Two centuries ago Edward Gibbon, author of the seminal History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, reduced political nature to its essence, "All that is human must retrograde if it does not advance." Which brings us to Sen. Patty Murray's supercommittee and the rhetoric of failure. On Nov. 1, Sen. Murray said, "The consequences of failure are unacceptable." Welcome to unacceptable.
As the New York Times' Jennifer Steinhauer and Robert Pear write (carried in this morning's Seattle Times) a debt deal nearly materialized a week ago, only to fall away (Our lexicon has a new failure metaphor: To quit and blame others is "to supercommittee.") "On Sunday, just one week after both sides had begun to feel hope, several members of the bipartisan panel conceded that their weeks of negotiations had failed. In the end the two sides could not agree on a mix of tax increases and spending cuts and — perhaps above all — on the fate of the tax cuts originally signed by President George W. Bush, which are scheduled to expire at the end of 2012."
Perhaps the committee was hardwired for defeat, paralyzed by partisan absolutists. To compound the Congressional fatigue, committee members are jawing the same talking points. Sidestep accountability and re-focus the blame. Steinhauer and Pear write, "While the panel's failure to create a plan that would head off automatic spending cuts was in many ways foretold — President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner failed to reach a similar deal this past summer — the deadlock offers fresh evidence for everyone frustrated with Congress, including its own members." Whatever became of the animating spirit of "failure is not an option," actor Ed Harris's line when he portrayed flight director Gene Kranz in Ron Howard's Apollo 13? A supercommittee postmortem might fix on twelve cases of pilot error.
Pulitzer-Prize wining cartoonist David Horsey is one of the few scribes who can convincingly knit together political art and public narrative (the late Herb Block was another). And what better way to illustrate the absurdity of de-funding higher education than to focus on the 150th anniversary of the University of Washington? "Friday, on the 150th anniversary of the University of Washington, I was strolling on campus when these words came into my head: 'I love this university,' " Horsey writes. "Did this gush of affection come over me just because I happened to be dressed in Husky purple to mark my alma mater’s special day? More likely it was because I had just come out of a stunning presentation inside the Astronomy Department’s planetarium. I’d been given a demonstration of a computer-powered digital projection system built by students that leaps beyond the usual view of stars and constellations to fly deep into the cosmos and far into the origins of the universe."
Horsey continues with a few higher-ed maxims. "The university is an institution whose deepest purpose is to transmit and extend human knowledge. It is a grand laboratory where every idea is tested and old perceptions give way to new discoveries. It is a community devoted to free minds and the quest for excellence." Horsey pulls a "j'accuse!" (also expressed in his cartoon) at those lawmakers who have settled on UW defunding. "I know it may be injudicious to insult the people who control the purse strings, but I have to say it: the politicians in Olympia responsible for these draconian cuts have betrayed the people of this state, especially our young people whose aspirations may go unfulfilled if they cannot get access to a superior education. Too many state lawmakers confuse excellence with elitism. They consider the UW an 'elitist' institution because it represents excellence and achievement. These middling politicians might be happier if the UW were a middling trade school." Gov. Gregoire: Appoint David Horsey as a UW regent.
Is former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper aping St. Augustine with his confessions, or is it more like Robert McNamara's In Retrospect, paying penance while applying the lessons of the past? Whatever the case, Stamper now analyzes the Occupy movement though the lens of the 1999 WTO riots and the various mistakes he made. "My support for a militaristic solution caused all hell to break loose," Stamper writes in The Nation. "Rocks, bottles and newspaper racks went flying. Windows were smashed, stores were looted, fires lighted; and more gas filled the streets, with some cops clearly overreacting, escalating and prolonging the conflict. The 'Battle in Seattle,' as the WTO protests and their aftermath came to be known, was a huge setback—for the protesters, my cops, the community."
The Stamper thesis revolves around the futility of disproportionate force. The former police chief makes a good point. Stamper writes, "More than a decade later, the police response to the Occupy movement, most disturbingly visible in Oakland — where scenes resembled a war zone and where a marine remains in serious condition from a police projectile — brings into sharp relief the acute and chronic problems of American law enforcement. Seattle might have served as a cautionary tale, but instead, U.S. police forces have become increasingly militarized, and it’s showing in cities everywhere: the NYPD 'white shirt' coating innocent people with pepper spray, the arrests of two student journalists at Occupy Atlanta, the declaration of public property as off-limits and the arrests of protesters for 'trespassing.'"
Regarding Occupy, Bill Gates, Sr. weighs in with a supportive nod (maybe not on the protesters' tactics, but on the movement's underlying message). Gates tells the Puget Sound Business Journal, "I’m not sure I do understand exactly what they want. There are a variety of things which seem to be subjects of the protest but my own sense of it is at the bottom and most basic level it is a demand that the people who are prospering from this economy, from the American economy, have an obligation to make a contribution to getting it back on the level." And what about the responsibility of wealthy individuals? "It’s a responsibility to see the problem and see the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of getting things back on an even keel without some contribution from the wealthy minority among us."
Lastly, let's hope that legendary Norse humorist, Stan Boreson, had a chance to read his hometown newspaper, the Everett Herald. If he had he would have learned about the Northwest visit of the Danish Buddhist leader, Ole Nydahl. Yes, Stan, Ole Nydahl is really called, "Lama Ole."
Seattle Times, "What killed the debt deal: Sliver of hope slips away"
Puget Sound Business Journal, "William Gates, Sr. speaks out on Occupy Wall Street"
Everett Herald, "Danish Buddhist leader, Lama Ole, to visit in Snohomish"
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