The Angry Cyclist

A fleeting grasp of civil, well reasoned discourse.
This blog will comment on topics of interest like politics, business, taxation, the War with Islam / Islamofascists, road cycling, football, and others.


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Wednesday, July 14, 2004
 
The Royal Scam

The Boston Globe's resident communist lays it on rather thick today, prompting me to get off my lazy, non-blogging ass and beat this worthless piece of rhetorical bullshit into the ground.

New tax cut scam excludes poor kids


Tax cut = scam. No bias here...

By Robert Kuttner | July 14, 2004

CONGRESSIONAL Republicans are hoping to pass yet another budget-busting tax cut this summer and manipulate Democrats into voting for it by using poor children as the bait.


Busting the budget... as the U.S. Treasury posts a $19 billion surplus for the month of June.

In 2001 and 2003, Congress passed legislation providing a child tax credit for the middle class that gradually rose to $1,000 per child, but Republicans excluded working-class children who needed help the most. In the 2003 law, families earning between $10,500 and $26,625 got no additional handouts from the federal government nothing, including 260,000 children of active-duty servicemen and women. All told, about one child in four was excluded.


Which is another way of saying three out of four were not excluded. And Kuttner is as clear as mud explaining precisely how the families 'children' of the one in four 'got nothing'; the best I can deduce is that their incomes increased, supposedly reducing the available tax credit. Even allowing for that I think he's blowing smoke up everyone's ass with that assertion because there's no explicit mention of a phaseout of the credit at those income levels.

Working-class families were left out because their breadwinners are too poor to pay much federal income tax. Republicans argued that anyone who paid little or no income taxes had not earned tax relief. Of course, these families do pay sales taxes, payroll taxes, excise taxes, and property taxes.


Heh. How many people in that income bracket do you think actually hold a mortgage? Leave it to Kuttner to roll out the 'let's change the subject' tactic of discussing federal income tax and instead talk about all taxes. All he accomplishes there is admitting to an extent that one segment of society is overtaxed. That's not the ground a socialist should be treading on.

Republicans are now proposing to extend token benefits to lower-income families, but their price is a dramatic expansion of the tax breaks for well-to-do families with incomes of up to $309,000 -- that's the richest 2 percent of American families (You mean like this rich person? - Ed.). The preexisting law wisely phased out all child tax credit benefits at family incomes of $149,000. The new Republican proposal would more than double that income ceiling at a cost to the deficit of $89 billion over 10 years.


Which is another way of stating 8.9 billion over one year, which is less than half of the current month's budget surplus. The 'cost' to the deficit looks a lot smaller when rephrased in those terms, doesn't it?

Under the Republican bill, which has already passed the House, the affluent families would get tax cuts of $1,000 per child. The poor ones would get $150 per child. Anyone with less than $10,500 would get nothing. That's almost exactly the annual income of one fulltime minimum wage earner.


The 'rich' taxpayers get tax relief because they actually pay federal income tax. Taxpayers with AGI of $10,500 don't get tax relief because they don't pay federal income tax. Why doesn't Kuttner want to frame the debate that way?

As fiscal policy, this is logical appalling, since the previous tax cuts tilted to the wealthiest already create decades of unsustainable deficits. As social policy, it is even worse -- perfect Robin Hood in reverse.


Bob, the Treasury is currently running surpluses. And why is it preferable 'social policy' to reinvent Robin Hood redistribution the welfare state via tax policy? Thanks for the well thought out explanation.

But Congress may well enact this legislation, deftly timed for a Rose Garden signing ceremony festooned with happy children and right on the eve of the Democratic National Convention. In a charming touch, Republicans have dubbed the week of July 19 "Tax Fairness Week."


Timely. Just a few weeks after most Americans celebrated Tax Freedom Day. It seems to me working half of the time to support various levels of government and the people who benefit from it will lead most people to dismiss the Big Government cheerleading from unrestrained communists like Kuttner for the shit it is.

Here are the legislative politics: The extension of the tax breaks to more affluent families, plus a few crumbs for poor ones, is wrapped into a bill that makes the middle-class child tax credit and other tax cuts permanent and also gets rid of the so called marriage penalty. Total 10-year cost: about $500 billion.


Look at the old tax tables, Robert, and try to explain to me why married people at a given AGI number fall into the next tax brackets well before the halfway point of that AGI number as an unmarried person. It's because those married tax tables assume the spouse only made 60% of the other. That's the 'so called marriage penalty'.

The child tax credit was one of the few provisions in the Bush tax program that actually delivered some benefits to the broad middle class.


That admission's gotta be killing him...

Few legislators will have the nerve to vote against a package that includes it. Indeed, in political circles of both parties, where politicians spend an inordinate amount of time with large donors, $309,000 is a fairly typical income for those who can afford to write a $1,000 donation check. It seems almost middle-class. This is one reason why the Democratic Party has lost its edge.


That's right - the Democratic Party, the Party of the common man.

For now, the only thing holding back this travesty of a tax bill is a small group of liberal moderate Republican senators led by Olympia Snowe of Maine. This brave heroic, noble band of lawmakers actually believe that no further tax cuts should be enacted unless they are explicitly paid for either with other tax increases or program cuts. For the moment, the Republican chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Charles Grassley of Iowa, is deferring to Snowe.


Hey, Bob - how about advocating some program cuts, in the name of bipartisanship & all that?

That demand makes fiscal sense, but it would be a shame if this tax giveaway were resisted solely on the ground that it busts the budget. The more serious outrage here is that poor children who desperately need better schools, better health care, and better early-childhood programs are getting less from the government than ever, while affluent families who've already gotten extensive tax breaks are getting more.


At what point do you hold the parents of the 'poor children' accountable for failure to provide adequate resources for the children, Bob?

Republican legislators could well come up with some budgetary gimmick that makes it seem as if this new round of tax breaks is paid for, and then the moderates with the green eyeshades will likely cave in and allow the bill to become law.


And if the Democrats were in power, there would be no 'gimmick' but a 'fair solution' instead.

If that occurs, let's hope that Senators Kerry and Edwards have the nerve to vote against it and use the occasion to explain to voters how the administration is cheating the many to reward the few. Yes, this would invite a new round of Bush TV ads denouncing Kerry for voting "against children" and for "higher taxes." But if Kerry has the gumption, it could also smoke out a real debate that Bush can't win if voters are encouraged to pay attention.


You're asking Kerry to take a strong stance on an issue? Talk about wishing upon a star!

Robert Kuttner's is co-editor of The American Prospect. His column appears regularly in the Globe.


Thursday, June 17, 2004
 
We Surrender

I cannot fucking believe this announcement. This post will embody my first ever e-mail to president@whitehouse.gov. I have an apparently quaint notion of wanting to win a war rather than losing it. Based on the fact that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia (in percentage terms, based on this single event, that's 78.947%), there's a strong probability that a male from Saudi Arabia will commit the next act of terrorism in the United States and yes, he will be a 'devout Muslim' and will have attended a terrorist training camp.

And yes, I am beginning to doubt whether I'll vote for GWB in November. One caveat: GWB may be showing us one deck and playing with another. It wouldn't be the first time.

Special checks on Muslims at border to end


Why?

Washington, DC, Jun. 13 (UPI) -- The Bush administration has pledged to stop special security checks imposed on adult males entering the United States from mainly Muslim countries.


Given the above discussion, I have to say this is world-class stupidity. The probabilities are overwhelming that only a dishonest or cowed person would make that argument, and on a political basis you've just given Decorated Vietnam VeteranTM an opening from the right to criticize the Bush administration.

Those targeted are mostly from countries considered a risk for terrorism.


Which, as previously discussed, leaves Saudi Arabia at the top of the list. Throw in other obvious candidates like Syria, Iran, Pakistan and Egypt and I believe there's a politically incorrect pattern brewing.

"Our long term goal", senior homeland security official Asa Hutchinson told Arab civil rights leaders Friday, "is to treat (all visitors) the same way, and not based on where you come from."


There is no way paragraph 1 squares with paragraph 2. It's impossible to treat everyone 'equally' when immigrants or illegals (sorry, 'undocumented workers', is that better?) enter our borders and a significant number of potential terrorists arrive from at least five countries in one manner or another. Is there no logic in 'profiling' or are we now admitting we're basically castrating ourselves in order to 'win hearts and minds', the best current translation for appeasement?

Hutchinson also distinguished the approach of the Department of Homeland Security from that of other parts of the administration, notably Attorney General John Ashcroft's Justice Department, United Press International reported.

Under the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System or NSEERS, introduced in November 2002, male visa-holders coming to the United States from any one of 25 listed nations have had to undergo special screening, including being fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed at ports of entry.


Good, at least someone takes this shit seriously. I'd also call for DNA samples and biometric scans as well, but the ACLU would soon crank up their war machine, complete with charges of "RACISM!!!" flying through the air like bullets at an Iraqi wedding and other self-defeating measures rapidly deployed by a compliant, and defeatist, press.

The countries include Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Iran. Apart from North Korea, they are all majority-Muslim nations.


Heh. Wasn't that far off the mark in the Jihad Country assessment. And remember, Libya is a country that's now playing ball with us because Gaddafi's still shitting himself from Reagan's 'drive-by'. What should that tell you?


Wednesday, June 16, 2004
 
It's Bush's Fault, CXXVI

Bob Kuttner finds no problem too big or small to blame on the Bush administration or propose yet another federal entitlement program to solve it.

America's hidden issue of poverty

By Robert Kuttner | June 16, 2004

WBUR, Boston's fine public radio station, has been flogging this promotion: 16 million poor kids, through federal aid, get nutritious breakfasts and lunches throughout the school year. But now it's summer, and school's out. So send WBUR a hundred bucks, and $25 of it will go to a local food bank that feeds kids while the federal money shuts down.


May I be so impolite as to ask what happens with the other $75? Will it go to cover 'administrative expenses' of WBUR's directors?

Does this strike you as just a little off? By all means, send WBUR a check.

You first.
But shouldn't the news staff, as opposed to the development staff, be running with this story? What Scrooge forgot that kids eat in the summer? Where is the Bush administration on this? Why are there so many hungry children, anyway?


Maybe because their parents cannot or will not provide for them? It strikes me as a bit unsettling that Kuttner can so blithely ascribe the blame on this to Bush when it ought to be the parents who have to fulfill this obligation. Unsurprisingly, that subject is not raised by Kuttner.

By making this appeal part of its fund-raising pitch, complete with heart-rending interviews with adorable kids,

'Cuz it's All About The ChildrenTM...
WBUR subtly buys into the premise that these children require charity rather than massive new federal spending decent public policy anchored in a robust politics. It adds to the depoliticizing of issues that should be part of politics.


No, Bob, what you're trying to do is politicize the issue by making these kids / children into your political pawns in order to justify another mouth on the public nipple. Enough already, let's hear some real arguments, shall we?

And that's the larger story of our dwindling democracy. This election year, once again, issues of social class are pretty much off the table.


No free breakfasts / lunches = dwindling democracy. Sounds more like whining, Bob. At least try to convince someone!

The great hidden issue in America is the scandal that tens of millions of Americans who work full time -- often more than full time -- barely get by and can't get ahead, while CEOs get zillions. The blue-collar middle class jobs are vanishing; what's taking their place are retail and service jobs that top out at $10 an hour or less. You can't live decently on that.


Changing the subject, yet another classic leftist debating technique. What's next?

For chapter and verse, read Barbara Ehrenreich's modern classic, "Nickeled and Dimed." She recounts trying to survive on take-home pay of about $1,200 a month when rent consumes $800. It can't be done. Many of her co-workers, clinging to middle-class work ethic values, live in their cars.


With this argument I am not convinced, nor am I persuaded by her tales of woe and misery. There are two assumptions made by the author which contribute to this defeatist mindset - that you'll always be in these dead-end jobs (i.e., you have no ambition or intelligence, or a plan) and that Ehrenreich, paying $800 per month in rent, does not appear to have a roommate, which of course contributes mightily to her short-lived economic misery. Get a roommate and she doesn't write the book. Convenient to leave that one out, isn't it?

Bernie Sanders, the lefty Vermont congressman (apologies for the redundancy - Ed.), recently told me something interesting. He gets a lot of his votes not from the Birkenstock crowd but from lower income, blue-collar men -- the very voters many Democrats consider hopelessly lost to NASCAR, Limbaugh, flag-waving, and fundamentalism.


In Vermont? Bwwwaahahahaha!

Why do they support a militant like Sanders? Because he engages their pocketbook issues -- fighting for ground rules that enable working people to make a decent living, get good health care, and live in affordable housing. "I'm not a liberal," says Sanders. "I'm a progressive."


There's a difference? Nice try, Bernie.

Progressive politics is not about charity and soup kitchens. It's about big government power, and putting issues considered almost unspeakable in polite company back into the national conversation.


And this has to do with free breakfasts and lunches in what way?

The people Barbara Ehrenreich interviewed for "Nickeled and Dimed" have pretty much given up on politics -- because politics has given up on them. Few big-league politicians are talking about subjects that could make a real difference in their lives, like maybe a $12 minimum wage or universal health insurance.


Yup, raise the minimum wage and put people out of work in addition to universal health insurance that's worked so well in Canada you have to wait months for medical procedures. It's amazing that Kuttner can be so stunningly wrong about these matters yet continue to offer the same failed solutions over and over again as gospel.

The bipartisan elite has convinced itself that the main challenge for the next generation is reducing the federal deficit. That's what passes for courage in Beltway Washington, as it has for two decades. No wonder voters are tuning out.


I think the main challenge for this generation is eradicating the threat of extremist Islamism. It figures Kuttner can avoid the bloody obvious priority of our government so he can advocate his socialist wet dream.

Let me amend that. Potentially progressive voters like those Sanders supporters tune out. Wall Street voters are entirely tuned in, to an insider debate between those who would cut taxes and not worry about deficits (Bush) and those who would cut deficits and give up on all but token social investment (the fiscal conservatives advising Kerry). Some debate.

Lately, Washington sages have been promoting a new and entirely misleading conceit about what ails American politics -- polarization: Pundit John Tierney wrote, "It's not voters but the political elite of both parties who have become more narrow minded and polarized." Columnist David Brooks sniffed, "You can't understand the current bitter polarization without appreciating how it is inflamed or even driven by the civil war within the educated class."


The 2000 election, close as it was, kind of shoots those theories down, doesn't it?

To read these guys, you'd think Republican leaders were charging to the right and Democrats to the left. But the Democratic Party has become steadily more centrist, especially on pocketbook issues, as the GOP has become more radical. By making the problem seem like a symmetrical polarization, these right-wing pundits give a free pass to both Bush's plain extremism and the Democrats' capture.


What a crock of shit. Did anyone catch Al Gore's speech a few weeks ago, foaming at the mouth, or Kerry's voting record, regarded as more liberal than Ted Kennedy's? And since when does George Bush teaming up with Ted Freakin' Kennedy on the No Child Left Behind Act, or huge steel tariffs, or the illegal alien amnesty program, qualify as 'more radical'?

A vibrant politics has to be about making sure that capitalism gives ordinary people a fair shake.


'fair' = government intervention. See Wage, minimum, etc.

Otherwise regular people turn to spectacle rather than democracy, politics becomes a sport for the elite, and the best we can hope for is charity.


Speaking of charity, Bob, did you pony up that $100 to WBUR?

So the problem, with all due respect to WBUR, isn't that school is out. It's that class is out.


Communism's out as well. Or at least it's still on life support at 135 Morrissey Boulevard.

Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect. His column appears regularly in the Globe.


Wednesday, May 26, 2004
 
Morally Blind

Resident crackpot Derrick Z. Jackson lies (or is it 'conveniently forgetting key facts'?) in order to portray President Bush as the rightful heir to Adolf Hitler.

Bush's blind leadership

By Derrick Z. Jackson | May 26, 2004

IN NEED OF blind obedience as he stays the course in Iraq, President Bush went to the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., on Monday. Rows of military officers, with not a hint of dissent, clapped like choir boys as Bush said, "The terrorists and Saddam loyalists would rather see many Iraqis die than have any live in freedom."

This is the same Bush who chose to see between 4,000 and 11,000 Iraqi civilians die, according to human rights groups, in an invasion and occupation based on nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Bush said he will stay the course for an Iraq that "protects basic rights," even as a stream of photos exposing prison camp abuse by American soldiers is released. (emphasis added - Ed.)


Naturally, Jackson is unable or unwilling to draw certain distinctions - in war, civilian casualties, while tragic, are inevitable and to an extent unavoidable. Comparisons of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan to previous wars are never, ever made. In this war, 'insurgents, 'resistance fighters' and the like are routinely portrayed as 'civilians' by the press (I'll expand on this theme momentarily) even though the terrorist M.O. is to blend into the civilian population in order to avoid detection and use women and children as 'human shields', largely revoking any claims they have (or the press makes on their behalf) to Geneva Convention protections. Also unmentioned is Saddam's terror machine, responsible for, at a bare minimum, 300,000 civilian deaths that would still be occuring if President Bush didn't have the spine to tell the United Nations (united against us, anyway) that we were going to enforce those resolutions against the Hussein regime with or without their 'help'. It is often difficult to determine if Jackson is naive / stupid or just morally bankrupt, if indeed there's any discernible difference.

Does the Globe editorial employ editors or fact checkers? Suppose I'll don that role for a minute:

WASHINGTON - Comprehensive testing has confirmed the presence of the chemical weapon sarin in the remains of a roadside bomb discovered this month in Baghdad, a defense official said Tuesday.


This has been the conventional wisdom for almost a full week now, and this confirmation seems to have been disclosed in enough time for Jackson to have been aware of this. I'm also aware that this admission whould pretty much destroy the entire column's premise, so Jackson ignores it in order to continue the smear of President Bush.

Another symptom of the crackpot mindset is to uncritically accept foreign sourced reporting and ignore reports from people who were actually on the scene because those people are in the U.S. military. To swallow whole a rehashed claim made a few years earlier in Afghanistan and ignore evidence as presented by our military simply reeks of anti-American bias. It should be noted that this incident does involve legitimate civilian deaths, stupidly standing next to an antiaircraft gun in a war zone, which is precisely why the story is used again, this time by the Iraqis.

Bush said, "A free Iraq will always have a friend in the United States of America." At the rate we are going, it will be any wonder if we will have any friends left in Iraq by the time it is "free."


Nice hyperbole, isn't it? Although some will consider this tasteless, it's necessary in order to refute statements that reek of stupidity. Using the numbers supplied by Jackson, and assuming a Iraqi population of 23 million and no new births, Iraqi citizens will still be around in 2,000 years.

Last week, 40 people died in a US military airstrike on a house. The White House said that it was a safe house for terrorists. Residents who lived nearby said it was the site of a wedding party.


When I first saw this story I commented on it with a reasonable doubt of skepticism, allowing for the fact that there may have indeed been a wedding party. A full week later there is overwhelming evidence that this was a terrorist operation and Jackson still insists that this was a 'wedding party'.

A Reuters story (No bias here, either - Ed.) from the site of the airstrike said, "Standing over 3-year-old Kholoud al-Mohammed, who held a cookie in her hand and cried, Mamdouh Harajee listed off the names of the dead from a complex web of relatives who attended.


Terrorists often use their families as human shields; it's a tactic used by the Palestinians for decades now to avoid being targeted by Hellfire missiles by the IDF, something else Jackson either doesn't know (but should) or chooses to ignore to advance his partisan attack.

" 'She lost her mother and father. Another family of eight lost six members. Another family lost four,' he said as he looked down on the bandaged child. `It was just a wedding.' "


'Just a wedding'. Fifteen miles from the Syrian border. Along a known terrorist smuggling route. With uniquely Arab party favors:

In a briefing for reporters, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said the items found included rifles and batteries rigged in a way that suggested they were intended to be used to detonate bombs. A building on the site of the attack, he said, appeared to have been used as a dormitory, with 300 sets of bedding and as many as 100 sets of prepackaged Iraqi clothing.


That clothing would be for Syrian jihadi's to better blend in with the local population while they made their way to the better vacation resorts of Iraq, like Fallujah.

The top American military spokesman in Iraq, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, said: "There was no evidence of a wedding: no decorations, no musical instruments found, no large quantities of food or leftover servings one would expect from a wedding celebration. There may have been some kind of celebration. Bad people have celebrations, too."

But the Associated Press obtained a videotape it said was shot by the wedding cameraman, who was killed in the attack. The videotape, according to the AP, showed "fragments of musical instruments, pots and pans, and brightly colored beddings used for celebrations, scattered about the bombed out tent." The AP story said the tape captured the travel of "a dozen white pickup trucks speeding through the desert escorting the bridal car -- decorated with colorful ribbons. The bride wears a Western-style white bridal dress and veil."

On Monday, Kimmitt showed the press slides that he said indicated large amounts of illegal drugs, weapons, and materials to make bombs. "The activities that we saw happening on the ground were somewhat inconsistent with a wedding party," Kimmitt said. Furthermore, Kimmitt claimed, "we have no evidence of any children being killed on the ground." Continued...

-- But the AP actually interviews survivors, unlike the US government, which bombs them, waits for survivors to straggle into an office and then offers families an average of about $400 per dead Iraqi victim, compared to an average of $1.8 million being given to the victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Relatives said at least 10 children died in the airstrike. The bride and groom were said to have been killed.


You get the picture by now; by making such claims of atrocities, and with 'unbiased' sources like Reuters and the Associated Press performing rote regurgitaion in spite of any evidence presented to them by the military, they succeed in terms of making the news event a 'he said / she said' stalemate. This anti-American sentiment dovetails nicely with a letter by a professor (no surprise meter needed - it's from the Air Force Academy, not UMass - Amherst) criticizing the war reporters:

I have long perceived a bias in the mainstream media and have for years been frustrated with its implications for our society and nation. The political slant inherent in modern journalism is fucking obvious no longer unexpected and is even tolerable when social and political issues are the topic of debate. When media bias begins to affect our national security, however, the threshold of acceptability is crossed. When media takes the side of our enemies because of political differences with our president, it's time to say ''enough is enough.''


Ted Miller, the author of the article, does acknowledge the media mantra of 'if it bleeds, it leads':

I am fully aware that sensationalism sells and that capturing scandal, mistakes, and death is your goal. Nevertheless I call on you - editors, producers, writers, reporters, anchors, and on-line media journalists – to take Michael Savage's lead and spend an afternoon in the library, archive, or micro-film room. Peruse the war coverage of the past and then ask yourself what is different about your own coverage. Once you recognize the shameful deterioration that has occurred since 1941, I call on you to re-assess your practices, your biases, and your patriotism. No doubt many of you will be offended that I have questioned your loyalty, but if you honestly weigh your handiwork against past journalism, you will question YOUR OWN patriotism. Consider this an integrity check. How many of you will pass?


Which is it, Derrick Jackson? Do you support free people and society or do you support terrorists and their enablers?


Wednesday, May 12, 2004
 
Stupid Or Full Of It?

Bob Kuttner, thirsting to score political points against the evil Republicans, either confuses cause and effect or conveniently ignores it to attack President Bush (the following emphasis mine - Ed.)

What Greenspan won't admit about deficit

By Robert Kuttner | May 12, 2004

ALAN GREENSPAN is a gold-plated hypocrite. Last week the Federal Reserve chairman, speaking at a conference in Chicago, warned that the endless federal deficits had become "a significant obstacle to long-term security because the budget deficit is not subject to correction by market forces." What does Greenspan think caused the deficit -- sunspots? He doesn't deign to say. But everyone else knows. While increased military spending is part of the story, the huge imbalances that rightly worry the Fed chairman are mainly the predictable result of President Bush's immense tax cuts.


Arthur Laffer wouldn't have made that prediction, Bob. That's not the reason the Congressional Budget Office is giving for the shrinkage in the deficit:

Smaller-than-expected tax refunds and rising individual tax receipts will pare back federal borrowing significantly for the first half of this year and could reduce the $521 billion deficit projected for the fiscal year by as much as $100 billion, Treasury and congressional budget officials said yesterday.


Since Bob's not in the habit of admitting his mistakes and distortions, I'll point out a few more:

The deficits are now projected at $400 billion this year and at comparably destructive levels for the indefinite future. The tax cuts are responsible for more than $3 trillion in long-term revenue losses over 10 years. And Greenspan hasn't even spoken out against the president's campaign to make the cuts permanent.


If tax receipts (at minimum, individual tax receipts; I can't find a link discussing corporate, estate & others) are rising, how can this be denying the government revenue?

Just imagine the outcry from Greenspan, Wall Street, and the Republican Party if these deficits had been the result of social spending rather than tax cuts for America's wealthiest. For half of the cost of the projected deficits -- $200 billion a year -- we could have universal, high-quality child care and health insurance for all Americans. Think of that.


In the mind of the paleoliberal, new and expanded government spending is simply beyond question, whereas spending on the military and the proven positive effects of tax cuts must be attacked in every other column. To me, this argument is simply unpersuasive.

But if some Democratic president had managed to persuade Congress to enact such a program, the right would be going nuts at the fiscal irresponsibility. Clearly the right's fiscal ethics are entirely situational.


Pot... Kettle... Black.

If deficits are caused by tax cuts for corporations and the rich, well, this is a manageable problem that can be solved by reduced social spending. But if deficits result from spending, Wall Street and the right would have us believe the economy is about to collapse.

Indeed, if the gold medal for hypocrisy goes to Greenspan, Wall Street deficit hawks get the silver medal. Remember the Concord Coalition -- that bipartisan group of worthies concerned about federal deficits? It's still there, and a few of its members are actually principled conservatives. You just don't hear as much from it when the deficits are Bush's.


Bob obviously hasn't checked their website recently. Look at this, or this, or any of the rest of the articles. To assert the Concord Coalition is sitting on its hands because a Republican's in office reeks of hypocrisy and ignorance as well as contrary to fact.

The one recent president, of course, who took deficits seriously was Bill Clinton.


... a period where there was divided government (Democrat in the Executive branch, Republicans in the House and Senate from 1994 to 2000), which generally leads to slower expansions of federal spending because of this division. The elimination of the deficit was done solely for this reason and we see Bob's old friend, the 'highly partisan' Concord Coalition, in the mix of things.

Presidents Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II have all been all fiscally reckless. Yet somehow the conservative press would have us believe that it's Democrats who have to live down a reputation of being deficit-happy.


President Reagan won the Cold War. Bush I was dealing with its aftereffects. Clinton gave us the 'peace dividend' and via radical Muslim terrorism Bush II had to take said dividend back. The fact is Republicans will use deficits if it helps in matters of national defense where Democrats want to expand the size and scope of the federal government for its own sake.

Other notable situational ethicists who get bronze awards for hypocrisy are deficit hawks in the administration. The White House economic policy czar, Steve Friedman, was a prominent investment banker and one of Wall Street's leading critics of fiscal imprudence. Now that he's on the inside, we haven't heard so much as a bleat from him. If he's advising Bush to resist tax cutting for the larger good of the economy, he certainly is having no effect. One wonders how Friedman can look in the mirror.


I dunno, maybe Friedman agrees with the President? Is Bob aware that we're at war with Islamofascists?

Likewise Greg Mankiw, the Harvard economist whose best-selling textbook warns that prolonged deficits will raise interest rates and slow economic growth. It is a tradition that eminent economists punch their career tickets by doing a prestigious stint at the Council of Economic Advisers, which Mankiw chairs for Bush. But at what cost?


Donald Luskin once again shoots down the eternal myth of the Democrats that 'deficits cause interest rates to rise'.

It would be one thing if Mankiw were a pure technocrat who stayed in the back rooms and crunched numbers. But Mankiw's appointment is a political one, and part of his job is to go out front and vouch for an administration and policies that he knows are deplorable.


If Mankiw is that embittered, he ought to resign.

What gets lost is the fact that taxing and spending involve political choices. One path involves slightly higher tax rates on America's most privileged (Like Teresa Heinz Kerry? - Ed.) in order to pay for decent public services. The other path allows the deserving rich, such as the children of the wealthiest 2 percent of families, to forgo taxation at the expense of needed social outlay. This is the real national choice that is cynically obscured by the running up of endless deficits.


It's hard to tax 'the rich' when they're determined to shelter it from taxation in the first place. This argument from Bob actually supports the case for further tax cuts - If the after tax rates of return on tax-exempt investments are greater than those of taxable ones, and any investment manager advising the ketchup heiress would surely point out, then a lowering of tax rates to a certain point would cause a shift in investment strategy from tax exempt investments to taxable ones in order to maximize their after tax rates of return. Partisan hacks like Kuttner are too blinded by their loathing and hatred of President Bush to make this basic distinction.
Robert Kuttner's is co-editor of The American Prospect. His column appears regularly in the Globe.


 
Why I Don't Subscribe To The Boston Globe

Here's a huge blow to the credibility of the local subsidiary to the New York Times:

The Tunisian site described the photos as the "unedited" versions of actual events and Albasrah ran the photos under the heading "The Abu Ghraib Prison Photos," indicating they had received the photos via e-mail.

A WND investigation has revealed that most of the photos are taken from the American pornographic website "Iraq Babes," and the Hungarian site, "Sex in War," which is linked to by the American site. Both websites are linked to by violent pornography sites and both describe Iraqi women -- played by "actresses" -- in vulgar terms.



Monday, May 10, 2004
 
Daschle On Political Discourse

Senator Tom Daschle bemoans the recent tone of political discourse:

"Demonizing those with whom we disagree politically does not serve the interests of democracy. It does not resolve differences."


But it's within bounds to contribute to political differences:

"He (Daschle - Ed.) said Democrats don't need appropriations bills and don't need judges as much as the White House does," says a GOP staffer Â? and that was that. After the meeting, Daschle told reporters he told the president the Republicans' appropriations strategy simply would not work. "There is no connection [between the appropriations bills and judges]," he said. "I told that again to the president this morning....There isn't any leverage on appropriations bills."


Free advertisementt for the former statement, scant mention of the latter. No media bias?


Wednesday, April 28, 2004
 
Paleoliberal

Intrepid economist Robert Kuttner proposes the typical liberal solutions to the issue of job outsourcing.

Remedy to outsourcing: better US jobs


Kind of like the Steve Martin guide to becoming a millionaire: first, get a million dollars.

By Robert Kuttner | April 28, 2004

LAST WEEK I addressed the dilemma of job outsourcing. I promised some remedies in this column.

In truth, the outsourcing of American jobs is one relatively small facet of the larger problem -- the steady erosion of jobs that pay middle-class wages. A global economy makes this challenge more difficult because it puts many American workers into direct competition with foreigners who are happy to work for less.


Bob might also mention other forms of competition, or productivity levels relative to these foreign counterparts, but they would get in the way of his proposals that he presumes will fix things.

Most of the solution to the outsourcing problem, however, is domestic. In recent decades, institutions that once produced a more equal society have been dismantled or weakened. These included government regulation of wages and working conditions, of industry practices, of a worker's right to choose a union (or not), as well as various government pork social investments that once contributed good jobs. If we can rebuild these, the loss of some jobs overseas will continue to be a problem, but a manageable one.


In other words, he favors government interference and protectionism. When I was a hack at the Mass DOR, I was not given a choice on whether or not to join a union. I was informed that if I did not start paying union dues by a certain date, I was to be fired by said certain date. On that point, I must call bullshit on Bob's blithe assertion that I had a right to choose, other than the obvious 'pay up or get fired' choice. And I am rather tired / bored with the omnipresence of Bob's favorite phrase, 'social investments' as though government spending is some magic elixir that cures all ills. As noted somewhere else, name three government programs that are run more efficiently and for less money than a private sector equivalent.

The majority of jobs in the economy today are in the service sector, and many of these need to be close to the customer. A job in a hotel, a nursing home, a restaurant, a university, or a public school cannot easily be outsourced overseas.


So, 'social investment' can't cure everything.

So the first remedy is to make these good jobs. We can do this with higher minimum wages, local living wage ordinances, by enforcing the right of workers to join unions, and structuring these jobs to encourage and reward higher skills and career paths.


Minimum / living wages, proven causes of unemployment, or make some people happy by making others miserable. I don't think that's my idea of equal opportunity. And how does one "structur(e) these jobs to encourage and reward higher skills and career paths"?

Enforcement of the Wagner Act, which allows American workers a free choice to vote in a union, has become a joke. Employers find it cheaper to fire pro-union workers, hire fancy law firms to conduct union-busting campaigns, and pay the very infrequent fine.


Note the present tense / implicit laying of blame at the current Republican administration. Aside from the Family Leave Act, there doesn't seem to have been a golden age of worker's rights under Clinton, thanks in great part to Robert Reich:

Nailing the point home, Labor Secretary Reich is quoted in the August 8th New York Times as stating, "The jury is still out on whether the traditional union is necessary for the new workplace."


One happy exception speaks volumes -- the successful struggle by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees to turn Las Vegas into a union town. Today, the most humble workers in Vegas's hotels -- those who clean the rooms -- are paid middle-class salaries with health benefits and have career opportunities. They are becoming homeowners and starting to live the American dream. The higher labor costs are a drop in the casino bucket.


But a drop (or two, or three) nonetheless. A recent conversation with a friend of mine, contemplating a move to that part of the country, was notable in terms of the low cost of living in that area, which would give some credence to this 'middle-class' salary argument.

After all, no inherent economic logic required semi-skilled factory workers to earn middle-class wages. What made the difference was strong unions and federal enforcement of the right to organize. Blue-collar service jobs could pay decently, too.


In other words, government intervention, and not market factors, was the decisive influence here. I fail to see how this is a sustainable model in the long run. Hell, even Robert Reich pointed this out ten years ago. Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it.

Second, we need more human service jobs that pay professional salaries by addressing unmet social needs.


Why do we need 'human service jobs'?

At many hospitals, nursing staffs are spread thin. Residents in nursing homes are cared for mainly by inadequately trained people earning barely above minimum wage with very high turnover rates. Budget cuts have decimated mental health services. America's children need a whole new set of professionally trained child development workers.


What criteria were used to make this determination? Staff to patient ratios? Wage disparities between these and other similar workers? And why, on God's freakin' earth, do we need 'whole new set of professionally trained child development workers'? Are parents really doing that bad a job?

What I see here is a solution (more quasi-social workers for lack of a better definition) in search of a problem (low wages, high turnover occupations).

But here comes the Bob Kuttner oh, so predictable remedy - HIGHER TAXES!

These social needs should be met in the time-tested way -- by cutting other government programs privatizing these services taxing 'the rich' those who can afford to pay and using the proceeds for government spending social investments. America's social outlays have been reduced to the level of the 1950s. Let's have a new marriage between necessary services and good jobs.


I'm deducting a style point for the second use of the 'social investment' phrase.

On a serious note, Bob states that 'social investment outlays' are at the level of the 1950's. He doesn't state that in nominal or real dollars, but I do remember this period being one where both parents didn't always have to work to make ends meet. What I infer from that is more tax money is going to entitlements like Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid and less towards Bob's precious 'social investments'. I'd also like to state that not everybody winds up in a nursing home or needs (I still can't believe this) child development workers, necessary in Bob's mind, not mine.

Third, while manufacturing jobs may never employ the work force they once did, public policy can help stimulate an advanced manufacturing economy. Al Gore didn't invent the Internet, but the US government did -- as a byproduct of defense spending. A lot of very good jobs were created as high-tech industries took off.


Offhand support for more defense spending?

Government subsidy of biotech research, likewise, has helped incubate an industry with good jobs both in research and manufacturing.

Government could work alongside private industry to invest in new technologies for energy independence.


Such as...?

We could make a national commitment to bring broadband cable service to every home, which would create a huge new market for jobs. These strategies would both create millions of good jobs in research, services, and manufacturing.


I remember my own foray into receiving broadband cable into my house. I remember calling up the cable company four years ago and paying for the service.

Trade and outsourcing do need to be addressed, too. If workers in countries that trade with the United States are assured the right to form unions, wage competition will be less of a problem. Repealing tax incentives to outsource jobs would also help. If we enforce fair trade, the United States could have more export opportunities to balance our increased imports.


Um, isn't that what the World Trade Organization's supposed to do?

One approach to creating good jobs, however, is a proven failure: George Bush's strategy of cutting taxes, gutting regulation, and trusting private industry to do the rest. This path has led to a few astronomically compensated executive jobs, a bonanza for a few fortunate investors, and a slow slide for the working middle class. Ultimately, many roads are available in the new economy. How to reconcile globalism with good American jobs remains a political choice.


Some 'proven failure'. The most recent major economic news includes the greatest year on year increase of leading economic indicators in two decades and 308,000 new jobs added last month. The only thing 'proven' here is that Bob Kuttner is consistently wrong on nearly every issue he addresses.

Say it, Bob - Arthur Laffer was right!

Robert Kuttner's is co-editor of The American Prospect. His column appears regularly in the Globe.

Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.


Friday, April 16, 2004
 
1040X Already!

Noted Man Of the People John Kerry has filed an amended tax return for 2003 based on his sale of the Adam Willaerts painting he co-owns with his wife? somebody who prefers to remain anonymous.

I looked it up in the Schedule D instructions, and I'm rightly kicking myself in the ass for not spotting it earlier. The sale of said painting is considered a capital asset held for personal use, the disposition of which is considered ordinary income, not capital gain income. Thus, the increase in the tax rate on this transaction.

I still maintain that he probably owes an underestimated tax penalty, but hey, that's just the tax guy in me...


 
A Rant Against A Capitalist

I don't know if anyone watches this new 'reality show' called The Apprentice 'starring' the Donald Donald Trump. I refuse to discuss the particulars of the show, although some people seem to fancy it, for whatever reason.

I simply cannot fathom the fascination with such an egotistical, hubristic self-promoter who makes Larry Ellison look like Ghandi, whose investment decisions are questionable at best, and the modern-day culture of celebrity somehow pass off as some sort of fuckin' genius who gets his jollies off telling the overwhelming majority of applicants a line clearly stolen from 'The Jetsons' cartoon, "You're Fired", and then has the brass to try and trademark the fuckin' phrase? If he was telling me that, I'd probably leap over the board table and beat his worthless ass to within an inch of his life, but that's just the sensitive, consensus building type of guy that I am.

Jesus H. Christ, my contempt for such morally devoid subhumans knows no bounds...


 
John Kerry's Tax Return

I'll blog on his 2003 Federal 1040 and my recreation of his MA Form 1 (request via the Viking Pundit) as soon as I'm able to upload the applicable PDF files to my Comcast account; I can't as of now, because two tech support calls later I'm still not able to upload anything there, so discussion thereof is irrelevant until I can illustrate some things via those files.


Wednesday, April 14, 2004
 
Cut And Run

The Boston Globe's Tom Oliphant advocates the Vietnam strategy of losing resolving conflicts.

Iraq exit plan gaining bipartisan support


Republicans ? Any names, Tom?

By Thomas Oliphant, 4/13/2004

WASHINGTON

ON THE SADLY shaky assumption that some degree of stability can soon be restored inside Iraq, there is a route to the future that has a chance of avoiding the worst of all medium-term outcomes -- an almost exclusively American occupation dealing with an increasingly nationalist Iraqi opposition.


Try thug opposition.

The route has growing bipartisan support in this country and strong support abroad from a world that is not simply content to watch the United States stew in its own mess in a vital and volatile region.


Names, please...

It also has support within the fractious administration of George Bush, where Secretary of State Colin Powell has a toehold of influence against discredited unilateralists and where political advisers can state categorically that the status quo is seriously eroding Bush's standing with the public.


For the last time, names, puhleeeze...

Among the obstacles ahead is that Bush is being urged to implement what amounts to John Kerry's ideas for Iraq's future and the future of US involvement.


You mean Kerry's latest position on future US involvement? Vodkapundit has more on the shakiness of this most recent 'nuanced' position.

For those who casually follow politics in the silly form of sound bites and most press coverage, Kerry is not supposed to have an alternative to the status quo, is just sitting there trying to take advantage of current chaos, or is the willing puppet of his cousins in France.


Tom, do you think Kerry being somewhat aligned with the French actually helps his case? This might work in Brookline, but elsewhere...

In fact, Kerry made a rather comprehensive proposal nearly seven months ago and updated it shortly after Thanksgiving. Its main elements will sound familiar because you can hear them these days in many Republican and Democratic discussions of the mess that US occupation has become.


It might sound familiar in that there's nothing original in it.

First at the Brookings Institution


I bet they LOVED IT!

here and then about eight weeks later at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Kerry said Iraq's future should be framed around two new Security Council resolutions at the United Nations.


Would those two supersede the seventeen that the UN already had against Saddam Hussein's Iraq that they refused to enforce with any effective measures?

One would place the UN in Baghdad as the nation-builder -- a task for which it is both skilled and deeply experienced.


Shall we talk about Kosovo?

Under what they call a "high commissioner," the UN would, to borrow Kerry's verb, "absorb" the entirely American Coalition Provisional Authority. Its job would be to manage both the reconstruction of the country and the establishment of a democratic government.


The Kerry Plan - Turn an overwhelming military victory to an inept vanguard of the failed League of Nations, watch them fuck up on a world-class scale and blame Bush for starting the whole thing. Yeah, that's leadership!

The second resolution would establish a multilateral military force to provide security in the wrecked country and gradually train and equip Iraqi military and police units. Because of the facts on the ground, Kerry said the multilateral force must be under US command. However, he has suggested a rough division of labor, with the non-US forces taking a major responsibility for the gradual training of a new Iraqi military. The potential importance of Arab or largely Muslim soldiers to this effort should be obvious.


Do you believe that? Didn't Kerry once call for US troops under UN command?

Last September and December, with tempers still warm from the disagreements over the Bush decision to conquer Iraq with only Britain as a major contributing ally, it was not clear whether such a US proposal could move forward. It is now. With shared power and responsibility, a genuine international coalition is more than possible, and it would include serious money for the soaring costs as well.


Yes, Tom, other countries are so interested in helping us defray the costs of international operations, just as long as they have a disproportionate amount of control over things.

The alternative should frighten Americans -- an indefinite US military occupation with essentially unilateral casualties and financial costs and a gigantic US Embassy (the administration envisions 3,000 people in it) as the provisional authority's successor. Forget the supposedly important June 30 date for formal transfer of sovereignty to what baseball people would call a player to be named later. This would be an indefinite American occupation, and this is when an analogy to Vietnam would begin to become undeniable.


No it wouldn't. Saddam has been captured, Oday & Qusay caught lots of bullets and save for Iranian 'help' we have the entire country under control, save for some pockets of Jihad and other 'resistance'. Tom doesn't want to discuss the full story.

There are three clues that Bush has at least not yet rejected the international route. The first is that there has been some willingness to pause for negotiations before an all-out military assault on insurgent forces in the Sunni Triangle and the Shi'ite South.


Jesus Christ, Tom, isn't this a 1) Delaying tactic to get reinforcements into place / 2) flush jihadis out into the open?

The second is that the United States has largely deferred to UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in the task of brokering a new Iraqi entity to accept sovereignty this summer; Brahimi's task, needless to say, has been greatly complicated by the hideous events of the last two weeks.


The UN sure seems well equipped and willing to accept such responsibility, don't they?

Most important, Bush has mostly disappeared from a public leadership role in the current mess. It is fair to criticize his posture, but I think it reflects in part the fact that the forces of sanity in his administration are still alive and kicking.


I'll agree with that, although tonight's speech by President Bush is a step in the right direction.

John Kerry has also been relatively quiet. The Bush campaign people still slam him for not having the alternative he clearly has, and even some Democrats would like to see another major speech on the subject and soon. The fact is, however, that the higher Kerry's Iraq profile is right now the more politicized the subject gets, and that is not in the country's, Iraq's, or even Kerry's interests.


That suggests Kerry's input adds nothing to the debate. You've just wasted an entire column, Tom.

The irony is that he laid all this out a long time ago.


Problem is, no one remembers it, and his position shifted more than a supercharged Dodge Challenger down the quarter mile...

It's not his fault that the likes of me press was too busy nominating Howard Dean, reelecting Bush, and burying Kerry to notice. But the most damaging four words Kerry could utter now are: I told you so.


I wonder what Tom and John Kerry will be uttering on November 3rd...

Thomas Oliphant's e-mail address is oliphant@globe.com.

Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.


Friday, April 02, 2004
 
Beating A Dead Horse

Another Boston Globe leftist (redundancy noted - Ed.) uses the discredited Richard Clarke testimony to try to score points against Bush. Given that articles like this one are all I've been doing lately (can't wait for tax season to end!), it kind of makes you wonder about the Globe's priorities.

A tarnished image as a war president

By H.D.S. Greenway, 4/2/2004

AN ARTICULATE insider, blowing the whistle on the most important thing George Bush has to peddle to the electorate this fall, is the stuff of nightmare for the president. Bush is banking on voters choosing him and his team to take care of the daddy of all issues, national security. Yet that hoped-for image of competence has been under heavy assault during this administration's fortnight from hell.


Dude, when even hyper leftist John Pilger has problems with Richard Clarke's veracity, it's high time to find another avenue in which to criticize President Bush.

My local bookstore ran out of Richard Clarke's "J'accuse" book a week ago.


Greenway must live near Harvard Square, Cambridge...

My newspapers have not let the former antiterrorism chief or his detractors off the front page, and any time you turn on the television or the radio there is another administration official either rebutting Clarke's charges or trying to blacken his reputation.


Newspapers - The Boston Globe and the New York Times. Television shows include CSPAN and anything involving Dan Rather and radio fare includes such unbiased fare as NPR and Al Franken's radio show. Such a narrow vision...

When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was on he referred to Clarke as "that douchebag individual" as if he had forgotten his name, sounding for all the world like Bill Clinton talking about "that woman." And clinging to an untenable executive privilege in the case of Condoleezza Rice's testimony, only to abandon it later, made the administration seem uncertain and undaddy-like.


I for one can't wait until Condoleezaa makes mincemeat of Clarke, and how you're gonna try spinning that, H.D.S.

Impugning the witness, trying to put Clarke on trial instead of the administration, is an old defense attorney's trick.


Some might call it 'defending oneself', but I'm old fashioned that way.

Although some of the administration's arguments and rebuttals have been reasonable and measured, too many have slipped into character assassination that discredits the administration more than Clarke.


That's wishful thinking:

Curiously, about the Clinton years, where Mr. Clarke's testimony would be authoritative, he is circumspect. When I interviewed him a year ago, he thundered at the political appointees who blocked his plan to destroy bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan in the wake of the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole. Yet in his book he glosses over them. He has little of his former vitriol for Clinton-era bureaucrats who tried to stop the deployment of the Predator spy plane over Afghanistan. (It spotted bin Laden three times.)

He fails to mention that President Clinton's three "findings" on bin Laden, which would have allowed the U.S. to take action against him, were haggled over and lawyered to death. And he plays down the fact that the Treasury Department, worried about the effects on financial markets, obstructed efforts to cut off al Qaeda funding. He never notes that between 1993 and 1998 the FBI, under Mr. Clinton, paid an informant who turned out to be a double agent working on behalf of al Qaeda. In 1998, the Clinton administration alerted Pakistan to our imminent missile strikes in Afghanistan, despite the links between Pakistan's intelligence service and al Qaeda. Mr. Clarke excuses this decision -- bin Laden managed to flee just before the strikes -- as a diplomatic necessity.


In other words, as much as he had criticized Clinton's handling of terrorism to Miniter, his tone while testifying in front of the 9-11 Commission was in marked contrast to that. I'd say Clarke does a fine job at discrediting himself.

Still, you have to feel a little sorry for President Bush. It's like being outdoors on a pre-9/11 spring morning with the air filled with bird song. Then later, someone you think a self-aggrandizing ornithologist nerd says: "Didn't you hear that shrike? You know, the butcher bird that impales his victims on thorns. Didn't you hear him sneaking into your garden?"


I feel a little sorry for H.D.S. Greenway. It's like writing this awesomely partisan screed against President Bush, and then the editor comes out of his office and says "You know, this guy Clarke is really partisan, so you shouldn't, you know, write your whole damn column based on this guy's testimony".

"That's OK, Mr. Editor, I'll just make some lame comparison to a killer bird, OK?"

Where does the Globe find these people?

Well, in retrospect, when so many of the birds in your garden have been killed, the shrike's song was definitely there to be heard. But back then when there were so many birds in the air? And those were supposed to be the days of ever-lengthening light after the Cold War winter.


This lame rhetorical trick is tired already. What else you got, H.D.S.?

Bush came into office hoping to enjoy America's holiday from history just the way his predecessor had.


And the predecessor before him, and the predecessor before him, and...

I heard Bush speak, rather plaintively, that Clinton had had eight years, but he had only had eight months before 9/11. Oh yes, the Bush team was going to get serious about terrorism, outdo the feckless Clintonites, but terrorism on the scale of 9/11 was as far away from Bush's mind as most everybody else's. If the Bush administration nodded off a bit, didn't most of us in that warm, pre-9/11 sunshine? "I didn't feel that sense of urgency," Bush told author Bob Woodward. "I was not on point."


At least President Bush admits his mistakes, which is leagues more than I can say for Clinton's wife. What unmitigated gall...

Yet national leaders are supposed to be accountable. There was plenty to blame on the Clinton administration, but 9/11 didn't happen on Clinton's watch.


But the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was. So was Somalia in 1993, the 1995 car bombing of 5 US citizens in Saudi Arabia, the 1996 bombing of a U.S. Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings Kenya and Tanzania, and the USS Cole in 2000. Has anyone held Clinton accountable?

Bush came to office deeply inexperienced (is there some sort of traing program Bush missed out on? - Ed.), but he tried to pick some of his father's team, elder statesmen, who could make up for this deficiency.


It's called hiring experienced people. Not that you seem to be clear on the concept...

Colin Powell did his best, but Bush allowed the others to undercut Powell, and he lacked the coalition-building skills that Bush senior and James Baker had. Vice President Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld egged Bush on to use the cover of 9/11 to invade Iraq quickly,


How do you know that, a really good crystal ball?

before he had a UN mandate,


Like we had a realistic chance of ever getting one...

before there was any progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front,


Because the Palestinians refused to dismantle terrorist groups and stop sending suicide bombers into Israel...

before the war was truly won in Afghanistan.


A tribal hellhole that's been a clusterfuck since time began.

Some advised him to invade Iraq before going after Al Qaeda.


But al Qaeda was based largely in Afghanistan, wasn't it?

And even if they weren't actually relying on shaky intelligence lying to the public about weapons of mass destruction (like these? - Ed.) and links to Al Qaeda in Iraq (like these? - Ed.), the kindest thing you can say was that all the president's men, and the president, were deceiving themselves, something we saw previous administrations do in Vietnam.


Like the Kennedy (D) and Johnson (D) administrations?

Then Rumsfeld botched the job in Iraq.


Isn't Bush the one who's accountable? I'm (almost) confused!

The one moment when US troops might have been seen as liberators instead of occupiers vanished in a paroxysm of looting and anarchy when US troops entered Baghdad because the Pentagon had no coherent postwar plan and not enough troops.


Thank you, Bill Clinton...

Mistakes followed mistakes, and today the administration is still in denial about the extent to which resistance to the Americans is becoming a popular uprising rather than the work of leftover Saddamists and foreign terrorists.


I don't recall anyone in the Bush administration saying anything to the effect that things were going to be easy. Got any quotes, H.D.S.?

Bush was hoping that his handling of 9/11 would bond Americans to him, but his goals in Iraq and in the Middle East are receding before his eyes. Afghanistan is not where it should be either, partly because of the drain of resources for Iraq. Polls show more people in France Europe the world hating the United States more than they did pre-9/11. The war on terrorism is in trouble, and now, to top it all, Richard Clarke, the insider who worked in the last four administrations, is alleging that the president was asleep in the garden when the butcher birds came to call. CORRECTION: In a recent column I misnamed AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group. It is American Israel Public Affairs Committee.


As is usual with Boston Globe columnists, they're heavy on criticism and short on alternatives, rarely if ever saying what they might do differently either strategically or tactically. If there's one strong bit of proof that appeasement doesn't work, it is this. You either take the fight to the terrorists, wherever they may be, or they will eventually take the fight to you.

H.D.S. Greenway's column appears regularly in the Globe.

Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.


Wednesday, March 31, 2004
 
Lies, Damned Lies and Robert Kuttner

Robert Kuttner's anti-Bush rhetoric has reached a fever pitch.

The failure to keep America safe


Hey, Bob: have there been any terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11/2001?

By Robert Kuttner, 3/31/2004

TWO PIVOTAL recent events should make a shambles of President Bush's contention right after 9/11 that a war on terrorism would be the defining mission of his presidency.

In late January David Kay, the president's own chief weapons inspector, admitted that no nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons were found in Iraq. That finally made it respectable to question the wisdom of the Iraq war.


Were we wrong to liberate 20 million Iraqis from underneath the tyrannical boot of Saddam Hussein?

Then, last week, the explosive testimony of the president's former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke invited intense discussion about whether the Bush administration had done enough to avert the 9/11 attack.


When even partisan liberals like Gregg Easterbrook think Richard Clarke's full of it, it's not an argument I'd be making.

However, a third and even more important inference is seeping into public consciousness: The failure to protect the United States against terrorism is ongoing and directly related to Iraq. The Iraq detour has set back America's security in at least five mutually reinforcing ways.


How many attacks on our soil, Bob? How's zero sound to you?

First, the war distracted top officials from domestic preparedness, which remains in organizational chaos. No senior White House official is coordinating antiterrorism, which sprawls across the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency, and the unionized hapless Department of Homeland Security.


Wow - a Federal program Kuttner doesn't like! I never thought I'd read that...

Second, the war diverted resources -- regular troops, commandos, Arab-speaking analysts, and Predator spy missiles, which otherwise might have been deployed to tighten the noose around Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Two precious years have been lost.


When you come up with a better idea to make Pakistan a more cooperative ally, Bob, I'll be listening.

Third, Iraq replicated the very scene that triggered Osama bin Laden's holy war in the first place -- the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War. Iraq repeats a direct American occupation of a Muslim nation, helping recruit new young Jihadists unknown to Western intelligence agencies.


We're not in Saudi Arabia anymore, Bob. We've 130,000 troops to the north, so if bin Laden now decries our presence in Iraq we'll know that he (as well as you, Bob) will always keep moving the rhetorical goalposts and will never be satisfied with any action taken by us, the Great Satan.

Fourth, despite blather about a "forward strategy" to advance democracy, the invasion of Iraq significantly reduced American leverage against Syria and Iran (who really do harbor terrorist organizations like Hezbollah) because we need their military cooperation to secure Iraq's borders. We've also lost leverage with Saudi Arabia, the breeding ground of Al Qaeda.


That must be why Syria is making kissy faces with the Aussies so we won't stomp on their asses down the road. And Bob? We've never had leverage with the Saudis. Why do you think they're cutting oil production? Wake the fuck up, Bob - We're all but at war with Saudi Arabia; it's just an economic war right now.

Finally, the war undermined foreign cooperation against terrorists. "It used to be that when relations became testy with our friends, at least the intelligence cooperation continued to work," says a former CIA station chief in a Mideast post. "I used to be able to walk into a president or a prime minister and say, `Look, here's the deal.' I guarantee, today they'd say, `Sure, get out of here.' " A former ambassador told me, "Cooperating with the United States starts being seen as a political liability. It becomes repugnant to the political class."


'Today they'd say' - I don't know, Mr. former CIA station chief, has anybody actually asked them recently? I'd rather know from a source that, you know, actually knows what's going on than a retired spook, perhaps many years out of the loop, whose opinion is pure speculation.

Whatever you think of Richard Clarke's book promotion tour motives, this larger story of the anti-terrorism fiasco has been hidden in plain view for the past year. Much of Clarke's tale of White House misplaced priorities and more was previously revealed by former national security senior officials Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon in their 2003 book, "The Age of Sacred Terror."


Kuttner deliberately omits the fact that the majority of Clarke's criticism of the Bush administration was pre-9/11 and that, in fact, Clarke himself didn't think 9/11 could have been prevented:


If President Bush had followed every last letter of Richard Clarke's recommendations starting Inauguration Day, it still would not have prevented 9/11. How do we know this? Richard Clarke says so.

Here's how the disgruntled National Security Council veteran put it last week in an exchange with Slade Gorton, a member of the 9/11 Commission and former Washington Senator:



Mr. Gorton: "Assuming that the recommendations that you made on January 25 of 2001 . . . including aid to the Northern Alliance which had been an agenda item at this point for two and a half years without any action, assuming that there had been more Predator reconnaissance missions, assuming that that had all been adopted, say, on January 26, year 2001, is there the remotest chance that it would have prevented 9/11?"



Mr. Clarke: "No."



It has been documented in a score of reports by the RAND Corporation, the General Accounting Office, the Markle and Century foundations, three national commissions, and a dozen congressional reports. Nor are others who have observed this fiasco close up shy about revealing their frustrations to reporters. "It's bad enough that they screwed it up before 9/11," says a career counterintelligence official -- not Clarke -- who served well into the Bush administration. "What's really galling is that these people screwed up afterwards."


So we have an unnamed 'career counterintelligence official' who served well into the Bush administration who claims that 'these people screwed up afterwards.' Does Bob believe this adds any credibility to his argument? I don't.

Unfortunately, much of the media, especially television, still treat all of this as a merely partisan story of charge and counter-charge. It is not. The administration's gross failure to keep America safe from terrorism has been amply documented.


Last time, Bob - how many successful terrorist attacks have there been on American soil since 9/11?

Instead of limiting their focus to Clarke and reducing the story to "he said/she said" partisan catfight, the media should grasp the immense import of what has been revealed. If I hear the phrase, "There's plenty of blame to go around" one more time, I may take an ax to the TV.


I often feel the same way after reading nonsense like your column, Bob. So, in a sense you're saying Clinton is completely free of any blame for ignoring terrorism during his eight years in office?

There is, however, a partisan implication. Before the Vietnam schism, Democrats and liberals were not just credibly tough about protecting America. They were the realists while the Republican right were the utopians.


Of course, this has nothing to do with the problem at hand, but bash go on...

While the right lobbied, in the late 1940s, to start World War III (was this while Harry Truman - D, was in office? - Ed.), statesmen like George Kennan appreciated that containment of Soviet expansion and George Marshall's plan for the reconstruction of Europe added up to a policy that was more proportional and more effective. When right-wing extremists wanted to risk a nuclear exchange over Cuba, President Kennedy executed a policy that was both prudent and tough.


So we wind up with a fifty year Cold War in which these matters were (get this) actually taken seriously by both political parties:

So they (Europeans) discount the fact that America remained steadfast during the entire Cold War despite both parties electing Presidents during that interval. There were differences in style and approach towards how the Cold War should be handled, but never any doubt that it would be handled, no matter which party held the White House.


So much for your partisan implication, Bob.

Now, courtesy of Bush's astonishing bungling, Democrats are on the verge of reclaiming that legacy -- not by being more-extreme saber rattlers, as some on their party's right commend, but by being better realists about how best to keep America safe. The country has never faced a more fateful choice.


The only thing I find astonishing is that fact-challenged bullshit like this column is allowed to see the light of day in the sole major New England newspaper. That's before I remember that the Boston Globe is owned by the New York Times company, which explains everything.

Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect. His column appears regularly in the Globe.

Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.


Tuesday, March 30, 2004
 
And O.J.'s Still Looking For The Real Killers

Tom Oliphant hitches his wagon to Richard Clarke's horse, in light of recent revelations, not that good of a move.

Understanding the real costs of Iraq war

By Thomas Oliphant, 3/30/2004

WASHINGTON


FOR MORE THAN a year, the people who follow international terrorism professionally have cautioned those of us who write about it occasionally not to misuse the term Al Qaeda the way we used to misuse the term Mafia.

Just as the fabled "commission" of organized crime family bosses obscured a wide variety of independently rapacious and murderous activity, they say, so Al Qaeda's existence obscures a wide variety of murderous activity that indicates substantial decentralization, if not actual independence. The term former counter-terrorism coordinator Richard Clarke has used since his book and critical views of the Bush and Clinton administrations surfaced this month -- "hydra-headed monster" -- is considered to be both accurate and ominous.


Some news flash. "Terrorist organizations are dangerous - Details at 11:00". Like we couldn't have figured that out after 9/11...

Worse, the fact that Al Qaeda has "morphed" (into what? - Ed.) -- to use another commonly employed word in the terrorism profession -- lends credence to perhaps Clarke's most telling criticism of all, that President Bush's decision to invade Iraq almost unilaterally last year has "seriously undermined" (Clarke's phrase) the more important struggle against worldwide terrorism by Islamic fanatics.


Clarke / Oliphant imply no connection between Saddam's Iraq and terrorism, a notion that does not square with the facts.

His concern that confronting effectively the change in terrorism's structure and tactics has been undercut by the events in Iraq is but one of three major points he is making on this topic, and others would add a fourth.

Iraq and its impact on the war against terrorism was not the issue at hand when the House and Senate Intelligence Committees did their examination of the events leading up to Al Qaeda's attack on the United States in September 2001. It is also not the issue before the so-called 9/11 Commission, the independent body established for the same purpose that is getting far more access to Clinton and Bush administration records than did the initial inquiry.

However, the issue of Iraq is central to a substantive understanding of Clarke's criticism of Bush's war on terror that followed the 9/11 assaults. I know it is more fun to play the politics of all this, but the fact that the country's security is involved, and this influences the tone of the public discussions. even though the


Not sure what was omitted, but one thing is clear from the paragraph above. This 9-11 Commission has clearly descended into political grandstanding by Clarke and his supporters. The notion that Bush should be criticized for doing nothing eight months before the 9/11 attacks while Clarke, Clinton & Company did nothing for eight years is laughable, if it weren't so bloody transparent.

Clarke assumes that the almost entirely covert efforts to destroy the original Al Qaeda's leadership, to the extent we are fully aware of its membership, are going to keep on succeeding -- most likely with the elimination fairly soon of Osama bin Laden and his top strategist, Ayman Al-Zawahri. This is, however, an essential, minimal requirement whose actual impact on terrorism may not be all that substantial.


If that's the case, why wasn't this done while Clinton was in office?

According to experts in and out of government, the reason is that Al Qaeda and terrorism have changed, and we have not kept up with the changes. The most dramatic evidence was the hideous attacks on the Madrid commuter train this month -- showing the ability of terrorists with roots outside Spain to plan, finance, and carry out an attack on a vulnerable target that was timed virtually on the eve of national elections for maximum impact.


First, the nature of al Qaeda - decentralized by Oliphant's own acknowledgement - will lead the decentralized cells to adapt as the situation requires, not exactly a news item. Second, the Madrid bombings were different from 9/11 only in scale.

This ability to adapt and grow should be deeply disturbing. As Clarke put it acerbically last week, it also should be disturbing that international terrorists have carried out more attacks in the 30 months since 9/11 than they did in the 30 months before it.


How many more? Wonder why he doesn't say...

His second point is that the decision to invade Iraq and the way we did it diverted resources and top-level attention from the struggle with terrorism. The famous example is the elite Special Forces unit, complete with Arabic speakers and other highly specialized people, that was taken out of Afghanistan in 2002 and given new missions in Iraq; it has only just recently been transferred back to Afghanistan. That is the tip of a much larger iceberg.


The concept is known as deploying your assets where they're needed the most. Perhaps the 'tip of the iceberg' they're missing is that Iraq isn't the hot spot it was a few months ago?

The third point Clarke makes should be obvious. The invasion of Iraq was not just initially extremely unpopular in the Islamic world, it has been enduringly so. Much worse, the evidence indicates that while what Clarke used to refer to as the "human conveyor belt" of trained fighters and terrorists may have been destroyed in Afghanistan, it has been recreated in covert, more sinister form all over the Islamic world.


I hate to break this to you, Tom, but war isn't a fuckin' popularity contest. Perhaps you're forgetting the fact that 19 of the 19 9/11 hijackers came from Islamic countries? Blame them, not us. The point I'd like to make, which should be obvious, is what would you have done differently to eliminate this threat? That lack of detail is the one thing that really fries my ass about this kind of sniping.

As the recent, shocking (shocking!) Pew Center survey of public opinion in Arab countries showed, support for terrorism is overwhelming, even in countries nominally allied with US policies, such as Tunisia and Morocco. The enormous opportunity that existed 30 months ago because of the widespread revulsion at the attacks in New York and here to undermine terrorism's appeal has been largely lost. Instead the appeal has been inflamed.


Tom, this has been going on for a lot longer than 30 months. How do you propose to placate the Madrid bombers, who were (laughably or otherwise) trying to justify their attacks by citing the Crusades?

Last week a previously unknown group threatened violence in France and listed the banning of the veil from schools alongside continuing American support for Israel, the war in Iraq and the killing of civilians in Afghanistan as evidence that the West never abandoned the Crusades.

This perception that a belligerent West is set on the humiliation, division and eventual conquest of the Islamic world is at the root of Muslim violence. The militants believe they are fighting a last-ditch battle for the survival of their society, culture, religion and way of life. They are fighting in self-defence and understand, as we in the West also believe, that self-defence can justify using tactics that might be frowned on in other circumstances.

In addition, an explanation for the parlous state of the Middle East must be found. If Islam is the perfect social system, the militants' logic runs, then something else must be to blame for the second-rate status, economically, militarily, politically, of their lands. They blame the West - and the failure of most Muslims to practise their religion with sufficient discipline and devotion. The bombs are designed to restore the pride of Muslims worldwide and, by weakening the 'Crusaders' and their allies, hasten the eventual return to the golden age of a thousand years ago when the lands of Islam were the world's leading power.

The cosmic scale of the militants' aims make them very difficult to counter. But somehow we must halt the spread of their worldview, deny them political oxygen and strip away the legitimacy that allows them to operate. There is no silver bullet.


A final point involves Iraq itself. US officials admit they do not yet fully understand the nature of the continuing insurgency, but there is no doubt that foreign fighters with links across borders have a presence there that they did not have before the war.


Um, it's something like this, Tom - there's a bunch of religious Islamic fanatics that like shooting and killing infidels and blowing up cars, restaurants and buildings.

The invasion, in other words, had real costs and consequences because of its nature and timing. Instead of assaulting the messenger, the Bush White House would help the stumbling president's political fortunes much more if it faced these consequences squarely and stopped denying the obvious.


If only Tom and his band of fellow travelers would only answer the obvious: Do you guys have any credible alternatives to fighting terrorists? Until they produce such, I for one call on them to stop their moralistic grandstanding. Fat fuckin' chance, that.

Thomas Oliphant's e-mail address is oliphant@globe.com.

Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.