Heterodox Views on Politics and Public Policy from Michael Blaine

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Uncle S(h)am Wants You (For His Next Scam)!

Just Make Sure You Ask For A Gift Receipt

"Since Sept. 11, 2001, the world’s opinion of the United States has plummeted, with the largest short-term drop in American history. The United States now garners as much international esteem as Russia. "

--Lt. Gen. William E. Odom (Ret.), Foreign Policy, May/June 2006

"Not for a long time will people listen to US officials lecture on the virtues of free financial markets with a straight face."

--Martin Wolf, The Financial Times, 12/12/2007

"It hurts to see our national pastime ripped apart by allegations and scandals. I am seeing former teammates and opponents go under the HGH/steroid crosshairs, and it makes me wonder what else was happening in the 15 seasons I was part of [Major League Baseball.]"

--Doug Glanville, ESPN.com, 12/20/2007

As the Bush Administration counts down its final months, we Americans can look forward to picking ourselves up and shaking off a bit of the dust. It has been a rough few years for our country; a period of self-examination is in order. And what we find on the threshold of 2008 is the following: a foreign policy that inspires revulsion across the globe (witness the string of electoral defeats suffered by key Bush allies such as the sitting governments of Spain, Poland and Australia, as well as the retirement of Britain's Tony Blair); a financial system that will face dozens if not hundreds of lawsuits over the coming months for fraudulently presenting packages of subprime mortgages as "investment grade" to international clients; and a national pastime -- baseball -- whose fans literally cannot believe their eyes because so many players have been artifically pumped up on steroids. Even for a nation where the snake oil salesman has thrived for centuries, and where millions believe that a New York farmer named Joseph Smith found gold tablets left on his farm by God, this is a lot to take.

Yet one can assert that there is no reason to be pessimistic. The US has put its disheveled house in order countless times before, following the Civil War; the Great Depression; Vietnam; Watergate; and the S&L crisis. Next up for resolution are the grotesque aftermath of the housing bubble and the morally (and financially) disastrous occupation of Iraq. As the country goes about tackling these issues, it seems the best advice for the citizenry is to be reticent to trust its self-anointed "leaders," and instead insist that humane and intelligent policies percolate from the enlightened grassroots upward. Because when Uncle Sam comes strolling down the sidewalk, eager to tout a needless war or to sell a bundle of worthless paper, the best thing is to grab the kids, check the wallet, and cross over to the other side of the road to join your neighbors.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Minnesota's Own Version of "Verjudung," or How Somali Refugees Threaten Christmas In The Upper Midwest

Germany's Pro-Christian, Anti-Semitic Adolf Stoecker:
Would He Win Votes in Present-Day Minnesota?

A substantial number of Minnesotans have developed an hysterical fear of Muslims. The main Minneapolis newspaper regularly reports on the purported social infractions engaged in by the local Somali community, who arrived in the city in the early 1990's as refugees fleeing civil war in their home country. The latest outrage to rile the native population involves the creation by a local community college of a designated place for Somali-origin students to observe their daily prayer ritual.

In a blog discussion about the prayer site, one participant asserted the following:

“This is just another step in the Islamification of our country. This will be the civil war of our lifetime. America vs. internal and home-grown Muslims.”
Apart from evincing paranoia, the commentary -- not at all unique in the blogosphere, or in the nation's capital-- is also reminiscent of a sinister belief from Germany's past: Verjudung.

Verjudung held that 19th century German culture was being corrupted by the newly-emancipated Jews. One of its foremost proponents was Adolf Stoecker, who -- according to Wikipedia -- was "upset with the dislocating social effects brought on by rapid industrialization" and so "called for German society to rededicate itself to Christian faith and return to Germanic rule in law and business." Stoecker founded the Christian Social Party, designed at once to beat back socialism and deprive Jews of their civil rights. The CSP found that the more it attacked German Jewry, the greater its success at the ballot box.

Along with increasing xenophobia in Minnesota, directed not only at Somali Muslims but also at Mexican immigrants, the US Congress has swung into action to revive explicitly a principal part of the CSP philosophy, last week passing House Resolution 847: "Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith." While the Iraq situation festers and a global financial crisis unfolds, our House of "Representatives" found time to assert officially by a vote of 372-9 that "on December 25 of each calendar year, American Christians observe Christmas, the holiday celebrating the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ." Stoecker would have been proud.

Another major piece of the context that helped spawn the German CSP also is on the rise in present-day America: economic anxiety. The subprime mortgage crisis threatens not only to throw millions of people out of their homes and cause the US economy to contract, but also to provoke a worldwide financial meltdown. The blame for this, according to Martin Wolf of "The Financial Times," ultimately falls on the shoulders of the financiers of London and New York who are guilty of poisoning international markets with a "mixture of crony capitalism and gross incompetence." Even so, substitute "liberal" for "socialist" and "Muslim/Mexican" for "Jew" and my money is on our nation's latter-day Adolf Stoeckers to continue diverting anger from worthy targets onto bogeymen.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Latest Republican "Debate" & America's Ostrich Complex

Unfortunately, Viagra Works Magic On Only One of the Above

"The Economist Intelligence Unit sees at least a 40% chance of a recession in 2008, with overall GDP growth of not much more than 1%."
-- The Economist Intelligence Unit, 11/30/07

"As much as $362 billion in U.S. subprime home mortgages with adjustable interest rates are due to reset at potentially higher rates in the coming year . . . Losses related to bad mortgages already have reached the tens of billions of dollars and have led to turmoil in the world's financial markets."

-- The Wall Street Journal, 12/1/07

"Any of you want to tell us about your gun collection -- roughly how many you own; what your favorite make, model and caliber is . . . ?"
-- A question posed to Republican presidential
candidates during their November 28 "debate"
The incongruity of the quotations above points up the extremely poor health of American democracy. Our nation seems unable to apprehend much less confront and deal with the social, economic and political complexities of the 21st century. Our citizens are losing their homes; our college students are drowning in debt; our children have insufficient health insurance; the value of the dollar is plummeting; totalitarians like Chávez, Putin and the Chinese politburo are in the ascendancy; and our government remains mired in the massively expensive and deadly Iraq debacle. Yet it is deemed important to ask our presidential aspirants about a quirky, anachronistic hobby. Worse still, these "leaders" -- rather than condemn the very question itself as fatuous -- trip all over themselves to provide an answer. How humiliating, both for them and for us.
In 2000 I had a chance to watch a re-run of the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate. Not only did I not notice any of the infamous beard stubble on Nixon, but I found him to be every bit JFK's equal as an orator, policy analyst, and intellect. Each man spoke in complete paragraphs, citing concrete data, and putting forth a coherent vision for the nation's future. In retrospect, of course, I knew that both men eventually would get a turn in the presidency and that Nixon would turn out to be a morally defective "crook." But I did not get the sense that either one was condescending to the viewer, or immersed in irrelevancies, or that I would be ashamed to have him represent me -- as an American -- abroad. Today, though, one questions whether either JFK or Nixon would put up with the trivialities and constant insults to his intelligence required to run for the White House.
And so, while 2008 promises to be economically problematic and possibly catastrophic, we learn that a particular Republican presidential candidate believes that allowing gays in the military is inconsistent with Judeo-Christian tradition. (Although neither Britain nor Israel has a problem fielding openly homosexual soldiers!) And, while the US struggles with the most unequal distribution of income since the roaring '20's, we learn that the Republican candidates somehow balance an unwavering devotion to Jesus with a fervent belief in capital punishment.
The fact is, we citizens no longer get real answers to serious questions from our politicians. Instead, truth from Washington probably will continue to trickle in like this: a friend of mine was recently informed via a mundane letter from the Social Security Administration that her promised federal retirement benefits would likely be reduced 25% by the time she was old enough to qualify for them. In other words, hard reality will be impressed upon Americans anonymously and without any room for political accountability.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Twins Fans Want A-Rod, Mr. Pohlad

A-Rod Should Swing in Minnesota

I am tired of Minnesota Twins fans accepting the canard that team owner Carl Pohlad somehow can't afford to bring the very best free agent baseball players to town. In that regard, I recently posted the following commentary on a sports blog connected to the Minneapolis StarTribune:

'“Iggy Iggthorne says:

November 1st, 2007 at 11:11 pm

Personally, I think A-Rod [Alex Rodriguez] is one of the best ever! I’d take him in a nano-second if we could afford him.”

Iggy, of course we [Pohlad] can afford A-Rod! Why would you think otherwise?!

Carl Pohlad’s net worth is at least $2.8 billion. He has been the beneficary of massive income tax cuts in ‘01 and ‘03, and a series of capital gains tax cuts.

Moreover, he bilked the taxpayers for a new stadium and he receives millions of dollars in annual revenue sharing payments from Major League Baseball. Furthermore, the Twin Cities are the fifteenth largest baseball market in the nation, meaning the Minnesota team is not small market, but mid-market.

We Twins fans need to show more self respect by not accepting underdog financial status and demanding a lot from our team and its filthy-rich owner.

We deserve the best, and this winter that means signing not inferior players like Luis Rodriguez ("L-Rod"), Jason Tyner or Nick Punto, but baseball's best player: A-Rod!' Minnesotans deserve to experience another World Series victory, or at least host a team that genuinely wants one.'

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The "Africom" Menace

Does This Boy Need U.S. Military Oversight ?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

'Rudely Stamped's' First Political Endorsement: Ron Paul for Republican Presidential Nominee

Ron Paul (right) Stands Up to the Jingoists of the Republican Party

Republican Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, a candidate for president in 2008, has shown that his political party still has some integrity, vigor and sanity left in it. With the nation suffering through some of the most noxious times in its history -- due in large part to incompetent, cynical and sadistic officials in Washington, DC -- Representative Paul stands out as an eminent exception. He has refused to bow to his party leadership's insistence on patriotic platitudes and capitulation before the military-political-industrial complex.
"When we (Americans) make a mistake, it is the obligation of the people through their elected representatives to correct the mistake, not continue the mistake," Paul says during a September 5th debate, asserting that the US government should end the lethal legacy of neo-con warriors and withdraw its invading forces from Iraq. Paul thus courageously punctures on national television the vacuous bravado of his fellow presidential candidates. In Ron Paul's candidacy, Republicans and Americans have the chance to put US foreign policy back on a sustainable and moral track. With truth-telling in the national discourse increasingly rare, it is an opportunity wasted at our peril.

Friday, August 17, 2007

John Edwards Talks Some Sense on the Military

Retreat or Advance?

"Military leaders are warning about 'breaking' the force. It is tempting for politicians to respond to this situation by trying to outbid one another on the number of troops they would add to the military . . . But the problem of our force structure is not best dealt with by a numbers game. We must be more thoughtful about what the troops would actually be used for."

--John Edwards, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2007

Alone among so-called major presidential candidates, John Edwards appears to understand that the raw number of troops the US military can muster ceased to matter with the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan in 1945. Further evidence of this fact came with the American defeat in Vietnam, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. And, nearly every day for the past four-and-a-half years in Iraq, we have been taught the lesson again. The ability to apply massive, blunt force no longer helps a "superpower" very much at all.

To the contrary, large-scale spending on the military diverts scarce financial resources from economically productive activities, and removes our youth from civilian life, where they could have become teachers, engineers and entrepreneurs. Instead, they are added to the ranks of trained killers in an anachronisitc insitution that is tantamount to a federal jobs program. In other words, militarization stunts and diminishes our nation, without making us any stronger or safer.

As an alternative, Mr. Edwards proposes establishing a new organization -- the Marshall Corps -- consisting of "at least 10,000 civilian experts who could be deployed abroad to serve in reconstruction, stabilization, and humanitarian missons." He predicts such a corps will be useful "to stabilize weak and failing states and provide humanitarian assistance to the victims of disasters across the world." This is both an enlightened and prgamatic idea that surely would serve US foreign policy interests better than the application of violence, as in Iraq. Unfortunately, Edwards' support of just this sadistic and reckless action when he was in the Senate greatly undermines his credibility now.

Thursday, August 2, 2007


Which do taxpayers prefer to fund?

A freeway bridge over the Mississippi river collapsed in Minneapolis last night. Not only did this interrupt the Minnesota Twins' baseball season, but four motorists are confirmed dead, with up to thirty missing. Perhaps it is a good time, then, to reassess priorities and refocus our collective attention:

Spending so far on the war in Iraq: $448,593,276,851

Spending on inspecting and maintaining the I-35W bridge: ?

Number of deaths in Minnesota history caused by terrorists: 0

Number of deaths in Minnesota,
caused by the collapse of the I-35W bridge: Up to 34

Before continuing to venture abroad to fight bogeymen who are either figments of the national imagination, or created only by our aggression itself, perhaps the US should begin to tend its own garden. And stop public funding for the construction of billionaire Carl Pohlad's new Twins stadium immediately. Minnesotans need the money for a new bridge.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Barry Bonds, "Scooter" Libby and the Integrity of American Justice

Relax, It's Just a Game

"SAN FRANCISCO -- AP, 7/12/07. An attorney [Troy Ellerman] who admitted leaking the confidential grand jury testimony of Barry Bonds and other athletes to a reporter was sentenced Thursday to two and a half years in prison, by far the harshest penalty to result from the government's sprawling probe of steroids in sports."

If obstru
ction of justice by I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby in the investigation into the leaking of the name of covert CIA counter-proliferation agent Valerie Plame was deemed not to warrant prison time by President Bush, can there be any doubt that Mr. Ellerman's sentence will be commuted as well? If the integrity of the nation's justice system can be eroded when issues of national security are involved, surely it can be obliterated when dealing with something as trivial as a summer game for boys. Mr. Ellerman should be able to rest easy tonight knowing the president will ensure he never serves a day in the slammer. Clearly, his sentence was "excessive." After all, thanks to the White House, the nation now understands that honesty in judicial proceedings isn't really necessary .

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Democrats' Push to Militarize America

"To renew American leadership in the world, we must immediately begin working to revitalize our military. . . We should expand our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the army and 27,000 marines . . . As commander in chief . . . I will not hesitate to use force, unilaterally if necessary."
--Barack Obama, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2007
Apparently, the Democrats have spent the last few years examining the US' military situation and foreign policy, including the debacle in Iraq, and concluded that what the nation needs is to take the status quo and give us more of it. How they have drawn such a lesson is a bit mystifying. Iraq is in shambles, with around $600 billion in direct costs down the drain; our nation's international standing is at an all time low. And let's not forget the 3,600 American soldiers killed in Mesopotamia, along with at least 66,000 Iraqi civilians. More than 3 million Iraqis have fled their home country since America overthrew its prior government, and Baghdad now suffers from the worst living conditions in the world. At Abu Ghraib, our nation's youth in uniform - our purported "heroes" -- committed what the Pentagon's own investigator, Major General Antonio Taguba, determined to be torture against the very people who were to receive the gift of democracy.

Time to Change into Battle Gear

That Obama wants to divert more potential teachers, doctors and entrepreneurs into America's military ranks, where they will be trained to kill while drawing a salary on the back of the taxpayer, shows a devastating failure to understand what our country needs for long-term prosperity and viability. The US faces no large and imminent conventional military threat. The "peace dividend" of the '90's contributed to the strongest national economy seen in forty years. As baby boomers retire en masse, we will need more young workers to pay into the Social Security system. To take American youth out of civilian life, where they can learn and work in mainstream society, and place them into an institution that constitutes an economic deadweight, is high folly. What happened to investing in our kids' futures, instead of suiting them up for either make-work or death in the desert? America deserves better than the Democrats' vision of further militarization.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

"We Have No Important Enemies"

"We have no important enemies. What we need to do is to begin to deal with the rest of the world as equals, and we don't do that. We spend more as a nation on defense than all the rest of the world put together. Who are we afraid of?"

--Former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel (Democrat), April 26, 2007

"We have a lot of goodness in this country and we should promote it, but never through the barrel of a gun. We should do it by setting good standards, motivating people, and have them want to emulate us. But you can’t enforce our goodness . . . with an armed force. It doesn’t work."

--Texas Representative Ron Paul (Republican), June 4, 2007

There is a macabre yet popular style of Virginia license plate that features the slogan "Fight Terrorism." Above these words is a black pentagon with a section of the American flag inside, and imprinted on top of this the date 9/11; the "11" is formed using the outline of the World Trade Center towers that were infamously destroyed by airplanes that terrorists hijacked almost six years ago. Invevitably, these plates show up on some of the most expensive and luxurious German and Japanese vehicles sold in the Washington, DC metro area, and I always marvel at the juxtaposition of opulence with the morbid fetishism of one of the most horrific days in US history. "How's the fight going?," I'm often tempted to ask the drivers of these cars.

I doubt I would get a coherent answer. An ill-defined and distant enemy who apparently has no ability to harm you on your home turf can't possibly focus the mind and stir the passions the way the shiny steel of a new sports car can. A year or two ago these cars would often feature a yellow "Support Our Troops" magnet as well, but now these emblems of convenience-store strength have all but disappeared. On one hand, if a war isn't finished before the bumper stickers fade or go out of style, it probably never will be; but on the other, if you're a driver who impulsively jumped on the jingoist bandwagon by slapping a magnet on your trunk, you should probably be forced to maintain it in full view for the duration. Once you've shown yourself to be a reckless hothead, the label should stick so the rest of us know who we're dealing with. "Stay the Course" ought to apply to wartime fashion statements, too.

One institution that has not lost its militant fervor, however, is the San Diego Padres baseball club. In attendance at one of the team's games a couple of weeks ago, held in one of the newest and most beautiful stadiums in the country, I was asked along with the rest of the crowd to rise in ovation to several hundred or more uniformed Marines who were on hand to watch some baseball. New recruits, they looked like. The usual platitudes about sacrifice and heroism were offered up as I seethed about the beautiful and bucolic sport of baseball -- America's pastime, we're told -- being enlisted in the cause glorified by the Virginia license plates. When it comes to outdoor entertainment on a beautiful spring day, we baseball fans have a right to expect our sport to be hermetically sealed off from all endeavors involving organized killing.

As the ballpark crowd lavished frenzied applause on the honored guests, it was clear that several pertinent questions were being overlooked. Is it through the military that we want American youth to apprehend the wide world beyond our country? How will the experience transform these citizens and influence the trajectory of their lives? Do we taxpayers in fact get our money's worth out of paying to train and support these kids? And, indeed, who are we afraid of? Perhaps it was just an illusion caused by the verdure and fun of a baseball game, but it was hard to believe that any menace outside the stadium warranted such a national focus on brute force.

Then the deplorable irony became clear: "America's Heroes", the vaunted Marines, had been given seats in the absolute worst part of the Padres' stadium. High up in the bleachers, far away from home plate, the soldiers sweltered in direct sunlight. They spent the afternoon sweating and squinting, while the rest of the crowd purportedly revered them from the cool shadows, enjoying a decidedly better view of the game on the field.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Grocery Store Gauntlet

In what other society in the history of the world besides the US has obtaining food -- the basis of survival -- necessarly entailed being exposed to pornography? Because here in America every trip to the grocery store unavoidably involves just that: as one puts his groceries on the conveyor belt for the cashier to scan, the trashy magazines right there to the side scream out: "75 New Sex Tricks"; "How To Make A Home Sex Video"; "What He Really Wants You To Do To Please Him"; "America's Sexiest TV Cop," etc. Provisioning one's home thus becomes a titillating and tawdry experience, each and every time.

Grocery shopping is an experience whose conclusion is always demoralizing, in every single sense of that word. When it comes to buying food, I am a puritan. With reluctance I suggest that our nation's self-appointed moral guardians in Congress legislate smut out of our checkout lines. ("Cosmopolitan" is the most regular offender, but there are many other imitators aimed at women, as well as some objectionable magazines for men.) As we buy food for ourselves and our families, we should be free of commodified sex. We should not have to put up with such an elemental part of our lives being turned so unseemly by decadent magazine publishers and tasteless grocery store owners.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Jackie Robinson and the Rutgers Women's Basketball Team

I am tired of Jackie Robinson. More precisely, I am tired of Major League Baseball exploiting the courage, integrity and talent it took for Robinson to break baseball's "color line" sixty years ago. Through the various commemorations around the nation's baseball stadiums this weekend, MLB will have turned a substantive achievement into an innocuous cliche. The legend of Jackie Robinson will be neutered, fawned over by the masses, and safely put back in the petting zoo stable for another ten years.

A few facts: the percentage of African-American major leaguers reached 19% in 1995, and now stands at just 8%. Baseball as a sport is either increasingly irrelevant or inaccessible to blacks nowadays, and that is hardly cause for celebration. Moreover, since the Jackie Robinson story is presented as a microcosm of America, we should look at society at large over the last few years. Here we see that the proportion of blacks living in poverty has risen from 22.5% in 2000 to 24.9% in 2005, exactly triple the rate for whites; the number of black adults attaining a college degree in 2000 was 11.5% below the rate for whites, while the gap in 2005 had grown to 12.8%; and the percentage of blacks in the US Senate is one.

Now, let's look at the demographics of ownership among the 30 major league teams: 100% white, 100% male. In other words, there is not a trace of the Jackie Robinson legacy here. That this close-knit group of often reactionary oligarchs would have millions of baseball fans bask in the glow of Robinson's aging breakthrough represents either a subterfuge or rank hypocrisy. MLB is very, very far from being a paragon of fairness. In fact, while these team owners try to paint a pretty picture on the social front, they are often busy picking the public's pocket by demanding government money for new stadiums. Carl Pohlad, the owner of the Minnesota Twins and a man with a net worth of $2.8 billion dollars, has just succeeded in wresting $392 million from Minneapolis residents for a new ballpark built specifically for the use of his private business.

Meanwhile, on the field, one of Jackie Robinson's African-American heirs -- Barry Bonds -- looks set to break Hank Aaron's hallowed all-time home run record of 755 sometime this season. Normally, this would be cause for delirious celebration and heated discussion involving historical comparisons. What are the meanings of Babe Ruth's 714, Aaron's 755, and now Bonds' 755-plus? But no such conversation among fans will take place, because the thirty MLB owners have been running a dirty racket: the use of illegal steroids has been rife in baseball for at least two decades, and nowhere more conspicuously and more certainly than in the case of Barry Bonds. The American public now can have no more confidence in the legitimacy of a baseball statistic than in the certified outcome of a presidential election in Florida or Ohio.

Beyond baseball, too, race and sport do not look so glittery as an ESPN graphic. The 2007 Rutgers women's basketball team are runners-up to the national champions, but better known for being the target of a racist insult by a nationally-syndicated radio host. Unfortunately, the insult is identical in spirit to the thousands Jackie Robinson had to endure in 1947 and afterwards. So, some of us perhaps can be excused for not joining in MLB's self-congratulatory antics this weekend.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Take That, Liberal Media! Baghdad's Hard-Won Distinction

Every year, Mercer Human Resource Consulting ranks 215 cities worldwide based on quality of life criteria such as ease of transportation, cleanliness and crime. New York City is assigned a benchmark rating of 100, and normally Zurich tops the list as the best city to live in with a score of around 107. Besides Zurich, this year Munich, Tokyo and London finished ahead of New York, while Beijing, Delhi and Moscow trailed far behind. In last place -- at number 215 -- was the US colonial showcase of Baghdad.

It has been suggested to me that before the American invasion of Iraq, Baghdad would have scored even worse. Not so! In pre-war 2002, Mercer ranked Baghdad — suffering under UN economic sanctions and the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein — 211 out of 215. Thus, in 2007 after more than 3,000 American deaths and $500 billion in direct expenditures, Baghdad has taken the place of Brazzaville, Congo to rank dead last.

Achieving the distinction of world's very worst city for Baghdad was difficult, but our military's Commander-in-Chief has done it. So, Take that, liberal media! It’s about time you saw that Baghdad, in the face of some truly dismal competition that most would have thought unshakeable, has made at least one singular breakthrough. Now, if you would like to live the life of a corporate expat in Iraq, just contact Mercer for placement opportunities.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Karl Rove's $261,000 Federal Job Program

Karl Rove is a subject so repellent that this entry will be short. At least twenty students at Washington, DC's American University also find him objectionable, so much so that after Rove addressed a group of College Republicans on campus Tuesday night, the protestors pelted his exiting car with debris and lay down in the roadway to impede its movement. The Secret Service dealt with the protest quickly, however, and within a few minutes life for the offical White House "senior political advisor" was back to normal.

It is easy to understand why the students took to the streets. Under Rove's tutelage, President George W. Bush has lied the nation into war in Iraq; spied illegally on American citizens; and promoted acts of torture. Apparently at Rove's behest, the identity of an undercover CIA agent specializing in nuclear non-proliferation was revealed for political reasons and her career ended. On the economic front, the administration has implemented policies that ensure that the American worker receives ever-less of the national GDP in wages, in spite of the president's 2000 promise to "make the pie higher" for everyone. The latest affront to the nation, of course, is the revelation that the White House hired and fired US Attorneys on the basis of their political usefulness, not their ability to administer justice.

So, with Rove playing a central role in the most damaging presidential regime in living memory, what is the worst aspect of this infamous partisan hatchet man? That he is on the public payroll! That Rove is a cynical sadist is one thing; that American taxpayers are forced to pay his salary is outrageous. Why does an essentially private Republican operative have an office in a public building, the White House? Why does he have taxpayer-financed Secret Service protection? Why does his salary -- $261,000 in 2005 -- come from the public treasury?

It's no wonder the Democrats don't cry foul: they want to put their own partisan hacks on the nation's payroll should they ever re-take the White House. But why has the press said nothing? While we try to ascertain the answer to that question, any of America's youth mapping out their own career path to power should note that "Bush's Brain" is a college dropout. On second thought, perhaps Rove's current job was the only one he could get.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

America's Great Immigration Boon

A couple of years ago, Vice President Dick Cheney remarked publicly: "There are 11 million illegal immigrants in this country; nobody knows who they are, where they are, or what they're doing." Shortly afterwards I drove by the addition being constructed on the U.S. Supreme Court. The dozens of laborers working on the project appeared to be from Latin America, and were likely undocumented. Either Mr. Cheney was being very disingenuous, or he really needs to get out more.

In reality, the U.S. finds itself in a relatively fortunate immigration situation. The vast majority of our nation's newcomers are Roman Catholic, capitalistic, zealously eager to work -- that is why they come, after all -- and family-oriented. These millions of Latin Americans speak a European language and are eager to become part of their new society, even if they also retain a foothold in their old one. Indeed, these people already are American in the sense that they have grown up in the Americas, the New World we natives are taught in school to cherish. Without them, our nation's population would actually decline, a phenomenon that would produce difficult economic consequences.

Contrast this with Europe, where most new arrivals are not Christian, do not know Western-style capitalism or democracy, and do not join the social mainstream. These North Africans and Middle Easterners communicate using inscrutable languages, and frequently remain alienated from their host societies (by choice or not), while retaining loyalties that do not include their new countries. Europe thus confronts an enormous and ongoing immigration challenge, one that by most accounts it is not handling well.

The US, on the other hand, should be thankful its advantageous position vis-a-vis immigration. All we need to do is open wide the many avenues, both formal and informal, to assimilation. These primarily involve education and healthcare, but sometimes also the financial system. When Bank of America actively attempts to open bank accounts for and give credit cards to immigrants, this potentially brings millions of workers and billions of dollars into the formal economy to the benefit of everyone. For xenophobic politicians such as Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado to argue the exact opposite is patently ludicrous. Do they want to drive this enormous realm of human activity underground?

While beneficial in most ways, mass immigration still puts pressure on our country's social and institutional capacity. But here the policy remedies are mostly out of US hands. It is Mexico and many of its neighbors further south that need to improve public safety; foment investment; reform education systems; modernize and open up labor markets; and create more jobs. Chile has shown that all of this is achievable; unfortunately, the polticians and economic elites in many of the region's countries have not taken the decision to follow suit. So while we in the US welcome our new neighbors and the dynamism they create, our government should also constructively push foreign capitals to pursue reforms that benefit their native populations. If they began to do so, every nation in the Western Hemisphere would become a better place to live. But in the meantime, the U.S. should look at Europe and count its blessings.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Deadline Iraq

President Bush has said that the troops in Iraq cannot operate under a deadline for withdrawal. In fact, the opposite is true: without a deadline, there is no incentive to "finish the job" -- whatever that might be. Every student, every working adult and every serious institution works under the pressure of deadlines and fixed evaluations. There is no reason to grant the Pentagon and the White House an exception. It is unclear why this has not been pointedly emphasized by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

In fact, it has been nearly four whole years since the president declared "Mission Accomplished." Since that seeming endpoint, the nation has ever-less-patiently seen its treasure, its system of self-defense and its morale diminished. To what end no one can rationally and satisfactorily explain, without resorting to theories impugning the good intentions and/or wisdom of our nation's political leadership. Why, then, prolong the pain? Indeed, here is a new axiom for the war manuals at West Point: if your military mission is not completed before the jingoistic car magnets fade from exposure to the elements, it never will be.

Twice this week I have been asked -- in one case by a relative by marriage, in another by Fox Sports Radio -- to "Support Our Troops." One could argue, however, that US troops in Iraq deserve no more support, that they have failed at nearly every turn, from the spectacle at Abu Ghraib to the massacre at Haditha to the inability to make Iraq safe enough for its citizens to enjoy the freedoms they were cruelly promised.

One could point out that the weekly barrage of news about lethal explosions at markets and inexorably rising death tolls has demoralized the homeland; we citizens who pay the taxes that purportedly enable our military to "defend our freedoms" have been let down. We have done everything that has been asked of us, yet we have been rewarded only with continuous failure in the field. The "support" has flowed only one way, and now we are tired and fed up. In an unmistakable sign of the debacle that the military operation has become, two million Iraqis have fled abroad.

Although one could possibly argue the points above, sadly the troops themselves have been failed -- too often mortally -- by the same individuals who have failed the rest of the nation: those in the White House and in the Congress. For these people, whether craven politicos or home-grown evildoers of historic proportions, the moral deadline passed long ago.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Madness on the March

For those who enjoy watching the annual NCAA basketball tourney known as "March Madness" on television, one serious drawback is having to sit through countless insipid commercials. Some are even offensive in the violence they depict, including one for beer that features a young man knocking another unconscious with a hurled rock. I'm told this is funny, but still I'm convinced that ads like this insidiously cause the public psychic damage. They set a tone and send a message, which -- when repeated endlessly throughout TV viewers' lifetimes -- coarsens moral sensibilities. At some level, possibly the deepest one, the message is conveyed that using violence to obtain something even as trivial as a bottle of beer is acceptable.

How much greater the psychological impact, then, when instead of watching scripted video clips, a whole country is forced to participate in a years-long destruction of another nation, as in the case of the US vis-a-vis Iraq. Most Americans can tell you that since March, 2003 over 3,000 US soldiers have died in the conflict; some can tell you that at least 60,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed; and a few can tell you that the direct cost of the project runs into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Yet virtually no one in our land discusses the psychic costs borne by all 300 million Americans, day after day and year after year. How repugnant and shameful to know that one is to some degree complicit in raining disaster down on a far-flung populace that never presented any threat to us? How awful to know that one's tax dollars made it possible to keep millions of Baghdad children awake every night to the sound of exploding bombs as the vaunted "Shock and Awe" campaign was carried out? What can one ever say to the 2 million Iraqis who have fled their homeland because US policy made it virtually uninhabitable?

That one opposed the illegal invasion of Iraq from the beginning as both an abysmal policy choice and an immoral act, does not necessarily make it easier to watch a war criminal continue to occupy the Oval Office while the two major political parties that gave him carte blanche to wreak needless havoc on the world maintain their eternal duopoly in Congress. Not only has our nation been deeply stained by the sins of war, but each individual who forms a part of it has suffered a moral contamination. Our collective spirit has been deformed. Perhaps that is why individuals such as David Frum of the American Enterprise Institute -- neither an elected politician nor a federal official, but nonetheless part of a coterie of sadistic academics who designed the Iraq war -- can go on national television and prescribe the next steps to take in Mesopotamia as if death weighed no more heavily on them than the filming of a TV ad.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Can America Afford Another White Male President?

A mature nation, or at least a mature media, would not ask the following: "Are we ready for a woman president?"; "Are we ready for a black president?"; "Are we ready for a Hispanic president?" An advanced democracy would merely select its candidates and elect its leaders based on their qualifications and policy proposals without concerning itself with the superficial and the irrelevant. As it is, though, the political questions that are foisted on the public are insulting and undignified. Who are "we", and just what is meant by "ready"? Is there some special preparation ritual that the nation has missed?

Chile recently elected a female (Hispanic, of course!) president, and a few years earlier Canada had a female prime minister. Each of these countries today is in excellent shape. Meanwhile, the US struggles to sort out daunting foreign policy problems of its own making as it grapples with a potential financial meltdown stemming from a collapsing "sup-prime" mortgage sector, a looming pensions crisis and staggeringly high levels of public and private debt. Wages for most Americans have stagnated or fallen, and every day fewer people have health insurance.

Indeed, the question we citizens and our news media ought to be asking ourselves is, "Can we afford another white, male president?" The damage done to our country by the current one can hardly be quantified. The federal budget has swung from record surplus to deficit, adding trillions of dollars to the country's debt; the nation has plunged headlong into an illegal and murderous war, replete with official promotion of torture; and cherished domestic civil liberties and constitutional guarantees suffer constant assault by the White House. Incompetence and malevolence emanate from Washington, DC in waves previously unimaginable.

If white men are the guarantors of this status quo, as implied by the media's questions concerning the gender and race of certain presidential candidates, then the only rational response to prospective changes in the outward characteristics of our next president is, "Bring 'em on!"

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"Get a Job"

In 1971 I was five years old, yet I was able to experience that tumultuous time from the perspective of an adult just this past weekend during a march on the Pentagon to protest the Iraq war. As I walked from my parking spot in downtown Washington, DC toward the National Mall, it became apparent that the mood of the day would reflect the raw and surly March weather. Instead of fellow peace lovers, I noticed throngs of scowling white men holding placards aggressively touting the benefits of war. Apparently, it had freed the slaves in the 1860's (legally, well into the fighting when the North's hand was forced), saved European Jews in the 1940's (except for six million of them), and even now was sparing Americans the horrors of "Islamic fascism." I looked past these disconcerting advocates of violence to the extent I could as I made my way to the march's starting point.

Then, at the northeast corner of the Lincoln Memorial, my passage was blocked by a mass of heavy-set middle-aged men wearing black leather jackets stitched with patches declaiming their status as Vietnam War veterans. "Where you headed?," the pack leader asked, pointing behind me. "France is that way." Sporting a corporate-style haircut; Ray-Ban sunglasses; a baseball cap; a standard winter parka; and jeans, in my view I hardly fit the stereotype of a left-wing rabble-rouser. As the pack leader jabbed at me with an American flag on a stick, I retreated. These men, their weather-beaten faces turned pink in the winter wind, clearly were itching for a fight. One of them shouted at me, "Get a job!"

I asked myself, What year is this, and who am I? Certainly not a hippie. I cast my first presidential vote for Ronald Reagan. So, a better question is, Who do these men -- these sidewalk intimidators -- think they are? It has been suggested to me that the smart of rejection they felt upon their return from Southeast Asia over thrity years ago, having fought for an unpopular and losing cause, is revived every time they see Americans protesting the current unpopular and losing cause in Iraq. These men have not differentiated between then and now, and feel the old insult afresh every time an internal psycho-dynamic is activated by new simuli. Their reliance on phrases from a bygone era is reflexive. In fact, I have a full-time job -- with benefits!

If not for the practiced ability of the DC police in preventing violence at public demonstrations, the day may have marked the first violent street clash in a contemporary US civil war. Emotions on both sides of the Iraq war issue were at a climax. Ugly verbal taunts were constant, mostly hurled by the pro-war crowd at the peace promoters. While frightening in aspect and attitude, the leather-draped war partisans inspire a certain amount of pity. They caught a bad break by being shipped off to Vietnam as young men; they are probably adepts of a certain domestic political party that in reality cares not a whit about their lot in life; and they are from the precise socioeconomic stratum that gets increasingly buffeted by the forces of economic globalization. Nobody in the national "leadership" looks out for them. And now they rage at another phantom threat -- Muslims -- and have thrown themselves into another doomed and horrifically unjust cause: the war in Iraq. Their collective anger can only increase, especially if they are hit by another potential disaster: a housing market collapse that unleashes a deep recession.

Ultimately, though, the pro-war crowd jeering the peace activists are goons. They are a restive lot, living a hair's breadth from unleashing violence on others. All that was clear from their hateful and/or delusional slogans, their rageful visages. Their politics is amoral: "After all, Hitler was elected," I heard one leather-jacketed veteran say in approving tones to a companion. Frighteningly, these people live among us in the thousands, across the land, and they have access to the ballot box, such as it is. Sadly, their successors already may have been created on the battlefields and in the ruins of Mesopotamia. Someday, my son may be told to "get a job" by someone re-living a trauma that is thirty years old.