Archive for April, 2006

Peace Rallies and Ending the Occupation

April 30, 2006

Saturday (April 29) there was another successful peace rally in New York. Perhaps more than 300,000 attended. There were a number of sister rallies around the nation as well, including here in SLC.

I was not able to attend this rally, though I have attended a couple of large SLC peace rallies in the past. I solidly support and share the general sentiments of the protesters.

I too am outraged that we engaged in the War on Iraq.

I believe President Bush and his administration should be impeached for engaging us in war under false pretenses. By this I mean that the majority of the grounds on which he engaged in the war (Iraq had ties to Al Qaeda and was engaged in a WMD program which threatened American security) were false. At the time the administration was making those allegations, anyone willing to check the validity of their claims could find ample evidence that those claims were questionable (and the idea that Hussein would ally with Al Qaeda was patently ridiculous—how in the world could a paranoid secular dictator align himself with a religious fundamentalist zealot?). Many experts were openly refuting those allegations. Ultimately, the administration’s allegations were proven false. At best, the administration engaged in “wild speculation,” and jumped to conclusions based on incomplete evidence. At worst, they deliberately lied in order to promote their own purposes. Either way, the results of the war have been catastrophic. The occupation has created more ill-will towards the U.S throughout the Middle-Eastern and Muslim world. It has created a haven for Jihadists in the turmoil of Iraq. The decision to conquer Iraq has cost our nation yet untold billions of dollars; even worse, it has led to the death of over two-thousand US soldiers, uncounted thousands of Iraqi combatants and civilians. All of those numbers will continue to rise for the foreseeable future.

There can be no doubt that this qualifies as a “high crime,” and worthy of impeachment, followed by criminal proceedings.

But that is a matter to be further discussed in a future blog entry.

While I do empathize with and in many ways admire peace activists like Cindy Sheehan, I do not agree with their solution. Many of these activists call for immediate withdrawal from Iraq. That simply won’t work. If we leave before order is restored, the region will plunge into complete chaos. The various factions will turn the entire nation into a literal battlefield as they vie for power and seek the ascendancy of their particular sectarian interests. neighboring nations will likely seek to intervene, covertly or directly, in order to promote their own interests. Some new dictator ultimately will rise to fill the vacuum. Iraq will be left even worse than before.

Yet the alternative is hardly more palatable. Our very presence there gives focus for the hate and outrage of various radical entities in the Muslim world. Stay, and we give the appearance of intervening in Iraqi affairs for our own benefit. It adds fuel to the fire of Islamic discontent. And if history is any indication, it would be more than just an appearance of intervention. If we remain, chances are that we establish a permanent presence, and influence the nation to favor U.S. economic interests—likely at the expense of Iraqi interests. We’ve done so before. Why would this time be any different?

That idea is untenable: truly moral, Christian nations do not intercede in other nations for their own interests and needs, but they rather put the interests and needs of the people of those other nations first when they need to interfere in those other nations’ affairs.

The best possible solution would probably be to turn the entire project of rebuilding Iraq (physically and politically) to the U.N, while pledging to pay the costs (we broke it, we should pay for it). But considering this administration’s attitude towards the U.N. that will never happen.

That is perhaps the most sinister aspect of this administration’s decision to drag us into war. We are left in a situation in which there is no good solution. Every option is fraught with peril and morally questionable. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

That is perhaps the biggest reason to be disgusted with the disaster into which this administration has dragged us.

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Oil Industry Profits

April 27, 2006

After a recent blog entry about the ways rising oil prices can affect our pocketbooks and ways that those prices will hopefully get us to (finally!) conserve, I received a rather virulent response from one individual. This commenter did not address the primary point of my blog entry, but rather took issue with my characterization of the oil industry as “raking in the money on the backs of the families who are struggling to make ends meet…” He used unsubstantiated figures to suggest that the oil industry’s profits were minimal in the price of oil. I challenged his figures with counter evidence, substantiating my evidence by citing my source. The commenter refused to address my evidence, instead choosing to resort to ad hominem attacks.

I would like to further address the issue. It is well reported that the oil industry has reported record profits over the past year (see also here, and here.). That is not record gross income, but record profit.

You can make a case, if you would like, that maximizing profits at any given opportunity is a just and acceptable way to operate in our economic system. That is an entirely different argument. But to try to claim that the industry is not “raking in money,” or that it is not at the expense of consumers, is simply disingenuous.

It is interesting to note that the oil industry has long been the recipient in generous federal subsidies. The current administration seems to have exacerbated the trend with the energy policy drafted in secret by a committee headed by Vice-President Cheney (a man with long standing ties to the oil industry), on which energy industry leaders appear to have been widely consulted, but from which conservation and environmental advocates were excluded. This policy and the legislation based upon it provides billions in federal subsidies to an oil industry already obviously awash in money.

Why does a highly profitable industry need government subsidies? How is this consistent with the purportedly small government, market advocating conservative philosophy? Is it moral to deride “handouts” to the poor, but justify billions of dollars in subsidies to the wealthy and profitable? For those whose politics are informed by their religious beliefs, is that what the scriptures counsel us?

CIA link updated

April 26, 2006

The story of the Mary McCarthy leak fiasco, about which I blogged recently, is becoming more complex. It appears that Mary McCarthy is now insisting she was not the source for the news of the alleged secret foreign CIA prisons.

If she is lying, I am very disappointed. She did the nation a great service, and should have the courage to stand by her convictions and decisions. Of course, Mark Felt never confessed to being “Deep Throat” either. I suppose sometimes the potential repercussions may be grave enough to warrant anonymity and denial.

If she is telling the truth, then it makes one wonder why the CIA is scapegoating her so publicly.

In any case, the essential message of my blog still stands. Whoever revealed the information on the prisons was serving the good of the nation and upholding its principles more than those who just follow orders that veer us off onto some dark path. Our focus should not be on analyzing McCarthy or any possible leak, but on investigating the substance of the allegation.

Facing the music for blowing the whistle

April 24, 2006

The recent firing of Mary McCarthy has again stirred up the issues of torture, government secrecy, and the treatment of dissent.

This being the case, I will shortly address torture and our nation. But first let me make plain my opinion on the surface issue of Mary McCarthy.

McCarthy did indeed blatantly violate the conditions of her employment. The CIA is perfectly within its rights to fire her. I think it not entirely outside the realm of reason to say they were obliged to fire her for the violation of her contract.

That said, I wonder if the very public nature of her firing was intended as a warning to other potential whistle-blowers to mind their step and fall in line with this administration. Both Ray McGovern, 27 year CIA analyst and founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, and Richard Kerr, Deputy Director of the CIA under Bush I, noted today on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer that in the past CIA operatives and executives have been fired for “leaks” before, but much more privately.

Regardless, McCarthy did the right thing. Some aspects of our government, such as intelligence, necessarily entail secrecy. But secrecy is also the breeding ground for corruption. An ethical and free society is dependent upon whistle-blowers to expose to the public the corruption and abuse which is protected by that secrecy, that we might thereby eliminate it. The actions of such people as Daniel Ellsberg (the Pentagon Papers) and Mark Felt (“Deep Throat”) reveal to us the truth regarding what our government is doing, so we can restrain them if necessary. The actions of Mary McCarthy appear to fall into the same category. It may be that she expressed her objections to her superiors and within the official channels, but found only deaf ears. With no legal recourse by which to change what she seems to have seen as illegal and immoral policy, she seems to have decided upon something drastic. In the end, she may have broken rules. As “whistle-blowing” is a form of civil-disobedience, she can expect to face consequences for her decisions. But in doing so, she answered a to a higher form of patriotism than those who blindly obey.

Those who attack McCarthy on the grounds that her decision was partisan are trying to deliberately create a red herring. The primary issue is not her motivation. The crucial issue is whether or not her allegations are true and what legal implications that truth would entail. If the allegations are true and legally and ethically indefensible, then our sole concern should be rectifying the crime and visiting consequences upon those responsible for those crimes. Only after the allegations are disproven (or rather, given the assumptions explicit in our judicial system, after the allegations fail to be proven) or are shown to be legally and ethically inconsequential should we concern ourselves with her motive.

I find it interesting that many who condemn McCarthy and her whistle-blowing about allegedly legal and moral wrongdoings are so quick to defend the administration in leaking information the sole purpose of which seems to have been to punish a vocal critic (ie, the Valerie Plame affair).

Dealing with China

April 23, 2006

So the historic visit of the Chinese President has come and gone. A few flowery speeches, a few platitudes, a few little embarrassments, and its over.

No ground-breaking agreements or plans. Pretty much business as usual.

I’m not sure I like business as usual.

I’ve rather mixed feelings about the way our nation deals with China.

There is no question this is a repressive nation (or rather, government) we’re talking about here. China is an autocracy (it never really was communist) with no respect for freedom. They’ve shown a complete disregard for the rights and needs of the Chinese people, serving only the interests of the ruling elites.

As a nation purportedly interested in promoting the ideals of democracy, freedom, and human rights, we it should be an ethical imperative for the U.S. to apply pressure on this government to start taking those issues seriously. A moral nation cannot turn a blind eye to the evil the Chinese government perpetrates on its citizens (especially its oppressed minorities, such as those of Tibet).

On the other hand, isolation is neither a moral nor an effective method of persuasion. History is replete with examples of how isolation and ostracism leads to greater defiance and stubbornness in defending oneself. I don’t think the isolationist policies pursued by the U.S. prior to Nixon accomplished a single thing.

For we who are Christians, the example of the Savior is instructive. He did not ignore or abandon the criminals and sinners, but rather sought them out to spend time with them and bring them into the fold.

So what do we do? How do we balance the need to address the wrongs committed by a government without isolating that government? I don’t know. Its a tricky question.

I know for certain it is wrong to ignore their crimes and embrace the Chinese government simply so we can take advantage of their cheap sweatshop labor field and to open up new markets for our tawdry commercialism. And I fear that is exactly what we are doing.

If so, we are accessories to their crimes.

Who gives more, Labor or Ownership?

April 21, 2006

“Of course capital should get more of the rewards than labor,” posted the guy in a discussion group. “They invest more. They contribute more than the workers.”

Really?

That’s the conventional wisdom. I’m not so sure.

What does capital (ie, ownership and executives) contribute? Money. Nest eggs. For many of the nation’s big investors, excess cash. If you look beyond the dogma of commerce and economists, its actually just 1’s and 0’s in a computer (or, in days gone by, marks on a ledger).

What does labor contribute?

Blood, sweat, and tears.

For the thousands of miners who have developed black-lung disease (pneumoconiosis), or developed cancer as a result of employment in uranium mining of various chemical processing industries, their health.

Of course, the ultimate sacrifice paid by labor is life. A few thousand laborers died in completing the Transcontinental Railroad. In the early years of the last century, it was common for well over a thousand miners to die each year in mining accidents (not to mention those mentioned earlier; those who later died slow, excruciating deaths from illness directly caused by their work), and for hundreds to die in various manufacturing jobs throughout the nation. While today the yearly fatality numbers have dwindled to under 100 in most industries (a reduction brought about as a result of labor protection laws and direct bargaining by labor for increased safety standards), those deaths still represent the fact that the ultimate cost is born by labor. Ownership and executives may suffer financial losses, even have their life savings wiped out and worldly possessions taken from them (though often bankruptcy laws and government bailouts frequently shelter the most privileged from that risk), but what is that compared to health or life?

Who in reality gives more? Who really bears the costs and risks of “progress?”

Labor.

We should honor their contributions. We should ensure their voice in the decision making processes, and equitable compensation when their labors bear fruit. They may not hold stock, but their stake is equal to any that the owners, investors, and executives hold.

More conservative than the conservatives

April 19, 2006

In my recent blog entry about the record price of oil, I alluded briefly to the fact that liberal concepts can actually be more truly conservative than those expressed by the conservatives.

I’m not the only one to see that.

R.J. Eskow, writing for the Huffington Post, made the same point a few weeks back.

Check it out.

Calling out the Democratic Party, II

April 19, 2006

Today Markos Moulitsas Zúniga (of The Daily Kos) commented on an essay by Michael Tomasky about the lack of a coherent philosophy among the Democrats. Both the original essay and Kos’ commentary are intriguing and relevant to the inability of the Democratic Party to inspire and rally a movement in the face of widespread Republican bumbling and scandals.

There seems no lack of analysis of the problems vexing the Democrats. Hopefully there is somebody with the insight to synthesize these analyses and boldly chart a course. Who that would be, I’m afraid I don’t know.

A New Nuclear Energy Debate

April 19, 2006

Like most liberals, I’ve generally been opposed to nuclear power. Creating waste products that are hazardous for millennia seems dubious to me. The Chernobyl disaster has always loomed large in my mind as a tragic warning about nuclear power.

But I’m perfectly willing to reconsider my own opinions as the situation warrants. Lately, I seem to have found more and more reason to reevaluate my position on nuclear power.

I was reminded a few months ago of the fact that Europe and other parts of the world make extensive use of nuclear power. Much of Europe receives over half of their energy from nuclear power plants—France almost 80% (Though it should be noted that there is a move to reduce nuclear production in many nations, such as Germany, Belgium, Spain and Sweden). Despite the widespread utilization of nuclear energy, there has never been any accident or disasters outside of Chernobyl. Are our fears unfounded? Is nuclear energy essentially safe? How does Europe and other nuclear dependent nations deal with waste disposal? Have they resolved the issue in a manner we could examine and adopt? I haven’t studied the issue enough to say, but it seems worth investigating.

More recently, a number of environmental advocates have begun to advocate the expansion of nuclear power. In several of his interviews, and presumably in his book, Tim Flannery has suggested that nuclear power is, despite its flaws, a better alternative to continued reliance on fossil fuels.

Over the weekend, no less a person than Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, threw in his support for Nuclear Power. Whoever would have imagined that in their wildest dreams?! But he seems to make a compelling case.

I’m not yet swayed. I’m not about to start beating the drum for reactors here in Utah. There is no magic energy pill that will solve all our problems. The first step in dealing with energy issues is to try as much as possible to curb our energy consumption. Energy producers and users should not be allowed to externalize their costs by shipping their waste elsewhere. If they’re gonna reap the benefits, they should deal with the consequences themselves.

But in light of the fact that energy consumption will continue to grow regardless of attempts to conserve, and the fact that the environmental effects of fossil fuels continue to grow, I think it worthwhile to open the debate and reexamine the issue.

Calling out the Democratic Party

April 18, 2006

David Sirota is absolutely right.

Because Democrats are only in the hunt thanks to gross Republican missteps—and they are going out of their way to make sure their potential election to the majority is about nothing. Call it the Seinfeld strategy.

Los Angeles Times columnist Ron Brownstein reports, “Democratic leaders are drifting toward a midterm message that indicts Bush more on grounds of competence (on issues such as Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and prescription drugs) than ideology.”

As a short-term electoral tactic, the Seinfeldian “competence” strategy allows the GOP to right itself with new management. Sadly, it is not a strategy based on ideological differences that puts a boot to conservatives’ neck when their hypocrisy trips them up and they fall down.

(Read the rest of the article.)

This is the reason I cannot embrace the Democrats, and I assert my independence as a liberal. Because we have no liberal party. Individual Democrats might proudly wave the progressive banner—people such as Dennis Kucinich, the late Paul Wellstone, and to a lesser extent Harry Reid. But by and large the Democrats are a timid bunch lacking much to distinguish themselves from the GOP. We have the conservative party and the slightly less conservative party. The Democratic Party will talk the talk occasionally, but rarely walk the walk.

I’ll work with them for lack of any other viable option. But if they want to get us energized and eager to jump on the bandwagon, they had better start substantively differentiating themselves from their friends across the aisle.