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Slow learner
Oct 25, 2006

Dr. Bob,

I'm a born and bred republican conservative who has been reading your forum for years. I've become increasingly disenchanted with our current administrations response to the AIDS crisis (attitude toward condoms etc) and other issues including the war in Iraq. Where is the compassion and fiscal discipline? The cost in lives is now all too apparent and what about the economic costs for the future? Although it's been a long time coming, I now believe you were correct all along about Bush and the GOP! Hearing Rush Limbaugh today criticize Michael J. Fox's ad supporting stem cell research pushed me over the line. I'm now voting Democratic! Thanks for enlightening us, even if many of us have been slow learners!

GOP-No-more!

Response from Dr. Frascino

Hey GOP No More,

Slow learner? Well, I could make a wisecrack about home schooling, but I won't. Thanks for your comment. Regarding the economic costs of Dubya's disastrous blunder, check out Nicholas Kristof's column from yesterday's New York Times (reprinted below). And just for entertainment value, I'll also include Maureen Dowd's column from today's edition.

Be well. Stay well. Welcome to the Enlightenment!

Dr. Bob

October 24, 2006 OP-ED COLUMNIST

Iraq and Your Wallet

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

For every additional second we stay in Iraq, we taxpayers will end up paying an additional $6,300.

So aside from the rising body counts and all the other good reasons to adopt a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, here's another: We are spending vast sums there that would be better spent rescuing the American health care system, developing alternative forms of energy and making a serious effort to reduce global poverty.

In the run-up to the Iraq war, Donald Rumsfeld estimated that the overall cost would be under $50 billion. Paul Wolfowitz argued that Iraq could use its oil to "finance its own reconstruction." But now several careful studies have attempted to tote up various costs, and they suggest that the tab will be more than $1 trillion perhaps more than $2 trillion. The higher sum would amount to $6,600 per American man, woman and child.

"The total costs of the war, including the budgetary, social and macroeconomic costs, are likely to exceed $2 trillion," Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-winning economist at Columbia, writes in an updated new study with Linda Bilmes, a public finance specialist at Harvard. Their report has just appeared in the Milken Institute Review, as an update on a paper presented earlier this year. Just to put that $2 trillion in perspective, it is four times the additional cost needed to provide health insurance for all uninsured Americans for the next decade. It is 1,600 times Mr. Bush's financing for his vaunted hydrogen energy project.

Another study, by two economists at the American Enterprise Institute, used somewhat different assumptions and came up with a lower figure about $1 trillion. Those economists set up a nifty Web site, www.aei-brookings.org/iraqcosts, where you can tinker with the underlying assumptions and come up with your own personal estimates.

Of course, many of the costs are hidden and haven't even been spent yet. For example, more than 3,000 American veterans have suffered severe head injuries in Iraq, and the U.S. government will have to pay for round-the-clock care for many of them for decades. The cost ranges from $600,000 to $5 million per person.

Then there are disability payments that will continue for a half-century. Among veterans of the first gulf war in which ground combat lasted only 100 hours 40 percent ended up receiving disability payments, still costing us $2 billion each year. We don't know how many of today's veterans will claim such benefits, but in the first quarter of this year more people sought care through the Department of Veterans Affairs than the Bush administration had budgeted for the entire year.

The war has also forced the military to offer re-enlistment bonuses that in exceptional circumstances reach $150,000. Likewise, tanks, helicopters and other battlefield equipment will have to be replaced early, since the Pentagon says they are being worn out at up to six times the peacetime rate.

The administration didn't raise taxes to pay for the war, so we're financing it by borrowing from China and other countries. Those borrowing costs are estimated to range from $264 billion to $308 billion in interest.

Then there are economic costs to the nation as a whole. For example, the price of oil was in the $20- to $30-a-barrel range early in this decade but has now shot up to more than $50, partly because of the drop in Iraq's oil exports and partly because of war-related instability in the Middle East. Professors Stiglitz and Bilmes note that if just $10 of the increase is attributable to the war, that amounts to a $450 billion drag on the economy over six years. The bottom line is that not only have we squandered 2,800 American lives and considerable American prestige in Iraq, but we're also paying $18,000 per household to do so.

We still face the choice of whether to remain in Iraq indefinitely or to impose a timetable and withdraw U.S. troops. These studies suggest that every additional year we keep our troops in Iraq will add $200 billion to our tax bills.

My vote would be to spend a chunk of that sum instead fighting malaria, AIDS and maternal mortality, bolstering American schools, and assuring health care for all Americans. We're spending $380,000 for every extra minute we stay in Iraq, and we can find better ways to spend that money.

October 25, 2006 OP-ED COLUMNIST

Running Against Themselves

By MAUREEN DOWD

Things have become so dire for the Republicans that now even Bush is distancing himself from Bush.

The president is cutting and running from the president.

In a momentous event at the White House on Monday, Tony Snow made a major announcement about an important new strategy for Iraq. The president will no longer stay the course on the rallying cry "stay the course."

A presidency built on message discipline (Message: "Stay the course") is trying to salvage itself with some last-minute un-messaging (Message: "No more stay the course").

Of course, the administration has never really said what "the course" is, so it was never really apparent what "staying" it meant, anyhow.

It was a wacky moment for Tony Snow, who renounced the slogan while sticking to the policy. "It left the wrong impression about what was going on," the press secretary said, "and it allowed critics to say, 'Well, here's an administration that's just embarked upon a policy and not looking at what the situation is,' when, in fact, it's just the opposite."

The important thing was that the cliché sounded good to Republicans, strong and virile, for a while. But pollsters for the White House seemed to be the last to learn that even many of the party faithful had soured on the phrase, deeming it inflexible and stupid. Has Karl Rove, who urged G.O.P. candidates to keep the Democrats on the defensive on national security, lost his magic?

In a White House with a Fox News all-spin sensibility, officials don't think they need to change the strategy as much as they need to change their slogan.

The overworked Bush phrase suggested "burying your head in the sand," Steve Hinkson, political director at Luntz Research Companies, a G.O.P. public opinion firm, told The Washington Post's Peter Baker. "The problem is that as the number of people who agree with remaining resolute dwindles, that sort of language doesn't strike a chord as much as it once did."

Unwilling to admit mistakes or face the urgent need to go past semantic changes in a protectorate that has fallen into a vicious civil war, in which Americans are merely referees and targets, the White House is falling back on marketing. Just as Andy Card rolled out the war as a marketing event, the Bush team now thinks that all it needs to do is come up with a catchy and chesty new advertising pitch.

Bay Buchanan assured Wolf Blitzer that the president still intended to stay the course and seek victory, he just wouldn't use that phrase, because it gave people the impression that W. was unwilling to change tactics.

After all, Dick Cheney told Rush Limbaugh last week that the inept Iraqi government was doing "remarkably well."

But given the Republican meltdown, it's obvious that Democrats are having better luck mocking the Republicans for staying the course than Republicans are having mocking the Democrats for cutting and running. But Democrats have no ingenious ideas about how to extricate ourselves from this nasty war either.

Yet W. once more accused the Democrats of wanting to cut and run in Iraq at a campaign stop in Sarasota, Fla., yesterday.

Many frantic Republican lawmakers are also running against themselves, either reneging on their support for the war they started, or railing against Washington, the town they absolutely control, claiming that the capital has forgotten their values, or making ads denouncing the Democrats' "homosexual agenda," even though Republicans are now the party of gay scandal.

It's a hilarious spectacle of a whole party re-enacting the classic scene in Mel Brooks's "Blazing Saddles," in which the sheriff holds the gun to his own head to take himself hostage.

The Bushes don't connect words with action. Action is something that's secretly plotted with the inner circle behind closed doors. The public should stay out of it. The Bushes just connect words with salesmanship. Poppy Bush never meant it when he said "Read my lips: no new taxes" at the 1988 convention. It was just a Clint Eastwood-sounding line in a Peggy Noonan speech, meant to pump up his flighty image.

Just so, his son never paid any mind to his campaign promise not to nation-build, and he didn't come through on his bullhorn pledge to catch the perpetrators of 9/11 or his tough-guy vow to bring in Osama dead or alive.

To W., the words he says to Americans don't matter as much as the words Dick Cheney says to him. He just has to hope that daddy's friend, James Baker, the smooth fixer who is co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group and who has already suggested moving past the meaningless partisan jargon of "cut and run" and "stay the course," comes up with a plan to rescue Junior from a fine mess one more time.



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