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friday, january 7, 2005

Speaking of moral clarity ...
 
May all the buddhas and bodhisattvas bless Paul Krugman, and may his moral clarity reach out to the ten directions. Y'all will enjoy today's column. ("Hypocrites, cranks and scoundrels have always been with us, on both sides of the aisle. But 9/11 created an environment some liberals summarize with the acronym Iokiyar: it's O.K. if you're a Republican.") And when you've finished the Krugman column, read today's column by Bob Herbert.

Americans have tended to view the U.S. as the guardian of the highest ideals of justice and fairness. But that is a belief that's getting more and more difficult to sustain. If the Justice Department can be the fiefdom of John Ashcroft or Alberto Gonzales, those in search of the highest standards of justice have no choice but to look elsewhere.

It's more fruitful now to look overseas. Last month Britain's highest court ruled that the government could not continue to indefinitely detain foreigners suspected of terrorism without charging or trying them. One of the justices wrote that such detentions "call into question the very existence of an ancient liberty of which this country has until now been very proud: freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention."

That's a sentiment completely lost on an Alberto Gonzales or George W. Bush.

I didn't follow the hearings yesterday, but by all accounts I've seen it was an exercise in evasion by Gonzales and futility by the Dems. An opinion sampler:
 
The message Mr. Gonzales left with senators was unmistakable: As attorney general, he will seek no change in practices that have led to the torture and killing of scores of detainees and to the blackening of U.S. moral authority around the world. Instead, the Bush administration will continue to issue public declarations such as those Mr. Gonzales repeated yesterday -- "that torture and abuse will not be tolerated by this administration" -- while in practice sanctioning procedures that the International Red Cross and many lawyers inside the government consider to be illegal and improper.

Mr. Gonzales is said to face a sure confirmation. But thanks to the members of the committee, including some Republicans, who met their duty to question Mr. Gonzales aggressively, the hearing served to confirm that Mr. Bush had made the wrong choice when he rewarded Mr. Gonzales for his loyalty. The nation deserves an attorney general who is not the public face for inhumane, illegal and clearly un-American policies.

Tim Grieve, Salon

Democratic Sen. Joe Biden sat quietly, listening to it all. On another day, in another political reality, he might have been watching a presidential nominee self-destruct. The man who would be attorney general was coming off as evasive, as ill-prepared, as unwilling to accept responsibility for anything that happened on his watch as George W. Bush's White House counsel. But when Biden finally had his chance to put a question to Gonzales, he delivered this clear message instead: "You're going to be confirmed."

Jeff Dubner, TAP

Gonzales has said over and over that President George W. Bush never decided to abrogate the Geneva Conventions and, solely on executive prerogative, allow our military to do whatever it likes with suspected al-Qaeda terrorists or Iraqi insurgents. But this administration’s belief that it could, without so much as giving notice to Congress and on no greater legal authority than the contrived judgment of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, break any convention on how we conduct a war is shocking and unconstitutional. If the Pentagon did indeed advise that "authority to set aside the laws is 'inherent in the president,'" as The Wall Street Journal reported, then the administration -- our next attorney general included -- apparently believes that there are no "applicable laws" in this country, not for those who work in the executive branch of the government.

(Remember when the Republicans took Al Gore apart for his "no controlling authority" remark? Iokiyar.)

Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo:

It defies comment.

Update: Here's another comment, from Dick Meyer at CBS News:

When John Ashcroft was up for confirmation as attorney general, the Democrat on the job, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., cautioned that the Constitutional role for the Senate was to “advise and consent” not “advise and rubber stamp.” Four years later comes the nomination of Alberto Gonzales and the cowed Democrats are poised for a policy of "advise, snarl, bombast and then rubber stamp."
I am shocked (not “shocked, shocked” but sincerely shocked) that Gonzales will get a single Democratic vote, much a relatively less easy confirmation. And I would have expected that some Republicans -- the ones who profess deep belief in the American mission of fostering Arab democracy, the ones who have renounced Secretary Rumsfeld, like McCain, Hagel, Lugar – would be struggling with their votes, too. But no.

Isn't this something like what happened to the Roman Senate during the Empire?

 
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8:22 am | link

thursday, january 6, 2005

At Least They Talked
A small group of Democrats transformed the traditionally routine ritual of certifying presidential election results into a tart partisan protest today, forcing both the House and Senate to debate Election Day voting problems in Ohio, the state that gave President Bush the crucial electoral votes needed for his re-election.

With both houses under Republican control, the move, only the second of its kind since 1877, did not threaten Bush's victory over Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. Indeed, some Democrats opposed it and the White House spokesman likened it to a pursuit of "conspiracy theories."

But its rarity underscored a lingering sensitivity to election irregularities like those that overshadowed the 2000 election. Democrats complained this time that Ohio election officials, headed by a Republican who led the Bush campaign in the state, had provided too few voting machines in some Democratic precincts and allowed other irregularities.

The challenge also demonstrated a readiness among some Democrats, even with the party's diminished presence in the new Congress, to draw a line against a Republican Party that appears determined to make maximum use of its reinforced majority. [Link]

If you find a list of names of Senators who spoke up, as well as any Democrats who OPPOSED speaking up, let me know.

 
 
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5:54 pm | link

Moral Clarity
 
Rightie pundits laud George W. Bush for his "moral clarity." This fellow says that the President acts on, and is guided by, "emanating principles." Discussing the "appeal of moral clarity," Gary Andres writes in the Washington Times that "while media elites scoffed at Mr. Bush's frequent references to his faith, values voters saw him as man pursuing a moral code despite being ridiculed by those who considered his worldview simplistic. Yet for many, his simplicity was an oasis in an ethical desert." The Other Limbaugh says, "President Bush has many attributes that suit him for his current role as the nation's wartime president, but none is serving him better than his deep-seated sense of moral clarity."
 
Today the Senate began confirmation hearings on Alberto Gonzales's nomination for Attorney General. The White House yesterday refused to release additional documents relating to Gonzales's role in prison torture (do these documents include the excutive order authorizing torture?). But the would-be AG promises to abide by the Geneva Conventions and other international treaties if confirmed.  
 
Maureen Dowd observed, "You know how bad the situation is when the president's choice for attorney general has to formally pledge not to support torture anymore."  
 
Fact is, for many years Alberto Gonzales has played a key role in Bush's moral clarity. You can learn all about it in this Salon article by Alan Berlow, titled "The Facilitator."  You will learn, for example, that Gonzales helped Bush achieve moral clarity about executions by withholding information in favor of the condemned.
 
And as for clarity in policy, there's nothing like demanding to be told only good news. Please note these paragraphs from The Nelson Report:
There is rising concern amongst senior officials that President Bush does not grasp the increasingly grim reality of the security situation in Iraq because he refuses to listen to that type of information. Our sources say that attempts to brief Bush on various grim realities have been personally rebuffed by the President, who actually says that he does not want to hear “bad news.”

Rather, Bush makes clear that all he wants are progress reports, where they exist, and those facts which seem to support his declared mission in Iraq...building democracy. “That's all he wants to hear about,” we have been told. So “in” are the latest totals on school openings, and “out” are reports from senior US military commanders (and those intelligence experts still on the job) that they see an insurgency becoming increasingly effective, and their projection that “it will just get worse.”

Our sources are firm in that they conclude this “good news only” directive comes from Bush himself; that is, it is not a trap or cocoon thrown around the President by National Security Advisor Rice, Vice President Cheney, and DOD Secretary Rumsfeld. In any event, whether self-imposed, or due to manipulation by irresponsible subordinates, the information/intelligence vacuum at the highest levels of the White House increasingly frightens those officials interested in objective assessment, and not just selling a political message.
When speaking of those "emanating principles" that guide Bush, the President's admirers assume those principles come from God. But the evidence suggests they come from Bush's own massive ego, and he's surrounded himself with enablers who give him moral rationalizations for doing whatever he wants.
 
The fact is, real-world moral questions tend to defy solution by "emanating principles." Anyone who has agnonized over a Do Not Resuscitate order for a terminally ill parent must recognize this. And what "emanating principle" guides you if you learn the fetus you bear in your womb is anencephalic?  Or has Tay-Sachs? What "principle" declares it "moral" to deny an adolescent girl, or a rape victim, an abortion?
 
The "moral clarity" crowd tends to achieve "clarity" by refusing to look at all facets of a painful situation. For example, women seeking abortions are demonized as selfish creatures wishing to avoid "inconvenience." Real problems in real women's lives* are not worthy of consideration. Unwanted pregnancy resulting from rape? Hardly ever happens.** Don't worry about it.  
 
(*According to Alan Guttmacher, "On average, women give at least 3 reasons for choosing abortion: 3/4 say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or other responsibilities; about 2/3 say they cannot afford a child; and 1/2 say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner." **According to the Republican Majority for Choice, pregnancies resulting from rape exceed 25,000 a year in the United States.)
 
See how much easier it is to achieve clarity if you refuse to look at the parts of a problem that make it difficult?
 
Speaking of moral clarity -- self-annointed morals guru William Bennet wrote a book called Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism. Based on the pages available for browsing on Amazon (Chapter 1: The Morality of Anger) the book amounts to an elaborate rationalization of why the invasion of Iraq was "moral." But then a fellow who pisses away $8 million in casinos but remains in denial over his own compulsive gambling can rationalize anything. It's clarity born of delusion, but it's clarity.
 
On the other hand, Sydney Blumenthal writes in today's Guardian (also in Salon) that Bush policy in Indonesia is neither clear nor moral.

The coastline of south Asia has been radically altered, but the political landscape in Washington remains familiar. Behind the stentorian rhetoric about the battle between good and evil lies the neoconservative struggle to remove human rights sanctions against the Indonesian military, which is waging a vicious war against the popular separatist movement on Banda Aceh, the province hardest hit by the tsunami.

The war between the Indonesian military and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) has raged for more than two decades. A ceasefire negotiated in 2002, with the involvement of former general Anthony Zinni as US representative, was brutally broken by the military in May 2003. The Indonesian military is a virtual state within a state and is unaccountable for its human rights violations and criminal activities. After its war of ethnic cleansing against East Timor concluded with independence following diplomatic intervention, the military was determined not to lose Banda Aceh.

In its war there, the military has mimicked the language of the war on terrorism and the Iraq war, calling its operation "shock and awe", targeting the population as terrorist supporters, and expelling all international observers, including the UN, from the region. Human Rights Watch documented extensive torture and abuse.

Bush administration policy has been conflicted, confused and negligent. The leading neoconservative at the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defence, has tried to overthrow US restrictions on aid to, and relations with, the Indonesian military. The neoconservative thrust is undeterred by the military's obstruction of the FBI investigation into the murder of two US businessmen in 2002, killings that appear to implicate the military. When the state department issued a human rights report on Indonesia's abysmal record, its spokesman replied: "The US government does not have the moral authority to assess or act as a judge of other countries, including Indonesia, on human rights, especially after the abuse scandal at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison."

On his tour of Banda Aceh, Powell made no determined effort to restore the cease-fire. Meanwhile, GAM reports that the Indonesia military is using the catastrophe to launch a new offensive. "The Indonesians get the message when you have no high-level condemnation of what they're doing," Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch told me. A renewed effort by Wolfowitz against sanctions is expected soon.

In the name of the war on terrorism, neoconservatives attempt to bolster the repressive military, which flings the Bush administration's sins back in its face. In the "march of freedom", human rights are cast aside. The absence of moral clarity is matched by the absence of strategic clarity.

If Bush policy is guided by moral clarity, how can the Bush Administration condone genocide? Where's the "clarity" in that? Exactly which "emanating principles" are involved?
 
Update: File Andrea Yates in the messy moral questions column. Her conviction has been overturned. Unfortunately, the prosecuting attorney wants to retry.
 
I wrote in 2003 why I thought the conviction was a travesty. In a compassionate world, she and her family would not have been put through a trial at all. It should have been obvious even to a Texan that the woman did what she did because she was massively psychotic.
 
Texas law would have allowed a judge to order her to be hospitalized, not to be released without another court order. Probably that would be for the rest of her life. I understand she is still so sick she only occasionallly realizes her children are dead.
 
The only thing to be gained by a trial would be publicity for the prosecutor. And in these days of "moral clarity" a second jury is unlikely to be any more enlightened than the first one was.
 
 
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10:28 am | link

wednesday, january 5, 2005

Basic Things
 
The Democratic Leadership Council and another group of centrist Dems, the Third Way, say they will oppose Bush's Social Security "restructuring" scheme. I guess they haven't entirely forgotten they are Democrats.
 
Do you remember the Four Freedoms? When I was growing up (long, long ago), the Four Freedoms were considered as important as the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence. The Norman Rockwell illustrations of them were icons of Americanism, like the Lincoln Memorial or the flag raising at Iwo Jima.  
 
Do most Americans still remember what the Four Freedoms were? And do we, as a people, still believe in them?
 
Roosevelt enumerated the Four Freedoms in his 1941 State of the Union Address. They were:
 
1. Freedom of Speech
2. Freedom of Worship
3. Freedom from Want
4. Freedom from Fear
 
Just for fun, let's toss those to the critters on Free Republic and watch them get ripped apart. (Freedom from want? Isn't that socialism?)
 
From the same speech, note this paragraph:

For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy. The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
Jobs for those who can work.
Security for those who need it.
The ending of special privilege for the few.
The preservation of civil liberties for all.

The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

These are the simple, basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.

I'm happy the DLC and others in the Democratic Party want to save Social Security. If they'd rededicate themselves to Roosevelt's "basic things," I think I'd be even happier.

 
 
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8:23 pm | link

The Return of Memogate
 
Corey Pein provides an account of the Killian memo fiasco for Columbia Journalism Review that I endorse with enthusiasm. My only quibble is his statement that the CBS Sixty Minute Bush National Guard report was "anchored" on the Killian memos. As I remember it, the program was anchored on an interview with former Lt. Gov. of Texas, Ben Barnes, who talked about how he accepted a bribe to get Bush Jr. into the National Guard.
 
Pein also skips over the technical arguments for and against forgery, which was probably wise.
 
This paragraph interested me:

The very first post attacking the memos — nineteen minutes into the 60 Minutes II program — was on the right-wing Web site FreeRepublic.com by an active Air Force officer, Paul Boley of Montgomery, Alabama, who went by the handle “TankerKC.” Nearly four hours later it was followed by postings from “Buckhead,” whom the Los Angeles Times later identified as Harry MacDougald, a Republican lawyer in Atlanta. (MacDougald refused to tell the Times how he was able to mount a case against the documents so quickly.) Other blogs quickly picked up the charges. One of the story’s top blogs, Rathergate.com, is registered to a firm run by Richard Viguerie, the legendary conservative fund-raiser. Some were fed by the conservative Media Research Center and by Creative Response Concepts, the same p.r. firm that promoted the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. CRC’s executives bragged to PR Week that they helped legitimize the documents-are-fake story by supplying quotes from document experts as early as the day after the report, September 9. The goal, said president Greg Mueller, was to create a buzz online while at the same time showing journalists “it isn’t just Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge who are raising questions.”

To which I say, ah-HAH. A lot of us (including me and Keith Olbermann) smelled a rat at the time. And there it is.
 
 
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4:25 pm | link

Support Your Local Blogger
 
This is a Koufax Awards update. Mahablog has been nominated for Best Overall Blog by a Nonprofessional. The competition is, well competitive. I'm not sure I'd vote for me, either, except that as me I am a bit biased about me.
 
 
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3:02 pm | link

Tara O'Brien Update
 
I'm sorry to report that Tara is losing ground and may not make it after all. We went to the vet for a checkup today, and her bloodwork shows considerable deterioration from how she was doing last week. She is not responding to treatment and is clearly not feeling well. We have some new meds to try, but if she doesn't turn around in the next few days I'm afraid we'll have to say goodbye.
 
 
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2:29 pm | link

The Other America 10:32 am | link

tuesday, january 4, 2005

Libertarians and Lefties
 
I can't stop thinking about the Lew Rockwell articles I linked yesterday, "The Reality of Red State Fascism" by Llewellyn Rockwell and "What Became of Conservatives?" by Paul Craig Roberts.
 
Lew Rockwell is a libertarian site that is always an interesting place to visit. This is not to say that I agree with all of it. Although I think government should be as small as practicable, libertarians and I usually part company over what is "practicable."
 
In my book I discussed the Rockwell site as part of the right blogosphere, but if that's so it's an anomaly.  For the most part Rockwell and his contributors are people who think and use logic to come to their conclusions. You can browse around the site and, agree or disagree, at least find some new ideas to consider. Most other right blogosphere sites just leave me hoping the writers have had their rabies shots.
 
Mr. Rockwell's account of recent political history is, IMO, deeply flawed. Fortunately for me a history professor blogging on History News Network corrected the errors, so I don't have to. Even so, Rockwell makes some valid points. For example,

There are many good reasons to be anti-leftist, but let us revisit what Mises said in 1956 concerning the anti-socialists of his day. He pointed out that many of these people had a purely negative agenda, to crush the leftists and their bohemian ways and their intellectual pretension. He warned that this is not a program for freedom. It was a program of hatred that can only degenerate into statism.

(I'm not sure what "bohemian ways" were such a concern to von Mises. When I put together "bohemian" with the 1950s I think of Jack Kerouac, who doesn't seem all that dangerous now. But let's go on ...) Later in the article:

The vigor and determination of the Bush administration has brought about a profound cultural change, so that the very people who once proclaimed hated of government now advocate its use against dissidents of all sorts, especially against those who would dare call for curbs in the totalitarian bureaucracy of the military, or suggest that Bush is something less than infallible in his foreign-policy decisions. The lesson here is that it is always a mistake to advocate government action, for there is no way you can fully anticipate how government will be used. Nor can you ever count on a slice of the population to be moral in its advocacy of the uses of the police power.

Editor & Publisher, for example, posted a small note the other day about a column written by Al Neuharth, the founder of USA Today, in which he mildly suggested that the troops be brought home from Iraq "sooner rather than later." The editor of E&P was just blown away by the letters that poured in, filled with venom and hate and calling for Neuharth to be tried and locked away as a traitor. The letters compared him with pro-Hitler journalists, and suggested that he was objectively pro-terrorist, choosing to support the Muslim jihad over the US military. Other letters called for Neuharth to get the death penalty for daring to take issue with the Christian leaders of this great Christian nation.

I'm actually not surprised at this. It has been building for some time. If you follow hate-filled sites such as Free Republic, you know that the populist right in this country has been advocating nuclear holocaust and mass bloodshed for more than a year now. The militarism and nationalism dwarfs anything I saw at any point during the Cold War. It celebrates the shedding of blood, and exhibits a maniacal love of the state. The new ideology of the red-state bourgeoisie seems to actually believe that the US is God marching on earth – not just godlike, but really serving as a proxy for God himself.

Mr. Rockwell and I have come to similar conclusions, although we got their by different routes. One point I think Rockwell misses is that many people who badmouthed Big Gubmint in the 1980s and 1990s were the famous Angry White Males (and some of their wives and girlfriends) who resented government for downgrading their once-privileged status. If you tried to tie them down and explain exactly what they didn't like about Big Gubmint, the answers, sooner or later, always came back to anger at having to compete with women and minorites for jobs, or resentment of school busing to desegregate schools, or seeing their tax money spent on the famous welfare Cadillac Queens. 

In other words, they were never against Big Gubmint because of some libertarian ideal, but because they felt that government was taking something away from them. A lot of this simmering resentment can be traced to desegregation and other civil rights goals of the 1950s and 1960s, but it's probable it goes all the way back to Reconstruction.

(I aknowledge there are legitimate arguments to be made against many welfare programs. But it's a fact that for many years rhetoric against welfare has been nearly always aimed at blacks, when in fact most welfare recipients are white.  Also, I well remember that during the Vietnam era it was us lefties who were suspicious of Big Gubmint. But that's another blog post.)

Anyway, much of what Rockwell calls the "populist right" has for many years been fueled by resentment and hate. He shouldn't be surprised that, given power, these people drop their libertarian pretenses and try to use Big Gubmint to get payback.     

I disagree that it is always a mistake to advocate government action, because government, properly used, is a means for effecting the will of the people. If you can't use it to take action when action is needed, what's the point? But I agree with Rockwell when he says we must never "count on a slice of the population to be moral in its advocacy of the uses of the police power."

I'd put it this way -- don't give government a power that you wouldn't want it to have if the people wielding that power were the other guys. And don't give one part of government a power that can't be checked and balanced by another part.

Near the end of the article, Rockwell says,

What is the most pressing and urgent threat to freedom that we face in our time? It is not from the left. If anything, the left has been solid on civil liberties and has been crucial in drawing attention to the lies and abuses of the Bush administration. No, today, the clear and present danger to freedom comes from the right side of the ideological spectrum, those people who are pleased to preserve most of free enterprise but favor top-down management of society, culture, family, and school, and seek to use a messianic and belligerent nationalism to impose their vision of politics on the world.

Amen, Bro' Llewellyn.

The other writer, John Paul Roberts, is a former Wall Street Journal editor and a former National Review editor. His conservative credentials would seem impeccable. Yet he's become persona non grata on the right since expressing disagreement with the Bush Administration and the Iraq War in particular.

Scales have fallen from his eyes. He's even noticed the "liberal media" doesn't exist. He still writes things that are, IMO, inaccurate; like "Conservatives have been won around to the old liberal view that as long as government power is in their hands, there is no reason to fear it or to limit it." That was never a liberal view, IMO. There are some on the left who think that way, but liberals don't make up the entire left any more than libertarians make up the entire right.   

But, bottom line, this may be a good time for liberal/libertarian dialogue. We'll still disagree on many things, but we have a big goal in common -- preserving America.

 
 
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9:02 pm | link

Economic Darwinism
 
Marie Cocco's column in today's New York Newsday gets to the heart of Bush economic policy, including so-called Social Security "reform":
So why does Bush want to create a crisis that doesn't exist and provide a solution that doesn't fix it? Because he is an economic Darwinist. In Bush's view, the financially strong should be helped to prosper. The weak should pay the bill.

What's remarkable to me is that somebody actually had to say this. After four years of Bush's economic Darwinism, you'd think a person would have to be brain dead not to understand that what Cocco says is true. Calling attention to it seems like calling attention to air, or gravity.
 
A few days ago I wrote that much government policy the Bushies want to "reform" (i.e., dismantle) was created to provide stability. I'd like to enlarge on that a bit.
 
IMO the two most important elements that make up the foundation of our nation's stability are (1) the Constitution, and (2) a large, educated middle class.
 
If you glance around the world, it seems to me that where most of a population is middle class, generally you will find a stable and functioning society. Where there is a huge disparity between rich and poor, however, you find societies subject to revolutions, coups d'etat, guerrilla war, and/or various forms of totalitarianism.  (In fact, I doubt that a nation can support a true representative democracy until it has a large, stable middle class, but let's skip that for now.)
 
Much of the policy the Bushies want to "reform" is intended to keep middle class people from falling out of the middle class and into the impoverished class. As Cocco points out about Social Security,
The program wasn't meant to harness the power of capital. It was created to shield us against capitalism's sharp edges.

It was born in the Great Depression, which had wiped out Americans' savings. More than half the elderly lived in poverty.

And so the New Deal gave us Social Security. It would ensure that capitalism's failures would not include the mass impoverishment of the very people needed to make capitalism succeed.

This is the social part. As a society, we have said that if a worker toils long enough he will not be consigned to the poorhouse in retirement. Even today, more than half of older Americans would fall into poverty without Social Security.

And even today, some 38 percent of beneficiaries aren't retirees at all. They are disabled workers, their spouses and their children. Or they are the surviving spouses and children of workers who've died.
Government policies that shield us from capitalism's sharp edges have a lot to do with why the United States has a mostly middle-class population. This benefits all of us, because it creates a society that is stable and productive. A stable and productive society increases our national wealth and gives all of us a better standard of living. 
 
For a great many years, conservatives have complained that welfare programs, unemployment benefits, etc., create a nonproductive, dependent underclass. I think that in some circumstances that can happen. I also think that over the years some well-intended programs proved to be unhelpful, if not counterproductive. But having no shields from those sharp edges would destabilize our society and, ultimately, undermine
our overall productivity and make all of us poorer.
 
Most Americans alive today were born and raised after World War II, meaning we've lived our lives safely wrapped in the protections of the New Deal and other programs created for our parents and grandparents. And I think many of us assume this stability we enjoy is just the way things are.
 
And out of that assumption has grown much whackjob economic theory, including Bush's Economic Darwinism. People who support Bushie economics either (1) don't understand it, or (2) believe they will be among the fittest who survive. The rest of us look at it and see disaster and poverty in our nation's future.
 
Just for fun, take a glance at today's New York Times editorial page. On one hand, you have a column by Paul Krugman, which is the first of a series of articles on why Bush's privatization scheme is a fake solution to a fake problem.
...the Bush administration's scaremongering over Social Security is in large part an effort to distract the public from the real fiscal danger.

There are two serious threats to the federal government's solvency over the next couple of decades. One is the fact that the general fund has already plunged deeply into deficit, largely because of President Bush's unprecedented insistence on cutting taxes in the face of a war. The other is the rising cost of Medicare and Medicaid.

 David "The Cabbage" Brooks, on the other hand, says smugly that America is better prepared to face the economic challenges of the future than, say, Europe.

We have stuck with a low-tax, high-growth economic model. This gives us the resources and the flexibility to deal with the problems caused by an aging population without having to face, at least for now, the horrific choices that confront our friends across the Atlantic.

Resources? Flexibility? Not with Bush giving away our nation's wealth to benefit his cronies. And what about the horrific choices we face because of the Bush deficit?
 
Well, folks, 20 years from now we'll know who's right. Good luck.
 
 
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3:08 pm | link

monday, january 3, 2005

Breaking News
 
A couple of news stories worthy of note --
 
First, researchers at Kyoto University announced that they reversed Parkinson's Disease in monkeys with embryonic stem cells. If this result can be replicated ... well, we'll see.
 
Second, suddenly, House Republicans voted to reverse the DeLay Rule. It appears the House Dems were about to put the Republicans on the spot by forcing a vote on the Rule. Josh Marshall comments here.
 
Other notes -- there are a couple of articles on the Lew Rockwell site I'd like to comment on, but I don't know when I'll get to it. So if you want to get ahead of me, click here and here. See other commentary on the second article here. Interesting stuff.
 
 
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10:19 pm | link

Dancing on Graves
 
Or, “Let Them Eat Fois Gras.” (Crossposted at The American Street.)

Dallas businesswoman Jeanne Johnson Phillips is proud of the work she is doing as chair of the 55th Presidential Inaugural Committee. “We know the world will be watching,” she said.

Yes, they will, and I suspect the world will be disgusted.

Usually, inaugurations for a second term are toned down a bit from the first term. But not for George W. Bush. The upcoming four-day celebration promises to be the most expensive inaugural in U.S. history.

Maureen Fan of the Washington Post interviewed the head concierge at the Hay-Adams Hotel. “We’re not calling it an inauguration,” he said. “Because the president’s supporters believe he has a mandate, there’s going to be, in effect, a coronation.”

“People are coming from all over the world for the world’s biggest prom,” said the concierge for the Ritz-Carlton. “It’s like a prom gone crazy.”

According to the events calendar, there will be nine official balls. There will be three official candlelight dinners. Plus a Chairman’s Breakfast, a Youth Concert the traditional parade, and a couple of “salutes” and “celebrations.”

I bet every ice sculpture artiste in America has been called upon to do his bit.

Today, the tsunami death toll approaches 150,000. Today, U.S. military fatalities in Iraq, a war most Americans now believe is a mistake, total 1,333. Today, a Staff Sargeant injured in Iraq in 2003 is still waiting for surgery. He has been waiting for 18 months. Yesterday, insurgents killed 17 Iraqi police and National Guards.

But a triumphant George W. Bush plans to party. And, contrary to what the Bushies tell their critics, historically presidential inaugurations held during times of war or disaster have been muted, solemn affairs.

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in today’s New York Times,

… last week two pockets of the capital were humming: the State Department, where officials were trying to coordinate aid to the tsunami victims in Asia, and the fifth floor of the old Department of Education building on C Street, headquarters of the inaugural committee, where 450 paid staff members and volunteers buzzed about concerts and balls.

The contrast between the two sites was not lost on inaugural organizers, who have already had to justify their plans to spend as much as $40 million on partying at a time of war. Last week they came under new questions when the United States initially offered only $15 million to aid the tsunami victims, although by Friday Mr. Bush announced that the American aid would be at least $350 million for what he termed an “epic disaster.”

In either case, the organizers were ready with an answer to critics who questioned the price tag on the merriment, which is similar to what was spent for the inaugural in 2001. A presidential inaugural, they said, has never been canceled, even during world wars. Mr. James, who has staged events for both President Bushes, went back and checked. “The celebrations went on, that’s the lesson we learned,” he said.

You can count on the Bushies to miss points. Yes, there were inaugurations during the world wars, but according to this New York Times article from 1989, “Franklin Roosevelt held no ball in 1937, 1941 and 1945 in recognition of the Depression and World War II.” Woodrow Wilson held no ball for either of his inaugurals, because he thought dancing inappropriate for a solemn occasion.

On the other hand, Richard Nixon’s Vietnam-era inaugurals were glittery and gaudy. Clearly, the Bushies prefer Nixon to Roosevelt as a role model. And what lessons, pray tell, were learned?

Bush likes to prance around in military costumes; he fancies himself to be a “war president.” He makes speeches about “resolve” and “service” and “sacrifice.” But for the Bushies, service and sacrifice are, like taxes, for the little people.

From an editorial in the Portsmouth Herald:

While our president hob-nobs with the rich and powerful, another round of genocide is taking place in the Sudan, where hundreds are dying each day from diseases that in America are easier to cure than the common cold.

And as the president prepares to greet the senators, lobbyists, generals and the CEOs of multinational corporations who will be the invited guests at his inaugural bash, U.S. soldiers are scavenging scrap metal in Iraq in an effort to armor vehicles that have no business being in a theater of war.

What a show of disrespect and arrogance, not only to people who suffer daily around the world for whom a few pennies would pay the cost of another day’s survival, but to our own honored servicemen and -women who are being told they are putting their lives on the line for freedom, not displays of opulence.

Clearly, the Bushies are utterly insensitive to the message their prom gone wild will be sending to the world. But Marie Antoinette would be proud.

 
 
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11:38 am | link

sunday, january 2, 2005

Must Come Down
 
If you want to understand why we've already lost Iraq, be sure to read James Wolcott's post, "Kind of a Shame."
 
As a follow up to the last post, and lesson #4 -- "Be willing to re-examine core values in the face of changing conditions" -- note where Wolcott writes:

There's a Peter Cook-Dudley Moore routine, one of their woolgathering dialogues, where Dud asks Pete, "So would you say you've learned from your mistakes?" and Pete replies: "Oh yes, I'm certain I could repeat them exactly."

That seems to have been the Bush administration's approach to Iraq. Take the mistakes of Vietnam and repeat them exactly.

And at that you can't say they haven't succeeded.  

We're doomed.

 
 
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8:03 pm | link

What Goes Up
 
Yesterday's New York Times had a fascinating op-ed about how nations end. The author is Jared Diamond, who won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction for Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. 
 
"History warns us that when once-powerful societies collapse, they tend to do so quickly and unexpectedly," Diamond writes.

When it comes to historical collapses, five groups of interacting factors have been especially important: the damage that people have inflicted on their environment; climate change; enemies; changes in friendly trading partners; and the society's political, economic and social responses to these shifts. That's not to say that all five causes play a role in every case. Instead, think of this as a useful checklist of factors that should be examined, but whose relative importance varies from case to case.

Diamond goes on to provide examples from history of societies that made bad decisions and collapsed, as well as of societies that made good decisions and survived. Very interesting stuff. There's a good discussion of this article and its implications going on at The Left Coaster; see here and here
 
I'm gong to skip to the end, to the "what lessons can we learn from history?" section.
 
The overarching theme of the lessons is that societies fail when its people and leaders fail to perceive how interdependent we humans are; indeed, fail to perceive how interdependent all life is. Another theme is that societies fail when its decision making processes fail to respond to changing conditions.
 
Diamond's lessons are these:
 
1. Take environmental problems seriously.
If 6,000 Polynesians with stone tools were able to destroy Mangareva Island, consider what six billion people with metal tools and bulldozers are doing today. Moreover, while the Maya collapse affected just a few neighboring societies in Central America, globalization now means that any society's problems have the potential to affect anyone else. Just think how crises in Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq have shaped the United States today.  
2. Beware of bad group decision making.
There are many reasons why past societies made bad decisions, and thereby failed to solve or even to perceive the problems that would eventually destroy them. One reason involves conflicts of interest, whereby one group within a society (for instance, the pig farmers who caused the worst erosion in medieval Greenland and Iceland) can profit by engaging in practices that damage the rest of society. Another is the pursuit of short-term gains at the expense of long-term survival, as when fishermen overfish the stocks on which their livelihoods ultimately depend.
3. Don't let the elite insulate itself from the consequences of its actions. "That's why Maya kings, Norse Greenlanders and Easter Island chiefs made choices that eventually undermined their societies," Diamond writes. "They themselves did not begin to feel deprived until they had irreversibly destroyed their landscape."
 
4. Be willing to re-examine core values in the face of changing conditions. Diamond's example of this involves the Norse colonies of Greenland. I thought of a more recent example, which was the southern United States after the Civil War. Slavery was over, but for a century and more white southerners did everything they could to maintain the antebellum status quo and keep blacks in a state of bondage. But the effect of this, besides injustice, was that by cutting such a large part of its population off from opportunity, the South undermined its own economic productivity and remained poorer than the North.
 
Diamond ties these points together:   
Historically, we viewed the United States as a land of unlimited plenty, and so we practiced unrestrained consumerism, but that's no longer viable in a world of finite resources. We can't continue to deplete our own resources as well as those of much of the rest of the world.

Historically, oceans protected us from external threats; we stepped back from our isolationism only temporarily during the crises of two world wars. Now, technology and global interconnectedness have robbed us of our protection. In recent years, we have responded to foreign threats largely by seeking short-term military solutions at the last minute.

But how long can we keep this up? Though we are the richest nation on earth, there's simply no way we can afford (or muster the troops) to intervene in the dozens of countries where emerging threats lurk - particularly when each intervention these days can cost more than $100 billion and require more than 100,000 troops.

A genuine reappraisal would require us to recognize that it will be far less expensive and far more effective to address the underlying problems of public health, population and environment that ultimately cause threats to us to emerge in poor countries. In the past, we have regarded foreign aid as either charity or as buying support; now, it's an act of self-interest to preserve our own economy and protect American lives.

This year we heard about "metro" versus "retro." IMO the difference is less about ideology than it is about perception. "Retros" think that security is all about power, domination, and control. "Metros" see that solution as a dead end -- right now, we're making enemies faster than we can shoot 'em -- and instead value the peace that comes from living harmoniously with the other residents of our planet.
 
Another distinction is that "retros" still think that our resources are limitless and that our wealth will always demand the world's respect. "Metros" understand that everything is finite and that Bush administration economic policies are unsustainable -- one of these days that piper will have to be paid.
 
It's clear to me we've already lost our position as "leader of the free world," a position we still held when Bill Clinton was president. The rest of the world certainly isn't looking to, or counting on, George W. Bush for leadership. The events of this week are proof of that.
 
Four years ago, we were the only real military superpower on the planet. Today, "Our military and our military readiness have been strained and risk real, permanent damage," according to this NY Times editorial.  
 
Responsible economists -- all those not working for the White House, the Wall Street Journal, or Faux News -- say that our economy is tanking.
 
Science (and the Buddha) tells us that all compounded things are subject to decay. Everything that has a beginning has an ending. What goes up must come down. America's dominate position in the world must end eventually. The question is, will the end be sooner rather than later? And will the fall be a gentle, gradual, peaceful settling back into "ordinary" nation status, or will it be a sudden implosion? 
 
In our recent election, 49 percent of us voted for peace and sustainability; 51 percent voted to self-destruct.
 
Hang on to your butts.
 
 
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12:08 pm | link


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"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." --Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

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The War Prayer

I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.

"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into those pregnant words.

"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset, & seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor & glory now & ever, Amen."

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."

·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·

It was believed, afterward, that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

[Mark Twain, 1905]

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