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Saturday, April 05, 2003

The simple (and delusional) world of the neo-conservative

There's so much that could be written about the neo-conservatives and their vision of the future. Calpundit does a nice job giving an overview of the neocons' plans, and in part, their simplistic world view is expressed succinctly by President Bush in a current New York Times article:

Shortly after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld issued a stark warning to Iran and Syria last week, declaring that any "hostile acts" they committed on behalf of Iraq might prompt severe consequences, one of President Bush's closest aides stepped into the Oval Office to warn him that his unpredictable defense secretary had just raised the specter of a broader confrontation.

Mr. Bush smiled a moment at the latest example of Mr. Rumsfeld's brazenness, recalled the aide. Then he said one word — "Good" — and went back to work.

It was a small but telling moment on the sidelines of the war. For a year now, the president and many in his team have privately described the confrontation with Saddam Hussein as something of a demonstration conflict, an experiment in forcible disarmament. It is also the first war conducted under a new national security strategy, which explicitly calls for intervening before a potential enemy can strike.

. . .

"Iraq is not just about Iraq," a senior administration official who played a crucial role in putting the strategy together said in an interview last week. It was "a unique case," the official said. But in Mr. Bush's mind, the official added, "It is of a type."



You know, I think we can all appreciate the idea of having a credible deterrent. But this is just stupid, and it's not hard to find cases that demonstrate the foolishness of neo-con suppositions. For example, Israel's been kicking ass in the Arab world for years, and yet the vastly overmatched Arabs keep coming back for more, Israeli citizens keep dying, and Israel has no security whatsoever. Clearly, being the biggest dog on the block and demonstrating willingness to fight don't necessarily make people do what you want them to do.

In fact, it may spark just the opposite. The more fearsome and arbitrary the United States appears, the more likely "rogue" states may race to develop arsenals that pose a real threat and form military alliances to defend against us. While starting wars may be a short-term way to tone down the rhetoric from countries like North Korea, it is likely to create more long-term problems than it solves. Instead of a world with allies, we find ourselves in a world that hates and actively opposes us. We have gotten far more mileage out of diplomacy over the last century than out of proving how tough we are on the world stage.

We pointed to this Newsweek article once before, and it's definitely worth doing so again:

...Since the beginnings of the state system in the 16th century, international politics has seen one clear pattern—the formation of balances of power against the strong. Countries with immense military and economic might arouse fear and suspicion, and soon others coalesce against them. It happened to the Hapsburg Empire in the 17th century, France in the late 18th and early 19th century, Germany twice in the early 20th century, and the Soviet Union in the latter half of the 20th century. At this point, most Americans will surely protest: “But we’re different!” Americans—this writer included—think of themselves as a nation that has never sought to occupy others, and that through the years has been a progressive and liberating force. But historians tell us that all dominant powers thought they were special. Their very success confirmed for them that they were blessed. But as they became ever more powerful, the world saw them differently. The English satirist John Dryden described this phenomenon in a poem set during the Biblical King David’s reign. “When the chosen people grew too strong,” he wrote, “The rightful cause at length became the wrong.”

...for five decades after World War II, there was no general rush to gang up against the United States. Instead countries joined with Washington to confront the Soviet Union, a much poorer country (at best comprising 12 percent of world GDP, or a quarter the size of the American economy). What explains this? How—until now—did America buck the biggest trend in international history?

To answer this question, go back to 1945. When America had the world at its feet, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman chose not to create an American imperium, but to build a world of alliances and multilateral institutions. They formed the United Nations, the Bretton Woods system of economic cooperation and dozens of other international organizations. America helped get the rest of the world back on its feet by pumping out vast amounts of aid and private investment. The centerpiece of this effort, the Marshall Plan, amounted to $120 billion in today’s dollars.



Quite a bit to think about. The most important lesson, though, is that it was US wisdom, not US military strength, that has kept the world safe for America over the last half-century. If we now abandon that wisdom for Dubyaism, we do so at our clear peril.
Nah, it's not for oil

Do these guys care at all about world opinion? Does the administration care in the least about creating a whole new generation of terrorists? US officials and Iraqi exiles have agreed to hand over Iraqi oil development rights to big oil companies:

U.S. officials at the meeting declined to comment. “This is a highly sensitive issue and we do not want any publicity,” said one. “This is guidance by Iraqis for Iraqis facilitated by the U.S.” said another.

But briefing papers to the meeting obtained by Reuters showed a clear consensus among expert opinion favoring production-sharing agreements (PSAs) to attract the major oil companies.

“The PSA is certainly a favorite after short-term rehabilitation,” said Attar. “Everybody keeps coming back to PSAs.”

That is likely to thrill oil companies harboring hopes of lucrative contracts to develop Iraqi reserves that rank second in size only to Saudi Arabia’s.

. . .

Production-sharing is the type of deal favored by the oil industry because it guarantees companies a healthy profit margin, even at low world oil prices. Alternative royalty schemes are weighted toward government revenue and can penalize investors at low prices.



The article notes that, under the planning now going on, Iraq would not recognize OPEC production limits; it's hard not to deduce from this that future development is intended to ensure cheap oil for the US, quite possibly at the expense of the Iraqi people (we all know big energy companies are so well-behaved and responsible, don't we?).
GOP astroturf

The shamelessness and partisanship of what passes for today's Republican Party shouldn't surprise anyone anymore. But somehow, it always does. How can any American feel good about acting the way the GOP does?

You know that "grassroots upwell of opinion" that condemned the Dixie Chicks for Natalie Maines' comments in London?

Turns out much of it was an "astroturf" campaign orchestrated by the Republican Party:

Party operatives spammed thrir email lists the day after Maines made her statement, urging them to contact radio stations. Phone calls originating from the GOP headquarters in Washington went out to country stations, urging them to remove the Chicks from their playlists. The "alternative" concert, suppossedly promoted by Gallagher, is actually the worlk of the South Carolina Republican Party who rode herd on a resolution through the state assembly condemning the chicks and party officials are helping promote the concert. Earlier this week, we received a call from "Gallagher's Army," urging us to support the alternative comment. Caller ID backtraced the call to the South Carolina GOP Republican headquarter



So, at what point do we start treating these radio stations, right-wing DJ's, etc. as an arm of the GOP, from a legal standpoint?

UPDATE: American Newsreel has evidently removed this story, perhaps due to lack of corroboration.

UPDATE 2: It would appear that much of the piece quoted above was based upon personal discussion with GOP operatives on the part of the author:

http://www.capitolhillblue.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=5;t=002146;p=2#000037

http://www.capitolhillblue.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=5;t=002146;p=2#000047

UPDATE 3: The link to the story is back up!
Job loss continues

As was reported on Friday, the economy shed 108,000 jobs in March. This was not isolated to one part of the economy:

Last month's job losses cut across almost every sector of the economy. Manufacturers reduced employment for the 36th consecutive month. The vast service industry, usually a source of stability, has cut 121,000 jobs in the last six months, with department stores, restaurants, airlines and hotels all paring their payrolls in March. After adding jobs through last year, local and state governments have also begun to make cuts to close budget deficits.



Despite the eternal optimism of "analysts", this is a very ominous sign. What's worse, the Bush administration is utterly clueless as to what to do about it. Right now, industrial capacity is more than sufficient, as indicated by capacity utilization levels not seen since 1983. This means that the administration's blindered focus on tax cuts for upper-income people and big business are not likely to do much, if anything, for the economy: the US isn't short on supply; it has too much supply to begin with. Nor are business short of cash on hand to further invest, when it becomes necessary. This means that Bush's tax cuts are likely to do something close to nothing for the economy (though they may serve to line the pockets of some CEO's)

What's necessary (as is usually the case in every recession) is to stimulate demand. This should be done either by temporary tax cuts for low-and middle income consumers only (to avoid as much long-term damage to the budget outlook as possible) or, more efficiently, by increasing government spending to make up for the lack of consumer spending.

Since this administration seems far more interested in enacting every snake-oil idea ever invented by a right-wing kook rather than applying actual economic knowledge, it seems clear we're in for rough times ahead.

We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.

"Why, of course, the people don't want war," Goering shrugged. "Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship."

"There is one difference," I pointed out. "In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars."

"Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."


http://www.snopes.com/quotes/goering.htm
Easter Egg Threat

Shortly after 9-11, George Bush halted Whitehouse tours for all except school children. After he started his war, he even excluded children from the Whitehouse. Now, in a revealing statement, Bush has announced the annual Whitehouse Easter egg hunt has also been canceled.

What the Whitehouse isn't telling you is that John Ashcroft has discovered an underground cell of seven year olds who are dedicated to taking out the president. The Justice Department has confided to this reporter they believe the children may have developed weapons of mass destruction which are carefully disguised as eggs.

Ashcroft has asked that all seven year olds voluntarily report to their local FBI office for interrogation. He also stated that any subversive first graders would be taken to the concentration camp in Cuba and treated as illegal combatants. Like the Afghanistan "detainees", they will be shackled and have black bags placed over their heads to prevent any attempt to take control of the aircraft, or at least it will keep them from running up and down the aisles. Accommodations in Cuba are being slightly altered to better facilitate the new prisoners. The cages will be outfitted with mats for nap time.

Whitehouse press secretary, Ari Fleischer, insisted the Easter egg hunt cancellation was not an act of presidential cowardice, but was required for national security, just like when the president ran away to hide on 9-11. Fleischer refused to comment on a rumor that Bush would stay away from the Whitehouse until the terrorists were all rounded up. He insisted the president's six month vacation had been planned long ago. He admitted Disneyland had recently been removed from the president’s itinerary for security reasons. Fleischer claimed that Knott’s Berry Farm was still on the schedule, despite it being a known haven for the young terrorists, and was proof enough of the president’s bravery.
Shutting out the world

The Bush administration sold the legality of war in Iraq on the basis that it was authorized under UN auspices. It is therefore gravely disappointing that Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Advisor, is specifically claiming the "rights" to establishing the post-war Iraqi government for the United States and it's "allies" alone.

...Ms. Rice said repeatedly today that while there was a role for the United Nations in Baghdad, "Iraq is not East Timor, Kosovo and Afghanistan" — all countries where the United Nations played a central role.

In blunt terms, she made it clear that nations that did not join the fighting to oust Mr. Hussein should not expect the leading role in deciding what kind of government would follow him.



While understandable, this sentiment is wholly incompatible with the original rationale for the legality of the attack on Iraq. We simply can't have it both ways: either we were carrying out UN mandate (in which case it's up to the UN to decide what happens next), or we were carrying out our own agenda (in which case our actions were clearly illegal under international law).

And make no mistake: if the idea of this war effort is to safeguard the national security of the United States, this isn't the way to do it: by relegating the UN to a minor role and claiming "rights" to "rebuild" Iraq for American companies (and worse: by selling Iraqi oil to pay for it), the Bush administration is further alienating allies we need to continue our economic, law-enforcement and military campaign against al Qaeda. It may even encourage the formation of military alliances against us.

Additionally, the legitimacy and experience of the United Nations would be extremely important for any rebuilding effort; the refusal to give the UN a primary role threatens the entire rebuilding effort, which will likely result in even more danger to us from a resentful world.

Like it or not, we need the rest of the world. The United States comprises less than 5% of the world's population, and although we are the single most powerful nation on the planet, we are likely not strong enough to fend off the rest of the world combined. This is not a road we want to go down.

Friday, April 04, 2003

Double-standard alert

Remember when 104 members of the House of Representatives demanded that Rush Limbaugh be fired for his vitriolic, mendacious, un-American, slanderous comments about President Bill Clinton?

Neither do I.

Yet somehow, 104 House Republicans now feel it's appropriate for them to demand the firing of a Columbia University professor for saying he hoped the United States would face "a million Mogadishus" in Iraq.

Now, we at the Weasel firmly disagree with Professor DeGenova, and find his comments abhorrent. They place him firmly in the fringe. But Columbia University is a private university, and if House right-wingers feel it's appropriate for them to use their office (to say nothing of taxpayer's time and money) to demand a left-wing extremist be fired for his comments from a private institution, we think it's only fair that our elected Representatives do this sort of thing in equal-opportunity fashion.

We'll be looking for that "Dear Rush" letter.
War without end

As several around the blog world have noted today, the Bush administration is discussing the idea of declaring victory without actually getting Saddam Hussein.

Tapped today discusses several good things about this idea:

...sealing off Baghdad and cutting Saddam and his top officials off from the rest of the country has a certain appeal to it. As long as the administration puts into motion plans to deal with the enormous wave of refugees that would stream out of the city, we'd be avoiding, for now, the dangers of urban combat. (See this Slate piece, the authors of which were leaked a Pentagon document with different scenarios for taking Baghdad.) We'd give ourselves time to bring in reinforcements. (Thousands and thousands of American troops are reportedly on their way into the Persian Gulf, including the long-awaited 4th Infrantry Division.) And we might be better able to bring about a capitulation of the regime, or at least lead Saddam's high command to betray him...



They also point out a couple of downsides. For one thing, it will be difficult to remake the country while Saddam is still around, invoking fear in the minds of Iraqis. For another, we've heard this one before. Remember al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden?

That latter point has me especially worried: we are rapidly accumulating wars that never finish. This does more than make it easy to roll from one war to the next, transferring American sentiment and fear over more September 11-style attacks from one enemy to another. It also makes it easy for the administration and its backers to enact ever more damaging policy, keep the public distracted from domestic problems and silence critics on the grounds that we're in a permanent state of conflict. It's all under the umbrella of "War on Terror", even if the wars we get into have nothing to do with 9/11 or realistic danger to us or our allies. As this administration and the Congressional GOP have demonstrated time and again over the last year-and-a-half, they have absolutely no problem with using war as a justification for completely unrelated policies. They couldn't have asked for a better excuse.

Some commentators, after 9/11, wondered how we would know when the "war on terrorism" was over, and worried that it might become a justification for permanent curtailing of civil liberties. It turns out that their fears are being realized, and worse: the "war" is becoming a permanent justification for neoconservatives to remake the world to their liking.
Still no WMD's...

The "white powder" reportedly found today is definitely explosives, not chemical or biological weapons, U.S. officials have now stated (via Atrios).

No mention of this yet in the mainstream "liberal" press...
Garry Trudeau's eerie prescience

Hesiod's Counterspin makes a scary observation today. Note that the uber-Hawk and slightly-touched James Woolsey, ex-CIA chief, is being groomed for a possible high-level position in the post-war Iraqi Government (specifically, the "Ministry of Information" which the administration plans to keep...are we talking dream job for this guy, or what? He appears to be a proponent of war with Iran, Syria Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Egypt). And longtime readers of Doonesbury will recognize "Duke"...
Standing up

Something has to be done. The Democrats simply have to start standing up as a group and defending themselves from blatantly partisan attacks like the ones mounted on Senator Kerry yesterday. What did he say? Why, he had the audacity to suggest we need new leadership in 2004 while there's a war on! Except that the GOP has been using the "war" excuse to insulate Bush from criticism since 9/11! When, exactly, do we think will be a more appropriate time to publicly criticize this guy? When do we think the GOP will not level bogus partisan charges of anti-Americanism against any who dare speak out?

Actually, let me amend that. Everyone who feels this way has to start standing up and saying something. This morning on CNN, when reading emails regarding the question, "If the US finds weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, will that justify the war?", they read three emails supporting the war, including two that were obviously right-wing partisan. The only left-wing partisan email read (which stated the writer was concerned about planted evidence), coming at the end, was prefaced by a "remember, these aren't our opinions, they're what people send in". The clear inference is that the last message was written by a whacko. Why would they have made that sort of a disclaimer? Because every time a left-wing opinion appears on the air, right-wingers mount a vicious astroturf campaign against the news outlet in question. If we don't respond in kind, it will keep happening.

As we've noted previously, almost half of Americans either don't support the war or support it out of a "rally-around-the-flag" effect. People, that's a significant chunk of the American populace that will respond to a united message: We support the troops and the ouster of Saddam, but we don't support Dubya!

The GOP'ers learned a long time ago that it matters less what you say than how loudly (and how often, and from how many directions) you say it. "We must all hang together..."
We're not partisan!

Word has reached us that 2000 signs are being handed out in Des Moines, Iowa by the Polk Country Republican Party that read "We Stand With President Bush And Our Troops."

But remember: it's the Democrats who are shamelessly using the war and the lives of America's Finest for partisan purposes.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

If not for Tony Blair...

Demonizing Tony Blair is popular sport these days thanks to his support of the Iraq war, for those opposed to the war. However, according to information in a new report by the BBC, if not for Blair we quite possibly would have been suffered another 9/11-scale attack in the year and a half since.

Evidently, Bush wanted to attack Iraq immediately in response to 9/11. Although the BBC doesn't name names, it says Dubya was under "significant pressure" from his "military" to attack Iraq. This could mean the military brass, but we find it more likely it refers to the usual single-minded suspects: Perle, Wolfowitz, Cheney and Rumsfeld.

Regardless, had Bush attacked Iraq instead of going after al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, we would have found building an anti-terorrism coalition almost impossible (since such a clearly opportunistic, cynical action would have turned 9/11 goodwill around much more quickly). Further, we would have left al Qaeda more or less intact in its sanctuary to carry out future attacks. Fortunately, Tony Blair convinced Dubya to wait regarding Iraq, and go after the Taliban first.

This story points out several things. First, of course, while Blair has been a tireless proponent of overthrowing Saddam militarily, he has also saved our butts. Second, it illustrates in stark relief what we've been saying all along: that this administration is populated and advised by some very dangerous people with an extremist ideological agenda all their own. These people will not back down from that agenda, either; willingness to shamelessly use the deaths of 3000 Americans to push your personal vendetta and vision of the world shows a level of extremism that we dare not underestimate.

Finally, it demonstrates the danger of having a weak-willed, inexperienced and incompetent person in the office of the President. To be sure, most Presidents learn on the job, but most have a modicum of foreign-policy experience and a fair amount of moderation. It would seem that Dubya is largely at the mercy of his advisors. Considering who those people are, we should, indeed, fear for the future.
Payback

Looks like the House GOP's starting to suffer a little more from their extremism. The House Budget Resolution (passed by the GOP) includes deep cuts in Medicaid to make room for tax cuts for the wealthy. This isn't sitting too well with the American Hospital Association, which has decided to suspend all political contributions to House Republicans.

Ideology or cash? It's gotta be a tough choice for a right-winger.
What next?

With the military campaign in Iraq seemingly picking up steam, Saddam nowhere to be found and the daring rescue of PFC Lynch providing warm feelings all around (we're genuinely happy about that, by the way), it's logical to ask where we are and what we can expect next.

First, we'll note that it's quite possible several concerns of anti-war people won't pan out (thankfully). Iraqi resistance, thus far, has not inflicted hundreds of casualties on U.S. forces. The darker flip-side of this, of course, is that estimates from mainstream media indicate upwards of 700 civilians have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. It's important to remember that war is never a perfect solution, even if it's the best one. And whether it's the best one in this circumstance will depend largely upon how the post-war situation is handled. Thus far, we're not seeing a lot of reason to hope the administration will handle it well. We'll likely need to keep a close watch on this, as I find it probable that any problems, screw-ups, etc. will be swept under the rug by administration and right-wing PR.

Second, there was never anything wrong with pointing out the simplistic assumptions and diplomatic screw-ups that went into the run-up to the war, nor does that criticism have to become an embarrassment for liberals. Our troops are winning in spite of the administration, not because. Also contributing to the relatively easy victory this war looks to be is the extreme weakness of the Iraqi military. Which begs the question: "Why was Iraq such a threat to us, again?"

This question will become more pointed if Iraq doesn't use any chemical or biological weapons, and perhaps devastating if none are found at all. The entire rationale used on the international stage will have evaporated. And if the post-war rebuilding is botched, it will then be difficult to claim much of a victory at all. "We wrecked our relations with our allies for this?"

Of course, it's still quite likely that some CBN weapons will be found, one way or another. Nonetheless, the ease with which Iraq will have been taken, despite the screw-ups, should make it possible to raise significant questions.

Third, to those who worry that we'll be doing this again: the screw-ups noted above should give significant pause to anyone promoting the idea of a repeat performance against Syria, Iran or especially North Korea, where the military outcomes could be very different. Additionally, the American public is firmly against the U.S. using its military might unilaterally in the future, and the rest of the world (including the British) has made very clear it won't support further military adventurism.

It's important to give credit where it's due (the military, as always). Additionally, few people can honestly be unhappy that Saddam will be gone. We helped put him in power, armed him and looked the other way as he gassed the Kurds and the Iranians; at least we will have now gotten rid of him. It remains to be seen whether this administration and its friends can do abroad what they can't do at home: manage a country. I have my doubts.
And it's official

We noted yesterday that new job losses were likely to increase, given the poorer-than-expected manufacturing data. Word now comes today that new claims for unemployment also beat expectations last week (very bad), coming in at 445,000.

Now, in general the week-by-week claims can vary somewhat, but anything over 400,000 is considered bad news for the job market, and the overall trend right now is not getting better; its going downhill, fast. The more people on unemployment, the less cash consumers have to spend, resulting in still more layoffs...you get the picture.

The moral of the story: the economy's tanking and Dubya hasn't the faintest idea how to turn it 'round (aside from a cash infusion to his wealthy buddies from Iraqi oil and tax cuts). If you have a job, hold on to it.
The Marshall Plan that wasn't

Intent on making the U.S. even more reviled in the eyes of the world, the Bush Administration is pressing ahead with plans to "manage" the Iraqi oil resources after the war's over, using profits from the sale of the oil to finance rebuilding by selected American companies.

Needless to say, the rest of the world finds this a pretty abhorrent idea. Russia, Germany, the UK, etc. have all spoken out against it. By UN mandate, Iraqi oil resources are under UN management at this time, meaning a change would require a UN resolution.

The Bush administration insists that all Iraqi oil revenue will be used to benefit the Iraqi people. "Iraq is a wealthy nation," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. "Unlike Afghanistan, for example, Iraq will have a huge financial base from within upon which to draw. And that's because of their oil wealth."


"Benefit the Iraqi people" -- and what the heck? Let's help our best buddies make a profit along the way, huh, Ari?

Of course, if Bush didn't have to make room for his colossal Tax Giveaways to the Wealthy (TM), we'd have the money to responsibly rebuild Iraq ourselves and mend the rifts Bush has caused in our diplomatic ties.

Do these guys even want a second term?

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

The weird thing is, people actually voted this guy in

Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colorado) is taking idiocy to new heights by proposing that the Bush administration stop making military headstones using French marble (which is actually from Georgia). Perhaps we should return the Statue of Liberty with a nasty note, while we're at it?

Why do I get the feeling that some of these guys were just looking for an excuse to let the jingoism fly? I guess that's what happens when what passes for today's GOP was largely raised on the intellectual genius of Rush Limbaugh.
Bad ideas that just won't die

GOP'ers aren't giving up on a couple of their favorite ideas. First, Bush is still looking to restore as much of his non-stimulus, gift-to-the-rich, screw-the-poor, class-warfare-promoting, sold-on-a-pack-of-lies, budget-busting tax cut as he can:

Treasury Secretary John Snow said afterward that the administration was not yet ready to concede the fight for the full $726 billion after the Senate voted to slash it back to $350 billion. "We think the president's package is the right package for the economy at this time and we're not ready to give up on that," Snow said.

He told reporters that talk of a compromise closer to $550 billion would be an improvement over the Senate-passed plan, but added: "We ... are going to push for the largest possible package that we can get."

Republican leaders hoped to restore as much of the package as possible during final House-Senate budget negotiations, which began on Wednesday.



And late tonight comes word that House GOP leaders are still trying to wreck the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:

House Republicans are reviving President Bush's top energy priority -- opening an Alaska wildlife refuge to oil drilling -- although the Senate already has rejected it.

The refuge provision was among a package of energy proposals that were moving swiftly through several House committees Wednesday with expectations that the full House might take them up as early as next week.

Republicans included oil development in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as part of a broader package of energy proposals approved Wednesday by the Resources Committee.

While the refuge drilling measure has a good chances of passing the House, it is certain to again run into trouble in the Senate, which rejected developing of ANWR's oil by a 52-48 vote two weeks ago.



Looks like we'll need to contact our senators again real soon. This sort of thing won't end until we vote the crooks out, folks.
J. Bradford DeLong is da man

OK, sorry about the corny title, but Dr. DeLong does have a couple of excellent posts today. In the first, he adds his professional voice to the notion (discussed here previously) that we're headed for a second recession. To support that concern, he notes a bigger-than-expected 1.6% drop in manufacturing orders in February. As an aside, I'll add to that it's quite possible this will translate to additional job losses, especially with the news that the commencement of the war has hit commerce further.

The second post makes a very good case that Saddam Hussein is dead. You'll simply have to read the post; it's pretty convincing.
From the "NOW we're talking about this?" department

Howard Fineman notes in an MSNBC column today that the dispute over handling post-war Iraq is breaking into a full-fledged battle:

Who runs Iraq? The larger question: If America is going to administer the world in the name of security and freedom, who—if anyone—is going to help us do it? To oversimplify, but only slightly, the “Penta-Cons” pay lip service to international cooperation, but basically want the U.S. to go it alone, or certainly without the United Nations. We’ll be more effective, they say, and less encumbered by bureaucratic red tape and hypocritical allies.

Opposite the Penta-Cons are the Diplomatists, who believe that we’ll be hated by the Muslim world forever if we don’t get out of Iraq ASAP. “It’s a catastrophe if the international community doesn’t take over right away,” an Arab diplomat told me. The Diplomatists also want the U.S. to push Israel to make concessions in its war with the Palestinians. “It’s the best way to prove that the invasion of Iraq wasn’t about subjugating the Arabs,” one said.



Given that the administration sold this war largely on building a better future for Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, it is simply unacceptable that the post-war plan should be anywhere near as unrealistic and poorly-thought-out as the war has turned out to be. And it's looking like it might actually be worse, since overthrowing Saddam (however it's done) will likely turn out to be simple compared with building a country (something Dubya only recently discovered is a worthwhile thing).

As Thomas Friedman has noted, it's going to take years, perhaps decades of sustained committmentto turn Iraq around. It will also take many billions of dollars. Perhaps partly because they sense this, or because they know the UN is simply better at such things, 61% of the American public wants the UN to take the lead in post-war Iraq rebuilding.

Many of the anti-war folk were against the war largely because they doubted the Iraqi people would end up better off (either because of incompetence or by design). I think I speak for all of the Weasels when I say I hope that doesn't turn out to be the case, but current events aren't providing substantial grounds for hope.
Poor Katherine

Remember Katherine Harris? No stranger to the courts, that one. But it looks like she was just dealt a defeat in a lawsuit against her own cousin over an inheritance windfall.

Ya' gotta feel for her, huh?
Holding the line

Senate Republicans have failed for the fourth time to break a Democratic filibuster on Miguel Estrada's nomination.

The latest cloture vote was 55-44 in favor of breaking the filibuster; 60 votes are needed to do so. All Republicans voted in favor, along with "Democrat" turncoats Bill Nelson of Florida, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and of course, John Breaux of Louisiana and Zell Miller of Georgia (do these guys really like it when people call them "Democrats"?).

Perhaps no single issue carries such long-term consequences for the future direction of the nation.

Congratulations to the Democrats on holding the line against the far-right's extremist agenda to radicalize the country's judicial system with right-wing activist judges! Keep it up; we're counting on you!
Fox News reaffirms its right to paint an alternate reality

Once again, Fox News is demonstrating why it should be your prime source for fabricated and distorted material. This time, it's their handling of the Geraldo Rivera fiasco that is at issue.

As we noted yesterday, Rivera was removed as an embedded reporter after giving out obvious operational details about his unit. American Newsreel says Fox News has been lying about the incident, claiming that Rivera left voluntarily, was not ordered out and that the incident is "under investigation".

The reality? Turns out that Rivera threw a bit of a tantrum when he was confronted with his offense, threatened servicemen with "demotions", and was forceably removed from Iraq via Humvee and armed escort. Pentagon spokespeople didn't mince words describing Fox News' spin, calling it "bullshit".
Problem solved

A problem with our blog template which disabled links to individual posts has been solved.
Where's the outrage?

Lenore Skenazy reminds us today that while many anti-war people are outraged over the Bush administration's conflicts of interest and favoritism shown political donors, buddies and former employers, pro-war people should be even more enraged:

No matter how just this conflict may be, these conflicts of interest make it seem otherwise. The fishy whiff grows stronger with every contract awarded to an F.O.C. - Friend of Cheney.

It is Vice President Cheney's former employer, Halliburton, that builds our Army's tent cities. Halliburton subsidiary KBR is the Pentagon's main construction company - and will be for a decade. It got this contract in December 2001, even though the Clinton administration had dropped the company after it was questioned about overcharging the government.


Skenazy notes that several other companies with expertise in areas such as fighting oil fires (like GSM, the company that helped to extinguish the Kuwaiti oil fires after the 1991 Gulf War) haven't even been able to find out how to bid on post-war contracts.

Unfortunately, the administration's penchant for secrecy (to say nothing of its ham-handedness) ends up making the entire process look crooked even if it's not. Given the obvious favoritism shown, however (some of which Skenazy details in this article), it's very hard to conclude that dirty dealing isn't involved.
War support not so solid

According to Foreign Policy in Focus, polls showing public support for the war really are gauging "rally-around-the-flag" effects instead. Some interesting findings:

While [the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes] found 75% of the public rallying behind the war, almost one third said they disagreed with Bush's decision to ignore the Security Council, leaving a slight majority of only 54% of respondents in support. Twenty-three percent flatly opposed both the decisions to ignore the Security Council and to go to war, while 21% said they agreed with the statement, "I do not agree with the decision (to ignore the Security Council), but I still support the president."

. . .

Asked whether the UN's importance in global affairs will be diminished by the U.S. decision, 71% of respondents said the body will be at least as or more important than it was before the war. Only one in four respondents said it should be less so, roughly the same percentage of the U.S. public that has opposed multilateral commitments Washington over the past 25 years.

Moreover, asked whether in the future U.S. leaders should or should not feel freer to use military force without UN approval, only 29% said that it should, while two out of every three respondents said it should not. A strong majority of respondents--75%--also rejected calls by some hawks, particularly in Congress, to punish those countries that opposed the U.S. position in the Security Council.


In further bad news for neoconservative backers of "pre-emption", the poll found strong support for broad international support for future military actions:

...asked whether in the future U.S. leaders should or should not feel freer to use military force without UN approval, only 29% said that it should, while two out of every three respondents said it should not. A strong majority of respondents--75%--also rejected calls by some hawks, particularly in Congress, to punish those countries that opposed the U.S. position in the Security Council.


From these results, it would appear that notions of rampaging through the world, setting it "right" through military intervention after military intervention, is living on borrowed time. It remains to be seen whether the neocons have gotten the message.

If nothing else, the difficulties we're having in Iraq should give proponents of jumping to military solutions pause. But then, if neocons thought logically and with due deference to facts, chances are they wouldn't be neocons, now would they?
Another treaty on the chopping block?

President Bush has approved the battlefield use of tear gas in Iraq under some circumstances, setting up a possible conflict with the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention treaty, signed by the U.S. and many other countries, which specifically prohibits battlefield use of riot control chemicals.

The Convention treaty takes this stance because of past use of nonlethal chemicals which escalated to lethal weapon use. If the U.S. uses CS tear gas on the battlefield, it will cause a host of problems, including further rifts with allies such as Britain (which pledges no such weaponry will be used). Worse, it would provide Iraq with legal grounds to use chemical weapons in response.

Yet another in this administration's long history of arrogant disregard of international law? Just another example of Dubya's complete incompetency? He can't really be that dumb, right? Hopefully not -- but past history doesn't provide much room for optimism...

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

When gaming the rules still won't let you win...

Calpundit points to an extremely important article on J. Brad DeLong's blog today. Dr. DeLong's web log is a very informative source of economic analysis and commentary, since the author is a much-respected professor of economics at U.C. Berkeley.

Today, he comments on a Wall Street Journal article discussing the numerous ways supply-siders are trying to make Dubya's tax cut plan result in rosey economic forecasts. They've evidently tried nine different economic models which employ dynamic scoring, a controversial practice of assuming that tax cuts increase economic growth, and including such assumptions in budget projections. The real problem comes in when one assumes such changes are dramatic (regular readers of this web log will know our opinion of such unsupported notions -- even the most optimistic of realistic assessments find that such effects are extremely minor).

So, what was the result of trying so many models? Only two of them resulted in significant improvements on projections of budget deficits -- by assuming large tax increases in 2013 to pay for the deficit.

The moral of the story: even the most cockamamie theories can't save Bush's loony plan. How much worse can it be?
Budget resolutions

From the incomparable Center on Budget and Policy Priorities comes an excellent paper today regarding the effects of the House and Senate budget proposals. Perhaps not surprisingly, the House proposal is worse, from a class-war standpoint: it contains large cuts in benefits for lower-income Americans (including veterans benefits) to make room for tax cuts for the wealthy. Of course, CBPP finds that neither budget actually indicates fiscal discipline, anyway.

For reference, here are some of the cuts in entitlement programs in the House proposal (with additional information from CBO used to calculate percentage cuts):








ProgramCuts, Billions of dollars, 2004-2013Total spending, 2004-2013Percent reduction, 2004-2013

Medicaid92.002521.003.65%
Supplemental Security Income18.50408.004.53%
Veterans benefits14.00351.003.99%
Earned Income Tax Credit14.00357.003.92%
Food Stamps12.50274.004.56%


62% of the cuts in entitlement programs would come from such low-income programs.
Scalia on Affirmative Action

Being the politics junkie I am, I was listening to CSPAN all day...OK, actually, while I was flipping channels incessantly (an activity that bothers my wife to no end), I came across the audio from the Supreme Court hearing of the University of Michigan's admissions policy on CSPAN. Justice Antonin Scalia ("Fat Tony" to some) was determined to prove the policy was quotas-based.

It was interesting; the attorney for Michigan was pointing out that prior court findings had found the term "quotas" should only apply to systems in which a fixed number of slots had been set aside for certain minorities, regardless of other qualifications. Scalia, of course, would have none of it -- he was essentially arguing on the semantics of the term "quotas", saying that setting a goal of having a certain range of percentage representation for minorities was still a "quota".

I was struck by what appeared to be a very disingenuous argument on the part of a Supreme Court Justice. Perhaps, in terms of common definition, the act of setting general numerical goals is still a "quota"; unfortunately, Scalia was glossing over the important differences that led to the legal distinction. One such difference I noted: even though the goals are set up, there is nothing preventing a well-qualified group of white students in a given year from taking all the slots.

Now, I have little doubt that Scalia will use some rhetorical sleight-of-hand and apply a fuzzy definition of "quotas" to the legal realm and ignore the precedents, given his stated beliefs. But I had hoped that he would find a more solid argument than the one he made. Unfortunately, I didn't think the U. of Michigan's attorney did a great job of elucidating the difference, either.

I suppose we'll have to see how things play out. But given what I heard today, I think I can already guess what Scalia's decision will be.
War impacting the world economy

Economists the world over are trimming their economic forecasts due to the Iraq war, with Japan being the lone exception:

...a key survey of Eurozone manufacturing industry showed an incipient recovery detected earlier in the year was snuffed out in March. In any case, the report suggested, the improvement in January and February may have resulted from firms building up stocks as war loomed.

A report from the Bank of Japan on companies' sentiment, a French poll of consumer confidence and British retail sales data added to the depressing picture.

Financial markets, already worried by signs the war may be longer and bloodier than anticipated, expect more bad news at 1500 GMT when the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) publishes its monthly index of U.S. manufacturing activity.

The Reuters survey of 180 economists showed they now expect U.S. gross domestic product to rise by 2.4 percent this year compared with 2.7 percent forecast in January.


It would appear we're in for a rough ride, especially with an administration that seems to care nothing for applying actual economic knowledge to economic policy.
Quid Pro Quo

It looks like some Europeans have decided to strike back, and are boycotting American goods.
Posting follies

It would appear that Blogspot posting has been unavailable most of the morning. Thus, I apologize for the flood of posts that will undoubtedly appear once you can see this notice.
From the front page

For those who haven't visited the Daily Weasel News Page in awhile, I urge you to read Thom Hartmann's excellent piece, "How to Take Back America". Addressing the urgent need for liberals and progressives to learn from the far-right example, Hartmann urges us, for the sake of the future, to put aside differences with one another and re-join mainstream politics:

...many progressives are suggesting that it's time for concerned Americans to reclaim Thomas Jefferson's Democratic Party. It may, in fact, be our only short-term hope to avoid a final total fascistic takeover of America and a third world war.

"But wait!" say the Greens and Progressives and left-leaning Reform Party members. "The Democrats have just become weaker versions of the Republicans!"

. . .

Alternative parties have an important place in American politics, and those in them should continue to work for their strength and vitality. They're essential as incubators of ideas and nexus points for activism. Those on the right learned this lesson well, as many groups that at times in the past had fielded their own candidates are now still intact but have also become powerful influencers of the Republican Party. Similarly, being a Green doesn't mean you can't also be a Democrat.


Milt has written on this topic more than I have, but I'm in total agreement with his sentiments and with Thom Hartmann's. Our system contains an extremely strong bias against third parties, and the only realistic choice for progressives at this point is to use the Democratic party as a vehicle. Because ideas without political power aren't worth the paper they're printed on.

Political parties are not monolithic institutions. They are made up of people, and when progressives decided to abandon the Democratic Party, it naturally veered to the right. Ironically, far from leading to a promotion of progressive ideals, this continues to lead to their marginalization. And it didn't have to happen: polling in the 2000 election indicated the public solidly favored progressive priorities.

The thought of four more years of Dubya should scare the bejeezus out of red-blooded progressives everywhere. But there's only one way we can stop that from happening, and it isn't by further dividing ourselves.
Blue Moon

It doesn't happen often, so when it does, we'll point it out. There's a good, well-argued and well-researched article in Reason Magazine. It discusses what happened with Turkey and Iraq, the current geopolitical situation with that country and the West, and why the U.S. should encourage Turkey with aid and political support, rather than giving it the "French Treatment" that some seem inclined to do. A good read.
The polls are in...

Despite poorly-worded and leading questions, a solid majority are opposed to passing Dubya's tax cut right now. The latest NBC News/WSJ poll indicates opposition by a 52%-35% margin.

Monday, March 31, 2003

It's not just "armchair generals" who think the war is half-assed

Looks like the troops in the field are not very happy with Rumsfeld:

Long-simmering tensions between Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Army commanders have erupted in a series of complaints from officers on the Iraqi battlefield that the Pentagon has not sent enough troops to wage the war as they want to fight it.

Here today, raw nerves were obvious as officers compared Mr. Rumsfeld to Robert S. McNamara, an architect of the Vietnam War who failed to grasp the political and military realities of Vietnam.

One colonel, who spoke on the condition that his name be withheld, was among the officers criticizing decisions to limit initial deployments of troops to the region. "He wanted to fight this war on the cheap," the colonel said. "He got what he wanted."


Ouch.
A bit of hope

Amidst the extreme cynicism of the Dubya administration and its rationales (all highly suspect) for starting a war on Iraq and horrific accounts of dead and wounded women and children, it's nice to hear about some genuine heroism and good deeds. Such are reported today in the AP Wire, which recounts a story of American troops risking their lives to save an Iraqi woman caught in the crossfire of a battle for a bridge:

Capt. Chris Carter winced at the risks his men would have to take. Engaged in a lightning-fast raid for this Euphrates River town, they were battling for a bridge when - through the smoke - they saw the elderly woman. She had tried to race across the bridge when the Americans arrived, but was caught in the crossfire.

At first, peering through their rifle scopes, they thought she was dead, like the man sprawled in the dust nearby. But then, during breaks in the gunfire that whizzed over her head, she sat up and waved for help.

Carter, a 32-year-old Army Ranger, ordered his Bradley armored vehicle to pull forward while he and two men ran behind it. They took cover behind the bridge's iron beams.

Carter tossed a smoke grenade for more cover and approached the woman, who was crying and pointing toward a wound on her hip. She wore the black chador, common among older women in the countryside. The blood soaked through the fabric, streaking the pavement around her.

Medics placed the woman on a stretcher and into an ambulance; Carter stood by, providing cover with his M16A4 rifle. Then she was gone, and Monday's battle for this town of 80,000, 50 miles south of Baghdad, raged on.


Some can rightly suggest that the woman would never have been in danger had the US not invaded Iraq. Quite true. However, that doesn't take away from the heroism and bravery of the troops who are there, doing their best not only to do their jobs as soldiers but as human beings. I salute them, and (as always) hope that this war is over soon with as few casualties as possible.
Give me your tired, your poor, and anyone else you want detained

Looks like the Bush administration's detention of immigrants from Iraq and 32 other countries, which began right before the Iraq war, is getting some attention:

Doris Meissner, the federal immigration commissioner from 1993 to 2000, said the change was similar to other blanket policies imposed by the Bush administration. After the Sept. 11 attacks, more than 1,200 people from Arab countries were detained on immigration violations, and the administration required most of the deportation hearings to be held in secret rather than allowing immigration judges to decide whether the secrecy was warranted.

"There is a propensity in this administration to establish blanket policies that prejudge guilt based on country of origin," said Ms. Meissner, now a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute. "Those countries of origin are all Arab or Muslim countries, and it's sending the wrong message," she added. "It is not improving our safety and security because it's too blunt an instrument, and it feeds a view of the United States abroad that we are simply against, and are going to do everything we can to harm, people in and around the Middle East."


Right wingers have never been terribly fond of immigration, many of whom have tried some pretty shady things to reduce it (such as confusing legal and illegal immigration in the public eye, promoting anecdotes of a broken immigration system that allows criminals and welfare-seekers in, and frightening American workers with talk of immigrants taking their jobs). Despite the rationalizations, though, such notions generally come down to simple racism. Whatever the motivations, such people have a friend in this administration. And the effects, as with so much this administration does, will not be confined to the detainees themselves -- once again, this administration's policies are making enemies of America around the world.
Is extremism in the cause of budget-cutting a vice?

Like we have to ask. What passes as today's House of Representatives is infected with a strain of extremism not seen before in this country.

Case in point: the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities today notes that the Budget plan passed by the House on March 21 goes to unprecedented lengths to pare spending. Eager to slash government programs upon which people depend, the plan allows the House Government Reform Committee the power to cut programs over which it has no jurisdiction. This is a first in the history of the U.S. Government.

Of course, the standard excuse for these actions is eliminating "waste, fraud and abuse" (as we've noted here before). CBPP counters this handily:

The House Budget Committee has asserted that the $265 billion in required cuts in mandatory programs it contains are designed to reduce "waste, fraud, and abuse." For 20 years, this has been a standard line used to advance large cuts in mandatory programs without identifying the specific eligibility or benefit reductions that would be entailed C or the specific anti-fraud or abuse measures, for that matter, which usually fail to materialize or to generate more than a small amount of savings. The Budget Committee’s "waste, fraud, and abuse" rhetoric may be its justification for allowing the Government Reform Committee to cut programs outside its jurisdiction.

Such a justification, however, does not withstand scrutiny.

• The most effective way to reduce incorrect payments in government programs is to provide substantial additional staff and computer resources to agencies that check the validity of claims. To do that, however, generally entails substantial increases in appropriations for staff and computer systems, as the General Accounting Office points out. The House budget plan provides no such increase in appropriations. To the contrary, it cuts the amounts provided to the Appropriations Committees for domestic discretionary programs by $244 billion over ten years (below the CBO baseline). It cuts domestic appropriations $15 billion below the baseline in fiscal year 2004 alone.

• Most major entitlement programs have systems that have been developed over a number of years to combat fraud, waste, and abuse and that are periodically retooled and strengthened. Designing legislative changes that can somehow produce very large additional savings (without significantly harming eligible beneficiaries) is quite difficult. To the extent that OMB and other federal agencies have been able to identify ways to do this, such proposals generally are already reflected in the President’s budget.

• To the degree that legislation can be designed to achieve further savings in this area without undermining the basic purposes of these programs, the committees of jurisdiction are the appropriate bodies to do so, rather than the Government Reform Committee, which lacks expertise in programs outside its jurisdiction.

• Some may contend that the Government Reform Committee is the sole committee that can address such government-wide issues as procurement reform. Any such contention would not be relevant here. With procurement reform, the federal government might be able to buy high-quality goods or services somewhat more cheaply. But most such government purchases are financed by annual appropriations. These purchases are for non-entitlement programs, such as military procurement or highway construction. Moreover, if procurement reform makes purchasing cheaper, the Appropriations Committee can use its allocation to buy more; it does not have to return some of its allocation unused. For this reason, the Congressional Budget Office does not score procurement reform as reducing expenditures, and Senate budget rules prohibit including procurement reform and related measures in "reconciliation" bills.


Of course, all of this is to attempt to make room for Dubya's enormously unaffordable trickle-down tax cut.

I have little doubt that those so eager to cut funding for low-income housing and veterans' benefits will take the above into account. The House GOP'ers in general are hard-core, folks, and they need to go in 2004.
Bits and pieces

A couple of items from American Newsreel today. The first is a story discussing the fact that one can love one's country and still question what it does, even in wartime (it seems strange that someone should have to point that out).

At a time when people are finally starting to come to grips with a long-ago divisive war called Vietnam, Americans are at odds over another controversial conflict in a far-way land. George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq sparks heated debate, loud and disruptive antiwar protests and a resurgence of the repugnant “America, love it or leave it” rhetoric that belongs in the past.


The second notes that Geraldo Rivera of Fox News was removed as an embedded reporter for giving out too many operational details. Evidently, if Fox hadn't pulled him out, the military would have escorted him to the border themselves. As Newsreel noted, "Another embarassing moment for a pretend reporter for a pretend news network."

Geraldo's embarrassment, of course, was overshadowed by the sacking of NBC's Peter Arnett due to highly controversial statements and actions in Baghdad. Granted, he most likely demonstrated very poor judgement by stating on Iraq state-controlled TV (essentially, Iraq's official propaganda voice) that the US's war plan had failed due to Iraqi resistance -- a fair assessment, but the wrong venue. What was worse, he strangely praised Iraq's treatment of journalists, when several have disappeared or perhaps been captured and held.
We CAN make a difference

Sources are now indicating that Halliburton either dropped out or was dropped from the bidding process for contracts to rebuild Iraq due to concerns over appearances of favoritism.

Given their history, though, I think we can count on the idea that this isn't the last attempt by administration officials to give their friends in business a leg up, and themselves a nice kickback or nest egg in the process. Look for more dirty dealing in the subcontracting process, when eyes are on other things.
Setting the stage

As a number of people have noted already, it appears that the next focus of the administration's pre-emptive ire may be Iran or Syria. Adding weight to this notion, Colin Powell yesterday warned both Iran and Syria yet again:

Secretary of State Colin Powell says Iran must stop its drive for weapons of mass destruction and Syria must end its support for terrorism.

In a strongly worded speech to a pro-Israel lobby, Powell bracketed Iran and Syria with Iraq as promoters of terrorism and suggested they faced grave consequences.


It would appear that, far from learning its lesson in the current war against Iraq, the administration is rushing ahead with plans for the next "pre-emptive" attacks. Look for increasing innuendos regarding both countries and al Qaeda.

It remains to be seen whether the U.S. public will go along with this; while the administration is enjoying a "rally around the flag" effect at this time, polls suggest that around 2/3 of the public opposes the use of force in general without the backing of the UN. This sentiment will likely only increase if the Iraqi conflict drags out or involves lots of casualties.
Another reason to increase spending on fighting disease
It would appear that the mysterious new disease called "Severe Accute Respiratory Syndrome" (SARS) is actually impacting the economies of parts of Canada, Singapore and Hong Kong, due to thousands of people under quarantine or unwilling to go to work.

The effect isn't expected to be as dramatic as that due to war in Iraq, but it does illustrate that new and emerging communicable diseases, even when relatively mild, can have serious effects.

For the curious, here is the breakdown of cases as of March 29, 2003 (courtesy of ProMED and the World Health Organization -- with apologies for the strange table rendering):















CountryCumulative no. case(s)No. deathsLocal chain(s) of transmission(2)
Canada:373Yes
China(3):80634Yes
China, Hong Kong SAR:47010*Yes
China, Taiwan:100Yes
France:10None
Germany:40None
Italy:20None
Republic of Ireland:20None
Romania:30None
Singapore:892Yes
Switzerland:30None
Thailand:31None
United Kingdom:30None
United States:59 **0To be determined
Viet Nam:584Yes


Notes:
Total cases: 1550
Deaths:54

Notes:
Cumulative number of cases includes number of deaths.

1. The start of the period of surveillance has been changed to 1 Nov 2002
to capture cases of atypical pneumonia in China that are now recognized as
being cases of SARS.

2. National public health authorities report to WHO on the areas in which
local chain(s) of transmission is/are occurring. These areas are provided
on the list of Affected Areas. [see [B] below]

3. The reporting period from Guangdong Province is from 16 Nov 2002 to 28
Feb 2003.

* One death attributed to Hong Kong SAR China occurred in a case medically
transferred from Viet Nam.

** Due to differences in the case definitions being used at a national
level, probable cases are reported by all countries except the USA, which
is reporting suspect cases under investigation.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

RW spin: blame the Turks

In a disturbing trend, the Right Wing is trying to parlay the Bush administration's utter diplomatic failures in Turkey into a problem with the Turks themselves -- evidently, they just can't handle democracy. Case in point is William Safire who, in a New York Times column tomorrow (ironically titled "Snap Judgements"), complains that it was a mistake to "[trust] the new Islamist government of Turkey".

Safire should know better. As John Marshall noted in Hill News:

Turkey may fall short of democratic freedoms and human rights when compared to Belgium or the Netherlands. But, on balance, it is a secular, democratic republic that as been an American ally for half a century. Moreover, what counts as an Islamist government in Turkey simply can't be compared to what the term means elsewhere in the Muslim world. Turkey's governing ideology — Kemalism — is not only secular, it bans all political expressions of Islam.

. . .

The reality of the situation is that the Turks almost universally oppose our war against Iraq. Yet the Erdogan government was extremely keen to prove its secular, pro-western bona-fides to the Turkish political establishment — particularly the military. To do so, it went to great lengths to get the Turkish parliament to approve the presence of U.S. troops on Turkish soil — even in the face of almost universal public opposition. They failed of course.

But if the problem were really the new `fundamentalist' government in Ankara, you would expect that our secularist allies — who are now in the opposition — would have voted in favor of our presence. But they didn't. And we pretty much have only ourselves to blame.

The Bush administration acted toward Turkey like the stereotypical rogue from a 1950s B-Movie. First we told Turkey what we wanted. When she balked, we got a little rough. When even that didn't do the trick, we pulled out our wallet, saying in essence, "Fine, how much do you want?" When even cash failed, we told her to get out of the car and walk home.


Sorry, Safire. No matter how hard you and your fellow Right Wing propaganda flacks try to rewrite history, Dubya's failings are too numerous to gloss over. The administration's incompetence, not Turkey's belligerence or extremism, screwed up the military plan, such as it was. And guess what? The public increasingly knows it.
Kickbacks for Dick?

Newsweek today says it's learned that Vice President Dick Cheney is still receiving compensation from Halliburton. To be fair, his defenders say Cheney has an insurance policy that ensures he'll get paid even if Halliburton goes under. Still, it's normal ethical practice to sever all financial ties as a public official, especially to companies that depend heavily upon public policy for their revenues. Cheney should know better. As the Vice-President of the United States, he should be beyond reproach.

On another note, it looks like someone might have made a dent in the thick, ethics-proof administration skin. The word from the Chicago Tribune (free account required) is that the Halliburton subsidiary KBR may be out of the bidding for a $600 million contract to rebuild Iraq. No word on whether they voluntarily withdrew from the process.
Creating problems

For those who, inexplicably, think this war against Iraq isn't increasing the danger to the U.S. from Islamist terrorism (because they're all a bunch of terrorists anyway, people will do what they're going to do regardless or because the Arab world is just blowing smoke), this Washington Post article paints in stark relief how attitudes are changing right now:

"Mr. Bush has lost us. We are gone. Enough. That's the end," said Diaa Rashwan, head of the comparative politics unit at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "If America starts winning tomorrow, there will be suicide bombing that will start in America the next day. It is a whole new level now."

The anger was a clear sign that U.S.-Arab relations, despite the Bush administration's campaign to win hearts and minds, was at a low point.

"Bush is an occupier and terrorist. He thought he was playing a video game," said George Elnaber, 36, a Arab Christian and the owner of a supermarket in Amman. "We hate Americans more than we hate Saddam now," he said, referring to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

. . .

The outrage was also felt in Syria, which suffered war casualties when a U.S. missile accidentally hit a busload of civilians Monday in Iraq about 100 miles from the Syrian border.

"I was watching what was happening and I found myself cursing for the first time in my life," a 17-year-old student named Lama told the Reuters news agency. "I felt I wanted to kill, not only curse."

In Cairo, some residents with long ties to the United States said that the bombing of civilians made them lose all hope that relations could return to normal.

"It is as if you are watching a horror movie," said Summer Said, a journalist for the Cairo Times, an English-language newsmagazine. "I thought, at first, okay, maybe it isn't a war for oil. Maybe America does want to help. Now, it's genocide to me. Is the American government trying to exterminate Arabs?"

. . .

Some of the people interviewed said that they had hated leaders like Osama bin Laden but that now they were ready to fight and believed that attacks on the United States would be justified.

"For every man they kill, there will be four or five people who want revenge for this person's life. They can't just kill people and have it be forgotten," said Ali Sabry, 43, a building attendant in Cairo. "America is our enemy now. They have millions of Muslims praying against them every day."


People, this goes beyond dislike of the biggest guy on the block, and it's not about a bunch of people who disliked us to begin with. This conflict is creating a newfound hatred of America and a resolve to do something about it in the Arab world. People who at least held out some hope for a future in which America and the Arab world came to an understanding have abandoned that hope, and some who felt that the US, while bad in some ways, had a good side too have changed their opinion to believe that the US is an evil force that must be stopped.

To make matters worse, word now comes that two leading evangelical Christian missionary organizations are making plans to spread Christianity in Iraq once the dust settles. Of course, the organizations deny that they will try to convert anyone; rather, they'll just be there to address "physical and spiritual needs", and answer questions about Christianity if they're asked. Right. One of these organizations -- the Rev. Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse -- is led by a preacher (Graham) who has called Islam "a very evil and wicked religion". Just the diplomats we need.

These are things that will serve al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations immeasurably.
Score one for the Constitution

Is the Evil Magick finally fading? Looks like the so-called "faith-based initiative" is the latest of Bush's 86'ed policies:

Conceding they don't have enough support, congressional sponsors of President Bush's faith-based initiative have given up on legislation that would make it easier for churches and religious groups to get government grants.

They had tried and failed to get the Senate to approve a watered-down version of the Bush initiative. Instead, their bill would simply provide tax breaks for donations to charities. It also offers $1.3 billion more for the Social Services Block Grant, a favorite of Democrats.

"I would have liked to have gotten the whole enchilada, but in the United States Senate this year, you're lucky to get anything, and I'll take anything," Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said Thursday. "We just thought it was a great trade-off."


Way to go, Dems.

Just one additional note: if the Republicans really wanted tax breaks for donations to charities, they could have started by not scrapping the estate tax.
More recession fears

Economists are increasingly worried about a Dubya-dipped recession, according to an article today at MSN Business News:

Giddy expectations of a quick, clean military campaign, with US British and Australian troops welcomed as liberators into cities, have evaporated on contact with reality.

"War planners still insist that the war is progressing at a pace that is consistent with their original plans," said a report by Wachovia Corporation economists.

"However, the duration of the war, at least in the public's eyes, appears to be lengthening on a daily basis. A more extended war will have significant implications for both the US and world economy."

Analysts fear the US economy could contract in the next three months.


The article notes (as we have here) that consumer sentiment is continuing to fall. The author blames increased recession worries on jitters about a longer-than-expected war; To that I would add concerns that the economy's fundamentals are not solid (thanks to unaddressed corporate corruption, a worsening employment situation and truly dismal state financial situations).

The recession of 2001 may not have been all Dubya's fault, folks, but the continued poor performance (to say nothing of a second recession) is all his.

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