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Novak Calls Huckabee a "False Conservative," Fetishizes Partisanship

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 11:51 AM EST

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Wow, Bob Novak really hates Mike Huckabee. His column today is titled "The False Conservative." You wouldn't think an ardently pro-life social conservative who supports gun rights and opposes gay marriage could be all that far off the mark, but according to Novak, "serious Republicans" know that Huckabee is a threat to the party's core ideology. Says Novak:

Huckabee is campaigning as a conservative, but serious Republicans know that he is a high-tax, protectionist advocate of big government and a strong hand in the Oval Office directing the lives of Americans.

From what I can discern, Novak offers four things as substantiation:

"He increased the Arkansas tax burden 47 percent, boosting the levies on gasoline and cigarettes."

This is true, Huckabee did raise taxes in Arkansas. But he was fiscally responsible, if not fiscally conservative, and left the state with a huge surplus. He may not have shared the GOP's faith in supply side economics, but he produced good governance.

"...he criticized President Bush's veto of a Democratic expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program."

Fair enough. He bucked the party line there, though there was massive support across political parties when everyday Americans were polled about SCHIP. It was only the party elite that wanted to deny kids their meds.

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Obama vs. Clinton on Social Security: An Actual Policy Difference!

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 11:10 AM EST

In a campaign season in which the Democratic candidates agree with each other on 95 percent of their policy proposals, Social Security stands out as an issue with a small but stark difference.

Here's the nut of the issue. Currently, Americans pays a Social Security tax on the first $97,500 of their income. If you make $60,000 a year, you pay tax on 100 percent of what you make. If you make $1 million a year, you pay tax on 9.75 percent of what you make. Barack Obama proposes lifting that $97,500 cap (which rises to $102,000 next year), while Hillary Clinton suggests it would raise taxes by too much.

Over on the Time blog Swampland, I found this incredibly helpful chart. I've stolen it because it breaks down the numbers exceptionally well. As a thank you, show Swampland some love.

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Clinton is right about the rise in taxes: in some instances it is substantial. But only the rich will feel it.

The Intellectual Street Brawler: What if They Held a Street Fight But Nobody Watched?

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 10:31 AM EST

Way to come back from T-day festivities and get all depressed over the state of our humanity.
What the hell, misery loves company. Check out Sucker Punch: The art, the poetry, the idiocy of YouTube street fights over at Slate. Yup, knuckle draggers staging, then taping, disgusting street fights all for your viewing pleasure.

The author is an English professor and fight fan who's using the education his parents denied themselves to give him making street brawls high brow. That's unfair, I know, but so is glamorizing hooliganism (these folks go around 'happy slapping' unsuspecting women) which writing like this certainly does. As does my linking to it.

Trent Lott Says Goodbye to All That

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 10:12 AM EST

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This just in: Mississippi senator Trent Lott is calling it quits after nearly 20 years in the Senate. He's not sick, just sick of the Senate apparently, but no word on his future plans. Perhaps he needs to devote more time to his lawsuit against State Farm, which is still refusing to pay the claim on his Katrina-damaged Pascagoula house.

Despite Lott's devotion to Strom Thurmond, in recent months, he's come off as one of the saner members of the GOP (he made early calls for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, for instance, and his dismay over the Bush administration's handling of Katrina prompted him to consider retiring a few years ago). His replacement, though, is likely to be more of a firebrand. Congressman Chip Pickering, who appears in the movie Borat, with a bunch of Pentacostal Christians cheering against the teachings of evolution, is the odds-on favorite to fill Lott's empty seat.

Ron Paul: Winning the Black Helicopter Vote

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 12:52 AM EST

Ron Paul's campaign (or is it a crusade?) is trying to engineer another "money bomb"--a one-day intense fundraising drive--on Monday, November 26. The last one, which was detonated on November 5, netted Paul over $4 million--an impressive sum for an outlying candidate who has refused to return a campaign donation from a neo-Nazi. One solicitation for this latest appeal captures the political culture of a slice of Paul's libertarian constituency:

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Note the black helicopters--the symbol of anti-government, paranoid conspiracy theories. Yes, they're coming for you....

A Glimmer of Optimism on the U.S.-Iran Front?

| Sun Nov. 25, 2007 3:21 PM EST

A veteran of three White House national security teams spanning from Ford through Reagan, Columbia University's Gary Sick is not given to excessive flights of optimism. Experience would favor caution. While serving in the Carter administration, for instance, Sick was working as the principal White House aide on Iran during the 1979 Iranian revolution and hostage crisis, a trauma from which U.S.-Iranian relations has never recovered. But a recent analysis Sick has shared with a private list he runs on Persian Gulf affairs offers a hint of cautious optimism about recent, mostly below-the-radar developments between Washington and Tehran, especially on the Iran-in-Iraq front. Here's an excerpt, shared with permission:

Over the past several weeks, there has been a quiet process of apparent concessions and small gestures of approval between the United States and Iran in Iraq. General Petraeus told the Wall Street Journal that Iran "made promises at the highest levels of the Iranian government to the highest levels of the Iraqi government. These were unequivocal pledges to stop the funding, training, arming and directing of militia extremists in Iraq. It will be hugely significant to see if that's the case." Only a few weeks earlier, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had noted that the discovery and use of improvised explosive devices (IED) of suspected Iranian origin in Iraq had declined, along with the general decline of violence associated with the U.S. military surge and new counter-insurgency tactics.
In between these two announcements, the U.S. military released nine Iranians who had been arrested and held for many months. Even more unusual was the fact that the release of these men, now officially labeled of "no continued intelligence value," had been reviewed only a few months earlier and rejected. Stranger still, they were identified as members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and its special intelligence division, the Qods Brigade, which had just been officially designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Shortly thereafter, the Iraqi government announced that a fourth round of direct talks between the United States and Iran would take place in the near future.
So, what is going on here?

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Perle Tries to Avoid Blame on Iraq, Says "I Don't Believe I Was Wrong"

| Sun Nov. 25, 2007 3:11 PM EST

Appearing recently on a BBC show, Richard Perle said, "I don't believe I was wrong [about the invasion of Iraq]. Let me be very clear about that. What I think happened is that a successful invasion was turned into an unsuccessful occupation. I didn't favor the occupation strategy. I think the occupation was a mistake."

This is becoming an increasingly common way for the most fervent supporters of the invasion to sidestep blame, but it is fundamentally in error. They cannot separate the invasion from the occupation. If they had the foresight one hopes the advocates of something as serious as war would have had, they would have realized that no invasion comes easy. That's particularly true with Iraq. A country with no history of a civil society and no familiarity with self-rule wasn't going to turn into a functioning democracy in a matter of months. The plan to invade, depose Saddam, and then hand the country over to Ahmad Chalabi or whomever in six months was, to any serious observer, a obvious fallacy. An American occupation was going to be necessary.

But let's give Perle the benefit of the doubt. If you look closely at his words, he doesn't say that he opposed the occupation. He says he opposed the occupation strategy. So he is telling us that he knew an occupation would be necessary, but didn't like the way Bush and Co. ran the one that occurred.

This too is nonsense.

A Ron Paul Supporter Explains the "Liberty Dollar"

| Sat Nov. 24, 2007 11:14 PM EST

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Ed. Note: Earlier this month, the people behind something called the "Liberty Dollar" saw their offices raided by the FBI. The Liberty Dollar bills itself as a "private voluntary barter currency," which I assumed was code for a libertarian scheme designed to bring about the downfall of the Federal Reserve, in the spirit of the fiercely anti-Fed libertarian demigod Ron Paul. (The Liberty Dollar folks have a coin with Ron Paul on it.) I reached out to a libertarian friend who writes the blog The Agnoptimists to get some hard answers. His thoughts are below. —JS

As a libertarian, I like to argue with opponents of my free market views by focusing on outcomes: simply put, the central question is whether centralized government programs are really more attractive than market outcomes.

Anyone who seeks the best solutions to society's dilemmas should embrace experiments that allow direct comparison between government projects and private enterprise. The U.S. Post Office is constantly improving its service due to competition from companies like FedEx and UPS, for example.

The Federal Reserve is a favorite target for libertarian critique, and with good reason. There is no inherent value backing the U.S. dollar; instead, a small group of powerful individuals unilaterally and undemocratically controls our nation's money supply. They are free to redistribute wealth from savers to borrowers, which they do incrementally but consistently by creating new money, and their inability to manage interest rates perfectly is at least partially responsible for the economically destructive boom/bust business cycle and the current housing crisis. Worst of all, U.S. citizens are forced to accept the U.S. dollar—the term "legal tender" means that people cannot refuse the dollar even if inflation renders it worthless. Alan Greenspan was famously skeptical of this deeply flawed system, and Americans should not be content.

A Look Back at John Howard

| Sat Nov. 24, 2007 6:04 PM EST

Today Australian Prime Minister John Howard was ousted by the Labor Party, which easily took back control of Parliament from Howard's party. The defeat was so severe Howard may even lose his own seat.

So, now is a good time to look back at something little-noticed in America: Howard's shameless lying on Iraq.

Howard's most important Iraq speech was delivered to Parliament on February 4, 2003. Here's some of what he said:

Australians Vote Today: A Turning Point for the World?

| Fri Nov. 23, 2007 8:18 PM EST

r140170_481726.jpg Want a sneak preview of America-2008? Australians are voting today on 11 years of John Howard's ghastly ungreen rule and Kevin Rudd is predicted to become Australia's leader—a man who's declared the fight against global warming to be his main priority. The Telegraph reports:

The Labour Party leader said that he would immediately sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, describing it as the "number one" priority. "Australia needs new leadership on climate change. Mr. Howard remains in a state of denial," he said. He would personally represent Australia at a United Nations climate change meeting next month in Bali to discuss the next stage of the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. He also promised that by 2020, a fifth of Australia's energy needs would come from renewable energy sources. Until a partial conversion this year, Mr. Howard has been a climate change skeptic [sound familiar?]. . . the latest poll indicates that Mr. Rudd is set to win with 54 per cent of the vote compared to Mr. Howard's 46 per cent.

If true. Well, halle-bloody-lujah. It will be no small victory. Aussies are the highest per capita greenhouse emitters on the planet. They're our fellow anti-Kyotoers, and likewise suffering hellacious droughts and wildfires. Where they lead, we can follow.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.