Monday, June 11, 2007

The National Intelligence Estimate

About ten days before the United States Senate voted to authorize the war in Iraq, the intelligence community released a 90 page, classified version of The National Intelligence Estimate to every member of the Senate. Only six of the 100 senators read the Estimate. And the press is now going nuts about the other 94 senators' failure to read it.

Doesn't the press know that senators don't read much of anything these days?

The members of the most exclusive club on the face of the planet are busy.

They don't read the bills on which they are required to vote. They don't read detailed news reports. They don't read the latest political books or the latest scholarly journals.

So how is it that they stay in the proverbial loop? How do they remain in touch with what is happening in the world?

They're briefed. Each senator sits through hours upon hours of briefings every day. The briefings cover every topic imaginable: poll data; fundraising; particular pieces of legislation; planning trips to their home districts; coordinating policies with other branches of government; oversight; committee assignments; and, yes, national security.

And guess what. The senators were briefed on the Iraq intelligence prior to the vote for the war. Should they be castigated because they followed standard procedure? Should they be expected to read some documents but not others? It's just not feasible to expect them to read (or understand) every issue presented to them.

The press is suggesting that the Senate acted casually in authorizing the war. If that's the line they want to tow, they better come up with more than "the senators didn't read enough intelligence."

Because right now they're just Monday morning quarterbacking in the worst way imaginable.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Tale of Two Cities

In today's Washington Post, conservative columnist George Will aptly observes that the democratic presidential hopefuls are not, as they did in 2004, harping on the economy. Gone are John Edwards' persistent "Two Americas" and Carville's memorable "Don't forget the economy, stupid."

But the economy has not gone completely forgotten by the democratic hopefuls.

According to Wills, in last Sunday's debate, Senator Obama proclaimed that "'the burdens and benefits of this new global economy are not being spread evenly across the board' and [he] promise[d] to 'institute some fairness in the system.'"

Republicans have responded to Obama's proclamation in force. They've pointed to 65 months of uninterrupted growth. They've screamed about the unemployment rate. And they've jumped up and down about low inflation. But none of these defenses address the crux of Obama's argument: that the benefits of the economy are not reaching the common people.

It is as if the right and left are having two entirely separate debates about the economy--one about growth and the other about fairness.

Republicans are right to suggest that the benefits of the economy have never been spread evenly across the board. But Senator Clinton is right to decree that looking at today's economy is "like going back to the era of the robber barons."

Aren't there a few things we can all agree on?

1. A return to Laissez-faire economics is not in the best interest of America or the world. Anyone who disputes this fact should return to high school and read a few Dickens novels.

2. Democracy needs a strong middle class to survive, and government should do what it can to support the middle class.

3. The government should play some role in leveling the economic playing field. We need a minimum wage. We need child labor laws. We need the Family and Medical Leave Act. No one disputes these government actions; no one argues that they are not good and fair for America. But anytime a liberal asserts that government should help even the playing field, the right goes nuts--probably a lot like they did when child labor laws, the FMLA, and the federally mandated minimum wage were instituted.

4. There is a lot of physical work that government at all levels needs to accomplish. For instance, the infrastructure of our cities is crumbling. The good work done by laborers in the New Deal programs is beginning to fall apart, leaving Americans all over the country with infrastructures in perilously dangerous conditions. One avenue to create jobs is to make sure that these problems get fixed by government at all levels. Employ the unemployed to accomplish these goals, and we'll see the benefits of this economy further spread to all people.

5. The economy has a way of rewarding the superbly brilliant, ambitious thinkers like Bill Gates. And that's good. We want the economy to reward the best and brightest.

Instead of having two separate debates, Republicans and Democrats should admit that there are serious problems with this economy--just as there have been in every economy in world history--and sit down to fix the problems.

We don't expect the President to preside over a perfect economy. But we do expect him to use the power of the presidency to provide better opportunities for all the citizens of this great nation rather than sit back and allow his defenders to preach about what a great job he has done. We expect our chief executive to try to form a more perfect union and to ensure the blessings of liberty for all our American family. And we expect the political opposition--the Democrats--not to be scared away from a debate about the economy simply because they can't combat in a soundbite Republican statements about growth.

America is the greatest power--the greatest idea--on God's green earth. Talk is cheap. We should be working to better our system, empower our people, and train Americans for a better tomorrow.

Otherwise, we'll forever be telling the tale of two cities.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

American Realism?

Yesterday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered an important address to the Economic Club of New York--a speech in which she posited the notion of a "uniquely American Realism." Dr. Rice believes that American presidents since T.R. have been led by this theory of international relations.

Her speech gives us a glimpse of how foreign policy experts in the Bush White House think; it allows us to peer through the glass through which they see the world.

Just what is this so-called American Realism?

The Secretary of State argues that "we are led into the world as much by our moral ideas as by our material interests"--that America will always be a revoluntionary power embracing change as an opportunity.

The moral current underlying American Realism is the notion that "we are all united as a people not by a narrow nationalism of blood and soil, but by universal ideas of human freedom and human rights." A human creed. One to which all the children of God adhere and in which we all believe. That sounds great.

But it's not accurate. In fact, it is this misconception that has fatally misguided American politics since the Bush Doctrine took hold in the days after 9/11.

All people do not share the same ideas of universal human freedom and human rights.

What, exactly, do I mean by that?

First, the values of democracy are not shared by people everywhere. Particularly in the Middle East, democracy and free markets are seen as pulling America off its course and making sex the great god of the masses. The American system is seen as pushing us toward the pursuit of the all-mighty dollar and away from the enjoyment of life.

Second, as much as I wish all humans placed equal value on all human life, that's just not the case. All over the world, women are subjugated; they are seen as inferior to men. Right here in America, the glass ceiling is a very real phenomenon. And the situation is even worse for many women of color, as Dr. Rice should recognize.

Third, most of the world is not ready to be governed through democracy. The United States started as a Republic, one in which only free, white male landowners could vote. Those were the folks with education. Instead of embracing such a system, which now offends Americans as elitism and violative of the egalitarian notion to which America now aspires, the Bush Administration has attempted to force nations into democracy when they're not ready. The result will be either (a) civil war (see Iraq and Afghanistan), (b) the election of immoral strongmen (see Russia), or (c) both.

Fourth, there is something patently arrogant about assuming that our morals are better than everyone elses. What right do Americans have to go into the world and tell others that our system, our values, and our rights are above those shared by the people of the East, the global south, or anyone else? Sure, there are certain values that we should impose on others. But free market capitalism isn't one of them. Democracy isn't one of them.

The President and his crew see the world through rose colored glasses. They see it as they wish it would be; they don't meet it where it is.

There is one word I would use to describe Dr. Rice's speech: dangerous.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Paris Hilton is back in the Slammer!

Paris Hilton showed her true colors today. Again.

Due to an undisclosed medical condition, earlier this week Paris was allowed to go home wearing an ankle bracelet after being in jail for only three days of her 45 day sentence. Today, the judge threw the book at her, expressly stating that he did not approve of her fur low and that she would need to serve the remaining 45 days of her prison sentence IN PRISON. What a concept!

Paris responded to the judge's perfectly reasonable sentence by crying out that "It's not right!" and turning to her mother and screaming "Mom!"

Mommy, mommy, please come and rescue rich little Paris.

All of these people who say that Paris would not be in jail if she were not rich miss the point entirely. Paris has held herself up as a role model for the youth of the world. She is just the latest in a long series of stars who have recklessly abused that privilege (see the former Miss USA). People like that need to be held to a higher standard; they need to have the book thrown at them when they willfully violate the law.

Besides, Paris deserves some hard time. First, she was DUI and got caught. Then she got caught driving on a suspended license--TWICE! She is either (a) stupid or (b) she thinks she is above the law. The judge had a responsibility to show her that she is not above the law and to try to temper her irresponsibility.

This is a good day for the American legal system. Allowing Paris to stay home would have further undermined confidence in our justice system.

"Hooray," I say!

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