Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Wednesday, November 1st, 2006.


Bush Administration

Tonight’s special comment at Crooks & Liars.

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True Confessions

Bush Administration, Democratic Party, Iraq War, Republican Party

Justifiably, John Amato slammed Chris Matthews for turning most of the 5:00 Hardball over to a George W. Bush campaign speech yesterday. However, I want to go back to the beginning of the program

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: … Today, with the violence getting worse in Iraq and the election just a week away, Republicans found their weapon of mass distraction. In a choreograph of press releases, Republicans collaborated in a chorus of attack on former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry for something he said last night. In a string of attacks on President Bush last night, Kerry ridiculed Bush‘s lack of education on the Middle East which Kerry said got us stuck in Iraq.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Education, if you make the most of it and you study hard, and you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don‘t, you get stuck in Iraq.


MATTHEWS: Republicans from Rush Limbaugh to Tony Snow to John McCain to Denny Hastert have said Kerry was really maligning the troops, implying that American servicepeople only join up because they are educational failures. This violent interpretation of Kerry‘s words let the senator to issue this blistering counterattack today.


KERRY: John McCain ought to ask for an apology from Dick Cheney for misleading America. He ought to ask for an apology from the president for lying about the nuclear program in Africa. He ought to ask for an apology for, once again, a week ago referring to al Qaeda as being the central problem in Iraq when al Qaeda is not the central problem. Enough is enough.

I‘m not going to stand for these people trying to shift the topic and make it politics. America deserves a real discussion about real policy, and that‘s what this election is going to be about next Tuesday.


MATTHEWS: Just to clarify what happened in context, yesterday at Pasadena College, John Kerry, the senator for Massachusetts and the former Democratic candidate for president, was talking about President Bush. He made a couple of shots. Let me read you from the Associated Press at the time.

Kerry opened his speech at Pasadena City College with several one liners, saying at one point that Bush had lived in Texas, but now, quote, “lives in a state of denial.”

He then said, ‘you know, education if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart and you can do well. If you don‘t, you get stuck in Iraq.” He has talking about the president, not about the people fighting our war in Iraq. …

… MATTHEWS: Well, this s a good crowd for the president, we can see that. It‘s a good opportunity to score his licks against John Kerry. I‘ve got joining me right now former Republican leader of the House Dick Armey.

Mr. Armey, what do you make of this—well, it‘s a rhubarb I guess in politics terms. What is it? Is this a real catch him, we got him, or is it they‘re making it look like they‘ve got Kerry saying something?

DICK ARMEY (R), FMR. HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, it‘s pretty standard fare in political discourse. You misconstrue what somebody said. You isolate a statement, you lend your interpretation to it and then feign moral outrage. And Democrats have been doing it for years.

Yes, the foundation of all conservative ethics and morality — Jimmy did it, first. But at least Armey was being honest about what actually happened. The Republicans isolated a statement by John Kerry, lent their interpretation to it, and feigned moral outrage to stir up media attention and take focus away from failed Republican policies.

MATTHEWS: So it‘s a bicoastal, bipartisan opportunity.

ARMEY: And I would say to John Kerry, look, you live by the P.C., you die by the P.C. I mean, the P.C. was a Democrat creation, so share and share alike.

MATTHEWS: What do you mean the P.C.?

ARMEY: Political correctness, you know, feigning moral outrage for what might be perceived to have been a possible slight, given my interpretation of what was said.

One of these days I’m going to have to do a post on what “political correctness” actually meant, originally, before righties took it over. As I remember it, PC was an outgrowth of identity politics that attempted semantic equality but often just got silly — “differently abled” for “disabled,” for example, or “exceptional” for “brain damaged.” It was actually just a brief phase that some leftie issue advocates went through and mostly got over years ago. I never had much patience with it, myself. But the Right was so traumatized by having to learn not to call people “cripple” or “retard” that they’re still whining about it, and rightie mythos has blown up it up into something else entirely that exists mostly in their own imaginations.

And exactly how did Senator Kerry “live by the P.C.,” pray tell?

MATTHEWS: And so the president—well, according to the prepared statement we have gotten a copy of, will jump on Kerry defending the troops when, in fact, Kerry may well have meant—according to reading the script of what he said and the account of it, he was trashing the very man who is now defending the troops. He was trashing Bush himself and Bush says don‘t say those terrible things about my troops!

ARMEY: Right.

MATTHEWS: So this is a bit of theater orchestrated well by the White House. They have got the American Legion commander out there making a statement. They got him to do it. I‘m sure—I assume that most of these people didn‘t read the whole statement of Kerry yesterday, but they are happy to jump on the quote they got.

ARMEY: A fundamental premise of politics is we can make this work if people just never figure it out.

You see why I’m calling this post “True Confessions.” Whatever happened to confession magazines, btw? I don’t think I’ve seen one for years.

And is Dick Armey saying the American Legion is stupid? Seems to me he is.

MATTHEWS: Well, Kerry is out there once again today. We‘ll have more of his quotes today later in the program, Kerry out there trying to prove that he learned something from the Swift Boats, attack, counter attack. Don‘t let it go, and today he‘s out there. We‘re going to have that in quotes, but I want to be very deferential to the president.

Odd thing to say, that. Does Matthews mean the President demanded that MSNBC use up 50 minutes of Hardball with his speech?

I understand Kerry has cancelled speeches today. I’m not sure it was the right thing to do. On the one hand, it looks like an admission of guilt; on the other hand, he might have thought that by removing himself from public view the hysteria would settle down. But once again, by sheer bellicosity and mad-dog aggressiveness, the Right shoved the media and the Democrats around and took the nation’s attention away from real issues.

Dan Froomkin:

There is a war going on — and I don’t mean the fake one between the White House and John Kerry. I mean the real one, in Iraq.

And each and every day, there’s more evidence that President Bush’s strategy for winning that war isn’t working.

The troops are owed an apology, all right — from George W. Bush.

While the Right Blogosphere whoops it up over John Kerry jokes today, the news from Their War is grim. Michael Gordon of the New York Times reported that, according to United States Central Command, Iraq is moving toward chaos.

A classified briefing prepared two weeks ago by the United States Central Command portrays Iraq as edging toward chaos, in a chart that the military is using as a barometer of civil conflict. …

…The conclusions the Central Command has drawn from these trends are not encouraging, according to a copy of the slide that was obtained by The New York Times. The slide shows Iraq as moving sharply away from “peace,” an ideal on the far left side of the chart, to a point much closer to the right side of the spectrum, a red zone marked “chaos.” As depicted in the command’s chart, the needle has been moving steadily toward the far right of the chart.

An intelligence summary at the bottom of the slide reads “urban areas experiencing ‘ethnic cleansing’ campaigns to consolidate control” and “violence at all-time high, spreading geographically.” According to a Central Command official, the index on civil strife has been a staple of internal command briefings for most of this year. The analysis was prepared by the command’s intelligence directorate, which is overseen by Brig. Gen. John M. Custer.

George W. Bush’s feet should be held to a fire over this. Instead, he’s prancing around the country faking outrage at John Kerry, and news media play along. Disgusting.

But not everyone on the Right is staying on message. I was stunned by Al Kamen’s Washington Post column today:

… eyebrows popped up last week when none other than Richard Perle, former Reagan assistant secretary of defense, former Bush brain-truster on the Defense Policy Board, and a key promoter of the war to find Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, blistered the administration as “dysfunctional” when it comes to stopping someone from bringing “a nuclear weapon or even nuclear material into the United States.”

“Knowing that there are people who wish to do that,” Perle said, “knowing they are seeking weapons of mass destruction, you would think that we would have put in place a system or at least be working assiduously in the development of a system that would allow us to detect nuclear material entering the New York Harbor or Boston Harbor or what have you.

“But we haven’t done that,” he said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies gathering. “And the reason we haven’t done that is hopeless bureaucratic obstruction. Somebody needs to shake that loose.” Perle added that while some have tried to overcome the bureaucracy, no one has succeeded.

“I think we have an administration today that is dysfunctional,” Perle said. “And if it can’t get itself together to organize a serious program for finding nuclear material on its way to the United States, then it ought to be replaced by an administration that can.”

Wow. But if you think Perle grew a brain, the next paragraph bursts that bubble nicely.

But President Bush , Perle emphasized, is not to blame for this sorry state of affairs. “I haven’t the slightest doubt that if one could . . . put this proposition to the president, he would first be shocked to learn that we don’t have the capability. Secondly, [he] would immediately order that we develop it.”

Shocked? Well, let’s see. Bush . . . Bush . . . Ah, yes, 202-456-1414.

Don’t mind Perle. He’s exceptional.

See also Christy Hardin Smith, “On Iraqi Orders, Bush Abandons American Soldier To Al-Sadr’s Militia.”

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Government: Smart or Stupid?

American History, big picture stuff, Budget, Bush Administration, conservatism, Democratic Party, liberalism and progressivism, Republican Party

Bruce Reed writes in Slate:

More Is Less: In 1994, Republicans took over the Congress with one goal foremost in mind—to turn Americans against government. Twelve years later, they’ve succeeded, although not the way they intended. A new CNN poll finds that 54 percent of Americans think government tries to do too much, while only 37 percent think government should do more. And to put government in its place, they’re going to vote … Democrat.

The poll linked doesn’t provide insight into what people think the government is doing too much of. Jeff Greenfield provides a clue:

The discontent includes the sharp growth in government spending — including the kind of domestic spending conservatives have long deplored — to the growth of “pork-barrel” projects once seen as an emblem of how big government politicians hold power.

“They have increased the amount of government spending by a degree that no Democrat would ever dream of getting away with,” said columnist Andrew Sullivan.

True enough. But then I read this story by Adam Nossiter in today’s New York Times about a high school in New Orleans:

In the last six weeks, students at McDonogh, the largest functioning high school here, have assaulted guards, a teacher and a police officer. A guard and a teacher were beaten so badly that they were hospitalized.

The surge hints at a far-reaching phenomenon after Hurricane Katrina, educators here say. Teenagers in the city are living alone or with older siblings or relatives, separated by hundreds of miles from their displaced parents. Dozens of McDonogh students fend largely for themselves, school officials say.

“They are here on their own,” Wanda Daliet, a science teacher, said. “They are raising themselves. And they are angry.”

The principal, Donald Jackson, estimated that up to a fifth of the 775 students live without parents.

“Basically, they are raising themselves, because there is no authority figure in the home,” Mr. Jackson said. “If I call for a parent because I’m having an issue, I may be getting an aunt, who may be at the oldest 20, 21. What type of governance, what type of structure is in the home, if this is the living conditions?”

After Hurricane Katrina the loss of homes and jobs caused many already fragile families to break apart. And the failure of every level of government to re-establish New Orleans as a viable city turned what might have been a temporary disruption into long-range social disintegration.

Of the 128 schools in the city, fewer half have reopened. The state took over many of them after the storm. That change, hailed at first as a bright beginning, has proven to be partly stillborn, as teachers, textbooks and supplies came up drastically short in the state-run schools.

The McDonogh library has no books. State officials, fearing mold, threw out all of them.

Rundown before the storm, the school buildings are now even more battered. The stalls in a girls’ restroom have no doors.

We could, if we wanted to be anal, argue about how much of the fault and responsibility lies with local and state government, and how much lies with federal government. The fact is that Louisiana is a poor state that lacks the resources to recover from a disaster on the scale of Katrina. And the failure of a major city like New Orleans affects all of us, directly or indirectly. The nation, not just New Orleans, needed local, state, and federal government to work together to help New Orleans recover as quickly as possible.

Instead, we got grandstanding.

For all of Bush’s talk about how he wants “local folks” to be in charge of hurricane recovery, the federal government has kept most of the project under its own inept control. As water still stood in the streets of New Orleans, the feds began to cut sweetheart deals with its pet contractors/contributors. Perfectly capable local companies were overlooked in favor of companies from as far away as Alaska that (ah-HEM) just happened to have close relationships to the Washington Republican Party establishment. And these contractors answer to their buddies in Washington, not to officials in New Orleans or Louisiana. And as a result, billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted by fraud and abuse. (See, “His Majesty to Visit One of the Lesser Colonies“; “Life Lessons“; and “The Quintessential Bush.”)

And the lives of the young people of New Orleans are getting thoroughly bleeped up.

Government did too much, all right. It did too much of the wrong thing. But it didn’t do enough of the right thing.

Here’s a story by Jeffrey H. Birnbaum and Jonathan Weisman in today’s Washington Post that provides another example of misplaced priorities:

As part of their midterm election push, House Democrats are promoting a wide-ranging legislative agenda that would add tens of billions of dollars a year to the federal budget for the military, homeland security and education yet still impose a new budget restraint that would make it harder to widen the annual deficit. …

… “”It’s schizophrenia in ’06 is what it is,” said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.), a member of the Budget Committee. “You cannot balance the budget by vastly increasing spending.”

Congressman McHenry, btw, was identified by Ari Berman as one of the five Congress critters most likely to keep alive the corrupt legacy of Tom DeLay:

Patrick McHenry (age 30). The youngest member of the 109th Congress, McHenry is the “it” boy of the GOP establishment. DeLay recently named McHenry one of his potential successors, an endorsement the freshman accepted enthusiastically. “I’m blown away,” McHenry told the Washington Times. “I’m so excited that Tom DeLay would say that about me”–a fitting compliment to a pupil who’s earned a reputation as the party’s “attack-dog-in-training.” DeLay was the first Washington pol to contact McHenry after he won the Republican primary in North Carolina’s rural 10th Congressional district, promptly sending his campaign $10,000. Upon election, DeLay shepherded McHenry through Washington, with cushy seats on the Budget and Financial Services committees, a communications position within the GOP’s fundraising arm and a role in Blunt’s whip operation. McHenry returned the favors by attacking House minority leader Nancy Pelosi for alleged travel violations and by voting, along with just nineteen other Republicans, to rewrite House ethics rules permanently to insulate DeLay. McHenry’s clearly a quick learner: He’s hired Grover Norquist’s press secretary and dated a former assistant of Karl Rove.

Let’s be sure we all understand one thing clearly: The single biggest cause of our current budget deficit is Bush’s tax cuts. The budget deficit didn’t come about because the United States, still the richest nation in the world, squandered money on education. It came about because of the bleeping tax cuts, and after that because of corruption and pork.

As you can see from this pie chart, the second biggest drain on national spending is “Defense, Homeland Security and International.” (International what isn’t clear.) But don’t forget that we’re dumping $2 billion a week into the bleeping war in Iraq, not to mention spending money to protect petting zoos in Indiana, while cutting spending for security in the major cities most likely to be struck by terrorism. And might I add, missile defense? It might be that we are spending enough money on “defense, homeland security and international” already; we’re just spending it in stupid ways.

And if the Republican “defense, homeland security and international” budget isn’t generously larded with kickbacks and quid pro quos, I will eat my sneakers.

The Dems want to institute a pay-as-you-go system, in which any new spending must be offset by budget cuts or tax increases. Apparently Republicans disagree with this idea. Why? Given that they’ve hardly been examples of fiscal restraint, they should be grilled mercilessly on this point. Too bad we don’t have an independent, professional news media any more. Reporters used to be good at that sort of thing.

Anyway, as Birnbaum and Weisman at WaPo explain,

Democratic leaders dispute the accusation and have been talking up Six for ’06. The plan would allocate billions of dollars to build up the military, subsidize student loans and bolster port security. It would raise the minimum wage, make college tuition payments tax-deductible, repeal oil-company tax breaks and expand incentives for personal savings accounts, among many other provisions.

The program would prohibit the House from approving new spending or tax measures that widen the budget deficit. It would do that by restoring budget rules requiring that all future spending increases and tax cuts be offset by equivalent tax hikes or spending cuts.

“It’s a road map to how Democrats would govern” if they win a majority in the House, said Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).

Sooner or later President Bush’s tax cuts are going to have to be rolled back. In spite of the fact that President Clinton proved tax increases don’t kill the economy, Republicans will wail and shriek that the economy is dooooooooned if the wealthy are forced to pay their fair share of the tax burden. We can’t afford to pay for education because, you know, Lord and Lady Lah-Dee-Dah wouldn’t be able to buy a second yacht. And that takes jobs away from yacht builders.

But experience shows us that investing in education brings substantial returns.

Purdue University President Martin C. Jischke:

The enormous economic growth and social advancements that fueled the 20th century took place predominantly after World War II. That is when the G.I. Bill educated people in the emerging technologies of the day.

Who were these people?

They were people like Kenneth Johnson, who grew up on remote farms in Arkansas and Missouri and went to a one-room schoolhouse surrounded by mud. He came to Purdue on the G.I. Bill, graduated with a degree in engineering, and went on to help revolutionize airplane engine technology working for General Electric.

They were people like Billy Christensen, who finished his studies at Purdue in 1950 on the G.I. Bill and took a job with a punch card company. He went on to become vice president and general manager of the international arm of that company — IBM.

They were people like Bill Rose, who barely survived the Depression before he went to war and then came to Purdue on the G.I. Bill fresh out of the Navy. He graduated and took a job in the Joint Long-Range Proving Ground at the Banana River Naval Station. We know it today as the Kennedy Space Center.

The G.I. Bill was an investment in people and education that has paid for itself many times over.

It’s obvious that development of new technologies is critical to economic growth these days. While I don’t begrudge anyone a good job in the yacht-building industry, it makes no sense to place the discretionary spending of the super-rich (who, after all, could buy that second yacht in France) ahead of invention, technological development, and entrepreneurship here in the U.S. Yet that’s what Republican tax policies do. And as more and more of the nation’s wealth gets tied up in paying interest on the money we owe China, less and less money will be available for things like education and business loans. This is no way to run an economy.

Much of rightie hysteria over “big government” and the myth of the tax-and-spend liberals can be traced to a backlash against Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, as I explained here. Although American conservatives have always been allergic to entitlement spending, during the New Deal and post World War II era — when most of the beneficiaries were white — a majority of Americans took a more progressive view. But in the 1960s, conservative politicians successfully planted the idea that “welfare” was just a transfer of white tax dollars into black pockets, and suddenly white America decided that government programs (like the ones that had paid for their educations and subsidized their low-cost mortgages) were bad. Ronald Reagan, with his “welfare queen” stories, milked that notion for all it was worth. But I think we may finally have reached a point at which race-baiting just doesn’t work the way it used to, and white middle-class Americans are uncomfortable and insecure enough that they may be ready to listen to some facts. And the facts are that, in the long run, investing in ourselves is good for the economy. Conversely, cutting any Americans off from education and opportunity is bad for the economy, and will keep all of us poorer in the years to come.

Back to Bruce Reed at Slate:

Call it the Wal-Mart Effect. Independents and Perotistas pointed toward the kind of government Americans would get under Clinton: more for less.

Bush’s approach has been just the opposite—less for more. The federal government has gotten visibly bigger, with deficits that squandered the surplus and have added more than a trillion dollars to the national debt. A study by Paul Light of the Brookings Institution shows that the number of federal contractors has ballooned by 2.5 million over the past four years, a 50 percent increase. After shrinking by 400,000 under Clinton, the federal work force is growing again as well.

Bush would dearly love to blame the return of big government on Congress, Democrats, and the terrorists. But a big government that costs more and succeeds less is at the core of Bushism. Bush ran a campaign that promised not to cut government and runs a government that doesn’t try to solve problems. Where the president has expanded government’s reach—from Medicare to the Department of Homeland Security—it hasn’t gone well. Where we needed government to succeed—from managing Iraq to responding to Katrina—the Bush administration did a Hack of a job.

Seems to me we shouldn’t be talking about “big” or “little” government; we should be talking about “smart” or “stupid” government.

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