Thursday, November 06, 2003

The Road Not Taken

This is an incredible story in the NY Times today. Apparently we had Saddam Hussein backed so far into a corner by March of this year that he was ready to make almost any kind of deal that we wanted.

“Iraqi officials, including the chief of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, had told the businessman that they wanted Washington to know that Iraq no longer had weapons of mass destruction, and they offered to allow American troops and experts to conduct a search. The businessman said in an interview that the Iraqis also offered to hand over a man accused of being involved in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 who was being held in Baghdad. At one point, he said, the Iraqis pledged to hold elections.

So before Bush pulled the trigger on this bloody invasion that we are currently embroiled in, he had an opportunity to take U.S. troops into Baghdad to search for WMDs to his heart’s content. But the Bush administration was already too busy ignoring and covering up mounting evidence that these stockpiles of WMDs were illusory. If the whole purpose of the invasion was to disarm a dangerous dictator who had acquired the means to threaten not just his neighbors, but the entire world, then why didn’t he pursue this opportunity? Is it because such a course of action might have left Saddam’s regime in power? Does that mean the real reason we went to war was not to rid Iraq of WMDs, but to allow Bush to settle a personal score with Saddam?

But even in this case, the deal being offered contained this intriguing “pledge to hold elections” which we could have pursued as a means to force Saddam to step down peacefully the same way we arranged for the former dictator Charles Taylor to step down in Liberia. If Bush had any diplomatic skills whatsoever, he could have taken advantage of this opportunity and achieved much better results than we are faced with today.

But noooooooo. Bush just had to have his war. He wanted to be able to flex his military muscles and show off how macho we can be. None of this wussy diplomacy stuff like most of our allies were suggesting. Bush is a man of action - just as long as it is somebody else’s butt on the line.

Payback for polluters

The NY Times reports today that Bush’s EPA is dropping enforcement actions against 50 power plants for past violations of the Clean Air Act.

“...the decision meant the cases would be judged under new, less stringent rules set to take effect next month... the new rules include exemptions that would make it almost impossible to sustain the investigations into the plants...
the change grew out of a recommendation by Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force...”

This is just lovely. I wonder how much money these corporate polluters have poured into Bush’s campaign coffers? Now it is payback time. Of course, the person they should really be thanking is Ralph Nader and the Green Party. Thanks Ralph!!

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Bond issues approved

All of the San Antonio bond issues were approved yesterday. I won't say that this is good or bad. My position on bond elections can be stated thusly:

Why are you coming to me for approval? What do I or any of these other ignorant voters know about this stuff? I thought we paid you guys to make these decisions. If you screw up and make a bad decision we will vote you out of office next time, that's just the way it goes. Stop hiding behind these bond elections for political cover.

Now, I understand that our screwed up state constitution requires our leaders to put these issues on the ballot. But that still doesn't mean that I have to like it.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Reagan - Tax Raising Machine!

The Daily Howler points to an interesting article by conservative columnist Bruce Bartlett, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, in which he notes the number of times that President Reagan raised taxes during his administration:

“Reagan may have resisted calls for tax increases, but he ultimately supported them. In 1982 alone, he signed into law not one but two major tax increases. The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act raised taxes by $37.5 billion per year, and the Highway Revenue Act of 1982 raised the gasoline tax by another $3.3 billion.

According to a recent Treasury Department study, TEFRA alone raised taxes by almost 1 percent of the gross domestic product, making it the largest peacetime tax increase in American history. An increase of similar magnitude today would raise more than $100 billion per year.

In 1983, Reagan signed legislation raising the Social Security tax rate. This is a tax increase that lives with us still, since it initiated automatic increases in the taxable wage base. As a consequence, those with moderately high earnings see their payroll taxes rise every single year.

The following year, Reagan signed another big tax increase in the Deficit Reduction Act of 1984. This raised taxes by $18 billion per year or 0.4 percent of GDP. A similar sized tax increase today would be about $44 billion.

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 raised taxes yet again. Even the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which was designed to be revenue-neutral, contained a net tax increase in its first two years. And the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 raised taxes still more.

The year 1988 appears to be the only year of the Reagan presidency, other than the first, in which taxes were not raised legislatively. Of course, previous tax increases remained in effect. According to a table in the 1990 budget, the net effect of all these tax increases was to raise taxes by $164 billion in 1992, or 2.6 percent of GDP. This is equivalent to almost $300 billion in today's economy.”

I know. It was those darn liberal Democrats who ran the Congress back then who forced all these tax increases through. Yeah, sure. As if the Reagan administration was asleep at the wheel this whole time. Reagan could have used his veto pen at any time or The Great Communicator could have climbed up onto his bully pulpit to stop any of these tax packages. But he did not. He was a politician. Not a demi-God, not a superhero. His administration had its hands in every one of those tax packages - getting favors here, compromising there - and thus he is just as responsible for the outcome as the Congress.

Republicans today have adopted this fantasy image of Reagan as the ultimate anti-tax crusader. Well, he was. But obviously on a more realistic level than what Bush Jr. seems to think.

Wise words on Iraq

Atrios points us to this mystery quote today which turns out to have been by Dick Cheney back when he was Secretary of Defense for Bush the Elder:

“Well, just as it's important, I think, for a president to know when to commit U.S. forces to combat, it's also important to know when not to commit U.S. forces to combat. I think for us to get American military personnel involved in a civil war inside Iraq would literally be a quagmire. Once we got to Baghdad, what would we do? Who would we put in power? What kind of government would we have? Would it be a Sunni government, a Shi'a government, a Kurdish government? Would it be secular, along the lines of the Ba'ath Party? Would be fundamentalist Islamic? I do not think the United States wants to have U.S. military forces accept casualties and accept the responsibility of trying to govern Iraq. I think it makes no sense at all.”

And you know what? Cheney was right! Also remember that the vast majority of human rights atrocities credited to Saddam - and which now make up our only reason for being there at this point - happened prior to Cheney making the above statement. Cheney was apparently so unbothered by Saddam’s cruelty at that time that he set out during the next several years to cash in on the Iraq situation as the CEO of Halliburton, raking in millions helping to rebuild Saddam’s oil infrastructure that was damaged during the first Gulf War.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Dictators beware!

Since we have found no WMDs in Iraq, no Al-Quada links or ties to 9-11 and no imminent threat to our national security, Republican rationale for starting the war has turned toward humanitarian goals. Now, we are told that the fact that Hussein tortured his political enemies is reason enough for our invasion. That freeing the Iraqi people from oppression and rebuilding schools is the worthy goal for which more than 200 of our U.S. soldiers have given their lives.

If that is truly the case, then we really do have a long hard slog in front of us as there are a lot of countries out there with people suffering under oppresive dictatorships.

In February of 2003, Parade Magazine consulted independent human-rights organizations such as Freedom House, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to come up with its list of the "Worst Dictators on the Planet."

1. Kim Jong-il (North Korea)
2. King Fahd and Prince Abdullah (Saudi Arabia)
3. Saddam Hussein (Iraq)
4. Charles Taylor (Liberia)
5. Than Shwe (former Burma, now Myanmar)
6. Teodoro Obiang Nguema (Equatorial Guinea)
7. Saparmurat Niyazov (Turkmenistan)
8. Muammar Gaddafi (Libya)
9. Fidel Castro (Cuba)
10. Alexander Lukashenko (Belarus)

"Dishonorable Mentions" were also given to Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the leaders of the People's Revolutionary Party of Laos.