Just Above Sunset
February 6, 2005 - Reactions to the Mid-Week Speech

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

Fred Kaplan here on the Bush State of the Union speech -


His certainty is a trait that many admire - it's probably what got him re-elected 0 but it can mislead people (perhaps including himself) into believing that this course can be traveled without risk or serious cost.


That is from this:


No Exit
The State of the Union made Bush's Iraq strategy perfectly clear. Iran, that's a different story.
Posted Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2005, at 9:40 PM PT – SLATE.COM


This is a general analysis of what we heard, if we listened to, or even watched the thing.  Kaplan basically calls Bush a liar or fool.


… The most startling moment occurred when he encouraged a popular insurrection in Iran.  At least that's how I read this crisply enunciated sentence: "And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you." In his inaugural address last month, he pledged to support democratic movements everywhere, but the statement was so broad, it could be shrugged off as rhetoric. This call tonight, though, was specific. Is he telling the Iranian mullahs he's got them in his crosshairs? If not, what is he telling them? And if the rebels of Tehran did rise up tomorrow, what is President Bush prepared to do for them? It's dangerous to engage in this sort of talk without having a real plan. Ask the Hungarians who rose up after our urgings and got plowed down in 1956, or the Shiite Iraqis who did the same in 1991.


Some of the president's statements on national security were simply puzzling. Again on Iran, he said, "We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime that it must give up its uranium-enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing." This is just false. The three major powers of the European Union—Britain, France, and Germany—are negotiating with Iran over these issues. It's uncertain whether these talks will succeed. It's absolutely certain that they won't succeed without U.S. participation. Yet, despite the EU's urgings, the Bush administration is resolutely staying away from the discussions. It wants to change the regime, not deal with it, even if that means Iran ends up a nuclear power.


That brings us to North Korea. "We are working closely with governments in Asia to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions," he said. Again, this is false. The six-party talks involving South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, North Korea, and the United States are in suspension. Our allies in the region have tried to persuade the Bush administration to engage in bilateral as well as multilateral talks with Pyongyang. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell favored such diplomacy. Bush rejected it, saying it would "reward bad behavior." And so, North Korea has probably built a couple A-bombs since it resumed reprocessing two years ago. The Bush stance is particularly dispiriting given the news earlier today that North Korea supplied enriched uranium to Libya—a discovery made by Department of Energy lab scientists, not by our intelligence agencies. At one point in his speech, the president said, "There are still regimes seeking weapons of mass destruction—but no longer without attention and without consequence." Kim and a few other bad guys must have had a good laugh out of that one.


Sweet Jesus?  What is going on here?  Was he really telling the common folks in Iran to overthrow their government and we will rush to their aid?  Yeah, some old folks in Budapest might be rolling their eyes at that. 


I’m old enough to remember grainy black and white television images of the Russian tanks in the streets there, and listening to excerpts of the broadcasts – in heavily accented English - begging for Western help to save the day.  I remember my Uncle Mike swearing and my grandmother shaking in anger.  And the family is Slovak, not even Hungarian.  And were we in Pittsburgh – a few generations removed from central Europe.  We were Americans, really.  I remember the anger and shame.


So what is Bush saying?  Not this time?  We’ll be there? Our track record in such matters is not good, as Kaplan points out.


And in the same speech - "We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime…” – but Condoleezza Rice, our shiny new Secretary of State, in Europe this weekend, says we will simply not participate in any talks.  But we might not invade – we’re not thinking about it now.  So what are we doing?  Watching, I guess.


And he flat-out lied about the six-way talks regarding North Korea.  They aren’t taking place.  Maybe he meant something else.


And there’s this –


There was one intriguing moment when the president said, "In the long term, the peace we seek will only be achieved by eliminating the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder. If whole regions of the world remain in despair and grow in hatred, they will be the recruiting grounds for terror and that terror will stalk America and other free nations for decades."


Good point. So what are the "conditions that feed radicalism" and how best can we relieve them? His answer was all too vague: "The only force powerful enough to stop the rise of tyranny and terror, and replace hatred with hope, is the force of human freedom." Well, money probably helps, too—which the president implicitly recognized in his well-applauded request for $350 million to shore up the new Palestinian authority. This all leads us back to the questions he raised, but didn't remotely answer, in the inaugural address: What is freedom and how do we best spread it without wreaking chaos or empowering our enemies? (A "free and democratic" Saudi Arabia just now, after all, might well offer Osama Bin Laden a ministerial post.)


Empty words.  We’re spreading something around the world.  But what is it?


Somehow I’m reminded of how the baseball player Reggie Jackson explained what he did for the team he was on at that moment, the Oakland Athletics.  He said he was “the straw that stirred the soda” – by which he meant he made everyone edgy and uncomfortable and generally just shook things up.  Interesting and exciting things happen when you shake things up, when you keep injecting chaos when folks think they got things figured out.  Well, that summer the team won a lot of games, a got lots of press, and filled the seats every night.  You never knew what was going to happen next.  Perhaps we have a Reggie Jackson foreign policy.


But we elected Bush.  This is what we chose.  I’m sure it will all work out.  He means well in his impish way?


I’m not sure that’s good enough.


Bob Paterson comments -


Folks tend to assume a lot when a Bush talks.


Others said there were Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, but George W never actually did, did he?   Isn't it kinda unfair to hold the Bushes accountable for things you think they said?


He says to the people of Iran we will stand with you.  That will be of great comfort if the mullahs are using machine guns to put down an uprising and you might have cause to regret misunderstanding "stand with you."


As the Australian outlaw Ned Kelly said right before they threw the lever and hanged him: "Such is life."


Live and learn as it were.


Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, adds this –


Others said there were Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, but George W never actually did, did he?  


It's not that he denies it, it's that the people who remember it - and care whether he said it or not - didn't vote for him.  But the ones who did vote for him don't remember him saying it, mostly because they don't care - or more importantly, they don't want to remember.  And even more importantly than that, they don't want you to remember it either.


So stop it! Right now!


Ah logic – a wonderful thing.  But selective memory is so much more useful


And here William Saletan makes the mistake of using logic to look at the speech.


Steady Leadership
President Bush's cognitive dissonance.
William Saletan -
Updated Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2005, at 10:27 PM PT – SLATE.COM




… He's against historical reflection when a Republican war has lost the context that initially justified it. All that matters is the new rationale: "The victory of freedom in Iraq will strengthen a new ally in the war on terror, inspire democratic reformers from Damascus to Tehran, bring more hope and progress to a troubled region …"


He's against scaring you if you're 55: "I have a message for every American who is 55 or older: Do not let anyone mislead you. For you, the Social Security system will not change."


In the next sentence, he's for scaring you if you're below 55: "For younger workers, the Social Security system has serious problems that will grow worse with time. … We must pass reforms that solve the financial problems."


And this (my emphases) -


He attributes the most unpopular Social Security ideas to Democrats: "Former Congressman Tim Penny has raised the possibility of indexing benefits to prices rather than wages. During the 1990s, my predecessor, President Clinton, spoke of increasing the retirement age. Former Sen. John Breaux suggested discouraging early collection of Social Security benefits. The late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan recommended changing the way benefits are calculated."


In the next breath, he calls for bravery and nonpartisanship: "We have to move ahead with courage and honesty, because our children's retirement security is more important than partisan politics."


Just don’t think about the contradiction. 


And this -


When he's helping you, he appeals to your self-interest: "Here's why the personal accounts are a better deal. Your money will grow, over time, at a greater rate than anything the current system can deliver … And best of all, the money in the account is yours."


When he's shafting you, he appeals to your altruism: "If you've got children in their 20s, as some of us do, the idea of Social Security collapsing before they retire does not seem like a small matter."


He's for low financial risk—and he's for high financial reward. Ownership of stocks and bonds, he insists, will give young people "security—and choice."


He's for fiscal restraint: "My budget substantially reduces or eliminates more than 150 government programs that are not getting results … Taxpayer dollars must be spent wisely, or not at all."


Unless you're a special interest: "My budget provides strong funding for leading-edge technology—from hydrogen-fueled cars, to clean coal, to renewable sources such as ethanol."


And this -


He's a realist when the evidence confirms his claims of a threat to the United States: "Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and nine other countries have captured or detained al Qaeda terrorists. In the next four years, my administration will continue to build the coalitions that will defeat the dangers of our time."


He's an idealist when the evidence doesn't: "Our generational commitment to the advance of freedom, especially in the Middle East, is now being tested and honored in Iraq."


He threatens the two Axis-of-Evil countries that are building nukes: "There are still regimes seeking weapons of mass destruction, but no longer without attention and without consequence."


He keeps our troops in the one that isn't: "We will not set an artificial timetable for leaving Iraq."


Oh, there’s much more.  Using logic here is a bad idea.


They call him steadfast.  He wiped out the opponent he faced in November – by saying the other guy was a flip-flopper. 


Well, incoherence and a detachment from logic aren’t exactly the same as flip-flopping. 


We as a nation chose forceful and vigorous incompetence over overly precise and time-wasting consideration of facts and possible consequences.  The latter is so… French?




I’m sure it will all work out.  He means well in his impish way?


Now interestingly I am listed as a website that opposed AG for AG (you figure that out – but now we have a new Attorney General) - so I'm on the mailing lists of the left.  Of the almost five-hundred items I received since Wednesday, this one, from a big-time blogger, Oliver Willis, stands out.  The links are impressive.


Bush's speech was filled with platitudes, but no specifics. The best he can figure is he's going to PRIVATIZE social security, and if that means cutting benefits for seniors - so be it.


See this.

See this.

See this.


The Democrats are against privatizing social security because it's bad for America. It cuts benefits for seniors and destroys the social safety net for the young. It's just bad news. FDR and the Democrats created social security, and they're not just going to let it whither up and die. It's not obstructionist to stand up for American values, its patriotic. 


See this.


Bush talks a good game about "freedom" but it doesn't jibe with the facts. We still have no cohesive exit strategy for Iraq, while Al Qaeda and others run loose. Homeland security is still a mess, and the administration is opposing increased benefits for the National Guard and Reserve - those who are sacrificing the most in Iraq and Afghanistan. 


In short, the inmates are running the asylum.  This cannot go on.  But it does.  Folks want this?  Or so the Bush landslide last November shows....




Other reactions -


Long-time Just Above Sunset reader Ellen in central New York was just disappointed in the speech – as she expected some substance.  But she recognized the con.


You know, listening to the State of the Union speech - and I DID listen- it struck me how few (if any) programs Bush announced.  This presented a huge contrast to the State of the Union messages from Clinton, which sounded like he was opening one great Christmas gift after another - a message too good to be true, as it turned out, with the Scroogey Republicans in charge of Congress.


With Bush, there was something that sounded like money for the Promise Keepers to work with youth and promote respect for women - and I think that was IT!


The reason, of course, is that there is no money for ANYTHING.  And, by running up such a huge deficit, Bush has managed to poison the well for any FUTURE Democrat to do what Democrats do - provide social programs that are popular and that people need.  So, Bush gets a double benefit - reward his cronies and remove the fuel that could power a successful Democratic campaign based on a more equitable vision of the future.  Any candidate that promises ANYTHING will immediately be attacked - "And how do you plan to pay for THAT?"


Republican strategist and Bush administration advisor Grover Norquist is clear here - "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."


The plan is underway.  The times they are a-changin’ – as they say.


Bush Budget Calls for Cuts in Health Services

Robert Pear, The New York Times, February 5, 2005


President Bush's budget for 2006 cuts spending for a wide range of public health programs, including several to protect the nation against bioterrorist attacks and to respond to medical emergencies, budget documents show.


Faced with constraints on spending caused by record budget deficits and the demands of the war in Iraq, administration officials said on Friday that they had increased the budget for some health programs but cut many others, including some that address urgent health care needs.


The documents show, for example, that Mr. Bush would cut spending for several programs that deal with epidemics, chronic diseases and obesity. His plan would also cut the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by 9 percent, to $6.9 billion, the documents show.


… Mr. Bush requests money to expand a national stockpile of vaccines and antibiotics. But the public health emergency fund of the centers, which helps state and local agencies prepare for bioterror attacks, would be cut 12.6 percent, to $1 billion.


In the event of an attack, states could use that money to distribute drugs and vaccines from the stockpile - for example, by conducting a mass immunization campaign against smallpox, anthrax or other infectious agents.


… Over all, the president's budget would reduce the Department of Health and Human Services' discretionary spending - the amounts subject to annual appropriations - by 2.4 percent, to $68 billion.


… A Public Health Service program for "chronic disease prevention and health promotion" would be cut by 6.5 percent, to $841 million in 2006. The program finances efforts to prevent and control obesity, which federal health officials say has reached epidemic proportions.


The president's budget would also eliminate a block grant that provides $131 million for preventive health services. Under federal law, the money is used to "address urgent health problems," which vary from state to state.


Under the president's request, the budget of the National Institutes of Health, which doubled from 1998 to 2003, would rise by 0.7 percent, to $28.7 billion next year. That is much less than what would be needed to keep pace with the costs of biomedical research, which are rising more than 3.5 percent a year.


… Budget documents also include these domestic proposals:


The budget for training nurses, dentists and other health professionals would be cut 64 percent, to $160.5 million in 2006. The president would cut $100 million, or 33 percent, from a $301 million program that trains doctors at children's hospitals.


… The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance program, which helps people pay their heating bills, would be cut 8.4 percent, to $2 billion. High prices for home heating oil make this a particularly contentious proposal.


… The budget would also eliminate a $9 million program for the treatment of people with traumatic brain injury and a $9.9 million program to collect stem cells from blood found in the umbilical cord after childbirth. Scientists say such cells may prove useful in the treatment of many diseases, and do not raise the ethical issues involved in taking stem cells from human embryos.


Would you like a nice, warm soak in the bathtub?







Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....