Saturday, February 25, 2006

OK, So I'm Depressed. Can You Blame Me?

Here's a pithy and depressing summary from Maureen Dowd's column this past week in the NYT. Referring to Donald Rumsfeld's criticism of the outing of W's secret surveillance program and of the media coverage about prisoner treatment from the "war on terror," she wrote:

Rummy misses the point: we're supposed to be the good guys, the beacon of freedom. Our message is supposed to work because it has moral force, not because we pay some Lincoln Group sketchballs millions to plant propaganda in Iraqi newspapers and not because the press here plays down revelations of American torture. If the Bush crew hadn't distorted the truth to get to Iraq, it wouldn't need to distort the truth to succeed there.

One of my oft-stated chief criticisms of the present administration is not simply that their aims are so divergent from my own views and desires but that they very studiously do not come clean about what those aims even are. On the contrary, they claim to be pursuing a populist agenda while in fact striving for radical ends. Regardless of what I'm told by the administration, my attempts to trace a trajectory into the future based on where we are now and where the administration policies are pointing (not to mention where we were six years ago) leads to a very dark place.

During my drive down South on Thursday I listened to a Public Radio interview with Catherine Crier, who has written a book which explores this very subject. Lest we immediately dismiss her as being a partisan hack, it's worth noting that she was elected as a Republican Texas State Judge in a past career life, and used to host a daily interview show on the Fox News channel, The Crier Report. She describes herself as a "fierce Independent" and states that her voting record reveals no strict party affiliation. Her book is called Contempt: How the Right is Wronging American Justice, and it deals in part with the administration's tactics and tendencies versus their stated goals. Lest I too strenuously endorse a thing I do not know intimately, I must reiterate that I've not yet read her book, and I may learn that she is not so congenial to me as she appeared in this interview. I don't know why she's not still a Republican judge nor why she's no longer hosting a show on Fox News (though I can't help thinking that there's little room there for political switch hitters). But regardless, the book has quickly nudged its way to the top of my to-read list.

She began the interview by talking about how the goals of the religious right, with whom our president is so notoriously allied, are blatantly anti-democratic, and about how the country, if these people were to succeed in the extreme makeover they desire, would emerge substantially changed, and in ways that are not really being talked about. They seek a theocracy, a weaving of their religious doctrine into the central fabric of government. Having succeeded in bringing the Executive and Legislative Branches of government under conservative control, they have now focused their indignant marches and voting drives on the Judicial Branch as the third and final leg of the sniper's tripod of religious hegemony. It is no mystery that the recasting of this third leg requires control of the first two to accomplish: the reworking of our culture requires basically overturning our current legal code, which cannot be done without government's complicity except by revolution.

I don't for a minute believe that this makeover is desired by the voting population at large. Indeed, I think most of us are unaware of this as a movement or pertinent topic of conversation. If it's not talked about, it's not per se what we are voting upon. We tend to go to the voting booths concerned about the war we *happen* to find ourselves in, and concerned about taxation and school spending and health care.

So this seems dire enough. But in the course of questions, it transpired that the assault on democracy by the religious right is not really the prime threat we're facing, serious though it may be. Her next point was for me a provocative and revelatory notion.

The real soul of the current administration's aims and tactics is not W, it seems, but Cheney. This is not in itself especially new, even if it's rather disturbing to contemplate. What I had never put together was that Cheney is not hell-bent on pursuing W's conservative Christian agenda. Indeed, Cheney doesn't give a shit about religious causes, certainly not in the way of the man-child W, who has used the religion as the uneducated sometimes do, as a shield of dogmatism to protect him from himself. Cheney is entirely more self-possessed than this. It is Cheney, not W, who represents the real power of the new conservatism--the money and the influence--and the real goals of the neocons are economic, not moral in any "born-again" sense.

The great triumph of the neocons has been to get the fringe of Jesus people to "carry their water," in her phrase, to cynically co-opt the fanaticism of the religious right for the ends of the economic right, ends which one can strongly argue are contrary to the goals and (non-religious) interests of that religious right (it's not the Alan Greenspans and Newt Gingriches who are manning the pro-life pickets or waving their hands in the air at a speaking-in-tongues revival, nor will they be the ones feeling the pain at shifting the tax burdens of the nation downward or at the radical cuts to social programs and education and welfare spending). These self-proclaimed pious Christians, handled in front of the cameras as the leading edge of the conservative revolution, are much more congenial to the voting public than the secret tactics of the super-wealthy white guys who have co-opted them, especially if we fail to look further ahead than the local with-us-or-against-us gay marriage ban proposal. The 80 or 90 percent of the population that claims some belief in the Judeo-Christian story will default to this camp when the issue is made to be Christian morality versus the implosion of society itself.

The "starve the beast" philosophy seeks to force us back to a pre-FDR interface between government and the people, and the tacit strategy is to bring us so firmly to our knees with debt (a goal toward which this administration has made really breathtaking and profoundly disturbing progress in five short years) that the only solution will be wholesale and radical reductions in federal spending. Voila. Again, it's not the starve the beast that's revelatory to me, however upsetting. It's the cynical use of what many people might see as the apple-cheeked goodness of the pious to gain a voting block that will enable them to reach a goal to which they're not admitting. I had not stopped to consider that the religious right I despise, and in whose flag our president wraps himself, might be but a remora on the back of a much bigger shark. I've always wondered how what I'm convinced is a fringe movement in terms of numbers could have gained the foothold they have; this helps explain it.

None of this is possible, of course--no matter who your allies are--if the voting public learns that the ultimate beneficiaries of the neocons' strategies are a very tiny percentage of the population, men who already constitute an elite club of the super-wealthy. So long as we can make the argument be about base morality and safety from terrorism, we will effectively shield prying eyes from the tumor growing deep within, until it bursts forth on the surface--far too late to stop the illness.

No one in the administration or in the swirl of the conservative wave in Congress talks openly about this, because it would be a one-way ticket out of office at the next election (which, if it's true, constitutes a revolutionary conspiracy). Looked at in this light, Maureen Dowd's quote above takes on a different hue. If nothing is what the administration is stating it to be, then we can see that the war doesn't match the justification because we're not talking about the real justification. The stated explanations are just a stall tactic, a smokescreen to distract us while they dig the hole they're going to throw us into.

Do we not believe that this is really going on? Is this just paranoid, liberal delusion? We have surpassed eight trillion dollars in national debt and haven't the slightest hope or even the stated goal of balancing the federal budget, to say nothing of beginning to repay this debt. On the contrary.

I'll close this depressing post with another quote, this from the NYT editorial 2/21/06 talking about the realities of the budget proposed by the current administration:

Over five years, veterans' benefits would be cut 13 percent, or $10 billion. Despite all the political talk about energy research and alternate fuels, $4.4 billion would be cut from energy programs. Environmental spending, including for national parks, would be cut 22 percent, or $28 billion; housing, fuel, child care and nutrition programs for the poor and elderly would lose 13 percent, or $24 billion. Topping this surreal concoction is a 13 percent cut — $53 billion — in education and job programs by 2011.

Political realists have already declared the budget dead on arrival on Capitol Hill. That's not enough. The administration's assault on domestic programs should stand as a permanent reminder of the folly of the $285 billion in additional upper-bracket tax cuts the president and the Republican-controlled Congress are aiming for across the next five years. Despite the budget fictions, the damage from the tax-cut mania will haunt future generations.

Even with these cuts, this budgetary proposal is seriously underfunded, and even then it does not account for war spending nor for funding for Katrina recovery.


Joshua said...

I wanted to avoid talking about the deficit, because I truly believe it is a house of cards, and I cannot support that belief. But I am weak, and there you have it.

Count up the deficit, talk about it, play with it, number off every cent we owe to every person, bring it up all you want (not you, Bil, but everyone) WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Our economy is based on that budget like land is based on water: it is there, and we know it, but it means nothing to our lives.

If, tomorrow, a democrat comes in and balances the budget, and no one stays within it, what has been done? But better yet, if all the right people get all the right money, what has been done? The answer for both is the same: nothing. It does not matter to our economy in any way. Our dollar is valued on trade, not deficit, and the countries will continue to trade with us regardless. Further, this isn;t like the Mafia, the debtors have no means of collection. None that anyone wants to talk about, that is, and none that either side really wants to persue. In fact, it might be argued that IF other countries tried to collect, they would be worse for wear, not us.

But dammit, I didn't want to talk about the debt, really!

I don't know where I stand on politics. Honestly, I put the whole thing together piece meal, and I don't think I like any of the current party options. But what I do know is if you keep listening to all the bashing, and don;t take a break to dig up some, ANY, of the good, you will be writing far more of these posts than you probably care to.

The truth, as I see it (boy, how subjective THAT is) is we are in the middle of two great wars. one is dealing with despotism, weapons of mass destruction (we have real proof), and, yes, probably oil (though not neccesarily from Iraq). The other war is in the media, and it is simply over veiwers and dollars. We won't keep comsuming at such a crazy rate if we are satisfied with our government, that's just simple social economics. We are so damned fat and lazy (the country) that we have to occupy our time with being worried about thing swe neither control nor fully understand (I am sorry if this offends people), and the big old media machine NEEDS us to be that way.

Jesus, now I am a ranting internet idiot, and your post was only partially about this.

Anyway, great post. Hope this doesn't side track an otehrwise promising conversation.

Anonymous said...

I have had a lot of trouble reconciling the administration's justifications for their actions with the realities of the situations as known after the fact. For example, we hear that we need to go to Iraq because of WMD and terrorists - later it is clear that the administration had no reason to assume the existence of WMD and they knew full well that terrorists could not operate under Saddam's brutal non-sectarian control. It seems clear that there is some other reason for the behavior of the administration. Without any direct information from the parties involved it seems perfectly reasonable to speculate, and given the many ties to various big business and the ways in which those businesses have benefitted from the actions of the administration it seems quite reasonable to assume that looking out for the welfare of those business interests is the central goal of the administration.

And the deficit and debt are a big part of this, and are a really big deal. Running a deficit is a great way to make the rich happy by not taxing them while still appeasing the rest of the population by continuing to spend almost as usual. The big problem is the debt that this creates. It is largely held by Americans in the form of Treasury bills. Defaulting on these debts is not going to work. In twenty years these T-bills will come due and the holders will expect to be paid, and to do so means that the government will need not only the funds required to operate, but also the funds to pay off these debts, and the debts are huge. We can't just keep paying off old debt with new debt forever - that is a classic pyramid scheme that eventually leaves lots of people out of luck. If the administration is right - that high taxes are a drag on our ecomony - then what kind of economy will my kids have when they are paying enough taxes to cover this debt? Why can't we pay now for what we want now rather than pushing it off on future generations?

Wow, more ranting. Let's just hope that the 'moral majority' wises up to how they are being used and next election they might not just blindly support the candidate who panders to them while actually pushing a whole other agenda.

BTW - not to totally put you off, but lately when I see those W stickers all over the place the first name that pops into my mind is 'Wunelle'.

wunelle said...

Joshua--I can always count on you for great conversation points! I know that I post very consistently on the left side, especially of social issues, and I'm being disingenuous if I don't own up to being liberal on some things certainly. But I really don't know that I'm on board with anyone's program. I only know that I'm NOT on board with this guy's (as if we couldn't tell that from my posts...)

I don't think, if you knew me in person, you would find me a gloomy or negative person. Quite the contrary, I think. (This is not to say your caution is not wise: I agree that we should strive to look at the positive side of things generally.) It brings me no great pleasure to wallow in negativity or to post anguished indictments of my country's government or policies. I can only say in my defense that things appear just that dire to me. I write anguished things because NOT to do so makes me feel like I'm neglecting my duty to be even remotely involved with a governmental system which is supposed to require my input. I know that "informing ourselves" is never an entirely neutral endeavor, and I certainly pursue a point of view. But I really don't think I'm doctrinaire.

Anyway. I appreciate the spirit of your argument, and I agree in theory with a good bit of what you say (as I often do, even if we'd write rather different posts). I agree that the line between media news and entertainment has become more and more blurred over time, and I take some pains not to be a consumer, at least to the extent possible. NPR is probably my prime news outlet, with follow-ups on the web. NPR is lambasted as being liberal, but they seem to cover things in greater depth than other places, and I think you at least hear all sides of a thing from them. No single outlet can cover it all; they seem to do a good job to me.

As for the deficit things (which you didn't want to talk about!) I have a couple of rebuttal points:

First, the budget cuts which are being foisted upon people as a result of our deficit spending are far from theoretical. It may be a very worthwhile discussion point that these cuts should take place; but this is quite a different argument from the one the administration is putting forward. This plays to my basic point: if we want to reduce the role of government, we should make THAT point and argue it and let the voters decide.

Second, the big deficits would be more understandable coming from an administration and party which do not champion smaller government and fiscal responsibility. We might expect big deficits from Democrats, and during times of national distress. This latter is being invoked, maybe, but the manner of our current crisis--and the costs being borne entirely by us--are this administration's sole doing. We can of course argue the justification of the war, and that's another whole series of posts. But WE set the timetable and made the determination that we'd go ahead with or without our traditional allies; and hence, the cost to our country alone has been staggering.

Lastly, I would say that there MUST be limits to how much of other countries' money we're willing borrow if we're to keep any kind of economic credibility. To use an analogy, I may decide to buy a house on credit and to make no effort to pay the house off. When I die, I'll just let whoever has the equity take it. But most people would not consider that a sound strategy, and we certainly should not find virtue in it as a public policy. The rise of deficits in government spending is a fairly recent phenomenon, and it's taken off during my 40 years in a big way. But I can't help thinking it's a bad idea generally, as it would be for my personal finances.

As always, I'm grateful you take the time to read my hand-wringing and to put your thoughts down!

wunelle said...

For some reason, Anonymous's comment was not there when I wrote my response to Joshua, and then there it is! (Stupid Blogger.)

W for Wunelle! Hmmm. Just so long as people don't think we're related... ;-)

While I appreciate Joshua's point that so much of the deficit exists only on paper, I have to think that we can go only so far with this argument--and not eight trillion dollars far. At some point the bondholders and foreign governments who own the debt will want a return on their investment. I'm sure as hell not an economist, but I have to believe that our not paying will have serious repercussions. And more to the point, it's not even about the accumulated amount so much as that we continue to not live remotely within our means. It's a cancerous thing that has become a commonplace

The WMD thing is, of course, a whole other can of worms. I know that bad things were found, but nothing like the things that we were told justified an aggressive, pre-emptive war on another country. As I understand it, they did not find anything they did not expect to find, plus or minus. They were relatively small quantities of things he was known to have had. The questions appear to have been about how successfully Saddam had disposed of things from a militaristic past. I think the right has tried to use these discoveries as the smoking gun, but (again, as I understand it) there is nothing like a proper equation here.

This appears to be what Joseph Wilson was trying to make plain--at least concerning Saddam's nuclear ambitions--in his New York Times editorial, and it is alleged that his efforts resulted in the outing of his wife, Valerie Plame, by administration officials in reprisal.

The jury is still out as to how far up the food chain this leak came from, but there is no question that no successful WMD research or programs were going on while UN inspectors were in the country. Whatever defiance Saddam showed to the world, the inspectors were having the effect the world demanded: he was effectively neutered. We had time to put together a large and effective alliance to throw his ass out, and we chose very distinctly not to do this.

What is more salient is the evidence that W intended to go into Iraq from day one, from before day one. The Downing Street Memo and our hustling things thru the U.N., the statement that people better get on board or "they're with the terrorists" all leave me stupefied.

Ah, to bite off and only half-chew so many things. What a time in which we live.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure you can blame Blogger for my post not showing up until you'd already begun writing yours - it takes me a while to get my rants somewhat organized and committed to type.

wunelle said...

Yeah, I think I misread the timestamp!

Joshua said...

I knew, after writing that, that it would seem like a more personal attack than I wanted. I like your blog, and your regular posts regularly keep me regulated.
I just wanted to show the other side of things. If not a devil, at least his advocate...

The WMD thing is, I think, less cut and dry as most would understand. The people in charge of finding and reporting, the
UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), briefed the Security Council on Saddam's lightning-fast dismantling of missile and WMD sites before and during the war. They are inpartial, and have no personal ties to the US. You can read their entire report here

And, even though it was in the Vanguard, a TOTALLY right winged, biased paper, here is an explaination as to why you may not be hearing about this. I would take this with a grain of salt, but the bullet points he brings up are all varifiable.

This all just lends itself to the earlier argument concerning Media. As for the deficit, I think I need to do a whole lot more reading before I open my mouth on the subject again, because I am very close to being dead wrong, and that sort of makes me a jackass.

wunelle said...

"I knew, after writing that, that it would seem like a more personal attack than I wanted."

I never think this coming from you. We've been at this long enough that I think I know where you're coming from, and I appreciate a bit of "devil's" advocacy and some counterpoint to these things; it never feels "attack-ish" coming from you!

I'll have to look into these reports again. I scanned them once but maybe I should give them a closer look. I think my impression at the time I looked before (a couple months ago) was one of there being a gulf between public understanding and esoteric information. I don't think any of us really understood what we would find when we went in, in terms of quantities or character. I think these things were known, but certainly not by me. But those who knew seemed not to think the findings out of line with expectations, and certainly not what we were told to expect.

But again, maybe I need to read these reports again. I don't even remember the details now.

And as for economics, I'm sure not the expert. But these are the concerns I have, and so far I've been underwhelmed by people trying to convince me I'm on the wrong track. But I'm ready to learn, I hope.

Thanks, as always, for some good dialog.

Heather B. said...

Don't get me started on the current administration, lest you want your head to explode, because my tirade will be long and pontificating and you'll want me to die.
But I love me some Dowd.

wunelle said...

I believe I beat you to long and pontificating and causing a desire for one's death. Shit, I wrote the book on long & pontificating.

I think I'm in love with Maureen Dowd.

wunelle said...

I looked at Joshua's links again, though I must be honest and say I did not slug through the UNMOVIC report. I did scan the latest. And I read Rod Martin's commentary on I can't help feeling that there is very limited objectivity in this summary, which is not to say it has no value. Anyway, this is what I thought after mulling on this and doing a bit of follow up.

Rod Martin's 6/18/04 commentary from says:

UNMOVIC executive chairman Demetrius Perricos detailed not only the export of thousands of tons of missile components, nuclear reactor vessels and fermenters for chemical and biological warheads, but also the discovery of many (but not most) of these items - with UN inspection tags still on them -- as far afield as Jordan, Turkey and even Holland.

I simply don't know enough to understand this statement. It sounds a little bit like saying "The sun's internal temperatures are well over A MILLION DEGREES! We need to take action NOW to keep the sun from killing us all." The UN inspection tags indicate, to me anyway, that these items were known to the UN, remnants of the previously-existing programs which were abandoned a decade ago. The fact that the components were smuggled out of Iraq is not in any case fixed by our going to war with Iraq, though it does indicate that Saddam no longer had these weapons at his immediate disposal.

Even the Bush administration, which used the possible existence of secret WMD as its prime justification for this war, now acknowledges that this motivation turned out to be a false lead.

From on 1/12/05:

The United States is taking steps to determine how it received erroneous intelligence that deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was developing and stockpiling nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Wednesday. "Our friends and allies had the same intelligence that we had when it came to Saddam Hussein," he said. "Now we need to continue to move forward to find out what went wrong and to correct those flaws."

And this new story follows a CIA report from three months before. A story from 10/7/04 reports the following:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Saddam Hussein did not possess stockpiles of illicit weapons at the time of the U.S. invasion in March 2003 and had not begun any program to produce them, a CIA report concludes.

In fact, the long-awaited report, authored by Charles Duelfer, who advises the director of central intelligence on Iraqi weapons, says Iraq's WMD program was essentially destroyed in 1991 and Saddam ended Iraq's nuclear program after the 1991 Gulf War.

I had quite a bit more written on this, but it seems too much for a comment (as if all this wasn't already!) and too soon for another dreary post.

Joshua--feel free to shoot me an email if you'd like to discuss this off-comments. (

Chairborne Stranger said...

I read everything with great interest. Very great reading, W. Run for office!

wunelle said...

I'm too fat to run. Can I walk briskly? ;-)

W(unelle) for Czar!

Chairborne Stranger said...

That's funny. As long as you get there, right?

I'd have more to say on the content of your post, but I'm left with 'stay the course' right now.

wunelle said...

Indeed. I'd love to hear all your thoughts on this stuff sometime (and by "sometime" I'm assuming that would be when you're back on home soil and some time has passed). My brother, as well, has thoughts on the matter, though he's not an especially political animal (and to the extent he is he's more conservative than me).

Anyhoo. Stay safe. (Don't take any cookies from old ladies.)