Monthly Archives: May 2004

Lost That One, Too

While filling up my gas tank yesterday (nearly $40), I got to thinking. Even if one assumes the most nefarious reason Bush went to war in Iraq – for oil – he failed miserably at that. With prices now well over $2 a gallon, can we reasonably assume that once we leave, the Iraqis are going to do us a big favor or work closely with American oil companies?

Bait & Switch

The Bush administration is planning the classic conservative ploy of calling for budget cuts in domestic programs to offset the huge tax cuts granted to rich folks.

The White House put government agencies on notice this month that if President Bush is reelected, his budget for 2006 may include spending cuts for virtually all agencies in charge of domestic programs, including education, homeland security and others that the president backed in this campaign year.

Administration officials had dismissed the significance of the proposed cuts when they surfaced in February as part of an internal White House budget office computer printout. At the time, officials said the cuts were based on a formula and did not accurately reflect administration policy. But a May 19 White House budget memorandum obtained by The Washington Post said that agencies should assume the spending levels in that printout when they prepare their fiscal 2006 budgets this summer.

The programs Bush plans to cut next year — IF he’s re-elected – are the very same programs he’s touting on the campaign trail, according to The Washington Post: “The Education Department; a nutrition program for women, infants and children; Head Start; and homeownership, job-training, medical research and science programs all face cuts in 2006.”

A budget analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation – one of those many right wing organizations that promote themselves as think tanks but are nothing more than shills for the their constituency – says the budget cuts are needed because of the burgeoning deficit – a deficit caused by the tax cuts. Brian M. Riedl then has the audacity to say, “I think the public is ready for spending cuts. Not only does the public understand there’s a lot of waste in the federal budget, but the public is ready to make sacrifices during the war on terror.”

Sacrifices for the war! Why aren’t the folks making $200,000 and up who are making no sacrifices in terms of hard dollars or their children to fight in the war called upon to give up their tax breaks.

The Post names several programs that will be cut next year by about the same amount they are being increased this year so Bush can take credit with the constituencies they serve.

It continues to amaze me that this administration can be so brazen and blatant in its dishonesty and expect to have any credibility with voters.

Rush Limbaugh: Your Tax Dollars at Work

Russ Limbaugh’s radio program is beamed to American troops in Iraq and through more than 1,000 American Radio Forces outlets in 175 countries, paid for by your government.

Why is the watchdog group Media Matters concerned? Here’s what Rush has said about the American atrocities at the Abu Graib prison.

“This is no different that what happens at the Skull & Bones initiation … I’m talking about people having a good time. These people – you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of needing to blow some steam off?”

“The media ought to start making some money off these pictures and videos, not just publishing them free. We need some prison torture, you know, bubble gum cards…you know, like I say, we got baseball cards and bubble gum. Now let’s have terror cards — only let’s show our prison abuse photos instead of the terrorists and who they are and what they do. We could go coins. We could go medallions.”

Media Matters is circulating a petition asking Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld to take Limbaugh off the air. You can sign it here.

Speaking of Media Matters

A couple of items of interest to those who claim, as I do, that many of today’s mainstream media have a conservative bias and the reactionary minions are forever trying to divert attention from their leaders’ failings by claiming the media has a liberal bias.

Vanessa Pierce is making news. Who is Vanessa Pierce? A nobody really, until the woman, just graduated from college, went looking for a reporting job. She brought up in each interview that she was a Republican, and when she didn’t the jobs, she claimed a liberal bias against Republican wanna-be reporters. She then wrote a column that was widely lambasted by reporters who rightly claim that cause and effect here may have nothing to do with her party affiliation. And that her social science skills need a lot of work.

The other night I watched a little of Joe Scarborough’s screed, known as Scarborough Country on MSNBC. I had seen him earlier whining about liberal bias. This time he had Peggy Noonan, as reliable a flak for conservatives as you’ll find, always ready to blame the media for Bush’s troubles. The former Reagan speech writer was at it again, this time saying, “[Bush] doesn’t want to send out his version of Spiro Agnew to talk about the nattering nabobs of negativism. But do they still live? You bet they do and they are still in charge of newsrooms in America.”

Dee Dee Myers, the former President Clinton press secretary who was on the program with Noonan, makes the mistake, in my view, of simply saying something to the effect that “if Bush would change his policies he wouldn’t get bad press,” letting the charge that the press has a liberal biased go unchallenged. Bush’s bad press is indeed related to his bad policies, but we’ve all forgotten how the press was flag waving in the run up to and during the initial weeks and months of the Iraqi War. There was bias a plenty then – conservative bias by a press too afraid to challenge the administration.

In fact the New York Times today has an extraordinary “Editor’s Note” today, admitting that its WMD coverage before the war was flawed. The offending reporter was principally Judith Miller. But the Times admits a range of mistakes, including how it buried contrary evidence in stories with headlines that gave no clue that they had screwed up.

Michael Getler, the ombudsman for The Washington Post, admits that his paper wasn’t skeptical enough before the war, letting the Bush PR machine have its way.

A whole series of events that unfolded in public, beginning almost a year before the invasion, laid out the arguments against war, but failed to get much attention in the Post and some other papers. There were, for example, early statements of caution from some leading Republicans. There were Senate committee hearings on containment and alternate strategies, and another hearing with several retired four-star generals urging caution. There were important speeches by Democrats making the case against invasion. There were antiwar demonstrations in European and American cities.

Yet, as we saw in Getler’s column this past Sunday, The Post is still fighting charges that it has a liberal bias.

The anti-war demonstrations were under reported by many media outlets, including The Post, which reported the October demonstration on the Mall on its Metro pages.

Another news organization that was widely criticized and admitted it unwisely downplayed the anti-war demonstrations was National Public Radio. A few days after the demonstrations, NPR tried to balance its mistakes with belated reports. Yet today, NPR’s media ombudsman admits that criticism from Fair and Accuracy in the Media was indeed fair and accurate when it pointed out that NPR is tilting conservative.

I think that NPR is putting more conservatives on the radio than it used to. This is a good thing provided the balance is maintained…. [But] FAIR is concerned whether the pendulum has swung too far. That’s my concern as well.

And NPR’s Jeffrey A. Dvorkin also nails the point more broadly.

[C]onservative organizations tend in my experience to be unabashedly open about their ideology. Liberals and liberal organizations are less so, possibly because they are so often put on the defensive by a more aggressive and militant conservatism.

When you hear a conservative complaining about liberal bias in the media, you usually can figure he or she has run out of arguments with which to defend the misguided policies of their conservative leaders.

Consider the Source

A letter to the editor in The Washington Post caught my eye this morning. The writer defended the Israeli army’s recent raid in the Gaza Strip, quoting from the story: “The Israeli army . . . said that 17 of the 19 dead Palestinians were militants.” Because so many were militants, the loss of civilians could be excused.

You’ll often find phrases such as “the Israeli army said” or “according to the Israeli army” in stories about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. More than 100 Post articles in the past three years have used such phrases. It’s important to keep in mind the source. Because the army said 17 of the 19 were militants doesn’t mean there were. We really don’t know how many of the Palestinian dead were militants and how many were innocents caught up in Israeli’s revenge.

Virginia News

Gov. Warner says bond rating decision expected by mid-June.

Warner vetoes bill that would have eliminated the requirement that home school teachers have college degree. But, according to home school advocates, that puts Virginia in a distinct minority.

“Homeschooling has been so successful nationwide that nine states have chosen the high school diploma as their standard to homeschool while 40 states use no educational qualification to allow parents to homeschool,” wrote Joe Guarina, director of government affairs with the [Home Educators Association of Virginia]. “By vetoing the bill, Warner leaves Virginia as the last state to use a college degree as a threshold to allow parents to homeschool.”

It looks like Jerry Kilgore isn’t going to give up. Because of the increase in state revenues, he’s already talking about another tax cut.

[Atty. Gen.] Jerry Kilgore said that the growing economy means the increases weren’t needed and that next year, the state must offer cuts.
“The rainy-day fund is an appropriate place for [the surplus], but at the end of the day, it’s the taxpayers’ money,” he said.

Other Republicans disagree.

House Appropriations Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr. … said the legislature will not repeal the tax increases.
Mr. Callahan warned that the fiscal growth should be put in perspective. The Fairfax County Republican said that the surplus is only 1 percent of the state’s general-fund budget and that much of the increase can be attributed to stock-market gains.
Mr. Callahan said the state should wait for the May and June reports to “see where we really stand on this thing.”

Meanwhile, Mr. No Tax Increase tacitly admitted there’s isn’t enough money for the obvious.

House Speaker Bill Howell said the state should consider using some of the surplus for transportation, which was left mostly unfunded in the two-year, $60 billion budget.

A Democrat who’s not afraid to stand for something…

Menefee said he supports raising taxes on those who make more than $500,000 a year and lowering them on those who make under $50,000 a year. He called for tougher fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles and federally sponsored research into alternative fuels. He said he supports a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.

…While the Dems look for somebody to run against Tom Davis.

Democrats will choose a nominee next week after interviewing anyone who has applied by 8 p.m. on June 1 to the office of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, 7245 Arlington Blvd., Suite 205, Falls Church.?
…Miller’s committee has to nominate a candidate because no one filed by an April 9 deadline for a Democratic primary, which would have been June 8 [and]… will interview potential candidates June 2 and decide on a nominee shortly after that…
Anyone wishing to apply to be the Democratic candidate can contact [Emilie Miller, chair of the 11th Congressional District Democratic Committee] at (703) 560-0291 or at

Will the Baptists leave public schools?

Bush is appointing former Lt. Gov. John Hager “for assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services.” But we have it on good authority that doesn’t mean he’s in charge of remedial schooling for Va. Republican lawmakers who voted for the tax increases.

Gang warfare is becoming an issue in Northern Va., while Gov. Warner evokes an unfortunate image: “I wish we could say there was going to be a single silver bullet to stop gang activity,” Warner said.

The Timid Press

The Columbia Journalism Review’s Campaign Desk blog uses Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter’s comments on the Al Franken radio show to examine the role of journalists as pundits.

Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly started the discussion when he expressed disappointment that Alter’s harsh view of the Bush administration (“They’re clowns”) is not reflected in his Newsweek columns.

Alter told the Campaign Desk that “If I just attacked Bush with a sledgehammer every week in Newsweek it would get pretty predictable, so I vary my pitches.”

The rest of the post talks about the conflict inherent in reporters also appearing on TV as pundits.

But I think there’s a larger issue: Knowing TV is ephemeral in a sense and a lot harder to retrieve for the average guy and that print is easily accessible, reporters go easier on politicians, especially the ruling class, for fear of loss of access. The Bush administration especially would revoke a reporter’s White House pass or tell their people not to talk to a certain reporter if they don’t like the coverage. That is especially true of TV reporters whose ability to get pictures of the president is in the control of the White House press barons.

TV news/talk shows are different: Outrageous opinion and bombastic performances are coveted. They make good TV. Reporting isn’t valued as much as analysis and entertainment. But newspapers and magazines must rely on facts and inside information to write pieces that cover much more ground than TV reports or talk shows.

That makes newspaper reporters write “he said, she said” pieces and go for balance instead of objectivity, which is the unbiased reporting of facts. That should include the debunking of purported facts as mouthed by lying politicians. I’ve mentioned The Washington Post’s Jim Vandehei as one reporter who occasionally does just that. But even columnists often tone down their opinions, figuring that people don’t want to hear, say, that their president clearly lacks the intellect to do the job.

Virginia News

There you go again. Jim Gilmore almost irreparably damaged Virginia finances with tax cuts justified by bubble income that surely could not be sustained. Anti-taxers are now singing the same refrain in light of increased income reported yesterday by Secretary of Finance John Bennett.

It’s surprising that anti-taxers would even say this, knowing that 17 months remain before the election for the House of Delegates and Governor. That’s plenty of time for a few bad months to prove those who say we’ll grow out of our budget problems wrong again. It’s also plenty of time for Democrats to build the case that not raising taxes would have been disastrous.

Gov. Mark Warner (D) is already honing that argument.

…Warner said the anti-tax “naysayers” are not in touch with the state’s budget realities. Pointing to the surge in tax collections, Warner warned against expectations that such increases will continue forever, saying that an upswing in the stock market helped boost revenues.

“To take one or two months [of good revenue reports] and say, ‘Hallelujah, we’re out of the woods!’- that’s the kind of thinking that got us into this situation in the first place,” the governor said. “I wouldn’t bet the future of Virginia” on such high levels of economic growth.

During the administrations of Warner’s two GOP predecessors, the state granted more than $1 billion in tax exemptions as well as car-tax relief. Along with a recession and repercussions from the Sept. 11 attacks, the state cut taxes and initiated new spending programs.

When the dot-com bubble burst, Virginia’s once-booming tax collections plummeted. Warner has said he was forced to break his no-tax-increase pledge because of emergency needs in state services despite his record cuts in agency budgets to deal with a $6 billion shortfall. The state’s annual revenue growth during the past 30 years has averaged about 5 percent, he said.

Rather than run from or minimize the importance of the tax increase, Democrats should tout it as responsible government. My fear is some Democrats will run from it and instead spend their ’05 campaigns promising not to raise taxes again. Some are already publicly regretting their votes this year.

There’s a thoughtful editorial in the Hampton Roads Daily Press about how localities will allocate the extra funds the new budget delivers to them. The editorial makes the argument that property tax relief may be a legitimate use of the found money.

Maybe. But the refrain that property taxes are too high is so often repeated that it’s become a given fact, when a more rigorous examination is needed before we make that broad claim. Few people in my neck of the woods – Fairfax – complained about property taxes during the 90s when the housing market remained flat as did property taxes for the most part. It may be that our property taxes aren’t too high at all. What’s riled folks is the rate of increase over the past few years. The increase is more catch-up after stagnant 90s than anything else.

In fact, a study issued last year by the Institute on Tax and Economic Policy found that as a percent of income only the bottom 20 percent of Virginians are actually paying a greater percentage of their incomes on property taxes over a 13-year period beginning in 1989. That, more than anything, proves the inequity of Virginia’s tax system. The top 1 percent, for example, were paying 0.2 percent less of their income on property taxes in 2002 than they were in 1989.

It’s difficult to compare property rates state-to-state because states property tax structures vary. Some localities have separate school and trash taxes, for example.

But before we assume property taxes are too high, more data is necessary.

All the Wonderful Programs We Tried to Cut

Robert Pear has a story in tomorrow’s New York Times about how the Bush political machine is touting new spending programs in this election year. The twist is these are programs the Bushwackers tried to cut.

The story also describes the blurred lines between political trips and official government trips. It seems we’re paying for both of them, whether we like it or not.