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The LiberalOasis Blog
The daily view from the oasis

December 17, 2004 PERMALINK
Bush? Hypocritical? Inexplicable!
(posted Dec. 17 1 AM ET)

In yesterday's NY Times, Tom Friedman did a mostly useful thing, shining a bright light on the Bushies blocking an important UN report from Arab intellectuals on political reform.

Friedman wrote:

...it is inexplicable to me that the Bush administration is holding up publication of the next U.N. Arab Human Development Report...

...It was going to be pure TNT, because it was going to tackle the issue of governance and misgovernance in the Arab world, and the legal, institutional and religious impediments to political reform...

...Then I started to hear disturbing things - that the Bush team saw a draft [and] objected to the prologue, because it was brutally critical of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the Israeli occupation...

...While heartfelt, it's there to give political cover to the Arab authors for their clear-eyed critique of Arab governance...

...until it's changed, the Bush folks are apparently ready to see the report delayed or killed altogether.

And they have an ally.

The government of Egypt, which is criticized in the report, also doesn't want it out - along with some other Arab regimes.

So there you have it: a group of serious Arab intellectuals…has produced a powerful analysis, in Arabic, of the lagging state of governance in the Arab world...

...But Bush officials, along with Arab autocrats, are holding it up until it is modified to their liking - even if that means it won't appear at all.

It's important that people see how hypocritical Dubya is on democracy for the Arab and Muslim world, so kudos to Friedman for calling attention to this.

Having said that, it's inexplicable that Friedman would find Bush's actions "inexplicable."

Suppressing the report is only inexplicable if you buy that the Bushies are sincere when they speak of spreading freedom and liberty.

Back in July, LiberalOasis flagged a Boston Globe report that said Bush's main program for promoting democracy spent most of its money "assist[ing] autocratic regimes".

Democracy has not exactly been the goal of Bush's policy regarding Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, and Venezuela -- just to name a few.

And just this month, the US and Europe organized a forum for Arab leaders, supposedly to advance democracy, but the Bushies neutered it by deciding not to push for "any political initiatives to encourage democratic change".

After that forum, one Arab columnist observed:

It can be depended on Bush and his team to keep reform and democracy's sword shed with threats and pressures[.]

[H]owever, it is hard to depend on them to achieve these bets, which people long for.

Washington quickly agreed on "settlements" with governments, through which it received American interests in exchange for decreasing pressures or finding special circumstances for this or that government.

Colin Powell made it clear; he called Arab countries to start reforms as a way to "fight terrorism."

Terrorism became the announced password, as reform became a technical name to preserve security characteristic[s] of countries that are asked to reform[.]

[S]ince they are doing their duty in the field of terrorism, Americans are ready to neglect their flagrant slackness concerning the democratic direction.

Of course, it is Bush that has rightly said that the way to truly defeat radical Islamic terrorism is to bring about freedom in the Muslim world.

But those are mere words. In reality, Bush has been more than happy to myopically prop up dictators in the name of fighting terrorism.

So it is quite explicable that he would suppress a UN report that has the potential to advance Arab democracy.

It's high time that reporters and Dem politicians stop the charade that Bush's foreign policy doctrines have anything to do with the spread of freedom, and start calling him on his rank hypocrisy.

December 16, 2004 PERMALINK
Motive Matters
(posted Dec. 16 2 AM ET)

A number of blogs are circling about the looming Social Security battle, and yesterday, a Talking Points Memo post laid out a very good strategy for Dems.

But there's one aspect of TPM's strategy with which LiberalOasis strongly disagrees.

TPM writes:

A...danger is placing too much, or rather an incorrect emphasis on the windfall of money Wall Street would make because of phasing out Social Security.

This is true, of course. And it helps impugn the motives of those pushing for the abolition of the program.

But fundamentally it doesn't matter.

If privatization really were a good thing for most Americans, the fact that some people would make money on it wouldn't be a reason to oppose it. The reason to oppose it is that it's a very bad deal for most Americans...

...Focusing too much on the Wall Street windfall risks placing the emphasis of the Dems opposition on something that is, fundamentally, beside the point...

...Focusing on the Wall Street stuff evades the key issue.

And Democrats have built up a habit of doing that a lot on many issues -- thinking they can skirt against the wind, play up ancillary issues, and generally muddle through without facing up to the heart of the matter.

It's true that Dems often skirt issues, for lacking the courage of their convictions.

But calling out the motive of GOPers and their Wall Street patrons is not at all beside the point.

Motive is always a fundamental part of any case.

Take the health care battle of 1994.

The GOP's "substantive" argument against Clinton's reform proposals was that health care was not in crisis and the unneeded reform would reduce the quality of your care.

But the argument would lack plausibility without an explanation of why Bill and Hillary would propose something so harmful.

So they needed a "motive" component: that Bill and Hillary are Big Government liberals that want to run your life and take away your choice.

(And they even threw on a third component: unrelated scandal to sap political capital. As Sid Blumenthal has noted, Rush Limbaugh openly said "Whitewater is about health care.")

Yes, TPM is right that the intellectual heart of the argument is that Social Security is "a baseline of guaranteed retirement security and income for everyone," which would be lost in a partially privatized system. [emphasis original]

And it would be folly to shy away from that for fear of sounding too "Big Government."

Dems desperately need to renew the case for government, and Social Security is great issue for doing that.

But if Dems don't tag GOPers with having nefarious motives, then the debate will be seen as either a confusing battle of stats between two well-intentioned parties (one with a whole lot more power than the other.)

Or, more likely, a battle between one well-intentioned party and an evil Big Government party that wants to take your hard-earned money and give it to the faceless bureaucrats.

Furthermore, it should be easy to execute the motive component because the GOP has no good answer to the Wall Street charge.

For example, David Brooks tried to accuse Dems of "conspiracyism" and "Michael Moore-ism" for bringing it up, and oh-so-generously offered that such attacks would "leave" the party "deeper in the hole."

But then in the next breath, Brooks acknowledged "that many business and Wall Street types would like to capture the system for their own benefit."

His great retort? "[C]orruption is the price we pay for economic freedom."

Our intellectual component and our motive component are both quite strong.

There's no need to treat either as second-class. They will work just fine in tandem.

QUICK HIT

Speaking Of Social Security...

From MSNBC.com:

...the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll...shows that only 35 percent believe Bush has a mandate to allow workers to invest some of their Social Security taxes into the stock market, while 51 percent say he doesn’t have a mandate to do this.

December 15, 2004 PERMALINK
But At Least It's Not France
(posted Dec. 15 12:15 AM ET)

I will never give another country veto power over our national security.
-- George W. Bush, 10/20/04

Pakistan does not permit American military and intelligence forces in Afghanistan to cross the border to go after militants.

This prohibition on cross-border "hot pursuit" makes it relatively easy for Taliban and Qaeda fighters to initiate attacks on American bases in Afghanistan, and then quickly escape to the safety of Pakistan.

American soldiers have complained about being fired on from inside Pakistan by foreign militants while Pakistani border guards sat and watched.

As a result of the restrictions, American military and intelligence personnel in Afghanistan are no longer really hunting for Mr. bin Laden, an intelligence official said.
-- NY Times, 12/13/04

December 14, 2004 PERMALINK
On Second Thought...
(posted Dec. 14 12 AM ET)

Wouldn't ya just know it?

On the day LiberalOasis gets all mad at the Dems for not knowing how to fight, they go and do something smart.

From the AP:

[Sen.] Harry Reid said Monday his party will launch investigative hearings next year in response to what he said was the reluctance of Republicans to look into problems in the Bush administration.

"There are too many unasked and unanswered questions and the American public deserves better," the Nevada senator said...

...Sen. Byron Dorgan…said the first hearing will be at the end of January and he suggested it might focus on contract abuse in Iraq...

They said issues that "cry out" for closer investigation...include the administration's use of prewar intelligence and its reported effort to stifle information about the true cost of the new Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Reid also mentioned global warming and the "No Child Left Behind" education program as topics that needed a closer look.

In all likelihood, they recognized the great success Rep. Henry Waxman and his staff had publishing their own report on federally funded abstinence-only programs.

That showed how a minority party can make news and put the majority party on the defensive.

These planned hearings, and the reports that would likely follow, have the same potential.

Furthermore, in the "did we create a monster?" category, Reid was all up in the GOP's grill about judicial nominations. From the W. Post:

Senate Republican leaders are preparing for a showdown to keep Democrats from blocking President Bush's judicial nominations, including a replacement for Rehnquist...

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has hinted he may resort to an unusual parliamentary maneuver, dubbed the "nuclear option," to thwart...filibusters...

..."If they, for whatever reason, decide to do this, it's not only wrong, they will rue the day they did it, because we will do whatever we can do to strike back,"...Reid...said last week.

"I know procedures around here. And I know that there will still be Senate business conducted.

["]But I will, for lack of a better word, screw things up."

Down boy!

Now, The Gadflyer got on Reid's case about that quote, a little unfairly in LiberalOasis' view.

The Gadflyer said Reid should have instead used some "classy talking points" laying out a more substantive argument.

However, we can't know if Reid made more substantive arguments and the paper just didn't use them (It happens all the time, take LO's word.)

The Gadflyer also argued that threatening to muck up Senate business won't keep in line "those red-state Democrats who are quivering in their boots about being" labeled obstructionists.

It's understandable for the Gadflyer to expect the least from these accommodationist Senators.

But it's very possible that the use of the "nuclear option" is the one thing that would smack some sense into these guys.

The one thing that would make them realize there is no point trying to reason with people that have absolutely no interest in your input and want to ream you every chance they get.

(That is why it's called the "nuclear option" after all.)

And that may be why Reid is comfortable making such a threat, because he knows he can follow through.

Having said that, it wouldn't be smart for Reid and the Dems to be obstructionist just in the name of retaliation.

Any obstructionist acts need to be coupled with a media strategy that communicates the policy principles guiding the Dems.

Obstructionism works when it's perceived as principled, not petty.

Also, there is value to letting some proposals get enacted so people will see how bad they are (but not if Dems vote for them too, because that muddies the message).

But the big stuff, the stuff that would cause permanent damage, does need to be blocked.

Reid's comments indicate that if the GOP does go nuclear, he will have the firepower to do so.

QUICK HIT

The Myth of Saint Dubya

From the NY Times:

Republicans say that Mr. Bush felt little affection for Mr. Giuliani, and that he was particularly perplexed as the mayor allowed his personal life to unravel publicly in the spring of 2000.

"There aren't a lot of people close to the president who have those kind of experiences," said the Republican close to the administration, referring to Mr. Giuliani's admissions of infidelity with the woman who became his third wife and to his bitter split from his second wife, Donna Hanover.

"It's an issue of not understanding it. I've had discussions with him where he's asked, 'What's this guy all about?'"

George Bush, meet Neil Bush.

From Reuters:

Neil Bush, younger brother of President Bush, ...admitted to engaging in sex romps with women in Asia in a deposition taken in March as part of his divorce from now ex-wife Sharon Bush.

December 13, 2004 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Dec. 12 10 PM ET)

Last week's Sunday show appearance by Sen. Harry Reid was a heartening sign of the Dems' willingness to fight.

But yesterday's appearances showed how far they have to go in learning how to fight.

Dubya should have been hammered for the Bernie Kerik debacle.

He based his entire campaign that he could defend the homeland better than anyone.

Yet he couldn't be bothered to properly vet the guy who was to head the Homeland Security Department.

It is these kinds of mistakes that can deplete political capital.

But if you allow the White House party line to be accepted, Kerik will take the blame, the story will be quickly forgotten, and Bush's political capital will not be affected.

In this case, the party line was so ridiculous that a decent amount of mainstream media actually displayed some professional skepticism without being prodded by a significant spin effort.

Furthermore, Newsday, the NY Daily News and Newsweek piled on with additional revelations after the Kerik withdrawal.

These openings needed to be driven. The "nanny" party line needed to be challenged.

But on Sunday, across the board, it was not.

Rep. Jane Harman, on ABC's This Week, and Sen. Jon Corzine, on Fox News Sunday, both offered extremely mild criticism of Bush, while accepting the nanny explanation.

Harman said:

[Kerik] never would have gotten in the door if he had told the truth about that.

I'm glad he's apologized...It does embarrass the President, but now it's important to move on.

And Corzine -- after expressing disappointment that a guy, who would have likely helped his state get funding, was derailed -- said:

There is a real vetting problem -- ...you can't have the person in charge of immigration having problems with immigration or his employees -- and that's unfortunate.

On CNN's Late Edition, Sen. Joe Biden praised Kerik's handling of the situation, with nary a word about Bush:

I think he did the graceful thing, and he stepped down.

And so I am not going to add to the speculation as to whether there may have been other things. The nanny thing was enough all by itself.

Even Howard Dean, on Meet The Press, lacked the jugular instinct:

Well, you know, I think he should have known better...

...everybody was put on notice with Zoe Baird 10 years ago that if you have domestic help, it can't be an illegal immigrant and you can't pay her under the table...

...for this still to be going on for people who think they're going to be in public service is not so great...

...on the plus side, it's a good thing he pulled the plug very quickly and it's over and done with.

For all the Peter Beinarts in the Establishment that think it's grassroots liberals that aren't taking terrorism seriously, hear this:

Here was a chance for the party to show how this Administration didn't take terrorism seriously, and in turn, how the Dems do.

And the party blew it.

QUICK HITS

On the Other Hand...

Dems did continue to aggressively drive the Rumsfeld-armor story.

On This Week, Sen. Dick Durbin said:

The Secretary of Defense tells us, well, you have to fight with the army you have.

My reminder to him is: we were not attacked. We planned the attack.

And those responsible for planning didn't do the jobs they should have, and our soldiers have been vulnerable ever since.

...

We went into this war trusting the people in the Pentagon, from the Secretary on down, to tell us the equipment we needed.

And time and again we found out they were wrong.

Also, both Corzine and Biden renewed calls for Rummy to resign.

Of course, in this case, Rummy's comments are so indefensible that some GOPers aren't holding back.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, on CNN, was the roughest:

...those men and women there deserved a far better answer from their secretary of defense than a flippant comment...

...I don't like the way [Rumsfeld] has done some things. I think they have been irresponsible.

I don't like the way we went into Iraq. We didn't go into Iraq with enough troops.

He's dismissed his general officers...He's dismissed outside counsel and advice.

And he's dismissed a lot of inside counsel and advice from men and women who have been in military uniforms for 25 and 30 years.

(Crooks and Liars has a Hagel video clip)

On Fox, Sen. Lindsey Graham was also critical:

...it goes back to planning.

When [Paul] Bremer asked for 50,000 troops right after the fall of Baghdad, I'd like to know who told him no and why.

However, unlike Hagel, Graham did not attack Rummy by name, and later expressed nominal confidence in him.

DNC Chair Jockeying

Dean's appearance on Meet The Press was largely about his run for chair of the party.

(Crooks and Liars has a Dean video clip)

Dean noted:

I would like to be chairman of the party, but you know, it's an odd dance.

It's not like going out into the primaries and bringing people in.

There's 447 people that get to vote on this, and, you know, I'm not much of an insider, and this is a pretty insider game.

In turn, Dean made some adjustments to mollify insiders.

As MyDD recently wrote, party insiders love current Chair Terry McAuliffe.

So it probably is not coincidental that Dean praised McAuliffe a couple of times yesterday, regarding his handling of DNC finances.

He even had some light criticism of MoveOn, saying it was "a little over the top" to say in an email to members that "it's our Party: we bought it, we own it, and we're going to take it back."

(He could have, instead, noted that if you read the full email, it was clear that "we" referred to the grassroots in general, not just MoveOn members.)

Despite those moves, Dean did not shy away from his main message:

We can change our vocabulary, but I don't think we ought to change our principles...

...We're not the party of gay marriage. We're the party of equal rights for all Americans.

You know, I signed the first civil unions bill in America, and four years later the most conservative president the United States has seen in my lifetime is now embracing what I signed. We've come a long way.

We're not the party of abortion. We're the party of allowing people to make up their own minds about medical treatment.

It's just a different way of phrasing it. We have to start framing these issues, not letting them frame the issues.

And while Dean was trying to reach out to the Establishment, some of the more Establishment candidates, speaking at the Dem meeting in FL, were trying to sound like Dean.

James Blanchard, former MI governor and top Kerry '04 aide, said, "We can't be the pussycat opposition. We've got to be the hard-hitting loyal opposition."

Ron Kirk, former Dallas mayor who has been called "moderate" and "business-friendly," said "There are too many Americans who see our party as nothing more than a coalition of disparate voices. But they don't understand our basic principles, and that's our fault."

Rep. Martin Frost, who earlier lost the House Minority Leader position to Nancy Pelosi, said, "The next chair of this party needs to be a fighter."

What should you make of all that? Hard to say.

At minimum, it seems like people suspect Dean's message has traction with a fair amount of insiders. That's good.

But anyone can mouth the words. The proof will be in the actions.

And only one guy will get the chance to prove himself.

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

W. Monthly's Political Animal: "As a well-informed citizen, I knew that Social Security was unsustainable [but] after actually studying the issue, I changed my opinion almost 180 degrees. Nothing is going bankrupt"

Tapped: "I love it when Paul Krugman makes veiled swipes at his own paper"

The Al Franken Show Blog on "Rush’s love of the fruits of Cuba"

Donkey Rising on "The Exurban Myth"

The Stakeholder unveils PrivatizeThis.com

Scott Ritter, on Aljazeera.net: The Risks of the al-Zarqawi Myth

Sonafide: "I decided to post my wish list for this Christmas season ... I wish Christians in the United States cared more about promoting mercy than demanding that city hall be covered in Christmas-themed lawn junk ... I wish Christmas was a time to remember Christ as a grown man that spoke of mercy, not a silent infant incapable of pissing off sanctimonious religious leaders ... " (via Gutless Pacifist and Nattering Nabob)

Angry Bear: "It seems that most market players sufficiently discount what Bush says about economics that his remarks had no major effect on the markets. They seem to understand that Bush has no clue about economics. Nevertheless, his remarks still reflect staggeringly poor judgement on Bush's part, particularly for calling into question the Fed's motives for its interest rate policy."

The Nation's "Online Beat": Feingold for President?

Confined Space: Texas Political Operative, Ephedra Lobbyist Appointed Acting OSHA Head

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

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