Saturday, January 19, 2008
Of course, crapping the economy isn't one....
The New York Times made it official. The Economy is a problem!Link.
So, now, at last we can discuss it.
Not just discuss it, in rapid order "recession" became the word of the day, from White House, Congress, the Fed and the media.
It's blamed, mostly, on the subprime crisis.
But that's not the problem. It's a symptom. It is the logical, and probably one of the necessary results, of Bushenomics.
Along with low, or no, job growth. Little or no business growth. Depressed wages. And the crashing dollar. (The president has a different vision of the economy. In his vision it's booming! And the number of jobs is growing! Though there is this little blip.)
The idea under which Bushenomics was sold is this:
The rich are the investor class.
If the rich have more money, they will invest more.
Their investments will create more business.
Those businesses will create more wealth, thus improving everyone's lives and making the nation stronger. They will also create new and better jobs.
Whether or not the people who say such things truly believe them, I cannot say. But that's their pitch, and the media certainly seems to buy it, as do most of the establishment economists.
A more realistic -- and less idealistic -- view of Bushenomics is that the Bush administration and its cronies came at the economy with the attitude of oilmen.
They inherited a vastly wealth country.
They looked at it like the oil under the Alaskan wilderness. They craved to pump it out, turn it into cash and grab as much of that cash as possible.
Wherever possible, they literally sold off the assets. This was called privatization. Our biggest asset -- in terms of size -- is, of course, our defense establishment. With privatization, one dollar out of every three for direct military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan goes to private contractors like Halliburton and Blackwater. So when someone says, "Support the troops!" with budget appropriations, they should really yell, "Two-thirds support to the troops! One third support to Halliburton, et al.!"
This is just an estimate. The degree of privatization is unknown. Presumably, that's deliberate. Nor does it count the amount of money the military spends with private purveyors to supply the troops and their operations. It is only the amount that goes directly to private contractors.
But for the most part, the assets of the United States, our collective wealth, could not be sold off in such a direct manner.
In order to turn them into cash, what the administration did was borrow against them.
That is, they cut taxes while continuing to spend lavishly, creating debt.
The debt is owed by all of us, the collective people of the United States.
The tax cuts hugely favored rich people. They also favored unearned income (dividends, capital gains, inherited money) as opposed to the kind of money people have to work for. The very richest got richer.
The spending was -- to the degree possible -- directed to themselves, their friends and their supporters: Big Pharma, the medical industry, insurance, banking and financial, among others. And, of course, Big Oil, from whom they have spent close to a trillion dollars of our money to conquer a big oil field for private exploitation.
Now let's take a look at some numbers.
The numbers will tell us if their idealistic tale about unleashing the capitalists to create a better world for us all is correct. Or if it's a fairy story that masks uncaring greed.
The big number is that the economy has grown.
As measured by the GDP it has. From 2001 to 2007 it went by 35 percent.
GDP stands for Gross Domestic Product. It could more accurately be called Gross Domestic Transactions, because it is the sum of all the financial transactions in the country.
Now let us look at job creation.
In the first six years of the Clinton administration, 13.7 million jobs were created. In the same period, under Bush, only 3.7 million jobs were created. Barely keeping up with population growth, if that. (Source: Fox News)
Now let us look at median income. That's as opposed to average income (If Bill Gates walks into a bar with 10 people, the average income of everyone in the room goes up by $17,5000,000. But the median income just moves up half a notch, from between the fifth and sixth person, to the sixth person's income). From 2001 to 2005, median income, for people under 65, went down $2,000.
That's worth restating. From 2001 to 2005, the income of the average working person declined by $2,000.
Now, let's look at the value of America's businesses.
A good rough measure of the market value of America's best businesses is the stock market. Under Clinton, the Dow Jones went up 324 percent. Wall-to-wall, after the dot.com bubble burst, it more than tripled in value.
Bush arrived in 2001. Since then the Dow Jones is up just 10 percent. Adjusted for inflation, that's absolutely flat. (It was briefly up 23 percent. It is now below the 10 percent mark, and tumbling down as this is written). Just pain, no gain.
If jobs have not increased, salaries have gone down, and the value of business has not risen, where is that 35 percent growth in the economy?
There is a number called the M3 money supply.
The M1 is basically cash, plus checking and "current" accounts. The M2 adds savings accounts, money market accounts and CDs up to $100,000. The M3 adds in the big CDs, Eurodollar accounts and other large exotics.
Already rising very fast, the M3 took off like a rocket after 2001. The Fed stopped publishing the M3 in 2006 (conspiracy theorists, please note.) But a quick look at the chart of its growth, and assuming its trajectory continued, clearly shows that the M3 grew by something in the range of 35 percent.
The entire growth of the economy under Bushenomics is accounted for by growth in the money supply.
The administration did not directly inflate the economy by 35 percent.
They pumped it by the size of the deficit. The rest happened this way.
When a government is "printing money" (running big deficits), the big fear is inflation.
Particularly in the financial community. Bankers make their money on interest, and inflation eats their profits, point for point.
The administration, very proudly, grew the economy (or at least the amount of money in circulation), without inflation. Which actually is a pretty good trick.
In part, they were able to do so precisely because the policy was a failure.
If it had created business growth -- actual business, not just financial business -- that would have created jobs. Then there would have been inflationary pressure. Especially if they were good, high paying jobs. If salaries for ordinary people go up, even a little, the total is a big sum because there are so many of us.
But due to free trade, outsourcing, bad economic policy, policies aimed at keeping wages down, and relentless union busting, good jobs were lost, to be replaced with low-wage jobs, when they were replaced at all. The proof is in that median income figure (down $2,000 per worker).
Due to free trade and outsourcing, consumer goods mostly went down too. The exception being in favored industries like pharmaceuticals, insurance and oil.
Finally, and this the key to the next step in the process, the Fed kept interest rates down.
Low interest rates mean that it's cheap to borrow.
The administration largely believes in supply-side economics (otherwise known as "trickle down," or "piss on the people."); if you increase the supply of something, consumers will appear to buy it.
The actual results are a perverse triumph of the idea.
The supply of money was increased. The price of money was kept artificially low.
Think of borrowing as buying money. It is.
People (and businesses and corporations) did rush forward to buy it. Once they had it, what was there to do with it? There was no new trend, no dot.coms, no high techs, no bio techs, no nothing.
So they went out and sold money. That is, they made loans.
There are two big retail loan areas, credit cards and housing loans. Both were pushed very aggressively. With cheap, cheap money available to finance home buying, that market heated up. At the same time, commercial interests started aggressively buying up loans, packaging them together, and reselling them as financial instruments. That created more desire to make more loans (sell money). Financial institutions bought more money (borrowed), in order to sell it at a profit (make loans). Since the loans were quickly resold -- and profit taken off the top -- the quality of the loans didn't matter to the people who made them. The housing market -- or rather the loans that fueled it -- grew into a bubble.
The subprime crisis, the housing bubble, whatever you want to call it, is not the problem.
It's a symptom of pumping in money with no place to go.
Other symptoms are no job growth, no business growth, no stock market growth, falling median incomes, disappearing pensions and health plans, and the fall of the dollar.
When Bush came into office, a Euro cost 95 cents. Now it costs a $1.50. The Canadian dollar (the Loony) was 70 cents. Now it costs a dollar. Most mainstream economists and pundits will opine that a low dollar is good for American industry, because it will help us sell our goods. That's only true if we're producing things that no one else is -- or producing them better or cheaper -- and we're not.
Also, many foreign exchange rates are being kept artificially low against the dollar. Some, like many of the oil countries, are pegged to the dollar. They're making up for it by raising the price of oil (currently traded in dollars). Others, like the Asian manufacturing countries, are keeping their currency down to retain their edge in selling here, thereby canceling whatever advantage we're supposed to get from declining currency.
One way to think of what the administration has done, is as a leveraged buyout. That's when someone buys a company, using the company itself as the collateral for the loan used to purchase it, usually at very high interest, then pays off the interest by cutting the work force and salaries, selling outsets and even breaking up the company.
It's good for the guy who makes the deal, skims the cream off the top and gets rich. (The company that Mitt Romney got rich working for specialized in doing that.) It's good for the lenders, who get a good return (if the buyer is able to squeeze enough money out of his purchase), but it's bad for the work force, bad for the company, and, if no one comes along to replace it, bad for the business as a whole.
We've experienced a leveraged buyout of the national economy.
Our politicians, the media and economists are just now waking up to the fact that the economy is in trouble.
The current numbers make it clear that we are probably in, or probably headed for, a recession.
Also, the polls show that people are concerned about the economy, and it's an election year. The people are out ahead of our governing and media and professional economic classes on this, because they live in the real economy, the one that's been leveraged, and the professionals are either in, or work for, the investor class that has been doing well.
So there is, at last, talk about doing something about the economy.
The Feds will cut interest rates!
George Bush wants a stimulus package. Tax cuts, tax cuts and make my tax cuts permanent! After all, that policy has worked so well. He said the cuts must be at least 1 percent of the GDP. That will be $145 billion.
Harry Reid and Nancy Policy (the King and Queen of Effective Politics) will offer a competing one (tax cuts, tax cuts!). Although they promised pay-as-you-go economic policies from a Democratic legislature.
Pundits in the media talk about a crisis in consumer confidence. And how the fix is to restore it. So we will go out and buy. Presumably on credit.
How about consumers think there's a problem because there is one. Not because they're weird emotionally. They reasonably see themselves so overextended, with so little hope of being better earners, that they won't be able to pay things off. Not even with a one-time government check of somewhere between $300 and $1,200.
In short, most of those solutions will go to making things worse.
The real solutions are pretty obvious and pretty simple.
First, we have to make a choice: Do we want a sound economy for all of us and a strong America? Or do we want to have a few people of unlimited wealth who use that wealth, among other things, to control the government so that it helps them milk more money from the rest of us?
By the way, this is not a call for socialism! Or other ism! Except a call for sensible and effective capitalism. Based on what we've seen work and seen fail.
In the real world, there are no such things as free markets.
In the real world, business people manipulate and conspire to control markets, and governments both control and collude with business, while tax policies and government spending have a major affect on the economy.
Let us accept that, and then the argument is only over how best to do it.
Simply giving money to rich people doesn't work.
Bob Novak, the conservative commentator who calls the investor class "the most creative class," is flat out wrong. As we've seen, outside of their ability to buy influence in politics, the media and the law, the rich are like the rest of us, relatively passive and unimaginative, prone to putting their money in the easiest place that promises a return, in whatever bubble is in fashion at the moment and wherever some salesman who gets their attention tells them.
Money has no mind of its own. It has to be directed toward areas that will generate and support business and good jobs at good wages. As it happens, our economic goals are on the same road as the social good.
The No. 1 target has to be alternative energy.
Energy that can be produced here, in the United States, renewable, nonpolluting, and not, like corn-based ethanol, requiring as much petroleum to produce it as it replaces. One-third of our balance of trade deficit is oil, year in and year out. If the United States can become the world leader in alternative energy and conservation technology, we will, at last, have something to export.
The No. 2 target is infrastructure.
By it's nature, infrastructure has to be largely produced here with local labor and it stays here.
Hard infrastructure, like roads and bridges, cleaning up New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, protecting our coasts from future storms, internet and phone service as good as Europe's, Japan's and Singapore's.
Soft infrastructure, like education, youth services, parks and recreation programs, public safety, and a saner criminal justice system. The United States has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the incarcerated population. That's expensive. And wasteful. Unsafe streets and high crime are expensive and wasteful.
Infrastructure makes doing business easier, quicker and cheaper. It becomes an invisible subsidy for all businesses. Try to imagine, for example, Fed Ex, that entrepreneurial triumph, without a national web of airports, flight controllers and roads.
The No. 3 target is health care.
Health care in the United States costs at least 50 percent more than the next-highest spending country and double what it does in most other modernized countries. All of them have better health than we do. They live longer and in better condition.
The difference is that they have national health plans. Mostly single-payer, usually tax-supported. Our plans are based on a hodge-podge of a thousand private insurers.
A single-payer national health plan should cut the costs of our health care by at least 25 percent, possibly 50 percent. That's an astonishing number. That money could go to more productive things. Or to even more health care.
American businesses who supply health care to their employees claim they are noncompetitive with companies from countries that have national health. This will make them more competitive. This will make American labor more competitive.
The No. 4 four target is a balanced budget.
There are, in fact, times for deficit spending. Just as there are times in our personal lives to borrow and times for business to borrow.
This is probably not one of them.
There is an ocean of money sloshing all around the world, looking for a home. If there are real business opportunities in America (like taking the lead in alternative energy, bio tech, and whatever is next around the corner), it will come.
Especially if there is a sound business environment and dollar investments return to being the most reliable in the world. That means paying down our debt.
How can all this be done?
On the wealthy. And on corporations. That's not class warfare. That's simple practicality.
After your first $20,000, how much of the next 20 do you need, to live, thrive and survive? Damn near all of it. After your first 20 million, now much of the next 20 million do you need? Not a nickel.
The rich will whine, writhe and scream that they won't do business, they'll be driven out of business, that business will collapse. Bullshit. If they dislike keeping 20 or 30 or 40 cents of each dollar of profit so much that they won't take the dollar, someone will come along who gladly will. That's how markets work.
All of this is pretty straightforward and common sense.
The illogic of Bushenomics is obvious. The results were foreseeable. After all, similar effects took place under Reagan and Bush the Elder, until they reversed courses.
The alternatives are equally obvious. The facts bear out the theory. Go back to Hoover and Roosevelt, then look at the down, up, down, of Bush the Elder, Bill Clinton, and Bush the Lesser. (We do note that there are minor industries dedicated to proving that Franklin Roosevelt was, in the words of CNN's Glenn Beck, "an evil son of a bitch," that the New Deal really, really, really didn't work, and that Bush the Elder was really, really, really responsible for the boom of the Clinton years and that Clinton was responsible for the first recession during the reign of Bush the Lesser. But they are like people who see the image of the Virgin Mary in bread sticks and crullers.)
None of our politicians, pundits or economists are addressing the fundamentals.
The last time we switched from the nonsense of worshiping unmitigated greed, disguised as free marketeering, it took a market crash and the Great Depression to move us out of our public relations-manufactured delusions and make us understand that when we all do well the rich get richer too, so let's start with the common good.
Based on the dialogue as it stands now, we will go with tinkering and twaddle, doing more of what doesn't work. And only if the whole things collapses will we address the real problems.
It starts with a $50,000 loan from Haley Barbour. I love Haley Barbour—he's truly an "Only in the Republican Party" kind of cat. First he rises to power as a Mississippi congressman, then Republican National Committee chair, all as a tribune of sturdy, upright conservative morality. Then he sets himself up as one of the most high-dollar lobbyists in Washington, including a turn selling advice about how American businesses can profit from war-torn Iraq. Then he sells himself to the people of Mississippi as governor—again, as a tribune of sturdy, upright conservative morality.Link.
Only in the Republican Party, folks.
Anyway. It's 2000, and our hero Raymond, a successful young campaign consultant specializing in telemarketing and direct mail is between engagements, having worked for Steve Forbes' ill-fated bid for the Republican nomination. He needs an idea for a business. He scotches his first one, an online exchange where the RNC and various state parties could trade the two kinds of campaign currency, hard money and soft money, like they were Euros or Yen. Too cynical, it turns out. "What are you, fucking crazy?" a friend snorts. "This is the stuff that's supposed to happen in the dark of the night.
He comes up with another idea: brokering phone-banking services for campaigns, helping match demand for the kind of nasty, smearing phone calls he specializes in with the limited supply of "call centers in the United States staffed by accent-neutral Americans." Which, in the milieu within which he thrives, is apparently not too cynical at all.
He's cruising along quite ably, thanks to the $50,000 in seed money from RNC chair Barbour, when he runs into a bit of a jam: he holds George W. Bush ("a Connecticut-raised cowboy who'd been blind drunk until he was forty and who'd failed at every private-sector job his father ever got him") rather in contempt, and during the presidential campaign was not shy about letting the rest of the party know it. Not a good idea, given how the Republican Party rolls. He tells one story of what a Dole fund-raiser (he names names: Mark Miller) told him in 1996: "Once I'm in the White House, I can get even with everyone."
Now what Raymond calls "Bush's goon squad" are in the White House, and are eager to get even with him.
His business is frozen out— by, he suspects, Karl Rove himself, the "king of direct mail smear campaigns." He's desperate for business when manna arrives from heaven. An agent of the RNC, Jim Tobin, calls him up with a curious request: "If I had a couple of phone numbers that I wanted to shut down on Election Day, could you do that?"
He could. Though first he runs things by a Republican election lawyer—a former general counsel to the Federal Election Committee, in fact. The numbers are of Democratic phone banks designed to help get people to the polls for the 2002 New Hampshire gubernatorial election. The lawyer tells him he can't find anything illegal about wiping out this capacity by flooding them with calls. "For me that was a green light," Raymond writes. "Throughout my career, 'It's not illegal' was always enough to march with.... In ten years no one in my professional ife had ever questioned my ethics. It had literally never came up."
What's more, he reflects, "the fact that the call came from the RNC is the reason I didn't just dismiss the idea out of hand. The Bush White House had complete control fo the RNC and there was no way someone like Tobin was going to try what he was proposing without first getting it vetted by his higher-ups. That's if Tobin, rather than one of his bosses, had even thought of the ploy himself—which seemed unlikely."
Famous last words.
Raymond presumes this is his Binding of Isaac moment: the Bushies are testing him, to see how far he's willing to go for the team. He's not about to turn down the work; he needs to be welcomed back into The Family. His livelihood depends on it. Once in, he'll be under their protection.
That's our man Raymond's Achilles heel: he trusts these people to protect him.
Election Day. He runs the phone-jamming operation for an hour, then gets a desperate call from the executive director of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee, the man who hired him, to shut the thing down post haste. It turns out one of the phone banks belongs to the New Hampshire firefighters union. The Granite State's Bravest, livid, turn him in to the cops. It arrives that federal prosecutors are able to demonstrate that what he was doing was not, actually, legal at all. Although Raymond isn't too worried at first. The story of the phone-jamming gets out in the New Hampshire press, but the state party remits him his $15,600 fee nonetheless. So the Republican Establishment must still be on his side. He's in the clear.
He has misjudged his professional company. "Ever hear the one about the president who picked a land war in the Middle East? Or the one about the vice president who took a scattergun to an old man's face? And then got the old man to apologize for getting shot? That's the type I was dealing with.... When the shit hit the fan, my political party and my former colleagues not only threw me under the bus but then blamed me for getting run over."
Here we must pause. It's in Raymond's interest in this book to paint himself as a man done wrong. Why should we trust him? That's for each individual reader to decide. I actually came away rather respecting him. Utterly contrite, deeply ashamed, he tells a story of full cooperation with federal prosecutors, his conviction, doing his time, accepting full responsibility for his acts. He doesn't make himself look all that good at all. He even tells of the time he told an RNC rep that if the feds come calling, he'll cooperate—a wink, wink, nudge, nudge signal that calls should be made to get the Justice Department to shut the investigation down. This is a self-incriminating detail. "Okay, fine, fair enough," is the response. "I hear you. I'll have a few conversations."
The investigation, however, is not shut down. It's here where the story gets fascinating—and deeply scary. When the feds do indeed come calling, his colleagues seem plainly astonished that he's willing to name the higher-ups who cooperated with him on the scheme. To them, it's simply presumed he'd take the fall and do the time in deference to higher ups in the Republican Party, Mafia-style. That, "because Tobin had become more valuable to the Republican Party than I was, I should just roll over because the Party"—the capitalization is a nice, Bolsheviki touch—was what mattered above and beyond anything and anyone.... 'What the fuck is wrong with Raymond?' was the general refrain. 'Why is he doing this to Jim Tobin? What a scumbag!'"
Out of all this, Raymond develops a fascinating circumstantial case about what this all amounts to. The RNC spent an astonishing $3 million on Tobin's legal defense. (RNC chair Ed Gillespie once made the mistake of owning up that he'd made that decision in consultation with the White House—then, wisely, said he had misspoke. "[I]mplicating the Bush/Cheney White House was a thing unbecoming to any Republcian who didn't wish to be reduced to bloody chunks for use as fertilizer at a certain Crawford, Texas ranch.")
The disloyal Raymond, on the other hand, spent $250,000 of his own money on his defense—and, he makes a pretty decent case, some of that $3 million went to spying on him. That $3 million, he suggests, was a crucially important investment for the entire conservative political enterprise. In sum: "Either Tobin knew things that the Republican elite wanted him to keep his yap shut about, or he was just the sweetest little thing they'd ever seen."
He suspects this even more so when Tobin, who had just served as New England regional chairman for the Bush reelection campaign, pleads guilty— to protect someone else, Raymond presumes. Then the executive director of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee, the guy who directly hired Raymond to carry out the phone jamming, asked to serve his prison term right away. "I want to get it over with," he told the judge. Explains Raymond: "The guy didn't even want to try for a sentence reduction; he couldn't get to jail fast enough. He was clearly taking a hit for the team, hoping the Godfathers would welcome him back into the family when he came out the other side."
So what did these men know? What were they protecting? Here's the conclusion he works his way toward: "that the New Hampshire program was only a test run, a beta version of a new campaign strategy they intended to use in other close races--and that the RNC had dispatched Tobin to find a disposable non-Bushie to try it out."
Behold the Mark of Rove. Ladies and gentleman, your Republican Party.
And so a contrite Raymond spends three months in jail—thankfully for us. He's been through the fire, and he's survived to reveal for us exactly how the Bush White House rolls: "they lie when they're in trouble, they lie when they're safe; they lie when threatened, they lie when they are threatening; they lie about lies, they lie about lying about lies. And if they should happen upon some harmless, well-meaning little truth lying around they beat it about the face and head until it looks like a lie, and wants to be a lie, and finally does become a lie. And people say there are no men of vision in Washington.... After 10 full years inside the GOP, 90 days among honest criminals wasn't any great ordeal."
And here the rat speaks directly for himself. Note how he proves what a piece of shit he is inside 25 words. He's not hired to be a moral compass so it's OK that he's a complete scumbag. As a liberal, I would call that moral relativism but I'm sure a conservative calls it strong Christian, American principle.My favorite blog comment about How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative was “Well, that’s refreshing candor from a guy who’s probably going to hell.” It is a favorite because it assumes so much so wrongly.Link.
Setting aside any debate over such a thing as hell, I was never hired by a campaign to be the moral compass. In fact, morality is a slippery slope and not a political dialogue I would willingly enter or incite. I was hired to engineer victory. With so much at stake, morality was not a luxury to be afforded candidates or their staff.
Campaign managers and consultants, in both U.S. political parties, are hired to win. Period. They are not hired to ease the political conscience – if anything they are hired to render it powerless (or at least frustrate it to the point of it giving up and going away). That was the dynamic I bought into when I became a Republican campaign manager and consultant; party v. party; Republicans v. Democrats; winning v. losing.
However, I never bought into the dynamic of Allen Raymond v. the United States government. So when that became my reality, the choice was easy. I never hesitated to tell the truth the moment our government knocked on my door and asked me what happened on Election Day 2002.
As a Republican campaign operative at the Republican National Committee it was drilled into me that election law attorneys serve the purpose identifying the bright line of the law so it could be taunted but not crossed. Anybody who has a problem with that or doesn’t get it doesn’t understand America. America is about self interest, within the rule of law. That’s where I erred.
I broke the law. It wasn’t my intent, but it was the effect. The law is like a wall, on one side the “decent hardworking Americans” like the Cleavers and the Huxtables, on the other felons and convicts. Nowhere in between, or anywhere else, is morality. The reason is because ours is a secular nation. Morality is the domain of organized religion, cults and Bill O’Reilly (allegedly), but not government. So when my judge derided me by asking, “Where was his moral compass?” I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. It was like comparing apples to fire trucks in Coptic. That was also a moment when righteous indignation got on its bench-level soap box and decided to make the law about morality, sending me the clear signal I was doomed to find myself on the same side of the wall as the felons and convicts.
Legislating morality was never my thing. When I was a Republican I believed in lower taxes and less government. I still do, minus the intrusion of snake handling, gun toting GOPers. What I believe in now, though, is compassion in every corner of life. As a felon I can attest there’s little of it directed at former inmates; for a Christian nation we sure don’t often act like it toward our fellow citizens trying to earn their way back over the wall.
The idea of going to hell doesn’t cross my mind much these days; there are too many inside-the-Beltway types ahead of me fooling themselves that they are Ward and Cliff. My suggestion is to not view politics through a morality filter and then get dismayed when elected officials start likewise legislating, because then there really will be hell to pay.
According to Darwin’s theory of evolution, individuals in a species pass successful traits onto their offspring through a process called “deterministic inheritance.” Over multiple generations, advantageous developmental trends – such as the lengthening of the giraffe’s neck – occur.Link.
An opposing theory says evolution takes place through randomly inherited and not necessarily advantageous changes. Using the giraffe example, there would not be a common neck-lengthening trend; some would develop long necks, while others would develop short ones.
Now, the findings of an international team of biologists demonstrate that evolution is not a random process, but rather occurs through the natural selection of successful traits. The collaborative study by researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Israel, the U.S, France and Germany is published in the November 2007 issue of Current Biology (vol. 17, pp. 1925-1937).
To settle the question about whether evolution is deterministic or random, the researchers used various tools – including DNA strand analysis and electronic microscopy – to study female sexual organ development in 51 species of nematode, a type of worm commonly used to better understand evolutionary processes.
When the researchers measured changes in 40 defined characteristics of the nematodes’ sexual organs (including cell division patterns and the formation of specific cells), they found that most were uniform in direction, with the main mechanism for the development favoring a natural selection of successful traits, the researchers said.
“Since random development would not create such unifying trends, we concluded that the observed development was deterministic, not random,” said Professor Benjamin Podbilewicz from the Technion Faculty of Biology.
The findings, which constitute a significant milestone in establishing and reaffirming the mechanism of Darwin’s theory, will help in understanding how evolution works in all living creatures, said Podbilewicz.
The National Science Board this week said leading science and engineering indicators tell a mixed story regarding the achievement of the US in science, research and development, and math in international comparisons.Link.
For example, US schools continue to lag behind internationally in science and math education. On the other hand, the US is the largest, single, R&D-performing nation in the world pumping some $340 billion into future-related technologies. The US also leads the world in patent development.
The board’s conclusions and Science and Engineering Indicators 2008 are contained in the group’s biennial report on the state of science and engineering research and education in the United States sent to the President and Congress this week.
While the report is massive, the board came up with 13 prime observations on the report or what it calls leading Science and Engineering Indicators 2008.
· U.S. grade school students continue to lag behind other developed countries in science and math, although fourth and eighth grade U.S. students showed steady gains in math since 1990. Only fourth graders showed gains in science compared to 1996.
· High school completion and college enrollment rates across ethnic groups increased steadily in recent years. But college enrollment and completion rates differ across socioeconomic groups.
· In 2000, the United States held about one quarter of the world's 194 million tertiary degrees -- degrees broadly equivalent to a U.S. baccalaureate. Twenty years earlier, the U.S. share was closer to one third of the world's then 73 million tertiary degrees.
· From 1994 to 2004, U.S. firms increased the number of people they employed in R&D jobs outside the United States by 76 % and employment within the United States by 31 %, while U.S. subsidiaries of foreign firms increased their U.S. R&D employment by 18 %.
· The U.S. is the largest, single, R&D-performing nation in the world supplying an estimated $340 billion for R&D in 2006, a record high.
· Of the $340 billion R&D total, basic research accounted for 18 % or $62 billion; applied research accounted for 22 % or $75 billion; and development accounted for the other 60 % or $203 billion. In 2006, the federal government supplied about 60 % of all basic research funds, industry about 17 %, with private foundations, academic institutions and other governmental entities supplying the rest.
· Federal obligations for all academic research, basic and applied, declined in real terms between 2004 and 2005 and are expected to drop further in 2006 and 2007. This would be the first multiyear decline for academic research since 1982.
· Based on key indicators, the U.S. sustained a relative economic advantage over other developed and developing economies. Growth has been far more rapid in the emerging markets of China and India.
· The U.S. is a leading producer in high-tech manufacturing and knowledge-intensive services, but several Asian countries, led by China, have rapidly increased their global market share.
· The U.S. leads the world in economically-viable patents, filed in the U.S., Japan and Europe.
· The U.S. comparative advantage in exports of high-technology products has eroded: the U.S. trade balance in advanced technology products shifted from surplus to deficit starting in 2002. Information and communications products geographically concentrated in Asia -- particularly China and Malaysia -- account for this deficit.
· U.S. public support for government funding of scientific research is strong and growing.
· In a 2006 survey, 87 % of Americans supported government funding for basic research, up from 80 % in past surveys dating back to 1979. Also, Americans who said the government spends too little on scientific research grew from 34 % to 41 % between 2002 and 2006.
· In 2006, Americans expressed greater confidence in leaders of the scientific community than those of any other institution except the military. On science-related public policy issues, including global climate change, stem cell research and genetically modified foods, Americans believe that science leaders, are knowledgeable and impartial and ought to be influential.
· Academic scientists and engineers are more diverse today, and federal funding remains important to them.
· From 1973 to 2006, in the academic, doctoral labor force the share of women increased from 9 % to 33 %, of underrepresented minorities (African-Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians/Alaska Natives) from 2 % to 8 %, and of Asian/Pacific Islanders from 4 % to 14 %.
· Academic S&E doctorate holders employed in academia who received federal support has remained steady during the last 20 years: just under half, 47 % in 2006, and in the late 1980s. Among life scientists, this %age has dropped from 65 % in 1989, to 58 % in 2006, although the actual number of those reporting federal support increased.
The National Science Board was established by Congress in 1950, and provides oversight for, and establishes the policies of, the National Science Foundation. It also serves as an independent body of advisors to both the President and Congress on broad national policy issues related to science and engineering research and education.
As South Carolina's Republican primary election draws nearer, Mike Huckabee has ratcheted up his appeals to the racial nationalism of white evangelicals. "You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag," the former Arkansas governor told a Myrtle Beach crowd on January 17, referring to the Confederate flag. "If somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell them what to do with the pole. That's what we'd do."Link.
Making coded appeals to white racism is nothing new for Huckabee. Indeed, well before he was a nationally known political star, Huckabee nurtured a relationship with America's largest white supremacist group, the Council of Conservative Citizens. The extent of Huckabee's interaction with the racist group is unclear, but this much is known: he accepted an invitation to speak at the group's annual conference in 1993 and ultimately delivered a videotaped address that was "extremely well received by the audience."
Descended from the White Citizens Councils that battled integration in the Jim Crow South, including at Arkansas' Little Rock High School, the Council (or CofCC) has been designated a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In its "Statement of Principles," the CofCC declares, "We also oppose all efforts to mix the races of mankind, to promote non-white races over the European-American people through so-called "affirmative action" and similar measures, to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people, and to force the integration of the races."
The CofCC has hosted several conservative Republican legislators at its conferences, including former Representative Bob Barr of Georgia and Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi. But mostly it has been a source of embarrassment to Republicans hoping to move their party beyond its race-baiting image. Former Reagan speechwriter and conservative pundit Peggy Noonan pithily declared that anyone involved with the CofCC "does not deserve to be in a leadership position in America."
During a lengthy phone conversation in 2006, CofCC founder and former White Citizens Council organizer Gordon Lee Baum detailed for me Huckabee's dalliances with his group. Baum told me that Huckabee eagerly accepted his invitation to speak at the CofCC's 1993 national convention in Memphis, Tennessee.
Huckabee's plan was complicated, however, when Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker journeyed out of state and appointed a state senator to preside over the governorship. The Arkansas state legislature passed a resolution forbidding the lieutenant governor from leaving Arkansas until Tucker returned, thus preventing Huckabee from attending the CofCC's conference.
In lieu of his appearance, according to Baum, Huckabee "sent an audio/video presentation saying 'I can't be with you but I'd like to be speaker next time.'" (The CofCC promptly replaced Huckabee with Michael Ramirez, a right-wing cartoonist whose work is currently syndicated to 400 newspapers by the Copley News Service.)
Baum's account of Huckabee's videotaped message was confirmed by a CofCC newsletter obtained by Edward Sebesta, a veteran observer of the neo-Confederate movement. "Ark. Lt. Governor Mike Huckabee, unable to leave Arkansas by law because the Governor was absent from the state, sent a terrific videotape speech, which was viewed and extremely well received by the audience," the 1993 newsletter (Vol. 24, No. 3) reported.
The following year, in 1994, the CofCC held its national conference in Little Rock, Arkansas to accommodate Huckabee. According to Baum, Huckabee initially agreed to speak before his group, but became apprehensive when the Arkansas media reported that he would be joined on the CofCC's podium by Kirk Lyons, a white nationalist legal activist who has hailed Hitler as "probably the most misunderstood man in German history."
"He didn't know anything about Kirk Lyons or anyone else," Baum said of Huckabee. "He said he would show up if we took Lyons off."
But Baum refused to remove his friend Lyons from the bill. Huckabee, who was more concerned about receiving bad publicity than by the racist underpinnings of the CofCC, withdrew his promise to speak. The CofCC replaced him this time with former Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Jim Johnson, a White Citizens Council founder who organized the mob that rioted against the integration of Little Rock High School and later served as the star narrator of Rev. Jerry Falwell's discredited film, "The Clinton Chronicles."
In the end, Huckabee's aborted relationship with the CofCC benefited the group. "We had the biggest crowd in our history because of the publicity" surrounding Huckabee's planned appearance, Baum said of his 1994 conference.
The CofCC has since rebuked Huckabee for his insufficiently intolerant political behavior. Unfortunately, Huckabee has never rebuked the CofCC. Instead he embraced the group, ignoring its well known legacy of promoting racism and only severing ties when his political ambitions were threatened by bad publicity.
Now here is a question for the Huckabee campaign: Will you release the full transcript of Huckabee's "extremely well received" videotaped address to the CofCC?
Friday, January 18, 2008
A former congressman and delegate to the United Nations was indicted Wednesday as part of a terrorist fundraising ring that allegedly sent more than $130,000 to an al-Qaida and Taliban supporter who has threatened U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan.Link.
Mark Deli Siljander, a Michigan Republican when he was in the House, was charged with money laundering, conspiracy and obstructing justice for allegedly lying about lobbying senators on behalf of an Islamic charity that authorities said was secretly sending funds to terrorists.
A 42-count indictment, unsealed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Mo., accuses the Islamic American Relief Agency of paying Siljander $50,000 for the lobbying — money that turned out to be stolen from the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Siljander, who served in the House from 1981-1987, was appointed by President Reagan to serve as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations for one year in 1987.
He could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. His attorney in Kansas City, J.R. Hobbs, had no immediate comment.
The charges are part of a long-running case against the charity, which had been based in Columbia, Mo., and was designated by the Treasury Department in 2004 as a suspected fundraiser for terrorists.
In the indictment, the government alleges that IARA employed a man who had served as a fundraising aide to Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader and mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The indictment charges IARA with sending approximately $130,000 to help Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whom the United States has designated as a global terrorist. The money, sent to bank accounts in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 2003 and 2004, was masked as donations to an orphanage located in buildings that Hekmatyar owned.
Authorities described Hekmatyar as an Afghan mujahedeen leader who has participated in and supported terrorist acts by al-Qaida and the Taliban. The Justice Department said Hekmatyar "has vowed to engage in a holy war against the United States and international troops in Afghanistan."
The charges paint "a troubling picture of an American charity organization that engaged in transactions for the benefit of terrorists and conspired with a former United States congressman to convert stolen federal funds into payments for his advocacy," Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein said.
Siljander founded the Washington-area consulting group Global Strategies Inc. after leaving the government.
The indictment says Siljander was hired by IARA in March 2004 to lobby the Senate Finance Committee in an effort to remove the charity from the panel's list of suspected terror fundraisers.
For his work, IARA paid Siljander with money that was part of U.S. government funding awarded to the charity years earlier for relief work it promised to perform in Africa, the indictment says. Under the grant agreement, IARA was supposed to return any unused funds after the relief project was wrapped up in 1999.
Instead, Siljander and three IARA officers agreed to cover up the money's origins and use it on the lobbying effort, the indictment charges.
In interviews with the FBI in December 2005 and April 2007, Siljander denied doing any lobbying work for IARA. The money, he told investigators, was merely a donation from IARA to help him write a book about Islam and Christianity, the indictment says.
In 2004, the FBI raided the Islamic American Relief Agency-USA group's headquarters and the homes of people affiliated with the group nationwide. Since then, the 20-year-old charity has been unable to raise money and its assets have been frozen.
The charity has denied the allegations that it has financed terrorism. IARA in Columbia has argued that it is a separate organization from the Islamic African Relief Agency, a Sudanese group suspected of financing al-Qaida. A federal appeals court in Washington ruled in February that there was a link between the two groups.
In an indictment handed down in March, the charity and four of its officers were charged with illegally transferring $1.4 million to Iraq from March 1991 to May 2003 — when Iraq was under various U.S. and U.N. sanctions.
The indictment also alleges that on 11 separate occasions the defendants transferred funds from the United States to Iraq through Amman, Jordan, in order to promote unlawful activity that violated Iraq sanctions.
In all, Siljander, IARA and five of its officers were charged with various counts of theft, money laundering, aiding terrorists and conspiracy.
"By bringing this case in the middle of America, we seek to make it harder for terrorists to do business halfway around the globe," said John Wood, U.S. attorney in Kansas City.
Bill O'Reilly hates the vets.
Once more: Our Leaders hate the injured so much, they send them back into combat before they're fully recovered from injuries. (It's more efficient; they're already injured.!)
In an interview with Beliefnet, Mike Huckabee tries again to dig himself out of his "amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards" hole by ... suggesting there's a slippery slope between homosexuality and bestiality.Link.
Asked whether it wouldn't be a "dangerous undertaking" to try to bring the Constitution into conformity with the Bible -- particularly "given the variety of biblical interpretations" -- Huckabee said: "Well, I don't think that's a radical view to say we're going to affirm marriage. I think the radical view is to say that we're going to change the definition of marriage so that it can mean two men, two women, a man and three women, a man and a child, a man and animal. Again, once we change the definition, the door is open to change it again. I think the radical position is to make a change in what's been historic."
Huckabee said that "the genius" of the Constitution is that it was built to be changed. On the other hand, he said, the Bible "was not created to be amended and altered with each passing culture."
"The Bible was not written to be amended. The Constitution was," Huckabee said. "Without amendments to the Constitution, women couldn't vote, African-Americans wouldn't be considered people. We have had to historically go back and to clarify, because there've been injustices made because the Constitution wasn't as clear as it needed to be, and that's the point."
What Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist minister, doesn't say: As historian Mark Newman writes, many Southern Baptists once "defended segregation in the sincere belief that it formed part of God's plan for the human race," and sometimes "cited biblical verses" in support of racial separation.
Mike Huckabee, the former Baptist preacher turned Arkansas governor and now Republican presidential candidate, has deep connections to some conservative Christians with radical political ideas. As Salon's Mike Madden details here, while Huckabee talks up his experience visiting Israel in response to questions about foreign policy, he is also campaigning with the support of prominent figures who see Israel as the site of a coming Armageddon. Huckabee's connections within the evangelical movement also extend to leaders whose focus is on the United States; a number of those leaders are working to transform the United States into a Christian nation governed by what they see as biblical principles. On Monday, as Salon columnist Joe Conason notes, Huckabee seemed to hint that he shares at least some of that vision. "It's a lot easier to change the Constitution," said Huckabee, "than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that's what we need to do, is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards."Link.
Ideas like the ones some of Huckabee's supporters hold stem from two radical doctrines, reconstructionism and dominionism. As Conason writes, these ideas come down to "the notion that America, indeed every nation on earth, is meant to be governed by biblical law." Additionally, they stem from a belief that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, then betrayed by secular humanist liberals who created a myth of separation of church and state in the 20th century, leading the country to immorality and godlessness, and that the United States must be taken back by Christians. Some of the proponents of this idea are unashamed about using the word "theocracy" to describe their goal. The most radical among them -- including two of the movement's leading lights and progenitors, R.J. Rushdoony and his son-in-law Gary North -- advocate a return to the practice of stoning as a method of execution, and expanding this death sentence to the crimes of homosexuality, blasphemy and cursing one's parents.
One of the early organizations to promote reconstructionist ideas was the Coalition on Revival. Rushdoony and North were members of its steering committee. In 1986, two years after its founding, the group produced "A Manifesto for the Christian Church," which says, among other things, "[The] Bible is the only absolute, objective, final test for all truth claims ... The Bible is not only God's statements to us regarding religion, salvation, eternity, and righteousness, but also the final measurement and depository of certain fundamental facts of reality and basic principles that God wants all mankind to know in the spheres of law, government, economics, business, education, arts and communication, medicine, psychology, and science." The group also released 17 tracts laying out its prescription for what the "Christian Worldview" should be on topics from government to law, medicine, family and economics. The introduction to these states, "We believe America can be turned around and once again function as a Christian nation as it did in its earlier years. We believe that wherever the pastors of any city in the world join together in unity to make Christ Lord of every sphere of life, and, with Spirit-led strategy, mobilize their people into a unified spiritual army; that city can and will become 'a city set upon a hill.'"
The list that follows is an examination of some of Huckabee's connections within the Christian right, including his most prominent connections to members and supporters of the Coalition on Revival and other proponents of reconstructionist and dominionist theology.
D. James Kennedy: Like Huckabee, Kennedy -- who died in 2007 -- denied that he was a reconstructionist or dominionist. But Kennedy, known in certain circles as the most influential evangelical leader no one outside the evangelical world has ever heard of, long associated himself with prominent members of both disciplines and was an important conduit for their mainstreaming. He was a member of the Coalition on Revival's steering committee and a signatory to the manifesto. Even if he had been just your run-of-the-mill televangelist, Kennedy's reach and influence during his life couldn't have been dismissed: His ministry, Florida's Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, claimed 10,000 members, and his radio and television shows reached millions in the United States and worldwide.
It was from Coral Ridge that Kennedy hosted an annual "Reclaiming America for Christ" conference. In 2005, a packet of information handed out at the conference included a message from Kennedy. "Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost," he wrote. "We are to bring His truth and His will to bear on every sphere of our world and our society. We are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government ... our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors -- in short, over every aspect and institution of human society." Kennedy also embraced the standard reconstructionist idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and should return to its roots. David Barton, one of the leading revisionist historians in this vein, was a speaker at some of the conferences. Along with Barton, Rushdoony and North were frequent guests on Kennedy's broadcasts. In 2006, Huckabee spoke at an awards dinner during "Reclaiming America for Christ." But Huckabee's primary connection to Kennedy is through his strong ties to Kennedy's followers and former employees.
George Grant: The former executive director of Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries, Grant co-wrote one of Huckabee's books, "Kids Who Kill: Confronting Our Culture of Violence," which was released in 1998. About 10 years before, Grant, a prolific author and, according to Reason Magazine, a "militant" reconstructionist, had written a book called "The Changing of the Guard: The Vital Role Christians Play in America's Cultural Drama." In one now infamous passage from that book, he wroteChristians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ -- to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness.Janet Folger: Folger is the founder of Faith2Action, an antiabortion, anti-gay Christian conservative organization dedicated to winning the "cultural wars." She also hosts her own Faith2Action radio show. In the 1990s, she worked as the national director at the Center for Reclaiming America, D. James Kennedy's group. A longtime associate of Huckabee, she is a co-chair of his Faith and Family Values Coalition, a group of campaign supporters and advisors. Her support of Huckabee became even more vociferous after he won the straw poll that followed the Values Voter Presidential Debate, which Folger organized. (Huckabee was the only leading Republican presidential candidate to attend.) At the debate, Folger personally arranged to have the Grand Avenue Choir of God perform its version of "Why Should God Bless America," a song that asks, "Why should God bless America?/ She's forgotten He exists/ And has turned her back on everything/ That made her what she is." Folger gained notoriety in the liberal blogosphere recently for her satirical prediction that, if elected, Hilary Clinton would imprison all Christians.
But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice.
It is dominion we are after. Not just influence.
It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time.
It is dominion we are after.
World conquest. That's what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel. And we must never settle for anything less...
Thus, Christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land -- of men, families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the Kingdom of Christ.
Pastor Rick Scarborough: Scarborough is the founder of Vision America, a group dedicated to increasing Christian conservatives' participation in politics. Huckabee depended on Scarborough's group, among others, to win Iowa; Vision America members gave Huckabee supporters rides to the polls. Scarborough describes himself not as a Republican but rather as a "Christocrat." In her book "Kingdom Coming," former Salon reporter Michelle Goldberg quotes from Scarborough's monograph "In Defense of ... Mixing Church and State," where the pastor asserts that the separation of church and state is "a lie introduced by Satan and fostered by the courts." Upon meeting Scarborough, Karl Rove told the pastor that his positions were "too strident and conservative." Tom DeLay, a close friend of Scarborough's, spoke via video at the 2005 "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith" conference that Scarborough organized, where conservatives assailed "activist judges" and one speaker suggested the best way to gain control of the U.S. Supreme Court was through Justice Anthony Kennedy's death. Scarborough also led a 2004 national campaign to protest the dismissal of Alabama Supreme Court chief justice Roy Moore, removed from the bench for installing a Ten Commandments tablet in his courthouse. Scarborough opposes all high school sex education courses and vehemently spoke out against Texas Gov. Rick Perry's promotion of HPV vaccines in high schools, stating "the governor's action seems to signify that God's moral law regarding sex outside of marriage can be transgressed without consequence."
Michael Farris: Farris is the co-founder and chairman of the board of the Home School Legal Defense Association, as well as the founder and now chancellor of Patrick Henry College, which is dedicated to educating home-schooled children in right-wing evangelical doctrines so they can pursue, in particular, careers in government. He serves on Huckabee's Faith and Family Values Coalition, and his endorsement is the main reason that home-schoolers were an important force for Huckabee and his victory in the Iowa caucuses. Farris traveled to Iowa ahead of last year's straw poll to organize for Huckabee and -- along with Scarborough -- participated in a conference call with Iowa pastors just before the caucuses, exhorting them to get their congregations out to vote, presumably for Huckabee. In the early 1990s, Farris ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor of Virginia; his campaign was derailed at least in part by charges of extremism stemming from his association with the Coalition on Revival. At the time, he claimed that he was a member of the group in 1984 and 1985, but left before the manifesto was issued in 1986. "It started heading to a theocracy," he said, "and I don't believe in a theocracy." But he was listed as a steering committee member, a signatory to the manifesto, as the coauthor of another of the group's documents, "The Christian World View of Law," and on group letterhead from 1990. "They put my name on stuff. I can't help their print shop," he said at the time. At Patrick Henry, Farris' ideas are put into a strict code for both students and faculty. While on campus, students are prohibited from dancing, kissing and any "prolonged embrace." They are not allowed to drink alcohol or smoke unless they are in the presence of their parents or they are out of the greater Washington, D.C., area while the school is on vacation.
Rev. Don Wildmon: The Huckabee campaign has embraced the "significant endorsement" of Wildmon, the chairman and founder of the American Family Association, a virulently antiabortion, anti-gay Christian conservative group, and Wildmon joined Huckabee on the campaign trail in Iowa. On his campaign Web site, Huckabee said of Wildmon that "Rev. Wildmon and I share the same values on faith and family, which are key issues for the Republican party." A member of the steering committee of the Coalition on Revival, since founding the AFA in 1977, Wildmon has dedicated much of his time to advocating for the censorship of such "controversial," "offensive" television programs as "Donahue," "The Wonder Years" and "Seinfeld." In 1988, Wildmon attracted attention for his claim that Mighty Mouse snorted cocaine in one of the show's episodes. Wildmon has also spearheaded boycotts against Ford and Ikea because of the companies' portrayal of gay consumers in their advertisements. Wildmon has frequently been accused of being anti-Semitic for numerous comments alleging Jewish control of the media.
Steven Hotze: When Huckabee went to a fundraiser at Hotze's home in December 2007, even conservative columnist Robert Novak had to stand up and take notice. Hotze, a signatory to "A Manifesto for the Christian Church," was for a time influential in Texas Republican Party politics, bringing reconstructionist ideals with him. A practicing doctor, Hotze is also, as the Houston Press revealed in a long investigation in 2005, a quack who claims board certifications he apparently does not hold, offers treatments without scientific basis for medical problems not ever documented to exist, and "tells his patients it's their fault if they don't get better." Later in 2005, the president of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists sent CBS a letter complaining about Hotze's appearance on the network.
James Robison: The president of the Christian organization Life Outreach International, Robison is best known as a television evangelist and minister, but he was also Huckabee's religious mentor in the late 1970s. Huckabee worked in Robison's church as an announcer and public relations spokesman before leaving to establish a ministry of his own. Robison is firmly opposed to homosexuality. He came under scrutiny in the early 1980s for saying on his television program that he was "sick and tired of hearing about all of the radicals and the perverts and the liberals and the leftists and the Communists coming out of the closet," that it was "time for God's people to come out of the closet, out of the churches and change America." Huckabee's national media job at the time was to defend his boss's words. In 2002, Robison co-wrote a book, "The Absolutes: The Indisputable Principles of Civilized Society," with George Grant.
Ask Mike Huckabee if being governor of Arkansas gave him enough foreign policy experience to be president of a nation at war, and he's got a ready answer. At a press conference here Thursday, he ticked off 12 countries and two continents he'd visited to prove his experience. Usually, one country in particular stands out from the list. "I've been to Israel nine times," he said.Link.
Huckabee said the same at a debate in New Hampshire a couple of weeks ago, also mentioning Iraq and Afghanistan at the time. A few days after that, at another debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., he lectured Ron Paul on the Middle East. "We've got one true ally in the Middle East, and that's Israel," Huckabee said. "It's a tiny nation ... I've literally traveled from Dan to Beersheba, and I understand something of that nation and the vulnerability of it." Again and again on the campaign trail, Huckabee cites his trade missions as governor -- as well as his earlier, church-affiliated trips to the Holy Land -- as proof that he'd make a credible commander in chief.
Huckabee's posturing on foreign policy boils down to two things: Get tough on terrorists, and stand strong with Israel. "As president, I will always ensure that Israel has access to the state-of-the-art weapons and technology she needs to defend herself from those who seek her annihilation," Huckabee states in a brief on his campaign Web site.
Huckabee's frequent Holy Land name-dropping is no doubt part of his campaign strategy -- he's a small-state governor trying to burnish his foreign policy credentials in a race against rivals, including a war hero. But there could be less than meets the eye with his professed experience with Israel. Indeed, his background with visiting the close U.S. ally appears to have much more to do with his religious beliefs than issues of U.S. national security.
A former Baptist pastor, Huckabee is aggressively courting votes from his fellow evangelical Christians, which could have much to do with all the Israel talk. One of his prominent supporters of this ilk is the Rev. Tim LaHaye, who has mixed foreign policy and radical theology into a bestselling formula. LaHaye's "Left Behind" books -- more than 65 million copies sold -- use the Middle East as the backdrop for a story involving the Antichrist (the U.N. secretary-general), Armageddon (a massive Mideast war) and the Second Coming (but only after the Rapture brings true believers to heaven and leaves non-Christians behind). LaHaye and his wife, Beverly, the founder of the right-wing advocacy group Concerned Women for America, have known Huckabee for 25 years. They endorsed Huckabee last month around the same time that Huckabee formed the Iowa Pastors Coalition, a group of ministers backing his campaign. The group helped win him enough support from conservative Christians to beat Mitt Romney in the key opening caucuses there.
LaHaye's books seem like what you might get by crossing Jerry Falwell and Tom Clancy. The novels combine the Book of Revelation with international intrigue, using a literal interpretation of the Bible. After believers are whisked away in the Rapture, the Antichrist-led United Nations rules the world during a time of war, earthquakes and plagues. Only by accepting Jesus as their savior can people make it through the chaos. Israel is important mostly as a setting for the battle between good and evil that takes place there.
LaHaye's Web site makes clear that he often uses the same literalist approach to interpret current events. "Satan, and radical Islamists, would like nothing better than to thwart the plan of God to warn mankind with chaos (like we are now experiencing) before the rapture when all Christians will be taken suddenly to heaven," he wrote after Hamas won Palestinian elections two years ago. After Sept. 11, LaHaye said the world was in a "time of stage setting" for the seven years of "severe judgment and persecution" the Bible says is coming before Christ returns. U.S. foreign policy isn't as important to the novels as events in the Middle East, LaHaye explains in a FAQ on his Web site: "It's not explained in the Scriptures, thus we give it such a minor role. There are no clear prophecies regarding the U.S. in the Bible."
By talking up his trips to Israel, and with his ties to figures like LaHaye, Huckabee may be looking to win support from people who share the books' radical vision, without scaring off other voters who don't spend time thinking about the Apocalypse.
"We need to stand behind Israel, because I belive that Israel is God's chosen country, and Israelites were his chosen people," said Gloria Questad, who heard Huckabee speak Wednesday at North Greenville University (motto: Where Christ Makes the Difference). "That's what it is according to the Word." Questad and her husband, Bruce, live in Vancouver, Wash., but they were visiting Greenville, S.C., to see their son, who goes to college here. They're firmly behind Huckabee. "He's a God-fearing man and a Christian," Bruce Questad said.
Religious leader Don Moore downplays Huckabee's fascination with the end times. "That never was something that seemed to be a preoccupation of his," Moore said, who served as the executive director of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention when Huckabee was its president in the 1990s. "I would doubt that Mike would be too interested in that." And Huckabee advisors insist that he doesn't bring his personal religious beliefs into discussions on foreign policy or otherwise. "The only time it comes up is when you guys (in the press) ask," said Jim Pinkerton, a senior policy advisor to the campaign.
But that's not exactly the case. In the battle for South Carolina, Huckabee is spending considerable time at churches or church-affiliated institutions upstate, in places like North Greenville. Still, when he talks about his faith, he tends to place it in the context of social justice and economic populism, rather than foreign policy.
In fact, Huckabee's Israel trips seem to have little bearing beyond the surface talk in his campaign linking it with foreign policy readiness. Huckabee led one trip as governor of Arkansas to Israel in 1999, at which point he met with some Knesset members. But when asked about the trip by Salon, Huckabee's press secretary at the time, Rex Nelson, didn't even remember that the trip took place -- he recalled only trade missions to places like Japan and Mexico. And Huckabee's nine trips to Israel between 1973 and 1999 were mostly focused on the Middle East of a few millennia earlier. Huckabee aides said he led church groups, not government delegations, when he went, and the itineraries were narrowly tailored to religious sites.
Huckabee maintains that his foreign travel, including the trips to Israel, was good presidential preparation. "If you make a trip overseas, you have a better perspective of the world," he told Salon during a news conference on Thursday. "Some of the most enlightening trips, quite frankly, were the trips that were made in a personal capacity, because I didn't have anybody sort of leading me through the official version of what they wanted me to see and hear," he said.
In a Republican campaign that his rivals are trying to make about foreign policy, Huckabee has spent relatively little discussing what his would be.
"You have to forgive us -- in the middle of Michigan and South Carolina, we're not issuing 35-page policy papers on NATO," his advisor Pinkerton said.
But if his campaign doesn't start issuing them soon, voters may begin to wonder whether he's taking strategy tips for handling global affairs solely from a higher power.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
The longest baby ever born at the Albany, N.Y., hospital, at least as of May 5, 1926, who grew up to be my strapping father, passed away last Friday morning.
As Mother and I stood at Daddy's casket Monday morning, Mother repeated his joke to him, which he said on every wedding anniversary until a few years ago when Lewy bodies dementia prevented him from saying much at all: "54 years, married to the wrong woman." And we laughed.
John Vincent Coulter was of the old school, a man of few words, the un-Oprah, no crying or wearing your heart on your sleeve, and reacting to moments of great sentiment with a joke. Or as we used to call them: men.
When he was moping around the house once, missing my brother who had just gone back to college, he said, "Well, if you had cancer long enough, you'd miss it."
He'd indicate his feelings about my skirt length by saying, "You look nice, Hart, but you forgot to put on your skirt."
Of course, he did show strong emotion when The New York Post would run a photo of Teddy Kennedy saying the rosary. I can still see the look of disgust. I saw that face in "How To Read People Like a Book" and it was NOT a good chapter.
Your parents are your whole world when you are a child. You only recognize what is unique about them when you get older and see how the rest of the world diverges from your standard of normality.
So it took me awhile to realize that by telling my friends that Father was an ex-FBI agent and a union-buster whose hobbies included rebuilding Volkswagens and shooting squirrels in our backyard, I was painting the image of a rough Eliot Ness type, rather than the cheerful, funny raconteur they would meet.
Besides being very funny, Father had an absolutely straight moral compass without ever being preachy or judgmental or even telling us in words. He just was good.
He would return to a store if he was given too much change -- and this was a man who was so "thrifty," as we Scots like to say, he told us he wanted to be buried in two cardboard boxes from the A&P rather than pay for a coffin.
When I was bombarded with arguments for baby-killing as a kid, I asked Father about the old chestnut involving a poverty-stricken, unwed teenage girl who gets pregnant. (This was before they added the "impregnated by her own father" part.) Father just said, "I don't care. If it's a life, it's a life." I'm still waiting to hear an effective counterargument.
Father hated puffery, pomposity, snobbery, fake friendliness, fake anything. Like Kitty's father in "Anna Karenina," he could detect a substanceless suitor in a heartbeat. (They were probably the same ones who looked nervous when I told them Father was ex-FBI and liked to shoot squirrels in the backyard.)
He hated unions because of their corrupt leadership, ripping off the members for their own aggrandizement. But he had more respect for genuine working men than anyone I've ever known. He was, in short, the molecular opposite of John Edwards.
Father didn't care what popular opinion was: There was right and wrong. I don't recall his ever specifically talking about J. Edgar Hoover or Joe McCarthy, but we knew he thought the popular histories were bunk. That's why "Treason" was dedicated to him, the last book of mine he was able to read.
When Father returned from the war, he used the G.I. Bill to complete college and law school in three years. In order to get to law school quickly, he chose the easiest college major -- a major that so impressed him, he told my oldest brother that if he ever took one single course in sociology, Father would cut off his tuition payments.
As a young FBI agent fresh out of law school, one of Father's first assignments was to investigate job applicants at a uranium enrichment plant, the only suitable land for which was apparently located on some property owned by the then-vice president, Alben Barkley, in Paducah, Ky.
One day, a group of FBI agents saw the beautiful Nell Husbands Martin at lunch with her mother. They asked the waitress for her name and flipped a coin to see who could ask her out first. Father lost the coin toss, so he paid off the other agents. And that's how Nell became my mother.
Mother swore she'd never marry a drinker, a smoker or a Catholic, and she got all three, reforming Father on all but the Catholicism. Even in foreign countries where none of us spoke the language, Father went to Mass every Sunday until the very end.
Of course, toward the end, he probably didn't even remember he was a Catholic. But on the bright side, he didn't remember that Teddy Kennedy was a Catholic, either.
Father spent most of his nine-year FBI career as a Red hunter in New York City.
He never talked much about his FBI days. I learned that he worked on the Rudolf Abel case -- the highest-ranking Soviet spy ever captured in U.S. history -- during one of my brother's eulogies on Monday. But when Father read a paper I wrote at Cornell defending McCarthy and came across the name William Remington, he told me that had been his case.
Father mostly had contempt for Soviet spies. In addition to damaging information, such as military plans and nuclear secrets, the spies also collected massive amounts of utterly useless information on things like U.S. agricultural production. These were people who looked at a flush toilet like it was a spaceship.
He told me Soviet spies reveled in the whole cloak-and-dagger aspect of espionage. One spy gave weirdly specific details to a contact before their first meeting: He would have the New York Herald Tribune folded three times, tucked under his left elbow at a particular angle.
When the spy walked into the hotel lobby for the rendezvous, Father nearly fell off his chair when the man with the Herald Tribune folded under his elbow just so ... was also wearing a full-length fur coat. But he couldn't have told his contact: "I'll be the only white man in North America wearing a full-length fur coat."
In the early 1980s, as vice president and labor lawyer for Phelps Dodge copper company, Father broke a strike against the company, which culminated in the largest union decertification ever -- at that time and perhaps still. President Reagan had broken the air traffic controllers' strike in 1981. But unions recognized that it was the breaking of the Phelps Dodge strike a few years later that landed the greater blow, as described in the book "Copper Crucible."
There was massive violence by the strikers, including guns being fired into the homes of the mine employees who returned to work. Every day, Father walked with the strikebreakers through the picket line, (in my mind) brushing egg off his suit lapel.
By 1986 it was over; the mineworkers voted against the union and Phelps Dodge was saved. For any liberals still reading, this is what's known as a "happy ending."
To Mother's lifelong consternation -- until he had dementia and she could get him back by smothering him with hugs and kisses -- Father wasn't demonstrative. But all he wanted was to be with Mother (and to work on his Volkswagens). They traveled the world together, went to DAR conventions together, engaged in Republican politics together and went to the New York Philharmonic together -- for three decades, their subscription seats were on the highest landing, or as we Scots call it, the "Music Lovers" level.
When Mother was in a rehabilitative facility briefly after surgery a few years ago and Father was not supposed to be driving, we were relieved that a snowstorm had knocked out the power to the garage door opener, so Daddy couldn't get to the car. It would just be a week and then Mother would be home.
My brother came home to check on Father the first day of this arrangement to find that he had taken an ax to the side door of the garage, so he could drive to the rehab center and sit with Mother all day.
When she left him for five days last summer to go to a family reunion in Kentucky, at some point, Father, who hadn't been able to speak much anymore, looked up and asked his nurse, "Where is she?"
And last Friday morning at 2 he passed away, in his bedroom with Mother. The police and firemen told my brother that they kept trying to distract Mother to keep her away from the bedroom with Father's body, but she kept padding back into the bedroom to be close to him.
Now Daddy is with Joe McCarthy and Ronald Reagan. I hope they stop laughing about the Reds long enough to talk to God about smiting some liberals for me.
A former congressman and delegate to the United Nations was indicted Wednesday as part of a terrorist fundraising ring that allegedly sent more than $130,000 to an al-Qaida and Taliban supporter who has threatened U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan.Link and more.
The former Republican congressman from Michigan, Mark Deli Siljander, was charged with money laundering, conspiracy and obstructing justice for allegedly lying about lobbying senators on behalf of an Islamic charity that authorities said was secretly sending funds to terrorists.
A 42-count indictment, unsealed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Mo., accuses the Islamic American Relief Agency of paying Siljander $50,000 for the lobbying - money that turned out to be stolen from the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Siljander, who served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, was appointed by President Reagan to serve as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations for one year in 1987.
He could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
The charges are part of a long-running case against the charity, which was formerly based in Columbia, Mo., and was designated by the Treasury Department in 2004 as a suspected fundraiser for terrorists.
In the indictment, the government alleges that IARA employed a man who had served as a fundraising aide to Osama bin Laden.
The indictment charges IARA with sending approximately $130,000 to help Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whom the United States has designated as a global terrorist. The money, sent to bank accounts in Peshawar, Pakistan in 2003 and 2004, was masked as donations to an orphanage located in buildings that Hekmatyar owned.
Wei Wenhua was beaten to death after he snapped photos of a confrontation on the street between village residents and authorities. His death has sparked controversy in Chinese media, and the blogosphere:Link.Wei Wenhua was a model communist and is now a bloggers' hero -- a "citizen journalist" turned martyr. The construction company manager was driving his car when he witnessed an ugly scene: a team of about 50 city inspectors beating villagers who tried to block trucks from unloading trash near their homes.
Wei took out his cell phone and began taking pictures. The city inspectors saw Wei and then attacked him in a beating that lasted five minutes. By the time it was over, the 41-year-old Wei was slumped unconscious. He was rushed to the hospital but was dead on arrival.
More here and here.
Early last year, John McCain seemed to lash his political fortune to the success or failure of the troop "surge" in Iraq. Backing the surge fit his carefully tended reputation as a maverick; his allies noted that McCain was bravely risking his political career to do what he believed was right. "I have just finished an election campaign," Sen. Joe Lieberman said last January when he and McCain pushed the surge at a meeting at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. "If rumors are correct, he may be starting one," Lieberman said of McCain, standing at his side. "He is not taking the easy way out here. But he is taking the way that he believes is best for the safety of our children and grandchildren and the values and the way of life that America has come to represent."Link.
A year later, leaving aside the question of its long-term effects, the surge has had a tangible short-term security impact in Baghdad. And McCain, in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, isn't going to let us forget that he knew better all along. "I'm proud to have been one of those who played a key role in bringing about one of the most important changes in recent years," McCain trumpeted during the GOP debate in Manchester, N.H., on Jan. 6. "And that was the change in strategy from a failing strategy in Iraq pursued by Secretary Rumsfeld." Two days later, McCain won the Granite State primary.
In fact, lately former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has become quite the punching bag for McCain on the campaign trail. Part of the McCain mantra, whether recited on the stump or to reporters on his campaign bus, is that he knew that Gen. David Petraeus' surge of troops would work better than Rumsfeld's light footprint approach. It's his way of supporting the war while criticizing the way it was executed by the Bush administration without ever uttering the word "Bush." It is also meant to be proof of the gravitas McCain would bring to the job of commander in chief. "I have the knowledge and experience and judgment, as my support of the Petraeus strategy indicated, and my condemnation of the previous Rumsfeld strategy," said McCain in a Jan. 9 NBC "Today" show interview. "No other candidate running for president did that on either side."
But to buy into the McCain-knows-best version of the Iraq war, you have to ignore a lot of history. McCain was among the most aggressive proponents of a preemptive strike against Saddam Hussein, cosponsoring the resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. He also expressed full faith in the way it would be executed -- a war plan conceived and executed by Rumsfeld.
He did call for more troops in Iraq sooner than some, but later than others who made the same argument before the first shots were even fired. And McCain's support for Rumsfeld only evaporated over time, as it became painfully clear that the war in Iraq was going south.
Bert Rockman, the head of the political science department at Purdue University, said McCain's commander-in-chief argument is tarnished because he advocated "the right tactics and the wrong strategy."
"It was a mistake probably to have gone in, that is the real issue," Rockman explained. "We have discovered there are worse things than Saddam Hussein."
During the run-up to the war, McCain argued vociferously in favor of an invasion, quoting the logic of Vice President Dick Cheney. "As Vice President Cheney has said of those who argue that containment and deterrence are working, the argument comes down to this: Yes, Saddam is as dangerous as we say he is," McCain said in a saber-rattling speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Feb. 13, 2003. "We just need to let him get stronger before we do anything about it," he added sarcastically.
In the period leading up to the war, McCain sounded, at times, less like a straight-talking maverick and more like the neoconservative former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. "It's going to send the message throughout the Middle East that democracy can take hold in the Middle East," McCain said about the war on Fox's "Hannity & Colmes" on Feb. 21, 2003. He seemed to think Iraq would be a cakewalk, predicting that the war "will be brief."
He also sounded like Wolfowitz's boss, Donald Rumsfeld, as far back as late 2002. Despite all his talk now about more troops, as the war drums built toward a crescendo, McCain argued that better technology meant fewer troops were going to be needed in Iraq. "Our technology, particularly air-to-ground technology, is vastly improved," McCain told CNN's Larry King on Dec. 9, 2002. "I don't think you're going to have to see the scale of numbers of troops that we saw, nor the length of the buildup, obviously, that we had back in 1991." It was pure Rumsfeld.
But even back then, not everyone was so sure that the war would be brief or that Rumsfeld's smaller force would be sufficient. On Feb. 25, 2003, then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki famously warned the Senate Armed Services Committee that "several hundred thousand" soldiers would be needed to take and hold Iraq. Rumsfeld publicly disagreed with Shinseki's estimate.
If McCain shared Shinseki's position, he didn't say so at the time. "I have no qualms about our strategic plans," he told the Hartford Courant in a March 5 article, just before the invasion. "I thought we were very successful in Afghanistan."
And while he was quiet about Shinseki, McCain shouted down some naysayers who proved to be much more prescient than he. On the cusp of the invasion, West Virginia Democrat Sen. Robert Byrd took to the Senate floor on March 19, 2003, to denounce the war. It was a speech that predicted the future debacle so accurately that it now seems that the senior senator from West Virginia had a crystal ball in his Senate desk. "We proclaim a new doctrine of preemption which is understood by few and feared by many," Byrd warned. "After the war has ended, the United States will have to rebuild much more than the country of Iraq. We will have to rebuild America's image around the globe."
McCain pounced, taking to the Senate floor to predict that "when the people of Iraq are liberated, we will again have written another chapter in the glorious history of the United States of America."
By June 2003, McCain was still generally in the "Mission Accomplished" camp. "I have said a long time that reconstruction of Iraq would be a long, long, difficult process," he told Fox News on June 11. "But the conflict, the major conflict is over ... The regime change is accomplished."
It was during an August 2003 visit to Iraq that McCain seems to have realized that the Iraq tale was not unfolding as another chapter in the glorious history of the United States. (It is not entirely clear when he came to the realization, since the McCain campaign failed to return my call asking for a staffer to go through this history with me.) While he was in Iraq, insurgents used a truck bomb to blow up the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad on Aug. 19, killing U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. McCain told NPR on Aug. 29, 2003, that "we need more troops" in Iraq. "When I say more troops, we need a lot more of certain skills, such as civil affairs capability, military police. We need more linguists," McCain added.
And McCain was not always sour on Rumsfeld. As late as May 12, 2004, in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, McCain was asked on "Hannity & Colmes" whether Rumsfeld could still be effective in his job. "Yes, today I do and I believe he's done a fine job," McCain responded. "He's an honorable man."
It is true that by late 2004, McCain was down on the secretary of defense, telling the press that he had "no confidence" in Rumsfeld. But the clips show that he stopped short of calling for Rumsfeld's resignation, saying it was the president's prerogative to pick his own national security team.
To be fair, McCain has been calling for more troops for years now. And political experts do think McCain's argument on the surge may still gain some traction among GOP voters. "We still have about two-thirds of Republicans who support the effort in Iraq," explained Stephen Wayne, a professor of government at Georgetown. "It certainly would work with the Republican audience he is appealing to." That may depend, in part, on the memories of the people in that audience.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
My less-informed take: Do they really want to win? Can they, would they really improve things significantly? And a somewhat realted rhetorical question: The Big Tent that is the GOP combines Big Money corrupters of democracy with Christofascists: isn't that some sort of untenable conflict?