their strong opposition to the President Bush's plan to partially privatize Social Security.

So, thanks to Ken Mehlman and those little researchers at the RNC, the Democratic Congressional leadership is now up and raring to go.

Using a left-right combination of jabs, Reid personally led the charge to set the record straight and to throw the Republicans' trash back in their faces. The man even went to the White House and gave the president an earful. At first, I thought Reid would come off as a hapless little crybaby, but in the end, Reid's strident defense made him appear eager for battle.

"We can't wait for 2008 to begin this work," Reid told the enthusiastic DNC gathering. "We can't even wait for 2006. We need to begin right now. Because this is a struggle for America's future. And the stakes are high."

Few knew that this man, whose quiet demeanor and humble background are more like Harry Truman than Lyndon Johnson, had it in him to rally Democrats to their feet.

But those who know him back home in Nevada -- such as Yvonne Atkinson Gates, a Clark County commissioner and chairwoman of the DNC's Black Caucus -- could have told the GOP what to expect from Harry Reid.

"Never underestimate him," Yvonne said to us after his speech. "Don't count out Harry Reid." She should know. "When you least expect it, Reid can hit you from behind and knock you out," she said. Who knew? Clearly, the Republicans of Nevada, she informed me.

Yvonne described Reid as a politician you can trust when he tells you where he stands. I am sure that is why Republicans are obsessively trying to paint a different portrait of the man they must deal with now that Daschle has been retired. But they will soon learn that Reid understands how to get up, strike back and go another round. I heard it in his closing statement to the DNC gathering.

Before leaving the room filled with raucous activists, Reid looked around with a fierce glare in both eyes as if he was sizing up those in his corner. Suddenly, his tone shifted from a high fever pitch to a soft mellow sound. The leader from the tiny Nevada mining town of Searchlight started to sway a little because the words that followed came from some place deep inside. He wanted us to hear them well.

"Already the dirty politics and attack-dog tactics have started from the Republican Party," he reminded us. "They have brought one piece of legislation to the Senate floor, but they have mailed a million copies of a 13-page booklet on how to attack me. They want to do the same thing to me that they were able to do to our friend Tom Daschle," Reid continued.

Then Reid's left leg shifted against the podium. His right foot was firmly in forward position as those broad and steely shoulders stood erect. Reid's words started to flow from his mouth as if he had rehearsed the lines a million times. With greater emphasis and weight, Reid finished his speech by telling those standing in his corner, "We know their game -- and they're not going to get away with it again." The crowd felt the blow landed and jumped up and gave the fighter a standing ovation.

Democrats, for the most part, are now united behind Dean and have begun to show new signs of political potency. Many of the delegates this weekend welcomed the new tone being set by Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). But it's Reid, the boxer, whom Republicans should now be worried about, because he's one red state Democrat in no mood to dance. He's ready for a fight.

Donna L. Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grass-roots political consulting firm.

Michael Kinsley - The Thinker,0,3915019.column?coll=la-util-op-ed
The Thinker
President Bush's thought appears to be evolving. Who knows where this may lead?
Michael Kinsley

February 6, 2005

The strangest aspect of President Bush's new War on Tyranny is the connection he draws between tyranny and terrorism. It's not the connection you would suspect, or the one Bush was making during his first term. When Saddam Hussein was still in charge of Iraq, it was enough to say that bad guys are bad guys. A sadistic dictator is just the type of person who would also harbor terrorists and stockpile weapons of mass destruction.

But now Bush says that terrorists are actually the victims of tyranny. In his inaugural, this seemed like a bit of transitory, use-once-and-discard hifalutinism. But Bush returned to the theme in his State of the Union on Wednesday. "In the long term," he said, "the peace we seek will only be achieved by eliminating the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder. If whole regions of the world remain in despair and grow in hatred, they will be the recruiting grounds for terror, and that terror will stalk America."

The anarchist Emma Goldman said much the same thing in a 1917 essay, "The Psychology of Political Violence." It is "the despair millions of people are daily made to endure" that drives some of them to acts of terror. "Can one question the tremendous, revolutionizing effect on human character exerted by great social iniquities?" She quotes a pamphlet from British-ruled India: "Terrorism … is inevitable as long as tyranny continues, for it is not the terrorists that are to be blamed, but the tyrants who are responsible for it."

Bush does not say that tyranny excuses terrorism. But he does say that tyranny explains terrorism. This is new. One of Bush's big themes in the months after Sept. 11 was that terrorism is "evil," pure and simple. Former Commissioner of Virtue William Bennett ground out a quickie bestseller on this theme, criticizing efforts to understand why someone might become a suicide bomber as a refusal to look evil in the face.

Conservative thought has long rated the notion of "root causes" — explaining antisocial behavior as a consequence of social conditions — as a major heresy. Neoconservatives have especially enjoyed burning witches over this doctrinal deviation. This makes it especially remarkable that a president thought to be in the thrall of neocons should sink so eloquently into doctrinal error.

Not only does he blame terrorism on social conditions — he says point-blank that "only … by eliminating [these] conditions" can the terrorist threat be eliminated. He sounds less like a Republican than a dorm-room Marxist. And good for him. Who says the 1960s passed this fellow by?

Our president appears to be on some kind of intellectual journey. The idea of an evolution in George W. Bush's thinking is about as hard to accept for Bush's opponents as evolution itself is for some of his supporters. Nevertheless, there is evidence. I thought I had our president pegged as a man who made the great leap of faith at age 40 and has used that as his intellectual model ever since. Decide what you want to believe, believe it, and cross it off your to-do list. But this assessment may have been an injustice.

Bush may come to regret his descent from the heights of certitude to the swamps of doubt. The old George W. wasn't expected to have thought through his policies and pronouncements. Now he will lie awake at night pondering questions like these, raised by his State of the Union address:

What does it mean that "one of the main differences between us and our enemies" is that we have "no desire and no intention to impose our form of government on anyone else"? Bush talks more about "freedom" than "democracy," but can there even be freedom in a totalitarian theocracy? Can people freely choose a society where freedom is severely limited, and if so, what does the Bush Doctrine say about that? Approving words on Wednesday about "governments that … reflect their own cultures" were probably intended to allow for religious states in the Middle East. If so, what is left of the War on Tyranny? If not, what is left of the idea that we don't wish to impose our form of government on anyone else?

If his Social Security reform is going to be so delightful, why should older workers be so thrilled to be left out? "Do not let anyone mislead you," Bush told folks who are 55 or older. "For you, the Social Security system will not change in any way." As someone who will miss the cutoff by just a few months, am I supposed to be overjoyed at being able to surf this tsunami to riches, or disappointed that thoughtless procrastination by my parents 54 years ago will deny me protection from it?

Bush said Wednesday he "will work with Congress to ensure that human embryos are not created for experimentation or grown for body parts." This sounds like a welcome willingness to compromise a little bit his stringent restrictions on stem cell research. But what about fertility clinics? They routinely create embryos, and discard most of them, to help people conceive children. Why is using embryos for this purpose OK if using them to save lives is not?

Thinking. It's enough to drive a fellow back to drinking.

If you want other stories on this topic, search the Archives at
TMS Reprints
Article licensing and reprint options

Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times

Michael Kinsley - The Meathead Proposition,0,7844866.column?coll=la-util-op-ed
The Meathead Proposition
Another irrefutable argument against privatizing Social Security.
Michael Kinsley

February 13, 2005

Try to forgive my obsession, but here is another proof that President Bush's designs for Social Security cannot work. This one's not mine. I first heard it from the actor/director and liberal activist, Rob Reiner. Like the argument I have been hawking (see, this one doesn't merely suggest that Bush is making bad policy, it demonstrates with near-mathematical certainty that the idea he endorses cannot work. Period.

Bush might as well be proposing legislation that 2 plus 2 is 5. And if that happened, there would be no shortage of Republican pols prepared to endorse such a view; of experts to declare that it is a very difficult question and the answer may lie anywhere between 2.3 and 7.09; of moderate Washington sages to urge caution (with David Gergen suggesting that perhaps it would be useful to start with 4.1 and get to 5 on a timetable based on the best poll numbers available); of media to report both sides of the question; and of media critics to accuse the media of a subtle bias in favor of 2 plus 2 is 4.

The Meathead Proposition (in honor of Rob Reiner's most famous role) is this: The case that there is a Social Security crisis and the proposal to address it through "personal retirement accounts" both depend on assumptions about the course of the economy over the next few decades. These assumptions are highly speculative. That's OK. What's not OK is to assume one thing when you're claiming there is a problem, and something different when you're claiming that you've got the solution.

Actually, President Bush last week abruptly gave up his claim that privatization will solve the problem of a looming shortfall in Social Security funds. The truth is that privatization schemes assume that the shortfall will be addressed — by borrowing trillions of dollars — as part of the "transition" to privatization. But Bush still claims that letting people keep and invest part of what they now pay into Social Security during their working years will leave them better off than if they just get the benefits they would be entitled to if the program didn't change.

How much better off depends on how much your government benefits will be reduced for every dollar you choose to keep and invest for yourself. That is one of the little details the White House hasn't yet enlightened us about. But this new system as a whole — Social Security plus the private accounts — must somehow produce more money than Social Security alone, or there is no point.

My previous argument, in a nutshell, was that even if these private investments do better than the government bonds in which the current Social Security surplus is invested, this won't change the total amount being invested in the private economy, or increase the economic growth that comes from private investment, because the government will just have to go out and borrow elsewhere to replace the dollars it isn't able to borrow from Social Security. And that means that every time someone puts a Social Security dollar into a private account, someone else must be persuaded to take a dollar currently invested in the private economy and put it in government bonds.

To get his scheme enacted, Bush must persuade Americans of the exact opposite: that private-sector investment will make them better off than fuddy-duddy old government bonds. Basically, privatization schemes assume that the alleged inferiority of government bonds can be kept our little secret for the next few decades — just us folks in the Social Security system. And so a few trillion in government bonds (this is on top of the trillions we unloaded during the "transition") can be unloaded on all those two or three Americans who aren't in Social Security, plus maybe some hapless foreigners.

Privatization schemes assume that this will have no effect on how much interest the government will have to pay, or what kind of long-term return you can expect on investments in the private economy. For example, the right-wing Heritage Foundation, a major thumper for privatization, assumes that private accounts can earn a long-term, risk-free return of 4.7% after inflation, which it says is based on history.

But if free markets work the way they are supposed to — and I would like to hear the Heritage Foundation say that they do not — the effect of the government announcing that government bonds are a bad investment and pushing people to put their money elsewhere will be to make it more expensive for the government to borrow money. So even if private stocks and bonds are a better long-term investment than government bonds (after factoring in risk, and so on), they won't stay that way for long.

Meanwhile, in their latest report, the Social Security trustees assume that growth in the nation's gross domestic product will slow from 4.4% to 1.8% in 2015 and will stay there for the next six decades. They predict productivity growth of 1.6% and average unemployment of 5.5%. From this and other data, the trustees predict that the trust fund will earn 3% a year (5.8% interest minus 2.8% inflation). This is their "intermediate" assumption, from which Bush concludes that shortfall will hit the fan in 2042.

These assumptions about the unknowable are not unreasonable. Nor are the assumptions of the Heritage Foundation. What is unreasonable is using both sets of assumptions at the same time. Can a conservative investment in stocks and bonds grow by 4.7% a year, for decades, while productivity is growing by 1.6% and the economy is growing by 1.8%? Theoretically possible, perhaps. But probable? On average? For everyone with a Social Security number?

If you start by assuming that one investment pays better than another, it's not very surprising (or persuasive) if this is also your conclusion. A dollar a year invested for the next 37 years (until 2042) at 3% interest produces $66. At 4.7%, it's $95. If the Heritage Foundation is right, there is no crisis to fix. And if the Social Security trustees are right, the Heritage fix won't work.

If Meathead can figure this out, why can't W?

If you want other stories on this topic, search the Archives at
TMS Reprints
Article licensing and reprint options

Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times