The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Bush's Permission Slip for Dictatorship (UPDATED 2.0)

Frameshop: Bush's Permission Slip for Dictatorship
by Jeffrey Feldman
Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 06:32:53 AM PDT

This week Americans learned that in the days after 9/11, President Bush ordered the National Security to spy on Americans at home--and he did it over a dozen times.

Using national security agencies to spy on citizens at home was the foundation of totalitarian nations such as Soviet Russia, East Germany, Syria and Iraq. It means that you never know when your phone is 'tapped' or your library records have been snooped or someone at work is reporting on your conversations at work.

Be that as it may, the argument we will hear over the next few days, if not weeks, is that even though it seems President Bush violated the Constitution (over a dozen times), and even though it seems this should be grounds for legal action against President Bush (over a dozen legal actions)--the Republicans will tell us that it was all 'legal' or 'lawful.'

When they say this, what will it mean?

What they mean is: Sure the President acted as if he was above the law. But he had a note from his lawyer saying it was OK.

'Legal' or 'Lawful' means: 'President's lawyer wrote a legal memo saying it is OK.'
To understand this claim, Americans need to take five minutes from their busy schedules and read a legal memo published by John Yoo on September 25, 2001--but no doubt written within hours of the 9/11 attacks.

The Yoo Memo is important for one simple reason: It claims that during war, the President can do whatever he wants in the name of finding terrorist suspects.

That's right. Two weeks after 9/11, the President had on his desk, a legal memo that justified his total power to do whatever he wanted to anyone, anywhere, so long as he 'suspected' that person was a terrorist.

It was because of John Yoo's memo, that the President believed it was legal for him to order the NSA to spy on Americans he suspected were tied to terrorists.

It was because of John Yoo's memo that the President believed it was legal for him to invade Iraq on the mere suspicion that Iraq was linked to terrorists.

The John Yoo memo provides the legal basis for every unlawful action that the President has committed since 9/11. And it is remarkable--astounding--how obscure this memo is.

100 years from now, when historians are writing about the Bush Presidency, they will say that in hours following 9/11, as the nation mourned and feared for its future, the very first thing George W. Bush did as President was secure a legal memo justifying his claim to total power as President.

I'm Above the Law, but this Note From My Lawyer Makes it OK
The legal memo written by John Yoo in 2001 was the President's permission slip for dictatorship.

The general argument that Yoo makes is simple: During war, all legal restrictions on the President's power vanish, and he can do whatever he wants in the name of defending the American people. So far, pretty straight forward.

But here is the tricky part that makes the Yoo memo such a bold-faced attempt to claim total power for George W. Bush: The Yoo memo is based not on the military idea of 'war,' but on the criminal concept of 'suspects.'

This distinction is crucial.

Most Americans, I suspect, would agree that in a war, the President does and should have a great deal of power to fight the enemy's forces--to fight the battles. But most Americans agree that the President should not under any circumstances be given unlimited power to fight suspected enemies.

Armies, soldiers, battles--these are military concepts, and the President has power granted by the Constitution to make military decisions.

Suspects, investigations, trials--these are police concepts, and the President does not have the power to make police decision.

And for very good reason.

The moment the President has the power to prosecute a suspected enemy, that is the moment that the United States of America becomes a dictatorship because--ask any lawyer--all that separates a democracy from a dictatorship is process of law standing between rulers and citizens.

When a President can prosecute a citizen simply by writing their name on a piece of paper, or whispering to the police--when the President has the power to make a citizen a criminal by naming him or her a criminal--that is the mark of a dictatorship.

And that is exactly what the Yoo memo claims.

Note to Self: Constitution on Indefinite Leave Until 'Terror' Eliminated from Universe
Take a look at this opening paragraph from the Yoo memo in light of the above discussion of 'suspects':

You have asked for our opinion as to the scope of the President's authority to take military action in response to the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. We conclude that the President has broad constitutional power to use military force. Congress has acknowledged this inherent executive power in both the War Powers Resolution, Pub. L. No. 93-148, 87 Stat. 555 (1973), codified at 50 U.S.C. §§ 1541-1548 (the "WPR"), and in the Joint Resolution passed by Congress on September 14, 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-40, 115 Stat. 224 (2001). Further, the President has the constitutional power not only to retaliate against any person, organization, or State suspected of involvement in terrorist attacks on the United States, but also against foreign States suspected of harboring or supporting such organizations. Finally, the President may deploy military force preemptively against terrorist organizations or the States that harbor or support them, whether or not they can be linked to the specific terrorist incidents of September 11.

(read the entire memo here)

What is so remarkable about this memo--handed to the President just days after 9/11--is that it basically says "The Constitution does not apply" to the President so long as there is terrorism in the world.

Let me repeat that, because I am sure that many readers will simply not want to believe that this was happening in the United States of America--in the oval office--days after 9/11.

John Yoo's memo argues that because there is terrorism in the world, the President of the United States can do whatever he wants, to anyone, at any time, without justification or warning--and it is all legal.

That any President should ask for such a memo is offensive, but that a sitting President should act on such a memo--should refer to such a memo as the legal basis for his actions--is possibly the most frightening thing I have ever come across in my life.

In simple terms, following this September 25, 2001 Memo From John Yoo, the only thing stopping the White House from dissolving Congress, imposing marshal law, and arresting anyone who spoke out against it--only thing that stopped that horrific scenario from taking place was the good will of the President.

Repeat after me: OH...MY...GOD!!!

Permission Slip for Dictatorship
I am not a huge fan of hokey one line slogans, but as this story grows over the next few days, it will be important for progressives to have a good, memorable response to GOP claims that the President's actions were 'legal.'

They were not legal.

The President had a legal memo on the subject that guided his actions, but that did not make them legal. It only means that a legal action has not yet been brought against the President.

And why have there not been any legal actions brought?

Because the Justice Department, the CIA and the NSA have made sure that anyone who might bring legal action has been seized, drugged, hooded, stuffed onto a private jet in the dead of night, and shuttled off to secret prisons in Eastern Europe. Yep. That makes it hard for them to file a civil suit against the President.

But Americans know that just because the President's lawyer gave him a permission slip for dictatorship, that doesn't mean it is legal.

Is the phrase 'permission slip for dictatorship' possibly too dramatic for these circumstances. Maybe. I am always open to better suggestions. But for now, the key for all progressives is to be aware of what the GOP means when they say that the President's decision to spy on Americans was 'legal,' and not to be intimidated by it.

What can we do about all this?

For starters, we can all read the Yoo Memo, we can recognize how it gave the President a 'Permission Slip' to do whatever he wanted to 'suspected' enemies, and we can bring this to the attention of everyone we know.

Because the best way to deal with an illegal permission slip, is to tear it up.

Update [2005-12-17 11:15:11 by Jeffrey Feldman]:

Bush President Bush has just made a statement acknolwedging that he authorized the NSA to violate the Constitution some 30 times in the name of National Security. The only reason he could possibly be saying this is because he feels that the Yoo Memo (September 25, 2001) released him from any obligation to follow the law.

It appears that President Bush is urging Americans to trust him and ignore the Constitution.

MSNBC has the story.

Update [2005-12-17 11:25:11 by Jeffrey Feldman]:
A bit more from the MSNBC story.

Russ Feingold (D-WI) continues to actively refute the President's claim that it is legal for him to violate the Constitution. Here is a snippet from the article:

Reacting to Bush's defense of the NSA program, Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., said the president's remarks were "breathtaking in how extreme they were."

Feingold said it was "absurd" that Bush said he relied on his inherent power as president to authorize the wiretaps.

"If that's true, he doesn't need the Patriot Act because he can just make it up as he goes along. I tell you, he's President George Bush, not King George Bush. This is not the system of government we have and that we fought for," Feingold told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The president had harsh words for those who talked about the program to the media, saying their actions were illegal and improper.

"As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have," he said. "The unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk."

(read the whole article here)

It would be great at this point if Feingold would tell the public that the only reason President Bush believes he has this power is because his lawyer gave him a 'permission slip' saying it was OK. Any Feingold staffers reading this thread?

Update [2005-12-17 13:15:11 by Jeffrey Feldman]:

The transcript from the President's radio address is now up at the White House web site, allowing us to see that the he is clearly making claims to Constitutional power based on the 2001 Yoo Memo.

Here are the key quotes from the transcript:

The authorization I gave the National Security Agency after September the 11th helped address that problem in a way that is fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities. The activities I have authorized make it more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time. And the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad.

(see full transcript here)

What does 'fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities' mean, anyway? It sure sounds like it's supposed to me 'legal.' But it doesn't say legal because--guessing here--that would be illegal.

Here's the second quote from the same radio address:

This authorization is a vital tool in our war against the terrorists. It is critical to saving American lives. The American people expect me to do everything in my power under our laws and Constitution to protect them and their civil liberties. And that is exactly what I will continue to do, so long as I'm the President of the United States.

(see full transcript here)

Exactly where does it say that it is 'in' the President's 'power' to demand--30 times--that the NSA should spy on American citizens? Oh, silly me. It says it right here in a note from President's lawyer.

"Dear America, I hereby give President George W. Bush permission to ignore the Constitution because I say it is within the Constitution. Your's sincerely, John Yoo (pronounced 'EWE'), Lawyer and Advisor to President Bush."

I have just one question: Does President Bush really believe the entire country is going to lay down and go to sleep while he runs roughshod over the very document our soldiers are dying to defend in Iraq?

This is the end for Bush. This bold violation of the law in the name of Presidential 'power' smacks of the same blatant disregard for the separation of powers that brought down the Nixon administration.

Yikes. It sounds like the same kind of arrogance that brought down Louis XVI.

© 2005 Jeffrey Feldman

Friday, December 16, 2005

Separated at Birth?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

No Matter Who Wins, Iraq Falls Apart

No Matter Who Wins, Iraq Falls Apart
James Ridgeway
Village Voice

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Whoever wins, Thursday's parliamentary elections in Iraq will usher in an era of great change there, moving the country away from centralized government toward regionalism and probable dissolution.

That movement is already well under way. The Kurdish region, disregarding the central government in Baghdad, already has struck its own deal with a Norwegian oil company. The interim government blusters, but there is nothing in the new constitution to make the Kurds share their oil revenues with Baghdad. Moreover, Kurdish control over Kirkuk, the oil rich city, appears to be likely.

Shortly after the election, the country’s vast oil resources are to be parceled out to the different regions, which will control them independent of any central government. That means economic power will spread to the Kurds in the north and the Shia in the south—both groups sitting astride big oil fields. Once regionalized, the oil resources will be privatized through joint production agreements, with the different regions cutting their separate deals with big oil companies. The federal government will be left out in the cold.

Created more or less in imitation of Western democracy, this Iraqi election, like our own, will deny any real voice for the poor. Because campaigning is so dangerous—various candidates already have been killed—the politicking is by TV. The rich are the only people with money to wage TV advertising campaigns. How can this even pretend to be a Western-style democracy if the state can’t protect the voters when they go to the polls? In Iraq, people go to the ballot box with the real possibility they will be killed on the way home.

One hope is that the security lockdown, including a ban on vehicular traffic, will put off car bombings.

President Bush’s efforts to boost the Iraqis into providing their own security system is resulting not in beefed-up policing but in a lessening U.S. influence and a widening impact for radical and ethnic militias, reports Bloomberg. Religious radicals attack the whole system as satanic and push ahead with their jihad.

Everyone is beginning to realize the U.S. is on the way out, one way or another. According to an ABC/Time survey, 52 percent of those asked think things are going badly in Iraq and 60 percent saying there has been no improvement since Saddam’s fall. Half of those polled think we should not have gone in and two thirds are against the presence of coalition troops.

Almost everyone—90 percent of those polled—thinks Iraq needs its own kind of democracy. And 91 percent think the country needs a strong single leader—precisely the opposite direction from the one we are pushing the Iraqis toward. "The problem with an item like this is that we don't know what they mean by 'democracy," " writes Juan Cole, of the University of Michigan. "Over 80% of Egyptians said in one poll that democracy is the best form of government, and then 64% of them turned around and said they were satisfied with the Mubarak regime (a soft military dictatorship). So Egyptians didn't mean by "democracy" what Americans would have.’’

Cole concludes diplomatically: "Actually, for most Middle Easterners, 'democracy' implies self-determination. By that measure, Iraq is not very democratic at the moment."

Larry Beinhart - A Manifesto

Larry Beinhart - A Manifesto
Huffington Post

As I blog along I get to hear critiques from the Right. One of the standard plaints is that the Democrats – and the liberals – don't have a platform. We don't have ideas. We don't have programs.

They're right. John Kerry made only one thing clear in the 2004 election campaign: that there was nothing he, or the party, was clear about. I get emails from him still. I begin to read them, just in case he's finally hired a writer who can write clear, unvacillating prose. Alas, he has not. Senator Clinton continues to give straddling a bad name. No other leader has yet come forth. Howard Dean is not afraid to take a discernable position, but the DNC has yet to produce a clear set of program notes for their party.

Which leaves it for regular people to do. Perhaps that's how it should be. Trickle up politics.

Here's my shot at it.

Some Basic Principles

I was riding in a taxi in Washington, DC yesterday. The cabs in DC are friendly jalopies and the drivers are all from faraway places. This one was from Somalia. His accent was quite thick. I asked him how he liked it here. He said, "You have to eat and you need law and order," and he went on, "If you have a warlord on every corner and they are going to shoot you, you have to leave," making it clear why he was here instead of Somalia.

That's a pretty good place to start.


That means National Security. We don't want angry foreigners flying planes into the World Trade Center.

That means law and order. We don't want home grown wackos blowing up federal buildings. We want our homes to be safe, our streets to be safe, our schools to be safe.


Everybody should be able to get some kind of job. Anybody who works deserves a living wage. And appropriate benefits.

Those who can't work – because they're children or too old or ill or disabled or because there are no jobs available – still need to eat. And live in tolerable conditions. We need to continue to make sure that happens.

Those who have worked and have earned social security, health care and pensions, deserve to get what they have earned. We need to protect that.


The Democratic Party is the party of business.

Here's a really bizarre statistic for you. The Dow Jones average today is almost exactly where it was the day George Bush came into office. If you take inflation into account that means over the course of five years it's gone down about 8%. From the time Bill Clinton came into office and the time he left, the Dow went up 320%.

The Republican Party is good for Enron types. It's good for people who want short term windfall profits – oil, pharmaceuticals and big government contractors like Halliburton. It's good for people who don't work but inherit money and live off of dividends and capital gains while they sip daquiris in Palm Beach. But it's not good for business.


Government is necessary. It's good for a lot of things. Indeed it does many things better than business can: defend the country, wage war, reinforce the levees when the hurricanes are coming, rebuild countries, provide infrastructure and education, save business from its own excesses and much, much more.

We believe in doing those things well. The Republicans believe in only doing them some way that someone profits from them. Which is why they do them so badly.


We believe in religion. Faith. Spirituality.

This country was founded in large part by people who wanted freedom to worship their own way. We know from them – and from current events - that when religion and government mix, the first thing that happens is that someone else's right to worship is oppressed.

The best thing that government can do for religion is stay out of it.

A Platform

1. The War on Terror:

Osama bin Laden has been at large for longer than it took us to defeat Hitler and Hirohito put together. That's a disgrace. Let's do what's necessary to get him and his gang and put them on trial. Preferably in New York.

As we have learned in Iraq, just killing people and throwing people in prisons, often the wrong people, does not stop terrorists. It increases them.

There are no terrorists who are trying to create a world that's a better place for terrorists.

There are a variety of different groups who employ terror. It's time to figure out who they are and why they're fighting. Then we can develop a variety of strategies to change the conditions that cause them to kill, subvert them if that will work, arrest and try them, and if it is necessary to go to war to stop them, to do it in a way that works.

2. Simple Good Government.

We will appoint qualified people. The kind of people who will reinforce the levees when the hurricanes are coming. The kind of people who will make sure our troops have enough armor when they go to war. The kind of people who will stop Enron when they're artificially stopping the production of electricity in order to jack up the price.

3. Save Social Security.

Fortunately, it won't take much.

Here's one way. Right now, people and their employers both stop paying in after the first $90,000 in earnings. So someone who makes $10,000,000 a year makes no contributions on $9,910,000 of their income. If we eliminate the cap social security is saved. Billionaires will weep, but how many Lamborghinis can anyone drive at once?

4. Balance the Budget.

When conservatives were conservatives they always wanted to balance the budget. Now that they're in office they want to loot the future by running up debts.

Anyone who has ever paid credit card interest knows that the higher your interest payments are the less you can actually buy. That's true of government too. If we owe less, we pay less interest and we get more goods and services for our tax dollars. Only liberals understand this.

5. Invest in Infrastructure.

That's the better way to stimulate the economy.

Every business operates on invisible subsidies: roads, railways, airports, security, communications, an educated work force, civil and criminal justice systems, breathable air, potable water, sensible regulations, objective information, regulated banking, uniform accounting standards, trustworthy stock, bond and commodity markets.

Investment in infrastructure has a multiplier effect. If you build a road the workers and the builders go spend their money. That employs more people. Who spend their money. The businesses who use the road get their goods to market quicker and cheaper. Each time the money goes around, taxes are collected.

Investment in infrastructure stays in America. Invest in giving a tax break to a billionaire and he's as likely to stick his money in company that hides its money offshore as one that uses it here.

6. Create a real energy policy.

Invading Iraq is not a sound energy policy. All the oil in Alaska's Artic National Wildlife Refuge will supply the US for less than a year and a half. That's not much help.

It's time for real investment in alternative energy and conservation.

7. Save General Motors.

General Motors can't compete with foreign automakers because of health care costs.

Americans spend more than twice what other industrialized countries spend, per capita, and get a lot less for it.

We're #1 in spending, #37 in overall health care performance.

Only 40% of Americans like their health care system. Everything we thought we would dislike about any form of national health, we got with HMOs and insurance companies. It's time to try something new.

8. Save Medicare.

Unlike Social Security, Medicare really is in trouble. Cynical people even think that the last Medicare bill was designed to enrich the pharmaceutical companies and bankrupt the system, all with just one bill.

A national health system would save Medicare. Along with General Motors and many other companies and the health benefits of millions of workers and retirees.

9. Build America.

It's time to rethink unlimited free trade and globalization.

Do we want a country of millionaire lawyers and entertainers and everyone else works at Wal-Mart and Burger King? Or do we want a country full of good jobs where people make a good living creating things we need and can afford to invest in their retirement and their children?

10. Education.

Every dollar we spend making sure kids can read is ten dollars we won't spend ten years later on prisons.

Every dollar we spend making sure kids can read and write, do math and science, is of benefit to American business and American society as a whole.

Sports, art and music should be available to every student in grade school and high school.

A college education should be available and affordable to anyone who will work at it.

America actually spends quite a lot on education as compared to other countries, but, as with health care, we get less for it. We have to figure out why. And try a thousand experiments, if need be, to do better.

11. The Environment.

I want to breath clean air. I want to drink pure water. I bet you do too.

I want to preserve the wild places and as many species as possible. I bet you do too.

12. End George Bush's War.

Americans don't cut and run.

But when we have been misled and conned into a war that was never actually authorized, we know how to take responsibility for what went wrong, change our own government and then try to make things right.

Let's do the heroic and responsible thing. Get out. Bring the world in. Maybe through the UN. Maybe with a Central Asian coalition. Let's actually rebuild the country. Especially the things we destroyed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

David Sirota - When humor tells us troubling truths...about ourselves

When humor tells us troubling truths...about ourselves
There is a time for humor, and there is a time not for humor. But then, as they say, all humor has a grain of truth to it. And if that's the case, then yesterday's behavior by President Bush - and the reaction to it by the audience and the media - is a disturbing commentary about both the current White House, and about ourselves.

The moment occurred during the President's speech about Iraq in Philadelphia. His comments, the media's reflexive complicity, and the audience's laughter, is an incredible, if silent, chronicle of just how callous our society has become to the tragic real-life consequences of our current government's immoral behavior. Here was the interchange:

QUESTION: Since the inception of the Iraqi war, I'd like to know the approximate total of Iraqis who have been killed. And by Iraqis I include civilians, military, police, insurgents, translators.

THE PRESIDENT: How many Iraqi citizens have died in this war? I would say 30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis. We've lost about 2,140 of our own troops in Iraq. Yes.

QUESTION: Mr. President, thank you --
THE PRESIDENT: I'll repeat the question. If I don't like it, I'll make it up. (Laughter and applause.)

So let's review: immediately after the President told us that more than 32,000 people have been killed, he moved seamlessly into joking around - and the audience yukked it up, as if they either hadn't even heard the casualty count, or didn't care. 32,000 people - that's like filling up an NBA arena and killing everyone in it. How could someone immediately then start hamming it up? Worse, how could the people sitting there laugh along?

The answer is clear for both the President and the audience. The reason the president could laugh it up after telling us an NBA arena's worth of people had been killed is because he and the neoconservative advisers around him who pushed this war have never actually served in combat. Their closest experience to combat was likely seeing the first scenes of Saving Private Ryan - that's it. Because of that hard truth, they clearly see killing 32,000 people as just not a big deal. It is a number representing something they see only on TV - sort of like a score on a video game. You can laugh after a video game, right?

This is the same reason we see no remorse from the White House about the fact that this war was based on lies. They don't care - they wanted a war, goddammit, and it's easy to want a war if you've never been shot at, and if you know that when you send troops in, no one you know personally will be put in danger.

For the audience, which really represents the media and the broader American public, the answer is even more troubling. Sadly, with the end of the military draft, we have been viscerally disconnected from the real-life consequences of our government's military decisions. Sure, the vast majority of Americans oppose the war. But only a tiny minority of Americans actually have to carry out the war, and deal with the blood-and-guts consequences of getting killed, getting maimed, or having a family member killed or maimed.

So while at one moment we mourn the bloodshed and get angry at our president, we can, in the next moment, be laughing with him as he yukks it up - because in the age of an all-volunteer military, the mourning and the anger don't really flow from a deeply personal place anymore. Put another way, had you or your family member been killed or injured in Iraq - or even had you or they been serving in a combat area - you wouldn't find it so easy to start laughing with the guy who put you or your family member in danger immediately after he told you how many people had been killed in a war based on his lies.

This last point is why we should all be particularly disgusted with politicians of both parties who willingly play politics with the Iraq issue. Barely a day goes by when we don't hear some self-serving hack in Congress trying to have it both ways on Iraq, desperately in pursuit of their own personal ambition, or the ambition of their party, quite literally not caring about the fact that scores of innocent human beings - both Iraqi and American - are being maimed or killed in a war based entirely on false pretenses. This is the reason why people like Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA) are literally screaming at their congressional colleagues - most of whom have never served in the military - to wake up, look in the mirror, and see how odious their ongoing complicity in this war really is.

Murtha is merely one courageous voice - and he is tapping into the broader realization that we have reached a truly low point in American history, in which life and soul have been beaten out of our political consciousness to the point where issues of war, peace, and violence are seen as just another TV storyline in a pop culture society that can - and will - just change the channel.

This is, in no uncertain terms, the definition of a society overrun by immorality and unpatrotic behavior: when politics becomes so divorced from people, that our own political leaders can publicly refer to ongoing wars in political terms, not human terms; when vice presidents with five draft deferments can stand up in a tuxedo and impugn the patriotism of war heroes; when presidents who purport to care about "moral values" can break into a comedy act after telling us 32,000 people have been killed; and when the public and the media either laughs along or says nothing at all.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

NY Times Editorial: America's Shame in Montreal

December 13, 2005

America's Shame in Montreal

The best that can be said of the recently concluded meeting on climate change in Montreal is that the countries that care about global warming did not allow the United States delegation to blow the whole conference to smithereens. Washington was intent on making sure that the conferees required no more of the United States than what it is already doing to restrain greenhouse gas emissions, which amounts to virtually nothing.

At least the Americans' shameful foot-dragging did not bring the entire process to a complete halt, and for this the other industrialized countries, chiefly Britain and Canada, deserve considerable praise. It cannot be easy for America's competitors to move forward with costly steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while the United States refuses to carry its share of the load. Nevertheless, the Europeans and other signatories to the 1997 treaty limiting greenhouse gas emissions - a treaty the Bush administration has rejected - promised to work toward new and more ambitious targets and timetables when the agreement lapses in 2012.

For its part, the Bush administration deserves only censure. No one expected a miraculous conversion. But given the steadily mounting evidence of the present and potential consequences of climate change - disappearing glaciers, melting Arctic ice caps, dying coral reefs, threatened coastlines, increasingly violent hurricanes - one would surely have expected America's negotiators to arrive in Montreal willing to discuss alternatives.

They did not. Instead, the principal negotiators, Paula Dobriansky and Harlan Watson, continued to tout the benefits of an approach that combines voluntary reductions by individual companies with further research into "breakthrough" technologies.

That will not work. While a few companies may decide to proceed on their own, the private sector as a whole will neither create new technologies nor broadly deploy them unless all countries are required to do their share under a regime that combines agreed-upon targets with strong financial incentives for reaching them. To believe that companies will spend heavily to reduce emissions while their competitors are not doing the same is to believe in the tooth fairy.

The Europeans are finding solace in the fact that the Americans - after much kicking and screaming, and after public rebukes by Canada's prime minister and a surprise visitor named Bill Clinton - finally agreed to join informal "nonbinding" discussions that will try to entice developing countries like China and India into the process. It's certainly true that without the developing nations on board, any effort to keep greenhouses gases at manageable levels will be for naught. China, for example, is building coal-fired power plants at a rapid clip and is expected to overtake the United States as the biggest producer of greenhouse gases in 20 years.

But talk is cheap, and nonbinding talk is even cheaper. And talk alone will not get the developing world into the game. Why should India and China make major sacrifices while the United States, in effect, gets a free ride? The battle against global warming will never be won unless America joins it, urgently and enthusiastically. Our grandchildren will look back with anger and astonishment if we fail to do so.

Five Years Ago Today, Democracy Surrendered

Five Years Ago Today, Democracy Surrendered

Tue Dec 13, 2005 at 05:17:01 AM PDT

On this day, we were born. On this day Albert Gore conceded the 2000 election to George W. Bush. He had little choice, the Five on the Supreme Court issued an unsigned opinion that assassinated the Constitution. The country accepted it, and Gore accepted it. And the world had little choice.

This day will not be marked by parades, it will not be filled with rousing celebrations of gusto, on the right. They did not truly come to the kind of unfettered power they craved until 9/11 become our Reichstag Fire, the excuse to give all power to a party which had, at best, slender support.

And on the left it is a day that most people will prefer to forget, because it marks the moment where the old system, with its fissures and fractures, fell to a sleek new machine. It was a new era filled with a ghastly shimmering blue glare, and stone faced men and women bellowing out talking points with absolute assurance. Few knew what a "neo-conservative" was, and most would have scratched their heads, why have new conservatives when America had just elected an old style conservative?

For myself I mark this day as national failure day. It is the day when Americans should look at themselves, and measure their actions, asking what they had not done for their country, but asked their country to do for them. From top to bottom, from left to right, Bush is a mark of a people who are willing to bargain permanent liberty for temporary security. There is no group beyond censure - from those who were too rigid on the far left, to those who were too flaccid in the center - everyone must accept that in a Democracy, all are responsible for the results.

But this year is different from last year, and much different from the year before. It is this year where the corrosive corruption that holds up this Reactionary Republic that has replaced the old Liberal Democracy is now visible to the light. People knew the facts, what they are now seeing are the details. Abramoff, Coingate, ARMPAC, FEBAR, Plamegate, shadow company corruption, no bid reconstruction, K Street Project, gas price gouging, Iraq cold cash corruption - more real scandals than Clinton suffered in his whole presidency. Each one of which larger than all of the past scandals put together. Teapot Dome truly was a tempest in a teapot compared to Baghdad Bush and his war without honour in a decade with out a name.

The best way to do penance is to set right what was made wrong, to change course and act anew. Too many have not learned this lesson, too many at the top of the Democratic Party seem to think that power is merely something to be grabbed from Bush, and then abused, if not as much, then not enough less. They want to repeat the mistakes of the past, confident that they can take one more long slug from the bottle of massive defense budgets and corporate welfare, and still walk out as Democrats. Those who want to defense build up our way to fiscal sanity are trying to drink their way to sobriety.

This is not what the country wants, even if it thinks, temporarily, that it is the way to get what it wants. The country wants, even if it cannot quite do it yet, to be weaned from its addictions, to lose its illusions and to be clean and sober. "You are only as sick as your secrets", and America is very sick indeed. But like most alcoholics, they won't stop until they "hit bottom", until the pavement comes crashing up to meet them in the face, and there is no room left for maneuver. America is sick, America is tired, but it isn't quite yet sick and tired of being sick and tired.

So this is the day to take stock, and ask yourself what your own bad habits are. Because to restore America, we are all going to have to lose bad habits, bad habits built up by decades of success of the old liberalism, but as lethal now as they were useful then. It is a day to look ourselves in the eye, and accept that there are burdens to bear, and prices to pay, friends to find, enemies to oppose, in order to advance the cause of liberty. It is not enough to oppose Bush's war without honour in a decade without a name. We must understand that the world after Bush will be filled with unfree states and unfree peoples, that America has mortgaged its future to energy which is locked beneath unfree lands. That we cannot be free, as long as we are slaves to our addictions, and servants to our distractions.

The bottom has been reached, and now there is the long slow climb up into the light. But we will not reach it alone. Instead, every day, the throng that marches towards a better America must become larger. We must pull people out of the stands, and into the stream, from being spectators, to being the spectacle. Every day, and at every chance, pass the word. In groups or alone, in writing or in speech, in words and in deeds. Tell people that a better America is possible, and that it is time to say "Enough is Enough".