Saturday, February 08, 2003



Thursday, February 06, 2003

How powerful are these guys?

There has been a lot of noise about ten central and eastern European countries that are standing shoulder-to-shoulder behind the United States in the Iraq situation. We read:
Ten central and Eastern European nations have issued a declaration of support for the United States' drive to disarm Iraq.   A statement from the so-called Vilnius group says it has become clear that Iraq is in material breach of U.N. resolutions.   The Vilnius 10 includes NATO aspirants Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
We decided to look up the figures for the ten countries, and this is what we found:
country military budget (source: CIA World Factbook)  
Albania $56.5 million (FY02)
Bulgaria $356.0 million (FY02)
Croatia $520.0 million (2002 est.)
Estonia $155.0 million (2002 est.)
Latvia $87.0 million (FY01)
Lithuania $230.8 million (FY01)
Macedonia $200.0 million (FY01/02 est.)
Romania $985.0 million (2002)
Slovakia $406.0 million (2002)
Slovenia $370.0 million (FY00)
TOTAL $3,336.3 million  
$3.3 billion. That's slightly less than the budget for the police department of New York City ($3.5 billion) [page 52 in the 2004 budget (4.1 meg pdf)].

What a coalition!


Oh, my God!

Not only does Bush want drug addicts to be able (using federal vouchers) to go to religious organizations for treatment via "faith healing", but today we read this:
Bush Urges Prayer During 'Testing Time'

President Bush on Thursday urged Americans to pray for God's guidance as the Columbia tragedy, potential war in Iraq and the constant threat of terrorism pose "a testing time for our country."

[At the National Prayer Breakfast] the crowd included 56 senators, 240 House members, first lady Laura Bush, National Security Director Condoleeza Rice, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and CIA Director George Tenet.

"It is fitting that, in the midst of tough times, that these two leaders are sharing with scripture and prayer with the country," the president said of Myers and Tenet.


Bush said America will triumph over adversity because of the character of its people, the desire by all people to be free of oppression and the will of God.    He said events don't move by "blind change and chance."
For more of this insanity - especially Bush's likely miscalculation of risk (which we warned about) - see our earlier posts here and here. (or search on this page for "Gergen")


What a nice man!




There has been a renewed interest in media bias, most recently by Jack Shafer in Slate. In his first essay on the topic, he discusses some of the history behind the accusations, and then goes on to look at today's players. One of them is "the conservative Media Research Center" which offers daily summaries of what they perceive as bias. We took a quick look at the one for yesterday: (emphasis added)
Powell Convinces NBC's Panel But Not ABC's Martha Raddatz

After Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the UN Security Council, on NBC former UN chief weapons inspector Richard Butler “absolutely” agreed that Powell made the case as did former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein conceded that Powell “laid out a very plausible, a very respectable case for” going to war. But, as usual, ABC was off to the left, to the left of a liberal like Feinstein.

... ABC's Martha Raddatz offered tips to the French: “A lot of this evidence they could try to refute. They could say perhaps these colonels, these Iraqi republican guards were freelancing, and who were these defectors? There's a lot here they can play with."
First of all, those who agreed with Powell - Butler, Hamilton, Feinstein - aren't reporters. Reporters aren't supposed to agree or disagree with policies, but report them. Raddatz wasn't "to the left of a liberal like Feinstein."

Furthermore, Raddatz wasn't offering "tips to the French", but describing what they might do.

In case you were wondering, the example above is typical. If the reporter isn't cheering Bush (or Republicans), he or she is deemed "liberal".

The Media Research Center, founded by L. Brent Bozell III, is nothing more than a purveyor of bullshit.

For some reason, Bozell is being taken seriously - most recently in an absurd, fact-free debate with Eric Alterman. In it, Bozell says:
"The Media Research Center has produced dozens of scientific studies, often examining tens of thousands of stories at a time, proving the liberal bias dominating the news media."
When discussing media bias, Bozell has no credibility.


C'mon Powell:

In Colin Powell's address to the United Nations, he had this to say: (emphasis added)
Saddam Hussein already possesses two out of the three key components needed to build a nuclear bomb. He has a cadre of nuclear scientists with the expertise, and he has a bomb design.

Since 1998, his efforts to reconstitute his nuclear program have been focused on acquiring the third and last component, sufficient fissile material to produce a nuclear explosion.
Hey, why not six out of seven?
  1. nuclear scientists
  2. a bomb design
  3. an assembly building
  4. electric power to operate bomb-building machinery
  5. skilled craftsmen
  6. funds for the project
  7. fissile material


Bush's choice:

William H. Donaldson, President Bush's choice to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, had this to say during the confirmation hearings:
STEPHANIE WOODS, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: As chairman of the SEC, William Donaldson's key job will be to restore investors' faith in the markets. Donaldson made clear he would take back the role of top cop on Wall Street from New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

WILLIAM DONALDSON, CHAIRMAN NOMINEE, SEC: If you do confirm me, that I will be able to speak with state attorneys general and state regulators and talk this out with them and make sure that they're stopping where they should stop and give responsibility back to where it should.
That's great. No more meddling by people like Spitzer, which is precisely what the anti-reform Republicans tried to do legislatively in the summer of 2002 (but failed).


Wednesday, February 05, 2003


A good cartoon about college admissions.


Guilty as charged?

This is a first rendition of Powell's case as presented at the U.N. (sources: CNN story 1 & 2):

Full transcript available here.


How much are we saving?

In the New York Times, we read about proposals by Bush to establish "eligibility requirements that would make it more difficult for low-income families to obtain a range of government benefits". One of those government benefits is the National School Lunch Program. From the NYTimes story: (emphasis added)
About half of the 28 million children in the National School Lunch Program receive free meals because they come from low-income families. But John H. Rice, a spokesman for the federal Food and Nutrition Service, said the government had found that the number of students certified for free meals was about 25 percent higher than the number who appeared to be eligible, according to Census Bureau data. The Bush administration wants to require families to produce evidence of their income, like pay stubs or tax returns, to get free school lunches. Now parents report their own income, and a small sample is checked by school officials. When the government tested these tougher requirements in eight school districts last year, there was a 20 percent decline in the number of children approved for free lunches.
In one pilot project, at Oak Park and River Forest High School near Chicago, the number of children approved for free lunches dropped 50 percent. At schools in Morenci, Ariz., the number dropped 36 percent.
So, what's the budget for the National School Lunch Program? To find out, go to the OMB website for the 2004 budget, and take a look at the document (3.2 meg pdf file). Here are the numbers: (from page 266)
Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service
National School Lunch Program
(in millions of dollars)
Fiscal Year200220032004
So, we are talking about $6 billion dollars ($225 per child), of which half goes to low-income families ($3 billion). If 25% of those getting a lunch are ineligible (as the spokesman claims), that means Bush is cracking down to save $800 million dollars.


Tuesday, February 04, 2003

A threat to what neighbors?


military expenditures in billions
CIA World Factbook 2002)

Saudi Arabia








(2002 est.)




note: Kuwait is changing its fiscal year; this figure is for July-March 2001; future budget years will be April-March annually
United Arab Emirates






(FY00 est.); note - based on official budget data that may understate actual spending









Or in graphical form:

Looking at the chart above, something jumped out at us. Going into Iraq is about oil, but not in the way that most people think. Bush was correct when he said September 11 changed everything, but wrong when he asserted that it exposed the risk that Iraq would assist al Qaeda. No, the real discovery post-September 11 was the uncertain status of Saudi Arabia. Most of the hijackers came from there, bin Laden has designs on the nation, and if it goes fundamentalist-radical, then almost certainly there would be an oil crisis. Considering the fragile world economy in the wake of the late-90's bubble, an oil crisis could do serious damage. Also, what about all that money Saudia Arabia is spending on defense? There would be a real threat to the region if al Qaeda got their hands on it.

If Saudi Arabian oil is cut off, where does one go? Why not to an under-exploited, oil-rich country - like Iraq?

If Saudi Arabia goes radical-fundamentalist, who will be the U.S. proxy in the region? How about Iraq?

More and more it doesn't look like the reason for invading Iraq is because of the threat it poses. Instead, it appears to be insurance against losing Saudi Arabia. (And of course, that also melds nicely with neo-conservative thinking about "liberating" this or that country.)


Screw the poor:

Here are some excerpts from an article about Bush's proposed new savings accounts (from
  • [Bush's] proposal would create two new consolidated savings accounts: Lifetime Savings Accounts (LSAs) and Retirement Savings Accounts (RSAs).

    1. [Individuals will] be able to contribute up to $7,500 a year to these accounts regardless of their income ...
    2. ... contributions would be after tax ... but all withdrawals would be tax-free ...
    3. There would be no restrictions on the money's withdrawal.

  • ... the new accounts would only help investors who have the $7,500 to $30,000 a year to invest. Because the proposal eliminates deductible IRAs, low-income taxpayers who need a tax break now to encourage savings (when the money is contributed, rather than withdrawn) actually will be worse off.


Let's see it:

Aspiring judge, Federalist Society member, reader of the National Review at age 19, and too-clever-by-half Eugene Volokh has posted a number of comments on the Dini/Evolution issue. But this entry really caught our eye:
" ... there's not much independent physical evidence for the existence of God."
Really?    Not much?    Sorry to hear that - but Eugene, don't tease us! Show us the "independent physical evidence for the existence of God" that's out there.


From your friends at the OMB:

These charts are found in the Analytical Perspectives, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2004 document (3.2 MB pdf), available on the Fiscal Year 2004 web page:

For more on the budget, we highly recommend the MaxSpeak Weblog which does a great job on the topic (e.g. this post). It's also where we found a link to a statement soliciting opposition to the Bush Administration's tax cut proposals -- from 10 Nobel Laureate economists. We will probably hear more about it, but for the time being, this is what they say:
We believe that the tax plan proposed by the Bush Administration would be a serious mistake for the country.
And while we're at it, here is a quote from an interview on PBS' News Hour:
Robert Greenstein, executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

I find this budget nothing short of astonishing. We've had the greatest reversal of fortunes in recent history over the last two years going from big surpluses to deficits as far as the eye can see. And what's really troubling ... is that we're only five years from when the baby boomers start retiring.

We know, every long-term forecast tells us, when they retire in large numbers, daunting deficits, way beyond anything we've seen for half a century come back and threaten the economy. What's the president's response? To make the problem much worse.

It isn't just that there are these big expensive new tax cuts here. The design of the tax cuts is such that their cost is much greater after the period your budget figures cover, than it would be now. There's a huge new tax cut the White House announced just last Friday, none of us had known about before, that is designed through budget gimmicks, so it has almost no cost in the first ten years, and then massive costs out when the baby boomers retire.

So I view this budget, I've been here following budgets for 31 years, this is the most reckless, the least responsible budget I've ever seen a president of either party propose. Digging a hole much deeper for the nation, future generations, and the economy, in the very period not that far away when the nation ages and the boomers retire when we know we face the biggest challenges we've seen in a long time.


Monday, February 03, 2003

Bush's religiosity:

This topic has surfaced following Bush's State of the Union speech. Not only did David Gergen mention it, but others are talking about it as well. One moderately extensive review is found in The Progressive in an article called Bush's Messiah Complex. Excerpt: (emphasis added)
"{Bush] seems to buy into the worldview that there is a giant struggle between good and evil culminating in a final confrontation. People with that kind of a worldview often take risks that are inappropriate and scary because they see it as carrying out God's will."


No brains required:

In a column about the recent State of the Union address, Peggy Noonan strongly implies that prior to the speech, she met with Bush in the Oval Office. She writes:
I came away with a sense that Mr. Bush has grown comfortable and confident in the presidency, in part perhaps due to a silent weighing that was going on inside him. I had the hunch that Mr. Bush, who had succeeded as a Texas governor in part by relying on his gut sense of people, events, meaning, went into the White House wondering if his gut would be up to the job. If it would give him the guidance it had given in Texas, if it was up to the demands of a presidency. Then Sept. 11 came, and he was thrown back onto his inner resources. He had to use his gut to make big quick decisions. The one time he didn't follow his gut--when he didn't return immediately to the White House after the attacks--he made a big mistake. So he went with his gut thereafter, and in the next 12 months he concluded his gut was up to the challenge.
What guidance did his gut give him in Texas? Guidance that led to his failing Arbusto and Spectrum 7 business ventures?


Sunday, February 02, 2003

The over-55-year-olds:

David Gergen was interviewed on The Charlie Rose Show last week. Normally a cautious fellow in his remarks, this time he had some startling things to say. Here is what Gergen thought about Bush:
"Surprised by it. I thought it would be a steel fist in a velvet glove, but it turned out to be a steel fist in a steel glove. It was a bang on the nose for a lot of people. It will move a lot of Americans, but not a lot of Europeans. It was too bellicose for their tastes."

"My sense is that this president has now taken this on with a missionary zeal that has theological roots to it. He is a man who believes his life was turned around by God. That God actively intervenes in human affairs. And that he senses that his God-given mission right now is to protect the United States ... I think he feels almost a religious sense of commitment - a missionary sense - to do that. And I think that was what was really interesting about the speech."

"Ronald Reagan talked about having a leaner government, but George Bush is serious about dismantling much of the structure of the Great Society. ... I think he's much tougher than Reagan. Reagan cared about abortion, I think that Bush will put people on the bench who will be much closer to overturning Roe vs Wade than Reagan ever would."

[Gergen mentioned some initiatives like the ones for AIDS and mentoring.] "But I have to tell you, in the great scope of things, this is not about Compassionate Conservatism, it's about Conservatism - pure and simple."

"Reagan tended to talk right, but tended to govern towards the middle. Bush tends to talk to the middle, but govern right. His actions are far more over to the right. That's why the base of the Republican party is so wildly enthusiastic about George Bush."

"I think he was in sync with the American public on the initial response to terrorism. He is not in sync - in the way Reagan Reagan was - on a wide swath of his policies. ... The fact that we've had so many jobs lost in the country over the last couple of years has not made it easier for him. He passed a massive tax cut plan with the notion that it would help stimulate the economy, and since then the number of jobs has gone down, not up. So when he comes back here and says we need another big tax cut, it's less credible."

"George W. Bush's leadership is much more of a 'trust me' kind of leadership. 'Trust my judgement. Leave it to me. I'll decide this.' And I think he's a big risk taker, and I think we're in a situation with George W. Bush where we all wish him well because it's so important to our country. And, I don't think Bill Clinton would have handled Iraq this way. I don't think we'd be going to war with Iraq. I think we'd be paying much more attention to Al-Qaeda cells elsewhere in the world."

"I'm coming to this view (and I may be wrong) - that increasingly it looks this way to me: That George W. Bush is either going to go down in history as a courageous, far-sighted, Commander in Chief, one who will deserve enormous credit for taking hold of this war on terrorism and winning it in a very decisive way, or he's going to go down in history as someone who pushed us, and was foolhardy, and too headstrong in thrusting us into extensions of this war into the building of a potential American Empire that we will come to regret. ... Our fates are tied with his."
So what was the reference in our title to 55-year-olds? The joke at Davos was that it was full of un-hip older guys. Anyway, European opposition to Bush (which observers like Sen Biden found surprising) was not from the peace-left, but from the capitalist-industrialist-government types found at Davos. Depending on what you read, these fellows are either scared, anxious, or miffed by Bush's foreign policy.    Perhaps Gergen's remarks above represent some of that thinking.

We didn't give you everything that Gergen said, only what we thought were the key points. (And so there's no misunderstanding, it should be noted that Gergen did make some positive comments about Bush.) However, he repeatedly called Bush a risk-taker (e.g. "riverboat gambler") and we couldn't help but wonder if that attitude is the result of Bush thinking that "God is on his side" - because Gergen also went out of his way to comment on Bush's religiosity. That's disturbing because Bush may not correctly assess the probabilities of different outcomes - especially the negative outcomes - believing he will be protected by the Hand of God.

For those who wonder if Bush is really in charge, and therefore if his world-view is anything to worry about, we take the position that while Bush may not come up with risky proposals, he will not exercise proper restraint when the time comes (cf. Kennedy during the Cuban Missle Crisis).

NOTE: The Charlie Rose Show has archives of programs which allow you to listen to the interviews with RealPlayer. However, it takes about one week for a program to be added, and the Gergen interview is not (as of this writing) available. Also, in case you were wondering, the quotes above are direct transcriptions from recorded material.


They wanted it all along:

This Modern World links to a Philadelphia Daily News story about a letter advocating the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. It was sent in 1998 to Clinton from a group called the Project for the New American Century.

The point being that contrary to Bush's assertion that September 11 caused a change in attitude on Iraq, it was actually a long-held position by many key players in this administration. We present a rough schematic of the signatories: