American Liberalism Project Archives September 2004 to June 2006

Friday, September 30, 2005

The Neocon War Against Government

The Bush regime has two aims, two courses of action, regarding the federal government while in office. They intend to pillage the regulatory agencies, having placed their own people in the key spots and turned the agencies inside-out. That is, they have turned the agencies toward furthering corporate (Bush political base) goals through softening and corrupting of regulations, quick approval of pharmaceuticals and food additives and, of course, massive contracts for public works to cronies. While they are doing this, they very well understand that it is destructive. Their overall intent is to thoroughly discredit government agencies and, when inevitably they are voted out of office, the Democrats will have to deal with a whole population that no longer trusts government ... and for good reason. It will seem simpler to just scrap these corrupt agencies.


This is a pretty devilish idea, when you think of it. It has Rovean ironies and Neocon ruthlessness. What they are doing is pitting government against itself, jiu jitzu-like, using federal funds to line their own pockets, the process itself intended to bring about both financial and moral collapse of the very idea of federal government!


All conservative Republicans and all states' rights advocates want to destroy the federal government as it came to exist after WWII. They came to this conclusion just about the same time they gave up on democracy, which of course was the overdue and immanent impeachment of Richard M. Nixon.


They believe they will be able to create a federal government to their liking while the old liberal government is corrupted and loses the support even of those who created it. And maybe they are right! Would you want to clean up EPA, FDA, or FEMA right now? They are all cesspools of cronyism and incompetence.


The only piece of the federal government they want to keep is the military, because, of course, it is half of the military-industrial complex, their political base! It is a never-ending source of federal funds to local economies and a seemingly bottomless well of invention (for gun-runners).


Part B of the Plan is this: These very same conservatives hate the Sixteenth Amendment worse than anything, because it deprives states of revenues that each might use in their own regionally ideosyncratic ways. The main reason, though, is that they believe the income tax provides virtually endless money to Congress and the Civil Service and leads to an ever-expanding federal presence in all areas of American life. (Apparently none of them understands deficit, particularly George.) They are attacking the Sixteenth Amendment through a ruse so threadbare that it just might work: the so-called FairTax idea.


They have a bill before Congress now (once again), HR 25, which would repeal the federal income tax, payroll tax, medicare, and social security taxes. Replacing these would be a single 30% federal sales tax. This bill is supported by former Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Speaker Dennis Hastert and 52 others, so far. The proponents claim that the tax rate is ONLY 23%, but this is how they arrive at that number.


A television set costs $1,000; the 30% sales tax is $300; the total is $1,300. The proponents will try to tell you that $300 is only 23% of $1,300, which it is, but that is not the rate of tax, it is just the ratio of the total to the tax; it is definitely not the ratio of the tax to the product, which obviously is the only meaningful mathematics! Proponents are using a term call "tax inclusive" rate to confuse those of you who are not thrilled with arithmetic to begin with.


The prevarications and misleading rate structure aside, the real problem is that you cannot run the federal government on either a 30% tax rate or a 23% "tax inclusive" rate; the Congressional committee that looked this over four years ago said then that the tax rate would have to be 57%, a "tax inclusive" rate of 36%. So, what is going on here?


Obviously, the plan must be to reduce government! The plan is to remove various "social engineering" incentives from the tax structure and they do not just mean welfare, they mean the deduction that millions of families have for their home mortgage, for medical expenses, for business expenses, etc. You simply cannot make deductions for these kinds of programs at the cash register at WalMart ... or at Nieman Marcus.


But eliminating "social engineering" is not the only major goal. They want to put Social Security and Medicare out of business entirely. There are two ideas behind this, of course. The radical conservative notion is that, one, both Social Security and Medicare are properly expenses to be born by the individual people and families themselves, and two, they should be carried out by individuals and families negotiating with Wall Street and private medical enterprise.


There is a heartlessness in this aspect of the FairTax/Neocon program that almost defies imagination. It is nevertheless real. In their heart of hearts (such as that might be) these people believe there would be fewer poor people if there were no visible safety net for them, that is, poor people would learn to procreate less if they were unable to feed, clothe, or attend to their inevitable illnesses. Somehow these neocon geniuses have forgotten that poor people need extra helping hands, and the world over they procreate to obtain them.


Starkly, the heartlessness goes well beyond this to an out-and-out "survival of the richest" regime wherein a very large working class of formerly lower- and middle-middle class persons will join the present-day lower classes and toil at subsistence wages, paying less tax when they are below the poverty line and full taxes as soon as they creep into solvency, thus hovering perpetually at the break-even point, effectively removed from the competition for upward mobility opportunities. The upper-middle class, trapped in its current cirumstances short of wealth and political clout, becomes the entire middle class, a shrinking number, teased and cajoled by the economic elite to vote Republican against their own better interests and against that impossible day when they become truly wealthy. Half of one percent of the upper-middle class will. Half of one percent!


Meanwhile, of course, globalized corporations no longer fully accountable to any government, no longer have to shop for tax incentives from localities and can cherry-pick the lowest wage rates anywhere on the planet. Those people who do not win jobs can enlist in the Army, which, you can be absolutely sure, will be richly fed and constantly employed protecting corporate interests and natural resources abroad ... and probably at home, too. The rest can just, well, die off for all the new order cares.


There are lots of internet sites devoted in one way or another to the FairTax proposal. Here is one that seems to be fairly responsible in its approach. If you are going to read the FairTax stuff, you should read this one, too.


Since George Bush and his friends seem to have another three+ years in office, there might be time for them to implement such a thing over the protests of the minority Democrats. You will notice from a look at a Google search on "FairTax" that there are volunteer FairTax organizations all over the place, some with their own websites. They are serious about this, and it amounts to nothing less than a total revolution. While I am not averse to revolutions in general, one that catapults us back into the nineteenth century is not my idea of a good time. The so-called Gilded Age (1865-1915) of robber baron industrialists might seem like Valhalla to a handful of today's corporate plutocrats, for the vast majority of Americans it was back-breakingly awful and will be again for the vast majority of Americans if we let them do it. Remember, George, fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me.


Also remember, only when the middle class is large and prosperous have things been even close to acceptable. The government of and by the middle classes will serve all Americans. It will provide various safety nets and restraints. It will promote general prosperity and assure than no one is without food, shelter, or necessary medical care.

This bogus, so-called FairTax is the wake-up call we have been lying around restlessly to hear. When you hear about it in your neighborhoods, ask the proponents how they are going to pay for hurricane relief, national defense, health care for everyone, environmental clean-up and protection. Ask them what their real agenda is.


James Richard Brett

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Dream America

America. The land of the free, the home of the brave.

America. A government of the people for the people, by the people.

America, the greatest experiment in self rule the world has ever seen.

America, populated by a mosaic of peoples from every land, every culture and every religion in the world, bringing together the unique experiences and talents of all to create a nation that shines a light of hope for the best of mankind in the world.

America, land of prosperity where no one goes to bed hungry.

America, where justice prevails for all.

America , land of pure water, clean air and organic earth that brings forth healthy food that nourishes us.

America, where our leaders are the brightest and best our society can produce. Where our leaders are honest and have as their first priority the improvement of our society for the betterment of the people.

America, where corruption is exposed by our free press and those who act for self gain are removed from office.

America, where every young mind is encouraged to learn and imagine and create. Where every child born has food, shelter, medical care and protection from harm.

America, where innovative engineering builds our cities, towns, infrastructure to improve and enhance our society, where our public transportation system makes it easy for us to travel this land and to have a healthy commerce.

America where our fair taxes are used to benefit and improve our society.

America, where national health is a higher priority than producing weapons of mass destruction.

America where our best national defense comes from a humane, ethical and fair foreign policy and qualified negotiators who use conflict resolution to resolve differences with others.

America, who sends ambassadors abroad who are trained in the language, culture and economy of the host country to insure the best relationship with them.

America, which abides by the spirit of the Geneva Convention, the Declaration of Human Rights and acts to create a nuclear free world and environmental health.

America, where the companies we work for and buy from have signed on to a code of ethics to keep the environment clean, treat workers fairly and produce products and services of quality and safety. Where companies can be proud of the profits they make while behaving ethically.

America, the noble experiment that has as it's core the improvement of society through a system that allows the potential of every citizen to be realized.

Dream America and wake from the nightmare.

Sue Dyer

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The New Face of New Orleans?

It is hard to imagine what New Orleans will look like once the last of the debris from Katrina has been swept away, the waters have finally receded, levees are repaired and people once more fill her streets. But, who exactly will those people be? Many will be the old guard who were happily ensconced in a relative's home, or a vacation home out of state, with no particular concern about their property as it was heavily insured and sat in a desirable area, i.e., not too close to anything liquid.

And so, people have started to return, at the urging of their mayor, a black man, who is anxious to have his city repopulated. This, on the surface, is a good thing, to see a city revitalized, at least with her people. But so much of what made New Orleans, New Orleans, is not capable of making a return. They are the ones who were in the service industries, the wait staff of the restaurants in the French Quarter, the maids, bellhops and cleaning staff of the hotels, those who worked in the refinery industry. The people who worked the docks, and filled a myriad of positions, handling the cargoes of approximately 5,000 ships from 60 different nations, which dock each year, at one of the busiest, and the 4th largest port, in terms of raw tonnage, in the world. In short, those who have nothing to return to.

Mayor Nagin has apparently made it clear that city officials will carefully monitor those who are returning so that no "scum" is allowed back into his city. He continued, "Now that the storm is over, we have a city without drugs and violence, and we intend to keep it that way" A local, unscathed by the hurricane has stated that "...the hurricane drove poor people and criminals out of the city, and we hope they do not come back." This resident has gone so far as to suggest that "Katrina" was a cleansing, sanitizing storm which has purged New Orleans of all except it's purest elements (read white), and that "The party is finally over for these people and now they will have to find someplace else to live in the US" Even the Times-Picayune, New Orleans major newspaper has mentioned the idea that some want a different sort of city but that will come down to a question of race and a major public debate. This should not be allowed to happen.

It is a problem, no doubt, with thousands wanting to return to their homes, albeit homes that no longer exist, or are so damaged that they have to be demolished. The most heavily damaged areas are those which were predominately African American neighborhoods, and any hope of reconstruction will take years, not months. But then perhaps Mayor Nagin need not be so cautious, or the racist so worried, about who returns to the city. Most of those surveyed at emergency shelters do not plan to return and they are mostly African American and poor. But some will return and return they should. This has been their home, probably generationally, and it is their hope to see their neighborhoods reclaimed. Whether that is at all physically possible remains to be seen. But is still their city and their home.

So, will the reconstruction of New Orleans be a major demographic one? Going from a city that was predominantly black to one that is perhaps predominantly white? If this in fact is to be it's fate, the city which was New Orleans will be as washed away as were the levees and those poor neighborhoods who's residents really represented the heart of that city. What will be the fate of French Quarter? Upscale piano bars where no more is heard the wail of the blues and cacaphony of the great jazz bands which were so identified with the city? Mardi Gras will no longer be what it truly was, the spirit of the city, without black marching bands which sprang from the poorest of black neighborhoods and lent such color and panache to the celebration.

With all his talk about specific programs for the poor, Bush has not addressed the issue of race, and a shift in the demographic from black to white may be a boon to the Republicans. This should not become a political football, but a commitment by all to see that what is necessary is done to reclaim all areas of New Orleans. It especially behooves the dominant Democratic party to make the best of every opportunity to keep this possible new demographic from happening. Every chance should be taken to create the new housing and neighborhood's for those who have suffered the most from this tragedy...those who truly have nothing left to lose. Promises have been made and they must be followed through. Promises to lessen the gap between black and white, the poor and the more well to do, by putting the billions promised into rebuilding a city where there are better schools and improved neighborhoods. It is Mayor Nagin's job, now to see that, that happens and to give New Orleans a new lease on life.

Let us hope that soon, the unofficial motto of "N'awlinz", "Laissez les bons temps, rouler", will again echo through the Crescent City.

Susan Goodwin

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Katrina Redux

Some on the left have ascribed the total failure of the Federal Government in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to racist policies of the Bush administration and to a president who is incapable of understating the plight of the poor and dispossessed. As Ann Richards once said of “W”, “he was born on third base and thought he hit a triple.”

I believe the failures go much deeper than that. The failure is a direct consequence of a political philosophy which believes that there is a very limited role for government. Consequently, we have an administration that fundamentally does not believe that the federal government has a role in helping those who can least help themselves. It’s not overt racism but has more to do with social and economic status. The mind set of this administration is every man for his or her self. If you are poor it’s your fault and you get what you deserve.

These policies of very limited role for government directly impacted the ability of Louisiana to receive federal finds to improve the levees which would have prevented the terrible flooding we saw in New Orleans. The state Louisiana had repeatedly requested assistance from Washington to reinforce and build up the levees, but those requests had been repeatedly denied. The mind set created by the political philosophy of limited government simply could not imagine that this was necessary. We now know of course that this was penny wise and pound foolish; it is going to cost billions of dollars more to fix the problem now.

In a strange way this too fits with the role of limited government for now the Bush Administration is talking about reclaiming New Orleans not with federal funds but with tax incentives for his rich friends. You will recall he called them his base,” the haves and have mores.” he called them. Based on what he has said and done, I predict a wholesale giveaway to his wealthy friends for the cleanup and rebuilding of New Orleans all done in the name of smaller government and letting private enterprise do its thing and all at the taxpayer’s expense. We already have a model of this type of reconstruction in Iraq and one can see how well that is working.

David Goldberg

Monday, September 26, 2005

Paying for Katrina ... and Rita

Advertising gurus Gerald Rafshoon and Doug Bailey, who were on opposing sides during the Jimmy Carter-Gerald Ford campaign in 1976, have come up with a pretty good alternative to financing Katrina reconstruction with taxpayer money.  They propose a 90-day moratorium on fundraising by political parties and members of Congress. That would free up more than enough money to pay for Katrina.

 

Here’s another:  Instead of closing 22 major military bases and “realigning” thirty-three others, we should keep those facilities open so that no one has to flee to anything like the New Orleans Astrodome or the Convention Center ever again.

 

Think about it: military bases have barracks and apartments, with beds, blankets, drinking water and plumbing that works. They have medical facilities with doctors and nurses, lawyers, PXs, even supermarkets. They have trucks and cars and ships and helicopters and airplanes. And, they are located all over the country, within easy reach of just about any site of a natural disaster.

 

The Base Realignment and Closing Commission (BRAC) says doing away with these assets will save the taxpayers $4.2 billion a year. But there’s another way to save that money, and a lot more: Stop the unconscionable waste at the Department of Defense.

 

So vast is the Pentagon’s waste, fraud and abuse that the government’s accountants tell us every year that the place simply cannot be audited. If Donald Rumsfeld ran Wal-Mart that way, he’d have been fired long ago.

 

Just think of it: The DOD, whose profligate and dysfunctional systems allowed it to buy toilet seats for $640 each, is now unable to account for more than a trillion—that’s trillion with a “T”—dollars  in financial transactions. That’s in addition to the dozens of tanks, missiles and planes that have simply “gone missing.”

 

Congress gave our military $10 billion for Iraq Reconstruction. A good chunk of that money has simply vanished—it’s been lost. And there is virtually no reconstruction to show for it.

 

And, in one more of a long litany of incompetence and malfeasance, the General Accountability Office (GAO) informed us recently that millions of dollars worth of new equipment was being sold as “surplus” for pennies on the dollar. That equipment included Kevlar flak jackets needed by the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, so of course the Pentagon ordered more.

 

If President Bush is looking for offsets to pay for Katrina, he shouldn’t be thinking about cutting back on Medicaid, No Child Left Behind, Social Security, and other programs that directly benefit those most devastated by Katrina.  He should take a look at the “offsets” already in the Pentagon’s appropriations—if he can find them.

 

If, by some miracle, he succeeds there where all others have failed, he should start rummaging through the pork barrel that was used to deliver the Highway and Transportation Bill to the White House for him to sign. The one with the millions earmarked for Alaska to build that bridge to nowhere.

 

William Fisher, Guest Bloggist

 

Friday, September 23, 2005

Lovely Rita, Meet Her, Wade



As we stare down the probable track of Hurricane Rita and note that her path could seriously impede the production of future essays, we note a couple of things. There is a sense of disbelief and detachment about her arrival.


We have been watching her since she was a teenager off the Atlantic coast of Florida, wondering whether she would dissipate or apply new energy to her mindless wanderings in the western hemisphere. I emphasize "mindless" lest someone has told you that Katrina and Rita are punishment for prostitution, homosexuality, poverty, being Democratic, Liberalism, or whatever along the Gulf coast. And, to be fair, Rita heading for Houston has nothing whatever to do with Barbara Bush's big, bad mouth.


We, my neighbors and I, have taken what precautions seem reasonable for a place so far inland, and we have watched a seemingly endless parade of evacuees from Houston and Galveston cruise by at $3.09 a gallon, soon to be $3.59, in the hot (98 degree) early autumn heat in Texas. But it has been hard to believe, difficult to personalize, and yet in one's bones there is this numbing fear that things could go from bad to worse in a twinkling.


I cannot help but think of the thousands of poor Black citizens of New Orleans, Biloxi, Gulfport, and hamlets in between. What they did was freeze emotionally and intellectually, and I am experiencing some of that. I watched the corners of shoppers' eyes at the large grocery store yesterday. Bottled water sold out, and there was a grimness about that fact, even this far inland. The victims of Katrina didn't believe and everything in their environment reinforced that paralysis. They stood to lose everything--which wasn't much by American standards--and they just couldn't walk away from their meager belongings to save their prematurely tired and aching bodies.


There has been a lot said and written about the thousands of dead in Katrina's wake, and probably more will be said how the hurricane hitting Texas did not have the same effect. Conclusions will be drawn, but they will miss this essential point: a disaster in the making is hard to see from the inside. Liberals should take note: George barely understands what a disaster his administration has become.


Barbara Bush put both feet in her ample mouth the other day, explaining to the press how the refugees were better off in make-shift corrals of humanity than in their own humble homes. What the hell does she know about these people anyway! Does she have such an Olympian view of things that she can "let them eat cake" whenever she pleases? Of course not, but we know more about George this week thanks to her. But the kicker today was a letter received from Australia.


The internet is a marvelous human creation and you can bet that hot news moves around the world net with incredible speed. The message from Melbourne was complete with good wishes for the victims of Katrina, but attached was a letter purportedly written by Richard L. Johnston, M.D. of Jackson, Mississippi in which the author wrote about the arrogance and rudeness of the evacuees, the refugees. In paragraph after paragraph the author despised the Blacks, libeled the Blacks, disparaged the Blacks, and claimed his volunteer medical services were not appreciated by these "horrible" people.


We noticed that there were some peculiar spellings and odd English grammar in the hate letter, so we we checked on Google and soon learned that others had wondered too. It turns out there is a Richard L. Johnston, M.D. but he did not write the letter. Some jerk picked up his name and attached it to his own screed and sent it along to the world to stoke the coals of racism, to provoke the anger of people who are normally too believing or too lazy to check out their facts, to deepen the fissure that already exists in the American society. Why? Because some people are basically bad, that's why. Maybe they were abused as children, maybe not. They are just bad people ... not worth the trouble to discuss.


In times of turmoil and disaster, it is always a good idea to remember that rumor is usually full of the full spectrum of human frailty and corruption. Use Urban Legends and Hoax Busters to check out suspicious news and assertions. Use Google, too. Bookmark these sites and use them often. When you do find a hoax or a deliberate falsehood, send the evidence to everyone who received it with you.


James Richard Brett

Thursday, September 22, 2005

You Need More Than Duct Tape, George!

The speech President George W. Bush delivered in New Orleans last Thursday had the phony ring of a second-term president driven by a single goal: to rebuild what is left of his tattered legacy.

The president still contends he is a "compassionate conservative," yet conservatives in his own will find little joy in his huge spending proposals for rebuilding the Gulf Coast. In that sense, his speech could just as well have been made by Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson. No legacy there.

Maybe the "compassionate" part will be about race, which he mentioned briefly as the fault of slavery. But for five years the Bush Administration has contorted itself to avoid even using the word. Save for his efforts to bring more African Americans into the Republican Party, the President has none nothing -- zero, zippo – to stimulate an urgently needed national conversation about race. No legacy there.

Or maybe it was about poverty, another toxic word in the Bush lexicon. Tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans were going to stimulate economic growth and the trickle-down jobs were going to make the poorest of us less poor. Yet the statistics show us that during a time when the rich got richer, jobs for the poor disappeared and more people got poor and the poor got even poorer. More people in America live below the poverty line now than on the day Mr. Bush took office. Yet the president uttered not a single word about rolling back any of these tax cuts. No legacy there either.

Health care, too, got a passing nod in the president’s speech. He is going to bring health insurance to the people of the Gulf Coast while millions more Americans have none. The Administration has ignored Medicaid, the only vehicle available to provide health care for the poor, and used his bully pulpit to hawk private accounts as Social Security’s contribution to his "ownership society." The president’s proposals were roundly rejected by the people, and he is now in the process of reducing critical funding for Medicaid. No legacy there.

After 9/11, the President correctly took on the Taliban and Al Queda in Afghanistan. But then he diverted resources from there to Iraq to wage a "war of choice" – on the cheap – without enough troops, without any meaningful post-conflict planning, and on shamefully spurious grounds that kept shifting like sand castles. The result has been an Afghanistan now famous as the world’s leading supplier of opium and an Iraq that is drowning in the blood of its own people and ours. No legacy there.

In his defining bullhorn moment, standing with a firefighter atop the wreckage of the World Trade Center, the president promised to make the nation safer from terrorists. The jury is still out on that pledge.

But as for making us safer from natural terror, the jury’s verdict came two weeks ago. The unimaginably huge and bureaucratic caricature called the Department of Homeland Security was headed by a smart guy with no national security experience whatever, grossly under-funded, disorganized, and populated with political operatives who helped the president prevail in the 2004 election. Its dysfunctionality has been documented in report after report. Four years after 9/11, the radios used by first responders along the entire Gulf Coast still didn’t work.

But the bottom line for the DHS is that it ignored all credible warnings of an impending disaster until it was far too late. Did someone forget to tell the president? Or was he told and decided to take no action? Maybe we’ll never know.

Mr. Bush has been called our "MBA President." All MBAs are taught the art of delegation. But they are also supposed to be taught the two accompanying principles of delegation: Hire the best and the brightest as your managers and monitor their performance or, as Ronald Reagan famously said, “Trust but verify.”

Mr. Bush has been long on trust and virtually absent on monitoring and verification. To be realistic, the president cannot be expected to monitor our huge government – no one person could, MBA or not. But is it not now reasonable to question the competence, independence and imagination of those he hired to advise him? We know they are superb at spin; but are they any good at anything else? Like having the courage to warn the president that Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on the Gulf Coast -- and on his presidency!

Mr. Bush was right to accept responsibility for the government’s response to Katrina, but his admission of any mistake is being hailed by his supporters as some kind of epiphany. The truth is that, beyond getting "Brownie" to fall on his sword, the president ran out of people to blame. A robust response is his job.

Many in the TV punditocracy are now calling Katrina Mr. Bush’s "second bullhorn moment." Dick Morris, political guru, went so far as so say on television last night that Katrina was a blessing in disguise for giving him an opportunity to save his second term.

This is a wildly absurd assertion. The reason is that fewer and fewer people in this country now believe that Mr. Bush can actually deliver. To do so, he will need to cajole Congress to fund his grandiose promises. And Congress is acutely aware of the political price they could pay in 2006 by further mortgaging our great-grandchildren with an even larger deficit.

All the polling data suggests this is not going to happen. In short, the president has lost his credibility. Which makes him not merely a lame duck second-termer, but a paraplegic.

William Fisher, Guest Bloggist

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Responsibility

Why is it that if someone mentions the mistakes we, as a nation, have made, either deliberately or accidentally, they are told they are, unpatriotic, bleeding heart liberals who are blaming America first? Is the truth so hard to swallow, or responsibility for one's actions so abhorrent that we cringe at truthfulness? And who should we blame for the debacle that is New Orleans if not ourselves? Our true face has been shown to the world and for those of you who would say you do not care what others think of us, shame on you.

For almost 5 years we have had a President who has refused to take blame for any of his myriad mistakes, and now, suddenly, when it seems what is left of his political life is at stake, he has decided to toughen up and admit that the "buck stops" at his door. Apparently this "screw up" on his watch was too glaringly obvious for him to duck, and once Michael Brown was used up as a scapegoat there was no one else in sight. It was George W. Bush who made FEMA a part of Homeland Security and given the reaction time and the ability of that or any agency to respond to the tragedy in New Orleans, I am not feeling too very secure.

One of those old saws we have heard, most of our lives, has been that Charity begins at home, and in the crush of a national disaster, we all pull together and charity is at the forefront. Why is it that it takes such an event for us to decide to be charitable? Surely it is a hard core fact of Christianity that we are taught to treat others as we would wish to be treated, and to do good unto others. If we pride ourselves so on being a Christian nation why is it that we do not practice what we preach?

Perhaps we can only get that warm fuzzy feeling if we do not actually have to deal with poverty, or hunger or homelessness. We can sit in our warm dry living rooms, jot down the 800 number to the Christian Children's Fund, or Tsunami relief or any of a million other charitable organizations, and feel smugly good about ourselves, without actually having to be involved, until it is forced upon us in our own backyards. We deal admirably with the poor when they are viewed from a distance and we have salved our consciences with our checkbook.

But now, through an act of nature, we are forced to view, in our own backyard, the poverty and the sub standard living conditions that go hand in hand with it, and exist in every city in this country. Detroit will never see a hurricane, nor will Boston, nor will Los Angeles. No, it has taken riots to open the eyes of the citizens of those cities. Did that change anything? Not particularly. When the troops and riot police have dispersed and calm is once the order of the day, the kettle is pushed to the back of the stove and there it simmers until it once again reaches the boiling point. Will things change in New Orleans once all of this "ugly business" has gone away? I doubt it, especially in light of the fact that some are already talking about being ready for Mardi Gras next February. Even for the sake of normalcy this hardly seems as though it should be a priority.

But, what about being ready with new schools, better housing, and a decent lifestyle for those returning? Louisiana ranks 47th in education overall, with the fewest number of teachers being certified. The housing, so recently devastated by Katrina, was in those areas where none would live except those with no other choice. Poverty is cyclical and affects whites as well as blacks, although the blacks are disproportionately accused of abusing the welfare system. The right, thanks to Ronald Reagan, has planted the seeds, in many minds, of the "welfare queen and her Cadillac". Where are the training programs, the educational system, some form of decent employment which would make the welfare system obsolete or at best a transitional program? Why are programs like Job Corps not touted more. Surely this program is just what is needed now.

It is not just the basic structures of New Orleans or the levees which need rebuilding. We need to start rebuilding the self esteem of a great number of our citizens, those other Americans whose faces we fail to see until we are forced to. And then, there are those who have to ask themselves if they are truly dedicated to making life here, for all citizens, one of equality. For they are hard choices. It means truly leaving no child behind, making training programs available to all, not allowing the truly wealthy in this country to live off the backs of others. It means putting people to work, finding ways to solve our energy problems, our environmental issues, those things which cannot be out sourced and which do not make millions for the smallest percentage of our population. These things will not happen under the current administration, for although he seems to have taken on the mantle of responsibility, it is but one more smoke screen for our President.

Even as we speak, another storm of horrendous proportions is breathing down the neck of the gulf Coast, and unless things change drastically within the next several hours, yet more damage and misery will be the order of the day. Where will help come from this time? We have to an must be better prepared for these catastrophes as they will also always be with us.

Susan Goodwin

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Who Hates America?

Once again the anti-Americans in this country are saying that everything that goes wrong is America’s fault. They continue to blame America for the ills that befall our country. Their invective and hatred boiling just below the surface like a broth of putrid puss.

Who are these people and why do they hate America? I am speaking about conservatives.

Seeing the misery caused by Hurricane Katrina some on the right said we deserved it because we are an unholy nation and God hates us. Pat Robertson noting that we have killed 40 million unborn babies, consulted Leviticus and asked, “But we have found we are unable somehow to defend ourselves against some of the attacks that are coming against us, either by terrorists or now by natural disasters? Could they be connected in someway? Pat, among others on the right you will recall, called 9-11 God’s punishment for us allowing abortion and homosexuality.

That noted Republican and ex-con, Chuck Colson, said, “God allowed Katrina to get our attention.” Hal Lindsay of the Trinity Broadcasting Network claimed that the breaking of the levees was final judgment for America. “It seems clear that the prophetic times I have been expecting for decades have finally arrived,” he said. “And even worse, it appears that the judgment of America has begun. I warn continually that the last days lineup of world powers does not include anything resembling the United States of America.”

For years, conservatives have been telling us that America is an immoral and depraved society and like the biblical Sodom will be washed away in a modern version of the Great Flood.

According to the conservatives, hatred for America is supposed to be the province of the left. Time after time we liberals have been accused of hating America or of at least offering aid and comfort to the enemy should we have the gall to criticize Bush or his policies. Oliver North said of John Kerry’s criticism of the Iraq war,” It’s not anti-war, it’s anti-American.” Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto said United State’s senators who criticize Bush’s handling or the Iraq war are engaging in ”anti-American propaganda.” And my favorite, Rush Limbaugh said, “Democrats, they hate this country.”

I think ilk like Robertson, Falwell and Limbaugh are the anti-Americans. We liberals only criticize the American government not the nation itself. I think it is very American and very patriotic to criticize the government. Conservatives direct most of their contempt at American society. Our values are debased, our behavior sinful and because of these behaviors God has the US in his wrathful sights. Who hates America- those who see terrorist attacks and natural disasters made worse by incompetent and self-centered officials, or the people who see those things and say we get what we deserve: God’s punishment?

We liberals should stop trying to defend ourselves from specious attacks on our patriotism by the right and go on the offensive by calling them what they in fact are: un-American and un-patriotic. It is un-patriotic to send our troops into combat with poor or no armor, it is anti-American to turn FEMA into a dumping ground for incompetent political hacks and risk the safety and security of our cities. We love this country and we criticize it only when we know we can do better, only to make our United States of America live up to the hopes and dreams of the millions who live here and the millions who would like to.

David Goldberg

Monday, September 19, 2005

Our Bodies, Our Earth

Red, Blue, black, white, brown, yellow, we all hold in common one thing: The Earth is not only our home, it is the source of our life. Our very bodies are created from the combination of food, water and air in this physical dimension. If any one of these elements are polluted or diminished, our lives are in danger. Therefore, one issue that affects us all is the health of the Earth.

New evidence continues to come from the study of the Arctic that global warming is changing the balance of earth's primary systems. It is not some far away situation that we can ignore! Life on earth as we know it now is in jeopardy. Flora and fauna closest to the Arctic are showing the detrimental effects of the changes right now, spreading more quickly than we thought. The seas are warming, currents are changing affecting weather patterns. Scientists warn that this will result in more severe storms, drought in some locations and diminished food chains in the deep oceans. Some scientists actually fear that we have gone beyond the "tipping point" to alter this catastrophic change.

The earth is a net of life. We are to the earth as the cells of our bodies are to us. The whole system is impacted by imbalance in any part. If you had gangrene in your foot, would you choose to ignore it because it is so far away from your head? No, because you know that eventually that condition would spread to all your body and finally kill it.

My point here is that though we have many secondary issues that we may disagree on and need to find consensus on, this is an issue that demands all of our co-operation and united efforts now!

We need to create a realistic plan to do our best to change the things we are doing that are contributing to Earth's unhealthy condition.

Right now many laws put in place to provide environmental protection of our air, water and earth, are being repealed or ignored in favor of business. They don't wish to pay for the systems to treat the pollution they create. They are choosing profit over life. I wonder what planet they plan to live on when they have destroyed this one?

War is not only a destroyer of humans with bombs and weapons, it also poisons the earth with radioactive materials, ruins water systems and kills agriculture. It uses vast amounts of oil which add to the fouling of the air. War is a primitive and brute reaction to problems and we need to evolve past using it.

As individuals we can all take part to make a difference. We can car pool or use public transportation to cut down on our use of fossil fuels. We can demand cars that are gas efficient and use hybrid fuels. Vehicles like the Hummer which get 8 miles to the gallon, should be shunned and certainly tax credits for buying one should be removed. Companies that pollute could be boycotted and we should insist that they be made to correct their activities.

Some of the worst pollutants affecting earth and water are farmers and homeowners who use chemical fertilizers and pesticides. As homeowners, we can use natural products to improve our lawns and gardens and as consumers we can insist on food grown with natural organic methods. If each family did their best to conserve and treat the earth with care, it would make a huge difference.

Lawmakers who support programs and laws counter to our well being should be removed from office.

Look out upon the vast sky at night. Realize that in this huge system we are just a tiny planet flying through space with only each other to keep us company and only the Earth as our source of life. Consider the magnificence of life on this planet, it's diversity, its beauty, it's perfection down to the smallest part. We are only here for a short time. In the Big Picture, this is not ours to "dominate" or "own" but to treat with respect and conserve for the coming generations. Earth is a garden, it offers without payment its bounty to us all to sustain life. We need to return this gift with care.

Sue Dyer

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Handwriting on the Wall


In the Old Testament in the Book of Daniel there is a story of a King of Babylon, named Belshazzar, son of King Nebuchadnezzar, who while holding a banquet for the nobles of his court using the goblets and chalices taken from the great temple in Jerusalem suddenly observed the fingers of a human hand writing on the palace wall. The king turned pale and his knees knocked together, as you might expect of someone already guilty for desecrating the artifacts of another people's religion, especially one inspiring such worshipful loyalty during the Babylonian Captivity of the Jews!


The words written on the plaster wall were: "Mene Mene Tekel Uparsin," common enough Aramaic words, but they did not form a sentence and to the king they were code for something, perhaps something dire. So, the king called for his wise men, but they were dumbfounded. There was a Jew in Babylon, Daniel, who had been a key interpreter of dreams to Nebuchadnezzar at the time Shadrakh, Meshak, and Abednego were committed to the flames, (but emerged unscathed), you will recall. The king's wife luckily remembered this tale, and was responsible for Daniel being recalled to the palace for his wisdom. (Cherché la femme!)


Daniel, understanding that the king had never humbled himself before Jehovah, and obviously in possession of intelligence about an approaching army, decided to interpret the words to mean, "God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end," "You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting," and "Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and the Persians" — all from the four cryptic words! And, of course, in this story it became so. That very night the king was slain and Darius the Mede (or perhaps it was Cyrus the Persian) took over Babylon the very next day. Ever since we have been attentive to the handwriting on the wall!


(There is, of course, some controversy about the Biblical rendition of these events and, for literalists, the inconsistencies with other histories compromise the notion of Biblical "inerrancy" ... but that's another essay.)


I have chosen this story from the Old Testament not because of its slightly faulty and errant history, but because it adequately describes what "handwriting on the wall" is. It is the plain truth writ by persons unknown and unseen large enough that, by tradition, all can see, but the king cannot be sure he understands, for he is subject to fits of guilty anger and paranoia. For the king something has to take place to be understood.


Well, the event has taken place; it was Katrina, the lifter of veils and the peeler of scales from eyes, the perfect storm that laid bare the twitching seizured incompetence of the Bush government.


As you by now know, George has more or less taken responsibility for the problems of the federal response to Katrina. Accepting "the buck" after so many deaths that could have been prevented is a futile and arrogant gesture, a cynical death-bed conversion. He should not hope with this tiny act of contrition to avoid a complete and independent investigation. In an age of terrorism our safety is at stake and we need to know what to fix and why.


But, the full meaning of the slovenly and inept federal response to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, like that of the Babylonian graffiti, is that the reign of George W. Bush is essentially over.


I am not calling for him to be slain or for the descendants of the Medes and Persians to take over our government. I am simply saying that the handwriting is on the wall! One columnist after another is writing about the end days of the George W. Bush administration. Pundits and wise men, conservative and liberal alike, are saying (at last) that the emperor has no clothes.


There will be various commentators who try to interpret the response to Katrina differently, but they will be ignored. The facts are there for everyone to see, the handwriting IS on the wall! The response was horrifyingly inept and, it is very reasonable to say, the ineptitude of the response was deliberate!


Bush and his company of fools have been destroying government agencies since before 9/11. The FDA is a shambles, FEMA is an unholy mess, the Supreme Court will soon be a reactionary citadel in the middle of modern America, EPA is hopeless, and BLM is an agency of timber interests. In agency after agency the Bush rule is to contract with friends, privatize the service, and reduce, nay, pillage government. This is the government of the party that declared its purpose to reduce government over the next twenty-five years to the size that it can be then be "... drowned in the bathtub." It is the party of nihilism and destruction, the party of madness, yet arrogance.


Bush and the neocons, the "starve the beast" Republicans, have destroyed our vital services in their mad and reckless onslaught against "big government." Clearly, with FEMA and DHS in such disarray we are all but helpless in the face of terrorism. George has done his worst. He has wasted our ground forces in a fabricated war; he has not yet found the demonic Bin Laden; he has not made the world one bit safer for democracy, for liberty, for justice, for our families and friends! He has trashed our hopes and spurred our fears. In actual fact, the policies of this Bush government have stimulated the recruitment of terrorists from all across the planet, and we will reap the whirlwind of their angry insanity. But, must we endure Bush for 39 more months?


Yes. We must endure, but we need not immolate ourselves on the embers of the Bush regime. In thirteen months we can change the Congress and throw out the nihilists and pillagers. In fifteen months we can seriously consider impeachment of both Bush and Cheney. By then the list of high crimes, misdemeanors, and treason will be a flood the likes of which only New Orleans has seen.


In the meantime, though, we must remain vigilant and permit Bush nothing of consequence. The way to do this is to insist on the independent investigation of the federal response to Katrina and clamor for open and full hearings. Write or call your Representatives and Senators today. Send them email, but do it, the fate of our country and ourselves hangs in the balance! George must be "grounded" like the naughty boy he really (still) is.


Uh, what's that George?


George W. Bush, President of the United States of America

 


Right back at ya, boy, right back at ya!


James Richard Brett

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Competency

Just when you think the current administration in Washington has reached it's highest level of incompetence, along comes a man like Michael Brown to prove you wrong. Now, do not get me wrong, I am not naive enough to think most Presidential appointments are based on one's competence in a particular area, although some most definitely are. However, if one is singularly unqualified for a position in this administration then they are a shoe in.

First and foremost is this administration's decision to cut the legs out from under FEMA and make it a part of Homeland Security. To become part of the umbrella agency of Homeland Security in and of itself might not have been such an unwise move if the agency had it's autonomy. But, to have had an agency, which was at one time a cabinet position, demoted to but one part of the behomoth that is the Homeland Security was pure folly.

Political appointments to government positions is, as I said, nothing new. However, generally those who are tapped for an appointment have had some modicum of experience in the area in which they will be serving. Not so with FEMA, where 5 out of the 8 top positions are filled by nothing but political hacks. Starting with Michael Brown, whose only claim to fame seems to have been the MIS- management of The American Arabian Horse Association (a position he was asked to resign) to Patrick Rhode the Chief of Staff, a former Television reporter and Brooks Altshuler, the Deputy Chief of Staff. who was a presidential advance man. The other two, David Maurstad, Nebraska's former Lt. Governor and Daniel Craig, a political fundraiser coordinator, and a member of the US Chamber of Commerce, hardly bring any emergency management expertise to their positions. These are the men that Bush had entrusted with our safety. On the job training it seems is the order of the day.

During the first hours of hurricane alert, when it was blatantly obvious that the Gulf Coast states of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana would bear the brunt of Katrina, FEMA should, and normally would have been, poised to help with the evacuation of those states citizens. And, in light of the lack of sufficient National Guard troops in each state, FEMA's presence should have been all the more visible, a trust that, that government agency would perform the duties which it was created to do.

We have come to expect a level of competence and preparedness from our government, and yet, until there is a crisis of these proportions, we realize how misguided has been our trust. To expect that there will be competent people in charge should not be a cause for concern.

Now, it seems, t he reigning incompetents have sought a way to try and take the onus off of themselves and place blame on state and local authorities. However, it was on August 26th that Governor Kathleen Blanco, of Louisiana, declared a state of emergency when Katrina was only a Category 2 hurricane, and the other Gulf states asked for help from the Pentagon as well. When Katrina was upgraded to a Category 3, she then requested a Federal State of Emergency be issued, and Bush granted her request. With the Federal State of Emergency now in place, FEMA had the green light to mobilize and assess what needed to be done. And, In light of the lack of sufficient National Guard troops in each state, FEMA's presence should have been all the more visible

Ah, but then government is not as it should be these days. The Bush administration and the Republican controlled Congress, have slashed and burned their way through most of the programs which were set up to provide help so that situations such as these, the breaching of levees and the overflow of rivers and lakes, are less of a threat. Bush, in one of his more outlandish statements last week, said he did not think anyone anticipated that the levees would be breached. In point of fact, it was well known that a storm of this magnitude, or perhaps even one of lesser fury would wreak havoc in New Orleans. It was not a question of if it was a question of when.

Five years ago, a report about the flooding of New Orleans, and it's ultimate destruction, was the subject of a Time article. It outlined a Category 5 hurricane blowing out of the Gulf which in turn would cause Lake Pontchatrain to overflow, cut off escape routes and turn the waters into a toxic soup. And, 5 years ago, the same stumbling block to prevention was the price tag for safety, which was estimated to be perhaps as high as $14 billion.

The question now is, do we rebuild New Orleans, having seen first hand what can happen? If other countries have managed to deal successfully with these same sorts of below sea level safety issues then certainly we should be able to.

Provided we let someone competent run the show.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Tip of the Iceberg

In a recent column Paul Krugman asks if the inept response of FEMA to Hurricane Katrina is unique or symbolic of the decline of government agencies across the board under the Bush administration. Unfortunately, for our country it is the norm rather than the exception. In agency after agency the ranks of senior officials have been filled with unqualified political hacks and cronies while experienced professionals have quit in frustration and anger. Here are but a few examples of the decline of key agencies under this administration.

Let’s start with Homeland Security. Since 2004 there has been a steady exodus of counterterrorism officials who believed that the war in Iraq was taking precedence over the real terrorist threat. If you remember Bush’s first choice for the director’s position was Bernard Kerik, a crony of Rudy Giuliani, who would have been appointed if the Press had not turned up serious problems in his background. Somehow the FBI had missed these problems just as it had missed them in Michael Brown’s resume. Brown it turned out had either falsified or greatly exaggerated his qualifications. The creation of the Homeland Security Department was supposed to be the crowning achievement of this administration in reorganizing government agencies to counter the terrorist threat.

Then there is the Treasury Department which is headed by John Snow whose principal qualification seems to be is his loyalty rather than his expertise. Meanwhile, many of the most experienced staff members have left since 2000 and a number of key positions either remain unfilled or filled only on an acting basis. Former senior Treasury officials have complained that that this administration has no economic policy so the best and the brightest have left.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which by the way has a key role in cleaning up the deadly aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, has been decimated under Bush. The budget has been cut and key positions in EPA have been occupied by inept political hacks while experienced senior officials have quit in protest over the administration’s refusal to enforce environmental regulations and law. One senior official in an article published in the British newspaper the Independent, has warned of an environmental cover up in progress. Not so far fetched when you consider what happened after 9-11 when the EPA assured New Yorkers that there was no toxic materials from the fall out from the destruction of the Twin Towers only too find out they had been lied to.

Finally, we have the FDA which under Bush has been called a tool for Big Pharma. The agency’s top official in charge of woman’s health issues quit recently over the delay in approving Plan B, the morning after pill accusing the agency’s head of putting politics ahead of science. A panel of top scientists and doctors had overwhelmingly approved the over the counter sale of the pill to the public, but the Bush administration bowed to pressure from the irreligious right who had opposed the pill claiming it was similar to an abortion.

Perhaps it should not surprise one since that this has happened since the administration is riddled with idealogs who want to starve the beast and consider that the role of the Federal Government should be minimal at best. But Katrina should be a wakeup call to all citizens of these United States that the government has responsibility to all citizens rich or poor and there are many areas which the government can and must play a key role.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Floodgate

A category 5 hurricane was rumbling across the Caribbean and the government swung into action. Radio and TV stations broadcast reports of the impending storm. Meteorologists informed the population of the possible devastation it could bring. The leader of the country also spoke telling his people that evacuations for those in the path of the storm were underway.

Busses, trucks and military vehicles moved in before the bad weather struck moving people as well as their valuables to high ground. Animals were also moved and veterinarians were on hand to take care of them. The people were moved to shelters prepared with food water and medical care. In all 1.5 million people were evacuated and though 20,000 homes were destroyed, not a single life was lost.

Does the above sound like an impossible scenario? Well, it actually happened in 2004 when hurricane Ivan hit Cuba. This is what it looks like when there is a government in place that makes the safety of it's people a priority.

We, here in the U.S. have been told for years that Big Government is a Bad thing. What that has meant in real terms is that tax money goes for an inflated defense department (over half of our budget, now close to $500 billion) so we can stockpile over 10,000 nuclear warheads, but not for social programs such as stockpiling food and water and making sure our infrastructure is the best it can be.

The Federal government bails out corporate (profit making) businesses on a regular basis but has little or no money for a national health plan, schools, a national transportation system or levees for New Orleans.

Under the Republican administrations of Regan and Bush, who keep crying for the elimination of Big Government, our national debt has increased while the services to the society have decreased. Our national parks, have been privatized, our national resources such as timber, mineral rights and land have been sold or leased at rock bottom prices to corporate interests and our environment has been polluted as environmental safeguards have been removed from governmental control and turned over to be monitored by the very companies who actively pollute! Even FEMA had paid a private company to come up with emergency hurricane relief plans for Louisiana.

Government Research and development has resulted in medical discoveries which are then patented by private companies who keep the profits. Our tax dollars are used to subsidize private companies and to send our military off to destroy other countries to secure more resources for private investors while the needs of our society are left to decline.

The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina has been made worse due to Incompetence and Corruption at the highest levels in our government. Corruption allowed inept, inexperienced 'cronies' of the President to take positions in FEMA and Homeland Security.

Corruption allowed the draining and development of the wetlands along the coast which act to reduce storm surge. Corruption and Incompetence allowed New Orleans without protection of the levees when the funding was cut to finance the Iraq war.

Corruption and Incompetence were part of the equation in the increased global warming which has led to the warming of the sea water which fueled the storm. Scientists tell us that we should expect more ravaging storms because of this phenomena.

If ever a government should be held accountable, it is now. We need our own blue ribbon investigation away from the spin cycle of Washington. We need a panel of scientists, experts, and humanitarians to examine what went wrong, recommend criminal prosecution for those in government who have violated their oath of office and begin a process of debate to reshape government to serve it's people.

Friday, September 09, 2005

New Orleans


There was an article published on September 2, 2005 in the so-called Intellectual Activist website by a fellow named Robert Tracinski, himself not a certifiable intellectual, but nevertheless a person devoted to the furthering of the ultra-conservative (libertarianism on steroids) point of view of Ayn Rand (Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum), the author of Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, and other fascinating science fiction stories of delusional, impossibly self-reliant individuals.


The title of Mr. Tracinski's piece is "An Unnatural Disaster: A Hurricane Exposes the Man-Made Disaster of the Welfare State". It stands first among many to follow, no doubt, of rants against the poor (Black) people of New Orleans ... and anywhere else that poor congregate to live a humble existence.


Tracinski's piece is a jumble of various time-worn fictions and bald assertions, and is ultimately self-contradictory. He points out, for instance, that jails were emptied in the hours before the flood and that there was massive looting, rapine, pillage, and all manner of uncivilized behavior throughout New Orleans. (In actual fact there was not widespread violence! There was looting, to be sure, mostly—but not exclusively—for food. The national and international press is pretty clear about this now.) But Tracinski's conclusion deliberately conflates the activities of a few bonafide jailbirds with the tens of thousands of poor Blacks who, for reasons I will detail below, did not evacuate New Orleans when politely asked to by the Mayor.


Tracinski clearly believes that there is little difference between a jailbird and a poor person; after all, both are a blight on society, both have failed to reach the middle class where virtue is its own reward. The fact is Tracinski deliberately mixed up the two groups because, one, he wanted to attribute the behavior of the thugs to the general population, and two, his conviction is that poor people are less self-reliant and therefore less valuable than rich people, that poor people are too heavy, a drag on society, that poor people are not quite the same as his better-off brothers and sisters. He does want any responsibility for their well being or opportunities. I suspect he just wants them to go away!


In fact Tracinski believes that public welfare is immoral because it helps the poor to procreate and create more poor people, that government programs to keep innocent children properly fed, clothed, and sheltered are abused by these very children's parents to support themselves in squalid splendor, because they just don't have any initiative, any backbone, any morals, or any dignity. Ultimately this is a racist argument and unworthy of even the likes of Tracinski. After all, does anyone really believe the poor like living in tenements and slums and stay there just so they can abuse the welfare system? Tracinski and all of those who believe this ugly myth are sadly and self-righteously mistaken.


Yes, there really are welfare cheats and indigent poor. Yes, there are corporate cheats and the purposeless, effete rich. Yes, there are hard working middle class taxpayer cheats. Yes, people of all stations in life drive way over the speed limit and, in fact, the world is not as we would construct it ourselves to meet our own puerile illusions of cleanliness, rectitude, normalcy, or any other glittering ideal. But, believe it or not, welfare cheating is not Tracinski's real problem.


Welfare cheating was never as widespread (or as profitable as the industry that grew up spreading stories about it). It simply is not the case that many poor persons cheat the welfare office, nor, by the way, is it true that many corporate CFOs cheat the securities and exchange commission, or that many middle class homeowners cheat the IRS on their taxes (although I would guess that the middle class has the larger number and higher percentage of cheats). In any case it is a very small percentage of the group that stimulate the stories that create these illusions of wide-spread frauds. The problem is not the cheaters; for Tracinski it is the politics of federal welfare that really is in question.


Tracinski and his crowd do not believe it is a good idea to make citizens "clients" of federal programs. They believe that these "clients" will become beholden to the government and any political party that promises them continuation of benefits. Tracinski and Co. are afraid of a Big Brother State where millions of people are mindless constituents of a dole system that contains no incentives to break the pattern of poverty. Well, these critics know their own souls; perhaps that is why they fear government. But they know nothing of the politics of welfare. And how convenient it is that Tracinski and his readers have forgotten the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 passed by a Republican Congress and signed by a Democratic President. For a decade (that's twice as long as anyone can receive welfare payments) there have been no lifetime welfare checks. There is no dole system in the United States. The richest country in the world decided in the 1960's that no child should go hungry, unclothed, or unsheltered. Yet, folks, huge numbers of children still do.


It should not go unnoticed, by the way, when Republicans are in office (Nixon 6, Ford 2, Reagan 8, Bush 4, Bush 5 ... a quarter century's worth so far) they do everything they can to realize the worst from the system; they treat welfare recipients with disdain, trumpet horrifying (but fictional) stories about abuses on Fox TV, and turn the occasional case of out-and-out welfare fraud into generalizations about rampant fraud. Barbara Bush's comments this week are emblematic of Republican arrogance and indifference. Well, despite this and given the Republican record of stewardship welfare fraud is rare, but, believe me, it is not as rare as the humanitarian impulse among some people in this country.


Folks like Tracinski thrive in times when the average standard of living is inexorably ebbing, when hardworking and moderately successful middle-class families discover that their jobs have been exported to India or Central America and they have to learn how to make fries at McDonald's for a while. People in personal, economic, and cultural retreat, (but not yet reduced to grinding poverty,) are less willing to be charitable than people who see slow-but-steady improvement in conditions for themselves and their children. This, beyond any doubt, is the nature of social program politics in America today. The squeeze is on the middle class, and the middle class does not like it one bit!


It is the sad story of a people who put their trust in corporations and had their faces slapped when Progress did not turn out to be our most important product and that better living through chemistry killed 10,000 people in Bhopal, India, and polluted Love Canal in Niagara Falls. All the slogans of idealism they embraced and all the hopes for careers working for good companies turned out to be a mirage, a momentary flashes of public relations, corporate policies reversed because of their unprofitability.


Most of the people of New Orleans got out when they could, if they could. Hundreds of thousands of people left and have bedded down in neighboring cities and states. Southwest Airlines, bless their hearts, took people onto their planes in droves so that they could escape the rising waters. But, many people were slow off the mark because either they could not imagine a losing what little they have to a flood, because they did not hear or understand the news broadcasts, and principally because neighborhood leaders, ward leaders, and other municiple leaders—not just the Mayor and Governor—did not make the point clearly, and (duh!) no one provided massive means of conveyance for these people, the overwhelming majority of whom did not own a car or truck.


If you have ever been in a disaster situation, you know that your attention is drawn to the immediate, the howling of the wind, the persistent rain, the awful noises, the looks on faces. Personal assurance and confidence is volatile and quickly evaporates as the situation becomes visibly hostile. If you are poor and under-educated, perhaps not even the smartest person in your class at school, the situation becomes frightening and paralysis sets in. You aren't about to drag two or three kids out of the house and down the block, let alone hike fifty or a hundred miles out of harm's way. No, you stay where there are visible signs of comfort and stability, though these may be in peril.


America is a nation predominantly Christian in faith, but of apparently superficial morality. The story of the good Samaritan should have thoroughly permeated private and public life, but instead there is a party of people, a school of conservative thought, that says that the federal government just because it is central and powerful should NOT play the Good Samaritan. The Conservative's fear that the federal government will become too intrusive all too easily trumps charity and brotherhood. There is something wrong in the conservative soul! Such fear is fed by distrust of democracy!


Liberals, on the other hand, remembering the principles upon which the nation was founded, believe that We The People inherently control the federal government. Liberals still believe in America and its democratic form of government. They stay eternally vigilant against hubris and the power that easily corrupts. They see social and economic justice programs as the necessary counterpart to corporate welfare and the mentality of limited liability and limited responsibility that comes with corporatism.


Conservatives end up being rigidly unSamaritan and shamefully selfish! Liberals end up getting called "bleeding heart" and "do-gooder" and even "communist" by the very people who understand charity least. You tell me which side performs the greater service to their community and world. Which is the more civilized?! Your first clue is that neither Ayn Rand nor her adoring epigones understand the first thing about altruism or Christian charity, ... but you should!


Epilogue


James Richard Brett

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Aftermath

What else of any consequence is there to write about this week besides Hurricane Katrina and the devastation and heartbreak she has caused? Everything, and anything else, that passes for news seems inconsequential and hollow. My reaction to the news that Saddam Hussein's trial may start next month was a "so what?" Should there or would there be any need for a trial of this foreign dictator when the real villain, George Walker Bush, the architect of the war which led to Saddam's ouster, is still at large and capable of wreaking more havoc than that caused by Katrina?

As several editorialists have pointed out, this most recent of tragedies has served to open the eyes of even the most jaded of Americans to the discrepancies of the haves and have nots. Living paycheck to paycheck, unable to afford health insurance, life insurance, adequate homeowner insurance has been glaringly laid bare in the aftermath of this most horrendous of natural disasters. People, like a 92 year old woman, clinging desperately to the shreds of her life, continuing to refuse to leave all that she has left, the remnants of her home, show us just how little many actually have. And still, this serves as just one more political football for the gang of four in D.C. An opportunity to try and lay blame at the feet of those in charge of the cities hardest hit, and, unfortunately they have managed to politicize this as they have everything else.

This last was made ever so clear to me this week when a friend kept repeating that the Mayor of New Orleans didn't have a plan. That the levees had been built to only withstand a Category 3 storm. That it was NOT the responsibility of the Federal Government to make sure that all were evacuated safely, or that all precautions that should have been taken were. Obviously I was not in agreement and what not only saddened me about his argument, but angered me as well, was his continuing support for a President who sees no need to be a leader. A man who cannot cut his vacation short to return to the nation's capital and oversee and direct the government's role during this crisis, where hundreds of thousands are suffering. Yet he saw fit to cut another vacation short in order to try and subvert a brain dead woman's right to die. It is painfully clear that George Bush does not know how to prioritize. Nor, does he care. His one photo/press op was given over to the head shaking, hand-wringing announcement that Senator Trent Lott has "lost everything you know".

Do those thousands who do not have Senator Lott's resources care? Are they waiting with bated breath to see the news coverage of Bush rocking again on Senator's Lott's piazza, as he stated he was looking forward to doing, when all this is behind us? There are thousands who will consider themselves lucky if they are able to reclaim any part of what used to be their lives and their property. After all, FEMA funds have been cut as well as monies which the Army Corps of engineers had sought in order to do the much needed work on the levees of New Orleans. All those monies so desperately needed now in our own country's days of crisis were, to George Bush, more important to his war efforts in a country where democracy is an unknown word and seemingly an unwanted commodity.

We humans are, however, a resilient group, and as Shakespeare said, this too shall pass. Will things ever return to normal though? To this question some will answer with a resounding yes, and yet, there are others whose lives have been so shattered that they may never feel normal again. Too many deaths, too much destruction, too much trauma will make it impossible for many to regain their lives. Many will never return to their home states choosing, instead, to move on and try and make new lives. Others will return, pick up the pieces and rebuild on familiar ground.

Biloxi and New Orleans will once again become vibrant cities. Many people will return and life will go on. For some it will be without those they loved and cared for. For some it will be in new homes whose walls are ripe for gathering new memories and holding new generations. For many, those who were spared more than others, there will be the mopping up and drying out. The setting to rights small items which may have been misplaced or situated high enough to avoid the water pouring in through breached windows and doors. Sadly, they are the great minority.

Mother Nature has passed by in all her great fury. For brief hours she wreaked havoc leaving behind a trail of tears. Katrina was, and now, is no more. It will be years before it's legacy of destruction leaves us in peace, and it will take untold years for us to, as we invariably do, rise like the Phoenix from the ashes of all this destruction. However, the worst part of Katrina's legacy will be the echoes of our government's shoddy leadership.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

An Open Letter to George W. Bush


I swear by all that's holy, George W. Bush, you feckless shard of tin-plate gavno, you are going to pay dearly for this tragedy, for this human disaster, for this glaring, planetary embarrassment to our country. From this moment on, your name will echo down through the ages with the likes of Nero, Louis XVI, and Hoover. Your smirking face will be the icon for the ages of smug stupidity, for rotten-spoiled selfish ignorance. You have passed the tipping point, boy, and we are going to bury you up to your pseudo-cowboy red neck in the corpses of New Orleans. We know, and now the world has seen, Republican "compassionate conservatism," Republican damage control. Save the rich; screw the poor, let them die, they vote Democratic, anyway! Eh, George!


Will 25,000 dead make an impression on your shallow soul, George?


We are going to take the Congress in 2006 and the first order of business is to impeach your sorry ass. We are going to convict you of violating your oath, endangering the public welfare by lying us into war—a futile war, for squandering our precious resources on your corporate buddies, for ignoring the People of this country. We are going to impeach your good buddy Dick Cheney, too. He is going up on charges of profiteering and graft.


While you are waiting for the gallows, George, we suggest you try sacrificing some of that mob of incompetents and thieves you have surrounded yourself with. Homeland Security's Michael Chertoff

could not find an adequate model for addressing the catastrophe.
Off with his stupid head! The man is obviously out of his league, incompetent beyond belief! FEMA Director Brown could not run a equine fashion show, yet you appointed him to head up emergency services?! The Boy Scouts would have had an evacuation plan; the Girl Scouts would have had food and medical supplies at the ready out of harm's way. Anyway, you should have been there, George, not on vacation, not insulating yourself from the disaster, cracking jokes, kissing Trent Lott's ring.


How dare you, George, blame local officials for your administration's incompetence! How dare Karl Rove try to make political hay on this horrible tragedy! Indeed, it looks like Rove deliberately held up the federal response because New Orleans is overwhelmingly Democratic. (You will notice that NYC did not get its fair share after 9/11 for the same reason.) We know that racism has been the stock in trade of modern Republicanism, but this preying on the disaster-weary is inhuman and the vilest sort of politics.


George, did you dudes not notice that Katrina slammed four states! Is this what you neocons mean by neo-federalism--every state for itself?


And George, did you ignore the scientists again when they told you we are on a new high-incidence hurricane cycle? Did you think it was a trap to get you to say "global warming" in public? Do you really understand anything competent people tell you, or is does it all filter out in your depraved, spoiled madness?


You have deliberately done all you can to ruin our country, George, and we are sick to death of you! You are beyond a shadow of a doubt the worst President and the sorriest leader this country ever knew and you deserve the very worst the earth has to offer. We abhor you and your miserable politics, your puppet-master Karl Rove, and your party faithful, Hastert, DeLay, Santorum, Frist, all of them.


Crawford Notch, Special Bloggist

Monday, September 05, 2005

Some Suggestions for Candidates


Candidates for the 2006 Congressional races are popping up as well as contenders for the White House in 2008. Trying to catch the pulse of the voters, they are attempting to "spin" their ways into respective offices by saying that which will jibe with their party of choice and bring in the most votes from the identifiable groups of voters.


As committed to neither Republicans nor Democrats, but with a finger on the pulse of those of us out here in the hinterlands, I offer some issues for the up and coming candidates to pay attention to.


As it happens, several of the most compelling issues are interwoven requiring some intelligence and an understanding of a holistic view.


The top most compelling issues have to do with Global Warming, Energy consumption, Environmental health and Nuclear weapons.


These four are areas that immediately threaten life on earth and demand immediate attention.


A candidate who commits to using our tax revenue for the enhancement of society would be appreciated.


A foreign policy dedicated to intelligent Peace would go a long way in removing the issues that incite terrorism and help to deflate the obscene $400+ billion dollar defense budget that eats up half of our family budget.


This is my short list for a campaign platform in the coming elections.


Let's hope there are politicians out there who are capable of putting the well being of people above money and power. After all, their life is on the line too.


Susan Dyer

Friday, September 02, 2005

Change

After a while Quantity has its own Quality. You may have heard this before; it is an expression attributed to quite a few historical figures. It doesn't really matter who said it; it's all too true. Not only does a mammoth event like Hurricane Katrina spell trouble for millions of people unfortunate to have been caught in its path, it is going to affect many times more millions of people throughout our world economy.

This disaster, embedded as it is in a new epoch of probable global warming, suggests that we are living in the first century of the rest of our species!

Yes, the 20th century was the last century of one kind of place in the universe, and now planet earth is different because of everything that happened back then. Among the most important major changes was world population. Since I was born the world population has tripled! The United States has over twice the number of people it did when I was born. We are currently at 6.463 billion people in the world. The U.S. is just under 300 million. North America now has a higher percentage of wild, uninhabited area than does Africa, where people are bursting out of their national seams. We have instant communication with the most remote areas of the planet, and diseases from these places move regularly into the trade routes and threaten us all. There is a lot to consider these days. Are we up to it?

The current (September) issue of Scientific American is devoted to the various things that require a new perspective, new basic assumptions. Among the new assumptions is this one: we have to stop thinking of the planet as a realm of endlessness, of possibilities without number. The brutal fact—as illustrated by the havoc created by one furious storm in a vital area—is that we are interconnected in what is now effectively a zero-sum game, a closed system in which the realization that there is an "opportunity cost" for virtually everything.

What is an "opportunity cost?" If, for instance, we choose to build New Orleans back up to its former "big easiness" (which we probably will attempt to do despite the irrationality of it all), then we must be prepared to pay the same price when another big hurricane visits again during this cycle of frequent tropical storms. The $30-$100 billion this time and the $40-$120 billion next time has to come from somewhere. It now means that a very, very large amount of planetary resources is going to be sequestered into the bayous of Louisiana. A good analogy is the nature of tropical rain forest soils: all the lush richness we expected of soils in tropical rainforests turns out to be already committed to and held within the existing plants and trees. The soil itself is depleted. When we reinvest in New Orleans; we will commit the resources from somewhere. If we don't reinvest, then all those people will have to go elsewhere and fit in; there will be a huge cost to do that too. But we will reinvest because it is important to have a major port at the mouth of the Mississippi River. We just have to be very, very smart about it, because the stakes are now unimaginably huge.

This website is about politics, and so the message for today is that we have to grow up. We are now like young men and women leaving home for our first independent existence. Our childish illusions about how we are going to party all night and work at some cushy job where our friends are all employed too, is now obviously a silly, childish dream. We now understand that we need to eat and provide shelter for ourselves and our families when we create them. We are now adults in an era of inexorable limits. The frontier is long gone; space travel is astronomically expensive and just as dangerous; residential property costs and arm and a leg; gasoline for our "unintelligently designed" and "unintelligently purchased" vehicles has already hit $4+/gallon. Movies are not better than ever; popular music is a hash of rhythmic nonsense; sports are corrupted by drugs; and (speaking of drugs), we can no longer trust the pharmaceutical companies to resist making profits with dangerous concoctions for niche "diseases." Political and religious terrorism stalks the world's cities and transportation systems. It is all a blooming, buzzing, mind-bending confusion, and no wonder we look for certitude and strong leaders in this time of trial. It is no wonder that millions of adult people are regressing into the comfort of childlike mythologies, superstitions, and dogmatic certitudes. There is the feeling of security in unvarying dogma, but of course it is an illusion.

Liberal politics must change, too. It is necessary for those who lead to understand that the world is not the planet they grew up on. It is now officially impacted with us, homo sapiens sapiens. The key is going to be how sapient we really are. We have to take (back) control of our destinies. Corporations cannot possibly act for the benefit of humanity; they are inhuman and created for one purpose only—to achieve a near-term profit. Only rational human beings, uncompromised by the wealth of corporations and the miasma of superstition, can possibly understand the new zero-sum game, a closed and impacted system with the only free thing in the world being sunlight, contracted for the next billion years, but by no means completely assured.

One measure of our lack of commitment to sapience is the current debate over whether "creationism" should be taught in public schools. If it is, then children are not going to understand science and engineering; they are going to be confused about how we know things. Creationism is a myth, an assertion without evidence to support it, and science is a process of learning; they are really completely incompatible. When, as a creationist-dominated society, we lose our scientists to societal indifference and inept education, we will lose our ability to act quickly and rationally in the face of new environmental and social circumstances. If we teach creationism and there really is a serious global warming underway, the graduates of our public schools will just stand there peeing in their pants while waiting for deity to bale them out.

Thornton Wilder wrote his most brilliant play in 1942, not quite a month after Pearl Harbor, and called it "The Skin of Our Teeth," which in the end he celebrates mankind's resilience, inventiveness, pluck, etc. The play is written so that we understand the challenges mankind faces to be of an essentially "cyclic" nature.

When the planet was unexplored, when economies were regional, when nations waxed and waned by the force of arms and size of colonies, when most of the world was committed to agriculture and most human beings lived off the land among the seasons, things might have seemed to be cyclic. There may have been a seasonal renewal factor at work; there may have been a way to see life as constantly replenishing itself. But in the 20th century we abandoned agriculture as the dominant metaphor of life. We also invented the process of "growing" (expanding) ourselves out of our difficult circumstances. Now, in our crowded world, growth somewhere is necessarily no growth elsewhere and probably decline somewhere else.

Now in the 21st century life is more serious than Wilder imagined. We cannot let things go so far that we are as close to destruction as the thin skin of our teeth. There is too much at stake.

We have jobs, we work, live, have kids, invest, hope for health, and then we retire, grow old, and then we die. It is and always has been a "sequence," not a cycle. It is inexorable, but it is also real. We don't keep coming back until we get it right. We don't get a lot of second and third chances. In all important things we are as capable of failure as success, and our society is just as capable of collapse as continuation.

All of us homo sapiens sapiens die and are no more. And now in the new millennium we have long since come to disbelieve in heaven or hell. We have outgrown our immature fears of death and understand it to be simply the end of the process we identify as "life." At the same time, though, we understand ourselves to be "spiritual" animals endowed, (because of our hunter-gatherer brains' memory and ability to plan), with abstract reflection (sapiens sapiens), with the ability to know beauty and to postulate futures ... and pasts. We put aside childish notions and childish explanations in favor of understandings more abstract and closer to the truth. For Christians it is not less marvelous that the historical Yeshua bar Yoseph, Jesus of Nazareth, two thousand years ago understood and spoke to the essential nature of human beings as a real man; it is not necessary that he be miraculous; it is only necessary that we understand ourselves to be "miraculous." It is not hubris; it is to honor that which lives ... reflectively.

We are explorers in a universe, privileged to take this planet, coursing around its sun, and around the galaxy at a 486,000 miles an hour of galactic orbital velocity—to where, it does not matter, (moving at 1,000 mph toward Sagittarius, if that helps). It is important only that we understand the voyage to be real and completely out of our control. But we are now numerous enough that we now have a new Quality. We are capable of responsibility for the thin layers of life on our planet, and each of us has some part to play while along for this cosmic ride. Each of us must understand our existence to be the reason something else does not exist. We must understand that our intelligence and spirit proves that our existence should be honored, because of both its improbability and its possibility, and because it nevertheless is.

James Richard Brett

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