Wednesday, 28 September 2005

At Long Last!

May this be but one large crack in the glacier of corruption.

I know, it's only an indictment, but DeLay has already stepped down as Majority Leader.

I had speculated that the TRMPAC shenanigans were the most likely to bring DeLay down, but with the extra attention on him, I'd sure like progressives to hammer The Hammer with the whole laundry list of his immoral behavior, starting with his support of worker mistreatment and sex slavery in the Mariannas. As I suggested before, while we may need to bring them down with nits, let's not ignore the elephant!

Tuesday, 27 September 2005

Another Political Test

Now after that recent post in which I insist that there are some noble underpinnings of conservatism, I follow Mike's link and discover that I am supposedly a:

You are a

Social Liberal
(63% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(13% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test

This in spite of the fact that I disagreed with the assertion that we would be better off with no huge corporations and should have only small businesses instead.

In a comic afterward to the test, the creators ask:
AND FINALLY, if you could make up ONE new law and have it enforced FOREVER, by goons, what would your law be? Use your imagination, let your despotic instincts run free.
What to choose!? What to choose?! (aside from suggesting that no one should ever be able to enforce any law using goons) I rolled the metaphorical dice and came up with:
Con artists and corporate executives who are convicted of bamboozling seniors or other vulnerable people out of their life savings should have all of their wealth confiscated and returned to their victims, and be forced to use their business skills creatively behind bars for ten years to make restitution to the disadvantaged.

Monday, 26 September 2005

Who Said It?

In reaction to Friday's resignation of Food and Drug Administration chief Lester Crawford, one U.S. Senator remarked:
In recent years, the FDA has demonstrated a too-cozy relationship with the pharmaceutical industry and an attitude of shielding rather than disclosing information. Now is the time to reform the FDA's culture and reassert that the agency's top priority is what's good for John Q. Public when it comes to reviewing drugs in the marketplace and making new miracle medicines available.
One of those anti-corporate liberal Democrats, you ask? Nope.

I wonder about the relationship between Crawford's resignation last Friday, and the resignation of Susan F. Wood, three weeks earlier in exasperation over the FDA's decision to further delay a ruling on whether the morning after pill should be made more easily accessible. Her comment at the time:
I can no longer serve as staff when scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended for approval by the professional staff here, has been overruled.
When I was a boy in school in the sixties, in the conservative South, my interest in science was universally regarded as a good thing. Do parents these days pray that their youngsters won't be corrupted by their secularist science teachers?

Does Wood now regret her resignation? Did hers in some way contribute to Crawford's decision last week? Anybody have the "inside dope" at the FDA?

Satirical "Lost" Bush Speech

If conservatives were consistently this brilliant in expounding their ideas, then they certainly would be quite formidable, but then they would also be less frightening. Unless, of course, you subscribe to the notion that the underpinnings of conservatism are ethically bereft, and all eloquence in defense of its policies is tantamount to cynical trickery.

As a liberal (usually) who is most annoyed by the dogged conflation by the right of liberalism with moral decay, one of my fundamental liberal notions is that sound values based on concern for our fellow humans can honestly lead people to different conclusions. It would be hypocritical of me to not acknowledge that some conservative values have merit, when my most scathing rebuke of many right-wingers is their refusal to acknowledge any merit to either the underpinnings of liberal thought, or an occasional success borne of liberal policy.

ScrappleFace consistently publishes intelligent satire from a pretty far right perspective. His attacks of the Bush administration are pretty consistently delivered from Bush's right. But while I would often vehemently disagree with author Scott Ott's prosriptions for an improved public policy, he strikes me as being in touch with the nobler underpinnings of conservatism, so much of his commentary rings true in spite of my disagreement.

Many on the left would dismiss Ott's frequent quotations of MLK's oratory as disningenuous because he clearly opposes many of the left's proscriptions for equal opportunity. But I see no reason to believe that his implied belief in equal opportunity is not genuine, simply because he mocks systems which he sees as fostering dependency and removing incentives for positive living and contribution to society. In fact I agree that any liberal system for promoting diversity and opportunity for the less advantaged needs to avoid those potential maladies, while I suspect that Ott would agree that any conservative system which demands responsibility and accountability should implement checks to prevent the exploitation of the vulnerable by the powerful.

In the current political climate, I find myself unambiguously allied with "the left" because I see the rise of corporatism as a real threat to the egalitarian ideal which has been advanced in fits and starts over the last two centuries. The current leadership of the Republican party is marching us toward an ever increasing gap between the wealthy and the poor which is in dire need of reversal. Many leaders of the opposition rightly point to the importance of framing in the right's success in gaining currency for their ideas in the national dialogue. They will point also to the technique of smearing the ideas associated with liberalism in changing the tenor of the debate. The implication is that progressives need to wage a similar campaign in reverse to compensate for the current imbalance. They may be right.

My fear is that when all the focus is put into winning the argument for one's "side" we lose sight of the values that were the underpinning of our ideology, and we contribute to the poisoning of the dialogue for those of good intent on both sides of the debate. But we don't need to lose sight of those values. The liberal values of generosity, enablement, fairness, openness, and freedom of thought can remain central to our discussion of the issues. We can agree with conservatives that personal responsibilty, accountability, temperance, and caution are worthy values to keep in drafting a way forward, without compromising our own ideals.

This is why I find no inconsistency in declaring myself to be both liberal and conservative, even though I supported the supposedly "far-left" candidacy of Dennis Kucinich in the last election. It's why I never stop looking for signs of reason from some in the Republican party, because ultimately we need a synthesis of ideas rather than a one-sided solution. Too often compromises are tactical rather than principled and we get a muddled centrism which brings some of the worst from both parties together. But not always. There are success stories out there. We must find them and model them if we are to choose hope for our future.

Thursday, 22 September 2005

Monday, 19 September 2005

The Country We Want

Carla, of Preemptive Karma asks her readers what kind of government they want. She gives her own answers, followed by some responses here. She evoked this response from me:

I want a government and a nation that respects the necessity of opposing forces.

I want a country where individuals are always free and often inspired to aspire to greatness, chase their passions, and help their fellow citizens.

I want a country where greatness and selflessness is encouraged, but greed and meanness is discouraged.

I want balance in government, with opposing forces designed to assure that power is never concentrated in the hands of too few individuals.

I want transparency in government, and fluidity between the governing and the governed.

I want a balance between a respect for the privacy of the individual and the need for individuals and corporations to own up to their responsibilities.

I want a government that understands that personhood is an attribute of individuals, not corporations.

In short we need to recognize the truth of this reflection of James Madison nearly 200 years ago:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In forming a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

Then I went back and read her list in more detail. She hit some truths I missed, and had a somewhat different emphasis. I really like what she had to say about foreign affairs and leading by example.

I do think people should speak more frequently about their ideals, as there is a tendency to get hung up in all the methods and get attached to processes when goals are what's important. My emphasis on balance and opposition is a nod to process which I nonetheless believe to be critical, because human nature is unfortunately reliably corruptible. But we can give individuals a lot of rope as long as there are balancing forces in play.

Sunday, 18 September 2005

Cronyism Continues Unabated

Avoiding the appearance of impropriety is something one might expect of politicians and public officials, especially when attempting to recover from a public relations disaster. The current administration shows no such inclination. If anything they seem to glory in goading their opponents into making accusations of wrongdoing which may not be provable, by behaving like the child next to the open cookie jar.
  • "Nothing improper happened in our secret energy task force, but we're not telling who was there."
  • "Scalia might cast the deciding vote in protecting that secret, but you just have to trust us that he can do so impartially in spite of his friendship and recent duck hunting trip with Cheney."
  • "We'll straighten out those little overcharges (honest errors, of course!) by Halliburton in their Iraq contract work. How dare you suggest their getting the no bid contract had anything to do with Cheney's connection!"
And the list goes on.

I sometimes wonder if they repeatedly push the envelope as some sort of loyalty test. Maintain plausible deniability, but intentionally create the appearance of impropriety whether or not impropriety existed, to keep your opponents fishing, and to flush out the less than fully faithful among your insiders. The only other explanation I can think of is analogous to the serial criminal whose behavior becomes progressively bolder and more outrageous with each crime.

The Katrina cleanup and reconstruction effort has the silver lining of providing jobs at least, and Federal officials are the first to agree with many Democrats that such jobs should go to locals from the affected gulf region. But administration critics quickly predicted the first line recipients of Federal aid would be none other than those corporations to whom they owe their election. FEMA wasted no time in proving them right by outsourcing the body recovery effort to a subsidiary of a company owned by Bush family friend Robert Waltrip. And to further test our suspicions, it is a company which has been involved in previous scandals, dating back to Bush's tenure as Texas Governor.

The news of this outsourcing hasn't been widely reported by the major networks, but has been corroborated by Reuters, a Louisiana TV station, the San Luis Obispo News, the News Insider, and the Contra Costa Times. Deepening the left's suspicions of potential new criminal behavior by the private contractor, is the order that no pictures be allowed, and reporters are not to be within 300 feet of the work.

Of course, none of this is proof that any new wrongdoing or misinformation is planned. It is possible that in spite of the connections, Kenyon International was the closest available contractor to deal with a body recovery effort of this magnitude - I don't know. Preventing the gruesome display of dead bodies on the nightly news before next of kin has been properly notified has arguable merit. It is claimed that the contract is being given with a 10% discount.

But how many times are we expected to believe that "the dog ate his homework", before we demand accountability from Bush and his pals. Cronyism is rampant throughout this administration, and I can no longer take them seriously about anything. The only path I see left for this government regaining credibility is for the whole lot of them to resign or be tossed out. I know that won't happen. They'll turn out all of their best speechwriters to regain the trust of those that can be turned. The tipping point may have finally been passed, however.

Thanks to Hungry Blues, and Body and Soul, for alerting me to this story.

See also:

Friday, 16 September 2005

A neighbor's garden

My island neighbor, Julie Leung, one week ago wrote two powerful and beautiful pieces which are well worth the time to read, and to explore their links.

Monday, 12 September 2005


In seeking information for my previous post, I discovered an excellent fairly new web log which I added to my sidebar, but failed to credit in my post. thieves in the temple presents a kind of spartan approach to activism, with sharp commentary, sprinkled with links to political action sites, and a digestible sidebar, with what appear to be very carefully chosen links. I was immediately jealous of the uncluttered look, and found the linked blogs to be largely ones I had never seen before, and of similar high quality.

There's one other acknowledgment that I cannot make. The Labor Day post that originally led me to the United for a Fair Economy study was lost when my computer froze, and I have been unable to find it again. It was very similar to the Spitting Image article, but was accompanied by an up-to-date line graph which I've not seen since. If the author of that blog happens upon my site, please be in touch.

Saturday, 10 September 2005

Obscene Inequity

431 to 1.

According to United for a Fair Economy and the Institute for Policy Studies, that's the average ratio of CEO pay to non-professional worker pay in 2004 in these United States. This represents a new trend in the wrong direction after a slight remission in this ratio since a peak at 531 to 1 in 2000.

A look at this four year old graph (thanks Spitting Image) will reveal why progressives were hardly enamored of the DLC directed leadership of Clinton in the nineties. But I contend that it doesn't require a progressive attitude to be appalled by this obscene inequity in pay between executives and line workers.

Back in June, I identified the rapid accrual of power to large corporations as one of three huge power imbalances which threaten our global future. The dangers inherent in corporate power are many, including environmental degradation, dehumanization of the work force, poverty and wealth inequity, and ironically the suppression of innovation when bullying drowns out invention as the means for corporate profiteering.

While the potential threat is dire, the outlook need not be so grim, as I really believe the possibility for corporate responsibility is nowhere near lost. Today corporate responsibility exists side by side with corporate malfeasance within many industries, and indeed within many companies. My impression, however, is that there are debilitating blindnesses on both sides of this debate, which make progress sluggish at best, while the trends do not look good. The problem within corporatedom is that there is an annoying reluctance, if not a taboo, against frankly facing the direness of the threat and entertaining truly radical reform among those advocating corporate responsibility. The problem among reformers who do see the direness of the threat is a similar blindness in acknowledging the necessity that industry insiders become a integral part of needed reforms.

It seems likely to me that these two groups eye each other with such distrust and suspicion that they don't take each other seriously and hence undermine the most hopeful course for achieving real progress in curbing the excesses that everyone should agree are not in anyone's interest.

I have looked for exceptions among the groups touting corporate reform, such as: Business for Social Responsibility; World Business Council for Sustainable Development; Center for International Private Enterprise (an affiliate of the heavily right U.S. Chamber of Commerce); or The Conference Board.
To varying degrees these groups have worthwhile projects going on, but their clients or members are corporations, and there's a palpable unwillingness to forthrightly condemn any prevailing questionable practices.

The reform advocacy groups who don't have such reservations, such as:
United for a Fair Economy; CorpWatch; or make unfettered observations which strike me as more honest, but I wonder if their adversarial approach precludes the conversation which needs to happen to actually effect some positive changes.

Free market apologists will protest that the inequities simply reflect the prices which the market will bear for CEO salaries, and that the buying power of the line workers hasn't really sunk (one will hear arguments that it has actually risen) so much as the executive pay has skyrocketed. But studies show that the corporations with the greatest payroll inequities are significantly less successful on average than those with more modest differences. And you can't tell me that it isn't morally wrong for the top paid executives in a company to make millions in salary, and many times that in other benefits, while the laborers who support their fortunes struggle to make ends meet. The market isn't working somehow, and not only is it shameful, it is bad for investors as well.

Shame may be the most effective tool for bringing about change, but it remains difficult to get an audience for these stories. The right-wing noise machine is committed to defending the free market against any effective controls, labeling even the attention to such matters as socialist claptrap. But beneath the surface, I bet you will find some executives who are uncomfortable with their obscene salaries, and there are plenty of examples of executives who refuse to take as much as they could. What is woefully needed is plain-spoken condemnation of the growing inequity within corporations. How can we help those within the system who long for more radical reform to be bolder in saying so?

Friday, 9 September 2005

Disaster Pauses

Tragedies, be they personal or national, affect different people in different ways. There is not one correct way to respond, so we should try to be patient with a variety of responses. Most bloggers I've noticed have either posted much less or much more since Katrina hit. Joining me in posting less have been Mike, Eric, and steakboy, each with credible explanations for their relative quietude. Respectively:
"I can hardly bear reading any more about Katrina much less writing about it and it just does not seem appropriate to talk about anything else."

"Current events here and abroad, coupled with the heartbreaking, corrupt impotence of my country's leaders (both Republican and Democrat) have made me so weary of late."

"the enormity of it all leaves me room to think of pretty much nothing else"
But others such as David Goldstein have been blogging like there's no tomorrow, both in reaction to Katrina and on a host of other issues. Actually, Goldy, as he's affectionately known, pretty much always blogs like there's no tomorrow. But his energy around the abysmal federal response to the disaster, played a major role in outing the preceding reputation of the now discredited Mike Brown of FEMA. (See the story here, and in various posts here.) The role that a quirky google hit played in prompting a national story is testament to the possibility that any one of us can play a role in our world beyond what we might imagine.

Katrina's wake will be following us around for some time to come, and my heart goes out to her victims. In the meantime, elections loom at home and injustice and inequity are never on vacation. Here I hope to pick up on some regular themes and expand on them with new information. As the ratio between executive compensation and line worker pay continues to spike out of control, I'd like to examine how such an obscenity can possibly be justified. Disaffection with Republicans seems at an all-time high. Why can't Democrats seem to capitalize? What are the political prospects for the 2006 mid-terms? And as always I'll look for glimmers of hope in these dark times.