Sunday, May 28, 2006

Indecent disrespect

A page from the Declaration

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson stated that the rebellious colonies owed the world an explanation for its actions. He said that “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them.” This phrase is prominently featured in a broadside fired against Noam Chomsky for his criticisms of our government and its policies. While Chomsky is good at stirring up controversy, it's clear that the American public is increasingly coming to agree with this senior radical that U.S. government policy is shaped to benefit a ruling clique, without particular concern for the greater good.

From the May 28, 2006, Letters to the Editor:

The shining beacon: America

Noam Chomsky asserts that the United States is no better than any other nation because it also looks after the interests of only the dominant sections of its populace. But the fact that people from all over the globe are literally dying to reach the United States proves that it is the best place for ordinary folks to pursue their interests.

But do we hear anything about this from Chomsky? All we hear are complaints about shortfalls. Doesn't self-examination include patting oneself on the back for a job well done?

That Chomsky does not say one good thing about the United States is the main complaint against him, though that he offers only rehashed plans—plans that have failed everywhere and every time they were tried—as his solution to the so-called flaws he identifies, is also a legitimate grievance against him.

And finally, do Chomsky and others who kowtow to his line honestly believe that the U.S. government did not exhibit “decent respect for the opinion of mankind” when it liberated the Iraqis?

Vidyalankar Cotra, Folsom

The short answer is, “Hell, yes!” The U.S. government, as operated under the Bush administration, utterly disregarded the opinion of most of its allies when it blundered into the Iraqi misadventure. Although the United Kingdom fell into lock-step with the American program, other nations called for more time for the U.N. weapons inspectors to do their job. For a moment it seemed possible that Bush's saber-rattling had been brilliantly effective in forcing Saddam Hussein to cooperate fully with the U.N. inspectors, but the reality was quite different. It was a bluff, but not the kind one might have expected. Bush was not threatening to go to war as a ploy to uncover Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Rather, he was bluffing about destroying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction so that he could go to war. We know now from various sources that Bush and his advisors had been planning a war against Iraq from his first days in office.

Those plans, by the way, initially effective in toppling Saddam's regime in just a few days, proved to be deeply flawed in every other respect. The administration immediately disbanded the Iraqi army and dismissed the bureaucrats who ran the agencies of the Iraqi government. The first action swelled the ranks of the insurgents and the second ensured the collapse of government functions in the absence of any plans to promptly replace the dismissed personnel. While our letter writer may ask about “patting oneself on the back for a job well done,” the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq makes self-congratulation an exercise in self-delusion. Remember “Mission Accomplished,” emblazoned on a banner on an aircraft carrier as part of a Bush p.r. stunt? The vast majority of the fatalities in the U.S. armed forces in Iraq occurred after that highly premature pat on the back.

Too bad the U.S. did not exhibit a decent respect for the opinion of mankind before the invasion of Iraq. It might have spared us a grotesque error.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Happy days are here again?

It is to Laff

The president's approval ratings are hovering in the low thirties or high twenties, depending on what poll you read. The numbers are truly remarkable—remarkably high for history's most incompetent president. Even if only one American in three now considers Bush to be doing a good job, that still provides millions of people eager to praise their Dear Leader. Recently some unreconstructed supply-siders sprang to the defense of the president's sorry economic record.

From the May 15, 2006, Letters to the Editor:

The good news you don't hear

You would never know that our economy is doing as great as it is, especially with how low the unemployment rate stands currently. The liberal looks at the doom and gloom of everything and never looks at anything good that happens. GDP was around 4.2 percent for the first quarter of 2006.

Yes, we are dealing with high gas prices, and the cause is not price gouging, it is as simple as supply and demand, which dictates prices. The oil companies don't set the price of a barrel of oil. The market sets it. We should have built more refineries and dug for more oil in Alaska and anywhere else in the country. That would help us stop depending on foreign oil and eventually would bring the price down.

Davis Harris, Sacramento

From the May 21, 2006, Letters to the Editor:

Tax cuts and revenue increases

The old Sinatra favorite advises that love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. So do tax cuts and revenue increases.

The lead editorial May 16 says that Lucky Arnold must be careful with the budget windfall of huge, unanticipated receipts. Then the second editorial says we need to sacrifice and feel the pain of higher taxes. Where did Arnold's windfall come from? The Bee is appalled that some in Congress actually say that, "Lower taxes equal more federal revenue." And a lot more state revenue too.

Tax cuts and revenue increases do go together like a horse and carriage.

The Laffer Curve has some reality. The Congressional Budget Office and many others use static analysis. If you lower taxes, receipts must decrease. They refuse to accept the fact that tax cuts do stimulate the economy and revenues do increase.

The problem is spending. That's among the reasons Gray Davis is no longer governor. That's why the federal debt keeps increasing, despite a roaring economy. Will tax cuts let us grow out of our debt? No! But with some spending restraint the cuts will stimulate and the debt will decrease.

Gene R. Wutke, Sacramento

Are they right? Is the economy in great shape? Are Bush's tax cuts the reason things are so great?

It's true that the economy is better at this point halfway through Bush's second term than it was at any time during his first term. Bush's first term was remarkable for its failure to create any jobs, so I suppose he had nowhere to go but up. The White House has been bragging that “average hourly earnings have risen 3.8 percent over the past 12 months, their largest increase in nearly five years.” That sounds pretty good, doesn't it? However, there is a fly in the ointment, as Paul Krugman reported:

On Wednesday Treasury Secretary John Snow repeated that boast before a House committee. However, Representative Barney Frank was ready. He asked whether the number was adjusted for inflation; after flailing about, Mr. Snow admitted, sheepishly, that it wasn't. In fact, nearly all of the wage increase was negated by higher prices.
Okay, so how about those tax cuts. I mean, they must be responsible for the increase in federal revenues, right? Perhaps not, as Krugman explains:

About the Bush tax cuts: the tax cuts of 2001 evidently didn't do the job; these days, the Bush people talk about the economy as if history began in the middle of 2003, after their SECOND wave of tax cuts. But while the economy did start growing, finally, in 2003, the growth wasn't at all of the form you'd expect if tax cuts were responsible. The main tax cuts were on dividends and capital gains; supposedly this would make it easier for businesses to raise funds and invest. But business investment hasn't been the main driver of growth; in fact, businesses have been sitting on huge piles of earnings, reluctant to invest. Instead, the big driver was housing construction and consumer spending. So what really happened? Low interest rates led to a housing boom that eventually turned into a housing bubble. High house prices made people feel richer, and they could borrow against the increased value of their homes, feeding consumer spending. Tax cuts had nothing to do with it.
But the revenue growth! What about the revenue growth? Well, there is some, as one might expect with a slowly recovering economy. However, a significant part of the revenue growth in 2005 came from a business tax cut that expired at the end of 2004. (The administration takes credit for the revenue increase, but not the tax restoration that helped to produce it.)

They say a rising tide raises all the boats. However, as someone recently commented, the Bush administration has found a way to defy physics and create a rising tide that raises only the yachts.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The most corrupt and immoral administration

Clinton's? Not even close

From the May 15, 2006, Letters to the Editor:

Bellyaching by liberal Democrats

Steve Mehlman's May 11 letter "The sinking ship" was just the latest in an endless line of bellyaching by liberal Democrats (both Bee editorial writers and those who write letters) about mean, corrupt Republicans. I think that I can speak for all Republicans everywhere when I say that at least we know what the definition of "is" is. It is amazing how liberal Democrats, who find fault with all things Republican, blindly defended the most corrupt and immoral administration in American history, the Clinton administration.

Jim Michaelson, Sacramento
Welcome to another installment of what David Brock called the Republican Noise Machine. Certain GOP memes like “Clinton was the most corrupt” are transmitted by various right-wing media and then parroted by dutiful conservative citizens who never have a clue how their strings are being pulled.

There is a good chance now that George W. Bush's administration will end up enshrined in history as the nation's most corrupt. Bill Clinton's isn't even in contention. The Nixon years were so saturated with lawbreaking that even his attorney general ended up as a convicted felon. As detailed in a lengthy report in Rolling Stone, Ronald Reagan is the runner-up to Richard Nixon:
By contrast, the most scandal-ridden administration in the modern era, apart from Nixon's, was Ronald Reagan's, now widely remembered through a haze of nostalgia as a paragon of virtue. A total of twenty-nine Reagan officials, including White House national security adviser Robert McFarlane and deputy chief of staff Michael Deaver, were convicted on charges stemming from the Iran-Contra affair, illegal lobbying and a looting scandal inside the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Three Cabinet officers—HUD Secretary Samuel Pierce, Attorney General Edwin Meese and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger—left their posts under clouds of scandal. In contrast, not a single official in the Clinton administration was even indicted over his or her White House duties, despite repeated high-profile investigations and a successful, highly partisan impeachment drive.

No, Mr. Michaelson, Bill Clinton by no means presided over “the most corrupt and immoral administration in American history.” Nice use of a Republican talking point, though.

Welcome to The Back Bench

Reading The Sacramento Bee

The Sacramento Bee publishes dozens of letters to the editor every week. I read most of them. Frequently I feel a sharp impulse to reply to the most wrong-headed of the letter writers, but The Bee limits its readers to one letter every thirty days. Of course, every time you send off some brilliant zinger, you discover that some other poor deluded soul has submitted an ever more egregious letter that you cannot possibly respond to now. It's very sad.

With a blog, however, you can exercise your voice of sweet reason without the fetters of a Procrustean editorial policy. We'll see in the future how often I am moved to raise that voice. Sweetly, of course. With the occasional dash of snark on the side.