Apparently the Bush Administration toyed with using the CIA to buy off favorable candidates in the upcoming election.

Ok, where to start with this…well, first, we should note that using the CIA to influence elctions is nothing new for our country. And that’s what’s so shocking about it. President Bush has, on many occasions, justified this war by saying it was a break with past American strategies of covertly supporting dictators, of favoring temporary stability over messy long-term democracy. He’s decried the realpolitik of Cold-War-era politicians from Kissinger to, well, George H.W. Bush, all of whom thought it was more important to stabilize the third world under strongmen like Saddam rather than try to democratize it.

And now we find out that the President was full of shit all along.

I can’t think of any other way to put it, honestly. I mean, I understand that the U.S. has a self interest in seeing the right candidates win in January. But to go in front of the U.N. like Bush did and chastise them for failing to act in the name of human rights and the march of Democracy, only to spend time and money corrupting that very process behind their back, smacks of the highest hypocrisy.

Can anyone actually believe a word this guy says? Fortunately they ended up backing down from the plan.

A Third Rationale for Government?

As those of you who follow our program know, I have long held the opinion that there are only two proper reasons for the existence of government: 1) To correct market failure and 2) to enforce contracts, including the social contract.

I’ve been reflecting on this lately, and — very uncomfortably — I believe I’m developing a third reason. And that is 3) to provide a public trust.

Here’s the problem. By the magic of compound interest, wealth begets more wealth. Since interest compounds over time, the first wealth to be acquired tends to be the wealth to which the greatest interest has accrued. I.e., those who acquire wealth first, whether that was in a 13th century battle or a 19th century railroad or a late 20th century tech stock, end up, over time, with even more wealth relative to newer entrants into the “wealth-market.” Or to put it another way, the rich get richer.

Since new wealth, at least in the form of property, is no longer being created in the U.S., this means that the opportunities for new entrants — immigrants, the traditionally disenfranchised, and others whose families somehow missed the gravy train in a previous generation — are limited. And even when new wealth is created — for instance, during the tech boom — the charateristics of that wealth creation are such that it tends to accrue most to those who are already wealthy. Bill Gates, remember, was no homesteader — his family already had enough money to buy him computers in an age when they were very, very expensive.

So until we begin colonizing Mars — thereby creating new wealth for the able and ambitious less-well-off — the problem remains on how we can get some distibution of wealth in the U.S. that at least provides some hope for new entrants.

And this is where government can step in. By holding lands and other wealth in trust for the good of all people, the government can at least provide a facsimile of the means and confidence that personally-owned wealth provides.

To those hard-core believers in the idea that all wealth should be privately held, I can say only that, unless and until we can create new wealth and new opportunities for the ambitious under-privileged, the government must act as agent for them.

It is critical that government begin consciously to assume this function. More’s the pity that at precisely the moment when wealth-growth in the U.S. has stagnated — precisely the moment when the government’s function as public trust is most critical — our government is led by bad men intent on gluttony.

A Note on Language

Bill Cosby gained a few extra seconds of fame recently when he decried the self-perpetuating cycle of negative and stereotype reinforcing behaviors among African-American youth.

For this Cosby was criticized, and that’s understandable. But — love it or hate it — Cosby has a point. When people use negative words to describe themselves and their group they reinforce the negative image of their group in the minds of others.

And that’s why I will now refuse to use the following words when describing myself and our program: 1) “liberal” and 2) “left.”

First, let’s take “left.” Properly, a person on the “left” is a socialist or other Marxist. While there are socialist elements in my thought, I do not consider myself a socialist. “Left” has become a perjorative, a convenient way for Republicans to label their opponents. The word has lost its original meaning and taken on a new, negative connotation in the minds of many. Fighting to get America to understand the true meaning of this word (and “right”, it’s companion … which really means “classical liberal”) is a battle we can’t win on our own. So, je refuse.

Now for “liberal.” This word is a greater challenge. I do consider myself to be, in the most classic, technical sense of the word, a liberal. However, this word has been conflated by social conservatives with “left,” and come to mean “a supporter of the specific kinds of socialist policies enacted under the New Deal and the Great Society.” This word, I want back.

So I put it to you, Bruno and the Professorheads. Learn to use the word liberal properly, and then embrace it, make it your own. We liberals can succeed in forming a group of radical centrists that will cut across party lines. Leave the socialism to Nader and the theocratic wet dreams to Ashcroft, Limbaugh, and the like. We liberals will take the center, where we belong.

A Tangled Web of Treachery

By now the scandal at CBS News over the documents that purported to show that Bush never completed his National Guard service has nearly played its course. Rumors are swirling that the venerable Dan Rather will be out of CBS by spring, a victim of his own courage to stand by his decision to air the story and his honesty and forthrightness in owning up to his mistakes. Neither Republicans nor their backers seem to give much love to true courage and honesty, preferring instead dress up games and fabrication, and so it seems that Rather is done on the news.

CBS, for its part, has done its level best to throw Rather out to the wolves. Hey it’s business after all. And so what that Rather has been the very public face of the network’s news division for over twenty years? So, in its own self-serving best interest, CBS has duly appointed an investigator to look into the breakdowns that led to such a boondoggle.

Here’s where it gets interesting. CBS’ appointed investigator is none other than former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, who served in that post under both Reagan and Bush the Elder. As Slate and other outlets have noted, not only does Thornburgh have a hard on against CBS — for broadcasting allegations that Thornburgh helped cover up evidence of U.S. arms deals with Iraq prior to Gulf War I — Thornburgh also has a personal connection to Karl Rove. Dicky T, it seems, stiffed the Dark One for services rendered on his (Thornburgh’s) failed Senate campaign in the early ’90s.

While it’s true that the only public records that exist of a previous Thornburgh/Rove connection suggest that the relationship was a contentious one that ended badly, the fact is that the two men know each other, worked together, and fight together for the Army of Darkness. Given what a small cadre of Republican hate-mongers it is that truly run this administration, it’s not terribly hard to make the mental connections between suspected Rove treachery and the oh-so-convenient appointment of a minor demon in the nomenclatura of hatred to lead the investigation into said treachery.

Think about it like this. All of us work with some people who’ve done us wrong — maybe an IT guy who doesn’t get your computer fixed when he says, or a supplier that misses a shipment that leads to some embarrassment. If such misunderstandings are managed well, the parties — far from being life-long nemeses — can forge bonds even stronger than those that existed before. It’s not hard for me to imagine Thornburgh and Rove sitting down at some point during their disagreement, realizing they both serve the same master, and agreeing to put an end to their dispute to better serve the greater evil.

And poor Dan Rather — all he did was provide a shining beacon of journalistic hope, and now to be “honored” with this setup in the twilight of his career.

The Case for Fair Districts, Reason No. 462

As longtime listeners/readers are aware, the creation of fair voting districts is an obsession of ours. Gerrymandered districts, in Texas, Colorado, and elsewhere, are the root cause of what is wrong with our Congress, and, by association, our government. This system entrenches incumbents and disenfranchises voters. For background on the problem, visit the invaluableFair Districts Website.

The ONLY “benefit” brought by redistricting is that, via the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it increased the number of African-Americans in congress by allowing for the creation of minority districts. And for a while, this was enough to convince me that it was worth hanging on to, despite its problems. Texas changed that.

Which is why it’s refreshing to read Henry Louis Gates, writing in the NY Times, arguing that it might be better for democracy as a whole if we do away with this system, despite what it might mean for African-Americans in congress. He writes, “The creation of black-majority districts was necessary when the Democratic Party had a monopoly in the South, and whites would almost never vote for blacks. ”

He goes on to say:

In Georgia and elsewhere, there has been a clash between what the constitutional scholar Richard Pildes calls “descriptive” and “substantive” representation. Descriptive representation is centered on the symbolism of skin: a black face for a black constituency. But it came at the cost of substantive representation – the likelihood that lawmakers, taken as a whole, would represent the group’s substantive interests. Blacks were winning battles but losing the war as conservative Republicans beat white moderate Democrats.

Precisely. It’s not worth it any more. We end up with congressmen in safe seats who see no need to be moderate, and it stymies debate.

Some districts will remain safe, no doubt. Districts will still represent contiguous geographical regions, and folks who live in such regions tend to have similar cultural attiutdes (which, these days, is a better predictor of voting trends than economics!). Nevertheless, representative democracy will be better for it.

Baby, if you’ve ever wondered …

Ah, Cincinnati …

The most reactionary city in America lives up to its reputation, as this article in the Cincinnati Enquirer indicates.

Couple interesting things here. One is that people are protesting outside of CBS affiliates for Rather’s head. I sort of don’t believe that. Which leads to interesting thing number 2, which is that this whole CBS memos thing feels more and more like a setup. Someone at CBS have a hard-on for Rather’s job?

Now comes news today that Viacom president Sumner Redstone supports Bush.

Yup, those pinkos at CBS really have it in for the President, don’t they? Reading this WSJ article about Redstone I can almost hear the pigs harrumphing …

And props to Bruno, for pointing out on Monday’s show that, among other things, this memo scandal at CBS paints the network a shade of leftist … which potentially makes its ultimate endorsement of Bush and reactionary causes that much more powerful. I can hear Rush Limbaugh now: “Even CBS — the liberal news group that slandered the President — even CBS endorses Bush over Kerry.”

This is awful …

Bruno & the Prof: WAY ahead of the CW

Well, I’ve gotta congratulate myself. It took a year, but I’ve finally managed to leapfrog the conventional wisdom:

That said, I’ve become more or less resigned to a Bush victory. I’m becoming very zen about the whole thing. If re-elected, Bush is going to inherit a mess of his own making. It’ll be fun to watch him clean it up. He’ll absolutely have to raise taxes, or else not even try to implement the laundry list of domestic initiatives he outlined in his acceptance speech. Either way, he’ll have to admit to his own failure. Wouldn’t you pay to see that?

– Frank Bruno, Sept. 7, 2004

But here’s another brilliant Bush counter-argument: wouldn’t we actually be holding him accountable by re-electing him? For the first time in his entire life, Bush may actually be forced to take responsibility for his own actions if he is re-elected and becomes the LBJ of the Iraq war. I wonder why Bush-haters haven’t thought of this: that the way to punish Bush is to force him to live through the consequences of his own policies.

– Andrew Sullivan, Sept. 23, 2004


Sony to Support MP3

This isn’t political, really, but as a techno-geek sometimes the cup runneth over, as they say. C|Net is reporting that Sony will finally support the industry-standard MP3 format in addition to it’s technologically superior, though ill-conceived ATRAC format.

Sony has a history of creating proprietary formats only to see them whither. The Memory Stick comes to mind.

And did you know that only last year did Sony finally get around to killing production of BETA tape decks??

Civil Liberty Paranoia Watch

For the longest time, I tried to be skeptical about all these protesters getting arrested for protesting the president. I thought, sure, the “Free Speech Zone” is absurd, but it can’t last.

Now, however, we seem to have reached a boiling point with the new enforcement of an old law that’s being used to bring protesters up on federal charges. This stinks. It’s right up there with the Alien & Sedition Act.

I was listening to Lewis Lapham on the radio this morning, and say what you will about the guy and his pre-GOP-convention rants, he’s hella smart and he makes a good point: we’ve been living in “war time” more or less constantly for the past 50 years. And so a good deal of national security who-hah has been built up in that half-century to deal with this era of endless war. This protester-arrest stuff is just another step in that inexorable march.

As alarmist as it may sound, I remain somewhat unconvinced that free societies can successfully turn back the scourge of terrorism. We may be able to manage it, but, like cancer, it’s nature’s way of restoring a Hobbesian balance to the world.

Makes me think of John Adams, who, until his dying day in 1826, remained skeptical that this whole “America” thing would actually work!