A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Welcome To The Breakfast Bar

I have been a little tangled up by my usual Spring job. It takes my four evening hours and turns my brain to oatmeal. I simply do not have the headspace for sustained proactive thinking, so here are some samples of my latest reactive thinking:

[On Buddhist Ethics]
Everybody innately knows the difference between right and wrong

If so, why do we condemn parents for failing to teach their children the difference between right and wrong? Shouldn't they just say, "Well, you already know how to do it, so go and sin no more."?

This is probably the most telling difference that I can see between Buddhist and Christian ethics.
From the Buddhist point of view, the difference between right and wrong is not all that obvious, and discerning it requires a good deal of work and thought. One of the most compelling Buddhists arguments for what we call "karma, cause, and effect through past and future lives" is the fact that it leads to very clear and sensible conclusions about right and wrong.

The Buddhist is never confronted with the "problem of the existence of evil" or the faith shaking event of "when bad things happen to good people". Past lives, future lives, and the ripening of karma explain both of these quite clearly.

This leads quite easily to the notion of specific practices to confront the problem of accumulated past karma, as well as specific practices to control the accumulation of future karma. I can attest from personal experience that those practices lead to great confidence in facing both life and death.


[On George W. Bush]
Let's line them up: after the fall of the Taliban, GWB had the highest Presidential poll rating ever recorded; he also had two major electoral victories giving his party control of both Houses of Congress and the implicit public imprimatur for his policies; he has virtually [as of yet] unchecked executive power; he had five years of a totally pliant and spineless Congress; and he had the opportunity to overawe the world with United States military "invincibility" and to parlay that into massive leverage on the political situation in the Middle East.

He frittered all of these advantages away. Every last one of them. Markos didn't make him do it. John Kerry didn't make him do it. The New York Times didn't make him do it. Jack Murtha didn't make him do. Russ Feingold didn't make him do it.

He did it all by himself.

Why? First, because he is lazy. At virtually every turn of events in his favor, he dithered, delayed, and vacationed when a shrewd and proactive leader would have capitalized massively on it: Tora Bora, the 2002 midterm election, "Mission Accomplished", the 2004 election--all of these have been golden opportunities lost because there was no coherent political plan or White House agenda in place to take advantage of them.

On that one the buck really does stop in the Oval Office. Ronald Reagan didn't work all that hard either, but he took the time to think through the results he really wanted, he let his subordinates, as well as the public, know clearly what he wanted, and he doggedly stuck to what he wanted. So he got considerably more accomplished with far fewer advantages.

Take one glance at the pablum served up as "issue positions" of the past five years over on www.whitehouse.gov, and anyone with eyes can tell that nothing like the Reagan clarity, the Reagan shrewdness, or the Reagan Administration smoothness informs them. Nothing even close.

Second, GWB is arrogant. At the end of the historical day, the one event that will mark the real decline of his presidency will be the Terri Schiavo affair. No politician with any sense would have made such an unnecessary grandstand play of returning to Washington to sign that bill.

From that point forward there could be no doubt by even the dullest of us that he was governing and setting public policy to pander to only the "social conservative" faction of his party and not with the involvement of the public as a whole.

That simply doesn't work. No President has or will get anywhere with anything unless he maintains some pretense that his policies are tailored to the best interests, and the genuine consensus, of the country as a whole.

At every turn GWB has made it compellingly clear that his policies are to serve only the ends of the most vocal faction of his own party, and that only when elections are under consideration and major corporate money is not involved. America simply can't get anything done on those terms. It never has and it never will.

Third, he is unintelligent. The moment of decision when he could have turned things around and achieved a lasting mark on this country, and the world, with his Presidency was immediately after the 2004 election. Had he understood and acknowledged that his victory was close and proceeded carefully and thoughtfully, he could have carried all before him.

Instead, he publicly crowed over his "political capital" and lauched into the issue where a mere slight popular majority vote left his Presidency weakest: Social Security reform. Had he moved first where his support was strongest and broadest--cutting Federal taxes--all the dominoes would have fallen after.

In Iraq, in Israel, in the United Nations, in American politics, in the world economy, and in the global environment events have now taken over from the Bush Administration, whose actual position in the world will become increasingly irrelevant as it dissolves into domestic opprobrium.

One can only hope that somewhere under the pile of shards from the bull's passage there's a piece or two of china left. If it is, we can dust it off, put it back on the shelves and start sweeping the floor.

I would read the basic situation this way. The Republican House and Senate will abandon GBW, indeed are already starting to abandon GWB with, I suspect, a fair amount of private satisfaction, if with public unease at their diminishing electoral prospects.

The only thing that will turn this around is a significant and major foreign policy success which boosts the GWB poll numbers. GWB himself has admitted that this is not going to happen in Iraq for the next several years, and it is not likely to happen anywhere else.

If I were a Republican Senator or Congressperson, sticking a genial knife in the ribs of the White House at this point would please me no end, privately. The GWB political game from day one has been "what's mine is mine and what's yours is mine, too", even with his own Party. That comes back to haunt you, sooner or later.

The best those Republican legislators can now hope for is merely a diminished margin of Republican control in both Houses, the worst is a loss of both houses to a thin Democratic majority. In either case the Bush agenda [such as it now is, which is not very much or very clear] will be halted.The immediate conundrum for them is how to keep the entire Hispanic voting population of the United States from being massively annoyed with them.

Most signs also are that scandal, and failure in the court system, will continue for the GWB practice of attempting to aggrandize the Presidency at the expense of the law.

The attempt to forstall Iran will continue to stall in the UN, and unilateral U.S. military action against Iranian facilities will not happen as long as the bulk of our ground troops are rotating through a deteriorating Iraq.

Israel will straighten itself out on its own. The geopolitical configuration of the Middle East will not change in any significant way until 2010 at the earliest. Neither will the standoff with North Korea. The major change, if it occurs, will be from Iranian nuclear success.

A decade or so hence, the serious conflict for 21st century hegemony will take place between the United States and China, probably by then under a Democratic administration, and the historical legacy of the Bush Administration will be that the worst damage, among much other damage, that it did to the state of America and the world came from its neglect of meeting the challenge of China.

And, finally, the high probability is that much desirable United States beachfront property will fairly rapidly become a good start on shoals for a mussel farm.

That's at least how I read the tea leaves, and despite the usual insinuations about my insincere love for this country, merely reading the tea leaves realisticly doesn't mean that I am looking at my cup of tea.


[On Israel and Palestine]
The fact of thousands of Arabs living in Gaza, or on the west side of the Jordan River, is just that: a fact. Not only that, it has been a fact far longer than the State of Israel or the Palestine Mandate. Period.

Nobody is "giving" them that land in any way. They have been already there for time out of mind. And, in 1948, they simply abandoned the land within the original boundaries of the State of Israel.

The original Israelis just got lucky that they didn't have to contend with this basic fact before 1967, and within Israel's original borders. So, for twenty years, they were able to make the Jewish state they wanted.

For nearly forty years since the Israelis have deluded themselves that those thousands of Arabs living on the Occupied Territories are going to somehow magically disappear and leave all the land they are living on to be settled by Israelis. And for forty years they have acted toward the territory they occupied in 1967 accordingly.

This hasn't really worked very well for anybody, even the Israelis. And this is because it was a simple defiance of a very plain fact. Defying facts doesn't work.

You still talk and act as if those thousands of Arabs are going to magically disappear. They are not going to magically disappear. The only way in which the fact that thousands of Arabs are already living there can be altered is genocide. Period.

This is the basis for any sensible view of the situation. All the legalisms, all the special pleading from "history", all the "Arabs are evil savages", all the "Mohammed is the scourge of Christian Civilization" will not make that fact go away. Period.

Only genocide will make that fact go away.

A majority of Israelis, starting with Arial Sharon, are finally beginning to deal with that fact, and with a few other facts. The State of Israel is largely a secular, non-Orthodox, state. Like the secular states of Europe it is not renewing the ethnically Jewish population at nearly the same speed that the Arabs in Gaza, or the West Bank, are expanding the Arab population. Hence to try to "Israelize" those territories is an invitation to suicide by slow poison for the State of Israel.
This is exactly the same dilemma that you are constantly pointing out in secular Europe.

The logical course of action this implies-- since, unlike Europe, Israel actually still does have a choice in the matter--is exactly what Sharon has initiated: "disengagement" and fortification of the boundary.

This means a de facto Palestinian Arab state of one sort or another. It will simply be up to the Arabs already there to choose the kind of state they will make. If it is hostile to Israel, it will never be very effective in acting on that hostility.

In fact, as disengagement and fortification have proceeded, the terrorist organizations have become steadily less and less effective. This will continue.

The Israelis have largely come to their senses and finally faced facts.

It would be nice if their cheerleaders on the sidelines would do the same thing. And not just about Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, either.

The billions of Muslims worldwide is also a very plain fact. And the millions of Muslims in Europe is as well. And the rest of us do not have the choice the Israelis still have. The constant, hysterical, whooping up of the "Clash Of Civilizations" is simply another form of defiance of very plain facts.

Or, if it isn't mere unworkable defiance of plain facts, it is the systematic building of a network of excuses leading to deliberate actions of quite well-known 20th Century moral horror with unparalleled 21st Century scope. So I would say to anyone so glamored by a Muslim/Christian Clash Of Civilizations, be careful what you wish for. It just might come true, and you will eventually have to account for your part in creating it.

So much for the ham and eggs, buckwheat pancakes, and French toast. I'll have some meat and potatoes later.

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