Friday, February 04, 2005

The Real Republican Vision of America

From Daily Kos:

"Every Republican's dream: helping to execute people whose lawyers slept through their trials; reinterpreting the Constitution to allow monarchist powers; and helping to set up offshore prison camps for the torture of foreign nationals."

You know what's always been my dream? I'd like to see smeone with the IQ of a child put to death by the state. We don't get that much here.

Best Legislative Act - EVER!

From Petey, in the comments at Matthew Yglesias:

"And I've said it before and I'll say it again. The word 'clawback' is one of the greatest gifts the administration could have possibly handed us, short of calling their plan the 'Make Granny Eat Dogfood Act of 2005'."

Greenocons - Marriage of necessity

Bush, the former oilman, may have packed his administration with veterans of the oil and coal industries but energy conservation might become a conservative issue.
Embracing conservation for national security reasons may not get a neocon invited to a Phish concert but some leading neoconservatives who pushed hard for the Iraq war, now seek a reduction in the flow of American dollars to oil-rich Islamic theocracies, Saudi Arabia in particular. Petrodollars have made Saudi Arabia the primary source of terrorist funding and Islamic radicals.

Neo-cons James Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and Frank Gaffney, the president of the Center for Security Policy, both hawks, have been speaking regularly in Washington about fuel efficiency and plant-based bio-fuels. Woolsey and Gaffney are members of the Project for the New American Century, who advocated military action against Saddam Hussein back in 1998. Gaffney told a conference in Washington that America has become dependent on oil imported from countries that, "by and large, are hostile to us." and called reducing oil imports "a national security imperative."

Woolsey is on the board of a group called Institute for the Analysis of Global Security a Washington-based think tank that tracks energy and security issues.
Their site claims: The Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS) is a non-profit organization which directs attention to the strong link between energy and security and provides a stage for public debate on the various avenues to strengthening the world's energy system. The IAGS came up with a plan for the federal government to invest $12 billion to: encourage the manufacturing and consumption of more efficient cars, develop industrial facilities to produce plant-based fuels like ethanol; and promote fuel cells for commercial use. One of the authors of the IAGS plan is none other than Richard Perle, along with members of the conservative Hudson Institute. The IAGS is a big supporter of "plug-in hybrid vehicles," which use internal combustion engines in conjunction with electric motors that are powered by batteries charged by current from standard electric outlets.

Environmental groups, Natural Resources Defense Council and the American Council on Renewable Energy both endorsed the IAGS plan. "It's a wonderful confluence. We agree on the same goals, even if it's for different reasons," says Deron Lovaas, of the NRDC.
The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, endorsed the IAGS scheme, and the Committee on the Present Danger is about to offer its support also. CPD members include conservatives Midge Decter, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Newt Gingrich, and Steve Forbes, as well as Woolsey and Gaffney. Can’t you see Newt Gingrich playing hacky-sack with NRDC interns?
The greenocons believe they can convince Congress and the White House to adopt their program, the head of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, predicts that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay will be "open to arguments that we can increase and enhance national security for a reasonable price." Gaffney stated "We continue to enjoy access to and friendships with people who are key policymakers."

The biggest obstacle to implementing this plan will be Al Gore’s endorsement. Actually it will be getting conservatives, who mock greens and fuel efficiency standards, on board. This can also give enviros, who consider SUV’s to be a bigger threat than al-Queda, credibility to people outside the drum circle.

No One Wants to be an Engineer, and No One Will

From the National Intelligence Council report, Mapping the Global Future: Policy Implications:

"The number of US engineering graduates peaked in 1985 and is presently down 20 percent from that level; the percentage of US undergraduates taking engineering is the second lowest of all developed countries. China graduates approximately three times as many engineering students as the United States. "

This is as much about education as it is short-sighted planning on the part of the U.S. companies. I just finished Built to Last as part of a management seminar I'm taking this semester. Throughout the book, the authors comment on the R & D focus of the visionary companies like Merck and HP that are very scientific companies. These companies created a great environment for engineers and scientists, who by their nature, are creative people and need room for exploration.

In this new environment, everyone's a contractor. No one is invested in the firm, and the R & D and technical people are the first to get rolled out in an economic downturn. A focus on quarterly results and the quick ROI don't allow for spending money on creative activities that might fail. No one has any security, and instead of worrying about research or new ideas, everyone's just trying to keep their head down and out of the firing manager's sight. Who wants to be a scientist (or can be a successful one) in this environment?

That's not how you conduct research and develop new ideas. You give people some seed money and let them pursue ideas. If they come up with something in the lab that looks promising, then you talk about large amounts of project funding. If they don't, but they try hard and embrace visionary values, you give them another chance.

When I was at Pitt, there were a lot of faculty that had been at Westinghouse and Gulf Oil in the 1960s and 70s, but got turned out in the recessions and had nowhere else to go. When there's a recession, everyone's laying off engineers, and there's nowhere to go for work. Look at where these companies are today, when all their brainpower got shown the door.

You'll say, "people need to stop relying on the Fortune 500". The thing about scientific pursuits - you need large companies to acheive economies of scale on capital equipment, whether it's computer hardware or lab equipment. The other problem, compounded by "ownership society" - not everyone wants to be their own company, negotiating health insurance, managing expenses - they want to add value to an organization and society by focusing efforts on the fields they're trained in.

My friend is a civil engineer and she constantly complains that she has no ability to be creative in her job. It's cookie-cutter work to contract with no room for new ideas or enhancements. Get in, do the job, get out, get paid.

This isn't an environment that fosters the development of new technology, technologists, or scientists. When faced with the choice of pursuing a career path that will guarantee little job security, layoffs, limited funding, and little room for creative expression - I'd choose an MBA over a career in engineering every time.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Right and Left - A Case of Mutual Dependence

This is a thought-provoking post byAnn Althouse on the discourse of the blogosphere.

As a ranter, I'm prone to yelling, name-calling, and vulgarity, but that's because as graduate student and in my profession, I have to engage in civilized, defensible rational debate as a my day job- this is my hobby, the equivalent of throwing back a few and watching a hockey game.

That being said, it's sanctimonious posts like this that are no better than the leftist trash talk the writer condemns:

Those of the right, who believe government ought get out of the way and provide incentives for citizens to become proud, contributing members of society vs. those of the left, who know what's best for us and are into squeezing the money out of the productive citizens' pockets to perpetuate dependency -- humiliation, at bottom -- for the "little people."

There is a dichotomy between the left and the right, a necessary one that in all this "we're so good and correct, you're so bad and wrong" gets forgotten.

Republicans are interested in producing proud, productive members of society. The key is - individual members of society. For a Republican, "productive" is shorthand for "economically productive", a noble goal, a self-reliant individual that is capable of caring for himself/herself and their family.

There's the problem. In focusing on the individual, they ignore the "society" these "individuals" operate in. For a Republican, a set of productive individuals automatically results a good society. As a Democrat, I see two problems with this thinking. First, not all individuals will be "economically productive" - capable of 100% self-reliance at all points in their life. Secondly, while a set of productive individuals may result in a "good" society, focusing efforts on the shared institutions of society can make us greater than the sum of our parts. For this, we get accused of trying to "know what's best for us."

As a Democrat, I want to use the sum of our collective efforts as individuals to assist people to be productive at times when they are not capable of self-reliance. I know this first-hand, as I was lucky to grow up in a time when my family needed help, we got it in the form of tax credits, educational financial aid, and even when it got really bad, heat assistance. Because the collective effort of society helped my family, I am able to be a "productive member of society" today.

Growing up in a family of professional educators, I understand that as a society, we can be greater than the sum of our parts if we provide incentives for people NOT to pursue their best financial interests. My grandfather was a dedicated teacher, principal, and school superintendent in the same rural school district his entire life. My grandmother was a librarian. Two aunts, one uncle, three cousins and my sister are all school teachers (or teachers-in-training). While some people look down on teachers with the "those who can, do" attitude, they don't know how difficult it is to teach and teach well for a 40 year career.

They provided a tremendous service to their community and touched the lives of many people. While they got paid for it, teaching wasn't the best way to be "economically productive" in a time when a union coal miner made more than a teacher, but what would the community have lost if my grandfather only pursued his best financial option? In exchange, the state gave them secure employment, a good pension, good health insurance benefits - benefits that are derided today as handouts to lazy government employees. Society was served and was greater because the "game was rigged" to allow my grandfather to play the role of educator.

Is there a flaw to the Democratic perspective? Absolutely. In trying to manipulate society, we risk subjugating the individual too much. In setting up a safety net, we risk creating dependence. Despite the potential problems, it is a necessary counterforce to the individual focus of the Republican.

One of my life-long friends is a staunch conservative and we always say we need each other in the world. If it was just him, we'd always go to war, and we'd get overrun if there were only people like me, but while he's fighting, I'm pushing for peace. If it were just him, companies would destroy the environment in search of profits, but alone, I'd cripple the economy with regulation.

Right now, everyone wants to be so dismissive of the other viewpoint, but this can't work without the other one. Think about that the next time you cut into someone on the Internet you disagree with, or you make a vile, hate-filled post.

Little Sister Gives the Straight Dope on the SOTU

My sister calls me tonight and starts talking about the SOTU:

"How about the exploitation of that soldier's family for the cameras? What a tool."

I'm the cynical one in the family?

MSNBC - Donors to DeLay fund put on ethics panel


"Two donors to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's defense fund were named Wednesday to the House ethics committee, which twice last year admonished the Texas Republican.

In a shake-up of the bipartisan panel that critics called part of a purge and a 'shutdown' of ethics enforcement, Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, also replaced the ethics chairman, Joel Hefley, a Colorado Republican, with Washington state Republican Doc Hastings, who was already on the panel."

About a month ago, I commended Rep. Hefley for taking a moral stand even though it meant opposing the party. Look at what happened to him. Good job, GOP, way to demonstrate leadership to the America-hating Democrats. All you right-wing pundits can take your posts about "moral leadership" and stick them in your ear.

The Axis of Oil

From the Weekly Standard:

"SO PICTURE THIS WEB OF INFLUENCE that is being woven by countries eager to constrain American power. Canada and China become joint venturers, as do Venezuela and China. Canada is America's largest source of imported oil, and Venezuela sells us the light, sweet crude oil that our refineries are best equipped to handle. This means that a significant portion of the incremental production from these countries--and perhaps some of what is now headed here--goes to China, rather than to the United States, as energy planners here have been assuming. More important, no one believes that these deals are strictly economic, or would meet shareholder approval were such a force present in China. These are deals by state agencies, designed to extend China's influence to corners of the world from which it has until now been absent.

China has also solidified relations with Iran and other countries on America's list of international pariahs, trading arms for oil, and using its financial clout to establish close diplomatic ties in the region that contains the largest reserves of oil and gas in the world."

I'm not the only one that thinks China is a cause for alarm, and this is from a conservative magazine! I'm so sick of this "free market" religious fanaticism. There is no such thing as a "free market" - if you think oil trade is a free market transaction, you're delusion. It a geo-political transaction, more like a peace treaty than a purchase. China's not interested in "free trade", they're interested in developing economic power as a backdrop to political power across the globe. We keep sending factories there, we keep borrowing money from them, and Wal-Mart, the most treacherous organization in America, keeps buying plastic crap from them.

"Do you want to pay $100 more for a television?" - yes, if it means that China doesn't trade nuclear weapons to Iran for oil. If doesn't mean that China chokes the world's energy supply and crushes the American economy.

It's high-time to stop dealing with them once and for all, before they have the U.S. under their thumb and we're nothing but a second-rate power.

Pulling More Pints


"In contrast to European countries like France or Italy, where alcohol consumption has decreased, the per capita drinking rates in England and Wales have increased by 50 percent since the 1970s. Not only do the British drink more; they're drinking at a younger age and consume more at one sitting- they've become, all too often, binge drinkers. And nobody quite knows how to explain it."

I just heard a novel explanation from a social scientist and former Brit. The culture of "buying rounds" in England is much stronger than in the U.S., so when you go into a bar with a group of people, you are practically guaranteed to drink a beer for each person in the group.

According to his idea, in the U.S., we don't really buy rounds all that often, and if we do, we're content to let our friends return the gesture on our next trip out. In England, social norms are that everyone must buy a round on that visit, resulting in "binge drinking" if you're with a large group.

Anyhow, I don't really know that much about it, but I thought it's interesting all the same.

Rod Nordland -- Telling it Like It Is

From MSNBC (via Wonkette). Rod Nordland, Newsweek Iraq Bureau Chief takes reader questions:

"Hopatcong, NJ: Do you, Masland and Dickey mean 'F---ing Murderers' when you say 'insurgents' and 'fighters' in your STUPIDITY? I've grown sick and tired of you 'politically incorrect' reporters. Why don't you have the gumption to call a spade a spade?

Rod Nordland: OK, you're an idiot. How's that?"

Rock on...

Rude Pundit: Speaking Truth to Power

From The Rude Pundit (via Eschaton):

"It is not 'bold' to target gays for isolation and denigration in the Constitution; it is not 'bold' to cut domestic programs that mainly help those in poverty so that massive tax cuts can be made 'permanent;' it is not 'bold' to say that you want to create a Social Security system that no longer guarantees a retirement benefit for seniors and that cuts benefits to others; it is not 'bold' to hinder scientific developments under the veil of 'protecting life;' it is not 'bold' to declare that that we should make sure that people on death row are actually guilty; it is not 'bold' to imply that you will use military force to impose your political will on other nations. If this is what passes for 'bold' in this America, then, indeed, cowards should hold their heads high and declare that their pusillanimity is actually 'bold' retreat."

Read the rest - good stuff. There's also a good history lesson here. Republicans booed during Clinton's 1995 SOTU, and they walked out in the middle. Last night wasn't the first time someone booed a SOTU.

Ned Flanders - Bush Supporter

From CNN:

"Before on 'The Simpsons,' Ned was a secondary figure -- Homer's cloyingly pious next-door neighbor. But the values he embodies in exaggerated form now monopolize the political scene. In fact, one might say that Homer is Ned's next-door neighbor, not the other way around, so clearly does Ned bask in the mainstream."

Hey-diddily-ho L-Hack, it's a nation of Ned Flanders! I know you're excited about that, but for me...

It's worse than the album Grandpa put out. Guhhhh....*shudder*

Dumbest Thing I've Ever Heard

I got a little swept up in the grandeur of the SOTU last night, but this morning after reading the papers, I remember why I don't like the President.

The Federal Marriage Amendment is about the single stupidest thing I've heard in my life. Honestly, how can you sit there with a straight face and talk about the "sanctity of marriage" in a country with a 50% divorce rate? A country that brings you TV like "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire", "Married by America", and to a lessor extent, "The Bachelor/Bachelorette", which ends in a proposal after two people spend a total of 15 minutes of unscripted time together away from a camera.

Besides that, it's just wrong. We don't take away people's rights in this country, we expand our institutions to be open to new groups - freedom for slaves, voting for women, voting rights for 18-year-old people. We're talking about amending the Constitution to allow naturalized citizens to run for the Presidency. In the face of this expansion of freedoms, we want to close off an institution to a class of people. It just doesn't make sense.

Besides that, what business is it of the Federal Government to define "marriage". A friend from Baltimore, a life-long Republican, described it best for me this summer when he said he wouldn't vote for George Bush:

"We're in a war, we've got internal security issues, we're spending money like crazy, and he's up there talking about gay marriage, abortion and going to Mars! What the f**k?"

This stuff is so far off the list of important items it's not even funny. This is the equivalent of my company's CEO coming to talk to me about my TPS reports!

L-Hack, you wonder why I can't stand the Christian Right - this is why. Last month, there was not going to be an FMA; they were content to let states do what they wanted under the DOMA. Jerry Falwell and James Dobson get all fired up, and now it's back on the agenda. This stuff wastes cycles - they're wasting America's time and tax dollars even talking about this issue.

Look, if the Christian Right wants to have a debate about the benefits and problems of an "Ownership Society" like the Catholic Church seems to want to discuss, I could give them some respect. Religion provides a moral and ethical framework that should be brought to bear on IMPORTANT policy decisions.

Note the use of the word IMPORTANT - the FMA isn't important, it isn't even worth one iota of Congressional time.

One more thing: if I hear the words "activist judges" one more time I'm going to scream. Since the Republicans fancy themselves as the real party of civil rights, weren't the judges in Brown v. Board of Education "activist judges"? So it's OK to be "activist", as long as that activism is in support of your agenda, like in Bush v. Gore? Shut up about "activist judges" already.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

A Real Culture-of-Life

This isn't some typical Democrat nonsense - "a culture-of-life doesn't include war". We all know what the President's talking about when he says "culture-of-life", but he's wrong.

A culture that values life doesn't outlaw abortion but still have thousands of dangerous abortions going on in secret, like what would happen today if abortion was banned.

A culture that values life has legalized abortion, but almost no one chooses to get one and an unplanned pregnancy is a pretty rare event.

I'll give you an analogy: we had prohibition, but everyone kept drinking. We didn't create a society of non-drinkers, we created a society of illegal drinkers. Smoking is still legal, but less and less people do it every year. Through education and a change in social attitudes, we've created a society of non-smokers. Smokers are practically shunned in our society today.

Through proper sexual education and funding for programs like girls' sports which are proven to raise self-esteem and lower teen pregnancy, we can decrease unwanted pregancies. By providing a social safety net for teens that do get pregnant, and education of options beyond termination, we can convince women there are other options.

In the end, every woman will still have the ability to make a choice, but if the common choice is something other than legal abortion - then, and only then, have we created a culture-of-life.

SOTU: Maybe I'm just trying hard enough

I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I'm not a drooling boob and I just couldn't sit through the end of the SOTU. I understand that there was real nice stuff about a serviceman and his parents at the end, but once he started off on "Global War on Terror", "Iraq", "Palestine"...zzzzz...

Maybe he lost me at stem-cells, Federal Marriage Amendment, and
culture-of-life and just couldn't get me back, or maybe I'm just cold and calloused, but I just can't get into it. I don't like when Democrats do it and I don't like George Bush does it.

It's funny, I look at the right-wing blogs and they eat that stuff up. In their posts about the SOTU, they perk all up at that, while lines about spending below the rate of inflation (I'll believe that when I see it) go by without mention.

I don't know, maybe it's my inner wonk and statistician dying to come out, but I'm kind of interested in looking at some new things in government. I like debate and ideas, and despite my blog name, I'm not a pure ideologue. I'll never get behind an ideology lock, stock and barrel. but if Republicans are going to convince me to get behind "Ownership Society" ideas, I'd hope Republicans are also open to re-intervening in some failed markets like airlines to bring some stability back into that industry. I also want to see a more tempered trade policy, the great issue cleavage (to steal a term from Mayhew) of our time.

The national debate is what gets me engaged - changing America for Americans.

It's like Buying a New Car

From CNN's Transcript of the State of the Union:

"All these ideas are on the table. I know that none of these reforms would be easy. But we have to move ahead with courage and honesty, because our children's retirement security is more important than partisan politics. I will work with members of Congress to find the most effective combination of reforms. I will listen to anyone who has a good idea to offer. We must, however, be guided by some basic principles. We must make Social Security permanently sound, not leave that task for another day. We must not jeopardize our economic strength by increasing payroll taxes. We must ensure that lower income Americans get the help they need to have dignity and peace of mind in their retirement. We must guarantee that there is no change for those now retired or nearing retirement. And we must take care that any changes in the system are gradual, so younger workers have years to prepare and plan for their future."

This is what I've wanted all along. I hope it's true.

When buying a new car, the general rule is to negotiate the new car price and finance terms before you even begin talking about the trade-in.

Private accounts are the trade-in. Congress needs to get the corrective action, whether it be reduced benefits, a payroll tax increase, or even means-testing in place BEFORE even talking about private accounts. If the President means what he says, he'll accept the corrective plan independent of private accounts, otherwise, it's just lip service.

Yale law school can ban military recruiters, but shouldn't be able to.

From WFSB:

"A federal judge has ruled that Yale Law School has a right to bar military recruiters from its job interview program without risking the loss of federal money.

The decision means that the law school will be able to turn military recruiters away for the first time in two years, to protest the government's ban against gays serving openly in the armed forces."

L-Hack and various Republicans, hold on to your hats for this one.

I don't like this outcome. I'm not a lawyer and I don't know or understand the legal logic of this decision. I am a policy analyst, (at least I play on TV), and this is bad policy in my view of the world.

As individuals and institutions, we are continually involved in collective action - at it most minimal level, providing support and legitimacy to government. Government provides us with an infrastructure of public goods and a system of laws to manage dispute and provide protection. Each individual's contribution helps provide something collectively that is exponentially better than what we could provide ourselves.

Roads, police, the courts - all these things government provides improves our individual position. For instance, UPS makes money using public roads. The police, the courts, and the rule of law protect your property rights and stop me from coming in to your home, killing you, and calling it my own. Defense of your property is not something you might be able to yourself or as well as the collective institution (nor should you).

Because no one gets anything without the collective goods government provides, we are accountable to the government for more than taxes, if only for the multiplier effect the government creates. This is why I'm not opposed to environmental regulation. If businesses don't like it, go incorporate in China and see how you like their protection of property rights. Unfortunately, the plant goes to China and the big-wigs stay here, but that's another story. Yale University may be private, but it's not an island. The government protects the intellectual property of Yale's faculty, the government protects the Yale physical plant, the government provides an infrastructure in and around New Haven so Yale doesn't have to build an entire city for its employees to live in. In this case, the government gives Yale money!

They should accomodate the U.S. government and allow military recruitment.

There is a slippery slope to my argument - if I owe the government something, is there an limit to what they can take?

For years, we had a military draft in this country. This is the greatest coersive act ordained by government (slavery was govenment protection of a private institution, albeit disgusting, but they never ordered anyone to be a slave). Under a draft, you are uprooted from your home, ordered to conduct specific activities not of your choosing, and you are not free to alter the relationship for the term of service. Aside from the paycheck, fundamentally, there is no difference to being drafted or being in prison, except that one could argue your own actions put you in prison while simply being American got you drafted.

I don't like particularly like the idea of a draft - it is a huge affront to personal freedom, yet I can understand its necessity and support it. If you die while serving under a draft order, essentially the government has taken your life in exchange for what it provides society, so there is NO limit to what government may exact in exchange for collective benefits.

If you believe that Yale must accept military recruiting, you must accept government regulation, military draft - even the idea that government could tell a business that they must employ a certain number of American citizens, interfering in their business operations. I agree with all of there, and that's why I think Yale is wrong.

The Case for the Common Good

From the National Catholic Reporter:

"Concern for the common good, a concept that seems to recede further and further each year from our political conversation, is as much in need of rescue as Social Security.

The matter of saving Social Security is invariably cast in the context of whether or not to enact tax increases. Just a few years ago, the budget surplus would have secured the fund indefinitely. The essential concern, it seems, should be not so much about new levels of taxation as about where, in this era of endless wars and a defense budget that requires more than $1 billion a day, we choose to spend what we already have."

At a time when the nation seems to want to focus on "moral values", instead of talking about homosexual cartoon characters, the idea of the "common good" should get a lot more attention.

In their opposition to Social Security Privatization, the editors write:

We have nothing against wealth. We are all engaged, no matter what the work, in some manner of pursuing wealth, even if it is only to fund the most altruistic of nonprofit ventures.

Our objection to “privatizing” Social Security has to do with what we’ll be losing besides money.

We’ll lose the agreement that we’ve maintained for the past half-century that we’re all somehow in this together.

We’ll lose faith with the understanding that all workers, poorest to richest, contribute to something in common and that everyone gets something in return.

We’ll lose the sense that despite differences in political outlook and social standing we all believe that it is good for a society to guarantee a minimum standard of economic security for its eldest citizens."

My criticism of the Social Security Privatization Plan as it has been reported in the media is that it does nothing to fix the structural deficit problem with Social Security, which can only be fixed through revenue increase or benefit reduction. My other criticism stems from what I characterize as an attempt to generate a fear and panic condition, under which citizens and possibly politicians as citizen-agents, will make rash and ill-informed decisions. If it's a good idea, people will flock to it, even you don't hold a gun to their head.

With that said, I don't oppose the idea of private accounts, but I think the government already provides a number of great options for private retirement savings. The idea of a collective public insurance fund to help people that can't benefit from the current private tools is appealing to me, exactly for the reasons described here.

My colleague will attack my use of this editorial as a disingenous and false display of some sort of religious showmanship. While I was raised Catholic in a fairly devout family, I might be a big phony today, but it doesn't change the fact that these values - we're all in it together and we all have something to contribute - are things I believe in, independent of religious affiliation or political identification.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Sometimes I could almost be a Republican

From The American Conservative:

"Only one in nine economists predicts a recession in 2005, and two of nine by the end of 2006. This points to clear sailing for the economy, but the political question remains: will working America share equitably in Wall Street's prosperity?"

Why is Pat Buchanan the only Republican that ever seems to ask this question? Yeah, I'm leery of the current obsession with free trade, but even if you don't agree with curbs to free trade, the motivation comes from this question:

"Will working America share equitably in Wall Street's prosperity?"

The Long-Term Fiscal Challenge : Highlights of a GAO Forum

Read this GAO Report.

I'm at a loss for words after reading this. I won't cherry-pick quotes out of it - it's too important.

This is the GAO - not an ideological think-tank, a leftist college economist, a crack-pot apocalypse theorist, a talk-show host, a TV commentator, or a newspaper reporter.

The nation's non-partisan accounting firm issued this report.

Read it closely and carefully.

An Exciting Time for Economists

Ideally, I'd love to see a public debate on Social Security Privatization. Congressional hearings about what will work, what won't. Different plans and a national discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of proposed pieces of a solution.

Unfortunately, I suspect the President doesn't want this to happen (see: Shinseki, Eric; Powell, Colin; O'Neill, Paul) but it would be great if it did.

What an exciting time to be an economist in that environment? Proposing models, critiquing other's work, being called to testify before could be like a virtual Manhattan Project, but instead of using our best physicists to build a bomb, we'd use our best economists to develop a national retirement program.

Too bad it won't happen, but it would be nice if we tapped the best minds in our country for something in the public interest. Instead, we'll marginalize the university economists for being stupid academics and we'll have private sector or think-tank economists producing research to fit the agenda of their patrons (on both sides of the issue).

L-Hack, let me save you the keystrokes: I'm just a stupid academic communist. Oh well, I guess I'll just can my idealized pre-9/11 view of the world and stop my un-American criticism of Social Security Privatization. After all, I'm just lending aid and comfort to our enemies.

Krugman: A Challenge Issued

From today's NY Times:

"Schemes for Social Security privatization, like the one described in the 2004 Economic Report of the President, invariably assume that investing in stocks will yield a high annual rate of return, 6.5 or 7 percent after inflation, for at least the next 75 years. Without that assumption, these schemes can't deliver on their promises. Yet a rate of return that high is mathematically impossible unless the economy grows much faster than anyone is now expecting.
They can rescue their happy vision for stock returns by claiming that the Social Security actuaries are vastly underestimating future economic growth. But in that case, we don't need to worry about Social Security's future: if the economy grows fast enough to generate a rate of return that makes privatization work, it will also yield a bonanza of payroll tax revenue that will keep the current system sound for generations to come.

Alternatively, privatizers can unhappily admit that future stock returns will be much lower than they have been claiming. But without those high returns, the arithmetic of their schemes collapses.

It really is that stark: any growth projection that would permit the stock returns the privatizers need to make their schemes work would put Social Security solidly in the black."

He closes with this:

"...make a projection of economic growth, dividends and capital gains that will yield a 6.5 percent rate of return over 75 years"

I'd be very interested to see a reasoned response to this, not just "Krugman the liberal crack-pot".

The guy is a professor of economics. I know that for a lot of conservatives, the fact that he has a faculty position status just makes him ignorant in the face of their intellect. Sorry, but I have to defer to a John Bates Clark1 medal winner over some lawyer, policy analyst, or talk-show host.

If he's right and it's possible, I'd like to see it. If he's wrong, I'd like to see why. If he's right, what effect does this have for a privatization of the fund, not just private accounts.

1For the record, economic hero of the Right, Milton Friedman also won this award.

Evidence that Clinton MAY HAVE WANTED Social Security Privatized

From the Cato Institute

"Wilcox, Elmendorf, and Liebman confirmed what many in Washington have whispered about for some time, that, while some in the administration -- -notably Vice president Al Gore and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin -- -strongly opposed individual accounts, Clinton leaned in favor of them. Indeed, Clinton had his staff consider whether the administrative structure for individual accounts could be set up before Congress acted on any legislation to ensure that the accounts would be in place before Clinton left office."

Clinton had ordered a study of Social Security Privatization and had worked on the issue with Sen. Moynihan.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Clinton even floated a proposal called USA Accounts that would have subsidized private accounts outside of Social Security, as a way to increase savings among low- and middle-income workers, most of whom save nothing and would be most at risk if Social Security benefits are reduced in the future.

Such "add-on" accounts have substantial appeal among Democrats in contrast to the accounts Bush talks about that would allow workers to divert part of their payroll taxes to pay for them. The add-on accounts, modeled on popular 401(k) accounts used by many higher-income workers, could provide heavy subsidies for savings by poorer workers.

Cato's interpretation isn't quite accurate. Bill Clinton supported private accounts AS AN ADD-ON PROGRAM. As my colleague pointed out, he also supported privatization of the TRUST FUND. It is unclear whether he supported a program of diversion into private accounts, although based on the structure of USA Accounts, it seems to contradict that idea.

The evidence that Bill Clinton supported Social Security reform along the lines it is being discussed today is sparse.

L-Hack, I feel bad about my biting remark earlier, so I'll throw you a bone. Bill Clinton used the phrase "Social Security Crisis" in 1998.

Another politician criticizes U.S. troops in Iraq

From the Boston Globe:

"Yes, the foreign forces are part of the problem and right now we are trying to have them as part of the solution."

John Kerry? No. Ted Kennedy? No.

Ghazi al-Yawer, Interim President of Iraq

Strikingly familiar to this statement by Ted Kennedy:

"The U.S. military presence has become part of the problem, not part of the solution"

On balance, al-Yawer said it would be "nonsense" to withdraw troops at this time and Kennedy's statemments were more vitriolic attack than honest criticism. Despite that, it is this one statement, "part of the problem, not the solution", that drew a lot of ire from the Right, including here at Yankee Madmen.

In this environment, you get people like Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard who writes that Ted Kennedy "suggested that, in Iraq, American troops are a bigger problem than terrorists." He did no such thing, and if that's the conclusion you draw from his remarks, then apply the same standard to al-Yawer. Barnes then calls for a "clear delineation of what's permissible and what's out of bounds in dissent on Iraq," to come from the White House.

I've said before, who is the White House to censure Congress? For an administration that talks about "strict constructionism", they might do well to remember that the executive branch is Article II for a reason. It's lamentable that Congress has become the tool of the Presidency, not just this administration, but every one since Roosevelt.

John McCain has repeatedly criticized the handling of the war, calling for more troops and the replacement of the Secretary of Defense. Granted, he doesn't use the dour tone of John Kerry or the attack language of Kennedy, but his dissent going to be "out-of-bounds" too?

It's time for Congress to retake the national agenda, especially on Social Security. There is talk that the President will not sign a reform package that doesn't include private accounts. That's nonsense - then you're not committed to reform, you're committed to privatization. Let the committees and the CBO work out the right steps to shore up the plan. Let the best ideas rise out of the debate to form the strategy and then send it the President for signature. If he balks, he's the obstructionist. Maybe they'll be private accounts, maybe there won't. We might see a benefit decrease or a tax increase, but no matter what, the law will have originated from the law-making body in the U.S., as it was meant to be done.

Market this

Apparently the republican marketing machine is so good it can go back in time.

Today, Social Security is strong. But by 2013, payroll taxes will no longer be sufficient to cover monthly payments. And by 2032, the trust fund will be exhausted, and Social Security will be unable to pay out the full benefits older Americans have been promised.
The best way to keep Social Security a rock-solid guarantee is not to make drastic cuts in benefits; not to raise payroll tax rates; and not to drain resources from Social Security in the name of saving it.
Specifically, I propose that we commit 60 percent of the budget surplus for the next 15 years to Social Security, investing a small portion in the private sector just as any private or state government pension would do. This will earn a higher return and keep Social Security sound for 55 years.

William Jefferson Clinton, January 19, 1999.

Before you comment, I know we were in surplus in 1999 but that proves my point. Surpluses and recessions come and go and any increase in government revenues would be spent no matter who is president or controls congress.

The Dress Rehearsal for Saudi Arabia

From Eschaton:

"The elephant in the living room is of course the high probability that even if things work out wonderfully, and the security situation improves, the Bushies still intend to maintain a significant permanent presence in Iraq. Is that true? I don't know. But it's time for somebody to start asking."

It's like I've woken up from a long deep sleep...all this talk since the election about "morals", "values", "leadership", "freedom". NONSENSE

Of course the U.S. is going to stay in Iraq! We will stay for two reasons: to maintain an established military presence in the Middle East and for oil. The military isn't there for Iran and I'm not talking about Iraqi oil. The real reason we're staying, and the reason we went in the first place: Saudi Arabia.

L-Hack and I used to talk about this all the time. This war was the dress rehearsal for Saudi Arabia. Eventually, the Saudi Royal Family is going to fall to a coup. We will need to conduct a quick ground assault to secure the oil fields (sound familiar?) of Saudi Arabia.

We must have a military base in the region - we can't wait to ship troops to the area. We can't rely on Israel, because they'd have to go through Jordan. Plus, the neutralization of Iraq means no northern resistance when we seize the oil fields north of Riyadh after the coup. Assuming the Saudi insurgency comes from the south, it will be a one-front war.

We need oil. This isn't about SUVs - we need it for fertilizer and to make agribusiness feed a nation of obese people. We need plastics for a consumption-based economy. We need petrochemicals to make pharmaceuticals. In our largest cities, we also need heat. Without a reliable and afforable flow of world oil there would be massive shortages of food and medicine, transit problems, crippling unemployment. We don't actually need the Saudi oil, but we have to make sure it stays on the world market. Otherwise, China and U.S. will bid the price up to hundreds of dollars per barrel.

It would be a disaster of apocalyptic proportions.

Of course we're staying in Iraq. This has nothing to with the "transformative power of freedom" or "history of liberty" or some other platitude. Those are marketing slogans - "Have a Coke and a Smile!" This is pragmatic national security policy - plain and simple - I just got so wrapped in "meaning" I forgot that there isn't any.

I don't have a problem with it; it's a necessary evil. I'd like to try to fix the oil dependency issue, and as I've said before, ANWR ain't the answer, but we'll get to that another time.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Is it Ideas, or the Message?

My new favorite discussion topic was getting some attention at the Belmont Club last week.

wretchard outlines Simon Rosenberg's assessment of the conservative movements key enablers:

  1. The Republican/conservative alliance has built a superior information-age political machine.
  2. As an intellectually-based movement born when the Republicans were a true minority Party, their infrastructure is built on a foundation on the need to persuade.
  3. 9/11 gave the Republicans an opening that they have adroitly exploited.
  4. Bush’s brand of conservatism has had a particularly big impact in the South.
  5. The new Republican momentum with Hispanics is a grave threat.

then goes on to ask the question:

But it begs the question of whether conservative ideas have succeeded, at least in part, because they were more consonant with reality than the 'progressive' ideas of the Left. It is not my intention to prove the superiority of one ideology over the other; simply to point out that the very possibility is excluded from Rosenberg's analysis; and by excluding the possibility that Conservative ascendance might be due to a careful selection of 'correct' positions into their portfolio, the NDN is really assuming what must be proved.

I'm not so sure there is such a thing as a "correct" position, just a favored one at a given point in time, with the favor directly related to the dissemination. Continuing this thought exercise: All ideas have no inate value, they only exist with an arbitrary value assigned by the masses. This can be applied to science - we assign values to scientific ideas based on their conjunction with Enlightenment principles. That is the benchmark by which we judge worth - laws, theories, bunk - judged against empirical evidence under the Scientific Method.

Today, this tool for judging the value of ideas is called into question with the "idea" of Evolution. Under a new judgment schema, the idea loses value when assessed under religious criteria.

This premise could extend to a lot of other things as well. Ideas didn't change or gain or lose value, the criteria used to judge value has changed. If we assume this, to what extent does the marketing machine shape the judgement criteria, because it seems difficult that it could shape the ideas?

This comment is telling:

"George W. Bush, like his ideological predecessor Ronald Reagan, talks about right and wrong, about good and evil, and does so from the heart… not as some jaundiced and cynical marketing ploy."

Does he, or is it exactly that, a marketing ploy? A marketing ploy designed to build a system of diametric opposition for the analysis of ideas. "Right" or "Wrong", "Good" or "Evil" - now, by eroding the middle of the spectrum, I can subject ideas on anything to same principle. If an idea is "right", anything that is not that idea is is "wrong".

For example, Social Security Privatization. Privatization may be a fine idea, but it doesn't fix solvency issues alone. There must be other action. Unless the other action is coupled with "Privatization" idea, it cannot be valid in a binary judgment model. If "Privatization" is "Right", "Decreasing Benefits" must be "Wrong" - they cannot both be "Right", or the purity is lost and the diametric model for judgment breaks down.

John Kerry has lots of faults, but this was used effectively against him. His nuance cannot exist in a world where ideas are judged on binary terms.

Is the key for marketing anything (even political ideas) to shape a judgment model in the minds of the masses?

Release the hounds.

Earlier this month the Supreme Court continued a disturbing trend that’s been eroding civil liberties since the 1980’s. After the latest ruling the bar for determining probable cause to search your car, luggage, person… has been lowered. For example, now if pulled over for a minor traffic violation a drug-sniffing dog can be used without a warrant to pass by your trunk. If the dog indicates something, a traffic stop is transformed into an embarrassing, invasive, intimidating, time-consuming search for illegal drugs. "A dog sniff conducted during a concededly lawful traffic stop that reveals no information other than the location of a substance that no individual has any right to possess does not violate the Fourth Amendment," wrote Justice John Paul Stevens for the six-member majority. So using a drug sniffing dog is not a search? The decision expanded a 1983 ruling that said "subjecting luggage to a 'sniff test' by a well-trained narcotics detection dog does not constitute a 'search' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment" because it "discloses only the presence or absence of narcotics, or other contraband”.

As much as I like dogs they are not infallible in these searches. In Justice David Souter’s dissention he cited examples from court cases of dogs with error rates of up to 38 percent. "Dogs in artificial testing situations return false positives anywhere from 12.5 to 60% of the time," he added. False positives subject innocent people to the inconvenience and humiliation of drug searches they have done nothing to justify. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the other dissenter in this case, warned that the Court's analysis "clears the way for suspicion less, dog-accompanied drug sweeps of parked cars along sidewalks and in parking lots," even of cars stopped at traffic lights.

Now this erosion of the 4th amendment also applies to “searches” brother, “seizure”.

In 1997, Louisiana state police stopped Cheryl Sanders for speeding. Claiming to believe that she was a drug dealer, officers hauled her off to jail and strip-searched her. No drugs were ever found and Ms. Sanders had no prior arrest record. Nonetheless, the police seized her car "on suspicion." It took her seven months and thousands of dollars to get her car back.

"Unfortunately, I think I can say that our civil asset forfeiture laws are being used in terribly unjust ways, and are depriving innocent citizens of their property with nothing that can be called due process. This is wrong and it must be stopped," said Rep. Henry Hyde, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

In 1984, Congress passed the Omnibus Crime Bill, which drastically changed the federal forfeiture laws. The bill vastly expanded the forfeiture laws applicable to drug offenses. It mimicked the Customs laws by making the charge against the property itself instead of against its' owner. Since 1984, civil asset forfeiture has become so widespread it generates half a billion dollars a year in revenue for the Department of Justice alone, close to a billion a year between all the federal agencies. Now, according to Justice Department Asset Forfeiture Chief, there are over 200 federal forfeiture statutes, allowing confiscation of private property without compensation for federal offenses. A small list of offenses include money from drug crimes and bank or mail fraud to: making a false statement on a bank loan application, killing an endangered species of rat on your own land, collecting feathers of migratory birds such as sea gulls, or failing to report to the IRS the purchase of over $3000 in money orders within 24 hours or a cash sale involving over 10,000.

While big government liberals, like John Kerry, support these laws it’s especially sad knowing that smaller government conservatives have pushed and supported them as well. Conservatives of all people should know the folly of do gooder laws and the dangers of large government.

Republican Social Security Marketing Guide

From Daily Kos:

Here it is (PDF). The GOP's 103-page playbook for destroying social security.

I just posted a comment to my previous post about the use of language, but what do you know - pages 3-5 of this book speak for themselves:

"A number of messaging techniques have already been tested in the field—feel free to follow these helpful guidelines as you tailor and communicate the solution to a quickly approaching problem.

It's a sales manual designed to train GOP'ers on how to effectively market the message.

Do you think these people believe their own bullshit? No! Do you think it's any different with Democrats? No! (They just have worse marketing tools)

I've said this before - these people don't care about "individual choice", "your nest egg", "social security solvency", "retired Americans" - they care about one thing - RE-ELECTION

They care about the ideas that matter most to the small but effective special interests that will get them RE-ELECTED. It's the same thing on both sides of the aisle - all politicians think this way. Everyone may start in politics with a vision of the public interest, but once elected, they become careerists and their vision becomes the one that keeps them in office.

Republicans don't care about America or values or Christ - they care about Haliburton, Bechtel, and ExxonMobil. If they care about Christ, it's because they're getting campaign contributions from people that do. If Satan worshippers had an effective PAC, they'd be on his side if there was more money in it.

It's the same thing with Democrats - they don't care about America or civil rights or the downtrodden, they care about the Sierra Club, trial lawyers, and NARAL. Any interest in civil rights is directly proportional to the size of the check from the ACLU.

Lisa Simpson said it best, "One nation, under the dollar, with liberty and justice for none."

Sic semper Tyrannis!

from the London Times
Chairman Kim’s dissolving kingdom.
In interviews for this article over many months, western policymakers, Chinese experts, North Korean exiles and human rights activists built up a picture of a tightly knit clan leadership in Pyongyang that is on the verge of collapse. Some of those interviewed believe the “Dear Leader”, Kim Jong-il, has already lost his personal authority to a clique of generals and party cadres.
It would be nice to see the Taliban, Saddam, Kadaffi, and now Kim all gone (or dead) within a 5 year span.

more good news from a different front
from Andrew Sullivan
AIDS PLUMMETS IN SAN FRAN: More evidence that we are making amazing progress against AIDS in America. San Francisco just released its 2004 stats, showing a 47 percent drop in full-blown AIDS diagnoses from 2003, a pretty stunning collapse. There were a total of 182 deaths from AIDS in San Francisco last year - the lowest number since 1983. Michael Petrelis has the details. I cite this in part because of the reaction I received from the gay and AIDS establishment back in 1996, when I wrote, "When Plagues End," for the NYT Magazine. In that piece, I argued that although global AIDS remained a horror, and that many would still regrettably die in the U.S., the new meds were a watershed - the beginning of a new, far less dire phase in the epidemic. My many critics have never acknowledged they were wrong. What amazes me about large parts of the left these days is their refusal to acknowledge good news - even when it means the saving of countless lives or the advance of democracy in a place like Afghanistan or Iraq. When did the left become so relentlessly hostile to good news? And doesn't that have something to do with their waning appeal?

Language DOES Matter

L-Hack and I had a debate the other night stemming from George Lakoff's book, "Moral Politics".

Look very closely at the language uesd by the Club for Growth and the Cato Institute when talking about Social Security Privatization. They make very clear their positions on "choice", whether it's "Social Security Choice", or the "Project on Social Security Choice" in the case of the Cato Institute.

Who's against choice, right? I can think of a "choice" most Republicans are against, but we'll discuss that later...

One more thing, when you read the Cato debunking of the AARP for age-skewing, keep in mind, the Cato/Zogby poll is income-skewed to the high-end anywhere between 5-9%. Keep in mind, Zogby's pre-election poll also predicted John Kerry would be elected President, and we all know how that turned out...

Freedom Fighters fail to stop Iraqi Election

The war in Iraq has become a war against the American occupation. . . . The U.S. military presence has become part of the problem, not part of the solution. . . . No matter how many times the Administration denies it, there is no question they misled the nation and led us into a quagmire in Iraq. . . . As in Vietnam, truth was the first casualty of this war. . . The nations in the Middle East are independent, except for Iraq, which began the 20th century under Ottoman occupation and is now beginning the 21st century under American occupation. Ted Kennedy

This must be a sad day for the left; their freedom fighters were unable to shake off the bonds of American oppression by blowing up their own civilians. They should not lose their optimism yet, there is still allot of bad to come in Iraq. They can also hold out for a real estate market collapse and a nuclear war once Israel bombs Iran. Keep hope alive.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

Today was a good day for Iraq and the current administration did something well.

At the beginning of the month, I got worked up by Tom Friedman's op-ed about civil war in Iraq, and I wrote, "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." Before that, I really hadn't been too critical except to say , "There are areas of Iraq that we don't have under control," a statement made around the time of the Mosul dining hall attack.

I'm not sure that there still won't be a civil war, and if there is, whether or not the U.S. should stay and side with a faction in Iraq, but that'll be decided after the elections in December. I don't like that this war was prosecuted on bad intelligence, and rather than admit intelligence failure, the President wants to shift the rationale for war, but at least for today, things are right.

I don't want a civil war - I want this to be over and the American troops to return home. I want a refocus on a domestic agenda designed to ensure our competitiveness in the global market and maintain a decent quality of life for working-class Americans rather than engage in a race to the bottom. I want to see fiscal control of our government, and I want to end this cultural conflict once and for all. If that's ever going to happen, there have to be more days like today, but for now, I'll just give the President credit for a good job today.