Friday, December 14, 2007

100th Anniversary of a Foundational Text for the Christian Left

Dear readers,

Please excuse the length of this posting. I am excited to share with you some excerpts from one of my favorite classic texts of the movement that furnishes my nickname on this blog (i.e. the "Christian Left")--while we are still in the year 2007. One hundred years ago, a powerful and prophetic book was published: Walter Rauschenbusch's Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907), which I believe is now in the public domain and should be available for free on-line.

Rauschenbusch was one of the leading figures of the "Social Gospel" movement of early-twentieth-century Christianity, arguing that Christians should not retreat into personal, private faith but should get involved in social action. His text serves as a clarion call for a Christianity of the progressive Left, and it is amazing (and, in some ways, depressing) how prophetic his writing remains today. Despite his lack of a sensitivity to some later, crucial developments such as environmentalism and feminism, his work nevertheless resonates powerfully with my own views on why Christians should be get involved in leftist politics.

To give you a flavor of his writings, I'd like to give you some of my favorite quotations. I've tried to pare down the number (honest!) but there are still quite a few of them. Feel free to browse at your leisure, and perhaps this will give you a little window into my own way of thinking about faith and politics, with the help of a classic writer of an earlier age that was strikingly like our own.

After several chapters about the Gospels and the communal egalitarianism of the early Christian church, Rauschenbusch addresses modern society in Chapter 5, "The Present Crisis":
- “Approximate equality is the only enduring foundation of political democracy. The sense of equality is the only basis for Christian morality. Healthful human relations seem to run only on horizontal lines. Consequently true love always seeks to create a level.” (p. 247)
- “The social equality existing in our country in the past has been one of the chief charms of life here and of far more practical importance to our democracy than the universal ballot. After a long period of study abroad in my youth I realized on my return to America that life here was far poorer in music, art, and many forms of enjoyment than life on the continent of Europe; but that life tasted better here, nevertheless, because men met one another more simply, frankly, and wholesomely. In Europe a man is always considering just how much deference he must show to those in ranks above him, and in turn noting jealously if those below him are strewing the right quantity of incense due to his own social position. That fundamental democracy of social intercourse, which is one of the richest endowments of our American life, is slipping from us. Actual inequality endangers the sense of equality.” (pp. 248-249)
- “We hear passionate protests against the use of the hateful word ‘class’ in America. There are no classes in our country, we are told. But the hateful part is not the word, but the thing. If class distinctions are growing up here, he serves his country ill who would hush up the fact or blind the people to it by fine phrases.” (p. 250)
- “Any shifting of the economic equilibrium from one class to another is sure to be followed by a shifting of the political equilibrium. If a class arrives at economic wealth, it will gain political influence and some form of representation.” (p. 253)
- “The power of capitalism over the machinery of our government, and its corroding influence on the morality of our public servants, has been revealed within recent years to such an extent that it is almost superfluous to speak of it.” (p. 254)
- “Our moral character is wrought out by choosing the right when we are offered the wrong. It is neither possible nor desirable to create a condition in which the human soul will not have to struggle with temptation. But there are conditions in which evil is so dominant and its attraction so deadly and irresistible, that no wise man will want to expose himself or his children to such odds. ... We cannot conceal from ourselves that in some directions the temptations of modern life are so virulent that characters and reputations are collapsing all about us with sickening frequency. The prevalence of fraud and the subtler kinds of dishonesty for which we have invented the new term ‘graft,’ is a sinister fact of the gravest import. It is not merely the weak who fall, but the strong. Clean, kindly, religious men stoop to methods so tricky, hard, and rapacious, that we stand aghast whenever the curtain is drawn aside and we are shown the inside facts. Every business man who has any finer moral discernment will realize that he himself is constantly driven by the pressure of business necessity into actions of which he is ashamed.” (p. 264)
- “Competitive commerce exalts selfishness to the dignity of a moral principle. It pits men against one another in a gladiatorial game in which there is no mercy and in which ninety per cent of the combatants finally strew the arena.” (p. 265)

And, just a few quotations from Chapter 6, "The Stake of the Church in the Social Movement," in which Rauschenbusch discusses (among other things) the opposition between Christianity and commerce:
- “The law of Christ, wherever it finds expression, reverses the law of trade. It bids us demand little for ourselves and give much service.” (p. 311)
- “Common work for social welfare is the best common ground for the various religious bodies and the best training school for practical Christian unity.” (p. 340)
- “As we have seen, the industrial and commercial life to-day is dominated by principles antagonistic to the fundamental principles of Christianity, and it is so difficult to live a Christian life in the midst of it that few men even try.” (pp. 340-341)
- “If society continues to distintegrate and decay, the Church will be carried down with it. If the Church can rally such moral forces that injustice will be overcome and fresh red blood will course in a sounder social organism, it will itself rise to higher liberty and life.” (p. 341)
- “The Church must either condemn the world and seek to change it, or tolerate the world and conform to it.” (p. 342)

Finally, in Chapter 7, "What to Do," Rauschenbusch makes it clear that he does not seek to have the Church control the social movement, and follows up with some powerful words about the greatest evils of modern society--militarism/war and materialism/greed:
- “The social movement could have no more powerful ally than religious enthusiasm; it could have no more dangerous ally than ecclesiasticism. If the Church truly desires to save the social life of the people, it must be content with inspiring the social movement with religious faith and daring, and it must not attempt to control and monopolize it for its own organization.” (p. 348)
- “Social religion, too [like personal religion], demands repentance and faith: repentance for our social sins; faith in the possibility of a new social order. As long as a man sees in our present society only a few inevitable abuses and recognizes no sin and evil deep-seated in the very constitution of the present order, he is still in a state of moral blindness and without conviction of sin.” (p. 349)
- “No man can help the people until he is himself free from the spell which the present order has cast over our moral judgment. We have repeatedly pointed out that every social institution weaves a protecting integument of glossy idealization about itself like a colony of tent-caterpillars in an apple tree. For instance, wherever militarism rules, war is idealized by monuments and paintings, poetry and song. The stench of the hospitals and the maggots of the battle-field are passed in silence, and the imagination of the people is filled with waving plumes and the shout of charging columns. ... If war is ever to be relegated to the limbo of outgrown barbarism, we must shake of its magic. When we comprehend how few wars have ever been fought for the sake of justice or the people; how personal spite, the ambition of military professionals, and the protection of capitalistic ventures are the real moving powers; how the governing classes pour out the blood and wealth of nations for private ends and exude patriotic enthusiasm like a squid secreting ink to hide its retreat--then the mythology of war will no longer bring us to our knees, and we shall fail to get drunk with the rest when martial intoxication sweeps the people off their feet.” (pp. 349-350)
- “In the same way we shall have to see through the fictions of capitalism. We are assured that the poor are poor through their own fault; that rent and profits are the just dues of foresight and ability; that the immigrants are the cause of corruption in our city politics; that we cannot compete with foreign countries unless our working class will descend to the wages paid abroad. These are all very plausible assertions, but they are lies dressed up in truth. There is a great deal of conscious lying. Industrialism as a whole sends out deceptive prospectuses just like single corporations within it. But in the main these misleading theories are the complacent self-deception of those who profit by present conditions and are loath to believe that their life is working harm.” (pp. 350-351)
- “The spiritual force of Christianity should be turned against the materialism and mammonism of our industrial and social order.” (p. 369)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Inequities of Climate Change

The latest IPCC report's "summary for policymakers" on climate change came out a few days ago. I downloaded it and have been working my way through it. You can download it for yourself from the IPCC's main website (look under "The AR4 Synthesis Report" mid-way down the page). Given that many have criticized this latest IPCC report for perhaps not being bold enough, it is quite striking how serious the projected outcomes and scenarios are. (It also does a good job of demonstrating the human contribution to global warming, by the way, with helpful pie charts of greenhouse gas [GHG] contributions from various sources, continental temperature trends, etc.) I'm sure there will be more insights to come from this report--and I encourage readers to comment on them here--but I would like to focus on just one thing that caught my eye. I noticed under "Examples of some projected regional impacts" (p. 10), that some noticeable effects on food production are expected ALREADY BY 2020. While most effects, in all areas, are negative for human welfare, there are some exceptions. For example, while Africa is expected to see 75-250 million people under water stress and up to a 50% reduction in rainfed agriculture by 2020, in that same period the rainfall-based portion of North America may actually experience short-term increased yields of 5-20% in the aggregate due to warming. This inequitable pair of outcomes seems especially cruel and ironic given that we North Americans have been far greater contributors to global warming than most Africans. Of course, even North America is expected to face some problems in the short term, such as droughts and decreased mountain snowfall (the main source for irrigation-based agriculture) in the West--not to mention heat waves, coastal impacts, and health consequences. But I find it a great tragedy that the poorest (and lowest GHG emitting) regions of the world may suffer the most, just when the need for action will be greatest in the industrialized world. I had heard about this before, but it was sobering to see it spelled out in the IPCC report summary.

Over the long term, of course, the consequences seem quite unequivocally dire for the entire planet, if dramatic action is not taken. I hope that we can all remember during this holiday season the natural world that we have (as a gift from God, if you are religious, like me) to be caretakers of. Maybe for this Thanksgiving, we should give thanks that our planet can still support human life.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Perils of Demonizing Religious People (Muslim Version)

Before another craven, clueless right-wing politician utters the phrase "Islamofascist" again...please, please, please, I hope that person reads Middle East scholar Juan Cole's recent article in The Nation, "Combating Muslim Extremism". Cole is responding to the recent resurgence of anti-Muslim bigotry among many of the G.O.P. presidential contenders.

For those still unswayed by the basic principles of fairness, tolerance, and avoiding group stereotyping, perhaps the following argument from Cole's article might be worth pondering: "The Republicans are playing Russian roulette with America's future with their bigoted anti-Muslim rhetoric. Muslims may constitute as much as a third of humankind by 2050, forming a vast market and a crucial labor pool. They will be sitting on the lion's share of the world's energy resources. The United States will increasingly have to compete with emerging rivals such as China and India for access to those Muslim resources and markets, and if its elites go on denigrating Muslims, America will be at a profound disadvantage during the next century."

Nothing like a good business argument for the Republicans, right? But Cole's article offers much more in the way of data and analysis to put everything into better perspective. And, seriously, I believe that Cole is absolutely right that we Americans will all suffer the long-term consequences of this reckless, short-term political posturing by the men who (shudder) want to convince us they are fit to be the next President. (Giuliani seems to the worst, from recent statements.) This situation is way beyond when I thought it could be settled by pointing out the obvious--that Islamofascism is a ridiculous, incoherent phrase--and it is now devolving into a stubborn presence in that netherworld where ignorance and ambition combust in a spectacular display for the crazy remnant of loyal Bush supporting Republicans who constitute the party's core.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Take America Back

Since Barak Obama is looking for new ways to invigorate him presidential campaign, I have some advice. The new take on Iran is a good start. But something bigger is what you need, and the country needs it too.

If I were a candidate (and I'm ready to form an exploratory committee if anyone out there asks me to, and gives me hundreds of millions of dollars), I would pledge to undo the Bush presidency. Virtually anything he's done, I would overturn. My presidency would take America back, policy-wise, to at least 1998, and in many areas we'd go back much further.

I know this is not the kind of rhetoric you politicians favor these days, with all the talk about the 'new economy,' and how we need a 'new politics' for the 21st century. But many of the things progressives want to do in the next decade or two are things the United States used to do pretty well. We used to have a more progressive tax structure. We used to have an economy that provided more secure livings to a broad middle class. We used to actually regulate industry and business to help ensure safe practices and products. We used to have fairly strong unions. In foreign policy, we used to work with large coalitions of other nations to promote mutual interests, and took a leading role in organizations like the United Nations.

I could go on with this list, but the point is: Why can't we go back to doing these things again? At the top of my list of things to undo would be Bush's disastrous war in Iraq and his steady erosion of civil liberties and rule of law. After we begin to restore our international reputation in these areas, I think we need a 'truth and reconciliation' commission to look into all the areas of government that the Bush administration has worked so assiduously to cover with secrecy. It's important for political and policy reasons that the public know as soon as possible just what these people have been up to in their eight years in power. We have to show that we've restored accountability to our political system, and we have to find out what hidden policies remain for us to undo.

Certainly, there are some areas of policy where the solution can't be found in our own history. The health care problem is the biggest one I can think of. But other countries have dealt rather effectively with their citizens' health care needs, and we could definitely learn from what they've been doing successfully for decades.

Together, these restorations of former policies will, I believe, restore something much larger that we have lost in the last eight years: a sense of national purpose and progress. As part of the community of nations, the United States can look forward to working with willing partners to address international problems like global warming, and local humanitarian crises like Iraq and Darfur. As US citizens, we can look forward to increasing economic security and the continued enjoyment of robust civil liberties.

The final goal of going back to a pre-Bush era is to restore our vision of the future as a better place to live in than the present. Rather than freaking out over terrorist threats and starting petty scraps to protect a decaying American empire, we can move more confidently, more calmly, into the 21st century, and look forward to a country and a world becoming more healthy, more prosperous, and more peaceful with each passing year.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Respecting Religion

I have often opined on this blog that I see little basis for the complaint of some of my fellow Christians that somehow secular liberals "disrespect" us. Most of my experience confirms this viewpoint, but I do occasionally encounter a rare exception. Let me dissect one recent example to show just how outlandish and illogical someone has to become in order to cross that line of respect. I recently read Richard Dawkins's 2006 book, The God Delusion, which provided one such extremely rare example of true disrespect of and arrogance toward sincere religion.

Now Dawkins does make a few good points in the book--for example, about the bad things that have been done in the name of religion, some of the morally despicable conclusions that one might reach by taking the Bible too "literally" (as if such a thing were possible in a consistent way), and the dangers of forcibly inculcating children with dogmatic, unquestioning religion-based fear. (Why after reading this book do I have a sneaking suspicion that Dawkins's militant materialist and reductionistic atheism might lead to similar problems? Hmmm...) But, on the whole, Dawkins's book projected such a tragic combination of arrogance (trust me, the tone is unmistakeable, from the very beginning) and ignorance (about the faith experiences and beliefs of the millions of us who don't conform to his simplistic caricature of religious belief) that I wondered if I should even bother typing up a blog entry on this book, which I had initially hoped (mostly in vain) would provide an interesting starting point for a thoughtful discussion of the various arguments for and against religious belief.

Nevertheless, given the wide publicity Dawkins's book has received, along with my propensity to use this blog as a forum for venting frustrations in all directions, let me proceed anyway. I could critique any number of aspects of this book, from his bizarrely non-comprehending dismissal of the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God (ummm...Prof. Dawkins, I think the whole point of envisioning a Creator that is beyond the physical world is to get beyond the infinite regress of material causation, not to prolong it) to his absurd inability to grasp the fundamental inanity of citing a carefully controlled double-blind study based on praying for a first name and last initial (!) supposedly showing the non-efficacy of prayer (and I don't care who funded it, it is an utterly ridiculous--and substantively irrelevant--idea to "test" prayer in this way). But beneath Dawkins's contemptuous sneers peppered throughout the book, I actually began to feel sorry for him, due to his inability to comprehend ideas that cannot be reduced to objectively verifiable scientific truth claims--ideas that speak to the mystical side of human experience, of mystery, of awe and wonder. What an impoverished way of looking at life and existence he seems to have. But now I feel myself sliding into the same pitying contemptuousness with which Dawkins approaches people who hold religious beliefs. So I will ask his pardon and proceed with a close reading of what is perhaps the most relevant chapter of his book for all of us Christians like me (and I think this would describe far more than those of us who are left/radical) who would never in a million years subscribe to the supertitious, hocus-pocus caricature of religious belief that he uses most of the book to critique.

The relevant chapter is number eight, "What's Wrong with Religion? Why Be So Hostile?" Indeed I had spent most of the book wondering that exact question. Perhaps some of his reviewers did too. Or maybe he has enough self-awareness to realize that his reasons for promoting such an aggressively urgent and ardent atheism will seem strangely flimsy without it. But let me give him credit, for he states his central argument in this chapter very clearly, as follows: " point in this section is that even mild and moderate religion helps to provide the climate of faith in which extremism naturally flourishes." (p. 303)

An interesting claim. One might even call it an empirical claim. Yet does Dawkins provide any hard historical or social scientific data to show that "If X, then Y," where X is is a preponderance of mild and moderate religion and Y is a consequent flourishing of extremist religion? Sorry, nope. I must admit that I don't have any disconfirming evidence either, but it seems wildly implausible to me that religious moderation fosters religious extremism. It's almost a contradiction in terms, but not quite, for we could perhaps live in a society where militant atheism stamps out all religious belief completely, and perhaps that society would have less religious extremism. But, to my mind, it seems much more plausible that militant atheism and religious extremism feed off each other. Kind of like religious extremists of different faith traditions often feed off each other. Dawkins's own anecdotes of victimized atheists wrongly disowned or shunned by strongly religious relatives (whose plight I fully sympathize with) provide ample testimonial evidence of this point.

Now if you will indulge me, let me deconstruct several subsequent pages (pp. 303-306) in detail, in which Dawkins sets forth his reasoning for reaching this paradoxical conclusion...

Dawkins: "As long as we accept the principle that religious faith must be respected simply because it is religious faith, it is hard to withhold respect from the faith of Osama bin Laden and the suicide bombers. The alternative, one so transparent that it should need no urging, is to abandon the principle of automatic respect for religious faith. This is one reason why I do everything in my power to warn people against faith itself, not just against so-called 'extremist' faith. The teachings of 'moderate' religion, though not extremist in themselves, are an open invitation to extremism."

Is it not possible to respect someone's religious faith (even Osama bin Laden) and yet still disagree adamantly with him or her about a great many things? One would hope that Dawkins is not so stingy with his respect of others in everyday life. But that's not what he is complaining about, I don't think. What upsets him, as I read him, is not "respect" per se, but when people invoke religious claims as a trump card to justify any behavior they wish. And who could disagree? True, the USA has an exceptionally permissive view on the freedom of religion (allowing religious schooling of children, for example, or allowing some drugs in religious ceremonies), but no one--I repeat, no one--is arguing that "respecting" religion demands letting people do whatever they wish in the name of religion. No sane person, even in America, would condone letting a serial killer in Montgomery go free because he claimed that his religion demands that he kill Alabamans. In practice, the line is often trickier to draw, but how could this possibly justify a blanket disrespect of all religion? I am tempted here to remind Dawkins that people have used "science" to justify some pretty extreme and awful things in the past, but that would in no way force me to oppose everyone who invokes "science" as a reason.

"It might be said that there is nothing special about religious faith here. Patriotic love of country or ethnic group can also make the world safe for its own version of extremism, can't it? Yes it can, as with the kamikazes in Japan and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka."

Okay, once you admit this, Prof. Dawkins, you have basically undermined your whole argument. (Oops!) And you need not look half way around the world to find ample examples of nationalism and patriotism that distort people's moral sensibilities. Once you accept that "extremism" can come in many forms (oh no, even militant atheism? or worship of scientific reductionism, such as a genetic basis for everything?) it is hard to single out religion as somehow different.

"But religious faith is an especially potent silencer of rational calculation, which usually seems to trump all others. This is mostly, I suspect, because of the easy and beguiling promise that death is not the end, and that a martyr's heaven is especially glorious. But it is also partly because it discourages questioning, by its very nature."

Nice try wiggling out, but I won't buy it. Forget for the moment that "it's in our genes" (among many other popular non-religious articles of faith) has also lately been a favored silencer of critical thinking for some people. Let me just beg to differ that religious faith "discourages questioning, by its very nature"--not my religion, not my faith. That is about the most backwards way to characterize a deep inquiry into the mystery of life and existence. My own (and many others') journey of faith is all about questioning, probing, admitting that we don't have all the answers. The irony of all this is that Dawkins's own book is arguing strenuously for shutting out other alternatives to his own belief, declaring in the book's very title that God is a "delusion".

"More generally (and this applies to Christianity no less than to Islam), what is really pernicious is the practice of teaching children that faith itself is a virtue. Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument. Teaching children that unquestioned faith is a virtue primes them--given certain other ingredients that are not hard to come by--to grow up into potentially lethal weapons for future jihads or crusades. ... And they were taught that lesson not necessarily by extremist fanatics but by decent, gentle, mainstream religious instructors, who lined them up in their madrasas, sitting in rows, rhythmically nodding their innocent little heads up and down while they learned every word of the holy book like demented parrots. Faith can be very very dangerous, and deliberately to implant it into the vulnerable mind of an innocent child is a grievous wrong."

Prof. Dawkins has simply not even begun to do justice to the rich and thoughtful tradition of religious thinking that has a more sophisticated view of what faith entails. What is funny about his caricature of religious faith is how strikingly divergent it is from the notions taught at most mainline Protestant theological schools these days (to take the example I know best). The kind of critical thinking about all of our taken-for-granted beliefs--including science, including capitalism, and even including selfishness (hah!)--is exactly what good education is all about, including in our churches, synagogues, mosques, and seminaries. If you define "faith" as acceptance of beliefs without questioning them or attempting to justifying them, then I can kind of see his point, but then it would apply just as equally well if not more urgently to so many other unquestioned beliefs in American society, such as the intrinsic superiority of the USA, the value of using market forces to solve our social problems, that science will solve everything, that all valuable questions can be reduced to "objective" and reductionistic factual analysis, or even more particularly the ridiculous notion that we are somehow ruled by our genes. By the way, one could also skewer Dawkins's assertion that suicide bombers are created primarily by mild-mannered, moderate religious teachers in madrasas by pointing out that such moderates are our best hope and key allies in the struggle against extremism in all its forms--not to mention that if the stunning recent book by Peter Dale Scott, The Road to 9/11 (University of California Press, 2007), is any indication, at least one of the leading terrorist trainers of Al Qaeda was an agent of the United States government (and of course we also know that that in its early days, al Qaeda in general was supported by the USA as "freedom fighters" against the Soviets). And this is not even to begin mentioning all the other varied factors that are widely known to be major contributors to the origins of extremist violence in the Muslim world--struggles for control over resources, American military presence in the Middle East, even the contempt of Muslim extremists for moderate Muslim governments, for goodness sake. So to somehow pin the worst acts of religious extremism on co-religionist moderates is far too much ignorance of historical fact for me to take seriously.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Global Face of Christianity

I've disagreed in the past with Jim Wallis's attempts to foster a Christian progressive politics built on a framework "neither Left nor Right" (why can't we just follow our conscience directly to the Progressive Left?) and his complaint that somehow the secular Left isn't accepting enough of Christians (Huh? Aren't they our closest allies?). But this week I have to give Wallis credit for his perceptive commentary on the Iraq debate, in which he points out the global Christian condemnation of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. As Wallis points out: "Outside the borders of the United States of America, a vast, vast majority of the world's people are steadfastly against the American war in Iraq and the foreign policies of the U.S. in general. Take out all the non-Christians from that global population sample and among the people of God [sic] the opposition remains the same. Even reduce that number to only evangelical Christians worldwide and you are still left with an overwhelming majority of born-again, Bible-believing Christians who are against American policy in Iraq and, indeed, the entire Middle East region."

In asking (with tongue in cheek) our fellow Christian brothers and sisters in America--sadly, still over-represented among Bush's war backers--"what do some American Christians know that the rest of the global Christian community doesn't?" Wallis is highlighting the disconnect between the global, universal claims of Christianity and its absurdly parochial, nationalistic adherents in the USA. Now, I've never been one of those Christians who believes that our goal is to convert the world to Christianity (my view tends more towards seeing value in all great world religions and seeing the Christian global mandate as an open invitation and a call for the equal value of all people in the eyes of God) but even--or especially--if you do, can you possibly reconcile this glaring contradiction?

One of my greatest ongoing irritations about American political culture, which I am glad to see someone as visible as Wallis writing about, is the idolatry of linking "God and Country" in the manner so prevalent in the United States. And, actually, Wallis sticks out his neck pretty far. "Personally, to be frank," he writes, "I think it is because far too many American Christians are simply Americans first and Christians second." Now one might quibble with his apparent implication (dispelled in his other writings, and countless other observers) that the Iraq War might actually be in the interest of the United States. But I think he is saying that the call for allegiance or loyalty to the USA, however misguided it may be in any particular and real situation, has trumped religious faith for many American Christians.

Such an accusation is pretty serious, and I expect him to be criticized for it. But I think he has a good point--tough point, but one we need to hear. As the idolatry of nationalism works its ugly ways on American Christians, we have tended to forget the core messages of Christianity and simply transmute the religion into a worship of flag and militaristic nationalism, which is almost completely at odds with the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. I've complained before about having flags in church. (What more potent form of idolatry can we imagine in this modern world, except perhaps a gigantic pile of money that we worship?--oh wait, they do have the "Avenue of Christian Capitalists" or whatever it is called at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California...) The practice continues unabated in the vast majority of Protestant congregations (what about Roman Catholic...not sure?) Many churches sing patriotic hymns, mourn the losses of U.S. life far beyond how they mourn the loss of non-U.S. citizens (such as the ones the U.S. bombs), and otherwise display a contempt for the universal love and global ethics of Jesus. Thanks Jim Wallis, for sticking your neck out on this one. It's a message that the Christians of America need to wrestle with.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Vietnam Analogy

I'm sure the following insight has occurred to many other opponents of the Bush Administration and its disastrously failed war in Iraq. But I need to state it out in the open, to add my own little sandbag against the flood tide of forthcoming GOP spin...

They know that Iraq is lost. They know we will have to leave. They are trying to create the impression that we are suddenly starting to have "success" now, however small, in order to control the post-withdrawal narrative. (That was the whole point of the September report/deadline, after all, even though it will have to be over-written by the White House to still perform its intended function.) It is no coincidence that all this talk of previously-so-adamantly-denied Vietnam analogies comes at just the time when the Masters of War have cajoled many elite pundits and strong-defense-hawk-wannabee Democrats (including, sadly, leading Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton) into muddying the waters and making it sound like the transparently manufactured appearance of "success" they have created is a real change in the long-term prognosis of this disastrously failed war. They are ready now to perform the same contra-factual historical spin trick they pulled on Vietnam (for some) to make Americans believe we could have won if the all-powerful-yet-somehow-also-fringe anti-war movement hadn't made us leave.

We can't let them do this. We were right; they were wrong. We can't let America (even half of it) be fooled again.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Hey, Democrats: Carpe Diem!

The Republicans are in disarray. The conservative movement is losing steam. Americans seem to be turning Left. Carpe diem, one might say. But are we Progressives seizing the day?

A smart new blog posting by _The Nation_ editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel suggests that we are not. She astutely critiques the leading Democratic candidates for not seizing the moment to articulate an even bolder agenda, going so far as to present an impressive list of issues. In chastizing the Democratic candidates, Vanden Heuvel uses the carefully-selected phrase "leading contender," thus neatly avoiding any discussion of lesser-known candidates such as Dennis Kucinich--who, of course, are advocating just about everything on her list. But I will forgive her for that, since it seems unlikely that Kucinich will ever get the serious consideration of the traditional media (or even much of the leading Progressive alternative media, for that matter!) Kucinich has become, in a way, the "prophet" of the Democratic Party: visionary and wise on just about every issue, but divergent enough from the political Zeitgeist that too many people misperceive his unorthodox views as "crazy". So, though Vanden Heuvel's list reads almost exactly like Kucinich's platform, I will set that aside for the sake of discussion, since I, too, have concluded that our best realistic Progressive hopes lie in choosing the best of the front runners.

Vanden Heuvel's list provides a great list of what we should demand from our candidates, and I intend here to go through her items, one by one, to assess how my favorite "leading contender"--John Edwards--is doing in his "talk" about them. Now, admittedly, I don't live in Iowa or New Hampshire, and I haven't been privy to most of the candidates' campaign "talk". (I do encourage open debate about where I might adjust these evaluations, based on what others have heard or seen.) I think it is essential to get away from the star worship that has characterized so much of the intra-party bickering over Clinton vs. Obama vs. Edwards. I have noticed a somewhat disturbing tendency, especially among Clinton and Obama supporters who post on-line, to defend every ridiculous warmongering or otherwise disturbing statement of their preferred candidate, and here I want to show a different approach, which is to use Vanden Heuvel's list to critique my own preferred candidate. In thinking through all the items listed, I judge that Edwards is better than C or O in pretty much all categories--in some cases they are only marginally worse or equal, and in other cases, they are far worse. But I leave it to those candidates' partisans who have been listening more intently to their messages to measure them up more closely.

Anyhow, here is the list, with my grades for my favorite candidate, John Edwards, given my somewhat impressionistic reading of his public utterances, declared platform, and commitments:

"Yet no leading Democratic Presidential contender is challenging a military budget that now equals the total amount spent by the rest of the world combined."
As I've posted before on this website, this may be my single greatest complaint about all the Democratic leaders today. At least Edwards doesn't prattle on about INCREASING military spending, as many Democrats do, but he could clearly be much bolder on this key issue (though the media would probably crucify him for it): C+

"No leading contender--despite a crumbling infrastructure--falling bridges, collapsing sewers, breached levees, overcrowded and aged schools, flooded subways--lays out a public investment agenda of appropriate scale."
Edwards does talk about all these things, but his program could be more ambitious in scale: B-

"No leading contender champions a "Medicare for All" national health care program."
Edwards's plan at least, in theory, could take us there, but why not just go all the way? This is perhaps my clearest-cut area needing improvement: C-

"No leading contender challenges America's role as global cop or this country's unsustainable global economic strategy."
Hmmm...I think Edwards has done some of the former, only a bit of the latter: B

"No leading contender is speaking openly about the need to exit the failed "war on terror" that has made our nation less secure."
I have to challenge Vanden Heuvel on this one: Edwards has been forthright and bold, much more than other leading candidates, about challenging the "war on terror" frame: A

"Who among the leading candidates is talking about a "real security" strategy--paying attention to surveys that show a growing number of Americans understand that overwhelming military power won't deal with the central challenges of this century: climate crisis, the worst pandemic in human history (AIDS), the spread of weapons of mass destruction, genocidal conflict and a global economy that is generating greater instability and inequality?"
See my previous answer, though Edwards could do more on some of these things: A-

"Gilded age inequality is attacked and there are calls to repeal Bush's tax cuts for the very rich, but which leading candidate is proposing a return to real progressive taxation?"
Haven't heard much about that from Edwards, or any other leading candidate for that matter: D

"Which candidate talks about challenges to corporate power and lays out a serious strategy to empower workers to win a fair share of their rightful profits?"Actually, Edwards has been pretty strong about restoring union rights: A-

"Corporations are shredding the social contract but no leading DemocratIc candidate is arguing for mandatory paid vacations or a national pension program to help workers salvage their ravaged futures?" Yes, we can push him for more specifics on this sort of thing: C+

"And while there is overwhelming opposition to the war--and a demand that the US end its involvement--every leading Democrat's plan would keep troops and bases in Iraq beyond 2009."
Edwards seems to want just embassy protection forces, which frankly is better than what other leading candidates are calling for. And he is calling for the troops to be simply brought home. But he could be more specific about just how little--and I hope it is EXTREMELY little, just for standard embassy protection--of a force he intends to leave there: B

"Finally, who is talking about our failed criminal justice system--and the disastrous war on drugs?"
Haven't heard too much from Edwards, or any leading contender, on that ("crime" seems so disappointingly untouchable for even the boldest of Democrats): D-

"Affordable housing?"
Edwards has actually talked quite a bit about the mortgage default situation and other housing issues: B+

"A restoration of our Constitutional rights and liberties?"Other than Kucinich, Dodd has been the clear leader on this one, but Edwards hasn't been too bad either: B

"Democracy reforms--public financing of campaigns, reliable voting machines with a paper trail, ending Jim-Crow like tactics to suppress the vote --which could challenge our downsized politics of excluded alternatives?"
They all seem to forget this between elections (and sometimes even during them!): C-

As you can see, my impressions are all over the map. Thinking through all the issues listed, I don't think Vanden Heuvel has been completely fair to Edwards by implying that he (along with C & O) is ignoring them. But I do thank her for reminding me of where a more ambitious Progressive agenda might go--and giving us some ideas about how to push our own favored candidates to become even better.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Max Weber meets Richard Dawkins

Oh, fer crying out loud. I am supposed to be doing other things right now (finishing the conclusion to my dissertation, ahem), so if one of you has a few moments to spare, would you care to offer a concise critique of this absurd article from the New York Times? It argues that the reason so much wealth and power is concentrated in the rich countries of the world is that capitalist genes spread through their populations by ca 1800. *This* is the "world history" that gets popular coverage. Sheesh.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Ted Sorenson's Speech

I'm rather late in getting to this wonderful article in the Washington Monthly, but I urge you to read Ted Sorenson's speech, the one that he would like to hear the next Democratic nominee give. It's an eloquent summary of many important ways the Bush administration and its cronies have tarnished the country, and it has some great ideas for first steps in rehabilitating our politics and international reputation. One part of this is his enumeration of immediate foreign policy goals:
To meet the threats we face and restore our place of leadership in the free world, I pledge to do the following:

First, working with a representative Iraqi parliament, I shall set a timetable for an orderly, systematic redeployment and withdrawal of all our troops in Iraq...

Second, this redeployment shall be only the first step in a comprehensive regional economic and diplomatic stabilization plan for the entire Middle East, building a just and enduring peace between Israel and Palestine, halting the killing and maiming of innocent civilians on both sides, and establishing two independent sovereign states, each behind peacefully negotiated and mutually recognized borders.

Third, I shall as soon as possible transfer all inmates out of the Guantanamo Bay prison and close down that hideous symbol of injustice.

Fourth, I shall fly to New York City to pledge in person to the United Nations, in the September 2009 General Assembly, that the United States is returning to its role as a leader in international law, as a supporter of international tribunals, and as a full-fledged member of the United Nations which will pay its dues in full, on time, and without conditions, renouncing any American empire...

Fifth, I shall personally sign the Kyoto Protocol, and seek its ratification by the United States Senate... and I shall call upon the Congress to take action dramatically reducing our nation’s reliance on the carbon fuels that are steadily contributing to the degradation of our environment.

Sixth, I shall demonstrate sufficient confidence in the strength of our values and the wisdom and skill of our diplomats to favor communications, negotiations, and full relations with every country on earth, including Cuba, North Korea, Palestine, and Iran.

Finally, I shall restore the constitutional right of habeas corpus, abolish the unconstitutional tapping of private phones, and once again show the world the traditional American values that distinguish us from those who attacked us on 9/11.
Hopefully some of our presidential candidates have read this, too.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Republican "pullback" plan

Republican Senators Warner and Lugar have rolled out a proposal to... well, do something about the war in Iraq. This story in the NY Times, by Jeff Zeleny, doesn't tell you what the Warner-Lugar proposal is until the 15th paragraph. The main part of the story is devoted to retelling the familiar tale of how "politics" and "pandering to the base" is messing up the pursuit of level-headed centrist policies in Iraq. It's lousy reporting and a pretty transparent show of the kind of 'common sense' from the Washington establishment that got us into this whole Iraq debacle in the first place.

Anyway, what's up with the Warner-Lugar proposal? According to the far more informative report in the Washington Post by Shailagh Murray and Robin Wright, the legislation would require "the White House to begin drawing up plans to redeploy U.S. forces from frontline combat to border security and counterterrorism. But the legislation would not force Bush to implement the plans at this point."

That's right--Bush and his team will have to "begin drawing up plans" to redeploy troops to "border security and counterterrorism," but would not force the administration to do anything other than "present a realignment plan to Congress by Oct. 16." Other than that it would "expect" Bush to submit a new request to Congress to reauthorize the war--something that the NY Times story does not go out of its way to make clear is only an expectation, not a requirement.

As a sign of Republican disunity on the Iraq issue, the Warner-Lugar bill is welcome news. But it's not anything close to a reassertion of the Constitutional prerogatives on Congress. It's a toothless piece of legislation, and I expect it to sink fairly quickly, although amid wails and cries from the likes of the NY Times about how it's another sign of the death of bipartisanship. Even if the bill passed, it will basically allow the Bush administration to continue to do whatever the hell it wants, just as long as it redefines it as promoting border security and counterterrorism. It's not a realignment plan at all.

Hopefully, the Dems will come up with something a lot better, and stick with it even if they can't pass it over a filibuster or Presidential veto. Defeat in a righteous cause is better than a 'victory' that allows this evil war to continue.

Meanwhile, back in Iraq: U.S. Troops Battle Iraqi Police in East Baghdad

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sad, Scary & Crazy

This is just sad and scary:
Today was a historic first for religion in America's civic life: For the very first time, a Hindu delivered the morning invocation in the Senate chamber — only to find the ceremony disrupted by three Christian right activists.
This is just crazy:
Wall Street soared Thursday, propelling the Standard & Poor's 500 index and Dow Jones industrials to record highs as bright spots among generally sluggish retail sales allowed investors to toss aside concerns about the health of the economy.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Making Stuff and Keeping It

In the late 19th century, in the wake of the strikes of 1877 and the Haymarket riot, armories began to spring up in major cities in the US. They housed "National Guard units thought to be more reliable than local police when upholding urban order might involve firing at strikers. New York had twenty of them, Philadelphia six." Ah--but those were the bad old days, right? This New Gilded Age is of a kinder, gentler sort, isn't it?

The latest issue of Economists' Voice has an interesting article by Samuel Bowles and Arjun Jayadev titled "Garrison America." (It's available free for non-subscribers once a registration form is filled in for 'guest access.') Bowles and Jayadev attempt to measure the percent of the American workforce devoted to protecting stuff rather than making stuff. This "guard labor" force, consisting of military personnel, police and security guards, and a more amorphous category of work supervisors, has grown four-fold in the US since 1890, when their data series begins. Comparing US guard labor with other countries, Bowles and Jayadev find that guard labor fractions are strongly correlated with economic polarization and political conflict, and negatively correlated with measures of political legitimacy and social welfare spending.

They further find that recent international crises are not to blame for the large percentage of the American workforce employed in "the disciplinary apparatus of society." Indeed, "the international security contribution to the guard labor force is down sharply, and "Police now considerably outnumber those working directly or indirectly for the Pentagon--a first since our data series begins in 1890." In fact, "By 2012, the Department of Labor predicts, the United States will have more private security guards than high school teachers."

An obvious objection to the paper's conclusions is that the authors have included way too many people in the 'supervisor' category. I hope to post an update later looking at this question in more detail, but let me here summarize how Boyles and Jayadev deal with this problem in this paper. They used the Dictionary of Occupational Titles to create a list of jobs that consist primarily of supervising people (rather than supervising data, or machines). The estimates supervisory personnel derived from this method are comparable to (but less than) estimates from available surveys of the supervisory tasks of workers in the US and other nations. The authors do not count logocrats, like economists, for example, nor those "involved in the production of weapons for self protection, of locks and security cameras, and surveillance devices such as trackers attached to long haul trucks..." They conclude that "We do not think we have overestimated the number of supervisors; we have certainly missed some types of work that could be termed guard labor."

Nor, in my opinion, do the authors over-emphasize the connection between economic inequality and guard labor, despite the strong correlation between the two in their international and US state-level comparisons. They caution that the high US guard labor percentage may be at least partly a product of advanced specialization in the US workforce:
In many countries, the job of getting people to abide by the rules is not left up to the specialists that we have included in guard labor. Anyone who has tried jaywalking in Germany will known what we mean: it's not the police who you have to worry about, but your (equally formidable) fellow pedestrians.
So, if one accepts the conclusions of Bowles and Jayadev as legitimate, what implications do they have for public policy? The authors call for new measures of national wealth that would take into account the investments made in guard labor. The role of that section of the workforce, they argue, is not to produce new goods, but rather to "maintain the economically relevant institutional stock."

If such measures of national wealth were developed, it would help countries reallocate resources from guarding stuff to making it, and might boost economic development and "enhance the livelihoods of the least well off."

Bowles and Jayadev quote John Stuart Mill lamenting "how a great proportion of all efforts and talents in the world are employed in merely neutralizing one another. It is the proper end of government to reduce this wretched waste to the smallest possible amount, by taking such measures as shall cause the energies now spent by mankind in injuring one another, or in protecting themselves against injury, to be turned to the legitimate employment of the human faculties...."

Saturday, June 16, 2007

What Will Happen in Iraq?

I was just catching up on Immanuel Wallerstein's last few semi-monthly "commentaries" on the Fernand Braudel Center website. His perspective is almost always provocative and interesting; he does a better job than most commentators at panning away from the day-to-day to reveal the bigger picture. I was especially intrigued by his second-most-recent commentary, which outlines two possible "endgames" for the Iraq War, one based on the realities faced by President Bush, the other on the realities faced by Moqtada al-Sadr. For those of us who believe in the urgency of ending the war/occupation in Iraq, it provides food for thought. One of his side comments is that the Democrats share Bush's desire to keep a U.S. military base in Iraq. Is this true? I wonder if we should be pushing the leading Democratic '08 candidates to commit during the primary season to repudiate any such plans. Of the leading contenders, my sense is that Edwards (still my favorite at the moment) has basically committed to that, with his pledge to leave only U.S. troops to protect the Embassy, while Obama and Clinton have both left the door open to the possibility of a permanent U.S. base. But perhaps they, too, could be swayed to commit if it becomes a more public issue. Some of the less prominent candidates, such as Kucinich and Richardson, seem to have taken an even stronger position than Edwards. Is this something we need to pay attention to? It might matter quite a bit in the long run.

Update on Chinese slaves

The number of slaves rescued from brick factories over the past few weeks is more than 500, and probably there are hundreds and hundreds more that have been hidden, or whose bosses have paid off local officials. Apparently the priority for officials in the central government is not doing something about the problem, but damping down the embarrassing/enraging publicity by censoring related reports. Shameful.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Factory slaves: the collateral damage of 'socialism with Chinese characteristics'?

Shocking story in the Chinese news that has also registered in some Western media: 200-some slaves (or 'slaves,' using the BBC's inexplicable scare quotes) were rescued from brick factories in Shanxi and Henan provinces, central China, recently. Many of these people were children who were abducted from the capital of Henan, sold to traffickers, and forced to work for no pay under armed supervisors. That seems a pretty reasonable definition of slavery to me, BBC.

Anyway, one of the astonishing things about this story is how it came to light. Apparently a distraught mother, Yang Aizhi, went looking for her teenage son back in MARCH when he disappeared. After much fruitless searching in the city where she lived, she finally got a response to one of her "missing person" fliers from a man whose two children had recently escaped from brick factories in Shanxi and made their way back home. Yang began a one-woman mission to find her son, traveling to Shanxi and searching, factory by factory. She didn't find her son, but she found lots of other children in these factories who begged her take them with her. When she tried, the supervisors threatened her. She finally returned home to the city and posted her story on an online forum, pleading for help. Five other area parents whose children had gone missing quickly joined her.

Why, you may ask, didn't Yang go to the authorities immediately? Well, I don't know whether she did or not, but the difficulty she had in getting the local police to take action (by now it was the end of April) suggests she may have rightly believed that she would have a hard time with them. She ended up squatting in front of the offices of local police stations, weeping, until the police helped her. Word had apparently gotten around among the traffickers and factory operators, though, so by the time the police started looking into it, they had moved the slaves and protected their premises with gangs of armed thugs.

Anyway, the thing that really gets me about this story is that it wasn't until a TV show decided to run an investigative report on this situation that anything really started getting done. The reporter, Fu Zhenzhong, went to the factories himself with the parents and filmed what he saw there. Once the report aired, calls started coming in from hundreds of parents whose children were missing--1,000 or so in all--and it became clear that this was a major problem. That's what kicked off the big raids this week that saved 217 slaves: a TV expose.

Yang Aizhi has still not found her son.

Coverage in English, and more, and more.

Coverage in Chinese.

And in case you think this is an aberration, just one sensational story, check out this report from 2001.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Something completely different: Chinese education!

Nicholas Kristof recently published an op-ed in the New York Times about how great education is in China. Mostly it was same-old, same-old: Chinese families value education and respect teachers, and Chinese students work harder, so they outperform American students. On the face of it, these seem to me reasonable claims, even if they are simplistic and banal. But he also suggests that the Chinese state--the People's Republic of China, that is--is doing a bang-up job of operating an educational system. To which I could not help but reply: Say what?

Somewhere in the middle he writes:

"Teachers are respected and compensated far better, financially and emotionally, in China than in America...The town [of Dongguan] devotes 21 percent of its budget to education, and it now has four universities. An astonishing 58 percent of the residents age 18 to 22 are enrolled in a university."

Now, I am not an expert on this, of course, but what I've seen about the Chinese education system in the Chinese media and scattered foreign reports over the past few years has suggested that public funding for education in China is in a pretty dismal state. Consider this excerpt from a report based on a UNESCO/OECD study:

"The available data indicate that public spending on education and health [in China] was 2.8% and 0.6% respectively of revised GDP in 2004. These ratios are lower than in many developing countries such as Thailand and the Philippines, let alone OECD countries. Spending on education and health appears low not only relative to other countries, but also in comparison with China’s own national objectives."

Based on the same set of data, another report notes that "In relation to GDP, [Chinese] public spending on education and health is well below that of nearly all OECD as well as most comparable developing countries, while private spending in these areas is among the highest in the world."

You can find the relevant tables here.

For comparison, the same report puts public spending on education in the US at 3.8% of (a much larger) GDP. So is Dongguan an anomaly (and if so, why?), or does “the town of Dongguan” really mean “the private citizens of Dongguan,” or has public funding for education in China skyrocketed between the OECD report and now? I doubt the last possibility.

Anecdotally, this failure to fund appears in the form of complaints about elementary and secondary schools starting to charge fees for everything from books to activities—fees that are heavy and amount to a tuition charge for the education that is supposed to be compulsory and provided by the state. The Chinese media have resounded with such complaints for several years. Google the term luan shou fei 乱收费 (“arbitrarily collecting fees”) and you will get 2 million hits, some of which are about hospitals (responding to a similar lack of public funding for health), but most of which are about “public” schools. Does this really sound like a society in which “governments and families alike pour resources into education”?

If the student’s family can scrape up the fees to get her through primary and secondary school, she does have a better chance of going to college than in the past, since the Chinese government initiated a massive expansion of the higher education system in 1999. Last year I read a report (which seems no longer to be available) about this on the website of the Center on Chinese Education at Columbia. It said that in 1978 there were 856,000 students total in Chinese colleges and universities, and in 2000 the number of places available for freshmen alone was 1.8 million. And last year during the national college entrance exam, the Chinese newspapers reported that the number of freshman slots available at four-year colleges was 2.6 million.

But this has not been an unmitigated good for Chinese society. The number of jobs available for university graduates is now much smaller than the number of university graduates, meaning that a lot of students and their families are going into debt for a college degree that ends up meaning nothing in terms of earning potential or social advancement. This is one source of great dissatisfaction and potential unrest among young Chinese.

Finally, when Kristof concedes (in a single sentence) that China’s education system does have a few problems--“bribes and fees to get into good schools, huge classes of 50 or 60 students, second-rate equipment and lousy universities”—he seems to trivialize corruption. My impression is that corruption is a very serious problem indeed, though of course it’s hard to gauge its extent. It’s not just bribes to get into schools, but bribes to certify teachers who fail to pass tests; bribes that add points to wealthy students' scores on the gao kao (national college entrance exam); and much more.

Kristof's culture-based points I find it easier to accept; the Chinese certainly value education, and families (even very poor ones) are willing to devote a great deal of their collective resources to it. It would be nice if more American families shared this attitude. But I think that lauding the People’s Republic of China for “boosting education,” as he does, misrepresents a system that is deeply dysfunctional.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Dems Drop Deadlines: Tell Libs to Drop Dead

Forgive the tabloid headline--I couldn't resist. There are only early reports, to be sure, but it seems that the Democratic leadership has decided that firm deadlines and benchmarks for the bill to fund more of the Iraq war will not be in the next bill. I'm probably more sensitive than many lefties to the political realities Harry Reid et al are dealing with here: they don't have enough votes to override a veto; they don't have much consensus among their own ranks as to what to do next; they are scared of enabling a Republican 'stab in the back' attack. So, the thinking goes, why not use this bill as leverage for whatever non-Iraq measure we can get, and then start planning for September, when we will probably be able to count on support from a few Republicans, and the public will be even more sick of this damn war than they are now. Okay--fine. So you trade a vote for a months-long funding bill for Republican support of some other legislation, like raising the minimum wage. What you're doing is swallowing support of an incredibly unpopular war (and an incredibly unpopular president) in order to force the Republicans to vote for something that's very popular. Does that make any sense?

I don't understand why the Dems think it's their duty to pass some sort of bill that the president will sign, and to do so sooner rather than later. Funding for the war will run out unless more legislation is approved. By remaining steadfast on the inclusion of deadlines in any further funding, the Dems can either force the Bushies to come up with a bill that's acceptable to *the Democrats*, or end the war by running out the clock on current funding. The end-game for the second option is messy, indeed--probably some sort of Constitutional crisis as King Bush tries to keep the war going without any legislation from Congress, and the dead-ender Republicans screaming bloody murder about how the Dems have abandoned our troops in the field.

But please--the Republicans will be screaming bloody murder anyhow, because it's all they've got left. And the vast majority of Americans want this war to end, and end quickly. If it takes a Constitutional crisis, fine--better to force Bush to practice his Constitution-wrecking in public. He's like an alcoholic in his thirst for power. Quietly trying to wait it out, hoping that the problem will go away, is just enabling further abuse. We need an intervention, and the sooner the better.

Dems should stick to their guns on including deadlines in any further funding bills. If Bush says he will veto any bill with deadlines, fine--make him veto them again and again. Hell, if you want to make a game of it, see how lengthy the deadlines can get before Bush says he'll sign the bill. Five years? Twenty? At the very least the Dems ought to be able to use the funding bill to find the limits of Republican support for Bush's war. If no deadline, however lengthy, is acceptable, then how about some benchmarks? Force Bush to certify at regular intervals that the Iraqi government is making progress towards stability and self-security. Certainly there ought to be some metrics enough Republicans would agree on to enable passage with a veto-proof majority. And if there isn't, no bill will pass, and war funding runs out anyway.

Come on, Dems--this is a big opportunity. Your professed principles and political utility coincide on this. Don't cave in to Republican bluster, and your own learned cowardice now.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Tax Time: What Do Our Taxes Buy?

Like many Americans, I'll be filling out my tax forms this weekend. Just in time, Peter Rothberg over at The Nation has provided a great link to the National Priorities Project, where you can see the breakdown of where all your federal income taxes go. The main punchline is, of course, that a huge proportion is going to past and present military expenditures, including the vast amounts that we are pouring down the drain in Iraq. You can also get a graph scaling the proportion the median family income in your city or area.

But the most interesting feature, in my opinion, is the section on "trade-offs"...which allows you to see what the foolish and immoral expenditures of the Republicans and Bush Administration could have bought instead. You choose either a state or a congressional district. (Since I live in a small town on the border between two districts, I decided to go for the whole State of Pennsylvania.) Then you select one of several "bad" expenditures along with something really worthy we could have used the money for instead. Here are three examples:

"Taxpayers in Pennsylvania will pay $5.2 billion for the cost of the Iraq War in FY 2007. For the same amount of money, the following could have been provided: 6,310,120 Homes with Renewable Electricity."

"Taxpayers in Pennsylvania will pay $422.1 million for ballistic missile defense in FY2007. For the same amount of money, the following could have been provided:
6,491 Port Container Inspectors."

"$56.5 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% this year could be spent on the people of Pennsylvania instead. If that money were used to support state and local programs, the residents of Pennsylvania could have $2.5 billion, which could provide:
41,309 Elementary School Teachers."

"Taxpayers in Pennsylvania will pay $17.4 billion for the cost of the Iraq War through 2007. For the same amount of money, the following could have been provided:
4,040,849 People with Health Care."

Wow--I knew the military budget was obscenely high (and the Iraq War in particular!)...but that figure even surprised me. So, just for the amount of money spent by Pennsylvania taxpayers alone on the Iraq War, we could have provided OVER FOUR MILLION PEOPLE with health care.

If you can read that figure and not be stopped in your tracks for a minute to consider once again the idiocy of our country's misplaced priorities, then think about those 4 million people--4 million people, living on the knife's edge of insecurity and bankruptcy, should a major health crisis come up. The working poor of this country--and increasingly, even those in the "middle class"--should be at the top of our national agenda, not at the bottom below tax cuts for the rich, imperial invasions, and insanely expensive weapons systems.

I realize that if you are reading this, I am probably preaching to the choir. But perhaps we can use this hard data to help convince our fellow Americans of the urgent necessity of drastically cutting our military spending? It's a conversation we simply must have at some point very soon. As the figures above show, the current fiscal year expenditures on Iraq from PA taxpayers along could provide over 6 MILLION HOMES WITH RENEWABLE ENERGY. If we are ever going to plan our way out of our fossil fuel dependency, we have to invest in renewable energy NOW while we still can. We simply must do it. And, as this evidence makes clear, the elephant in the middle of the room is our military spending, which we must cut (along with tax breaks for the rich) in order to accomplish our most valued goals.

Monday, March 26, 2007

"I'm not sure of the physics, but..."

Is it just me, or does every harebrained scheme e-mailed to Danger Room contain some version of the phrase above? As an employee of a famous learned society, I have been favored with one such e-mail myself, proposing a method of time travel, and it also contained a similar admission. I'm not terribly informed of physics myself, but that doesn't seem to be as stimulating to my imagination as it is to some others.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Gonzales predictions

What did he know, and when did he know it? Or, if you're feeling more pessimistic about the future of our current AG, Alberto "Fredo," "Geneva Conventions are quaint" Gonzales: When will he go, and how will he do it?

With Republican senators offering at best lukewarm support, Fredo's days may, indeed, be numbered. But the senators seem to have fixated on the need for Gonzales to clear up the record about his involvement in the firings. As others have pointed out, this is only part of the cover up. The question at the heart of the matter is why were the USAs fired in the first place? Even admitting that it was for 'political reasons,' as Trent Lott seems very willing to concede, does not really answer the question.

The real answer, I suspect, is a combination of the mundane and the Machiavellian. Look for the White House and DOJ, once they regain their senses in the face of actual or threatened subpoenas from the House, to emphasize the mundane half of the explanation: that the firings were just part of an effort to build the Republican bench of people eligible for higher political and/or judicial appointments. They fumbled this very badly, of course, in the way the firings were handled, and the lying to cover up their fumbling may still cost Gonzales his job even if the 'bench-building' explanation is accepted by the media and public.

The more sinister side of the firings involve efforts to derail investigations into Republican corruption, and to punish those who would not play along with the GOP's phony voter fraud charges. Most likely, Rove saw the chance to kill two or three birds with one stone (or eight stones, as the case may be), and the USA's were dismissed for a combination of mundane and sinister reasons. Alas for the White House, they seem to have grown to used to a rubber-stamp Congress and press, and figured they could slip this by without attracting attention. (I'm not saying we've yet regained a fully-functioning opposition party and fourth estate yet, but there have been improvements.) If they had just gone with the bench-building explanation in the first place, they might have succeeded, too.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Mike Davis on Recent Politics

At long last, I've rejoined the blog after my delay in signing up for the new blogger (compounded by buying a new house and moving--I know, real estate is in terrible shape right now and possibly getting even worse, but at least I'm in a low-price small town market!) I just came across a very thoughtful and comprehensive article on recent and future political developments in the wake of the '06 U.S. elections that I want to commend to our blog's readers:

Historian and social commentator Mike Davis--known for his deeply researched yet elegently written critical books such as Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World and City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles--wrote a very thoughtful and comprehensive article entitled "The Democrats After November".

I encourage you to read it for yourself as a stimulant to thinking about the current options for the Progressive Left. It covers everything from Iraq to corruption to economic policy. Here are just a few of my own comments on the article:

1. On Pelosi's Iraq bill recently passed: Davis's article was written before the recent passage of the House's Iraq bill, which continues Iraq funding along with some deadlines. But Davis's discussion resonates strongly with heated debates over Pelosi's bill that have been tearing apart much of the anti-war Left over the past few weeks. I find myself torn. On one side, the "realists" claim that the bill is a monumental achievement that finally attaches a timetable to disengage from Iraq and incorporates serious concessions from Progressive opponents of the war. Since the bill is sure to attract Bush's veto, they claim, it will provide brilliant rhetorical cover and will push the debate in a good direction--and, moreover, is far better than the straight-ahead funding bill that apparently would have passed if this bill had failed. On the other side, "idealists" picket outside Pelosi's office and lambast groups like and some Congressional progressives (e.g., David Obey of Wisconsin) for compromising with the immorality and insanity of continuing Bush's war. I have found myself leaning towards the "realists," despite some agreement at heart with the "idealists" about keeping our eyes on the prize for the long-term instead of merely savoring short-term compromises and incremental gains. I think David Sirota made the most convincing case for me to grudgingly side with the "realists." Yet after reading Davis, I have become undecided once again. He makes a convincing case that we absolutely, fundamentally need a robust anti-war movement that can push hard from the outside towards a broader critique linking the Iraq War to the fundamental idiocy, imperialism, and immorality of current U.S. foreign policy. "Indeed," contends Davis, "only mass protest, unfettered from theRealpolitik of Howard Dean and, can shift the balance of power in Congress towards a decisive debate on withdrawal."

2. Political factions within the Democratic Party. Davis's most novel and intriguing analysis is about the various groups in the Democratic coalition. In particular, he traces the emergence of a near 100% "Silicon Valley" money support of Democrats for high-tech industry policy, which is quietly driving a huge proportion of the policy agenda favored by leading Democrats such as Reid and Pelosi. Channeling Thomas Frank, but turning the spotlight of analysis more on Democrats than Republicans ("What's the matter with New Orleans and other centers of urban poverty?"), Davis contrasts this well-educated, Silicon Valley wing of the party with the other 3/5 of the party made up of Blacks, Latinos, working-class whites, etc., who may not stand to benefit from the global high-tech industry policies promoted by Democratic leaders. Very interesting food for thought.

3. He concludes with the issue of populism and anti-immigration, and this was the section that unsettled me most. I have long been a defender of anti-corporate populism but always worried about the Lou Dobbs/Pat Buchanan refraction of that position into nativism and xenophobia. I was mostly glad to see renewed economic populism in the '06 elections by many Democrats who won--Webb, Tester, Brown, etc. But I was also worried about some of the anti-immigrant rhetoric used by some Democrats, especially in border states like Arizona. Will that dark undercurrent overwhelm the trenchant critique of corporate elites? I still think not, but Davis is less sanguine than me. Dissecting Webb's views, in particular, Davis has given me more points to ponder.

Well, I've posted way too long. I am looking forward to whatever reactions anyone has to Davis's article, either the issues I raised or other ones he discusses (or doesn't discuss but should!)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

'Mistakes were made'

For the life of me I cannot understand why politicians and bureaucrats continue to use that phrase, but here it is again, fresh out of the mouth of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Bloggers are prognosticating ('Blognosticating'(tm)) that Gonzales's resignation is coming soon. Maybe, but remember how long Donald Rumsfeld lasted?

Gonzales, in typical Bush administration fashion, stepped in front of the cameras and microphones at a press conference today to make the standard third person announcement, and promptly accepted responsibility for the mistakes, but said that he would not resign. Basically: 'I accept responsibility for mistakes that some unknown person or persons have made, as long as that acknowledgment is the only consequence of said responsibility.'

Update: I see Matthew Yglesias had a similar reaction.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Are you a left-wing extremist?

Joe Klein at's Swampland blog helpfully provides a checklist to determine whether one is, or is not, a left-wing extremist. Let's see how I measure up:
A left-wing extremist exhibits many, but not necessarily all, of the following attributes:

--believes the United States is a fundamentally negative force in the world

Mmm... What does he mean by 'fundamentally'? If an extremist believes that the US is always, necessarily, a negative force in the world than I'm afraid I don't meet that standard. The US is at the moment a very negative force in the world, in part because of our terribly wasteful use of resources, in larger part because of the stupid, stupid people currently in charge of the government. The US could be a very powerful force for good in the world, and I hope it will be soon.
--believes that American imperialism is the primary cause of Islamic radicalism.
The primary cause? Maybe not, but it's not an easy call. Certainly US policies in the Middle East have been a huge factor. The Bush gang has made things a lot worse than I thought they could ever be, but US presidents back to Wilson can all share some of the blame.
--believes that the decision to go to war in Iraq was not an individual case of monumental stupidity, but a consequence of America’s fundamental imperialistic nature.
There he is again with that word 'fundamental.' I'd guess I'd have to say both. The war in Iraq was a case of stupidity, but it was hardly individual stupidity. The collective stupidity of our political leadership and their best buds in the 4th estate got us into the Iraq mess. And the set of beliefs that allowed Bush's stupidity to become US policy is certainly related to the long history of US imperialism in the Middle East (see above).
--tends to blame America for the failures of others—i.e. the failure of our NATO allies to fulfill their responsibilities in Afghanistan.
The United States (which is not really the same as 'America,' Joe), does bear responsibility for the failures of diplomacy, planning and execution that have made many of our allies leery of throwing more resources at an important, but badly managed endeavor.
--doesn’t believe that capitalism, carefully regulated and progressively taxed, is the best liberal idea in human history.
Definitely not. It's not a bad idea, necessarily, but I'm not going to join Klein in kneeling before its altar. I think the idea of inalienable human rights is much better; and democracy is pretty cool, too.
--believes American society is fundamentally unfair (as opposed to having unfair aspects that need improvement).
Fundamentally again? Jeez. No, the US is not fundamentally unfair, in the sense that it is and always will be unfair. But it is and always has been unfair, and after some real progress toward a fairer society in the decades between 1930 and 1980, it's become a lot less fair.
--believes that eternal problems like crime and poverty are the primarily the fault of society.
Why are those 'eternal problems'? Crime will always be with us, I imagine, but if we had more people who were really committed to doing something about the problem of poverty, crime would be less of a problem. And it's important to note that crime really is not a big problem for me and most people of my socio-economic status. The poor are disproportionately hurt by crime, not the relatively well off.
--believes that America isn’t really a democracy.
It's a republic, and a pretty good one. But more and better democracy would certainly be welcome.
--believes that corporations are fundamentally evil.
Evil is a strong word, but I do think that any large hierarchical organization, such as a corporation, that does not derive its power from the freely-given consent of the people whose lives it governs is bad.
--believes in a corporate conspiracy that controls the world.
Sure, I'll sign onto that. It's not a conspiracy in the sense that there's a boardroom somewhere where corporate executives and the Queen of England decide among themselves who will be the next president of the US, but there is a community of interest among those at the top of political and corporate hierarchies around the world, and that community acts in ways (sometimes consciously coordinate, sometimes not) that help keep the rich rich and powerful, and the poor poor and weak.
--is intolerant of good ideas when they come from conservative sources.
I'm not intolerant of good ideas, whatever their source. But I certainly would be especially careful these days before accepting anything from the ranks of the modern conservative movement. It's not intolerance, but a learned mistrust.
--dismissively mocks people of faith, especially those who are opposed to abortion and gay marriage.
I don't dismissively mock people of faith, and even have some sympathy with abortion opponents. But I don't understand why the ideas of 'people of faith' are automatically deserving of respect, either. Are they so much more sensitive than atheists? And if proponents of forcing women to have unwanted children and anti-gay bigots do and say ridiculous things, why should they not be mocked?
--regularly uses harsh, vulgar, intolerant language to attack moderates or conservatives.
I don't as a matter of course use a lot of profanity or harsh language, but that's more a reflection of my personality than of the level of scorn I have for many moderates and conservatives. And if someone wants to use profanity, what's the big deal? Why should lefties--who in the US have been ridiculed and vilified in the starkest terms for going on thrity years--be censured for finally responding in kind?

On the whole, I think I qualify! Thanks, Joe!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Kos v. Kucinich

Max Sawicky's take on Kos's attempt to dismiss Kucinich's candidacy is good reading. The one sentence version is "DK is a romantic, and MM is a cynic." The conclusion:
Hear me now and believe me later: mockery of Dennis Kucinich is founded on fear of progressive politics, either from enemies on the right, or those who feel it threatens electoral viability and professional interests on the left.
Reading the whole of Kos's diatribe, the only point of his that may have merit, in my opinion, is Kucinich's late-found belief in abortion rights. (Kos's point was not, as Sawicky makes it seem, that Kucinich is pro-life, but rather that Kucinich is not sincere, or is just flaky.) The rest is just ridiculous.

Update: More from MaxSpeak about "The Kase Against Kucinich."

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Welcome to the new Blogger!

Giving in to the dictates of corporate America turned out not to be so bad. Not the getting a Google ID part of it anyway. It did not require me to do anything more than choosing an ID and password. Heaven knows what sort of data mining my posts and comments will now be subject to by Google, but I suppose it was unavoidable. So I have joined the Google-Borg. Resistance is futile. I have been assimilated, and can no longer use the lack of a Google ID as an excuse for not posting. Back on the soapbox, now I just have to think of something to say...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Some (Parting?) Thoughts About '08

When ambivalent_maybe told me the other day that the blogger site is not letting him post here anymore without getting a google account, I was confused. Because I was still able to post freely. But now it appears that I will soon be forced into the same dilemma (I've been warned this may be my "last time" to log on through the old blogger system). I'm not sure what we're going to do...maybe we'll find another way to host the blog, or maybe we'll just give in and create google accounts. We'll see.

In any event, I do want to post just a few of my latest thoughts about the '08 presidential election, since there's a lot of buzz these days about who to support. I've mentioned before that I enthusiastically volunteered for Kucinich in '04 and still admire him greatly. I still think he takes the most authentic and visionary stands on just about every issue out there. He is, in a sense, the "prophet" of the Democratic Party. He's not afraid to sound crazy, while he is actually the one who isn't afraid to challenge the ridiculous assumptions on which so much of our political rhetoric is based. For example, on the issue of high military spending, which I raised in my last post, he is calling us to seek a world of peace and interdependence instead of global military domination. And he just simply says we need to extend Medicare to everyone. He is, indeed, a wise, if misunderstood, prophet of our times, reminiscent of the great prophets of the Bible. But I just don't see his campaign taking hold the second time around. Given the extreme difficulty we had getting his message out last time, it is hard to believe people will take it more seriously on a repeat run--even though he was right on so many issues, such as the war. As long as there are other more viable candidates out there, I am hesitant to go with Kucinich again.

As I've said before, Edwards is my top choice right now, and I really admire how he has come around on so many issues (Iraq, health care, etc.)--and continued honing his message on economic issues that were his strength in '04. He is not afraid to take on the elites and powers-that-be in order to fight for ordinary working Americans. In Edwards, I see a real chance for a likeable, electable progressive to truly transform America in a good direction.

There are other candidates I could be persuaded to support...Clark or Richardson, perhaps, if Edwards doesn't catch fire. But the most likely alternative would be Obama. I like Obama in many ways, and he does have many pluses. My greatest concern with Obama is exactly the theme he has made so central to his campaign: "unity".

Why does all the talk about "unity" and "governing from the center" rise to such a fever pitch whenever progressives look poised to make significant gains? The conservatives didn't remake America by advocating centrism and "uniting" left and right.

Obama may be a progressive at heart, but this rhetoric about "unity" is, I fear, playing into the hands of conservative and corporate interests that might wish to slow down progressive reforms. This is how David Sirota put it recently: "I’ve written a lot about Obama, including a major piece for The Nation magazine last year. In my time studying his career, it became obvious that this is a person who wants to do the right thing and has genuinely strong convictions. But he also seems to believe that the reason our country has such challenges is because all sides of every issue have not come together in unity ... The problem with this outlook is that it fundamentally misunderstands why we are at this moment in history. Forty-five million Americans are uninsured, and millions more underinsured not because low-income health advocates and the insurance industry haven’t sat down together and sung Kumbaya. It’s because, unlike every other industrialized country in the world, we have a government that has been bribed into allowing the insurance industry to profiteer off sick people. Our global warming problem did not happen because environmentalists and the auto industry refused to hug each other. It happened because the auto industry has bought off enough politicians to make sure we don’t increase fuel efficiency standards."

I suppose that joining together in solidarity to oppose corporate power is a kind of "unity," but I worry that making unity the central theme for its own sake threatens to dilute and neutralize all that we are working for. It's kind of like "circling the square," as Christopher Hayes puts it in THE NATION, pointing out that Obama's model hero, Abraham Lincoln, was not afraid of polarizing on the crucial issues of his day. Obama may be inspiring, but he is trying to be both a progressive movement candidate and use centrist talk about "unity" that blurs the stark differences between ideologies and parties.

I do have to admit there is one big reason to support Obama: to keep Hilary Clinton from getting the nomination. If it comes down to Barack vs. Hilary, I'll go with the inspiring candidate trying to have it both ways over the known triangulator and big money/elite insider candidate.

But until then, I think we need less posturing rhetoric about a "new politics of unity" and more bold talk about taking on elite power in the interests of hard working people everywhere. THAT'S progressivism. I want to know, as the old union solidarity standard asks, "Which Side Are You On?"

A Fiscal Calamity and a Moral Calamity

I've been thinking for a long time about posting again on an issue that I believe is increasingly central, though it is avoided by most leading Democrats and Republicans: the obscenely high level of U.S. military spending.

Now recent events are giving me the nudge. More specifically, the Bush Administration has released its budget request for Fiscal Year 2008. Far from trying to lower U.S. military spending, it does the exact opposite. We are pouring huge sums of our tax money into the production of high-tech killing machines--many of them originally designed with Cold War adversaries in mind...but never fear, the big defense companies are still bleeding our government dry.

As reported by the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation: "The Bush Administration is requesting $484.1 billion for the Department of Defense in Fiscal Year 2008, which begins on October 1, 2007. This is $49 billion more than the current level of $432.4 billion, an increase of 11.3 percent, and inflation-adjust ("real") increase of 8.6 percent. This figure does not include funding for the nuclear weapons activities of the Department of Energy, which is considered part of total Defense Department spending. Nor does this figure include the costs of ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan."

During the past election cycle, I saw the expediency of running lots of "pro-military" candidates as Democrats and even lionizing such long-standing Pentagon hawks as Murtha who had seen the light and articulated the folly of the Iraq War. And I know that Democrats in general are loathe to appear "weak on defense" or to stake their careers on cutting the defense budget. But we're going to have to face the fiscal and the moral realities of our dire situation sometime. The Republicans aren't going to do it. They're owned and controlled almost completely by the "Petrodollar and Weapondollar" coalition (to quote Bichler & Nitzan's terminology). I would say this is the "elephant in the middle of the room," but that would be unfair to elephants. (And everyone knows that elephants are Republicans anyway, right?) As advocates of progressive change within the Democratic Party, we have to push for a renewed courage to address the greatest discretionary drain by far on our federal budget.

If we want to have any money to do anything about all the worthwhile issues out there--and here I will just mention three BIG ones: forestalling adverse global climate change and fossil fuel depletion, eradicating poverty in the U.S. and abroad, and providing universal health care--we're going to have to face down our fear of cutting the military budget. (Are you listening, John Edwards, my favorite Presidential candidate?) We're going to have to swallow hard and be ready to explain the situation to the American people honestly and truthfully.

We don't just need to cut the "defense" budget, we need to cut it DRASTICALLY. The U.S. has such a great military advantage over the rest of the world combined that we have to take the lead to make the world a more peaceful place. No other country can do it. We are the big power, and we can't afford to be the overwhelmingly dominant power any more. It will be good for us to waste less of our money on the military, and it will be good for the world to have less fear of U.S. power. We can and must make a DRASTIC reduction in U.S. military spending a top priority. Everything else depends on it.

Does anyone know of any good activist groups that are out there are working to drastically cut U.S. military spending? I already know of a few such groups, but I'm curious if any readers have suggestions. We need to start building coalitions among the many groups that stand to gain from big cuts in military spending (which is pretty much everyone except the arms industry, and possibly the oil industry). If we don't act, I fear it will be both a fiscal calamity and a continuing moral calamity. I want to live in an America that stands for doing good things in the world, not one that is known most for having a huge, formidable military (which, nevertheless, cannot stop terrorists from attacking with simple technologies when sufficiently motivated) that kills and maims thousands around the world. If we want to be a moral beacon, and not an imperial war machine, we have to take on this taboo issue of high U.S. military spending.

In attacking the high U.S. military budget, I don't mean this as against the troops at all. I support fully funding their armor, health care, and speedy redeployment out of imperialistic wars. Of course, any attempt to drastically cut U.S. military spending will inevitably be attacked as "against the troops." The Masters of War depend on hiding behind the rank-and-file soldiers and sailors for political cover whenever their evil designs are opposed. It's time to call them on it. I cringe every time a Democrat uses the same framing language (i.e. "We can't cut off funding for the Iraq War, because it would 'hurt the troops'..."), and it is time to hold them all accountable. We will, of course, want to cut not just the obscenely expensive high-tech weapons systems that enrich the arms industry so much but also the size of the armed forces. But so many of those fighting overseas are National Guard and Reservists anyway, we can easily let them go back to their normal jobs and families. Over time, we can recruit fewer into the standing army and move towards a less militarized society. We can thank those who have gone into war for their willingness to serve and beg their forgiveness for sending them into such a terrible situation with such little chance for success. And then we can wish them well in their civilian lives. They have suffered enough for the sake of our leaders' misguided policies. We will still have to make hard choices about military bases (I propose as a first step closing mostly overseas bases--why should we need to project so much power around the globe in a multipolar, interdependent world anyway?) and I hope we can convert some of the domestic bases into well-funded centers for alternative energy research and other worthy endeavors. But we have to begin this conversation and start to deal with the fiscal and moral realities of our over-inflated military budget.