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January 31, 2003 PERMALINK
Not About Nothing
(posted January 31 11:45 PM ET)

The risks of doing nothing, the risks of assuming the best from Saddam Hussein, it's just not a risk worth taking.
-- Dubya, Jan. 29

Let's get something straight once and for all.

This is not a choice between war and nothing.

Inspections are something.

Giving intelligence to the inspectors so they can do their jobs better is something.

Allowing the inspectors enough time to properly complete their work is something.

Economic and diplomatic pressure is something.

Direct support of Iraqi opposition groups is something.

Targeted military strikes to destroy known sites of weapons production is something.

No one (outside of the A.N.S.W.E.R. steering committee) is assuming the best of Saddam.

And it's completely dishonest to characterize the majority of Americans who are against unilateral war as believing as such.

Furthermore, it's wrong to characterize liberals as having their head in the sand, as the usually on-target Thomas Friedman did last week:

...liberals under-appreciate the value of removing Saddam Hussein...

...It is not unreasonable to believe that if the U.S. removed Saddam and helped Iraqis build...a more accountable, progressive and democratizing regime, it would have a positive, transforming effect on the entire Arab world...

...This is something liberals should care about...

Whoever said that liberals are pro-oppressive dictators and anti-democracy?

There are plenty of liberals who would be quite happy to see a real pro-democracy, pro-human rights foreign policy -- but don't trust Bush Inc. to sincerely carry one out.

It should also be noted that liberals have varying opinions and approaches on Iraq. As do moderates. As do conservatives.

There are liberals who would drop the sanctions. Who would keep the sanctions. Who believe war never works. Who would support targeted strikes. Who would support an UN-sanctioned war.

And there are conservatives who see Iraq as the most urgent threat, and those who see no American interest at stake.

Dubya said on Wednesday, "We're having an honest debate in this country."

Well, we are. But you're not participating.

QUICK HIT
(edited Jan. 31 11:30 AM ET)

The economy has practically ground to a halt, as the GDP annual growth rate in the 4th quarter of 2002 was a depressing 0.7%.

This is an early estimate, and could go up or down in later revisions.

Now we are on the brink of a double-dip recession. (Though mainstream economists are not predicting one.)

As LiberalOasis discussed on Oct. 30 and Nov. 1 of last year, people often feel the impact of a recession after it ends, not during.

That's what happened with Poppy.

So if the economy goes over the edge soon, Dubya may be unable to escape the political aftershocks.

No matter how many wars he pulls out of his butt.

CLARIFICATION

A reader wrote in to point out that LiberalOasis mischaracterized the tax laws regarding 401k plans in Wednesday's column. LO said:

Apparently, Dubya thinks that the vast majority of these seniors are too slow to realize that most of their dividends are already tax-free, since their money is in sheltered 401ks or IRAs.

But to say that those dividends are "tax-free" misses a key point.

While no special tax is levied when dividends go in to the 401k, when 401k funds are withdrawn upon retirement, all of it -- dividends and non-dividends -- is subject to an income tax.

And that won't change under Bush's dividend tax cut scheme.

The overarching point is the same.

Wealthy investors who amass much dividend income get the break under Bush's plan. Most seniors, whose dividends are in retirement plans, don't.

January 30, 2003 PERMALINK
More SOTU Fallout
(posted January 30 1 AM ET)

No Bounce

Dubya's approval numbers didn't drop, but the usual SOTU bounce didn't happen either.

An ABC poll taken immediately after the speech had only a three point hike, well within the margin of error, from 59% to 62%.

More polls surely to come.

AIDS Twists And Turns

The element of surprise worked to Bush's advantage, as the initially positive remarks from leading AIDS activists resulted in many good headlines.

In the NY Times yesterday, the head of the Global AIDS Alliance was mostly supportive, with a caveat:

We think it's an extraordinary development. We're thrilled, [but] is it really going to be new money? Is he going to cut other priorities to fund this?

However, later on Tuesday, it appears he became increasingly skeptical. From Reuters:

In the (White House) fact sheet it said only $1 billion of the 10 billion in new money will go to the Global Fund.

We are very concerned that will leave the fund vastly underfunded and undermine its success.

But those crafty Bushies, they were prepared for the criticism.

But they didn't address it head on. Instead, they threw a curve.

Anthony Fauci, a top Bush health official, gave a conference call yesterday to say that generic drugs and condom distribution would be part of the plan.

That will ensure a second day of critics doing double takes.

But the generics pledge already looks fishy.

According to the AP, Fauci said generics from just one company will be "among those recommended."

That could well mean that cheaper generics will not be a significant part of the program, and overpriced American brand names will.

As for the condom component, there's nothing in the news reports to suggest how this could not be for real.

But could some enterprising White House beat reporter ask Ari Fleischer: if condoms can help fight the spread of AIDS in Africa, why can't they help in the high schools of America?

And don't forget the cautionary words of Salih Booker from Africa Action:

They have become very good at the soft rhetoric, but not at the hard policy.

Spring War?

An interesting exchange from ABC's post-speech coverage Tuesday between reporter John McWethy and anchor Peter Jennings:

MCWETHY: Peter, we're getting some strong indications that by the time the force is fully assembled, it will be at least mid-March or late- March at this point.

So it appears for either political reasons or logistical reasons, that the critical mass that would be needed for an invasion force is slipping.

JENNINGS: And what would the senior officers in the military establishment say about having to fight in conditions that slip into April and perhaps even later?

MCWETHY: Peter, one of the conditions that they have been concerned about is the weather.

But just as fast as they tell you it is not fun to try to fight a war in the heat of the desert, they will also tell you that this is the best-trained military in the world and the other guys have to fight in that heat, as well.

And the US military is up to it, if it has to.

LiberalOasis takes the Pentagon at its word that the military can do the job.

But one also might suspect that troop morale just went down a notch.

Who Gets Tax Relief?

It seems Bush got a little over-excited in his follow-up speech in Michigan yesterday:

My attitude is, if you pay taxes, you ought to get relief; the government ought not to try to pick and choose.

Normally, Bush specifies if you pay "income taxes."

Because the fact is, he is picking and choosing.

He has chosen to reward income taxpayers (some more than others).

But the lower-income payroll taxpayers that don't make enough to pay income taxes, they don't "get relief" that they "ought to get."

So there's another question waiting to be picked up by a White House beat reporter: why are you violating your own credo?

January 29, 2003 PERMALINK
The Sham On The Union
(posted January 29 2 AM ET)

So much BS to slog through. So little time.

LiberalOasis will skip the Iraq analysis, except to say:

1. The short shrift given to North Korea speaks volumes and LO bets people will notice, and,

2. It takes a lot of chutzpah to continue to lie about the aluminum tubes after being humiliated by the weapons inspectors.

On to other lies and distortions...

I ask the Congress to commit $15 billion over the next five years, including nearly $10 billion in new money, to turn the tide against AIDS in the most afflicted nations of Africa and the Caribbean.

This line capped one of the most emotional sections of the speech. It almost felt like Bush really cared about the sick.

But apparently, even the tragic plight of the afflicted is just something else for Bush to exploit for political gain.

Recall that last year Bush was lambasted by international advocates fighting AIDS for two key reasons.

1. He announced a two-year $500 million package that was widely panned as a pittance of what is needed to save lives.

2. The money was not going to the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, but instead to so-called "bilateral programs."

Why does that matter?

A bilateral program "means most of the money will wind up being spent on American goods and services and patented drugs," says Africa Action director Salih Booker.

While the Global Fund would be able to purchase cheaper generic drugs in a more efficient manner.

Who cares? The big pharmaceutical companies, who view generics as the enemy to their profits.

And who bankroll Bush's campaign coffers.

So where is the money from this newly unveiled AIDS initiative going to? Says a White House fact sheet:

The $15 billion [initiative] includes $10 billion in new funds, of which $1 billion is for the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

Of course, they don't specify where the other $9 billion goes, but we can figure it out.

Fine print aside, Bush achieved what he really wants: the ability to convince the public (and perhaps, himself) that though we are on the verge of war, that America is caring, not conquering.

And if you think that's cynical, then ask Bush why he didn't pony up six months ago.

I'm proposing $1.2 billion in research funding so that America can lead the world in developing clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles.

Dubya, who happily mocked Al Gore's commitment to clean fuels, waxed poetic on this point.

And his fellow GOPers, most of whom have never voted for a single piece of tough environmental legislation, applauded lustily.

A brilliant political move, it must be said.

Why, how can war with Iraq be about oil when Bush is embracing alternative fuels?

But, again, look at the fine print.

Bush's proposal actually amounts to a mere $144 million a year of new funding, for the next five years.

Could it do some good? Perhaps.

But it is hardly a "national energy policy" to wean us off foreign oil, promote fuel efficiency, and develop a wider mix of alternative fuels.

Essentially, it's a relatively cheap talking point.

One you can bet they'll be using for quite some time.

Instead of bureaucrats and trial lawyers and HMOs, we must put doctors and nurses and patients back in charge of American medicine.

Health care reform must begin with Medicare [and] all seniors should have the choice of a health care plan that provides prescription drugs.

Quite high on the brazen chart.

His whole Medicare plan rests, not on real choice, but choice under severe duress.

Lose you lifelong doctor, join this HMO, and then you'll get your precious drugs.

Not to worry. One applause line last night will amount to nothing once the AARP is unleashed.

My budget will commit an additional $400 billion over the next decade to reform and strengthen Medicare.

This nicely ignores that the whole point of Medicare reform (read: partial privatization) is to spend less money on Medicare.

The Dec. 9 '02 WSJ (and the Dec. 10 LiberalOasis) reported:

Officials say the [$250B-$300B stimulus] plan is designed to fulfill part of President Bush's conservative economic agenda, by offering tax incentives for work and investment...

To help cover its cost...the White House is likely to try to squeeze substantial savings out of the troubled Medicare program...

Somehow, Medicare cuts to fund dividend tax breaks for the wealthy must not have focus grouped well.

To improve our health care system, we must address one of the prime causes of higher cost, the constant threat that physicians and hospitals will be unfairly sued...

...No one has ever been healed by a frivolous lawsuit. I urge the Congress to pass medical liability reform.

In the wake of Linda McDougal, who suffered the unnecessary double mastectomy after a misdiagnosis, Dubya notably left out the key component of his plan.

The stiff cap on damages for victims.

Not only does the cap seem cruel when looking a victim in the eye, it also has nothing to do with frivolous suits.

Nobody wins huge awards for groundless cases.

Another cause of hopelessness is addiction to drugs... I propose a new $600-million program to help an additional 300,000 Americans receive treatment over the next three years.

He usefully ignored that this program will obliterate the line between church and state, by giving taxpayer money to religious programs that rely on prayer instead of real treatment.

I will send you a budget that increases discretionary spending by 4 percent next year -- about as much as the average family's income is expected to grow.

And that is a good benchmark for us. Federal spending should not rise any faster than the paychecks of American families.

This enters the pantheon of ridiculous rhetorical parallels.

When the economy bottoms out (say this year) and personal income goes with it, will we say, "Guess we can't spend any more on protecting our nation's ports from terrorist attack"?

92 million Americans will keep, this year, an average of almost $1,000 more of their own money.

You probably know the deal here.

The "average" is nowhere near what a "typical" American will get, thanks to the heavy skew to the rich.

And that "92 million Americans" excludes those low-income and impoverished Americans that don't pay income taxes, but may well pay steep payroll taxes.

To help the nearly 10 million seniors who receive dividend income, I ask you to end the unfair double taxation of dividends.

Another one that's been picked over in the media already.

Apparently, Dubya thinks that the vast majority of these seniors are too slow to realize that most of their dividends are already tax-free, since their money is in sheltered 401ks or IRAs.

This isn't even a comprehensive catalog of last night's prevarications.

Every American ought to ask him or herself -- If you can't trust the President to tell the truth in the State of the Union Address, when can you trust him?

January 28, 2003 PERMALINK
War Spin In High Gear
(posted January 28 1:30 AM ET)

You may recall, in your foggy memory banks, way back in 2002, the Bushies couldn't stop warning that Iraq was a mere one year away from having a nuke.

And yet, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Monday, "we have to date found no evidence that Iraq has revived its nuclear weapons program," though noting there's more work to do.

But of course, there's no sighs of relief from the Administration.

In fact, as Colin Powell -- newly deemed Administration tough -- spoke publicly following the inspectors report, there was no mention of nukes whatsoever.

Instead, the argument for war is largely resting on chemical and biological weapons disarmament.

Now, let's not kid ourselves.

We do need assurances that Saddam does not have such weapons.

And Hans Blix's assertion that Saddam has not fully cooperated is a serious concern.

But a serious concern is not the same as an imminent and urgent threat to the US, or even to Iraq's neighbors.

In turn, not all serious concerns are cause for full-scale invasions and coup d'etats.

Take that pesky North Korea.

They have plenty of chemical and biological weapons too. But the "not-a-crisis" only occurred after reports of uranium enrichment went public.

In that case, diplomacy staved off a plutonium factory for eight years. And even today's half-assed diplomacy is preventing war.

(UPDATE Jan. 28 2:15 PM ET -- More on the distinctions between nukes and chem/bio weaponry from mildly pro-war Talking Points Memo.)

Regarding Iraq, Blix did not say the inspections are ineffectual and that further diplomatic pressure couldn't do the trick.

Because they're not and they can.

But so much for what could and should be. Here's what is.

The war spin is in high gear, picking off Blix's negative words, ignoring anything positive that was said to the UN.

That was quickly followed by an orchestrated leak to say that more evidence is coming, in the form of declassified intelligence.

It's a deft political move, as critics have been begging for real proof.

But Bush's credibility is blown.

Most recently was the aluminum tubes ruse, formally shot down by the IAEA yesterday.

And remember back in September when Bush cited a nonexistent IAEA report to argue that Saddam was six months away from a nuke.

So we have no obligation to trust the Administration's evidence on its face, though substantive challenges to intelligence reports will likely be impossible (hence, the political genius of it all).

But Bush does run a risk of political embarrassment.

If recent published reports are true (though they could be mere head games), the US won't be ready to strike until mid-March.

That means there'll be more than month for any so-called evidence to be picked over and rebutted by the Seymour Hershes of the world.

Additionally, it means that the Bushies need to fill the media vacuum with another month of war drums.

That might push the anxiety level of Americans (and the world) sky high.

Or, conversely, repeated calls of "time is running out" could lead to the American public tuning out and not being fully prepared for war.

The only thing we can be sure of: the war spin won't stop.

FROM THE MAILBAG

One reader didn't care for last week's criticism of Rev. Al Sharpton:

Get off Al's back! He's the only honest candidate in the field...SHARPTON FOR PRESIDENT!

Another takes issue with an oversight in yesterday's Sunday Talkshow Breakdown:

I was hoping you would have commented about [Meet The Press' Tim] Russert's lack of follow up (surprise, surprise) when [Chief of Staff Andy] Card mentioned the SEC and corporate reforms...

...it seemed rather a large oversight that Russert didn't ask about the [Harvey] Pitt's continuing to lead the SEC and the diluting of the Sarbanes/Oxley legislation. He gave him a complete and total pass.

I would have understood if Card had not mentioned it and Russert didn't bring it up. But once Card put it out there as some type of achievement, it should have been challenged.

January 27, 2003 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted January 27 1:30 AM ET)

Last week, Bush dispatched the "A-Team" -- Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld -- to the Sunday shows for a big war push.

And they flopped. Domestic and international support for war continues to dwindle.

So yesterday became a job for the "B-Team" -- Chief of Staff Andy Card and Communications Director Dan Bartlett.

Looks like another flop.

The talking point du jour: unaccounted chemical warheads.

Here's Card on Meet The Press:

The United Nations knows, for example, that Saddam Hussein has 30,000 chemical weapon warheads. Hans Blix and the inspectors found only a handful.

At that rate, it would be some 289 years of inspectors roaming around Iraq to find all 30,000 chemical weapon warheads.

Granted, this is not the first time the Bushies have raised this issue.

Last month, a State Department fact sheet argued the same, in slightly more technical terms:

There is no adequate accounting for nearly 30,000 empty munitions that could be filled with chemical agents. Where are these munitions?

But Dr. Glen Rangwala -- a Cambridge University prof who co-authored, with a British member of Parliament, a detailed rebuttal to Tony Blair's dossier against Iraq -- puts that charge in perspective:

...Iraq's munitions have a very limited range, and could only be considered a threat to Iraq's own citizenry and those within a few kilometres of Iraq's borders.

That would make the unaccounted warheads a legitimate concern, but not a direct threat to the US or other nations, not enough to justify a full-scale invasion.

Unsurprisingly, no talkshow questioner pressed Card or Bartlett on the significance of the warheads.

Although, on Face The Nation, Bob Schieffer did press Card on another related point:

SCHIEFFER: Well, if we know he has these [warheads], why don't we tell the inspectors where they are so they can go find them? Or are we?

CARD: Well, the burden is for Saddam Hussein to admit that he has them and tell us where they are and bring them out.

You're putting the burden on the inspectors. The burden really should be on Saddam Hussein.

No, he was putting the burden on you to do best you can to avoid war. And you failed.

But putting aside such debating points, the warhead tack had the same feel that all of the Administration's arguments have: the feeling of desperation.

The constant shifting of emphasis only adds to the perception that Bush is grasping for a excuse, and not laying out a compelling case.

Even when the Administration is caught in -- at minimum -- a complete screw-up, it refuses to concede.

This week, it was reported that the IAEA found that aluminum tubes which Bush claimed was evidence of a nuclear program, could not plausibly be used for to enrich uranium.

From the W. Post:

"It may be technically possible that the tubes could be used to enrich uranium," said one expert familiar with the investigation of Iraq's attempted acquisition.

"But you'd have to believe that Iraq deliberately ordered the wrong stock and intended to spend a great deal of time and money reworking each piece."

How did Card handle reality? Blatant denial.

From Meet The Press:

TIM RUSSERT: ...Was the president mistaken?

CARD: No, I think the president was right.

And I think that the conversations between the inspectors for the IAEA and the United States and our other allies around the world will further demonstrate the legitimate fear that we have.

That those aluminum tubes and the way they were milled, the way they were fabricated, is such that they could be used to create plutonium or highly enriched uranium that could be used in a weapon.

Doesn't get more bald-faced than that.

Let's see how that holds up after the inspectors' report is submitted to the UN today.

BEST OF THE BLOG LAST WEEK

Take Back The Media on their successful Rush boycott

MyDD on the Howard Dean-John Kerry dust-up over Iraq

Body and Soul on Cheney's shady past

Alas, A Blog on affirmative action and how much does it cost whites?

The Sandbox
Humor By John Cougarstein

Oldies & Oddities, a weekly program of San Diego's KKSM radio, recently announced that John Cougarstein's hit, "Total Collapse of Dick's Heart," was the Number 1 requested song of 2002.

Leaving John Ashcroft's "Let The Eagles Soar" far off in the dust at Number 24.

To mark the occasion, the lyrics are reprinted below. You can also download the MP3 at Iuma.com.

Total Collapse of Dick's Heart
Lyrics by John Cougarstein

Sung to "Total Eclipse of the Heart"

(Come around)
Every now and then I get a little bit worried that you're never coming 'round

(Come around)
Every now and then I get a little bit tired memorizing nuclear codes by myself

(Come around)
Every now and then I know I'll never get the budget without all the cartoons you draw

(Come around)
Every now and then I need you to remind me not to dance in front of John Ashcroft

(Come around, Big Dick)
Every now and then I fall apart

(Come around, Big Dick)
Every now and then I fall apart

(Come around)
Every now and then I mix up King Hussein of Jordan and Saddam Hussein of Iraq

(Come around)
Every now and then I tell a racist joke in front of Colin Powell 'cuz I forget he is black

(Come around)
Every now and then I get a little bit edgy and I need you to score me some blow

(Come around)
Every now and then I wonder why did they cancel "Small Wonder," that was such a good show

(Come around, Big Dick)
Every now and then I fall apart

(Come around, Big Dick)
Every now and then I fall apart

And I need you now tonight
and I need you more than ever

I lost the number for Condi Rice
and I lost a rematch with Grenada

And I can't call my Dad for advice
'cuz he's cutting me off

Together we can make it to the end of the term
I promise not to stain Lynne's dress with my sperm

I really need you tonight
Grenada kicked my ass tonight
Grenada kicked my ass tonight

Once upon a time it was parties and brew
now they make me work until dark

Don't know what to do
Total collapse of Dick's heart

Once I was the dumbest guy in the room
[silence]

Don't know what to do
Total collapse of Dick's heart

For more Cougarstein, check out The Cougarstein Ramble and download Cougarstein songs at Iuma.com

**************

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