Monday, June 05, 2006

and now for some good news?

Today the deputy assistant to the president and director of the White House's Office of Strategic Initiatives, Peter Wehner, had an op-ed in the Washington Post which pointed out all the good news going on. Let's look at Wehner's assertions, shall we? My comments are indented and italicized, the rest is Wehner's.

And Now For Some Good News
As if the craven mainstream media weren't enough in the GOP's pocket already.
By now Americans know the litany: The nation is engaged in a difficult and costly war in Iraq; Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon; gas prices are high; the costs of reconstructing the Gulf Coast region are huge; illegal immigration is a major problem -- and more.
And more -- that phrase covers multitudes. Here are a couple of other things Wehner forgot. Republican corruption in Congress. Gay-bashing by the GOP for short-term political gain. Plamegate (you know, the outing of a loyal employee by a political hack for partisan gain).
These issues are real and pressing. But they aren't the whole story -- and they ought not color the lens through which we see all other events. We hear a great deal about the problems we face. We hear hardly anything about the encouraging developments. Off-key as it may sound in the current environment, a strong case can be made that in a number of areas there are positive trends and considerable progress. Perhaps the place to begin is with an empirical assessment of where we are.
An empirical assessment from a White House political operative is not likely to be "empirical" to put it mildly. And it isn't.
Social Indicators: We are witnessing a remarkable cultural renewal in America. Violent crime rates remain at the lowest levels in the history of the Bureau of Justice Statistics' survey (which started in 1973). We are experiencing the sharpest decline in teen crime in modern history. Property crimes are near the lowest levels in the history of the federal survey. Welfare caseloads have declined almost 60 percent since 1996. Both the abortion rate and ratio are at the lowest levels we have seen in the 30-year period these data have been tracked. African American and Hispanic fourth-graders posted the highest reading and math scores in the history of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test. The use of illegal drugs by teens has dropped 19 percent since 2001, while the use of hallucinogens such as LSD and ecstasy has declined by more than half.
Then why all the conservative bitching and moaning about how the country is going to hell on sex and drugs? Complain about this crap to energize the conservative voter in November, then claim victory for improvements in the op-ed pages of the Washington Post.
The teen birth rate has fallen for a dozen consecutive years.
But the Administration is trying to undo that by making access to contraceptives more difficult for kids, including Plan B. It has been SEX EDUCATION and CONTRACEPTIVES that have reduced pregnancy rates, NOT calls for abstinence.
The percentage of high school students who reported having had sex is significantly lower than in the early 1990s. The divorce rate has fallen steadily for over a decade. And teen smoking has dropped by almost 50 percent since the late '90s.

There are areas of concern, to be sure. Births to unmarried women are at an all-time high,
This is wrong. Births to unmarried women haven't gone up. Births to MARRIED women have DECLINED dramatically over the past 40 years, which means the percentage of births to unmarried women is up. But not in absolute numbers.
and in many respects our popular culture remains a cesspool.
Gosh, this isn't a very positive thing to say. Our culture is a cesspool? Who do we blame that on? The party that holds the White House and Congress?
But context is important. Between 1960 and the mid-'90s virtually every social indicator got worse -- and in many cases staggeringly worse.
Empty assertion with no proof, simply wrong.
Then things began to turn around, almost as if a cultural virus created its own antibodies.
The Economy : The American economy is the strongest in the world and growing faster than that of any other major industrialized country. It grew at an annual rate of 5.3 percent in the first quarter -- the fastest growth in 2 1/2 years. It has added more than 5.3 million jobs since the summer of 2003,
Having lost however million jobs in the first 2 years of Bush' administration -- they are cherry picking their starting point to make the data look better.
and employment is near an all-time high. The unemployment rate (4.6 percent) is well below the average for each of the past four decades.
Couple of comments. Household income is stagnant for all but the top 10% or so. This DESPITE more people working. Many more women work out of economic necessity, too.

Mortgage rates remain near historical lows, homeownership remains near a record high, and sales of new and existing homes reached record levels in 2005.
True, just hope it isn't an asset bubble.
Real disposable personal income has risen almost 13 percent since President Bush took office;
But disparities in income distribution have increased dramatically, much of that disposable income rise is for the top 20% of the income earners.
and core inflation rose just 2.3 percent over the past 12 months. The Dow Jones industrial average has risen from under 7300 in 2002 to above 11,000 for most of this year.
Again picking a low point for best comparison.
Tax revenues are at an all-time high -- and so is total household net worth.
Umm, this isn't true, unless you count ALL taxes, including state and local taxes, in order to give the misleading impression that tax cuts increase revenue. This simply is not true.
National Security : Perhaps no nation has ever been as dominant as the United States is today
This is true, and raises the troubling question of, why? Why do we need to spend as much on military spending as the ENTIRE REST OF THE WORLD COMBINED??? Why do we need a military that is ready to fight the Soviet Union when the USSR is no more? Can't we use some of this money elsewhere? On healthcare say, or to develop alternative energies to free us from reliance on foreign oil AND to fight climate change?
-- and we are using our military power to promote great purposes.
That of course is strictly a judgement question. Not sure the unprovoked war against Iraq qualifies as a "great purpose."
As a reference point, it's worth recalling that the 1930s and early-'40s were regarded by many as the twilight of freedom. Democratic societies were threatened both internally (by a depression) and externally (by Nazism and fascism). There were only a dozen or so democracies on the planet.
Today we are witnessing one of the swiftest advances of freedom in history. In the past four years more than 110 million people have joined the ranks of the free -- and for the first time freedom is taking root in the Middle East. Once ruled by cruel dictatorships, the people of Afghanistan and Iraq are now governed by constitutions and are participating in national elections. The governments of the two countries once provided safe haven to terrorists; now they are engaged in a mortal struggle against them. This struggle is longer and harder than any of us would wish, but by any standard or precedent of history, Afghanistan and Iraq have made remarkable political progress.
First, the Iraq statement is a lie -- it didn't shelter terrorists, it wasn't involved with Al Qaeda. Second, the success of democracy in those countries is still very very much in doubt, to put it mildly. Wishing does NOT make it so.
Kuwait's parliament has granted full political rights to women. Arab intellectuals are pushing for a rapid acceleration of democratic reform. After almost 30 years, Syrian troops left Lebanon in response to the Cedar Revolution. And Libya has abandoned its program of weapons of mass destruction. The biggest nuclear-smuggling ring in history, run by Pakistan's A.Q. Khan, is being rolled up. The government of Pakistan has cast its lot with us against al-Qaeda.
Progress in Kuwait is vastly overstated, and well over half its residents are without the vote. Intellectuals are PUSHING for reform in the Arab world, but it is happening basically nowhere because, as in the US, intellectuals have no power. Reform in Saudi Arabia? No way. Egypt? No chance, Mubarak is there till he dies. Syria? Don't make me laugh.
Islamic terrorists have been denied sanctuaries, their networks are being broken up, their leaders are being incapacitated and they are on the run. Our homeland has not been attacked since Sept. 11, 2001.
True, no domestic terror attack since 2001. But if you take CREDIT for having no attacks since then, must you also also accept BLAME for that terror attack? Look what happened in Canada this past week. Canadian intelligence warned Parliament of impending attacks, the government and its law enforcement agencies worked hard and managed to disrupt the attack and arrest bad people. In the US, Richard Clarke and others tried desperately to get the President's attention, but were ignored. We may not have been able to prevent the attack (although the Clinton Administration put on a fullcourt press and DID foil a plot for New Year's Eve 1999/2000) but the Bushies didn't even TRY.
And we have set aside decades of mistrust to put relations with India, the world's most populous democracy, on a new and fruitful path.
Actually, this isn't a bad thing at all. India is important. Although it does raise the question of why we condone Indian (and Pakistani and Israeli) proliferation but not that of North Korea or Iran.
This account does not mean that everything is going smoothly. Every day we are reminded that hardships are real. Grave threats persist. Missteps have been made along the way. And more can always be done. But we are witnessing significant progress on many different fronts, and there are authentic grounds for optimism.
The Sept. 11 attacks, two wars, a recession and the worst natural disaster in our history have been turbulent and draining events. History-shaping periods often are -- and so, not surprisingly, the nation is unsettled. Yet the United States is a deeply resilient and hopeful country. The trajectory of events is in our favor -- and with the passage of time, all this will become clear enough.
OK what was omitted? Health care is a shambles, we spend more more more and get less less less, and 45 million Americans are completely uncovered and are one accident or illness from financial ruin or death. Climate change is picking up and this Administration has wasted over 5 critical years -- not just wasted, it has actively fought AGAINST doing anything on perhaps the most critical issue that faces the human race. People in the Administration are advocating the use of NUCLEAR WEAPONS against Iran, ironically to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons ten years from now.

Oh, and our civil liberties? In shreds. The NSA is spying on us without cause (assuming you aren't a terrorist -- and besides, the terrorists know the risks and are careful), people including American citizens can be locked up indefinitely without charge, we condone and even ENCOURAGE torture conducted in my name and yours, and we don't punish the true villains when photos of our state-sanctioned torture emerge. We run secret prison camps, and the de facto President and the administration ignore laws duly passed by Congress. Actually, I'm surprised Wehner didn't include any of this as GOOD news. I guess Wehner realizes that despite the Administration's assertions that all of these are legal and are done for our own good, that people really aren't very keen on them.