B After The Fact

Thursday, June 19, 2003

I see where the House has passed another bill repealing the Estate Tax, but that the New York Times says that it lacks the 60 votes needed in the Senate for passage. According to the New York Times article, the Democrats accused the Republicans of trying to starve the government (an already constant theme of my blog site), and the Republicans accused the Democrats of trying to make it impossible for family businesses to stay together.

I think of my pleasant trips to Newport, and to Delaware, and up the Hudson Valley, and of course to the Metropolitan Museum, and I wonder, where would my leisure time be without the estate tax?

My (mistaken?) understanding is that trying to make it impossible for family businesses to stay together from generation to generation was perhaps the fundamental American value. I thought it came to Jamestown with all those second sons who had to leave England because the English inheritance laws froze them out. I thought that England passed those laws in order to insure that the aristocracy would not be broken up.

The American point was that people should not become wealthy through inheritance, but through their own efforts. I thought the point was to avoid an American aristocracy. Because that is the point, the estate tax should really be off to the side of the sort of debate about taxation in general, and should really be about philosophies of inherited wealth and aristocracy.

You don't even need to give the money to the government, because if preventing aristocracy is the point of the estate tax, you could do what is traditionally done, and settle out with the estate, and just take a Newport vacation home or two. This way I have someplace to go sightseeing.

I guess the surprising conclusion is that when it comes to the estate tax, Democratic complaints about starving the goverment of money are as off the mark as Republican complaints that family businesses are being broken up. I agree that if you can't afford large summer homes in Newport or Maine, you should not be subject to the estate tax. I also agree that the government should not be using the estate tax to balance the budget.

However, the current Republican notion that the unfettered accumulation and transfer of wealth is a traditional American value that should be supported by law is just not so. And why the Democrats are so afraid of reminding people of that fact ...and why the supposedly more egalitarian House of Representatives should be leading the charge on this .... (well, I'm just an old blogger)

Monday, June 16, 2003

Dear Mr. Krauthammer:

In response to your article Iraq Doves Must Wake Up (Daily News, June 15, 2003), where you complain that the Baghdad Museum was not looted after all, and the left has not apologized for getting it wrong, and has now changed the subject to the “hyping of the weapons of mass destruction.” You also set up a Frank Rich article in the April 27 New York Times as indicative of an attitude that you despise.

No one hawked the war against Saddam Hussein more than I did, and no one cares less about whether they find WMDs or not. There were plenty of other good reasons to fight the war.

However, I think you misrepresented the point that Mr. Rich was making, and it had nothing to do with WMDs, or about whatever Mr. Rich’s position on the war happens to be. The point Mr. Rich is making, I believe, is that if you contend that you have to go into Iraq to save the Iraqi people, and then do nothing to protect their national treasures (but do everything to protect their oil), you may be inadvertently tipping your hand about what you truly value.

The Pentagon did not help matters at all by reacting as if the sacking of the museum was not important, and protecting the museum’s treasures was (to paraphrase) sissy work, and unworthy of a great army. You don’t have to be opposed to the war to find that attitude troubling. I don’t remember reading that anyone in the Administration has had a change of heart. If the Museum was not sacked, it was just a question of luck. I don’t remember anyone in the administration trusting the protection of the oil fields to luck.

It really troubles me that you would try to reach so far as to attempt to tie complaints about the sacking of the Museum with the problems we are having finding WMDs. If there is any connection that could possibly be made, it would have to be that it is impossible to trust any information coming out of Iraq.

There were never so many Iraqi doves as you pretend there are. My own view is that people who are looking to find “doves” and “fellow travelers” under the bed are trying to collapse a foreign policy disagreement into a domestic policy dispute to make it easier to cut taxes, impose an ever stricter PATRIOT Act, etc. I have been reading your columns since I first discovered them in The New Republic, and I am deeply disappointed to find you sounding so shrill.

Friday, June 13, 2003

They say that patriotism is the last refuge
To which a scoundrel clings.
Steal a little and they throw you in jail,
Steal a lot and they make you king.

Bob Dylan (from “Sweetheart Like You”)

Poor man wanna be rich,
rich man wanna be king
And a king ain't satisfied
till he rules everything

Bruce Springsteen (from “Badlands”)

Both in response to some of the comments I received from my previous postings, and as a way of moving forward, I am reprinting something I wrote regarding the Lott affair. It is slightly edited since the original letter responded to either something I read in a newspaper, or something said to me by my conservative friend. I may have sent this into Newsday, but I doubt it. Newsday has printed some of my letters, but never anything more than a paragraph. Of course, I got sick shortly after, so I may have already sent this to most of you, but it needs to go on the blogsite by way of certain first principles, and to get to where my thinking is, especially along the issue of Federal vs. state, which is a construct guiding a lot of my thinking: Here goes,


Recent comments - recent comments by Senator Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country. He has apologized, and rightly so. Every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding ideals. And the founding ideals of our nation and, in fact, the founding ideals of the political party I represent was, and remains today, the equal dignity and equal rights of every American

President Bush
December 12, 2002

(B After The Fact responded:)

What is extraordinary about that statement is how untrue it is. Doesn’t President Bush know anything about the signing of the Declaration of Independence? Didn’t he see the movie 1776? Doesn’t he understand the entire meaning of the Civil War? It is because a large segment of the population disagreed with the statement that “Every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding ideals” that slavery was not discredited in the Declaration of Independence, and was not abolished in our original Constitution, or institutional racism not done away with by the 13th and 14th Amendments, or by Brown vs Board of Education. As for Republican founders, I take it for granted that President Bush does not know his Charles Sumner from his Abraham Lincoln.

Well maybe the President does and maybe he doesn’t. He is a political leader, not a history professor. As a political leader, Mr. Bush said what he thought he could get away with saying, and he got away with saying it, because whether or not it is true, the consensus in this country today is that we want the President’s statement to be a true reflection of our history.

However, Lott said a more true thing about how people felt about segregation in 1948. The subject of the debate is whether the statement is still true today. The world moves, and Lott has stayed the same. He looks like a dinosaur. Now is he really?


I believe that States Rights was, and has always been, a cover for segregation. Without trotting out too much of my knowledge of trivia, and boring us all to death, the people opposed to states rights at the outbreak of the Civil War were Southerners. They wanted a Federal Slave Code, they wanted slavery nationalized in all the territories, and according to Abraham Lincoln in The House Divided speech, it was the Southerners who were plotting for a second “Dred Scott” decision to make slavery constitutional everywhere. It was only after Southerners saw that they were not going to win these points that talk about secession into a “Southern Confederacy” went past the fire-eaters and into the general population. During the life of the Confederacy, the range of opinions on “states rights” (as opposed to nationalized Confederacy rights) was as broad as it is today.

It was only after the Civil War was lost that “states rights” began to gain prominence as a primary cause for the Civil War (as opposed to an “unseemly” emphasis on slavery).

It is this continuing myth of the primacy of the role of states rights in the causes of the Civil War that continues to pervert a lot of the jargon concerning states rights today. Since we all have lives to lead, I will spare us all another 200 pages along these lines. Suffice it to say that I do not agree with any statement that says that states rights is a good argument, both before or after the fact, for defending Confederate actions leading to the Civil War.

Like other liberals, I believe states rights (without quotes) masks an intellectually sloppy form of corporatism. Corporations and large actors prefer states rights because they believe they can divide and conquer their way to gaining their agenda more easily than they can fight the Federal government. Since these agendas are goal-oriented and amoral (in the literal sense that they are not driven by any sort of vision about the proper way to live), when the individual states do not appear to be responding to their demands (torts reform, union issues in education, tobacco legislation, Presidential election results, etc.), these corporations and fellow travelers who support them have no trouble turning to Washington, D.C. to demand that the Feds take action and preempt states rights.

In certain issues that matter to me, the Electoral College, and certain forms of education policy and health care and free speech issues, I also believe in states rights, because I believe that my deal here in New York State is better than my deal would be under a Federal regime. In no instance that comes to mind can states rights be called a philosophy. It is always a tool.

Like all liberals, I believe that the Republican Party’s “Southern Strategy” of treating racism with a “nod and a wink” is alive and well. Conservative bloggers now seem to conclude that this strategy is obsolete, that they do not need people who talk like Trent Lott to be part of a working conservative coalition. They reach this conclusion despite the virtual 50/50 split in the election of 2000 and the only slightly better results in the election of 2002. President Bush’s statement seems to indicate that he agrees with the bloggers. I would like to live in a world where President Bush is right. I do not know if he is.

I do not believe that every conservative is a racist, and I know that not every racist is a conservative. However, I continue to believe that large portions of voters in large sections of the country lead their lives and cast their votes, not in the hope of improving their lot, but in using their lot to keep the people they hate under their shoe. From the time of Lincoln, through FDR and the big-government New Deal, and to the time of LBJ, these people voted Democrat. Currently, these people vote Republican. The conclusion to be drawn is that these people will go along with any other portion of the agenda, tax cuts or not, war in Iraq or not, big government or not, heat in the winter or not, so long as they believe that their leaders are people who hate the way they hate.

Monday, June 09, 2003

Instead of reinventing the wheel, and before I learn how to use the hyperlink properly, I am stuck simply referring you to Matt Bai's article in yesterday's New York Times magazine: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/08/magazine/08GOVS.html. I will just quote him,

"The tax cut will choke off revenue to the federal government, which is precisely what conservatives want it to do. Their thinking is that the less money Washington has, the less it will waste. ....

"Unlike the president, who can run up deficits at will, governors are legally bound to pass balanced budgets. ....

"Instead, desperate governors are slashing the aid that flows from each state to the cities and towns where people actually live. And this is the hidden effect of the Bush tax agenda -- beyond the expanding deficits and favoritism toward the wealthy -- that a lot of taxpayers don't yet seem to grasp. If Bush and Congress cut taxes, and your governor doesn't raise them, then the buck ultimately stops with your mayor, who has to find ways to pay the police and firefighters, paint schools and pave roads. That'll mean higher property taxes or fees on services like garbage collection, or maybe the town will decide it's time to reassess the value of your house. Either way, you're likely to be paying someone else the money you no longer send to Washington....

"Given that Bush and three of his cabinet members were governors themselves, you would think they'd be deeply concerned about the crisis in the states. If they are, no one in the administration wants to talk about it ....

"Influential Republicans aren't merely indifferent to the crises facing governors; they are openly hostile. Conservatives like Moore and Grover Norquist, the strategist who talks often with Karl Rove, say it would be insane for Washington to help states that won't help themselves. What governors really need, they argue, is the spine to cut back sprawling government programs. Norquist says governors should kick more people off Medicaid, for instance. To ensure that only the truly needy qualify, he advises governors to say, '''We're not going to be doing hair transplants or sex-change operations and all the other things we've been doing.'...''

"This is not the ideological fringe talking. It is, in fact, the center of power in the Republican Party...

"Leaving the governors to deal with their own fiscal nightmares is part of a tough-love policy designed to make the states scale back the social programs that are making them destitute...."

OK, and then Bai says, as you would expect him to say:

"That's fine, except taxpayers, even those who vote for smaller government -- have come to demand a certain threshold of services."

And so the question is, who pays. For example, after September 11, President Bush promised 20 billion dollars in funding to New York City. Despite what you hear on Fox and what you read in the New York Post, New York City did not get 20 billion dollars. If it did, it was not "new funding" nor was it funding that went only to New York City, or even the New York Metropolitan area. Instead, I received a tax cut, and as Matt Bai says, I will be spending that tax cut paying for increases in my New York State and City taxes.

One sort of conservative, the conservative that liberals think they're dealing with, would say: "Well if you feel that way about raising taxes in New York, and you can get enough people to agree with you, then fine. Here in our state, we don't believe in taxes. We like our dirt roads." (A movement conservative, the conservative who holds power in this country, would say that providing government services to people is immoral, but we'll hold that as a marker for some other time.)

My initial reaction to my dirt road loving friend is this -- I'm fine with paying higher taxes in New York City, just so long as no one from Mississippi or Ubekistan (sic) puts their grubby paws on the services I get with my additional money.

The thing is that all those people will be moving to New York City the first chance they get.

There are a number of ways to keep all these "free riders" from doing that. One of those ways is to make sure that people are so happy where they are that they don't feel a great need to come to New York City. Which, by the way, is another (though not necessarily the best) "liberal" reason to like crushing Sadman Insane.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Saw Newt Gingrich's new book, Gettysburg, at Barnes and Noble. According to the jacket, it is the first of a trilogy investigating how things would have happened if Lee won at Gettysburg. I'll wait for the movie, if even then.

All the great "What If Lee Won At Gettysburg" scenarios assume that by 1860, slavery was born to die in the South. The "what if" scenario I never see is what if the South had won the war, or the Confederacy allowed to leave in peace, and the great clothing mills stayed in the South and were worked by slaves? What if the great steel mills stayed in the South and were peopled by slaves? What if the great auto factories stayed in the South and were peopled by slaves? I am so sure that Newt will explore these issues at length.

Someone was kind enough to read the first early entries of this blog-site, and raised the point of how bizarre it is that the Bushies would fight a war and lower taxes at the same time. Cutting taxes during wartime is philosophical and radical. It is a serious political statement, whether or not it is coming from Bush directly (which I believe it is in part, since only a person as rich as Bush could be so personally vested in the result that he is oblivious to the other side of it). It is also a statement which is neither liberal or conservative (which is why it is radical), and, I continue to insist, is better understood in the context of the 1860s than the 1960s (which is why it will eventually go too far, hopefully not before it causes too many lives).

Of course, it is also an attempt to kill the entire concept of government as an agent for good (which is another reason why Bush is so vested in it), and replace it with the older idea as government as an expression of pure power. That will fail also (many deaths from now), because the idea of a social safety net is not only (or even chiefly) the liberal idea that people deserve a hand, but the conservative one that says if you don't give the masses some crumbs, they will kick the table over, and trample the elite under it.

I do not think the response to Bush is to defend this or that entitlement. In some ways, it's besides the point, since it is technically possible to take care of a great many entitlements with tax breaks, or at the state or local level, keeping the actual cost of the Federal government in line.

I think the response to Bush, to Grover Norquist, to Tom DeLay's attempt to do a second reapportionment in Texas during the same census period, is that absolute freedom and absolute democracy only works for the very very few (one of whom would obviously be George W. Bush).

The current system is not absolutely democratic in order to insure that to the greatest extent possible, the people who live in it are absolutely free. No system on the table will enable the maximum number of people the maximum amount of freedom, except for the one we have.

I don't know quite how to get our proposed philosophy onto a postage stamp, although Bill Clinton once said, "If you want to live like a Republican, you have to vote like a Democrat." Nor do I know who the salesperson, the Ronald Reagan, of our philosophy is.

George Bush is looking for a country run by the richest, and the poorest can suffer. John Ashcroft is looking for a country run by those who profess to follow Jesus, and I do not know what gives anyone the right to claim themselves holier than thou.

Last time I checked, the blogsite sponsors (I have no control over it) are KerryforPresident.org and poliight.org. Sponsors this week have included the publishers of Bush at War, the National Review, the Cleveland Institute (sic) and Edwards Lifesciences, who made my heart valve

Friday, June 06, 2003

Just finished reading The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. It's on the New York Times bestseller list, but fortunately for me, I received the book as a get-well gift. I knew nothing about the book when I picked it up to read it. Parts of it, even late in the book, are slow going, but when you are done, you are very glad you read it.

Saw Bruce Almighty with Jim Carrey this week. Like that Jim Carrey doing comedy.

Videos -- We saw Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. Good to see it after Hallie Berry has won her Oscar, because what you know about Hallie and wonder about her folds back on this movie.

We saw Glengarry Glen Ross, which I had never seen before. When I was an actor, I used to use the Jack Lemmon part for audition material, and I did not want Jack to influence me (small lie --- I didn't want Jack's mastery to discourage me). I did however see the original Broadway production, with Robert Prosky (Hill Street Blues) as Shelley Levine. As a 44-year old, in rough economic times, it is a little too close to the bone to see a movie like that.

Bad TV -- We saw My Dog Skip starring Frankie Muniz and Skip the dog. Good when you are recovering from surgery, and knocked out on the couch.

Worse TV --- I saw the Mets drop two to the Brewers. Don't tell me about exciting young ballplayers and hope for the future. If you drop two to the Brewers, you just plain stink.

Preview of coming attractions --- If I didn't have to work for a living, the next topic in this free association would be Sammy Sosa, which would lead me to Martha Stewart, which would lead me to Enron, and the entire never steal anything small problem, which would lead me to why the House Republicans are full of it ---- it is immoral to say that a child tax credit cannot be given to poor people since "they don't pay taxes," at the same time that you are waiving taxes on dividends sent out by corporations that did not pay taxes on the money in the first place, which leads me to Paul Krugman's article in today's New York Times, which is the same article he has written 100 times in the past 24 months, that cutting taxes is just an excuse to create the financial crisis necessary to eliminate social security and health insurance, which leads me to wonder why people opposed to social security and health insurance are so sure they will not need it themselves.

As a footnote to all that I would bring up the Howell Raines firing, and the myth of the New York Times as a liberal newspaper. Howell Raines, as editorial page editor of the New York Times during Monicagate, had nothing good to say about Clinton, everything good to say about Ken Starr. You cannot throw enough dirt over Howell Raines to make me happy. The New York Post responded by saying that the New York Times should quit its myth of liberal reporting and come out swinging (i.e. why are you not in the same reporting sewer as we Murdoch publications). The Wall Street Journal complained that the New York Times is not objective enough. If you have pleased no one, there is a good chance you have done something right.

As a footnote to that, I guess I would say that the New York Post has the better of the argument historically. A lot of anomolies in the system were caused by the 1945-1973 period, and one of them is a generation thinking of journalism as a science rather than competing rags. I would also say that one of the ways to be sure that what seems to be anomolous becomes the norm is to keep fighting and winning wars. In God's world, it may well be that you cannot both maintain power and resort to peace for too long a time. You may be forced to fight more often than you want to. That is, and I say this without irony, as a pro-war Democrat, the one great thing that Bush either knows or has internalized, that is neither conservative nor liberal, but is a fact of power. There is a liberal way to express this. Truman knew it, but Truman was an accidental President. Clinton knew it, even though he was so afraid of it, he backed off from it. Clinton knew it, which its why it is blasphemy to ever accuse him of Wagging the Dog. Especially the way the Bushies use foreign policy to justify domestic extremism both economically (see the tax cuts) and in terms of freedom (see Ashcroft in yesterday's committee hearing)

I already have pointed out in the last two posts that I was in favor of knocking out Sadman Insane for any reason or no reason at all. What bothers me about the Murdoch view of things (what bothers me about the Donald Rumsfeld view of things) is the notion that people who were opposed to the war thought that the United States couldn't handle Iraq militarily. Nobody said that the military that Bill Clinton built was incapable of taking out Iraq. Not even Susan Sarandon said that. Rumsfeld strutting like a peacock, Rumsfeld criticizing the efforts of Colin Powell, Rumsfeld making believe that it was a great military victory to take out Hussein. Makes you lose your lunch.

Anyway, sorry I can't give all that the full treatment. One of the disciplines I hope to master for myself in this blog sheet is the art of consuming less television, movies, magazines, newspapers, and the art of writing more, exercising more, spending more time with the people I love. It is vital to my recovery

Off to work!

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Both Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd devote their columns today to the issue of whether or not it matters if we find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Friedman claims that the "real reason" for the war was to send a message that the United States had the will to fight a war against the underpinnings of terrorism, and to send a message of brute American strength to people who only respond to force, and that the Bush Administration dared not say that so openly or so graphically. (This reinforces the points and the static around the Wolfowitz/ Vanity Fair interview).

I agree with Friedman as far as it goes. In addition, it is likely that the Pentagon culture and the supporting "think-tanks" supported war way before 9/11, and were intellectually ready to go to war as soon as they found a pretext. I don't think they expected a pretext as graphic as 9/11, but they had every reason to expect an incident such as the Cole, or the bombing of an American embassy overseas. Friedman goes on to say that although Bush's credibility may be hurt if it turns out that he was complicit in the WMD issue, America's credibility, both internationally and historically, will only be based on its ability to create a new Middle East.

Dowd repeats the canard that "for the first time in history, America is searching for the reason we went to war after the war is over." A related fallacy is that the United States has never fought an offensive war.

The Mexican War was an offensive war, and the young Abraham Lincoln was amongst the leaders in demanding that the Polk Administration disclose the "spot" in which the Mexican hostilities began. Lincoln's opposition to the war was one of several factors that turned him into a one-term Congressman, and was be splendid grist for Douglas during the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

The Spanish-American War was an offensive war that was sold to "Remember The Maine," but the real causes of that ship's explosion were never clear.

The "Tora Tora Tora" school believes that the FDR administration knew more about Pearl Harbor then it let on. (Remember how Bob Dole complained that World War II was a "Democratic War," as if Hirohito and Hitler had nothing to do with it.)

The events surrounding the Gulf of Tonkin have always been rather vague.

Although I'm leaning rather hard on Maureen Dowd, who I agree with more often than not, there are two points I want to make here. The first is that historically, the American people are profoundly reluctant to go to war, and that leaders, both from the left and the right, have had to drag the United States into wars that had to be fought. The second point is that knowledge of history is so lacking that anytime a politician uses a historical reference to make an argument, the media is forced to go along, since neither the media nor the audience has the background to notice whether the reference is true or not.

I note in passing here, John Judis's argument against imperialism in this week's New Republic. This strengthens my argument that the Bushies were just waiting for their chance to go to war. It also gives good ammunition to those who think that the smashing of international institutions and the building of an American Empire by the Bushies is a bad idea. I think there is a place for international institutions, even for those who agree that the American way is the best way.