30 November 2004
Gulag Archipelago, Part Two
The Boston Globe is all over the story of how a suburban law firm that specializes in real estate and other legal drudgery is involved in the torture of foreign prisoners in American custody.
Most here [in Dedham, Massachusetts] know Hill & Plakias as a family law firm that handles real estate and civil squabbles for the residents of this Boston suburb.
But the inconspicuous office above a Sovereign Bank, across from the red, white, and blue flags of a used car lot called Patriot Motors, is also the address of a shadowy company that owns a Gulfstream jet that secretly ferried two Al Qaeda suspects from Sweden to Egypt.
That prisoner transfer, which occurred outside the normal extradition procedures and without notifying the men's lawyers, sparked an international uproar after the two men contended that they had been forcibly drugged by masked US agents and tortured with electric shocks in Egypt....
Since that time, the jet—apparently on long-term lease to the US military—has surfaced in other alleged cases of what the CIA calls "extraordinary" rendition—the secret practice of handing prisoners in US custody to foreign governments that don't hesitate to use torture in interrogations.
The covert procedure, which must be authorized by a presidential directive, has gained little attention inside the United States.
Surely lawyers know what their clients are doing when their firm is listed as a place of business, right? Not these lawyers: they haven't a clue.
The company first incorporated in Delaware in 1994 and then in Massachusetts two years later. Neither Plakias nor the Delaware resident agent, The Prentice-Hall Corporation System, would release any information about the company or its owners. Both Plakias and an employee at Prentice-Hall said their main role was to forward mail and update annual filings to the government. Plakias acknowledged that he had not filed the required annual report to the Massachusetts secretary of state's office since 2000.
The identities of the company's owners are obscure at best.
The most recent records at the Massachusetts secretary of state's office list Bryan P. Dyess as the president and member manager and Mary Anne Phister as treasurer. No Massachusetts address could be found for Phister. The only Bryan P. Dyess that a Globe reporter could locate receives his mail at a post office box in Arlington, Va., on North George Mason Drive, 7 miles from the Pentagon.
Records with the Federal Aviation Administration list the current vice president as Colleen A. Bornt, whose only address appears to be a post office box in Chevy Chase, Md. Records indicate that both Dyess, 48, and Bornt, 54, received their Social Security numbers in the mid-1990s.
People who receive Social Security numbers late in adulthood are either recent immigrants or people given a new identity, said Beatrice Gaines, a spokeswoman for the Social Security Administration. Former CIA director George Tenet told the 9/11 commission in March that "renditions" were a major part of the plan to combat Al Qaeda in the late 1990s and that at least 70 had taken place prior to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
In May, Newsweek reported that an undisclosed US agency set up a "covert charter airline" to move CIA prisoners because "it was judged impolitic [and too traceable] to use the US Air Force." Seymour Hersh's new book, "Chain of Command," suggests that a secret group inside the Department of Defense conducts the renditions. A CIA spokesman declined comment for this article.
Today's paper reports that Representative Ed Markey has decided to pressure the Bush administration about Premier Executive Services and its role in torturing suspects.
When the Soviet gulags were in full force, who knew that they would be outdone by twenty-first century capitalists? Our leaders outsource the torturing, thus avoiding all sorts of domestic problems from union representation to pesky rights of accused prisoners to the occasionally intrusive press. And they also use limited liability companies and Subchapter S corporations to make the torture even harder to find. When you disappear into the modern gulag, then you really disappear.
Gulag Archipelago, Part One
As if it were not bad enough that the brain trust in the White House was content to relive the Vietnam War, it is more and more apparent that it is also determined to relive the early Cold War—that is, the Soviet side of the early Cold War.
Today's New York Times reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross found that conditions for "enemy detainees" in Cuba—sorry, Guantánamo Bay, it's hard to differentiate between the evil dictatorship and the axiomatically good democracy—were abhorrent.
The finding that the handling of prisoners detained and interrogated at Guantánamo amounted to torture came after a visit by a Red Cross inspection team that spent most of last June in Guantánamo.
The team of humanitarian workers, which included experienced medical personnel, also asserted that some doctors and other medical workers at Guantánamo were participating in planning for interrogations, in what the report called "a flagrant violation of medical ethics."
What wonderful doctors and medical staff we have to serve our country so blindly, so blissfully ignorant of the basic standards of ethics! Iosif Vissarionovich would have been so very, very proud.
The Red Cross, as is its wont, issued a measured response to the Times story.
The contents of the ICRC's representations and reports are confidential and for the exclusive attention of the relevant detaining authorities. Therefore, in accordance with its usual policy, the organization will not publicly confirm or deny whether the quotations in the article entitled "Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantanamo", which appeared in the New York Times of 30 November, reflect findings reported by the ICRC to the United States authorities regarding the conditions of detention and treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay....
The recent creation of the Office of Detainee Affairs in the US Department of Defense has provided a forum in which issues relating to Guantanamo Bay can be discussed in a more timely and systematic manner. Nevertheless, the ICRC remains concerned that significant problems regarding conditions and treatment at Guantanamo Bay have not yet been adequately addressed. The organization will pursue its discussions on these issues with the US authorities.
The penultimate sentence is telling, given that almost six months have passed since the ICRC's report. Also telling are the plans by the ICRC president, M. Jakob Kellenberger, to meet soon with senior administration officials to discuss the moral values, of lack thereof, displayed by the Bush administration.
28 November 2004
I do not expect that American infantrymen all have deep senses of history and irony. But I would think that their superiors would have learned just a few lessons from Vietnam.
Today's Boston Globe includes a fascinating account of accompanying troops in Fallujah.
Captain Paul Fowler sat on the curb next to a deserted gas station. Behind him, smoke rose over Fallujah. His company of tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles had roamed the eastern third of the city for 13 days, shooting holes in every building that might pose a threat, leaving behind a landscape of half-collapsed houses and factories singed with soot.
"I really hate that it had to be destroyed. But that was the only way to root these guys out," said Fowler, 33, the son of a Baptist preacher in North Carolina. "The only way to root them out is to destroy everything in your path."
Two days later, Captain Folwer and his company had new orders elsewhere in Iraq, and other troops had the unenviable tasks of reconstruction and peacekeeping in what remains of Fallujah.
In January 1968, the city was Ben Tre, not Fallujah; and the country was Vietnam, not Iraq. But the scene and sentiment were not at all dissimilar.
The destruction of the city of Ben Tre caught American public attention during the 1968 North Vietnamese Tet Offensive. Along with television shots of dead bodies at theU.S. Embassy, photos of the cold-blooded execution of a Viet Cong terrorist in Saigon and scenes of the bitter house-to-house fighting at Hue, the devastation of Ben Tre seemed horrific. Images of the razed city proved to be damaging to public support for the war. Associated Press war correspondent Peter Arnett's infamous dispatch—in which he quoted an American officer as saying, "It became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it"—forever memorialized Ben Tre in the minds of the American public. That catch phrase caught the American imagination and helped fuel opposition to the war.
Until today I thought that the parallels were merely eerie and superficial—notably the execution of an enemy fire being caught on film. No, the parallels are eerie and ingrained. In 1968, of course, the American media had reporters like Peter Arnett who were not afraid to tell the American public what the White House did not want the public to know. Today, Arnett has been reduced to writing for a London tabloid.
26 November 2004
Can It Be?
Has Thomas Friedman really started to realize just how buggy the Bush 2.1 software is? He might be about to refuse the drink the Kool-Aid ever again:
In my next life, I want to be Tom DeLay, the House majority leader.
Yes, I want to get almost the entire Republican side of the House of Representatives to bend its ethics rules just for me. I want to be able to twist the arms of House Republicans to repeal a rule that automatically requires party leaders to step down if they are indicted on a felony charge—something a Texas prosecutor is considering doing to DeLay because of corruption allegations.
But most of all, I want to have the gall to sully American democracy at a time when young American soldiers are fighting in Iraq so we can enjoy a law-based society here and, maybe, extend it to others. Yes, I want to be Tom DeLay. I want to wear a little American flag on my lapel in solidarity with the troops, while I besmirch every value they are dying for.
Yes, Friedman is still under the impression that the Bush 2.1 foreign policy module is really devoted to creating "law-based societies," but for him, that's a small misperception.
23 November 2004
It's not hard to see why liberals who claim that electoral irregularities in Ohio and Florida amount to a stolen election are "conspiracy theorists." They are. (Perhaps they're right, but I doubt it. Still, the problem in Ohio, particularly with regard to the number of voting booths per precinct, merit the full attention of the media.)
I wonder, though, why the mainstream media does not apply the same moniker to the likes of Dick Cheney and William Safire, both of whom continue to claim, without a shread of real evidence, that Saddam Hussein was allied with al-Qaeda. Who will be the first to admit that the conspiracy theorists bamboozled a majority of the American public?
22 November 2004
A Turkey Talks Turkey
There are at least two major problems with the ways that large corporate farms use antibiotics. The first is that too often antibiotics wind up in the food that consumers eat—the problem, of course, is that ingesting low doses of antibiotics is a great way to create antibiotic resistance. And it seems that one industry executive, Richard Scalise, of ConAgra, which sells Butterball turkeys, understands that much, but only that much.
Q: Your literature mentions genetic advancements and use of antiobiotics in turkey production. Aren't these unhealthy?
A: The genetics used is traditional breeding for birds with healthier attributes so we don't have to use as many antibiotics. When our birds come to market, they are antibiotic free. We use antibiotics sparingly only if we detect a common virus, and we have strict adherence as to the number of days antibiotics can be used prior to harvesting the turkey. We've tested our birds, and we're confident they're antibiotic free at that point.
Scalise unwittingly mentions the second major problem, that of using antibiotics when they're not needed. As everyone should know, viruses are not bacteria. Antibiotics don not kill viruses. If you, or your children, or your dog, or the turkeys on your farm, have a virus, using antibiotics won't make anyone healthier!
it is possible, of course, that the scientists at ConAgra who are in charge of dosing the turkeys do not actually use antibiotics for viral infections. But it is clear that their boss has no clue what should be done.
I think that I'm gladder than ever to be sticking to the veggies this Thanksgiving.
21 November 2004
Wanted: One Good Senator
Today comes news that the Republicans almost got away with allowing Congressional committee chairman to snoop on individual tax returns.
The provision and the inability of Hastert, R-Ill., to get the votes he wanted on an intelligence overhaul bill left Republican leaders chagrinned on a day they had intended to be a celebration of their accomplishments.
"This is a serious situation," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. "Neither of this were aware that this had been inserted in this bill," he said, referring to himself and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla.
Questioned sharply by fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, Stevens pleaded with the Senate to approve the overall spending bill despite the tax returns language.
But Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said that wasn't good enough. "It becomes the law of the land on the signature of the president of the United States. That's wrong."
Conrad said the measure's presence in the spending bill was symptomatic of a broader problem—Congress writing legislation hundreds of pages long and then giving lawmakers only a few hours to review it before having to vote on it.
Indeed, the problem is worse than that. The Senate and House had met in a conference committee to hash out differences in the Senate and House versions of the spending bill. But recent Republican practice in conference committees has run to having the Republican committee members not only shut the Democratic members, but also write entirely new provisions into legislation.
From 1981 through 1986, the Republicans, led by the "New Right" brand of social conservatives, controlled the United States Senate. But many of their favorite schemes, like a constitutional amendment to prevent forced busing, were thwarted by liberals who were willing to stop them. The following paragraphs from Barbara Sinclair's excellent analysis The Transformation of the United States Senate (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989, pages 171-173) illustrates what work key senators were willing to do to block the worst conservative plans. They key word here is work—it's not easy or showy, but it's important.
During those years, liberal Republican Lowell Weicker regularly employed all the procedural tools available to him to block New Right initiatives on so-called social issues. He waged, sometimes alone and sometimes with allies, a series of filibusters aimed at blocking passage of legislation or constitutional amendments on school busing, school prayer, and abortion. His filibuster against antibusing legislation in 1982 and 1983 stretched over eight months. That legislation eventually passed the Senate but never emerged from the House. A six-week filibuster waged with Robert Packwood and Max Baucus killed antiabortion and school prayer provisions in 1982. Weicker took a lead role in the successful effort to defeat a proposed school prayer amendment in 1984. During six years of Republican control of the Senate and the presidency, none of the New Right's major legislative goals in the area of social issues became law.
Howard Metzenbaum was accomplished at using Senate rules to delay and extract concessions before the change in Senate control. In 1977, he and James Abourezk led a two-week filibuster against President Carter's energy bill. When the Republicans took control, however, there were "more things to be against" and Metzenbaum dedicated himself to a watchdog role, using the Senate rules (of which he has an excellent command) to block as much "bad" legislation as possible. "We're the lobbyist for the people who can't afford to have a lobbyist here, for the average taxpayer, for the average consumer," an aide explained. "We're basically against subsidies for special interests."
Energy, intelligence, and an excellent staff make possible Metzenbaum's extremely broad involvement in issues. "He is all over the lot. He has his nose in a lot of things," aides report. When asked what the main things are that the senator has been working on recently, staff will list several dozen items. One aide concluded, "If you've looked, you'll see there are just not very many major issues that we are not involved in." Although Metzenbaum is also very active in his committees, the floor has been an important legislative arena for him. According to an aide, "We have a rule here in this office that our business is to know about every bill that's passed in this chamber, and we do know just about every bill. And by looking at every bill, you often find important issues. You find things that are going through that shouldn't, and that gets you involved in various things."[emphasis added]
In his battle against special interest bills and other legislation he thinks unwise, Metzenbaum has mounted numerous filibusters and threatened many more. By using holds, by objecting to unanimous consent agreements, and, if necessary, by offering a spate of amendments when senators want to go home for the weekend, he often extracts concessions. "Many are little things," and aide explained, "but they add up." Furthermore, other senators know he will examine their proposals. "When you prepare an amendment or a bill, subconsciously you're thinking about Howard Metzenbaum. Will i pass the Metzenbaum test?" David Pryor explained (Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, January 3, 1987, 16).
Metzenbaum is most active on the floor toward the end of the session and immediately before recesses. It is then that senators attempt to slip through their most egregious giveaways, he believes. And the time pressure gives extra leverage to a senator willing to delay. [emphasis added] "He really gears up towards the end of a session and before recesses," a staffer explained. "We put a watch on the floor. We have staff on the floor and in the galleries all the time. We put a hold on anything that we don't know what it is." On October 1, 1983, the New York Times reported:
For more than a week now, Mr. Metzenbaum has had a "hold" on a wide range of legislation: Granting antitrust immunity to the beer and shipping industries; a limited antitrust exemption for the National Football League; making major changes in the bankruptcy law; leasing oil shale lands; helping the timber industry; and other measures dealing with tariffs, drug manufacturers and dam repairs.
In his seat when the Senate convenes, still there when the Senate adjourns, sometimes far into the night, the Ohio Democrat has, thus far, prevented floor consideration of all these and other bills.
By being active on the floor, Metzenbaum directly and indirectly influences legislation in a broad range of areas. In order to get their bills to the floor, senators must often make concessions to him.
Metzenbaum retired from the Senate in 1994. If he were a member today, the knackered Republican budget bill might not have even seen the floor of the Senate, much less approved with a vague promise to emasculate one of its more egregious provisions.
Who will take up Metzenbaum's mantle? Who will try to put an end to the Republican penchant of giving the Senate less than a day to read, much less debate, bills involving billions of dollars of spending? Metzenbaum and a few like-minded senators were instrumental in blocking the Republicans a generation ago. One way to defeat their intellectual stepchildren is to do what he did—work very hard and shine the light of day on everything they do.
18 November 2004
I Suppose I'm a Bit Odd
Via Brad DeLong, Unfogged notices something peculiar about undecided American voters:
I don't think it's behind their subscription wall, and this New Republic article about undecided voters is excellent (and, unfortunately, pretty funny). Among the insights, "Undecided voters do care about politics; they just don't enjoy politics," "A disturbing number of undecided voters are crypto-racist isolationists," "The worse things got in Iraq, the better things got for Bush," and the one I found most interesting, "Undecided voters don't think in terms of issues."
...when I asked undecided voters what issues they would pay attention to as they made up their minds I was met with a blank stare, as if I'd just asked them to name their favorite prime number.
Often, once I would engage undecided voters, they would list concerns, such as the rising cost of health care; but when I would tell them that Kerry had a plan to lower health-care premiums, they would respond in disbelief—not in disbelief that he had a plan, but that the cost of health care was a political issue. It was as if you were telling them that Kerry was promising to extend summer into December.
You mean there are people out there who don't have favorite prime numbers?
My top four: 17, 65537, 21391629-1, and 2.
17 November 2004
You Say You Want Some Devolution
On the front page of yesterday's Boston Globe was a most discouraging piece of news. And it was not that putative moderate Colin Powell had resigned. It was a chart, accompanying news of an upsurge of creationism in public schools, that showed that a majority of Americans did not believe the theory of evolution. (At least this does explain the continuing popularity of antibacterial soap: if nothing evolves, then bacterial resistance must be bunkum!)
Creationists love to denounce evolution as "just a theory." Indeed, the theory of relativity is just a theory, and conservatives believe in not just actual nuclear weapons but in mythical ones as well. The theory of heliocentrism is just a theory, as well. And is not the theory of a round Earth just a theory as well?
16 November 2004
The True Blue State
Every so often, my college alumni association sends a mailing out to ensure that it has the latest particulars about my family and me for the alumni directory. One came last week in the mail for me. Many colleges send out this sort of thing—they hope that alumni will buy the directories, and perhaps even think of donating some money. At worst, the alumni office will get some real information about the alumni.
When the alumni association is the Association of Yale Alumni, some questions are more telling than others. And these two are doozies.
Income—what range most closely represents your total annual household income?
A = $0-$49,999
B = $50,000-$99,999
C = $100,000-$249,999
D = $250,000-$749,999
E = $750,000-$1,499,999
F = $1,500,000-$2,999,999
G = $3,000,000+
Net Worth—What range most closely represents your total household net worth?
A = $0-$499,999
B = $500,000-$999,999
C = $1,000,000-$4,999,999
D = $5,000,000-$9,999,999
E = $10,000,000-$19,999,999
F = $20,000,000-$49,999,999
G = $50,000,000-$99,999,999
H = $100,000,000+
Yes, these are the actual categories in the letter.
I would think that it might be a bit presumptuous to expect that the median respondent to this survey would have an annual salary of between 250 and 750 thousand dollars, or a net worth of 5 to 20 million dollars. Perhaps the development office wanted Old Blues Cheney and Bush to feel somehow inferior to Old Blue Kerry. Perhaps Yale expects us slackers to work a bit harder to catch up to at least those middle categories of Blue achievement.
Or, more likely I think, Yale has enjoyed an 11-figure endowment (now almost $13 billion) for so long that its minions have lost all economic perspective whatsoever.
(P.S. to any class agents out there: most charities don't have more money than Croesus and are therefore more deserving—a lot more deserving.)
Sightless in Gaza
Yasser Arafat had barely passed his last breath when Jeff Jacoby, true to form, decided to play God on the Day of Reckoning:
In a better world, George Bush would not have said, on hearing the first reports that Arafat had died, "God bless his soul."
God bless his soul? What a grotesque idea! Bless the soul of the man who brought modern terrorism to the world? Who sent his agents to slaughter athletes at the Olympics, blow airliners out of the sky, bomb schools and pizzerias, machine-gun passengers in airline terminals? Who lied, cheated, and stole without compunction? Who inculcated the vilest culture of Jew-hatred since the Third Reich? Human beings might stoop to bless a creature so evil—as indeed Arafat was blessed, with money, deference, even a Nobel Prize—but God, I am quite sure, will damn him for eternity.
In a better world, the Palestinian people would have had a better leader than Arafat—more decisive, more conciliatory, more cunning, more astute, less willing to tolerate the violent intafada. But the Israeli people would have had better leaders for the past quarter-century than Menachem, Yitzhak Shamir, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, and Ariel Sharon. As a whole, they were too eager to grab land in the West Bank, far too willing to kill Palestinian civilians in retaliation for terrorist attacks, too timid to make bold proposals for peace, and too eager to blame Arafat for everything that went wrong.
In a better world, a figure of Gandhi's stature would have led the Palestinian people to peace through a nationwide movement of nonviolence. Alas, the reason that Gandhi is so revered is that his combination of charisma and political acumen and emotional message is difficult, almost impossible, to duplicate. Yasser Arafat was never going to be Gandhi. And, given the literally fragmentary control that the Palestinian Authority had over the West Bank and Gaza, he was never going evenr to be a true statesman.
The day after Jacoby's scred, Jimmy Carter published a far more balanced assessment in the New York Times.
It was very frustrating to deal with Mr. Arafat in seeking a clear position of the Palestinians, because he was very careful to avoid making a final decision that, when revealed, might arouse intense opposition or rebellion from one of the many competing groups that accepted him as its spokesman. At the same time, his sensitive political antennas endowed him with the ability to enunciate a consensus with reasonable accuracy.
When given a chance by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel, Mr. Arafat responded well by concluding the Oslo Agreement of 1993, which spelled out a mutually satisfactory relationship on geographical boundaries between Israel and the Palestinians. The resulting absence of serious violence by either side was broken when a Jewish nationalist assassinated Mr. Rabin. Mr. Arafat later rejected a proposal devised by President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel, but its basic terms have led to positive initiatives between private groups of Israelis and Palestinians, in particular one known as the Geneva Accords. This proposal addresses the major issues that must be resolved through further official negotiations before a permanent peace can be realized.
In effect, peace efforts of a long line of previous administrations have been abandoned by President Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. For the last three years of his life, Mr. Arafat was incapacitated and held as a prisoner, humiliated by his physical incarceration and excluded by the other two leaders from any recognition as the legitimate head of the Palestinian community. Recognizing Mr. Arafat's failure to control violence among his people or to initiate helpful peace proposals, I use the word "legitimate" based on his victory in January 1996 by a strong majority of votes in an election monitored by the Carter Center and approved by the occupying Israelis.
What Carter recognizes, and Jacoby does not, is that both Palestinians and Israelis have good reason to say awful things about the other side, but even better reasons, if they are willing to be rational, to negotiate anyway. A true monster intent on genocide would not have signed the 1993 Oslo Treaty.
One of Arafat's Israeli friends, Uri Avnery, explained to Ha'aretz how Arafat inherited an almost impossible task and yet almost succeeded.
Arafat also had to create a state ex nihilo. To establish a state where there was no infrastructure, no economy, no instruments of government. And he had to bridge the tensions between the veteran leadership from Tunisia and the young local leadership. And between Christians and Muslims. Between woman and men. Between hamulas [clans]. Between refugees and residents of the territories. He had to hold that whole package together, almost on his own, under unbelievable conditions. And he succeeded. He also succeeded in not giving in. He stood up to Clinton and [former Israeli prime minister Ehud] Barak and did not capitulate. So there is no doubt in my mind that he will become one of the major heroes of Arab history. He will enter the pantheon of symbolic Arab heroes, like the Caliph Omar and like Salah a-Din....
Arafat made two historic concessions: He recognized Israel and he recognized the Green Line. In doing that he accepted our presence here as legitimate and gave up 78 percent of the territory that constituted pre-1948 Palestine. Those are monumental concessions. Every additional concession beyond them was actually impossible. Nevertheless, at Camp David, Arafat made three more concessions. He agreed to a limited exchange of territory, he agreed to accept the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and he agreed to Israeli control of the Western Wall. But those concessions were made orally, not in writing, and his successors will find it very difficult to implement them.
They Dare Not Call It Political Correctness
The Somerville, Massachusetts Board of Alderman now knows what political correctness really means in the United States. When it considered a nonbinding resolution asking the city's pension fund to divest its modest holdings in Israeli bonds and in stocks of providers of bulldozers and weapons to the Israeli army, the politically correct demanded that the city toe the line. No, the politically correct are not the activists who proposed the resolution—they are the supporters of Israel who can brook no criticism of the Likud government.
Last night's hearing again featured dozens of pro-Palestinian activists. But it also drew protests from labor unions, lawmakers, and several Jewish organizations.
The city's mayor spoke against the proposal, as did state Senator Jarrett T. Barrios, representatives from the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, and a stream of angry residents.
Harvard Law School students distributed copies of "The Case for Israel," donated by its author, Professor Alan Dershowitz. And Steve Grossman, a Somerville businessman and the former chairman of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, joined the opposition.
"One-sided resolutions don't bring people to peace," he said. "This resolution is unfair and ill-advised."
The Boston City Council sparked similar controversy last year when several councilors sponsored a resolution condemning a possible war with Iraq. But the council president killed the measure, saying it was the wrong forum to discuss geopolitics.
(The Angry White Kid astutely notes the pro-Likud bias even in the "liberal" media's portrayal of the hearing.)
A fair and balanced debate about the sagacity of divestment would be a worthwhile one. The Israeli government runs a brutal, quasi-colonial occupation of Palestinian lands, and is responsible for one of the world's largest nuclear weapons programs. But it also represents the truest democracy in the Middle East. And perhaps it is not appropriate to have the Board of Alderman try to influence geopolitics. But the resolution was nonbinding. (And what was the pension fund doing when it bought foreign bonds as part of its investment strategy, anyway?)
Alas, that sort of debate rarely occurs. Instead, critics of the current Israeli government get painted as clueless at best and anti-Semitic at worst. In Israel, of course, these critics would be in the political mainstream; they would support Labor or Meretz, and they would probably read Ha'aretz every day. And, yes, they would currently be in the minority. But they wouldn't even have to be anti-Zionist to be anti-Likud.
14 November 2004
Bring on Tax Reform
Unlike the president, I believe in evolution. I also understand that evolution is not a linear progression. This president wants change that will reaffirm the reactionary ideology of the far-right. The study of physics tells us that for every action there is an equal and negative reaction. In social and political evolution there is a reaction to the reaction and that should give us all hope.
It behooves those of us who challenged a second term for George W. Bush to admit where his rhetoric is supported by facts. For instance, Bush is correct when he states that the Internal Revenue Tax Code is a beast that should be tamed. Of course, the size and complexity of the code is the product of politicians. No groups benefit more from the present code than do two of the major sources of Bush's political support, the wealthiest Americans and organized religion. Why would stripping away the complexity help those that benefit most from the complexity? Simplifying the tax code should make it easier to effect progressive taxation.
Progressives should not fear a national debate on a radical change of the tax code. Average Americans will not support the income tax being replaced by a broad-based sales tax. Can you really imagine Bush's supporters in the Farm Belt, the West, the South, and in Appalachia agreeing to be taxed at a higher percentage once the façade is stripped away from the regressive nature of a national sales tax or a flat tax? By opening up this debate, Bush has handed progressives the opportunity to promote a fair, simple and progressive income tax policy. Clinton co-opted welfare reform. Effective democratic leadership in Congress should co-opt broad-based support for tax reform.
Progressive taxation will be embraced with higher standard deductions that are "pro-family." Politics will make it virtually impossible for charitable (more important to Bush's base than any other issue) and home-mortgage (more important to our economy than any other tax policy) deductions to be cut. It is also likely that the American people would also support a broad-based deduction for educational expenses. Sounds to me like an issue Democrats would want to run on in the next mid-term election. To borrow a phrase from the president, when it comes to radical changes to the tax code progressives should be telling Bush: Bring it on!
A European Warning
The Independent paints the Republicans as the party that is bringing far-right politics into the mainstream here in America. Would Rudy, Arnold, and John really allow themselves to be used to put a moderate facade on a party that both exploits far-right propaganda while providing the far-right a vehicle to impact public policy? It certainly appears that way.
I do find it interesting that it has been the European press, not the press here in the United States, that has addressed the issue of far-right politics becoming more mainstream in our country. Instead, our media repeats the canard that cultural conservatives are justified in their hatred of liberals and leftists, especially those based in the Northeast, because we are wealthy, elitist, and control the courts, the media, and the entertainment industry. In addition, any rejection of religious faith, especially fundamentalist Christianity, in the name of humanism and science is held out as evidence of the separation of church and state run amok. Combine the above with the recent rantings of John Ashcroft, who upon announcing his resignation as US Attorney General found it fit to attack judges for exercising constitutional checks on the president and the Executive Branch, and it should be clear that the European press is not overstating the rise of the extreme right's influence in mainstream US politics and its threat to our way of life.
Of course, Europeans understand the rise of the far-right in countries with political leaders who use fear, nationalism and the marginalization of minorities to maintain political support. It is not the time to acquiesce in the rise of the far-right's influence in the Republican Party. It is time to place a spotlight on the rise of the far-right and to strongly oppose that influence.
13 November 2004
A friend called me the day of Yassar Arafat's service in Cairo and his burial in Ramallah to bemoan the fact that foreign dignitaries were paying respect to "a terrorist." His sentiments are understandable. He is a Russian Jew who emigrated to the United States as a teenager and has been a strong supporter of Israel. Some time ago, this same friend told me of Israeli intelligence reports stating that Libya's leader, Col. Moammar Khadafy (the man behind the 1988 Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland), is homosexual. I now see that intelligence reports (Romanian) were referenced by White House speechwriter David Frum when he publicly stated that Arafat was homosexual and dying of AIDS.
Frum's account is outlined in Rupert Murdoch's New York Post. The Post published Frum's suggestion that Arafat was "treated in France, rather than an Arab country, because that would ensure his AIDS would remain a secret." Frum had made his statements publicly in the National Review Online. According to Frum, Arafat was caught on surveillance tapes in the 1970s having sex with a male bodyguard. French doctor opinions that Arafat's death was due to his age and being incarcerated in a very small office in Ramallah are implied to be a cover-up.
After seeing what took place in Abu Ghraib, there appears to a be a pattern of American and Israeli Intelligence using Arab cultural and legal taboos against homosexuality for political and tactical advantage. Though these taboos are less widely held in the United States, Bush and Karl Rove were very effective in using homophobia to help win an election.
Is there no end to the exploitation of homosexuality by bigots and world leaders? Has the "War on Terror" devolved into a full scale promotion and exploitation of homophobia? It is possible that Arafat was homosexual and engaged in homosexual acts. It is more probable that these stories have been floated out to destroy the man's reputation as a leader of the Palestinian people. I will not print the ugly comments posted to the Free Republic website on this topic. Needless to say they are hateful. Here is the link for those of you that want to look at the ugly current underlying Bush's victory.
I am proud to hail from the state of Massachusetts, where marriage is held in high regard and is open to all adults who wish to share in its fulfillment. The rest of America should be so fortunate.
12 November 2004
Imus in the Mourning
MSNBC's website reports that "Yasser Arafat's funeral service began with humble prayers Friday and ended with an almost triumphant procession, his flag-draped wooden coffin set on a gun carriage and followed by a crowd of presidents and kings."
Viewers turning to Don Imus's show on MSNBC television caught an appearance by Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC correspondent and wife of Alan Greenspan, on location in the West Bank town of Ramallah where Arafat is to be laid to rest. With thousands of Palesinians filling the square behind her, Mitchell snickered at comments from Imus and his crew mocking the Palestinians and calling Arafat a "rat." Imus's sidekick, Bernie, compared the crowd to a "bunch of Puerto Ricans." The comments continued as footage of the earlier ceremony in Cairo showed Arafat's widow and young daughter crying as they watched the casket being carried to a waiting plane.
09 November 2004
Jeff Jacoby, the in-house conservative at the Boston Globe, is yet again sure that he is right about gay marriage and that the Democrats in his state are wrong. He writes in a column this week that Americans are united against expanding marital rights to same-sex couples. (At least he has stopped advancing the canard that procreation is the aim of marriage; now its function is "to unite the sexes"—whatever that is supposed to mean.)
The backlash against gay marriage in 13 states this year was resounding, to be sure, and Jacoby is right to note so. Whether it is a good thing, as he claims, or a sad thing, as I feel, is a matter for debate.
But Jacoby is quick to note that the backlash is not a backlash against gay Americans—and that is where his argument falls apart.
After all, a large and growing majority of Americans treats same-sex relationships with respect. Gay and lesbian couples are widely accepted as part of the social landscape, they enjoy many legal rights and privileges, and no one challenges their freedom of private conduct.
I am sure that many Americans really do want to keep marriage a heterosexual institution and yet harbor no animus toward gays and lesbians. But many more have no "respect" for same-sex relationships. The conservative Christians who pushed for the amendments that Jacoby finds so gratifying generally view homosexuality as a sin, an abomination.
And their hatred shows in so many ways. In Ohio, the "respect" accorded same-sex relationships led the drafters of the amendment not only to ban same-sex marriages, but to ban civil unions, and even to prohibit the state and its cities and towns from offering fringe benefits to the domestic partners of any of its gay or lesbian employees.
In South Carolina, Jim DeMint, the Republican senator-elect, showed his "respect" by declaring in a televised debate that openly homosexual teachers should not be allowed to teach in public schools.
In Texas, the Republican party platform, as it has for several years now, declares its "respect" for same-sex relationships as well.
The Party believes that the practice of sodomy tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable "alternative" lifestyle in our public education and policy, nor should "family" be redefined to include homosexual "couples." We are opposed to any granting of special legal entitlements, recognition, or privileges including, but not limited to, marriage between persons of the same sex, custody of children by homosexuals, homosexual partner insurance or retirement benefits. We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values. (emphasis added)
That last sentence is a beauty. It's not enough to strip gays and lesbians of any marital rights, custodial rights, or pension benefits. The Texas Republicans want to allow believers in "traditional values" to dop whatever they want to gay people, scot free.
I shudder to think what disrepect might entail.
College of Cardinal Numbers
I used to think that scrapping the electoral college from the United States Constitution would be politically impossible, because the smallest states control more than the 13 states needed to block any amendment to the Constitution. But the last election showed that the current system has marginalized both voters in large states and small states—neither Bush nor Kerry spent much time campaigning not only in New York or Texas, but also in Montana and Oklahoma. and pity the poor voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, for whom long lines at the polls were nothing compared to the inundating barrage of advertisements on radio and television.
The Boston Globe published a few weeks ago a fascinating article by Alexander Keysar that explains how close the nation came to scrapping that institution after the 1968 election.
What was not discussed in the aftermath of the 2000 election was the little-known fact that the United States came very close to abolishing the Electoral College in the late 1960s. A constitutional amendment calling for direct popular election of the president was backed by the American Bar Association, the Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO, the League of Women Voters, and a host of other un-fuzzy-minded pillars of civil society. On Sept. 18, 1969, the House of Representatives passed the amendment by a huge bipartisan vote of 338 to 70. President Nixon endorsed it, and prospects for passage in the Senate seemed reasonably good. A poll of state legislatures indicated that the amendment would likely be approved by the requisite three-quarters of the states.
The effort ultimately failed—but not because of concerted opposition from the small states. In fact, many political leaders from small states supported the amendment. What blocked the reform movement was a more troublesome cleavage—one involving race and the political power of the South.
The mathematics behind the power that large states have on the electoral vote stems from work done by John Banzhaf in the 1960s. The crux of the analysis stems from the power that a hypothetical swing voter, a voter who breaks a stadewide tie, would have in each state. In small states, that vote swings only 3 or 4 electoral votes. In the largest state, California, 55 votes are at stake. Ultimately, the potential power of a voter increases proportionately with the square root of the state's population.
08 November 2004
So-Called Liberal Media
A week ago, the New York Times invited several bloggers to contribute short essays to its op-ed page on the most important moment or event of the presidential campaign. Some of the answers were better than others, sometimes strikingly so. But what was most striking was the claim in the introduction that the participants represented "all points on the political spectrum."
The pro-Kerry contingent included:
- Ana Marie Cox, who writes a weblog full of Washington gossip;
- Mickey Kaus, who is about as liberal as Bill Bradley is short;
- Kevin Drum, who is moderate to liberal politically;
- and Brad DeLong, who is a mainstream liberal.
Of the four, DeLong is probably the furthest left-leaning; while he is certainly angry, only within the realm of classical economists does he seem anywhere near the left fringe.
Paul and I would have been flabbergasted, of course, if we were invited to respond, because our readership barely averages 100 visitors each day. (I do think that either of us would have mentioned the Abu Ghraib revelations, or rather the lack of outrage in the media at what happened there.)
But could the Times have picked someone, someone who really considered himself or herself part of the Left? Tom Tomorrow wasn't available? Jeralyn Merritt didn't read her email? Bartcop thought the invitation was spam? Liberal media, my foot!
Some physicists at the University of Michigan specialize in mapping complex things, like election results. If you're sick of seeing the same old maps of red states and blue states, or red counties and blue counties, that have adjusted the areas to equalize population.
Check them out, particularly the last map, with over three thousand counties, that looks like the collaboration of Salvador Dali and a particularly manic paper marbler.
06 November 2004
Setting the Financial Times Straight
If you haven't read the Financial Times, imagine if you will a paper with a news section on par with the Wall Street Journal, only with more emphasis on Europe; and an editorial section that is actually moderate instead of reactionary. (Yes, there are some loopy columnists, but the editorials themselves are often paragons of clear thinking.)
But even good papers go bad sometimes, so it is up to my modest collaborator to set them straight.
From Mr Paul Corrigan.
Sir, I was surprised to read Steve Johnson's column "Dollar defies analysts' predictions" (November 3). He writes that the sharpest brains in the currency market "were left scratching their heads as the dollar did precisely the opposite of what they expected. By common consent a decisive result in the US election—bypassing the weeks of uncertainty and policy paralysis that a messy legal fight would entail—would result in a short-term dollar relief rally for the dollar". Did Mr Johnson and the so-called "sharpest brains" drink the "red state" Kool-Aid?
The US under President George W. Bush has run up a massive current account deficit. The US now needs $2.5bn of capital inflows daily to fund its domestic savings shortfall. I would hope our international bankers did not expect us to pay this back without letting the dollar go lower against other currencies. The only decisive result in the Bush victory is the absolute certainty that the president will not admit the economic imbalances our country faces.
John Kerry knows how dirty Mr Bush can play at politics. Is there any doubt across the pond that he will stick it to those who were kind enough to lend us the money that has fuelled much of America's consumption over the last four years?
I am glad to note that Paul stole the Kool-Aid metaphor from me. And for the record, I think that Karl Rove looks an awful lot like the Kool-Aid Man.
America: To Sell or to Serve
Another presidential election has passed as we watched two politicians preach from the altar of God and moralism. John Kerry did so as if his opponent had him trapped in the corner and he was trying to counter-punch his way out. George W. Bush climbed the altar from the start and used it to define himself as a man and a leader. Bush claimed God not only as his personal savior but also as his manager. He assured voters that he both prayed to and listened to God. That beats having Dick Cheney as your Vice President.
To many Americans, trained not to think critically but to obey authority, God represents absolute authority. A good Christian submits not only his nature but his reason to his faith. President Bush could not offer voters a record of accomplishment. Nor could he offer a plan to achieve peace and prosperity. In fact, the record clearly indicated that after being handed peace and prosperity Bush squandered what America had achieved. Bush, like Pontius Pilate, washed his hands of responsibility for what had taken place during his presidency and sold America all he had to sell, fear and faith. Alas, a majority of American voters bought what Bush was selling.
Our media brings into American homes what hucksters sell every day. This same media was more than willing to deliver Bush's message. There is a lot of money to be made in providing a vehicle to hucksters to deliver their message. From the media's standpoint, the more hucksters the better. The American media is willing to add to the drama of the delivery but will never really challenge the huckster.
Once again, John Kerry served his country. He fought back to win the Democratic Party's nomination after being written off. He reached out to John McCain to join him in unifying America. McCain rebuffed Kerry and stood beside the man who deeply divided America, George W. Bush. McCain's actions stand as a pivotal turning point in American history. Given a chance to work to unite America and restore it to its place as leader of the World, McCain chose instead to become the obedient servant of the Republican Party and the Bush reelection effort. Will the American media praise Kerry for his service and call McCain out for his sell out? We know they won't. Who needs the truth when God blesses America?
05 November 2004
Mitt Romney, We Hardly Knew Ye
Tuesday night was not all bad for the Democrats. No, really!
In Massachusetts, an expensive effort by the Republican Party to recruit state legislative candidates and to run against the Democratic Party's support of the gay marriage decision completely fizzled—nary a Democrat lost her seat, and the Republicans lost three seats vacated by retirement. (Plus, a Democrat who opposed gay marriage, who lost a primary battle, decisively lost his write-in campaign to reconsider the primary decision.)
As always, when the news concerns Mitt Romney, the peripatetic, and increasing pathetic, governor of Massachusetts, Ben of Romney is A Fraud has the pithiest and most cogent analysis of events.
[B]efore Team Reform’s drubbing, Willard Mitt couldn't get a tunnel-naming bill through the legislature. After overseeing one of the grubbiest campaigns in recent history, Romney will undoubtedly look back on the past two years as a blissful honeymoon. If he thinks he has a future in national politics, Romney may be best served by easing himself out of the Corner Office....
[T]he 2004 elections will go down in history as a high-water mark for the Republican Party. Everywhere but in Massachusetts. Here the GOP actually lost ground! They now hold the fewest number of seats in the Legislature since 1867.... The two states where G. W. Bush asked Romney to help out, New Hampshire and Michigan, each went for Kerry. And the one governor for whom Romney campaigned lost. Thanks for stopping by, Fraudo. Next?
Romney had better remember to do a better job if and when he gets to be God of his own planet someday.
What Went Wrong for Kerry
On the whole, John Kerry ran a decent campaign for president, in every sense of the word. He convinced 48% of the country that he, not the incumbent George Bush, was better suited for the job; slightly better results in either Ohio or Florida would have allowed him to be making gradiloquent claims about his mandate from the people.
Yet Kerry could have done better. He made a couple of strategic blunders early in the campaign that he only partially overcame. Some events beyond his control shaped the campaign in unappealing ways. And the Republicans did better than the Democrats in key aspects of the campaign.
When Kerry voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq in 2003, he did so with roughly half of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate. Perhaps his vote was made purely based on the presumed facts of the time, but he more likely cast it in the hope that it would bolster his campaign—either by letting him criticize the war as a member of the loyal opposition if it went badly, or by shifting the political discussion away fromt he war if it went well. In retosprect, it is difficult to see how Democrats could have foreseen the war, or more precisely, its aftermath, as going well at all. The number of troops was never going to be adequate to duplicate the success of the occupations of, say, Germany and Japan after 1945.
But even after making what I consider to be a mistake by authorizing the use of force, Kerry still had a golden opportunity to explain his newfound opposition to the war; after all, his opposition mirrored the newfound opposition of millions of Americans who had supported George Bush in late 2001 and early 2002, but had founding him unappealing in late 2003 and into 2004. Kerry could have reminded Americans that he had trusted George Bush not to lie about the reasons for going to war, but that he had realized that Bush had not only lied about the war, but had done ghastly things in its prosecution, most notably the creation of an American system of gulags stretching from Guantanamo Bay to Iraq, with outsourced chambers of horrors in the prisons of our more authoritarian allies. Kerry could have insisted that the media treat Seymour Hershs's revelations about abu Ghraib as vital issues, but he did not. Instead, the Bush White house was able to pretend that Bush, Rumsfeld, and their key aides had nothing to do with the horrors there, or with the abuses at Camp Delta, or with the shredding of Geneva Convention protectins for the "detainees."
And Kerry allowed Bush and his team to paint him as indecisive and evasive regarding the $87 billion authorization for military funding. Bob Somerby of the excellent Daily Howler web site wrote time and time again that Kerry needed only to explain that he and George Bush supported different versions of the bill—and that Bush has promised to veto the Democratic version. Perhaps Kerry's advisors did not want to get into the minutiae of Senate debate. But it should have been clear that Kerry needed to explain his actions, which were reasoanble in context, and certainly more level-headed than Bush's rush to war.
Another strategic mistake for Kerry was his inability to expand the notion of "moral values" past the issues of abortion and gay rights. The morality of saddling senior citizens with outrageous monthly bills for prescription drugs, of leaving millions of children without health insurance, of overseeing torture chambers in Iraq, or runnign huge budget deficits, or of coddling the fossil fuel industries is hardly the morality of Bush's favorite political philosopher.
Bill Clinton should have been John Kerry's best surrogate in the swing states—but his heart attack severly limited his availability. Only Kerry could have had a truly popular former president on his side, and forces beyond his control scuttled that possibility.
The Godoridge case in Massachusetts, which forced the state to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, provided conservatives with an easy way to motivate voters—put referenda on the election ballot to ban gay marriages and civil unions. Unlike other measures dear to conservative hearts, say, to roll back property taxes, the chief opposition to anti-gay measdues is a small, marginalized segment of society, too small to mobilize effectively against these referenda.
In the days before the election, Democratic leaders were talking about record turnout, with between 120 million and 130 million votes cast. Alas, the turnout barely reached 115 million votes. This total dwarfs the number of votes in 2000, but as recently as 1992, a high percentage of eligible Americans voted. If all of the extra votes from 2000 to 2004 had been Democratic votes, then Kerry would be the president-elect; instead, the Republicans mobilized voters, primarily in rural areas, better than Democrats did.
While the Democratic House candidates did respectably well—they lost four seats, primarily due to the partisan redistricting in Texas—their Senate counterparts did far worse. The Democrats won a close Senate election in Colorado, but they lost close elections in South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Alaska. And in Louisiana, the Republican candidate garnered 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff.
In South Carolina, the Democrats lost to a candid ate who was gung-ho for pushing a 23% sales tax in lieu of income taxes. In Oklahoma, they lost to a candidate who called for the execution of abortionists. In Kentucky, they lost to an incumbent senator who showed several examples of senile behavior, and who resorted to deeming his opponent as "limp-wristed." It is always disspiriting to lose a close election, but losing to awful candidates is certainly frustrating. But worst of all, Tom Daschle, the Senate minority leader, lost his bid for re-election. Senate Democrats are surely regretting their decision to vote for Daschle—because South Dakota has only one member of the House, whoever holds that seat is automatically a credible Senate candidate. And, sure enough, Daschle lost to John Thune, who used to represent South Dakota in the House. The problem with legislative leaders who lack safe seats is that they face conflicts between their chances for re-election and their party's needs in the chamber.
The good news for the Democrats is that 2006 will be a mid-term election, historically an opportunity for the opposition party to gain seats at the expense of the party of the president. In 1994, conservative Republican candidates for Congress rallied around Newt Gingrich's Contract for America, a collection of policy initiatives that bonded the challengers together. Democrats would be wise to echo the marketing, but not the content, for 2006.
Red, Blue, and Purple
Forget the idea of red states and blue states. Yes, Utah is predominantly Republican, and conservative Republican. But even Utah has a Democratic member of Congress. And, yes, Massachusetts is predominantly Democratic, and liberal Democratic. But even Massachusetts has a Republican governor. Every state has liberals and conservatives, Marxists and theocrats, progressives and reactionaries.
The red states and blue states share quite a lot. Take the sporting venues of the two groups. One common meme is that the "red states" are the states of NASCAR not the "blue states." Yet the states that Kerry won include 8 of the 23 current NASCAR tracks, and Florida, which narrowly voted for Bush, has another two more. The red states have only 11 of the 28 major league baseball teams in America (11 of 29 if we include the Expos, who are about to play in Washington, D.C.), yet baseball is hardly a "blue state" sport. The red and blue states each boat 16 or the 32 National Football League teams. And the blue states have 15 National Baseketball Association teams to the 14 in the red states.
04 November 2004
A 3% victory is significant, but a landslide, it is not.
I remember 1984. And 1972 (barely). Now those were landslides, with only one state and the District of Columbia allied against the forces of Reganism and Nixonism.
Yes, it's distressing that the Democratic Party cannot seem to identity with poor rural white voters. But the country is not really that divided a country (click on "popular vote by population" to see how people, not acres, voted on Tuesday).
Update (6 November 2004): the useful Blogging of the President weblog provides one and all with a simpler way to get that map from the Times.
Watch Your President
The president's father made famous a campaign caveat he was fond of repeating: "Watch your wallet." I liked it as a campaign tactic and like the idea that the American public should keep their collective eye on their government. Here's a few things to pay attention to as President Bush approaches his second term in office.
Iraq—We are about to learn what will constitute President Bush's secret plan to end the war and US occupation in Iraq. Given that we were told by Dick Cheney that the war was going great I guess we should be expecting the president to turn the keys to Iraq over to the new president after the election this January. Accepting Colin Powell's resignation will not make the Pottery Barn rule go away.
Budget Deficit—At the risk of sounding like Warren Rudman, the budget deficit will cause a huge drag on the American economy. Bush promised to effect a plan to cut the deficit in half. This is an easy promise to monitor. I for one am a bit puzzled that the president that promised to halve the deficit is asking Congress to raise the country's debt ceiling to its highest level ever.
Productivity—President Bush is unabashed about being the president of both Big Business and the Subchapter S Corporation business owner. Productivity gains drive business profits. The president has told Americans that his tax cuts will lead to economic growth and that growth will not only pay for the tax cuts, they will halve the deficit. Estragon and Vladimir spent less time waiting for Godot then Americans have spent waiting for the benefits of the Bush tax cuts to deliver as promised.
Asset Appreciation—The president claimed to be a victim of the stock market bubble. No, not the Harken energy bubble, the Clinton asset bubble. Bush has pushed American homeowners to forgo private saving in favor of mortgaging the asset appreciation in their homes, an appreciation financed by Greenspan dropping the federal funds rate to historic lows. We have also watched the dollar decrease in value versus other currencies. Will stocks and home prices increase or decrease? If asset appreciation does come will it really be the result of a weaker dollar? Will Americans be burdened by higher interest rates on the increase in debt we have accumulated over the last four years?
Aging in Place—We are not getting older, we are getting better. And they say the young are naive. Bush has promised to make Americans more secure in our retirement by reforming Social Security and implementing private retirement accounts. Will Americans really benefit from such a plan? Or, will this be a scam to let supporters of the president raise capital and earn fees while increasing the pyramid scheme better known as 401(k)s?
Polarization—The arctic ice cap is melting but that's not the polarization I mean. I am talking about the divisiveness that has become the norm in our country over the last twelve years. Jeff Jacoby blames the Bush haters for the divisiveness even though they came on the scene a good eight years into the the age of polarization—I believe that's called revisionist history. Bush promises to bring us together. Don't hold your breath. He fibbed about this four years ago.
White Man's Burden
On the morning after the election a conservative coworker came into my office, not to gloat, but to express his concern for the future of our country. In the months leading up to the election we had numerous conversations about the upcoming vote. The gentleman is a cultural conservative raised in the Midwest and now living in Boston. He is intelligent and thoughtful. The election of George W. Bush to another four-year term fills him with apprehension. He does not believe Bush is up to the task of leading our nation.
During the week prior to the election he announced to his family at the dinner table, a group that he describes as homogeneous in their support of Republicans, that he was rethinking his support of the president. He informed his wife and kids that myself and others had used facts and common sense to chip away his rational for supporting the president. I had stressed the president's reckless stewardship of the economy, his unwillingness to address budget deficits, a stock market that remains not only stagnant but susceptible to a large downward correction, Greenspan propping up of the president's tax cuts by flooding the economy with money, the certainty that the dollar will move downward in response to the $2.6 billion we borrow daily from other countries to support consumer spending and the loss of good jobs at good wages. My friend admitted that Bush was not a fiscal conservative and was inflicting damage that would take years to overcome. Months earlier he had come to admit the threat that religion posed to the political process at home and abroad. Finally, he was stung by Bush's incompetence in Iraq, especially his failure to secure munitions in the period shortly after the invasion.
I passed along to him the Economist's editorial supporting Kerry, which, in fact, was more of an indictment of the Bush presidency. He told me it was the most persuasive argument he had read. Alas, he voted for Bush just the same.
Why does an intelligent man, who has the facts at his disposal, vote in opposition to what he admits is rational? What is it about man's nature, especially the nature of white males in America, that makes an individual feel more secure in voting for a man like Bush? Something tells me that it has to do with the same ingrained psychology that allows American men to support their local sports team. It's tribal. Thankfully, man is capable of evolution. Let's hope the damage Bush inflicts on America and the world can be kept in check over the next four years. And let's hope evolution kicks in a little more quickly.
01 November 2004
Osama Doesn't Care Who Wins
At Slate, William Saletan is certain the the videotape of Osama bin Laden has delivered the election for George Bush.
[B]y showing up four days before our election, he'll scare Americans into re-electing Bush. The only thing that keeps a clear majority of us from recognizing Bush as the worst president in memory is that history has graced him with such an ugly adversary. Bush hasn't had to do anything well. All he's had to do is point out that he's on your side and that the guy on the other side is a mass-murdering lunatic. For a blissful month and a half, we managed to cut through that shtick and notice how badly Bush has run the country. Now Bin Laden has brought the shtick back. Bush can talk about his values instead of his record. He can stop running against John Kerry and go back to running against people who hate America and murder children.
Saletan is parroting the conventional wisdom about the bin Laden tape. But I think that he is dead wrong. All that al-Qaeda wants to do by releasing this sort of tape is to scare the pants off the American public.
Kerry has been hammering at Bush's negligence in Afghanistan for the past several weeks. His argument, one that appeals to voters of verious political persuasions, is that finding bin laden and his henchman should have been the primary focus of our military efforts in late 2001 and thereafter. Because Bush's handlers saw Iraq as an imperial plum ripe for the picking, bin Laden got away, and al-Qaeda grew stronger.
Furthermore, as should be apparent by now, Osama bin Laden does not hate merely Republican presidents. He hates democracies, especially secular democracies. Osama bin Laden will hate whomever the president is on 21 January 2005.
The Scoop on the Election
Looking for up-to-the-minute information on tomorrow's election? This isn't the place.
But do check out the brand-new Ground War 2004 weblog for local political news from The Nation, as well as some site we've previously recommended—Derelection 2004, a project of Cursor.org; Talking Points Memo; The Daily Kos; and MyDD.