Adam Ash

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

US Diary: two comments on Bush's State Of The Union speech

1. More Dishonesty from Bush in State of Union -- by Matthew Rothschild

President Bush riddled his State of the Union speech with dishonest presentations, and he failed to adequately address the crucial issues facing this country.

On Iraq, Bush said “we are winning” and we are on “a clear path to victory.” Saying so doesn’t make it so.

The number of attacks against U.S. forces and Iraqi army and police went up last year.

Casualties keep mounting, with 2,237 U.S. soldiers killed and more than 16,000 wounded. The casualties among Iraqi civilians are magnitudes higher.

“We’re on the offensive in Iraq,” Bush said. But U.S. troops increasingly are retreating to fortified bases.

We are “continuing reconstruction efforts,” Bush said, though the United States has diverted much of the money earmarked for reconstruction and used it instead for security purposes (that is, when the money wasn’t squandered or skimmed).

And, as he is wont to do when he is losing ground, Bush conjured up the image of bin Laden, saying that Osama and Zarqawi would take over that “strategic country” if the United States were to pull out suddenly.

This, too, is a falsehood.

“There is no threat of a government run by Al Qaeda or sympathetic to it taking over Iraq, or even parts of Iraq, once the Americans leave,” writes reporter Nir Rosen, who has spent many months there. In a trenchant piece in the current issue of the Boston Review , Rosen notes that the Shiites in the south control the army and the Kurds in the north have a powerful militia, and neither of them is in league with Al Qaeda. Quite the contrary. And even “the indigenous Sunni, who constitute the majority of the resistance, are fierce Iraqi nationalists. . . . Once the Americans leave and the Sunnis are taking part in the government, which they will no longer view as collaborationist, they will have no common cause with foreign mujahideen, only a conflict of interests that will be quickly and violently solved, resulting in no more foreign fighters enjoying Iraqi hospitality.”

On the NSA spying scandal, Bush was even more dishonest.

He said: “If there are people inside our country who are talking with Al Qaeda, we want to know about it because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again.”

But no one is suggesting that the United States “sit back.”

All critics want is for Bush to follow the law and to go to the FISA court to get a warrant to wiretap that call. The FISA court has granted 99.997 percent of Bush’s requests for such warrants. What’s so hard about asking for a warrant?

But Bush pretended in his speech, just as he has in his actions, that the FISA law doesn’t even exist. He didn’t mention it at all. He did say his actions are justified both by the Constitution and by “statute,” but the only statute that explicitly deals with wiretapping specifies that a FISA warrant is the “exclusive means” by which domestic wiretapping can occur. (Bush’s lawyers cite Congress’s authorization of military force against Al Qaeda, but that is a specious argument, since Bush wanted to include in that authorization some language that would have given him the power to do warrantless wiretapping, and Congress refused to go along with that, as former Senator Tom Daschle has noted.)

Bush also said that “appropriate members of Congress have been kept informed,” but the Congressional Research Service studied this question and concluded that Bush did not fully inform the intelligence committees and thus acted in a way “inconsistent with the law.”

On Iran, though pundits have been saying Bush was less bellicose than he could have been (now there’s a standard!), he did hiss: “The nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons,” he said.

And then the snake began to rattle: “Let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you, and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom.

Our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran.”

“One day” is not exactly comforting, and Bush said similar things to the people of Iraq in the lead up to the invasion of that country.

On the economy, Bush said it was “healthy and vigorous.” But American workers would beg to differ . They’ve seen their real wages fall 0.8 percent last year, and total compensation (including health benefits) fell, as well, by 0.2 percent.

Wages and benefits are simply not keeping up with inflation.

Bush said that “America has created 4.6 million new jobs” in the last two-and-a-half years. But what he didn’t say was “recent job gains lag far behind historical norms,” as the Economic Policy Institute notes.

Bush is like a doctor who knows how to write only one prescription: tax cuts for the rich. When the economy is strong, he proposes tax cuts for the rich. When the economy is weak, he proposes tax cuts for the rich. And so in his State of the Union address, he proposed more tax cuts for the rich.

And he coupled that with a pledge to reduce “the growth of non-security discretionary spending.” This is government spending that actually goes toward helping meet some of the crying needs of our society. Bush wants none of that.

On health care, he had all of two paragraphs, and they amounted to nothing. He said he wanted to strengthen health savings accounts, but as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes, tax breaks for these accounts will be “targeted primarily to higher-income taxpayers who would have new tax sheltering opportunities and potentially new tax breaks to cover out-of-pocket medical costs. The majority of Americans would get little (or nothing) from these tax breaks.”

What’s more, according to the center, this proposal may actually increase the number of the uninsured, which now totals 45 million Americans.

Bush proposed absolutely nothing about another crucial issue: and that’s the need for campaign finance reform. As Republicans in Congress quiver over Jack Abramoff’s singing, and as it becomes clearer by the day that our legislature is up for sale, Bush didn’t go near the only solution to this problem: full public financing of campaigns.

He also barely mentioned the word the environment. How could he, when he’s been freeing up one industry after another to pollute? How could he, when he’s sabotaged every international effort to do something serious about global warming?

He did wake up to the fact that America is “addicted to oil.”

It’s about time.

He’s done nothing about this for five years, with Cheney saying, back in 2001, that conservation is a lifestyle choice and that we’ll be as dependent on foreign oil in 2020 as we were in the year 2000.

Yes, we are addicted to oil, but Bush is not making us go to Oil Guzzlers Anonymous, he’s not making us pay more for our drug, he’s not forcing those who make the chief drug-dispensing devices, cars and SUVS, to stop loading their products with engines that abuse this drug.

And that’s the biggest hypocrisy of all.

His energy bill last year did nothing to raise the fuel-efficiency standards on Detroit. Amazingly, our fuel standards are now lower than China’s! Our fuel economy standards in 2005 are 21 miles a gallon for all cars and SUVs. In 1987, they were 22.1 miles a gallon. We’ve been going in reverse. And when the energy bill was up last year, Republicans in Congress not only voted down Democratic amendments to increase fuel-efficiency standards, they actually made it more difficult to raise those standards in the future.

For a President who has been so openly hostile to science, Bush turned around and stressed the importance of basic research and the teaching of science and math in the classroom. Then he turned around again and demanded the prohibition of “human cloning in all its forms,” citing God: “Human life is a gift from our Creator.”

Throughout his speech, he soaked up the applause. But he revealed his hostility to free speech and dissent when he bristled at Democratic taunting on Social Security and when he juxtaposed, in the Iraq War context, “responsible criticism” with “defeatism.”

Power has gone to his head.

(Matthew Rothschild has been with The Progressive since 1983. His McCarthyism Watch web column has chronicled more than 150 incidents of repression since 9/11.)

2. Decoding the State of the Union -- by Katrina vanden Heuvel

Never misunderestimate George W. Bush. Here's a President who's gutted the Treasury, eroded the environment, divided our society, ruined our reputation, frayed our military, undermined our security, inspired our enemies and overall weakened America. But there he stood tonight and delivered a State of the Union speech disconnected from the reality we are living in.

As Tom Engelhardt has observed, the way gunmen once reached for their guns, this Administration reaches for its dictionaries to find words to deceive and distract people.

I know that the long battle to retake our country from the forces of extremism, corruption, mendacity and injustice requires bold ideas and principles. But in the meantime, remember that language is power and clever words sell really rotten policies. Or, as that savvy political philosopher George Carlin once said, "Whenever the other side has you talking their language, they've got you."

So, for all decent and truth-loving Americans, here's a quick guide to decoding last night's SOTU. All of these definitions come from my Dictionary of Republicanisms:

Bipartisanship, n.

1. When conservative Republicans work with moderate Republicans to pass legislation that Democrats hate.

2. Another name for date rape [Grover Norquist, Third Level, Hell].

Compassionate Conservatism, n.

1. Republican pre-election concern for the disadvantaged [Gary Hunter, Thomasville, NC].

2. (a) I got mine; (b) I got yours too [Brian Kenner, Tervuren, Belgium].

3. Poignant concern for the very wealthy [Laurence Sandek, Twin Peaks, CA].

Democracy, n.

1. A product so extensively exported that the domestic supply is depleted.

2. When they vote for us; see TYRANNY: When they vote for someone else [Rebecca Solnit, San Francisco, CA].

Ending Tyranny, catchphr.

1. Bombing followed by military occupation [Kerry Jones, Houston, TX].

Energy Independence, n.

1. The Yucca Mountain renovation program [Kimberly Ellenberger, Beloit, WI].

2. The Caribou witness relocation program [Justin Rezzonico, Keene, OH].

Freedom, n.

1. God-given right of every American to agree with Bush and his policies [Ken Guarino, Miami, FL].

2. What Arabs want but can't achieve on their own without Western military intervention; it bears a striking resemblance to chaos [Matthew Polly, Topeka, KS].

Free Markets, n.

Halliburton no-bid contracts at taxpayer expense [Sean O'Brian, Chicago, IL].

Frivolous Lawsuits, n.

Those filed against corporations that donate heavily to the GOP [Fred Bonavita, San Antonio, TX].

Growth, n.

1. The justification for tax cuts for the rich.

2. What happens to the national debt when Republicans cut taxes on the rich [Matthew Polly, Topeka, KS].

Health Savings Accounts, n.

1. Another tax shelter for the healthy and the wealthy [Ann Wegher, Montello, WI].

2. Investment capital for banks [Bill DiNome, Wilmington, NC].

Honesty, n.

Lies told in simple declarative sentences--e.g., "Freedom is on the march." [Katrina vanden Heuvel, New York, NY].

Job Growth, n.

Increased number of jobs an American has to take after losing earlier high-paying job [John E. Tarin, Arlington, VA].

Medicare Prescription Drug Bill, n.

No Drug Company Left Behind [George K. McHugh, Dublin, CA].

No Child Left Behind, riff.

There are always jobs in the military [Ann Klopp, Princeton, NJ].

Nonpartisan, n.

Member of good standing in the Federalist Society [Mark Hatch-Miller, Brooklyn, NY].

Personal Responsibility, n.

1. Poor people trying to support their families on $5.75 an hour.

2. Rich people changing the tax code so their children never have to work [Chelsea Snelgrove, Atlanta, GA].

Reform, v.

To end all entitlements [Herbert New, Verona, NJ].

Staying the Course, v.

Saying and doing the same stupid thing over and over, regardless of the result [Suzanne Smith, Ann Arbor, MI].

Support the Military, v.

To praise Bush when he sends our young men and women off to die for a lie without proper body armor [Marc Goldberg, Vancouver, WA].

Tax Reform, n.

The shift of the tax burden from wealth to work [Dan McWilliams, Santa Barbara, CA].

I hope this helps decode Bush's speech.

(Katrina vanden Heuvel is Editor of The Nation.)


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