It is the sort of talk by a President that gives a lot of folks the willies. Empathy? A judicial nominee should not let feeling dictate the law. It's as simple as that. So when a President, any President, describes his nominee as qualified for being a "delightful and warm, intelligent person, who has great empathy and a wonderful sense of humor," we should recoil.
I seldom agree with Senator Orrin Hatch. But he has a point. Empathy is a code word for an activist judge. The danger is that "politics, preferences, personal preferences and feelings might take the place of being impartial and deciding cases based upon the law, not upon politics." In this case, it is not a danger, it has, unfortunately, been a persistent judicial pattern.
As Senator Jon Kyl puts it, empathy isn't part of the job description for a Supreme Court justice. "the qualifications being discussed — 'emotions or feelings or preconceived ideas,' Sen. Jon Kyl called them — aren't enough to justify a lifetime appointment." Kyl is someone to demand our attention. On Sunday, he said he wouldn't rule out a filibuster.
The head of the Republican Party, Michael Steele, put it this way to a radio audience: "Crazy nonsense empathetic! I'll give you empathy. Empathize right on your behind. Craziness!" The language is a bit exuberant, but the point is easy to understand.
Wendy Long, counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network writing for the Washington Times, quoted another Senator. The quality of empathy would have the effect of "making it difficult, as Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has said, to uphold the federal judicial oath to dispense justice impartially."
In fairness, we should quote the President's exact words in context.
I have followed this man's career for some time, and he has excelled in everything that he has attempted. He is a delightful and warm, intelligent person, who has great empathy and a wonderful sense of humor. He's also a fiercely independent thinker with an excellent legal mind who believes passionately in equal opportunity for all Americans. He will approach the cases that come before the Court with a commitment to deciding them fairly, as the facts and the law require.
While I am loath to disagree with President Bush, we have seen the unwise rulings in which the activist judge he was endorsing has participated. We have felt the devastating effect on the nation we love. This case was but the worst of many examples of lawlessness resulting in deep national trauma.
Justice Clarence Thomas should be removed at once.
In the movie Body Heat, the Mickey Rourke character tries to talk his friend, played by a young Willian Hurt, out of a crime. There are 50 ways to screw it all up and get caught, he counsels. "If you think of twenty-five of them, then you're a genius... and you ain't no genius."
The financial mess that came from deregulation was hard to track. It turned out that an amazing number of bets were routinely made on real estate values continuing to skyrocket to infinity. It all came undone when real estate prices dipped. That's all it took. The rest was a downward spiral in which falling real estate was but a part.
But the neatest trick was the complex financial maneuverings a lack of regulation allowed. Mortgage holdings were divided, bundled, re-bundled and subdivided again. It was like putting a billion bank accounts into a Popiel slice-and-dice product: Isn't that AMAZING! Derivatives became an accounting calculus problem: Gambling on a decline of an increase of the rate of increase of oranges, or mortgages, or other derivatives.
Hedge Funds were set up to help investors hedge their bets. Get it? Hedge funds? But the house of cards, after all the inside out turnings and higher calculus flips, was still based on hedgeless hedging. Think of selling flood insurance and protecting the proceeds by investing in riverfront property.
But there is an interesting little coil in all the financial twisting. Hedge Fund managers don't pay taxes the way the rest of us do.
Investors pay a much much lower tax rate than the rest of us. A CEO pays a top rate of 35% on salary. President Obama wants to increase that to 39%, what the GOP calls socialism. But an investor pays only 15%.
Hedge fund managers are paid commissions, like insurance salespeople. A lot is based on performance. The more money made for investors the more a manager gets paid. Seems fair, right? But unlike the insurance salespeople, managers pay only the 15% rate on the performance part, as if they are investing their own money. Secretaries that type up the paperwork can pay higher rates than the gazillionaires that employ them. How can this be?
It's like this: Hedge Fund managers REALLY love them some Democrats. Almost 60% of their political contributions go to Democratic candidates. Democrats love them back. And Republicans are, unsurprisingly enough, too dumb to seize a political opportunity. After all, they are never for raising taxes, ever, and can't criticize anyone for neglecting this important segment of earners that make this country what it is rapidly becoming.
President Obama wants to eliminate the Hedge Fund manager loophole. The only folks in Congress who will fight him tooth and nail are Republicans.
Well, Republicans and Democrats.
Okay, Republicans and Democrats and every lobbyist Hedge funds can hire.
"...the common sense of America today is that even a freely-elected government can become an oppressive government."
It was 1976 and Howard Baker was presenting a daring keynote address to the Republican National Convention, on the heels of the resignation of a Republican President. Baker laid violations of civil liberties at the feet of Democrats. "Abuses of personal liberty, invasions of privacy and political mischief of the most shocking type."
- "It isn’t love, or patriotism, or compassion. These are the common concerns of all of us, regardless of party."
- "...our aim is not the sullen call of a regimented society but the mutual respect of a free society."
- "As a political party, the responsibility we bear to that same idea of freedom is an equally sacred trust."
- "We confront the danger of nuclear proliferation..."
It remains a speech replete with retrospective irony. Decades later things changed. An attack on America briefly united the nation, but supporters used the murders as a political club. Past posturing was discarded.
Just recently, conservatives defended President George W. Bush no matter what. The new fashion is to cast him aside for neglecting true conservative principles. Those principles are notable for the absence of civil rights and civil liberties. New research by GQ as condensed to readability by Steve Benen and Hilzoy at Washington Monthly affirms at least some of that disavowal.
One problem President Bush was presented with was that cold war nuclear weapons were ripe for the taking by terrorists. Some were secured by rusted padlocks, some were in abandoned sheds without even that level of security. Conservatives had once opposed helping foreign governments to secure such sites as an expansion of big government. Rumsfeld upheld that standard. When President Bush ordered negotiations to proceed with post Soviet Russia, Secretary Rumsfeld dragged his feet with one stalling tactic after another. The negotiations collapsed.
When Katrina hit, President Bush presented us with a disinterested image that may not match his behind the scenes anger. As the lack of troops was discussed, President Bush shouted, "Rumsfeld, what the hell is going on there? Are you watching what's on television? Is that the United States of America or some Third World nation I'm watching? What the hell are you doing?" Even after that, Rumsfeld tossed out delays and roadblocks.
President Bush may not have abandoned conservative principles. He tried in at least two areas. But he did not fire Rumsfeld on the spot.
Conservatism in the Bush administration was preserved.
Since Sophocles, the morality of consequentialism has been debated. Is any action moral if it produces a good result? Niccolo Machievelli propounded the principle in his book The Prince. We have shortened it in more modern times to the end justifies the means.
We don't actually object to the literal meaning of those words. Nothing is done without some anticipation that the result will justify whatever effort or action produced the result. The objection is to ends that justify any means, any at all. We object to a sociopath's ethic.
The transmutation of torture to a parlor debate leaves a bad taste, in part because of the incomplete nature of most discussions. A proponent of torture must justify it in two parts. One is philosophical. Can we envision some evil that will be great enough to justify a lesser evil in order to avoid it? Given the limitless nature of human imagination, the answer will nearly always be yes.
Alone, such a formulation can be used to approve anything. We can, for example, imagine a Sophie's choice scenario. A mother can only save one child, and so must condemn another child to death. Shall we then leap to a policy of killing children? How about killing children of a terrorist to make him talk? The lesser-of-two-evils contrivance is a liberation from morality, a limitless vindication of any and every evil.
Lindsey Graham of South Carolina proposes the certainty of good effect. "I mean, one of the reasons these techniques have survived for about 500 years is apparently they work." He is backed up by historian Andrew Roberts in a recent article entitled How Torture Helped Win WWII. You see, we turned German spies into double agents by subjecting them to harsh techniques. Churchill, Roberts observes, was no choirboy. But his dispassionate review proves only that enemies were brutally dealt with during a time of war. We can believe that cooperation was produced. Victims are anxious to please. But experts tell us actual information through torture is unreliable beyond worthlessness. Nothing Roberts suggests contradicts that.
At least Senator Graham attempted to present evidence. An ABC News interview from 2007 with a torture specialist concluded that torture produced solid information from terrorists after 9/11. The report turned out to be untrue. ABC repudiated it, and the expert says he was badly misinformed. Memos indicate the Bush administration was less interested in a ticking bomb than in forcing captives to produce false evidence of an Iraq-al Qaeda connection.
Senator Graham's broader assertion that torture has worked for 500 years is true. It produced confessions of witchcraft and consorting with the devil. Nazis and Communists forced false confessions of treason against the state.
Unless Senator Graham shows that those tortured in past centuries were actually witches, history will show the real agents of Satan were those who ordered the torture.
He was captured in Afghanistan. It was bitterly cold on the day he died. US soldiers had carried him to the warmest room available, the cook's room. He complained of an ache in his belly. Two Afghan cooks carried him out to urinate. He died as they got him outside. He was 18.
It cannot be easy to have any sympathy at all for a suspected terrorist, even one so young. The enemies of freedom get their recruits at a very young age. The teen had been one of several turned in by a group of Afghans our soldiers had befriended. Winning the trust of those we had liberated had paid off.
Skeptics in the torture debate point out that al Qaeda knows how to manufacture false reports of torture. The suspects captured along with the deceased told stories of incredible abuse. According to news accounts, the prisoners claimed "they were pummeled, kicked, karate-chopped, hung upside down and struck repeatedly with sticks, rubber hoses and plastic-covered cables. Some said they were immersed in cold water, then made to lie in the snow. Some said they were kept blindfolded for long periods and subjected to electric shocks to their toes."
17 days after they were captured, the remaining prisoners and the body of the dead man were turned over to Afghan authorities. There were indeed injuries that tended to confirm the stories of physical abuse. Authorities found "substantial corroboration" of torture. The corpse was described as battered to the point of being "green and black" with bruises.
The Chief Warrant Officer commanding the Special Forces detachment that took the young man prisoner was deeply affected by the 9/11 attacks. It is not hard to imagine a kinship with him. Who was not affected by the death in fire of so many in the towers while the nation watched, helpless to save them? Can we really regret the administration of a bit of street justice against a perpetrator, even if it did go too far? When you get down to it, torture is seldom about getting useful information. Is vengeance always so bad?
Charles Krauthammer speaks for many of us when he argues that at times, torture should be permissible. "A terrorist is by profession, indeed by definition, an unlawful combatant: He lives outside the laws of war because he does not wear a uniform, he hides among civilians, and he deliberately targets innocents. He is entitled to no protections whatsoever." Habeas Corpus is the right to say to a judge that you have the wrong guy. It is hard to apply the right to a terrorist who has just helped kill thousands of people.
The dead teenager was eventually identified. He and the other suspected terrorists had been members of the Afghan Army III Corps. They had been fighting on our side, risking their lives to combat al Qaeda and the Taliban. Those who turned them in were local enemies with a small town grudge.
We had tortured to death a completely innocent teenager who had been a US ally. His name was Jamal Naseer.
The now famous handshake between President Obama and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez provoked a brief storm of controversy. Conservatives resurrected the election debate about negotiation with adversaries. Indeed, the small event was emblematic of a larger change in US approach. It provided a pictorial representation of sentiments the new President had expressed at length during his triumphant visit to Europe.
Conservatives tend to discount the value of popular world opinion. They regard tokens of talk and cordiality as a show of weakness. At best, they see such friendly surface gestures as obscuring the hard antagonism of contrasting principles.
But a "decent respect to the opinions of mankind" is more than a bit of soaring rhetoric put into the Declaration of Independence as an idealistic veneer. The needlessly bellicose bombast of the Bush administration accomplished nothing other than to make jingoists tingle. The interests of the United States were not advanced. In fact, the enemies of freedom used the Bush administration as a foil: the best recruitment tool for terrorism imaginable. Terrorist based movements cannot easily exist without a popular base. Terrorist groups that lack that home tend to whither. Presumably, this is not an undesirable outcome in the eyes of the US and our allies.
Within days of the advent of the new administration, analysts could detect notable signs of distress in the ranks of al Qaeda. "They're highly uncertain about what they're getting in this new adversary," says one CIA trained counterterrorism expert. "For al-Qaeda, as a matter of image and tone, George W. Bush had been a near-perfect foil." Another expert is even more direct. "The leadership of al-Qaeda is very concerned about the wide support that Obama has been receiving from Arab and Muslim countries."
The idea that that President Obama could benefit from a turn in public opinion is not unprecedented. Nor is the idea that the public can be deeply impressed by the contrast of an American leader expressing a reasonable message of hope and friendship as opposed to an adversary transparently ideological and unmovingly antagonistic.
It is easy to see a parallel at home. The contrast between the President and his opposition is striking. The President makes a fetish of outreach and reason. He receives antagonism in return. The result? The public regard for the GOP is at its lowest ebb in a generation, with no sign of a end to the decline. Obama's popularity remains strong.
Reasonable outreach can produce extraordinary results, even if the adversary is stuck in blind opposition. It is a sign of confidence, both in one's strength and in the rightness of one's cause. Confidence displays well.
The contrast makes the bluster of a panicked opponent look empty.
The earliest known use of water boarding was by the Spanish Inquisition in the late 1400s. The main objective was to coerce confessions of heresy. Sometimes co-heretics were named. This justified more investigations.
NPR quotes historian Henry Charles Lea on water boarding in the Inquistion:
"The patient strangled and gasped and suffocated and, at intervals, the toca was withdrawn and he was adjured to tell the truth. The severity of the infliction was measured by the number of jars [of water] consumed, sometimes reaching to six or eight."
In the 1500s, the practice was brought to the new world. Torture of those accused of witchcraft, trafficking with the devil, produced confessions. Co-conspirators were actively sought and usually obtained.
In World War Two, the Japanese used water boarding on US troops as a means of punishment. One US Airman described the torture.
The towel was wrapped around my face and put across my face and water poured on. They poured water on this towel until I was almost unconscious from strangulation, then they would let up until I'd get my breath, then they'd start over again… I felt more or less like I was drowning, just gasping between life and death.
The Gestapo used it to obtain false confessions, as did the Khmer Rouge at Tuol Sleng prison.
If history teaches us anything, it is that most humans will eventually say whatever they have to, no matter what, to stop pain. The pain must be great enough, must last long enough, and must be applied frequently enough to produce desperation.
False conversions in Spain in the 1400s
False evidence in America in the 1500s
False admissions in Germany and Japan during World War II
False confessions in Cambodia in the 1970s
The Bush administration tried to produce a false connection between Iraq and al Qaida. We now find that they used a method proven through the centuries. Torture works. It can be relied on for everything the torturer wants.
Jack Benny accepted his award with grace and humor, never dropping out of character. "I really don't deserve this," he said. "But I have arthritis and I don't deserve that either." I'm with you, Mr. Benny. I confess to mixed feelings as I watch the rapid deterioration of the Republican Party. I'm fine with popular rejection of the GOP at election time. But I miss what I remember as lively national dialogue.
A lack of serious thought colors each instance of what passes as policy debate. The economy is just one stale example. There is plenty of evidence that a spending surge by government is needed to bring us back from the edge of economic depression. The administration talks of money supply with charts and figures. Republicans blink and mumble about belt tightening.
The administration points to history and the solid relationship between government spending and past recoveries. Republicans blink with no apparent comprehension and chant about belt tightening.
The administration presents evidence of how more money in the economy produces economic growth which starts an upward cycle. Republicans gaze in dull surprise and repeat a mantra about belt tightening. I'm all for GOP suicide. But some small part of my civic soul yearns for meaningful debate.
"Remember, the Republican Party right now is in the shadow of the Bush administration," says Newt Gingrich. "We're in the last stage of digesting the tummy ache of having bad Congressional leadership; the worst Treasury Secretary in history; a bad economy. The Republican Party got fired for good reason; it deserved it."
Well, yeah. But what sort of debate has this economic tummy ache brought us? A pretty good case is made for a stimulative policy of Keynesian spending. Republicans have not articulated a reasonable counter-argument. So far, we have repetition of denial combined with legislative strategy of constant filibuster. Denial is not debate, and obstruction is not policy.
"We will lose on legislation. But we will win the message war every day, and every week, until November 2010," boasts Patrick McHenry of NC. "Our goal is to bring down approval numbers for Pelosi and for House Democrats. That will take repetition. This is a marathon, not a sprint." House Republican leader John Boehner agrees. The goal is simply to drag down Democrats.
The contrast in public imagery is striking. An energetic President rolls up his sleeves and works hard to solve extreme problems. His opponents gloat about the coming success of public conniving. They all but twist mustaches.
So far, Americans seem deeply appreciative of solid Presidential leadership. On the other hand, the country is still getting rid of a persistent Republican arthritis. A growing consensus is that the ache is undeserved.
The Republican Party is very much the victim of a sociological phenomenon. Technology provides new opportunities for individual conservatives to shield themselves from the cold, cold winds of electoral defeat. Cable news outlets compete for the right to tell conservatives what they want to hear. FoxNews leads the race at the moment. Rush Limbaugh is just the first among many equals in right wing radio. The message is one of narcoleptic comfort. Stay as you are. No need to re-examine cherished positions.
That leaves the GOP shrinking toward a point of singularity. As conservatives push for more extreme positions, more moderate folks leave the party. As they leave, the remainder of the party becomes more extreme. This drives more Republicans to become ex-Republicans, which drives the party even more toward the right. Just months ago, nobody would have thought that officeholders of national prominence would reach back to the slave holding side of civil war days and publicly contemplate secession from the union.
But there is a flip side to the Republican coin. As the GOP madly dashes rightward, the country is edging cautiously leftward. Two major studies by the Center for American Progress document what seem to be long term trends. Especially significant, the turn is most pronounced with younger voters.
4 out of 5 Americans reject core conservative theology, saying "government investments in education, infrastructure, and science are necessary to ensure America's long-term economic growth."
2 out of 3 say government must support poor, sick, and elderly folks.
3 out of 4 insist that "government regulations are necessary to keep businesses in check and protect workers and consumers."
3 in 4 say the "future requires a transformation away from oil, gas, and coal to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar."
- About 2 out of 3 voters say "the federal government should guarantee affordable health coverage for every American." Almost half "strongly support" the idea. Socialized medicine anyone?
A generation ago, folks like Jack Kemp tried to come up with conservative methods to solve social problems. Most of those ideas did not survive close examination, but at least the debate was well informed. The Republican side of most issues these days seems to be an equal mix of name calling (socialized medicine by a fascist President) and fact denying bumper sticker slogans (government must tighten its belt). A conservative friend surprises me, lamenting the reflexive mindlessness of what passes for debate. "My leaders are about as thoughtful as rats running through a maze."
The country has set sail. The ship is deserting the rats.
Time Magazine captured the moment. It was a photo op at an elementary school in Rochester, NY. Rick Lazio was beginning to slip in the polls as he ran against Hillary Clinton, but it seemed he still had a chance. As he visited the school, a little girl said it all. "I watched you on NBC last night--why were you fighting with Mrs. Clinton?"
At the debate the previous night, Lazio had tried every applause line that had tested so well with small Republican partisan groups. Then he demonstrated with physical posturing his disdain, at one point walking toward her, crowding her in front of a televised audience. Lazio not only lost, he was crushed.
Pointless public snubs seldom work out. Senator John Tower was way ahead of his opponent, Robert Krueger, in 1978. But at a debate appearance in Houston, Tower pointedly refused to shake the man's hand. Tower won, but by a razor thin margin that nobody had predicted.
Twelve years later, hyper-rich oil man Clayton Williams had an extreme lead over his opponent Ann Richards. Polls suggested a 20 point difference. After one debate, Williams publicly made a show of refusing to shake her hand. That blew the lead. He suffered a narrow defeat.
Boorishness almost never gains points. What loses elections also loses international competition. President Eisenhower's Secretary of State John Foster Dulles lost ground for the United States in 1954 when he refused to shake the hand of China's Zhou Enlai. Successful Presidents have since shaken the hands of Zhou, Mao, and Soviet dictators from Stalin onward.
President Obama has been the target of criticism for shaking the hand of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Obama had already been attacked by conservatives for his publicly stated willingness to negotiate with adversaries on the basis of self-interest rather than trust. The now famous handshake is seen as emblematic of a new approach that conservatives see as dangerous.
Obama defends the approach succinctly:
The whole notion was ... somehow if we showed courtesy or opened up dialogue with governments that had previously been hostile to us, that that somehow would be a sign of weakness. The American people didn't buy it. And there's a good reason the American people didn't buy it, because it doesn't make sense.
History, evidence, and logic, and most US citizens seem to support this President. But debates are never over as long as folks are willing to argue. In this case, lack of sense seems to be no hindrance at all.
The dialogue on the economy has seemed lopsided from the beginning.
Democrats point to hardship and economic trends. The bad news is that dramatic action is essential to prevent catastrophe. The good news is that modern economic studies make the way clear. A stimulus is needed.
Republicans speak out against government spending. Families tighten their belts during hard times. Government should not be exempt from hard choices. Tax cuts can provide stimulus, and government should cut back and give folks back their own money.
Democrats come to the debate with a pragmatic approach and a lot of data to back it up. Government spending stimulates the economy. Tax cuts for wealthy folks stimulates as well, but spending works fastest and best.
Republicans have faith in supply side economics, like Ronald Reagan advocated. Tax cuts pay for themselves. They protest government spending. Government should tighten its belt like families do. Fair is fair.
Democrats point out that Ronald Reagan's tax cuts did not pay for themselves. He raised payroll taxes on working families to bring in revenue. Slashing government spending during a downturn is way crazy. Balanced budgets are for when times are good. They make bad times extreme. Economic data and numerous studies provide ample evidence.
Republicans say that revenue pretty much has to rise when taxes are cut. Spending is the culprit. And families cut spending when times get rough.
Representative Eric Cantor wants his fellow Republican office holders to work harder. He is quoted as saying they “need to work to make sure the message gets out” as they face an increasingly popular President.
Representative John Boehner, House GOP leader agrees. “Republican leaders have put a premium on emphasizing our alternatives when we disagree with the president,” says a spokesman. “But there’s no doubt we’re going to have to work even harder to make sure our message is heard.”
This seems to be the effort at the state level as well. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is gaining short term fame as the fellow holding up the winner of a Senate race from taking office. But on basic Republican strategy, he speaks for many office holders. “I think, for Republicans, it has to be about staying true to our values and principles, but more effectively applying those to the emerging issues of our time,” he said. Yup. The message isn't getting out.
Meanwhile, more and more families are tightening their belts until they squeak when they walk. They are getting the Republican message.
It has to do with government becoming tight.
Justice Clarence Thomas described himself as morose as he spoke with a group of high school students. He raises his spirits in private viewings of patriotic films. He dwelled on the good old days, and was especially nostalgic for times of war. At last, he spoke of the Bill of Rights, the cornerstone of US freedom:
‘Today there is much focus on our rights,” Justice Thomas said. “Indeed, I think there is a proliferation of rights.”
“I am often surprised by the virtual nobility that seems to be accorded those with grievances,” he said. “Shouldn’t there at least be equal time for our Bill of Obligations and our Bill of Responsibilities?”
He gave examples: “It seems that many have come to think that each of us is owed prosperity and a certain standard of living. They’re owed air conditioning, cars, telephones, televisions.”
I often confess to being a partisan Democrat and an unrepentant liberal. I speak often with those on the left. In my lifetime I have spoken to some crazed folk, some inflamed by injustice. I have spoken to militants and moderates, and more than a few who have seemed to be walking a ragged edge. I do not recall, ever, speaking with a single individual who considered household appliances to be social or legal rights. No kidding.
One of many all too human temptations is to reduce those with whom we disagree to caricatures. It may be that Justice Thomas was momentarily succumbing to that temptation. He may have simply been having a bad day, as every human does from time to time. He may have been misquoted.
The report carried without comment his disparagement of the first ten amendments to our Constitution. Historical accounts are clear. The outcry at the new structure of government was substantial. Had the Bill of Rights not been added, our form of government would never have gone into effect. Court decisions have pretty much held the Bill of Rights to be sacrosanct.
If the the account is halfway accurate, a deeply troubled member of the final arbiter of our freedoms views our basic rights with all the introspection one would expect from the regular late night occupant of the corner seat at a right wing neighborhood bar. Respect for his office requires our faith in the judicial wisdom of Clarence Thomas. That faith is in the tradition of the Apostle Paul:
The substance of things hoped for.
The evidence of things unseen.
It was never about superior defense preparedness. It was about superior annual budgets. Dollars to rubles. For over four decades, the size of our defense budget was determined by the amount spent by the USSR. But how could we know for sure what they were spending?
We determined that by taking clandestine intelligence, spy satellite photos, and other evidence then working backward. How many rubles would the undertaking require? Translate that into dollars, put in an increase to make our budget more than theirs, and presto! There's our Department of Defense.
When inefficiencies in the Soviet manufacturing system made a certain system more costly to the USSR, making them spend a lot more for a lot less, that would be a good thing, right? Not within our system of comparative budget analysis. We rang the alarm bells at their increases in spending and raced to increase our spending more.
There were glitches. For example the Soviets sometimes implemented systems we had rejected as too useless to justify the cost. Our analysts referred to them as novelty items. They presented a problem. We had to guess at the amount wasted by the Soviet Union so that we could increase our budget by the same amount.
The technical term for a process based on budgets, not effectiveness, was Yikes.
After the USSR collapsed, we were left with a problem. We had no single superpower adversary on whom we could base our budget. But we could match every conceivable combination of military power, including our current friends. You never know what those Brits will do. Today, the United States spends approximately 50% of the planet's outlay on war related technology. It is not approached by anyone else.
So here's our vulnerability. When adversaries use inexpensive means to force us to counter extravagantly, our military budget works against us. Our enemies can bleed us to death. And our enemies are not all formally recognized nations.
We do not yet have the details of the new Obama budget. In the buildup to the figures, there is an emphasis on the sort of conflict we are likely to encounter in the future. The expected shift in resources is away from high-tech systems to be used against opponents that withered and died decades ago. The budget will increase yet again, but the strategy will be preparedness for twenty first century tactics.
Conservatives are already howling that the 4% anticipated increase is a massive cut. And we are indeed cutting our ability to fight the USSR. That opponent's current military budget is approximately zero.
February 1863 was a harsh time for the United States. News from Civil War battles was bleak and Washington, DC was itself in danger from Confederate troops who were thought to be approaching. In Allegheny, Pennsylvania, a convention met. The people had discovered a solution to the war.
The blood being shed was God's punishment on the nation for having adopted a form of government that was secular. God was not named at all in the Constitution, and religion was named only once. Even that reference was negative. The congregants felt that the founding fathers had overreacted to the revulsion many still had toward the Salem witch trials and other persecutions in the colonies.
In the Pennsylvania meeting, attorney John Alexander composed an amendment to the Constitution. The preamble would be rewritten:
We, the People of the United States recognizing the being and attributes of Almighty God, the Divine Authority of the Holy Scriptures, the law of God as the paramount rule, and Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior and Lord of all, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
A petition was presented to President Lincoln, who asked for time to reflect on the matter. That year battlefield developments overtook the issue and it never gained the same traction again.
Every once in a while, well meaning Christian folks feel the need to use government to impose salvation on others. Declaring the United States to be a Christian nation seems a logical first step. Some pose logical arguments about the structure of the early government. The founders did not have in mind religious freedom, so much as leaving the matter to state governments.
That strikes me as plausible. People who could live with slavery as a state protected institution could well have thought of religious liberty as a minor consideration. The First Amendment prohibition of laws "respecting an establishment of religion" became applicable when the Civil War eroded the right of states to take away the freedoms of individuals.
For folks like me, the real issue is not legal. It is simply immoral to impose my religion or any religion on others as a matter of law. How about we leave it as a matter of conscience and direct our evangelism toward individuals? As Paul and Peter and the other apostles did? As Jesus does in our hearts?
Coming to St. Louis years ago from the Washington DC area, I am still struck by cultural difference that intrude on the highway. Even radio reports reflect a patience not seen on the urban East coast. WTOP, as I recall it, would report occasional slowdowns on DC highways around accidents or stalled vehicles with derisive dismissal. "A few rubberneckers are slowing things down again." Sometimes this was followed by an entertaining adjective or two. Tired commuters nodded their heads as they waited. In St. Louis, KMOX with Captain Mumbles who whispers almost inaudibly over helicopter blades, will sometimes acknowledge "drivers slowing down for a look," but that's usually it.
The north side of St. Louis County is still a frequent trouble spot. All expressways are vulnerable, but I-270 is troubled in both directions at rush hour. A motorist changing a tire on a parallel service road on the other side of the highway will produce just enough gawkers to slow things down, sometimes to a stop.
Mostly because it was so unexpected, I had to laugh out loud as I heard an assistant to Captain Mumbles mention one slowdown that was intensified by those for whom, in his words, "stop-and-go is multitasking."
I remember my first encounter with Missouri driving over 35 years ago. A crowded residential area was reduced to a single lane by parking on either side. A line of several cars waited patiently behind one driver as he finished his conversation with a pedestrian. It would never happen where I came from.
Times change. The incident might be repeated, but minus the patience.
The daily commute is becoming easier of late. The change has been gradual and, with peaks and valleys, is hard to notice on a daily basis. But delays are less frequent than they were even a year ago. Volume seems to be the key. KMOX often reports surprise at the light flow. "It's almost like the weekend," I heard twice in the past couple of weeks or so. The new easier drive time in Missouri turns out to be part of a national trend. Slowdowns are reduced everywhere. Our good fortune seems to know no bounds. Deadly accidents are down by 9.1 percent over last year.
The reason? Seat belts, gas prices. Mostly it's the economy. Traffic flow is down as fewer motorists make the daily commute. They drive less, devoting the time scanning want ads, reworking resumes and budgets, agonizing with spouses, telling kids they will do without, wondering if a new job will come soon enough to save a home.
President Obama is trying to make the daily commute much harder, much more crowded. Let us pray he succeeds.