Friday, July 09, 2004

How convenient!

Pentagon: Bush record accidentally destroyed

WASHINGTON -- Military records that could help establish President Bush's whereabouts during his disputed service in the Texas Air National Guard more than 30 years ago have been inadvertently destroyed, according to the Pentagon.

Oopsie! I’m sure it was just an accident. Oh darn! I guess we will never know for sure whether Bush actually fulfilled his National Guard duty back then.

Investigative partisanship

In the Washington Post yesterday,
Congressman Henry Waxman layed out the despicable record of the Republican Congress when it comes to investigating alleged wrongdoings in the executive branch...

“During the Clinton administration, Congress spent millions of tax dollars probing alleged White House wrongdoing. There was no accusation too minor to explore, no demand on the administration too intrusive to make.

Republicans investigated whether the Clinton administration sold burial plots in Arlington National Cemetery for campaign contributions. They examined whether the White House doctored videotapes of coffees attended by President Clinton. They spent two years investigating who hired Craig Livingstone, the former director of the White House security office. And they looked at whether President Clinton designated coal-rich land in Utah as a national monument because political donors with Indonesian coal interests might benefit from reductions in U.S. coal production.

Committees requested and received communications between Clinton and his close advisers, notes of conversations between Clinton and a foreign head of state, internal e-mails from the office of the vice president, and more than 100 sets of FBI interview summaries. Dozens of top Clinton officials, including several White House chiefs of staff and White House counsels, testified before Congress. The Clinton administration provided to Congress more than a million pages of documents in response to investigative inquiries....

When President Clinton was in office, Congress exercised its oversight powers with no sense of proportionality. But oversight of the Bush administration has been even worse: With few exceptions, Congress has abdicated oversight responsibility altogether....

Republican leaders in Congress have refused to investigate who exposed covert CIA agent Valerie Plame, whose identity was leaked after her husband, Joe Wilson, challenged the administration's claims that Iraq sought nuclear weapons. They have held virtually no public hearings on the hundreds of misleading claims made by administration officials about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and ties to al Qaeda.
They have failed to probe allegations that administration officials misled Congress about the costs of the Medicare prescription drug bill. And they have ignored the ethical lapses of administration officials, such as the senior Medicare official who negotiated future employment representing drug companies while drafting the prescription drug bill.

The House is even refusing to investigate the horrific Iraq prison abuses.... Compare the following: Republicans in the House took more than 140 hours of testimony to investigate whether the Clinton White House misused its holiday card database but less than five hours of testimony regarding how the Bush administration treated Iraqi detainees.

There is a simple but deplorable principle at work. In both the Clinton and Bush eras, oversight has been driven by raw partisanship. Congressional leaders have vacillated between the extremes of abusing their investigative powers and ignoring them, depending on the party affiliation of the president.”

Thursday, July 08, 2004

The point of government, Part II

Well, there is quite a bit to chew on from the comments to the previous post. I invite anyone interested to go back and read those comments as I will now try and address some of the points that were made. And let me add that I greatly appreciate the intellectual weight and civil tone of all of the posts.

First, I’m glad to see that K2 appears to have backed off on his contention that “The whole point of government is not to spend money.” It is, in fact, about little else. Of course, upholding the Constitution is the primary reason for spending all the money. That point was never in dispute. So what politics comes down to is who should be in charge of the pursestrings. K2 thinks it should be the Republicans based on his misperception that Republicans favor smaller government and less spending. However, as we have seen during these past four years, a Republican-controlled Congress and a Republican president have taken a $236 billion federal surplus and turned it into a $400 billion-plus deficit.

I guess I could just declare victory at this point and go home, except that K2 now says the point is irrelevant and goes on to make a number of other assertions that need to be addressed.
The gist of K2’s argument is that government is inherently bad and that taxation and regulation are burdens upon the economy that prevent hardworking Americans from becoming wealthy. He also contends that a vast array of federal programs including Medicare, Social Security, agriculture subsidies, scientific research, USDA meat inspections, protecting the environment and welfare, should be left up to the states and goes so far as to imply that the Constitution requires this. However, if that were the case one would assume that the Supreme Court would have at some point in the past 200 years declared these federal programs unconstitutional. The fact that it has not done so leads me to beleive that K2’s assertion in this case is without foundation.

One area I would like to jump into is this whole notion of pitting capitalism against socialism as if the two were totally incompatible. The reality is that capitalism works best when it is tempered with socialism. The neverending argument comes in determining how much of each is necessary or desirable to achieve the ideal economic formula. K2 gives us the analogy of cattle to a farmer to illustrate his contention that socialism leads to a loss of freedom and ingenuity.

I will put forth a different analogy to make my point. Let us look at the U.S. economy as a car where capitalism is represented by everything that makes that car go - the engine, the drive shaft, the steering column, the brakes and so forth. Socialism is represented by everything that goes into the car to make the ride more comfortable, but is superfluous to making it go. That would be the cushioned seats, the plush interior, the windshield to keep the bugs out of your face, shock absorbers, power steering, power brakes, power windows, power locks, the A/C and heater, the radio and cd player, and on and on....

I think this is a great example of the growth of government and the increasing expectations of the people it serves. How much is too much? When you go to buy a car, what do you expect it to have at a bare minimum? I just bought a new car last year. It was the first car I’ve ever bought that had power locks and power windows. I used to think those were silly extras that I would never need. Now they are practically standard on every car and I personally love the convenience.
The government is the same way. Without some of the social programs in place, capitalism would be a bumpy ride. But too many programs weighs everything down and hinders our forward progress. So we are constantly struggling to come up with the proper balance. When K2 urges the elimination of welfare, ag subsidies, Medicare and Social Security - it’s like trying to sell the American people a car with metal seats and no shock absorbers. They are not going to be happy. They won’t buy the car and they won’t vote for your candidate. That is the reality.

I stand by my assertion that FDR’s New Deal saved capitalism. After the car wreck that was the Great Depression, people weren’t going to buy that kind of jalopy anymore. The government had to change the formula to keep it viable.
K2 argues that our nation’s industrial might helped us to win WWII and not high taxes, but he fails to consider what it was that built up our industries at that point - government spending. When the government comes and tells your company to build as many gadgets as possible and they will buy them all, then of course the business is going to grow. That is exactly what was happening back then. We needed tanks and planes and jeeps and bombs and medical supplies and fuel and all kinds of things and our industrial production blossomed as a result.

I’m not going to get into economic theory and political philosophy. K2 can quote Friedrich Von Hayek and Milton Friedman and I’ll quote John Maynard Keynes and John Kenneth Galbraith but then I don’t know where that would get us.
But I would like to recommend that anyone who is interested in the theory behind welfare check out Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare by Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward. The book makes the argument that welfare was put in place not to lift people out of poverty, but to keep them from becoming restless and prone to riots which would be damaging to capitalism. It is quite an interesting read for folks on both sides of the political spectrum.

I will make one last point about bureaucracies which is that they are not exclusive to the public sector. If you have ever worked in or dealt with a large private corporation you will find that bureacracies are inherent in almost any large organization.
I think K2 acknowledged this when he said “I feel that government is inherently flawed, in that it is run by people.” I would just say that in some ways, government bureaucracies are preferable because they at least have an obligation to serve the public. Private bureaucracies have no such obligation and can be a nightmare to deal with.
K2 says he is most concerned about the restrictions on his freedom that government imposes. This is commendable and I believe necessary to have people who will stand up and say ‘enough’ to government expansion (even if they don’t always get their way). But they should understand as well that we would not be any more free without government, in fact, I believe we would be less so. People are always going to try and impose their will upon one another and the government serves to restrict that imposition as much if not more than it facilitates it. I think both Robert and Alan were trying to make similar points along that line.

Finally, as to Robert’s jibe about my having once been a “rabid right-winger,” that is not entirely accurate. While it is true that I was enamored with Ronald Reagan while in college and voted a pretty much straight Republican ticket in 1984, my political views were not fully formed at that time. As my knowledge and understanding of world events grew during that time, my political inclinations leaned left (aided in part by my revulsion of the Iran-Contra scandal). But I think I have always maintained a healthy dose of realism or pragmatism. I’m still ticked at Michael Moore, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jim Hightower and Molly Ivins (to a lesser degree) for supporting that idiot Ralph Nader in 2000 and delivering the White House to GW Bush.
You have to realize that Robert has been living up in Vermont for some time and is under the misperception that he is a moderate because he occasionally disagrees with his socialist congressman Rep. Bernie Sanders.

Oh, and one last word of advice, or rather a request directed to K2... Please, please, please don’t get Robert started on Microsoft!!!! Sheesh!

Monday, July 05, 2004

The point of government

Commenter K2Aggie07 recently took takes issue with a snarky comment I made over at Boots and Sabers and makes the following argument:

“The whole point of government is not to spend money. The point of our government is to uphold the Constitution for the United States.”

That would seem to be a sensible statement until you consider what it really means to “uphold the Constitution.” How do you “…establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare…” without spending money? What do those things mean anyway?

Provide for the common defense seems simple enough. That means the military and that is a hefty chunk of change in and of itself. But it probably also includes the CIA, the State Department and our network of ambassadors, and our foreign aid programs all meant to provide stability in other parts of the world so that events don’t get out of hand and threaten our interests.

Establish justice… I suppose that would be our courts and criminal justice systems – including police officers, prisons, the FBI, etc.

Ensure domestic tranquility? I suppose that could be the public parks, national monuments, public libraries… How about roads and bridges? Our highway system? Rails, mass transit, sea ports, airports? What about the education system? There sure wouldn’t be a lot of domestic tranquility with a bunch of uneducated kids roaming the streets everyday. What about public utilities – electricity, water, sewer, garbage disposal. Yes, I know that there are lot of private companies out there that can and do provide these essential services, but it still falls upon the government to make sure that those services are made available to everyone.

And then there is promoting the general welfare. What a great catch all that is! Medicare, Social Security, nursing homes, agriculture subsidies, scientific research to cure diseases, USDA meat inspections, protecting the environment and, of course, the scourge of the radical right – welfare itself!!!

And I haven’t even mentioned one of the Republicans’ favorite government programs – the Small Business Administration – which doles out millions in corporate welfare every year. And I’m sure there are dozens more worthy government entities that have their hands outstretched every year at budget time. I haven’t named one single thing that doesn’t cost money.

Do we really need all of these programs? K2 seems to be enamored with life in the U.S. prior to the Great Depression…

“Prior to the great depression the government gave *no* (as in, none, zero) support to the poor. It was left up to private charities and churches. And you know what? People survived. Want to know how? They worked for what they got, and the government didn't tax 50% of their income. In fact, if you get into the economics of it, by pre-great depression standards (or any standards for that matter) the only reason Americans aren't filthy rich is because fully half of our income goes to support an over-stuffed fat beaurocratic leeching self-righteous government.”

Ah yes, I remember when I used to think that life was so simple. Everything was wonderful back in the good old days before big, bad bureaucrats screwed everything up. Liberals bad, conservatives good, blah, blah, blah. But then I graduated from college and moved out into the big, complex, real world.

Prior to the Great Depression, America was not the world power that it is today. In fact, it was questionable whether or not the country was going to make it at all. We had managed to pull ourselves together after a bloody Civil War, but the Great Depression nearly brought an end to capitalism as we know it. It was Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal that saved capitalism. Conservatives should honor his name rather than bitch continuously about his accomplishments.

We won World War II because the government spent money by the bucket loads and taxed the beejeezus out of folks to pay for it. But it was worth it. When everything was said and done we were the strongest and most powerful country in the world. And we still are, for the most part, in spite of Bush’s best efforts to weaken us with his ill conceived tax cuts which have wiped out our surpluses and left us with record deficits while shipping our troops out on this WMD snipe hunt without enough support and equipment.

Then there were the social programs like Social Security and welfare and Medicare that have freed people from having to spend all their time and efforts caring for elderly and sick relatives. With that burden lifted people suddenly found their standard of living dramatically improved. They were able to spend their time and money pursuing other things that helped to grow the economy.

Capitalism works and America is a great country today because of these programs. That is what the radical right fails to understand or refuses to see. And since the radical right has taken control of the Republican Party today, it is left to the Democrats to uphold the standards of good government that have kept our nation strong all these years. That is why, as I noted in my previous post, real conservatives should appreciate the things Bill Clinton accomplished, especially in light of the miserable failure that George W. Bush has been. Clinton reduced the size of government, decreased government spending and balanced the federal budget. Bush has increased spending, grown the size of government and left us with a record budget deficit, all while presiding over a pitiful economic performance to become the first president since Herbert Hoover to lose more jobs than were gained during his tenure.

In conclusion, I would just say that I much prefer living in a country like the U.S. that provides all of these government services and programs as opposed to any other country in the world, and I suspect even K-2Aggie would have to agree with that.