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Appearing on the Fox Business Network last night, Rep. Michele Bachmann agreed that Social Security is a "tremendous fraud" -- for a very interesting reason.

Fox Business host David Asman complained that Social Security should have been treated as a "lockbox," and not have its tax revenues raided for other federal programs -- exactly the sort of thing for which Al Gore was made fun of by Republicans in 2000, when they were pushing privatization. "Social Security, I think, it is one of the biggest frauds ever perpetrated on the American public. It is supposed to be a lockbox -- a personal safety deposit box for our savings," said Asman. (Much of this is not true, see fact-check below.) "That's how it was designed, that's what it was promised to be. Instead, that box is empty, it's full of these empty IOUs that politicians have put into it, and they've taken the money out and used it for other things."

"You're right, it's a tremendous fraud. No company could get away with this, they'd be thrown in jail if they ever tried to do what the federal government did with people's Social Security money. What we need to do very quickly is take the money that is coming in for Social Security, and truly lock it up so that we aren't putting it out the door anymore," said Bachmann -- who then transitioned to promoting privatization.

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February 18, 2010: "Welcome to the vast right-wing conspiracy!" With these words, Cleta Mitchell of the American Conservative Union kicked off the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). The annual gathering delivered some predictable results. Rising political star Marco Rubio was showcased. Although she didn't show up in person, Sarah Palin made an appearance. There were also some delightful surprises, including a surprise cameo by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who joined his daughter Liz onstage.

Follow the latest updates at the TPM's CPAC Wire.

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Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX).

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Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC).

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On sale at the Townhall.com table.

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Sumo wrestlers demonstrate "Janet Napolitano's bloated budget."

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Rubio's keynote speech.

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DeMint introduces Rubio.

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David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union.

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Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R).

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Liz Cheney

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Former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter.

Photo by Jeff Malet / maletphoto.com

Meet the new Mitt, same as the old Mitt. The first of the 2012 presidential contenders to speak at CPAC, Mitt Romney just finished a fiery, soundbitey, (red) meaty stump speech that should erase the remaining doubts from anyone's mind that he's running for president in two years.

Romney got a huge ovation when he took the stage this afternoon. That's no surprise -- Romney "gets" CPAC, having won the vaunted presidential straw poll at the conference three times in a row. The crowd welcomed Romney, and he made it clear he was happy to see them, too.

"It's good to be back with you," he said to cheers. "I love to be back at CPAC."

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Joe Stack, the Texas man who this morning, say law enforcement officials, flew a plane into an Austin building that houses a local IRS office, appears to be the author of a lengthy online screed, lashing out at the IRS, the federal government, and big corporations, and referring to his coming death.

The rant reflects many of the same populist, anti-government, anti-tax, and anti-corporate themes that have surfaced around the country over the last year. It is entitled, and concludes: "Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let's try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well."

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Despite reports that Congressional Republicans may boycott President Obama's bipartisan debt commission, it seems that the minority leaders likely will participate by appointing members to the group.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's office confirmed to TPM that he will make appointments to the 18-member commission. (Congressional Republicans are allowed to appoint six members to the panel.) McConnell also released a statement today on what he hopes will be the goals of the panel.

"After trillions in new and proposed spending, Americans know our problem is not that we tax too little, but that Washington spends too much -- that should be the focus of this commission," he said.

House Minority Leader John Boehner's office would not confirm that he will appoint anyone, but a statement from his press secretary makes a point of saying Boehner hasn't ruled it out.

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A new national survey from Public Policy Polling (D) finds that an overwhelming majority of Americans do not think Sarah Palin is qualified to be president -- but a significant number of those people would still vote for her against Barack Obama.

The poll asked "Do you think Sarah Palin is or is not qualified to serve as President?" The answer was only 30% qualified, 59% not qualified, 11% undecided. However, in a direct match-up against President Obama, Palin attracts 43% of the vote to Obama's 50%. This means that there are 13% of Americans who either do not think Palin is qualified to be president, or are undecided on the matter, and would nevertheless vote for her.

"I guess there's easy spin for both sides on that number," writes PPP communications director Tom Jensen. "From my perspective it's astounding that such a significant portion of Americans are willing to vote for someone they don't think is qualified- this is the White House, not American Idol. But I guess Republicans could make the argument that Obama's just so bad that any Republican would be better than him, whether they consider that Republican to be qualified or not."

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Former Vice President Dick Cheney just made a surprise appearance at CPAC after his daughter, Liz Cheney, finished her speech.

The crowd went wild, standing up and cheering for several minutes before he began talking. One man yelled, "Four more years!"

"Knock it off!" Cheney said. "A welcome like that is almost enough to make me want to run for office again. But I'm not gonna do it."

He spoke briefly and offered his predictions for the November mid-terms.

"2010 is going to be a phenomenal year, and I think Barack Obama is a one-term president," he said to wild applause.

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You may remember Kevin Trudeau from such late-night infomercials as Free Money, Mega Memory System, and Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You To Know About.

Now, the man dubbed the "infomercial king" by Chicago media, who has been in a cat-and-mouse game with the FTC for years -- for allegedly making bogus claims about everything from weight loss to cures for debt, cancer, and heroin addiction -- may be headed to jail after asking supporters to bombard a federal judge with e-mails.

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The White House Press Office released a statement today on President Obama's visit with the Dalai Lama. Here's the full text:

"The President met this morning at the White House with His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama. The President stated his strong support for the preservation of Tibet's unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity and the protection of human rights for Tibetans in the People's Republic of China. The President commended the Dalai Lama's "Middle Way" approach, his commitment to nonviolence and his pursuit of dialogue with the Chinese government. The President stressed that he has consistently encouraged both sides to engage in direct dialogue to resolve differences and was pleased to hear about the recent resumption of talks. The President and the Dalai Lama agreed on the importance of a positive and cooperative relationship between the United States and China."

During the first morning of the 2010 CPAC conference, two Democrats were mentioned the most by the speakers at the podium. One was President Obama and the other was Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA). Both drew the same amount of ire from the crowd.

Unlike Obama, who CPACers have dismissed as merely a teleprompter-reliant celebrity since he debuted on the national political scene in 2004, the relationship between CPAC and Specter is a complicated one. Not only was Specter a Republican for years before switching parties in April, 2009. Specter himself was one of the politicians on the dais at CPAC just three years ago. At the CPAC 2007, Specter was part of a panel on the judiciary called, "Are Conservative Judicial Nominees DOA in the Democrat-Controlled Senate?"

Today, CPACers see him as part of the problem.

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