Monday, May 22, 2006

May 15 - May 21, 2006

The Fat's in the Fire
Now There's Only
Hell to Pay

I'm just a guy who flunked out of college in his freshman year 40 years ago, and never looked back. I only mention this to point out that, when it comes to luminaries, I am hardly one of the brightest of lights. No one has, or ever will, ask me to become a distinguished fellow for a think tank. And we can all be thankful for that!

But it does leave me wondering how smart the folks are who we entrust with our economy, nation and world peace. I get emails every day from folks, who like me, are just, well, average. We wake up every morning wondering what the "geniuses" we send to Washington have done lately to screw something up that we'll all have to pay to fix. And most of time we are not disappointed. They have indeed screwed up something, and most of the time it's something we had warned them not to monkey with or just this would happen.

Call it cosmic consciousness, luck, or just good old fashioned common sense. But, be it the mess in Iraq, or the energy crisis, crashing stocks, the collapse of the US dollar on world market, the immigration mess or the rekindled fires of inflation -- many ordinary folk out here saw it coming.

On the other hand the folks we send to Wasghington tasked with the job of making sure that none of those kind of thins become a problem not only miss the point, but the kind things that actually creat such problems, then they proceed to do things to make them worse, not better. The public record on this irrefutable and unambiguous.

I'm not suggesting we send college flunk-outs to Washington, but it does leave one wondering if things could be any worse if we did.

Anyway, I have a point to make today so let's get to it.

Back in 2002 I wrote an opinion piece for the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle. In it I predicted precisely what was going to happen to our economy if George Bush and his supply-side Moonies were allowed their way. Below I reproduce that article as it ran nearly four years ago. Since then taxes have been slashed by a couple of trillion bucks for the wealthy. And big business hasn't seen a more lenient federal regulatory environment since Reagan left open the safe doors open at the nation's savings and loans two decades ago.

So read this golden oldie. Then ask yourself the following question:

“If a guy with nothing but a high school to recommend him saw this coming, why didn't our supremely educated former Fed chief, Alan Greenspan? Or his equally taught successor, Ben Bernanke? Or, for that matter, all those GOP members of Congress who stood behind the President this week grinning as if they'd just discovered the cure for cancer as Bush approved another $70 billion in tax cuts?”

Voodoo economics, 21st century style:
Son of a Gingrich, grandson of a Reagan

By Stephen P. Pizzo
San Francisco Chronicle
December 15, 2002

When Republicans regained control of both houses of Congress in November, they won more than bragging rights. They also realized their best opportunity yet to enact the twin sacraments of conservative economics: tax cuts and deregulation. With Democrats out of power and a new White House economic team now in place, GOP conservatives hope they can finally achieve their vision of a low-tax, lightly regulated economy.

Twice in the past two decades, supply-siders have tried to prove that a booming economy can be created by deep tax cuts -- resulting in more tax revenue -- buttressed by ending mettlesome federal oversight and bureaucratic regulations.

Unfortunately, the Republicans' attempts to do this have left taxpayers saddled with hundreds of billions of dollars of debt, fomented waves of corporate corruption and may end up costing pension funds and small investors trillions of dollars.

Nevertheless, no sooner had this fall's election results been announced than House and Senate Republicans were proposing additional tax cuts and lining up to whack away once again at the federal regulatory apparatus.

Maybe the third time will be the charm. We better hope so, because current government obligations already exceed projected tax revenues by over $20 trillion dollars. (Update: It's now pushing $55 trillion)

Cutting taxes and reducing regulation have been central tenets of Republican orthodoxy even before Ronald Reagan took them prime time.

Lowering taxes is supposed to result in more investment, growth and jobs. And deregulation frees companies from expensive rules leaving more money for shareholders, expansion and -- jobs. Ruled by Adam Smith's "invisible hand," businesses are persuaded to do the right thing because it's in their own enlightened self-interest.

Liberal Democrats dismiss all this as a sop to corporate contributors and a tax giveaway to the wealthy. Even President Bush's own father dissed supply- side theory as "voodoo economics." Bush Senior was right.

The first test of these theories came in the 1980s. In his eight years in office, Reagan slashed taxes by over $750 billion. He also began deregulating the financial services sector by signing thrift deregulation into law. The measure lifted historically tight oversight of the nation's savings and loan associations, cutting them loose to prosper by investing their federally insured deposits in whatever they thought could turn a buck. It was the most ambitious piece of deregulation of the financial sector since the Great Depression.

Reagan thought deregulating savings and loans would spur home construction and create jobs. It didn't. And his tax cuts failed to produce more high- paying jobs or higher tax revenues, which dropped off a cliff while defense spending soared.

Bipartisan pork kept domestic spending climbing as well. It was Vietnam-era "guns and butter" economics all over again. To cover the fall in tax revenues, Reagan whipped out the National Platinum Card. By 1987, the United States was the world's largest debtor nation. (Update: Since this was written US government debt has doubled to $8.3 trillion)

Warning: Political conditions today mirror the Reagan era. Reagan's popularity among voters convinced Democrats it was in their best short-term interest to support his proposed tax cuts.

Back in 1988, I sat through countless hours of congressional hearings in which members of Congress -- most of whom voted for thrift deregulation and/or interfered with later attempts by regulators to rein in the industry -- pounded the lectern demanding to know: "Where were the accountants? How could this have happened right under the noses of auditors from prestigious accounting firms like -- Arthur Andersen?"

The answer was clear: Outside accounting firms were thoroughly compromised. Instead of reporting trouble at the thrifts they audited, they helped cook their books, hide bad loans and inflate the value of assets. They even shredded documents to hide their culpability. Sound familiar? (Upate: More familiar than ever since I wrote this piece... Enron, Global Crossing, Worldcom, etc)

In 1989, thrifts were reregulated, to the public's benefit. But it was a different story for accountants. There were calls to regulate them, too, but the industry greased key House and Senate members with generous campaign contributions. Even after aiding and abetting the looting of hundreds of S&Ls, accountants were allowed to continue to self-regulate.

Congress' failure to place the accounting industry under SEC oversight in 1989 would cost taxpayers, workers, pension funds and small investors dearly over the next decade. (Update: Accountants once again were given a piece of the action for cooking the books for crooket companies, aided and abetted by an SEC that refused to enforce time-tested accounting standards and rules -- again.)

Record Reagan-era deficits and the savings-and-loan debacle did little to dampen conservative enthusiasm for lower taxes or deregulation.

In 1994, a new breed of fiscal conservatives swept into office. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Georgia Republican, ruled under the "Contract With America" -- a fresh call for lower taxes and "smaller government." The congressional class of '94 was to taxes and deregulation what the Taliban were to Islam -- uncompromising fundamentalists.

President Bill Clinton responded by slipping into his "triangulation" mode and declaring, to the delight of conservatives, that "the era of big government is dead over." (Update: Just as his wife is now triangulating for conservative votes by declaring that the era of abortion on demand may be nearing an end, as is the era of flag burning.)

Bill Clinton's State of the Union remark provided a green light for the deregulators.

Under Gingrich's leadership, House conservatives mounted repeated assaults on the federal regulatory apparatus. Because the SEC regulated public companies, it was second in line only to the Environmental Protection Agency for congressional ire. In 2001, Louisiana Republican Rep. Billy Tauzin used his chairmanship of the powerful House Commerce Committee to block then-SEC head Arthur Levitt's frantic effort to pass a rule requiring big accounting firms to separate their auditing from their increasingly lucrative consulting businesses.

Tauzin (who was among the largest recipients of accounting industry contributions) lambasted Levitt when he testified before the Commerce Committee and later threatened to cut the SEC's budget if Levitt did not drop the matter.
Levitt backed off -- and the time bomb ticked on.

The regulatory vacuum was filled by lawyers. Public interest and investor groups, unable to get the attention of federal agencies such as the EPA or SEC, turned to the courts. Judges and juries began ruling for plaintiffs, slamming companies with fines into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

House conservatives were furious. Unable to intimidate an independent judiciary, Congress simply changed the law. In 1995, they passed the "Private Securities Litigation Reform Act," making it much harder for private attorneys to get a class-action case accepted by the courts and reducing the level of liability faced by corporate insiders, their accountants and law firms.

It would be six years before the first corporate domino would fall, but Congress had put in place yet another cog in the wheels of the corporate crisis to come.

In 2001, when George W. Bush took office, his first push was for a $1.6 trillion tax cut over 10 years. Democrats fell in line after trimming the cuts to a still-hefty $1.3 trillion. And despite growing concern over the uncertain future of Social Security and Medicare, the Bush tax cuts became law.

It was 1984 all over again.

The jury is still out on the Bush tax cuts, but signs are not good. As with Reagan's tax cuts, less money is flowing into the federal treasury, new revenues have not materialized and defense spending has soared. In less than two years, the $5.6 trillion tax surplus forecast by the Congressional Budget Office in 2000 has vanished. The national Platinum Card is back in use.

On the deregulatory front, those 1994 Contract With America chickens came home to roost with a vengeance beginning in December 2001 with Enron's collapse. Enron was followed in short order by dozens of other marquee U.S. companies.

Once again, loosened federal oversight -- rather than sparking innovation, investment and growth -- enabled an orgy of self-dealing, insider abuse and other skullduggery.
Earlier this year, I once again found myself listening to congressional testimony.

There on C-Span was Rep. Tauzin, again holding hearings, this time on the Enron collapse. More than a decade ago, Arthur Levitt told him it would happen. Here was Tauzin, pounding the lectern as he interrogated representatives from Arthur Andersen. "Where were your auditors? How could this happen?"

The answer Congress got in 2002 was the same as in 1989. Even some of the "perps" were the same. (Arthur Andersen had worked for Charles Keating's Linoln Savings.)

One might think such a dismal batting average would sober up even the most rabid fiscal jihadist. On the contrary -- even though a recent New York Times/CBS News poll shows that two-thirds of the country thinks the money from the now-vanished federal surplus should have been used to help save Medicare and Social Security, not subsidize a trillion-dollar tax cut -- conservatives see their historic mid-term victory last month as a mandate to finish the job.

What about the expensive failures of the past? Conservatives say the only reason things went badly was that liberals gummed up the works, first by snookering George H.W. Bush into breaking his no-new-taxes pledge (he raised them in 1990), and then by aiding and abetting Clinton during his eight-year reign.

Diehard conservatives don't give up. This time, they say, they'll get it right.


Update: Well, of course there was no way they could "get it right," because supply-side theory, like creation science, is faith-based nonsense. It's based on the premise that those who say "I'll believe it works when I see it work," have backwards, that we will see it only when we blindly believe it.

The lesson we learned the last time this theory was put to a real-world test is that money NEVER trickles down. Them who's got it, keeps it. But, money does trickle up. If Bush if had done just the opposite thing, cut a trillion bucks in taxes from workers paychecks, they would have spent it, creating demand for products and services, which in turn would have created jobs, and so on. Duh!

Well, now we've had another dose of supply-side nonsense and, so far, so bad. We get to learn once again, it doesn't work. (Except for those who are already loaded, that is.)

The US dollar is in collapse on world markets. Gold is at 25-year highs. Energy prices are at record levels.

"Gold is the barometer of pulic confidence in fiat money....The dollar's collapse is nothing less than a body blow to capitalism. When we downplay the significance of energy prices we are not denying that a crisis is looming. It's just a lot more threatening than an increase in the cost of tank of gas." (Enconomists David Ranson & Penny Russell, Wall Street Journal May 18, 2006)

Consumer debt is at record levels. Government debt is at record levels. We don't have money left to cover our obligations to Medicare or Social Security. Mortgage loan late payments have jumped to alarming levels in recent weeks.

"Deliquencies are sharply study shows 29% of borrowers who took out mortgages last year have no equity in their homes...higher interest rates and a cooling housing market could push delinquency rates higher in comong months experts fear." (Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2006)

There's about to be hell to pay. And it was all so predictable... and avoidable.

May 17, 2006

Shades of Maxwell Smart

I've never doubted for a second that the government would spy on its own citizens – any government - not just ours. Information is, as the saying goes, power – always has been, always will be. So, as much as my civil libertarian side hates it, the realist in me shrugs each time a new piece of evidence surfaces that they are up to doing just that.

Or more precisely trying to do just that.

As I downed the final dregs of a cold Corona the other day I recalled all the stories I had written over the years about monumentally expensive failed government computer system upgrades. In fact, hard as I thought, I couldn't recall a single story lauding a government agency for a successful computer project. Not one. Ever.

Just last year we learned that the FBI had wasted $700 million trying to develop a modern networked computer system able to track criminals and terrorists and allow its offices around the nation to talk to one another – for the first time.

That one didn't work either. Still doesn't. In fact the FBI is now busy chucking that system and starting over.

That story produced a shrug from me too. I recalled a 1994 meeting I had with an FBI agent just appointed to head the FBI's San Francisco office's new computer crimes division. I was working for a nascent Internet company at the time and he asked if he could drop by and check out this new thing called the Internet. He explained that, thought the FBI did have a computer crimes division, none of the FBI's computers were online. “Yeah,” he said. “They don't allow it. It's a security issue.”

Remember... this was in San Francisco... the hottest hot bed of Internet R&D at the time.

Last week everyone was atwitter over news that the NSA has been scooping up all our phone records. Some say that since 9/11 they have squirreled away as many as one trillion phone transactions. Again, I shrugged.

Which brings me to the theme of this rant;

Will the real US Government please stand up.

* Are you the black-helicopter flying, eyes in the sky, ears to the ground, all-knowing Big Brother government?
* Or are you really the Maxwell Smart, bumbling, money-wasting, last to know anything, government?

Help me out here.

For starters I find it difficult to imagine that it can be both at once. Are we to believe that within the same government whose top national police agency, the FBI, can't install a computer system that works, another agency, the NSA, can? It's possible, but nothing in my direct experience with government agencies would cause me to believe it.

And sure enough, it's not so. There is plenty of evidence that the NSA's computer systems are just as big a mess as the FBI's – certainly a more expensive mess, and likely an even bigger one.

Last week reporters for the Baltimore Sun got a peek under the NSA's Cone of Silence. They reported that the man now up for the top CIA post, former NSA head, General Michael Hayden, managed to blow $2 billion during his tenure at the NSA on a failed agency-wide computer upgrade. .

WASHINGTON: May 9, 2006 -- Two technology programs at the heart of the National Security Agency's drive to combat 21st-century threats are stumbling badly, hampering the agency's ability to fight terrorism and other emerging threats, current and former government officials say....One is Cryptologic Mission Management, a computer software program with an estimated cost of $300 million that was designed to help the NSA track the implementation of new projects but is so flawed that the agency is trying to pull the plug. The other, code-named Groundbreaker, is a multibillion-dollar computer systems upgrade that frequently gets its wires crossed. (Full Story)

Is it just me, or doesn't the NSA phone spying story collide a wall of contradictions? I mean collecting a trillion pieces of data is the easy part. (Because the NSA didn't collect them in the first place. The phone companies did. The could because, unlike the NSA and FBI, have computer systems that work.) But once in possession of such a huge and ever growing mountain of data, then what? You need to slice it, dice it, find matches, produce tracking reports, integrate data into spreadsheets... and so on. And you need computers and software that work for any and all that.

So, what happens when NSA analysts feed data into Gen. Hadley's $2 billion cuisinart – which includes the NSA's $1.2 billion threat-sniffing initiative called “Trailblazer?"

Well, for starters, it might be the last time any sees that data. Here's what 10 analysts who recently left the NSA told the Sun about the NSA's expensive failure:

* When the agency's communications lines become overloaded, the system often delivers garbled intelligence reports,
* NSA analysts and managers say the new cumbersome and unreliable system has cut their productivity in half since it was installed,
* The new system requires analysts to perform many more steps to accomplish what the old system used to get done with a keystroke or two.
* They report getting locked out of their computers without warning,
* Agency linguists say the number of conversations they can translate in a day has dropped significantly with the new system.
* NSA employees get new computers every three years on a rotating schedule, so some analysts always have computers as much as three years older than their colleagues', often with incompatible software.
* E-mail attachments get lost in the system... simply disappear. Where do they go? The contractor's explanation: “The just drop out.”

General Hayden has now been tapped by President Bush to fix the CIA. It looks to me that he is getting away from the NSA in the nick of time since his $2 billion computer system has left the NSA stuffed like a Jonestown goose with data it can't digest. (Heck of job, Stevie!)

By now you must be wondering who got paid $2 billion for failing? One of the usual suspects, of course. No not Halliburton, but close. Going under the name, “The Eagle Alliance,” the contract was managed by Computer Sciences Corp. and San Diego-based Science Applications International (SAIC.)

“CSC spent $520,000 in 2001 to lobby Congress and various government agencies on its own behalf. That same year, the company also paid lobby firms a total of $580,000. In total, Computer Sciences Corp spent $1,100,000 in 2001 on lobbying fees associated with a variety of issues, including appropriation and procurement bills related to the Defense Department, Treasury Department, the Executive Office of the President and other federal agencies. The company also lobbied on "legislative proposals for privatization and commercialization of Federal services," according to lobby documents filed with Congress. In 2002, Computer Sciences Corp spent a total of $1,110,000 to lobby on similar issues....On April 18, 2003, Computer Sciences Corporation's DynCorp International won a contract from the U.S. Department of State to provide up to 1,000 civilian advisers to help organize civilian law enforcement, judicial and correctional agencies. The estimated value could be as high as $50 million for the first year, depending on assessments of Iraqi capabilities and needs." (More)

And the other familiar face:

(MCLEAN, VA) – Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) today announced a contract award from the National Security Agency (NSA) to be the provider of the technology demonstration platform (TDP) phase of the TRAILBLAZER program. The NSA selected the SAIC-led Digital Network Intelligence (DNI) Enterprise team that includes Northrop Grumman Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., The Boeing Company [NYSE:BA], Computer Sciences Corporation (NYSE:CSC) and SAIC wholly-owned subsidiary Telcordia Technologies to contribute to the modernization of the NSA's signals intelligence capabilities. (More)

(For more on these two companies see Divvying up The Iraqi Pie)

The Bush administrator's short list of favored defense contractors can be written down on a fortune cookie slip: Halliburton, Science Applications International Corp. Fluor, Computer Sciences.

"It's more of the same people," a former NSA official told the Sun. "The contracting system makes it very hard to engage industry, and it's very hard for people to break into government contracting. This is one of the areas I think needs tremendous review."

For an administration that talks about “accountability” they sure don't walk that talk. Instead they reward failure, at lease when it's among friends. Medals are handed out to those forced to get out of Dodge before their misdeeds catch up with them. And favored companies, that waste billions of taxpayer dollars on failed technology projects, are rehired to fix the mess they so profitably created in the first place.

(Oh, by the way, the FBI and NSA are not the only departments spending billions trying to reinvent the software/hardware wheel. Homeland Security is working on a little known computer systems they call ADVISE ( Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement.) So far little is known about this project, except that nearly $50 million has been spent just testing it. But with such a name only a bureacrat could love, how can fail -- right?

All of which explains why I shrugged when I read the NSA phone spying story last week. Don't get me wrong. I hate it when government kicks me in the privates. I hate it when Nanny-government Democrats try to protect me from everything, including myself. And I hate it when paternalistic Republicans want to protect me from _______ ____________ (fill in the boogeyman dejur.) by keeping an eye on us. I just doubt they can do it. Oh yeah... also I am sure they'd like those they see as our enemies to believe they can do it. But, personally, I doubt it. And I doubt that our enemies are losing much sleep over of it either.

Not that we should stop demanding that our elected officials follow the law. Or that we shouldn't impeach and/or indict those found to have broken the law. We should – even if, as I suspect, they are failing at their illegal task. After all, you don't have to be a competent crook to be convicted. If you try to rob a bank, but fail to get a dime, you still get to go to jail for bank robbery.

Oh, one more thing. If you want to report a suspected terrorist to the FBI or NSA, include your tip in the body of your email. Because if you send it as an attachment, it's likely to vanish in transit. Where do the attachments go? They don't know that – either.

May 11, 2006

One Final Squeezing
of the Grapes

Remember the rampant looting that followed the fall of Saddam? You may have thought that was a pretty brazen display of thievery.

Forget about it. Those Iraqis were pikers compared to the Republican-engineered looting about to begin right here at home.

Context being everything, let me set the stage.

The GOP can read the polls. They know the jig is up. Americans are onto them and fully intend to throw them out of power beginning with this November's mid-term elections.

Which is why the rush is on to top off their booty accounts and those of their well-heeled friends. It's every man, woman and contractor for themself now -- and never mind appearances. Just start stuffing the cash into the old duffel bags until they're dragged kicking and screaming away from the till.

Which brings me to the measure passed by the Republican Senate this week. When you're looking for loose cash these days where better to look than Iraq and Afghanistan. And this week they went straight for it. The Senate was considering a supplemental bill to fund reconstruction in the countries we de-constructed during Bush's first term in office. The sum the White House requested -- a lip-smacking $109 billion.

You might remember that soon after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began Halliburton and other administration-connected contractors, were caught stealing hundreds of millions. (“Stealing” --such an ugly word. They prefer “billing disputes,” and “cost overruns.”)

The flap over those early capers resulted in the appointment of Stuart Bowen as Special Inspector for Iraq Reconstruction. Bowen was given a $24 million annual budget and as staff of 55 junkyard dog auditors.

Apparently the White House failed to conduct it's usual background checks of Mr. Bowen. Because, if they had, he would never have been hired. Unlike the standard issue administration yes-men, Bowen turned out to be the real deal. He and his small auditors thought they were actually supposed to catch cheats. And, sure enough, they began catching contractors forcing them to put the cookies back in the jar.

Which explains this week's White House hat trick. The administration had GOP senators on the appropriation committee to make a tiny change in wording to the new $109 billion authorization. It was a tiny change and, I am sure, they hoped would go unnoticed.

Under prior authorizations Iraq and Afghanistan reconstruction funds were described as “Relief and Reconstruction” funds. Under the measure passed this week by the Senate the newly authorized funds would fall under the description, “Foreign Operation” funds.

Here's the rub: Under law Relief and Reconstruction funds must be audited by Stuart Bowen's bean-counters. But Bowen has no authority over appropriations designated as Foreign Operations funds. Those funds are audited by the State Department Inspector General.

Now, remember... Bowen's annual budget is $24 million and he has 55 seasoned auditors.. (auditors, by the way, who have gotten to know the perps and their tricks very, very well.)

The State Department Inspector General has an budget more like the Mayberry Police Dept., $1.3 million and just 4 auditors.

“This is nothing more than a transparent attempt to shut down the only effective oversight of this massive reconstruction program which has been plagued by fraud and mismanagement.” (Sen. Pat Leahy, D-VT)

So, with Republican majority's days likely to end in six months, and the inevitable end of the US occupation in Iraq sure to follow soon thereafter, it was time for one, final all-out, all-you-steal, grab it and dash, romp through the Federal Treasury.

Oh, and don't bother complaining or denouncing the “Republican culture of corruption,” because they know you know. They've been caught red-handed so many times we react to new allegations the same way we react when when hear Michael Jackson or a priest molested another kid. So, what else is new?

These guys are so past being ashamed by their behavior. They know what they are. They know we know what they are. And they're okay with that -- I'm mean really okay. After six years at sucking at the federal tit, they're laughing all the way to the (offshore) bank. They may lose power for a while, but the money they stoled will assure they at least experience a (very) soft landing.

More Grapes
Of course not every GOP suppoter can be a defense contractor. Some are in other businesses, like oil and finance. But they too have been taken care of thanks to the Bush tax cuts on income, dividends and capital gains.

But like war profiteering, fat tax cuts were threatened. They were set to next year, just as Democrats might win back the majority. Holy emergency Bat-Bush!

Something had to be done, and done fast. So the GOP majority passed bills this week extending those tax cuts, despite the exploding national debt created by the first round of cuts.

And, just as it was with the first round of Bush tax cuts, the extension benefits the wealthy far, far, far more than it benefits ordinary working families. Someone making a million bucks a year will get a $42,000 tax break. Someone making $25,000 a year will get a $10 tax brek. If you make under $50,000 a year you'll get around $50.

Caution: Your Tax Dollars at Work
So I guess the moral here is that, between now and November, do not get in between a GOP member of congress or one of their big business supporters and any loose federal money. The final harvest in full swing now, and you will get trampled.

What we will witness over the next few months will be one final, unembarassed, undisguised, squeezing of the American taxpayer.

"Final" might be too optimistic. Because they've done it before, been thrown out, and returned to do it to us again. So, let me qualify that. One final squeezing, until the next time the GOP and it's supporters can snooker enough Americans to believe in their phony “supply-side” Ponzi scheme.

Quote of the Day
"Allow the president to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such a purpose - and you allow him to make war at pleasure."
Abraham Lincoln

Monday, May 15, 2006

May 5 - May 15

May 9, 2006

The Left
Duped Again?

If I were Karl Rove, and worried Democrats might win control of either house of Congress next November, how could I depress turnout of just the kind of folks most likely to vote Democrat?

Piece of cake. If the left is a sucker for anything, it's a sucker for a juicy conspiracy theory. Hell, there's a whole left-demographic that believes 9/11 was a Bush administration conspiracy. Even though we all saw it live and on tape hundreds of times now, some even believe it wasn't jets that blew up the Trade Center and Pentagon, but government planted bombs. And that Flight 91 was not hijacked, but shot down on purpose to deepen the sense we were being attacked.

Karl sees all this, and in it he sees a way to depress Democrat votes by cooking up a conspiracy stew around voting. Feed the fires of doubt about the integrity of our voting system itself. Make left of center voters feel hopeless and powerless so they stay home.

I call it the “Oliver Stone Meets Diebold Strategy.” The perfect strategy at the perfect time. And, it may just be working.

They didn't mean too, but back in 2000 Republicans prepared the ground for this strategy with the Florida recount/Supreme Court fiasco. Back then it was just all about winning at any price. Folks like Katherine Harris and James Baker did what it took to make it happen.

I still don't believe they had a thing to do with the confusing punch ballots, but once handed that opportunity, they knew exactly what they had to do leverage it into a stolen victory.

In the process doing whatever they had to do to win in Florida, the GOP had unwittingly planted the first seeds of doubt about the very integrity of our election system.

Also planted were the seeds of an idea that's time had apparently come. Getting your own voters out to the polls had always been a key election day tactic of both parties. But depressing the other side's vote – well that was a potentially rich and largely unexplored vein. And so --

April 24 (Bloomberg) -- To Republicans, the New Hampshire phone-jamming incident is an isolated case of political dirty tricks that took place more than three years ago.... The facts, on the surface at least, are suspicious: dozens of phone calls to the White House by a man later convicted in the case; the national Republican Party agreeing to pay more than $2.5 million in legal bills; phones jammed on Election Day, not only of Democrats but of a firefighters' group, in the first U.S. congressional elections since the Sept. 11 attacks. Democrats say that disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff may even be involved. (Full Story)

Hanging chads and the mess they caused in Florida spurred demands for election reform. Old punch paper ballots were blamed and congress demanded that states update their polling equipment.

Enter Diebold.

The decision to favor electronic voting proved a two-fer for the GOP. First, they were able to reward a loyal Republican company with a near monopoly producing electronic votng machines. Whether or not they also tried to get the company to “fix” those machines – or the company simply did so on it's own because it knew what side it's bread was buttered -- is not a fact I have yet seen established.

Regardless, Diebold's own actions, intentional or otherwise, served to water and fertilized those seeds of doubt. And water them, and water them and water them. If Diebold had set out to create doubts about it's voting machines, they could have done a better job at it. From the very first models the company looked like a kid caught with an empty cookie jar, crumb-encrusted lips and figures, denying guilt. (See Blackbox Voting)

Here's the second piece of good news for the GOP. Republican voters have pretty much shrugged off charges that Diebold was fixing to fix future elections as largely the chattering of the loony-left.

The left, on the other hand has rolled in the issue like a dog rolls in fresh bear droppings. Some have simply demanded more independent testing, certification and safeguards, such as voter-retained printouts and audit trail. Others demanded the machines be scrapped entirely. The various demands aside, they have raised doubt -- admittedly justified -- in this new form of voting... and strangely in voting itself.

As the November midterms approach, that flap continues flapping. Diebold keeps rolling out machines it claims addresses critics concerns. And each time critics find more things to be concerned about. In fact, Diebold seems to go out of it's way to look suspicious. While the company seems able to crank out thousands of bank ATMs that routinely provide customers a post-transaction printed receipt, Diebold claims it would be too complicated and expensive to produce voting machines that do the same thing. Hmmm. More doubt.

Again, intended or just fortuitous, the flap over Diebold's machines is pure pay dirt for conservative candidates. Those little mustard seeds of doubt first planted in Florida 6 years ago have grown into a mighty tower of doubt today. I don't know how many voters on the left have come to believe now that voting has become an empty gesture, but I get a lot of email like the one I got today from a reader:

I've read your work over the last few years and generally thought you do a whale of a job, considering the volume and breadth of your work. However, 'Nov. the only game in town' is way off the mark. What you are missing is the fact that politics is stone cold dead in U.S. A.

We are a fascist state. Have been for decades. Donkeys are a moribund carcass of their once fond memory.

Electronic voting assures that the Fuhrer will never be impeached. It also assures that you and I will always be pawns in the game of power and life.

... when you go to vote for your donkeys in November, take along your fire-ax and swing it squarely into the monitor of the Diebold electronic Wizard of Oz voting equipment that we know will be in place ...again.

Voting reform will never be challenged by either party, neither will be term limits, or any consideration of ethics ... the process is poisoned. Voting for donkeys in November will only encourage them. Vote with your fire-ax!

From the prairie

Karl must smile broadly when he reads such words of frustration, doubt, defeat and grim acceptance. Why even bother voting? The machines are fixed, the outcome pre-programmed. Just stay home and grouse on your blog about the rising tide of fascism and ever-shrinking circle of liberty.

So, if you are looking for a real conspiracy, there it is. I've never been a big fan of the blackbox, wholistic vote fixing theory. It always struck me as simply too risky for the perps. As a former journalist I know for a fact that sooner or later someone squeals. I know that because I have been on the receiving end of such squeals. Someone always feels slighted, dissed or unappreciated, and they squeal. If caught actually and actively trying to fix national elections, there'd be hell to pay for the GOP. Too risky -- even for this bunch.

On the other hand, rumors and lies are reasonably risk free. Unlike the kind of physical evidence – computer code, etc – fixed voting machines might leave behind, lies offer a comfort level of deniability. “Well, we believed it when we said it.” (Remember WMD? ) If they could start a war by spreading disinformation, and get away with it, why not fix elections the same way? It's not necessary to put a fix in place if you can just make voters believe you have and that their vote won't count anyway. Don't fix an election. Instead fix that idea in the minds of those likely to vote in ways you would prefer they didn't.

Those who oppose electronic voting would better use their time making Diebold's machines irrelevant by organizing voters in their districts to register for absentee ballots. I have voted absentee for the past twenty years. My ballot remains on file emblazoned with my votes and signature in the event a recount is deemed necessary. Oregon ran it's last statewide election last year by mail-in ballot. It not only went well but more folks voted.

And there's a Rove-defeating bonus to getting folks to vote absentee. Working stiffs, who are most likely to vote Democrat, often don't vote because they either have to take off from work on a Tuesday or stand in line after a hard day of work. If they could vote by mail from home, more would vote -- as we saw in Oregon. Once folks get a taste of the pleasure of unhurried voting by mail, they will never go to a poll again. Diebold's voting machines will end up on the scrapheap of history.. along with the anti-democratic doubts they created.

So vote absentee. But damn it.. vote. Because if you don't the real terrorists win - again.

May 8, 2006

The only game in town.

If you're like me Republicans scare the hell out of you, and Democrats don't. They don't inspire fear – because Democrats don't inspire -- period.

Still Democrats are the only card people like you and I have to play this Nov. And we need stop grousing about our dufus-Dems and work to get them elected.

We need to get going now because, in some districts we have chance to throw out the incumbant Dem and replace him/her with a more worthy candidate. Since this will be the only chance we have to fine tune the November Democrat field, folks in such districts need to get on now.

After that we need to become a single voice, a voice that shouts, loudly and insistently every day between now and November, “Vote straight Democrat in November.”

Whew! That was tough for me to get out without gagging. The Dems have become such a disappointment for so long most of us have hard time any given day deciding whether we'd like to tar and feather Republicans for what they've done to us, or Democrats for letting them get away with it. For me, most days, it's a toss up.

But the pay off of a Democrat victory in November would be well worth a bit of short term nausea.

First, Democrats in charge of either or both houses of congress would regain subpoena power – the colonoscopy of congressional power. For the first time in six years the Bush administration would have to start answering questions under oath and providing documents.

Among the Bush administration secrets that would get probed for the first time include, what went on during those Energy Task Force hearings five years ago that have could explain the record profits oil companies are making, even as the energy sector is in crisis.

We'd alos learn more about illegal domestic wiretapping even as the architect of that NSA program takes the helm of the CIA.

And has this administration, in our name, broken international human rights and laws of war in it's fight against terrorism?

Who knew what about torture in US-run prisons in Iraq, Gitmo and elsewhere.

Oversight committees with jurisdiction over environmental, legal, industrial, pharmaceutical and health care would be chaired by Democrats.

The of impact of such a shift would be enormous, even assuming that Democrats continued being the worthless little shits we've come to despise. Suddenly nothing the Bush administration wanted to do would slide through a Republican rubber-stamp congress. Energy company CEO's would, like tobacco CEO's before them, be put under oath when they testify. That would make it risky to blow off penetrating questions with breezy, self-serving, free market nostrums.

Republicans live in terror of such a Democrat victory this November and, they are trying to scare a rapidly dwindling Republican majority. The scare tactic this time is that, if Dems get control of congress, they will try to impeach President Bush.

Forget for a moment the stunning chutzpah of such a threat coming from the party that wasted four years trying to impeach Bill Clinton for lying about his sex life. While they failed in that endeavor, they learned something: voters hate that kind of thing. So now they are using the disgust they themselves created against impeachment efforts, to scare voters into not electing Democrats to congress this Nov. (Yes, Virginia, they have no shame.)

So, all you out there – lefty liberals, DLC-types, Greens and Progressives, transexual-multiracial-gay/lesbian-unicyclists-for-peace: – from this day go forth and spread the message:

Vote straight Democrat this November.

After that you can go back to dissing Dems and hating Hillary. I'll join you. But on the second Tuesday of November, in the privacy of the voting booth where none of your friends, spouse or children can see you, swallow hard and sacrifice for your country -- Vote Straight Democrat.

Then we have two years for the Dems to show us they remember how to lead.

If not, then it's third party time – big time.

Letters From The Front
Vietnam War Marine veteran, Gary Canant, was going through some old boxes one day when he found a bundle of letters he wrote home i 1968-1970. The letters covered the period from when he his arrival at Camp Pendleton, to his flight to Vietnam and on from there. Like so many of us who lived through that period, Gary felt these letters would resonate with today's readers. So he scanned them in and posted them, along with easier to read typed transcriptions, at

As I read through some of Gary's letters, I was struck by how similar they are to the letters – and today emails – of young men and women now serving in our latest mistake of a war in Iraq. Hopefully we'll get those kids out of that snake pit of a country before we have to build another wall memorializing tens of thousands more aborted young lives.

May 3, 2006

Why should you care about this?

U.S. Dollar Starts Big Slide Against Major Currencies
The Sunday Times 
April 30, 2006

LONDON: The dollar has embarked on a big decline that will see it fall against all leading currencies, according to analysts. The plunge is being prompted by America’s $800 billion current-account deficit, they say.

The dollar has been under pressure following last weekend’s meeting of G7 finance ministers and central bankers, which emphasised “global imbalances” and said currencies should reflect economic fundamentals. Then China raised its key interest rate to 5.85%, its first hike for months, and Ben Bernanke, the new Federal Reserve chairman, hinted that American rates would pause at 5% after a rise in May.

Analysts say that without interest-rate support, the dollar will be weighed down heavily by America’s imbalances.

“I think this is it,” said Tony Norfield, global head of currency strategy at ABN Amro. “The dollar has been supported by high yields but markets are saying that is no longer enough. The question for policymakers is going to be how to manage the dollar’s decline. It won’t be a one-way street but the fall is likely to be biggest against Asian currencies.”


I know... I'm a broken record on this issue. Some days I feel like one of those religious nuts that walk around with signs proclaiming that “The End is Near.” But it is. At least for America's economic dominance and the relatively carefree lifestyle it's provided during my 60 plus years.

Republican supply-side Moonies have done it again, shifted wealth from the working middle class to the investing upper class. They keep trying to prove that this is the best way to “grow the economy.” The first time they put this hair brained (and transparently self-serving) theory into action during the Reagan administration they left working taxpayers saddled with hundreds of billions of dollars in debt and a nearly fatal deregulation of the nation's once robust thrift industry.

Supply-siders believe that, if the investing class is allowed to keep most of the money, they make they will plow those tax savings back into the economy creating new jobs. (They call this “trickle down economics.”)

And they have a point – up to a point. But each time supply-siders were given a shot at proving their theory they've taken it too far. They cut taxes too much for those at the top and not enough for those at the bottom. And, so federal deficits soared.

But what about all those jobs they were going to create with the extra tax money they were allowed to keep? Statistically job creation has not differed from non-supply-side periods. And worse, what jobs have been created pay less than the jobs American has lost during this administrations tenure. (See chart below)

(On the other hand trickle-up econmics actually works. Because when you put tax savings in the pockets of working Americans they spend that money, creating demand for products and services, which in turn creates jobs. Duh!)

Do you need more proof that the supply-siders have it all bass-ackwards? When Bill Clinton raised taxes on capital gains he not only balanced the budget and created a surplus, but created millions of good paying jobs as well.

Bu hey, la de da, la de da.... you know all this already. I only mention all that because it's time for supply-siders to play “Truth AND Consequences.”

Thanks to all the above:

* We are saddled with a foreign war costing us $6 billion a month that we have to pay for with money borrowed from China. Why? Because the supply-siders gave wealthy investors enormous tax breaks they neither needed nor deserved.
* Which is why our national debt has doubled to $8.4 trillion since Bush's tax cuts went into effect.
* Those wealthy industrialists, the supply-siders promised, would use their tax savings to create jobs here didn't. Instead they figured out they could get more bang for those tax-free bucks creating jobs in China and India instead.
* American workers are getting whacked with a double whammy as cheap labor floods across our southern border, driving the wages of already low-paying jobs even lower. Because instead of investing their tax savings into good-paying jobs, companies must pay lower and lower US wages in order to compete with goods made by cheap-labor off shore factories -- factories often built and run by the very US companies that were supposed to use their tax savings to create new jobs in the US.
* All of which is why our trade deficit with other countries is approaching a trillion dollars a year with no end in sight. Because we no longer make enough stuff in the US to offset all the stuff we buy from countries. The reason for that is that the stuff we used make here and sell to China is now being made in China and sold to us.
* Then there's the federal deficit, now approaching half a trillion dollars a year. It too will continue to grow until taxes are raised on the wealthy to pre-Bush levels.
o (Do you find it curious that supply-siders are pushing to have the Bush tax cuts on capital gains made permanent, but are only willing to protect middle class taxpayers from the dreaded alternative minimum tax (ATM) for two years? )

And what about that cheaper dollar? The supply-siders will try to convince you that this is really good news. They will say that a cheaper dollar will make stuff made in America cheaper to buy in other countries. Which would be true – if only we still made stuff here. But we don't. America is now a “service economy,” remember? We serve each other meals at restaurants and change each other's sheets in hotel rooms. We fix each other's cars and leaky pipes. We pretty up each other's landscaping and ring up each other's sales at Penny's. What part of that activity do supply-siders suggest we can export?

And so the dollar will fall, and fall again. Already other nation's are beginning to disengage from the Bush-buggered buck. Our fair-weather friends the Saudis and other OPEC producers will no longer tie the value of their oil to the US dollar, but instead to a basket of EU, Asian currencies and gold.

The Chinese, who now finance more than a quarter of the US deficit, are also beginning to edge away from the dollar. As much as they might like to, they can't bolt for the door without driving down the value of their current US bond holdings. Also, until China can replace the US consumer as their cash cow, they won't want to do anything that could deep six the US economy. But the Chinese are clearly inching towards the exit. Just this week China and Japan were making nice, for example. And the EU is more than anxious to dip it's toe into China's growing consumer markets – and visa versa.

Once it becomes clear that China and Japan are shunning US treasuries in favor of European and Asian investments interest rates in the US will skyrocket to levels never before seen in an attempt to lure those guys back.. And at that point it's Katie bar the door time for us. All of us.

Imagine that. George W. Bush and friends created this monumental mess in just five short years -- a toxic fiscal stew that will take decades and trillions of dollars to clean up.

Nice going George.

May 2, 2006

If Not Now

Memo to US Senate: Take your $100, roll it into a tight wad and shove it. (Notice: You may use NO petroleum product to ease the pain.)

Now, that I have that off my chest, I have another suggestion for them: Rather than waste your time and ours trying to buy our love, how about earning our repect instead. Here's a first step in that direction.

Hold bipartisan hearings into Dick Cheney's 2001 Energy Task Force.

If not now, when?

Low-wage working Americans can not longer afford to drive to their jobs? Already folks some folks have been forced to pawn personal items just to fill their tank for another week. How bad does it have to get before you guys up there start asking the questions you should have asked years ago. And demanding real answers this time.

So, Bill Frist, Harry Ried, pull together a bipartisan panel made up of your toughest, most skeptical prosecutional-minded members, hire a couple of junkyard dog lawyers to act as GOP and Dem counsels, and let the long overdue hearings begin.

Subpoena everyone who had anything to do with those meetings, including secretaries who transcribed the original minutes. Oh, and when you call oil industry execs back, put them under oath this time. Because they lied last time when they said they had no idea...

(Washington Post May 2005) A White House document shows that executives from big oil companies met with Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001 -- something long suspected by environmentalists but denied as recently as last week by industry officials testifying before Congress ...The document, obtained this week by The Washington Post, shows that officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc. met in the White House complex with the Cheney aides who were developing a national energy policy, parts of which became law and parts of which are still being debated. (Full story)

I mean really guys – if not now, when?

Almost everyone else except Congress has tried to get this information out of the administration. The non-partisan government Accountability Office (GAO,) filed suit in 2002 seeking access to April 2002 seeking access to the records of Cheney's energy task force. But one of those “liberal activist federal judges” dismissed the suit. The Sierra Club carried its fight for those records all the way to the US Supreme Court, which in 2004 voted 7-2 to uphold "a paramount necessity of protecting the executive branch from vexatious litigation." (Interesting who they didn't feel that way when the “vexatious” inform being sought involved free sex instead of the crippling cost of energy.)

But just to make sure no one got lucky in court, the administration built wide moat around all things it feels are none of our damn business, including whatever deals Cheney made in 2001 with energy company CEOs.

“WASHINGTON - As the Bush administration has dramatically accelerated the classification of information as "top secret" or "confidential," one office is refusing to report on its annual activity in classifying documents: the office of Vice President Dick Cheney ... A standing executive order, strengthened by President Bush in 2003, requires all agencies and "any other entity within the executive branch" to provide an annual accounting of their classification of documents. More than 80 agencies have collectively reported to the National Archives that they made 15.6 million decisions in 2004 to classify information, nearly double the number in 2001, but Cheney continues to insist he is exempt. (Full Story)

And it's not as though we don't have good reason to suspect skulduggery was afoot at those meeting -- skulduggery that has now been allowed to manifest itself in the form of war, economic hardship for average Americans and record profits for the Big Energy folk who attended those meetings. Over the past four years we have learned little about what happened at those meetings, but what little we have learned is startles even those of us who thought we had seen it all:

“Documents turned over in the summer of 2003 by the Commerce Department as a result of the Sierra Club’s and Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, concerning the activities of the Cheney Energy Task Force, contain a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals, as well as two charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.” The documents, dated March 2001, also feature maps of Saudi Arabian and United Arab Emirates oilfields, pipelines, refineries and tanker terminals. There are supporting charts with details of the major oil and gas development projects in each country that provide information on the project’s costs, capacity, oil company and status or completion date.” (Full Text)

So, did Cheney and oil company executives lick their chops over Iraqi oil less than two years before we attacked over non-existent WMD? When the administration brushed off questions about Cheney's meetings by telling us they concerned “securing America's energy future,” was this the plan they cooked up? -- To overthrow Saddam, set up a puppet government and pump, pump, pump? If so, that plan has gone terribly wrong.

So, shouldn't Congress find out? If not now, when?

Well, let me correct myself. Not everything went wrong for everyone -- just 2800 American kids who died, tens of thousands of Iraqis who died and now American drivers. But look who came out smelling like a rose. By disrupting oil supplies from the Iraq, the world's third largest producer, and destabilizing the entire oil producing region, and now by threatening Iran, oil companies with oil assets in the Gulf, Alaska and other regions, have seen the price of their oil skyrocket. Clearly a seat at those energy task force meetings was a seat worth having -- worth billions.

Last week, Exxon Mobil, (the majority owner of Imperial Oil (AKA “Esso,”) announced its first-quarter profits had risen 14 per cent to $8.4 billion over the same period last year. That followed similar announcements by Conoco/Phillips and Chevron, the next two largest U.S. integrated oil companies. Chevron's profits jumped 50 per cent to $4 billion while Conoco/Phillips saw its profits climb 13 per cent to $3.3 billion.”

A citizen would think that such obscene profits, at the very time real wages of working Americans are falling, heating and cooling their homes rises every month and their transportation costs soar, would provide congress with some backbone. After all, there's a election in November and there are not enough votes among oil executives to candidates much good.

Senators, this is where the proverbial rubber hits the road. Investigate. Not just Big Oil, but Big Dick as well. Inquiring minds want to know. We are waiting and we are watching.

If not now, when?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

April 27-May 1, 2006

Yo! Dems...
Who Are You
Why Are You Here?

We now know – beyond any reasonable doubt – what the Republican party stands for. After five years in complete and virtually unchallenged control they have shown us who they are, the kind of America they want and how capable they are.

In a nutshell:

* Budget busting tax cuts,
* Supply-side economics that result in record profits for corporations and lower wages for workers,
* Subjugating environmental protections to corporate profitability,
* Subjugating American's privacy rights under guise of national security,
* Subjugating international human rights conventions to US interests,
* The belief that mixing religion and government, while a bad idea for Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, is a good idea for America,
* Replacing hard science with soft phony – politicized/religionized - “science,
* Government has a right to tell people what they can do with their own bodies,
* Deficits “don't matter" because they won't have to pay them off.

We know all that now. Considering the accumulated wreckage of the past five years of failed GOP policies, there really can be no other explanation for those who still refuse to see that. They are either deep denial or even deeper stupidity.

But having said that, what do Democrats stand for? If you have no idea, you have plenty of company. Most voters feel Democrats stand for nothing in particular and everything in general. Throw a dart at a class photo of current Dems in Congress and the person you hit will rambling off a list of vague and often contradictory policy positions -- all carefully hedged in case someone might disagree.

At this point the only coherent Democrat position is, “We're not Republicans.”

Sorry kids, that's just not good enough. Next November - and certainly in November 2008 - I demand to know exactly what I'm voting for. No more pigs in a poke, please. The nation, the world and the world's physical environment each teeter on a razor's edge. The next batch of leaders we elect damn well better be a lot smarter, honest and statemans-like than the sub-par folks of both parties we've been saddled with.

So I have a reading assignment for Democrats this weekend. Since few Democrats in Congress read this blog, please forward it to your own elected representatives/candidates. Let them know you are paying close attention and you vote is not in the bag just because they're not Republicans.

If Democrats want to run things next time around we need to know who they are, and precisely how they plan to fix what the GOP has so supremely screwed up. Among the things we need know is how they plan to provide us with are plans for the following:

* A balanced budget AND universal health care.
* A robust economy AND a cleaner environment.
* Good jobs AND livable wages.
* Orderly immigration AND secure borders.
* Homeland security AND adherence to the Bill of Rights.
* National security AND adherence to international law.
* Freedom of religion AND separation of church and state.
* A simpler, fairer tax code.

We want to know... not vaguely, but precisely, how Democrats will get us there. Show us your plan -- and don't spare us the details.

Oh, and puleeezzzzeee.... don't sent out the usual triangulating, limp-wrist, mealy-mouth, Rahm Emmaul, Hillary Clinton, Harry Ried phonies to shine us on. We are quite done with the likes of them, thank you. We want the real people. with real beliefs and real plans this time around.

Now, here's that reading assignment I mentioned. Yes, I know, the first article is by a moderate conservative. So what. Stop that knee from jerking long enough to read what he has to offer. And while reading it, remember what Eisenhower knew about Republicans -- that they come in two flavors. There are: Mink Coat Republicans and Cloth Coat Republicans. The rich and powerful mink coaters took over the GOP. The cloth coaters were slow to get that and have since been royally screwed, along with the rest of us out here. Hopefully they understand that distinction better than they did the last election cycle.

The second article is by liberals -- the old fashioned variety. You might remember – that's when Democrats actually had coherent alternative policies and were not shy about articulating and defending them. Which is why today's Dem's won't much like what they have to say in this article. Whimps hate genuine leaders because they only make them look even whimper. Well too bad. Either suck it up and learn to lead again or get lost.

Democrat party leaders should curl up with these two articles this weekend – and they better be filled with yellow highlights when they're done. Because there will be a quiz -- the second Tuesday of November.

The Death of Multiculturalism


In 1994 multiculturalism was at its high-water mark, and Richard Bernstein wrote "Dictatorship of Virtue," describing its excesses: the campus speech codes, the forced sensitivity training, the purging of dead white males from curriculums, the people who had their careers ruined by dubious charges of racism, sexism and ethnocentrism.

Then two years later, the liberal writer Michael Tomasky published "Left for Dead," which argued that the progressive movement was being ruined by multicultural identity politics. Democrats have lost the ability to talk to Americans collectively, Tomasky wrote, and seem to be a collection of aggrieved out-groups: feminists, blacks, gays and so on.

At the time, Bernstein and Tomasky were lonely voices on the left, and the multiculturalists struck back. For example, Martin Duberman slammed Tomasky's book in The Nation, and defended multiculturalism:

"The radical redefinitions of gender and sexuality that are under discussion in feminist and queer circles contain a potentially transformative challenge to all 'regimes of the normal.' The work of theorists like Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Jeffrey Weeks, Marjorie Garber and Judith Butler represents a deliberate systemic affront to fixed modes of being and patterns of power. They offer brilliant (if not incontrovertible) postulates about such universal matters as the historicity and fluidity of sexual desire, the performative nature of gender, and the multiplicity of impulses, narratives and loyalties that lie within us all."

Duberman insisted that postmodern multicultural theorizing would transform politics, but today his gaseous review reads as if it came from a different era, like an embarrassing glimpse of leisure suits in an old home movie.

That's because over the past few years, multiculturalism has faded away. A different sort of liberalism is taking over the Democratic Party.

Multiculturalism is in decline for a number of reasons. First, the identity groups have ossified. The feminist organizations were hypocritical during the Clinton impeachment scandal, and both fevered and weak during the Roberts and Alito hearings.

Meanwhile, the civil rights groups have become stale and uninteresting.
Second, the Democrats have come to understand that they need to pay less attention to minorities and more to the white working class if they ever want to become the majority party again. Third, the intellectual energy on the left is now with the economists. People who write about inequality are more vibrant than people who write about discrimination.

Fourth and most important, 9/11 happened. The attacks aroused feelings of national solidarity, or a longing for national solidarity, that discredited the multiculturalists' tribalism.

Tomasky is now back with an essay in The American Prospect in which he argues that it is time Democrats cohered around a big idea — not diversity, and not individual rights, but the idea of the common good. The Democrats' central themes, Tomasky advises, should be that we're all in this together; we are all part of a larger national project; we all need to make some shared sacrifices and look beyond our narrow self-interest. Tomasky is hoping for a candidate who will ignore the demands of the single-issue groups and argue that all Americans have a stake in reducing economic fragmentation and social division.

Coincidentally, two other liberal writers, John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira, have just finished a long study that comes out in exactly the same place. Surveying mountains of polling data, they conclude that the Democrats' chief problem is that people don't think they stand for anything. Halpin and Teixeira argue that the message voters respond to best is the notion of shared sacrifice for the common good. After years of individualism from right and left, they observe, people are ready for an appeal to citizenship.

Naturally, this approach has weaknesses. Unlike in 1964, most Americans no longer trust government to be the altruistic champion of the common good, even if they wish it could. And while writers and voters talk about the common good, politicians are wired to think about their team. Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer will never ask their people to make sacrifices, but until they do, the higher talk of common good will sound like bilge.

Nonetheless, the decline of multiculturalism and the rebirth of liberal American nationalism is a significant event. Democrats are purging the last vestiges of the New Left and returning to the older civic liberalism of the 1950's and early 1960's.

Goodbye, Jesse Jackson. Goodbye, Gloria Steinem. Hello, Harry Truman.

The Rehabilitation of the Cold-War Liberal

(By Peter Beinart is editor at large of The New Republic. This essay is adapted from "The Good Fight: Why Liberals, and Only Liberals, Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again," which will be published in late May by HarperCollins. Published: April 30, 2006)

This fall, for the third time since 9/11, American voters will choose between Democrats and Republicans while knowing what only one party believes about national security. In 2002, Democratic candidates tried to change the subject, focusing on Social Security and health care instead. In 2004, John Kerry substituted biography for ideology, largely ignoring his own extensive foreign-policy record and stressing his service in Vietnam. In this year's Senate and House races, the party looks set to reprise Michael Dukakis's old theme: competence. Rather than tell Americans what their vision is, Democrats will assure them that they can execute it better than George W. Bush.

Democrats have no shortage of talented foreign-policy practitioners. Indeed, they have no shortage of worthwhile foreign-policy proposals. Even so, they cannot tell a coherent story about the post-9/11 world. And they cannot do so, in large part, because they have not found their usable past. Such stories, after all, are not born in focus groups; they are less invented than inherited. Before Democrats can conquer their ideological weakness, they must first conquer their ideological amnesia.
Consider George W. Bush's story: America represents good in an epic struggle against evil. Liberals, this story goes, try to undermine that moral clarity, reining in American power and sapping our faith in ourselves. But a visionary president will not be constrained, and he wields American might with relentless force, until the walls of oppression crumble and the darkest region on earth is set free.

If this sounds familiar, it should. It was Ronald Reagan's story as well. To a remarkable degree, the right's post-9/11 vision relies on a grand analogy: Bush is Reagan, Tony Blair is Margaret Thatcher, the "axis of evil" is the "evil empire," the truculent French are the truculent French. The most influential conservative foreign-policy essay of the 1990's, written by the Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment, was titled "Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy." And since 9/11, most conservatives have seen Bush as Reaganesque. His adherence to a script conservatives know by heart helps explain their devotion, which held fast through the 2004 election, and has only recently begun to flag, as that script veers more and more disastrously from the real world.

Liberals don't have a script because they don't have a Reagan. Since Vietnam, they've produced two presidents: Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Carter's foreign policy is widely considered a failure. Clinton's foreign policy is not widely considered at all, because he governed at a time when foreign policy was for the most part peripheral to American politics. Ask liberals to describe a Carteresque foreign policy, and they tend to wince. Ask them to describe a Clintonesque one, and you'll most likely get a blank stare.

But before Vietnam, and the disappointment and confusion it spawned, liberals did have a clear story of their own. In the late 1940's and 1950's, intellectuals like Reinhold Niebuhr and policymakers like George F. Kennan described America's cold-war struggle differently from their conservative counterparts: as a struggle not merely for democracy but for economic opportunity as well, in the belief that the former required the latter to survive. Even more important, they described America itself differently. Americans may fight evil, they argued, but that does not make us inherently good. And paradoxically, that very recognition makes national greatness possible. Knowing that we, too, can be corrupted by power, we seek the constraints that empires refuse. And knowing that democracy is something we pursue rather than something we embody, we advance it not merely by exhorting others but by battling the evil in ourselves. The irony of American exceptionalism is that by acknowledging our common fallibility, we inspire the world.

To understand this liberal story, it helps to understand the origins of the conservative one that we hear all around us today. George W. Bush's foreign policy is often attributed to neoconservatives, the ex-liberals and radicals who began moving right in the 1960's. But in fact, the vision Bush inherited from Reagan dates back a generation earlier, to the birth of the modern conservative movement itself. Since the mid-1950's, when William F. Buckley's new journal, National Review, created the ideological synthesis that still defines the American right, one overriding fear has haunted conservative foreign policy: the fear that Americans cannot distinguish good from evil.

Over and over during the last half-century, conservatives have looked at America and seen a society enfeebled by moral relativism. In the 1950's, they saw America's enemies on the march — with China, half of Europe and half of Korea newly in Communist hands. The culprit, they argued, was liberalism. The New Deal, with its collectivist principles, had blurred the distinction between Soviet Communism and American freedom. And modern culture was undermining old certainties, above all the belief in God.

As a result, Americans lacked the ideological confidence of their fanatical totalitarian foes. And that self-doubt was making them weak. Whittaker Chambers, the communist turned conservative whose 1952 conversion tale, "Witness," strongly influenced the early cold-war right, said Americans would suffer defeat after defeat until their "faith in God and the freedom He enjoins is as great as Communism's faith in Man." The West, added James Burnham, the most influential foreign-policy thinker in the National Review circle, was losing "the will to survive."

After Vietnam, conservatives saw the disease of self-doubt growing even more acute. Many on the American right hailed "How Democracies Perish," by the French author Jean-François Revel, which declared, "Democratic civilization is the first in history to blame itself because another power is working to destroy it." Into this dark, dispirited landscape came Ronald Reagan, saying the things conservatives had been waiting three decades to hear. "The era of self-doubt," he announced, "is over." And in perhaps the most famous speech of his presidency, Reagan in 1983 invoked Chambers to denounce the right's old scourge: moral relativism. Calling the Soviet Union an "evil empire," he admonished listeners to resist the temptation to "label both sides equally at fault, to. . .remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil."

When the Soviet empire fell, it became an article of conservative faith that it was Reagan's policies, and in particular the moral clarity that underlay them, that had turned the tide. In this way, the old story was transmitted to a new conservative generation, which made it their guide to the post-9/11 world.

The liberal story also finds its roots in the early cold war. If cold-war conservatism began with the founding of National Review, cold-war liberalism emerged slightly earlier, in 1947, when Niebuhr, along with Eleanor Roosevelt, Hubert Humphrey and the United Auto Workers' chief Walter Reuther, established Americans for Democratic Action. The A.D.A. was born amid a civil war on the American left, which pitted anti-Communists like Humphrey against Henry Wallace and those liberals who saw communism less as an enemy than as an ally. But by 1949, Wallace was vanquished, and the A.D.A. increasingly defined itself against the right.

The liberal story began with a different fear about America. If cold-war conservatives worried that Americans no longer saw their own virtue, cold-war liberals worried that Americans saw only their virtue. The A.D.A.'s most important intellectual — its equivalent of James Burnham — was the tall, German-American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr was a dedicated opponent of communism, but he was concerned that in pursuing a just cause, Americans would lose sight of their own capacity for injustice. "We must take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization," he wrote. "We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect disinterestedness in its exercise nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimized."

Americans, Niebuhr argued, should not emulate the absolute self-confidence of their enemies. They should not pretend that a country that countenanced McCarthyism and segregation was morally pure. Rather, they should cultivate enough self-doubt to ensure that unlike the Communists', their idealism never degenerated into fanaticism. Open-mindedness, he argued, is not "a virtue of people who don't believe anything. It is a virtue of people who know. . .that their beliefs are not absolutely true."

George Kennan, architect of the Truman administration's early policies toward the Soviet Union, called Niebuhr the "father of us all." And in the first years of the cold war, Niebuhr's emphasis on moral fallibility underlay America's remarkable willingness to restrain its power. In the aftermath of World War II, the United States represented half of the world's G.D.P., and the nations of Western Europe lay militarily and economically prostrate. Yet the Truman administration self-consciously bound America within institutions like NATO, which gave those weaker nations influence over American conduct. "We all have to recognize, no matter how great our strength," Truman declared, "that we must deny ourselves the license to do always as we please." As the historian John Lewis Gaddis has written: "It was not that the Americans lacked the capacity to force their allies into line.. . .What is surprising is how rarely this happened; how much effort the United States put into persuading — quite often even deferring to — its NATO partners."

Kennan believed America's great advantage in the cold war was that the Soviet Union constituted an empire, which held its alliances together by force. By contrast, he argued, if the United States resisted the imperial temptation and built alliances that respected foreign nationalism, those alliances would endure. In 1947, when the Truman administration announced the Marshall Plan to help rebuild postwar Western Europe, he resisted using the aid to recast European economies in America's image. Indeed, his administration assisted socialist parties, recognizing that while they might not always prove ideologically pliant, they represented home-grown bulwarks against Soviet power. As one Truman State Department official put it, America should seek European allies "strong enough to say no both to the Soviet Union and the United States, if our actions should seem so to require."

For conservatives, this willingness to indulge governments that would not bend fully to American principles and American wishes was yet another sign that Americans did not truly believe in the righteousness of their cause. While Kennan saw the Soviet empire as brittle, Burnham envied its lockstep unity and urged America to build its own equivalent. "The reality," he wrote, "is that the only alternative to the communist World Empire is an American Empire, which will be, if not literally worldwide in formal boundaries, capable of exercising decisive world control."

If different views about moral clarity produced different views about American restraint, they also produced different views on how best to defend democracy, at home and abroad. The Marshall Plan's premise was that the survival of European democracy depended on its ability to deliver economic opportunity. In "The Vital Center," his famed 1949 statement of cold-war liberalism, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. compared communism to an intruder trying to enter a house. The American military could keep it from knocking down the door. But if the people inside were sufficiently desperate, they might unlock it from the inside.

To conservatives, this talk of communism's root causes looked like an effort to rationalize evil, to suggest America's real foe was not communism itself, but the forces that produced it. "The fact that some poor, illiterate people have 'gone Communist' does not prove that poverty caused them to do so," insisted Barry Goldwater, the first National Review-style conservative to win a Republican presidential nomination.
On domestic policy, the argument was similar. For liberals, the New Deal had tempered capitalism's instability and inequality, thus preserving Americans' belief in democracy when people were losing it around the world. America's ongoing task, Niebuhr argued, was to "make our political and economic life more worthy of our faith and therefore more impregnable." But for conservatives, the liberal push for equality at home did not strengthen America in its cold-war struggle; it undermined the very ideological clarity upon which that struggle relied. Viewed from the right, Franklin Roosevelt had already moved America perilously far along what the Austrian émigré economist Friedrich von Hayek famously called the "road to serfdom." And the more the United States aped communism, the less it would recognize its evil. "The liberal's arm cannot strike with consistent firmness against communism," Burnham wrote, "because the liberal dimly feels that in doing so he would be somehow wounding himself."

In the years since 9/11 restored foreign policy to the heart of American politics, these cold-war debates have returned in another form, with the critical difference that only one side knows its lines. Even before the attacks, many conservatives feared America was emasculating itself yet again. In a one-superpower world, they argued, America no longer had to tailor its foreign policy to the wishes of others. And yet, in the conservative view, the Clinton administration had permitted constraints on American power, playing Gulliver to foreign Lilliputians intent on binding it in a web of international institutions and international law. Predictably, conservatives attributed this submission to America's lack of faith in itself. The "religion of nonjudgmentalism," wrote William Bennett in the book "Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism," "has permeated our culture, encouraging a paralysis of the moral faculty."

In his first eight months in office, President Bush aggressively reasserted American freedom of action, repudiating no fewer than six international agreements or institutions. And after 9/11, he began depicting this freedom to act alone as a means not merely of safeguarding American interests but also of liberating American virtue so it could remake the world. In 2002, the conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer noted that "people are now coming out of the closet on the word 'empire.' " And that discussion had an idealistic cast. For its proponents, "empire" was usually preceded by the adjective "benign" or "liberal." In other words, the United States would rid itself of external impediments but nonetheless act in the global good, uncorrupted by the temptations of unrestrained power.

It has not turned out that way. On global warming, an America liberated from international restraint has acted irresponsibly; in our antiterrorist prisons, we have acted inhumanely. And from the moment the United States invaded Iraq, the Bush administration's complacent certainty of its own benevolence has blinded it to the dangers of colonial rule. While the authors of the Marshall Plan avoided remaking Europe's economy, for fear of sparking nationalist resentment, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, L. Paul Bremer III, unilaterally rescinded Iraq's import tariffs on foreign goods. Bremer may have thought he was acting on Iraq's behalf, even without its people's consent. But that is only because he lacked the self-consciousness and humility to see that he was not. As Larry Diamond, a more reflective C.P.A. official, noted: "American political leaders need to take a cold shower of humility: we do not always know what is best for other people, even when we think it is their interests we have in mind. And as I saw during my time in Iraq, it was frequently our interests that were driving decisions we were trying to impose." Niebuhr couldn't have said it better himself.

But for all their practical failures, conservatives have at least told a coherent political story, with deep historical roots, about what keeps America safe and what makes it great. Liberals, by contrast, have offered adjectives drawn from focus groups and policy proposals linked by no larger theme. In his 2004 convention acceptance speech, John Kerry used variations of the word "strong" 17 times. For the 2006 campaign, Congressional Democrats have unveiled a national-security vision they call "tough and smart." It calls for more spending on homeland security, energy independence and Special Forces. But these disparate, worthy proposals are not grounded in an account of the world America faces, or the sources of American strength.

In fact, present conditions make liberalism's forgotten story especially compelling. The unprecedented post-cold-war gap between America's military power and every other nation's does not make international institutions unnecessary, as the right argues; it makes them even more essential. The liberals of the early cold war, who had seen depression and war cross the oceans and imperil the United States, believed America could guarantee neither its prosperity nor its security alone. And globalization makes that even truer today. The world's increased integration has left the United States more vulnerable to pathologies bred in other nations. So more than ever before, American security requires economic, political and even military interventions in the internal affairs of other nations: to stop bird flu from spreading in rural China, corruption from sparking a banking collapse in Thailand or jihadists from plotting in Pakistan.
Yet if America pursues those interventions itself they will spark exactly the nationalist backlash that Niebuhr and Kennan feared. As Princeton's G. John Ikenberry has put it, a one-superpower world is like a town where there is only one policeman and the houses have no locks. In such a world, America's challenge isn't proving that it can wield unrestrained power; it is proving that it won't become a predator.

Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were reaching this conclusion near the end of Clinton's second term. In Kosovo, NATO waged war so Slobodan Milosevic's domestic terror would not again destabilize his neighbors. As the bombs fell, Blair linked that intervention to the world's efforts to stabilize East Asian economies, so that their financial crisis would not spread. "We are witnessing," Blair argued, "the beginnings of a new doctrine of international community." In other words, the more aggressively America and Britain wanted to intervene in the internal affairs of other states, the more they needed the legitimacy that powerful international institutions bestow.

With Clinton crippled by scandal, Blair's vision was stillborn. But it offers an intellectual foundation upon which liberals can build. In recent years, new evidence about global warming and potential pandemics has forcefully illustrated the need for coordinated action on the environment and public health. And of course, 9/11 has showed that distant countries can incubate fanaticism that can strike America without warning. Unfortunately, liberals themselves have turned away from Blair's vision. Alienated by the war in Iraq, many have grown suspicious of intervening in other countries' affairs. A recent Gallup survey shows Democrats twice as likely as Republicans to say that America should mind its own business internationally. And a 2005 poll by the Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress found self-described liberals far less interested than conservatives in promoting democracy. Indeed, in their recent manifesto, Congressional Democrats barely mentioned it as a foreign-policy goal.

But George W. Bush is not wrong to think that America's security depends on how other countries, particularly in the Islamic world, govern themselves. In the long run, more accountable government can help drain the fury upon which jihadism feeds. Where Bush — like Burnham before him — goes wrong is in believing that America can unilaterally declare a moral standard while exempting itself. For President Bush, freedom is a one-way conversation. The United States calls on other countries to embrace liberty; we even aid them in the task. But if they call back, proposing some higher standard that might require us to modify our actions, we trot out John Bolton. For the rest of the world, freedom requires infringements upon national sovereignty. But for the United States, sovereignty trumps all.

Most Muslims, according to polls, do not consider democracy an alien notion; in fact, they hunger for it. They simply do not believe that it is America's real goal. And that is largely because they do not feel that America abides by the principles it preaches. As the Jordanian journalist Rami Khouri has noted: "George Bush talks in terms of the U.S. having a national mission to promote freedom in the world. . .everybody in the world looks at the U.S. and asks, Where is the moral and the legal and the political authority for you to do this? The authority has to come out of some kind of reference point, some legitimate reference point — treaties, international law, international conventions, U.N. Security Council resolutions, General Assembly consensus, some mechanism that has credibility."

What Khouri is talking about — and what international law and international institutions imply — is reciprocity. To be sure, such institutions must acknowledge the realities of power, as did NATO, the U.N. and the other international bodies born at the end of World War II. But by mildly redistributing power — by conceding that even the mightiest country must sometimes modify its behavior in pursuit of a higher good — they build international norms that seem legitimate rather than hypocritical. In the liberal story, America's power to intervene effectively overseas depends on its power to persuade and not merely coerce. The power to persuade depends on a willingness to be persuaded. And that willingness depends, ultimately, on America's willingness to entertain the prospect that it is wrong.

If liberals have lost faith in promoting democracy abroad, they have also lost faith in the connection between democracy and economic opportunity. From Franklin Roosevelt's global New Deal to the Marshall Plan (and Truman's efforts to extend aid to the third world) to John F. Kennedy's Alliance for Progress, which promoted land reform and economic development in Latin America, liberals have traditionally distinguished themselves from conservatives by insisting that to promote liberty, America must promote opportunity as well. Today, however, in a historic shift, polls show liberals no more inclined to prioritize foreign aid than conservatives. And this shift, combined with the perception that Iraq has drained Americans of their willingness to spend money trying to solve other countries' problems, has left Democratic politicians virtually mute on the subject of economic assistance.

This is particularly unfortunate, because leading voices in the Muslim world — for instance, the scholars who wrote the U.N.'s Arab Human Development Reports — have themselves highlighted the old link between political freedom and economic despair. In recent years, exploding populations and stagnating economies have left governments from North Africa to South Asia unable to provide decent schools, free medical clinics, even clean water. And with states failing, Islamist groups — some violent and theocratic — have filled the void. As Omar Encarnación of Bard College puts it, the Middle East has experienced a "general 'Islamization' and radicalization of society ensuing from the rigid religious and often intolerant character of the civil society organizations now performing functions previously in the hands of state authorities."

It is true that jihadists are often middle class. But that's because terrorist groups are like other employers: they accept the best candidates who apply. After examining data on terrorists and would-be terrorists, Ethan Bueno de Mesquita of Washington University in St. Louis concluded that "individuals with low ability or little education are most likely to volunteer to join the terrorist organization. However, the terrorist organization screens the volunteers," accepting only the best recruits.

But without a sympathetic population, this murderous elite finds it far harder to operate. Like all insurgents, jihadists rely on those around them for encouragement, legitimacy and protection. When terrorists lack popular support — think of Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City — they cannot survive for long. But when they do, they can menace the world.

Fostering economic opportunity in the Islamic world will require substantially reducing the Middle East's illiteracy rate among women, which is twice East Asia's, and promoting economic reform so more of the world's 57 Islamic countries — which today receive only slightly more foreign investment than Sweden — can compete in the global economy. And that will require a major commitment from the United States and its rich allies, along with Islamic nations themselves.

But while the United States can propose an Islamic Marshall Plan, it cannot dictate it. To have any chance of success, its specific features must come from the region. And if they do, they will partly diverge from American preferences, as did the Marshall Plan itself. A serious reform effort, for instance, will most likely involve those Islamists who have embraced democracy and oppose violent jihad, but otherwise offend Americans at least as much as did the socialists whom the United States aided after World II.

It is admittedly hard to imagine leaders in today's Washington who are modest enough to choose the pursuit of local legitimacy over the exercise of American fiat — or ambitious enough to generously finance such an effort. But as conservatives understand better than liberals, that is the value of a usable past: it frees you from the intellectual confines of the moment. In 1947, Secretary of Defense James Forrestal declared: "At the present time we are keeping our military expenditures below the. . .minimum which would in themselves ensure national security. By so doing we are able to increase our expenditures to assist in European recovery." It is that spirit — alien today, but not alien to the liberal tradition — that liberals must recover to tell a post-9/11 story of their own.

But generosity abroad also requires generosity at home. At the start of the cold war, when the United States was helping rebuild Western Europe, it was also building an economic order that provided tremendous opportunity for Americans. Between 1947 and 1973, family income roughly doubled, and significantly, it grew even faster for the poor and working class than for the rich.

Since the 1970's, blue-collar families have seen their incomes stagnate. And the only reason it hasn't dropped outright is that women have entered the work force in droves; today the average two-parent family works a full 12 weeks more per year than it did in 1969. Facing harsher international competition, employers have reduced health benefits and eliminated defined-benefit pensions. And rather than fill the gap, the federal government has retreated as well. Unemployment insurance and food stamps have become less generous, and taxes have become markedly less progressive.

Such issues may seem distant from foreign policy. But for the liberals of the early cold war, the security of average Americans was essential to America's security in the world. "Every courageous and incisive measure to solve internal problems of our own society," Kennan wrote, "to improve self-confidence, discipline, morale and community spirit of our own people, is a diplomatic victory over Moscow worth a thousand diplomatic notes and joint communiqués."

A government that leaves its people to fend for themselves in the face of rising economic insecurity will face grave difficulty asking them to support enlightened policies aimed at helping people in other corners of the globe. That is the hidden backdrop to the great popular revolt against the Dubai ports deal earlier this year — an isolationist, nationalist spasm by a public that feels the government is more concerned with the interests of foreigners than with its own.

Since 9/11, President Bush has often been criticized for not asking Americans to sacrifice. But government cannot just tell Americans we are all in it together; it must show them. And in recent decades it has been doing the opposite. One result has been a rise in public cynicism and a retreat from political participation, which leaves government easy prey for the forces of private interest and concentrated wealth, which — in a vicious cycle — further erodes the trust that government needs to call its citizens to action.

In America, no less than in the Islamic world, the struggle for democracy relies on economic opportunity. To contemporary ears, the phrase "struggle for American democracy" sounds odd. In George W. Bush's Washington, such struggles are for lesser nations. But in the liberal tradition, it is not odd at all. Almost six decades ago, Americans for Democratic Action was born, in the words of its first national director, to wage a "two-front fight for democracy, both at home and abroad," recognizing that the two were ultimately indivisible. That remains true today. America is not a fixed model for a benighted world. It is the democratic struggle here at home, against the evil in our society, that offers a beacon to people in other nations struggling against the evil in theirs. "The fact of the matter," Kennan declared, "is that there is a little bit of the totalitarian buried somewhere, way down deep, in each and every one of us." America can be the greatest nation on earth, as long as Americans remember that they are inherently no better than anyone else.

April 26, 2006

Pizzo's Simple Solutions
to Complicated Problems
(No. 3 in an occasional series.)

Maybe you forgot about campaign finance and lobbying reform. The folks on The Hill certainly hope you have. Listening to the occasional talk out Congress about how they are going to finally reform how they finance their campaigns reminds me of a bunch of inebriated bar-flies pledging to kick the juice – someday. Not today, because well... you know. But someday.

Forget about it. It's never going to happen.

So I have a solution. Politicians should be treated like NASCSAR drivers. I call my idea the NASCONG reform. It's simple, cheap as hell and could be implemented today.

Here's how it works. NASCAR drivers make no bones about who pays their way. They plaster the names and logos of their top contributors all over themselves and their cars. So, when fans hear a driver talk about how great Goodyear tires are, and there's the Goodyear logo emblazoned on his jacket, they can judge for themselves just how objective or subjective his respect for those tires might actually be.

So, I ask, why should we treat our national politicians any different? After all, they too have sponsors, and the things those sponsors want are a hell of a lot more serious than tires, batteries and 10W-5W0 oil.

So here's my idea. When quoting or covering a member of congress print, broadcast and Internet media should not only tell us what state and party the pol represents, but also his/her top five contributors.

Think about it. What's the first thing you look for when you see a politician quoted in an article or on the news? You look to see if his/her name is followed by a "D" or and "R." Why? Because that little piece of information speaks volumes about where that pol is "coming from." The next thing I look for is the part of the country they come from, for the same reason. Two pieces of critical information that no paper or TV station would dream of omitting. If so, why then don't they also include the names of the top contributors who paid their way into office in the first place? Is that information less important to voters than his/her party or state? No. In fact it is probably more important than either.

Here's how simple it is:

This one simple act would virtually overnight, change how everyone involved in the democratic process reacts, behaves and vote.

Voters could listen to a member's stated position (or lack thereof) on a given issue, glance down at the caption below the photo or screen graphic below him/her then balance their views with the contributors to whom he/she is most beholding. Informed voters are always smarter voters.

Contributors: Company's and trade associations like good publicity, but they hate bad publicity or controversy. By giving so much to a candidate they run the risk of being included in the dreaded Top Five, thereby having their company brand virtually tattooed on that politician's forehead for the next two or six years. What if the guy pulls a Randy Cunningham/ Alan Mollohan on them? Buying political clout is one thing, but being tied to a crooked pol is not what companies have in mind. Therefore, under my plan, companies would would throttle back on their giving in an effort NOT to become one of the top five contributors to anyone's campaign. Since they wouldn't know until too late what other companies contributed, they would contribute much less than they would have otherwise in the hope of avoiding that kind of risky exposure. Fear is the change factor here.

Politicians: The good news is that, contrary to popular opinion, most politicians are not entirely shameless. They rationalize what they have to do for the money, telling themselves that they really can take the big bucks and still vote against the interests of top contributors. But that rational frays badly when voters know who paid for his/her trip to Congress. If pols knew that that information was going to appear right under their puss every time they made it on the news, they could no longer be quite so sanguine about pimping for a big contributor. Shame is the motivator in this case. If a pol REALLY believes in a bill that would also benefit one of his/her top contributors, they will have to come to voters with facts... verifiable facts.. that support his position. Good politicians are good educators and good leaders. This idea would force them to become both.

This is an idea thats time has come. And it's easy. The hard work has already been done for the media. All they have to do before putting a member of congress's puss in their publication or on the screen is go to and copy down the top five contributors to that member's last campaign.

That's all there is too it. Campaign finance reform, just that easy.

Republicans won't be able to complain about it because their (phony) position has always been that limits on contributions are unconstitutional and that the best way to reform the system is “full disclosure.” Of course this would be a whole lot more “full disclosure” than they had in mind.

Democrats decided in the 1980's that if they couldn't beat Republican corporate whores they might as well join them. But Dems still like to talk about how corporate money corrupts the system. So they too would have a tough time objecting to this "who's your daddy?" openness.

If they did object – and some will – the media's response would be simple to defend:

“Well Senator, if the information wrong we'll correct it immediately.

“No, it's not wrong, it's just, well... unnecessary. I mean, what are you trying to imply putting those company names next to mine, anyway?

“Senator, we're not trying to imply anything. We are just doing what we've always done by noting your party affiliation and state -- orient the reader. You got a problem with that?”

Bam! There is no (sane/non-sleazy) rebuttal to that logic. And any member who bellyaches too loudly about it would open himself or herself to even closer scrutiny. And believe me, there are not many on The Hill who would want to invite that kind of scrutiny. Because just behind the top five contributors are the top ten, top twenty, top fifty, and so on.

But never mind whether they like it or not. The real beauty of my NASCONG idea is that we don't need a single vote or Presidential signature to implement this reform. All we have to do is – just start doing it.

So, beginning today any time I mention a member of congress I will include not only the state they represent and the party to which they belong, but the top five contributors to their last campaign.

Imagine if we could get CNN, MSNBC, FOX CBS, ABC and the rest of the media to do the same.

Of course we may have problem getting many of the MSM on board with this idea:

“ Six huge corporations now control the major U.S. media: Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation (FOX, HarperCollins, New York Post, Weekly Standard, TV Guide, DirecTV and 35 TV stations), General Electric (NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, Telemundo, Bravo, Universal Pictures and 28 TV stations), Time Warner (AOL, CNN, Warner Bros., Time and its 130-plus magazines), Disney (ABC, Disney Channel, ESPN, 10 TV and 72 radio stations), Viacom (CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Simon & Schuster and 183 U.S. radio stations), and Bertelsmann (Random House and its more than 120 imprints worldwide, and Gruner + Jahr and its more than 110 magazines in 10 countries).” (Full Story) (More on corporate media ownership.)

Quote of the Day
– “George Bush has become something of an embarrassment.”
New White House Press Sec. Tony Snow on 11/11/05