The Four Corners

Friday, May 09, 2003
 

UPDATE: President Bush's commencement address at the University of South Carolina calls for a free trade zone with the middle east in 10 years.

A decade? Last time I checked, the war on terrorism and the Palistine/Israel conflict were urgent, pressing issues, what with Sec. Powell in the West Bank and all. As the DLC points out "Such a plan offers no immediate benefits for Muslim countries pursuing economic reform and beginning to open political systems, and it leaves the tough political steps to the president elected not in 2004, or even 2008, but in 2012. A big goal far in the future is fine, but we need quick action today as well. In step with the road map for Middle East peace and the rebuilding of Iraq, the administration should immediately ask Congress to show the United States is serious by dropping tariffs this year for clothes, leather products, carpets, olive oil, dates and other products from the Middle East."

More importantly, the Muslim world and Al Qaeda network goes beyond the Middle East, to include such countries as Indonesia and Bangladesh, we need free trade there too.


 

"Imitation is the strongest form of flattery" I guess that, by that logic, the Progressive Policy Institute a DLC-affiliated think tank should be flattered then, since today comes with a second policy idea that the Bush White House has plagiarized from PPI.

The papers report (and I had my sources last night but had better things to do, thank you) that Bush will unveil a U.S.-Middle East free trade area in ten years. Funny, it sound exactly like what PPI's Ed Gresser has pushing for in a paper released in February, arguing that "The Muslim world is the blank spot on the Bush administration's trade agenda -- and because of this, that trade agenda risks undermining, rather than supporting, the war on terrorism." Well, good for them for patching the whole, just wish they could have come up with the idea on their own without stealing from Democrats. (and despite what Republicans claim-- that Clinton stole their ideas on free trade, deficit reduction, and welfare reform-- it was part of his old DLC platform for many years before he eventually took it up in time for re-election)

Now you are thinking, what was the first thing they stole from PPI? Medicare. I am not saying the idea of Medicare, but how to reform it. In another paper, this time by PPI's By Jeff Lemieux, David B. Kendall, Kerry Tremain, and S. Robert Levine, M.D. In their intro they note the absurdity with the current Medicare system, "Medicare will pay for an expensive and intrusive bypass operation, but not for the drugs that could prevent it. Medicare will pay for an amputation, but rarely provides the education and continuous monitoring services that can prevent people with diabetes from losing limbs."

After catching flak for his first attempt at reforming Medicare, Bush announced "guidelines" for the congress so that he wouldn't have to take the blame-- but would take the credit-- for Medicare reform. He too noted that Medicare won't cover preventative measures that are cheaper than emergency procedures, but paraphrased to the point of plagiarizing the above quote from the PPI.

I guess since they are not in power any more, these Democratic policy wonks who fancy themselves the real shadow government should be pleased when their policies get enacted or acted upon at all.


Thursday, May 08, 2003
 

Entering the fray: Check it out! We've added a bunch of new blogs to our "Links" section [and changed the colors and style of our site], in the hope that by connecting to the blogging community a little more we'll boost our readership. If there's a blog or other link you think is critical to understanding the issues of the day, or that just looks really cool, let us know. When we get around to it, we'll categorize the blogs a bit (though perhaps nothing as ambitious -- or pretentious -- as this) to make them easier to navigate.

If you want us to link to your blog, email us and link to us as well.

 

Shrub done good Maybe I am just in a particularly good mood today (and dear reader, that doesn't happen often I guess), but I felt it was due time to praise the work and efforts of our President Bush and oft-media-maligned Senator Kerry.

What is there to praise you say? Well, for starters, Bush finally let Powell win one and let a guy from State supersede Viceroy Garner. The new kid on the block is Lewis Paul Bremer III.

According to the New York Times "The president turned to Mr. Bremer because he is widely viewed as having both the diplomatic polish and the neoconservative credentials to win support from both the State Department and the Pentagon, senior administration officials said." Well, ok, not exactly what I wanted to hear, but savvy move to shut up the Neo-Cons while he does good work

Of course, the Times has to point out the negative that human rights organizations are against him because "in 2000, Mr. Bremer advocated dropping CIA guidelines restricting the recruitment of sources with records of human rights abuses, over the protests of human rights groups." These groups worry that he will do the same to maintain control over Iraq. Only time will tell. I will say the glass is still half full.

Also, Bush did the right thing by sending Powell to Syria and ignoring the crazy war mongering faction of his administration. Powell made it known that he wanted help on the war on terror, for them to stop supporting terrorist groups like Hezbollah, and to move their occupying forces out of Lebanon, or else. "I can only hold off the nutties for so long, so you better help us out and do what we say, or you could be the next Iraq!" He said in much more subtle, diplomatic way than I just did.

In yet another smart move (man, it must have been a hell of a week at the White House), but started cracking down on my least favorite government agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, or as I like to call them "Pork Project Agency."

Bush killed a $108 million boondoggle called the Oregon Inlet jetties project at age 33. Slate says that "Over the years, the corps has become a true rogue agency, operating virtually independently of its supposed bosses in the executive branch, taking marching orders almost exclusively from the congressional porkers who lard its budget with their pet projects. The corps has clashed with every president since Franklin Roosevelt, and it has won almost every battle, thanks to its protection racket on Capitol Hill. "

How did Bush do it when so many previous presidents had failed? Slate's Michael Grunwald explains that "...the Bush team doesn't allow disloyalty, and it doesn't kowtow to Congress. Instead, it has cut the corps budget, frozen all new construction, and ordered the corps to focus on projects with real benefits and less outrageous environmental costs. The result should save money and wetlands."

Even more good news? Bush has cut U.S. Sanctions on Iraq (now if we could only do the same for Cuba). According to the Washington Post, "The United States, with Britain and Spain, will introduce a U.N. Security Council resolution as early as tomorrow that would halt nearly 13 years of worldwide prohibitions on trade with Iraq and end the United Nations' control over the country's oil exports and revenue, according to senior U.S. and U.N. officials." Predictably, France and Russia are making up some reason to keep their own Army Corps of Engineers, the UN food for oil program. This is a program, which, despite its nice name, is really a way of funneling money into French and Russian companies and a giant multibillion dollar slush fund ripe for the picking. Good for Bush for making them against letting Iraqis get their own money from oil production (even if Halliburton shamelessly makes some money on the side).

Also, all those missing artifacts from Iraqi museums are turning up now that a reward was offered, maybe US AG Ashcroft's claim that this was the work of professional looters was right on.

The Post says "A spokesman for the Homeland Security Department, Dean Boyd, said the recovered artifacts include a broken statue of an Assyrian from the 9th century B.C. and a chest filled with valuable manuscripts and parchments." Wait, what is DHS commenting on this? Is finding Iraqi artifacts an item of domestic security? Oh well, at least some stuff is back where it belongs.

And we can't forget Anthony's post on the release of non-important people from camp X-Ray in Cuba. Finally.

Unfortunately, I do have some bad news to report. With all the power Rumsfeld has accumulated, he was able to fire Enron lackey and then Army Secretary White. Unfortunately, his choice is going to piss off the top brass, again. Slate's Fred Kaplan explains why: " First, he's a 23-year veteran, and retired captain, of the Navy. Second, for the past two years, he's been secretary of the Air Force. It's unusual enough for Rumsfeld to appoint a service secretary who's had no experience with the service in question. It's a blatant poke in the eye to pick someone who comes from a rival service. It's a poke in the eye and a kick in the groin to name someone who's built up years of allegiance to two rivals." Oh well, the score was 6-1

Now on to Sen. Kerry: the New Republic has the scoop that Kerry wants to speak at Bob Jones University. Yes, that Bob Jones. Why would Kerry go were Ashcroft and Bush went and ultimately faced lots of scorn? Sounds strange for a New England Liberal to go you say, well that is because we wants to tell them how wrong their policies of racial segregation was.

According to &c., "Press secretary Robert Gibbs says the remark was 'completely spontaneous on Kerry's part but very serious.' [At a candidate meet-and-greet in Columbia, South Carolina, on May 3, a 53 year-old mother of five asked Kerry if he would come speak at Bob Jones. 'I would love to,' the senator told her, without missing a beat.] Gibbs explains in an e-mail: 'Senator Kerry would love to speak at Bob Jones, challenge the university and tell them everything that George Bush did not have the courage to say in 2000 about views that clearly have no place in our society.'"

"The problem before was that the candidates didn't question the policies," the woman who queried Kerry told TNR. So congrats to Kerry for having courage and for doing what this woman wanted.


 

A LOT OF HOOPLA has been made lately aboard Bush's "stunt" landing aboard the USS Lincoln earlier this week, so I thought I'd offer my two cents on the matter. I agree, in part, with Democrats who are annoyed at the fact that Bush purposely chose a majestic way of boarding the aircraft carrier, almost surely to gain some nice photo-ops that will stick in people's minds when election season rolls around again next year. Yes, he could have easily come in on a helicopter dressed in a fine dark suit and subtle tie, but the opportunity to clad himself in pilot garb as a way of symbolically "coming home" with the rest of the troops at the end of two nasty military campaigns is far too patriotic and impressive for a man desperate for a little political vindication to pass up.

But let's give Bush some credit. Krugman's argument that Bush's military outfit smacked of some sort of totalitarian military state is completely bogus, and not much more than Krugman trying to find something other than the tax cut plan to harp about. I don't think anyone would look at a picture of Bush in a pilot's outfit and confuse that scene with the idea that the President is a member of the military ranks -- the President has always been, and will always be, the civilian, not military, commander of the nation's armed forces. Bush, furthermore, does have a pilot's background, and should be allowed to take the helm of a fighter jet in a peacetime maneuver if he so pleases. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) are now leading the attack on this event on economic grounds, arguing the need for an investigation into the costs of a fighter jet tailhook landing vs. a standard helicopter descent. Officials from the Navy and Pentagon, however, have already pointed out that the additional costs of Bush's landing are virtually negligible, and may even be non-existent due to the fact that a jet landing is technically more efficient than a helicopter landing given the reduced time required to arrive at the carrier (and wouldn't exactly be crowding out additional hospital beds that "could have been provided for the cost of jet fuel"). To argue against this event on symbolic or financial grounds is simply another exercise in tireless Bush-bashing by Democrats and other opponents who can't stand the idea of him enjoying any popularity whatsoever.

Here's a man who has literally put his entire political career on the line in the past few months, and has, for all of his blunders in foreign policy, managed to establish a military goal and carry it out to fruition. He is justifiably delighted to see the end of major conflict in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and was simply looking for a lighthearted, celebratory way of greeting his fellow Americans at the commencement of battle. I don't see the big deal. Like Clinton (who has also worn a pilot's outfit, despite not having a military background), Bush is a true believer in the aphorism that to lead the people, one must walk among them, and if anyone is going to blow up at this effort, then they're clearly running out of fodder for attack.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003
 

Another one bites the dust Amazingly enough, two prominent Senate Democrats have said (besides Hillary) that they won't run for president in 2004.

The newest club member? Ex-Sen. Gary Hart from Colorado, whose "I told you so" dire maker campaign actually had some substantial support and media attention, thanks to his previous runs and sex scandal, bowed out yesterday.

After months of nagging us on the quasi-campaign trail, Hart said in a telephone interview "I've concluded that I do not have sufficient enthusiasm for the mechanical side of campaigning, the money, the media and the polling and so forth to go forward with a campaign." So it wasn't that you would lose miserably? Oh, thanks for clearing that up Mr. "people don't mind that I cheated on my wife and dared the press to follow me around"

That leaves only General Clark and Senator Clinton as the non-candidate candidates, and despite the Wall Street Journal's best efforts, it looks like HRC is going to sit this one out too.

Still, that leaves a precious 2% up for grabs in New Hampshire, according to the latest poll, which has Dean and Kerry tied at 23% and Clark and Hart beating Graham Edwards and Sharpton et al. Of course, Mr. "Undecided" is killing them at 31%.


Tuesday, May 06, 2003
 

And now for something a little different: And to think, there was actually a time during the day when we couldn't blog! Ahem, forgive me, but I don't think I'll be touching that keyboard.

 

The $1 billion man According to CNN and the New York Times, Qusay Hussein yanked a billion out of the Iraqi centeral bank hours before the war began. Hmm, maybe all that saber rattling for months on end really weren't helpful. Steve, aren't you glad you never worked for that central bank?

As if the raping and torturing of Iraqis weren't enough, the Hussein family decided to pull off one of the biggest bank robberies of all time. The Times has the world's most obvious quote in the article too: "'When you get an order from Saddam Hussein, you do not discuss it,' said the Iraqi official, who held a senior position in a bank under Mr. Hussein's government."

Qusay's billfold must have been FAT since his cash loot included "some $900 million in American $100 bills and as much as $100 million worth of euros" it took 3 tractors and a team of workers to load it up and move it out. If it makes you feel any better, this is nearly twice as much as was reportedly looted after the fall of Baghdad, and that was all the now funny money with Saddam's mug on it.

Speaking of funny money, Bush's Budget Director (at the Office of Management and Budget, or OMB) Mitch Daniels, after spending the past two years lying to Congress and the American people about the Bush budget, tax cuts, and federal deficit (he claimed that deficits don't matter, among other things), has decided to resign so that he can lie to the people of Indiana in his campaign for governor of Indiana.

Since Democrats have themselves a third tier candidate running in the form of ex-DNC chair Joe Andrew, it looks like the Democrats will lose this governor's office that had been in Democratic hands since now Sen. Evan Bayh won in 1988.

He once accused New Yorkers of "a little money-grubbing game" for pursuing $20 billion Bush promised -- and later provided -- to rebuild from the Sept. 11 attacks. He called congressional mandates on federal agencies "Lilliputian do's and don'ts," and said, in The Wall Street Journal, about lawmakers, "Their motto is, 'Don't just stand there, spend something.' This is the only way they feel relevant."

It seems like running for office is much easier than selling a tax cut to Congress that Americans don't want or need.


 

Talking Shi'ite: A good piece by Lawrence Kaplan about the growing dangers of clerical extremism in Iraq, much of which is being promulgated from outside forces, that could undermine U.S. efforts to establish a quick and lasting peace in the region as plans for the interim government unfold.

Having made my way through about half of Bernard Lewis' The Middle East, I've already come to realize that, even though Saddam's regime was largely secular, which is unusual for an autocratic regime in that region, in the grand scheme of things Iraq, much like its neighbors, has seen virtually non-stop strife between competing clerical Islamic sects since the days of Muhammed. The political history of Iraq is essentially the story of the Sunnis and Shi'ites battling for control in the name of the prophet. Granted, much of the heat of this conflict has been tempered today by the efforts of the Hussein regime, and most of the vituperations coming from the extreme Shi'ites has been coming from Iranian cohorts trying to stir up tension in the war's aftermath, but this could become a growing issue for ex-Lt. Gen. Jay Garner and his team in attempting to handpick the new Iraqi authority. For democracy to work in a country like Iraq, it will be essential for such religious tension to be quashed in the political arena, and I think both the Pentagon and State Department, for all their differences, at least understand this crucial point. Nevertheless, the search for the post-Saddam government will undoubtedly be a difficult balancing act between finding members of the more moderate Iraqi secular elite to become national leaders and avoiding fanning the flames of religious conflict that has been inveterate in the region for centuries.


Monday, May 05, 2003
 

A step in the right direction: U.S. DOJ officials have announced that they will begin the release of a small number of the 600+ men, women, and children currently being detained at the Gulag-type detention camp at Guantanomo Bay . Justice officials have been arguing for months that a loophole in the current law allows these suspects, most of whom have been captured from the anti-terror campaign conducted in Afghanistan and many of whom are considered top Al Qaeda soldiers and/or sympathizers, to remain in detention with access to a trial or any sort of judicial proceeding. The freeing of suspects, however, who have been thoroughly interrogated and declared not to be complicit in any terror-related crimes represents an important move for the DOJ in terms of providing slightly swifter justice and a greater attention to civil proceedings over at the Cuban purgatory, and could lead to greater disclosure of facts and evidence as the case for a war crimes tribunal to address those legitimately detained grows stronger.

 

And the results are in The Four Corners or at least I will, grade the nine (that's right 9) Democratic candidates for president who debated under the cloak of darkness (three whole stars worth, thanks to Lieberman) Saturday night. Scarily, my review is a similar assessment to that of the New York Times' token conservative, William Safire.

Without further ado, here they are in alphabetical order:

Dean: "gentleman's C" he stuck to his same old arguing points and kept up the offensive against Kerry and now Gephardt, his two challenges to win New Hampshire and Iowa, respectively. Best line: "I wish that if Sen. Kerry had problems with my ability so serve as Commander-in-Chief, he would have the courage to tell it to my face!" Best cut down by an opponent: Tie, Lieberman and Kerry, for saying A none of the presidentials will be able to win if they are seen as weak on defense and national security and that B, Kerry, a decorated Vietnam vet, doesn't need lectures in courage from the likes of draft avoiding Dean.

Edwards: "B-" opened a new line of attach against Gephardt health care plan that I failed to point out, that middle class Americans who already have health insurance through their employers would be worse off under G's plan, since he would raise their taxes. The minus is because he started into the whole rapidly anti-corporate saying of "you're in good hands with Enron." Equating all companies to those who robbed and stole from their investors and employees to those who just can't afford to offer health insurance to their employees. (Mine is nearly one of them).

Gephardt: "C-" Spent most of the night on the defensive and really had not much to say other than the Gore-eque "Under my plan." Best line: "Let's stop critiquing other people's plans and start solving this problem at has bedeviled us for a 100 years!" Sadly, this is also his worst line, since what makes him so great that he can solve this problem that has supposedly been a problem for exactly a century (where do you get your numbers, Mr. Minority Leader?) and more importantly, if you have so many great ideas, why didn't you propose them in your decades in congress? Maybe if you had, you would be Speaker now. Best cut down by an opponent: Edwards (see Edwards)

Graham: "C" Old Grandpa is off his meds again yet didn't rage about homeland security. Still, some one let him out of the Senate and into the debate, zzzzz. Best Line: "I represent the electable wing of the Democratic Party!" Too bad it doesn't get as many cheers as Dean's, which was stolen right out of Sen. Welstone's (whom he belatedly gave credit to after a tongue lashing from the Senator's sons). Other that his resume, does he have anything to offer? Personality?

Kerry: "C+" Opened the night attacking Dean but really dragged himself down into the mud. And, he was hoarse all night, which might be from some great stump speeches all over the South, we can only hope. Best line: "Well I guess I should go disappear and contemplate that alone some where." -- in response to Stephanopoulos' critique that Kerry is aloof. Worst part is, he kept praising himself and raising Vietnam so much that it wasn't a badge of honor but a bragging right to bash over everyone's head. Best cut down by an opponent: Tie, Lieberman and Dean By calling him a coward and wiffle waffler on everything, especially the war.

Kucinich: "F-" Once again, he lived up to Ed Kilgore's line that "The Kucinich campaign is sort of the Unclaimed Freight Outlet of Democratic politics, retailing every failed or outdated lefty idea with a fierce and touching passion." For example, Dennis demanded to raise payroll taxes-- by 6%-- on corporations, to make sure that teh U.S. economy looses even more jobs, and if that weren't enough, he wanted to join Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan in the isolationist anti-trade wing by saying he would repeal the WTO and NAFTA. What's even better? I learned that when he was mayor of Cleveland, the city went bankrupt. Who was Cleveland's savior? Not Drew Carey, but now Senator Voinovich, who I hope will be the next Sen. Jeffords. Keep on pushing W!

Lieberman: "B" To my amazement, Lieberman sounded actually more presidential than any of them. Unfortunately, he stole lines right out of DLC political memos, but the points are valid (see Dean). Best Line: "I want to strangle you George," in response to Stephanopoulos' criticism that he was "too nice to beat George W. Bush" too bad, at that point, he started to sound like the VP candidate that managed to get creamed by Cheney in the VP debates of 2000. Too Elmer Fuddy for my taste.

Mosley Braun: "F" What's the point, really? How much are they really paying her? Best line: "I am a former senator, a former ambassador, and a former democrat!" -- at Congressman Jim Clyburn's Fish Fry the night before. If she is not aiming for another appointment, I really think that is not the best path to take. Some one needs to tell her and the other three dream on candidates off. Let's hope it is a Blair Democrat who sprouts some balls, pardon my French.

Sharpton "C-" Why higher than ex-Carol or soon to be ex-Kucinich? Because at least he is funny, and he tried not be his usual I-am-trying-to-drag-the-Democratic-Party-down-with-me self. Best Line: "Bush's tax cut, even the smaller parts that went to middle class Americans... it's like [South American cult leader] Jim Jones giving you Kool-Aid: it tastes good, but it'll kill ya!"

For once, I agree with you, Reverend.