Tuesday, 30 August 2005

The Neocon - Religious Right Alliance

Jack Whelan has captured some essential truths which I would really, really like every thinking liberal, moderate, and conservative to read before further participating in whatever version of the culture war that has captured their fancy. You can read the whole thing by going to his site and scrolling down to:

The Neocon Nightmare World

But because I want this to be seen, I am excerpting liberally:
Both Bloom and Lasch understood that a society pays a price when it values individualism and freedom above all other values. For both men the laissez faire in Liberalism creates a fragmented, atomized society. This is a problem for Lasch because it diminishes the possibility for human community life, destroys local traditions and neighborhoods, and creates a culture of narcissism, a culture of minimal selves--of lost souls who don't know who they are, a society of ungrounded people who are empty of any real interior life, and who are therefore weak and easy to manipulate.

In other words, Liberalism creates a vacuum in the life of a society where instead there should be a soul. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so the emptiness is filled with the crudest kinds of impulses. ... The problem lies with a society that is fragmented, because it is weak. An open, multicultural society in which every thing is equal, in which no value or cultural ideal is considered any better than any other, an anything-goes "different strokes for different folks" society loses any sense of cohesiveness and is very vulnerable to manipulation by a willful, well-disciplined minority that has no qualms about violently asserting its own values and suppressing any other value system as inferior and to be annihilated.

In other words, the easygoing, nonjudgmental laissez faire of Liberalism invites its own destruction by those whose attitudes are anything but laissez faire. ...

For the neocons, politics is thuggery, and you fight thuggery with thuggery, so the only thing that matters is whether the thugs you approve of are running things. The thuggery that we began to see assert itself on the right starting with Newt Gingrich, the impeachment of Clinton, through to the the bullying of Tom Delay in the House are all justified by Straussian theory. It's thuggery in the cause of the higher good. They really believe that. Liberalism must be destroyed or America will be destroyed by its enemies.

For the Straussians, following Carl Schmidt, politics is not the sphere of compromise and working things out, it's the realm of domination of the weak by the strong. For the neocons, politics is war. It's about controlling the political process or being controlled, annihilating or being annihilated. They understand power as the central truth, and every other value has value only insofar as it promotes power. And the neocon influence in the Republican party seems bent on proving their theory right by doing everything it can to discredit and destroy Liberal ideas and Liberal institutions. And so far, judging by the compliancy of the Democrats, they seem to have proven their case.

All of this has become so much clearer for me after reading Shadia Drury's Leo Strauss and the American Right -- particularly the virulence of the conservative attack on Liberalism which until recently I had naively dismissed as crackpot. Most normal people think of wingnuts like Limbaugh, Robertson, and Coulter as comical, barely sane troglodytes. These wingnuts, on the other hand, take the Liberals very seriously, and see them as a cancer that is destroying American society and making it spineless and weak, and as such all the more vulnerable to its enemies. They believe that Liberalism is destroying America, and they are totally committed to preventing that by destroying Liberalism. "Let the Liberals laugh at us," think the wingnuts. "We'll see how hard they laugh when eventually we put our boot on their throats."

The great virtue of the Liberal credo is its belief that a society can be built on truth, philosophy, and enlightened self-interest. But I also think that over the long haul that's not enough. Conservatives understand that a society needs myths, religion, and to stand for something worth dying for. Otherwise, as Drury points out, "it is little more than an animal farm." I would say that a postmodern America needs to find a way to integrate both the Liberal and Conservative credos. ...

Until reading Drury's book, I thought that the alliance between the intellectually sophisticated neocons and the simplistic religious-right extremists like Falwell and Robertson was a marriage of convenience engineered for short-term political gains. But Drury makes clear that the neocons believe that the religious right is essential for continued American dominance because it provides the requisite myths that justify American supremacy. ... ...

For the Straussians, if a society does not believe in itself as superior in every way to its enemies, it will be defeated by an enemy who is not intimidated and that believes itself superior. The neocons therefore have formed an alliance with the Christian Right not for political convenience, but because the Christian Right naively and fanatically accepts the myth of American superiority and of its special God-given role in world history. The neocons support the wingnut attitude that anyone who does not believe this myth is an America-hater and, as Ann Coulter puts it, is guilty of treason. There is no gray area. There is no room to criticize. It's my country right or wrong--any other attitude leads to inevitable defeat by another society that believes in itself more.

Sane people dismiss extremists like Coulter as comical crazies. I know that's been my attitude. But the very fact that her views have been legitimated by her ubiquitous presence in the media points to the drift of things in this country toward insanity. What should by now be clear to everyone is that the right is not just indulging in a lot of crazy talk. They are walking their talk. ...

Does that mean that anybody who wishes to oppose the neocons must resort to thuggery to defeat them? No. But I do not believe that secular liberalism has the resources to defeat it. Even if the Democrats win in the short run, the problem remains for the long run. We need a tough, principled, idealistic politics in the spirit of King, Mandela, Gandhi. These men were not nihilists. They were genuinely religious humanists who understood evil and knew how to fight against it on their own principled terms, not on the terms defined by the thugs.

The Straussians are convinced that we all live in a nightmare world and that there is no ultimate purpose or meaning to human existence... They believe that the masses have to be anesthetized and controlled with myths and religious fictions, but that the grownups have to run things, and the grownups understand that it's all about power, and that so long as the U.S. has the enormous power it now possesses, it had better use it or lose it.

This explains their gambit in Iraq--it was an opportunity to fill a geopolitical power vacuum with American power after the collapse of the Soviet sphere of influence in the Middle East. It's a gambit that has failed--the Muslims there are not Liberals, and they do not fold so easily. But I for one am worried about what they have up their sleeve now that their policies are being discredited by their failure. They will not walk away with their tail between their legs. They still believe they are right even if their tactics were ineffective. They will not be gracious in defeat.

And they are not going away. Wingnuttery in America will always be a problem so long as there is a vacuum in American society where there should be a soul. How to solve that problem in a sane, progressive way is for me the most pressing issue that confronts Americans in the 21st Century.

Sunday, 28 August 2005


Thoughts and prayers for the people of the Gulf Coast.

Just turned on the evening news to hear a doomsday-like prognosis for New Orleans in the path of Katrina read straight from the National Weather Service. Their latest on-line description sounds like a slight softening, but still plenty terrifying. My heart goes out to all affected.

[UPDATE: I found a copy of the warning that I heard read on the news. Based on the devastation which has hit the fragile city of New Orleans in spite of the storm's eastward migration and slight downgrade, it is clear that the warning was not hyperbole.]

Corporations as Teenagers

60 Minutes ran a segment tonight on Merck and its continued marketing of Vioxx in spite of internal knowledge of studies implicating it in life threatening cardiovascular side effects. It got me to thinking about one of my recurring themes here. My profound concern remains that the extraordinary power vested in corporations is one of the gravest threats to a healthy and happy future for humanity that exists today. The depth of my concern about this particular topic is what puts me in the eyes of many as a "far-left winger".

While it is true that this fear of mine engenders some sympathy from me for the "anti-corporate" crowd, I don't count myself among their number. No, corporations have provided us with such an extraordinary capabilities and tools, that I am not ready to rage against the machine and advocate violent revolution. Nor do I believe that nationalization of industry is a panacea which will quell the corporate beast and protect us from its excesses. Such a solution simply transfers the power to a different entity, replete with a new set of dangers which are all too evident in so many of the last century's experimentations with Marxism.

What I seek is balance and moderation, but what I see in the love affair which the right currently has with free market capitalism is anything but balanced or moderate. In their eyes, anyone seeking to rein in corporate excess is left-wing whacko, in bed with communists and opposed to freedom. In my eyes, I am actually right of center, because I advocate a free market system with govermental regulatory control, rather than a socialist system with added market incentives to promote innovation. Much of the disagreement actually comes in what is perceived to be the current state of affairs. Certainly what exists in the United States, and much of the Western World is a flavor of what I advocate, but with what I believe to be a dangerous erosion of controls, as the corporate boardroom increasingly permeates the halls of government power.

The right leaning reader of those words will perceive a socialist hatred of corporations, but that is a misperception. I do not hate corporations. I do not believe most corporate executives are "capitalist pigs" who want to put profits before people. But I do believe that the rules of the game are being bent in such a way that more and more corporations are pressured to put profits before people, and no amount of laissez faire theory is going to convince me that is a good thing.

Markets are amoral. Human beings are not, nor do they want to be. The trick is in allowing the markets to work, while encouraging the human beings who control the corporations to behave as moral human beings. This should not be an impossible task. I agree that regulation should not be unnecessarily cumbersome or burdensome, but it should be strongly prohibitive of inhumane or dangerous practices, with such severe consequences for non-compliance that no executive team should ever be weighing the financial risk of wrongful death lawsuits against the lost revenue of not going forward with a dangerous product. The consequences should be sufficient to guarantee an ethical decision.

Such strong regulations do not only benefit the consumers, workers, or neighbors of industry that they are designed to protect, they benefit the corporate decision makers who are no longer put in the moral dilemma of choosing between the interests of the stockholders or the lives or well-being of their other stakeholders. Severe regulatory consequences keep the interests of stockholders and the other stakeholders in alignment.

I believe corporations actually want tougher regulations, but are simply unwilling to say so. Like teenagers, they will push their limits, but they really want the limits to be there. A few loud mouths on the radical extreme have pushed for massive deregulation and demonized those who cry foul as either entrenched bureaucrats or leftists, largely muting the voices of reason which should be emanating from within industry.

It may well be that in spite of the current deregulatory trends there are still too many regulations. It is certainly true that some regulations are too stiff while others are too loose. I do not claim to have the facts to know which way the bars should move overall. But common sense tells me that when lives and health are at stake, the consequences of corporate misbehavior need to be far more severe than is currently typical, given the huge amounts of money involved in some of these decisions. To some extent, any pecuniary consequences should probably be scaled to the size of the corporation, to keep size from cushioning them. But more frequently where corporate decisions play roulette with the lives of others, criminal penalties should fall to the decision makers, and the protection of incorporation should not apply.

Merck was under tremendous pressure when Vioxx was their up and coming drug, to have a new blockbuster product to keep their R&D going. Combining that with a loosening culture around FDA approval (some of which made sense, some of which did not), and a lack of regulation around advertising practices and when a product should be pulled in the face of mounting evidence that there might be a problem, put an undue pressure on the decision makers to cross their fingers and hope that the bad news might prove to be a red herring. I really don't believe that they had incontrovertible evidence that Vioxx was killing people and just didn't care. I believe that there was somebody willing to push the possibility that the danger was overblown, and the decision makers had too much financial incentive to hope against hope that such was the case.

No big surprises

Though I was surprised I scored so low on the geek front. Probably because the test didn't key on my particular specialties, geography, Scrabble, and politics.

Pure Nerd
69 % Nerd, 17% Geek, 30% Dork
For The Record:

A Nerd is someone who is passionate about learning/being smart/academia.
A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one.
A Dork is someone who has difficulty with common social expectations/interactions.
You scored better than half in Nerd, earning you the title of: Pure Nerd.

The times, they are a-changing. It used to be that being exceptionally smart led to being unpopular, which would ultimately lead to picking up all of the traits and tendences associated with the "dork." No-longer. Being smart isn't as socially crippling as it once was, and even more so as you get older: eventually being a Pure Nerd will likely be replaced with the following label: Purely Successful.


Thanks Again! -- THE NERD? GEEK? OR DORK? TEST

Via The Green Knight, whose insightful post about the ravings of Ann Coulter drew me into his site.

I-912: Washington State's Trojan Horse

The opportunistic anti-tax "starve the beast" gang is at it again, with yet another initiative appealing to the short-sighted "save a buck today" mentality. Already suffering from budget woes exacerbated by previous initiatives launched by proven scofflaw and liar Tim Eyman, my state of Washington now is facing an assault from a different collection of demagogues who are appealing to anti-tax sentiment to overturn the legistlature's emergency funding measure for the transportation system. Never mind that this measure funds specific improvements to the infrastructure that will save lives, and that the gas tax implemented to fund it is to be gradually introduced at a fraction of the rise in gas prices over which government has no control.

No these anti-tax minions want to "send a message" to our legislature about government waste. It really is exasperating to attempt to talk sense into people who allow an emotive response to govern their attitudes toward public policy. I've talked to people who really should know better, who are buying the "send a message" theme, and will point to examples of bureaucracy run amok, to justify this ill-considered initiative. Of course there is government waste and there are bureaucrats who protect their turf to the detriment of the public good. But there are also plenty of fine working projects and decent public servants who serve us honorably.

Here is a case where a desperate need for patching up our failing infrastructure is funded in the only reasonable way that it can be, given the constraints of previously passed anti-tax initiatives, and where the projects thus funded are concrete improvements long sought across the whole of the state. It has bipartisan support, and the support of business as well as progressive leaders. The naysayers say "hehe, they're all bums; this'll show 'em!" But sometimes bipartisan support might actually mean that the plan is sensible.

I-912 is yet another initiative which is penny-wise and pound-foolish. It's like trying to treat lung cancer by amputating one's feet. If you live in Washington State, or know someone who does, please educate your friends, neighbors, and relatives about the transportation package which this initiative would eliminate. It's high time we stop accepting these Trojan Horses!

Many of Washington's progressive bloggers have been sounding off on this, and you can read their comments by linking to the I-912 "Hot Topic" in the sidebar of this and other local blogs. Perhaps by taking the lead on this topic, and pressuring our public officials who don't want this initiative to pass but are too timid to make public statements against an anti-tax measure, someone like Governor Gregoire will finally be emboldened to take a public stance against it.

Monday, 22 August 2005

Bush Popularity Slide Continues

At the risk of sounding like a gloating liberal, I note that the latest state by state opinion poll from Survey USA shows Bush's approval rating exceeding his disappoval rating in only ten of our fifty states. Those ten states constitute only 79 of the 538 electoral votes.

While this appears to represent a massive defection from Bush (and I do think it's safe to say that were the election to be held today against any reasonable Democrat, Bush would lose), it should be noted that such a shift requires only that 7 or 8 percent of the voters actually change their vote from what they cast last November. The electoral college generally exaggerates the sense of a landslide, and the closeness of our last several elections is testament to how very close they have been.

Though there has been a clear rightward shift in the U.S. populace over the last two decades, we still are a predominately moderate nation, even in those states one thinks of leaning heavily in one direction or another. The extent to which the Republican leadership (and I'm thinking more of the House of Representatives here than the executive branch) has moved right is not representative of the much more subtle rightward shift of the public at large.

This is born out in the latest approval ratings of our 100 senators, also from SurveyUSA. If you look at which Republican Senators enjoy a wide margin of support, it is the moderate Republicans, the very ones which some of the religious right base accuse of being traitors. Moderates Snowe and Collins of Maine top the list, while right wingers Coburn and Santorum have the lowest approval ratings. Even the reasonable Republicans from very conservative states enjoy better approval ratings than their more conservative colleagues. Lindsey Graham has drawn the ire of the religious right for not towing the line on all of their issues, and yet he has comfortable approval ratings in very conservative South Carolina.

It says to me that the one of the most important fights we have is to protect voting rights, and insure an honest ballot, for without fraud or outright disenfranchisement, the far-right wing cannot secure long-standing power in America.

Friday, 19 August 2005

Fair AND Biased Coverage Sought

I want bias in news coverage. That doesn't mean I want partisan spin filtered through some orthodoxy. But fairness is possible without cowering from any bias. Avoiding all bias fails to inform us.

News agencies' proclivity to avoid bias is particularly annoying when covering stories which have not been in the headlines, until some recent event brings them to our attention. When reading of stories involving foreign governments and resistance movements, invariably I want to know something about the evidence of the historic culpability of the various parties for violence and oppression. But what to me are the most obvious questions to ask, frequently go unanswered even in a multi-column article, I presume in the name of avoiding bias.

Sadly, I fear it is often pretty accurate to assume that there is a lot of culpability on all sides. The good and decent people of the foreign land are usually rendered powerless by the corrupt and powerful few, both in the government and in the resistance movements. But I also know there are some exceptions, and I think it is important to know about them. Unfortunately, the typical news story simply identifies the players, who is winning, and sometimes if we're lucky the putative ideology of the sides in question, though I know to take that with a grain of salt as well.

A classic example in yesterday's news is the story of the release of POWs by the Polisario Front independence movement for Western Sahara to the government of Morocco. I've long followed geography enough to have been aware that over two decades ago, Morocco annexed its southern neighbor Western Sahara, formerly controlled by Spain, in spite of a desire among some for independence. So I suspect that Morocco abused its power in annexing its southern neighbor. I also suspect that the Polisario Front's leaders have hardened into bellicose ideologues. Perhaps this news indicates some softening, though more likely it's just resignation to the impossibility of their cause. There is little that I can discern however from the ten paragraphs from Reuters which appeared in my local rag. U.S. mediators seem to have played a role in the release. Kofi Anan welcomed the release and hopes it presages better relations. The final paragraph is most telling:
Statements by Morocco and the Polisario Front showed that years of diplomatic mediation have not ended their mutual hostility.
But I still don't know what to believe about the various parties beyond my guesses going in. The second page of the article, which I found on-line, was only marginally more helpful, as it confined itself to the statements of the parties directly involved.

I went to O.T. Ford's Political Status of the States of the Earth, a document which I admire for its breadth, and which I trust based on the mission of its author. But one person can only do so much, and given the breadth of coverage all we learn of Morocco is
The recent succession has had some liberalizing effects, but the state remains a traditional monarchy. ’Islāmists have made the most dramatic gains in elections for a consultative assembly. Ruled by محمد Muham:ad VI.
and he red codes the country, essentially giving it a failing grade for democratic governance. Ford's approach may be simplistic, not accounting for all the gray between extremes, but in a brief sentence about each nation, we get a greater sense of where it falls in representing its people than most news agency articles manage in multiple paragraphs.

Similarly, recent articles about the truce pact in tsunami ravaged Aceh province of Sumatra, Indonesia, are long on the dry facts and short on context. Once again, journalists fail us in the name of balance.

Wednesday, 17 August 2005

Local Vigil

My family was able to attend our island's vigil tonight on behalf of Cindy Sheehan and others who have lost loved ones in this war.

Nearly a hundred folks showed up by the time the 30 minute silent candlelight vigil began. Some of them gathered for a group photo just before I arrived:

Passing motorists who responded to our presence were overwhelmingly supportive.

Friday, 12 August 2005

Camp Casey Grows

Diarist Ilona at Daily Kos has gathered an impressive array of news clippings from around the country about supporters who are flocking to Crawford, Texas to join or support Cindy Sheehan in her vigil.

Here is Cindy's latest update.

Thursday, 11 August 2005

Democracy and Intellect

It's scarcely original to notice that dishonesty is a prerequisite for political success. One can try to blame "the system" for that, but really the fault lies with the vanity of the electorate.

"I have great faith in the people of our great [city, county, district, state, nation], to sort out the issues, and make the smart decision" is a typical winner's statement.

Yeah, right. Of course it would be politically foolish, if the winner has any future ambitions to insult the very people who voted for him or her. But usually even the best politicians must rely on the votes of people who misunderstand the issues in order to win a majority.

Let's face it, the majority of people in most jurisdictions don't have the intellect to sort out all the issues sufficiently to understand which candidate's election (or initiative position) is truly in the best interest of themselves, much less the whole of their city, county, district, state, or nation. That sounds so like an insult, but it shouldn't be. People have as much intellect as they have, and there should be no embarrassment associated with it.

People are vain about all sorts of things, notably their looks or abilities. But there is an unspoken suggestion that you really shouldn't be vain about looks, but it's OK to take pride in one's intelligence. Looks are external or superficial, but smarts are on the inside. But wait, that makes no sense! Smarts, just as much as looks, are an attribute that we only have minimal control over. Why then is it not just as frowned upon to mock "those idiots", even if they are dumb, as it would be to deride someone who is ugly or blind.

I was fortunate to be born with more than an average intellect, but I've always been sensitive to the truth I stated above, probably because of my mentally retarded first cousin, one year older than me, who was my childhood neighbor. Most people now get it that they shouldn't make fun of the developmentally disabled, and in fact most mature adults realize that it is mean to ridicule anyone for lack of intellect. But even if it is only quietly, otherwise decent people, myself included, are more likely to judge someone harshly for lack of mental powers than for lack of athletic ability, for instance.

In choosing our leadership, intelligence certainly is desirable. A dumb person can still be smart enough to realize that it makes more sense to choose a smart person to lead their group, just as a klutzy person can understand that it makes more sense to give the more athletic people on the team the most playing time. But the pride that is sanctioned with respect to intelligence poisons the democratic process, because there is such reluctance to admit to intellectual shortcomings, both on the part of the politicians and the voters. We all want to be smart and understand all the issues, even when we sometimes would be better off deferring to expertise that has been duly earned in a particular field.

Of course, there are complications with expertise as well. How do we know that claimed expertise is truly earned, or that the process of getting it has not been corrupted by power or nepotism? The more transparent the processes for accreditation, the better off we are. Democracy can work when power is balanced, secrecy is discouraged, and pride is not pandered to. But it is fragile, even in as powerful a nation as mine. Leaders need boldness and confidence and sadly a little dishonesty to actually lead and inspire their people, but I like to see a little humility as well, else I fear they will start believing their own hype, and become enamored of their own power and lose sight of the ideals we might aspire to.

Jimmy Carter remains the only President that I ever voted for, and I understand why I liked him, and why some of what I liked turned into shortcomings as a leader. Still I wish we could actually elect someone of his integrity and sometime soon. We have a growing integrity deficit, and if it gets any worse we could lose the best of what we still have as a nation. I remain hopeful, but not terribly optimistic. Our best hope will probably emerge outside but parallel to the political process. Martin Luther King, Jr. remains the best American model of recent history that I can think of. There are a lot of people out there - don't think it's not possible.

Wednesday, 10 August 2005

Worth Checking Out

On two very different fronts:

Fragile Democracy is the latest article by Jack Whelan at After the Future, and is well worth checking out. There is no current permalink - so if this is stale find his August 2005 Archives and look for August 10.

Recent polls (scroll down) which show widespread dissatisfaction with Bush's Iraq policy, show a remarkable dip in his popularity in Nevada and Ohio in particular, compared with his showing in those two states in the 2004 election. Make of it what you will.

Cindy's Own Words

There is a lot of misapprehension out there on both the left and the right about what Cindy Sheehan is all about. Like Rosa Parks, Cindy did not just happen into this role on the national stage, but entered it quite willingly and intentionally. The awful circumstance of the death of her son gave her access to prominence in the same way that the awful circumstance of government sanctioned racial humiliation gave Parks access to prominence. But these activists both took bold and courageous action to leverage their access to awaken the nation's conscience. People in America are celebrated for making the best of a bad situation in turning a negative circumstance into a great personal success story. How much more noble it is to turn one's own tragedy into a wake up call to the nation to avert further tragedy!

Previous words of Cindy Sheehan's have been taken out of context to suggest that she was grateful to the President for having met with her some weeks after her son's death, and that her current activism represents some 180 degree shift from her previous stance. She was respectfully acknowledging that Bush at least did meet with her and her family, while not making an immediate stink about his aloof and disrespectful attitude during that meeting. But she was always against this war, and her son's insistence on going, when she tried to dissuade him, she attributes to his desire to stick by his buddies, not a belief that the war was a just cause. As Cindy recently wrote:
The VERY LAST THING I HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THIS IS: Why do the right wing media so assiduously scrutinize the words of a grief filled mother and ignore the words of a lying president?
Here are links to more of Cindy's own words:

Letter to Rumsfeld, Jan 2005 & speech to Riverside Church
Letter to Bush, Nov 2004 (scroll down)
On Being Public
Preparing to Go
Speech to Veterans for Peace in Dallas
Day 1 Diary
Day 3 Diary
Day 4 Diary

Even more links and info

I may not agree with everything that Cindy writes, but hers is a personal tragedy which she by force of will is transforming into a national news story, and I absolutely salute her for her courage.

UPDATE: Thanks to Bohemian Mama for reminding me to include the following links:
To help Cindy, go here.

To support all the Gold Star Families for Peace, go here.

Sunday, 7 August 2005

Front Line Comes to Crawford, Texas

Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Sadr City over a year ago, is not content to fume at home at Bush's insistence that Americans killed in combat died in a noble cause. Here is her own description of how she, along with Gold Star Families for Peace, the group she co-founded, and others have brought the front line against the war to the outskirts of Bush's ranch while he vacations in Crawford, Texas. I'm not going to excerpt it because I really think it deserves to be read in full.

Contrast that with CNN's report on the vigil. In fairness, CNN is one of the first big media outlets in the U.S. to report on the matter, and the totality of their report has been fair to Ms. Sheehan. I could not help but notice though, that the first quote which they chose to use, "I want to ask the president, why did he kill my son?" wasn't quite accurate, and would likely cause supporters of our policy in Iraq to quit reading, and dismiss this woman incorrectly as simply an angry mother who oversimplifies cause and effect. If you listen to the entire interview (via Crooks and Liars) which she did with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, you can see that she is indeed angry, and does hold Bush accountable for her son's death, both with good reason, but there is far more depth there than those few words betray. The more eloquent quote would have been "I don't want [the President] to use my noble, honorable son to justify his murderous policies in Iraq."

More telling to the general public though, was her description of her earlier meeting with Bush, and his behavior in that meeting, described briefly in CNN's report and more fully in the video. Sheehan clearly describes his inability to grasp the gravity of what it means to lose a child in any conflict, much less one which one doesn't support. Those of us who cannot abide this President are awed that his extreme selfishness is not readily apparent to any casual observer. Where did the myth that he's the sort of fellow that regular guys would like to hang out with come from?

You can support Cindy and others supporting her such as Sharon with positive encouragement via their diaries on Daily Kos.

Friday, 5 August 2005

Those Borrow and Spend Republicans!

There's a title that pretty much speaks for itself.

Sure I'm participating in a little partisan echo chamber here, but I'll justify it in the name of balancing the "Tax and Sp..." meme that's been droning out of the right wing echo chambers for the past two decades. Besides, this liberal is all for taxing fairly and spending wisely, and dead-set against taxing unfairly, borrowing irresponsibly, and spending foolishly. Foolish spending, of course is a bipartisan activity, but the notion that it is more rampant among liberals or Democrats has been so utterly discredited over the last two decades as to be laughable - except a lot of people still believe it.

Hence my willingness to repeat it often: Those Borrow and Spend Republicans!

Another View of Roberts

Having written "I'd rather have a Supreme Court Justice of sound temperament with whom I disagree, than one who might be more likely to make a ruling or two that I'd be happier with, but who has shown clear unsound judgment in matters of law" in commenting on John Roberts nomination to the Supreme Court, doesn't mean I won't also look at other views on the matter. Paul Loeb's article points out:
Challenging [Roberts] draws a line and invites our fellow citizens to stand up in other ways to this immensely destructive presidency.

How has a seemingly nice man like Roberts supported a politics of contempt for the voice of anyone but the wealthy and powerful? In a time when the Bush administration acts as if granted the divine right of kings, it’s troubling that Roberts defended Cheney’s right to refuse to name the corporate participants in his secret energy policy meeting. He advised Jeb Bush on the 2000 election, and denied being a member of the ultra-conservative Federalist Society, then turned up on the Society’s Washington steering committee. He’s argued that the Voting Rights Act can only be violated by intentional discrimination, saying laws that incidentally discriminate are ok. Most damning, Roberts just ruled that if this administration wishes to exempt someone from the Geneva Convention and international law, they have the absolute right to do so. The belief that a president can do whatever he chooses links this nomination, the Downing Street Memo and Plamegate in a common matrix of unaccountable power.

Roberts is also disturbingly loyal to dubious corporate interests, or at least to principles that allow these interests to run roughshod over ordinary citizens and communities. He argued that private individuals could not sue the federal government for violations of environmental regulations like the removal of mountaintops by West Virginia mining companies. He supported the rights of developers to ignore the Endangered Species Act. He denied the rights of workers injured over time as part of their jobs, supported criminal contempt fines to force the end of a strike, and helped a major car manufacturer avoid a recall of dangerous seatbelts.
I still hold to the premise that a Democratic filibuster of Roberts would be bad politics. In spite of the foregoing, we could do a lot worse, and Roberts willingness to assist a gay rights group with pro bono work shows at least that he is not the inflexible ideologue that Clarence Thomas is. Democrats, indeed all Senators, on the Judiciary Committee, and if (when) passed to the full Senate should ask the tough questions. After reasonable discussion however, I simply don't see, given what we know so far, a reasonable argument against voting for cloture (filibustering), at least among the signatories to the compromise. That doesn't mean that any Senator uncomfortable with this choice should not feel free to vote no when the final vote comes up. I also stand by my belief that advocacy groups should save their money for future fights. There will be plenty of those.

Thursday, 4 August 2005

Appeal of the "Radical Middle"

When 'centrists' or 'moderates' avoid mushiness, and demonstrate that their philosophy incorporates solid principles that are worth defending, their arguments can be very compelling. I have discovered that by Jack Grant's definition, I am a moderate myself. I also find the views of Joe Gandelman at the Moderate Voice to be both sensible and principled, his description of his 1980 vote for Reagan as "one of the most satisfying votes I ever cast" notwithstanding.

I'm not ready to abandon my own self-identification as a liberal quite yet, as will become evident enough over the next two weeks, but as ever informing our policies with the views of principled folks of all stripes should be seen as desirable. I can fault the left as much as the right for spending far too much energy on discrediting the other side, rather than proffering constructive alternatives and in some cases compromises.

It was in that spirit in which I checked out Mark Satin's Radical Middle Newsletter earlier this week. The first article I checked out, Take Back America - or All Together Now, America, a harsh critique of a conference of progressive liberals, almost soured me on Satin's site entirely, due to the contemptuously dismissive tone which was used throughout in describing the various speakers there. There's no surer way to turn me off than the sneer, which I expected the least out of someone purporting to represent a centrist alternative.

Nonetheless, I did give him a second chance by reading his 12 point creative centrist agenda, and am quite happy that I did, and encourage you to check it out as well. Clearly I did not agree with all twelve points without reservation, but they include fresh thinking and radical reform while maintaining existing structures where possible. Ironically, I found some of the points to fall very closely to traditional liberal thought - though that is not too surprising as Mark identifies himself as a former lefty. His eleventh point, "national security via sharing our wealth and expertise with the developing world", sounded like it could have been lifted directly from Jim Wallis' God's Politics, which amused me because of the way Satin had savaged Wallis in the previous article.

The whole business leaves me wondering: If we can't get over the demonization of left and right which is going on so relentlessly right now, maybe the best way forward is to take the best ideas of both and couch them in a radical centrist agenda which may be less poisonous to both sides. The problem is that whatever you call it, the details will get the attention of those whose gravy train it threatens, and demonization and labeling will occur. Still if relabeling can have any impact on getting good policy enacted, let's go for it. There's plenty out there that left and right can agree on if the ideological associations can be muted.

Tuesday, 2 August 2005

Oh, so close!

Republicans barely held on to a congressional seat today in a special election for Ohio's 2nd District. Holding the largely conservative district was not the surprise - having the Republican vote drop from 70% one year ago to 52% today was. Paul Hackett, Democrat and Iraq war veteran, came within 3 points of Republican Jean Schmidt, a strong proponent of Bush's foreign policy, in the contest to replace former Representative John Portman recently appointed by Bush as a U.S. trade representative. So though the Democrats did not pick up a seat today, the closeness of the vote likely reflects continued erosion for Bush's policies.

Hackett did have some other things going for him, and Schmidt was not universally loved on the Republican side, but still it leads to speculation about further vulnerabilities for the Republicans in other districts in 2006 where Republican margins have been slimmer. I'll try to find a histogram of percentage margins of victory by party across all districts from the last election or two and report back.

I do think this portends well for considerable Democratic pickups in the House in 2006, possibly even a return to the majority, but no I don't think the Dems have a shot at the Senate until 2008. It's just a matter of numbers and which seats are going to be open, that the Republicans could withstand quite a large disaffection with their policies and still not lose the Senate.

There are only 33 seats up in the Senate, and just over half of those are held by Democrats (17-16). Compare that to the 2008 elections where Republican held seats outnumber Democratic seats by a whopping 21-12! The Republicans will have a lot of work to defend their majority in that election, especially if they lose 1-3 seats in 2006.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) has been very active pounding the drums for the upcoming election (based on the number of emails they send me), as they should, but their talk of taking back the Senate is just so much bluster in my view. Yes, Santorum is not only vulnerable, it would be shocking to me if he were not defeated in Pennsylvania. But beyond that I see 4 Dem seats vulnerable (FL, ND, NE, WA) and only 3 other Rep seats vulnerable (MT, OH, RI). Also there are pretty much equal numbers in the probably safe and safe categories for each party. The Democrats would have to hold on to every one of their seats (unlikely enough), take every vulnerable Republican seat, and knock off a couple in the probably safe category to retake the majority.

That's why I say, quit your dreaming and focus on the House where EVERY seat is always up for reelection. Anything could happen even in spite of all the safe districting which has been going on.

One other note: As exasperated as I sometimes get with many Democrats' insistence on unreasonable orthodoxy with respect to a whole litany of issues which are not logically connected, I remain as partisan as anyone when it comes to representatives in legislative bodies. It's not because I am so enamored of the Democrats' policies, as it is because of the urgency of abating the runaway train of insane policies being promoted by the Republicans currently at the helm. That's why I would vote for an idiotic lefty ideologue with a D by their name over a sensible moderate and intelligent candidate with an R by their name - when it comes to Congress. At the moment it is more important that Republicans lose the clout of being the majority party than it is that one out of 435 representatives better represent me. It is an unfortunate practical political reality, which I desperately hope will change within the next decade.