Saturday, December 18, 2004

Column 16: Neo-Corporatism

In Sinclair Lewis's novel "It Can't Happen Here," a conservative politician is helped to the presidency by a radio host. The politician runs his campaign on family values, the flag, and patriotism. He and the talk show host portray advocates of traditional American democracy - those concerned with individual rights and freedoms - as anti-American. That was 69 years ago.

Lawrence Britt, a political scientist, writing in 2003, identifies a set of agendas common to both right-wing political and fundamentalist religious movements. These include:

1. Powerful and continuing use of patriotic/religious rhetoric.
2. Sacrifice of human rights to “emergency,” political, security, or to maintain the faith.
3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause
4. Military needs given priority over civilian.
5. Sexism
6. Mass media indirectly controlled and censored by government regulation or media spokespeople who are sympathetic and/or intimidated.
7. Obsession with national security
8. Religion and government are intertwined – use of the majority religion as a tool to manipulate public opinion; use of religious rhetoric by public officials.
9. Corporate power is protected
10. Labor power is suppressed
11. Disdain for intellect and the arts
12. Obsession with crime and punishment
13. Cronyism and corruption – government without dissent
14. Fraudulent elections

In 2000, a group of Neo-Conservatives including Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and others published a document called The Project for the New American Century, This group saw the fall of Communism as an opportunity for America to become the sole dominant power in the world, and noted that these plans would take a long time, unless there were a catastrophic and catalyzing event like a new Pearl Harbor that would let the leaders turn America into a military country.

This Neocon agenda, arose concurrently with the rise of the religious right, particularly in the wake of President Clinton’s moral failures, and the ascendancy of large corporate interests which found a congenial home in the Bush/Cheney administration. September 11th provided just the catalyst they said was needed for their rise to power.

This analysis draws in part on the thinking of Davidson Loehr, a Unitarian minister in Austin, Texas. Loehr, in a recent sermon, labels this agenda fascism, and indeed Professor Britt, in the article cited above, calls the fourteen points the characteristics of fascism. I don’t use that term – since World War II, it is impossible to use the term fascism without evoking Hitler and the Nazis, and I think that comparison to the current regime in the United States is inaccurate, and a specious oversimplification. Still, I think that the danger in what, in the 1930’s in the US was called “corporatism” is real and current.

Historically corporatist agendas, whether on the right or the left (Soviet Russia was corporate Communism and if you substitute the State for private business, it fit the fourteen criteria perfectly) has beaten liberalism and progressivism too often for those of us to the left of center to be complacent about it. This, more than any other factor was, I believe, the determinant of the recent election. Liberals and Progressives must wake up to this fact, and see that the emphasis on individual rights to the exclusion of responsibilities to the larger society is no longer a viable philosophy, if it ever was. We need to recognize the validity of people’s religious and moral values, and to include a moral platform that will appeal to the hearts and minds of voters. Also, we need to be more aggressive and factual about exposing the damage that a Corporatist agenda does to the average working person and their family. The Corporatists have learned how to sell the canard that “what’s good for corporations is good for the USA,” and we must both have a vision that is broad enough to defeat that, and a campaign that points up that the values of Corporatism are diametrically opposed to those of the average American. Or we can be steadfast about how much better we are than they are, and how tragic it is that people don’t see that, in which case we are in danger of being right – dead right.

Column 15: Medal of Freedom

It is polite to give any new administration, even a second term, time to get its act together, and to refrain from too much criticism during that time. Usually the new administration uses this period to heal the wounds of the campaign.

It seems “them days is gone forever.” Since the election the Administration and its allies have shown themselves to be sore winners, to the point of their local representative’s calling it a“gloat-fest,” and the actions of the administration, even before the second term officially begins, have made it clear that they don’t care about criticism. The President is purging his Cabinet of any possibility of alternative views, appointing new Cabinet members from his political intimates. He appointed Bernard Kerik to Homeland Security, making it clear that he admires Mr. Kerik, and who wants to probe too deeply into the President’s choice? In short order we find out that the nominee has mob ties, illicit affairs, nanny problems, law suits, you name it. Oops.

And consider the rhinoceros in the Oval Office – the thing no one can miss, but no one is allowed to talk about. Is there anyone who does not recognize that the war in Iraq has been a mess from the beginning? Even the President can’t miss this one, but he is leading the way in a campaign of denial unparalleled since Nixon’s “I am not a crook.” Rumsfeld gets immunity while everyone else in the Cabinet is being voted off the island, then the President awards the Medal of Freedom to Franks, Bremer, and Tenet.

According to the Medal’s website, "this great honor is reserved for individuals the President deems to have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors." The award is "given only after careful thought, always sparingly so as not to debase its currency." (emphasis added)

The 9-11 Commission blamed the CIA and Tenet for intelligence failures that prevented us from stopping the attacks. Before the invasion, it was Tenet who described the existence of WMD as a "slam dunk." Paul Bremer led the postwar effort in Iraq - we know how well that is going - and General Franks violated the first rule of military leadership by taking Iraq with no plan for what to do once he took it.

So with regard to “debasing its currency,” we have these three well-meaning but arguably incompetent men joining the likes of Justice Thurgood Marshall, Admiral Zumwalt, Rosa Parks and Bob Dole as Medal Recipients, when what we should be getting is an honest assessment of their records.

As for Rumsfeld, everyone from John McCain to Norman Schwarzkopf is outraged at his prosecution of the war, his relationship with the Military, his callous disregard for the troops’ welfare, and his general arrogance. He continuously avoids responsibility, such as blaming the lack of armor for troop vehicles on the Army, as if the Defense Department has nothing to do with it. Senator McCain – POW, decorated war hero, Bush supporter - has said publicly that he has no confidence in Rumsfeld. But to axe Rumsfeld would be to admit that mistakes have been made, and this President, when asked in a Town Hall debate to name three mistakes he’d made in his first term, could not admit to one.

Jefferson is reputed to have said that people get the government they deserve. Given that just under half of the country did not vote for this President, we must ask ourselves, what did we do to deserve this? I believe that we have stood on principle, on what we considered morally higher ground, while the Right took command of the dialogue. We have four years to put the situation to rights. It has also been said that “the truth shall make you free,” so we will need to keep telling the truth, pointing to the facts, and not allow our voice to be stilled.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Column 14: A Famous Victory

A Famous Victory
by Ed Gurowitz

Methinks Jim Clark doth protest too much. Since the election, the President’s supporters have been telling everyone who will listen that it “was a famous victory, much like the Battle celebrated in Southey’s poem:

"And everybody praised the Duke
Who this great fight did win."
"But what good came of it at last?"
Quoth little Peterkin.
"Why, that I cannot tell," said he,
"But 'twas a famous victory."

While Jim has the good grace to label it a “gloat fest,” his poking fun at the Democrats looking at how to present their issues in a way that will appeal to the public is a bit odd, coming from the party that coined ”Healthy Forests,” “Clean Air,” and “Partial Birth Abortion,” among others.

As the President purges his Cabinet of anyone who might disagree with him, he has asked Donald Rumsfeld to stay on, despite the fact that on December 3rd on Fox News (not exactly a bastion of liberalism) the Secretary admitted that he failed to predict the strength of the insurgency in Iraq, calling that failure and the failure to find WMD’s the “major mistakes” of the war. Then, in an astonishing about-face, the Secretary denied that more troops should have been sent to Iraq, again blaming “battlefield commanders” for asking for the number of troops that were sent. Way to support the troops, Don, and way to once again ignore that General Shinseki did say that more troops were needed and was fired for his trouble.

Oddly, the interview in question came a day after the Pentagon announced it was raising force levels in Iraq to the highest level since the invasion, ostensibly to increase security for the putative January elections – we’ll see if they come out on January 31.

We have here an Administration that would have us believe that that support, which is in most cases highly issue-specific, is support across the board. It is an Administration that lives by propaganda and the “big lie” tactic, whereby a distortion of the truth is repeated over and over on the assumption that people will come to believe it is the truth. Before the invasion we were told that the Iraqi people would welcome us as liberators – what we have now is a civil war aimed at defeating us and our internal allies. We were told that Saddam was connected to Al Qaeda. When overwhelming evidence is presented that there was no such connection, we are, in effect, asked whether we will believe the government like loyal Americans, or believe the evidence. We were told there were WMD’s, and now even Rumsfeld admits that there weren’t, and on and on.

So what are we to do? One of the most important things, I think, is to keep insisting on the truth in the face of the big lies. Condaleeza Rice is not the best choice for Secretary of State, she is someone who will agree with the President. Appointing African-Americans and Latinos to the cabinet does not show how unprejudiced this Administration is, it is window dressing. Donald Rumsfeld is not a good Secretary of Defense, he is an egotist who wants to remake the US military along principles that military experts find dubious, to say the least. Gay marriage will not damage heterosexual marriage, certainly not as much as a 50% divorce rate and 5-day celebrity marriages do. This is not a Christian (or Jewish or Moslem or Buddhist) country – it is a country founded on a clear separation between religion and secular life. And most importantly, criticizing the Administration and its policies is no way unpatriotic - America originated in dissent and debate and will thrive as long as these thrive.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Column 13: Whistleblowers

When Whistles Blow
by Ed Gurowitz

Even before the official start of the Administration’s second term, there are signs pointing to the possibility of hostility toward legitimate dissent in the coming four years. This goes beyond the ongoing campaign by the Right to paint those who disagree with them on the war, abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research as unpatriotic, anti-God, and worse, and it goes beyond the Religious Right calling in chits for its supposed role in re-electing the President. CBS and NBC have refused to run an ad by the United Church of Christ affirming its policy of welcoming all including gays, and government employees who would act to protect the public are being systematically suppressed.

Earle Dixon, a Carson City resident, was the Project Manager for hazardous waste management and compliance at the Anaconda Mine in Yerington. Anaconda is an abandoned copper mine covering some 3,600 acres, where acid run-off and waste rock containing uranium and other toxic metals have been disposed of in unlined ponds. The mine has had numerous owners, and half of its land is on public property managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Dixon worked for the BLM coordinating with a number of agencies. He was fired by BLM Nevada director Bob Abbey on October 5th, after less than a year on the job. According to Dixon’s complaint in a Federal whistleblower suit against the BLM, he had presented Abbey with mounting evidence of contamination and worker exposure.

If Dixon’s case were singular, we might ignore it; unfortunately it is far from unique. Organizations such as the Project on Government Oversight have documented case after case of whistleblowers being threatened and suppressed by the agencies they work for, and the Federal Whistleblower Protection Act has been so weakened by what the Administration would characterize in other contexts as “activist judges,” that it is almost more dangerous than if there were no such law - it provides an appearance of protection where there is none, effectively luring whistleblowers out into the open where they can be picked off. There are bills under consideration in Congress to fix the Act, but the White House is actively attempting to stall this legislation to let it die, Federal courts have found major loopholes in the present Act’s protection and have set a standard of “irrefutable proof” that is impossible for whistleblowers to meet.

This ruthless suppression of those who would attempt to protect the public is not limited to the environment. It was a whistleblower, Coleen Rowley (Time Magazine’s 2002 co-Person of the Year), who exposed the FBI’s failure to heed clear evidence of terrorist plots before 9/11, yet this administration has systematically attacked whistleblowers, including in the FBI. Robert Wright, an FBI Special Agent, reported weakness in his antiterrorism unit, and was met with investigations aimed at silencing or discrediting him. Richard Levernier reported serious security problems at nuclear weapons sites and was stripped of his security clearance, effectively ending his employment. And these are just two examples among many.

It takes enormous courage for anyone to step forward and make incompetence and malfeasance public, particularly in government agencies. Doing so is unlikely to be met with approval and they can expect to be attacked and vilified by those at whom their finger is pointed. Yet few would deny that the Coleen Rowley and others have done an enormous public service with little or no expectation of personal reward. As Ms Rowley and others told Congress recently, “It is unrealistic to expect that government workers will defend the public if they can’t defend themselves.”

As the President populates his new Cabinet with yes-people and the extreme right moves to suppress any public discussion of issues it finds disagreeable, it is more important than ever that the protective devices that have been built into our system over the years be themselves protected and strengthened. Remember, to paraphrase the great Conservative Edmund Burke, all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. If you are interested in learning more about this, I recommend the website of Public Employees for Environmental Responsible (PEER),

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Column 12: Community

by Ed Gurowitz

Incline Village/Crystal Bay is often referred to as a “community.” The dictionary defines community as

a unified body of individuals: people with common interests living in a particular area; an interacting population of various kinds of individuals in a common location; a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society; a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests.

Incline fits all these definitions pretty well, raising the question of why, when issues of local import (the Chateau, the Dog Park, etc.) come up for discussion, do they engender such acrimony and divisiveness? And why, when national and international issues are on the table, as in the recent election, does it get even worse?

I took up writing a political column to provide a balance to Jim Clark’s representation of the Libertarian Conservative, and particularly the Conservative Republican point of view on things. I would say that I represent a more or less classical Liberal point of view, and (although not in any official capacity) the Liberal Democrat point of view. If Jim’s views resonate with those of Presidents Reagan and Bush, I would say that mine are somewhere between Presidents Kennedy and Clinton. I believe that, even in the heat of the campaign, Jim and I maintained a reasoned and respectful dialogue (perhaps more respectful of each other than of our respective candidates, but respectful nonetheless).

A couple of things have struck me from the beginning, though. First, the number of people who identify with my point of view and who appreciated what they saw as courage that they feel it takes for me to make my views public. Second, the number of times friends have talked about the “enemies” I am making through my writing. I find both of these expressions odd and disturbing.

I grew up in a small town in Upstate New York. My parents were registered Republicans, and when I was old enough to realize that their political views were not necessarily those of the conservative Republicans around them, they told me that, as refugees from totalitarian rule, they did not dare identify themselves publicly as outside the prevailing political regime, and while what they did in the voting booth was secret, in public they would keep a low profile. Living in Incline I’m starting to understand what they meant.

I don’t know if I’m making enemies – I honestly hope not – and I have never lacked the courage (or whatever it takes) to speak my mind. I firmly believe that there is wisdom in dialogue that is not available in any single position, and there is considerable evidence to support the view that difference, when it is nurtured and developed, will produce innovative and creative answers.

I hope it isn’t true that it is unsafe to be a Liberal or a Democrat in Incline, but it’s come up often enough to make me suspect that there may be some truth to this view. I would hope that most people in a community like ours would have the wisdom to judge people by their intent and their commitment, not by whether they agree with their point of view. A favorite author of mine is fond of saying (in jest, I think) that the first definition of an intelligent person is someone who agrees with him. For me an intelligent person is one who values learning from others’ point of view and who prizes innovation and creativity in meeting our community’s problems. Hopefully now that the elections are resolved we can start to listen to each other on local issues and to appreciate what each of us has to offer. If we only listen to those with whom we agree, there will be no learning and precious little in the way of progress.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Column 11: Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks
by Ed Gurowitz

Today I call a moratorium on partisanship. Throughout history people have taken time out to be thankful. In 1676, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony proclaimed an official day of Thanksgiving, and that tradition has endured to this day.

Thanksgiving and Independence Day are the archetypal American holidays. One is a celebration of freedom that crosses ideologies, the other a holiday that spans religious faiths and even reaches those who have no faith, but are grateful for the riches of living in this country.

Here especially at Lake Tahoe we have much for which to be thankful. We live in one of the most beautiful settings in the world, and we and those who have gone before us have the opportunity to make the most of what we have. So I’d like to take this column to express, on all our behalves, I hope, appreciation to some of those who make our lives here great. I will inevitably leave some people out, and for this I apologize – please know that if your name should be in this short list, you are appreciated as well.

First of all, to our Trustees – Gene Brockman and John Bohn, who will be continuing to serve, Bob Wolf who has re-upped with the voters help, and Syd Brosten and Ted Fuller who will be leaving the Board. To Bea Epstein and Bev Mapps who stepped up to the opportunity, and to all who ran in the elections. To those willing to take on what is too often a thankless task, thanks. And to the IVGID staff, who work tirelessly behind the scenes to keep this community functioning in high gear.

Thanks also to Mary Jurkonis and the Bonanza for going way beyond what is expected of a community newspaper to provide a true forum for issues of concern to us all and for providing the Tuesday morning meetings to air and debate public issues. Thanks too to Erin Roth for stepping into the Editor’s shoes and to all who attend or have attended on Tuesday mornings.

We have some of the finest public servants of any community I have ever seen. Bill Horn at IVGID, Gregg Lubbe and the Sheriff’s Office, Jim Linardos and the Fire District, just to name a very few, but to include all the rest in naming these. Also our teachers and school staffs, the doctors, nurses, and everyone else at the hospital, the Forestry workers, and, this year in particular, all those who made the elections work.

Let’s remember to be grateful to our local service organizations – the two Rotary Clubs, the Lions, the Optimists, the AAUW, the Parasol Foundation, the Pet Network, and all the rest for all they do for the community. Where else in the world can you find a place almost every weekend to go to a party or other event, have fun and at the same time contribute to so many good causes.

Without our religious institutions and the clergy that attend to them, we would be a poorer community by far. Even those who don’t attend can appreciate the good that they do.

Finally, and this is where I am really going to leave a lot of people out, the individuals who, to an extent that cannot be measured by personal gain, dedicate so much of themselves and their lives to serving the community. Norm Rosenberg is the Library’s advocate; Ted Harris and Wayne Fischer on the property tax revolt, Bob Wheeler, the ever-vigilant TRPA watchdog, Jim Clark and Alan Tiras continuing to spearhead Independent Incline, and so many more – Chuck Otto, Marianne Ingemanson, Jim Jeffers, Chris Plastiras and the Fire Board.

And finally, thanks to Herb Caen for the idea for this column. He did it better, annually, and in verse, but I knew Herb Caen, I read Herb Caen, and readers, I am no Herb Caen. Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Column 10: We're All (Still) Americans

We are all (still) Americans
by Ed Gurowitz

Here are three quotes I find disturbing.

Just prior to the election, a Kerry volunteer was canvassing in rural Ohio. At one house she was told: “Why are you bothering us? We’re Bush supporters, didn’t you see our flag?”

On November 3rd, Bob Jones III, President of the fundamentalist Christian Bob Jones University, sent a congratulatory message to President Bush that said in part: “God has granted America – though she doesn’t deserve it – a reprieve from the agenda of paganism…You owe the liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ.”

In a story in Sunday’s Bonanza, a Baptist minister from South Shore said: “The men who founded this country based this country’s platforms on Christian values; the Ten Commandments, which are moral principles to live by...we are getting away from those Christian principles.”

What I find disturbing about these quotes is that they reflect an arrogant assumption by some on the far Right that (a) they own the franchise on patriotism and can say who is patriotic and who isn’t, and (b) that the United States is a Christian country. I assert that the day these two assumptions become facts, if they do, the United States will cease to be the United States. These people seem to think they own the franchise on patriotism and that the President’s slim margin in the election obliges him to agree with this view and to forward their agendas through writing their beliefs into laws and appointing judges to ensure that these laws are upheld.

Contrary to the good pastor’s assertion, the men who founded this country were largely secularists and deists. Their values were Judaeo-Christian values (the Ten Commandments predated Christ by some centuries), and they went to great lengths to ensure that, whatever the religious makeup of the country, the government would be secular and inclusive, unlike the governments of Europe that were, then and now, tied to state religions and exclusive – in most cases their laws are based on the teachings of their state religion, and in some those who are of other faiths do not have the same rights of citizenship as those who profess the state religion. The Founders felt so strongly about freedom of religion that they put it first in the Bill of Rights.

I am a committed Liberal. I am also a Jew. I consider religion, while essentially a personal matter, to be a central part of my life and have always been active in my religious community, wherever I have lived. I am an American both by happy accident of birth, when my parents came here to escape Czarist and then Communist Russia and by choice – I could live anywhere, have traveled widely, and live here because I believe that the United States is by far the best place to live, politically, socially, economically, and by any other yardstick. I was an Eagle Scout, fly the flag on holidays, and never fail to exercise the privilege of voting. I also, as you know, speak my mind on political issues and cherish the freedom to do so.

I am a Liberal, Jewish, Democrat American. You may be a Conservative, Christian, Republican American or a Socialist, Hindu, Green Party American, or an apolitical, atheist, Independent American. But I say this: We are all Americans, and by virtue of being Americans we are free to believe (or not) as we wish, and anyone who says that to hold a particular constellation of belief or non-belief disqualifies you as an American is so far out of line as to not know what an American is.

Next week I will address these issues as they occur on the local level here in Incline, but what I see happening on the National scene in the wake of the election is so worrisome, that I wanted to address that first.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Column 9: Don't Mourn - Organize

Column 9: Don’t Mourn – Organize
by Ed Gurowitz

What stands out in this week after the election is that I think both candidates and parties are to be commended for a smooth and non-litigious transition. The President’s victory speech was gracious and conciliatory, and Senator Kerry’s concession was equally free of rancor. I do think that Vice President Cheney was overreaching to call a 3% edge a “mandate,” but chalk it up to post-election euphoria.

Given the inherent edge that a sitting, war-time president has, it may seem strange to ask where the Democrats went wrong in losing this election, but I believe that, with the sharp divisions in the country and the poor record of reelecting Republican incumbents in the past 50 or so years, the Democrats had a real shot and failed. The Democrats’ record of failures (Gore, Dukakis, Mondale) also makes it a legitimate question to ask. An easy answer would point to the Karl Rove strategy of going negative and attacking on issues of questionable merit (the Swift Boat ads, the flip-flopping canard), but given the GOP’s record of negative campaigning and dirty tricks going back to Watergate, the Democrats should have expected and been prepared for this and they clearly weren’t, and were playing catch-up (Heinz, of course) from the start.

More importantly, I believe that the Democratic Party has lost touch with the concerns of mainstream voters, particularly in the South and the Midwest. In exit polls, almost one voter in five put issues of “moral values” at the top of the list of what they based their vote on. Now there are problems with that – first of all, the validity of exit polls is open to question, and secondly what is meant by “moral values” is open to question, but is assumed to refer to issues such as abortion and gay marriage. Whatever its meaning, what is clear is that the Kerry campaign did not address these issues effectively.

Also, and this will not be a view that many who worked for the Democratic cause will like, Kerry was not a candidate with a broad appeal. His war service notwithstanding (and the Swift Boat Veterans attack, while specious, was more effective than Kerry supporters liked to admit), he was seen by many as rich, aristocratic, and aloof. Worse, he came from the Northeast, which is perceived by much of the country as elitist. The President, by contrast, is from Connecticut, was educated at Yale, and like Kerry was a member of the elite Skull and Bones secret society there, but has recast himself, down to his speech patterns, as a Texan, and a plain-spoken middle American.

Finally, I believe that the Democrats have for years fundamentally misread the psychology of the American electorate. A recent book traces people’s politics to their view of family, transposing a “strong father” model of family to the Right and a “nurturant family” model to the Left. Epitomized by former President Clinton, but including the Kerry campaign, the Democrats have been leading with a “nurturant family” approach, and downplaying the “strong father” aspects of government. Probably what the mainstream of American voters want is somewhere between the two, but, particularly in the face of terrorism (it’s only been three years since 9/11) and with troops in harm’s way, the electorate, I think, wanted a higher dose of “strong father” than the Kerry campaign gave them. The Republicans read this right, and conducted a fear-based campaign to maximize their advantage as the “strong father” party.

In post-election email traffic on the Kerry side, a recurrent theme has been “Don’t Mourn, Organize.” Hopefully the Democratic Party will use the four years between now and the 2008 election to reconnect with the half of America who feel the party has lost touch with their needs and concerns.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Column 8: Time to Come Together

Time to Come Together
by Ed Gurowitz

The deadline for this column is Tuesday morning, so as I write this the election has not happened as yet and remains too close to call. Hopefully when you read this, it will be decided, although the possibility that it will take some time to determine the winner cannot be discounted. Nevertheless the polls will be closed and the pre-election shouting over.

Whoever takes office on January 20th, it is time for the country to come together. Going into the election, the country was arguably more divided than at any time since the Civil War, and as Lincoln noted at that time, a house divided against itself cannot stand. The current divisions in the country are, in my view, more detrimental to our welfare as a nation even than the divisions in the early days of the civil rights movement or during the Vietnam War, and must be healed.

Regardless of the outcome of the election, it is time for the mainstream of the GOP to take their party back from the forces that hijacked it. Jim Clark dates the move to the right of the Republican Party to Barry Goldwater’s run for the presidency, and I think he’s probably right about that. But the conservatism of today is a far cry from the fair-minded, thoughtful conservatism of Goldwater or Edmund Burke. Sometime since Goldwater, a far more mean-spirited conservatism has played on the fears and religious convictions of some Republicans to turn the party of Eisenhower and Goldwater into a platform for an agenda that is closer to the Know-Nothing Party of the 1850’s than to the mainstream of America today.

I believe in the political party system, and would welcome the emergence of new parties, even parties on the extreme left and right for people who feel that the two major parties do not represent their views. At the same time, I believe that the true parties in this country today are not the Republicans and Democrats but Conservatives and Liberals, each of which are currently represented by factions in the two parties. While I do not think it will happen, I believe that the best thing would be a realignment into something like four parties – something like Economic Conservative/Social Liberal, Economic Liberal/Social Conservative, Economic Conservative/Social Conservative, Economic Liberal/Social Liberal (they would need catchier names, of course). Then there might be a few others for those whose concerns are more specific, such as environmentalists, both sides of the abortion issue, etc.

Okay, that is a utopian view. Here’s a real one. Whoever is the President for the four years beginning in January needs to set a more intelligent, civil tone for the national debate than we have had for the past twenty years or so. He needs to set a tone of respect for each others’ views, even (and maybe especially) when we disagree. He needs to demonstrate an awareness that, with rare exceptions, people on all sides of a given issue believe what they believe in good faith and their beliefs are grounded in a genuine commitment to doing what is best for the nation and to the principles on which this country was founded. It is a truism that reasonable people can disagree reasonably – it’s time we started living that ethic.

We are the richest, most diverse, and freest country in the history of the world. We now need to be the most civil and civilized as well. I only hope and pray that whichever party controls the White House and the Congress after January will take the lead in making us so.

Column 7: The Price of Certainty

The Price of “Certainty”
by Ed Gurowitz

Last week I said that in this, the last column before the election, I would make some recommendations and endorsements on races that were other than local/nonpartisan and on the ballot propositions. Since then, others have written letters and columns that reflect my views and preferences very well, and our esteemed and erudite editor, Mr. Maziarz, has done and will continue to do, I’m sure a fine job on the propositions, so I am going to leave it at that and urge you, no matter your preference, to be sure to vote.

The view has been expressed on the Right that this year’s probable high voter turnout may not be a good thing, painting a picture of the great unwashed ignorantly trooping to the polls to wreak havoc. Mr. Clark last week included among the founding principles of Conservatism “a preference for liberty over equality,” which seems to me to be another expression of this view. While Jim attempts to change Burke’s principles to disavow elitism, it seems to me that elitism is at the heart of Republican Conservatism, and in its current form it is elitism of a particularly pernicious sort.

In last week’s New York Times Sunday Magazine, Ron Suskind, author of the book “The Price of Loyalty wrote an extensively documented article called “Without a Doubt” in which public figures from both sides gave examples of the President’s unwavering certainty that his view is the right view, and his disinterest in any other views or any possibility that he might be wrong. Suskind describes the Bush presidency as one in which “open dialogue, based on facts, is not seen as something of inherent value. It may, in fact, create doubt, which undercuts faith. It could result in a loss of confidence in the decision-maker and, just as important, by the decision maker.”

As one schooled in the Western tradition of reason and discourse, this scares the heck out of me. More importantly, it scares the heck out of thinking people in public life regardless of their politics. Suskind quotes Bruce Bartlett, a staffer for President Reagan and the first President Bush, who is certainly no liberal, as saying that “if Bush wins, there will be a civil war in the Republican Party starting on Nov. 3, a battle between modernists and fundamentalists, pragmatists and true believers, reason and religion.”

This is good news. Fundamentalism is fundamentalism whatever its basis, and religious fundamentalism is characterized by the same rigidity of thought, intolerance of others’ views, and certainty of the rightness of one’s own views as is the thinking of doctrinaire Communists, Fascists, or Anarchists. Fundamentalists may affect an air of civility, but it doesn’t take much of a challenge to have them start using derogatory and insulting names and characterizations for their opponents. They can also effectively ignore those with differing views – after all, if your thinking is divinely inspired, why listen to mere mortals?

President Bush said publicly before the 2000 election that he believes he was chosen by God to be President at this time. While I have no doubt that God takes a hand in the affairs of people, and that the values and ethos of the United States are closer to God’s plan for humanity, the notion of ruling by divine right went out with the Magna Carta.

I don’t know how the election will turn out, but either way, I take heart that there are those in the Republican Party who have reached the end of their tolerance for a presidency that is based on an unquestioning, arrogant faith that one man has all the answers. I have no doubt that the extreme right will take a Bush victory as validation for their man’s rigidity, and will attempt to negate a Kerry victory by demeaning the wisdom of the electorate’s choice. Nonetheless, I can only hope that the record of misstatements, mistakes, and missteps of the current administration will be corrected over the next four years. Please vote. rGod knows, we all need to be heard.

Column 6: Desperation Escalated

Desperation Escalated
by Ed Gurowitz

Last week I pointed to the Bush campaign’s use of the “Big Lie,” a venerable propaganda technique that maintains that if a distortion or untruth is big enough, repeated often enough and loudly enough, people will believe it is true, as evidence of growing desperation on the Right with the election getting closer and still a dead heat. This week that desperation has escalated into (a) bigger lies and (b) ad hominem attacks.

The Republican campaign continues to rely on lies and half-truths in its TV campaign. Not just the (non-existent) WMD’s and (extremely questionable) Al Qaeda – Iraq link, but now characterizing Senator Kerry’s private coverage health proposal, as a government takeover of health care! I have emphasized in these columns making a clear delineation between facts and opinions – I have tried, notwithstanding some readers’ seemingly selective perception, to make clear when I was stating my opinion and when I was stating what I believe to be facts. There is, of course a middle ground where we may argue about whether something is a fact or not, and that is why we value freedom of speech and a free interchange of views. It is, however, a verifiable fact that Senator Kerry’s plan is a private-based plan, and the ads that say otherwise can only be seen as a falsehood. In my opinion, this is a sign of increasing desperation on the part of the Bush campaign.

Bush’s use of “Liberal” as an epithet to attack Kerry is almost laughable given that about half of the voting population identifies itself by that label – in general the Bush campaign’s ad hominem attacks have been weak and half-hearted. Likewise a local man “attacked” me on Sunday as “Incline’s Michael Moore,” a comparison that I don't’ think is particularly apt, nor do I consider it particularly insulting. He goes on to accuse me of pomposity, miscategorizing, distorting, and lying, his evidence for which is that I quote accurately from the 9/11 Commission report, but do not take into account some very arguable interpretations of some comments in that report. The gentleman is entitled to interpret these as he wishes, but that does not make his interpretations the truth or mine lies.

The point is this – the Right, going back to Joe McCarthy and Alger Hiss, has operated on the principles that if the truth doesn’t support your view, attack the person who speaks the truth, and if you’re going to attack, go for the kill. I have steered clear of ad hominem arguments in this column and will continue to do so. One of my most basic ethical principles (WARNING: WHAT FOLLOWS IS A LIBERAL VIEW. SENSITIVE CONSERVATIVES SHOULD SKIP TO THE NEXT SENTENCE) is to grant to others the same good intentions that I grant to myself, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. So I believe that Bush, Rumsfeld, and even Ashcroft are all, in Antony’s words, honorable men and will continue to address their policies and statements. If the gentleman who wrote the letter in Sunday’s paper can find nothing else but to call me names, I must assume they can’t find anything substantive in what I say to address.

One other note: Some readers of this column have asked me about endorsements in local races, and I’ve given that question a lot of thought. In a community this small it is inevitable that people whom I know, like, and respect personally will be on other sides of various local issues from me. That being the case, I am loath to make public endorsements for IVGID Trustee or the Fire Board, because I don’t want to publicly slight or seem to insult people who are my friends. Also, these offices are and should be non-partisan, and are not easily amenable in my view to the same left/right political analysis as national, state, and even county issues, so in next week’s column (the last before the election) I will address some State, and County races and maybe the propositions.

Column 5: Desperation

Desperation on the Right
By Ed Gurowitz

In last week’s Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates, it was clear that the Bush-Cheney ticket and their conservative base are becoming anxious to the point of being desperate. It has been said that truth is the first casualty of war, and the same could be said of politics. Despite Senator Kerry’s unequivocal statement that he would never give any country or institution a veto over US foreign policy, the Bush campaign continues to accuse him of intending to do just that. Despite Kerry’s statement of his commitment to “hunt down the terrorists and arrest or kill them,” the Bush campaign continues to say he would be soft on terrorism. Senator Kerry points to the fact that President Bush is the first president since Hoover to have a net loss of jobs during his term, and President Bush insists that jobs are being created while jobs are being lost at a faster rate than they are being created.

But the most enduring canard of the Bush campaign is the “flip-flopping” big lie. I guess the idea is that if you can’t beat them with your power, baffle them with bull. I teach CEOs that, in fast-changing times, the most important attribute of leadership is the willingness to constantly review progress against changing conditions and to learn and adjust. President Bush seems to think that his ability to remain rigid and to bend the facts to justify his rigidity is a virtue – I believe it is a fatal flaw.

Conservative forces continue to insist on the existence of the WMDs and ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda, despite all evidence to the contrary. Last week the Duelfer report stated unequivocally that there have been no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq since 1991, yet the President continues to justify the war because Saddam might have developed WMD in the future. Everyone from Colin Powell to the 9/11 commission to the President himself has said that there was no connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda, yet Bush and Cheney continue to insist that there was. The “Big Lie” is a known and proven propaganda technique that states that a big enough lie, repeated often enough, will come to be believed by the majority of the people. While, as I said last week, I don’t believe that President Bush is lying –I believe that he believes that what he says is true, the principle is the same. Senator Kerry stands on the facts and the data, President Bush keeps repeating (often stridently), what he believes is true, what he wants to be true, in the hope that saying it will make it so. It won’t.

Senator Kerry has certainly changed his position somewhat on some issues. For me, this is a sign of intelligence and the willingness to adjust his positions to changing facts. He has not changed his values or his fundamental view of what this country should be in the world and where we should go. President Bush claims to be a leader, but as one who has taught and studied leadership for thirty years, I believe that leadership is exactly what has been missing in the White House. President Bush does not lead – he drapes himself in the trappings of leadership and hides his head in the sand of isolationism and jingoism in the hope that he can fool enough of the people, enough of the time. A majority of American voters did not buy it in 2000, and this time the majority should be large enough that the presidency will go to the candidate the voters elect.

Column 4: The First Debate - Facts vs. Denial

Facts vs. Denial
By Ed Gurowitz

I’d been hoping that Thursday night would mark a decisive moment in the 2004 campaign – leave us with the issue all but decided a month before the actual election.

Not this year. With only about a 10% swing vote, a dramatic shift is unlikely. At the same time, my assessment of the debate is that, while neither candidate knocked it out of the park, President Bush mostly hit singles and committed errors, while Senator Kerry hit doubles and triples and committed fewer and less serious errors.

One thing that did become clear, I think, is the difference between these candidates at a fundamental level. President Bush is basing his campaign on his personal values – what he would call steadfastness, loyalty, and character. Senator Kerry is basing his campaign on what he calls “the facts on the ground” as the most important basis on which to determine actions and strategies.

I hold the values of steadfastness, loyalty, and character in the highest esteem, but all of my training and business experience tells me that facts must be given primacy in determining important courses of action. Without a clear, undistorted relationship to the facts, values and conclusions will be tainted by factors such as ego, wishes, and hopes, and this contamination of reality by personal psychology can have tragic consequences.

President Bush seems to ignore critically important facts, even facts he has previously acknowledged. While he harps on what he call’s Senator Kerry’s inconsistency, he now denies facts he previously stated. He continues to insist that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Quaeda, that there is a true coalition fighting in Iraq. All the evidence, including that from Bush’s own sources, states unequivocally that there were no WMD’s and none on the horizon, that there was no Hussein/Bin Laden connection and the President has said both things publicly.The so-called coalition is paper-thin, with the lion’s share of coalition forces coming from the US forces. Of the 30 allied forces, only six have 1,000 or more troops in Iraq, and the Bush Administration is struggling to keep more countries from dropping out of the coalition. Yet President Bush called Senator Kerry’s bringing these facts up “denigrating our allies’ contribution.”

Confronted with these and other facts in the debate, President Bush repeatedly deflected the argument to try to argue on ground that was comfortable for him. Asked by the moderator if the war in Iraq has been worth the cost of over 1,000 American lives, he cited a conversation with a war widow and used his (and our) compassion for her loss to show that we are of nobler character than the enemy. True, but in no way a response to the question.

Bush continually (eleven times) referred to the war as “hard work,” implying that to recognize that the work was based on errors and misjudgments would be dereliction of duty – again and again he stated or implied that pointing out facts that he considers unfavorable or accepting bad news is a moral failure and that the Commander in Chief can’t do that, that the troops would not follow if he did – yet the troops know the facts first hand – how confident can the be in a Commander in Chief who is apparently comfortably in denial?

As a psychologist I learned to keep a close eye on the line between commitment and conviction on the one hand and pathological rigidity on the other, and on people’s having a healthy relationship to reality versus denial and distortion. If President Bush is not lying, if he believes that what he says is true, then I have to believe that his commitment to his beliefs and convictions is seriously distorting his relationship with reality.

The issues of this campaign are not issues of character - both candidates are men of good character. The key issues revolve around who can navigate the ship of state through today’s dangerous waters, and in my view that requires a very clear grasp of the facts, something that Thursday night’s debate indicates George W. Bush does not possess. Ideology and unthinking tenacity will not return the United States to world leadership.

Column 3: When did it become our job?

I always know that I’m hitting sore spots when people passionately rebut points I didn’t make – it seems they have no effective rebuttal to those I did make. For the record, I did not say that all values are equal or right, I said that values are not facts, and need to be considered in subjective terms, and political values need to be considered in the context of the overarching values on which the society is founded. Free speech, for example, is a value so salient in our culture that it is the very first of the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. Therefore, any action that might abridge this right must be carefully considered against the importance of the right itself.

Now to this week’s issues. When did it become the job of the United States to export our values and way of life to the rest of the world whether they ask for it or not? I have the highest regard for our way of life, and would not live under any other system. At the same time, our values are not the only possible values, however benighted we may consider others to be, and nowhere have I found any evidence that we have the right to impose them on others. We have the right to require allegiance to the basic values of the US if people want to live here, but if, say, Canada were to choose to adopt Zorastrianism as their state religion, that is their business, and we have no right to say they can’t do that.

Notwithstanding this, somehow in 150 years we have gone from the Monroe Doctrine, stating that we would resist any attempt by outside powers to influence or control events in this hemisphere to the Truman Doctrine, interdicting Soviet expansion in the other hemisphere, and beyond that to now, when, according to the Bush administration, it seems to be our mission to export democracy throughout the world and to impose supposedly Christian values on everyone here at home.

I agree that the world would be a better place if democracy established everywhere, but I don’t agree that it is our right or our mission to do that. And if we are going to do them, shouldn’t we start at home? Our country is based on the Four Freedoms – freedom from fear, from want, of speech, and of religion. Should we not look at the Patriot Act and its implementation and the climate of fear and intimidation that it is creating, among loyal citizens who happen to be (or appear to be) Muslim? Should we not look at the increase in the number of families living below the poverty line? The Patriot Act is the greatest blow to freedom from fear and freedom of speech since the McCarthy era, and the right will tout the supposed economic improvement of the past four years, the employment and poverty figures do not paint this administration champions of freedom from want.

As to freedom of religion, US residents are free to worship when and as we please –a big plus compared to much of the world. On the other hand, a minority of the Christian majority has become more and more active in attempting to impose its values as THE values of the United States, It’s true that in a democracy the majority rules, but it is equally a value of democracy that (a) the founding values of the country are the ultimate test for the validity of any value-based argument, and (b) the rights of minorities are to be respected and protected. I believe that freedom of religion trumps the “right” of right-wing Christians to impose their values on the country.

Column 2: Who Exactly Are the Fuzzy Thinkers?

Who Exactly Are the Fuzzy Thinkers?
By Ed Gurowitz

After my first column last week, a lot of kind folks were very complimentary, and even some that I know don’t agree with me politically acknowledged the virtues of having a balanced political presentation in the Bonanza. What surprised me, though, was the number of people who thanked me for speaking out “for them.” This got me wondering – what is it in the political climate that has people who consider their views liberal so reluctant to speak out?

I think the answer lies in the nature of the discourse. Political discussions are often presented as if they were based on facts when they really aren’t. “Same-sex marriage will destroy the institution of marriage,” versus “Everyone has a right to marry whomever they choose.” Or “Abortion is murder” versus “The right to choose is absolute.” Usually the conservative argument is presented as based on absolute truth, and the liberal argument is based on absolute rights. Neither, in my opinion, is correct. I spend a lot of time in my consulting work getting people to look at the difference between facts and what I’ll call interpretations [or opinions, conclusions, explanations, points of view] and the possibility that what really makes the difference is not the facts but how we relate to or interpret the facts.

The point is that arguing about facts has different implications than arguing about interpretations. Arguing about facts is pointless – a fact is a fact or it isn’t, end of story. Arguing about interpretations is equally pointless if the argument is about which interpretation is right or better. An argument about interpretation is an argument about values, and everyone is entitled to determine their own values. To argue about whose values are “right” leads to fundamentalism and fanaticism – that is what is at the heart of terrorism. You and I can disagree about values, even fundamental values, and that doesn’t make either of us a bad person. In a democracy, the founding values of the country are overriding, and then, ideally, the values of the majority determine policy and the values of the minority are protected and respected. Political discourse serves to explicate and promote differing sets of values in the hope of changing minds.

Conservatives seem to present their values as if they were facts and to characterize disagreement as wrong-headed, ignorant, or malicious. Demonization of opposing views has moved from the fringe of political conversation to the mainstream, and is used as a weapon by both sides, though it remains with the fringe or extreme elements of the left, while on the right it has become a weapon of choice. Beginning with the red-baiting and blacklisting of the 1950’s, the right seems to have found it easier to name-call, smear, and attempt to destroy those who disagree with them than to engage with them. As an example, the campaign to discredit Senator Kerry’s war service in the face of overwhelming evidence, President Bush’s acknowledgement, and the Navy Department’s validation that his service was honorable and his medals deserved. Those on the right seem to take an attitude that “the end justifies the means,” which excuses them from any responsibility to be truthful if they can demonize their opponent enough to justify knocking him out of the race, thereby saving the world from the scourge of liberalism.

As a liberal who is a trained scientist and places a high value on facts and clear thinking, I don’t think I am particularly “fuzzy-headed,” and neither are the liberal thinkers and writers that I have read. Yes, each side has its lunatic fringe, but the tendency to lie and smear seems for the most part to have found a home on the right, at the cost of intelligent discussion of the merits or the arguments.
Column 1: Out of the Political Closet
By Ed Gurowitz

I’ve lived in Incline for just over nine years now, and not long after I moved here, the Wall Street Journal published an article on Incline labeling it “Income Village,” and focusing on the part of the population that is wealthy, retired, and conservative, and that has been the accepted wisdom about our Village as long as I have been here and, I suspect for some time before that.

Part of this wisdom is that everyone here is Republican and conservative. The fact is, I’ve met an awful lot of Democrats in the past nine years, and when we recognize each other it’s kind of like we share a secret. For a community of wealthy, retired Republicans, there seem to be an awful lot of middle-class, working Democrats here, and this column is intended, in part, to give them a voice beyond the occasional letter to the editor or party caucus.

Jim Clark, whom I count as a friend and with whom I work closely on local issues including serving on the Independent Incline Committee which he chairs, does a pretty good job, in my view of presenting Republican/conservative views in his weekly column, so I asked the Bonanza for the opportunity to write a balancing column – this column will appear most Wednesdays, as Jim’s appears most Fridays.

I don’t intend to have this column be a “point/counterpoint” to Jim’s, although I imagine I will sometimes respond to Jim and vice versa. Rather, I will comment on local and national issues as well as occasionally waxing philosophical as is my wont. Given that you, the Bonanza reader, are the audience for this column, I think it’s only fair to tell you a bit about my views and biases:

I’m 61 years old, a lifelong Democrat, and unashamedly a Liberal In my life I have been liberal, radical, and even flirted with conservatism (though I found the relationship unsatisfying, to say the least). Winston Churchill said that anyone who is not a liberal in their twenties has no heart and anyone who is not a conservative in their forties has no brain. I would add to this that anyone who remains doctrinaire on either side into their sixties has no real ability to think for themselves.

So I consider myself a liberal in the JFK tradition:
What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label "Liberal?" If by "Liberal" they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer's dollar, then the record of this party and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of "Liberal." But if by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."
Sen. John F. Kennedy, acceptance of the New York Liberal Party Nomination, September 14, 1960

This column will reflect that stand. I have no doubt that it will engender controversy and even acrimony, as does Jim’s column, and I welcome the controversy in the spirit of honest debate and reasonable people disagreeing reasonably. The acrimony I will probably ignore. I also welcome suggestions of topics to address and points to consider.