December 31, 2004
Paul F. Velleman: December 31, 2004
The juxtaposition of news about the disaster in the Indian Ocean basin and the prices of the Presidential inauguration parties presents too great a clash for me to ignore. According to the NY Times, the Presidential Inaugural Committee expects the tab to top $40 million. Tickets are selling in the range of $2,500 per person.
I don't want to belabor this. The moral is obvious. It's not that we're the richest country in the world; somebody's go to be that. Nor even that our contribution to assist the victims, large though it may be, is far from the size it could be. But to spend millions on a gaudy party in the name of the President while so many are in such dire need seems to me to be the epitome of everything we should not stand for.
So maybe we shouldn't stand for it.
This isn't--or shouldn't be--a Left/Right issue. People of good will are horrified by the scale of this disaster, and don't think of it in terms of domestic politics. The scale is unprecedented in our lifetimes. Here is an opportunity to both do great good and to be seen as doing great good. And that's something the U.S. could use a bit more of these days. But, I suppose that any suggestion that the inaugural parties be canceled or scaled down and that the funds be sent where they could do real good will be seen as partisan.
That would be a shame.
So I'll open this for discussion:
- Should we try to start a groundswell (dare I say tsunami?) of popular support for scaling down the parties and sending the money to those in dire need?
- How can this be discussed and advocated free of partisan positions as something that active workers--those who really do get things done--from both Left and Right could accomplish together?
- Indeed, can it be done?
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» Eyeball Failure from Chapomatic
I don't know why people conflate things just to reinforce their own biases. I try not to do so myself and am not happy when correctly called on it. In this case, though... This link just gets me steamed. Some people have their eyes trained so mu... [Read More]
Tracked on Jan 1, 2005 4:47:51 AM
» Wading with the Left from bryanstrawser.com
Over at Chapomatic, Chap has gone wading with the Left over at left2right. I particularly liked this broadside: Okay, Frankly0, how do you arrange for such purchases? Where does the money go? How does it get funneled? Since Congress hasn't made a sepa... [Read More]
Tracked on Jan 1, 2005 10:18:16 AM
» Charity from Kalblog
One thing to remember, before condemning how much is being spent on Bush's Inaugural versus on disaster relief, is that a lot of the people working for his inaugural are people who worked on his campaign for months, and who... [Read More]
Tracked on Jan 1, 2005 3:32:33 PM
» Dear Mr. President, Cancel the Inauguration from ideas
Living in the wealthiest nation is the world presents near constant conflicts of conscience. We are ridiculously lucky – born armed to the teeth with layers of privilege that most of the world will never know. Although suffering is [Read More]
Tracked on Jan 1, 2005 5:11:32 PM
Tracked on Jan 1, 2005 11:45:15 PM
Posted by: Shag from Brookline
Will I be able to take a tax deduction? Will I get access to the Bush Jr. Administration that otherwise may not be available and thereby advance my net worth? Will I meet the Swift Boaters? Rove? Chaney? Limbaugh? O'Reilly? Drudge? Novak? Will? Hoagland? Krauthammer? The Hammer? Will I want to have a drink with George W? Can I remind him of his claim of being a compassionate conservative?
Posted by: Shag from Brookline | Dec 31, 2004 10:26:48 PM
Posted by: Aaron S.
No and No.
Posted by: Aaron S. | Dec 31, 2004 11:20:19 PM
Posted by: Luka Yovetich
I'm not sure that there is any way for an issue like that to keep from getting partisan. But maybe I'm wrong. I wonder what the total amount of money being donated by U.S. citizens is (both through the gov't and privately). I wonder if that figure is far greater than the $40 million ... And if it is, is that relevant to your concern?
Also, (and this is just a small point) I'm wondering if you're right to say that the scale of this disaster is unprecedented in our lifetimes. Wasn't there an earthquake in China back in 1976 that killed 300,000 or so people? I seem to remember readin something in the San Diego paper this past week that listed at least a few other natural disasters that killed more people than this one. Nobody's projecting the death toll to rise to 300,000 are they?! God I hope not.
Posted by: Luka Yovetich | Jan 1, 2005 12:48:55 AM
Posted by: frankly0
Say what you will, but it is the very fact that the issue became partisan that turned the tide on this issue. At first, the Bush administration was going to put up only $15M. Then, after scathing and unquestionably "partisan" criticism, they upped it to $35M. When the criticism did not abate, and it was clear that Bush was taking some major hits on the issue (especially given that it was, after all, Christmas time, and Bush makes a huge stinking deal out of being more Christian than thou), it got upped to $350M. It's simply unimaginable that that much money would have been put up without political heat, driven, as it inevitably is, by the opposition party.
Three cheers for partisanship, I say.
Posted by: frankly0 | Jan 1, 2005 1:18:42 AM
Posted by: SGT. Rock
President Bush seems to be saving us 1 million dollars, Bill Clintons second term inauguration cost 41 million. Were was your outrage when Rowandan's were being massacred, Liberians massacred, Congolese massacred. This was happening while the Clintons were in office, and spent 41 million dollars. This event takes place and money is spent justly or not every time a president wins office, next time it will be more. If it were a Democrat would you complain if it were the Jews that suffered a natural disaster and lost hundreds of thousands.
The Shri Lankans turned down rescue help from the Jews because of rumblings from the Muslims. In my opinion if you needed help that bad you would not let polotics interfer with the lives of your people, obviously the Muslims don't care for thier and others people's lives. So, I don't think that the Shri Lankans deserve the Anericans peoples tax dollars iether.
If what President Bush is spending ruffles your feathers are you aware of how much of our Tax dollars went to Arafat (the school children killing terrorists that he was) 75 million every year it was to spent on schools infastructure and Medical needs for the palistinians, what ever he had left over he could spend on what ever he wanted. Remember the shipment of Iranian weapons that was intercepted by the Jews. Well 16 million of our tax dollars went to purchasing those weapons, that would have been used on the Jews, and I heard no outrage from the left or the world. In what hole have you been hiding, while evil has been growing, and we have inadvertantly supported.
Posted by: Chap
There's ALWAYS going to be something more deserving. I didn't see you carping about anything Hollywood, or the cost of Green Day's new video, or why celebrity 'x' still owns 'y' new toy. I challenge you to pick on that celebrity six months from now--maybe it'll do some good.
I read $15M as available "right now" money for DART teams and planning $$ so we know what magnitudes of need exist and goes where it's most needed. (Read some blogs to see where people without food are getting truckloads of sweaters--in the tropics--and let's not forget Live Aid, where $$ went other places than where it should have been.) $15m to $350m in a day or two unimaginable? Ever work with USAID, who funnels most of the money that many "nonpartisan" aid NGOs rely upon? Ever see what an effective aid profile looks like as a function of time?
And don't forget to add in the Bonhomme Richard strike group, a rather nontrivial amount. And all that NONgovenmental money, which in our system is allowed to occur without national fiat. You know, people actually giving money and aid without being forced to by The Gummint.
Three cheers for carping, apparently.
Posted by: Josh Jasper
1 week of operations in Iraq costs us about a billion dollars. Perhaps we could appeal to the Iraqis to vote to have us leave when they have elections.
Posted by: Josh Jasper | Jan 1, 2005 1:54:53 AM
Posted by: Answerman
Can it be done?
Lay you 40 to 1 not a dime less will be spent.
Will it be partisan?
Of course--only Democrats will rally around the cause.
Should an issue be made of it?
The question is, how will it bear on the issue that counts, social security. Maybe it will mobilize a few more partisans to that cause.
But be assured, saving social security is what matters, and the forces arrayed against it are formidable.
Posted by: Answerman | Jan 1, 2005 1:59:14 AM
Posted by: Sgt. Rock
"saving social security is what matters, and the forces arrayed against it are formidable."
Are you laying around right now waiting for your Gov. cheese? Good God provide for yourself man, no government gives, they only take. The only thing a government gives is sucking sounds like that which goes down the drain.
Our going to expect them to wipe your to rearend or you going to set up some Gov. fund for that to "social buttwipe security" better save it before it exists.
Posted by: Yehudit
"At first, the Bush administration was going to put up only $15M. Then, after scathing and unquestionably "partisan" criticism, they upped it to $35M. When the criticism did not abate, and it was clear that Bush was taking some major hits on the issue (especially given that it was, after all, Christmas time, and Bush makes a huge stinking deal out of being more Christian than thou), it got upped to $350M."
There is absolutely no evidence that the formal aid amounts increased due to public pressure and that they were not already in the pipeline to be paid out over time. As others have noted, the formal aid does not include the thousands of US troops and equipment sent to the area, notr the private contributions of American citizens. More here.
I notice no criticism of Kofi Annan continuing his skiing vacation for an extra three days after the disaster. Nor any notice of the Thai and Sri Lankan govts withholding the tsunami info for fear of panicking the tourists. Only the West, actually only the US deserves blame for anything, any time, anywhere. Even if you have to twist the facts in order to do it.
I will let John Podhoretz have the last word.
Do you really think the Left's attempt to make this tragedy into a stick to beat the US, isn't going to backfire and discredit you all even more? But you just can't help yourselves, can you?
Posted by: frankly0
There is absolutely no evidence that the formal aid amounts increased due to public pressure and that they were not already in the pipeline to be paid out over time.
Please. Just please.
If indeed the money way "in the pipeline" before public criticism, is it even conceivable that the Bush administration would not have come out with the most impressive number of all? And why did it take four days for the 350M figure to come out?
Yeah, I know, the right believes that the Bush administration is ALWAYS hiding its light under a bushel basket, and that it just NEVER manages to take credit for all the wonderful things it does.
On earth, though, we have a different idea.
Posted by: frankly0 | Jan 1, 2005 4:08:17 AM
Posted by: Chap
Okay, Frankly0, how do you arrange for such purchases? Where does the money go? How does it get funneled? Since Congress hasn't made a separate appropriation, who gets money taken from them to make it work? What needs to be bought and how do we get it there? Since the strike group is racing at top speed, their logistic capability will be limited to equipment on hand until they get boots on the ground. Who writes the contract to lease the ships for the heavy lift?
Wouldn't it make sense that these types of questions take more than thirty seconds to answer?
Even if you were correct about the reason for the money going to a larger number, I get a similar answer timewise using anecdotal experience and rules of thumb. Would it not make good fiducial sense to figure out where to spend the money so that the people who have that money taken from them (me, for instance) get that money used effectively? I haven't checked with more than two of my NGO friends, but they also have a finite time frame to get into gear as well--unless they're already on the ground it takes time to start rolling and flowing logistics.
Please, you say. Okay, I see that you and I have differing starting positions for our worldviews, but there is a common reality on the ground here. Have you ever done something large-scale like this? I mean, would it not cause a mortal wound to perhaps consider that this might possibly be like other human enterprises in that it's not a miraculous and instantaneous "everything gets better"? I bet you'll see misallocated resources, fraud, theft, and stong taking from the weak too--look at what the different parties in Sri Lanka's eternal civil war are doing with aid near their factional borders, for instance. We may even completely kark up the crisis planning for this and have some fantastic screwups, but I doubt we'll have soldiers with child porn rings like the UN has (as of last week--not that it's S.O.P., but we do have better processes to prevent such things from occurring or punishing those who fail.)
Is that going to be automagically all better now that some hubris-laden arrogant functionary at the UN decided to publicly complain that he didn't get everything he wanted?
Has your heart become so hard that you are unable to see any competence or good in others?
Posted by: sts
Everyone who is posting here agrees that in the midst of such suffering, there is not enough the US can do.
Now let's hear from you Left partisans, so eagar to score partisan points:
1. If you have any proof that this Administration has increased its contribution as a result of criticism, and not as a result of its own enhanced knowledge of the scale of suffering and devestation, let's have it. And by proof I mean factual and empirical proof, not rhetoric, premised on the idea that the Left is really, really nice and the Right is really, really mean.
2. In the absence of any such proof, why not apologize for this calumny?
3. Finally, why don't we turn this into a discussion about how we can help all of these poor suffering people? Counting contributions in the universal commodity equivelant--money-- isn't enough. We need to deliver water and food and medical care to the people who need them.
Posted by: sts | Jan 1, 2005 5:10:03 AM
Posted by: Yehudit
"We need to deliver water and food and medical care to the people who need them."
Right now there is so much aid piling up the on-the-ground logistics haven't caught up. But I'm sure you'll figure out how to blame that on the US too. The UN is going to try to take the credit for whatever is done.
Posted by: Chris
Survivor’s Guilt Syndrome
I know my comments are going to offend just about everyone but that’s life.
Fact: They died, you survived. You can’t change that.
Fact: This disaster and everything else is not the fault of America or Americans. It is not Bush’s fault, it is not the Republican’s fault and it’s not the Democrat’s fault. Call it an Act of God or explain it by physics and hydraulics because either way it occurred this time and it WILL happen again.
Fact: Americans are lucky in that they have more than most everyone else.
Fact: You are not going to sell your possessions (house, cars, computers and all of the other fixtures of a comfortable life) and donate the money to the relief effort.
Fact: You have not missed a meal during the past week and then donated the money to the Red Cross or Red Crescent.
Fact: You have not returned your unnecessary Christmas presents and used the refund to fund the relief effort.
Fact: You are not going to get on a plane and travel to the area because you do not want to smell the thousands of rotting bodies.
Fact: You are going to be angry with my comments because they are like the bloated bodies in Sri Lanka, India, and Indonesia; unsightly, putrid and undeniable.
Posted by: Chris | Jan 1, 2005 7:34:53 AM
Posted by: S. Weasel
And Americans have spent over $100 million going to see "Meet the Fockers." How much do you think that has impacted charitable giving? My guess: the two have sweet eff-all to do with each other.
We indulge in very little government pomp in America. The rituals we do observe are probably worth what we spend, for the sake of preserving some sense of history and ceremony.
I'm reminded of po-faced Jimmy Carter refusing his official oil portrait. An ugly and pointless gesture.
Posted by: S. Weasel | Jan 1, 2005 8:48:57 AM
Posted by: D.A. Ridgely
I’m not going to comment, per se, on gaudy pomp and ceremony or the excesses or deficiencies of the current or any other administration beyond noting my general objection to big government spending public funds on the symbols and trappings of big government under any circumstances and my comparative lack of concern about private funds being spent on what amounts, at some point, to mere luxury consumption. Inasmuch as we have made the president, any president, the head of state, I might take issue with Mr. Velleman’s terming this or any other inauguration celebration as one “in the name of the president,” and I might point out that many of the expensive ticket purchasers believe themselves to be doing more than merely participating in a frivolous or gaudy party, but those are minor points.
What interests me, insofar as I can put on my disinterested analyst hat about such things, is how we deal as moral agents with massive disasters (unprecedented or not), on the one hand, and the quotidian and widespread (in the sense of both large scale and diffused) death and misery of humankind with which we are always confronted, on the other. To what extent should the enormity of these great but infrequent natural disasters be weighted in our moral calculus differently from the latter sort?
We can try to make sense of this difference in our capacities as armchair psychologists, I suppose. I believe Hume and certainly others have noted that propinquity and affiliation intensify our concerns and vice versa. But is this a rational distinction?
Two other interesting points, more problematic in terms of Mr. Velleman’s desire (which I share) to avoid as much partisan division in these sorts of things as possible, are (1) what is the morally appropriate level of contribution to alleviate such suffering (a matter of proportionality) and (2) how is that aid best effected?
Because it will more likely lead to axe grinding (mine and others) of the sort we are trying to avoid, I’ll touch only lightly on the second question. Still, one of the recurring disputes at this site is pretty much always going to be: should something be done privately or through the aegis (and in some respects coercive power) of the state? At a party last night, a friend observed that the administration probably realized belatedly that the first $35 million figure it floated for tsunami aid relief is “about what we spend in a few hours in Iraq.” Fair enough, and I did not (you will be proud of me) make the standard libertarian reply that defense spending (however misguided any of us may think this defense spending is) and humanitarian relief (however worthy we may think it is) are simply two different things. (And, yes, I know the arguments that humanitarian relief is a form of defense spending.) The point is only that we can legitimately disagree about more or less proper ways to achieve any objective, including humanitarian relief. Indeed, I note approvingly that the blog authors have linked to private humanitarian aid organizations, and I will even acknowledge that it need not always be an “either / or” situation.
I will, however, make one note about that ‘false dichotomy.’ I believe there are many Americans who have come to believe, however ‘rich’ they may be, that they have fulfilled whatever moral obligation they may feel to the problems of the world (and their country and neighborhood) simply by paying their taxes. I think this is a bad thing for two reasons. First, because involuntary taxes are not the moral equivalent of voluntary charitable contributions. Second, because the prevalent attitude that “the government should take care of it” is all too often an abdication of personal responsibility as an autonomous moral agent.
The question of proportionality – that is, to what extent we are called upon to do without any luxuries to assist those in need, is a much more perplexing matter. Yes, we can always find glaring examples of gaudy excess in the face of human suffering. But there is a real slippery slope problem here if we acknowledge at all that there is something in fact immoral about indulging in X when we could be contributing to Y, and the outraged cries that “we should be doing more” are no help. How much more? What, if anything, is the formula?
I ask this in good faith. I have no answer personally and I’m not trying to set a trap here. I would be happy to hear even from the most radical egalitarians what they think the answer is, and why.
Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 1, 2005 10:10:28 AM
Posted by: noah
In the heat of a moment we see how banal the discussion becomes. I submit there is is no person on the planet that would not like to help. Problem is that we all know that any aid we offer is likely to be hijacked.
Posted by: noah | Jan 1, 2005 10:19:59 AM
Posted by: JennyD
Yeah. Let's see how many of the millions of dollars actually gets to the people who need it. I can't say I have a lot of faith in institutions like, say, the Indonesian government or the UN. Or even some charities.
We're all making a big show of generosity...but who is actually going do the work of getting money to victims? Writing a check is nice, but it's not some kind of moral badge of honor. In fact, not writing a check and taking on some of the legwork is probably much more important.
Posted by: rtr
Who said the left is slow to pursue the kind of activism that raises grades a "full" point, from "C" to "B -" with targeted empathy? Granted, SAT-ACT verbal measures are kulturally "biased" (and "diversity" would be more than accounted for on that subjective “objective” basis alone). If only it was not of a "reductio" form showing the "objective" absurdity of spending others' money for subjective pettiness but a *learned* principled application of fundamentalist “Knowledge”. “K” is for Kant and kookie and that’s good enough for the Left.
It shows that practical change is well within range on a plethora of issues, that the illusion of power (for those that took “Power” humanitarian-sociology sequences instead of “Klassical” political thought sequences) and non-power reflected by elected Party status is far from exklusionary. Korporate welfare kan be killed. Splitting the dividends between tax relief and need amelioration is not only pragmatically preferable but rhetorically sound. But then again it does not take account of the “A” grade engineering brilliance that not only associates extremist Hollywood activist factions with the general left but internationalist statements alleging stingy non-Karing moral values of the general amerikan.
“To be seen” recalls basic Machiavellian lessons. To sink or swim shows that intellectual Darwinism is alive and well, that Robert Frost analogies can work not just as commencement addresses but as after the fact inaugural frosting. Or did not stopping thinking about tomorrow take on an Alice in Wonderland never today but tomorrow form?
Look at not just the superficial “intellectual superiority” that Kolan Powel exhibits when standing next to Kofi Anonymous but also his application of Grace. It is better to be feared AND loved. The use of “juxtaposition” as the second word in a post just wont do. B-S-ing the essay questions is a well advanced art, so instead of +5 points “juxtapostion“ gets -5 points. And unfortunately use of the word “need” is -20 points. Wasn’t it Gordon Gekko who said “Need is good, need works, need clarifies...” Citing the NY Times is like citing Bill O’Reilly’s “Factor” with an obliviousness to credibility issues. Indeed, that is hard to swallow, but it emanates from a too easily refuted “Right” representatives one might find on the McNeil-Lehrer news hour, Academia, and other unfair and unbalanced leftist sources, and shows why not only this blog is necessary from a ideologically diversified culturalist separatist aspect from Academia, whatever its roots, Perspective, but a childish closing of one‘s eyes pretension to not be seen by others realization. In other words citing the NY Times is not that different from citing the belabored Socialist Worker, whether the characterization is fair or not. And it doesn’t even have a cultural clash entertainment value one could glean from watching O’Reilly interview hip hop lyricists. Sorry, but an Exodus explanation of abandonment from “mainstream” print and television media is in order.
Now before the Left is too ready to embrace Pat Buchanan as a Saint of Reason, let me explain why the conversation between left and libertarian is self-interestedly substantive, and not a “doomed“ rhetorical masturbation. The Libertarians decidedly prefer the Right. How the hell did that happen? If Divorce is emblematic of dysfunctional familial relations, I suppose one could weakly regard the left and libertarian as child support enforcement. The tsunami relief links on this site link to *Private* non-government organizations. It’s time to abandon the backward economic prognostications. You want to see some extremely substantive smacking of the Evil, “capitalist” in the worst State protectionist sense, pharmaceutical industry in 2005? Well, let’s do it. It’s high time a Lobbyist class got their @ss handed to them like Dick Grasso was punted out on his @sso. It’s here on a silver platter, ready to be served to an intellectually united assault.
Happy New Year!
Posted by: rtr | Jan 1, 2005 12:19:29 PM
Posted by: Bill
I'm going to be accompanying high school DC visitors to the inaugural events and will mention this discussion.
Posted by: Bartlett
Here's what Josh Chafetz, not a flaming liberal, says:
"IN MY RADIO INTERVIEW Wednesday night, I said that I thought the Administration was being far too stingy in its pledge of aid to South Asian countries affected by the tsunamis. I'm very glad to see that the Administration has just increased its pledge by an order of magnitude. Still, I'm baffled as to why it was done this way -- it seems to me that it would have been a much more intelligent piece of public diplomacy to offer a large sum immediately. After all, it was clear immediately that an awful lot would be needed. I can't help but think that, once again, the Bush Administration has failed to make us look good in the eyes of the world, not because it didn't want to do something, but simply because it didn't present its actions in an intelligent way. And while I heartily applaud it for deciding to substantially increase its aid package, I wish it would think a bit more about presentation in the future."
Posted by: Bartlett | Jan 1, 2005 12:38:20 PM
Posted by: Sinister One
There will always be a struggles between the haves and the have-nots, and, for certain reasons, between the haves and the haves and the have-nots and the have-nots. We, as citizens of the United States who haunt blogs, are decidedly all haves. We are arguing with eachother about how we, as haves, can do right by the have-nots and our own consciences. Thus, DA, I don't think that we will ever achieve useful formulae that will satisfy everyone, nor even a strict egalitarian. The have-nots, particularly those who have recently been demoted even further down the scale to victims of true tragedy, have far too little for us to realistically help. Also, we have far too much for our sense of social intertia to ever be reconciled with our social conscience. What I think is the useful aspect of Professor Velleman's post as well as this discussion on the whole is that the recent disaster has given a good reason to be conscientious, each of us from the President down to bloggers. To answer Velleman, I don't think the groundswell has to be enormous opposition to the big party, though that would be entertaining and, likely, ineffective, but to fiscal irresponsibility on the whole, from Christmas presents and gas guzzling to tax cuts and campaign excess. Left and right need not, and I assert ought not, continue to pour money and resources into superfluous movies, indulgent vacations, and quagmire wars. Left and right have been guilty of these sins and we, as haves, could keep arguing with eachother about it or own up to our bullshit. I, for one, am owning up. But I would expect our leaders, whether they are Bush OR Kerry OR Clinton OR Nader OR Sharpton OR Hussein OR the Queen of England, to do the same. That many of them likely will not demonstrates one of their chief inadequacies as our leaders, and left and right can certainly rally around pointing out and refusing to ignore or condone such faults of character. People like Bush might not scale back, but they certainly don't have to be re-elected. If we insist that we are responsible haves, then we ought not to be represented by those so dissimilar.
Posted by: Sinister One | Jan 1, 2005 12:48:41 PM
Posted by: Chris
While the evil Americans enjoy the Cat of Nine Tails across our backs the rest of the world is going swimming.
Posted by: Chris | Jan 1, 2005 1:40:33 PM
Posted by: sierra
Good grief, Chris. That story reminds me of a recent radio interview with a tourist who said she "hadn't heard anything from that town that starts with a P." [Phuket]
Posted by: sierra | Jan 1, 2005 1:57:27 PM
Posted by: biscuit
Sinister One says:To answer Velleman, I don't think the groundswell has to be enormous opposition to the big party, though that would be entertaining and, likely, ineffective, but to fiscal irresponsibility on the whole, from Christmas presents and gas guzzling to tax cuts and campaign excess. Left and right need not, and I assert ought not, continue to pour money and resources into superfluous movies, indulgent vacations, and quagmire wars.
I agree. Look, even before the tsunami it was obscene to have an enormous inaugural party when the nation is at war. There have always been better, more responsible things to spend the money on. Why Bush does not do the things he could so easily do to make himself look better in the eyes of the world, and in the eyes of those who didn't vote for him but whom he is nevertheless supposed to represent, I do not know. Had he said this year that he would have a small, solemn inauguration because it was not proper to do otherwise while soldiers were dying in Iraq; had he said three years ago that Americans must cut back on oil consumption for the good of our national security, had he asked any of us to make those sacrifices, who would have said no? He makes no sacrifices himself, and he asks none of most Americans (and too much of those who are fighting his war).
So, should we make an issue of it? Sure, why not. I agree, it'll go nowhere but partisanship. I have little faith that anything will go otherwise, these days. Fear of being partisan is no longer a reasonable excuse not to do something -- should we give up our souls in order to not appear partisan?
I know this blog is supposed to be a place where the left and the right talk together, although the comments seem to have been invaded by trolls. But one of my new year's resolutions was not to bother with that anymore. I do not believe supporters of the president can now be converted to oppose him. They have too much at stake, personally, to let that happen, and the facts no longer matter.
There are many reasons to protest the pomp and circumstance of this inauguration, to protest the inauguration itself. Just add the tsunami, and stir. I don't think it is worthwhile to try to keep the tsunami separate from the other reasons, so that people on the right will join that protest, if not the others.
Posted by: stubbs
Yay, for the left! Let's score another point for moral vanity. Don't miss this wonderful opportunity to tell the rest of America how well you think of yourselves how poorly of them! That's why we all love you and why you win elections. Yippeeee! Don't miss the next "crisis" or disaster when opportunity knocks!
Posted by: stubbs | Jan 1, 2005 3:01:45 PM
Posted by: noah
like i said banality reigns.
Posted by: noah | Jan 1, 2005 3:05:17 PM
Posted by: Steve
This entire post is so utterly petty, its unbelievable. First, as someone else pointed out, the scale of this disaster is in no way unprecedented in our lifetimes. Just a few years ago, there was an earthquake in Bam, Iran, which killed 40,000 people in one city (as opposed to 120,000 across two and a half continents). There have been floods in China that have killed more, well within our lifetimes. If the left is to be believed (I know, thats quite a stretch), 100,000 Iraqis have died in the insurgency over the last year, and so on and so on. And second, there are an infinity of activities that are 'unnecessary' that nevertheless will occur. Why not ask that the Football Bowl games be cancelled, given the scope of the disaster? The SuperBowl? The playing of golf in this country is both expensive and unnecessary-why not ask to suspend that? The eating of ice cream? Why? Because there's no gratuitous slam of Republicans or Bush in the suspension of ice cream consumption.
So congratulations: your post is beyond right and wrong-you've achieved such a sublime level of pettiness that you are outside of traditional measures of success.
Posted by: Steve | Jan 1, 2005 3:11:54 PM
Posted by: Jim Hu
Some points for all sides in this.
1) FWIW, my understanding is that the inaugural is not paid for out of public funds. I imagine that there is some public cost due to increased security etc., but the bulk of the millions are privately contributed.
2) I'm not sure that "I'd give more if I knew it would get there" is an honest argument. Although there are plenty of examples of waste, fraud, and corruption in aid programs, there are plenty of organizations with publicly available track records, and many of them are quite good.
3) As others have said, there are plenty of other dispensible activities that we indulge in that are expensive. I think it's fine to remind people of the needs of others, but I'm very uncomfortable with arguments of the form "I think you should give up X in order to give to Y". Picking out things like the inauguration strike me as the kind of "moral vanity" that stubbs describes...it's not about helping the victims, it's about feeling superior to your political enemies. I don't think it follows the categorical imperative/golden rule test. Consider how you'd react to the following hypothetical:
Republicans called today for John Kerry to donate his remaining presidential campaign funds to tsunami relief.
You might say, that this is not a fair comparison - the donors that gave to Kerry, including the famous instances of children using their piggy banks, didn't give for that purpose, and it probably isn't legal under FEC rules for him to use the money for tsunami relief. I agree. But those who donated to the inaugural party, and the people who made plans around the inaugural (many of whom have probably also donated as individuals to tsunami relief) didn't make those donations expecting them to be diverted either.
Posted by: Jim Hu
Another aspect of Paul Velleman's post:
The moral is obvious.
This is the communication problem in a nutshell. It's not obvious to many of us. The question of our moral obligations to others, and especially to strangers strikes me as nontrivial. There have been some stories lately of people donating kidneys to strangers. In some cases this has been to move loved ones up on the transplant list, but there have been others others who regard those of us with two kidneys as murderers. I think most of us would react to this as nuts...even though I see the point, I'm not going out to schedule a kidney removal.
Posted by: alex
Criticizing the presidential inauguration seems rather foolish to me. I'm assuming that the festivities are primarily funded through private donations. If that's the case, the people who have the sort of money to contribute to these events have enough money to donate to relief efforts if they so choose.
Posted by: alex | Jan 1, 2005 5:08:44 PM
Posted by: oliver
"Now let's hear from you Left partisans, so eagar to score partisan points:
"1. If you have any proof that this Administration has increased its contribution as a result of criticism, and not as a result of its own enhanced knowledge of the scale of suffering and devestation, let's have it...
"2. In the absence of any such proof, why not apologize for this calumny?
"3. Finally, why don't we turn this into a discussion about how we can help all of these poor suffering people? "
1) First of all, I'll provide my proof when you give your proof that this president ever speaks frankly about the reasons for a policy decision. Second, I think the president had more than enough intelligence and scientific expertise at his disposal to know right away that this was a disaster that $15 million wouldn't put a dent in. What he didn't know PERHAPS was how the world was going to put together the money for relief, and he chose not to set a trend of rich nations coughing up significant sums unilaterally. Third, wire-service news reporters suggested the motivation you describe as calumnious, and they wouldn't do so without sources. If you doubt this theory of the motivations, which seems reasonable and well precedented to me and lots of others, take it up with the news reporters.
2) See above. As for the news reports, the theory is far from calumny, and it depends on the sources and the strength with which reporters offered the theory whether doing so was at all unfair. Whenever you read "the administration believes" or "was done because" in political news your reading theories. There's no "proof" in this realm.
3)I think this is an interesting and worthy discussion that I feel qualified to contribute to. I don't know much about "how we can help all of these poor suffering people" except that I think it will take a lot more than $15 million. I suppose I wouldn't mind reading others more knowledgable chime in on that subject, since I think it would inform our understanding of just how uncharitable the Bush administration is.
Posted by: oliver | Jan 1, 2005 5:40:56 PM
Posted by: Bill
A lot of the comments seem to rely on this premise:
If there are lots of things that we waste money on, then singling out a given wasteful expenditure (i.e. the inauguration) must be either politically motivated or otherwise illegitimately discriminatory.
I for one do not accept this premise. Why not? It would be devestating for public discussion if anyone could defend their own misdeeds or suboptimal behavior simply by pointing to that of others.
In fact I think it obvious that this sort of move DOES have a delitarious effect on much public discussion. Congress members, for example, can rely on each others pork spending to justify their own. It may even be a part of the justification of paying low wages that starts by noting that one employer cannot move the market wage.
It comes down to whether the wastes pointed to really are egregious. If they are then its best that they should be brought to light, by whomever. Its just a shame if the bottom line becomes: Everybody's doing it so why shouldn't Bush (or I, or Wal-mart, etc.) to it too.
Posted by: OldMountainGoat
In answer to Velleman's 3 questions:
Question 1: "Should we try to start a groundswell (dare I say tsunami?) of popular support for scaling down the parties and sending the money to those in dire need?"
No. Instead, we can sit back and watch a natural groundswell of compassion as American's open their wallets. No one will have to bludgeon us with guilt. We will do it without the expectation of anything in return, certainly not increased good will from abroad. We will help because people need help. The charity of the individual American stands in stark contrast to those who use disasters to make political hay. On one side is selfless action and on the other the ghoulish preening of partisan vultures. Question #1 is politically partisan in its very framing.
Question 2: "How can this be discussed and advocated free of partisan positions as something that active workers--those who really do get things done--from both Left and Right could accomplish together?"
Not possible. The topic of discussion is partisan by its nature. It is designed to make a Republican President look bad.
Question 3: Indeed, can it be done?
Irrelevant. Partisans will do what they do: scratch for advantage. Needy people will get help anyway, not because of what we say here but in spite of our scratching. Those most responsible for accomplishing actual good will go largely unrecognized. America's reservoir of goodwill around the world will go largely unchanged regardless of what Bush does or how he plays it to the media.
Posted by: OldMountainGoat | Jan 1, 2005 6:29:44 PM
Posted by: Jim Hu
I might buy your argument, Bill, if you were claiming that the inaugural was wrong independent of the disaster. Pork barrell spending is not justified by everyone else doing it...because all the other examples are also reprehensible. Do you think all the other things we could give up for relief are wrong too? There's a big difference between suboptimal and wrong, and if you think that optimal is the standard by which people should be held before they should be considered legit targets of attacks, then you must be a lot of fun to live with.
Posted by: Mona
This was the first time one of the blog authors here posted something that pissed me off for its inanity; it is petty, partisan, and ridiculous for the many reasons elaborated already. I am so freakin' tired of mindless and gratuitous Bush-bashing, and have hoped that here we would avoid the silly tropes that abound among the more lemming-like ideologues both left an right. But this "Bush the Vile should cancel the ball" meme is showing up in all the usual left-wing, moonbat enclaves, and now here, too.
I'm so disappointed.
May I assume the author is starting on bread and water until there is no more misery in the world, and donating the difference between that and his preferred fare?
And btw, people all over the globe were starving and dying for lack of proper health care when Clinton had his inaugural festivities, and also when he hosted the fun at the opening of his presidential library. Oddly, I recall no outrage.
Posted by: Mona | Jan 1, 2005 8:43:31 PM
Posted by: Bill
Jim, of course I take your point that not every suboptimal action deserves an attack. David V. was not, I take it, on the "attack". There are plenty of contexts though, where it IS appropriate to criticize any suboptimal move.
And, of course I could not deny that there's some rhetoric involved in calling Bush on the inaugural in the very context of the current tragedy.
But I think David V. is simultaneously making the point that its shameful for us (as a country who just elected our president) to be spending on this lavish party. And the fact that its paid for (if it is) by individual ticket buyers does not really make a difference in its character as an expression of our national priorities, precisely because the party is the president's prerogitive in his representitive capacity.
How is this different from spending money on Rose Bowl tickets? Personally, I don't think I can definitively rebutt this slippery slope/ reductio ad absurdum. But my intuitions agree with those who find a difference.
I would not have made David V.'s point, but I think there's something to it.
Posted by: D.A. Ridgely
Um, I think it is the other Mr. Velleman who began this thread.
Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 1, 2005 9:53:59 PM
Posted by: Bill
Oops. I am sorry about that. I actually wasn't working with any prior assumptions about what David (actually Paul) thinks generally.
On further consideration though, I don't think I really buy the argument that the inaugural's apparently being representative of the American people's priorities makes it worse than other wasteful spending.
Posted by: Roger Snowden
Hey, I have an idea! Call for Bill Clinton to donate his speaking fees for the past year. Better yet, ask him to cough up an amount equivalent to Denise Rich's donation to his library. Better yet, shut down the library and donate the operating expense budget for the next yet.
Just trying to be helpful. :-)
Posted by: Tom
The whole topic smacks of one who thinks of life (and wealth) as a zero sum game. That just isn't the case. To have an expensive inauguration, paid for by private funds, does not rob us of the capacity to help those in need from the tsunami. Because of our immense wealth at the macro level, we don't need to make a choice to do either one or the other. We can do both.
Personally, I'm not so sure that the government should be pledging money so much as the citizenry should open their wallets. I trust us as individuals to make a difference with our contributions by sending them to agencies that can best help the victims. Sorry, but I don't feel that way about the government.
I'm certain that we have no idea how much of anything is needed in each location devastated by the tsunami. I know that we will get that figured out and that the U.S. citizenry will lead the way in providing for those in need.
Big Red Herring you've raised as far as I'm concerned.
Posted by: Tom | Jan 1, 2005 10:32:49 PM
Posted by: RightWingTroll
"The juxtaposition ... presents too great a clash for me to ignore."
There's your problem right there.
If you really are trying to figure out how to appeal to people who didn't vote your way (that *is* the pupose of this blog, isn't it?), and if you can't discipline yourself to ask first if a given fact strikes *them* the way it strikes you, then you have to develop the self-discipline to just ignore it.
Or is Podhoretz right that "you just can't help yourselves?"
(Apologies to Jim Hu to the degree I've repeated his point.)
Posted by: RightWingTroll | Jan 1, 2005 11:19:57 PM
Posted by: tom
We people named Tom are smart - or at least we agree with each other. Money spent is not money that has dissapeared. It's in somebody else's pocket. Shutting down the economy by giving all your money away would be unhelpful. Afterall, what good does it do a Washington D.C. caterer if all that money were sent to Indonesia? What if his kid needs an operation?
Posted by: Jim Hu
Memo to those who criticized President Bush for being too slow to "respond" to the humanitarian crisis by giving a press conference: a press conference is not a "response;" what the USS Abraham Lincoln and the Bonhomme Richard were ordered to do--that's a response.
That's the same carrier that W landed on with the infamous "Mission Accomplished" banner, btw. The Iraq conflict isn't over, but the USS Abraham Lincoln is on a different mission now, and working to accomplish it.
Posted by: Terry J
So, when you go to work on Monday will you take the bus or a peanut butter sandwich? If you take the sandwich, how do you justify depriving the bus of the relief aid? And if you take the bus you will starve to death before you leave work. So which choice will you make? Tribute or death?
OK, silly response to a monumentally silly post.
The US will spend what is needed on relief. So will many other countries. So will many Americans, and other citizens of the world. The innauguration is a privately funded event, a privately funded event for the benefit of the participants. One is not related to the other. Aid to the SE Asian tsunami victims is seperate from the Innauguration of the President. And you wonder why so many hold academia in utter contempt due to academias' utter inability to reason coherently. Just keep painting targets all over yourselves and then complaining when the populace takes shots at you.
On the subject of aid, how much placed where is appropriate? Does one drive down the road and throw food and water off every 100 yards and say they have done the humanitarian thing, all were treated alike? Or do you look for those too weak to come to the roadside, and give them special attention? You do know that survival of the fittest has a meaning , don't you? See http://indiauncut.blogspot.com/ In a PC world, why are the women fighting?
Aid is not a matter of who can throw throw the most bucks at the widest target to make the domestic constituents feel good.
Why the compulsion on the Left on how to spend Other People's Money(OPM)? The Left needs an attitude adjustment. Wail away about the tax code and the budget. But you don't get a say in how I spend my money, be it donations to tsunami victims or Presidential balls, or both, or neither.
This post tends to reinforce that liberals only feel good when they can command that other peoples' money be spent on the liberals' pet cause.
If you have to relieve yourself by posting, could you at least make it something credible? Whining in public may win attaboys in academia, but you look awfully silly to the rest of us.
Posted by: Terry J | Jan 2, 2005 1:00:20 AM
Posted by: Terry J
"So I'll open this for discussion:
* Should we try to start a groundswell (dare I say tsunami?) of popular support for scaling down the parties and sending the money to those in dire need?
* How can this be discussed and advocated free of partisan positions as something that active workers--those who really do get things done--from both Left and Right could accomplish together?
* Indeed, can it be done?"
Without retracting anything previously posted, the gentleman is talking about the spending decisions of thousands of people. He wants them to spend less on the Innauguration and more on the victims.
It cannot be discussed "free of partisan positions as something that active workers--those who really do get things done--from both Left and Right could accomplish together?" because the basic premise is that spending on "the parties" is wrong or less desireable.
This is not a public policy debate, it is a rant about how private citizens choose to spend their money.
Why do the lefties think they have a right to dictate, or influence, the decisions of private parties on how they spend their funds.
Posted by: Terry J | Jan 2, 2005 1:34:19 AM
Posted by: patrick
Watching rich Americans in this comment thread scramble to defend their right to live lavishly while others suffer in the most abject and misery would be funny if it didn't demonstrate a total lack of decency on behalf of those who do it.
Your current wealth is based upon a lucky nexus of environment and genetics. Thus, you can only deserve your wealth if it is gotten under a system that distributes wealth justly.
At the very least, a just distribution of global wealth would protect the basic rights of every citizen of the planet.
Further, rich nations, as the disproporionate recipients of wealth due a lucky confluence of contingent historical events, have an increased responsibility to aid those less fortunate.
However, for a variety of reasons, I feel that governments are generally better off distributing that aid though I will continue to give money privately as well. The democratic participation of a people in its government and coordination difficulties I think decisively make governments the preferred mechanism of redistribution.
Posted by: patrick | Jan 2, 2005 6:13:33 AM
Posted by: Lipo
"Watching rich Americans in this comment thread scramble to defend their right to live lavishly while others suffer in the most abject and misery would be funny if it didn't demonstrate a total lack of decency on behalf of those who do it."
Watching someone ignorant of the United States comment on Americans is funny. What's hilarious is that many philosophy profs across the United States agree with you!!
"Your current wealth is based upon a lucky nexus of environment and genetics. Thus, you can only deserve your wealth if it is gotten under a system that distributes wealth justly."
Where do you get these ridiculous ideas? France? The UN?
"At the very least, a just distribution of global wealth would protect the basic rights of every citizen of the planet."
Sorry. No. Capitalism good. Communism bad. Read your history, young man.
"Further, rich nations, as the disproporionate recipients of wealth due a lucky confluence of contingent historical events, have an increased responsibility to aid those less fortunate."
Americans are not "recipients" of wealth. We create wealth. We are not sorry nor embarrassed for doing so.
That the United States' government and Americans as individuals choose to give their money, food, supplies and services to help other people is not based on "responsibility". We do so because we want to help.
Posted by: Lipo | Jan 2, 2005 8:50:31 AM
Posted by: S. Weasel
Your current wealth is based upon a lucky nexus of environment and genetics.
Genetics, Patrick? Dear me...
Posted by: S. Weasel | Jan 2, 2005 8:50:54 AM
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