Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Global Warming?

UPDATE: Here's another post on the scientific problems with the global warming claims. The conclusion:

First, nonscientists generally do not want to bother with understanding the science. Claims of consensus relieve policy types, environmental advocates and politicians of any need to do so. Such claims also serve to intimidate the public and even scientists--especially those outside the area of climate dynamics. Secondly, given that the question of human attribution largely cannot be resolved, its use in promoting visions of disaster constitutes nothing so much as a bait-and-switch scam. That is an inauspicious beginning to what Mr. Gore claims is not a political issue but a "moral" crusade.

Lastly, there is a clear attempt to establish truth not by scientific methods but by perpetual repetition. An earlier attempt at this was accompanied by tragedy. Perhaps Marx was right. This time around we may have farce--if we're lucky.


Oprah's show today was on global warming. Unfortunately she didn't deal with the contradictory evidence nor with the fact that in the 1970's the "scientific" fear was that a new global ice age was coming. Maybe what we need to do to counter the global warming trend is whatever we were doing in the 1970's to encourage the new ice age then.

Tony at Always Right, Usually Correct has a good column dealing with contradictory scientific findings on the global warming scare.

Here's a little taste:

"But our CO2 levels have to be devastating to the world...they simply are not natural at the levels we are making."

Appearing before the Commons Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development last year, Carleton University paleoclimatologist Professor Tim Patterson testified, "There is no meaningful correlation between CO2 levels and Earth's temperature over this [geologic] time frame. In fact, when CO2 levels were over ten times higher than they are now, about 450 million years ago, the planet was in the depths of the absolute coldest period in the last half billion years." Patterson asked the committee, "On the basis of this evidence, how could anyone still believe that the recent relatively small increase in CO2 levels would be the major cause of the past century's modest warming?"

Who Cares if War on Terror Tools Are Useful?

George at Alamo Nation has a good analysis of Wolf Blitzer's interview with Bill Keller, Executive Director of the New York Times.

Two things stand out.

1. Rep. Jack Murtha asked them not to publish the story.

BLITZER: Who were the three people outside of the administration that asked you not to report this information?

KELLER: Tom Kean, Lee Hamilton and Congressman Jack Murtha.

BLITZER: Congressman Jack Murtha, who has been an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq.

Good for Jack Murtha! He's not totally out to lunch on national security.

2. The NYT doesn't care if they out a program that is useful in the War on Terror.

BLITZER: The administration insists that some terrorists, in particular including Hambali, one of top terrorists in Southeast Asia, was picked up largely as a result of this secret program, and that by disclosing the program, other terrorists may be able to go forth and be free and do their work, whatever they want to do. Was that true that Hambali was picked up as a result of this -- what's called the SWIFT program?

KELLER: We cited a number of sources saying that that is true in our original story, and cited some other examples of where they believe this program has been useful.

We're not passing judgment on the usefulness of this program. That's not our job to do. There are, as with the NSA case, people who are expert and involved in the program who have questions both about its legality and about the way in their view of what was supposed to be a stopgap measure has become something permanent. But you know, our original story did not quarrel with their assertion that this has been a useful program.

The really sad part is that apparently your and my security is in the hands of newspaper publishers. They decide what secret information should remain secret and what should not remain secret. And those who leak information go scott free. Why is outing of Valerie Plame (whose life was never endangered) worthy of investigation and indictment but not outing of a successful anti-terrorist program? I wonder if the families of the next terrorism victims will ask that question.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Can They Get It Right?

From Saturday's Oregonian editorial:

A s Miami residents planned a parade to honor their newly crowned hometown basketball champions, law enforcement authorities broke down the door of a warehouse to arrest a group of men who wanted to join al-Qaida and blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago.


That the plotters didn't get far is a tribute to the members of Miami's Joint Terrorism Task Force, which consists of the FBI, the Miami-Dade and city of Miami police departments, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the Criminal Investigation unit at the Internal Revenue Service.

Local and federal officials in Miami evidently find it possible to work together without arguing about whose clearance outranks whose. That must be a comforting state of affairs for Miami residents.


Wish we could say the same for Portland.

The Oregonian got it right. Let's hope Mayor Potter and the four City Council men wake up before someone pays a horrible price.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Two Oregon Vets Talk About How to Win a War

Tonight I was listening to two Oregon World War II veterans (my father and my uncle) talk about how unrealistic the standards are today for our military forces.

My uncle was a medic serving in Europe. He helped liberate a concentration camp. My father was a bomber pilot in the Pacific and was one of the two veteran combat pilots in occupied Japan who flew a circuit over Japan every day as a show of force to the Japanese and to the Chinese.

Friendly Fire Scene

My uncle remembered a “friendly fire” errant bombing raid that resulted in the killing or wounding of 1/4th of his small company. He happened to leave the area where the bombs hit just before they were dropped. Some of his buddies were killed. He wasn't.

Nowadays politicians and the press would be calling for someone to be punished for those deaths and wounded servicemen. But that’s not how you win a war. Mistakes will be made–even horrible mistakes. However, if you are focusing on punishing mistakes rather than winning the war, you won’t take the kind of chances and initiatives necessary to win against a formidable foe.

My uncle also spoke about the difference in how medics acted in the European theater versus the Pacific theater. The Japanese were brutal. They believed in all out war with no holds barred. In Europe when a medic tried to aid a wounded German, the German did not try to kill the medic. That wasn’t the case in the Pacific. The Japanese soldier was brutal and wanted to kill as many Allied soldiers as he could--including medics. Consequently, there were few prisoners taken in the Pacific in comparison to those taken in Europe.

Was this American/Allied brutality at work? By today’s standards, yes. But not by standards of men who wanted to live another day nor by commanders, a president, a congress and a country who wanted to win a war.

Rules of engagement are essential in a winning war, but as control mechanisms directing the military--not as humanitarian principles.

One of the problems with Democratic leaders like Rep. John Murtha and Sen. John Kerry is that their view of war has been molded by a losing conflict.

Unlike the two World War II vets, Murtha and Kerry don’t know what it’s like to fight in a way that wins a war. That’s why they have crazy proposals like redeploy to Okinawa (Murtha) or set a timetable for withdrawal irrespective of military events (Kerry).

Imagine General Patton asking for permission to redeploy his troops to a safe spot. Patton is a hero to one of my Canadian cousins, who was set to be in an invading force that would likely suffer heavy casualties in Germany. But, the mission was scrubbed on the day of deployment because Patton and his troops had made an incredible military drive into the area and taken it.

Or imagine General MacArthur vowing that he would return if Filipinos would show they could stand up for themselves within a year or two--otherwise not.

Patton and MacArthur knew how to win against tough odds and brutal enemies. It wasn’t pretty. There were a lot of U.S. casualties, and there were a lot of German and Japanese casualties. There was even a lot of U.S. and Allied retaliatory brutality. Read Patrick K. O’Donnell’s Into the Rising Sun: In Their Own Words, World War II's Pacific Veterans Reveal the Heart of Combat.

There was even nonsensical brutality. My father tells of his first mission out over a Pacific island. Because it was his first mission, he was co-pilot with a veteran pilot. They saw a native woman walking along a path in an area where pamphlets had been dropped warning people to stay out of the area. The pilot armed the guns to strafe the area where she was walking. Just as he fired, my father pulled back on the controls so that the plane headed up and sprayed the bullets in the air. The pilot was angry, and threatened my father with a court martial. My father said it was her country; maybe she couldn’t read the pamphlets; and even if she could, she was not a military threat. The other crew members sided with my father. And the pilot didn’t pursue the issue. However, had it been a lone Japanese soldier walking along the path, they would have strafed. They wanted to win the war and that meant killing Japanese soldiers.

War is Hell. General Sherman was right. If you can avoid it, all the better. If not, the main goal is to win. The Democrats, with the exception of people like Sen. Joe Lieberman, have not figured this out yet.

Friday, June 16, 2006

3 Million March for Jesus in Brazil

Photo from O Estado de São Paulo

Three million evangelical Christians marched through the center of São Paulo on Thursday to show their commitment to Jesus on Corpus Christi Feast Day, which is a Brazilian national holiday.

Now there's a march!

The AP reporter thinks the march might be less noticable next year because it may not be held on Avenida Paulista--the main business street in São Paulo. But, if you get 3 million to march on any street in São Paulo, or anywhere else, it will be noticed. I guarantee it.

Apparently the AP reporter didn't talk to the event promoters--or the marchers. AP frames it as primarily a Protestant vs. Catholic event. But, that's not how the participants viewed it--or São Paulo's state governor, Cláudio Lembo, who spoke at the event. Here's part of what Governor Lembo said:

Every time we seek for a symbol of peace, we help society towards a better way–-one of peace and dignity. São Paulo is grateful because we know that all power comes from God, but all power is administered by the people of God.

Governor Lembo also noted how peaceful and orderly the event was even with so many people. There were no clashes with the police or disturbances and the sort of violence and trashing that follows many of the minuscule (by comparison) demonstrations in downtown Portland.

The event, which has been held annually since 1993, is an international and interdenominational event promoted by the Renascer em Cristo (Reborn in Christ) churches. Its purpose is to give the church an opportunity

to show that it is not restricted to houses of worship, but is alive and open to all of society, and beyond uniting Christian churches, it is a public act expressing faith, love, thankfulness and exalting the name of Jesus Christ.

Look at the photos. A whole lot of young Brazilians are there. You can see how animated they are. That positive activism bodes well for Brazil and for the churches in Brazil.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Ignorance at National Review

Hat Tip: George at Alamo Nation

After a couple of decades of closely reading NR because of its political insight and humor, I’ve pretty much stopped. Not that there aren’t a number of insightful columnists still there, but there is a defeatism and a “my way or the highway” attitude that is just evident enough to shove me toward other sources.

John Derbyshire has now added astonishing ignorance to the list. He is now sorry that he supported the war. It reminds one of the Sorry Everybody site put up by the Left after the 2004 presidential election where people held up signs telling the world they were sorry George Bush got elected.

Ignorance. Let’s start with a historical, but pretty fundamental, error.
When the Founders of our nation said “all men” they had in mind Christian Anglo-Saxon men. Our leaders, though, want to bring the whole world under the scope of those grand Lockeian principles.
The trouble with this assertion is that the founding fathers did not think of the “Creator” as a tribal god concerned only with Anglo-Saxons. They in fact meant the Creator of the “whole world”–not just the Creator of Anglo-Saxons. They may have applied the self-evident truths most powerfully to themselves, but they were thinking more globally than Derbyshire gives them credit for thinking.

An example is their attitude toward the Germans, Swedes, Dutch, etc., in the colonial population. There’s no evidence that the founders were intent on leaving them out. I can’t think of a state constitution that made a distinction. I won’t even get into the rumbling issue on slavery that was already much in evidence when the Constitution was adopted (see Article 1, Section 9).
. . . while I supported the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the regime, I never thought much of the nation-building exercise that followed.
Nation-building has been a part of military victory for a good while now. The US thought it was important enough to send General Douglas MacArthur (and a lot of US troops) to oversee democracy building in Japan after World War II.

Same thing in Europe. The plan wasn't to let Europe figure out its own course after WWII–-under the watchful eye of the Soviet Union. Among other things, the Cold War was a decades long exercise in nation-building.

That John Derbyshire didn't think much of "the nation-building exercise" that followed this war says a lot about his lack of understanding of what winning a war entails.
[M]y attitude to the war is really just punitive, and Iraq was a target of opportunity. I am not a Wilsonian nation-builder. I don’t want to “bring democracy to Iraq.” I don’t, in fact, give a fig about the Iraqis. I am happy to leave barbarians alone to practice their unspeakable folkways, so long as they do not bother civilized peoples. When they do bother us, though, I want them smacked down with great ferocity.
It's an amazing assumption that if you smack people hard enough, they won’t bother you again. Didn’t we already try this in the first Gulf War? What would have been the point in Afghanistan to smack the Taliban and then leave?

The smack and run strategy sounds attractive, but that Derbyshire gives not one example of its historical effectiveness is telling. It also shows that Derbyshire doesn't understand terrorist movements like Al-Qaeda. How do you smack and run effectively with hidden and dispersed targets?
The effort to stabilize Iraq, and the reluctance to just leave the Iraqis to fight each other among the rubble, followed inevitably from that belief, which is, according to me, a false belief. I see all that now. I didn’t see it then. I am sorry.
I’m sad to see this sort of discourse at NR. I’m really sad to see John Derbyshire lose his moorings.


UPDATE: To give NR its due, it has just posted an interview with Larry Schweikart on America's Victories: Why the U.S. Wins Wars and Will Win the War on Terror. A little bit of this must-read interview:
If you ask any historian, “When did we win the war in the Pacific?” the answer would almost always be, “Midway.” After that, Japan couldn’t win — the only issue was the final, often gruesome, death toll. Think of that! That’s years before Iwo Jima or Okinawa, and yet historically the war was over after June 1942. Likewise, if you look at the Filipino Insurrection (1899-1902, followed by the “Moro Wars”) — which mirrors Iraq very closely, the war was over when William McKinley was reelected. It took two more years for Emilio Aguinaldo to admit defeat, but his stated goal of forcing a political solution by “un-electing” McKinley was finished. I think we hit the “tipping point” in Fallujah in November 2004. After that, the terrorists could no longer hold up in any town for long, nor could they organize effectively. Zarqawi’s recent death closely resembles our Pacific model as well when American P-38s ambushed Isoroku Yamamoto and killed him. Historically, of the 11 “insurgencies” and “guerilla wars” of the 20th century (including Vietnam), the government (in this case, that would be us) won eight. However, most of these took between five and eight years to win. That places us right on our timetable, which is to expect the death throes of the terrorists in Iraq in another year or two.
UPDATE 2: It's only fair to say that Derbyshire, not brought up on American history, seems not to know that almost a century and a half ago Abraham Lincoln quashed his argument that unalienable rights were only thought to apply to white men by those who signed the Declaration of Independence.
"The Chicago Press and Tribune reporter for the event wrote: "I cannot close this letter without giving your readers a passage from Mr. Lincoln's noble and impressive apostrophe to the Declaration of Independence. This was truly one of the finest efforts of public speaking I ever listened to. It gave to his auditors such an insight into the character of the man as ought to carry him into the Senate on a great surge of popular affection." He then quoted Mr. Lincoln, who said the Declaration of Independence:

...was formed by the representatives of American liberty from thirteen States of the confederacy — twelve of which were slaveholding communities. We need not discuss the way or the reason of their becoming slaveholding communities. It is sufficient for our purpose that all of them greatly deplored the evil and that they placed a provision in the Constitution which they supposed would gradually remove the disease by cutting off its source. This was the abolition of the slave trade. So general was conviction — the public determination — to abolish the African slave trade, that the provision which I have referred to as being placed in the Constitution, declared that it should not be abolished prior to the year 1808. A constitutional provision was necessary to prevent the people, through Congress, from putting a stop to the traffic immediately at the close of the war. Now, if slavery had been a good thing, would the Fathers of the Republic have taken a step calculated to diminish its beneficent influences among themselves, and snatch the boon wholly from their posterity? These communities, by their representatives in old Independence Hall, said to the whole world of men: 'We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. [Applause.] Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows. They grasped not only the whole race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized upon the farthest posterity. The erected a beacon to guide their children and their children's children, and the countless myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages. Wise statesmen as they were, they knew the tendency of prosperity to breed tyrants, and so they established these great self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man, some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, their posterity might look up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew the battle which their fathers began — so that truth, and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues might not be extinguished from the land; so that no man would hereafter dare to limit and circumscribe the great principles on which the temple of liberty was being built." [emphasis added]
[Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, p. 544-546 (August 17, 1858).]
For more of Lincoln's argument on what the Founders' believed with regard to unalienable rights, see the Lincoln-Douglas debates especially the 5th debate at Galesburg and the 7th debate at Alton.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Bush Visits Iraq

President Bush's surprise visit to Iraq paid tribute to the bravery of our troops and that of the Iraqis and their new government.

It says reams about the sort of commander and chief we have--and the foreign policy of hope we are pursuing.

The Iraqis have a democratically elected government in place. They showed great courage in going to the polls under the threat of deadly violence.

Insurgents have unleashed terrorists to foment civil war and chaos. But, instead Prime Minister al-Maliki and the Iraqi parliament have given them a government and a cabinet that represents the major groups--Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. The last three positions to be filled were defense minister (Sunni) and national security and interior ministers (Shiite).

Not a bad showing under pressure.

Compare that with the filibuster problems the U.S. Senate has in dealing with cabinet and judicial appointments while NOT under threat by an insurgency NOR facing the undercurrents of a possible civil war.

The Iraqis have a long way to go. But, whose democracy looks pale in comparison? Whose leaders look more like profiles in courage and whose look more like, well, standard politicians?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Oregon Education Association Worried about Profit Motive in Education

The Oregonian reported yesterday on a charter school that is internet-based and home school-oriented. The school, Connections Academy, currently has 700 students, and lots of others wanting in to the program.

Connections Academy receives about $4,500 in public funding for each child who attends–which was $2.9 million this year. It is operated by a private company that got $350,000 for running it (about 12% of the public funding).

What’s interesting, but not surprising, is that the Oregon Education Association, is concerned about the profit motive in education. Laurie Wimmer Whelan, a government relations specialist (lobbyist?), who works with the OEA is quoted as saying:

"I am concerned about educational decisions being influenced by the profit motive, particularly when students may wind up on the short end of those decisions."

One hopes that this short quote doesn’t do her justice.

Actually, “for profit” prep schools are at the top of the list for anyone eager to get a child into a top university. If the schools don’t do their job, they soon have fewer and fewer clients. The child is not stuck there whether the education is good or not. Unfortunately, this is not the case for public schools. Children whose parents do not have good financial resources or the ability to spend hours a day on their education, do not have an alternative–outside of the limited charter school system.

The criticism is even more ludicrous when one thinks of who is sending their children to the school. These are parents who are gung-ho on their children’s education.

Jim Thomas, Connections Academy principal, agrees that his school isn't for everybody. It requires an adult who can spend hours each day with the student, particularly younger students who need direction and encouragement. Parents must sign a contract saying they act as the learning coach. Attendance is taken daily, and the curriculum is rigorous.

"You have to be motivated," Thomas said.

How likely is it that these parents would not notice or care about their child winding up on the short end of educational decisions?

In Oregon in 2003 public schools needed $7,491 in operational expenses (not including building construction) for each child in the system. Profit-based Connections Academy got about 40% less than that figure.

State testing is still to be done to determine the success of this charter school. But, it will be surprising if these parents and children do worse than the public school average. And with 40% less in cost per student, maybe that surplus (which will grow with each student who enrolls in a Connections Academy-type program) can be used to hire tutors in the public schools who mirror what these parents are doing in giving each student significant individual attention.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Why Are Oregonians Negative About Their Government?

Pollster Adam Davis spoke at a City Club meeting on May 12th about current attitudes of Oregonians toward their state and local governments.

He found that negative public opinion of Oregon government at all levels is the highest it has ever been. Less than a fifth of Oregonians rate state and local governments as doing a good job. Or putting it the other way, more than 80% are dissatisfied. George Bush's recent low ratings are a wild success compared to these ratings.

We are seeing the highest levels of cynicism, negativism, and skepticism in 30 years of doing quantitative and qualitative research in Oregon. When we ask people about credibility and trust, government is now at the bottom of the list. It is right down there with politicians. Government-Politicians. We used to see some differences between levels of government. We used to see people be more positive about local government than about state government, and more positive about state government than the federal government.

We're no longer seeing big differences. All of government is lumped together and has sunk right down to the bottom of the list of institutions that people trust. Less than 20% of the general public will rate any level of government as doing a very good job.

Why are Oregonians so unhappy? Davis lists waste, misconduct, and incompetence in governing as key factors.

There are the usual reasons you know and hear about - waste, inefficiency, malfeasance. But there's something else too. What we hear about a lot is government is just not getting the job done. We hear about in-fighting - the Multnomah County Commission comes up quite a bit. We hear about the Oregon Legislature-Democrats and Republicans fighting like cats and dogs.

But, since government has always had these problems, the question remains: Why public opinion about government has fallen so low? Davis thinks it's due, in part, to negative headlines about government.

So it's waste, it's inefficiency, but it's also great frustration that things are just not getting done. In my opinion, this is resulting in lower voter turnout and people tuning out government and politics altogether. It's fueled every day by real-life headlines in the paper like:

"Ward Weaver, Pond & Gaddis: 'Workers put on leave over handling abuse reports'"
"Use of county cars revs debate"
"Outlaws go free, warrants pile up"
"Stink still rises in city sewer deal"
"Dirty dealings mar clean money law"
"Few watched over City's till while it was emptied"
"Police chief's judgment is now on trial"
"The city that isn't quite working"

Over and over people are being exposed to this and it's having an impact on their attitudes toward government and politics.

What's interesting about this answer is that although Davis is quoting newspaper headlines here, he goes on to say that fewer and fewer people are reading daily newspapers.

Are headlines about Oregon government more negative today than, say, ten years ago? Maybe. But the headlines above don't seem to communicate slashing criticism about state and local government. Or at least, not criticism unrelated to the seriousness of the facts presented in the story. Though I disagreed with the Portland Tribune's take in "Stink still rises in city sewer deal", "stink" doesn't seem out of bounds when you are talking about an issue that includes dumping 660,000 gallons of sewage into the Willamette River in one day.

I think Davis' has a better answer in his fifth point: the disconnect in community leadership values and public values.

It's something I call values disconnect between a lot of you who are community and business leaders and the bell on the bell shaped curve of public opinion. We all feel strongly about certain things including civic involvement, our jobs, family, and religion and spirituality. But what we are seeing in our research are differences in emphasis and weighting between business and community leaders and the general public.

Leaders tend to emphasize career and job opportunity and civic involvement more, while the general public tends to place more emphasis on family and religion and spirituality. My friends, the Republicans figured that out a lot earlier than the Democrats (if they have even figured it out by now). So what, you might ask? It comes down to communication. These two groups--both very important to the health of a community--are not very good at communicating with each other.

This is a key point, and I think Davis along with lots of other political analysts doesn't really understand the problem. It is not just a poor communication problem. There is a real disconnect between how the general public views life and political and community leaders view life.

It comes out every so often when pundits urge Democrats to retake faith issues by pointing out how God is concerned with the poor. Which, of course, He is.

Leaving aside the sticky question of whether God's political agenda for caring for the poor mirrors the Democratic agenda, there is another major problem.

The general public believes God is concerned about marriage, abortion, sexual promiscuity, child pornography, unfair treatment, heavy taxes, lack of police protection and lots of other issues as well as caring for the poor. It doesn't cut it to say to them, "You need to stop thinking about those other moral issues and just focus on the ones we think are important." Picking and choosing among moral axioms is not what faith is about. It's not about picking; it's about obeying. The general public gets it, but politicians and analysts don't seem to.

As long as government and community leaders don't understand that the average citizen does not live as though government, family and religion were isolated states of being, the negative attitude toward government will just keep growing.

Davis almost makes this connection when he talks about the public view of education vs. the community leader/government view.

What about schools and wasteful administration? I hear so many business and community leaders saying it is all about the amount of money being spent on administrators. If we could just turn this around, we could get them to support more funding for schools. Wrong. When they are talking about waste and inefficiency, and this is the value of focus group research, they are talking about other things as well. One thing being missed in this discussion is curriculum. You have a lot of folks who are unhappy about what is and is not included in the curriculum. I may ruffle some feathers in this group, but what we hear about over and over again is the lack of values-based education. I'm just the messenger here-I'm just telling you what I'm hearing. What these Oregonians want in our public schools is something that will result in students who graduate with a stronger work ethic and a greater level of civility.
[emphasis mine]

The values disconnect alluded to here has a moral dimension that seems to be lost on governmental, community and educational leaders. This is a central issue, if not the central issue, in why Oregonians have less and less trust in government.

Adam Davis gave an interesting, thoughtful critique. It is well worth reading and pondering.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Critiques Left and Right of the Bush Administration

C-SPAN is my favorite media outlet. You get to hear interesting people from all perspectives, and you get to hear from them in a complete setting rather than in mere sound bites.

Tonight C-SPAN ran a panel from BookExpo America taped on May 20th. The panel was moderated by Lynn Sherr, and included Pat Buchanan, Arianna Huffington, Frank Rich, and Andrew Sullivan–all of whom have a new book out. Aside from the C-SPAN showing, there may be a BookExpo podcast of the event available shortly.

I watched the almost 1-3/4 hour session with interest. Buchanan and Sullivan are from the right and Huffington and Rich are from the left. The main thing that united the four main speakers was a scathing critique of President Bush and his policies.

They were all animated by firm belief in principles and had strong, clear, competing critiques. Huffington and Sullivan hurt their cases by a sometimes slim grasp of Amerian history and politics.

Arianna Huffington blasted Democratic politicians who are afraid to stand up for their principles. Hillary Clinton was a major target.

(By the by, Al Gore, was a favored Huffington Democratic dark horse for 2008 as someone standing on principle unafraid and “willing to speak truth”. What is this Gore attraction? It was echoed by Thomas Friedman, in an interview last week on the Charlie Rose show. Friedman also found Gore attractive because he was eager to stand up and talk about “real” issues like global warming to anyone--groups of two or three or a thousand. Somehow Gore's willingness to talk anywhere or to anyone about the subject was admirable to Friedman. As someone who has sat next to people on airplanes willing to talk to anyone anywhere, I haven't found that a universally delightful quality.)

Huffington asked where were the politicians who stand on principle instead of being driven by fear of winning/losing “likely undecided voters”.

If I may be so bold as to answer her question, one sees them all around. They are the losers. Candidates like Dennis Kucinich and Pat Buchanan (in 1992 and 1996) in the mainstream parties. Then there's Ralph Nader and a host of third party candidates outside the mainstream parties. There’s a reason that politicians carefully watch what they say. No one has won the presidency who did not. No one. Poor Howard Dean even lost his chance by a stray scream.

This lack of understanding of what it takes to win the presidency or be politically effective nationally was echoed to a smaller extent by all the other panelists as they roundly criticized Congress, the Democrats and the press (only Andrew Sullivan standing up a little for the press) for not effectively criticizing Bush's disastrous policies.

Pat Buchanan’s new book is directed to discussing the danger to American society of not dealing with the immigration problem. He said he thought the Republicans would be better off if they lost the House in 2006 because in 2008 the people would have a clearer view of the difference between the two parties. He’s probably right, but isn't the more important question whether America would be better off if the Democrats gained control of the House?

Frank Rich’s new book is about the showmanship (bad sense) of the Bush administration. How Bush, Cheney, Rove, etc., are bad, bad, bad and have manipulated the American people, press and the Democrats.

Frank Rich did show the most common sense on the panel in answering what he thought would be Bush’s legacy. When Huffington and Sullivan gave harsh one-liners, Rich said we don’t know if President Bush has seen something we didn’t see. It was a refreshing, though brief, whiff of humility. Maybe Rich was thinking of the harsh criticism of President Truman during his time in office, or of President Reagan, and the growing rejection of that contemporary analysis as time goes by.

For me the most interesting critique was that by Andrew Sullivan. First he said that doubt is central to the conservative view of religion and politics. In religion, Sullivan scored those who had the audacity to think that if God existed anyone could know Him or His thoughts.

Sullivan said the conservative approach to morals is “'What should I do?' not 'What should someone else do?'” He mentioned issues like stem cell research. But one wonders if Sullivan thinks God’s view of slavery or genocide is equally unclear. It’s easy to poke fun at smaller issues, but if the doubt point holds, it holds on major issues as well.

Later on in the discussion Sullivan mentioned federalism as the key to dealing with the US cultural divide on moral issues like marriage and abortion. He said Alabama can have a different view of marriage than Massachusetts. Perhaps on marriage that will work (though it didn’t work in the past with polygamy). Federalism didn’t work on slavery in the 19th century. It did not work on civil rights in the 20th century. Whether it will work on abortion is a real question. Abortion falls much closer to slavery than to the definition of marriage because it is a life and death/human rights issue.

Federalism is a wonderful mechanism to allow for diversity, but there are some types of diversity that a free society cannot accept and remain intact. I’m assuming that Andrew Sullivan knows something about American history, but he did not allow either the Civil War, the civil rights movement or polygamy to illuminate his thinking in this discussion.

Sullivan then moved to the doubt that is at the center of conservative view of government. He said since human intelligence is limited, we don’t see unintended consequences. Because of this it is best to have a limited government that only acts on essential issues. That makes practical sense.

However, it doesn’t sound like the Declaration of Independence. The Fathers of our country thought that government should be limited because God had given every person unalienable rights–life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness being some of them. Actually, Sullivan quoted the “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” part of the Declaration in his talk. But, he put it in the context of saying that government is not to impose truth or morality. Instead it is to secure the right of each person to live his life freely and pursue his personal view of happiness. That may be a nice modern reading of the Declaration, but it doesn’t really catch the original spirit.

Actually, the signers of the Declaration said something quite different. The essential point was not the fallibility of man, but that God, the Creator, had given each person unalienable rights that no government had the right to take away. The Declaration was pretty “truth” and “morality” based. The signers thought they knew something about what God was for and against. Their support for taking an action which risked "our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor" was based on "a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence".

Not modern. Not trendy. But the truths in the Declaration of Independence fueled sacrifice, a revolution, and a government which, with all its problems, is a fountain of blessing to its people and those who have copied it.