Tuesday, May 3

Ignore the Pink Elephant

President George W. Bush holds a press conference in the East Room Thursday, April 28, 2005. "Social Security has provided a safety net that has provided dignity and peace of mind for millions of Americans in their retirement," said President Bush as he discussed many topics with reporters. "Yet there's a hole in the safety net because Congresses have made promises it cannot keep for a younger generation." White House photo by Paul MorseAfter years of accusations of so-called "Liberal Bias", it appears that the press has become experts at a peculiar new game. Ignore the Pink Elephant in the Room. This was made abundantly clear during President Bush's Press Conference this past Thursday, as the press repeatedly failed to address critical issues and flaws in the Presidents choices, policy and tactics.

Pink Elephant #1. Gas Prices.

Question: Good evening, Mr. President. Several times we've asked you or your aides what you could do about the high price of gasoline, and very often the answer has come back, Congress needs to pass the energy bill. Can you explain for us how, if it were passed, soon after it were introduced, the energy bill would have an effect on the current record price of oil that we're seeing out there?

THE PRESIDENT: John, actually I said in my opening statement that the best way to affect the current price of gasoline is to encourage producing nations to put more crude oil on the market. That's the most effective way, because the price of crude oil determines, in large measure, the price of gasoline. The feed stock for gasoline is crude oil, and when crude oil goes up the price of gasoline goes up. There are other factors, by the way, that cause the price of gasoline to go up, but the main factor is the price of crude oil. And if we can get nations that have got some excess capacity to put crude on the market, the increased supply, hopefully, will meet increased demand, and therefore, take the pressure off price.

Listen, the energy bill is certainly no quick fix. You can't wave a magic wand. I wish I could.
But the President doesn't need to "wave a magic wand", all he has to do is release access to the Strategic Petrolium Reserve (SPR), which is currently at 98% capacity. According to the Department of Energy:
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) is the world's largest supply of emergency crude oil. The federally-owned oil stocks are stored in huge underground salt caverns along the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico.

Iraq's Oil Production and Consumption, 1980-2003E graph.  Having problems contact our National Energy Information Center on 202-586-8800 for help.Decisions to withdraw crude oil from the SPR are made by the President under the authorities of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. In the event of an energy emergency, SPR oil would be distributed by competitive sale. Although the SPR has been used for emergency purposes only once (during Operation Desert Storm in 1991), its formidable size (more than 600 million barrels) makes it a significant deterrent to oil import cutoffs and a key tool of foreign policy.

The second magic trick the President could perform is ask the various U.S. oil companies such as Texaco and Exxon/Mobil who have been granted exclusive access to Iraq's oil fields - just what are they doing with all that oil?

According to data from the DOE, the Iraqi oil fields are the third largest in the world and by 2004 should be producing approximately 2.2-3.0 million barrels of oil per day, yet in the last year oil prices have risen to $56 a barrel, gas prices have risen nearly a $1 per gallon with no apparent end to long term prices increases in sight. It's quite possible we could see $3 per gall on gas by the end of this year, and $4 per gallon by same time next year.

To be fair, the President just recently met wtih Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (holder of the worlds largest oil fields), and there was a slight slip in the price of oil - dropping to $53 per barrel last tuesday - following that meeting. But clearly there is more that can be done, and most of it is less destructive and more productive than exploratory drilling in ANWR. Reports are that if we increased our fuel efficiency by one mile per gallon, we would save more fuel than we can expect to find in Alaska.

Lastly, yet another reason may exist for the rising price of gas-- the falling value of the dollar. A weakened dollar is a boon to sellers of foreign goods, including crude oil that has been exported from abroad.

Pink Elephant #2 - Winning the War on Terror
Question: Your top military officer, General Richard Myers, says the Iraqi insurgency is as strong now as it was a year ago. Why is that the case? And why haven't we been more successful in limiting the violence?

President George W. Bush discussed many topics such as energy consumption and Social Security during a press conference in the East Room Thursday, April 28, 2005. "Today there are about 40 million retirees receiving benefits; by the time all the baby boomers have retired, there will be more than 72 million retirees drawing Social Security benefits," said the President. White House photo by Paul Morse THE PRESIDENT: I think he went on to say we're winning, if I recall. But nevertheless, there are still some in Iraq who aren't happy with democracy. They want to go back to the old days of tyranny and darkness, torture chambers and mass graves. I believe we're making really good progress in Iraq, because the Iraqi people are beginning to see the benefits of a free society. They're beginning -- they saw a government formed today.

The Iraqi military is being trained by our military, and they're performing much better than the past. The more secure Iraq becomes, as a result of the hard work of Iraqi security forces, the more confident the people will have in the process, and the more isolated the terrorists will become.

In 2003 there were approximately 150 terrorist attacks world wide. In 2004, that number had tripled to 650 attacks killing hundreds of people. Just this week, rather than becoming more "isolated" the terrorist have been launching more and more coordinated attacks. The New York Times reports:
Insurgents determined to destabilize Iraq's new government executed a devastating series of coordinated attacks on Iraqi forces on Friday, detonating 12 car bombs across greater Baghdad and striking military targets throughout Iraq. At least 40 people were killed and more than 100 others wounded.

The attacks, a direct challenge to the new Shiite-dominated government that was formed Thursday, were aimed at Iraqi police officers and national guardsmen at their bases and traveling in convoys in northern and southern Baghdad and in Madaen, 15 miles southeast of the capital. At least 23 Iraqi policemen and troops were killed. Some reports put the total death toll at as many as 50 people.

If the insurgents are indeed growing weaker as the Iraq government and security forces strengthen - they seem to be the last people to know it. Since the so-called "End of Major Combat Operations in Iraq" over two years ago our troups have been attacked 3000 times and suffered over 1,500 casualties. Clearly this is "Hard Work" as the President has said, and the outpouring of hope and courage shown by the Iraqi people in the elections this past January was indeed impressive, but that isn't enough. People can't rebuild their lives, and begin to put together a functioning economy and a functioning country if they have no security. The true danger of the insurgency isn't the number of lives lost, it's the inability to establish "normalcy" in the region and the endless drain on our economy that a constant defensive posture creates. While we continue to spend hundreds of billions in Iraq, our own citizens are beginning to suffer from dramatic cuts in support and services.

It might even be argued that part of the reason we are still dealing with Pink Elephant #1 (Gas Prices) may be a result of the ability of the insurgency to derail the attempts of American corporations to harvest Iraqi oil -- but then again, we "don't really have an insurgency problem" according to this White House.

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UN Nominee John Bolton
Pink Elephant #3 - John Bolton the poor set-upon "Tough" Guy.

Q Mr. President, have you asked your ambassador to the U.N., Ambassador John Bolton, about allegations that he acted improperly to subordinates? Do you feel that these allegations warrant your personal intervention? And if they're true, do you feel that they should disqualify him from holding the post, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: John Bolton is a blunt guy. Sometimes people say I'm a little too blunt. John Bolton can get the job done at the United Nations. It seemed like to me it makes sense to put somebody who's capable, smart, served our country for 20 years, been confirmed by the United States Senate four times, and who isn't afraid to speak his mind in the post of the ambassador to the U.N.

See, the U.N. needs reform. If you're interested in reforming the U.N., like I'm interested in reforming the U.N., it makes sense to put somebody who's skilled and who is not afraid to speak his mind at the United Nations.

The issue with John Bolton isn't that he's a "tough" guy. The issue is that he has a track record of intimidating and bullying people who are telling the truth (such as analyst Christian Westerman), when it comes to intelligence reporting about foreign nations. and in recent years poor intelligence reporting has lead us into some rather problematic decision making. John Bolton was a state department deputy in charge of weapons proliferation when Secretary of State Colin Powell made his famous "yellow cake" speach to the United Nations in order to bolster international support for the Iraq invasion. Now, we face nuclear threats from both North Korean and Iran, the last thing we need is someone who gets it wrong as our chief representative to the rest of the world.

Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) has made the following statements concerning Bolton.

"He has no right to be promoted to a job at this level, having engaged in the behavior he has," said an impassioned Democratic Senator Chris Dodd at the meeting.

"At a time when we've watched the credibility of the United States and its intelligence information being drawn into question, and where we had a secretary of state go before the United Nations and make allegations about the weapons of mass destruction that we know are wrong today ... we promote an individual to a position who has engaged in behavior that I think all of us find deplorable," Dodd told his colleagues on the panel.
As former UN Weapons inspector Scott Ritter has pointed out, the push to have someone like Bolton at the UN may have nothing to do with the Oil for Food Scandal (which mishandled less money than the $8.8 billion the U.S. has apparently "misplaced" in Iraq over the last two years), and everything to do with fostering a more adverserial posture with Iran in preparation for a June attack on their nuclear facilities.

This issue may also have an impact on Elephant #1 (Gas Prices) as the President may be continuing to hold the SPR in reserve in the event that Iran retaliates against a US/Israeli attack by sinking a Oil Tanker in the mouth of the Tigres River where it empties into the Persian Gulf and functionally blocking all direct Oil exports from Iraq, forcing them to divert through Kuwait.

President George W. Bush tours the Treasury Agency's Bureau of Public Debt, with Director Susan Chapman, in Parkersburg, W.Va., Tuesday, April 5, 2005. White House photo by Paul Morse Pink Elephant #4. Full Faith in Empty Promises
President Bush: When the baby boomers start retiring in three years, Social Security will start heading toward the red. In 2017, the system will start paying out more in benefits than it collects in payroll taxes. Every year after that the shortfall will get worse, and by 2041, Social Security will be bankrupt.

...any reform of Social Security must replace the empty promises being made to younger workers with real assets, real money. I believe the best way to achieve this goal is to give younger workers the option, the opportunity if they so choose, of putting a portion of their payroll taxes into a voluntary personal retirement account. Because this money is saved and invested, younger workers would have the opportunity to receive a higher rate of return on their money than the current Social Security system can provide.

The money from a voluntary personal retirement account would supplement the check one receives from Social Security. In a reformed Social Security system, voluntary personal retirement accounts would offer workers a number of investment options that are simple and easy to understand. I know some Americans have reservations about investing in the stock market, so I propose that one investment option consist entirely of Treasury bonds, which are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government.

The "empty promises" that the President describes happen to be U.S. Treasury Bonds which just seconds later he claims are "backed by the full faith and credit" of the U.S Treasury. Are they worthless "IOU's" packed in file cabinets or are they the most "conservative and safe" investment option available to America's people? Which is it?

There are many ways to solve the problem we face with Social Security. The first option is to simply let the Bush tax cuts expire as they were originally intended to do, and begin to bring the budget back into balance and allow for the Social Security trust fund to be taken off-budget where it will have a chance to actually begin earning a return on it's investment rather than being borrowed against to make the deficit appear smaller than it is. I don't suggest that we remove all of the cuts, only enough to solve the problem without creating a downward spiral in the economy - only a fraction of the cuts would be needed, and would also help address the actual crisis currently facing Medicare and Medicaid. Before one proclaims to be "open to all suggestions" - they should not first take the easiest and most effective solution off the table.

FactCheck.org has pointed out that claims of the alleged Wall Street Windfall from personal accounts remain exaggerated, as a result it may be possible to include some type of personal retirement account system and gain much of the "value of ownership" the President has promoted, however placing it within Social Security will cost an additional $1 to 2 Trillion for a system that the President says is already headed toward "bankruptcy" and a supposed $11 Trillion shortfall, is simply piling horrific on top of awful. Placing a voluantary personal saving account system outside of Social Security once it's solvency problem is corrected using other means, is far more promising than heaping more debt upon the system and our children.

FRC Head James Dobson
Pink Elephant #5. Bush disses his "Base"? Yeah, right.

Question: Thank you, sir. Mr. President, recently the head of the Family Research Council [James Dobson] said that judicial filibusters are an attack against people of faith. And I wonder whether you believe that, in fact, that is what is nominating [sic] Democrats who oppose your judicial choices? And I wonder what you think generally about the role that faith is playing, how it's being used in our political debates right now?

THE PRESIDENT: I think people are opposing my nominees because they don't like the judicial philosophy of the people I've nominated. Some would like to see judges legislate from the bench. That's not my view of the proper role of a judge.

Speaking about judges, I certainly hope my nominees get an up or down vote on the floor of the Senate. They deserve an up or down vote. I think for the sake of fairness, these good people I've nominated should get a vote. And I'm hoping that will be the case as time goes on.

The role of religion in our society? I view religion as a personal matter. I think a person ought to be judged on how he or she lives his life, or lives her life. And that's how I've tried to live my life, through example. Faith-based is an important part of my life, individually, but I don't -- I don't ascribe a person's opposing my nominations to an issue of faith.

Frankly, I found the President's comments on religion here to be inspiringly civil. He certainly said something that needed to be said on this issue, however I find that what is more important than his words - are his actions. It's clear that he's playing "Good Cop" while Dick Cheney does what he does best - play "Bad Cop". In a private meeting with Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid, the President promised that the White House would not get involved in the current dispute over the filibuster in the Senate. Yet recently Vice President Cheney stated that if called upon, "as President of the Senate" he would vote to ensure that the President's nominees receive an "Up or Down" vote for confirmation, indicating that he would support implementation of the Nuclear Option to abolish the filibuster for judicial nominees. Senator Harry Reid responded:

“In the span of three minutes, the vice president managed to reinvent 200 years of Senate history and ignore the fact that Congress has already approved 205 of this administration’s nominees. Apparently, a 95 percent confirmation rate is not enough for this president. He wants it all, even if it means shattering the checks and balances in our government in order to put radical judges on the bench.

“Last week, I met with the president and was encouraged when he told me he would not become involved in Republican efforts to break the Senate rules. Now, it appears he was not being honest, and that the White House is encouraging this raw abuse of power.

“It is disturbing that Republicans have so little respect for the separation of powers established by our founding fathers. Based on his comments last week, I had hoped that the president was prepared to join Democrats in taking up the work of the American people, but it is clear this is no longer the case.
Is it possible that Dick Cheney didn't get the memo from the little Oval Office down the hall? Somehow, I doubt it. I'm sure James Dobson and Pat Roberson (head of the Christian Coalition and 700 Club), who have both repeatedly trumped the "Liberals hate people of Faith" line while remaining staunch supporters and allies of President Bush, would know better.


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