The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.

The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.
The scholar


The economic expertise of Republicans

Back during the 1980 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan got lots of political mileage out of the sloganeering description of much government spending as "Waste, fraud and abuse," making it appear that our government had a single line item "WFA" that could be easily eliminated. Well, investigators have concluded that Iraqi reconstruction accounts for at least $125 billion worth of "WFA."

He said bribes of tens of thousands of dollars were regularly delivered in pizza boxes sent to US contracting officers.
In one case, an American soldier put in charge of reviving Iraqi boxing gambled away all the money but he could not be prosecuted because, although the money was certainly gone, nobody had recorded if it was $20,000 or $60,000.
In many cases, contractors never started or finished facilities they were supposedly building.

As Digby points out about those who are criticizing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act:

The people who are now keening over "reckless spending" are the same ones who blindly sent pallet-loads of shrink wrapped hundred dollar bills to a war zone and didn't bother to keep any records.

Even if we put aside the arguments of WFA, the pure, blatant plunder involved in the war, there is still the constantly escalating cost of the Iraq War. It's not entirely clear what the increase in money is for, whether it's for the greater use of airpower or payments for mercenaries, but the cost-per-month has been rising steadily, from nearly $5 billion per month in 2003 to over $11 billion per month in 2007.

The Bush Administration has had other financially-suspicious problems.

When reviewing the record of July and August of 2001, Bill Bergman noticed a $5 billion surge in the currency component of the M1 money supply—the third largest such increase since 1947. Bergman asked about this anomaly—and was removed from his investigative duties.
Those who follow the history of the 9/11 fact-finding movement know that there is a laundry-list of unanswered questions that are just as compelling as those put forth by Bergman.

George W. Bush ran two oil companies as a private citizen back during the 1980s, Arbusto and Spectrum 7 and was on the board of directors for Harken Energy, altogether equaling about four years of deep involvement with energy production. Oil prices remained relatively stable until he took office and then really started rising about the beginning of 2003 and reaching a peak at the end of 2008. They then dropped precipitously. Apparently, Bush never had a clue as to why that was. In April 2008, he said:

"I think that if there was a magic wand to say, "OK, drop price,' I'd do that. ... But there is no magic wand to wave right now."

The idea that Bush couldn't fix the high price of oil is something I find entirely credible. What I do not find credible is that someone so deeply involved in energy somehow didn't have a clue as to why oil prices were as high as they were. My own suspicion is that his constant saber-rattling towards Iran had an absolutely huge amount to do with it. As to the effect that the oil price rise had on the economy, a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) paper from July 2006 (PDF) showed that

Households’ income and spending were both affected by the rise in energy prices. The growth of real hourly compensation slowed (the result of a slowdown in nominal wage growth combined with the increase in inflation). At the same time, the average household’s annual spending on energy goods and services rose by about $1,700 between 2003 and mid-2006, and their saving rate dropped sharply.

Other, macroeconomic effects were more modest, effecting the US economy by a quarter to a half of a percentage point. Corporations were significantly less affected than households were. The CBO study lists a few foreign problems and adds:

In addition, worries about the potential consequences of international objections to Iran’s nuclear program may have caused some oil businesses to stockpile part of their supply in recent months rather than sell it.

In his State of the Union Address for 2007, Bush announced:

For too long, our nation has been dependent on foreign oil. And this dependence leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes and to terrorists who could cause huge disruptions of oil shipments and raise the price of oil and do great harm to our economy.

This entirely accurate assessment was, unfortunately, not followed up with any significant action. A year and a half later, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman described Bush's energy policy thusly:

It is hard for me to find the words to express what a massive, fraudulent, pathetic excuse for an energy policy this is.

Bush accurately identified the problem, but did nothing to solve it.

Bush's big priority upon taking office in 2001 was tax cuts. Throughout the debate over the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, "tax cuts" were the Republican answer to everything. How did that 2001 tax cut work out? Paul Krugman put together a chart showing the effects of the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and also of 2003. The effects of the tax cuts? Negligible. If Krugman didn't mark where the tax cuts occurred, we'd never have known that anything had been done. And actually, the Clinton tax increase of 1993 appears to have had a serious positive effect.

What's the really primary economic problem of the day? Economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) tells Congress (PDF) that the housing bubble is. He dates it from 1996 to 2006, so yes, the problem originated during the Clinton Administration. In a round table with CNBC (Video), Baker places the bulk of the blame squarely on Alan Greenspan's shoulders. And what was Republican Senator John McCain's opinion of Greenspan's expertise?

“I want to set up a committee headed by Alan Greenspan, whether he’s alive or dead, it doesn’t matter,” he said, prompting laughter from the crowd. “If he’s dead, we’ll prop him up and put dark glasses on him, like in ‘Weekend at Bernie’s.’”

So, do Republicans have any credibility when it comes to the economy? Can the party make the slightest claim to expertise? Sorry, but no.


James Gilligan and the 3rd Presidential Debate

James Gilligan was in a front-line unit that headed into Iraq as part of the initial assault. His unit went all the way into Baghdad and then turned their responsibilities over to follow-on Coalition forces. The plan from that point was to "Reconstruct and reconstitute and rebuild the government from the ground up." Gilligan's unit rotated back to Camp LeJeune, within weeks he was sent on to Guantanamo Bay for a 6 month rotation in May of 2003. After six months in Cuba, he was deployed again for six months in OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) in Afghanistan. His unit between May and November 2004 watched over a dam at an FOB (Forward Operating Base) and provided election security and other vehicle convoy operations on other FOBs. He then rotated back to "the real world." Six jobs and year and a half later he found himself down and out. In March 2008, he joined the IVAW veterans in a semi-formal panel of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan in order to gather information on and speak out about the experiences of their deployments in the War on Terror, in an event that dubbed "Winter Soldier."

While taking part in the initial invasion of Iraq, traveling from Basra to Baghdad, Gilligan's unit didn't deal with any IEDs or any vehicle-borne IEDs, but his unit did deal with mortar attacks and snipers. His unit was expected to go in and, once Iraq was liberated, to go right out again. He emphasized how serious the chain of command was about how short the Iraq War was expected to be. He had a beret insignia with a picture of Saddam Hussein which he wasn't permitted to keep because he was told that all uniform items were to be confiscated and used for rebuilding the country and government.

He and his fellow Marines were not supposed to talk with reporters outside of the official mission parameters which others invoked. Some would badger the reporters and yet others would give reporters the "straight party line" of "everything's fine," "glad to be here," "glad to help."

Some would talk to reporters and then be incredulous as the reporters would focus on menial factoids about their personal lives. Reporters generally stayed away from details about the mission.

CEB Main (Combat Engineer Battalion Main) took part in an airstrip seizure. Constructing one of the first field expedient airstrips that was used for flying in supplies. While pulling perimeter security, Gilligan was interviewed by a newspaper reporter from New York. The reporter talked with all of the Marines for the afternoon. None of the details from the talks ever made it into the paper.


"I'm confident about this because had the journalist reported on the operational tempo and shortcomings, this would have violated our operational security.
"So, basically, a reporter flew 2800 miles from New York to Baghdad to sit down on a hot, dusty afternoon and reported back on fishing in Missouri, snowboarding in Vermont and the local Manhattan Marine."

In Gilligan's Humvee were not just your average Marines. Gilligan rode with two members of S-2 (Intelligence) and a Warrant Officer for NBC (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical warfare). The assortment of radios in his vehicle which squelched out voices of "Chaos" and other call signs all across the battlefield, reporting back data on the results of their search for WMD and encounters with small-arms resistance.

His role in the vehicle as a Corporal would be to man the radios from time to time and maintain proper security for the vehicle whether moving or stationery. Within his platoon he was one of several Marines selected to be on the NBC reconnaissance team, which would provide security for the Warrant Officer in his search for WMD or other evidence while searching bunkers and other facilities.

"We never really went about our procedures by the book. Within a few days, we were underneath the SCUD FAN (Meaning we were so close to the Iraqi population centers that any SCUDs launched would have impacted the civilian population). Because SCUDs were no longer a serious possibility of danger, we ditched our protective suits and carried our masks on our hips while searching bunkers, looking for WMD. It seemed that if it was such a real threat, we would have continued to wear the masks. After a while, the focus shifted from searching for WMD to collecting war trophies. At one point, it got so out of hand, the CO (Commanding Officer of the unit) ordered a company inspection for all items to be amnestied and turned in. But even the focus of this was on dangerous items, pistols, swords, etc."

The third Presidential Debate between candidates Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) took place at Hofstra University. The veterans of IVAW decided well in advance to appear at the event in uniform and to question the candidates. McCain was going to be queried about his lack of support for veteran's health care (Never once has McCain risen to the challenge of really putting out an effort to support veteran's health care), Obama was going to be queried about whether and how he was going to support war resisters. In short, a small group of veterans of our Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts wanted to ask some highly pertinent and relevant questions to people who were in an excellent position to answer those questions. The IVAW supplied me with a copy:

Senator McCain, on July 9th 2008 you were quoted saying "I've received every award from every major veterans organization in America but the reason why I have a perfect voting record from organizations like Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and all the other Veterans Service Organizations is because of my support of them."
However, there are non-partisan Veterans Organizations such as the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), and the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) who've noted that you've consistantly voted against important issues such as increased VA funding in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. This summer, another Veterans Organization, Veterans for Common Sense filed suit against the VA and discovered that approximately 1000 Veterans under their care are attempting suicide each month, with an average of 17 succeeding every 30 days. Government surveys conclude that over 300,000 21st Century Warriors are currently suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, while only 67 thousand have been diagnosed with with PTSD, and less than half of those are collecting disablity benefits. Doctors and Nurses at the VA are struggling to treat the 2 million American Troops who've deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. What promises are you willing to make, as a Veteran, as a Senator, as a Presidential Candidate, to the Veterans of the United States to prove that you will ensure the VA is fully funded, staffed, and capable of preventing Troops from suffering as they are now, after they've served our great nation overseas?

-Sergeant Kristofer Goldsmith
Operation Iraqi Freedom III Veteran


Senator Obama, you have said that the War and Occupation of Iraq is illegal. If by your words, it is illegal, then it is not only the right of service members such as myself to refuse deployment and participation in Iraq, it is also our responsibility. Sir, as President, are you willing to go by your own words and back them up, and support servicemembers refusing to participate in what you have, in your own words, termed an "Illegal Occupation"?

-Sergeant Matthis Chiroux
Operation Enduring Freedom Veteran

Gilligan reports that their approach to the hall where the debate was being held was really pretty exciting. There were people behind them waving all sorts of signs, from ones that advocated respect for the environment to signs expressing anti-abortion sentiments, to signs advocating the Palestinian cause to pretty much whatever one could think of. Being the only ones in uniform and with the crowd deferring to them as they marched forward to the entrance, Gilligan reports that he was confused for a split-second and as he heard a police officer ask "Are you coming in?" he thought that was a positive invitation to do just that "I honestly felt we were about to get into the Presidential Debate, that we'd actually get a forum to ask our questions of the candidates." But no, the police officers started slapping cuffs onto the veterans.

One veteran was badly injured by a police horse. As veterans were getting cuffed and led away, they were told to drop whatever they were holding. As one of them was carrying a flag, the flag got passed around. Gilligan managed to hold it up and, as he realized that no, they weren't going to be able to ask the candidates any questions, flipped it upside down (Which is universally understood in the military to be a distress signal).

After they had been transported to a police station, the vets were all brought into a large room and segregated by gender. They were asked for identification, the police then left and the vets conversed among themselves. What exactly were the police trying to do afterwards? Hard to say, as protesters have very rarely been arrested in the past few years and it's not like these veterans were breaking any laws or causing any sort of unlawful disruption. Unknown to the police until after the veterans had been in custody for about three hours, One of them, Adam Kokesh, had a body mike strapped to his chest. It transmitted everything that was spoken in his immediate vicinity to a remote location, so everything that took place next was clandestinely recorded.

One of the veterans decided that he would stay out of the way and not be arrested. He then volunteered to collect any items that people didn't want to be arrested with. He got cuffed and led away with the rest. As a result, one of the police officers came into the room with a confiscated knife that he had been carrying. The policeman was flicking the knife and didn't appear to have a very good grip on it. Gilligan: "I didn't feel comfortable and asked him 'Excuse me officer, could you please stop that?' " The officer responded "This is a gravity knife, I have to practice this because when we appear in court, I have to display that this is a concealable weapon and that I can open it with one hand." The officer continued to flick the weapon very close to Gilligan's face. Gilligan:

We're talking about a two-inch knife. Between a utility knife, a bayonet and a pocket knife, I carried up to four different blades with me into combat throughout my time in Iraq and Afghanistan, so it's not like I didn't know how to handle them. I was never once in a situation where I felt obliged to practice with a knife while in the presence of a prisoner. I felt far more annoyed than threatened by the situation.

One of the policemen spoke to the women on the other side of the room in a very low voice that we couldn't make out. The women reported later that he discussed subjects they felt were out of line, going into moral and personal values. The police tried to convince us that Nick Morgan, our fellow IVAW vet who had gotten trampled by the horse, that his injuries were our fault. They had no clue as to the relationships between us (Most of us had known each other for at least a year and many of us had served side-by-side) and tried hard to divide us. Unsuccessfully.

The final result was that I was given an ACD (Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal), told to be good and that if I did nothing further, then the case would be closed in six months. I agreed and was dismissed without being able to make any statements.

Would I perform any arrestable actions again? Well, I didn't think of what I was doing as having been an arrestable action in the first place. It was a much-needed action that we undertook with a great sense of purpose and responsibility. Would I do it again? If the cause is there and it's something I believe in, nothing would stop me from doing it again, not a Nassau County judge, not a corrupt President and certainly not the fear of doing the right thing.


Broder's latest

David Broder accuses the Democratic majority in Congress ("The Votes Obama Truly Needs" Jan 30) of using

...the tight timetable and their control of legislative procedures to block virtually all efforts to open the [economic recovery] bill to compromise.

Sounds like a serious charge. What exactly were these oh-so-productive and highly useful "compromises" that the Republicans were generously and patriotically offering to "improve" the economic recovery bill? Broder doesn't say. This is a rather crucial point if Broder is to make the case that compromise is necessary. How can citizens decide whether compromise is needed if we have no idea what one of the sides is offering?

As it turns out, what was being offered was essentially tax cuts. On MSNBC Live, CNBC host Erin Burnett stated that conservative icon Rush Limbaugh offered "serious ideas" on the issue and proceeded to name " 'cutting the corporate tax' and 'slashing capital gains [taxes]' ", after which Media Matters quotes economists examining such ideas and awarding them a failing grade. Very usefully, the piece shows a chart giving us the relative efficacy of various proposals. Giving the proposal "Cut in corporate tax rate" a "score" of 1:0.30 means that if the US cuts the corporate tax rate, it will sacrifice one dollar that would otherwise go to the Treasury in return for 30 cents worth of economic stimulus. A "score" of 1:1.59 for "Increased infrastructure spending" means that for a dollar spent on that item, the US gets $1.59 worth of economic stimulus back.

A member of the American Enterprise Institute think tank made precisely the same point in a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer ("Obama must grab the U.S. mood" Feb 1), namely that Democrats should make unspecified compromises in order to get Republican support for the economic recovery bill. Nothing wrong with a columnist using Republican talking points without bothering to even talk to the majority party that dominates both chambers and runs the White House, but it's a rather obvious giveaway when blatantly partisan talking points are so seamlessly lifted from one source to another.

Broder also makes a very interesting statement later on in his piece when he talks about:

...the sickening economic slide that has gripped the country in the past five months.

Okay, so there's a real rush here and the rush is not entirely due to Democrats using their "control of legislative procedures" to hurry the other side along. Again, this gives the impression that this article is a hurried cut-and-paste job, copied almost verbatim from Republican talking points.

Nothing was more central to [Obama's] victory last fall than his claim that he could break the partisan gridlock in Washington.

Really? I don't remember any such promise. The closest I found to that was:

“I’ve always believed that you can only bring about real change when people come together across party lines, and I’ve seen what happens when folks put politics aside and get down to work,” Senator Obama said. “If you can’t bring people together across the old fault lines, you simply aren’t going to be able to make progress on the challenges we face.”

This certainly sounds to me like President Obama intended to try and "break the partisan gridlock," but he doesn't "promise" to do any such thing. He very definitely expresses it as a means to an end rather than as an end in itself.

What I really remember was Obama promising to do specific things that George W. Bush and John McCain were strongly opposed to, such as to get American troops out of Iraq, to fix America's then-looming economic crisis and to restore America's moral place in the world by stopping torture and closing Guantanamo. One of the more effective lines in the campaign was that McCain was seeking to do "Bush's third term." Obviously, this line was effective precisely because Americans were not looking for Democrats and Republicans to be nice to each other and agree with each other about everything. Sure, it'd be nice to get the other side of the aisle to vote for an effective economic recovery, but I think most Americans would rather see a good bill with no Republican votes than a bad bill with Republican votes. Broder then states that

[Obama] wants to be like Ronald Reagan, steering his first economic measures through a Democratic House in 1981, not Bill Clinton, passing his first budget in 1993 without a single Republican vote.
The first way leads to long-term success; the second foretells the early loss of control. 

Erm, Clinton "lost control" because Republicans under Newt Gingrich took an extraordinarily partisan approach to governing, spending enormous amounts of time investigating non-stories such as Whitewater and later demonstrating screeching hysteria over the Monica Lewinsky scandal, an extremely trivial, low-grade scandal that would not have warranted even being publicly mentioned a few short decades ago. Sorry, but the lessons history teaches often can't fit neatly onto a bumper sticker the way Broder clearly wants this example to.
Wow! A

...dozen or so House Republicans who wanted to vote yes before the process turned ugly...

sounds to me like these House Republican are guilty of the charge "Dereliction of Duty." If they voted against an urgently needed bill because they wanted to quibble over a few details or because their tender sensibilities were bruised, they need to simply quit their jobs and hand them over to people who are capable of doing them. To play such juvenile games with an economic crisis!

David Broder is obviously just cutting-and-pasting without any real thought or concern for what he's writing. Can he please retire now? There's a rocking chair on a porch with his name on it.