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Friday, June 17, 2005

What's left in Vermont

So Tim Russert says to Howard Dean:
"In your home state of Vermont there is a vacancy for the United State Senate. Bernie Sanders wants to run for that seat. He is a self-described avowed socialist. Is there room in the Democratic Party for a socialist?"
And Howard Dean says to Tim Russert:
"Well, he's not a socialist really. . . . He is basically a liberal Democrat."
Governor, we know you're busy — but will you please at least try to make it to every third rehearsal? This from a May 2005 interview with U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.):
Everybody in Vermont knows that I'm a democratic socialist. It's so well known that nobody talks about it anymore.
Having served two 5-year terms as governor of Vermont, arguably Dean would be expected to know. But in fairness, Dean has never claimed to know what all socialists look like — all Republicans, yes, but not all socialists, including the "democratic" ones. In the spirit of dialogue, a few Meet the Press style questions for the two Vermont Democrats. 1. Chairman Dean, what is it about the word "socialist" that causes you to want to avoid using it to describe the likely U.S. Senate candidate from Vermont, who uses the word to describe himself? 2. Rep. Sanders, we'd love to hear your views on what the phrase "democratic socialist" means to you. For many folks, the word "democratic" has this, oh, lingering connotation of "pertaining to freedom." As for the word "socialist," is it still pretty much all about Marx's "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need?" If so, who determines ability and need — is there like a committee? Also: 2a. How exactly does "democratic" modify "socialism" in your political cosmos? When you use "democratic" do you mean optional, as in voluntary? Say Betty Boop makes a killing in the commodities market. Betty wants to quit her cartoon job and live off her winnings. You, Rep. Sanders, would prefer that she hand over the lump sum to the Burlington Collective. Different paradigms, as it were. Who decides? Will Jesse Jackson be arriving for a news conference? 2b. Or this: If your single-payer medical care ("socialized medicine") is enacted, requiring increasing upper tax rates to the 70 percent range, will participation be optional for Betty? It happens that I spoke with Betty, and she told me: "All things considered, I'd rather opt out. Nothing against Canada, I'd just like to handle my own health care, ya know?" Rep. Sanders: if Betty is not to be allowed to opt out, would you go over the word "democratic" one more time? I'm just not getting it. 2c. Oh, I see. You mean "voluntary" in the same way the IRS uses the word when it claims Americans have the highest rate of voluntary tax compliance in the world. Right you are: Those who pay up voluntarily avoid the interest penalties and jail time. Gotcha, "voluntary." Actually, that's neither "socialist" nor "liberal." No — it's ... progressive!

Dick Durbin's Summer Vacation

The Senate is due for summer recess, and the Democrats especially are due some rest. All those long hours of blocking judicial and United Nations nominees — exhausting! As members of the world's greatest deliberative body (read with Monty Python inflections) begin keying in on which junkets to take at taxpayer expense, I want to lend a hand to beleagured Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, who's taken such a thrashing for his recent comparisons between 1) mistreatment of a single prisoner at Gitmo with 2) the larger genocidal handiwork of Hitler, Stalin, and Pot Pol. Critics, back off! Durbin worked really hard to bust Janice Rogers Brown's chops. He's obviously tired, and every schoolboy knows the accurate spinning of one's moral compass depends on adequate rest. I think Rush Limbaugh understands this as well, which is no doubt why America's Anchroman today offered to foot the bill personally to send Dick Durbin on a summer trip to various international locales geared to fine-tune the Illinois senator's capacity to make accurate distinctions. The exact itinerary isn't yet complete, but here's a quick look at how it's shaping up. Durbin will fly to Germany, where he'll get a tour of an institution that Durbin effectively compared with Gitmo. Thanks to the miracle of hyperlinks, we can go there together: Dachau. Then it's off to Cambodia for a visit to the Killing Fields. From there we go to a Soviet gulag. And since our larger teaching point concerns the logic of moral equivalence, Rush has arranged for Durbin to conclude with a Gitmo at Guantanamo Bay. What follows is a quick overview of torture conditions there, thanks to The History Channel. (Note: Italics indicate extreme brutality. Read at your own discretion, after putting the kids in front of Sesame Street.)
Camp Delta was initially a 612-unit detention facility.... Approximately 24 units make up a detention block. The facility has indoor plumbing with each unit having its own floor style flush toilet, metal bed-frame raised off the floor, and a sink with running water; none of which was available at Camp X-Ray where portable toilets were used instead. Areas at Camp Delta are also better controlled than Camp X-Ray and detainees are out of the sun more. There are also two recreation/exercise areas per detention block at Camp Delta. The Detention hospital is comparable to a full-service, medical facility with state-of-the-art equipment and professional medical staff.... Detainees receive three culturally appropriate meals a day, one of which is an MRE (Meal, Ready to Eat).... Military Police personnel are tasked with sanitizing each MRE, and removing toilet paper, the plastic wrapper off the spoon, a bag of spiced cider, and any additional material deemed to pose a potential threat. This includes salt, with each detainee allowed only one salt.
Only one salt? Oh, the horror! Senator Durbin, please take a camera and bring back photos of this atrocity. Those who do not learn from the history of minimalized sodium conditions are condemned to repeat it. When will we figure this out for good?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Your support

In the wake of my manifesto and the strong response it received, I have decided to make a transition from the domain of feature journalism to the arena of committed political, social, and cultural commentary — full time. Here's the full story. Link: Leaving the Left

Static over PBS

The debate about PBS funding has run aground on issues related to content: Is PBS too liberal? too conservative? pretty well balanced? This is understandable, given that the strong left bias of NOW with Bill Moyers" has drawn the ire of conservatives. But content isn't what's really important here. If PBS's programming could be divided 50-50 between left and right, that would chiefly serve to clarify the core issue: Why should government subsidize a TV network at all? Arguably, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting made sense in 1967, when it was created as the fourth choice after ABC, CBS, and NBC? But in a 500-channel TV universe, public television begins to seem like a museum corridor to a bygone age. George Will asks the right questions: "Why should government subsidize the production and distribution of entertainment and, even worse, journalism? Even if there were — has there ever been? — a shortage of either in America, is it government's duty to address all cultural shortages?" Let the friends of Bill Moyers and Barney the Dinosaur foot the bill. If they have enough fans, both shows will survive. If not, they won't. Underwriting? Try George Soros. In any case, PBS's recent question will get answered: "If PBS doesn't do it, who will?" Link: "We have no more need for PBS" (George Will)

The Schiavo autopsy "vindication"

It was never about what medical science would eventually reveal about Terri Schiavo's condition. It wasn't about her brain, or even her mind. It was about her life, and whether to end it without clear and compelling evidence that this was or would have been her wish. Fact: Michael Schiavo only remembered Terri's "wish to die" seven years after she became bedridden in the condition we all witnessed, and after he had fathered children with a new woman. Fact: Terri's parents offered to assume responsibility for her care. Fact: Hospice employees and other witnesses submitted sworn affidavits to the effect that Terri showed signs of responsiveness. In light of those facts on the ground at the time — Terri was removed from nutrition and water and allowed to die in circumstances contrary to Humane Society regulations for putting down family pets. Hubert Humphrey said, "The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life -- the sick, the needy, the handicapped." No, it was never about what the autopsy would show us about Terri. It was always about what those final days would show us about ourselves. Who exactly feels "vindicated" today, and exactly why? News: autopsy report Previous posts: "Advice"

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Gender Gap Pap

The parity police are out in force, and the results are clear. The Patriarchy still has its boot to the throats of American women, who have not yet reached "socio-economic parity with men." But exactly how "clear" is this assertion about parity, which rolls off the tongue with the precision of a mundane report about high/low tide or sunrise/sunset? Writer Carey Roberts says the "feminist-driven 'pay gap' is an ideological con-job." A 58-nation survey by the Swiss-based World Economic Forum think tank states: "Nordic women are the closest to reaching socio-economic parity with men while their Egyptian sisters are the furthest. But no country has managed to close the gap completely ... Even in the light of heightened international awareness of gender issues, it is a disturbing reality that no country has yet managed to eliminate the gender gap," said the survey covering all 30 OECD countries and 28 other emerging markets. We've all familiar with the core feminist assertion about jobs: "On average, female employees receive 76 cents for every one dollar paid to male workers. And that difference equals discrimination." Gender-sanity authority Warren Farrell's new book Why Men Earn More dispatches the gender-gap mythology by showing that men and women earn differently because their work patterns are different. Writes George Gilder in his Amazon review of Farrell's book:
"Most women don't do the same work; they do indoor work with no heavy lifting--easier, safer, softer, less productive work and perform far fewer hours of it. Then some of them complain and sue, saying that the worth of their sinecures is 'comparable' to the worth of the riskier and more productive male roles. They successfully demand that the government and the courts force companies to pay women more."
Feminism made sense in its early days of calling for equal opportunity. The movement's shift to demanding equal outcomes assumes that any difference ("lack of parity") constitutes culpable discrimination. "Failure to eliminate the gap" fails to note that complete parity is theoretically possible only in the command economy of a totalitarian nation. Even in egalitarian North Korea, does Mrs. Kim Jong-il earn as much as her man? If not, do the Jong-ils have the same work patterns? If Mr. Kim gets to order torture, and Mrs. Kim gets to choose the means, are these tasks equivalent? (Memo to the National Organization for Women: Please clarify.) It's getting easier every day to understand why gender feminism is losing ground among a new generation of equity feminists who seem to be finding that self-empowering personhood beats the "sisterhood of sobbing" hands down.

The "spiritual left" speaks

Rabbi Michael Lerner doesn't like the idea that God somehow belongs to the political right. He wants to show that there's a "left hand of God," a "progressive spirituality." Lerner wants people on the left to know they don't have to be embarrassed to raise God questions. For one thing, Lerner says you don't even have to even believe in God or a "higher power" to embrace religion from the left. It's enough to be a "spiritually sensitive" secular person. Well, that's a relief. No bodily mortifications, intensive weekend prayer vigils or Habitat of Humanity housebuilding, or other strenuous stuff. But still — there's work to be done. In an interview with San Francisco Bay Area magazine Common Ground, Lerner lists these as the main immediate priorities facing progressive spiritual people:
  • "We are challenging the Religious Right — and organizing people to stand outside courthouses once a week to demonstrate in favor of an independent judiciary."
  • "What we need is a brand-new bottom line that shapes what corporations are all about."
  • "We need a whole different social reality, so that corporations can only retain their corporate charters if they can prove every ten years to a jury of ordinary citizens that their corporation has demonstrated a satisfactory history of social responsibility."
What a remarkable religious breakthrough. To break the Right's stranglehold on religious discourse, let's set up tribunals of "ordinary citizens" (maybe the Michael Jackson jurors, while they're still in a deliberative mood?) who will decide whether Acme Corporation is meeting the exacting standards of ... Michael Lerner, speaking for progressive spiritual people. Lerner adds:
"Those of us who want to build a politics based on love, generosity and awe and wonder at the grandeur of creation hope to emulate the accomplishments of feminism."
Well, sure. When I ponder those qualities — especially "love, generosity and awe" — my mind immediately goes to feminists. How about we offer leadership positions to the wonderful women scholars at Harvard who worked so hard to get Larry Summers fired because he forgot he was at a college campus and dared to think aloud about how men and women may be different. Let's ask those wonder-infused academics to pass judgment on whether corporations are meeting their "social responsibility." Yes! But first, we need to "challenge the misuse of God and religion by the Religious Right" and "stop blaming secular people for the decline of spiritual values in this society." Both are central to "changing liberal and progressive politics to make it more spiritually centered." First priority: Keep the Senate filibuster intact, so we can keep the judiciary "independent." What's that? You say the religious and spiritual underpinnings of all this aren't immediately clear? Not to worry. You're probably still in the grip of old-paradigm religious thinking — you know, the "higher power" and "God" stuff. As you focus on meeting your social responsibility requirements, your secular spiritual sensitivity will increase. A time will come when it will be easier to suspend disbelief, and ideas that today sound like complete gibberish will make sense. You'll say with excitement, "Rabbi Lerner's speaking in tongues tonight at the community center!" Remember: It may be too late to stop Janice Rogers Brown, but we can certainly make known our faith in matters Supreme — like that impending chief justice opening. So, see you at the courthouse!

Monday, June 13, 2005

Voice of the Anglosphere

Silent Running is an increasingly popular group blog featuring Americans, Australians and New Zealanders. The growing readership is "American, with a sizeable minority of Australians/New Zealanders, with a handful of Europeans and Israelis thrown in," reports team blogger Tom Payne. Their work comes with a festive warning: "If you are offended by strong right wing views and bad language, you should probably sod off now and go hug a tree." They're smart and funny, and they take no prisoners. But if they did, Amnesty International almost certainly would find something to complain about. "Payne" (that's his blogging identity) does a terrific weekly podcast featuring the Silent Running's perspective on issues of the day. The Sunday, June 12 edition features an interview with the marvelously articulate and unapologetically conservative African American writer LaShawn Barber, as well as a conversation with me about my recent manifesto Leaving the Left. Post script: In my conversation with Payne I referred to my former boss, retired U.S. Senator Howard Metzenbaum, as author of federal legislation that created the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area in Ohio. Correction: Metzenbaum didn't sponsor that bill. Rather, it was during Metzenbaum's tenure that the U.S. Park Service implemented a destructive property acquisition plan for CVNRA in the name of the Greater Public Good. At the time I urged my senatorial boss to side with the property owners, but he chose not to take on that cause. This wasn't surprising, given Metzenbaum's career-long empathy for federal plans in general. I ceased sharing that empathy as a result of the Park Service's tyranny toward homeowners within CVNRA boundary lines. In the interview with Tom Payne I discuss that fiasco and how it led me to reconsider my longstanding assumptions about the beneficence of federal environmental regulation.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Howard Dean

I have no interest in piling on at this point, given the rather clear consensus that Howard Dean's recent public statements are misguided at best. The significant political fact is that the consensus isn't quite unanimous ... beginning with Dean himself. The former Vermont governor continues to spin his recent tactless (and politically disastrous) utterances as evidence of his commitment to principle, his refusal to be rolled by his opponents, Democrats no longer willing to take abuse, and so forth. "People want us to fight," Dean told the national party's executive committee. "We are here to fight." Addressing Iowa party activists in Des Moines, he added: "We need to be blunt and clear about the things we're going to fight for. I'm tired of lying down in front of the Republican machine. We need to stand up for what we believe in." Close to the top of Dean's "what we believe in" and "things we're going to fight for" list is the right to call Republicans "pretty much a white, Christian party" and to say they "never made an honest living in their lives." Karen Marchioro, a DNC member from Washington state, said of Dean's remarks: "I just think this is the way you win -- you let people know where you stand and you fight." "Way to win" wouldn't have been my phrase, but then maybe the Democrats have a secret long term strategy. The party has lost seven of the past ten presidential elections. The three in the winning column include Clinton's second term, and Carter's bare victory over Gerald Ford during the GOP's post-Watergate hospice period. Democrat Steven Alari of California is thrilled that Dean attended a recent meeting in Helena, Montana. "How many Democratic chairmen have gone out to Montana?" More to the point, how many Democratic chairman have gone to Montana to fire up that state's Democratic "base" by scapegoating white Christians and shiftless Republicans? I'm counting one, and yet maybe I'm not quite getting the point. "When we elected Dean we knew we were getting a leader who would be good at organizing the base and getting the message out to the American people, and that's what he's doing," Alari said. "He's our guy." Well, it kind of goes without saying Democrats who love Dean's strategy are the party's base. The idea that they need to be fed political red meat to encourage them to vote against Republicans is laughable. The more relevant questions: Which 2004 red state is more likely to go blue in 2008 because of Howard Dean's line of rhetoric? Are Dean's remarks likely to help nudge closer to the Democratic column significant numbers suburban independents who may be weary of Bush on Iraq or domestic issues? Is there any political advantage whatever to Dean's strategy? Keep getting that message out, Chairman Dean. Master tactician Karl Rove can use the vacation time.

Freedom in Iran

Why aren't we doing more to help the people of Iran get rid of the brutal theocratic dictatorship that they so clearly want to be done with? That's one of Michael Ledeen's key questions in an excellent National Review Online essay. Here's another big question Ledeen asks: "Will any Western leader proclaim the Iranian elections a fraud?" The people of Iran don't need military rescue from the West; they need our attention. At the very least, why aren't we broadcasting freedom messages into Iran, to help bolster the incipient citizen uprising - not least given the nuclear stakes? Ledeen writes:
You will not have read about [dissenter and distinguished journalist, Akbar Ganji] in your daily newspaper, or seen his face on your evening news broadcast, nor will you have heard about him from the Department of State — which has a considerable bureaucracy devoted to the advancement of human rights — nor from the White House, nor from the self-promoting entrepreneurs of the likes of Human Rights Watch or the intellectuals and elected representatives who call for President Bush to “talk to” the mullahs in order to “resolve our disagreements.” Nor has anyone heard much about the public appeal from the Women’s Movement of Iran for a demonstration at Tehran University this coming Sunday — a declaration signed by 27 organizations.
Mr. President: How about a serious speech soon, at least from Condi?

Arnold goes all out

Arnold Schwarzenegger may never become president — but he could be headed toward a political legacy as historically signicant as Ronald Reagan's. This week the California governor will call a special election for Terminator-backed measures to: take redistricting from the hands of the California legislature, increase the time it takes for a public school teacher to get tenure, and give the governor more control over the budget. If Arnold wins on these three issues, he sets a powerful example for other limited-government state executives faced with spend-happy legislatures. Schwarzenegger's battle won't be easy, given that he's taking on some of of California's most entrenched lobbies, including the powerful and ever-vindictive California Teachers Association. Good sign for Arnold: Polls show that voters given up on the reform agenda that Arnold personified when he won the 20o3 recall election. A less positive omen is the growing sense of many reform-minded independents that Schwarzenegger doesn't have the moxey to try to blow up the boxes he promised to. Schwarzenegger needs to understand that the same electorate that pays lip service to wanting reforms also perks up when legislators offer new rounds of goodies. "A system that robs Peter to pay Paul is able to count on the support of Paul." Many Californians say they are tired of business as usual, but many of those same voters are ... Paul. Some are frankly susceptible to "tax the rich" demagoguery when they think it might lead to some new benefit or entitlement. (The Democrat-controlled legislature is already working overtime to persuade voters that the money required to hold the election ($70-80 million) would be far better spent buying 4 million textbooks, 1,200 new school buses, health insurance for 64,725 uninsured young adults.) Here's where the Reagan analogy comes in. Arnold has a chance here to lift the argument to a higher moral plane by making a powerful case for the classic argument that government schemes to redistribute wealth in the name of "equality" invariably come at the expense of freedom and the erosion of the values of citizenship, especially the grand American tradition of self-reliance for which Emerson so memorably spoke:
There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.
Reagan knew how to make that kind of argument in powerful, tangible terms. Hopefully, Arnold's team is prepared to get out ahead, and fast, in what promises to be grueling contest of ideas. The Democrats in the legislature — and their editorial friends at the SF Chronicle and LA Times — will be speaking for Paul's desire for more taxpayer funded benefits. Team Arnold needs to drive home the point that Paul's payoff comes at a price to Paul's children and grandchildren, who will bear the burden of a growing state deficit and the expanded citizen enfeeblement that accompanies each new add-on to nanny state. Callifornia is at a crossroads.Redistricting reform stands a good chance of busting open the incumbent-protection system to which in both Democrats and Republicans have long been complicit. Systemic budgeting changes can make it easier for the executive to cut off a spend-happy legislature at the pass. And altering the teacher tenure track will bring long overdue emphasis to teacher performance. Get ready for a battle royale:
The special election "is an absolutely essential thing to do at this point of the public discussion that began with the recall,'' said state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks. "I told the governor after his election that the same Legislature that got us into this mess won't get us out.'' The prospect of a statewide vote in November isn't likely to make the already strained relations between the governor and the Legislature any cheerier. But that doesn't seem to bother the governor. Schwarzenegger, who for months has been battered by protests and television attack ads from teachers, nurses and government workers upset at his plans, struck back last week with a television assault of his own. His backers slammed Democrats with a TV spot that accused the Legislature of buckling under to pressure from public employee unions to boost government spending and raise taxes to balance the budget [San Francisco Chronicle, 12 June 2005].