The Spitfire's Grill
Regular Rants from a Pragmatic Liberal
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.
Sunday, June 19, 2005
 
'08 Talk
Seems that Joe Biden might be running in '08. Watch the video at C&L. I like some things about Biden, he's strong on defense and he isn't coy with the press, at least not as much as others.

But more importantly, having Kerry, Clinton, and Biden running will give the Democratic party a real chance to make a decision. Clinton will likely be the most consensus candidate and she'll probably win. But Biden, despite hailing from Delaware, can't be pinned as the Northeastern Liberal that Kerry was. Furthermore, I'd remind people how barely Kerry lost. That should send the message that the American People don't really care for the extreme conservatism that current sits in the White House.

Not sure that the Republicans will get a similar spectrum of candidates from which to choose. If Guiliani decides that the nomination is more important than his beliefs, then he'll likely wrap it up and we could very well have two hybrid candidates to choose from.

We won't, however, see the Moose's fantasy come true. Mr. Whittman has grossly under-estimated, in my opinion, the nation's reliance on partisanship.

UPDATE: Being a Floridian, seeing Jeb on the ticket would make me puke. Looks like there are some conservatives that agree with me. The very conservative Andy Martin:
Some Republicans are touting Florida Governor Jeb Bush for Vice President in 2008. I am not one of them. Jeb is one of the sleaziest politicians I have ever encountered. I never knew how really sleazy he was until today.
Read the whole thing.
Saturday, June 18, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: Gay Marriage
GAY MARRIAGE

Ed Kilgore is like a political semi-deity:
they seem to understand that any chink in the argument that homosexual behavior is a "libertine lifestyle," a mental illness, or a disease, will expose them to a terrible series of moral and even theological dilemmas:
For them, the issue isn't one of civil rights, because the term implies something inherent in the individual -- being black, say, or a woman -- and they deny that homosexuality is inherent. It can't be, because that would mean God had created some people who are damned from birth, morally blackened. This really is the inescapable root of the whole issue.
Indeed it is. Accepting the scientific evidence that homosexuality is biological would turn the religious argument on the subject upside down, since discrimination against people because of their God-given nature is defiance of God's will rather than obedience.
Gay Marriage became an issue simply because it polls well, extremely well. But Amending the Constitution? I've always maintained that it would get written out of the books, a la Prohibition, within a decade or two. Why? Younger people aren't nearly as against it as their elders. Quite simply, we young-in's don't think homosexuality is taboo. We've all had gay friends, and they're perfectly normal. We don't see marriage as something our friends should be denied.

My proof? It's pathetic that last poll I could find was May 2004--don't get me wrong, plenty of polls on gay marriage, just not with age breakdowns:



Legal
Marriage
Civil
Unions
No Legal
Recognition




% % %


ALL 28 29 40


Republicans 13 33 53


Democrats 32 28 36


Independents 37 27 33


18-29 years 43 32 25


30-44 29 25 44


45-64 26 29 41


65 & older 12 32 51


Northeast 35 31 33


Midwest 26 23 47


South 23 26 48


West 31 36 28

Now if you look at the language in a would-be Constitutional Amendment, it would banish all the "benefits" of marriage. So no civil unions. That's a position opposed by 75% of people under age 30.

When I first read through the Constiution in some US History text book, I saw the Prohibition Amendment and its reversal as some silly, immature, poorly thought out scheme. It was then. It is now. A gay marriage Amendment would last just as long as Prohibition.

Karl Rove knows this. But he'll be retired by then. Politics of now, indeed.
Friday, June 17, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: Placing Blame
PLACING BLAME

Politics has always been a blame game. It's Bush's fault, the Republicans, the Democrats, and of course the Media.

Maybe we should blame the American People every once in awhile. Honestly, politics and journalism is merely a reflection of the people of this country: their lack of concern, their tendencies to compartmentalize, and their own hypocrisies.

Bloggers love to find hypocritical decisions by politicians, as well they should. But realize that those arguments only carry merit if they over-step our own hypocritical tendencies.

Because its Friday and this is a short post, I might as well turn this into something fun. But the best recent example of a blogger coming to this realization was in this Wonkette post about the porn star Mary Carey's appearance at a Bush fund raiser:
...the far left corners of the blogosphere have been crowing Carey's appearance at the dinner will prove to be a "messaging disaster" for the GOP, tarnishing their pro-family image, muddying their morality machine, and in general reminding average Americans that Republicans are hypocritical hedonists who get squeamish about gay marriage but love the idea of threesome with a porn star.

We have news for the premature congratulators: Average Americans are hypocritical hedonists who get squeamish about gay marriage but love the idea of threesome with a porn star.
Heh.

I try my best--and often fail--to be as un-partisan as possible on this blog simply because I do not believe making the GOP look bad or extreme is going to change anything. Americans voted for these people, hypocrisy and all. Americans don't like to see the people they voted for be demonized, it pisses them off and drives them away from the political process.

If you really think you're ideas are what's best for this country, then don't place blame. Instead, get your ideas out because, if you really are right, your ideas will stand on their own merit.

Forget Fox News, forget the Jonah Goldbergs and John Hinderakers and Paul Mirengoffs (yes, Spitfire, this means you too), and just put your ideas on the table. Last time I checked, Bush, Rumsfeld, DeLay and Frist are giving Americans plenty of reasons to look our way.

Admittedly, you're going to have to work very hard to be heard over all the screwball rhetoric. But then again, the American people are pretty screwed up too.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: Social Security
I've wanted to talk about Social Security for awhile now. John Tierney's column the other day, makes an interesting argument for private accounts. Unfortunately he takes the mother of all logical leaps by merely describing how bad the current system is (ie, what Bush has been successful at doing) and describing how, in a perfect world private accounts would be better (as if, in a perfect world, we'd be so worried about our retirement).

SOCIAL SECURITY

Tierney:
Men in their 70's raced on bikes for 40 kilometers in this month's National Senior Games in Pittsburgh. A 68-year-old woman threw the discus 85 feet, and a 69-year-old man hurled the javelin nearly half the length of a football field.

Is it possible that people this age are still physically capable of putting in a full day's work at the office? I realize I'm being impolitic. In the Social Security debate, the notion of raising the retirement age is the elephant in the room, as Robin Toner and David Rosenbaum reported in The Times on Sunday. Both liberal and conservative economists favor the change, but politicians are terrified to even mention it to voters.

If the elderly were willing to work longer, there would be lower taxes on everyone and fewer struggling young families. There would be more national wealth and tax revenue available to help the needy, including people no longer able to work as well as the many elderly below the poverty line because they get so little Social Security.
I think everyone who's been following the Social Security debate closely, both Democrats and Republicans, can agree up to this point. The fact is that if you raise the retirement age you get a duel benefit--people paying into the system longer and benefiting from it less. Alas, this cuts into the AARP's dues, so we can't have that.

Tierney then makes the most common columnist line of argumentation: tell a cute story, tell about the problem, tell another cute story, tell your solution, brilliant!

He goes into the Chilean scheme and points out all of its successes, as you'd expect him to do. Unfortunately, he ignores the financial nightmare that a conversion to a private account plan would take. If people have private accounts, you're essentially giving them their money back. But since current retirees get checks straight out of current worker's pockets, this would cause the Social Security surplus to come down hard and fast. And considering how long people are living nowadays, it could very well easily stop paying out 100% of the promised funds while those who are currently 55 are still alive. Uh-oh, those are the very people that aren't supposed to be affected by the privatization scheme.

The only way to overcome that possible nightmare is to then transfer from the General Fund, which means we'd likely be eating straight out of the National Debt. The more the Debt goes up, the more likely taxes will have to be raised in order to pay it off. That means all the extra money I might make with my private account will go to pay for the tax increase required in order for me to have my private account. Uh-oh.

If only somehow the numbers could work, I'd be all for private accounts. I do believe that people would get a much better retirement. I do believe that over time, at least 10 years according to the Bush plan, the money would make a better ROI than Social Security. It would encourage people to work longer since with Social Security there's really no benefit to working past the retirement age. Our economy would be aided by the dual productivity gain and financial investment.

If only somehow the numbers could work. The fact that Bush won't put the numbers out there suggests to me they won't. There are a lot of variables. If you're 55 and 1/3 of your Social Security check goes into the personal accounts, you'll get pennies from it for the rest of your life and you'll probably have to give up a huge chuck of your Social Security check. You'll likely lose money. If you increase the percentage of your payroll tax that goes to the account, then you drive the solvency of the program into the ground and your Social Security check won't earn you much anyway.

If only somehow the numbers could work. The people who stand to gain the most (people my age) also stand to lose the most. The Debt is skyrocketing, our trade deficits are skyrocketing, which mean we'll likely have to increase taxes to pay for non-governmental services.

If only somehow the numbers could work. Imagine they could. Do you trust Congress to get those numbers right? These people couldn't balance a 15 year old's checkbook.

There's really only one thing that can save Social Security. Glenn Reynolds hints at it: "...increased longevity, with (at the very least) much higher retirement ages, could be the salvation of many nation's pension systems...".

In other words, the baby-boomers, who are gearing up to retire in their early 60's, need to realize that they didn't have the same kind of jobs their parents did. Boomers will have spent 20% of their lives getting an education and almost 40% of their lives as a retiree. That means they'll have not only spent only 40% of their lives working, but they'll draw from Social Security for just as long as they contributed to it. What will they do sitting around for 30 or 40 years? That can't be healthy.

Tierney: "And not healthy for your country, either."
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: New Environmentalism
I was deciding whether to discuss an old (in blog time) John Tierney column on Social Security or an old (again, in blog time) LA Times article on Environmentalism. Obvious by the title, I chose the latter for now, but mainly because a new post by Ed Kilgore brought up the very same issue.

NEW ENVIRONMENTALISM

A couple months ago Nicholas Kristof wrote that the current environmental movement needs to die off so that a new one may be born. He couldn't have been more right. I agreed with him then, and it looks like his words are like a prophecy. The LATimes article, "A Shift to Green: Driven by profit and the opportunity to shape regulations, major corporations are backing stronger measures to reduce global warming", shows us that businesses are well ahead of the Bush Administration on global warming.

Right-Wing hacks like Rush claim that volcanoes cause global warming and Robert Novak claim that Kyoto was intended to damage Industrialized Western economies and has nothing to do with environmentalism. Meanwhile, the people they are trying to defend (major corporations, in particular the energy industry) realize the problem is inevitable and they better get started doing something about it. The LATimes piece, written by Miguel Bustillo, is quite well researched and long, so I'm not going to bother posting much of it here, but it certainly deserves your time. A sample:
Bucking the Bush administration's position that tougher rules would harm the U.S. economy, Fortune 500 companies including General Electric Co., Duke Energy Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. in recent months have championed stronger government measures to reduce industrial releases of carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas that scientists have linked to rising temperatures and sea levels.
But my favorite part--and in particular what makes this "New Environmentalism"--is the idea that reducing greenhouse emissions is bad for business. This is good stuff:
Although their rhetoric is rife with references to protecting planet Earth, some of the corporations acknowledge that their newfound focus on global warming is driven by opportunity for profit. Duke Energy would like to build a new nuclear power plant, a type of electricity generation that does not emit greenhouse gases, for instance, while GE wants to expand sales of wind power turbines and pollution-control equipment.

"We believe we can help improve the environment and make money doing it," GE Chairman Jeffrey Immelt said last month in a speech at George Washington University that attracted widespread notice. "We see that green is green."
Nuclear Power, eh? Happens to be a favorite topic of someone I know.

But it isn't all about how energy companies can make or lose money. Chances are, they'll take some short term financial hits but come out ahead, simply due to the profitability of a nuclear power plant over the fossil fuel variety. It is more about other companies. GE has a division that sells environmental products, as mentioned above. There exists a potential for an entire industry of environmental consultants and auditors.

When banks went digital and we realized the large security risk that was involved with that, the government set some extremely strict regulations on how a bank's computer systems and networks had to be set up. What happened? The banks didn't start going out of business. Instead, a fairly sizeable industry popped up to help these banks reach the compliance standards necessary to meet those governmental regulations.

The real threat is not if we act, but when. If we wait 10 years to make a major "shift to green", then the companies that will aide that shift will be European and Asian corporations. The environmental products will be designed in France, built in China, and installed by foreign contractors. The Bush Administration would shamefully alter records instead of getting on the ground floor of what almost everyone with a head on their shoulders realizes is an inevitability.

Unfortunately this isn't going to happen under a Bush-DeLay government. Why?
Most oil and gas companies, among the president's biggest political benefactors, remain firmly opposed to toughening the administration's existing policies, which promote only voluntary reductions of greenhouse gases.
Oh that's right.
Monday, June 13, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: Trade Agreements
I get all these political emails I don't have time to read, yet I save them anyway. Well today I went back and read one and it turned into quite the gem.

TRADE AGREEMENTS

This New Democrat Dispatch boggles my mind. Read the whole thing. These facts are astounding:
American goods and services exports grew by well over $200 billion in President Clinton's first term and also in his second term. (As well as $140 billion in export growth during the first Bush administration.) But in George W. Bush's first term exports grew barely $70 billion. And if we discount the rapid growth of exports to China and Vietnam, after the implementation of Clinton-era trade agreements, it looks even worse.

Why the difference? One big change from Clinton to Bush has been a collapse in the willingness to enforce trade agreements.

It goes on to talk about how Clinton's White House averaged four times as many WTO filings for abuse of trade agreements. Now anyone can play with numbers, so that doesn't impress me too much (especially because the WTO was brand new), but it does look rather peculiar.
We have been peppered with 33 of the 109 WTO cases filed since 2001, as trading partners protest everything from the Foreign Sales Corporation tax policy to steel tariffs, anti-dumping laws, and cotton subsidies.
People are always going to be gunning for us, at least as long as we're at the top. I say get used to it and fight back, but it doesn't appear that the Bush Administration, which loves to boast about how it won't be pushed around by foreign nations, seems to be getting pummeled by them.
There are obvious gaps in WTO enforcement that the dispute system is there to address. Intellectual property protection, trading rights, and distribution in China; farm and civil aircraft subsidies in Europe; Japanese distribution systems in many manufacturing fields; Indian intellectual property and standards issues, and others. U.S. House Ways and Means Committee Democrats have been pointing these out for years.
Microsoft has been having quite a fight with China over the past couple years. Apparently, no one in China wants to pay for Windows either, but unfortunately for Microsoft its a lot easier to get away with it because of Beijing's lax intellectual property rights.

Free Trade depends on a strict enforcement of trade agreements, bar none, yet it doesn't seem like the Bush White House likes it. The e-mail didn't discuss why, but I'm sure its part of some kind of strategy.



Saturday, June 11, 2005
 
...
I always seem to wimp out on fridays. So super-short post.

I'd just like to note a current debate going on in the liberal blogs right now. Of course, its about Howard Dean. Rabid Democrats run to his side and the centrists tell him to stop his antics.

See Daily Kos here.
See Bull Moose here.

I honestly don't care what Dean says. But it wouldve been nice for him to prove the Sean Hannity's of the world wrong, and now he's certainly not going to do that. His job would be much easier and much more successful if he just tried to be the better man and took the high road.
Thursday, June 09, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: Random Rant Concerning Powerline
Argh.

POWERLINE

Bill Clinton. It's all his fault. Really. September 11th. The Recession. The Culture War. Oh, and let's not forget that while Al Gore invented the Internet, Bill Clinton invented Oral Sex.

Paul Mirengoff has this obsession with proving that everything is Bill Clinton's fault. I was in a good mood today and decided to re-visit Powerline, a blog I haven't really visited since that whole Schiavo memo ordeal. Well, Mirengoff ruined my mood. Actually, his post is almost dead on, except for the little Clinton gem he decided to drop.

I'm not the world's biggest Nancy Pelosi fan. She's a good minority leader because she's tough. Furthermore, when Republicans whine about her, I don't think anyone cares--she's just, as they say, another California liberal. I don't like Mirengoff changing over to Bill Clinton mid-thought, and then trying to connect Clinton to 9/11, almost randomly. Check this out:
I just heard Nancy Pelosi make what may be the most foolish statement any public official has uttered in a long while. Pelosi called for the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention center in order to give us "a clean slate in the Muslim world." I argued here that Gitmo should not be closed. But the foolishness of Pelosi's commment [sic] resides not in the error of her substantive position, but rather in her fantsay [sic] of a "clean slate." While that concept may have some applicability in therapy, there is no such thing in international relations, as anyone who has studied history for five minutes knows. And the idea of a clean slate with Muslims, a group with whom the west has clashed for something like ten centuries, is particularly ludicrous. Some of the Muslims from whom Pelosi would like to receive a clean slate are still upset about the reconquest of Spain. And then there's the small matter of the existence of Israel.
He's actually dead on so far. Closing Gitmo won't change anything, much less give us a clean slate. The damage of Gitmo has been dealt already, its time to change the behavior, not close the base (which is of some strategic importance). This is what 9th grade English teachers call a "transition":
Pelosi's comment also reveals the self-hating belief held by so many on the left that Muslim antagonism towards the U.S. is our fault. If only we would avoid stepping on the Koran, all would be well.
Note that this happens less than a third of the way into the post. So he's tossed his main topic aside because, quite frankly, Pelosi was just trying to get a sound-bite in and it wasn't very interesting. But it was an opportunity, albeit a stretch, to work this gem in:
Bill Clinton was also a "clean-slater," though he was too intelligent to put it that way. Clinton's foreign policy consisted largely of running around the world apologizing for past U.S. wrongs real and imagined, and trying to help Muslims in the Balkans and in territories occupied by Israel. But instead of a clean slate, Clinton bought us the rise of al Qaeda and ultimately 9/11.

Mirengoff, in a matter of sentences, manages to go from Gitmo to Clinton being responsible for al Qaeda. Actually, bin Laden was first aided by Reagan and Bush-41 during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Which, of course, is why Afghan warlords hid him and eventually allowed him to escape during the post-9/11 invasion. Never mind the fact that Clinton cleared several operations to take out bin Laden. Since, unlike most conservative politicians, Mirengoff actually knows his history, he knows he can't blame Clinton directly. So he basically states that Clinton made the U.S. look like a big pussy. Cause we all know al Qaeda attacked us because we took our fair share of the blame for history. Bush, on the other hand, knows that the right way to avoid an attack is to never admit mistakes, past or present, unless they can be linked in a Mirengoff-like fashion to Clinton. To Mirengoff's credit, he's much better at it than Scott McClellan.

Pelosi also fails to recognize that any brownie points we might conceivably gain by closing Gitmo would be lost the first time a Muslim (aided by the MSM and liberal Democrats like Pelosi) claimed that abuse was occurring at some other facility or locale. As I have said before, if Gitmo didn't exist, our enemies and critics would have to invent it, as they basically have.

On the morning of 9/11, this was a 50-50 nation politically. Since then, the Republicans have gained a clear upper hand [apparently, Mirengoff hasn't read a newspaper lately -Spitfire]. That's not because Americans are happy about what's happening in Iraq [maybe he does -S] or overjoyed about our economy [so he reads the WSJ -S]. It's because Americans realize that the Democratic party is not completely serious when it comes to fighting terrorism. Pelosi's comment shows that one of the party's leaders isn't serious at all.

For the most part I agree with Mirengoff on how Democrats appear to the American public on terrorism. Simply put, its just easier for Republicans to talk tough on things.

Democrats need to commit to a strategy. Unfortunately, that strategy emerged from the ultimate non-committer, John Kerry, so many Democrats might look weak by association. It goes like this:

1. Kill the Terrorists.
2. Don't give the Terrorists ammo by invading countries that don't pose an immediate security threat.
3. Kill the Terrorists.

The fact is that the Iraq war was the single biggest successful terrorist recruitment effort any time in recent history. When the Iraq war ends, and by God let it be soon, not all of these terrorists will just go back to bagging groceries at the local Baghdad Publix. Some will undoubtedly end up in this country.


Wednesday, June 08, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: Vouchers
I've been doing lots of Florida Blogging lately, and since the future of Florida's voucher program is about to be dealt a { crushing defeat / enormous victory }, its got me thinking: why do Democrats dislike vouchers so much? I had, honestly, never really thought about it until now. Finally I concluded Democrats just are hopelessly unable to express just why moving public money into private schools isn't a smart move for governments.

VOUCHERS

I wanted to find a good background article about vouchers, what both sides think, their reasoning, etc. Well, I couldn't. (UPDATE: Florida Politics seems to think this Orlando Sun-Sentinel article is a good overview, haven't read it through yet because I can't be late for work) So if anyone can find a good one that's fairly balanced, please forward it my way. I could find lots of news about vouchers in the Florida Supreme Court as well as this John Tierney piece that really makes me wonder if the man has ever been in the state of Florida.

Every state's voucher proposal is different. In short, the parents of any child who is going to a school that is "failing" or has low marks on some metric, you can pull their child out of that school and you receive some cash from the state (presumably, the amount that would have been spent on publicly educating your child) to send him or her to an "approved" private school.

Admittedly, I went to private school grade K-12, so this might have helped my parents pay for my schooling if they were willing to live in a district with a failing school. Furthermore, all the African American leaders who, over time, have supported vouchers because they believed it would speed up the socio-economic plight of their people seemed rather convincing to me. Thus to say, I gave vouchers more than their fair shot, and I'm sure in a year or two I'll re-visit the issue and decide whether I was dead wrong or not, which I've concluded several times before in my life.

The most common liberal argument against vouchers is that taking money away from public schools just makes the problem worse. Well, theoretically it shouldn't--there would be less children to educate, smaller class sizes, etc. But in reality that's the case because it makes public education funding more un-predictable. Why hire a new teacher if you're a failing school and you'll just have to fire him/her in a year when your budget gets cut? Furthermore, does student-based funding really work on a proportional scale? (ie, if it takes $15,000 to educate 15 children (in reality it's much more), does it require $16,ooo to educate 16 or do economies of scale increase efficiency?)

Those arguments, unfortunately, don't matter. The only reason education is a major public issue in every election is because the most consistent swing voters are middle-class suburban white women (the proverbial "soccer moms"). These voters, quite frankly, don't give a shit what's best for the entire system. Their poor Johnny and Sally are in failing schools. The only people who buy the liberal argument against vouchers are teachers, and in case you haven't seen what's been going on in California recently, Democrats have a sure lock on their constituency.

So let's return to a line of argumentation so devoid in current-day politics: logic.

Vouchers qualify for the Logical Extreme Test, and they fail it. How do they qualify? I think we can almost universally assume that parents love their children and will do what they can given their means to educate them in the best way possible. For most parents, this means they must rely on public education anyway. Since all children who attend public schools have some form of legal guardian who can make the decision to take the school voucher, all children at failing schools should thus qualify (there are need-based vouchers, but in this case the financial status of the parents would mean they already possess to move their children, just not qualify for the subsidy). The Logical Extreme Test simply states that if you take an argument to its logical extreme, is the idea disastrous or does it still work? Qualifying simply means that the logical extreme is not only possible but somewhat likely as well. I think it'd be quite likely that if a voucher program was build correctly, every parent would pull their child out of a failing school. Perhaps the future of public education could be a de-regulated system of private schools (certainly an issue to discuss) but vouchers don't really get us there. Vouchers go in the opposite direction: keep all the public school infrastructure, reduce the public school income.

Luckily for Jeb Bush, the Florida voucher program doesn't quite qualify for the Logical Extreme Test. Why? Because, luckily for "Jeb!", his voucher idea sucks. It rely's on two principles to specifically prevent qualifying for the logical extreme test:

1. Don't give enough money for all parents to afford a charter school.
2. Don't regulate charter schools at all.

Also luckily for "Jeb!", the two groups that will be the most hurt by this program don't vote for him anyway. Presto! Those two groups are:

1. The poor that will still not be able to afford private education.
2. The educators who will have little to no job security depending upon their school's latest FCAT scores (really, don't even get me started on the FCATs).

Thus "Jeb!" gets a dual benefit - he can claim the theoretical successes of a voucher program all the while knowing that it won't really get as bad as the Democrats say it might because it was designed to be horrible from the get-go. What a wonderfully new political concept: design failure into the system.

But back to the general concept of vouchers. Before anyone argues that I'm only considering the worst case, I simply want to establish that my worst-case scenario is, at its heart, the whole point of vouchers. If, after all, a set of children go to a failing school and only a small percentage of parents take advantage of the voucher system, is there not something wrong here? Honestly, is the excuse, "well, they DO have a way out, if their parents so choose" really what it all boils down to? Do you have no obligation to protect those students whose parents, despite voucher money, still couldn't afford to send them to a private school?

At its heart, the voucher idea is about freedom versus the greater good. And in this country--God bless it--we have a habit of going the path of individual gain. There is no invisible hand when it comes to education. So while I think the argumentation of the greater good is important, those against vouchers need to find a much better way of packaging their message. I say take advantage of the conservative education lexicon. Ask how vouchers can truly "leave no child behind" and how we can truly have "accountability" in a system where teachers have no job security. Think what happens when the economy changes: the bigger the economic hit of a recession, the more parents will have to send their children back to public schooling. Can we truly have "accountability" in private schools? Because, think about it, how much of a good education can be reflected by a standardized test? If no state in the Union seems to be happy with its public education system, can private schools on the whole be that much better?

Ultimately the voucher system isn't a system at all. It's a quagmire. The more students that might be helped by it, and you get an impossible education environment. The less students that might be helped by it, and you get an increased "educated class" system in which those that need it the most get even less.

The Florida Supreme Court is deciding these issues as I type. Their decision won't change the debate one bit, it will likely merely increase the volume. But the decision will be nonetheless important, too many children depend on it.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: Freedom and the Future
FREEDOM AND THE FUTURE

If you listen to Bush rhetoric, two key concepts arise more than any other. Those two concepts are, as should be obvious by the title of the post, Freedom and the Future. Freedom is the overwhelming justification for the Iraq war, it seems. The Future is the overwhelming justification for Bush's Social Security plan, it seems.

I believe most Americans like both concepts overwhelmingly. Specifically, we want the world to be a peaceful and democratic place full of civil liberties, and we certainly don't want to place a much larger burden on our grandchildren than was placed on us. People can certainly make good arguments for why Iraq and Social Security are both poor priorities and solutions if one is concerned with bringing freedom to the world and working to build a better future for those who come after us. Unfortunately, that's an argument that doesn't permeate well with the American public.

Case in point. Tony Blair, a man for whom I have great admiration, is coming over to visit Bush with the two priorities of African Aide and Global Warming.
As an aside on Blair, I really believe he combines the better qualities of both Bush and Clinton. He's a smart, politically talented Clintonian that isn't quite as scandal-prone as Bill (though, the Downing Street Memo certainly looks ominous). Furthermore, he shares Bush's vision (to the point of engaging in the aforementioned scandal). It is also clear, as also evidenced by the Memo, that Blair highly values the age-old alliance between England and the United States. He's also willing to sit through an extremely tough town hall meeting (much unlike Bush) which always earns respect in my book.

But back to the topic at hand. If you could set the highest priority each for "freedom" and "the future", what would your priorities be?

Bar none, there is no place in the world where freedom is a irrelevant concept than Africa. As my favorite underground artist says, "democracy is just a word when the people are starving". Freedom, quite simply, doesn't exist when you live day to day off food scraps and handouts. Freedom mean choice, and when you don't have any other choices than spending your entire day trying to survive then things like possessing freedom of speech and religious freedoms don't matter. With all due respect to the highly oppressed Shi'a and Kurds, the plight of the Iraqis, while horrible, is nothing compared to what goes on in so many African countries. Just read a random Kristof column or look up the world's poorest nations. I found this list of the 5 poorest (unknown date, author): Mozambique, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, DNC Congo. All 5 are in Africa and run per-capital GDP's between $80 and $100. Most Americans spend that much on food in merely a week or two, and food is cheap here! The Iraq War Bill could run up to $400 Billion or more before its all over. Imagine if that money had been invested in these five poor African nations.

Under the current Bush Doctrine logic, the worst thing hopelessly poor African nations have going for them is that they're not a hot-bed of Anti-American sentiment. Cause then they'd get a new government, the attention of the world, and Billions in infrastructure investments.

Previous post on Freedom:
May 9, 2005

When looking to the future, there is no greater threat than global warming. Nuclear war looms a close second. Social Security looms around 9,324th, which means its certainly much more important than un-packing all my stuff from my latest move, but hasn't quite reached the level of life-or-death criticality.

I saw Senator Inhofe talking about how there hasn't ben a large change in global temperatures. Well, that's slightly true. One must consider two things: the rate at which temperatures are increasing and the difference that the slightest temperature increases can have. Here's a graph I pulled from Elmhurst College's website. (again, apologies for the hot-linking)
The image “http://www.elmhurst.edu/~chm/vchembook/images/globaltempdiff.GIF” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

There are plenty of other graphs going back through the past 5000 years that show periods where the world was as warm or possibly warmer than it is right now. But really no time, barring perhaps an asteroid impact, shows such as fast a climb as is happening right now. Simply look at the two periods of increase. The 40's and 80's were eras of a huge industrial explosions.

All the science is in place that proves that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases do indeed increase the earth's temperature, the question is simply how much.

Ultimately the core of the Republican party that disputes global warming says that we should oppose stem cell research now because one day it might mean abortion factories and embryocide. Yet they refuse to accept the similar logic of stop-now-or-face-future-harm when it comes to global warming. Many suggest the hypocrisy comes from social conservative votes and corporate tax dollars. Right now I don't care where it comes from, the first step in solving the global warming issue is admitting that we have a problem.

I'm just ashamed that its a European that is coming to tell us the obvious facts about Freedom and the Future.
Monday, June 06, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: China
Over the weekend while I was taking a break from blogging (and blogs in general), I noticed the Times article about Rumsfeld and China in my Inbox. Thinking Rummy couldn't have said anything truly stupid, I went back to my uneventful weekend. But this morning I read the piece. Jesus.

CHINA

NYTimes quoting Rumsfeld:
He said no "candid discussion of China" could neglect to address these military concerns directly, and criticized China for not admitting the full extent of what he described as its worrisome military expansion.
Last time I checked China's military budget was somewhere around $30 Billion US Dollars. Our defense budget is over $600 Billion. (oh but that's ok because China knows we're fighting for freedom--like China cares.) Talk about hypocritical. How are we going to level with these people with talk like this? After 16 years these people still won't admit the Tiananmen Square massacre even existed.

These are not people to deal with via tough talk. Tough Action is needed. Push for greater regulation on international arms deals. Come up with human rights-based sanctioning efforts at the U.N. and W.T.O. Here's an idea: stop encouraging Japan to build up it's military. There's already escalating tensions between those two countries, yet your boss' administration seems to be talking Japan into a military build-up. Next up, the East Asian arms race.

Oh, but its ok, because:
"Since no nation threatens China, one wonders: why this growing investment?" Mr. Rumsfeld asked.
(sigh) Apparently September 11 gives the Bush Administration free reign to attack any nation we don't like but a worked up North Korea and Japan means that China should decrease its military strength, eh? Talk like this will encourage China to randomly double its military spending, just to spite you Mr. Rumsfeld. Why?
His remarks come as Washington's stance regarding Beijing appears to be growing more critical. The United States has accused China of manipulating the value of its currency, for example, in order to increase exports, and of exerting heavy-handed pressure on Taiwan.

A joint warning from the American and Japanese defense and foreign ministers has rankled Chinese leaders, as has the Bush administration's insistence that Europe must not ease curbs on arms sales to China.

The administration has also been increasingly disappointed by China's apparent reluctance to press North Korea to resume talks on its nuclear weapons programs, as Mr. Rumsfeld again urged China to do.
Translation: So because things aren't going our way, let's take out our frustration. Leave it to the next douche-bag that comes into office, it'll be his or her problem! Hell, it'll probably be that bitch Hillary anyway.

What has tough talk in foreign policy ever created other than votes and trouble. Daily I'm more convinced that foreign policy tough talk is solely for domestic consumption.

Any bright spots?
Mr. Rumsfeld's comments on China also stood in contrast to those on another power in Asia: India. On the flight to Singapore, he said ties with India would strengthen while those with China could fray if Beijing did not open up society more.
Well I've been pushing for strengthening ties with India for quite some time. But its rather bothersome that somehow this ball falls in the Secretary of Defense's court. Maybe if Condi Rice started talking about India then I'd be happier.

Back to military build-ups. One cannot use the words military, U.S., and China in the same blog post without discussing Taiwan, which we all know to be crucial to this:
In recent weeks, American officials have compiled reports detailing how China has carefully analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of the United States military to focus its growing spending on weapons systems that could exploit perceived American weaknesses in case the United States ever responds to fighting in Taiwan.

These military and intelligence officials say China has purchased or built enough amphibious assault ships, submarines, fighter jets and short-range missiles that pose an immediate threat to Taiwan and to any American force that might come to Taiwan's aid.

My official policy on Taiwan is to have a policy. For years we've had a wishy-washy "we'll defend Taiwan if there's any un-provoked aggression" nonsense from both Democrat and Republican administrations.

I've never really gotten a good luck at a particular reason why we defend Taiwan like we do. But we need to make up our minds once and for all whether Taiwan should be independent. Officially, because China has that damn veto power, Taiwan is a Chinese province. I'd much prefer it be independent, because I believe in such freedom.

What I don't know anymore, however, is how important Taiwan is to our economy. If it is as vital as it used to be, then we'd certainly protect Taiwan (go to war? maybe). Now I think we're more likely to be holding on to old treaty agreements. I think the Bush Administration is stalling, however. It wouldn't look to good in Bush's whole "freedom" cry if he freed Afghanistan and Iraq but lost Taiwan to China and let the massacres in Darfur go unchecked. Seems like a spread freedom to wherever its convenient policy.

Oh, and Rumsfeld, screw you.

---

My last 5 posts on China:
31 May 2005
21 May 2005
14 May 2005
20 April 2005
3 April 2005
Friday, June 03, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: Gerrymandering
I haven't paid too much attention to topics to blog about recently, which is just fine because it means I can catch up on articles I wanted to discuss. Articles like this NYTimes editorial on gerrymandering.

GERRYMANDERING

Pictures speak louder than words, so I'll remain fairly quiet for this post and we'll look at some wonderful Congressional Districts (keep in mind that state legislative districts, ie the bodies that have control over gerrymandering, look much worse because there's more of them in a state and there's more at risk in terms of maintaining the gerrymandering power).

I really dislike hotlinking, but my image hosting is down for right now. I really suggest you go to Printable Maps, a wonderful resource.

South Florida really sets the gold standard:


Now its hard to see, but you'll see two yellow spots in SE Florida. Believe it or not, that's one district, they're connected by paths that look to be about a block wide. Take a closer look. That's Florida's 22nd District (better map here). If you ever wondered how a Republican gets elected in rabidly liberal South Florida, that's how. That particular gem is Clay Shaw's district.

Now that we've seen Republicans do it, here's how we liberals draw things up:



Now both Florida and California have redistricting movements going on right now. The main difference is that Jeb Bush supports it as some sort of moral imperative in California (where it will benefit Republicans), but it would just cost too much for his home state (where it would benefit Democrats). So much for moral imperatives. Don't believe me? Read it for yourself.

Ultimately, however, redistricting almost always benefits the incumbents (unless its a swing district and the incumbant is the opposite party of the state legislature). Its a real good 'ole boy system.

Enter the NYTimes editorial board:
Gerrymandering has always been part of American politics, but it has reached disturbing new lows. Party operatives now use powerful computers to draw lines that guarantee their party as many seats as possible. The longstanding tradition that Congressional districts are redrawn only once every 10 years was obliterated in Texas in 2003, when Tom DeLay pushed through a partisan "re-redistricting." Democrats are now talking about doing the same thing in states they control, such as Illinois, New Mexico and Louisiana.
Last I heard Republicans were trying it in Georgia and, obviously, Arnold's trying to do it in California. It is, quite frankly, uncalled for.
Partisan redistricting puts the interests of political parties ahead of the voters. The parties want districts they know they can win, and they have done a good job of creating them. In the last election, there were only a handful of competitive Congressional races; most races were decided by landslides.

The voters, however, are best served by competitive districts in which candidates need to work to win their votes. The decline of swing districts is having a corrosive effect on Congress, which is more than ever made up of members from the extremes of both parties, who do not need to appeal to voters in the middle for re-election.

You'd think that guaranteed wins would make Congress stray further away from election cash. Ha! Apparently Tom DeLay didn't get that memo.
Redistricting reform is difficult to achieve at the state level. Most state legislatures have a vested interest in the status quo. And in these partisan times, a party that controls a state government is likely to oppose any redistricting that gives Congressional seats to the other side. National standards are needed that would require every state to draw Congressional districts in a way that put the voters' interests first.

Representative John Tanner, a Tennessee Democrat, introduced a bill last week that would do just that. His bill would create nonpartisan redistricting commissions in every state. The commissions would be prohibited from taking the voters' party affiliations or voting history into account when drawing lines. Instead, the bill would emphasize continuity of counties, municipalities and neighborhoods. The bill would also limit Congressional redistricting to once every 10 years.

It is no surprise that the bill's sponsor, Mr. Tanner, is a moderate Democrat from Tennessee. Southern Democrats, Northern Republicans and moderates from both parties and all regions are the ones being pushed out of Congress by partisan redistricting, and re-redistricting.

Drawing less partisan lines would reinvigorate the center in American politics, and make House members pay more attention to their constituents and less to their party leaders. That is why Mr. Tanner's bill is likely to have a hard time in today's Congress. It is also why it is important for everyone who wants to improve American politics to support it.

Now that Mr Tanner is a pragmatic liberal, indeed.
Thursday, June 02, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: CAFTA
The last time I discussed CAFTA (link below), it was a Friday and I was tired so it was a short post. Well now its a Thursday of a short week and I'm still tired. At least I've got a better article to discuss this time.
May 27, 2005

CAFTA

The NYTimes isn't exactly the newspaper Bill O'Reilly describes it as. On Tuesday, the Times had an editorial encouraging a vote for CAFTA despite its troubles. While the NYTimes is a little bit to the right of me on this issue, it is likely because they have more experience, and perhaps I should trust their better judgement. I'm going to skip around their editorial and mix my previous post in a little bit, hopefully you'll be able to follow along.

They admit the flaws of CAFTA just as I stated in my previous post. Here's how the Times put it:
A complaint that is far more worrisome is that the Bush administration didn't push the Central American countries to link labor rights more forcibly to the trade agreement. The pact does include a provision for fining countries that are not enforcing labor laws, but the administration could have done better. Nevertheless, Cafta would still be a win for Central American workers. More factory jobs in these poor countries would do wonders to provide low- or no-income people with options. Denying poor people in Central America the benefits of better access to the American market is certainly not the way to lift them out of poverty.
Here's how I put it, with a slightly different angle:
But what is wrong with CAFTA as it stands? As I said, its a sell-out to the business lobby. If free trade is introduced too quickly, you get a two-class system like what exists now in China. I haven't seen any, but I'd love to see charts of the income distribution in China compared with the US and Europe. I believe they would be greatly distorted. Only now are Chinese citizens, normal citizens, building up the political power to perhaps one day change things.
Since I was too tired in my original post to go into details (shame, shame on me), I wasn't able to discuss why immediate free trade doesn't immediately benefit the poor in these countries. The NYTimes hits most of it by describing CAFTA's failure as a labor issue. Specifically, these countries have no provisions to protect labor, so it could take years or longer in order for the necessary basic labor protections (safety, wages, unions, etc) to fall into place. It is furthermore likely that the people initially benefited by CAFTA (your stereotypical "factory owner") will push the government to stay out. My point was that if you ease CAFTA in slowly, the problems that occur without the necessary labor protections will still arise but the employers won't be able to have as much influence over these countries.

The Times lists the other major reason:
The most compelling argument against Cafta, however, is that it would siphon away American manufacturing jobs to Central America. That is happening anyway - industries like textile manufacturing will continue to migrate to lower-wage nations. The economic reality of our increasingly interconnected world is that countries are best off if they lower trade barriers and try to specialize in producing the goods in which they have a comparative advantage. Places like the United States and Europe have no business trying to compete with El Salvador over who can make the cheapest T-shirts.
Now I really didn't go into this very much because that was all fairly obvious to me: "Free trade is a hallmark of the American Way, without it our quality of life would pale in comparison to how we live today." Opponents of free trade (my father thinks it to be absolutely vile), in my opinion, trade in the long term benefits based on the short term risks.

Perhaps this isn't the country's #1 Liberal paper:
Opponents include many Democrats, labor unions and America's sugar industry, and some of their arguments are much better than others. One of the most powerful lobbying groups, the sugar industry, complains that Cafta would bring 109,000 tons of sugar imports into the country every year to compete with the local product. This is true, and to that we say, "Bring it on." The American sugar beet industry is one of the most coddled farm sectors in the world, and that's saying something. American consumers are paying inflated prices for sugar, and it is unfortunate that Cafta won't do more to redress that situation. As it is, the new Central American sugar would account for only 1 percent of consumption here.
Whoops. Seeing as how I hate the sugar industry AND when Democrats whine about free trade, I certainly like the "Bring it on" attitude. The fact that the sugar industry really didn't get that bad of a deal does, however, tell you how deep the Republican Party is in their pockets.

But have no fear, there's a zinger there for Bush:
None of that is an excuse for ignoring American workers who are hurt in the process. President Bush should, for example, couple his push for Cafta with a promise to put more money, and teeth, into America's underfinanced, lackluster Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which is supposed to help workers whose jobs shift overseas because of trade....We must also decide to help the American workers whose jobs are heading south, so that they, too, might benefit from the new world of global free trade.
I did a little bit of research between when I originally wrote the article and now. It seems that if a trade agreement like CAFTA were to fail, it might not make it back on the books for decades. Simply, the business lobby thinks CAFTA is watered down enough already, and the protectionist lobby thinks CAFTA is horrendous already, so there's no room for compromise.

I guess one of the benefits of blogging is that you can watch someone's thought process evolve, and the Times has some good points. Not quite sure if my original position was wrong or not. Perhaps I'll go the way of Bill Clinton and put the decision off for a little while.
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: Congressional Reform
Today's Topic of the Day was inspired by Bruce Reed's article ("There's something rotten in Tom DeLay's Washington. Here's how to clean the place up.") in the Blueprint (the primary publication of the center-left Democratic Leadership Council). I was just going to put it in the Daily Aside at first, but I chose not to.

CONGRESSIONAL REFORM

When the GOP came to power in 1994 under Newt's leadership, they used a populist message to overturn a corrupt liberal Congress. People realized there was a problem with Congress, the Republican's solution sounded good, so they went for it. That doesn't mean the Contract with America actually was a good idea.

Things like Congressional term limits (termed "The Citizen Legislator Act") sound nice because we tend to think of the longest standing incumbents--who tend to also be the leaders--as the most corrupted by the influence of Washington and the least likely to be responsible to the American people. We also seem to trust bills that hurt those who vote for them. That might be true, but if you think term limits solve the problem, I invite you to watch the Florida Legislature.

The members of the Florida House and Senate have proven they can be just as un-responsive to the people of Florida despite the 8-year term limits. It seems that it isn't time that corrupts, but indeed it is power that corrupts. Furthermore, the faster you push people through the Legislature, the more veteran good-ole-boy lobbyists there will be waiting to show the rookies the ropes of how to get re-elected and rise to power.

The signature Bill of this year's legislative session was termed the "Wild West Bill" by Democrats because it could allow people in Florida to return so much as a threat of violence with actual violence. The Bill was the first of its kind among the 50 states that I'm aware of, and the NRA has plans to establish it in more and more states soon. The NRA writes fat checks and brings in crucial rural voters for the Republican Party, so the legislature treaded dangerous ground for them. Now I'm all for the "your home is your castle" philosophy, but I also realize in a public place it often takes two to fight. Imagine how many bar fights will occur when drunk men don't have to worry about getting arrested.

Bill Frist was elected to the US Senate in 1994, pledging to impose term limits on himself if a law wasn't passed to force him. He's found himself so deep in the Religious Right's pocket (the people who claim all social conservatives are as nuts against Spongebob Squarepants and fighting AIDS in Africa as they are) that Pat Robertson barely acknowledges his existence (to paraphrase: "Oh, I don't think he's running for President").

There were other parts of the Contract with America that were similar to term limits, if anyone shows interest I'll make a "Contract with America, Revisited" Topic of the Day, perhaps.

My point is that Reed's "10 Reforms" are eerily similar to the Might-Get-Us-Elected-But-Won't-Solve-The-Problems Contract with America. Some are even extremely similar to the individual planks of that contract. For example:

"4. Take the quid out of quid pro quo." Basically he's saying that using political threats or campaign funding bribes should be illegal. Well I remind my readers of a time where meetings of elected officials could be secret. To reveal to people how decisions are made we got the Sunshine Laws, and guess what? Since decisions couldn't be made secretly in meetings, decisions stopped getting made in meetings (ha!) and we've evolved to Joe Biden whining about John Bolton on C-SPAN. Now I'm not against the Sunshine Laws, but quite frankly they didn't generate nearly the amount of transparency we were hoping to receive. Similarly, I don't think this will change much. There will just be more winking and nodding and less actual discussion.

"5. Break the fund-raising circuit." I go back and forth on this, ultimately giving money is considered free speech, so the only reason to talk about it is to get votes...Ultimately I'd like to see it happen, but I'm sure we'll have some sort of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth backlash.

"6. Create a real Ethics Committee." Basically, former members, retired federal judges, and citizens become the new Ethics Committee. Anyone else think that somehow it'll be populated by Jesse Helms, Robert Bork, and James Dobson clones (pun, as always, intended) on the Right and not any less partisan on the Left? It probably wouldn't solve anything. It also looks awfully familiar to the Contract with America's 2nd Plank: "SECOND, select a major, independent auditing firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Congress for waste, fraud or abuse;" Ultimately, who watches the watchers? Why, the people they're supposed to oversee do!

"7. Make Congress put responsibility before personal gain." Limiting Congressional salaries merely reduces the pool of citizens from which to draw. We don't need Congress being any more of a millionaire's club than it already is.

Now there are certainly reform ideas by Reed that I do like (#9, ending corporate welfare, and #10, redistricting reform), and some just make plain sense (#3, real-time disclosure of lobbying status). There are certainly plenty of meaningful reforms that Congress can enact to make it more responsive to the American people.

The reason I wrote out this whole long post is not to dissuade people from Congressional Reform. The point is that just because an idea sounds good doesn't mean it will work out well. Talking about forcing Congress to clean up its act is good for votes, but the best thing that can happen to Congress is for some cocky legislators to come around who think there's no way they can lose an election so long as they avoid some big campaign fund-raising scandal (because, in reality, that's pretty much the current state of affairs). These legislators won't say things like "well Nancy Pelosi does it to!". Rather they'll understand that in the Information Age consistency is integrity and inconsistency gets leaked quite quickly. And after years of being scandal free people will be more likely to elect them to higher office. Self-serving? Absolutely, but last time I checked that's how our Founders designed it. If Americans pay closer attention, checks and balances will work in our favor as opposed merely hoping politicians will be more humble and altruistic.
 
Daily Aside: 6/1/2005
NYTimes (Editorial): "Repairing the Alternative Tax"

Human Events Online: "Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries"(at first I thought the books on the right-hand side were honorable mentions, aparently its an ad, quite unfortunate)

NYTimes (Editorial): "Class and the American Dream"

Glenn Reynolds (WSJ): "We the (Media) People"

Powered by Blogger