Archive for February 11th, 2007
Spine-ectomies? Brain diminution? Look at this:
Here is one reason reporters too often don’t ask the right provocative questions of the president or his briefers: They bog themselves down in details and make it easy for the briefer to slip away, as Tony Snow did the other day when he was asked about proposed budget cuts for Medicare and Medicaid, on which 90 million people depend for some medical care.
I will explain, but first some background known to virtually every reporter assigned to write about the new budget: For readers as well as reporters, in the main stream press, the annual budget is the least understood, most widely written, under-read story of the year. And the TV types rarely bother with it, except maybe to show meaningless pictures of the budget books. One large reason for this lack of interest– the main budget stories are full of facts and numbing numbers, but they don’t tell the truth.
For example, The New York Times’ Robert Pear, who knows more about Medicare than any expert, told us in his initial budget piece on Feb. 2, that “President Bush will ask Congress…to squeeze more than $70 billion in savings from Medicare and Medicaid over the next five years…The proposals, part of a White House plan to balance the budget by 2012, set the stage for a battle with Congress over entitlement spending…”
Naturally there were the predictable skeptical quotes from Democrats, but the story went on, “Mr. Bush has repeatedly said that Medicare has serious long-term financial problems and many experts share his concern.” And that was backed up with a predictable quote from the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, which (like Bush) has never been a friend of Medicare.
As it turned out, Bush is seeking even deeper cutbacks in Medicare and Medicaid, which were also reported as “savings,” as the Times said. By savings the reporters meant the administration would spend that much less than it had planned, sort of like saving by not buying the car you don’t need. But ‘savings” is a misleading euphemism, and Medicare and Medicaid are not like merchandise. Cutting the growth means cutting back on services. And more than that, the president proposed a cap on Medicare and Medicaid spending and absolute reductions in amounts paid to providers.
My point is, as the reporters well know–or should know by now-–the president has been steadily privatizing Medicare, that is, doing away with it as a national, public health care program for older Americans and the disabled. The budget is a political document, reflecting the ideology and values of the president. But no one writing the main stories talked to reputable Medicare advocates, such as New York’s Medicare Rights Center, or the Washington lawyers for the Center for Medicare Advocacy.
As a result, it was easy for Tony Snow to slip away from the few questions on the budget and the only one that was asked about Medicare’s cuts on Feb. 6. Snow said the budget merely cut back the rate of growth, “so there are no cuts at all.” It was a fact, but not the truth. He could have been asked a different question based on a truth: “Tony, given the privatization of Part D and Medicare Advantage, is the president in favor of keeping Medicare as a public, universal health care program?”
Krugman lays it out, step by step:
Attacking Iran would be a catastrophic mistake, even if all the allegations now being made about Iranian actions in Iraq are true.
But it wouldn’t be the first catastrophic mistake this administration has made, and there are indications that, at the very least, a powerful faction in the administration is spoiling for a fight.
Before we get to the apparent war-mongering, let’s talk about the basics. Are there people in Iran providing aid to factions in Iraq, factions that sometimes kill Americans as well as other Iraqis? Yes, probably. But you can say the same about Saudi Arabia, which is believed to be a major source of financial support for Sunni insurgents — and Sunnis, not Iranian-backed Shiites, are still responsible for most American combat deaths.
The Bush administration, however, with its close personal and financial ties to the Saudis, has always downplayed Saudi connections to America’s enemies. Iran, on the other hand, which had no connection to 9/11, and was actually quite helpful to the United States in the months after the terrorist attack, somehow found itself linked with its bitter enemy Saddam Hussein as part of the “axis of evil.”
So the administration has always had it in for the Iranian regime. Now, let’s do an O. J. Simpson: if you were determined to start a war with Iran, how would you do it?
Just finished Ward Larsen’s The Perfect Assassin, which I got the library to acquire. Enjoyable thriller—I think his first. Not deep, but fun.
From Laura Rozen’s War & Piece, via Kevin Drum:
Former undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith on Fox News Sunday: “My office never said there was an operational relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda. It’s just not correct. I mean, words matter.”
Perhaps he has forgotten this leaked Feith memo, cited favorably by the Vice President, and published by the Weekly Standard:
OSAMA BIN LADEN and Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003 that involved training in explosives and weapons of mass destruction, logistical support for terrorist attacks, al Qaeda training camps and safe haven in Iraq, and Iraqi financial support for al Qaeda—perhaps even for Mohamed Atta—according to a top secret U.S. government memorandum obtained by THE WEEKLY STANDARD. The memo, dated October 27, 2003, was sent from Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith to Senators Pat Roberts and Jay Rockefeller, the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. ….
The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq starkly delineates the gulf that separates President Bush’s illusions from the realities of the war. Victory, as the president sees it, requires a stable liberal democracy in Iraq that is pro-American. The NIE describes a war that has no chance of producing that result. In this critical respect, the NIE, the consensus judgment of all the U.S. intelligence agencies, is a declaration of defeat.
Its gloomy implications — hedged, as intelligence agencies prefer, in rubbery language that cannot soften its impact — put the intelligence community and the American public on the same page. The public awakened to the reality of failure in Iraq last year and turned the Republicans out of control of Congress to wake it up. But a majority of its members are still asleep, or only half-awake to their new writ to end the war soon.
Perhaps this is not surprising. Americans do not warm to defeat or failure, and our politicians are famously reluctant to admit their own responsibility for anything resembling those un-American outcomes. So they beat around the bush, wringing hands and debating “nonbinding resolutions” that oppose the president’s plan to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.
For the moment, the collision of the public’s clarity of mind, the president’s relentless pursuit of defeat and Congress’s anxiety has paralyzed us. We may be doomed to two more years of chasing the mirage of democracy in Iraq and possibly widening the war to Iran. But this is not inevitable. A Congress, or a president, prepared to quit the game of “who gets the blame” could begin to alter American strategy in ways that will vastly improve the prospects of a more stable Middle East.
No task is more important to the well-being of the United States. We face great peril in that troubled region, and improving our prospects will be difficult. First of all, it will require, from Congress at least, public acknowledgment that the president’s policy is based on illusions, not realities. There never has been any right way to invade and transform Iraq. Most Americans need no further convincing, but two truths ought to put the matter beyond question:
Newsweek on “The Hidden War With Iran.”
At least one former White House official contends that some Bush advisers secretly want an excuse to attack Iran. “They intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for,” says Hillary Mann, the administration’s former National Security Council director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs. …
A second Navy carrier group is steaming toward the Persian Gulf, and NEWSWEEK has learned that a third carrier will likely follow. Iran shot off a few missiles in those same tense waters last week, in a highly publicized test. With Americans and Iranians jousting on the chaotic battleground of Iraq, the chances of a small incident’s spiraling into a crisis are higher than they’ve been in years.