Friday, June 03, 2005

War Solutions

As a member of the U.S. Senate, it is my duty to help solve problems for the American people. One of those problems is the declining enrollment in our military, especially now that we're at war.

I was prepared to ask my staff to present me with an array of possible solutions and recommendations that I could make in committee. Fortunately, however, I awoke this morning to find that two web bloggers, a TBogg and a No More Mister Nice Blog, have been hard at work in this area and have made several important suggestions. I intend to package these ideas into a bill and to present them before Congress in the next few days.

But more needs to be done. We need your support. Please call your member of Congress today and let them know that you support the "voluntary" enlistment of America's young war advocates. College and university attendance, not to mention, punditry obligations, should not be a barrier to service for the many men and women who yearn to fight abroad with real weapons. These classes have been neglected far too long, and I urge that they be afforded every opportunity to fulfill their goals and live their values.

Cox to SEC: Another Thumb in the Eye from Bush

George H.W. "Poppy" Bush, 41, is remembered for his notorious thumb-in-the-eye campaign tactics in 1988. The Willie Horton ad. The Pledge of Allegiance. Card-Carrying ACLU Member.

His First Son, W, 43, with a re-election under his belt, and control of Congress to boot, is masterminding the art of thumb-in-the-eye policy-making. UN-bashing John Bolton has been nominated as the US rep to the UN; John Negroponte, a veteran of the Reagan administration's wars against Latin America, is the intell czar. For judicial nominees he gave us Janice Rogers Brown, who thinks we should go back to America the way it was before the Great Depression. And now?

Now we get Chris Cox, Republican Congressman from California, to head the Security and Exchange Commission. I remember it as if it was just yesterday, when the Enron scandal came to light. Thousands of workers and investors got bilked, while the company's managers attempted to parachute their way out of bankruptcy into luxury. A reform bill was passed to curtail future abuses and the political class, coming off its financial-contribution-induced hangover, scurried to cover its tracks and to pledge future and forever devotion to the people over the needs of corporations.

But time has passed. And now, with the minds of the people diverted by Paris Hilton, the Runaway Bride, and Michael Jackson, the corporate class has again turned its attention to the laws that restrain it and deemed them "burdensome". William Donaldson, the SEC chair, had to go. Although he was more in tuned to the ambitions of corporations than his predecessors, especially that meddlesome Arthur Levitt, the SEC's Republican members were getting itchy with his rule and made their demands known to the White House for someone of a more amiable spirit.

Chris Cox, who wasn't all that crazy about the Sarbanes-Oxley reform bill, and who has voted in lock step with the demands of corporate america, and who has garnered healthy campaign contributions as a result, is now the man of the hour for Wall Street kingpins.

I'm running out of eyes to thumb.

Further reading:

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Bobo Unleashed

I happen to think David Brooks is an interesting and likeable conservative, even if the only reason is because he usually lacks the visible image of spit and foam running down his chin like so many of his fellow conservative travelers. And sometimes he can be relied on write something of interest and coherence.

This morning was not one of those times. This column reads like a research paper written the day before it was due, without any of the required citations. Does the NYT employ editors?

Basically Brooks unveils a Carter-like "Old Europe is in Malaise" spiel, with the special finding that the malaise of old Europe = malaise of American liberalism. Now, American liberalism may indeed be in a state of malaise, but Brooksie trounces old Europe like a one legged step-child for its supposedly high unemployment, low productivity, and polluted welfare state induced public melancholy.

Unfortunately he doesn't cite one statistic to support his conclusions. Nor does he specify what he means by Europe.

If he had the data to back his stuff up, you think he'd level us with it don't you? That what the Gadflyer thinks, too. He even had the guts to suggest Old Europe was about as nifty as Arkansas.

David, stop while you're ahead. Liberalism may be in official retreat, but the last time I looked, the higher income, labor friendly, job producing states voted blue last time around. If you want to hang your conservatism on the backs of Heartland states such as Arkansas, Mississippi, and South Dakota, that are poor and barely getting by thanks to the presence of obsolete military bases, than please feel free to do so. But I don't think it's a good tact for your side to take.

Amateur Hour at the Post

Sorry to be ragging on the Post again, but meant to mention this offering of theirs over the weekend. Lacking anything better to do, the editors venture into Social Security policy and along the way, suggest that because benefits are growing at such a high rate, that maybe the president's "progressive indexing" proposal warrents attention.

Part of their argument rests on their blurring together the combined benefits of Social Security and Medicare, which Dean Baker responds to by giving the editorial's writers the business. The editorial also fails to mention that the rising benefits have been funded by increases in the payroll tax, which again, Baker takes them over the coals for.

But there's more. The Post implies that benefits are increasing at too great a rate. But the current benefit formula that was put into place in 1977 was designed to maintain a constant replacement rate between one's earnings and one's benefits. This replacement rate could be any ratio of earnings to benefits. Currently it's estimated that the average lifetime earner gets a replacement rate of about 42%. Maybe this replacement rate is too high given the level of payroll taxes and the expected change in the ratio of current to retired workers. But the problem isn't necessarily that benefits are growing too fast. The growth rate in benefits is largely secondary to the relationship between the tax base that funds benefits and the replacement rate of benefits. While altering the growth of benefits is expected to improve the ratio between taxes and benefits, the growth rate itself is not really the issue.

Under progressive price indexing or regular price indexing, though, benefits as a share of past earnings will continue to decline indefinitely, eventually amounting to zero if the policy is not eventually altered. The Post's editorial doesn't address this. Nor does it address the relationship between price indexing and the introduction of personal accounts within Social Security. If benefits continue to decline in value, calls for adding or increasing the share of payroll taxes devoted to personal accounts could very well increase. So any provision that leads to a declining value in social security benefits (as opposed to changes that have a one time effect) could be used as a wedge for personal accounts.

Do the Post editors get this?


The Wash Post today includes an op-ed column by someone named Gary Anderson, who, the Post tells us at the bottom of his column, is a retired marine officer advising the Pentagon on the Iraqi insurgency.

The op-ed's first three paragraphs give us the kicker:

The adaptive Iraqi insurgency is running out of tricks, and like a cornered rat it is fighting back furiously. The recent spate of suicide bombings against Shiite civilians and the security services has many commentators wringing their hands and wondering what is going wrong. In reality, the question may be: What is going right?

Without a doubt, the insurgency has gotten a breather from the interim Iraqi government's slow start. It is also obvious that the leadership of the most active arm of the insurgency is primarily in the hands of foreign insurgents. The operational goal is to disrupt and demoralize the security services and to incite a sectarian civil war of revenge. This is not working.

The real danger is not that the insurgents will keep doing what they are doing; it is that they will change tactics. The insurgency in Iraq is shifting from being a fairly popular resistance against foreign occupation to a more classic brand that attempts to overthrow a struggling government. To put it another way, the root of the insurgency is drifting away, and the rebels need a new cause.

So, the insurgency is led mostly by a bunch of dead-enders from someplace else, the insurgency is not working, and, oh yeah, the insurgency is now directed against the Iraqi "government" and not the U.S. occupation.

I have a hard time believing the Post printed this. But then again, maybe it really isn't surprising. Of course, the administration and its media allies have been telling us for two years that the insurgents are desperate and their efforts to undermine our virtuous takeover of Iraq are failing.

But the delusion is going further. Some people actually believe there is an Iraqi government. The implication is we're just hanging around for a few more minutes until this "government" gets things up and running.

Some observers of Iraq measure progress there in terms of an election or in terms of the number of bomb attacks and casualties.

Here's my measure of progress: how many U.S. troops are there? If the number is more than 100,000 than things are not progressing.

My List

After a night of soul searching, I feel it necessary for this blog to offer its apology regarding yesterday's remarks about Michael "Savage" Weiner's most recent book, Liberalism is a Mental Disorder.

Friends, loved ones, the truth is, I have not read this book by Mr. Weiner, or any of his other books. My judgement of this book was not made ex cathedra, but was rather made out of school, where Bulworth stakes no claims to inerrancy or infallibility.

My leap to judgement about Liberalism is a Mental Disorder did get me to thinking about something else, however.

In parsing the list of most harmful books submitted by the editors of Human Events Online, and derived from its cadre of eminent conservative "scholars" and public policy "leaders", I believe I've identified at least one thing each of these books has in common.

Each of these books has a similarly vague title. On Liberty, Feminist Mystique, Descent of Man, Unsafe at any Speed, Das Kapital, General Theory of Employment, Democracy and Education. How on earth is one supposed to know, without reading them, what these books are about? On Liberty. What about liberty? Is liberty good or bad? General Theory of Employment. What is the general theory of employment? Should people be employed? Democracy and Education. What about democracy and education? Are these related concepts? Are democracy and education good or bad? See what I mean? There's nothing in these titles to inform prospective readers what the book's perspective is or what the substantive arguments of the books are.

Fortunately, books by conservative "scholars" and public policy "leaders" don't suffer from this problem. Their book titles include both the book's conclusion as well as the substance of their arguments. One of the helpful advantages of this approach is that one need not actually read the books to know what the book's message is. This helps save a considerable amount of time.

As an example, I have taken the trouble of identifying the most harmful books written in the last decade, give or take a few years. I trust you will easily see that even though you and I have been spared the punishment of having to read them, their titles give us enough to go on.

1. Unfit to Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, by John O'Neil

2. The Enemy Within: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on our Schools, Faith, and Military, by Michael "Savage" Weiner

3. Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism

4. Men in Black: How the Supreme Court is Destroying America, by Mark Levin

5. Liberalism is a Mental Disorder: Savage Solutions, by Michael "Savage" Weiner

6. Persecution: How Liberals are Waging War against Christianity, by David Limbaugh

7. Slouching towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline, by Robert Bork

8. Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Libery over Liberalism, by Sean Hannity

9. How to talk to a Liberal (if you must): The World according to Ann Coulter, by Ann Coulter

10. Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism, by Ann Coulter

11. Slander: Liberal Lies about the American Right, by Ann Coulter

12. The Savage Nation: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on our Borders, Language and Culture, by Michael "Savage" Weiner

13. The Case against Hilary Clinton, by Peggy Noonan

14. The Final Days: The Last, Desperate Abuses of Power by the Clinton White House, by Barbara Olson (deceased 9/11)

15. High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case against Bill Clinton, by Ann Coulter

16. Dereliction of Duty: The Eyewitness Account of how Bill Clinton compromised America's national security, by Robert Patterson

17. Hilary's Scheme: Inside the next Clinton's Ruthless Agenda to take the White House, by Carl Limbacher

18. Intelligence Failure: How Clinton's National Security Policy Set the Stage for 9/11, by David Bossie

19. Weapons of Mass Distortion: The Coming of the Liberal Media Meltdown, by Brent Bozell

20. If it's not close, they can't cheat: crushing the democrats in every election and why your life depends on it, by Hugh Hewitt

21. A Matter of Character: Inside the White House of George W. Bush, by Ronald Kessler

22. The French Betrayal of America, by Kenneth Timmerman

23. Hating America: The New World Sport, by John Gibson

24. Why the Left Hates America: Exposing the Lies that have obscured our nation's greatness, by Dan Flynn

25. More than Money: true stories of people who learned life's ultimate lesson, by Neil Cavuto

Yes, there are so many, so many more. But hopefully this will give you a taste of true conservative literature and what writing and books are supposed to be about: Liberalism, liberal supreme court, democrats, bad. bad. America and your life is at stake if conservative america is not allowed to destroy, stamp out, and burn at the stake any and all impure peoples dwelling within america's borders that don't faithfully support fox news, the bush white house, and Peggy Noonan.

Book summaries welcome.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Books Conservatives Haven't Read

Along with Here's What's Left, Brad DeLong, No More Mister Nice Blog, and Lawyers, Guns and Money, I've been enjoying dissecting the list of books prepared by the list of conservative "scholars" and public policy "leaders" over at Human Events Online as being the "most harmful" of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Here are the Top Ten:

The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels
Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler
Quotations from Chairman Mao, Mao Zedong
The Kinsey Report, Alfred Kinsey
Democracy and Education, John Dewey
Das Kapital, Karl Marx
The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan
The Course of Positive Philosophy, August Comte
Beyond Good and Evil, Friedrich Nietzsche
General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, John Maynard Keynes

And the runners-up:

The Population Bomb, Paul Ehrlich
What Is To Be Done, V.I. Lenin
Authoritarian Personality, Theodor Adorno
On Liberty, John Stuart Mill
Beyond Freedom and Dignity, B.F. Skinner
Reflections on Violence, Georges Sorel
The Promise of American Life, Herbert Croly
Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin
Madness and Civilization, Michel Foucault
Soviet Communism: A New Civilization, Sidney and Beatrice Webb
Coming of Age in Samoa, Margaret Mead
Unsafe at Any Speed, Ralph Nader
Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir
Prison Notebooks, Antonio Gramsci
Silent Spring, Rachel Carson
Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon
Introduction to Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud
The Greening of America, Charles Reich
The Limits to Growth, Club of Rome
Descent of Man, Charles Darwin

And yes, it's true. HEO still has Charles Darwin's On The Origin of Species mis-titled as Origin of the Species on its webpage. If they can't get the title right, it's hard to imagine they've bothered to read anything between the covers.

Now, I'm a little surprised they earmarked Hitler's Mein Kampf. After all, they're advertising this book on their webpage, which seems pretty similar to the content of Mein Kampf. Maybe they think that by coming out against Hitler they'll make us think they have a soft side.

As for John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, I suspect that beyond not liking the book's libertarian perspective, conservatives probably consider it to be too utilitarian-positivist, which as Michael from Here's What's Left tells us, is a particularly offensive schematic for traditionalists to handle.

I'd attempt a play by play as to why the others are on the list, but I won't. That they don't like women, consumers, and education is plain enough to see.

But at least the list gives us some idea about what we should be reading. If you read any of these books, Michael Medved will cry.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Memorial Day

Along with the usual triumphant stuff on the dial about wars and rumors of wars, there is on Memorial Day certainly to be found a share of Christian Nation rhetoric, calling us to go back to the 1700's to rediscover our calling as a nation, although calls to recreate slavery and other anti-human institutions of that era usually don't get mentioned along with it.

I happened upon such a spiel yesterday when I tuned into the trinity broadcasting network on my cable tv expecting to see Dwight Nelson, A seventh day adventist (my denomination) minister. Nelson is a reasonably moderate and entertaining fellow who I first heard speak on the campus of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, MI some 20 years ago, and who has from time to time conducted evangelical campaigns.

Anyway, Nelson wasn't on but David Barton was. I won't rehash all of who or what David Barton is and what he had to say except to say that he is a Christian Reconstructionist and that his spiel was noteworty for two things that commonly figure into the usual talking points used by religious conservatives who think we should go back to Levicticus for guidance on public policy.

The first is the well-worn contention about how Christian our national heritage is because Benjamin Franklin called for prayer during the Constitutional debates in 1787. Funny thing about Franklin's motion to begin every session with prayer, though, that doesn't get mentioned in this retelling, and which Barton, surely reading from the same talking points, didn't mention either: Franklin's prayer request was rejected before it was voted on:

Although Mr. Sherman formally seconded the motion, and a few voices in favour were heard, opposition to it was so vocal and extensive that President of the Convention George Washington let the days business close without taking a vote (perhaps to spare Dr. Franklin the embarrassment of a formally recorded rejection). The subject of prayer did not come up again during the rest of the Convention.

So Franklin's prayer that's been said to have changed the course of history and enabled the passing of the Constitution including its 3/5ths clause for southern blacks. Yeah, that prayer. Didn't happen.

The second point of interest is that Barton, perhaps relying too strongly on his talking points, didn't mention that odd little bit in our Constitution, Article VI, which after stating the federal government's obligation to satisfying the debts incurred by the government under the Articles of Confederation and stating the Constitution's supreme authority over other laws in the land, says that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States. "

Gee, I wonder why Barton didn't mention that.

Whose Side Are You On?

I spent some time this weekend continuing to read from the works of Episcopalean Bishop John Shelby Spong. (And yes, I managed to get outside and enjoy some sun, too. Thanks for asking.) When I first considered the notion of the Bible not being literal, the first question that came to my mind was, "but if the Bible isn't literal, how do we decide who gets in?". That question says a lot about me, and about the Christian tradition. Who gets in? How do I cash in my religion card for the eternity promise at the end of the rainbow? Closely related to this question is "how do we make sure that 'those other people' don't get in with us?". Exclusion has been central to the role of religion since the beginning of time. The Old Testament includes a wide range of dictates and practices designed to erect barriers between the Israelites and its neighbors. The sacrificial system, the identification of various "clean" and "unclean" foods and states of being, and the assigning of "deviance" to other practices helped to separate the Israelites from other tribes, to create a sense of importance and entitlement. While these rules didn't preclude other peoples from entering into God's grace, it did help to ensure that those who did would conform to the Israelite standards and submit to its system of power relations.

One reading of the Gospel accounts of Jesus is that He lived to eradicate these barriers. In His life and words he opposed hierarchies founded on sex, race, religion, and class. One reading of the growth of Christianity after Jesus' death is that many of these barriers were re-erected and some more were added for good measure as the church elders sought to once again distinguish themselves and to consolidate their power.

I was contemplating these themes as I opened my copy of the Washington Post this morning and turned to the op-ed page. And there greeting me was a column by E.J. Dionne. Dionne was writing about the sacking of Tom Reese, the former editor of a Catholic journal called America, by the new pope and former grand inquisitor, because Reese and his journal had been deemed insufficiently orthodox.

Although the events Dionne described occured over a month ago, and can't be considered hot off the presses stuff, his column was of interest because it included a defense of the pope's decision by the grouchy editor of the Catholic enterprise First Things, Richard John Neuhaus:

...because America is "a Catholic magazine in the service of the church and its mission," it has a special obligation to uphold orthodoxy as defined by the pope. That's especially true, he said, on "publicly controversial questions such as the moral understanding of homosexuality, same-sex marriage and the exploitation of embryonic stem cells."

"On such questions, the church has clearly defined positions," Neuhaus wrote. "The practice of America suggested to some the magazine's neutrality or hostility to the church's teaching. Not surprisingly, they asked of the magazine, 'Whose side are you on?' "

This is what the Christian life has come to mean for people like Neuhaus. Whose side are you on? Who gets in? Who can we keep out, or at least control? Who's right and who's wrong?

I submit that this is the sickness underlying the Christian church in both its Roman Catholic and Protestant manifestations today. The name for this sickness is legalism. While much of the Christian church has professed its contempt for legalism and proclaimed its reliance on grace rather than the law, the sad fact is that to the degree that the church or a church continues to insist that there is a heavenly reward to seek and a hellish punishment to shun (and to deny that doing good is its own reward), so long as it insists on identifying itself as the guardians and interpreters of the one right path to salvation, and so long as it continues to insist that deviants and undesirables, whether they be gays or religious heritics won't get to heaven, the curse of legalism will dictate and compromise the church's calling and infect the local and world community with its disease of division and resentment. I'm prepared to let this vision of Christianity die so that a new vision can emerge, that a new reformation can take place.

I conclude today's sermon with two brief mentions from the gospels. On Jesus's journey to Jerusalem and to the cross, the disciples trailed slowly behind, squabbling among themselves about who was the greatest? Sound familiar? Who's the greatest? Who's right? Who gets in?
Jesus later asked them what they were talking about "along the way". Correctly ascertaining what they were discussing Jesus tells them that although the world conceives of itself in terms of who exercises authority over one another, they, His disciples and future church, were not to be like that. He told them that people who desired to be "first" would be "last". Those who would lead needed to serve. Those who sought to save their lives would lose it. Those who gave away their lives in service and love would gain it.

Later Jesus made an analogy of the separation of the sheep and goats at the end of time. The sheep were defined as those who had ministered to the imprisoned, the hungry, the naked, and the needy, and in doing so, were unaware that they were storing up chits or putting notches in their belts. When confronted with their honorable behavior, they confessed they hadn't recognized they were ministering to the Lord.

In contrast were the goats. The goats, when confronted by their lack of service to the needy, responded that they had never seen the Lord in need. The Lord responds that in the presence of the naked, the poor, and the outcast, Jesus was. Because these self-declared righteous had been seeking absolution, they failed to see their true calling.

Given these kind of statements, it's probably no wonder that much of the church's leadership has turned its attention to devisive social issues and political controversy and away from the simplistic and humble teachings of its Lord.