Friday, January 17, 2003

Why We Need More Than An Antiwar Movement.
Kenneth W. Warren
Department of English
University of Chicago
January 16, 2003

Last August while visiting family in New Mexico, my wife, our children, and I viewed a video sent to my brother-in-law by the U.S. Air Force. Something of a group letter home, the video included footage of new recruits—my nephew included—getting haircuts, going through drills, and saying their hellos to parents, siblings, girlfriends, and boyfriends. Each recruit was given a chance to speak directly to the camera, and on occasion some gave their reasons for enlisting-- getting college tuition paid for, making money to help out the family, and proving themselves. No one I saw (and this was less than a year after 9/11) mentioned fighting terror or a desire to participate in the ousting of Saddam Hussein as a significant motivating factor for having joined up. And of all the reasons given, free college tuition was cited most often.
The Air Force appeared to have gotten the message because the successful completion of six weeks of basic training was treated with the pomp and solemnity of a college commencement. With parents and family in attendance, the newly minted airmen were showered with gifts, while video and still cameras recorded the moment for posterity—the celebratory atmosphere a far cry from what my father experienced in the late 1940s when as a 17 year old (he had lied about his age to the recruiter) he had enlisted in the Air Force, not to fight the Cold War but rather to escape the unattractive alternative of plowing and planting the several acres my grandfather farmed in northeastern Arkansas as a sharecropper. Yet whatever their differences, my father and my nephew were aware that for them the most readily available path to the good life many Americans expect was a term of enlistment in the U.S. military.
Perhaps the video I saw was not representative of the attitudes and situations of most new recruits into our military, but at the very least it tracked with a significant fact too little remarked about the first War for Oil prosecuted by George Part I and its all-too-likely sequel courtesy of George Part II, namely that both Chief Executives could deploy fighting forces of approximately 500,000 and 250,000 soldiers, respectively, without conscripting a single U.S. citizen. There’s nothing accidental about any of this. The relentless campaign to reduce the size of government and destroy the nation’s social welfare system, a campaign that began with Ronald Reagan and was slowed only marginally during the Clinton years, has been coincident with the nation’s move to an “all-volunteer” military--so has the disappearance of Pell Grants, the precipitous rise in college tuitions, the attachment of origination fees to student loans, and the increasing proportion of undergraduate financial aid provided by loans rather than scholarships or grants. It is simply harder for many lower and middle-income families to shoulder the expenses necessary to send their sons and daughters to college. But if these young men and women will agree to shoulder a rifle for a few years then Uncle Sam will help with the bill. Add to this the significant number of men and women serving as reservists merely as a way of bolstering family income and the picture becomes clearer: We’ve created the 21st-century version of the Hessian fighters whom the British employed over two centuries ago to defend their empire. Our new Hessian, though has been dragooned from the ranks of our poorer citizens—citizens who have been cut out of significant portions of the social contract by two decades of regressive social and economic policies.
What this has meant for the foreign policy of Bush I and II is that they have always assumed (and indeed have had) the capacity to wage a major war absent the consent of the public and Congress. Both administrations have sought consent only for reasons of political calculation and most decidedly not because they needed it in order to go forward with their plans. (The much ballyhooed Congressional debate before the first War for Oil occurred only after a half million troops had already been sent to the Persian Gulf. If anyone truly believes that there was a chance of calling those troops back without their having fired a shot, I’ve got a lake just east of Chicago that I can get you a good deal on.) Those of us who oppose this new war need to take this factor into account.
The antiwar movement of the 1960s was fueled largely by the draft, whose very existence meant that even to have the capacity to wage war the administration needed to go directly to its citizens in a fundamental way. Rep. Charles Rangel’s recent calls for reinstating the draft stems from a similar observation as well as from the astute recognition that if carrying out this proposed War for Oil required wealthy and middle-class Americans to send their sons and daughters to Iraq rather than to the Ivy League, then this whole business would be a non-starter.
We do need vigorously to oppose this war. But we also need to recognize that the best way to wean rogue administrations like the one currently occupying the White House from an addiction to warmongering is to invest our public resources heavily into improving the social welfare of our citizens who would then choose military service because they wanted to and not because they had to. Unable to assume a ready supply of bribed GIs that he could fling willy-nilly across the globe, our court-installed Chief Executive would be constrained to pursue a more legitimate foreign policy that the nation’s citizens might genuinely support.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Good piece on former Govenor Ryan in The Nation. Congress Republicans could take a lesson in "compassionate conservatism" from him.

The significance of this moment rests not just with the commutations but in Ryan's journey. This conservative Republican pharmacist-turned-pol has recounted how the exoneration of mentally retarded death-row inmate Anthony Porter--falsely accused of a double murder and saved only by the investigative efforts of college students--began the nagging doubt in his mind. Less obvious, perhaps, is the role prosecutors and pro-capital punishment legislators played in his decision. After the Porter case, Ryan named a blue-ribbon commission, which proposed reforms in Illinois capital laws, and Ryan went to his legislature three times asking for a narrowing of the death penalty. But the legislators were unwilling to modify a system under which seventeen death-row defendants were falsely convicted and more than thirty were represented by disbarred or suspended lawyers.

Just how much of this is tied up in Ryan's own legal and political troubles is a matter for conjecture. Though Ryan is surrounded by a corrupt administration and faces possible indictment himself in a license-peddling scandal, anyone who speaks with him finds little evidence that his stand on the death penalty is anything but sincere. In October, a wrenching series of individual commutation hearings brought forth the details of death-row defendants' crimes and new facts about their convictions, and Ryan--long a supporter of victims' rights--publicly wavered. It's hard to think of a more conscientious use of a governor's power to pardon and commute as a court of last resort, when the customary checks and balances have utterly failed.

Thoughts after watching The Daily Show With Jon Stewart

Leiberman or Mr. Magoo? You decide.

Monday, January 13, 2003

Greetings from the Democratic stronghold of Illinois! Good inauguration speech by Blagojevich, though I have doubts that he can get us out of this deficit without raising taxes. Still he seems to have a realistic sense of what job creation actually means as opposed to our fearless leader.

Speaking of which...

According to Hertzberg Bush has a rather odd way of interpreting the Bible.

The current Administration likes its initiatives faith-based, and there has never been much secret about which faith constitutes the base. "Christ," Governor George W. Bush replied during a 1999 primary debate, when asked to name his favorite political philosopher. In the ambit of Bush the President, piety is next to godliness. According to a former Bush staffer, Evangelical Christianity is the "predominant creed" at the White House, and a tardy arrival is apt to be greeted with the reproach "Missed you at Bible study."

After the unveiling last Tuesday of Bush's "economic stimulus package," though, one has to wonder, and not for the first time, just which Bible these good people have been studying. It must be some sort of Heavily Revised Nonstandard Version, whose verses are familiar yet subtly different:

He that hath pity upon the rich lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will pay him again. (Proverbs 19:17)
Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell what thou hast, and give to the rich, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven. (Matthew 19:21)
For the love of money is the root of all good. (I Timothy 6:10)