Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I Think We're Not in Kansas Anymore

I was walking over the Brooklyn Bridge on Sunday, Christmas Eve, in what felt like 70-degree weather, actually working up a sweat on the long climb to the middle of the bridge. It suddenly occurred to me that this is probably one of the major problems with global warming: it's just too delightful, it feels too good. Now I doubt that anyone with their head screwed on straight will aver that it is remotely natural to have shirtsleeve weather on Xmas Eve, and I'm sure I am not the first person to have noticed this odd feature of global warming as an issue of public debate (and isn't it embarrassing that you still hear the word "debate" used in this sense?). Everyone can agree that things like war, poverty, terrorism, and the like are in no way enjoyable. But global warming is a pretty strange duck: we know it threatens the earth and our very future as a species upon it. Yet right now, on a day like Sunday, it feels great.

All the more reason, then, why we have to ask for more than accountability from our leaders, as a new Congress gets ready to start its 110th session. We must demand vision.

We'll have more to say about that point later, but first, Terry McKenna returns today with the somewhat refreshing thought that maybe the weakening of the Bush administration is a Christmas gift to all of us in this nation. Personally, I like the Wizard of Oz metaphor. I'm betting you can go through every blog on the Net and not see the ISG compared to Dorothy from Kansas. But thanks to Terry, that's exactly what you're about to get...

Is it just me, or does everyone recognize that the Bush presidency has suddenly faded away into irrelevance? It is very much like the demise of the Wicked Witch of the West in the movie version of the Wizard of Oz. You will remember that at the height of her power, the Witch is accidentally splashed with water and she melts away. In our real life drama, the president has been splashed with a little truth (about Iraq) and he too has begun to melt.

It was the Iraq Study Group that did it, and just like with Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, they didn’t mean to harm anyone. And no, it is not as if the Iraq Study Group has the solution to the war – they don’t. But their report broke open the opinion logjam that surrounded the war. And once the jam was cleared, suddenly a flood of ideas burst forth. After 3 years, those on the right are suddenly free to talk about the royal screw up which was our Iraq strategy – a forward assault with no plans for managing the postwar occupation. And those on the left are nearly unanimous in wanting OUT - nearly all of them except Hillary.

It was not the military’s fault that we lost Iraq - and yes, we did lose, it IS over. It is almost unfair to brand this a military loss, so let’s not. Let’s concede a successful short war followed by a failed reconstruction. This is not the first time the US has lost an endeavor after military success. Vietnam, for all of its failure, was fought well. We certainly won all the big engagements (like the Tet offensive). But like with Iraq now, Vietnam failed because we had a lousy local partner.

It turns out our chance to win peace in Iraq depended upon winning the so-called hearts and minds of the people. We had a brief window of opportunity, but now it’s long over. We tossed away the existing Baathist power structure and ended up with nothing.

If George Bush is irrelevant about Iraq, can he retain his relevance on other matters? I looked at the White House’s own press release for clues.

Here is an extract from the December 20th press briefing: “For Immediate Release, Office of the Press Secretary, December 20, 2006 - President Bush Signs the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006”

Bullet points (highly redacted):

• The Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 will maintain key tax reforms, expand our commitment to renewable energy resources, make it easier for Americans to afford health insurance and open markets overseas for our farmers and small business owners.

• Our economy created 132,000 new jobs in November. We have added more than 7 million new jobs since August of 2003 -- more than Japan and the European Union combined.

• The unemployment rate has remained low at 4.5 percent. The latest figures show that real hourly wages increased 2.3 percent in the last year.

• To keep America competitive in the world economy, we must make sure our people have the skills they need for the jobs of the 21st century. Many of those jobs are going to require college, so we're extending the deductibility of tuition and higher education expenses to help more Americans go to college so we can compete.

• The bill will also extend vital provisions of the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act that I signed last year. The bill will keep in place key tax credits that we passed to help rebuild Gulf Coast communities that were devastated by the hurricanes that hit the region in 2005.

• This bill will help expand and diversify energy supplies. To encourage the development of new sources of energy, the bill will extend tax credits for investment in renewable electricity resources, including wind, solar, biomass and geothermal energy. It will encourage the development of clean coal technology and renewable fuels like ethanol. And it will help promote new energy efficient technologies that will allow us to do more with less. In other words, it encourages conservation.

Five years ago, these might have been enough to start a number of discussions, but now they didn’t even cause a small ripple in the press. It’s all old news. (And it’s stretching the truth to put together even these lame positive bullet points).

Since Bush’s presidency is irrelevant, it’s pointless to go though the bullet points in detail, but I will point out this. Tax deductions for college tuition will not make college affordable for the class of persons who typically DON’T attend college. If the deductions help anyone, they will allow persons to move up the college food chain just a little bit. So a person who commuted may be able to live on campus, or a work-study student may be able to cut back her hours.

Then there is energy. We have tax incentives, but NO POLICY. In Europe, energy savings devices are mandatory. But we continue to build monstrous houses that we heat and cool in the most wasteful manner - sometimes with forced hot air (the least efficient system possible). Then there are our still too large cars and heavy engines. The Europeans and Japanese spent the last 3 decades making more fuel-efficient engines. We instead squandered our creativity to deliver more horsepower.

--T. McKenna

No comments: