Spencer Blog Archives 08-02Spencer Blog Archives
Frank Rich has done it again. He's written another good editorial piece in the New York Times about the lessons of the last year and how we apparently haven't learned them. He also warns us that the media orgy approaching is only helping to desensitize us and distract us from what's important. Rich, once again, makes some excellent observations -- and forces me to post something to the blog on a Saturday, on a holiday weekend no less!
I will give you one quotation from it:"But let's posit that the Iraq drumbeating is not a cynical effort to distract the country from the stalled war against Al Qaeda or the stalled economy. Let's posit that the administration rationale, set out by Mr. Cheney when he emerged from the Halliburton witness protection program this week, is solid. If indeed"there is no doubt" that Saddam Hussein already"has weapons of mass destruction" to use against us and"time is not on our side," then why these months of dithering that allow our enemy to lay his traps? Why doesn't a president with a high approval rating rally the country at once and count on it to follow? Is it that Mr. Bush doesn't trust the evidence against Saddam, or is it that he doesn't trust us — or is it that he still thinks terrorists can be fought on a schedule we dictate?" You really should read this.
BEST HEALTHCARE SYSTEM IN THE WORLD -- ARE YOU KIDDING ME? 8-30-02
I'm going to start with something that drives me crazy.
You know the healthcare system is a mess when you're happy that a 3-hour (from arrival to departure) outpatient surgical procedure for your daughter only cost $5,000. Is that crazy or what? But wait, it gets better. Once the bill gets sent to the insurance company they whack off another $1,000 that they claim are essentially overcharges. They then refuse to pay another $800 worth of stuff claiming it isn't covered by your benefit plan and tell you that you'll have to pay it. This, of course, sends you over the edge and you begin to gird for battle with the insurance company (I've done this many times in my young life already). You start out by calling the hospital to make sure that we're looking at the right paperwork and they inform us,"don't sweat it. We've adjusted all of those charges off your bill. Just pay what the insurance company says you owe us." Is all of that nuts or what?
Now who's wrong here? The hospital and doctor that clearly are overcharging or the insurance company that is whacking away at the bill in such a draconian manner? I don't really have a good answer. Can no hospital or doctor in this system actually charge a reasonable price in the first place? I have friends who have doctors in the family who go on and on about how unfair insurance companies are. I always tell them,"Well, why don't you guys start charging what you're willing to accept in the first place? If you would do that, we wouldn't have any of this stuff going on at all." The worst part of all this is that people without insurance have to pay the"sticker" price instead of the insurance company's bargained-down price.
Of course, the most amazing thing about the whole thing is the fact that the nurses, doctors, and healthcare workers keep themselves so blissfully ignorant of this ugly part of healthcare so they essentially have no idea what the charges are for things. When we were at the hospital for the pre-operative appointment, my wife asked the doctor's nurse,"Now, how much is this going to cost?" And she had no idea and then began to hem and haw about how it depends on your situation and what your insurance company will pay, etc., etc. This is a damn crazy way to run a healthcare system. The left hand has no damn idea what the right hand is doing -- and clearly likes it that way.
Admittedly, the fault is not entirely that of the doctors at all. Is there any group of people who are less helpful and potentially more malevolent than an insurance company? These folks have designed their company (and their phone menus) so that you never get to talk to anyone who actually makes a decision. My favorite was one insurance company that I called a couple of years ago when I was appealing a decision that told me"the folks in appeals do not take phonecalls" and"will not talk to you." I, of course, asked the obvious question:"And why the hell not?" Silence. This is the sort of lunacy that can drive you over the edge at times. And I really wonder how people who work in actual decision-making positions at insurance companies can sleep at night. Many of them apparently spend their days actively trying to screw people. I really don't know how they live with themselves. I know I couldn't.
That's one of the things that makes me the angriest about the Clinton years. Clinton had a chance to do something about all of this. Better yet, he had the public support to do something. Yes, I know the insurance companies demagogued it to death. Every time I see a flashback to the"Harry and Louise" propaganda commercials, I just want to scream. I also know he shouldn't have put Hillary"Lightning Rodham" Clinton in charge of it because that just allowed conservatives to deride it as her plan and be demagogic about it. But Clinton messed this up too. He said he was going to do it and he didn't. Of all the things that happened during the Clinton years, it's this one that actually makes me angry at Clinton, a man I've met several times in my life as a child and believe was a solid president. However, when he began to reinvent himself in 1994 as a more conservative president and therefore healthcare reform disappeared from the agenda it made me angry -- as I'm sure it did many others folks.
All these years later, the healthcare system is still a mess and I'm sure it's not going to improve any time soon. I'm sure, like most things, we'll wait until there's an absolute crisis to do anything about it. I do have one suggestion for a way to make our politicians a little more understanding about these issues. I think it's time to cancel their very nice health insurance (that they don't pay one penny for) and make them buy health insurance on their own. In fact, I think they should be forced to be insured on a bad plan, that is extremely expensive, with tons of loopholes, a bad prescription benefit, and denies claims based upon the barometer reading on a particular day. I've been on many like that. Don't you suspect the folks in Washington would become a great deal more sympathetic if they were in the same boat as the rest of us? Hey, I know it would be great to just cancel their insurance but don't you think it might actually be more effective to put them on a bad plan and let them deal with the headaches that come from it? It's just a thought.
A FEW FINAL NOTES FOR THE WEEK 8-30-02
There's an excellent Krugman article on the federal deficit in the New York Times today. It's definitely worth a look. The whole point of the article is to point out how the administration has lied to us about the federal budget for a year and a half and now wants us to trust them.
My wife made a very interesting observation today. When I told her about some of the plans for local observations of the September 11th tragedy anniversary she asked me a good question:"Do our lives have so little emotional meaning that we all have to try to insinuate ourselves into the pain and grief of the victims of that horrible attack? Do we have to work as hard as possible to wring as much emotion out of ourselves as possible so that we can show that we really care for our fellow human beings?" My answer:"Yes. And don't forget that the Republicans have tough mid-term elections to win."
Here's yet another article that exposes how hypocritical W is about family values and restoring honor and dignity to Washington. To review, it was only last week that"Mr. Corporate Reponsibility" campaigned for a corporate criminal who's running for governor in California. Yesterday, W came to Arkansas, the state of my birth and childhood, to raise money for Tim Hutchinson, a senator that James Carville recently described as a "toothpick" in"a forest of senatorial timber." Hutchinson recently divorced his wife of 28 years to, a la Newt Gingrich, marry a twenty-something staffer. Hutchinson, of course, spent months decrying Clinton's ethics although he became astonishingly quiet during the actual impeachment trial. The hot word on the streets of Little Rock at the time (and I heard this from several sources) was that his wife caught him with his young sweetie in his office. Therefore, he thought it best to hush about that for a while. Despite this obvious hypocrisy on his part, he did, like Newt, vote for Clinton's impeachment. Now he's down 10 points to David Pryor's son, Mark Pryor. I sure hope that lead for Pryor holds.
That's all folks. Have a good holiday weekend. I'll see you Tuesday.
AN ALTERNATE BUSHIAN UNIVERSE 8-29-02
I'm really busy, so it'll be a short blog today. I also haven't really seen that much that gets me going with the exception of what's below. If I do see something else, I might do more.
Anyway, on to my one subject of interest today -- and it's a doozy. I can't believe the story in the Washington Post this morning about the two-faced political game that the administration is playing on the latest tax cut bill. The shrubbers, who spent the entire campaign telling us how Bush would return honor and dignity to the White House, are, once again, lying through their teeth. The administration supports a bill entirely for Republican mid-term re-election purposes. They have told the few actually concerned fiscal conservatives in their party that they support this latest tax cut bill (which includes tax cuts on capital gains, larger stock loss deductions, etc.) but only so it will help Republican representatives win re-election. They have promised these conservatives that they won't actually sign the bill.
BTW, who are these fiscal conservatives? I haven't seen them. If they really were committed to fiscal conservatism they would have opposed Bush's tax cut bill last year. Of course, the interesting thing is that Bush's tax cut has turned out just as Gore said it would: it has created a deficit, did nothing for the economy, and has only enriched Bush's benefactors and no one else. Anyone enjoying their extra Diet Coke every day? Some folks are getting thousands of dollars, even hundreds of thousands of dollars this year in tax cuts, but the vast majority of us are getting an extra Diet Coke per day.
But I digress. The administration has acknowledged to these conservatives that the president would never sign such a bill because it would bust the federal budget wide open. However, the administration wants the bill passed in the House of Representatives so that it can die in the Democrat-controlled Senate and they can use it against senators and representatives who are up for re-election. Now this is an amazing example of an administration playing a weaselly, two-faced, political game for political advantage in mid-term elections. All this lying by the same folks who swore they'd never do such a thing and that they'd restore honor and dignity to the White House. I don't think lying about a major tax cut bill is very dignified or shows much honor at all. In fact, I would argue that Clinton's folks never tried something this brazen and, if they had, the press would've been all over them. To quote cultural conservative chickenhawk Bill Bennett,"where's the outrage?"
Amazing stuff, huh? I don't know how the shrubbers get the balls to lie so fervently through their teeth. And, by the way, this is an administration that, in my opinion, lies on a daily basis. And not about unimportant personal matters involving cigars and where one puts them but about matters of public policy. These folks exaggerate, equivocate, or tell outright falsehoods about important policy matters on a daily basis more than any administration I can remember. However, for some reason, this administration is allowed to get away with it. Remember how there was"no warning" of impending hijackings? Remember the exaggerated"dirty bomber" case? In fact, this trumped-up case the administration is trying to make against Iraq so we can go to war (while ignoring allies of ours who have even bigger problems in the area of democracy) is the perfect example of an administration that wouldn't know the truth if it struck it upside its proverbial head. This is an administration of spin much more than Clinton's ever was. This is an administration that appears to live only in a world of its own making, an alternate Bushian universe if you will, but clearly not the one that the rest of us live in. Having lived through the prior eight years during which Clinton couldn't get the slightest break from the press even when a particular story circulating in the press was demonstrably false, this is astonishing.
Sigh. That's all for now. I guess it might be enough though. I'm spent.
DESPERATION BECOMES PANIC 8-28-02
After a slow day yesterday, today I can't figure out what to talk about first! Let's start with the war news. With what W, Cheney and Rumsfeld are saying, it appears the war is coming for sure. If not, Cheney and Rumsfeld are in full panic mode. I loved what Rumsfeld said yesterday:"It's less important to have unanimity than it is making the right decision and doing the right thing, even though at the outset it may seem lonesome." Rumsfeld went on to argue that"Leadership in the right direction finds followers and supporters." Is this guy scary or what?
I know I'm going to date myself here but every time I see Rumsfeld he reminds me of Dr. Anrak in the 1981 animated movie Heavy Metal. In his one scene in the movie, Anrak began saying these enormous lies and, because of his calm and reasonable manner, people in the Pentagon believe him. I wish I could post a picture of Anrak so you could see the uncanny resemblance as well. Okay, okay, I know that Anrak was a cartoon character but, then again, at times Rumsfeld appears to be a cartoon character too. His world is a sort of cartoon universe where most traditional assumptions, maybe even physical laws, don't apply. Wile E. Coyote doesn't believe in gravity until he finds himself off the cliff and hanging in mid-air. I suspect Rumsfeld won't believe in the need for allies until we've gotten ourselves into such a mess we'll really need them.
Maureen Dowd's column this morning is hysterical. She suggests, in her sarcastic and biting fashion, that it's time to go to war -- with Saudi Arabia! Dowd's columns are usually devoid of much substance or anything but they can be fun. This one has a little more evidence to back up her assertions than most.
I always enjoy reading foreign press coverage of events in the United States because many times it can give you an entirely different perspective. This morning, the Guardian has an interesting article by Julian Borger entitled "Daggers drawn in the house of Bush." Borger says that the argument over the Iraq war is"a family row conducted by proxy." Again, the different spin on things is always interesting to read.
The New York Daily News today has a bit more detail on the rather surprisingly bitter remarks by Bush's special envoy to the Middle East, General Anthony Zinni. At one point in his speech on Friday, Zinni caustically remarked that"All the generals see this the same way, and all those that never fired a shot in anger are really hell-bent to go to war." How's that for calling the Chickenhawks out? Boy, this one smacked the administration right upside the head!
This morning there's a New York Times editorial that takes the position that the administration appears to be moving forward with war plans despite the fact that the administration has in way convinced Americans or allies of the case for war as of yet. Nothing profound here but it's a good solid opinion piece on the wisdom of the administration's policy toward Iraq.
WHICH ORWELL IS IT? ANIMAL FARM OR 1984? 8-28-02
I love debates like this. The big debate on left websites right now is whether the Bush/Ashcroft Department of Justice is leading us toward a state that is more like that depicted in Orwell's Animal Farm or 1984. There's a good piece on tompaine.com by Daniel Kurtzman that argues for 1984. Dwayne Eutsey on bartcop.com writes an essay contending the administration's actions are more like Animal Farm. I wisecracked about the administration's Orwellian vision of the state a couple of days ago but I didn't know quite how hip I was until I found writers on other websites doing the same thing. Both of the essays are quite interesting. I would suggest you take a look.
Speaking of the administration's trampling of the constitution as well as its secretive and authoritarian ways, there are a couple of good editorials today, in the New York Times and the Washington Post about recent federal court rulings that have stopped the administration from conducting secret deportation trials for those caught up in the enormous post-9/11 dragnet. This secret trial and military trial stuff really makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. It's just not something that is supposed to happen in America. The Post editorial quotes from the opinion of Judge Damon Keith:"The Executive Branch seeks to uproot people's lives, outside the public eye, and behind a closed door...Democracies die behind closed doors...When government begins closing doors, it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people. Selective information is misinformation. The Framers of the First Amendment . . . protected the people against secret government." The Post goes on to say that"the Justice Department should stop litigating and accept" that it's not going to get secret trials. Amen to that. You know, the more I think about it, how many times during September and October of last year do you suppose that John Ashcroft violated the constitution? Thousands of times? Hundreds of thousands?
DEFICITS AS HIGH AS AN ELEPHANT'S EYE (AND AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE), MIDTERM ELECTIONS, WAGGING THE DOG, ETC. 8-28-02
The budget reality is finally coming home to roost. There were news stories yesterday in the New York Times and the Washington Post about the ballooning federal deficit. I love the careful attempt not to place blame on Bush's budget priorities and tax cuts in these stories. It's like an unwanted dinner guest at the table. These journalists are ignoring the obvious. However, both of the stories acknowledge that these budget predictions are actually too optimistic and don't include large spending proposals or the cost of the boondoggle war that we'll be paying the full cost of to the tune of at least $100B. The Post also ran a painfully-carefully-worded editorial that, while acknowledging that Bush was lying to us when he was pushing for tax cuts last year, still pretends that this turn of events isn't really Bush's fault.
Please, give me break. This is Bush's deficit and Bush's recession. Many people told us that all of this was going to happen during the campaign in 2000. This is not some unforseen turn of events. Bush's people knew they were being dishonest. As I've always told my students, a president always gets more credit than is due and more blame than is due. It's time for Bush to change his policies to become the moderate he claimed he was during the campaign or prepare to take his lumps. I can almost guarantee the Republicans in congress will pay for W's mistakes this November -- unless Bush wags the dog. And I fully expect him to try to do so if he believes he needs to. Unless the gut-wrenching and flag-waving Republican-patriot-fest that is to come around September 11th gives Republicans in congress a large enough bounce that Bush can put off wagging the dog until closer to the presidential election in 2004. We shall see. However, Rumsfeld's and Cheney's speeches make it sound like they're not planning on waiting that long.
THE WHIFF OF DESPERATION 8-27-02
It's a bit of a slow newsday today. I'm also pretty busy. So I guess I'll just post the good stuff I've found so far and call it a day.
I can't stop myself from commenting on the rather desperate speech yesterday by Dick Cheney. My goodness, there was more than just a whiff of desperation in that speech! Cheney, the first VP in our history who is less accessible to Americans than a CEO is to his workers, is wheeled out when the administration wants to chastise us. I have an important question: is Cheney really a public official? Since he's the guy making all the important decisions this is particularly troubling. We essentially have the major decision-maker in the government hidden from the voters. That's just not right.
Bush is just the PR guy in this administration. We all know that Cheney is the real power. Nonetheless, I am growing tired of this Texas two-step by the administration. If Bush can't convince people he's serious, out comes the guy the administration thinks Americans really have faith in. How much more evidence do you need that even his own administration thinks that W is a lightweight. By doing this, the administration is acknowledging that the public thinks he's a lighweight too.
Let's move on to the few links of interest today. There's a good Krugman piece this morning on Bush's ridiculous"Healthy Forests" policy initiative. As usual, it's a good article. Here's a tasty quote from it:"George W. Bush's new 'Healthy Forests' plan reads like a parody of his administration's standard operating procedure. You see, environmentalists cause forest fires, and those nice corporations will solve the problem if we get out of their way. Am I being too harsh? No, actually it's even worse than it seems."Healthy Forests" isn't just about scrapping environmental protection; it's also about expanding corporate welfare." Good stuff. Krugman's articles always use evidence quite well. It's nice to read someone in our media who actually knows how to use evidence to make an argument. Many pundits and columnists simply omit that little important thing.
There's also an excellent piece by James Bamford entitled "Washington Bends the Rules" on Ashcroft's continued efforts to create a police state in the New York Times. A good quote:"'Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.' So begins 'The Trial,' Franz Kafka's story of an ordinary man caught in a legal web where the more he struggles to find out what he did wrong, the more trapped he becomes. 'After all,' says Kafka's narrator, 'K. lived in a state governed by law, there was universal peace, all statutes were in force.' With increasing speed, the Justice Department of Attorney General John Ashcroft is starting to resemble the 'always vengeful bureaucracy' that crushed Josef K." I still can't believe Ashcroft hasn't gotten himself fired yet. Even W should be able to see what an embarassment he is by now.
You will be happy to know that congressional leaders from both parties are finally speaking up on how the president needs to seek congressional approval before going to war with Iraq. I'm glad to finally hear them do this. I'm hoping the administration is about to start backing up but Cheney's comments have made me lose hope on this. He sounded just as committed to this foolhardy war yesterday as ever.
That's all I can find at the moment. If I find other cool stuff to chat about I'll post it.
IS THERE ANYONE IN WASHINGTON WHO STILL SUPPORTS THIS WAR? 8-26-02
Boy, is there anyone left who supports this war? James Baker, secretary of state during the Gulf War and Bush family fixer-upper, came out against the war as it is currently conceived this weekend. Baker argued"we should try our best not to go it alone, and the president should reject the advice of those who counsel doing so."
While Bush and his allies try to act like this is all the press's fault, a good analysis by Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times puts the blame where it should be: on the administration itself. They have talked themselves into a dangerous position that could lead the administration to putting young Americans in harm's way. It is safe to say that the administration will look foolish in the international arena if they back away from this war. However, I think most Americans simply want support from allies and want more information before moving toward war. It is safe to say, as one unnamed Republican aide does in this article, that the"administration has allowed its rhetoric to get ahead of events." Even the Moonie-owned ravenous right-wing Washington Times argues that this is all "self-inflicted silliness" by the administration. Bush's special envoy to the Middle East, General Anthony Zinni, also came out against the current war plans over the weekend. Now we've got folks within Bush's administration who are publicly against this thing.
However, you'll be happy to know that the administration has decided it doesn't need to seek the permission of congress to start the war. Ah, you got to love the expansion of the presidency in the last 50 years. Even though the constitution specifically says congress must approve going to war, no president since Franklin Roosevelt has worried about that little inconvenience.
OKAY, I FOUND ONE. DICK CHENEY COMES OUT OF HIS PRESS-PROOF HIDEY HOLE TO LECTURE US ABOUT HOW THIS WAR IS A GREAT IDEA. 8-26-02
You know the political situation is grave when Dick Cheney appears on your TV screen. They've rolled him out of his undisclosed location this afternoon to try and save the administration's bacon on Iraq. Cheney's speech demonstrated that the Bush folks still just don't get it. He actually outwarmongered Rumsfeld! That's amazing. Here's a quote:"What we must not do in the face of a mortal threat is to give in to wishful thinking or willful blindness. We will not simply look away, hope for the best and leave the matter for some future administration to resolve.... The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action." Nice try, Dick. I don't think anyone who actually knows anything about the situation is convinced. You might bring a few congressional conservatives on board but few other folks.
You heard it here first: the airstrikes are coming in mid-October. President Cheney just essentially said so. The invasion, I suspect, is set for February or March. That's just my opinion of course. I could be (and hope to be) wrong.
BUSH AND ASHCROFT'S ORWELLIAN VISION 8-26-02
One of my biggest concerns today is the way civil liberties are being whittled away by Ashcroft's Justice Department. The war on terrorism has provided a convenient excuse for Mr. Ashcroft to expand the power of the state at the expense of civil liberties. Many journalists are beginning to wake up about this. There was a good piece by Marie Cocco of Newsday this weekend about Ashcroft's attempt to institute a police state. As she puts it:"We say we are a nation of laws, not men. That used to mean that no man of power [Ashcroft] could ignore those laws he found inconvenient, or not to his liking." There's another good op-ed in the Washington Post about why we should oppose Ashcroft's policies.
One of the best op-ed pieces over the weekend about this was in the Sunday Washington Post entitled"Democracy as Afterthought" that points out the rather major hypocrisy on our part in ignoring the situation in Pakistan while decrying Saddam's anti-democratic depredations. A colleague of mine who's more in the know recently described Musharraf as more a"warlord" than president.
The federal budget deficit is soaring out of control. It looks like at least a $200B deficit next year. Thanks George for that tax cut for the richest Americans. You've really made a mess of the federal budget. BTW, I'm about positive that these folks in the Bush administration want the budget in deficit. It forces congress to choose between guns and butter (for poor folks and retired folks at least) and the Bush administration knows that congress would rather buy guns. After all, the gun makers can give the folks in congress campaign funds while the poor folks can't. And we've reached the point in our political system that if you can't buy influence, you get nothing. In fact, how much you get out of the government is directly proportional to how much influence you buy. This was true with Clinton as well but is even more obvious in Bush's administration. Heck, Dick Cheney doesn't talk to anybody whose check hasn't cleared.
This cognitive dissonance on the budget is also part of Bush, Ashcroft, et. al's Orwellian world in which the administration claims to be practicing" compassionate conservatism" while merrily hacking away at the programs that in any way represent compassion. Bush's Ministry of Truth also tells us they're fiscally conservative, yet the president signed a pork barrel agriculture bill that cost $190B (the beneficiaries of which are primarily agri-businessmen, not small farmers) while rejecting as"fiscally irresponsible" $5B spending bills that include funds for veterans, firefighters, and improving emergency communications. I'm really not even sure calling this"hypocrisy" quite covers it.
BUSH'S PLAN FOR WAR WITH IRAQ GOING OVER LIKE A LEAD BALLOON 8-23-02
Short blog today -- the semester is starting Monday and I have tons of meetings today.
Anyway, the Bush administration is in big trouble. First of all, the opinion polls are dropping disastrously as people actually think more about this potential war with Iraq. According to a CNN/USA Today Poll, public support for an Iraq invasion has dropped from 61% to about where Bush's approval number was before September 11, 53%. Disastrously, now only 2 in 10 support sending troops if our allies don't approve of it. Bush is now looking political armageddon in the face. Surely, he'll do the smart thing, right? Don't count on it.
Bush has big trouble on the military front as well. General James L. Jones, the four-star general who is soon to become NATO's Supreme Commander has called the administration's war plans"foolish." He went on to say"You better have Plan B in your hip pocket, because when you attack someone who has any kind of well-trained army on their homeland they are going to fight differently than if they engage you, say, in Kuwait. The defence of a homeland is hard stuff because they are not going anywhere." Boy, Jones doesn't actually mince any words does he? Does anyone suspect that Donald Rumsfeld, Saddam's leading enabler from the 1980s, is about reassign Jones to a duty station in a washroom in the Pentagon?
There's a good article on Findlaw today by a law professor about why Ashcroft's concentration camp plan for U.S. citizens deemed enemy combatants is wrong. Like any good lawyer's writing, it's about twice as long as is necessary and the reasoning is pretty obvious but it's a good article. Take a look.
Bush also continues to embarass us with his hypocrisy on foreign policy. Today Bush dismissed criticisms of Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf because Musharraf is"still tight with us in the war against terror, and that's what I appreciate. He understands that we've got to keep al-Qaida on the run. ... And I appreciate his strong support." Ah, such consistency in foreign policy! Reagan's folks really are back on the job, aren't they?
A couple of other links of interest:
As expected, the federal budget deficit is going through the roof in 2003. Thanks for the big tax cuts George! You've made sure my grandkids won't even finish paying off the deficit.
Don't miss a good Gene Lyons column entitled "Chickenhawk Daydreams." I must confess to being a Gene Lyons fan. I grew up reading his column in my newspaper and he's always been a favorite of mine. His book with Joe Conason The Hunting of the President is one of the best works of investigative journalism of the last 20 years. If you want more Gene Lyons, click here. Since the Republican neofascist editors at his newspaper have made most of their newspaper's website require payment, this is the only way to get Lyons' articles.
Nice epitaph to Bob Barr and Cynthia McKinney's political careers today in the Washington Post by E.J. Dionne.
A good Joe Conason article entitled "Bush Reads a Book, World Awaits Result."
I'm outta here. I'll see you again Monday. I've got a long committee meeting to go to.
LIBERAL PRESS MY...IRAQGATE: THE STORY THAT DID GET AWAY 8-22-02
While I was perusing Buzzflash last night, I came across a 1993 article by Russ W. Baker from the Columbia Journalism Review about Iraqgate. The title of the article was"Iraqgate: The Big One That (Almost) Got Away, Who Chased It -- and Who Didn't." The assumption of the article was that this scandal was nearly missed by the press but fortunately it finally got the attention it deserved. Says who? Anyone remember much about this rather major scandal which involved the clandestine transfer of $5B of your tax dollars directly to Saddam Hussein's government and military in the 1980s? Holy Cow! $5B! That's as much as was in that emergency spending bill recently rejected by W!
I remember hearing that Iraqgate was some terrible thing that could bring down Bush I (if he had been re-elected of course) but how quickly it disappeared! Whenever I hear the complaints of the nattering nabobs of conservative negativism regarding the press, I can't help but think back on the disappearance of this very significant story and the subsequent dogged pursuit of Clinton for much more minor things like Whitewater or, for that matter, the whole Lewinsky thing. Things that, for that matter, were much more minor than the apparent insider trading Bush did at Harken or certainly a lot less serious than the apparent fraud committed by Cheney at Halliburton.
HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS BECAUSE OF WHO DADDY IS 8-22-02
In fact, while I'm talking about it, the entire way that Bush became wealthy is what in an earlier time we would've easily called influence-peddling. I don't even want to talk about insider trading at Harken -- let's talk about much more recent history. Anyway, as Joe Conason has documented in a Harper's article in 2000 and more recently commented on in his journal, it has been well-established that W was allowed to take part in the buying of the Texas Rangers because of who he was. The money he received to buy his stake was loaned to him by one of his old oil buddies. At the end of the deal, he was allowed to take a much larger share of the profits than he was truly owed (instead of $2.3M, he got $15M) because he was who he was.
BTW, this sale of the Rangers took place while Bush was governor of Texas in 1998, not back in the 1970s era of bellbottoms and disco-balls. In contrast to the Clintons' ill-fated Whitewater deal, Bush made a fortune rather than losing his shirt. The Rangers, coincidentally, were sold to a good friend, Tom Hicks, whom, coincidentally, Bush had appointed to manage the enormous mutual funds of the University of Texas. Hicks invested these mutual funds in companies and funds run by friends and donors to Mr. Bush, including $10M in the now infamous Carlyle Group that helps to keep Poppy afloat. In fact, it is speculated by some that the commission Hicks received on his few years worth of managing the mutual funds was, imagine this,more than enough to buy the Rangers! Sounds like a textbook case of influence-peddling to me! To add insult to injury, some even argue that Bush's accountant used some"aggressive" accounting to evade $2M in taxes on Bush's share of the profis from the sale.
DEMOCRACY...FOR OUR ENEMIES ONLY 8-22-02
Yet more hypocrisy in foreign policy today by the Bush administration. Pakistan's president, Parvez Musharraf, unilaterally added 29 amendments to Pakistan's constitution granting himself a great deal more power. Roaring condemnation from the White House? Heck no. In fact, the State Department issued a statement praising Musharraf this afternoon. Sigh. But boy they'll bluster until they're blue in the face about how illegitimate and anti-democratic Hussein is! It's pretty scary when we use democracy as a threat to our enemies but our allies don't have to worry about any sort of pressure from us to become more democratic at all.
On a related topic, did anybody in their right mind believe Bush when he said they didn't discuss Iraq yesterday? Bush, seemingly seeking to make sure we knew he was lying, then preceded to denounce Hussein one more time. Oh yeah, as the London Times asks today: Where was Colin Powell anyway?
Speaking of the upcoming war, the Miami Herald has a solid anti-war editorial written by a former anti-Vietnam protester (before my time). There also is an interesting and unsettling piece by Maureen Farrell entitled"An Alternate Universe" on the Buzzflash website. I am not generally a conspiracy theorist and you won't find me insisting that Bush is trying to institute a totalitarian state (Ashcroft perhaps but not Bush) anytime soon but this column really does pull some things together that resonate with me. It starts off a bit kooky but stay with it. She at least provides some food for thought.
Just to clear something up: while being against what so far is an ill-conceived war by the current administration, I am not a supporter of Saddam Hussein. Saddam is an awful and brutal tyrant. It would be nice if this guy was gone tomorrow. However, no one has made an adequate case to me that we should put hundreds of thousands of Americans in harm's way to rid the world of him. I have seen no evidence that he currently has nuclear weapons or would be willing to use them. In fact, it seems that, if Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, he'll be even more likely to use them if we invade Iraq -- and on our soldiers. In short, like everyone else, I think Saddam is horrible but I don't think an adequate case has been made yet that we need to chance another quagmire like Vietnam to get rid of him. I think that's a pretty reasoned position to me. Don't most Republicans who are foreign policy experts agree with me? Now there's a frightening thing.
Finally, if you didn't see it, Ted Koppel made David Horowitz look like a blowhard last night on Nightline. Horowitz kept ranting on about liberals and leftists and Koppel kept trying to get him to actually talk about the topic of the program, which was the UNC assignment for freshmen to read a scholarly book on the Koran. Finally, toward the end of the program, Horowitz admitted that perhaps it isn't too bad an idea to learn about the Koran and discuss it in college. Horowitz really came off bad -- like a cartoon character. You know, when is Horowitz going to give up his tired schtick? I would suspect he will when rich lily white conservative billionaires quit bankrolling him. This probably won't happen any time soon but we can all hope he'll embarrass them so much they'll quit paying for his rather leisurely existence. Being a right-wing shill pays well these days I'm told. I wonder if he has Richard Mellon Scaife's autograph?
While we're on the subject, today there was a good Washington Post editorial that makes many good points but I'll quote a couple of good passages from it:"In a particular display of demagogic illiteracy, popular talk show host Bill O'Reilly last month compared studying the Koran today to reading"Mein Kampf" during World War II." Another good quote from it:"America is engaged in a long-term and complicated project of destroying the terrorism that operates in the name of Islam while embracing and fostering moderate Islam. Asking American students to know something about the Koran and consider why it moves so many people as their country pursues this process is not political correctness run amok. It is common sense." Enough said.
Finally, a great blog that you might want to check out. It's Eric Alterman's Altercation blog at MSNBC. If you're not reading this one everyday, you should be.
TRYING TO MAKE GRAY BLACK AND WHITE 8-21-02
It's amazing how Bush's people still don't get it. People who can think about anything for longer than five minutes can easily see why this war is a bad idea. There's an excellent article in the Los Angeles Times by Robert Scheer titled "Simplistic Hunt for Evil in a Complex World." Scheer argues the Bush administration is searching madly for a devil but the search has only produced"shopworn enemies that were once our surrogates in battles we would rather forget." Another good analysis of Bush's flawed foreign policy in the Middle East is by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times entitled "Bush's Mideast Sand Trap." Friedman argues that Bush"shows real contempt for the world, and a real lack of seriousness, when he says from the golf tee, as he did on another occasion: 'I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you. Now watch this drive.'" Friedman also points out the incredible disconnect between insisting upon democratization in some countries and ignoring the obvious flaws in our allies, concluding that"the Bush policy today is to punish its enemies with the threat of democracy and reward its friends with silence on democratization."
Donald Rumsfeld, instrumental in the enabling of Saddam Hussein's reign of terror in the 1980s (click here for more on this), yesterday compared Hussein to Hitler, insisting that critics of the war were like the appeasers of Hitler. BTW, why is it that whenever one of the shrubbers (I'm going to boldly steal that wry turn of phrase from my fellow HNN compatriot Jeff Pasley's blog) says something truly outrageous in our media that you have to find out from a British media source? I'm just curious. Anyway, Rumsfeld told Fox News"Think of all the countries that said, well, we don't have enough evidence. I mean Mein Kampf had been written. Hitler had indicated what he intended to do. Maybe he won't attack us. Maybe he won't do this or that. Well, there were millions of people dead because of the miscalculations." Boy, there's more than just a whiff of desperation there, huh?
It has gotten almost comedic how Bush is so furiously searching for something to distract people's attention from the economy. For example, I'm sure that's the goal of today's"military summit." Maureen Dowd weighs in today about the summit in Crawford, arguing that Bush and Company"are clearly regrouping to catch the patriotic wave of the 9/11 anniversary, drawing fresh momentum for pre-empting terror in the Middle East." For a less tongue-in-cheek analysis of Bush's"military summit" today, read this analysis by Peter Grier of the Christian Science Monitor. The administration is trying to convince us that Iraq is not going to be the major topic of conversation, but no one is buying that line.
As I said earlier, I suspect we're getting major airstrikes against Iraq (we've already had 27"minor" airstrikes against Iraq just this year) in October to galvanize the public behind their fearless leader who doesn't listen to"whining generals." It really is unprecedented for an administration to be picking a fight with another nation in order to improve its political standing -- and shameful of course. This will be one helluva case of an administration"wagging the dog" that's for sure.
FAUX NEWS CHANNEL: WE DISTORT, YOU DECIDE 8-21-02
I'm enjoying watching the conservatives blast the New York Times' coverage of the impending war with Iraq, saying that it shows"liberal bias." Isn't it the role of a newspaper to raise questions about government policies? Isn't that what a newspaper should be doing? I also love the folks who keep saying whiny things like"but they're emphasizing the bad things about an invasion, not the good things." As if repeating the administration's well-known (and well-worn) justifications for the war is the true role of investigative journalism. Does anyone not know what the administration's reasoning is behind the proposed war? Nowadays, our media seldom fulfills its watchdog role anymore. However, when it does, these are the complaints the editors at these newspapers can now expect from the usual conservative suspects.
Of course, the funniest thing to me is that these conservatives trot out the"liberal bias" in the news media trope when the number one cable news network is Fox News Channel, the right wing news network that is the least"objective" (as if there truly is such a thing) of the news outlets. (In fact, I prefer to refer to them as the"Faux News Channel" myself.) The frightening thing is that the other news networks are trying to become more like Fox. My favorite thing was MSNBC's short-lived show with Allan Keyes called"Making Sense" that was supposed to help capture some of the conservative audience. The title was the funniest part of it since Keyes seldom makes much sense at all. The funniest thing I heard was from Buzzflash who suggested the show should really be titled"Allan Keyes is off his medicine."
In other news, John Ashcroft is facing a subpoena from a congressman in his own party. James Sensenbrenner will sign the subpoena on September 1 if Ashcroft hasn't produced documents relating to the implementation of the Patriot Act for Sensenbrenner's House Judiciary Committee. To use a phrase uttered by another Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee, these folks in Bush's administration clearly believe themselves to be"above the law" it appears. It's amazing to me that these folks don't think they even have to have congressional oversight. If Clinton's administration did those sort of stuff the Republicans would be worked up into an incredible lather about it.
A blockbuster story came out last night on MSNBC's website. I'm not sure how much the press will talk about this with the much more immediately exciting takeover of the Iraqi embassy in Berlin to cover but it's a big one. It turns out that Rumsfeld was instrumental in turning Saddam into the monster he is today. While acting as special envoy to the Middle East for Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, Rumsfeld convinced the Reagan administration to give assistance to Hussein in his country's war against Iran -- despite the well-known fact that Hussein was using chemical weapons. Rumsfeld even met personally with the Iraqi leader a few times. The story even documents how Reagan communicated directly with Hussein through backchannels, sending messages to him through, you guessed it, his vice president, George H. W. Bush. You know, I guess I've had it wrong all along. I had thought the desire to get rid of Saddam came from W. I didn't realize it is a rite of atonement for Rumsfeld. I wonder what similar monsters Rumsfeld & Company will get us involved with this time.
Time magazine has another interesting article this week. This article describes what it calls Rumsfeld's Secret War Council (the Defense Policy Board). You'll be happy to know that Newt Gingrich and Dan Quayle have much more say in deciding whether we go to war than, say, anyone in congress.
More terrifying though, is news that Bush is reading Supreme Command by Elliot Cohen. Cohen's book argues that a president needn't listen to"whining generals" and should pursue war if it's what he wants to do. Of course, you and I know Bush probably doesn't have the attention span to actually read a whole book, but the fact that the White House wants us to think this is what he's reading is pretty frightening.
REALITY IS STARTING TO PUNCTURE BUSH'S IMAGE 8-20-02
Paul Krugman has another good column out this morning. Krugman argues that there is a growing and apparent gap between the image and the reality of Bush's policies. Bush's pocket veto of the emergency spending bill is a perfect case in point. While Bush tells us he cares about miners, firefighters, and ordinary people, his spending decisions frequently trim any programs that might actually help out us ordinary folks. Krugman contends that"behind the photo-ops, the administration is busy squeezing programs that benefit firefighters, police officers, coal miners, veterans and other"humble people of America" (Mr. Novak's phrase), in order to make room for tax cuts that mainly help a handful of not at all humble people. That's not demagoguery, it's the plain truth. And it's a truth that will become ever harder to disguise."
In closing the article, Krugman also launches into a spirited defense of Al Gore and liberals. He recounts how Gore has been attacked for his populist approach by Republicans and Democrats. Krugman sees no problem with populism, conservatives use it all the time:"Yet conservatives enthusiastically rely on populism — fake populism, based on staged shmoozing with ordinary Americans and attacks on the imagined cultural elitism of the liberal media. Why shouldn't liberals, who actually have the facts on their side, try engaging in the real thing?"
MAY THE BEST CARTOON CHARACTER WIN 8-20-02
Today is the Georgia primary for Bob Barr, one of the house managers in the impeachment of former President Clinton. After the Democratic Georgia legislature stuck it to Barr in redistricting, Barr is locked in a tight battle with another incumbent Republican U.S. representative, John Linder. William Welch in a USA Today story puts it best:"Few political differences separate the candidates, and the campaign has taken on a comic-strip quality, complete with accidental gunfire, a cartoon character that ridicules Barr, a dog that lampoons Linder, secret videotapes and allegations of dirty tricks." The high point of the entire primary campaign so far was when Barr, a NRA advocate, accidentally discharged an antique pistol at one of his campaign events.
Afterward, one of Linder's supporters began appearing at Barr's campaign events dressed as Yosemite Sam with a sign declaring himself Barr's firearms safety trainer. Eventually, one of Barr's adult sons assaulted poor Yosemite Sam at another campaign event. Bill Shipp, a longtime commentator on Georgia politics, puts it best: ''Here are two guys purported to be national conservative icons. . . . It's become almost slapstick.''
ATROCITIES IN AFGHANISTAN, REAGAN-ERA SKULLDUGGERY, & BLOWBACK 8-19-02
The most shocking thing to come out over the weekend is the Newsweek article detailing mass atrocities by our allies in Afghanistan and documenting our state department's misconduct regarding it. Newsweek is not exactly a left-wing scandalsheet so you know it had to be pretty bad for them to go with this story. This is Reagan-era stuff here. I don't know how many thousands were killed in Central America by regimes we supported in El Salvador and Guatemala with nary a peep from us. In fact, we defended the murderers in those two countries. However, to suggest that we've been aiding and abetting killers in the supposedly"improved" Afghanistan is pretty terrible. This is a return, in that grand old Reagan-Bush Cold War era tradition, to a post-Cold-War version of Jeanne Kirkpatrick's"Good dictators, Bad dictators" principle. Every atrocity committed by our enemies (such as Saddam Hussein) is discussed, magnified, and presented to demonstrate how the enemy is apparently"evil." However, atrocities committed by our friends, well, we don't really talk about those claiming we don't know the facts or we just outright lie about it. The authors of the Newsweek article accuse Bush's state department and Pentagon spokesmen of"obfuscation" and of making statements that were known to be false in denying these atrocities. Sounds suspiciously like El Salvador in about 1983 to me.
Speaking of Reagan-era skullduggery, over the weekend in the New York Times another interesting story came out. Apparently, when Saddam was our buddy during the 1980s, the U.S. assisted Iraq militarily in its war against Iran even though it was well known by the administration that Saddam was using chemical weapons in the war and was developing biological weapons. In 1998, the French newspaper Le Figaro reported that in the 1980s the U.S. and France had supplied Hussein with anthrax just as Hussein was beginning his biological weapons program. Please tell me we didn't supply that monster with anthrax! Surely not! I don't know that I'm very surprised by these revelations, with Bush's foreign policy folks being largely Reagan-era retreads, it doesn't surprise me that we've returned to that era's sad lack of morality regarding the activities of our"friends" versus our enemies. The problem is, in a textbook case of blowback, our"friends" in Iraq have become our enemies and we're now self-righteously assaulting them for atrocities that we knew about, may have helped facilitate, and, at the very least, did nothing to prevent at the time.
BACK TO THE WAR 8-19-02
As to the war threatened in the present, there was no shortage of commentary this weekend. Slate's William Saletan argues that Bush isn't even doing a good job of convincing fellow hawks in his own administration about the war, much less the rest of us. Maureen Dowd chimed in as well, advancing the idea, once again, that Scowcroft's WSJ editorial represented the thinking of 41 himself. Dowd contends that it"must be galling for Bush père to hear conservatives braying that the son has to finish the job in Iraq that the father wimped out on. His proudest legacy, after all, was painstakingly stitching together a global coalition to stand up for the principle that one country cannot simply invade another without provocation. Now the son may blow off the coalition so he can invade a country without provocation."
In Washington Monthly, General Wesley Clark (former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe) also gets his licks in on W, arguing that a coalition is pivotal to the success of a war against Iraq. He contends the U.S. cannot be successful fighting alone. Similarly, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security advisor to Jimmy Carter, in the Washington Post also argues that building a coalition, as well as getting support from the American people and allies is important to a successful war effort. Most pointedly, Brzezinski lectures Bush about how the decision should be made, saying that the start of the war should not be decided"by the president alone with just a few of his own appointees, without regard for either American or global public opinion" and that"public support should not be generated by fear-mongering or demagogy." Today, Norman Scharzkopf himself weighed in, telling the president that the U.S. shouldn't go it alone. Is there any respectable Republican left who's actually for this war? I'm just curious.
BTW, you'll be happy to know that, even though Bush is willing to listen to critics of the war, Bush made it clear this weekend that the decision on whether we go to war with Iraq is his and his alone.
If you haven't already done so, take a look at the article on HNN by Andrew Kydd. Kydd's article does an excellent job of discussing past"preventive wars" and how they tend not to be successful. I wondered aloud about similar historical situations last week and Kydd gave me an answer this week! Kydd provides two central examples, Japan in 1941 and Germany in 1914. The article is a good read and quite insightful.
W PLAYS FISCAL CONSERVATIVE FOR THE CAMERAS 8-19-02
Nothing is sillier than the way Bush, who has raised federal spending more than any president since Reagan, is trying to draw the fiscal line in the sand on the paltry $5.1B emergency spending bill. (click here for more on this) Much ink has been spilled about Bush's recent conversion to fiscal conservatism this weekend. The New York Times ran an op-ed piece blasting Bush for his hypocrisy on this bill, finding his"austerity stand" to be"mostly symbolic."
Probably the funniest thing in all of this is that Bush's solution to the problem is yet more tax cuts! He also wants to make some rule changes to allow bigger loss writeoffs and higher 401(k) limits. The cost of these programs together area at least $40-50B in lost revenue over the next ten years. Now there's a real budget-buster! Is this hyprocrisy or what? Combined with the $190B agricultural subsidies bill, it certainly demonstrates that Bush is apparently engaging in some rather"fuzzy math." It's amazing how flaky his fiscal conservatism is, isn't it?
FRANK RICH'S COLUMN IS WELL WORTH READING 8-17-02
Okay, okay, so I said you wouldn't hear from me again until Monday but Frank Rich's column in the New York Times today is too good to not post the link immediately. Rich is another one of those columnnists like Paul Krugman whose columns have excellent analysis and make incredible connections. Only Rich could connect the economic summit (now the administration is calling it a"forum") and the invasion of Iraq so effectively as a way of demonstrating Bush's modus operandi. I don't want to give away too much but I can't help but quote the most hard-hitting part of it regarding the upcoming war with Iraq:"The only mystery is when D-Day will be. Given the administration's history, I'd guess that it will put on the big show as soon as its political self-preservation is at stake. Certainly the White House's priorities are clear enough. It has guarded the records of Dick Cheney's energy task force and the S.E.C. investigation of Harken far more zealously than war plans that might endanger the lives of the so-called real Americans who will have to fight Saddam." Enjoy!
SO MUCH TO TALK ABOUT 8-16-02
There's so much to talk about today I almost don't know where to start. It's astonishing how many interesting things have happened over the last day or so. I'll guess I'll start by breaking my word and providing yet one more link to an article on the, in the words of Mary McCrory," convention speech without the balloons" economic forum. This article is by Arianna Huffington and is pretty entertaining. The title of it is quite an attention-getter: Wacko in Waco: The Brunch Bushians Drink the Kool-Aid. Huffington's articles are often quite entertaining. She's one Republican gal who is in no way a Bush fan.
Another related article by Randall Mikkelsen describes how Bush has become the "new king of fund-raisers." Is it my imagination or is there no way that the average Joe can have any sort of impact on the policies or even be heard by this administration? The economic forum certainly stands as a case in point: it was composed of fundraisers and hand-picked supporters of the administration. There are times I really think we are returning to the politics that resemble that of the Gilded Age (my area of historical specialty) when administrations and politicians were owned and only represented the special interests that bankrolled them. I think the Republican Party is already there and I'm not so sure that the Democrats are very far behind. Of course, I've been warning my students about this since about 1996. However, I didn't realize the transformation would happen so soon.
DO YOU FEEL SAFER? 8-16-02
Speaking of governing in response to special interests, congress is about to pass a law and the president appears willing to sign it that will allow pilots to arm themselves. Does anyone else think this is a really bad idea? Does anyone else think that it is inherently dangerous to discharge firearms on a passenger aircraft? The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article about how NRA lobbying has brought this law, once believed to be dangerous and ridiculous even by people in the most NRA-friendly administration in history, to the brink of passage.
Another news item on the air safety front appeared in USA Today yesterday. This article documents how the air marshal program, so touted by the administration only a few months ago, is tetering on the edge of programatic collapse. This good investigative piece by Blake Morrison raises important questions about whether having ill-trained federal air marshalls on planes may actually be endangering the public. And the scary part is that Morrison isn't the one raises these questions, it's actually the marshals themselves who are risking their jobs by speaking to the media.
Let me ask an important question at this point: does anyone really feel safer now than they did September 12th of last year? I don't think having guys carrying guns on planes is going to help anyone. Is someone going to make the cockpits bullet-proof? If there's a raging firefight going on in the first-class cabin it would be awfully easy for a stray bullet to disable and/or depressurize the aircraft. Also, since airports still aren't x-raying baggage and only one airport (Baltimore-Washington International Airport) actually has employed federal screeners, I'm not sure we've changed procedures enough to make things truly safer at airports. And, as an editorial comment from personal experience, I think airport security officials are often concentrating on the wrong things. For example, I don't think that having the security guards at airports harassing people to move on who have parked for ten seconds to drop their loved ones off at the airport is helping to improve security much either. I would venture to guess that most terrorists who are going to leave carbombs at the airport don't get out of cars with six bags of luggage, two children, a stroller, and two carseats. I could be wrong I guess.
BACK TO THE WAR 8-16-02
Criticism of the administration's plans for a war with Iraq really got going yesterday. Several major Republican foreign policy experts, including Brent Scowcroft, Henry Kissinger, and Lawrence Eagleburger issued sharp critiques of the administration's policies. The comments from Scowcroft and Eagleburger, two major foreign policymakers in the first Bush administration, were particularly surprising. Some in Washington even suggested Scowcroft's comments might represent the beliefs of the elder Bush. These comments were picked up and reprinted by, among others, The New York Times, and and ABC News. The Times even wrote a cautious editorial reminding the administration that many Americans weren't convinced of the necessity of war. As I mentioned here yesterday, it is becoming clear that Tony Blair is in real political trouble. The London Times presents a much more detailed story about Blair's troubles with dissenters in his own party on the upcoming war with Iraq. The London Times article provides much more detail on the background of Gerald Kaufman, who is a major force in foreign policy circles in Britain. Blair's ministers have even gone so far as to suggest they might try to assist in the invasion without seeking parliamentary approval which has led to a firestorm of criticism for Blair's government. In the most pointed comment in the article, Kaufman says of Bush's foreign policy team, “Pity the man who relies on Rumsfeld, Cheney and Rice for counsel. The only man in the US Administration who knows the score is Colin Powell, who actually won the last war against Iraq. He is so marginalised as to be an object of pathos.”
FINAL TIDBITS FOR THE WEEK 8-16-02
There are a few other interesting tidbits to mention before I quit my blogging for the week. I do hope you have enjoyed it.
Nicholas Kristof writes a damning article in today's New York Times about the Bush administration's policies regarding women in the third world, arguing that Bush is making the United States the" core of an Axis of Medieval." It's a good article and worth a look. In other tidbits, it appears that President Vicente Fox is getting rave reviews in Mexico for his decision to cancel his visit to Bush's ranch at the end of this month. And, finally, you might want to check out Paul Krugman's article this morning about how the U.S. economy may be getting ready to go through a long period 5-10 year period of slow growth like Japan has. We can only hope Krugman's wrong. However, Krugman, one of the first to expose the"fuzzy math" of Bush's tax cuts and phony deficit projections, is one of the best at making the economy comprehensible to us regular folks who aren't economists. Unfortunately, he is often right about these sorts of things.
Okay folks, I'm done for the week. I'll see you Monday.
Boy the rebukes for George and the boys just keep on coming in. It's been a tough couple of days for the administration. Yesterday, Bush rejected a $5.1 billion emergency spending bill. This upset many different groups. The administration is apparently trying to have it both ways on this one. They claim Bush rejected it because the bill was filled with unnecessary pork, but every time a group complains about the decision, the administration claims to be in favor of what that particular group wants. Pretty slick, eh?
The first rebuke came from the American Legion today which blasted Bush's decision because the bill included $275 million for health care for veterans. Richard Santos, national commander of the American Legion, remembered how Bush told the Legion's 2000 national convention that he would"work with Congress to raise the standard of service not just for veterans, but for our military retirees." Santos said that"we feel we've been let down. A verbal promise in front of 6,000 people is something you have to keep."
The second blast came from the International Association of Firefighters who voted to boycott Bush's speech at a national tribute to firefighters in October. The IAFF objected to Bush's rejection of the bill because it included $340 million to fund fire departments and upgrade public communications systems so they can more adequately respond to disasters like the 9/11 disaster. R. Michael Mohler, of Virginia Professional Firefighters Local 774, said that"the president has merely been using firefighters and their families for one big photo opportunity. We will work actively to not grant him another photo op with us."
Harold Schaitberger, general president of IAFF went still further, saying to President Bush,"Don't lionize our fallen brothers in one breath, and then stab us in the back by eliminating funding for our members to fight terrorism and stay safe. President Bush, you are either with us or against us. You can't have it both ways."
The most embarassing rebuke internationally for the administration today probably came from the president of Mexico, Vicente Fox. Upset about the execution of someone he believed to be a Mexican national by the state of Texas Wednesday night,Fox cancelled his trip to meet with the president at the end of August. It appears this one really caught the crack diplomatic corps at the White House and State Department offguard.
BLAIR IN TROUBLE 8-15-02
Just today, Condoleeza Rice, clearly hoping to drum up support for this perplexing and seemingly inevitable war against Iraq described Saddam Hussein as an"evil man" and argued that"regime change" was a perfectly good reason to invade Iraq. (click here to read my earlier musings about the war)
Interestingly enough, buried in the same Reuters story, was a more ominous item for the administration and the last major rebuke for the day (so far). Many in Tony Blair's own Labour Party are beginning to openly oppose Blair's support for an Iraq invasion. Imboldened by polls showing an overwhelming majority of Britons oppose such an invasion, the public comments by members of Blair's party are pretty acrid. Gerald Kauffman, an influential member of the party, wrote in a Spectator magazine article that"Bush, himself the most intellectually backward American president of my political lifetime, is surrounded by advisers whose bellicosity is exceeded only by their political, military and diplomatic illiteracy." Oh, Mr. Kauffman, tell us how you really feel! It appears that if Bush goes ahead with this war, the first casualty of it may be Tony Blair, who might be replaced as PM by his own party.
TWO FINAL ITEMS 8-15-02
I'm also going to provide the link to one more article on Bush's scripted photo-op economic summit. It's a good Washington Post article by Mary McCrory. I'm getting bored with this so I won't say much else about it but it's a good piece. I like her line that it was"a convention speech without the balloons." There are other nice nuggets in the piece as well.
One final interesting news item and then I'll quit for the day. Judicial Watch, the rather odd conservative legal group who filed an incredible number of lawsuits against the Clinton administration, thus helping to earn many Washington law firms piles and piles of cash and successfully distracting administration official for untold hours, days and weeks when they should have been tending to the people's business, has clearly got it in for certain folks in the Bush administration it appears. Yesterday, embarassingly, Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit against Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson accusing him of securities fraud while he was on the board of Providian Financial Corp. The zinger? Thompson is the official the Bush administration has put in charge of the corporate corruption task force. Now that's got to be pretty embarassing for George and the boys wouldn't you think? The group has also recently sued Dick Cheney, alleging that Cheney misled Halliburton shareholders about oil revenues. What did the folks in the administration do to hack these folks off anyway? Somebody in Judicial Watch not get a job or something? I'm just curious.
CONCENTRATION CAMPS? 8-14-02
One of the more troubling news items today appears in a column written by law professor Jonathan Turley in the Los Angeles Times. Turley reveals that John Ashcroft wants to have the ability to round up U.S. citizens he deems"enemy combatants" and put them in detention camps. Now this, my friends, is truly frightening. We have an Attorney General who is establishing a procedure through which he can strip U.S. citizens of their rights and throw them into concentration camps. Turley suggests it's time that the Senate hold hearings into the fitness of Ashcroft for office. I really am beginning to believe this administration has absolutely no commitment to civil liberties. I'm not even sure Joseph McCarthy envisioned anything like this during the Second Red Scare.
BTW, the administration has been forced to admit that the alleged"dirty bomber" may not have much connection to Al-Quaeda at all. In an Associated Press story, Christopher Newton reports that some federal law enforcement sources have admitted that Jose Padilla (one of two U.S. citizens who have been deemed"enemy combatants" by the government) was, at the most, a"small fish" with little or no connections to bin Laden's terror organization. However, I suspect that since the AG got his photo-op and soundbite opportunity out of it, I'm not sure the folks at the Justice Department care anymore. Finally, even people in the business community are beginning to be upset with Ashcroft's photo-op justice, as a column by Howard Gleckman in Business Week attests
ECONOMIC FORUM FALLOUT 8-14-02
Boy, the president's economic forum sure was a hit! (I'm joking.) Robert Kuttner in the Boston Globe, says it was "all for show." The New York Times op-ed page described it as "transparently scripted." The Washington Post described the forum as being composed of "adoring Cabinet officers and supportive business executives" who were torn between whether the president was doing"a magnificent job" or"an extremely magnificent job." Maureen Dowd argued that Bush was trying to use this photo-op as a way to "fix the economy before lunch" because he didn't have the attention span to talk about it much longer. Jake Saletan of Slate proclaimed it "Bush's fake forum."
In the midst of this firestorm of criticism, I don't believe I'll even say anything. What would be the point? Besides, the man took a morning off from his month-long vacation to do this! You've got to give him credit for that, right? Predictably, the Dow dropped 206 points during the forum.
IRAQ WAR REDUX 8-13-02
An ABC News-Washington Post poll came out last night that provides some pretty troubling numbers about public support for the Bush administration's war on Iraq. Most Americans support the idea of a war against Iraq if it's going to be supported by our allies, easy, and not involve large numbers of casualties. If you change any of these important variables, the support drops disastrously, to as low as 40 percent. This is not good news for the administration.
The BBC website also has a story about how opposition to the war is growing. The latest to come out against a war is Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Other embarassing news is out this morning for the administration. It turns out that this administration, which I argued in an earlier HNN column appears to care not one whit about civil liberties, may not have much of a case against Jose Padilla, the alleged"dirty bomber" according to MSNBC. It scares me that an administration can just declare a citizen an Enemy Combatant and lock them up. What's to stop them from doing the same thing to anyone?
I'm also happy to see that David Horowitz is not above embarassing himself publicly on HNN's comment boards escoriating the authors of a petition that is circulating on e-mail calling for a congressional vote before war with Iraq. When he's not composing ponderous and impenetrable screeds trying to blame 9/11 on the previous administration he's questioning the patriotism of American historians who might be against the war or at least want a congressional vote on the war. What a guy! Do you think he even re-read the comment before he sent it through? It's pretty embarassing and intemperate bluster if you asked me.
I can't help but wonder how Horowitz feels now that it has come to light in Time magazine (not exactly a liberal bastion) that Bush's national security team was briefed on Al-Quaeda in January of 2001 but chose to ignore it. In his journal, Joe Conason of Salon argues that the Time story means that the "ugly, mendacious campaign to blame Bill Clinton for the national security disaster of last Sept. 11 should end today." Combined with the hijacking briefing Bush received (but did nothing about) in August of 2001, the Bush administration can no longer plausibly argue that they had "no warnings" about potential terror threats. Predictably, I'm sure these stories haven't changed Horowitz's convictions one bit.
AN ECONOMIC SUMMIT FOR WHOM? 8-13-02
Has there ever been a more fraudulent thing than Bush's economic summit today? The press and even some prominent Republicans are beginning to weigh in on how bad this thing looks. It's primarily composed of large Republican contributors and executives from corporations that have cooked the books, most notably John T. Chambers of Cisco, whose company according to the New York Times' Paul Krugman was called by Wall Street analysts a"pyramid scheme." Krugman's article is informative (as his usually are) and certainly tells you that the administration doesn't yet understand that having the foxes be in charge of regulating the henhouse might be a bad idea. As Krugman says,"they just don't get it." Chambers' Cisco was recently listed by Fortune as one of the companies that had the greediest executives in America.
Another good article on the"summit" appears in the New York Times as well. Even some Republicans are criticizing the summit as a photo op with little meaning.
Democrats are also getting further licks in about the economy. In an amazing overstatement, Terry McAuliffe calls Bush's economic team"the worst since Hoover." They're bad, but come on, let's not go that far. BTW, Hoover is often piloried by everyone but he actually did do some good things. In fact, his approaches to solving the economic problems of the nation were more aggressive than that of any president before him. In fact, many in FDR's administration described much of the First New Deal as a much larger version of Hoover's major programs that were working. I just wanted to show a little balance and historical perspective here.
As a historian, I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the Bush Administration's dogged pursuit of a war with Iraq. I'm trying to think of a time in our country's past when we have pursued what is, in the words of Maureen Dowd, a"war without provocation." Despite the fact that nearly every potential ally -- with the notable exception of the British, who are beginning to waver as well -- is against a war with Iraq, despite the fact that it appears this is a potential quagmire, we're going ahead anyway. The whole thing is baffling and out of character for the United States. The closest analogous historical situations are the Spanish-American War and the threatened 1993 invasion of Haiti which ultimately was not necessary (interestingly enough, the Republicans were the ones who were being"unpatriotic" back then, opposing it all the way, even threatening to withhold the money from the Federal budget for the invasion).
However, both of these analogies don't quite fit right. While there is ample precedent of the United States intervening militarily in other nation's affairs throughout the nation's history, there is no precedent for a large-scale attack on another nation without a clear provocation. I'm searching madly for a historical comparison I can draw and I'm coming up with blanks. Sure, I know we sent the Marines into several nations in Central and South America several times in the first two decades of the twentieth century for short periods but it's just not the same sort of thing. Any assistance from those in the historical community in identifying similar events in our nation's past would be greatly appreciated. This is a pretty practical concern for me: I'd like to be able to explain this developing situation to my students this fall.
Several things perplex me about this looming war. Amazingly, the Pentagon is clearly against this proposed invasion of Iraq. Over the past several weeks, they have leaked invasion plans several times to the press in an effort, it appears, to forestall the invasion. They also appear to be supportive of congressional hearings into the planning for the potential invasion. This is pretty bizarre. I can't think of a time when an administration actually had to browbeat the Pentagon into making war. They believe the invasion to be ill-conceived and, like currently in Afghanistan, there is no apparent exit strategy. However furious Rumsfeld and other administration hawks may be, they appear to be paying little attention to what these military leaders are saying. The folks in the Pentagon think this looks too much like a potential Vietnam-like situation. Therefore, frustrated that their concerns are being ignored by the administration, military leaders have begun to go directly to the press.
Also, many in the press have already begun to talk about the war as if it is unavoidable. A story by Andrea Mitchell that appeared on MSNBC's website over the weekend is typical. The upshot of her article is that we're just going to war with Iraq in the next few months and that's that.
However, there are some prominent Americans who are beginning to speak out against this seemingly inevitable war. One of the most surprising is Dick Armey, the soon-to-retire House majority leader. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana has also said he doesn't believe the administration has made a good case for a war with Iraq. The administration certainly has presented no evidence that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with the September 11th attacks. In fact, the religious zealots in Al-Quaeda hate Hussein's secular government and believe Saddam to be an infidel. Many experts in Middle Eastern affairs will tell you that Hussein and bin Laden are more like enemies than allies. While Saddam clearly supports Palestinian terrorists in Israel (even paying money to the families of suicide bombers), the same cannot be said about Al-Quaeda.
So, why the rush for war? Many in the press are already arguing that the real cause of this war may be domestic politics and a desire on the part of Bush the younger to finally rid the world of his father's nemesis. Some have even argued, as I have in an earlier column on HNN, that the real reason for the rush to begin an attack on Iraq may be simple domestic politics. As the congressional Republicans find themselves in real political trouble because of the economy in the mid-term elections, a war would provide them with possibly the only chance to maintain their hold on the House of Representatives. Given the attitude of the electorate, I think the Senate is long out of reach for Republicans.
I guess I'm cynical but I expect airstrikes in mid-October, just in time for the elections. These airstrikes will be followed by an invasion involving several hundred thousand soldiers next year that I just hope isn't the quagmire it could be. I'm hoping I'm wrong. One thing is for sure, if we invade Iraq we'll find out if Saddam has any weapons of mass destruction. If he's got them, he'll use them on our invasion force. I suspect that's the part that really frightens the folks in the Pentagon.
Current conservative estimates are that at least 1,000 Americans will lose their lives in such an invasion. And, even if Donald Rumsfeld believes we can do for Iraq what we did for Afghanistan (which actually hasn't improved life much for the average Afghani), the costs are likely to be considerable. I find the whole situation pretty frustrating as a historian. I can't find anything in the past that prepares me for what's coming and what this administration is likely to do. After receiving nary a positive word from our allies worldwide, most administrations would have given up on an invasion of Iraq long ago, but not this one.
Unfortunately, my knowledge of American history doesn't provide me with a guide as to what's going to happen next. Although it's tempting, at this point I won't argue that the Bush administration is behaving entirely irrationally but they're clearly not following any established historical precedent. As a historian, that is truly a bitter pill to swallow.
Some other links of interest:
Nice discussion from the Christian Science Monitor of why potential allies are backing away from the Bush administration's war plans -- especially interesting discussion about how poorly conceived current U.S. policy in Afghanistan is.