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June 20, 2003 PERMALINK
Seniors Ain't Buying
(posted June 20 12:45 AM ET)

Can Reuters make it any plainer?

Seven in 10 seniors want to maintain health insurance through the government-run Medicare program, while just 16 percent say they would try a private plan, [a] survey...by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation found.

"Seniors clearly prefer to build on the Medicare they know and trust," said Robert Blendon, professor at the Harvard School of Public Health...

...While Congress hopes to corral private plans to compete to provide the new prescription coverage, 63 percent of seniors said they'd rather get it through the government. Twenty-three percent said they'd prefer a private plan...

Republicans are selling something that seniors don't want to buy.

That's why the Republicans are not leveling with the seniors what it is that they are selling.

The key is getting the word out, because:

The survey...also suggests Democrats are losing their political edge on the issue...

In December 1999, 37 percent of people said Democrats did a better job dealing with Medicare - double the number who said Republicans did a better job.

Now pollsters find the two parties even, with 26 percent picking Democrats and 24 percent, Republicans.

That is likely the result of the successful blurring of the issue by the GOP in the 2000 and 2002 campaigns.

But now, more than ever, the GOP's chips are on the table for all to see.

The Dems have taken the first step to expose the true motives of the GOP.

They put an amendment on the floor that would have allowed the government to offer drug coverage alongside private plans.

That isn't even full-blown government control. That's the government competing with the private sector.

But the GOP's endgame is full-blown privatization.

If the government is allowed to beat the private plans at the competition game, or if the private sector doesn't even bother to offer plans (none currently exist), the GOP dream dies.

So the GOP killed that idea quick, voting the amendment down on the floor of the Senate.

Losing now is fine, if you get the word out.

Sen. Tom Daschle at least has the right idea:

We still think it's important for Democrats to make the record, to be as precise as we can be about what exactly we would do were we in the majority.

That's right out of the LiberalOasis 9-Point Plan. Point #1 in fact.

Still, introducing amendments isn't enough. The communications strategy has to follow.

Now, most Dems will vote for the final bill (unless conservatives succeed in gutting the Senate compromise).

But even if the Dems are going to vote for the final bill, following the Ted Kennedy strategy:

When we get this as a down payment, we're going to come back again and again and again and fight to make sure that we have a good program...

...When we pass this, we're going to say in 2004, elect Democrats. We'll finish the job.

That strategy only works if Dems make the differences known.

That the GOP is out to privatize and trash the program that seniors trust, and turn it over the HMO and insurance industries, while Dems are on your side.

The polls show a clear path. The amendments are a good start. Keep it up.

QUICK HITS

Squelching Democracy

The Right is patting themselves on the back for voicing support for pro-democracy protestors in Iran.

But is there any outrage about how our viceroy in Iraq, Paul Bremer, snuffed out the first local election in Iraq, ostensibly because he wasn't going to like the results?

Manipulating election results may be par for the course in America, but do we need really need to export such values abroad?

How Popular Was That War? (Part 2)

The latest Fox News poll has some interesting data on everyone's favorite war.

On the question if "going to war with Iraq has been worth it," there been an 11-point drop in support over the last two months, down to 53%.

And on the question if people believe intelligence was "exaggerated," a perfect split.

43% believe it was -- by either Bush, the intelligence agencies, or both. Another 43% say it wasn't.

Seeing what direction the first question is going in, that second question may pass the tipping point in the near future.

Once Again, Beltway Dems, Do Shut Up

Already, we're hearing the whining from the Dem suits in Washington that a Dean nomination will be a repeat of 1972.

As LiberalOasis noted earlier, George McGovern didn't lose because of ideology.

He lost because 1) the party became divided, 2) the convention was a disaster, and 3) McGovern completely botched his VP selection.

And in all likelihood, without #1, you wouldn't have had #2 or #3.

If real Democrats think Dean can't win, then Dean won't.

And if you want to beat Bush, let the primary process play out, and stand strong behind the winner, whoever it is.

June 19, 2003 PERMALINK
Supporting Real Democracy
No Matter What the Right Says
(posted June 19 12:30 AM ET)
(minor edit June 19 5:30 PM ET)

LiberalOasis would say that conservatives are experts at boxing liberals in by defining, via distortion, their positions.

LO would say that, except that it's not because of their expert skills.

It's because the mainstream media doesn't give liberals much of a chance to publicly define their own views.

The disgraced failure Newt Gingrich gets his say though, with a meaty quote in the NY Times yesterday.

In a piece about the political fallout from the Phantom WMD, Newt said:

The literary class that dislikes Bush and dislikes American activism is thrilled, whether in Europe or in the U.S., to have this question to raise.

But in the United States at least, given the mass graves, given the level of torture and brutality by the Baath Party regime, you're asking the American people to side with the apologists for replacing Saddam.

Does even the most left-wing Democrat want to defend the proposition that the world would be better off with Saddam in power?

The literary class means you, by the way. (Although most of you have written fewer books than Newt.)

And apologists? You.

Defending Saddam? That's you too, didn't you know?

In the NY Times, that bastion of the Liberal Media, no liberal was given the opportunity to respond to Newt's slander.

And so, Newt gets to define what the liberal view is.

If a liberal was asked to respond, one suspects the response would be that:

Regardless of whether you were for the war or against the war, everybody rightly expects their President to tell the truth to American people.

That is especially true on matters of global significance, because the credibility of America is always on the line when the President speaks.

In Salon, Andrew Sullivan also plays the game of speaking for liberals, in this case, that liberals don't support pro-democracy protestors in Iran:

If you want to understand better why the American left has been losing every debate it has joined recently, you could do worse than observe its indifference to the fight for freedom in Iran.

The position reeks of myopia, self-regard and opportunism.

Why does Sullivan conclude liberals are "indifferent"? Because his quick spin of the liberal web didn't turn up much.

His most damning charge?

Check out some of the more mainstream publications of the left: The Nation's home page has nothing -- nothing -- about Iran on it.

Search for Iran on its Web site and you get more results still gloating over the Iran-Contra scandal than anything that's going on in Iran today.

Of course, anyone familiar with The Nation knows that much of its print content isn't available on its website.

However, pick up a copy of The Nation's June 23 issue and you get the article, "Taking Aim at Iran," by Prof. Juan Cole, which says:

There is a real danger that the Washington hawks will undermine the reformist movement in an Iran still touchy about foreign intervention by making [Iran's] liberals look like Western puppets.

Iranian hard-liners have been warning for decades about evil American intentions, and the US hawks...are only playing into their hands...with this saber-rattling.

The Iranian electorate could easily swing to the right in the face of such imperialism.

In 1998, [reformist] President Khatami called for "a dialogue of civilizations" and suggested people-to-people diplomacy between Iran and the United States...

...If America is sincere about support for democracy in Iran, it could profitably respond to Khatami's call.

Since that article was published, Cole's blog has been following the protests, and his view remains consistent:

Many protesters have also been arrested by the regime. But, some of the hardline Hezbollah or Party of God goons are being threatened with being put on trial, as well, which is unprecedented...

...US support is a very mixed blessing for the students, who have been branded "foreign mercenaries" by Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei.

The students insist that they are an authentic Iranian political expression. It remains to be seen whether they can escape being seen as a fifth column for the US...

...The hardliners have brought this unrest on themselves by doing everything they could to thwart to popular will and undo the last two national elections, by crude methods of repression.

By all accounts, ordinary Iranians are fed up.

But, it is highly desirable that the US stand back and let the Iranians take care of all this themselves.

Agree or disagree. But it is not indifference.

The Right is on a mission, (one of many) to paint themselves as the only lovers of freedom, and define liberals as "myopic" "apologists."

We must do all we can to define ourselves as staunch, and practical, defenders of real freedom and real democracy.

And we must call out the conservatives for their support of puppet government psuedo-democracy, that will only breed more resentment and more terrorism.

(Additional thoughts on Iran from Counterspin Central.)

June 18, 2003 PERMALINK
What I Like To Call...
...Being Defensive
(posted June 18 12:30 AM ET)

Dubya Fun Fact #478
In a Bush speech, whatever phrase follows or precedes, "what I like to call," is a phrase that his handlers fed to him.

For example, on Monday Bush bristled at those raising questions about the Phantom WMD:

Now there are some who would like to rewrite history -- revisionist historians is what I like to call them.

Of course, it was Condi Rice that was first given this talking point, two Sundays ago when she made the talkshow rounds:

So, unsurprisingly, this is not Dubya's special term.

This is an orchestrated PR strategy to disparage the critics and justify the war.

Slightly more surprising is how weak it is. "Revisionist historians" lacks the sting of, say, "Saddam's Angels."

What the Bushies don't seem to grasp is that PR won't get them out of this.

The not-so-dirty secret about effective PR is that it works best when it is based on facts.

The facts here -- no one can find WMD, and some intelligence inferred that was a possibility -- are the glaring problem.

Good PR faces up to the facts. Bad PR employs off-the-mark insults and misdirects with irrelevant facts.

As we've seen the last few years, the presidential bully pulpit (combined with a compliant media) is loud enough that even bad PR can sometimes work.

But in this case, the Phantom WMD are even louder.

That's why the Bushies still feel the need to push back on the critics.

They know that Condi and Colin failed to squelch the story back on June 8.

They know that the questions are not going away. (See how many WMD questions Ari Fleischer had to deflect yesterday.)

So they dug the hole deeper, and elevated their defensive posture all the way to the top.

In fact, yesterday's MSNBC.com headline was, "Bush Again on Defensive Over Iraq."

That's the sign of weakness. That's the time for killer instinct.

That's why Howard Dean took the smart tack yesterday.

He took "revisionist historians," and shoved it right up their collective ass.

...President Bush asserted that those who question the evidence he used to justify the pre-emptive war in Iraq are "revisionist historians."

Yet it is President Bush who is rewriting history.

Damn straight.

ACTIVISM ALERTS

Stop The FCC

Even though the FCC approved rules to encourage more corporate consolidation of media companies, Congress can overrule the FCC.

In turn, Free Press is hand-delivering petitions to members of the House and Senate Commerce in advance of a scheduled June 19 vote in the Senate Commerce Committee.

There's still time to sign, and it's real easy. (via Ruminate This)

Clear The Air

Natural Resources Defense Council is marshalling support to stop Bush's phony "Clear Skies" plan that would actually weaken the Clean Air Act.

Click here to check out an excellent Mark Fiore animation in support of the NRDC's efforts and to find out what you can do to help.

Election Day Comes Early

MoveOn is giving everyone an early presidential primary election, online, on June 24 and 25.

If one candidate gets a majority (not a plurality), MoveOn will formally endorse -- and raise money for -- him or her. It won't be chump change either.

If you're not already on MoveOn's mailing list, click here to register to vote.

June 17, 2003 PERMALINK
Medicare Mush
(posted June 17 1:45 AM ET)

On the Sunday shows, there was practically no discussion of the Medicare compromise working it's way through Congress.

Why? Probably for the same reason that LiberalOasis didn't tackle it last week. It's complicated policy, and complicated politics.

(More complicated than LO made it out to be earlier in the month.)

While a final vote will likely succeed and be broadly bipartisan, both parties harbor splits on the policy.

Republicans have capitulated (for the moment, don't look away) on their wish to bribe seniors into unreliable private plans with better drug coverage, angering some conservatives.

(In particular, the WSJ editorial page is in quite a lather over what it calls "Medicare Drug Folly.")

But private plans still play a big role in the compromise.

Even if you stay in traditional Medicare, and even though the government controls prices, private companies would deliver the drug benefit.

Bush and the compromisers ignore that the Congressional Budget Office insists using private plans would cost more money than having the government do it.

But giving the private sector that kind of toehold muddles the nature of the program, perhaps paving the way for future privatization and less reliable Medicare.

(This kind of half-assed privatization has tried and failed before with Medicare+Choice. But no one ever said Republicans learn lessons.)

That's one way the compromise makes some Dems gag.

The other is the benefit itself.

If your drug costs are around $1000, after the costs for the premium, the deductible and the out-of-pocket, the benefit is worthless.

If your drug costs fall into the nonsensical "donut hole," the area where you're fully responsible for costs, you'll be mighty ticked.

(As of now, the gap is between $4500-$5800 in the Senate, $2000-$5800 in the House. Those numbers may change as the bills move.)

Between that, the benefit is just OK. You'll save several hundred, maybe a couple thousand dollars.

Better than a paper cut. But not even close to a free lunch.

Therefore, on its face, this is a mixed bag, depending on your situation.

Some will be mildly pleased. Others will feel short-sheeted. Few will dance in the streets.

So Dubya won't quite be seen as a savior.

The tougher political question is: does he neutralize the issue, so Dems can't use it as a weapon the way they traditionally have?

There are Dem fingerprints on the compromise, and even many of those who nurse concerns won't want to be tagged as anti-drug benefit.

But some prez candidates (including Dean, Kerry and Graham) are positioning themselves away from it.

This good-cop, bad-cop strategy is the best the Dems can do.

By jumping on the rickety bandwagon, congressional Dems prevent Bush from pillorying them en masse as obstructionist naysayers.

(In general, obstructionism is not as scary a charge as GOPers would like to think. But when it comes to drug benefits, it is.)

But if the prospective prez nominees keep their hands clean of it, then they will be in position to criticize if seniors complain after reviewing the details.

Plus, keep in mind that no one gets a benefit until 2006 as the bills are presently written.

Which means no one's problem will be solved by 2004, and griping may still be in vogue.

Still, even in Bush's best-case scenario -- seniors give him the benefit of the doubt and withhold criticism -- that won't directly hurt the Dem nominee.

That just takes the issue off the political table.

GOPers would surely take that as a victory, and it would be.

But it is a limited, short-term victory.

It is not nearly the only attack avenue the Dems have.

More importantly, it does not recalibrate the Medicare issue forever more.

Republicans have not won the argument that Medicare should be privatized. Not even close.

They have not won it because, in many respects, they haven't made it.

They haven't leveled with the public that they think the program is too expensive for the government to run as is.

They talk of "strengthening" and "improving" Medicare, as if everyone is going to get more stuff.

But that's not their plan. They want to take away stuff.

Sure, there's a decent argument for cost savings (not privatization), at least with wealthy seniors. A big budget crunch was looming, even before the massive tax giveaways.

But you have to build trust across party lines and be straight with the public to achieve any sort of cost savings in a politically sensitive program.

This drug compromise is not a trust-builder.

Sen. Charles Grassley and Sen. Max Baucus, the heads of the Finance Committee, may get along.

But overall, Dems and GOPers remain extremely wary of each other's motives.

To sum up, don't worry about the possibility that the Dems are losing an issue for 2004.

The deal isn't good enough to clinch Bush a victory in '04.

No matter what, the Medicare issue isn't lost in the long-term.

And on the big issues -- economy, tax cuts, unilateralism, the credibility gap, social security, education, the environment -- there's plenty to build a campaign around.

(Some links above via The Note)

June 16, 2003 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted June 16 12:45 PM ET)
(edited June 16 3:45 PM ET)

The idea with the most buzz on Sunday: an international force to impose peace on Israel and Palestine.

(Earlier in the week, both Kofi Annan and Sen. John Warner (R-VA) raised the possibility.)

It is unquestionably a welcome proposal. How else can the cycle of violence be broken without the world coming together to insist upon it?

But there are huge questions about what political pieces need to be in place for it to work.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Dick Lugar (R-IN) shook things up by taking Annan and Warner one step farther:

Using an international force to "rout out" terrorist groups like Hamas.

From Fox News Sunday:

TONY SNOW: Do you believe it is going to be necessary for some international armed force to intervene to keep the two sides from going at each other?

LUGAR: It may be. And even more important, is to rout out the terrorism which is at the heart of the problem.

SNOW: So in other words, international forces ought to be going after Hamas, ought to be going after some of these groups?

LUGAR: That may be the conclusion.

Now, I don't want to race ahead of a lot of talks that must take place that set the stage for this.

Because clearly to the extent the Israelis and Abbas can settle the situation, clearly we ought to allow them.

The suggestion picked up some early wire ink.

Still, Lugar appears to be freelancing with this idea.

On Face The Nation, Bob Schieffer caught Lugar's remarks beforehand and threw them at Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Carl Levin (D-MI).

Both seemed surprised and a touch disturbed:

ROBERTS: I respect Dick Lugar...He's followed this very closely, but I think what he is suggesting is a far different role...other than peacekeeping.

I think he's suggesting we actively take on Hamas. That would be a rather dramatic step, to say the least.

...

LEVIN: I think the Congress would be very cautious.

We would, first of all, want to know whether the parties would want an international force there.

But I think more importantly, we've got to get the Palestinian Authority to track down Hamas and we've got to do what we can to support any efforts on their part...

Roberts also appeared underwhelmed with the basic peacekeeping idea pushed by his GOP colleague Warner:

I think most of us have been thinking about a peacekeeping force.

The problem is if there's no peace to be, why the individuals concerned simply become targets.

And Sen. Trent Lott also had serious misgivings, on CNN's Late Edition:

I think it probably is a premature idea, and I don't want us to get ahead of all the parties involved in the region...

...what peace exactly would they be expected to keep?

So we're seeing a recurring rift within the GOP.

Between those who understand the necessity of peacekeepers, and those who think the military can only win wars, and can never win the peace.

But since no one truly knows where the White House stands on all this, the hard-liners were careful not to sound too hard.

And Lugar -- who is a multilaterist and not a neocon -- sought to subtly pressure Bush to follow-through on the peace process:

But I would just say after one week of it, in which much of the press, much of the public says, "Here we go again"...

...Never underestimate President George Bush.

Once his teeth are into this situation, there are likely to be unforeseen circumstances, and the security situation may change.

That may sound like high praise, but it really is setting a high bar.

And Dubya, who after the Middle East summit oddly crowed, "I'm the master of low expectations," won't care for the extra heat.

It wasn't just GOPers bandying about notions of peacekeeping.

Noncandidate Wesley Clark, on Meet The Press, seemed to echo the caution of the hard-liners, but he put it within the context of a strategy and vision:

...one of the things we've seen most clearly in 10 years of experience with this is you have to have a mandate first.

You have to have legitimacy first. You have to have a mission first.

You have to deal with the political situation first before you put the troops in.

The NATO troops are going to be no more effective at stopping terrorist attacks than the Israeli troops are.

In fact, they're going to be less effective.

They're not from the area. They don't have the experience, they don't have the intelligence connections...

...You've got to get at the political problems first. So you've got to have something that's more concrete than the road map.

Something that you can use outside pressure, more details and move this process forward.

But at some point, NATO certainly.

Of course, it's the political situation that Bush may be completely botching.

While the punditocracy seems unanimous in its praise for Bush's sidelining of Arafat, no one can explain how you get peace without Arafat's buy-in.

On MTP, Tim Russert, while interviewing an Israeli official, at least asked the question:

Tom Rose, the publisher of the Jerusalem Post, said that the Prime Minister Abbas of the Palestinian Authority is powerless.

The latest poll of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research says, "His favorable approval rating is 2 percent."

Arafat is 35 percent. Hamas is 17 percent.

How can the Israelis expect Abbas to stop terrorism if he doesn't have the support of his own people?

The answer was a non-answer:

Well, I'm not sure, Tim, how scientifically accurate are those polls, but this is beside the point.

Actually, it is the point.

Abbas may be a nicer, more reasonable guy than Arafat. And it may be a wonderful thing if he was the sole leader of the Palestinians.

But the US and Israel can't artificially make that happen.

Last year, Bush put pressure on Arafat to call new elections.

But the supposed lovers of democracy dropped that call when Abbas was named Prime Minister by Arafat.

Yet if you're not dealing with the person who was elected (in a real election) you're asking for trouble.

It plays well domestically to beat on Arafat, but it hasn't yet played well where it counts: in the streets of Israel.

QUICK HITS

Clark: Candidate or Tease?

Political Wire sizes up Clark's appearance and says he looks like candidate.

LiberalOasis is not so sure.

Candidates, good ones at least, connect their answers to larger themes and narratives, a rhetorical foundation. Clark just gives good analysis.

Clark is certainly coming across like a smart, sober, reasonable person. But he is not showing the passion and focus of a presidential candidate.

This looks to LiberalOasis like a tease.

A way to raise your profile, sell some books, and position yourself for VP, Secretary or State or Secretary of Defense.

And there's nothing wrong with that. Just having a general of his stature in the Democratic fold will be a help.

Kerry Profiled

ABC's This Week kicked off its "On the Trail" series, a sort-of mini "Behind The Music" of each Dem candidate, starting with Sen. John Kerry.

Most notably, the "aloof and arrogant" line is nicely knocked down by reality.

Kerry is seen repeatedly interacting with voters (veterans especially) like a regular human being.

Surely, that's by design, but so what? It means the argument's not going to stick.

The Kerry-haters on the Right will no doubt jump all over the footage of him riding a Harley.

Such exploits may be coming straight from Kerry and not from consultants, but to some, it's going to look forced.

Granted, the Right is setting up Kerry to be Gored, where anything he does gets nitpicked.

And you don't want to fall into the trap and start overthinking everything.

But, as a suggestion, be careful with the Harley business.

For Kerry-haters on the Left, who are smarting from his support of war, there was little solace on Sunday.

He is being super-cautious on the missing WMD, not even hinting at criticism of Bush.

He hits Bush hard in many other areas, so it's not fair to say he wouldn't be a fighter in the general election.

But clearly, he is not handling this issue in ideal fashion.

The Sandbox
Humor by John Cougarstein

NEWSFLASH
Religious Right Decries Iraq War

WASHINGTON, May 3 -- Leading religious conservatives said today that war with Iraq has wrongly opened to door to Communism and prostitution, leading to a breakdown of the moral underpinnings of Iraqi society.

Their dismay followed reports that the first independent newspaper published in Iraq was by the Communists, and Iraqi prostitutes had returned to sell their services on the street.

At a news conference organized by the Christian Coalition, President Bush's former rival Gary Bauer noted, "When Saddam was in charge, the Communists were underground and the hookers were decapitated. We shouldn't have been dropping bombs. We should have been taking notes."

Sen. Rick Santorum echoed the comments, "Once you have pinkos and sluts banging each other, before you know it, the liberals will be crying out for a Department of Prostitution. And then how can you crack down on the rampant man-on-dog action? It's constitutionally impossible."

Noted role model Bill Bennett also expressed indignation. "Prostitution is wrong and we can't let it fester. I mean, I go to prostitutes. Have since I was a boy. But I keep it under control. Just a few hours from time to time so I can relax. But I never use my wife's money. It's on my dime and nobody gets hurt. If you can't handle it, you shouldn't do it. And nobody in Iraq can handle it."

President Bush was busying regaling his aides on how cool it is to fly an F-18, and could not be reached for comment.

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

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

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