Saturday, April 19, 2003

Some thoughts on France

One of the Weasels (Howie) sent me these thoughts, passed on here.

I just got back from grocery shopping at the big Whole Foods supermarket in Hollywood. I noticed with satisfaction that they were proudly pointing out items from France so people could give the Bush fascists the figurative finger. I was happy to see that my favorite chestnuts were imported from France.

However, as I was driving home with my French cheeses and French chestnuts, I happened on ABC-Radio's cooking show (which I had never heard before). I don't know if "Chef Talk" host Chef Jamie Gwen is a Maoist, a Bushite or someone only casually aware of politics. But, it being Passover, a little old Jewish lady named Sylvia called in to ask about how to solve the problem of her macaroons sticking to the baking tray. Chef Jamie pointed out that there is one product and one product only that can deal with this and she went on to describe it and it's wonderful properties and then kind of nonchalantly threw in that it is made in France and we have not replicated it. To be honest, when I heard this, I thought she meant to point out that we chefs and cooks can't really disengage from our friends in France. Then little old Jewish Sylvia the macaroon maker said that the product sounds wonderful but "of course" at this time she couldn't buy anything from that country.

Our neighbors have been brainwashed. Maybe Sylvia sits in front of her TV set all day watching Fox, but, somehow, I wouldn't bet on that. Yet this virulent anti-French feeling has swept the country. I'm less concerned with that per se than I am with the ability of the Far Right extremists, dedicated to turning our nation into a bastion of fascist imperialism-- something Sylvia would probably oppose-- to shape the political agenda and, worse yet, manufacture some kind of ersatz reality that our citizens are gobbling up whole.

Did the French do something to us? Did they supply Iraq with weapons, intelligence, troops...well wishes? I seem to have some recollection-- not that the mass media has reinforced it in any way-- that the French government, like the governments of the VAST MAJORITY of the world favored letting the weapons inspectors continue their job of looking for WMDs. The last I recall the French said they would JOIN us militarily if we agreed to 30 more days (and even after Bush launched his illegal aggression, Chirac said the French would send forces to
fight Iraq if they used any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons against U.S. or British invaders). And for this, the Far Right seems to think we need to start a trade war. I wonder
how Coke, McDonald's, Disney, and other huge American brands are going to react when they see what happens to their European revenues.

What really matters

A lot of things contributed to the Left losing the presidential election in 2000, and again to the left losing the congressional elections in 2002. But one factor that shouldn't have been a factor was the failure of the Left to vote, and vote for viable candidates whose election would lead to the government most closely identified with their own political positions.

No, this isn't going to turn into a "bash the Greens" column, because whatever else you can say about them, the Greens are fundamentally right about the way things should be: everyone should be able to vote for whatever candidates most closely identify with their own positions, and have those candidates go on and represent them in government in proportion to the votes received. That's the essence of a parlimentary system, and it is arguably more democratic than our own.

So in a way, the Greens (and the Left in general) are guilty of being before their time. As has been widely noted, however, our current system is not parlimentary; rather, it's a "winner-take-all" that (as history would indicate) is only stable with two major parties. Such a system strongly favors whoever can maintain ideological discipline and uniformity most tightly, and (at least in today's incarnation) no one does lockstep uniformity like the Right Wing.

What do to about this? Well, first and most important, failing to vote is really not excusable for anyone in our system. For any given presidential election, for example, there are tens of candidates across the political spectrum, candidates to match virtually any political position (from neo-nazi to socialist). While it's true that most people will never find a candidate that precisely matches their own views on every issue (that's the nature of human differences and representative government), in most cases, it should be possible to find someone who comes close enough for one to go and vote. If it's true that most people on the Left value democratic government, then failure to participate is hypocritical.

So get out the vote and registration efforts are critical to winning in 2004. The Democrats lost seats in Congress in 2002 because liberals had a low turnout. Now, the Left may say, "the Democrats were uninspiring and didn't give me a reason to vote!". To which I reply, "hasn't Dubya given you enough reason? And inspiration works both ways. I guarantee you that Democratic candidates will respond to a populace presenting a unified message demanding they promote Left-Wing positions. Likewise, I guarantee you that GOP candidates will not do so".

Second, many on the Left may need to swallow a bitter pill and realize that things in the United States are moving away from Left-leaning positions at an alarming pace. Out of self-preservation, the Left needs to rally behind viable candidates that at least want to stem this movement.

Third, the Left needs to promote viable candidates and policies that will move us towards a more democratic and progressive society. Part of "viability" means employing a powerful, working vehicle in our two-party system. Like it or not, that means using the Democratic Party.

Parties are made up of people. When liberals left the Democratic Party because it wasn't liberal enough, the Party lurched to the right. This led more liberals to abandon the Party, creating a "feedback" process that left liberals out in the cold. Liberals need to borrow a page from the right wing (masters of using our current system for getting what they want -- just look at the extremists currently in government), re-enter Democratic Party politics, and transform the Democrats into a viable, powerful vehicle again for the majority of America who don't want what the Right Wing has to offer.

The future of our country is at stake, and we can all do something about it. If we fail to do so, don't blame Dubya, or the Democrats, or anyone else. We will have failed, all by ourselves.

Friday, April 18, 2003

Changing attitudes

It would appear that the post-war fiasco in Iraq is having an effect; Gallup polling now indicates that humanitarian aid trumps finding Saddam Hussein as Americans' highest priority. This, in my humble opinion, once again demonstrates that the success of the war itself will not be a deciding factor in 2004 and post-war conditions and planning is a potentially winning issue.

Likewise, poll results continue to indicate (same link as above) concern over becoming "bogged down" is high among Americans.

I believe Americans remember that one rationale for this war was to help the Iraqi people. If it continues to be evident that we aren't helping the Iraqis and have failed to plan how to do so, if it appears that the Iraqis don't want us there and our servicepeople are the targets of violence and hatred, if the rebuilding effort continues to be used as an opportunity for Bush and Cheney to pay back their bestest buddies, there will be plenty of opportunities to go after the administration's incompetence in public fashion.
Pre-emption makes the North Koreans kowtow...or maybe not

As we've blogged here before, Bush's notion that pre-emptive war in Iraq will scare the rest of the world into line is likely a mistaken idea.

Nontheless, Dubyites have looked favorably at North Korea's diplomatic moves over the last few days as vindication of the policy (as Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has pointed out, the new "terms" are actually more of an aquiescience for the US than for North Korea).

It would appear that not only does North Korea intend bilateral (not multilateral) talks with the US in Beijing (just as they wanted all along), but they've started reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods, as well (the process by which weapons-grade material will be extracted and nuclear weapons rolled out). This is an extremely serious situation, and one that the attack on Iraq and our refusal to talk has likely exacerbated, not solved. One way or another, we will have to deal with this situation. I'm deeply concerned about the methodology Bush is likely to reflexively choose.

UPDATE: It looks like the reprocessing claim was due to a mistranslation. We are unequivocally thrilled to hear it, and hope the Bush administration doesn't waste this opportunity to help the situation pull back from the brink.
And speaking of which

Check out this story on Demagogue. It seems American Express is now working for John Ashcroft.
War on democracy

While the Bush administration moves with all due slowness to create a democracy in Iraq, it is doing its damndest to eliminate it at home, and is continuing the tradition of avoiding as much publicity and oversight as possible. I highly recommend everyone read The Secret Society by Tim Grieve at Salon (you can get a free one-day pass to read the material, and I recommend you do so -- this is important stuff). And if what you read makes you angry, contact your congresscritter (link in left sidebar)! They can make a difference, if they choose to do so.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Others are hopping mad, too...

Or at least upset enough to voice their opinions and/or quit their jobs over the negligence of the Bush administration in its failure to act on warnings that priceless Iraqi cultural treasures should be protected.

Namely, Martin Sullivan, the head of Bush's cultural advisory committee, quit today over the blatant lapse. Word is that another committee member is also stepping down.

Additionally, Calpundit has a nice post on the idiot-box justification of Bush's failure to stop the looting right-wingers are defensively pushing. Specifically, he rips apart John Derbyshire of National Review Online, whose contention it is that not only do the artifacts belong to all of mankind, but that the Iraqis wouldn't have looked after them properly, anyway. One wonders what Derbyshire would think about the same argument being made regarding original copies of the Constitution?

It's truly amazing the violence right-wingers are currently doing to logic and their own intellectual consistency in order to defend the administration's lapses in this area. Now they're reduced to condoning the theft of priceless artifacts and the arbitrary declaration of items as community property.

Which, I suppose, would make them communists.
Kinsley gets it just right

Michael Kinsley delivers on an excellent op-ed today regarding post-war Iraq and the administration's crony-capitalism:

Misdirected national emotion is turning into a theme of the Bush II years. We're filled with righteous anger at Osama Bin Laden, so we go and pummel Saddam Hussein. We're filled with gratitude toward the soldiers who fought this war and with self-satisfaction as the citizens who will pay for it, so we give a teary hug and a big wet kiss on the mouth to a company practically all of us have nothing to do with.

It's like getting one of those cards announcing that instead of a Christmas present, someone has made a contribution in your name to some charity you aren't interested in. "Dear American Taxpayer: We are pleased to inform you that in gratitude for all the billions you're going to be pouring into Iraq, the U.S. government has made a sweetheart deal on your behalf with a company you've never heard of." Eighty billion dollars—the size of just the first expense report the Bush administration has submitted to Congress—works out to about $1,000 that needs to be kicked in by each household in the United States. Of course we're putting it all on the credit card, to be paid for in the future, with interest. But it's still real money. If we made a contribution that big to our local public broadcasting outlet, we'd qualify for a CD recording by six, nine, or even 12 tenors. From the Bush administration, we don't even get a tote bag. But at least we have the satisfaction of knowing that we share a $10 trillion economy with some smiling companies that are doing well as a result of the war.

Kinsley goes on to point out that handing out government contracts for rebuilding Iraq only to American companies (to spite the nasty peaceniks in Europe) violates international law (specifically, World Trade Organization rules). And these aren't rules without which we would do just fine -- most of the time, those rules benefit us inordinately.

This isn't unexpected, of course -- can anyone point to a time when King George the Lesser failed to put ideology ahead of the good of the country?
More bad economic news

Several good economic odds and ends out today (well, none of them good, but all informative...).

First (as has been noted around the web), new jobless claims for the week ending April 12 were 442,000 after seasonal adjustment, up from 30,000 the week before.

Second, the Moonie-owned-and-operated UPI is reporting that oil exports from Iraq won't resume for "several weeks". Additionally, US gasoline supplies fell 300,000 over the past week.

Third, the always-astute Center on Budget and Policy Priorities issued several reports today. There were two I'd like to note. The first is an overview of how poorly respected economic opinion looks upon Bush's economic "plan":

Although the Administration has used the current economic slowdown to justify the need for its “growth” package, the plan is dominated by multi-year and permanent tax cuts that would continue to reduce revenues for many years after the economy is expected to have recovered. The plan would provide only modest short-term stimulus because the tax cuts are not well-targeted towards quickly increasing demand — for example, nearly four-fifths of the costs of the plan would not occur until after fiscal year 2004 and only six percent of the costs would occur in fiscal year 2003. The future costs of the package would offer no stimulus to the economy now, when it is weak and in need of a boost. The Administration and its supporters have defended these multi-year and permanent tax cuts as crucial by claiming they will have a substantial positive impact on the economy over the long run.

A significant number of prominent economists, however, have reached a much different conclusion. These commentators — ranging from business leaders to Nobel Prize-winning economists to financial analysts — have found that the President’s tax-cut package is unlikely to produce substantial economic growth over the long run. Indeed, many have found that the Administration’s proposals could have a negative impact on long-term economic growth because the tax cuts would increase deficits and reduce national savings.

We knew this, of course, but it's good to repeat it. Additionally, the report details specific opinions on the plan provided by several sources.

The second CBPP report of note today takes apart the Dubya administration's sales job of their tax cut plan point-by-point. It's nice work, and highly recommended.

Compassionate Conservatism Priorities

Coming on the heels of reports that corporate tax evaders are getting away with their crime at record levels, the Bush IRS has decided to do something about tax cheating -- by going after EITC claimants.

The idea is to root out people who wrongly claim the tax credit - by honest mistake or fraud - at an estimated cost of $9 billion of the $30 billion the Treasury pays annually in Earned Income Tax Credit refunds.

We, of course, are ecstatic that Dubya is so concerned about low-income tax cheats. Perhaps at some point they will decide to go after the remaining $271 billion in tax cheating by middle and upper-income individuals and corporations.

Well, we can hope. We are liberals, after all.

Status of the Union, cont.

And speaking of laying out Democratic positions, for those of you who haven't read Calpundit's post on National Security, I highly recommend it. It's reposted (with permission) as an Op-Ed on The Daily Weasel for good reason: Kevin lays out several excellent ideas for devastating criticism of Bush's handling of the war and foreign policy that are almost unassailable on "patriotic" grounds. Three points of particular mention:

  1. Terrorism is a global problem and it calls for global solutions: we need allies to provide intelligence information, police assistance, forward bases for our military, overflight rights, and an endless array of other help. We are far safer and more effective acting with friends than we are acting on our own, and our next president needs to be someone who understands this and has the grit and persistence to forge the alliances that George Bush is either unable or unwilling to. In the end, just as we won the Cold War by banding together with likeminded democracies, we will win this war the same way.

  2. At the same time, we can't fall prey to the idea that terrorism can be defeated primarily via intimidation and military force. Israel and the surrounding Arab states have been trying out this theory for the past 50 years and the results are plain: countries can be defeated in war and subjugated, but terrorists can't be. Oppression simply makes them even more furious and desperate, and unless you think you can kill all the terrorists in the world — and experience says that you can't — you need a long-term plan that involves more than just endless war.

. . .

  1. On the domestic front, we need to spend money more wisely. Missile defense is an expensive boondoggle, a holdover from an era in which Soviet ICBMs were the biggest threat to our country. Threats today are far more likely to arrive on a container ship than on the tip of a missile, and this is where we should be spending our resources. George Bush has been spectacularly negligent in attending to the real risks of homeland security — Jonathan Chait's New Republic article is a good place to start for details on this — and the successful Democratic candidate needs to propose an expansive and toughminded plan for domestic security to replace the quickie coat of paint that the Bush Administration has gotten away with so far.

I highly recommend his piece for the strategy-interested (e.g. political candidates, etc.).

Additionally, I would like to expand upon one of Kevin's points. This administration has done very little in the way of asking for shared sacrifice from the American People (a fact a number of columnists have noted), and it may be that there is a necessary psychological process of sacrifice through which the Citizenry must go before it feels 9/11 has been resolved. About the most Dubya has asked for is that people do with fewer government services and endless debt so the wealthy can get ever wealthier. This administration talks a good game, but when it comes to anything more difficult than overthrowing a regime already on the verge of death, it just can't hack it.

It might be wise to come up with some real programs to support and involve us in the rest of the world positively, and take care of ourselves at home. Ironically, couching such programs in terms of "America's duty after 9/11" and "American sacrifice" might be just the thing to sell such programs, and the neat thing is, they'd actually go a long ways towards reducing terrorism (as opposed to the fearful, warped-world-view attempts at changing the world through war this administration has pushed).

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Psycho anti-taxers target moderate Repubs

Some people hate government so much nothing else matters. To such people, taxes are never a good thing.

Which leads us to the Club for Growth's targetting of moderate Republicans in retaliation for their stance against the Dub's irresponsible and fraudulently-sold tax cut plan. Seems like just about any nutso right-wing cause can find financial backing these days.

It is to be hoped that moderate Republicans will see this attack for what it is: cowardly astroturf intended to intimidate moderates into adopting an extreme position against the best interests of America (how's that for a mouthful?).

Status of the Union

From several quarters, we're hearing near-panic regarding Bush's approval ratings and fear that the war in Iraq will be the deciding factor in 2004.

I'd like to point out that Bush's bounce in the polls was not unexpected. In fact, we predicted before the war began that Bush's approval ratings would top out in the 70-75% range, then begin a long fall as Americans remember who's in the White House. This is exactly what we're seeing now.

Here's the latest Pollkatz approval-ratings graphic:

A couple of things should help provide some perspective. First, the first President Bush had approval ratings near 90% at this point in his presidency, thanks to Gulf War I. Also from Pollkatz:

Clearly, Dubya's 90% boost came much earlier in his presidency. Second, aside from wartime boosts, this President Bush has seen continuously plummeting approval ratings throughout his time in office. There is no reason to assume this trend will end now -- especially with the situation in Iraq degenerating, the economy sputtering, and the President fiddling all the while.

Let's hear a little less doom-and-gloom, and a little more actual attempts at defining a Democratic position and vision for the future.
Taxed twice?

Frederick Maryland of Demagogue points out, in a well-written piece, that Bush may be in trouble when it comes to selling his foolhardy tax plan. I have to add a note or two to something he said, though:

Conservatives are not all wet on this issue. Dividends are taxed twice -- once as corporate earnings and a second time when they are received by shareholders. Eliminating or cutting dividend taxes could create an incentive for publicly traded companies to pay dividends. This would force corporations to do something with their cash and make it harder for them to engage in Enron-style accounting shenanigans.

Strictly speaking, Frederick's right about the above. It should be noted, however, that the "double taxation" complaint is really a red herring -- what's legitimate to count as a "taxation event" and what's not? After all, the same logic could be used to claim the average Joe is taxed twice all the time: once when he receives his paycheck, and once when he spends it. Money is taxed many times as it flows back and forth through the economy.

Further, as several have rightly pointed out, many corporate dividends aren't taxed, thanks to loopholes in corporate taxation. And over half of stock dividends are already paid to tax-exempt accounts. This means that a lot of stock dividends aren't even taxed once, much less twice. The theory doesn't match the reality.

For the record, I really like Frederick's proposal to decrease payroll tax rates while raising the limit on the income that is subject to the tax.
Stimulating the economy by encouraging people to NOT spend?

My goodness, what a whopper Bush told today:

"Economic and job growth occur when consumers buy more goods and services from businesses such as your own," Mr Bush said.

"And the best and fairest way to make sure Americans can do that is to grant them immediate tax relief so they have more of their own money to spend or save."

(Emphasis added.)

Perhaps Mr. Bush could benefit from some basic economics instruction or should have his comments vetted before he makes them. Or perhaps he knew exactly what he was saying. Either way: if Americans save the money from a tax cut, they won't be buying more goods and services, and the economy won't be stimulated. If the money for a tax cut is obtained by cutting stimulative spending, it will actually make things worse.

You just can't make this stuff up.

It's interesting and ironic that Bush would make such an uninformed comment, though; several administration officials have gone on record as claiming the 2001 tax cuts have helped make the recession less severe. Hey, anything's possible. But the available data cast doubt on that belief.

The tax rebates of 2001 were sent out during the third economic quarter (July, August and September). Looking at NIPA statistics for spending vs. economic quarter, the extra revenue for consumers is clearly evident. However, there was no corresponding spike in spending:

In fact, the only change in third-quarter spending was a slight decrease. Outlays resumed their prior trend in the fourth quarter 2001, as car manufacturers cut financing rates en masse.

It's also notable that, despite lower taxes in 2002 (the primary cause for the increase in disposable personal income we see throughout that year), consumer spending did not increase to match. This is possibly due to the fact that most of the 2001 tax cut (67%) went to people in the top two income quintiles and has been saved, not spent. Clearly, any "bang for the buck" we've gotten from the tax cuts has been minimal, if anything. It would appear the " best and fairest" way to stimulate the economy isn't to let people "keep more of their money", after all -- at least, not the way Bush has in mind.

Of course, it's always possible that spending would have decreased far more without the tax cuts. At the very least, though, there's no evidence for this theory to be found outside Whitehouse claims.
This is getting a little old...

According to CNN, reports that mobile chemical/biological weapons labs were found buried south of Baghdad have turned out to be false.

The mobile labs were used for conventional weapons work, according to inspection teams.

My, but this is becoming embarrassing. Where are the WMD's?

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Pentagon claims it didn't anticipate looting

"I don't think anyone anticipated that the riches of Iraq would be looted by the Iraqi people. And indeed it happened in some places" including the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad, he told reporters at U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar.

Nice to see them admit the failure, but given the fact that they were specifically warned that looting of the Museum could happen (since such occurred in 1991), it's kind of difficult to figure out why they wouldn't have known:

In an interview with CNN, a leading academic in Britain said Tuesday that U.S. and British authorities were aware of the possibility that museums throughout Iraq could be looted and damaged during warfare and "action should have been taken" to avert the pillaging.

Robert Springborg said that "proper authorities were duly informed" by art historians, archaeologists and other scholars about the "possibility of this occurrence." These includes the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which urged protection of the country's cultural treasures.

He said they were informed that occupying powers under the Geneva Conventions must protect cultural properties.

It is not for lack of "knowledge that this occurred," said Springborg, director of the London Middle East Institute in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

The ransacking of the National Museum of Iraq, in particular, speaks of a "profound breakdown" in communications between authorities in Washington and soldiers in the field or "something inexplicable." He said the museum is about one of the five greatest in the world.

Anywhere you have a breakdown in law and order, some people will engage in lawlessness. If everyone were civic-minded and respected property, you wouldn't need the police in the first place. It was reckless to assume the Iraqi people would, to a man, simply continue to live in peace with each other, respecting unenforced law and the value of Iraqi cultural treasures, or that the average Iraqi citizen would take it upon him- or herself to enforce the law. Human nature generally doesn't work that way.

And they say liberals believe people are perfect...

The irresponsibility shown by the administration towards securing law and order in Iraq is a potentially winning issue (I think we can safely assume that's why right wingers have been trying to defuse it).

It will be difficult for this administration to claim it had the best interests of the Iraqi people in mind when it didn't give the slightest thought to securing their cultural heritage, despite having been warned that it would be necessary, and despite the fact that we could spare a few troops to secure the oil wells.

We need to make clear, though, that this isn't a case of troops shirking their duty. This is clearly a matter of planning, direction and priorities at the top.

Monday, April 14, 2003

THIS is liberation?

This is simply unforgiveable.

This administration claimed we were invading Iraq, in part, to liberate the Iraqi people. It claimed complete confidence in a (risky) plan to topple Saddam's regime within days, if not weeks.

The plan seems to have ended a tad too soon.

First, the Iraqi national Museam was ransacked, and at least 170,000 items were destroyed or stolen.

Via Atrios, we now learn that the Iraqi National Library and its archives, which contained many irreplaceable records, has been burned to the ground, and its contents are a total loss.

It is absolutely unforgiveable that comprehensive plans would not have been in place to keep order in post-regime Iraq. It is inexcusable that priceless cultural Iraqi treasures would not have been accorded the same (if not greater) protection as Iraq's oil wells. It is indefensible and the height of arrogance for Donald Rumsfeld to dismiss reports of the damage done by Iraq's newfound anarchy and disclaim responsibility for it.

The administration was specifically warned that this could happen; incidents like it happened after the 1991 Gulf War:

In 1991, at the close of the first Gulf War, nine of Iraq's regional museums were looted by rampaging mobs opposed to Saddam Hussein's government. While the national museum did not come under attack at that time, because the government retained firm control over Baghdad, it lost a number of artifacts that had been transferred to the regional museums for safekeeping.

In all, about 4,000 items were stolen or destroyed during the 1991 looting spree, including some that were thousands of years old. Some of the pieces were later smuggled out of Iraq, and were, by the following year, turning up at art auctions and in the hands of dealers in London and New York.

The lessons of this close precedent were not lost on archaeologists and scholars of antiquity. Well prior to the outbreak of the current war, they warned the Pentagon of the dangers to Iraq's cultural heritage posed by postwar pillage and destruction.

Nor is this likely a case of troops being occupied by ongoing combat conditions, and unavailable for securing the sites. Also from the article quoted, above,

Not only did the Pentagon have prior notice of the likelihood of looting, museum officials reportedly called on troops to stop the plunder just after it began. At the urging of an Iraqi archaeologist, a group of marines with a tank opened fire above looters' heads and drove them away. But instead of staying to protect the building, the marines left, and the looters returned.

The museum's deputy director decried the American refusal to help: "If they had [provided] just one tank and two soldiers nothing like this would have happened."

We could afford troops to secure Iraq's oil fields despite ongoing combat operations; it is ridiculous to claim we could not have spared a couple of tanks or a special ops team to secure these priceless treasures.

Morally and legally, the Bush administration is responsible for these losses. It is responsible for keeping order after overthrowing Saddam. It has failed in this responsibility spectacularly.

The overwhelming capabilities of the American military, weakness of the Iraqi forces and sheer luck allowed the neocon administration civilians to get away with risky gambles in the war plan. But the basic incompetence of this gang of juveniles has now been laid bare, and they have no moral claim to the "liberation" of Iraq. It's clear their ideology left no room for real-world messiness, and the Iraqis have paid an incalculable price. Indeed, we all have: Iraq contained some of the oldest relics of human civilization (some of the earliest writing, mathematics, etc.)

UPDATE: It's come to my attention (again, via Atrios) that Rush Limbaugh actually defended this crime today, belittling Iraqi cultural treasures.

Nice to know the idiot is willing to condone criminal behavior (moral relativism, Rush?) and the United States shirking its responsibilities under international law. For the record, I don't think that hatemonger has ever done anything worth preserving, himself, so he's in no position to judge.

I just have to say...

Fox has reached a new "Jerry Springer" low with its "Married By America" series. It's entertainment by humiliation and exploitation, completely vicious, inappropriate for prime-time...in short, just about everything decent people would find disgraceful and disgusting. We'll have to see whether the "defenders of all that's decent" (conservatives) will take effective action and boycott Fox News as a result.

Yeah, that'll happen.
I almost wonder if anyone's keeping track of this

No wonder the far right feels it has to silence any criticism. After all, the criticism is becoming mighty tough to ignore, and is coming from some pretty well-respected sources.

First, Helen Thomas described Bush as the "worst president ever". Then Lawrence Eagleburger (of the first Bush administration) called for Dubya's impeachment should he invade any more countries. Now Ronald Reagan Jr. is blasting the Boy King's arrogance and foolishness:

"The Bush people have no right to speak for my father, particularly because of the position he's in now," he said during a recent interview with Salon. "Yes, some of the current policies are an extension of the '80s. But the overall thrust of this administration is not my father's -- these people are overly reaching, overly aggressive, overly secretive, and just plain corrupt. I don't trust these people."

. . .

Some observers have compared Bush's persona as an intellectually challenged but politically gifted leader to that of Reagan. But the younger Reagan vehemently rejects the analogy. "The gunslinging cowboy, the actor who just read his lines -- that stereotype doesn't fit who my father really was.

"My father had decades of experience in public life. He was president of his union, he campaigned for presidential candidates, he served two terms as governor of California -- and that was not a ceremonial office as it is in Texas. And he had already run for president, against Ford in '76, nearly unseating the sitting president in his own party. He knew where he was coming from, he had spent years thinking and speaking about his views. He didn't have to ask Dick Cheney what he thought.

"Sure, he wasn't a technocrat like Clinton. But my father was a man -- that's the difference between him and Bush. To paraphrase Jack Palance, my father crapped bigger ones than George Bush."

. . .

...they told us, 'Don't worry about W. not knowing anything, good old Dick Cheney will be his minder.' Dick Cheney? And this was going to be compassionate conservatism? Dick Cheney is to the right of Genghis Khan, he wants to drill in your backyard, he wants to deny black people their rights --it was all there in his voting record for us to see. What were we, rubes?"

Couldn't have said it better ourselves. Hell, if I were on the far right, I'd want to shut these guys up, too -- just imagine what would happen to my dreams of aristocracy if most people knew how bad things were?
Some items from the American Prospect

The American Prospect has a couple of new pieces that are must-reads. The first discusses Bush's presidency in historical context, and concludes (not surprisingly, but certainly ominously) that he's the most dangerous President the nation has ever had. I don't think there are any Weasels who would disagree:

At heart, the current Bush is a warrior for a region, a faction, a part of America. No national calamity has tempered his zeal for his factional agenda. His determination to reward the "investor class" (that is, still, the rich), to appoint socially reactionary judges, to favor his business cronies has not waned in wartime. His desire to make Americans reliant on the market, rather than social savings, has not been deterred by the worst decline in the markets since the Great Depression.

Throughout American history, presidents have downplayed the most divisive elements of their agenda at times of crisis. As the nation moved toward World War II, Franklin Roosevelt announced a cessation to New Deal experimentation and brought in Republicans to run the War and Navy departments. Lincoln came to power in a disintegrating nation and appointed all his major Republican rivals -- such national leaders as William Seward and Salmon Chase -- to his cabinet. (Imagine George W. Bush giving the Department of Defense to John McCain!) Bush, by contrast, has in his policies and appointments remained resolutely a president of faction. Colin Powell is the one exception here, but consider whom exactly Powell represents in the Bush coalition: Bush's father.

Harold Meyerson (the author) concludes that Bush is most directly comparable to Jefferson Davis, the ernstwhile leader of the Conferderacy during the Civil War. It is to be hoped that the similarities are not too great.

The second article discusses (in somewhat haphazard fashion) several of Bush's more prominent broken promises. It's a good review.

A more comprehensive review of Bush's misdeeds can be found at the Bush Timeline (Wage Slave Journal).
Here we go again

Lots of good stuff out there today. One that just caught my eye: the Army is saying they think they've found several mobile chemical/biological labs buried south of Baghdad. But no weapons. Unfortunately, the CNN headline doesn't make that fact clear at all, and implies the weapons have been found.

Has anyone heard more about those barrels that tested "positive" for sarin, then subsequently quietly disappeared amid field reports that secondary testing had confirmed they merely contained pesticide?

At least they were good enough to confirm the "white powder" found a couple of weeks back was explosive -- though that fact hasn't gotten as much play in the media as it should.

It would be really nice if some enterprising reporter would follow up on these things -- when they make these big "possible chemical weapons" finds, it plants the idea in the public mind that something was definitely found. Kinda like when the administration hinted over and over that Iraq was involved in 9/11.

And speaking of history repeating itself, the Dubya admin looks to be attempting to move smoothly and rapidly on to Syria before anyone notices, and is accusing it of stockpiling chemical weapons. Not that they've ever used them or threatened us in any way...

This is freakin' insane.
Cold War = World War III?

I think not. Single-solution neocon war hawks would sure love to redefine it that way, though -- they'd hate to think that world peace and prosperity (to say nothing of democracy) prevailed because we didn't invade somebody.

The "Cold War" is an example of how alliances, treaties, good relations with allies, deterrence, etc. can work effectively to prevent all-out war and millions of deaths. Not that I'd like to live through a nuclear standoff of that scale again (nor is it likely, considering the United States' overwhelming military and economic supremacy). But if those principles could work for such a harrowing standoff, there's no reason to suppose they wouldn't work for the situation we find ourselves in today. By contrast, the ideologues in the administration would seemingly like us to adopt the "Roman Empire" model of foreign policy. How'd that work out for the Romans? Can't we do better? Have we learned nothing since?
A little more like it

It would appear that anti-war protestors are picking up on the idea that it's going to take more than marching to stop the madness that is the Bush administration. For example, this from San Francisco:

The antiwar rally here Saturday began much the same way as a half-dozen others before it, with thousands of placard-carrying protesters marching through the streets. But this one was also noticeably different.

Among the crowd of a few thousand, there were clear signs that war protesters are embarking on a new phase. Many more of the protesters' placards took aim directly at President Bush: "Bush Must Go!" "Impeach Bush!" Voter registration tables urging protesters to "Vote for change!" also dotted the city park that served as the rallying point.

Although this demonstration, like the others across the country Saturday, was set before Baghdad crumbled, antiwar organizers said they were already preparing to shift their attention beyond protesting the war to a more ambitious agenda. In broad terms, according to leaders of some of the largest national peace groups, the antiwar movement is reshaping itself to become an anti-Bush movement.

It seems to me that we are approaching a watershed moment when the "sleeping giant" of the American left will realize it must do what it takes to get rid of Dubya. When the likes of Lawrence Eagleburger are calling for the impeachment of the President in the event of further military adventurism, we're no longer talking about the fringe. We're talking about a real force for change that can galvanize both the left wing and the all-important center.

The President's temporary approval ratings boost will go down. What must not change is the will and the drive to remove this danger to our democracy -- while we still can.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Latest weekly unemployment numbers

The latest seasonally-adjusted numbers are in -- for the week ending April 5, there were 405,000 total new unemployment filings. This is down from 443,000 from the week before, but still bad news: anything over 400,000 is considered indicative of a sputtering job market (as many people can already attest. Take a look at the complaints these Freepers muster. A pity they are unable to translate that into opposition of the policies that cause the problem, but I guess loyalty is everything).

The Bush economy rolls on...
Vicious Iraqis?

Regarding the 7 American POW's rescued today: "You've got to give credit to the humanity of those Iraqi soldiers for returning the P.O.W.'s,'' said Capt. Neil. S. Murphy Jr., a Marine spokesman. "Given all the atrocities we've seen, we feared the worst. Our hearts were lifted today.''
Them states just hafta stop spendin'!

In response to proposals that the Federal Government act as it always has and support the States with their dire financial problems, far-right anti-government types have attempted to justify the Federal Government's stinginess by claiming the States are in their mess due to terrible overspending. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities does a nice job discussing this one in a recent report:

The state fiscal crisis is not the result of irresponsible spending decisions by the states during the 1990s. In fact, the response of the states to the economic growth of the 1990s was balanced. During the economic boom years of the 1990s, states built their reserves and cut taxes. State spending did increase but the increases were modest.

  • State spending grew faster than population and inflation because of disproportionate growth in specific populations such as school age children that need to be educated and senior citizens who have costly health needs, and because the public demanded increased investment in areas such as education, health care and law enforcement.

  • After factoring out inflation, nine out of ten dollars of new state spending in the 1990s went to schools, health care and public safety.

Despite the booming economic growth of the period, the pace of state spending growth during the 1990s was low by historical standards.

A look at the historical tables of the 2004 Federal Budget is also instructive. Quite simply, State and local spending as a percentage of GDP rose from 1947 to the mid 70's, when it started to level off. It reached a peak in 1992-1993, then went through a significant fall throughout most of the 1990's. Spending as a percentage of GDP has only now returned to its 1992-93 levels. By contrast, State and local tax revenues have been falling since 1993.

As with many "tax vs. spend" arguments, this one is somewhat a matter of perspective. However, it's clear that the States have not been going on an unchecked spending spree: State spending has increased since the late-1990's -- but only to return to the level of 10 years ago, and primarily out of response to public demands for increased education, health care and public safety spending. At the same time, revenues have been falling thanks to tax cuts and tax law changes shifting the tax burden from income to sales and excise taxes.

Helping the States cover their financial shortfalls is solid economics, and given the drastic cutbacks many States are now making in critical areas, it's clear that we can't afford for the Federal Government to not provide assistance simply because it's inconvenient for the President's budget projections.

Findlaw goodies

Findlaw has a pair of interesting and informative stories up right now. The first by John Dean discusses something we liberals have been worried about all along regarding attacking Iraq: the aftermath.

Congress always provides American troops with what they need, but it is not clear that Congress is willing to provide the money needed to rebuild Iraq. Just as Bush did not do a very good job of building a multilateral coalition to fight in Iraq, he has similarly ignored the widespread opposition to nation building in his own country. Indeed, until recently he himself shared this same opposition.

. . .

If Congress will not fund the Administration, Iraq may be in deep trouble. Assuming, as has been repeatedly stated by Bush Administration officials, that we have no designs on Iraqi oil, funding for rebuilding may be lacking.

The United States can hardly go in and rebuild the country to suit our fancy, using American corporations to do the job, and then pay itself with Iraqi oil. If this is the plan, it would make the claim that this was a war of liberation a sham. While our officials keep saying Iraqi oil belongs to the Iraqi people, I have a disquieting feeling the Iraqis are never going to reap those rewards but a lot of American executives will. Hopefully, I'm wrong.

Indeed, but given the noise coming out of Bush Inc., I'm pretty worried. Although a screw-up of this magnitude would provide the left with plenty of ammunition in 2004, I would much rather see the rebuilding done right -- it will lead to far fewer problems for us in the long term, and it's simply the right thing to do. But as Paul Krugman said in his most recent column:

One has to admit that the Bush people are very good at conquest, military and political. They focus all their attention on an issue; they pull out all the stops; they don't worry about breaking the rules. This technique brought them victory in the Florida recount battle, the passage of the 2001 tax cut, the fall of Kabul, victory in the midterm elections, and the fall of Baghdad.

But after the triumph, when it comes time to take care of what they've won, their attention wanders, and things go to pot.

In this case, of course, "things going to pot" means many lives will be lost, much human potential wasted and America will be ever less secure.

The second story is by Peter Spiro, and concerns the likelihood that "pre-emption" will result in war after war. Spiro makes a very good case, one that has been simmering in my mind for a bit, using solid reasoning:

But the tank tracks will almost certainly stop where they are.

First of all, Saddam Hussein had already been well-established with domestic audiences as public enemy number one, long before September 11, 2001. He was a target we knew well, almost entirely as the consequence of his 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent first Gulf conflict. The country already knew most of the justifications for attacking Saddam before the Administration began to spell them out last fall.

The leaderships ands misdeed of other states on the Administration's hit list, by contrast, are obscure. Only a massive public relations campaign could raise domestic awareness to the point where public opinion would support another conflict.

Meanwhile, having already spent huge sums on the Iraq war, the Administration will find getting further spending approved an increasingly uphill battle. If the economy continues to falter and the costs of Iraq, for peacekeeping and the transition, mount, the American public will hardly be inclined to support additional military adventures anytime soon.

It's important to remember that Iraq was a hard sell despite America's familiarity with Saddam's abuses. Although a majority of Americans have ultimately supported the invasion, the country has been more deeply split on this conflict than any other in the post-Vietnam era.

Spiro makes several other arguments in favor of his thesis: first, any other countries we might reasonably think of invading would present a considerably greater military challenge (Iraq was devastated by the first Gulf War, and sanctions, no-fly zones, etc. had kept it that way). No serious person doubts that the United States could defeat Iran, Syria or North Korea in a full-out war. But the damage overall and losses to us would make Iraq look like, well, a cakewalk.

Second, the world has been very clear about opposing the idea of further adventurism. Even Britain, our staunch ally, has nixed the idea unconditionally. This means no "coalition", no allies offering air bases or troop landings, no overflight rights. It also (my addition) means we might very well start to see military alliances formed against us in the event of further pre-emption, and aid to attacked countries.

Third, Mr. Spiro argues that the Iraqi invasion will already cost us help in the fight against terrorism, to say nothing of cooperation in other areas such as economic and law-enforcement issues (an effect that damns pre-emption and which its advocates fundamentally fail to recognize as a natural result of their doctrine).

If Mr. Spiro is correct (and his analysis closely parallels my own, I might add), it also has significant implications for politics at home. The most important is the fact that support for the Iraq war was easy to come by, relatively speaking, yet Bush still had much trouble before the "rally-around-the-flag" effect kicked in. Saddam was a ready-made enemy, and finishing dealing with Iraq was something many Americans felt was long past due. Not only does this mean further pre-emption is likely out of reach, it means that Mr. Bush's new-found support isn't rock-solid or deep, and may amount to more of a hill than a mountain for challengers in 2004. This situation would be exacerbated by any attempt to spread war elsewhere, or extended difficulties in Iraq.

This also means that liberals should publicly focus more on making sure the administration lives up to its promises (for once) and does an adequate job of rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan; the arguments against further pre-emption are already largely made for us.

It should be noted that the Bush administration is not exactly given to logic on this issue; there's increasing evidence that he's firmly in the pocket of the neocons when it comes to their grand designs, driven there by religious zealotry. Furthermore, Spiro's argument regarding the willingness of the American public to support another invasion may be somewhat off-target, considering the fact that recent polls say roughly half of the populace would be willing to attack Iran. However, it's highly likely those numbers are influenced by the current situation (and easy victories thus far) in Iraq, and would change once some distance is put between us and this war (to say nothing of what reviewing the likely cost of such a war would be).

We'll have to see how things play out. Bush is already making sounds regarding Syria.

UPDATE: After thinking more on this, I'm not at all sure that the fatal flaw in Spiro's argument isn't the assumption that rational thinking and common moral calculus is being used for decision-making regarding new wars. Syria is easily attacked from Iraq and the Medditeranean, and it could be a simple assumption on the part of the neocons that moving on will be easy enough. If this turns out to be true, Spiro's analysis becomes more of a strong warning and potentially material for opposition.

The single biggest impediment to another war will be resupply and fortification of existing forces in the region. Should be done to allow resumption of hostilities just in time for the 2004 election.

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