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Saturday, May 17, 2003  

Debacle (Part One)

Why, the fact is that the [lesser powers] give us but little alarm; the liberty which they enjoy will long prevent them from taking precautions against us; it is rather [weak countries] like yours, outside our empire, and subjects smarting under the yoke, who would e the most likely to take a rash step which might lead themselves and us into obvious danger.

Athenian envoy, quoted in The Peloponnesian War V.99, Thucydides

It was a few generations ago. There had been a great, martial nation which had invaded its neighbors and was carving out an empire in Europe. Across the water was a young nation of traders, with industry; it was known for the freedom its citizens enjoyed, their national vanity and impatience. The upstart nation (with an awful lot of help, conveniently forgotten afterwards) defeated this European empire and became the leader of a collective security pact. Then the threat from outside receded and the new superpower became absorbed in its own plans. It became increasingly indifferent to treaties or the constraints of diplomacy, precedent, or even its one values. Its great statesmen died or retired, and none took their place.

The country was Attica, better known for its capital city, Athens. You no doubt knew I was using a familiar narrative ploy: describe a situation with a few familiar points of similarity to our own, word it in an oddly vague, pompous way, and then spring on you the shocker that I'm really talking about something very different.

And Athens was in a different situation: in 440 BC, it probably had a million residents (compared to 300 million in the USA), in an area the size of Rhode Island. It contributed mightily to the defeat, but not the destruction, of the Persian Empire; and indeed, created a proto-NATO called the Delian League to defend against a Persian re-conquest. Athens was dwarfed by Persia during the "cold war," and fell with little impact on the Persians. And yet, reading the accounts in Aeschylus' The Persians or Herodotus' The Persian Wars, the Persians are regarded as having been rendered irrelevant.

The Athenians are interesting because of the images they had of themselves: their importance, their self-regard (they are constantly reminding other the other states that they "rescued" Greece from the Persians), and the merits of their institutions:

Our form of government does not enter into rivalry with the institutions of others. Our government does not copy our neighbors', but is an example to them. It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few. But while there exists equal justice to all and alike in their private disputes, the claim of excellence is also recognized; and when a citizen is in any way distinguished, he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as the reward of merit. Neither is poverty an obstacle, but a man may benefit his country whatever the obscurity of his condition.

But when Pericles spoke these words, the honeymoon between the Athenian hyperpower and its neighbors had ended. The outbreak of war on the Peninsula was exceptionally complicated, because the alliance against Athens included a large number of competitive oligarchs, whereas the Delian League (dominated by the Athenian navy) was already well-organized, with garrisons and established classes whose interests favored the Athenians.

When at last, the rivals to Athenian power resolved to go to war, they were swayed by the words of the Corinthian ambassador: his words are surprisingly flattering, considering the point he is trying to make:

The Athenians are addicted to innovation, and their designs are characterized by swiftness alike in conception and execution; you [Spartans] have a genius for keeping what you have got, accompanied by a total want of invention, and when forced to act you never go far enough.

Again, they are adventurous beyond their power, and daring beyond their judgment, and in danger they are sanguine; your wont is to attempt less than is justified by your power, to mistrust even what is sanctioned by your judgment, and to fancy that from danger there is no release.

Further, there is promptitude on their side against procrastination on yours; they are never at home, you are never from it: for they hope by their absence to extend their acquisitions, you fear by your advance to endanger what you have left behind. They are swift to follow up a success, and slow to recoil from a reverse. Their bodies they spend ungrudgingly in their country's cause; their intellect they jealously husband to be employed in her service. A scheme unexecuted is with them a positive loss, a successful enterprise a comparative failure. . . . .To describe their character in a word, one might truly say that they were born into the world to take no rest themselves and to give none to others.

When I first read this, I was carried off by the beauty and enthusiasm with which the Corinthians describe their foe. But as the war drags on, the Athenians demonstrate why this energy and verve can become insufferable. At one point the Athenians issue an ultimatum to a neutral island, Melos: either you are with us, or you are with the Spartans.

(the following dialogue is put into context here)

Melians: "...Your military preparations are too far advanced to support what you say;...all we can reasonably expect from this negotiation is war, if we prove to have right on our side and refuse to submit, and in the contrary case, slavery."

Athenians: For ourselves, we will not trouble you with false pretenses--either of how we have a right to our empire because we overthrew the Persians, or are not attacking you because of wrong that you have done us--and make a long speech which would not be believed; and we hope you will not think to influence us by saying that you did not join the Spartans, and that you have done us no wrong.... For you know, as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is in question only between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

Melians: We think it is expedient that you not destroy us; should you fall your example would be one for the world to think about.

Athenians: We are not worried about defeat.....We have come to show that it would be best for you to submit to us without war.

Melians: "And how could it turn out as good for us to serve you as for you to rule?"

Athenians: "Because you wold have the advantage of submitting before suffering the worst, and we should gain by not destroying you."

Melians: "So you would not consent to our being neutrals, friends instead of enemies, allies of neither side?"

Athenians: No.... "For your friendship will be an argument to our subjects of our weakness and your hatred of our power."

The parallels between the American situation in the new century and that of Athens in this book seem obvious to me. Athens developed a political culture of radical democracy, and as such it was prone to perverse decisions. During the 27-year war, the hawkish element became stronger and stronger; while both the militarists and the peace party had financial stakes in their particular preference, the militarists were able to appeal constantly to the national vanity of the Athenians. When news of victories arrived, it favored the war party. When the Athenian situation was dire, it also favored the war party, because they seemed to consistantly stake the country's survival on each battle fought after a big victory.

Both in attributes that are admirable and in those that aren't, the Athenians reminded this reader of Americans in the early 21st century: their memories are short, they are certain they will always win, they are dismissive of enemies and allies alike, they invoke piety a great deal, and their heros are capitalists. The other nations, including their allies, regard the Athenians as indifferent of the past, excessively self-regarding, unable to compare their own situation to that of others, and noisy. The rivals, adversaries and allies of Athens give precedence to aristocrats (their modern equivalent, I suppose, would be ENA graduates); there is a deeply entrenched tradition of deference to authority which the Athenians lack. The Athenians are dynamic and headstrong. Towards the end of the war, when the Athenians are still powerful at sea, their populism leads them to regard treaties and conventions as secondary to the will of the people. Since only Athenian people vote in Athenian elections, they soon lose the trust of everyone.

While my analysis of the situation might be entirely wrong, I believe most readers--including ones with radically different opinions from mine--would agree that this tragic episode is relevent. When one reads of the excruciating degradation of this tiny glorious democracy into demagoguery, it is depressing because American democratic institutions are prone to the same errors. How was it that decades of self rule were derailed? Why wasn't the prior experience of the Athenians with self-rule adequate to prevent the most duping of a huge, rich polity?

posted by James R MacLean at 12:27 AM | PERMALINK |


Friday, May 16, 2003  

More From Baron Scarpia

Disclaimer: I'm so disgusted with the subject of this posting that I have resolved to use no invective at all . You know how it is. If we were the crew of a sub in WW2 and somebody banged his scalp on a bulkhead, he might let fly a few words, but you'd know he wasn't mortally wounded. But if a rivet popped out while we were at 80 fathoms, and then another, the curious tendency is for people to become very earnest and focused.

This is why my impulse to spew a string of murderous oaths upon reading this in Foreign Policy was suppressed. It is why, although I wanted to call Newt Gingrich a miserable vomitous mass, or as helpful as a grapnel in a rectum, I did not. No, although I feel remarks like

"Can anyone imagine a State Department more out of sync with [President] Bush's views and objectives? The president should demand a complete overhaul of the State Department so it is capable of executing his policy goals effectively and of redefining peace on his own terms."

are certainly a clear sign of the lowest and most irresponsible pandering stooge, and the sort of thing that contributed to the jovian complex of people like Caligula and Kim Il-Sung, I will firmly and emphatically refrain from doing so. Gems of wisdom like this

"[T]he U.S. government should commission a comprehensive study on the international press coverage of the United States leading up to and during the war in Iraq. The study should encompass state-owned media in the Arab world to determine if those outlets are a major contributing source of anti-American hostility. Private media organizations attacking the United States represent a different phenomenon from state-owned media attacking the United States. The latter is a government-sponsored act of hostility and should be dealt with accordingly."

represent the clearest manifestation of--I was about to say, the clearest manifestation of microcephalic megalomania, but I won't. I confess I really don't know how to deal with disgraced, hypocritical, corrupt, sycophantic ex-congressman. So as much as I feel the man quoted above meets that description, you didn't read that he was here. And don't think I'll resort to contemptible, snarky methods like linking to articles like this, because I won't. And so, in my desperate determination to remain focused on the abyssmal message Newt Gingrich is sending to vulnerable, at-risk youth like George W. Bush, I will refrain entirely from the sort of invective in this posting. Oh, it's finished. That was easy.

SATIRE STASH ADDITION: Here I posted a few links to satirical sites. Here is one which is in fact not satire; we would say it is in earnest. On the other hand, I skimmed the links on the right (in two senses of the term) and noticed that I've been tempted to link to the sites myself, just to remind readers what we're fighting against. I mean, the Eagle Forum is really campy---er--er--wait--no, no, I didn't mean to say that. If I were setting myself up as an establishment elitist and arbiter of taste, then I might be tempted to disparage Ms. Schlafly's homespun effusions as "campy," but since I'm not, I won't.

posted by James R MacLean at 4:28 AM | PERMALINK |
 

Things I couldn't resist linking to...

Go to the Center for Digital Democracy to learn how to register your protest regarding the FCC media consolidation initiative. Great collection of resources, links, and articles. While elsewhere, Ruminate This rounds up the best blog commentary on the subject.

Billmon with a caption and two headlines that need no additional comment.

Asia Times: Henry Liu talks about the legacy of colonialism in Hong Kong. Commentary on Saudi terror links and the resurgence of terror cells in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It's a short blurb of an article, but Newsweek acknowledges that a federal program may have created the perverse incentives that led to 38 wrongful drug convictions. For more, go to Google, type in "Tulia drug bust" & go from there. It's a doozy of a story.

TalkLeft on Jeb Bush's order to appoint guardian for fetus.

Courtesy of Jim Hightower's radio news spot on the local indy station, it turns out that California drinking water is contaminated with waste from rocket fuel production in Nevada. Think this doesn't affect you? If you had a salad recently, it probably does. The state is the major, nationwide supplier of winter lettuce, and many other types of produce. Produce that's watered with a contaminant that, as the article says, accumulates in doses 100 times above EPA safety guidelines in as little as two ounces of the affected vegetables.

BuzzFlash: Whales and dolphins threatened with extinction. The Carlyle Group cleans up. Halliburton admits paying $2.4 million bribe in Nigeria. And finally, here we go again; Iran accused of bioweapons manufacture. This portion was just transcendent in its cluelessness, emphasis mine:

...In recent weeks, the Mujaheddin has been fighting for survival after some of its Iraq-based military camps came under attack by U.S. forces during the war. Although the Mujaheddin claimed neutrality in the U.S.-led campaign against Iraq, the Bush administration decided to bomb Mujaheddin bases in an apparent attempt to thaw relations with Iran. Later, the U.S. Central Command arranged a cease-fire that allowed the group to keep many of its weapons and maintain its camps. But then the Bush administration decided to actively seek its surrender.

Mujaheddin officials said the timing of the release of their report on Iran's biowarfare program was unrelated to their problems with the U.S. government. ...

posted by Natasha at 1:51 AM | PERMALINK |
 

"Anti-Menem Feeling": It's not just for Argentinians Anymore!
Well, if you aren't close enough to a legitimate electoral victory to steal the election, you can still be a massively destructive pest: you can withdraw from the run-off election, as Carlos Menem just did, with the aphorism:

(Saam Barrager translation) "I would say to Mr. Nestor Kirchner that he can stay with his 22% but I'll stay with the people." ... [of those that came out of the April 27th preliminary] "one was of the 'montonerismo' [Kirchner] and the other knew how to fight against the Montoneros."


There was a lot of reference to "anti-Menem" feeling; I had assumed Menem would win, partly because I've been in the grips of some really cussed despair, but Randy Paul set me straight. Still, the picture looks very grim. First, Argentina has a Peronist in office again. Second, Argentina has run-off elections; the first round (27 April) featured four main contenders; Kirchner won 22% of the popular vote in the first round, and Menem the massively greater, mandate-bestowing 24%. So of course, there had to be a run-off and of course Menem, who loves Argentina about as much as former Treasury Secretary O'Neill (here for more context) does, was too much of a coward to challenge him in the elections. But oh no, Carlos, you'll remain with the people--as if the 60% of Argentine voters expected to vote against you were illegal aliens from Mars. I should stop here, because I am really furious with Menem and that's all that needs to be said on the subject.

The refusal of Menem to stand for the run-offs, while virtually insisting that he was, in some recondite way, the legitimate man of the people (excuse me while I barf) angers me so intensely because Argentina has, you see, suffered rather a lot of turmoil lately. This turmoil has meant that the new president of Argentina needs a strong mandate. Too bad Menem was so hell-bent on denying his rival one. His irresponsible gesture will haunt Argentina for years.

posted by James R MacLean at 1:08 AM | PERMALINK |


Thursday, May 15, 2003  

Oregon Bus Project

I wanted to let people in the Portland area know about an upcoming event on May 27th (the Tuesday after Memorial day) where you can find out more about the Oregon Bus Project's newest campaign.

May 27th Double Feature

2003 Great Defender Award Honoring Gov. John Kitzhaber and "Saying Something" - a kick off to the Engage Oregon Campaign

World's Only $10 Black Tie (Optional) Premiere and Award Ceremony 7-9 PM at the Hollywood Theatre.

$30 tickets include jazz reception with Gov. Kitzhaber before the event (5:30 - 6:45), main event (7:00-9:00), and After Party with Lilly Wild and her rockin' band.

The Oregon Bus Project is run by the New Progressive Network and they have come up with some wonderful, new ideas on how to build an activist network in Oregon.

This morning I interviewed Jefferson Smith, the chairman of the board, about what they are doing in Oregon. I'll be writing up my interview for PolState and will expand a bit on it here (check back later this weekend). They have had some very good successes that I'd like to share.

They are also launching an electronic magazine, the Zephyr, and are looking for contributors. I bet that we Oregon bloggers could provide some great content.

Check out the site and let's plan to go to the best progressive party in our state.

PS. I'll be posting very lightly for the next week or so to accommodate my visitors who want to do something while visiting, but I do plan to get my interview written up and posted. I'll also be dropping in to see what Natasha and James are covering. Be back soon.

posted by Mary at 8:24 PM | PERMALINK |


Wednesday, May 14, 2003  

Roving About

Ruminate This finds that a lot of people are talking about the proposed media consolidation rules. If you haven't read up on this, I highly recommend that you go now. She talks about it in more depth here.

Go to We Want The Airwaves for more discussion of media issues.

Interesting Times on the Project for a New American Century.

See The Forest explains that what conservatives really, really hate, is the right to privacy.

Wampum has the latest autism report from California, and shares a disturbing visual highlighting the sharp rise in cases.

Steve Gilliard at dKos talks about the return of Osama, and the day late, dollar short, looting policy in the works.

Billmon draws our attention to widespread radiation poisoning in areas of Iraq where unguarded nuclear waste facilities were left open to looters.

Body and Soul talks about Bill Gates.

Check out the latest edition of the Commonweal Institute newsletter.

Guardian: Jack Straw plays a game of CYA over WMD. New trade-offs proposed to get smaller countries to agree to a permanent EU president. In a disturbing finding that affects (directly or indirectly) every single person on the planet, it turns out that favored fish stocks are down 90% in 50 years.

For a little light refreshment, check out the Ironic Times, and in closing, I leave you with a comment from the Onion's latest report of person-on-the-street opinions about Bush & Blair's nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Says one stalwart citizen:

"It's about time. I'm sick of them always giving the Peace Prize to all those fucking pacifists."

posted by Natasha at 11:53 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Framing the message: Tax Cut Debt Increase Plan

My friend, Matt Stoller, has a great idea about how to frame the issue for Bush's tax cut.

Let's not call Bush's fiscal plans a 'tax cut' anymore. It's not. We will have to find the money eventually, whether that's through inflation or increased taxes later on. And meanwhile, local and state taxes go up to address gaping budget deficits on the local level.

We should call it what it is: A Debt Increase Plan

In my opinion, the conservative attitude is: privatize the "shared wealth" of this country and socialize the "risks". So, we Americans must not stand in the way of drilling for oil in Alaska by private entities, but if a disaster happens (ie; the pipe line is split in an earthquate or war), then the American taxpayer will pick up the tab as we are the insurer of last resort.

Who will pay for today's tax cut for the wealthy? Everyone, but especially our children and grandchildren who will have to service the debt that we incur. And with the Republican budget plans, our children and grandchildren will have less opportunity for a high quality education, safe neighborhoods, public transit, healthy environment, etc. When do we consider the world we leave for them?

Go read Matt's full post. I think his suggestion bears merit.

posted by Mary at 10:09 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Why...

...does the largest military budget on the planet not phase people who are concerned about big government?

...are some groups who worry obsessively about Big Brother usually in favor of longer prison sentences for everything?

...is school funding given lower priority than prison funding in a nation that incarcerates more people per capita than any other country on earth?

...do people who complain about illegal immigrants not learning English want to exclude them from public schools?

...does a society that mythologizes the quality of private boarding schools blame the poor quality of education in many low income areas entirely on absentee parents?

...do those who complain about absentee parents want to force poor, single parents to work longer hours?

...are American small farmers idolized as rugged individualists, while developing world farmers are viewed as foot-dragging holdouts in the new world economy?

...is it that the most vocal proponents of the capitalist virtue of charging all the traffic will bear always seem to complain first and loudest about getting squeezed by some two-bit, greedy b*stard overcharging for their services?

'Cause I was just wondering.

posted by Natasha at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK |
 

One Wingnut to Rule Them All

My Aunt Sally seems like an odd place to begin this essay. She's every policymaker's worst nightmare, and I am convinced political candidates have been trying to gratify her since the days of Harry Truman. They've failed miserably, but not for lack of trying. She's a sweet old lady and grandmother, with political views that would make Strom Thurmond blanch with embarrassment. She can name every US state and its capital (alphabetized by state capital if you like), but she cannot locate Great Britain on a map of the UK. She believes Korea and Vietnam are the same country and her views on the Islamic world are straight out of Le Chanson de Roland. She has a temper that would send Genghis Khan running for the nearest concrete yurt, and she is here to tell you that the politicians are minions of Satan-- nay, are Satan--for inflicting an absolutely intolerable tax load upon us, something that no civilized society would stand for; and they give all this largess to Communists and pagans and atheists. No, I am making none of this stuff up, except the concrete yurt part.

Now, my Aunt Sally does occasionally hold forth in ways that would make Pat Robertson fall out of his chair; but I've observed that all of the arguments in the Official Voter Information Guide appear to have been written with her in mind. Certain ideas are established orthodoxy:

Taxes are far too high, and rapidly growing

The freeways and roads are manna from Heaven; gasoline taxes to pay for them are blasphemy against divine providence

Politicians cannot be trusted; democracy cannot be relied upon to make fiscal decisions. An exception may be made for ideologues who denounce politicians (and lawyers), and impose permanent restrictions on their ability to tax and spend.

Any bond issue may be named after the recipient of 0.00001% of its allocations.


The bitter loathing Aunt Sally has for "tax-and-spend liberals" has to be seen to comprehend. Fiscal policies in California are shaped by passions and emotions that will not go away.

The State of California is a victim of extreme mistrust of democracy and in particular of the ability of political leaders to govern reliably. In many respects it is a model of a Latin American country under a "reformist" government, such as Argentina under Finance Minister Domingo Cavallo. In order to win the confidence of investors and foreign governments, those governments imposed the proverbial "dagger in the steering wheel," a series of measures imposing strict fiscal and monetary discipline on the government. The idea was that the traditional flexibility of governments to devalue in the event of a fiscal crisis was removed, and at last legislatures like that of Argentina and Buenos Aires State would cut their spending. Alas, the driver got impaled instead and the government of California has had to labor under similar conditions.

I've painted a gory simile of a wrecked car with a Latin American finance minister impaled on the steering column. Worse, I've implied that California has similar political pathologies to countries like Argentina and Brazil. Have I, like, lost it? Consider the following.

In 1978 the California voters passed Proposition 13, which cut property tax revenues to local government by about 50% (in about two years). While this did not directly affect state expenditures, it meant the combined spending on state and local government fell 24% in two years (as a share of GSP). Inevitably this would create spillovers to the state government, and as usual a very alarming length of time would pass before Sacramento actually addressed the burgeoning social problem.

In the elections since Prop 13, most have seen ballot propositions that extended an easement of property assessments (what we call "grandfathering," under which a new owner inherits the old assessment) to war veteran homebuyers and other special groups. Almost all of these easements have passed, each with an imperceptible but growing fiscal effect.

Because we do not trust legislators or the governor to make vital decisions covering taxation, our legislators accepted a bill that required them to reduce the sales tax when reserves reached 4% of two years worth of General Fund revenues (or roughly 8% of one year’s revenues). This was later reduced (2001) to 3% of one year’s revenues.

In March 2002 Californians passed Propostion 42, dedicating gasoline taxes to transportation programs. This allowed the state government to begin a large capital improvement campaign even as the General Fund revenues sagged. (The state sales tax on gasoline accounts for just $1.2 billion of revenues; additionally, some $3.4 billion is collected from taxes on cars; $16.5 billion is spent on transportation)

General Fund revenues are micromanaged by initiatives. Proposition 98, passed in 1988 dedicates 40% of General Fund revenues to education. While this seems reasonable, the policy was obviously passed to constrain the state government from flexibility in writing a budget.

Californian term limits (from the 1990’s) would limit the seniority of our delegation to Congress. (This was passed in 1994 as Proposition 164; a similar law in Arkansas was struck down the following year by the US Supreme Court).


This very incomplete listing of policies and successful initiatives reflects an extreme mistrust not only of elected officials, but also of voters themselves. Each successive movement to constrain political leaders made them less accountable; term limitations made incumbents more powerful in the states which did not pass them; and the initiative process took fiscal management out of the hands of the loathed politicians.

Not that I'm filled with admiration for our lawmakers thrashing out a budget: like Bardolph watching Falstaff hack his sword with his dagger, I "did that I had not these seven years before, I blush'd to hear their monstrous devices." Understandably, individual legislators cannot be blamed for struggling desperately to slash spending and wriggle through the budget constraints. This is about 85% of their job, after all. But what is vexing, and wherein lies the opportunity cost, is that the legislators seem to believe their own devices and make the future crisis worse. In the budget negotitations for FY2000, a new Special [Trust] Fund was created which was to prevent the legislators from spending gasoline taxes on non-transportation projects. Now, in view of the fact that gasoline taxes accounted for $1.2 billion of the $16 billion we spend on roads and freeways, it is a very legalisitic allegation that gasoline taxes are squandered on non-transportation spending. Be that as it may, the argument is an extremely popular one and in March of this year voters passed Prop 42. Now we have Prop 51 which is to do the same with automobile sales taxes. The vehicle for this will be the "Traffic Congestion Relief Fund," which will further reduce General Fund Revenues by another $1.2 billion. Of course the Special Funds "lend" money to the General Fund all the time….

Like nearly all US states, California's revenues as a share of GSP have fallen thanks to the decline in corporate income taxes and in sales taxes. There is also an additional twist to this situation. California, of course, is vulnerable to big cyclical swings in personal income tax revenue, corporate income tax revenues, and the like. In previous phases of the state’s history (1967, 1971 and 1991) it was politically acceptable to pass 10 and 11% top-bracket income taxes applicable to the top 2.5% of households. These were temporary measures passed by Governors Reagan and Wilson, but it is difficult to imagine any governor or legislature daring to touch this idea now.

The seizure of power from the formal governing bodies in California has had an effect similar to that of the legislatures in many Latin American countries. Frequently stripped of power and liquidated by coups, bitterly partisan and convinced of the other faction's unscrupulous evil, they become less responsible; defeating the opposition comes at the expense of long-term resolution of problems like deficits or inflation. California is not quite as far along as Argentina was in the '60's and '80's, but our initiative process, by circumscribing the role of elected lawmakers, means an interest group must play this game or be utterly annihilated. Like all states south of the 1820 Missouri Compromise line, California has an astonishing concentration of income, pushing up the Gini coefficient for the entire country. This latter condition has grown precipitously during the last twenty years, mostly because of the income effects of the real estate boom, certain conditions associated with immigration from Mexico and S.E. Asia, and the decline of industry.

But what is a danger is that the constraints on the General Fund itself are quite extensive and determined by intense emotions. Worse, budget appropriations are the worst real-life example of a noncooperative game. There is no such thing as a Nash Equilibrium when subgames include initiatives like Propositions 49 and 51. This is because each election year has become a game of political chicken, in which interest groups demonize the legislature as indifferent and wasteful, and then urge as a solution the armor-plated, immutable lock on another large chunk of tax funds for their particular group.

Economically vulnerable groups seldom participate in the political process. A highly successful entrepreneur whose company could double in size if a certain securities law is slightly changed, will have his mind wonderfully concentrated on the political process; a laid-off textile industry worker is only going to benefit marginally, and momentarily, from a gigantic and diplomatically explosive increase in tariffs on imported clothing; she's unlikely to vote. Temps, of course, never vote; a populist dictator with a contract employee for a lover (e.g., Juan and Eva Peron) couldn’t help them. That's a given attribute of all types of political systems, but what is truly amazing is how, without recourse to religious fanaticism or HUAC-style red-baiting, the super rich have managed to arouse the zeal of my Aunt Sally on their behalf.

UPDATE: An alert reader spotted an error I had left in about term limits. I had inadvertantly implied that term limits are in effect now for federal offices. That is false. Prop 27 was a far more feeble effort in our state to "shame" federal legislators (from California) into pledging a finite number of terms. It lost decisively in the 2000 elections, possibly reflecting the fact that it was in the primary elections--where turnout is dominated by 'huge democracy geeks' (Sorry, The Onion took down its article "Huge Democracy Geek Even Votes in Primaries," but the headline says it all.)

posted by James R MacLean at 1:15 AM | PERMALINK |


Tuesday, May 13, 2003  

Why Bush Lies

During the 2000 election cycle, Bush was held up as an honorable, honest man in stark contrast to the dissembling Bill Clinton and Al Gore, the man that the press core hounded as a liar and egotist. Despite the fact that Bush lies incessantly is obvious to number of us, there has been very little discussion of this in the mainstream press. Krugman has been the main pundit that has tried to point this out since the 2000 election, but for the most part, the common belief continues to be that Bush is an honorable and honest man, one with real leadership qualities.

I know I'm deeply offended that they lie with such impunity and with so little consequence for their perfidity.

Tristero provides some insight into why they believe that their lying is justified. They actually have a philosophical justification for it based on the work of Leo Strauss.

Leo Strauss was, as close I can figger it from secondhand descriptions, a kind of a thinking lad’s Ayn Rand - with some major differences, it is true, but all of them simpatico with rightwingerism. Strauss was a man utterly traumatized by the Holocaust, as were many others. But he believed that the seeds of Nazism were sown in the Weimar Republic specifically. However, in general, he was appalled with the entire Enlightenment project. Enlightenment attitudes, Strauss felt, inevitably substituted individual moralities for spiritual morality, a veritable descent into a maelstrom which leads to liberal democracy, a corrupted form of governance which will slowly turn, step by step, into Nazism and anarchy. Since it is so vital that order be preserved, a country’s leaders - who should be beings of superior morality compared to the average citizen - must use all means, including lies and deception, in their fight against anarchy. These superior beings are beyond conventional norms; much of standard morality is irrelevant to their all important mission. Insight into the qualities and obligations of these leaders can be gleaned by close reading of ancient texts, notably the early Grecian philosophers, as our own morally superior leader might put it. When one truly understands Plato and Socrates, a secret, esoteric meaning is revealed which will help illuminate the role these great leaders play in keeping the world safe.

They are true believers and share a Manichean view of the world with Osama bin Laden. They frame the world in stark terms of good battling evil and believe that the ends justify the means.

Lakoff's interview with TomPaine also remarked on how the conservative framework allows for "dirty tricks" and deception:

But there is something in the worldview that leads to seeing deception as a reasonable thing to do. It has to do with the idea of evil being out there in the world. That is, if you are fighting evil, you can use evil to fight evil -- you can use fire to fight fire. The assumption is that, you know, if you are out there in a world against evil-doers, you may have to do some not very nice things. That is part of the conservative worldview.

So they see liberals as doing something that they believe is simply wrong and immoral by their perspective. They can fight it anyway they can. Deceptive practices are all part of the game.

The Strict Father model allows them to frame their message as "father knows best" and "don't you worry your pretty little head over that, I'll take care of it all". The problem is that they also subscribe to "children are better seen than heard". They, as superior beings, want us to act like sheep.

Under the Straussian influence, they feel totally justified in using vicious and deceptive practices. Strauss also believed that if you have no external enemies, then you must create internal enemies, because nothing else will restrain mankind from their inherent wickedness:

"Because mankind is intrinscially wicked, he has to be governed," he once wrote. "Such governance can only be established, however, when men are united -- and they can only be united against other people."

These true believers find themselves lucky enough to have two enemies they can battle: the terrorists and the liberals. They must be very happy with their lot.

Can you imagine any philosophy in stronger contrast to the teachings of Jesus or any of the other major religions of the world? Can you imagine a philosophy that was more anti-democratic or anti-liberal? And can you imagine a philosophy that is more destructive of the human soul? May the world forgive us for allowing these people any position of power.

posted by Mary at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Get informed about the coming FCC Media Consolidation.

posted by Natasha at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Oil in Africa

US firm Murphy oil will begin offshore operations in DR Congo.

The South African subsidiary of TotalFinaElf has expanded black ownership to comply with new industry standards. It can be hoped that this is more than a bandaid and a nice face on the economic fact that black South Africans are getting poorer.

British energy firm BG set to increase export of West African natural gas to the US, mainly from Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria.

Woodside Petroleum of Australia will begin offshore drilling in Kenya, in concert with Dana Petroleum of the UK.

Shell petroleum forced to shut down two pipelines in Nigeria after local unrest continues to focus on Shell and Chevron. A hostage situation where Nigerian youths held Shell employees captive has recently ended, and a new pipeline rupture may be due to vandalism.

Tullow oil of the UK announces new discovery offshore near Ivory Coast, they are already developing a nearby site.

The Scottish Wood Group has signed a $20 million contract to provide support services to the American firm Marathon for operations in Equatorial Guinea.

Exxon-Mobil under investigation for a bribery scandal in Equatorial Guinea.

Mysteriously, US set to expand military presence in areas of Africa where recent petroleum deposits have been uncovered. And private military companies are increasingly available for hire in the region, sometimes acting directly on behalf of oil conglomerates.

posted by Natasha at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK |
 

News of Iran

Iran to US: Don't come up with any new crises.

Private meetings have been held between the two countries, most recently in Geneva. The issues on the table were activities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Natural gas contracts signed with India. The deal is for 25 years. Further economic cooperation planned with France, including expanded contracts with Peugeot. Also, they will help rebuild Afghan airports and train pilots.

The country is looking to improve relations with Algeria and Armenia.

An unusual wave of executions sweeps the country.

Iranian Jewish immigrant appears to be responsible for arson attacks at Los Angeles Jewish centers.

First commercial US release of an Iranian film is meeting with some acclaim.

President Khatami's brother, a parliamentarian, is pessimistic about political reform. Tellingly, the country has finally begun to follow in China's footsteps, cracking down on internet access.

posted by Natasha at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Around the Web

Ampersand finds that a new British study reveals that kids do fine with working mothers, and that childcare is harder to find in the US, even as we continue in the mad dash to reduce welfare rolls.

Avedon on lying in journalism.

Blog Baby talks to local small business owners who say that they will create no new jobs unless consumers start buying more, no matter how big a tax break they get.

How To Save The World has interesting quips on why you hate your job, and some handy business survival tips.

Daily Kos: Republican representatives increasingly resentful of Bush. Maybe it clouded their minds into debating the wrong tax bill. And, btw, weren't there supposed to be boatloads of WMDs found in Iraq, after a war that was supposed to deliver a fatal blow to Al Qaida? 'Cause we were kind of wondering.

Guardian/Observer: Will Britain see a regime change? If no weapons are found, public opinion in the UK is set to tilt perilously against the war, because for some reason the British public actually cares what other countries think of them. This article has a very different perspective of Blair's relationship with the EU than the rosy American picture of his emergence as the leader of a new consensus. Iraqi agriculture on brink of collapse, as an exiled Shia cleric addresses a crowd of 100,000.

More on Iraqi Shi'ites.

Guerilla News talks about the growing problem of antibiotic resistance as spurred in part by the meat and fast food industries.

An Islamic perspective on slander.

Forget blood for oil. For Bechtel, it's blood for water.

US has asked for Indian troops to come help in Iraq.

Government Executive: Top officials at the Office of Special Counsel, in charge of whistleblower protections for federal employees, have resigned. Defense contractors hopping on the Homeland Security bandwagon.

Texas Democrats on the lam holed up in Oklahoma.

posted by Natasha at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Greek Retrospective

Like much of blogistan, your humble poster is an avid hellenophile. Mary had this fun post about apt Greek eponyms. Blogistan is also home to Atrios, named for the founder of the ruling house of Mycenae and ancestor of Agamemnon; Hesiod, author of the Theogony and Works and Days; The Agonist, in the Greek sense of an athletic contestant; Tacitus, a Roman historian whom I particularly admire; Sappho, regarded by the ancient Greeks as the greatest poet they ever had; Dienkes' Anthropology Blog, refreshingly not about politics; and how could I forget Sisyphus Shrugged? Finally, there is a warblog based on Caesar's conquest of France, which is really superbly done.

However, my object was to include a few addenda to Mary's original.

Antigone: with Ismene, daughter of Oedipus and Jocaste (or Iokaste). Antigone's two brothers, Polyneices and Etiocles are rival claimants to the throne of Thebes; their competition leads to war, with Polyneices committing treason to win back his throne. In the battle Polyneices and Etiocles kill each other and Kreon, the brother of the late queen, becomes king. Antigone buries the remains of Polyneices against the vindictive decrees of Kreon, leading to a classic struggle between the power of the state (Kreon) and the power of piety and family honor (Antigone). In the end, Kreon's inflexibility leads to the utter destruction of the Theban house of Cadmus. Antigone is perhaps the most revered name in Greek literature, the epitome of courage and unwavering determination. (Antigone doesn't welcome her fate; she dreads dying, and bitterly regrets losing her last crack at a normal life. But she doesn't bend either.)

Eriynes also known as the Eumenides or the Furies: feminine agents of retribution; would inflict righteous expiation for really awful sins. The Eriynes had several names--epithets, actually--because no one actually wanted to say "Alecto" or "Tisiphone," or "Megaera." It was, in a way, the Greek precuror to the modern Christian notion of hell, in which something implacable is assigned the task of administering a divine punishment--rather like the FBI getting the KGB to punish Aldrich Ames.

Jocaste: the biological mother of Oedipus; a child-bride, she is traumatized by the self-serving murder of her firstborn child Oedipus (by her husband, King Laius, in response to the oracle that the baby Oedipus would slay his father and marry his mother). Unbeknownst to Queen Jocaste, her son is not actually murdered, but secretly transferred through several parties to the household of the royal family of Corinth and reared as heir. At the climax of the play she learns who her husband is and hangs herself.

Narcissus: a youth enraptured with himself. According to the myth, he sees his reflection in the water and is smitten with adoration. He tries to make love to his reflection, because he's so deluded that he doesn't understand what a reflection is. I've thought about this myth; mentally balanced people, I think, do seem to love themselves; William James referred to them as the once-born types. But such people aren't narcissists. Think of it this way: think of people who you have really, deeply loved with all your heart. It's hard to describe such a basic thing as love, but part of it is a devotion to the beloved in a a way that utterly transcends admiration. There may be admiration but your loyalty to (for instance) yourself is responsible for the virtue within you; you have to draw on it even when you're trapped in a pit of self-loathing. So a narcissist is blind to, or unmindful of, his self-agency; his perceived consummation of excellence is a given. In a way, the narcissist is vulnerable because he either is immutably perfect or he isn't. The notion that so-and-so is always spouting wisdom despite abject ignorance or even glib self-contradiction is a premise of the narcissist. Dinesh D'Souza's book about Reagan seeks to portray Reagan as a sort of Balaam's ass, spouting divine wisdom because he knew nothing of economics and couldn't even locate the UK on a map of England. This self-worship has been institutionalized in the form of the Wurlitzer.

Oedipus: adopted prince of Corinth; flees to Thebes because of oracle that he will slay his father and marry his mother (whom he wrongly believes to be the king and queen of Corinth). En route to Thebes, he has a monumental case of road rage and kills a rich stranger and his bodyguard, who is (much later) found to have been the king of Thebes, his biological father. He then solves the riddle of the Sphinx, inducing this supernatural scourge of Thebes to commit suicide, and is rewarded by the hand in marriage of the newly-widowed queen of Thebes (his biological mother Jocaste). The play "Oedipus" (Sophocles) is arranged like a hearing of the Theban Truth Commission on impious practices, which are assumed to be be the cause of the plague hitting Thebes. In the hearings, Oedipus cross-examines witnesses until he establishes that he murdered his father and married his mother. When the truth emerges, he is at the precise moment of truth notified that his beloved queen has committed suicide, and he then tears out his eyes in anguish. Then he renouces his throne and goes into exile, taking his daughters Antigone and Ismene with him.

In the Unbearable Lightness of Being, the character Tomas is comparing the pre-thaw leaders of Czechoslovakia (1968) to Oedipus; he says, "And when he saw what he had done, he tore his eyes out"--a remark which a post-thaw interrogator interprets as advice to Secretary Janos Kadar. I'd never say such a thing about our esteemed friend and leader, Mr. Bush. I would merely like to see him in blissful exile in someplace like Burma, doing things he enjoys.

posted by James R MacLean at 1:25 AM | PERMALINK |


Monday, May 12, 2003  

Further thoughts on the missing WMD

It seems to me that we can chalk up the missing WMD to one of two things.

1) Either the Bush administration deliberately lied about the danger of Saddam to take us into war for reasons that could not stand up to scrutiny.

2) Or the administration is totally incompetent because if there were WMD, they allowed the WMD to be secreted to whatever enemies and terrorists might wish to see us harm.

I cannot see any other reason that can account for the fact that this administration has not uncovered the Weapons of Mass Destruction that they assured the world were an imminent threat and the reason that we must invade Iraq.

Either case seems to me to be a more than sufficient reason to impeach Bush for his fatally flawed leadership.

On dKos, we have been having a lively discussion about the state of the constitution and whether there are still checks and balances in our government today. Bird Dog, one of the fellows that leans (heavily) to the right, said this today:

If Bush deliberately misled Congress and the nation about WMDs, then that is an impeachable offense. We agree. If WMDs are not found over the coming weeks and months, heads in the intelligence community should roll. Congress has the authority to investigate.

If Bird Dog is representative of the general right winger, this is indeed a dangerous sign for Bush.

For the record, Bush set the criteria to judge his administration in his State Of the Union speech.

In his own words, the reason that the US had to deal with Saddam:

Twelve years ago, Saddam Hussein faced the prospect of being the last casualty in a war he had started and lost. To spare himself, he agreed to disarm of all weapons of mass destruction. For the next 12 years, he systematically violated that agreement. He pursued chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, even while inspectors were in his country. Nothing to date has restrained him from his pursuit of these weapons -- not economic sanctions, not isolation from the civilized world, not even cruise missile strikes on his military facilities.

Almost three months ago, the United Nations Security Council gave Saddam Hussein his final chance to disarm. He has shown instead utter contempt for the United Nations, and for the opinion of the world. The 108 U.N. inspectors were sent to conduct -- were not sent to conduct a scavenger hunt for hidden materials across a country the size of California. The job of the inspectors is to verify that Iraq's regime is disarming. It is up to Iraq to show exactly where it is hiding its banned weapons, lay those weapons out for the world to see, and destroy them as directed. Nothing like this has happened.

The United Nations concluded that Saddam Hussein had materials sufficient to produce more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin -- enough to subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure. He hadn't accounted for that material. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed it.

Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. In such quantities, these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands. He's not accounted for these materials. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed them.

U.S. intelligence indicates that Saddam Hussein had upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents. Inspectors recently turned up 16 of them -- despite Iraq's recent declaration denying their existence. Saddam Hussein has not accounted for the remaining 29,984 of these prohibited munitions. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed them.

Let's give him the benefit of the doubt, and Saddam really did have a bunch of WMD. From that same speech, Bush promised that he would work to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on these dangerous weapons:

We're strongly supporting the International Atomic Energy Agency in its mission to track and control nuclear materials around the world. We're working with other governments to secure nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union, and to strengthen global treaties banning the production and shipment of missile technologies and weapons of mass destruction.

In all these efforts, however, America's purpose is more than to follow a process -- it is to achieve a result: the end of terrible threats to the civilized world. All free nations have a stake in preventing sudden and catastrophic attacks. And we're asking them to join us, and many are doing so. Yet the course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others. (Applause.) Whatever action is required, whenever action is necessary, I will defend the freedom and security of the American people.

Through his own words he has impeached himself. Either there was no legitimate reason to invade Iraq or there were WMD that they have carelessly let lose in the world. Because I see no evidence that anyone is too concerned about the missing WMD, I cynically believe that he lied and deserves to be impeached for his lies. It would be much worse for all of us if option 2 was the truth.

posted by Mary at 9:45 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Today's funniest headline

Digby's latest on the "hottie" President Bush has a link to today's best headline in my opinion:

Did Karl Rove Stuff Socks Down the Front of Bush's Pants Before He Got On THAT Plane?

In a BuzzFlash reader commentary, one astute mom tells us that she asked her children and her friends about how hot they found Bush. Needless to say, the reaction was not quite what Digby's WSJ writer reported.

I asked my son, who likes George and believes this administration will save him from all the monsters under his bed (he's 23) I asked him to look at the picture, and he said "you just don't like Bush's policies so nothing he does will suit you." He grabbed the picture and said "what does he have in his pants, looks like golf balls, they shouldn't have let him go out looking like that. So, he looks stupid, it's only one picture."

posted by Mary at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK |
 

California as Mrs. Grummige

"I feel it more than most. I am a lone lorn creetur and everythink goes contrairy with me.”

Mrs. Grummige, David Copperfield, Charles Dickens


Fiscal Year 2002 for most states began one of the most traumatic budget crises in recent memory. In 2002 and 2003, most states reported severe budget crises. At the same time, many of the provincial governments of Canada, such as Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia also experienced massive budgetary shortfalls. Rather than pepper this entry with links, here is a "master link" to the California Budget Project.

Most of the problems afflicting the State of California are common to other states, to the federal government, and to foreign governments. California, however, is unusual in that it seems to represent a locus of nearly all of them. According the above-cited NCSL report, California’s budget gap for FY2003 will actually represent 40% of the total aggregate gap of $57.9 billion for the 50 states. The problems which contribute to California’s budget shortfall include:


An especially virulent form of the energy crisis

A straitjacket of spending mandates

Postponed spending obligations from FY2001 and 2002, such as deferrals of mandatory education spending

Drastically reduced corporate income taxes rates

The implosion of a real estate bubble

Soaring costs of health care

The abolition of the estate tax


The real estate bubble, in particular, had an effect on personal income tax revenues and (indirectly) on sales tax revenues. In the 1990’s the boom in equities, especially on the tech-dominated NASDAQ, had a spillover into real estate and a wide range of luxury goods.

The State of California has General Fund revenue estimated at about $75 billion. In addition, the state receives $18 billion in “special funds.” Most state constitutions specifies the uses of certain revenues, with receipts placed in various special accounts. California, naturally, has turned to these to cover some of its mammoth shortfalls. But the creation of these special funds has contributed to the problem, locking the state into spending billions on freeways and developer-friendly porkbarrel projects, when the stuff that civilians normally expect from their government--like police and fire protection--go begging.

Corporate Income Tax the Biggest Blow

Relative to its size and persistence, the corporate income tax is the most volatile source of revenue because of the most sweeping policy changes; it can fall to extremely low levels in recession. Corporate earnings vary much more than personal income does, and corporations can deduct their losses in one year from taxable income in profitable years. This feature can, by itself, slash almost 50% off the CIT in recession years.

A "detail of history"--certainly of the GAO's analysis of the federal budget--was the massive impact of corporate tax rollbacks on the crisis. No matter how grave the crisis, GOP legislators were able to get rollbacks; this was separate from the Homeland Security bill, a massive federal budget buster which arranged for direct stimulus of major firms.

Urban Myths

The notion that the states, including the state of California, spent themselves into oblivion, is really an absurd statement. No enterprise in the world can absorb a 25% reduction in revenues without a commensurate reduction in services. I'm aware many will want to furnish an example of some computer VAR which did, but that's frivolous: Moore's Law has nothing to do with care for the aged or public education. In researching this entry, every attempt was made to consult with conservative publications on strategies (the campaign proposals of GOP contender Simon were understandably too vague to analyze. It was so easy to just let urban myths about Grey Davis do all the work).

The timing of my posting is not an accident. First of all, I had to finish it. (Seriously!) The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has become something of a fetish for me; it just published this report on another well-repeated urban myth, viz., that states got into this mess because of the tax and spend liberals.

The major cause of the current state fiscal crisis is a steep drop in revenues, which have fallen twice as far as during the recession of the early 1990s.

State revenues have declined relative to the same quarter of the prior year in each of the last six quarters, according to inflation-adjusted data collected from state revenue departments by the Rockefeller Institute of Government. Revenue in each quarter of FY2002 was well below the same quarter of the previous fiscal year — about 13 percent below in the crucial April-June quarter, which is the most important quarter for tax receipts. Thus far, state revenues have not rebounded.


Most states are coming up on their budget cycles and this will be a gruesome episode. Obviously, your correspondent is biased—he has developed a profound resentment of the federal administration after being brainwashed by doing research papers on public policy. So you can't trust a word he says. But the conservative thinktank linked to above shot their wad with the report above, and if the most optimistic conceivable conjectures were allowed, it would allow states to cut budgets by 3%.

If readers are interested in more analysis on the state budget crisis, please leave a comment. This is going to be a reccurring theme on the news; and don't forget—most social services in the USA are supplied by the states. So this will affect you a good deal more than the federal stuff.

SNIDE ADDENDUM: The Cato Institute article on this topic cited two college professors as co-authors. But it includes the sentence, “Even liberal neo-Keynesians now admit raising taxes in an economic downturn is a bad idea.” This captures my stereotype of these alleged think tanks. (In other words, the authors are snickering that Keynesians "caved in" and finally acknowledged something that non-Keynesians "discovered." For those of you who didn't already know, this is an infantile trick. Keynesians are the ones who call for deficit spending in a recession; of course, unlike Arthur Laffer and the supply siders, Keynians actually have something called IS-LM analysis to explain when and how to use it.)

LINK DISCLAIMER: Sorry about the shortage of direct links. The source material consists of lots of PDF files.

posted by James R MacLean at 1:14 AM | PERMALINK |
 

Republican policies and lies

One thing that is obvious about the Administration's policies is that often they have to lie or slip them in under the cover of other news -- usually on a Friday afternoon.

I talked about Frank Luntz' environmental memorandum previously as an example of the careful focus group testing of words to sell a policy. I went into more on this in an article I wrote for the Vox Populi Nebraska eZine.

The Battle for the Environmental Vote

Republicans know that Americans care about the environment. For years the best minds in advertising have been marketing GOP policies and now they want to sell the GOP as environmentally friendly. GOP polls showed them that, “The environment is probably the single issue on which Republicans in general – and President Bush in particular – are most vulnerable.”

Bush’s record became even more of an issue after Dick Cheney made the statement, “conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.” As Time Magazine reported last December, Karen Hughes was appalled by his statement and had the President do a series of photo-ops in natural settings to show that Bush actually cares about the environment.

The other thing they did was to hire Frank Luntz, a well-known Republican pollster and communication expert, to find a way to convince Americans that Republicans were better on the environment than Democrats. Full post

Molly Ivin's also remarked on how the language they use to "label" their policy completely hides what the policy will actually do:

Boy, there is no shortage of creatively terrible ideas from the Republican Party these days. Those folks are just full of notions about how to make people's lives worse -- one horrible idea after another bursting out like popcorn -- and all of them with these sickeningly cute names attached to them.

Consider the Family Time and Workplace Flexibility Act (Senate version) and the Family Time Flexibility Act (House version). The Bush administration is leading the charge with proposed new rules that will erode the 40-hour workweek and affect more than 80 million workers now protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

To hear the Republicans tell it, you'd think these were family-friendly bills, something like Bill Clinton's Family Leave Act, designed to help you balance the difficult combined demands of work and family. With such a smarm of butter over their visages do the Republicans go on about the joys of "flexibility" and "freedom of choice" that you would have to read the bills for maybe 30 seconds before figuring out they're about repealing the 40-hour workweek and ending overtime.

The other way they enact their unpopular policies is to announce them on a Friday afternoon, knowing that the horrible policy will most likely be missed and never discussed. Last weekend there was an article in the NY Times This Week In Review about a new policy that affects the definition of Wilderness that I had completely missed because it had been announced when we were all paying attention to the Iraq aftermath, or Santorum, or a thousand of other things.

More than a century after historians declared an end to the American Frontier, the Interior Department made a somewhat similar announcement last month, with no fanfare. On a Friday night, just after Congress had left for spring break, the government said it would no longer consider huge swaths of public land to be wilderness.

The administration declared that it would end reviews of Western landholdings for new wilderness protection. As long as the lands had been under consideration for the American wilderness system, they had temporary protection from development.

With a single order, the Bush administration removed more than 200 million acres from further wilderness study, including caribou stamping ground in Alaska, the red rock canyons and mesas of southern Utah, Case Mountain with its sequoia forests in California and a wall of rainbow-colored rock known as Vermillion Basin in Colorado.

Republicans like to say they have won the hearts and minds of the American public, but it seems to be that their actions on what they do to enact policy says that this is a lie as well. If they really believed that they had the hearts and minds of the American public, they would not go to such lengths to lie and hide their true goals. It is important for us to try to find ways to expose and exploit this, because it is a serious weakness on their part.

posted by Mary at 12:32 AM | PERMALINK |


Sunday, May 11, 2003  

"The Earth quakes and the heavens rattle; the beasts of nature flock together and the nations of men flock apart; volcanoes usher up heat while elsewhere water becomes ice and melts; and then on other days it just rains.

"Indeed do many things come to pass."

Malaclypse the Younger - The Principia Discordia

posted by Natasha at 11:37 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Around the Web

Veiled4Allah talks about mothers in Islam, and posts a tour of Islamic blogging.

Magpie tells us how the now usual version of the Klingon translator story is a misrepresentation of the facts.

A visit to the Whiskey Bar informs us that US arms inspectors have given up on finding WMDs in Iraq. Either they didn't exist, or they disappeared in the looting, but they're nowhere yet to be found. We can all hope and pray that the Bush administration was true to its nature, and was simply lying about the existence of vast quantities of horrible weapons. The alternative is too awful to contemplate.

Peace Tree Farm talks about his informative evening at the local chapter of a resurgent ACLU. The post includes links to some good commentary about conservative linguistic trickery.

Talk Left discusses how US government threats pressure has induced Canada to halt plans to decriminalize marijuana. Further, she links to an instance of Rich Lowry having a rare glimmer of sense, talking about the horror of prison rape.

From BuzzFlash: Dude, where's my electric car!? Will Iraq's women be as excluded from rebuilding efforts in their country as Afghan women were? Ashleigh Banfield has fans. Talks in Geneva between US and Iran.

posted by Natasha at 8:03 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Happy Mothers Day

My mother is an artist who naturally uses a lot of art supplies. Naturally, the correspondence between her artwork and another act of creation which defines mothers inspired this poem:

May the tip of your brush follow

That path in the ripple-ridges

Of fine paper, where lies

The perfect line, the very stroke

To join, or encircle, all else.

May the ink pool only

Ever so slightly, embossing

Shallow rills in the surface

As stroke joins tender stroke.

So you create with caresses

And thus you draw from blank space

The sketch already there.


And for any concerns about the news today I shall gladly forward you to the ever-attentive Randy Paul. Another blogger has this interesting report on the nominator of Bush & Blair for the Nobel Peace Prize. My friend Craig sends me this intriguing story (disclaimer: it's from Fox).

ADDENDUM: I'm the bloggering equivalent of Marley (as in "A Christmas Carol") but the horrors keep dragging me back. From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities comes this report on the devastative fiscal implications of the Bush Administration:


The 75-year Cost of the Administration's Tax Cuts Is More than Three Times the Long-term Deficit in Social Security and Larger than the Long-term Deficits in Social Security and Medicare Combined


It wasn't for heightened national security, folks. The Homeland Security bill contained so much corporate welfare it would have made Jean-Baptiste Colbert gape. (Special thanks to Andrew Bayer Is Dreaming of China for the notice; I've bookmarked the CBPP page and I'll check it hereafter.)

UPDATE: AAARGGH! Profuse apology to all readers: as Natasha pointed out, the story of the Klingon translator was misleading. It is not actually the case that patients have attempted to communicate in Klingon. I was mildly amused by the story but was working on a graduate paper and didn't have the time to pursue my suspicions. The story I linked lacked two crucial sentences which reveal that...uhhh..no, popular culture has not become quite that all consuming. But here is something that made me--I fear--a bit too credulous. Chas vesholem.

posted by James R MacLean at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK |