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The daily view from the oasis

October 24, 2003 PERMALINK
Dean Grapples With Medicare
(posted Oct. 24 1:15 AM ET)

When the Dean-Medicare flap first kicked up, LiberalOasis argued (twice) that to prevent further attacks he should get more specific about his plans for the program.

Later, LO noted that Dean‚s money advantage could simply drown out such attacks.

And there had been an indication, at a recent Iowa AARP forum, that the attacks weren‚t gaining traction.

But now Dean says otherwise. ABCNews.com reported yesterday:

"I get pretty mad when I hear Dick Gephardt telling everyone I hate Medicare."

Dean has said this (or a slight variation of it) at least a dozen times since Monday. And Dean really is piqued about it, his aides say.

It works for him as a personal motivating tool and, judging by how often he expresses it, works as a way to add passion to the rebuttal.

"I realize," Governor Dean said yesterday morning, "that people are starting to believe the nonsense on Medicare."∑

∑it is as good an explanation as any for the tough new television ads in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The key words there from Dean are not "pretty mad," but „starting to believeš. The issue hasn‚t gotten out of hand yet.

The issue is of particular importance in Iowa, where an estimated 3 out of every 4 Dem caucus voters will be 50 and over.

Yet Dean‚s position is still quite good in Iowa.

Even if the issue has had an impact, Dean is still tied for first with Dick Gephardt, a guy who is struggling for cash and nationwide support.

So Dean is choosing to fight back before things seriously deteriorate and such moves would be rightly called panicking.

Will the strategy work?

He isn‚t exactly handling it the way LO recommended. But with money, you can make a lot of things go your way.

Dean has added a few specifics to his Medicare position, but nothing like a comprehensive plan. And his additional remarks have not stopped the criticism.

But it would appear that Dean‚s team has made the calculation that responding wonk-style isn‚t pithy enough to communicate well to the electorate.

As such, the Iowa ad is clearly the cornerstone to the strategy.

A stern Dean faces the camera and says:

Instead of fixing the problem, the best my opponents can do is talk about what was said eight years ago.

For years the politicians in Washington have talked about health insurance and a prescription drug benefit. And all you got was talk.

But in Vermont, we did it.

The national media is calling this a „negativeš ad, but since he doesn‚t attack anyone by name, voters probably won‚t treat it as such.

Still, the ad has an edge. It‚s not a warm fuzzy.

How will that play? Hard to say.

On one hand, the ad isn‚t slick. Dean will come across to some as sincere and committed.

On the other hand, the ad isn‚t slick. Dean will come across to some as having a chip on his shoulder.

Of course, some people may like that Dean has a chip on his shoulder, and it‚s not like Dean needs 50% to win Iowa. A committed 30-40% could do it.

Also, Dean isn‚t addressing Gephardt‚s criticisms directly, which means Gephardt will have room to continue criticizing.

But if Gephardt‚s fundraising situation makes it hard for him to get his message heard over Dean‚s, it may not matter.

LO would still argue that a fuller explanation of his plans would inoculate Dean better, and would fit his straight-talking rep.

Nevertheless, money and organization can go a long way.

It‚s rare, though, that such strengths are matched with an unorthodox ad strategy (not to mention an unorthodox candidate).

LO hates to punt. But all we can do is sit back and see how it plays out.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

October 23, 2003 PERMALINK
Administration Meltdown
(posted Oct. 23 12:45 AM ET)

Last week, it was noted here that Bush has become (or always was) out of touch with his own Administration.

Yesterday, with the leak of the Rumsfeld „the harder we work, the behinder we getš terrorism memo, we saw the impact of that dynamic:

An Administration in full meltdown.

How can we tell?

The after-leak spin is all over the place, and it‚s really nasty to boot.

Fox News says Rumsfeld didn‚t want the memo to get out:

Rumsfeld was "livid" Wednesday when he discovered a memo written to top aides made it onto the front page of the nation's largest circulated newspaper, a senior defense official told Fox News∑

∑"It boggles my mind how a memo to four people ends up on the front page of a newspaper," a senior defense official said∑

∑Officials said they believe the memo may have slipped out from someone on that staff, and the assumption for now is that the leak was "not malicious."

This would seem to be the most transparent attempt to establish a party-line.

But other news organizations dug a little deeper.

Knight Ridder, quoting folks who aren‚t exactly Rummy groupies, says it might be Pentagon ass-covering:

∑in a reflection of administration infighting over the wisdom of attacking Iraq, several senior U.S. officials said leaking the memo appeared to be an effort to divert attention from the Pentagon's role in creating some of the problems in Iraq, Afghanistan and the hunt for al-Qaida.

By helping to persuade Bush to divert U.S. special forces, intelligence assets, money and time from hunting Osama bin Laden's followers to invading Iraq, Rumsfeld "manifestly weakened our efforts to subdue al-Qaida and its supporters," said one official, who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity because Bush has told his top aides to stop talking publicly about policy disputes.

While NBC Nightly News‚ Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski offered a third explanation, that the Defense Dept. did it proudly and unabashedly in a turf war offensive:

In a Pentagon which normally abhors leaks, officials here appeared eager to confirm this one.

Which only bolsters Rumsfeld‚s case that he should maintain control over the US war against terrorists.

Of course, these last two explanations are not mutually exclusive. The Pentagon can be claiming turf and covering ass.

What does all this mean?

1. This was not planned by the White House. This is Rumsfeld (or, less likely, a top Rummy aide) going off on his own.

2. If Rumsfeld thought this was going to strengthen his hand politically and make him look good, he‚s really lost it.

3. If Rumsfeld knew this was going make everyone look bad, he‚s gone dangerously rogue and should be fired.

(Yes, there are other reasons to fire him. But this is a reason that even some Republicans would buy.)

4. If Bush doesn‚t fire someone over this, his latest warning over leaks will be shown to be toothless, and the Administration infighting is likely to become even more unruly.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

October 22, 2003 PERMALINK
Banning the Ban
The Supreme Court Will Come Through
(posted Oct. 22 1:30 AM ET)

Pro-choicers need not be too dismayed by the prospect of a ban on so-called „partial-birthš abortions, that Dubya will surely sign.

Because, so long as the Supreme Court‚s composition is unchanged, it‚s nearly inconceivable that the Court will uphold it.

This very same Court ruled on this issue just three years ago, striking down a similar Nebraska law in Stenberg v. Carhart.

The main opinion said the Court did so for „two independent reasons.š Let‚s focus on just one of them: the lack of a health exception.

The pro-lifers are stressing that the bill includes an exemption when the life of the mother is at risk. The key clause reads:

This∑does not apply to a partial-birth abortion that is necessary to save the life of a mother whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.

But Nebraska‚s law had almost identical language:

No partial birth abortion shall be performed in this state, unless such procedure is necessary to save the life of the mother whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.

Yet Nebraska‚s law didn't fly.

Why? Because a „lifeš exception is not the same, and not as broad, as a „healthš exception.

(Why is that important, from a practical standpoint?

The National Abortion Federation sums it up:

„Like anyone else in the population, pregnant women are susceptible to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, severe depression, addictions, and other serious health problems.

„Surgery, X-rays, chemotherapy, or other treatment vital to a woman's health or life may come to a halt once the pregnancy is discovered.

„A woman might choose abortion if a continued pregnancy would worsen her condition and/or threaten her life, or if she requires further treatments that may damage a developing fetus.š)

Nebraska argued in vain that such a health exception for partial-birth abortions is „never necessary to preserve the health of women.š

But the Court didn‚t buy it, and stated unequivocally, „The statute∑must contain a health exception.š

In doing so, it repeatedly relied on Roe v. Wade‚s conclusion:

∑the State∑may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother. [emphasis added]

Despite Nebraska‚s failure to make the case, the bill that passed Congress tries to pull the exact same thing:

Congress finds that partial-birth abortion is never medically indicated to preserve the health of the mother.

What‚s the Right‚s logic here? There's not much.

Sen. Rick Santorum recently said, according to Catholic News Service, that he‚ll address the constitutional problem by „including pages of medical findings proving that "partial-birth abortion is never necessary to preserve the health of a woman."

But in the Stenberg opinion, it‚s clear that these same Justices thoroughly chewed on the medical community‚s views on this already.

In fact, this seems like such a dead-letter, one has to wonder if the Right‚s game plan here isn‚t enshrining the ban in law now, but playing politics for later.

But the political value of this is debatable as well.

The Right‚s long campaign to equate the late-term procedure with gruesome infanticide, and distort its prevalence in society, has surely had its benefits. Polls show people would support a ban.

But a recent ABC poll, that had a clear majority saying the procedure should be illegal, also showed a complete reversal of opinion when it „would prevent a serious threat to the woman‚s health.š

The legal battle isn‚t the problem. That should be an easy win.

But the political debate is a tougher road.

The only way to win it is to make crystal clear who the Right would leave unprotected:

The women with cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other major health problems whose conditions may seriously worsen, and whose lives may still be put at risk.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

October 21, 2003 PERMALINK
Multilateral Head Fakes
(posted Oct. 21 12:45 AM ET)

A conciliatory gesture to N. Korea? A ceding of control in Iraq?

Is it the end of the neocons? A kindler, gentler Bush?

Not exactly.

Both are not much more than head fakes that give the illusion of international cooperation, but do little to alter the unilateralist underpinning of the Administration.

Neither maneuver has much chance to seriously improve their respective situations.

But they may have a domestic impact -- making it harder for multilateralist Bush critics to make their case.

On N. Korea, LiberalOasis stands by its argument (from March and April):

That the Bushies are dead-set on regime change in order to increase US influence in the region and prevent China from becoming a superpower rival.

But LO also noted in April that since three wars in three years is a lot to swallow:

They may be hoping to get regime change without war, giving economic destabilization a chance to destroy Kim‚s rule.

If that‚s the plan, Bush may be giving Powell some string to play with, allowing him to work towards an agreement -- maybe even forge one -- as a way to buy time.

Bush‚s suggestion of a semi-formal multi-party non-aggression agreement (lacking the formal weight of a ratified treaty) appears to be in that vein.

That‚s no great concession for the neocons, a flimsy piece of paper that can easily be tossed aside.

What they really don‚t want to give up (and what Kim probably really wants) is economic aid.

In the neocon view, economic collapse is the goal (less messy than war at least). And economic aid doesn‚t help that goal.

And since the proposal lacks any prospect of economic aid, Kim is almost sure to reject it.

(Already, N. Korea responded with a „provocativeš surface-to-ship missile test.)

That‚s where the domestic bonus kicks in.

Even though Bush isn‚t entering into good-faith talks, he gets to look like he‚s being reasonable and playing well with others.

At the same time, he gets to paint Kim as the recalcitrant one.

And that makes it harder for Dems to simply say (as they have been) that Bush is stubbornly and recklessly refusing to deal.

Iraq is a little different than Korea, as the concession involved is relatively substantive.

By allowing foreign donors to help fund reconstruction through a World Bank/UN fund, and not the US one, Bush no longer has 100% control of where the money goes.

But how much does that mean in the big picture?

It does mean that most foreign dollars won‚t go to Bush Inc. companies like Bechtel and Halliburton in no-bid contract

But that doesn‚t end our taxpayer dollars funding such contracts.

And it doesn‚t change US political control of the occupation.

And it doesn‚t internationalize the occupying military force.

Yes, even this little bit is much more than the neocons wanted.

But it only happened because our backs were truly at the wall. As the NY Times reported:

The administration changed its mind in recent weeks, in part because of the support of [Viceroy Paul] Bremer.

"We had to act because the international community was stonewalling us on aid," said an administration official.

According to the official, Mr. Bremer said, "'I need the money so bad we have to move off our principled opposition to the international community being in charge.'"

Basically, it‚s a desperation move. Not a fundamental rethinking of the strategy.

It does nothing to remove the stigma of a US occupation that attracts terrorist elements.

It does nothing to stop the regular deaths of US soldiers.

And it does nothing to reduce the bill that has been given to US taxpayers.

But again, as with Korea, it does make it a little harder for Dems to criticize.

That‚s because Bushies can now say, technically truthfully, that they are working with the international community.

Even more tricky for Dems, when Iraq is still a mess in year, they can say that they already did what Dems called for.

Of course, this is only a very limited broadening of the effort, not a comprehensive internationalization.

And in the end, it‚s the results that are key for Bush. He‚ll be on the political hook for a screwed up Iraq no matter what.

But if Dems want to build a mandate for multilateralism Ų for Iraq, Korea and beyond Ų they may have a tougher time if Bush fosters a false perception that he is already moving in that direction.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

October 20, 2003 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Oct. 20 12 AM ET)

The (Wary) Return of Colin and Condi

Top Bushies have been avoiding the Sunday shows since The Leak broke big three weeks ago.

That allowed them to duck uncomfortable questions, though it gummed up their ability to drive message.

Yesterday, Colin Powell and Condi Rice came back, but in a carefully controlled way that reduced the risk of tough questioning.

Both in Thailand accompanying Dubya on his Asia trip, they almost surely put time restrictions on their interviews, which happened after Bush made some overnight news about N. Korea.

That ensured interviewers wouldn‚t be able to ask many questions.

And much of what time there was would be chewed up by predictable N. Korea queries, leaving little room for hard stuff.

For example, while newsmakers on Sunday are often interviewed for 10-15 minutes (on NBC's Meet The Press, sometimes 25-50), ABC‚s This Week had Condi for about 5 minutes, asking 5 questions.

And Powell took 4 questions each on CBS‚ Face The Nation (8 minutes) and CNN‚s Late Edition (6 minutes). (Note: FTN said it only aired a „portionš of the interview.)

Meet The Press was avoided entirely.

The exception (surprise, surprise) was Fox News Sunday, which had Powell for a more traditional 13 minutes.

Despite the evasive tactics, the duo wasn‚t able to keep the focus where they wanted.

Rice, for example, got caught up in the Gen. Boykin mess, refusing to answer directly if the Administration will condemn his anti-Islam remarks, while insisting the Administration respects Islam.

That was pretty predictable. What Powell did was not.

On FTN and Fox, Powell was confronted with a NY Times scoop, the latest evidence exposing the rift between the State and Defense Depts.

According to the NYT, the Pentagon largely ignored a massive State Dept. study, „The Future of Iraq Project,š that now appears to have anticipated many of problems the occupation is facing.

A few days after Bush deemed himself „in chargeš to try to tamp down chatter about infighting, would Powell be a good soldier and downplay the story?

Nope.

Powell dumped the issue in Defense Sec. Don Rumsfeld‚s lap, while sticking up for his department.

On FTN:

∑all of that material was made available to the Pentagon∑they had all that information available.

How they used it, what parts they found useful, what parts they didn't find useful, I can't answer∑

∑it was a good, solid piece of work that was made available to the Pentagon.

And I'm quite sure parts of it were used. I just don't know how extensively it was used.

And on Fox:

What parts of it were used or not used, you'd have to ask the Pentagon and those who've been working on it.

But we have a number of the people who participated in the work now working with [Viceroy Paul] Bremer∑

∑in any study, not every recommendation is accepted. But it was a quality piece of work that was made available to General [Jay] Garner [Bremer‚s predecessor] for his use∑

Translation: When history decides who lost Iraq, they won‚t say me.

Is this worse than Shultz and Weinberger? Oh yes.

But if Rumsfeld‚s people want to fire back by knocking the quality of the report, they should think twice.

Following Powell on FTN, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) vouched for the report, while struggling to exonerate the Pentagon:

[The report] is very comprehensive.

It's sort of philosophical and lacking on the implementation part of it, whereas the Pentagon likes to implement and∑they don't like to go into the background so much.

This information∑is being used by Ambassador Bremer, who thinks it's an excellent report.

I don't know about the gap from the time that this report would have been more helpful to the situation in Iraq today and where it is now.

I do know that [the] State Department report is being used now.

That should help foster an Establishment view that this was a good report foolishly dismissed by the cocky hawks at Defense.

Still, Powell and Roberts were giving only subtle jabs.

Fortunately, a politically savvy Dem, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), was on FTN as well to make clear to the audience what was at stake:

I find it troubling that the Secretary of State doesn't know what the Pentagon did with the report∑

∑apparently there was no communication between State Department and Defense Department about those recommendations.

This may not explode into a huge story, but it adds to the infighting fire.

In turn, it makes it harder to Dubya to end the perception of an unruly Administration, and harder to turn his media coverage around.

Don Evans Does His Best Friend Proud

A second-tier Cabinet member, Commerce Secretary Don Evans, also popped up yesterday on CNN‚s Late Edition facing Wolf Blitzer.

Evans, who Blitzer noted is also Bush's best friend in DC, tried to give the party line on Iraq after just returning from there.

But he blew it, walking into a trap regarding Iraqi oil revenue:

EVANS: ∑we look at the oil production that can come out of Iraq over the next 12 months or so, and we forecast about $12 billion in revenues from oil production.

That would be about enough to pay the interest on the debt that they owe in the world today∑

BLITZER: That assessment of Iraq's oil wealth clearly differs from what the deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, testified before the U.S. Congress∑

WOLFOWITZ [from 3/27/03 video clip]: The oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 billion and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years.

We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon. [clip ends]

EVANS: Well, I mean, you know, I could go through the numbers, and it's producing now about 2 million barrels a day...

BLITZER: He said $50 billion to $100 billion over the course of the next two to three years. He was clearly wrong.

EVANS: Well, I'm not saying he was clearly wrong.

Look, if they're able to get the oil production up to 3 million to 4 million barrels of oil a day, and if oil prices go to $35, $30 or $35 a barrel, you can see numbers up in that kind of level.

But right now, they're producing about 2 million barrels a day, and at $20 a barrel or $22 a barrel, you just don't get to those levels yet.

Well, if Evans isn‚t saying Wolfie is „clearly wrong,š it sure looks like he‚s saying he‚s „almost surely really pretty much wrong.š

Evans wasn‚t done making himself look bad.

Soon after, given the opportunity to condemn clear-cut anti-Semitism, he gave one of the most bizarre dodges of all time:

BLITZER: I want you to listen precisely to what [Malaysian Prime Minister] Mahathir said.

MAHATHIR (from video clip): The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million, but today the Jews rule this world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.

BLITZER: Now, he's going to be attending the president's summit∑in Thailand, and∑there's a group meeting [scheduled]∑

∑What do you think he should say to this prime minister?

EVANS: Well, look, I don't know all of the details behind it.

But let me tell you what I've learned, Wolf, traveling around the world, and that means to Iraq, and that means to Afghanistan and other parts of the world.

Everybody in the world wants the same thing.

We all want to put a roof over our family's head. We all want to feed our children.

We all want to educate our children, and we want them to live in a safe and secure environment.

So I think that he will be talking to him. I don't know what he'll say to him.

But he will, no doubt, say to him that, you know, in the world, we all want the same thing.

We all want to live in a world of peace and freedom and prosperity. And that's what the president is focused on.

Hmmm. So in Evans‚ view, their conversation should go like this:

MAHATHIR: The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million, but today the Jews rule this world by proxy.

BUSH: Well, we all want the same thing.

There‚s a winning strategy for ‚04. Have one of your generals piss off the Muslims and your best friend piss off the Jews.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

The Sandbox
Guest Humor Column by Alexander Pierre Luboknovich

The President Celebrates Columbus Day

Every year around Columbus Day, the President takes a few minutes out of his busy schedule to talk about the day‚s significance. On October 9, President Bush continued the tradition.

„On Columbus Day, you know what I do?,š the President said, „I [think] about all the great Americans. We have a great [responsibility] ... to [think] of [them]. Great Americans ... like the Crocodile Hunter.š

President Bush continued: „In the old days our four fathers [sic] had what they call a one track mind... Figure out what the word ősovereign‚ means, find out what a sovereign nation is, then figure out how to get there.š

Later, the President seemed overcome with Italian-American pride when he said, „You know, the guidos have done a lot. We had one of them as the manager of our team in Arlington. Not Virginia... Arlington Texas,š before a few members of media chuckled nervously.

„But seriously, Columbus Day is a serious holiday because it gives us a chance to celebrate the contributions of Italian-Americans. Like Rizzo, Gloria Estefan, and Hector Boyardee,š the President said to thundering applause.

„And it allows us to recognize a man whose contributions to society are unmeasurable [sic]. Whether Mr. Falk was playing that jovial, wry, comedian, or whether he was simply being himself in the privacy of his own bathroom, Lieutenant Columbo will always be in our hearts on this day.š

Luboknovich‚s take: You know, I wish we had a day like Columbus Day back in Byelorussia.

But I am glad Columbus discovered America instead of Russia. If it weren‚t for Columbus we‚d all still be in Petersburg drinking Borscht out of a Downey jug. And no one would have heard of some kid named Mac Culkin, star of the 1990 smash hit „Home Alone,š directed by Chris Columbus.

I Dated Valerie Plame!

And I have a video to prove it!

Even more shocking is that the video is of Luboknovich and Plame -- who used her married name Valerie E. Wilson -- watching the Pam Anderson-Tommy Lee sex video.

I drank a vodka straight and she drank a White Russian. Then, later, she drank a white Russian. Get it?!

In all seriousness, I was a partner with Plame at Brewster-Jennings & Associates (who do you think the „associatesš were?).

Now, not to put the blame on Plame, but even while at Brewster-Jennings she was not very careful about concealing her identity as a CIA operative.

One time, at a bar in Atlanta, she literally begged me to come back to her hotel room for a nightcap.

After refusing several times -- she was obviously sober and I only sleep with drunk women -- she pulled the old, „Alexander, I‚m a CIA operative... you‚ll do as I say,š out of her verbal pocket.

Now, fine, she wanted to seduce me, fine. But she said it so loudly! Many people around us definitely heard.

Interestingly enough, Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone were two of them.

Ahhhh, those were the days. Me and Val on the road. We always had a lot in common.

I was once an undercover KGB operative posing as a traditional folk water comedian. When my name was leaked I was forced to gulag in Alaska_ not Siberia... the government in those days refused to recognize Alaska‚s sale to America.

Of course, there are no gulags in Alaska, so I got off scot-free. I could have just gotten on a plane straight for NYC, but I decided to wander around a few months looking for the set of „Northern Exposure.š Didn‚t find it.

Plame always said, „If my name ever gets out there, lord help me, I‚m gonna have to move to Staten Island.š Because Staten Island, according to Plame, was the only place where she would be accepted.

I have no idea why she determined this.

Luboknovich Does Not Mind Lubbock

I was recently asked, „does Luboknovich mind being called Lubbock?š

Luboknovich does not mind Lubbock. There are several wonderful bistros there, and when I visited as a child, I even got to ride a „rocking horsyš in a dive bar.

I didn‚t mind getting burned by cigarette butts or getting Coors spilled on me (intentionally).

You might think there‚s nothing worse than getting burned with something called a „butt,š but Luboknovich doesn‚t see it that way.

Born in 1957 in Byelorussia, Alexander Pierre Luboknovich, a Soviet in exile, is a political commentator, water comedian, diplomatic impersonator, and importer of international wives.

He is currently at work on a book of essays entitled „Power to the Peephole: Lewd Propositions for a New Sexual Revolutionš and is an associate fellow at the Ruzzzivixxxxxxen Importing Co., Brighton Beach, NY. He is one of leading practitioners of the high Russian art of „water comedy.š

For more Luboknovich, check out his blog.

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

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