Sense from Seattle

Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for informed knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and independent views.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Some Random Notes

Government Bureaucracy and Privatization. Some people argue that privatizing or contracting out a traditional government function is good because it eliminates a government bureaucracy. But the private functionary organization is also a bureaucracy and the government bureaucracy still has to be involved in doing the contracting and in monitoring the ongoing results. A Coast Guard consultant, speaking of the wasted money government often spends on contractors, put it wisely, “A contractor with a profit motive is never a trusted agent. They are a vendor and they are selling you something.”

Older, Dumber and More Expensive. The math on expanding the size of the US Army computes the cost of each soldier and equipment at $320,000. In order to recruit new troops, the qualification standards have been lowered, and the age limits have been increased. One wonders what that amount of money could do toward building a better world if it was spent on diplomacy and economic development.

Paying for War. All wars, including the inaccurately named “War on Terror”, are outrageous financial expenses for the governments involved. Since the only ones who make money on wars are defense contractors, there should be a “War on Terror Tax” on the profits of these contractors.

The Market Is Not Our Government.
As predicted here at Sense, George Bush has issued an executive order to give his appointees more power to slow down government regulatory action. The Bush order adopts the philosophy that government regulation should only take place when it is proven that there has been a significant market failure.

Southern Presidential History. Five of our last 8 Presidents have been from the South: LBJ, Carter, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II. In 50 of the 72 years from Washington to Lincoln, the Presidency was held by a Southern slaveholder, and none of the non-slaveholder Presidents during that time was ever elected to a second term.

Violence Is Not Wise for Minorities. Peaceful non-violence appealing to the morality of the majority is the best tactic, as shown by the success of Ghandi and the American Civil Rights Movement. Israelis and Shia Muslims should keep this in mind as they look for a better future,

Only a Coincidence? The two most violent cities in the US for crime in 2005 were also the homes of the baseball teams playing in the 2006 World [meaning the US and part of Canada] Series of baseball - St. Louis and Detroit.

Congressional Forefathers. I was surprised to hear that the father of Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi once worked as a pipe fitter in a shipyard. I always figured Lott had a country club background. I also figured Wisconsin Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, who takes a particularly incensed position on aliens who enter the US to do the "jobs Americans won't do", was the type of Midwesterner who had to work hard for everything in life and was frugal in how he lived. Turns out he inherited a fortune from one of his forefathers who was the inventor of Kotex, and Jim also won $250,000 on a lottery ticket he won while buying beer to go with his imported Caribbean cigars.

Contagious Shooting. This phrase describes the phenomenon whereby a first fired shot leads the cohorts of the shooter to join in and escalate the shooting, based largely on the belief that since the first shot was fired, they must be under attack. It has been applied to cases where several police apply enormously overwhelming firepower in shooting a suspect, who is some cases may not even have been armed. The phenomenon also applies in war situations and is sometimes invoked deceitfully by a nation trying to justify a pre-emptive strike by forming a coalition to retaliate.

US Supreme Court Law Clerks. Each Justice chooses his or her own Clerks, a prestigious anointment for a young lawyer. Liberal Justice William Douglas appointed the first woman Clerk in 1944, and the second woman was not appointed until 22 years later, by fellow liberal Hugo Black. Felix Frankfurter appointed the first black Clerk in 1948, and in 1960 turned down an application from Ruth Ginsburg, who now sits on the Court as the only woman. Ginsburg has appointed four Clerks, two of them women. Stephen Breyer has had the most women Clerks, 15 of 28 in the last seven years. In that same period of time, ornery conservative Scalia has also had 28 Clerks, but only 2 were women.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

State of Various

Two people in our national government were shown respect last night, in quite different ways. George Bush, who occupies the office of President , was greeted with respect by the Congress as he entered the chambers to give the constitutionally required State of the Union speech. For most of the greeters, the respect was for the office of the Presidency and for the process by which the President is required to communicate with the full Congress, rather than for the man himself.

By contrast, when Bush acknowledged Nancy Pelosi as the first woman Speaker of the House (following 59 men), after she took control and called the meeting to order, the hearty and respectful applause was not just for the post of Speaker, nor even just for all the women who have had to work extra hard to break through glass ceilings, but also for Nancy herself, an accomplished, experienced hardworking and dedicated mother, grandmother and Congresswoman who deservedly achieved the right to sit behind the President and next to the Vice-President, as their successor to the highest office in the land in the event the need should arise, at this most ceremonious assembled celebration of our constitutional government.

The main interest in the Bush speech was how he would handle giving it for the first time to a Congress led by Democrats. The speech was predictably bland, with mention of Iraq postponed until near the end and couched in the same cliches and slogans most everyone, including Republicans like Senator Warner, who is cosponsoring another resolution opposing the Bush surge plan, is tired of hearing. The devastation of New Orleans and failure to progress on meaningful rebuilding was not even mentioned in the speech, showing that the non-concern of Bush in the aftermath of Katrina, which was when many Americans previously blind to his failings began to see Bush for the fraud he is, once again demonstrated how the Republican Party is only interested in African-Americans as tokens. Most revealing is the fact that every one of the African Americans serving in Congress is a Democrat, and since the 1969 founding of the Congressional Black Caucus, only three Republican African Americans have served in Congress.

The new Democrat leaders of Congress are off to an impressive start. Nancy Pelosi’s 100 hour agenda was met ahead of schedule. The important hearings, now chaired by Democrats, have begun and have been conducted respectfully, openly and with a reasonable semblance of bi-partisanship. I watched a press conference Pelosi and Harry Reid held for the National Press Club. Unfortunately it was only shown on C-Span, but it was so impressive to see how they both listened intently to the questions asked and then responded thoughtfully and openly, willingly taking follow up questions until the questioner was satisfied. At one point, a black reporter asked about the failure to rebuild New Orleans. Having lost family members in Katrina, he was understandably passionate in expressing his frustration and in making reference to the Martin Luther King “I Have A Dream Speech”. Nevertheless, the Club moderator interrupted the questioner several times to insist that he ask his question. Nancy responded to this man’s hurt with genuine compassion, saying that while she understood his pain, she would not presume to say she could feel it like he does. She then went on to lay out the failings in the rebuilding effort and how she hopes to address them, while quoting relevant portions of the King speech. I have great confidence in these two leaders of our Congress.

Another sign the Democrats are in wise control was the selection of new Senator Jim Webb of Virginia to give the response to the Bush speech. He was eminently qualified for the task, the middle man in three generations of American combat heroes. His succinctly eloquent talk concentrated on two points, the unfairness of leaving working class families behind in an economy favoring the wealthy, and the folly of the Bush incursion in Iraq, including the foolishness of his “surge” plan. Webb made it clear the Democrats oppose the surge and want to work with Bush to pursue the correct course on Iraq, or else to show him the way if he cannot otherwise find it.

As for the old buzzard seated next to Nancy during the Bush speech, Dick Cheney received a belated slap from John McCain, who after praising Cheney in 2004 as a wonderful VP, now is blaming him for giving Bush too much bad advice on Iraq. Cheney is also starting to get it from his former Chief of Staff, Scooter Libby, whose trial for lying to the FBI and grand jury has started. Scooter’s defense team intends to prove that Cheney made him a scape goat in order to protect the more politically valuable Karl Rove from trouble over White House attempts to discredit legit critic Joe Wilson, including blowing the CIA cover of his wife. I guess Scooter has learned if you lie down with dogs, you might wake up with fleas.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Abraham, Martin and John

In the tumultuous American year that was 1968, a sad song was written that became popular as another peaceful protest anthem. “Abraham, Martin and John” tied together the names of Lincoln, King and Kennedy, three good men who led efforts to achieve a better and more just America. Martin Luther King, Jr., the foremost civil rights leader and recipient of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a vocal critic of the War in Vietnam who was a front runner for the Democratic Presidential nomination, were both killed by bullets of assassins that year.

Dr. King had done much to educate the Kennedy brothers about the need for Federal Government involvement in protecting civil rights of Negroes [the preferred term of that time], and King successfully worked to pull the Kennedys into open support for the civil rights movement. Harkening back to President Lincoln’s assassination after guiding the successful defeat of the effort by southern states to secede from the Union, and tying into Lincoln issuing the emancipation proclamation and the assassination of President Kennedy who had begun to advocate for passage of civil rights legislation, the 1968 song was a plea and lament for justice brought about through peaceful means.

The three men named in the song title, and RFK who was mentioned in the lyrics, all shared a sincere compassion for humanity. Dr. King worked through spiritual and community activism, whereas the other three used politics as their means. Lincoln was commander-in-chief of the victorious side in our devastating civil war. John Kennedy’s determination that our national interests required us to commit to supporting an unjust regime in Vietnam against a popular insurgency was a mistake that his brother acknowledged as part of his 1968 Presidential campaign.

Dr. King chose the course of non-violent protest for justice. As the years pass, his legacy becomes more apparent. His choice for the Nobel Peace prize in 1964 seemed odd to most white Americans at the time, yet the presentation speech, his acceptance speech and forty plus years of improvements brought about by the civil rights laws enacted at that time shows what an accomplished and heroic life King led, even though he was just 35 years old at the time of the award.

As George W. Bush obstinately campaigns against public opinion and all good advice to further exacerbate the Iraq fiasco he created, he tries to compare himself with Lincoln, who proceeded vigorously to crush the rebellion of the south in order to preserve the Union, even in the face of lack of popular support and even to the extent of replacing generals until he found Grant, who was willing to wage the total war Lincoln came to determine was needed. That war may have been inevitable, given the failure of politics leading up to the war. Lincoln’s vision for the occupation of the South after the war was that it should be firm yet compassionate. His vision died with him, or at least succumbed to the failure of post war politics.

Bush deserves mention in the same article with these other men only as a point of contrast to see how low we have come to have him as President. His war in Iraq was a fraudulently obtained and disastrously ill-conceived pre-emptive war of aggression, whereas Lincoln’s war was started by the southern states and fought by Lincoln in order to preserve the Union. The Kennedy brothers accepted moral guidance from Dr. King in order to help bring about social and economic justice through civil rights legislation; but Bush uses religious leaders as political guides to obtain votes for socially reactionary and economically unjust laws.

War, even a just one successfully waged, is not the greatest legacy a leader can leave. Lincoln would have had a greater legacy if he had preserved the Union and accomplished emancipation without war. Kennedy started the civil rights ball rolling, but his legacy would have been greater if he had kept us out of Vietnam. George Bush will leave an overwhelmingly negative legacy, combining the foolishness of a botched unjust war with a fraudulent, reactionary and economically unjust domestic policy.

Dr. King left a most admirable legacy, showing us that justice can be obtained without war. We rightly celebrate his legacy.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Clock is Running

The clock is now running on the five point agenda the House Democrats want to pass in the first 100 hours of House legislative time. As the clock runs during the next few days, you can follow the countdown on the Nancy Pelosi House page.

The five points are embodied in House Resolutions numbered 1 to 5, and cover raising the minimum wage, promoting stem cell research, requiring Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices, cutting interest rates on student loans, and repealing subsidies to Big Oil and investing the savings in renewable energy.

The Democrats know their position on these issues is aligned with the majority of Americans and is contrary to the Bush Administration. Simply put, the Democrats and American majority value the contribution of low wage workers, worthwhile medical research, our government not succumbing to drug profiteers, reasonable opportunity for a college education, and making Big Oil pay its fair share. By contrast, the Bush Administration favors employer profit over living wages, religious fundamentalism over curing illness, drug profits over fair negotiation, money lenders over students, and Big Oil profits over fair tax burdens and a wise energy policy.

Some House Republicans will try to water down the Resolutions, but the Democrats will get them passed quickly. These are shots across the bow of House Republicans and Bush, letting them know the House Democrats are taking the lead in making legislative progress on these issues on which the American majority wants action, and requiring Republicans to show their true colors. Time, more than the 100 hours, will tell what legislation the House actually passes, then what the Senate does on the same issues and eventually what passes both chambers and is submitted to Bush to see whether he vetoes anything. Bush is so consumed with the mess he created in Iraq, tonight presenting his ridiculous surge solution, that it is unlikely he will take a very active role interfacing with Congress on these matters. Most people think he would stick with his stem cell veto, but it is not clear how veto prone he is in the other areas.

It will be interesting to see how many Republicans move toward the Democratic position on these five issues. Worthwhile legislation, negotiated and passed with a veto-proof margin, would send perhaps the final necessary message to Bush - that he has lost the support not only of the American people but also of the Republican minority in Congress.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

What’s New for 2007?

Don’t get your hopes up. The Time cover is not a real prediction. Here is a more likely prospect.

As 2007 begins, the US foreign policy continues to lose status in the eyes of the world community. Simply put, nothing in our foreign policy seems to be going well. The main fiasco, the occupation of Iraq seems about to be made an even bigger hole in the sand, as Bush is about to announce a “surge” in troops. Once again, military commanders who disagree with the failed neo-con vision of “victory” in Iraq are pushed aside in favor of those who agree with Bush. So we will be moving more American troops into harm’s way, trying to “win” another nation’s civil war. Other coalition nations were wise enough to see this coming and to bail out and leave the mess to the nation the caused it, the USA. Britain still has a nominal presence, but it is confined to safer and more stable areas in the south.

Bush denies Iraq is in civil war, even as his concept of victory evolves into essentially giving up on the Sunnis and siding with the Shiites. This newest evolution is fraught with problems, embittering the vast numbers of Sunnis throughout the world (aided by the anti-Sunni venom demonstrated at the Hussein hanging), and adding to the power and prestige of the Shiite militias in Iraq. Overarching this all is the fact that the fall of Iraq has elevated Iran to pre-eminence in the region, something the US tried to prevent in the 1980s by encouraging Hussein led Iraq in its war with Iran, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides.

For the last two years of the Bush regime, I expect the occupation of Iraq to become an even greater losing proposition, as Bush digs a bigger hole in the sand under the guise of trying to work with Iraqis to exit the hole. I would not be surprised if the number of American forces killed and wounded in Iraq at the time Bush leaves office is double what it is now. The next American President will be left with an even bigger mess than we are now facing.

The new Democratic Congress cannot do that much to stop what Bush does in Iraq. They can complain, hold hearings and investigate. The Senate can disapprove relevant Presidential appointments and the House can put some strings on appropriations, but Bush will do everything, legal and otherwise, to pursue his chosen agenda in Iraq. For two more years at least, it is Vietnam Redux.

Regarding the domestic agenda, there may be some hope. Bush is so consumed with Iraq, and as a lame duck has nothing much to gain by pandering further to the religious right, that he has no realistic hope of accomplishing much legislatively, other than what is always foremost on the Republican agenda, cutting taxes for the rich (or in this case trying to preserve the cuts they already made when they were in full control). Democratic Congressional leadership is in wise and experienced hands, with diverse Democratic wings in considerable agreement on core issues. The Republican ranks are depleted of the top crooks, some of the moderates and a few of the far right, leaving mostly legitimate types who want fiscal responsibility and limited government (at least on domestic programs other than corporate welfare). There is a window of opportunity to get some relatively unexciting but somewhat beneficial bi-partisan legislation enacted into law. The window will be closed by the start of 2008, when the legislative process returns primarily to becoming part of the re-election campaigns.

The current Senate includes one nominal oddball and two real ones. Senator Sanders of Vermont is nominally an Independent but in fact a moderately liberal Democrat. Joe Lieberman says he is a Democrat in Independent clothing, but on foreign policy is actually a neo-con Republican in Democrat clothing. And John McCain is supposedly a maverick Republican of independent mind, but in fact is a conservative Republican who talks independent but ultimately gets in line to get his nose browned.