Tuesday, 28 September 2004

On Body Armor, Bush is Vulnerable

A consistently galling aspect of the Bush reelection campaign is its brazen attempts to tar Kerry in areas where any reasonable examination of the facts shows that Bush is the vulnerable one. It’s the concept of preemption applied to the campaign. It was the Bush administration that rushed to war and put our troops in the field in the spring of 2003 without the proper body armor.
Cheney claimed on March 17 of this year,
”Well the facts are that - that at the outset of the campaign there was only one factory producing the latest, newest state-of-the-art body armor. . . . So the main problem had been just the sheer capacity to produce these items early on.
and yet well into the next year the parents of troops were buying the expensive ceramic plated body armor on the open market. Why, I ask, could the parents buy what the U.S. Government could not? The defense department didn’t need the famous $87 billion bill in order to procure what should have been standard issue equipment. And yet the Bush campaign has the gall to impugn Kerry as uncaring because he refrained from supporting a financially unsound version of an appropriations bill, a tiny fraction of which designated the purchase of body armor. Kerry’s objection had nothing to do with the troop support portion of the bill. He co-sponsored an amendment to the bill which would have paid for its entirety by rescinding tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and supported another amendment which would have made the $20 billion reconstruction portion of the bill a loan to Iraq, rather than a grant. The administration itself threatened to veto the bill including the body armor if that amendment passed, so Kerry voted nay on the unamended bill.

Consistently our administration has given priority to concerns that multinational corporations be able to take all of their profits from reconstruction contracts out of Iraq, while foundering on making sure our wounded in action get the care they deserve when they arrive back in the states. Small wonder that good soldiers like Richard Murphy admit to some resentment when on their 20K salaries they are asked to guard truck driving contractors earning three to four times as much, who can walk away whenever they want.

Those who decry the war protesters as shamefully not supporting our troops, should be looking instead at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as culprit number one in failing to support our troops. From putting them in harm’s way on false pretenses, to not caring for their safety, to trying to lower their pay, to creating stop loss orders forcing battle weary troops anticipating the end of their duty back into action, to not taking care of the wounded in action when they return to this country, this administration consistently shows a callous disregard for the welfare of those who put their lives on the line. Any normal person would be embarrassed by such a record, but this administration brazenly accuses their opponent of the very things that they are guilty of. It’s sickening.

Big Government

So when will the right stop running against Big Government? What does it take? - Controlling all three branches of government for 8 years? 20? before it starts to sink in, hey this "Big Government" is no longer a liberal Democratic behemoth. Well if Democracy is preserved, they ain't gettin' 20 years, and hopefully not 8 either. And if they do get 8 years, the real behemoth should be pretty well exposed - if not by the timid media, then by a raucous chorus of common folk too used to a tradition of free expression to remain silent. That's the beauty of America, our democratic traditions. But let's not wait another 4 years, let's show W and his party's ideologues in the House of Representatives who really loves freedom. We do!

Monday, 27 September 2004

Grading the World's Nations

One of the impressive documents over at the-stewardship.org, is a comprehensive listing of the states of the world with capsule summaries of their political statuses. Terminology is kept consistent for all nations, referred to as states, with political sub-regions referred to as provinces, so the description may seem quirky to American ears. The states are grouped by continent, with North America at the top, so one quickly sees . . .

UNITED STATES. The most powerful state, and the wealthiest. Has historically been progressive on civil liberties, but often selective of protected populations. Has always favored capitalism, the economic dominion of a minority. Legislative elections in 2002 handed George W. Bush and the Republicans, the more dominion-oriented of the major parties, nearly-complete control of all organs of federal government. Provincial electorates had previously given Bush a narrow victory in the presidential election, though his more-liberal opponents won a general majority, and his principal opponent, Al Gore, won a plurality. The antiquated electoral system denied the mandate for Gore at large, and possibly even in the province of Florida. Has been regressing on civil liberties since the bombings of 2001 September 11.
I'm confident that most conservative Republicans reading this would be seeing "lefty bias", but reading on would discover that left-leaning regimes are not given soft treatment.:
CUBA. Still operating under the régime of Fidel Castro Ruz, and suffering Сталинist repression; Castro is now organizing a supposedly-popular drive to forbid changing the constitution, and has been rubber-stamped for a further five years in office. He has also allowed Jimmy Carter to speak against tyranny on national television; but has followed such weak signs of liberalization with a severe crackdown on dissidents.
Zhōng Guó ― (China). The world’s most populous state, and unfortunately its most populous tyranny. Ruled by the Zhōng Guó Gòng Chăn Dăng. Jiāng Zé Mín heads the régime; while he is transitioning from public office, he will maintain control unofficially. He has enshrined his own doctrines in customary law, and stacked the ruling body with his supporters. The official leader is Hú Jĭn Tao.
Most impressive about this catalog is its comprehensiveness. The author makes heavy use of native alphabets throughout, many of which won't display properly on most system.

. . . Some states get only a cursory mention, but all are graded as either fundamentally democratic (gray) or not (red). Just how accurate all the information might be is open to question, but its quite an impressive effort at the very least. Check out what is said about some lesser known country which you know about, and let me know how on the mark or not you feel the description is.

The author expounds much more in depth on recent political changes in China in his most recent essay, which I highly recommend.


To those of you who check in frequently, I apologize for not posting more often, but that's life even (especially?) in election season. Let me point out, however, that I also periodically update my sidebar with new links. The Gumption Memo is over ten years old now, but it offers some wisdom still relevant today. Even if you come to entirely different conclusions, the methods the author suggests are well worth consideration. In a similar vein the Stewardship site offers some analysis and perspective not easily canned in a particular box. Check out the numerous essays there. I'm especially fond of creative philosophical thinking which isn't hostage to any particular ideology. For that reason I was also attracted to the writing of Micah Newman (see the Blogs section) whose position paper on polarity resembles two of my early posts in spite of our having very disparate perspectives on many particulars. Additionally, especially if you are interested in education issues, don't miss the writing of "an old soul", also in the blogs section. Happy surfing!

I should also note that this entire enterprise could be more rewarding if I received more direct feedback. The contact me link should always be available in the Links and Articles section of my sidebar.

Thanks! [End of Post]

Friday, 24 September 2004

On Message

Whenever Kerry talks about any domestic issue he is criticized from all sides that he does not get the fact that "national security" is the only issue of this campaign. At the same time we have the House Republicans truly wasting time:
PASSED. True to form, the House passed Missouri Representative Todd Akin’s ludicrous Pledge Protection Act this afternoon, 247 to 173. If you look at the roll call the 34 Democratic “yeas” aren’t too surprising -- lots of folks from red states and rural areas. But the fact that only 6 -- 6, for God’s sake! -- Republicans crossed the aisle to nix this moronic bill is a true testament to the House GOP’s discipline.

Like so many of the legislative and constitutional curiosities the House Republicans manage to get passed, this stands hardly any chance of getting through the Senate. But look, this was unquestionably a critical priority this legislative session, what with a dozen appropriations bills yet to be passed and sweeping intelligence reforms yet to be considered.
Why don't these Republicans "get it" about national security?

Thursday, 23 September 2004

Exhortations to Keep the Faith

On the heels of my last post, into which some might have read a tad of defeatism regarding the upcoming election, I have encountered two powerful exhortations to keep the faith in the here and now.

Warning to you moderates and conservatives that I try in my way to cultivate as readers: the following contains unabashed assumptions about the meanness of our leaders, which I share, but don't believe globally apply to all those who support them.

The first was a message from Michael Moore forwarded by a friend last night which begins:
Enough of the handwringing! Enough of the doomsaying! Do I have to come there and personally calm you down? Stop with all the defeatism, OK? Bush IS a goner -- IF we all just quit our whining and bellyaching and stop shaking like a bunch of nervous ninnies.
and continues in humorous fashion mocking liberal jitters, reminding us:
So, do not despair. All is not over. Far from it. The Bush people need you to believe that it is over. They need you to slump back into your easy chair and feel that sick pain in your gut as you contemplate another four years of George W. Bush. . . .
Buck up. The country is almost back in our hands. Not another negative word until Nov. 3rd! Then you can bitch all you want about how you wish Kerry was still that long-haired kid who once had the courage to stand up for something. Personally, I think that kid is still inside him.

Next was page 114 from Jim Hightower's Thieves in High Places: They've Stolen Our Country and It's Time To Take It Back which I was reading on my way home tonight. It's worth excerpting liberally:
Of course it's hard to battle the bastards! So what's new? History - and certainly the history of our country - is the story of people struggling, always going uphill against the powerful to seek a little more democracy, a tad more justice, a slightly wider sliver of the economic pie.

Old Mr. Power, The Man, The Machine - by whatever name, the establishment is not in the giveaway business. Striving for democracy is bone-wearying, agonizing, frustrating, cruel, bloody, and often deadly work. "You should never have your best trousers on when you go out to fight for freedom and truth." Henrik Ibsen said that, but he didn't mean by it that we should stay home and press our pants, rather that we should gird-up accordingly and go forth into the fray.

Look at what we have in America, at the priceless opportunity that has been handed to you and me by those who've dared to make this struggle in past years. Very few people in today's world, and very, very few in history, have even had the possibility of trying to create an egalitarian society ruled by the common good. Those who came before us risked all of their property, their reputations, their freedom, and their lives to push the boundaries of democracy for us.

And you're telling me that you're tired or impatient that the promised land has not yet been reached?
I still think it wise to be prepared to carry forward if November's results bear disheartening news for those of us so certain that Bush's agenda is a thinly disguised attempt to eviscerate the rights of the many for the wealth and power of the few. But that doesn't mean retreating too early from the present fight. Kerry and the Democrats by my reasoning should do 2-4% better than the election eve polls based on the underrepresentation of first time and infrequent voters in those polls who should turn out in record numbers and break about 60-40 in favor of the sane team. We still have three debates yet before then. Act confident!

Wednesday, 22 September 2004

Let's Stay and Fight

Now that I live in a strategic location for a yard sign, I've taken the opportunity to post my political preferences in that way. Ho hum.

The other day after completing a game of Scrabble, my opponent asked me "So have you made arrangements to move to Canada?"

My response was "No it's jail if anything for me; I'm gonna stay and fight"

It's remarkable enough that conversations like this are happening all around, and people immediately know what each other are talking about - even totally out of context. My wry response may have been half joking, but my seriousness about feeling that much of what I value about my country is under attack, and that I necessarily have become part of a struggle, is quite real.

The American Experiment is worth fighting for, and the extraordinary fortune given me to be born into this experiment is not one I feel I should blithely throw away just because the going has gotten a little rough.

I've been thinking about my prime yard sign location, and November 3rd. It may present an opportunity to put up a sign that will really get noticed.

If Bush wins:

Don't move to Canada
Stay and Fight!

If Kerry wins:

Don't Relax
There's Work to Do!

Saturday, 18 September 2004

Upholding Principles of Democracy

Our President should listen to his own words!

"As governments fight the enemies of democracy, they must uphold the principles of democracy."
-President George W. Bush, appropriately expressing concern over the recent efforts by Russian President Vladimir Putin to centralize power.

I suspect Putin found the recent tragedy at Beslan to be a convenient excuse to use people's fear of terrorism as a justification for imposing tyranny.

They do not quite rank up there with Putin's call to end popular elections of regional governors, but the freedoms removed by the USA PATRIOT Act and subsequent actions by our government, presumably in the name of protecting freedom, could easily evoke the exact same words from its critics.

Further it seems that using a tragic act of terror, 9/11, as an excuse for all manner of actions from government secrecy to preemptive war is the modus operandi of the Bush administration. [End of Post]

Why Not 5 Minute Political Ads?

Once in a great while, a 30 second political ad on TV actually informs, or at least says something substantive that needs being said. But way more often I roll my eyes at the level they stoop to in their attempts to sway a voter, pound a point, or misleadingly smear an opponent. Remember those program length Ross Perot ads, where Mr Perot talked to the country, pointed to charts, and made his points? They may not have been quality journalism, but at least they attempted to engage the voter at a deeper level than the 30-second pitch.

Why can't we have something in between, lengthwise? It seems the average 30 minute sit-com has at least 5 minutes worth of ads in total - Why couldn't candidates buy the whole block and run a little information piece in a single mid-span interruption in the middle of a show? I suspect the networks wouldn't allow it, for fear that viewers would be lost to a competing show. But think how much more we could learn about the candidates, not just for president but for state and local offices as well. I think this should be a regular practice during election season. The average voter who is unwilling to read in-depth articles or listen to a Ross Perot style program might actually stick around to hear their President, Governor, or Congressperson explain their record, or a challenger explain why they would be a better choice.

Who owns those airwaves anyway? Oh yeah, we do. Wouldn't it be nice if it seemed like we did? [End of Post]

Thursday, 16 September 2004

Electoral Reform

Campaign Finance Reform has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention in the last several years, and though cynics will tell you that corruption can't be stopped, I contend that McCain-Feingold is at least a step in the right direction. Sure people and money will find ways around any strictures, but that doesn't mean we should encourage corruption.

There are other types of reform though that have gotten much less attention, in spite of the fact that they could have widespread support.
Two Democratic Congressmen, Brian Baird of Washington and Gene Green of Texas, have teamed up this week to introduce a Constitutional Amendment that would do away with the Electoral College and install our Presidents by direct popular vote. Now it's a shame that we need to amend the Constitution to implement a common sense procedure, but that is the most certain way to effect such a change, and really it should be popular. Thomas Jefferson was an outspoken opponent of the Electoral College from its inception. Many of the early arguments in its favor have been obviated by today's technology, so getting rid of it should be a slam dunk, but both parties have vested interests in the system, so it's an uphill battle in spite of clear popular appeal. No less than 700 previous attempts have been made to eliminate or modify it so far, to no avail. If this year's election brings us a mismatch between the popular vote winner and the Electoral College winner for the second time in as many elections, however, maybe the will to do away with it will finally be overwhelming.

Other forms of Electoral reform well worth adopting are Instant Runoff Voting, which would empower the electorate to support third party and independent candidates without "wasting" their vote, and a depoliticization of the drawing of Congressional District boundaries. That one is much tougher, but the intensely partisan and divisive House of Representatives of the current day owes its fangs to the abominable creation of safe districts. There's a reason that the Senate is consistently the more moderate body, but that's a discussion for another day.

Stepping Out of Our Perspective

Jonathan Schwarz at A Tiny Revolution offers an interesting juxtaposition of a theoretical parallel perspective to Cheney's recent comments about terrorism in Russia. Food for thought at the very least.

Wednesday, 15 September 2004

Hope is Not Prognostication

Returning home from the gathering where my favored gubernatorial candidate conceded defeat in a lopsided loss to another Democrat, I took heart from the words of Paul Loeb in the introduction of his latest book:
. . . as understandable as moments of doubt and apparent impotence may be, especially in a culture that too often rewards cynicism and mocks idealism, they aren't inevitable. If tackling critical common problems seems a fool's errand, it's only because we're looking at life through too narrow a lens. History shows that the proverbial rock can be rolled, if not to the top of the mountain, then at least to successive plateaus. And, more important, simply pushing the rock in the right direction is cause for celebration. History also shows that even seemingly miraculous advances are in fact the result of many people taking small steps together over a long period of time. For every Tutu, there have been thousands of anonymous men and women who were equally principled, equally resolute.
Loeb later quotes Vaclav Havel, "Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart."

Indeed as many await this election in fear, seeing potentially grave consequences ahead, true hope abides beyond the result and in spite of it. I see the work to be done as ongoing, regardless of which politicians grab the reins of government. I'll do what I can to affect the result, because I earnestly believe that is important, but I'll not be a slave to that result.

Tuesday, 14 September 2004

Local Interlude

Generally this site concerns itself with national or global issues, but tonight I'll be watching my state of Washington's primary returns come in at the headquarters of candidate Ron Sims. I support Sims for his advocacy of supplanting the state sales tax and business & occupation tax, with a progressively structured state income tax, which we don't currently have at all. It takes political courage to run for public office on a platform which creates a new tax, but the restructuring makes sense to this observer, and it will be interesting to see how the election goes.

I would consider Sims a long shot, but should he win the primary, Republicans will be salivating at the increased likelihood of a November pickup of a governorship in this Democratic leaning state. They'd do well to remember 1992 before they grow too confident, however, when a very liberal Congressman, Mike Lowry from Seattle, surprised the prognosticators by winning statewide. It should be a similar election, with a large turnout among voters disaffected with the first term of a Bush administration. [End of Post]

Friday, 10 September 2004

I Need Help Painting this Picture

I don't keep it a secret that I have a profound distrust of corporations. That doesn't mean that I don't ALSO recognize that corporations have provided society with riches unimaginable by cave people, and pretty astonishing for many of us even over the course of our lifetime. There are many things corporations can do that neither small groups of entrepreneurs, nor centrally controlled governments can manage very effectively. It would be foolish to federalize all large-scale production in the world. It is equally foolish to naively trust that just because capitalism has spawned industry which provides us with modern wonders, that we should just trust that corporations will naturally act for the greater good. Greed is real, always has been, and there has always been a balance between giving corporations the freedom to allow innovation and controlling the misbehavior of those within the system who would abuse the system to their own ends. More troubling still is a corporate culture which encourages an adversarial view toward ethical restraints and corrupts an industry as a whole to sacrifice the public good, the well-being of its own workers, or its consumers in order to increase the wealth for those at the top.

What is the truth?

I suspect as ever that the picture is mixed. Understanding the picture and demanding corporate accountability for providing independent researchers with accurate data necessary to evaluate industries in detail, is critically important. Corporate influence in politics works against accountability, and yet those of us who speak out against this influence are routinely labeled as radical anti-capitalist leftists. Seeking truth has nothing to do with ideology, and I think it is high time that ordinary citizens band together and demand the truth.

But we also need to accept responsibility for playing our role in seeking facts and educating others. It's a daunting task, though, and no one person can be an expert in every field. The process of discovery also tends to get one mired in details, which is not conducive to stepping back and seeing the whole picture.

I would like to start with a SPECULATIVE canvass.

Without naming particular industries or particular companies or particular excesses, I will present here a generic picture of the way things MIGHT be. My hope is that by creating a big picture of possibilities, truth gatherers have a place to position the truths they find in a larger context.

I may later expand this post to start my picture, or I may do it elsewhere, but I intend to paint a picture that covers the gamut of industries: from those where the entirety of the industry is corrupt and a danger to our world; to those where market forces have succeeded in reining in the worst excesses, but there is a lot of variability among the players; to those where regulations have hampered the industry's ability to act as effectively as it might otherwise. And naturally many industries in this picture will exhibit a mixture of these effects.

In later posts and further dialog, I am interested in exploring what corrective measures might realistically address industries where greed has run amok.

In all of this, I need help, and will appreciate pointers to organizations, studies, books, and articles which have made attempts at this sort of analysis.

The relationships between corporations and society, and between corporations and national governments play such a huge role in our world today that we ignore them at our own peril.

Wednesday, 8 September 2004

Tipping Points

Here is an article which has a ring of truth to it. It has long struck me that we ignore that which is either uncomfortable or difficult to understand, in favor of the less important issues with easier solutions. It's part of what I was trying to get at in my earlier post. [End of Post]

Footnotes worth sharing

When I speak of recognizing "good will behind disparate ideological masks", I don't mean vainly looking for good intentions among those whose malevolent methods are well established. Within the current administration and the Republican leadership of the House, I look at the most powerful forces who they wouldn't have dared put on display at the RNC as beyond any reasonable hope of redemption. MoveOn.org, who have been delivering me hope for the last several years, sent an email out to its membership this morning, enjoining us to call on the House Ethics Committee to appoint an outside counsel to investigate the illegal activities of Majority Whip Tom DeLay. The footnotes within that email are worth sharing:
[1] A bribe was attempted while the Medicare bill was held open:

[2] The official summary of the formal complaint against DeLay:

[3] AP: Four on Ethics Panel Accepted Delay Money

[4] Houston Chronicle: DeLay's national committee documents Enron

Several other articles detail DeLay's fundraising abuses:
Washington Post: DeLay's Corporate Fundraising Investigated

Dallas Morning News: As DeLay raises cash, critics raise questions
http://www.moveon.org/r?530 (registration required)
These editorials call for an outside counsel:
Miami Herald: Unethical ethics panel

Austin American-Statesman: Outside investigation of ethics charge
(registration required)

Tuesday, 7 September 2004

A New Name

A lot of what I'm about is not being smug, so "Well, Duh!" just didn't make sense for the name of this site. At a party Sunday night, I was conversing with a progressive bemoaning the bleak state of corporate control of our political process, and while I agreed with much of his analysis, I argued against his grim outlook. I choose to find allies outside of my own political sphere, because progress is only possible through negotiation and principled compromise. That's why I focus so much on intent, and the need to recognize good will behind disparate ideological masks. I look at the small sample of people I know in the world, and see a veritable explosion of energy for positive change. Behind the scenes around the nation and around the world there is so much happening that we can only guess at. As Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." The potential for disaster will always be with us, as for me, I'll hold fast to hope. [End of Post]

Sunday, 5 September 2004

No Public School Left Standing?

The real goal of No Child Left Behind? This generated some interesting discussion over at WatchBlog, largely thanks to contributions from Shari.

We Feel Your Pain - Here's the Solution

Another commitment caused me to miss the President's address at the RNC on Thursday. Glutton for punishment that I am, I recorded it and finally listened to it last night. I've always contended that the man is far better than the average speaker at delivery, and of course talented speechwriters are hired for each and every one of them. Naturally a host of constituencies were found whose concerns could be expressed, with assurances that each will be addressed with compassion. There has been a lot of well-founded skepticism that the programs implied by these assurances can be paid for in the light of making the tax cuts permanent and continued military expenses. But I have just as much skepticism that the so-called solutions do anything but make the problems worse.

From where he began:
To create more jobs in America, America must be the best place in the world to do business. To create jobs, my plan will encourage investment and expansion by restraining federal spending, reducing regulation and making tax relief permanent.
In this time of change, government must take the side of working families. In a new term, we will change outdated labor laws to offer comp time and flex time. Our laws should never stand in the way of a more family friendly workplace.
what this observer hears is "things may not be the best for you right now, but by providing more money for corporations and the wealthy, business will improve and everybody will be lifted up." Trickle down theory is alive and well in spite of an ever increasing gap between the wealthy class and the middle class, and the increasing misery of the poor. The Republicans' ability to sell this story to those who are being disadvantaged by it never ceases to amaze me.

Friday, 3 September 2004

Jaw-droppingly Obvious!

Maybe I shouldn't do it. Spend all of my voice of reason / voice of calm capital in one sitting, that is. But AAAARRRGGGH! How can 50% of America think it's OK????

I can understand, really I earnestly can, how a SMALL MINORITY of the people can believe that America ought to assert its sole superpower status to create a global empire of world domination for the good of everyone.

I can understand, really I earnestly can, how a SMALL MINORITY of the people can believe that the magic of free market forces is almost sufficient . . . with a minimum assist from industry appointed regulators to give us corporations that satisfy our worldly needs and take care of the running of the planet.

I can understand, really I earnestly can, how a SMALL MINORITY of the people can believe that the ONE true faith that has brought them personal contentment and assures them of eternal bliss is sufficient guidance for our leaders to deal with all the complexities of the world today.

I can understand, really I earnestly can, how a SMALL MINORITY of the people can believe that bankrupting our government so that we're forced to privatize everything that isn't military, will improve everything by putting them in the hands of efficient corporations instead of the wasteful bureaucrats.

I can understand, really I earnestly can, how a SMALL MINORITY of the people can believe that most scientists and educators are part of a dangerous intellectual elite whose aim is to scare our citizenry with predictions of environmental doom and corrupt our children with libertine ideas.

I DON'T EVEN BEGRUDGE these minorities their beliefs. They are heartfelt and sincere; even pure and noble, though in my view frighteningly mistaken. But taken together, the minority that believes ALL of these things must be vanishingly small, and yet these are the voices that have the ear of the current administration and much of the leadership of the Republican party. For the most part they are not even hidden (check out the top three links in the "Links & Articles" section to the right), though other messages are emphasized.

I don't pretend that I'm excited about Kerry. He does waffle a bit, and he is uninspiring. I'd rather prefer the younger Kerry who testified in front of Congress and at least seemed passionate about his beliefs. But the older Kerry is more tempered, and he is, at least, reasonable. Why isn't it jaw-droppingly obvious what we should do come November?

. . . I understand the 10 or 15 percent. They should vote as they earnestly believe. But what's up with the other 35 to 40 percent? Don't they see? Hadn't we better tell them? There's only two months left. Maybe I've misjudged and no great harm will come from another four years of what we have now. But I'm not willing to sit on my hands and hope, just in case.

Thursday, 2 September 2004

Thanks, Zell! The Fire Returns

Well, I was beginning to get that deer in the headlights feeling, what with McCain and Giuliani couching their putative admiration of our Commander in Chief in terms which the average American who doesn't know otherwise might find convincing. Even Laura did a convincing job of painting her husband in humanitarian tones that belie the persistent callousness that characterize the policies of this administration. It took a turncoat Democrat spouting vicious lies and distortions to reignite the fire in my belly to counter the 87 billion dollar lies, the mischaracterization of recklessness as strength, and the deceptive concealment of plans to privatize our national treasures such as parks and schools behind compassionate rhetoric. Mark Shields noted that Miller's speech was "red meat for the base", and indeed it was, but it was red meat for the progressive base as well. Grrrr! The gloves are off, here we go!

Wednesday, 1 September 2004

The Domestic Agenda

As I expected on the first night it’s been all 9/11-Iraq all-the-time at the RNC with nary a mention in the main speeches about the economy and domestic policy. This is obviously a good strategy for the Republicans as there is not much good to talk about at home. Frankly there’s not much good to talk about abroad either but it’s easier to lie about the war on “terror” or “terrorism” or whatever it’s called now.

The Republicans do indeed have a domestic agenda that the President mentioned with a new phrase, “Ownership Society.” . . . From the article The Tax Code by John Cassidy:
The President’s ownership initiative hasn’t featured prominently in the media coverage of the campaign, which, strictly from a news perspective, is understandable: he hasn’t announced many specific proposals to back up his talk. But in downplaying the Bush Administration’s economic agenda the media is missing one of the biggest domestic stories of the 2004 campaign. When the President pledges to create an “era of ownership,” he is not talking merely about encouraging people to buy their own homes and start small businesses. To conservative Republicans who understand his coded language, he is also talking about extending and expanding the tax cuts he introduced in his first term; he is talking about allowing wealthy Americans to shelter much of their income from the I.R.S.; about using the tax code to curtail the government’s role in health care and retirement saving; and, ultimately, about a vision that has entranced but eluded conservatives for decades: the abolition of the graduated income tax and its replacement with a levy that is simpler, flatter, and more favorable to rich people.

Work on achieving this ambitious program began with the tax cuts that Congress passed in 2001, 2002, and 2003, but the conservative economists who advise Bush and the right-wing institutes that support him have more in mind than consolidating their gains. Despite a gaping budget deficit, they are pressing the President to continue down a route that will reverse almost a century of American history. Since the personal income tax was introduced, in 1913, it has been based on two principles: the burden of taxation is distributed according to the ability to pay; and capital and labor carry their fair share. The Bush Administration appears set on undermining both of these principles

Rather than coming right out for a flat tax, the Harvard economists tend to use the less politically charged term “consumption tax.” Flat taxes and consumption taxes are closely related: both exempt saving and tax spending. Theoretically, it is possible to set up a progressive consumption tax, but most conservative economists favor a single rate set as low as possible; i.e. a flat tax. Such a system would penalize middle-class people, who spend nearly all the money they earn; a fact Hall and Rabushka, the originators of the flat tax, were straightforward about. In 1983, they wrote that a flat tax “would be a tremendous boon to the economic elite,” adding that “it is an obvious mathematical law that lower taxes on the successful will have to be made up by higher taxes on average people.”

All this is familiar from the Reagan Supply Side era. Note that you never hear the phrase “Supply Side” since it is now loaded with negative connotations. But the similarities are striking and I wrote about the Reagan supply policies in 1989 for the final paper for my Economics Minor at Colgate, The Reagan Plan in Retrospect: Supply-Side Assumptions vs. Economic Realities (3.3MB PDF).
It is reasonable to ask why the United States deviated so wildly from its economic path. Was it a true faith in the theoretical underpinnings of supply-side economics? Or…was supply-side theory used as rhetoric designed to dupe the American people into accepting a decreased government structure by causing massive budget deficits? One way or the other the results are now in.

The supply-side expectations of a tax cut which were described at the beginning of this paper turned out to be far from true. Personal savings decreased and labor supply did not add enough to the tax base to control a monumental government deficit.

. . . No one disputes that making our country safer from terrorist threats is important. But it’s not the only issue. What it is doing is providing a convenient screen while the radical branch of the Republican Party sets out to have the middle class pay for all government services.