January 22, 2006
Hating the Bomb
By DAVID BROOKS
The Iraq debate split the country into two partisan camps, but the Iran debate is much more complicated. It's opening up a rift between conservatives and the Bush administration. It's dividing Democrats into rival factions: those who can contemplate the eventual use of force against Iran and those who can't.
What appears at first to be a straightforward look at America's options in Iran is actually yet another piece of right-wing propaganda in its view of Democrats and liberals. However, there is also a possible implied criticism of the Bush Administration (whose policies brought us to this juncture) and an overt criticism (the Bush Administration's current attitude toward Iran). As the second half of tag team columns, you have to wonder whether we're seeing clues of open Republican revolt, and warning shots to the Administration concerning restiveness amongst the followers.
Insofar as the propaganda is concerned, Brooks not only attempts to speak for Republicans, which makes sense, but he also puts words in the mouths of Democrats, as if he's an impartial observer. This is, of course, disingenuous.
It's an anguished debate because all the options are terrible. But this will be the major foreign policy controversy of the 2008 presidential election, and you can already see four different schools emerging:
Here Brooks fails to mention, even in his own terms, the botch the Bush Administration has made of America's foreign policy. With the exception of the fall of 2001, when Colin Powell built a coalition to invade Afghanistan, the United States has been a horror on the world scene. The Bush Administration has turned its back on virtually all its allies, conned the American public with phony evidence to invade Iraq, screwed up the occupation, left the troops short on supplies and funding, gave billions in taxpayer funds to crony companies who proceeded to pocket the proceeds and louse up the "rebuilding," and set the stage for Iranian anger with the pointless and dangerous "Axis of Evil" speech. All options stem from these moves. One gets the feeling that if you mention this, Brooks' response would be "Get over it!"
THE PRE-EMPTIONISTS John McCain and most American conservatives believe the situation reeks of Nazi Germany in 1933. An anti-Semitic demagogue is breaking treaties and threatening to wipe Israel off the map. The madman means what he says and can't be restrained by normal economic or diplomatic incentives.
When Saddam Hussein was in power, and Iran and Iraq at each others' throats, the United States made both look over their shoulders. Despite posturing, Iraq was in no position to actually have WMDs, as we've discovered, and the mullahs weren't interested in angering the United States and turning its energy from Baghdad to Tehran. In other words, both countries were held relatively in check. The result was the reform movement and President Khatami. All that changed under Bush.
Conservatives have been using Designated Hitlers (Khadafy, Saddam Hussein) for the past twenty years to argue for military invervention of one sort of another. Set up a boogeyman and go after him. There is no question the new President of Iran is a whack job, as are the mullahs who put him in power. But after two decades of this nonsense, it's imperative we examine the entire idea of Nazi analogues. After all, hate radio in America resembles German propaganda in 1930: it goes both ways. Besides, what Brooks is not talking about is how America's rmilitary resources are stretched too thin in Afghanistan and Iraq, the country doesn't have the money or resolve for another invasion and occupation, and there isn't much support for further American adventures from our old allies, given Bush Administration arrogance. On top of that, it's not like John Bolton over at the U.N. is a real dipolomat.
Therefore, Iran cannot be allowed to get the bomb. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may not immediately lob the big one onto Tel Aviv, but a psychotic, hegemonic Iran would unleash its terrorist vassals and strangle democratic efforts in the Middle East, and could set off a cataclysmic war.
Terrorist vassals? al-Queda and company are all Sunni, propped up by Saudi money. At thjs point, the only Iranian vassals are the Shi'ites running Iraq at the U.S. behest. Brooks has suddenly and quietly conflated Tehran with the world terrorist movement. This is akin to the propaganda conflating Saddam Hussein and al-Queda.
Pre-emptors would work with Europe and the U.N. to step up pressure on Iran, while making it clear the world is willing to do what it takes to halt the nuclear program. As McCain said on "Face the Nation": "There is only one thing worse than the United States exercising a military option. That is a nuclear-armed Iran."
John Bolton is the best man for that job, right?
THE SANCTIONISTS Democratic presidential contenders like Hillary Clinton and Evan Bayh have begun hitting the Bush administration from the right. But as Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution notes, this is not just campaign posturing. Centrist Democrats also believe Iranian nukes are unacceptable. Such nukes would set off a regional arms race. They would lead to Cuban missile crisis standoffs in the world's most unstable region. If Iran completes its program, that would completely delegitimize the international system.
Here we come to another bit of right-wing propaganda technique at work. Leftists and moderates in America do not put words into conservatives' mouths, but conservatives are always telling us what Democrats say and believe. . Here's a Washington Post article about Clinton's views. Here are Bayh's views according to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Bayh's views here directly echo those of Sen. McCain, though Bayh seems to have backed down since. Clinton is more of a "sanctionist" and would like to see the UN do its job. "I believe we lost critical time in dealing with Iran because the White House chose to downplay the threats and to outsource the negotiations," Clinton said. "I don't believe you face threats like Iran or North Korea by outsourcing it to others and standing on the sidelines.": This is not an attack on the Bush Administration on the "right." It's an attack on their sheer incompetence. To that degree, Bayh feels likewise: "Iran is a menace. They have to be dealt with, through economic, political, and cultural steps....I’m glad the president is finally speaking out about this. But for four long years they have ignored this problem. It’s brought us to the position that we’re in today. And it has undermined the national security interests of the United States."
The Sanctionists don't rule out a pre-emptive strike, but they don't emphasize it. Instead, they say the U.S. should be directly involved in negotiating with Iran, and the world should quickly impose serious economic sanctions, what Chuck Schumer calls an "economic stranglehold."
By ignoring the Iraq and Afghanistan debacles and Bush Administration incomptenece, Brooks can focus on these Centrist Democrats as being split from others in their party.
THE REFORMISTS Oddly, the Bush administration finds itself on the cautious, noninterventionist side. Bush officials have been walking away from broad economic sanctions and pre-emptive strikes (while not formally ruling them out). Blustery threats may sound good, they say, but when you are governing, you have to consider the consequences; you have to hold the global coalition together; you have to make sure Iran isn't provoked into really dismantling Iraq.
Global coalition? You mean, Tony Blair and the United States, along with a couple of token forces. "When you are governing, you have to consider the consequences:" With the Bush Administration, why start now? The Administration invaded Iraq without considering the consequences; Paul Bremer dismantled the Iraqi infrastructure without considering the consequences. Hell, the Bush Administration for its first seven months ignored all warnings about terrorism without considering the consequences.
In all my conversations with senior administration officials, I have never heard them be so cautious about what they can know and tentative about what they can achieve.
They know how stretched thin they are, and how everything can blow up in their faces if there's a war with Iran. The incompetence has come home to roost. At least it sounds as if administration officials are being realistic, for a change. This is a group that eschewed realpolitik for five years.
Their chief leverage, they say, is that Iran is not North Korea. The Iranians do not want to be global pariahs. There is an Iranian elite that likes travel and conducts international business, and it is beginning to react against Ahmadinejad's radical talk.
One wants to agree with them, but these are the same folks who said Iraqis would line the streets of Baghdad with flowers. It's not that the Administration is right or wrong; it's that they have been so clueless in the past.
The administration believes blunt sanctions will drive the populace into the arms of the regime, but surgical sanctions will motivate internal reformers to change the regime's course. Privately, some administration officials believe there is no way to prevent Iran from getting the bomb; we might as well try to make the regime as palatable as possible.
THE SILENT FATALISTS Mainstream Democrats have been remarkably quiet on this issue. Their main conviction is that American-led military action would be disastrous. This shapes their definition of the problem. A nuclear Iran may not be so cataclysmic, they privately say. Why shouldn't Iran have as much right to the bomb as any other nation? The regime may be nasty, but it's containable with deterrence and engagement.
Brooks is now putting words in the mouths of mainstream Democrats. When your enemy starts telling you what you're thinking, and you buy into it, you've already lost the battle. Brooks is a propagandist for the other side, and will turn any argument by liberals into something that smells of defeatism.
These liberals argue that if we weren't in Iraq, we'd have a lot more freedom to act against Iran, though you could also say the crisis would be worse if Saddam were still in power.
You could, but you'd be wrong.
These four approaches have one thing in common: they all stink. For example, despite administration hopes, there is scant reason to believe that imagined Iranian cosmopolitans would shut down the nuclear program, or could if they wanted to, or could do it in time - before Israel forced the issue to a crisis point.
This is going to be a lengthy and tortured debate, dividing both parties. We'll probably be engaged in it up to the moment the Iranian bombs are built and fully functioning.
All the options stink because Cheney and Rumsfeld have put the U.S. into a terrible hole from which there is no clear way out.
January 21, 2006
Party of Pain
By JOHN TIERNEY
As the baby boomers age, more and more Americans will either be enduring chronic pain or taking care of someone in pain. The Republican Party has been reaching out to them with a two-step plan:
1. Do not give patients medicine to ease their pain.
2. If they are in great pain and near death, do not let them put an end to their misery.
The Republicans have been so determined to become the Pain Party that they've brushed aside their traditional belief in states' rights. The Bush administration wants lawyers in Washington and federal prosecutors with no medical training to tell doctors how to treat patients.
So Tierney comes out with a position at odds with the Bush administration. The text is opiates and assisted suicide; the subtext could be medical marijuana, the sub-subtext could be politics of a different nature. On the surface we have an independent columnist presenting his independent position. Is this a John Tierney with friends or loved ones suffering from cancer or other diseases? Is this a schism within propagandaist circles coming to the fore, a finger-wagging aimed at the Bush Administration for its many violations of individual rights, a kind of warning shot from libertarians who have finally reached the end of their rope? Internal evidence isn't clear, but what does seem clear is that Tierney and Brooks rarely speak on their own, and the propagandist talking points crowd is always in communication.
Again, on the surface this is a follow-up to a July 23, 2005 column about Oxycontin and DEA policy. It received a sharp rebuke in a letter from Karen Tandy on July 29, 2005. Tierney chose not to revisit the topic until now. The earlier column focused speifically on DEA policy and did not mention any party, Republican or Democratic, nor was it put in a states rights context. In fact, Tierney rationalized the DEA's policy on the grounds that Congress was on the warpath regarding drugs. This column takes a very different path using similar source material, and focuses directly on Republican and Administration policy.
As attorney general, John Ashcroft decided that Oregon's law allowing physician-assisted suicide violated the federal Controlled Substances Act because he didn't consider this use of drugs to be a "legitimate medical purpose." Karen Tandy, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, has been using this same legal theory to decree how doctors should medicate patients with pain, and those who disagree with her medical judgment can be sent to prison.
In both columns, the issue of medical marijuana is not mentioned. In the earlier one, he's specifically focused on opiod painkillers, so it's understandable. But here, given the broader nature of the discussion, he deliberately stays away from the elephant in the room. Why is Tierney staying within these certain limits? This is why I think it's not just Tierney on his own. There's code here. This column may not be just about medical issues at all.. .
You know Republicans have lost their bearings when they need a lesson in states' rights from Janet Reno, who considered the Oregon law when she was attorney general. For the federal government to decide what constituted legitimate medicine, she wrote, would wrongly "displace the states as the primary regulators of the medical profession."
When Tierney quotes Janet Reno, one of the right-wing's chief boogeypersons, against the Republican party, that's pretty strong medicine itself. Forget about states' rights, though. The Republicans threw states' rights out the window with Bush v Gore, and the Ashcroft/Gonzales Justice Department has been ignoring states' rights round the clock in favor of a theocrat/fascist ideology with nary a peep from Tierney.
So again, what's up? Did the Supreme Court decision allow Tierney to revisit the July 23rd column, or is something else going on here? A theory then: The Bush Administration this past week stepped over the line three times. First, with its continued support of illegal wiretaps, for which Brooks and Tierney have been strangely silent; second, with its "child pornography" internet witch hunt; and third, with its stonewalling concerning Abramoff and K Street (It's hard to isolate DeLay and Ney when the Bush Administration itself is blithely continuing on its merry way). Is Tierney, by taking a contrary position on one relatively minor issue that he'd dealt with before, warning that a segment of the punditocracy is close to open rebellion?
The Supreme Court agreed with her this week in upholding the Oregon law. In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the federal drug law did not empower the attorney general "to define general standards of medical practice." It merely "bars doctors from using their prescription-writing powers as a means to engage in illicit drug dealing and trafficking as conventionally understood."
A very strange paragraph, to be sure, particularly when one notes that the minority consisted of Scalia, Thomas and Roberts, and that Alito would have joined them had he already replaced O'Connor. One more retirement and Bush appointment, and the Supreme Court overthrows the Oregon law. Tierneys's support of Roberts and Alito has been unyielding, and we can be sure he'd shill another Bush appointee as well. So in essence, he's arguing for a Supreme Court position his own Justices would vote against..
That's news to the D.E.A. and the federal prosecutors, who have gone way beyond any "conventionally understood" idea of drug trafficking. They've been prosecuting doctors for prescribing painkillers like OxyContin, even where there's no evidence of any of the drugs being resold on the streets. It doesn't matter that the doctor genuinely believed that the patient needed the drugs and was not abusing them. It doesn't matter that the patient was in pain.
Still no mention of medical marijuana. My guess is that it's too hot a topic in Republican circles, and Tierney wants to seem focused.
No, doctors are now going to prison merely for prescribing more pain pills than the D.E.A. and prosecutors deem a "legitimate medical purpose." These drug warriors are not troubled by the enormous range in the level of pain medication that different patients need.
They don't even seem to worry much about the potency of the pills, just the number. They want enough pills of any dosage to make a good photo at a press conference. In some cases, doctors have been too careless or gullible, but those are offenses to be disciplined by state medical authorities, not criminal courts.
Another argument against Bush Administration ideologues who are using federal laws in cases to be decided by states.
Tandy claims that only a few corrupt doctors have anything to fear from the D.E.A. She responded to a column of mine last year by saying that her agency had investigated only 0.1 percent of the 600,000 doctors in the U.S. But she was far too modest. Most doctors, after all, write few if any prescriptions for opioid painkillers.
.The doctors who matter are the small number of specialists in pain treatment who prescribe opioids. Ronald Libby, a professor of political science at the University of North Florida, estimates that 17 percent of those doctors were investigated during one year by the D.E.A., and an even greater number of others were investigated by local and state authorities, typically in concert with the drug agency. That means a pain specialist might have a one-in-three chance of being investigated for prescribing opioids.
Faced with those odds, doctors are understandably afraid. As noted in The New England Journal of Medicine this month, the D.E.A. has made doctors reluctant to give opioids to desperately ill patients, even when these drugs are the most effective pain treatment. The article warned that a victory for the Bush administration in the Oregon case, besides affecting terminally ill patients in Oregon, could cause doctors across the country to "abandon patients and their families in their moment of greatest need."
Put this into the context of the Supreme Court nominees Tierney has supported, and you have to wonder how he can sleep at night.
The Supreme Court's decision is a victory for patients and their doctors - including, I hope, some of the ones in prison for violating the federal legal theory that has now been rejected by the court. The doctors should go free, and Republicans in the White House and Congress should restrain the drug warriors who locked them up. When this year's budget is drawn up, it's the D.E.A.'s turn to feel pain.
So what is it? A column regarding specific Republican policy, or a shot across the bow? Or both? .
January 19, 2006
A Nation of Villages
By DAVID BROOKS
In this column, Brooks does not overtly discuss politics or political ideas, but rather focuses on the mutating face of suburban sprawl and, using the outskirts of Phoenix as an example, how developers are changing their maps to include multi-purpose communities with mixed low-income and high-income homes, urban amenities, and the like. So what's the point? It's this, I think: With his philosophy taking a beating, Brooks wants to show that the concept of an interference-free market-based private property society (with the community policing the values) does work, and this is an example. Only is it? One can just as easily argue that having our free space gobbled up by developers for use by an increasing population may be a necessary evil, but it's not something to be proud about, no matter how "humane" the new suburbia seems to be. Insofar as the people policing the values, which I think is implied here, that will still lead to a stultifying deadness because the urban people who create real cultural diversity want no part of such communities. So despite the presence of Starbucks and multi-income households, in the end they're still the same old places.
Addendum on January 18th:
The Brooks/Tierney tag team continues. At the beginning of the month, both columnists went after feminism; this time they both launch personal attacks on Democratic politicians. Assessing the techniques of propagandists for fascism --- and make no mistake, this is what these two fellows are ---- is an ongoing learning experience. For example, back on January 1st, Brooks eviscerated an article by Linda Hirshman by misinterpreting its contents. I assumed (and Hirshman's e-mail appeared to make the same assumption) that Brooks was simply unable to discern her words as hyperbole. It's possible, as I reflect on the column, that his misinterpretation could well have been deliberate, solely for propagandistic purposes.
Then too, we look at these two latest columns. Why suddenly attack Joe Biden and "the Kennedys? Last week was a bad week for Republicans. Not only did the Abramoff case grow, but despite his upcoming confirmation, Sam Alito came across as both ideological and secretive. Thus, what to do? Answer: Attack. In the first case, ridicule the man who made the strongest points against Alito. In the second, dredge up something irrelevant to any current issue to attack one of America's most powerful liberal families --- notwithstanding the fact that the family was divided --- and then cherry-pick one argument out of several to prove the family as hypocrites. Robert Kennedy's piece was over a month old, putting it officially into the New York Times archive and thus rendering it unavailable for most readers to double-check Tierney's interpretation.
So, we do need to ask: Was Brooks deliberate in his misinterpretation? Was Tierney deliberate in his choice of a topic in which readers could no longer easily vet what he had to say?
January 17, 2006
Not in the Kennedys' Backyard
By JOHN TIERNEY
With Rep. Ney now on the defensive, Abramoff and Scanlon telling all, Tom DeLay on the verge of plea bargain, and the scandal spreading through the entire Christian right-wing community on up to the White House, it's time to -- yep, accuse the Kennedys of hypocrisy.
Do not doubt the Kennedys' devotion to renewable energy. If they had their way and the policies they support became law, there would be new wind farms along the coasts and on Appalachian hilltops, Midwestern prairies and Rocky Mountain ridges - more than 100,000 turbines twirling from sea to shining sea.
Tierney mentions the 100,000 turbines twice more in this column, in case you missed it the first time. Granted, that actually only means 200 separate wind farms of 500 turbines each, a relative pittance given the vastness of open space in America, but this number is there to scare you.
Just not in the waters where the Kennedys go sailing. Their love of renewable energy does not extend to the 130 turbines proposed for Nantucket Sound. Many other environmentalists consider it one of the most promising new energy projects in America, but the Kennedys are against it.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has written against the project. Senator Kennedy is against it but refuses to take part in a bill to kill it. Congressman Patrick Kennedy is in favor of Cape Wind. From the Wind Farmers Almanac: "Everyone thinks that the Kennedy family speaks as one on this issue," Patrick Kennedy said. "We don't. Some of us think those turbines look kind of cool. And what kind of sailors are we anyway if we worry about hitting these things?"...Robert Kennedy Jr. said that "things could get a little rough for Patrick in the next game of touch football at the compound."
Robert Kennedy Jr., the environmental lawyer, warned in an Op-Ed article that the wind farm would "damage the views from 16 historic sites," one of which happens to be the Kennedy compound at Hyannis Port. He didn't specify the damage, but this is what it would amount to: if you stood in Hyannis Port, six miles from the wind farm, the turbines on the horizon would appear to be a half-inch high, about the size of a fingernail.
Tierney is cherry picking his quotes. He knows full-well the Kennedy article sits in the TimesSelect archive, and few will be able to check his facts. But here it is. Robert Kennedy gives several reasons for opposing the project. One of the lesser reasons involves a quote from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, which mentions the damaged views. There are other reasons that have far greater impact. Tierney's comment about the half-inch high turbines comes from the Cape Wind website. Cape Wind is a project developed by the Massachusetts-based Energy Management Inc. Opposition apparently comes mostly from those who own seafront property, in other words, the neighbors of the Kennedys.
While the Kennedys may often speak for the plebes, they are themselves patricians. Their largesse runs deep, but it only goes so far. This is not an excuse, merely an observation. Tierney would have no objection if they were scum-sucking greedmeisters. That the Kennedys occasionally side with other millionaires does not negate the good that they do, as Tierney would have you believe..
Senator Edward Kennedy is also opposed to the project, and his colleagues on Capitol Hill may effectively kill the project by slipping a last-minute amendment into a Coast Guard budget bill. The bill was passed earlier by both houses and is now being negotiated behind closed doors in a House-Senate conference committee.
When talking about back room maneuvering, maybe Tierney shoould mention Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force. We find out below that Tierney is actually in agreement with Ted and Robert Jr. that the project should be killed. But this is an attack on the Kennedys, not a discussion of policy. Bush-bashing, particularly in terms of policy, is a no-no; Kennedy bashing. despite policy agreement, is a required sport.
Senator Kennedy says he has nothing to do with this maneuver and doesn't support it, but a committee source tells me that the Massachusetts delegation lobbied for the amendment, which would ban offshore wind farms within 1.5 nautical miles of shipping lanes.
So it is the Massachusetts congressional delegation which is maneuvering to kill the turbines, not Senator Kennedy. Unlike Republicans, Democrats, even in Massachusetts, have minds of their own. Tierney is projecting.
That's a dubious requirement, considering that European offshore wind farms already operate near much busier shipping lanes than those in Nantucket Sound.
To be fair, there are good arguments against the wind farm in Nantucket Sound. Robert Kennedy rightly complained that it wouldn't be feasible without hefty state and federal subsidies. But neither would the other renewable-energy projects promoted by him and his uncle.
So Tierney thinks the wind farms are a waste of taxpayer money. He agrees will Robert that this wind farm, in particular, is a waste. But then we have the statement "neither would the other renewable-energy projects promoted by him and his uncle." This is what David Sirota of Working Assets calls "Rectal Journalism," that is, pulling facts out of your ass. What projects? What subsidies?
Environmentalists have been promising for more than three decades that wind energy would be competitive if there was a "level playing field," but it survives only because the field has been tilted in its favor.
When you add up the tax breaks and other federal aid to wind farms, the subsidy per unit of energy produced is more than double the subsidy given to nuclear and fossil-fuel power plants, according to Thomas Tanton, a fellow at the Institute for Energy Research.
However, Tanton, in an article for PERC (a "free market environmentalism" think tank) writes: I have analyzed the history of subsidies and other forms of energy favoritism to evaluate whether any particular energy type is given special or advantageous treatment. As it stands today, there are too many forms of subsidies and favoritism to determine accurately which energy sources get the best treatment. Which means that Tierney is cherry-picking his quotes again.
By the way, The Institute for Energy Research is no impartial organization. Key board members come from the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, petroleum companies Amoco and Valero, energy supply company Resource Supply Management, and oil exploration company MarOpCo. They are in favor of further use of fossil fuels and consider global warming to be a myth. Basically, IER is a petroleum industry propaganda unit. Tanton is a strong vocal opponent of wind power whose articles against this particular technology appear on several websites..
"Wind power is at least twice as expensive as power from conventional sources," Tanton says, "and it's less than half as valuable because it's not always available when you need it." Even when Tanton makes allowances for what economists call externalities - like the benefits of slowing global warming by emitting less carbon dioxide - he finds that wind power is still nowhere close to competitive.
The point of wind power concerns the issues of pollution and hazardous waste, which is why Tierney focuses on competitive pricing, in which wind power is unable to hold its own. Projects like Cape Wind are designed to change that, Kennedy opposition notwithstanding.
Besides the federal dollars, wind farms get extra help from states, particularly states like New York and California, which have ordered utilities to generate a certain percentage of their power from renewable energy. This amounts to a hidden surcharge on consumers - the kind of subsidy that economists loathe. If state officials want to direct money to the owners of wind farms, they should at least dole it out openly.
One could argue that state officials are going through the proper channels by mandating the utility companies that sell energy in their states. Utility companies might well protest separate state subsidies to wind farms Tierney is being disingenuous.
Yet this stealth subsidy is so politically appealing that environmental groups are pushing to federalize it. The Natural Resources Defense Council, where Robert Kennedy works as a senior attorney, supported legislation in Congress that would force utilities to get 10 percent of their power from renewable energy. That would probably require erecting more than 100,000 wind turbines.
Where does Tierney get the 100,000 figure? Is that another case of rectal journalism? Is it coming from anti-wind websites? No attribution.
Senator Kennedy voted for that proposal and also for an even stricter version, which would have meant twice as many turbines. Fortunately, neither proposal has become law yet because some members of Congress have contemplated what would happen to the landscapes in their states.
Personally, I'm agnostic on the scenic merits of a wind farm. I can understand why some people hate the sight and others don't. If you equate the turbines with environmental virtue, you may find it a lovely panorama, and you (unlike me) may even be willing to pay higher taxes and electricity bills for it.
This is the standard apologia for what has come before. He accuses the Kennedys, then says their opposition is understandable. He trashes wind power, and then says he's agnostic.
But this should be a decision made by you and your neighbors - at the local level, not in Washington. And everyone should know exactly how much extra this virtue costs. Politicians and environmentalists shouldn't be trying to sneak 100,000 wind turbines into everyone's backyard but their own.
This is an energy source with no pollution, except wind turbine visibility. Would you want that in your backyard, or a new coal or nuclear power plant?
A couple of points about this column:
First: Tierney is holding the Kennedys to a far higher standard than he would people in his own party. The worst and most egregious excesses of the Tom DeLays and John Ashcrofts are simply "overzealousness to their principles." But if any Democrats stray even a little from their professed philosophy, they'll be taken to the woodshed.
Second: The whole NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) thing. It's very hard not to stray into hypocrisy. Would John Tierney, who believes in property rights above all, find it perfectly acceptable for the guy who owns the forest behind his house to clearcut and put up ugly condos in its place? Would John Tierney, who wants more prisons built, be happy with one down the road from his country cottage? We all want to build a second story on our homes, but how happy are any of us if our neighbor down the hill wants to do likewise? This whole column is, in a sense, a cheap shot.
January 15, 2006
In Praise of Joe Biden
By DAVID BROOKS
One would think, at first glance, that this is just Brooks, having watched the Alito hearings, commenting off the cuff on the behavior of the Delaware Senator. But Brooks never just makes off the cuff comments.
I rise to defend Joe Biden, who is being attacked for his verbosity during the Alito confirmation hearings. Some have concluded that Biden is a blowhard, though I assert he is thoughtful, just at Wagnerian length.
"Some people have concluded...." What is this, Fox News? "Outfoxed" spends quite a few minutes on this little debate ploy. An entire column trashing Biden for being a blowhard while pretending to praise him for being one. This seems to be the first attack piece on a 2008 presidential candidate. Prepare yourself for more.
After years of study, I have come to recognize that it is wrong to regard Biden's committee room interventions as questions. They are senatorial arias of immense emotional range. At times he will ascend to heights of rage and contempt; at other times he will wander like Lear through the desolation of undesirable policies.
At one moment, he will lean in toward the witness like a late-night drinking buddy and share some intimate truth. At the next moment - and this is when he is at his best - he will play the beaten warrior, battered but unbowed. In this twilight mood, his voice grows husky and his shoulders slump. He knows that some nominee or bill is about to roll over him, but like the last Spartan at Thermopylae, he registers his noble objection before succumbing manfully to the inexorable will of fate.
Then he flashes his jarring grin, which says that we are all friends despite the circumstances of our disagreement.
Biden's emotive vitality is his greatest weapon in the war all successful politicians must wage, the war against the public self. As the great Meg Greenfield once observed, prominent Washingtonians have two identities: their genuine self - the soft, complicated person they once were - and the public self, the broadly drawn pastiche of positions, poses, party affiliations, life-story clichés and ethnic ties that are presented to voters every few years.
So where is he going? Well, think about it. Every election must be fought on the battlefield of shorthand phrases, such as Gore/Exaggerator, or Bush/Kind of Dumb, or Kerry/Flip-flopper. So now we have...Joe Biden, bloviator.
The challenge of political life is to prevent the genuine self from being extinguished by the public image.
There is no environment more perilous for that genuine self than the United States Senate. Consider how senators live every day. They are surrounded by clouds of deferential, ear-whispering aides whose own attitudes towards their bosses are a mixture of fervent love and Oedipal contempt. They are buffeted by swarms of reporters who are obsequious in person and then condescending in print.
They are puffed by endless praise and bruised by endless criticism. They begin their day before dawn, with every minute scheduled by their worker bee helpers. They go to offices with power walls adorned with plaques, prizes, football helmets and other offerings that have been left to them in the way ritual sacrifices were once left on the altar of a tribal god or chieftain.
What he's really saying is that Biden has, in his own way, been corrupted by Washington. This could be further anti-Biden rhetoric (disguised as an apologia) or it could be part of a larger spin on how Washington corrupts anyone who comes in contact with it, as per Frank Rich's column today on how the Republicans are spinning the Abramoff scandal.
Wide-eyed home state folks click their pictures with disposable cameras. Lobbyists stop by with their superior suits and their beneficent causes. At midmorning the senator will be driven to a think tank to address an audience of wonks who know his subject a hundred times better than he does. Then he will drop by a committee hearing where photographers will take pictures of him listening portentously. Then he will be whisked to the floor to make a statement, pausing only to share flattery with an esteemed colleague.
The same points could be made about Governors, Mayors, Presidents. But this could be part of the "explanation" of the corruptive nature of Washington --- again, either in terms of the wider Abramoff scandal, or to show that Joe Biden isn't immune. .
It's no wonder some senators turn into bloated Hindenburg versions of themselves. It's no wonder that some members enter the Senate dining room as if accompanied by the blare of trumpets. It's no wonder some suffer from logorrhea dementia, the malady of being driven insane by the act of talking too much.
Some members. He means Biden here, doesn't he? At least that's what the reader is thinking.
But despite occasional appearances, Joe Biden is not this way.
Brooks has just said he was, and in the next sentence, will say it again. Yet another cruddy debate tactic.
It is true the man has no speed bumps between his brain and his mouth.
See? Joe Biden IS this way.
But this only makes him more candid. And by making candor the core of his self-image, he has preserved the ability to think independently and to be honest with himself. Some public figures are no longer able to create their own beliefs, and just believe those talking points it is useful for them to believe. But Biden, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes profane, always overlong, is still a real person, and a genuinely nice one - and he has been in the Senate since age 30, almost his whole adult life.
He's already thrown Biden in the garbage can so now he can spray a little perfume to cover up the odor.
The Senate is filled with bright, charismatic, ambitious people who somehow became caught in the waiting room to greatness. But it is my favorite Washington institution because of personalities so electric they have resisted the pressure to become marbleized. There is the kind and decent Lugar, the joyful warrior McCain, the unprepossessing Graham, the courageous Lieberman and the graceful Sununu and Obama, among others.
Biden is one of those people who make the Senate interesting and even serious. He wouldn't have the same facility for talking honestly if he didn't give himself so much marathon-length practice.
Joe Biden, Bloviator.
January 14, 2006
The Reporter Who Got It Right
By JOHN TIERNEY
Shortly before the 2004 election, Garrison Keillor published "Homegrown Democrat," explaining at great length why he is a Democrat, and at greater length why Democrats are better human beings than Republicans. It became, of course, a best seller.
As evidence of moral superiority, Keillor told how paramedics in St. Paul had appeared at his door within two minutes when his daughter had convulsions. This municipal service, he explained, was part of the "civil contract" that urban Democrats offered.
"In the suburbs, thanks to Republicans and their code of personal responsibility, the coronary victim will have time to read the entire Gospel of St. Mark before help arrives," he wrote. "There is a message here: if lower taxes are your priority over human life, then we know what sort of person you are."
This week in Washington, a city run by Democrats with Keillor's views on taxes and public services, the municipal ambulance service has been making news for the help it didn't provide to David Rosenbaum. David, a friend and colleague of mine at The New York Times, died Sunday from severe injuries to his head and body from a mugging two nights earlier near his home.
David was still alive and conscious when a neighbor found him lying on the sidewalk and summoned help, but it took 23 minutes for the city ambulance to arrive and another 25 minutes for him to reach the hospital. He was not examined for at least another hour at the hospital, according to The Washington Post, which reported that the ambulance technicians failed to detect his injuries and mistakenly told hospital workers that he was drunk.
Using an individual case to make broad philosophical statements involving hundreds of municipalities and companies is wrong, whether in the hands of Garrison Keillor or John Tierney. Using the name of a much loved and respected colleague to do so, as Tierney does, is beneath contempt.
I do not mention these facts to make a case against government-run ambulance services.
You just did.
Tierney's denial here is one of those crummy debate tactics we see today in pundit bloviation: make the illegitimate argument, then deny you made the argument at all. If a prosecutor tries this in a court of law, the defense attorney screams, "Objection!" and the judge says, "Sustained."
That would be a disservice to David. He abhorred argument by anecdote, especially from conservatives who used bureaucratic horror stories to justify their policies. David spent three decades covering Washington but never became a cynic, never lost faith that public servants could do good. "I like paying taxes," he used to say.
But he also never confused good intentions with good results. He would have found Keillor's pieties as useless as the pronouncements of right-wing moralists.
Keillor wrote his piece when David Rosenbaum was alive, and Tierney never heard Rosenbaum say anything about it. Putting words in Rosenbaum's mouth to comment on something Rosenbaum could have commented upon, and didn't, just isn't right. Isn't it possible to say that Rosenbaum would have chided Tierney for using questionable debate tactics to make questionable political points in the midst of an obituary?
He was a wonk's wonk. If you had asked him whether city ambulance services were better than the private ambulance companies hired by suburban governments, he wouldn't have answered until he'd filled a manila folder with studies and interview notes.
So why didn't Tierney take Rosenbaum's advice and spend ten minutes on-line looking to find out if the statistics bear out his argument? Obviously Tierney has no intention of following in his esteemed colleague's footsteps.
I like to think he would have seen the advantages of privatization, but the wonderful thing about David - the reason I went to him so often for guidance - was that you couldn't guess what he'd conclude.
To some degree, though, you could. According to Maureen Dowd: As his pal Robin Toner put it, David thought that behind every arcane tax provision and appropriations bill, "there were real people, getting something or having something taken away by their government." Would it be legitimate to conclude that if David Rosenbaum saw the advantages of privatization, there would have been hints of it through at least some of his articles?
He knew that both parties proclaimed noble goals and stuffed ignoble fine print into the budgets and tax bills he dissected. As Washington became polarized and politics was cast as a battle between virtue and evil, David remained a journalist trusted by both sides. The Times's first public editor, Daniel Okrent, read more than 15,000 complaints from readers about the paper's coverage, but he can't recall any about a Rosenbaum article.
"David had absolutely no agenda," said Warren Rudman, the former Republican senator from New Hampshire. "A lot of reporters do seem to have an end they're trying to get to. David just wanted to understand what was going on, and I always marveled how he got it right."
In 1999, when Congress was rushing to regulate health maintenance organizations, members of both parties spent an afternoon telling a litany of stories of suffering patients, culminating with the appearance on the House floor of a 7-year-old boy who had lost his hands and legs. David reported the stories, but he also noted what wasn't being said: health care costs had been devastating companies and governments until expenses were controlled by managed-care companies.
"No one rose to the industry's defense," he wrote. "As far as the House of Representatives was concerned, the cost of health care, one of the central political questions facing the country, was a subject for another time and another place."
In other words, the key issue of the health care problem, the costs, was being ignored in favor of grandstanding, and nothing would get done because no one was getting to the root of the problem. Rosenbaum was not literally arguing that the HMOs needed to be defended. He was explaining why the situation existed as it did, and that to ignore the reasons why HMOs came into existence was to circumvent the entire issue. Congress was putting its collective head in the sand. The situation, by the way, has changed drastically. In 1999, the monthly fee for Kaiser in California for a single person 45 years of age was $130/month. Emergency room and overnight stays were free, and co-pays were a flat $20. Today, that monthly fee is $267 dollars. All co-pays have risen, and emergency room and overnight stays are now $100/day.
That was not the kind of insight that got David on talk shows or the best-seller list, but it won him legions of admirers in Washington. The Alito confirmation hearing was recessed yesterday so that senators could attend the memorial service on Capitol Hill. The room was packed and the tears were bipartisan as politicians and journalists tried to come to terms with his death. It was so senseless, so irrational, so unfair. So unlike David.
As, apparently, is this disgusting column, in which Tierney trashes David Rosenbaum's memory in order to make nonsensical points about health care privatization.
January 12, 2006
Losing the Alitos
By DAVID BROOKS
If he'd been born a little earlier, Sam Alito would probably have been a Democrat. In the 1950's, the middle-class and lower-middle-class whites in places like Trenton, where Alito grew up, were the heart and soul of the Democratic Party.
But by the late 1960's, cultural politics replaced New Deal politics, and liberal Democrats did their best to repel Northern white ethnic voters. Big-city liberals launched crusades against police brutality, portraying working-class cops as thuggish storm troopers for the establishment. In the media, educated liberals portrayed urban ethnics as uncultured, uneducated Archie Bunkers.
The liberals were doves; the ethnics were hawks. The liberals had "Question Authority" bumper stickers; the ethnics had been taught in school to respect authority. The liberals thought an unjust society caused poverty; the ethnics believed in working their way out of poverty.
Historical revisionism by David Brooks, with enough truth to make the lies seem real. He conveniently leaves out the Vietnam War and the role of the Boomer generation in '60s social life, not to mention the fact that Archie Bunker was a Protestant anti-ethnic. His analysis continues to perpetuate the right-wing frame of liberals as wealthy latte-sipping cultural elitists, a frame which has been standard hornswaggle for the past fifteen years, and has been written about extensively by both Thomas Frank and George Lakoff.
The New Jersey Democratic Party of Alito's formative years was obscenely corrupt. One could imagine Alito's repulsion at the entire group of politicians controlling the state. However, most of those Democratic politicians were both ethnic and hawkish. It would seem instead that Alito's political views, rife with the cultural elitism of the very wealthy, were formed in the ivied halls of Princeton University and Yale Law School.
Sam Alito emerged from his middle-class neighborhood about that time, made it to Princeton and found "very privileged people behaving irresponsibly."
Alito wanted to learn; the richer liberals wanted to strike. He wanted to join R.O.T.C.; the liberal Princetonians expelled it from campus. He was orderly and respectful; they were disorderly and disrespectful. The experience was so searing that he mentioned it in the opening of his confirmation hearing 37 years later.
Having fought so hard to enter one of America's elite schools, Alito was astonished at the way in which his fellow Ivy Leaguers, born to wealth, rebelled against their parents and their parents' society --- or became party animals, like George W. Bush.
In 1971, Fred Dutton, an important Democratic strategist, acknowledged the rift between educated liberals and the white working class. In a short book, "Changing Sources of Power," Dutton argued that white workers had "tended, in fact, to become a major redoubt of traditional Americanism and of the antinegro, antiyouth vote."
The new framework was established by William Safire's "nattering nabobs" speech, as spoken by Spiro Agnew, which capitalized on the political divide between the working class and those opposed to the Vietnam War. The goal, of course, was to destroy worker protections, and the cultural smokescreen the perfect opportunity.
The New Deal coalition, including Catholics and white ethnics, was dying, he argued, and should be replaced by a "loose peace coalition" of young people, educated suburbanites, feminists and blacks. That plan wasn't stupid, but it didn't work.
More historical revisionism by David Brooks. The plan turned out to be stupid, and it failed immediately in the 1972 Nixon rout over McGovern. By 1976, the party had moved back to the center, Jimmy Carter was elected, and Democrats had comfortable margins in both the House and the Senate.
The party has been in a downward spiral ever since. John Kerry lost the white working class by 23 percentage points. He lost among his fellow Catholics. He lost the election.
Gore won the popular vote by 500,000 (at least) in 2000, following victories by Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. After the dust cleared in 2004, it became clear that Kerry lost because Bush was portrayed as a wartime president who should not be replaced in mid-stream. This has nothing to do with Sam Alito's political predilictions.
Addendum on January 16th: Actually, it never became clear why Kerry lost to Bush. The pre-election polls had Kerry winning; the post-election polls had Kerry winning. The pattern of voting (an unusally strong turnout) had Kerry winning. Given all this, none of the reasons --- other than perhaps his role as wartime president --- why Bush won made any sense. The real conclusion to be drawn, however, based upon polling information as well as evidence collected by the Conyers committee and other sources, that the election was rigged by the Republican Party with the assistance of ES&S and Diebold, has been shot down by the mainstream media as "paranoid" and insane," and therefore one must always find reasons why Kerry lost.
After every defeat, Democrats vow to reconnect with middle-class whites. But if there is one lesson of the Alito hearings, it is that the Democratic Party continues to repel those voters just as vigorously as ever. The Democrats have amply shown why they remain the party of gown, but not town.
But the Democrats, over the past 35 years, have not been defeated at every turn. .It's only been in the last ten years that they lost the House of Representatives, and only a couple of times in the past thirty years have they fallen significantly behind in the Senate.
First, there was the old subject of police brutality. If you listened to the questions of Jeff Sessions, a Republican, you heard a man exercised by the terror drug dealers can inflict on a neighborhood. If you listened to Ted Kennedy, you heard a man exercised by the terror law enforcement officials can inflict on a neighborhood. Kennedy railed against "Gestapo-like" tactics. Patrick Leahy accused Alito of rendering decisions in a "light most favorable to law enforcement."
If forced to choose, most Americans side with the party that errs on the side of the cops, not the criminals.
If Law Enforcement breaks the law, there should be accountability. That's Leahy's and Kennedy's point, and it's a subtle one, lost on those who just don't get the importance of oversight..
Then there was the old hawk-dove divide. If you listened to Lindsey Graham, a Republican, you heard a man alarmed by the threats posed by anti-American terrorists. If you listened to Leahy or Russ Feingold, you heard men alarmed by the threats posed by American counterterrorists. The Democratic questions implied that American counterterrorists are guilty until proved innocent, that a police state is being born.
When the Executive Branch consistently overrules the constitution, it is unwise to ignore the consequences. As historian Garry Wills told me when I asked if our democracy was under threat, "Our democracy is always under threat."
If forced to choose, most Americans want a party that will fight aggressively against the terrorists, not the N.S.A.
The Bush Administration broke the law and subverted the constitution. This isn't about fighting aggressively, it's about breaking the law. Addendum late night January 12: An AP poll released on January 7th showed that 56% of Americans are in favor of court warrants for wiretapping. So while it may be true in the broadest sense that "most Americans want a party that will fight aggressively against the terrorists, not the NSA," the implication is that a majority is in favor of warrantless wiretaps. That's simply not true.
What we see here, though, is the frame by which Brooks justifies Bush's abuse of power. There will probably be more about that in future columns.
To quote Bob Herbert in his column today: It has become fashionable to say that this controversy is about the always difficult problem of balancing civil liberties and national security. But I think the issue is starker than that. The real issue is President Bush's apparent belief - stoked at every opportunity by that zealot of zealots, Dick Cheney - that he can do just about anything he wants (mistreat prisoners, lock people up forever without filing charges), and justify it in the name of fighting terror.
Then there were the old accusations of bigotry. Kennedy misleadingly and maliciously asserted that Alito had never written a decision on behalf of an African-American. But those wild accusations don't carry weight any more. Rich liberals have been calling white ethnics bigots for 40 years.
Alito is barely a white ethnic at this stage of his life. He's part of the old boy network, a graduate of Princeton and Yale Law School, with a firm pedigree inside the wealthy, white ruling class. Brooks is being disingenuous.
Finally, and most important, there is the question of demeanor. Alito is a paragon of the old-fashioned working-class ethic. In a culture of self-aggrandizement, Alito is modest. In a culture of self-exposure, Alito is reticent. In a culture of made-for-TV sentimentalism, Alito refuses to emote. In a culture that celebrates the rebel, or the fashionable pseudorebel, Alito respects tradition, order and authority. What sort of party doesn't admire these virtues in a judge?.
Instead of saying what his real political beliefs are in order that Senators should actually consent to or reject his nomination, Alito is playing mind games and word games. Why can't he say what's really on his mind and let the chips fall where they may? Is this kind of evasion and obfuscation something to admire in a judge?
The big story of American politics, which was underlined by every hour of the Alito hearings, is that sometime between 1932 and 1968, the DNA of the Democratic Party fundamentally changed. In 1932, the Democrats had working-class DNA. Today, the Democrats have a different DNA, the DNA of a minority party.
The big story of American politics between 1968 and 2006 is that members of the Republican Party will do or say anything, even ignoring their own beliefs and ideology, in order to get elected or appointed, and will do or say anything to stay in power. Bush v Gore showed this, Alito is just another case in point.
January 10, 2006
Men's Abortion Rights
By JOHN TIERNEY
Judge Samuel Alito is a reactionary - at least according to feminists horrified by his notion that a woman can be required to notify her husband before an abortion. But Alito's critics in the Senate face two big obstacles this week if they try to make that label stick.
Tierney's logic. Liberals think Judge Alito is a reactionary because he wants women to be required to notify their husbands before an abortion.
Wrong. This is a straw man argument. Liberals think Judge Alito is a reactionary because of all his opinions, from the overweening power of the presidency to his friendly attitude toward business to his always siding with the government against the individual to his implicit opposition to Roe v Wade. No one is calling him a reactionary solely on the basis of spousal notification.
The first is public opinion. Most Americans tell pollsters that they think a husband should be notified before an abortion, and the Pennsylvania law that Alito approved was hardly a draconian version of that principle. It merely required a woman to say, without presenting any proof, that she'd told her husband. If she said she feared physical abuse, she was exempted.
The straw man argument continues. The Pennsylvanian law was hardly draconian. However, according to the Supreme Court, it put undue burden on those women most susceptible to spousal coercion, which is why it was overturned. One could argue that by using the term "medical emergency," it ignored how coercion can be coercion without explicit or implicit threat of physical violence.
The second obstacle is the logic of feminism. Spousal notification has been denounced as retrograde by the same advocates who have been demanding gender equality in the workplace and at home. If men are expected to be parents with equal responsibilities, shouldn't they at least be allowed to discuss whether to have a child?
This isn't the logic of feminism, nor the logic of the Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 against spousal notification. The deciding vote was cast by Justice O'Connor. The decision.
This is an easy question for those on the pro-life side of the abortion debate. They'd like men to be not only notified of pregnancies, but also given veto power over abortions.
Being pro-choice, I don't agree with that position, but I admire the logic. It's a gender-neutral policy: if either parent thinks it's wrong to end the pregnancy, then the pregnancy must proceed.
If the pro-choice side adopted a gender-neutral policy, then either the man or the woman would have the right to say no to parenthood. I don't know of anyone advocating that a woman be required to have an abortion, but there's another right that could be given to a man who impregnates a woman who isn't his wife. If the woman decided to go ahead and have the child, she would have to notify him and give him the option early in the pregnancy of absolving himself of any financial responsibility for the child.
This option to have a "financial abortion" has been advocated by a few iconoclasts - not all of them men with child-support payments. The term was coined by Frances Goldscheider, a professor of sociology at Brown University who studies family issues. She compares the current campaign against "deadbeat dads" to the punishments once given to "wayward women" for having illegitimate children.
"It used to be our daughters we worried about being forced into inappropriate parenthood, but now it must be our sons," she said. "Men should not be made to become fathers against their will. They should have the right Planned Parenthood has claimed for women: 'Every child a wanted child.' "
Goldscheider, who's a pro-choice Democrat, has found that her proposal provokes a rare bipartisan consensus. "Neither the left nor the right like my egalitarian ideas," she said. "The right's response is that men should be macho and pay for playing - unless they've gotten burned themselves. The left's response is that men should pay, period - unless it's their sons."
There is, of course, one big physical inequality between the sexes in this regard: it's the woman who must either have the abortion or go through the pregnancy. But as Goldscheider points out, women also have more power than men to prevent the pregnancy because they have exclusive control over some forms of contraception. It's not fair, she says, for a woman who lies about being on the pill to be able to trick a man into marrying her or making child-support payments for 18 years.
If it were just a question of the woman's rights versus the man's rights, I'd go along with Goldscheider's proposal. But if the man gets a financial abortion and the woman goes ahead with the pregnancy, someone else's rights still need to be considered: the child would be suffering because of the parents' decisions.
Goldscheider's solution to that problem is for the government to provide financial support in place of the father. But would this new public subsidy encourage more single-parent homes? To avoid that risk, I'd rather stick with the current system, unfair as it is, of making all men pay.
But there's no reason that it couldn't be a little fairer. As Alito ruled, it's not an undue burden for a wife to notify her husband before an abortion. And it's not unfair, as Goldscheider proposes, for a single woman expecting child support to be required to tell the father as soon as she decides to keep the baby. If men are going to pay to play, they should at least know the score.
The statute states that "unless certain exceptions apply, a married woman seeking an abortion must sign a statement indicating that she has notified her husband." The Supreme Court's finding thus states that "Section 3209's husband notification provision constitutes an undue burden, and is therefore invalid. A significant number of women will likely be prevented from obtaining an abortion just as surely as if Pennsylvania had outlawed the procedure entirely. The fact that 3209 may affect fewer than one percent of women seeking abortions does not save it from facial invalidity, since the proper focus of constitutional inquiry [505 U.S. 833, 838] is the group for whom the law is a restriction, not the group for whom it is irrelevant. Furthermore, it cannot be claimed that the father's interest in the fetus' welfare is equal to the mother's protected liberty, since it is an inescapable biological fact that state regulation with respect to the fetus will have a far greater impact on the pregnant woman's bodily integrity than it will on the husband."
Judge Alito's position on any single issue is not the point about the debate over his appointment. It's his position on any and all issues.
January 9, 2006
I know this blog is all about Brooks and Tierney, with a little Friedman on the side. But this column by Bob Herbert expresses my exact thoughts about the nature of Bush's foray into illegal wiretapping.
January 9, 2006
The Nixon Syndrome
By BOB HERBERT
Whether he knew it or not, President Bush was faced with a crucial philosophical choice in the frightening and chaotic aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
He could have followed the wise counsel of Edward R. Murrow, who memorably told us, "We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home." But he didn't. He chose instead to follow the disturbing course mapped out by Barry Goldwater, who insisted, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice ... moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."
That choice changed the character of America for the worse, leading (like a character's tragic flaw in an ancient drama) to the mindless invasion and occupation of Iraq; the imprisonment without trial of thousands of so-called terror suspects, who were denied the right to protest their innocence or confront their accusers; the now-infamous torture memo from the Justice Department; the abuses at Abu Ghraib; the reprehensible practice of rendition, in which individuals are kidnapped by U.S. officials and handed over to regimes known to specialize in torture; the creation of super-secret C.I.A. prisons - the dungeons of the 21st century; and, as recently revealed, the president's decision to authorize illegal eavesdropping - spying - on American citizens.
The president has been cavalier about the profound issues embedded in his radical makeover of America. Perhaps he doesn't understand them. As the controversy grew over the warrantless eavesdropping on U.S. citizens by the National Security Agency, Mr. Bush, apparently annoyed, said at a press conference, "The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy."
Well, Mr. President, one of the great things about democracy American style is that important national issues are always subject to a robust national discussion. And few things are more important than making sure that a president with a demonstrated tendency to abuse the powers of his office is not allowed to lay the foundation for the systematic surveillance of the American people.
For a president - any president - to O.K. eavesdropping on U.S. citizens on American soil without a warrant is an abomination. First, it's illegal - and for very good reasons. Spying on the populace is a giant step toward totalitarianism. In the worst-case scenario, it's the nightmare of Soviet-style surveillance.
Related to that is the all-important matter of the separation of powers, which is the absolutely crucial cornerstone of our form of government - our bulwark against tyranny. An elaborate system of checks and balances (you need a warrant from a court to wiretap, for example) prevents the concentration of too much power in any one branch, or any one person. Get rid of the checks and balances and you've gotten rid of the United States as we've known it.
If President Bush wants to spy on Americans, let him follow the law and get a warrant. He's the president, not the king. The president cannot simply do as he pleases. Richard Nixon unleashed the dogs of domestic surveillance in the 1970's, and that played a major role in the constitutional crisis that traumatized the nation and led to the collapse of his presidency.
Nixon was out of control, so Congress and the courts stepped in. Threatened with impeachment, he resigned his office and left town. Checks and balances.
President Bush argues that the enemies of the United States are so evil and so devious that he is justified in throwing off the legal constraints that might have bound previous presidents - including such important constraints as the ban on warrantless eavesdropping contained in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
If a president thinks a law should be changed, he can go to the American people via Congress and seek such a change. This president gave the back of his hand to FISA, deciding in secret to ignore it.
In doing that, Mr. Bush essentially declared that the checks and balances do not apply to him, that he is above the law, that he knows better than the likes of Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton et al.
In doing that, he aligned himself instead with Richard Nixon, who had his own notion of the separation of powers. That notion was best expressed in Nixon's chilling comment:
"When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal."
January 8, 2006
Bondage and Bonding Online
By DAVID BROOKS
As the Bush wiretap controversy deepens, Republicans run scared over the Abramoff scandal, Bush continues to appoint cronies to key positions (the unqualified Julie Myers is now in charge of Homeland Security Immigration), the Alito nomination hits snags, the Maldives sink in the wake of global warming, Iraq continues to crumble, and Sharon lies in a coma, David Brooks comes up with a column dealing with something that goes beyond mere political relevance: on-line discussion groups involving 20-somethings.
"Dude, we totally need to hang out. ... Erin, you're a [great] waitress and friend. We definitely need to hang out sometime. ... You rock my world. It was awesome seeing you. ... Where did you go!!! I haven't seen you in a long time and I NEED to see you!!! Cause I love you!!! ... Happy New Year my sexy friend. I love you sooo much!"
Companionship isn't dead. Go to MySpace.com or Facebook or Xanga or any of the other online sites where people leave messages on the home pages of their friends and you'll see these great waves of praise and encouragement. People visit their friends' pages and drop lovebombs. There's scarcely a critical word about anyone or anything in the whole social network. It's just fervent declarations of friendship, vows to get together soon and memories of great times gone by.
Some sociologists worry that we're bowling alone, but these sites (MySpace has 20 million visitors a month) are all about community. They're commonly used by people in the new stage of life that's been created over the past few decades. They are in their early to mid-20's; they're out of school but have no expectation they should marry soon. They're highly mobile, half-teen/half-adult, looking for a life plan and in between the formal networks of school, career and family.
They're still bowlling alone, but Brooks has more important things on his mind. Yes, folks, SMUT.
So they bond online with an almost desperate enthusiasm. The Web pages they create are part dorm-room wall, part bulletin board, part young person's society page. They post photos of favorite celebrities, dirty postcards and music videos. And there are tons of chug-and-grins: photos of the gang gripping beers at a bar, photos of the tribe chugging vodka on the beach, photos of the posse doing shots at an apartment. Scroll down the page and there are people falling over each other, beaming and mugging for the camera phone. You can see why Rupert Murdoch just spent $580 million to buy the company that owns MySpace. It's become a treasured institution and, in many ways, quite a positive one. But, this being youth culture in America, of course there's something to make parents cringe.
Every social environment has its own lingua franca, and the one on these sites has been shaped by "American Pie," spring break and "Girls Gone Wild." The sites are smutty. Facebook, which is restricted to students and alumni of colleges, is rollicking but respectable. But there is a huge class distinction between the people on Facebook and the much larger and less educated population that uses MySpace. The atmosphere on MySpace is much raunchier.
To get the attention of fast-clicking Web surfers, many women have posed for their photos in bikinis or their underwear or in Penthouse-parody, "I clutch my breasts for you" positions. Here's a woman in a jokey sadomasochistic pose. There's a woman with a caption: "Yes, I make out with girls. Get over it" - complete with a photo of herself liplocked with a buddy.
On the other hand, doesn't this indicate some sort of acceptance of homosexuality? Even back in the bisexual '70s, when folks like Lou Reed and David Bowie were dressing in drag, you never saw them lip-locking other guys.
The girls are the peacocks in this social universe. Their pages are racy, filled with dirty jokes and macha declarations: "I'm hot and like to party. Why have one boy when there are plenty to go around?!" The boys' pages tend to be passive and unimaginative: a guy posing with a beer or next to a Corvette. In a world in which the girls have been schooled in sexual aggressiveness, the boys sit back and let the action come to them.
And yet surveys show us teen sex has eased, as more and more young people treat actual sexual contact with more seriousness than the two previous generations. That the boys don't have to have pissing contests to show the size of their penises seems to be a good thing. But these attitudes (sexually aggressive women; laid-back men) scare traditionalists who want women to stay in the kitchen, and men to lead wars. Men comfortable with their sexuality? Women taking charge of their own lives? These are the so-called uneducated masses we're talking about here. They write to each other, they read each other's websites. They preach love and tolerance. What's not to like?
On most Web pages, there's a chance to list your favorite TV shows and books. And while the TV lists are long ("The OC," "Desperate Housewives," "Nip/Tuck," etc.) many of the book lists will make publishers suicidal: "Books! Ha! Me! What a joke! ... I think reading's ridiculous. ... I don't finish books very often but I'm attempting 'Smart Women Finish Rich.'... This is what I have to say about books (next to an icon of Bart Simpson's rear end)."
(Given the quality of the new spring and summer titles, publishers should be suicidal anyway. A wonderful article popped up in the New York Times last week. Seems the London Times sent out two '70s Booker prize-winning novels (one by V.S. Naipaul, the other by Stanley Middleton) to 20 publishers and agents. Twenty of the 21 responses were rejections. Publishers haven't a clue what's good any more.)
To the point, though: the anti-reading attitude exhibited in these quotes is no different from that of previous generations. Remember, Brooks is talking about folks who are neither college students nor graduates.
The idea on these sites is to show you're a purebred party animal, which leaves us fogies with two ways to see MySpace.
The happy view is that this is a generation of wholesome young people building nurturing communities and the smutty talk is just a harmless way of demarcating an adult-free social space. The dark view is that these prolonged adolescents are filled with earnest desires for meaningful human contact, but they live in a culture that has provided them with no vocabulary to create these sorts of bonds except through cleavage and vodka.
Depending on the person, both views are true.
There's a third alternative. All these people are functionally literate, both with the English language and with digital media. They're less homophobic than previous generations. The males are less aggressive and less insecure about their masculinity. They're all communicating with one another in ways that will lead to less ostracism for sexual conduct. They're also not criticizing one another, which hopefully will lead to fewer feuds. The vocabulary of "cleavage and vodka" is certainly superior to previous vocabularies of moral outrage and in-fighting. There are many questions about these new on-line communities, from the "bowling alone" concept to issues concerning privacy. But Brooks only cares about smut.
January 7, 2006
Black Students Lose Again
By JOHN TIERNEY
Democrats once went to court to desegregate schools. But in Florida they've been fighting to kick black students out of integrated schools, and they've succeeded, thanks to the Democratic majority on the State Supreme Court.
This is not what the State Supreme Court did. It is not about black students being kicked out of integrated schools, though that's the game Tierney is playing. It's about vouchers, and public vs. private schools.
The court's decision on Thursday was a legally incoherent but politically creative solution to a delicate problem. Ever since Florida's pioneering statewide voucher program began, Democrats have been struggling to deal with the program's success.
From the American Civil Liberties Union, which was party to the suit: "Today's decision affirms a lower court ruling issued on August 5, 2002 by Leon County Circuit Court Judge P. Kevin Davey also citing Article I, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution. Judge Davey said that despite the need "to enhance the educational opportunity of children caught in the snare of substandard schools," Florida's Constitution is "clear and unambiguous" and that the court does not have the "authority to abandon the clear mandate of the people as enunciated in the constitution."
From USA Today: The court found that taxpayer support for private schools in general is unconstitutional because Florida's constitution requires "a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools." Private schools aren't "uniform when compared with each other or the public system," the justices wrote. They're also exempt from public standards on teacher credentials and requirements to teach about a wide range of subjects, such as civics, U.S. and world history and minorities' and women's contributions to history.
From the AP Wires: Chief Justice Barbara Pariente said the program ''diverts public dollars into separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools,'' which are the sole means set out in the state constitution for educating Florida children.
In other words, this has nothing to do with the program's "success" and everything to do with its unconstitutionality.
Most of recipients have been black students like Adrian Bushell, whom I wrote about last year. Without a voucher, he would have attended Miami Edison, a big public high school in a poor area with a 94 percent black student body and a total of six non-Hispanic white students.
Instead, he's now a 10th grader at Monsignor Edward Pace, a Catholic school that is 24 percent black. His experience is typical. In other places that have tried vouchers, like Milwaukee and Cleveland, studies have shown that voucher recipients tend to move to less segregated schools.
This is the first phase of a classic bait-and-switch. Voucher supporters can look to these pilot programs with pride, as if the final result will in any way resemble a program in which black students are all transferred into better schools. But educators and critics see something different, a future in which ethnic separation and religious indoctrination, along with exemption from public standards on teacher credentials and educational requirements, will be enshrined in a new voucher/private school system.
From an article in the St. Petersburg Times, June 6, 2005: Some 95 percent of Opportunity Scholarship recipients are black or Hispanic. More cynical observers have suggested that provoucher groups are using minorities to leverage universal vouchers. Others say vouchers are a diversion from more expensive initiatives they believe are more likely to help, including better teachers and smaller class sizes. "There are those of us who believe there is - I won't call it a plot, but a plan - to destroy public schools," says Gerald Bracey, a fellow at the Educational Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University who has written extensively about vouchers. "Vouchers are part of that plan."
Besides helping Adrian (who's got a 3.1 average and plans on college), the Florida program has also benefited students in public schools like Miami Edison. Because each voucher is worth less than what the public system spends per student, more money is left for each student in the public system.
This is disingenuous. There are 730 students in this particular program, so assuming Tierney has his facts right, the actual cost savings is extremely minimal.
And studies have repeatedly shown that failing Florida schools facing voucher competition have raised their test scores more than schools not facing the voucher threat.
A program that desegregates schools and improves test scores wasn't easy to attack in the Legislature, but the courts offered a more promising battleground for the teachers' unions trying to stop it. Florida's Constitution has a version of the Blaine Amendment, a ban on aid to religious institutions that might be construed in some states (but not in others) to prohibit school vouchers.
A lower court in Florida ruled that the voucher program violated the ban on religious aid. The State Supreme Court could have simply affirmed that conclusion, which would have been legally defensible (although mistaken, in my view). But then it would have faced a messy new set of questions.
Tierney is right in essence. However, he makes the Court sound cowardly. In fact,. the whole government/religious borderline is a nebulous one, whether it be "In God We Trust" or charities as wide-ranging as the Red Cross. It's pretty clear why nobody really wants to get down and dirty. If you choose one side or the other, you disrupt the status quo in a very dangerous way.
If the Blaine Amendment prohibited vouchers, couldn't it also prohibit the state aid now going to hospitals, colleges and preschool programs run by religious institutions? Would the court have to end programs that were popular with the public and inoffensive to Democratic teachers' unions?
Notice "Democratic" teachers unions. Tierney mentions "Democrats" twice in the first paragraph, then again here (though teacher union opposition is non-partisan). Later he mentions that the two dissenting judges are Republican. At the end, he talks about how the NAACP is a wing of the Democrats, and that unions control the party. What he's trying to do is link Democrats with rulings against black students, even though (1) this ruling wasn't against black students, and (2) it has nothing to do with Democrats. In any event, the standard phraseology would be "liberal" or "conservative" judges. Thus, it would appear Tierney is doing this to tar Democrats amongst their own constituency, Black Americans
The judges ducked these inconvenient questions by ignoring the Blaine Amendment and using another rationale. They ruled that the voucher program violated a state constitutional requirement to provide a "uniform" system of public schools.
The majority's decision was eviscerated in a dissent by two Republican judges who use adjectives like "nonsensical" to describe the legal reasoning. The dissenters argue persuasively that nothing in the Constitution forbids the Legislature from setting up other programs beyond the public school system.
Both judges were appointed by Governor Bush. These are his guys; the voucher program is his baby. Their dissent is unsurprising.
The decision has disillusioned Adrian and his grandmother, Ramona Nickson. "I just don't even want to think of sending him back to public school," she said. Other parents in Florida worry that more programs are in jeopardy, like the scholarships given to thousands of disabled students in private schools. Or the many charter schools in the state, which may not suit the judges' personal vision of a "uniform" system.
From the LA Times: About 30,000 other Florida children benefit from other voucher programs created for disabled and lower-income students. Those two programs were not directly affected by Thursday's ruling Adrian, by the way, will finish out the school year in his present school. Tierney conveniently leaves that out. Besides, if supporters actually cared about those 730 students, private funding could certainly be found for them.
"It's difficult to predict what will happen next after a decision as devoid of legal principle as this one," said Clark Neily of the Institute for Justice, which represented the voucher recipients in the case. "The judges decided what decision they wanted to reach and worked backward from there."
The Institute for Justice is a libertarian think tank. The front page of its website features a rally for property rights on Wed. January 11th in Columbus Ohio. Its links page lists all the usual right-wing think tanks: the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Alliance for School Choice, the Heartland Institute, et al. Lovely..
Adrian was supported by the Urban League of Miami and other advocacy groups for blacks and Latinos, but not the N.A.A.C.P. It abandoned him - and the majority of African-Americans, who favor school vouchers - and sided with the teachers' unions.
The group that once battled the segregationists' fiction of "separate but equal" schools signed on to the legal fiction that there's something admirably "uniform" about a public school monopoly that keeps students in Adrian's neighborhood trapped in a segregated, inferior school.
It's sad to see the N.A.A.C.P. working to keep them there, but it's not surprising now that the group is virtually an arm of the Democratic Party. The unions dominating that party have no qualms about sending Adrian back to a segregated school that has just lost its chief incentive to improve. The party now has a new educational motto: separate but uniform.
A little more union-bashing from Tierney, along with a dig at the NAACP. The most interesting part of this, and something rarely mentioned in the news articles, comes from the St. Petersburg Times editorial on the vouchers (and a later article in the New York Times). The program upon which the Court ruled, Opportunity Scholarships, serves only 730 of Florida's 2.6 million public school students. That's 730 out of 2.6 million.
For more information, here's a Q&A from the St. Petersburg Times, and one on vouchers in general from religioustolerance.org. Here's a link to the St. Petersburg Times editorial., which says: Enough political blood has been spilled in pursuit of the governor's privatization agenda. Opportunity Scholarships, the program on which the court ruled, serve only about 700 of Florida's 2.6-million public school students, and lawmakers would be wise to get back to basics. The point is to provide the highest quality public education possible, and vouchers are mostly a distraction in that regard.
January 5, 2006
Saving the House
By DAVID BROOKS
What looks at first to be an original attempt to deal with Republican sleaze is actually part of a wider effort to limit the damage. The National Review, as reported in the Washington Post, has called for Tom DeLay to give up his efforts to become House Majority Leader. According to the Post, the Review has been consistently a supporter of the embattled Texas Republican.
I don't know what's more pathetic, Jack Abramoff's sleaze or Republican paralysis in the face of it. Abramoff walks out of a D.C. courthouse in his pseudo-Hasidic homburg, and all that leading Republicans can do is promise to return his money and remind everyone that some Democrats are involved in the scandal, too.
The Republican response to being caught out has been (1) deny deny deny; and if denial can no longer work, then claim (2) the Democrats (or "everyone else") does it too. This last works well because the complacent American news media is so terrified of Republican attack dogs that it becomes easy to retreat to "a pox on both your houses" journalism. What the Republican brain trust is figuring out (because so many Republicans and so few Democrats will be caught in the Abramoff scandal) is that response #2 is no longer viable. So now they're going for response #3: It's a few bad apples. The rest of Brooks' column --- how to reform the system --- is gloss. It won't happen and we can assume he knows it.
That's a great G.O.P. talking point: some Democrats are so sleazy, they get involved with the likes of us.
If Republicans want to emerge from this affair with their self-respect or electoral prospects intact, they need to get in front of it with a comprehensive reform offensive.
First, they need to hold new leadership elections. As Newt Gingrich and Vin Weber told me yesterday, Tom DeLay needs to take care of his own legal problems and give up the dream of returning as majority leader.
DeLay is the baddest of the bad apples.
But Republicans need to do more than bump DeLay. They need to put the entire leadership team up for a re-vote. That's because the real problem wasn't DeLay, it was DeLayism, the whole culture that merged K Street with the Hill, and held that raising money is the most important way to contribute to the team.
The last "ism" of this sort we've seen in a Brooks column is "Howard Deanism." However, the culture that merged K Street with the Hill happened long before Tom DeLay. It happened during Newt Gingrich's watch, and much of the corruption involves the unholy alliance between the Christian right, the corporate right, and the Republican Party. These people were elected using corporate and church donor money. Most are far too well educated to personally believe the fundamentalist tripe they mouth in order to get elected. Their souls were lost long before they came to Washington. It's not DeLayism. The rot is deeper than that.
New leadership elections would, at least, make the current leaders re-earn their slots with new platforms. At best, they would allow the party to reinvigorate itself under new management. A party led by young talents like Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Mike Pence and Mark Kirk would be taken seriously as a party of reform.
Notice that Brooks does not name the leaders--- such as Dennis Hastert and Roy Blunt. He's limiting the damage to DeLay and Ney, both of whom will be out of Congress before the year is out. He's going no further than his cohorts at the National Review. It's hard to keep remembering that Republican pundits rarely speak on their own when it comes to party issues. As far as the GOP being the party of reform, lord help us. These folks are owned and managed by American corporate interests. When you're Don Vito Corleone, putting on a black robe and a wig won't turn you into Mother Theresa.
Second, the Republicans need to get a grip on earmarks.
Earmarks are the provisions that single members can stick into gigantic bills to steer spending toward favored projects. They're an invitation to corruption. If individual members of Congress can control $100 million federal contracts or billion-dollar pork barrel projects, then of course companies are going to find ways to funnel graft to those members.
Then who will pay for the think tanks and propaganda, and get Republicans elected? This is where the money is. What comes next is a listing of reform provisions, most of which (except for the "budget rules") are part of a wish list for anyone who wants to see an end to lobbyist sleaze in Washington. But this is all talk. The reforms can't happen for two reasons: (1) Congresspeople would lose too many perks; and (2) Republicans will be hurt more than Democrats. You need lots of money to pay for the disingenousness necessary to present a platform that only benefits a small percentage of Americans.
To prove they're serious about special-interest spending, Republicans could declare a one-year earmark moratorium until they get a handle on this problem. Or they could promote legislation mandating that earmarks eat up only 1 percent of any spending bill's total cost.
Third, Republicans need to steal David Obey and Barney Frank's lobbying-reform ideas. For some insane reason, having to do with their own special interests, Democrats have been slow to trumpet the ideas coming from their own party. Republicans have a chance to hijack them before the country notices.
There is no "insane reason" having to do with.Democratic special interests (read unions), and Brooks knows it. It's the corrupt DLC corporate wing of the Democratic Party, the same people who don't want any lobbyist reform in either party. And there's no way the Republicans will hijack these ideas, unles they've also figured a way to subvert the plan.
Specifically, there should be a ban on lobbyist-paid travel. (Members should be allowed to take spouses on publicly financed travel because it is important that members get out and see the world.) Former members should not be allowed to lobby on the House floor. All lobbyist contacts with government officials should be posted on the Internet.
Why not go one step further, and ban all former members of the House and Senate from lobbying jobs for at least a decade? Even Brooks knows that would be going too far. Doesn't matter anyway. This is all talk. It's always easy to sound like the "party of reform" when you're making suggestions that you know don't have any chance of passage.
Gingrich intriguingly suggests abolishing all fund-raising in the Washington metro area. Make the lobbyists go to the districts if they want to attend $1,000 cocktail parties.
I ingriguingly suggest that David Brooks stand on his head and flap his feet together. Gingrich's "suggestion" is beyond pie-in-the-sky, it's pie-in-the-next-galaxy..
Fourth, enforce House rules. There's bound to be corruption when spending provisions can be slipped into legislation in the dead of night, outside the normal oversight procedures. There's bound to be corruption when members are forced to vote on sprawling bills nobody has a chance to inspect. Instead, all legislation should be posted online for 72 hours before the vote, so the staff and bloggers can nitpick and expose.
Fifth, rebuild the ethics committees. Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute proposes a bifurcated process. The investigations should be conducted by a commission of former members and former staffers. That way, current members are not investigating one another. Then the committees can vote on the commission recommendations.
Where was Brooks when the Republicans were spending the past couple of years playing games with ethics rules? The Republicans were ruling the roost, could get away with anything, and David Brooks was a happy camper. Did he comment (as Paul Krugman did) on how the so-called Enron reforms did not reform anything? Did he ever care about all the times the Bush Administration investigated and cleared itself?
Sixth, readopt the pay-as-you-go budget rules. As long as a $2.6-trillion-a-year government is expanding into more areas of national life, businesses will have an incentive to invest in lobbyists. The 1990 pay-as-you-go rules, which forced Congress to offset new expenditures with spending restraint not only imposed fiscal discipline but also forced pork projects to compete for limited resources.
Sleight of hand here. This is Grover Norquist's "Starve The Beast" idea. Back in 1990, with a Democratic Congress and a relatively small deficit, pay-as-you-go worked insofar as government expansion was concerned. Today, with a soaring deficit and Republicans controlling everything, you're talking about major cutbacks in the social safety net. This isn't reform. It's premeditated murder.
Finally, today before noon, fire Bob Ney as chairman of the House Administration Committee. For God's sake, Republicans, show a little moral revulsion.
For God's sake, Brooks, why not talk about Bush's usurpation of power? Show a little moral revulsion toward this would-be petty dictator. But I forget. This isn't about Bush. It's about Republican talking points.
Back in the dim recesses of my mind, I remember a party that thought of itself as a reform, or even a revolutionary movement. That party used to be known as the Republican Party. I wonder if it still exists.
Of course it does. The party was never one of reform. As for revolution, this is the party of Richard Nixon and Watergate, Warren G. Harding and Teapot Dome, Ronald Reagan and Iran-Contra, the anti-Semitic HUAC hearings, opposition to Civil Rights in the South, not to mention Joseph McCarthy, the Willie Horton ads, and Timothy McVeigh apologists. They sure are revolting, and Tom DeLay fits right in.
January 4, 2006
Social Insecurity Crisis
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
It's really too bad. There was a time when Friedman was a noted and respected pundit, but his inability to recognize how much of American government has been taken over by right-wing radicals has turned him into a shadow of his former self.
The year 2006 is just four days old, but I'm already prepared to nominate the natural resource of the year, the one that will have the most decisive impact on international relations - and that is undoubtedly oil.
Look at all the global trends involving oil (or gas) today, and they are all bad: the former leader of Germany gets voted out of office and goes to work for the president of Russia, running a pipeline company owned by Russia. The oil-for-food scandal tarnishes the U.N. The president of Iran, feeling so emboldened by the billions of dollars flowing into his country thanks to $60-a-barrel oil, engages in repeated rants about how the Holocaust was a myth. Vladimir Putin's oil-fueled government in Russia steadily erodes civil liberties at home, while using its energy clout abroad to try to punish Ukraine and to deflect U.N. pressure on Syria for its murderous campaign against Lebanese democrats and on Iran for its work to develop a nuclear bomb. I could go on. Do you have all day?
If you look at these trends, three things come to mind: They are all negative, they are all going to get worse with another year of $60-a-barrel oil, and the only force on the planet with the will and the way to neutralize their worst effects is America.
But here's the rub: America's refusal to have a serious energy policy makes these problems only more severe, and its refusal to have a serious entitlement policy - reforming Social Security and Medicare before they totally devour the U.S. budget - is only going to sap America's ability to play the global governing role that is so necessary for world stability.
No. It's not America's refusal. It's Bush and Cheney's refusal to do anything to jeopardize the profits of their cronies. It's the Republican Congress's refusal to consider increasing the cap on Social Security. It's the corruption of the Medicare drug scam that's set to devour the budget. This isn't about America. It's about a systemic rot in the system, the Abramoffing of Washington.
To put it another way, our energy gluttony is strengthening the worst forces in the world and our entitlement gluttony is going to weaken our capacity to deal with those forces. As the Johns Hopkins University foreign affairs specialist Michael Mandelbaum puts it: "The greatest threat to America's role in the world today is not China. It's Medicare."
This isn't "our." The rise in fuel prices has triggered an end to the SUV boom, and America is becoming energy-conscious again. The greatest threat to America's role in the world (if we believe Friedman at all) is not Medicare. It's the end of the estate tax, it's the permanence of the tax cuts for the wealthy, it's the government-sanctioned ability of large corporations to dodge their taxes.
In a smart and original new book, "The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World's Government in the 21st Century," Mr. Mandelbaum argues that while U.S. foreign policy is hardly perfect, it is America - through its vast military deployments, diplomatic engagements and vital role in buttressing the global economy and its rules - that provides the basic governance that keeps the world stable and on a decent track.
Most countries in the world like this situation, he contends. They like it because they know that the U.S. is not a predatory power, so they are not afraid of the order it provides. They like it because this global order is helpful to every country in the world, but the cost of it is borne largely by U.S. taxpayers. And they like it because they can criticize the U.S. and still enjoy all the benefits it provides.
The best evidence for all this, Mr. Mandelbaum notes, is the fact that no military coalition has ever formed to counter America's global governing role - as happened with other hegemonic powers in history.
In Mr. Mandelbaum's view, America "is not the lion of the international system, terrorizing and preying on smaller, weaker animals in order to survive itself. It is, rather, the elephant, which supports a wide variety of other creatures - smaller mammals, birds and insects - by generating nourishment for them as it goes about the business of feeding itself."
No other country could play this crucial stabilizing role. But its continuation depends on "American taxpayers' being willing to keep paying for it," Mr. Mandelbaum said - and that gets us back to our runaway entitlements.
American taxpayers? No. Again, it's the wealthy scumbags who have taken over the Republican Party in toto, and the Democratic Party in part. Runaway entitlements? Hell, this is what government is for: providing a decent safety net. The answer isn't an end to "entitlements" (the word itself is a wicked reframing of the social safety net concept, coined by right-wingers in the '80s and, without anyone questioning its pedigree, now an accepted part of the lexicon). It's an end to corporate welfare and the monetary racket that is America's electoral system.
USA Today recently quoted David Walker, the U.S. comptroller general, as saying we are about to be hit by "a demographic tsunami" that will "never recede." The baby boomers total 77 million, and their first wave turns 60 this year. Unless we trim the Medicare and Social Security benefits promised to these boomers, the paper noted, America's "national debt will grow more than $3 trillion through 2010, to $11.2 trillion. ... The interest alone would cost $561 billion in 2010, the same as the Pentagon [budget]."
David Walker's previous employer, from 1989 to 1998 was Arthur Andersen LLP. As folks may recall, Arthur Andersen was forced to give up its Certified Public Accounting licenses in 2002 following its involvement in the Enron scandal. It may be that Walker is an honest soul with nothing but the highest intentions, but it's pretty clear where his bread is buttered. Again, we can raise the social security cap, we can rescind the Bush tax cuts, we can start cutting our losses in Iraq, we can work to eliminate corporate welfare, and we can go after corporate miscreants. Will that free enough money? Maybe not, but it's a start.
The same as the Pentagon's! So either Social Security and Medicare shrink or the Pentagon shrinks - because higher taxes seem to be out of the question for now. If history is any guide, Americans will prefer Social Security and Medicare over paying to make the world safe for China, India, Russia and Iran to pursue their interests.
If so, the world may soon test out one of the most important theses of Mr. Mandelbaum's book: that the greatest threat to global stability is "not too much American power, but too little."
To some degree, Friedman, the middle-of-the-road moderate, buys into the extreme blueprint for an American Century promulgated by Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld back in the days of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Mandelbaum's thesis (which Friedman readily buys) about the positive aspects of American power is certainly arguable. But whether Mandelbaum is right or wrong, Friedman's attack on American taxpayers and the social safety net is pure bunkum. Friedman is paying way too much attention to the giant head on Oz's throne, and nothing at all to the men behind the curtain.
January 3, 2006
Addendum to David Brooks January 1 column from Richard Wolinsky
The following e-mail arrived today:
Subject: so why don't you find out from Linda herself?
Well, at least one person in America is passing acquainted with Jonathan Swift. We have to stop not meeting like this.
January 3, 2006
Male Pride and Female Prejudice
By JOHN TIERNEY
When there are three women for every two men graduating from college, whom will the third woman marry?
Her girlfriend perhaps?. But I don't think that's where Tierney is headed.
This is not an academic question. Women, who were a minority on campuses a quarter-century ago, today make up 57 percent of undergraduates, and the gender gap is projected to reach a 60-40 ratio within a few years. So more women, especially black and Hispanic women, will be in a position to get better-paying, more prestigious jobs than their husbands, which makes for a tricky variation of "Pride and Prejudice."
No it's not. The story of "Pride and Prejudice" has very little to do with better paying and more prestigious jobs, for women or men. It's just that Tierney is trying to find a segue to a quote from Jane Austen.
It's still a universal truth, as Jane Austen wrote, that a man with a fortune has good marriage prospects. It's not so universal for a woman with a fortune, because pride makes some men determined to be the chief breadwinner. But these traditionalists seem to be a dwindling minority as men have come to appreciate the value of a wife's paycheck.
Didn't we just read a variation of this column? Are Brooks and Tierney now exchanging notes in the middle of the night? There's some weird framing buried in both articles. Brooks, while saying we need more men in the kitchen, is really decrying the fact that women are getting out of the kitchen. Tierney... well, let's see where he's headed, shall we?
A woman's earning power, while hardly the first thing that men look for, has become a bigger draw, as shown in surveys of college students over the decades. In 1996, for the first time, college men rated a potential mate's financial prospects as more important than her skills as a cook or a housekeeper.
In the National Survey of Families and Households conducted during the early 1990's, the average single man under 35 said he was quite willing to marry someone earning much more than he did. He wasn't as interested in marrying someone making much less than he did, and he was especially reluctant to marry a woman who was unlikely to hold a steady job.
Those findings jibe with what I've seen. I can't think of any friend who refused to date a woman because she made more money than he did. When friends have married women with bigger paychecks, the only financial complaints I've heard from them have come when a wife later decided to pursue a more meaningful - i.e., less lucrative - career.
Nor can I recall hearing guys insult a man, to his face or behind his back, for making less than his wife. The only snide comments I've heard have come from women talking about their friends' husbands. I've heard just a couple of hardened Manhattanites do that, but I wouldn't dismiss them as isolated reactionaries because you can see this prejudice in that national survey of singles under 35.
When people talk about the earning power of others' spouses, it's called "gossip." Everyone does it, and in this context, it's meaningless.
The women surveyed were less willing to marry down - marry someone with much lower earnings or less education - than the men were to marry up. And, in line with Jane Austen, the women were also more determined to marry up than the men were.
You may think that women's attitudes are changing as they get more college degrees and financial independence. A women who's an executive can afford to marry a struggling musician. But that doesn't necessarily mean she wants to. Studies by David Buss of the University of Texas and others have shown that women with higher incomes, far from relaxing their standards, put more emphasis on a mate's financial resources.
No, you would not think that a woman who's an executive would want to marry a. deadbeat/artist husband. What you would think about is whether the woman executive would want to marry the stay-at-home husband/dad. That's an interesting question, but not one Tierney addresses in this column.
And once they're married, women with higher incomes seem less tolerant of their husbands' shortcomings. Steven Nock of the University of Virginia has found that marriages in which the wife and husband earn roughly the same are more likely to fail than other marriages. That situation doesn't affect the husband's commitment to the marriage, Nock concludes, but it weakens the wife's and makes her more likely to initiate divorce.
Okay. So if more women have executive positions, they'll either wind up old maids or divorcees. We now see where this column is headed, and it's not pretty.
It's understandable that women with good paychecks have higher standards for their partners, since their superior intelligence, education and income give them what Buss calls high "mate value." They know they're catches and want to find someone with equal mate value - someone like Mr. Darcy instead of a dullard like the cleric spurned by Elizabeth Bennet.
The dull cleric is the "good catch" whom Elizabeth almost marries. Mr. Darcy is the arrogant know-it-all that she nearly spurns because of her own pride and prejudice. Tierney seems not to have understood the novel, or the film.
"Of course, some women marry for love and find a man's resources irrelevant," Buss says. "It's just that the men women tend to fall in love with, on average, happen to have more resources."
Which means that, on average, college-educated women and high-school-educated men will have a harder time finding partners as long as educators keep ignoring the gender gap that starts long before college.
So Tierney is arguing for Affirmative Action for the Male Gender? Does he actually believe the situation has so deteriorated for men that women are now running the show? That feminism has not merely triumphed, but has taken over society? That we're now a matriarchy?
Let's get real, though. Despite noticeable inroads by women, men still continue to dominate management; they continue to dominate government; and percentages favor men in all the white collar areas traditionally favored by men. It's still a man's world, particularly a white man's world. If American women are indeed better educated and smarter than American men, maybe they should have more power, not less.
Advocates for women have been so effective politically that high schools and colleges are still focusing on supposed discrimination against women: the shortage of women in science classes and on sports teams rather than the shortage of men, period. You could think of this as a victory for women's rights, but many of the victors will end up celebrating alone.
So the real problem with feminism is that it makes women lonely. This column isn't about power, it's about aching loneliness. It's about making choices based on social needs rather than the heart. The proper analogy isn't "Pride and Prejudice." It's "Brokeback Mountain."
January 1, 2006
The Year of Domesticity
By DAVID BROOKS
What first reads as another straw man column soon turns into another example of David Brooks, armchair moralist, revealing another reason why, despite seeming to be open-minded, this guy is as rigid as a fundamentalist on a mission.
After a generation of feminist advance, women have more choices. They are freer to pursue a career, stay home or figure out some combination of both. And this is progress, right?
Wrong, says Linda Hirshman, a retired Brandeis professor, in the December issue of The American Prospect. Women who choose to stay home, she writes, stifle themselves and harm society. As she puts it, "The family - with its repetitious, socially invisible, physical tasks - is a necessary part of life, but it allows fewer opportunities for full human flourishing than public spheres like the market or the government."
Here's the straw man. Imagine E.J. Dionne writing a column decrying an article by a fundamentalist saying all women must be in the home and raise five children. He wouldn't do it because nobody would take it seriously. Either Hirshman's arguments should not be taken literally, or she's nuts. Notice that she mentions the market or government, but leaves out the arts. That, in itself, tells us something else is going on here.
Hirshman quotes Mark Twain, "A man who chooses not to read is just as ignorant as a man who cannot read," and argues that a woman who chooses to stay home with her kids is just as weak as a woman who can't get out of the house.
The strawman continues. Is she arguing that the female gender is not instinctively nurturing? Curious statements by Hirshman.
Women need to be coached to make better choices, Hirshman advises. First, they need to aim for careers that pay well: "The best way to treat work seriously is to find the money. Money is the marker of success in a market economy; it usually accompanies power, and it enables the bearer to wield power, including within the family."
If Hirshman is to be taken literally, she is saying that money rules everything and is the only thing that's important. Being an artist, or taking jobs in order to preserve one's integrity have no value. It's all about money. If she's to be taken literally, she's Gordon Gecko in drag.
Second, women need to find husbands who will share domestic drudgery equally: "You can either find a spouse with less social power than you or find one with an ideological commitment to gender equality."
So love and compatibility have less to do with marriage than finding the right spouse with the right economic/social checklist. If she's to be taken literally, then not only is she nuts and decries integrity, but her heart beats batshit.
Finally, she writes, "Have a baby. Just don't have two." Women with two kids find it harder to pursue a demanding career.
She's also a propagandist for Chinese eugenics policies.
Women who stay home worrying about diapers have "voluntarily become untouchables," Hirshman concludes. If these women continue to make bad choices, men will perpetually dominate the highest levels of society. It is time, she says, to re-radicalize feminism.
Okay. So what we really have here is a call to arms, using hyperbole to achieve its goals.. What Hirshman is really saying is not that women must have a single child, or that all woman must be career-driven neurotics, but that feminism has lost its edge, and its time to bust out again. In my mind, she's done a terrible job, creating a straw man for people like Brooks to knock down. But her point is not in the particulars, nor in the prescriptive nature of her arguments. It is, instead, that feminism has stagnated, and it's time for the movement to rethink its options.
Hirshman's essay really clears the sinuses. It's a full-bore, unapologetic blast of 1975 time-warp feminism and it deserves one of the 2005 Sidney Awards, which I've created for the best magazine essays of the year, because it is impossible to read this manifesto without taking a few minutes to figure out why she is so wrong.
But of course, she is wrong.
Only if you take her literally. If she is, in fact, arguing a single choice for every woman in America, and assumes that every woman has the same interests and goals as she does (i.e., to be neurotic power brokers with zero maternal instincts), then her arguments hold no moral, intellectual nor historical weight. But Brooks does take her literally. Why? Because he believes he can prescribe right behavior and interests for everyone himself, and that the only legitimate world view is that of David Brooks. He can't see the possibility of metaphor because (a) he has no imagination himself; and (b) he assumes Hirshman thinks as he does, i.e. there is only one kind of right behavior because there is only one kind of human being --- himself.
First, she's wrong with her astonishing assertion that high-paying jobs lead to more human flourishing than parenthood. Look back over your life. Which memories do you cherish more, those with your family or those at the office? If Hirshman thinks high-paying careers lead to more human flourishing, I invite her to spend a day as an associate at a big law firm.
Second, she's wrong to assume that work is the realm of power and home is the realm of powerlessness. The domestic sphere may not offer the sort of brutalizing, dominating power Hirshman admires, but it is the realm of unmatched influence. If there is one thing we have learned over the past generation, it is that a child's I.Q., mental habits and destiny are largely shaped in the first few years of life, before school or the outside world has much influence.
The dominant group in this society is that of middle-aged wealthy white men, who do not understand the nature of societal powerlessness because they don't have it. Powerlessness and invisibility in society cannot be pitted against the power of parents in the home. They're apples and oranges.
Children, at least, understand parental power. In "Eminem Is Right," a Sidney Award-winning essay in Policy Review, Mary Eberstadt notes a striking change in pop music. "If yesterday's rock was the music of abandon, today's is the music of abandonment." An astonishing number of hits, from artists ranging from Pearl Jam to Everclear to Snoop Dogg, are about kids who feel neglected by their parents. This is a need Hirshman passes over.
Let's see: if you take Hirshman literally, you throw out the entire history of human behavior. So yes, she passes over nurture in her arguments.
Her third mistake is to not even grapple with the fact that men and women are wired differently. The Larry Summers flap produced an outpouring of work on the neurological differences between men and women. I'd especially recommend "The Inequality Taboo" by Charles Murray in Commentary and a debate between Steven Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke in the online magazine Edge.
One of the findings of this research is that men are more interested in things and abstract rules while women are more interested in people. (You can come up with your own Darwinian explanation as to why.)
Yet another reason not to take her literally.
When you look back over the essays of 2005, you find many that dealt with the big foreign policy issues of the year, but also an amazing number that dealt with domesticity. That's because the deeper you get into economic or social problems - national competitiveness, poverty, school performance, incarceration - the more you realize the answers lie with good parenting and good homes.
Hirshman has it exactly backward. Power is in the kitchen. The big problem is not the women who stay there but the men who leave.
Again, apples and oranges. Two kinds of power. The power in the kitchen is NOT the power in society. Influencing children has nothing to do with taking an active role in business, government, or anywhere else. Of course, if men spent more time "in the kitchen," then women would be freer to pursue active roles in society, and both Brooks and Hirshman would be rendered moot.
But really, is he claiming that there is an equivalence in power between running the world and raising children, in that one can be substituted for the other? It's certainly good to be the power behind the throne, but heck, David, being on the throne is a much stronger position.