February 24, 2007

Hypoxic Dick Heads to his next Asian Port-of-Call

As the jury deliberates in United States vs. Libby, Dick heads to Bangkok, maybe, or Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), a place he never ventured near when he was draft age in the late Sixties. Dick, head of a U.S. delegation sowing vitriol and discord among vital allies in the Far East, wants to be somewhere far, far away when his trusted aide and former bagman Scooter ("The Amnesiac") Libby learns his fate from the jury in D.C. Unrepentant, defiant and wrong as ever, Dick heads off criticism of his key role in creating the Iraq fiasco by attacking his Congressional critics. While he wouldn't question the patriotism of Democratic Quislings who are in league with Osama bin Laden, he doesn't hide his scorn for their cut-and-run attitude which validates the al-Qaeda strategy of waiting till the West caves in.

In Australia, Dick wads it all together with one summary statement: "Al Qaeda functions on the basis that they think they can break our will. That's their fundamental underlying strategy, that if they can kill enough Americans or cause enough havoc, create enough chaos in Iraq, then we'll quit and go home," Cheney added. "And my statement was that if we adopt the Pelosi policy, that then we will validate the strategy of al Qaeda. I said it and I meant it." Dick, head of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans (ex officio), Project for A New American Century, and Grand Imperial Dragon of Herpetological Monsters of Darkness, as well as the Dick who has Bush's ear, always means it when he's wrong. Will Dick head to Switzerland next, or some jurisdiction such as France which eschews extradition? Still, the Hypoxic One appeared to whiff on a few gopher balls with the quote:

1. Al-Qaeda isn't the big problem in Iraq. Liberated native Iraqis are.
2. If al-Qaeda's fundamental underlying strategy is to kill enough Americans and cause enough havoc, then keeping enough Americans in Iraq for al-Qaeda to kill also validates al-Qaeda's strategy. Leaving Iraq will make it more difficult for al-Qaeda to kill Americans and create havoc because the Americans won't be in the Arabic regions of Asia anymore.
What's breaking America's will is fighting a stupid goddam unnecessary war that Dick Cheney dreamed up.

Dick heads off criticism like this by his appeals to history. Historians will see that the attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, by Saudis and Egyptians was definitively refuted by invading another country run by some other Arabs, which drew in other Arabic jihadis like Woodstock-on-the-Tigris. Among the groupies were al-Qaeda Arabs, who must have thought that they'd died and gone to Paradise before blowing themselves up, dying and going to Paradise, but then they probably think they're just the lucky recipients of the worst foreign policy judgment in American history. Nevertheless, Dick faces the judgment of his legacy unafraid.

February 22, 2007

The Years After Bush

It's a nice job in some ways, being President. $400,000 yearly salary, $12 million yearly budget for the White House residence, unlimited access to Camp David, a private 747, worldwide travel opportunities, access to virtually any celebrity, artist, or great thinker your heart might desire. Job security is such that only one President has been actually removed from office by impeachment (Andrew Johnson), and one other hightailed it before a posse could form (Richard Nixon). A few Presidents, of course, have been shot (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy) and one other wounded (Reagan), and one other shot at (Ford, twice). Others died of cholera (Zachary Taylor) stroke (Harding), pleurisy (Harrison) and cerebral bleeding (FDR). Add it all up and you've got 4 assassinations, four deaths by natural causes and 2 Presidents removed from office, which means that 10 Presidents out of 43 didn't make it to the end of their elected terms, a figure approaching 25% (23.25%; I'm doing my part to improve American numeracy).

Still, a lot of people certainly show interest in achieving the Ultimate American Dream. For the next President who ascends to the soiled and battered throne of George W. Bush, I say, good luck, sir or madam. I have a feeling the passage from 2009 to about 2020 is going to be a parlous time indeed. Bush's lab-concocted roosters (two-headed, purple and black, oozing pus, 4 feet high, fizzing with infection) currently fluttering into America's barnyard will roost there throughout his successor's tenure, whether one term or two, and I think it will be one. For a different bird and slightly different metaphor, think of Poe's Raven, perched outside the Oval Office Door. Nevermore, the easygoing dominance of America in the world. Nevermore the free ride.

Finances. The successor's term will be about finances. How dull and dreary for, say, Obama, to work upon a midnight, weary, trying to find some way out of the morass. I commend Chalmers Johnson's The Sorrows of Empire, published a few years ago, for a fuller account. (A personal note: Chalmers was a prof of mine at Berkeley, decades ago, when he was conservative and optimistic instead of one of Bush's most lacerating critics.) America is broke. Considering all of Bush's moronic ineptitude, nothing is going to be as immediate and terrifying as the money problems he will leave behind. It's sad that America never figured it out. We elected a spoiled scion who had never succeeded in any financial enterprise, who in fact wrecked the companies he directly controlled, and on whom a Harvard Business education was a joke, an excuse to get drunk and fuck around. A man with no judgment, no business acumen, no sense of budgetary priorities, who was always bailed out by paternalistic figures when he bottomed out - this is the clown we made President. Why didn't people see that his life-long habits would operate in precisely the same way once he became Chief Executive, that the approach would carry over and cause a financial meltdown on the biggest stage the world has ever seen?

The next President will inherit a country more than $9 trillion in debt, probably $10 trillion by the time Bush leaves, half of it "external;" that is, owed to real people or countries. Of the external debt of $5 trillion (by the time Shrub is done), $2.5 trillion will be owed to foreign countries, most of it on short-term obligations. $2.5 trillion is nearly as large as the current operating budget of the United States government. Since only about 70% of the current budget is funded by actual revenues (the rest is borrowed), it's obvious the United States doesn't have that kind of cash lying around. Virtually all of the sales of Treasury securities to external buyers, since Bush took office, have been to foreign central banks. It amounts to an immense Ponzi scheme; America borrows money to float its economy (and to finance Bush's wars), and then borrows the money necessary to service the debt on all the money it's borrowed in the past. A rather laughably transparent aspect of this practice has been the Fed's steady ratcheting of interest rates to "control inflation." Yes, we must keep this red hot American economy under control. Everyone is doing so well. A much more reassuring excuse than admitting that China, Japan and Saudi Arabia are losing interest in the paltry return on their reinvested dollars, especially with the dollar dropping through the floor, and are already diversifying in Euros and Asian currencies. The next President may have to deal with those blood-curdling words we've been dreading: Pay up.

And, around 2017 or so, the "surplus" in FICA taxes will plunge toward the X axis, and the Social Security Administration will lack the money necessary to pay the burgeoning numbers of Baby Boomers who are retiring, and will have to resort to the "trust fund" to make up the difference. There is, of course, no trust fund. All of the surpluses since about 1982 or so have been used by the federal government as "general revenue," and the markers for the pilfered cash, the paper instruments placed in that file cabinet in West Virginia (which Bush derided), will do no good. It is money the United States owes itself, and America isn't good for it. As bad as that situation is, it is nothing compared to Medicare. The exploding costs of medical care will combine with exploding numbers of Medicare recipients, and the system will simply crash. While Social Security is dire, the Medicare crisis is terminal, so that by the year 2019, 24% of all federal tax revenues will be spent propping up Medicare and Social Security, over and above the dedicated taxes (such as FICA) which already support the system. Indeed, the projected unfunded liabilities of the Social Security and Medicare systems greatly exceed the total net worth of the United States of America. And all of this, of course, is in addition to the national debt, and the escalating cost of servicing that huge yearly nut.

And how to deal with global warming? And a massive, dislocating shortage of oil to run the transportation system in the United States, which in most parts of the country amounts to the wherewithal to run the economy?

Bush decided to use his time in office to kick back, fuck around, and fight unnecessary wars. He thought that was his best chance for reelection, which was his only goal. The American people, in their mindless complacency, gave it to him. He didn't know the first thing about how to run a business, and he has left a financial catastrophe for his successor to clean up. When 2015 rolls around (or much sooner), Americans are not going to be talking about which humanitarian mission is a deserving recipient of their tax dollars, which nation we ought to "build" next, which planet to explore. Things are going to be far more basic than that. America is going to feel like a couple, no longer quite young, who went off on an eight-year drunk, a binge full of parties and high-def TVs and SUVs too big for the driveway, who came home to find the car had been repossessed, the power shut off, and the house foreclosed. And, naturally, since they're Americans, they'll look around for someone to blame, which might be a reason for any politician identified with the first decade of the 21st Century to go permanently to an undisclosed location.

Back in the U.S., back in the U.S., back in the U.S.S.A.

I think it will be a photo finish: which will arrive first, the end of the national nightmare known as the Bush Presidency, or the last day of the American Republic as a constitutional democracy? Bush, certainly, is doing his part to outlast our civil liberties. Even as the media focus exclusive attention on the 2008 campaign, the monster babies spawned by earlier Bushian misprision continue their grotesque maturation. Thus, we have Boumediene vs. Bush (yes, that Bush), the case recently decided by the D.C. Court of Appeals, in which the court upheld the jurisdiction-stripping provisions of the Military Commissions Act. That brilliant coup by which Bush & Rumsfeld conspired to confine terrorists (loosely defined) caught on the battlefields of Afghanistan at the far end of Cuba, so as to deprive American courts of jurisdiction -- well, it worked. If you're an Afghan heroin farmer who happened to be near Kandahar near the end of 2001, and someone ratted you out in order to cut a deal with the U.S. military to go free; and if this train of events eventually carried you to Bagram prison, where you were interrogated and probably tortured; and if your pleas of innocence were ignored so that eventually you found yourself chained to the belly of a military transport that carried you to a rabbit warren at the dusty east end of Cuba, at Guantanamo-- well, here's some more bad news. The federal courts cannot hear your case by means of habeas corpus. The MCA says so, and the federal panel agrees.

Perhaps this terrorist was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Several hundred similar "terrorists" have been discharged from Guantanamo for this very reason, after years of unnecessary imprisonment. Maybe the terrorist has a family who depends on him, children whom he has not seen in years, perhaps he was never any kind of threat to the United States at all. All of these things could be tested by habeas corpus, that salutary Latin phrase meaning "you have the body," an ancient writ under the common law which allows one detained by the government to challenge, immediately, the basis of his incarceration. But you, the terrorist, have no such rights. You're a foreigner, Rumsfeld or Bush has said you're an "enemy combatant," and thus you'll have to make your case to a Military Status Review board down there in Cuba, and if they don't like your argument, or you -- well, settle back for a few more years, or forever, in your cage. No court is ever going to listen to you.

The good and decent Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat from Vermont, is working to repair this abomination, one of many such gaping holes blasted in the Constitution by the Bush Administration, often with the unctuous, hypocritical help of that sniveling rat Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina. I think of Leahy as sort of Bush's night soil engineer, the guy who's making his nocturnal rounds emptying all the pots of shit filled up during the dark period when Bush had a compliant Republican Congress to help with his dirty work. If he can get past the 60 vote requirement, and over Bush's probable veto, maybe the foreigners will have a chance to demonstrate their innocence in court someday. It's worth at least starting the process; more likely, many innocent detainees in Guantanamo will have to wait until at least late 2009 before a real chance at freedom appears. By then, probably several hundred men will have spent 8 years in a kind of legal purgatory, casual victims of Bush's destructive approach to due process. For what, after all, is so terrible about allowing anyone, even an alleged terrorist, to make an argument that he's done nothing wrong? Why do we close the doors to the court house to a man who simply wants to say, "I'm innocent"?

As I've said before, Bush's weird small-mindedness pervades his thinking about legal process as it does about every other intellectual discipline, from science to economics. It is proof by declaration: I say this, so it's true. And as a complacent Congress and electorate look on, the grand structure of Constitutional rights falls like a sand castle overwhelmed by a dark tide.

February 19, 2007

Supporting the troops

I've been trying to understand why the Republicans have been successful, so far, in advancing an argument as specious and idiotic as the charge that failing to fund any budget request Bush pulls out of his ass to keep his various wars going amounts to abandoning the U.S. military (currently "in harm's way") to their fate. It simply doesn't make any sense. No one who thinks about it for even a few moments could escape the conclusion that it's complete bullshit. Suppose Bush sends some gargantuan "supplemental" up to the Hill, say for another $100 billion, as in fact he does on a regular basis. Congress, now under Democratic control, says no. You can't have any of the money you just requested. Nada, zero, zilch, bupkes. Fuggedaboutit.

What happens? The Army runs out of ammunition, fuel, food, e-mail service? No, those things don't happen. The Pentagon instead uses the humongous budget already under its control to begin an orderly and safe withdrawal of the troops from Iraq. What could be more obvious? If they need more money for that, Bush can ask for it. But as the Commander-in-Chief, it becomes his responsibility to extract the troops safely.

Yet La Diva and Mr. Mumbles seem as determined as The Decider himself that the troops will be supported by always granting Bush whatever obscene funding request he makes, while retaining the right to pass nonbinding resolutions expressing their distate for what they just did.

It is my experience in life that whenever something makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, it's the result of looking at it the wrong way. The Dimocrats do not really think that approving funding requests amounts to supporting the troops. Actually, the troops in Iraq are dropping like flies these days (another 9 since Saturday), and it's because of all that money Congress keeps giving Bush to make sure they can't come home. Congress is, in reality, killing the troops, as surely as the Sunni insurgents and the rest of the jihadis. Congress is keeping the American military in harm's way when it could easily save them.

So what is really going on? There would appear to be one possible interpretation which fits the facts. The Dimocrats want to fund the war so that the outcome remains Bush's responsibility. Once again, the Imaginary Focus Group which controls the decisions made by Congressional "leaders" dictates that any further unraveling of Iraq (if such a devolution would even be discernible) will be solely Bush's fault; thus, if he asks for money, they will give it to him. Looked at in another way, these supposedly mature adults, Dimocrats and Republicans alike, are more concerned with a generalized, fallacious impression of a hypothesized public audience than they are with the actual deaths and traumatic amputations suffered by real people in the course of riding around in vehicles in Iraq, waiting to get blown up. Through such conduct, they confirm the controlling hypothesis of C. Wright Mills in The Power Elite. Those in power will, whenever possible, make those decisions which tend to perpetuate their power, at the expense of any other consideration. In the political calculus of La Diva and Mr. Mumbles, therefore, the consequences of allowing the Iraq War to go to Hell in a handbasket while American soldiers die meaninglessly are positive so long as Bush can be blamed exclusively for the debacle. Looking ahead to 2008, they see their grip on power enhanced, with the prospects of Dimocratic succession to the White House improved. And the purpose of retaining power, of course, is to retain power.

That's where we are. There are exceptions, the "radicals" in Congress, that I will write about later. But I would contend that the analysis above holds for 95% of the Congress and all of the Executive Branch, who are embraced in a kind of Tango of Death. It is a definitive measurement of the breach between living reality and the bizarre world of illusion and imagery in which the pampered ruling class in Washington, D.C. pass their days.

The Defense of Marriage Alliance, producers of Initiative 957

I confess my hat is off to Washington's "Defense of Marriage Alliance" for an inspired piece of political theatre. The "same-sex" marriage debate suffers from an excessive seriouness, as do most cultural controversies which afford the Christian Right a chance to stand on a soap box and proclaim their unique insights into the Natural Order of Things. It is so very tiresome. In truth, the patterns of human relation evolve constantly as petty bigotries wax and wane; ultimately, I have always thought, the essential relationship is between a human being and the Planet Earth, which is, oddly, one that gets talked about very little. I think this strange human preoccupation with pronouncing normative standards for everyone else's approach to life lies at the root of our present existential crisis, which is to say, the danger that we're creating a world uninhabitable for homo sapiens. There is such a nutty emphasis on living on this Earth in ways that guarantee entrance to the next world that we fail to cooperate on the one essential enterprise that might make life better in the here and now. If we define insanity as an essential failure to adapt to life-enhancing strategies for existence, then it's fair to say that America is one of the craziest societies to arise in the history of the species.

Along comes the "Defense of Marriage Alliance," tongues thrust deeply into cheeks:
(1) All couples married in this state shall have three years from the date of solemnization of the marriage, or eighteen months from the effective date of this act, whichever is later, to have filed with the state registrar of vital statistics or designated deputy registrar at least one certificate of marital procreation as described in section 11 of this act.

"A certificate of marital procreation." That's good right there. A married couple proves they had a kid by producing a birth certificate before the deadline. Initiative 957, accepted by Washington's Secretary of State, reads just like a real statute; indeed, 957 simply amends Washington's form of the "defense of marriage" act, which states as the premise of confining marriage to one man and one woman the unassailable reality that this is where the babies come from. The Washington state Supreme Court recently enshrined this principle in the decision in Andersen v. King County, which DOMA sententiously quotes in the language of the Initiative. DOMA, like the rest of us clear thinkers, knows that the Washington Supreme Court and the Religious Right use the ability to "procreate" as a distinction precisely because it's something homosexuals can't do inter sese. Gay men need to adopt; gay women need a turkey baster or a male friend.

So, in a satirical move worthy of Bertold Brecht, DOMA calls their bluff. Straight couples have three years to produce the goods, to file a "certificate of procreation," or their marriage loses its legal cover. Simply ingenious. Ingenious because it makes everyone, straight and gay alike, a potential victim of an unthinking prejudice, and nothing focuses one's attention on a prejudice like becoming one of its victims. If heterosexuals object to 957 because it "forces" procreation on people who just want to be married and enjoy the rights of married life without having children, then they must confront an uncomfortable truth. They are denying exactly this "lifestyle" to gay people who want to do the same thing. Yet once the "certificate of procreation" requirement is removed, what is the basis for granting straight couples a right denied to gay couples? If straight couples can enjoy the legal sanctity of marriage without coming across with a kid, then why did the Washington Supreme Court rule the way it did in Andersen? Why should straight couples own the exclusive right to marriage on the basis of a potential which they do nothing with?

The Washington Supreme Court and the Religous Right have to state it plainly. They're against gay marriage because they think it's icky. That should be in their next high-sounding opinion. "We hold today, as we must, that the state sanction of marriage must be confined to those instances in which one man and one woman, having undergone solemnization of their union pursuant to lawful statute, choose to live as husband and wife, because other arrangements, like gays wanting to do it, would be too icky."

Personally, I'm beginning to think that marriages should operate under the same system as driver's licenses. Every five years or so, your marriage expires, and you have to take affirmative steps to renew it. No more coasting for anybody. Think of the legal fees it would save, the hassle of filing a court action for divorce. You simply choose not to renew. And by the way, I think I know something the Religious Right doesn't: my vision has a much greater chance of realization than that life they're counting on in the Hereafter.