Wednesday, 31 January 2007

We Are the Deciders!

In her memory, I think we should all be out in the streets banging pots and pans tomorrow.

We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we're for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush's proposed surge. If you can, go to the peace march in Washington on January 27. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, "Stop it, now!"

-Molly Ivins, 20 days ago

August 30, 1944 - January 31, 2007

More Bush Power = More Transparency?

Not bloody likely!

In yet another attempt to grab lost power, our secretive Administration announced two weeks ago that it will expand the review power of the Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to include all guidance documents released within all Federal Agencies. Incredibly OMB spokeswoman Andrea Wuebker claims that the change will increase "the quality ... and transparency of agency guidance documents."

OK, this may not seem like a big deal, and it is not even close to the most outrageous thing this Administration has done, but it is illustrative of their consistent underlying desire to always control the message and make sure that decent public servants within the federal government cannot undermine Bush's political aims by doing their jobs responsibly. Now there is nothing wrong with OIRA taking the time to review the work going on within various agencies, and challenging documents they may feel are politically motivated or inaccurate. But the effect of this rule change is to create more hoops for agencies to go through before releasing guidance documents of any kind, making sure that each is first vetted by officials whose primary concern is political.

Already, the Bush Administration has taken huge advantage of Clinton's original executive order which prompted oversight review of all proposed regulations, to make sure that they were all "properly" vetted by the legions within Bush's executive branch who look after the interests of his pals in the boardroom. As OMB Watch noted last year, "the role of OIRA in rulemaking is often far more pervasive and substantive than the executive order circumscribes." We also already know that when science uncovers inconvenient facts, political appointees have free rein to reword scientific papers to suit political expediency. Now that WAS outrageous!

Don't you know Bush just hates it when such stories break? Well they figure maybe fewer inconvenient findings will ever make it to public eyes if every guidance document requires more paperwork and vetting before even being released. Transparency indeed! The intention here is just the opposite.

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Congressional Replacement Therapy

I was way too busy around election time to properly enjoy the wealth of good news that 2006's election entailed.

Each committee chair exchange is cause for celebration in these quarters; the combined effect is more glee than I can handle in a single post.

Henry Waxman, from California's 30th Congressional District has supplanted Virginia's Tom Davis as chair of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Even as the ranking member he was a thorn in the side of military contractors taking advantage of government largesse, from exposing or documenting the no-bid contracts for Halliburton to the excessive charges by Parsons for shoddy and delayed work. Now he's got sub-poena power.

And there are lots of details:

(May 2005-present)
(Feb 2004-May 2005)
(Apr 2003-Feb 2004)
(Mar & Apr 2003)

Saturday, 27 January 2007

We Right-of-Center Liberals

As reality has finally descended onto mainstream political discourse in America, the occasional continued chirpings of staunch Bush apologists has taken on more of an other-worldly, cornered-animal, delusional gloss than they had when mainstream attention gave them undeserved legitimacy. Surely it's only a matter of time until national policy will catch up with that reality. In the meantime, I will chuckle every time I see Democratic politicians referred to as "far-left liberals" or socialists.

There are many measures of conservatism and liberalism, but none of them have much relation to whether one acknowledges that our decision to occupy Iraq was the colossal error that most now realize it to have been. Pro-war Lieberman and newly anti-war Brownback should serve as testament to that.

But of all the measures used to measure ideology, the one most often employed is the extent to which one adheres to a market economy model vs. a centrally planned economy model. Some think capitalist vs. socialist, others command economy vs free enterprise, communist vs laissez-faire, but each is an expression of the same dichotomy, though there are many different flavors at each end and in the middle.

Most reasonable people today would acknowledge the problems associated with strict adherence to either extreme along this continuum, and in fact all western democracies have some form of mixed economy which combines elements from each. In these United States we have Social Security, Medicare, a nationalized Postal Service & defense, highly regulated utilities, a Federal Reserve, anti-trust laws, a minimum wage, and many other elements which distance us from a pure market economy, but market forces still remain the driving force for our economy as a whole. We have chosen a market economy with an overlay of some planned elements to keep in check some of the excesses associated with unreined free market capitalism, exposed in an earlier age by writers such as Charles Dickens and Upton Sinclair.

The really remarkable thing in America is the extent of agreement across more than 90% of the political spectrum with our choice of a market based mixed economy. From Dennis Kucinich to Orrin Hatch we are agreed on this. It is not surprising that even very conservative Americans who may think of themselves as pure free marketeers will concede that some aspects of central planning currently in place are desirable. It is somewhat more surprising given the excesses of corporatism evident today, that there aren't more who advocate moving to a planned model with market driven elements. But most of us recognize the dangers associated with ceding too much planning power to a central agency, and have witnessed from afar the far graver excesses of such central power when Stalin ruthlessly purged and punished dissent, or when Mao megalomaniacally exerted his power in the now defamed Cultural Revolution. Some democratically elected governments in Europe have enjoyed some measure of success with a more planned economy, but still I agree with most of my fellow Democrats that we are best served retaining a market based system, even as we advocate for more reasonable controls to counter corporate excess.

By definition, along this economic measure of left and right, a belief that we should retain a market based mixed economy, makes the vast majority of Democrats and liberals in America right of center. At the very least charges that we are far-left, fringe, or socialist are simply laughable. A democratic socialist perspective, far more common in Europe, ought to be a perfectly respectable one, and I think it sad that such views are routinely mocked or worse considered traitorous, in spite of my belief that America is better off retaining a market based model. The more purist views trotted out by the Heritage Foundation, Richard Viguerie, or Grover Norquist surely strike this observer as more extreme than those of a European style democratic socialist.

Ah well, I can live with that as long as America can continue the process of refinding her center, and begin to marginalize the divisive policies foisted upon us by the boardroom bought Republican leadership which at least no longer controls the agenda in Congress. Perhaps she can also find greater civility in political discourse as politicians on BOTH sides of the aisle respond to the disgust of the voters with the status quo and find language that can unite us, in spite of retained differences.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Can Obama Obliterate Limbaugh's Legacy?

It seems almost silly at this stage, 20 month before the next Presidential election, to be getting too excited or too committed to any particular candidate for that office. Already I posted my allegiance to Russ Feingold here the very day after the midterms, only to have him declare his intention NOT to run mere days later. By the time Congressman Dennis Kucinich, my choice in the primaries of 2004 declared his candidacy, I had decided to hold off and wait for a Democrat who not only shared most of my values, but also had a credible chance of being taken seriously.

And so it was in the midst of reading Obama's Audacity of Hope that I (& thousands of others) received this email from the Senator, announcing his intention to form a presidential exploratory committee, writing:
...challenging as they are, it's not the magnitude of our problems that concerns me the most. It's the smallness of our politics. America's faced big problems before. But today, our leaders in Washington seem incapable of working together in a practical, common sense way. Politics has become so bitter and partisan, so gummed up by money and influence, that we can't tackle the big problems that demand solutions.
In reading his book, it is apparent that Barack Obama more often takes a more moderate tack than what I might, but what I share with him is a passion about the pressing need for people, including politicians, to hone their ability to listen to conflicting perspectives and truly weigh what their adversaries are correct about, rather than derisively dismissing that adversary by association with some aspect of their belief or their affiliation with people or causes which the viewer finds either contemptible or ridiculous.

Mockery has always been around, and its use, whether in satire or a stand-up comedy routine, can lend new perspective, shaking sense into those who might otherwise too easily accept authority's explanation for the status quo. Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal, though far too subtle in technique for today's standards, caricatured the Irish wealthy class' indifference to the poor in the 18th century. Jesus' General and Scrappleface capably carry the form with wry humor from two very different perspectives into the modern blogosphere.

But the extent to which modern politicking routinely leans on derision as the modus operandi for motivating its allies to action has poisoned political discourse in America. Even if Barack Obama doesn't win his party's nomination, having an eloquent voice directly challenge the "talking points" formulaic approach to winning by dividing might have a contagious effect on the race as a whole, as Americans yearn for a hopeful message, void of the scorn of the cultural wars.

Which brings me to Limbaugh's legacy. Wasn't it Rush that made an artform of holding up the orthodoxies of politically correct liberalism to ridicule? He was good at it too - and there were orthodoxies there that were laughable enough in their own right. Never mind that they did not represent the thinking of the majority of liberals - mockery worked. When a coworker by proximity introduced me to Limbaugh's tirades in the early nineties, I was struck by his then obsessive fixation with Sally Jessy Raphael as the exemplar of liberalism gone amok. Huh? I was a self-identified liberal, but I found Raphael's tawdry obsession with often morally skewed freaks distasteful at least, if not as repugnant as the antics of Springer or later Povich. Limbaugh successfully conflated liberalism with immorality in the minds of his faithful following, and aside from helping to spawn an ugly brand of lock-step conservatism, with orthodoxies at least as absurd as those he was so adept at exposing or fabricating among carefully selected liberals and academics, he also promoted derision as the chief tool for political discussion and argument.

Today, while my car was in the shop, the loaner car I drove was tuned to Limbaugh, whom I've pretty much avoided since getting more than my fill in 1992 & 93. While I occasionally tune into liberal talk radio today, I recognize what it borrows from Limbaugh's legacy. Today though, I took the opportunity to flip back and forth between Rush and Thom Hartmann. I might usually agree with the analysis of Hartmann, and often his conclusions, while rarely agreeing with Limbaugh, but both are skillfully pandering to many listeners' appetites for derision of their foes, and I won't mind a bit if both are marginalized by a central core of Americans hungry for more civility with a focus on possible solutions to our problems, rather than a mentality of winning at any cost.

That does not mean that everyone should be a centrist. No! No! No! America and the world will thrive best when thoughtful people from diverse perspectives are allowed to contribute their ideas and skills to our common destiny. Feingold on the left and Oklahoma's Tom Coburn on the right are more valuable to the Senate in my estimation than the more moderate, and arguably more powerful, Chuck Schumer is or Bill Frist was. The former are genuine representatives of their constituencies, not panderers to talking points and political expediency. Americans are sometimes surprised when seemingly huge political divides are bridged, like Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy coming together to promote legislation, but they shouldn't be. Obama understands this interplay, and has already had remarkable success at playing the political game while retaining a compelling voice for goodwill and the promotion of common values.

I'm also hungry for great oratory, and was too young to appreciate that of JFK. We've really not had a great orator for a President since JFK. Good speeches here and there from almost every President, including the current one, but a great orator - that would be a welcome change. Obama does not reflect my views perfectly, but in large measure where we differ, his electability is enhanced by that difference. I've read enough and seen enough to be convinced that America would benefit from his candidacy if not his presidency, and have accordingly already sent him that message in the form of a few dollars. Now is the time to do so if you agree, as his expected announcement is expected to come on February 10 (auspiciously my own 50th birthday).

So while the pundits legitimately may question Obama's foreign policy experience, let me leave by quoting this prescient passage from a speech that he gave to an anti-war crowd in 2002, before most of his expected Democratic opponents who happen to have been in the Senate voted to authorize Bush's blank check for taking war to Iraq:

That's what I'm opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.

Now let me be clear: I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power.... The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him. But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors...and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.

We sure could have used some of THAT inexperience in the oval office in the Spring of 2003!