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When reminded at today’s press conference that the Iraq War is now reaching the duration of World War II, with no “victory” and no end in sight, the President responded,

BUSH: First of all, this is a different kind of war than a war against the fascists in World War II. We were facing a nation state — two nation states — three nation states in World War II. We were able to find an enemy by locating its ships or aircraft or soldiers on the ground.

But back in August, 2005, Bush was touting the similarities between the Iraq War and World War II, particularly in terms of the moral imperative:

“Like the Second World War, our present conflict began with a ruthless surprise attack on the United States,” Bush said “We will not forget that treachery, and we will accept nothing less than victory over the enemy . . . Like the murderous ideologies of the 20th century, the ideology of terrorism reaches across borders and seeks recruits in every country. So we’re fighting these enemies wherever they hide across the Earth.”

“ . . . our present conflict began with a ruthless surprise attack on the
United States.”
  If the President was referring to 9/11 here, which apparently he was, then someone should have reminded him that Iraq was not responsible for that attack.  And,

Reaching back into history, Bush repeatedly cited Roosevelt’s steadfastness as the model for today’s conflict, comparing the Japanese sneak assault on Pearl Harbor in 1941 to the al Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001. Much as Roosevelt fought pre-Pearl Harbor isolationism, Bush urged against a return to what he called the “pre-9/11 mindset of isolation and retreat.”

So when it was convenient to do so, Bush compared 9/11 to Pearl Harbor, blindly ignoring the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, which made the comparison to Pearl Harbor meaningless.  But Mr. Bush continues to conflate Iraq and the “war against terror” and,  now, when it is convenient to do so, he uses the same conflation to respond to criticism regarding tactical errors.  After all, this is a different kind of war than World War II.  It is a war against terrorism, not a war against a nation-state.  

The two wars are neither morally or tactically equivalent.  The Iraq War did, in fact, begin with the US attack of a sovereign nation-state defined as the enemy, but the attack was unprovoked and unjustified, which was not the case when the US attacked Japan.  And, since the initial US attack, Iraq has been flooded with terrorists,  completing the self-fulfilling prophecy/myth that in Iraq we are fighting a “war against terror” rather than a war against a nation-state, so it is easier than ever to conflate the two.  And, you see, here is the biggest difference between Iraq and World War II.  Once we have transformed the Iraq War from a war against a sovereign country to a “war against terror,” we must realize that a terrorist organization is not a nation-state, and we must recognize “terrorism” as an “ism,” as a tactic, so the battleground is both dispersed and infinite.

There is absolutely no equivalent between the Iraq War and World War II because United States involvement in World War II was provoked and was certainly not unilateral.  And it was always a war against specific enemies, not a war against a tactic or a broadly defined ideology.  If it had been a war against fascism or a war against the tactic of using nuclear weapons, rather than a war against Germany and Japan, it would never have been won. In fact, the Cold War, a war against an “ism” (communism) and against a tactic (the use of nuclear weaponry) was not fought conventionally, and it took more than 40 years to win. And it was not won unilaterally, it was not won with torture and Guantanamos, it was not won by abusing the Constitution, and it was not won with brute force.

As Bill Clinton made the rounds of the news and TV talk shows in the past couple of weeks, promoting his Global Initiative, what most impressed me as I watched him is what a remarkable politician he is. And I’m not talking about his politics, which, to some, is hardly better than Bush’s. I’m not talking about his policy, but his ability to be politic. When it comes to politicking, Bill Clinton, the son of a traveling salesman, is a natural, and George Bush, the scion of a wealthy oligarch, is glaringly unnatural. Clinton, more simply put, is more comfortable in his own skin. He is a President wearing it well, rather than an emperor wearing nothing at all.

Just watch him as he enters a room. He strides confidently. When Bush enters a room, it is with the affected John Wayne swagger that Hugo Chavez so delicately commented on, his arms nearly akimbo, as if he were making room for an invisible gun belt, the hallmark of a false or overblown confidence.

When an interviewer asks Clinton a difficult question, Clinton pauses and thinks about it before answering. When Bush is asked a difficult question, he shoots from the hip of his invisible gun belt, sometimes stuttering and stammering his unformed thoughts.

When Clinton speaks, his delivery is multi-vocal, and his style is multi-faceted. His tone and diction are often colloquial, without being familiar or casual. He offers anecdotes, analogies, digressions, divergences. He sometimes circles around a point but he does, eventually, arrive at it. The content of his speech is generally measured, sometimes too measured for my taste. He appeals to logic without appearing overly intellectual, he makes difficult issues accessible without appearing condescending, and he praises without seeming to flatter. He evokes an air of sincerity even when you know he is lying.

When Bush speaks, he often resorts to clichés, slogans, pat phrases, and favorite words (think of “hard work,” “resolve,” and “stay the course”). His style and delivery is often stilted, and one gets the impression that, when pausing, he is scanning an empty database. He seems to not have the erudition or, sometimes, even the bare facts needed to elaborate on a given point. One wonders if he has read his briefings. And, when he does succeed in arriving at a point, he visibly struggles along the way. This might not be so much due to a difference in intelligence, either. Some have argued that Bush is fairly bright and have attributed his inarticulateness and malapropism-peppered speech to dyslexia. Personally, I think that this is an insult to dyslexics.

Sometimes the man seems inept at any form of self-expression. His facial expression is often not in sync with his words. He smirks at members of the Washington press corps when his words suggest playful banter. He sometimes smiles or leers when discussing matters of great seriousness. He looks bewildered when presenting facts. He seems to be reading from the cue cards.

And what about expressing anger? I would not have wanted to be sitting across from Bill Clinton when he railed at Fox News. Chris Wallace appeared to be almost shrinking in his seat, curling up like a besieged hedgehog. Appropriate anger or inappropriate anger, I don’t know. I suppose that’s debatable. But at least Clinton’s response seemed genuine and his affect seemed appropriate. Dare I say it—his anger was almost “manly,” almost Schwarzeneggerian. When Bush gets angry, as he did at last week’s press conference, he “bleats, bullies, and whines,” as Keith Olbermann aptly put it. He is the truculent preppie, the Little Lord Fauntleroy, the kid in school that you just wanted to smack.

Clinton was never far enough to the left for me, and he cajoled and compromised his way through too many important issues. He made a lot of bad decisions, in my opinion, and many mistakes. But at least he was “Presidential,” damn it. At least you knew that he was steering the ship of state rather than running it aground.


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Perhaps this is a little dated at this point, but President Bush’s news conference last Friday raised so many interesting issues and revealed so much about the President’s inner workings, that I really want to take a closer look at it. The President opened the news conference according to form, by outlining current policy agenda items and the administration’s stance on them.  He began by promoting his controversial bill to maintain CIA interrogation practices that are currently in use, redefine Chapter 3 of the Geneva Conventions (a provision in the bill since dropped, apparently), and retroactively pardon any US personnel that might have violated those conventions.  With much gravitas, he provided the following as an example of the effectiveness of the CIA program:

The information that the Central Intelligence Agency has obtained by questioning men like Khalid Sheik Mohammed has provided valuable information and has helped disrupt terrorist plots, including strikes within the United States.  For example, Khalid Sheik Mohammed described the design of plane attacks on building inside the U.S. and how operatives were directed to carry them out. That is valuable information for those of us who have the responsibility to protect the American people. He told us the operatives had been instructed to ensure that the explosives went off at a point that was high enough to prevent people trapped above from escaping. 

Excuse me, Mr. President, but am I missing something here?  Is this the kind of information that you waterboarded the man for?  Is this something that our top CIA analysts couldn’t figure out for themselves, particularly after observing the events of 9/11?  And what does the President mean by “high enough” anyway?  It seems to me that the intention, on 9/11 at least, was to attack “low enough” to prevent people from escaping.  Bush proceeds to offer two examples that are more compelling, but he offers no details about them, and I, for one, wonder why we haven’t heard about them before if they were such remarkable successes.  And, beyond waterboarding, described as follows:  

The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

the following tactic was applied, something that many Americans don’t know about because it was barely covered by the mainstream media:

Two young sons of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed . . . are being used by the CIA to force their father to talk. Yousef al-Khalid, nine, and his brother, Abed al-Khalid, seven, were taken into custody in Pakistan last September . . . The boys have been held by the Pakistani authorities . . . Last night CIA interrogators confirmed that the boys were staying at a secret address where they were being encouraged to talk about their father’s activities.

Have we, as a people, really sunk that low under this man’s leadership? 

Further on in the conference, the President is questioned about Colin Powell’s comment that “The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism,” and, no wonder, given the above.  The President’s response? 

It’s unacceptable to think that there’s any kind of comparison between the behavior of the
United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.
 

Keith Olbermann on Countdown has provided extensive commentary on the President’s use of the phrase, “It’s unacceptable to think . . .”  Olbermann discoursed at length on the totalitarian implications of a president who would presume to judge the acceptability of any person’s thoughts, let alone those of his former Secretary of State.  But let’s give the President the benefit of the doubt here and assume that this phrase was just one more entry in his already overflowing “slip-of-the tongue” catalog.  Perhaps he simply meant to say, “I don’t agree  . . .” 

But let’s look at the rest of the statement:  “ . . there’s [no] comparison between the behavior of the United States and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.”  Now, is this really true?  Really?  The above acts of torture aside, given that they were conducted on someone presumed guilty, let’s take a look at the Iraq Body Count.  One look at the IBC listings, especially those that detail the beginning of the war and occupation, and you will see that US soldiers killed a fair number of Iraqi civilians, including women and children and, inadvertently, the members of a wedding party:  Pages 88 and 89 of this database are particularly interesting in that they detail virtually scores of civilians, including children, that were killed “mistakenly” or by unexploded cluster bombs.  Whether or not these actions were intentional matters not to those who are dead and to their families, and it is not even worth debating intention when soldiers strike in civilian areas.  Undoubtedly, their deaths were the direct result of US “behavior” that was intended “to achieve an objective,” and a flawed one at that, given that Iraq was a sovereign nation that posed no direct and immediate threat to the United States.  Are we so different, when you look at “the bottom line,” a standard that Bush quite frequently refers to.  Well, if it unacceptable to think it, then it must be even more unacceptable to state it.   

The same reporter asks if he can “follow-up,” and Bush answers flatly, “No you can’t.”  Apparently the President doesn’t understand that reporters are just being polite and respectful when they ask that question, with the expectation that the President, who is at bottom just another US citizen with a job to do, will be polite and respectful in return.  In reality, they can ask as many questions as they want, if not in the Rose Garden, then in their newspapers, and in polite company no one would expect a literal and a flat response to the question.  But Mr. Bush, unrefined even when compared to the likes of Richard Nixon, is seldom polite or politic when dealing with the free press. . .

The Village Voice recently featured a blog piece, followed by many interesting comments, on the proliferation of 9/11 conspiracy theories.  Are those who believe such theories simply nuts?  Are they doing the right thing, at least, by questioning the “official version” of the story?  Either way, their cause has some legs because according to the article, which cites a Zogby Poll (and I find this hard to believe in a country in which the one third of the population consistently supports the President):

 

A startling 36 percent of Americans now believe the Bush administration either perpetrated the attacks or failed to stop them because it wanted to go to war in the Middle East [and]

 

Forty-two percent of Americans believe the U.S. government and 9-11 commission are in some way covering up the truth of 9-11.

One needn’t believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories to see who was the clear victor on that day.  It was, resoundingly, the Bush administration.  Whether the Bush administration powers-that-be knew or didn’t know what would happen; whether they turned their heads or didn’t turn their heads; whether the catastrophe was a result of their cynicism or their negligence; whether they were shocked, shaken, horrified, or grief-stricken, they must have known, very soon after, what a victory the event was for their party and for the neoconservative agenda.

The event, within a matter of days, justified a sweeping revamp of executive power, long on the Dick Cheney and neoconservative “to do list.”  It gave the President not only the already legally sanctioned right to make independent decisions in a time of war, but it gave him an excuse to push through other policy agendas, such as the NSA surveillance program, without the support of Congress or the sanction of the courts.  It seemingly justified his self-anointed role as “The Decider.”

The Decider

After 9/11, the Bush administration had the almost unanimous support of Congress and the support of a large majority of the American people.  Congress rubber-stamped (98-1) the Patriot Act without debate and some legislators approved it without even reading it.  Most importantly for the Bush administration, they were able to use 9/11 as a leverage point for their nearly monomaniacal plans for Iraq.  They were able to conflate Al-Qaeda, “The War on Terror,” and Saddam Hussein, and they were able to use the phrase “weapons of mass destruction” within the context of all-too-vivid imagery of what a weapon of mass destruction can actually do.  Whether or not Saddam actually had such weapons seemed almost beside the point.

And how fortuitous it was for them that the tragedy occurred less than two months prior to Election Day, so that, every year, they can trot out the same old slogans about the war on terror, play upon people’s fears, and market Republicans as the party that is “tough on terror.”  Each September they can exploit the shocking imagery to the max without even directly referring to it (although they do that often enough) and without being accused of exploiting it, since it is already all over the media.  They can use the debate about war, terrorism, and security as a distraction that allows them to push through legislation that gives tax cuts to the rich, irreversibly harms the environment, and short changes education and the country’s infrastructure (see New Orleans levees).  They can cater to big business and the oil industry with nary a peep of critique because everyone, including the media, has their eyes fixed on Iraq and the ongoing (and almost by definition never-ending) “War on Terror.”  Oil prices can go up, wages can remain stagnant, and the health care system can remain an expensive mess, because all we ever hear about is Iraq and terrorism.  It is almost all that we have to respond to.

The neoconservatives have been able to use 9/11 as an exquisite justification for their Project for the New American Century.  And the longstanding US, and particularly conservative, policy of nearly unconditional support for Israel seemed almost sensible in light of what Muslim extremists were actually capable of.  Never mind that unconditional support for Israel is actually more part of the problem than part of the solution.

In short, all of the main policy agendas of the neocons, the Rumsfelds, the Cheneys, the Wolfowitz’s and the Kristols, have been justified or aided by the events of 9/11.

The Latin proverb says that it is the “victor [who] rewrites history.”  The Bush administration was the clear victor in the 9/11 attack , and almost from day one they rewrote the history of that event, by linking Saddam Hussein and “the axis of evil” to it and, now, by purveying, through right-wing hacks and shills, shamelessly blatant propaganda in the form of “The Path to 9/11.” 

And who were the biggest losers that day?  The American people.  Not only because they lost a cultural icon and 3000 souls, but also because they lost some of their freedom and privacy, some of their good sense, and a lot of the world’s good will.


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In reference to yesterday’s post about Bush torture policy, it seems that the administration was truly playing a shell-game with the public.  According to today’s NY Times, at the same time that the Pentagon issued the new interrogation manual, the Bush administration introduced legislation that would allow those practices outlawed by the Pentagon to continue to be practiced by the CIA.

 

“And the courts would be forbidden from intervening.”  Eight very important words.

 

According to the article:

The proposal is in the last 10 pages of an 86-page bill devoted mostly to military commissions, and it is a tangled mix of cross-references and pregnant omissions.

And:

The proposed legislation would provide retroactive immunity from prosecution to government agents who used harsh methods after the Sept. 11 attacks. And, as President Bush suggested on Wednesday, it would ensure that those techniques remain lawful.

Wow. Let’s see how they slip this one under the wire.  Thus the importance of the midterm elections. The only way to keep these people in check is to unseat the Republican majority in Congress.

The Pentagon’s new policy directive and field manual on interrogations seems a step in the right direction and, indeed, Human Rights Watch has praised the move while condemning other Bush policies. These directives will apply to all branches of the military and so, it seems, they will be applied in locales under Defense Department control, such as Guantanamo. 

But I’m wondering if, in the end, these new directives aren’t for the most part just more Bush administration sleight-of-hand. It is very important to note that these “new rules” apply only to interrogations that are conducted under the purview of the Defense Department. In other words, the CIA, in one of the newly-acknowledged secret prisons or “black sites,” can conduct interrogations as it sees fit, particularly if the interrogators are not on American soil and not subject to American law. And if the “interrogators” are citizens of a host country that allows torture, well, then, it seems to me that anything goes. As a Washington Post article stated, 

But while the policies apply to all Defense Department employees and contractors, there are no safeguards in the event a CIA employee takes custody of a detainee and moves him into a separate, nonmilitary, facility. 

One can imagine that the “14 top-level terrorism suspects” that were transferred from a CIA “secret prison” to Guantanamo have been thoroughly worked over and that nothing more can be wrung out of them, so it is no problem to give them prayer rugs and kinder, gentler treatment, especially since they will likely be locked up indefinitely. 

Furthermore, the Defense Department reserves the right to “update” this manual; in other words, make amendments to it if they like, and it is unlikely that any such amendments will garner the media attention that was given to the initial publication. 

And what about the timing of these announcements, right before the election? By acknowledging the secret prisons, but, at the same time issuing kinder, gentler rules of interrogation, the President gets to appear both “tough on terror” and reasonable. If any Democrat should stand up and criticize the secret prisons, Bush can refer to the techniques used in those prisons, as he did yesterday, as “harsh,” but not “torture.” What is the difference between a “harsh” interrogation method and a torturous one, in the President’s mind? I doubt that we will ever know for sure. But what I do know for sure is that any Democrat who stands up and critiques these prisons will be labeled by some Republican hit man, Bill Frist or the like, as “soft on terror.”  

And doesn’t Bush get to stand on his terror soapbox now that the September 11th anniversary is coming up? It’s déjà vu all over again.

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After Jon Stewart’s hilarious take on Bush’s reading of Albert Camus’  The Stranger, I really had to dig a bit deeper and discovered that his entire summer reading list is available on the C-Span website. 

For those that are making much of this, however, The Stranger is a relatively “quick read,” as I believe that the President himself said, and an easily digestible read, if one doesn’t understand much about existentialism.  One needn’t know much about philosophy to appreciate the story as a parable, I suppose, albeit a parable with a rather flat ending.

But, apparently, Bush discussed the novel’s theoretical underpinnings with Tony Snow, who now reveals himself as no intellectual slouch, tutoring the President in the finer points of existentialism, as it were.  Now, really, could you see Scott McClellan doing that?  Apparently, Mr. Snow wasn’t hired just for his good looks.

The President’s list, which may exceed most in number if not depth, includes much history (American, alas, not Mideast) and some baseball. Surprisingly, toward the bottom of the list, are two of the more widely-appreciated Shakespeare plays, Macbeth and Hamlet.  One must assume that the President is giving these challenging works a second, more mature read since he studied them in boarding school, prior, of course, to his admission to Yale.  Now, at his press conference, the President said that he read “three Shakespeares.”  So unless the President was confounded by the length of Hamlet and only thought that he read three plays rather than two, we must assume that he enjoyed Hamlet and Macbeth so much that, on his own initiative, he proceeded to read a third play, one that wasn’t even on the list!  If only the average high school student could be so self-directed.

And only a week or two ago, Scarborough Country devoted a whole show to the question “Is President Bush an Idiot?”  Perhaps there was some confusion there; perhaps they meant to report that the President was reading The Idiot?

I don’t know, but it is obvious that the President has come a long way since My Pet Goat, and, were he reading Hamlet instead, one could better understand his inability to pull himself away from it for eight whole minutes, given the footnotes and all. 

As the Bush administration continues to do a whole lot of nothing about the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, employing a “hands off” policy as it’s now being called, Iraq, now relegated to the bottom of page one or the top of page two, continues to teeter-totter on the brink of civil war, if not having already fallen in.   

A  startling UN report, which was issued shortly after the Israel-Lebanon crisis began, reported that an average of 100 Iraqis per day died during the month of June.  Most were victims of the sectarian violence that has been a direct result of the US occupation.  These astonishing figures have been mostly ignored by the mainstream media.  It’s not their fault; it’s just that they can’t do more than one thing at a time, and that one thing is usually whatever is hot at the moment.     

What a fortuitous fringe benefit for the Bush administration.  Almost makes you think that the Israel-Lebanon-Hizballah hostilities might last until . . . maybe November?

In an interview with Terry Gross on last night’s “Fresh Air,” Washington Post Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks, author of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq said that the US Mid East policy now consciously promotes instability rather than stability.  He said that, after 9/11, the administration decided that the “policy of containment,” as described by Wolfowitz, would only cause more 9/11s and that there was a need to “roll the dice” or “drain the swamp.”  From my perspective, this means promoting conflicts (or fabricating evidence, as in Iraq) that justify the use of US and/or Israeli force, with the intention of annihilating or subduing the enemy.  We can define “enemy” as any Mid East forces that threaten US and Israeli interests, whether they be heads of secular, sovereign states such as Saddam Hussein, or militants that use terrorist or guerrilla tactics such as Hizballah, who are generally all lumped together as “terrorists.” This serves multiple and often unrelated interests: those of defense, reconstruction, and security contractors; those of the energy industry; those of idealist neo-cons who see US hegemony as the answer to the world’s ills; those of the Israeli lobby who view the US as their personal “capo di tutti capi,” and those of fundamentalist Christians who see the road to Armageddon as the road to salvation. 

So, what’s wrong with that picture?  First, it disregards the rights and interests of those that are perceived as the enemy; second, it leaves a lot of innocent victims in its wake; and third, it might not work and we just might actually get that Armageddon that is being used as a carrot for the extremists.   

In Gross’s prior, seemingly unrelated interview, Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten, authors of One Party Country:The Republican Plan for Dominance in the 21st Century, describe how Republicans have the edge over Democrats because they have perfected the art (as noted above) of marshaling diverse and unrelated interests behind a single cause.  As an example they describe how, in the 1990s, Grover Norquist of the famous “Wednesday Meetings,”  got “mom and apple pie” proponent Phyllis Schafly to rally against stricter fuel efficiency standards  by describing them as “de facto family planning”  and convincing her that downsizing automobiles was just another way of downsizing American families.  

And in the prolifically reproductive 1950s where did they put the kids—in the trunk?  Yes, I know that cars were pretty big and inefficient then, but they weren’t as big as SUVs.

Peter Wallsten, by the way, is the LA Times reporter that President Bush chided and teased at an outdoor  press conference for wearing sunglasses when asking his question.  Bush, perhaps trying to appear jovial and relaxed in front of the press a la Clinton or JFK, didn’t realize that Wallston is legally blind.  He has macular eye degeneration that causes not only impaired vision but sensitivity to glare.  But what would you expect from a guy who would “massage” the German Chancellor by pouncing on her from behind?

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Bush, in his remarks to the NAACP this afternoon, flanked by Condi Rice who should be in the Middle East around about now, referred to the Republican Party as  “the party of Abraham Lincoln.”  I don’t think that Abraham Lincoln would recognize today’s Republican Party, as it stands (I don’t think that Barry Goldwater would even recognize it).  And I don’t think that a man as devoted to the details of governance and the intricacies of policy as was Lincoln, would be impressed by Bush’s particular style of leadership.   

Mr. Bush is shameless in his inability to apologize, directly to the NAACP, for the phenomenal administratiive negligence that caused so many African-Americans to suffer during the Katrina disaster.   

It is, for me, hard to define George Bush’s moral center and hard to consider it life-affirming.  This is an administration that would fund, on a massive scale, military operations both in Iraq and Gaza that kill, wound, dislocate and disrupt the lives of so many non-combatants, but will not fund research that uses embryos that would be otherwise destroyed, as a consequence of legal IVF treatments, to conduct research that might eventually save an infinite number of lives. 

Stem-cell development is one of the most life-affirming scientific breakthroughs to come down the pike in a long while.  It is yet another form of man’s ability to make and remake himself in response to an array of environmental variables and contingencies—to change not only himself, but to change the forces that would shape him—to reshape not only himself, but the very biological processes that would undermine or sustain his existence.  It is rather godlike, no? 

Is this what makes this type of research so disturbing to some—that man would presume to reshape his destiny in the face of forces that some would rather submit to?  Or do moral absolutists think it presumptuous to weigh the value of a life that consists of a rapidly dividing bundle of cells to that of a fully-formed person, with a full life both behind and ahead of him, with children perhaps, or grandchildren, with perceptions and sentience and whatever creative forces were given him?  

Is this hubris?  Or is it hubris for one to suppose that he can redraw the lines on a map, as the British did in Iraq and Palestine and as the neo-cons would do now in the entire Middle East, if they could?  Is it hubris to depose the head of a sovereign state because he runs contrary to your will?  Is it hubris for a head of state to hail another head of state as if he were a homie (“Yo Blair!”)?  Or is it hubris for that same head of state to refer to the potentially world-shaping actions of nations and their agents as if they were those of troublesome rugrats:

“. . . to get Syria, to get Hizbollah, to stop doing this shit . . .” ?

While the Bush Administration continues to focus on its faulty and bungled foreign policy agenda, domestic issues are mostly being ignored. The most critical domestic issues are:

1. Rising fuel costs. The need for a realistic energy policy that addresses global warming. The need to seriously commit funds and expertise to alternative energy research and development (John Kerry has suggested a Manhattan Project type commission devoted to this problem). The need to put the onus on auto manufacturers (and provide incentives for them) to improve fuel economy, emissions standards, etc.

2. The rising cost of health care. We need a system that keeps costs in check and reins in the pharmaceutical companies. We need a system that provides a safety net for children in poverty, the unemployed, the underemployed, the temporarily employed, and the contract employed. We need a system that lowers the burden on business (particularly small business). We need a system that provides some form of health care access to all. We need a system that seriously focuses on health maintenance and disease prevention rather than solely on diagnosis and treatment—that means having a system in which doctors can actually spend time with their patients.

3. Education and the need to seriously address declining literacy rates and stagnant test scores. The need to adequately fund higher education so that all have access to it. The need to provide more funding to programs that have proved successful, such as Head Start and the Higher Education Opportunity Program. The need to provide more funding to schools in districts with a low tax base and to more equitably distribute state funds. The need to adequately fund mandates that require more training for teachers and higher accountability for schools districts.

4. The need to shore up the country’s critical infrastructure—that means, for example, building proper levees and having an emergency management system that really works. The need to adequately fund public transportation systems and provide adequate security for them. The need to provide enough police in the inner cities.

5. The need to reduce poverty and homelessness and all its associated ills, such as substance abuse and child neglect. The need to improve mental health and substance abuse treatment and access. The need to look to the homelessness reduction programs that work and use them as a model for nationwide implementation. The need to raise the federal minimum wage.

6. The need to properly regulate industry, which has had a free ride for the past six years. The need to make the coal industry accountable for maintaining safety standards. The need to require the agriculture industry to produce a high quality and healthy product and to treat farm animals humanely. The need to properly regulate the use of feeds that cause diseases. The need to reduce factory farms and genetically-engineered products and encourage the consumption of locally produced organic products that come from family farms. The need to encourage and subsidize farming methods that are better for the environment and the eco-system.

7. The need to properly fund and care for treasures that cannot be replaced–our national parks, our cultural institutions, and our endangered species.


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