Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby(Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
More and more, the concept of ethics in Congress, in business, in government, and in other areas of our society seems to be an oxymoron.
There has been a succession of headline stories underscoring our moral "pay-to-play" lapses. The alleged pay-to-play scheme laid out by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich -- to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder -- is, sadly, not much different from the usual political enterprise observed in Washington and throughout the country. "In some ways, the only thing Blagojevich did wrong was he was stupid enough to say it out loud," said Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center. "For other people, it's a wink and a nod. Verbalizing it crosses the line." Northwestern University law Professor Albert Altschuler says that if Blagojevich
. . . made a quid pro quo offer for campaign funds, then he's guilty of breaking the law. There's a thin line. It's different if he said, "If I was in the Senate, I'd be in a position to raise money for you."
It may be legal for those who contribute large amounts to presidential campaigns to be named to ambassadorships and other important posts, but what exactly is the ethical difference between this and what the Illinois Governor is accused of doing?
Or consider the Ponzi scheme of Wall Street insider Bernard Madoff, formerly the head of the NASDAQ stock market. Len Fisher, author of Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life, writes that:
There seems to be little doubt that Bernard Madoff is a cheat. . . . But was it all Madoff's fault? I contend that the losses would have been less severe, and might not have occurred at all, if many of Madoff's investors had not been cast from the same mold that Madoff was. The facts should have been enough to make anyone suspicious. Madoff's accounts were only perfunctorily audited. . . . Above all his business returns were consistently good -- too good -- and he never reported a down month, let alone a down quarter or year . . . such oddities had to have set off alarm bells. So why did so many professionals continue to invest with him? Only one answer makes sense. Some of these investors must have suspected that he was a cheat but continued to invest because they thought they were benefiting from that cheating. In other words, they took him for a different kind of cheat from who he was -- one who was using information gained from his market-making operation to earn illegal profits rather than one who was operating a breathtakingly audacious Ponzi scheme.
Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman asks: "How different, really, is Mr. Madoff's tale from the story of the investment industry as a whole." He declares:
The financial services industry has claimed an ever-growing share of the nation's income over the past generation, making the people who run the industry incredibly rich. Yet, at this point, it looks as if much of the industry has been destroying value, not creating it. And it's not just a matter of money: the vast riches achieved by those who managed other people's money have had a corrupting effect on our society as a whole.
Young people, observing the behavior of their elders, are exhibiting precisely the same sort of indifference to traditional moral and ethical standards.
In the past year, 30 percent of U.S. high school students have stolen from a store and 64 percent have cheated on a test, according to a new large-scale survey.
The Josephson Institute, a Los Angeles-based ethics institute, surveyed 29,760 students at l00 randomly selected high schools nationwide, both public and private. Michael Josephson, the institute's founder and president, said he was most dismayed by the findings about theft. The survey found that 35 percent of boys and 26 percent of girls -- 30 percent overall -- acknowledged stealing from a store within the past year. One-fifth said they stole something from a friend; 23 percent said they stole something from a parent or other relative.
"What is the social cost of that -- not to mention the implication for the next generation of mortgage brokers?" Mr. Josephson said: "In a society drenched with cynicism, young people can look at it and say 'Why shouldn't we? Everyone else does it.'"
Among the findings:
* Cheating in schools is rampant and getting worse. Sixty-four percent of students cheated on a test in the past year, and 38 percent did so two or more times, up from 60 percent and 35 percent in a 2006 survey.
* Thirty-six percent said they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment, up from 33 percent in 2004.
* Despite such responses, 93 percent of the students said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character, and 77 percent affirmed that "When it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know."
Iris Murdoch, in Metaphysics As a Guide to Morals, said:
The child . . . who is led by his observation to conclude that "Do not lie" is part of an espionage system directed against himself, since the prohibition obviously means nothing to his elders, is being misled concerning the crucial position of truth in human life.
This flexibility toward the truth shows later in life. According to a recent study conducted by Who's Who Among High School Students, 78 percent of the high school students polled say they have cheated. Paul Krouse, the publisher, said, "There certainly has to be a breakdown in the ethics and integrity of young people which probably mirrors the society they are living in."
To deal with the ethics breakdown, the U.S. Marine Corps has added a "value training" course to its boot camp curriculum. One senior Marine officer summed up the situation:
The communities (new recruits) are coming from have put less emphasis on ethical standards and these kinds of core values we want to see. . . . They're not teaching values in schools. They're not learning it from church members to the extent. . . . they used to. So there is a need that must be stressed in values-based education.
A decade ago, when Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL) was sentenced to 17 months
in prison after pleading guilty to defrauding Congress of $636,000 in an illegal payroll scam, U.S. Attorney Thomas Motley called it a "scheme to defraud the U.S. that stretched over more than 20 years." The judge in the case, Norma Holloway Johnson, said that, "When I think of your case . . . the one phrase that comes to mind is betrayal of trust." Yet, when Rostenkowski responded, he said: "Having pled guilty, I do not believe that I am different from the vast majority of members of Congress." Recent examples of congressional corruption indicate that Rostenkowski may have had a point.
One important reason -- perhaps the important reason -- for the breakdown in our society which is evident all around us is the fact that we have entered an era of moral relativism in which we hesitate to declare any action wrong and immoral, or to confront the existence of evil. Will Herberg, theologian and author of the well-known volume Protestant, Catholic, Jew stated:
. . . the really serious threat to morality in our time consists not in the multiplying violations of an accepted moral code, but in the fact that the very notion of morality or a moral code seems to be itself losing its meaning. . . . It is here that we find a breakdown of morality in a radical sense, in a sense almost without precedent in our Western society.
The decline of religion in our society has been recorded by Professor Stephen Prothero, chairman of the Department of Religion at Boston University, in his book Religious Literacy. In spite of the fact that more than 90 percent of Americans say they believe in God, only a tiny portion of them knows a thing about religion. When he began college teaching 17 years ago, Prothero writes, he discovered that few of his of students could name the authors of the Christian Gospels. Fewer could name a single Hindu Scripture. Almost no one could name the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.
"During the 1930s," writes Prothero:
The neo-orthodox theologian H. Richard Niebuhr skewered liberal Protestants for preaching "a God without wrath (who) brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross." But my students' "dogma aversion" (as one put it) goes liberal Protestantism one further. These young people aren't just allergic to dogma. They are allergic to divinity and even heaven. In the religions of their imagining, God is an afterthought at best. And the afterlife is, as one of my students told me, "on the back burner." What my students long for is not salvation after they die but happiness . . . here and now. They want less stress and more sleep.
The disconnect between young Americans and their religious tradition is, in Prothero's view, a subject about which all of us should be concerned. He hopes that Americans will have enough religious knowledge to debate ethics positions using holy texts, to understand Biblical references in political speeches, to question their own beliefs about God -- and to encourage others to question theirs. He faults priests, rabbis, imams, and ministers for not engaging the younger generation. "Far too often," he declares, "religious services in the U.S. are of the adults, by the adults, and for the adults. And don't think young people aren't noticing."
The connection between our ethical decline and the growing ignorance of our religious traditions is a subject to which our religious leaders -- and not only our religious leaders -- should turn their attention.
Poverty in Africa is widespread, but its causes are largely misunderstood. Indeed, because of such a misunderstanding men and women of good will in the Western world, seeking to alleviate such poverty, have pursued programs of massive foreign aid that, in most instances, have done little good.
Professor James Robinson of Harvard University, in an article "Property Rights and African Poverty," in Defining Ideas, 2010, declares that:
The real reason Africa has been poor historically and is poor today have to do with property rights. In short, African countries do not have the type of property rights that are connected with economic progress in Western Europe or North America.
The evidence of widespread poverty is stark. The World Bank measures poverty levels by the number of people who live on less than $1 a day; the majority of those people, around 350 million of them, live in sub-Sahara Africa. This is the only part of the world in which the absolute number of poor people is increasing. By 2015, the number of poor people in Africa is forecast to be more than 400 million.
Before the Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain about 230 years ago, Professor Robinson points out:
Differences in the level of prosperity among countries were much smaller than they are now. Whereas today, the average income of a citizen of the United States is about 40 times that of a citizen of a country such as Ethiopia or Sierra Leone, in 1750 that difference was probably only two or three times. Between 1750 and 2009, the U.S. experienced rapid economic growth, but African countries did not.
The insecurity of property rights in Africa, Professor Robinson notes:
. . . was exacerbated by the slave trade, which distorted paths of political development and led to the emergence of states, such as the Kongo, based not on investing but on slavery. Africa's increasing backwardness made it vulnerable to colonialism, which replaced one form of absolutism with another. Later, independence did the same, with predictable consequences for property rights.
Sierra Leone was taken over by Siski Stevens, who pulled up the railway line to the south of the country, and sold off all the track and rolling stock to isolate the Mendeland region, where support for his opposition was strongest. The roads fell to pieces and schools disintegrated. National television broadcasts stopped in 1987. The Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board expropriated farms. When the governor of the national bank complained about fiscal profligacy in 1980, he was thrown to his death from the roof of the central bank offices. In 1991, the regime collapsed into civil war. Today most of Sierra Leone is controlled by 149 chiefs. Sadly, this is all too typical.
In a recent report, "The State of Liberal Democracy In Africa," the Cato Institute states that:
Africa's transition to liberal democracy is unlikely to happen without far-reaching economic reforms; in fact, all liberal democracies are also market-oriented economies. Regrettably, many African countries are not only politically repressive but also economically dirigiste. Increased economic freedom and the emergence of a vibrant private sector can bring about direct economic benefits, such as higher incomes, and indirect benefits, such as decentralization of power.
All too often, foreign aid can be siphoned off by corrupt politicians. In the opinion of Professor Robinson:
Three things would help sub-Saharan African societies get on the right track economically. First, give Africans more economic opportunities, which doesn't mean throwing money at them. What it does mean is opening markets to African exports and trade. . . . Second, economics must play a bigger role in foreign policy. Foreign policy toward Africa has been driven too much by short-term politics without focusing on economic development, but promoting prosperity in Africa is good long-run foreign policy. Supporting dictators who are "pro-Western" risks creating an anti-Western society. Finally, development assistance must help change the political trajectories of societies. . . . Good political and economic institutions emerge from a balance of power in society. To achieve this, we should help civil society and the media promote de facto checks and balances on rulers.
There are some dim signs of hope. Sixteen years ago, the world watched in horror as 800,000 Rwandans were systematically murdered by their neighbors. In just l00 days, over 10 percent of the country's population, mostly Tutsis, the country's minority group, were slaughtered. Paul Kagame led the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the guerrilla army made up largely of Tutsi refugees, that ultimately overthrew the government and ended the bloodshed. Now he's president.
The Wall Street Journal reports that:
You might suppose that the leader of a country synonymous with genocide would be far more interested in seeking foreign aid than in talking supply-side economics. But then you probably haven't met Mr. Kagame. His agenda for improving the state of his country boils down to one goal: "spurring private investment."
According to the Wall Street Journal's Anne Jolis, Kagame told her that:
We believe in private enterprise, free markets, and competition . . . So we have to make sure there is a conducive environment for people to be creative and innovative.
Jolis writes that:
Unlike many of his peers in the Third World, his focus is not on how to beg for charity. During our entire conversation, Mr. Kagame doesn't once utter the word poverty. "We can only have ourselves to blame for our failures," he says. "We don't expect anyone to hand us any success or progress we hope to be making." That attitude makes Mr. Kagame a skeptic when it comes to foreign aid, which he faults for many of the world's ills. "It has created dependency, it has distorted the markets, it has detached people from their leaders and their values, it has created conflicts in some cases."
Rwanda has cut its dependence on aid by half in the past 15 years, and has become self-sufficient in food for the first time in its history. Gradual improvements to property rights, along with government money for fertilizer to farmers, which the farmers have since repaid with the revenue from their produce, have even allowed Rwanda to begin exporting some of its crops.
To help Africa move from poverty to prosperity, it is essential that we understand the reasons for its current dilemma -- and the proper path forward. Property rights and free and open markets represent that path. *
"Equal and exact justice to all men . . ." --Thomas Jefferson
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
By any standard, skepticism of government is growing -- perhaps reaching an all-time high. Three out of four Americans are either "frustrated" or "angry" with the federal government -- and nearly a third of the public views government as a "threat to their personal freedom," according to a new survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
The survey shows an increasing number of Americans are distrustful of both Washington and their elected officials. Only 22 percent of those polled said they can trust the federal government "almost always" or "most of the time," which Pew says is "among the lowest measures in more than half a century." Sixty-five percent hold an unfavorable view of Congress -- the worst congressional approval rating Pew has seen in a quarter century. The past year has seen public approval of Congress plummet from 50 percent in April 2009 to 25 percent in April 2010.
This does not mean, of course, that Americans oppose a role for government in areas which they believe to be its legitimate concern. "While the public is wary of too much government involvement with the economy," the study says:
. . . its suspends that concern when it comes to stricter regulation of major financial companies. A clear majority (61 percent) says it is a good idea for the government to more strictly regulate the way major financial companies do business. . .
Pew Center Director Andrew Kohut argues that the negative numbers result from
. . . a perfect storm of conditions associated with distrust of government -- a dismal economy, an unhappy public, bitter partisan-based backlash and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials.
There are, of course, those who have made a partisan argument that dismay with the Obama administration had led to these attitudes. That many policies of this administration are viewed critically is, of course, clear. The public is properly dismayed with government bailouts of failed banks and industries. The fact is, however, that our huge budget deficits and government intervention in the economy are really a continuation -- and escalation -- of policies embraced by the previous Bush administration.
Discussing the Tea Party movement -- which opposed expansion of government, deficits, and the Obama administration's health care bill -- Gene Healy, vice president of the Cato Institute, notes that one disturbing revelation in a recent New York Times/CBS poll found that while 58 percent of Americans disapprove of former President George W. Bush, 57 percent of Tea Partiers view the last president favorably.
What's going on here? Tea Partiers claim they're a group with a principled opposition to big government in all its forms. How can anyone take that claim seriously when the membership embraces a president who personifies everything they're supposed to hate? Aren't the Tea Partiers opposed to profligate spending? Then why do they look favorably on 43, who led the largest debt expansion in American history, and spent more than his six predecessors, doubling the federal budget during his tenure? Don't the Tea Partiers hate bailouts? Have they forgotten which president rammed through the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, bailed out Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, and gave $17 billion to General Motors after Congress refused to authorize tax dollars for failing automakers?
In Healy's view:
Of course, the Tea Partiers are well justified in their disgust with Obama, who's just engineered a takeover of one-sixth of the U.S. economy. . . . And maybe it's poor form to beat up on Bush, an ex-president who's at least had the decency to hang his head, keep quiet, and cut brush. . . . But no right-minded supporter of limited government could possibly "miss" a Republican president who, in Medicare Part D . . . engineered the biggest expansion of entitlements between President Johnson's Medicare and Obamacare. . . . If the Tea Partiers are serious, they can't afford to look partisan: as if they are OK with Big Government when someone who passes for a good old boy is at the helm, but cry "socialism" when an arugula aficionado makes his own power grab. Both Parties got us into this mess. Partisanship won't get us out.
The fact is that the nation is headed for a financial crisis -- brought about by the actions of both Republicans and Democrats. This fiscal year, the country's federal deficit is expected to top $1.6 trillion, an extraordinary 10.7 percent of gross domestic product -- double the 5 percent incurred during Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal from 1933 to 1936. The deficits through 2015 alone are projected to exceed $6 trillion. And in contrast to the 1930s, today's deficit is not going to be financed by Americans. About half of it is financed abroad, mostly by China and Japan.
Reasons for dismay with government escalate each day. In the wake of a Securities and Exchange Commission which ignored repeated warnings about Bernard Madoff -- and other financial wrongdoing on Wall Street -- we learned in April that dozens of SEC staff members used government computers in the past five years to access and download pornographic images. The computer of one senior SEC attorney ran out of space for downloaded images, so he started burning them onto CDs and DVDs he stored in his office. The attorney says he sometimes spent as much as eight hours a day viewing pornography on his office computer, according to a report by SEC Inspector General H. David Kotz.
What would the Founding Fathers think of the disrepute in which government is now held? There is every reason to believe that they would be pleased. They designed a system which they understood to involve fear of government power as the essential ingredient for the perpetuation of freedom.
Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Edward Carrington, observed that:
The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground. . . . One of the most profound preferences in human nature is for satisfying one's needs and desires with the least possible exertion; for appropriating wealth produced by the labor of others, rather than producing it by one's own labor . . . in other words, the stronger the government, the weaker the producer, the less consideration need be given him and the more might be taken away from him. A deep instinct of human nature being for these reasons in favor of strong government, nothing could be a more natural progress of things than for liberty to yield and government to gain control.
It was because of their fear of governmental power that the Framers of the Constitution limited government through the Bill of Rights and divided its authority through our federal system. By establishing the executive, legislative and judicial branches -- and by dividing authority between the state and national governments -- the hope was that no branch of government would ever obtain so much power that it would be a threat to freedom.
In recent years, whether those in power called themselves Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, the power of government has increased, as has the percentage of the gross national product disposed of by the state. Those out of power often speak of cutting spending. Once in office, however, they do precisely the opposite. Both of our political parties are far removed from the fear and suspicion of power which the Founding Fathers shared.
Political corruption, appeasement of special interest groups, and lack of competence would be no surprise to the Founding Fathers. They expected it. The only thing that might surprise them is the faith that some Americans still place in governmental power. Now that skepticism is growing, the Framers would feel that freedom may be a bit more secure.
Despite our military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the dangers we face from terrorism do not seem to be receding.
Early in February, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that even a nuclear-armed North Korea or Iran isn't as great a threat to the U.S. as al Qaeda and allied groups. Also in February, CIA Director Leon Panetta and other top intelligence officials testified before Congress that a future terrorist attack against the U.S. in the coming year is almost "certain."
The deadly November shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, and the failed Christmas Day attempt to bomb an airliner -- both examples of a low-tech approach by terrorists -- have raised the fear level in Washington and across the country. Some terrorism experts say that the worst could still be to come as a wounded jihadist movement thrashes about in search of a victory.
Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair testified that the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 over Detroit is emblematic of an evolving threat that relies on "small numbers of terrorists, recently recruited and trained, and short-term plots." The new tactics may be less spectacular than 9/11, but also much harder to detect and disrupt, he said.
Our approach to terrorism remains confusing. The Obama administration's original plan to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the so-called 9/11 mastermind, in New York City has been abandoned. Until Mayor Bloomberg publicly opposed the plan, it did not seem to occur to the Justice Department that placing a security perimeter around a large segment of Lower Manhattan would not only cost something like $200 million a year, but would also destroy the economy of the area. In the case of the Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallah, not only was the warning his father gave to U.S. officials ignored, but he was Mirandized after just 50 minutes of interrogation. At Fort Hood, the alleged mass killer, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, gave many indications of his philosophy and state of mind -- such as his contacts with radical imams in Yemen -- yet these were completely ignored.
The fact is that while the U.S., under both Presidents Bush and now Obama, have embarked upon large-scale wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden remains alive and well and al Qaeda is now operating in a variety of venues -- from Pakistan to Yemen to Somalia to various sleeper cells in Western Europe and, most likely, within the U.S. as well.
What we have failed to do is to properly identify the motives and ideology of our adversary, and do everything we can to eliminate active terror cells and, perhaps more important, eliminate the causes which lead young men and women to become terrorists in the first place.
President Bush liked to say that terrorists were motivated by their hatred of America because of "who we are," because of our freedom of religion, free speech, and democratic government. In a Republican presidential debate in 2008, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) made the point that al Qaeda targets the U.S. not because of our internal freedoms but because of our role, as they see it, in their part of the world. In response, Rudolph Guiliani accused Rep. Paul of siding with the terrorists. The fact is, of course, that properly understanding the motives of an adversary is a first step toward defeating him.
Michael Scheuer, a former senior CIA officer who now teaches security studies at Georgetown University, notes that:
The sum and substance of the U.S. bipartisan political elite's response to recent events has been -- as it has been since 1996 when Osama bin Laden declared war on America -- that the Islamist terrorists hate us for who we are and how we live, not for what we do. This contention is a fantasy. It is fair to say that all the U.S. Marines, soldiers, and CIA officers who have died in Afghanistan since 9/11 and in Iraq since Saddam's removal have died fighting an enemy that does not exist. In numbers now approaching 6,000, these men and women have bravely fought and died in combat against an enemy whose main motivation U.S. political leaders have consistently denied. No U.S. soldier, Marine, or CIA officer has been killed by an Islamist fighter who took the field because America has women in the workplace, beer is available in ample supply, and there are early presidential primaries in Iowa every fourth year.
The young Nigerian in Detroit and the Jordanian bomber in Khost and his wife, Scheuer points out:
. . . have told American Marines, soldiers, and CIA officers what they already surely sense, but what their political leaders deny. Both attackers cited motivations that pivot on U.S. support for Israel against the Palestinians; U.S. occupation of Muslim lands; and U.S. attacks on their fellow Muslims. The three individuals' words echo the components of U.S. foreign policy named by bin Laden in 1996 as the causes for war -- which also include U.S. support for Arab tyrants and exploitation of Muslim energy resources . . .
We are not "fighting a cartoon-like foe described by political leaders for the past 15 years," declares Scheuer. Whether or not U.S. policies in the region which have caused such enemies should be changed (which he thinks should indeed be altered),
. . . is a discussion for another time and broad public debate, perhaps during the 2010 midterm elections. For now, the discussion must focus on our enemies' motivation and the knowing failure of U.S. leaders in both parties to be honest with our fighting forces. If we fail to understand that motivation, America cannot shape a war-fighting strategy [that is likely to succeed.]
The policies we have been pursuing may, in reality, have made things worse. A study by terrorist specialists Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, using government and Rand Corporation data, showed that the "Iraq conflict has greatly increased the spread of the al Qaeda ideological virus, as shown by a rising number of terrorist attacks . . ." American terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman believes that, "Al Qaeda is more dangerous than it was on 9/11."
Bruce Reidel, a retired CIA official now at the Brookings Institution, says that, "The U.S. invasion of Iraq took the pressure off al Qaeda in the Pakistani badlands and opened new doors for the group in the Middle East. It also played directly into the hands of al Qaeda leaders by seemingly confirming their claim that the U.S. was an imperialist force, which helped them reinforce various local alliances."
The debate about terrorism in Washington does not address these issues. Instead, we are engaged in a meaningless partisan divide over whether our efforts should be called a "war on terror" or something else. The only victors, as we refuse to face facts, seem to be the terrorists.
While President Obama -- together with members of Congress from both parties -- promised to curb the role of lobbyists in Washington, more than a year after the Obama administration assumed the reins of power, little seems to have changed. If anything, the role of lobbyists has increased.
The National Journal, in its 10th annual survey of pay levels for Washington trade associations, confirmed that for lobbyists it is the Golden Age. Examining 514 tax returns between 2001 and 2009, it was found that no fewer than 89 executives for trade groups earned more than $l million. This is a 30 percent increase from the 2008 survey.
Pamela Kaul, president of the executive recruiting firm Association Strategies, said that the compensation numbers are "hard for the rational mind to justify, given the economy. But it's the mystique of Washington. These are the power brokers that have the access . . ."
The Center for Responsive Politics reported that final lobbying expenditures last year reached $3.47 billion, a 5 percent increase from the $3.3 billion spent in 2008. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $144 million on its lobbying efforts, a 60 percent increase over 2008s expenditure.
White House supporters say that the number of lobbyists has declined, but some public interest groups say that power has shifted to other Washington insiders and business executives who do not have to register their activity.
Exhibit A for many critics is Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader, who holds a top position in the lobbying firm Alson & Bird but avoids having to register. Federal rules do not require those who spend less than 20 percent of their time lobbying to register.
"To be blunt about it, any percentage that doesn't include Tom Daschle is not the right percentage," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. While restrictions may have been well-intentioned, they have been largely symbolic, says Sloan, and "it tells people you're fixing a problem without actually fixing it."
Particularly objectionable is the role of former members of Congress who often leave their elected positions prematurely in order to reap financial gain from lobbying their former colleagues.
Former Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana -- originally elected as a Democrat but later switching to the Republican Party -- left his post as chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce committee -- to become a lobbyist for the drug industry. Last year, he reportedly earned $4.48 million as the head of the PHRMA drug industry lobby, a huge increase from his congressional salary. Tauzin took a leading role in pushing for and shaping President Obama's health plan. PHRMA spent more than any other single-industry lobby in 2009, winning subsidies, protection, and mandates in the Senate bill.
Former Democratic Senator from Louisiana John Breaux and former Republican Senator from Mississippi Trent Lott have jumped into the financial re-regulation battle. The Breaux-Lott Leadership Group is representing Citigroup. Citi, as the second largest full-service investment bank, is one of the prime stakeholders in the debate over the proposed "Volcker Rule," restricting proprietary trading by depository institutions. Breaux-Lott's other financial clients include Prudential and Edward Jones.
The lobbying firm run by the Republican former chairman of the Senate Budget Committee now represents payday lenders and check-cashing businesses in the debate over financial regulation. According to recent lobbying registration former senator Don Nickles' former chief of staff on the Budget Committee, Hazen Marshall, is the lead lobbyist on the Nickles Group's account with the Financial Services Centers of America, the trade group for the payday-loan and check-cashing industries.
When it comes to auto safety, the role of lobbyists can hardly be discounted. Dozens of former federal officials are playing leading roles in helping carmakers handle federal investigations of auto defects, including those for Toyota's run-away-acceleration problems. A Washington Post analysis shows that as many as 33 former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration employees and Transportation Department appointees left those jobs in recent years and now work for automakers as lawyers, consultants, and lobbyists. Several former Cabinet members have gone to work for automakers. Toyota hired Rodney E. Slater, the transportation secretary under President Clinton, to head its North American Quality Advisory Panel.
At the present time, no law bans these officials from moving straight from government into industry. But critics of the revolving-door practice say that it has contributed to flaws in federal oversight and enforcement, and several members of Congress say legislation is needed to prevent former employees from conducting business with the agency for up to two years after leaving government jobs.
Federal disclosure records show that Toyota with 31 lobbyists in Washington last year has spent nearly $25 million on federal regulatory and legislative lobbying matters in the last five years, far more than any other foreign carmaker. "Toyota has lobbied to a degree that no other foreign automaker has," said David Levinthal of the Center for Responsive Politics.
They've built up years worth of connections with federal lawmakers, and that counts for something, when you know the people who are waiting for you on the other side of that door in a contentious situation. Now, does that mean they're going to get off easily? That remains to be seen.
The White House web site recently stated that President Obama was "cracking down on special interests and, in particular, lobbying abuses." In fact, things seem very much the same. In March, a top aide to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner left his position and joined a lobbying firm with a client list that includes the nation's largest banks. Damon Munchus is at least the third top Obama official who has left the administration to become a lobbyist.
Or consider how lobbyists are used by the media. On December 4, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge appeared on "Hardball with Chris Matthews," and counseled the administration to "create nuclear power plants." Viewers weren't told that since 2005, Ridge has received $530,659 in compensation for serving on the board of Exelon, the nation's largest nuclear power company. Moments earlier, "NBC Military Analyst" Barry McCaffrey told viewers that the war in Afghanistan would require an additional "three-to-ten year effort, and a lot of money." Unmentioned was the fact that DynCorp paid McCaffrey $182,309 in 2009 alone. The government had just granted DynCorp a five-year deal worth an estimated $5.9 billion to aid American forces in Afghanistan. In 2008, David Barstow wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning series for The New York Times about the Pentagon's use of former military officers -- many lobbying or consulting for military contractors -- to get their talking points on television. In 2009 bloggers uncovered how ex-News Week writer Richard Wolffe had guest-hosted "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" while working at a large PR firm specializing in "strategies for managing corporate reputation."
A recent study found that since 2007 at least 75 registered lobbyists, public relations representatives, and corporate officials -- people paid by companies and trade groups to manage their image and promote their interests -- have appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CNB, and Fox Business Networks with no disclosure of the corporate interests that have paid them.
Lobbying, it seems, is alive and well in Washington -- despite repeated pledges to bring such practices under control. This distorts much of our public life, reinforcing the idea that what we have, in reality, is the best government money can buy. Both Republicans and Democrats are co-conspirators in these efforts and it will take a bipartisan effort to reverse course. Unfortunately, too many have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are. *
"The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man." --James Madison
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Deficit spending is skyrocketing. In December, a report was issued under the auspices of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Committee for a Federal Budget, declaring that the U.S. is facing "a debt-driven crisis -- something previously viewed as almost unfathomable in the world's largest economy."
This past year, the federal government ran a deficit of $1.4 trillion. In 2009 alone, the public debt grew 31 percent from $5.8 to $7.6 trillion, rising from 41 percent to 53 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
The report, prepared by among others, seven former directors of the White House Office of Management and Budget, two former comptroller generals of the United States, and seven former directors of the Congressional Budget Office, as well as former chairman of the Federal Reserve System Paul Volcker, declares that unless strong remedial steps are taken in the years ahead, the debt is projected to rise to 85 percent of GDP by 2018 and 100 percent four years later. By that time, they argue, the U.S. economy could be in ruins.
Alice Rivlin, formerly a director of both the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget, one of the authors of the report, noted that:
Previously, when we were worried about deficits, we could take comfort in the fact that the debt was not very high relative to the economy. But now the debt has shot up. The cushion is gone. If the same thing (a severe recession) happened again, we wouldn't be able to borrow to deal with it.
In the face of all of this, however, in the Congress -- among both Democrats and Republicans -- it is very much business as usual. In the last presidential campaign, both Senators Barack Obama and John McCain expressed their opposition to congressional earmarks -- the pet projects members of Congress slip into spending bills that have become a symbol of how Washington works and of its worst excesses. Yet such earmarks remain alive and well in the current Congress.
In December, lawmakers set aside more than $4 billion in earmarks in the 2010 defense appropriations bill, and watered down efforts to curb the practice of targeting spending for programs in members' districts.
As usual, many of the top recipients of earmarks in the defense bill were high-ranking appropriators. Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), got 37 earmarks, totaling $198.2 million. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss) got 45 totaling $167 million. On the House side, defense subcommittee chairman John Murtha (D-PA) sponsored 23 earmarks totaling $76.5 million, while ranking Republican G. W. "Bill" Young got 36 totaling $83.7 million, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Consider the case of the software firm MobilVox. When MobilVox wanted to break into the lucrative world of defense contracting, it expanded operations from its Northern Virginia base in Rep. James Moran's (D-VA) congressional district to the southwestern Pennsylvania district of Rep. John Murtha (D-PA).
Working with two of the most powerful members of a House subcommittee that controls Pentagon spending, the company also hired lobbying firms that employed former top aides of the Democratic lawmakers and Mr. Murtha's brother. Company executives and their lobbyists donated thousands of dollars to the two congressmen. Soon, funds began to flow in the other direction.
Between 2003 and 2009, Murtha (recently deceased) and Moran helped deliver $12 million to MobilVox in earmarks. The latest House spending bill, introduced and pushed through by Murtha, includes an additional $2 million earmark for MobilVox requested by Moran. The Washington Times notes that:
MobilVox's success fits a pattern of doing business in Washington that ethics watchdogs deride as a "pay-to-play" system -- one that became infamous during Republican years and continues to operate under a Democratic leadership that had promised to change a "culture of corruption" in Washington.
In one case, a $100,000 earmark sponsored by rep. James E. Clyburn (D-SC), the Democratic whip, to go to the library in Jamestown, South Carolina, ended up going instead to Jamestown, California -- 2,700 miles away and to a town that doesn't even have a library. "That figures for government, doesn't it?" said Chris Pipkin, who runs the one-room library in Jamestown, South Carolina, and who earlier in 2009 requested $50,000, not the $100,000 that Congress designated, to buy new computers and build shelves to hold the books strewn across the room.
This library is just one of more than 5,000 earmark projects -- totaling $3.9 billion -- tucked away inside the catchall spending bill Congress sent to President Obama in December. Mr. Obama signed the $1.1 trillion bill -- which included such earmarks as $350,000 for the Appalachian Mountain Club to study global warming's effects on New Hampshire's White Mountains, $250,000 to replace bus shelters in Bal Harbour, Florida, $200,000 for outreach to and the study of elderly Irish immigrants in New York, and $180,000 to create a field class to train weather forecasters at San Jose State University in California.
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) went to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives 48 times last year to offer amendments to strip pork-barrel spending projects from the annual spending bills. Each time he was defeated. Rep. Flake -- and other earmark opponents such as Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) -- failed to win a single anti-earmark vote in the House and Senate for the fiscal 2010 spending year.
President Obama persuaded lawmakers not to add funding earmarks to the $787 billion stimulus package that Congress approved early in 2009. Not long after that, however, Congress approved a $410 billion spending bill that was full of earmarks. The President avoided a fight at the time by saying that the legislation was a holdover from the previous session of Congress, when Republicans were in control. At the time, he said, the legislation should "mark an end to the old way of doing business." We will see, as 2010 proceeds, if he is serious about making any real changes.
Recent polls show that the country is evenly divided about President Obama, but state governments are in disrepute and confidence in Congress is at an all-time low. Frank Newport of the Gallup organization noted in his year-end wrap-up, "Americans have less faith in their elected representatives than ever before." One important reason for this lack of faith is wasteful spending -- epitomized by the culture of earmarks.
Late in 2009, two violent acts of murder by repeat offenders who had been released from prison long before their terms were served illustrate the need to carefully review how our criminal justice system conducts its business.
In one case, in Maryland, an 11-year-old girl disappeared, and her body was found on Christmas Day. Sarah Haley Foxwell was abducted from the bedroom of her home in Salisbury and three days later found dead. Thomas J. Leggs, Jr., 30, a registered sex offender who had been acquainted with her family, was arrested and charged with kidnapping and burglary.
The suspect has a lengthy arrest record in Maryland and is listed on both the Maryland and Delaware sex offender registries. The Maryland case dates to 1998, when he was convicted of a third-degree rape for having sex with a teenager who was not yet 18. He served one year in jail and was placed on probation for the remainder of the seven-year sentence. At the time of his arrest in the kidnapping of Sarah, Leggs was awaiting trial on charges of burglary and destruction of property in Ocean City, Maryland.
"What in the hell is he doing back out on the street, and what is he doing having contact with this child?" is the question posed by Jerry Norton of Citizens for Jessica's Law in Maryland, a group that fights to toughen laws governing sex offenses.
Also late in 2009, four uniformed police officers in Washington state were killed, execution-style, as they sat in a coffee shop near Tacoma, Washington, writing reports. The killer was Maurice Clemmons, who was released from jail in Pierce County, Washington, just six days earlier, even though charges were pending for second-degree rape of a child, and he faced seven other felony charges in Washington for punching a police officer in the face.
Earlier, in Arkansas, he was serving 60-year and 48-year sentences for various violent crimes and faced another 95 years on other charges. However, after he had served just 11 years in prison and over vocal objections from county persecutors, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee commuted Clemmons' sentence in 2000. It was just one of the more than 1,000 clemencies issued by Mr. Huckabee during his term in office. At one point, the Arkansas Leader newspaper documented that Mr. Huckabee had given clemency to more convicts than all of the governors in the six states surrounding Arkansas combined.
Editorially, The Washington Times noted that:
The broader lesson here is that governors and presidents generally should leave clemency decisions for violent offenders to trained parole boards. Sure, there is good reason for giving chief clemency powers to chief executives. We know of cases that cry out for pardons, including people imprisoned by overzealous bureaucrats and prosecutors for such crimes as packing lobster tails in plastic instead of cardboard or of submitting the wrong paperwork for imported orchids. But murderers and rapists are a different matter. A single executive, with hundreds of other responsibilities, is unlikely to be familiar enough with each case and each personality to determine if an individual convict is a threat to strike again. If a judge and jury, upon due consideration, imposed a certain sentence on a violent criminal, and an expert parole board has not seen fit to reduce the sentence, a governor or president treads on thin ice in overruling them. It's an injustice that four officers of the law had to die to teach . . . that lesson.
Beyond the question of parole for violent offenders is the fact that we still have with us groups that continue to promote violence against law enforcement officers.
In the Washington state incident, the perpetrator, Maurice Clemmons, told numerous friends and family members to "watch the TV" before the massacre because he was going to "kill a bunch of cops." These individuals -- several of whom have been arrested for actively aiding and abetting Clemmons with shelter, food, money, and medical care aid -- were not offended by the idea of murdering police officers.
Evidently because Clemmons was black and the police officers were white, a militant online group called the National Black Foot Soldier Network, celebrated Clemmons as a "Crowned BOW (black on white) Martyr" and dubbed the Washington ambush "a preemptive strike on terrorists."
Just three weeks before the massacre of the four police officers, the region saw another police attack. Suspect Christopher Monfort was arrested in the targeted shooting death of Seattle Police officer Timothy Brenton and the wounding of his partner Britt Sweeney. Monfort had written diatribes against law enforcement, particularly white policemen.
The leader of a Seattle hip-hop punk band commemorated the assassination with a T-shirt depicting Monfort's face splattered with blood and overlaid with a Seattle PD badge under the slogan "Deliver Us from Evil." The other side of the shirt read, "Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps."
We have witnessed many years of cop-bashing rap from NWA's "F___ tha Police" and Ice-T's "Cop Killer" to Dave Pre's "Police State" ("I throw a Molotov Cocktail at the precinct") and The Game's "911 Is a Joke" ("I ought to shoot 51 officers for the 51 times that boy was shot in New York"). Clearly, such music has had its effect.
Overall, the past decade has seen a decline in violent crime. In the case of homicide, murders were down 29.8 percent in Los Angeles, 14 percent in Atlanta, 10 percent in Boston. New York, in 2009, may have had the lowest number of murders since comprehensive record keeping began in 1963. A key reason for this decline are policies that put more brave and educated police officers on the street, with better technology and smarter tactics.
Violent criminal acts -- such as the recent murders in Maryland and Washington state -- could have been avoided if the career criminals who were the perpetrators had been serving their jail sentences. It is high time that repeat violent offenders be kept off the streets. Sentences should mean something. This is an important lesson we should have learned long ago.
There is a growing gap in our schools in the achievement rate of students of different races.
As a group, black students in the twelfth grade score lower on reading tests than eighth grade whites.The same is true in math, history, and geography. Overall, more than 40 percent of black high school seniors tested below the basic skill level in reading, according to the National Assessment for Educational Progress. Nearly 70 percent of black seniors scored below the basic level in math, and nearly 80 percent in science. That is a stark contrast to the 75 percent of whites scoring above the basic level in math and 63 percent of whites above basic level in the sciences.
This year, community groups in St. Louis, Missouri, and Portland, Oregon, issued reports decrying the racial gap in schools. After a recent state report on test scores in California schools, Jack O'Connell, the state's superintendent of instruction, said the gap is "the biggest civil rights issue of this generation" -- a popular phrase in educational circles.
In Alexandria, Virginia, a majority-minority school system, white students, who represent 25 percent of the total enrollment, are 58 percent of those labeled "gifted." Hispanics and African Americans, 25 and 40 percent of enrollment, respectively, account for about 10 and 20 percent of those in gifted classes. School Superintendent Morton Sherman is bringing attention to what he calls "equity issues." He is looking to expand minority enrollment in gifted programs. In 2006, Alexandria rolled out a nonverbal text to reach children who might encounter language barriers or other cultural biases. Governor Timothy M. Kaine of Virginia announced that the Virginia Education Department will examine the low enrollment of black and Hispanic students in gifted programs throughout the state.
All of this may miss the point of what is really going on. Patrick Welsh, who teaches English at T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, and writes on education for The Washington Point, declares that:
Focusing on a "racial achievement gap" is too simple: it's a gap in familial support and involvement too. Administrators focused solely on race are stigmatizing black students. At the same time, they are encouraging the easy excuse that the kids who are not excelling are victims, as well as the idea that once schools stop being racist and raise expectations, these low achievers will suddenly blossom.
Last year, Welsh reports:
Two of the finest and most dedicated teachers at my school -- one in science and one in math -- tried to move students who were failing in their classes into more appropriate prerequisite courses, because the kids had none of the background knowledge essential to mastering more advanced material. Both teachers were told by an administrator that the problem was not with the students but with their own low expectations.
Glenn Hopkins, president of Alexandria's Hopkins House, which provides pre-school and other services for low-income families, says that:
The real problem is that school superintendents don't realize -- or won't admit -- that the education gap is symptomatic of a social gap.
He says that student achievement is deeply affected by issues of family, income, and class, things superintendents have little control over.
Even with the best teachers in the world, they don't have the power to solve the problems. They naively assume that if they throw in a little tutoring and mentoring and come up with some program they can claim as their own, the gap will close.
The fact is that only 37 percent of black children live with a mother and father in two-parent families. Yvette Jackson, the chief executive of the National Urban Alliance, makes clear that many low-performing students are not going to be helped by programs designed to end the racial gap in performance. She calls these children "school-dependent learners" and notes that:
These are students from low-income backgrounds who need school to give them the basic knowledge that other kids get from their families -- knowledge that schools expect students to have when they start classes.
To her the gap everyone is talking about is not a question "of black and white but of the difference between children's potential and their performance."
In a moment of exasperation, high school teacher Patrick Welsh asked this question of his virtually all-black class of twelfth graders who had performed very poorly on a test: "Why don't you guys study like the kids from Africa?" One student who seldom came to class -- and was constantly distracting other students when he did -- responded: "It's because they have fathers who kick their butts and make them study." Another student challenged Welsh: "You ask the class, just ask how many of us have our fathers living with us." When he did, not one hand went up. "It hit me," he declares, "that these kids understood what I know too well. The lack of a father in their lives had undermined their education."
The racial gap is also to be found between black and white students from middle-class, often intact families. Black researcher John Ogbu was invited by black parents in Shaker Heights, Ohio, to help them understand why their children, black students in the school district's middle-class, integrated suburban schools still lagged behind white students on every measure of academic progress. Black students in Shaker Heights had a 1.9 grade point average as compared with 3.45 for white students.
Ogbu and a research team from the University of California at Berkeley spent nine months looking at test scores and interviewing parents, teachers, and students. One of Oghby's findings is that middle-class black parents spend less time than middle-class white parents in helping their children with homework and staying in touch with teachers. By his measure, middle-class black parents put as little effort into tracking their children's school work as did the poorest white parents. As a result, Ogbu found that from kindergarten to high school, black students put relatively little effort into their school work.
In response, the National Urban League put out a statement charging the professor with blaming "the victims of racism."
In fact, the reasons for the gap in achievement rates for black students are far more complex than "racism," and it is to these reasons that we should turn our attention. Dr. Ogbu said that:
What amazed me is that these kids who come from homes of doctors and lawyers are not thinking like their parents: they don't know how their parents made it. They are looking at rappers in ghettos as their role models. . . . The parents work two, three jobs to give their children everything, but they are not guiding their children.
During World War II, Fascist Italy under Mussolini was allied with Nazi Germany. In Italy, Jews were persecuted first by Fascism and then by Nazism. Yet, next to Denmark, Italy had the highest survival rate for Jews in any Nazi-occupied country -- much less a country allied with Hitler. Eighty percent of Italian Jews survived the war -- as did thousands of foreign Jews who found refuge in Italy. The story of their survival is one that has been largely untold.
"Jews have been a part of Italian history and the history of Rome for over two thousand years," writes Ida Garibaldi in Issues. "Indeed, the first Jews arrived on the Italian peninsula in 586 B.C., and Jews have been living in Rome continuously since the Second Century B.C."
An important new book, It Happened in Italy (publisher Thomas Nelson), tells the story of how many Italians -- from all walks of life -- helped to save Jews. Author Elizabeth Bettina is an Italian-American who, as a child, visited her family's village of Campagna in southern Italy. After she met Holocaust survivors in New York who told her stories of surviving World War II in Campagna and surrounding villages, she began to study the story of the heroism of many Italians as they confronted the Nazi goal of elimination Europe's Jews.
In the early 1930s, Hitler was prepared to let Jews emigrate, but other countries were unwilling to receive them. Only Italy -- with Mussolini in power -- permitted German and Austrian Jews to enter the country without visas. They lived peacefully until, as a result of Italy's alliance with Germany, foreign Jews were to be interred.
Elizabeth Bettina tells the story of Giovanni Palatucci, "the Italian Schindler." An Italian police officer in the early 1940s, he actively defied orders to implement Hitler's Final Solution. For his heroism, Palatucci was killed at Dachau. In 2002, he was recognized for his efforts and was beatified -- a step before sainthood -- by the Vatican.
His role in Fiume was Questore, which can best be described as part police chief, part immigration officer, and part census officer. All foreign residents of Italy were required to register . . . and this give Palaucci access to their documents and personal information, including their religion. . . . Palatucci hid this list from the Nazis, because he knew that . . . it was a map that led directly to almost certain death for the Jews on the lists. He enabled people to leave Italy by supplying false documents, and if they couldn't leave Italy, Palatucci arranged to send them to an official Italian government internment camp in Campagna, the former Convent of San Bartolomeo, where his uncle Giuseppe Maria Palatucci, was the bishop. . . . Once the Nazis figured out what Giovanni Palatucci was doing, they sent him to Dachau, where on February 10, 1945, he died the death from which he saved thousands of Jews (some estimates are as high as 5,000). Just two months later, on April 29, 1945, Dachau was liberated.
In occupied Europe, approximately 75 to 80 percent of the Jewish population was executed. Yet in Italy, approximately 75 to 80 percent of the Jewish population survived.
Bettina interviewed many Jews who survived the war in Italy. One was Walter Wolff, arrested by the Germans and sent to Dachau on November 10, 1938, the day after Kristallnacht. His brother Bruno was sent to Buchenwald. Their only crime was being Jewish.
Walter and Bruno found their way to Italy, and in June 1940 Walter was arrested in Genoa. His crime was being Jewish. Walter said more than 65 years later:
Now I was back in the same boat, except the Italian camps were nothing like the German camps. There was no forced labor in the Italian camps. We could do whatever we wanted during the day. . . . to pass time, we played cards, took walks around the little village, read books, or played soccer at a field just outside town. We even had our own orchestra and performed for the local residents.
It Happened in Italy is filled with such stories. An earlier book, The Assisi Underground: The Priest Who Rescued Jews by Alexander Ramati as told by Padre Rufini Niccacci, tells how 300 Jews were sheltered and protected by a peasant turned priest, Father Ruffino Niccacci. He dressed many of them as monks and nuns, taught them Catholic rituals, and hid them in monasteries. The town printing press, which during the day printed posters and greeting cards, at night clandestinely printed false documents for Jews all over Italy.
Addressing the nuns of a cloistered order, Father Niccacci said:
Once more we live in the Dark Ages. The men and women who have come to you today to seek refuge and protection are the lepers of the modern world. They are Jews who are being persecuted by the Germans and the Fascists, sent to concentration camps, then tortured and put to death. We are God's sons and daughters and we, brothers and sisters, have much more to answer for than ordinary people. We must take these lepers in our arms, offer them our protection, and hide them from our oppressors.
Father Nicccacci asked Cardinal della Costa, Archbishop of Florence, why Pope Pius XII had not made a statement condemning the Nazi persecution of the Jews. The Cardinal replied:
Instead of making meaningless declarations that would only antagonize the Germans, and perhaps even make them occupy the Vatican itself, he issued orders to save Jewish lives. The Pontiff could not issue an express order. But we received his message loud and clear. How would Pietro Boetto in Genoa, Niccolini in Assisi, I here, and so many other archbishops and bishops all over Italy, provide a sanctuary for the Jews, if we did not feel that this was what His Holiness would wish us to do? . . . In his own diocese . . . and don't forget the Pope is also Bishop of Rome -- over a hundred convents and over fifty churches and theological seminaries are hiding 4,000 Jews, half of the Jews of Rome.
The role of Pope Pius XII and the Vatican during World War II will continue to be a subject of debate. What cannot be debated, however, are the stories told by Elizabeth Bettina in her book. While some Italians acted badly, participating in the Nazi assault upon Jews, others acted well -- and bravely. It is from these that all of us can learn lessons for the future.
Recently, this writer participated in an event in Boston, "Italy and the Holocaust: the Calabria Connection," hosted by Robert Trifiletti, director of the Italian Center of New York City's Boston office.
This event included the performance of the play Margherita, by playwright Anthony E. Gallo (a classmate of mine at the College of William and Mary), about the relationship between Margherita Sarfatti, who was Jewish, and Benito Mussolini. In the play, the former lovers meet after a three-year separation in 1939, at a time when Italy's anti-Jewish "racial" laws were being implemented.
Following the play was a seminar about the fate of Jews in Italy in which this writer participated together with Dr. Maria Lombardo, a native of Calabria, Italy and former Education Director of the National Italian American Foundation in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Lombardo is the author of an important book, A Camp Without Walls, about her father, Salvatore Lombardo, and the rest of her family's struggle to survive World War II. It is a remarkable story of a former Italian soldier, and tells of his imprisonment by the Nazis, together with 254 other Italians in a labor camp in Yugoslavia in subhuman conditions.
As we move further away from World War II, it is important to remember that in the face of evil, many brave men and women did the right thing, often sheltering Jews at risk of their own lives and those of their families. The Italian Center of New York City and its affiliate in Boston is doing important work in telling this story. *
"Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve." --Benjamin Franklin
During the Cold War, the U.S. faced an adversary that had the ability -- and the intent -- to destroy us. In response, we developed the most sophisticated and powerful military on earth. We engaged in proxy wars to thwart the ambitions of our adversary in Korea and Vietnam. We engaged in skirmishes in areas our adversary sought to control -- such as Grenada and Nicaragua. We challenged its efforts to establish a nuclear base in Cuba and established military bases around the world. We were instrumental in the creation of NATO.
In the end, the Soviet Union collapsed. We won the Cold War without firing a shot against our major adversary. During this period, we engaged in summit meetings, had an embassy in Moscow, as the Soviets did in Washington. Slowly, we saw the Berlin Wall come down, saw the emergence of democratic forces in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Our perseverance ended in victory and many looked forward to a "peace dividend." With the Soviet Union gone, and no potential enemy on the horizon that had the ability to do anything more than harass us, we entered a post-Cold War world with little debate about what our future role should be.
Sadly, there are those who could never give the Cold War up, who found it difficult to live without a looming enemy. Part of it was the "military-industrial-complex" about which President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us. After the terrorist attack on September 11, a combination of neo-conservatives and establishment Republicans and Democrats found a new rationale for an almost Cold War-like U.S. posture. We went to war in Iraq on the false notion that it had weapons of mass destruction, and ties to al Qaeda. We went to war in Afghanistan, a legitimate effort to remove al Qaeda, which had attacked us. But, with al Qaeda gone from Afghanistan, we remain -- seeking a rational for our continuing role in that country.
What our role in the world should be at the present time -- and in the future -- is a subject about which all too little discussion and debate has been evident.
A contribution to such a discussion is the recently published book The Next Conservatism (St. Augustine's Press) by Paul M. Weyrich, founding president of the Heritage Foundation and in 1977 founder of the Free Congress Foundation, and his long time colleague William S. Lind. Weyrich died on December 18, 2008 and this book serves as his last political testament.
Weyrich and Lind write that:
Just as the next conservatism must confront the threat of ideology, it must also face up to another mortal danger to any republic, a quest for Empire. Driven with equal force by neo-liberals and neo-conservatives, our country has responded to the fall of Communism not as conservatives long expected, by a return to our traditional policy of avoiding foreign entanglements, but by plunging into foreign wars. Worse, we find ourselves caught up in, and losing, wars of a new type: what military theorists call Fourth Generation wars. While America now spends as much on defense as the rest of the world put together, much of what it buys is for yesterday's wars, wars between formal armies, navies, and air forces of states. Against the non-state forces of the Fourth Generation, most of our high-technology "systems" are proving to be expensive piles of junk.
Until recently, Weyrich and Lind point out, conservatives routinely warned against the danger from Leviathan, the all-powerful state. In recent years, particularly when Republicans were in power, the concern about government power has diminished. "The next conservatism," they write:
. . . needs to revive that warning, and make it stronger. Because of the so-called "war on terrorism" America may be on the verge of becoming a national security state, also known as a "garrison state." The Constitution and the liberties it protects will go out the window as citizens permit the state to do whatever it wants, so long as it justifies its actions in terms of "national security."
We have seen our liberties eroded by a series of steps entered into in the name of "national security" -- from wiretaps without judicial authorization to men and women being arrested without habeas corpus to individuals incarcerated for years without being brought to trial. Both Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, have largely acquiesced in these dramatic expansions of state power.
In the view of Weyrich and Lind:
Conservatives accept the fact that the state must defend us from terrorism and other acts of war. This has always been one of the state's duties. But the next conservatism does not want "permanent war for permanent peace," as George Orwell put it in 1984. We are not convinced that the best way to defend America from terrorism is by invading and occupying other countries. . . . The Founding Fathers warned us that we could either preserve our Republic and our domestic liberties or play the game of Great Power, but we could not do both. Playing the Great Power game requires a strong central government that can make decisions with little regard for the thoughts or desires of the average citizens. Such a government will run roughshod over our liberties, because it can. Preserving our liberties requires a weak federal government with limited powers, especially in the executive, and strong internal checks and balances. Such a government by its nature is poorly structured to try to run the world.
In 1951, the Republican leader in the U.S. Senate, Robert A. Taft of Ohio, wrote a book entitled A Foreign Policy for Americans. He declared that:
There are a good many Americans who talk about an American century in which America will dominate the world. They rightly point out that the U.S. is so powerful today that we should assume a moral leadership in the world. . . . The trouble with those who advocate this policy is that they really do not want to confine themselves to moral leadership. . . . In their hearts they want to force on these foreign peoples, through the use of American money, and even perhaps, American arms, the policies which moral leadership is able to advance only through the sound strength of its principles and the force of its persuasion. I do not think this moral leadership ideal justifies our engaging in any preventive war. . . . I do not believe any policy which has behind it the threat of military force is justified as part of the basic foreign policy of the U.S. except to defend the liberties of our people.
We are now engaged in two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the very people who so enthusiastically took us to Iraq are now urging a preventive strike against Iran. With the Cold War over, we desperately need a serious examination of what America's proper role in the world should be. Paul Weyrich and William Lind have given us much food for thought in their book. One need not agree with all of their analysis to know that our current posture is inconsistent with our long-term best interests.
President Barack Obama has described the war in Afghanistan as a "war of necessity" rather than a "war of choice." This may have been true of our initial effort, but the conflict, as it has evolved, may now be something else. As we consider whether or not to send additional troops, it is appropriate that we have a serious consideration of exactly what our purpose is in Afghanistan -- and whether or not it is achievable at a reasonable cost in a time frame that makes sense.
Our original mission in Afghanistan was to destroy those who had attacked us on September 11, 2001 and deny them a future base of operations. Our goal was to kill as many members of al Qaeda as possible, particularly Osama bin Laden, and force the Taliban, which harbored al Qaeda in Afghanistan, from power.
Slowly, as we achieved the removal of al Qaeda from Afghanistan and the Taliban from power, our mission grew. We decided to "nation build," to try to create a new and stable democracy. As part of our new "counter-insurgency" plan we decided that we had to improve roads, power plants, and bridges, and schools as well as make people feel safer in their villages by stationing U.S. troops near these villages. We also sought to get Afghan farmers to stop growing opium poppies and grow pomegranates instead. Thus far, we have not resolved the basic problem: opium, the basic ingredient of heroin, is far more profitable than pomegranates.
Now, more Americans have been killed in the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan than were killed on September 11. After eight years of fighting in Afghanistan, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, told Congress in September that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces, told him that "quite honestly, he found conditions on the ground tougher than he thought." If we do not send more troops, McChrystal says, we risk "an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."
The war already is nearly 50 percent longer than the combined U.S. involvements in two world wars. NATO assistance is reluctant, and is being slowly withdrawn. Military historian Max Hastings says that Kabul controls only about a third of the country and The Economist describes President Hamid Karzai's government as so "inept, corrupt and predatory" that people sometimes yearn for "restoration of the warlords, who were less venal and less brutal than Mr. Karzai's lot. His vice president is a drug trafficker."
On August 28, The New York Times carried a front-page headline: "Karzai Uses Rift with U.S. to Gain Favor." The article said that U.S. officials were growing disenchanted with the Afghan president, whose supporters allegedly stuffed ballot boxes in the recent elections, while Karzai struck deals with accused drug dealers and warlords, one of whom is his brother, for political gain. The article notes that Karzai "has surprised some in the Obama administration," by turning their anger with him "to an advantage, portraying himself at home as the only political candidate willing to stand up to the dictates of the United States."
Thus, after eight years, we still do not have a reliable Afghan partner. The strategy that Gen. McChrystal is pursuing calls for additional troops to create something that does not now exist in Afghanistan -- and has never existed -- a reasonably non-corrupt state that will serve its people, and keep Afghanistan free of drug lords, warlords, the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Military expert Andrew Cordesman, who has advised the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, says that it would require "a significant number" of U.S. reinforcements and time to do what the Kabul government has failed to do, because it remains:
. . . a grossly over-centralized government that is corrupt, is often a tool of power brokers and narco-traffickers, and lacks basic capacity in virtually every ministry.
The fact is that we are not just talking about adding more troops to Afghanistan, we are transforming our mission. We are going from a limited mission in order to prevent an al Qaeda return to a state-building project.
In the meantime, al Qaeda has regrouped along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in other locations, such as Somalia and Yemen.
According to Bruce Riedel, a retired CIA officer called upon by the Obama administration to lead a two-month strategic review of the war, shortly after the inauguration, President Obama went to the Pentagon where the Joint Chiefs of Staff gave a slide briefing. Instead of delineating a clear goal in Afghanistan, the briefing listed more than a dozen goals.
Mr. Riedel's review looked at an array of options, including an abandonment of counter-insurgency and a very narrow focus on al Qaeda. This "minimalist" view has been embraced by a divers group of thinkers, including Rory Stewart, the British diplomat and writer who runs a foundation in Kabul, conservative columnist George Will, and Lester Gelb, whose recent book Power Rules, argues for a reduced American commitment in Afghanistan and recommends, among other things, threatening air strikes in order to deter the Taliban from allowing al Qaeda back into the country.
In a much-discussed column, George Will wrote:
. . . the Obama administration should ask itself: "If U.S. forces are there to prevent re-establishment of al Qaeda bases -- evidently there are none now -- must there be nation-building invasions of Somalia, Yemen, and other sovereignty vacuums?". . . Forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes, and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan.
President Obama's target in pursuing the Afghan war was, or at least used to be, al Qaeda. But Osama bin Laden's terrorist group left Afghanistan after the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001.
Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, said:
My view is that the mission has to be very clear. I believe it is not now. I do not believe we can build a democratic state in Afghanistan. I believe it will remain a tribal entity.
As skepticism grows about our role in Afghanistan on the part of some Democrats, Republicans -- with the rare exception of individuals such as Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) -- seem to be lining up in support of additional troops. Gene Healy, vice president of the Cato Institute, notes that: "You'd certainly expect conservatives to be the leading skeptics of government's attempts at massive social transformation."
Liberals may have a temperamental affinity for nation-building, together with their neo-conservative allies. Historian and Vietnam veteran Walter McDougall calls Vietnam "the Great Society War" and believes that President Obama would do well to learn from the errors of that period, particularly the failed "pacification" program and the effort to "model" South Vietnamese society via the computer.
The original war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan was indeed "a war of necessity." What we can call our current effort, and the one projected for the future, is something far different.
On September 24, 16-year-old Derrion Albert was beaten to death in Chicago as he headed for a bus stop near Christian Fenger Academy High School where a melee broke out between feuding factions. In the beating, captured in a cellphone video, one teenager swung a plank, knocking Albert down. Others hit him as he struggled to get away. Four youths stand charged with murder.
We know of this case because of the video that captured the violence which is all too typical of Chicago, and other urban inner-city schools. More than 125 people 25 and younger have been killed in Chicago this year. Chicago Public School officials say that 298 students enrolled in the nation's third largest school system have been shot since September 2008.
Because of the attention the video produced, Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., joined by Education Secretary Arne Ducan, former head of the Chicago public schools, traveled to Chicago and met with public school students and elected officials.
Mr. Duncan defended is own actions in Chicago which, critics argue, led to his closing dozens of Chicago public schools and reassigning thousands of students to campuses outside of their neighborhoods -- and often across gang lines. This has led to a spike in violence that has turned increasingly deadly, according to many activists, parents, and students.
Before the 2006 school year, an average of 10 to 15 public school students were fatally shot each year. That soared to 24 deadly shootings in the 2006-07 school year, and 34 deaths and 290 shootings last school year.
At the Chicago meeting, Attorney General Holder declared that:
Youth violence is not a Chicago problem any more than it is a black problem, a white problem or a Hispanic problem. It is something that affects communities big and small and people of all races and colors. It is an American problem.
In fact, the situation is more complex. Almost all of the teenage victims in Chicago -- and almost all of the perpetrators -- were African-Americans. The same is true in other urban inner-city school districts. We ignore reality at a high price, for if we do not recognize the real problems we face, we are unlikely to resolve them.
The Washington Post, in its report about the Chicago violence, quotes Miesha Houston, 28, who grew up near the latest murder scene. She declared:
It's going to take a lot more than policies and police. It's poverty, drugs, rap music, the media. There are a lot of single-parent homes and parents on drugs, so kids don't want to be home. And when they go outside, there's trouble.
The dilemma of an enduring underclass in our urban areas has rarely been confronted. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2004, 69.2 percent of black children were born to unwed mothers. That contrasts with 24.5 percent for white children and approximately 45 percent for Hispanic children.
Within the larger black community, progress has been dramatic. Today, half of all black families are middle-class, earning at least twice as much as the poverty line. Only one percent of black families made that claim in 1940. Rates of college graduation have skyrocketed. In 1940, the out-of-wedlock birth rate for blacks was 19 percent. In fact, at the start of the 20th century black people had higher marriage rates than whites.
Yet, while progress has been dramatic for the black middle class, for an underclass that largely lives in our inner cities, out-of-wedlock birth has become a way of life, as have involvement with drugs and lack of respect for education.
Only 50 percent of black students who enter the ninth grade later graduate with a high school diploma. A 2004 study by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University and the Urban Institute found that the black high school graduation rate was even lower than the 53 percent rate of Hispanic students, who are recent immigrants, and who face a language barrier. Within the 50 percent graduate rate for black students is an even lower graduation rate for black males. Only 43 percent of black males graduate from high school with a diploma.
In his book Enough, the respected black author and journalist Juan Williams notes:
Official graduation rates for blacks have not significantly changed since 1982. Something terrible has happened, and school officials have been hiding this festering rot behind flimsy claims that 84 percent of black students get some version of a high school certificate. The fact is that many of these high school degrees are worthless in a competitive global economy. According to federal data, the average black American twelfth grader scores worse on basic skills than 80 percent of white twelfth graders. This is a serious gap. It is a mortal threat to the race.
The gap between black and white students already exists when the children are entering kindergarten. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, half of black children starting kindergarten scored in the bottom quarter on general knowledge.
Juan Williams laments that:
Very few leading black voices in the pulpit or on the political stage are focused on having black people take personal responsibility for the exorbitant amount of crime committed by black people against other black people. Today's black leaders sing like a choir when they raise their voices against police brutality and the increasing number of black people in jail. . . . But any mention of black America's responsibility for committing the crimes, big and small, that lead so many to prison is barely mumbled or mentioned at all.
Charles H. Ramsey, former police chief in Washington, D.C., who is black, declared:
Behavior has to change. Responsibility for your own behavior has to change. We have people who just let T.V. and video games and music raise their kids and instill values . . . and then we wonder why we have a problem.
It is unfortunate that the accidental video of inner-city teenage violence is needed to focus attention on a continuing problem. It is ironic that when Attorney General Holder and Education Secretary Duncan travel to Chicago to address the situation, they tend to generalize the problem rather than focusing attention on the inner-city underclass, and the increasingly intractable problem that is largely ignored. Misdiagnosing a problem is the best way to see it perpetuated. That, it seems, is where we are at the present time. *
"In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." --Thomas Jefferson
Early in August, former Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-LA) was convicted of corruption charges in a case made famous by the $90,000 in bribe money stuffed into his freezer. Federal jurors found Jefferson guilty of using his congressional office as a criminal enterprise to enrich himself, soliciting and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to support his business ventures in Africa.
In making his closing argument before the jury, defense attorney Robert Trout attempted to put all of Washington on trial. "We all occupy the gray area -- it's just a part of our human nature," he explained. "We're going to make mistakes. . . . We may do reckless things."
To illustrate his analogy, Trout displayed a graphic for the jurors. On one side of a yellow line, in red letters, was the word "CRIME." On the other side of the yellow line were the words "recklessness," "negligence," and "mistakes" -- and a headless man in jacket and tie raising his hands in a shrug.
"The point here is what members of Congress are expected to do in their jobs," said Trout. "If seeking political help was a crime, you could lock up half of metropolitan Washington, D.C."
Trout compared Jefferson's work to promote companies in which his family members had stakes to constituent casework, "something to be expected of our members of Congress." Trying to persuade foreign governments to do business with these companies, he said, was part "of a congressman's customary use of his office. It is clearly a matter of settled practice of congressmen to pitch products of American companies."
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, who attended the trial, noted that:
It was a bit of a stretch to suggest that Jefferson -- caught on tape demanding financial payouts and caught on film taking $100,000 from an FBI informant -- was just doing what other lawmakers do.
While the Jefferson case is admittedly an extreme example of congressional corruption, his attorney's defense that, in effect, "everyone does it" is not as far-fetched as it may appear. Other members of Congress may not have $90,000 in their freezers, but too many are guilty of questionable activities -- making the very term "congressional ethics" something of an oxymoron.
Just as Jefferson's trial began, we learned of Senator John Ensign's (R-NV) affair with an aide and the subsequent payments to her family by his parents. The Senate Ethics Committee has been taking testimony on sweetheart mortgage deals given to Senators Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Kent Conrad (D-ND).
And consider the case of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He is now the subject of several ethics investigations over matters ranging from his occupying four apartments at below market rents in a Harlem building owned by a prominent real estate developer, and his admission that he had neglected to pay some taxes by failing to report $75,000 in rental income earned from a beachfront villa in the Dominican Republic. In June, the House ethics committee launched a probe into trips taken by Rangel and other lawmakers to the Caribbean.
Discussing Rangel's support for raising taxes while hesitating to pay his own, The Wall Street Journal editorially declared:
Ever notice that those who endorse high taxes and those who actually pay them aren't the same people? Consider the curious case of Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel who is leading the charge for a new 5.4 percentage point income tax surcharge and recently called it "the moral thing to do." About his own tax liability he seems less, well, fervent. . . . Mr. Rangel promised last fall to amend his tax returns, to pay what is due, and correct the information on his annual financial disclosure form. But the deadline for the 2008 filing was May 15, and as of last week (July 27) he still had not filed. His press spokesman declined to answer questions about anything related to his ethics problems.
It is difficult to catalogue all of the charges against Rangel. The National Legal and Policy Center, for example, says it has confirmed that Rangel owned a home in Washington from 1971-2000 and during that time claimed a "homestead" exemption that allowed him to save on his D.C. property taxes. However, the homestead exemption only applied to a principal residence, and the Washington home could not have qualified as such since Rangel's rent-stabilized apartments in New York gave the same requirement.
During the trial of William Jefferson, defense attorney Trout held the Louisiana congressman up as a better man than many of his former colleagues on Capitol Hill. Jefferson "never offered or promised any earmark," he said, reminding jurors of former Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and his "Bridge to Nowhere." Neither, he said, did Jefferson propose any legislation to aid his business interests. "That's how Jack Abramoff got himself into trouble -- they're not doing that," he said.
Whether the Congress is able to monitor its own ethical behavior is a question that is being asked more and more. Members of the House ethics committee who are investigating a pattern of lawmakers steering federal funds to generous defense contractors, for example, have just had their own pet military projects approved by the same committee whose activities they are probing.
The 10 committee members sponsored 29 earmarks -- $59 million in federal funding for projects they requested in their districts or states -- under a military spending bill that passed the House late in July. The bill was approved by the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, whose practice of steering earmarks to clients of a well-connected lobbying firm close to the chairman, Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), is the subject of the ethics committee's investigation.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), chairman of the ethics committee, would receive three earmarks under Murtha's bill. In June, Lofgren's committee announced it was investigating ties between members of Congress and PMA Group, a lobbying firm run by one of Murtha's close friends. Murtha and fellow committee members Peter Visclosky (D-IN) and James Moran (D-VA) have longtime ties to PMA and have orchestrated hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks to PMA clients in recent years. The PMA group closed after an FBI raid last year and Visclosky's congressional records were subpoenaed in May by a grand jury investigating defense contracts.
Rep. Jefferson's $90,000 in the freezer may be a bit extreme -- and clearly illegal -- but "earmarks" in return for campaign contributions is simply a different form of bribery, although made legal by the very Congress which participates in the practice.
Congress appears unable to properly enforce any kind of realistic ethical standards. As long as members of Congress have power to influence virtually every aspect of our society, many special interests will continue to have a stake in purchasing favorable decisions. The money in Rep. Jefferson's freezer, in reality, is only the tip of the iceberg.
Free enterprise in under serious attack at the present time. Government bailouts of the auto industry, banks, Wall Street and other sectors of our economy -- as well as the push to involve the federal government further in our healthcare system -- provide ample evidence of this reality.
Many Americans, particularly Republicans who proclaim their belief in capitalism, think that big business -- and Wall Street -- are the primary engines of free enterprise and its natural defenders. This, however, is far from the reality we face.
In April, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce presented its annual "Spirit of Enterprise" awards to those members of Congress who voted with the Chamber 70 percent of the time on its most important legislative initiatives of 2008. The Republican who scored lowest of all -- that is, the Republican lawmaker supposedly least aligned with the nation's business community -- was Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), well-known for his strict adherence to a free enterprise, libertarian philosophy. Other Republicans who did not receive the award were Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Jim DeMint (R-SC).
What caused these Republican legislators to incur the displeasure of the Chamber of Commerce? They opposed the various federal bailout programs -- and the stimulus package.
Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) notes that:
In an era of corporate welfare -- which is lately taking on the characteristics of 1930s-style corporatism itself -- the interests of big business are veering away from the interests of economic freedom and toward the interests of big government. . . . For the past eight years, the Republican experiment in big government hollowed out our core identity. . . . Small-government conservatives were attacked by leading Republicans for choosing principle over poll-tested politics. It was in these battles that the . . . marriage between the Republican Party and corporate America was finally consummated.
In DeMint's view:
Even the most socialistic of big-government Democrats can credibly ask why Republicans are suddenly so worried about the dangers of big government. The road back to Republican success is not to reinforce our weakened coalition of corporate interests, but to drop it altogether. Republicans shouldn't be the party of business any more than they should be the party of labor -- we're supposed to be the party of freedom. We should get out of the business of picking winners and losers in the marketplace. We should not care who wins in fair fights between Microsoft and Apple, between CitiGroup and community banks. . . . All we should demand is a fair fight. If Goliath beats David, so be it -- just as long as he does it without corporate welfare. . . . In a system of corporate welfare, those who suffer most are Americans who pay higher taxes funneled to well-connected companies.
Big Business is now lining up in support of the Obama administration's various bailout and stimulus programs. General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt states that:
The interaction between government and business will change forever. In a reset economy, the government will be a regulator; and also an industry policy champion, a financier, and a key partner.
Discussing the administration's proposed health plan, Billy Tauzin, CEO of the Pharmaceutical research and Manufacturers of America, states: "This is a great start. There are things we don't like about it. But there's time to discuss all that." The Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill reports:
Big business is lining up to support . . . Obama's plan to stimulate the economy with the biggest spending spree on roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects since the Eisenhower administration.
Adam Smith once said that when two businessmen get together the subject of discussion is how to keep the third businessman out of the market. Business has long sought government interference in the free market to protect its own interests. Historian Gabriel Kolko discusses how the railroad magnates of the 1870s and 1880s petitioned the government to protect them from the headaches of "cutthroat competition" and relentless rate wars. It was the railroad lobby that promoted the establishment of the Interstate Commerce Commission, which they quickly came to control. In 1907, AT&T faced serious competition from other phone companies. To solve this dilemma, AT&T President Theodore Vail lobbied state governments -- and the federal government -- to let AT&T become a nationwide monopoly.
Big Business, it seems, has always resisted competition and sought to use the power of government to prevent it. In 1909 Andrew Carnegie, irritated with competitors, urged "government control" of the steel industry. In 1911, the chairman of U.S. Steel, Judge Elbert Gary, told Congress: "I believe we must come to enforced publicity (socialization) and government control . . . even as to price." Adam Smith said that:
People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.
Then, it was railroads, the steel companies, and AT&T. Now it is Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, AIG, and General Motors. Timothy Carney, in his book The Big Ripoff, recently discussed the ways in which the Obama administration's cap-and-trade plan will enrich General Electric. "Reviewing their lobbying filings, you might think you were looking at Al Gore's agenda," writes Carney. GE spent nearly $20 billion on lobbying on such action items as the "Climate Stewardship Act," "Electric Utility Cap and Trade Act," and the "Global Warming Reduction Act." The reason: GE has set up a business to sell carbon credits.
In his book Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman points out that:
The kind of economic organization that provides economic freedom directly, namely, competitive capitalism, also promotes political freedom because it separates economic power from political power and in this way enables the one to offset the other.
Now, however, there are many in business and finance who do not want to separate economic and political power but join them together. And both Republicans and Democrats have been eager to assist them in this enterprise. This is nothing new, as even a brief reading of history illustrates very well. It has been naive to believe that business was an advocate of a genuinely free market. Milton Friedman would not be happy with today's developments -- but neither would he be surprised.
There was widespread hope that the election of an African-American president, that indicated that the vast majority of Americans were prepared to judge a candidate on his merits rather than on race, would usher in what many referred to as a "post-racial" society.
In recent days, however, we have seen the issue of race injected into a debate in which it is largely irrelevant, namely the debate over President Obama's plan to overhaul the nation's healthcare system.
Former President Jimmy Carter declared racism to be the subtext of many of the attacks against the president's healthcare plan, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus point to race as a driving force behind the current level of animosity.
Mr. Carter declared that, "An overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man."
The fact that some Americans may still harbor racist sentiments is certainly true. And, in some rare instances, racist signs and slogans have appeared at rallies opposing the Obama healthcare plan. There is no evidence, however, that the healthcare debate is, in any way, motivated by race. There are real disagreements about how best to alter the healthcare delivery system. Liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, should be able to disagree -- even with the use of sometimes heated-rhetoric -- without being accused of racism.
Indeed, President Obama himself says that he does not believe his race was the cause of fierce criticism aimed at his administration in the contentious national debate over healthcare, but rather the cause was a sense of suspicion and distrust many Americans have in their government. "Are there people out there who don't like me because of race? I'm sure there are," Mr. Obama said.
That's not the overriding issue here. . . . Now there are some who are, setting aside the issue of race, actually I think are more passionate about the idea of whether government can do anything right. And I think that that's probably the biggest driver of some of the vitriol.
For some black politicians, playing the race card has become second nature. Consider New York Governor David A. Patterson. Late in August, he lashed out at critics who say he should not run for re-election and suggested that he was being undermined by an orchestrated, racially-biased effort by the media to force him to step aside.
With Governor Patterson's approval ratings remaining low, some Democrats, including President Obama, have suggested publicly that he should make way for the popular attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, in the governor's race. Even among black voters, his support is declining. A Sienna College poll showed that black voters, by a 46 to 38 percent margin, would prefer someone other than Mr. Patterson as governor.
David Dinkins, New York City's first black mayor, offered some blunt advice to Governor Patterson: Don't accuse your critics of racism. "Definitely, he should get off the racist thing," Mr. Dinkins said.
While political charges of white racism appear to be aimed at phantoms, a real example of black racism in American politics has been largely ignored.
In Memphis, former Mayor Willie Herenton, who is black, is challenging Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), who is white, in the Democratic primary. The candidates are battling to represent the Ninth Congressional District, a low-income area that is more than 60 percent black. The district was redrawn and renumbered in 1973, increasing the percentage of minority voters, and for three decades it elected the state's only black members of Congress since Reconstruction.
In 2006, however, Mr. Cohen, who had long represented the district in the Tennessee State Senate, defeated a divided field of black candidates. He easily won re-election last year against a black corporate lawyer.
Mr. Cohen is a liberal Democrat who considered joining the congressional Black Caucus, wrote a national apology for slavery and the Jim Crow laws, and received an "A" rating from the NAACP. "I vote like a 45-year-old black woman," he said in an interview.
Mr. Herenton and Rep. Cohen do not disagree upon any major political issues. Indeed, Mr. Herenton's only complain against Rep. Cohen is a racial one: he is white. "This seat was set aside for people who look like me," said Mr. Herenton's campaign manager, Sidney Chism, a black country commissioner. "It was set aside so that blacks could have representation."
In the last election, his opponent ran a much-vilified advertisement that tried to link Rep. Cohen, who is Jewish, to the Ku Klux Klan. It juxtaposed Cohen with an image of a hooded Klansman.
In a radio interview, Herenton declared: "The congressional race, you know what it's going to be about? It's going to be about race, representation and power."
By Mr. Herenton's standard -- that black constituents can only be represented by a black congressman -- how would he justify president Obama, or Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, or New York Governor David Patterson -- black leaders who have largely white constituencies?
Racism should be objectionable to all Americans of good will no matter who expresses such sentiments. But for many years a view has been expressed that only whites can be guilty of racism. Twenty years ago, Rep. Gus Savage (D-IL) declared that:
Racism constitutes actions or thoughts of expression by white Americans against Afro-Americans. . . . Racism is an attempt by powerful people to oppress less powerful people. . . . Blacks don't have the power to oppress white people. Racism is white. There is no black racism.
Racism is hardly a unique phenomenon among whites. Sadly, men and women throughout the world have persecuted others on the basis of race, religion, and ethnic origin. The partition of British India into India and Pakistan in 1947 was accomplished by a slaughter of more than one million Hindus and Moslems. In Malaysia, the political and economic power of ethnic Chinese has been curbed by law and practice. In Thailand, second generation and even third generation ethnic Vietnamese are denied citizenship rights. Idi Amin of Uganda expelled his country's entire Indian minority. We are all too aware of acts of genocide based on race or religion in Nazi Germany, Cambodia, and Rwanda.
Those who condemn white racism must also condemn black racism -- and racism of every variety. The use of the term "white racism" as an epithet for those who simply disagree with President Obama's agenda cheapens that term. It is like the boy's false cry of "Wolf," which, when a real wolf appears, will be discounted. Americans of all races deserve better than this. *
"It is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth -- and listen to the song of that syren, till she transforms us into beasts." --Patrick Henry
There are many problems with the health care program now being considered by the Congress. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) judges that the legislation in the House would cut the uninsured to 17 million in 2019, from 46 million in 2007. But the cost would be $1 trillion over the decade. Of that, $239 billion would be added to the budget deficit. In 2019, the last year of the projection, the cumulative shortfall would be $65 billion.
Economist Paul Samuelson, author of The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath, notes that:
Assuming that the deficit rises 4 percent a year, the cumulative shortfall in the second decade would total about $800 billion. The president . . . offers the illusion of reform while perpetuating the status quo of four decades.
Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, posed the following question to Douglas Elmendorf, head of the CBO:
From what you have seen from the product of the committees that have reported, do you see a successful effort being mounted to bend the long-term cost curve?
Mr. Elmendorf replied:
No, Mr. Chairman. In the legislation that has been reported we do not see the sort of fundamental changes that would be necessary to reduce the trajectory of health spending by a significant amount. And on the contrary, the legislation significantly expands the federal responsibility for health-care costs. . . . The cost curve is being raised.
The plans now being considered would do the opposite of what President Obama has suggested. They would increase spending, not restrain it. The notion of rushing through a program of this magnitude without careful debate and analysis, which was the president's initial hope, has now been widely rejected.
Aside from the question of cost, however, is the even more important moral question of whether the government program being proposed would involve the rationing of health care, and how elderly and disabled Americans might fare under such a regime.
The heated town-hall meetings which have recently been seen -- with vigorous opponents often appearing interested in disrupting the meetings rather than raising important questions -- have produced an equally disquieting reaction for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) who, in an article in USA Today, referred to protests against the health care plan as "un-American." And some charges, such as former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's charge that the proposed legislation involves the creation of "death panels" to determine who will live and who will die, tend to overstate their case.
Still, there are legitimate questions to be asked about the rationing of health care and about the fear of euthanasia as an approach to be considered as a means of cutting costs.
This fear is not irrational. Writing in The New York Times Magazine, Professor Peter Singer of Princeton University entitles his article, "Why We Must Ration Health Care." He points out that President Obama has urged his supporters to avoid using the term "rationing" for fear of evoking a hostile response. Professor Singer has no such reticence.
Governments implicitly place a dollar value on a human life when they decide how much is to be spent on health care programs and how much on other public goods. . . . The task of health care bureaucrats is . . . to get the best value for the resources they have been allocated. . . . As a first take, we might say that the good achieved by health care is the number of lives saved. But that is too crude. The death of a teenager is a greater tragedy than the death of an 85-year-old, and this should be reflected in our priorities. We can accommodate that difference by calculating the number of life-years saved, rather than simply the number of lives saved. If a teenager can be expected to live another 70 years, saving her life counts as a gain of 70 life-years, whereas if a person of 85 can be expected to live another 5 years, then saving the 85-year-old will count as a gain of only 5 life-years. That suggests that saving one teenager is the equivalent of saving 14 85-year-olds.
Referring to the notion of a quality-adjusted-life-year (QALY), Singer describes:
. . . a year with quadriplegia is valued at only half as much as a year without it, then a treatment that extends the lives of people without disabilities will be seen as providing twice the value of one that extends, for a similar period, the lives of quadriplegics.
Cited with apparent disdain for his naivete, is Rabbi Daniel Zemel of Washington, D.C. who was asked by a Washington Post reporter what he thought about federal agencies putting a dollar value on human life. The rabbi cited a Jewish teaching explaining that if you put one human life on one side of a scale, and you put the rest of the world on the other side, the scale is balanced equally. This, perhaps, is precisely what those who resist health care rationing think.
In a April 28 New York Times interview, the president spoke of having government guide a "very difficult democratic conversation" about "those toward the end of their lives who are accounting for potentially 80 percent of the total of the health care bill out here."
Presidential health care adviser Ezekiel Emanuel, brother of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and chairman of the Department of Bioethics at the Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health, has argued that independent government boards should decide policy on end-of-life care. He also defended rationing care more strictly for older people because "allocation (of medical care) by age is not invidious discrimination."
In this light, House Republicans have warned against draft section 1233 of the House Democratic health care bill as an area of deep concern. It provides for seniors, every five years, to be provided "advance care planning consultation" [". . . if desired. . ."] for "end-of-life services." House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) warn that the provision "may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia."
Ezekiel Emanuel goes so far as to say that it will be necessary to change the way doctors think about their patients. Doctors, he said, take the Hippocratic Oath ("first do no harm") too seriously, "as an imperative to do everything for the patient regardless of the cost of effects on others." (Journal of the American Medical Association, June 18, 2008). Emanuel says medical care should be reserved for the non-disabled, not given to those "who are . . . prevented from being or becoming participating citizens" (Hastings Center Report, Nov. -- Dec. 1996).
Deciding who is denied care at the end of life -- or at other times -- should not be dependent on government cost controls. Clearly, it is not irrational to be concerned about the plight of the elderly and disabled under a rationed health-care system many seem to be promoting. The more we know about these plans, the less likely Americans will be to embrace them.
The much-discussed incident in which Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested for disorderly conduct after a 911 call to the police reported an apparent break-in at his Cambridge, Massachusetts, home has led many observers to tell us that the idea of a "post-racial" society is a myth and that racism is, indeed, alive and well.
The facts of the case aside -- the charges have been dropped and both Gates and the arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley, have been to the White House to visit with President Obama, who, while admitting he did not know the facts of the case, nevertheless charged that the police had acted "stupidly" -- the reaction is instructive.
Most observers, reviewing the facts calmly, find that while both Gates and Crowley may have over-reacted, no racism was involved. When he entered the house, Crowley, who has taught a class in racial profiling for five years at the Lowell Police Academy (whose director called him a good role model) and who was hand-picked by a black police commissioner, made no reference to race whatever. From what we know, it was Gates who introduced the subject.
Many prominent black Americans have used this case to tell us that the election of President Obama aside, racism is alive and well in our society. Using a highly ambiguous case in which race seems to have played no part, they have made light of the tremendous progress we have made in race relations.
Thus, Lawrence Bobo, a professor of the social sciences at Harvard, declared:
Ain't nothing post-racial about the United States of America. . . . If Skip (Gates) can be arrested on his front porch, there but for the grace of God goes every other black man in America. . . . It should be enough to end all this post-racial hogwash.
Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick, who is black, described Gates' experience as "Every black man's nightmare." Christopher Edley, Jr., the dean of the University of California at Berkeley Law School, who is also black, said the Gates incident should dispel the "rosy hopefulness" of Mr. Obama's election "in case anybody needed more evidence that we're not beyond race."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson declared that the Gates incident:
. . . is a stark example that racial profiling knows no boundaries of class, status, neighborhood, or reputation. . . . There can be no "post-racial" America when such glaring racial disparities and incidents of race profiling continue to permeate all facets of society.
Even after the White House meeting between Gates and Crowley, a number of black commentators continued to urge that Gates sue the Cambridge police department. Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy wrote:
Now that our "national debate" on race has ended with beer in the Rose Garden, let's get serious. If Harvard professor Henry Louis "Skip" Gates believes that he has been subject to false arrest, racial profiling, harassment and public humiliation . . . then he should press his grievance in a court of law. Or he should apologize for taking too lightly a police practice that sends thousands of African Americans and Hispanics to jail each year on trumped-up charges of "disorderly conduct." . . . Gates must press his case. We need to hear the wheels of justice grinding away at the hearsay, rumors, and myths that have characterized so much of the recent discussion about racism in America.
There has, it seems, been a refusal to understand what really occurred in Cambridge because it serves the political agenda of those promoting lawsuits and the notion of widespread racial profiling. Thomas E. Fiedler, dean of the Boston University College of Communication, declared that:
Initial reports of an event can be seriously inaccurate. Almost everything we thought we knew -- a racist neighbor, a biased cop, a kindly professor victimized for his color, a president known for his calculating responses -- turns out to be wrong.
It appears that many of those who refuse to recognize the dramatic progress we have made in race relations will use the most flimsy excuse -- such as the Gates case -- to declare that America is a "racist" society.
In reality, the facts of racial progress speak for themselves. Not only do we now have a black president, Attorney General, and Ambassador to the United Nations -- to name only a few prominent office-holders -- but this is nothing new. In the Bush administration, we had two black secretaries of state. This is not to say that residual racism does not exist, and that there is not progress yet to be made. It is to say that it is unseemly to promote the idea that ours is a hate-filled society. Some people, it seems, cannot take "Yes" for an answer.
Comedian and actor Bill Cosby said he is worried about the direction the conversation is headed and urged people "who don't know" the facts in a particular case to take a step back and refrain for commenting, and extrapolating an isolated and ambiguous incident into an example of continuing racism.
Fortunately, many black Americans refuse to engage in this racial game which Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and others have been playing for may years. One of the outstanding black spokesmen for a color-blind society, in which an individual would be judged on the basis of his or her merits, and not on the basis of race, is J. A. (Jay) Parker.
Parker has had a distinguished career. He has been a radio talk show host, a leader in Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), an active opponent of the spread of Marxism in Africa as a leader in the American African Affairs Association, and the founder and president of the Lincoln Institute for Research and Education, which has for many years urged the creation of a genuinely color-blind society and argued that the free enterprise system was the best path for racial progress.
In 1980 Parker was named to head President Ronald Reagan's transition team at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (this writer was a member of that team, and has been a close associate of Jay Parker for many years). Its final report declared that:
The goal of all Americans of good will should be the creation of a society that is both color-blind and committed to economic growth and advancement. A system of racial quotas and classifications in a declining economy is the prescription for intergroup tensions and social dislocation. It violates our basic principles of individual freedom and our hope for continuing progress.
During the Reagan years Parker worked with the U.S. Information Agency to help project a more accurate view of America, and with Attorney General Edwin Meese III on a special committee to work on the problem of missing and exploited children. He also worked with the Defense Department as a member of the Army Science Board.
One of Jay's most important contributions has been his dedication to such respected charities as the Salvation Army, the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, and Goodwill Industries, each of which he has served in a leadership role. He believes in putting his belief in individualism into action because "problems in America can only truly be fixed by individuals convincing individuals, one at a time, how to behave properly."
A new book, Courage to Put Country Above Color, about the life of Jay Parker has been written by David W. Tyson and is available free to readers. (Those who would like to receive a copy should write to the The Lincoln Review Letter, P.O. Box 254, 10315 Georgetown Pike, Great Falls, VA 22066-2415).
In the foreword, former Attorney General Meese writes that:
Jay Parker was an influential leader who joined with President Ronald Reagan and me to help ensure the enactment of the Reagan Revolution. . . . As a result of Jay's efforts, America began to step away from the Carter administration's reliance on racial quotas and move toward President Reagan's vision of a truly color-blind society.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is quoted as saying: "Jay is the most principled person I have met in Washington. . . . I know that I wouldn't be on the court if I had not met Jay Parker.
When this writer spoke at a dinner honoring Jay on his 70th birthday, I quoted a line of Whoopie Goldberg's. When Goldberg expressed her interest in a Hollywood career, one of her friends tried to discourage her, telling her that, "You know you're black." Goldberg responded: "I won't mention it." This was a clear expression of Jay's Philosophy.
When we discuss the state of race relations in America, it is important to remember that the voices of those who promote the idea that racism is alive and well and widespread -- as in the reaction to Henry Louis Gates case in Massachusetts -- are not the only black voices to be heard. Others, such as Jay Parker, have devoted their lives to making our country a genuinely free, open, and inclusive society. In great measure, it is they who have succeeded.
The so-called "cash for clunkers" program was off to such a fast start that its $1 billion allotment was gone in just one week of operation. Congress quickly allocated another $2 billion before leaving for its August recess.
Democrats claimed that his program is a great success, while Republicans argued that because the program ran out of money so quickly, this proves that government cannot run a health-care system.
What the program really proved, argued The Wall Street Journal, "is that Americans aren't stupid and will let some other taxpayers buy them a free lunch if given the chance."
The program, argued the Journal, is good for people who own an older car or truck but were not sure they had the cash to trade it in for something new. Now, they get a taxpayer subsidy of up to $4,500, which on some models can be 25 percent of the purchase price. Therefore, "It's hardly surprising that Peter is willing to use a donation from his neighbor Paul, midwifed by Uncle Sugar, to class up his driveway."
In the end, however, it is bad economics and sets a dangerous precedent for the future. In The Journal's view:
The subsidy won't add to net national wealth, since it merely transfers money to one taxpayer's pocket from someone else's, and merely pays that taxpayer to destroy a perfectly serviceable asset in return for something he might have bought anyway. By this logic, everyone should burn the sofa and dining room set and refurnish the homestead every couple of years. . . . Since money is no object, let's give everyone a $4,500 voucher for other consumer goods. Let's have taxpayers subsidize the purchase of kitchen appliances, women's clothing . . . and new fishing boats.
The cash for clunkers program is more about rewarding two politically powerful industries -- automakers and auto dealers -- than about promoting energy efficiency or stimulating the economy.
As a way to improve mileage, the program makes little sense. Individuals qualify for a $3,500 credit with trade-ins that net just four additional miles per gallon. With ten additional miles per gallon, they receive $4,500. For light trucks and SUVs, the numbers are even smaller: two and five. All trade-ins must get 18 miles per gallon or worse and the program provides no incentive to buy any cars getting greater than 28 miles per gallon -- perhaps because this is a segment of the market in which the foreign automakers are strong.
Editorially, The New York Post notes that:
As economic stimulus, the program is bogus. . . . The money allocated is enough to generate about 250,000 trade-ins. While that may seem like a lot, about 200,000 would have happened anyway, industry experts say. If taxpayers are spending $1 billion for about 50,000 additional car purchases, that comes to about $20,000 per car. In theory, the first $1 billion clears out all the people who would have traded in anyway, so any additional money could be more stimulative to the economy. That may be so. But if the best that can be said for spending another billion or two is that it won't be wasted like the first billion, it makes for a pretty weak argument.
Perhaps most destructive is the provision that the clunkers subsidy is distributed only when the old cars are destroyed. Thus, a billion dollars or more will be spent to destroy automobiles that might well be sold to those of limited income in need of cars.
Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) declares that:
. . . cash for clunkers is a perfect example of why government should not get into the business of running businesses. It just doesn't work. Unintended consequences abound. . . . It seems a little suspicious to use taxpayer dollars to prop up the now government-owned car industry, which was purchased with 80 billion of your tax dollars. . . . Temporary programs become permanently entrenched interests, and the public good becomes servant to a favored constituency.
In Inhofe's view, this program:
. . . might be the most regressive program Congress has ever enacted. Millionaires can get a few thousand dollars knocked off the price of a new car as long as the price tag is less than $45,000. Meanwhile, there are thousands of Americans who, despite the government incentive, cannot afford a new car. These Americans must shop the market for used cars. Unfortunately for them in order to save face on producing any environmental benefits under the program, traded-in cars must be scrapped. This reduces supply in the used-car and used-parts markets, thereby increasing prices.
It is not only free market advocates and critics of the Obama administration which find the cash for clunkers program objectionable. The Washington Post, usually a supporter of Obama administration initiatives, noted that:
Stimulating the economy through more government spending and tax cuts is a much-disputed idea. But at least a tax cut or an increase in unemployment benefits puts money into the hands of consumers generally and lets them decide how to spend it, rather than having the government choose which sectors of the economy will benefit. "Cash for clunkers," by contrast, redistributes demand, as between cars and other goods, or between various models of cars. Car-repair shops, parts stores and used-car dealers suffer.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) predicted that:
Within a few weeks, we will see that this process was abused by speculators and people who took advantage of what is basically a huge government subsidy of corporations they already own.
Business has shown us once again that its interest is not in free enterprise and free markets -- but in profits, however obtained. Thus, the Cash-for-Clunkers program was not only enthusiastically supported by the automakers and the National Automobile Dealers Association but also by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- in the midst of its "Campaign for Free Enterprise" -- and the National Association Manufacturers.
The philosophy embodied in this program is the opposite of what we have always known as the free market. Where will it end? "I hope one of my colleagues will propose cash for golf clubs," suggested Senator John McCain. "I've had many calls from people who have old golf clubs, and they'd like to have some cash for them." Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) asked, "Why not dishwashers? Why not washing machines? Why not boats? Why not RVs?"
Sadly, when it comes to getting something for nothing with taxpayer dollars, everyone seems to line up. Both the Obama Administration and the business community, it appears, are co-conspirators in this effort. It sets a dangerous precedent for the future. *
"The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible." --George Burns
We would like to thank the following people for their generous contributions to this journal (from 7/15/09 to 9/10/09): Bud & Carol Belz, Ronald Benson, James B. Black, Robert P. Bringer, Robert Day, Joseph R. De Vitto, Robert M. Ducey, Richard A. Edstrom, Nicholas Falco, Joseph C. Firey, T. A. Francis, Reuben M. Freitas, Donald G. Galow, Lee E. Goewey, Nancy Goodman, Thomas E. Heatley, Burleigh Jacobs, O. Guy & Marylyn Johnson, Louise H. Jones, Mary A. Kelley, Gloria Knoblauch, Reuben A. Larson, Donald G. Lee, Alan Lee, Herbert London, Angus MacDonald, Francis P. Markoe, Curtis Dean Mason, Stanley C. McDonald, Matthew McLain, Roberta R. McQuade, Delbert H. Meyer, David P. & Barbara R. Mitchel, Walter M. Moede, John Nickolaus, Lester C. O'Quinn, Donald J. Povejsil, Mark & Beth Richter, Kathryn Hubbard Rominski, Richard P. Schonland, William A. Shipley, Joseph M. Simonet, Thomas E. Snee, Clifford W. Stone, Dennis Sullivan, Michael S. Swisher, Alan Rufus Waters, Eugene & Diane Watson, Eric B. Wilson, Piers Woodriff.
When Judge Sonia Sotomayor was nominated for a position on the U.S. Supreme Court, newspapers across the country -- including The Washington Post and The New York Times -- did not even put her name in the headline, proclaiming instead that, "Hispanic Woman Named to Supreme Court." She was viewed not as an individual with particular merits and demerits, but as a representative of an entire group of people. This of course, is the essence of what has come to be known as "identity politics."
Identity politics is hardly confined to the Sotomayor nomination. Consider the case of Senator Roland Burris (D-Ill). Writing in The Politico, Roger Simon provides this analysis:
You can see why Democrats are nervous. Roland Burris, a political hack, muscled his way into the U.S. Senate by nakedly playing the race card, and now everybody is jumpy about any comments that seem to indicate that one race should be favored over another. . . . Burris, whose main claim to fame was that in 16 years of holding office in Illinois he had not been indicted even once, was appointed to the U.S. Senate by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who a few weeks earlier had been led away in handcuffs for trying to sell that Senate seat.
Initially, the White House and the Democratic leadership of the Senate wanted to delay Burris' appointment until Blagojevich was impeached so that the new, untainted governor could fill the seat. But Burris' team quickly played the race card. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) dared the Senate to deny a black man the seat that had been held by Barack Obama:
There are no African-Americans in the Senate, and I don't think that anyone, any U.S. senator who is sitting right now, would want to go on record to deny one African-American from being seated in the U.S. Senate. . . . I don't think they want to go on record doing that.
When Burris stood outside the Senate in the rain after being rebuffed from taking his seat on January 6, Rush went on "Hardball with Chris Matthews" and said, "It reminded me of the dogs being sicced on children in Birmingham, Alabama. That's what it reminded me of." After that, opposition to the quick seating of Burris collapsed.
According to Roger Simon:
All has not gone well. . . . The transcript of a secretly recorded phone call between Burris and the brother of Blagojevich was released in federal court. In the phone call, Burris offers to write a check to the Rod Blagojevich campaign and says, "I'm very much interested in, in trying to replace Obama. OK?" The Senate Ethics Committee is looking into all of this, but some senators are now nervous and angry. They folded in the face of the race card when it came to Burris, but some are now aflame over what they see as Sonia Sotomayor's playing the same race card.
Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said, "We need to know whether she's going to be a justice for all of us or just a justice for a few of us." Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking Republican of the Judiciary Committee, said of Sotomayor, "I think that she is a person who believes that her background can influence her decision. That's what troubles me."
Many critics of Sotomayor's nomination cite a speech she gave at the University of California at Berkeley in 2001 in which she said:
I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.
The fact is, however, that this speech was hardly atypical for Judge Sotomayor. The Washington Post reported that:
President Obama has said that she regretted the wording in hindsight, but the speeches released . . . suggest that while she had not used the precise words before, the sentiments behind the remark were hardly isolated. In a 1999 speech to the Women's Bar Association of New York State, Sotomayor invoked "sister power," called for the selection of a third woman Supreme Court Justice -- which she would now be -- and used phrasing similar to that in the Berkeley speech. "I would hope that a wise woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion." She said.
In an address published in the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal," which titled the symposium "Raising the Bar: Latino and Latina Presence in the Judiciary and the Struggle for Representation," she pointedly rejected the ideal "that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices and aspire to achieve a greater degree of fairness and integrity, based on the reason of law," calling that a mere "aspiration" that is not achievable "in most cases."
Judge Sotomayor's apparent obsession with racial and ethnic identity politics has not been taken out of context -- it is the context. In her 2001 Berkeley address she talks about her "Latina soul." And her "Latina voice," and her "Latina identity" over and over. She ends with the statement that she is "a Latina voice on the bench." What, one wonders, is a Latina voice, or an Irish voice, or an Italian voice?
Justice, she seems to forget, wears a blindfold. She seems to want to transform it into some kind of tribal symbol.
In some ways, Judge Sotomayor's stress on racial and ethnic identity flies in the face of President Obama's goal of transcending such notions. New York Times columnist David Brooks points out that:
It's interesting to compare Sotomayor's thinking with Barack Obama's. On the grand matters of race in America, they are quite different. Sotomayor has given a series of speeches arguing that it is not possible or even desirable to transcend our racial or gender sympathies and prejudices. During the presidential campaign, Obama gave a speech in Philadelphia arguing for precisely that, calling on America to move beyond the old categories and arguments. Sotomayor sometimes draws a straight line between ethnicity, gender, and behavior. Obama emphasizes our multiple identities and the complex blend of influences on an individual life.
Many men and women of good will thought that we had now moved beyond identity politics, particularly with the election of our first African-American president. This, however, does not yet quite seem to be the case. The history of Supreme Court appointments is instructive. In 1836, Andrew Jackson made Roger B. Taney the first occupant of what became known as the Catholic seat on the court, and that tradition carried forward intermittently for more than a century, with Edward White, Joseph McKenna, Pierce Butler, Frank Murphy and William J. Brennan, Jr. occupying the chair. In 1916, Woodrow Wilson nominated Louis D. Brandeis, establishing the Jewish seat, which later went, with brief overlapping periods, to Benjamin N. Cardozo, Felix Frankfurter and Abe Fortas. In our own era, we have seen women and African-Americans appointed to the court.
Jeffrey Toobin, a close observer of the Supreme Court, points out that:
By the time Bill Clinton named Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer to the Court, the fact that both are Jewish (and replaced non-Jewish predecessors) was little more than a curiosity. If Sotomayor is confirmed, there will be six Catholics on the Court, which is also of minor significance. George W. Bush appointed John G. Roberts, Jr. and Samuel A. Alito, Jr., because they are conservative, not because they are Catholic. (The Catholic Brennan was the Court's greatest liberal.)
Sonia Sotomayor's nomination seems to be a throwback to the identity politics that most Americans thought we had moved beyond. Let us hope that this is the last gasp of such a notion and that in the future men and women will be judged on their individual abilities -- not on the basis of race, gender, religion, or ethnicity.
Late in June, the U.S. Supreme Court moved our country in the direction of a genuinely color-blind society -- a goal long sought by men and women of good will.
The court ruled for white firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut, who said that city officials violated their rights when it threw out the results of a promotions test on which few minorities did well.
"No individual should face workplace discrimination based on race," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the five-member majority. Kennedy said that the New Haven test properly evaluated what candidates would need to know to perform their jobs, and that it was equally applied to candidates of all races and ethnic backgrounds.
Kennedy declared that:
The process was open and fair. The problem, of course, is that after the tests were completed, the raw racial results became the predominant rationale for the city's refusal to certify the results.
The court's decision overturned one of the most closely scrutinized cases of Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor. The case has been used by Sotomayor's critics as evidence that she allowed her personal preferences to influence her rulings.
The case has been brought by white firefighters in New Haven who were denied promotions after an examination yielded no black firefighters eligible for advancement. The city decided to throw out the test, calling its action "racially neutral."
In Ricci v. DeStefano, 19 white firefighters and one Hispanic say they should have been promoted based on their successful scores. The city argued that certifying the tests would have left it vulnerable to lawsuits for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act if the white firemen were promoted.
Judge Sotomayor voted to uphold the rejection of the white firemen.
"Racial classifications are inherently pernicious and, if not checked, lead as they did in New Haven to regrettable and socially destructive racial politics," said Gregory S. Coleman, who represents the group of 20 firefighters. "Neither equal protection nor Title VII justified New Haven's race-based scuttling of the promotions petitioners earned through the civil service process mandated by Connecticut law."
Frank Ricci was one of more than 130 firefighters who took written and oral tests in 2003 to fill a few promotion slots. An oral component accounted for 40 percent of the score, while the written component, designed at a tenth-grade reading level, accounted for 60 percent of the test.
Ricci's personal story cannot be separated from the case. He prepared for the 2003 exams by quitting his second job; buying more than $1,000 worth of books the city recommended; paying to have them read onto audiotapes because he is dyslexic; taking practice tests; and submitting to practice interviews. His hard work earned him the sixth highest grade on the examination. It is his claim that denying him promotion violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the law.
While New Haven claims that the 1964 act compelled it to disregard the results of the examination, the fact is that the act makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against an individual regarding the "terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of such individual's race."
In the 1964 debate over passage of the Civil Rights Act, two of the act's supporters, Senators Joseph Clark (D-PA) and Clifford Case (R-NJ), insisted that it would not require "that employers abandon bona fide qualifications tests where, because of differences in background and educations, members of some groups are able to perform better on these tests than members of other groups."
In supporting the legislation, Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) declared that the act "does not require an employer to achieve any kind of racial balance in his work force by giving any kind of preferential treatment to any individual or group." He said that there must be an "intention to discriminate" before an employer can be considered to be in violation of the law.
Over the years, with the introduction of a variety of race-based affirmative action programs, the color-blind standard clearly enunciated in the Civil Rights Act has been seriously eroded. Any test that distinguishes between individuals and results in a statistical disproportion between whites and blacks has been considered suspect by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). An employer using such a test has to go to extraordinary lengths to defend its use.
Professor Nathan Glazer of Harvard points out:
Any test that distinguishes between individuals (which is, after all, their purpose) will also, willy-nilly, distinguish between groups. If it tests for vocabulary, or knowledge of rules, or ability to understand instructions, it will clearly be affected by the differing degrees of education and educational achievement that are characteristic of different groups at a moment in time. If it tests for nonverbal capacities, it will also, owing to the complex and subtle effects of history and culture, distinguish between groups. Even if tests for height -- as is the case for some occupational tests -- it will distinguish between groups.
Our legal tradition mandates individual rights, not group rights. This has, in fact, been the goal of civil rights organizations for many years. Thurgood Marshall, arguing for the NAACP in the case of Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma (332 U.S. 631, 1948), declared, "Classifications and distinctions based on race or color have no moral or legal validity in our society."
Beyond this, affirmative action programs based on race are demeaning to the very groups they are meant to serve, implying that members of these groups cannot compete successfully in the marketplace.
Many thoughtful black critics have long opposed such programs. Professor Orlando Patterson, writing in The Public Interest (Summer, 1973), declared:
There can be no moral equality where there is a dependency relationship among men. There will always be a dependency relationship where the victim strives for equality by vainly seeking the assistance of his victimizer. In situations like these we can expect sympathy, even magnanimity from men, but never -- and it is unfair to expect otherwise -- the genuine respect which one feels for another.
More than 25 years ago -- long before the dramatic progress we have seen in race relations -- Professor Patterson said that judging individuals on the basis of race legitimizes "atavistic sentiments" and "awakens and lends respectability to the most primordial of group identities -- race."
In 1980, this writer was a member of President Ronald Reagan's transition team at the EEOC. That team was headed by the respected black conservative J. A. Parker, editor of The Lincoln Review, and included Clarence Thomas, long before he was named to the U.S. Supreme Court. The report we issued concluded that:
The goal of all Americans of good will should be the creation of a society which is both color-blind and committed to economic growth and advancement. A system of racial quotas and classifications in a declining economy is the prescription for inter-group tensions and social dislocation. It violates our basic principles of individual freedom and our hope for continuing progress.
Those words are as true -- and as relevant -- today as they were when written. The New Haven case has moved us an important step away from the racial spoils system of recent years and toward the genuinely color-blind society the vast majority of Americans of all races seek to achieve.
Many Americans have forgotten the violence that shook our society in the 1960s and 1970s at the hands of the Weather Underground and other radical organizations. Sadly, those who led that effort are still with us, and appear to be unrepentant. And some of their most violent crimes have still not been properly addressed by the legal system.
Former Weather Underground member William Ayres, who became a household name during Barack Obama's presidential campaign because of his involvement -- and that of his wife, another Weather Underground leader Benardine Dohrn -- with Mr. Obama -- is back in the news.
Officers of the San Francisco Police Officers Association charge that Ayres and Dohrn are largely responsible for the bombing of a San Francisco police station in 1970 that killed Sgt. Brian McDonnell and injured eight other officers on February 16, 1970.
San Francisco police leaders say there are "irrefutable and compelling reasons" that establish that Ayres and Dohrn are responsible for the bombing.
No one has ever been charged with this attack. Former FBI undercover agent Larry Gratwohl, however, has implicated both Ayers and Dohrn in sworn testimony and in his 1976 book.
In testimony before the Internal Security Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on October 18, 1974, Gratwohl testified under oath about a meeting he had with Ayres:
Bill started off telling us about the need to raise the level of the struggle and for stronger leadership inside . . . the Weatherman organization as a whole. And he cited as one of the real problems that someone like Bernardine Dohrn had to plan, develop, and carry out the bombing of the police station in San Francisco, and he specifically named her as the person that committed the act.
In his book Bringing Down America: An FBI Informer with the Weathermen, Gratwohl writes:
When he (Ayres) finished outlining our new codes, he tore into a fiery criticism of the passiveness of most members of the organization. "Too many of you are relying on your leaders to do everything," he said sternly. Then, in a departure from relating individuals to specific acts, he mentioned the Park Police Station bombing in San Francisco. "It was a success," he said, "but it's a shame when someone like Bernardine has to make all the plans, make the bomb, and then place it herself. She should have to do only the planning." He charged us to become more aggressive in working out details and executing plans by ourselves.
At a recent Washington press conference organized by journalist Cliff Kincaid and the organization he heads, America's Survival, Inc., Gratwohl described his 1970 meeting with Ayres:
He reminded us of the commitment all of us had made to overthrow the U.S. Government at the National Council meeting in Flint the previous December and how our inactivity was harming the Cubans, the Vietnamese, and the Chinese. Bill went on to describe how Bernardine Dohrn . . . considered the leader of the Weather Underground, had to plan and commit the bombing of the Park Station in San Francisco. This bomb contained fence staples and was placed on a window ledge during a shift change, ensuring the presence of the greatest number of police officers and the greatest possibility of death and injury. . . . At the National Council meeting which took place in Flint, Michigan, in late December of 1969, Bernardine Dohrn had praised mass murderer Charles Manson and said "The Weatherman is about a Communist revolution to destroy the white racist's society and establish a democratic centralist's government." Furthermore, Bernardine Dohrn wanted everyone at the council meeting to "bring the war home and off (kill) their parents.
In February, 1970, an explosion took place at the Weatherman bomb factory in Greenwich Village, killing three Weathermen. The bombs being built were for use at a dance at the Ft. Dix Army base in New Jersey on a Saturday night and contained roofing mails for the shrapnel effect.
The most complete statement of the Weather Underground philosophy was in their publication on Prairie Fire, the Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism, published in 1974. It described itself as the "Political Statement of the Weather Underground," and was signed by, among others, Weathermen leaders Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers. It was dedicated to a page-long list of violent criminals, including Sirhan Sirhan, the murderer of Senator Robert Kennedy. It declared:
We are a guerrilla organization. We are Communist women and men, underground in the United States for more than four years. . . . We made the choice to become a guerrilla organization at a time when the Vietnamese were fighting a heroic people's war. . . . In our own hemisphere, Che Guevara urged that we "create two, three, many Vietnams to destroy U.S. imperialism.". . . Armed struggle has come into being in the United States.
The Weathermen engaged in many acts of violence, including bombings at the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, Harvard University, and draft and recruiting stations. On October 20, 1981, a group of Weather Underground radicals with their colleagues from the Black Liberation Army attacked a Brinks armored car in Rockland County, New York. In the course of the shoot-out, one Brinks guard and two policemen were murdered. Among those arrested were Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, who fathered Kathy Boudin's child -- to be brought up by Ayers and Dohrn when the parents went to prison.
Ayres, during the presidential campaign, said that Weathermen activities did not kill anyone. This, as we can see, was not the case. Ayers and Dohrn still appear to be the radicals they once were. Both, as college professors, are in a position to spread their ideas to a new generation. Cliff Kincaid notes that:
Ayers is free not only to brainwash college students but to travel to Marxist-controlled Venezuela, at least four times . . . Chesa Boudin, raised by Ayers and Dorhn, describes himself as "a foreign policy advisor to President Hugo Chavez in 2005." It was in Venezuela that Ayers openly talked about his role in academia, saying that education is the "motor-force" for revolution. He was described by Venezuelan authorities . . . as a former leader of a "revolutionary and anti-imperialist group" that "brought an armed struggle to the U.S.A. for more than ten years from within the womb of the empire."
The violent radicals of the past remain in the news. In March, Sara Jane Olsen, 62, was freed from the Central California Women's facility. Olsen served only seven years -- half her sentence, after spending 25 years as a fugitive, after pleading guilty to placing pipe bombs under Los Angeles Police Department patrol cars, and participating in the robbery of a bank in a Sacramento suburb during which a woman was shot to death. Los Angeles Police Protective League President Paul Weber declared that:
I think today is a slap in the face of California law enforcement and other law enforcement . . . with her release and the governor's abdicating his responsibility. . . . The police officers here and around the state are outraged.
Sara Jane Olsen, formerly Kathleen Solia, was a member of Symbionese Liberation Army, the 1970s militant group best known for kidnapping the newspaper heiress Patty Hearst. Discussing Olsen's role, Caitlin Flanagan writes in The New York Times that:
Ms. Soliah robbed a bank in Carmichael, California, during which a mother of four was murdered and a young pregnant bank teller was kicked in the belly and later had a miscarriage. According to Ms. Hearst, who has proved to be a reliable informant on the actions of the SLA (and who was driving the getaway car), it was Ms. Soliah who did the kicking. Furthermore, bullets found in the dead woman's body and scattered on the floor of the bank matched a gun found in a dresser drawer in Ms. Soliah's room in the SLA safehouse. . . . Ms. Soliah was indicted, but then fled to Zimbabwe. Eventually, she returned under her new alias and married a well-to-do and highly respected doctor in St. Paul.
A spokesman for the Los Angeles police union, Eric Rose, points out that Olsen's family in Minnesota has not only refused to acknowledge her guilt, but also harbored her as a fugitive for more than two decades. Under the kind of scrutiny the justice system would put a family through if the parolee had committed some other kind of crime -- such as drug dealing -- Olsen's family would not be approved. What, one wonders, is California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger thinking?
When Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn re-emerged during the 2008 presidential campaign, the media failed to report the real nature of their crimes in the past, and their unrepentant radicalism of today. Now, with the San Francisco police calling for a review of the Park Police Station bombing, the time has come for Attorney General Eric Holder to launch a real investigation of Ayers and Dohrn and the 1970 bombing. There is no statute of limitations for murder and it is high time that justice was done.
In 1968, this writer was the author of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee's study of the New Left. It is hard to believe that now, in 2009, the sad chapter of radical violence that shook our society in those days, has still not properly been addressed. Resolving the 1970 San Francisco bombing would be an important step in that direction. *
Lady Astor once remarked to Winston Churchill at a Dinner Party, "Winston, if you were my husband, I would poison your coffee!" Winston replied, "Madam, if I were your husband I would drink it!"
We would like to thank the following people for their generous support of this journal (from 5/4/09 . . . 7/14/09): Reid S. Barker, Alexis I. duP Bayard, William G. Buckner, David G. Budinger, George F. Cahill, Edward J. Cain, Dino Casali, Laurence Christenson, Thomas J. Ciotola, William D. Collingwood, Francis P. Destefano, Donald R. Eberle, James R. Gaines, John Geismar, Alene D. Haines, David L. Hauser, John H. Hearding, Thomas E. Heatley, Bernhard Heersink, Joyce Hoar, H. Ray Hodges, Thomas E. Humphreys, E. J. Jacobson, Marilyn P. Jaeger, Robert R. Johnson, Janet King, Edward B. Kiolbasa, Mary S. Kohler, Ralph Kramer, James A. Lee, Leonard S. Leganza, Daniel Maher, John P. McDonald, Thomas J. McGreevy, Delbert H. Meyer, Robert P. Miller, Robert A. Moss, Mark Richter, Matthew J. Sawyer, Richard H. Segan, Robert C. Whitten, Donald Wilson, William P. Wortman.
Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute of Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.
Recently, this writer visited the U.S. military cemetery at Nettuno, Italy, down the road from Anzio, together with my son Peter and grandson Dario. This caused me to reflect upon both the unique nature of American society and the dangers of going to war precipitously.
The Sicily/Rome American Cemetery was established as a temporary wartime cemetery on January 24, 1944, two days after the actual landing at Nettuno/Anzio, and covers 77 acres. The total number of dead interred is 7,861, which represents only 35 percent of those who died in combat from Sicily to the liberation of Rome. The Wall of the Missing located in the Chapel has 3,095 names inscribed. Twenty-three sets of brothers are buried side by side as well as two sets of twins.
The U.S. maintains on foreign soil 24 permanent military burial grounds. Presently, 124,914 U.S. war dead are interred in these cemeteries: 30,921 of World War I, 93,243 of World War II, and 750 of the Mexican War.
Each grave site in the permanent World War I and II cemeteries on foreign soil is marked by a headstone of pristine marble. Stylized marble crosses mark the graves. Headstones of those of the Jewish faith are tapered marble shafts surmounted by a Star of David.
Following the capture of Rome on June 4, 1944, the Allies pursued the enemy northward toward the Po River and the Alps. For the first time since the Allies landed at Salerno in September, 1943, the enemy was in full retreat.
Sixty-three years after Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy to turn the tide of World War II in Europe, a new visitor center at the Normandy American cemetery in France opened in May, 2007 to tell the story of the 9,387 Americans buried there and put the D-Day landings and follow-on battle in Europe in perspective as one of the greatest military achievements of all time.
Looking at the names and birth dates on the headstones, I remarked to my son, now 31, that the vast majority of those buried were much younger than he is now.
Reading the names of the dead and their hometowns tells us much about the uniqueness of the American society. Virtually every nationality and ethnic group is represented. In the 1840s, Herman Melville wrote that, "We are the heirs of all time and with all nations we divide our inheritance." If you kill an American, he said, you shed the blood of the entire world.
America is more than simply another country. Visiting New Amsterdam in 1643, the French Jesuit missionary Isaac Jogues was surprised to discover that in this town of 8,000 people, 18 languages were spoken. In his Letters from an American Farmer, J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur wrote in 1782: "Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world."
During the radicalism of the 1960s, when many young critics of America denounced their own country, although they understood little of its history, author Mario Puzo wrote:
America . . . may deserve the hatred of its revolutionary young. But what a miracle it once was. What has happened here has never happened in any other country in any other time. The poor who had been poor for centuries -- hell, since the beginning of Christ -- whose children had inherited their poverty, their illiteracy, their hopelessness, achieved some economic dignity and freedom. You didn't get it for nothing, you had to pay a price in tears, in suffering, but why not? And some even became artists.
As a young man growing up in Manhattan's Lower East Side, Puzo was asked by his mother, an Italian immigrant, what he wanted to be when he grew up. When he said he wanted to be a writer, she responded that, "For a thousand years in Italy no one in our family was even able to read." But in America everything was possible -- in a single generation.
It was hard for my mother to believe that her son could become an artist. After all, her own dream in coming to America had been to earn her daily bread, a wild dream in itself, and looking back she was dead right. Her son an artist? To this day she shakes her head. I shake mine with her.
In 1866, Lord Acton, the British Liberal leader, said that America was becoming the "distant magnet." Apart from the "millions who have crossed the ocean, who shall reckon the millions whose hearts and hopes are in the United States, to whom the rising sun is in the West?"
At a celebration in New York of the 150th anniversary of Norwegian immigration, news commentator Eric Sevareid, whose grandfather emigrated from Norway, addressed the group -- in the form of a letter to his grandfather. He said:
You knew that freedom and equality are not found but created. . . . This grandson believes this is what you did. I have seen much of the world. Were I now asked to name some region on earth where men and women lived in a surer climate of freedom and equality than that Northwest region where you settled -- were I so asked I could not answer. I know of none.
America has been a nation much loved. Germans have loved Germany. Frenchmen have loved France. Swedes have loved Sweden. This, of course, is only natural. America has been loved not only by native Americans, but by men and women throughout the world who have yearned for freedom. America dreamed a bigger dream than any nation in the history of man. It was a dream of a free society in which a man's race, or religion, or ethnic origin would be completely beside the point. It was a dream of a common nationality in which the only price to be paid was a commitment to fulfill the responsibilities of citizenship.
Yet, if visiting the American military cemetery caused this writer to reflect upon the unique nature of our society, it also produced concern about those who would take our nation to war precipitously -- unless absolutely necessary for our own defense and survival.
Consider the neo-conservatives who led us into war in Iraq, a nation, however objectionable its government, which never attacked us and which bore no responsibility for the September 11 terrorist attacks. Kenneth Adelman, head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency during the Reagan administration, predicted that the mission would be a "cakewalk." Other advocates of the war were equally optimistic -- and equally, it seems, unaware of the history of the region. It would be like Paris in 1944, with the Iraqis greeting American troops as liberators, not occupiers. Columnist Mark Steyn predicted in 2003 that "in a year's time Baghdad and Basra will have a lower crime rate than most British cities." Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz rejected the idea that the occupation would be a financial drain. He predicted Iraq's oil revenues would pay for the entire cost of reconstruction.
These same neo-conservatives are now beating the drum for war with Iran. Fortunately, the American people, with two wars now in process, are unlikely to heed their call. The neo-conservatives themselves do not take responsibility for their role in taking the nation to war, and even go so far as to deny their own existence. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank reported in February about Richard Perle's appearance at the Nixon Center. Perle, a leading neo-conservative promoter of war, seeks to rewrite history. According to Milbank:
He created a fantastic world in which: 1. Perle is not a neo-conservative. 2. Neo-conservatives do not exist. 3. Even if neo-conservatives did exist, they certainly couldn't be blamed for the disasters of the past eight years. "There is no such thing as a neo-conservative foreign policy," Perle informed the gathering . . . . "I've never advocated attacking Iran," he said, to a few chuckles. . . .
Discussing the foreign policy of the Bush administration, dominated by the thinking of Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and their fellow neo-conservatives, Gene Healy, vice president of the Cato Institute, notes:
What, after all, was conservative about George W. Bush's post-September 11 pledges to "rid the world of evil" and "end tyranny in our world"? Conservatives used to believe that there were limits to the federal government's capabilities. . . . Conservatives seem to have forgotten the wisdom of one of their intellectual founders, Russell Kirk, who resisted empire and militarism, and maintained that war had to be a last resort, because it might "make the American president a virtual dictator, diminish the constitutional powers of Congress, contract civil liberties, and distort the economy."
At the end of William F. Buckley's life according to longtime National Review hand Jeffrey Hart, Buckley believed that:
. . . the movement he had made destroyed itself by supporting the war in Iraq. . . . American voters don't approve of attacking countries that never threatened us, nor do they care for ambitious, expensive schemes to remake the world through military force. In that, they're more conservative than the conservative movement's leaders have been for quite some time.
Because of the policies advocated by neo-conservatives, new U.S. military cemeteries will be filled. Traditional conservatives always believed that the reason to be the most powerful nation on earth was precisely so that we would not have to fight wars. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, in his July 4, 1821 address, provides a helpful reminder about the traditional goals of our foreign policy:
The United States has, in the lapse of nearly half of century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations, while asserting and maintaining her own. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, when the conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. . . . She is the well-wisher to the freedom of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. . . . She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.
We defeated the Soviet Union, a real enemy dedicated to and capable of our destruction, without going to war. We maintained diplomatic relations with Moscow, and engaged in summit meetings and negotiations. Why should we do less with the much weaker potential adversaries of today?
The U.S. military cemetery in Italy was, to me, a reminder of the high cost of war. Visiting it with my son and grandson made me hopeful that their generations will be spared the sacrifice made by the young men interred there.
We have entered a strange new era in which businesses -- whether financial or industrial -- that fail are bailed out by taxpayers and in which individuals who took loans they could not afford are subsidized by those who live within their means. This is being done with the assent of both political parties. It was the Bush administration that started the bailout process. Now, the Obama administration is carrying it to further extremes. Republicans, being out of power, now find the whole notion of bailouts a form of "socialism." When they held power, it seemed to be quite all right.
Permitting failed businesses -- and banks -- to fail is part of the free enterprise system. "There's something fundamental about the need for failure," says Syd Finkelstein, a professor at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business and author of Think Again: Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions and How to Keep It from Happening to You. He declares: "We're tinkering with the genetic DNA of a capitalist society."
James Grant, founder of "Grant's Interest Rate Observer," points out that in the 1870s, there was a five-year depression, followed by the historic era of mechanization that destroyed old industries and generated new ones. "It was a time of terrific insecurity," he says. "It was also a golden era of dynamism. Such companies as IBM (started in the 1880s), Johnson & Johnson (1885) and General Electric (1892) date from that period.
Commentator Rick Newman points out that companies such as Nike and Reebok
. . . gained a foothold in the 1970s because their established competitions -- Converse and Keds -- failed to foresee the boom in running and aerobics. Toyota has relentlessly exploited the failure of Ford and General Motors to satisfy their customers. IBM went through a near-death experience in the 1990s after betting wrongly that the old mainframe would dominate the PC -- a painful experience that the company's leaders now tout as a crash course in adaptation.
Don Keough, former CEO of Coca-Cola and author of The Ten Commandments for Business Failure states:
Ask 100 people "What have you learned from success?" and most of them will just look at you. But ask what you learned from failure, and you'll get lots of answers.
Keough points to one of his most dramatic failures, the 1985 introduction of New Coke, which market researchers predicted would be a hit.
By subsidizing bad business decisions, we are turning the very idea of capitalism on its head. Chrysler, for example, got its first government bailout in 1980. Now it -- together with General Motors -- is back at the public trough once again. The carmakers now say that they need $50 billion of taxpayers support to see them through. The Economist argues that:
Bailing out Detroit would be a bad use of public money. It would be bad in principle, because it would be an open invitation to companies everywhere to apply for aid to survive the recession. . . . Nothing would sap a recovery and job-creating enterprise like locking up badly used resources in poorly performing companies. . . . The U.S. created Chapter 11 precisely to help companies that need protection from their creditors while they restructure their liabilities and winnow out the good business from the bad.
No one seems to take responsibility for the bad decisions that have led to the current economic meltdown. Indeed, the very men and women who led our financial sector, our auto industry and housing sector to disaster, will be the same people to whom bailout funds are given. The financial bailouts reward bankers who destroyed their institutions by taking irrational risks. The auto bailouts subsidize companies and unions that, together, destroyed the viability of their industry. The housing plan will force people who bought homes they could afford to subsidize those who did not.
Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, notes that:
Financial wizards like Robert Rubin at Citicorp, Richard Fuld at Lehman Brothers and Franklin Raines at Fannie Mae -- all of whom made millions as they left imploding corporations -- had degrees from America's top universities. They had sophisticated understanding of hedge funds, derivatives, and subprime mortgages -- everything, it seems but moral responsibility for the investments of millions of their ordinary clients. . . . Millions of Americans who played by the rules . . . lost much of their retirement savings. . . . yet most disgraced Wall Street elites will retain their mega-bonuses and will not go to jail.
Thoughtful observers across the political spectrum understand that free enterprise without failure is a far different economic system from the one we have had, and the one which most Americans seek to perpetuate. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman notes that:
This is not the American way. Bailing out the losers is not how we got rich as a country, and it is not how we'll get out of this crisis. General Motors has become a giant wealth-destruction machine -- possibly the biggest in history -- and it is time that it and Chrysler were put into bankruptcy so that they can truly start over under new management with new labor agreements and new visions. When it comes to helping companies, precious public money should focus on start-ups, not bailouts.
A recent study at New York University's Stern School of Business argues that the government has been too generous to bailed-out banks, giving them up to $70 billion more than necessary. Instead, it declares, it would be wiser to aid healthier banks, while letting market forces work their way with the sick banks. What may be necessary, NYU states, is bankruptcy protection for failed banks and business organizations. After a company declares Chapter 11, government could offer loans to help the company restructure, and bankruptcy judges have broad power to remove existing management, cut executive pay and order major changes. Sometimes, of course, liquidation is the best option.
When CNBC's Rick Santelli argued that President Obama's mortgage bailout plan would force hardworking Americans to pay for their neighbors' mistakes, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs dismissed him as a know-nothing derivatives trader out of touch with Main Street. But, declares Politico, the Capital Hill weekly:
If the White House simply dismisses Santelli's point, it may do so at its peril: A Rasmussen poll . . . found that 55 percent of those surveyed thought federal mortgage subsidies to those most at risk of losing their homes would be "rewarding bad behavior." Santelli's "Network"-style diatribe has already spawned a facebook group, and plans for "tea parties" protesting the bailout in major cities.
Economist Thomas Sowell says that people living beyond their means is hardly a recent phenomenon:
What is new is the current notion of indulging people who refused to save for a rainy day or to live within their means. In politics, it is called "compassion" -- which comes in both the standard liberal version and "compassionate conservatism." The one person toward whom there is no compassion is the taxpayer. . . . The old and trite phrase "sadder but wiser" is old and trite for the same reason that "saving for a rainy day" is old and trite. It reflects an all too common human experience.
In Sowell's view:
Even in an era of much-ballyhooed "change," the government cannot eliminate sadness. What it can do is transfer that sadness from those who made risky and unwise decisions to the taxpayers who had nothing to do with their decisions. Worse, the subsidizing of bad decisions destroys one of the most effective sources of better decisions -- namely, the consequences of bad decisions. In the wake of the housing debacle in California, more people are buying less expensive homes, making bigger down payments, and staying away from "creative" and risky financing. It is amazing how fast people learn when they are not insulated from the consequences of their decisions.
In the midst of our collapsed economy, no one seems to take responsibility for the bad decisions that have led us to this place. No one in a position of authority has resigned. Instead, we, as taxpayers, are asked to pay for their mistakes. Capitalism involves both success and failure. If we eliminate failure, call it what you will, it is no longer free enterprise. *
"I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed, a democracy in a republic, a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.
"I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies." --William Tyler Page, Written 1917, accepted by the United States House of Representatives on April 3, 1918
Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute of Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.
There has been much discussion of the now-impeached Illinois Governor Rod Blogojevich's alleged "pay-for-play" scheme to sell Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder. Sadly, this is not much different from the usual political enterprise observed in Washington and throughout the country -- only a bit more blatant and caught on tape by the FBI.
"In some ways, the only thing Blogojevich did wrong was he was stupid enough to say it out loud," said Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center. "For other people, it's a wink and a nod. Verbalizing it crosses the line.
Northwestern University law professor Albert Altschuler says that if Blogojevich "made a quid pro quo offer for campaign funds, then he's guilty of breaking the law. There's a thin line. It's different if he said, 'If I was in the Senate, I'd be in a position to raise money for you.'"
It may be legal for those who contribute large amounts of money to presidential campaigns to be named to ambassadorships and other important posts, but what exactly is the ethical difference between this and what the Illinois Governor is accused of doing?
The way the game is usually played, when campaign money is solicited, a specific quid pro quo is not discussed. This, of course, would be illegal. But both those who contribute funds and those who receive them understand that what is being purchased is access. The specifics of what is wanted is discussed later.
Robert S. Bennett, one of Washington's best-known white-collar criminal defense lawyers, says that the Blagojevich case raises many issues about political corruption. "This town is full of people who call themselves ambassadors and all they did was pay $200,000 or $300,000 to the Republican or Democratic Party," said Bennet, referring to a passage in the criminal complaint filed against the now-former governor suggesting that Blagojevich was interested in an ambassadorial appointment in return for the Senate seat. "You have to wonder, how much of this guy's problem was his language, rather than what he really did."
In Washington, politicians regularly receive political contributions in return for their decisions, whether they involve making appointments or taking a particular position on a piece of legislation. Lawmakers regularly vote in favor of bills and steer appropriations backed by their donors. Why else, after all, would special interests contribute millions of dollars to politicians? Satirist Mark Russell once noted that while we may think there are two parties, Republican and Democratic, liberal and conservative, in reality there is only one party, "a fund-raising party."
The incentive structure within Congress is to raise a great deal of money, even if the individual congressman involved in fundraising comes from a safe seat in a largely one-party district. The Hill, the congressional newspaper, reports that:
Every few months the Democratic National Committee distributes a list to caucus members showing which members have paid their "dues" -- the money they're expected to give to the party -- and met their fundraising goals. The chairmen of "exclusive" committees, like Appropriations and Ways and Means, are expected to come up with $1.5 million. . . . The chairmen are expected to pay $500,000 in dues and raise at least $1 million. Top leaders are expected to pay at least $800,000 and raise $2.5 million. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) hit her target of raising $25 million.
The Repubicans are engaged in precisely the same enterprise. According to The Hill:
One of the more blatant examples was the fundraising one-upmanship between Reps. Jerry Lewis of California and Hal Rogers of Kentucky as they vied for the Appropriations chairmanship in 2004. Traditionally, Rep. Ralph Regula (R-OH), the most senior candidate, would have been next in line. But he lived up to his reputation as a lackluster fundraiser. . . . Rogers stepped up with a $300,000 check to the Battleground 2004 fundraising program. Then Lewis strode to the microphone with a check for $600,000. Regula fumed quietly. Lewis won the chairmanship and is now the ranking member. Regula is retiring.
The amount of outright corruption which appears to be permissible in Congress is formidable. Consider the case of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Among the most serious revelations are these:
* Rangel led a successful congressional effort to protect a tax break that benefited an oil company after the firm's chief executive pledged a $1 million contribution to the Rangel Center at City College of New York.
* Rangel failed to properly report income he received from a vacation property in the Dominican Republic.
* Rangel failed to comply with state law regarding his ownership of four rent-controlled apartments in New York City.
* Rangel improperly claimed a tax deduction for a primary residence in Washington, D.C., despite also claiming his primary residence in his New York congressional district.
* Rangel routed $800,000 from his campaign committee treasury to his son for virtually no work on a Web site.
Thus far, the House Ethics committee and the Democratic leadership in the House have taken no action against Rep. Rangel.
But the line between "illegal" and "unethical" remains less than clear. Writing in The Nation, Erick Alterman notes that:
By some standards -- even by some New York standards -- the corruption of Charles Rangel is a minor league affair. After all, New York's senior senator, Charles Schumer, bears significant responsibility for the onset of the financial crisis on Wall Street, owing to his eagerness to demand weaker and weaker regulation for the people writing the checks to fund his political ambitions.
According to The New York Times, Schumer, as a member of the Banking and Finance Committees, took steps to:
. . . protect industry players from government oversight and tougher rules. . . . Over the years he has also helped save financial institutions billions of dollars in higher taxes and fees. These include weakening bank regulations, undercutting efforts to regulate credit-rating agencies and interfering with efforts to force corporations to increase the transparency of their balance sheets.
In his presidential campaign Barack Obama promised "change" in Washington. In particular, he pledged to limit the role of lobbyists. Hopefully, as time goes on, he will fulfill this pledge. All of us -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- would benefit from such genuine change.
The early days of his administration, however, give us some reason to wonder whether real change is, indeed, in the works. Among the new ethics rules announced by the White House is a two-year prohibition on employees participating in decisions related to their former employers -- and a more specific section banning individuals from taking jobs in the agencies they recently lobbied. No sooner were the new rules announced, however, than President Obama granted a waiver to William J. Lynn, III.
Lynn, a former aid to Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), served as an undersecretary of defense and comptroller at the Pentagon under President Clinton and was elected an officer of Raytheon in 2005. Lynn was among a group of Raytheon officials who lobbied the Pentagon and Congress as recently as 2007 and 2008, according to records filed with the Senate. Among those expressing concern about Lynn are Senators John McCain (R-AZ), the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Charles E. Grassley (R-IA), the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. Mr. Grassley said that, "Surely a number of Raytheon issues would come across his desk."
Or consider the case of "earmarks," which were widely criticized in the 2008 presidential campaign. "Earmarks" and "pork" have become rallying cries against the failures of government. The Office of Management and Budget, defining an earmark as spending that members of Congress insert in bills in ways that avoid "merit-based" review, says that in 2008 there were over 11,000 earmarks costing more than $16.5 billion, a significant increase over the last few decades.
The former Republican congressman chosen by President Obama to direct billions of dollars in federal highway spending -- despite the widespread concern about "earmarks" expressed during the campaign -- has been an unapologetic advocate of earmarks and has used his influence to win funding for projects pushed by some of his largest campaign contributors. The new Secretary of Transportation, according to The Washington Post:
. . . sponsored $60 million in earmarks last year, steering at least $9 million in federal money to campaign donors. . . . An opponent of earmark reform efforts in Congress, Ray LaHood ranks roughly among the top ten per cent in the House for sponsoring earmarks in 2008. . . . LaHood's record poses an important question. . . . How he would administer part of a $775 billion stimulus package that will be directed to the Transportation Department.
Many of the large American companies that have received billions of taxpayer bailout dollars by pleading that they did not have enough money to lend to customers were, at the same time, spending millions of dollars sending lobbyists to influence the federal government. A Washington Times review of lobbying disclosure reports found that 18 of the top 20 recipients of federal bailout money spent a combined $12.2 million lobbying the White House, the Treasury Department, Congress, and federal agencies during the last quarter of 2008. For example, the government bought $3.4 billion in American Express Company stock January 9 as part of an aid package. In the last quarter of 2008, the company spent more than $1 million on federal lobbying.
Several taxpayer groups assert that companies receiving federal assistance shouldn't be able to lobby the federal government at all, particularly on the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), which is the formal name of the federal bailout plan.
"It's a definite conflict," said Pete Sepp, a spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union. "It's a disturbing sign that TARP recipients think there is still more loot left to get. If they're not slowing down their lobbying, taxpayers need to be worried."
Citigroup and Bank of America have received two rounds of federal assistance thus far. Both have been active lobbyists. Citigroup -- which with $45 billion is the number one recipient of taxpayer assistance -- spent $1.3 million on lobbying in the fourth quarter; nearly as much as the $1.4 million it spent in the third quarter. Bank of America spent $820,000 during the quarter.
"Taxpayers are now significant shareholders in these companies," said Steve Ellis, vice president at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group. "The last thing taxpayers want is to be paying for somebody to lobby their elected representative to get more money."
How the legal case against former Illinois Governor Blogojvich is finally resolved, remains to be seen. What we do know with certainty, however, is that his "pay-for-play" philosophy remains alive and well in Washington. Will the new Obama administration be able to turn things around -- and reverse these trends? To do so, it will have to confront Washington's present incentive structure -- one in which both Republicans and Democrats are invested. This will be no easy task. *
"Fear is the foundation of most governments; but it is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men in whose breasts it predominates so stupid and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it." --John Adams
Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute of Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.
[Editor's note: This article forms the substance of the speech Allan Brownfeld gave at the St. Croix Review's annual dinner meeting in November 2008.]
On one level, the election of Senator Barack Obama as President is symbolically a major step forward in moving our country into a post-racial era. In America, every individual should be judged on the basis of his or her own individual merit, not on the basis of race. It is now clear to all, that this standard is becoming reality.
Indeed, noted Ed Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation:
President-elect Barack Obama's acceptance speech concluded with words that should warm the heart of conservatives everywhere: "This is our time," he said, "to reaffirm the fundamental truth that, out of many, we are one. That while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can." An abiding belief in our country's greatness, tinged with optimism, has long been a cornerstone of conservatism. And Mr. Obama's been tacitly leaning toward conservative ideas since he became the Democratic nominee.
We are told by many observers that the loser in this year's presidential election was conservatism. This, however, is not the case. Conservatism could not have been defeated because, during eight years of the Bush administration, it has never been tried.
Even Republican candidate John McCain pointed to this reality. Speaking to the Washington Times, he declared that:
We just let things get completely out of hand. Spending; the conduct of the war in Iraq for years; growth in the size of government, larger than any time since the Great Society, laying a $10 trillion debt on future generations of Americans; owing $500 billion to China; obviously failure to both enforce and modernize the financial regulatory agencies that were designed for the 1930s, and certainly not for the 21st century; failure to address the issue of climate change seriously. Those are just a few of them.
Senator McCain emphatically rejected Mr. Bush's claims of executive privilege, often used to shield the White House from scrutiny. He said Republicans in Congress got drunk with power and lacked the resolve of President Reagan:
I think, frankly, the problem was with a Republican Congress that the president was told by the speaker and majority leaders and others, "Don't veto these bills, we need this pork, we need this excess spending, we need to grow these bureaucracies." They all sponsor certain ones. And he didn't do what Ronald Reagan used to do: say, "No"; say "No. We're not going to do this."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that the American people already have seen "the failure of big government" during the Bush years:
It is big government that tried to put people in houses they couldn't afford, that gave Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac the ability to borrow and lend on a scale they couldn't sustain.
He also took aim at the interest-rate cutting of former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan:
It was big government that was giving away money at one percent for two years and created an environment in which there was too much money in the system. So before I assume that our 200-year experiment with limited government is over, I would suggest we have no reason to believe the government is going to become more competent.
George W. Bush came to Washington almost eight years ago urging smaller government. He will leave it having overseen the biggest federal government expansion since FDR seven decades ago. Not since World War II, when the nation mobilized to fight a global war and recover from the Great Depression, has government spending played as large a role in the economy as it does today.
Now, we have embarked upon a program to use $700 billion in taxpayer money to buy up financial assets, and take an ownership stake in the nation's largest banks, and could be followed by a stimulus program of up to $300 billion. Mr. Bush is the first president in history to implement budgets that crossed the $2 trillion a year and $3 trillion a year marks. His final budget could near $4 trillion.
"Basically, we have had in the past eight years an unending growth in government and even higher increases in the level of spending," said Phil Gramm, a former Republican senator from Texas and chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs from 1995 to 2000.
President Bush, during his first term, aggressively sought to loosen mortgage loan qualification standards for first-time homeowners, seeking to reduce or even eliminate down payments for those who might otherwise have trouble affording their loans. The White House pushed back hard against charges that Bush policies led to the financial crisis, pointing the finger squarely at congressional Democrats for refusing to rein in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Needless to say, the Democrats bear a good deal of blame for their role. But Bush's own efforts to increase homeownership among those who could least afford it -- an initiative ardently backed by many Democrats -- added risk into the system that contributed to the current problems.
"Politicians in general and Bush in particular all grossly overestimated the benefit of encouraging homeownership by younger and low-income people," said Joseph Gyourko, chairman of the Wharton Real Estate Department and director of the Samuel Zell and Robert Lurie Real Estate Center. "I think it did lead to some unwise decisions. Equity at the end of the day is the only thing that disciplines any investment."
Clearly, the inability of millions of homebuyers to afford their loans is at the center of the current financial and economic crisis.
The Bush White House "didn't focus on spending," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. "They didn't make it a priority. And this predates September 11. It just wasn't on the list of things they were going to do."
President Bush's third budget director, Rob Portman, admitted that the Bush administration and Republicans "took our eye off the ball, and it was a mistake. . . . We also allowed earmarks to get out of control." Two years after Republicans took control of Congress in 1996, there were 3,055 earmarks -- special spending programs for members of Congress -- in federal spending bills, according to the Congressional Research Service. By 2004, the number of earmarks had ballooned to 14,211.
Linda Chavez, Chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity, and a former member of the Reagan administration, declares that:
The Republican brand has traditionally been identified with competence and fiscal responsibility. But the mishandling of the war in Iraq, the bungled federal response to Hurricane Katrina, and the failure to recognize and avert the housing and credit crisis have undermined that association. Neither President Bush nor the Republican-controlled Congress behave as fiscal conservatives, weakening the argument that Republicans can be trusted to managed the people's money better than Democrats.
Dov S. Zackheim, senior foreign policy adviser to George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign, who served as undersecretary of defense and chief financial officer of the Pentagon from 2001-2004, recalls that in his campaign of 2000, Mr. Bush promised "modesty in international affairs, we would no longer preen as the world's 'indispensable nation,' as the Clinton administration had boastfully put it." Instead, notes Zackheim:
We forgot about humility in international affairs, succumbing to the pipe dreams of neo-conservatives who pinned our global reputation and power on remaking a Middle Eastern society about whose values and priorities we knew next to nothing.
In his recent book, Heroic Conservatism, Michael Gerson, President Bush's former speechwriter, declared that, "Republicans who feel that the ideology of Barry Goldwater -- the ideology of minimal government -- has been assaulted are correct."
On election day, voters rejected not conservatism -- but the Bush administration's policies of expanding executive power, deficit spending, a far less than prudent foreign policy, and a general lack of competence. Of the financial bailout package, Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-winning economist, said, "If this isn't socialism, then I don't know what it is." Conservatism, indeed, was not tried and found wanting -- it was not tried.
In November 2006, the people of Michigan overwhelmingly passed a voter ballot initiative amending the state constitution to prohibit pubic institutions from discriminating against or giving preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on race, gender, color, ethnicity, or national origin for public employment.
In an important new book, Ending Racial Preferences: The Michigan Story, (Lexington Books), Carol M. Allen, a research specialist in the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University, and program director for Toward A Fair Michigan (TAFM), the organization which advanced Proposition 2, the ballot initiative which ended racial preferences in Michigan, tells the story of how a determined group of civic-minded men and women defeated the entire establishment of the state of Michigan -- business, labor, the education establishment, and both Republican and Democratic leaders -- to move that state toward a genuinely color-blind society.
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would take up two Michigan cases: Gratz vs. Bollinger and Grutter vs. Bollinger. Both cases began in 1997. In October of that year, Jennifer Gratz and Patrick Hamacher filed a class action suit against the University of Michigan's College of Literature, Science and the Arts (which automatically added, for applications from black, Hispanic and Native American students, 20 points to the needed undergraduate admissions evaluation score of 100) for violating both the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it denied them admission. A study later released by the Center for Equal Opportunity on admissions to the University of Michigan undergraduate, law, and medical programs for 1990, 2003, 2004, and 2005 found that in terms of probability of admissions in 2005, black and Hispanic students with a 1240 SAT score and a 3.2 high school GPA, had a 9 out of 10 chance of admission, while whites and Asians in this group had only a 1 out of 10 chance. These disparities are reflected in subsequent academic performance, where blacks and Hispanics earned lower grades, and were less likely to be in the honors program, and more likely to be on academic probation, than whites or Asians.
In December 1998, Barbara J. Grutter brought a suit against the University of Michigan Law School based on similar violations of her constitutional rights. On December 13, 2000, Judge Patrick Duggan ruled against Gratz and Hamacher. He upheld the constitutionality of the then-current undergraduate admissions policy, even though he determined unconstitutional the policy that had been used from 1995 to 1998. On March 27, 2001, Judge Bernard A. Friedman ruled in favor of Grutter, and judged the admissions policy of the law school to be unconstitutional. Both decisions were appealed.
At the Supreme Court, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's vote was the decisive one in the 5-4 ruling upholding the constitutionality of the law school's admission policies in Grutter. The opinion was heralded by supporters of preferences for sanctioning the consideration of race as a "plus" factor in college and university admissions, for the purpose of achieving a diverse student body. Justice O'Connor's vote was also decisive in the 6-3 decision against the University of Michigan in Gratz, which reversed the decision of the lower court. Although that decision went against the heavy-handed "20-point" plan used by the university when Gratz and Hamacher were denied admission, the decision in Grutter left open the possibility that a more subtle consideration of race in undergraduate admissions would be permissible.
Those in Michigan -- such as Carol Allen, her husband William B. Allen, professor of political science at Michigan State University and former Chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and Carl Cohen, professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan, who opposed the University's race-based admissions policy -- sought to reverse what they perceived as a form of "reverse racism." They observed the example of California, where in 1996, by a vote of 54 to 46 percent, the citizens of that state approved the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI, also called Proposition 209). This was the first successful effort within the U.S. to outlaw affirmative action preferences in the public sector through a constitutional amendment enacted directly by the people. The key clause in Proposition 209 was:
The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.
"This book," writes Allen:
. . . tells the story of what happened in Michigan between the beginning of 2004 and the end of 2006. It focuses on the work carried out by Toward A Fair Michigan (TAFM) to elevate the discussion about racial preferences, and even to enable there to be any meaningful discussion at all in the politically charged context of the campaigns for and against the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI). . . . TAFM sought to provide a civic forum for the discussion of affirmative action preferences during the 18 months preceding the November 2006 vote.
Few Americans understand the origin of the term "affirmative action," and the changes in the meaning of this term that have taken place. "Most historical accounts situate the birth of affirmative action in the Johnson administration," Allen notes.
Some perceive the seeds of its conceptions in the Civil Rights Act, signed into law by President Johnson on July 2, 1964. . . . Congress' intent . . . becomes clear if one reviews the long and contentious debate about the Act and its amendments. Its backers assured fellow legislators (and the nation at large) that it neither required nor permitted quotas or other preference schemes. Senator Hubert H. Humphrey's quip is often quoted as evidence: "If the Senator can find in Title VII any language which provides that an employer will have to hire on the basis of percentage or quota related to color, race, religion, or national origin, I will start eating the pages one after another, because it is not in there."
Allen points out that, "Even more enlightening is what Humphrey later wrote about the notion of group rights." Humphrey declared that:
Our standard of judgment . . . is not some group's power . . . but an equal opportunity for persons. Do you want a society that is nothing but an endless power struggle among organized groups? Do you want a society where there is no place for the independent individual? I don't. . . . Equal justice under the law and equal opportunity for all persons to develop themselves -- that is what we seek.
As the campaign of MCRI began, its director, Jennifer Gratz, appealed to the average citizen's commitment to fairness and justice. "We cannot remedy past discrimination with equally discriminatory policies," she said. "Trying to right a wrong with another wrong will create a vicious cycle of injustice." State Representive Jack Brandeburg acknowledged that the MCRI had limited financial resources and few institutional allies, but declared that "we have miles and miles of heart."
Opposition groups did everything to prevent the initiative from reaching the ballot. Meetings were disturbed, petition signatures were challenged, even the wording of the proposition itself came under legal challenge as "deceptive." Supporters of the initiative who were black, such as Professor William B. Allen, came under particularly harsh attack.
Discussing the disruptive tactics of a group that called itself By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), Professor Allen wrote a letter to the Michigan State University newspaper:
The actions of trained guerrillas aims at nothing less than to intimidate innocent bystanders. It is the kind of practice honed to an art form by Stalinists long ago. As a member of a university articulately dedicated to civil discourse and the elimination of every form of verbal harassment and violence, I have an obligation to condemn such conduct. . . . Anyone, in any station, who maintains silence in the face of such intimidation will be complicit in the terrorism.
MCRI turned in 508,202 signatures -- nearly 200,000 more than the 317,757 required, and the largest number of signatures ever collected for a Michigan constitutional amendment.
Debates took place across Michigan. Making the case against race-based programs, Professor Carl Cohen stated that:
The MCRI says simply that our state, Michigan, "shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting." That's all. That is essentially the substance of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which we all support. The two are identical, by design.
Racial preferences, Professor Cohen argued, have a negative impact upon minority students:
Every fine black scholar is sabotaged by race preference. All the achievements of black students are put under a cloud, undone by skepticism. . . . A fine student of mine in logic, Kim Mazrui, went on to law school, and was quickly appointed to the Michigan Law Review. Then he came to my office and told me that the senior editors of the Law Review had decided to give preference to blacks in appointing junior editors -- and with that, he said, I will be sabotaged. Everyone will know how I got to be an editor of Law Review -- but it isn't so. He wrote a long and beautiful letter arguing his case to the editors -- but they did it anyway.
Among the kinds of damage done to our society by preferences, declared Cohen, are these:
* Preference divides the society in which it is awarded; it separates rather than heals.
* Preference excuses admitted racial discrimination for the sake of achieving some political advantages.
* Preference corrupts the universities in which it is practiced, sacrificing intellectual values and creating pressures to discriminate by race even in grading, in appointments to law reviews, and the like; preference reduces incentives for academic excellence and encourages separatism among racial and ethnic minorities.
Despite the fact that Michigan's entire political and business establishment opposed Proposition 2, on November 7, 2006, the citizens of Michigan gave resounding support to the proposition, with 58 percent voting "yes."
At the MCRI victory party, Ward Connerly, who has led the campaign against affirmative action nationwide, declared that, "Nobody lost tonight." He told celebrants that no one loses when citizens stand up for principle, and reminded the small gathering of the faithful that there is nothing "as powerful as an idea whose time had come." Jennifer Gratz proclaimed the people of Michigan the winners:
The people of Michigan are the ones who have won today. They stood up to big business, big labor, to the entire establishment and said, "We want to be treated equally."
Carol Allen writes that:
It turned out that William Allen's and Barbara Grutter's faith that sustained open dialogue would reveal the fundamental injustices of affirmative action preferences was, indeed, justified.
This book is a testimonial to the fact that committed citizens can make a difference. Carol Allen shows us that dedication to principle -- and hard work -- can defeat an entrenched establishment and move our society in the direction of genuine color-blindness, in which men and women will be judged on the basis of their own individual merits -- not on the basis of race, ethnic origin, or gender. The victory of this philosophy will be a victory for all of us. *
"Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions." --G. K. Chesterton
Some of the quotes following each article have been gathered by The Federalist Patriot at: http://FederalistPatriot.US/services.asp.