Sunday, April 29, 2007
Watergate--the name for a related group of scandals in the Nixon Administration--represented a covert attempt to undermine the electoral process. Although it came to involve the President in a cover-up, it was essentially a political scandal aimed at insuring Nixon's reelection.
The Bush Administration, in contrast, has mounted a frontal attack on the Constitution. If it were to succeed in imprinting its view of government on the nation, the presidency would be more powerful than it ever has been under liberals--the alleged apostles of big government--government would be less transparent than any time in the last 70 years, the state would have more power to intrude on citizens' lives than ever in our history, and those citizens would have no right of redress. And all that is beside the way that the present regime works to increase the power of those at the top of the economic scale.
There is another factor at work here. In 1973-74, we lived in a bi-polar world. While Watergate wracked the nation we remained the undisputed leader of the non-Communist world. In the nuclear standoff, our opponents had few options to take advantage of disarray at home.
Today, our weaknesses play into the hands of our enemies, separate us from our allies and handcuff us in our battle against people who want the worst for the United States. We are substantially weaker now than we were when Bush came into office, and the primary cause of this is not Osama bin Laden or his allies, but George W. Bush and his.
That's why I say that the present crisis is worse than Watergate.
Friday, April 27, 2007
Those of us who oppose the war need to recognize that there are no easy answers, and we need to ask the hard questions. If it is true that the "surge" has led to a significant reduction in sectarian violence in Baghdad--and I have seen no credible reports questioning that--we have to ask whether a withdrawal of American troops will lead to an upsurge in deaths.
Certainly we cannot keep American forces in Iraq for decades (although the logic of the administration's argument could lead to that), and it may be that keeping the lid on will simply mean that the violence will return once the pressure is released. It may also be the case that the level of violence in Iraq is not being diminished by the limited American escalation; that a rise in the number of deaths outside the capital more or less balances the lower casualties in the city.
Are we prepared to accept a continued American presence in Iraq if the evidence shows that it will save lives? I am not saying what that evidence must be, and frankly I do no know what would prove that case to me. But assuming that, like Potter Stewart judging obscenity, we know it when we see it, will we temper our anti-war stance if the proof is there?
The best answer to these questions that I have seen recently comes from a letter to The New York Times by Ronald L. Spiers, who was a State Dept. official and ambassador in the Middle East in both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Spiers suggests that: "We ask the Iraqi government and Parliament to decide formally whether they want coalition forces to stay or go. If Parliament does not have a majority for a request that we stay, we will pack up and leave as quickly as possible in a safe, orderly manner."
That suggestion is not particularly new; a number of liberals have said pretty much the same thing, knowing that the Bush administration--no more committed to Democracy in Iraq than it is here at home--would reject it. But Spiers goes on:
"If the government and Parliament go on record as wanting coalition forces to stay, we would leave a force large enough to provide Iraqi forces with needed training, reconstruction and logistic support, intelligence support in tracking foreign fighters, and its own force protection.
"It would stay as long as both sides agree that it is necessary and desirable, with no timetable for departure. It would have no combat role in dealing with internal sectarian conflict."There's no chance that this approach will be accepted by Bush, Cheney & Co., but as they become more and more isolated, such a limitation on the American role could become attractive to an increasing number of GOP senators and congressmen, especially those up for re-election in 2008.
Spiers' suggestion explicitly leaves the matter of sectarian violence to Iraqis, and implicitly rejects the idea that Americans can be a buffer between the contending forces. In the long run, and the peoples of the Middle East know all about long runs, that is certainly true.
Spiers's idea may be the best that anyone can come up with in this tragic situation.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
As The Times recounts, OSHA has ignored clear dangers to workers, refused to issue binding regulations and, instead, relied heavily on voluntary cooperation from the businesses it was set up to regulate. Simply put, that is a recipe for death and injuries among the very people whom OSHA is supposed to protect. If you don't think so, look at it this way: which businesses are most and least likely to comply with voluntary standards? The ones that are already concerned with the health and safety of their workers (frequently because a union is involved) will meet voluntary standards, because it seems to be good business to do so. But the companies that have dangerous workplaces are hardly going to change their ways just because OSHA tells them that it would be nice if they did so. It hardly needs to be pointed out that the whole reason why we need a health and safety agency is to deal with the second kind of employer.
OSHA and its regulations are seldom the stuff of headlines. The agency's operations generally fly beneath the radar, so it is the perfect place to apply the Repubs' doctrine of hollowing out government agencies in aid of private greed--even where life and health is at stake.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Wilt suggests that flags be lowered to half-staff at the home base of those killed. A good way to honor those sacrifice, but not likely given a commander-in-chief who ordered that there be no photos of coffins of the dead returning from the battlefields.
Monday, April 23, 2007
Friday, April 20, 2007
One aspect of the decision that I focused on which most observers have not was the question of where in tarnation the federal government gets the power to regulate abortions. This is important, because it goes to the continuing tug of war over where the boundaries of federal power lie.
For many years, we liberals pushed those boundaries, at least in most areas. With the coming of the "conservative" revolution and especially in the Bush years, it was our ox that was gored and we saw that federal power ought to be limited.
OK, so back to the decision. The majority never dealt with the question of federal power; all it did was to quote from the statute's prohibition on doctors who are in or affect interstate commerce. That might apply to a doctor who treats a patient in another state (one might question whether medical practice is commerce, but I think that horse has left the barn; those of us who think that doctors and lawyers can be liable for violation of consumer-protection laws can hardly make that argument), but what about the woman from down the block? The kind of arguments in favor of a broad interpretation of the Commerce Clause that actuated liberals for many years--viz., the New Deal--might accept that formulation. (In a case in 1941, the government argued that a farmer who never sold in interstate commerce, indeed, I think the one in question said he consumed all his own produce, was nonetheless subject to farm regulations, because his products were part of the total stream that included interstate commerce. The Supreme Court agreed.)
Here's the problem, though, at least as respects the decision this week: three of the five justices in the majority (Kennedy, Scalia and Thomas) voted to strike down the Violence Against Women Act a few years ago. The reason? The acts forbidden did not have a close enough relation to interstate commerce. One might think that perhaps the justices value fetuses more than women.
These are the same justices who have struck down other laws, because they found fault with congressional findings that formed the justification for them. Yet this week, Justice Kennedy noted substantial flaws in important parts of the congressional findings on which the anti-abortion statute, yet he went on to uphold its validity.
What gives? We know: the five justices (as Justice Ginsburg noted, all male) were determined to validate the statute at issue, and the decision was written to justify that aim. This is result-oriented jurisprudence, and it is the opposite of the way judges are supposed to decide cases.
I'm not going to comment on the parts of the decision specific to abortion; others far more qualified have done that. I will, however, go out on a limb and predict that Gonzalez v. Carhart will ultimately prove harmful to the anti-abortion cause. The fact that the Supreme Court has actually allowed a restriction on abortion that takes no account of the life or health of the mother to stand will galvanize millions who have stood on the sidelines. Given the general weakness of conservatives and especially of the GOP these days, that is going to help speed political change, which will lead to different laws and, ultimately, different judges.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Given the British journalists killed by Arab fighters in Iraq, and the fact that the BBC's Alan Johnston was kidnapped--and according to some reports murdered--by Palestinians in Gaza--the move might be seen as curious. Or, perhaps, as giving in to threats of violence.
But what the journalists did was more than strange, illogical or weak: It was a violation of their professional principles. The job of the reporter is to observe and report. The journalist who becomes part of the story forfeits his claim to our attention. But that is exactly what these British scribes have done. By injecting themselves into the maelstrom of Middle East politics, they have disqualified themselves from the only role that they could legitimately claim.
(For British foolishness, this move ranks with the resolution of the Oxford Union in 1935 or so, that declared its members would not die for King and country. A few years later, of course, many of them were doing exactly that.)
Friedman does an effective job at sketching the scale of the problem we face if we are to avoid a global climate disaster, and at showing the economic challenges that must be met in order to bring China and India--already important sources of pollution, their contributions to warming growing daily--into the fold of nations truly dedicated to reducing greenhouse gases. But where the article shines is in showing that an enlightened, environmentally-responsible policy is not only possible, but is the way to restore the American manufacturing sector.
One example that Friedman uses is GE's locomotive manufacturing plant in Erie, PA. Erie might be thought of as the buckle on the rust belt, but as the manager of the plant points out, “Our little town has trade surpluses with China and Mexico.” How does an American plant, paying American wages and making a heavy-industry product of the kind that has long since fled to foreign makers, compete with--and actually sell to--the nations that have sucked so much manufacturing away? By producing engines that are lighter (thus more economical to run) and cleaner in both current (NOx) and future (CO2) pollutants than their foreign competitors. Oh, and as the plan manager also notes, "they don’t stop on the tracks.”
My favorite line in the article is a quote from John Gardner, founder of Common Cause, likening climate change to: "a series of great opportunities disguised as insoluble problems."
We need to wake up the can-do attitude that characterized American enterprise for so many decades to take on those problems.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Others saw a broader issue: the way in which we talk about each other in general. Is there a difference between Don Imus' stupid remarks about the Rutgers University women's basketball team and the homophobia of Russ Limbaugh, the xenophobia of Glenn Beck or the ravings of Ann Coulter? No, no, and no, except that Imus got his comeuppance for his maundering.
On further thought, I suspect that I was mistaken in viewing the Imus contretemps as the start of a national discussion about how we talk about one another. It now seems that this incident is part of a revulsion at incivility that started--as usual--among "ordinary" Americans before the media noticed. Its most clear expression to date was not have Imus's demise, but the November 2006 election. Voters there turned their backs not only on Bush's policy in Iraq, but on a political style that assumes a monopoly on truth and good.
So Limbaugh, Beck, Coulter and their ilk will continue their smirking bigotry but they, like Don Imus and George W. Bush, are part of the past.
The same, I suspect, is true of those rap and hip-hop artists I wrote about--although being totally ignorant of what passes for music these days, I can speak from a vantage point of absolutely no authority.
For someone who does speak with authority, take a look at Russ Mitchell's CBS interview with Maya Angelou, who takes on the rap and hip-hop artists I spoke of in my earlier post. She is magnificent.
From the Albuquerque Journal, April 15, 2007:
"In the spring of 2006, Domenici told Gonzales he wanted [U.S. Attorney David] Iglesias out.
"Gonzales refused. He told Domenici he would fire Iglesias only on orders from the president.
"At some point after the election last Nov. 6, Domenici called Bush's senior political adviser, Karl Rove, and told him he wanted Iglesias out and asked Rove to take his request directly to the president.
"Domenici and Bush subsequently had a telephone conversation about the issue.
"The conversation between Bush and Domenici occurred sometime after the election but before the firings of Iglesias and six other U.S. attorneys were announced on Dec. 7."
In other words, it is not just Gonzalez, and not just Karl Rove who are implicated in the politically-motivated firings of the US Attorneys, but the President himself. Did Bush know that the senor Senator from New Mexico wanted the U.S. Attorney fired for political reasons? Assuming that the President would invoke executive privilege to conceal what Rove told him, isn't it enough that a) Domenici's call was routed through Rove and b) Domenici's called Iglesias to complain that the US Attorney's office was not indicting Democrats before Election Day in a vote-fraud case that Iglesias considered too weak to prosecute, enough to show that Bush knew what was up?
Will the major media pick this up? Will Democrats have the guts to pursue the story to the Oval Office?
Friday, April 13, 2007
So MSNBC and CBS finally saw the light--or at least the declining revenues as advertisers scampered away from the sinking ship. Whether for reasons of morality or cupidity, the right result was reached.
Perhaps the most salutary part of the whole sorry affair was that more attention was focused on the way that rap and hip-hop "artists" speak of black women every day in terms that would make Imus blush.
So, now that the Imus is fading into history, what will happen next? Will we go back to business-as-usual? Or could this be an opportunity to change attitudes towards black women in particular, and more generally the attitude that black Americans have about themselves?
White guys like me can't have much part in this--there's far too much history for that. But women, black, white, Hispanic, Asian--and black men can stand up and say to people like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson that it's time to stop the demeaning portrayals of women--especially black women--in mass media, that it's past time for leaders in the community to begin a relentless campaign to teach younger people the destructiveness of the kind of thinking and acting that leads to all women being regarded as ho's. That could, and should, expand to an examination of the self-destructive behavior that is sometimes deemed acceptable among American blacks, and to a sustained efforts to change the thinking that leads to acts that hold too many blacks back and makes life more difficult for those who don't behave that way, but share skin color with those who do. (Yes, it's racist that whites and others assume that all blacks act the way some do, and they whites find it convenient to believe that many more black Americans believe and behave like the gangsta rappers than is really the case.)
Thursday, April 12, 2007
A few hours later, another suicide bomber blows himself up inside the cafeteria of the Iraqi parliament. Which is in "the heavily-fortified Green Zone."
Oh, well, John McCain (R-AZ) didn't say that you could walk across bridges or through the Green Zone in safety.
In Vietnam, as up to now in in Iraq, the US Army assigned soldiers for one-year tours of duty in the war zones. That did not, and does not, mean twelve months in combat, because these wars were and are not the same as the Second World War. But in a war with no front, the soldier is always under stress, always liable to attack. In Iraq, even more than in Vietnam, there are no safe havens.
So, the announcement yesterday that Army tours in Iraq are being extended for three more months will not only be an immediate blow to morale. If carried out--if the American people do not stand up and force an end to the insanity of an open-ended commitment to this unwinnable struggle--this new policy will permanently damage the psyches of thousands of people who will return with no visible injuries, will seriously erode the cohesion and fighting efficiency of units and will only accelerate the downward spiral of the United States from the pinnacle of power that it held when George W. Bush became President.
(The very idea of a pre-determined tour of duty in a war zone is--to be charitable--of questionable wisdom. "Short-timers" in Vietnam were well known to be dangerous to themselves and those around them. The idea of soldiers counting down the days is counterproductive to military discipline and efficiency. And, it will also tend to straitjacket the thinking of commanders, leading them to keep some units in the war zone longer than necessary or desirable, while others may be rotated before they need to be--although in Iraq, with danger always present, it is hard to see how that could be true for any American formation.)
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
You just told me when.
Yes, I did.
Who is it?
No, Hu isn't going. He's the President
I don't know who isn't going. I want to know who is, but I don't know who is. That's what I'm asking you.
And I'm telling you. Hu is the President of China.
And I still don't know. Is that the same as being premier?
No, the Premier is Wen.
We've been over that. I thought you said it was today.
Yes, I did. But you asked about Hu.
Are you going to tell me?
Yes I did. He's the President.
But who's the premier? Isn't that the guy we started talking about?
No. We were talking about Wen.
We've been over that! I know it's today.
Right. But then you asked who the premier was.
Uh huh. So who is it?
No, I keep telling you. He's the president. Wen is the premier.
I don't think I care any more.
--I couldn't resist!
(For those who don't keep up with these things, Wen Jibao is the Premier and Hu Jintao the President and Paramount Leader of the Communist Party of the Peoples' Republic of China.)
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
(The clip is slow to load, but give it time--even at this late date, it's worth remembering what Rove & Co. were trying to do.)
So W has invited the leaders of Congress to sit down with him at the White House and discuss funding for the war. But he's made it clear that he won't negotiate over Congress' desire to limit the time that Americans are fighting and dying in Iraq. "We can discuss the way forward on a bill that is a clean bill; a bill that funds our troops without artificial timetables for withdrawal," the President said.
In other words, we can discuss how you're going to do what I want.
Will Democrats have the guts to decline the invitation, even if he sweetens it with an offer of lunch? Unfortunately, they probably won't, although Harry Reid did say, "The president is inviting us down to the White House with preconditions. That's not the way things should operate." When it comes right down to it, though, the leadership of House and Senate will prove too scared of how the right-wing claque would howl at such effrontery. Too bad, because the American people would understand.
Sunday, April 08, 2007
WPA--the Works Progress Administration for you young 'uns--was the great public-works engine of the New Deal. In a few yeas, it build\t hundreds of thousands of miles of roads, thousands of bridges, as well as schools, courthouses and the Grand Coulee Dam. The agency also employed artists to paint murals in public spaces, actors and directors to put on plays, and Woody Guthrie to write and perform songs, including Grand Coulee Dam.
(U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)
Next time you hear a Repub say that we can't solve problems by throwing money at them, just say "WPA."
Not that it really matters. McCain admitted that his campaign is tied to what happens in Iraq. As we all know, that misadventure can only end badly--for the United States, for Iraqis and, in all likelihood, for McCain as well. Indeed, even if he were to win the GOP nomination, can he expect to prevail against any of the top-tier Democrats? Perhaps against Hillary, if he can somehow recapture his reputation for independence and paint her as an endless calculator, both tall orders. Right now, it looks far more likely that McCain will be pretty well out of the race before Iowa. (I'm not predicting that--I know how early it is. I'm only saying that that's how it looks today.)
As for McCain's stroll through the Shorja market--followed by his sunny report and, the next day, the kidnapping and murder of 21 market workers--the Senator did admit that he "mis-spoke." But then he said that that's his personality, and that he's happy with the way he is. While we might applaud a man who is comfortable with himself, I suspect that Americans are fed up with presidents who consistently say what they don't really mean.
Thursday, April 05, 2007
Bob Herbert, an NYT columnist who is underrated, because he's on the same page with Paul Krugman and Nicholas Kristoff (who should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize), wrote a very well reasoned piece about the need to restore our infrastructure. Unfortunately, he sold the topic short by saying that he can't think of a less sexy story.
I think he's wrong about that. True, crumbling bridges and roads don't lead the news--unless they collapse like the tunnel in Boston's Big Dig did last year. (Ironically, that was part of a new project, not an old one.) But virtually all Americans must ride on those aging roads and bridges every day. Many of them know of the poor condition of our infrastructure first-hand, and many who don't bother to think about the subject could be educated if our would-be leaders called attention to it. Restoring our infrastructure is exactly the kind of bread-and-butter issue that made Democrats the dominant party for most of the Twentieth Century and, while such topics are sometimes derided in a globalized world, they remain important.
Indeed, as Herbert points out, if the US wants to compete in the global market, repairing our infrastructure will be vital. Without safe roads, bridges and tunnels, without dams that reliably hold back water, we will suffer from commercial sclerosis. If you don't believe me, look at the third-world nations in which getting products to market and distributing goods to customers are major impediments to progress.
There is another point that argues for Democrats making infrastructure a major part of their platform in 2008: it is yet another way to split the "conservative" coalition. Businesspeople who have voted for the GOP in the past have interests that diverge sharply from the starve-the-best yahoos like Grover Norquist. They will support money to repair the underpinnings of the structure on which their enterprises rest (sometimes literally), and some of them will vote for a Democrat who pledges to take on the task.
The Senator's office portrayed his move as a stand against unnecessary federal law. Proponents of the bill suggested that he had knuckled under to pressure--read, campaign cash--from the illegal but huge cock- and dogfighting industry.
Ah, yes, the GOP, party of values. The value of the dollar, that is.
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
But then it turns out that the students in question did not own the flag. Not only that, but the flag they burned was attached to a flagpole, and the flagpole was attached to a house. And it was still flying from that flagpole, attached to that house, when they set it ablaze.
So the three--two of whom turn out to be foreign nationals (not that that should mean anything) were not charged with flag-burning, as such, but with arson, reckless endangerment and lesser offenses.
Still, when they appeared for arraignment they were attired in leg irons and handcuffs. Would that have been the case if the flag in question had had a Budweiser label on it, instead of the stars and stripes? You be the judge.
But wait, as they say on late-night TV, there's more. You may recall that Mr. Bush had nominated Sam Fox to be ambassador to Belgium, an appointment that was pulled when it turned out that Fox was the financial angel behind the "Swift Vote Veterans for Truth," (a title with as much verisimilitude as calling the Soviet Union's chief newspaper Pravda). Today, however, in a matchless display of arrogance and contempt for both congressional Democrats and our constitutional system (which envisions recess appointments as stop-gaps to make sure that essential posts are filled when Congress cannot do so), the President appointed Fox to the ambassadorial job, where he will stay until 2008. Don't you think the Belgians are thrilled and honored?
What can be done? As far as I can tell, there are only two solutions to this hubris. One is for Democrats to make sure that Congress does not recess between now and January 2009. You've heard of the never-ending campaign? Welcome to the never-ending Congress.
The other can be encapsulated in a bumper sticker that I had printed last year.
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) pronounced the market "like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime."
Oh, yeah? And when you go to those markets in your home state, Congressman, do you wear a flak jacket like you were on Sunday? (Maybe they offer REALLY great bargains in Indiana farmers' markets.)
Monday, April 02, 2007
My family used a Haggadah (the book recounting the story of Pesach, or Passover) that was written during World War II, and it expresses the ideal of liberation that informed Jewish thought in the New Deal and the Second World War. As told there, the story of the Exodus is not just the story of the Hebrews' escape from Egypt, but all victories of freedom over oppression since: the liberty serfs won from their masters (some of those serfs, in Eastern Europe, enthusiastically joined in pogroms), the freedom of slaves freed from bondage all over the world, the freedom of workers from robber-baron bosses.
Today, the Supreme Court refused a chance to rule on the rights of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, hundreds of men who have been left behind barbed wire and bars for five years and more without trial and, in almost all cases, without even being charged. Two justices, Kennedy and Stevens, suggested that the prisoners might come back to the court after exhausting their other remedies (Congress has denied them all remedies except military commissions), or if the government were slow to charge them. Slow? What is five years if not slow? Recall that the Constitution contains a provision requiring speedy trial of criminal cases.
Is it coincidence that among the dissenters from this erev (eve) Passover decision were its two Jewish members, Justices Breyer and Ginsburg? I'd like to think not. I should like to think that their heritage informed their reasoning.
(Justice Breyer, dissenting for himself and Justices Ginsburg and Souter, simply demolished the logic of Stevens and Kennedy and, implicitly, the refusal by the court's right wing to even hear the prisoners' argument. Unfortunately, Justice Ginsburg refused to sign the portion of the dissent that would not only have permitted review, but would have ordered the case heard this term.)
Sunday, April 01, 2007
McCain, Giuliani and Romney are shaking in their shoes.
Clinton's fundraising is impressive, and it demonstrates a strong organization and the commitment of many people to her campaign. (And also the value of being married to an ex-President.) But she has yet to demonstrate that she can put Democrats qualms to rest and actually get votes in competition with other candidates for the nomination.
In other words, we're still seeing inside baseball.
One of the bedrock principles of our system is that the military is controlled by civilians. The generals (and admirals) don't make the final decision, political leaders do. So, when Bush suggests that the House and Senate should leave decisions about pulling out of Iraq to the generals, he is either deluded about the way our government works or, once again, he is twisting the truth. I hope it is the latter, because if the President really believes that whether to continue our involvement in Iraq is a military, rather than a political question, we are in even worse trouble than I thought.