The Spitfire's Grill
Regular Rants from a Pragmatic Liberal
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
 
Values
This post at dKos makes me sick. First, social conservatives are nothing like the Taliban. Is James Dobson a nut job? Absolutely. But associating the movement he leads with ultra-reactionaries and terrorists accomplishes little. So I'd like to spend a post talking about values. I'd much prefer to talk about the state of some East Asian economy or pointing out one of the few times Tierney has a column that's worth reading. Values aren't exactly my domain, maybe that's why I'd like to offer some perspective.

Ultimately, the social conservative movement has reached its zenith (hopefully). The question is how. I hypothesize that average Americans don't entirely understand the difference between a cultural problem and a regulatory solution. What do I mean by this?

Americans don't like abortion. Do you? It disgusts me. The medical act itself is appalling. But should someone in Washington have the right to decide when a single young woman should start her family and under what conditions she should raise a child? Liberals believe that should be left to the mother to decide, not some law. Unfortunately, articulating this point is quite difficult. It is especially difficult when there are Dobson-like groups on our side of the cultural divide that seem to think abortion is the fourth natural right.

Ultimately, when faced with the choice between solving a problem as a society or handing it off to our government, we tend to almost always let the government handle it. The only times the libertarians are truly successful is when they are able to solidly articulate their their case. This not only involves good arguments, but ultimately persuasive compassion. And, to be frank, it is quite hard--as it should be--to compassionately defend something like abortion.

Thus you enter a situation in which social conservatives can pin liberals as for the right of abortion and conservatives as against the right of abortion. Rather quickly, the notion of rights gets chopped off. Rather quickly, liberals are for abortion and conservatives are against it. The issue of rights is to be debated by philosophers and academics, not by small town America. That's ultimately where liberals have lost ground. Unfortunately, it is ground we may never be able to take back.

Make no mistake, social conservatives are wildly against things like NAFTA and CAFTA. They hate what Wal-Mart does to their small town atmosphere. They tend to be quite poor, but rural poverty isn't nearly as clear as its inter-city cousin. Welfare isn't as temping to a group of people who pride themselves on their self-sufficiency.

But how do liberals show what values they truly believe in? Howard Dean has been spewing some Bible Verses here and there. But Dean is lost on these people. Ultimately, liberals' primary hope just might be the very pride of Hope. Or, at least, his wife. Hillary has done a superb job positioning herself, and its going to be hard to attack her in the usual ways. Her national defense record is pristine. She stands behind the White House on its Iraq policy--for the most part. It is impossible to question a Senator from New York's commitment to the War on Terror. She's stuck to the Clintonian tried-and-true method for abortion: "Safe, Legal, and Rare".

Republicans will say Hillary is one of the most liberal politicians in the country. And they may just well be right. But she's a Clinton. And last time I checked, when Billy Graham--at his final revival ever--gave praise to Bill and Hillary Clinton, the crowd cheered wildly. He said Bill should become an evangalist and leave Hillary to run the country. The crowd cheered wildly.

Indeed. They cheered wildly.
Sunday, July 03, 2005
 
"Russert Watch"
I admit, I was one of those people who sat back and sarcastically thought the Huffington Post was doomed to failure. Well, turns out that not only was I wrong, but it produces some fairly solid output.

My favorite recently is Adriana's regular "Russert Watch", in which she duely informs us not only who Russert's guests will be but also what questions she would like to see come out of Timmy's mouth. Here's an appropriate one for Specter and Leahy:
For Specter and Leahy, it might be fun if Russert put up one of his screen-filling graphics, listing all of the potential Supreme Court nominees and asking them: "Okay, of these potential nominees, whose nomination would be considered an ‘extraordinary circumstance' that would allow Democrats -- under the terms of the recent Senate compromise -- to filibuster?”
I would especially like to see this because Specter is a moderate who, being Jewish, doesn't want to see a bible-thumping Radical Right Sermonist Borkian on the Supreme Court. Chances are Specter will dodge the question and Leahy will try to look accepting of a moderate but also won't name any specific names (unless he knows someone that's been ruled out).
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
 
John Gibson
Since I had to stay late for work today, I'm pretty pooped. However, I have a solution!

Since I don't get Fox News (or MSNBC, yet I get CNN, CNNHN, and CNBC), I occasionally of late have travelled to their attempt to beat CNN.com's new video (Fox has failed, CNN.com video is, in my opinion, wonderful). But CNN.com video will put me to sleep sometimes, and this won't:

John Gibson's My Word [video] (Soon to be re-titled, "John Gibson's Head Up His Ass")

Now I have no love for Ward Churchill or any nut-job, but the fact of the matter is that when you have 295 Million people in a country, you're gonna find nut-jobs on all ends of the political spectrum, Gibson being one of them.

I'm fairly certain the letter Gibson references had to do with free speech, not agreement with Churchill's comments. If I'm wrong, then someone please inform me.

Either way, I went from too tired to blog to too irate to post anything intelligent. Watch at your own risk.
Monday, June 27, 2005
 
China and Krugman
Today's NYTimes Krugman Op-Ed: "The Chinese Challenge"

For a liberal, I must admit I'm not the biggest Krugman fan. The fact is that I'm fairly economically conservative, although I stop far short of the sell-out-to-the-business lobby so characteristic of Bush and DeLay.

My first reaction to his column was that either 1) he didn't put much heart into it, and covered it really because it is an extremely important yet underreported issue, or 2) he knows from the get-go that it's not an issue he can really rally progressives around. Because of this, he was fairly matter-of-fact, and the piece can be read in its entirely by Krugman haters without getting too pissed off, with one key exception ("Buying a company is a lot cheaper, in lives and money, than invading an oil-producing country.", random jabs like this don't do enough to appease his base but are just enough to convince dissenters to stop reading, which is probably why he placed it in the 2nd to last paragraph). Now, like Krugman I guess, I can't get anyone riled up on this topic. Since few people will find this post due to the recent hiatus, I'll place the blame on something other than the subject matter.

First Krugman takes his usual bragging rights:
Fifteen years ago, when Japanese companies were busily buying up chunks of corporate America, I was one of those urging Americans not to panic. You might therefore expect me to offer similar soothing words now that the Chinese are doing the same thing. But the Chinese challenge - highlighted by the bids for Maytag and Unocal - looks a lot more serious than the Japanese challenge ever did.
Second, some obvious facts:
There's nothing shocking per se about the fact that Chinese buyers are now seeking control over some American companies. After all, there's no natural law that says Americans will always be in charge. Power usually ends up in the hands of those who hold the purse strings. America, which imports far more than it exports, has been living for years on borrowed funds, and lately China has been buying many of our I.O.U.'s.
He skipped the most important fact: Supply and Demand. Here's what I mean (thank you, Google):

US Population = 295,734,134 (July 2005 est.)
China's Population = 1,306,313,812 (July 2005 est.) (almost 4.5 times ours)

World GDP = $55.5 trillion (2004 est.)
US GDP = $11.75 trillion (2004 est.)
China GDP = $ 7,262,000,000,000 (almost 62% of ours)

Work out the math, and under a perfect equilibrium, China's GDP should be 7.28 times what it is today, or $52 Trillion. I don't think China will ever have a per capita GDP that the US has, that's just the reality of a socialistic system, but don't expect the trend to stop anytime soon. Barring a major economic crisis, China is going to pass us within a couple years.

The question with China is how much of American Industry will they buy up (thus hurting, long term) our own growth. Krugman does a remarkably good job of this, comparing the Chinese buy-up to Japan's in the 80's:
The Japanese, back in the day, tended to go for prestige investments - Rockefeller Center, movie studios - that transferred lots of money to the American sellers, but never generated much return for the buyers. The result was, in effect, a subsidy to the United States.

The Chinese seem shrewder than that. Although Maytag is a piece of American business history, it isn't a prestige buy for Haier, the Chinese appliance manufacturer. Instead, it's a reasonable way to acquire a brand name and a distribution network to serve Haier's growing manufacturing capability.
Sure, but Krugman doesn't really offer an explanation. I do. Japan, as a reflection of its people, embodied a "new money" economy. Similar to South Korea, Japanese, due to their culture, are drawn to fascinating investments. Since China's investment comes from a fairly centralized scope (and from groups of individuals used to a structured communist lifestyle), they're a lot less likely to invest in some jazzy Manhattan building or high-profile entertainment company.

Krugman then rightfully so sleazes China's investment choices:
The China National Offshore Oil Corporation, a company that is 70 percent owned by the Chinese government, is seeking to acquire control of Unocal, an energy company with global reach. In particular, Unocal has a history - oddly ignored in much reporting on the Chinese offer - of doing business with problematic regimes in difficult places, including the Burmese junta and the Taliban. One indication of Unocal's reach: Zalmay Khalilzad, who was U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan for 18 months and was just confirmed as ambassador to Iraq, was a Unocal consultant.
China, if you recall, is the major hindrance in Darfur. Most of Sudan's oil goes China's way, and China's UN veto power is a major roadblock to any international action.

I ultimately am not sure whether this is a dangerous sign. I was really too young while the Japanese were buying up American companies and property. But this certainly could be a huge issue. Chinese control over T-Bills and other bonds mean they have little to no control over their investment. But when parts of oil companies are bought out, it does worry mean about the power China may have over us. Imagine Unocal turning around and shipping all their oil to China, thus driving our own energy prices up and China's down.

Scary thought.
 
Finally
Well, after what we'll call a long weekend due to some connectivity issues, I'm back and in a especially bloggy mood. So many things to talk about. There's the Supremes, Hillsborough County, and plenty more. But today's NYTimes has the usually unfortunate combination of Krugman and China, so something tells me I'm gonna talk about that first, although I'm in a rare multi-post mood.
Thursday, June 23, 2005
 
Conectivity Issues
Can't seem to stay connected for more than a minute or two for the past 2 days...be back as soon as I get this resolved.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
 
Sort of Off Topic
I was going to post something about the broadcast flag today (something I studied while in college), but I came across a utterly fascinating post by Juan Cole. Cole, a Professor of History at UMich usually dedicates his blog to the Middle East and mostly Iraq. His post, titled "History and Genetics in Madagascar" is slightly off his usual subject matter, and far off mine, but quite interesting. For those of you only interested in US Politics, there are still political implications involving the positions of the far Right-wing social conservatives, so its an interesting read either way. Here's a tidbit:
Genetics and history have joined forces to explain the origins of the people of Madagascar (the world's fourth largest island, off the coast of East Africa). Early Muslim chronicles speak of the peopling of Madagascar from the islands to its far east, i.e., Indonesia. Geneticists have found that about half of the island's people have Y chromosomes or mitochondrial DNA that most resemble that of the people of Borneo. Note that all the people in Madagascar by now have Indonesian ancestors and lots of genes from there. The other half of the markers go to East Africa. There must, however, also be an Arab heritage. Some 7 percent of the inhabitants of Madagascar are Muslim, and Muslim chronicles speak of several waves of immigration from places like Yemen.
Madagascar is a fascinating island in many ways, including culturally. I've always wondered how its population is so unqiue from that of mainland Africa. Before I read anything on the subject, I figured it was from generations of separation from the mainland. But after I little studied it a little more I learned it was the opposite, a curious melting pot from far away lands. Really pretty cool.
The whole story, of course, is that we all go back to a common origin in South Africa only about 100,000 years ago; we're a very young species and haven't had time to differentiate much except with regard to stupid little things like amount of melanin in our skin.
The post illustrates that both race and language are silly things to use as dividers, yet we see it every day, unfortunately.
Monday, June 20, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: Durbin
I honestly can't believe I'm doing this. But days after his comments, the debate over them still rages on. Ultimately, the media got lots of ratings with the whole Amnesty Int'l bit and now Durbin is next on the chopping block.

My take? When politicians decide to go for imagery over substance, they deserve to take a beating like this. What's furthermore annoying is the fact that his speech actually did have quite a bit of substance in it. Andrew Sullivan via dKos:
I've now read and re-read Senator Dick Durbin's comments on interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay. They are completely, perfectly respectable. The rank hysteria being perpetrated by some on the right is what is shameful. Hugh Hewitt should answer one single question: does he doubt the FBI interrogator who witnessed the appalling treatment of some detainees at Guantanamo?
I, personally, would like to see the detainees at Gitmo fall under the Federal Prison System, that way its clear they're treated no better and no worse than our own murderers.

I honestly doubt we're getting as much critical information about the insurgency from these men as the White House claims. For most of these men, by the time they arrive at Gitmo most of the information they can dispense is either useless because of its low-level source or time-relevancy. But ultimately, the idea behind an insurgency is its lack of an organized structure, which means these men likely know nothing about anything but their own cell.

So I don't have an opinion on Gitmo's closing, other than conservatives need to chill out and Dick Durbin needs to learn how to weave imagery without being over-the-top and causing his other-wise quite good speech to go sour.

Powered by Blogger