Saturday, April 15, 2006

Manifesto-- March 2005

"Why?” That's what I sometimes read with respect to the Bush Administration. Why are they doing these destructive things? Why are they running up that deficit? Why are they letting the dollar's value dwindle? Why are they starving their own Leave No Child Behind program? Why hasn't the Homeland Security Department secured our chemical plants? Why drill in ANWR when China is the logical destination for that oil?

"This is crazy!” I've read over and over, sometimes in just those words, sometimes in language to the same effect. To be sure, what I read is through the lens of The New York Times, but its reporters are doing their job: passing along what people are saying around the country. That's why I read the paper. I don't have all day for chat groups; I don't know where the blog writers get the time for the long lists of "Blogs I Read" that decorate their sidebars.

Well, I hate to say it, but history instructs that those who fail to divine their opponent's motivations, especially those who conclude that their opponents must be insane, certainly those who throw up their hands and declare their opponents inexplicable, are themselves on the verge of extinction.

There are a few who have shown a glimmer of understanding. A leading columnist has cited the neocons' plan to "starve the beast," a reference to the strategy of dangling tax cuts as a carrot that is in turn used to destabilize ("defunding") the entire system of entitlements erected since FDR (target du jour: Social Security). And yet, that is at best only a partial understanding, and no sooner is it put forth than another columnist piously warns of putting more and more power into Chinese hands (via Treasury debt issuance to fund the twin deficits), and still another columnist waves the red flag with regard to the abrogation of the venerable Rules of the United States Senate.

The Senate rules debate is particularly instructive. The reportage cites, on the one hand, Democratic senators' warnings that doing away with one rule (open debate) could lead to doing away with other rules (unanimous consent), and, on the other hand, moderate Republican senators' concerns that the future could bring a time when the tables are turned and it is the Republicans who are subjected to a succession of simple-majority votes. But no one makes the next logical leap of reasoning: those behind the movement to exercise the nuclear option have no intention of ever being out of power.

"Well, that's all very well and good," you say, "but willy-nilly, the electorate is fickle, and they will find themselves on the sidelines, by and by." Oh, really? Well, perhaps you should focus a little bit more on that other sequence of events, the one that the Democratic senators are warning about. In that scenario, the Senate just grinds to a halt. If I remember my American Government course, the whole body would have to vote on everything, including the appointment of each cadet at West Point.

But the Democratic senators are just as clueless; they think that would be the end of the matter. Things would go back to normal, the status quo restored, cloture again subject to a 60-vote majority. In fact, and here I begin to reveal my hand, the Rovians (including POTUS as a devoted follower), want the Senate to grind to a halt. Once that happens, they can point out that it needs to be fixed. Right away! Crisis!

And then, with the Senate "fixed" (not necessarily done away with, but emasculated, probably by some sort of emergency action of the Chief Executive, justified in the name of national security, from internal terrorist threats), suddenly being out of power isn't so much of a concern.

The nuclear option proponents are willing to destabilize the Senate by doing away with one, time-honored rule. They are hoping that the other side will react by "working to rule." They would welcome the paralysis that would result. Theirs is a plan of fomenting popular resentment against inconvenient institutions. Paralysis would provoke the underlying resentment against "do-nothing Congresses" and "Beltway Insiders."

But that plan, though it qualifies as outside-the-box thinking, far enough outside that most columnists and Congress members cannot see it coming, is still not enough. Come 2008, the Constitution is going to force these people to get themselves elected again. Something has to be done to assure that election goes the way the last one did -- or else never takes place at all.

And so the narrow idea of defunding government and then starving the beast had to be expanded into a program of creating crisis everywhere: foreign policy, trade policy, you name it. Given enough crises, you can maybe even get the Twenty-Second Amendment rolled back.

What if the central banks of the world conclude it's unwise to hold dollars? Wonderful! A crisis! What if OPEC concludes the Euro is more appropriate for buying and selling oil? Wonderful! A crisis! What if a lightly guarded chorine plant is compromised, killing 17,000 people? Wonderful! A crisis! What if 99% of US high schools cannot show adequate yearly progress and must have their funding cut? You get the picture.

The beauty of the plan is, it strokes the intelligentsia. They rub their hands together with anticipation of how silly they can make the White House look. "Look what damage these Administration policies are doing, how counterproductive they are!" Surely, think the columnists and the Democratic senators, now the public will see that we were right all along. Isn't that what we all thought when it turned out there were no WMDs, and when the Abu Ghraib photos came out?

But instead, it became apparent that a large swath of the public was willing to believe the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. In February 2000, in New Hampshire, Bush was asked an open-ended question about Compassionate Conservatism, inviting him to issue a defining sound bite. "Well, I think that taxpayers deserve our compassion," was what he came up with. And then he went on to defeat McCain and get almost as many votes as Al Gore; the monster was given life. In the 2004 campaign, concurrent revelations about lying its way into a full-scale military invasion of a nation not then at war and erecting a worldwide torture empire did not prevent a majority from returning the Administration to power. The monster had matured, grown strong.

The stakes just keep getting higher. Power is at issue, absolute power. Whatever it takes to stay in power, get more power. That is the game that's being played. Or at least that's the game being played by one side; the other side doesn't yet grasp that it's all on the table. It's o.k. to tank the economy, the dollar, the US Treasury (probably even o.k. to default on US government debt for the first time). A few lives lost in a chemical leak or a detonation in one of our seaports? O.k., if it gets us where "the country" needs to be. Ripping apart kids' schools? O.k. if it gets us where "the country" needs to be (by getting rid of public schools and their teachers' unions).

Sometimes I have read others' worries that the nation was approaching a chasm. And then, that's all; it's just their expression of angst. Presumably, having unburdened themselves, they then go back to what they were doing. They go driving out of their neighborhood in their SUV, intent on getting to work. I recall one famous documentary maker unburdening himself about the rise of a "state religion." He even acknowledged that some might think he'd gone off the deep end even to speak of it as a serious concern. I read on, waiting for him to draw the logical conclusion, to say what a citizen should do under such circumstances. I read on right to the end; it wasn't there. He didn't say. I guess he didn't know. I think he can't imagine what to do. If the press is impotent. If a deceit is discovered and its perpetrator is elected anyway. If gross violations of human rights on the part of democracy's bastion are exposed, and the perpetrator is elected anyway. There doesn't seem to be anything we can do.

But that's because we cannot imagine the kind of things that have to be done to resist an implacable foe. And it's also because we are really very comfortable on the whole, aren't we? Or at least we are so long as we keep driving that SUV to the office every day. When the ballot box doesn't work anymore, there is only one other place you can go, and it's not compatible with SUVs and six-figure salaries. You have to go out in the street. And stay there. Like King. Like Gandhi. The Germans in the 1930s weren't willing to do that. They cast their votes and hoped it would pass. But it's mathematical. Once enough of the populace reaches a destructive, obtuse, vengeful frame of mind, a nation starts down a course that goes in only one direction and doesn't swing back. A tipping point, if you will.

Some might object that street protests have themselves been neutralized. What good is a protest if it's inside of a cage on the far side of town from the protest's object? Well, my take on that is we have gotten used to instant coverage, easy publicity for symbolic street actions. We are all, both sides, "blue" and "red" well aware that the sound bite makes all the difference. And now our photo opportunities have been taken away, in the name of security.

But I am not talking about questing for publicity. I am talking about taking our lives into the streets.  I am talking about changing our lives, laying down the tools of our trades for the sake of a higher calling. To stop this sort of thing, when sounds of protest have been muted and even the "bites" and "ops" that manage to emerge haven't slowed the monster in the least, you have to be willing to put yourself on the line. You have to be willing to forsake your livelihood for the sake of holding onto your civilization. You are putting your economic existence on the line so that life in these United States doesn't become an issue of preserving your physical existence. You leave the SUV in the garage. You won't be needing it until this struggle is concluded. You live hundreds of miles from Washington? Doesn't matter. If you drive, there won't be any place to put your car. What do you think this is, anyway? A sporting event? Something you do and then drive home from? A day of protest marching?

You don't have to be in the streets of Washington, anyway. You and everyone else who will fight this fight can do so, in numbers, right in your home community. Perhaps outside your Congress member's local office, perhaps at the local federal building. Probably right out in the town square.

You do this with the full awareness that you'll likely spend a few nights in jail. Probably incur a fine. Be placed in handcuffs. Maybe even hit with a nightstick.

You may even be stoned, especially at first when you may be fighting for our civilization alone, or in a small group, reviled as a splinter faction.

You need not be concerned about being ignored. Why? You always have it in your power not to be ignored. Gandhi showed us. It's so simple. Many others have shown us the way. All you do is stop eating. There's a right way to do it, too. Slowly, with plenty of liquids, including juices, perhaps a crust of bread.

You scoff? "Oh, is that all?" you say. "Just don't eat? Are you off your rocker?"

Well then, picture a man, myself for example (assuming I can muster the courage to set aside my busybody pecuniary ways), in a city square, or perhaps even on the sidewalk outside the White House (but only one at a time there, or else standing at least one hundred feet apart). He (or she) arrives, with a sign ("Stop the torture" for example), and is promptly ignored, even by the press. Then the first day goes by, and the second day. Juice and a crust of bread only. On the third day, s/he's moving noticeably slower, but still being ignored. After a week, you're still there, possibly even still have your sign, but you don't move much. You try to stand as much as you can, but more and more of the time, you're on the ground. Do they cart you off? For loitering, perhaps? Or for "your own safety?" And what if you persist even then, like Gandhi, lying in bed with his family around him, begging him to eat. (Do they insert a tube?)

Can you do this? Surely, not many of us have done it, in history. But the ballot box isn't going to help us, and, like Gandhi and King, we do this to reduce violence not to contribute to it. We do not go the route of Lenin or Robespierre or John Brown. In that case, what other course is there? What other tool do we have?

I will try. To get myself to do this. Maybe I will see you there.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Insurers accused of not reporting lobbying

Insurers accused of not reporting lobbying

TO:     Alessandro A. Iuppa, Maine Insurance Commissioner

Mr. Iuppa:

A complaint has been filed with your office regarding the behavior described in this article, and I wish to put you on notice that calling the insurers' non-compliance an "oversight" is simply UNACCEPTABLE. I demand that a penalty be imposed. More important, the Insurance Bureau must take specific steps to confirm the non-compliance, issue a reprimand and disseminate these actions in newspapers and other public forums. In reviewing Anthem's Dirigo testimony, I noticed that they are using a lawyer (and, no doubt, his supporting staff of paralegals, etc.) from the most expensive law firm in the state. They seem to have unlimited resources, coming from policyholders' premiums (such as the premiums that my wife and I pay to them each month, even while our son is on Medicaid), and they do not hesitate to use those resources in defense of their own selfish interests. And now we have the executive director of their lobbying group professing innocence. THEY WILL DO WHAT THEY CAN GET AWAY WITH. The question is, are you going to let them? Maine is a small state, sir. If you again avoid taking action, think about that. The next time you see a friendly community activity on your weekend time, think about how, the rest of the week, some of those people are putting it to the others (and raking in salaries, benefits and bonuses).

Richard Wolfe
Cumberland Center