Saturday, January 08, 2005

Maybe there some healthy dissent out there after all.

Michael J. Totten writes:

" I don't believe for a minute that he is the best person available for the job of top cop. There are plenty of others who can fill that post in his stead, who can honorably prosecute terrorist suspects, who won't tarnish the reputation of the United States of America, and who won't be a polarizing lightning rod for the next four years.

I don't know if I agree with Glenn Reynolds or not that an anti-torture campaign shouldn't focus on President Bush. But it damn well better focus on Alberto Gonzales. Anyone who is against torture and doesn't speak up is shirking their duty as a citizen in a democracy. I don't know how big the 'pro-torture' contingent is, but since it includes some liberals (like Alan Dershowitz and Oliver Willis) for all I know it could be huge. And it could win if the rest of us keep our mouths shut. "


Good for him. Unfortunately, sometimes we have to vilify a person to attack a policy, but that's the price public officials pay. If Alberto Gonzales is the public face of torture, he needs to be rejected, as a rejection of a policy of torture.

Regrettably, Totten follows up with:

Since my critics pounced on me at the precise moment Gonzales came out strongly against torture in front of the Senate…allow me to back off for now. I’m not ready to exonerate the man without looking a bit deeper into this, but I will declare myself an agnostic


Of course, saying you're against torture and believing it are two different things. As I posted here, there's lots of global examples of constitutional language that doesn't quite match reality:

Look closely at this statement:

Article 22
The dignity, life, property, rights, residence, and occupation of the individual are inviolate, except in cases sanctioned by law.

What a wonderful Constitutional statement - a clear exposition of the individual's rights. Certainly, this must come from a Western democracy.

Too bad it's from the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran.




Well, I'm 0 for 1 so far

With the Rams beating the Seahawks, I'm 0-1 so far today.

I've never really liked the Rams, probably for the same reason I've never liked Florida. They line up a bunch of track stars, race down the sidelines, run up the score, but they never play defense. I'll take a well-executed sack over a fly pattern anyday.

The presence of Brian Billick in the studio has really diminished my enjoyment of watching football. He's awfully condescending for a coach that didn't get into the playoffs.

Lack of Skepticism - The Splinter I just can't get out

Over my vacation, I've been reading A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan, between the bouts of flu and possibly bronchitis that have had me rattled the last few weeks.

Reading this book, I think I've found my biggest problem with the Right. In my opinion, they lack a healthy sense of skepticism (and criticism) for the President and his administration. In the weeks leading up to the election, L-Hack used to basically tell me if John Kerry got elected, he couldn't wait to rub his policy mistakes in my face.

My response: "Why do you think I'd be any less critical of John Kerry than I would President Bush?" There are people that believe the President is like an employee that you can't constantly criticize and undermind - you just let him do his job with the belief that it will all come out correct in the end.

I disagree - the Presidency is like any senior management job - you have to make tough decisions, you can't make everyone happy all the time, and if you're not being criticized and questioned, you're not doing your job because you're not making the tough decisions.

Beyond that, there is no such thing as a black & white world - "you with us or you're with the terrorists" - there are lots of countries that could care less about the United States or al-Qaeda. Some are absolutely destitute, like African nations with people dying from AIDS at alarming rates, or nations like Bangladesh, that just hope they can feed everyone. Some nations, like China and India could care less, as long as they're making money and advancing their economy, they're take whatever side promotes their interests, but most likely stay neutral in the face of conflict.

The President paints the world in black & white, good & evil, and that's just not the way the world works. Because of this worldview, every decision he makes is questionable. That's the problem I have with Conservatives - where is the questioning? Where is the doubt?

It reminds me of the pre-Johnson days in Vietnam, where the official government line was one of ARVN success in South Vietnam, and the success of the Diem regime. At one point, even the media was on-board with this view. Slowly, the media came to understand the truth of the situation and reported on it. The media didn't lose Vietnam for the U.S. - we would have lost it anyways, but the negative reporting probably saved lives by speeding up our withdrawal due to the loss of popular support.

Today, I'm skeptical of the media too. I'm a defender of the New York Times, but I realize they've adopted the role of "official government critic". Almost everything they report will be negative, but it doesn't make it untrue. Is there bias? - absolutely - but wouldn't the same bias exist if they only reported government press releases and news released from the authorities in power?

Are things as bad in Iraq as the media reports? Probably not, but you can bet they're not as good as the White House reports either. Is Social Security in a catacylsmic crisis? Probably not, but it's not secure either. Is privatization going to "save" Social Security? No, but it may be part of a solution.

The point is, everything the government does, everything the President says, is only partially correct. The world is too complex, and the issues that face governance at that level don't lend themselves to easy answers - solutions that are formulated over 4 or 8 years. Those proposed solutions need questioning and debate before action, questioning stemming from healthy criticism.

That's the greatest danger about single-party control over all the branches of government - without deadlock, where is the debate? Republicans fret about judicial nominations being held up - that's nonsense - the people most worthy of appointment will emerge from the deadlock. Same thing with policy - "we need action on this bill" - we NEVER need action on a bill (except maybe the budget) - the best policy will emerge from deadlock.

The final point - the President isn't doing a good job, but he's not doing a bad one either. Only time and history will tell the quality of his performance. In retrospect, we gain more admiration for Richard Nixon, reviled when he left office, revered today for environmental protection and opening relations with China. John Kennedy, deified upon assassination, criticized 40 years later as the architect of Vietnam.

L-Hack will probably argue this point, but my problem with the President stems from the belief that 10-20 years from now, we will pay a price for the policies implemented now, if they are not corrected. It is quite possible that the next President, Republican or Democrat, will correct the mistakes of the Bush administration (especially in the areas of spending and trade), and in the end, this administration will be viewed favorably, even by a liberal like myself.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Thank you, Electronic Voting

From the Charlotte Observer:

"'Ladies and gentlemen, high-tech is not the answer,' said Joe Capowski, a computer specialist and a former Chapel Hill town councilman. 'Keep it low-tech.'

A 'certified ethical hacker,' whose job it is to break into corporate computer systems to test their security, said he didn't trust anything except paper ballots, and counting them by hand.

'I will never trust systems with computers because I break into computers for a living,' said Chuck Herrin, the computer expert.

Herrin showed the Joint Legislative Select Committee on Electronic Voting Systems how easy it was for him to change the vote totals in some vote tabulation software."


Now, we have to have another statewide election for Agriculture Commissioner because of one county - one county - approximately 4,500 votes.

What if this was Florida in 2000?

Electronic voting machines should be banned, if not completely, at least the machines that don't leave audit trails.

CNN.com - Feds paid pundit to push Bush policy - Jan 7, 2005

"The Bush administration paid a prominent commentator to promote the No Child Left Behind schools law to fellow blacks and to give the education secretary media time, records show."


Who else is on the payroll? Any bloggers, perhaps?

Why journalists deify the Green Bay Packers quarterback.

From Slate:

"As the disconnect between multimillionaire athletes and ticket-buying fans widens, few players have retained the 'jes' folks' status of the Packers star QB. Only a few football players-almost all of them white quarterbacks, from Bobby Layne to Kenny Stabler to Terry Bradshaw-are granted special friend and neighbor status. These are the guys whom you could just as easily envision working at the mill and chopping wood on the front stoop as hurling touchdown passes on Monday Night Football."


Kind of like another public figure, often shown chopping wood down on the ranch.

Because he's just a regular dude, Favre is one of us even when he screws up.


Make that EXACTLY like another wood-chopping public figure.

Personally, I'd like to have Hines Ward as my neighbor. He's seems to always be smiling, even after he gets hit, so he'd probably be pretty easy to get along with.

Are you full of self-loathing?

From Bill Lemaye's profile on WPTF:

"Bill has a deep commitment in family, pride in his country and belief in the freedom of expression. His views are not left or right, republican or democrat, liberal or conservative but rather a common sense examination of what is simply...right and wrong."


I listen to this guy when I drive home everyday, but it would only take 5 minutes to discover...

He's a Conservative Republican

Why can't you just call yourself that? Are you "in the closet" on being conservative, because hosting a radio show isn't going keep your secret. Do you despise yourself for being conservative?

I read these right-wing blogs and it's the same thing - no one wants to admit their leanings.

I'm a Liberal Democrat, and I'm proud of it. Do I agree with everything that the Democratic party espouses? Absolutely not, but on average, that's where I fall. I'm not going to hedge it with words like "moderate".

Why can't GOP shills just admit the same?

This goes for you too, L-Hack. A Libertarian is just a Republican that wants to get chicks (forget where I heard that, but I liked it). Why don't you come out of the closet and admit you love the GOP?

This is just lunacy...

Slate recaps yesterday's confirmation hearings:

"Later, it's Sen. Dick Durbin's turn to try to get Gonzales to elucidate his views on the separation of powers. Can the president immunize people from prosecution for torture? Gonzales restates that it's theoretically possible for Congress to pass an unconstitutional law that the president can justifiably ignore."


From a public administration perspective, this is ludicrous. With regards to American government, the executive branch is charged with the (say it with me) EXECUTION of policy as dictated by the legislature (NOT FORMATION). The President's ultimate responsibility is to oversee the bureaucracy of public administrators responsible for carrying out policy. Elected or not, the President is basically a public administrator - the senior manager of all the other bureaucrats in the federal government.

Now, Congress can offload some legislative power to the executive branch, and has through things like the APA, since it's impossible for the Congress to be involved in the minute details of policy formation. Rejecting a strict dichotomy model, the executive branch is involved in formation of policy, and Congress is involved in the direction of execution; however....

Constitutionality is ultimately the decision of the courts alone. For example, despite what the D.O.J. and the White House counsel advise regarding methods of torture, the ultimate decision of legality will rest with the courts. For instance, "executive privilege" - many Presidents have claimed it on the advice of White House Counsel, but ask Richard Nixon who made the ultimate decision regarding the validity of the claim. (Hint: they wear black robes and have an office just behind the Capitol Building)

The courts have extended no privilege to the executive branch to judge constitutionality, as Congress has done with legislative power. The President cannot choose to ignore the will of the people as expressed through the legislature for any reason. If the President assumes the power of judicial review, it can be inferred that his power can be extended to subordinates, since all executive functions, at some level, are passed to lower levels.

The President doesn't micro-manage every agency, so he could allow the Secretary of HHS to selectively choose which laws to enforce and policies to enact. This could further be passed down to some civil servant in the FDA. Nothing is inherently "unconstitutional" - only the courts can decide what is and what isn't.

Do you really want a government where bureaucrats selectively choose which laws and policies to follow? Just because he's elected doesn't make the President any less of a bureaucrat.

Understand something - it pains me to think this. Congress is controlled by Republicans, and it probably will be for the rest of my life, thanks to reapportionment. There will be another Democratic President, and as much as I would probably like him/her to ignore the mandates of a Republican-dominated Congress - short of a veto...

IT'S JUST NOT RIGHT.

There's that Inflated Sense of Self-Worth...

From Hugh Hewitt:

"Memo to CBS:

Release a draft of the Rathergate report to a half-dozen bloggers for pre-publication comment (on the condition that they not comment on the report until it is released. The right list will produce honorable people who will abide by the embargo.) At a minimum, run any paragraph mentioning a blogger past that blogger for vetting. Receive their comments and publish them along with the report, along with responses. Don't pretend that the bloggers that humbled Rather and CBS don't exist.

The new medium brought you low. Try to figure out how to at least engage it. Be sure as well to e-mail the report to every major blogger the moment of its release, and to make it available on the web, and not just in PDF format.

This will be among the most scrutinized documents ever. Don't expect any error to be overlooked."


Get a grip and come back to reality. Powerline isn't "the new medium"...and Buckhead isn't an "investigative reporter." It's a partisan bulletin board and Buckhead is a GOP shill.

I'm not denying that CBS News didn't do something wrong with those memos, but this wasn't some "triumph of the independent media." It was no different than if the same GOP shill had ratted Dan Rather out on the Sean Hannity radio program. Would people be calling for a release of the report to Hannity and Limbaugh? No, they'd be considered a fool. Most of these jokers on blogs are trying to pass themselves off as "impartial journalists", concerned with "truth" and "fact-checking".

Newsflash: You're all partisan hacks!

The funny thing is, you have the audacity to throw stones at the New York Times bias without admitting your own.

At least Roger Simon has a clue, when he contemplates the response of the NY Times. For this question, he gets criticized in the post's comments.

Fortunately, Silicon Valley Jim gets it right.

Why?

Because the Times has the third-largest (I think) circulation of any newspaper in the United States, behind only the Wall Street Journal, which is not really a general-interest newspaper, and USA Today, which is, let's face it, not as serious a newspaper as the Times, although I don't hold USA Today in the contempt in which the chattering classes do. (Also, neither of them publishes on week-ends). Because the Times has the largest circulation in our nation's largest city. Because it's the newspaper about which all of us conservatives talk.

I've despised it for about thirty years, but I don't think that there can be much doubt that it's America's most influential newspaper. Like it or not, its editorial and op-ed pages have a huge effect on the thinking of people whose thoughts and actions affect all the rest of us greatly.


Quite simply, even my mother knows the NY Times, she has no idea who or what a Hugh Hewitt is. Most of America could care less what bloggers think, despite what Time thinks. I won't be so bold as to predict that "in 5 years, no one will remember blogs", but right now, in the grand scheme of media, they're about as important as a fly on a cow's ass.

If you think I'm wrong, take the biggest blog's traffic stats against CNN.com or even a regional newspaper like the Charlotte Observer. It's not even a contest. Mainstream media in a landslide.



The Washington Post is On Fire Today!

E.J. Dionne on Social Security Reform:

"Why should the country add huge amounts of new debt without reconsidering Bush's tax cuts? Why declare a Social Security 'crisis' when one does not exist -- and without dealing with a health care crisis that really does? What confidence can middle- and low-income workers have that they will be better off with Bush's private accounts than with clear pension guarantees? Is there any point, beyond ideological predilections, to changing Social Security from an insurance program that has worked well to an untested investment program? "


Why should the country add huge amounts of new debt without reconsidering Bush's tax cuts?

This question doesn't just apply to Social Security reform - it's equally valid as it pertains to current war activities. I personally have no opposition to rolling back the tax cuts to pre-Bush levels. I found a way to pay my bills then and I could again, and 3% of my salary is a small price to pay to keep American soldiers alive, provide lower Medicare premiums for my grandfather, or finish the I-540 project.

As long as folks like this are in Congress, things will be all right

David Ignatius in today's Washington Post:

"Congress offered a rare 'profile in courage' this week when Rep. Joel Hefley took on the man who symbolizes the poisonous partisanship of the House of Representatives, Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Hefley knew he was likely to pay a price for his defiance, but he challenged DeLay anyway. And, miracle of miracles, DeLay had to retreat a few steps.

Hefley, a 10-term Republican from Colorado, is no giant as a legislator, and his views are hardly out of step with the House GOP majority. He's a conservative who says in his official biography that his goals are to 'strengthen the military, protect federal lands and reduce taxes.' Four years ago he was given the thankless job of chairing the House ethics committee. Perhaps because he got his start in life as a cowboy, Hefley was just ornery enough to take the ethics job seriously. And that meant investigating DeLay...

Led by Hefley, House Republicans began to get angry at their leadership for making them walk the plank to protect DeLay. Hefley said he would vote against the new ethics rules if they were brought to a vote. Rep. Christopher Shays, a moderate Republican from Connecticut, described the proposed ethics changes as "a grave mistake."


Rock on, Representative Hefley, for doing what's right in the face of negative consequences and remembering that party allegiance doesn't trump ethics and accountability.

When these divisive days are past and the ideologues and shills have passed from the scene, I hope you're still in office to fix the mess created by the current situation.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Terrorists vs. Insurgents

From IRAQ THE MODEL:

I just hope that the media will someday go back to reason and quit using the term "insurgents". Someone planning to kill CIVILLIANS is a TERRORIST, not an insurgent.


I said earlier that an insurgent is not a terrorist, and upon further consideration, I'm going to recant the previous statement, but not following Omar's reasoning.

An insurgent, by definition, is one who rebels against established authority. An insurgent may use terrorism as a tool of the insurgency, therefore, an insurgent is a terrorist.

A terrorist is one that attempts to intimidate through fear and/or violence. Revolt IS NOT a prerequisite of terrorism. Osama Bin Laden, who is not a part of the United States, perpetrated acts of terrorism, but did not meet the "revolt" criteria for insurgency. Timothy McVeigh, an American, committed acts of terrorism in revolt of established authority, therefore, he is an insurgent and by extension, a terrorist.

The problem, and the source of my first inclination to draw a distinction, stems from the use of the word "terrorist" in the context of the United States. Just because insurgents are engaged in terroristic acts in Iraq does not mean they would participate in terroristic acts against the United States in a similar fashion to al-Qaeda. Prior action does not necessarily mean future action against the U.S. For example, Palestinian insurgents have engaged in terrorist acts against Israel for years, the IRA waged a terroristic insurgency against Great Britain for years...these movements did not represent a threat to U.S. security. Throughout the 90s, the greatest threat to the U.S. was domestic militia groups - insurgents.

The target really doesn't matter - the individual's role within the institution under attack is where the distinction is drawn and the word "insurgent" is perfectly appropriate for Iraqi action within Iraq.

They wondered why I didn't want a travel voucher...

From today's Post-Gazette:

"Some analysts are doubtful that US Airways can last another few months, even with concessions from unions. Colorado aviation consultant Mike Boyd argued that Southwest wants to start its Pittsburgh service in May because it believes that US Airways will be out of business by then."


Guess I know how I'll be flying this summer....

Chemical Ali - Master of Political Rhetoric

This quote from Ali Hassan Majeed appears in Slate, from a New Yorker piece:

"I will kill them all with chemical weapons! Who is going to say anything? The international community? Fuck them! The international community and those who listen to them."


Unfortunately, his current incarceration and pending trial have prevented him from taking a position on Dick Cheney's speechwriting staff....

Gee whiz, Captain Obvious...

I commented on this here, but rather than restate the obvious, this reality has implications that have to be dealt with.

Is this a "Democracy or Bust" situation for the U.S.? (I say no way), or do we turn it over to Ayatollahs or Mullahs or Sheiks if that's what the people want?

With the election pending, it's time to start talking about the next move if democracy doesn't take. As I said before, if it doesn't take, our exit is inevitable based on history, but that's just my opinion.

Tsunami Relief Fund

Click here to donate to the American Red Cross Tsunami Disaster Relief Fund, via Amazon.com.

USAirways - Conclusion

Well, my problem with USAirways were finally resolved.

I had a very kind customer service rep, but unfortunately, I lost my temper a little bit. Initially, rather than reimburse my expenses, they offered me a travel voucher. With Southwest Airlines now serving Pittsburgh, I'm not sure I'm going to be flying USAirways as much in the future, so it's not really that helpful to me. If they don't emerge from bankruptcy, I'm not sure it will even be useful in the future.

My frustration got the best of me, but I after I argued my case, they agreed to reimburse my expenses through a check. I'm very pleased with the outcome; I'm just a little bothered that I had to argue with them on the phone. Aside from that, everything was resolved to my satisfaction, so I guess I can't be too upset. If the Steelers go to the Super Bowl, I'll probably fly to Pittsburgh for the game on USAirways with my frequent flyer miles, and I'm sure the experience will be much better from Christmas 2004.

At some point, you just have to cut bait...

Tom Friedman writes in today's New York Times:

"We don't want the kind of civil war that we have in Iraq now. That is a war of Sunni and Islamist militants against the U.S. and its Iraqi allies, many of whom do not seem comfortable fighting with, and seemingly for, the U.S. America cannot win that war. That is a civil war in which the murderous insurgents appear to be on the side of ending the U.S. 'occupation of Iraq' and the U.S. and its allies appear to be about sustaining that occupation."


I heard Bill LeMay say on WPTF yesterday that there are 30,000 "terrorists" in Iraq. These people fighting U.S. troops in Iraq aren't terrorists - if they weren't fighting the U.S. military, they wouldn't be crashing planes into buildings. They are fighting the U.S. occupation because they don't want an election - they want to establish a theocracy, or in some cases, restore the Baath party to power. I don't like when people say the insurgents "fear freedom", but if freedom = elections, I guess it's true, but "insurgent" DOES NOT EQUAL "terrorist".

"The civil war we want is a democratically elected Iraqi government against the Baathist and Islamist militants. It needs to be clear that these so-called insurgents are not fighting to liberate Iraq from America, but rather to reassert the tyranny of a Sunni-Baathist minority over the majority there...We cannot liberate Iraq, and never could. Only Iraqis can liberate themselves, by first forging a social contract for sharing power and then having the will to go out and defend that compact against the minorities who will try to resist it. Elections are necessary for that process to unfold, but not sufficient. There has to be the will - among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds - to forge that equitable social contract and then fight for it."


Once you get past the whole WMD smokescreen, that's been the trouble with this war from the beginning. We're trying to bring to democracy to a people that never really proved they wanted it. We didn't help an uprising in Iraq, we didn't have a "Northern Alliance" or resistance group to handle the heavy lifting, we just declared - "you'll be democractic", assuming that's what the majority wanted.

Friedman's right - the election will be the catalyst for the civil war. The question is, will the United States serve as the muscle for the elected body of Iraq, or will they defend themselves against those supporting an opposition government - mainly Islamic and Baathist radicals?

With Vietnam as a guide, we cannot win a conflict supporting an unpopular government with little will to combat the opposition. We end up fighting for something that no one wants but us. At some point, we have to cut the elected government of Iraq loose to deal with their opposition on their own. If they don't have the will or the popular support to deal with it, and Iraq reverts to a dicatorship or becomes an Islamic republic, we have to accept this outcome.

I used to think we have to stay there to "clean up the mess" created by the power vacuum left in the absence of Saddam Hussein. I'm not sure anymore. It will be bloody, it will be long, but the outcome will be final. We can't fight the civil war in Iraq on the side of democracy forever - we don't have the political will, the popular support, nor should we waste our military resources on this endeavour, when we have other issues that represent real threats to America to deal with.

Christian & Islamic Fundamentalism - Two Sides of the Same Coin

There isn't much that Ayn Rand and I would have agreed on, although I do like this thought from the Ayn Rand Institute:

"Today's religionists want government to discourage research on embryonic stem cells, to promote the Biblical account of life's origins, to urge schoolchildren to pray. Why? Not because these are logically defensible, but because they supposedly represent God's will. The religionists want us to revert to a pre-Enlightenment age, when faith and force--the twin tools of Osama bin Laden and his fellow-jihadists--ruled."


I've said before, and I'll say it again - faith is not logically defensible, otherwise it wouldn't be called faith.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Wanted: A Few Good Bloggers

Let's be honest, keeping a blog current is a lot of work, and not something everyone can do on their own. I go to school and work full-time, L-Hack runs his own company...you can see, when we go on vacation, the postings go way down.

We're looking for a couple people that are interested in team blogging. Any political leaning will do - but be prepared to engage in debate and "feces throwing" as L-Hack likes to put it. While this is predominantely a political blog, almost any topic is open to discussion - sports, media, local politics, etc.

If you are interested, e-mail me at yankeemadmen *at* nc.rr.com.

Competing To Carry the President

This article discusses the competition to build the new Marine One (the Presidential helicopter fleet):

"Both companies have also attempted to generate grass-roots support. When Sikorsky took its helicopter on an 'All-American Tour' in August, it held something akin to a campaign rally in Dallas for employees of bought Aircraft Industries Inc., which would build the air frame if Sikorsky wins the contract. The job would mean up to an additional 100 workers at the plant.

Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin held a groundbreaking ceremony in owes, NYU, where it said it would build a 176,000-square-foot facility and generate 750 jobs -- if it wins the contract...."


The rub...Sikorsky is going to build the chopper as a 100% American endeavors, but Lockheed is bidding with an international consortium.

My first question - if Lockheed is going to hire 7x as many people to build the chopper, what is this going to cost? If you assume that Lockheed isn't going to use more people, but has to hire to augment it's supply-chain, why can't they use the same American suppliers as Sikorsky? If Lockheed gets this contract, what happens to the folks in Dallas?

I want the military to have the best equipment, and if that means American companies can't manufacture it, that's not some ho-hum, free-trade, comparative advantage economic reality - it's a cause of genuine concern. It's one thing if Korea makes better TVs cheaper, it's quite another thing if Italy makes better helicopters cheaper. Perhaps Syria might be interested in purchasing them, or Iran, or China.

If American companies aren't making the best military hardware in the world, the solution isn't to buy foreign - the solution is to fix the underlying problem. The federal government should do whatever it takes to bring the brightest minds out of Italian helicopter manufacturing, French airplane development, etc...and make them into American citizens.

There is a precedent for this - the former Nazi scientists that aided NASA and the space program. We let a man that could arguablyalled a war criminal run the Huntsville space center - I think we can do something for an Italian mechanical engineer.

Southwest Airlines to begin Pittsburgh service


"Southwest Airlines is coming to Pittsburgh.

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and county Airport Authority officials have scheduled a press conference at 2 p.m. today at Pittsburgh International Airport to make the formal announcement."


Thank goodness. Hopefully, they can give some jobs to the good USAirways folks at Pittsburgh International and that mismanaged trainwreck can close down for good.

Does the Right Remember Abu Ghraib? (washingtonpost.com)

Anne Applebaum writes in today's Washington Post:
"In fact, anyone who has ever wanted the United States to play a role in promoting and supporting democracy and human rights around the world -- and this includes a wide swath of the conservative movement -- ought to oppose the appointment of Alberto Gonzales, if only on the grounds that he is associated with bad legal advice that has damaged our ability to do so. Just because the president can't remember how embarrassed we all were eight months ago doesn't mean the rest of Washington, and especially the rest of the president's party, need be gripped by amnesia as well. "


Whether you support Alberto Gonzales' advice on the Geneva Conventions and designation of enemy combatants or not, a public supporter of those positions can't be the Attorney General.

Even if our government tortures people in custody and locks up people for months while denying them access to legal counsel, we can't let the rest of the world know we do these things.

Personally, I'm not in support of either of these, but the "War on Islam"...I mean "Terror", is more a PR campaign in the Islamic world than a military struggle, and appearance is everything.

Want to support Israel? Fine, send them tons of weapons and money covertly, but publicly, criticize them once in a while. Want to torture prisoners? Do it, but don't let memos out that validate the position (and fire anyone that publically comes out for it). Want to support corrupt monarchs in the Middle East? Do it under the table with cash and military aid, but publically bash them once in a while.

How do you think order is maintained in Saudi Arabia? The message is suited to the audience.

-"Sure America, we're your partner in fighting terrorism."
"Sure Radical Cleric, we hate America. Have some money to start a madrasa."




NFL Playoffs - Wild-Card Predictions

We interrupt this broadcast of "Lamentations on the Destruction of America" to bring you...

Liberal Blowhard's NFL Playoff Predictions


I'm only going to pick the wild-card week right now, since if you read this site, you already know my Super Bowl pick (and AFC Champion).



NFC

Rams at Seahawks

The Rams swept the Seahawks in the regular season, and it's pretty tough to beat a team three times in one season. (I witnessed Pittsburgh do it to Cleveland the year they lost to San Diego in the AFC Championship; I think it was the first-time it ever happened - please correct me if I'm wrong) Mike Martz's coaching style is more likely to earn him a trip to Dorothea Dix than Jacksonville, and I don't think he can keep it together to win this game.

Winner: Seattle

Vikings at Packers

I was listening to ESPN Radio on the drive back to Raleigh on Sunday, and I heard some crazy stat about Minnesota losing something like 18 of their last 20 road games that weren't in a dome. It's almost impossible to beat Brett Favre at Lambeau in the playoffs, so a crappy outdoor road record doesn't bode well for the Vikings.

Winner: Minnesota

AFC

Jets at Chargers

L-Hack is a Jets fan, and I have a soft spot for the Jets since their superstar running back is a Pitt alumnus. Last night, I won an NCAA betting pool picking bowl game winners because I picked Utah to beat Pitt, betting against my allegiances and going with my pragmatic gut. I'm going to do it again - the travel to San Diego and the talent of the Chargers will be too much for the Jets to handle.

Winner: San Diego

Broncos at Colts

The offense of the Colts is just too much for any team that isn't from Pittsburgh or Boston to handle. Denver will get stomped, and Colts will face a formidable defense next week in a great playoff game.

Winner: Indianapolis

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

USAirways - Not Enough Baggage Handlers, Not Enough Customer Service Reps

When I got back from vacation, I wrote:

"I flew USAirways over Christmas, and yes, they lost my luggage in Pittsburgh...While there's no excuse for screwing up all the luggage a couple of weekends ago, I must compliment the team at Pittsburgh International. They were very professional, and they recovered my bag about 30 hours later. I'm going to file a damages claim tomorrow, and if the customer service people in Winston-Salem are as nice as the folks in Pittsburgh, I expect to get my damages reimbursed quickly."


Well, you know what they say when you "assume"....

I'm still a believer - I just need to get someone on the phone to file my claim!

Equity in Social Security

L-Hack writes:

"Third problem, the system is unfair to poor people.
Promised retirement benefits are meager compared with the level of payroll taxes that workers put into the system now. What about the unfairness of the current program, poor people (especially minorities) die 5-10 years younger than the more affluent. Are people who die younger allowed to pass the money accumulated in the fund to their relatives? A coal miner who works 40 years and dies at 65 has his money go to some rich guy who lives to 85. I can't believe liberals, who claim to care for the poor, would support a program where rich people collect the most benefits.

Yes, a tax increase and removing the SS fund from the general fund, two points I believe we can agree on.
I'll let you fix the fairness problem if some kind of partial privatization is unacceptable to you."


I've never really said I'm opposed to privatization, but I am opposed to the cap on Social Security, precisely because it is unfair to poorer people.

For instance, if I make $40,000 per year, I will pay 6.2% on my income in Social Security taxes, totalling $2,480 per year.

If I make $120,000 per year, I will pay $5,490 per year in Social Security taxes on my first $87,900 in income. This is only 4.5% of my annual income.

Using the SSA's rough estimate calculator for someone born in 1974, when it comes times to collect benefits, the $40,000 per year worker will get about $21,276 per year in Social Security. The $120,000 worker will get $31,704 per year in benefits. The $120K worker will get 50% more in benefits per year, but paid 2% less in tax as a percentage of total income.

I recognize the $120K worker paid more in total dollars, but Social Security is funded by income, so I think percentage of income is important here. The other 2% of income that the $120K worker got to keep could be re-invested, or used to purchase goods and services.

In other words - absent federal and state income taxes, the $40K worker got to keep 93.8% of his/her salary, but the $120K worker got to keep 95.5%. In retirement, after getting to keep less of their salary, the poorer person will end up with less benefits.

What's fair about that? Nothing.

Of course, I believe in a progressive income tax, where the people at the top get to keep slightly less of their income and the people at the bottom get to keep slightly more. What's fair about that? Nothing. I'll admit it, progressive income taxes aren't equitable, but they lessen financial disparity.

How does privatization address this?

Left or Liberal?

An interesting piece from One Hand Clapping:

"In their [Leftist] mind, America is imperialist in many forms - economic, cultural, linguistic and especially militarily. If America's gross transgressions are to be prevented, then America's national power, especially military power, must be turned away from promoting America's national interests."


There are some more observations here.

Liberals want higher taxes on the rich because it’s fairer to the middle and working classes. Leftists want to soak the rich out of class hatred.

Liberals want universal access to health care while leaving the system as market-driven as possible. Leftists would destroy the health care industry altogether and replace it with a state-run monopoly.

Liberals want to ban clear-cutting. Leftists want to ban the logging industry.

Liberals support globalization and trade and see it as an opportunity for economic growth and also as an opportunity to boost labor and environmental standards in the Third World. Leftists hate trade because they think it’s all about the West raping the rest.


This is fairly true for my view of the world, except for one thing.

I have issues with free trade, not because I think the U.S. is raping the rest of the world, but because I think it hurts American interests. First, China is engaged in currency manipulation, and unless they allow their currency to float, we should not conduct business with them - plain and simple. We have to remove textile import quotas, we get into trouble with the WTO for steel tariffs, but China gets to peg their currency to the U.S. dollar? That's nonsense.

Secondly, and my largest argument against free trade, is summed up in this article:

"The other necessary condition is that capital and labor (factors of production) cannot be internationally mobile. If the factors of production are internationally mobile, capital and labor would move from England to Portugal, where both commodities can be produced the cheapest. Both wine and cloth would be produced in Portugal. Portugal would gain and England would lose.

Ricardo makes it clear that for trade to make both countries better off, trade must be based on comparative advantage. Ricardo gives reasons why, in his time, factors of production are internationally immobile.

Since the time of Ricardo, the key assumption of trade theory remains, in the recent words of trade theorist Roy J. Ruffin, 'the inability of factors to move from a country where productivity is low to another where productivity is higher.' In a recent article in History of Political Economy (34:4, 2002, pp. 727-748), Ruffin shows that Ricardo’s claim over Robert Torrens as the discoverer of the principle of comparative advantage lies in Ricardo’s realization that comparative advantage, the basis of the case for free trade, lies in "factor immobility between countries." Ruffin notes that 'of the 973 words Ricardo devoted to explaining the law of comparative advantage, 485 emphasized the importance of factor immobility.'

If factors of production are as mobile as traded goods, the case for free trade--that it benefits all countries--collapses. There is no known case for free trade if factors of production are as mobile as traded goods."


It's this simple - factors of production must be immobile for free trade to work to the benefit of all countries involved. Free trade, as it exists today, is based on a false premise. Does free trade help India and China? Yes, and that's a good thing. Has the U.S. benefited from free trade up until now? Yes, and that's a good thing too.

Is the U.S. guaranteed to benefit from free trade in the future? Not necessarily. I guess to some right-wingers and libertarians, this means I hate capitalism. I don't hate intra-national capitalism, but I'm an economic nationalist and I'm concerned about issues of trade with other countries.


Monday, January 03, 2005

Wait a second...

I never referred to LB as ignorant or a jackass and never called for the cancellation of Christmas.


I'm not throwing feces at you, L-Hack. Look at the 4 comments to your post on the 26th of December. I'm specifically speaking about the "Anonymous" comment.

You do take the time to read and respond appropriately. If (When) I choose to attack you, I call you out by name.

This was targeted at a reader.

Comparing apples to ashes.

The election of Viktor Yushchenko in the Ukraine, I recently discovered, is part of a bigger trend happening in the former Soviet satellites. 15 years after the fall of the Berlin wall democracy is evolving. Hopefully the transition from socialist repression to "presidents" that were more autocratic then democratic to true democracy is entering its final stage. It appears it has been youth civic organizations leading this movement. The members of these youth groups are more likely to have a t-shirt with Reagan’s picture on it than Che Guevara.

This type of youth based activism was first used in Serbia in the ousting of Slobodan Miloševic (along with U.S. bombing). Otpor("Resistance!) , the group that was committed to removing Slobodan helped bring in Vojislav Kostunica in 2000. In 2003 a group called the Kmara helped bring about the Rose Revolution in Georgia which made Eduard Shevardnadze another in an increasingly long list of unemployed autocrats. The Yushchenko led Orange Revolution worked with the civic youth organization called Pora ("It'sTime"). A so far unsuccessful movement in Belarus is named Zubr.

Each of these victories, though apparently spontaneous, was the result of extensive grassroots campaigning and coalition building among the opposition. Each included election victories followed up by public demonstrations after attempts by the incumbent to hold onto power. These activists were funded and trained in political organization and nonviolent resistance by a combination of Western pollsters and professional consultants funded by a range of Western government and non-government agencies. According to The Guardian, these include the U.S. State Department and US AID along with the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and Freedom House NGO.

To be honest I totally missed these movements but its great news and should be a cause for optimism, people taking charge of their own country. This also makes me think of the 1980's when Reagan was ridiculed and despised for trying to bring down the Soviet Union (Yushchenko's wife actually worked in Reagan’s White House). When I hear the endless drone of Iraq/Vietnam comparisons I wonder if we have the patience to wait 15+ years for a new generation of Iraqis to take ownership of their country.

A personal attack never fed a hungry child.

I notice this site has degenerated to feces throwing. Surprisingly my post was completely misrepresented. I never referred to LB as ignorant or a jackass and never called for the cancellation of Christmas. I do find it odd having my intelligence questioned my somebody who appears to have learned everything he knows from reading bumper stickers at the whole foods market.

Steelers' Burress' burglarized before kickoff

Well, at least they have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs...

Back from Vacation - A few random thoughts

Back home in Raleigh after my four-state Christmas/New Years excursion...

A few random thoughts from the holidays.

1. I see we got some comments over the holidays:

Your failure to recognize the economic impact that cancelling Christmas, would have on the Global Economy allows your ignorance to shine through.
You would have been better off to say that Hollidays are a conspiracy celebrated by countries through out the world in order to encourage commerce. In return these governments tax commerce in order to buy weapons and build bombs!

You must have received a degree in Mayor Murphysm!


I like arguments - that's why this is a team blog with a libertarian, but with regards to this jackass - take some time to read the posts before commenting. I'd be very careful who you call ignorant, with your questionable reading comprehension skills.

2a. I flew USAirways over Christmas, and yes, they lost my luggage in Pittsburgh. Baggage handling is one of the few things that is 100% controllable by airline employees. They can't change the weather, mechanical devices break, but luggage sorting is a human activity. While there's no excuse for screwing up all the luggage a couple of weekends ago, I must compliment the team at Pittsburgh International. They were very professional, and they recovered my bag about 30 hours later. I'm going to file a damages claim tomorrow, and if the customer service people in Winston-Salem are as nice as the folks in Pittsburgh, I expect to get my damages reimbursed quickly.

b. By the way - it was a holiday for the USAirways employees too. The person at baggage claim didn't lose your luggage - the guys outside the terminal driving the little trucks did. If you want to yell at someone, yell at a baggage handler. They're standing to your right at the bottom of the ramp each time you board a plane. Don't yell at the baggage claim rep - it's not their fault.

3. The Pittsburgh Steelers finished 15-1 - the best record for an AFC team ever! The playoffs will be tough - I think San Diego and New England both pose a threat, but this Steelers team is outstanding. I will make one prediction - if the Steelers face NE in the AFC Championship, the winner will be the Super Bowl Champion. The NFC doesn't have a team that can hang with either of these two this year.

4a. Thank goodness Walt Harris is gone. In the fourth quarter of the Fiesta Bowl, you could see Tyler Palko shaking his head as the play was sent in, and he looked embarrassed to have to tell it to the rest of the team in the huddle. Utah is the better team, and Pitt was going to lose anyway, but you could have at least tried to win.

b. Before Walt Harris, I had never witnessed a "quick kick" in football. If you punt on third down, you're just giving up. This was a trademark move of Harris. My friend's girlfriend is pretty football-savvy, and when we were describing this to her, she didn't even think you were allowed to punt on 3rd down. Harris was a terrible coach that had some really talented guys that single-handedly won games despite him, not because of outstanding coaching. He was a great recruiter, has a great eye for talent, but he can't execute on the field.

c. Urban Meyer - you're an asshole. Trying to run the score up late in fourth quarter in a bowl game is just classless. Sorry Utah - you don't get to sit at the big kids table, and even if you had hung 6 touchdowns on Pitt, you won't share in the National Championship.

d. Pitt Hoops - how do you lose to Bucknell?