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Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Definition of Insanity

Einstein famously defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If you had never heard of Einstein's definition, you would only have to look at America for the past 12 years to come up with the same idea.

Evangelical Voters -- The October 28, 2006 edition of the WSJ has a story on the front page about last minute get-out-the-vote campaigns being led by evangelicals encouraging the "faithful" to hold their noses and continue voting for Republicans. (By the way, the Ohio effort is led by a "thrice-married, self-described former pornography addict" who heads, ahem, the Citizens for Community Values, according to the WSJ story. Shocking, I know…) The same Republicans who operated a lobbying and money-laundering machine since 1994 that took money from evangelical groups and in several cases groups with goals diametrically opposed to the evangelicals, did NOTHING for either interest group and enriched themselves and their families with the proceeds. The same Republicans who created a special office of "Faith Based Initiatives" within the White House to coordinate spending of federal dollars on programs operated by predominately conservative / evangelical non-government organizations. (#1) Of course, the deputy director of the program, David Kuo, resigned after two years when he came to the conclusion that the program was provided only enough funding to go through the motions of supporting faith based initiatives to get political benefit from them rather than actually accomplish anything. (#2)

So how will returning these politicians to office encourage them to change their behavior?


Republican Control of the House -- Dennis Hastert's strategy for forcing all Republican members of the House to toe the party line is to require support from a majority of the Republican caucus for any legislation to leave committee for consideration by the full House. With the current 230 / 205 split between Republicans and Democrats (205 included three vacancies to keep the math easy), this practice means that 115 Republicans (26% of the 435 members) can block legislation favored by 320 Representatives. That's a lot of good moderate Republican ideas getting squelched when we need all the ideas we can get.

So how will returning Dennis Hastert and the far-right conservatives who support this scorched earth approach to managing their own party, much less the country, improve the quality of legislation considered in Congress?


Bush on Iraq -- President Bush held a press conference October 26 in an attempt to address public dissatisfaction about Iraq and change the subject. Bush stated our tactics are changing all the time but our goal remains the same. Of course, he has not defined exactly what the goal is and has explicitly ruled out any change in strategy that adds more troops to help stabilize the political / security situation or reduces troops to either reduce sectarian tensions caused by our presence or at least get our troops out of the crossfire. The strategy seems to maintain precisely the wrong amount of troops to accomplish anything. He did however clarify the goal, if we had any doubt. Prevent terrorists from controlling Iraqi oil (which we know is best left to international energy conglomerates). Despite the fact that Saddam Hussein never had any incentive to host Islamic terrorists within Iraq while he was in control because they were as much a threat to him as to our interests.

George Bush has always been big on "messages." Of course, he's always focused on sending them rather than receiving any. So how will retaining a Republican majority help send Bush a "message" that a fundamental change in strategy is immediately required in Iraq?


Republicans Managing Your Tax Dollars -- Republicans still use the "tax and spend Liberal" label to castigate the "Democrat" party. Republicans have done FAR WORSE with your tax dollars in the past six years. The Pentagon has lost over TWENTY ONE BILLION DOLLARS in Iraq, including NINE BILLION IN CASH according to numerous reports on the operation of the Coalition Provisional Authority the United States established to manage post-invasion Iraq. (#3) As the Baltimore Chronicle noted, the ability of Congress to investigate how this money was lost to punish those responsible and prevent it from happening again is virtually non-existent. A signing statement added by Bush when the CPA was established allowed him to categorize any information associated with the CPA's operation as "national security" and therefore unavailable to Congress.

So how will retaining a Republican majority in the House and Senate lead to investigations about who allowed our tax dollars to be squandered instead of being spent on legitimate needs for our troops and protecting our interests?

Republicans Protecting You From Terrorism -- The incompetence displayed by the Bush Administration in running the Iraq war also has a potential direct impact on the threat of terrorism posed to Americans both here and abroad. 60 Minutes ran a story October 19, 2006 on another huge chunk of cash provided by the United States directly to the Iraqi government for the purchase of weapons and material for the Iraqi military. (#4) The spending was controlled by a former used-car dealer (seriously…) and much of it purchased weapons through Jordanian firms without any detailed invoices to identify what if anything was actually delivered. Much of the equipment that was delivered was obsolete, broken-down Russian equipment which proved unusable. At least $500 million worth of gear cannot be found at all. (#5) Virtually all of the officials involved with the procurement have fled Iraq. Given the level of corruption in the Iraqi government, how can the United States be sure we just didn't provide $500 million in cash to groups that will funnel it to terrorists? We can't.

So how will retaining a Republican majority that supported unprecedented domestic surveillance on American citizens improve our ability to track terrorist funding when we deliver truckloads of cash to corrupt Iraqi government officials who have direct ties to Iranian Shi'ite factions who are supporting the insurgency attacking our troops?

Republicans and the Economy -- It isn't the job of Republicans or Democrats to "manage" the economy. However, it is the job of our government to avoid enacting policies which distort market forces in ways which favor segments of the economy at the long term expense of the entire country. Republican control of Congress and the White House resulted in energy legislation which provided billions in tax breaks to energy companies in the name of encouraging oil production and exploration. Those companies were already enjoying record profits and didn't need incentives to find more oil or find better alternatives to oil. Republicans also enacted Medicare legislation which actually protected pharmaceutical companies from market forces that would encourage lower prices by preventing the government from using its buying power to shop for lower prices. The energy bill took money from the treasury and squandered it to boost energy company profits and the Medicare bill assured costs of the program would be far greater than claimed when the costs and funding of the program were considered.

These bills harmed the economy by increasing deficits, putting upward pressure on interest rates and limiting our fiscal flexibility for dealing with future disasters such as wars or natural disasters. They also harmed the economy by interfering with market forces that should be incenting exactly the opposite behavior -- reduced dependency on ALL oil and reduced demand for prescription drugs through more responsible health care decisions by individuals rather than more coverage of overpriced, over-prescribed drugs. As the final coup de grace of financial and generation irresponsibility, these bills also both transfer much of the cost to future generations. Even the head of the Government Accounting Office says the American government is leading the country to financial ruin. (#6)

How will retaining Republican control of Congress stop the deficit spending that is putting ownership of our economy (via T-Bills) in the hands of China and other foreign nations who are our principal competitors in a world market for labor and investment?


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In parenting, a teachable moment involves

* a child knowing right from wrong
* a child making a wrong decision that he knows is wrong
* a child being caught by the parent as the wrong decision is made or its consequences become clear

The teachable moment comes from the parent having the opportunity to combine both the consequences of the wrong decision and the guilt of being caught in the act to focus the mind of the child with discipline that drastically reduces the chance of the child making the same mistake again. For lessons ranging from "don't touch the stove" to "don't leave home without telling Mom or Dad", it is a parent's obligation to utilize these teachable moments effectively to prevent the child from making bigger mistakes later on.

I've written several times before that regardless of your party affiliation, when faced with a choice between current Republicans and current Democrats, it's no contest. The policy areas where Democrats are wrong produce nowhere near the damage produced by the policy areas where Republicans are wrong.

As was the case in 2004, the mid-term election of 2006 represents a teachable moment in America. We have a political system in which all of the participants know better yet behave in ways which are systematically and predictably producing bad results for American citizens. In the case of Republicans, only a handful have stated they would not have voted for war given what we know NOW about Iraq and the lack of weapons of mass destruction. This indicates there is no "teachable moment" for these officials. Despite 2811 American deaths, 20,687 American wounded, over 50,000 Iraqi civilian deaths and $338 billion spent, they haven't learned a thing. They are incapable of learning, even on matters of life and death.

American voters also need to recognize that the "teachable moment" isn't limited to Congress and the President. If we fail to change the course of our government by changing control of the House and Senate in the 2006 mid-term elections, the damage to our long term political, economic and moral leadership in the world will speed up, not slow down. At that point, we Americans will soon face our own teachable moment. We knew better yet still voted to maintain the status quo.

The definition of insanity.

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#1) http://www.whitehouse.gov/government/fbci/grants-catalog-index.html

#2) http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-faith13oct13,0,3875008.story?coll=la-home-headlines

#3) http://baltimorechronicle.com/2006/060806Lindorff.shtml

#4) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/10/19/60minutes/main2109200.shtml

#5) http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=12758

#6) http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20061029/ap_on_go_ot/america_the_bankrupt_4