(Copyright 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)


Subject: Article: Behind Our Backs
Date: Tue, 15 Apr 2003 15:17:37 -0500 (EST)

April 15, 2003

Behind Our Backs


As the war began, members of the House of Representatives gave speech after speech praising our soldiers, and passed a resolution declaring their support for the troops. Then they voted to slash veterans' benefits.

Some of us have long predicted that the drive to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy would lead to a fiscal dance of the seven veils. One at a time, the pretenses would be dropped " the pretense that big tax cuts wouldn't preclude new programs like prescription-drug insurance, the pretense that the budget would remain in surplus, the pretense that spending could be cut painlessly by eliminating waste and fraud, the pretense that spending cuts wouldn't hurt the middle class.

There are still several veils to remove before the true face of "compassionate conservatism" is revealed, but we're getting there.

I've always assumed that at some point the American people would realize what was happening and demand an end to the process. Now, though, I'm not so sure, and that wartime vote illustrates why.

A digression: we have entered a new stage in the tax-cut debate. Until now, the Bush administration and its allies haven't made any effort to explain how they plan to replace the revenues lost because of tax cuts. Now, however, party discipline is starting to crack: a few Republicans in the House and Senate, and many erstwhile supporters on Wall Street are beginning to notice how much we're looking like a banana republic.

That House budget was a halfhearted attempt to assuage those concerns; for the first time, the Republican leadership went beyond generalities about cutting spending to a list of specific cuts.

But the result wasn't very convincing: it still contained several dollars in tax cuts for every dollar of spending cuts. Furthermore, the list of cuts " in child nutrition, medical care for children, child-care assistance and support for foster care and adoption (leave no child behind!) " was clearly designed to suggest that the budget can be balanced on the backs of the poor, without any significant cuts in programs that benefit the middle class.

Aside from its mean-spiritedness, this suggestion is simply false: our deficits are too large, and our current spending on the poor too small, for even the most Scrooge-like of governments to offer additional tax cuts for the rich without raising taxes or cutting benefits for the middle class.

So it's not too surprising that the House budget failed to win over the doubters, though it's unclear what will happen next. In a bizarre piece of parliamentary maneuvering, wavering senators agreed to vote for a budget resolution that would allow $550 billion in tax cuts, in return for a gentlemen's agreement from Bill Frist and Charles Grassley that the actual sum won't exceed $350 billion.

I'm no expert on this, but given the underhanded tactics that were used to push tax cuts through in 2001 " the Senate's cap on the 10-year tax cut was evaded by making the whole thing expire after 9 years " I suspect that the spirit, if not the letter, of this agreement will somehow be violated.

But back to the amazing spectacle of the war's opening, when the House voted to cut the benefits of the men and women it praised a few minutes earlier. What that scene demonstrated was the belief of the Republican leadership that if it wraps itself in the flag, and denounces critics as unpatriotic, it can get away with just about anything. And the scary thing is that this belief may be justified.

For the overwhelming political lesson of the last year is that war works " that is, it's an excellent cover for the Republican Party's domestic political agenda. In fact, war works in two ways. The public rallies around the flag, which means the President and his party; and the public's attention is diverted from other issues.

As long as the nation is at war, then, it will be hard to get the public to notice what the flagwavers are doing behind our backs. And it just so happens that the "Bush doctrine," which calls for preventive war against countries that may someday pose a threat, offers the possibility of a series of wars against nasty regimes with weak armies.

Someday the public will figure all this out. But it may be a very long wait.

 Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company  ##

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Subject: Article: The Last Refuge
Date: Tue, 8 Apr 2003 15:17:37 -0500 (EST)

April 8, 2003

The Last Refuge


In 1944, millions of Americans were engaged in desperate battles across the world. Nonetheless, a normal presidential election was held, and the opposition didn't pull its punches: Thomas Dewey, the Republican candidate, campaigned on the theme that Franklin Roosevelt was a "tired old man." As far as I've been able to ascertain, the Roosevelt administration didn't accuse Dewey of hurting morale by questioning the president's competence. After all, democracy " including the right to criticize " was what we were fighting for.

It's not a slur on the courage of our troops, or a belittling of the risks they face, to say that our current war is a mere skirmish by comparison. Yet self-styled patriots are trying to impose constraints on political speech never contemplated during World War II, accusing anyone who criticizes the president of undermining the war effort.

Last week John Kerry told an audience that "what we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein and Iraq, but we need a regime change in the United States." Republicans immediately sought to portray this remark as little short of treason.

"Senator Kerry crossed a grave line when he dared to suggest the replacement of America's commander in chief at a time when America is at war," declared Marc Racicot, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Notice that Mr. Racicot wasn't criticizing Mr. Kerry's choice of words. Instead, he denounced Mr. Kerry because he "dared to suggest the replacement of America's commander in chief" " knowing full well that Mr. Kerry was simply talking about the next election. Mr. Racicot, not Mr. Kerry, is the one who crossed a grave line; never in our nation's history has it been considered unpatriotic to oppose an incumbent's re-election.

Anyway, what defines patriotism? Talk is cheap; so is putting a flag in your lapel. Citizens prove their patriotism when they make sacrifices for the sake of their country. Mr. Kerry, a decorated veteran, has met that test. Most of his critics haven't.

I'm not just talking about military service " though it's striking how few of our biggest hawks have served. Nor am I talking only about financial sacrifice " though profiting from public office seems to be the norm, not the exception, among those who wrap themselves in the flag. (Mr. Racicot himself accepted the job as R.N.C. chairman only on the condition that he remain on the payroll of Bracewell and Patterson, a law firm that specializes in lobbying.)

The biggest test of a politician's patriotism is whether he is willing to sacrifice some of his political agenda for the sake of the nation. And that's a test our current leaders have failed with flying colors.

Consider the case of Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, who also piled on Mr. Kerry last week. As it happens, during the war in Kosovo Mr. DeLay was a defeatist, and blamed his own country for provoking Serbian atrocities; any Democrat who said similar things now would be accused of giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

Mr. DeLay's political agenda hasn't shifted a bit now that we're at war again. He's still pushing for huge, divisive tax cuts that go mainly to the rich: "Nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes," he says. And he's still eager to slash any and all domestic spending. In the midst of war he pushed through a budget that included sharp cuts in, yes, veterans' benefits.

You can see why Mr. Kerry blasted back, "I'm not going to be questioned in my patriotism by the likes of Tom DeLay."

Some timid souls will suggest that critics of the Bush administration hold off until the war is over. But that's not the American tradition " and anyway, when will this war be over? Baghdad will fall, but during the occupation that follows American soldiers will still be in harm's way. Also, a strong faction within the administration wants to go on to Syria, to Iran and beyond. And Al Qaeda is still out there.

For years to come, then, this country may be, in some sense, at war. And all that time, if Mr. Racicot and his party are allowed to set the ground rules, nobody will be allowed to criticize the president or call for his electoral defeat. You know what? If that happens, we will have lost the war, whatever happens on the battlefield.

                              Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company  ##

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Subject: Article: Delusions of Power
Date: Sun, 30 Mar 2003 09:24:15 -0500 (EST)

March 28, 2003

Delusions of Power


They considered themselves tough-minded realists, and regarded doubters as fuzzy-minded whiners. They silenced those who questioned their premises, even though the skeptics included many of the government's own analysts. They were supremely confident " and yet with shocking speed everything they had said was proved awesomely wrong.

No, I'm not talking about the war; I'm talking about the energy task force that Dick Cheney led back in 2001. Yet there are some disturbing parallels. Right now, pundits are wondering how Mr. Cheney " who confidently predicted that our soldiers would be "greeted as liberators" " could have been so mistaken. But a devastating new report on the California energy crisis reminds us that Mr. Cheney has been equally confident, and equally wrong, about other issues.

In spring 2001 the lights were going out all over California. There were blackouts and brownouts, and the price of electricity was soaring. The Cheney task force was convened in the midst of that crisis. It concluded, in brief, that the energy crisis was a long-term problem caused by meddling bureaucrats and pesky environmentalists, who weren't letting big companies do what needed to be done. The solution? Scrap environmental rules, and give the energy industry multibillion-dollar subsidies.

Along the way, Mr. Cheney sneeringly dismissed energy conservation as a mere "sign of personal virtue" and scorned California officials who called for price controls and said the crisis was being exacerbated by market manipulation. To be fair, Mr. Cheney's mocking attitude on that last point was shared by almost everyone in politics and the media " and yes, I am patting myself on the back for getting it right.

For we now know that everything Mr. Cheney said was wrong.

In fact, the California energy crisis had nothing to do with environmental restrictions, and a lot to do with market manipulation. In 2001 the evidence for manipulation was basically circumstantial. But now we have a new report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which until now has discounted claims of market manipulation. No more: the new report concludes that market manipulation was pervasive, and offers a mountain of direct evidence, including phone conversations, e-mail and memos. There's no longer any doubt: California's power shortages were largely artificial, created by energy companies to drive up prices and profits.

Oh, and what ended the crisis? Key factors included energy conservation and price controls. Meanwhile, what happened to that long-term shortage of capacity, which required scrapping environmental rules and providing lots of corporate welfare? Within months after the Cheney report's release, stock analysts were downgrading energy companies because of a looming long-term-capacity glut.

In short, Mr. Cheney and his tough-minded realists were blowing smoke: their report described a fantasy world that bore no relation to reality. How did they get it so wrong?

One answer is that Mr. Cheney made sure that his task force included only like-minded men: as far as we can tell, he didn't consult with anyone except energy executives. So the task force was subject to what military types call "incestuous amplification," defined by Jane's Defense Weekly as "a condition in warfare where one only listens to those who are already in lock-step agreement, reinforcing set beliefs and creating a situation ripe for miscalculation."

Another answer is that Mr. Cheney basically drew his advice about how to end the energy crisis from the very companies creating the crisis, for fun and profit. But was he in on the joke?

We may never know what really went on in the energy task force since the Bush administration has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep us from finding out. At first the nonpartisan General Accounting Office, which is supposed to act as an internal watchdog, seemed determined to pursue the matter. But after the midterm election, according to the newsletter The Hill, Congressional Republicans approached the agency's head and threatened to slash his budget unless he backed off.

And therein lies the broader moral. In the last two years Mr. Cheney and other top officials have gotten it wrong again and again " on energy, on the economy, on the budget. But political muscle has insulated them from any adverse consequences. So they, and the country, don't learn from their mistakes " and the mistakes keep getting bigger.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company  ##

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