Views mostly unpublished by the San Antonio press

April 28, 2011 (published)

To the Editor,

Today’s stories in the Express-News and The New York Times about the release of the long-form of President Obama’s birth certificate wondered how “so many people” could persist in believing that the President was not an American. It wasn’t “people”. Surveys repeatedly have shown that it was 50% of Republicans who challenged the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency. These Republicans have been mislead by Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, the Tea Party Campaign, Fox News, and the racist fringe. Please spare us the narrative that “the people” are foolish.

March 29, 2011

To the Editor,

Today (March 29, 2011) the Express-News published a letter that is an outrageous smear. In fact it included two smears. The letter writer snidely inquired why the paper omitted the party affiliation of a married couple of politicians in Dallas who were involved in a domestic dispute. The letter writer surmises that it was because the individuals are Democrats and comments “Now I understand … the behavior”, as if no violent individuals can be found among Republicans. The writer launched another smear when he wrote that the female in the story “sounds like a member of a teachers union in Wisconsin”. There is no evidence whatsoever that members of the Wisconsin teacher unions commit domestic violence. I wonder what standards the editor of the Express-News letters column applies that lets smears into the paper.

February 27, 2011 Op-Ed

The Republican Wrecking Party

The Republican Party has focused Americans’ attention like a laser on federal and state budget deficits, but its leaders’ solutions enjoy much less support even among Republican voters. That’s because most people remember how we got here. Even Texas Governor Rick Perry in his Politico interview castigated the last ten years of federal deficit spending, encompassing the Bush administration. In fact, when Obama was sworn in as president in January 2009, Bush had left him a $1 trillion deficit to start his administration. In addition, the Federal Reserve bank had increased its balance sheet in 2008 by about $2 trillion to float the financial industry above the reefs of depression. How we got here to huge federal deficits are four decisions and one crisis: the huge Bush tax cuts that turned the Clinton surplus into a deficit overnight, the “war of choice” in Iraq that will cost about $1 trillion that Bush choose to pay for by borrowing money, the great increase in the cost of health care in our for-profit health system that included Bush’s big Medicare drug benefit subsidy program, Bush’s $800 billion bailout of the banks in 2008, and the financial crisis and recession that began in December 2007. When the economy goes down, government revenues do, too, but the need for government services goes up. The Recovery Act of 2009 then added about $800 billion to the deficit. Citizens if not journalists remember these facts.

Therefore, when Republicans propose to solve the budget problems by cutting PBS, women’s health clinics, child nutrition, Consumer Product Safety, IRS enforcement, Social Security, environmental protection, and citizen rights to unionize and bargain collectively, it’s not plausible. Women, children, average taxpayers, and public unions did not cause the crisis. The bankers who caused the crisis were bailed out, no top executive has been prosecuted successfully, the old risky financial practices are almost all still legal, and the Republican Party seems determined to make the middle class pay for the bailouts and the tax cuts for the top 2% by reductions in public services, pensions, health care, and employee rights.

The Republicans may very well get their way. The Republicans are exploiting the real economic crisis to get what they have always wanted by dividing the middle class against itself. Wisconsin is ground zero for the latest assault on the public sector and middle class prosperity. As implausible as Wisconsin Governor Walker’s argument is that collective bargaining caused the state’s budget shortfall — Texas has a huge budget shortfall without collective bargaining — he has pursued a divide and conquer strategy that pits public workers against private sector workers in an orgy of resentment that someone, somewhere, might have decent health care and job rights. This is crab politics: the crabs in the open barrel can’t climb out because each pulls the other down. We’ve seen this kind of resentful rightwing populism surge in the last two years in the Tea Party movement, fueled by real economic anxieties but exploited and bankrolled by billionaires like the Koch brothers for their own purposes.

The Republicans’ gambit might work because public understanding of what unions do is at its lowest ebb in a generation because so few people actually belong to unions. Union membership has plummeted to about 6.5%, which has had no positive effect on economic growth. It is true that public sector workers who are blue collar earn more with a union contract than average blue collar workers in the private sector, who are overwhelmingly non-union, and unionized workers have greater rights to protect them from arbitrary management decisions. White collar public sector workers earn less than their counterparts in the private sector, but they trade-off salary for more generous benefits. Governor Walker states correctly that employees in a unionized workplace are compelled to pay dues — so-called compulsory unionism — which he proposes to overturn. The purpose of dues is to pay for the union’s services of contract negotiation and administration. By law a union contract has to cover everyone in the bargaining unit, including those opposed to the union. From the union’s position it seems fair to require even its opponents to pay for the service — the so-called union shop — because otherwise everyone would have an incentive to free-ride on those who do pay their way. Since union services cannot be free — it’s someone’s job to provide them — when workers don’t pay dues, the union collapses. And that outcome has long been the goal of the Republican Party. Some have argued that the walkout by Wisconsin Democratic Senators to try to block Walker’s plan is undemocratic, but what is democratic about suppressing citizen rights to unionize and bargain?

Yesterday on Saturday 100,000 Wisconsinites stood up to the bullies and dividers in Madison and tens of thousands of Americans in the other 49 state capitols rallied in solidarity with them, including in Austin where the cry was “Unity”. Prominent signs at the Texas rally were held by nurses, teachers, social workers, and the construction trades. One ironic sign urged the crowd to “fight like an Egyptian”. Another thanked Al-Jazeera, the Arabic news organization, for covering the battle in Wisconsin. These upstanding citizens also know that Democrats are unsteady defenders: a sign read “Obama: we don’t hear you”. True populists want to raise everyone’s standards and re-establish the principle of justice that the people who caused the crisis should be ones to pay. Now will the American media cover them just as it fawned over every event of the rightwingers?

March 4, 2011

To the Editor,

Froma Harrop’s column today (March 4, 2011) nicely captures the crabby politics that is pulling us all down to abandon middle class prosperity. Her rant against public sector workers asks “what makes public workers a species apart from everyone else…It’s time they joined the rest of us in the new reality”. Public sector workers are just like us, of course, but if they are unionized they have better job security (protected by contractual rights) and better benefits (because they have not had their benefits stripped from them by private employers).

The “new reality” Harrop refers to that is driving the budget crisis is the enormous power of capitalist elites who have won trillions of dollars in tax cuts, which has starved the public sector of revenue, at a time of deep recession when demands for public services increase. These same elites have stripped private sector employees of defined benefit pensions, raised or canceled health benefits, won property tax breaks and “economic development” subsidies, all but entirely wiped out union contracts, severed pay increases from productivity increases, and won trillions in bailouts from the Bush administration in 2008.

Now the Republican Party wants the middle class to pay for the accumulated public debt with cuts in public services and loss of rights.

How can they accomplish this feat of transferring wealth from the middle class to the top 2%? By dividing the middle class against itself and calling on pundits like Harrop to divert attention from the elites’ privileges by harping on how public workers are somewhat less miserable than the rest of us.

February 15, 2011

To the Editor,

Your front page story (February 14), “Vets now battling unemployment”, remarked about “the jobless rate hovering near historic highs in San Antonio”. Our veterans need employment which unfortunately is a repeated pattern that we ask men and women to fight, sometimes over and over again, with too little regard for their futures.

Like our veterans, thousands of other Texans and millions of people nationwide are looking for work. These are not lazy people; this is the worst jobs recession since Reagan’s first term 30 years ago. We might say instead that the U.S. is afflicted with lazy money. The stock market is up and corporate profits have regained their pre-recession level, but companies are not putting their cash to work. Now, we are told by Republicans that the politically correct thing to do is to cut government spending and employment to balance public budgets. But that’s not what the sainted Ronald Reagan did. He ran deficits every year of his presidency, raised taxes (after the big cut of 1981), and boosted the economy. Sometimes the old time religion says it best: the government should be the employer of last resort.

November 10, 2010

To the Editor, Today (November 10, 2010) Governor Perry is quoted as saying “Social Security is bankrupt” and “if you’ve got a young 20-something-year-old, they know for a fact that they’re not ever going to see that”. These claims are demonstrably not true.

The Trust Fund is not bankrupt. The Trust Fund has a surplus of $2.5 trillion this year. This surplus was created by the Reagan-era 1983 reform that raised the contributions by baby-boomers to pay for their pensions. The Trust Fund is on-track to pay these pensions all the way through 2037, by which time most of the baby-boomers will be deceased. The surplus will be gone, but the Trust Fund will still receive over $800 billion a year in 2010 dollars in tax revenue.

The “twenty-something” that the governor mentions is a person who will retire in about 45 years in 2055. Is it unreasonable to expect this young generation to save money for their retirement through contributions to the Trust Fund?

Only very modest adjustments are needed to provide the savings for their retirement for the years through 2085, according to the Social Security Board of Trustees. The measures could include some combination of the following factors that determine the amount of savings: raising the percentage of adults who actually work beyond the current projection, raising wages, achieving 1.3 million legal immigrants per year, returning productivity to its historical trend, modest inflation, the fertility rate, and raising taxes on the top 10%. If only taxes are considered, then the post-2037 need could be addressed by a tax increase of 1.8% of future payrolls. Watch out Tea Partiers! The Republican Party and Wall Street bankers are after your money again. The RepublicanPonzi scheme to shift money from the Trust Fund to private accounts managed by Wall Street is coming our way.

October 13, 2010

To the Editor,

Today’s column by Ruben Navarrette (October 13, 2010) about the low turnout of Hispanics in elections provides a terribly careless explanation. He cites a Pew survey that reports that only 51% of Hispanics plan to vote next month compared to 70% of all voters. That is certainly a huge gap, but more to the point, Hispanic voters in Texas specifically do not vote. 38% of Hispanic voters in Texas turned out in 2008, but 54% turned out in New Mexico and 57% in California. Navarrette claims that “Americans…suppress the turnout of Hispanic voters”, but if so, then for some unexplained reason this works better in our state! Could it have something to do the preferences of the conservative leaders of the Texas Democratic and Republican parties, who have shown scant interest in the issues critical to low-income Texans, among whom Hispanics are massively over-represented? Navarrette further claims that “many Hispanics have now learned… [that] you can participate in the process [and] yet in the end usually nothing changes”, but that’s misleading: Hispanics have not participated in elections to any great extent. I submit this is because the Texas party leaders have not linked to these voters.

Navarrette excoriates Obama and suggests that immigration policy is a good example of the disconnection between Obama and Hispanics, but this, too, is careless. The Pew survey reports that Hispanic priorities are education, jobs, and health care, followed by immigration. Hispanics in Texas are among the greatest beneficiaries of Obama’s education and health care policies, such as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed by the President in March and the Stimulus bill in 2009 that added $87 billion for Medicaid. The Republicans promise to repeal Affordable Care and cutback Medicaid. On the other hand, like Governor Perry, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White also opposes Affordable Care and supports Obama’s aggressive border and immigration control efforts.

Most people know that Obama’s enforcement policy is part of his strategy to work with Republicans by giving them what they want—enforcement first–in exchange for what the Democrats want, but Navarrette blames “organized labor” for the Democrats’ inability to advance immigration reform. That canard is ten years out of date. In 2000, the AFL-CIO did a complete about face to support immigration. Just this summer, the new president of the United Auto Workers Union used his inaugural address at the union’s national convention to urge autoworkers to make common cause with immigrants. The real holdup is the conservatives in both parties, who propose that the solutions are either to stop the flow of immigrants or to allow immigration but suppress the rights of immigrant workers.

October 5, 2010

To the Editor,

Letter writer Elvon J. Miller recently argued (October 5, 2010) that Congressman Ciro Rodriguez used advertising “trickery” to avoid public disapproval for the “bailouts”, but Mr. Miller is a bit confusing. He agrees that Rodriguez voted against the bailouts in 2008, but claims that he voted for “the really big, juicy bailouts during the Obama administration”. What is he talking about? He doesn’t say.

The bailouts that almost everyone else is talking about are the bailouts of the banks, insurance companies, and the auto companies. These corporations were bailed by the $700 billion TARP program, proposed by President Bush in the fall of 2008 and approved by the Democrat-controlled Congress (although Cong. Rodriguez voted against it). The Bush Federal Reserve also used about $1 trillion in public loans, insurance, and liquidity to shore up the banking system in 2008. It was President Bush who issued the executive order to bailout G.M. and Chrysler in December 2008. Those are the “big, juicy bailouts”. When Barack Obama was sworn into office in January 2009, he inherited a $1.4 trillion deficit from the previous administration as well as the worst economy since the 1940’s and a TARP program that gave out taxpayer funds with few requirements for accountability to the public. It was President Obama who pressed the auto companies to change; it was Obama who insisted on new financial regulation and a new Consumer Financial Product Safety agency.

Perhaps the “really big, juicy bailouts” Miller is referring to is the “bailout” of college students when President Obama and Congress ended the subsidy to the banks to increase the funds for college loans by $40 billion. Perhaps he means the Obama health plan’s increased payments to doctors? Or the extended unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed? Or the $87 billion in the Stimulus Act for the states to pay for Medicaid whose enrollments have soared as individuals have lost their jobs? Or the increased spending on public school excellence? Disagree if you want to with these priorities, but we can do better in our public debates than hurl vague slogans at each other.

August 31, 2010

To the Editor,

The editorial today (August 31, 2010) that called on President Obama to “stop pandering on entitlements” was a bit hard to follow.

You take the President to task for a recent speech in which he opposed Republican plans to privatize social security pensions. You say this is “ostensibly” a critique of Republicans and, even if it is, it should be “on the table” with all other proposals when the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform meets. Fine. But then you criticize the President’s promise to protect the benefits of retired and soon-to-retire Americans. You write that is “not going to happen” unless the “terms and taxing” elements of program change. Why aren’t those on the table, too?

The pension shortfall projected for 30 years from now can be addressed substantially by raising the taxable income base to include all the income of the top 10% of earners and by raising real wage growth to its historical trend. I look forward to your editorial decrying the “demogogic talk” of Alan Simpson, the Republican co-chair of the Commission who last week called Social Security is “a milk cow with 310 million tits”.

July 1, 2010

To the Editor,

Tim Bannwolf (Guest Voices, July 1, 2010) writes that in the next presidential election he “will be looking for a candidate in 2012 who understands that the best way to improve one’s lot in life is through education” and that “instead of fostering dependency on government, as the incumbent is doing, we need a president who promotes independence and self-reliance”. I agree with the goal, but I wonder what world Mr. Bannwolf lives in. Probably the fact-free world of right-wing talk radio.

President Obama announced the Graduation Initiative last July with the goal of massively raising the post-secondary graduation rate of young Americans and the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill last September. Unfortunately, the Republican members of the House voted almost unanimously against it. Luckily for students, the Senate included part of that initiative in the health care reform act passed this spring, greatly increasing the funding for college students. UTSA and other universities have seen an immediate effect on enrollments, as reported by the Express-News June 22.

October 31, 2008

To the Editor:

Now we know: the cause of the financial crisis is that poor people got too much money! This line has been peddled from the fact-free precincts of the National Review, Rush Limbaugh, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and Fox News and it filled the letter from Knox Pitzer (October 30). Somehow it’s never the people who own the economy who make mistakes.

According to this fabrication, it all started when liberal Democrats passed the Community Reinvestment Act in 1977 which forced regulated banks to make risky loans to individuals who could not afford them. Thirty years later, Rep. Barney Frank (did we mention he’s a homosexual?) became chair of the House Financial Services Committee and became retroactively responsible for the sub-prime loan fiasco.

The facts are that the CRA did not require mortgage companies to make risky loans; it required regulated depository banks to make loans in neighborhoods which they had discriminated against as a whole to individual residents who are credit-worthy. San Antonio had a lot of experience with this problem: individuals who live on the south, west, and east sides of town lived in the “wrong” neighborhoods and could not get loans even with good credit. In contrast, according to expert testimony before Rep. Frank’s committee, 80% of the subprime loans were made by mortgage lenders who were not regulated by the CRA and who were not banks. In 2002, subprime loans made up 8% of all mortgages; in 2006, they had ballooned to 20%. The related claim that the Bush administration tried to rein in Fannie Mae is only partly true: it wanted to limit the government’s mortgage operations in order to protect the private sector lending companies; it did not want to regulate what the private companies were doing. ACORN, another scapegoat of the looney rightwing, has an outstanding record of fighting against predatory lending by mortgage companies, including its widely praised homeownership counseling program and its successful lawsuits against high rates and fees.

September 27, 2008

To the Editor,

Today (September 27, 2008) letter writer Timothy Swainhart expresses his outrage with Democratic Sen. Dodd’s degree of “poppycock and hypocrisy…seldom seen” for pointing out that the financial crisis was predicted by many people. Swainhart writes that it’s a “fact” that Republicans wanted to regulate Fannie Mae in 2005 when Dodd led the Senate Banking Committee and blocked their efforts. But there’s a good reason it has seldom been seen: the Democrats and Dodd did not lead the Banking Committee in 2005, the Republicans did. Repeat the facts after me voters: the Republican Party has controlled the Presidency, the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, and the Securities and Exchange Commission since 2000, and the Congress from 1994 until 2007.

September 17, 2008

To the Editor,

I think we can do better than to blame the “Congress and the Executive” for the financial crisis and to call McCain-like for a study “to find out why the current system of oversight failed” (Editorial, September 17, 2008). Those who have been paying attention know that for many years the Republican Party has promoted its anti-regulation, anything goes market philosophy when it comes to financial markets and the nation’s financial security. Texans should know this very well because our Senator Phil Gramm was its great champion as chair of the Senate Banking Committee, from which he retired to the UBS banking giant, and Wendy Gramm promoted non-regulation of futures markets as a member of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, from which she retired to Enron. Pleading ignorance now won’t wash. Let’s get back to the necessary job of government regulation of all the financial companies which is what will save us all from taxpayer bailouts.

August 24, 2008 Op-Ed

Labor Day

What if employees could block their employer from belonging to the Chamber of Commerce or the National Restaurant Association, which routinely lobbies to keep employee pay low? Outrageous? It doesn’t happen, of course. But what does happen, more outrageously because it’s true, is that employers block employees from joining a union. This happens all the time. According to a study at Cornell University, about 20,000 employees are illegally discriminated against for union activity every year. Every year. Illegal. All Americans have the right of freedom of association. It’s one of the cherished freedoms that defines the United States and distinguishes us from China where no independent unions are allowed. The Bush administration famously argues that the war of terrorism is a war to protect our freedoms. But the administration also famously makes exceptions when it comes to which freedoms it protects. One exception is a worker’s right to join a union. The administration has failed to enforce our labor laws to prevent illegal employer interference with union activity.

The Congress has come up with a fix for the failure to protect the freedom of association called the Employee Free Choice Act. The proposal is likely to pass in the next Congress. Will Obama or McCain sign the act? Under current labor law, when employees want to form a union to bargain with their employer over wages and working conditions, they can petition the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election to decide whether or not to they want union representation. If a majority votes “yes”, then a union is certified to bargain and the employer is obligated by law to bargain with it.

That’s the kicker. Employers don’t want to bargain with their employees. They interfere in the election—using pressure tactics to influence the decision among the employees about whether and with whom to associate—by compelling employees to attend anti-union meetings, one-on-one counseling with supervisors, threatening job loss, and firing union organizers. Even if the employer is later found guilty of violating employee rights, the penalties are ridiculously modest and too late to save a free election process.

The Employee Free Choice Act would add a new avenue for employees. If they want to, the employees could choose a union (or not) through a check of how many employees signed a card authorizing a union to represent them in negotiations. This “card check” method would reduce the opportunity for employer intimidation tactics.

The Bush administration and many employers oppose card checks as undemocratic. Only a secret ballot election will do, they claim. But, by now, all can see the selectiveness of their concern for freedom. If the goal was to preserve the democratic election process, then the administration could enforce the labor laws. The administration would penalize employers for threatening to fire employees, which is illegal under current law. Employers who believe in freedom could allow union organizers to campaign at the workplace, making presentations at those mandatory anti-union meetings. All in the public interest of having a balanced presentation of the issues.

Some employers, like AT&T, support card check. But many employers oppose it because their bottom line is to block workers’ rights to have a union. One of the stakes in this fall’s election is whether this kind of special interest lobbying will prevent the Congress from passing the Employee Free Choice Act to vindicate America ‘s heritage of freedom.

June 19, 2008

To the Editor,

Kristen Lopez Eastlick complains (June 19, 2008 ) that raising the minimum wage hurts teenagers, but she makes several odd and misleading claims. She professes to be concerned about “young black adults and teenagers”, but she saves her criticism for “policymakers” who “have forced” pay increases “down the throats of local employers”. Paying young black adults and teenagers less is a virtue all around. The truth of her analysis is that there is a relationship between pay and employment, but no crocodile tears for the poor will change the nature of this relationship: employers will create more jobs when labor is cheap but cheap labor doesn’t provide quality of life. Keeping pay low for everyone in order to benefit teenagers in their summer job searches doesn’t make sense.

In fact, until the Bush administration’s macroeconomic policies undermined the American economy, U.S. employers were champion job creators in the 1990’s and workers saw their first inflation-adjusted wage increases in a generation. Today about 24% of Americans work at jobs that do not pay enough to raise a family of three above the poverty line. Poverty has increased despite the impressive gains in economic productivity.

The minimum wage directly affects about 16% of all workers and helps the next wage group just above, which accounts for another 8%. Teenagers are about one-fifth of these workers; most are adults and just over a quarter are parents. 54% of all low-wage workers work fulltime; they aren’t part-time grocery baggers; half live in families which earn less than half the median family income.

The real issue is how to raise pay for adults so they can properly support a family. This could be done by increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit, increasing hours for part-time workers who want to work full time, and unionizing low-wage services (and raising productivity). For teenagers, the government can tax the productivity gains which have gone disproportionately to high-income managers and investors to create public summer youth employment programs.

March 27, 2008

To the Editor,

Concerning your front-page story (March 27) about the psychology professor at UTSA who was dismissed from his directorship, I don’t have any knowledge about the specific case, but the story should be a wake-up call to all Texas employees. We believe we are innocent until proven guilty in America, but when we’re at work too many of us are guilty until proven innocent. The story reports that the professor was not fired (just dismissed from a research center) because he had tenure “whereas hearsay or unsubstantiated evidence may be reason to terminate an at-will employee” under Texas law. In fact almost every Texan is an at-will employee and can be fired for no cause at all and without due process unless the employee has tenure or a union contract.

March 20, 2008

To the Editor,

Luckily we have the internet where every self-respecting citizen who wants to hear Senator Obama speak about the racial conundrums of American culture can see the entire speech rather than rely on the sound bites of talk radio or the spin of newspaper editorialists. The senator’s speech was a magnificent account of our national historical struggle to overcome hundreds of years of racial animosity. Your editorial (March 19) correctly points to Senator Obama’s key criticism of his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and then ignores it: it is that American whites are not inherently racist; we have shown that we can overcome our past. The challenge is to act.

Jonathan Gurwitz quotes the words of Wright—a Marine Corps veteran—but ignores their meaning. In context, Wright said that the American government should be damned rather than blessed because it has oppressed its black citizens. Why should American patriots cheer our government’s shameful acts? But Gurwitz says it’s “conspiratorial nonsense” that blacks suffer from the legacy of racial oppression and Obama can’t be sincere because he is a dreaded liberal! Yes, Obama wants us to act: to invest in our schools, health care, and housing, and that means taxing the highest-income group for the public good.

After eight years of money for war but not for peace, obey the president, my country right or wrong, and either you’re with us or against us, I think the American people are eager again to find common cause in building our nation with liberty and justice for all.

March 17, 2008

To the Editor,

Austin Bay’s (March 17) latest salvo for war without end in Iraq argues that Al-Qaida has challenged the U.S. to fight in Iraq and therefore the U.S. has to fight on or else we will be defeated. Bay warns that U.S. withdrawal from Iraq will confirm what he calls the Madrid Precedent, but he has the facts wrong about what happened in Spain.

He claims that an Al-Qaida attack on Madrid intimidated the Spanish to retreat from Iraq, but this “appeasement” did not end the Al-Qaida threat. What actually happened is that during the Spanish national election in 2004, the Socialist Party campaigned against the governing party’s support for George Bush’s war in Iraq and promised to end the deployment of Spanish troops. Al-Qaida’s attack in Madrid just days before the election was actually covered up by the governing pro-war party, which instead blamed Basque terrorists. Once the Socialists won the election, they carried out their long-standing promise to end Spanish participation in the war.

Bay would prefer that the Socialists had broken their campaign promise. He ignores their opposition to the war policy and fabricates a scenario in which the Spanish, who have decades of experience with terrorism, caved in to terror and foolishly trusted Al-Qaida to stop fighting.

This false story is Bay’s case for American support for Bush’s war in Iraq which, he acknowledges, is not about defeating Al-Qaida in Afghanistan, but a vast and vague “war for the terms of modernity in the center of the Arab Muslim Middle East”. It is a fundamentally strategic error to let one’s enemy pick the field of battle.

March 3, 2008

To the Editor,

I’m afraid the pretty picture of William F. Buckley, Jr., which is painted by conservative pundits has blotted out the ugliness of the modern conservative movement which Buckley is given credit for stimulating. Buckley’s National Review was outspokenly racist in the 1950’s. The modern conservative movement allied itself with segregationists and opponents of civil rights. Goldwater and Nixon both pursued a southern strategy in the 1960’s of appealing to anti-civil rights southern Democratic voters who supported George Wallace in order to realign them with the Republican Party, which they did successfully but shamefully.

February 20, 2008

To the Editor,

The pundits have jumped on Michelle Obama’s remark that this is the first time in her adult life that she has felt really proud of America . The McCain campaign had Mrs. McCain reply that she didn’t know what that meant because she was always proud of America . I’m not sure what Mrs. Obama meant either, but let me suggest two instances when Americans acted in ways that none of us should honor. I think John McCain would agree.

Senator McCain is a war hero because of his combat experience during the war in Viet Nam when he became a prisoner of war. But McCain is not the first Viet Nam combat veteran to win his party’s nomination. John Kerry was. He served and was medaled for his combat duty by the Pentagon. Yet during the last presidential campaign the Republican Party mocked Kerry’s military service and his combat wounds at its national convention where delegates sported “Kerry band-aids”. I suggest this behavior was nothing for Americans to be proud of: one of its major political parties dishonored itself. I doubt that Senator McCain would want the message to our combat troops in Iraq to be that they when they come home from doing their duty that they will be mocked for their injuries.

A second moment when we cannot take pride in our country is when President Bush broke American laws which ban torture and when he violated American obligations under international treaties to order the CIA to torture suspects in American custody. Senator McCain was an outspoken critic of this Bush policy. He braved the rightwing attacks on his patriotism to lead the U.S. Senate to reconfirm the ban on torture. I doubt that McCain would say that torture should be overlooked when someone is asked whether they are always proud of America .

Many voters clearly desire a presidential campaign that takes the high road and leaves the old Republican smear tactics behind, but the McCain campaign is not encouraging when it takes the low road this way. At least the voters will have a chance to vote their hopes on March 4.

February 9, 2008

To The Nation,

Maurice Isserman’s assessment of the very American quality of Weatherman and related elements of the New Left is convincing as far as it goes, namely “too American for its own good” as a “descendant of the powerful Protestant antinomian tradition of radical individualism”. But there is another less ethereal cause for “its lack of interest in creating a stable constituency or institutional base”.

Interests are shaped by institutions and U.S. electoral institutions create powerful incentives for a two-party competition. In other countries in the 1960’s which had more flexible rules, the new left was able to launch its own political parties to solidify a constituency by gaining elective office and establish an institutional base. If the U.S. in 1968 had proportional representation, perhaps an anti-imperialist base could have been created in many electoral districts. As it was, the choices were to play in one of the big catch-all parties or rage from the streets.

December 14, 2007

To the Editor,

Your editorial about the destroyed video tapes of CIA torture (December 12) rightly raised “many concerns”, but there is one over-riding fact about the issue which has been ignored in most news reports.

It is bad enough that the CIA destroyed government documents (i.e. the tapes) in violation of the law and legal advice from the White House. Your editorial notes that the White House said that President Bush did not know about the existence of the tapes, but that is not the key fact even if it is true. The key fact is that President Bush ordered that the torture be done. Bush has repeatedly stated in public that he would do so if necessary and we know from the leaked “torture memos” from the White House and from the testimony of White House legal staff that he did do so.

Our entire public debate about torture is based on the fact that the White House decided to violate American laws against it. Everyone is familiar with the American-sponsored Geneva Convention of 1949 which bans torture and inhumane treatment and guarantees prisoners due process of law. The U.S. government has repeatedly affirmed and strengthened this position. President Reagan negotiated and signed the Convention Against Torture in 1988, stating that torture is “an abhorrent practice”. Senator McCain led the U.S. Senate in 2005 to reaffirm the Army Field Manual’s ban on abusive interrogation methods, which the Judge Advocates General strenuously but vainly defended against the White House. Yet when President Bush signed the McCain bill, he added a “signing statement” that reversed the ban and directed the CIA and military interrogators to follow the President’s position.

The real issue now is the authority of the President to order torture in violation of the law. President Bush and his legal team have consistently argued that the president’s actions cannot be directed by the Legislative and Judicial branches, according to the fabricated doctrine of the “unitary executive”. It’s the old Nixon theory: when the president does it, it’s not against the law. As a logical consequence, our entire Constitutional system of checks and balances is destroyed. So far President Bush has gotten away with it, thanks to Republican control of the Congress, but all true friends of the Constitution should urge the Democrats to investigate and follow the trail to Bush. If the Republicans could impeach Clinton for lying about sex, Bush should get no less a rebuke for placing himself above the law.

October 8, 2007

To the Editor of The New York Times Book Review (published),

Bill Scheft’s review of Kinky Friedman’s You Can Lead a Politician to Water, But You Can’t Make Him Think is typical of the style over substance preferences of many liberals. A serious review of Friedman’s quixotic campaign for Texas Governor should have mentioned that Kinky spoiled an excellent chance for a liberal Democrat to win the election. The highly unpopular Republican governor was re-elected with 39% of the vote. The Democrat, Chris Bell, received 30% and Kinky received 12%. But Scheft never mentions the voting returns, only blaming “the system” for Kinky’s (!) defeat.

October 4, 2007

To the Editor:

A well done to Carlos Guerra’s castigation of President Bush’s veto of the expansion of the state health insurance program for children (October 4, 2007).

I would have liked it even more if the column had tagged the shamefulness of Bush with his ludicrous explanation for the veto, namely that families should buy health insurance in the health insurance market. Apparently he believes that American households are simply sitting on their money, too benighted to see the opportunities that insurance companies are offering them. The truth is the health insurance market has failed to offer health insurance products that even many middle-class families can afford or which (if they do buy) cover most of the costs of illneses that people actually have. The evidence is in: the market method for health insurance is a failure for tens of millions of our fellow citizens and yet Bush is determined to keep us as the only liberal democracy that hasn’t made a pragmatic adjustment to the failure.

Let’s not fall for the president’s attempt to scare us with the spector of government-controlled health care. Yes, we do want government health programs because the private companies have failed. Medicare is a success. SCHIP is a success.

July 19, 2007 (Thanks to Tom Tomorrow)

To the Editor:

Lest we forget to thank the foreign policy experts who sold us the war in Iraq:

“I will bet you the best dinner in the gaslight district in San Diego that military action will not last more than a week.” Bill O’Reilly, 1/29/03.

“Over the next couple of weeks when we find the chemical weapons this guy was amasssing, the left is going to have to hang its head for three or four more years.” Dick Morris, 4/9/03.

“The only people who think this wasn’t a victory are the upper west side liberals and a few people here in Washington.” Charles Krauthammer, 4/19/03.

“American forces are being ‘love-bombed’ by Baghdadis on a daily basis. Everywhere they go, Americans are cheered and thanked profusely.” Mona Charen, 5/9/03

“There is a certain amoung of pop psychology in America that the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni. There’s almost no evidence of that at all.” William Kristol, 4/1/03.

“A year from now I’d be surprised if there’s not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush.” Richard Perle, 9/22/03.

“The three week swing through Iraq has utterly shattered skeptic’s complaints.” Tony Snow, 4/13/03.

“It is not knowable how long that conflict would last. It could last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.” Donald Rumsfeld, 2/7/03.

“We’re dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon.” Paul Wolfowitz, 3/27/03.

Their expert advice about who is the best candidate in the 2008 presidential election who has the wisest foreign policy will be equally reliable.

January 2, 2007

To the Editor,

I once debated Gerald Ford. The year was 1972. I was 18 years old and one of the staff for the Democratic candidate for the 5th Congressional District of Michigan, Jean McKee, a highly talented female lawyer who was an outspoken critic of the war in Vietnam, now four years and thousands of American deaths beyond the 1968 promise of Nixon’s secret plan to end the war.

That also was a year in which the phenomenon of the “surrogate candidate” was created by the Nixon White House. Nixon refused to appear at campaign events because he claimed his exalted status as president made him too busy for the messiness of street-level democracy. That was when he redesigned the uniforms of the White House staff to resemble imperial Russia . Instead, he sent surrogates on the campaign trail to speak in his place.

Ironically, I was a surrogate for Jean McKee, speaking at a small town high school event before students, most of whom were too young to vote. I knew Ford’s record well because my role in McKee’s campaign was to stay in the public library reading the Congressional Record to document Ford’s voting record. I came to the high school loaded with facts. I could factually state that Gerald Ford never once voted against any request by the Pentagon for any spending measure and he consistently voted against bills to help workers and the poor. His pro-Pentagon record made him one of the greatest spendthrifts of the taxpayers’ hard-earned money which, coupled with his cold shoulder to the working class, made him a straight-down-the-line Republican. He also was a leader of the movement to impeach the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Earl Warren, the former Republican governor of California, who had been appointed to the Court by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower. But Warren had made the mistake of “judicial activism”, a cardinal sin for conservatives, when he formed majorities to strike down southern racial segregation and laws that limited freedom of the press and free speech.

I spoke with passion to the audience that day, as only a political neophyte or neo-conservative can, but I received what can only be called a cold reaction from the hundreds of students compelled to attend the assembly in the school auditorium.

Representative Ford, arriving late, missed my itemized recitation of his voting record from the Congressional Record. He stepped from the wings when I was finished speaking to a rousing standing ovation. The great man at last! Our leader for 24 years in Congress! Ford needed to say nothing in response to my itemization of his actual record. Support the president! Stay the course in Vietnam ! Beat the liberal Democrats! Yea! Yea! The emotion of the crowd won over democratic debate.

November 18, 2006

To the Editor:

As you wrote (editorial November 17), the Toyota plant is a boon for the South Side and San Antonio . But in a fit of Republican over-sell that undermines the argument about the virtues of free trade, you complained about critics who “grouse” about foreign competition. You claimed that ” U.S. workers win” from Japanese investments in the U.S. But the theory of free trade does not claim that no workers lose their jobs; the theory is that countries are net gainers from trade.

The U.S. big truck market is not expanding, which means that the growth of Toyota Tundra sales certainly will come at the expense of truck sales by Ford, G.M. and Chrysler and their employees.

There is no need to gild the lily of trade and foreign investment: tell the truth and then face up to the problem of domestic economic adjustment and the just claims of workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. The Republicans have failed to do so and the Democrats are winning votes because of it.

September 10, 2006

To the Editor:

I think the Express-News has suffered an editing meltdown with Jeanne Jakle’s preview of the ABC movie “The Path to 9/11” (September 10, 2006 TV Now). The editors and Ms. Jakle surely are literate and know full well the storm of controversy over this film’s fictionalized account of events before September 11, 2001.

Democrats and Republicans, members of the official 9/11 Commission and the former czar for counter-terrorism in three administrations, plus former President Clinton, have pointed out the sheer fabrications of the film that belies the film producers’ claim that the story is based on the findings of the 9/11 Commission.

Ms. Jakle nevertheless writes “There are shocking revelations, such as one instance when American operatives are thwarted in a mission to capture…Osama bin Laden” by “the Clinton administration…” This is precisely the fabrication that ABC has been taken to task for. There is no “revelation” here. Either Jakle’s column slipped past the editors or the Express-News has joined Karl Rove’s election propaganda campaign.

October 2, 2005

To the Editor of The New York Times,

Matt Bai’s analysis of Senator Clinton’s political identity is so confused itself it makes me wonder whether it is his ideas or Hillary Clinton’s that I was reading about. The use of the terminology “left” versus “right” is something that Bai wisely cautions against but he then goes right on using the terms without defining them.

Yet the old meaning of the terms actually helps clarify things better that his suggestion that the distinction in the Democratic Party is between “governing class” and “activist class”. The old left began with the observation that markets are not the solution to our problems of social justice, environmental degradation, and imperialism. Real solutions require policies that at least channel market behavior to achieve public values–not Bai’s imagined Sixties moral relativism at all.

So, rather than scorn for “activist” Democrats who criticize “each new Republican proposal”, we see each proposal as the same markets uber alles reflex, as the Bush administration’s proposals for rebuilding after Katrina amply illustrate. And it’s not surprising that Howard Dean emerged as a popular leader: he was the only prominent Democratic candidate with anti-imperialist values. Most Democratic Party leaders have yet to articulate alternatives to markets and imperialism and that includes Senator Clinton.