Saturday, January 24, 2004
Even as President Bush sets a modest goal of reducing the federal deficit to about $200 billion by 2009, many budget analysts and economists doubt he can achieve it.
Under fire from Democrats as well as conservative Republicans for allowing the deficit to reach more than $400 billion this year, White House officials say Mr. Bush's budget for next year will hold the growth in domestic discretionary programs to less than 1 percent.
That would amount to a budget cut for many agencies, after adjusting for inflation, and it would be a sharp turnaround from the increased spending Mr. Bush has supported or condoned for the past three years.
But Mr. Bush's budget proposal, to be unveiled on Feb. 2, is likely to omit several huge costs that would derail his projections if they were included.
We're not living in the real world.
There are times when government officials lie so baldly to the public that the essential untruth of what they are asserting is lost. It's called the Big Lie technique. George W. Bush's State of the Union/campaign kickoff speech Tuesday night had at least two major examples.
The first was the declaration that "America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people."
Great rhetoric, but what in the world is he talking about? Let's grant the case that the world and the United States are better off without Saddam Hussein than with him. But Bush's feisty line directly suggests that Hussein was a direct threat to the security of the American people, as if he was about to launch weapons of mass destruction against the homeland. That was never the case.
The sooner the better.
The worst thing about the state of our union is that we can't trust our president to tell us the truth and work for the public interest. Lots of presidents lie, even about big things like war, but few have misled us so repetitively, brazenly and cynically about a range of things as the administration headed by George W. Bush.
The names of most major Bush initiatives and programs are deliberately misleading. "No Child Left Behind" hides the reality that Bush under-funded that program by $7 billion. The Energy Independence Bill does little to conserve energy.
The Clear Skies initiative will not make the skies clearer. Instead, it gives big polluting power plants a pass to upgrade with cheap, dirty technology, ensuring dingy skies for decades to come. A cleaner source of energy would be to place turbines around all the patriots spinning in their graves as a result of the misnamed Patriot Act and Patriot Act II - which would get rid of pesky things like warrants signed by judges before tapping our phones and carting off undesirables.
Policies regarding Social Security, strip-mining, rivers, endangered species, nuclear weapons, homeland security, the federal deficit, tax relief, nation-building, veterans' benefits, space, health care and more have been marked by subterfuge, sleight-of-hand and outright lies. And so it goes.
What puzzles me is how otherwise intelligent Americans can be so devoid of pride and cunning as to let themselves be duped again and again into admiring the emperor's clothes. They're not even new anymore.
Bush’s [State Of the Union] speech to the nation was a combination of platitudes, exaggerations, half-truths and downright lies. Afghans would be curious to hear that their country is now free and prosperous, not a dangerous, fractured nation governed by warlords and fueled by opium. Iraqis would be surprised to know that they are assuming more and more responsibility for their own future, while the Bush administration is dishing out their oil money to its cronies in Halliburton and Bechtel, and passing privatization laws favoring foreign corporations that will distort the Iraqi economy for decades to come.
Bush insists that we Americans are safer because we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. The truth is that these invasions unleashed a new wave of anti-American sentiment, making us MORE vulnerable, not less. In fact, global opinion says the entire world is less safe now that the Bush administration decided to launch a pre-emptive war, thumb its nose at the United Nations, break critical treaties such as the ABM treaty, and violate the UN mandate to stop the scourge of war.
It’s telling that the two most repeated words in George Bush’s State of the Union address were “America” and “terrorism”—a continuation of the administration’s politics of fear. Bush also continued to make connections between terrorism, America and Iraq, connections that never existed until, of course, the US invaded Iraq and attracted jihadists from around the world. It’s also interesting that the name “Osama bin Laden” never came up in the speech.
Voters might come out to express their retribution toward President Bush for his debatably illegitimate election. Then again, voters also might come out to express their support for a president who has led this nation through a horrific event in American history. Sept. 11, 2001, struck the nation with an incredible blow. Americans rallied behind the president after the terror attacks. Among those responsible for 9/11 was Osama bin Laden. Has the Bush administration reneged on its promise to deliver bin Laden for punishment?
Instead, the focus has now shifted to diminish civil liberties by way of the Patriot Act, to ignore the lies about weapons of mass destruction, and to give tax cuts to the middle class with promises of an improved economy. The change in priorities will be evaluated by the American people this election.
At the onset of his presidency, Bush was not known for his strength in foreign policy. Relying on key advisers such as Vice President Dick Cheney and others, Bush learned more about an aspect of governance that has become of utmost importance these past few years. In Iraq, American troops continue to pay the price for a war that was justified for the wrong reasons. The fact that Halliburton has been granted authority to help with Iraq's oil supply when the company's former CEO is Dick Cheney raises suspicions about the justification for the war that are already raised by the lack of weapons of mass destruction.
The economy also is something Americans will approve or disapprove of come Election Day. When Bush entered office, there was a surplus; now the deficit is the largest it has been in U.S. history. All across the country, states, including Massachusetts, have experienced unprecedented budget cuts taking away jobs, after-school activities and much-needed social programs. With the costs of the war upward of $80 billion, Bush has shown that ousting Saddam Hussein from power was more important than funding education, effectively leaving children behind.
There's no shortage of reasons for regime change. But will it happen?
Ex-U.S. Arms Hunter Kay Says No Stockpiles in Iraq
David Kay, who stepped down as leader of the U.S. hunt for weapons of mass destruction, said on Friday he does not believe there were any large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq (news - web sites).
"I don't think they existed," Kay told Reuters in a telephone interview. "What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last (1991) Gulf War (news - web sites) and I don't think there was a large-scale production program in the '90s," he said.
Kay said he believes most of what is going to be found in the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has been found and that the hunt will become more difficult once America turns over governing the country to the Iraqis.
The United States went to war against Baghdad last year citing a threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. No actual banned arms have been found.
Friday, January 23, 2004
Sometimes progressives say, well, you know, we're right, but we're really kind of fringe. Our views are not reflective of a vast majority of the people. After all, Bush, well, was almost elected, and there is rightwing control of the House of Representatives, led by a gentleman named Tom DeLay. There is rightwing control of the United States Senate. Very few people in the media reflect our point of view. So they must be representing the majority of the people, and we're just a smart minority of the people.
I want you to disabuse yourselves of that notion. You represent mainstream America. We are the majority.
Go out on Main Street, stand at the corner, and ask people a simple question. Tell them you're doing an informal poll, and ask them if they want 40 percent of the tax breaks, hundreds of billions of dollars, to go to the top 1 percent, or whether those breaks should be spread around more fairly and be used for education or lowering the deficit. Then tell me who is "fringe." Ask them if we should maintain our disintegrating health care nonsystem or establish a universal health care system that guarantees health care for all. Then tell me who is "fringe." Ask them if we should continue to let polluters destroy our environment, or move to safe, sustainable energy. Then tell me who is "fringe."
So how do the rightwingers get elected if they have nothing to say about the most important issues facing the American people? That is the central question of modern American politics. And the answer is that they work day and night to divide the American people against each other so that they end up voting against their own best interests. That is what the Republican Party is all about.
The policies of this administration are the opposite of what America has always been about. Their plan is to undo 200 years of progress and establish a Republican monarchy. And they say we hate America!
U.S. Border Patrol agents, charged with enforcing the nation's border laws, are furious about President Bush's proposal to create a guest worker program for millions of illegal immigrants, union leaders say.
In interviews this week, nearly three dozen current and former agents across the nation called Bush's proposal an insult to the thousands of men and women who have devoted their careers to fighting illegal immigration, including wave after wave along the California-Mexico border.
The agents — many of whom otherwise support the White House — savaged the Bush proposal as a grab for Latino votes and a favor to the business community, factions of which rely on cheap immigrant labor. And they say they are bracing for a rush of people trying to sneak into the United States.
Anticipating, however, that the president's promise of a limited legalization program might be misinterpreted by would-be immigrants, top officials at the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement — the Border Patrol's parent agency — last week prepared a questionnaire for agents to use when quizzing people they have detained. Among the questions, according to documents obtained by The Times, were: "Did the rumors of amnesty influence your decision to enter the USA?" and "Do you plan to apply for amnesty if it is offered?"
Immigration bureau spokesman Mario Villareal said the questionnaire has been revised to delete references to "amnesty" and replace them with "guest worker program" references.
Calling things by their real names is not appreciated.
President Bush's State of the Union address had the flat tones of a campaign memo, a compendium of wedge issues. Polling and focus groups lurked behind almost every sentence.
Wedge Issue No. 1 is, of course, terrorism. The campaign theme: Vote for Bush or stand with the terrorists. Consider this amazing sentence: "We can go forward with confidence and resolve -- or we can turn back to the dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat to us."
Who, pray tell, held the "dangerous illusion" that terrorists and outlaw regimes were "no threat to us"? Certainly not the Democrats in the Clinton administration. Sandy Berger, Bill Clinton's national security adviser, explicitly warned the Bushies when they were coming into office that terrorism would be the chief foreign policy threat they'd confront.
But Bush couldn't resist taking a swipe at Clinton (without naming him) by noting that after the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993, "some of the guilty were indicted and tried and convicted, and sent to prison." He then added matter-of-factly: "But the matter was not settled." Would Bush have favored attacking Afghanistan and Iraq way back then? I never heard him say so.
And watch out, Dems: When you say "internationalize" Iraq, Bush will say -- well, what he said in this speech: "America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country." This clever cheap shot is easily answered. When your house is burning, asking neighbors for a hand and a hose and to call the fire department is not asking for "a permission slip" to fight the fire. It helps to have reasonably good relationships with those neighbors.
Ahead of a five-day trip to Europe, Vice President Dick Cheney said Thursday that the administration has not given up on the so far fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The "jury is still out," he said.
"It’s going to take some additional, considerable period of time in order to look in all the cubby holes and the ammo dumps and all the places in Iraq where you might expect to find something like that," Cheney said in an interview with National Public Radio. "It doesn’t take a large storage space to store deadly toxins, or even just the capacity to produce it."
Cheney also said that he’s confident that there was a relationship between al-Qaida and ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration, however, has said in the past that there is no evidence that Saddam was behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"I continue to believe — I think there’s overwhelming evidence that there was a connection between al-Qaida and the Iraqi government," Cheney said. "I’m very confident that there was an established relationship there."
Faith-based foreign policy at work.
In his [State Of the Union] speech, Bush said the deficit — expected to top $500 billion this fiscal year — could be cut in half over five years by slowing growth in spending on many programs to under four percent a year. But without net reductions in spending — or tax increases — the plan to shrink the deficit just doesn’t add up, according to Stan Collender, a budget expert at public relations giant Fleishman-Hillard.
"Not only is it not realistic, it's completely contradictory, not unless you are going to hold spending down even further than he is talking about," he said.
Bush gave few details Tuesday night on where spending should be curbed; those will be included in the $2.3 trillion budget plan he will send to Congress on Feb. 2.
And the numbers in Bush's deficit cutting plan don’t include future spending increases, or even the permanent tax cuts Bush is proposing, according to Chuck Gabriel, a senior political analyst at Prudential Financial in Washington.
"What they're really hoping is that if you ignore future costs in war on terrorism and you ignore the costs of extending these expiring tax provisions — which are a trillion dollars — then the (Congressional Budget Office) would suggest that, yeah, in fact the $480 billion dollar deficit this year will trend down and be cut nearly in half, " he said. "But it is very, very optimistic, to say the least to be able to talk about cutting the deficit — or that trajectory -—in half without making cuts. And they are proposing no cuts.”
What Mr. Bush understandably chose not to highlight, however, is his administration’s continuing determination to undermine, restrict and censor the investigation of the most significant event of his Presidency: the attacks on New York and Washington of Sept. 11, 2001.
The President is fortunate that until now, the bipartisan National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States has received far less attention than controversies over the design for a World Trade Center memorial. At every step, from his opposition to its creation, to his abortive appointment of Henry Kissinger as its chair, to his refusal to provide it with adequate funding and cooperation, Mr. Bush has treated the commission and its essential work with contempt.
In the latest development, the President’s aides refused additional time for the 9/11 commission to complete its report. Although the original deadline in the enabling legislation is May 27, the commissioners recently asked for a few more months to ensure that their product will be "thorough and credible."
Mr. Bush doesn’t want his re-election subject to any informed judgment about the disaster that reshaped the nation and his Presidency. But why should such crucial facts be withheld from the voters? What does the President fear?
Thursday, January 22, 2004
CIA officers in Iraq are warning that the country may be on a path to civil war, current and former U.S. officials said yesterday, starkly contradicting the upbeat assessment President Bush gave in his State of the Union address. The CIA officers' bleak assessment was delivered orally to Washington this week, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the classified information involved.
The warning echoed growing fears that Iraq's Shiite majority, which until now has accepted the U.S. occupation grudgingly, could turn to violence if its demands for direct elections are spurned.
Meanwhile, Iraq's Kurdish minority is pressing for autonomy and shares of oil revenue.
"Both the Shiites and the Kurds think that now's their time," one intelligence officer said. "They think that if they don't get what they want now, they'll probably never get it. Both of them feel they've been betrayed by the United States before."
Republican staff members of the US Senate Judiciary Commitee infiltrated opposition computer files for a year, monitoring secret strategy memos and periodically passing on copies to the media, Senate officials told The Globe.
From the spring of 2002 until at least April 2003, members of the GOP committee staff exploited a computer glitch that allowed them to access restricted Democratic communications without a password. Trolling through hundreds of memos, they were able to read talking points and accounts of private meetings discussing which judicial nominees Democrats would fight -- and with what tactics.
Democrats now claim their private memos formed the basis for a February 2003 column by conservative pundit Robert Novak that revealed plans pushed by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, to filibuster certain judicial nominees. Novak is also at the center of an investigation into who leaked the identity of a CIA agent whose husband contradicted a Bush administration claim about Iraqi nuclear programs.
Citing "internal Senate sources," Novak's column described closed-door Democratic meetings about how to handle nominees.
The Republican supply of dirty tricks is truly endless.
Unless preparations are made for its eventuality, the announcement of Bin Laden's capture will be the death-knell for the 2004 Democratic campaign. And, like the "heroic rescue" of Jessica Lynch or the toppling of Hussein's statue by "jubilant throngs" of Iraqis, it needn't even be real.
So Democrats must have a pre-emptive strategy in place; the most obvious being, early in the game, to accuse the White House of sitting on Bin Laden for political gain.
A better one is to launch an independent investigation to find Bin Laden first and announce the discovery before Rove's political operatives; this would be a huge coup.
In case you haven't been paying attention, this election year, Republicans are playing a deadly game of attrition — death by a thousand tiny cuts, so to speak: extreme gerrymandering in Texas, the recall of a governor in California, the installation of inauditable, easily "preprogrammed" DRE e-vote machines in as many counties as will allow them to be stuffed down their throats, relentless and bloody character assassinations in a bought-and-paid-for Murdoch-dominated media empire, absentee ballots counted by an untouchable firm in Kuwait, stacked courts ready to deliver decisions for which 2000's Gore vs. Bush set the precedent.
The odds look dire for Democrats (and, by extension, the majority of Americans, though they are as yet blissfully unaware of the slender thread from which all our liberties hang).
But, in case you haven't connected the dots, this time the GOP is playing for keeps.
[Check out this update from Germany.]
The Justice Department's 18-month investigation into the leak of classified intercepted messages is focusing on Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama, who was chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence at the time of the disclosure, according to a law enforcement official and congressional sources.
A grand jury has been hearing information and has taken the testimony of at least two witnesses, including Shelby's former press secretary, sources said. The investigation centers on the disclosure in 2002 that the National Security Agency had intercepted two messages on the eve of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks signaling that something was to happen the next day. The cryptic messages were not translated until Sept. 12.
For some reason, all these "investigations" of Republicans seem to take forever and lead nowhere. Remember how good they were at investigating Clinton for everything he ever did?
On Tuesday night, the president boasted that "this economy is strong, and growing stronger," noting that "the pace of economic growth in the third quarter was the fastest in nearly 20 years," and that "jobs are on the rise."
Those statements are true. Nevertheless, the economy produced an anemic 1,000 jobs in December. And while unemployment dropped from 5.9 percent to 5.7 percent last month, economists say the slight decrease is due to the fact that long-term unemployed people have stopped looking for work.
The president made only a passing reference to the burgeoning budget deficit, and said he could cut it in half over the next five years. But the president's own domestic agenda -- including making the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent -- would make it difficult to slash the deficit, analysts say.
"All the additional political promises the president has made will make cutting the deficit nearly impossible," said Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense.
He touted the new Medicare law, saying seniors will be able to save 10 percent to 25 percent on prescription drugs with a discount card to be issued later this year. But he failed to note that the card does not guarantee any discount, and that it may not cover all drugs.
Well, gosh. What did you expect from the first speech of his re-election campaign? Honesty?
A Pentagon report warned Wednesday that existing testing data gives only limited confidence in a missile defense system that the United States is intent on deploying beginning this year.
The Pentagon's director of operational test and evaluation, Thomas Christie said in an annual report very little testing of the system was performed in 2003 "due to immature BMDS (ballistic missile defense system) components."
Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat of Rhode Island, said the report "makes it clear that in a rush to win an ideological victory, President Bush risks prematurely deploying a missile defense system by 2004 that is technologically unproven and will drain resources from other essential priorities."
That's what he's there for.
A group of former CIA staffers is pushing for a congressional investigation into the "shameful" leaking of the name of undercover officer Valerie Plame, whose husband cast doubt on the Bush administration's claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
In a letter to U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert dated Jan. 20 and obtained by Reuters on Wednesday, 10 former CIA analysts and operatives called the disclosure of Plame's identity a "shameful event in American history" that had damaged national security.
The documents sought included telephone and electronic mail records, logs and calendars, personnel records, and records of internal discussions for the period May 6 through July 31 last year, a statement from Holt, who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said.
"Six months after a syndicated columnist disclosed the name of an undercover CIA operative, the White House and the Department of Justice have yet to find and hold accountable the person or persons who revealed her identity," Holt said.
Wednesday, January 21, 2004
"Already, the Kay report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations," President Bush said.
The president's remarks came under scrutiny in the British Parliament, where one opposition leader, Charles Kennedy, raised the matter with Prime Minister Tony Blair during "Question Time."
He said that in pre-war debate, Parliament was told Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, then the prime minister talked of weapons programs, and now the president refers to weapons-related program activities.
Mr. Kennedy said an independent inquiry should be opened to examine on what basis Britain went to war.
A dwindling basis, it looks like.
Recently Kevin Phillips, a former Nixon aide and current Reagan admirer, told BuzzFlash this about the Bush dynasty:
"Now what I get a sense of from all of this -- and then topped obviously by spending all the money in 2000 to basically buy the election -- is that this is not a family that has a particularly strong commitment to American democracy. Its sense of how to win elections comes out of a CIA manual, not out of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution."
Phillips, author of American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, has documented how the Bush family has combined a model built around oil, finance and covert operations to undermine democracy itself. It is long past the time that such a notion can be dismissed as the raving, paranoid delusions of conspiratorialists.
The reality is quite simple: The Bush family -- and the Republican Party leadership apparatus -- has contempt for democracy as in inconvenient obstacle to achieving one-party rule in this great nation.
In his book, Phillips details the Bush family belief that they are a dynasty destined to rule, regardless of voter preference. Their inner political belief is essentially monarchical. However, Karl Rove and the late Lee Atwater convinced father and son Bush that they needed to play the "cultural populist" card in order to get within close enough distance to steal elections. That's how you end up with a dauphin prince president who plays the cowboy for the photo-ops but believes that he's king.
First some background. Richard Perle is one of the most hawkish neocons around, part of the group that seemed to think that we could waltz into Iraq, be greeted as liberators, and then turn the whole thing over to their favorite exiles within a few months.
It's a crazy idea on its face, and it makes you wonder what kind of people could believe something so transparently out of touch with reality. Well, here's a hint: they believe stuff like this because they are out of touch with reality.
As you read this anecdote, keep in mind that it's being told by a guy who is a very hardline, hardass anti-communist. His idea of fun is to figure out new and better ways to kill Russians, and at the time this is happening he's in charge of an incredibly creative, brutal, and effective buildup of arms to kill those Russians in ever greater numbers. But even he thinks Perle and his pals are loons.
The book excerpt in this article reveals Mr. Perle as a resident of La La Land.
Dear friends on the right:
How do you live with yourselves?
For years you fumed and sputtered about a dissembling Democrat occupying the White House, a man so vile and unprincipled that from his wretched beginnings he evaded service to his country and experimented with illegal substances. Later, in the nation's highest office, he was willing to say anything and do anything to hold power. The pattern never varied. He was corrupt to the bone. From start to finish, Slick Willie's career disgusted you. You demanded change; good, old-time-values conservative change.
Now ponder what you have. Reflect for a moment, with as much soul-searching as you can muster, on how in heaven's name you can tolerate George W. Bush. From youthful indiscretions to presidential abuses, here's a man who has surpassed his predecessor in every way. Yet you offer Dubya nothing but thumbs up.
How is that? No kidding, most of us on this side are sincerely baffled.
I heard a poll result yesterday saying that Republican voters give the president a 90% approval rating. Can this be true? Or is this like when teenagers tell pollsters that no, they've never tried drugs? I just can't believe that so many Americans could actually support the destructive, failed policies of this dreadful president.
For the past four decades, Iraqi women have enjoyed some of the most modern legal protections in the Muslim world, under a civil code that prohibits marriage below the age of 18, arbitrary divorce and male favoritism in child custody and property inheritance disputes.
Saddam Hussein's dictatorship did not touch those rights. But the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council has voted to wipe them out, ordering in late December that family laws shall be "canceled" and such issues placed under the jurisdiction of strict Islamic legal doctrine known as sharia.
This week, outraged Iraqi women -- from judges to cabinet ministers -- denounced the decision in street protests and at conferences, saying it would set back their legal status by centuries and could unleash emotional clashes among various Islamic strains that have differing rules for marriage, divorce and other family issues.
"It was the secret way this was done that is such a shock," said Nasreen Barawi, a woman who is Iraq's minister for social welfare and public service. "Iraq is a multiethnic society with many different religious schools. Such a sweeping decision should be made over time, with an opportunity for public dialogue." There is no immediate threat of the decision becoming law, Barawi said, "but after June 30, who knows what can happen?"
Once the religious conservatives take over, all bets are off.
George Bush has been accused of lying about things, but I don't think he was lying when he told a Washington Post reporter that Saddam wouldn't let UN inspectors into Iraq, even though they'd been there till nearly the last minute, any more than when, right out of the blue, he told a writer from The New Yorker that no other U.S. president was his equal when it came to human rights.
I think he believed every word. What we want to know is why he'd believe stuff like this.
To answer that we need to consider what his former treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, just said about getting the impression that, while George W.'s porch light was on, nobody was home when O'Neill knocked. The adjective many commentators are using to describe this Bush quality is "disengaged.''
This takes us back 20 years to Ronald Reagan whose hands-off (and maybe a lot more than just hands) approach was also described as "disengaged,'' although not by Calvin Trillin, who wrote in The Nation that he found "the usage a bit cumbersome — it struck me as the equivalent of saying 'She's really more than a disengaged blonde' or 'It was nothing but disengaged luck.'''
White people get better health care in this country. That's no secret. It's been so extensively documented that a few years ago, Congress instructed the White House to study the problem, with help from our top medical scientists.
Those top medical scientists even wrote a small book of guidance for their Health and Human Services (HHS) colleagues running the study, one that begins by characterizing the issue as "among this nation's most serious health care problems," and continues, "minorities receive poorer quality care in such important areas as cardiovascular disease, cancer, asthma, and diabetes."
In June 2003, the HHS scientists came out with a draft of their report on how race factors into health care. This version agreed that we have "national problems" with getting equal care to minorities, and that a built-in unfairness is "pervasive in our health care system." It went on to describe these problems in detail.
Six months later, on December 23, 2003, the final National Healthcare Disparities Report was released -- in an upbeat version edited by Bush appointee Tommy G. Thompson. Gone is a substantive discussion about how minorities receive poorer quality care; gone is reference to this as a serious national problem.
Instead, the sunny new opening is: "The overall health of Americans has improved dramatically over the last century." After much more of this oh-hoorayism, the report reveals it will not, in fact, be focused on why minorities get poorer medical care; its new focus -- if you can call a set of generalizations "focused" -- is that all sorts of people at times get less- than-standard care, including women, children, the elderly, the sick, the low-income, and minorities.
[Check out Waxman's marvelous new website, www.politicsandscience.org.]
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
In the days before the State of the Union address one year ago, the Bush administration denigrated UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, dismissing the inspections and containment strategy favored at the United Nations. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld mocked what he called "old Europe." Secretary of State Colin Powell promised to provide compelling evidence of Saddam Hussein's imminent threat. The State Department published an indictment of Saddam entitled "Apparatus of Lies."
In the State of the Union address itself, President Bush bragged that he had "liberated" Afghanistan -- a country which today, except for a small zone around Kabul, belongs to warlords. He boasted that "one by one terrorists are learning the meaning of American justice" -- thinking, perhaps, of the concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, where American justice is mocked.
Bush detailed a long list of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. He said that Iraq had obtained "uranium from Africa," and he referred to certain metal tubes to suggest a nuclear weapons program. He said that Saddam Hussein "aids and protects" Al Qaeda, and, projecting into the future, he linked the 9/11 hijackers with Saddam. He promised that Colin Powell would provide evidence of the link between Saddam and the terrorists.
The president set a rigorous standard last year, constructing an apparatus of lies it will be hard to match tonight. One bald falsehood not even he will dare repeat: "We seek peace," Bush said a year ago, "We strive for peace."
When Dick Gephardt, one of the less fancied contenders for the Democratic nomination, condemned Bush recently as the worst of the five presidents he had served under, it was easy for the White House to ignore his remarks as mere internal Democrat positioning. Bush's record in office, however, shows that Gephardt may have been too complimentary. George W. Bush may be not only the worst of America's last five presidents, but one of the worst, if not actually the worst, ever.
Bush fails not only on our terms -- according to what we would like to see in a U.S. president -- but in his own terms as well, as judged by the aspirations he expressed for the United States during his election campaign.
The candidate who advertised himself as "a uniter, not a divider" has failed to narrow any of his country's glaring social and racial divisions.
The gaps are wider now than when he came to office. His stewardship of the mighty U.S. economy has been disastrous. He has accomplished the stunning feat of transforming the record budget surplus bequeathed to him by President Clinton into a record deficit. The strong dollar has grown weak; the trade deficit has ballooned; unemployment is up. The only beneficiaries of what hardly deserves to be called an economic policy are his pals in the multimillionaire class, which includes many in his Cabinet.
They seem to have a pretty clear view over there in England.
According to advance reports, George Bush will use tonight's State of the Union speech to portray himself as a visionary leader who stands above the political fray. But that act is losing its effectiveness. Mr. Bush's relentless partisanship has depleted much of the immense good will he enjoyed after 9/11. He is still adored by his base, but he is deeply distrusted by much of the nation.
Mr. Bush may not understand this; indeed, he still seems to think that he's another Lincoln or F.D.R. "No president has done more for human rights than I have," he told Ken Auletta.
But his political handlers seem to have decided on a go-for-broke strategy: confuse the middle one last time, energize the base and grab enough power that the consequences don't matter.
And what about the growing military crisis? The mess in Iraq has placed our volunteer military, a magnificent but fragile institution, under immense strain. National Guard and Reserve members find themselves effectively drafted as full-time soldiers. More than 40,000 soldiers whose enlistment terms have expired have been kept from leaving under "stop loss" orders. This can't go on for four more years.
Karl Rove and other insiders must know all this. So they must figure that once they have won the election, they will have such a complete lock on power that they can break many of their promises with impunity.
Including the president's promise to uphold the Constitution.
The Bush administration, which created a record budget deficit partly through tax cuts for the rich, is threatening to make up some of the difference by cutting desperately needed programs aimed at the poor. One candidate for the chopping block is Section 8, the federal rent-subsidy program whose main purpose is preventing low-income families from becoming homeless.
The Section 8 voucher program subsidizes families who rent apartments in the private market. The renters, most of whom live at or below the poverty level, pay 30 percent of their incomes toward rent, and the voucher covers the remainder.
Even now, families sometimes wait for years for vouchers, which become available when current voucher holders die or get better jobs and become ineligible for subsidies. By some estimates, only one in four families who actually qualify for Section 8 vouchers receives them. Given that the affordable housing crisis is likely to become worse as time goes by, anything that makes it harder to house poor families is by definition a disastrous idea.
Give to the rich, steal from the poor - it's easy to see why Jesus is Bush's "favorite philosopher".
Proving again that Martin Luther King Jr. had the right idea, the peaceful demonstrations by thousands of Iraqi Shiites demanding direct elections have been a far more effective challenge to the arrogance of the U.S. occupation than the months of guerrilla violence undertaken by a Sunni-led insurgency.
Led by clerics demanding real democracy, the protests have strongly raised this question: What right does the United States have to tell people that they cannot be allowed to rule themselves?
With the stated reasons for the U.S. invasion — the imminent threat of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and his ties to Al Qaeda — now a proven fraud, the Bush administration was left with one defense: It was bringing democracy to this corner of the Mideast. If we now fail to promptly return full sovereignty to the Iraqis, inconvenient as that outcome may be, the invasion will stand exposed as nothing more than old-fashioned imperial plunder of the region's oil riches — and the continued occupation could devolve into civil war.
President Bush's administration is developing a plan to spend $1.5 billion to promote healthy marriage, teaching couples how to co-exist. This could brighten the finances of people who would teach these marital maintenance courses, but it's not clear that the spending would help families. The social arithmetic is simple: Families are financially better off with the incomes and involvement of two parents rather than one. A vessel for love and romance, marriage is also an economic shelter that protects adults and children.
The government has an interest in promoting such stability, but it must do so carefully. Marital tax breaks make sense because they offer a passive response. It is intrusive for the federal government to sell marriage.
The real shame is that Bush could do this work far more effectively if he were simply to replace the word "marriage" in his proposals with the phrase "college education."
If Bush were defending the sanctity of a college education, he'd have a savvy, bipartisan plan that almost everyone could support. If he said a college education can lift people out of poverty, he would be supported by data. If he called for more healthy college educations, he might inspire adults to go back to school or encourage states to set up programs that would link 11- or 12-year-olds to universities to pique their interest in higher education as early as possible.
Americans observed Martin Luther King Day yesterday with some activists charging that the war in Iraq and other Bush administration policies run counter to what the civil rights leader stood for.
"We have to be concerned not just about us. We have to be concerned about all our brothers and sisters throughout our nation and world," King's son Martin Luther King III said in a service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where his father preached until he was assassinated in 1968.
"How many Iraqi children have been killed? When will the war end? We all have to be concerned about terrorism, but you will never end terrorism by terrorizing others."
Mayor Shirley Franklin of Atlanta drew a hearty standing ovation when she referred to a visit Bush made last week to King's tomb, saying, "Perhaps some prefer to honor the dreamer while ignoring or fighting the dream." The visit was picketed by nearly 800 people who said the president should not have come because his policies are inconsistent with King's principles of nonviolence.
Monday, January 19, 2004
The morning after the 2000 election, Americans woke up to a disturbing realization: our electoral system was too flawed to say with certainty who had won. Three years later, things may actually be worse. If this year's presidential election is at all close, there is every reason to believe that there will be another national trauma over who the rightful winner is, this time compounded by troubling new questions about the reliability of electronic voting machines.
This is no way to run a democracy.
Americans are rightly proud of their system of government, and eager to share it with the rest of the world. But the key principle behind it, that our leaders govern with the consent of the governed, requires a process that accurately translates the people's votes into political power. Too often, the system falls short. Throughout this presidential election year, we will be taking a close look at the mechanics of our democracy and highlighting aspects that cry out for reform.
Partisan gerrymandering takes control of Congress away from the voters, and puts it in the hands of legislative redistricters. It can also profoundly distort the political direction of the country. In four states that are almost precisely evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats — Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan — Republican legislators drew district lines so that 51 of the 77 seats are Republican, a nearly two-to-one edge.
I understand that we have a problem with our election system. But why is it only Democrats who complain about it, and only Republicans who benefit from it?
The Bush administration's inability to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq -- after public statements declaring an imminent threat posed by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein -- has begun to harm the credibility abroad of the United States and of American intelligence, according to foreign policy experts in both parties.
In last year's State of the Union address, President Bush used stark imagery to make the case that military action was necessary. Among other claims, Bush said that Hussein had enough anthrax to "kill several million people," enough botulinum toxin to "subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure" and enough chemical agents to "kill untold thousands."
The report further said that the administration "systematically misrepresented the threat" posed by Iraq, often on purpose, in four ways: one, treating nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as a single threat, although each posed different dangers and evidence was particularly thin on Iraq's nuclear and chemical programs; two, insisting without evidence that Hussein would give his weapons to terrorists; three, often dropping caveats and uncertainties contained in the intelligence assessments when making public statements; and four, misrepresenting inspectors' findings so that minor threats were depicted as emergencies.
The winner of the Iowa caucuses on Monday night will have an unexpected competitor waiting right around the corner, and he is not one of the Democrats running for president.
The opponent is President Bush and his State of the Union address, which White House officials scheduled for Tuesday night, only 24 hours after Iowa, to draw attention from the Democratic victor, a Republican close to the Bush campaign said.
"Was it planned?" the Republican said. "Yes. The fact that the Iowa caucus was going to be held on a certain date was not unknown to people in the White House."
The underlying strategy, the Republican said, was not to steal all the thunder from the Democrats, which even another "axis of evil" State of the Union address was unlikely to do, but rather to change the subject.
"What you achieve by doing it quickly is to get people to focus on the president's positive agenda after two weeks of people beating his brains in and criticizing every aspect of his policies," the Republican said. He did not want to be named for fear of angering White House officials who insist that there is no political element to Mr. Bush's address — even as Bush campaign officials say the speech will outline the broad themes of the his 2004 campaign.
Nothing political about that.
The magnificence of the Grand Canyon inspires poetry, contemplation, prayer, exhilaration, and a lot of other emotions that might be considered religious. All of them can be given space in print on the shelves of a government bookstore without violating the Constitution. But none of them should become a permanent part of the scenery.
That distinction should be clear as the federal government decides whether to continue selling a controversial new book about the canyon and what to do with the religious plaques that have hung on park buildings for 33 years.
The book, The Grand Canyon: A Different View, by Tom Vail is a creationist tract stating that the gorge was formed by the great flood described in Genesis. The thesis has no basis in science and is rightly filed in the inspirational section of the Grand Canyon National Park's bookstore -- it was moved there from the general reading collection last summer after visitors questioned its content.
What on earth is the government doing selling anti-scientific nonsense like this at our national park? Aren't there churches out West? Let them sell it there. (Actually, it looks like a pretty nice picture book, aside from the creationism stuff.)
[By the way, of the 9 reader reviews for this book on Amazon, 6 give it one star and 3 give it five stars. I guess it depends on what church you go to.]
Bush's top 10 reasons for his space plan: (10) California aerospace industry voters; (9) Florida aerospace industry voters (Can't count on Jeb); (8) No more global warming studies from NASA; (7) Distract media from there being no WMD and no Al Qaeda link in Iraq; (6) What's a little more debt? (Paul O'Neill's a wimp); (5) Trumps Kennedy's moon mission (My rocket's bigger than yours!); (4) New opportunities for Halliburton; (3) Osama bin Laden can't get to us up there; (2) Karl Rove said it was a good idea (Stick to principles); (1) Another flight suit (Yes!).
[Los Angeles Times, 1/19/04]
Democrats accuse Cheney of driving the administration beyond demonstrable dangers toward hypothetical scenarios, convincing a majority of the American people, for instance, that Saddam Hussein was in league with Al Qaeda when no connection had yet been established.
"You work the intelligence to the best of your ability," Cheney said, "to try to anticipate what the enemy is going to do…. You have to also assume, to some extent, that you probably don't have complete knowledge. You almost never do when you're dealing in the intelligence area, especially when you're dealing in the world of international terrorist conspiracies."
What his fans see as pragmatism, his critics see as warmongering. Democrats and other critics paint Cheney as a dark, insidious force pushing Bush toward war and confrontation. But that doesn't bother the vice president.
"What's wrong with my image?" Cheney asks with a laugh. He contends that he operates in public when it serves the administration's agenda, and in private when that is more effective.
"Am I the evil genius in the corner that nobody ever sees come out of his hole?" he asks. "It's a nice way to operate, actually."
So there you have it.
[Also check out this article about Cheney's reaction to the new book by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill.]
President Bush and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) have decided to oppose granting more time to an independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, virtually guaranteeing that the panel will have to complete its work by the end of May, officials said last week.
Several relatives have also strongly criticized the commission's executive director, Philip Zelikow, because of his ties to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and other Bush administration officials.
Zelikow has recused himself from issues connected to his role as an administration adviser in the early weeks of Bush's term, but he was also interviewed several months ago as a witness by the commission, officials said. Commission member Jamie Gorelick, a Democrat who served in the Clinton Justice Department, has also been interviewed as a witness, officials said.
Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband, Ronald, was killed at the World Trade Center, said the interviews underscore a conflict-of-interest problem at the commission and cast serious doubts on the panel's credibility.
"We've had it," said Breitweiser, who met with several commission leaders last week. "It is such a slap in the face of the families of victims. They are dishonoring the dead with their irresponsible behavior."
Sunday, January 18, 2004
The events of Sept. 11, 2001, gave advocates of war [in Iraq] the opening they needed. They tried immediately to tie Hussein to al Qaeda and the terrorist attacks. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld created an Office of Special Plans in the Pentagon to analyze the intelligence for war and bypass the traditional screening process. Vice President Cheney relied on intelligence from Iraqi exiles and put pressure on intelligence agencies to produce the desired result.
Hussein's brutal regime was not an adequate justification for war, and the administration did not seriously try to make it one until long after the war began and all the false justifications began to fall apart. There was no imminent threat. Hussein had no nuclear weapons, no arsenals of chemical or biological weapons, no connection to Sept. 11 and no plausible link to al Qaeda. We never should have gone to war for ideological reasons driven by politics and based on manipulated intelligence.
Vast resources have been spent on the war that should have been spent on priorities at home. Our forces are stretched thin. Precious lives have been lost. The war has made America more hated in the world and made the war on terrorism harder to win. As Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said in announcing the latest higher alert: "Al Qaeda's continued desire to carry out attacks against our homeland is perhaps greater now than at any point since September 11th."
The most fundamental decision a president ever makes is the decision to go to war. President Bush violated the trust that must exist between government and the people. If Congress and the American people had known the truth, America would never have gone to war in Iraq. No president who does that to our country deserves to be reelected.
Vice President Dick Cheney and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spent part of last week duck hunting at a private camp in southern Louisiana, three weeks after the Supreme Court had agreed to take up the vice president's appeal in lawsuits over his handling of the administration's energy task force. While Scalia and Cheney are avid hunters and longtime friends, several legal ethics specialists questioned the timing of their trip, and said it raised doubts about Scalia's ability to judge the case impartially.
Scalia said Friday: "I do not think my impartiality could reasonably be questioned."
What can I say?
President Bush is preparing to revive some of the bare-knuckled politics he used during the 2002 midterm elections by suggesting that Democrats are opposed to keeping the nation secure.
That is the early indication from ad scripts Bush-Cheney '04 filed this month with the Federal Election Commission. The ads, in which Bush endorses a congressional candidate, indicate that Bush plans, once again, to inject himself heavily into congressional races.
"American values. If you share the values of President Bush, you're going to like Alice Forgy Kerr," begins one script submitted to the FEC, referring to a Kentucky congressional candidate. "They are cut from the same cloth. While others attack the president's economic program, and his fight to protect our national security, Alice Forgy Kerr stands with President Bush."
With footage of Bush and the candidate walking and talking together, the ad continues: "Unlike her opponent, Alice supported the Bush tax cuts that are now triggering new jobs and economic growth. Alice Forgy Kerr is the only candidate who will work with President Bush." Other ads featuring Bush's endorsement of Kerr show the candidate vowing, "I absolutely support President Bush's tax cuts," and saying, "President Bush's prescription drug law is such a godsend to seniors."
Oh yeah, Alice, those tax cuts are just pumping out the jobs - there were 1,000 new ones created in December alone! But why are so many seniors criticizing this "godsend" of a drug plan? We'll talk when you get back from Wonderland.
Retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark said Saturday he "has heard" charges that President Bush was a "deserter" from his duties in the Vietnam War-era Air National Guard but said, "I am not going to go into the issues of what George W. Bush did or didn't do in the past."
The term "deserter" was used by documentary filmmaker Michael Moore in introducing Clark to an enthusiastic rally of more than 1,000 people in this Concord suburb Saturday afternoon.
After noting that Clark had been a champion debater at West Point, Moore told a laughing crowd, "I know what you're thinking. I want to see that debate" between Clark and Bush -- "the general versus the deserter."
In a news conference after the event, Clark was asked if he had heard those words and if he agreed. "Well," he said. "I've heard those charges. I don't know if they are true or not. He was never prosecuted for it." But Clark said, "I am delighted with Michael Moore . . . man of conscience and courage."
Moore told reporters he was referring to published reports that, as he put it, "Bush left and did not show up for a year" when he transferred from Houston in the Texas Air National Guard to temporary duty at a unit in Alabama.
The galling thing about Bush going AWOL is that he gets a free pass on it, even from a General, for crying out loud. Can the man be held accountable for nothing?
Thirty-seven months ago, President-elect George W. Bush stood in the Texas House chamber and called for the nation's leaders to "put politics behind us and work together" after the bitter Florida recount.
"I am optimistic that we can change the tone in Washington, D.C.," he said after the Supreme Court cemented his victory. "I believe things happen for a reason, and I hope the long wait of the last five weeks will heighten a desire to move beyond the bitterness and partisanship of the recent past. Our nation must rise above a house divided."
But as Bush begins the final year of his term with Tuesday night's State of the Union address, partisans on both sides say the tone of political discourse is as bad as ever -- if not worse.
"It's his way or no way," said Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate minority whip. "He's a man who campaigned on having a better relationship, and it's exactly the opposite of what he said he would do. I've never served with anybody who is so uncooperative."
We have an unyielding, uncooperative, self-righteous man as our president. We can do better.
Reaching the 500 threshold could again raise questions among the American public about Bush's Iraq policy as the U.S. presidential campaign picks up, analysts said.
"I think it's symbolic in the sense that maybe a lot of people who have not paid attention in recent weeks ... will say 'I thought that we were in much better shape than this,' and 'What's going on?'" said Lawrence J. Korb, vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations and assistant secretary of defense under former President Ronald Reagan.
Following an upsurge in casualties last fall, the Bush administration decided to speed the timetable for ending the occupation and establishing a sovereign government, albeit unelected, by June 30. Members of a provisional legislature will be selected in 18 regional causes, and will in turn choose the government.
However, the country's powerful Shiite Muslim leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, has demanded direct elections for the legislature, something U.S. officials say would be impossible to arrange by June 30.
Facing political problems with the majority Shiites and the continuing insurgency by minority Sunni Muslims, the Bush administration is turning to the United Nations, which it had earlier shunned, for help in establishing a democratic Iraq.
So. An unelected president, hoping to steal another election, imposes an unelected government on Iraq and calls it "democracy". And for this we have lost 500 soldiers.