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The LiberalOasis Blog
The daily view from the oasis

December 23, 2004 PERMALINK
What Reckless Tax Cuts Have Wrought
(posted Dec. 23 2 AM ET)

A Mondalesque prediction.

The next Dem to occupy the White House will have to raise taxes.

And since running on such a platform is not exactly a slam dunk, years of groundwork will be needed so a prez candidate could feasibly make that case and govern with a real mandate.

The first step should be to tie the damage that will be wrought by Bush's second-term agenda with his first-term tax cuts.

And the evidence of that is coming fast and furious.

The NY Times recently reported on Bush slashing funds for feeding the global poor:

...in the past two months the Bush administration has reduced its contributions to global food aid programs aimed at helping millions of people climb out of poverty...

...the administration has told representatives of several charities that it was unable to honor some earlier promises and would have money to pay for food only in emergency crises like that in Darfur...

The cutbacks, estimated by some charities at up to $100 million, come at a time when the number of hungry in the world is rising for the first time in years and all food programs are being stretched.

As a result, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services and other charities have suspended or eliminated programs that were intended to help the poor feed themselves through improvements in farming, education and health.

Note that this is the same Bush who claims to "loathe" North Korea's Kim Jong Il "because he is starving his people" and also that:

It's just unconscionable that that many people are starving in the 21st century. We provide -- we're a generous nation.

Other folks getting whacked are America's college students. Again, from the NY Times:

College students in virtually every state will be required to shoulder more of the cost of their education under new federal rules...

...Because of the changes...at least 1.3 million students will receive smaller Pell Grants, the nation's primary scholarship for those of low income, according to two analyses of the new rules.

In addition, 89,000 students or so who would otherwise be getting some Pell Grant money will get none, the analyses found.

It's not just the "liberal" NYT keeping track of the fiscal carnage.

The Wall Street Journal chronicled some of the pain from the 2005 budget that was just passed:

...big cities received less federal aid to comply with anti-pollution laws and job training requirements.

The National Science Foundation, which underwrites the country's basic research saw its funding cut from 2004 levels.

...Even spending on the president's own initiatives for education, health research and the promotion of economic and political change overseas were cut to levels below his requests or last year's spending.

And WSJ went on to describe what is at stake with the 2006 budget, which Bush will propose in February.

After noting that much of the budget is essentially "untouchable," WSJ reported:

The remaining discretionary funds -- and the area Mr. Bush has targeted for shrinking -- cover much of what many Americans typically think of as government work, including breast-cancer research, aid to rural and inner-city schools, veterans' medical care, weather forecasting and park rangers.

This is Phase 2 of the GOP's "Starve Our Government" strategy.

Phase 1 was cut taxes and mushroom the deficit.

Phase 2 is to insist that because of the deficit, we have no choice but to drastically reduce services that we all rely on.

We have to call the GOP on the whole strategy.

But we can't just complain about the cruel spending cuts, and ignore the role of the reckless tax cuts.

We have to show what reckless tax cuts do.

Or else, when we return to power, we won't be able to make the case for restoring fair and adequate levels of taxation.

December 22, 2004 PERMALINK
From "Bitter-Enders" To "More Effective"
(posted Dec. 22 2:30 AM ET)

It was just last week when a top US commander acknowledged what many outside observers already recognized: the insurgency "has become more effective."

Yesterday, tragically, was its most effective day to date.

And we will likely suffer more effective days in the future. The W. Post notes today, "insurgents ... tend to sharpen their tactics as time goes by."

This puts Bush in a hell of box.

All he can do to shore up American morale is contend that the mission is letting "democracy tak[e] hold in what was a place of tyranny".

But that after-the-fact rationale has been falling short for a while, with polls taken before this latest attack showing clear majorities disapproving of Bush's handling of Iraq.

And the more effective the insurgency is, the worse those poll numbers are going to get.

That's going to put major pressure on Bush, according to the W. Post, "to either boost the U.S. military presence in Iraq" to defeat the insurgency, "or find a fast way to get out."

In LiberalOasis' view, there's absolutely no way Bush would ever pull out while violence is raging. For better or worse, that's not in the guy's DNA.

But boosting troop levels is no simple matter either.

We're already in a "semi-draft" as the Christian Science Monitor recently dubbed it.

The top Army Reserve general is sounding the alarm about weak recruitment, saying debate over bringing back the draft may be on the horizon.

And as LO noted in October, the groundwork is already being laid for an incremental draft.

The Bushies are pinning their hopes on Iraqis rallying behind next month's election and subsequent constitutional process.

As the latest Get Your War On says, it would be great to be wrong and have Iraq be a flourishing democracy by next year.

But in all likelihood, next month's election will do little to quell the insurgency.

The NY Times laid out the depressing past:

For a year, the administration has suggested that Iraq would move closer to stability as it reached one milestone after another:

the capture of Saddam Hussein; the handover of sovereignty and the appointment of an interim government; the deployment of Iraqi security forces; the military campaign to expel the insurgents from strongholds like Falluja; and the first round of elections next month.

Yet most of those milestones have passed with little discernible improvement in the security situation.

Now some analysts are concerned that the elections could make the political situation in Iraq even more unstable...

Winning the peace always requires a political solution, not simply a military one.

But if your political strategy is a bust, the military situation is bound to get real ugly.

And the draft debate is bound to get louder.

December 21, 2004 PERMALINK
Dissecting Dubya's Presser
(posted Dec. 21 12:30 AM ET)

Some telling Social Security comments from Dubya during yesterday's press conference.

On policy specifics:

I will propose a solution at the appropriate time, but the law will be written in the halls of Congress. And I will negotiate with them.

Bush was getting beat around for repeatedly, and awkwardly, dodging questions about Social Security specifics (not just by liberal blogs, but also by the Fox News "All Stars" on Special Report with Brit Hume).

But, like Tapped suggested, there is a "method to this madness".

One of Bill Clinton's big mistakes in the 1994 health care debacle was drafting the proposal without much input from Congress.

Since Dems in Congress didn't shape it, they didn't feel very attached to it.

So when the complicated, controversial bill faced resistance, they didn't fight for it.

Bush appears to be looking to avoid that outcome, and is letting Congress play a large early role.

However, he still has a big problem: his congressional brethren are not at all unified.

The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes recently reported:

[GOPers are] divided on the two biggest reform issues:

how big a chunk should be carved out of payroll taxes for individual investment accounts and whether the growth of Social Security benefits should be curtailed...

...One can imagine a compromise among Republicans on the size of the accounts.

A compromise on the more contentious issue of how to treat Social Security benefits is harder to imagine.

On what he really wants:

...the question is whether or not our society has got the will necessary to adjust from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan.

And I believe the will will be there.

While Bush was convincing the press corps that he wasn't going to "play his cards," he played the biggest card of all:

Exposing his larger ideological motivation.

But since he used pension plan jargon that would require some explanation, no one is calling him on it.

In the world of pensions, a "defined benefit" plan is when the amount you get when you retire is set in stone.

But a "defined contribution" plan is when only the amount you put in while you're working is set in stone. What you get in the end is not.

Normally, GOPers avoid this aspect of the argument like the plague.

They stress the average return on investments the stock market provides compared to the Social Security trust fund, and ignore the inevitability of some getting a below average return.

But, as Busy Busy Busy noted, Bush revealed himself, admitting publicly he is against any system with a "defined benefit".

On the "crisis":

I think it's important for me to continue to work with members of both parties to explain the problem.

Because if people don't think there's a problem, we can talk about this issue until we're blue in the face, and nothing will get done.

Tapped recently expressed worry that the terms of the debate will become "how do we solve the crisis?" instead of "is there a crisis?"

But the Establishment presumption has been for some time that the system is in crisis.

So why is Bush saying he needs to talk to "members of both parties to explain the problem"?

Most likely, because the Dem/Krugman/blog pushback on the Establishment presumption of a crisis is working. (And on some GOPers too.)

It is forcing Bush back to Square One, to have the "is there a crisis?" debate.

And that's putting Bush exactly where the Dems want him.

QUICK HIT

More Foreign Vetoes Over Our National Security Please!

Here's Bush yesterday about his good buddy Pakistan:

Pakistan government has been aggressive in pursuit of al Qaeda targets in Waziristan.

And I appreciate the work of President Musharraf.

He came the other day, on a Saturday morning to the White House and it was an opportunity to thank him once again for some of the bold steps he's taken.

Allow LiberalOasis to reprint last week's Pakistan post:

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 20, 2004 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Dec. 19 11:30 PM ET)
(edited Dec. 20 12 AM ET)

You can see why the Bushies did their damndest to get rid of Treasury Secretary John Snow.

Because to sell Bush's ridiculous economic schemes, you need a really good liar.

And Snow is a really bad liar.

Witness these brilliant exchanges from yesterday.

First, with Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace, (video clip available at Crooks and Liars) on Social Security privatization:

WALLACE: So anyone who is investing in these private accounts would be trading the chance -- maybe, as you say, a very good chance, but still the chance -- for higher returns from these private accounts for a certain cut in their government benefit?

SNOW: Well, remember, it's all voluntary. It's all voluntary. And nobody --

WALLACE: But that would be --

SNOW: That's right.

You reduce your claim in the future against Social Security so the government's long-term obligation goes down...

WALLACE: ...What would happen in this country if some seniors should end up losing money because of their investment in the private accounts and end up not having enough to make ends meet?

SNOW: Well, Chris, look, this is to supplement Social Security, right? It's an add-on. It's an addition.

WALLACE: Well, it isn't an add-on because you said it's a tradeoff.

Johnny, baby, you're not supposed get busted on Fox. You're making Wallace look bad.

Later on CNN's Late Edition, Wolf Blitzer couldn't abide with his attempt to pretend there never was a budget surplus:

BLITZER: ...in 2000 when the administration took office, there was a surplus expected, $237 billion.

In fiscal 2004...it went down...to a budget deficit of $445 billion.

What do you project in fiscal year 2005, the current fiscal year, the budget deficit will be?

SNOW: Well, Wolf, you're right. The surplus that was forecasted never came about.

It was just a forecast. It was an erroneous forecast.

It was a forecast made before things like 9/11, the recession and so on --

BLITZER: But let me interrupt. That was the actual budget surplus in 2000, fiscal year 2000.

There was a real surplus of $237 billion. That wasn't a forecast...

SNOW: That's right. But it was a forecast going forward that we would have --

BLITZER: And in years following, they forecasted that surplus would continue...clearly, it didn't continue. But there was a surplus in 2000.

SNOW: There was, indeed. But it was a forecast going forward that proved unrealistic for the reasons I mentioned.

Oh, gee, did I neglect to mention the four years of surpluses that other president managed? And try to pass them off as mere projections? Whoopsie!

Being a bad liar and all, Snow had a hard time carrying out his main spin assigment for Sunday.

Both he and Chief of Staff Andy Card (on ABC's This Week) had the job to scale back Bush's promise last week, when he said, "I do not believe we should raise payroll taxes to try to fix the system."

That sounded like Bush wouldn't raise the flat social security tax rate (6.2%) or the ceiling on what wages are taxed (as of 2005, no earnings over $90,000 per year get taxed).

Apparently, the White House quickly realized that was an overshoot.

Paying off the $2 trillion it would take to transition to a partially privatized won't be pretty, and they need to keep some options on the table.

But they also know the danger of being perceived as breaking any sort of "No New Taxes" pledge.

So they wanted to define Bush's comment to only mean he wouldn't touch the tax rate, leaving open a hike on the ceiling.

Card, more practiced at being slippery (though still no master), did not directly answer two George Stephanopoulos questions about the ceiling, while stressing there'd be no change in the rates.

But Snow had more of a protracted, "Who's On First" exchange on Fox:

SNOW: What [Bush] said was, no increase in payroll taxes.

Now, that's awfully important, to rule out increases in payroll taxes.

Because the experience of Europe indicates very strongly that when we have very high payroll taxes, it hurts employment. It hurts growth in the economy. It hurts jobs.

We don't want to go that way. We don't want to go the way of Europe...

WALLACE: But is that just the tax rate, or does that also mean no increase in the income cap?

SNOW: Well, you know, we don't have a detailed plan yet.

What the president said was, no increase in rates.

WALLACE: It was rates? So you're saying that the income cap could conceivably be raised?

SNOW: Well, I'm not saying it would be. We don't have a plan yet.

WALLACE: But you're not saying it wouldn't be?

SNOW: Well, I'm saying what the president said. The president said, there will be no increase in payroll taxes as such.

WALLACE: Which you understand as tax rates?

SNOW: Well, as I say, that's what the president said. All I can do is repeat the president on that one.

WALLACE: So there is some ambiguity on that?

SNOW: Well, the president said, no increase in rates. That's what he said, and that's where we are.

We don't have a detailed plan yet. We will at some point.

Yes, this is the guy that signs the money.

Don't surprised when Social Security blows up in Bush's face, to see the incompetent Snow getting a large share of the blame.

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

Deltoid has a series of posts on the smackdown of anti-gun control researcher John Lott by the National Academy of Sciences

Newsweek interviews punished whistleblower soldier Amber McClenny: "Ever since we got here things have been swept under the rug"

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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