Saturday, January 10, 2004
When it passed the [No Child Left Behind] law, Congress required that the states close the achievement gap between rich and poor students over the next decade by beefing up instruction and holding all children to the same high standards. The states were supposed to file detailed reports on teacher quality and student performance, most notably dropout rates. But recently a study by the Education Trust, a nonpartisan Washington foundation, found that the states have been getting away with falsifying even the most basic data.
The report, titled Telling the Whole Truth (or Not) About High School Graduation, says that many states reported implausibly high graduation rates, which are at odds with most research into the dropout problem. A companion report on teacher preparedness says that in that critical area, some states have crossed "the line that separates fact from fiction, to paint a rosy picture that is simply at odds with reality."
Common sense tells us that education reform will go nowhere unless students are taught by strong, qualified teachers. The administration, however, never believed in the teacher quality provision and accepted it only because Congress had forced the issue. Now it is undermining the law by failing to enforce that requirement.
The Bush White House seems to believe that it can create quality education by requiring unprepared students to take high-stakes tests, and then labeling their schools as failing when the students do not measure up.
The whole basis for this law seems illogical to me. It's as if Bush is purposely undermining the public schools.
Bill Clinton used to be mocked as the first baby boomer president. He was so undisciplined, the critics used to sneer: He thought life's normal constraints and rules did not apply to him, and he lacked the seriousness to impose priorities on his laundry lists of initiatives. President Bush has escaped this critique, at least for the most part: His frame is trim; his hair is trimmed; he seems the very embodiment of discipline. But now this escape must surely end. A human settlement on the moon? A manned flight to Mars? If Mr. Bush really does embrace those objectives next Wednesday, as his staff suggests he will, it will be fair to ask: Does he not believe that life's normal constraints and rules apply to him? Does he lack the seriousness to decide priorities?
Actually, Mr. Bush's contempt for the constraints of fiscal prudence has been evident for a long while. Some presidents before him -- Mr. Clinton included -- made hard choices among competing spending programs, and between spending and taxes. Mr. Bush spends money freely in all directions and cuts taxes as well. Now he wants to colonize the moon and eventually send Americans to Mars! The last time this idea was floated -- by the president's father, in 1989 -- NASA put the likely cost at $400 billion.
We are not against presidents who pursue big ideas, even expensive ones. We can think of several worthy candidates, as we have said before: Make sure that every child who qualifies for Head Start is actually covered by the program; extend housing assistance to the 5 million American families who qualify for it but nonetheless are excluded; and provide preschooling and health insurance for all the nation's 4-year-olds.
Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark said "the two greatest lies" of the last three years were that the Sept. 11 attacks could not have been prevented and that a future attack is inevitable.
"If I'm president of the United States, I'm going to take care of the American people," Clark told the Concord Monitor for a story published Friday. "We are not going to have one of these incidents."
In previous statements, Clark blamed President Bush for intelligence failures that contributed to the attacks in New York and Washington. The chairman of the federal commission investigating the attacks has said mistakes had left the nation vulnerable but did not blame the Bush or Clinton administrations.
Meeting on Thursday with the Monitor editorial board, Clark said: "I think the two greatest lies that have been told in the last three years are: You couldn't have prevented 9-11 and there's another one that's bound to happen."
Campaigning in New Hampshire Friday, Clark stood by the statements despite criticism from his rivals.
"I don't think we have to live in America under a cloud of perpetual fear. We could have done more to have prevented 9-11, we could be doing much more right now to prevent another terrorist strike," Clark said.
Politicians would like to end their term on a high note. Hence, administration representatives and Congressional leaders would like to see the persistently weak labor market disappear. Absent real strong job growth, they have opted for the second best thing: defining away the problem. By simply declaring that any employment growth, regardless of how measly in historical comparison, equals victory over the "job loss" recovery, policymakers no longer have to worry about low employment, wage, and income growth.
In February 2003, President Bush's Council of Economic Advisors estimated that the economy would create about 306,000 new jobs per month between June 2003 and the end of 2004. Treasury Secretary John Snow changed this forecast in October to about 200,000 jobs per month. And the White House declared in December that President Bush's tax cuts are working because the economy added an average of 82,000 in the past four months. In line with this view, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) was quoted in December saying that he saw "no reason" to extend unemployment benefits further. By moving the goal posts closer, victory is achieved much more easily.
I wouldn't look for honesty in this administration.
Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill likened President Bush at Cabinet meetings to "a blind man in a room full of deaf people," according to excerpts on Friday from a CBS interview. O'Neill, who was fired by Bush in December 2002, also said the president did not ask him a single question during their first one-on-one meeting, which lasted an hour.
"As I recall it was just a monologue," he told CBS' "60 Minutes," which will broadcast the entire interview on Sunday.
In making the blind man analogy, O'Neill told CBS his ex-boss did not encourage a free flow of ideas or open debate.
"There is no discernible connection," CBS quoted O'Neill as saying. The president's lack of engagement left his advisers with "little more than hunches about what the president might think," O'Neill said, according to the program.
CBS said much of O'Neill's criticisms of Bush are included in The Price of Loyalty, an upcoming book by former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind.
[Also check out this Financial Times article on the same subject.]
Friday, January 09, 2004
Bush administration officials exaggerated the threats from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and failed to uncover any links between President Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, a private nonpartisan research organization concluded in a report released yesterday.
The study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace states that "administration officials systematically misrepresented the threat from Iraq's WMD and ballistic missile program" by treating possibilities as fact and "misrepresenting inspectors' findings in ways that turned threats from minor to dire."
The report also cited Vice President Dick Cheney's "repeated visits" to CIA headquarters, the creation of a separate intelligence operation in the Department of Defense, and demands by administration officials for access to raw intelligence as evidence of "unusually intense" pressure on intelligence agencies to provide assessments of the Iraqi threat that were in line with the administration's policies.
I think we already knew all of this, but it's good for it to be kept in the public eye. They should not be allowed to get away with this!
Our greatest risk is not terrorism and it's not Iraq or the "Axis of Evil." Our greatest risk is a lack of leadership, a lack of honesty and a complete lack of consciousness. Unfortunately our current government cannot see the big picture. They think too small. They suffer from the "what's in it for me?" syndrome.
The simple truth is that the current administration has squandered incredible opportunities to bring the world together, to promote peace in regions that have only known war, to encourage health in places that are ravaged with disease, to make us more secure by living up to our principles at home and abroad. The simple truth is that the policies of our current administration do not reflect what is great about America.
Thankfully, there is now a candidate running for President who is committed to ensuring that our country lives up to its promise and its people. He is a decorated soldier and a respected diplomatic leader, who has already given 34 years to his country. He is smart and he is good. He has worked hard to get where he is and he is a national hero.
A new study released Thursday shows that employees and political action committees of brokerages, banks and credit companies make up 6 of President Bush's top 10 career contributors, a clear indicator of his increasing support from the financial sector.
In a similar study during the 2000 election, no major financial services firms were among the top 10.
The study was conducted by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity and published as a book, The Buying of the President 2004. It looks at top contributors to Republican and Democratic presidential candidates over the course of their public careers.
"This money is not coming from backyard bake sales and barbecues," said Charles Lewis, the center's executive director. "It's coming from powerful special interests who want something."
I bet they'll get it, too.
The encroaching tax season may not spoil the holiday cheer of the well-to-do as much as in past years, since Congress has generously speeded up tax cuts on earned income and capital gains for 2003. But can the country afford them when the total national debt has just breached $7 trillion and is on course to increase $5 trillion more in the next 10 years? Increasingly, the answer around the world is "No."
The Congressional Budget Office and nonpartisan groups like the Concord Coalition have long warned of the consequences, to interest rates and investment, of the soaring deficit. The new Cassandra is the International Monetary Fund, warning that the growing trillions of U.S. debt jeopardize global financial stability.
Though the tax-cut and spending spree of the last few years may have temporarily juiced up the U.S. economy, it will exact a price in later stagnation. U.S. financial obligations to other countries are reaching "an unprecedented level of external debt for a large industrial economy," according to the IMF report. One cause of that indebtedness is last year's record trade deficit of $491 billion, after 2002's already high $418 billion. The trade imbalance also helps explain the loss of millions of decently paying U.S. manufacturing jobs.
It will take years to dig out of the economic spider-hole this administration has put us in.
President Bush said Thursday that his fiscal 2005 budget would include a $1-billion increase in education aid for low-income children and another $1-billion hike for special education, but Democrats continued to criticize what they said was his inadequate commitment to improving public schooling.
Speaking at an elementary school here on the second anniversary of his No Child Left Behind Act, Bush said that "record amounts" of federal dollars were being spent on education.
The White House said the president would ask for 48% more in annual spending for elementary and secondary education in the budget he will send to Congress next month than was appropriated in fiscal 2001. That would be an increase from $24.8 billion to $36.7 billion.
However, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) responded that the president's proposal still would leave Title I — the government's chief program for public schools serving low-income children — with nearly $7.2 billion less than the roughly $20.5 billion Congress had authorized in earlier, multiyear legislation.
And how does that $7.2 billion compare to the cost of the Iraq war?
Nearly a year after his pivotal speech to the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Thursday staunchly defended his arguments that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that justified a war against Iraq.
Fielding questions on a variety of topics at a State Department news conference, Powell insisted that although postwar investigations had yet to find stockpiles of unconventional weapons, the ousted Iraqi regime for years possessed both the arms and the intention to use them.
"I am confident of what I presented last year; the intelligence community is confident of the material they gave me," he said. "And this game is still unfolding."
[Also check out this New York Times article on the same subject.]
Cleanup work at 11 of the worst toxic dumps in the country hasn't started because the Superfund program doesn't have enough money, the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general said yesterday.
The $3 billion program has a shortfall of nearly $175 million, according to the report.
"When funding is not sufficient, construction cannot begin; cleanups are performed in less than an optimal manner; and / or activities are stretched over longer periods of time," the report said.
In addition to the 11 sites, there are four places where "emergency removal" of contaminants such as asbestos and lead is on hold for lack of $9.4 million.
Another $40.8 million is lacking for continuing cleanups at eight sites, the report said, and $6.1 million is needed to investigate contaminants at six additional sites.
The report focused on cleanup sites where the government can't show who caused the pollution and, therefore, can't make someone pay for it.
The report was requested by Representative John Dingell, Democrat of Michigan; Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative Hilda Solis, Democrats of California; and Senator James Jeffords, Independent of Vermont. In a statement, they said the "enormous funding deficiencies" threaten public health and the environment.
Not enough money for Superfund. Not enough money for No Child Left Behind. A huge budget deficit. And now the president wants to go to the moon. What are the priorities of this administration?
President Bush bolstered his "compassionate" credentials among moderates with his proposal to offer millions of undocumented workers guest worker cards. But even as supporters were cheering the president's announcement from the East Room on Wednesday, angry calls were already pouring into the office of US Representative Elton Gallegly, a conservative Republican from the heart of Bush country.
Gallegly's Los Angeles-area district gave the president 54 percent of its votes in 2000. But this week it gave Gallegly's staff an earful: Illegal immigrants should be deported, not employed.
"My phone was ringing off the hook [with people saying], `We don't want to change the name on the US Capitol to the Mexican Department of Social Services,' " Gallegly said.
The immigration proposal is the latest in a series of Bush policies that have angered parts of the president's conservative political base. Fiscal conservatives are furious about surging federal spending. Libertarians complain about the long reach of the Patriot Act. Military advocates fear that the Pentagon will prematurely pull troops out of Iraq.
If he's upsetting conservatives, liberals, and libertarians, why is it so "obvious" that he will win in November?
Thursday, January 08, 2004
With its rising budget deficit and ballooning trade imbalance, the United States is running up a foreign debt of such record-breaking proportions that it threatens the financial stability of the global economy, according to a report released Wednesday by the International Monetary Fund.
Prepared by a team of I.M.F. economists, the report sounded a loud alarm about the shaky fiscal foundation of the United States, questioning the wisdom of the Bush administration's tax cuts and warning that large budget deficits pose "significant risks" not just for the United States but for the rest of the world.
The report warns that the United States' net financial obligations to the rest of the world could be equal to 40 percent of its total economy within a few years — "an unprecedented level of external debt for a large industrial country," according to the fund, that could play havoc with the value of the dollar and international exchange rates.
Other economists said they were afraid that this was a replay of the 1980's when the United States went from the world's largest creditor nation to its biggest debtor nation following tax cuts and a large military build-up under President Ronald Reagan.
I knew I'd heard this story before.
[Check out the full text of the IMF report here.]
A brouhaha of minor, inside-the-beltway proportions involving political spin-doctoring by someone inside the White House now seems likely to mushroom into a full-blown federal case. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft last week removed himself from an investigation into who in the Bush administration blew a CIA operative's cover. What's with that? No one's saying, but it appears the monthslong investigation has produced evidence convincing Ashcroft that his continued participation would involve a conflict of interest.
Under investigation is the source who reportedly told several journalists that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a covert agent for the CIA. Wilson is the guy who last summer publicly embarrassed President Bush by writing a column for the New York Times saying the president falsely stated in last year's State of the Union address that Saddam Hussein had attempted to acquire nuclear-bomb material from Niger. The CIA had hired Wilson to investigate the claim more than a year before Bush repeated it, and he'd proved it was based on forged documents.
Eight days after Wilson went public with the allegation that the Bush administration had used false information to build its case for invading Iraq, someone inside the White House reportedly outed Plame as a CIA operative. Was the leak intended to punish Wilson, or discredit him? Your guess is probably as good as anyone's. But deliberately blowing a CIA agent's cover is a felony. Even if it weren't, it's not exactly helpful to an agency scrambling to improve its intelligence gathering in this increasingly dangerous world.
I don't think they were trying to be "helpful".
On one level, the impulse to capitalize on the religiosity of Americans can be seen as transparently, and at times comically, opportunistic. Late last year, Ed Kilgore, policy director of the Democratic Leadership Council, earnestly advised his party's candidates to invoke "God's green earth" in supporting stronger environmental laws.
Mr. Dean, the candidate stuck with the label (or libel) of being the most secularist Democratic aspirant, seems to be heeding the advice to get religion. He recently informed an Iowa audience that he prays daily, and in New Hampshire last week, he demonstrated his ecumenism by using the Muslim expression "inshallah," which means God willing.
On a deeper level, the notion that elected officials should employ a religious rationale for policy decisions is rooted in the misconception, promulgated by the Christian right, that the American government was founded on divine authority rather than human reason. When I lecture on college campuses, students frequently express surprise at being told that the framers of the Constitution deliberately omitted any mention of God in order to assign supreme governmental power to "We the People."
Dismissing this inconvenient fact, some on the religious right have suggested that divine omnipotence was considered a given in the 1780's — that the framers had no need to acknowledge God in the Constitution because his dominion was as self-evident as the rising and setting of the sun. Yet isn't it absurd to suppose that men as precise in their use of language as Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison would absentmindedly have failed to insert God into the nation's founding document? In fact, they represented a majority of citizens who wished not only to free religion from government interference but government from religious interference.
And now we've got both.
If President George W. Bush expects to win a bloc of immigrant support for his new immigration overhaul proposal, some surprises may await him inside the pizza parlor, the beauty shop and Chinese-Spanish restaurant on Fifth Avenue in the polyglot Sunset Park section of Brooklyn.
"It sounds good, and I say sounds good because it doesn't mean it's good," said Elmer Rodriguez, a El Salvadoran baking slices at Gina's Pizzeria, where the decor suggested Sicily, but the kitchen help was from Latin America. "For someone coming here for the first time and wants to try it out, O.K., but for someone who is already here and wants a future here, it doesn't make sense."
But he was skeptical of President Bush's real intentions, echoing many who saw the proposal as an election ploy.
"He offers a lot of things but he doesn't do anything," Mr. Guaman said of the president. "After he wins, forget it. They only give permanent status to top dogs, they don't give it to dishwashers."
Re "Lord Knows What Pat Robertson Wants," Commentary, Jan. 6: I appreciated Robert Scheer's scathing exposé and denunciation of religious broadcaster Pat Robertson. Robertson is an intolerant bigot — the very opposite, in every category, of what a Christian is supposed to be. As a conservative Christian, I am appalled by the religious right, the evangelicals with a "burning bosom," who imagine God has called them to reclaim America and the world at large for God. This is nothing more than a convenient excuse (though what is really scary is that many of them actually believe it) to pursue their fanatical brand of power politics.
It strikes me that the war on terrorism has become the war of the fundamentalist religious fanatics on both sides. Evangelical neocon fanatics, armed with the greatest military in history, versus Islamic fanatic terrorists. Isn't religion wonderful? The day of accounting cannot be far off.
President Bush's plan to vastly expand the ranks of legal immigrant workers in the United States is a bold initiative that delivers a double political punch, pleasing his longtime business supporters while reaching out to Latino voters, whose political loyalties are up for grabs in 2004 and beyond.
The proposal's focus on low-wage immigrant workers also helps to burnish Bush's credentials as a "compassionate" conservative — a claim that has been eclipsed in the fog of war against Iraq and terrorism.
Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) denounced Bush's proposal, saying, "It is dangerous to offer additional incentives and rewards for illegal immigration while giving only lip service to border security." Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.) said Bush's guest worker program "cannot work."
Barbara Coe, founder and chairwoman of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, which favors restrictions on immigration, said Bush "has just put out a welcome mat to illegal immigrants, violent criminals, drug smugglers and terrorists."
Unless Bush can persuade such critics — as he tried in his speech Wednesday — that his proposal does not amount to amnesty, there are probably enough Republicans who oppose immigration reform that it would be difficult for him to ram it through Congress as he has other trademark initiatives, such as his tax cuts.
My dictionary defines amnesty as "an act granting a pardon to a group of individuals". Bush's proposal would allow illegal immigrants to go unpunished. Doesn't that amount to amnesty?
The Bush administration has quietly withdrawn from Iraq a 400-member military team whose job was to scour the country for military equipment, according to senior government officials.
The step was described by some military officials as a sign that the administration might have lowered its sights and no longer expected to uncover the caches of chemical and biological weapons that the White House cited as a principal reason for going to war last March.
A separate military team that specializes in disposing of chemical and biological weapons remains part of the 1,400-member Iraq Survey Group, which has been searching Iraq for more that seven months at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. But that team is "still waiting for something to dispose of," said a survey group member.
I have a suggestion.
Wednesday, January 07, 2004
A review of available evidence, including some not known to coalition investigators and some they have not made public, portrays a nonconventional arms establishment that was far less capable than U.S. analysts judged before the war. Leading figures in Iraqi science and industry, supported by observations on the ground, described factories and institutes that were thoroughly beaten down by 12 years of conflict, arms embargo and strangling economic sanctions. The remnants of Iraq's biological, chemical and missile infrastructures were riven by internal strife, bled by schemes for personal gain and handicapped by deceit up and down lines of command.
The broad picture emerging from the investigation to date suggests that, whatever its desire, Iraq did not possess the wherewithal to build a forbidden armory on anything like the scale it had before the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
David Kay, who directs the weapons hunt on behalf of the Bush administration, reported no discoveries last year of finished weapons, bulk agents or ready-to-start production lines. Members of his Iraq Survey Group, in unauthorized interviews, said the group holds out little prospect now of such a find. Kay and his spokesman, who report to Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet, declined to be interviewed.
Can you blame them?
In an extraordinary request, the Bush administration asked the Supreme Court on Monday to let it keep its arguments secret in a case involving an immigrant's challenge of his treatment after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Mohamed Kamel Bellahouel wants the high court to consider whether the government acted improperly by secretly jailing him after the attacks and keeping his court fight private. He is supported by more than 20 journalism organizations and media companies.
Solicitor General Theodore Olson told justices in a one-paragraph filing that ''this matter pertains to information that is required to be kept under seal.''
Justices sometimes are asked to keep parts of cases private because of information sensitive for national security or other reasons, but it's unusual for an entire filing to be kept secret.
I can't tell what's "unusual" any more.
When the first post-9/11 videotape [allegedly recorded by Osama bin Laden] appeared, the Bush administration cautioned the media not to run more than brief excerpts, warning that it could contain coded instructions for more acts of terror. But in an interview, National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack showed how foggy this rationale was.
Videotapes "broadcast in their entirety over the air could be a way for Bin Laden and Al Qaeda to send messages to their followers and their group," McCormack said last year. But he went on to concede that there is no specific evidence that this has ever been done, just vague "concerns."
"There was no indication from the administration that it could present a security concern," Fox Vice President John Moody told the Washington Post. The reason, he implied, was that this new message was an audiotape, not a videotape. The idea was that terrorists can bury more coded digital content inside a videotape. This distinction makes no sense to those knowledgeable about such things.
"If I have to give [an encoded] message that is short and sweet, I can use audio," said Dr. Sushil Jajodia, director of George Mason University's Center for Secure Information Systems. "The claim that somehow audio is OK but video is not — that's absolutely not true."
Internal government documents show that officials from a variety of agencies unsuccessfully criticized the Bush administration's effort to let coal miners continue the practice of "mountaintop removal" mining — the leveling of mountain peaks to extract coal — in Appalachia.
At issue is a draft environmental impact statement analyzing the effects of the widely practiced technique on streams, wildlife and forests and proposing three approaches for regulation.
Although the administration said all three approaches would improve environmental protections, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the administration's alternatives to regulate mountaintop removal mining "cannot be interpreted as ensuring any improved environmental protection," according to a document obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Fish and Wildlife Service commented that the administration's approaches "belie four years of work and accumulated evidence of environmental harm, and would substitute permit process tinkering for meaningful and measurable change," Hecker said.
How old is the Grand Canyon? Most scientists agree with the version that rangers at Grand Canyon National Park tell visitors — that the 10-mile wide chasm in northern Arizona was carved by the Colorado River 5 million to 6 million years ago.
Now, however, a book in the park's bookstores tells another story. On sale since last summer, "Grand Canyon: A Different View," by veteran Colorado River guide Tom Vail, asserts that the Grand Canyon was formed by the Old Testament flood, the one Noah's Ark survived, and can be no older than a few thousand years.
The book includes essays from creationists and theologians. In the introduction, Vail wrote, "For years, as a Colorado River guide I told people how the Grand Canyon was formed over the evolutionary time scale of millions of years. Then I met the Lord. Now, I have a different view of the Canyon, which according to a biblical time scale, can't possibly be more than a few thousand years old."
"The Bush administration appears to be sponsoring a program of faith-based parks," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of the nonprofit group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "Any time a question arises, the professionals and lawyers are reversed and being told to respect the displays of religious symbols. We believe the actions by these officials violate their oath of office to defend the Constitution."
In a quarterly report to Congress Monday, the White House's Office of Management and Budget said the process to rebuild Iraq will continue to be unpredictable. The office cited the November decision to accelerate the Iraqi transition to sovereignty by July 1, and the changing security environment in Iraq, as factors and events that can expedite or complicate reconstruction.
The waiver came under fire from critics of the Bush administration's postwar rebuilding policies. Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, said the timing of the waiver, which was given in secret last month, was "incomprehensible."
"The Army Corps' position seems to be that KBR's price is reasonable because it's the only one available," Waxman said. "But the market price of gasoline is no secret. The Iraqis themselves are importing cheaper fuel from Turkey."
Waxman said the waiver followed complaints from Pentagon investigators that Halliburton had refused their request for company documents related to their probe and reports that Halliburton officials were complaining of "political pressure" to negotiate fuel-delivery deals exclusively with a single Kuwaiti subcontractor.
"What we need are serious hearings into this matter," Waxman said. "But there seems to be little interest in oversight among the Republicans when it comes to this administration."
Still, the U.S. news media rarely acknowledges the possibility that “promoting democracy” may simply be Bush’s latest rationalization, now that most other excuses for the war have collapsed, including the imminent threat from weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s alleged al Qaeda connection.
Virtually never in the mainstream press do journalists acknowledge the possibility that Bush, the first popular vote loser in more than a century to claim the White House, is not only disinterested in advancing any meaningful concept of democracy but is rolling back the principles of open debate and popular rule, both in the United States and across the globe.
Never do Washington journalists ask questions like, “If Bush is so committed to democracy in Iraq, why did he stop the counting of votes in Florida?” Or “why did Bush pollute the pre-war debate in the United States with emotional fear tactics that relied on false intelligence?” Or “why – if Bush so cherishes democratic debate – didn’t he rein in his supporters who repeatedly challenged the patriotism of Americans who questioned the factual basis of Bush’s war on Iraq?”
Without critical and open debate, words like “democracy” and “freedom” are left to those in power to define and apply selectively. The words, much like “terrorism” and “security,” can be rendered essentially meaningless.
There may be a conflict raging in Iraq that is killing US soldiers on a daily basis. There may be the threat of an economic crisis, too much unemployment and political debate infused with vitriol levels unseen for years. Yet President George W Bush is planning to win re-election by turning reality on its head.
Bush is drawing up a positive, soft-focus and upbeat campaigning platform portraying him as the candidate of national unity.
White House aides are increasingly certain the incumbent will face a run-off against the former Vermont governor Howard Dean in November, and confident they will be able to portray the favourite for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination as partisan and pessimistic.
"Voters don't normally vote for an angry, pessimistic person to be president of the country. They want someone, even if times are not great, to be forward looking and optimistic," Matthew Dowd, a senior Bush campaign aide said.
You know, someone like Al Gore, the guy we picked last time.
Tuesday, January 06, 2004
What, then, can account for so many people being so supportive of the president?
The answer, I'm afraid, is the factor that dare not speak its name. It's the factor that no one talks about. The pollsters don't ask it, the media don't report it, the voters don't discuss it.
I, however, will blare out its name so that at last people can address the issue and perhaps adopt strategies to overcome it.
It's the "Stupid factor," the S factor: Some people -- sometimes through no fault of their own -- are just not very bright.
It's not merely that some people are insufficiently intelligent to grasp the nuances of foreign policy, of constitutional law, of macroeconomics or of the variegated interplay of humans and the environment. These aren't the people I'm referring to. The people I'm referring to cannot understand the phenomenon of cause and effect. They're perplexed by issues comprising more than two sides. They don't have the wherewithal to expand the sources of their information. And above all -- far above all -- they don't think.
It may already be too late. To me, this is the major problem in America today.
The 15 finalists for Bush in 30 Seconds are posted below. The winning commercial will be announced at an event on January 12th at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. You can buy tickets online now.
The finalists are also being sent out to our panel of celebrity judges which includes Michael Moore, Donna Brazile, Jack Black, Janeane Garofalo, Margaret Cho and Gus Van Sant. These judges will determine which ad wins the contest overall.
[Bush in 30 Seconds is a political advertising contest sponsored by moveon.org Voter Fund.]
It is a matter of grade-school civics that in American democracy laws are made by the legislative branch. Article I of the Constitution, after all, begins with the arresting statement that "All legislative powers . . . shall be vested in a Congress of the United States." Yet ever since it passed the USA Patriot Act after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress has stood by in an alarming silence while a fabric of new law governing the balance between liberty and security has been woven by the other two branches of government.
Many Republican members profess to be fully content with the Bush administration's handling of the war on terrorism here at home. Many Democrats, meanwhile, are happy to snipe from the sidelines but offer little in the way of constructive alternatives. Both parties harbor a few honorable exceptions. But in the main, the parties are united in their desire not to sully their hands by engaging seriously in deciding the shape of the law. They are content not to do their jobs but instead to let the Bush administration do what it pleases and take the political and judicial heat for it all.
The Bush administration has been hammered for failing to anticipate or plan for the many problems of postwar Iraq or to set aside the money to pay for them. Its spokesmen insist, as they did before the war, that there was no way of knowing in advance what challenges might come up and what it might take to meet them.
Yet, looking back at what Washington's foreign policy community expected from an intervention in Iraq, it's striking how much of the trouble the U.S. mission now faces was accurately and publicly predicted.
On my desk is a pile of more than a dozen studies and pieces of congressional testimony on the likely conditions of postwar Iraq, prepared before the invasion by think tanks of the left, center and right, by task forces of veteran diplomats and area experts, and by freelancing academics.
The degree of consensus was remarkable: Iraq's reconstruction would be long and costly, violence was likely and goodwill toward the United States probably wouldn't last for long.
The Bush administration and Congress could have greatly enhanced the economy's prospects if they had been more responsible in their spending. This Republican government seems to think that it can cut taxes and increase government programs without consequence, and that there is no limit to the willingness of China and others, mostly in Asia, to finance our society's lavish lifestyle by buying up our i.o.u.'s — our Treasury notes. These buyers have not been getting such a great deal of late. But much like a department store peddling credit, they are eager to lend America money so that we can continue purchasing their goods.
Given our economy's growing dependence on China and other trading partners, Washington policy makers would be wise to abstain from any protectionist outbursts aimed at them. Unfortunately, in an election year, asking for that may be as unrealistic as asking for a return to fiscal prudence.
Fiscal prudence? What's that?
Monday, January 05, 2004
Was the capture of Saddam Hussein a major victory for the United States? It was certainly a victory in the extended Iraq war. It was a victory for President Bush over the man who plotted to kill his father. It was a victory for the U.S. military and its intelligence service -- especially for the lieutenant and the corporal who figured out how to find him. It was a victory for the Republican Party's plan to keep a stranglehold on American politics. But was it, as the president told us, a victory in the ''war on terrorism''?
Despite the media hoopla and the White House spin doctors, it was not. The administration legitimized the invasion of Iraq as part of the ''war on terrorism'' and deceived the American people into believing that Saddam was involved in the Sept. 11 attack and that he had ''weapons of mass destruction.'' No one, except possibly Vice President Dick Cheney and the Wall Street Journal, believed that Saddam was involved in the attack on the World Trade Center. The weapons of mass destruction have disappeared. The president asks a TV interviewer what difference the mass destruction question makes, now that we have eliminated Saddam from power.
Note how slippery the administration line has been. The purpose of the war now is to get rid of an evil man who had done horrible things to his own people, even if he wasn't a real threat to us. Would those Americans who are willing to settle for that rationale have bought it at the beginning of the war? Such is the slipperiness of the administration's dishonesty that it can get away with a change in motives for the war. Do those who buy this shifting of the deck of cards want to send American troops into North Korea or Iran or a half-dozen African countries to rid the world of similar evil men?
One observer likens the Bush economy to the guy who maxed his credit cards, pawned his property, and mortgaged his house and now has "a big wad of walking around money." It is amazing that we haven’t seen more in the media about the financial mess we are in. An unnecessary mess, one created by the very Republican Party once known as conservative, meaning among other things, "restrained in style," "moderate," "cautious."
The mess, in simple terms, is reflected in the fact that Merrill Lynch recently initiated a new monthly report entitled "The Overseas-Funding-of-America Report." The November 27th issue states "It is amazing how many investors still have no idea that America today is more dependent on the rest of the world for capital than at any time in the past fifty years. The US is running a record current account deficit of the order of 5% of GDP and this has to be funded by saving from the rest of the world." Concern about the state of the United States economy has significantly increased during the George W. Bush era, and replacement of Treasury secretaries has done little to reassure serious observers or participants.
A swaggering cowboy with wads of cash eager to buy his friends another couple of rounds doesn’t fit with my image of conservative. Or Webster’s. Things do change. But Republicans today, whether due to party loyalty or really low collective self-esteem, seem afraid to stand up and call out the federal sins of greed, gluttony and sloth.
At some point, this administration must be held accountable for its actions.
[Karen Kwiatkowski is a recently retired USAF lieutenant colonel, who spent her final four and a half years in uniform working at the Pentagon.]
I learned yesterday that one of the main sites which posts the writings of independent journalists and activists in Iraq, electronicIraq.net, has been banned from at least one of the US military bases in Iraq.
Celebrate free speech, read a banned website!
Like other repressive dictatorships and regimes, the US military has now followed suit in Iraq by attempting to select what its personnel should and should not read.
It is happening at home in the US as well. For example, the only news I see about Iraq on major American news outlets yesterday is about the one US soldier killed when his helicopter was downed. Iraqis who observed the chopper being hit by a rocket reported watching it being broken in two pieces and falling to the ground in flames. Thus, the other soldier, while reported as being injured, more than likely must have been very seriously injured. Again, no specific reporting on that either.
However, this could have something to do with the fact that a Reuters news team filming at the scene was fired upon by the Americans, then detained by military personnel near the crash site.
A military spokesperson stated that the military believed the Reuters team were resistance fighters posing as media. The US military today reported that the Reuters news team was firing machine guns and RPG at US military at the site.
When President Bush travels around the United States, the Secret Service visits the location ahead of time and orders local police to set up "free speech zones" or "protest zones," where people opposed to Bush policies (and sometimes sign-carrying supporters) are quarantined. These zones routinely succeed in keeping protesters out of presidential sight and outside the view of media covering the event.
When Bush went to the Pittsburgh area on Labor Day 2002, 65-year-old retired steel worker Bill Neel was there to greet him with a sign proclaiming, "The Bush family must surely love the poor, they made so many of us."
The local police, at the Secret Service's behest, set up a "designated free-speech zone" on a baseball field surrounded by a chain-link fence a third of a mile from the location of Bush's speech.
The police cleared the path of the motorcade of all critical signs, but folks with pro-Bush signs were permitted to line the president's path. Neel refused to go to the designated area and was arrested for disorderly conduct; the police also confiscated his sign.
Neel later commented, "As far as I'm concerned, the whole country is a free-speech zone. If the Bush administration has its way, anyone who criticizes them will be out of sight and out of mind."
Sunday, January 04, 2004
Anyone who thinks the administration and its law enforcement chief, Attorney General John Ashcroft, aren’t out to impede a free press need only hear how the federal government is treating foreign journalists coming to this country on assignment.
Without notification to foreign media outlets, the immigration and customs people are arresting, detaining, and deporting journalists arriving here without special visas. This is so even when they come from nations whose citizens can stay for up to 90 days without a visa if they are arriving as tourists or on business.
If that threatening form of registration is not enough, members of the press arriving without the visas, which no one told them they needed, are treated like criminals, handcuffed as they’re marched through airports, photographed, fingerprinted, and their DNA taken.
Welcome to America.
President George Bush, in his State of the Union address in January last year, told the world that Saddam Hussein had promised he would disarm his weapons of mass destruction, and that this promise had not been fulfilled. Bush spoke of the Iraqi president retaining massive stocks of chemical and biological agent, as well as an ongoing nuclear weapons programme.
On 20 March 2003, Bush ordered American military forces, accompanied by the armed forces of Great Britain, to invade Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power. In hiding since the fall of Baghdad, Saddam was finally run to ground in December. On his capture, he is reported to have said that WMD was an issue created by George Bush to justify the invasion of Iraq. This is a claim that has increasing validity.
I am looking forward to that investigation.
Indeed it is important to step back and look at the Iraq shambles, because what Bush administration officials have done historically is to have lied to the entire world. And now that their lies have been identified for what they are, they seek to justify their war by pious, outraged complaints about what Saddam did historically. Their line would be rather more convincing had they protested against the gassing of civilians at Halabja when it happened in March 1988. The fanatics seek to justify their war by repeated reference to an atrocity 15 years after it was perpetrated, and at the time of which they piped not one word, not a syllable, in condemnation.
An administration figure has again come close to admitting that there were "no weapons of mass destruction". Bremer and his masters are desperately trying to convince us that the issue of WMD is unimportant. It is only too reminiscent of the end of the Nixon era. Do you remember Ron Ziegler, the Nixon spokesman who died a year ago? He uttered the everlasting words: "The president refers to the fact that there is new material; therefore, this is the operative statement. The others are inoperative."
The Bush administration's hysterical warnings about the Iraqi nuclear program; the 500 tons of chemicals and biological agents; the fleet of deadly unmanned aerial vehicles; and the other gross figments of overheated imagination are now, presumably, 'inoperative', and it won't be long before the propaganda mind-benders go into overdrive to rewrite history. The process began on the White House website (where else?), with insertion of the word 'major' in the report of Bush's speech on May 1. Remember the headline "President Bush Announces Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended"? No you don't, because the White House says it never existed. What Bush MEANT to say, which is what we are now told he actually said, was that MAJOR combat operations had ended. That is what is now in the historical record, White House version.
In keeping out of sight at his ranch (news article, Jan. 1), President Bush seems to be fulfilling his role as the anti-Clinton. While I understand his need for privacy, both it and "executive privilege" have morphed into secrecy.
Despite Bill Clinton's faults, I liked vicariously shopping at the bookstore with him, listening to his lengthy policy explanations, and watching all those news conferences. Mr. Clinton made me feel I mattered. With the Bush group, I feel I'm on the outside looking in. And if I try to find out what they're talking about, I'm going to get in trouble.
Imagine what would happen if you reported what they're talking about.
"We've put up with this spending, very frankly, for the last few years and none of us feel very good about it," said [Representative Sue] Myrick, a North Carolina Republican. "It's very difficult when you have a president of your same party, if they aren't as fiscally conservative as you would like them to be."
These are not easy times for lawmakers who hold dear the notion that, as Ronald Reagan used to say, government should get off the people's backs. The balanced budget of the 1990's, which Mrs. Myrick considers a high point of her Congressional career - is gone, replaced by a record federal deficit. Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, complained earlier this year that Congress was spending money like "drunken sailors."
Rather than shrink the role of the federal bureaucracy, fiscal conservatives say President Bush has expanded it, in education, agriculture and through the $400 billion, 10-year Medicare prescription drug bill.
"At this point, I think that conservatives sold out their small government philosophy and replaced it with a philosophy of whatever will get them re-elected," said Brian M. Riedl, a budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization. "Neither party is committed to smaller government and less spending. Those who are still standing for fiscal conservatism are frustrated."
That frustration is starting to boil over, and as Mr. Bush prepares his budget for 2005, fiscal conservatives on Capitol Hill are "searching for ways to stop the spending spree," Mr. Riedl said.
How about trying a different president?
The National Rifle Assn. was represented at the White House meeting; so were Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever. Altogether, President Bush spent more than an hour with the leaders of some 20 hunting and fishing groups in the room named for Theodore Roosevelt, the first conservationist president.
Top on the visitors' list of concerns at the session in December was a plan by some administration officials to rewrite the 1972 Clean Water Act in a way that could damage millions of acres of wetlands and countless miles of streams — prime habitat for the wildlife that these groups hunt and fish.
Without specifying his position on the issue, Bush assured those in the room that he understood the value of wetlands and would not let his administration do anything that would spoil them, participants in the meeting said.
Just four days later, Bush killed the plan to rewrite the Clean Water Act.
So you can get through to him. Just make sure you're packing heat.
One of many reasons the energy bill richly deserved its defeat last year in the Senate is that it did nothing to improve vehicle fuel efficiency, which has been declining in new cars since 1988. The explanation for this slide into petroleum profligacy is that consumers are buying more and more sport utility vehicles, which are held to a much lower efficiency standard than regular passenger cars.
Last month the Bush administration proposed adjustments to the fuel efficiency system, but the head of the agency considering the changes, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has acknowledged that they might not result in gains in overall fuel economy. The oil and auto industries, which have contributed $1.9 million to the reelection campaign of President Bush, need not worry that the administration is suddenly willing to bite the hand that feeds it.
It's too busy shaking the hand that pays it.
Could we rerun the videotape back to Dec. 15 when Howard Dean qualified his pleasure at the capture of Saddam Hussein by saying that it "has not made America safer"? Dean was instantly lambasted by his opponents, especially Joe Lieberman, who said the doctor was climbing "into his own spider hole of denial."
Well, six days later, after the sort of terrorist "chatter" designed to make your teeth chatter, the country was put on orange alert for a "spectacular" attack rivaling 9/11. Then six Air France flights destined to fly into the homeland were grounded. And finally, under "emergency rules," our government has required armed guards on foreign flights.
Are we safer yet?
The point of terrorism, after all, is terror. As Jessica Stern, author of Terror in the Name of God, says, "The radius of psychological damage from a terrorist strike is much bigger than the material damage."
Last year, President Bush said, "We refuse to live in fear," and justified a preemptive war against Iraq as a strike against fear. This year the Bush campaign will simultaneously tell us how dangerous the world is and how much safer they've made it.
And the people will fall for it.