Monday, December 18, 2006

December 13-14-15, 2006

December 15, 2006

The Late, Great
US of A?

I'm beginning to understand how folks in Britain must of felt as their vassals began to shrug off the yoke of empire. That process was sometimes violent, sometimes a passive aggressive refusal to comply. But year by year, decade by decade the sun set on the British empire as its one-time royal subjects -- including us -- went their own way.

Not to beat an analogy to death -- especially such an obvious one – but the same thing is now happening to America's place in the international pecking order. We are no longer the best at everything, top dog, numero uno, a shinning example to the slackers and savages of the world.

I was musing about that this morning. It came to mind as I pondered what it was that made right wing conservatives so impervious to facts. Whether it's Iraq, free trade, climate change and universal health care, facts can't budge them. You can beat them over the head with the hardest of hard facts and not make a dent in their certainty that America, and everything about America, is still not only the best, but better than anything our nearest competitors have going for them by light years.

While that might have been a hard position to disprove just a few short decades ago, it no longer is. America is demonstrably not the leader any longer, at least in for the kinds of things that really matter to a civil society. For example, we are no longer the leader in educating our young – we're not even in the top ten. We are no longer the leader in providing advanced, affordable health care to all our citizens. We are no longer the leader in quality jobs, pay, benefits or retirement security.

And where we do still lead, we shouldn't. We are among the worlds leaders in incarceration rates and executions.

WASHINGTON – More than 5.6 million Americans are in prison or have served time there, according to a new report by the Justice Department released Sunday. That's 1 in 37 adults living in the United States, the highest incarceration level in the world. (More)

We are the world leader in military spending. We are among the leaders of the shrinking number of global warming deniers, and one the leading contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

Right wingers deny more than global warming though. If that were all they were in denial of we'd have a fighting chance of reaching them even on that issue. But no, they are in complete denial. They believe they live in a country that began to fade sometime during the Nixon years. Right wingers sleep with a corpse. They remind me of Norman Bates in the classic movie, “Psycho.” They have their beloved, mummified memories of post World War II America propped up in their mental attic. For them, it still lives.

I only wish they were right. I'd love nothing better to wake up every morning secure in the knowledge that my country is, if not always right, at least trying to be. I'd love to be sure that my government was still looking out for the wellbeing of the majority, not just those with the means to return the favor. I'd love to live each day with the knowledge that the number of Americans unable to afford health care were counted in the thousands, rather than the tens of millions. I'd love to know that our children were still getting world class educations, rather than falling further and further behind.

|That was the country I was raised in, but it's gone now. Whether or not we ever see it again depends on convincing those right wingers that not all things they consider “liberal,” are bad. Some liberal ideas were bad, and liberals need to admit those mistakes. Lyndon Johnson's well-meaning “Great Society” became a smothering welfare bureaucracy. If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, that one led an entire generation of black Americans straight to dependency-hell. It broke up families, discouraged work and virtually obliterated an emerging black business/middle class that was surviving despite segregation and discrimination.

But not all things liberal are bad. Universal health care, for example. My European friends just shake their heads in disbelief -- and pity -- when they hear me talk about my annual scramble to a private health plan that's not a complete rip off. Oh sure the my British and Canadian friends bitch and complain about their government-run systems. Nothing is perfect and you can't please everyone, all the time. But when I ask them if they'd trade their troubles for mine, and they just laugh. Forget about it.

The only way America can rejoin the top rank of industrialized nations in health care is to embrace single-payer -- a system that leverages the kinds of things the private sector does well with with the cost-savings and bargaining power of a single payer. I'm a capitalist to my marrow. I love the stuff. It's been good to me. Freewheeling capitalism is a powerful, dynamic and creative dynamo. Having said that, we need to realize, it's not a societal Swiss Army knife. It does some things very, very well – and other things very, very, VERY poorly. And one of the things it does poorest is assuring that all god's children have access to affordable health care -- especially those who need it the most.

Reducing greenhouse emissions is another thing business can't do well, or fast enough if left to their own devices. Right wingers are not convinced it's caused by humans in the first place, and therefore don't understand what the big hurry is all about. Why saddle industry with the added cost of cleaning up their acts? But, to silent critics they offer “free market solutions,” such as creating and selling pollution credits. Unfortunately the rate of warming is beating the rate pollution credits can possibly address the problem.

This year will be the 3rd warmest on record for the US, and the 6th warmest on record worldwide. What's needed is a good dose of (liberal) government intervention – strict greenhouse gas emission limits. Would that be expensive? You bet!. But expense hasn't lessened right wing support for the war in Iraq, where we're now pissing away a staggering $9 billion a month. And just how expensive do right wingers think a global ecological collapse might be, should it occur? They're not sure that's going to happen, they say. But are they really ready to gamble their grand children's lives for a few more bull stock market years on that guess? And if they are, what's that say about them?

Allow me one final riff on the theme of America's slide from first place. We are, I am sure you've heard, “the world's last remaining super-power.” To which I say, so what? We live in a age of asymmetric threats, like terrorism and guerrilla insurgencies. Neither give a fig about how many megatons we can drop on them. Nor are our enemies today about to spend themselves into bankruptcy trying to match our nuclear submarines, stealth bombers or missile defense systems. To them we are a lumbering, muscle-bound, sitting duck. They can hear and see us coming a thousand miles away. And when we arrive, they disrupt our best laid plans with weapons that would have been familiar to WW II French resistance fighters.

America's best defense from such enemies is to leave them to stew in their own clueless worlds of ideological isolation and social dysfunction. Rather than spending hundreds of billions chasing them through rabbit warren-like medieval cities, we should spend a few billion making sure they can't get into the US.

But America's conservatives believe the US can still call shots far from home. In reality, the days when we really could are long gone and not likely to return in our life times, if ever.

It's a lesson the British had to learn the hard way. Once an empire begins to crumble, all the military force in the world can't hold it together. Empires are an inherently unstable element. They have a bright, but incredibly short half-life. And when change begins, it's a sea change.

History is filled with cautionary tales on the subject of crumbling empires. Reading some Rudyard Kipling would be instructive for conservatives who continue to believe the US can democratize Arab nations of the Middle East. Kipling wrote at a time when cracks began to show in the British empire. And there are useful lessons in his poetry and prose, lessons we seem determined to learn the hard way too. It's useful to understand that our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq are fighting on the graves of thousands of imperial British soldiers whose lives and deaths Kipling chronicled nearly a century ago.

The British ultimately fled Afghanistan and Iraq. They put some locals in charge, gave them a "good old clap" slap on the back and high tailed for home. And so what? Did the UK collapse? No. Did “terrorists” follow to fight them in the streets of London and Southampton? No, -- at least not those terrorists anyway. Instead domestic terrorists, the IRA, proved to be their real problem.

True, today Britain is no longer an imperial power, she's just a power. Her citizens go about their days in relative peace and security – and that's a good thing.

What of the “victors,” that chased Brits out of Afghanistan and Iraq? Well, their lives changed little – and that's not a good thing – for them anyway. Societies change when they're ready to change, and that part of the world still isn't ready to change.

Simply put, the choice Americans must make in the weeks ahead is as simple as it is stark:

Continue feeding American soldiers into the meat grinder Kipling describes in the stanzas below. That's what right wingers are suggesting, in direct contradiction of the findings of the Iraq Study Group.


Try an enlightened – dare I say -- liberal approach, such as that proposed by John Murtha. Withdraw our troops and allow the natural social-evolutionary process in that backward region to proceed at its own pace and with its own means – no matter how bloody those means may be.

Because, either way, bloody it shall be.

Young Soldier, (st. 13)
Rudyard Kipling - 1918

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
So-oldier of the Queen!

By Rudyard Kipling, 1917

They shall not return to us, the resolute, the young,
The eager and whole-hearted whom we gave:
But the men who left them thriftily to die in their own dung,
Shall they come with years and honour to the grave?

Shall we only threaten and be angry for an hour:
When the storm is ended shall we find
How softly but how swiftly they have sidled back to power
By the favour and contrivance of their kind?

Even while they soothe us, while they promise large amends,
Even while they make a show of fear,
Do they call upon their debtors, and take counsel with their
To conform and re-establish each career?

Their lives cannot repay us--their death could not undo--
The shame that they have laid upon our race.
But the slothfulness that wasted and the arrogance that slew,
Shall we leave it unabated in its place?

December 13, 2006

Hillary Must Not Run

A recent poll of registered Democrats showed that 37% say they would vote for Hillary Clinton should she run for President.

What are those people thinking? More to the point, are they thinking at all? Is that number an indication of genuine support or simply celebrity reflex?

I believe it's the latter. Because there's no there, there, with Hillary Clinton. Hillary wants to be President for the simple and singular reason that Hillary wants to be President. That's it -- the whole enchilada.

Should Hillary succeed in sleepwalking her party to the nomination, Democrats will almost certainly lose the White House in 2008. Because Republicans are not stupid. They learn. (They even evolve, though they would not want their base to know that.) Come next election I guarantee you Republicans will run a candidate for President selected so as not to scare the begebbers out of sane voters. They will run a moderate, even a centrist. They will run someone people trust, even if they may not agree entirely with every one of his positions.

For example, imagine how far Hillary/Anybody ticket would get against, say, a McCain/Giuliani ticket? Not far. Hillary's 37% would not be nearly enough to make up for the millions of centrist voters, including conservative Reagan Democrats, who would be attracted to a McCain/Giuliani ticket, especially if Hillary was the alternative choice.

So, I am begging Hillary not to throw her hat into the ring. Just say no, Hillary. Instead let your party leaders know that, in return for not running, you want be the next Senate Majority Leader. Bowing out of the presidential race would allow much needed oxygen into the campaigns of Dems with a real chance to win.

Imagine instead a Edwards/Obama vs. McCain/Giuliani race in 2008! Now that would be a real horse race! And one Dems could win, because both Edwards and Obama speak in ways that resonate with the aching hearts of both America's liberal and centrist voters.

So Hillary, please listen. Here are just a few reasons:

*The more people see you and hear you, the less they like you. I don't say that to be cruel. It's just true. Some people, through no fault of their own, get on other people's nerves. And you're one of them. You not only wear thin, but you wear thin fast. That's a killer of a handicap for any politician, but for someone running for president --- forgetaboutit!

*You stand for nothing most folks can articulate if asked. You have been so careful not to offend any particular constituency that you have failed to endear yourself to any either. What do I get if I vote for you? If you water-boarded me, I couldn't tell.

*While out promoting your book, “It Takes a Village,” you seem oblivious of an obvious – even glaring contradiction ... to wit, that your vote giving Bush the authority to wage war in Iraq has created villages chuck full of Iraqi orphans.

*Your position on that vote, and the war, is transparently dishonest. You say you voted to give the president the authority to wage war, not to wage it poorly. No you didn't. Your vote was part of your plan to run for president. Your advisers told you that you needed to look tough so you would not be painted as a limp-wristed liberal. That's why you voted the way you did, and everyone out here knows it.

*We also know you are lying when you claim you have not decided yet whether you will run for president. Of course you have. That decision was in the bag years ago. It's why you ran for the Senate, because you knew that running as a former First Lady was non-starter. You needed a better launching pad, you pursued it and you got it. Every time you tell a reporter you have not decided yet, you are lying, and we know it.

*You voted for the war for the same reasons you haven't embraced those in your own party, particularly Rep. John Murtha, advocating a rapid unwinding of Bush's military miscarriage in Iraq. You have calculated that it's better that more US troops get killed and maimed than run the risk of being tagged as a “cut and runner.” (Clue for Hillary: We already have a president who thinks like that, and his approval rating is now in the 20s.)

*Remember what the Swift-boater thugs did to John Kerry? Well they can't wait to get their grubby hands on you. They had to work at smearing Kerry. Kerry had a real record of service you'd kill for. He had seen combat, been wounded and been awarded medals for it. Still they were able to smear him. You, on the other hand, provide a virtually unobstructed, target-rich environment for that pack of reputation snipers. By the time the November 2008 election rolls around those guys would have morphed you into Lizzy Borden. (I see ads featuring Kenneth Starr, in which he muses out loud about the charges “I could have brought against Hillary, had she not hidden/destroyed evidence...etc etc etc.. blah blah, bladdy ,blah. And how about that Vince Foster? What was going on there? They will ask... implying much.) Are you really ready to put us, and your party, through all that again? Please don't.

*And then there's Bill. His cheatin' ways aside, Bill was our last good president. No argument there. But we know Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton was our friend. And, Hillary, you're no Bill Clinton. So, that's problem One with Bill. The second problem is that, we can't have him back as president but we sure as hell don't want him as the nation's first First Husband. Jeezus woman, imagine that! We have. Bill roaming the White House, unattended, the toast of the town, with folks – female folks – not only hanging on his every word – but his arm. By the time you two left the White House in 2001 you had us totally burned out on the Clinton family soap opera. Reality TV, Ophra and Jerry Springer now provide us with all the dysfunctional domestic life voyeurism we can stomach. We sure as hell don't want to have to sit through 4 years of “Switching Places – The Clinton Show II.”

I could go on. And you can bet your sweet bippy those GOP hit squads will do just that -- go on, and on and on. Why would you want to go through that? Why would you make us go through that, especially at a time like this?

Hillary, just don't go there. Personal ambition is a good thing, until it becomes a selfish quest. And that's what you're on right now – a selfish, it's-my-turn, quest. How much do you want it? Already there are rumors of your opposition researchers digging for slanderous rumors to undercut an Obama candidacy. This is too dangerous a moment in our history for that kind of intramural, sophomoric nonsense.

If you were doing this in a different context, Hillary, a time of peace and prosperity, a time when the Supreme Court were not literally up for grabs, a time when America's standing in the world hadn't hit a rock bottom -- - we probably wouldn't care. The majority opinion might be -- "You want the job, it's yours. You get to be the country's first woman president. You go girl! Have a ball."

Trouble is, Hill, this is not such a time. Not even close. Instead we live at a perilous moment for America, for our check and balances democracy, for the human rights upon which America was founded, for our workers, for our schools, for our health care system and for our foreign policy. Not since the early days of the Great Depression has America held such an critcal election.

Which means that this is the worst possible time for the likes of you, (and I won't mince words) -- a conniving, plotting, polling, shape-shifting, vanity candidate.

But Hillary, this may still be your moment, just not in the way you would like. This could be your moment to display a genuine profile in courage -- by bowing out.