The Watering Hole, Thursday, November 8th, 2012: “Political Capital”

George W. Bush appears to have had a long-term “thing” about “political capital. From Slate, November 2004:

“Bush has long been smitten with the notion of getting and spending “political capital.” In December 2000, Time asked him, “What did you learn about being president from watching your father?” Bush’s answer: “I learned how to earn political capital and how to spend it.” The interview continued:
TIME: You think he didn’t spend it well late in his term?
BUSH: I think he did not. History has shown that he had some capital in the bank that was not properly spent.”

…and…

“…during an interview with Tim Russert on Meet the Press in 1999. Bush told Russert he would spend “capital” on his plan for Social Security.”  [Yes, we remember his cross-country "Privatize Social Security Tour" (sigh)]

W’s first press conference after his re-election, on November 4, 2004, has a couple of gems when viewed an eternity later (2012):

On “political capital”:

PRESIDENT BUSH:
I feel — I feel — I feel it is necessary to move an agenda that I told the American people I would move…you go out and you make your case and you tell the people, “This is what I intend to do.” And after hundreds of speeches and three debates and interviews and the whole process, where you keep basically saying the same thing over and over again, that when — when that — when you win, there is a — a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view. And that’s what I intend to tell the Congress, that I made it clear what I intend to do as the president; now let’s work — and the people made it clear what they wanted — now let’s work together. And it’s one of the wonderful — it’s one of the — it’s like earning capital. … I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style. That’s what happened in — after the 2000 election. I earned some capital. I’ve earned capital in this election, and I’m going to spend it for — for what — what I told the people I’d spend it on…

On the supposedly all-important Deficit:

“Q Thank you, sir. Many within your own party are unhappy over the deficit, and they say keeping down discretional spending alone won’t help you reach your goal of halving the deficit in five years. What else do you plan to do to cut costs? [emphasis mine]
PRESIDENT BUSH: (Chuckles.) Well, I — I — you know, I would suggest they look at our budget that we’ve submitted to Congress, which does in fact get the deficit cut in half in five years. And it is a specific, line-by-line budget that we are required to submit, and have done so.

The key to making sure that the deficit is reduced is for there to be on the one hand spending discipline — and I — as you noticed in my opening remarks, I talked about these appropriations bills that are beginning to move. And I thought I was pretty clear about the need for those bills to be — to be fiscally responsible, and I meant it…

The revenues are exceeding projections, and as a result the projected deficit is less. But my point there is is that — so with — with good economic policy that encourages economic growth, the revenue streams begin to increase. And as the revenue streams increase coupled with fiscal discipline, you’ll see the deficit shrinking, and we’re focused on that.”

Now, I have been puzzled about this whole “political capital” idea since I originally saw George W. Bush swagger and leer about it. Back then, the other election buzzword was “mandate”, as in “the re-election of GWB proved that he has a ‘mandate’ from the American people,” even though only a little more than half of the American people had actually voted for him. I’ve never seen Democratic Presidents utilize this reasoning; nor would I actually expect them to do so, for the same reason why I would never use the term “landslide” to describe a win of only a few percentage points.

Three questions:

-Using Bush’s “political capital” logic, shouldn’t President Obama have now earned some of his own, to spend on doing what he promised America he would do?
-Would Republicans and the TV cheerleaders at Faux News admit that President Obama had earned “political capital” to spend, since he had won a “mandate” from the people? …and…
-Will President Obama and the Democrats ignore the Republican obstructionists and actually try to spend that “political capital”?

This is our daily open thread–what do you think?

The Death of a Nation (a retrospective on the W. Bush era, Part 10: END PAPERS)

The George W. Bush presidency ended on January 20, 2009 with the inauguration of the 44th American President, Barack H. Obama. Hope sprang eternal that times had finally changed, that the American electorate had finally awakened from the fog of its deep sleep, that a new era had indeed finally dawned. Unfortunately, such was not to prove the case. The Republican Party immediately went on the defensive and vowed, essentially, to use every last shred of their power, their influence, to cause Obama to fail . . . the more miserable the failure, the better. It was an act of national disloyalty, perhaps bordering even on treason, the likes of which no living American had ever seen, much less pondered. And while Obama did manage to implement a few meaningful projects and programs in his first couple of years, the Republicans were, by and large, successful in their opposition.

Then, in 2010, the Supreme Court issued its decision in the Citizens United case and declared, in effect, that corporations were ‘people’ with all attendant rights and privileges. Days later, the final purchase of the government by private funds began in earnest. In November of 2010, the small Democratic majority in the House of Representatives was overturned, and the filibuster-resistant Democratic majority in the Senate was reduced sufficiently to virtually guarantee that no significant legislation could be passed for at least the balance of Obama’s first (and, in the hopeful eyes of the GOP, his ONLY) four year term.

Today, the processes implicit in the Death of a Nation continue to accelerate without pause as we again stand on the edge of an electoral abyss not at all dissimilar to those of 2000 and 2004. The current Romney-Ryan Republican ticket supports without hesitation or critique virtually each and all of the nonsensical policies of George W. Bush, including unlimited aggressive war, the destruction/elimination of every vestige of the social safety net, the eternal task of improving the financial status of the extremely rich at the expense of everyone else, and state level imposition of whichever manner of voter suppression or voter fraud might be required to guarantee for all time an enduring Fascist-theocracy (aka ‘conservative’ Republican) style of American “governance”, the Constitution be damned.

The bottom line is simple: tomorrow — Tuesday, November 6 2012 — we shall learn, finally and for certain, the precise percentage of mental incompetence which has come to define the American  electorate.

Meanwhile, below are a few closing comments alongside a wealth of quotations on the matter of national death and its consequences. From Gandhi to John Denver with plenty of George W. Bush and Adolf Hitler (among numerous others) in between, a summation lurks.

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End Papers
(April, 2005)

The United States of America clearly stands on the precipice, on the very edge of a deep and dark chasm in which lie the ruins of those who have come before us, now forever gone.  On previous pages here, we have (barely) skimmed the essences of America’s current dilemma and made some note of current players, agendas, and the realities their combination have so far imposed. Others, too, have watched these same forces at work and have added their comments.  Perhaps a review of a few – in no particular order – can assist in clarifying the moment by looking at opinions, past and present, which have bearing on what has been and what is now, in order to help predict what might yet come our way.  To some, the list may seem long, but they should rest assured it is exhaustingly abbreviated and is by no means complete – yet its words paint a picture, a frightening picture.  Read on, that which others have said; I shall add a brief comment at the end. Continue reading

The Death of a Nation (a retrospective on the W. Bush era, Part 9: THE CEDING OF GOVERNMENT)

Below is the final essay in my compilation which I collectively entitled The Death of a Nation. It was written in March, 2005, shortly after George W. Bush’s second inauguration.  Sadly, not much has changed in the nearly eight ensuing years. Today, in fact, on the veritable eve of the election of 2012, we as a nation are STILL faced with the possibility of what would be, in effect, a return to the policies of the W. Bush era, policies which failed so miserably but which still evoke obvious favor (and fervor) from corporate and ‘power/wealth’ entities.

(Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7, Part 8)

Will the voting public vote to continue the insanity, or will it — FINALLY — vote to reverse those insipid ‘conservative’ trends by returning full control of both Congress and the White House to that cluster of clear-thinkers that stands for The People and not for special interests? Time will tell, but one fact remains certain: any return to the failed policies of the W. Bush era will guarantee one thing: the process which WILL be the prime mover in The Death of (this) Nation will be accelerated to breakneck speed.

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The Ceding of Government

“The market economy is not everything. It must find its place in a higher order of things which is not ruled by supply and demand, free prices and competition. It must be firmly contained within an all-embracing order of society in which the imperfections and harshness of economic freedom are corrected by law and in which man is not denied conditions of life appropriate to his nature.”
 (Wilhelm Roepke, “Austrian” Economist)

I cite the Roepke quote because I’m rather fond of paradoxes, and a close examination of Roepke’s words seems to point at one (though I’m sure he didn’t so intend).  Roepke begins by stating the obvious, i.e., “The market economy is not everything . . .”  True enough.  The market economy ideally serves the physical needs of a given culture by providing such things as food, housing, tools, technology, and leisure entertainment for the public to enjoy, as well as work which is exchanged for a common medium of exchange (e.g. dollars), which in turn can be used to purchase goods from the marketplace which the buyer needs or desires to own.  Beyond that niche, the market economy is not worth much at all, especially when it comes to spiritual matters, or matters of morality, law, etc.  For those, people must look elsewhere.

“It must find its place in a higher order of things which is not ruled by supply and demand, free prices and competition . . .”  Not so sure what he means here, at least in the so-called ‘Austrian’ context, but it does remain a fact that America’s market economy continues to evolve rapidly in ways which would, one might assume, change the fundamental and familiar supply-demand dynamics.  In the first place, America produces very little in the way of consumer goods anymore.  Anyone who doubts that should read the labels next time they visit the hardware store, department store, shoe store, etc. – “Made in USA” labels are rare as hen’s teeth these days.  That of course means that the manufacturing jobs are no longer in the US but rather have been ‘outsourced’ instead.  Levi Strauss, in fact, moved their entire operation out of the US, and now the bulk of their blue jeans are manufactured in Mexico.  They’re still sold in the US, of course, and look no different than they ever did; I assume the asking price is about the same as before which would allow a bit more profit for Strauss. Continue reading

The Death of a Nation (a retrospective on the W. Bush era, Part 8: CORPORATE)

The corporate influence on the (s)election of George W. Bush in 2000 (and in 2004, for that matter) was minimal compared with today’s corporate influences on elections, such disparity mostly thanks to the 2010 SCOTUS decision on the Citizens United case in which corporations were essentially granted the status of ‘people’ along with all the ‘rights’ implicit and inherent therein. And it’s been downhill ever since.

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7)

Today the trend is to move ever faster on the rapidly steepening slope that leads to the bottom of the abyss, the abyss defined by (and littered with) the remains of national collapse. Thus far and in this current 2012 election cycle, for example, the two campaigns have each spent over a billion dollars, the bulk of which was contributed by now unrestricted corporate interests and associated extremely wealthy individuals, each with axes to grind, and all with lots and lots of dogs in the political hunt. Very little of substance has shown itself in the campaign for the presidency, but the lies — particularly from the Romney ticket — have been constant and profuse. The current system stands as living proof that when funding is unlimited, so is the volume of baloney being served. The situation is, in a word, nonsensical.

Solutions? Overturn the Citizens United decision, either by legislation, by constitutional amendment, or by further judicial review (providing the current conservative majority on the Supreme Court can be finally reversed by upcoming presidential appointments); mandate public funding as the ONLY allowable source of electioneering capital; begin immediately the daunting task of educating the populace of the future in the reasons which underlie and which should DEFINE (and mandate) ethical behavior. In other words, redefine politics.

To refer to such process as a ‘daunting task’ is, indeed, a massive understatement.

Following are some (circa March, 2005) remarks and comments based on simple observation of the then-current dilemma brought forth by the vicious combination of power and politics via corporate agenda and money. Interesting how far we’ve slipped in the not-quite eight years since elapsed, but one thing remains certain: the future is ever more visible from the present — and it doesn’t look good.

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Corporate

 “Herein lies a riddle: How can a people so gifted by God become so seduced by naked power, so greedy for money, so addicted to violence, so slavish before mediocre and treacherous leadership, so paranoid, deluded, lunatic?” (Philip Berrigan)

Well, let’s see.  Maybe before we try to answer that we should come up with an example or two, some sort of marker which might suggest that links exist between business and political corruption.  Hmmm.  This could be tricky.  Oh well, in no particular order, since Bush took his first oath in January, 2001, a few come to mind:

1.    Halliburton Inc., VP Dick Cheney’s former employer (he was CEO), was apparently guaranteed a multi-billion dollar no-bid contract to rebuild Iraq – before the war even started.
2.    The White House knew in advance that the actual cost of the new (politically-expedient) Medicare bill (the one which gifted Big Pharma to the tune of roughly $140 billion) was going to exceed the amount listed for Congress to authorize by nearly a third, but invoked their own version of the Omerta code to keep it secret till after the bill was signed into law.
3.    Junk science – the forced result or the behind-the-scenes altering of research findings in ways which favor business (at the expense of scientific integrity and even public safety) has become a common practice.  The latest examples are typical: “Mercury isn’t really THAT dangerous” and “Yucca Mountain is a perfectly SAFE place to dispose of nuclear waste” – so long, that is, as no one looks too closely at the data.  Data?  What data?  Now where did I put that report?  It was here a minute ago.  Oh, well, what the hell. We all know it said what we wanted it to say – we ordered it be done that way.
4.    The so-called Healthy Forests Act did nothing at all to develop healthy forests; au contraire, instead it effectively re-opened to road construction the nearly sixty million remaining acres of old growth forest which Clinton had declared roadless, i.e. opened to the timber industry and logging, and eventually to motorized recreationalists (read: four wheelers, quads, dirt bikes, ete.). Continue reading

The Death of a Nation (a retrospective on the W. Bush era, Part 6: MILITARY)

The essay which follows was written in March, 2005, and remains, (admittedly) at best, a superficial overview: a (potentially futile) attempt to at least suggest that the aggressive militarism of the United States which bubbled to the surface quite rapidly in G.W. Bush’s first term was not only bad, but dangerous as well.  Sadly, to this day the war horror of that period continues with the USA still involved in what has now become the longest war in America’s insanely war-stained history: the war in Afghanistan.

Military. War. During my lifetime, the ‘known’ wars and (aggressive) “skirmishes” with American participation include (but are in no way presumed, herein, to be limited to): the Second World War; Korea; Cuba; Vietnam; Chile; Grenada; El Salvador; Panama; Bosnia/Herzegovina; the Persian Gulf; Afghanistan; Iraq; and now (potentially) Libya, Syria, Iran . . . et al., et al.

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5)

War.

The Incessant Voice of War:

One wearies of incessant Voice of War.
Across full breadth of time each nom de guerre
Inflicts upon the Human soul a scar
Which screams in mockery of hallowed prayer.
How many millions must we finally kill
Before is learned this simple quirk of fate:
That murdered dead, in valley or on hill,
Do NOT portend a Greatness in The State?
Upon this Earth of monuments and tombs
Which weep for fallen souls, it’s fair to shout
NO MORE! to darkness that forever looms
In constant threat. And let there be no doubt
Of this–War’s victims hang upon the Cross
Of senseless death . . . in silent, wretched, loss.

So, whereto from here? More of the same? Are ‘we’ inextricably embedded in the muck and mire of incessant war? A look back at the policies and products of the George W. Bush presidencies is not, necessarily, encouraging. Nor is the prospect of yet another right wing Republican presence in either the Congress or, most emphatically, in the White House; e.g. Romney-Ryan. Time will tell . . . apparently. In its invariably nerve-wracking fashion.

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Military:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”  ~Dwight D. Eisenhower

I include that quote not because Eisenhower was the Five-Star General who commanded the allied forces to victory in Europe during the Second World War; not because he, as President (note the use of upper case) made good on his pledge to go to Korea following his election in 1952 to find a way to stop hostilities there, and that on July 27, 1953 an armistice was signed; not because President Eisenhower, once he’d had enough of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his bogus ‘hearings’ in search of Communists behind every tree, found a way to put a stop to the nonsense and send McCarthy back into his hole; and not because Eisenhower was a Republican who won two elections with landslide margins.  No, I include that quote in order to point to the contrasts between then and today, only fifty years apart.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was a West Pointer, a bold yet measured military man who commanded the allied forces that smashed the Nazi war machine.  He was also a firm negotiator who understood and realized the stupidity that drives men constantly to war; he was, too, a Republican. Continue reading

The Death of a Nation (a retrospective on the W. Bush era, Part 5: ENVIRONMENTAL)

Environmental destruction certainly isn’t anything new; it’s been going on, thanks to the human presence, for centuries millennia at least. Nonetheless, it really picked up speed during the first years following the W. Bush presidential (s)election of December, 2000, during which time he carried forth and invariably served “the dream” of Republicans everywhere, i.e. their unending pursuit of biosphere destruction and collapse — courtesy mainly of inborn stupidity, but always in consort with that eternal greed-based quest for evermore profit and power.

There seems little doubt that the policies of W. Bush greatly accelerated the rush toward the environmental ‘tipping point’, i.e. that moment when human-caused (global) environmental changes become permanent, when the biosphere modifies sufficiently to insist the extinction of species after species after species simply because the planet’s physiography has gradually deteriorated in ways unfriendly to the vast majority of existing life forms.

Following is a (March, 2005) review of various elements implicit in the Bush environmental travesty. Embedded may well be found an occasional ‘editorial’ comment, one which may be (properly) interpreted as being somewhat biased toward the views of the writer, an obviously passionate environmentalist-tree-hugger. Me.

Sadly, the issues which drive environmental destruction are not dead; they are, in fact, as alive today as ever, and will become exceedingly moreso should the Romney-Ryan ticket prevail on November 6, 2012.

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

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   Environmental:

“. . . with the coming of civilization the grasses and the wild flowers perish, the forest falls, and its place is taken by brambles, the mountains are blasted in the search for minerals, the plains are broken by the plow and the soil is gradually washed into the rivers.  Last of all, when the forests have gone the rains cease falling, the streams dry up, the ground parches and yields no life, and the artificial desert — the desert made by the tramp of human feet — begins to show itself. Yes; everyone must have cast a backward glance and seen Nature’s beauties beaten to ashes under the successive marches of civilization . . .” (John C. Van Dyke, ca. 1900)

It’s a non-arguable fact of life, so to speak, that the earth’s environment, especially the biosphere, the earth-atmosphere interface in which life exists, is critical to … well, it’s critical to the existence of life.  That is, of course, unless one happens to be a Bush Republican, at which point the biosphere becomes little more than just another big word, one that sounds like something a tree-hugger might speak in the same breath as ‘ecology’ or ‘endangered species';  tree-huggers: you know, those weirdos that think trees and owls and undeveloped land are worth more than the money they can bring in.

I would only wish that last statement be hyperbole and not an understated fact.

There’s but one way to say it charitably:  George W. Bush is the most environmentally destructive president this nation has ever had, bar none.  To read of his actions, or even to watch him attempt to circuitously lie his way out of the environmental atrocities which he’s heaped up around himself and across the nation is to realize that here must surely stand a man devoid of character, devoid of soul.  How else, after all, to explain such solicitous contempt for one’s only home?  It’s sometimes difficult to imagine the origins of those who are so callous; it’s difficult to ponder how it is that anyone can devolve sufficiently to exist as if a completely vacant lot, a slab of such emptiness, a shallowness so deep that nothing – not even the barest weed of life can manage to wend its way to the surface. Continue reading

The Death of a Nation (a retropspective on the W. Bush era, Part 4: SOCIAL)

Society’s obligations to itself — education and the protection of its people in and by social safety nets — have been under “conservative” attack for about as long as there have been “conservatives” embedded in the power structure.  Interesting that today we call it (the politic) “conservatism” when historians still refer to the near-identical policy/philosophy as Feudalism. Still, by whichever name, ‘it’ continues its creep, its infestation, in human cultures around the globe, including here in the US.

The “creep” picked up speed following the presidential selection of George W. Bush in December, 2000. During his first four years, the tools of suppression were stealthily put into place, and there they remain to this day.  And as bizarre as suppression/privatization of education might seem; as backward and ‘feudal’ as destruction of the social safety net might be; the current “conservative” candidate for president, Mitt Romney, campaigns on doing exactly that (well, at least sometimes he so indicates, although he quite often changes his stated “position” within any given hour).

In any case, below is an early 2005 review of Bush social policies and their probable/potential (intended?) impact. If it all sounds hard to believe, Mitt Romney can surely clarify. Probably he has, actually.

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

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Social:

“The [government] must put the most modern medical means in the service of this knowledge…. Those who are physically and mentally unhealthy and unworthy must not perpetuate their suffering in the body of their children…. The prevention of the faculty and opportunity to procreate on the part of the physically degenerate and mentally sick, over a period of only 600 years, would … free humanity from an immeasurable misfortune.”  ~Adolph Hitler

Government involvement in social issues is, in any nation which wishes to consider itself ‘progressive’ in human matters, both mandatory and desired – not because of any sort of formulaic reasoning but rather because history suggests that when humans are left alone with no egalitarian instinct or mandate, tyrants soon assume control and ‘the People’ are relegated to positions of servitude.  Free people are not the analog of a swarm of worker bees or drones charged with service to the queen, nor are they the equivalent of an army of ants marching in a straight line carrying burdens from here to there.  Free people are, rather, each and all intended to live their lives as they see fit, to follow their instincts, to become playwrights or auto mechanics, molecular biologists or bakers, or anything else which tweaks their imaginations, their creativity (save for criminality, of course).

The heart and soul of social freedom is education, for without education there can be no reading, no writing, and little if any of the communications which cross-fertilize and nurture the various processes of creativity.  Without reading and writing, a complex society will soon find itself devoid of any deep-seated knowledge of science, mathematics, the arts, of philosophy or of history.  Education is critical and foundational to both comprehension and to the creative thinking which allows societies to nurture, to grow, and to mature into productive and benevolent cultures.  Across the last two millennia, Western civilization (so-called) emerged from imperial tyrannies only to wallow through a religion-enforced (and demanded) Dark Age.  After a few centuries the light of a Renaissance, an intellectual rebirth, beckoned, and soon thereafter the arts and sciences prospered, as did intellectualism.  And too, there came an age of global exploration where the earth was mapped, where new continents were discovered along with indigenous peoples who, during the time the Great Darkness had enveloped Europe, possessed knowledge and daring that some still find to this day difficult to believe, to accept. Continue reading