Thursday, September 30, 2010

Narrowing the Gap

Robert Reich is one of those public thinkers and economists that I wish Obama would take counsel from more.  He's published a new book called 'Aftershock', and he gives a 20 minute summary of his thesis on the radio program 'Fresh Air', which is that the increase in fundamental economic inequality in America since 1980 is a large part of our economic problem. Check it out here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Obama Faces Down Military Who Want Open-Ended War in Aghanistan

Bob Woodward's new book shows that Obama faced a unified military front which was opposed to his attempts to limit the Afghan conflict or to find an exit from it.
For two exhausting months, he had been asking military advisers to give him a range of options for the war in Afghanistan. Instead, he felt that they were steering him toward one outcome and thwarting his search for an exit plan. He would later tell his White House aides that military leaders were "really cooking this thing in the direction they wanted."

He was looking for choices that would limit U.S. involvement and provide a way out. His top three military advisers were unrelenting advocates for 40,000 more troops and an expanded mission that seemed to have no clear end. When his national security team gathered in the White House Situation Room on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2009, for its eighth strategy review session, the president erupted.

"So what's my option? You have given me one option," Obama said, directly challenging the military leadership at the table, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, then head of U.S. Central Command.

"We were going to meet here today to talk about three options," Obama said sternly. "You agreed to go back and work those up."

Mullen protested. "I think what we've tried to do here is present a range of options."

Obama begged to differ. Two weren't even close to feasible, they all had acknowledged; the other two were variations on the 40,000.

Silence descended on the room. Finally, Mullen said, "Well, yes, sir."

Mullen later explained, "I didn't see any other path."

This stark divide between the nation's civilian and military leaders dominated Obama's Afghanistan strategy review, creating a rift that persists to this day. So profound was the level of distrust that Obama ended up designing his own strategy, a lawyerly compromise among the feuding factions.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Different Kind of Footprints

The 70 year-old Buddhist monk Hua Chi has been praying in the same spot at his temple in Tongren, China for over 20 years. His footprints, which are up to 1.2 inches deep in some areas, are the result of performing his prayers up to 3000 times a day. (Now that he is 70, he says that he has greatly reduced his quantity of prayers to 1,000 times each day.) 

Welcoming the Decline

After enumerating the more quantitive evidence for national decline, Gary Leupp (professor of history at Tufts) writes:
I thought about the Daniel story [of the 'handwriting on the wall,' predicing the fall of Babylon] while reading an article in the most recent issue of the American Conservative. It cites a Chicago Council of Global Affairs survey that reported “a majority of Americans is taking a very sensible view of how activist and interventionist the U.S. should be in the future. There appears to be much more acceptance of relative decline in U.S. preeminence and the rise of more independent powers….”

Specifically, a large majority thinks the U.S. shouldn’t be the “world’s policeman,” shouldn’t try to “solve problems” unilaterally, and welcome the fact that countries like Turkey and Brazil are becoming more independent of the U.S. in the conduct of their foreign policy. They think that rather than trying to limit China’s power the U.S. should engage it and cooperate with it in a friendly way.

I find the report encouraging. Perhaps people are thinking: What is wrong with allowing others to emerge and share center stage? We’re tired of being in charge of the world.

The neoconservative strategy following the Cold War has been to allow no rival, to maintain global “supremacy” or “full spectrum dominance.” But how can you do that when China (a generally peaceful power, that happens to own almost a quarter of the U.S. national debt) threatens to surpass the U.S. in economic clout within 20 years?

Indeed what is wrong with becoming a Britain or a Spain, or a France or a Holland or Japan? Generally speaking, people in these countries don’t lament the decline of their empires. Few Japanese want to revive the empire that once extended from Sakhalin to Samoa. They’re content to live in a normal peaceful country that cooperates with others.

...Why not just realize and say: We’re just a country like other countries. Or we would like to be. We reached our peak half a century ago and are now in decline. And that is okay. During the period of peak prosperity U.S. military forces killed millions of Koreans and Vietnamese in order to maintain and expand the empire. This is nothing to be proud of. In our Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union we armed and trained tens of thousands of Islamist warriors to wage jihad against a secularist regime in Afghanistan, creating in the process groups like the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

You can get thrown into the lion’s den for saying this, but the deeds of the U.S. have come back to haunt us. There are drawbacks to being an imperialist, bloodstained superpower.

Why does the U.S., protected by two vast oceans and peaceful borders with friendly nations, with no significant military rivals, need an empire of 700 bases in 130 countries? Why does it need to pretend to be “protecting” people (as in Okinawa) who haven’t asked for their presence and ask who’s protecting them from the U.S. troops? People who are asking them to please leave?

Why does the U.S. need to constantly topple regimes posing no threat to itself, always on the basis of lies? Why does it need to bully its allies (whose people want nothing to do with the Iraq and Afghan wars) to get support, or to maintain an alliance (NATO) that has long outlived its original Cold War purpose? Why must it insist on dominance? In whose interest is all this?

The Political Thrashing Just Around the Corner

Alexander Cockburn warns the Democrats not to enjoy the O'Donnell spectacle too much, because the political thrashing just around the corner is going to seriously change things for them:
But for Democrats to fixate on O’Donnell is like focusing on the “threat” of Little Red Riding Hood instead of taking a close look at the true threat lurking in the woods. This is a general popular fury with incumbent politicians, most particularly Democrats, since they control both houses of Congress, with a Democrat in the Oval Office. As a roadside sign I just saw in southern Oregon put it, put it, “Remember to throw out the trash. Vote on November 2.”

It’s becoming clear that by the end of Election Day Democrats could be reliving the terrible double punch they endured back in 1994 after two years of Bill Clinton: the loss of not only the House but the Senate. The House is surely going Republican. Democrats can count on 192 certain seats in the next Congress, Republicans 205, with what the Real Clear Politics (RCP) site - crunching the numbers - says are 38 seats “too close to call”. You can bet that this year more of these will tend to fall the Republican side of the line.

In the Senate Democrats, according to RCP, can count on 48 seats, Republican 46 with 6 too close to call. Of these six at least four could go to Republicans, starting with Tea Party star Sharron Angle in Nevada and heading east through Colorado, Illinois to West Virginia. And in this year of Throw Out the Trash, Democrats can’t count on “safe seats” to be truly safe.

A huge new factor is the consequences of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last January in the Citizens United case. The Court ruled that corporations should encounter no impediment in sluicing money into elections via so-called “independent expenditures” theoretically bypassing direct contributions to a candidate. Already, at this point in the electoral season, Republican senate candidates have benefited from $23.3 million in these independent expenditures, while Democrats have only seen $3.3 million thrown their way.

Even as the Left quavers theatrically about the O’Donnell threat, they are almost certain to lose their strongest antiwar voice in the US Senate, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. On November 3 we could be heading into two years of a Republican Congress, infused with the inflamed certitudes of triumphant Tea Partiers. Will Obama display the back-to-the wall agility of Bill Clinton, triangulating back from political ruin? Probably not. Amid a fierce Depression and a Republican Congress he will have exultant foes, disappointed supporters, scant options and thus a thousand knives raised and ready to plunge into his back.

It will be exciting, good for the journalism business, but surely not light-hearted fun. Enjoy O’Donnell for the next five weeks.

Losing the Middle/Working Class

Lot of people are writing about the decline of the middle/working class, including me.  According to Joan Williams, a California law professor, politically, the Obama administration has also lost the middle/working class:

At a forum Monday on jobs and the economy, a 30-year-old recent law school graduate who said he had been inspired by President Obama posed a straightforward question. It seemed to stump the president.

Obama's reply was strangely bloodless. He talked about people who were "treading water," but then he got bogged down in details about student loans. He didn't seem to connect with the frustration and pain he was hearing.

With even the president's fans talking to him this way, it's no surprise that the Democrats are in trouble as the midterm elections approach. The party seems incapable of getting its message across to a key group of voters: those who feel that the American dream is out of their reach.

Where the Democrats are failing to connect, the tea party is succeeding. That rising conservative movement has been extraordinarily good at tapping into the fury of American families who are neither rich nor poor, whose median income is $64,000 and who make up more than half of the nation's households.
I've believed since the beginning of 2009, that Obama seemed to be doing everything possible to lose his connection with the middle/working class voters, after having done so much to get them to vote for him. When he began appointing economic advisors like Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner, who represent 'Wall Street' thinking, there were no equivalent advisors representing 'Main Street.'  I knew then, that Obama was going to be in trouble, losing the middle/working class independents (and disenchanting many progressives, who, while not themselves working class, hate the growing inequality of American society).

Of course the problem predates Obama.
For two generations, the Democrats have failed to relate to white working-class voters. Black working-class voters never abandoned the party, but the percentage of working-class whites who identified as Democrats fell from 60 percent in the mid-1970s to 40 percent in the mid-1990s. George W. Bush won his two presidential elections with landslides among white working-class men, while Obama lost among white working-class voters by 18 percentage points in 2008, roughly the same margin by which Al Gore lost them in 2000.

The 'Pledge': Deficits Are a Terrible Thing, Let's Make Them Bigger

Economist and NYT columnist Paul Krugman writes about the Republicans "Pledge to America:"
On Thursday, House Republicans released their “Pledge to America,” supposedly outlining their policy agenda. In essence, what they say is, “Deficits are a terrible thing. Let’s make them much bigger.” The document repeatedly condemns federal debt — 16 times, by my count. But the main substantive policy proposal is to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, which independent estimates say would add about $3.7 trillion to the debt over the next decade — about $700 billion more than the Obama administration’s tax proposals.

True, the document talks about the need to cut spending. But as far as I can see, there’s only one specific cut proposed — canceling the rest of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which Republicans claim (implausibly) would save $16 billion. That’s less than half of 1 percent of the budget cost of those tax cuts. As for the rest, everything must be cut, in ways not specified — “except for common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops.” In other words, Social Security, Medicare and the defense budget are off-limits.

So what’s left? Howard Gleckman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has done the math. As he points out, the only way to balance the budget by 2020, while simultaneously (a) making the Bush tax cuts permanent and (b) protecting all the programs Republicans say they won’t cut, is to completely abolish the rest of the federal government: “No more national parks, no more Small Business Administration loans, no more export subsidies, no more N.I.H. No more Medicaid (one-third of its budget pays for long-term care for our parents and others with disabilities). No more child health or child nutrition programs. No more highway construction. No more homeland security. Oh, and no more Congress.”

The “pledge,” then, is nonsense.
Krugman, after asserting that the Republicans, following the advice of neo-con Godfather Irving Kristol, will say anything to gain power, predicts what I wrote about a few posts ago:
The answer, presumably, is that it turns to its real, not-so-secret agenda, which mainly involves privatizing and dismantling Medicare and Social Security.

Realistically, though, Republicans aren’t going to have the power to enact their true agenda any time soon — if ever. Remember, the Bush administration’s attack on Social Security was a fiasco, despite its large majority in Congress — and it actually increased Medicare spending.

So the clear and present danger isn’t that the G.O.P. will be able to achieve its long-run goals. It is, rather, that Republicans will gain just enough power to make the country ungovernable, unable to address its fiscal problems or anything else in a serious way.
In other words, political paralysis is our national future for the short-term.

So what's the long-term? Whatever it is that happens when you don't address major national economic problems. National bankruptcy, economic dislocation, inflation and unemployment, increased poverty and human suffering, social upheaval (including protests, riots, crime), militaristic eruptions abroad (to distract the citizens from their problems at home), secession and national fragmentation? These are some possible consequences of not having effective political leadership that can govern.

But since a nation cannot ultimately tolerate such political chaos, a political strongman, a 'Caesar', will arise to bring 'law and order':  a Napolean (e.g. General David Patraeus), or even a Hitler. And once the Napolean or Hitler take power, our democracy will be history; only a farcical shell will remain, allowing the masses to think that we're still a government of, by, and for 'the people'.  But the reality will be gone.  (Who knows, given the non-responsiveness of the Washington Establishment to the problems we face, maybe it's gone already.)

That, it seems to me, is the result of the Republicans going off the 'deep end' and into an advanced state of absurdity (of which the Tea Party is just one example).  Will any remaining sane politician come along who can rescue the Republicans and the nation from their excursus into political craziness?  We shall see.  I keep scanning the horizen for the slightest cloud (for those who are biblically illiterate, that is a reference to the prophet Elijah and the end of the drought in Israel, found in I Kings 17-18).

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lead Like There's No Tomorrow

Kathleen Parker of the WaPo, who along with David Brooks of the NYT is becoming among the more insightful of commentators on things national, writes about Bob Woodward's new book on the Obama:
Whatever one's view of circumstances on the ground, whether in the wars abroad or in domestic skirmishes on Wall Street, Obama seems not to be the man in charge. Nor does it seem that he is even sure of his own intentions. One telling exchange reported by Woodward took place with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). In explaining his July 2011 deadline to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, Obama told Graham:

"I have to say that. I can't let this be a war without end, and I can't lose the whole Democratic Party."

How's that? We tell the enemy when we're leaving so the party base doesn't get upset? Well, of course, public opinion matters in war, as in all things. As we've seen before, wars can't be won without the will of the people at home. But a commander in chief at least ought to know what he's fighting for and why he's asking Americans to risk their lives. If it's not a good enough reason to warrant victory, then maybe it isn't any longer a good war.

The White House reportedly isn't upset with the way the president comes across. His portrayal is consistent with what they consider a positive profile: Obama as thoughtful and reflective. To the list might we add ponderous?

We all want a thoughtful president. As few Democrats tire of reminding us, America and the world have had quite enough of cowboys. But surely we can discard the caricatures and settle on a thoughtful commander who is neither a gunslinger nor a chalk-dusted harrumpher. Surely the twain can meet.

There's a saying that seems applicable here: Work like you don't need money, love like you're never been hurt, dance like no one's watching.

Note to President Obama: Lead like there's no tomorrow. No midterm election, no presidential reelection, no party base. Liberate yourself from the Woodward Syndrome, figure out what you think, and lead.

You are commander in chief, after all. Half the country may disagree with you, but they'll respect you in the morning.

Why Does Obama Love the Establishment?

Cenk Uygur of the Huffington Post is reading my mind concerning the four insiders--Rahm Emmanuel, Larry Summers, Peter Orszag, and (possibly) Tim Geithner--who are going to be leaving Obama's administration:
There are hardly four Democrats in the whole country who were more pro-establishment, anti-change, pro-corporate power, pro-Wall Street than those four. I'm being literal. Bob Rubin might break into the top four, maybe Evan Bayh, maybe Harold Ford, Jr. But the four that are leaving the White House are undoubtedly in the top ten most corporate friendly Democrats in the country.

So, that leads to the question of why did Obama pick them in the first place? Why did the guy who promised to change the whole system bring in the guys who are most wedded to the system? Why does Barack Obama love the establishment so much?....Why does Obama keep insisting on hiring within that [Washington/Wall Street] bubble? Now, we hear that Summers replacement is likely to be a corporate executive because Obama feels he has been criticized for being anti-business. That is unreal. How easy is this guy to manipulate? Or does he want to be manipulated in that direction?

Who is calling Obama anti-business? The same Wall Street guys who robbed us of billions (some would argue trillions) and want to do it again. Why on God's green earth would you continue to listen to those guys?

You're losing the whole American population while trying to cater to these clowns. Get your head out of ... the DC/NY bubble. The rest of the country doesn't think you're too tough on business; they think you haven't done enough to help them -- the middle class.

So, I ask this as an earnest question -- why is Barack Obama obsessed with appeasing the establishment? Was he being completely disingenuous when he ran on change? How could he possibly have thought that Larry Summers or the corporate executive who might replace him would bring us real change?

I ask all of these questions because I am desperate to figure out how we can get President Obama to deliver on the change he promised so we can finally deliver for the middle class in this country instead of the wealthy and powerful that surround the president in Washington. What makes him tick? How can we get him to fall out of love with the establishment? How can we get him to have the courage to govern like he ran for office -- with passion and conviction to help all of us instead of the Washington power elite?
Because that's who he is. He never was (or will be) a true progressive, even though the rhetoric he used in the campaign fooled a lot of people that way. He's a pragmatic Democratic centrist (just like Clinton before him) who governs by and for the Establishment. Apparently he thinks that means 'the people', or maybe he really doesn't care.  Who knows? 

If I had known this before the primaries, that Obama was going to run a Clintonian administration, I would have supported Hillary Clinton instead.  After all, she had more experience, age, and political wisdom than Obama.  She would have been the first woman President.  But Obama fooled me with his 'progressive' sounding rhetoric.   I was conned.  When will I learn not to believe what politicians say?

But that's water over the dam.  Does that mean we should support him and vote for Obama simply because he's not a flaming right-wing Republican?  Yes, exactly, because the competition are completely wacho, even the formerly 'independent' Republicans among them, like John McCain.  They govern on behalf of the wealthy, the military-industrial complex, the big corporations, and the fundamentalists.  The 'people' need not apply.  The Tea Partyers are scaring them (and me) to death.  No moderate, normal, thoughtful, non-ideological Republican can get elected these days, except perhaps in Maine.

We may not like it (or Obama) anymore, he may not be all we thought he was, but that's the way it is.  Really. 

Go Obama.

The Fundamental Unseriousness of the GOP

You know, really, what does the GOP think this is, high school? This is all a bunch of adolescent hooey.  Show business, not statesmanship.  Anyone voting out a good Democrat to put in one of these Republicans has got to be out of their mind.
In a lumber yard near Dulles International Airport Thursday morning, House Republicans handed out copies of their pledge, which, among other things, promises to rein in an "arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites."

Yet moments after taking the stage to face the cameras, Republican leaders appointed themselves arrogant elites. They compared themselves to the founding fathers and likened their actions at Tart Lumber Co. to the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told the reporters he would speak slowly and with clarity, "just as John Hancock boldly signed his name to the Declaration of Independence so even Britain's King George could read it."

McCarthy, who led the pledge initiative, piled on the sentimentality, declaring: "We pledge to uphold the model for our country our founders envisioned, a grander America, the exception among the nations of the earth, where promise of liberty refreshes the hopes of mankind!"

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) then read passages from the GOP pledge that paraphrase the Declaration of Independence: "Every American citizen is endowed with certain rights from their creator. When our government charts a course that endangers those rights, the people -- indeed, the people! -- have the right to demand a new agenda from their government."

The flaws quickly became apparent Thursday morning when the lawmakers made the mistake of taking questions. "There are not many specifics in here about how you would get to the balanced budget if you plan to extend all the tax cuts and expand defense spending," the AP's Julie Hirschfeld Davis pointed out. "So can you give us some more details?"

John Boehner, the man who would be House speaker if Republicans win, responded that "by having the spending cap at 2008 levels, we can save $100 billion a year."

For the record, with a budget deficit of $1.3 trillion this year, the GOP pledge to cut $100 billion would take care of not quite 8 percent of the problem.

Getting rid of earmarks? Not in the pledge. Dealing with the millions of illegal immigrants? Not in the pledge. Reforming Social Security and Medicare? Not in the pledge. And on social issues such as marriage and abortion, "we are not going to be any different than what we've been," Boehner asserted.

When it comes to the really tough problems, all Boehner would say is that "it's time for us as Americans to have an adult conversation with each other." But an adult conversation was not to be had at Tart Lumber. Instead came a collection of campaign slogans aimed at President Obama: "tyranny..... future hangs in the balance..... road to bankruptcy..... disastrous policies of the current administration."

Friday, September 24, 2010

Go Placidly Amid the Noise and Haste

There is anger abroad in the land.  This widespread sense of frustration and even despair at the condition of the country mostly accounts, I think, for the 'throw the bums out' attitude that is creating the likelihood of a Republican electoral sweep this fall.  It's not that the Republicans necessarily have the answers, it's just that they're not the ones in power right now.   

In fact, of course, Republicans don't have the answers or solutions.  We just finished with eight years of Republican rule, which ended with the Great Crash, due to all kinds of economic and foreign policy duplicity and malfeasance.  But the American people have very short memories, and Tea Partyers, it appears, even shorter.

A Democratic defeat this fall, leading to a Republican House of Representatives and/or Senate, will accomplish nothing to speak of, except to enrich the furniture movers of DC.  All the essential problems will remain unsolved and even unaddressed.  It will be a huge exercise in futility.  I have a nephew who refuses to vote.  I increasingly sympathize with him on this.

So we probably should just ignore all the froth produced by the media over the upcoming election.  It doesn't really matter, or to put it differently, nothing much can be done about it.  These things have their own rhythm and rhyme, their own timing. 

Go read a good book instead.  (I'm talking to myself now, you see.)  Fix up your house, tend your own little nest.  Keep in touch with your family and friends.  Exercise and eat right.  Try to live by the admonitions and advice of 'Desiderata', a practical and 'conservative' piece of wisdom.
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.

Take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

All Sex, All the Time: The Case for Traditional Sexual Morality

As you can see, I've been reading a book of essays, Our Culture, What's Left of It, by Theodore Dalrymple, a British psychiatrist and conservative intellectual.  His writing is extremely lucid and persuasive, as he makes the case for traditional Western culture from a broad philosophical and pragmatic position, rather than a strictly biblical or religious one.

In an essay provocatively entitled "All Sex, All the Time", Dalrymple asserts how the loss of Western sexual morality at the hands of the 'sexual revolution' has dehumanized us and perverted and coursened society.
It might be argued, of course, that such obviously wrongful behavior has occurred always: for when it comes to sexual misdemeanor there is nothing new under the sun, and history shows plentiful examples of almost any perversion or dishonorable conduct. But this is the first time in history there has been mass denial that sexual relations are a proper subject of moral reflection or need to be governed by moral restrictions. The result of this denial, not surprisingly, has been soaring divorce rates and mass illegitimacy, among other phenomena. The sexual revolution has been above all a change in moral sensibility, in the direction of a thorough coarsening of feeling, thought, and behavior.

Watching a British comedy from the mid-1950s recently, I grasped the speed and completeness of that change. In the film was a scene in which the outraged working-class father of a pregnant teenage daughter demanded that the middle-class boy who had made love to her must now marry her. The present-day audience giggled helplessly at this absurdly old-fashioned demand, which only 45 years previously would still have seemed perfectly normal, indeed unarguable. Such naïveté is not for us in our superior, enlightened state, however, and we prove our sophistication by finding it ridiculous.

But who, one might ask, had the deeper and subtler moral understanding of human relations: the audience of the mid-1950s or that of today? To the 1950s audience it would have been unnecessary to point out that, once a child had been conceived, the father owed a duty not only to the child, but to the mother; that his own wishes in the matter were not paramount, let alone all-important, and that he was not simply an individual but a member of a society whose expectations he had to meet if he were to retain its respect; and that a sense of moral obligation toward a woman was not inimical to a satisfying relationship with her but a precondition of it. To the present-day audience, by contrast, the only considerations in such a situation would be the individual inclinations of the parties involved, floating free of all moral or social constraints. In the modern view, unbridled personal freedom is the only good to be pursued; any obstacle to it is a problem to be overcome.

And yet at the same time—in the same audience—there are many young people yearning for precisely the certainties that they feel obliged to mock: young women who hope to find a man who will woo her, love her, respect her, stand by her, and be a father to her children, while there are many men with the reciprocal wish. How many times have I heard from my patients of their aching desire to settle down and live in a normal family, and yet who have no idea whatever how to achieve this goal that was once within the reach of almost everyone!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Case for Not Legalizing Drugs

Theodore Dalrymple, British psychiatrist, writes as clearly on the issue of the legalization of drugs as you could possibly imagine:
The arguments in favor of legalizing the use of all narcotic and stimulant drugs are twofold: philosophical and pragmatic. Neither argument is negligible, but both are mistaken, I believe, and both miss the point.

The philosophic argument is that, in a free society, adults should be permitted to do whatever they please, always provided that they are prepared to take the consequences of their own choices and that they cause no direct harm to others. The locus classicus for this point of view is John Stuart Mill’s famous essay On Liberty: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of the community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others,” Mill wrote. “His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.” This radical individualism allows society no part whatever in shaping, determining, or enforcing a moral code: in short, we have nothing in common but our contractual agreement not to interfere with one another as we go about seeking our private pleasures.

In practice, of course, it is exceedingly difficult to make people take all the consequences of their own actions—as they must, if Mill’s great principle is to serve as a philosophical guide to policy. Addiction to, or regular use of, most currently prohibited drugs cannot affect only the person who takes them—and not his spouse, children, neighbors, or employers. No man, except possibly a hermit, is an island; and so it is virtually impossible for Mill’s principle to apply to any human action whatever, let alone shooting up heroin or smoking crack. Such a principle is virtually useless in determining what should or should not be permitted.

It might be argued that the freedom to choose among a variety of intoxicating substances is a much more important freedom and that millions of people have derived innocent fun from taking stimulants and narcotics. But the consumption of drugs has the effect of reducing men’s freedom by circumscribing the range of their interests. It impairs their ability to pursue more important human aims, such as raising a family and fulfilling civic obligations. Very often it impairs their ability to pursue gainful employment and promotes parasitism. Moreover, far from being expanders of consciousness, most drugs severely limit it. One of the most striking characteristics of drug takers is their intense and tedious self-absorption; and their journeys into inner space are generally forays into inner vacuums. Drug taking is a lazy man’s way of pursuing happiness and wisdom, and the shortcut turns out to be the deadest of dead ends. We lose remarkably little by not being permitted to take drugs.

The idea that freedom is merely the ability to act upon one’s whims is surely very thin and hardly begins to capture the complexities of human existence; a man whose appetite is his law strikes us not as liberated but enslaved. And when such a narrowly conceived freedom is made the touchstone of public policy, a dissolution of society is bound to follow. No culture that makes publicly sanctioned self-indulgence its highest good can long survive: a radical egotism is bound to ensue, in which any limitations upon personal behavior are experienced as infringements of basic rights. Distinctions between the important and the trivial, between the freedom to criticize received ideas and the freedom to take LSD, are precisely the standards that keep societies from barbarism.

The Culture of Dependence

I just ran across the writings of Theodore Dalrymple, a British psychiatrist and conservative intellectual.  In one essay entitled "The Uses of Corruption", he compares the Italian and British cultures and economies, and lauds the Italian for being more 'corrupt' and thus oddly less deleterious to the Italian citizens.  In the course of making his argument about corruption (for which I recommend that you read the entire essay), he wrote this excerpt, which is as good a case for conservative policies as you could probably find:
The vast and seemingly benevolent state has completely eroded the proud and sturdy independence of the British population, once remarked upon by visitors. Forty percent of Britons now depend on government subsidy, receiving direct payment from the public purse as part, or all, of their income. Even so, the government regularly mounts advertising campaigns to ensure that people claim all their entitlements. Moreover, the British state has removed several important areas of human life from the responsibility of individuals to arrange for themselves or their families: health, education, social security, pensions, and (for at least a quarter of the population) housing. The income left to them after taxation—or received from the government dole—is thus a kind of pocket money, the more serious, if more vexatious and boring, aspects of a personal budget having been already taken care of by the government. This explains why, whenever the British government considers a tax cut, almost all newspapers, no matter of what political tendency, describe the measure as giving money away—indulging in a handout, like a parent doling out a weekly allowance to children.

The entrapment of people in the psychologically and economically debilitating dialectic I have described is not a marginal, but a mass, phenomenon. It addles the brain and paralyzes action. It helps to explain the degradation and lack of self-respect that is so obvious in the streets of Britain but so absent from those of Italy.

When I worked in East Africa, I saw an instructive contrast between an Italian and a British construction project within a few miles of each other. The British construction workers were drunken, violent, debauched, and dirty, without shame or dignity. Utterly egotistical, yet without much individuality, they wrecked hugely expensive machinery when drunk, without a moment’s regret, and responded with outrage if reprimanded. They intimidated their managers, who made little attempt to control them. They were truly representative of a population that has lost any pride in itself or in what it does, and that somehow contrives to be frivolous without gaiety.

By contrast, the Italians were hardworking, disciplined, and clean, and could enjoy themselves in a civilized way even in the African bush, drinking without drunkenness or that complete loss of self-control characteristic of today’s British. Unlike the British, they never became a nuisance to the local population, and everyone saw them as people who had come to do a job of work. At once more social and more self-reliant than their British counterparts, they were men whose dignity had not been destroyed by a culture of dependence.

Very Few People, But With a Massive Bullhorn

WaPo writer E. J. Dionne makes a very good point about the Tea Party:
Judge the Tea Party purely on the grounds of effectiveness and you have to admire how a very small group has shaken American political life and seized the microphone offered by the media, including the so-called liberal media.

But it's equally important to recognize that the Tea Party constitutes a sliver of opinion on the extreme end of politics receiving attention out of all proportion with its numbers.

Just recently, Tea Party victories in the Alaska and Delaware Senate primaries shook the nation. In Delaware, Christine O'Donnell received 30,563 votes in the Republican primary, 3,542 votes more than moderate Rep. Mike Castle. In Alaska, Joe Miller won 55,878 votes for a margin of 2,006 over incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is now running as a write-in candidate.

Do the math. For weeks now, our national political conversation has been driven by 86,441 voters and a margin of 5,548 votes. A bit of perspective: When John McCain lost in the 2008 presidential race, he received 59.9 million votes.

Earlier this year, much was made of the defeat of Sen. Bob Bennett, a Utah conservative insufficiently conservative for the Tea Party. Bennett lost not in a primary but at a Republican convention attended by all of 3,500 delegates.

The media have given substantial coverage to Tea Party rallies and even small demonstrations. But how many people are actually involved in this movement?

Last April, a New York Times-CBS News poll found that 18 percent of Americans identified as supporters of the Tea Party movement, but slightly less than a fifth of these sympathizers said they had attended a Tea Party rally or meeting. That means just over 3 percent of Americans can be characterized as Tea Party activists. A more recent poll by Democracy Corps, just before Labor Day, found that 6 percent of voters said they had attended a Tea Party rally or meeting.

...something is haywire in our media and our politics.

Tips for Eating More Fruits And Vegetables

Dr. Julian Whitaker gives 10 tips for eating more fruits and vegetables:

1. Drink a glass of Low-Sodium V8 Juice with breakfast. (At the Whitaker Wellness Institute, this is the only “juice” that you’ll find on the tables.)

2. Eat an apple or a pear for a snack or before a meal to help fill you up so you’ll eat less.

3. Instead of a sandwich at lunch, have a salad with lots of colorful veggies. If you must have the sandwich, go open-face and pile it high with tomatoes, lettuce, onion, sprouts, olives, and peppers.

4. Freeze a bunch of grapes and enjoy them as an afternoon treat or as “dessert.”

5. Make a berry smoothie using plain, non-fat yogurt, ice, and a little stevia or xylitol as a sweetener.

6. Top your fish dishes with mango salsa.

7. Try a grilled portabella mushroom for dinner.

8. Add extra frozen veggies to canned or homemade soups or other dishes.

9. Dip snap peas, baby tomatoes, carrots, celery, or broccoli florets in hummus for a tasty and healthy snack.

10. Add blueberries, cranberries, or strawberries to your salads.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New Poll Results: Obama Is Not Human

From the Onion:
According to a poll released Tuesday, nearly 20 percent of U.S. citizens now believe Barack Obama is a cactus, the most Americans to identify the president as a water- retaining desert plant since he took office.

The poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center, found a sharp rise in the number of Americans who say they firmly believe Obama was either born a cactus, became a cactus during his youth, or has questionable links to the Cactaceae family.

"We asked people of varying races, ages, and backgrounds the same question: 'What is President Barack Obama?'" Pew spokeswoman Jodi Miller told reporters. "And a fifth of them responded, 'A cactus.'"

According to the poll, Obama has lost favor among many voters who supported his candidacy in 2008 but have since come to doubt he is a mammal. While these Americans concede Obama may not specifically be a cactus, most believe he is a plant of some kind, with 18 percent saying the president is a ficus, 37 percent believing him to be a grain such as wheat or millet, and 12 percent convinced he is an old-growth forest in Northern California.

When asked why they agreed with the statement "President Obama is a large succulent plant composed of specialized cells designed for water retention in arid climates," many responded that they "just know," claiming the president only acts like a human being for political purposes and is truly a cactus at heart.

White House officials have asserted that the nation's 44th president is a person.

The Bible and the Constitution

More information on the conjunction between the Tea Party and the Religious Right:
Many tea partiers, like religious right activists, find the roots of their thinking on government in the Bible.

According to Julie Ingersoll, associate professor of religious studies at the University of North Florida, this view on government's limited role is based on Christian Reconstructionism, a fundamentalist movement that advocates for the rule of Biblical law (which includes imposition of notions of "traditional family") and which holds that God ordained government with limited (essentially law enforcement) authority. Some activists, ranging from religious right figures to pro-gun and militia groups and secession advocates, emphasize a divine edict to rise up against what they characterize as the federal government's "tyranny" when it exceeds the authority God granted it.

At his conference, Reed said in a speech, "people have not only the right but the have the duty and the obligation to overthrow that government, by force if necessary," if government violates those God-given rights. Reed quickly backtracked, claiming he wasn't advocating a government overthrow but rather voting in the midterms.

At both the FFC and VVS conferences, speakers, including 2012 GOP presidential hopefuls Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee, claimed that America was founded on biblical principles, and that individual freedoms are given by God, not the government. The rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights (but not in other amendments to the Constitution), the argument goes, are ordained by God. The proof of this, advocates maintain, is in the words "endowed by our Creator" in the Declaration of Independence, a document Michele Bachmann told the Value Voters Summit "goes hand in hand with what we know the truth to be."

Mat Staver, chairman of the Christian right legal advocacy group Liberty Counsel and dean of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University School of Law, both co-sponsors of this year's VVS, told me "there are rights that come from God" and "when government doesn't protect [those rights], it's our duty and responsibility to change it, worst case scenario, throw it off and start over." He added that the federal government has "tyrannical aspects" and that the healthcare reform law in particular "is worse than the 1765 Stamp Act that the revolutionaries got upset with or the Boston Tea Party."

Katy Abram, who also spoke at the VVS tea party panel and is an organizer of the Lebanon, Pennsylvania 912 Project, told me that 350 activists in her group are receiving educational training on the Constitution from the Institute on the Constitution. The IOTC, founded by one-time Constitution Party presidential candidate Michael Peroutka, offers a twelve-part course on the "biblical" basis of the Constitution. The Constitution Party was founded by Christian Reconstructionist Howard Phillips and claims its goal is "to restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations and to limit the federal government to its Constitutional boundaries." Once considered a fringe of the conservative movement, the Constitution Party and its adherents are becoming more visible in the tea party era.

The Public Is Not Rational But Desires MIracles

This was a particularly insightful comment/response to an article by William Galston in the New Republic that showed the public's negative reaction to most of this Administration's policies and proposals over the last 18 months:
I think what the public really wanted was to get their old jobs and home values back, or to have other miraculous events occur. But I also think it is dangerous to believe what anyone says the public really "thinks" or "regards", because the public certainly responds but is generally not rational. "The public" responds more at an emotional level. And the terms of the financial bailout were set under the Bush Administration -- Democrats' role in setting the terms was to change the "bailout" from being a complete blank check. Certainly the Democrats could have pushed for punitive measures against those responsible, but that may have required passing laws that applied retroactively, which wouldn't really fly. All they really could have done was to fire more of the people at any firms that took government money.

I certainly agree with Galston's conclusion, but while we can point to things that might have been done better, anything that didn't fundamentally alter the trajectory of the economy would just be tinkering around the edges. The bottom line is that the economy is in terrible shape, and that's far more important than the other aspects. And I do not think there was really a lot more the Democrats could have done, because our economic problems are too deeply rooted to solve in a year or two.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fox News, AEI, Weekly Standard Rules

In The American Conservative, Daniel McCarthy gives the reasons why most any Tea Partyers elected to Congress this fall will just become establishment conservatives, as I suggest yesterday in my post on Palin/O'Donnell:
Not only are Fox News, the Weekly Standard, and AEI going to be defining the program for whatever Republicans get elected in November, but successful Tea Party candidates will for the most part have to draw upon the same pool of staffing talent that all the other Republicans draw upon, a reservoir composed of cadres of political professionals who live to build careers and sidle up to power, not to shake things up in Washington. Not all staffers will be of that ilk, but even those of a better sort may quickly find themselves dependent upon studies carried out by the establishment’s think tanks and vulnerable to attacks from the establishment’s media organs.

Even beyond personnel and policy, the Tea Parties are vulnerable at the philosophical level, where more articulate and comprehensive views tend to assimilate inchoate ones. The Tea Parties don’t like Obamacare, big spending, or bailouts. But that’s not a worldview, it’s a set of preferences that can be incorporated into any of several worldviews — and subordinated to the overall thrust of whatever ideology it is integrated into. Certainly in the past the GOP has enfolded libertarian and anti-establishment impulses into an ideology whose chief concern was with expanding military and executive power. In order to resist being co-opted again, the Tea Parties would have to stake out a different general view of the world — but who will do that staking out?

Of all the Tea Party candidates, Rand Paul is in the best position to build a viable opposition to the establishment on all fronts, since he can draw upon the intellectual and publicity resources of the Austro-libertarian movement that his father has been instrumental in advancing. Pure libertarians are a rare breed, however; a successful counter-establishment will need to appeal to many types of people. Rand Paul has found come under fire from the purists for doing precisely that.

If the Tea Parties are not going to be assimilated by the very establishment forces who are currently demonizing them, a broad intellectual counter-establishment will have to provide them with an alternative to the policies cooked up by Rove and friends. Not only are there few exponents of such policies at the moment, but I suspect the Tea Parties have been conditioned more strongly than they realize by an establishment that would have them believe that all of the country’s problems can be ascribed to liberal Democrats and “RINOs.”

Summers Will Be Gone

One upbeat piece of news: Lawrence Summers will be leaving the White House as economic policy advisor to Obama.   Good!!!!!!!!!!!   As someone who bears a great deal of the blame for the run-up to the Great Recession by his support for deregulation in the 90's and his support for the Wall Street shenanigans, Summers should never have been appointed by Obama in the first place.  It doesn't really matter now, since Congress is lost to the Democrats, but it still feels GOOD.

A Recipe for Disaster

Michael Gerson reports how the independent voters across the mid-northern states like Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania have turned against Obama and toward the Republicans:
The Quinnipiac poll produced the single-most startling figure of the midterm election so far: 65 percent of Ohio's likely independent voters now disapprove of Obama's job performance -- a 2 to 1 rejection. Obama has lost the center of the electorate in the center of America.

High deficits. Continued unemployment at 10 percent. A stimulus package that not only didn't work, it didn't work and spent too much."

At the same time that Democrats have massively disappointed Ohio independents, they have provoked Republican intensity. In one poll, 75 percent of Ohio Republicans described themselves as "certain" to vote, compared with 52 percent of Democrats.

Portman also argues that the issues are breaking against Democrats, especially health care. "I've done 70 plant tours," he told me. "It is the first issue people bring up to me. They know their premiums are going up. New mandates and new costs are creating uncertainty.

Ohio, recently the symbol of Democratic realignment, has become the graveyard of Democratic campaign themes. Portman -- who was President George W. Bush's trade representative and budget director -- was thought vulnerable to attacks on the Bush era. But this Democratic argument appealed mainly to the already converted. And it was complicated by a development some did not expect. A recent poll found that Ohio voters, by a 50-42 margin, would rather have Bush in the White House than Obama.
With the way things are going, who knows how big the rout is going to be in November?  All I can imagine next January is pretty much complete stalemate in economic and domestic issues...which then doesn't bode well for the next two years. 

Will someone in the Democratic Party step forward to challenge Obama for the nomination?  I think it could happen, which would then divide the party and make it even more enfeebled.

It looks more and more to me like Obama is going to be a one-term President.  He had a chance to do some big things, but he chose the pragmatic centrist road, which led pretty much nowhere.  (I would argue that the health care reform, while an incremental step in the right direction, doesn't do anything to get costs under control, as pointed out by Dr. Arnold Relman in the latest New York Review of Books.)  The Republicans refused to cooperate in anyway.  And then he changed from the inspirational orator that won him the election, into the professorial, unemotional, and out-of-touch President, who doesn't inspire hardly anyone.

And if Republicans are as 'unfit to govern' as Richard Cohen mentions in the previous post, we're in for a very long spell of totally ineffective government, unable to set forth reasonable short-term, let alone long-term policies.  This sounds like a recipe for national disaster, no matter who the President is.  I truly fear for our country.

O'Donnell and the GOP

Richard Cohen of the WaPo tells it straight...the Republican Party has become unfit to govern:
Christine O'Donnell, the Tea Party candidate from lil' ol' Delaware, confesses to have once "dabbled into witchcraft" -- a fittingly ungrammatical revelation that not only was to be expected but explains what has happened to the Republican Party. Someone -- possibly you know who -- has cast a spell on it, and now it has a candidate whose main contribution to political thought or, indeed, the plight of the poor is to have railed against masturbation, which she likened to adultery. Only a spell can explain such thinking.

Only a spell also can explain how Newt Gingrich, possibly a presidential candidate, can attribute the politics of Barack Obama to "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior." Obama allegedly picked up this behavior from his father, whom he knew only fleetingly, which is to say almost not at all, and who has long been dead. This, as Gingrich and others under the spell can tell you, is proof of the demonic power that can come out of the grave, enter the White House (look, the gate-crashing Salahis did it) and pervade the very body and mind of the commander in chief. It's enough to give you the willies.

Similarly, only a spell can explain why much of the Republican Party insists on calling Obama a socialist. To apply this label to the very man who saved Big Finance, who rescued Goldman Sachs and the rest of the boys, who gave a Heimlich to the barely breathing banks, can only be explained by witchcraft or voodoo or something like that. It has caused the GOP to lose its mind. Obama did something similar to the American auto industry, saving it from itself. He did not let it fail or nationalize it, as a socialist would have done, but pumped cash into it so that -- this is me speaking -- it can fail later on.

O'Donnell is where the GOP has been heading for some time. The party's leaders have steadfastly refused to take a stand against any idiocy, even suggesting they agree that Obama might not be a Christian. Their intellectuals have supported and advanced the know-nothingness of Sarah Palin. Nothing to them is beyond the pale. This party is not fit to govern.

So now it has a candidate in Delaware who truly is a career politician. She seems to have no means of support except campaign funds. She supposedly lives in her headquarters, although this is somewhat in dispute. Whatever the case, she has no job and no views worth a moment's consideration. (She even appalls Karl Rove.) She's not likely to win, but the way things are going this year, she just might. People are angry. People are mad. The night is dark.

It May Be Petraeus in 2012, with Palin as the Ice Breaker for Him

Investigative journalist Webster Tarplay lays out a plausible scenario as to why it is General David Petraeus who could be drafted by the Republicans as their Presidential Candidate in 2012.  I wrote about this possibility last February here:

Monday, September 20, 2010

Islam: A Summing Up

[To see the entire series on Islam, click here]

In this post, I want to provide a summary of some of the major points I've made in the previous ten posts on Islam, especially as compared to Judaism and Christianity.
• Islam sees itself as the completion of Judaism and Christianity, which Islam views as based in genuine revelations of God that were subsequently corrupted. It views Judaism and Christianity with a mixture of respect and contempt.

• All three religions developed over time complex historical and literary traditions that give them strength, stability, and identity.

• The three religions all trace themselves back to Abraham, and this is a major point of coherence.

• Islam agrees with Judaism and Christianity that the same God created the world, which displays his glory and gives sufficient evidence for God’s existence, power, and sovereignty.

• All three religions believe in the grace of God, though they see it very differently. For Judaism, God’s grace was given in the gift of creation, covenant of election, liberation from slavery in Egypt, the Promised land, and Torah. For Christians, God’s grace comes primarily through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the salvation granted through these events. For Muslims, God’s grace is primarily through the gifts of creation, as well as the guidance through the prophets and especially Muhammad, the gift of umma, and finally the promise of heaven for those who are good and faithful servants of Allah.

• Islam reveres the Hebrew figures of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, and Jonah as great, godly leaders and prophets, thus aligning itself in a major way with the Jewish tradition.

• Islam reveres Jesus as a Jewish prophet and messenger of God. It refused, however, to look upon Jesus as anything but fully human. This puts Islam at major odds with Christianity, which came to see Jesus as fully God and fully human.

• Islam (as well as Judaism) rejects the Christian doctrines of Incarnation, Atonement, and Trinity. Muslims do not even believe that Jesus died on the cross, whereas Jews believe he died but that it proved that he wasn’t the Messiah. Only Christians believe that Jesus’ death on the cross has redemptive power and was the way that he was victorious over sin and death. Only Christians believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. Surprisingly, Muslims believe that Jesus will return again some day to do battle with the Anti-Christ.

• All three religions believe in the (Holy) Spirit in some way, as God’s means of inspiring his prophets, and in Judaism and Christianity especially, as God’s means of being present with us now.

• All three religions believe in the existence of angels as God’s messengers.

• Traditional Christianity and Islam believe strongly in the existence and power of Satan, whereas Judaism has always been less inclined to this belief.

• All three Western religions, in their traditional form, accept the notion of a Day of Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Many modern Christians and Jews question these doctrines however. The Koran stresses much more than the other two scriptures the importance of heaven/hell as eternal reward/punishment for human behavior. The Koran’s stress on the Day of Judgment has strong resonance with fundamentalist Christianity and its reading of the book of Revelation.

• Jews, Christians Muslims all share a strong moral perspective. Jews and Muslims center their morality on a version of the Ten Commandments. Christians believe that the Ten Commandments are best summarized in the Law of Love, love for God and neighbor. All three religions agree that it is important to help the poor and needy as a religious duty.

• With regards to war, Islam is ready to engage in war in defense of Islam. The Israelites also readily went to war in the Old Testament, but being a small nation, and after 70 AD not a nation at all in any real sense, the Jews didn’t have much opportunity to go to war until the founding of Israel in 1948. Since then they have readily gone to war to defend (and expand) their nation. Christianity, on the other hand, was originally pacifist, because of Jesus’ teachings and life. It opposed war for about 3 centuries, after which it officially believed in ‘just war’ (though few if any actual wars have ever been declared unjust).

• Each of the three religions has its fundamentalist expression, which tends to be intolerant of the other traditions. Each has its ‘liberal’ expression which leans towards toleration and trying to find the commonalities, especially those which also accommodate modern cultural and scientific knowledge. And then there is everyone who hugs the center of their traditions, often confused and unsure of what to think yet continuing to believe and practice their religious traditions.

• Orthodox Jews and Muslims do not eat pork. Christians, especially those in North Carolina, love pork!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Palin Comes In Fifth in Straw Poll at Conservative Gathering

It seems that Palin may be getting a little ahead of herself (and we along with her).  At the conservative Value Voters Summit being held in D.C., a presidential 'straw poll' was conducted, with a most interesting result:
About 723 out of more than 2,000 registered attendees cast ballots Saturday at the annual Values Voter Summit. [Congressman Mike] Pence was the top choice for president with 24 percent of the vote.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, received 22 percent, followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Palin.

Palin was given the honors for vice president. She came in second behind Pence, who also topped that category.

Not-Ready-For-Primetime Politicians

Here it is, six weeks or so out from the election, and the new Republican Senatorial candidate from Delaware, Christine O'Donnell, declined to go on the Sunday news shows.  Ready to be elected, huh Christie, but not ready to face the national media?  (To be fair, Palin has declined them as well, except for her good friends and co-Tea Partyers at 'fair and balanced' Fox News.)

So what's behind the pretty smiles and beautiful hair, the geniality and folksiness, the 'you betcha!'s of Sarah Palin and her 'Mamma Grizzlies', as she calls them?  What political inclinations and policies would they actually seek to implement were they to win national office?  (It doesn't look like we're going to find out by them actually telling us!)

My guess is that they would try to take the country in the same direction that we have gone since 1981, which is towards a 'conservatism' that includes three major elements: free-market economics, a hawkish foreign policy, and a Christian fundamentalist cultural moral code.
Doesn't that sound like what you know about Sarah Palin and Christie O'Donnell?  A flag-waving all-out support for our wars abroad, a move to privatize and deregulate every part of the economy (and to correspondingly shrink any government involvement in the economy), and a strong effort to stop abortion, gay marriage, and other cultural sins that offend fundamentalist Christians so much. 

Yet it is my contention that economic and foreign policy conservatism, such as that (tacitly) championed by Sarah Palin, has actually been the normative American  policy for the last 30 years, during both Republican and Democratic administrations, and that it is the accumulated three decades of conservative practice that has brought America to its knees.

Do people not understand that the stock-market and housing crash of 2008, the Great Recession with its unemployment and housing chaos in which we're embroiled, and our enormous trade deficits abroad, all stem from the basically free-market economic policies of the last 30 years?  They certainly weren't caused by the centrist Obama who wasn't even elected yet when the crash occurred, yet many Tea Partyers are acting as if he's to blame.  No, it was the three decades of his conservative predecessors, who brought us to this point (and I include Clinton in that mix, with his Democratic version of free-market economics, called neo-liberalism).  Former conservatives who recognize this and who have turned from their old ways include Paul Craig Roberts, Bruce Bartlett, Kevin Phillips, and David Stockman.

Sticking with economics, what is it that a President Palin would do to solve the economic mess that we have been left with?    From all I can tell, she would continue the free-market economic policies of the past 30 years that have literally crippled us as a nation.

Yet, on the other hand, we really don't know what Palin et al would do.  Can anyone remember any new policy that Palin or O'Donnell have actually proposed to begin to address our huge economic problems and the national decline that so many of us are seeing both as a present and future reality?  I can't think of one.  It's all just a blank slate, just 'twitter' messages to the faithful, a diet of nothing but cute quips, laced with shrill sarcasm and ridicule for the current administration as they try to clean up the mess left to them. 

(Oh, wait, I do remember one policy: 'drill, baby, drill'!  Just ask the people on the Gulf Coast how that one has played out.)

Quoting Tolkien and C.S. Lewis as Christie O'Donnell has been doing so much recently, as wonderful as these two British Christian fantasy authors are, is not going to solve our domestic economic problems.  (And I say that with the greatest of admiration for Lewis and Tolkien, so much so that I visited The Eagle and Child Pub in Oxford in 2002, where the Inklings would meet to talk and read their novels over a pint and a pipe). 

What makes anyone believe that people like Palin and O'Donnell, who are completely bereft of national governing experience, have ANYTHING WHATSOEVER to offer the American people by way of political leadership?  These two, and the others like them (eg Sharron Angle of Nevada) are the 'not-ready-for-primetime' politicians.

Except for waving and smiling and winking, they really don't know what they're doing, they can't stand up to the big boys (and girls) of the national media, and they don't not have the brains, the character, or the necessary experience for high national political office.  And the same goes for most of the Tea Party candidates that are showing up these days....they just don't cut it.

I'm Sorry for Those who Equate Muslims with Terrorists

Nicholas Kristof apologizes for his extremists:
Many Americans have suggested that more moderate Muslims should stand up to extremists, speak out for tolerance, and apologize for sins committed by their brethren.

That’s reasonable advice, and as a moderate myself, I’m going to take it. (Throat clearing.) I hereby apologize to Muslims for the wave of bigotry and simple nuttiness that has lately been directed at you. The venom on the airwaves, equating Muslims with terrorists, should embarrass us more than you. Muslims are one of the last minorities in the United States that it is still possible to demean openly, and I apologize for the slurs.

I apologize to Muslims for another reason. This isn’t about them, but about us. I want to defend Muslims from intolerance, but I also want to defend America against extremists engineering a spasm of religious hatred.

Radicals tend to empower radicals, creating a gulf of mutual misunderstanding and anger. Many Americans believe that Osama bin Laden is representative of Muslims, and many Afghans believe that the Rev. Terry Jones (who talked about burning Korans) is representative of Christians.

Many Americans honestly believe that Muslims are prone to violence, but humans are too complicated and diverse to lump into groups that we form invidious conclusions about. We’ve mostly learned that about blacks, Jews and other groups that suffered historic discrimination, but it’s still O.K. to make sweeping statements about “Muslims” as an undifferentiated mass.
I join him in this apology.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sarah's the One

It's now official:

Sarah Palin tends to shy away from questions regarding her presidential ambitions, but not on Friday, when she told Fox News that given some vague preconditions, she'd be willing to "give it a shot" in 2012.

In Des Moines, Iowa, for the annual Reagan Dinner fundraiser -- a perennial destination for Republican presidential hopefuls -- the ex-governor and 2008 vice-presidential nominee said she'd be "willing" to go head to head with President Barack Obama if voters think she's "the one."

"If the American people were to be ready for someone who is willing to shake it up, and willing to get back to time-tested truths, and help lead our country towards a more prosperous and safe future and if they happen to think I was the one, if it were best for my family and for our country, of course I would give it a shot," Palin said. "But I'm not saying that it's me. I know I can certainly make a difference without having a title. I'm having a good time doing exactly that right now."

The Disaster of Tea Party Thinking

Andrew Sullivan points to the big fallacy of the Tea Party argument about fiscal responsibility: why weren't they upset when George W. Bush and his Republican administration was ballooning the deficit and national debt with his multiple wars and budget-busting tax cuts?
I welcome the belated right-wing opposition to out-of-control government spending. But the one thing you have to note about tea-party fervor is that none of it existed when they had real leverage over a Republican president, who spent us into bankruptcy. That tells you something. And if you think a party led by Palin will not embrace every neocon crusade or Christianist social policy, you're dreaming.
The Tea Partyers are simply not believable when it comes to fiscal matters. They have no credible proposal to balance the budget and bring down the awful deficits that face us. They won't increase budget revenue with tax increases, they won't cut our bloated defense spending or end the wars we're in, they want Obama to keep his hands off 'their' Medicare, and so on. Do they really think that a balanced budget is going to be accomplished by cutting the Department of Education, Food Stamps, and the National Parks? 

Furthermore, what do they plan to do to bring back manufacturing to the United States, which is behind a lot of our current economic woes?  What is their plan to staunch the flow of billions of oil dollars to the Saudi Arabias of the world, or the billions of import dollars to the Chinas of this world, that is putting such pressure on the value of the dollar?  Understandably, they avoid all the hard economic thinking and instead resort to taking potshots at Obama and Pelosi, and pursue the kind of magical thinking that believes that we can return to Oz by simple clicking the heels of our ruby red slippers.

The Tea Party thinking in general, from all I've heard, is hyper-partisan (ie Republican), unrealistic, simplistic, emotional bordering on hysterical, overly personalistic, nativistic, jingoistic, absolutistic, and when it comes to President Obama, simply slanderous and completely absurd (Obama as Muslim, Socialist, Foreigner).  Tea Partyers seem to want someone in office "just like me" (I heard that with regard to O'Donnell, that it was fine that she had had her home foreclosed on and she hadn't paid her college tuition bills, because she was just like the rest of us!  Oh, great.)

Tea Party thinking (or the lack thereof) is a recipe for sheer national and even global disaster.  If you think it's bad now, if you thought right-wingers George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were a disaster, just wait till the likes of Palin, O'Donnell, Angle and their ilk come to power.  (And yes, it is possible, we almost had Palin as our Vice-President two years ago, thanks to John McCain.)  That's right, just try and imagine Sarah Palin with her finger on the nuclear button, being confronted by a crisis with China or North Korea or Russia or Iran.  I'm sorry, pretty Sarah from Alaska, who didn't even finish out one term as governor, is not the one I want determining the fate of our country or the world. 

Compared to the Tea Party leaders like Sarah Palin, 'poppy' Bush the Elder was a complete economic genius and world statesman.  Please, I'm begging you, give me back the old Republican Party, the Party of Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Bush Sr., and even Reagan!  (I'm not Republican, but if we have to have a Republican as President, I want one of them!)

The Rise of Islamic Radicalism (Islam, Part Ten)

[To see the entire series on Islam, click here]

Where did Islamic radicalism come from?  This is an important question, because we know that the Islamic civilization that has spanned some 14 centuries and a large part of the African, Middle Eastern, and Asian continents cannot in itself be called radical.  To the contrary, it has been throughout history a most impressive civilization, which blended the Islamic religion as founded by the 7th century prophet Muhammad, with all of the geographic, cultural, social, political, and economic factors that go into any civilization, whether it be Western Civilization, the Chinese Civilization, or the Indian Civilization of the South Asian Subcontinent.
The entity we call Islam was and is actually a hybrid civilization that brought together elements of Arab, Latin, Greek, Persian, Jewish, and Asian cultures.  For about 400 years, from 800 to 1200 AD, it was one of the greatest civilizations of the time, far more cultivated than the Europe of the Dark Ages. Medicine, astronomy, architecture, mathematics, poetry, history, and religious studies flourished. 
Then around the 13th century, the Islamic empire began to decline, especially under the attacks by the Mongols of Genghis Khan, who invaded the lands of the Middle East, conquering the centers of Islam, including the great centers in Persia and eventually the great Islamic city of Baghdad.  Millions of Muslims were slaughtered by the Mongols, who ironically themselves eventually became converts to Islam. 
Eventually, the Ottoman Turks succeeded the Arabs as rulers of Islam, and the Ottoman empire in its turn became one of the greatest empires in the world for the next six centuries.  It eventually conquered what remained of the Eastern Roman Empire called Byzantium and converted its capital city from Constantinople to Istanbul.
Yet the best days of the Islamic civilization were behind it by the 14 century, and it passed the cultural baton, so to speak, to the West, beginning with the Italian renaissance, which profited immensely from the cultural and intellectual achievements of the Persian Muslims especially.  After that, Islam sunk into a kind of cultural slumber, not really ever going through the ages of reason and science (aka the Enlightenment) that caused the West to become such a powerful civilization technologically.  With the failure of the Ottoman Turk advance on Vienna in 1683, Islam began its long military, political and economic decline vis-à-vis the West.
In Western Europe, the forces of capitalism and democracy were stirring, spurred on by the scientific, technological, and rational advances of the age of reason.  The Spanish, then the British and the Dutch, and finally the French began to project their power around the world, conquering first this land and then that one.  The Islamic countries were first touched by this when the armies of Napoleon invaded Egypt and then colonized other North African countries.  Britain had already colonized India and other Asian lands with their large Muslim populations.  Finally, when the Ottoman Empire sided with the losing Axis powers in World War I, it was eaten up by the victorious Allies, with England taking over the provinces making up Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, and Egypt, while Lebanon and Syria were taken over the French.  The ancient empire of Persia (current day Iran) was just about the only Muslim country to not be colonized.  Over the next 80 years, all of these countries would gain their formal independence from the European imperial powers.  Yet they would continue to be caught in the large political crosscurrents caused by the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States.
During all of this time, the religion of Islam continued to nurture and control the hearts and minds of the vast majority of the people of the Islamic civilization.  And it was a remarkably centrist and stable Islam, with a toleration for diversity.
So what are the factors that have caused the development of Islamic radicalism in the 20th century?