Tuesday, December 31, 2002

I was thinking about the way the establishment media reports on the state of the union and how that reflects on the management of the Bush administration and I have a simple question: why do reporters expend time and effort trying to find excuses for not blaming Bush for what is going on? I am not saying they should blame him (I do, but I don't expect my opinion to matter to them). I am only asking why they go out of their way to find other explanations for what is going on. Why don't they just report what is happening and then let the Bushies figure out how they are not responsible. And, when they do, report it as their claims for why they are not responsible. Don't report them as if, because some government agency said it, it therefore proves that Bush isn't at fault. It's amazing to me the lengths some in the establishment media will go to provide butt-cover for the Shrub. It's almost like, since they gave the guy such good treatment during the campaign and the post-election fiasco that they have to make him sound better then he might be just so they won't be blamed for letting him in past the gates.

No doubt the supporters of the boy king will just love this...
The president responded abruptly when a reporter suggested that war was inevitable. "You say we're headed to war. I don't know why you suggested that," he said. "I'm the person who gets to decide, and not you."
Neener Neener Neener

Another example of Bush's diplomatic finesse with respect to the North Korean "pygmy" Kim Jong Il:
President Bush: "I loathe Kim Jong II. — I've got a visceral reaction to this guy because he is starving his people. It appalls me. — I feel passionate about this. — They tell me, well we may not need to move too fast, because the financial burdens on people will be so immense if this guy were to topple. — I just don't buy that."
Now, regardless of the question of whether Kim Jong Il is, in fact, a loathsome pygmy, it is simply not a smart idea to go around using language like that about world leaders when you might need to negotiate with them in the future. It may be "refreshing" to have a leader who is as "straight-shooting" as this. But it scares the living shit out of me to think that someone who talks like that is responsible for keeping us safe. Do you think the Cuban Missile Crisis would have been resolved safely if Kennedy had gone around calling Krushchev a malignant toad?

Right Wing Slayer has the scoop on why the Time/CNN 55% approval ratings have not shown up on pollingreport.com:
Pollingreport.com comes clean on Bush approval numbers - Time pollsters are HIDING them! To: Editor@PollingReport.com Most recent Time magazine included a graphic showing a CNN/Time poll which had Bush's approval numbers at 55%. Just curious as to why you didn't include these numbers in your latest updates. From: Editor@PollingReport.com Thanks for your note. Time/CNN Poll results are released to us by their pollsters. So far, what they’ve sent us from the Dec. 17-18 poll has not included an overall Bush job rating. When and if they provide it to us, we’ll report it.
We await comment from Glenn Reynolds on this curious omission.

The economy is in the crapper. North Korean is getting belligerent. The Bushies are caught flat-footed. Must...Get...People...Talking...About...Something...Else...
Bush: Attack by Iraq Could Hit Economy CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - President Bush warned on Tuesday that a major attack on the United States by Iraq or a group working on its behalf could cripple the U.S. economy. U.S. officials have warned that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could attack U.S. interests or supply weapons to extremist groups like al Qaeda, which the United States accuses of masterminding the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In response to a question about why the American people should not be concerned about the potentially "crippling" effects of a war with Iraq on the U.S. economy, Bush said: "An attack from (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein or a surrogate of Saddam Hussein would cripple our economy." "Our economy is strong, it's resilient, we've got to continue to make it strong and resilient," Bush told reporters near his ranch in Crawford, Texas. But he added: "This economy cannot afford to stand an attack." A unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution passed last month gave Baghdad a final chance to reveal all details of its weapons programs, as required by resolutions stemming back to the 1991 Gulf War -- or face U.S.-led military action. Bush said Iraq's response so far has been "discouraging." The United States has accused Baghdad of withholding information about its weapons programs in its arms declaration. "His declaration was short, and the international community recognized that, that he wasn't forthcoming," Bush said. While Bush said he hoped the showdown "will be resolved peacefully," he added: "The choice is his (Saddam's) to make."
Got that kiddies? If we don't attack Iraq they might attack us, so, even if a war with Iraq might hurt the economy we have to do it because the hurt will happen anyway. Korea? What's Korea?

I'd forgotten about this:
Given below is a Newsweek account of a meeting of George Bush and a group of US senators, during which Bush called Kim Jong Il a pygmy among other epithets A SUDDENLY EMBATTLED president felt the need to talk tough—at length—behind closed doors. “No question, when he walked into the room he was shaken,” one senator later said. What followed, according to several sources who were in the room last Thursday afternoon, was a jut-jawed, disjointed discourse with a tinge of diatribe and a crescendo of podium pounding. The president dismissed questions about his administration's counter terrorism actions—or lack of them—before September 11 as mere Democratic partisanship. “I sniff some politics in the air,” he scoffed. Then he wandered off to the Middle East, recounting a blunt Oval Office conversation with Ariel Sharon. He said he'd asked the Israeli leader if he really hated Yasir Arafat. Sharon had answered yes, according to the president. “I looked him straight in the eye and said, ‘Well, are you going to kill him?´ ” Sharon said no, to which the president said he'd replied, “That´s good.” Bush was just getting warmed up. “Now you guys really got me going,” he said. He threatened to block the entire defense bill if it contained money for the controversial and costly Crusader artillery system. “I mean it. I'll veto it,” he said tersely, glancing at Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma, where Crusader would be built. Bush ended with an attack on North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. “He´s starving his own people,” Bush said, and imprisoning intellectuals in “a Gulag the size of Houston.” The president called him a “pygmy” and compared him to “a spoiled child at a dinner table.” Stunned senators didn't know quite what to make of the performance. “It was like in church, when the sermon goes on too long and you're not sure what the point is,” one told NEWSWEEK. “Nobody dared look at anybody else.”
This occured at the height of the FBI whistleblower scandals that showed that the FBI and other Bush administration officials were ignoring the potential threat of terrorism. Bush's response to having his manhood called into question was to belittle several world leaders. Aren't you glad the grownups are back in charge?

Lean Left has a good break-down of the coming break-down in the economy and what needs to be done to avoid it.
Now, since confidence is dropping, and consumer spending has been propping up the economy for a year or so now, does this mean that the economy is likely to get worse in the coming year? Yes, unless someone starts spending some money. Consumers are slowing their spending, pinched by high debt and a shaky job picture. Businesses still have not worked off their excess capacity from the bubble, and have no incentive to produce more capacity, since no one is really buying anything - especially on the business side. That leaves the government as the only force left to inject money into the system - either by tax cuts target at people who spend the highest percentage of their income (poor and middle class) or direct spending. And it almost certainly has to be the Federal government, since the states are buried in their own financial crisis's, and are almost universally raising taxes and cutting services to balance their budgets (as is mandated by law in most states). Tax cuts for business aren't going to help very much - why would I build a fourth factory if I do not have enough orders to keep the three I already have running? Tax cuts years from now are not going to help much, as the problem is today's economy. In fact, they may hurt, as the long term interest rates are driven up by the specter of Reagan like deficits. Tax cuts mainly for people who make over $400,000 a year wont help much, because they spend proportionally less of their income than poor and middle class people. There really is a limit to how much stuff one person can buy. Even if they all invest the money, it wont do any good now, because, as noted, business have no reason to increase or expand production. Ditto for tax cuts on dividend income. No, we need measures tailored to injecting real spending into the economy, and that means measures tailored at poor and middle income earners, with some direct spending and help for small businesses mixed in. I don't see where the stimulus is going to come from otherwise.
I don't hold out much hope that the yahoos in the White House will ever come close to do any of the things that are necessary to avoid a worsening economic picture. They would essentially have to overcome years of ideological momentum to even consider some of the things proposed above.

Eric Alterman sounds a bit bitter today with regard to the "liberal" NY Times (and not without justification):
The New York Times continues down the path laid down personally by crazed war-hawk Howell Raines to agitate for a war against Iraq. In this overhyped story, it offers the top-right column of page one to the administration’s phony prediction that the war Bush has decided to launch, without provocation or legal justification will cost only $60 billion or less in constant dollars than the 1991 Gulf War.

The always excellent Howler on the establishment media's total inability to see the role it played in the destruction of Al Gore. Somerby quotes EJ Dionne on the failures of some in the Catholic Church to confront the problems in their midst (with regard to the problem of pedophile priests):
DIONNE: In principle, the believer should be an active critic of what is, not a passive follower of whatever might be in vogue. It doesn’t always happen this way, because believers can lose their vocation as critics when power and privilege come their way. They discover that they can dethrone all absolutes except the ones that benefit themselves.
As Somerby so ably points out, the establishment media is in the same boat as these believers. They are so much a part of the establishment that they fail to see the failings that are so obvious to everyone else.

Josh Marshal makes a cogent post about the culpability of Bush's stumbling foreign policy in the current Korean crisis--er--"situation". Glenn Reynold's response to it is the definition of clueless:
IN A BIT OF DUBIOUS MORAL EQUIVALENCE, Josh Marshall is comparing the Administration's treatment of North Korea with Ruby Ridge. He's quoting someone else here, but I think he's agreeing.
Atrios' advice to Josh: "If there's one thing I've learned about arguing with conservative assholes - never use analogies. never use comparisons." My solution is to simply not argue with the assholes. Analogies and comparisons are perfectly legitimate tools in logical arguments. If your opponent decides to distort your analogies in order to make it look like you are saying something you are not then that is a mark against them, not yourself. Really, the problem with Glenn's response is not that he criticizes an analogy but that he criticizes the least relevent portion of Josh's entire post and totally ignores everything else that is said. By doing so he makes it sound like the thing he is criticizing was the ONLY point of Josh's post and, since it is bad (according to Glenn's distorted presentation of it), the post as a whole is bad. Glenn never once address the question of Bush's culpability in the present Korean crisis--er--"situation". There's probably a name for this kind of dishonest debate tactic but I don't know what it is. I can remember early in my net life spending a lot of time trying to qualify my statements in order to make sure that people didn't misunderstand what I was saying. I learned quickly that (1) it doesn't matter how much you qualify them, if people want to misunderstand you they will find a way to do so anyway and (2) all the qualifications just obscure your point and confuse those who might otherwise be willing to listen to what you have to say. So, I generally drop the qualifiers and figure that, if there is genuine confusion on a point, I can always clear it up later (at least for people who haven't pre-judged me).

Josh Marshal reiterates a point I made earlier that the Korean crisis--er--"situation" is a monumental screw-up on the part of the Bush foreign policy team. Perhaps an even bigger one then their failure to be engaged in the Palestinian crisis--er--"situation during the first year of this administration.
This entire crisis -- and it's foolish to pretend it's not a crisis -- is an administration screw-up of mammoth proportions. The administration is trying to portray this as just another crisis that happened on their watch. But that woefully understates its own responsibility for the situation we're now in. ... There are two points to focus on here. One is that the situation we're now in isn't so much a matter of an over-focus on Iraq, or even the pursuit of too belligerent a policy. It's really the product of the administration's inability over the course of two years to figure out what its policy on North Korea was. It's flip-flopped back and forth between Powell's policy of engagement (which was essentially a continuation of the Clinton policy) and the hawks' policy of confrontation. In so doing it's let the whole thing spin out of control. Point two: One of the most important rules of foreign policy is not to let yourself get pushed around. An even more important rule, though, is not to make threats or issue ultimatums that you either can't or won't follow through on. That not only makes you look weak. It also makes you into an object of contempt. That's just what the administration has done in this case. ... Tough talk sounds great until your opponent calls your bluff and everybody sees there's nothing behind the trash talk. Then you look foolish.

"This president, it would seem, has been engaged more often than Elizabeth Taylor." -- Dana Milbank

Monday, December 30, 2002

Jonathan Chait points out that the Bush administration is worse the even John DiIulio said. It isn't just that it is driven by politics over policy. Its that it has abdicated the role of creating policy to business think-tanks and has, instead, devoted itself only to the question of how to sell these pre-generated policies to the American public. In other words, the Bush administration is nothing more than a bought-and-paid for PR firm.
WHY THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION IS WORSE THAN DIIULIO SAID by Jonathan Chait ... But the total dominance of politics over policy in the Bush administration is not merely a function of personality; it is a reflection of deeper structural forces. Put simply, the administration is subservient to economic pressure groups to an extent that surpasses any administration in modern history. Whereas the Clinton administration was regularly forced to weigh policy demands from competing interests within the Democratic coalition, the Bush administration's presumptive allegiance in virtually every case is to corporate America. It is simply unnecessary for the White House to generate its own policies because that role has been filled by business lobbyists. Bush has abdicated to K Street the basic functions of domestic governance, not merely in cases where K Street's interests run roughshod over liberal principles, but in cases where they contradict conservative principles as well. Indeed, the simple rule for understanding Bush's economic policy is that in virtually every instance, whether tacking right or left, the president sides with whatever interest group has the strongest stake in the issue at hand. The result is an administration whose domestic actions persistently, almost uniformly, fail to uphold the broader public good.
Chait goes on to point out that Democrats are not free from being paid for shills for various special interests. But the Democrats, as a whole, represent so many different constituencies, both monied and not, that they reach a sort of "Democratic Pluralism" that reduces the influence of one special interest group over another. In other words, the corruption of individual party members does matter so long as the competing corruptions effectively cancel each other. But, Chait argues, the Republicans are essentially wholly-owned subsidiaries of a very narrow range of business interests. Thus, those interests overwhelm any other policy considerations. It is therefore not surprising at all that DiIulio had difficulty engaging the White House in policy discussions. DiIulio didn't understand that the policies of this White House have already been decided in board-rooms and think-tanks. It just remained to figure out the strategy for how to sell those policies and that is where Karl Rove gets all his power. Chait makes one very interesting comment about Clinton's alleged fund-raising sleezyness:
This can be seen in the behavior of the Clinton administration. At the time, the president's dogged pursuit of soft money was seen both by liberals and conservatives as the apex of political sleaze. But, in fact, the breadth of Bill Clinton's fund-raising is precisely what insulated his decision-making from undue influence. In 1993, Clinton infuriated his labor allies, but pleased his business backers, by lobbying for and signing NAFTA. In 1995, he delighted trial lawyers, but angered lobbyists for business (especially in the Democrat-friendly technology industry), by vetoing a GOP-backed bill making it more difficult for investors to sue based on misleading financial reports. As surpluses emerged in the last few years of his term, Clinton stymied both the tax-cutting urges of his business allies and the spending urges of his labor allies by insisting on debt reduction. The point is not that Clinton got every policy decision right but that the discordant nature of his support put him in a position where, on most issues, it was at least possible for him to make a detached judgment on the merits. That is precisely what Bush cannot do.
In other words, Clinton's extreme (for a Democrat) form of fundraising from any and all comers actually made it easier for him to resist the individual corruption of any one of those contributers. None of them could afford to threaten him with the withdrawal of support if he didn't do what they want because he had many other sources of funding that could fill in the gaps if they did. It's an interesting paradox: by selling himself to everyone, in the end, no individual or group owned a controlling interest in what Clinton did. He was thus freerer to pursue his own agenda. The same cannot be said for Dubya. I can remember during the 2000 campaign thinking that Bush was being sold more like an IPO than a presidential candidate. A lot of fancy promises, but very little substance to back it up. Why? Because the point was not to get him in their for any particular political belief but because he could become a useful conduit for the desires of his paymasters. So far, the investment has paid off handsomely. It remains to be seen though if, like the chimerical nature of the dot-com bubble, Dubya will someday burst and take down a lot of people with him. Chait concludes with the question of why so few have called this administration on its actions.
But caution has generally proved to be unnecessary for this White House because the public so rarely has focused upon Bush's domestic agenda. The reason for this lies in another phenomenon of political science: Bad policies can exist when they have concentrated benefits and diffuse costs. For instance, the public should be outraged at steel tariffs, but in fact most people are not because the cost to each individual is very low. The people who care the most about steel tariffs are those who work in the steel industry, and they're all for tariffs. Likewise, few people have any desire to run long-term deficits in order to provide a large tax cut for the affluent. But the people who stand to gain the most from such tax cuts tend to appreciate them a great deal, and they express their appreciation, among other ways, in the form of political donations that can be used to help convince the majority that the tax cuts are actually aimed at them.
Translation: it's much easier for a rich man to get excited over a big tax cut than a poor man to get upset about his small share of the cost of that cut.
On virtually every issue that has come before him, Bush has sided with the intense preferences of the well-organized minority. Judging from his lofty polls and his bulging coffers, the strategy has worked brilliantly. In a democracy, of course, you can never completely discount the possibility that the majority will eventually focus on the fact that it is getting persistently fleeced. From what we've seen of Karl Rove, though, he doesn't appear very worried.

Take Back The Media has a new flash that incorporates the poll image I posted below.

Bush's Bushwa The president and his aides keep lying about when the recession started. By Daniel Gross President Bush opened his final radio address of the year this way: "In 2002, our economy was still recovering from the attacks of September the 11th, 2001, and it was pulling out of a recession that began before I took office." Bush concluded 2002 with the same dishonesty that defined his economic policy throughout the year—a mendacity that ranged from denying the tax cut had anything to do with the re-emergence of the deficit to arguing that the terrorism insurance bill would create 300,000 construction jobs. In fact, there is no evidence that the economy was in recession when President Bush took the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2001. Yes, growth was slowing, and the longest expansion in American history was running out of steam. But the U.S. economy did not go into recession until Bush's presidency, according to both of the most accepted definitions.
I have gone well past the point of shock at the ability of the Bushies to flat-out lie about what they are doing and what they are responsible for. But, it is refreshing to see at least a few people finally starting to call them on it. I predicted a long time ago that if anyone started seriously calling the Bushies on their mendacity that Dubya's vaunted invulnerability would turn out to be one of the biggest glass-jaws in political history. I anxiously await the first one to take a serious swing at it.
Did the economy go into recession because President Bush came into office? Of course not. Had Al Gore become president, would the economy have entered a recession in March 2001? Certainly. In hindsight, it's clear we were heading for a recession in late 2000. President Bush caught the wrong end of the business cycle. This air of retrospective inevitability, combined with the bursting of the stock bubble and the sense that 2000 signified the end of one era and the beginning of another, lends credence to the false claim made by virtually every Republican—from Bush down to congressional backbenchers—that the economy was in recession when Bush came into office.
Here I disagree with Mr. Gross if only because I think he makes the mistake many make in thinking that a President or prospective President has no impact on the economy until such time as they take office. This is silly in the extreme. The business community tries take into account many variables that influence the future. One of these is who will be leading the government 1-2 years down the line. If there is a strong possibility that there will be a change in leadership, and this was abundantly obvious as far back as 1999, then that will have a serious impact on the economy. Indeed, it could be argued that the burst in the bubble was instigated by the business community starting to hedge their bets on the future. After all, Clinton/Gore were heavy representatives of the new economy while Bush is old economy to the bone. If Dubya came into power, the business community would naturally want to be more heavily invested in old economy stocks. Thus, the burst in the NASDAQ bubble in early 2000. Of course that is not to say that the tech market was not inflated beyond reasonable expectations nor that its popping wasn't inevitable. I just use this as an illustration that the state of the economy at the end of 2000 could be blamed, in part, on what was happening in the 2000 campaign. If Gore were to have been the clear front-runner from the beginning it is quite possible the slow-down in the economy may not have happened when it did. And, if Gore had been declared the winner, it is not beyond reason to believe that it might have reversed the downward trend and avoided the subsequent recession. I am not saying what would have happened. I am only saying that Mr. Gross' confidence in the inevitability of what did happen is unjustified.

This could go down as one of the most extraordinary political poker plays of the last 10 years...
Rangel Calls for Mandatory Military Service A Democratic lawmaker said Sunday he will introduce a bill in the next session of Congress to make military service mandatory. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York, said such legislation could make members of Congress more reluctant to authorize military action. "I'm going to introduce legislation to have universal military service to let everyone have an opportunity to defend the Free World against the threats coming to us," Rangel said on CNN's "Late Edition." "I'm talking about mandatory service." The Korean War veteran has accused the Bush administration and some fellow lawmakers of being too willing to go to war with Iraq. In October, he voted against a joint resolution authorizing military action against Iraq. It passed 296-133 in the House and 77-23 in the Senate. "When you talk about a war, you're talking about ground troops, you're talking about enlisted people, and they don't come from the kids and members of Congress," he said. "I think, if we went home and found out that there were families concerned about their kids going off to war, there would be more cautiousness and a more willingness to work with the international community than to say, 'Our way or the highway.'" Rangel did not provide specifics of his proposal.
For years I have always been against mandatory military service. Part of that was, of course, due to the fact that I was subject to it as well. But it just always seemed unfair at some core level. However, in recent years, I have begun to wonder if having a standing military without mandatory service is a formula for disaster. I worry that it will lead to the creation of a military caste akin to what we see in many other countries in the world. A caste that might someday think it is better at running the country then the civilian authorities. I am conflicted to say the least. But, the politics of a proposal like this, coming at the height of war-mongering by the Bushies, could put Dubya into a serious quandry. Does Bush agree and risk personalizing his push for war? Does he disagree and appear to be weak on military preparedness in comparison to a democrat? Interesting times no?

Charlse Dodgson does a better job then I did in hilighting the utter failures of the "mature, responsible" Bush foreign policy team. I agree with him: it's time to bring back the "amateurs".

U.S. Had Key Role in Iraq Buildup Trade in Chemical Arms Allowed Despite Their Use on Iranians, Kurds High on the Bush administration's list of justifications for war against Iraq are President Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons, nuclear and biological programs, and his contacts with international terrorists. What U.S. officials rarely acknowledge is that these offenses date back to a period when Hussein was seen in Washington as a valued ally.
Indeed. Remember a few months back when Bush Sr. made comments about personally hating Sadaam because he gassed his own people? An odd comment to make, since Bush was part of the administration that helped Sadaam do it. Of course, none of this is news. This has all been public knowledge for years. But the establishment media (except for this rare instance) and the Democrats have been curiously silent on this little detail.

Sunday, December 29, 2002

Remember when Republicans used to compain about Clinton running a perpetual campaign out of the White House?
For Bush team, getting reelected is constant theme With the race for the Democratic presidential nomination already in motion, President Bush and his advisers are studying their potential challengers, and plan to hold strategy meetings next month to discuss everything from Catholic voters to the budding candidacy of Senator John F. Kerry. But that is not a sign that the White House is just now awakening to politics, both Democratic and Republican strategists say. It is the latest stage of political planning and maneuvering by a campaign operation that never slept.
It really is amazing to read this kind of stuff in the establishment press since most people I know online have been talking about this aspect of the Bush administration for two years. Could it be that these guys really believed the propaganda that the Bushies were not going to let their policies be driven by polls.
Permanent campaigning is here to stay, according to political analysts. Norm Ornstein, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, said that any modern president who fails to blend politics with policy is likely to be a one-term president. ''They may say they don't rely on polls, but when they tell me they don't read polls, pay for polls, or collect polls, then we'll see something a little different,'' Ornstein said. ''What this White House has been able to do in an unbelievable fashion - and, of course, Sept. 11 helped immeasurably - is to behave in a strongly, savvily, relentlessly political way while repeating that they're `not like those Clinton guys who put politics at the top of the list.' You've got to take your hats off to that.''
And here we see the problem with the establishment. They don't sneer at duplicity. They don't scorn the fact that the Bushies actions don't match their words. They let them get away with it, and then applaud them for getting away with it.
While there is nothing wrong with looking ahead to the next election, Democrats accuse Bush of going a step further, calling his a ''press release presidency'' in which he launches projects just for the publicity, with no intention of fully funding them.
I have noticed this about the Bushies for some time. They love to keep people distracted by a constant re-iteration of "policy-initiative-of-the-week". Before people can really start to react to the implications of the previous weeks policy, they come out with a new one that forces everyone in the media and in the opposition to shift gears and address the new proposals. The cycle goes like this: 1) Issue press releases, go on photo-ops, give a "major policy speech" about how this administration is serious about a particular problem and has a proposal for it. 2) Let the media chew for a couple of days on the bone of the hype while giving them very little in the way of specifics. 3) Release the specifics, but do it in an off-hand manner or bury it in other proposals or other initiatives in such a way as to slow down those who are trying to determine exactly what it is that is being proposed. 4) Wait a couple of more days for people to start to realize what is going on. Then, just as they are starting to talk about it... 5) Start the cycle all over again 6) A few weeks/months later, push through the real policy, not the one that was originally hyped. By that time people will be to busy trying to figure out the policy in cycle #38 to be bothered with the details of a policy from far back in cycle #7. Thus do the Bushies get to do pretty much whatever they want without little to no accountability and to pretend that they are always doing the exact opposite of what they are actually doing. I believe the military calls this a blitzkrieg.
Bush often cites last year's education package as one of his chief accomplishments in office, but his budget proposed $6 billion less for the initiative than Congress had authorized spending. His budget also cuts the proposed funding for new Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement by $209 million - despite declaring, when he signed the original $776 million Sarbanes-Oxley corporate governance bill into law, that it was ''the most far-reaching reforms of American business practices since the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.'' ''He got all the credit for signing this bill and none of the blame for gutting it,'' said Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts. ''They are totally, totally political. They calculate the political implications of everything they do.''
Frank is one of the few that have been on to the Bush game since the beginning. We can only hope the rest of the Democratic Party is finally starting to wake up and realize they have a serious problem that needs to be dealt with.
Republicans flatly deny the White House is so calculating and insist the political climate overall has vastly improved since Clinton was in office. If the administration looks at polls, they do so in passing, and never make policy decisions based on them, several advisers close to the White House said. They also note that Bush would not be persevering in confronting Iraq if it were a poll-driven decision, given that much of the country is on the fence about going to war. Still, when Bush's post-Sept. 11 ratings began to slide earlier this year, the White House was more than happy to point to polling data that showed Bush remained strong. Before rolling out Bush's energy plan in the summer of 2001, the White House hired pollster Jan van Lohuizen to test public reaction to the proposal. And Democrats suspect that Bush only decided to work within the framework of the United Nations on Iraq after learning that most of the public wanted him to.
Ornstein and other analysts agreed that the difference between Clinton's and Bush's approaches to politics lies largely in perception. Whereas Clinton often used polling numbers showing support for a measure to justify pursuing it, the current White House has ''discipline about bragging about politics,'' Republican strategist Scott Reed said. ''The Clinton White House used to get out in front and brag about things like polls to justify why they were doing the smart thing or the right thing,'' Reed said. ''I think the real buzzword of this team is discipline, and it all starts at the top.''
Translation: The Clinton White House was honest in their policy making, the Bushies were not. Yet the Clintons are the ones that everyone excorciates for being too political.
Discipline, perhaps, but not ideological rigidity. Bush has repeatedly shifted gears to adjust to the political winds - embracing a Department of Homeland Security after fiercely opposing it, for example, and removing a school vouchers provision from his education bill to guarantee passage.
Lies, damned lies, and Bush political promises. All pretty much the same thing.

JB Armstrong has some interesting thoughts on Josh Marshal's proposition that recent electoral victories by Schroeder, Lula and Roh indicate that anti-Americanism is catching on in political races around the world (I commented on this earlier). JB thinks that Marshal is over-emphasizing Schroeder's cricitism of Bush and not giving enough weight to the impact the Greens had in the German election:
... The Greens saved Schroeder's skin. The Social Democrats lost seats in the Bundestag, after sliding from 41% in 1998 to 38.5% in 2002. Schroeder's open break with Bush certainly won him some votes, but it didn't win the election for the left-alliance; it was the Greens, who went from 6.7% to 8.6%, under "straight talking" Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, the most popular politician in Germany. It was the Greens who pulled up the rear, winning the election for Schroeder. I know. It's doubtable that the beltway Democrats will be giving the Greens a bit of praise, anywhere, anytime soon.
Yes. The Greens were necessary for Schroeder to form a ruling coalition. But, doesn't this support Marshal's thesis? After all, the Greens are even more anti-Bush then Schroeder was and they, as JB points out, gained quite a few seats. BTW, the German Greens and the American Greens are very different creatures. After all, quite a few oppresive communist regimes used the word "Democratic" in their official names. That doesn't mean they are akin to each other. JB does bring up an interesting side question to all of this: how much of these recent campaigns were anti-Bush vs. anti-American? This is an important distinction, since anti-Bushism can be cured by a simple election while anti-Americanism will take a lot more work to overcome.

Kos has some thoughts on a leaked White House memo that outlines Bush's re-election agenda. While it is not surprising that war and homeland security top the agenda for Bushies forthcoming political assaults on America, Kos notes the heartening signs of Democrats finally starting to call Bush on his cravenness. I agree with Kos that a strong Democratic party can only be good for American security. When only one side is allowed to dictate the terms of any policy debate, foreign or domestic, it increases the chances of arrogance and error from arrogance. It is only through real opposition that the Democrats can hope to make a difference and, maybe, regain power. Let's just hope the DNC doesn't blow this opportunity like they did the leak last year of a Rove powerpoint presentation that made essentially the same points as this memo.

I'm not sure what to make of this: New Chairman Of 9/11 Commission Had Business Ties With Osama's Brother In Law. Now, the more conspiratorially minded of us could read a lot into this. But it is useful to remember one thing: the bin Laden family is huge. I understand that Osama has something like 40-50 brothers and sisters. Many of them are in various business ventures all over the world. So, anyone with any significant business involvement is likely to be connected to a bin Laden by at least one or two degrees of separation. The fact that the alleged connection here is with an in-law makes the connection even less tenuous. I'm all for holding anyone appointed by Dubya up to close scrutiny. The fact that the first choice was Kissinger should tell us to be very careful about who the second choice would be. But I'll need more then this to immediately write him off as nothing more then a Saudi stooge.

The usual Krugman excellence:
Lumps of Coal ... Most business commentators have been cheerily predicting a recovery in business investment, week after week, for the past year — brushing aside businessmen who say that they have no plans to invest anytime soon. But it keeps not happening. On the other hand, a small minority of pessimists — sometimes including me, depending on what I had for breakfast — have been insistently predicting a collapse in consumer spending, which also hasn't happened. Which will it be? Let me throw some disheartening ingredients into the mix. First, the Fed has almost run out of room to cut interest rates. It has other tools at its disposal — but it will be reluctant to try exotic, untested policies unless the economy is clearly facing deflation. So don't expect Uncle Alan to bail us out anytime soon. Then there are the dogs of war. Oil futures are already above $32 per barrel. Donald Rumsfeld assures us that we can fight two wars at once, but nobody seems to have thought about the state of oil markets if there is simultaneous turmoil in the Persian Gulf and Venezuela. Also, gold prices have been soaring; this doesn't affect the real economy, but it's an indicator of nervousness. What about help from Washington? I'll talk about the administration's "stimulus" plans in another column, but one thing that's clear is that the apparent centerpiece — lower taxes on dividends — has nothing to do with stimulus. The administration clearly still believes that problems aren't challenges to be met, they're opportunities to push a pre-existing agenda. Finally, there's the desperate plight of the states. New estimates by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities show that state governments are facing their worst fiscal crisis since the 1930's. Since Washington shows no interest in helping, states will be forced into desperate expedients. Taxes, mainly taxes that fall most heavily on the poor and the middle class, will go up. Spending on education and, especially, health care will be slashed, with the heaviest toll falling on struggling low-wage workers and their children. (Leave no child behind!) Aside from the resulting suffering, the efforts of states to balance their budgets will be a significant drag on the economy, probably several times larger than the boost from the administration's so-called stimulus program. Are there any possible sources of good news? Yes, a few. A walkover victory in Iraq could lead to sharply lower oil prices. Technology marches on, so businesses could finally decide that it's time to replace aging equipment, even though they still have plenty of spare capacity. Inventories are low; someday businesses will restock, and in so doing give the economy a boost. Are you enthused? I'm not. I hope I'm wrong, but this doesn't look like a happy new year.
As usual, it is so hard to quote Krugman without risking outright theft. I note, with interest, that Krugman also hilights the threat posed by the crisis in state budgeting that I talked about in a previous post. It's nice to know I'm not alone in my pessimism.

Once again, the party of personal responsibility tries to blame all of its problems on Clinton:
Powell: U.S. Willing to Talk to N. Korea ... Democrats added that the Bush administration deserves part of the blame for the crisis. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the president was wrong to have cut off talks with North Korea when he took office. "We should not be afraid to talk," Levin said on ABC. "We're not going to negotiate giving them anything for doing what they already promised to do, but they should hear from our lips how significant their missteps have been. We're not going to appease them but there's nothing wrong with talking to them." Powell, however, said North Korea had restarted its nuclear weapons program during the Clinton administration, which the United States learned about last October. "This program was not started during the Bush administration; it was started during the previous administration," Powell said on ABC. "We inherited this problem." ...

Josh Marshal points out one of the consequences of the arrogant unilateralism of the Bush administration:
"Schroeder in Germany, Lula in Brazil, now Roh's victory in S. Korea…latest 'wake-up call' to U.S., but not clear what's being heard." So read the headline summary little more than a week ago in the Nelson Report, the news and gossip sheet of choice for DC's Asia policy hands and trade policy mavens. (Yes, such a thing actually exists and it's an extremely entertaining and informative read.) In his inimitable style, Chris Nelson was pointing to an increasingly clear trend which has yet to garner much notice in the mainstream press: the growing number of elections around the globe in which the winning candidates ran on some variant of anti-Americanism.
The more the Bushies piss of the rest of the world with their America-can-do-no-wrong approach, the more the rest of the world will move away from us and into the hands of those who would advocate the equally extreme position that America-can-do-no-right. Call this the new dominoe theory. Except, in this case, it is America that is pushing them over. Like your typical spoiled child, the Bushies seem to have no concept of the rule that every action produces a reaction, often in the opposite direction to what you wanted in the first place.
The standard answer to this on the pacifist left would be to say that clearly we're doing something wrong if everybody's getting so pissed at us. On the right, you'd have another knee-jerk response about blame-America-First, appeasement and various and sundry other yadas. But clearly there should be some thoughtful middle-ground. It's one thing to be a hawk and have your hawkishness rooted in a cold-eyed realism and a willingness to use force, quite another to have it stem from emotional impulses arising from the fact that you grew up as a pencil neck and constantly had your lunch money stolen from you by the cool kids. I can't give you the precise lunch money victimization statistics for various civilian political appointees at the Pentagon, for staffers in the Office of the Vice-President, Richard Perle or even Frank Gaffney. But I suspect most folks who are familiar with these guys will know what I'm getting at. This isn't about blaming America first. It's about making sure America is as smart as she can be in her own interests, about managing the realities of the unipolar world system in ways that most benefit our long-term interests rather than simply doing what we can force through in the near-term. What we're learning is that there's a price you pay for telling everyone else in the world they can #$%& themselves and trying to govern the globe by sporadic applications of blunt force.
It is always amazing to me how hard it is for people to get that simple concept through their heads.

Bob Herbert discusses the state of the states in today's NY Times.
States of Alarm There is something eerie, even a little unnerving, about the budget crises that continue to spread, like a contagious, crippling disease, to states and cities across the U.S. ... If you want a story with legs, this is it. President Bush will have a heck of a time getting the national economy back on track while states from coast to coast are trying to balance their budgets by raising taxes, cutting spending and laying off employees. The National Governors Association, in a report last month, said states are facing "the most dire fiscal situation since World War II." Nearly every state "is in fiscal crisis," the governors said. From nearly every perspective, the outlook is grim. "As states fight to balance their budgets, the solutions available to them are increasingly dire," the report said, "and some of the most difficult fiscal decisions have yet to be made." ... These problems cannot be solved without significant help from the federal government. The president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Thomas Menino of Boston, is hoping to form an alliance with the nation's governors to petition Washington for help.
I've been telling people for over a year that the crisis in state budgeting is a ticking time bomb that, when it goes off, will crash the national economy as well. For years the states have been moving away from more stable sources of funding (such as property taxes) to revenue sources (such as income taxes) that tend to be much less reliable. When the economy is going gangbusters, as it was in the 90s, the states rake in a lot of money. They use the windfall on new programs, in essence putting themselves in debt to the people of their state in the form of various state services. When the economy comes back down to earth and income revenues come down with them the result bites them in the ass. Hard. It's all a web of actions and reactions. The recession of 2001 brought down income tax receipts which seriously hurt state budgets and continues to do so to this day. The states, in response, will either have to raise taxes (bad news in a recessionary economy) or cut services. Either way, the result will be a continued drag on the economy, as Herbert so ably points out. The various state legislatures, being politicians, have been putting off the inevitable as long as they can because few have the courage to face reality. This just makes the problem fester and grow worse. When reality finally comes knocking the explosion will be even worse then it would have been if they had responded sooner. And the reverberations from that explosion will bounce throughout the economy onto the national level. This is why I have been predicting a double-dip recession for at least a year and why some of the more recent signs of positive economic growth haven't changed my opinion on that in the least. They say we are in a jobless recovery right now. For my money, a jobless recover is a fake recovery. How long before the illusion is shattered?

Saturday, December 28, 2002

More interesting polling data:
Concerns Over Economy Halt Bush Approval Rating Gains December 20, 2002 While George W. Bush's overall job approval rating remains unchanged since November, Bush's disapproval rating for his handling of the economy has returned to a level last seen in September as concerns over the condition of the national economy continue to grow according to the latest survey by the American Research Group. Among all Americans, 57% say they approve of the way Bush is handling his job as president and 30% say they disapprove. In November, 58% of Americans approved and 27% disapproved of the way Bush was handling his job. When asked about the way Bush is handling the economy, 39% of Americans approve and 47% disapprove. In November, 47% of Americans approved of the way Bush was handling the economy and 37% disapproved. Among Americans registered to vote, 58% approve of the way Bush is handling his job and 29% disapprove. A total of 37% of Americans registered to vote approve of the way Bush is handling the economy and 50% disapprove.
Minor quibble on the above: Bush's approval rating gains haven't been halted. They've been completed eliminated. There's a lot more interesting numbers at this site.

Rightwing Slayer has an interesting comparison between the poll I posted below and Clinton's approval ratings at the time he left office and on the day he was impeached. Needless to say, the big dog leaves the little pup in the dust.

North Korea: Calling Dubya's Bluff ... Either Bush talks, or takes out the nukes in unabashed Israeli fashion. If he talks, the neocons will accuse of him of betraying his principles -- which are, in fact, the principles of the neocons. If he attempts to take out the nukes and depose Kim Chong-il, missiles may very well rain down on South Korea. If he follows the latter course, he will have to fight two simultaneous wars -- and imperial overreach will stretch the US military at the seams. Dread the thought, the use of "mini-nukes" on Pyongyang and the people of North Korea may then actually become an option, as spelled out in the ruthless NPR document which Bush and his cronies in the Pentagon have taken to heart. No matter how you cut it, Dubya has painted himself into a corner. He may yet go on record as the most ill-advised and murderous US president.

Gee, the Bushies had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the UN when the subject was Iraq. But when Korea: (1) admits it has been developing the bomb, (2) shuts down monitors on nuclear facilities, (3) kicks out IAEA inspectors and (4) violates the DMZ, well then the Bushies go running to the UN looking for help pulling their fat out of the fire. Is that what you would call a vote of confidence from them on the UN's relevancy? What a bunch of arrogant pricks these people are. I just wish I wasn't riding on the same bus they are driving.

Been thinking about Korea tonight. I think that the current problems with North Korea are the first foreign policy mess that can be truly and completely laid at the feet of Bush and his mis-administration. Consider the following: 1) Bush stomps all over a multi-year effort to resolve the conflict between north and south with little thought to blow this would be to the Korean leaders who stuck their necks out to get it done. 2) Bush throws North Korea into his "Evil Empire" diatribe for god only knows what reason (most likely because he needed someone to avoid making it look like he was only going after Islamic countries and he needed a convenient boogieman in order to sell Son-o-Star-Wars). 3) Bush focuses all of the attention of America (and the world) onto the uncertain threat that is Iraq. 4) At just the moment when he is ready to make the final push for Gulf War II, North Korea kicks out the UN inspectors and declares that they are removing all the monitors on their nuclear processing capabilities. Gee, do you think the Koreans, maybe, just maybe, decided to take advantage of our being distracted by other matters to pull a stunt like this? No matter which way you paint this it was a monumental screw up for the vaunted Bush foreign policy team. They make O'Neill and Lindsey look like Nobel Laureates.

Thanks to Atrios for the link, again.

Friday, December 27, 2002

Okay, here it is: Update: I've shrunk the image a little due to complaints about its width screwing up some people's displays.

Pandagon is out with his list of the 20 Most Annoying Conservatives. As with all things of this sort, your sentiments may vary.

I went out and bought a copy of TIME. It does indeed contain the results of a poll that shows Bush's approval level at 55%. That's about equal to where he was on Sept. 10th, 2001. Which means, a little over one year later, Bush has squandered ALL of the positive feeling he got from his handling of 9/11. I'll be scanning in the graph later tonight when I get home.

A history lesson, via Usenet, courtesy of google. 20 Year Usenet Archive Now Available

Thursday, December 26, 2002

PLA provides a comprehensive summary of the politics of Jim Crow and the Southern Strategy and how the Democrats chose morality over expediency by rejecting the former while the Republicans did the opposite by embracing the latter.

Ha! Now this is the kind of enterprising journalism I would like to see more of...
RUBBISH! Portland's top brass said it was OK to swipe your garbage--so we grabbed theirs. It's past midnight. Over the whump of the wipers and the screech of the fan belt, we lurch through the side streets of Southeast Portland in a battered white van, double-checking our toolkit: flashlight, binoculars, duct tape, scissors, watch caps, rawhide gloves, vinyl gloves, latex gloves, trash bags, 30-gallon can, tarpaulins, Sharpie, notebook--notebook? Well, yes. Technically, this is a journalistic exercise--at least, that's what we keep telling ourselves. We're upholding our sacred trust as representatives of the Fourth Estate. Comforting the afflicted, afflicting the comfortable. Pushing the reportorial envelope--by liberating the trash of Portland's top brass. We didn't dream up this idea on our own. We got our inspiration from the Portland police.
The Willamette Week reporters went on to rifle through the trash of Mayor Vera Katz, Police Chief Kroker, and DA Mike Schrunk and report on their findings. The Mayor and the Police Chief were not amused (Katz is threatening legal action) while the DA seemed to laugh it off.

Ampersand takes up the debate I pointed to earlier (the discussion between Hesiod and Atrios about what to do next with the Lott matter). Ampersand does an excellent job of both summarizing what has gone before and putting forth a point of view that does not call into question the motives of those who may disagree. I was pretty much of the same mind as Hesiod on this issue when I first read his post. I think the Democrats need to focus on the sheethead-pandering tactics of the Republicans to make it clear that Lott is not an isolated situation but is, instead, indicative of a disease that is destroying a great political party (and our country along with it). But Atrios and Ampersand have helped me to realize that this issue goes beyond simple party politics. Put simply, just because a certain strategy for the future may be the best for the Democratic party does NOT mean that it is the best for Kweisi Mfume and the NAACP. I made the mistake of thinking of the NAACP as an adjunct of the party instead of an equal partner and it is that which I think caused Atrios to have such a negative reaction. Mfume is looking out for what is best for the people he represents and should be applauded for it. The fact that part of his focus may not be the most beneficial for the Democratic party should not play into it (unless he decides that, for the moment, what is the best for the Dems is the best for the NAACP).

Antidotal has some interesting comments on the attempt by some to read a pro-war agenda into the Lord Of The Rings movies:
If, regardless of the disanalogies, we do decide to pursue the risky business of attempting to draw themes from fantasy worlds that can be applicable to ours, I should note that such hermeneutics can cut many ways. It’s just as easy to draw heavily anti-war themes from Tolkien as it is to draw the hawkish themes that Instapundit wants to see: war is only tolerable if it is absolutely and truly inevitable (i.e. when it is carried by the soulless forces of ultimate, unwordly evil); evil is characterized by imperialistic, expansionist aims and the desire for (or current possession of) overwhelming force. Evil also always strikes first. The most dovish symbol of all is perhpas the central trope of the One Ring, a good example of WMD if there ever was one: it can only be handled safely (and even then only temporarily) by an intensely pacifistic, agrarian, inward-regarding, and unambitious people who have no aspirations whatever for shaping the world in their image or for spreading their culture. The only safe way of dealing with the Ring is not to insure that it is in the hands of trustworthy people with good intentions, but rather to destroy it utterly, for its power inevitably corrupts even the purest of heart.
I, like Eric Tam, hold LOTR close to my heart. It was the first book I remember reading from cover to cover. It was probably one of the top five influences on the person I turned out to be. And I, similarly, am offended by those who try to use its message of resistance to evil and the power of the individual to make a difference in the world as justification for the current actions of the Bush administration. LOTR might be a good counter to extreme pacificism, but it is not and never will be a call to pre-emptive aggression against potential enemies. To suggest that the plight of Rohan is akin to that of the United States is as gross a misreading of the story as I can imagine.

A story about true heroism.

Liberal Oasis points out a story that the establishment media is ignoring:
Dubya’s Approval Rating Plummets And No One Notices The current Time magazine offers this from a Dec. 17-18 Time/CNN poll: In general, do you approve or disapprove of the way President Bush is handling his job as President? Approve -- 55% Disapprove -- 37% That’s the lowest approval rating, and the highest disapproval, for Dubya in the Time/CNN poll since 9/11. His approval has sunk 9 points from just one month ago -- a stunning drop considering he’s coming off of a big election victory. But amazingly, no other media outlet has picked up on the poll. No wire story. No analysis. No pundits pontificating. Nothing. Not even Time or CNN offers a link to it on their respective web sites. You need to get the print version of Time.
Note: even pollingreport.com doesn't have these poll results.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

There's a big debate going on over in the comment section of Atrio's blog on the topic of over-reaching while pressing the GOP on the issue of its racial policies. I just posted the following comment there:
I've read over the comments in this thread and I really don't see as huge a gulf between Hesiod and Atrios as others seem to see. They both want the advantage to be pressed against the Republicans and to force them to come to a long-overdue purge of the sheethead element in their midst. But Hesiod expresses a concern that is common in these kinds of battles: that some will overreach and try to label all legitimate policy differences as equivalent to racism and, by doing so, push the fence-sitters once again back into the clutches of the cockroaches. Is this not a legitimate concern? I see no reason to start pushing Hesiod into the same camp as the appeasers just because he worries about overreach. It's by their actions that you will know them.

CalPundit on the value of reasonable discourse:
I'd like to add one comment to Matt's. As much as I appreciate reasonable discourse, there is sadly little evidence that it is of any use. Most progress is made by outraged people yelling at the tops of their lungs and fighting for change, the completely unreasonable people who are willing to sacrifice everything to their beliefs. This can be both good and bad, of course, but there you have it. Historically speaking, we moderates are but spear carriers for our louder, brasher betters.
The screamers may be the straw-that-broke-the-camels-back, but would they have succeeded as well in the absence of the reasonable discourse of others? Put another way, the fact that Sullivan and others piled on to the boot-Lott bandwagon was an important part of removing him from power. But would they have done so without others pushing them in the background? Don't underestimate the utility of reasonable discourse. It may not tear down the palace walls, but it may inspire those who will lead the uprising.

'Tis the season...
U.S. retailers face grim holiday sales CHICAGO, Dec. 24 — U.S. retailers, reeling from a lackluster holiday season that is forecast to be the weakest in more than 30 years, may ring in the new year with steep markdowns on clothing, accessories — and profit forecasts.

Could this be the next health craze? (courtesy MaxSpeak)
PUBLIC HEALTH ADVISORY. [from Yahoo!] Protesting "is good for you" Group protests, or "collective action", may have health benefits for participants, according to research by UK psychologists. A study by Dr John Drury, a lecturer in social psychology at the University of Sussex, suggests that group protesting and demonstrating is good for people's health because it encourages a sense of empowerment, mutual support and unity. "Many published activist accounts refer to feelings of encouragement and confidence emerging from experiences of collective action," said Dr Drury. "It's similar when people come out to welcome home a winning football team, go to Trafalgar Square on New Year's Eve or go to a rave. They have a sense of community - but with protest, people have the addition of a sense of changing the world." The study involved more than 40 in-depth interviews with activists and protestors from a variety of backgrounds. Participants described more than 160 experiences of collective action, including raditional marches, fox hunting sabotages, anti-capitalist street parties, environmental direct action and industrial mass pickets. "The main factors contributing to a sense of empowerment were the realisation of the collective identity, the sense of movement potential, unity and mutual support within a crowd," explained Dr Drury. He found that the protestors experienced events as joyous occasions, almost without exception, and that they felt a deep sense of happiness and even euphoria at being involved. Simply recounting events in interviews brought a smile to their faces, Dr Drury added. Even when demonstrations involved violent clashes with the police, protestors tended to feel good if they thought they had won the battle. If the police were seen as the victors, less experienced demonstrators had negative feelings, while veterans were able to put events into context and deal with their emotions. Over the last few years, psychologists have become more interested in how psychological and physical good health can be improved by positive experiences, which improve the speed of physical recovery, the ability to cope with stress and a reduction in pain, anxiety and depression. "The take-home message from this research, therefore, might be that people should get more involved in campaigns, struggles and social movements," said Dr Drury. "Not only in the wider interest of social change, but also for their own personal good."
I've only participated in one protest so far and I can attest to the feelings of euphoria given by the experience of being surround by thousands of fellow travelers.

Charles Dodgson has a good rundown of foreign threats to the United States.

Hesiod recapitulates my position on Gulf War II:
In the end, I'm intellectually opposed to an Iraq invasion for a lot of different reasons. But, as important as those are, I might be persuaded, if I had confidence in the people making the decision to attack. Therefore...at a gut level, I'm opposed to it for one basic, unassailable reason: I don't trust the Bush administration.
It really does come down to that for me. I am in a position similar to Josh Marshall: I can see plenty of good reasons to put the hammer to Iraq, but none of them have anything to do with what the Bushies are doing and I don't trust any of them to do it right even if they were talking the way I would like them to talk.

Update: Mark Kleiman has more on Eli Lilly's purchase of 5000 copies of Frist's book. It turns out the profits will go to charities of Frist's designation as required by Senate rules.

Leave it to the Bushies to focus their attention on an evil, but sane, dictator in one part of the world while essentially ignoring, if not outright agravating, an evil AND insane dictator in another part of the world. Which do YOU think is the greater threat? But then, we all know that the Bushies foreign policy has nothing to do with who represents the greatest security threat to the United States. Osama who?

I was watching the news channels a little last night. They were talking about the election of Frist for Senate Majority Leader. The talking heads went on to say something about how Frist had to work to repair the damage caused by Trent Lott's remarks. Excuse me, but the damage was not caused by Lott's remarks. The damage was caused by the GOP willingly courting the sheetheads for political power. The only damage caused by Lott was the damage done to that program. You'll forgive me if I see that damage as not but a good thing.

What would Lord Of The Rings had been like if other author's had written it? My favorite so far:
LotR by George Orwell: "I cannot read the fiery writing," said Frodo. "There are few who can," replied Gandalf. "It is the language of Mordor, which I will not speak here. Translated into the common tongue, it reads: 'All rings of power are equal, But some rings of power are more equal than others.'"

Something to keep in mind as the GOP and the establishment media try to put the topic of racism back in the bottle: why did Lott think he could get away with making the kind of comment he did at Strom's birthday? Because the media and the GOP usually did let him and others get away with it. Don't be fooled.

When it happened to Jim Wright, he had to resign:
(courtesy Atrios) Interesting. Bill Schneider just said that Eli Lilly had purchased thousands of copies of Frist's book to distribute to their clients.

The Washington Post brings some important point about the Bush pardons:
CHRISTMASTIME is the traditional season for presidential clemency, so it's no particular surprise that President Bush has belatedly issued the first pardons of his term. But the churlishness with which he finally exercised this most magnanimous of presidential powers deserves note. Mr. Bush pardoned only seven people, each of whom, a White House spokeswoman said -- as if to play down the importance of the action -- "committed a relatively minor offense many years ago, completed his prison sentence or probation and paid any fine, and has gone on to live an exemplary life." The message: No Marc Riches here. . . . Not even a story (the White House let the Justice Department announce the pardons). . . . Just some seasonal symbolism. . . . Now can we talk about Iraq, please?
The pardons were all for people who (1) committed mild offenses, (2) completed their time, and (3) had gone on to live good lives. In other words, these pardons were all about symbolism and had nothing to do with correcting potential injustices. For, after all, Bush doesn't believe it is possible for the criminal justice system to be wrong.
The federal inmate population today is larger than it has ever been; the role of pardons should be bigger than ever. Yet Mr. Bush could not find a single inmate who deserved clemency. By issuing an average of 3.5 pardons a year -- none of which carries consequence other than forgiveness for individuals who long ago served their time -- he announces, in effect, that the American justice system requires no check, just a Christmas card.
Have a happy new year!

The Good Guys By PAUL KRUGMAN Time magazine's persons of the year are three whistle-blowers: Sherron Watkins of Enron, Cynthia Cooper of WorldCom and Coleen Rowley of the F.B.I. They deserve to be celebrated. After all, thanks to Ms. Watkins and Ms. Cooper, Jeff Skilling, Ken Lay and Bernie Ebbers have been indicted, and the politicians who did their bidding have been disgraced. Thanks to Ms. Rowley, incompetent officials at the F.B.I. and C.I.A. have been removed from their posts, and we've had a searching inquiry into what went wrong on Sept. 11. Oh, I'm sorry. None of that actually happened. The bravery of the whistle-blowers was real enough, but Time seems to be celebrating what should have been, not what was.
Time is telling a story that people want to hear: these three women blew the whistle and justice was done. Right? Right? Well, at least the whistleblowers got their pictures on the cover of Time. Isn't that enough for you people?
During the late spring and summer, amid corporate scandals and tales of F.B.I. ineptitude, Americans received many promises of reform. But once the political danger had passed, all those promises — even, incredibly, the promise that families of victims would get to choose one member of the Sept. 11 commission — became non-operational.
And nary a squawk from the establishment media or the Democrats at the monumental way the 9/11 families have been screwed repeatedly by this administration. Krugman goes on to identify an even better candidate for person of the year: Eliot Spitzer, New York state Attorney General. Spitzer is deserving because, unlike the whistleblowers, he actually got some people to pay for their actions.
If truth be told, 2002 was a very good year for cynics. But it's the day before Christmas, so let's be thankful for our gifts: the good guys who made a difference.
A cynics work is never done Paul.

Monday, December 23, 2002

Damned if I can see any rhyme or reason to this list, nor why Bush thought they were worthy of a Presidential pardon:
The seven people Bush pardoned: * Kenneth Franklin Copley of Lyles, Tenn. Sentenced to two years probation in 1962 for manufacturing untaxed whiskey. * Harlan Paul Dobas of Portland, Ore. Sentenced to three months in jail in 1966 for conspiracy involving the sale of grain stolen from his employer. * Stephen James Jackson of Picayune, Miss. Sentenced to three years probation and fined $500 in 1993 for altering an odometer. * Douglas Harley Rogers of Brookfield, Wis. A Jehovah's Witnesses minister sentenced to two years in jail in 1957 for failing to report for military induction. * Walter F. Schuerer of Amana, Iowa. Fined $15,000 in 1989 for making a false statement to the Social Security Administration regarding his employment. * Paul Herman Wieser of Tacoma, Wash. Sentenced to 18 months probation in 1972 for stealing $38,000 worth of copper wire. * Olgen Williams of Indianapolis. A postal worker sentenced to one year in jail in 1971 for stealing $10.90 from the mail.

John Conyers understands that the best defense is a good offense. To bad Daschle never learned that lesson:
Plan by Conyers aids working poor Federal money to boost training, housing in jointly sponsored bill The most comprehensive bill ever to address U.S. homelessness will be introduced in the 108th Congress in February. Democratic representatives John Conyers Jr. of Michigan and Julia Carson of Indiana have collaborated on legislation they idealistically dub the "Bringing America Home Act." The bill proposes funneling federal funds to local governments to assist in affordable housing for the working homeless, job apprenticeship programs, child care vouchers, public transportation, emergency funds for working families on the brink of eviction and one-stop homeless centers to streamline the social service bureaucracy. "You can provide soup kitchens and homeless shelters, but the hardest thing to do is find affordable housing and permanent jobs," said Conyers' aide Joel Segal, a 1989 law school graduate who was once homeless for four months. ... The bill, however, will face a tough sell in a Republican-controlled Congress that must figure out how to finance the war on terrorism and a possible war with Iraq even as some Republicans push for more tax cuts.
It doesn't really matter if the bill doesn't have much chance of passing. The point is to put the GOP on the spot and force them to vote on the issue. You see, it is only through the voting record that you can really start to hurt the bastards (see how it was used effectively against Lott). Democrats seem to think that they can't win the fight so they shouldn't even bother trying. But, if the never bother to try, then how are they to convince others when they say that Republicans aren't willing to help them? You've got to force them to state their beliefs in black and white terms and you don't get much more black and white then their voting record.

Russia Says Bush to Blame for North Korea Crisis MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia accused President Bush (news - web sites) on Monday of having ignited a crisis over North Korea (news - web sites) by antagonizing the nuclear-capable Stalinist state and playing on its dire economic situation. Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov said Bush was to blame for North Korea's erratic policies, including steps to unfreeze its nuclear program, because of his decision to brand it part of his "axis of evil" of hostile nations. "How should a small country feel when it is told that it is all but part of forces of evil of biblical proportions and should be fought against until total annihilation?" Mamedov told the Vremya Novostei daily newspaper.
I can remember in the early days of Bush's administration the shocking incident of Bush embarassing the South Korean leader in the photo-op room of the White House. The South Korean president had just spent several years of his life and quite a lot of political capital to try and produce some kind of long-overdue rapproachment with the north. Then, the first time he appears in public with Junior, Dubya simply blows off all the man's hard work and says that things are going to be different now (sorry, I don't remember the exact quote at this time). My god was I embarassed to be an American that day. Is Bush responsible for the impending disaster that is North Korea? You bet he is. It's exactly what he wanted. He represents a group of people that have always been more comfortable in a world where chaos reigns and everyone is shooting at everyone else. That way, they think, the ones with the biggest guns will get to dictate what will happen. Life has a way of knocking such hubris on its back. Unfortunately, it's like to take the rest of us with it when it does.

I don't think I'll be buying this for my daughter this Christmas (courtesy MaxSpeak).

Bob Herbert joins the chorus of those who are saying, "not so fast," in response to the GOP efforts to paint Lott as an isolated problem.
The Other Trent Lotts By BOB HERBERT Having thrown Trent Lott overboard, Republican leaders seem to think they are now absolved of any further responsibility for the racism and ethnic insensitivity that have tainted their party. The problem is now supposed to go away. They are deluded. The problem isn't going away because Republican leaders haven't rid themselves of the habit of playing to the closet racists and the Confederate flag-waving yahoos who mean so much to the G.O.P. For 40 years the party has gone out of its way to court the enemies of black people. It's an offense for which it should be begging forgiveness.
As an example, Mr. Herbert describes the man who has been chosen to replace incoming Majority Leader apparent as the head of the Republican's Senatorial campaign committee: George Allen of Virginia:
A few years ago, when he was governor of Virginia, Mr. Allen issued a proclamation declaring April "Confederate History and Heritage Month." From Mr. Allen's pro-Confederate perspective, the Civil War was a struggle for "independence and sovereign rights." Independence, in this case, does not refer to the independence of black slaves. I'd like to know if Senator Allen feels we'd all have been better off if the South had won the Civil War. It's a fair enough question. Mr. Allen loved the old Confederacy so much he displayed the Confederate flag in his living room. He was a little touchy about it, though. When someone accused him of flying the flag in his living room, he took umbrage. "It was never flying," he said. "It was nailed to a wall."
Every Republican should be asked the question hilighted above. How many do you think will be?

TIME gives honors to the whistleblowers. The Bush administration gives them to their bosses. (courtesy CalPundit)

CalPundit on the question of questioning motives:
HUMAN MOTIVATION....I think Matt Yglesias is seriously wrong when he says this:
It just doesn't matter why Bush does what Bush does or Frist does what Frist does or Matt does what Matt does. What matters is what we do and whether those are good or bad things.
Trying to deduce people's real motivations is absolutely central to all human activity. We talk about it, we think about it, we argue about it, and we make most of our decisons based on it. We fight or follow people based on our assessment of what they really think. We applaud or denigrate the exact same actions depending on whether we think they were made for the right reasons. Motivation is the key to everything. Actions come in a poor second.
Allow me to be the synthesis to Cal and Matt's thesis/anti-thesis by saying that both are right and both are wrong. Matt is right that, ultimately, what people do is more important then why they do what they do. However, Cal is right that you cannot ignore the question of motive in deciphering people's actions, especially when it comes to the question of what you can trust them to do in the future. Bush makes a lot of noise about caring and compassion and being a good person. But his actions often contradict what he says. His actions give us a better clue as to his motivations and thus a better clue as to what he will do in the future. The lessons learned: never take him at his word and always assume that he will do whatever is most politicially expedient for himself since, after all, it is all about him (that is his motivation). My take on this is that, while questioning motives is often an interesting excercise in understanding human nature, it can often get in the way of discussions about what is really going on. The establishment media is especially guilty of this offense. They spend so much time talking about why a particular politician, especially a democrat, does something ("what kind of political advantage is Gore/Clinton/'Daschle/Lott/Bush/blah/blah/blah trying to gain by this action") that they miss the story on just what it is they are doing and how it effects real people. For modern journalism, the question of Why has supplanted the questions of Who, What, Where, When and How. As The Daily Howler so aptly demonstrates, the supremacy of Why has lead to a journalism characterized more by psychological analysis then the investigation of the impact of specific actions on the welfare of the nation. This allows lazy journalists to reign supreme in the pundit field: whoever can come up with the most witty explanation for Why some politician did something will get the most calls from TV show bookers. It is why Maureen Dowd can win a Pulitzer and Gene Lyons and Joe Conason are consigned to backwater publications. I am as curious as anyone as to Why someone does a particular thing. But, in the immediate, the question of Why someone is running my nation into ruin and disgrace pales in comparison to the fact that they are doing it at all.

Eat The State is out with their 7th annual compilation of the most over-hyped and under-reported stories of the year. A couple of hilights from both categories:
The Most Overrated Stories of the Year Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: Nobody -- except the Bush Administration and Tony Blair -- believes they exist. Seldom have so many words been wasted on weapons that, if they did exist, would be few in number, poorly made, and impossible to deliver more than a couple hundred miles. Instead, Bush's obsession becomes our obsession. Worse, constant repetition of "Iraq = Saddam = Terrorist" has successfully shifted post 9/11 focus -- and blame -- away from the very real threat posed by Islamic terrorists, most of whom seem to come from countries we consider allies. The Most Important Underreported Stories of 2002 White House Propaganda: Particularly while justifying its Iraq obsession, the Bush Administration told one whopper after another this year -- exaggerations or outright lies not even consistent with each other, let alone reality. The individual statements are rarely challenged, and the Bush Administration's overall pro-war propaganda campaign -- one of the most effective in a half-century -- is itself rarely acknowledged by media that instead willingly participate.

Sean Wilentz says the Democrats and the media need to go beyond Lott and focus on the broader issue of the GOP's love affair with neo-confederates:
Inveterate Confederates The southern skeletons in the Bush administration's closet By Sean Wilentz Trent Lott's sudden ousting as Senate majority leader seems part of a calculated effort by Republicans, led by the White House, to kill the controversy over the party's alliance with neo-Confederate forces as quickly as possible. But like some sort of shameful partisan ghost, the spirit of that alliance still haunts the Republicans, and will continue to for a long time to come. The careful maneuvering by Karl Rove and the White House political team, in their efforts to disavow Lott without angering the party's neo-Confederate constituency, shows that the party's basic character has not changed. The Republicans' coded appeals to "states' rights" may grow a little muted for a time, but the GOP will remain the party of the neo-Confederates. And that connection will remain unchallenged until and unless the media, prodded by the Democrats, insist on looking into a great deal more recent and not-so-recent history, including how George W. Bush gained the Republican nomination in 2000, the neo-Confederate background of Attorney General John Ashcroft and the dark past of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, whose vote on the Supreme Court installed Bush as president.
Wilentz names names and outlines the many connections the Bush administration has to the cockroaches. He has provided plenty of ammunition for anyone who wants to continue the fight. Don't let this die folks. The soul of a great political party is at stake.

Hesiod makes a point that I think needs repeating:
ACCOUNTABILITY: Civil Rights organizations are going to hold the GOP's feet to the fire on racial issues. I understand why they want to push a policy agenda. But, I think the better strategy would be to go after the questionable race-baiting practices of the party, such as voter intimidation, and neo-Confederate apologisism, first. I say that because, on issues such as affirmative action, there are legitimate philosophical and policy arguments against those policies that don't anything to do with appealing to, or winking at, racist elements within the GOP. By pushing action on thos issues, these groups are overplaying their advantage, and will inevitably cause a backlash. Any good-will generated will be quickly dissipated, and will actually play into the hands of the very people Civil Rights activists are trying to expose. If you turn legitimate policy differences into racial issues, you give fodder to the dishonest Andrew Sullivan's of the world.
The Democrats have been given an ideal opportunity for political advantage with the Lott situation. But the issue needs to be the political practices of the party, not their policy differences with Democrats when it comes to racial issues.

This comes from a posting I just made in the comment's section on Atrios' blog. Yet another instances of the endless Bush v. Gore debate had reared its ugly head. This gives me my first opportunity to put my opinion on this matter into this blog for posterity. For me it has nothing to do with which of them, Bush or Gore, had the right to the office. Neither of them did. No one does (despite what the GOP thinks). To me it has everything to do with the short-circuiting of the constitutionally mandated process. You see, one of the greatest myths of the 2000 election was that the Supreme Court had to intervene when it did. This is a lie. The Constitution had a process outlined for exactly what was supposed to happen in rare situations like the 2000 election. Here's what should have happened: 1. The vote counting process should have been allowed to continue in Florida as dictated by Florida procedures as interpreted by the ultimate legal authority in Florida, its Supreme Court. If Bush came out ahead, Gore would have conceded and Bush would be the legitimate President. 2. If Gore came out ahead, the Florida legislature, dominated by Republicans, would have voted to submit an alternate slate of electors for Bush. 3. The process would have then moved to the Congress, where the elected representatives of the people would have had to vote on which slate of electors to accept (this is the constitutionally mandated part). Since the GOP had the majority in both houses this means the Florida slate would have been accepted, Gore would have conceded, and Bush would be the constitutionally legitimate President. I voted for Gore. I did not want Bush to be President. I consider him to be the worst President in my lifetime, quite possibly the worst President this country has ever had, and a greater threat to our health and security then Osama bin Laden could ever hope to be. But, if the GOP had simply allowed the constitutionally mandated process to complete I would have conceded that he was the constitutionally legitimate President. (yes, there might have still been some argument about whether the Florida legislator had the right to submit an alternate slate of electors. But the ultimate decision on all of this resided in the halls of Congress, not the Supreme Court). But the Republicans simply weren't willing to let the mandated process complete its course. Why? Because they knew that, even if they were 99% likely to win(*), the members of congress who voted to seat Bush would have to answer for their vote two years later. (* I concede the outside possibility that some Republicans might have balked at overriding the will of the Florida voters.) In other words, the Republicans were and are cowards. They were afraid to put their positions on the line in order to defend their preferences. Instead, they hid behind the cloaks of the felonious five and let them take the brunt of the heat. After all, Scalia et al. don't have to face re-election. Legitimacy has nothing to do with it. Cowardice is the key word here and the GOP is nothing but a party full of cowards.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash) shows how to respond to a smear campaign from the GOP. She recently made some comments about how bin Laden was popular in the middle-east, in part, because he provided money to build schools and help the impoverished. She said that there was a lesson to be learned here about how America should go about winning the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. It will require more then just a PR effort (especially one tainted with deliberate lies). The GOP's response was to suggest, in their typical, underhanded way, that Murray was saying we should become more like a man who murdered 3000 Americans. Here was Murray's response (in full):
Sen. Murray Statement on America's Role in the World Having a challenging and thoughtful discussion about America's future reflects the best values of a free democracy; To sensationalize and distort in an attempt to divide does not
For Immediate Release: December 20, 2002 Osama Bin Laden is an evil terrorist who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans. Bringing him to justice, dismantling his terrorist network, and protecting our nation from further attacks must continue to be our government's highest priorities, and I continue to vigorously support those efforts in the Senate. While we continue to search every corner of the globe to destroy Osama bin Laden and his al Quaeda network, should we also consider the longer-term issue of what else can be done to improve relations with all nations including the Arab world? How else can we bring America's values to those who do not understand us? And while there are some whose hearts and minds may never be won, should we try to reach those who can? The White House believes that we can do more, and has devoted an entire department to improving America's image in the Arab world. Having a challenging and thoughtful discussion about America's future reflects the best values of a free democracy; to sensationalize and distort in an attempt to divide does not. While there are some on the extreme fringes of society who try to exploit fear and uncertainty for political gain, there are many more who understand that the best value of our democracy is the freedom to think and to secure a better future.
The only quibble I might have with this is that those who want to "exploit fear and uncertainty for political gain" are not on the extreme but are, today, working in the West Wing of the White House. Perhaps Murray knows this and is going for the shame angle, "This is an extreme attitude Mr. President. If you don't want to be associated with extremism, don't do it." I don't hold out much hope for shame getting through to Dubya. I'm not even sure he knows what the word means. Liberal Oasis points out a prime example of how Democrats typically respond to smear campaigns like this:
By not giving the charges any credence, she minimized the amount of coverage and helped shape the quality of coverage. As a result, none of the Sunday shows mentioned the flap, except for Fox. Though the big disappointment was not that Fox made a big deal about it. It was Sen. Joe Biden’s (D-DE) weak defense of her. Well, knowing Patty, I know she didn't mean it the way that came out. I assume what she was trying to say to those high school students was that the reason he's popular in various parts of the world is, along with the Saudis, they built 70,000 madrassas and they did go in there -- he did go in there, with our help and millions of dollars, to, you know, kick out the Russians, et cetera. But I think it was -- I would hope if she had a chance to rephrase it, she would change that. The idea that Patty Murray thinks we should pattern ourselves after bin Laden is not -- I don't believe she thinks that at all. I think it's a very bad choice of words. Except that it wasn’t a bad choice of words. It was an intelligent choice of words, and Murray ain't apologizing.
Amen to that. Biden's comment is full of truly ridiculous qualifying words that just legitimize the smear tactics. Biden says, "I don't believe she thinks that at all". It's not a matter of belief Joe. Of course she doesn't believe that, and you should say so clearly and call on the carpet those who make the ridiculous suggestion that she does. Instead, he concedes the smear's main thesis by saying that Murray would say it differently if she had another chance. Biden needs to learn that it doesn't matter how carefully you phrase your words, the GOP smear machine will find some way to distort it in order to make you sound like you are bin Laden's biggest buddy and that you hate all things American. This is the way they operate Joe. Wake Up!