Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bush, the final annotations

The good news is that George W. Bush has finally delivered the last State of the Union speech of his ruinous presidency. The bad news is that I am compelled to annotate it.

Don't feel obliged to stick around. You know the drill. He offered his usual string of fact-challenged assertions, spoke anew about his old delusions, evaded all mention of several critical national ills for which he bears considerable responsibility, and, all told, generally exasperated the landslide majority of Americans who view January 20, 2009 as Liberation Day.

Let's back up the TiVo and pause at random moments, with the president talking in italics:

Let us show (our fellow Americans) that Republicans and Democrats can compete for votes and cooperate for results at the same time.

That's his requisite call for bipartisanship, just like last year ("the wisdom of working together") and the year before ("a spirit of goodwill and respect"), but it's always meaningless. Last night, fresh from his paean to cooperation, he quickly demanded that the Democrats make permanent his tax cuts for the rich; that the Democrats pass his bill on domestic electronic surveillance, or risk being accused (by him) of endagering the lives of fellow Americans; and that the Congress sit quietly and again allow him to conduct the Iraq war, and to entangle America in a long-term alliance with Iraq, as he sees fit, despite the strong polling evidence that two-thirds of the American people reject his lead and view the war as a mistake.

Wages are up, but so are prices for food and gas. Exports are rising, but the housing market has declined. At kitchen tables across our country, there is a concern about our economic future. In the long run, Americans can be confident about our economic growth.

Wages are "up," but he left out the part about how income inequality has widened during his reign, at a rate not seen since the pre-Depression era. As for gasoline - the average price for a gallon jumped from $1.39 in January 2000 to $3.07 in January 2007 - we can thank Bush for some of that. The Iraq war, lest we forget, was supposed to pay for itself, thanks to Iraq's oil revenues, and increased production was supposed to help give us low prices here at home. But the war not only curtailed Iraq oil production, it roiled the entire Middle East region, sowing instability and hampering oil investment. And note Bush's line about how Americans be can confident "in the long run" - an open-ended contrivance that promises light at the end of the tunnel.

We have other work to do on taxes. Unless the Congress acts, most of the tax relief we have delivered over the past seven years will be taken away.

His idea of tax relief was to skew the windfall toward the most affluent citizens, at the expense of most Americans. According to economists, Americans with incomes exceeding $1 million have enjoyed tax relief 30 times greater than the average working stiff. And that was just the '01 Bush tax cut. The inequalities were greater in the '03 tax cut, and these are what Bush wants Congess to make permanent.

Just as we trust Americans with their own money, we need to earn their trust by spending their tax dollars wisely....American families have to balance their budgets; so should their government.

The Republican Congress and this Republican president jacked up spending to levels not previously seen since Democratic President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. When the GOP ran Congress, before the party was thrown out of power in 2006, Bush never once vetoed a spending bill. Indeed, John McCain's line on the campaign trail is that, because of all the big spending, his party has lost its way. But now that the Democrats run Congress, Bush is suddenly talking a different game, and trusting in the public's amnesia.

The people’s trust in their government is undermined by congressional earmarks, special interest projects that are often snuck in at the last minute without discussion or debate. Last year I asked you to voluntarily cut the number and cost of earmarks in half. I also asked you to stop slipping earmarks into committee reports that never even come to a vote....If these items are truly worth funding, the Congress should debate them in the open and hold a public vote.

Same hypocrisy as above. I seem to recall, just last year, that Bush signed off on roughly 580 earmarks (at a price tag of $15 billion) in an appropriations package. The goodies included $24 million for something called the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program and $9 million for something called the Points of Light Foundation, a project started by his dad. More generally, earmarks exploded during the Republican era, and Bush never uttered a peep. Here's an excerpt from congressional testimony two years ago: "In 1994, when the Congress was taken over by Republicans, there were 4,000 earmarks on appropriations bills. Last year there were 15,000. It's disgraceful, this process." The speaker was McCain.

Our objective in the coming year (in Iraq) is to sustain and build on the gains we made in 2007, while transitioning to the next phase of our strategy. American troops are shifting from leading operations to partnering with Iraqi forces and, eventually, to a protective overwatch mission.

There it is, a new Bush buzz phrase - "protective overwatch mission." Apparently that's the lame duck's gift to his successor, an open-ended, long-term American presence in Iraq, the terms of which he intends to negotiate with the fragile regime, with no oversight or signoffs from Congress.

Progress in the provinces must be matched by progress in Baghdad. We’re seeing some encouraging signs. The national government is sharing oil revenues with the provinces. The parliament recently passed both a pension law and de-Ba’athification reform. They’re now debating a provincial powers law. The Iraqis still have a distance to travel...

One year ago, the Iraqi government was supposed to meet 18 benchmarks, as measurements of progress. One year later, notwithstanding the U.S. military escalation, it has accomplished only three. As for Bush's reference to "de-Ba'athification reform" (allowing former Ba'athist party members to return to government work, as a sign of national reconciliation), he not surprisingly failed to mention certain salient facts. The law was passed on a day when the parliament barely achieved a quorum, meaning that less than a third of the members voted for it; and many former Ba'athists believe that the complicated language will wind up expelling even more of them from government. Just last week, a senior Iraqi official told Newsweek that the law was "a big mess, perhaps worse than if we had done nothing." And lastly, in his State of the Union speech one year ago, Bush declared, "Americans will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced." This year? Not a single word about holding the Iraqi government accountable.

...one Army Brigade Combat team and one Marine Expeditionary Unit have already come home and will not be replaced. In the coming months, four additional brigades and two Marine battalions will follow suit. Taken together, this means more than 20,000 of our troops are coming home.

That still leaves 10,000 more troops in Iraq than before his "surge." And he conveniently omitted the fact that he has been under pressure - from his own military - to pull at least some troops out of Iraq, due to the strains he has placed on the armed forces. As Army Chief of Staff General George Casey recently testified, "the current demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply," and earlier this month he said that "the surge has sucked all the flexibility out of the system....the Army is out of balance."

America is leading the fight against global poverty...

That would be a more admirable pursuit if Bush was also leading the fight against domestic poverty. But apparently not. The number of Americans living below the poverty line has increased by 5.3 million since Bush took office.

America is a force for hope in the world because we are a compassionate people...

Bush has wrecked our reputation in the world. A recent report by the bipartisan Commission on Smart Power, sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, concludes: "America's image and influence are in decline. America may be less well regarded today than at any time in our history." And according to polls conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and WorldPublicOpinion.org, a majority of people in 10 of 15 surveyed nations now say they don't trust America to act responsibly.

Let us create a new international clean technology fund, which will help developing nations like India and China make greater use of clean energy sources.

I cite that line not because of its topic, but because of his passing reference to China. Regarding the entirety of his speech, this was his sole reference to China - which is quite regrettable, considering China's key role in our economic woes. But it's understandable that Bush would not want to discuss that role, since it would expose, once again, his failings. Thanks to his economic decision-making (deep tax cuts, expensive new spending, and a war of choice costing roughly $10 billion a month), the national debt has grown considerably, and we're now increasingly dependent on other nations to finance that debt. We're particularly in hock to China, which reportedly now holds IOUs worth roughly $1 trillion. It goes without saying that if a Democratic president had weakened America in this fashion, the Republican message machine would be in overdrive.

...the state of our union will remain strong.

Mike Huckabee gets the last word. Asked last night whether the state of our union is strong, the Republican candidate replied: "I think it's in trouble. To say anything less than that would be dishonest."