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6/12/2004

Heart and Minds

Washington Post:Since U.S. forces drove to Baghdad and overthrew President Saddam Hussein in April 2003, the 138,000 American soldiers stationed here have lost their status as liberators in the eyes of most Iraqis. Polling by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority has chronicled a steady souring of opinion, with the most recent surveys showing about 80 percent of Iraqis with an unfavorable opinion of U.S. troops.

They have been encouraged in their views by Muslim preachers, who, judging by their sermons, have concluded that the U.S. occupation should end immediately if peace is to be restored to Iraq. To buttress their arguments, they repeatedly have cited the abuse of Iraqi captives at Abu Ghraib prison, which has helped crystallize opinion against the presence of U.S. soldiers.

"It was discovered that the freedom in this land is not ours. It is the freedom of the occupying soldiers in doing what they like, such as arresting, carrying out raids, killing at random or stealing money," Sheik Mohammed Bashir declared in his sermon Friday at Um al-Oura, a Sunni Muslim mosque in the middle-class Ghazaliya neighborhood.

Iran Winning War on Terror

Washington Post:

With Iraq's political spectrum still taking shape, Iran has covered most major options for the next phase of the transition that begins June 30 by providing various types of assistance to mainstream figures such as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani as well as radicals such as Moqtada Sadr; former U.S. favorite Ahmed Chalabi; and long-standing ally the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, U.S. sources said.

News on Knowles

Call it the Lisa Murkowski rule, although the Republican senator doubtlessly has mixed feelings about it.

Alaska recently enacted a law curbing the governor's powers to fill U.S. Senate vacancies. Gov. Frank H. Murkowski (R) knows a thing or two about the subject, because when he left his Senate seat to become governor in December 2002, he appointed his daughter Lisa to complete his term, ending in January 2005.

The long-term appointment angered some Alaskans, who cried nepotism and circulated a ballot initiative that would ban such arrangements in the future. That sounded like trouble to a new senator, fighting for a full, six-year term of her own this fall.

As University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato put it: "How many people are going to vote for the initiative and then vote for her?"

So the GOP-controlled legislature stepped in, passing a bill to make the initiative unnecessary. Under the bill -- which Gov. Murkowski let become law without his signature -- the state must hold a special election to fill any future Senate vacancy within 90 days.

Sen. Murkowski still faces challenges on the 2004 ballot. Former state senator Mike Miller opposes her in the Aug. 24 GOP primary, with former governor Tony Knowles (D) awaiting the survivor in November. [Washington Post 6/12/04]

Social Security Shortfall Lower in CBO Study.

The Washington Post reports that a new CBO study shows Social Security to be much healthier than the earlier SS Trustees report:

Yet the report is expected to project that the system's shortfall over the next 75 years will be about two-thirds the $3.7 trillion estimated in March by the bipartisan trustees who oversee Social Security, the aides said yesterday. The discrepancies are due to differing economic and other assumptions, they said.
This means Social Security's 2042 insolvency, as projected by the trustees, would occur about a decade later, the aides said. The aides differed, however, as to whether the budget office report would predict a later insolvency date or whether the data would simply support that conclusion.

Too Little, Too Late

The Washington Post asserts that the Republican Congress may finally be fulfilling its Constitutional oversight duties:

But there have been indications that the Bush administration's long honeymoon with Congress, which was extended when lawmakers in both parties rallied around the president in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, may be nearing an end.
Unfortunately, the Republican Congress won't get the chance to show the American people what it's made of. Little to no work is done in the legislature during an election year. Moreover, the "signs" of Republican reform are tepid, considering the enormous magnitude of administration lawlessness.

If John Ashcroft routinely spit in my face, I would get a little upset. Republican Senators: "Thank you General. May I have another."

6/10/2004

Kaplan on Reagan

Ron and Mikhail's Excellent Adventure - How Reagan won the Cold War. By Fred�Kaplan: "At their face-to-face summit of October 1986 in Reykjavik, Reagan went far beyond Gorbachev's proposal of a 50 percent strategic-arms cut. To the alarm of some aides, who were not let in on the discussion, he suggested that the two sides get rid of nuclear weapons altogether and jointly build an SDI system to guard against a nuclear revival. Gorbachev initially dismissed the idea. 'I do not take your idea of sharing SDI seriously,' the minutes (which were declassified by the Soviets 12 years ago) show him saying. 'You don't want to share even petroleum equipment, automatic machine tools, or equipment for dairies, while sharing SDI would be a second American revolution�and revolutions do not occur all that often.' Reagan replied, 'If I thought that SDI could not be shared, I would have rejected it myself.'
The Reykjavik talks finally fizzled. Gorbachev said he'd accept the zero-nukes plan if Reagan pledged not to test nuclear weapons in outer space (a crucial element of SDI). Reagan wouldn't accept that condition.
However, Gorbachev returned to Moscow persuaded that Reagan�who had earlier struck him as a 'caveman'�honestly had no intention of launching a first strike against the Soviet Union, and he made this point clear to the Politburo. He could continue with perestroika, which involved not just economic reforms but�as a necessary precondition�massive defense cuts and a transformation of international relations. He needed assurances of external security in order to move forward with this domestic upheaval. Reagan gave him those reassurances. Subsequent conversations between his foreign minister, Edvard Shevardnadze, and Secretary of State George Shultz reinforced his confidence.
In the last couple years of the Reagan administration, Rea"

Blumenthal on Reagan

Salon.com | Rewriting the script: "Reagan did not bring about the downfall of the Soviet Union, which was crumbling from terminal internal decay. But to the degree that he gave Gorbachev political time and space, he lent support to the liberalizing reform that hastened the end. In reaching out to Gorbachev, Reagan blithely discarded the right-wing faith that totalitarian communism was unchangeable and that only rollback, not containment and negotiation, would lead to its demise.

Now, President Bush eulogizes Reagan as his example. To the extent he was studying the Reagan presidency at the time, he took away the myths, not the lessons, of history. Bush has his own doctrine, a Manichaean battle with evildoers and an army of neoconservatives to lend complex rationalizations to his simplifications. Reagan was saved by the wholesale firing of the neoconservatives, the rejection of conservative dogma and a deliberate strategy to transcend his old typecasting. It is why he rose above his ruin, and rides, even in death, into the sunset of a happy Hollywood ending."

The Onion | America's Finest News Source

Reagan To Be Honored With $5,000-A-Head Funeral: "WASHINGTON, DC�Former President Ronald Reagan will be honored with five days of memorial services, culminating in a $5,000 a head funeral in Washington's National Cathedral Friday, Paul Darlington, a spokesman for the Bush re-election campaign, said Monday. 'At 5:15 p.m. EST, former President Reagan will be escorted from the U.S. Capitol and received with ceremony at the Washington National Cathedral, where a dinner of baby arugula, roast beef, and herbed red potatoes will commence,' Darlington said. 'As Reagan lies in repose, a host of leading Republican party members will be available for photo opportunities. President Bush, who will deliver a eulogy at the close of the solemn gathering, is urging all Americans to dig deep into their hearts to honor this great leader.' Several thousand people are expected to pay their respects."

6/09/2004

FOIA Services Contracted Out.

This is a mixed development. It's good if it speeds up FOIA responses, but it's frustrating that it has come to this. Why isn't our government's ability to respond to citizen requests more robust?

Though Aftergood is better than anyone in the country on these issues, I am skeptical that using private contractors to comply with FOIA requests won't negatively affect FOIA responses – the marginal drop-off in expertise will surely have some effect. It also produces unfortunate accountability issues, allowing poor responses to be blamed on contractors.

Reagan: Opponent of Professional Government

Reagan on the Civil Service:

Arthur B. Shostak, a retired Drexel University professor who wrote a book about the strike and briefly worked for PATCO, argues that breaking the strike with a mass firing should not be regarded as a Reagan victory.
PATCO, which had endorsed Reagan's candidacy, was replaced by another union, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, affiliated with the AFL-CIO, which wields considerable power today in the Federal Aviation Administration, Shostak said.
Although Reagan's action stopped talk by federal unions of staging strikes and other work actions, it drove union members into the Democratic Party and insulted the civil service, he said.
Reagan took "the most talented people in the civil service and put them on the trash heap. They were blacklisted from employment in the civil service," Shostak said.
Hindsight is everything, and Reagan's approach should not have been surprising. In his November 1979 speech announcing his presidential candidacy, Reagan told a New York crowd:
"We must put an end to the arrogance of a federal establishment which accepts no blame for our condition. . . . I will not accept the supposed 'wisdom' which has it that the federal bureaucracy has become so powerful that it can no longer be changed or controlled by any administration."
The anti-government rhetoric of the right is hollow, but their policies make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. The civil service is one of the great achievements of the earlier anti-government era - the Progressive Movement. Rolling back those protections returns us to an era of graft, corruption, and incompetence - much like our present administration. Harold Meyerson makes a broader point in todays Washington Post:
Roughly a quarter of American workers belonged to unions when Reagan took office. When he broke the PATCO strike, it was an unambiguous signal that employers need feel little or no obligation to their workers, and employers got that message loud and clear -- illegally firing workers who sought to unionize, replacing permanent employees who could collect benefits with temps who could not, shipping factories and jobs abroad. Reagan may have preached traditional values, but loyalty was not one of them.

In his efforts to return capitalism to its previously unlamented Hobbesian past, Reagan had plenty of company. His helpmeet Maggie Thatcher made similar changes on her side of the pond. Throughout the advanced capitalist nations, the power of workers weakened as the old industrial economies ceased to expand and global investment began to outrun the constraints of the state. But nowhere was the force of investment stronger and the force of labor weaker than in the United States. The explosion of the trade deficit, no less than the budget deficit, dates to Reagan's morning in America.

Reaganomics reflected the rise of Sunbelt capitalism -- of right-to-work-state businessmen who, unlike their Northern counterparts, had never cottoned at all to unions or regulations. From Reagan's dictum that government is the problem to Tom DeLay's equation of the Environmental Protection Agency with the Gestapo, the idea that there are higher purposes than private profit, or gainful pest extermination, has been banished from modern Republicanism. And though Reaganomics may have begun in the backwaters of American capitalism, it soon spread to Wall Street, which has rewarded our current Reaganaut, George W. Bush, with more money for his campaign than any other sector. Scrap the taxes on dividends, and that musty financial oversight, and watch finance become the political clone of the oil bidness.

Gloria Feldt, of Planned Parenthood: Be wary of DLC

AP:

"I think John Kerry understands viscerally reproductive rights as being related to women's human rights globally," she said in an interview Wednesday. "But he's got to come up with some better language to talk about it, and I think he's being poorly advised, poorly served by some of his advisers at the moment."
...
"I think when a candidate has a set of beliefs, even if a voter doesn't agree with that set of beliefs, they have more respect for a candidate. So I'm hoping that Kerry will learn that as he goes along. He's certainly always been strong in his previous races, so I think he'll come to his senses," Feldt said.
Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter, noting the candidate's rally in April with women's groups, said he is "absolutely committed to protecting a woman's right to choose."
I think this is good advice. Democrats win on the ground, through active supporters willing to volunteer time to make a real connection with voters. Kentucky and South Dakota were both won that way. Clear positions help, both energizing volunteers and simplifying their tasks.

Dean Changed Politics

Joe Trippi claims the Dean campaign changed politics through its emphasis on the internet as a campaign tool. He may be right, but the change wrought by Dean was much greater than that, and much more ambiguous in its desirability.

His most important impact was solidifying political rhetoric as the deteminant of one's location on the left-right axis, rather than policy. Dean was a DLC Democrat - he supported the death penalty, opposed gun control, and governed as a deficit hawk. Yet he was well received on the left, rejected by the center-right, and mocked on the right, because his rhetoric, though accurate, wasn't attractive to the Heathers of the Washington Establishment.

The medium is the message, and Dean proved it.

"Liberal Media"

Ridiculous AP title: Democrats in Congress pay Tepid Tribute to Reagan. The story is that the Democrats praised Reagan at all, not that their praise was insufficiently gushing.

Ridiculous NYT title: Kerry Pays Respects to Reagan, but Takes a Swipe at Bush. The "swipe?"

Aboard his plane as he flew to California from Washington, Mr. Kerry told reporters he admired Mr. Reagan's political skills and liked him personally. "He was a very likeable guy," Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Kerry said Mr. Reagan "was, as he's been written about, sort of arm's distance from a lot of the stuff" on which he worked with the White House. He said as a senator he mainly dealt with Mr. Reagan's chiefs of staff and cabinet members.

But, he added pointedly: "I had quite a few meetings with him. I met with Reagan a lot more than I've met with this president."
That "swipe" is nicer than the best thing George Bush has ever said about Kerry.

Vice President Vilsack

John Kerry is vetting Vilsack for VP, looking at his pst writings.

AP: Florida Still Swing State, but Different

Ron Fournier of the AP reports on demographic changes in Florida that alter its political identity, while leaving it a swing state. Exurbanization, the in-migration of wealth retirees, and Bush's Jewish voter appeals help the Republicans, while the increasing numbers of first time, Hispanic and Black voters bode well for the Democrats.

This may be the most dynamic state in all the 50," said Jeb Bush, who hopes to deliver 17-million-strong Florida to his brother this November.
"We have the largest number of people moving in, the third-highest number of people moving out. We have a pretty high birth rate. We have a lot of young people who are becoming first-time voters. And, we have a lot of people going on to see their Creator," Bush said.
The state's 9.3 million registered voters are a microcosm of America — black, white and brown; immigrants and Southern aristocracy; Panhandle conservatives, Miami-Dade County liberals and a growing number of independents; scores of voters driven by single issues such as Fidel Castro's rule in Cuba, Israel's security and, yes, the disputed outcome of the 2000 presidential election.
They will determine whether Bush or Democrat John Kerry gets Florida's 27 electoral votes, a 10th of the total needed to win the White House. It's the largest prize of the battleground states, with each campaign spending more than $10 million in television commercials since March.
What has changed in Florida since 2000? "Everything," Jeb Bush says.
He cites the explosion of exurbs far outside Florida's cities, a magnet for middle- and upper-class Floridians seeking more land, better schools and lower taxes. The phenomena — familiar to Missouri, Minnesota, Arizona and other battleground states — tends to favor the GOP, whose candidates often speak the language of faith and family values.
...
Maceda and other Hispanics make up 17 percent of Florida's population and cast about 11 percent of the state's votes in 2000. About one-third are Cuban-Americans, who typically vote Republican.
The remaining Hispanics often back Democrats — or are more open to persuasion than Cuban-Americans. Jeb Bush, who won the Hispanic vote in 2002, said they are less likely to register and turnout than other voters.
"While that's certainly an important new part of the electorate in our state, if I was asked what's the most important segment of voters, I would say it's the ones most likely to vote — and those would be our senior citizens," he said.
Democrats argue that the population shifts favor Kerry. Of the 730,000 new Florida residents between April 2000 and July 2002, about 46 percent were Hispanic. Another 28 percent were black — a minority group that overwhelmingly votes Democratic, especially in recount-scarred Florida.
Just 21 percent of the new Floridians were white, according to the Census Bureau.
"While the suburban population has grown ... I would argue that demographically, Florida is a more friendly place to Democrats than it was in 2000," said Marcus Jadotte, a deputy campaign manager to Kerry.
The AP provides a helpful summary of issues that may affect the Florida outcome. Yesterday, Fournier wrote about Bush's trouble retaining Florida's Cuban voting bloc. Bush's Milquetoast anti-Castro policy has alienated hardliners, and Iraq has hurt his support among moderates. Generational changes are also rending Cubans from the Republican base.

More "Stab in the Back" Tactics from Republicans: Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Cards

Matt Yglesias has written about the Republican claims that their policies are failing because of a liberal "knife in the back." It is obviously a more serious charge in the Iraq debate, where war, death, and terror are all on the plate. But the GOP is pursuing the tactic more explicitly, and just as perniciously, in the Drug Discount Card program.

The Discount Card program was incredibly poorly designed, certainly at least in part because it was a wholesale product of industry lobbyists and Bush sycophants. It was esay to foresee the problems that the program would encounter, and David Sirota of the Center for American Progress has been on the case for half a year now [See here, here, and here, for instance].

The administration tried to paper over the programs obvious difficulties through a massive propaganda campaign financed by taxpayers, for the benefit of Bush's reelection prospects.

It is now clear that the propaganda campaign failed: Seniors have not been able to benefit from the program. Other than automatic enrollees, as few as 600,000 seniors have navigated the maze of forms and paperwork necessary to apply for the questionably beneficial card [See also CNN 6/1/04]. Seniors meet obstacle after obstacle in the application process; most significantly, the benefits and discounts each card offers can change at any point, and have changed many times just in the initial months of the program.

Rather than attempting to fix the problems inherent in the policy design, GOP Senators spent all day today in a hearing blaming Democrats for undermining the program with a disinformation campaign.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a key congressional architect of the Medicare drug benefit, accused critics of the discount card program of engaging in a "deliberate campaign to discredit it and confuse seniors about how it works."

"This effort is driven and coordinated by those who opposed the Medicare Modernization Act, not because of policy but because of politics," Grassley said in his opening statement for Tuesday's hearing. [CBS Marketwatch, 6/8/04]
Republicans on Capitol Hill are accusing Democrats of deliberately trying to undermine the Medicare prescription drug discount program, saying they are playing on seniors' confusion for political gain.

In a finance committee hearing today, several GOP senators criticized Democrats Tuesday for their continued attacks on a program they say is designed to deliver much-needed prescription drug discounts to Medicare beneficiaries. Democrats counter that the program has delivered lower discounts than expected, is too complicated to help many seniors, and does little to force drug companies to lower their prices. [Web MD Medical News 6/8/04]
As the AP story linked above notes, "the most widely seen critical advertisements was aired by AARP, the largest advocacy organization for older Americans, which backed the Medicare legislation last fall. AARP's ad highlights the law's complexity and suggests that AARP can make it understandable." Kent Conrad, hardly a partisan warrior, has introduced simple legislation that would address many of the problems. If the GOP was really concerned about helping seniors, they would fix the problems.

Medigate Update

Ted Kennedy has a press release on “Medigate,” what he calls the administration's withholding of the actuarial estimates of the costs of Bush's new program:

The White House Medigate coverup continues. The President finally responded, through Secretary Thompson, to our letters of March 12 and May 10 posing a series of specific questions regarding the President's and the Administration's actions in concealing the Medicare Chief Actuary's cost estimates from Congress and the American people. The Thompson letter answers none of those questions.
It is an unfortunate name, since it doesn't differentiate between the innumerable other scandals swirling around the prescription drug bill. Sen. Lautenberg's office released a report covering some of the scandals, but much more is out there, including: the AdvancePCS-Discount Card connection, the poor design of the legislation, the misappropriation of government resources for political purposes in advertising the legislation, the use of deceptive "video news releases" in advertising the program, and the absurdity of the discount card program.

6/06/2004

David Stockman

The Education of David Stockman - 81.12

Reagan Roundup

I can't really say anything eloquent, but it's always sad to see someone go. Best wishes to Nancy and the Reagan family.

The Guardian.
WaPo: Ronald Reagan Dies.
WaPo: Kerry to Suspend "Overtly Political" Campaigning in Observance of Reagan's Passing.
WaPo: "Great Communicator" Redefined Nation's, World's Agenda.
WaPo: Sagging GOP Rebuilt in His Image.
WaPo: Hastening an End to the Cold War.
WaPo: Right Leaning Policy Won a Nickname: Reaganomics
WaPo: The Leading Man.
WaPo: Washington in the Eighties.
George Will: An Optimist's Legacy.
AP: Kerry Lauds Reagan; Suspends Campaigning.
Reuters: Kerry Suspends Campaign Events in Honor of Reagan.
AP: New Hampshire Debate Key to Reagan Success.
AP: Kerry Postpones Campaign to Honor Reagan.

There are plenty of others out there.

 

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