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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Final Battles in the Last Days of the Regime

I think the progressive community still has much to do in the 361 days Bush has remaining. The threats are still substantial and many more political battles will have to be fought on behalf of the American people whose representatives have abandoned them in favor of corporate interests and the wealthy.

Families wrecked by Bush's senseless wars may not be put back together, but there will be time for healing and for new generations to be born who will hopefully grow up free of violence and destruction. However, environmental impacts persist and combatting environmental damage is perhaps more urgent. The Appalachian mountains whose tops have been removed have been forever scarred.

The environment is one area where Bush's last months can do much harm. Curtailing a fire sale of federal land and mining rights will do a great deal to reduce the permanent environnmental damage which is sure to be Bush's legacy. The for-profit business model implemented by Bush and his cronies during their time in government has always tried to squeeze as much profitability as they can from their authority and control. Their final days in power are likely seen as the best last chance these business interests have to buy public land on the cheap and/or devastate the environment to make a fast buck.

The Bureau of Land Management spews forth some concession to industry on a weekly basis these days--I know because I get regular alerts as to their nefarious activities from groups like the National Resource Defense Council.

Bush appointees in positions of responsibility have been free to abuse their power. Often they are former lobbyists themselves, with warm relations with key people in the industries they purport to regulate. Federal bureaucrats likely see the end of the Bush administration as an end to their political careers and will thus try to endear themselves to companies that look to mine or exploit publicly held lands. The more favorable the leasing terms, and less attention to long-term environmental impacts, the more profitable it is for companies doing business with the government. Eager to do their part, the higher-level government bureaucrat likely seeks gainful employment at the end of their career with one of the companies where they've been dispensing favors in their last days in office.

Capitalistic excess has an anarchistic bent, which is its tragic flaw like in the Greek drama. In a culture of greed, loyalty will eventually break down as self-interest dominates. The group goal--to make as much money as possible--eventually encourages defection as by its nature greed requires loyalty to self first and group second. The needs of the nation and its people may come in as a distant third. Look at Katrina for one example of where federal priorities lie in an age of privatized disaster recovery and no-bid contracts to crony corporations.

Seven years ago, Bush Republicans were uniformly behind a belief in smaller government, which they interpreted to mean fewer laws and regulations. Looking back now at the effects of that phillosophy, we see the emergence of a YOYO (Your On Your Own) world where those with money live with lower taxes. Companies selling to government, through the auspices of "supporting the troops", enjoy higher profit margins, and have bloated with the froth of federal disbursements. So smaller government was never the real intent but rather the political spin used by Rove and others to popularize the GOP.

Republican Political Tactics

GOP strategists like Karl Rove used whatever methods they could do distort the debate and were able to win, or at least come close, in a pair of elections. Support for the Republican party has trailed off in the wake of Bush's leadership, which shows tactics like swift-boating can't possibly achieve long-term impacts.

Rovian tactics are meant to secure a very short-term advantage, which is precisely why they are so dangerous when it comes to initiating wars. Launching the Iraq War was itself a Rovian technique: a method to secure a re-election method based on the nationalistic push drives support for the sitting President. Yet the geopolitical and military limitations associated with warfare transcend domestic politics.

Looking now at all the lies that prefaced the war, the theory that the war was launched in large part as a means to a political end has gained a great deal of credibility. In hindsight, the complete absence of strategic benefits denies a logical rationale for launching the war.

The real story of the Bush years has been how Republican witch doctors have succeeded in altered the focus of the debate.

Rove used wedge issues like homosexual marriage to galvanize the GOP base, unifying them in their hatred of gays' rights. On the eve of a gubertorial election against Anne Richards, anti-gay hate materials found their way to Church parking lots, planted there by Rovian operators who sought to make the issue a topic despite its irrelevance. No wonder George grew to call Rove his "turd blossom".

It's been so easy to dismiss Rovian tactics as unfair and unethical and thus unworthy of serious respect, but Rovian tactics worked, giving proof to H.L. Mencken's declaration that no one has ever gone broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.

I recently read into a quote that I saw on needlenose.com. I thought it went far in explaining the strategy of the Republicans:

"Karl Rove thinks an ideologically polarized electorate will always tilt towards the GOP since self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals by a three-to-two margin. At any given moment, you can expect Bush to be pushing at least one major initiative that literally makes Democrats crazy with rage. That rage, in turn, will make the actual policy dispute look like nothing more than a partisan food-fight to much of the non-polarized electorate, thus shifting the center of gravity of any given debate sharply to the right. Rove and Bush have pursued this strategy again and again."— Ed Kilgore, NewDonkey.com

I thought the "crazy with rage" part was applicable to the unprecedented environmental destruction we are seeing. Mountaintop removal is an outrage like so many other reforms in federal environmental policy. Seeing mountains stripped bare drives me "crazy with rage." That reaction could be made to seem like partisanship if I were a Democrat, which I am only marginally.

Systemic environmental destruction, global warming, Katrina response, are like flaming daggers hurled at the green and progressive community. It's harder to put out all the fires at once, so starting a lot of fights is an effective means to overcome resistance to the stealthy changes made in the federal regulatory environment. My crude analogy of this is like dropping dung onto a fan and forcing the people who care to clean it up, everywhere, at once.

Smear tactics work in a similar way by barraging the victim with a slew of false allegations which could individually be easily disproved, but lumped together and replayed in the media are much harder to dismiss. As Rove and other smear artists know, evne acknowledging a smear gives it credibility, so the smeared must be careful not to ignore the smears as John Kerry largely did in 2004.

The media context of any political campaign is crucial. Perception management trumps reality--people believe what they see on their TV screens. Spin is therefore a crucial political technique today, despite the fact fewer and fewer people still trust the mainstream media, whose content really has been dumbed down. It seems as if the present Presidential campaign is really a pageant. Media coverage is so rarely about issues but rather tries to frame the political debate around superfluous side issues, whatever that might catch the media's attention on any given day. Like the celebrity gossip dominating our corporate news, mainstream political coverage tends to look at itself as a form of entertainment rather than an arbitrator of political debate. Even the so-called "debates" have devolved into discussion of non-issues.

Red Herrings

A conventient perception management technique is creating red herrings (or straw men)--easily destroyed misperceptions that grossly mischaracterize an opponents' argument. Perhaps the most effective and persistent of these is the premise that liberals are "pro-tax" and "anti-business". Conservatives can therefore position themselves as low tax, knowing full well that economic self-interest is the chief motivator of people who go to the polls. Another accusation is that liberals are "soft on terror"; being opposed to liberals, conservatives are by default "hard on terror". Levelling criticism allows one side to define where they stand, without admitting it, which would reveal just how crass and partisan they really are and destroy whatever impression they'd sought to make.

Stereotypes prevalent in the media are a key conduit for establishing red herrings. In the case of the environment, the straw man is that environmental regulations are "anti-business". Yet people concerned about the environment can't be lumped together as a single political group. Many "environmentalists" are Republicans; a majority of people claiming to be environmentalsits actually drive SUVs.

Environmentalists don't constitute a distinct political group. If these Republicans are pro-business, they don't fit neatly into the definition of a hippie, tree-hugging liberal, thus the Rovian technique can't work.

While environmentalists might be enraged by the anti-environmental promiscuity of the Bush administration, these people aren't traditional ideological foes. Some demogogues on the right will call environnmentalists tree-hugging hippies, and this does tend to "polarize the electorate", but a straw man like that is easily dismissed and could even alienate Republican support.

By creating a false image, of gays, environmentalists, or any others who might oppose their Corporate-First agenda, Rove's political legacy demonstrated an ability to marginalize the political opposition in the media, using stereotypes, so the merits of opposing arguments degenerate into cesspool of political debate about which Americans tend to care little. If the environmental consequences were framed as personal and direct impacts--like the people of Appalachia who live in the shrinking shadow of mountains levelled by explosives--the people might well be concerned. But by making any who oppose the anti-environmental approach into "anti-business" types, the politicization process can undercut the true impact of the issue.

Using perception management based on the media, politically motivated charges can seem apolitical, even quite natural, to a public that hears the same mistruths again and again. Rove devoted much effort to repeating the same messages to the media. Early every day, GOP operatives would fax a set of talking points to like-minded groups, so the media would hear the same fabrications from numerous sources, who'd repeat the official line presented by Rove.

So dedicated to massaging perception had the Rove White House been that it created a White House Iraq Group to market the conflict. In Iraq's case, the incessant lie was that Saddam had WMD and had been involved in 9/11, a red herring which to this day persists among Americans, so effective had the propaganda effort been.

The impact of Rovian shenanigans will be felt, but there can be quite a delay before changes in the air we breathe, water we drink, etc. make it clear to Americans just how bad it is to pollute and destroy our environment, and ultimately how expensive (read inevitably higher taxes to clean it up) pollution is.

The popular illusion of regulatory overburden has led to cutbacks in federal agencies that oversee our foods, imports, drugs, air, and water. The misperception that federal regulations stymie economic growth has been one of the most effective Republican myths out there. Until people stop buying into the media narrative, this illusion and others like it will continue to be exploited for political purposes by the Right.

Blowback can ensue once the public realizes they've been had, but the effects do seem to lag considerably behind the transgressions. One reason the continuing war in Iraq may be tolerated is the fact that relatively few Americans have been directly affected. Yet some day future Americans will feel the pinch, whether in their wallets, or their families as young ones are sent off to die in foreign wars.

Bush's Impact

In the years since Bush took office in a 5-4 Supreme Court recount halting the recount authorized under Florida state law, we've seen a pattern of abuse of environmental laws and regulations. {Astute readers might note that my referral to Bush's appointment would be deemed highly partisan.)

Bush represents the interests of minning and resource-exploiting firms, who intend to use their influence with politicians to get what they want. Enron was the best example of an variance granted to the regulatory climate. Enron gave Bush's 2000 campaign more money than any other company. An investigation by federal authorities was quashed on orders from the White House. In the months that followed, investors saw the value of Enron's stock plummet while those in charge were able to sell out with huge profits.

Chalmers Johnson also brings up Enron in Going Bankrupt; Why the Debt Crisis Is Now the Greatest Threat to the American Republic":
The military adventurers of the Bush administration have much in common with the corporate leaders of the defunct energy company Enron. Both groups of men thought that they were the “smartest guys in the room,” the title of Alex Gibney’s prize-winning film on what went wrong at Enron. The neoconservatives in the White House and the Pentagon outsmarted themselves. They failed even to address the problem of how to finance their schemes of imperialist wars and global domination.

Enron comes up here in "Who Will Take On the Banks?" by Robert Scheer:
"...excesses that are at the root of the financial chaos we have visited upon the world. As with the Enron scandal, which was the direct result of the bipartisan-supported deregulation of the energy industry, so too the subprime mortgage and easy-credit scandals now upon us. For decades, banking lobbyists have pushed through legislation freeing them to wreak havoc on our lives while they profit from lucrative personal bailouts even as their own companies suffer.

Deregulation became the mantra covering corporate theft in both Republican and Democratic administrations, and it is amazing that not one of her interlocutors at the South Carolina debate asked Sen. Clinton about her husband’s signing of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, which permitted banks, stockbrokers and insurance companies to merge, overturning one of the major regulatory achievements of the New Deal."

Scheer hits on the popular misperception that over-regulation is strangling our economy. Controlling the mortgage lending market is a fundamental task for government, neglected in the days since Enron and Bush.

Like substandard pollution controls, the total costs to our economy will surpass whatever temporary gains given the companies riding the housing bubble. Ironically, the crisis has been created through intervention--buckets of easy money spawned through the Federal Reserve.

Despite the crisis, the biggest banks and brokerages pour money to their CEOs, as was the case in the $161 million dollar golden parachute for a CEO fired by Merrill Lynch, which had record losses under Stanley O'Neal's tenure. Year-end bonuses at the top five Wall Street banks totaled a record $39 billion, according to Robert Borosage in HuffPo. Naturally, the wealthier patrons on the Right won't be affected as deeply by the crisis, riding their golden parachutes and bonuses. Of course this doesn't keep them from demanding a federal bailout.

See more on the initial response, a mortgage freeze first suggested as a means of responding to the crisis, here. The banks would be responsible for administering the program. Considering their role in causing the meltdown, it remains extremely unlikely that the crisis is still at a manageable stage. Even the huge dollops of Federal Reserve loans available to banks won't forestall the effect, nor will the emergency rate cut. The interest rate cycle is shrinking so each alteration does less and less and requires more and more follow-on cuts to provide any stimulative benefit.

Historical examples are only one aspect to the clear and present danger that Bush's administration will represent for the rest of the term. Even greater schemes for enriching the private sector are currently underway. The past does however teach us a vital lesson in understanding the tactics which are being used today.


These abuses of power and our democracy may be in the past, but the techniques behind them stand to be repeated if Americans aren't informed. They clearly arn't being served news by objective sources concerned with truth, and justice, so they must educate themselves to prevent further abuses. Bush most dangerous precedent may be reflected in what future Presidents--elected by Diebold--can do to draw on the enheightened powers of the Office of the President.

In issues supported by the Right, extremism in the pursuit of righteousness is no vice, to twist a Barry Goldwater quote. Pro-life forces would be willing to do anything to assure Bush's re-election in 2004; whatever ethical shortcuts that might be involved were secondary to getting Roberts and Alito appointed. As I blogged a few posts ago, evidence that the New Hampshire primary was rigged are very strong. The total blackout on a recount done at Kucinich's behest shows that there is something to the story.

The MSM's loss of credibility has led to entire new media fronts opeing up on the internet. Interesting how the absence of MSM news coverage has become as a blinking light to Americans suspicious of the motives and selective coverage of the corporate-owned MSM.

People are also learning a great deal via word of mouth. As time passed, and lies once prevalent in the media dissolve, the truth slowly emerges. The MSM will most likely discover that it lost control over its audience, and that the more it did to preserve stereotypes and enable Rovian perception managemetn techn iques, the further its validity diminished. Without any real news cotnent, Americans will turn elesewhere for the information they need and need not look back.

There's clearly enough time left for Bush policies to do substantial damage to our environment. Already our global staure is in tatters, the economy is crashing, and we are beginning to experience only the first residual waves of Bush's incompetence and the abuse of power on behalf of business cronies and foreign powers, in particular the Israel-first crowd trying to get us involved in yet another needless war in the Mideast.

Great harm has been done to what is left of the Constitutional Republic; the potential for even greater impostions on personal liberties will likely be forthcoming, perhaps in the name of fighting terror.

Progressives can claim to have been but one group opposing Bush & Co. from the start. Others, like the Native American movement, have been fighting the federal government for decades. The abuses of power seen under Bush are to them merely a continuation of the exploitation they've had to endure.

Using the Law to Fight Big Government

The law may be the last hope for the Republic. Law limits the power of men and the President. Without law, we are ruled by a king or dictator, which is precisely what our nation was formed not to be. One area which has seen the law work as it should has been in the realm of reassertion of Native American water rights in the Southwest under tribal treaties, some of which date back to the 19th century. A test of the law's importance to a society is its permanence--a fact Congress and the President so eager to add signing statements should not forget in their haste to churn out new legislation.

Not all laws and treatied have been enforced. As appeals by Native Americans fell on deaf ears in the federal Courts, Yucca mountain was turned into the nation's largest storehouse of nuclear waste. This despite the fact the mountain sits on a earthquake fault in the Western Shoshone Nation. The Shoshone and Paiute tribes revere the site, which they viewed as being seized by the federal government (like my Liberty Dollar silver!):

The 60 million acres of Western Shoshone territory in Nevada, Idaho, Utah, and California, which includes Yucca Mountain, was never deeded to the U.S. government. According to the 1863 Ruby Valley Treaty that the Shoshone signed with the government, most of the area now used by the U.S. military for nuclear weapons testing and the proposed waste storage site was explicitly recognized as Shoshone land. However, the U.S. government now claims 80-90% of it, meaning that the Shoshone are unable to control what happens on their ancestral land. Legislators continue to try to persuade the Shoshone to accept financial compensation for this land, which most view as a way to extinguish aboriginal title and preclude future land claims, easing the way for renewed nuclear weapons testing and waste storage, as well as resource extraction.

Based on treaties with tribal communities, lawsuits charging the violation water rights have been met with some success in Federal Court. I remember one suit regarding Maricopa County, Arizona, location of the city of Phoenix, and two tribes--the Gila River and the Tohono O'odham nation--resulting in the Arizona Water Settlement Act, introduced by U.S. Senator John Kyl who has apparently been quite supportive of the cause, according to one article.

Other court cases have far-reaching legal implications for Natives seeking to protect their rights to water throughout the West, as competition by rapidly expanding developments and hungry agriculture threatens Native access. Environmentalist have to applaud the establishment of water-theft limits, so that development can hopefully be slowed. The restoration of Native American water rights helps establish the primacy of sustainability, with water as the limiting factor.

For anyone who's lived in the Southwest, as I have for close to two years, it takes no genius to realize people use too much water and that the water resources cannot sustain current population growth. The Colorado River is being systematically drained to the point it no longer reaches the Sea of Cortez.

The Native American museum at the University of Arizona offers great exhibits and information on the struggles of Native Americans in preserving their acccess to water, which in some languages of peoples native to the Southwest can be translated to "life". If you are ever in Tucson, see the Arizona State Museum there on the campus.

I remember one Native being quoted as having said that if they waited long enough, control over their territory would revert back to them. The White man would be forced to leave their land because they couldn't last in the dry climate, so the logic goes. If Americans living in the Southwest can't adapt to their climate, eventually the megacities there will have to shrink as the water supply dwindles.

Additional Sources
A large body of treaty laws and legal precedents can be found in a University of Arizona database.



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