Friday, February 27, 2004

Re: Oh, the outrage

The Post has a great editorial on the issue. They disagree with Greenspan's assertion that the tax cuts should be made permanent, but commend his efforts to bring the issue of social security's long-term solvency into the national discussion. They also scold the President and his opponents for blowing off Greenspan's concerns. The Post concludes: "But at least Mr. Greenspan -- unlike the president and his allies -- acknowledges the need for trade-offs. Mr. Bush won't admit that something's got to give; his Democratic rivals seem determined to compete in fiscal dishonesty. And they all pretend to offer leadership."

As to the prospects of Kerry and his Clintonistas fixing the deficit, I'm considerably less than optimistic. There were three basic reasons why Clinton was able to balance the budget. 1) A substantial tax hike (which Kerry won't do), 2) a substantial reduction in military spending (which Kerry won't do), 3) the dot-com boom (which won't happen again). I fail to see any way that Kerry can either cut spending or increase revenue enough to even dent the deficit.

Oh, the outrage...

Alan Greenspan testified on Wednesday before the Committee on the Budget of the House. He addressed the fiscal health of the nation, pointing out what seems to be obvious, but what most of our politicians do not want to address. Greenspan expressed concern over the rising budget deficits, particularly in the face of the looming crises in social security (SS) and medicare when the baby boomers begin to retire (only 4 years away, incidentally). As possible solutions, he proposed extending the current tax cuts to continue economic growth, also noting that it is easy to start government programs and nearly impossible to shrink or end them. He then goes on to say that corrective measures will be needed in social programs. Whereas much of the press seemed to immediately quote Greenspan as advocating a reduction in SS benefits, they might have done a better read of the transcript. Greenspan is actually proposing to stabilize the ratio of retirement-to-working. Because people continue to live (but not work) longer, the expenses of SS continually rise relative to revenue of working years. This is in addition to the problem of a rather large generation coming through the ranks.

Unless we are going to restructure the SS system (for instance creating personal accounts), this seems like a reasonable idea. Yet Greenspan was immediately rebuked across the board, most notably by Bush, Kerry, and Edwards (it reminds me of when Dean mentioned raising the retirement age - a similar result). Edwards stated that "it is an outrage for him to suggest that we should extend George Bush's tax cuts on unearned wealth while cutting Social Security benefits that working people earn." I would counter that it is an outrage that none of our representatives seems to have the will or the foresight to begin addressing problems that may devastate this country economically. They all rebuke Greenspan's ideas, and yet none of them has offered a plan to fix the budget deficit and these looming fiscal disasters.

The only disappointment I had in Greenspan's testimony was the scant mention of defense spending. This is an enormous chunk of our GDP. The fact that it is so much greater than any other nation suggests to me that our priorities are not well placed. Instead of talking about limiting retirement benefits or other social programs, why is there rarely mention of limiting the bloated Pentagon budget?

Clearly, difficult choices need to be made. Is anybody out there willing to make them?

This just in: journalist with backbone spotted on CNN

Transcript from opening of last night's "Newsnight with Aaron Brown."

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again.
We have lots of politics on the program tonight. The debate just completed tops the news. But this is about politics of another sort, to start with.

We admit we don't do causes very well on the program. And I don't do outrage well at all, yet, tonight, a cause and an outrage. The decision by the speaker of the House to deny the independent commission investigating the 9/11 attack on America a 60-day extension -- that's all, 60 days -- to complete its work is unconscionable and indefensible, which, no doubt, explains why neither the speaker, nor any member of the House leadership, nor none of their press secretaries would come on the program to talk about it, despite repeated requests.

The commission itself has gone about its work quietly. It's had to fight tooth and nail to get necessary information. And now this, an arbitrary decision to deny not just the commission -- that's the least of it -- but the country the chance to know all of what happened, how it happened, and how best to prevent it from happening again.

Perhaps, the speaker and his team assume you do not care. I hope they're wrong. I hope you care enough to write them and e-mail them and call them until they relent. Do that. Do it for the victims and their families. Do it for the country that was attacked and for history.

A Public Service Announcement

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Joke of the day

"I'm the best surgeon in Texas. A concert pianist lost 7 fingers in an accident; I reattached them, and 8 months later he performed a private concert for the Queen of England."

One of the others said. "That's nothing. A young man lost both arms and legs in an accident; I reattached them, and 2 years later he won a gold medal in field events in the Olympics."

The third surgeon said, "You guys are amateurs. Several years ago a cowboy who was high on cocaine and alcohol rode a horse head-on into a train traveling 80 miles an hour. All I had left to work with was the horse's a-- and a cowboy hat. Now he's president of the United States."

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Re: Deceit on the Campaign Trail

Given that the chances of any given campaign promise becoming law is about the same as my White Sox winning the World Series this year, I wouldn't be too concerned. The most convincing thing that has come out of Kerry's mouth thus far is that he has retained the services of Clinton's economic team. He says this fairly regularly. If that is true and not just another empty campaign promise, I'm not too concerned about the rest; these are people that fixed one seemingly insurmountable deficit already. Once in power, (I'm hoping) Kerry will be smart enough to listen to these grownups unlike the perennial frat boy we currently have running things.

I also wish that we would have a substantive discussion of the sacrifices that will need to be made to right the ship, but I understand that the public lacks the necessary foresight, responsibility, and attention span to hear this stuff--much less make an informed choice among candidates based on it. Therefore, given that these guys don't get to do anything other than give lectures at the college of their choice unless they convince people to vote for them, I don't mind that this is what these guys are saying in public. I wish that we could get them to make an appearance here to let us know what their real plans are, but short of that we will continue to have to read between the lines.

Deceit On the Campaign Trail

Two recent Washington Post columns Robert J. Samuelson addressed points I raised in my presidential candidates tirade regarding the complete lack of honesty in campaign discussions of budget policy and the economy.

Neither Bush nor Kerry intend to balance the budget by 2009, and both of their plans for not balancing the budget lack any grounding in reality. Take Kerry's plan as an example. He plans to undo the part of Bush's tax cut that applies to the highest tax bracket. As Samuelson points out, the CBO believes the tax cutting only accounts for about 30% of our current deficit. Ok, so let's say he's fixed 20% of the deficit, how about the other 80%? Kerry proposes massive increases in spending for college education, homeland security, $50b to provide economic assistance to states, a bank-breaking health care policy, all topped off by additional middle class tax cuts. This is supposed to reduce the deficit by 50%? Bullshit. Not a snowball's chance in hell. Bush's plan is no better. I believe this is one of the most critical issues in the election, and not only does neither candidate plan to fix it, neither of them can even be bothered to tell the truth about it.

Meanwhile I continue to believe that the state of the economy will be one of the most critical deciding factors in the November election, despite the fact that, as Samuelson rightly notes, there's really not much connection between the president and the economy. So here is a non-issue that due to the amount of bogus posturing and proclaiming coming from each camp (and the press) becomes a critical deciding issue.

I commend Samuelson for at least attempting to hold these guys to account. Too bad the rest of his colleagues are too busy worrying about the horse-race to bother worrying about the issues. If they did, who knows, we might even have a serious discussion of substantive issues during a presidential election. Imagine that..

Earning His "Vile Henchman" Boy Scout Badge

Wired News interviewed Georgetown law professor, assistant US attorney general, and co-author of the USA Patriot Act, Viet Dinh. The interview is a disappointingly softball affair. The questions consist of "some people think maybe this isn't the best" type critiques which Dinh happily glosses over. Maybe the author should have spent a few minutes at the ACLU's Patriot Act page to learn the relevant issues. Fortunately there is a slashdot discussion of the interview that provides some balance (in the form of about 600 posts ruthlessly bashing Dinh and his law).

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

One way to look at things...

Reacting to Republican charges that Kerry is a waffler, Josh Marshall responded that:
"For this administration, all facts are fungible or perhaps infinitely malleable.

"Indeed, I'm really not sure you can say the president is a waffler at all. His policy positions remain fairly consistent over time. It's not his positions that change, but his facts.

"I'd almost say that the president -- or the White House, more broadly -- is something like the inverse of a waffler. He continues with policies even after the factual arguments upon which he initially justified them collapse entirely."

I think this is a good way to frame a potential choice between Kerry and Bush: Which is worse, changing your positions in deference to the facts or changing the facts in deference to your positions?

Monday, February 23, 2004

Pork news

Here's something that might interest some of you. I say we call and see if it's available for this weekend.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Re: Here Comes Nader

Ryan is correct--I misread the Reuters article (maybe I was influenced in part by this Fox News story). The New York Times today in this article quoted a spokesperson for Nader as saying that "this is pure speculation." I guess we all must and see.

As for Ryan's means-ends argument, I agree that it is far better for deliberative democracy to have more issues on the table and that is the reason I would encourage Nader to jump in. When it comes to voting time, where there are more than two choices the decision comes down to whether you want to vote for the best candidate or ensure that the worst candidate doesn't win. We should never have to make that choice, and so long as voters make the latter choice things will never change. But this time around I care more about getting President Bush out than promoting institutional change. In my humble opinion, another Bush term would do more long-term damage than would propping up the horribly botched electoral system for another four years. But all the same I believe Nader's presence in the next several months will be for the good. Someone must push the debate forward or Edwards and Kerry will drift more and more toward the middle. And while that may make good strategic sense, it does not bode well for progress.

Re: Here Comes Nader

First, a brief correction on a statement by Veritas. According to the Reuters article, Nader plans to announce his decision tomorrow on whether or not to run as opposed to announcing his candidacy. Our discussion will be a moot point if he chooses not to run.

Second, I believe that, in general, a greater selection of candidates will promote deliberative democracy in our election and perhaps even generate increased voter interest. Although most of us would not prefer the Bush administration for another 4 years, the enhancement of democracy should not be so quickly discounted. Dave would quickly counter here that 4 more years of Bush would destroy any gains in deliberative democracy generated by the election process, and he might have a point. This essentially comes down to an argument of whether the end justifies the means. Do we promote the restriction of candidates running for office in the hopes of getting the exact outcome we want? This is questionable in my mind. I would far prefer a process with greater options and deliberation that might enhance our democracy as a whole. A third candidate is likely to force issues the other two might otherwise neglect. If the two "major" candidates fail to address these issues and lose votes, so be it. That is how democracy should work.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Re: Here Comes Nader

I won't belabor this point, but the Nader thing has always been on the table. It was discussed as far back as last fall that Dean was keeping Nader out of the race and his supporters in the Democratic party. And he did it without having any ruinously radical policy positions. As Andrew Sullivan wrote a few weeks back: "In 2000 Al Gore lost in part because of the far-left Ralph Nader challenge. Dean has managed to bring these voters back into the fold — without making any drastic policy commitments that could come back to haunt him. Kerry in comparison? Gore redux." This was always on the table and was part of the choice voters made when they picked Kerry. Dean represented a compromise: the moderate, centrist policies of a mainline Dem, with the character and grassroots populist credentials to satisfy the Naderites. The mainline Dems rejected the compromise, and now lay in the bed they made themselves.

In any case I still have the feeling that current events regarding Iraq and the economy over the course of the summer and fall will likely trump all of this maneuvering, the results of the primary and Nader's presence. If things are rosy, Bush wins, if they're ugly he loses. Oh, and of course there is always the Osama trump card..

Re: Here Comes Nader (a force five rant, I apologize)

Nader put Bush into power in 2000. He may just get him reelected. It's all well and good to critique the reactions of the opposition party to the various actions of the in-power party, but without Nader they wouldn't have needed to react at all. Frankly, it doesn't make one damn bit of difference what issues Ralph chooses to discuss during the campaign if the end result is four more years of Bush because Bush and the Congressional Republicans have demonstrated conclusively how little they care for anything or anyone other than their ideological agenda. If the denunciation by the council of scientists wasn't a wake-up call, I don't know what is. This "both parties are equally corrupt" horseshit allows Bush, Rove, Perle, & Co. to laugh their asses off all the way to the bank. While the Democratic Party isn't perfect, they at least have some willingness to deliberate beneficial policy. Now, when the need for a united opposition is at its greatest certainly in our lifetimes--if not ever--Ralph shows up. The Democrats really don't need that right now. The country really doesn't need that right now.

And no, there is a world of difference between Dean and Nader. The former put his ideas out there in the appropriate forum while at the same time unwaveringly vowing to support the nominee. That is the way to make a difference. Nader to me (and I suspect I'm not alone) has far more blood on his hands than anyone in the Congress. I hate the man so much that anything he advocates, I'm tempted to oppose on general principles. At least Bush and cronies are savvily manipulating the nation in their evil pursuit of power. Nader either is an idiot about what his effect on the system is--or he's a secret Bush agent saboteur. Either way, I have absolutely no use for the guy.

DNC Resorts to WTO-style Crowd Control

Well it seems the concept of "free speech zones" has crossed the aisle to the Democratic party. They plan to keep protestors out of sight and out of mind during the party convention. More fuel for Nader's fire?

Re: Here Comes Nader

Reuters claims here that Nader will announce his candidacy on Sunday's Meet the Press--so be sure to tune in.

I for one am glad he's running. The two viable Democrats (the media seems to have "misplaced" Kucinich and Sharpton, although it's hard to blame them as neither has accumulated a single delegate so far) are desparately looking for any disparity they can claim. For example, Edwards is making a big hub-bub over his opposition to free trade agreements with sub-Saharan Africa and the Carribbean (while at the same time hoping people will ignore his votes on China and South America). At least from the policies that each candidate is promoting from the pulpit, there is no meaningful difference. Except that each one boasts HE is the electable one and not the other.

Nader, on the other hand, promises to bring a host of issues into the fray that neither candidate is talking about. Rather than hoping that Nader sit this one out, I hope that Nader continues the push Dean started toward the issues that really matter. If the candidates incorporate some real issues in amongst the fluff, then maybe Nader won't pose a real threat. If they don't, well they deserve to reap whatever the result. But don't blame Nader for the Democratic Party losing its spine.

Re: Here comes Nader

Would someone drive a stake through his heart? Please. For me.
On the plus side, right-wing whack job former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (the Ten Commandments guy) is also mulling a third-party run. Maybe they'll cancel each other out (although Pat Buchanan didn't in 2000--even with all those West Palm Beach votes).

Here Comes Nader

Fox News says that Nader's advisors are hinting that at his scheduled sunday press conference Ralph Nader will join the race for president as an independent. Coincidence that this comes the same week that Dean drops out?

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Thanking OPEC

This is a pretty random topic, but I was browsing through a Newsweek and thought this was an interesting take on a global trade topic rarely dealt with. Washington Post regular, RJ Samuelson (who I've been coming to like more and more) wrote a short piece on the stabilizing influence of OPEC on the oil trade.

Keeping Our Economy Strong

The Onion brings us this stunning report from the razor blade industry.

Re: And Then There Were Two..

I rarely see NewsHour these days, but somebody at Dean For America pointed out these online segments about Wisconsin and Dean's concession. The last two in particular were pretty good, and, I think, offered some of the more cogent analysis of the whole situation that I've seen.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

And Then There Were Two..

Howard Dean announces through his blog (of course) that he is ending his candidacy today. Based on his comments I suspect he doesn't intend to drop out of the political scene..

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

10th Circuit Holds that Do-Not-Call Registry is Constitutional

A while back, Joe and I discussed a ruling from the District Court of Colorado that found the National Do-Not-Call Registry unconstitutional. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the registry to go forward, and has now issued its full opinion.

In brief, the 10th Circuit found that the regulation survives First Amendment scrutiny because it promotes a substantial interest (privacy and preventing fraud) in a way that is reasonably tailored to the goal. The court found that there was a legitimate basis in distinguishing commercial and noncommercial speech because commercial speech presents a bigger nuisance than non-commercial calls. And while the court recognized that non-commercial calls may also be a nuisance, "the First Amendment does not require that the government regulate all aspects of a problem before it can make progress on any front." (P. 22).

The 10th Circuit seemed motivated in part by the fact that the registry restricts "only calls that are targeted at unwilling recipients," and "speech restrictions based on private choice (i.e., an opt-in feature) are less restrictive than laws that prohibit speech directly." (P. 30). The court cited Rowan favorably, a case that Joe relied on in his arguments, and noted that "Congress has erected a well (or more accurately permits a citizen to erect a wall) that no advertiser may penetrate without his acquiescence. ... The asserted right of a mailer, we repeat, stops at the outer boundary of every person's domain." (P. 31). The court observed that "like the do-not-mail regulation approved in Rowan, the national do-not-call registry does not itself prohibit any speech. Instead, it merely permits a citizen to erect a wall ... that no advertiser may penetrate without his acquiescence." (P. 33).

While I entirely agree with the result, I think that by bringing in Rowan the 10th Circuit's holding obscures the point I was trying to make earlier (although the Court did not rely on Rowan to reach its result). While a citizen has a right to determine whose messages it allows into his or her domain, if the government provides selective restrictions it must explain why it chose to select some speech for restriction but not others. In this case, the registry does not simply empower citizens to erect a wall to prevent all calls from coming into his or her home as the opinion suggests. Rather, Congress permitted citizens to erect a wall that is impenetrable only to some (commercial speakers) but does not prevent others (non-commercial speakers) from breaching the wall--and that feature is what raises First Amendment concerns. That is content restriction, plain and simple.

I certainly agree with the 10th Circuit that people are kings of their own domain, but when government decides to empower citizens to be left alone in some ways but not others, there must be a strong reason for the distinction. In this case, the court found that the FTC and FCC amply explained how commercial speech is more harmful than non-commercial speech in this context, and recognized that a 40-60% reduction in overall unwanted calls demonstrates a substantial relationship between the stated goals and the government action. That's all that is necessary to survive First Amendment review under these circumstances.

Trippi Moves On

I just noticed that Joe Trippi has started a blog. So far he has, not surprisingly, mostly written about the campaign and the things he tried to accomplish and lessons learned and such. It's interesting reading. It will be interesting to see where he goes from here..

Outsourcing Surgeons

Even some of the supposedly secure industries may not be as secure as we thought they were. Slashdot has a discussion of this topic. As for anecdotal evidence, Ceci has been relying on our trips to China to have her dental work done due to the cost savings (our insurance claims they are pre-existing conditions and won't pay for it)...

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Re: Comparative Advantage

Barry, I agree with you assessments. Using the proper definition of comparative advantage does rather shoot down Roberts's particular contentions. However, I think there is still some hay to be made here. First off, as Barry noted, excess labor supply is not well handled in Ricardo's model. And there are a number of additional factors that exacerbate this problem.

Ricardo's theory seems to me to be simply a matter of showing that a country has differing degrees of efficiency in production, and will naturally focus on those industries where their efficiencies are highest, which means that in the areas where they are not specializing they may rely on trade with other countries to fill their needs even though those other countries may not be as efficient. The labor problem is obvious and serious. Looking at the classic (wine and wheat) example, if Portugal was able to produce enough wine to satisfy the demands of all both England and the domestic market and still had labor capacity left over, Portugal would then also produce its own wheat as well. England would be frozen out of the market and would simply bleed money and jobs. So, for one, labor surpluses break the model.

An amplifying effect is lent to this problem by the developing nature of the market. In Ricardo's day, while the factors of production may have been mobile, I don't believe that the factors of efficiency (if there is a such thing) were terribly mobile. This is sort of what Roberts is getting at, I think. In the classic example, the efficiency of Portugal is probably, at least in part, determined by climate and soil type and other agricultural factors. These could not pick up stakes and move. Historically, much of the value in goods was strongly related to natural resources that were either used to produce the goods, or were refined into the goods themselves. This has changed. Natural resources have largely been commoditized and are traded on very low margins. Profit margin is generated in the processing of the resources. Increasingly, with services and intellectual property there are no natural resources involved to speak of. This eliminates one of the major factors of efficiency. Education and skill levels of the labor pool have also traditionally been a factor of efficiency. This, as Barry mentioned, is also becoming increasingly commoditized. Essentially the market is progressively eliminating all factors of efficiency but one: the cost of labor.

What follows from that is that if a) you have excess labor supply and b) a market where the factors of production can flow quickly and easily, and c) the sole factor of efficiency is labor cost, the result is going to be a rapid flow of work from the locations with the highest labor costs to those with the lowest. Which is exactly what we're seeing.

Furthermore, if we assume that labor costs are relative to a general labor cost index (ie if a doctor in the US makes 5x the US mean income, then a doctor in China probably makes 5x the Chinese mean income), it would be the case that the higher the income level of a job, the greater the savings of moving it to a country with a lower cost index. That would imply that the greatest efficiency advantages for countries with a low cost index would be those industries with the highest wages. So even if we eliminated the labor surplus and had an exact balance of labor supply to labor demand, it would be the case that all of the highest paying jobs would move from wealthy countries to poor ones, leaving menial jobs for the wealthy countries. I would assume that the existence of a labor surplus only serves to accelerate this process.

Let me add one more aggravating factor to the mix. One cap on the impact of trade is that (obviously) it only affects those industries whose products can be traded. This set of industries, however, is also rapidly expanding due to ubiquitous high speed data networks, and an ever greater portion of the economy is becoming subject to these pressures. This particularly impacts service industries, on which our economy has become increasingly dependent.

In the end, I guess I don't have any great insightful revelation here. But I feel like we're further refining our discussion and our understanding of the relevant terms and theories. It again comes back to deep structural problems that will confound any of the efforts I have thus far heard proposed to stop the bleeding of jobs out of the US.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Another One Bites the Dust

Wes Clark is out of the race. I'm sad to see him go, although it does enhance the chances of somebody beating Kerry. Clark is a hella smart guy, and I hope that if the Dems win the presidency they can put him to work.

Re: Comparative Advantage

As an illustration to my previous post, the Christian Science Monitor has this story on the falling wages of the middle class, and the widening gap of wealth.

What's more, Slashdot has this provocative discussion about many of the same issues raised in our posts--and a whole lot more. I have not had time to wade through it all, but from what I've seen excellent points are made.

Update: As it turns out, that Slashdot discussion is the one Joe cites from that prompted this recent discussion. The big circle of life, I guess.

Re: Comparative Advantage

Here is a traditional example to Ricardo's comparative advantage theory, although I think the example Joe offers gets the gist of it.

The Roberts-Schumer discussion focused on mobility of factors of production as the changed circumstance in today's economy. I don't think that accurately describes the problem. Rather, it is that there is a seemingly endless labor pool available in the global market. Larger countries can create armies of engineers and lab technicians and more quickly adapt to any developments in the market, making our labor pool way over-priced. The problem is not permanent--eventually our labor pool will be equally priced with everyone else, although it may take many decades to achieve an equilibrium between our labor market and developing nations. But I don't think that's a comforting prediction for most Americans.

Undoubtedly the job drain will not happen overnight, as it will take time for developing nations to accumulate the skills necessary to provide sufficient labor forces in highly specialized fields. And of course because a lot of the investment capital originates in the US that investment capital will reap huge gains. The problem as I see it is that the investment gains comes at the expense of the middle class. Unless the investment class is willing to share some of their profits with the rest of Americans, the disparity of wealth will only continue to advance--and I predict at an accelerating rate.

Using Joe's example is a little tough because surgeons will probably not lose their jobs to overseas workers--but typists are already feeling the pinch. A quick Google search on "outsource + india + typists" comes up with this link, one of many that advertise such services. If "lab technician" were substituted for surgeon, then what you might expect to see in the coming years is that both lab technicians and typists in America having to take jobs at Walmart or Best Buy as customer service representatives at far less pay than they could have made in their native professions because there are more typists and lab techs in India than there are jobs to fill worldwide.

Comparative Advantage

I just wanted to paste a little blip in here from a slashdot discussion. Barry and I had struggled a little with exactly what (definitionally) constitutes comparative advantage with regards to the Roberts - Schumer discussion. This snippet is a very concise and meaningful way to put it (well, it helped me a lot anyhow):

it's basically just a rehash of david ricardo's "comparative advantage" argument. it goes like this: there is a surgeon and a typist. the surgeon types 60 wpm, the typist only 40. however, despite the fact that the surgeon is faster on the keyboard, it is better overall for the typist to do the typing and leave the surgeon to surgery. Posted by Frymaster.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Re: Meet the Press

I watched the entire interview and think that President Bush put on a good performance. Not taking substance into account (which is not hard to do, as there wasn't much there to begin with), he appeared confident and comfortable, seeming unsure of himself at only one point--Russert asked whether Iraq was a war of choice or necessity, and Bush froze for a moment or two. Once he figured out what the "right" answer was, however, he was back on solid ground. Apparently Karl didn't prep him for that one. Oops.

I don't think "errs" and "umms" are viewed negatively if said with confidence. I know it sounds silly but the "rough" speaking style in my opinion adds to his "populist" image. Besides, the way he plays it any "gaffs" are the fault of tough and unfair questions by the media and not his fault. I offer the following exchange as an example:

Russert: You do seem to have changed your mind from the 2000 campaign. In a debate, you said, "I don't think our troops ought to be used for what's called 'nation-building.'"

President Bush: Yes.

Russert: We clearly are involved in nation building.

President Bush: Right. And I also said let me put it in context. I'm not suggesting you're pulling one of these Washington tricks where you leave half the equation out.

But I did say also that our troops must be trained and prepared to fight and win war and, therefore, make peace more possible. And our troops were trained to fight and win war, and we did, and a second phase of the war is now going on. The first phase, of course, was the Tommy Franks troop movement.

Russert: But this is nation building.

President Bush: Well, it is. That's right, but we're also fighting a war so that they can build a nation.

Meet the Press

It's interesting, but I think that there is a major divide (based purely on anecdotal evidence) between people who read the transcript of Bush's interview and people who watched it in terms of how he was perceived. His delivery was so bad that I thought the interview was shaky at best. That may explain the press reaction.

Scott Ritter Criticizes Kerry

As a follow-up on Joe's post, "Scott Ritter Having the Last Laugh," Ritter now takes aim at the Democratic frontrunner. In this Newsday opinon, Ritter argues that Kerry's explanation falls short and "if he wants to be the next president of the United States, he must first convince the American people that his actions somehow differ from those of the man he seeks to replace."

Snow Job on the Dollar

Treasury Secretary John Snow continues to insist that American policy favors a strong dollar but the markets just aren't buying it. Forbes reports that the dollar is taking a nosedive after the G-7 meeting this weekend in Boca Raton, where it was decided that no additional protections will be put in place to promote stability of the dollar. The New York Times today reports that America appears to have compromised a little over the weekend, permitting the joint statement by the finance ministers and bankers in attendance to assert: "We reaffirm that exchange rates should reflect economic fundamentals. Excess volatility and disorderly movements in exchange rates are undesirable for economic growth." But nevertheless, according to the NYTimes article, America certainly appears to have stepped aside and is encouraging the dollar's drop in hopes that it will stimulate exports.

This is sloppy and outmoded thinking. I am not aware of any solid evidence that supports the supply-side economic theories that form the basis for the current administration's fiscal policies--indeed, I thought the general consensus among academics was that Reagan's experiments failed. In this instance, what a reduction in the dollar means--in practical terms--is that foreign goods are more expensive for the consumer, while American businesses may be more competitive. The whole problem with focusing solely with productivity and growth of business is that much of the gain does not "trickle down" to the employees. Directors benefit, stock owners benefit, but the employee does not see a bump in salary and the consumer does not see a corresponding drop in price. I recognize that stagnant consumer prices (approaching deflation) are partly due to increases in productivity, but most of the benefit from supply-side stimulation goes to the wealthy--and stays there.

Sure, let's give credit where credit is due--Bush has stimulated the GDP and stocks are stong in part due to Bush's policy. But that does not benefit the middle class as much as it benefits the wealthy. Long-term, America will continue to hemorrhage jobs (despite the reported menial increase last month) and the weak dollar will harm consumers. Both these points provide good opportunities to oust Bush this November, if the people get the message. If the people get the message.

Of course, President Bush will stump on his prediction that 2004 shall see an increase of 2.6 million jobs, from around 130 million non-farm workers to 132.7 million by years-end. But Bush showed how good of a predictor he was in 2003, when he claimed that 1.7 million jobs would be added--in fact the economy lost 56,000 last year (for a total of 2.2 million lost since he took office).

Putin Challenger Goes Missing

CNN reports that Russia's Federal Security Service (the FSB) announced today that it is pulling the plug on the investigation of Ivan Rybkin's disappearance on Thursday. Rybkin is one of six challengers to President Vladimir Putin for elections to be held on March 14. The BBC has this coverage.

Al Qaeda In the Majors Now

The Seattle Times is relaying (via the AP) this story from London-based al-Hayat newspaper that al Qaeda obtained "tactical nuclear weapons" from the Ukraine in 1998. I have been unable to locate the original al-Hayat story, but Reuters is also reporting the story.

This revelation, on top of A.Q. Khan's admission that he was selling nuclear secrets to a number of states throughout the world, spells double-trouble. All nations must now face the strong possibility that non-state actors have nuclear weapons (not just "capacity and intent," as President Bush is recently fond of saying of Saddam). World security strategy must respond by moving from non-proliferation to disarming these terrorist groups--a far more challenging task.

While I cannot claim to know what approach is best under these new circumstances, it is plain to me that the United States cannot act unilaterally to address this threat. Our intelligence community is not up to it, and our diplomatic capital has been drained. Furthermore, capitulation has failed. The former Soviet states, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia must be brought in line with the universally-shared goal of world security. That pressure must come from all nations together, whether under the auspices of the UN or through a summit organized to address world security.

I recognize the sensitive (im)balance of Pakistani governance but that does not argue for capitulation--rather, the fragile nature of Musharraf's regime favors immediate action. If Musharraf is knocked off by his own people it is highly likely the new leadership will be very opposed to the current global power structure. But Musharraf has already displayed how untrustworthy he is--we have lost the strings of our puppet. The longer the world allows the current scenario to continue the greater the threat becomes. That sense of urgency applies equally to Saudi Arabia and the former Soviet states. It should not be left to state sovereigns to patrol threats that permeate well beyond state borders.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

The President Who Sees the World the Way It Is

"I'm a war president. I make decisions here in the Oval Office in foreign policy matters with war on my mind. Again, I wish it wasn't true, but it is true. And the American people need to know they got a president who sees the world the way it is. And I see dangers that exist, and it's important for us to deal with them."

President Bush appeared on Meet the Press today (transcript here). I didn't see the show, but from the transcipt, I think this, moreso than the State of the Union address, was the opening salvo of the reelection campaign. He was obviously very well prepared and had good scripted answers for all of the tough questions. In fact, I would go so far as to say he did a great job. I thought he came off much better than in the Dianne Sawyer interview. He was frequently evasive, but smoothly redirected questions he didn't like. Many of the answers would not hold up to intense scrutiny, but would make great 30 second sound bites (classic Rove style). Any Democrats who think this will be a walk-over election (and there are many if you read the forums of the candidates) are in for a surprise.

Scott Ritter Having the Last Laugh

Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, much ridiculed before the war, has written an article in the International Herald Tribune, entitled Not everyone got it wrong on Iraq's weapons. Ritter challenges David Kay's assertion that "We were all wrong". He argues that his own article, published in June 2000, titled "The Case for Iraq's Qualitative Disarmament", which claimed "Iraq was qualatatively disarmed at the time inspectors were withdrawn" was, in the end, far more accurate than the CIA's 2002 National Intelligence Estimate. He mentions many other knowledgeable folks who shared his opinions at the time. He also makes the same case that our friend Veritas does, that the "decision to limit the scope of any inquiry to intelligence matters, effectively blocking any critique of [Bush's] administration's use - or abuse - of such intelligence, is absurd". He concludes: "We knew the truth about Iraq's WMD. Sadly, no one listened."

Saturday, February 07, 2004

The Democratic Ticket

Here's the way things look right now.

"Independent" Commission on Intelligence

Today President Bush announced the formation of an "independent" commission to investigate certain issues related to intelligence. The Commission has already drawn criticism, including this statement Already there is criticism from some Democrats, including this statement from House Democrat Leader Nancy Pelosi (the AP has this story).

At first, I did not undertand the criticism because the make-up of the panel brings in several very qualified and open-minded individuals, including Senator McCain, former Senator Robb, and Judge Silberman of the D.C. Circuit. But then I read the executive order.

There are two glaring deficiencies. First, the Commission is empowered to assess the capabilities of the current American intelligence community and to evaluate the intelligence concerning the war on Iraq as it compares to the findings of the Iraqi Survey Group and other "relevant agencies or organizations," but it does not compare that intelligence to the administration's claims. Surely it is necessary to understand where the intelligence community may have been (and continues to be) deficient in assessing the credible threats against America and its allies, but that is only half the story.

Second, the Commission is established within the Executive Office of the President; it is "established for the purpose of advising the President;" it is ordered to report to the President; and it "shall solely advise and assist the President." How, then, can anyone reasonably claim that the Commission is "independent" of the President? The Commission does not evaluate the President's call to war and besides, the President has no obligation to share the contents of the report with Congress or the people. I am little relieved to know that the President will learn that the intelligence simply failed to keep pace with his rhetoric--I could tell him that much.

The Commission may serve some useful purpose, but it quite simply fails to meet my needs. I want to know what role the administration played in accumulating the intelligence, and I want to know who was responsible for vetting this information before it was sold to the public as fact. I want to know when President Bush decided it was in the public interest to invade Iraq, and why. I want to know why the entire world was instructed that it could not wait until the United Nations completed its investigation before invading Iraq. And I want to know why the Administration thought that delay could result in a mushroom cloud.

Congress should not allow the President to escape serious scrutiny. The people should not allow it either.

Special Dreams

There are times when I've seen David Brooks on the News Hour when I thought he was being a dope, but he always has a quick wit and a good sense of humor. He followed up his column on electability (which I posted earlier) with this column on John Kerry's special friends. It's not as if there aren't a ton of stories in the press on the same topics, but I found this one rather more entertaining than all the rest.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Re: The Pakistani Patsy

Well, the Washington Post is advocating a harder line with Musharraf. Not mentioned whatsoever in the story was popular resistance to Musharraf's continuing capitulation to the US. I may be wrong on this, there may be more room for pressuring Musharraf than I think there is. However, any serious analysis of how strongly we address this issue, in my opinion, needs to include some risk assessments as to how far we can push before Musharraf's administration is toppled and assessments of what kind of situation would result if that occurs.

Re: The Pakistani Patsy

If ever there were a country with which the US had a messed up relationship, Pakistan is it. It's a militant Islamic country with nukes and a Western-friendly dictator. The State Department has to walk a very fine line with Musharraf. On the one hand they need to pressure him to help them get Osama, to crack down on Taliban and Al Qaeda militants, and to try to control militant activities in Kashmir. On the other hand, the more he cooperates with us, the less popular he gets. There have already been two assassination attempts on him in the last couple months. Musharraf is desperately trying to hang on to control of his country, and the US is desperately trying to hang on to its control of Musharraf. Being as it's a dictatorship, nobody knows who would succeed him if/when Musharraf gets killed. The nightmare scenario for the US is that an anti-Western Islamic faction takes control of the government (think Iran, 1979) and the nuclear arsenal. My interpretation of Boucher's comments is: "We'd like to beat them bloody for this... but we're really not in a position to be aggressive with these guys."

The Pakistani Patsy

This link from Yahoo News shows the heartfelt apology by Abdul Qadeer Khan--father of the "Islamic bomb"--for "the extremely unfortunate events of the last two months." In his statement, which was broadcast on the official Pakistan Television (PTV) Khan insisted that there was never official authorization for his activities. He also appealed to the people of Pakistan "in the supreme national interest to refrain from any further speculations and not to politicize this extremely sensitive issue of national security." (The full text of his statement may be found here.)

I find it curious that the whole speech was broadcast in English--although it might be the most widely understood language there, I do not know. The official language is Urdu, although according to our Department of State's background note on Pakistan, only 8% of the population speak it. Almost half, however, do speak Punjabi.

In any event, the message seems to have gone over well. The Pakistan Cabinet voted today to pardon Mr. Khan for his activities. Here at home
(this Washington Post article reports) State Department Boucher stated: "We think that the process of investigation that's been undertaken by the Pakistani government does indeed seriously demonstrate that President Musharraf and the government of Pakistan take seriously their commitments, their assurances that they were not going to allow their technology to be used to help other nations that might be trying to develop weapons of mass destruction. . . . The way this has been proceeding is evidence that Pakistan, too, is determined to meet those commitments."

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Who Says There's No Quality Programming?

Here's Jon Stewart's take on Tuesday's primaries and Bush's plans to investigate the WMD intel. The Back In Black segment listed there is pretty good too. Makes me wish we hadn't cancelled all our cable channels... Oh, and don't miss this segment on the David Kay statements before the Senate.

Paul Craig Roberts Is Kinda Weird

A while back, Joe posted a very interesting Brookings Institution discussion led by Senator Charles Schumer (D, NY) and columnist Paul Craig Roberts (which I strongly encourage you all to watch--very good). Recently, I stumbled onto some more information about Mr. Roberts. While his bio is pretty impressive, some of the positions he has taken have been--well, extreme. I thought his discussion on globalization was very thought-provoking and in many ways right-on (although I disagree that the mobilization of production capability is inconsistent with Ricardoan economic theory). But I'm not sure I match with him on his many other viewpoints. His archived columns may be accessed here; The Volokh Conspiracy has put together a summary of some his more controversial positions here.

Please understand, this post is not meant to criticize Mr. Roberts for taking wacky positions (as I find myself holding quite a few of those myself at present), but I am just surprised is all. He seemed pretty straight-laced at the discussion.

1,275 Oklahomans CAN be wrong

I just had to use that heading. I'm irritated both by the result and by its coverage and wanted to vent. I also realize that I'm the only non-Dean supporter here and that Dean did worse than my guy last night, so my sour grapes may not be as lip-puckering as some others'. Bear with me. By all rights, I shouldn't complain anyway; Edwards won S.C. big, was a somewhat surprisingly strong second in Missouri, got double digits in 6 of 7 and shot up from a distant 3d to a very close 2d in Oklahoma. On the other hand, yesterday was the second Tuesday in a row I watched Clark edge out Edwards. I'm really hoping there is no third.

Had the 1,275 gone the other way last night, Clark is history. This would have been good news for Edwards and, I think, good for Dean as well. Two salient bits of analysis from the talking heads last night: From (I think) Jeff Greenfield: The three non-Kerry candidates are all fighting for the mantle of outsider to Kerry's insider; and from new analyst Joe Trippi: If this gets down to a two-man race before Super Tuesday, whether it is Kerry-Edwards, Kerry-Clark, or Kerry-Dean, either man has a shot. If there are still three or more left at that point, Kerry waltzes to the nomination barring a major screwup. As a guy whose been in the game for 25 years, the possibility of Kerry screwing up is unlikely. He is comfortable riding the positive feedback loop of winning races because people think he's the most electable and being considered the most electable because he's winning races. He needed only to win Iowa to get himself into the loop (which Dean was in until his screwups). Each day there is a fractured field opposing him is a day he's closer to the nomination.

Rumsfeld: Don't Stop Believin'

Hold on to that feelin', yeah! Donald Rumsfeld is not ready to abandon hope on the WMD search. Rumsfeld claims that the ten months since the invasion have been far too little time to make a determination. This after insisting a year ago that two months for UN inspections was waiting far too long for results.

Smacking the Penguin

Dave I thought you'd be entertained by this picture I happened across:

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Update: Trippi as Color Commentator

Reuters has this report confirming that "Ex-Dean Campaign Manager Lands Job at MSNBC."

Trippi as Color Commentator

The Drudge Report claims that "Former Dean manager Joe Trippi joins MSNBC for election analysis starting tonight ... Developing ..."

Re: Colin Powell Questions Case For War

The Washington Post conducted the interview with Secretary Powell and provides these excerpts.

Colin Powell Questions Case For War

Is it too late for Colin Powell to grow a backbone? Let's see, in the last few weeks he has said a) Hussein's regime had no provable connection to Al-Qaeda, b) there are no weapons of mass destruction, c) that the absence of WMD's "changes the political calculus; it changes the answer you get." Rarely is stating the obvious such a mark of high character as it is when you work in the Bush administration.

Monday, February 02, 2004