Monday, January 29, 2007

Death trap, Iraq and abandonment of our soldiers

Published on Monday, January 29, 2007 by the Boston Globe
by James Carroll

"Who the hell is shooting at us?" a US soldier yelled last week. His platoon was in a strife-torn part of Baghdad, teamed with an Iraqi Army unit. Gunfire was coming from all directions. "Who's shooting at us? Do we know who they are?"

My intention was to give readers of this column a break from the war. How many ways are there to say no? But then I read the vivid New York Times account of that soldier's dilemma, and it took over the field of my concentration: "Whether the gunfire was coming from Sunni or Shi'ite insurgents or militia fighters or some of the Iraqi soldiers who had disappeared into the Gotham-like cityscape, no one could say." The confused battle was a foretaste of what President Bush's new war strategy entails, with American forces caught between enflamed antagonists, with uncertain allies. In Washington, equivocating politicians look for the least horrible way forward, but in Iraq, US soldiers have been ordered into what increasingly shows itself as a deathtrap.

Two things fuel the nation's escalating anguish about this war. The first is the steady closing of the vise on American forces in Iraq. Despite the martial virtues of the US fighters -- their devotion to duty, their organizational competence, their raw courage -- the actual combat situation worsens by the day. Their casualties mount, but the more dramatic measure of the chaos are the runaway numbers of Iraqi victims. The tribal savagery is feeding on itself now, an endless loop of violence to which the United States is increasingly irrelevant. Indeed, in one of the oddest reversals of the war, the American military presents occasions not of damage control, but of collateral damage. The bullets whizzing around the soldier in the Times story, originally meant for someone else, were aimed at him only because he was there.

At the same time, just by being in the streets to shoot at, our well-armed soldiers empower the gunmen on all sides. Perhaps the most destructive unintended consequence of America's lethal presence has been the way the lethal power of all belligerents has scaled up to match it. Our young people are surrounded now by killers united only in the will to kill them. Operation deathtrap, exactly.

But anguish about the war is equally fueled by what is happening in Washington. After the State of the Union address, anti war Republicans and Democrats began vying with each other over ways to challenge the Bush policy, even as Vice President Dick Cheney bluntly declared of congressional action, "It won't stop us." And sure enough, the Democrats and Republicans quickly tempered their opposition. The tough Capitol Hill talk of capping troop levels and setting timetables gave way to mere rhetoric, the function of which is to rescue the consciences of the war skeptics instead of rescuing the lives of the war fighters. While soldiers show astounding courage in conducting their missions impossible, politicians have stepped back from political risk to define their own options in ways that will justify policies of no real change. The war-disapproving resolution before the Senate this week, if passed, will have no effect on operations in Iraq.

Cheney, in characteristic fashion, was the one to throw down the only gauntlet that matters. "The Congress has control over the purse strings," he said last week. "They have the right, obviously, if they want, to cut off funding. But in terms of this effort, the president has made his decision." Cheney is daring Congress to use the appropriations process as a way of challenging Bush's decision, knowing full well that Congress lacks the will to do so. Yet, as the administration looks for additional funds to launch its "surge," stopping the money is the obvious and simple way to go. Bush and Cheney will double their losing bet by pushing more young Americans into the pot, while the Congress restricts itself to kibitzing.

Critics charge that even incremental cuts in war funding -- setting real caps and real timetables -- would amount to an abandonment of the troops. The answer to that charge comes from the troops themselves: "Who the hell is shooting at us?" To leave our soldiers in the deathtrap of Iraq is the true abandonment. They are being shot at by Sunnis, Shi'ites, their Iraqi Army allies -- and now, in a grievous failure of public morality, by feckless politicians in Washington.

James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Globe.

© Copyright 2007 The Boston Globe

Friday, January 26, 2007

Job Slayers or Fact Slayers, WSJ flawed arguements against raising the minimum wage, continued.

Job Slayers or Fact Slayers?
The Wall Street Journal's flawed argument against raising the minimum wage

By Jeff Chapman

A recent Wall Street Journal lead editorial ("Job Slayers," August 27, 2005) retreads the worn and discredited argument that raising the state or federal minimum wage significantly decreases job opportunities for low-wage workers. In making this argument, however, the editorial board seems determined to slay the facts; the editorial contains a number of statements that are misleading or false.

It ascribes a significant part of the problem of high teenage unemployment rates to high state minimum wages (or "maximum folly" according to the editorial). This claim disintegrates, however, under even the most cursory examination. Here's why. Teenage unemployment rose from 13.1% to 17% between 2000 and 2004. According to the Journal's argument, the increases in teen unemployment should have been higher in states with higher minimum wages than in those with low minimum wages. What actually happened was the reverse: Teenage unemployment rose 3.4% in the high minimum wage states, compared to 4.2% in the others.

Beyond that specific claim, the Journal's background "evidence" does not withstand examination either. For one thing, the editorial would have us believe that raising the minimum wage is an idea being drummed up by a few misguided liberal policymakers and advocates. The truth is, it would be difficult to think of a policy that is more widely supported by the public. Earlier this year, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center showed that Americans overwhelmingly support increasing the minimum wage: 82% said it was an important priority and only 6% opposed an increase. Further evidence can be found in Florida and Nevada, both "red" states where in 2004, voters opted for increasing their states' minimum wages in far greater numbers than they did for President Bush.

Nor do economists view the issue with the monolithic disapproval that the Journal presents. Last fall, 562 economists signed a letter agreeing that "the minimum wage has been an important part of our nation's economy for 65 years." Further, they agreed that "as with a federal increase, modest increases in state minimum wages in the range of $1.00 to $2.00 can significantly improve the lives of low-income workers and their families, without the adverse effects that critics have claimed." The signers included four Nobel Laureates, three of whom have served as presidents of the American Economic Association, the mainstream, economists' professional association.

Especially egregious, though, is the Journal's presentation of a group of studies analyzing the 1992 increase in the New Jersey minimum wage. It dismisses the well-regarded work of David Card and Alan Krueger analyzing the impact on the fast food restaurants by pointing out that telephone surveys were used to collect the data. According to the Journal, "When other researchers went back and resampled these establishments, they found widespread errors in the data." The work of these other researchers (David Neumark and William Wascher) is presented in the editorial as evidence of the job-loss claims. But the Journal pointedly ignores some very important facts about this research. Most significantly, the Neumark and Wascher data were collected using a mix of informal personal contacts by an anti-minimum wage restaurant industry lobbyist's in-house "think-tank" and a letter from the researchers that tipped-off the restaurants that the purpose of the research was to undermine the Card and Krueger research (Neumark and Wascher 2000, p. 1,395). The quality of the data collected under these circumstances is suspect.

Moreover, when Card and Krueger redid their study using unassailable government data, they found the same result-thus confirming both the reliability of their earlier sample, and, more importantly, their findings--that the New Jersey minimum wage increase had no effect on total employment in that state. Neumark and Wascher acknowledge the findings of this second Card and Krueger study and conclude that using a combination of it and their own study, they could only decisively state that "New Jersey's minimum wage increase did not raise fast-food employment in that state" (Neumark and Wascher 2000, p. 1,391), hardly the indictment of minimum wages that the Journal would lead the reader to believe.

The Wall Street Journal's editorial board will, no doubt, continue to recycle their old arguments that minimum wages are "job killers." However, the body of evidence and public opinion makes that position increasingly untenable. And for good reason: minimum wages are a key part of a broad public policy agenda that seeks to support the efforts of working families to make ends meet.

MORE, continued.


The Free Market

Volume 24, Number 9
September 2004

The Wages of Sinful Economic Arguments
By Tom Lehman

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal is a perfect example of how bad economic arguments in support of good ends can be easily twisted and used to confuse the general public (Gwendolyn Bounds, "Argument for minimum-wage boost," 7/27/04, p. B3). When we engage in poor reasoning and faulty economic logic in support of a noble cause, we can end up doing much more harm than good in the pursuit of liberty and economic freedom.

Examples of this dilemma abound, and conservatives are especially prone to this type of error in reasoning. For instance, we frequently hear arguments in favor of free trade because free trade "boosts exports," ignoring the real benefits in the form of cheaper imports and a better use of scarce resources. Arguments against socialism are often made on the basis that the system creates poor incentives rather than the bigger problem identified by Ludwig von Mises: socialism’s inability to permit rational economic calculation.

In this political season, we hear daily arguments in favor of tax cuts as a means to "stimulate" the economy, rather than on the basis of efficiency in resource use and private property rights. And, especially relevant to the topic at hand, arguments are often made against raising the minimum wage on the basis that an increasing minimum wage will elevate prices or harm small businesses.

The news article in question was written as a response to just such an argument. This argument goes as follows: An increase in the minimum wage cannot be justified because it will unfairly and disproportionately harm small businesses that, unlike large firms, cannot absorb the additional costs imposed by mandated higher minimum wages. Dynamic small businesses are responsible for a relatively large part of employment. If they cannot afford these higher labor costs, they will fail and go out of business, and workers will lose jobs. Ergo, a hike in the minimum wage cannot be justified.

As with most arguments, this one contains a kernel of truth. Indeed, the scenario it portrays is certainly possible and may result for some small business owners. However, using this argument against minimum wage laws puts one on very shaky economic ground, because it skirts the chief problem of minimum wages and diverts attention instead to that hallowed and sacred institution known as "small business." This may seem like an easy sell to the American public, but it is a lazy argument that fails on its economic merits, as the news article makes patently clear.

In response, the author of the article points to a recent study released by the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy which finds that, surprise, small business firms in America are not in fact the low-wage sector of the economy that many people believe them to be. On the contrary, the report finds that, on average, small businesses tend to pay above the minimum wage in order to compete in the labor market and attract workers.

In reality, according to the SBA study, it seems that larger wholesale and retail discounting firms employ a proportionately higher number of minimum wage workers, in part enabling them to keep their prices low. Small businesses, on the other hand, must pay wages well above the minimum in order to attract and retain reliable and productive employees. The theory is that by paying higher "efficiency wages," small businesses may be able to reduce worker absenteeism and turnover, and also cut down on labor search and retraining costs associated with employee churn.

The author of the article does not reveal the details of the SBA study or suggest why it would be necessary for smaller firms to pay higher wages than larger firms to attract and retain workers with similar levels of skill and education. However, it is plausible that some form of "compensating differential" is at work in larger firms that is not available to employees in smaller firms.

Hence, the higher wages paid by smaller firms are necessary to offset the non-wage benefits of working for a large firm. For example, it could be that larger firms pay lower wages but offer better health care or sick-leave benefits as non-wage compensation. Or, it might be that larger firms have the capital resources to invest in a safer, cleaner, and more inviting workplace, offsetting lower wages. The prestige associated with working for a larger and more well-known enterprise might also play a role. Either way, some form of amenity in larger firms (or its absence in smaller firms) must explain the wage premium paid by smaller firms, or it would not persist.

However, the conclusions of the Small Business Administration study, as reported in the newspaper article, are very revealing, and clearly indicate the extent to which even small business owners are infatuated with turning the power of government to their own private advantage.

Contrary to the arguments made by so many well-meaning but misguided opponents of the minimum wage, small business owners actually favor an increase in the minimum wage. The reasoning is that it would force their larger rivals to pay higher wages, thus making it more difficult for large firms to offer discount prices on wholesale and retail products. In other words, according to this news article, many small business owners desire an increase in the minimum wage as a way to hamstring larger firms that offer lower-priced goods and services and out-compete them in the marketplace. Small business owners who push for an increase in the minimum wage see it as a tool to prevent their larger rivals from realizing efficiencies in labor costs, partially insulating themselves from the intense competition created by large-firm economies of scale.

Of course, this tactic should be seen for exactly what it is: typical rent-seeking behavior by less efficient firms who, rather than finding creative ways to cut costs and lower prices, reach for the lever of government coercion to hamper their more efficient rivals. This has been the history of government regulation for at least the last 100 years. Business firms support government intervention on some ostensibly noble grounds, such as reducing poverty or raising wages or enhancing consumer safety. In reality, their intent is usually much less dignified, supporting intervention only to create barriers that insulate them from competition.

Beyond this issue, however, the reasoning of the pro-minimum-wage argument made by some small business owners is itself dubious because, again, it ignores the primary problem associated with minimum wage laws to begin with. Minimum wage laws create unemployment among the lowest skilled and least educated workers. As any freshman economics student knows, wages mandated above the market-clearing equilibrium wage will create a binding price floor that causes the quantity of labor supplied to exceed the quantity of labor demanded, resulting in a surplus of labor. And, a surplus of labor leads to unemployment for those whose productive skill value is below the legal wage floor. The larger the increase in the minimum wage, therefore, the greater the labor surplus and the more detrimental the policy becomes.

For example, ask yourself if, all else equal, you would hire me for $7 per hour if I can only generate an average of $5.15 per hour of revenue for your firm. Clearly you would not. As a result, many unskilled workers who seek employment cannot find a job precisely because the government tells them that they must be paid more than they are worth to a potential employer. Teenagers, and especially minority teenagers, are the most likely to fall into this low-skilled category. It should thus come as no surprise that teenage and minority teenage unemployment rates are among the highest of any demographic group, topping out, respectively, at 16.8 percent and 32.6 percent in June 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This compares poorly to a national unemployment rate of just 5.6 percent in the same month.

Thus, forcing larger rival firms to pay higher minimum wages will not necessarily lead them to raise prices for their goods and services, as some small business owners apparently believe. If the demand in the market for these products is price elastic (which is highly likely), these firms will not be able to raise prices and pass on higher labor costs to consumers. After all, this explains why small business owners despise paying "efficiency wages" in the first place: the inability to raise prices. Instead, it is probable that large firms faced with artificially higher labor costs will find it more advantageous to invest in additional technology and capital equipment that would replace the lowest skilled employees who earn the minimum wage.

In the end, the singular most likely outcome is that a hike in the minimum wage will harm low-skilled employees who currently have a job working for a large firm by throwing them out of that job.

This recent news article and the story it tells is highly instructive for those who care about promoting free markets and economic liberty. Making bad economic arguments for noble economic ends puts us on shaky footing and opens the door for those arguments to be used against us. Arguing against minimum wage laws because they harm small businesses or lead to rising prices opens us up to just the kind of counterargument so vividly pointed out in this story. If minimum wage laws are not found to harm small businesses or lead to rising prices, then they must be ok. Of course, this is wrong. We must learn to always make the strongest and most consistent arguments against the enemies of free markets, or we will lose the battle. As Mises himself always reminded us, that requires constant study and a steadfast pursuit of the truth.

Tom Lehman is associate professor of economics at Indiana Wesleyan University (

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Is Bush capable of Empathy, that is, grasping the awarenss of others?

Published on Thursday, January 25, 2007 by the New York Times
Long on Rhetoric, Short on Sorrow
by Bob Herbert

President Bush showed what he does well at the beginning of the State of the Union ceremony when he graciously acknowledged and introduced Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House of Representatives. He seemed both generous and sincere, and it was the right touch for a genuinely historic moment.

At the end of his speech he introduced four Americans of whom the nation can be proud, including Wesley Autrey, a New Yorker who made like a Hollywood stunt man to save the life of a stricken passenger who had fallen onto the tracks in front of an oncoming subway train.

The rest of the evening was a study in governmental dysfunction. The audience kept mindlessly applauding — up and down, like marionettes — when in fact there was nothing to applaud. The state of the union is wretched, which is why the president’s approval ratings are the worst since Nixon and Carter.

If Mr. Bush is bothered by his fall from political grace, it wasn’t showing on Tuesday night. He seemed as relaxed as ever, smiling, signing autographs, glad-handing.

I wanted to hear him talk about the suffering of the soldiers he has put in harm’s way, and the plight of the residents of New Orleans. I wanted to hear him express a little in the way of sorrow for the many thousands who have died unnecessarily on his watch. I wanted to see him slip the surly bonds of narcissism and at least acknowledge the human wreckage that is the sum and substance of his sustained folly.

But this is a president who runs when empathy calls. While others are monitoring the casualty lists, he’s off to the gym. At least Lyndon Johnson had the decency to agonize over the losses he unleashed in Vietnam.

The State of the Union speech was boilerplate at a time when much of the country, with good reason, is boiling mad. The United States, the most powerful nation in the history of the world, seems paralyzed. It can’t extricate itself from the war in Iraq, can’t rebuild the lost city of New Orleans, can’t provide health care for all of its citizens, can’t come up with a sane energy policy in the era of global warming, can’t even develop a thriving public school system.

If it’s true, as President Bush told his audience, that “much is asked of us,” it’s equally true that very little has been delivered.

The Democrats, delighted by the wounded Bush presidency, believe this is their time. Like an ostentation of peacocks, an extraordinary crowd of excited candidates is gathering in hopes of succeeding Mr. Bush.

But such a timid crowd!

Ask a potential Democratic president what he or she would do about the war, and you’ll get a doctoral dissertation about the importance of diplomacy, the possibility of a phased withdrawal (but not too quick), the need for Iraqis to help themselves and figure out a way to divvy up the oil, and so on and so forth.

A straight answer? Surely you jest. The Democrats remind me of the boxer in the Bonnie Raitt lyric who was “afraid to throw a punch that might land.”

There’s a hole in the American system where the leadership used to be. The country that led the miraculous rebuilding effort in the aftermath of World War II can’t even build an adequate system of levees on its own Gulf Coast.

The most effective answer to this leadership vacuum would be a new era of political activism by ordinary citizens. The biggest, most far-reaching changes of the past century — the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement — were not primarily the result of elective politics, but rather the hard work of committed citizen-activists fed up with the status quo.

It’s time for thoughtful citizens to turn off their TVs and step into the public arena. Protest. Attend meetings. Circulate petitions. Run for office. I suspect the public right now is way ahead of the politicians when it comes to ideas about creating a more peaceful, more equitable, more intelligent society.

The candidates for the most part are listening to their handlers and gurus and fat-cat contributors, which is the antithesis of democracy. It’s not easy for ordinary men and women to be heard above that self-serving din, but it can be done.

Voters should listen to Dwight Eisenhower, who said in 1954:

“Politics ought to be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company




Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Toward a New Moral Majority
by Stephen Dick

Let’s face it: America is very nearly bankrupt morally. We live in a polarized society of haves and have nots, and the gap is growing wider. The elites in Washington launch vanity wars that, for the most part, have to be fought by the have nots and the have littles.

As a society, we’ve turned a blind eye from an administration that tortures people, locks them up for years without even the most perfunctory of legal rights, spies on its citizens and bequeaths the world — through tax cuts and subsidies — to the rich few. This statistic always sticks in my craw: The top 10 percent of Americans have more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. That’s staggering, and it’s immoral.

No person who uses religion as a guide in their lives can tolerate such inequities and barbaric behavior. Yet, we do.

A recent USA Today editorial castigated Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for providing cheap fuel for poor Americans through his state-owned Citgo oil company. How could the editorial board of a major newspaper be against that, especially since finding someone in America to offer discount fuel is laughable? Because, USA Today argued, Chavez does it to embarrass the Bush administration. So we can surmise that maintaining face on the corrupt and banal Bush administration is more important than helping people out.

The recently ousted CEO of Home Depot, Robert Nardelli, presided over his company losing sales and stock rates. He left his job with a $200 million severance package. It’s farcical reading defenders of such thievery. I don’t know what Home Depot employees make, but if the company has this much money to throw away on one loser, I’m sure the employees would’ve liked having the money split between them. CEOs now earn more than their employees at a ratio of more than 400 to 1.

The rise of conservatism and its sibling, greed, 30 years ago has now been entrenched in the mainstream. The result has been to make America a secondary nation where power and money are protected by the few who offer bribes to lawmakers. The rest of us get by as best we can, but we no longer live in a country that values its citizens. The lure of the anarchic free market and the competition for a shrinking pie keeps everyone in a hypnotized state of dollar signs.

One of our best journalists, Bill Moyers, recently spoke at a forum sponsored by The Nation on this subject. He reminded everyone of what President Lincoln believed: That government should be not only of and by the people, but for the people. That would be a government of accepting the fundamental morality of serving all its citizens, not just the few who contribute to political campaigns.

In the past generation, Moyers said, “the individual, greed-driven, free-market ideology is at odds with our history and with what most Americans really care about.”

It doesn’t have to continue this way. There are already signs that the newly elected Democratic-controlled Congress will be tackling some of the inequities that make Americans seem like throwaways in their own country.

The House Democrats have passed a law to raise the minimum wage a paltry couple of dollars over the next two years. These representatives make $165,000 a year. The House also wants to end subsidies for the oil industry and make the companies pay what they owe in royalties to the government for taking oil from the land.

Good luck. As Newsweek put it, the House can do all it wants, but without the Senate and White House on board, all bills will be symbolic. We all need to look elsewhere.

In a recent The New Republic article, Jonathan Cohn writes about the Denmark system of social balance, which includes health care for all and generous unemployment benefits. Of course, this takes tax money and free-market economists routinely condemn the European model. These economists claim the model stifles productivity and investment. But that hasn’t happened in Denmark, a country actually putting its citizens first.

Congress needs to pursue such programs to ease the economic burden of free-market free for all. Health care reform, for example, is doomed to failure if insurance companies are in the picture. They are for profit and therefore inefficient and indifferent to those who have to use them. The globalization policy of putting people last has to be reversed.

Finally, harking back to the Depression era, the government needs a new Works Progress Administration to actively put people to work for the betterment of the country. It’s an old idea, but if private corporations continue to lay off and rip off American citizens, setting up a works program is the moral thing to do. The alternative, the rich getting richer at the expense of everyone else, is a recipe for national disaster.

Stephen Dick writes for The Herald Bulletin in Anderson, Ind. Copyright © 2007 Herald Bulletin

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Bush still in his bubble: Free market will solve health care crisis

Gold-Plated Indifference
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

Monday 22 January 2007

President Bush's Saturday radio address was devoted to health care, and officials have put out the word that the subject will be a major theme in tomorrow's State of the Union address. Mr. Bush's proposal won't go anywhere. But it's still worth looking at his remarks, because of what they say about him and his advisers.

On the radio, Mr. Bush suggested that we should "treat health insurance more like home ownership." He went on to say that "the current tax code encourages home ownership by allowing you to deduct the interest on your mortgage from your taxes. We can reform the tax code, so that it provides a similar incentive for you to buy health insurance."

Wow. Those are the words of someone with no sense of what it's li ke to be uninsured.

Going without health insurance isn't like deciding to rent an apartment instead of buying a house. It's a terrifying experience, which most people endure only if they have no alternative. The uninsured don't need an "incentive" to buy insurance; they need something that makes getting insurance possible.

Most people without health insurance have low incomes, and just can't afford the premiums. And making premiums tax-deductible is almost worthless to workers whose income puts them in a low tax bracket.

Of those uninsured who aren't low-income, many can't get coverage because of pre-existing conditions - everything from diabetes to a long-ago case of jock itch. Again, tax deductions won't solve their problem.

The only people the Bush plan might move out of the ranks of the uninsured are the people we're least concerned about - affluent, healthy Americans who choose voluntarily not to be insured. At most, the Bush plan might induce some of those people to buy insurance, while in the process - whaddya know - giving many other high-income individuals yet another tax break.

While proposing this high-end tax break, Mr. Bush is also proposing a tax increase - not on the wealthy, but on workers who, he thinks, have too much health insurance. The tax code, he said, "unwisely encourages workers to choose overly expensive, gold-plated plans. The result is that insurance premiums rise, and many Americans cannot afford the coverage they need."

Again, wow. No economic analysis I'm aware of says that when Peter chooses a good health plan, he raises Paul's premiums. And look at the condescension. Will all those who think they have "gold plated" health coverage please raise their hands?

According to press reports, the actual plan is to penalize workers with relatively generous insurance coverage. Just to be clear, we're not talking about the wealthy; we're talking about ordinary workers who have managed to negotiate better-than-average health plans.

What's driving all this is the theory, popular in conservative circles but utterly at odds with the evidence, that the big problem with U.S. health care is that people have too much insurance - that there would be large cost savings if people were forced to pay more of their medical expenses out of pocket.

The administration also believes, for some reason, that people should be pushed out of employment-based health insurance - admittedly a deeply flawed system - into the individual insurance market, which is a disaster on all fronts. Insurance companies try to avoid selling policies to people who are likely to use them, so a large fraction of premiums in the individual market goes not to paying medical bills but to bureaucracies dedicated to weeding out "high risk" applicants - and keeping them uninsured.

I'm somewhat skeptical about health care plans, like that proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, that propose covering gaps in the health insurance market with a series of patches, such as requiring that insurers offer policies to everyone at the same rate. But at least the authors of these plans are trying to help those most in need, and recognize that the market needs fixing.

Mr. Bush, on the other hand, is still peddling the fantasy that the free market, with a little help from tax cuts, solves all problems.

What's really striking about Mr. Bush's remarks, however, is the tone. The stuff about providing "incentives" to buy insurance, the sneering description of good coverage as "gold plated," is right-wing think-tank jargon. In the past Mr. Bush's speechwriters might have found less offensive language; now, they're not even trying to hide his fundamental indifference to the plight of less-fortunate Americans.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

EARTH WARMING: Landmark UN study, 2000 scientists all but end the debate:

Landmark UN Study Backs Climate Theory
2,000 scientists all but end the debate: Human activity causes global warming
by Peter Gorrie

A major new United Nations report shows global scientists are more convinced than ever that human activity is causing climate change, the Toronto Star has learned.

The rate of warming between now and 2030 is likely to be twice that of the previous century, it says.

And it concludes that most of the global warming since the middle of the last century has been caused by man-made greenhouse gases.

The report, to be released in Paris Feb. 2, should all but end any debate on climate change and compel governments and industries to take urgent measures to deal with it, scientists say.

"It is very likely that (man-made) greenhouse gas increases caused most of the globally average temperature increases since the mid-20th century," states the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In the clinical language of science, it paints a stark picture of the effects of greenhouse gas emissions:

"Discernible human influences now extend to other aspects of climate, including continental average temperatures, atmospheric circulation patterns and some types of extremes."

It is "very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent." Storm tracks will move from the tropics toward the poles.

The widely anticipated report is the fourth by the IPCC, which every few years publishes the definitive conclusions of about 2,000 scientists who are recognized as experts in their respective fields. Each one has moved closer to closing debate on the causes and effects of climate change.

The portion of the report obtained by the Star is called the final draft of the "Summary for Policy Makers."

The summary states that the warming effect of greenhouse gases increased by 20 per cent during the past decade – "the largest change observed or inferred for any decade in at least the last 200 years."

Global warming would be even greater had it not been slowed by other forms of pollution that stopped some of the sun's energy from reaching the Earth.

Rebutting one of the main arguments of climate change skeptics, it says observations of temperature increases and shrinking ice cover, "support the conclusion that it is extremely unlikely that global climate change of the past 50 years" was caused by solar flares or other natural events.

Eleven of the past 12 years have been the hottest in Earth's recent history, it says.

All the continents except Antarctica have warmed during the past half-century, with the biggest impacts in Canada's Arctic and other northern regions.

Research since the third report was released in 2001 increases the certainty about climate change and the likely scale of most of its effects, including warmer temperatures and severe weather, the report states.

One crucial prediction has been made a bit less worrying: Although sea level is rising – for now, mainly because the oceans are warming to a depth of at least 3,000 metres, and expanding – the estimates for how much it will go up have been lowered.

The summary also notes that there has been, as yet, little change in the North Atlantic Drift, the warm current that gives Britain and northern Europe a relatively temperate climate and that is expected to slow, or stop, as climate change alters the ocean.

It will slow, but not abruptly during the coming century, the report says.

For the most part, though, the conclusions point in a single direction:

"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal."

The report estimates that if the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could be kept below 550 parts per million – which would take a major worldwide effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions – the average global temperature would rise by 2 to 4.5 degrees Celsius above the level before the Industrial Revolution started about 250 years ago.

The current carbon level is about 380 parts per million and rising steadily, compared with 280 at the time humans began burning large amounts of coal, oil and other fossil fuels.

The temperature estimate depends on which combination of computer model and research data is used.

The upper forecast is higher than in previous reports.

"Values higher than 4.5 C cannot be excluded" because of "feedbacks," such as the increased ability of the atmosphere to absorb water vapour – an extremely potent greenhouse gas – as it heats up, and the greater warmth absorbed as Arctic ice melts.

Regional forecasts of climate change effects are better than in the previous report, and they predict the greatest warming at northern latitudes and high altitudes, and the least over the North Atlantic and the southern oceans.

The north faces the biggest increase in precipitation.

© Copyright Toronto Star

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Albright before Congress: As Herself, not mincing words: It is a disaster to leave and a disaster to stay.. . .

It's not that anything so surprising was said today when Madeleine Albright testified before the House Foreign Relations Committee, as that some surprising people were saying it; one Republican after another appeared eager to agree with much of what the former secretary of state had to say on Iraq -- to the point that the partisan outbursts that did occur suddenly seemed like throwbacks to another time.

New Jersey Republican Chris Smith, for example, said that "I, too, like many of my colleagues, have many questions about the surge'' of new troops into Iraq. In the past, he noted, Albright had supported sending more troops, so was her current opposition to the president's plan a matter of timing? When he added, "And I ask this very sincerely, because a lot of us have questions about it,'' he sounded -- like he was asking very sincerely, because he had questions about it.

One of the sharpest exchanges of the day was between Albright and a fellow Democrat. Responding to her suggestion that more should be done to encourage religious leaders in the region to serve as peacemakers, New York Representative Gary Ackerman seemed not to have gotten the memo about how Democrats would do well to avoid seeming hostile to believers in general: "I have no problem with people who pray,'' he said. "They can pray all day and talk to God. I have a problem with the people God talks to...How do you compromise with people who are driven either by evil or by religious convictions?''

Talking with people does not mean compromising with them, she answered coolly, and "I have not turned into a religious mystic, and I'm not a theologian.''

Going forward in Iraq, she told the committee, "There are no good options."She said she felt free to speak in a way that had not been possible when she was in government service and every word had to be vetted: "This is the first time I'm appearing before you as myself.''

And she kept her word on that: Iraqi officials, she said, "have no appetite after Abu Ghraib and Haditha for our lectures on human rights.'' Her general impression of escalating violence there, she said, is that, "We have brought a lot of this on ourselves, and put our armed forced in an absurd position," in the middle of a civil war. "Is our mission to play the hired gun with one side against the other." No. Or to keep the peace on all sides? Impossible. So, "I agree with the president it would be a disaster to leave under the present circumstances,'' she said, "but it may also be a disaster to stay."

She also called the president's proposal to send in some 21,500 additional troops, "less a statement of policy than a prayer," challenged the administration's position that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror, and said al Qaeda operatives are "there because we are."

At the same time, she questioned the view of some war critics that the situation is apt to improve if we withdraw: "I expect this year to be brutal" no matter what we do. "But I oppose efforts to cut off funding." Democrats on the panel took exception to her suggestion that de-funding troops already on the ground was even up for debate: "No one is recommending cutting funds for troops in the field," said Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), who chairs the committee.

When -- for old times' sake? -- California Republican Dana Rohrabacher angrily suggested that Albright was encouraging America's enemies by bringing up Abu Ghraib, she smiled like she was enjoying the trip down memory lane: "I'm pleased to continue our very pleasant discussion from the last six years."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bush in the Bunker: dangerous and must be stopped.

He's in the Bunker Now
By Frank Rich
The New York Times

Sunday 14 January 2007

President Bush always had one asset he could fall back on: the self-confidence of a born salesman. Like Harold Hill in "The Music Man," he knew how to roll out a new product, however deceptive or useless, with conviction and stagecraft. What the world saw on Wednesday night was a defeated Willy Loman who looked as broken as his war. His flop sweat was palpable even if you turned down the sound to deflect despair-inducing phrases like "Prime Minister Maliki has pledged ..." and "Secretary Rice will leave for the region. ..."

Mr. Bush seemed to know his product was snake oil, and his White House handlers did too. In the past, they made a fetish of situating their star in telegenic settings, from aircraft carriers to Ellis Island. Or they placed him against Orwellian backdrops shrieking "Plan for Victory." But this time even the audio stuttered, as if in solidarity with Baghdad's continuing electricity blackout, and the Oval Office was ditched, lest it summon up memories of all those past presidential sightings of light at the end of the Iraqi tunnel. Mr. Bush was banished to the White House library, where the backdrop was acres of books, to signify the studiousness of his rethinking of the "way forward."

"I'm not going to be rushed," the president said a month ago when talking about his many policy consultations. He wasn't kidding. His ostentatious deep thinking started after Election Day, once he realized that firing Donald Rumsfeld wouldn't be enough to co-opt the Iraq Study Group. He was thinking so hard that he abandoned his initial plan to announce a strategy before Christmas.

The war, however, refused to take a timeout for the holiday festivities in Crawford. The American death toll in Iraq, which hovered around 2,840 on Election Day, was nearing 3,020 by Wednesday night.

And these additional lives were sacrificed to what end? All the reviews and thinking and postponing produced a policy that, as a former top Bush aide summed it up for The Daily News, is nothing more than "repackaged stay-the-course dressed up to make it look more palatable." The repackaging was half-hearted as well. Not for nothing did the "way forward," a rubric the president used at least 27 times in December, end up on the cutting-room floor. The tossing of new American troops into Baghdad, a ploy that backfired in Operation Together Forward last year, is too transparently the way backward.

"Victory" also received short shrift, downsized by the president to the paltry goal of getting "closer to success." The "benchmarks" he cited were so vague that they'd be a disgrace to No Child Left Behind. And no wonder: in November, Mr. Bush couldn't even get our devoted ally, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, to show up for dinner at their summit in Amman, let alone induce him to root out Shiite militias. The most muscle the former Mr. Bring-'Em-On could muster in Wednesday's speech was this: "If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people." Since that support vanished long ago, it's hard to imagine an emptier threat or a more naked confession of American impotence, all the more pathetic in a speech rattling sabers against Syria and Iran.

Mr. Bush's own support from the American people is not coming back. His "new" Iraq policy is also in defiance of Iraqi public opinion, the Joint Chiefs, the Baker-Hamilton grandees, and Mr. Maliki, who six weeks ago asked for a lower American profile in Iraq. Which leaves you wondering exactly who is still in the bunker with the president besides the first lady and Barney.

It's a very short list led by John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and neo-conservative dead-enders like William Kristol and Frederick Kagan, who congregate at The Weekly Standard and the American Enterprise Institute, the Washington think tank. The one notable new recruit is Rudy Giuliani, who likened taming Baghdad to "reducing crime in New York" without noticing that even after the escalation there will be fewer American troops patrolling Baghdad than uniformed police officers in insurgency-free New York City.

Mr. Kagan, a military historian, was sent by the White House to sell its policy to Senate Republicans. It was he, Mr. Kristol and the retired Gen. Jack Keane who have most prominently pushed for this escalation and who published studies and editorials credited with defining it. Given that these unelected hawks are some of the same great thinkers who promoted the Iraq fiasco in the first place, it is hard to imagine why this White House continues to listen to them. Or maybe not that hard. In a typical op-ed article, headlined "Stay the Course, Mr. President," Mr. Kagan wrote in The Los Angeles Times in 2005: "Despite what you may have read, the military situation in Iraq today is positive."

Yet Mr. Bush doesn't even have the courage of his own disastrous convictions: he's not properly executing the policy these guys sold him. In The Washington Post on Dec. 27, Mr. Kagan and General Keane wrote that escalation could only succeed "with a surge of at least 30,000 combat troops" - a figure that has also been cited by Mr. McCain. (Mr. Kagan put the figure at 50,000 to 80,000 in a Weekly Standard article three weeks earlier. Whatever.) By any of these neocons' standards, the Bush escalation of some 20,000 is too little, not to mention way too late.

The discrepancy between the policy that Mr. Bush nominally endorses and the one he actually ordered up crystallizes the cynicism of this entire war. If you really believe, as the president continues to put it, that Iraq is the central front in "the decisive ideological struggle of our time," then you should be in favor of having many more troops than we've ever had in Iraq. As T. X. Hammes, an insurgency expert and a former marine, told USA Today, that doesn't now mean a "dribble" (as he ridicules the "surge") but a total of 300,000 armed coalition forces over a minimum of four years.

But that would mean asking Americans for sacrifice, not giving us tax cuts. Mr. Bush has never asked for sacrifice and still doesn't. If his words sound like bargain-basement Churchill, his actions have been cheaper still. The president's resolutely undermanned war plan indicated from Day 1 that he knew in his heart of hearts that Iraq was not the central front in the war against 9/11 jihadism he had claimed it to be, only the reckless detour that it actually was. Yet the war's cheerleaders, neocon and otherwise, disingenuously blamed our low troop strength almost exclusively on Mr. Rumsfeld.

Now that the defense secretary is gone, what are they to do? For whatever reason, you did not hear Mr. Kagan, General Keane or Mr. McCain speak out against Mr. Bush's plan even though it's insufficient by their own reckoning - just a repackaged continuance of the same "Whac-A-Mole" half-measures that Mr. McCain has long deplored. Surely the senator knows that, as his loosey-goosey endorsement attests. (On Friday, he called the Bush plan "the best chance of success" while simultaneously going on record that "a small, short surge would be the worst of all worlds.")

The question now is how to minimize the damage before countless more Americans and Iraqis are slaughtered to serve the president's endgame of passing his defeat on to the next president. The Democrats can have all the hearings they want, but they are unlikely to take draconian action (cutting off funding) that would make them, rather than Mr. Bush, politically vulnerable to blame for losing Iraq.

I have long felt that it will be up to Mr. Bush's own party to ring down the curtain on his failed policy, and after the 2006 midterms, that is more true than ever. The lame-duck president, having lost both houses of Congress and at least one war (Afghanistan awaits), has nothing left to lose. That is far from true of his party.

Even conservatives like Sam Brownback of Kansas and Norm Coleman of Minnesota started backing away from Iraq last week. Mr. Brownback is running for president in 2008, and Mr. Coleman faces a tough re-election fight. But Republicans not in direct electoral jeopardy (George Voinovich of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska) are also starting to waver. It's another Vietnam-Watergate era flashback. It wasn't Democrats or the press that forced Richard Nixon's abdication in 1974; it was dwindling Republican support. Though he had vowed to fight his way through a Senate trial, Nixon folded once he lost the patriarchal leader of his party's right wing.

That leader was Barry Goldwater, who had been one of Nixon's most loyal and aggressive defenders until he finally realized he'd been lied to once too often. If John McCain won't play the role his Arizona predecessor once did, we must hope that John Warner or some patriot like him will, for the good of the country, answer the call of conscience. A dangerous president must be saved from himself, so that the American kids he's about to hurl into the hell of Baghdad can be saved along with him.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Enough Time Already, Mr. President, Enough.

Enough Time Has Been Wasted, Mr. President. Enough!
by US Senator Robert C. Byrd
Speech delivered on the floor of the US Senate
Thursday afternoon, January 11, 2007

Paachal: Mr. Bush is arguing a military solution to a political crisis which cannot work except to escalate the violence in a tribal society. They must solve their own problems and the sooner we get out of the way, the better for everyone. This surge plan is part of the denial of an addictive personality disorder, as he will be able to blame others when it does not work. He plans to be "off the hook" of blame for a diastrous war and disastrous foreign policy in the Middle East. Such actions only fuel terrorism around the world and make us less safe and more vulnerable at home. We have killed an estimated 600,000 Iraqis. Mr. Bush has made America the source of violence, terror and danger to world peace. 1/12/07 See Byrd's argument below.

Last night in his address to the nation, the President called for a "surge" of 20,000 additional U.S. troops to help secure Baghdad against the violence that has consumed it. Unfortunately, such a plan is not the outline of a brave new course, as we were told, but a tragic commitment to a failed policy; not a bold new strategy, but a rededication to a course that has proven to be a colossal blunder on every count. The President never spoke truer words than when he said, "the situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people." But he once again failed to offer a realistic way forward, instead giving us more of his stale and tired "stay the course" prescriptions.

He espoused a strategy of "clear, hold, and build" -- a doctrine of counterinsurgency that one of our top commanders, General David Petraeus, helped to formulate. Clear, hold, and build involves bringing to bear a large number of troops in an area, clearing it of insurgents, and holding it secure for long enough for reconstruction to take place. But what the President did not say last night is that, according to General Petraeus and his own military experts, this strategy of "clear, hold, build" requires a huge number of troops -- a minimum of 20 combat troops for every 1,000 civilians in the area. Applying this doctrine to Baghdad's six million people means that at least 120,000 troops will be needed to secure Baghdad alone. Right now, we have about 70,000 combat troops stationed throughout Iraq; even if they all were concentrated in the city of Baghdad, along with the 20,000 new troops the President is calling for, we would still fall well short of what is needed.

But let us assume that the brave men and women of the U.S. military are able to carry out this Herculean task, and secure Baghdad against the forces that are spiraling it into violence; what is to keep those forces from regrouping in another town, another province, even another country, strengthening, festering, and waiting until the American soldiers leave to launch their bloody attacks again?

It brings to mind the ancient figure of Sisyphus, who was doomed to push a boulder up a mountainside for all eternity, only to have it roll back down as soon as he reached the top. As soon as he would accomplish his task it would begin again, endlessly. I fear that we are condemning our soldiers to a similar fate, hunting down insurgents in one city or province only to watch them pop up in another. For how long will U.S. troops be asked to shoulder this burden?

Over 3,000 American soldiers have now been killed in Iraq, and over 22,000 have been wounded. Staggering. And President Bush now proposes to send 20,000 more Americans into the line of fire, beyond the 70,000 already there. The cost of this war of choice to American taxpayers is now estimated to be over $400 billion, and the number continues to rise. One wonders how much progress we could have made in improving education, or resolving our health care crisis, or strengthening our borders, or reducing our national debt, or any number of pressing issues, with that amount of money. And the President proposes sending more money down that drain.

On every count, an escalation of 20,000 troops is a misguided, costly, unwise course of action. This is not a solution. This is not a march toward "victory." The President's own military advisors have indicated that we do not have enough troops for this strategy to be successful. It will put more Americans in harm's way than there already are. It will cost more in U.S. taxpayer money. It will further stretch an army that many commanders have already said is at its breaking point. It is a dangerous idea.

Why, then, is the President advocating it? This decision has the cynical smell of politics to me. Suggesting that an additional 20,000 troops will alter the balance of this war is a way for the President to look forceful, to appear to be taking bold action. But it is only the appearance of bold action, not the reality -- much like the image of a cocky President in a flight suit declaring "mission accomplished" from the deck of a battleship. This is not a new course, but a continuation of the tragically costly course we have been on for almost five years now. It is simply a policy that buys the President more time: more time to equivocate, more time to continue to resist any suggestion that he was wrong to enter us into this war in this place, in this time, in this manner. And importantly, calling for more troops gives the President more time to hand the Iraq situation off to his successor in the White House. The President apparently believes that he can wait this out, that he can continue to make small adjustments to a misguided policy while he maintains the same trajectory -- until he leaves office and it becomes someone else's problem.

But if you are driving in the wrong direction, anyone knows you will not get to your destination by going south when you should be going north. You turn around. You get better directions. This President is asking us to step on the gas in Iraq -- full throttle, while he has not even clearly articulated where we are going. What is our goal? What is our end game? How much progress will we need to see from the Iraqi government before our men and women come home? How long will American troops be stationed in Iraq to be maimed and killed in sectarian bloodshed?

The ultimate solution to the situation in Iraq is political, and will have to come from the Iraqis themselves. The Iraqi government will have to address the causes of the insurgency, by creating a sustainable power-sharing agreement between Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds -- and it is far from clear that the government has the power or the willingness to do that at this point. But as long as American troops are there to bear the brunt of the blame and the fire, the Iraqi government will not shoulder the responsibility itself. And Iraq's neighbors -- especially Iran and Syria -- won't commit to helping to stabilize the country as long as they see America bogged down, and losing credibility and strength. Keeping the U.S. army tied up in a bloody, endless battle in Iraq plays perfectly into Iran's hands, and it has little incentive to cease its assistance to the insurgency as long as America is there. America's presence in Iraq is inhibiting a lasting solution, not contributing to one. The President has, once again, gotten it backwards.

What I had hoped to hear from the President last night were specific benchmarks of progress that he expects from the Iraqi government, and a plan for the withdrawal of American troops conditioned on those benchmarks. Instead, we were given a vague admonition that "the responsibility for security will rest with the Iraqi government by November" -- with no suggestion of what that responsibility will mean, or how to measure the government's capacity to handle it. The President is asking us, once again, to trust him while he keeps our troops mired in Iraq. But that trust was long ago squandered.

I weep for the waste that we have already seen. Lives, treasure, time, goodwill, credibility, opportunity. Wasted. Wasted. And this President is calling for us to waste more.

I say, enough. If he will not provide leadership and statesmanship, if he does not have the strength of vision to recognize a failed policy and chart a new course, then leadership will have to come from somewhere else. Enough waste. Enough lives lost on this President's misguided venture in Iraq. Enough time and energy spent on a civil war far from our shores, while the problems Americans face are ignored, while we wallow in debt and mortgage our children's future to foreigners. Enough. It is time to truly change course, and start talking about how we rebalance our foreign policy and bring our sons and daughters home.

There are a lot of people making political calculations about the war in Iraq, turning this debate into an exercise of political grandstanding and point-scoring. But this is not a political game. This is life and death. This is asking thousands more Americans to make the ultimate sacrifice for a war that we now know beyond a shadow of a doubt was a mistake. There were those of us who cautioned against the hasty rush to war in Iraq. And unfortunately, our cries, like Cassandra's, went unheeded. And like Cassandra, our warnings and our fears proved prophetic.

But we are not doomed to repeat our mistakes. We must learn from the past. We must understand that more money and more troops are not the answer. The clock is running on our misadventure in Iraq.

Enough time has been wasted, Mr. President. Enough!


Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Real Disaster is Bush himself.

The Real Disaster
The New York Times | Editorial

Thursday 11 January 2007

President Bush told Americans last night that failure in Iraq would be a disaster. The disaster is Mr. Bush's war, and he has already failed. Last night was his chance to stop offering more fog and be honest with the nation, and he did not take it.

Americans needed to hear a clear plan to extricate United States troops from the disaster that Mr. Bush created. What they got was more gauzy talk of victory in the war on terrorism and of creating a "young democracy" in Iraq. In other words, a way for this president to run out the clock and leave his mess for the next one.

Mr. Bush did acknowledge that some of his previous tactics had failed. But even then, the president sounded as if he were an accidental tourist in Iraq. He described the failure of last year's effort to pacify Baghdad as if the White House and the Pentagon bore no responsibility.

In any case, Mr. Bush's excuses were tragically inadequate. The nation needs an eyes-wide-open recognition that the only goal left is to get the U.S. military out of this civil war in a way that could minimize the slaughter of Iraqis and reduce the chances that the chaos Mr. Bush unleashed will engulf Iraq's neighbors.

What it certainly did not need were more of Mr. Bush's open-ended threats to Iran and Syria.

Before Mr. Bush spoke, Americans knew he planned to send more troops to pacify lawless Baghdad. Mr. Bush's task was to justify that escalation by acknowledging that there was no military solution to this war and outlining the political mission that the military would be serving. We were waiting for him to detail the specific milestones that he would set for the Iraqis, set clear timelines for when they would be expected to meet them, and explain what he intended to do if they again failed.

Instead, he said he had warned the Iraqis that if they didn't come through, they would lose the faith of the American people. Has Mr. Bush really not noticed that the American people long ago lost faith in the Iraqi government - and in him as well? Americans know that this Iraqi government is captive to Shiite militias, with no interest in the unity, reconciliation and democracy that Mr. Bush says he wants.

Mr. Bush said yet again that he wanted the Iraqi government to step up to the task of providing its security, and that Iraq needed a law on the fair distribution of oil money. Iraq's government needs to do a lot more than that, starting with disarming the sectarian militias that are feeding the civil war and purging the police forces that too often are really death squads. It needs to offer amnesty to insurgents and militia fighters willing to put down their weapons. It needs to do those things immediately.

Iraq's Shiite-dominated government has heard this list before. But so long as Mr. Bush is willing to back that failed government indefinitely - enabling is the psychological term - Iraq's leaders will have no reason to move against the militias and more fairly share power with the Sunni minority.

Mr. Bush did announce his plan for 20,000 more troops, and the White House trumpeted a $1 billion contribution to reconstruction efforts. Congress will debate these as if they are the real issues. But they are not. Talk of a "surge" ignores the other 140,000 American troops trapped by a failed strategy.

We have argued that the United States has a moral obligation to stay in Iraq as long as there is a chance to mitigate the damage that a quick withdrawal might cause. We have called for an effort to secure Baghdad, but as part of the sort of comprehensive political solution utterly lacking in Mr. Bush's speech. This war has reached the point that merely prolonging it could make a bad ending even worse. Without a real plan to bring it to a close, there is no point in talking about jobs programs and military offensives. There is nothing ahead but even greater disaster in Iraq.

Go to Original

Promising Troops Where They Aren't Really Wanted
By Sabrina Tavernise and John F. Burns
The New York Times

Thursday 11 January 2007

Baghdad - As President Bush challenges public opinion at home by committing more American troops, he is confronted by a paradox: an Iraqi government that does not really want them.

The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has not publicly opposed the American troop increase, but aides to Mr. Maliki have been saying for weeks that the government is wary of the proposal. They fear that an increased American troop presence, particularly in Baghdad, will be accompanied by a more assertive American role that will conflict with the Shiite government's haste to cut back on American authority and run the war the way it wants. American troops, Shiite leaders say, should stay out of Shiite neighborhoods and focus on fighting Sunni insurgents.

"The government believes there is no need for extra troops from the American side," Haidar al-Abadi, a Parliament member and close associate of Mr. Maliki, said Wednesday. "The existing troops can do the job."

It is an opinion that is broadly held among a Shiite political elite that is increasingly impatient, after nearly two years heading the government here, to exercise power without the constraining supervision of the United States. As a long-oppressed majority, the Shiites have a deep-seated fear that the power they won at the polls, after centuries of subjugation by the Sunni minority, could somehow be pried from their fingers once again.

There are misgivings, too, among other Shiite leaders, including some whom Mr. Bush has courted recently in a United States effort to form a bloc of politicians from the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities that can break Mr. Maliki's political dependence on the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, who leads the Mahdi Army, the most powerful of the Shiite militias that are at the heart of sectarian violence in Iraq.

Hadi al-Ameri, the leader of the security committee in Parliament and a close associate of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim - a prominent Shiite leader who met with Mr. Bush last month in Washington, and who has quietly supported the American push to reshape the political landscape in Baghdad - was unequivocal in his opposition to a troop increase.

"You can't solve the problem by adding more troops," said Redha Jawad Tahi, another Shiite member of Parliament from Mr. Hakim's party. "The security should be in the hands of the Iraqis. The U.S. should be in a supporting role."

Still, the Iraqis seem to be getting some of the increased authority they have been demanding. The plan Mr. Bush sketched out involved the appointment of an Iraqi commander with overall control of the new security crackdown in Baghdad, and Iraqi officers working under him who would be in charge of military operations in nine newly demarcated districts in the capital. The commanders would sit in a new office of commander in chief directly under the authority of Mr. Maliki. The arrangement could allow Mr. Maliki to circumvent the Ministry of Defense, which is controlled directly by the American military.

The arrangements appeared to suggest that Mr. Maliki could halt any push into Sadr City, the Mahdi Army stronghold that American commanders have been saying for months will have to be swept of extremist militia elements if there is to be any lasting turn toward stability in Baghdad. But Mr. Bush's new plan appeared to have safeguards of its own to prevent sectarian agendas from gaining the upper hand. Bush administration officials said that Americans would be present in the commander in chief's office and that an American Army battalion - 400 to 600 soldiers - would be stationed in each of the nine Baghdad military districts. That means Mr. Maliki will not have complete freedom of movement. In the past, American commanders have been reluctant to hand over operational control to the Iraqis, worried that Iraqi forces will be used as a weapon in a civil war.

Still, Mr. Abadi said that the Iraqis are expecting that the Americans will base themselves on the outskirts of Baghdad and that the Iraqis will take command of the city itself.

"There is a dialogue going on between the prime minister and Bush," he said. "The U.S. agrees that the government must take command."

Shiite suspicions of the American troop increase reflect a tectonic shift in the political realities here. Shiites, the principal victims of Saddam Hussein's repression, had joined with Iraqi Kurds in hailing the American-led invasion in 2003, seeing it as opening their way to power. But once they consolidated their control through two elections in 2005, they began distancing themselves from the Americans, seeing their liberators increasingly as an impediment to the full control they craved.

By contrast, moderate Sunnis, who were deeply alienated by the American occupation at an earlier stage of the war, are now looking to Americans for protection, as Shiite militias have moved into Sunni neighborhoods in a deadly cycle of revenge. On Wednesday, moderate Sunni politicians hailed the idea of more American troops.

The Shiite leaders' frustrations have grown in recent months as American commanders have retained their tight grip in Baghdad. While the Americans have argued for a strategy that places equal emphasis on going after Shiite and Sunni extremists, the Shiite leaders have insisted that the killing is rooted in the Sunni attempt to regain power and that Shiite militias and revenge killings are an inevitable response.

American officials have warned that with lessening American oversight, Shiite leaders might shift to a sectarian strategy that punished Sunni insurgents but spared Shiite militias. The execution 11 days ago of Saddam Hussein, carried out in haste by the Maliki government over American urgings that it be delayed until the legal paperwork was completed, only reinforced such fears. With as many as 17,000 additional American troops in Baghdad, the American force level in the capital will rise above 30,000, and many of those, under the Bush plan, will be in American units that are twinned with Iraqi units, or in expanded teams of military advisers that are embedded with the Iraqis, down to the company level.

American generals have acknowledged that the twinning of American and Iraqi units, and the rapid increase in the number of American advisers, will serve the dual purpose of stiffening Iraqi combat performance and providing American commanders with early warning of any Iraqi operations that run counter to American objectives. In effect, the advisers will serve as canaries in Mr. Maliki's mine, ensuring the American command will get early notice if Iraqi operations threaten to abandon the equal pursuit of Sunni and Shiite extremists in favor of a more sectarian emphasis. Some Iraqi politicians have expressed bitter opposition to the expansion of the advisory teams, saying they will amount to "spies" at the heart of Iraq's war.

But if that appeared to set the stage for future tensions between the Americans and the Iraqis, there was much else in the Bush plan that appeared to have been fashioned to avoid an early confrontation with the Maliki government. While the plan set out political benchmarks, it appeared to lack any timelines to force compliance on Mr. Maliki, who has shown in the past months that his willingness to pledge action on issues urged on him by the Americans is more than matched by his resourcefulness in finding ways to defer steps that might incur resistance among Shiite religious groups.

The wish list set out by White House officials was the same as the one the Americans laid down in May, when Mr. Maliki took office: an oil law that promises a fair distribution of future oil revenues between the Shiite and Kurdish populations that sit atop most of Iraq's oil wealth, and the Sunnis whose heartland is mostly bereft of proven oil reserves; constitutional revisions that will assuage Sunni complaints that their interests were swept aside when Shiite and Kurdish voters approved the charter 15 months ago over Sunni objections; a new de-Baathification law that will sweep aside the barrier that thousands of Sunnis have found in seeking government jobs; and, most important, a militia law that will lay the groundwork for disarming and demobilizing armed groups like Mr. Sadr's that challenge the government's monopoly on armed force.

Hard-line Shiite politicians have been saying with growing vehemence that these American goals amount to an attempt to deprive them of the victory they won at the polls, and that instead of placating Sunnis, a minority of about 20 percent in Iraq's population of 27 million, the United States should stand aside and "allow the minority to lose." For Americans, whose best road home lies in drawing the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds together, it amounts to a collision with the hard history of Iraq.

Only time will tell whether Mr. Maliki and his associates, with the trends in the war running against them, will take the "breathing space" that White House officials said the American troop reinforcements will give them to decide, at last, that history is theirs to command.

Only time will tell whether Mr. Maliki and his associates, with the trends in the war running against them, will take the “breathing space” that White House officials said the American troop reinforcements will give them to decide, at last, that they can refashion that history in a way that brings Iraqis of all groups together and avoids a further slide toward all-out civil war.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bill Moyers on Bush and earth warming.

ill Moyers Has Harsh Words for President, Christian Right
by Steven G. Vegh

Television journalist Bill Moyers slammed President Bush on Tuesday for "mind-boggling" contempt for proof of global warming and blamed what he called Bush's dependence on conservative Christians and multinational corporations.

"Without the Christian right, the corporations that now control Washington would not have had the votes to eviscerate our environmental protections," Moyers said in a Chrysler Hall speech hosted by The Norfolk Forum.

Moyers, known for investigative reporting as well as his programs on spirituality, said conservative Christians' literal belief in the Bible has made them dismissive of scientific evidence of the danger of global warming.

He also said Bush was "beholden to his corporate patrons and campaign contributors" and that corporations control the nation's environmental policy "lock, stock and barrel."

Moyers, 72, called the environment one of the toughest topics he reported on.

Religion is equally challenging because of the country's growing spiritual diversity, he said.

"We have to ask, Can we avoid the intolerance, the chauvinism, the fanaticism, the bitter fruits that spring up when different religions are next-door neighbors?"

Moyers said his wide-ranging interviews on subjects such as the book of Genesis showed him that each religion "offers a profound insight into human nature."

"They have led me away from condescending toleration of other faiths to an anticipation and affirmation of positive engagement with them," said Moyers, who called himself both a journalist and a spiritual "pilgrim."

Earlier in the evening, Moyers said he plans to launch a new weekly program on public television in April.

He said the show, "Bill Moyers' Journal," would be "an eclectic program of what I think is interesting and important that week."

© 2007

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

American Scriptures: Speeches that made America

Speeches That Made a Nation: American Scriptures
by Pierre Tristam

The last couple of years have felt like the mid-1970s: Lousy music, clunky economy, politics from hell. Punk, disco and Andrew Lloyd Webber have degraded to rap, techno and any one of those plastic and silicone figurines that interchangeably pop in and out of famedom. Abroad in 1975 choppers were flying off the roof of the American embassy in Saigon in hysterics, a preview of curtain-time in Baghdad (history doesn’t repeat itself, Mark Twain said, but it does rhyme). At home Gerald Ford was managing to look good only because his predecessor’s paranoid delinquence would have made any president look good in comparison — until George W. Bush. Tomorrow, that one will go on television to tell us how he plans to make a bad situation worse in Iraq as he runs out the clock on his reign of ruin.

If America is one’s religion — as it is mine — this would be a good time for a crisis of faith. Instead, a package that arrived by mail over the holidays had the opposite effect. It was the two-volume edition of the Library of America’s “American Speeches,” a collection of the greatest speeches in the nation’s history from James Otis to Bill Clinton. Like a trip around the country’s great natural monuments, the 1,500-page journey takes you by way of some of the old standards: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, John Kennedy, Malcolm X.

It also takes you back through the byways of great, somewhat forgotten origins of unforgettable words: Henry Lee’s eulogy to George Washington (“First in war — first in peace — and first in the hearts of his countrymen…”); Theodore Parker’s 1848 summation of the character of America (“We are more spontaneous than logical; we have ideas, rather than facts or precedents. We dream more than we remember, and so have many orators and poets….” Parker’s phrase, “of all the people, by all the people, for all the people,” would eventually become the most famous line of the most famous American speech of all); Nez Perce Chief Joseph’s reply to General Howard from Bear Paw Mountains in 1877 (“I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever,” words that were soon followed by a deadly yet brilliant escape to Canada ahead of Howard’s forces); J. Robert Oppenheimer’s speech to Los Alamos scientists in November 1945 on the nuclear age he ushered with them (“this is not only a great peril, but a great hope…”); Betty Friedan’s “Crisis in Women’s Identity” speech in San Francisco in 1964 (“You know that you have brains as well as breasts, and you use them”), and so many more.

Just as the sermon has played a central role in America’s conception of itself as a spiritual, rather than merely religious, nation (the Library of America collected those, too, in “American Sermons” back in 1999), sermons’ secular equivalents in politics, culture, science and business keep shaping the American character as much as reality does — sometimes more so. If our conception of racial equality as we will it were to be based on something, it wouldn’t be the reality we see around us — that would be depressing, still — but on words spoken by Martin Luther King (among others) in any one of his great speeches, when even he knew that he was projecting a hope more than he was reflecting a fact.

But isn’t that what so much of American history has been — a projection of hope in spite of limitations, a willingness to speak the impossible in hope that, like secular scriptures for the modern age, the words’ truths would one day be fulfilled? That’s what so many of these speeches have in common: A faith in the impossible that restores one’s faith in what is, after all, the all-too common reality of a nation like any other.

We’re a nation of deep flaws and catastrophic failures, of genocidal crimes against entire races and nations (blacks, Indians, the Philippines , Vietnam , now Iraq ). We are, in other words, sadly ordinary but for the immense power that magnifies everything we touch, good and bad. The curative exceptionalism to the national character is in these speeches. It doesn’t matter who spoke them. Liberals, conservatives, socialists, black, white, gay or straight, Barry Goldwater, Jesse Jackson or Ronald Reagan (they’re all there, and there’s a special pleasure in reading words once heard, and sometimes reviled, live): Considered in this perspective, they’re all part of an ongoing conversation that’s bigger and more important than any of the individuals who delivered those speeches. The enduring hope is that the conversation goes on to this day, even if the clutter of the immediate makes it difficult to detect purpose from partisanship. Scriptures, in any case, aren’t always understood in their own day.

Tristam is a Daytona Beach (Florida) News-Journal editorial writer. Reach him at

© Copyright 2007 Pierre Tristam
Published on Tuesday, January 9, 2007 by Candide’s Notebooks

Friday, January 05, 2007

FOR AMERICA'S SAKE, by Bill Moyers, Jan 5

Published on Friday, January 5, 2007 by The Nation
For America's Sake
by Bill Moyers

The following is an adaptation of remarks made by Bill Moyers to a December 12 gathering in New York sponsored by The Nation, Demos, the Brennan Center for Justice and the New Democracy Project. --The Editors

You could not have chosen a better time to gather. Voters have provided a respite from a right-wing radicalism predicated on the philosophy that extremism in the pursuit of virtue is no vice. It seems only yesterday that the Trojan horse of conservatism was hauled into Washington to disgorge Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist and their hearty band of ravenous predators masquerading as a political party of small government, fiscal restraint and moral piety and promising "to restore accountability to Congress...[and] make us all proud again of the way free people govern themselves."

Well, the long night of the junta is over, and Democrats are ebullient as they prepare to take charge of the multitrillion-dollar influence racket that we used to call the US Congress. Let them rejoice while they can, as long as they remember that while they ran some good campaigns, they have arrived at this moment mainly because George W. Bush lost a war most people have come to believe should never have been fought in the first place. Let them remember, too, in this interim of sweet anticipation, that although they are reveling in the ruins of a Republican reign brought down by stupendous scandals, their own closet is stocked with skeletons from an era when they were routed from office following Abscam bribes and savings and loan swindles that plucked the pockets and purses of hard-working, tax-paying Americans.

As they rejoice, Democrats would be wise to be mindful of Shakespeare's counsel, "'Tis more by fortune...than by merit." For they were delivered from the wilderness not by their own goodness and purity but by the grace of K Street corruption, DeLay Inc.'s duplicity, the pitiless exploitation of Terri Schiavo, the disgrace of Mark Foley and a shameful partisan cover-up, the shamelessness of Jack Abramoff and a partisan conspiracy, and neocon arrogance and amorality (yes, amoral: Apparently there is no end to the number of bodies Bill Kristol and Richard Perle are prepared to watch pile up on behalf of illusions that can't stand the test of reality even one Beltway block from the think tanks where they are hatched). The Democrats couldn't have been more favored by the gods if they had actually believed in one!

But whatever one might say about the election, the real story is one that our political and media elites are loath to acknowledge or address. I am not speaking of the lengthy list of priorities that progressives and liberals of every stripe are eager to put on the table now that Democrats hold the cards in Congress. Just the other day a message popped up on my computer from a progressive advocate whose work I greatly admire. Committed to movement-building from the ground up, he has results to show for his labors. His request was simple: "With changes in Congress and at our state capitol, we want your input on what top issues our lawmakers should tackle. Click here to submit your top priority."

I clicked. Sure enough, up came a list of thirty-four issues--an impressive list that began with "African-American" and ran alphabetically through "energy" and "higher education" to "guns," "transportation," "women's issues" and "workers' rights." It wasn't a list to be dismissed, by any means, for it came from an unrequited thirst for action after a long season of malignant opposition to every item on the agenda. I understand the mindset. Here's a fellow who values allies and appreciates what it takes to build coalitions; who knows that although our interests as citizens vary, each one is an artery to the heart that pumps life through the body politic, and each is important to the health of democracy. This is an activist who knows political success is the sum of many parts.

But America needs something more right now than a "must-do" list from liberals and progressives. America needs a different story. The very morning I read the message from the progressive activist, the New York Times reported on Carol Ann Reyes. Carol Ann Reyes is 63. She lives in Los Angeles, suffers from dementia and is homeless. Somehow she made her way to a hospital with serious, untreated needs. No details were provided as to what happened to her there, except that the hospital--which is part of Kaiser Permanente, the largest HMO in the country--called a cab and sent her back to skid row. True, they phoned ahead to workers at a rescue shelter to let them know she was coming. But some hours later a surveillance camera picked her up "wandering around the streets in a hospital gown and slippers." Dumped in America.

Here is the real political story, the one most politicians won't even acknowledge: the reality of the anonymous, disquieting daily struggle of ordinary people, including the most marginalized and vulnerable Americans but also young workers and elders and parents, families and communities, searching for dignity and fairness against long odds in a cruel market world.

Everywhere you turn you'll find people who believe they have been written out of the story. Everywhere you turn there's a sense of insecurity grounded in a gnawing fear that freedom in America has come to mean the freedom of the rich to get richer even as millions of Americans are dumped from the Dream. So let me say what I think up front: The leaders and thinkers and activists who honestly tell that story and speak passionately of the moral and religious values it puts in play will be the first political generation since the New Deal to win power back for the people.

There's no mistaking that America is ready for change. One of our leading analysts of public opinion, Daniel Yankelovich, reports that a majority want social cohesion and common ground based on pragmatism and compromise, patriotism and diversity. But because of the great disparities in wealth, the "shining city on the hill" has become a gated community whose privileged occupants, surrounded by a moat of money and protected by a political system seduced with cash into subservience, are removed from the common life of the country. The wreckage of this abdication by elites is all around us.

Corporations are shredding the social compact, pensions are disappearing, median incomes are flattening and healthcare costs are soaring. In many ways, the average household is generally worse off today than it was thirty years ago, and the public sector that was a support system and safety net for millions of Americans across three generations is in tatters. For a time, stagnating wages were somewhat offset by more work and more personal debt. Both political parties craftily refashioned those major renovations of the average household as the new standard, shielding employers from responsibility for anything Wall Street didn't care about. Now, however, the more acute major risks workers have been forced to bear as employers reduce their health and retirement costs--on orders from Wall Street--have made it clear that our fortunes are being reversed. Polls show that a majority of US workers now believe their children will be worse off than they are. In one recent survey, only 14 percent of workers said that they have obtained the American Dream.

It is hard to believe that less than four decades ago a key architect of the antipoverty program, Robert Lampman, could argue that the "recent history of Western nations reveals an increasingly widespread adoption of the idea that substantial equality of social and economic conditions among individuals is a good thing." Economists call that postwar era "the Great Compression." Poverty and inequality had declined dramatically for the first time in our history. Here, as Paul Krugman recently recounted, is how Time's report on the national outlook in 1953 summed it up: "Even in the smallest towns and most isolated areas, the U.S. is wearing a very prosperous, middle-class suit of clothes, and an attitude of relaxation and confidence. People are not growing wealthy, but more of them than ever before are getting along." African-Americans were still written out of the story, but that was changing, too, as heroic resistance emerged across the South to awaken our national conscience. Within a decade, thanks to the civil rights movement and President Johnson, the racial cast of federal policy--including some New Deal programs--was aggressively repudiated, and shared prosperity began to breach the color line.

To this day I remember John F. Kennedy's landmark speech at the Yale commencement in 1962. Echoing Daniel Bell's cold war classic The End of Ideology, JFK proclaimed the triumph of "practical management of a modern economy" over the "grand warfare of rival ideologies." The problem with this--and still a major problem today--is that the purported ideological cease-fire ended only a few years later. But the Democrats never re-armed, and they kept pinning all their hopes on economic growth, which by its very nature is valueless and cannot alone provide answers to social and moral questions that arise in the face of resurgent crisis. While "practical management of a modern economy" had a kind of surrogate legitimacy as long as it worked, when it no longer worked, the nation faced a paralyzing moral void in deciding how the burdens should be borne. Well-organized conservative forces, firing on all ideological pistons, rushed to fill this void with a story corporate America wanted us to hear. Inspired by bumper-sticker abstractions of Milton Friedman's ideas, propelled by cascades of cash from corporate chieftans like Coors and Koch and "Neutron" Jack Welch, fortified by the pious prescriptions of fundamentalist political preachers like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, the conservative armies marched on Washington. And they succeeded brilliantly.

When Ronald Reagan addressed the Republican National Convention in 1980, he a told a simple story, one that had great impact. "The major issue of this campaign is the direct political, personal and moral responsibility of Democratic Party leadership--in the White House and in Congress--for this unprecedented calamity which has befallen us." He declared, "I will not stand by and watch this great country destroy itself." It was a speech of bold contrasts, of good private interest versus bad government, of course. More important, it personified these two forces in a larger narrative of freedom, reaching back across the Great Depression, the Civil War and the American Revolution, all the way back to the Mayflower Compact. It so dazzled and demoralized Democrats they could not muster a response to the moral abandonment and social costs that came with the Reagan revolution.

We too have a story of freedom to tell, and it too reaches back across the Great Depression, the Civil War and the American Revolution, all the way back to the Mayflower Compact. It's a story with clear and certain foundations, like Reagan's, but also a tumultuous and sometimes violent history of betrayal that he and other conservatives consistently and conveniently ignore.

Reagan's story of freedom superficially alludes to the Founding Fathers, but its substance comes from the Gilded Age, devised by apologists for the robber barons. It is posed abstractly as the freedom of the individual from government control--a Jeffersonian ideal at the root of our Bill of Rights, to be sure. But what it meant in politics a century later, and still means today, is the freedom to accumulate wealth without social or democratic responsibilities and the license to buy the political system right out from under everyone else, so that democracy no longer has the ability to hold capitalism accountable for the good of the whole.

And that is not how freedom was understood when our country was founded. At the heart of our experience as a nation is the proposition that each one of us has a right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." As flawed in its reach as it was brilliant in its inspiration for times to come, that proposition carries an inherent imperative: "inasmuch as the members of a liberal society have a right to basic requirements of human development such as education and a minimum standard of security, they have obligations to each other, mutually and through their government, to ensure that conditions exist enabling every person to have the opportunity for success in life."

The quote comes directly from Paul Starr, one of our most formidable public thinkers, whose forthcoming book, Freedom's Power: The True Force of Liberalism, is a profound and stirring call for liberals to reclaim the idea of America's greatness as their own. Starr's book is one of three new books that in a just world would be on every desk in the House and Senate when Congress convenes again.

John Schwarz, in Freedom Reclaimed: Rediscovering the American Vision, rescues the idea of freedom from market cultists whose "particular idea of freedom...has taken us down a terribly mistaken road" toward a political order where "government ends up servicing the powerful and taking from everyone else." The free-market view "cannot provide us with a philosophy we find compelling or meaningful," Schwarz writes. Nor does it assure the availability of economic opportunity "that is truly adequate to each individual and the status of full legal as well as political equality." Yet since the late nineteenth century it has been used to shield private power from democratic accountability, in no small part because conservative rhetoric has succeeded in denigrating government even as conservative politicians plunder it.

But government, Schwarz reminds us, "is not simply the way we express ourselves collectively but also often the only way we preserve our freedom from private power and its incursions." That is one reason the notion that every person has a right to meaningful opportunity "has assumed the position of a moral bottom line in the nation's popular culture ever since the beginning." Freedom, he says, is "considerably more than a private value." It is essentially a social idea, which explains why the worship of the free market "fails as a compelling idea in terms of the moral reasoning of freedom itself." Let's get back to basics, is Schwarz's message. Let's recapture our story.

Norton Garfinkle picks up on both Schwarz and Starr in The American Dream vs. the Gospel of Wealth, as he describes how America became the first nation on earth to offer an economic vision of opportunity for even the humblest beginner to advance, and then moved, in fits and starts--but always irrepressibly--to the invocation of positive government as the means to further that vision through politics. No one understood this more clearly, Garfinkle writes, than Abraham Lincoln, who called on the federal government to save the Union. He turned to large government expenditures for internal improvements--canals, bridges and railroads. He supported a strong national bank to stabilize the currency. He provided the first major federal funding for education, with the creation of land grant colleges. And he kept close to his heart an abiding concern for the fate of ordinary people, especially the ordinary worker but also the widow and orphan. Our greatest President kept his eye on the sparrow. He believed government should be not just "of the people" and "by the people" but "for the people." Including, we can imagine, Carol Ann Reyes.

The great leaders of our tradition--Jefferson, Lincoln and the two Roosevelts--understood the power of our story. In my time it was FDR, who exposed the false freedom of the aristocratic narrative. He made the simple but obvious point that where once political royalists stalked the land, now economic royalists owned everything standing. Mindful of Plutarch's warning that "an imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics," Roosevelt famously told America, in 1936, that "the average man once more confronts the problem that faced the Minute Man." He gathered together the remnants of the great reform movements of the Progressive Age--including those of his late-blooming cousin, Teddy--into a singular political cause that would be ratified again and again by people who categorically rejected the laissez-faire anarchy that had produced destructive, unfettered and ungovernable power. Now came collective bargaining and workplace rules, cash assistance for poor children, Social Security, the GI Bill, home mortgage subsidies, progressive taxation--democratic instruments that checked economic tyranny and helped secure America's great middle class. And these were only the beginning. The Marshall Plan, the civil rights revolution, reaching the moon, a huge leap in life expectancy--every one of these great outward achievements of the last century grew from shared goals and collaboration in the public interest.

So it is that contrary to what we have heard rhetorically for a generation now, the individualist, greed-driven, free-market ideology is at odds with our history and with what most Americans really care about. More and more people agree that growing inequality is bad for the country, that corporations have too much power, that money in politics is corrupting democracy and that working families and poor communities need and deserve help when the market system fails to generate shared prosperity. Indeed, the American public is committed to a set of values that almost perfectly contradicts the conservative agenda that has dominated politics for a generation now.

The question, then, is not about changing people; it's about reaching people. I'm not speaking simply of better information, a sharper and clearer factual presentation to disperse the thick fogs generated by today's spin machines. Of course, we always need stronger empirical arguments to back up our case. It would certainly help if at least as many people who believe, say, in a "literal devil" or that God sent George W. Bush to the White House also knew that the top 1 percent of households now have more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. Yes, people need more information than they get from the media conglomerates with their obsession for nonsense, violence and pap. And we need, as we keep hearing, "new ideas." But we are at an extraordinary moment. The conservative movement stands intellectually and morally bankrupt while Democrats talk about a "new direction" without convincing us they know the difference between a weather vane and a compass. The right story will set our course for a generation to come.

Some stories doom us. In Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond tells of the Viking colony that disappeared in the fifteenth century. The settlers had scratched a living on the sparse coast of Greenland for years, until they encountered a series of harsh winters. Their livestock, the staple of their diet, began to die off. Although the nearby waters teemed with haddock and cod, the colony's mythology prohibited the eating of fish. When their supply of hay ran out during a last terrible winter, the colony was finished. They had been doomed by their story.

Here in the first decade of the twenty-first century the story that becomes America's dominant narrative will shape our collective imagination and hence our politics. In the searching of our souls demanded by this challenge, those of us in this room and kindred spirits across the nation must confront the most fundamental progressive failure of the current era: the failure to embrace a moral vision of America based on the transcendent faith that human beings are more than the sum of their material appetites, our country is more than an economic machine, and freedom is not license but responsibility--the gift we have received and the legacy we must bequeath.

In our brief sojourn here we are on a great journey. For those who came before us and for those who follow, our moral, political and religious duty is to make sure that this nation, which was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that we are all created equal, is in good hands on our watch.

One story would return America to the days of radical laissez-faire, when there was no social contract and the strong took what they could and the weak were left to forage. The other story joins the memory of struggles that have been waged with the possibility of victories yet to be won, including healthcare for every American and a living wage for every worker. Like the mustard seed to which Jesus compared the Kingdom of God, nurtured from small beginnings in a soil thirsty for new roots, our story has been a long time unfolding. It reminds us that the freedoms and rights we treasure were not sent from heaven and did not grow on trees. They were, as John Powers has written, "born of centuries of struggle by untold millions who fought and bled and died to assure that the government can't just walk into our bedrooms and read our mail, to protect ordinary people from being overrun by massive corporations, to win a safety net against the often-cruel workings of the market, to guarantee that businessmen couldn't compel workers to work more than forty hours a week without extra compensation, to make us free to criticize our government without having our patriotism impugned, and to make sure that our leaders are answerable to the people when they choose to send our soldiers into war." The eight-hour day, the minimum wage, the conservation of natural resources, free trade unions, old-age pensions, clean air and water, safe food--all these began with citizens and won the endorsement of the political class only after long struggles and bitter attacks. Democracy works when people claim it as their own.

It is only rarely remembered that the definition of democracy immortalized by Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address had been inspired by Theodore Parker, the abolitionist prophet. Driven from his pulpit, Parker said, "I will go about and preach and lecture in the city and glen, by the roadside and field-side, and wherever men and women may be found." He became the Hound of Freedom and helped to change America through the power of the word. We have a story of equal power. It is that the promise of America leaves no one out. Go now, and tell it on the mountains. From the rooftops, tell it. From your laptops, tell it. From the street corners and from Starbucks, from delis and from diners, tell it. From the workplace and the bookstore, tell it. On campus and at the mall, tell it. Tell it at the synagogue, sanctuary and mosque. Tell it where you can, when you can and while you can--to every candidate for office, to every talk-show host and pundit, to corporate executives and schoolchildren. Tell it--for America's sake.

Copyright © 2007 The Nation