Tuesday, March 25, 2003

George Kennan Speaks

The architect of the policy of containment, a hero to generations of Foreign Service Officers, and the first author I ever read about foreign policy, has a letter to the editor in today's Washington Post. (First of all, it means he's still alive.)

His point about executive usurpation of the war power is interesting, to say the least. You know all those conservatives who demand that liberal judges stop interpreting things that aren't in the Constitution and decide cases based just what's written there? I guess that doesn't apply to Article I, section 8 (The Congress shall have the power to "declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water").

Acknowledgment: I found the letter reading Max Sawicky's page.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Having a Memory that Extends Back to 1999: Curse or Bane?

These quotes have been circulating online, but I haven't seen them make it into newsprint much. The Saletan pieces from Slate are available here and here.

East Valley Tribune, Mar. 23, 2003

I’m not foolhardy enough to discuss the war, just foolhardy enough to write about discussing the war.

The Tribune editorial page declared “no more arguments” last week, and when Sen. Tom Daschle attacked the Bush administration’s diplomatic failures the next day, before actual shooting started, condemnation from Republicans (and The Tribune) was loud -- and amazingly consistent.

Why, you’d think they all were reading from the same talking points.

Among those attacking Daschle was House GOP leader Tom “the Hammer” DeLay, who told “Monsieur Daschle” to “fermez la bouche.” (I’d translate from the French, but isn’t that unpatriotic? Hey -- “DeLay” is a French name. Better change it to “DeFreedom” -- fast.)

Of course, when a Democratic president sent our armed forces into battle as part of an international coalition, DeLay had no qualms about criticizing President Clinton and the military action in Kosovo during] the fighting.

As William Saletan, on whom I am greatly indebted for these quotes, wrote in Slate, in 1999 DeLay continually referred to “Clinton’s war” and “Clinton’s bombing campaign.” DeLay also worried about how other nations viewed our military efforts: “The White House has bombed its way around the globe” but “international respect and trust for America has diminished every time we casually let the bombs fly.”

DeLay fretted that our military action in Kosovo “has made the Russians jittery and harmed [our] standing in the world.” He opposed changing a regime that represented no immediate threat to the United States. We had no business demanding that Milosevic -- the former Yugoslav dictator now on trial for war crimes -- “agree to allow foreign troops … to have free rein over the entire country,” in effect asking him to “slit his throat with his own people.”

Even after U.S. troops deployed, DeLay urged fellow Republicans to de-fund the war and “pull out the forces we now have in the region.” DeLay worried that once the U.S. “starts meddling in the internal affairs of sovereign nations, where does it stop?” He claimed that the U.S. was “starting to resemble a power-hungry imperialist army” and described the effort as “occupation by foreigners.”

In other words, DeLay was far more personal, strident, and critical during the actual military action than Daschle. DeLay certainly wouldn’t stop attacking Clinton merely because of some trifle like being at war.

The GOP loathing of all things Clinton means that we’re not using two powerful public relations tools in this war. First, the Bush administration won’t cite our intervention in Kosovo defending a Muslim population as proof that our beef with Iraq isn’t an anti-Islamic crusade. But the official GOP position, that everything that happened during the Clinton administration was either bad or really Ronald Reagan’s doing, forces us to ignore our most compelling argument to prove our purposes and principles to people internationally.

Second, the Bush administration can’t use the one compelling slogan that would unite Americans behind the war: “Finish the job.” That idea also would help gloss over the less-robust nature of our coalition by linking this war directly with the last, more widely supported one. But implied criticism of the president’s father, no matter how indirect or useful, is not permitted.

Tom DeLay felt he had the right, nay the obligation, to criticize a Democratic president, war or no war. Maybe there is some grand tradition of respect for the president when we’re fighting. But it would be nice if the same people yelling loudest about that principle now had followed it four years ago, when the domestic political situation was reversed.

Unless the real point is that Democrats, for some reason, have to behave better than Republicans did?

Monday, March 17, 2003

More on Developmentally Disabled Budget Cuts

I got some impassioned emails from parents, therapists, and others who know first hand what the GOP legislative budget will do to funding for developmental disabilities in response to last week's column. I hope it makes for a powerful column this week as well. To his great credit, Bob Schuster of the libertarian-and-for-sale Tribune is incredibly impassioned about this issue.

The Budget Battle

East Valley Tribune, Mar. 16, 2003

It’s time for another one of those dry-as-dust discussions of the state budget. Let’s hear from some experts: Parents and teachers of kids with disabilities, those folks right in the cross-hairs of the GOP legislative leaders’ budget plans.

Justin, the father of a 7-month-old with Down syndrome, wrote me about his fight to keep services for his son -- services that the GOP budget would take away. Karen, a pediatric speech-language pathologist, wrote that all but one of the children she now helps would be dropped from therapy. Either their family is “too rich” (which the GOP defines for these purposes as about $40,000 per year), or the new co-payment requirement would be an impossible burden.

Kortney, a mother of twin girls with disabilities, has to oppose the GOP budget. She probably can’t understand why accounting projections or ideology or a new round of tax cuts for special, favored businesses matters more to some legislative leaders than do her daughters. Kathy, an occupational therapy practitioner in the East Valley, works with families with children who need these services but won’t be able to get them without state help.

John has a 5-year-old autistic son who is making “fantastic strides forward” -- but the GOP budget will make his family choose among bankruptcy, divorce, moving out of state, or throwing away his son’s progress.

I also talked with Steve Vitali, executive director of Devereux Arizona, on whose board I serve. Devereux had to drop out of the state’s Healthy Families program, a pioneering early intervention program that provided pre-natal and early childhood assistance to pregnant women identified by hospitals or social workers as at-risk for premature birth or difficulty in early childhood. The program exists, but Devereux had to quit participating, because the state would pay only 80 percent of the costs -- and Devereux hasn’t been able to raise enough private funds to cover the shortfall.

The GOP fiscal wizards responsible for these direct, inevitable, and immediate consequences to real people try to change the subject. “We’re not cutting the budget,” they claim. “We’re just not increasing spending as much as originally projected. Yeah, that’s the ticket.”

But that dodge makes no sense unless these “numbers matter more than people” Republicans can manage to stop Arizona’s population from growing, stop inflation, and prevent anyone already here from needing additional services. If you don’t increase spending along with population growth, inflation, and demand (remember hearing about the huge, unexplained increase in autism?) then families like Justin’s, Kortney’s, and John’s get screwed.

Unless these GOP budget geniuses managed to wall off Arizona from the rest of the world, keep families from having more children than allowed in legislative budget projections, and put the state on its own non-inflating currency, their arguments about how they’re really not cutting spending is nothing but a big lie.

I find it incredibly tedious when these right-wingers complain about “compassion fatigue” or not being able to do everything. We somehow will create a democratic Iraq, but can’t afford to help autistic kids here in Arizona?

I also heard from Caleb’s dad. Caleb is a 6-month-old with Down syndrome. Caleb’s dad wrote, “When Caleb is old enough, I plan on letting him know who spoke up for him when he couldn’t.”

I’m not nearly as nice as Caleb’s dad. I plan on shouting out loud and long who in the Arizona Legislature (and their enablers in the Phoenix Chamber and other “just cut spending” ideologues) turned their backs and supported policies that will harm Caleb and these other kids.

“Fast Eddie” Farnsworth and the other GOP legislative leaders all claim to be “pro-life.” From Caleb’s perspective, it sure doesn’t look that way.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Think Like a Business--Furlough Your Autistic Kid Until the Economy Improves

It turns out my Tribune column ran on Monday instead of Sunday because Bob Schuster, the Tribune's editorial page editor, wanted to write about the cuts in programs for the developmentally disabled in his regular Sunday column.

The legislative leadership's budget is a good thing for the public debate. They can't make their budget numbers "work" without going after funding for autistic kids, substance abuse, day care, and child immunizations.

So there are three possibilities:

First, the GOP leadership is stupid; there are plenty of other cuts available that wouldn't cause this sort of harm, but they aren't bright enough to find them. I don't want believe that, but you might.

Second, the GOP leadership is evil, and they really want to make these disfavored groups suffer and bear the burden. I don't want believe that either, but you might.

Or given all the practical realities of life in Arizona today, this is the "best" they can do; the result of "just cut spending" is to force families to put autistic kids up for foster care, among other outrages. Oh, they may have all sorts of excuses how that really isn't what they want to do, and try to pass the blame, but that’s the actual result.

And despite their claims to the contrary, it's not really a "tough decision" because, frankly my dear, they just don't give a damn. If you just don't care, it's amazing what isn't important anymore.

East Valley Tribune, Mar. 10, 2003

I hope this budget season has proven educational for worshippers at the shrine of “just cut spending.” Those tiresome clich├ęs about belt-tightening from Valerie Manning and the Phoenix Chamber -- we’re seeing exactly what they mean.

Take developmental disabilities funding. The GOP budget proposal slashes funding for families making under $40,000 annually, and eliminates it for those making more. Sounds really dry, doesn’t it? But it means that Brad Wierck’s family will have to put their child with cerebral palsy into foster care, or face going bankrupt.

In The Tribune last week, Wierck eloquently begged the GOP Legislature not to be both simultaneously cruel and short-sighted -- because forcing disabled kids into foster care eventually costs more.

But tough times require tough measures. Shouldn’t the Wiercks think like a business, and lay off a kid or two until the economy recovers?

Maybe Cheryl Parker should have considered the business cycle before she discovered her son Dexter, age 4, had autism. The budget’s tight. It’s too bad for the families involved, but the problem is too much spending, right?

Take substance abuse programs. The good thing about eliminating state funding for drug and alcohol rehabilitation -- which would force Mesa’s Community Bridges program, which last year served 12,000 people, to close -- is that those folks don’t vote in GOP primaries. And when local police and paramedics have nowhere to take homeless substance abusers, they’ll returns the streets but still won’t vote in GOP primaries.

Some might consider balancing the budget on the backs of the poor, the sick, and the abused somewhat, well, indecent. But when the economy slumps, there’s no money to observe such fripperies as what the Bible says about the least among you and all that.

It’s a recession -- we can’t afford values. Gotta cut spending first, last, and always.

There are plenty of other “hard-nosed” (and hard-hearted) GOP budget desires. The Legislature wants to stop helping some 2,200 elderly people remain in their homes. Maybe some of them will scrape by, but if they wind up in institutions, those bills won’t hit until next fiscal year.

Some 14,000 kids will lose day care; maybe their parents will find a way to keep their jobs -- but if not, too bad.

We also can save some bucks by not immunizing some 24,000 underinsured kids before their second birthday. We’re not requiring they get sick; we’re just cutting spending that might prevent avoidable diseases.

GOP legislative leaders get very annoyed when anyone points out the human costs of their budget plans. They claim to care about people and kids and blah blah blah. Just not enough to avoid making them suffer.

That’s the clear and unavoidable results of what all you “just cut spending” people have long demanded. If there were easier, better, and less painful cuts available, wouldn’t the legislative leadership have suggested them instead?

The GOP leadership, whenever anyone protests the human costs of their proposals, demands to know your alternative. There are two answers to that question. The first is Gov. Napolitano’s budget. Of course, the GOP doesn’t like that answer, because they care more about accounting principles than about autistic kids, substance abusers, or keeping the elderly in their homes. But that’s how they think.

The other answer is that we’re in this mess because of GOP “just cut spending” ideology. Having to sacrifice child care, immunizations, and help for families with a child with cerebral palsy are the logical, direct, and inevitable results of a decade of heedless tax and spending cuts.

Hey, all you “just cut spending” people: THIS IS WHAT YOU WANTED. So start apologizing.

Monday, March 10, 2003

The Distinguished Gentle-Column

My Tribune column ran on Monday (this morning) but yesterday, I had a piece in the Sunday Arizona Republic. The Perspective section did a three-parter on reaction to Gov. Napolitano's comments about the quality of the Arizona congressional delegation. So the Republic got a GOP political consultant, a sitting GOP state legislator, and me--2 R's and a D. Now, that's balance!

I love the paragraph breaks inserted by the Republic editor. It's all in having 800-1,000 words instead of 600. I'll post the Trib column later today or tomorrow morning; it's a hectic day here today.

Slavish devotion to dogma is not effective governance

Arizona Republic, Mar. 9, 2003

I guess it all depends on what you mean by a "good job."

Gov. Janet Napolitano left an opening for a front-page story when asked to critique our congressional delegation. She saluted Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl and Reps. Jim Kolbe and Ed Pastor, and said she hadn't enough time to pass judgment on the three freshmen.

Thus was created headline news: "Guv Doesn't Compliment Shadegg, Hayworth, Flake."

Still, despite being right on the merits, it was a political misstep. Spend enough time in the U.S. Capitol, and you begin to think everybody talks about somebody they can't stand as "my esteemed colleague, the distinguished gentleman." At worst, Napolitano should have said she holds even the most underperforming delegation member in "minimum high regard" -- which is Congress-speak for "pond scum."

The three non-complimented (but still, needless to say, esteemed and distinguished) representatives quietly let it be known that their feathers were indeed ruffled. Few sentient beings have memories quite so long as a member of Congress who has taken umbrage.

Still, revenge doesn't test well in focus groups, and none of the actual principals has any interest in continuing this fight publicly. But The Republic is perfectly happy to hold coats and watch surrogates go a few more rounds instead.

Hey, don't blame me!

The real problem is that legislators grade their performance by standards that don't apply, or make sense, to anybody else. Members of Congress deal with issues of national scope, and don't focus on details. But more significant, they're legislators. It's their job to concoct national strategies - but it's always somebody else's job to put those grand plans into actual practice.

Governors, however, are executives; people hold them responsible for performance. They have to see things in practical terms: who is helped or hurt, which programs get cut or expanded. They're accountable, and have to deliver results. Legislators give themselves good grades based on press releases, sound bites and non-determinative votes. Results? Results are for losers.

Who signed the check?

Arizona's governor looks at the costs our state and counties must pay for problems caused by federal government, and the tab is huge. But to some legislators, the real problem with the federal government is the federal government itself. (Never mind that they're part of the federal government, too. These guys are so busy doing talk radio that they forget their own paychecks say "United States Treasury.")

Sure, they may be somewhat concerned that Arizona faces unfunded mandates and federally created problems, but these ideologues are more concerned about cutting taxes and (this next part is strictly theoretical, as it's never actually happened) reducing the size of the federal government.

To these guys, Arizona's major federal issues -- reimbursing counties for health care and jail costs for undocumented immigrants, protecting against forest fires, assistance for programs and facilities at our universities, support for homeland security costs for state and local governments -- may be theoretically important, but they care more about their ideological "Washington-as-the-root-of-all-evil" crusade.

True believers in this "just cut spending" theology share an unshakable conviction, impervious to facts, that the federal government should do essentially what it does now but somehow spend much less doing it. But that belief makes no sense after the recent budget moves by the GOP Congress and the Bush administration.

A raft of sycophants

Sure, every true believer in "just cut spending" theology has a list of six-figure, seven-figure, and sometimes even eight-figure programs that could be cut. But when the annual budget deficit is in the 12-figure range, it would take some nearly 1 million separate Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earmarks to approximate just the current fiscal year's budget deficit. And when President Bush's State of the Union speech promised billions more to fight AIDS in Africa, hydrogen car research, and a Medicare prescription drug benefit, our delegation didn't stop their clapping.

Katie, bar the door!

Can anyone explain why, with the current federal budget deficit headed north of $330 billion, there's no room to help Arizona deal with problems created or made worse by the federal government? Over the past two years, Congress has increased federal discretionary spending by 22 percent, the largest two-year jump since 1976-78. The horse already left the barn, but our delegation is still putting on their pants.

Any Arizona representative not fighting fiercely to fix unfunded mandates and expenses imposed on our state and local governments (much less traditional "pork") out of tender concern for the country's fiscal health is a day late and a half-trillion dollars short.

The numbers are getting worse, not better. Arizona didn't get the help we needed in the fiscal 2003 budget, and the Bush 2004 budget offers an even-larger budget deficit but still no real assistance for Arizona's border counties, first-responders, forests, and health care providers.

Thus, to get assistance for health care costs for undocumented immigrants along the border (last year AHCCCS paid about $43 million, plus our hospitals provided millions more in uncompensated care), Congress will have to add the money, but President Bush undoubtedly will portray any increase in any of his spending numbers as shameless pork.

Hey -- he's doing it already. How did the nation's top Republican rate the performance of Congress on homeland security?

"I was disappointed that the Congress did not respond to the $3.5 billion we asked for," Bush said last month. "They not only reduced the budget that we asked for, they earmarked a lot of the money."

When even Bush is triangulating away from these guys, you know who has won this particular debate. Some of our delegation hasn't gotten the job done, but I guess they've kept their ideological purity. Meanwhile, Arizona needs -- and is still waiting for -- results.

Monday, March 03, 2003

A Day Late, and $400 Billion Short (at least)

This week's column ran Monday morning instead of Sunday. The editor gave my usual space to Sen. Jon Kyl to spin his arguments about judicial nominations, which is probably why I didn't ride as well as usual that morning. Hard to keep up on a bicycle when you're sputtering with rage. You can do it in a car, but not on a bike.

When was the last time you read in a blog, "I was wrong?" Just asking.

Security and Pork

East Valley Tribune, Mar. 3, 2003

Hey, I was wrong, at least partially, so here's my correction.

In December I complained, with my usual vehemence, about GOP pork in the Homeland Security bill. The last-minute additions included money for Texas A&M University, making corporations that relocated offshore to avoid U.S. taxes eligible for homeland security contracts, and legal immunity for vaccine manufacturers.

Despite "iron-clad" promises to moderate GOP senators to revisit these riders, I predicted the GOP would play defense -- far easier legislatively than offense -- and block any repeal vote. Relying on GOP moderates almost always guarantees failure; as President Clinton's chief of staff, John Podesta, once remarked, if a strategy depends on GOP moderates, you need a different strategy.

The pharmaceutical giveaway was more outrageous than it first looked. Not only did the manufacturers get immunity, all possible vaccine claims got shunted to a federal compensation fund, for which the application deadline already had passed.

But in the just-passed omnibus fiscal year 2003 budget bill, Congress repealed the vaccine immunity provision through a rider buried in the bill. Good for the GOP moderates -- this time, anyway.

Of course, Congress let stand the Texas A&M earmark and offshore tax avoider goodies, and buried a number of new outrages amid all that spending. There's a special gift to Fieldale Farms, a Georgia poultry producer, requiring the Agriculture Department to allow "organic" livestock to be fed non-organic feed if organic feed is too expensive. Naturally, there’s no requirement that non-organic livestock and poultry sell for less than truly organic ones, and the idea that consumers should know what they’re eating is apparently less important than helping a business favored by Rep. Nathan “Let’s Make a” Deal, R-Ga.

But the truly remarkable stuff in the 2003 budget bill isn’t the minutiae, but the huge stuff "hidden in plain sight." The first is that a GOP House, a GOP Senate, and a GOP President all approved over $300 billion of deficit spending. We’re now hearing all sorts of justifications from the Republicans that budget deficits just don’t matter. This is extremely interesting, because these guys used to scream about the balanced budget amendment.

If deficits don’t matter, why amend the Constitution to prevent them? Yeah, I know: That was then, this is now.

What about the other GOP mantra, cutting spending? The 2003 budget increased spending of 7.8%, which on top of the increase in FY 2002, means that federal spending grew these past two years by 22%, the largest two-year increase since 1976-78.

And the budget proposed by President Bush for FY 2004 makes things worse -- even before considering the cost of war against Iraq, now estimated at $95 billion. The GOP thus plans a FY 2004 budget deficit approaching $400 billion.

The administration’s own numbers concede that their economic plans will increase the deficit each year for the foreseeable future, by amounts steadily increasing from $149 billion in FY 2004 to $241 billion in FY 2008, an additional $970 billion in debt. That’s nearly $1 trillion before paying for war in Iraq, plus Turkey, Afghanistan, missile defense, and fixing the Alternative Minimum Tax -- all virtual certainties, but omitted from Bush’s budget.

All this is happening with the GOP in complete control. So please stop blaming this administration's failures on Bill Clinton or the briefly-Democratic Senate.

If Bill Clinton had whined nearly this much about all the problems he’d inherited from George H. W. Bush -- the Balkans, a budget deficit of $290 billion, Haiti, Somalia, unemployment, Northern Ireland, the Middle East -- he wouldn’t call himself the "responsibility" President.

And neither should W. Unless -- don’t tell me -- "responsibility" was then, but "blame" is so now.