Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category

Using His Kristol Ball

He’s at it again.

William Kristol, Fox News überpundit and Weekly Standard editor managed to get an Op-Ed in Sunday’s Washington Post. His point, if you have not already guessed, is to point out just how wonderful a president Bush will considered – in retrospect of course.

With current poll numbers in a Nixonian nosedive, one wonders how Kristol manages to come to this rather reality estranged viewpoint. As mentioned, both in the first sentence of the piece and perhaps the only one in the Op-Ed with any relationship to the laws of reality as we know them, Kristol comments that he will “merely expose myself to harmless ridicule if I make the following assertion: George W. Bush’s presidency will probably be a successful one.”

Why yes, Mr. Kristol, you will; here’s mine.

Kristol starts by looking at the wonderful things that have happened in the years of the Bush presidency. Things like no more terrorist attacks on US soil, a strong economy and * cough * an obviously winning strategy in Iraq.

Let’s take these in order, shall we?

First, the no more terror attacks on US soil. True. The sky also didn’t turn green and the Germans haven’t elected a new Hitler and the 60% of Americans becoming increasingly frustrated with the federal government still haven’t left the country either. Funny that Kristol doesn’t assume these to be accolades of the current administration. Perhaps we only have to give him time.

But what about those pesky little terror attacks. Madrid, London, – London again (sort of), Glasgow (sort of). Kristol is right that the US has largely avoided al Quaeda terror attacks in recent years. Of course the same could have been said of Bill Clinton in 1999. But hey, why go there?

There was the largely forgotten and never explained Anthrax attacks that took place – um –after 9/11?

Then there was that pesky little hurricane thingy that destroyed New Orleans and reshaped the Gulf Coast. Not terror but the federal response, lead and coordinated by Bush, was terrifyingly bad.

We could look at last week’s report by the GAO that a fake firm, basically a mailbox and a telephone number, would have been able to purchase the materials for a dirty bomb. No not an attack, but terrifying.

Perhaps the only reason al Quaeda doesn’t attack is because there isn’t any reason. America is doing a just fine self destructing all by itself, thank you. Perhaps that is why Chertoff has a stomach problem. Maybe he was simply eating salmonella infested spinach picked by “undocumented workers” his department seems unable to keep out of the country.

Which brings me to the economy.

What does Mr. Kristol have to say?

After the bursting of the dot-com bubble, followed by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve had more than five years of steady growth, low unemployment and a stock market recovery. Did this just happen? No. Bush pushed through the tax cuts of 2001 and especially 2003 by arguing that they would produce growth. His opponents predicted dire consequences. But the president was overwhelmingly right. Even the budget deficit, the most universally criticized consequence of the tax cuts, is coming down and is lower than it was when the 2003 supply-side tax cuts were passed.

Bush has also (on the whole) resisted domestic protectionist pressures (remember the Democratic presidential candidates in 2004 complaining about outsourcing?), thereby helping sustain global economic growth.

What do those pesky facts show?

Well, I’ll just ask the U.S. Census Bureau. Since the yearly reports come out in August, (perhaps the reason for Mr. Kristol writing this Op-Ed now) I have to reach back to the Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2005 released in August 2006.

A quick graph of those incomes (adjusted to 2005 dollars) by quintile shows that current income still hasn’t reached the level of 2000. But the rich are still getting richer having increased from a meager 49.8% of the total share of income in the year 2000 to 50.4% by 2005, an all time high. (Click for full size version)

Mean Household Income by Quintiles 1986 - 2005

And a few more tidbits from the report:

  • ”The Gini index, one of the most widely used inequality measures, did not measure a statistically significant change in household income inequality between 2004 and 2005. Over the past 10 years, the Gini index has increased 4.2 percent (from 0.450 to 0.469), although the individual annual differences since then were not statistically significant.” (pg. 8 )
  • After 4 years of consecutive increases, the poverty rate stabilized at 12.6 percent in 2005— higher than the most recent low of 11.3 percent in 2000 and lower than the rate in 1959 (22.4 percent), the first year for which poverty estimates are available. (pg. 13)
  • “The percentage of people without health insurance coverage increased from 15.6 percent in 2004 to 15.9 percent in 2005. [up from 14,5% in 1999]” (pg. 20)
  • The percentage and the number of children (people under 18 years old) without health insurance increased between 2004 and 2005, from 10.8 percent to 11.2 percent and from 7.9 million to 8.3 million, respectively. (pg .21)

Then there is the minor fact that gasoline prices have now almost doubled since George W. Bush took office.

Kristol then comments that even progressives would have to admit that Roberts and Alito are impressive supreme court judges. I’d say no problem Mr. Kristol. I’m sure you would agree that Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chaves are impressive international statesmen. Impressive is such a malleable word, isn’t it? As to making the claim that Roberts and Alito are conservative constitutionalists, I guess I would say that you might think so. Of course, if you assume the constitution is based on enlightenment principles and not on the ten commandments, it could have been worse.

Kristol then moves from domestic fantasies into international ones.

He starts off pointing out that “the war in Afghanistan has gone reasonably well”. I won’t even go there except to reference the attack of the 10 foot tall marijuana plants. Something Mr. Kristol is certainly glad to see based on what he must have been smoking while writing this piece.

He then proceeds to wave his hand at any Pakistani problems and assumes that “Bush will deal with them.” Oh. Great.

Generally, in Mr Kristols world everything else is – well…

As for foreign policy in general, it has mostly been the usual mixed bag. We’ve deepened our friendships with Japan and India; we’ve had better outcomes than expected in the two largest Latin American countries, Mexico and Brazil; and we’ve gotten friendlier governments than expected in France and Germany. China is stable. There has been slippage in Russia. The situation with North Korea is bad but containable.

Hmm. The recent Pew report might present reality a bit differently. Let’s see.

In the current poll, majorities in 25 of the 47 countries surveyed express positive views of the U.S. Since 2002, however, the image of the United States has declined in most parts of the world. Favorable ratings of America are lower in 26 of 33 countries for which trends are available.

The U.S. image remains abysmal in most Muslim countries in the Middle East and Asia, and continues to decline among the publics of many of America’s oldest allies. Favorable views of the U.S. are in single digits in Turkey (9%) and have declined to 15% in Pakistan. Currently, just 30% of Germans have a positive view of the U.S. – down from 42% as recently as two years ago – and favorable ratings inch ever lower in Great Britain and Canada.

I’m actually surprised Mr Kristol didn’t make more of Americas improving relationship with “Christian” Africa.

That Russian – slippage? I have to admit, that is a neat turn of a phrase. And it is amazing what happens when the Bush White House basically rolls back to pre-Bush positions in order to “contain” North Korea. You remember, North Korea gets heating oil; they shut down reactors. Rocket Science! (Well, hopefully not.)

And then Kristol get’s to the heart of the matter. That teeny-weeny, eensy-bitsy, tiny detail he’d been avoiding the whole Op-Ed: Iraq. Here Kristol starts harkens back to the days of Ulysses S. Grant and pushes Petraeus into the forefront. Bush is no longer Commander in Chief but the guy who picked the guy who’s going to win in Iraq. Or maybe not.

I’m starting to think that Patraeus will be named Patsy by September and it seems I am not alone.

After Kristol wins Iraq, the path is clear for him to move into the Bush library (has anyone agreed to let it be build near them yet?) and start creating legends. Of course, as opposed to most presidential libraries, the George W. Bush library probably won’t be all that interesting to scholars who go to look at the original documents. Those have all been cleverly moved to RNC e-mail accounts that were unfortunately “de-archived.”

Sorry Mr. Kristol, no happiness there. Oh. But then again maybe facts don’t bother Mr Kristol.

You might notice something about my post. I have links to where I got the information to refute Mr Kristol’s “facts.” His Op-Ed is largely – no – completely link free; just like his reality. There is no reason to back up statements with facts. Facts are just so yesterday.

One can only look forward to the days when the Washington Post finally decides to stop publishing this balderdash.

In the meantime. If Mr. Kristol’s last comments are any indication of his betting ability, I’d love to get in a game of poker with him. His crystal ball seems a bit smudged.

What it comes down to is this: If Petraeus succeeds in Iraq, and a Republican wins in 2008, Bush will be viewed as a successful president.

I like the odds.

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A Cowboy’s Pipedream

Today’s post is less an organized story, than merely the overwhelmed whining of someone seeing the world moving in the wrong direction.

I had planned on questioning George W. Bush’s decision to invite Vladimir Putin to his fathers “compound” in Kennebunkport Maine.

After several months of cooling relations and increasingly heated rhetoric, I found the idea that Bush thinks he can actually accomplish something in a quiet personal atmosphere to be less than realistic. Russia is retreating farther and farther into an isolationist, nationalist position that can best be compared to the position America has taken since Bush first took office; taking unilateral positions on international policies without worrying about whether diplomacy might solve the issue or if the unilateral “solution” might actually make things worse.

While I suspect the two men have much in common personally; I seriously doubt they have much common ground politically.

Take for example Putin’s press conference last week with Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, due to take his turn as the EU President in June. As reported in the Washington Post,

Anti-American rhetoric has become a staple of Kremlin-controlled television and many Russian political speeches, a reflection according to analysts of both genuine grievances and a desire to assert Russia’s revival as a world power under Putin. The Kremlin views Western lecturing on democracy in Russia as an attempt to derail Putin’s carefully orchestrated succession plans.

Putin said last week that criticism of human rights is an attempt to make Russia “more pliable” on other issues. “The death penalty in some Western countries — let’s not point fingers, secret prisons and torture exist in Europe, problems with the media in some countries, immigration laws which in some European countries are not in line with the general principles of international law or democratic order — these things, too, fall under common values,” Putin said after meeting with Portugal’s prime minister Tuesday.

He went on to say: “Let’s not talk about having immaculate, white fluffy partners on one side, and on the other a monster who has just come out of a forest with claws and corns growing instead of legs.”

This needs to be put in the perspective of the American insistence on stationing 10 missile defense systems in the Czech Republic and a new radar system in Poland. A move that irritated EU members and prompted Putin to warn “We consider it harmful and dangerous to turn Europe into a powder keg and to stuff it with new weapons.”

Not to be outclassed on new weapons front, the test of a new intercontinental missile was then promptly presented by Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, widely considered to be Putin’s heir apparent. (This was also, might I note, after a failed postponed US anti-missile defense test on May 26th.)

Then I look at the G8 conference planned in Potsdam next week; what could be considered a prelude to the Bush-Putin private snuggle-up.

While largely ignored by the American press, the German newspapers have been filled with reports of measures taken to reduce the “risks” coming from anti-globalization activists. From the time worn tactics like fences, water throwers and increased police presence to new and innovative ideas.

The German Interior Minister, had supported a plan to hack and scan private computers in order to identify “terrorist” (anti-globalization) activities. (Perhaps he got the idea from Alberto Gonzales?) The idea was rejected in early May by the German Supreme Court.

Echoing Putin’s attacks on the West’s “problems with the media,” Spiegel-Online (German) is reporting today that journalists are being denied accreditation to the G8 conference or have their accreditation revoked. In some cases the reasoning seems more than suspicious,

The federal press office surprisingly refused credentials to the G8 press center to a long time editor of the Berlin newspaper taz. The journalist told SPIEGEL ONLINE, that the refusal had been made without giving any specific reason and referred to a corresponding recommendation from the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation* (Bundeskriminalamt, BKA). On inquiry, the BKA refered him to the Berlin State Office of Criminal Invesigation (Landeskriminalamt, LKA). But they were surprised. According to Lee, the LKA finally admitted that the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Verfassungsschutz) had raised objections to the accreditation of the journalist.

Lee is responsible for right and left wing extremists and social movements at the taz. In recent weeks he has increasingly reported on the G8 summit.

The LKA had twice investigated him, says Lee. However both times a positive recommendation had been made: “I don’t even have a traffic ticket.” [my translation]

It should be noted that the taz is a left-wing, but largely mainstream newspaper. According to the article, focused around Lee’s plight, at least 20 journalists have been denied access to the summit. Of course German politicians claim that freedom of the press, even a hostile press, is one of the most important rights in democracies. Sounds like America.

While the press policies might impress the American president, Bush has now decided he needs to “lead the world” in combating Global Warming. A move calculated to irritate Angela Merkel who has been pushing for specific limits on CO2 emissions at the G8 next week.

Although the American press is largely reporting that Merkel gave “positive responses” to Bush’s ideas, Merkel is far too political (perhaps polite) to attempt a verbal bushwhacking. People living in Germany often find that Merkel’s methods for political manoeuvring are far more subtle than most male politicians. She either says nice things or says nothing; nevertheless she often gets her way in the end with her opponent sidelined, marginalized and finally forced to do what she planned.

Merkel wants concrete results from the G8 conference, Bush wants to start a new round of talks to delay the process; Merkel has a PhD in Physics, Bush occasionally reads books. Merkel got nowhere with Putin; Bush want a barbeque in Maine.

Interestingly, I would argue the West, not only America but Germany, France and Britian (who, one would assume, will “stay the course” even post-Blair) has approached Russia in recent years. The West has gotten far more authoritarian and repressive. Even as the public and NGO’s point to democratic problems, the politicians, east and west have become far more similar in recent years (see the coverage of the Condi and Sergey show).

Unfortunately the current resurgence of Russian power was largely unexpected by the White House and they seem to be scrambling to react. Perhaps that is the reason why the Iraq Czar was named; to free up Russian expert Rice and National Security Advisor Stephan J Hadley for other international problems.

Finally, does Bush even have the mindset to change things? From Georgie Anne Geyer at the Dallas Morning News in a column about Iraq as a (terror) export nation and describing Bush,

Friends of his from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated “I am the president!” He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of “our country’s destiny.” [Reference to the Rapture perhaps?]

To think that having Putin over for a couple of days, with Rice at the breakfast table in pajamas and perhaps the twins gallivanting on the lawn probably won’t do more than increase the Bush/Putin personal friendship.

Anything else is just a cowboy’s pipedream.

[*Yes, the Germans have lots of investigative offices. In American terms, the BKA is like the FBI for crime, Verfassungsschutz is like the FBI tracking “political” groups (like neo-Nazis and the RAF), Finally the LKA can be seen as a local state police. I hope that clarifies slightly.]