Politics

Notebook

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THE AGENDA

ACCORDING TO Bob Woodward's latest book, Plan of Attack, President Bush navigated the path to war in Iraq through sheer disingenuousness. No money for combat preparations in the Persian Gulf? Secretly siphon funds from Afghanistan. Worried about Colin Powell's objections? Keep the secretary of state out of the loop. Asked whether you're planning to invade Iraq? That one's a little more complicated. On May 23, 2002, standing beside German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at a Berlin news conference, Bush responded to a question by saying, "I have no war plans on my desk." But Woodward's book suggests otherwise: In November 2001, Bush apparently ordered Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to have General Tommy Franks begin devising war plans, and, five weeks later, Franks briefed the president on the military's initial strategy for attacking Iraq. How can Bush square these conflicting narratives? Perhaps he was speaking literally. According to Woodward, "That desk, I've been there. … [There's] never anything on it. And he keeps a clean desk." Well, at least Bush was honest about that one.

MAESTRO

WOODWARD ALSO ALLEGES that the Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar, promised to reduce oil prices before the 2004 election, thereby lowering gas prices, boosting the economy, and removing a thorn from President Bush's side. But the charge was almost overwhelmed by the absurdity of the Bush administration's response. Confronted with questions about the revelation, Press Secretary Scott McClellan insisted over and over again that "I'm not going to speak for Prince Bandar" and finally responded that "the markets should determine prices." But, of course, the price of oil is not determined by the market. That's the whole point. OPEC is a cartel, of which Saudi Arabia is the most prominent member. OPEC meets regularly to set production limits and target prices. Perhaps most important for the Bushies, they meet during election years.

THE COMMANDERS

FINALLY, WOODWARD'S BOOK has one scoop that has been shamefully neglected: George W. Bush's White House is the goofy "Saturday Night Live" parody of itself. He captures Vice President Dick Cheney dozing off during meetings and tells the story of how, ten days before his inauguration, the president-elect journeyed to the Pentagon for a briefing with top brass and outgoing Defense Secretary William Cohen on the most important matters of state. Woodward renders the scene like this: "The [Joint Chiefs'] staff had placed a peppermint at each place. Bush unwrapped his and popped it into his mouth. Later, he eyed Cohen's mint and flashed a pantomime query, Do you want that? Cohen signaled no, so Bush reached over and took it. Near the end of the hour-and-a-quarter briefing, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Army General Henry 'Hugh' Shelton, noticed Bush eyeing his mint, so he passed it over." No-fly zo… mmm, mints.

NO WORD YET ON THE DEATH TOLL FROM DEMOCRATIC OPPOSITION TO BUSH'S JUDGES

IN JUNE OF LAST year, when Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle bemoaned the Bush administration's diplomatic bungling on Iraq, House Speaker Dennis Hastert said the comment came "mighty close" to giving "comfort" to the enemy. More recently, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell laid into Ted Kennedy, whose criticisms of the postwar, he ominously noted, would be seen in Baghdad, "where those who are fighting Americans on the street can view them." Even President Bush has suggested dissenters should remain silent, saying during his April 13 press conference that comparing Iraq to Vietnam "sends the wrong message to our troops and sends the wrong message to the enemy." But Tom DeLay broke new ground on April 16 with his comment that the "politicization of the [9/11] Commission undermines the war effort and endangers our troops." What on earth can that mean? At least criticism of Iraq has something to do with the situation in that country, but what exactly do hearings about pre-September 11 intelligence have to do with Iraq? And how exactly could they threaten the American troops stationed there? No word yet on how many deaths have needlessly resulted from the Commission's efforts.

PAPER CUT

LAST WEEK, THE St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a lengthy editorial criticizing members of the Missouri House of Representatives, many of them Republicans, for using state-funded health insurance while at the same time voting for cuts in the state's Medicaid budget. It was a brave move, and it came with dire, immediate consequences: A few days later, Republican State Representative Richard Byrd inserted an amendment to an economic-development bill to eliminate tax breaks for newspapers on things like printing equipment and ink; the bill promptly passed the House on strong GOP support. The state's Republicans, of course, claim that their move was simply "closing corporate tax loopholes," not retribution. Set aside, for a moment, the fact that the amendment is structured in such a way that it applies exclusively to the Post Dispatch and The Kansas City Star while keeping the breaks for the bulk of the state's other papers. Also set aside the fact that almost every other state gives newspapers similar breaks. Rather, the most jarring, ironic element of the Missouri Republicans' newfound interest in closing corporate loopholes is that, for more than a year, they have been fighting a blistering battle with Democratic Governor Bob Holden to protect $100 million in--you guessed it--corporate tax loopholes. Holden's push to tax companies that shift money out of the state to avoid paying taxes was shot down last year, with Republicans painting the proposal as an anti-business tax increase (in the state GOP's vernacular, corporate loopholes are usually known as "incentives"). Holden has promised to reintroduce the measure this year, but, given that he's also running for reelection, it's not clear how much time and energy he can put into the effort. Interestingly, the Missouri Citizen Education Fund notes that many of the companies that would have been targeted under Holden's bill have given generously to the GOP over the years. Obviously, these companies know a little something about Missouri politics that the Post-Dispatch doesn't.

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