Tuesday, June 17, 2003

So it turns out that the prescription drug plan is hated by

* Rush Limbaugh,

* the Heritage Foundation, and

* the libertarians at Capitalism Magazine.

And yet it looks as if Bush will sign whatever prescription drug bill gets through Congress.

I'm a bit puzzled by this. I've never known Bush to offend his base. I guess he and Rove think they'll win a lot of seniors' votes while possibly losing a handful of votes to, perhaps, the Libertarian Party in '04.

And I half-suspet that the ex-drunk has become a bit excited at the realization that he's running up the deficit in the utterly heedless way he used to run up bar tabs. I really do think he's drunk on deficit spending -- he understands the far-right theory that damn-the-torpedoes deficit spending is a surefire way to bankrupt the federal treasury, after which huge cuts in social programs will be all but inevitable, and he's figured out that running up deficits is fun. So who knows? Maybe we'll (temporarily) get a few more social programs out of him -- even as he keeps the tax cuts coming.

But it's all going to be pretty awful when the bill comes due.
You might be interested to know that in Christopher Hitchens's Atlantic Monthly review of Sidney Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars, the word "I" or some form of it ("I've," "I'd") appears a rather remarkable 91 times.

Yes, I know: Hitchens figures prominently in Blumenthal's book. But doesn't that mean he shouldn't be reviewing the book for The Atlantic? When did it become acceptable to assign reviews to writers with a vested interest in the failure of the book under review?

If Hitchens can review The Clinton Wars for The Atlantic, and Joseph Lelyveld can review it for The New York Review of Books, shouldn't some publication hire Bill Clinton to review Ann Coulter's next book? Shouldn't Howell Raines get to review the next volume by Andrew Sullivan? Should David Denby and Anthony Lane step aside at The New Yoker while Mia Farrow reviews the next Woody Allen movie? Should The Source assign DMX to review Ja Rule's latest CD?

Or is hiring a reviewer with an axe to grind acceptable only when the target of the axe is connected with the Clinton administration?
The FBI has just issued crime statistics for 2002. An FBI press release is here. Comparisons of 2002 and 2001 crime in dozens of major cities are here (warning: this is a PDF file).

Here are some of the results, according to the press release:

... overall violent crime decreased 1.4 percent. Among individual violent crimes, murder and forcible rape both showed increases, 0.8 percent and 4.0 percent, respectively. ...

Law enforcement agencies, collectively, within three of the Nation's four geographic regions reported data that showed decreases in their Crime Index in 2002. Those in the Northeast reported the greatest decline, 3.3 percent;followed by the Midwest, 2.1 percent; and the South, 0.1 percent. The agencies in the West reported data that showed a 2.9-percent increase in that region's Crime Index.

The volume of violent crime overall decreased in all four regions. Violent crime was down 2.8 percent in the Northeast, 1.3 percent in the South, 1.2 percent in the Midwest, and 0.6 percent in the West. As for property crime, the overall total in the West rose 3.4 percent, and that in the South increased slightly (0.1 percent). Conversely, the volume of property crime reported by agencies in the Northeast declined 3.4 percent, and that reported by agencies in the Midwest decreased 2.2 percent.

By region, the number of murders in the West rose 5.2 percent, and the number in the South increased 2.1 percent. The Northeast saw a 4.8-percent decline in the number of murders and the Midwest, a 2.8-percent decrease.


I don't get it.

For years, conservatives have told us that the decadent, depraved Bill Clinton embodied our national moral decline -- some argued that he influenced others to commit crimes. But now he's out of office. Shouldn't we be seeing a steady, inexorable decline in crime?

Conservatives have also argued that residents of "red" (Bush) states have stronger moral values than residents of "blue" (Gore) states. If that's the case, why the increases in the crime index in Plano and Lubbock, Texas, while the crime index declined in New York City and Boston?

Conservative gun advocates have argued that allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons reduces crime. But many states now permit concealed carry of weapons. Why isn't crime, especially violent crime, skyrocketing in states and localities that don't? Shouldn't thugs naturally be gravitating to places where citizens walk around gunless? Why did murder, in fact, decline in the gun-law-friendly North and Midwest, while rising in the South and West?

It couldn't be that conservatives are feeding us a lot of malarkey -- could it?
Isn't it strange that the very same people who were prepared to give the United Nations weapons inspectors months and even years to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq are screaming after just a few weeks that our failure to discover them is proof of a hoax?

--first paragraph of the latest column by syndicated right-wing pundit Mona Charen

No.

Saddam's regime was in power when the UN inspectors were there; it isn't now. U.S. and British forces control the country. They have the run of the place. It should be a hell of a lot easier for them to find what they're looking for than it was for inspectors in the Saddam era, shouldn't it? Soldiers have had no trouble finding horrific prisons and mass graves. Why no WMDs?

And isn't it amazing that the very same people who believe Saddam never had weapons of mass destruction also believe that Hillary found out the truth about Monica only two days before Bill Clinton's grand jury testimony?

--beginning of the second paragraph of Charen's column

No.

Then again, it's hard to answer this question because the group to which Charen refers -- "people who believe Saddam never had weapons of mass destruction" -- simply does not exist. Everyone knows the Kurds were gassed more than a decade ago. Everyone knows Saddam has had banned weapons. The question is whether there were still banned weapons in Iraq at the time of the war (opponents of the war are split on this question) and (more important) whether those weapons, if they existed, posed an imminent threat to America or U.S. interests (two wars, no deployment by Saddam against U.S. troops marching on his own turf -- it sure looks as if he was never going to send anthrax in an ICBM to Disneyland, doesn't it?). And it beats the hell out of me how all this relates to what Hillary Clinton knew, or believed, or couldn't bring herself to believe before her husband fessed up.

Good Lord, is this the best the GOP can do?

Monday, June 16, 2003

In The New York Review of Books, Edward Sheehan reminds us of one reason that Palestinians are a bit cranky: Israel is building a security fence around the West Bank that effectively appropriates land while isolating Palestinians.

Near Qalqilya the fence deviates from the green line [the internationally recognized border between Israel and the West Bank] to protect the Jewish settlements of Zufin, Alfe Menashe, and Oranit, in effect incorporating them into Israel proper while isolating the Arab villages of Jayus, Ras Atiya, Daba, Ras Tireh, and Habla and cutting them off from their farmlands.

The mayor of Qalqilya told me that thousands of his people have fled abroad in search of work, and that thousands more have become "internal refugees" chased from their land and reduced to penury. "Fifteen aquifer wells in the area of Qalqilya have been taken by the Israelis, who have diverted the waters for their own use," the mayor said. "This destroys our agriculture and our source of income. Qalqilya is being choked to death." Western aid officials in the West Bank told me that the Israelis are working twenty-four hours a day to complete the fence, apparently intending it to form a new border of the West Bank before peace negotiations get underway.


As Jonathan Cook wrote recently in the International Herald Tribune,

Little attention has focused on this wall, mainly because it is assumed it follows the Green Line.... But Sharon admitted in a recent interview with the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth that the wall will be at least 1,000 kilometers long (625 miles), whereas the Green Line is only 360 kilometers long.
.
Why does it need to be so long? Because Sharon is less interested in preventing suicide bombers than in creating a tiny de facto Palestinian state before the road map forces a bigger one on him.


Palestinians call the fence the "apartheid wall." Gideon Levy, writing in Ha'aretz, describes the effect of the wall on one village:

During the first week of September, the farmers discovered papers scattered about in their fields: They were the expropriation orders. A map was enclosed, too. Khaled [a hydrologist and activist] says that from the papers and the map that they received, it turns out that the width of the fence will be 55-58 meters, and that 292 dunams [about 75 acres], along 4,100 meters, will be expropriated from the village. "Afterward we discovered that 600 dunams will be requisitioned along 6,000 meters," said Khaled....

"These are not barren lands, these are cultivated lands," he emphasizes. There are 120 hothouses, each one producing 35 tons of tomatoes (or cucumbers) a year. Seven wells, which the residents of the village share, have also remained beyond the wall. Seven-hundred dunams [175 acres] of orchards and 500 dunams [125 acres] of fruits and vegetables and 3,000 dunams of olives and the rest are grazing lands....

The hydrologist explains: "There are 65,000 days of work for this community [Jiyus] to be found beyond the wall." And what will happen in the summer, he asked, to those whose water is in wells on the other side?

"If these fields aren't irrigated, there will be an environmental catastrophe. In any case, six of the seven paths to the village fields had already been blocked by the Israel Defense Forces - even before the advent of the fence. Even now it takes two hours in each direction to reach the plots, and the whole day is wasted on how to reach the field and to return. The cultivation of the land is a family project. What will happen if they impose a tax on us for crossing over? ..."


Ran HaCohen, writing for Palestinechronicle.com, tells similar stories; on view at the link is a map meant to show just how much land the wall will exclude from Palestinian control:

Leaving the lion's share of the West Bank outside the Wall in Israeli hands, even what looks like two contiguous Bantustans are in fact crisscrossed by chains of Israeli settlements and roads-for-Jews-only.

None of this justifies terrorism -- but it certainly justifies anger.
The American military sweeps are accompanied by an episodic "hearts-and-minds" campaign orchestrated by the army's Psychological Warfare Unit. US soldiers were distributing coloured leaflets yesterday showing a picture of Iraqi children dutifully sweeping the streets under the watchful eye of an American Humvee armoured car.

--Independent (U.K.)

(Spotted by Billmon at Whiskey Bar.)
From Britain's Telegraph:

America's rebuilding of Iraq is in chaos, say British

The American-led reconstruction effort in Iraq is "in chaos" and suffering from "a complete absence of strategic direction", a very senior British official in Baghdad has told The Telegraph.

The comments paint a grim picture of American incompetence and mismanagement as the Coalition Provisional Authority struggles to run post-Saddam Iraq.

"This is the single most chaotic organisation I have ever worked for," the official said yesterday.

The source revealed that Paul Bremer, the US administrator in Iraq, had "fewer than 600" staff under his control to run a country the size of France in which the civil infrastructure was on the point of collapse.

"The operation is chronically under-resourced and suffers from an almost complete absence of strategic direction," he added....

Some April salaries remain unpaid and the electricity supply remains extremely unreliable.

The heavy-handed presence of American soldiers and, perhaps more importantly, the lack of any visible Iraqi partnership in Government is further fuelling resentment....

Not satisfied with the field of Democratic presidential candidates? Maybe this guy should be persuaded to run. If we want to talk about what's wrong with having a nation dominated by the Republican Party, the story of what the GOP did to him -- in spite of the fact that he proved his loyalty to his country decades ago by losing three limbs in Vietnam -- is a pretty good place to start.
What's issue #1 right now among the right-wingers who congregate at FreeRepublic.com? The road map? Tax cuts for low-income workers? Disappearing WMDs in Iraq? Nope. Issue #1 is:

Hillary's book tour -- should I protest it in a devil suit?

Check out excerpts of the Freepers' debate:

ok...no devil suits at our FReeping, it just makes ourside look silly and foolish. :o)

*****

You are not up to speed on the history of the "Devil Suit" or the fact that its appearance (and its wearer) drives Hillary crazy.

*****

Personally, (I am not kidding either) I went on line looking for a Hillary mask..They run between $19.50 -$ 41.00

Now I want to call and see how much a witch costume costs to rent!

*****

Suit yourself....but when this hits the 5pm news on WGN, Chicago NBC, ABC & CBS....I assure you the only person that will have appeared to be there protesting is you. They will make no mention of me and my daughters or anyone else that the media deems "mainstream" being there. It will all be about the woman in the witch suit.

*****

Heck, if I thought it'd not be lost on them, I'd show up on the 28th in my full Pooh Bear suit with a sign that read "Hillary's book should be put under Children's Fantasy"

*****

I thought the message was to the general population??? I thought we were trying to expose Hitlary for what she really is???? My bad....so all you care about is if SHE gets the message??? The rest of the undecided voting citizens that might see the way the media portrays this, be damned???? Sounds counter-productive to me....Hitlary KNOWS what/who she is....it's the rest of the world I want to expose her to, so therefore, I protest with the rest of the world as my audiance and not some lying loathsome radical left wing commie live in a fantasy world power hungry money grabbing calling her a snake or witch would be too good for her "senator". See my point????

Who are you trying to get your message to??? The voters or "Senator Hitlary"???

*****

...the more I think about my Pooh Bear costume...it might be the perfect costume on so many levels....representing "fantasy/fiction" (where Hitlary's book belongs) and a "big POOH" (which everything she writes is a big pile of!)...of course, the twisted & intelligent line of thinking on that one would DEFINITELY be lost on the majority of the uneducated left. ;o)

*****

Well, we could just sing "ding dong the witch is dead"...but then, that's not true (unfortunately) and well, we might be viewed as REALLY radical extremists forumlating a plot of murder, and I don't want to be put in the same class as the Clintoons. :oP

*****

We could just thow water on her and see what happens, though!

*****

I was in Walmart a bit ago and Hitlary's book was right there staring me in the face (I made sure as childish as it was that I flicked it hard with my finger)...then I turn to the magazine rack and the WITCH is on the front cover of TIME...sign on to MSN today and she's on the front page there!!! She's getting her message out in a BIG way!!! (or at least her ugly face) I did find it funny that on the time cover the headline was something to the effects of "Hillary Clinton tells her story" that's what it is alright.... A STORY..not fact, not history...A STORY!!!!

...Dressing up in the theatrics is great....as long as it's done by people that are NOT overly emotional....


Remember: The law not only permits these people to roam around free, it allows them to vote and own property.
Thank you, Atrios, for spotting the story about plans to rush the environmental review of the Ground Zero monument in lower Manhattan in time to "allow [officials] to lay the cornerstone of a 1,776-foot tower in August 2004, during the Republican Convention" -- and thanks to Thorswitch at Different Strings for posting a scan of the article in its original form, with the headline "Goal Is To Lay Cornerstone at Ground Zero During GOP Convention" (in the online incarnation, this point is obscured).

Maybe -- maybe -- public exposure short-circuited this attempt to put a GOP brand on September 11. But I'm sure there's going to be a lot more where this came from. I put nothing past these people. A Bush acceptance speech at Ground Zero, delivered via bullhorn? Bush's name put in nomination by a 9/11 firefighter or Pfc. Jessica Lynch? Think of the most shameless, nakledly partisan idea you can imagine and know that someone involved in the campaign has seriously considered it.
Elsewhere in the letters to the Times Magazine, Nicole Boyd of New York writes this about an article on Howard Dean:

I am curious about why you decided to go with a cartoon image to illustrate this article. Perhaps Dean's long-shot status would change if you gave him a full-page photo. It seems to me that the press has a responsibility to increase face recognition of presidential candidates to facilitate a true democratic process at election time.

Obviously, Dean wouldn't suddenly find himself neck-and-neck with Bush if the Times ran a photo of him rather than a cartoon, but the point she's trying to make is correct: The nine Democrats who want to run against Bush look silly and insignificant in large part because the press is portraying them as silly and insignificant.

Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler regularly talks about the way the press settles on "a story it likes" and persists in telling that story regardless of whether the facts support it. In the 2000 presidential campaign, the press settled on a story that Al Gore would do anything to win, especially lie, while Bush was what he said he was, a "compassionate conservative" (as opposed to a nasty far-rightist), and was a bit dim but essentially honest.

That storyline took a while to evolve. This year, however, I'm afraid the Beltway press has decided on a story it likes already -- more than a year before the election and many months before the first primary. The story is: Bush has become something more than human; 9/11 did for him what Excalibur did for King Arthur, what radiation did for Spider-Man, and now he is a breathtakingly strong leader, an amazingly popular politician, and simply too great for any mere Democrat to beat.

Consider the lead story in the Sunday New York Times, "Fund-Raising Push by Bush Will Put Rivals Far Behind" by Richard Stevenson and Adam Nagourney. It's bad enough that the article, apart from a grumbling Howard Dean quote near the end, presents Bush's fund-raising as a wholly innocent activity (which is certainly not the way fund-raising was depicted during the Clinton presidency). What's worse is that Bush is depicted as nearly godlike -- even in the process of grubbing for campaign cash:

...Mr. Bush seems well on his way to shattering the fund-raising record he himself set in the 2000 race, when he took in $100 million in his fight for the Republican nomination, redefining standards for modern-day presidential fund-raising.

Even coming close would confirm what many strategists consider to be among Mr. Bush's biggest advantages over the field of Democrats: his ability to command huge sums of money with a minimal investment of time and energy. As Mr. Bush breezes in and out of fund-raisers packed with donors whom aides describe as falling over one another to write checks, the nine Democrats have been largely forced off the campaign trail to deal with fund-raising demands that have emerged as a tremendous drain on their time and resources....

"No one is turning down any of the calls or saying, `I don't want to contribute,' " said one of Mr. Bush's most active fund-raisers, reporting on the responses to the solicitations that began two weeks after the president declared major combat operations in Iraq to be complete. "It's just a matter of finding someone who hasn't already gotten calls from other people making calls."...

Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri typically spends eight hours a day trying to round up money, an aide said, making the kind of personal telephone solicitations that would be unthinkable for Mr. Bush, who will probably spend 25 minutes or so on stage at the Hilton before his motorcade whisks him back home.

"The fundamental difference is that Bush himself spends no time on it," said Steve Elmendorf, a senior adviser to Mr. Gephardt. "He gets on a plane, shows up for 15 minutes and leaves. And each of these candidates spends volumes of time on the phone asking for money."...


Watch for this Bush-as-god stuff -- you'll see a lot more of it in the next seventeen months, which is why I don't hold out much hope for the Democrats in '04.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

A couple of reasonably good letters to The New York Times Magazine in response to a recent article on "Hipublicans" -- allegedly hip GOP college kids:

If I were to bump into the Democratic National Committee chairman, Terry McAuliffe, I would staple John Colapinto's article to his forehead (May 25). These conservative campus groups are well organized and financed! The political right is stealing the hearts of kids. Why can't the leaders of the left stop reveling in their glorious past and fight this conservative wave head on. There are people on the left, like myself, who would laugh at Charles Mitchell's dorm-room decor, then ''deconstruct'' it Hunter Thompson-style.

William Kleppel

Mount Kisco, N.Y.

*******

I was puzzled by the way the conservative movement portrays itself as under attack by liberals. The president of the United States is a conservative. The majority leader of the Senate is a Republican. I'm not sure what these college students think they are fighting for except preservation of the status quo.

Zaahira S. Wyne

Fredericksburg, Va.


But Robert L. Mills of Monroe, Connecticut, a defender of the Hipublicans, writes this:

...Young people also have little patience for the concept of victimization. The victim culture doesn't add up, and college kids are quick to sense it.

Young people have little patience for the concept of victimization? Has this letter-writer listened to any commercial rock music of the past ten years? Would someone please e-mail Mr. Mills an MP3 of "Crawling" by Linkin Park?

(And actually, I think there's a fairly thin line between youthful self-pity and the youthful interest in justice -- both derive from a focus on fairness that older people tend to lose.)
Iraq is in most respects further along the road to recovery than we could have expected before the war. All major public hospitals in Baghdad are again operating. Sixty percent of Iraq's schools are open. Nationwide distribution of food supplies has resumed. Despite some damage to the oil wells, petroleum production exceeds domestic needs, and exports should begin again soon. More Iraqis are receiving electric power than before the war.

--George Ward, former coordinator for humanitarian assistance in the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Iraq, writing in Friday's New York Times

The press communiqu├ęs put out by ORHA, America's Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, have the tone of a publicity agent's handout. Every little step, such as paying doctors an emergency $20 wage, is declared a historic leap toward democracy. On the ground it is hard to see much improvement. The phones are still broken, power still sporadic, money scarce, prices soaring, shortages everywhere, and security largely absent. Iraqis observe, by way of contrast, that during the Gulf War of 1991, when bomb damage was far more extensive, there was hardly a pause in the payment of state salaries.

--Max Rodenbeck, Middle East correspondent for The Economist, writing from Baghdad in The New York Review of Books

Friday, June 13, 2003

Hillary Clinton's book is selling, and conservatives just can't stand it. No one's more upset than Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online -- he posted this yesterday to NRO's blog The Corner, then posted a link to this, from blogger Donald Sensing.

Let me try to sort out the stupidity from the nonsense. First, Goldberg:

The "leak" to the Associated Press was bogus and almost certainly came from Simon and Schuster. It helped book sales, generated buzz and was timed perfectly. The idea that they were angry didn't pass the laugh test.

OK, Jonah probably gets one right -- but so what? The controlled leak is a common practice in publishing, the movie biz, the music biz....

Simon and Schuster claims they printed 1 million copies. People I've talked to say this is probably a lie.

Maybe, maybe not -- but if not, it looks as if S&S should have.

Simon and Schuster claimed yesterday that they sold 20 percent or 200,000 copies of the book on its first day. Not only do I think this is impossible, given purely anecdotal information, I'm confident it is impossible that Simon and Schuster could actually know if they sold that many books. Such numbers are notoriously difficult to collect months after the fact. The idea that S&S got same-day data strikes me as bizarre. How come we've never gotten same day info like this before? Will we ever get it again? I don't think so.

Even Goldberg's blog-mate, Richard Brookhiser, knows this is nonsense. Publishers can get continually updated information from the major chains and "the clubs" (e.g., Sam's Club at Wal-Mart), as well as from national distributors. Publishers also know that X% of a typical book's total sales (I don't know the exact percentage, but it's widely known in the book biz) will take place at Barnes & Noble -- and can estimate total sales from that.

What baffles me about this is that Goldberg's mother, Lucianne, has been in the book business, as an agent and writer, for decades. Why isn't he able to glean this information?

If they really printed 1 million copies, why does S&S need to order another 300,000 copies? Why is it saying that they're making another reprint order next week on top of that? Surely, they don't think the 800,000 books remaining on the shelves constitutes a low supply?

Books aren't blogs -- they don't generate new copies automatically. It takes a while to print, bind, and ship books. S&S now is anticipating inventory shortfalls a couple of weeks from now.

Now, Sensing:

I predicted this morning that Hillary Clinton's book, Living History, set for June 9 release, will wind up in the remainder bins at bookstores by the end of June.

Sensing updated this, citing "a book-industry insider." His insider said,

I don't disagree with the spirit of your prediction, but I think the end of June timeframe is aggressive [for the book to start being remaindered].

I'll say. Even bomb books don't hit the remainder tables until about a year (or more) after publication. Some books are "remaindered in place" (alternate name: "shared markdown") -- these are newer books that are selling slowly. Publisher and bookseller agree to each take less money per copy, and the book stays on the new-book shelf, but at a significantly reduced price (usually 50% off). A true reminder is marked down much lower -- well under $10.00 (Hillary's book at 50% off list price would be $14).

In the book business, a first run of 100,000 is considered the benchmark for a large run. It is common for the number of first-run books actually printed to be very much smaller than the hype-ridden number first announced.

Sensing's insider also updates this:

BTW, in regard to first print runs, of course for a Harry Potter, or John Grisham, where the publisher doesn't need to hype, you can take those initial printrun numbers literally.

And it looks as if Hillary Clinton -- like, say, Colin Powell a decade ago -- may be in that category.

It's also common for the list price of major-hype books to be inflated so that they can immediately be discounted by retailers, with the result that the actual sale price is what the publisher wants to charge to begin with. Example: J. K. Rowling's next Harry Potter book, due out June 21, lists at $29.99; Amazon is pre-selling it for $17.99. Amazon does not list Living History, but Barnesandnoble.com does, list price given as $28, preselling for $19.60.

Yes, but if you buy Living History six months from now, you'll probably pay full price for it -- and even today you might pay full price at an independent bookshop. What is Sensing saying? That people who bought the book at discount didn't "really" buy it?

The book is selling. Deal with it.
Conservatives are shocked, shocked, that Hillary Clinton acknowledges the help of professional writers in her new book. TBOGG, quite sensibly, responds by pointing to An American Life, Ronald Reagan's last Great Communication. Did the Gipper write it himself? Well, do yourself a favor: If you're in a big bookstore, check out the acknowledgment of the writers in Hillary's book. Then go find a copy of Reagan's book and note the similarities in what Reagan says about Robert Lindsey, author of the bestseller The Falcon and the Snowman and collaborator on Marlon Brando's memoir. Now do you think Ronnie wrote his own book?
I see that Matt Drudge is whining again about the cost of John Kerry's haircuts ("Sen. John Kerry was back at Salon Christophe Thursday, sources tell DRUDGE, this for an $80 trim"). Don't forget what I told you last year: Bush may not spend much on his hair, but when it comes to cowboy boots, apparently money is no object. (UPDATE: Sorry -- I misread that; Bush's father was the boot buyer.)

(If the link to my blog doesn't work, go to Tuesday, December 03, 2002, 2:01 PM.)
When I was listening to NPR's report on the child-credit bill this morning, did I hear Democratic congressman Martin Frost use the "debt tax"? That's not bad -- it's a memorable term for the burden GOP deficit spending imposes on citizens. Unfortunately, it sounds like "death tax," the conservative-PC term for the estate tax -- nevertheless, I'd be very happy if "debt tax" became part of our political language.
The Washington Post story I quote directly below says that the House version of the new tax-cut bill "would provide the same tax credit for those low-income families" as the Senate version. Of course, that's a tad inaccurate -- as The New York Times puts it,

Over the furious objections of Democrats who were not allowed to bring up an alternative measure, House Republicans voted not to include language from a bill passed by the Senate last week that would immediately send checks of up to $400 per child to families with minimum-wage incomes. While those families, making between $10,500 and $26,625, could get the increased credits under the House bill, they could have to wait until next year and claim a refund when filing their tax return.

Um, that's a big difference. Why didn't the Post story mention it?

*******

Oh, well maybe this is the reason: A newer WashPost story says,

House Republicans said the bill doesn't prohibit the Treasury Department from issuing checks to low-income families later this year, leaving open the possibility that the final version negotiated between the House and Senate will include rebates for those families this fall.

"We intend to get these checks out as quickly as possible," said John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

A House Ways and Means Committee aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the committee made a practical decision not to write in instructions for Treasury to send advance refunds and allow low-income families to claim the bigger refund in 2004. They did not want to delay checks already scheduled to go to 25 million families, and a second round of checks would be costly and burdensome to the Internal Revenue Service.


So, instead of ensuring that low-income families get refunds, they voted to just to make it possible (but not inevitable) for low-income families to get refunds -- and then claimed they did so because they really, really care -- about people who need the credit less, some of them a lot less.

Oh, and I love the part about wanting to spare the IRS a second round of check-mailing because it "would be costly and burdensome." The debt this year is going to be $400 billion, payable by our kids? Shouldn't these guys have been worrying about what's "costly and burdensome" a long time ago?
I fear the Democrats are about to have another Elmer Fudd moment...

The House narrowly passed an $82 billion bill yesterday providing tax relief for 6.5 million poor families, along with tax cuts for military families and astronauts who die in shuttle missions.

The 224 to 201 vote sets up a fight with the Senate, which adopted a more modest $10 billion bill last week. The Senate version would provide a $1,000 per-child tax credit for families earning $10,500 to $26,000 a year until 2005....

The House bill would provide the same tax credit for those low-income families, but for 10 years. It would give members of the military an additional $800 million in tax breaks for housing, death benefits and dependent care....

The House's decision to broaden and extend the proposed tax cuts could doom the enhanced child credit for low-income parents altogether. The reason is that several senators are threatening to filibuster the House version because it exceeds their preset budget limits....


--Washington Post

Not long ago, the Democrats were urging Bush to establish a Department of Homeland Security. He refused, then changed his mind and made it seem like his idea -- and then the Democrats began fighting the bill that established the department because it denied collective bargaining rights to federal workers who already had them. And so the Democrats looked like bad soldiers in the war on terror -- just in time for the '02 elections. Clever Democratic plans blows up in their faces. An Elmer Fudd moment.

Now we have the Democrats shaming the Republicans for denying the child tax credit to low-income workers. But the Republicans are about to lead the Democrats to the dynamite again: the Dems can't filibuster even a budget-busting bill that provides this tax cut without looking bad.

But I bet they're going to do it.

Elmer Fudd redux.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Two letters to The New York Times in response to this Thomas Friedman Op-Ed piece:

To the Editor:

Re "Read My Lips" (column, June 11):

There is an obvious problem with Thomas L. Friedman's premise.

Everyone wants lower taxes, but many of us do want service cuts because the federal government has assumed responsibilities and has made promises it simply cannot afford without stifling our economy.

Mr. Friedman's assumption that no one wants service cuts reflects the kind of elitist thinking that we find so maddening here in the "red states."

PETER BRUIN HAYS III

Estes Park, Colo., June 11, 2003



To the Editor:

Re "Read My Lips," by Thomas L. Friedman (column, June 11):

Yes to no new services, and let's get rid of some of the old ones while we're at it. We have had way more than enough "services" for decades! It's about time that somebody finally understands!

I hope to see those bumper stickers in 2004. Of course, I hope that people would realize what the slogan means: a cut in services means a cut in expenses means a cut in government intrusion into our daily lives!

Isn't it about time that we rewarded ourselves with freedom again?

Disclaimer: the government has likely refined its methods of intrusion, so it could feasibly cut back and still intrude more. So let's cut the budget even more and not let that happen.

PAUL MCCORD

Macon, Ga., June 11, 2003


Which services don't these people want? Which services do they consider "intrusion"? Would they be so kind as to tell us?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I've had it with this vague, nonspecific whining about government excess. You want to cut government? Tell me the list of programs you want to eliminate. The rest of us are citizens, too, and we just might want the services you turn up your nose at. And we need to know what you want to cut because we know you think service cuts are the easy way to solvency -- and you may well be wrong. We don't know if your preferred list of cuts will balance the books unless you tell us what the list is. So put your damn cards on the table.
Polling Report tells us that Bush's approval rating is below 60% in the three most recent polls it's reporting -- from Zogby, Quinnipiac, and Investor's Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor.

Oh, and even Fox News's polling unit says that the number of Americans who think the economy will get worse exceeds the number who think it's getting better.

FoxNews.com has a recurring feature called Tongue Tied, which is intended to expose "politically correct" speech and similar offenses to fair, balanced right-thinkers everywhere. But Fox apparently has no plans to expose its own bizarre "politically correct" term for certain kinds of terrorist attacks -- the ones you and I know as "suicide bombings." It's taboo to use that term at Fox. The politically correct term at the right-wing news network is "homicide bombings"; that's what they're called here, here, and here.

The conservative argument for this PC usage is that "suicide bombing" doesn't adequately suggest malign intent. That's nonsense. In standard English, a "bomber" is always someone whose intent is to harm life or property; a "bombing" is always a malign act. (We have a completely separate term for the benign use of explosive devices -- "demolition.") A "suicide bomber" is a threat to peace because he or she is a bomber.

There's another reason to criticize the use of the term "homicide bomber" -- logically, a bomber who detonates a lethal bomb and doesn't seek to die in the blast is also a "homicide bomber," but politically correct right-wingers don't use the term to refer to such people. For example, Eric Rudolph was recently arrested in connection with a series of bombings; victims in two of these bombings died. Yet Fox News doesn't call speak of "homicide bombings," or call Rudolph an (alleged) "homicide bomber," in this article, or this one, or this one, or this one, or this one, or this one, or this one, or this one, or this one, or this one. Why not?

Obviously, a suicide bombing is an act that's distinct from most other bombings -- it's intended to cause harm and strike fear without leaving a perpetrator to prosecute or question; the perpetrator can attack a shoot-to-kill roadblock with impunity, having no intention of surviving. Everyone understands this. Everyone knows why suicide bombings are particularly devastating. But right-wing political correctness compels Fox News to ignore what everyone knows.
Well, I was close. At the end of this post (Wednesday, May 14, 2003, 12:59 P.M., if the link is bloggered), I said that all the hate and bile in Andrew Sullivan's New York Observer review of Sidney Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars wouldn't prevent Blumenthal's publisher from using a few of Sullivan's sentences as a blurb: "The account Mr. Blumenthal gives of the haplessness and priggishness of Kenneth Starr is riveting stuff. ...The insane attempt to actually bring down a President over perjury in a civil suit has not yet been more vividly evoked. ... Brutally revealing about the stupidity, bigotry, malevolence and extremism of the right-wing forces that became obsessed with President Clinton." In fact, Farrar Straus Giroux has an ad for Blumenthal's book in the Arts section of today's New York Times, and there it is, right below quotes from Robert Dallek, UPI, Eric Alterman, and AP:

"Brutally revealing."

--Andrew Sullivan, The New York Observer

Heh-heh-heh.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

BuzzFlash linked this story from Pensacola, Florida, today:

One of the area's most vocal abortion opponents, who has been missing since Thursday, is wanted on sexual misconduct charges involving a 15-year-old girl.

John Allen Burt, 65, of the 5300 block of Taf Lane in Milton, was charged Monday with one count of lewd or lascivious conduct, three counts of lewd or lascivious molestation and one count of contributing to the delinquency or dependency of a child, according to the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office.

Monday's warrants were issued because of an incident that occurred within 24 hours of Burt's disappearance Thursday, said Deputy Jerry Henderson, Sheriff's Office spokesman.

The incident involved a 15- year-old girl staying at Our Father's House, a shelter for unwed mothers that Burt operates from his home.

In the course of the investigation, Santa Rosa sheriff's deputies have located more victims, Henderson said....

Burt was last seen driving a 1996 dark-green Chevrolet van with the "Choose Life" Florida specialty tag CCA2K....


The article gives a few highlights of Burt's anti-abortion career:

February 1985: John Burt, along with two other abortion opponents, is arrested at the office of Dr. Bo Bagenholm on misdemeanor and felony charges for entering the office to speak to patients.

March 1985:Burt stuns TV viewers when he tries to show an aborted fetus during a live interview....

March 1986: Burt is arrested on burglary, two counts of battery and resisting arrest without violence after he and others storms into the Ladies Center [abortion clinic] to destroy medical equipment. He is sentenced to 141 days in jail, which he serves while awaiting trial, and is put on probation....

August 1988: Burt is sentenced to two years of house arrest for violating his probation because he drove John Brockhoeft past The Ladies Center. Federal agents stopped Brockhoeft hours after he left Burt's home and found explosives in his car. Brockhoeft was sentenced to 30 months in prison. Burt said he had no idea Brockhoeft planned to bomb the clinic....

August 1991: John Burt and two others are arrested as they try to cut down a fence at The Ladies Center....


But there's more, as the Associated Press points out:

In 1993, Burt was leading a protest at a Pensacola abortion clinic when Michael Griffin, who had volunteered at Our Father's House, fatally shot Dr. David Gunn.

Burt was with Paul Hill in 1994 when Hill photographed an abortion doctor he later shot and killed. Hill was convicted of murdering Dr. John Bayard Britton and his bodyguard, James H. Barrett and received a death sentence.


Z Magazine also describes Burt as a former Klansman (as does Planned Parenthood).

Yet as the 1996 Pensacola News-Journal article quoted here points out, Burt's home for wayward girls

is registered with the state Department of Education, but it is not regulated or accredited by either state of Santa Rosa [county] School District officials....Under Florida law, Burt does not need a state license to keep girls in his home because it is religious and accredited with the Palatka-based Florida Association of Christian Child Caring Agencies, a private group that oversees 25 homes around the state.

Please remember this the next time some right-winger says that liberals have made America hostile to religion. Clearly the government bent over backward to accommodate this criminal ex-Klansman (and terrorists' friend), simply because he invoked God when establishing his facility.

The 1996 Pensacola News-Journal story says,

While staying at Burt's home, the girls cannot have boyfriends, read romance novels, gossip or wear skirts above the knee. Their mail is read by school staff. They have to attend church....Discipline can be harsh. Girls who break rules receive licks from a wood paddle propped up in a corner of Burt's office.

And maybe it's just a short step from there to sexual assault.






I see that Molly Ivins, in her column yesterday, was calling for more use of wind power. Hey, I'm all for that -- and oddly enough, George W. once was, too: When he was governor, Texas passed a law requiring utility companies to get 3% of their energy from renewable sources by 2009, which led to pretty good growth in the use of wind power in the state, and he did endorse an extension of the tax credit for wind power once he was in the White House. (It it perhaps not a coincidence that Enron had somewhat significant investments in wind power, some of which were apparently improperly concealed.) Nevertheless, Bush hasn't really done a thing to encourage the use of wind power, and nobody else is doing much, either.

Still, I have to ask: What the hell ever happened to solar energy? I spent last week on vacation in the Southwest. I've spent a fair amount of time in Southwest over the past few years. You know what? It's pretty damn sunny there. Hot, too -- big need for air conditioning there. Yet, except on national park land, I don't think I've ever seen a single solar panel in the Southwest.

I know many, many people in this country hate government spending and hate anything that smacks of 60s/hippie/green/groovy culture, but we're letting all this potential energy go to waste. Government needs to prime the pump and make solar competitive, in the interests of energy independence and the environment. Sell it as part of the war on terror -- I don't care. We need to get red-staters past the notion that putting solar panels on your house makes you a pinko.
Don't you find it comforting that the person who put this together is walking around free?
The BBC reported this on Sunday:

The number of children in Iraq suffering from diarrhoea and related diseases appears to have risen dramatically in the past year, the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) said on Sunday.

The incidence of diseases such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid was 2.5 times higher this May than for the same month last year....


Lovely. Mission accomplished?

(Thanks to Cursor for the link.)
A story in the house organ of the Republican Party, The Washington Times, claims that a Supreme Court vacancy is unlikely this year:

Any prospects for a partisan fight this summer over confirming President Bush's first Supreme Court nominee appeared to dim recently after justices agreed to hear a contentious case in September, signaling that the bench will remain unchanged at least until then.

The author of the article acknowledges the conventional wisdom that one or more vacancies will occur, but dismisses the CW:

Most analysts expecting a retirement consider Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, 78, or Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, 73, the most likely to depart, even though each plays a key role in the most sharply split cases and both still write books and pursue activities outside the court.

The true dark horse is Justice John Paul Stevens, who at 83 is an avid tennis player said to abhor letting a conservative Republican choose his replacement.

Sources who have contacts with Chief Justice Rehnquist said they doubt he plans to quit, and he bandies words with those brash enough to raise the question....

Justice O'Connor's only public comment about her position on the court was to dampen speculation she might be elevated to chief justice. When asked, she replied, "I'm too old," the Christian Science Monitor reported.

"It's very possible that they won't retire," said Artemus Ward, author of "Deciding to Leave: The Politics of Retirement From the United States Supreme Court."

"Why retire when you're at the top of your game?" he said.


Now, here's the interesting part:

After the chief justice visited Mr. Bush at the White House in December, both parties let it be known his mission was a hunt for allies to raise judicial salaries.

Skeptics of that account consider the visit a pretext for a nominating-strategy session.


I think they've had a long-term plan to use the GOP Senate majority combined with high postwar Bush approval ratings to ram through a couple of knuckledraggers starting this summer -- but now they see that Bush's ratings aren't in the 90s, and that the recent tactics of combative Judiciary Committee Democrats aren't upsetting the public at all. I think this Rehnquist-Bush meeting was a nominating-strategy session, and what was discussed was "Whoo-ee, we're getting our asses kicked on lower-court nominees, so let's wait until after the '04 elections to pack the Supreme Court."

The WashTimes article goes on to say,

Because no one expects a vacancy during next year's presidential campaign year — absent death or disability — the next two weeks would be the last real chance for an appointment until June 2005.

So maybe Schumer, Leahy, et al. have won a significant battle.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

There was a good story on NPR's Morning Edition today about new rules being proposed by the Bush administration:

BOB EDWARDS: The Bush administration will allow states to seek exemptions from a policy that blocks road building in a national forest. Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Ray says the so-called roadless rule will be amended, and the nation's two largest national forests will be exempted altogether. NPR's Elizabeth Arnold has been following the story. Good morning.

ELIZABETH ARNOLD: Good morning, Bob.

EDWARDS: This roadless rule protects nearly 60 million acres of forest. What will this policy change mean?

ARNOLD: Well, Bob, the Bush administration inherited this rule. They never really liked it, they never defended it in court, and they wanted to get rid of it, but the Clinton administration really bulletproofed it, with unprecedented public comment, they simply made it hard to get around, and this last December the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld it, so now the Bush administration is sayong, "OK, fine, we'll live with it, but in some amendments this fall we'll exempt the two largest national forests, both in Alaska, the Tongass and the Chugach, and we'll let the governors get around it, too, under exceptional circumstances, like to reduce the risk of wildfire." So, in short, they're gutting it, without really doing away with it, and what it really means is more access to forest that's been off limits to new roads and logging.

EDWARDS: In Alaska, didn't Ray say that 95% of the forest will still remain roadless there?

ARNOLD: Well, he did, Bob. He was talking about the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska. But to put that in context, you need to know that two thirds of the Tongass is actually rock and ice -- it's basically glacier. So, some thirty-plus timber sales that are already in the works there represent a pretty good portion of what's left of that forest....


Arnold went on to explain that the forests in question are far from populated areas, so it's not really necessary to prevent wildfires in them -- fires are appropriate in these forests and are allowed to happen, and as a result the forests aren't overgrown. So this isn't about dangerous wildfires at all.

Arnold also pointed out that Undersecretary Ray is a former timber-industry lobbyist.

It seems obvious what's going on. So how come the New York Times story on this rule change has the utterly misleading headline "Bush to Prohibit Building Roads Inside Forests"?
Tonight on ABC News, Peter Jennings reported on the two Israeli attacks in Gaza. What followed was this exchange with ABC's White House reporter, Terry Moran:

JENNINGS: Terry, the president is the patron of this latest attempt to make peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Do you think he was somewhat surprised today?

MORAN: Totally surprised, Peter. The White House was really taken aback by these attacks.


Is this possible? Is it really possible that the president of the United States and his advisers are so ill-informed, so unable to comprehend the world around them, that they couldn't imagine that this would happen?

Maybe it's just spin -- but I can't imagine why, if you were the White House, you'd want to feed the press a story that makes you look impossibly naive. So I think Moran is telling the truth -- and I find it rather astonishing.
Iraq had a weapons program. Intelligence throughout the decade showed they had a weapons program. I am absolutely convinced with time we'll find out that they did have a weapons program.

--President Bush at a Monday Cabinet meeting

Watch what he and his underlings say from now on. Watch how often they say Iraq had a weapons program. That fudges the issue: Of course the Iraqis had one when they gassed the Kurds. Did they have a weapons program after that? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe they had one in recent years but it wasn't active, and wouldn't have been as long as the sanctions were in place. But if Bush and his subordinates know there was no active program in recent years, and they always say simply that Iraq had a weapons program, they're telling the strict truth but deceiving the public.

It all depends on what the definition of had is.
The Associated Press tries to count civilian deaths in Iraq:

At least 3,240 civilians died across Iraq during a month of war, including 1,896 in Baghdad, according to a five-week Associated Press investigation.

The count is still fragmentary, and the complete toll — if it is ever tallied — is sure to be significantly higher....


Here's the methodology, which explains why the actual toll is almost certainly much higher:

The AP count was based on records from 60 of Iraq's 124 hospitals — including almost all of the large ones — and covers the period between March 20, when the war began, and April 20, when fighting was dying down and coalition forces announced they would soon declare major combat over. AP journalists traveled to all of these hospitals, studying their logs, examining death certificates where available and interviewing officials about what they witnessed.

Many of the other 64 hospitals are in small towns and were not visited because they are in dangerous or inaccessible areas. Some hospitals that were visited had incomplete or war-damaged casualty records.

Even if hospital records were complete, they would not tell the full story. Many of the dead were never taken to hospitals, either buried quickly by their families in accordance with Islamic custom, or lost under rubble.

The AP excluded all counts done by hospitals whose written records did not distinguish between civilian and military dead, which means hundreds, possibly thousands, of victims in Iraq's largest cities and most intense battles aren't reflected in the total....


Comment at the Free Republic thread devoted to the article, from someone who, presumably, was very, very far from the war zone:

Sounds good.

Small price to pay for freedom.

Great job US Military.


Thanks, pal. If a future president ever insists that blowing up your house and killing your whole family is necessary to preserve freedom, it's good to know you've given your OK.

About That Bridge They Are Buying: The media is swallowing the entire Hillary hype oyster in one gulp. Take the "million copy" claim.  There is no way to prove such a number has been published. Take the "lines around the block for the book signing" report. In New York that many nutballs would turn out for Charles Manson....

--Catty comment posted this morning at Lucianne Goldberg's Lucianne.com (translation: "Please, God, pretty please, let Hillary's book be a failure!")

Clinton Book Sets Barnes & Noble Record

WASHINGTON - Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's memoirs set a Barnes & Noble sales record for nonfiction books on its first day on store shelves, the company said Tuesday.

Clinton signed over a thousand copies of the book, "Living History," at a promotional event at a Barnes & Noble store in midtown Manhattan Monday, the first day the book was on sale.

The company said the former first lady's White House memoirs sold more than 40,000 copies in the first 24 hours it was available, instantly making it an in-house best seller.

Nationwide sales figures for other booksellers were not immediately available.

Late Monday, publisher Simon & Schuster, which paid $8 million for the tome, announced it would print an additional 100,000 copies, on top of an extraordinary initial printing of 1 million copies....


--AP story posted at Yahoo News this afternoon

Har-de-har-har.

Barnes & Noble has no motivation to fake sales numbers (nobody in New York media wants to be caught telling stretchers these days) -- if B&N says Hillary broke a record, she broke a record. And S&S has no motivation to reprint the book unless it thinks its warehouses could be out of stock soon. So this baby is really selling. Forty thousand copies at one chain in one day is a nig number in book publishing. (Books that sell 50,000 or 60,000 copies in total routinely make the lower rungs of the New York Times bestseller list.) Like her or not, she did it.
Here's the lead story in this morning's print edition of USA Today:

Guard, Reserve short on recruits

...The nation's largest auxiliary forces — the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve — are beginning to have trouble meeting their recruiting targets.

As of April 30, the Guard was nearly 6,000 recruits short of where it needed to be on that date to meet its Sept. 30 target of enlisting 62,000 soldiers, Pentagon statistics show. If the Guard can't reverse the shortfall, it will mark the first time since 1998 that it has failed to fill its ranks.

The Army Reserve is also lagging behind and was more than 700 soldiers short of where it needed to be in April to meet its Sept. 30 goal of 42,000.

Defense officials and civilian analysts say the numbers demonstrate that the unusually intense use of part-time soldiers over the past year and a half is beginning to seriously affect the Guard and Reserve....

"I think it is reasonable to conclude that people are looking at the last 19 to 20 months of mobilization and they are voting with their feet," says Tom White, a former secretary of the Army. "I think we're seeing the leading edge of a problem."

...The demands on National Guard and Reserve troops, most of whom have full-time civilian jobs, have been unrelenting. Some units, including military police and nation-building soldiers known as civil affairs specialists, have been on active duty almost constantly since the Sept. 11 attacks....


Several thoughts come to mind:

* This is typical of the contemporary management class, isn't it? They hire people at one level, dump the responsibilities of higher-level workers on them without actually promoting them or giving them raises, and assume enough of them will just grumble and take it.

* Bush does this and still maintains the reputation as the commander-in-chief who's loved by his troops, in contrast to his evil peacenik predecessor. Did Clinton shortchange reservists? If he did, he didn't do it in a period of permanent war. And if recruitment of reservists fell short in 1998, remember that that was during a roaring economic boom. (And yet recruitment goals were met in 1999 and 2000, apparently.) Conditions for reservists are now alienating potential recruits despite lousy economic conditions.

* This is really a disgrace. Bush wants massive simultaneous troop deployments in more countries than he himself can find on a map, yet he and Rumsfeld pretend that we can have domino wars (and the subsequent occupations) without the use of big, big numbers of full-time servicemembers. That requires lots of taxpayer money -- and maybe a draft -- but the administration won't say so. (America, of course, doesn't want a draft or higher taxes.)

* The worst enemy of this administration is itself. Democrats are too pitiful to mount effective opposition, and the public is still largely pro-Bush -- but the administration's ability to carry out the neocons' mad imperialist plans is threatened by Bush's utter refusal to grasp the fact that things cost money, and by Rumsfeld's fixation on the idea that the military can do anything it wants with low troop strength.

Sooner or later, this will all come crashing down on their -- and our -- heads.
So maybe the war wasn't about the oil -- at least not in the way you might expect:

Employees of South Oil, Iraq's leading oil producer before the war, are now idle because looting has brought most of the company to a standstill.

"The other day, there was looting and sabotage at the North Rumaila field," Mr. Leaby said. "The day before that, at the Zubayr field. For three months, I've been talking, talking, talking about this, and I'm sick of it."

This is now the state of the Iraqi oil industry, custodian of the world's third largest oil reserves — an estimated 112 billion barrels — and the repository of hope for the United States-led alliance and the Iraqi people themselves. Money from oil, the Bush administration has said repeatedly, will drive Iraq's economic revival, which in turn will foster the country's political stability. Many Iraqis agree.

Yet from the vast Kirkuk oil field in the north to the patchwork of rich southern fields around Basra, Iraq's oil industry, once among the best-run and most smartly equipped in the world, is in tatters.

Looting, sabotage and the continued lack of security at oil facilities are the most recent problems the industry and its American overseers must address in order to get petroleum flowing again, especially for export....


--New York Times

It sure seems as if no one's in a rush to turn this situation around:

Last Tuesday, Halliburton workers at Garmat Ali tested for the first time the new pumps and filters they started to install a week earlier to send water to the refinery to wash the oil.

A half-dozen burly Halliburton workers, some with ponytails and neon-bright bandanas, struggled to secure a large hose to a concrete platform using chains and ropes. Someone turned on the pump, and water gushed out of the open hose. "Now we're talking!" said Roger Davis, the Halliburton safety coordinator at the site.

But the equipment the Americans have brought is only "5 percent of what we had before," said Adnan Hussein, a South Oil engineer who works at Garmat Ali. The other equipment still needed is for injecting water into the Rumaila fields.

The Army Corps of Engineers has not set a date for starting that project....

At South Oil's headquarters, Mr. Leaby questioned how any repairs could hold when security was so threadbare. "Every minute, we have something missing," he said. "Every time we fix something, it gets looted."


Is this yet another result of Donald Rumsfeld's obsession with keeping troop strength low?

And do the high muckamucks at Halliburton not care because the contract to pump the oil is the real asset they wanted? Do they not care how much they pump, or how soon, because this contract is lucrative no matter what?

Yesterday, AARP ran a full-page ad in The New York Times asking Congress and the president to agree on a prescription-drug benefit under Medicare. One line from the ad jumped out at me: "Every effort should be made to reduce gap in coverage."

As Robert Pear's story in yesterday's Times explains, the Republican proposal for prescription drugs "would leave a big gap for some people. Under the Senate bill, for example, Medicare would share drug costs up to $3,450 a year, but would not provide further coverage until a beneficiary's annual drug costs reached about $5,300."

Why does the GOP plan in the Senate do that? I guess I understand the notion of covering both ordinary and extraordinary expenses, but why exclude what's in the middle? What's the logic behind that?

Now, look at the wording of that line from the AARP ad: "Every effort should be made to reduce gap in coverage." It's almost as if the AARP thinks this gap is some sort of natural phenomenon, something like cancer or tornado damage that we simply can't eliminate but should do our best to minimize. It isn't. People made this gap. It doesn't have to exist at all.

Monday, June 09, 2003

More book news from Publishers Lunch:

With all the announcements relating to books for conservatives, it’s worth noting the launch this fall of [Henry] Holt’s American Empire Project, a line of "short, argument-driven" books that will examine "the increasingly imperial cast of America’s government and policies." Developed by editors and historians Tom Engelhardt and Steve Fraser, the line from Metropolitan Books begins with Noam Chomsky’s HEGEMONY AND SURVIVAL, said to be his first "wholly new book in over 10 years."

Henry Holt isn't huge, but it's part of Holtzbrinck, which also owns Farrar, Straus & Giroux and St. Martin's. (In the past, Holt has published, and paid big money to, the likes of Sue Grafton, Thomas Pynchon, and, yes, Al and Tipper Gore.)
You may have read about the Al Franken/Bill O'Reilly dust-up at BookExpo America on Saturday, May 31 (here's Newsday's account; here's some commentary from CalPundit and his readers) -- but Michael Moore was aapparently also quite entertaining the following day. Herean account of Moore's talk from an e-mail sent out June 1 from BEA by the folks at Publishers Lunch:

Fireworks from Saturday’s political lunch still resonated at this morning’s author breakfast, as moderator Walter Isaacson told the audience, "There won’t be quite as much heat as there was at lunch, but hey it’s breakfast." But it did begin with a rousing ovation before anyone even said a word, and clearly much of that enthusiasm was directed towards speaker Michael Moore—as underscored when Madeline Albright took to the podium later and declared, "What a blast to be here with Michael Moore."

More amusing than aggressive, Moore himself began by saying, "Now if you don’t mind I’d like to finish that Oscar speech…" He noted that "success has made me extremely grateful to Mr. Bush for the tax cut" and told the President he’s got a new plan "to spend my entire tax cut to help defeat you next year." (Interested candidates can go to spendmikestaxcut.com.)

Moore’s fall book is tentatively titled, DUDE, WHERE’S MY COUNTRY? (given a chance a vote by applause, the audience favored that title heavily over the alternate, LEAVE NO MILLIONAIRE BEHIND), and includes such helpful chapters as "How to Talk to Your Conservative Brother-in-law." Moore’s thesis is that most people in the country aren’t really conservative in all their policies, but that "They just don’t want to give up their tax money." By his reckoning, the key for liberals in prevailing is to "quit trying the moral argument. When you’re a conservative it’s all me, me, me. How does it affect me?" His notion is that humane policies towards issues like health care and day care make for a happier, more prosperous work force, and in turn will help conservatives make more money.

Other popular Moore one-liners included references to "the Fox Nuisance Channel" and a hunch that "Saddam found the same travel agent that Osama did." Later in the morning Moore drew long lines having his picture taken at the Warner booth, where at one point he was observed singing a duet of "O Canada." He quipped, "Just in case I have to move."


And, from the same e-mail, here's an account of Franken/O'Reilly/Ivins:

The MediaTalk lunch on Saturday was full of fireworks. Originally conceived as a "fair and balanced" presentation with two on the left, Molly Ivins and Al Franken, facing off against two on the right, Bill O'Reilly and Tucker Carlson, was thrown off-center by Carlson's absence. Former Democratic Congresswoman and AAP head Patricia Schroeder, who moderated, said, tongue in cheek, that it was perfectly fair and balanced to her.

Ivins, whose "BUSHWHACKED" is coming soon from Random House, kicked off the conversation talking about her new tool to analyze the health of the US economy, the Doug Jones Average (reusing some of her material from the book awards the night before). Doug Jones is the symbol of the "average American." And, no surprise, she found the "Doug Jones Average" falling, citing a host of failures of the Bush government, often in the field of environmental protection, to take the side of the average American against the powerful. She closed with a powerful, and inflammatory, quote from Mussolini defining fascism as "corporatism," when corporations wield government's power. "The bottom line is that old Doug Jones is getting screwed." (Ivins also won over booksellers with a story about Barnes & Noble that had shelved her book SHRUB in the gardening section.)

Bill O'Reilly, the fabulously successful author ("The O'Reilly Factor" and "The No-Spin Zone") and talk-show host whose "Who's Looking Out for You?" is coming soon from Doubleday Broadway, was greeted by smaller but still fervent pockets of applause. He said his book was "a very personal book, not a political book—I don’t really write political books…. It’s a personal book about you."

He immediately claimed separation from Rush Limbaugh by saying "I'm a problem solver." O'Reilly's prescription for a better world is about individual responsibility. He disdains government help as ineffective and counterproductive. Baiting the next speaker a few times, O’Reilly said "We name names—we don’t call names."

Al Franken was the last to speak. His new book, coming from Dutton, is "LIES, and the Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right". Franken started out, deadpan, saying "God asked me to write this book because he was so pissed off at George Bush" for claiming God was on HIS side.

It turned out, though, that Franken had a very pointed agenda, and O'Reilly was the target, which is hinted at by the fact that O'Reilly is the cover image of "LIES..." Franken told a lengthy story, the gist of which was that O'Reilly lied on C-Span about awards his TV work had earned, and persisted in the lies in the face of questioning and evidence.

Of course O'Reilly was operating at two distinct disadvantages. One was that the audience was, judging from the applause and outbursts, largely on the political side of Ivins and Franken.

But, perhaps even more telling was the difference in skills and attitudes of the participants. Franken is a skilled comedian: quick with his wit and sure with his timing. Ivins is a political writer with a caustic and humorous edge. O'Reilly seems to have almost no sense of humor at all, and certainly none when he himself is involved, since that is the subject he seems to take MOST seriously.

From this observer's point of view, that might for a very unfair fight, even before you get to who had the right side on the facts and merits.

Congresswoman Schroeder had her hands full keeping things on a relatively civil plane. The direct attacks by Franken on O'Reilly, and his shrill defense of himself, left Ivins where she almost never would find herself -- the person in "the middle." To a plea from the last questioner from the audience that we find ways to "come together," not much hope came from the platform. Franken said, basically, it is time for liberals to fight back, although he said he considered himself a "nice guy" and wanted to "promote civility." This brought a harumph from O'Reilly and, mostly, cheers from the floor.

Schroeder's closing appeal was that each of the speakers send their books to the others. I have a feeling that Ivins and Franken will enjoy the swap, Ivins will skip O'Reilly's and Franken will mine it for material for his next book.
Remember deficit hawks? Warren Rudman? Ross Perot? Lead or Leave? Whatever happened to those flinty folks, anyway? I've been thinking that they were all forcibly transported to one of Dick Cheney's undisclosed locations, but, lo and behold, one emerged in yesterday's New York Times Magazine -- Pete Peterson, railing against his fellow Republicans:

Coming into power, the Republican leaders faced a choice between tax cuts and providing genuine financing for the future of Social Security. (What a landmark reform this would have been!) They chose tax cuts. After 9/11, they faced a choice between tax cuts and getting serious about the extensive measures needed to protect this nation against further terrorist attacks. They chose tax cuts. After war broke out in the Mideast, they faced a choice between tax cuts and galvanizing the nation behind a policy of future-oriented burden sharing. Again and again, they chose tax cuts.

The recent $10 trillion deficit swing is the largest in American history other than during years of total war....

You might suppose that a reasoned debate over this deficit-happy policy would at least be admissible within the ''discussion tent'' of the Republican Party. Apparently, it is not. I've seen Republicans get blackballed for merely observing that national investment is limited by national savings; that large deficits typically reduce national savings; or that higher deficits eventually trigger higher interest rates. I've seen others get pilloried for picking on the wrong constituency -- for suggesting, say, that a tax loophole for a corporation or wealthy retiree is no better, ethically or economically, than a dubious welfare program.

For some ''supply side'' Republicans, the pursuit of lower taxes has evolved into a religion, indeed a tax-cut theology that simply discards any objective evidence that violates the tenets of the faith.


Peterson, like all deficit hawks, also whacks the Democrats (for "dubious" social programs -- presumably anything introduced or proposed after 1960). Still, his condemnation of GOP orthodoxy is a hell of a lot more full-throated than what most Democrats seem able to muster. (I wonder if Peterson's article helped inspire this John Kerry statement.)

Elsewhere in the Times Magazine, this is not a bad explanation of why Bush tax policy is bad for you -- by all means share it with centrist friends who might not grasp that reduced federal taxes mean reduced federal revenues, which mean reduced money for state and, ultimately, local programs, which is why the local prison is turning away prisoners and the local roads are filled with potholes. What's missing from the article is what's missing from all refutations of right-wing tax orthodoxy: a challenge to the notion, implicit in all right-wing thinking, that we can have all the government services we need and lower taxes because there's just so much government waste. No conservative is ever expected to prove that this is so. Instead, we get dishonest proof-by-anecdote -- in this case, the vile Grover Norquist sneering at tax-sponsored sex-change operations. Look, I've heard of these operations being paid for out of government funds, and you can certainly argue against that, but does Wisconsin, say, fully fund 88 such operations a day, 365 days a year, at $100,000 a pop? Because that's how many sex-change operations would have to be dropped from Wisconsin's budget to close the $3.2 billion budget gap the Times article tells us it has. And I don't know that Wisconsin (ex-governor: Tommy Thompson) has ever funded even one such operation. But nobody ever calls a guy like Norquist on something like this. Nobody ever shoves a budget under his nose and says, "OK, show me all the cuts you'd make to balance this and pay for your wish list of tax cuts." Nobody ever does this to him, and it should be done to him as often as humanly possible.
Real life has intervened. I'm utterly swamped. I'll try to post soon.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

I saw this photo in USA Today while I was on vacation.

I'm so glad the grown-ups are in charge now -- aren't you?
A couple of posts ago I cited this story, in which Judith Miller and William Broad quote skeptics who doubt that the alleged mobile weapons labs in Iraq really were meant to produce WMDs. Now I see that there's this, from The Observer:

Tony Blair faces a fresh crisis over Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, as evidence emerges that two vehicles that he has repeatedly claimed to be Iraqi mobile biological warfare production units are nothing of the sort....

The Observer has established that it is increasingly likely that the units were designed to be used for hydrogen production to fill artillery balloons, part of a system originally sold to Saddam by Britain in 1987.


The article lists some reasons for skepticism about the WMD story. You've read some of these before, but not all of them:

* The lack of any trace of pathogens found in the fermentation tanks. According to experts, when weapons inspectors checked tanks in the mid-Nineties that had been scoured to disguise their real use, traces of pathogens were still detectable.

* The use of canvas sides on vehicles where technicians would be working with dangerous germ cultures.

* A shortage of pumps required to create vacuum conditions required for working with germ cultures and other processes usually associated with making biological weapons.

* The lack of an autoclave for steam sterilisation, normally a prerequisite for any kind of biological production. Its lack of availability between production runs would threaten to let in germ contaminants, resulting in failed weapons.

* The lack of any easy way for technicians to remove germ fluids from the processing tank.


Canvas sides? That's the one that strikes me as bizarre. (A British scientist quoted in the article feels the same way.)

One more story of note from Saturday's New York Times -- "As Budgets Shrink, Cities See an Impact on Criminal Justice" by Fox Butterfield:

The Portland police budget has been cut by more than 10 percent in the last three years, and the strain is showing.

Station houses now close at night, and the 960-member force is down 64 officers. With no money for overtime, undercover drug officers sometimes simply stop what they are doing — for instance, tailing suspects or executing search warrants — when their shifts end...

Crime here is rising, and Chief Kroeker says he is not surprised. In the first four months of the year, shoplifting is up 10 percent from the same period in 2002, car break-ins have increased 12 percent, the number of stolen cars has risen 19 percent and home burglaries have jumped 21 percent, police figures show....

The police commissioner in Seattle, R. Gil Kerlikowske, said that because of budget cuts he had reduced his force by 24 officers and 50 civilians this year and put a freeze on the hiring and training of new officers. The city now has about 1,250 officers, a police spokeswoman said. Burglaries, car thefts and shoplifting are up 18 percent this year, Mr. Kerlikowske said, though violent crime has remained steady.

In Minneapolis, Robert K. Olson, the police chief, has cut 118 officers from his 900-member force this year because much of the money for the city's police comes from the state, which is running a budget deficit. Chief Olson said he had lost another 81 police officers because President Bush had essentially eliminated a Clinton administration program that provided money to add 100,000 police around the country....


You know, if we actually had an opposition party in this country, this might become a political issue.
I was stunned when I read in yesterday's New York Times that Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas had given a speech "drafted by the Bush administration and amended in negotiation with Mr. Abbas's aides." Is this really how we expect to win peace in the Middle East -- by insisting that as many Arab and Muslim leaders in the region as possible are visibly lapdogs of the U.S.?
A little more about the L.A. Times story I just posted, about the Iraqi who said that Iraq's WMD program was essentially on hold prior to the war: According to the Times,

The interview with the former senior Iraqi intelligence officer was arranged by a family member of Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel Majid, who was married to one of Hussein's daughters and who headed Iraq's secret weapons programs until he defected to Jordan in 1994. He was executed after he returned to Baghdad in 1995 under promises of safety.

Recall what Seymour Hersh said about Hussein Kamel in his watershed New Yorker article "Selective Intelligence":

In August, 1995, General Hussein Kamel, who was in charge of Iraq’s weapons program, defected to Jordan, with his brother, Colonel Saddam Kamel. They brought with them crates of documents containing detailed information about Iraqi efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction—much of which was unknown to the U.N. inspection teams that had been on the job since 1991—and were interviewed at length by the U.N. inspectors. In 1996, Saddam Hussein lured the brothers back with a promise of forgiveness, and then had them killed. The Kamels’ information became a major element in the Bush Administration’s campaign to convince the public of the failure of the U.N. inspections.

Last October, in a speech in Cincinnati, the President cited the Kamel defections as the moment when Saddam’s regime “was forced to admit that it had produced more than thirty thousand liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents. . . . This is a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for, and is capable of killing millions.” A couple of weeks earlier, Vice-President Cheney had declared that Hussein Kamel’s story “should serve as a reminder to all that we often learned more as the result of defections than we learned from the inspection regime itself.”

The full record of Hussein Kamel’s interview with the inspectors reveals, however, that he also said that Iraq’s stockpile of chemical and biological warheads, which were manufactured before the 1991 Gulf War, had been destroyed, in many cases in response to ongoing inspections. The interview, on August 22, 1995,was conducted by Rolf Ekeus, then the executive chairman of the U.N. inspection teams, and two of his senior associates—Nikita Smidovich and Maurizio Zifferaro. “You have an important role in Iraq,” Kamel said, according to the record, which was assembled from notes taken by Smidovich. “You should not underestimate yourself. You are very effective in Iraq.” When Smidovich noted that the U.N. teams had not found “any traces of destruction,” Kamel responded, “Yes, it was done before you came in.” He also said that Iraq had destroyed its arsenal of warheads. “We gave instructions not to produce chemical weapons,” Kamel explained later in the debriefing. “I don’t remember resumption of chemical-weapons production before the Gulf War. Maybe it was only minimal production and filling. . . . All chemical weapons were destroyed. I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons—biological, chemical, missile, nuclear—were destroyed.”


I think Saddam wanted to make these weapons again, but never did so.
Hey, I'm back -- tanned, rested, and still disgruntled. Had a nice time, but I missed this....

Oh, where to start? Maybe the land of Lucianne.

Today one of her "Must Reads of the Day" is "Iraq Had Secret Labs, Officer Says" from the L.A. Times. Here's the part of the story that gets posted at the top of the thread on her site:

BAGHDAD -- Saddam Hussein's intelligence services set up a network of clandestine cells and small laboratories after 1996 with the goal of someday rebuilding illicit chemical and biological weapons, according to a former senior Iraqi intelligence officer. The officer, who held the rank of brigadier general, said each closely guarded weapons team had three or four scientists and other experts who were unknown to U.N. inspectors...

Smoking gun? High fives in Bush country? Humiliation for liberal skeptics? Er, not quite. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the original story that Lucianne.com chose not to excerpt:

The officer, who held the rank of brigadier general, ... insisted they did not produce any illegal arms and that none now exist in Iraq. But he said the teams met regularly and put plans on paper to quickly develop weapons of mass destruction if U.N. sanctions against Iraq were lifted.

"We could start again anytime," said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he said he fears for his life. "It's very easy. Especially biological."

"The point was, the Iraqis kept the knowledge," he explained during a lengthy interview Friday in which he offered tantalizing details of secret programs. But U.S. weapons hunters "will never find anything here. Only oil."

...He said that U.N. sanctions and inspections in the 1990s crippled Iraq's ability to build illegal weapons and that Hussein's chemical, biological and nuclear programs were effectively eliminated in the mid-1990s....

The Iraqi intelligence officer said that the secret weapons groups were created in late 1996 and 1997 because the regime's unconventional arms programs had been dismantled or destroyed by then and that U.N. inspectors knew most of those who had worked in them....


Kind of a comedown, no? The right was so ready to wave huge stockpiles of WMDs in our faces, and now they're crowing because one Iraqi says there used to be WMDs in Iraq -- and that the sanctions we said were an effective deterrent actually were an effective deterrent.

(If you can't read the story, use "clipjoint" as both member name and password.)

Oh, and, by the way, this guy might not even be telling the truth:

It's possible that the officer's story contains falsehoods meant to deceive or confuse U.S. investigators. He refused to show the documents he said he had saved or to take a Los Angeles Times reporter to any of the safe houses where he said the weapons teams had operated....

The Iraqi officer agreed to speak to two reporters because he said he wanted them to provide a satellite telephone that would not be tapped by U.S. intelligence so he could call Iraqi spies hiding overseas.

He said he also wanted to see if he could gain access to $600,000 he said is in a Chase Manhattan Bank account. The reporters refused....


A real Boy Scout, this one.

Look, I don't think Saddam was a nice guy. As I said last month, I think it's quite plausible that Saddam had a WMD program and abandoned it in an attempt to get sanctions lifted -- and if that's what was going on, it means the sanctions were a very effective anti-proliferation tool. I think this source is telling a story that's reasonably close to the truth -- even if he's just making stuff up.

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

Meanwhile, Judith Miller took a small taste of crow yesterday, coauthoring this story:

Some Analysts of Iraq Trailers Reject Germ Use

American and British intelligence analysts with direct access to the evidence are disputing claims that the mysterious trailers found in Iraq were for making deadly germs. In interviews over the last week, they said the mobile units were more likely intended for other purposes and charged that the evaluation process had been damaged by a rush to judgment.

"Everyone has wanted to find the 'smoking gun' so much that they may have wanted to have reached this conclusion," said one intelligence expert who has seen the trailers and, like some others, spoke on condition that he not be identified. He added, "I am very upset with the process." ...

The skeptical experts said the mobile plants lacked gear for steam sterilization, normally a prerequisite for any kind of biological production, peaceful or otherwise. Its lack of availability between production runs would threaten to let in germ contaminants, resulting in failed weapons.

Second, if this shortcoming were somehow circumvented, each unit would still produce only a relatively small amount of germ-laden liquid, which would have to undergo further processing at some other factory unit to make it concentrated and prepare it for use as a weapon.

Finally, they said, the trailers have no easy way for technicians to remove germ fluids from the processing tank....


One more story embarrassing to the administration that, alas, conveniently winds up in the Saturday paper....