French Imports Reach All-Time High

Via Wampum. Apparently, the 101st Fighting Keyboarders and other conservative pundits are the ones out of touch with mainstream America, which loves French products:Repairing ties strained over the Iraq war will no doubt top the agenda of President Bush and his French counterpart Jacques Chirac during their "working dinner" at Brussels' U.S. Embassy Monday night.

But the much-publicized instances of French wines being poured down American sewers and french fries being rebaptized "freedom fries" is well past, officials said.

Just last week at an Atlanta country club, Franco-American relations were celebrated by a hundred of the area's businessmen over salmon canapés, plates of filet mignon and glasses of champagne.

It's just one of many signs that the political rift between France and the United States has caused little to no damage to their economic relations.

At $31.8 billion last year, imports from France driven more by sales of Airbus planes than bottles of Bordeaux reached an all-time high despite a rising euro that makes French products less attractive to American consumers.

French companies with U.S. operations say France's opposition to the Iraq war has had no measurable impact on their profits. Although some French companies took pre-emptive measures to avoid a potential backlash.

For all its talk, the Right Wing Noise Machine not only failed to make a dent in America's love for all things French, apparently our economic relationship with our oldest ally is now closer than ever. To quote Nelson Muntz, "ha-ha."

Social Security Compromise Watch

First, I would like to thank everyone today for the work they did in contacting Senator Lieberman's office. Keeping our caucus in line when it comes to opposing Bush's plan is one of, if not the, key to success in this fight. Good work everyone, and a big thank you goes to user Teaser, who came up with the idea.

Second, I'd like to talk a little about the Santorum Social security event that I attended today. It was quite eventful and well attended, although I am pretty sure it was well attended because around six or seven different activist organizations had turned out in force. Outside the hall before the event, Philly DFA began chanting "Hey-hey, ho-ho, Riock Santorum has got to go!" Local college Republicans, who are just about the only Republicans in West Philly, responded with a chant that beautifully was captured live by CNN: "hey-hey, ho-ho, Social Security has got to go!" I love it when the other side does your campaigning for you!

Inside the hall, the biggest applause line of the event was generated early on when Santorum asked a rhetorical question about demographics and funding: "what happens in 2008?" Before he could answer his own question, someone shouted "Bush leaves office," and the room went wild. A little while later, less than two minutes apart, a couple of LaRouche people made some noise and comments about Pinochet, before they were forcibly removed. I think every Democratic activist in the room turned their eyes to the floor when this happened. Maybe we should fund a Republican LaRouche.

For a while, and especially during the question and answer session, the room was choked with facts and figures from both sides as many Democrats in attendance were given the microphone. I was actually able to ask the final question. Going into the event I had planned to ask Santorum about the slime attack on the AARP in the hopes it wold get some press coverage, but something he said during the presentation gave me an idea for an even better question. He claimed that some Senate Democrats agreed with Bush's proposal, so I went up and asked him to name names. He backed down and said that none of them support it now because it has become so politicized, which is a very hypocritical comment to make when you are on a campaign tour of your own.

However, after he backed down, he said that because no Democrats supported the plan, it would be necessary to find a compromise plan. Not only was it amazing to have Santorum literally say to my face that Bush's plan wasn't going to pass, but it was even more interesting for him to admit that a compromise was actively being sought. Considering this, I was particularly stunned to see this story hit the wires only a few minutes ago. It is about a "compromise" plan proposed by Paul O'Neil and openly supported by Harold Ford, Kent Conrad and, you guessed it, Rick Santorum:

There's more...

Bush Losing Ground In SS Deabte

The latest NBC / WSJ poll asks the following question:Please tell me which of the following approaches to dealing with Social Security you would prefer--(A)making some adjustments but leaving the Social Security system basically as is and running the risk that the system will fall short of money as more people retire and become eligible for benefits, OR (B) changing the Social Security system by allowing people to invest some of their Social Security taxes in private accounts--like IRA's or 401k's--and running the risk that some people will lose money in their private accounts due to drops in the stock market? Discussing the results of this question and its trendline, Josh Marshall notes:Back in December the numbers were 45% to 39% in favor of private accounts; in January, it was close to tied, 46% to 44% in favor of private accounts. In this new poll, private accounts have dropped to 40% support while 50% favor the "basically as is" option.

Those numbers yield only one credible interpretation: the more the president talks about privatization the less popular it gets. One might more generously say that the longer the debate goes on, the less popular it gets. But politically speaking, same difference.

I believe the main reason the tide is shifting against Bush and the destroyers is that for decades they held one-sided dominance over the debate. For a long time, most people, including myself and all of my friends, simply assumed that Social Security was certain to go bankrupt pretty much tomorrow. However, now that the other side of the debate is finally being heard, we are almost inevitably gaining ground. Fewer and fewer people are in favor of privatization when even the pessimistic projections laid out by Bush claim things will be fine until at least 2042. And even if they do think changes need to be made, a supermajority has already settled on how it shold be done.

Clearly, this is a debate we can win. Check out There Is No Crisis for the latest on the fight.

Stop Iraqi Funding Corruption

Two weeks ago we learned that the US occupation authority lost $9 billion: The U.S. occupation authority in Iraq was unable to keep track of nearly $9 billion it transferred to government ministries, which lacked financial controls, security, communications and adequate staff, an inspector general has found.

The U.S. officials relied on Iraqi audit agencies to account for the funds but those offices were not even functioning when the funds were transferred between October 2003 and June 2004, according to an audit by a special U.S. inspector general.

The findings were released Sunday by Stuart Bowen Jr., special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. Bowen issued several reports on the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the U.S. occupation government that ruled Iraq from June 2003 to June 2004.

Now we learn that money is cartoonishly being stuffed in sacks: A former U.S. occupation official in Iraq thought he was in the Wild West in 2003 as he watched colleagues pull $2 million in fresh bills from a vault and stuff them in a contractor's gunnysack.

Cash payments that weren't stuffed in sacks were made from a pickup truck that bore the name of Iraq's grounded airline. American authorities thought the vehicle would ''meld into the environment,'' the ex-official, Frank Willis, said.

Willis, who was a senior adviser in aviation and telecommunications, planned to describe his experience Monday to a panel of Democratic senators. The hearing is to spotlight the waste of money in Iraq by the former occupation agency, the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Of course, we already knew that very little of the money was being spent on reconstruction anyway: As little as 27 cents of every dollar spent on Iraq's reconstruction has actually filtered down to projects benefiting Iraqis, a statistic that is prompting the State Department to fundamentally rethink the Bush administration's troubled reconstruction effort.

Between soaring security costs, corruption and mismanagement, contractors' profits, and U.S. governmental costs, reconstruction funding is being drained away, leaving little left to improve the lives of Iraqis, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies. Senior administration officials and congressional experts on the reconstruction effort called the analysis credible. One senior U.S. official familiar with reconstruction suggested as little as a quarter of the funding is reaching its intended projects.

Arianna Huffington sums it up: A cornucopia of waste, fraud, ineptitude, cronyism, secret no-bid contracts, and profiteering cloaked in patriotism. There is the $9 billion the U.S.-led occupation government can't account for; the over 70 investigations into potential criminal cases involving U.S.-funded projects; the ongoing billing disputes with Halliburton, which despite having repeatedly ripped off taxpayers, continues to receive billion-dollar contracts; the $20 billion in Iraqi oil money kept track of by a single accountant; the study showing that up to 30 percent of reconstruction funds are being lost to fraud and corporate malfeasance. Whether you are passionately in favor of the war or passionately against it, don't you want to know exactly where our money is going and how we can stop the corruption? Yet, despite all of this, and despite the bipartisan legislation introduced to create a Truman Committee-like investigation of Iraqi funding by Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) and Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) in the House, and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Larry Craig (R-Idaho) in the Senate, the Republican controlled Congress has not even allowed a floor vote to create such a commission. They will, however, allow votes to continue funding in Iraq without any question of where the money is going.

This has to stop. Political pressure must be brought to bear, whether you or support the war or not. Huffington notes one unfounded idea:

But we should not hold our breath waiting for this to happen without real public pressure. It could include a public awareness campaign to hold our elected officials' feet to the fire. A friend in advertising sent me the script for a proposed 30-second TV ad in which a corporate bigwig uses a sleight of hand trick to turn a dollar bill into a quarter and two pennies, while an announcer says: "We've set aside $24 billion to help rebuild Iraq. The money is supposed to help build schools and hospitals and make water safe to drink. But for every dollar U.S. taxpayers spend, only 27 cents reaches the average Iraqi. Before we give George Bush another $80 billion, maybe we should stop and ask: Where is the money going?" The spot ends with three quick messages flashed on the screen: "Stop the profiteers. Demand an investigation. Bring back the Truman Committee." You can start by calling your Senators and representatives, whether they are Republicans or Democrats. Tell them to bring back the Truman committee, and to support the legislation of Leach, Tierney, Durbin and Craig. As Americans and Iraqis continue to die, corruption continues unchecked. Irresponsibility and bad planning must be stopped.

New Democratic Leadership Will Move Deficit Talk To the Fore

Last week I wrote about deficit politics, when I argued that it accrued little, if any, political capital for Democrats (the idea had actually been planted in my head by Andy Stern when we talked, a couple weeks ago). There were lots of interesting comments in the discussion, and since that time there have been many good diaries on the subject (including Curt Matlock's from today, and Steve in Sacto's in direct response to my post). One of the more interesting comments I received came to me over email from Bill at Liberal Oasis: I wrote a paper in college about 10 years ago, analyzing the role of the deficit in the '92 elections. Basically, attacking the deficit typically doesn't help score political points -- it's too abstract, it's not clear how it impacts people's lives. (Dukakis got no traction out of it, for example).

But it is a symbol of mismanagement and incompetence. And if the economy is in a downturn, as it was in 1992, it's an easy thing to point to as evidence that the government is handling the economy poorly (even though the correlation between the two is not necessarily that direct).

Right now, the economy isn't seen to be as bad as it was in 1992, making deficit attacks of limited, short-term, value. However, there is long-term value, to solidify the notion that Dems are more fiscally responsible. We went through a whole decade of people believing the opposite in the 1980s, and it's lot easier to have the upper hand here. When the economy hits the next rough patch, Dems will be very well positioned.

2. But you're right that to just make the deficit attack, without coupling it with a liberal argument for responsible, responsive government, leaves Dems vulnerable to "small government" arguments. I think you have to hit these cuts too, make it clear who is being hurt, make it clear that the tax cuts are to blame. Being fiscally responsible cuts two ways: not running up debt, and not screwing over the people.

I talked about how we need to approach Bush's budget cuts back in Dec., in this post:

I generally agree with this, although now that the era of small government is over and the nation is quite receptive to a positive articulation of the role of government, I think that it will be even less effective than usual. Thus, although I admit deficit talk should have some place in the broader Democratic political attack against Republicans, I would still like to see it decentralized at a line of attack. Unfortunately, the DCCC new chair, Rahm Emanuel, disagrees: To those who see a parallel between the Clintons' ill-fated health-care plan and Bush's hara-kiri over Social Security, Emanuel cautions that defeating Bush's plan may not mean nirvana for Democrats. Back then, the country was clamoring for health care and punished Clinton with the loss of the House and Senate when he didn't deliver. Now, polls show people don't want a radical overhaul of Social Security, so they may not punish Bush if he doesn't deliver.

The budget is another matter. The revelation this week about the exploding costs of Medicare hurt Bush's credibility and makes his estimates on the costs of private accounts suspect. His entire budget is a work of fiction. "It's the mendacity budget--deceitful and meaningless," says Marshall Wittmann, a senior fellow at the Democratic Leadership Conference, home to centrist Democrats. Deceitful because it leaves out the cost of the ongoing war in Iraq and Afghanistan, omits the cost of fixing a glitch in the tax code with the Alternative Minimum Tax that will cost billions and includes no mention of the transitional trillion for Bush's Social Security plan. Meaningless because it's an exercise in futility; it's going nowhere.

It is hard to tell how much of this strategy is Emanuel and how much is Clift, but not being big into deficit politics, I disagree with it no matter whose idea it is. I mean, for the love of God, please tell me we are not going to run on reducing the deficit yet again! During the campaign, I thought one of Kerry's biggest platform weaknesses was repeatedly saying that he would roll back taxes on the top 1% (a good and popular idea--attack greed), so that he could help reduce the budget deficit (way too abstract--does anyone really care?). Why take a popular idea and then declare you will use it to pay for an abstraction that does not offer an apparent, direct improvement on people's lives? It makes Democrats look detached and out of touch. What Kerry should have done is say he would roll back tax cuts on the top 1% so that he could improve people's lives by reducing the cost of health care, improving day care and public schools, and to protect Social Security from irresponsible Republicans.

The notion that we should move in 2006 to punish Bush for his mendacity and irresponsibility is fine with me, but I remain firmly of the belief that campaigning on his mendacity and irresponsibility over the budget deficit is, at best, weak and ineffectual politics. I would prefer if we called Bush a liar and irresponsible when it comes to people's actual lives, not red tape. It is thus very distressing to see us walking down this path yet again. Both Dean and Emanuel are good leadership choices for the netroots, but I worry that their over-emphasis on bookkeeping abstractions will prevent us from providing a compelling economic agenda that will really excite the nation and help to carve out a new Democratic majority.

Remember that Democrats do not just need to be viewed as the fiscally responsible party, but as the party of good planning and wise investment that leads to broad prosperity and a better future. After all, some version of "broad prosperity" and "better future" should be four words of the ten-word Democratic elevator pitch ("better future" should be the two-word Democratic pitch). Broad prosperity and a better future are created through good planning, but good planning is not encapsulated by balancing the books alone. Similarly, being responsible does not mean you are a good planner in and of itself. People need to believe you are not only responsible, but that you have a vision that will help improve their lives. If we talk too much about the deficit, we may come off as responsible, but also as uncaring, disconnected, and out of touch.


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