Saturday, December 03, 2005

Rage Against the Money Machine

By Rich Miles

December 3, 2005

I’m about to fart in a whirlwind here.

(That’s a colorful country expression that means to do something that is absolutely useless and ineffectual. We have lots of colorful expressions down here. Don’t get me mad, or I’ll use another one.)

Anyway, here goes:

I’m going to issue a heartfelt and impassioned plea that the American electorate start paying attention to what’s going on around them in their government and politics, and stop being so damned dumb and gullible and clueless.

There now. I feel much better.

Here’s another little fact that won’t surprise you: it’s all about the money.

Now how do the two thoughts above fit together? Well, I’m glad you asked me that.

Ask yourself this: what does money represent in the political arena? And I’m not talking about “free speech”, as was so ludicrously asserted in the 2004 campaign season. Ready for the answer? Here it is:

It represents the ability of those who have it to spread their message, whatever it may be, better than those who don’t have it, or who have less of it.

And as we have seen far too often in the past several election cycles, it doesn’t matter if the message being spread is true or not. Those who craft campaigns learned a long time ago – and the American people have not yet learned – that one of the basic precepts of human communication is this:

If people hear something repeated often enough by an accepted authoritative source (the president for instance, or an announcer with an avuncular voice, or a nationally-syndicated radio host), they will in a fairly short time come to accept the repeated statement as fact, regardless of any factual information to confirm or deny the statement which is or may become available to the recipient.

So therefore, this is how money works in politics. The more money a particular political candidate, or group, or other entity has at its disposal, the more likely it is that the message of that candidate/group/entity will be believed by a significant segment of the voting public, and thus the more likely it is that he/she/it/they will be elected or otherwise accepted by the public.

So far, so obvious: money buys exposure for the ideas of the buyer, for good or ill. But woven deeply into this concept is another, less obvious and always unspoken idea that has been the basis of literally every Republican campaign for almost every office above dogcatcher for the past 25 years at least: The public is stupid enough to let this trick – proof by nothing more than massive repetition – be played on them over and over and over again.

The examples of this are uncountable. The most egregious, though by no means the only use of the technique was virtually the entire Bush campaign, led by Karl Rove, in 2004. High on the list was the Swift Boat Thugs episode, in which a decorated Vietnam War combat veteran was made to look like a self-serving coward and liar by the campaign of a man who had never served in combat, run by men who for the most part had never even worn the uniform of our armed services, using men as their surrogates some of whom later disclaimed their own statements in spreading lies.

A close second must be the “flip-flopper” canard attached to John Kerry, while all indications of Bush’s doing precisely the same or worse were either ignored, denied, or made to look like judicious decision-making and flexibility by a strong leader.

And not to be forgotten is the ‘outing’ of VP Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary as a lesbian by John Kerry – this one got virtually no explanation whatever in the mainstream media. Mary Cheney IS an admitted and open lesbian. Cheney and his wife had repeatedly admitted this in public. Mary herself had acknowledged this in public. She has been living with her female lover for years. It was no secret at the time Kerry said it in a televised debate with Bush. But somehow, for Kerry to say it out loud as he did was evil incarnate, and this take on the matter was repeated and repeated and repeated for weeks by various members of the Bush campaign, until it was simply common knowledge that Kerry was a disgusting man who was willing even to use Cheney’s children to try to score political points against Bush. Never mind that Mary Cheney is an adult, who was working for her father’s campaign, and not an innocent child who was not part of the political world of her parents. It just became – common knowledge.

Lest you think that the above is old news, let me point out that it’s happening again even as we speak: the strongest potential Democratic candidate for the presidency in 2008 is Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the repetition machine is already in gear against her, three years in advance of the election and indeed before she has even declared her candidacy. Never mind whether you believe she’d be a good president – what is unmistakable is that the Republican party believes she is a danger to their chances of retaining the presidency in ’08, and so she must be destroyed before, WELL before, she can gain a foothold. The same is true for Joseph Biden, Bill Richardson, Mark Warner, Howard Dean, John Edwards, and more. How many of these names made you laugh at the thought that any of them would make a good president? How honest can you be with yourself about how much you really know of these people, and how much your opinion has been formed by what someone else has told you, over and over again?

These are just a few of the ways in which the whole equation of money=power=repetition of specious untruths or half-truths is deeply embedded into the process by which we select our nation’s leaders. Truth, objective and provable and undeniable truth, is no longer one of the considerations for whether a piece of supposed information should be disseminated. The main, sometimes the only consideration is whether or not there is enough money available to repeat it enough times to make it part of the fabric of belief in the minds of the people. And truth be damned, if it works to the benefit of the liars.

Yes, I have cited only Republican uses of this technique, partly because Democrats don’t do it as often or get away with it as often, but mostly because – and this is not grudging admiration – they are so damned good at it. But is it a virtue to be far better than your opponents at convincing people to believe lies? I would like to think that most Americans would answer that question in the negative.

So to come full circle, and return to my heartfelt plea: I ask, I beg that you, the American voter, put a little more effort into making your decisions next time you are asked to do so, and really ask yourself if what you are hearing repeated so many times by your so-called leaders is true, is plausible, or even makes any sense. It’s my belief, and of course I can never be proven right or wrong on this, that if more Americans had really listened, and given serious thought to the ‘common knowledge’ they were being fed about Bush and his opponents, if they had read or watched more than one source of news (if that), if they had done more than vote their fear and supposed faith and personal comfort, there might be someone else occupying the White House today. Whether that would be better for the country is also unprovable – but in so many ways, it’s hard to imagine that it could be much worse than it is now.

Don’t let the money men buy your vote. Make them work for it. And whoever gets elected, make them work for US.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Patenting Their Reinvention

By Rich Miles

November 15, 2005

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), the architect of the 1994 GOP victory, said Republicans must take the initiative or risk serious losses next year. "If we regroup and reclaim the mantle of reform and change, we are likely to win '06 and '08," he said. "If we do not regroup, we are likely to have a very difficult '06 and '08."

- From a Nov. 6, 2005 Washington Post article, “Voter Anger Might Mean an Electoral Shift in ‘06”

As Radar O’Reilly (no relation to Bill) used to say on “M.A.S.H.”, wait for it. The reinvention of the Republican Party is surely coming.

After either 5 years, or depending on your perspective 11 years of misgoverning, of saying one thing and doing another on almost every issue, of spending huge amounts of time and money on distractions like gay marriage while our soldiers die in a mismanaged and unnecessary war, people are starting to notice that the Republican party as represented by George W. Bush is just way out of the mainstream of what Americans want America to be.

But the real 9 days’ wonder of this observation is that the Republicans are actually, finally starting to notice that we’re noticing, and that they’re going to have to change tactics.

Not change what they do, mind you, or change the direction of the government or the nation – just change tactics. As Mr. Gingrich says above, “reclaim the mantle of reform and change”, LOOK like they’re doing something different. Like Brownie, roll up their sleeves.

So – wait for it. The Republicans are going to tell us that every good thing that happens in the next year is their doing, and everything bad is the Democrats’ fault. Let’s start with

Gas and petroleum prices:

Here in rural north-central Kentucky, where I live, regular unleaded was selling for $3.09 a gallon about a month ago. Today, the best price in my neighborhood was $2.04. This is a reduction of 33% in one month, after a rise of almost 50% in the 4 months prior to that. When the prices were going up daily, the Republican and White House (and oil company) explanation was that “market forces” were causing the rise, along with Katrina and Rita, and our own selfish failure to conserve fuel and energy. Now that the prices are going down, expect some Republican, probably from the White House one way or the other, to tell us somehow that it’s their splendid leadership that has caused it.***

Also, please don’t fail to note the two-steps-up-one-step-down nature of fuel prices – it’s been going on since at least 2000, when gas in my area was selling for 77 cents a gallon, and it arguably has been happening since about 1974 – but let’s not get into that just now.

Fiscal Responsibility:

Did you know that the Republican Party is the party of fiscal responsibility? If so, do you know WHY you know that? It’s because the Republican Party has told you that it’s so for the past 40+ years.

However, did you also know that the largest federal deficits ever incurred, both in dollar amounts and in percentage of GDP, have been accrued during Republican presidencies, and most especially since both the White House and Congress have been controlled by the Republicans – since January of 2001? Reagan did his part to spend far more than we had, but Bush 43 and his pals in Congress have just left everyone in the dust. And they’ve been doing their best to set new deficit records every year.

But a funny thing happened on the way to gutting the federal coffers: someone noticed that there was a little storm in Louisiana, and that we are about to sell the entire country to the Chinese, and that we had better try some REAL fiscal responsibility instead of just talking about it. And here’s what is happening as a result:

So far, the Senate has passed a $35 billion budget cutting package that is almost entirely made up of cuts to programs for the poor and the elderly. Not to be outdone, the House has added 50% to that total, and is trying to cut even MORE from the programs which help Americans in need. One poor soul, Tom Coburn (R-Okla) who in other ways I consider a total nutcase (he’s the doctor-senator who says that abortion providers should be executed), actually suggested that some of the pork projects in recent appropriations be given back to help Katrina victims, and New Orleans’ reconstruction and by the way maybe reduce the deficit a little, and Ted Stevens of Alaska literally shouted the idea down on the Senate floor. No one’s going to gore HIS ox – not while there are poor people to rob in the lower 48! And repealing the tax cuts for the rich? Fuggeddaboudit!


Let me be # 432,168 in line to point out yet again that Bush campaigned in 2000 on, among other things, a promise to bring ethics and righteousness back to the White House (as if it had ever been there in abundance). Yet numerous polls since the 1st of September have shown that a significant and growing majority of Americans think a) that the level of honesty and ethics in government has gone down since Bush became president, b) that they don’t believe Bush is an honest person, and c) there is a good possibility that Bush lied to make a case for attacking Iraq. Those opinions are almost certainly reflective of reports in the media, liberal or otherwise, but that doesn’t make the reports wrong. The one thing Bush has consistently done in the face of bad news is to assume that the American people are just overweeningly stupid, and will believe what he says just because he’s him, rather than what dozens or hundreds of others in the media, on both sides of the aisle in Congress, in the international community, in the military say to the contrary. Sadly, he has been right in this assumption far too many times.

But on the rare occasions when he or his henchmen get caught in a lie, they go on the attack. It never even occurs to them to either apologize for the lies or perhaps explain why what appears to be a lie might not be – the first instinct is to attack the person making the accusation on some other issue. Witness among others the Joseph Wilson-Valerie Plame debacle, which has led so far to one high-level White House official’s indictment.

So what does the White House do in the face of one of its own getting caught? They mandate “ethics refresher courses” for all WH staff, to be led by the office of “the most qualified candidate for the Supreme Court”, WH counsel Harriet Miers.

But it’s not a renewed interest in good governance – it’s part of the reinvention. Implied in the whole charade is that they’re basically nice ethical people, one of whom may or may not have strayed, and the rest of them just need a little reminder not to endanger national security or individual lives by revealing top-secret info or the identities of our spies.

I mean, aren’t they supposed to already know this stuff?

And finally, there is….


This is the issue that, along with the Iraq War and all that it entails, will haunt us long after Bush is no longer in office, in fact likely long after he has gone to his eternal reward, which, if there is any justice in the afterlife, will involve copious amounts of fire and flame.

Put aside for a moment the argument over whether the actions at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo and the secret ‘black sites’ in the old Soviet republics really amount to torture. I happen to believe that they do, but let’s look at the underlying issue: our government in the persons of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush and 9 US senators and a so-far-uncounted number of US representatives are actually advocating that we put it into law that we CAN torture people if we want to.

And that is going to hurt America for generations to come, whether the law comes to be or not – that we not only did it, but that we stood up and said that we were proud we did it, and want to do it again. Serial abusers, that’s us!

And while to some this may seem only like more macho posturing by the draft-dodgers and other-priorities bunch, it’s actually part of the reinvention: we’ve been too soft on the bad guys, we have to get really tough and let them know that if they screw with us, they’ll get what’s good for them. The Bushites are reinventing themselves as even bigger badasses than before. Bush et al. tell us that this is good for America, and gives the president powers that he needs to protect us. But what is really frightening about this is that there are more than a few people who agree with this line of thinking, which means that the damage being done by it will be even farther-reaching.

I’m sitting here typing this, trying to figure out how to end it, and realizing that there really is no end to this column or this line of thought – perhaps what really needs to be done is to write a book. Yeah, that’s it! No one has thought of doing that, I’ll bet!

But seriously: the above are only a few examples of what we’re going to see between now and November 2006, so watch for it. And if we add up all the schizo directions in which the Republicans are trying to go now, and here’s what we get: kinder, gentler fascists.

Just what we need.

*** This prediction has already come true since I wrote that paragraph.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Where Were They When We Needed Them?

Originally published on November 5, 2005

By Rich Miles

November 1, 2005

Hindsight is always 20/20. But this is ridiculous.

In the October 17 issue, Mortimer Zuckerman, editor in chief of U.S. News and World Report, published a scathing description of the shortcomings of the Bush Administration in a back-page editorial titled One swampy mess. Two days later, Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s chief of staff when Powell was secretary of state, revealed much of what he knew about the Cheney-Rumsfeld ‘cabal’ that circumvented regular channels of decision-making in the State and Defense departments, allegedly to ram through policies including the Iraq War that otherwise might have withered under public scrutiny. And in an interview published in the Financial Times of London two days BEFORE Zuckerman, Bush 41’s friend Brent Scowcroft let loose with his grave misgivings about the basic honesty and competence of his pal’s son’s presidency. There have been several more high-profile defections from the lockstep Republican Bush 43-as-god ideology, notably in both houses of Congress, but also including such stalwart Bushian apologists as National Review, the Wall St. Journal, and even (gasp!) Fox News. It’s starting to look like jackals on a carcass, now that the head elephant is weakened enough to attack him and his coterie.

Those of us who opposed the near-election, then Supreme Court installation, then God forbid the RE-election of George W. Bush have known at least the basic outlines of much of what is being said against Bush these days for at least 5 years, so the only part of the recent revelations that come as a surprise is the sheer brazen balls of these people, and the clarity of the perfidy they’ve perpetrated on America. Many in the blogosphere, and even a few in the MSM, have been saying things like this, with different details, for the entire time W has been on the national political radar, and some have suffered grievously for their efforts – witness Joseph Wilson, Valerie Plame (who did not herself ever do anything to harm the Bush administration), Gen. Eric Shinseki, Richard Clarke, Paul O’Neill, and a host of others recently documented by Nick Turse of at

Norman Solomon, in a Perspective piece at that same website, , points out that not only have the people who knew what was really going on kept their counsel until now, when it’s too late to bust Bush out of office, but that the nation’s newspaper of record, the New York Times, was complicit in leading the country to war, but now has taken on the self-righteous mantle of a late-arriving Cassandra, telling us now what many of us who have never supported Bush have known for years – that there are not and never were good and compelling reasons for the U.S. to send our children to war in Iraq. Quite the contrary, the whole war was fabricated at virtually every level, as several observers said it was.

So my question to these Bush-bashers-come-lately is: where the hell were you people when we needed you?

In the year 2004, those of us working our butts off to get Bush canned stood by and watched as pure lies, gross innuendo, delegated attack politics, guilt by alleged but never proven association, and religious-cum-patriotic posturing scuttled our man Kerry (with a little help from the man himself, it must be said), and caused the weak-minded, the magical thinkers and the venal to re-elect the most corrupt president in American history because the filth came too fast and furious for anyone to counter, and most of our national news voices didn’t really even try.

And now that Bush is weakened by events, individuals and news organizations who could, if they had had the courage, if they had told what they knew BEFORE November 2, 2004, have averted the disaster which is the second George W. Bush administration, are all jumping on the anti-Bush bandwagon, telling us that they knew all along how incompetent, how corrupt, how duplicitous and hypocritical Bush and his thugs are, and their consciences make them come clean now.

Well, those of us on the ground knew it too – many of us have known it since before 2000 - and we watched helplessly as voice after voice in opposition to the crime that is Bush were either ignored by the MSM, or actually buried even deeper by the journalistic cowards who would not stand up to what was obvious to the rest of us – that the American people, their safety, their happiness and success and values mean nothing to Bush et al. What matters is power, and redistributing wealth upward, and more power.

So to Mort Zuckerman, who prior to Oct. 17, 2005 was one of the most reliably jingoistic supporters of all things Bush and Republican, and all the others who didn’t have the simple humanity to do all in their power to defeat Bush one year ago, I say: SHAME on you. Our country, and our position in the world, and our children – our children, Mort! - will be decades recovering from the Bush administration.

We knew. We tried to tell you. Almost everything we feared would happen in a second Bush term has come to pass, just as many of us predicted it would. And you weren’t listening, and so your sudden epiphanies mean nothing to us.

Don’t blame us – we voted for America.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Of Statistics, the Radical Right, and Coyotes

Published on – in Kentucky and Other Red States subsections

By Rich Miles

October 17, 2005

(Note: All numbers quoted from the 2004 presidential election are from

Way back in November of 2004 – ancient history for most Americans – after the smoke and noise had cleared from Election Day, an interesting piece of conventional wisdom emerged about the election: the radical religious right had “given” the election to Bush, and they were loudly and stridently expecting payback on a whole host of things they felt they deserved as a result.

Despite a popular-vote victory of just under 1,800,000, or 1.4% of all who voted (don’t forget those third-party candidates!), cries of “Mandate!” and “The People Have Spoken!” rang out – suggesting that those of us who had a problem with a second Bush term should just shut the hell, excuse me, heck up and take whatever the radical religious right dished out.

But the more this “people have spoken” nonsense was bruited about, the less sense it made – the implication was that the people only got to speak once, this was the final decision forever, get over it, etc. etc. However, here is a little closer look at the concept of “people speaking”, to see if things really are as dire as they seem, or if perhaps beneath it all, there is some reason to hope that the country has not gone completely mad after all:

First, we will remember that, right after the election, the figure of 22% emerged as a supposed portion of the total who voted who made their choice based on “values” – family, moral, or religious. It’s also widely put about, though not very likely statistically, that an overwhelming majority of those who voted based on “values” voted for George W. Bush. And finally, the radical religious right claims to have mobilized its voter base to an unprecedented degree, suggesting that the 22% figure represents very nearly as many “values voters” as there are.

So while there are a few fallacies in the above premises, let’s assume for the sake of argument that they’re more or less true, and then examine a few facts that emerge from this belief structure:

22% of everyone who voted is approximately 26,900,000 people. This is approximately 9% of the total population of the country. It is approximately 12% of all the people in the country of voting age, and approximately 16% of all people who were registered to vote as of November 2004.

Anyone with even rudimentary math skills will see that none of the figures above represent a national majority, and damn sure aren’t a group with the leverage to demand payback.

The figures also cloak a somewhat surprising fact: if the religious right had not monolithically voted for Bush (and again, there’s no proof they did), he would have lost the election by a very significant margin: almost 25,000,000 popular votes, which would certainly have meant a significant electoral vote defeat as well.

And connecting a few more dots, two additional facts bubble up from the welter: while it’s apparently true that the values voters “gave” the election to Bush, it also shows pretty conclusively that, once the supposed “values voters” are stripped out of the totals, a large portion of the rest of us didn’t want him for president: doing this leaves approximately 95,400,000 voters, of whom 60,260,000 or 63% voted for someone who was not George Bush.

And that number, 63%, does represent a majority.

To sum up, then: a small percentage of American voters have saddled the rest of us with a president we didn’t want for the next four years, and in the process have the gall to demand that that president give them everything they want, no matter what’s good for the country. These same people wonder why those of us who think Bush is a perfectly rotten president, who laugh sardonically at the thought that he’s a “godly man” who cares about America and Americans, are so damned angry.

What emerges from this closer examination is not that the radical religious right is the mainstream, the majority, the folks who get to call the shots, but that they are America’s coyotes.

As every rancher in the western half of the country (and an increasing number of Eastern farmers) know, coyotes are among the cleverest of predators. Among other talents, they have the ability to “sound bigger” – that is, a small group of perhaps 5 to 10 of them can bark in such a way as to sound like a much larger group, dozens at least. This has the effect of scaring off competing predators, and scaring the prey, which will not know which way to turn to escape the threat. This is presumably an adaptive mechanism that coyotes, small creatures as predators go, have developed to increase their success as a species.

Thus, the radical religious right as America’s coyotes: there aren’t really that many of them, but they talk loud, they’re well-organized by their leaders (who often have other, hidden agendas), they’ll give their hard-earned cash to anyone who will pander to them - and as a result they have had some recent success as a species. But in reality, they only sound bigger. And when the rest of us, including the spineless U.S. Congress and other politicians, finally realize this and abandon them, the coyotes will no longer have the power they think they have now, and America can start to recover from the damage they’ve done to us, both at home and abroad. The wholly un-Christian hubris and arrogance of the radical religious right will finally reap its due.

I look forward to that day – it almost makes me want to howl at the moon in anticipation.

Friday, September 30, 2005

What Part of $2.6 Trillion Don't You Understand?

By Rich Miles

Sept. 30, 2005

I’ve been paying close attention to budgets lately – both my personal budget, which has a somewhat larger hole than usual in it due to increases in energy and health care costs (and I’m not even sick), and the federal government budget as well, and I’ve come to an ineluctable conclusion: the state of the educational system in America, especially as it relates to the teaching of math skills, is in far worse shape than any of us ever thought.

How else to explain the fact that so few people seem to see the connection between tax cuts, federal deficits, and pork-barrel spending? How else may we understand people who, often in the same breath, castigate the ‘tax and spend’ Democrats, but beat the drum loudly for the current administration and Congress as they offer bridges to nowhere for Alaska, funds to keep military bases open in their hometowns regardless of their efficacy, and corruption-plagued war and disaster relief efforts?

This is simple arithmetic: if the government spends more than it takes in, it does exactly what we do when we engage in the same behavior: it borrows the difference. Want a new car, but don’t have the cash? That’s what finance companies are for. Want a new war, but don’t have the cash? That apparently is what the Chinese and Japanese and Saudis are for.

But what most of us DON’T do when faced with such choices is – deliberately reduce our income. Such mathematical good sense seems nowhere in evidence in our government today, nor has it done for about 4 ½ years now.

Yet still we – the people who are ultimately paying the bills either now or 10, 20, 30 years down the road – insist on our goodies. We are so gullible that we will vote for anyone who promises to cut taxes, no matter the consequences. We want it all, but we don’t want to pay for it, and when the bill finally comes due – as it inevitably must – we will be very angry, not with the folks who created the debt, but with the folks who finally are forced to raise taxes to pay for the folly of those profligates from the last administration.

And that’s how conventional wisdom is born. The CW in this case is….you guessed it…that the Democrats are the ‘tax and spend’ party.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that the Democrats have always, or even often, been the party of fiscal responsibility – such an assertion would be foolish. But what is becoming increasingly clear is that there is no way the current Republican-controlled White House or Congress are going to do the right thing for the country by cutting expenses and raising, or even un-lowering, taxes they’ve already cut (most of which tax cuts, it remains true, went to benefit those who range from the wealthy to the obscenely wealthy).

But what is even clearer is that, when the Bush administration leaves office in 2009, the country’s finances are going to be in a helluva mess if, as Bush has insisted repeatedly, there will be no tax increases or repeals of tax cuts. And the current state of the Republican Party being what it is, and the nature of the American voter being what it is, the next president and perhaps even the next Congress are going to be Democrats, or at the very least fiscal-conservative Republicans.

So to clean up the mess they’re left with, the Prez and the Congress are going to have to….you guessed it…raise taxes. And the cycle will start all over again – we’ll be mad at the tax-and-spend Democrats (even if, in reality, they’re only taxing because there’s not much left to spend), and in 2012 or 2016, we’ll vote in another Republican who will promise, as Bush did, to cut our taxes, and very likely the entire farce we’re currently living will be replayed.

It’s worked this way for the past 60 years. If a little thing like World War II hadn’t intervened, I suspect our history books might be rife with references to FDR as a tax-and-spend liberal.

But it just isn’t true. If nothing else will spur you, consider this: in the 60 years since the end of World War II, Republicans have been in the White House 33 years and Democrats for 27. The only time in all those years in which there was a significant federal surplus was the last four years of the Clinton administration – Democratic president, Republican-majority Congress. And the campaign promise that got George W. Bush almost elected, that got him close enough to a popular majority that the Supreme Court could then elect him, was the promise, almost immediately carried out, to make that surplus disappear. And he did, with the help of a craven Congress, and look where we are now.

Are we learning any math skills yet?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Compassion as political tool - the fall of Tom DeLay

by Rich Miles

Whenever we learn of hideous atrocities committed by people, we usually wonder why the simple act of "putting themselves in the victims' position" never occurs to the perpetrators. After all, Hitler could not have ever thought about what it was like to be a Jew on the way to a gas chamber - if he had, surely he could not have caused so many Jews to be killed, right? Or Idi Amin, or Saddam Hussein, or Robert Mugabe, or any of the other world-renowned torturers and killers of thousands or millions. It's called compassion to make this mental comparison, to wonder how bad we would feel if we were in the position in which we place our victims, and it's a simple act of humanity that causes most of us not to do things which hurt others. Every religion or belief system in the history of the world has had an equivalent to what the Christian West calls "The Golden Rule", and it is arguably the single most important ethical and human-interactional rule by which people have lived for millennia.

There has been a lot of talk about compassion in the past few years - the concept of "compassionate conservatism", while pretty much discredited in action, was at least attractive enough to us as an idea to get an incompetent, mean-spirited and corrupt liar elected to the U.S. presidency twice.

But then comes Tom DeLay - a man who, even in his own party, is known, and sadly sometimes admired, for his almost utter lack of compassion. In 21 years in the U.S. Congress, DeLay's entire purpose was the collection and consolidation of power, regardless of the pain caused to others, or the cost to America. Oh sure, he must also have done something of value for his congressional constituents, or they wouldn't have elected him 11 times. But in essence, his whole career in Washington has been about partisanship - not cooperation for the good of all Americans (what a silly idea!), not the creation of value for America, but power for its own sake. And now he is wounded politically, by all accounts his wound is largely self-inflicted, and the wound may, if America is lucky, be eventually fatal.

So if Tom DeLay has had a lot of trouble in his career feeling or expressing compassion, he will continue to have this problem, and he will never understand why, when he finally fell from grace, his opponents were not just relieved to see him (possibly) go, but were in many cases positively gleeful that he's finally got his goolies in such a serious wringer. After all, we all love to see a bad guy, a bully get what he deserves in the end - it was the basis for the success of so many of those cowboy pictures that he and his president seem to love to emulate, that justice would eventually prevail. And DeLay has deserved it for a long, long time. His is the clearest example in living memory of the old adage that "power corrupts, and absolute power (which DeLay had to some extent in his own area of endeavor) corrupts absolutely."

And the best part of this, in my opinion, is that even if his lawyers manage to weasel him out of the charge on some legal technicality, that will be almost as bad for him as a conviction. Or at least, I hope it will be. You never know what they'll do down there in Texas...

Friday, June 24, 2005

We Don' Need No Stinkin' Will of the People

by Rich Miles

June 24, 2005

From an article in the June 17, 2005 New York Times:

Nicolle Devenish, White House communications director, dismissed the significance of the poll, saying Mr. Bush believes that following polls is equivalent to a dog chasing its tail. "We have advanced a broad agenda, and will continue to advocate the people's priorities," she said.

Boy, if I only had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that one…

Quite literally, the sentiment in the above quote has been expressed by Bush or someone close to him dozens of times in the past 5 years. The poor, benighted mouthpiece Scott McClellan is the one who usually has to stand there in front of people who KNOW he’s lying and say it with a straight face, but Devenish, Dick Cheney, Ari Fleischer (remember him?) and Bush himself have said it numerous times in one way or another.

Bush and his handlers think that saying he doesn't pay any attention to such nonsense as polls makes him out to be a bold leader, who has an agenda, and who will not be swayed by momentary distractions – potentially good qualities in a leader, if indeed he really has such qualities.

But let’s parse the above statement and others like them a bit – what is really being said here when Bush or his minions claim not to pay attention to polls?

Consider: a poll is a statistical sample of the opinions of larger numbers of people. The larger the sample, the more accurate it is. If we could ask the opinion of every single person in the country, we could approach 100% accuracy. But that’s not practical, so folks who study the dark mathematical art of statistical analysis are able to crunch numbers, and determine that, within a range of accuracy called a “margin of error”, asking the opinions of 1000 or so people can give us a reasonable picture of what the other 300 million of us are thinking. There are other considerations – trying not to ask the same people every time you do a poll, trying to formulate questions that don't insert bias into the potential answers, etc. – but generally speaking, it’s demonstrable that, if you ask 1000 more or less random people a set of questions, you'll get a good idea what the entire population thinks on those topics, within that margin of error.

So – when Bush et al. say that they don't pay any attention to polls, what they're really saying is, they're not paying attention to what the American people want. The underlying implication is that what the people think isn't important because they don't know as much as I do, so I will proceed with my agenda despite their poll-expressed opposition, and when all is said and done, and the smoke clears, they'll see that I was right and they were wrong. No politician in his right mind (which on some days includes Bush) would ever actually come out and say this directly, but it’s hard to interpret the message any other way – I know best, so if you disagree with me, I'm going to ignore you and do it my own way.

(A pleasant side benefit of this examination of the Bush administration's modus operandi is that statements like Ms. Devenish's turn out to be outright lies - the people's priorities? I don't think so...)

Most people, or at least most adults, know better than this. Every married man in the country knows how far that kind of behavior will go in promoting domestic bliss, and most husbands wouldn't put up with it in the other direction either. So if we don't take being condescended to and ignored, patted on the head and told not to worry our pretty little heads about it because “we know what’s best for you” from people we know, why should we have to endure it from a man who was hired for his job by only 50.7% of the country, a fair number of whom wish they could have a do-over on their vote even this soon after the election?

Even in our cynical, “trust no one” era, we (and they) must remember, politicians are elected to represent and serve the people who put them in office. Those who forget this very basic fact find themselves out of a job sooner than they had expected. By hiding his real intentions from a slim majority of the people (who could EVER have imagined the SocSec barnstorming tour, now in the 4th month of its 2-month stated duration?), Bush has managed to be re-elected for a final term, and it’s not hard to imagine that he is so completely self-absorbed that he believes he can't be hurt politically as a result. (He clearly has NO concern for others who may be harmed by his actions).

So if our elected representatives, from the White House down to town council, won't do what they should, and won't listen to us when we tell them what is really important to us, what can we do? In Bush’s case impeachment is possible, but frankly I don't think there’s the political courage anywhere in the country to bring up the topic in a way that might actually make it stick. But hey, as Judy Tenuta used to say, it could happen.

There’s only one hope, in my opinion: an anti-incumbency movement. Just vote all the rascals out, even the very few good ones - cast every single vote for every single office for whoever is not currently in power. For the ones who are going to quit, or are up against term limits, vote for the other party, whichever one that is. Show them that we hired them, and by golly we can fire them too. Get a whole new crew of rookies in these offices who are scared for their jobs, and start over from scratch. Things will be rough for a while, as they all look for the toilets and the Senate dining room and how to get to K Street, and what do those pretty little buttons on my desk do…but eventually, we can have a political class that listens to their bosses – US!

As Judy Tenuta and I say, it could happen…don't hold your breath, though. In the meantime, watch Bush’s poll numbers continue to dive – after all, he’s not watching them….

Friday, May 20, 2005

Bush Floats Above the Fray

This column was originally published in the Kentucky section of

By Rich Miles

May 20, 2005

President Bush is on the 78th day of a 60-day nationwide roadshow to promote his Social Security plan, but other political issues and stories seem to have stolen the spotlight.”

So began an article in the May 20th issue of the New York Times – an article that raises the question, “What the hell is he thinking?”. Consider the following:

The National Review, in its May 22 issue, goes all the way over the line from denial into delusion with its cover story, “We’re Winning”, about how America has finally learned the “art of counterinsurgency” in Iraq. Meanwhile, the death toll of civilians, Iraqi government members, police and security forces, not to mention U.S troops, in the past 30 days approaches 500.

The generals in charge in Iraq are on the verge of having to defy their SecDef and C-in-C about the possibility of troop drawdowns, because we simply cannot do it without major bloodshed, much of it American blood.

Genuine loonies in the radical religious Right, like James Dobson, Frank Pavone, Randall Terry et al., continue to scream for the quid pro quo they think is theirs because of the electoral victory they “gave” Bush back in November, and are the prime movers in keeping the nuclear fires burning in the U.S. Senate.

Despite repeated warnings from virtually every reputable scientist in the country, Bush continues to ignore the dangers of global warming, and stands by his position that “there’s not enough proof that global warming exists”.

Despite repeated warnings from virtually every reputable economist in the WORLD that our huge federal deficits are almost certain to cause a major economic catastrophe for the U.S. in the not-too-distant future, Bush continues to insist that his tax cuts and budget priorities are the right way for us to go, and that if we’ll all just be patient, the deficits will go away all by themselves.

Tom DeLay gives delusional behavior a bad name almost every time he opens his mouth, and still refuses to see that there are a lot of Republicans in the “liberal” conspiracy that is trying to call him to task for his arrogance and misfeasance (and perhaps malfeasance).

China, which owns a lot of our debt paper, is about to eat our lunch in oh, so many ways, and North Korea is on the verge of telling us, in a big way, that we can stick our self-righteous attitudes about who can have nuclear weapons where the sun don’t shine.

Here in Kentucky, the Belly of the Right-Wing Christian beast, our governor, Ernie “I can be just as arrogant as the President” Fletcher, the one who campaigned (and apparently won) on the promise to “clean up the mess” in our Capital, is daily becoming more embroiled in a case that, if it goes as it appears to be going, will lead to his indictment, along with that of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of state workers and political hangers-on.

And the Senate (remember the Senate?), in a controversy publicly all but ignored by the president, but privately encouraged by him and his imp of Satan Karl Rove, is about to implode over 7 people – 7 judges, out of more than 200, who are so far out of the mainstream that they look left to see Attila the Hun.

But rather than address any of these deeply troubling issues in any serious way, rather than even stay in Washington long enough to try to address them, our beloved leader continues his barnstorming tour to convince Americans of the need to dismantle – yes, that’s the right word – virtually the only government program EVER in our history to work almost precisely as planned, despite ample and repeated polling numbers showing that, the more he tells us about his plan, the less we support it. And he continues to blame the Democrats for their refusal to play his game.

A mental image comes to me….of Bush floating above us, fluffy clouds all around, looking down at what he has wrought, very pleased with himself, because he is working so hard to “fix” Social Security. And right there beside him, slightly smaller wings and a few feet below him for appearances, Karl Rove takes notes on how he can consolidate his power, reward some more campaign contributors and corporate CEO’s, and keep the clouds in place so Bush can’t see the real damage. Not that he’s shown any evidence he would alter his actions if he did see it.

I don’t know how much more of Bush’s leadership we can stand. Please, Mr. President, don’t help us any more, OK? Leave government to the professionals, and go chainsaw something at the ranch.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Best Part About Being President

By Rich Miles

May 3, 2005

You know what must be one of the best things about being the president?

I think it’s that, once you manage to get elected, or Karl Rove manages to get you elected, you can then spew all kinds of nonsense, and misleading information, and even outright lies – and people have to take you seriously!

They have to listen to your loony ideas about “fixing” Social Security, and your flimsy rationale for sending the nation to war, your fantasyland budget, and your excuses for why nothing that goes wrong is ever your fault. They have to nod wisely, and debate your ideas as if they actually make sense. Because you’re the Preznit!

Man, that would be so cool! If I were president, I bet I could even get the First Lady to believe that it is vital to national security that I play online poker till 2:00am.

I’m not the president, of course – wouldn’t have the job. But the guy who IS president: he’s the man who has (with the collusion of a spineless and ethically-challenged Congress) racked up massive budget deficits by recklessly cutting taxes no matter the cost to the country, and getting the country into an optional war at the cost of 1600+ lives and $300 billion so far, and who now wants to destroy the only government program that is solvent and self-supporting, in the interest of saving it from a crisis that most experts believe doesn’t exist, and the rest believe is 35 or more years away.

So for all of you who support this idea, I ask a question: have you given serious thought to what Bush’s “personal accounts” plan will mean if it goes as wrong as his opponents believe it will?

Consider: If all of the things the opponents of Bush’s plan say can go wrong DO go wrong, what we’ll have in 40 years or so is a lot of really poor old people without enough combined income from their “personal accounts” and their 401(k)’s and their savings to live on.

I don’t mean live comfortably – I mean live at all, because they will rely so heavily on “market forces” to make them rich that they won’t make proper plans for what to do if they don’t.

And if there’s one thing no politician is going to allow to happen, it’s for a lot of poor, hungry old VOTERS to realize they made a mistake back in 2005, and start to vote the current set of rascals out of office – so to avoid that, they’ll enact new benefits, and the folks who chose to have personal accounts because it was part of their “ownership society” will be right back where they started: receiving a bare-necessity government benefit to supplement what they didn’t save for themselves.

And the cost to the government will not be less – it will cost massively, mind-boggling more to enact this new plan from scratch instead of leaving the current one in place.

Now, never mind how likely this scenario is. Based on my research, I believe it’s the MOST likely one, but nothing is certain in life except death and Republican tax cuts. We all know there are such things as “market cycles”, bulls and bears, booms and busts, and even the people who make their living predicting these things really can’t guess very accurately when they’ll happen. But no matter how likely it is, the real question to ask is: do you want to bet your old age on it?

There seems to be a consensus that Social Security needs some tweaking to make it solvent into the indefinite future. Several tentative proposals have been put forth, none so far that has the pizzazz to garner bipartisan support. But what President Bush proposed in his April 28 news conference is yet another hit to the middle class in the guise of “protecting” the poor, and if the critics are even half-right, it will mean no less than the complete dismantling of Social Security, in such a way that an awful lot of middle-class working people who have paid into the system all their working lives are not only going to have reduced benefits – they may have virtually no benefits at all, after a lifetime of promises that they would.

So to those of you on either side of the SocSec discussion, I urge you – when a genuine plan is put forth, no matter by whom or by which party, read the fine print, of which I can assure you there will be a LOT. I know it’s a lot more attention than Americans are used to paying to the workings of their government – but it’s not going too far to say that some day, your life may depend on it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Taking No for an Answer

By Rich Miles

April 26, 2005

"I believe when people figure out that we have a problem and the seniors hear that nothing's going to change, woe to the politician that doesn't come to the table. Woe to the person who tries to block this for partisan reasons."

- George W. Bush, March 11, 2005

If we could take the above remark at face value, it might be possible to say, “Yes, that’s right – for such an important issue to fail in Congress merely because the minority party wants to block it, to make the president look bad – well, that would not be good.”

But what if – just speculating, mind you – what if the folks in Congress who opposed this plan did so because they genuinely believe it’s wrong? What if the Democrats and the increasing number of Republicans who oppose Bush’s private accounts idea were simply acting according to their principles, and doing what they think is right for the country? Would that be OK with Mr. Bush? Is this even something he considers possible – his opponents acting on principle? Or is partisan politics the only imaginable reason why someone in Congress might oppose Bush on any topic? To listen to him tell it on the campaign trail (for that’s what this is – a campaign just like the one from 2000 or 2004), the answer is yes – it has to be partisan politics.

Mr. Bush made the above remark during his whistlestop tour of the South to whip up citizen support for private accounts within the Social Security system. I remind folks who perhaps have been hearing about this discussion in a sort of detailless “background noise” way that to date, there is no actual plan to Bush’s plan. He and his supporters have brought up this partisan-politics barb to head off opposition to legislation they haven’t even proposed yet. As Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc.) said recently, "What he's put on the table is not a plan. It's a concept -- and Congress doesn't enact concepts."

Mr. Bush got almost everything he asked for from Congress in his first term, due in large part to the events of 9/11, and fears of opposing a “war president”. On the few occasions when he has been defeated or forestalled, notably on a small handful of judicial nominations, rather than withdraw the objectionable nominations and seek a consensus nominee, he simply resubmits them, over and over and over again, in the hopes that he will wear down or outflank the opposition, or that perhaps the Senate will just change the rules so the opposition cannot be registered at all. Despite getting confirmations for over 200 of his appointees, the President just will not let these 7 or so nominations die.

He reminds me of a small child asking for a toy, who when told he can’t have it, asks again and again and again, thinking the answer will somehow be different this time than it was last time. And the same tactic is used by this president every single time he fails to get what he wants from anyone: keep asking the question till the answer changes.

So it would seem to be shaping up for Social Security “reform”: before the plan is here, we’re being told that anyone who opposes it is “bad”. If the legislation, however it may finally look, fails, it can only be because of “partisan politics”, not because it’s a flawed plan, destined not to save Social Security but to dismantle it.

The signs are clear and growing clearer that Mr. Bush may have to take “no” for an answer on Social Security. One wonders just how much political (and actual) capital he will spend re-asking the question, just how many times he will ask the moral equivalent of, “But why not, Daddy? Why can’t I have it? Huh? Huh? Huh?”

Friday, April 01, 2005

One More Lawsuit

by Rich Miles

April 1, 2005

I would imagine that Michael Schiavo is, amongst all his other feelings, hoping never to see another lawyer, or the inside of another courtroom, as long as he lives. His hopes will not be fulfilled, as the Schindler family and others seem determined to continue to "fight over the bones" in this matter.

However, if Michael could bring himself to one last act in the legal system, I would recommend that he file suit for defamation of character, libel, slander, whatever is most appropriate legally, against the shameless, grossly uninformed, politically motivated, self-serving group of self-righteous hypocrites who have dragged his name through the mud for weeks, months or years now, many of them people whose only knowledge of the matter was based on fifth-hand opinions, devoid of fact. I would think a short list of defendants in such a suit would certainly include Frank Pavone, Randall Terry, James Dobson, Tom DeLay, and Bill Frist. All of these people, in the course of presenting themselves as protectors of Terri Schiavo (another person they've never met, nor even seen), have said shameful, demeaning and humiliating things about a man they never met, or if they have met him, never knew anything about his actions toward his wife other than what her mean-spirited, emotionally unbalanced family had to say about him.

But as is so often the case with the radical right, they will get away with their scurrilous behavior because it is more painful to the wronged parties to call them to task than to say simply, "Let it go".

Much has been said, and will continue to be said, about poor Terri Schiavo's life and death. She is at peace now, but her name will not be allowed to pass into obscurity - she will become the symbol for even more shameless posturing by radical ideologues, people who cannot even imagine, who WILL not imagine, the hell Michael Schiavo has lived through. Whether you believe Michael's statements or not - and frankly, considering the source of the nastiest criticisms about him, I do believe him - what cannot be denied is that he stood by her for 15 years, when it would have been so much easier to bail out long ago. It's not the money - that was mostly gone long ago, and whatever is left of it is in no way adequate compensation for what he's experienced. It's not that, after several years of waiting to see if Terri could ever recover, Michael decided to move on with his life by finding someone else to love and create a life with. It's that no one - NO ONE - who opposes him seems ever to have considered what he has been through.

All these folks who knew so little about the facts of the matter, crowing about their religious beliefs (THEIRS, as if any of this was about them), and how cruel Michael Schiavo was to Terri: did none of them ever for one minute apply the simple test of asking what they would have done if they had been faced with such a hideous set of choices? Does it not even register as inconsistent that the Schindlers and Michael were quite close for nearly 8 years after Terri's incapacity? If he is such a cruel and horrible person, and as is now being said, always has been even back to before Terri became ill, how did the Schindlers bear dealing with him all that time, until he proposed allowing her to die?

And one final question: how is what Tom DeLay did in his father's case so different from the Schiavo case? Other than the fact that DeLay SAYS it's different, I mean?

So much noise, so many accusations cast against a man so few could have known, and so little thought behind the slanders. One begins to suspect that this has become the American way. Our courageous Congress will show us if this is really true - and, I suspect, they will attempt to do so in very short order, before the smoke clears. Before the body is cold.

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Fiction of Freedom's March

By Rich Miles

March 4, 2005

Let me tell you a little story:

This past summer, when Ronald Reagan died, I was in Europe, specifically Scotland and Spain, and was able to watch the international reaction to the death of an American elder statesman.

At first, the reaction in the local European media was a mild, respectful sharing of our national grief. But as the days passed, and American media lingered over this, and would not let it rest, and indeed seemed to see Reagan's influence in everything good that's happened in America and the world since about 1776, I began to be a bit embarrassed to be an American in Europe. At least three times, in pubs or restaurants, I was approached by total strangers and asked the moral equivalent of "do you folks really deify Reagan like that?" I had to try to explain that no, we didn't, it was just media hype, etc etc. And when Ronnie was wrapped in glory and included as one of those who earned our respect during the D-Day celebrations all over western Europe, I really just kinda hung my head, and tried not to speak too much in public so I wouldn't be recognized as American. It was unbelievable - literally, as no one believed the praise that was being heaped on a dead B-movie actor and mediocre former president, who spent all of WWII in California making films in which he PLAYED war heroes.

I bring this up because, in a friendly pub in Scotland, one of the folks I talked to just flatly rejected the notion that "Reagan defeated Soviet communism, and brought down the Berlin Wall", and all the rest - he maintains that all of that would have happened about the same way no matter who the president of the United States was. And of course he's right.

And I bring THAT up because I see another such myth in the making, and it burns me up: Bush is going to be given the credit for anything good that happens in the Middle East in the next 80 years or so, and is going to be regarded as the man who brought democracy to that region, and it just infuriates me to see Bush get the personal credit for something that, again, would have happened more or less the same way if you, or I, or Bonzo the Chimp were president of the U.S. And that includes the invasion of Iraq - if we hadn't gone there, eventually the Iraqi people would have risen up on their own, with results that no one could predict any more than we can what's going on there now.

Bear this in mind: people always do what they perceive to be in their own best interests. NO ONE does anything that isn't to their benefit, EVER. It's not cynical to say this, it's simply a fact, and if anyone reading this cares to dispute the contention, I can explain it to you in greater detail.

Therefore, the folks in Lebanon who are rising up against the Syrians, and the folks in Iran who say they want a democratic government, and Hosni Mubarak, who became a democrat after Condi Rice snubbed him, and all of the folks in that region and around the world who are making moves toward democracy are doing so because they see it as in THEIR best interests, NOT because America told them to, or because they believe America will stand by them in their struggle toward freedom, or because they find us such an inspiration (they don't, by and large) - but because they think it's high time, and they see an opening for it based on current conditions in their countries. In Lebanon, the entire uprising is based on a gross miscalculation by the Syrians, not by anything the Americans or the Russians or the Saudis (the SAUDIS, for crying out loud!) have said or done.

So in the not-too-distant future, when Bush is called the great emancipator or some such nonsense - recognize it for what it is, PR and propaganda with barely a shred of truth to it, which is usually laughed at abroad, and should be here as well.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Means Testing

Class Warfare Or Simple Fairness?

By Rich Miles

Feb 22, 2005

In his Feb. 22 column, David Brooks, usually a reliable shill for the Bush administration, delivers a rather harsh indictment of Bush’s most recent budget. He also manages to spread the blame around, including onto the victims by saying he is “offended by the horrendous burden seniors are placing on the young”. I goggled in disbelief at that sentence - at least one of our nationally-distributed pundits believes that our old people are a “burden” to be alleviated by some as-yet-unnamed champion of fiscal soundness.

There is, however, one bit of truth to Brooks’ diatribe – federal entitlements (ALL of them, and Social Security the least among them) are out of control, and have been for years. And one way to make a significant dent in that problem is the one way no politician will even bring to the table: means testing.

Let’s look at one of the basic tenets of the existing Social Security system: the wage cap. This number has risen steadily over the years until today, it stands at $90,000/year and rising. This means that, if you earn $90K or more, you stop paying Social Security taxes on any additional income for the rest of that year. The principle under which this idea has always operated is that there is a maximum SocSec benefit when you retire, and you should not have to pay into a system beyond what you can ever hope to receive in return. Thus, a wage cap.

But the failure in this principle is that you can still collect full benefits at retirement whether you need it or not, despite the fact that the wealthiest among us stop paying into the system when their income reaches the cap levels.

Due to an unintended consequence of the Senior Citizens’ Freedom to Work Act of 2000, which was intended to eliminate the benefits penalty for seniors who earn money, it is now possible for a 68-year-old person who receives $200,000 a year from unearned investment income to get the same benefit as a 75-year-old person who makes $12,000 a year bussing tables because she HAS to. These are just broad examples – plug in whatever numbers you like here, the above statement remains true.

But if anyone points this out and suggests that maybe it’s not quite fair for a millionaire to receive government payments, he’s accused of “class warfare”, of seeking to penalize those who managed during their working years to provide a comfortable living for themselves in retirement. Most of the people making such claims are the very people we’re talking about here, but never mind that for a moment; if the Social Security system is in “crisis”, how much would it be helped from that crisis by a graduated means test that would reduce benefits, eventually to zero, as one’s other earned or unearned income increases beyond a certain level?

I’m not talking about a return to pre-Freedom to Work days, where our McDonald’s worker gets her benefits cut as her income rises to $12,500. I’m talking about not paying benefits to people who genuinely and provably don’t need them. Surely our elected representatives, smart as they are, can come up with a formula for this that wouldn’t harm those in need, but would address this drain on Social Security’s resources?

To enact such a plan, whatever its details, would require two things: a willingness on the part of wealthy people to do something selfless in the interest of those who are just barely scraping by in old age, and a high level of political courage in Congress to go against the wishes of the people who pay for re-election campaigns.

Sadly, neither of those requirements seems to exist in our country today. No politician in his right mind is going to risk the political fallout of offending the wealthy with such a proposal. And “compassionate conservatives” don’t even seem to understand the question.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

That's Why They Call It Gambling

By Rich Miles

January 20, 2005

Attention Young People!

I’m not quite sure what that means, since no one has actually put forth a plan, but it would be safe to say it includes those in the range of -30 to about 45. That’s right – MINUS 30. People who won’t be born for 30 years. That’s the age range I’m going to address here. You older kids, help the little ones out, OK?

There has been a lot of talk about “reforming” Social Security lately, and I’m writing to you young folks because, if what President Bush says he wants to do comes to pass, you will be the key to how the reforms will work. And folks like me – over that age range – are pretty worried about it. So I’d like to cut through the massive numbers of numbers, and offer some observations that I feel certain the White House will not provide for you. Forgive the somewhat brusque prose about to come. There’s a lot to say.

The President says, based on projections that virtually no one else can see, that the SocSec program is “in crisis”. What he doesn’t tell you is that his projections for the economy’s growth if we DON’T change anything is only about ¼ of the projection of economic growth if we do it his way. It can’t be both ways, but he’s trying to tell you it can be, and will be.

Bush wants to set up privately held accounts which will require a huge amount of borrowing to get started. We’re already in deep debt due to his tax cuts, and the costs of this start-up exceed the projections for what will happen if we do nothing all the way up to 2042.

He wants all of us to become savvy investors – to pay close attention to how the stock market works, and know when it’s time to adjust or increase or decrease the investments in our private accounts. If you don’t do this, you’ll get about the same return from it that you will if no private accounts are ever set up, and even if you do pay attention, it might not be any better. Are you willing to put in that amount of effort to learn about markets and then monitor your account, for an iffy return?

He also doesn’t mention that the only people – the ONLY ones – who are guaranteed to come out better in a privatization plan are the people who administer the plans – the stockbrokers and fund managers, who will take their account maintenance fees no matter whether your investments go up or down.

But the best part is this: in the guise of creating an “ownership society”, what he’s really saying is, if you choose the private account and it goes belly-up, or you become disabled before you retire, or anything else unexpected happens – you’re on your own for the retirement income that would have been produced by the account. You will, by most estimates, still get some kind of reduced benefit from the government, but your private account is yours – for good or ill.

Are you willing to run that risk? Are you willing to support the President in dismantling pretty much the only social program ever created in this country that WORKS? Are you willing to let him bribe you into gambling with not only your future, but that of your children, and your parents, and your brothers and sisters?

Remember the old adage – “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.” And this plan – as vague as it remains to this date – doesn’t even look that good.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Logic 101

by Rich Miles

January 7, 2005

In Washington state, Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi led his Democratic opponent by 42 votes on Election Day. Despite state law mandating a recount because of the closeness of the result, Rossi claimed victory, and resisted the recount even in the face of numerous reports of voting and vote counting irregularities. A win by 42 votes was just fine with him, thank you very much, the people have spoken, let's move on. And in the inevitable recount, when his opponent drew closer, he continued to insist that "the voters had spoken", and no further recount was needed. Finally, when a third recount, conducted under closer scrutiny than the first two, gave his opponent a victory, he decided that recounts weren't such a bad thing after all, and indeed what was needed was not a recount, but a revote.

In Ohio, now known as the "Florida of 2004", more than 40,000 reports of voting and vote counting irregularities were received by election authorities. Some reports suggested at least the possibility that these irregularities, if corrected, could have resulted in a victory for John Kerry, which would have meant a John Kerry presidency. Despite all these indications, Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who like Katherine Harris of Florida in 2000, was the state chairman of President Bush's reelection campaign, has actually gone so far as to defy a legitimate court subpoena in order to avoid having all the voting irregularities in Ohio cleared up.

And in Kentucky, the Republican-controlled state Senate, under the banner of "the will of the people", has refused to invalidate the election of a state senate candidate, despite a very clear constitutional provision making her ineligible even to run in the election.

So what have we learned from all this?

In the study of logic, for those of you who didn't take that very popular course in school, there is a thing called a "syllogism". In short, a syllogism is a line of logical argument that can be stated in the form "If A and B, then C”. I mention this because, in the three examples above, we have a perfect syllogism:

- People who don't wish to have all the votes counted in an election, or who are willing to overlook the law as long as it benefits THEIR candidate, are not really interested in the "will of the people" so much as they are interested in pulling a fast one on the people.

- Republicans, far more often than Democrats, don't wish to have all the votes counted, and are willing to overlook the law to their candidates' benefit.

- Therefore, Republicans are trying to pull a fast one on the people.

This has happened too many times now for it to be coincidence. In nearly 100% of the disputed cases relating to the 2004 elections, Republicans have wanted NOT to count all the votes, and Democrats have wanted to count them as accurately as possible, despite considerable resistance including a Republican congressman actually saying on the floor of the House of Representatives, that people who question the vote in 2004 were "aiding the terrorists".

So again, what do we learn from this?

It seems clear to me. How democracy can ever be served by NOT counting the votes in any election for any office, or by not insuring that the election was conducted as freely and fairly as possible, or by not espousing a thorough investigation of any irregularities, is a concept I simply cannot understand.

"The people have spoken"? "It's time to move on"? "Get over it"?

Not just yet. But thanks for your concern.