Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

One in Fifty-One Republican Senators Agree with Angry Bear

Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska):

“To just throw George Tenet’s body from the train and say, ‘That takes care of the problem,’ I don’t think is the way to do this.”

Hagel pointed to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Vice President Dick Cheney as part of the process that led to Bush including the report in the annual presidential address.

AB

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Good News

Unfortunately, 37 + 16 is still 53, but this is still a step in the right direction:

The same poll also reports that Bush’s approval rating is down 8 points to 55%, a small majority say the president is mishandling the economy, only 40% say the Iraq campaign has been a success, and 46% of respondents claim it is unlikely that they will support Bush in the 2004 election (with 50% likely).

AB

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Axing Private Lynch

In a move surely unrelated to “fatigue, stress, mechanical malfunctions and a disastrous series of errors” being much less exciting than an ambush, attack, and heroic soldier defending herself with every bullet in her revolver, CBS is cancelling its Private Lynch movie. CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves also admits that the apparent quid pro quo of offering a movie of the week in exchange for an interview may have been “over the line”:

“As these companies [CBS News and CBS Entertainment] become more and more vertically integrated, you know, sometimes you do go over the line.”

If Mr. Moonves had reached that conclusion a bit earlier he might have saved Viacom $1.7 million in 2002 campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures leading into the FCC’s media ownership rules changes vote this year.

AB

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This is Just Weird

Ten years later, there are still people who question Vince Foster’s death. This (and this) definitely won’t hasten the waning of the press maelstrom:

The BBC confirmed today that Dr. David Kelly, the British weapons expert who committed suicide on Thursday, was the source for a story on doctoring intelligence files that led to a highly publicized running battle between the broadcaster and the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair.

This quote refers to the ‘sexed up’ quote (as in “intelligence was ‘sexed up’ to maximize the apparent threat posed by Saddam”). Just two days before his death, Kelly denied the BBC’s allegation before a Parliament committee.

AB

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Better Late than Never

I just caught a recent Spinsanity piece on the spinning of the deficit. They have a great exchange from McClellan’s first day:

Q: One more thing, if I may. You had a laundry list, basically, about what has contributed to the deficit, and you didn’t include the tax cuts in there. Was that an oversight?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no. Again, there’s going to be a full briefing on there. But, clearly, it was, you know, the slower economic recovery and weak stock market that caused revenues to decline, which explains the biggest change that you’ll see in our budget position — followed by cost of war and the economic growth plan.

Oops! Must have slipped his mind. A recession would in fact explain some of the big drop off in revenue–except that GDP has not fallen (see this post). And blaming the weak stock market for the drop off in revenue is also a stretch because so much stock is held in nontaxable accounts (IRAs and endowments) that a decline in the market has a disproportionately small impact on tax revenues.

Spinsanity’s got a lot more, including some additional analysis of what portion of the deficit is attributable to Iraq and Afghanistan.

AB

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A Half-Answer Creates More Questions

Back when the White House first said the African Uranium line should not have been in the SOTU, the NYT’s telling of the tale included this:

How Mr. Bush’s statement made it into last January’s State of the Union address is still unclear. No one involved in drafting the speech will say who put the phrase in, or whether it was drawn from the classified intelligence estimate.

At the time (7/8/03), I said, “I also think that the vagaries and unanswered questions in the admission–not saying how the mistake was made or who made it–means that the issue probably won’t die in the press as quickly as the administration hopes. And rightly so.” As it turned out, I was right.

Now the AP reports that “White House Releases Documents on Iraq Flap“, and it again looks like they are creating more questions than they are answering:

The Bush administration released the material — a sanitized version of the top-secret National Intelligence Estimate prepared for the president — as it sought to shield Bush from rising criticism that he misled the public in making his case for war with Iraq in his Jan. 28 speech.

Administration aides suggested that the eight pages of excerpts, out of 90 in the document, demonstrate that the notion that Saddam was trying to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program permeated the U.S. intelligence community — and was not just based on a suspect British intelligence report that relied in part on forged documents.

8 out of 90 pages? I can’t wait for the stories and leaks about what’s in the other 82 pages. I’m picturing redacting along the lines of “…there are reports of Iraq trying to buy uranium from Africa, but these reports are at best unsubstantiated and likely to be completely false.”

AB

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Blaming Tenet

I’ve heard Lieberman call for Tenet’s resignation, and now apparently Dean is joining him. I see two major problems with this. First, it really doesn’t seem like Tenet’s fault that the bad intelligence made it into the SOTU. It’s clearly the responsibility of the NSC. Ultimately, the responsibility is the President’s, notwithstanding new Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s best efforts not to admit it. The second problem with calling for Tenet to resign is that doing so makes it more likely that this issue will fade away without obtaining the resignation, or at least acknowledgement of responsibility, of those who are at fault.

AB

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Which is it?

Skimming the headlines, I spotted this: “Resistance to Aids virus is growing, say scientists.” That’s good, I thought. Then I read the first sentence of the story:

The Aids virus is becoming increasingly resistant to the drugs used to treat it, researchers said yesterday.

This story is in the British paper The Independent, leading me to suspect that the headline writers were previously employed by Prime Minister Blair as reviewers of intelligence reports on Iraqi nuclear programs.

AB

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The Press Herd

Bob Somerby has been taking some heat for criticizing the way the press is covering the allegations of intentional deception by Bush. Somerby doesn’t have problems with critical stories per se, but rather that they bury or fail to present the presiden’ts side of the story (i.e., that he wasn’t talking about Niger and that the British stand by their intelligence). I agree: if a journalist is going to lead a story with allegations that the president lied, the president’s side should at least be told, and told up front. Imagine how different the world might be today had Gore received that courtesy.

This clearly is not liberal bias. If a journalist were out to get the president, it would be much more effective to state the president’s case and then dissect it. Instead, it’s just plain laziness. Once it gets started, the idea that Bush lied is simple to write, sells papers, and so everybody is writing it. And if a story or headline has to be slanted a bit to fit the story line, then so be it.

What brings the issue to mind now is this story in the NYT: In Ohio, Iraq Questions Shake Even Some of Bush’s Faithful. See? Even in conservative Ohio, full of the Bush “Faithful”, the faith of the faithful is being shaken! It makes a nice story, but it’s not true.

Clinton won Ohio in 1992 and 1996. Both of Ohio’s Senators are Republican, but moderate (Sen. Voinovich briefly opposed Bush’s tax cut before folding like a towel on laundry day). And in 2000, Bush did win Ohio, but it was close: 49.9 to 46.5 with Nader pulling in 2.5% of the vote and Buchanan .6%. Wake me up when Bush starts getting a hard time in Wyoming (67.8%), Texas (59.3%), Oklahoma (60.3%), or Montana (58.4%).

AB

P.S. An intresting bit of information I picked up while checking out the numbers: Gore carried the District of Columbia 85% to 9%!

UPDATE: Eschaton contributor The Farmer puts the laziness and ineptitude of the press into historical context here.

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There’s Nothing Like Data

Tom DeLay says spending is causing the deficit. Is he right? What’s really causing the deficit? War? Recession? Spending? Tax Cuts? Some of each? If the latter, how much of each?

To take a quick look at some of these issues, I grabbed data on Federal Revenue, Spending, and GDP from 1992-2004E. First, the Revenue and Spending Numbers. Note that the Bush budgets and tax plans were in effect from roughly 2002 onward (Spending in 2001 was authored by Clinton; Bush’s 2001 rebate did cut into what 2001 revenue was under Clinton’s budget).

First, in raw numbers (inflation has been modest, so while these are not inflation-adjusted, doing so would only have a minor effect). Under Bush, Federal Spending has skyrocketed. It was $1.86 trillion under Clinton’s last budget but 2.01 trillion under Bush’s first budget. Under Bush’s third budget (authored with a Republican House, Republican Senate, and Republican White House), spending will be $2.27 trillion. That’s a 22% increase over Clinton’s last year, at most 3-5% of which is due to inflation. Now that’s big government. How to pay for all of this?

Certainly not with tax revenue. That’s down from $2 trillion in 2001 to $1.8 trillion in 2004. But that must be the fault of the recession, right? Wrong. Here are the GDP numbers:

2000: $9.7 trillion; 2001: $10 trillion; 2002: $10.34 trillion; 2003: $10.76 trillion; 2004E: $11.3 trillion.

So while slow and accompanied by rising unemployment, growth is still positive, meaning the tax base of national income increased. The only mechanism by which terrorism could affect revenue, as opposed to spending, is by reducing GDP, and that just hasn’t happened. The only explanation is the Bush Tax Cuts. If we’re not paying for the Bush spending now, when do we pay? Later, starting right around when the Baby Boomers retire.

But maybe our ability to pay is also increasing, so that as a percent of GDP, the increased spending and deficit are not so bad? Wrong. Bush increased spending as a percent of GDP from about 18.5% to over 20% (and inflation affects both the numerator and denominator equally and so is not a factor). But he did get the tax burden way down, from over 20% to 16%. But there are no free lunches. If spending is over 20% of GDP and revenue is 16% of GDP, that gap has to be paid at some point. But the bill will come after the 2004 election, and Bush is hoping you are too stupid to realize that (click to enlarge).

Back to the original issue of what caused the deficit, it’s not the recession because the tax base has not fallen. The Wars on Terror and Iraq amount to at most $100b per year, so that without them, spending in 2003 might have been 19.63% of GDP instead of 20.56%–still well above the 18.6% mark in Clinton’s last budget. So at most 20% of the deficit can be tied to terrorism (and that’s just the sort of unforseen need Democrats were referring to when arguing, in vain, against Bush’s tax cut). And that’s perhaps generous, since it increasingly appears that the War on Iraq was discretionary spending by the Bush administration, rather than anti-terrorism spending. Of the 80% of the deficit not related to terrorism, roughly 1/3 of the blame goes to increased spending and 2/3 to the Bush tax cuts, resulting in this approximate allocation of responsibility (click to enlarge):

AB

Data Sources:

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