Friday, April 11, 2003

I see from this article in the Wall Street Journal today that the Bush team has figured out how it will pay for the war in Iraq:

"The U.S. has diverted more than a half billion dollars from relief efforts for famines, epidemics and civil wars around the world to prepare for the aftermath of the war in Iraq, delaying aid to displaced Sudanese and homeless Afghans, among others."

So that's how you pay for a war while cutting taxes at the same time! Brilliant!!

The article goes on to say that the White House is planning to repay most of the money from other accounts in the State Department's foreign aid budget. (Yeah, right!) But adds that Bush is already planning to dip into other foreign aid accounts to free more than $100 million in additional funds for Iraq relief efforts.

All of this shuffling of aid dollars has left places such as the Ivory Coast, which has been wracked by a brutal civil war, unable to protect children from a measles outbreak, the article states. An appeal by the United Nations Children's Fund for $5.7 million to vaccinate 8 million children in the Ivory Coast has so far raised only enough to supply 400,000 vaccinations. Donor nations have been withholding funding for other regions to preserve their ability to fund Iraq relief.

"The U.S., the world's largest supplier of foreign aid, also has diverted the largest amount to Iraq. Since the Bush administration didn't request - and (the Republican) Congress didn't approve - any money for the war in this year's regular budget, the State Department 'scrubbed' $556.4 million from disaster and development accounts for Africa, Asia, Latin America and elsewhere."


While we are on this subject, here is a blistering critique of U.S. foreign policy (or the lack thereof) under Bush by Jeffrey Sachs, a professor of economics at Columbia University.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Many people woke up this morning happy in the belief that the war in Iraq is essentially over. I hope that it is and perhaps the worst is over, but the nasty aftermath is possibly just beginning. Since the big statue of Saddam was pulled down in the center of Baghdad, there have been more military casualties in a firefight near a mosque, another suicide bombing that injured at least four soldiers and the assassination of a pro-Western Shiite cleric who had just returned from exhile.
The stock market welcomed the news of the fall of Saddam's empire by plummeting another 100 points. Does this bode ill for the big bull market that the administration is counting on to rejuvenate the economy after the war is over?
Michael Kinsley (my favorite columnist) has another excellent article today titled Unsettled - Victory in the war is not victory in the argument about the war. A sentiment with which I fully agree.

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article today comparing George W.'s presidency at this stage with that of his father.
At this point in Bush the Elder's presidency his job approval was at 81 percent.
George W. is at 66 percent.

George the Elder could take credit for the creation of 1.3 million jobs at that point in his presidency.
George W. has so far presided over the loss of 2 million jobs.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 28.5 percent during the first 26 months of Bush the Elder.
The Dow is down 22.6 percent so far under George W.'s stewardship.

George the Elder saw an increase of 2 million Americans without health insurance.
George W. has seen an increase of 1.4 million Americans without health insurance.

Oh, and they had both claimed big victories in Middle Eastern war campaigns.
I can't help but think that Bush Jr. is in a pretty poor position at this point to ever get elected. Good thing he still has the Supreme Court on his side. Maybe they will just cancel the elections altogether.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

The NYTimes is reporting that 11 journalists have been killed so far in 21 days of war. Also, there have been about 90 U.S. military casualties to date. During the first Gulf War there were no journalists among the casualties. Is this an indication that the glut of media coverage that we have come to expect today is forcing more journalists to continuously stick their necks out in order to get the story first and constantly up the ante with more and better graphic coverage? Perhaps this is the inevitable result of the "reality TV" fad right now where we expect to see all aspects of the war live as it happens. And unfortunately, this has not sated our appetite for more and more "reality" no matter how bloody and horrifying, not anymore than the Roman's lust for blood was sated by the gladiator fights in the coliseums.

Even with as much news coverage as we are getting, it is still almost impossible to know for sure what is really happening at any given moment. Is Saddam Hussein dead now? Didn't they report that he was dead several weeks ago? And if he wasn't killed by the latest bombing, who was? Was our intelligence wrong again? Who is feeding us this information and why? Pretty disturbing to think that there is someone over there who has the power to direct our bombers to let loose with 2,000 pound bunker busters on 12-minutes notice at their whim. Are they taking out rival factions or getting pay back on their enemies by manipulating our desire to get Saddam?

Then there are the supposed chemical weapons discovered yesterday. Or were they just old cannisters of pesticides? Whatever was in the containers, it reportedly was not "weaponized" so does that still mean it would be illegal under the U.N. inspections program? And what happens if we never do find any "weapons of mass destruction"? Won't that make it that much harder to win back the trust and support of the rest of the world opposed to this pre-emptive military action?

Monday, April 07, 2003

From the New York Times Magazine this week:

"At times, deficits are necessary to stimulate economic growth, and their dampening impact on private investment is occasionally exaggerated. But because of the Bush administration's policies and a weak economy, deficits are now approaching unmanageable levels, as they did in the 1980's. In fact, the federal government's fiscal health has deteriorated at a pace so stunning that few have yet caught up with the facts.

"Here are some of those facts. Even without a war, the budget deficit would have exceeded $300 billion this year -- just three years after the budget experienced a surplus of nearly $240 billion. (This was in the midst of a four-year run of substantial surpluses.) But with war costs escalating and revenues falling as a result of the flat economy, this year's deficit could rise to $400 billion. In fiscal year 2004, it is likely to be higher.

"The president has asked Congress for $75 billion to finance war-related costs, but many think a more realistic estimate of the combined costs of war and reconstruction will be closer to $200 billion. More alarming is the decline of government revenues over the long run. Instead of generating $5 trillion to $6 trillion in surpluses over 10 years from rising tax revenues on growing incomes, the government will now probably come up nearly $2 trillion short through 2013. That recession and slower growth have shrunk tax revenues is predictable enough. But the sinking stock market has taken more of a toll than expected: there are no more outsize capital gains to tax. These yielded fat revenues in the late 1990's, when stocks were soaring, exaggerating the fiscal health of the nation. Now the train is running in reverse.

"Finally, the Bush tax cuts have made long-term financial prospects significantly worse. Occasionally, tax cuts make sense. But the $1.4 trillion tax-cut package passed in 2001 would have been more productive if it had been temporary and applicable to more taxpayers. Instead, it was skewed to the rich (who are prone to save rather than spend) and will be permanent -- far from disappearing should the economy improve, the tax cut will grow larger. The administration proposed a second major tax cut in early January, estimated to cost $726 billion over 10 years, and it appears to be even less effective as a near-term stimulus: more than half of the total results from the elimination of taxes on dividends, an idea raised at Bush's economic summit in Waco, Tex., last August by a stockbroker, Charles Schwab. In addition, the Bush administration followed up this tax plan with a new budget that would extend the 2001 cuts three years past their expiration, costing another $600 billion.

"The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculates that reductions in mandatory programs for the elderly, veterans and the poor would come to $265 billion over 10 years. Another $210 billion would be lopped off of discretionary programs. The total of $475 billion is about equal to the tax reduction the president is requesting for the top 1 percent of earners in America."