Benny's World

Saturday, November 20, 2004

The Debt and Deficit Clocks Are Ticking

Greenspan warns U.S. on trade deficit threat

In remarks that roiled the financial markets, pushing the value of the dollar ever lower, Alan Greenspan warned that America's reliance on foreign capital poses a risk to the domestic economy.

The Federal Reserve chairman, in a speech at the European Banking Congress in Frankfurt, Germany, said foreign investors could grow tired of financing the U.S. current account deficit. That could lead them to unload their dollar-denominated assets, such as U.S. stock investments, and put their money in other countries.The amount of foreign investment flowing into the U.S. has a big impact on the health of the overall economy. If it sinks, the stock and bond markets could get hurt, interest rates could shoot up and the value of the dollar could extend a long downward spiral.

The current account deficit that Greenspan cited in his speech Friday is considered the best measure of a country's international economic standing.Like the trade deficit, it tracks goods and services, but also includes investment flows between countries. The deficit grew to a record $166.2 billion in the second quarter. For all of 2003, it was more than $500 billion.

Although Greenspan said there is little sign so far that overseas investors and central banks have lost faith in the U.S. economy, his warning rattled Wall Street and currency markets.The Dow Jones industrial average tumbled nearly 116 points, its largest decline in two months. The dollar dropped to 103.10 against the Japanese yen from 104.18 Thursday, and fell to $1.3020 per euro from $1.2961.

"Given the size of the U.S. current account deficit, a diminished appetite for adding to dollar balances must occur at some point," Greenspan said. "International investors will eventually adjust their accumulation of dollar assets or, alternatively, seek higher dollar returns to offset concentration risk, elevating the cost of financing the U.S. current account deficit and rendering it increasingly less tenable."Although Greenspan didn't specifically address interest rates or the value of the dollar--"Forecasting exchange rates has a success rate no better than that of forecasting the outcome of a coin toss," he said--investors read between the lines."He's telling people rates are going to keep going higher and the dollar is going to keep going lower," Scott Gewirtz, co-head of U.S. Treasury trading at Deutsche Bank Securities in New York, told Bloomberg News.

As the trade deficit grows, more dollars leave the U.S. So far, foreign investors have recycled this money by buying U.S. Treasury securities--which finances the government's budget deficit--or stocks, corporate bonds and other dollar-denominated investments.The recycling has helped keep interest rates low and buoyed the stock market. Were overseas investors and central banks to reduce their buying or unload their investments, it would cause stocks and bonds to sink and interest rates to soar."Greenspan is saying that day might not be far down the road," said Ken Goldstein, an economist for the New York-based Conference Board, a private research group.Marc Pado, U.S. market strategist for investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald, said the growing deficit could "deter future investments," though he does not expect overseas investors to dump their current assets.The slide in the dollar has unnerved investors recently because it raises the cost of foreign goods, from Japanese cars to Canadian lumber to German pharmaceuticals.Gita Gopinath, assistant professor of economics at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, said a continuing rapid decline in the dollar's value "will have an inflationary effect on the economy."That's because more expensive imports allow domestic producers to raise prices, something that has been impossible for years because of competition at home and abroad.

A cheaper dollar does have some benefits. It has been good for U.S. manufacturers because it makes their products less expensive in foreign markets. That can help exports and narrow the trade gap.Manufacturing and agricultural exports, both important sectors of the Midwest economy, especially benefit, as do the jobs such exports generate."There has been a lot of talk about outsourcing labor overseas," said Pado. "A falling dollar works against that trend."Greenspan also said the Bush administration should work to reduce the country's budget deficit. "Reducing the federal budget deficit--or preferably moving it to surplus--appears to be the most effective action that could be taken to augment domestic saving," he said. Personal savings in the U.S. rose at a 0.4 percent annual rate in the third quarter, the lowest on record. (source: Chicago Tribune)

And yet, the debt ceiling was raised by the Republicans this week in their lame duck session. I guess many of our senators and congressmen don't read reports by the Fed very often.

You''ll Never Walk Alone Daschle



SPEAKER: U.S. SENATOR TOM DASCHLE (D-SD)SENATE MINORITY LEADER DASCHLE: Mr. President, like the distinguished Senator from Illinois, I wanted to take a couple of minutes this afternoon to come to the floor to express in the most heartfelt way, as he just has, my profound thanks for the opportunities that I have had to serve in the United States Senate.I congratulate him on his successful career and wish him well in all of his endeavors.

And I'd like to begin where he ended by thanking my family: my wife, Linda; my daughter, Kelly, Eric; our son, Nathan; and Jill and our daughter Lindsay.I want to thank my staff. I actually believe, and I'm sure each of our colleagues share this view, that I have the finest staff that the Senate has ever assembled. They have served me. They have served this institution. They have served the people of our state. And they have served this country with remarkable professionalism, dedication, loyalty, patriotism and commitment in ways that nobody could possibly register.

I want to thank the people of South Dakota, most importantly for the opportunities that they have given me to live my passion for these past 26 years.No senator has ever been more grateful, more fortunate than I have.I want to thank my colleagues for their friendship and their loyalty, their support and the remarkable strength that they have given me each and every day.I congratulate the man on my left, Harry Reid. No senate leader has ever had the good fortune that I have had, to have an assistant like the man from Searchlight. He is a profoundly decent man who loves his state, this institution and his country. If friends are relatives that you make for yourself, then he is my brother.

I want to thank Dick Durbin and congratulate him and Debbie Stabenow and Byron Dorgan and Hillary Clinton for their willingness to take on the leadership roles in the 109th Congress, and I will say this Senate and our Caucus could not be served better.I congratulate especially Chuck Schumer for taking on what may be one of the most challenging of all leadership positions and know that he will serve us well.I can remember so vividly ten years ago when I was elected by one vote. I came to the floor very nervous and filled with trepidation, but a recognition that we had a job to do. And I wanted to use the power that I had just been given wisely and recognize that it was entrusted to me so that we might make the lives of all people better.

Certainly, after I was elected leader, I was asked to come to dinner with a good friend of mine, a man in his 80s whose name was Dick Reiners, from Worthing. Dick was a farmer, had been one of my strongest supporters, most loyal and dedicated friends, one of those people we can all identify with.He asked me to come to dinner that night. And I came out to his farmhouse. We had dinner. I asked him for advice. And he paused and he looked at me and he said: "There are two things that I would hope for you. One is that you never forget where you came from. Come home. Remember us."And then he pointed to some pictures on the wall that I recognized very readily, they are of his grandchildren. He said, "You've held each one of those grandkids, as have I. Give them hope. Every day you walk onto the floor, give them hope."We hugged each other, and I left. Later on that night, I got a call in the middle of the night that Dick Reiners had passed away.

I'd never, ever been given better advice in all the years before or since, and I remember it now.We come to this body with great goals. And our challenge is to become focused on those goals and not lose sight of them with the daily challenges of the battles that we take on as we come to these desks.And two touchstones in particular have helped me remember my purpose.The first touchstone is this desk, the leader's desk. You pull open this drawer, and you see the names of all the leaders carved in it.And it's a constant reminder that we are part of a continuum, a continuum that makes us the heirs and the guardians of a miracle. And that miracle is the ideal that we embrace with the great freedoms that we have sworn to protect.We have a challenge, as we sit at these desks, to do what soldiers have done for 200 years. We either have to fight for this freedom or work at it. And in more than 30 wars one million men and women have given their lives for that freedom.And our job -- our job is to work at it as if we have given our lives too, every day. We have to protect and defend that freedom, and we must pass it on to future generations undiminished.

My second touchstone is a practice that I acquired many years ago, of making it a habit to get into my car and drive without a schedule to all the counties in South Dakota; there are 66 of them.I do it to be energized, to refresh, to touch the land, to watch the sunsets and the sunrises, the majestic beauty of my state. But more than anything else, I do it to be inspired and reminded of how much it is we do here that touches the lives of those that I represent.It is an amazing feeling to drive from one county to the other and to see the results of our work here in this body.

I'm honored and very grateful that there isn't one county in the state of South Dakota that hasn't been touched by our work and our efforts these years that I have been here, touched in ways large and small.We now are an energy-producing state, which means a lot to me. People said that would never be possible. We have little oil, very little natural gas, no coal, but we can now produce 400,000 gallons of fuel that otherwise might be imported.We passed farm legislation that is truly giving our farmers and ranchers hope for a better future. My state suffers from poor water poorly distributed. And our challenge has always been to find a way with which to take the good water and take it to those locations where they have none.And I believe one of the most emotional experiences I've ever had is to watch a family turn on a tap for the first time and cry and embrace each other and pass around a glass and look at it and thank you.

I am honored to have been a part of creating a new future for Indian students who long gave up any hope of graduating in a traditional way, but now can walk through the doors of tribal colleges with a true sense of fulfillment and optimism that they only dreamed of having just a few years ago.The joy of walking into a town and talking to people and being embraced by total strangers who tell you you saved their lives because of something your staff did, recognizing that if it hadn't been for you, perhaps, there would be no life to save.

What an honor. What a sense of gratitude.As leader, I've been privileged to meet some of the greatest leaders of our time -- I believe that Nelson Mandela would probably rank in a class by himself -- Vaclev Havel, Lech Walesa, Mother Theresa, Rosa Parks, presidents and kings.I've been inspired by them, but not so much as the inspiration that I've been given by people who are not well-known. Carolyn Downs (ph), who runs the Banquet in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, touching lives every day and giving them hope.Louis and Melvina Winters (ph) on Pine Ridge Reservation, who had absolutely nothing to their name and took a burned-out trailer house, rebuilt it and have literally saved the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of children who had no other place to go, who they found on their doorstep when the word got out that somehow they were the ones to whom children could turn.Chick Big Crow, who witnessed the death of her daughter only to make the lives of young people on Pine Ridge richer with her steadfast determination to build a Boys & Girls club.And there are those like Elaine (ph), who work at 4:30 in the morning at 77 years old. Nine hundred dollars in Social Security and $900 in drug bills, she works at McDonald's to be able to pay for the rest of her living expenses and say she's proud to do so.

And Mary Ann (ph), who works three jobs, has a blood disease and no health insurance, and she says, "I want you to know something, Senator Daschle. I'm going to make it. I'm going to make it. But I'd like a little help along the way, if you can find a way to remember me."They are the heart and soul of America. And they need us now maybe more than ever before.We are each given a number when we come to the Senate. I think it's a wonderful tradition. And I've always been so proud of my number. My number is 1776, the year of our revolution.I think of that number not just because of its unique nature, but it reminds me every day that we are still part of an American revolution.And as a nation, we are making monumental decisions about what kind of country this will be. Will we use our powerful might as a force just for vengeance and protection against those who would destroy us? Or will we use it for progress the world around?Will we recognize that power is not just our arms, but our wisdom, our compassion, our tolerance, our willingness to cooperate, not just with ourselves, but with the whole world?

Will we honor the uniquely American ideal that we are responsible for passing this country on to a generation in the future that is better? Or will we forfeit the promise of the future for the reward of the moment?These are the questions we will continue to face.Several months ago, I came to the floor and I gave a speech at this desk expressing the hope that regardless of how the election turned out, we could continue mightily to find the politics of common ground.I'm proud of those times in this body when we showed our very best.I'm proud of that moment on the Capitol steps when we joined hands and sang.I'm proud of the effort we made after 9/11 to come together to pass legislation that our country so desperately needed, not just for what it said, but for the message it sent.I'm proud of that moment on October 15th when we were target of the greatest biological attack in our nation's history, and again we came together.I'm proud of those moments when we found common ground on campaign finance reform and the farm bill and patient's bill of rights, highways, laws, in some cases, that have not yet become law, but demonstrated that here, collectively, with common will, there is common good.And I know we can continue to find it because, as those instances have demonstrated, we have.If I could leave this body with one wish, it would be that we never give up that search for common ground.

The politics of common ground will not be found on the far right or on the far left. That is not where most Americans live.We will only find it on the firm middle ground based on common sense and shared values.Ten years ago, my wise friend pointed to his grandchildren and asked me to give them hope. Linda and I now have two beautiful grandchildren.I implore my colleagues to give my grandchildren, Henry and Eva, hope and all of the children and grandchildren of this nation.Let us treasure and protect the great freedoms that we have inherited. And let us always promise and commit that we will pass them on undiminished.I said a moment ago that one of my touchstones is my unscheduled driving. And I was telling my colleagues a couple of days ago about leafing through some notes that I constantly make as I make these unscheduled trips.A couple of days ago, I was leafing through one of them, and it noted that I had met with some tribal leaders and had met with a businessman who was trying to find a way to provide child care for his family as well as his employees. I met a couple who wanted to tour the White House.At the end of all of my notes, I made the comment, "Everything was worth doing." The same could be said for my service here. It's had its challenges, its triumphs, its disappointments, but everything was worth doing.

And I'm grateful for every moment.I love history, and there's wonderful history about the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. They were rivals. But they respected each other, and that respect grew as they left office and began correspondence that today is some of our most treasured writing.In one letter to John Adams, Thomas Jefferson wrote: "I like the dream of the future better than I like the history of the past."And so it is with me. I have loved these years in the Senate, but I like the dream of the future .It's with heartfelt gratitude to the people of South Dakota, with great respect and admiration for my colleagues, and a love for this institution and the power it has to make this nation even greater that I say farewell, and look to the future with great optimism, with hope and anticipation.

I yield the floor.

Friday, November 19, 2004

JRE's Good-Bye for Now Speech at the Senate Floor

Senator Edwards' Farewell Speech to the Senate (Senate - November 19, 2004)

Mr. EDWARDS. Life has a great way of handing us moments that are bittersweet. I am sad to rise today for the final time as a senator representing the great people of North Carolina . But I am filled with so much joy knowing that I will be heading home to the place, the people, and the friends and family I love so very much. And I want to thank all of you for your prayers, and support for Elizabeth . We draw so much strength from you. We are comforted by your kind words. And we are so very grateful to the more than 50,000 people who have sent us emails and letters. And like Elizabeth 's brother said—I would not want to be cancer in Elizabeth 's body. She will win this fight and she will go on to help other women win theirs.You know sometimes when hardship hits, you feel alone. But thanks to you—our family in the Senate—we know that we’re not. We’re blessed to have the love of our friends and family, our great staff here and back in North Carolina and the floor staff here in the Senate. Marty and Lula, the people in the cloakroom, the men and women who take us up and down those elevators, the Capitol police who keep us safe, and all of the men and women who work so hard for each and every senator here. Thank you. You keep us going. You keep us strong.

And you remind us that in good times and in bad, when we work together anything is possible. It’s the North Carolina way, really. And I have never loved my home state and my country more than I do now. We have had some triumphs and tragedies over the last six years. But one thing is clear, I will never stop representing the people and the North Carolina values you and I believe in. I won’t ever stop because it’s who I am. It’s what I learned in Robbins watching my father and the men and women who worked along side him in the mill all those years. And it’s what I learned from you in our churches, our schools, and in our conversations in our 100 counties. This is what I learned when I shook your hand when you stopped by my office on a Tar Heel Thursday. And I will never forget you.

I will never forget that first struggle in the wake of Hurricane Floyd. Hard working people like Bobby Carraway. He owned a restaurant in Kinston near the Neuse River . It sat under 3 feet of water for days. He lost everything. What he and so many like him wanted wasn’t a gov ernment hand-out—they wanted help up and out of despair so they could have another chance to work hard again and take care of their families.That’s what we did then for so many and this year too in the Western part of the state. But together, we picked ourselves up, dusted away the disappointment and we got back to work to make North Carolina stronger. I will never forget the men and women who worked at Pillowtex. They did everything right: worked hard and took care their families. And yet they couldn’t stop their jobs from moving overseas. I met one woman whose question I hear over and over again. She looked right at me and asked, “What am I going to do now?” And together we fought to help her pay for health care and get training for a new job. But most important we fought to keep North Carolina jobs in North Carolina .

You and I stood up against tax breaks that shipped our jobs overseas. We fought for fair trade that gave our workers and businesses the chance to compete, and represented our values. I will never forget Dr. Clay Ballantine. He works at Mission St. Joseph's Hospital in Asheville . Every day he sees kids, adults, and seniors who come in because of problems with asthma. He told his story when we fought to keep our air clean and stop big polluters from clouding our skies. I will never forget our farmers and the men and women who live in our small towns and rural areas. You are the heart and soul of North Carolina .

And when our farmers were struggling, especially our tobacco farmers, I’m proud that in the end we did something. It matters to good hard working people like Blythe and Gwendolyn Casey. They’ve had a family farm for decades. They did their part and never dreamed that they would be close to retiring mired in debt. And together, we helped them and maintained family farms across our state. I will never forget the mothers and fathers, the husbands and wives, the brothers and sisters who wanted nothing but their loved to get the care they needed in their darkest hour.

Together, with my friends Senator Kennedy and Senator McCain we focused on what mattered—giving you and your doctors the power to make your own medical decisions. It wasn’t easy—lobbyists from every big drug company, HMO, and big insurance company prowled these halls. But we did it. And I have full-faith, you will do it again and the president will make it the law of the land. And I will never forget the brave soldiers I met on a dark night in Afghanistan . They’re so proud of serving their country, going after the terrorists and Osama bin Laden. And I will never forget the thousands of men and women from Fort Bragg , Camp Lejeune , Cherry Point, and Seymour Johnson and Pope Air Force Bases and who are serving this country at home and in Iraq .

It’s real simple for me. If you take care of us—if you serve your country to protect the freedoms and ideals we all cherish—then your country should take care of you. That means health care and housing, relief on your student loans, and help covering childcare costs when your spouse has to work. The men and women who wear our uniform—they’re who we think of and pray for when we look at our great flag. The stars and stripes wave for them. The word hero was made for them. They are the best and the bravest. And we will always stand with you when you are standing in harm’s way. This is what we have fought for together and it is something we should be very proud of. We built on North Carolina ’s model to improve our schools, strengthen standards, expand after-school, and pay teachers more. We fought to strengthen security at our ports and borders, chemical and nuclear power plants and give our police and firefighters the equipment they need to keep this country safe. We fought to make Washington live within its budget—just like your family does—and restore fiscal discipline. And we fought to reward work, not just wealth and ensure that the American Dream is available to all who are willing to work for it.

All my life, I’ve fought for those who didn’t have a voice. I did so before coming to the Senate, I did so in the Senate. This is a fight that I will continue. I want to thank Senator Byrd for his guidance and for showing me the ropes that first year. I want to thank Senator Daschle for his friendship and leadership. And I wish Senator Reid Godspeed in the days ahead. My friends Senator McCain and Senator Kennedy for working with me to pass the Patients’ Bill of Rights. And Senator Bayh. And to my fellow Senate retirees, Senator Breaux and Senator Hollings—rest assured they’re going to miss our accents. And to my dear friend Senator Kerry. We crossed this country together. We shared our hopes for America together. And we worked hard to make this country stronger. John is a great American. And every time he graces this Chamber, you know that another American patriot has reported for duty.

Again, I want to thank my staff and I ask unanimous consent to submit their names into the record. We cannot do the work unless we’ve got dedicated men and women like you by our side. You showed up every day with a simple question—how can I make a difference? And know that each and every day, you did. And you will continue to because public service is a noble calling and this country needs you. And our fight goes on. I will soon be home in the place I love—the place that made me love America . I will have God’s gift—more time.

More time to hear the screen door slam as my young kids run through the house after school. More time to see and visit with Cate and learn about her new job. More time to spend with my parents and family. And more time to be with the love of my life, Elizabeth .It is bittersweet—knowing what we’ve accomplished and what’s been left unfinished.

And in the end I think of North Carolina ’s own, Thomas Wolfe. He wrote “I believe that we are lost here in America , but I believe we shall be found. And this belief, which mounts now to the catharsis of knowledge and conviction, is for me—and I think for all of us—not only our own hope, but America’s everlasting, living dream.” Our job is to make sure that no one is lost in America . That dream is everlasting. And together we will continue to make it stronger and more alive for all who grace our lives.

Thank you

JRE & Elizabeth with Katie Couric

Yesterday, I watched JRE and Elizabeth on the "Today" show. It was so sweet to watch those two, and to hear JRE as they talked about his feelings towards his wife's illness. He made a little faux paux by saying "they are connected at the breastbone," in which Elizabeth lovingly giggled and said, "I don't think we can say that anymore" and then he said, "Oh, I'm used to saying that. We'll have to fix that" and smiled. It was clear that man understood his priorities: his family. I also appreciated hearing that Senator Kerry called Elizabeth every day during the last few days of the campaign, once he learned of her illiness. That's nice.

Like some on JREG, I got the impression that JRE intends to pursue some other public service position, but of his choosing, once Elizabeth is in remission. Click here to see the video (thanks to LF from JREG).

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Biscuits & Gravy

Today our President granted a pardon to the T-giving turkeys Biscuits and Gravy, as they end up at Frying Pan Park's Petting Zoo in VA. As a colleague of mind put it, the president couldn't kill his own relatives.

Some months ago, I was watching C-SPAN and a caller for the support of Bush, commented in light of more tax cuts that she needed those more than a hand-out that most welfare folks demand. She claimed that she ate biscuits and gravy nearly every day for 45 years and she was 70 years old. She lived in Oklahoma, and she "didn't need no handout for candy or cookies." She ate biscuits and gravy.

I find it somewhat comical that our President announced his pardon of Biscuits and his running mate, Gravy, given it was an election year, and the race was close, neck and neck. They outran "Patience & Fortitude." Isn't that special that our President finally told the truth: they went for the neck and neck instead of patience and fortitude of the heart.

After the Race, John Kerry Climbs Back Up the Hill

By Mark Leibovich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 17, 2004; Page C01
John Kerry returned to his default job in the Senate yesterday. The man who had hoped to be president is upbeat and optimistic and thrilled to be back -- which we know because this is what he tells reporters who ask.

He turns up for a morning strategy meeting with his Democratic colleagues. He whispers something to Sen. Pat Leahy in the doorway of the Old Senate Chamber room. He hugs Sens. Joe Lieberman and Jon Corzine as the oak doors close behind him. This is how Kerry spends most of his back-to-work day: cloistered, avoiding any semblance of fuss.

To read the rest, go here. JRE is mentioned a couple of times in the article.

Across The Aisle

By Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff
WriterWednesday, November 17, 2004; Page A01
House Republicans proposed changing their rules last night to allow members indicted by state grand juries to remain in a leadership post, a move that would benefit Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) in case he is charged by a Texas grand jury that has indicted three of his political associates, according to GOP leaders.

The proposed rule change, which several leaders predicted would win approval at a closed meeting today, comes as House Republicans return to Washington feeling indebted to DeLay for the slightly enhanced majority they won in this month's elections. DeLay led an aggressive redistricting effort in Texas last year that resulted in five Democratic House members retiring or losing reelection. It also triggered a grand jury inquiry into fundraising efforts related to the state legislature's redistricting actions. Read the rest here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Safire Stepping Out of NYT Op-Ed Role In January

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff WriterTuesday, November 16, 2004; Page C01

When William Safire left the Nixon White House to hold forth on the op-ed page of the New York Times, many readers reacted with disbelief, as if an intruder were defiling their liberal temple.
After three decades, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist has become a comfortable fixture at the paper, a must-read even for those who disagree with his conservative views.

The former Nixon speechwriter will give up his op-ed column next year. (New York Times)

Safire, 74, said yesterday he is giving up the column in January. "It's time to leave when you're still hitting the long ball and have something else you want to do," he said. Safire said he told Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. last year that the 2004 campaign would be his "last hurrah" and that Sulzberger "expressed the proper dismay" but urged him not to give up his "On Language" column. Safire will continue that idiosyncratic column for the paper's Sunday magazine.
"There was a day when you read columnists because they were insiders," Times Editorial Page Editor Gail Collins said. "People read newer columnists for a very distinct voice and very distinct opinions. He was a combination of those things. . . . He was an absolute institution here."
Conservative author William Bennett called Safire "a giant and an independent thinker" who is "never anybody else's guy." Bennett said that when he was the federal drug czar under President Reagan, he often dealt with Safire and that the columnist "is a guy you can really have a conversation with."

The Chevy Chase resident, a self-described libertarian conservative, has specialized in what he calls opinionated reporting. During the Carter administration, he won the Pulitzer Prize for columns on financial improprieties by White House budget director Bert Lance, with whom Safire has since become friends. In the Reagan administration, he broke the story that Charles Z. Wick, who ran the U.S. Information Agency, was secretly taping telephone conversations.

"I'm willing to zap conservatives when they do things that are not libertarian," Safire said. After the 9/11 attacks, "I was the first to really go after George W. on his treatment of prisoners," accusing the president of assuming "dictatorial power." "All my conservative friends were horrified," reacting with a " 'How-could-you-do-this-to-us.' The wonderful thing about being a New York Times columnist is that it's like a Supreme Court appointment -- they're stuck with you for a long time."

Safire was "an apostate once," abandoning the first President Bush to vote for Bill Clinton in 1992. But Safire later soured on the 42nd president, and when he called Hillary Rodham Clinton a "congenital liar," her husband said he wanted to punch the columnist in the nose.

"I always thought highly of him until the last year or so," said liberal blogger Joshua Micah Marshall, who has challenged Safire columns contending there were links between 9/11 terrorist Mohamed Atta and Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Marshall said he thought Safire was either being dishonest or guilty of "great sloppiness."

Safire was a New York publicist who helped stage the Moscow "kitchen debate" between Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1959 that helped show off a homebuilder client's kitchen. Two years after joining Nixon's staff during the 1968 campaign, he wrote one of the most famous slams against journalists -- calling them "nattering nabobs of negativism" -- in a speech for Vice President Spiro Agnew.

When Safire joined the Times Washington bureau in 1973 -- after turning down a similar offer from The Washington Post -- "there was a certain built-in hostility here," he said. Referring to then-Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Sr., Safire said that "Punch was under terrific criticism for hiring a Nixon flack, particularly during Watergate," which erupted into a full-fledged scandal a week after Safire left Nixon's staff.

The ice melted after a company picnic at which a staffer's child fell into the pool and "my wife pushed me in" to rescue the child. "All of a sudden I was a hero."

Safire said the late columnist Stewart Alsop offered advice on the art of writing, including "Never sell out, except for a really good anecdote." Safire's passion on privacy and civil liberties issues stems from his discovery that Nixon had him wiretapped during his White House tenure.
"To him, there is nothing more important than personal loyalty," said Daniel Schorr, the former CBS correspondent who dealt with Safire as a Nixon aide and later became a regular at his Passover seders. In 1976, when CBS founder William Paley suspended Schorr over his leaking of a report on CIA misconduct to another news organization, Safire insisted on writing a column about it. "He said, 'That's terrible, let me zap him,' " Schorr recalled. "He loves the word zapped."

Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman said Safire "is one of the people I tried to model myself after. Bill never stopped reporting." He described Safire as an "avuncular" colleague and said despite their ideological differences, "politics always stopped at his office door."

A prolific author and novelist, Safire plans to become the full-time chief executive of the Dana Foundation, a philanthropic organization interested in brain research and immunology, where he has been chairman for four years. "I'll wake up some mornings and say 'Gee, I've got a great column in me,' but I'll have to bite it back," Safire said.


I'm wondering what Saffire thinks of W's pet name for Condi Rice as "The Unsticker"?--Benny

Monday, November 15, 2004


Dilbert's Weasels Poll (
2nd year results), voting for 3rd annual is going on until December 1.

Edwards Still Has A Pulpit

Eleanor Irvin, a 72-year-old retired secretary from Dayton, Ohio, was one of the hundreds of people I met on the campaign trail this year. She told me that she viewed North Carolina Sen. John Edwards as a good family man who radiates charisma. She said Edwards reminded her of John F. Kennedy. "I wish the ticket had been turned around," Irvin said. "He should have been the presidential candidate and Kerry should have been the vice presidential candidate."

I ran into a lot of Eleanor Irvins, some of whom had traveled several hours to see the Democratic vice presidential candidate speak. Which is why I am skeptical of those who consider Edwards politically finished. Two veteran political observers last week said as much: consultant Dick Morris in Raleigh and newsman Sam Donaldson in Chapel Hill. There is an argument to be made that Edwards is washed up. In January he will give up his Senate seat. He didn't come close to carrying North Carolina, didn't carry the South and didn't even carry some of the swing areas in southern Ohio where he was sent to help the ticket. But it is difficult to judge the effectiveness of a vice presidential candidate, because most voters base their vote on the presidential candidate. To what extent did Dick Cheney, Al Gore or Dan Quayle help their bosses win? In some ways, the election liberates Edwards.

Had Kerry been elected, he would have spent the next four to eight years as his loyal lieutenant. The nation has not elected two consecutive Democratic presidents since Kennedy-Johnson in the early '60s. Now Edwards is free to seek the presidency in 2008, assuming his family is healthy. The early front-runner is likely to be New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. Many Republicans assume Clinton will be the nominee. The GOP is fixated on the Clintons because they are the only flies in the ointment in what would have been a 28-year GOP White House reign, from 1980 until 2008. But many Democrats will be looking for a candidate to expand the party's base in small-town and rural America, and Clinton seems an unlikely person to do so. So who will emerge as the anti-Hillary alternative? Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh's name is often mentioned, but he makes Gore look exciting by comparison. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack? New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson? North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley?

Edwards would have an advantage over any of the anti-Hillary candidates. He has a national fund-raising base among the trial lawyers. He knows party leaders and activists in every state. And most important, he has been through a presidential campaign. But wait, you say. Edwards will be out of office. Can he run as Citizen Edwards? Edwards and his advisers can dream up a presidential vehicle over coffee and doughnuts one morning at Edwards' house. As president of the Save America Committee, Edwards can issue policy papers, hit the Sunday talk shows, speak at Democratic dinners around the country and travel abroad. So what that Edwards will no longer be in the Senate? No more pesky votes. And besides, no sitting senator has been elected president since Kennedy in 1960.


Newsy Opinions and News

From Today's WSJ, an opinion entitled "Gay Lessons" (subscription required)

So John Kerry lost the election not because most of the nation rejected his approach to Iraq or health care or taxes. Rather, he lost because President Bush succeeded in energizing the Bible-thumping homophobic masses averse to redefining marriage.

Or so goes the story line emerging from Blue America media outlets. It's been extrapolated from exit polling on the primacy of "moral values," and from the fact that referendums to ban gay marriage passed easily in the 11 states where they were on the ballot. But we think these returns tell a different story, and it's one that liberals who are so contemptuous of Red America ignore at the risk of more political peril down the road.

True, weekly churchgoers voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Bush. But they comprised the same 42% of the electorate as four years ago. It's self-described moderates (some 45% of the electorate), who made the difference this year. Nearly half went for the President, and if opposition to gay marriage was one of the issues that stirred these swing voters, don't blame bigotry or ignorance. It's more accurate to say that proponents have overreached.
The country is engaged in an honest and open debate about gay marriage. On the one hand, 41 states have bans in place, and polls show that the public opposes same-sex marriage by roughly 2 to 1. On the other hand, most Americans also oppose amending the U.S. Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriages and seem amenable to allowing gay couples something short of the "marriage" designation. Fifty-two percent of Bush voters are in favor of civil unions, as is the President himself.

The 11 gay marriage bans that passed on Election Day represent a public backlash against efforts by liberal courts and others to end this national conversation prematurely. Americans aren't intolerant but they don't want unelected judges and grandstanding public officials imposing their own moral standards by legal diktat. You needn't be a bigot to have a problem with four out of seven judges on the Massachusetts Supreme Court taking policy decisions out of the hands of voters and legislatures, or with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom defying state law (and invoking Rosa Parks) to issue more than 4,000 marriage licenses to gay couples.
The lesson here for gay rights activists is to trust the democratic process, rather than use the courts to circumvent it. Public attitudes toward homosexuality are much different than they were even 20 years ago, with (for example) many companies already offering benefits to gay partners. Letting voters reach a democratic consensus on their own schedule is also a good way to avoid a repeat of the endless cultural warfare that has stemmed from that monument to judicial activism known as Roe v. Wade.

In the meantime, if liberals really care about discriminatory legal protections and benefits, they might consider agitating for a repeal of the death tax, which puts gay couples at a disadvantage. Married couples are allowed an unlimited transfer of assets to a spouse before death, a tax benefit denied gay couples. And only heterosexual spouses can inherit each other's assets without paying estate taxes.

Every poll we've seen shows tremendous support among gays for eliminating the tax. And it's certainly a more productive use of energies than branding the majority of Americans homophobic for taking time to consider whether the 5,000-year old institution of marriage needs to be upended.

Another story from WSJ, from a couple of weeks ago:


Malpractice Insurer SeesLittle Savings in Award Caps

One of the nation's largest medical-malpractice insurance companies told regulators that recently enacted caps on noneconomic damages in Texas would save it little money.
In a filing with the Texas Department of Insurance seeking a rate increase, Medical Protective Co., an arm of
General Electric Co., said the caps would lower payouts by just 1%.
Last year, after a pitched political battle, Texans voted to amend their state constitution to allow caps on awards for noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, in medical-malpractice cases. In most cases, that cap is $250,000.

Medical Protective's filing was made public by the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights, a Santa Monica, Calif., consumer group that has opposed such caps. The foundation has also opposed rate increases by Medical Protective and others in the state of California.
"When the largest malpractice insurer in the nation tells a regulator that caps on damages don't work, every legislator, regulator and voter in the nation should listen," said the foundation's executive director, Douglas Heller.

Jay Thompson, an attorney representing Medical Protective, said the statements referred to by Mr. Heller's group were "one small part of the filing," and had been taken out of context. "It completely ignores the realities of the litigation arena," Mr. Thompson said.
He said Medical Protective favors caps on noneconomic damages and was a member of a group, the Texas Alliance for Patient Access, that was a primary supporter of the legislation.
The question of capping awards for noneconomic damages has triggered debates at state and national levels, with President Bush a strong proponent of such restrictions.
The filing in question was made to the Texas Department of Insurance last year as part of Medical Protective's request for a 19% rate increase. The state agency rejected that request and the case is before an administrative judge in Texas, said Mike Geeslin, deputy commissioner for policy at the Department of Insurance.

Mr. Geeslin cautioned that the information in the filing should not be applied to the rest of the industry. "You're looking at information submitted in a rate filing that is obviously slanted toward trying to justify some sort of rate action," Mr. Geeslin said.
In the filing, Medical Protective said, "Noneconomic damages are a small percentage of total losses paid. Capping noneconomic damages will show loss savings of 1.0%." Mr. Thompson said he couldn't say what percentage of total losses paid came from noneconomic damages.
But a white paper dated March 2004 and posted on Medical Protective's Web site states that capping noneconomic damages is a "critical element [of tort reform] because in recent years we have seen noneconomic damages spiraling out of control."

One of the leading advocates for the passage of the caps was the Texas Medical Association. The association, which represents the interests of doctor members, contends that the caps have already resulted in lower insurance rates for doctors. It says that after the legislation passed, the Texas Medical Liability Trust, which provides malpractice insurance, cut premiums 17%. Medical Protective insures about 6,500 doctors in Texas, making it the No. 2 insurer behind the Trust.

There was a response from the American Medical Association President, 11/15/04

The Proven Benefit of Malpractice Award Caps
It is impossible to gauge the short-term effectiveness of the Texas medical liability reforms ("
Malpractice Insurer Sees Little Savings in Award Caps," Oct. 28) without considering that weeks before the new reforms went into effect, Texas county courthouses were flooded with opportunistic personal injury attorneys rushing to file new lawsuits.

The county clerk in Bexar County reported that more than 300 medical liability lawsuits were filed in the three months before reforms took effect. That's more than the average number of cases filed in the county in two years. Clearly, it will require time and money to move this onslaught of cases through the Texas legal system, significantly impacting a turnaround in the crisis and an improvement in patient access to care.

We've seen this happen before. In California almost 30 years ago, physicians' insurance premiums didn't immediately decrease following enactment of medical liability reforms because of years of legal stall tactics. But California reforms have proven to stabilize premium growth over time. Since 1975, premiums in the rest of the U.S. have risen more than three times as fast as those in California. Physicians in Texas can also expect to see their premiums stabilize as a result of meaningful reforms. John Nelson, MD, President, AMA, Chicago

What's interesting about these articles? The WSJ claims that the courts shouldn't decide cultural issues, and the American Medical Association seems to be seeking the same claim for medical malpractice. In the latter, Medical Liability Monitor reported earlier this year that malpractice preniums increased 6.8% for OB/GYNs who practice in states with caps. Perhaps common law and constitutional law will become more popular than ever for those of us who aren't lawyers.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

The Right Turn, part 2

It's been a couple of weeks since I've touched my blog. I've been busy with work and was still posting on other blogs as well, but decided it was time for another post.

As we all know, the nation took a right turn on November 3rd, when Senators Kerry and Edwards conceded the race to their incumbents. I was with my mother during the election and a couple of days afterward. She said she would support our president, if she didn't vote for him or didn't like him; he was our president afterall. There has been some
fraudulent voting conversations on many blogs, including the new one, Common Ground Common Sense, the successor to the Kerry/Edwards site. The NYT denies this groundswell about this information on the blogs, yet it is the blogs that bring issues to the attention of the mainstream media.

Today on one of my favorite places to post, forum discussion has been centered around the extension of the Patriot Act. Despite yours truly's post on this site about 4 months ago on this topic
, I guess many of the regulars forgot about it until now since it is the Senate that is voting on it. It's likely to pass in the Senate since the Republicans perceive they have political capital like our president, and will spend it. The extension passed in the House in July.

The bloggers on my usual site are concerned about blogs who may be critical of the government's policies could have gag orders slapped on the bloggers' computers. Hello, some of us in the library community have known this for nearly 3 years and have had to live with it. We've had the Government tell us to destroy government property in terms of some of the information they produce on CDs that is supposed to be made freely to the public. That was censorship, all in the guise of the Patriot Act.

What is more interesting is censorship by not only the government, but by those who also have web sites and blogs. Such an occurence happened to me yesterday on this blog whereby a link about a particular article was found to be offensive by some, so the link and the subject line were changed by one of the administrators. When I inquired about it, this was the response:

Elizabeth's weight has been discussed here before. No one here cares about her weight. It's the timing. Drawing any kind of attention to her weight right now, or stereotypes using her as an example, is kind of insensitive when a lot of people are using avatar photos of her with pink ribbons, and worried about her health. This isn't censorship. I'm following the Terms of Service, which clearly state "abusive, inappropriate" content isn't permissible. Other members were upset by the article. I think it's inappropriate and insensitive to use a woman who has breast cancer as a diet model. The link is still there in quoted text on a reply. If anyone else wants to discuss Elizabeth's weight with you, it's not hard to find the

The link of course is being supplied here.

In my view, this type of censorship was no different from when the Government made my library remove or destroy some content. My link to the article was removed and they changed the subject all together. Now one could argue it's their site, they are free to do as they wish. But this event violated my core principles about dissemination of information, and dissent, if done respectfully, should be heard and seen. I've talked with a few others who believed as I did that the article was not offensive, instead the author made points about discrimination against large women in the media. It didn't matter to me if the author embraced the right, but my link was removed because the administrators swayed to the politically correct, despite their tolerating perjorative comments about Kerry and Edwards' opponents across the aisle.

Instead of confronting the administrators about this, as the irony would be totally lost on them, I decided to take the JREWD approach. I decided not to post there as I used to; instead I will work on this blog, which I have some control over. I turned my right cheek; my left one shows instead.