Daily MoJo


Memo to the President
A group of retired intelligence agents thinks Vice President Dick Cheney should just go ahead and resign.

To Bash or Not To Bash?
Howard Dean is taking Bush head-on. Senator John Kerry is treading more lightly. Which approach will win the Democratic primaries?

Bushonomics Takes a Beating
The hard truth about our nation’s economy may not match up with Bush’s plans.

Memo to the President
On a day when it’s just been announced that another American soldier has died and six have been wounded in an ambush near Baghdad, when Secretary of State Rumsfeld is hinting at a future escalation of troop levels in Iraq and the possibility of rising attacks on U.S. forces over the length of the summer, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, a group of retired intelligence agents, have written a memorandum to President Bush pointing the finger directly at the Vice President in the Niger forgery flap and calling for his resignation. (“Sad to say, it is equally clear that your vice president led this campaign of deceit. This was no case of petty corruption of the kind that forced Vice President Spiro Agnew’s resignation. This was a matter of war and peace. Thousands have died. There is no end in sight.”)

If anyone wants to look for humor in this situation, note the defense raised yesterday on the inside-the-Beltway talk shows by Rice and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. Their case seems to be:

a) The President was, technically speaking, accurate in his sixteen-word sentence in the State of the Union speech. According to the Washington Post, “Rumsfeld, appearing on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press,’ said that it was ‘technically correct, what the president said, that the [British government] did say that and still says that.’ But the defense secretary added that Bush and Tenet now believe ‘referencing another country’s intelligence as opposed to your own’ was probably the wrong thing to do in a speech as important as the State of the Union.” This begins, it seems to me, to put Rumsfeld and his colleagues in the category of people wondering what the definition of “is” is.

b) A single sentence is being blown all out of proportion. “Rice said on CBS’s ‘Face the Nation’ that ‘it was a mistake about a single sentence, a single data point. And I frankly think it has been overblown.'” This from an administration that took us into Code Orange-land, promoted duct tape for our problems, and turned the pathetically punch-less regime of a brutal local dictator into the equivalent of a superpower enemy. Overblown? Please.

c) The Brits did it. (And with Tony Blair all set to arrive in town later in the week.)

If, by the way, you want one piece to bring you fully up to date on the Niger forgery flap, check out Neil Mackay’s Niger and Iraq: the war’s biggest lie? in the Glasgow Sunday Herald (“One senior western diplomat told the Sunday Herald: ‘There were more than 20 anomalies in the Niger documents — it is staggering any intelligence service could have believed they were genuine for a moment.'”).

Liz Marlantes in the Christian Science Monitor (Political arc of a faulty prewar claim) offers this summary of where we may be heading:

“Democrats are attacking the president’s reliance on flawed evidence – and his subsequent efforts to shift the blame elsewhere – to try to undercut his image as a straight shooter, one of his greatest political strengths. But even if the public largely accepts that the president simply made an honest mistake, the incident may feed an already growing belief that the administration, whether intentionally or not, overestimated the Iraqi weapons threat in the run up to war. Particularly as the instability in Iraq continues, with more and more US troops losing their lives and no weapons of mass destruction yet found, more Americans may begin to question whether the war was worth it – and whether the president led the nation on an appropriate courseÉ.”

Of course, in a sense Condi Rice is right. This isn’t really a flap over sixteen words in a presidential speech. Not faintly. It’s about the possible unraveling, under the pressure of unexpected postwar events in Iraq, of a truly audacious and deeply radical policy for global and domestic domination.

I received today the following memorandum to the President from Ray McGovern, one of three members of the steering committee of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. It’s a fascinating statement from that group. McGovern is a 27 year veteran from the analysis ranks of the CIA. Here’s McGovern’s description of VIPS: “This is a group of 30 retired senior intelligence officers formed in January of 2003 to keep watch on the use/abuse of intelligence primarily regarding Iraq. Most of us are from the analytic ranks of the CIA, but we have strong representation from the operations officers as well and we are truly an intelligence community body inasmuch as retired officers from State Department Intelligence, Defense Intelligence, Army Intelligence and the FBI are also members.”

It’s important to keep in mind, as you read the entire Memorandum for the President and other comments in coming days from retired former members of various branches of American and British intelligence that people inside the bureaucracy are seldom willing to talk directly for quotation. It’s a job-endangering prospect. So, as with the military, it’s often retired former members of the “community” who hear from and speak for them.

Tom Engelhardt

Additional contributions from Tom Engelhardt can be found throughout the week at TomDispatch.com, a weblog of The Nation Institute.

To Bash or Not To Bash?
Since Howard Dean has emerged victorious from the second quarter campaign fundraising race, other presidential hopefuls have been scratching their heads wondering what to do about him. Is he just a liberal looney with nothing better to do than whine about Bush? Or does he actually have a thing or two teach the Democratic Party?

Despite Dean’s brilliant grassroots fundraising campaign — he raised $3 million in one week alone through his Web site — pundits claim that Dean does not hold a winning hand. His strategy rests on the belief that playing the Bush-critic will awaken the non-voting masses. That’s in some ways what Nader did in the 2000 election, except that Dean is not a card-carrying lefty. Sure Dean flirts with liberals, he was against the war on Iraq, not because he is a pacifist, but he thought the case for war didn’t add up. Dean worked to legalize civil unions for Vermont’s queer community, but he also supports the death penalty, gun rights and is the most fiscally conservative of all the Dem nominees.

In times where most Democrats are dressed in Republican-clothing, it’s a little strange that a pro-gun type has become an icon of the anti-war movement. Michelle Goldberg writes in Salon that Dean is betting that by marketing himself as an alternative to the Democratic Leadership Council he can cozy-up with disillusioned Dems.

“The DLC’s message […] is more than just Republican lite, despite the claims of its detractors. It supported the Iraq war, but opposes Bush’s broader unilateralism and policy of preemption. It champions universal healthcare and excoriates Bush’s economic policies. Yet it’s extremely wary of demonizing Bush. ‘It is important to understand that a majority of the American people do not and will not share the sort of reflexive belief that the president and his administration are stupid or evil,’ says Ed Kilgore, policy director of the DLC. ‘I happen to think centrist Democrats and ‘liberals’ do share the same basic values and a lot of the same basic policy goals. Where we tend to disagree is on means.’

That translates into a disagreement about which voters to court. Grass-roots members of the party are tired of compromising their values in the hope of winning the swing voters that the DLC covets, and hope to recruit non-voters instead. The DLC dismisses this strategy as naïve fantasy. ”

Whatever the DLC thinks of Dean’s strategies, the fact remains that a number of candidates are benefiting from Dean and Dennis Kucinich’s Bush-bashing. Such criticisms on the war and occupation of Iraq have opened up a small place for American politicians to mimic the British WMD row. Both West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, have broken from the party line and called for Bush to be more upfront about the perils of occupying Iraq. Sure, none of the other leading candidates is actually diving into the substance of the WMD-evidence scandal, but at least Democrats are now commenting on the issue.

Over the weekend, Senator John Kerry seemed to be a little envious of Dean’s support from the liberals. Kerry –who voted for going to war in Iraq — tried to play up his peacenik side in New York City when volunteers distributed flyers featuring a 1970s snapshot of himself and John Lennon. Although Kerry did not follow Dean’s lead in blasting Bush about Iraq, he did call for Bush to “tell the truth” about the reality of occupation. Although Kerry reminded Americans that the war and casualties are continuing in Iraq, he didn’t condemn the occupation. Instead he insisted that the US should recruit some Muslims to become the more acceptable face of occupation.

“We have to diffuse the perception in reality of American occupation […] The obligation of the United States government is to rapidly internationalize the effort in Iraq, get the target off of American troops, bring other people, particularly Muslim-speaking and Arab-speaking Muslim troops, into the region.”

Some Kerry staffer might want to remind the Senator that the language is Arabic, the religion is Islam and that the ethnic group is Arab. Those are details, but they might be important details to the six million Muslims and three million Arabs in the United States.

But Kerry almost seemed not to be too concerned about minority votes, this past weekend. He almost skipped an NAACP conference this weekend, but after feeling a little pressure, decided to make an appearance at the organization’s event. Noticeably absent from the convention were Dennis Kucinich, Joe Lieberman, and Dick Gephardt — all of whom were declared irrelevant by NAACP President, Kweisi Mfume. Conference attendees “oooed” when Mfume announced the absent presidential candidates, “have become persona non grata […] Your political capital is the equivalent of confederate dollars.”

Tough words, but most of the Democratic candidates didn’t bother to show up to last weekend’s Latino and African American events, either. Dean and Kerry were the only candidates holding their own with minority voters this weekend, as they attended both the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza conferences.

Still, both candidates are getting most of their support from young, middle-class white Americans. Analysts are framing the race to be between Kerry and Dean. Dan Balz from the Washington Post writes:

“These prospective Democratic voters find themselves in a head-vs.-heart debate over whether to support Kerry or Dean. In Kerry, they see someone with the credentials to be president, but they worry about his passion and ability to excite an electorate. In Dean, they see the opposite, a blunt and inspirational politician willing to challenge Bush, but they wonder whether someone with his experience and views can win.”

Which brings us back to the question of whether Dean can chart his own path between the DLC and the lefties. Dean, for his part, is confident he can, boasting:

“I’m the only one who can bring in legions of disaffected voters. None of the other Democrats can […] Their strategy is: ‘Let’s go to the middle, and the base will follow.’ My strategy is: ‘Let’s get the base energized, and then the independents will follow.’ […] I don’t believe Bush can be beaten by doing what we did in 2000.”

The Dean line sounds good, and he has so far proved surprisingly successful. But he still didn’t win the MoveOn primary. We’ll have to wait and see what happens when the Iowa primaries get under way.

Bushonomics Takes a Beating
Democrats went after Bush’s economic strategy earlier this month when the announcement hit that umemployment has risen to a nine year high of 6.4 percent — leaving more than 9.4 million Americans out of a job. Meanwhile, Bush and Co. remain adamant that the economy is sure to look up — trumpeting Bush’s tax cut as the answer to America’s economic woes. But critics aren’t buying it. The administration, they argue, isn’t telling us the hard truth about the state of our economy.

Now that the war is allegedly over and the election is becoming more of a reality for Bush, he is being forced to face criticism about the economy, says the Christian Science Monitor’s Ron Scherer. Unemployment, Scherer writes, could give Bush the “dubious distinction of being behind only Herbert Hoover in terms of job losses”:

“Bush has managed to keep people from growing even more restive by continually pointing to a ‘flurry of activity,’ such as the three tax cuts he’s pushed through, adds [Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at the University of Texas at Austin]. ‘He’s been getting credit from the financial press, from Wall Street, and from people on Main Street, for trying — for going overboard not to seem not to care, as his father sometimes seemed not to care,’ says Buchanan. ‘He’s made it clear that he’s willing to do whatever he can.’

But the President’s ability to deflect attention from the sagging economy may be diminishing. Congress is unlikely to pass more tax cuts before next year’s election. ‘This was the President’s last use of fiscal policy,’ says Bob Brusca, chief economist at Native American Securities. ‘He has taken his last fiscal bullet and shot an innocent bystander.'”

Slate’s Russ Baker argues that Washington has outright tampered with the evidence, regarding economic policy. Bush et. al. have, he claims, have “successfully suppressed, manipulated, and withheld evidence to serve their policy purposes.” Baker argues that, among other things, Bush and his lackeys have successfully put a muzzle on unfavorable economic information, snuffed out their own reports when the results don’t match up to their expectations, and have extended the length of forecast periods to put the best possible face on bad news.

“Of course every administration likes to trumpet its good news and hide its bad, but what’s remarkable about the Bush team is its willingness to stifle data that had been widely released and to politicize data that used to be nonpartisan.

Certainly, each one of these Bush team moves can be explained: administrative concerns, government paperwork reduction, outdated material, etc. Cumulatively, however, they certainly look suspect. We’ve seen the future, and it’s been deleted.”

Democratic presidential candidates — who are becoming increasingly vocal about Bush as the election nears — are at the forefront of the assault on Bush’s economic strategy. Senator John Edwards doubts Bush’s tax plan and claims that Washington is without an answer to the economy’s dismal state, the Associated Press writes:

“‘It’s a shame that so many Americans still can’t find jobs, and it’s a shame that President Bush doesn’t have a clue about how to make things better.

‘It’s clear that the president’s tax cuts for the wealthy are failing the rest of the country.'”

Senator Bob Graham said that the increase in unemployment is “further evidence that Bushonomics has failed America.”

Meanwhile, former Vermont Governor, Howard Dean, said the figures prove that “America’s working families are under siege — by the Bush administration and by the worsening economy.” Joe Lieberman, another presidential hopeful, claims that “We’ve got to go back to what worked during the Clinton-Gore years — fiscal responsibility, investments in education, innovation, tax cuts for business to create growth.”

Robert Reischauer, president of the Urban Institute in Washington, claims that Bush’s tax cuts should be enough of an economic stimulus to start shrinking the unemployment rate, Bloomberg writes.Ê

But the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank in Washington D.C.,is not as optimistic. They argue that the tax cut is the wrong way to offset joblessness:

“The recently passed package of tax cuts follows a misguided approach to creating jobs in the near future. First, it contains permanent, or semi-permanent, tax cuts when the need is for temporary one-time tax relief. The consequence is that the plan is far more expensive than is needed and will lead to chronic deficits, which ultimately will end up destroying jobs ten years from now.

Second, the tax cuts are directed in ways that are very ineffective at creating jobs.

Third, as is well known, the personal income tax cuts are largely directed at high-income families-according to estimates by Brookings/Urban Institute Tax Center, 62% of the cuts go to households in the top 5% of the income scale. Since these families have higher saving rates — spend a lower share of their income — the income tax cuts will be less effective at generating spending than tax relief aimed at low-income and middle-income families.

The U.S. economy is in dire straits, undergoing a lengthy downturn, high unemployment, a fall in real wages, declining family incomes, and extensive job losses.”

The outcome, according to the EPI, should be judged on the number of jobs that Bush can create in addition to whatever jobs the economy would have created without the tax cut. Bush claims his tax cut will create 1.4 million jobs by the end of 2004. By Bush’s own projections, that means 1.4 million jobs on top of the 401 million jobs that the economy would generate on its own. So in order for Bush’s tax plan to be a success, the economy will need to produce an average of 344,000 new jobs per month between now and the end of 2004.

Jobs are also only part of the picture. The Cincinnati Enquirer quotes Leslie B. Prager, senior partner in The Prager-Bernstein Group, a career service in New York, about the plight of many white-collar, middle class Americans who are suddenly unable to get the kinds of jobs that their lives (and mortgages, and tuition packages) have been built around. “The unemployment numbers just tell part of the story,” Prager says, “What many individuals are having to do is take a stop-gap job, possibly a job that would make them underemployed, while they wait for a job that’s more like what they were doing before.”

Real growth, and 344,000 jobs a month, is a steep order for President Bush. Keep checking back at the EPI to see how he’s doing.