Belaboring the Obvious

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Trial of Mad Jack....

The blithering-idiot right takes another tack against anti-war sentiment, suggesting that Rep. James P. Murtha should be hereafter known as "Mad Jack" for his continuing insistence on some sort of withdrawal of troops from Iraq (courtesy of TBogg).

I suppose that every society has its mindless, cretinous jerk-offs lusting after war, any war, as long as they don't have to fight in any of them, but, it sometimes seems as if the U.S. has more than its share. Perhaps it's because they are so loud, so insistent, that they seem more in numbers than they are.

But, I wonder. So often it seems that significant segments of the country think that victory (however that's defined in a made-up war with made-up goals and made-up lies about the progress of that war) is going to be snatched from them, personally, unless the President, the great and wondrous and godly President, doesn't get to keep troops in a miserable hell-hole of a Middle Eastern country as long as he likes (or as long as is politically expedient, whichever comes first).

Some of these people have mistaken George the Younger for St. Ronald of the Order of Infallible but Faded Movie Idols, surely. St. Ronnie could do no wrong in their eyes. And, while George the Younger fucks up all the time, they may see some weird aura around him that reminds them of their departed saint. That might explain the utter, abject confusion in some of them.

But, not all. It's just difficult to admit that there are plenty of blockheaded war lovers in this country, the kind of people that started waving flags and yelling out their windows, "fuckin' kill `em all," as soon as they heard about the task force turning toward Grenada. People who want to line all the press up against a wall and personally shoot every last reporter and editor in the back of the head, and to hell with last cigarettes or blindfolds, just because they happen to report things these true believers don't want to hear.

How on earth did these people ever get the idea that everything Repug governments do is good for us, and that any suggestion that Bush's gang of Leninists are breaking the law is treasonous? And what in their public school educations made them so sure that trying not to let your wife know you've been screwing around with the office help is impeachable, but wholesale violations of the Bill of Rights are necessary to "keep us safe?"

It's a kind of madness, but I'll be damned if I can precisely define it, or explain how it came about. It's not just because of 9/11, although it got madder still after that day. It's not just a by-product of religious fundamentalism, since many of the proponents of such Bush adulation have as casual a relationship to religion as they do to the facts.

Liking the idea of war belies a complete lack of understanding of it, or a psychopathology on the part of those who do understand it, and seeing the President as commander-in-chief of the citizenry as well as the military dips into dangerous political territory.

It's obligatory today not to make comparisons to earlier examples of the "f-word," but it's stifling to participate in such self-censorship when there are so damned many incidental parallels. We regularly endure the right wing's attempt to make flag-burning a crime (a vote on that just yesterday in the Senate), but aren't allowed to mention that as Hitler and his party consolidated power, desecration of the flag was made a crime. We lately have heard a cacophany of outraged screams from the right to prosecute the press because Bush claims the New York Times has damaged the nation's security, and are supposed to forget that Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin all turned their nations' press into mouthpieces for the state. Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin all used some elements in their societies as objects of villification (a vote on that in the Senate was just recently blocked) And for reasons only that Murtha has publicly opposed the current war policy of the President, the right's current human megaphone, Ann Coulter, says that Murtha is the "reason soldiers invented fragging."

Why is it bad form to call these tendencies toward totalitarian authoritarianism what they are? In times past, we lived with extremist commentators (Westbrook Pegler immediately comes to mind in that regard), and we've lived with demagogues such as Tailgunner Joe McCarthy (Coulter's alter ego and idol). But, in times past, common sense prevailed and such characters were marginalized or censured in the public square. Common sense and reasonable public debate tended to eventually dampen hysteria and put extremism in perspective.

Not so today. If I had to guess, we are seeing today the culmination of thirty years' worth of increasing control of that public square by the wealthy right-wing elements in society, the same ones who have funded the likes of the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, Benador & Associates and the various soft-right think tanks such as the Hoover Institution and the Manhattan Institute, the position papers and commentators' opinions of which form the grist of current conventional wisdom. How else can one explain a presumed journalist, Chris Matthews of MSNBC, entertaining guest commentators on the subject of prosecuting the press without acknowledging that he's part of that same press, or that there are compelling Constitutional and practical arguments against official government retaliation against the press.

How else does one explain the penchant of the White House to micromanage every Presidential event--to eliminate both dissent and debate--by controlling both audiences and press access?

The right wing has spent thirty years trying to convince the public that there is only one dominant view on any issue. The intent in that is to quash real debate which would frequently reveal the true reasons for the policy positions of the right (the Anonymous Liberal explains well how that works here). Yelling, "treason," is just one convenient way of shutting off debate, and that's the crux of the biscuit here. The object of such tirades from the right is to avoid having to debate issues on the merits of their arguments. Logic would suggest that an elective war can have an elective outcome. One possible outcome, as Murtha argues, is to remove the source of irritation which has furthered the violence. That's a position which deserves rational debate, absent of emotionally-charged rhetoric. After all, blood and treasure are at stake. Might the right's real reasons, economic and political, for wanting the war to continue be exposed in such a debate? Very possibly.

Might the far right's real reasons, economic and political, for wanting Bush to continue to have unfettered power be exposed through investigations of the press and through the public debate such information would engender? Very likely.

And those reasons, to the eventual confusion of Bush's more mindless supplicants, have little to do with capturing terrorists and bringing them to trial. That's not what the "war on terror" is about. The so-called war on terror is not so much about changing the world as it is about changing the United States and the legal basis on which it was founded, and not for the better.

The object of the right wing in this country today is to make extremism appear normal, and to make rational public debate, which might expose that extremism for what it is, difficult or impossible. The press and national political life, through corporate and partisan manipulation, have been already partly co-opted to that end. When instances of press or political independence do appear, it is necessary for the right to attack those instances as unpatriotic, treasonous and deserving of punishment, and the louder and more insistent the voices in those attacks, the more the general populace believes that there is majority consensus for extremism.

The mystery remaining, of course, is why such tactics have been as effective as they have been. The answer to that question, of course, lies in the histories of societies which have fallen victim to such institutional madness, and in the unjaundiced appraisal of the parallels between those societies and our own, something we are not, for sake of good manners, supposed to do.

(image from

Monday, June 26, 2006

Stirring Some Entrails...

... without knowing the political gender of the sacrificial goat.

Any number of folks have been musing about the possibilities implicit in the bring-the-troops-home mixed signals of late. On the one hand, we have Bush saying, pretty much outright, that they aren't going anywhere as long as he's president, all the while Gen.
George W.'s other Gen. George W., the Casey one, is saying there will likely be steady withdrawals of troops from Iraq through 2007.

Now, just for drill and review, one has to go back to the original reasons for invading Iraq. Not because it's pleasant, but because it's the right thing to do.

WMDs? A lie to further invasion plans.

Saddam an imminent danger to world peace? Saddam's broken military and wretched economy--in large part due to the cumulative and sequential effects of the Iran-Iraq War, the first Gulf War and the attendant sanctions--were no threat to anyone, either in forty-five minutes or forty-five years. Another lie.

Finally, after all the others turned out to be bogus: bringing freedom and democracy to an oppressed people? Umm, not so much, from the looks of it. Sort of part-lie, part-lame excuse.

Where does Iraqi oil fit into this? Perhaps we'll never know for sure, since the Cheney task force papers will all be shredded and burned before Cheney is dragged, kicking and screaming and wheezing, from his office in January, 2009. What we do know is that oil exports slowed significantly during and after the invasion, making any provisional Iraqi government dependent upon the U.S. for support. The price of oil went up with every sabotaged pipeline and unmetered barrel of oil Halliburton could hustle out of the country unnoticed--one of the reasons why Iraq didn't see much benefit from the increases. Then, somehow, $9 billion of Iraqi money from the oil for food program went missing under the administration of the CPA. But, we do know that the Kurds are busily making deals on their own, and that very large U.S. oil multinationals are making the sort of oil production deals with the Iraqis which are normally reserved for failed states with negative total assets and no sure guarantee of oil under the ground. Having impoverished the Iraqis in the midst of an oil shortage and upward price speculation, the Iraqis didn't have the money to do much with their own oilfields.

What about the supposed real reasons for the Iraq invasion?

Neo-cons have wanted that invasion for years, almost from the time of the fall of the Soviet Union, first to make Saddam Hussein the replacement boogeyman, and second, to bitch-slap a country in the Middle East to show the Middle East, Russia and China who's boss. Had Iran been the worse for wear after the Iran-Iraq War, had been crippled by it, they might have been first in line, not Iraq. The enemies are interchangeable, while the purpose remains the same--U.S. domination of the globe and its resources.

While there's no firm evidence for it (since Junior has sealed up his father's papers during the Reagan-Bush years tighter than a tick on a blue heeler hound--people have forgotten that all of the senior Bush's presidential papers were supposed to be open to the public in January, 2005), the neo-cons in the Poppy Bush years were the likely instigators of the calls for an uprising of the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs in Iraq; Saddam's crushing of those uprisings gave Bush the opening needed to keep U.S. troops, mostly air, navy and special forces, in the Middle East to patrol the unilaterally-created "no-fly zones." This wasn't a new thing--it was actually an old trick--Eisenhower had done the same thing to Hungary in 1956 and it had set the NATO/Warsaw Pact stand-off in concrete, guaranteeing bases in Europe for decades after the real need for them was extinct. In much the same way, the neo-cons wanted to have troops in the Middle East permanently.

What also isn't known is if they anticipated the depth of antagonism the presence of those troops would create, particularly in Saudi Arabia. Two possibilities present themselves. First, the neo-cons were so single-mindedly intent on conquering the Middle East in order to control the world's resources and the lanes of resource traffic that they took no notice of the religious and cultural problems permanent troops would create, or if they took any notice at all, they didn't care about the results. Second, they were fully aware of the fundamentalism being preached in the madrassas quietly being funded by the royals and knew that the result would be increased terrorism, possibly terrorism against the United States, and counted on that to affirm in the collective American mind the need for permanent troops in the Middle East. Exposition of neo-conservative intellectual thought suggests the former. Cynicism and experience suggest the latter.

All this assumes that the neo-cons are--with Cheney the top gun, so to speak--in total control of White House policy, and that a primary reason for the invasion of Iraq was to create the pretext for permanent bases in the Middle East as the ones in Saudi Arabia had outlived their usefulness.

Does this conflict with the generally-accepted belief that all things in the Bush White House are decided on the basis of domestic politics? Not necessarily. It may only mean that the invasion served more than one aim. It also satisfied, for example, Bush's deep psychological need to show his father that he was better than the old man. With that as a starting point (and Bush is said to have talked of such an invasion prior to his winning the 2000 campaign), Bush would have been amenable to all sorts of reasons espoused for such an action.

The invasion of Iraq may have come to fruition because there were so many different aims in doing so--advantage for U.S. oil companies to profit from suddenly un-nationalized oilfields, the neo-cons' desires to show evidence of U.S. military might to intimidate Russia and China and to steer oil away from their control, the huge amount of money to be made by U.S. multinationals in supporting occupation troops and in, supposedly, rebuilding Iraqi infrastructure destroyed by war, and last, the desire of domestic politicians to ride a wave of positive public sentiment about the war to victory in the 2004 elections.

In these senses, the invasion of Iraq was an advantage to a significant number of groups in and out of government. The invasion was a result of a confluence of intentions and ambitions, none of which directly conflicted with each other, and in some ways, acted synergistically to make the invasion work better for some of them.

In order to make sense of the conflicting signals being sent today about troop removals, then, it's necessary to consider who has benefitted by the invasion, as suggested above, and therefore, who would not benefit from the withdrawal of the troops now. Admittedly, the problem would be more straightforward were it not for the fact that the Bush administration cannot be trusted to tell the truth about anything which has domestic political implications (which means, for practical purposes, everything), hence the need for a sort of cost/benefit analysis of complete and partial withdrawal from the standpoint of each of the interested parties.

The neo-cons would clearly suffer from a complete withdrawal. In their view, that would make the entire invasion an exercise in wasting time and money, and would actually be the antithesis of what they intended to achieve with regard to intimidating other nations. A partial withdrawal, however, could be used as cover for their ultimate aims of permanent bases and a long-term contingent of U.S. troops in Iraq.

The oil companies would probably suffer, to differing degrees, from either partial or complete withdrawal of U.S. troops. Such companies are virtually defined today by their adversity to risk. Fewer troops would mean greater risk, by any calculation. Yes, in time, they could depend upon Iraqi security forces for protection, or they could, if oil prices remained high enough or went higher, justify the costs of private security forces. But, without some U.S. military presence in the country, they could never be sure that the Iraqi government would not renege on disadvantageous extraction agreements made under financial, social and military duress, effectively renationalizing an oil system which has been all but privatized except in name only.

The same situation may exist for large U.S. multinationals in the business of supplying occupying troops and rebuilding. With all troops gone, the gravy train goes off the tracks. The reputations of companies such as Parsons, Bechtel and Halliburton among Iraqis pretty much stink--in large part because of their hiring practices (contributing to Iraqi unemployment) and their failures to do much of anything substantial in the way of rebuilding. It, therefore, seems more than obvious that none of those companies would stand in great favor with the Iraqi government without a U.S. military presence of some sort. With regard to Halliburton/KBR, it loses virtually all of its profit advantage if all troops left and the bases were turned over to the Iraqis. Its metier is building foreign bases and
then arranging to obtain government contracts for maintenance and services.

The last group, domestic politicians, have had their wave and they and the President successfully rode that wave to electoral success in 2004. Had they not, however, successfully concealed their lies about going to war and had the insurgency begun in earnest a few months earlier than it did, the outcome in 2004 might have been less certain. That suggests that public sentiment for the war was tenuous at best by November, 2004 (further verified by the closeness of the presidential election results), and, by no means, can be counted on in 2006. So, having gotten what they wanted, politicians of all stripes now have to contend with what they wanted in the last election in the next election.

Public sentiment is high for some scheme of measured and complete withdrawal. This is a precise and direct result of the mixed messages sent from the White House. Every announcement of great progress in Iraq leads more of the public to believe that U.S. involvement in the war in Iraq is coming to a close. In the public mind, when wars end, all the troops come home (although that wasn't exactly the case in WWII in either Europe or Japan). That's just human nature and common sense based on general previous experience. So, the White House is damned by its own inconsistency; on the one hand, Bush asserts the troops won't be leaving any time soon, while on the other, he is, sometimes desperately and unconvincingly, saying that things are getting steadily better and better, every day, in every way.

This suggests to me that there are unseen forces at work in ordering Bush's pronouncements on Iraq, and probably a good deal of uncertainty in his own mind about what to do in order to relieve himself of that inside-the-Oval Office pressure. I would surmise that all those groups that wanted the war so badly because of its implicit advantage are now pleading their own cases to either continue it for that advantage or to minimize the future damage.

Let's keep in mind that when it comes to Bush, it doesn't matter what the public thinks, so we should, for the moment, throw their interests out of the equation. What Bush would like to do right now is bask in the approbation of his party and the press (as surrogates for the actual public) and to imagine his place in history. He's not running again--ever again, we can hope--so he's not preoccupied with that. In his own mind, he's done great things, and invading Iraq is one of those things. That inclines him to say that things are going well there, no matter all the evidence to the contrary. That alone might induce him to want the conflict to continue exactly as it has--leaving the problem to someone else (which is in character for him) would enable him to claim his proper place in history as the victor. If the situation were to improve by the efforts of a future president, he can say to himself--and to future historians--that all that was required was sufficient time for the Iraqi government to develop properly. If the situation deteriorated after Inauguration Day, 2009, he can blame it on the actions of that incoming President, regardless of what those actions may be. In a very short-term sense, Bush has created a win-win situation for himself by doing nothing to alter the status quo.

Among the politicians, Bush's desired course seems set. In what ways might it conflict with the special interest desires of other politicians?

The hawks would like to see things continue as they are, as well. Those politicians with too-firm ties to the defense industry will want it all to go on, because there's money to be made and jobs issues to be exploited for political gain. Many Republicans (and a fair number of Democrats), the ones reading the polls, will want some gesture to appease the increasing number of their constituents wanting the American involvement in Iraq to be completed. They will hope and plead for some decision from the White House signalling at least a partial withdrawal of troops--anything to get them past the 2006 election and this rough patch.

Partial withdrawal for 2006 election purposes would do one of two things--it would cause the remainder of troops to retreat to those "enduring bases" or would expose the remainder to greater chance of harm due to insufficient strength for the tasks at hand. Removing remaining troops to the relative safety of the big bases--without a corresponding increase in trained Iraqi troops--would put more Iraqis at risk and the civil war would expand. Keeping fewer troops in the streets would embolden insurgents and increase attacks on U.S. troops. One way or another, partial withdrawal seems to be detrimental to human beings on the front lines in one way or another.

And yet, partial withdrawal serves the bulk of the special interests. The neo-cons preserve the belief that they've put their thumb in the eye of the rest of the world. The Halliburton/KBRs keep their contracts for more overseas bases. Some U.S. forces remain in the country to support the U.S. embassy mission to keep American tax money flowing to the big U.S. multinationals, regardless of Iraqi opinion in that regard. The Congress critters who keep hearing from their constituents about the Iraq war get to say, "progress!" The U.S. military gets a small (perhaps brief) respite before having to deal with calamity in Iraq or another war of choice created by the neo-cons.

So, why will there be no substantive withdrawal of troops from Iraq? Recent history suggests the reasons:

How many times have there been leaks and rumors of partial withdrawals, and how many of those coincided with the 2004 elections, with Bush, all the while, saying we would "stay the course?"

How many times have US spokespersons said that the Iraqi police and military were increasingly capable of operating independently--a necessary component to Bush's "as they stand up, we can stand down" routine--and how many times have those announcements been found to be contradicted by the evidence?

Was Bush's visit to the Green Zone to capitalize on the recently-announced death of Abu Zarqawi, or was it for some other purpose--to sign official documents? What if al-Maliki, his new defense minister and Bush very quietly and secretly signed a status of forces agreement (keeping U.S. troops in Iraq in perpetuity) while Bush dropped in for a visit? Would secrecy not be required because of the tenuous state of the Iraqi government and the continuing call from Iraqis on all sides for a complete end to U.S. occupation?

Is it already foreordained that some troops will come home in time for the 2006 elections, only to be replaced when the elections are over because of agreements made this month? What will that level be? 100,000? 50,000? 30,000? What will the Iraqis do when they discover that U.S. troops won't be leaving, ever?

What will the U.S. public do when they discover--too late, after November, 2006--that the Bushies have snookered them again, that a partial withdrawal is no indication of a cessation of hostilities?

What person has ownership of more than just one area of interest in keeping troops in Iraq (neo-con beliefs about U.S. dominance, control of oil, maximization of profit for U.S. oil companies, affiliation with companies needing profits from continuing government contracts associated with foreign bases)?

Richard Bruce Cheney.

Who has Bush's ear more than any other person in government?

Richard Bruce Cheney.

Whose tentacles stretch further into the Bush administration (particularly into the Depts. of Defense and State) and into the business world than anyone elses in the administration?

Richard Bruce Cheney.

Who has the power and the knowledge necessary to backyard-barbecue Bush's most prominent political advisor, Karl Rove, if that becomes necessary to protect his own interests?

Richard Bruce Cheney.

Who doesn't give a fuck what anyone thinks, even less so than Bush? Who's been described by old friends as the "least empathetic person I've ever known?"

Richard Bruce Cheney.

Whose accumulation of manufactured evidence got the war started? Who repeatedly went to the CIA to browbeat them over their failure to endorse that evidence? Who's still saying, of the pre-war lies, 'it's all true?'

Richard Bruce Cheney.

Who's known by the CIA as "Edgar," for Edgar Bergen, as the implication of his relationship to George "Charlie McCarthy" Bush?

Richard Bruce Cheney.

Who's really deciding what the U.S. does in and about Iraq, in association with Donald Rumsfeld, his buddy of 35-year-long acquaintance?

Richard Bruce Cheney.

Who picked himself for his own job?

Richard Bruce Cheney.

Poor ol' fucking goat. Died for nothing. The answer was there for all to see already. No divination required.

Friday, June 23, 2006


Thirty years ago, that was a David Steinberg joke. The psychiatrist tells his nervous patient, "trust me, you have to have trust. Trust me and I'll make you well again." Then he walks behind the couch and yells, "booga-booga!" It was good for some laughs then, and it ought to be good for some now, except that the guy yelling, "booga-booga" is the Vice-President.

The FBI has captured seven of the most woebegone schleps imaginable in Miami, and by all accounts, these people had as much chance on their own of blowing up the Sears Tower as I have of pole-vaulting to the moon.

But, right on cue, Big Time pops out of his undisclosed location to state that this modern-day bunch of urban rocket scientists was "a very real threat."

The FBI ought to be embarrassed... but, they're not. Now, either these guys, described as a mish-mosh of cultish ideas, knew what they were doing, or they didn't. So desperate to look the part were these dopes that they asked an FBI infiltrator posing as an al-Qaeda operative if he could get them terrorist uniforms. And boots.

There was Detroit, where the case rested largely on a day planner that prosecutors insisted was a map of aircraft at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and was a plan to attack, complete with lines of fire drawn out on the map. Only later was it discovered that the day planner was owned by a previous occupant of the house this "terror cell" lived in, who was insane and believed he was the defense minister of the entire Middle East and who had previously committed suicide, leaving the day planner under the couch in the living room.

Then there was Lackawanna, where prosecutors were sure that an email message from one of the group saying that he wouldn't be seeing them for a while because he was getting married was actually code that an attack would begin. Only later was it revealed that the person in question actually was getting married, and wouldn't be coming back to the U.S. anytime soon.

Then there was the mentally ill fellow who was sure he could destroy the Brooklyn Bridge with a cutting torch and hand tools.

Many of these pleaded guilty because they were threatened with having their cases transferred to military control, where they could be held in detention indefinitely.

And, now, there's the Miami Seven, as they will likely be called in future. Two Haitians and five homies practicing martial arts in an empty warehouse. These guys were having trouble finding weapons and asked the FBI infiltrator for help in that and in obtaining other supplies.

Now, pardon me. We have seven supposedly dangerous guys from the Liberty City area of Miami, and they're having trouble getting guns. Just stop for a moment and let that fact sink in.

But, "Big Time" Cheney thinks they're a "very real threat." They might be a threat, but more likely to themselves than to anyone else. If you were al-Qaeda, would you trust this bunch with money, automatic weapons and explosives? When they weren't even Muslims? Yet? (They seem not to have gotten around to converting to Islam.)

What I'd really like to know is the reading levels of these seven, maybe their IQs, and certainly their blood lead levels. I'll bet there's a story in that.

I don't doubt that they are, in some fundamental way, cracked. It's probably a good thing that indictments came down before they hurt themselves. But, making them out as if they are something they are not seems to be part of a developing pattern in post-9/11 law enforcement under the Bushies. It's supposed to make me wet-my-pants-scared, and all it makes me do is laugh. Booga-booga!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

"If you took the key out of his back...

... I'm not sure his lips would keep moving."

So said a Republican staffer of Rick Santorum's early years in the Senate, as quoted in the March, 1998, Progressive magazine article about the dimmest bulbs in Congress, by Ken Silverstein (now blogging for Harpers).

Silverstein continues: "The boy blunder of American politics and a one-time lobbyist for the World Wrestling Federation, thirty-nine-year-old Santorum repeatedly humiliates himself in public. 'Santorum?' Senator Bob Kerrey once commented. 'Is that Latin for asshole?'"

Kerrey will be happy to know that his estimation is still accurate. Santorum, apparently in some weird, desperate attempt to boost his badly flagging campaign, announced Wednesday that the WMDs in Iraq had finally been found. Tomorrow, Santorum will announce that Scott Armstrong proved conclusively, in 1969, that the Moon was made of green cheese.

Wednesday, the Department of Defense was quick to say that this was not new news, nor was it proof of an active weapons program in Iraq. (The weapons found have been incidental and unusable for chemical weapons purposes--the buried shells were most often found empty, and those that contained anything only had small amounts of decomposed sarin or mustard gas left over from the Iran-Iraq war almost twenty years ago.) Even the Whores of Babblelong, Fox News, indicated that Santorum's source for the information was the Duelfer Report, which is now approaching two years old, and the shells to which Santorum referred were dismissed as insignificant in that report.

Tomorrow, NASA will make an announcement that Armstrong was apparently misquoted by Santorum, and that the composition of the Moon is very much similar to that of Santorum's head, basaltic granite.

Santorum's cohort in this effort, Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, inexplicably a member of the House Intelligence Committee, will be shipped to Santorum's home town and installed as statuary in the back yard of Santorum's unoccupied house, which Santorum has previously claimed as his primary residence. That way Hoekstra will serve some useful purpose and Santorum can say that the house is being rented by a colleague.

New polls have just come out, showing Santorum down 18 points to his Democratic challenger, Bob Casey, Jr., which has prompted a flurry of attack ads by Santorum. Santorum has lots of money for advertising, as he has been heavily funded for this campaign by rich crazy people who are determined to throw their money away.

Santorum's campaign advisers have a full schedule of historical revisions arranged for Sen. Rick. A press release from Santorum campaign headquarters today says that on Monday, the Senator from Pennsylvania will travel to New York to announce that Grant is not buried in Grant's Tomb, and that Grant's body was removed by Bill and Hillary Clinton to make room for that of Vince Foster. On Tuesday, Santorum will travel to Oregon to announce the whereabouts of D.B. Cooper. On Wednesday, Santorum will be in Chicago to definitively show that Geraldo Rivera faked his opening of Al Capone's vault. On Thursday, Santorum will fly back to Washington, DC, to introduce legislation authorizing the summary execution of gay midget illegal immigrants. Randy Newman has ignored Santorum's invitation to appear in person to sing "Short People" as the bill was submitted.

On Friday, Santorum will again be on the trail of errant historical fact, traveling to Argentina to dispel the rumors that the country was once a haven for Nazi war criminals. On Sunday, Santorum will offer the lay homily at Saint Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, with the topic: "Nowhere in the Bible does it say that America will be here 100 years from now." [actual quote]

The following Monday, Santorum will be in Roswell, New Mexico, to announce the discovery of a crashed flying saucer.

Santorum campaign officials have refused comment on rumors that Santorum will be hiring himself out as a piƱata on November 7th.

I Have This Very Hard Time Finding Humor...

... in very serious attempts to start wars and/or other international conflicts by people who ought to know better. The latest attempt is by a couple of Clintonites, William Perry and Ashton Carter, in Thursday's Washington Post, hoping everyone will take their suggestion that we ought to bomb the shit out of a missile test site in North Korea because the North Koreans want to do a missile test.

Perry and Carter are pretty much full of shit. Here's why. As of 2003, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) reports that the possible range of a three-stage Tae'poDong2 is about 4000-4300 km with the lightest possible warhead (about 380 kg, or about 3650-3750 km with a 700-1000 kg warhead).

In that 4000km range, the North Koreans would be able to hit the very outer islands in the Aleutian chain.

Second, we have no direct and verifiable data to suggest that North Korea now has nuclear weapons. We know they want them, we know they have enough stored used fuel rods, and we know they probably have enough technical skill to produce one. We also know that they have, for lack of resources, proceeded on every technical program much more slowly than anticipated. It took them almost twenty-five years to have a reactor in place sufficient to begin a plutonium extraction program--and that was using a British nuclear plant design from the `50s. So, we don't have evidence of nuclear weapons (no tests by NK) and the likelihood of NK putting a fledgling design nuclear warhead on a missile test would be virtually zero. Why would NK risk exposure of their program, or having an unexploded warhead fall into the hands of its adversaries (we have the submarines to recover such an item, NK does not)? Why would they put a warhead on a missile going 4000 km away, where they would not be able to monitor test results of the nuclear explosion? Hence, no direct nuclear intent in this missile test.

Third, the North Koreans share information and parts with Iran. The Tae'poDong2 is similar to the Iranian Shahab-5. Wouldn't it be of advantage to know what technology has been shared with Iran?

Fourth, North Korea's simply testing a missile without warhead would give us far more intelligence on where they are now in that program, but that's the real rub in this--letting the test proceed gives many countries in the region and around the world access to the same data we would have on their progress. Everyone would know where North Korea might be at in their ballistic missile program. If their launch plunked down far short of the anticipated and published range, we'd all know they were not the threat that had been previously advertised.

Fifth, note, too, that Perry and Carter are recommending destroying this test rocket on its launch site, without any verification that this is an imminent threat (North Korea has tried, and failed, in the past to launch a satellite with such equipment). We can launch satellites, but North Korea cannot? Can we test military missiles (which we do regularly), but North Korea cannot? That's a great diplomatic gift to them. Moreover, this sudden suggestion that we destroy the rocket on its launch site obviates the necessity of using a questionable missile defense system (which Perry, and possibly Carter, helped to continue to fund) and running the risk of that system failing--as all test data to date suggests it would in real-world conditions.

One can trust the reputations of Perry and Carter if one wishes--they're just part of the military-industrial complex as far as I'm concerned, no matter what President they worked for--or one can trust the facts. We are in no imminent threat, in any sense of the word, by this missile test (nor is Japan, for all their squawking about it--unless the missile breaks up unexpectedly over their territory). None. We stand to gain much more information by letting it proceed without comment--if our real interests were to gain information, instead of using this test for political purposes.

There are some very real technical questions which haven't been answered by revealed technical data thus far--about the mass/length ratio and how stable the three-stage missile is in flight because of that, and if reinforcements have been made which would decrease fuel load (and, therefore, decrease payload and/or range), but which would be answered by careful observation of this test flight.

But, as long as these things are not known, the administration can continue to paint North Korea as a dangerous boogeyman, which can then be used to promote continued funding of missile defense, which, thus far, has benefitted no one but its contractors and their stockholders.

If the test results are generally known, however, everyone would have a good idea of where North Korea stood technically, and, from that, their immediate threat could be rationally assessed. Which just might show that all the hoopla has been just that.

We've chosen to portray North Korea as an extreme threat--mostly because of this missile business and the North Korean nuclear program--without much evidence, and now we're trying to avoid the accumulation of any real evidence. Does that have a whiff of self-interest? I thought so. One of the things that always struck me as questionable was the Bush administration's interest in pushing selective information about North Korea. One of those bits of information was that North Korea was spending 30% of its GNP on defense. That was supposed to get everyone to pee their pants. Okay, what was North Korea's GNP at the time?

$22 billion per year. Ipso facto, North Korea spends about $6 billion on defense.

Now, yes, North Korea is living in isolation. That means that information doesn't come into the country much more than information gets out. It's a desperately poor place. It's run by people who think they are the saviors of their people, but have no more sense of the real world or history than George W. Bush.

But, mention nuclear weapons and North Korea in the same sentence, and every American that doesn't understand the situation gets a little damp in the panties. And yet, even the most ardent and loyal defense people in North Korea know that any attempt to use a nuclear weapon against the U.S. or U.S. allies would result in annihilation of their country. Common sense would suggest, then, that North Korea mostly wants a nuclear weapon or two to keep the U.S. from invading them (and who would not come away from negotiations with John Bolton thinking they were about to be invaded).

Is all this because North Korea has become increasingly belligerent toward South Korea of late? Nope. The South Koreans were well along in their so-called "Sunshine Dialogue" with the North, until the Bushies put a crowbar into those talks.

A lot of this saber-rattling with regard to North Korea is about propping up funding for the National Missile Defense system. That's why the first quasi-operational missile defense system was installed in Alaska--because that's the closest to North Korea we could get and still be on our own territory, no matter if North Korea could get a missile close to Alaska.

North Korea is a desperately poor country run by Moe, Larry, Curly, Curly Joe and Shemp. They have their pride, misplaced though it is. If they were even stupider than the world thinks they are, and decided to put a missile on the launch site with a nuclear warhead on it, the U.S. could probably drop a laser-guided rock on it and set their program back by a decade.

So, who benefits by turning this into an international crisis? U.S. defense contractors, no doubt. And the neo-cons.

And, maybe the North Koreans, too. I'll bet they've been watching "The Mouse That Roared" with Korean subtitles for years now, looking for hints, devious and sneaky slant-eyed Asiatics that they are.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

We Have Met the Enemy...

... and he is us. So said Walt Kelly through his cartoon character, Pogo, about the environmental crisis that was just beginning to bloom in the public consciousness.

In a democracy, that's the way things work. We elect the schlubs. It's our fault when things go wrong (might be part of the reason why the latest Pew World Attitudes Project survey shows that the world thinks even less of us today--we were stupid and did again in 2004 what was ill-advised in 2000). Let's just ignore for the moment that the election might have been stolen--both times, in different ways--and simply say, we let the bastards get close enough to steal it or win it.

The same is probably true of where we find ourselves with the various wars in play around the world thanks to the Bushies. No one has been looking for a serious debate on the merits of the course of action taken. It is almost as if it were a forgone conclusion that we would use military force against Afghanistan because of the attacks on 9/11.

But, let's review. It was not national consensus, but, rather, the "Bush Doctrine" that we would strike countries pre-emptively and would use military assets to go after al-Qaeda. Another president might have done things entirely differently, might have used his intelligence assets and those of friendly countries around the world to bring the planners to justice. Another president might have thought long and hard about the symbology of strikes against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Might have come to some understanding of the perceptions the perpetrators had. Might have concluded that permanent bases in the Middle East were not advisable. Might have seen that US support for tyrants and absolute monarchs in that region--in order to keep cheap oil flowing--was a bargain only for multinationals, which didn't have to foot the diplomatic and military bills for such policies.

Another president might have, after reading the intelligence and the history and thinking long and hard about it, might have concluded that the advisories against launching a land war in Asia were correct. Might have had second thoughts about cozying up to yet another military dictator in Pakistan to fight a war in Afghanistan. Might have thought about the experiences of the British and the Soviets in that region, and then thought the better of turning a government upside-down.

But, Bush is the person who was there at the time, not some other president, because we helped put him there. And Bush wanted an excuse for a war, maybe enough excuses for more than one war. That would be his legacy, that would be how he gained "political capital" and would do the things he wanted and "have a successful presidency." Bush and his cohort got to call the shots. They wanted wars. They started them. They wanted to be as brutal as they imagined their enemies to be. They twisted the law to see that their enemies suffered during torture. They put presidential power above the power of law, and told themselves they could do anything at all if they felt it was necessary to combat "evil" in the world, wherever they encountered it.

And, as we have seen, that policy has created even more terrorism around the world. And, once Bush had his war, destroyed Afghanistan yet again, even one of the suspected perpetrators of 9/11 was no longer in the forefront of his consciousness, as he admitted in March, 2002. To Bush, extracting vengeance on indiscriminate targets was the same as bringing the villains to justice. Besides, his mind, such as it was, was focused on contriving the evidence necessary for the next war.

It's no wonder that many people now think that the diplomatic efforts underway with Iran are a ruse, a diversion, and that an attack on that country is inevitable. It's the Bush way. We take that way almost for granted now--that the military will be used, regardless of the nature of the problem, and even if it prevails for the news cameras in a few weeks, the battles will go on and on. It is, after all, the way things have been for nearly the past five years.

Maybe for the past sixty years. Ever since WWII, presidents have seen the military and the paramilitary functions of the intelligence services as their private armies, attacking countries as they see fit. The rest of the world knows that far better than Americans do. What is different today is that Bush and Cheney are doing it out in the open, and without regard for even the most cursory diplomacy.

In so doing, they have tapped into a minority in the country that crave war as something which gives their own lives meaning, and in a most peculiar way. They don't want to participate in those wars. They don't want that sort of risk. But, they do want to be 50-yard line front-row spectators of U.S. military action against other countries. The peculiarity comes in that many of those people are not embittered veterans of the war in Vietnam who felt they had been cheated then of victory. They are young, college-educated, single-mindedly and ideologically neo-conservative. They have grown up with the belief that this is the destiny of the United States. That many seem to relate military action to video games says more about the culture than about them, though.

This is a relatively new phenomenon, but not exactly unknown. After all, it was George W. Bush, the object of their affection, who militantly argued for continued war in Vietnam while in college, and then used his father's influence to get him into the Texas Air National Guard, where proximity to that war would be at a minimum, flying a plane that had been decertified for use in that war.

In a way more obvious than in previous wars, this is a function of a class war that has been fought, fairly silently, since WWII. Republicans have determined that they should be the ruling class, and with some few exceptions, happily forgo military service toward that end--one can't go on to be part of that ruling class if one is dead. And yet, part of the philosophy of that presumptive ruling class is neverending war. Inevitably, that means these people (for practical purposes, "us") expect to benefit from the sacrifices of others, but only so long as those sacrifices lead to them becoming part of the ruling class. Disparaging the military service of other not-Republicans who want to intrude in the halls of power is a necessary adjunct of their policy. The hypocrisy of it doesn't even enter into their calculations.

It's not about the United States as a whole. Rather, it's about who controls it, and what those determined to control it want to accomplish. And most Americans give that very little thought, just as they give very little thought about the consequences of war, the consequences of what Hamilton and Washington called "foreign entanglements." Since WWII, the United States, either overtly or covertly, has been involved in warfare of some sort against the people of more than twenty countries: Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Honduras, El Salvador, Libya, Lebanon, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Angola, Nicaragua, Cuba, Somalia, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Grenada, East Timor, Colombia, and others.

What distinguishes all these countries? They are poor, small, not well-armed and all have served, in one way or another, as proxies for the neo-cons' larger ideological enemies--China and the now-defunct Soviet Union. All have been manipulated, in one way or another, to protect U.S. right-wing regional interests, both ideologic and economic.

Most Americans don't have personal animosities toward the rest of the world (they are, after all, famously ignorant about that world outside their borders)--they inherit those feelings from the press and the various ministrations of our government and the think tanks on which it depends for policy. In short, they inherit those attitudes from the ruling class. They have forgotten (or never knew) all the warnings by the country's early leaders against war, against great standing armies as the surest way toward debt, against "foreign entanglements." In a country supposedly run by the people for their own interests, we have instead become a nation of people willing to be led--by a ruling class, for their interests, rather than in furtherance of our own.

Ask almost any American if they would like to see Osama bin Laden and his associates on trial, and they would likely say, "yes, of course." Ask them if there's a likelihood of that happening with the military now controlling the "war on terror" and there would be a much different mix of answers, more likely guided by the ideology of the respondent rather than an appraisal of the situation. Ask an American today about the need for a military spread out across the world, and they might say, without thinking much about it, about "protecting America's interests." Where did that line come from? From the ruling class. We are encouraged to think of someone else's oil as our own (or, more specifically, ours to obtain at the greatest possible profit). We want to believe the arguments about spreading "freedom" and "democracy," without thinking. It makes us feel better about doing bad things.

We want to believe all this bullshit, and we dislike the people, the dissenters, who remind us that it is, indeed, bullshit. That feeling is reinforced by the ruling class, by their court jesters who scream, "treason," at every threat to the version of our history that the ruling class prefers. We want to be led by a ruling class, because life is simpler that way.

We don't want to admit that we are the biggest bully in the world neighborhood. We won't admit that the huge amounts of money we spend on our military and war do not benefit us in any measure equal to the expense. We can't admit that it's hypocritical for our leaders to describe us as "nation of peace" when they then start wars of opportunity. We don't want to admit that the people in control of the country are interested in profit, not freedom (after all, they are doing everything possible to limit our own freedoms while promoting it elsewhere).

We won't admit that we keep voting in that ruling class, those same people who expect us to sacrifice our blood and treasure to help keep them in power. We haven't stopped to ask ourselves, who's side are they on? One day, maybe sooner than we think, this process of spending more and more on a military which is used to protect "U.S. interests" may bankrupt us, and before we ever ask ourselves what "U.S. interests" actually means. We keep going to war without ever defining terms. We refuse to admit that we've been pretty stupid about this business of self-governance.

Most lately, we've let a few fanatical political minorities join forces to intimidate us into protracted war, convince us that corruption in government is normal and that their homemade god wants it that way--and then have told us that we should pay for it all with our taxes, and that they should not be required to do the same.

Pogo was right.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Time to Weigh In On...

... some of the stupidest and meanest people on the planet. Possibly in the galaxy. Maybe in the known universe. Pick the dumbest civilization in any episode of Star Trek, and these bozos beat 'em for sheer unadulterated, misery-inducing cluelessness.

I am speaking, of course, about The Family Research Council. This august bunch of pre-Jurassic reptiles have decided that, according to their head gila monster, Tony "Godzilla" Perkins, "[o]ur concern is that this vaccine will be marketed to a segment of the population that should be getting a message about abstinence. It sends the wrong message." (See here for that idiotic quote.)

The vaccine in question is to prevent human papilloma virus (HPV) infection and was recently approved by the FDA. HPV is implicated in many of the cases of cervical cancer in women today, and cervical cancer is the second-leading cancer in women each year (second only to breast cancer). Why on earth would the Family Research Council be in such a knicker-twisting upset over a medical breakthrough?

Because HPV is predominantly transmitted by sexual activity.

While some forms of HPV are exceedingly common, and most women have been infected with some form of the virus without long-term ill effect, increased sexual activity increases the risk of infection and possible cervical cancer, which is sort of the reason why the cretins at FRC are trying to prevent the use of the vaccine. Because the optimum time to receive the vaccine is when a girl is eleven or twelve, before the likely onset of sexual activity, they are claiming that the vaccination is an inducement for young girls to engage in sexual activity.

Apart from this being the sort of "A" is true + "B" is true = "C" is true false tautology that makes professors of logic want to put razor to throat, it's like saying, "we can, by sheer force of will and praise of Jaysus avoid this disease." That worked really well on the black plague, I hear.

And make no mistake about it, this is a plague of a different sort. About 14,000 women in the US are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. About 4,000 die each year as a result. The vaccine is said to be 100% effective in preventing HPV-related cervical cancer, and, as far as is known to date, is without side effects.

Now, I think, from a misguided libertarian point of view, that it's okay if Tony Perkins has religious objections to having his own 13-year-old daughter vaccinated (which he does). He and his peers, years from now, upon finding that their middle-aged offspring suddenly have an entirely avoidable life-threatening disease, are entitled to throw up their hands and wail that it's god's will and pray their pointy little heads off if they wish.

But, they don't have the right to make that decision for the rest of us. If they want to park their 6th century intellectual headgear in their colons, fine. Their choice.

But, they aren't satisfied with that. They have been lobbying the FDA to not approve the vaccine, on the basis of their moral arguments, rather than on the science. Now that the FDA has finally approved the vaccine, they are now trying to prevent it from being added to the set of vaccinations required for admission to the public schools (most states have a list of such in their formularies, and inclusion is often necessary before insurance or state low-income aid programs will pay for the vaccination--and insurance companies are always looking for ways to avoid paying for health care they can deem as elective). If states were to bend to the wishes of the religious right, this would mean the working poor would, once again, be the people most likely to be unable to afford this improvement in health care.

What's at the heart of this, of course, is an atavistic desire on the part of the control freaks of society, such as Perkins, to stigmatize sex and to meld sex and sin--and disease and death are the wages of sin. They care not that this disease isn't just transmitted by casual sex. Rape and many other types of criminal sexual contact are sources of transmission, and there's at least one study suggesting that transmission is possible through casual contact.

This is also representative of what is becoming an all-too-typical response of the Christian right to science in general. In earlier times, the whacked-out religious maniacs could be ignored, but not today. They have enough political clout to push the envelope, to make religion a force to be reckoned with, even in the make-up of the panels of the FDA which determine such matters.

Dr. Lester Crawford, former head of the FDA, met with James Dobson's approval, so the science under him (including nixing the Plan B over-the-counter approval) was good and had a sort of scientific truthiness about it. No matter that Crawford, as head of the FDA, was a veterinarian. (Now, in fairness, a lot of studies the FDA requires are animal studies and a knowledge of both animals and pharmacology, which Crawford has, would be necessary at some point in the process of drug approval, but the FDA director, as the top guy in charge, maybe ought to be a people doctor with pharmacology experience, one would think, with maybe a good, solid vet with drug experience a little lower down the totem pole. Crawford was undoubtedly nominated for the top FDA job because he also met with the approval of the religious right.)

Crawford helped cause a lot of dissent which has cost the FDA some good personnel. After the FDA's Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs voted 23-4 to authorize over-the-counter sale of the Plan B contraceptive, Dr. W. David Hager (chairman of the Physicians Resource Council at James Dobson's Focus on the Family and a political protege of Beverly LaHaye, wife of Tim LaHaye of Left Behind notoriety), unbeknownst to the full committee, sent a dissenting opinion to Crawford, citing concerns already disputed by the results of several studies in the hands of the full committee. When Crawford overrode the recommendations of the advisory committee and the Office of Women's Health on Plan B, its director, Dr. Susan Wood, resigned in protest. By the time Crawford issued the decision, Hager was already gone from the committee. After a damaging article appeared in The Nation, he was not reappointed (or privately declined to be reappointed; the order of events is not certain).

Although it's still not clear if Crawford's pick for her replacement was just a case of going with what he knew, or if there was some other motive, Crawford filled Wood's position with a fellow male veterinarian, Dr. Norris Alderson in September, 2005. His appointment was announced via email to many women's health groups on the FDA's mailing list and the reaction was quick and negative. Three days later, the Office of Women's Health sent out a new announcement of Theresa Toigo as acting director (there was no mention of the previous Alderson appointment in the later announcement).

Barely a week after the Alderson announcement, Crawford abruptly announced his retirement, citing his age as a factor. This resignation came just two months after his confirmation by the Senate, although he had been acting commissioner since the previous February. As of April, 2006, Crawford has been the subject of a grand jury investigation for some of his financial dealings, and for allegedly making false statements to Congress.

The wreckage continued after Crawford left. Over-the-counter Plan B still has not been approved, and his acting successor, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, still has not been confirmed because two Senators, Clinton and Murray, have put holds on his confirmation hearing because the FDA has not yet overridden Crawford's politically-motivated decision on Plan B. The FDA's Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs is now down to fifteen members.

The religious right has attempted to exert its will on a number of other government agencies, either directly or indirectly (for example, James Dobson reported, then retracted, that Karl Rove had called and asked for Dobson's blessing with regard to the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court). Scientists working for NASA have complained that their work was being edited for biblical Genesis correctness by a press office flack who, it turned out, had lied on his resume about his education, claiming an undergraduate degree he had not yet earned. U.S. Park Service employees have received instructions to return religious markers to the Grand Canyon and to include religious texts on the creation of the Grand Canyon to the site's Park Service-controlled bookstore. As well, Bush's decision on stem cell research had less to do with soul-searching than Rove's political advice. He tried to give the religious right as much as he could without making it obvious to every scientist in the country, and still, he was chided by them for not applying an absolute ban. Bush has publicly, but not officially, advocated the teaching of creationism/intelligent design alongside evolution in public school science classes. And, back to sex again, the CDC was forced to remove longstanding information on condom performance.

Chris Mooney has detailed many of the political and religious influences on this administration in his The Republican War on Science. But, this latest attempt to disparage the use of a vaccine which could prevent cancer in thousands of women per year in their later years isn't just an attempt to impose religious dogma on the public. It's also a pathology infused with a level of meanspiritedness, animus and grim retribution that hasn't been seen since the Inquisition.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Progressive Bloggers in Search of...

... their purpose in life. That's what YearlyKos was partly about, and why so many bloggers saw it as essential to attend the recent Take Back America conference.

But, maybe they should be considering something else. Bloggers, first and foremost, have been concentrating on what's in the news and how it's being reported. What has made an enormous difference in how news is reported is apparent, if one will only look. Consolidation of media has given fewer people more clout (note, for example, what just an initial 17% stake in Knight-Ridder accomplished--it was enough to bust up a newspaper chain with what was one of the better investigative reporting teams in print publishing, by forcing the company's sale). The right-wing megaphone is powerful--look at the recent study on how often right/center/left think tanks are cited in the news.

And reporting is burdened by those forces. How many times does a story not get followed up, or a follow-up question not get asked, because the reporter either gets censored, because someone's been upset by a story, or self-censors because he or she knows it will upset someone--particularly a source of revenue, such as an advertiser?

That's always been with us, to a degree; it's just worse now than it was in the past, precisely because of the vertical integration Robert Parry describes here.

And, it's what bloggers are upset about. Most people blogging about politics depend upon MSM reporting. They don't like it, but they don't have much choice--they don't have the resources--either in terms of money or sources--in many cases, to do reporting themselves, although there are notable exceptions.

Progressive bloggers are exceptionally sensitive to reporting that smells bad, and they aren't afraid to say so, and this is what has gotten a lot of names in the news upset. Leaving a lie, for example, to stand as counterpoint to the truth without noting it as such seems to be the sin most commonly complained about, and yet even the likes of Jim Lehrer won't admit that reporting should point out the obvious lie, even though the object of reporting is to fully inform the public. That's how far even the non-commercial public model has drifted from its original charter, precisely because of the intrusion of commercial interests and the dependency of that model on government funding which has been subject to Congressional whim.

Parry's complaint is worth reading, because he does get to the crux of the biscuit. You can't report the news without money. You have to pay salaries and benefits, and buy, beg, borrow or rent infrastructure. If not satellites, then satellite time. Studios, wire services, internal communications, legal services, and all of it costs.

It doesn't matter if your intent is to assemble a cast of reporting characters that will not be swayed by either governmental or commercial forces if you can't fund it. That's IWT's problem right now. I think Turner's share of CNN at its sale was something like $6.5 billion, and the total sale was higher than that--that's what a turnkey 24-hour news operation costs. If George Soros and his ilk (wealthy so-called liberal types) chipped in a billion apiece, you could have just such a network, but they won't do it--and certainly not on non-commercial terms, because it wouldn't be self-sustaining. Sure, the right wing would scream bloody murder about a few wealthy guys having their own news network, precisely because it would threaten the control someone like Rupert Murdoch has over the news.

And there's the rub. News is expensive to produce and an independent, non-commercial outlet will continue to drain resources. A highly corporate model is at present the only way to provide the ongoing revenue stream necessary to operate such a service, which, in turn, would make it susceptible to the same forces that have turned news in this country into either a sideshow, a government mouthpiece, or both.

I think most bloggers, even if they don't understand the details of it, still intuitively understand the problem. They want the news providers to change their ways, but also know they won't. That's frustrating. They know the news is incomplete and full of shadings meant to avoid conflict--particularly with this administration. They know it, because they take the often voluminous amount of time required to figure it out from what is reported from multiple sources.

So, commercial interests and public broadcasting can afford to produce the news, but neither will do the sort of reporting that is desperately needed.

Okay, a million bloggers give $50 a year. That's 50 million bucks. That pays for 2-1/2 weeks of CNN's expenses.

But, there's a possible different model that the wealthy could afford and which wouldn't empty their fortunes and hopefully would buy more than just a year or two of news production.

They could easily afford, if they could be convinced, to provide the basics of the infrastructure. According to the ADEC model, a transponder lease for five years costs $10 million. Four would be required for national coverage--one digital and one analog for both east and west. Studio and work space in, say, ten locations around the world--suburban Washington, DC, suburban NY (stressing suburban locations to keep costs down), Los Angeles, somewhere in the midwest to get coverage of the center of the country, outside Paris, Beirut, Tokyo, Sao Paolo, Jakarta, Moscow.

You've got the basic infrastructure for a rudimentary service good for five years for about $250 million. Pay salaries from other contributions and small monthly subscriber fees to satellite providers and cable companies. An alternative model might be to skip the foreign correspondency at first and concentrate on investigative reporting inside the US and depend upon wire services for international news.

There are dozens of different possibilities implicit in that basic model.

Maybe what I'm getting at here is that bloggers may simply be wasting their time in trying to get commercial news to do the right thing. I'm not saying that they should simply give up on taking news outlets or individual reporters to task for sloppy or disingenuous work. That ought to go on, as usual. Places like are essential to the process.

But, what they should be doing, if not on a day-to-day basis, then week-to-week and month-to-month, is developing ideas amongst themselves and the people they know in their communities about how to create effective competition for the news sources which now dominate, and how to fund that competing news source. The non-profit model works reasonably well for the UK Guardian, and might here, too, on the broadcast end. But, getting people with money together with people with ideas means both using the blogosphere and going outside it.

It might be that it's going to be the only way to change the direction of the country. This notion goes back to Thomas Jefferson, who had said, in many different ways, that an informed middle class (the "yeomanry," as he put it) is essential to the preservation of democracy. That's one of the reasons why he started the University of Virginia as a free university. And the news, the way it's presented and the subjects it chooses to cover, is part of that process of informing the public.

It's appropriate to note that the visual news media isn't doing its job when it spends 90% of its broadcast hours on missing white girls, lurid murders and celebrity gossip. But noting that hasn't convinced the network and cable press to change how they report the news and on what stories they concentrate their efforts. As it stands, cable news is likely the worst offender, in that most outlets seem to be in the midst of a downward death spiral in their attempts to join Fox in the gutter, and the over-the-airwaves networks seem not far behind. Despite the evidence that fewer and fewer people are tuning in to national news, the news purveyors haven't figured out why. They listen to the same media consultants, and they emulate the lowest common denominator if the worst of the bunch gets a slight blip in the ratings.

It's appropriate to call a lie a lie, when the evidence supports that charge, but it hasn't changed the tendencies of the press in that regard (about the most creativity you'll find in the news business today is in the number of synonyms for lying used to describe whatever Cheney said yesterday).

It's appropriate to ask why the press won't ask the questions which need to be asked, but it hasn't changed the inclination of the press to remain silent at critical junctures.

The only way to correct those problems is to compete with current news sources--to do the news better, more honestly, without regard for those forces in society which have used their economic or governmental power to evade the detection of wrongdoing or used the government and politicians to further their own economic interests, to see good investigative journalism as a virtue and a civic duty, rather than an unnecessary expense.

Right now, it seems to me, the politicians are trying to find the hooks and straps on the blogosphere so they can grab onto it and use it to their advantage. How about the blogosphere using its power, instead, for what it most wants--a lot more truth on the airwaves and in print. With that, most all else follows--including better candidates. The only way to obtain that truth, however, may be to work toward a common goal--an entirely new news outlet on a par with--in terms of technology, production values and scheduling--current news operations. Wanting the likes of Katie Couric or Brian Williams or Juan Williams or Cokie Roberts to actually ask probing questions and demand honest answers is, as they say in Texas, just pissin' on your own shoes.

IWT News may be on the right track toward that end, but they seem destined to ultimately fail for lack of funds, in part because the very wealthy in this country simply won't put out enough cash at one time for an effective debut of such an operation. Results count, and the surest way to kill good investigative journalism is to not adequately fund it. Same with the overall delivery and packaging of that news. Everything has to work together to grab and keep viewers. These days, despite what I and others might think, the simple truth, though always essential, may not be enough to do that.

Maybe bloggers can help with that task. What is going on now is akin to treading water--democracy's still afloat, but barely. Water wings underneath that waterlogged body politic would help, but a speedboat would a whole lot better.

Organizing is admirable, and finding better candidates is preferable to not challenging the bottom-feeders in government. But, the problem is systemic, so the solution will have to go to the heart of the system. Progressive blogging is, in a way, a kind of advocacy journalism. It expects truth, and it's been pretty good, thus far, at challenging misinformation and in identifying viewpoints slanted toward government or corporate interests; those attributes advocate for the public interest. It's not been too bad in policing itself in those regards, too. I see a lot of people misquote something or jump on a story, only to find they or their sources were in error, and have been prompt to apologize and correct themselves--even when it turned out later that they were right.

But, expecting the mainstream media to be an advocate for the public interest, expecting it to change in the direction progressives might wish, is fanciful. The media, particularly television, are exceptionally powerful in shaping public opinion today, and the only effective challenge to that power is to compete with it on equal terms. Truth and the preservation of democracy may be the object, but money is the vehicle. If bloggers spent as much time raising money for and awareness about effective alternative media as they do for individual causes and candidates, the results might be truly astounding--and more meaningful in the long run.

Advocacy journalism has a bad name today mostly because it doesn't advocate for the interests of the powerful. Let's be honest--most of the news media today does advocacy journalism, so let's not think of advocacy journalism as a bad thing. They advocate for a status quo which enables fraud, corruption and the primacy of the corporation in government affairs, and have been greatly influenced by the right wing, which has been pouring money into its public opinion outlets for more than thirty years and continues to do so, because, in overall political and economic terms, the return on investment is incredibly high.

Finley Peter Dunne wrote, maybe a hundred or so years ago, that the obligation of the newspaper was to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. Progressive bloggers are trying to do that, to the extent that their venues allow. But, wouldn't a news network reach many more people more effectively?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Everyone's Worried About the "Image"...

... of the United States. The neo-cons are worried that the United States will look like the pussy of the world unless it goes around blasting the everlovin' shit out of every poor country in the world (as proxies for their real enemies, Russia and China). The liberal side of the fence says that our "image" is hurt by our current failure to work diplomatically with the world.

Neither may be true, since we're long past the point of being able to define terms before embarking on an intellectual examination of the facts. I sometimes get the feeling that this country is being run along the lines of the social strata in the typical suburban high school, but this "image" business is about as slippery as an eel.

Nevertheless, Gallup recently reports that 60% of its respondents think the "image" of the United States has been damaged by the Bush administration's approach to the rest of the world. Again, image isn't well-defined, but one could think, reasonably, that such means that 60% of US citizens believe the world no longer believes the horseshit we've sold ourselves about ourselves.

If that seems unkind, recall that the only world citizens who believe that the President of the United States is the "leader of the free world" are those residing in the United States. (There's something very understandable in that, given that only Americans would ignore the implications of the world being led by a moron.)

We're a bit like the bully on the block who's been in charge of the neighborhood long enough that he's begun to believe his own bullshit. He's big enough and mean enough to not have any immediate challengers, but that doesn't mean that the rest of the kids like him for it, nor does it mean that they won't eventually figure out that putting aside their own disputes and cooperating with each other is the means of terminating the bully's command. The bully says, "I can kick the shit out of any of you, and my big brother, Nuke, is behind me if I can't, so let's all make nice and do what I say."

In one way or another, this is what the US has been since the end of WWII--that's the destiny our leaders have told us is ours. The more liberal notion--that diplomacy is the cure--is only partly true, because the bully is still there in the background, and that diplomacy, too often, has still been to gain some advantage. The economic power of the US is continually used, through treaty, to obtain even more economic power for its corporations. (NAFTA is a prime example of the use of diplomacy for ulterior motive--by almost every measure, no one's benefitted from NAFTA except the multinationals.)

Part of this obsession with our international image, however much it is rooted in notions of American exceptionalism, is clearly a manipulation of internal politics. Projecting US power outwards is so much simpler than looking inward, applying some political introspection to our own problems. Even the seemingly domestic problem of immigration is transmuted into a war of wills with Mexico (though Mexican illegal immigrants amount to a little less than one-half of the illegal immigration problem).

We so want to believe our own bullshit, and we want, desperately, for others to believe it, too. We're looking the other way while an authoritarian government is stripping our own rights from us--and, make no mistake, that is what is happening--while our leaders extol the virtues of spreading freedom and democracy in those places _we_ determine are in need of same. Now, anyone who makes excuses for that sort of hypocrisy believes their own bullshit, just like that bully.

As a nation, we're rather mediocre by most first-world standards, except two: military power and our desire to consume as much of the world's resources as is possible. Despite the "we're #1" rah-rah stuff, we're sicker than some of our foreign contemporaries, all the while having the highest per capita health-care costs in the world. We certainly aren't top of the list, either, for literacy, freedom of the press, freedom from corruption in government, and are well down the list of industrialized nations on matters of eradicating poverty, improving workplace rights, level of union representation and number of citizens incarcerated.

Which is why the current debate about continuing a war that was ill-conceived from the start, guaranteed to further diminish US "popularity" around the world, and is now considered unwise by a majority of American citizens is not a debate using the traditional tools of discourse and logic, but, rather, is a means of promoting US "image" for partisan purposes.

The unctuous phrase, "won't cut and run," is an example of the despair-inducing level of intellectual discourse in this regard. The phrase implies that any logical decision to withdraw from Iraq and effectively end the role of US troop presence in Iraq in inciting the violence there is, in actuality, an act of cowardice.

It's a bit like the fans of high school football telling the members of the chess club that football is a real game, and chess is just wimpy, and they're all really cowards because they won't play football. There's no point in the chess club telling the jocks and their fans that they're in the midst of yet another losing season and half their players are being arrested for criminal transgressions. It won't do a bit of good, because the fans that yell the loudest don't like the chess club any more than the jocks do.

The Repugs get to say, "we're not cowards," when that was never a part of the equation. Leaving Iraq, in fact, is not about cowardice or bravery, but, rather, is about not continuing to be as stupid as the Repugs' stupid leader. A majority of the country now thinks that invading Iraq was a stupid idea. The rest of the world knew it was a stupid idea before we did it. The fans of the jocks, few of them past football players themselves, consider themselves experts in the game, and are adamant that "courage" and a desire not to "cut and run" are all that is required for a planless game to succeed. Meanwhile, the players are being taken off the field on stretchers at a steady rate, hundreds of yards of penalties are being racked up, the game is now into its twelve-hundredth overtime because the score is still 0-0. The attempts to win the game have been so expensive that the rest of the school has ground to a standstill. The lights are on over the ballfield, but they've been turned out in the locker room. The referees have been picked off by sniper fire and have gone home. And throughout the town, the people are getting thoroughly fucking fed up with football, but, if they say so, the cheerleaders are threatening the townspeople with bodily harm for not supporting that planless game that is no closer to being won now than it was from its inception.

The principal is in a deep fog. The assistant principal is still trying to turn a buck on the side on the refreshment stand proceeds. The coach is sending in plays from the bench that no one on the team understands or has practiced. Former quarterbacks are sending nasty letters to the editor of the local paper saying that the coach stinks. The principal's secretary is out buying shoes and the principal is raising money for the team's victory celebration when a storm hits the school and tears off half the roof. Students are going to class in temporary trailers, but the game goes on.

But, we just can't "cut and run." It would be bad for our "image." The Repugs have to have things exactly the way they want them, or we won't be "popular" any more. If they aren't allowed to keep the game going, we won't be loved by everyone in the world. The jocks and the Heathers think the whole world loves them, because that's what they've been telling themselves all the time they've been in high school.

Funny thing about reality. It still intrudes, whether one accepts it or not.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Karl Dodges the Bullet...

... at least that's what everybody thinks. M'self, I think there's a host of forces out there in the real world that might prove otherwise. First, there's karma. Personally, I have my doubts about that, given the number of first-class assholes in world history who've died old and rich. But, still, it's out there, and god knows a lot of Buddhists believe in it. Then, there's hubris. The Greeks (or Grecians, as Rove's boss calls them) knew that people that were just plain full of themselves usually got it tucked to them eventually. They're probably right, a fair percentage of the time.

Then, there's good, old-fashioned natural disaster. Karl might be driving along in his Jaguar se-dan and a big honking deer jumps through the windshield. If it doesn't kill the deer and Karl, the deer gets excited and kicks the shit out of smart-ass fat boy as he drives them both into a bridge piling. Or, the Rovian moon could be sitting in his country house around August 11th, tucking away the best part of a fifth of Jack Daniels (c'mon, Dobson, you don't really think Karl's an observant religious fanatic, do you?) and, bam, a meteorite comes crashing through the roof, which both squashes and incinerates the porky little political operative.

Or, there could be one of those classic "acts of God" that insurance people love to write out of policies. Like aircraft crashes. Water tower collapses. Earthquakes. Tidal waves. Oh, and, yeah, hurricanes. Tornadoes. Nuclear power plant explosions. Lightning. (Karl gets hit by lightning and the odds are 8:5 that I'll start believing in a supreme deity again.) Alien abductions. (Man, could I sell the hell out of the video of that anal probing. What's Arcturan for, "geez, which orifice is his asshole? Which end is up?")

Then there's the seamier side of the situation. Does Susan Ralston get nervous about what she knows and then dresses up nicely and visits Abramoff and Kidan in prison and says, "pretty please, can your friends arrange another hit?" Or, if Cheney figures out that Karl's going to throw him overboard, does Cheney bring his $6000 Italian shotgun to work and just, well, you know, shoot Rove in the face? (Well, you know Cheney. He's gotten away with that sort of thing before.) Does Libby turn into a nine-year-old kid on the stand, yelling, "Rove did it! I saw him do it. He's the one you want, not me, not me!, not me!!! He's the criminal!" And then gives all the sordid details about how Rove did it and talked Libby into going along with it all.

Ohmigod, then there's medical shit. Aneurysms (even Karl Rove can wind up as stiff as an ironing board on his left side). Dengue fever. Tidal Basin ptomaine (oops, my mistake, Rove is a carrier, not a recipient). Rabies. West Nile. Liver flukes. Lou Gehrig's disease. Early advanced Alzheimer's (delicious irony in that). Terminal hemorrhoids complicated by anal herpes. Brain cancer (does that mean Bush goes into a long, slow decline and dies? Hmm. Maybe there's already been a diagnosis we don't know about). AIDS.

Or, Karl could just wind up the victim of a foreign intrigue, because he knows too much, or just because of his choice of pizza toppings.

But, one thing for sure, Karl's not out of the woods yet. The world's a dangerous place. Karl should know that. He keeps telling Bush and the boys to tell us it is.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Is Your Government Overdue For Its...

... 200-year check-up?

William Greider has a sensible and broadly appropriate article in The Nation, online now, and in the June 26th print issue.

Greider offers a few suggestions about how the politics and economics of the country may change in the near future as the country's voters and thinkers ponder the effects of an economy in decline due to policies which have been firmly in place since the Reagan administration.

Greider, within a paragraph or two, gets right to the nub of the problem of today's economy:

The strange paradox of our times is that despite America's fabulous wealth, most people's lives are shadowed by economic anxieties and real confinements, the wounds that market ideology has imposed. They fear that much worse is ahead for their children. Reform must re-establish this fundamental principle: The economy exists to support society and people, not the other way around.

To put that a bit more directly, the vast sea of workers in the country are not there to build and float bigger and bigger yachts for wealthy stockholders and overpaid CEOs.

Greider goes on to suggest some prescriptive remedies, and some of those suggestions are downright inspired:

Companies need to pay, meanwhile, for their antisocial behavior. They collect hundreds of billions in tax breaks and subsidies, yet abuse society in return--degrading the environment and communities, ignoring the national interest, offloading their obligations. Corporate taxation has declined since the 1960s from more than 20 percent of federal revenue [this figure may be subject to some contention--Naomi Klein, in No Logo, puts the percentage higher--about 34% in the `60s] to less than 10 percent. Despite their profitability, scores of major corporations pay zero taxes (some even collect refunds). One plausible remedy is to refashion the corporate income tax as an important new mechanism for enforcing corporate obligations to society. Imagine a reformed tax code that clears away all the corrupted loopholes and sets the basic corporate tax rate higher, at around 45 percent.

Corporations would then be able to reduce their tax liability--perhaps by 15 points or more--by demonstrating that their performance adheres to higher social standards. Does the company, for instance, increase wages for workers in step with its rising productivity, as economists assume, or does it pocket the money for the insiders and shareholders? A positive record could knock several points off the tax rate. Does the company have an egregious history of trashing environmental laws or fraudulent dealings in financial markets? It would be ineligible for reductions. If the company is increasing its American workforce, augmenting pensions and healthcare, encouraging democratic relations with employees, it could be rewarded at tax time. This leverage would penalize bad behavior at the bottom line and reinforce the tattered regulatory laws. The performance ratings would be public--a "market signal" that tells investors and consumers which companies are the white hats and which are the rogues.

But, Greider simply assumes the changes in voter awareness necessary to create a government capable and willing to adopt what would be today considered radical change are inevitable: "Now life and liberty can be restored. Government helps by creating the proper foundations. People will do the rest for themselves."

If only it were that simple. The problem, as it has been even before Reagan's first inaugural, is not that there are many people aware of the need for comprehensive change. Rather, the system, as it has evolved, is made to be rigged in favor of the powerful. Figuring out how to unrig it is a far greater problem than devising the fixes once those fixes are possible.

First, ever since the advent of political parties in the country (created as a means of delineating the differences between the wealth/aristocracy-inclined Federalists and the more agrarian/small merchant class-supporting Democratic Republicans), we've lived with this dichotomy which can be loosely defined as capital v. labor, and in a nation built upon law, capture of the government was essential to carry out the aims of one group or another.

By the early 1890s, the country was suffering under its latest depression, and living conditions were extraordinarily difficult, especially in rural areas. This gave considerable impetus to the so-called Prairie Populists, with William Jennings Bryan generally representing the interests of populism, though he remained a Democrat throughout his career. The roots of that depression, as with most depressions, could be traced to an inequal distribution of income. Corporate "trusts," particularly the railroads, had dominated the agrarian markets, setting market prices lower and charging increasingly unrealistic amounts for bringing agricultural products to market.

Governments, federal, state and local, had subsidized the railroads through bonds and gifts of rights-of-way, and enabled the railroads to operate at low cost, sometimes thinking that such was the path to economic progress, where, in fact, this subsidization of the railroads involved huge amounts of graft and political influence--and larger and larger profits for the trusts.

Bryan took up the cause of the common man, running for President in 1896, 1900 and 1908, and was beaten, rather conclusively, every time, by a Republican (which had, after Lincoln, increasingly become the party of big business). McKinley, with the assistance of one of the most corrupt politicians in the country, Mark Hanna, won in 1896 and 1900, while Taft defeated Bryan in 1908. All this occurred despite poor economic conditions and the truly obscene wealth accumulated by the Robber Barons.

Voters continued to vote for the party of business--against their interests--until Wilson won in 1912. Then, disappointed with the return of inflation after WWI (though rampant war spending was a cause of that inflation), voters again returned the business party to power. In quick succession, the administrations of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover gave business everything it wanted, and, as a consequence, oversaw government scandal, increasing government indifference to the plight of the poor and the evolution of the stock market bubble and banking deregulation which were the root causes of the 1929 crash and the beginning of the Great Depression. As the wealthy got richer, the country as a whole got poorer.

The same has happened since the Reagan Revolution, and in some oddly recurrent ways (this is understandable, to a degree, because the Secretary of the Treasury under Harding, Coolidge and Hoover was Andrew Mellon, who effectively codified the trickle-down theory--Reagan's people just dressed it up with the ironically-named Laffer Curve). Throughout the past twenty-five years, government's focus--even through the Clinton years--was on satisfying the demands of the market and the capitalists. And, despite the evidence of declining standards of living for the bottom 60-70% of the electorate, voters continue to install politicians who put those forces of capital first, and the interests of the people second.

Certainly, the primary reason for this is the same one that dominated politics at the turn of the last century--money. The wealthy have it, and can buy access to politicians with campaign contributions, and the poor do not. Any politician who claims that they aren't influenced by contributions (and all say they aren't) are either lying to the public or lying to themselves. Until that problem is solved, the situation will continue as it is, despite Greider's certainty that the political situation is ripe for change.

The secondary reason is a dominant belief in the country today that things are better than they actually are. The same attitude was firmly in place in the Roaring Twenties, and, both then and now, that attitude was encouraged by the promotion of debt.

What is markedly different now from then is that there is a large, devious and mendacious network of think tanks, institutes, public relations firms and media outlets devoted to manipulating public opinion in favor of the interests of large capital and to convincing the average man that the interests of the wealthy are the same as his own. Television and radio today bring their message to more of the electorate than was ever possible by newspapers and fledging radio in the `20s. One need only see the degree of popular support among the poorer elements in society for repeal of the inheritance tax to understand just how pervasive their message has been, and how little reality intrudes on the mind of the average voter today. The Horatio Alger myth (everyone can be a millionaire) is as strong today as it was over a hundred years ago, but the free market has actually acted, all the while promoting the myth, to inhibit the Alger effect--the United States now has less economic upward mobility than most other industrialized European countries, and the decline in upward mobility has accelerated in recent decades.

Greider is correct in his assertion that the time for such changes is upon us, but the forces mentioned above are not going to give up the government they've bought without a fight, and a wholesale restructuring of the economy cannot occur without the intervention of government.

The last time such a wholesale restructuring occurred was upon FDR's election. Even though the country was in the depths of one of, if not the most, destructive depressions in the country's history, the wealthy industrial magnates of the time weren't prepared to accept the will of the people and almost immediately began preparations to overthrow the government and install themselves as a governing committee. Were it not for the fact that they had picked the wrong military leader to lead that revolt, they might have succeeded.

More to the point, the Great Depression forced many people to see that a government acting as a proxy for the interests of big business had brought them to an unpleasant end. Roosevelt offered alternatives, and that's why he was elected, repeatedly.

Is catastrophe the necessary catalyst for change? I hope not, but our own history is instructive in that regard. People do believe things that are demonstrably untrue, and that is even more true today, if only because so many people receive daily reinforcement of their misbegotten opinions from the right-wing megaphone. In the summer of 1929, people thought that the market would go on climbing, that credit was inexhaustible and that, as Calvin Coolidge once opined, "the business of America is business."

No one thought about the larger implications of that statement until they were unemployed and broke and seemingly without a future. Then they thought about it, and not without a measure of bitterness.

George Bush's actions as President, in concert with a Republican Congress, have accelerated problems which have been in play since Reagan's policies became received wisdom, and any of a host of triggers could bring about change. Oil shocks, a credit crisis, an attempted religious revolution within government. Whether any of those produce the sort of change envisioned by Bill Greider remains to be seen. When economic disaster befell Germany in the `20s, fascism was the change of choice.

Whatever happens in the near future, we still need to be mindful--as a guidepost and a rallying point--that the economy, and the government, serve society and the people, not the other way around. Any government which tries to convince us otherwise is in need of an oil change and a tune-up.