Saturday, January 04, 2003

(Courtesy of UggaBugga) Just in case we weren't sure who this guy was... You think, maybe, this guy has some issues?

Now, normally I wouldn't link to a WorldNetDaily article. But when they start publishing something like this I just have to wonder how precarious Bush's position really is.
Terror alerts manufactured? FBI agents say White House scripting 'hysterics' for political effect
Intelligence pros say the White House is manufacturing terrorist alerts to keep the issue alive in the minds of voters and to keep President Bush's approval ratings high, Capitol Hill Blue reports.
The Thursday report said that the administration is engaging in "hysterics" in issuing numerous terror alerts that have little to no basis in fact.
"Unfortunately, we haven't made a lot of progress against al-Qaida or the war on terrorism," one FBI agent familiar with terrorism operations told CHB. "We've been spinning our wheels for several weeks now."
Other sources within the bureau and the Central Intelligence Agency said the administration is pressuring intelligence agencies to develop "something, anything" to support an array of non-specific terrorism alerts issued by the White House and the Department of Homeland Security.
"Most of the time, we have little to go on, only unconfirmed snippets of information," a second FBI agent, who also was not named in the report, said. "Most alerts are issued without any concrete data to back up the assumptions."
Now, none of this comes as any surprise to those of us who have always considered the Bushies more then capable of engaging in false terrorism alerts in order to scare people into compliance. Unfortunately, this article is typical for a WorldNetDaily article what with its multiple claims of anonymous sources and unnamed groups assessing the actions of government. We saw the same kind of journalism without accountability during the Clinton years so I wouldn't be surprised if some of this is as manufactured as that was. What is newsworthy about this, though, is that the people at WND are turning their guns against the Bushies. What next? Falwell hawking copies of "The Bush Chronicles"? (Thanks to Right Wing Slayer for linking this)

LMB on the topic of "class warfare":
It's absolutely hilarious, really. When conservatives try to cut taxes for the rich, they try to pre-emptively defeat the "class warfare" criticism by pretending that that angle has already been discussed at length, refuted and everyone is so sick of the topic that they want to vomit, even though not a single word on the subject has yet been uttered.
I have said before that the Republican propaganda apparatus is one of the finest in the world. The whole "class warfare" bugaboo is one of their finest creations (up their with "liberal media"). The GOP knows that America is become more and more a classist society, in no small part due to Republican policies. But they also know that the American people have a visceral hatred of classism. So, how to avoid this problem? Quite simple: make it sound like classism exists only in the eyes of those who point it out and that it is the critics who are creating the artificial class distinctions merely by talking about it. Funny. You would think that Republicans would be the last to claim that reality can be changed merely by the way it is defined. But then, this is strange only if you believe them in how they define themselves.

Avedon Carol responds to my questioning why the establishment media seems to go out of their way to find excuses for why Bush is not responsible for any of the bad things that are going on today. Just to be clear, that question was partly rhetorical. Avedon pretty much states what I already believe to be the truth: that the establishment media is horribly compromised when it comes to reporting just the basic facts about what is going on today. To do so without finding a way to suggest it might not be Bush's fault will subject them to the label of "liberal bias", derision, and possible exclusion from the Kool Kidz Klub (and all the money that goes along with membership in said club). There are exceptions of course. Paul Krugman is one of them, but he has the advantage of not being part of that media culture and thus not subject to its rules of behavior. The one who is really a surprise is Dana Milbank. He is perhaps the most overtly skeptical journalist who reports on the Bush administration and yet still has a position of semi-prominence in the establishment media. Even if I don't always agree with all that he says, I applaud him for the courage he has shown. I wonder how long it will be before he gets shipped out to Siberia.

The horse is back!

You have to "love" the way the Bushies operate. First they let unemployment benefits lapse for 800,000 people. Then they propose a stimulus package that includes an extension of those benefits and other nice goodies for the unemployed. It also happens to include many many more really nice goodies for Bush benefectors. Then they will accuse the Democrats of hurting the unemployed if and when they try to fight all those really nice goodies. And the establishment media will go along with the ruse.

Friday, January 03, 2003

Looks like Molly Ivin's likes to collect quotes as well. Two of her selections stand out for me.
"The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those your are going to lose, because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins. In order for somebody to win an important, major fight 100 years hence, a lot of other people have got to be willing -- for the sheer fun and joy of it -- to go right ahead and fight, knowing you're going to lose. You mustn't feel like a martyr. You've got to enjoy it." -- I.F. Stone.
"The enemy is not conservatism. The enemy is not liberalism. The enemy is bullshit." -- Lars Erik Nelson.
The Democrats should take Stone's maxim to heart. They have been so afraid of losing for the last few years that they have lost the ability to win. And the second quote makes me remember how much I miss Nelson. His loss was truly a tragedy.

I was thinking some more about the previous posts on the purchase of TV time by companies who want to influence the content of what is on TV. Now, this may be a crazy idea, but what if they are doing something similar with respect to political advertising? Consider this: if these companies fork over large sums of money to the networks and cable companies, then that will jack up the overall price of commercial time (higher demand creates higher prices). Which means that it will cost more money for candidates to run their ads in prime-time. Which means that only the richer candidates, or those who have sold themselves out to the highest bidders (i.e., the same people buying up TV time with large amounts of cash), can afford to run for office. Could this be intentional?

Remember: it's only class warfare if you attack the rich.
Bush preemptively rebutted the Democratic accusations during a tour of his ranch this morning. "I understand the politics of economic stimulus -- that some would like to turn this into class warfare," he said. "That's not how I think. I think about the overall economy and how best to help those folks who are looking for work."

You think you have a tough job?
But in private, several of Mr. Bush's advisers say the North Korean crisis has complicated their diplomatic task at the United Nations. So has Mr. Bush's determination that a pre-emptive strike on North Korea is not viable even if Mr. Kim is only months away from adding to his nuclear arsenal, the advisers say.
"We will be facing considerable skepticism on the question of how we can justify confrontation with Saddam when he is letting inspectors into the country, and a diplomatic solution with Kim when he's just thrown them out," one senior diplomat acknowledged today. "And we're working on the answer."
Working for Bush must be a prescription for getting an ulcer.

Billmon channels 2003 over on The Daily Kos. To much good stuff to select from
March 10 The U.S. economy continues its downward spiral, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average falls to 38.67 – a 106-year low. President Bush unveils his 12th economic stimulus package of the year, calling for a new “lactation excise tax” on low-income mothers. Revenues would be used to finance total repeal of the corporate income tax.
March 11 Democratic leaders endorse Bush’s lactation tax proposal, but suggest a partial exemption for mothers under the age of 16, to be funded by a 0.0000000001% increase in the top federal marginal rate.
March 12 A Wall Street Journal editorial accuses the Democrats of waging “Maoist-style class warfare.” Democratic leaders immediately abandon their tax plan.

Randi goes on to say that this effects more then just talk radio:
Ask yourself, why does ADM (Archer Daniels Midland) advertise? Do they want to sell you a soybean? Why does Boeing advertise? Are you gonna' buy aircraft? Aircraft parts? GE the largest defense contractor wants to sell you a light buld and/or a missile? And then there's BASF -- they don't make anything! They just make it better. Uh huh. They're buying CONTENT. Millions and millions of advertising dollars DO affect the message you get. It controls the news that is reported and the news that is NOT.
I have often wondered about this myself. Seeing advertisements from ADM, GE, BASF, etc. on TB really makes very little sense. I am not their customer. Their customers are the manufacturers and retailers who use/resell their products that ultimately go into producing the consumer goods that I buy. Those customers are not going to be making those kind of purchasing decisions based on the fact that GE "brings good things to life". What benefit then does and ADM, GE, BASF or any other of a myriad of companies get from TV advertising? Randi puts her finger on it: by shovelling large amounts of money into the coffers of the TV and cable networks these companies have become, in effect, the suppliers to the information industry addicts. They string them out on a big supply of cash ("Give it to them for free kid. You'll get them to pay later."). Then they can use the dependency on that cash as leverage to keep the information suppliers from supplying information that they don't want supplied. Remember how the tobacco industry got 60 minutes to back down on the story that was portrayed in the movie "The Insider"? They did the same with ABC and their story on the spiking of cigarettes with nicotine additives. Big tobacco certainly knows the in's and out's of keeping addicts strung out. But they aren't the only ones.

Buzzflash interviews Randi Rhodes:
BUZZFLASH: A lot of "mainstream media" think that there is no audience for progressive shows or outlets. What are your comments?
RHODES: Oh, I am so glad you asked. I am a ratings and revenue queen. Number 1 or 2 in the ratings usually. So what are the "mainstream" talking about? Well, they say Liberals don't make money because no one wants to hear them. Okay, let's think.
First, remember that more Americans are registered or identify themselves as Democrats than Republicans. So here's the dirty little secret of news talk. There are advertisers making huge "buys" on really low rated shows that air nationally. If advertisers only go where the listeners are why do they buy cable news, Oliver North, or Rush Limbaugh who has horrible ratings?
They are buying CONTROL of CONTENT. It's leverage, whether it's radio, cable or network. They control millions of dollars of any company's revenue source. So that if something is said or done to disrupt their global business, they take their advertising elsewhere, or threaten to and then shut down the message.
And, think about this . . . how many products are on TV that you can't even buy? Plastics, computer chips, prescription drugs, soybeans. I mean honestly. This is the story that NEVER gets told. People just think, "Well, if your good enough, you'll have a big audience and that's what advertisers want." "Whose being naïve now Kaye?" I am always number one or two in the market. Rush is somewhere around 21st. I replaced G. Gordon Liddy!
I hope this gets told over and over because it is how they control our news, our Information Awareness. Get it?
Thank you Randi. This is perhaps the best formulation I have seen of a thought that I have had for some time. It is obvious to all but those with a certain political agenda that the failure of progressive radio to make inroads nationwide has nothing to do with ratings. There is a glass-ceiling in the radio business that prevents successful liberal talk show hosts from rising above a certain level. There have been multiple cases of such hosts achieving ratings success in their local markets. Yet they are never picked up for national syndication and/or they ultimately get cancelled by the local station to be replaced by Limbaugh clones. Now, I have never completely bought into the notion that the Limbots are successful because their ideology is closer to that of the network owners (though that is a part of it). You see, most of the owners are greedy capitalists and if they can make money off of a progressive radio show they would certainly do so. Ideology for these people is a luxary that is tossed aside when it might hurt the bottom-line. Randi proposes an alternate explanation: progressive/liberal talk show hosts are harder to control and are more likely to bite the hands that feed them. In other words, if Randi or Mike Malloy or Peter Werbe were to get large national exposure they might actually attack some of the things that the network owners care about (i.e., the other things that improve their bottom lines). The simple fact of the matter is that Limbaugh, Savage, Hannity, North and Schlessinger are much more compliant minions. They are also in it for the money and will gladly punt their ideology if it means lining their pockets with more of the stuff. So, if the networks want radio personalities that they can make money off of without having to worry about them attacking their methods of making money then the only logical course is to hire Limbots. They may not maximize the profits of the radio business. But they do it enough that they are worth forgoing the heartburn that would come form hiring Rhodes, Werbe or Malloy.

Josh Marshal makes an interesting point about Democratic culpability in Republican foreign policy failings:
Part of the issue here is that the Democrats' persistent lack of seriousness about national security policy -- which I discussed here in the New York Post -- has made conservatives frightfully lazy on the same subject. Sad to say, but true. They're in the habit of thinking that talking tough gets you credit for being tough. Only it doesn't. Certainly, it doesn't get you credit for being tough and smart in your management of national security matters. Talking tough simply doesn't give the Bush administration a free pass to smooth over or cover up its policy screw-ups in Northeast Asia. I can understand their wanting it to. But it doesn't.
This is similar to a point I have made in the past: the Democrats need to be a stronger party (in the sense of bringing workable proposals to the table and fighting to get them passed) if, for no other reason, to make the Republicans equally strong. America suffers when its political leadership is flabby and, despite their recent successes, the Republicans have become very flabby (witness who their leader is). Call it free market politics: the political system as a whole is stronger when both parties are strong.

Play Bush Squares! You to can start a nuclear war! (courtesy UggaBugga)

From an article in yesterday's Times on the secrecy of this administration:
Asked if there was anyone in the administration who was a consistent advocate of openness, who argued that secrecy hurt as well as helped, Mr. Fleischer said President Bush was that person. He said that was exemplified by the fact that while "the president reserved the authority to try people under military tribunals, nobody has been tried under military tribunals."
"I'm holding a gun to your head. I've been holding it to your head for two years. I haven't pulled the trigger yet. Ain't I a nice guy?" update: Chuck Lawhorn over on Table Talk made an interesting response to this:
Chris, the answer to that question will always be "yes." It explains the high approval ratings. An answer of "no" results in a pulled trigger.
I'm not so sure that a large part of Dubya's approval is out of fear. But that fear may have an influence on the way he is covered by the establishment media. Hmmm. Maybe we've all got it wrong. Maybe most of the Washington press corps know that Dubya is nuts. But, if they report that, they might push him over the edge. Thus, they write glowing reports about him in order to keep him from going completely insane. (long pause) Naaahhhhh!

mbroglio over on Salon's Table Talk discovered an interesting bit of dialogue from our commander in chief:
BUSH: Yes, Holly?
BUSH: I'm tired of these people calling you Heidi.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I appreciate you clarifying it.
BUSH: And I will correct them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I appreciate that.
BUSH: Particularly on camera.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If we do have to go to war...
BUSH: With which country?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With Iraq. And with our economy stagnating, what makes you confident...
BUSH: First of all, you know, I'm hopeful we won't have to go to war. And let's leave it at that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If we do, though.
BUSH: Until Saddam Hussein makes up his mind to disarm. See, it's his choice to make. So you need to ask him that question, not me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But the White House is drawing up plans to pay for the war, if we come to that. So why...?
BUSH: Let's leave it at "if" for awhile then, until it happens.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. So you don't want to talk about whether our economy could sustain it, if that's a possibility?
BUSH: I thought that was a question I answered yesterday. So go back to that question, Heidi -- I mean Holly.
This snippet demonstrates a bit of Dubya's supposed ability to charm the pants of the journalists who cover him. The name game is one of his favorite, including his penchant for giving everyone around him a nickname. I personally would find this kind of exchange demeaning, but then I'm not a big-time journalist am I? The "With which country?" is an especially telling comment since it demonstrates Bush's immaturity when discussing the most serious of topics. It takes a certain level of mental sickness to find the topic of war humorous. mbroglio wondered whether something has been put in the water supply to make the American people think they are more safe and secure with this man as President. I have to agree with him.

Paul Krugman doesn't really say anything that hasn't been said before by myself and others. He just does a better job of it (I guess that's why he gets paid for this stuff and I don't).
Games Nations Play
What game does the Bush administration think it's playing in Korea?
That's not a rhetorical question. During the cold war, the U.S. government employed experts in game theory to analyze strategies of nuclear deterrence. Men with Ph.D.'s in economics, like Daniel Ellsberg, wrote background papers with titles like "The Theory and Practice of Blackmail." The intellectual quality of these analyses was impressive, but their main conclusion was simple: Deterrence requires a credible commitment to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior.
I know, it sounds obvious. Yet the Bush administration's Korea policy has systematically violated that simple principle.
So Mr. Bush thinks you're a bad guy — and that makes you a potential target, no matter what you do.
On the other hand, Mr. Bush hasn't gone after you yet, though you are much closer to developing weapons of mass destruction than Iraq. (You probably already have a couple.) And you ask yourself, why is Saddam Hussein first in line? He's no more a supporter of terrorism than you are: the Bush administration hasn't produced any evidence of a Saddam-Al Qaeda connection. Maybe the administration covets Iraq's oil reserves; but it's also notable that of the three members of the axis of evil, Iraq has by far the weakest military.
So you might be tempted to conclude that the Bush administration is big on denouncing evildoers, but that it can be deterred from actually attacking countries it denounces if it expects them to put up a serious fight. What was it Teddy Roosevelt said? Talk trash but carry a small stick?
So here's how it probably looks from Pyongyang:
The Bush administration says you're evil. It won't offer you aid, even if you cancel your nuclear program, because that would be rewarding evil. It won't even promise not to attack you, because it believes it has a mission to destroy evil regimes, whether or not they actually pose any threat to the U.S. But for all its belligerence, the Bush administration seems willing to confront only regimes that are militarily weak.
The incentives for North Korea are clear. There's no point in playing nice — it will bring neither aid nor security. It needn't worry about American efforts to isolate it economically — North Korea hardly has any trade except with China, and China isn't cooperating. The best self-preservation strategy for Mr. Kim is to be dangerous. So while America is busy with Iraq, the North Koreans should cook up some plutonium and build themselves some bombs.
Again: What game does the Bush administration think it's playing?
A coward's game is what it is. But Mr. Krugman would never be allowed to say so directly in the pages of the New York Times. So he just says it in a way that is clear to most sentient beings. We are being lead by a blundering coward. Sleep tight!

Eric Boehlert does something that I, frankly, didn't bother to do when I posted the scan of the TIME/CNN poll last week: read the article that went around it (I rarely read establishment press anymore and certainly not of the TIME/Newsweek variety). Doing so, Eric picked up on something I and most everyone else missed: the article presents a glowing picture of Bush and Cheney that is completely at odds with the results of Bush's own poll.
The box highlights the latest results of a CNN/Time poll of 1,006 American adults taken on Dec. 17-18. Among the questions they were asked was whether Cheney "is a leader you can trust." A majority of those polled, 51 percent, said they did not trust him; just 42 percent said they did. For some reason, nowhere in Time's endless, breathless encomium to Cheney can that little detail be found.
Instead, Time wrote that for American anxious about war, "it's not enough for people to like Bush; they have to follow him, and for many, that's easier when he has Cheney marching at his side." Why people would feel better about marching to war behind Cheney when most Americans don't trust him is a knot Time doesn't bother to untangle. Cue "The Star-Spangled Banner"!
As for Bush, his trust ratings are only slightly better. According to the same CNN/Time poll, just 50 percent trust him, while 48 percent do not. Basically it's a tie, given the poll's margin of error of 3.5 percent. But that doesn't stop Time from insisting, "Most Americans are inclined to give Bush the benefit of the doubt; they trust his motives and approve of his performance." Most Americans?
What is apparent from this is that TIME decided to write a year-end love letter to Bush and Cheney. Meanwhile, someone else decided that the story should be accompanied by a graphic showing their latest poll results. The mistake was that no one bothered to compare the content of the article with what the graphic below it showed. A finer example of establishment media disconnect has rarely been seen.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

Let us all pity the poor put upon souls who bravely step up and take on the "liberal media":
The Professionals Press bias is as alive as ever. Media bias is so prevalent that save for a few brave souls, most conservatives are weary of even pointing it out anymore in fear of sounding kneejerkingly predictable. But how do you get around winners like this? (N.B. This is not from a Saturday Night Live skit.) Barbara Walters narrating a 20/20 interview with Fidel Castro:
For Castro, freedom starts with education. And if literacy alone were the yardstick, Cuba would rank as one of the freest nations on Earth. The literacy rate is 96 percent.
Thanks, Ms. Walters. And Mussolini made the trains run on time, right? The Media Research Center, the bravest of the brave when it comes to willingness to delve through the media muck and chronicle the daily instances of bias — and willingness to take the inevitable derision that comes with it, awards Walters the "Media Hero Award" for her Castro hug in its fifteenth annual awards for the worst reporting, issued just before 2002's end.
Oh yes, it certainly does take a lot of bravery to attack the "liberal media" and have to suffer through the anguish of the money that poors into your coffers from think-tanks and "brave" millionaires who are willing to sacrifice for the good fight. I'm sure Bernard Goldberg has suffered a lot for having to deal with the problems of all the money he has earned from his best-selling book. I feel so sorry for these people and I am just so in awe of their bravery. Oh wait, is that an example of the kind of derision described above? Little did I realize that little old me could cause these brave warriors to quake in their boots. Boo!

Josh Marshall starts taking apart the administration's attempts to avoid blame for the Korean crisis--er--"situation":
The line taken on this point by administration defenders is, what do you want us to do? Go to war? They've got nukes and forty thousand of our soldiers are there ready to get slaughtered and they can destroy Seoul and on and on and on. This line of argument is supposed to shut up administration critics because who wants to be in the position of encouraging the administration to go to war. But it doesn't end the argument, it just gets it going. If war is such an ugly and unviable option -- and it is -- then why in the hell did they provoke this situation in the first place? It's a really good question and one the administration and its defenders are entirely incapable of answering. You only get to seem tough and principled and Churchillian if you draw a line in the sand and then have something to follow it up with. You only get credit for pointing out what everyone already knew -- that the 1994 agreement was an imperfect one and perhaps only a stopgap -- if you've got something better. If you don't, you just look like a fool.

Digby unleashes Peggy Noonan on herself. It's a beautiful sight to behold.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

Hesiod on why Democrats are losers:
They have the right idea. Namely, developing a liberal propaganda network akin to the one the Conservatives have perfected. But, as usual, they are telling everyone about it [which the Conservatives never did], and delegitimizing anything that their plans develop.
The Democratic leadership of the last 10 years, excluding Clinton, has been some of the lamest group of politicians in the history of mankind. It usually takes them years to realize something that the rank-and-file have understood for quite some time, and then they go blabbing all over the place about their failures instead of spending time working, behind the scenes, on improving their successes. Of course, there is something ironic about Hesiod's post pointing out that some of the most strident voices on the left spend as much time criticizing the Democrats as the Republicans. What is ironic is that Hesiod's post (and my post as well), is also a public criticism of Democrats. The Republicans are laughing all the way to the bank.

CalPundit asks the question, "With all due respect to my fellow liberals, can someone tell me why the lefty blogosphere has been obsessing over this Time/CNN poll showing that Bush's approval numbers have now dropped to 55%?" Here's my attempt to answer that question. Yes, TIME is read by a lot of people. But if there is anything I have learned in recent years is that the emphasis put on information is more important then whether the information is available or not. The TIME poll was printed in the magazine, but has received absolutely no mention anywhere else, while other polls showing higher numbers have been used to show Bush's continuing popularity. Furthermore, when CNN did mention the poll, they did so only in the context of a story about how Bush's advisors were trusted by the American people. Yet, even that was deceptive, since the poll actually sounds more like people are saying his advisors are more trusted then Bush. Furthermore, has said that CNN/Time sent them the poll results, except the all important approval numbers. Why would they specifically choose to not include that one number? The recent Trent Lott situation shows that the media can dictate the terms of the debate by what they chose not to emphasize. They essentially ignored Lott's comments until the weight of the criticism became to big for them to pretend that it wasn't an important story. One poll does not a trend make of course. But the curious lack of mention of this one poll result does match the trend in recent years of the establishment media trumpeting positive news about the Bushies while burying negative information. To put it simply, the anger over this incident is not over this incident alone but over how it fits into the overall pattern of media coverage of the Bush presidency. I hope that answers some of Cal's questions.

Gene Lyons has an end-of-the year column out describing Susan McDougal's new book, The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk. Atrios has a copy of the column here. He also recommends that everyone buy his book, Fools For Scandal. I second that recommendation. "Fools For Scandal" was the seminal book, for me at least, in laying out exactly what was going on with the whole Clinton Scandal Network. I hadn't really followed politics and the Clinton scandals closely before reading this book. I had seen several reports on Whitewater, but they always left me confused because none of them could ever seem to explain exactly what it was that the Clinton's had done wrong. It wasn't until I read Gene's book that I understood that the reason I couldn't understand the story was because there wasn't any story to understand. I came up with a simple way of describing this a few years back: the whole mess of allegations surrounding the Clinton's were confusing if and only if you assumed they must have done something wrong. If, however, you gave them the benefit of the doubt, pretty much all the scandal surrounding them clears itself up. You begin to understand that, in their case, where there's smoke there was often a smoke-making machine. Many online acquantances of mine had come to understand this very well by the time the Lewinsky scandal broke. That is why it took so long for them to even entertain the idea that, for once, he might have actually done something that he was being accused of doing. We were so used to these bogus scandals by then (remember Arlington-Gate?) that we naturly dismissed this as yet another manufactured brou-ha-ha. In the case of Clinton's immature sexual behavior, we were wrong. In pretty much everything else, we were right. Not a bad track record.

Our allies in the war on terror:
U.S. Reports Clash With Pakistani Border Unit American Wounded; Bomb Ends Skirmish BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Dec. 31 -- U.S. military authorities announced today that a brief shootout erupted between U.S. and Pakistani troops along the Afghan border Sunday, prompting the U.S. forces to call in an F-16 warplane that dropped a 500-pound bomb on the Pakistanis to end the clash. One U.S. soldier was shot and wounded as the encounter began, the U.S. military said in a statement at Bagram, just north of Kabul, the capital. The soldier, whose identity was withheld, was flown to Germany for medical treatment and was listed in stable condition at a military facility there, the statement said. Reports from Pakistani officials in South Waziristan, the tribal administrative zone on the Pakistani side of the border, said at least two members of the Pakistani Border Scouts were killed in the bombing, which they said hit a Muslim religious school on the Pakistani side of the border in which some of the Border Scouts had taken refuge. U.S. and Pakistani military authorities sought to play down the clash and stressed that both sides remain determined to cooperate in hunting down remnants of Taliban and al Qaeda forces who have redoubts in the isolated border hills and move back and forth across a tense and loosely policed frontier. But the shooting raised again the question of whether some Pakistani soldiers and tribal leaders still sympathize with their Taliban neighbors, whom they long supported until the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

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 comes clean on Bush approval numbers - Time pollsters are HIDING them! To: 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: 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?