“Moral Values” (editorial 3)

And so here we are. If the election proves anything, it proves that conditions in this country and the actions of its government have very little to do with our reasons for selecting its leaders.

In an historic election on which rides, very possibly, the future of this nation as we know it, exit polls showed that the top issue was not the continuing threat of terrorism; it was not the Iraq war; it was not the burgeoning deficit or the lackluster economy. No, the top issue was a nebulous phrase both meaningless and pregnant with hidden meaning: the top issue cited by voters was “moral values.”

The first thing that came to my mind when I heard that was, “Which ones?” After all, it could be considered highly immoral to make war against a nation that poses no threat to the American people, a war resulting in the violent deaths of tens of thousands, most of them innocent women and children.

Was Abu Ghraib a moral place? Was it right to hide the truth about what was done in our name? (And no, I don’t hold Bush culpable for the torture; but he, like any Commander in Chief, is responsible for the actions—and inactions—of his Defense Department.)

Some would question the morality of policies designed to shift the tax burden away from capital, causing it to land almost entirely on the back of labor. And if massive tax cuts for today’s wealthy political donors and voters make it necessary to either cut benefits to tomorrow’s elderly or impose draconian tax increases on future workers–as economists predict–are such cuts a moral choice?

And if “voluntary” pollution controls for corporations are not enough to make safe the air we breathe and the water we drink; if denial of global warming does not make it go away; if the government’s refusal to ask Americans to conserve results in more military action to protect “national interests” in the form of the oil supply—is that moral? Is it moral to ignore the environment that sustains us?

If we are endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights, and if among these rights is freedom from unreasonable intrusions by the government into the lives of citizens, and the right to due process when taken into custody by the government, is it moral to suspend these rights in the name of protecting the nation founded on them? Under whose authority?

In this light, I respectfully disagree with the notion that the administration’s return to power is the result of people choosing “morality” over whatever the Democrats are supposed to represent. My own moral struggle requires more clarity in calling this choice by its real name. I mean to say, I would actually feel better about the results if voters’ motivations had been more honestly reported. Not good, but better.

But instead they simply quoted “moral values.” It doesn’t tell the story. Not unless this really is an age of moral relativism, and what’s moral for you is not moral for me. But no, the “moral values” evangelicals would be the first to dispute that. So I guess we see reality itself differently. I see the slaughter of thousands of innocent women and children in pursuit of a political agenda, and they see–what? I see a government so bereft of morality it ignores the humanity of the Geneva conventions and attempts to redefine “torture” in its prisons to apply only to cases of organ failure, and they see–what? I see the wholesale theft of the next generations’ Social Security, Medicare and earnings in the form of trillions of dollars in deficit spending, and they see–what? I see the snuffing out of countless species–possibly the destruction of life itself–as a result of willfully ignoring the documented effects of human activity on this planet’s delicate ecosystems, and they see–what?

What do they see? These are not assertions, after all. They are facts.

Fact: the Iraq war was not defensive, hence it was by definition waged for political reasons.
Fact: the Justice Department actively sought ways to abandon its moral obligations under the Geneva Conventions by writing “legal opinions” attempting to redefine torture and the status of American prisoners of war. Right now, the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba are beyond the authority of every American legal jurisdiction.
Fact: the budget surplus that greeted Bush when he came to office is gone, our current annual deficit is nearly $500 billion, and such deficits are now predicted for every year into the next decade. The main reason for this is the Bush tax cuts.
Fact: the U.S. government’s own research agencies acknowledge the contribution of human activity to global warming, but the Bush administration has instituted no policies designed to curb such activity and refuses to join other industrialized nations in the Kyoto treaty.

Homosexuals in the closet, creationism taught in science classrooms, abortions performed in bathtubs and perpetual war with “evildoers” will not change the horrendous legacy of a dangerously radical administration incapable of recognizing its own moral transgressions. So if that’s what you voted for, please tell me how such an agenda outweighs everything we, as Americans, should have voted against.

Politically Motivated (editorial 2)

One of the new arguments designed to prop up the legitimacy of the Iraq war is that although no WMDs were found, the military did uncover massive stockpiles of conventional weapons. So score one for the administration.

Unfortunately, as we learned recently, the U.S. failed to actually secure the masses of conventional weapons they found. Thus, sometime after March 9 of 2003 (when International Atomic Energy Agency representatives confirmed their seals on the materials were in place) 380 tons of high explosives disappeared from the unguarded Al Quaqaa complex, probably into the hands of the enemy.

But not to worry. As we also learned, the revelation of this tactical blunder was “politically motivated,” in that the news came out just a week before the election. That is, it came out to the rest of us just now. The administration apparently has known about it for many months. But their silence was tactical: they didn’t want the enemy (the ones who stole the explosives) to find out about the stolen explosives. So no harm, no foul.

Or, as they say over at the Pentagon, “Don’t’ ask, don’t tell.” You remember Abu Ghraib, right? Donald Rumsfeld knew all about that, too, months before the press broke the story. But he wasn’t telling, because no one asked. Unfortunately, once the press got “politically motivated,” out came the messy facts.

It’s the same over in Congress, where a “politically motivated” bi-partisan ethics committee recently admonished Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay–not once, but twice–for shady practices during his orchestration of the “re-redistricting” of Texas congressional districts. As you may recall, when the Texas Democrats balked at the patently unfair slicing and dicing of districts and left the state to deny Republicans a quorum, DeLay was the one who called on the FAA to help round them up like so many stray dogies.

Said DeLay when questioned about his reprimand, “It’s a month before the election. You do the political math.” Which is amusingly ironic, since “political math”–calculating election-proof Republican districts in Texas in an effort to offset predicted Democratic gains in the House on November 2nd—is exactly what led to his rebuke.

But hey, we’re on permanent spin cycle here, people. You can’t trust a bi-partisan Congressional committee to tell you the truth. Trust Tom DeLay instead.

Or trust Halliburton. Because this week brought another Halloween skeleton out of the closet, one you may have missed since the press didn’t pay it much attention. In this instance, the “politically motivated” chief contracting officer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—apparently a bastion of liberal sympathizers—has leveled the bothersome charge that Halliburton was probably unfairly awarded some of its lucrative “no bid” defense contracts and contract extensions.

The chief contracting officer for the Corps of Engineers is worried that the process was corrupted by senior administration officials. I can’t think of who that would be. Maybe you can. But don’t worry. Because of the proximity of the election, a Halliburton spokesperson assured us, such accusations are “politically motivated.”

Sure, there was that matter of Halliburton overcharging the Pentagon many millions of dollars, but they gave that back. Right after the press found out.

Do you see a pattern here? Reports suggesting incompetence in handling the Iraq occupation? Politically motivated. Bipartisan Congressional committee reprimanding Tom DeLay for ethics violations? Politically motivated. Accusations by the chief contracting officer that the administration improperly steered lucrative contracts to Halliburton? Politically motivated.

Economic forecasts of crippling deficits necessitating either massive increases in tax rates or massive reductions in Social Security and Medicare payments once Bush is out of office? Findings by the National Academy of Sciences confirming the contribution of human activity to global warming? Polls showing America’s loss of prestige in the world? The bi-partisan 9/11 Commission’s findings of no connection between Iraq and 9/11 conspirators?

All politically motivated. The economists, the scientists, the bi-partisan committees, the rest of the world–they’re all apparently just pessimistic Bush bashers. As Bush himself might say, they’re “blame America first” types. Some of them are probably Old Europeans or even Massachusetts liberals. So they come up with all this stuff to make his administration and his political allies look bad.

It’s a shame, really. Why can’t these folks just mind their own business and trust the government to do what’s right?

Vote Wrong and Die

As an American, do you feel threatened? Because you are being threatened. There are elements in this world who want to frighten you–to terrorize you, so to speak–into voting their way. They want you to make your choice in November based not on a sober assessment of the candidates but on fear for your safety.

These international thugs know that a rational decision process will not favor their agenda. They seek to spread fear and insecurity among Americans in order to sway the election and help their cause. Their cause is not one of freedom and sovereignty for the world’s nations. Instead, they envision a global transformation, where all governments adopt their idea of God’s prescribed government, culture and way of life. And as we have seen, any nation that refuses to adhere to their new global order will face the consequences of a doctrine that has established unprovoked attack as a legitimate weapon to wield against perceived enemies, regardless of whether they are a threat to peaceful nations.

These ideologues will stop at nothing, for they are driven not by a desire for justice and equality but by a narrowly defined ideology. Faced with the prospect of a democratic election in a nation divided by war and competing ideas, they have chosen not to enjoin the democratic process in a fair contest but to undermine the mechanisms of democracy by spreading fear and mistrust among the populace. Their goal is clear: to distract the voting public from issues that are important to them with violence and the threat of more violence to come. In effect, their message is, “vote our way, or you will be attacked with even more ferocity than before.”

Not all who follow these groups are as fanatical as their leaders. Many are merely following the same leaders who promised to help their common cause in the past. They have not yet come to realize that as their leaders preach morality they practice an immoral war; that as their spokesmen call for the “truth” about their enemies they spread unfounded deception designed to distort that very truth; that even as they seek to convince us of the honor of their cause, they cannot hide from the dishonor of their actions past and present–which are characterized not by the brave valor they seem to value but by bullying, fear-mongering, deception and lies.

But America is still, for now, a democracy. We do have the right to choose. So please remember, when you make your choice, that no one can bully you into choosing their way. Remember that you have a right–a duty–to make the choice that you feel will best serve the country and the peaceful nations of the world. And that choice should be based on a rational weighing of the facts, not on suggestions of cataclysms to come should you make the “wrong” choice.

After all, it is our greatest patriots, the fathers and mothers of our nation, who sacrificed the prospect of personal safety to stand up to those who would deny us a government based on fair representation, a government “of the people.” Don’t let those who have no concept of such a sacrifice deny you the power to make an informed and rational choice for the candidate you believe will help lead us in honor and in courage against those who would threaten us into believing we no longer have that choice.

Questions for the CEO of Civil Corp.

An oft-cited Republican mantra promotes the idea that the United States government should be more “businesslike” in its approach to governance. That is, it should not borrow excessively, it should manage its affairs with efficiency, it should not engage in Quixotic pursuits unrelated to the success of the company, etc. This is all in keeping with the conventional wisdom that businesses–and by extension, nations–survive because they are “fit” (AKA Social Darwinism). And it under-girds that famous, non-ideological axiom (so dear to the hearts of capitalists), that “The business of America is business.”

Let’s imagine, then, in light of such a premise, a list of questions that the Board of our company (that’s you and me) might have for the CEO (that’s you-know-who) as he petitions for continuance of his position as leader of the corporation.

Questions from the Chairman of the Board of Directors to the sitting CEO of Civil Corp:

  1. OK, it looks like we started off in Fiscal ’02 with a surplus of a couple of hundred billion. Now, according to these numbers from Lou in accounting, we’re looking at a debt load of about seven trillion bucks. I know we’ve hit a few bumps in the road, but Lou tells me your budgets are running half a trillion in the red for the next ten years or so, and it’s got him and the whole accounting staff pretty worried. How are we going to stay afloat with numbers like that? What are you doing to boost revenues and profits and reduce outlays?
  2. On acquisitions – it says here in your ’01 corporate goals report that you planned to scale back acquisitions. Even so, we went ahead and backed your hunch on Ira Co. and green-lighted the hostile takeover. Now we’re about 200 billion down here, with nothing to show for it and no prospects apart from more fiscal hemorrhaging and loss of key personnel through…um…attrition. That’s not to mention the PR beating we’re taking in the industry at large. Now I’m all for expansion, but it looks like your team never really had a post-acquisition plan in place. Did you honestly think the Ira Co. loyalists were going to bend over backward to help Civil Corp. restructure the company? I think it would have been prudent to expect at least a little foot dragging. The shareholders might have reacted differently to your proposition with more information on alternative outcomes. You know as well as I do the law of unintended consequences. Anyway, I want a full report on your plan for Ira Co. in fiscal ’05 by early October. We need a serious plan, and we need it now.
  3. HR is reporting that hiring is way down. It looks like we issued huge bonuses in both ’03 and ’04 to your top people, but bonuses down the line toward middle management and labor are flat. That doesn’t bother me, but since Accounting can’t justify any more revenue for payroll while we continue to hand out these bonuses, we’re understaffed. What’s your plan to help turn that around?
  4. We know the competition hit us pretty hard in ’01 right after you came on, and we don’t blame you for that. It was a rough year for the whole industry. You got right on the stick, and we’re grateful. But getting back to Ira Co. – it says here in your business plan that the takeover was part of a plan of targeted acquisition of competitive rivals in order to consolidate our market share and protect the company. But the boys in research were apparently wrong, or else you misunderstood them–Ira Co. isn’t even in the same markets as we are. Obviously, we didn’t “know” Ira Co. was gunning for us, because we now know they didn’t have the manufacturing capacity to do so. And what’s more, All Chaos, our biggest competitor, is still out there punching away at us and intimidating our business partners. And Tali Brands – are we sure they’re out of the picture? I’ve heard rumors. The shareholders will want to know–why did we reduce efforts addressing a known threat in order to go after a paper tiger
  5. I’ve got a report here from the facilities manager that says our utility bills are soaring, and they’re climbing every year. He says we could put a real dent in these bills just by encouraging our building managers to make a few changes–turn off the lights, turn down the thermostats, reducing fleet vehicle size, that kind of thing. Now you know I’m not one of those touchy-feely environmental types, but business is business, and we have an opportunity to increase efficiencies here. I think we just need to lead the way, and the staff will see the value in it for the good of the company. Still, your executive VP–is it Dick?–issued a memo last year that actually discourages staff from reducing our utility bills. He seems to think there’s no need to conserve at all. I think I speak for most of the board when I say we need to conserve everywhere we can. It just makes good fiscal sense. (And by the way, I’ve heard rumors that the utilities are heavily invested in All Chaos. You look at it that way, and we’re helping All Chaos succeed with every extra dollar we spend on energy.) Will you look into what’s behind Dick’s apparent abandonment of environmental efficiencies as a company policy?

Safety and Politics

It’s tax time in America. The time when we fork over our dough to the elite ruling class, so that they may distribute it among themselves – the corporate welfare, the pork projects, the subsidies and the arms deals that make this country great. Never mind that the bridges and schools are falling apart, or that the parks and libraries are closing due to lack of funds. Those limos don’t pay for themselves!

But that’s all the ranting I’ll do about it. In principle, I don’t mind paying taxes at all. But when we have to pay more and more for less and less visible results, it gets frustrating.

What’s really on my mind is a kind of “Eureka” moment I had the other day. My wife asked, rhetorically, why it is that we can’t even determine whether — forget about “why” or “how”  — anyone in the government screwed up in failing to protect the country from the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Although I had been following the 9/11 hearings, I hadn’t been dwelling on that angle. But she was right. No matter what happens, you can be sure that no one of any consequence will be “blamed” or held accountable for what did or didn’t happen in the weeks and months prior to the event. And because no one will be blamed, no “fault” will exist.

Instead, the blame will go to “policies” and “structures” that did not allow the otherwise competent folks in the government to get the job done. They would have, the story will go, but their hands were tied by the restrictive operational rules of their respective agencies. The solution? My guess will be a long-term, costly “revamping” of this or that agency, with no accountability down the line to see if it actually did any good. Memos will be written, departments will be restructured, policies will be retooled — and none of us will be any safer than we are now.

So my answer to her was, “Because there is no one left in this country’s government who can look at anything from a point of view that is not shaped by politics.” In other words, even though the 9/11 hearings are seemingly meant to address the gravest, most serious threat to America’s future since World War II and help the nation overcome that threat, no one participating in them sees them that way. They truly do not. They do understand that is the contextof the hearings (or, for the more cynical among them, the pretext). But they are also acutely aware that the important stakes for these hearings are political, and will be won or lost on November 2nd.

The next general election–rather than the next terror attack–is what drives the majority of participants’ responses, their analysis, their very thought processes in preparing to testify or question those who testify.

It’s unfortunate, but I believe we are at such a point. We have reached a state of politicization and polarization that does not allow for any situation, however much it may endanger the populace, to override the single guiding principle of all activity in Washington today — which is to preserve power (for those who hold it) or to gain power (for those who do not).

What this means in the context of testimony and questioning at the hearings is equally straightforward: no testimony means anything, because its meaning is interpreted by virtue of which side you’re on. It’s akin to Orwell’s true definition of doublespeak: you say one thing, believe an entirely opposite thing, and yet can embrace both concepts as inherently “true” because one is “objective” truth (for example, that the war against Iraq was a war of choice) and one is “political” truth (the war against Iraq was a war of necessity).  Take Condaleeza Rice. The pundits have been batting her testimony around for weeks, and if you read the analysis you come up with two perfectly opposing versions of what she said.

If you’re anti-Bush: Rice spun the facts and misrepresented the nature of pre-attack warnings from intelligence agencies to cover for Bush’s and her own inability to effect top-down control over security agencies in the face of clear warnings and evidence of impending attacks.

If you’re pro-Bush: Rice acquitted herself and the administration admirably, providing a solid basis for her assertion that there was no “actionable” intelligence for the administration to act on and that no one could have predicted the time, place and scale of attacks prior to the event based on the intelligence at hand.

Can both versions be correct? Probably not, but each are effectively “true” for the equal halves of the country that believe each version. Does the truth inhabit some “middle ground” between the two partisan interpretations? Possibly, but not necessarily–the moderate answer is not more true by virtue of its being  non-partisan. It may simply be a wishy-washy interpretation of baldly partisan rhetoric.

And the result? Paralysis. Since it cannot be determined which version is “empirically correct” without access to an independent evaluation of the evidence (as opposed to the conclusions of a “bipartisan” committee, which can be painted as political by those who don’t like them), the result for politically dispassionate observers is a kind of circular syllogism of cause and effect:

If A is true, it follows that B is true
A may or may not be true
B may or may not be true

To put it in the context of 9/11:

If our leaders were warned of impending attacks, they should have done something to prevent them.
Our leaders may or may not have been warned of impending attacks;
they should or should not have done something to prevent them.

And so on, forever. So we might as well get used to the terror attacks–while it may be theoretically possible to prevent them, it’s become politically impossible to figure out whose job it is.