Saturday, November 22, 2003

The Kennedy connection:

On PBS' NewsHour, Mark Shields expressed a view that is fairly common at this time of the 40th anniversary of president Kennedy's death. About conspiracy theories, with which Shields doesn't believe in:
... the idea that this small troubled tormented man could do something so large and change history by doing it is just somehow, offends people's sense of rationality. I think they're looking for something deeper, something to explain the magnitude of the enormity of what this little man did.
That's our view as well. If you agree with us, consider the following assertion about 9/11:
The idea that a small group of fanatics could do something so large and change history by doing it is just somehow, offends people's sense of rationality. I think war-hawks are looking for something deeper, something to explain the magnitude of the enormity of what this group did.
Basically, we take the view that all evidence to date indicates that al Qaeda is a menace, but nothing on the scale of a state power. But people want to believe that there is something big (and in Bush's case "evil") out there, and so start swinging at figures like Saddam, who fit their own conspiracy theories.


Here is your sound bite:

In agreement with our analysis (below), we read in the New York Times the following:
Overall, a beneficiary would pay $3,600 of the first $5,100 of drug costs, and that does not include the premium, expected to average $35 a month, or $420 a year ...
Now the premium really is a cost for drugs, so the thing to get people to understand is this:
Under the drug plan, you pay 4 of the first 5½ thousand dollars.


Friday, November 21, 2003

First time, ignore the question. Second time, deny the premise:

From the joint press conference (Bush & Blair) in London:
Q: And, Mr. President, if I could ask you, with thousands on the street -- with thousands marching on the streets today here in London, a free nation, what is your conclusion as to why apparently so many free citizens fear you and even hate you?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I'd say freedom is beautiful. It's a fantastic thing to come to a country where people are able to express their views.

Q Why do they hate you, Mr. President? Why do they hate you in such numbers?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I don't know that they do. All I know is that it's -- that people in Baghdad, for example, weren't allowed to do this up until recent history. They're not spending a lot of time in North Korea protesting the current leadership. Freedom is a wonderful thing, and I respect that. I fully understand people don't agree with war. But I hope they agree with peace and freedom and liberty. I hope they care deeply about the fact that when we find suffering and torture and mass graves, we weep for the citizens that are being brutalized by tyrants.

And, finally, the Prime Minister and I have a solemn duty to protect our people. And that's exactly what I intend to do as the President of the United States, protect the people of my country.


Thursday, November 20, 2003

A new name:

Earlier this week, Nicholas Kristof wrote:
We need a name for this war. "Operation Iraqi Freedom" never rolled off the tongue, and "Iraq war" creates confusion with the 1991 war. So send in your entries by mail or e-mail.
Here's our suggestion:     Operation Blunderbuss

It neatly conveys two ideas:
  • A big blast of shot - which is a centuries-earlier version of "Shock and Awe".

  • The blunders that have taken place in the post-war phase (most notably the disbanding of the Iraqi army).


More observations on the Medicare drug benefit:

Here is a chart that shows who is paying what - as a percentage - for a range of drug costs (note: even if your costs are zero, you will be paying a base amount [the premium of $420].)

Also, the way the plan is structured, if your drug costs are less than $830/yr ($70/mo), you are paying more than you would if there were no drug plan. (In other words, only at that point do Medicare payments equal- and therefore pay back - the annual premium.)

Another question that needs to be answered is, "What's the distribution of drug costs today?" We doubt very much that there are significant numbers of people with annual drug costs over $5,000 (or $400/mo). But maybe there are. Also, what's with the region between $2,200 and $4,600 ($183/mo and $383). Do a lot of people inhabit this regiion? (If the costs fall into what's known as a normal distribution, then there will be a peak somewhere - perhaps in that range of costs.)

UPDATE: Our question has been answered! Thanks to reader Joe, we learn of a study by the Commonwealth Fund. On slide 40 of the pdf file, we see:
About 25% of Medicare beneficiaries pay between $2,000 and $4,500 - which nearly coincides with the $2,200 - $4,600 region where the proposed Medicare plan provides no additional drug coverage.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The New Republic Online has a good description of some of the features of the bill.


Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Visualizing the (proposed) Medicare Drug Benefit:

Using information from the New York Times and Easterblog (!), we created a chart that shows who will be paying what for prescription drugs. This chart applies to most people. Those deemed poor (income less than $12,000 and/or assets less than $6,000) will have subsidies or waived deductables or waived coverage gaps.

Easterbrook writes:
Assuming any of this can be understood, the first provision appears to mean the typical senior will pay $420 per year to receive a benefit of $1,444--75 percent of the difference between $275 and $2,200--plus catastrophic coverage for most costs over $3,600. A premium of $420 for $1,444 of reimbursement plus catastrophe protection isn't bad, considering that a high percentage of the insureds will claim benefits.

So this part of the plan, which will be what is used by the majority of middle-class reasonably-healthy seniors, is okay but not a fabulous new windfall. Once typical middle-class seniors realize what they're getting is okay but not hugely great, there is bound to be grumbling; the political expectation seems to be that drugs for seniors will become free. Some middle-class seniors will also protest that they are being charged not $420 but $695 for the $1,444 benefit--the premium plus the deductible. But the $420 premium pays for the $1,444 reimbursement that a senior otherwise wouldn't get. The first $275 the patient would be paying whether the plan existed or not.
CLARIFICATION / CORRECTION: Easterbrook writes about, "catastrophic coverage for most costs over $3,600", but that's misleading. It sounds like solid coverage when drug costs exceed $3,600. According to the Times, the Medicare plan restarts when "the beneficiary has spent a total of $3,600 out of pocket. " That event takes place when the drug costs reach $4,600 ($383/mo). Easterbrook is writing about coverage when the beneficiary's out-of-pocket payments exceed $3,600.

Our view: We're not particularly impressed with the plan. Considering the initial $420/yr premium and the $275 deductable, the program pays 40% until the costs reach $4800 - after which drugs are virtually free.

We should point out that the 40% is an average; the benefit ranges between 55% and 30% when total costs are below the $4,800 "FreePoint". In fact, the benefit gets worse (declining from 55% to 30%) as the patient gets sicker. (What's really happening is that the benefit is pegged at $1444 while costs increase, so the percentage of coverage declines as a result.)

There are several details that need to be examined. For example, will any of these figures be inflation adjusted (especially those that are used to determine who is poor)?

Our best summary of the program is that is appears to be "half a loaf" (actually, more like 40% of a loaf). And that may not be good enough. We don't know what the general situation is for seniors, but we suspect that paying up to $3,500 for drugs (premiums, deductables, patient-share) may well be beyond the budgets of those who are not poor, but not well-off either.


An appeal for a little help:

We think that one of the most important resources at this time is the Iraqi Coalition Casualty Count website. (URL is: It is scrupulously maintained and has detailed information you won't get anywhere else.

Do you have a PayPal account? Can you spare, say, $3.00?

Please consider giving to keep the site up and running.

Thank you.

(This appeal is our own idea. We have no connection to the website. We just happened to notice that they are asking for support.)


Taking Scalia seriously:

Back in May 2002, Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia had an essay published in First Things entitled God's Justice and Ours. (We think it may have originally been delivered as a speech a month earlier.) We invite readers to ponder these lines:
... the core of [St. Paul's] message is that government—however you want to limit that concept—derives its moral authority from God.


It is easy to see the hand of the Almighty behind rulers ... who at least obtained their thrones in ... battles whose outcome was determined by the Lord of Hosts, that is, the Lord of Armies.
So, Mr. Scalia, if Bush fails to succeed in the war in Iraq, does that mean the hand of the Almighty isn't behind the president, and that Bush - by your standard - has no moral authority?


This is an excellent visual representation:

Via MediaWhoresOnline Watch Watch Watch Watch * we encountered a chart created by Ed Stephan that shows the steady increase in military fatalities since the start of the Iraqi war. The original chart is good, but we decided to enlarge it - yet make it fit the screen for the 26% of our readers who have 800 pixel wide monitors (and move some of the text around a bit). Here it is:

NOTE: The chart was also featured at the onegoodmove weblog.

* IMPORTANT NOTE: We don't know what's going on, but MWOWWWW appears hijacked and is now completely purged of content. It was working this morning, but the buzz is that there has been turmoil at that blog for some time now.


We give up!

This is from the concluding paragraph of Nicholas D. Kristof's most recent essay in the New York Times:
We need a name for this war. "Operation Iraqi Freedom" never rolled off the tongue, and "Iraq war" creates confusion with the 1991 war. So send in your entries by mail or e-mail.
We don't know why we didn't think of that before. A new name! That's the ticket.

Our suggestion: Operation Ivy Peninsula Freedom Serpent Strike Iron Cyclone Desert Hammer Scorpion

ALSO: We took a quick look at Safire's essay as well. It was so slimy that we had to wash our hands afterwards. He writes: "Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who became Jacques Chirac's toy spitz in opposing America as well as neighbors in Europe ..." Spitz is a breed of dog. Yet somehow Safire never gets around to using the word "poodle". Imagine that.


Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Burn baby, burn!

That's our 3-word summary of the energy bill. Just burn lots of stuff. Oil, coal, ethanol, gasoline, and natural gas. (Yes, the bill also contains objectionable parts like the repeal of the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 *) There is little interest in conservation or alternate energy sources. In fact, a provision to encourage use of renewable resources was removed during the House-Senate conference. The House "GOP majority strongly favors more extensive development of domestic oil and gas resources." There you have it. This is not a forward-looking policy. Businesses are going to get tax breaks for what they already are doing. It's a complete sellout. And the president will eagerly sign the bill if it gets to him (which is something Gore wouldn't do). Thanks, Ralph.

NOTE TO SCIENTISTS: You may have to rerun your computer models on global warming. Looks like there will be plenty more CO2 for us all to deal with.

* More on PUHCA. Repeal will lead to all sorts of mergers and consumer-unfriendly situations. From Forbes: (excerpts)
PUHCA was passed after financial turmoil hit the nascent electricity sector as huge holding companies drew on the stable finances of their regulated utility arms to invest in other, riskier businesses.

The turmoil in the 1930s pushed some 53 holding companies into bankruptcy when lenders called in loans, spurring public calls for reform in the utility industry.

To ensure reliable electricity service to consumers, PUHCA limited the geographical reach of each utility and required utilities' businesses mesh operationally.

The Act prohibited utilities from mixing non-utility operations and power generation to prevent them using revenue from their protected markets to subsidize other ventures. It also limited how much debt a utility could accumulate.
Feel better now?

ADDITIONAL NOTE: We expect much hilarity when the media discuss the repeal of PUHCA (pronounced, apparently, "Poo-huca"). Just like Dingell-Norwood was a hit with well known political comedians Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts back in 2000. Remember, if it sounds funny, you should feel free to completely ignore what it's about.


Drill this into your head:

Calpundit calls Mickey Kaus out on a low blow. Kaus goes after Howard Dean with this line:
... there's a second, more troubling interpretation, which is that Dean ________
Fill in the blank with whatever you'd like to accuse Dean of. In Kaus' case it's a theory that Dean is a cunning opportunist (or worse).

Isn't that nice? When one decides to "interpret" something, there are virtually no limits where you can go. Not only that, but Kaus tltles his entry
Hello! Opposition Researchers!
What can you say but ....

Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat - Mickey Kaus is a Fox News Democrat -

If the tapestry above doesn't get to you, stare at this for 10 minutes:


We thought of it first!

From Middle East Online (thanks to Counterspin for the head's up):
Bush's homemade statue to be toppled in London

CND spokeswoman says idea is to highlight how fake toppling of Saddam statue in Baghdad was on April 9.

British demonstrators angry at Anglo-American policy over Iraq said they will topple Thursday a giant homemade statue of George W. Bush in London's Trafalgar Square during a protest march against his three-day state visit.
From our post of 10 April 2003: (actually, this is a brightened version of our original image which was rather dark)

It's not in the story (above), but we heard on the radio that the statue will be toppled (more accurately, pulled down) by a pink papier-mache tank.

All in all, it should be fun.


Found item:

We were recently sorting some old papers - which included newspaper clippings - and came upon an item that we'd completely forgotten about. But before getting into that, we'd like to say that we don't collect and save everything that we've read. In fact, we probably only have five clippings on politics from the last ten years. So how did we happen to save this thing? Was there some early buzz that we picked up? Certainly, this guy wasn't uppermost in our mind until 1999. Yet somehow we cut it out and put it aside.

Here are the first paragraphs of a Washington Post National Weekly Edition - for Jul 24-30, 1995
The Lone Star Takes a Shine to a Rising Son
Gov. George W. Bush is establishing his credentials with a smooth first term
By Sue Ann Pressley
Washington Post Staff Writer

It was a rare moment of discord in his short, happy life as the governor of Texas: When, without warning, George W. Bush recently vetoed a guardianship bill intended to protect thousands of elderly and disabled Texans - a bill that had sailed through the legislature with scant opposition - some Democrats and other advocates quickly cried foul.

Here, they said, was proof of what truly could be expected from the new Republican leader who has preached countless sermons about the lofty plane of nonpartisan politics.

"While the governor was vetoing this bill," said Democratic state Rep. Elliott Naishtat of Austin, a co-sponsor of the measure, "he was signing bills that would appear to benefit wealthy people, and people or groups that can afford to retain high-powered lobbyists. I am extremely disappointed."

So were the Gray Panthers, the Association of Retarded Children of Texas and officials with 30 other organizations. Bush's rationale was that the measure would burden the current state bureaucracy and that it complicated, rather than improved, an existing - but, critics say, insufficient - program.

[The article goes on about Texas politics, compromise, lack of it, etc.]
Sure looks like Bush was a mean SOB from the get-go.


To tell the truth:

Via Roger Ailes we read the New York Times article on Limbaugh's comeback. Here is the key excerpt you should remember:
"When you have a constituency that strong and an audience that devoted, they will forgive you anything, short of murder," Mr. Friedman [a Democratic strategist] said. "I think the cause is so important to them that they're not willing to sacrifice a leader because of his personal flaws."


Reverse strategy:

From Limbaugh's first day back.
Democrats can't meet us in the arena of ideas, so they call names and make wild charges hoping something will stick. When these people talk about us, when they accuse us of bad behavior - guess what? They're telling us who they are. It's a beautiful thing, my friends. It's a new way of listening to liberals. When they start telling us what rotten SOBs we are, just remember: they're telling us who they are.
Are you confused yet?

But seriously, this is just another brick in the wall. In this case, a rubber brick that reflects criticism 100%. It's all part of the walling off of the world so that Limbaugh and his supporters can believe in anything they want to.


Simplify, simplify:

From this news story:
EPA to propose easing rules for radioactive waste

President George W. Bush's administration is considering allowing low-level radioactive waste to be dumped at toxic waste sites and other facilities that currently aren't permitted to receive it.

The Environmental Protection Agency was expected to issue a notice Tuesday seeking public comments on the proposal. The notice asks the public to weigh in on whether certain levels of radioactive waste can be stored in landfills or hazardous material disposal sites.

Nuclear power companies can dispose of low-level radioactive waste at a handful of sites around the country, and about 20 sites can dispose of hazardous material.

The EPA notice says a rule change could simplify the process for getting rid of hazardous and radioactive waste for nuclear power companies and others that generate it.
We wonder - why not simplify the process further? Just dump the radioactive waste in the gutter. Then companies don't have to deal with the bother of trucking the crap to toxic waste sites, or to any waste sites whatsoever.


Monday, November 17, 2003

We screwed up!

In our haste converting an old diagram into a PowerPoint-like application (StarOffice's Impress) we made several errors. Misspelling, dropped connections, and connections that shouldn't be there. Our thanks to Mike and Mark for setting us straight. Click here for the full size diagram.

We'll be much more careful in the future (we have lots of diagrams to re-enter).


Sunday, November 16, 2003

Details! Details!

We watched the Fox News Sunday round table discuss Stephen Hayes' Weekly Standard article that everybody is talking about. It's the one about what Douglas Feith sent to the Senate Intelligence Committee. As Josh Marshall writes "I was watching Fox News Sunday this morning and saw Fred Barnes --- Executive Editor of the Standard --- go almost apoplectic about how devastating and case-closing a piece it is." Fred was certainly excited. And he kept on mentioning that the reports were full of details. Here is a transcript of the round table on the Hayes article: (emphasis added)
SNOW: Fred, let me ask you about a series of memos that were first reported by Stephen Hayes in the Weekly Standard which seemed to indicate that our intelligence agencies thought there were some very strong connections or at least some coincidences that would link Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda. Now we haven't been able to get anybody to bite on this officially, but looking at the memos it does appear that the intelligence community thought there was some pretty strong evidence that Saddam had been working with al Qaeda and for a considerable period of time.

BARNES: And your first word was right, "connections", not just coincidences. The interesting thing about this report in particular is the detail that it has of meetings between officials of Saddam Hussein's government at top officials of al Qaeda. Have met repeatedly over thirteen years from 1990 to 2003. Met in many different places, and developed, really, an operational relationship of providing sanctuary for terrorists, and training of terrorists in explosives and weapons of mass destruction and so on. Look, they say this is raw intelligence but this is raw intelligence with great details, much of it coming from the CIA. You know - I love - the press' in particular selective use of intelligence which they accuse the Bush administration of - the same people who will raise doubts about this intelligence are praising the CIA assessment of what's going on in Iraq right now. Now - look - there are repeated meetings that went on between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government. It's clear that there was a strong connection.

WILLIAMS: I don't know about a strong connection, the president himself has said we haven't proven anything.

BARNES: Whoa! Whoa! He said we haven't proven

HUME: 9/11

BARNES: Saddam Hussein was involved with 9/11.

WILLIAMS: And I don't think there's any proof - that meetings may have occurred - there's no proof of any kind of connection that would say "here are funds, here are troops, here's our effort to attack Americans, to create terrorism". We don't know that Fred.

BARNES: You're setting up a straw man.

WILLIAMS: But that's what I think this is. I think if there are some connections here ...

BARNES: Strong!

WILLIAMS: I think there's a big difference between the CIA memo that was released this week, the one that Bremer knew about, and that every White House official that I know says, "Yes, that's a legitimate memo", and this one that is speculative.

BARNES: No, no! Please.

WILLIAMS: Because you're trying to make a connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.

BARNES: Juan, you cannot call that report speculative. It is filled with details. It doesn't speculate at all. There's no speculation in there. And Juan, I wonder why would your reaction be to try and knock it down, rather than say, "Hey, there really was a strong connection between Saddam and al Qaeda".

WILLIAMS: Because I think the American people realize that after 9/11 we had to do something about Afghanistan. Had to do something about al Qaeda. The whole issue about Iraq is separate and you're trying to make it - conflate them - because what we did was take preemptive action against Iraq. Most people - I think everyone on this panel - say, "Okay we did it, we're going to stay with this president", but you don't have to create this kind of, you know, cotton candy: "Oh yes, we knew there was a connection". Sounds a lot like what happened to Jessica Lynch. All of a sudden you realize this week that the Defense Department was building her up ...

BARNES: These are hard facts. You can call it speculative. You can call it cotton candy. These are hard facts, and I'd like to see you refute any one of them!

WILLIAMS: I think the case is not to refute it. I think the case is to prove it, and it's yet to be proven.
[Note: For about a week, a .wav file of this exchange will be available here. It is 1.5 meg in size. We do this to assure our readers that the transcripts are accurate.)

Now anybody can provide raw, unsubstantiated data, replete with details. For instance:
Fred Barnes was seen wearing a blue shirt and driving a Ford Taurus at 10:32 AM on Saturday. He parked the car next to a mailbox and then, wearing a red had and carrying a wrench and screwdriver, broke into the 2nd window to the right of the main entrance of the Library of Congress.
Plenty of details, but completely false.