Saturday, May 31, 2003

I'll be gone the next 2 days, so an imposed blog break ---------BUT BEFORE I GO----------

Recent impressions have been that I'm universally unhappy with the present administration; a Bush-basher. This is just not true. Let me count the ways: I was incredibly impressed with Bush's $15 Billion dollar AIDS package, being the first President to attack the scourge of Africa with real money and not just lip service. On the diplomatic level, he's found the perfect voice and foil in Colin Powell, who rates as the finest Secretary of State I've ever seen. I discuss this in more detail here. On maintaining the dialogue with western allies and the UN, I also give the administration an A - It could have easily withdrawn after its stunning victory in Iraq but did not - to its credit. I've also been impressed with its policy in North Korea and believe its approach the correct one. Bush has also done well in China, as issue taken up in detail on Oxblog here, where my email comments were picked up (thanks, David!) and reprinted here. He's isolated and rendered the useless idiot Arafat irrelevant, giving another chance for resolving the endlessly stalemated Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

And, on the War in Iraq: I have no doubts that the war will be shown to have been the masterstroke of the Bush administration, the overwhelming first victory in the 21st century struggle which has replaced our Cold war; the battle of western cultures against Islamic fundamentalism. Books are being written and will continue to be written about this watershed event and how it will enable the continued pursuit of peace and liberty, at home and abroad. Is it too soon to tell? No, it's been a grand slam home run. Although there are two sides to a ledger, Bush has certainly had his share of tremendous successes in his first term and is entitled to all the credit.

Now, I'll just let that post sit for a day or two, see if it'll help restore a balance ------- enjoy the weekend.

Friday, May 30, 2003

This George Will column really distresses me. You must read it. It's entitled "Bush wins Again". Here we have one of the most intelligent conservative columnists in the country discussing the latest tax cuts totally without reference to their economic impact. Will acknowledges that they were passed with "little enthusiasm from the public" and that sunsetting (a scheduled end) of tax cuts give a "transparent fiction" of a $350 billion dollar price tag. He knows it is much more. So, George, are tax cuts good or bad??

No reply. Just the satisfied delight that the passage of this bill will make Democratic opposition in Congress and the White House politically impossible for the forseeable future. Conclusion? Tax cuts, which could be ruinous for our national economy are justified to keep the opposition out of power. Sure, take the country down........just make sure you get reelected. Will should be ashamed of analysis like that. He sounds like.........well.............he sounds like RUSH

Yes, it matters

If you're happy with the outcome, does it matter how you get there? This is the central question to be answered from the futile WMD hunt in Iraq. We have already visited this question before, and we'll probably do it again, but we're on it because both Kristof in the NYTimes and Krugman in the same paper discuss it today. (Are you sure they write these things independently?) Both ask the same exact questions, about the flow and use of prewar intelligence coming from Iraq. Krugman gets expectedly more virulent, charging Bush with manipulating and pressuring agents to file slanted reports. I have no idea what's going on in CIA or in the Oval office so I can't comment on the quality or reliability of intel. One thing, however, becomes increasingly clear: This administration was bent upon toppling the regime in Iraq and was willing to latch upon the most efficacious and saleable arguments in order to promote its policy. Assistant Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz is quoted in Vanity Fair as saying that WMD arguments were given priority because of "bureaucratic reasons . . . because it was the one reason everyone could agree on." This implies a policy decided upon without much regard for facts.

But, so what? No one could possibly argue that toppling Saddam was a bad thing. No, it was universally good. It's liberated a people from a murderous tyrant. It's helped increase a feeling of security at home. It's shown the world that the US is capable of forgetting it's Vietnamese experience and be unafraid to use it's military might. It's been an experiment in modern warfare and proven how far ahead the US military is compared to any one else on the globe. It's increased Western influence in the MiddleEast, which, although it may take a decade, is sure to have an impact on religious fundamentalism in the region - slowing it's spread and perhaps reversing it. It's certainly jumpstarted new motion towards negotiating a settlement of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It's redefined the UN in a positive way, making clearer where that agency can correctly, AND INCORRECTLY wield influence in world events. For these reasons and more, the fall of Iraq has been overwhelmingly positive and the American public has not bothered to question the administration harshly on their professed rationale for invasion.

So, what's the problem? Don't the ends justify the means? Isn't the questioning of CIA intelligence a political tool, to upset the President's oxcart in the midst of his great victory - to find a hook to use against him in 2004? In short, my answer is no.

The "Realpolitik" question - (the ends justifying the means) - has a long political history, first attributed to Otto von Bismarck, the German Chancellor (1862-1890) who promoted any policy, sometimes wildly Liberal and sometimes Authoritarian, in order to assemble the German states into confederation. Our most famous modern proponent was Henry Kissinger, who was less likely to 'notice' human rights violations in nations that promoted US interests. This has been a political tool used throughout the ages. But, if you rely on public opinion to reinforce policy, as we in the modern US claim to do, then REASONS MATTER. Even in the face of success, you cannot make an impassioned argument for action on a platform of unsteady facts. No, as I've said previously, we should be better than this. We should make a case for action instead of taking action and then looking retroactively for a case. And, if the argument you make on hard evidence cannot convince, then you refrain from action.........despite your true belief in the cause. Only in this way, does our democratic nation, or any other, remain tied to the world body and refrain from acting like a rogue.

There'll be no political fallout from this. As Taranto sarcastically noted on May 6th, any Democrat daring to make an issue of this in 2004
can make righting this wrong his top promise if elected. Sounds like a winning rallying cry: Bring back Saddam!

yeah, right......not a desired result nor a winning strategy. But that doesn't mean that we, as a nation, despite our pleasure with the outcome, shouldn't question the source.
In fact, it's our duty.............

Thursday, May 29, 2003

FCC ruling nears

This needed comment. On partisan lines, the FCC will vote on Monday, save a major outcry, to relax ownership rules of major television and radio. In essence, the ruling would permit larger media giants to increase their rolls of major market networks. Arguing for the relaxation are the Republican commissioners, who believe that old regulations are outmoded in our expanding and diverse media universe. They point to the internet, yes, and even blogging, to argue that information dissemination is not solely restricted to 'large media' of TV and radio.

On the opposite side are the 2 Democratic commissioners, who argue that the impetus for relaxation of the rules is coming from media giants like Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox Network and right leaning newspapers have made enormous strides in obtaining market share and are dying to expand further. Their money quote:
"Is it the job of the FCC to make sure every big television network in this country makes a lot of money?" he said. "I think our first job is to make sure the American people get a diversity of viewpoints."

The issue, it seems to me, is whether rules should be left in place that basically subsidize diversity of viewpoints, rather than letting the market sort out what the public is most willing to pay for. While I may personally find the jingoistic tendencies of the Fox network discomforting, I don't see it as a national responsibility to limit such broadcasts, if that's where the American people feel most comfortable getting their information. But still, there IS a responsibility to support alternate viewpoints and be sure they survive. Although many more people would rather see Faith Hill in concert than the Chicago Symphony, we need to insure the symphony's survival, which in an entirely free market might be less viable. I don't see this rewriting of the regulations to exclude I'm not going to get exercised about it. But it certainly bears watching...................

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

The Clinton Wars

Full disclosure: I'm one of those who thought Clinton a god. Besides being charismatic, incredibly erudite and likeable, a guy you'd love to have a drink with, he presided over 8 years of peace and monumental prosperity. I thought he made grave mistakes in his 2 terms, incapable of coopting Washington regulars, bothering with Gays in the military and appointing Hillary to spearhead national health care proposals. He showed horribly bad judgment in the Lewinsky affair, Chinese campaign contributions, renting the Lincoln bedroom and generally missed the boat on the priorities of being the PRESIDENT. On all of this, I happily forgave him for in the end I felt that he truly cared about people and was trying to help them. Opponents saw all Clinton moves as politically motivated, a craft which he certainly excelled at. It was no accident, looking back, that all of Clinton's greatest political enemies have been erased while he has emerged whole - and his wife easily obtained a Senate seat and perhaps (?) a chance at higher office. I thought his opponents rabid and wholly out of line in response to his failings and the impeachment proceedings a laughable political farce. A big supporter? You bet I was.

Whew -

Now I can tell you about my impressions of Sidney Blumenthal's book "the Clinton Wars". You'd think, because it's an 800 page monster that you'd need to concentrate fully to understand the focus of the book, but it's really unnecessary in this case, you can see where Blumenthal is headed by page 3. I've been recently getting a chuckle from the response to this book, particularly this article in the WP, feeling a need to lash back out at the author. I mean, this from the Washington Post? Somebody must be plenty mad! And, truth is, I couldn't blame them.

This book is NOT history, and barely memoir. It's a one-sided, unrepentant attack on everyone who ever wrote a nasty sentence, had an unflattering version or even a bad thought about the ex-president and his wife. It defends the Clintons on every front, every issue and finds not the slightest misstep from them. It's a pep rally for the administration gone and one that Blumenthal apparently hopes to be, in the junior Senator from New York. And, for a Clinton lover like me, it's a great read. Sure, I take Blumenthal's conclusions with a grain of salt. I even marvel at his reassessment of facts, many of which he's 'skewed' in retrospect. I smile as I read it. I always thought Clinton's detractors foaming and over-the-top, and enjoy seeing Sid 'have at 'em' in print. I'm still rooting for the Clintons as I relive the demise of Gingrich and Ken Starr, and hooting with delight as they hit the canvas. This, I admit, isn't impartial or fair. It may not be very nice. But, it sure is FUN. I couldn't possibly recommend this book to any student as a historical narrative and it will surely make any Clinton-hater appropriately retch (as Andrew Sullivan did here.) I am finding the outcry from those attacked in the book as much fun as the book itself:
Hitchens: "This is the work of a degraded apparatchik."
Isikoff: "To write history, you have to have some basic respect for the historical record. His book isn't history; it's one big orgy of political spin."

Do we see reaction like this from Conservative screeds? No, nothing seems to make the blood boil like Clinton. Ha! Great stuff! Anybody with half a recollection of the events will see this book for what it is. Even intuitively, no one could actually be as pristine and as undeserved of attack as Blumenthal paints President Clinton. But, for those of us, like me, who can admit an undying love for the guy and recognize it's unapologetically partisan slant, "the Clinton Wars" is a political junkie's dream fulfilled.

Update: more bleating: Here, by Bartley in the WSJ
And Dick Morris, here (ugh)

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

In need of help

I very much hope that President Bush is in fact looking to mend fences at the G8 conference as Reuters reports, where earlier predictions foresaw a standoff and antipathy between him and Chirac. It was previously reported that Chirac was luxuriating in the opportunity to embarrass Bush by manipulating the priority of issues discussed at Evian on June 2-3. While I doubt that the planned sit-down with Chirac will be a back slapping mutual admiration opportunity, I'm glad if it will be less venomous.

I say this because, despite US military ability clearly proven, we're coming to a point in Iraq where we could use some help. As much as President Bush is loathe to be associated with the term 'Nation-building', that's precisely what he's involved in right now and he's been forced to go it pretty much alone. It's looking like a very long, arduous and grim task ahead. Today, 2 US soldiers were killed and 9 wounded in a 'hostile action' in Fallujah, a Baathist stronghold village west of Baghdad. This is combined with generalized reports of continued looting, Baathist revenge killings and large demonstrations in favor of Islamic religious leadership in the newly formed Iraqi government. In response, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld shook his fist at the Iranians, clearly placing blame on the Shiite nation to the East, and vaguely threatening them for being 'unhelpful'. One thing we know for sure is that Defense is clueless about the cultural and religious forces at work in a newly liberated Iraq.........this isn't merely an "Iranian inspired" reaction, it's a measure of the natural cultural affinity of the people in Iraq. While the US has been proved excellent at felling the tyrant Saddam, it may be entirely out of it's depth in replacing the vacuum.

Which is why the US should show the intelligence and humility to go, hat in hand, to its European allies and ask for help. It should avoid the tendency to assume Iraqi omnipotence because of military superiority, and return to a human level for guidance in restoring civil order. This means getting the help of those nations who have had experience with Iraq on an intimate level...........yes, this means especially Russia and France. The US and Colin Powell made the first great stride by cajoling removal of the UN economic sanctions against Iraq on May 23rd. Say what you will about the silliness of retaining sanctions after Iraqi liberation, but the US diplomatic team still needed to coopt approval of an angry anti-American Security Council in order to have them removed. This it did. If it can get international forces into Baghdad to help restore order and into the process of rebuilding Iraqi government, all can be accomplished with greater efficiency and legitimacy.

Movin' on up.....

In addition to this nice link from Bill Quick at daily pundit, I've also entered this post from May 14th into NZ bears's new blog showcase. Now, if you 've got a blog, go here, then go here and back link my post to your blog........because I wanna win!! Now go, and link, link....LINK!!! bwahahahahahhaha!

Monday, May 26, 2003

After much thought.........

I certainly didn't jump on this when it first broke, but the resignation of Christie Whitman as head of the EPA has been percolating in my mind. So many sides of this story to consider, but the first obvious point to be made is that she was clearly very unhappy with this post. There have been a number of embarrassments for Whitman during her 3 year tenure, the most obvious being the abandonment of the Kyoto protocol, a treaty she dutifully squashed for the administration, but, according to the Economist, she clearly was in favor of supporting. This resignation would lend creedence to that theory.

Whitman is from the perhaps 'anachronistic' liberal wing of the Republican party, right-wing in her views on the economy and decidedly left leaning in her approach to social issues. There was a time when her name was floated for carrying the National Republican banner as perhaps a Vice Presidential candidate, but those days seem long gone now, or at least Whitman felt she couldn't keep alive such aspirations as part of this administration. Perceptions of her inside the Bush cabinet were universally difficult for her; From the environmentalists, she constantly felt the need to 'apologize' for anti-environmental Bush policies while she was never clearly trusted nor seriously listened to from those inside the White House. Her leaving signals that, if she feels her political career is not over, that progress can only be made outside of Washington.

What strikes so clearly is that this is more proof that this administration is less and less willing to coopt the center on domestic issues, moving more strongly forward with its own agenda on the environment, the economy, education and health. It has seemingly infused itself with such superior powers on the back of its foreign policy victories that it looks to run domestic policy with the same iron fist. But a fist can only go so far. Let's see if another, more moderate voice will be heard before the next election cycle........and if anyone will listen.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Trying to make the economy fit

President Bush has been meeting secretly with a representative group of state Governors, trying to get control of the spiraling costs of Medicaid. In his proposal, Bush is trying to limit the increases in Medicaid spending, formulating firm outlays to the states for the next 10 years. The Governors committee temporarily rejected the idea, claiming it didn't take into account possible catastrophic costs. But rejection of this one proposal is hardly the point.

Governors would be just as likely to want a limitation on Medicaid spending as would the White House, because Medicaid is a shared expense, with 43% of the $277 Billion dollar program falling on state budgets. State deficits are at record levels. And the Bush administration is aware (although vaguely, it seems at times) of the increased, unprecedented deficits that the latest approved $350 billion dollar tax cut will cause. By convening a group of Governors together to discuss reducing a shared, expensive spending program, it was clearly hoped that some agreement could have been reached earlier (May 15th was the goal) to accompany the Bush tax cut and make the deficit look less ominous and the economy more balanced. In that hope, the White House has so far failed. But, THAT isn't even the point.

Medicaid is, almost exclusively, a low income program. It targets 50 million people most of whom are at or below the poverty line. It paid for 1/3 of all births in this country and pays for the care of 1/4 of this nation's children and 2/3 of the elderly in long-term care. It is an expensive, but critical program to the poorest in this nation. It is absolutely no accident that this program was the only one under discussion between the Bush administration and the states. It is the simplest, most politically efficacious method for bringing the federal budget back on some sort of track towards solvency while helping to relieve pressure on the States' economies as well. Medicaid reductions will exclusively hurt the poor, the young and the infirm. It represents, despite it's costs, the most altruistic of federal programs..........And is the only program, it seems, on Bush's list to be limited. And why not? Kids don't vote, and neither do old people in nursing homes. The only groups clamoring against Medicaid limits are the health care providers, whose income is threatened by a halt in increases, thus making their arguments less persuasive.

Can we find a balance anywhere in the domestic policies of this administration? If they were discussing means-testing Social Security, a reduction of funding for the EPA, a look into whether the military budget might stand a slash or two, whether ATF has grown too large, whether Homeland Security is capable of it's desired goal standing outside of CIA and FBI or looking at a hundred other expenses in the budget as well as Medicaid, I wouldn't get so upset. But no, it seems that when this administration searches for cuts to the budget, to finance its unhealthy tax cuts, it wants to do it solely on the backs of poor kids and old people.........AND it uses the States' distress to validate it's choices.

This isn't leadership..........This isn't even very nice...................
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