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The Gross National Debt

Friday, July 21, 2006

(Cross-posted at My Left Wing, Booman Tribune, and my blog)

It has taken me a few days to collect my thoughts on the Bush veto of federal funding for stem cell research.

I was on my way to a meeting and listening to CNN via Sirius when he made his remarks to explain his reasoning for this, his first veto nearly six years into his Presidency.  Initially, I was absolutely infuriated as I listened.  Expletives leapt to my lips and streamed out.

I have since calmed down and taken a more analytical approach to what I like to call the Bush Moral Boundary.  Perhaps a further exploration and definition of these boundaries will help me better understand and see the logic behind the veto.

Make the jump.Early on in the speech he said:

One of the bills Congress has passed builds on the progress we have made over the last five years. So I signed it into law. (Applause.) Congress has also passed a second bill that attempts to overturn the balanced policy I set. This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others. It crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect, so I vetoed it.

It has literally taken me three days to suss through the thoughts that flooded my head when I heard him utter the words I bolded above.

So let's talk about the Administration and Presidency of George W. Bush from the perspective of the Bush Moral Boundary.  Let's really explore where those boundaries exist.

Health Care

Let's start with health care.  Apparently the rising cost of health care and the increasing number of those who are uninsured are well within the Bush Moral Boundary.  From a 2004 report by the Democratic Policy Committee:

On President Bush's watch, health coverage has become more expensive and millions have lost their health insurance. Health insurance premiums have increased by double-digit rates in each of the past three years. The escalating cost of health insurance and the substantial loss of jobs under the Bush Administration have increased the number of uninsured Americans by 3.8 million since 2000. The total number of uninsured Americans - who are overwhelmingly members of working families - now exceeds 43 million.

So when you read the diaries posted here at Daily Kos about the choices people are making - rent v. health care; food v. health care - Just console yourself with the knowledge that these situations are obviously within the Bush Moral Boundary.  Therefore it can't be a bad thing.

Poverty

Accoring to an August 2005 article in The New York Times:

Even as the economy grew, incomes stagnated last year and the poverty rate rose, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday. It was the first time on record that household incomes failed to increase for five straight years.

Indeed - according to the Senate Democratic Joint Economic Committee, 4.3 million additional Americans have slid into poverty since George W. Bush took office.  In 2000, 31.6 million Americans were listed as below the poverty level.  in 2003, the figure was 35.9 million.  I can't even guess at what the number is today, in 2006.

This is a topic that interests some of us here at Daily Kos as well.  PsiFighter37 recently wrote the excellent diary Poverty is a Moral Issue.  But it appears that his efforts and those of others in America are wasted - there aren't any meaningful Bush Administration policies or concerted efforts to address the increasing rate of Americans in poverty.  We've wasted our efforts, because poverty is clearly within the Bush Moral Boundary.

War

War is a subject that usually sparks a great deal of conversation about morality.  According to AntiWar.com, as of July 18 2006, 2,556 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq.  An additional 319 have lost their lives in Afghanistan.  The total, then, is just shy of the number of people who lost thier lives on September 11th.

The number of Iraqi deaths is difficult to estimate.  According to Iraq Body Count, anywhere between 39,250 and 43,709 civilians have been killed due to the U.S. military activities in Iraq.

Death tolls, both military and civilian, are not the only moral measure of war, however.  There is a larger question as to whether or not war itself is moral.  Further complicating the discussion is the previously unheard-of concept of "pre-emptive war".  That phrase has always put me in mind of the Tom Cruise movie, Minority Report.  If you haven't seen it, Tom Cruise plays a police officer in the division of "pre-crime".  Essentially, the Pre-Crime unit uses some version of psychics to ferret out crimes before they happen and make arrests before anyone is victimized.  Of course, the psychics' predictions can be manipulated by the powers-that-be to aid their own personal agendas.  Pre-emptive war is pretty much the same, and, it seems to me, likewise has the ability to be manipulated and directed.

But the moral position of war and death within the Bush Moral Boundaries is clear: War is fine.  Military deaths are fine.  Civilian deaths are fine.  So I guess I have one less thing to worry about.

Compassion

Let's move along in our moral boundary inventory to something I will call "basic human compassion".  The best example is, of course, Bush's personal response to the events that unfolded after Hurricane Katrina.  A timeline best illustrates Bush's compassionate approach:

  • Late evening/early morning, August 28th/29th: Hurricane Katrina comes ashore in the gulf region.
  • Evening, August 29:  News beginning to report that life-threatening flooding and devastation has hit the New Orleans area.  Bush visits Arizona (where he shares birthday cake with John McCain) and California to promote Medicare benefit.  No Bush statement on Katrina.
  • August 30:  Rescue efforts continue.  First pictures of the devastation and human catastrophe emerge from the region.  Pictures of people trapped on roofs, at the Superdome, and the convention center begin to emerge.  Bush speaks at Naval base early in the day, travels to play guitar with country star Mark Willis.  No Bush statement on Katrina.
  • August 31:  Conditions deteriorate at the Superdome and the Convention Center.  People are seen on network news begging for help - for food, water, evacuation.  The entire gulf region is declared a public health emergency.  Bush "surveys the damage" from Air Force One at about 35,000 feet.  Returned to Washington, Bush gives his first major address on Katrina, about which The New York Times said was "casual to the point of careless".
  • September 1:  Bush, now engaged with the Katrina disaster, makes statement that no one expected the levees to break.  People at the Superdome and Convention Center continue to suffer.  Countless people remain trapped in their flooded homes.
  • September 2:  Bush finally watches DVD of news clippings assembled by his staff, which he missed while he was on vacation and wrapping himself in the flag.   He travels to the gulf region where he utters the now-famous "Brownie, you're doin' a heckuva job" line.  The National Guard finally arrives to provide aid for those stranded and begin evacuations.  Bush declares he is "satisfied" with the response to the crisis.
Well there you have it.  And just for the sake of clarity, I've added a picture of what the 9th ward of New Orleans looked like as recently as a week ago.  People's homes have yet to be rebuilt, people remain displaced... Just yesterday, in the recommended diary Red Cow Truck, Miss Blue told us about the outrage of her Republican friend after he had recently driven through the gulf and New Orleans and encountered a man who had lived in the devastated lower-9th Ward.

But these people must be wrong.  Compassion, or dispassion, are clearly well within the Bush Moral Boundary.

So in summary, here's where we stand:

WITHIN the Bush Moral Boundary

Lack of access to affordable health care
Poverty
War
Dispassion

OUTSIDE the Bush Moral Boundary

Potentially life-saving stem cell research

I guess I should be feeling much better now that a clear definition of the Bush Moral Boundary has been laid out and, like an electric dog fence around the yard, is protecting against moral escape.  All of these things I worry about - my fellow Americans and their plight - the plight of those who are circumstantially killed or maimed by our imperialistic policies - clearly I've wasted my time and angst.  Because the stem cells are, as I type this, safely frozen and will remain so, at least where Federal research grants are concerned.  They are still within the cocoon of the Bush Moral Boundary.  It makes me feel much better about all the dead people and all the people suffering from illness or ailment without access to assistance and all the people who are struggling (and failing) to make ends meet.

I suppose there's nothing I really have to do.  I'm free to just go watch Oprah.


You've Come This Far - So Read more & Comment!

posted by RenaRF at 11:33 AM 2 comments links to this post
Friday, July 07, 2006

(Cross-posted at My Left Wing, ePluribus Media and Daily Kos)

As I watched Ned Lamont debate Joe Liebermann last night, I was struck by many things.  One of the things I liked best about Lamont, though, was his efforts to continually come back to and articulate a sense of Democratic values.  I think that's a crucial point that Democrats have to make during this mid-term cycle, and then they have to stand by their rhetoric and fight for the values they espouse.


I was pretty interested, then, to see Delaware Dem's diary Dirty Liberal Words.  Many of you read it and added you $.02 to Delaware Dem's cadre of words that so often seem to be used against us, but which really, at the end of the day, describe the values we hold and should be promoting every chance we get, both individually and politically.


I had only recently returned home after running a few errands following the debate.  An interesting thing happened to me when I was out that highlighted the entire question of our values and what we think is important from both a personal perspective and a political one.


Please follow me over the fold.(Cross-posted at My Left Wing, ePluribus Media and my blog)

As I watched Ned Lamont debate Joe Liebermann last night, I was struck by many things.  One of the things I liked best about Lamont, though, was his efforts to continually come back to and articulate a sense of Democratic values.  I think that's a crucial point that Democrats have to make during this mid-term cycle, and then they have to stand by their rhetoric and fight for the values they espouse.


I was pretty interested, then, to see Delaware Dem's diary Dirty Liberal Words.  Many of you read it and added you $.02 to Delaware Dem's cadre of words that so often seem to be used against us, but which really, at the end of the day, describe the values we hold and should be promoting every chance we get, both individually and politically.


I had only recently returned home after running a few errands following the debate.  An interesting thing happened to me when I was out that highlighted the entire question of our values and what we think is important from both a personal perspective and a political one.


Please follow me over the fold.


You've Come This Far - So Read more & Comment!

posted by RenaRF at 11:42 AM 1 comments links to this post
Wednesday, July 05, 2006

(Cross-posted at Daily Kos and my blog)

I'm not a person with a lot of down time.  Truth be told, that fact is a condition of my disposition rather than one of necessity.  I'm constantly busy - I have intense work things, home things, personal things, band things, volunteer things and political things that command my attention.  I'm not a person who feels at ease sitting still.

With that in mind, I celebrated the 4th by doing absolutely nothing.  I had spent a busy weekend blogging and cleaning and paying bills and found myself magically (if only momentarily) caught up.  It was oppressively hot here on the 4th and violent thunderstorms were threatening all day.  I therefore opted for the Blockbuster route.  I rented several movies (none of them very good) and sat down to watch them in air conditioned comfort.


I'm one of the few people I know who actually watches the "coming attractions" placed at the beginning of DVDs.  I am, today, thankful that I do watch them.  Because it was at the very beginning of the very first preview I watched that I saw the quote that changed my life.  Make the jump.

I consider myself well-read, though not even remotely on par with folks in academia or others who would widely be considered experts in this field or that.  I know most of the famous quotes and persons to which they are attributed.


But I had never heard of Will Durant.  I don't know if I should slap myself for not knowing who he was or pinch myself at the luck that I saw his quote, but I digress.  The quote was this:

A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within. The essential causes of Rome's decline lay in her people, her morals, her class struggle, her failing trade, her bureaucratic despotism, her stifling taxes, her consuming wars.

So let's back up a bit.  William James Durant was an American philosopher, historian and writer.  Wikipedia (linked) also notes that:

He [Durant] fought for equal wages, women's suffrage and fairer working conditions for the American labor force. Durant not only wrote on many topics but also put his ideas into effect. Durant, it has been said widely, attempted to bring philosophy to the common man. He authored The Story of Philosophy, The Mansions of Philosophy, and, with the help of his wife, Ariel, wrote The Story of Civilization. He also wrote magazine articles.

Learning all of this after reading that single quote made me think of another often-fogotten American hero, Thomas Paine.  But let me return to Durant's quote and dissect it a bit in an order that makes sense to me.

The essential causes of Rome's decline lay in her people, her morals, her class struggle, her failing trade, her bureaucratic despotism, her stifling taxes, her consuming wars.

Substitute "America" for "Rome" and tell me we don't have a case study of bearing witness to the decline of America today.

Many of the links above are to diaries posted right here on Daily Kos.  These are the subjects we discuss.  These are the things that frighten us, that outrage us, and oftentimes that motivate us.  Any one of them, taken alone, is devastating.  Taken together, and placed in the context of Will Durant's quote, it seems clear that we are on the brink of one thing:

A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within.

Can anyone tell me that they don't think we are standing on the precipice of our own demise, laughing in a cavalier fashion while simultaneously trying to keep our footing as the foundation beneath us weakens and cracks?

Terrorism won't tear our country asunder.  Outside attacks won't do that, either.  Niether of these things will need to happen if we keep tearing ourselves apart from the inside out.

We have long ago passed the point where a change would be "good".  We are fully into the time where it is absolutely required - our suvival and the survival of the principles and values we hold so dear depend on it.  The problem is, though, that only a motivated minority seem to fully grasp the peril in which we exist.  It is incumbent upon us to work hard - harder than we ever thought we could - to strengthen the foundation of our great country and preserve it for the generations to come who have entrusted its care to us.


You've Come This Far - So Read more & Comment!

posted by RenaRF at 4:27 PM 7 comments links to this post
Tuesday, July 04, 2006

(Cross-posted at Daily Kos, My Left Wing, and ePluribus Media)

I lead a busy life.  I work a more-than-full-time professional job.  I run a household, all of its upkeep, and all of its finances.  I volunteer for the Red Cross.  I'm politically active.  I sing in and run the finaces of an entire funk band.  You get the picture.  Free time, for me, is at a premium.

This past weekend I did two things that I think were important.  I wrote this diary on Saturday.  The Daily Kos community extended its grace and compassion to what I had to say, and for that I thank each and every one of you.  On Sunday, with a rare hour's worth of down time, I watched Fahrenheit 9/11.  Like most (if not all) here, I had seen it before.  But it was time to watch it again.

Make the jump.

An important note before I begin: I loved Fahrenheit 9/11.  I think it's one of the most important movies ever made.  Some of what I have to say about it, though, is critical - don't let any criticism cause you to believe that I don't think it's an excellent and powerful documentary.

I'll begin this diary by saying that I believe I see Fahrenheit 9/11 for what it is: one man's positioning of his point of view.  I recognize that, strictly speaking, the items Michael Moore puts forward in the construction of his documentary are factual.  I recognize also, however, that he is singularly brilliant in assembling and constructing it in a way that is shocking.  In other words, he uses music and the art of editing to ensure that his opinions, which are clearly evident, are accentuated.

An example: the use of the Go-go's song Vacation to illustrate all the things that Bush did in the month leading up to the 9/11 attacks was sheer brilliance.  It added a level of ridiculousness to the already ridiculous idea that Bush would spend so much time away from Washington.

Another example that I had a bit of a problem with was his use of some of the footage with the US soldiers in Iraq.  Let me explain.  As Moore is setting up the stupidity of invading Iraq in answer to the attacks of 9/11, he shows interviews of soldiers in Iraq and paints them in a rather cavalier way.  In other words, he begins by taking statements which imply a "bloodlust" on the part of the US soldiers in Iraq and he selects The Roof Is On Fire to play as a backdrop while showing the soldiers as somewhat gleefully rolling off in their tanks.  I know, as do most of you, that the vast majority of the soldiers in Iraq are there simply trying to survive.  Many have given poignant interviews about the terrible choices and decisions they have to make and the abject stress they are placed under 24/7.  So strictly speaking, the "bloodlust" portion of the documentary, I thought, painted the soldiers in a very narrow light and one that was not necessarily complete or accurate.

Before those who felt that that segment of the film was a brilliant work of truth-telling, understand that I'm only laying out a few of my impressions.  Your mileage may vary, and my point is not to promote a debate of the rightness or wrongness of this segment or that segment of the film itself.  Rather, I'd like to provide some context for you so that you understand - I think Fahrenheit 9/11 is one of the most important films to come out in my lifetime and I believe this in spite of the some of the warts that I find on the film itself.

As I re-watched this film, having not seen it for what I think has been at least two years, I was pulled back to what, for me, was the most important part of the movie.  About 20 minutes into the film, the screen fades to black.  You hear people talking and there is an urgency to what they're saying - but you can't make out the words.  The tone is distressed - you hear an impact and shouting and more voices, all with a black screen.  As the picture comes back up, there's a woman's face - she's African American, but that's beside the point - her eyes are turned skyward and she's crying.

More faces come to the screen.  A man's face turned skyward.  A woman with her hand to her mouth with an expression of disbelief.  Two men talking while one makes hand gestures that explain what was going on in New York City.  More shock - more crying - from police officers and fire fighters and stock traders and office workers and tourists - black, white, asian.  As I watch, I am struck especially by three things:  a pretty blonde woman sits in her business suit on the sidewalk and puts her elbows on her knees, lowers her face to her hands, and weeps.  An elderly gentleman in a red cap looks momentarily stunned, and then his face contorts and melts in a way that only happens when someone is about to give in to their sorrow and allow the tears to flow.  And the third thing is the scene near the WTC towers (or where they used to be) that shows a street littered with emergency vehicles, running people, and debris - and all around these people and items is ash.  Falling ash.  It drifts like snow - it's so gentle.  If you didn't know what you were looking at you might even think, for a moment, that its slow descent from the heavens to the earth was beautiful.

This ash makes me cry.  Because in it are the souls and spirits of those whose lives have ended.  It is, in many cases, the only earthly vestiage of what used to be a person - someone's child, someone's sibling, maybe someone's spouse or parent - gone in an instant.  Reduced to gentle and nearly beautiful ash, floating to the earth on a pristine day filled with sunshine.

I was very close to the Key Bridge, which connects Arlington, VA to the Georgetown section of Washington, DC when I answered a phone call from a colleague and friend.  I was in my car on my way downtown to a meeting at the Treasury Department's headquarters.  She told me to turn around and head out of DC immediately.  She quickly explained that both of the Trade Center towers had been hit by airplaines.  She said also that reports had just come in that the Pentagon had been hit by an airplane.  I couldn't connect the information - it was all coming too fast.  She told me that DC was being evacuated.  I took the exit off of George Washington Parkway for the Key Bridge.  As I made the slow merge onto the brige itself, I looked to my right.  Smoke and flames were cascading upward from the Pentagon.  It was all very real and it was all happening.

Needless to say, getting away from Washington that day was problematic.  Our phones were all jammed - I knew without a doubt that both my husband and parents would be trying to call me to see if I was ok.  I turned on the news and I listened and I repeatedly dialed home to let my husband know I was ok.  I got through, eventually, to both he and my parents.  I also called my stepson's school, which was only a mile from the CIA building (rumors were running at that time that another plane was headed towards Washington) and determined that he was being allowed to leave with friends and was heading home.

Having communicated my safety and having determined that friends and family were also safe, I was left on Canal Road in gridlocked traffic and news radio.  I heard the towers fall and was thankful that I didn't see it as it happened.

This was a long ride.  Only halfway to where I needed to be to exit Canal Road towards home and having to use the bathroom in the worst way, I pulled into the parking area for the scenic Fletcher's boathouse along the C&O Canal to use the restrooms provided there.  People were biking and walking and talking and smiling and doing what they would normally do on such a beautiful early fall day.  I realized that they were all oblivious to what had happened as they walked the paths and enjoyed the beautiful day.  I even watched as one got a phone call on her cell phone and I watched as her face changed as she was given the news.  She told her walking companion, whose disbelief was evident.  Others overheard.  Pretty soon a small contingent of walkers and bikers and hikers were gathered around on the bridge over the canal, all asking for information.  I joined the conversation and filled in what I knew.

We all have a story about that day.  It stands out in most of our minds in stark relief, regardless of where we were or where we live.  That was the day everything changed and we knew it was changed forever.

The good part about that day, though, and some of the days that followed, was the feeling of solidarity and unity that flowed from every conceivable place.  We were united through tragedy - all of us.  You could feel it.  It was a sense of connectedness and connection with total strangers that was totally unique.

A true leader is not measured by the way s/he responds to the 80% of things that are commonplace - S/he is measured by how s/he reacts and responds to that which is totally unexpected.  Our President had an opportunity to truly lead - not just in the days that followed 9/11, but in the months and years that followed it.  He has failed in that endeavor completely.  The Republican-led Congress has failed right alongside him.

It took re-watching Fahrenheit 9/11 for me to again fully connect to how badly they have failed all of us.  It's been almost 5 years since that bright September day.  I would like to think that I am above becoming anaesthetized, above forgetting the egregious conduct of our leadership, above falling into the trap of the distractions they have set for us.  And I do believe that I remember more of what's important than the average American because I read and write and blog here, at Daily Kos.  It helps me maintain my outrage and stay in tune with all the missteps and mistakes.

But I'd be lying if I told you that some of the distractions haven't worked.  They have.  It took watching Michael Moore's documentary for me to really reconnect - to what happened to us, to how that made me feel, to what we should have done, to what we did do, and the myriad of reasons why certain choices were made.

And I'm mad.  The whole thing pissed me off all over again.  It has caused me to root my feet even more firmly in the ground and get these fuckers (pardon my language) out of power.  It has made me want to think even more creatively about how to cripple them further in the achievement of their agenda.  It has reminded me not to be so naive - if my gut reaction to the whole issue of Iran is "we can't seriously be thinking about invading Iran", watching the movie has reminded me that we ARE seriously thinking about and, more importantly, that if we let our guard down, it is inevitable.

I am outraged anew, and that's a good thing because I now have the fuel I need to work harder and try harder to make changes that are absolutely critical.

So give yourself a gift this Independence Day.  If you don't own it, go rent Fahrenheit 9/11.  Watch it.  Let it be the fuel you need to be an instrument of change.


You've Come This Far - So Read more & Comment!

posted by RenaRF at 10:31 AM 1 comments links to this post