Mourning In America

A New York Democrat on politics, journalism, and the Mets

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Friday, April 25, 2003

They're writers, not mathematicians! This morning's NY Times reports on "Governor" Pataki's "vision" for Ground Zero. I don't want to nickel and dime the speech -- yes, he essentially took credit for a bunch of other people's ideas (although the Times charitably gave him credit for the fact that "they have rarely if ever been assembled in a single vision"), but downtown is bleeding and if he's finally going to show some leadership to get it fixed, that's welcome.

But there's a HUGE inconsistency in the Times' coverage of the speech that raises questions about what exactly Pataki agreed to. Early in the piece, Edward Wyatt reports:

Gov. George E. Pataki, promising "a renewed sense of urgency" in the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan, laid out a plan yesterday to complete substantial portions of the work at the World Trade Center site by the fifth anniversary of the attack of Sept. 11, 2001.

By that time, Mr. Pataki said, the permanent PATH commuter station at the site and the new Fulton Transit Center two blocks to the east will open, the substructure for the memorial to the victims of the attack will be completed, allowing construction of the memorial to proceed, and the erection of steel for the 1,776-foot tower, a signature piece of Daniel Libeskind's design for the site, will be finished."

Much lower in the piece, there's a list of completion dates, most notably 2008 for the tower and 2007 for the Fulton Transit Center, that indicate that the only things that will really be ready in five years are the "substructure" (read: foundation) for the memorial, and the new PATH station, which, while important, isn't all that crucial, given that it will replace a "temporary" PATH station that is slated to open by the end of this year.

Only the Fulton Transit Center claim is directly contradicted, but the spirit of the lead, that the fifth anniversary will mark some grand unveiling of the reconstructed site, is clearly false...

Thursday, April 24, 2003
The Axis of Weasel Rides Again! Industrial Information Resources, a service that tracks spending on all kinds of manufacturing plants, reports that TotalFinaElf, France's major oil company, has signed a joint, $1.3 billion contract with the governments of Iran and Pakistan to build a refinery fueled with Qatari oil. I'm not one of the people who believes French opposition to the U.S. over Iraq was solely based on their economic ties to the Hussein government, but I think it played a role. Apparently, that experience hasn't slowed them from spinning new webs of business relationships with regimes that have questionable futures.

On a totally unrelated note, can anybody explain why Iran needs to buy oil from Qatar? Suggestions will be welcomed here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Coming out of the closet: I'll admit it, there's a part of me that really likes New York State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno. How can you not, when he fearlessly travels off-message to deliver an honest quote like: "What people can't afford are increased property taxes." (bottom of article)?

Republicans aren't supposed to say things like that in George Pataki's New York, because it takes the lid off the "Governor's" insistence that the tax and spending policies at other levels of government aren't his responsibility. Pataki seems to be convinced that by repeating his mantra of opposition to "job-killing tax increases," he can convince the electorate (or the Republican National Committee -- I'm not sure which audience is more important to him nowadays) that any increases in net taxes New Yorkers face aren't his fault.

Bruno's quote acknowledges that it's a zero-sum game: The massive state school-aid cuts that will be necessary in the absence of new state taxes will lead directly to higher property taxes at the local level. He gets at another truth that the GOP doesn't like to acknowledge, too: Property taxes are a horrendously burdensome and generally unfair way to finance government.

Bruno's positions on most issues are no walk in the park. But at least when you listen to him, you can recognize an intellectual honesty that just doesn't exist in many other politicians, especially on the right side of the spectrum. I'm pulling for him and Silver to come up with a veto-proof budget of their own, which will again raise the question of just when the "Governor" plans to govern.

Was Snow Framed ... A day after The Wall Street Journal reported that Treasury Secretary John Snow was offering to delay the marginal tax-rate reduction portion of Bush's tax-cut plan, Ari Fleischer fired back, accusing the Journal, albeit politely, of making it up. "I think it was a misread of what the Secretary was saying. If you read the story, you'll see there's no quote from Secretary Snow saying that."

The interesting thing is that the Journal managed only a meek "The Journal had paraphrased Mr. Snow in the Monday story" in response. Much as I love to be on the lookout for evidence of the mainstream media being reticient to challenge the Bush administration's obfuscations for fear of being branded as liberals, it sounds more like the editors didn't have the goods here.

... Or was it a set-up? But if that's the case, why did Fleischer wait until Tuesday to fire back, rather than hitting it on Monday, when the story appeared? Perhaps the reporter "read" Snow's comments exactly the way they were intended to be read -- even if the secretary never actually uttered the words "We'd be open to delaying the tax cut." Perhaps the administration wanted to float the idea as a trial balloon, but didn't want to engage in the traditional means of popping it (which usually involves claiming that the speaker had wandered off the reservation without the President's support). Blaming the press for getting it wrong is a lot cleaner...

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Politics? There's no politics here: The GOP has scheduled its 2004 convention for early September -- Bush is supposed to give his acceptance speech on Sept. 2, which Karl Rove envisions seguing into an orgy of Sept. 11 third-anniversary events. However, The NY Times reports here that "Mr. Bush's advisers said they were wary of being portrayed as exploiting the trauma of Sept. 11, a perception that might be particularly difficult to rebut as Mr. Bush shuttles between political events at Madison Square Garden and memorial services at ground zero." Really. Y'think? Of course, I'm sure anyone in the media who brings it up will be blasted as biased.

The maneuver also allows the GOP to capitalize on a quirk in federal campaign-finance legislation that limits spending between the conventions and the election, rather than over a calendar period. More money is always better, although I'd expect there will be diminishing returns to flooding the zone at some point. We'll see.

More importantly, the article shows that the GOP brain trust believes the lesson of 1992 is that it wasn't the poor economy that sank Bush I, it was the sense he wasn't doing anything about it. When you think about it, that's actually a pretty cynical take on the American voter's intelligence -- basically, you're saying they aren't bright enough to figure out that the policies don't do anything, it's good enough to wave something shiny and attract them to the motion. I'm hoping that it turns out to be a "misunderestimation."

Quick Hit: This is the kind of thing Democrats love to seize on with relation to Bush, and which doesn't seem to get any traction with the broader public, but I can't resist: Does anyone else get a kick out of the spectacle of advisers to this White House deriding an opponent as "shallow," as they do to John Edwards in the NYT piece?

Monday, April 21, 2003
Day 2 of the Washington Post article, which can be read here, doesn't add a tremendous amount of new information, beyond suitably frightening reports that the ex-South African bioweapons czar has made several confirmed trips to Libya, and has said he visited North Korea, Syria and other similarly friendly shores.
The story does indicate that the South African program wasn't designed to produce "weapons of mass destruction," but rather more targeted assassination tools. The indication is that U.S. officials believe they could quickly respond to those pathogens because they're not "state of the art." You just have to wonder what would happen to public confidence in the meantime.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Depressing Washington Post article here about how the FBI declined a South African bioweapons expert's offer to sell the U.S. the vials of some nasty diseases he took with him when the program was disbanded some time near the end of Apartheid in 1993. Apparently, the FBI concluded that he was unlikely to use them against us, and turned the information over to the South African authorities, who searched this guy's home, then left him alone. He claims he's since gotten offers for the collection from various sources, including an alleged Arabian sheik.

I'm dying to know why the FBI thought that leaving these things in some guy's freezer in South Africa was a good idea (even though he says he hasn't sold them and has no plans to, one would figure his freezer is not a "secure, undisclosed location."). The Post promises Part II tomorrow. Stay tuned...


Welcome to Mourning in America, Mike Stanton's weblog. The title refers to two of the site's major interests: Democratic Party Politics and the New York Mets, but I'll reserve the right to wander over to everything from science to tax policy. Thanks for coming!