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Times are kind of

"Times are kind of tough," President Bush told CEOs and investment gurus in Waco today. And how. Especially if you're the Bush administration. Most media outlets I saw today framed coverage thusly: was the Forum a genuine forum or a hollow PR exercise? That meant the White House had already lost the battle, since framed that way, the question pretty much answers itself. And not in a way the White House would like.

Yet the Forum -- and other similar exercises -- are beginning to illustrate an important reality -- one which the press corps is hard pressed to grasp, with its frequent emphasis on atmospherics and trappings and spin.

According to conventional wisdom, George Bush lost the presidency to Bill Clinton because he ignored the economy. He insisted it was good when it wasn't good; he didn't focus on it; he seemed not to care, etc. Bill Clinton beat him by doing the opposite. And this President Bush is determined not to make his father's mistake.

The conventional wisdom assumes it's all a matter of optics; but it's not. The White House and the media are engaged in a meta-discussion about the president's efforts to look engaged and focused on the economy. The hard reality, though, is that it's very difficult for a conservative president to actually do anything in a down economy -- because doing so goes against both his ideology and the interests of his key political constituencies.

(In this case you also have the president deeply and inextricably invested in long-term fiscal irresponsibility. But that's just icing on the cake.)

Thus you see the president doing politically foolish things like cutting $5 billion in funding for things like helping the firefighters at Ground Zero and sending aid to Afghanistan, which is currently crumbling under the weight of the White House's heavy inattention. The problem is only in small part one of appearances and political tactics. It's really a conflict between the White House's desire to appear to do something and its ideology which dictates that it do nothing.

Now to other matters.

Still no response from the Washington Post about the egregious pilfering of the name of this website. But new developments are brewing. We shall keep you up-to-date. And thank all of you again for sending all the emails to the Post. It's much appreciated.

Bob Novak had a very good column on Sunday about the more moderate wing of the Bush administration pulling out all the stops to beat some reason into the head of the president on Iraq -- particularly a face-to-face meeting the president had with Powell and his extremely influential deputy Richard Armitage. If you're following this issue, definitely take a look.

As regular readers know, I came to the reluctant conclusion that we should move against Iraq. But this administration seems intent on doing it in the most reckless, foolhardy and impetuous manner possible. Enough to make you think that if it's going to be done like this, it might be better left undone. It's a close-run thing as far as I'm concerned. And I'll be saying more on this soon. But if you're following this, definitely take a look at Novak's column.

Sometimes seriously sometimes for

Sometimes seriously, sometimes for little more than a laugh, administration officials argue that the permissive climate of the Clinton years was to blame for CEO and corporate boardroom shenanigans. The hapless Larry Lindsey tried out a version of this argument on Moneyline last week and Lou Dobbs actually burst into momentarily uncontrolled chuckles. "Mr. Lindsey, I understand it's a political year," Dobbs piped up after regaining his composure, "But you make it sound almost as if the administration and the respective law enforcement agencies and regulators will deal with only those criminals who committed those acts during the watch of President Clinton."

The argument is so transparently ridiculous that it's hard to know precisely how to test it. But here's a possibility. Fortune has just released its "Greedy Bunch," its list of the 25 greediest CEOs. That's an admittedly subjective category. And the methodology Fortune chose is a touch complicated. But the essence of it is a measure of who cashed out the most while their stockholders were losing the most.

I did a quick bit of research through the campaign filing data. And out of that 25 I came up with 10 who were Bush campaign contributors. Four out of the top five actually. Two of the 25 gave money to Al Gore. But those two also gave money to Bush. So it would seem that even if these flighty CEOs were beguiled by Clinton's seductive amorality the affliction didn't stop them from supporting George W. Bush.

(Note: With a quick run through the data, there might be some errors. It's not always clear whether this John Smith who gave money is the same John Smith who's on the list, and so forth. But the overall pattern seems clear.)

Two of the Bush donors on the cash-out-derby list are also participating in Tuesday's Economic Forum in Waco, Texas. In fact, number 11 on the list, Charles Schwab, is the keynote speaker at the panel on Small Investors & Retirement Security.

And what to make of the Forum itself? Much of the shine has come off the endeavor as it's become clear that the 'Forum' is basically a summit of the president's chief campaign contributors and CEOs who have been pre-approved because they already agree with his policies. But in an apparent effort to demonstrate some action, the president is going to announce he's rejecting $5.1 billion in spending already approved by Congress. This $5 billion in spending could, we are told, exacerbate the long-term deficit outlook that the President's own OMB says is overwhelmingly caused by the economic downturn and the president's tax cut.

But how smart is this $5 billion ruse, even in the most cynical political terms? As the Washington Post notes, this money is earmarked for, among other things, "aid to Israel and Afghanistan, funds for health monitoring at Manhattan's Ground Zero, and $44 million for police overtime reimbursement and other uses in the District of Columbia."

Those seem like rather worthwhile expenditures directly tied to the war on terrorism. The rejection of that money puts the administration's rhetoric at war with itself. Complaining about the deficit is supposed to be off-limits because spending is necessary for the war on terror. Okay ... Now the president is taking a tough line by cutting spending on the war on terror because it threatens to bump up the deficit. Which is it? Is it really too much to expect logically consistent cynical manipulation?

It really is the gang that can't shoot straight.

Still no response from

Still no response from the Washington Post to complaints from me and others that they've purloined the name of this column for Terry Neal's new online-only column on the WaPo website.

Thanks very much to everyone who's written to Neal and the Post (they've already received quite a few) registering their displeasure. Please keep sending those emails. Meanwhile the TPM legal department will continue considering its options.

P.S. The Washington Times, of all places, has picked up on the story of the Post's outrageous behavior. Intellectual Property, it seems, makes strange bedfellows.

I wanted to ignore

I wanted to ignore Bob Somerby's continued attacks on me. But his new one today is so tendentious and misinformed that I can't hold my tongue. Today Somerby says that over the weekend on Reliable Sources I "finally acknowledged" that one of Gore's major problems in 2000 was the press corps' deep antipathy to him.

"There’s only one problem with Marshall’s statement," writes Somerby, "he didn’t say a word in real time, when voters deserved—indeed, needed—to be told." I'm only saying it now, says Somerby, not before or during the election when it would have counted.

I don't want to clutter these pages any more with this inanity. But for anyone who wants proof that Somerby is either wildly misinformed or deeply tendentious (I suspect the former) please peruse this article about the press's deep antipathy for Gore which I wrote during the Democratic National Convention in August 2000 (The American Prospect, cover date: Sept. 11th, 2000 Volume 11, Issue 20).

Im quite pleased honored

I'm quite pleased, honored really, to bring you our second guest post at TPM, this one from John Judis of the New Republic ...

HENRY KISSINGER WAS, perhaps, our most brilliant Secretary of State. Certainly he was one of the few who had an overarching theory of foreign relations, first articulated in his book on the Congress of Vienna. But his post-scholarly writing has been too corrupted by his own determination to remain a player in the Republican party. And he's still at it as a member of Richard Perle's influential Defense Policy Board Advisory advisory committee, which is leading the charge for an invasion of Iraq.

Yet Kissinger can never entirely abandon his European realism - his view of nations as rival centers of power rather than forces for good or evil - and so his books and columns have been exercises in equivocation. Witness his latest effort in today's Washington Post. The Post's op-ed editor, who seems to favor invasion, bills it, "How a preemptive war could lead to a new international order," but a close reading reveals a war between Kissinger's conviction and his opportunism. The former Secretary of State praises Bush's "eloquent" address at West Point, and appears to argue for a pre-emptive attack against Iraq. But at the same time, he quarrels with the logic that produced that strategy and puts a set of onerous conditions in the way of its execution.

Before the U.S. can strike, the Bush administration must gain public and Congressional support. But also it must develop a "comprehensive strategy for itself and the rest of the world," "a common approach" that would bring along America's allies, and a "program of postwar reconstruction." And, most important of all, it must "propose a stringent inspection system" through the U.N. That last condition means that Kissinger agrees with Senator Carl Levin and with European leaders like Tony Blair who want to see whether they can contain Saddam's nuclear program through the U.N. before undertaking an invasion. By contrast, the administration, as Vice President Dick Cheney made clear last Friday, insists that an invasion will be necessary even if Saddam were to agree to arms inspections. So contrary to appearances, Kissinger completely disagrees with administration policy.

The real tip-off is what Kissinger says about Bush's "eloquent" strategy of pre-emption. He calls it "revolutionary." In Kissingerian terms, that is a synonym for reckless or irresponsible. And Kissinger takes issue with the administration's most basic approach to Iraq. The administration has declared itself in favor of "regime change," but Kissinger writes, "The objective of regime change should be subordinated in American declaratory policy to the need to eliminate weapons of mass destruction as required by the U.N. resolutions." That's the Levin-Blair position. And he concludes, "A conspicuous American deployment in the region is therefore necessary to support the diplomacy to destroy weapons of mass destruction and provide a margin for quick victory if military action proves the only recourse." "Proves the only recourse" - that is also the Levin-Blair position, not the Bush administration stance. But don't tell the op-ed editor of the Washington Post.

-- John B. Judis

(August 11th, 2002 -- 12:28 PM EDT // link)

Saudi diplomat Adel al Jubeir made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows. But no one asked him about the incident early last year in which one of Paul Wolfowitz's close advisors essentially threatened him after a meeting at the Pentagon. And there's another dimension to the unfurling story of the anti-Saudi briefing to the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board. Last December, in what I imagine was likely my final article for the American Prospect, I noted that Richard Perle was having it both ways: He was going on every talk show in the world as a "former administration official" or "AEI scholar" and attacking the more moderate administration policy stance emanating from the State Department. At the same time he was actually a de facto member of this administration. He has an office in the E-Ring of the Pentagon because he is Chairman of the Defense Policy Board - a once somnolent outfit which Perle has reshaped into a highly partisan and quite influential pressure group in the administration. The briefing in question was clearly given at Perle's behest. Now that Perle's actions are themselves becoming issues in our relations with foreign powers, isn't it time he got a bit more scrutiny?

Hmmmm. Is imitation the

Hmmmm. Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Or did washingtonpost.com just snag the title of this column for its own nefarious purposes? For the last couple weeks Terry M. Neal has been calling his online column at washingtonpost.com "talking points."

True enough, "talking points" is a common phrase. But for another column which is a) online, b) about politics, and c) based in Washington, DC. can't they find another title?

What gives? The corporate media behemoth can just run roughshod over the small independent?

That seems to be the idea.

I'm under no illusion that everyone in journalism knows about this column. But Howard Kurtz writes a daily media column on washingtonpost.com and he's been picking up bits and morsels from this site (for which, don't get me wrong, I'm extremely appreciative) about once a week for almost two years. Plus, the site has been written about several times in the Washington Post itself. So I have to imagine that someone at washingtonpost.com knows this site exists.

Alas, the small TPM legal department probably can't outgun the big-city law firm sharks who work for the Washington Post Company. But by all means drop Terry Neal a line and tell him to put a stop to this egregious trespass.

As I mentioned today

As I mentioned today in my Salon article on nasty in-fighting at the Pentagon, Iraq isn't the only country in line for the 'regime change' treatment. In many ways the neo-cons are even more interested in tossing the regimes in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Which brings us to the Voice of America and Iran.

As I've mentioned to you before, The Nelson Report is Washington's bible for the hottest scoops and gossip on Asian diplomacy and trade negotiation politics -- Nelson's sort of like the Drudge of Fast Track.

Anyway, Robert R. Reilly is the extremely conservative Bush political appointee in charge of Voice of America. According to Wednesday's Nelson Report, at last month's meeting of the Voice of America Board, Reilly proposed and got approval to shut down "all the major [VOA] news bureaus in Asia, Latin America and Europe" in order to free up money to create a new station dedicated exclusively to broadcasting youth-oriented popular music in Iran -- the idea being of course to channel the incipient rebelliousness of Iranian youth (of which there is actually quite a lot) to overthrow the mullahs by pumping the Iranian version of Britney Spears into the country 24/7.

I can just hear the morning radio lead-in now ... "Yo, yo, yo Tehran, we got some cra-a-a-a-zy bumpin' and grindin' comin' your way this morning from Michael Ledeen and his fly peeps at AEI..."

Truth be told, on its own, I'm not sure this is such a bad idea. The issue is more gutting the rest of VOA to do it. The career people at VOA are, as you might imagine, not happy about this. The decision was apparently made without consultation with any professional journalists or the American diplomats with responsibility for the regions in question. The bigger story, though, seems to be that this is administration payback for the career people at VOA being too independent from the administration line.

P.S. Independent reporting from the TPM research department has revealed another possible angle on Reilly's Iranian radio station: Reilly's bio at the VOA website says he "has written music criticism for 20 years for such publications as High Fidelity, Musical America, Schwann Magazine, and Crisis Magazine." So in addition to ideology, this may also be about tunes.

This is difficult. But

This is difficult. But how can I hold my tongue? There's no one I like better in this profession than Mickey Kaus, no one who's been kinder to me. But Mickey seems to have come down with a bilious fever of special pleading. Perhaps it's a milder form of West Nile Virus? I don't know. I just hope he recovers quickly.

Mickey deals with two issues on his site today: 1) Bill Clinton's comments about the war-on-terrorism blame game and then 2) this on-going matter about Paul Krugman and the OMB.

Let's try to deal with the introductory matters as quickly as possible. Clinton said the Bush administration -- which made such a fuss about 'responsibility' -- is quick pass the buck to him whenever anything goes wrong on their watch in the war on terrorism. On the contrary, says the former president, when our soldiers got killed in Mogadishu he didn't try to pin it on the first President Bush.

The Wall Street Journal said this was a lie, carting out the old right-wing canard that Clinton denied the soldiers the proper weapons, thus leaving them vulnerable and getting a number of them killed. The Journal editorialists are either too ignorant, too stupid or too dishonest to know that, as Mickey rightly points out, this charge is false. But Mickey goes in for an equally bogus, though more subtle, canard: that is, that Bush I went in purely to secure humanitarian relief and it was Clinton who later went in for (horribile dictu!) NATION-BUILDING.

This argument manages to be both accurate and also bogus. Here's why. The situation in Afghanistan is now beginning to get very dicey. Karzai's getting more dependent on US military protection; warlords and even sub-warlords (mere capos, in mafia terms) are starting to challenge him; things are getting tough. Imagine if we'd had a turnover of administration a couple months after we drove the Taliban from power. The old administration might say, hey, we fought a kick-ass war. Everything was going great and now you get into the nation-building phase and everything falls apart!

This would be a stupid argument since phase A rather inevitably leads to phase B, and B is in the nature of things the complicated phase.

The Somalia case isn't quite so clear cut. But not far from it. It was always going to be a rather simple matter to get in to a Somalia, rather more difficult to get out. The logic is elementary. You go into Somalia to force a degree of peace so that you can deliver some food. And then you see that when you leave it's going to degenerate back to the status quo ante. What do you do then?

This isn't to say that the Clinton team handled it perfectly, only to note that Bush made the feel-good decision to hand out the food, with the knowledge that he wasn't going to be around when the tough decisions had to be made later. You can imagine where Clinton might have felt like Bush left him holding the bag. Because, in a sense, he did.

Yet if you follow the logic of Clinton's remark, he must be saying that criticizing Bush in this way would have been invalid, unfair, and false, since clearly he's insisting the current administration's criticisms of him are invalid, unfair, false, etc.

But enough of these details.

It seems to me you can slice this a number of ways. But Clinton's point hardly seems unreasonable. One might look on this whole brouhaha and latch on to the Bush administration's penchant for blaming everything on Clinton. But Mickey latches on to Clinton's response to that penchant for buck-passing and finds it to be yet another sign of the former president's "alarming, mendacious self-pity."

Is there any logic to this statement? Or is it simply that one is supposed to look at such statements and see signs of the former president's "alarming, mendacious self-pity"? That's the storyline and why buck it? Seems mighty like the latter to me. Almost to the degree of parody.

Now to Krugman.

To get the whole story, the whole back and forth, go to Mickey's site. But the essence of the matter is that the Bush OMB came out with a statistic which vastly understated the role of the Bush tax cut in creating the deficits projected over the next ten years. Krugman called this a lie. They called it an honest mistake, which they say they later corrected. Again, if you want the details (of which there are many), go to Mickey's site. Mickey has latched onto Krugman's hide like a mountain tick, demanding apologies or recantations or clarifications. Perhaps a special Mass or a ritual sacrifice.

Krugman can defend himself. So can the Times.

If I had been writing the piece I might not have said "lie." I'm not sure. Here on TPM sometimes I cut to the chase like that. In print, I often hold back. I'm not sure which is better.

But indulge me in a thought experiment.

Let's imagine we're dealing with the Clinton administration. The Clinton OMB puts out false numbers which just happen to exculpate the administration on a major public policy issue. In congressional testimony another administration economics official -- not the head of the OMB -- grudgingly concedes that the numbers are probably incorrect. Later, the White House is called out by a conservative think tank for using false numbers. Still later, folks at the White House go on to their website and simply change the number without telling anybody.

Here we have the same set of facts, just change the administrations.

Is it even remotely conceivable that if this were the Clinton OMB that Mickey would so bend over backwards to see the whole thing as just an honest mistake? When the honest mistake is so helpful to the administration? When it goes uncorrected for weeks? Of course, not. The question answers itself.

I think it's possible that it was an honest mistake, quite possible. But calling it a 'lie' hardly seems an unwarranted conclusion. It's a bit sharp, but hardly something that itself requires some sort of retraction.

The only explanation I can see is that since it's the Bush administration (and Paul Krugman on the other side) Mickey wants to hold open every door, make every excuse, refuse to draw any adverse conclusion. Precisely the opposite of what we see him do in the other case involving Bill Clinton. When it comes to the Bush administration, Mickey is so permissive you'd think he were Peter Edelman (that's a little welfare reform humor, there). The contrast is blinding.

P.S. As long as we're at it, did Mickey get taken in by the OMB representative's claim that they had made the correction to their numbers "weeks ago." [Note: from here on it gets mind-numbingly detailed. So only keep reading if you want to see the Bush administration caught in another lie.] The OMB came out with the erroneous statistics on July 12th. On July 31st, OMB flack Trent Duffy wrote the Times and claimed, among other things, that they had corrected the mistake "weeks ago."

I've never been great with numbers (those two Ds in high school math dramatize the point). But I think that means they corrected their mistake no later than July 17th, right? July 17th is also the day when Council of Economic Advisors chairman, Glenn Hubbard conceded that the number was probably wrong during congressional testimony.

So first it seems like maybe that's what they're talking about. But Duffy's letter to the Times is pretty clearly talking about a revised press release, since he refers to how the "first press release mistakenly [itals added]" screwed up the numbers. Now here's the problem. The people who really caught the OMB ought were the worthies at the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. They put out their paper on July 26th and in that paper they said the OMB "has yet to issue a formal correction on this matter." If OMB had really put out a retraction why didn't the folks at CBPP know about it? Did they get it wrong too? Like Krugman? Or is Duffy's July 31st letter to the Times itself a lie?

As long as we're all being sticklers, let's find out exactly when the OMB made the correction.