Tuesday, June 25, 2002
Well, it was a nice few days off. Got really busy with real life. But come Tuesday, we get Paul Krugman's latest analysis of the current political climate.
As we have come to suspect, it is partisan to the point of being littered with falsehoods, half-truths and unfair coloring of the events. The particulars:
[Y]ou can say this about the Bush administration: where others might see problems, it sees opportunities.
This is the only positive thing Krugman has to say about the president -- and he's being facetious.
A slump in the economy was an opportunity to push a tax cut that provided very little stimulus in the short run, but will place huge demands on the budget in 2010. An electricity shortage in California was an opportunity to push for drilling in Alaska, which would have produced no electricity and hardly any oil until 2013 or so. An attack by lightly armed terrorist infiltrators was an opportunity to push for lots of heavy weapons and a missile defense system, just in case Al Qaeda makes a frontal assault with tank divisions or fires an ICBM next time.
Bush had been pushing for a tax cut long before most economists knew the economy was going in the tank. The logic then was that if the money wasn't sent back to taxpayers in the form of a tax cut, then it would be spent in the Capitol. Bush was half-right. He sent the money out of town and the panderers in the Congress (both houses) spent the money anyway. [See Farm Bill, anything with Sen. Robert Byrd's ($-W.Va.) name on it.] The tax cut may put "huge demands on the budget in 2010," but we really can't be sure. Why? Because it's 8 years away. Rewind two years and there were surpluses "as far as the eye can see." This just in: the eye can't see very far.
Bush was pushing for oil drilling in Alaska before the California electricity crisis. Krugman's right about it not producing any electricity -- but it's part of a long term plan to reduce energy dependence on Arab oil. While Krugman can argue about the relative benefits of oil exploration vs. conservation, the ANWR oil would lessen our dependence on those foreign sources.
Bush was trying to get the U.S. out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty long before Sept. 11. As for a push for lots of heavy weapons -- they cancelled the Army's Crusader program. I got sick of the: "A ballistic missile defense system wouldn't have prevented Sept. 11" argument a long time ago. A lot of things wouldn't have prevented Sept. 11, including: Tanks, Cargo planes, LCACs, Infantrymen, Bradley fighting vehicles, TOW anti-tank missiles. Is Krugman really suggesting that we base our national defense need only on what al Qaeda might do? A lot more people in this world hate us -- and we have to defend against them too.
President George H. W. Bush once confessed that he was somewhat lacking in the "vision thing." His son's advisers don't have that problem: they have a powerful vision for America's future. In that future, we have recently learned, the occupant of the White House will have the right to imprison indefinitely anyone he chooses, including U.S. citizens, without any judicial process or review. But they are rather less interested in the reality thing.
While the recent imprisonment of Jose Padilla, aka Abdullah Al Muhajir, as an enemy combatant is cause for concern -- there will be some judicial review. I would remind Mr. Krugman that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. If Padilla means to kill thousands of people, and has had contact with al Qaeda, then they should hold on to him. If they release him and he's part of another Sept. 11-type attack, will Krugman forgive the administration? I'll start being worried when Krugman is jailed as an enemy combatant.
For the distinctive feature of all the programs the administration has pushed in response to real problems is that they do little or nothing to address those problems. Problems are there to be used to pursue the vision. And a problem that won't serve that purpose, whether it's the collapse of confidence in corporate governance or the chaos in the Middle East, is treated as an annoyance to be ignored if possible, or at best addressed with purely cosmetic measures. Clearly, George W. Bush's people believe that real-world problems will solve themselves, or at least won't make the evening news, because by pure coincidence they will be pre-empted by terror alerts.
Very cynical. Did Clinton do the same thing when he was lobbing cruise missiles at pharmaceutical plants to divert attention from his attentions to interns? Clinton's actions then are certainly more suspect then Bush's actions now. Time will judge Bush, Krugman may be right, but he sounds like he recently got his membership card from the "black helicopter" club.
But real problems, if not dealt with, have a way of festering. In the last few weeks, a whole series of problems seem to have come to a head. Yesterday's speech notwithstanding, Middle East policy is obviously adrift. The dollar and the stock market are plunging, threatening an already shaky economic recovery. Amtrak has been pushed to the edge of shutdown, because it couldn't get the administration's attention. And the federal government itself is about to run out of money, because House Republicans are unwilling to face reality and increase the federal debt limit. (This avoidance thing seems to be contagious.)
Mideast policy is adrift because the Mideast is a war zone. What is Krugman's solution. Help us out here. What should he be doing? As far as the stock market goes, what should the president do? Raise taxes? I'm sure that would help. Amtrak has been pushed to the "edge of shutdown" because it was supposed to be profitable years ago -- and it's not. Every Amtrak rider is heavily subsidized -- does Krugman really want us to throw more money down that rathole? Is that the kind of advice that Krugman the economist would give investors? Rep. Denny Hastert was on "Meet the Press" Sunday and said that they would be passing a bill to raise the debt limit as soon as possible. Is Krugman sure that Democrats aren't just a little bit to blame either?
From the Associated Press:
But facing nearly unanimous Democratic opposition, House GOP leaders say they lack the votes to increase the ceiling. Democrats blame the need to raise the limit, the first increase in five years, on President Bush's 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut and say they will not bail out the GOP.
Who's playing the partisan games at the expense of the country? A few House Republicans and a whole bunch of Democrats.
So now would be a good time to do what the White House always urges its critics to do — put partisanship aside. Will Mr. Bush be willing to set aside, even for a day or two, his drive to consolidate his political base, and actually do something that wasn't part of his preconceived agenda? Oh, never mind.
There seem to be preconceived agendas floating around all over the place. Bush has it. Krugman has it. Could you, dear reader, be next?
I think that most commentators missed the point of the story about Mr. Bush's commencement speech at Ohio State, the one his aide said drew on the thinking of Emily Dickinson, Pope John Paul II, Aristotle and Cicero, among others. Of course the aide's remarks were silly — but they gave us an indication of the level of sycophancy that Mr. Bush apparently believes to be his due. Next thing you know we'll be told that Mr. Bush is also a master calligrapher, and routinely swims across the Yangtze River. And nobody will dare laugh: just before Mr. Bush gave his actual, Aristotle-free speech, students at Ohio State were threatened with expulsion and arrest if they heckled him.
And this proves that Bush is a bad man? Maybe it just proves that there are stupid people everywhere?
It's interesting to note that the planned Department of Homeland Security, while of dubious effectiveness in its announced purpose, will be protected against future Colleen Rowleys: the new department will be exempted from both whistle-blower protection and the Freedom of Information Act.
Well, it's still early when it comes to that legislation. Plenty of time for changes. Maybe Krugman's next column should be taking up that crusade.
But back to the festering problems: on the economic side, this is starting to look like the most dangerous patch for the nation and the world since the summer of 1998. Back then, luckily, our economic policy was run by smart people who were prepared to learn from their mistakes. Can you say the same about this administration?
As I've noted before, the Bush administration has an infallibility complex: it never, ever, admits making a mistake. And that kind of arrogance tends, eventually, to bring disaster. You can read all about it in Aristotle.
So, if one disagrees with Paul Krugman you're stupid. Well, that claim has been addressed before.
I think most administrations have an infallibility complex -- at least for their term of office. I don't remember Clinton saying that the "gays in the military" fiasco was a mistake. And if arrogance leads to disaster, what does that say about Krugman's lily-white hero, former President Clinton?